Frankfurt School

   A school of Marxism associated with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research founded in 1923. Among the many significant figures linked with the school are Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm, Jürgen Habermas and Walter Benjamin. Spanning a range of research interests, these and other academics associated with the institute sought to create a critical Marxism that addressed and responded to the conditions of the time. In particular the lack of success of revolutionary working-class movements, the degeneration of the Bolshevik revolution into Stalinism, and the rise of fascism were key issues underlying much of the work of the school. Perceiving the limitations of orthodox Marxism they sought to reinvigorate and develop it in new directions drawing on non-Marxist thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Max Weber and Sigmund Freud, as well as the writings of Georgii Lukács. The Frankfurt School is a major strand of Western Marxism and a significant influence on the New Left, as well as providing the environment for the writing of some of the “classics” of Marxist literature. The Frankfurt School really began to emerge when Horkheimer became director of the institute in 1930 and assembled the outstanding academics who became the “membership” of the school.
   Horkheimer oversaw the transfer of the school to the United States in 1934 after the Nazis came to power in Germany. He was still director of the institute when it returned to Frankfurt in 1949. Addressing the key question of why revolution had not occurred in Western Europe members of the school explored areas of culture, philosophy, social psychology and sociology. They investigated and theorized the stabilizing features of capitalism that prevented revolution. They tended to move away from the Marxist commitment to class struggle and turned on its head Marx’s Promethean faith in science and technology taming nature and providing the basis for human emancipation. The outlook of the Frankfurt School was critical of rationalism and saw technological progress as a potential obstacle to human freedom in its denial of the truly human, our individuality, creativity and spirituality. The Frankfurt School was only a school in a very loose sense with individual researchers expressing a range of differing ideas and political perspectives. It was partly this pluralism and lack of dogma that made the school such a successful generator of innovative ideas and research. Academic rather than activist the school’s impact has been more in the intellectual than the political realm.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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