Genesis, Features and Basic Concepts of Frankfurt School

1. The Genesis of Frankfurt School

2. Features of Frankfurt School

3. Basic Concepts.

The Genesis of Frankfurt School:

Scholars generally agree that the degeneration of Marxism by Stalin and his cohorts encouraged many true and serious Marxists to find out the real meaning of what Marx and Engels said on various subjects such as economics, politics etc. This tendency emerged in the 1920s and 1930s. Their chief objective was to find out what Marx exactly said.

So we can justifiably say that the views of the Frankfurt School can be treated as a protest movement protest against Stalinism and Bolshevism. Again, the members of the Frankfurt School (hereafter F. S.) were of opinion that the correct meaning of Marx’s views is to be located. What the party leaders and self-interest seeking persons say about Marxism is out of consideration.

Keeping the above idea in mind a group of intellectuals founded the Institute for Social Research in 1923. But the Institute was a department of Frankfurt University. It was an academic institute and its members fully concentrated on the discussion of academic matters mainly Marxism and its relation with other subjects, mainly branches of social science.

The Frankfurt School was contemporary of Nazism. Particularly when Nazism was at the zenith of its power or influence, the F. S. was deeply engaged in the academic analysis of Marxism, philosophy and epistemology. The members of the F. S. were deeply concerned with growing influence of totalitarianism and its menace.

It thought that the march of totalitari­anism would finally destroy the basic qualities of man and invite all-round degradation of universal values.

Logical empiricism, positivism, methodology of science, pragmatism and also utilitarianism all came under the purview of the F. S. But the centre of analysis was Marxism in the background of change.

Some of the star figures of the F. S. are: Max Horkheimer, who was a leading personality of the F. S. He was a sociologist, philosopher and a psychologist. Eric Fromm was mainly a psychoanalyst.

Another person associated with F. S. was Adorns a philosopher and sociologist. Friedrich Pollock, a leading member of F. S., was an economist and had specialisation in economic planning.

Herbert Marcuse was a philosopher and Franz Neumann was a renowned political scientist. Walter Benjamin was an essayist and a well-known figure of the literary world. The membership also included political sociologists, general sociologists etc. Persons acquainted with F. S. are of opinion that the preeminent members of the school were

Horkheimer, Marcuse and Hohermas. The contributions of these persons consider­ably enriched the academic aspects of the Institute. The F. S. is popularly and generally called the “Institute”.

David Held, in his article published in Bottomore edited A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, writes: “The Frankfurt School can’t be associated directly with an anti-Bolshevik radicalism and an open-ended or critical Marxism. Hostile to both capitalism and Soviet socialism, its writings sought to keep alive the possibility of an alternative path for social development and many of those committed to the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s found in its work both an intriguing interpretation of Marxist theory and an emphasis on issues and problems”.

We thus find that in the evolution of Marxist thought the F. S. has a special position. The F. S. was not a club or an ordinary institute. All its members were renowned personalities of the academic world and they critically analyses Marxism from different perspectives.

Features of Frankfurt School:

The features of the F. S. are stated briefly. It has already been noted that the members of the F. S. belonged to different subjects and all of them viewed Marxism in the background of their own subjects.

Kolakowski observes:

“The abundant academic and publistic output of the Frankfurt School covers multifarious domains of humanistic science: philosophy, empirical sociology, musicology, social psychology, and the history of the Far East, the Soviet economy, and psychoanalysis, the theory of literature and of law”.

Hence the academic output of the F. S. can be called a “compendium” (We use the word compendium in a restricted sense).

(1) One can note certain basic features of the School. One feature is, according to F. S., the Marxism is not a norm but a “starting point and an aid to the analysis and criticism of existing culture” Because of this the members of the school have borrowed terms, arguments and concepts from other disciplines which have been freely used to analyse Marxian concepts and ideas.

(2) The members of the F. S. were not associated with any political party or movement. The result was that the analysis or publication has been non-partisan unbiased. For this reason we find neutrality in their analysis of communism or socialism or social democracy.

(3) We find a clear influence of Lukacs and Korsch of the 1920s upon the interpretation of the members of F. S. Although influence of Lukacs is quite perceptible, it cannot be concluded that they scrupuloudy followed Luckacs. In the 1920s Lukacs and Korsch were leading figures of Marxism.

(4) The members of the F. S. were independent-minded and they analysed various tenets of Marxism in their respective viewpoints and, at the same time, independently. They did not hesitate to criticise Marxian standpoint or principle that has been implemented.

In this respect their main objective was to free Marxism from misinterpretation or misapplication. The extent of their success may be questioned but their objective was honest and there is no doubt about it.

(5) There was a difference between Lukacs and F. S. This difference has been beautifully pointed out by Kolakowski. Let us quote him: “The Frankfurt School differs basically from Lukacs while accepting Marx’s position as to the exploitation and alienation of the proletariat, it did not identify with the latter in the sense of regarding its existing class consciousness, let alone the dictates of the communist party, as an a priori norm”.

The members of the F. S. did not subscribe to the view that the proletarians were universally exploited, that is, everywhere they were exploited and, at the same time, alienated. The F. S. casts doubt about the extent of exploitation and alienation.

(6) The method of analysis adopted by the F. S. can be called “revisionism” of orthodox Marxism. But the school claims that it is profoundly a revolutionary intellectual movement. There is no doubt that the F. S. had launched a revolutionary movement and its contents were intellectual. It means that the F. S. interpreted Marxism from the academic point of view.

(7) The development of the F. S. took place during the rise, victory and fall of Nazism (1921-1945) and naturally the writings and views of the school were influenced by Nazism. Racial prejudice, totalitarianism, economic and political views of Nazism found enough place in the output of the F. S.

It is interesting to note that almost all the front-ranking members of the F. S. were German Jews and, from economic point of view, all were middle class. Hence we can say that the F. S. emerged at a critical juncture of time.

Some Basic Concepts of Frankfurt School:

Horkheimer (1895-1973) was the most important member of the Frankfurt School. He elaborated some important aspects of Marxism and Marxist thought. Horkheimer was basically a Hegelian and he explained some ideas and concepts of Marx in the light of “reason” propounded by Hegel.

The result is Horkheimer’s stand on Marxism and several other ideas is against empiricism, positivism and pragmatism. Horkheimer believed that truth can be ascertained without empirical hypothesis or positivistic method.

Horkheimer opposed the application of rigorous scientific methods for the study of social sciences. His clear opinion was that scientific method has a special place in natural science, but it has very little or no relevance in the study of social sciences.

Another point of the school is human society is threatened by the progress of science and technology. Horkheimer and members, of course, did not oppose the progress of science and technology but they were of opinion that value judgments must be given priority because neglecting value judgment the “progress of science and technology is bound to lead to a totalitarian society”.

There shall exist a balance between scientific and technological progress on the one hand and the value judgment on the other hand. Lenin and others believed that both party and intellectuals must play important role in encouraging and guiding the proletarians in their attempt for emancipation.

Horkheimer agreed with this view. But he added a new factor. Without attaining consciousness and spontaneity the proletarians would never be able to win the battle against the capitalist.

His view is: due to the rise of conflict between the two main class’s bourgeoisie and proletariat the interaction would also rise and this will finally give rise to consciousness and spontaneity.

The view of Horkhenimer is based on a practical situation of capitalist society. The capitalists never support the agitation of the working class.

Naturally, only consciousness and spontaneity could lead the working class movement. Members of the Institute of Social Research had their general commitment to the cause of the proletariat, and their emphasis on the importance of praxis was strong. They conceived their work to be a contribution to clarifying the opposing forces at work in society and, thereby, raising the class consciousness of the exploited, and providing them with a weapon in their struggle for emancipation.

The members of the F. S. wanted to know what man actually wants. There is no doubt that man above everything else wants to satisfy his economic requirements. Assume that his economic necessities are fulfilled.

Does it mean that he will be perfectly satisfied? Some members of the F. S. after thorough investigation have seen that the satisfaction of economic necessities is not everything. His other require­ments may crop up. He may have ethical or spiritual necessities and these cannot be neglected.

Again, there is no limit to economic requirements and particularly in an age of globalisation these may multiply.

Naturally Marxism must take note of this situation. When the members of the F. S. were engaged in reviewing Marxism or in reinterpreting it they were not faced with globalisation. But they were aware of the incessant rise of human necessities.

Many of the members of F. S. suggested that Marxism must be analysed in the light of this new aspect of human nature. This is purely a subject of psychology and F. S. took interest to view Marxism in this light.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

أنا حاصل على شاهدة الليسانس في العلوم السياسية والعلاقات الدولية بالإضافة إلى شاهدة الماستر في دراسات الأمنية الدولية، إلى جانب شغفي بتطوير الويب. اكتسبت خلال دراستي فهمًا قويًا للمفاهيم السياسية الأساسية والنظريات في العلاقات الدولية والدراسات الأمنية والاستراتيجية، فضلاً عن الأدوات وطرق البحث المستخدمة في هذه المجالات.

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