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New Left Review I/63, September-October 1970


Göran Therborn

The Frankfurt School

In France and Italy, the post-War period has seen the emergence of new schools of Marxist thought (Althusser, Della Volpe). In the German-speaking world, on the other hand, there is a complete continuity from the pre-War years. The veterans Lukács and Bloch are still active and influential, but the centre of the stage is firmly occupied by the group of theorists who have become known as the ‘Frankfurt School’. Moreover, while the influence of recent French and Italian Marxism has been largely confined within its country of origin, the ideas of the Frankfurt School have spread, first, thanks to the emigration of the 1930’s, to the usa, and in the last few years all over the world. Indeed, one of the most prominent of the members of the School, Herbert Marcuse, has become one of the bourgeoisie’s latest bogey-men. Of course, Marcuse’s influence is not so great as myth suggests. Nevertheless, in North America and Italy at least, the student movement has certainly been more affected by Marcuse’s thought than by that of any other living Marxist, and the sds in Germany has never emancipated itself intellectually from the Frankfurt tutelage, despite the fact that most of the members of the School teaching in Germany denounced it, often in the most violent terms. Moreover, in France, where the influence of the School was negligible until a spate of translations after the events of May 1968, student militants associated with these events have often spontaneously reproduced typical Frankfurt ideas in their own theory and ideology. This tenacity of the Frankfurt School, and the reflorescence of its ideas in a situation so unlike that of its origin (Germany in the 1930’s) is remarkable. This article is an attempt to summarize and analyse the basis of these ideas, [1] There exists at least one full-length study of critical theory, G. E. Rusconi’s La teoria critica della societ` (Bologna 1968, revised edition 1970). Rusconi’s perspective is a broad history of ideas, focusing on Lukács and Marcuse, with rather limited attention to political and strictly theoretical analysis. and to provide some explanation for their reflorescence.

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