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New Left Review I/92, July-August 1975

Francis Mulhern

Introduction to Goldmann

By the time of his death, in the autumn of 1970, Lucien Goldmann’s standing as a Marxist theorist had noticeably begun to diminish. The reasons for this were both theoretical and political. European Marxist thought in the 1960s was characterized by the rapid, ebullient development of theoretical currents (represented in France by the work of Louis Althusser, and in Italy by the very different work of Galvano della Volpe, and subsequently Lucio Colletti) deeply hostile to the neo-hegelian tendencies which, it was argued, had become dominant in contemporary Western Marxism, threatening to compromise the properly scientific vocation of historical materialism. The principal targets of these sustained and often cogent attacks were the leading representatives of the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse) and Georg Lukács. Goldmann, who had been deeply influenced by Kant and Hegel, and retained his allegiance to the work of the young Lukács long after the latter had himself repudiated them, was especially vulnerable to the anti-humanist, anti-historicist Marxism of Louis Althusser and his associates. Already a favoured target of such theoretical criticisms, Goldmann was compromised by his professions of support for Yugoslav ‘market socialism’ and his reiterated belief in a peaceful, ‘non-revolutionary’ passage to socialism in the advanced capitalist world—positions which naturally found little favour with revolutionary Marxists, especially after May 1968. [1] See Lucien Goldmann, ‘Criticism and Dogmatism in Literature’, David Cooper (ed.), The Dialectics of Liberation, London 1968; and idem, ‘Socialism and Humanism’, Erich Fromm (ed.), Socialist Humanism, London 1967. For a sharp critique of Goldmann’s theoretical and political positions, see Miriam Glucksmann, ‘Lucien Goldmann: Humanist or Marxist?’ nlr 56. However Goldmann’s response to the May events was in fact to be warm and enthusiastic—he welcomed them as a rejection of the bourgeois model of civilization and of the bureaucratic deformations of the workers movement.

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Francis Mulhern, ‘Introduction to Goldmann’, NLR I/92: £3

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