definition of marxism

James Devine JDevine at
Fri Jul 7 20:33:34 MDT 1995

>>I am new to this topic and this list.  I realize that this is a
naive question, but would someone on the list please tell me what
being a marxist in relation to, say, American literature means?
What, for example, would a Marxist reading of _Huckleberry Finn_
be?  How does one read a literary text to get a Marxist reading?

A Marxist reading of that book would start with a class analysis
of the society at the time that Twain wrote that book: in the
North, capitalism with a large component of independent commodity
production (self-employed and very small businesses producing for
the market); in the South, a slave mode of production
subordinated to the world market.  But such a social analysis
would hardly be the whole story.

Huck, it seems to me, is an individual alienated from society (as
was Twain), a product of his society but in many ways outside of
it. Twain uses Huck as a spokesman for his critique of the
system's hypocrisy. Similarly, Marx's moral slant, according to
Cornell West, focussed on the contradiction between capitalism's
stated morality and its deeds. But of course, Twain is dealing
with a more complex social formation than simply capitalism, the
system summarized above.

In this book, Tom Sawyer is the embodiment of evil for Twain. He
follows all of society's rules to the letter, but the rules of
society are immoral (sanctioning slavery etc.)  Huck, on the
other hand, represents a more universal morality: he believes
that all people (even "Nigger Jim") should be treated with
respect, no matter what society's rules say. Even though Huck is
not a socialist, he represents the spirit of rebellion against
society's nonsense that is the basis for socialism.  His main
problem that he is an isolated individual, so that his rebellion
will not transform society. In many ways he fits the image of the
isolated anti-establishmentarian intellectural (like Twain) who
rails against society but is impotent. He's a precursor of the
Frankfurt school?

for socialism from below,

Jim Devine   jdevine at
Los Angeles, CA (the city of emphysema)

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