Walter Benjamin and Marxism


  • Michael Löwy





Walter Benjamin, born in a bourgeois Berlin Jewish family in 1892, was not only a brilliant literary critic and sociologist of culture, but also one of the most creative modem Marxist thinkers. A friend of Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno, and Gershom Scholem (the well known historian of Jewish mysticism), he wrote his first books on the concept of art criticism in German romanticism and on German baroque drama. A sympathizer of the communist movement, he visited the Soviet Union in 1927 and 1928 but never joined the German Communist Party. Forced into exile by the Nazis in 1933, he lived precariously in France with a stipend from the Frankfurt School, which published in its Journal for Social Research some of his most important essays (on Baudelaire and on the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction). Trying to escape the Nazi occupation of France by crossing the Pyrenees in September 1940, he was arrested by the Spanish (Franco) police. Threatened with being turned over to the Gestapo, he preferred to commit suicide. His last writing, the Theses On the Concept of History, is one of the most important documents of revolutionary theory in our times. Known only to a small circle of people during his life, he became, after the 1960s, an increasingly influential thinker for a new generation of radical students and intellectuals in Europe and America.

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