Leave Everything as it is: A Critique of Marxist Interpretations of Wittgenstein

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The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognize it as the distorted language of the actual world and to realize that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life. (Karl Marx, The German Ideology)

It is often supposed that Marxist philosophy and Wittgensteinian philosophy are not just very different but that they are opposed to each other. Wittgenstein was notoriously against theorizing in philosophy whereas Marx tried to give a scientific account of human society and culture. Marx famously said that ‘[t]he philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’, while Wittgenstein was concerned with conceptual considerations and had very little to say about workers' struggles. My aim in this paper is to show that these apparent differences dissolve once one realizes that Marx and Wittgenstein thought differently about the nature of philosophy. In the course of coming to this conclusion I will look at misinterpretations of Wittgenstein's philosophy from Perry Anderson and Alex Callinicos as well as at Wittgensteinian criticisms of Marxist philosophers such as Leon Trotsky, John Rees and Slavoj Žižek. I will conclude that Marxist philosophers stand to gain from a clearer understanding of Wittgenstein's philosophy and that Wittgensteinians can similarly gain from an appreciation of the kind of analysis of economics, society and politics offered by Marxists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-22
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2013


  • Marx
  • Wittgenstein
  • Callinicos


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