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George Lichtheim (1912–1973)

Author of Marxism

16 Works 632 Members 8 Reviews 2 Favorited

About the Author

Works by George Lichtheim

Marxism (1961) 109 copies, 2 reviews
A short history of socialism (1970) 107 copies
Lukács (1970) — Author — 99 copies, 2 reviews
Europe in the twentieth century (1971) 81 copies, 1 review
Imperialism (1971) 60 copies
The origins of socialism (1969) 48 copies, 1 review
The Concept of Ideology (1967) 32 copies
From Marx to Hegel (1971) 31 copies
Collected essays (1967) 29 copies, 1 review
Marxism in Modern France (1966) 24 copies
The New Europe: Today and Tomorrow (1963) 6 copies, 1 review


Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Lichtheim, George
Other names
Arnold, G. L.
Date of death
Germany (born)
Berlin, Germany
Places of residence
London, England
Berlin, Germany
Heidelberg University



luvucenanzo06 | May 15, 2024 |
In his book Marxism, Lichtheim analyzed Marxism as a historical political movement that he concluded had lost its relevance by the 1960s. Instead, a new kind of state had emerged, the welfare state in the United States and social democracy in Europe, that overcame or at least mitigated contradictions in capitalism that Marx predicted would destroy it. In The New Europe, Lichtheim states that his purpose is to examine “some of the arguments underlying the current debate over Western Europe’s future role within the emerging Atlantic Community.” (p. v). But a large portion of the book is devoted to his analysis of the “new social order” of the welfare/social democratic society that he believed had largely established itself by the early 1960s.

Written in 1962, the “New Europe” of that epoch is now in the past (perhaps the distant past) and no longer “new” as we would see it today. It describes a prosperous post-war Europe that has just begun the construction of a community of six member states but that has a long way to go to achieve the structure, integration and geographic scope of today’s European Union. Moreover, the Soviet Union was still a dominant fact in splitting Europe into western and eastern halves. Climate change, mass migration from the South to the North, increasing inequality in developed countries, expansion of the European Union and NATO to the east and renewed conflict with Russia were obviously not topics Lichtheim could be aware of or expected to address in 1962. However, the book is still of interest today because it analyzes certain fault lines in Europe and in the “new social order” that are still relevant. It also provides a picture of the movement towards European unification and its role in the world at an important point in postwar history.

The book is divided into five parts: (i) the historical background of Europe; (ii) the movement towards European integration from 1945-1960; (iii) the structure of Western Europe; (iv) the Atlantic Community; and (v) the new social order. Now that European hegemony is over, Lichtheim asks what role Western Europe will have in the Atlantic Community. He anticipates that Britain will be the main point of intersection between North America and Western Europe and assumes that Western Europe and North America form a whole and represent shared values. He adopts a “mid-Atlantic standpoint” in order to provide a perspective of interest to both North American and European readers and to avoid “a certain kind of Western European parochialism.”

Historical Background

Lichtheim recounts the separation of Europe into western and eastern halves, the end of the traditional European balance of power that had existed since 1494 (overcome by the new superpower balance between the United States and the Soviet Union), and the retreat of the British Empire since 1914. Western Europe and Eastern Europe have a common starting point in classical/Mediterranean civilization despite the current political rift that follows the ancient cultural frontier between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. His focus is Western Europe, in which he includes Turkey, Greece, Israel and Lebanon. Just as Europe replaced the Mediterranean as the center of power, now the Atlantic and possibly the Pacific oceans are replacing Europe.

The European era of power extended from 1494 to 1914. Europe did not commit suicide in the world wars but its internal conflicts could no longer be settled by its own efforts. He asks the fundamental question whether European integration is compatible with European civilization, which had taken the nation state form and been characterized by a system of balance of power among mutually hostile countries. Whatever would be given up by integration, “it is clearly not worth a major war every generation.” (p. xi). Liberal nationalism in the nineteenth century had already created a feeling of community, akin in some respects to the virtues of the Greek polis. In the 1960s, it was possible in Western Europe to view the state not as a “monster” but as the emanation of the people’s “collective thoughts and aspirations.” He points to Holland, a leading liberal/democratic Western European country, as an example showing that “the old national loyalty is not incompatible with the new European spirit.” (p. xiv). He does not downplay strong national sentiments, nor does he denigrate them as irrational, because it is not in the nature of primary loyalties to be entirely rational.

The movement to European integration has prevailed since World War II but there could have been different paths. Indeed, he suggests that Britain, which in 1962 was not yet a member of the European Economic Community, was a reluctant convert at American urging to Europeanism and otherwise might have slowed it down and eventually stopped it in the postwar period. The dominance of the superpowers has already limited the sovereignty of the individual European states. “[T]he old concept of Europe as a stage on which sovereign national entities enact their historic rivalries” had come to an end. (p. xiii).

Movement Towards European Integration

Lichtheim addresses developments from 1945 to 1960, including the Marshall Plan, the Treaty of Rome, the establishment of the European Economic Community (the “EEC”) and the European Free Trade Agreement (“EFTA”), the institutions of the EEC, the operation of the common market and the impact of European integration on planning and freedom. The initial union of the French and German coal and steel industries in the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952 “bridged the historic Franco-German cleavage and set the ball rolling towards the wider EEC of the late 1950s.” (p. 44).

The Treaty of Rome established the common market which gradually removed tariff barriers among the six initial members and adopted a common external tariff. The six chose this “particular solution because it offered a means of getting the integration movement back on track without giving it an overly political character.” (p.51). The common market “was envisaged as the material foundation of the future political union of Western Europe.” (p. 59). In this regard, Lichtheim puts his finger on one of the recurrent structural issues of the European Union: the relationship of the core members to the broader circle of European states. He put it as follows: “The problem lies in the future relationship of the Western European core -- ‘Little Europe’ as it is called by its critics -- to the wider penumbra of NATO countries represented at Strasbourg.” (p. 60). He predicts that the European Commission rather than the Council of Ministers is likely to be the real executive organ.

Initially, Britain saw a European common market as a pipedream. It could have been the leader of the EEC but instead offered the EFTA as an alternative to those countries not joining the common market. Lichtheim sees special problems for Britain in a political union: “A treaty superseding national laws is easier to operate on the Continent than in Britain, where Parliament can in theory repudiate any obligations entered into on behalf of an earlier legislature.” (p. 61). We now know Britain would not become a member until 1973 and would later withdraw after the Brexit referendum.

Lichtheim notes that internal free trade can weaken the less-developed sectors in the common market and argues that economic planning is necessary to deal with negative consequences of free trade. He points to Italy as an example, when unification helped the North but weakened the South and led to Italian fascism in the 1920s. Doctrinaire free traders do not recognize the seriousness of the downsides of unrestricted free trade. More particularly on Italy, Lichtheim states the following:

In fact, what the unification, and the simultaneous introduction of nationwide free trade did to Italy in 1861 . . . was to ruin the weakened and unprotected industries of the South while the changeover to industrial protection in the 1860s hurt its agriculture. The short-term result was to compel mass emigration to North and South America and, although the Fascist movement was born in the North, it battened on the backwardness of the countryside, the unsolved southern agrarian problem . . . . (p. 69).

To address this problem, the Treaty of Rome provides for investment planning at the center. “Socialists are entitled to argue that it does not go far enough. What they cannot honestly do is pretend that this is a laissez-fairist document.” (p. 69). In this context, he raises the question whether there is a “coherent rationale” to the common market or is it just a “hodgepodge of things that appeal to different groups for different reasons.” In particular, whether planning (the socialist element of top-down control) can be consistent with freedom (democracy and the liberal ideas of the free market and competition). He notes that traditional liberals think free trade and competition alone are enough to make economic integration work. The liberal would like to see the EEC as a step towards an Atlantic economy, and ultimately a world economy, from which all protective tariffs have disappeared and economic rationality has at last come into its own. (This seems to align with what has come to be called in the 21st century the neoliberal global order). Socialists and traditional conservatives’ distrust classical liberal objectives, and, in particular, socialists favor planning and government ownership of some industries. The Treaty of Rome represents a compromise that “has left the meaning of ‘integration’ undefined as between the liberal goal of free competition and the planners’ belief in purposive direction.” (p. 78). It also does not address equality of economic condition. The danger of planning is that it could lead to monopolistic corporations with liberal democracy, competition and free enterprise declining. The challenge is for democratic forces to develop elites capable of mastering the complexities of integration and to control them through the political process. The solution may involve different kinds of political structures including giving corporations’ representation. He states that the danger of corporatism as an alternative to democratic control arises precisely where such interests are not properly integrated into the fabric of representative government. He argues that a modern pluralistic society needs to find ways to balance conflicting interests. It is not necessary for European union to choose between planning and democracy; both can play a role in a modern pluralistic political structure.

The Structure of Western Europe

Lichtheim discusses the relative prosperity of northern Europe and the relative backwardness of southern Europe (and Ireland) as creating tensions that must be overcome if unification is to succeed. Capital transfers from the north to the poorer regions are necessary to address the imbalance. In terms of individual countries, Britain has seen slower growth than the Continent, West Germany is now fully integrated into Western Europe (and noting that East Germany is not doing so well economically), and France has become a modern country. Italy is the most important and the most advanced country in southern Europe; indeed, its economic progress since the war is a bigger miracle than that of Germany.

While many of the details and issues discussed by Lichtheim have changed, in particular the growth of the Spanish and Irish economies and Italy’s ups and downs and the expansion to the East, the dynamic between North and South is still present today, as exemplified by the Euro crisis and current economic challenges. The relationship of Britain and Europe also continues to be an issue. As noted, at the time of Lichtheim’s writing, Britain was not yet a member of the EEC. Lichtheim predicted such membership was necessary for Britain and likely to occur. Most informed observers would agree his prediction was correct but he did not foresee the reversal constituted by Brexit. So, the question of Britain’s role outside of the common market (now the European Union) has returned. Disappointment with Brexit seems to be shifting British public opinion back toward a greater appreciation of the EU. It remains to be seen if Britain will move back towards a closer relationship. Lichtheim also saw a major role for Britain as an intermediary between the United States and a unified Europe of which it was apart. With Brexit, this role is being tested.

The Atlantic Community

Lichtheim notes the existence of three different free trade blocks: the common market, Britain’s pound sterling zone and the United States. The United States supports integration and a partnership with a united Western Europe. Another issue for Britain was giving the Commonwealth access to the Common Market to avoid Britain having to turn its back against the Commonwealth as a condition of membership. Lichtheim points out issues arising from such access including that agricultural products from the Commonwealth would have destroyed European agriculture and discrimination against exports from the United States and South America. Nevertheless, Lichtheim believes the Atlantic Community and European union are complementary. He discusses the evolving relationship between Europe and Africa as a parallel to the US relationship with Latin America.

He emphasizes the ending of colonial relationships and their replacement by the desire of the emerging countries for investment to develop their economies. He recommends that both Europe and the US should make grants, not just loans, to support development in Africa and Latin America respectively. He also discusses the Leninist interpretation of imperialism as the last stage of capitalism before its collapse, i.e., “a stagnant Western capitalism clutching at the life-line of colonial super profits.” (p.172). This analysis ceased to be relevant after World War I and the gradual liberation of colonies. But he acknowledges we may be in a neocolonialist stage and agrees with the “nationalist” argument “that without massive injection of public capital, the vicious cycle of poverty, overpopulation and inadequate investment [in developing countries] cannot be broken.” (p. 174).

The New Social Order

In the last section, Lichtheim takes a closer look at the “new social order”, i.e., the welfare state in the US and social democracy in Europe, both characterized by governmental economic planning and regulation. He sees this new order as replacing the model of society from the first industrial revolution consisting of conflicting classes of landowners, capitalists and workers, in which the state acted as the “executive committee of the bourgeoisie,” as Marx had put it in Class Struggles in France. The question now is: “How was a balance to be struck between liberalism and socialism, market forces and social control, private enterprise and planning?” (p. 175). Lichtheim sees the new social order as a mixed economy in which workers and employers pursue their interests as equals with the state as arbiter. Communism has lost its relevance. Liberals, socialists and conservatives are forced to soften their ideological goals as they make pragmatic progress in making the welfare state a success. The result is less conflict and more accommodation as, in many respects, the parties share common goals, such as economic growth, a prosperous middle class and working class and the growing market for the purchase of consumer goods, etc. Neither laissez-faire nor socialist, the new social order is a bit of a combination of the two. Industrial society no longer needs a bourgeoisie or proletariat, although it is still largely capitalist. Socialism is compatible with market economy, and social democrats are not socialists. Socialism must subordinate at least temporarily social equality to economic efficiency. “Classical Marxism has been quietly absorbed into democratic socialism and – partly -- into academic philosophy and sociology.” (p. 198).

To say the least, this overall optimistic vision has come under stress since Lichtheim wrote, to say nothing of the impact of the technological, geopolitical and economic changes since the early 1960s. He does not foresee the backlash against New Deal and Keynesian policies and the massive growth of inequality. He does not foresee the return of right-wing authoritarianism, much less the emergence of leaders like Trump: on irrationalism and politics, he only remarks, albeit no doubt accurately: “Fascism . . . has been discredited by the criminal lunacy of its adherents.” (p. 204). Seeing less political conflict in the United States than in Europe, Lichtheim views Western Europe as belatedly Americanizing itself. He asserts that Europe has been more ideological than the corresponding American experience.

But even here his analysis touches upon fault lines that resonate today. He notes the American lack of public conflict “may change as Americans increasingly come to divide over genuine issues of foreign policy, racial equality and social organization ….” (p. 214). He sees that resentment could grow against an elite (“a new privileged stratum”) which runs society if it is unchecked by democratic action. His balance between liberalism and socialism is based on an assumption of a strong organized labor movement. He notes “anti-democratic movements feed on the confusion engendered by describing as “socialist” any and every form of state control, no matter what its political content.” (p. 189). He argues that pluralist democracy has come to stay but that political stability eludes us. He notes the essential conservativism of the working class. “Sociologists know that working-class attitudes are basically more conservative than middle-class ones, and that the values they conserve are not wholly admirable.” (p. 211). Indeed “even under Western conditions, working-class conservativism is probably a bigger handicap to social or liberal movements than all the real or imagined machinations of entrenched reactionaries.” Id. He says that political leaders have to be ready to take up unpopular positions and pushback against bad ideas coming up from below. He asks whether the West can develop a new consensus to replace religious integration because “traditional loyalties [are] losing ground and nothing very definite [is] taking their place.” Id. “Conservatives will of course blame progressives for aggravating the state of affairs by undermining traditional beliefs, and they may even be tempted to clamp an artificial consensus upon societies.” (p. 213).


Lichtheim’s ideal of a democratic society which balances economic interests fairly has been challenged since he wrote. It cannot be taken for granted. The New Europe is the book in which Lichtheim sets forth his vision of how such a society can work. It still provides a useful perspective from which to analyze contemporary conditions.

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drsabs | Feb 11, 2023 |
For a book on Lukacs, Lichtheim sure has nothing to say about Lukacs' most important work. No doubt someone had to explain, at great length, that the later Lukacs was execrable nonsense. But more attention to his life or to the earlier work would have made for a more edifying read.
stillatim | 1 other review | Oct 23, 2020 |

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