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Karl Korsch's Philosophical Bolshevism

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

 

January 25, 2018
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal When Karl Korsch is remembered, he is generally alongside Georg Lukács and Antonio Gramsci as one of the founders of “Western Marxism”. Western Marxism is typically viewed as a diverse trend that focuses more on issues of culture and ideology instead of political economy, and eschews political engagement. It is certainly the case that most of what we understand by Western Marxism, notably the Frankfurt School, falls under that broad definition.

 

After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Korsch believed that Marxism needed to be restored as a revolutionary philosophy. Korsch wrote his most famous work, Marxism and Philosophy, in 1923 when he was a leader in the Communist Party of Germany. Far from being a Western Marxist, Korsch like Gramsci and Lukács, is better characterized as a “Philosophical Bolshevik” who was committed to the theory and practice of socialist revolution.

 

Early life

 

Korsch was born on August 15, 1886 in Tostdedt, Germany into an upwardly mobile family. His father, Carl August, was a farmer who became a bank clerk and eventually, a bank manager. The elder Korsch wanted his children, especially the intellectually gifted Karl, to receive the best education available. From 1906 onward, Korsch attended universities in Munich, Geneva and Berlin. In 1908, he entered the University of Jena, studying law at his father's insistence as opposed to his preferred field of philosophy. Despite receiving high marks on his law exams in 1910, Korsch never took up legal practice.

 

It was during his student years that Korsch first became interested in politics. He joined the Free Student Movement – a liberal student group fighting to reform the education system. Korsch became a leading member of the Free Student Movement, organizing lectures and writing for its journals. During his travels across Germany, Korsch came into contact with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and heard speeches by both Eduard Bernstein and Karl Liebknecht (spokespeople for the right and left-wings of the party, respectively).

 

Even though he joined the SPD in 1910, his politics were still in flux and more aligned with the Bernstein wing of social democracy. In 1912, Korsch received a grant to travel to Great Britain to work on translating a legal text by Ernest Schuster. While in Britain, he joined the Fabian Society, which was a middle class reformist socialist organization. Korsch was attracted to what he termed the Fabians' concern with “the practical will” and democratic means to achieve socialism.

 

In 1914, Korsch returned to Germany at the beginning of World War I and was summoned to join the army. Korsch was opposed to the war, resulting in a demotion from lieutenant to corporal. He refused to carry a weapon into battle, seeing as his main duty to ensure the survival of as many men as possible. Ironically, Korsch was twice decorated with the Iron Cross for bravery and promoted to the rank of captain.

 

Worker councils

 

The experience of industrial slaughter in World War I not only radicalized Korsch but large swaths of the German army. In 1918, revolting workers and soldiers brought down the German Empire. A bourgeois republic was formed by the moderate SPD, but the existence of councils modeled on Russian Soviets raised the specter of a communist-led revolution. The SPD became the managers of the new Weimar Republic and were determined to contain the far left by any means necessary. By early 1919, there was open fighting between revolutionary workers and SPD-led death squads in Berlin and Bavaria.

 

There is no evidence that Korsch took part in the soldiers' councils or street-fighting. However, the council movement made a great impression on him and he was involved in the Commission on the Socialization of Industry. He wrote a pamphlet What Is Socialisation? (1920), and a book, Labour Law For Factory Councils (1920). Korsch's theory of socialism attempted to combine syndicalist demands for worker control with the need for nationalizations and a coordinated central plan. In these works, Korsch sketched out a more radical version of his “practical socialism” that was opposed to both orthodox social democracy and revisionism. He said:

 

Differing from the majority of present-day 'Marxists' and in conformity with the deeper understanding of Marx, 'practical socialism' stresses the insight that the only means to the real completion of the transition to the socialist organization of society is conscious human activity (Marx's 'revolutionary praxis').[1]

 

For Korsch, the existence of worker councils raised the burning question of revolutionary praxis, or the unity of theory and practice. This question would be a central concern throughout Korsch's political life.

 

Despite his concern with praxis, Korsch said little on the political role of the councils. He saw them mainly as economic institutions, similarly to the Austro-Marxists. Nor did Korsch consider the need for a new form of state power as Lenin did.

 

Korsch's grand plans for the councils came to naught as German capitalism stabilized and the revolutionary wave ebbed. Korsch attempted to analyze the reasons for the failure of the German Revolution to achieve socialism. According to him, there was a gap between immature working class consciousness and mature objective conditions:

 

In the fateful months after November 1918, when the organized political power of the bourgeoisie was smashed and outwardly there was nothing else in the way of the transition from capitalism to socialism, the great chance was never seized because the socio-psychological preconditions for its seizure were lacking. For there was nowhere to be found any decisive belief in the immediate realizability of a socialist economic system, which could have swept the masses along with it and provided a clear knowledge of the nature of the first steps to be taken.[2]

 

Korsch's reflections led him to ask what the necessary political and ideological prerequisites for socialism were. He found the answers in Bolshevism. Very swiftly, Korsch moved from the SPD to the more left-wing Independent Social Democratic Party and finally into the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in 1920. As a KPD member, Korsch took an active role as a writer and political leader. In 1923, he served as the KPD's Minister of Justice in the Thuringian government in preparation for the abortive revolution that autumn.

 

Marxism and Philosophy

 

Korsch's Bolshevism gave him the tools to answer the question of how the SPD had failed in its mission of providing political and ideological leadership to the working class. According to Korsch, the SPD's failure extended to the whole Second International. His answer was contained in his 1923 work, Marxism and Philosophy, which was a detailed examination on the meaning of Marxism.

 

In Marxism and Philosophy, Korsch defended Marxism's debt to Hegelian philosophy. The work begins with a quote from Lenin's On the Significance of Militant Materialism: "We must organize a systematic study of the Hegelian dialectic from a materialist standpoint". According to Korsch, Hegel's dialectic represented the culmination of the Enlightenment philosophy and expressed the heroic epoch of the revolutionary bourgeoisie. Classical German philosophers like Hegel were fully aware of the connection between their intellectual work and the bourgeois revolution in France. As he said in 1931: "The Hegelian philosophy and its dialectical method cannot be understood without taking into account its relationship to revolution."[3] By the middle of the nineteenth century, the bourgeoisie had lost its revolutionary character, meaning they “lost the ability to comprehend in thought the true dialectical interrelation of ideas and real historical developments, above all of philosophy and revolution.”[4] The bourgeoisie could no longer critically examine the world without providing ammunition to the proletariat. Now the bourgeoisie transformed philosophy, economics, and history into vulgar apologetics for capitalism.

 

The decline of the revolutionary character of the bourgeoisie coincided with the rise of a new universal revolutionary class – the working class. In the 1840s, Marxism arose as a theoretical expression of the working class movement. Marx and Engels expected the forthcoming communist revolution to be a continuation of the bourgeois one, meaning it was necessary for the proletariat to utilize the bourgeoisie's philosophical weapons, notably Hegelianism: “Instead of making an exit, classical German philosophy, the ideological expression of the revolutionary movement of the bourgeoisie, made a transition to a new science which henceforward appeared in the history of ideas as the general expression of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat: the theory of ‘scientific socialism’ first founded and formulated by Marx and Engels in the 1840s."[5] Korsch was stating that at the heart of the revolutionary politics of Marxism lay the revolutionary philosophy of Hegelianism. His argument on the importance of philosophy for Marxism ran contrary to both bourgeois and Marxist commentators.

 

What exactly did Hegelian dialectics provide to Marxism to make it a revolutionary philosophy? For Korsch, one of the key aspects of the dialectic was totality, meaning that Marxism comprehended reality as a united whole as opposed to breaking it down into separate and isolated branches of knowledge (political economy, philosophy, history, etc.). Korsch argued that Marxism

 

is a theory of social development seen and comprehended as a living totality; or, more precisely, it is a theory of social revolution comprehended and practiced as a living totality. At this stage there is no question whatsoever of dividing the economic, political and intellectual moments of this totality into separate branches of knowledge, even while every concrete peculiarity of each separate moment is comprehended, analyzed and criticized with historical fidelity.[6]

 

It followed that Marxism was not just an integral worldview, but its theoretical conclusions must be fused with the revolutionary practice of the proletariat.

 

If Marxist theory was just as important as practice, then revolutionaries could not avoid questions of politics, ideology and the state since “theoretical vagueness and disarray can seriously impede a prompt and energetic approach to problems that then arise in the ideological field.”[7] Korsch was arguing for a new view of ideology (and philosophy) in contrast to the SPD. In general, the Second International did not value ideological struggle. They viewed ideology as false consciousness manipulated by the ruling class, which would vanish after the revolution. By contrast, Korsch maintained that ideology and philosophy must be treated as material realities just as important as political and economic struggles.

 

As he said: “Marx and Engels began their whole revolutionary activity by struggling against the reality of philosophy; and it will be shown that, although later they did radically alter their view of how philosophical ideology was related to other forms within ideology as a whole, they always treated ideologies – including philosophy – as concrete realities and not as empty fantasies."[8] Korsch believed that Marxism must not be reduced to economic struggles and the working class must fight against rival ideologies and philosophies in order to revolutionize their consciousness.

 

This raised the question of how had Marxism changed from its original mission? Here, Korsch argued that Marxism itself must be understood historically. In one of his original insights, he applied historical materialism to the theory of historical materialism itself. He argued that Marxism does not stand still like a Platonic dream outside of history, but has its own history and development that he divided into three distinct periods. The first phase extends from the birth of Marxism in 1843 to the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848. During that period, Marxism was the theory and practice of proletarian revolution. The second period began after the defeat of the 1848 revolutions. Marx and Engels maintained scientific socialism as a comprehensive theory of social revolution, but they shifted from political action to scientific and theoretical analysis. During a period of relative political calm in the last part of the 19th century, the Second International, distorted and fragmented Marxism into separate spheres of knowledge. They changed Marx's science of society into a series of mechanical and fatalistic laws with little practical application. The degeneration of Marxism affected not only revisionists like Eduard Bernstein, but their orthodox opponents such as Karl Kautsky, Georgi Plekhanov, and Jules Guesde.

 

According to Korsch, the revisionists wanted to 'update' Marxism and align it with the existing reformist practices of the trade unions and working class parties. The revisionists did this by gutting Marxism of its revolutionary philosophy of Hegelian dialectics. Korsch acknowledges that orthodox Marxists rejected revisionism, but in the “shape of pure theory. This theory was wholly abstract and had no practical consequences - it merely sought to reject the new reformist theories, in which the real character of the historical movement was then expressed as un-Marxist.”[9]

 

However, orthodox Marxism was completely unable to cope with the practical questions of revolutionary struggle such as the state and politics. Revisionism at the very least “possessed a theory of the relationship of the 'working people' to the state, although this theory was in no way a Marxist one.”[10] In the end, despite the fierce polemics between the orthodox Marxists and the revisionists, they ended up in the same place as witnessed by their support for the bourgeoisie in World War I: "It was the historical fate of the Marx-orthodoxy that its opponents, while repulsing the attacks of the ‘revisionists’ ultimately arrived, on all important issues, at the same standpoint as that taken by their adversaries."[11]

 

The degeneration of Marxism coincided with the third period that marked its restoration as a theory of proletarian revolution. This renaissance of Marxism was represented by the names of Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. As part of the renaissance of Marxism inaugurated by the Bolshevik Revolution, Korsch believed that philosophy, the state and ideology needed to be restored to their proper place because they were now practical questions in the struggle for power. Korsch praised Lenin's State and Revolution as “an early indication that the internal connection of theory and practice within revolutionary Marxism had been consciously re-established.”[12]

 

Despite the title, Marxism and Philosophy was very much a work of anti-philosophy. One: Korsch argued that Hegel represented the highest point of bourgeois philosophy, but by turning Hegel on his head, Marx had surpassed him. Secondly, Marxism as a total system rejected all aspects of bourgeois society, including its philosophy. As evidenced by the closing lines of Marxism and Philosophy, Korsch believed that the proletarian revolution would be the realization of Hegelian philosophy. Lastly, in line with Marx's “Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach,” Korsch argued that Marxism with its focus on revolutionary action, not speculation and reflection was the negation of philosophy.

 

Needless to say, Korsch's contention that Marxism is an anti-philosophy remains contested. Helena Sheehan states in her work, Marxism and the Philosophy of Science that, “The pronouncements of Marx and Engels on the ‘end of philosophy’ ran counter to the basic truth of their thinking on the status of philosophy.”[13] If we follow Sheehan, then Marxism is not an anti-philosophy, but is concerned with the same problems as philosophy, such as knowledge, the tools of reason and existence. If Marxism is the theory and practice of social revolution, as Korsch claimed, then it needs to provide a critical analysis of the world and the possibilities for successful political action derived from materialist dialectics. As Sheehan says: “Just how the new revolutionary man, endowed with mystical proletarian class consciousness, was to come to terms with the natural world without the positive sciences and without philosophical interpretations of the results of positive sciences was something that was never quite explained.”[14]

 

Korsch himself was inconsistent on the philosophical status of Marxism. In Marxism and Philosophy, he referred at times to the “independent essence of Marxist philosophy” and to “the revolutionary materialistic dialectic, which is the philosophy of the working class.”[15] Indeed, Korsch's arguments affirming the philosophical character of Marxism are actually in line with his Leninism. After all, it was Lenin who said, “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”[16] For Marx and Lenin, in order for the working class to change the world, it was necessary to know the conditions that made revolution possible by using the tools of philosophy.

 

The response

 

Shortly after the publication of Marxism and Philosophy, Korsch was criticized by major figures of both social democracy (Kautsky) and the Communist International (Gregory Zinoviev). Kautsky's criticism basically restated the orthodox Marxist position and condemned Bolshevism. While Kautsky was largely unfair, he did make a substantive criticism of Korsch, whom he claimed limited Marxism to a philosophy of action:

 

For Korsch, Marxism is nothing but a theory of social revolution. In reality, one of the most outstanding characteristics of Marxism is the conviction that the social revolution is only possible under certain circumstances, and this only in certain times and countries. The communist sect to which Korsch belongs has quite forgotten this. For them, the social revolution is always possible, everywhere, under all circumstances.[17]

 

Indeed, there is a certain voluntaristic strain in Korsch's work that sees the final collapse of capitalism at hand and the working class ready to man the barricades. Despite Kautsky's right-wing critique of Marxism and Philosophy, he was correct to point out that Korsch failed to include an adequate grounding of Marxism as a science of society or to identify the objective conditions needed for revolution.

 

Criticism from the Comintern was far less substantive. Zinoviev condemned both Korsch and Lukács at the Fifth Congress in 1924 as idealists, revisionists and ultra-leftists. Zinoviev's demagogic attacks on Korsch were joined by other orthodox Communists. While Lukács eventually made his peace with the Comintern, Korsch refused to remain silent and continued to defend the theses of Marxism and Philosophy.

 

However, a new Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy was taking hold in the Comintern and the KPD that didn't leave room for “heretics” such as Korsch. Korsch found himself allied with “ultra-leftists” like Amadeo Bordiga and was expelled from the KPD in 1926. He remained politically active in small left Communist groups until leaving Germany after Hitler came to power.

 

Lukács

 

Korsch's Marxism and Philosophy was released almost simultaneously with Lukács' History and Class Consciousness in 1923. There was a great deal of convergence between Lukács and Korsch. Both were revolutionaries inspired by the Russian Revolution and reached similar conclusions independently about recovering the Hegelian heritage of Marxism that was buried by the Second International. They also saw the importance of Marxism as an integral worldview of theory and practice. Naturally, Zinoviev took aim at the two as a common threat.

 

Korsch himself recognized his basic agreement with Lukács, writing in an afterward to Marxism and Philosophy: “So far as I have been able to establish, I am happily in fundamental agreement with the themes of the author (Lukács), which relate in many ways to the question raised in this work, if based on a broader philosophical foundation. In so far as there are still differences of opinion between us on particular issues of substance and method, I reserve a more comprehensive position for a later discussion.”[18]

 

Both Korsch and Lukács believed that totality is a key concept of Marxism. For Lukács, totality is a central organizing principle of Marxism:

 

It is not the primacy of economic motives in historical explanation that constitutes the decisive difference between Marxism and bourgeois thought, but the point of view of totality. The category of totality... is the essence of the method which Marx took over from Hegel and brilliantly transformed into the foundations of a wholly new science.[19]

 

In Marxism and Philosophy, Korsch wrote on totality in terms that Lukács would not have had trouble agreeing with:

 

There is one unified historical process of historical development in which an 'autonomous' proletarian class movement emerges from the revolutionary movement of the third estate, and the new materialist theory of Marxism 'autonomously' confronts bourgeois idealist philosophy. All these processes affect each other reciprocally. The emergence of Marxist theory is, in Hegelian-Marxist terms, only the 'other side' of the emergence of the real proletarian movement; it is both sides together that comprise the concrete totality of the historical process.[20]

 

In his 1923 work, "The Marxist Dialectic," Korsch argues that knowledge of the totality allows Marxists to see the seeds for future revolutionary transformation:

 

The immense significance of Marx's theoretical achievement for the practice of proletarian class struggle is that he concisely fused together for the first time the total content of those new viewpoints transgressing bourgeois horizons, and that he also formally conceptualized them into a solid unity, into the living totality of a scientific system. These new ideas arose by necessity in the consciousness of the proletarian class from its social conditions. Karl Marx did not create the proletarian class movement (as some bourgeois devil-worshippers imagine in all seriousness). Nor did he create proletarian class consciousness. Rather, he created the theoretical-scientific expression adequate to the new content of consciousness of the proletarian class, and thereby at the same time elevated this proletarian class consciousness to a higher level of its being.[21]

 

When Marxism changed socialism into a science (with knowledge of the historical totality), it became the “'theoretical expression" of working class and allowed “that class which is called to action, and is today suppressed, to a consciousness of the conditions and nature of its own action."[22] Knowledge of totality needed to be combined with the practice of the working class, or theory and practice needed to be merged.

 

However, Korsch and Lukács diverged on significant points. For one, Korsch did not adopt Lukács' understanding of the proletariat as the identical subject-object of history. Despite Korsch's inconsistency on the status of Marxism as a philosophy, he had a clearer grasp of its dialectical methodology than Lukács. In “What is Orthodox Marxism” the opening of chapter of History and Class Consciousness, Lukács stated:

 

Let us assume for the sake of argument that recent research had disproved once and for all every one of Marx's individual theses. Even if this were to be proved, every serious 'orthodox' Marxist would still be able to accept all such modern findings without reservation and hence dismiss all of Marx's theses in toto-without having to renounce his orthodoxy for a single moment. Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx's investigations. It is not the 'belief' in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a 'sacred' book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method.[23]

 

Lukács argument shows a remarkable indifference to whether a method should be adopted that only gives the wrong answers. Korsch argues against Lukács' formalistic approach by stating that the dialectic cannot be divorced from the content it studies. It is the concrete application of the dialectic that counts:

 

From the outset, Marx and Engels had to clarify their position only with regard to the first, Hegelian method...Their only problem was how to change the Hegelian dialectic from a method proper to a superficially idealist, but secretly materialist conception of the world, into the guiding principle of an explicitly materialist view of history and society. Hegel had already taught that a philosophico-scientific method was not a mere form of thought which could be applied indiscriminately to any content. It was rather 'the structure of the whole presented in its pure essence'. Marx made the same point in an early writing: 'Form has no value if it is not the form of its content.'[24]

 

Lastly, Lukács possesses a more coherent view of both ideology and the revolutionary party than Korsch. The key to Lukács' understanding of ideology was his theory of reification (prefiguring Marx's theory of alienation). Lukács defines reification as “a relation between people [that] takes on the character of a thing and thus acquires a ‘phantom objectivity’, an autonomy that seems so strictly rational and all-embracing as to conceal every trace of its fundamental nature: the relation between people.”[25] Thus, things are inverted and workers don't see the social relations of capital and labor (between people); instead they see society as governed by the domination of commodities and their mysterious laws. Under conditions of capitalist reification, where commodities, profits, exchange and markets are hegemonic, they take on a life of their own and govern all aspects of society.

 

This produces uneven consciousness in the working class with advanced, intermediate and backward elements. This is a historical result of capitalist development:

 

For there are not merely national and "social" stages involved but there are also gradations within the class consciousness of workers in the same strata. The separation of economics from politics is the most revealing and also the most important instance of this. It appears that some sections of the proletariat have quite the right instincts as far as the economic struggle goes and can even raise them to the level of class consciousness....These gradations are, then, on the one hand, objective historical necessities, nuances in the objective possibilities of consciousness (such as the relative cohesiveness of politics and economics in comparison to cultural questions). On the other hand, where consciousness already exists as an objective possibility, they indicate degrees of distance between the psychological class consciousness and the adequate understanding of the total situation. These gradations, however, can no longer be referred back to socioeconomic causes. The objective theory of class consciousness is the theory of its objective possibility.[26]

 

In order for the proletariat to overcome reification and uneven consciousness, Lukács argues that a revolutionary party must act as a mediator by drawing together the advanced sections of the working class (who have differing and uneven levels of consciousness), forge a united opposition to its opponents, draw together and make conscious the history of its struggle, and formulate the strategy and tactics that will serve its long-term interests. The party is not only a teacher, but must dialectically play the role of pupil by listening to and learning from the masses. There is no sense of the uneven consciousness of the working class in Korsch. Rather, the proletariat is presented as a largely abstract group. Lukács had a far clearer grasp of the material and ideological reality of the working class and the need for a party to overcome these difficulties than Korsch.

 

Lenin and the retreat from Hegel

 

In the 1930s, after his expulsion from the KPD, Korsch still defended the central arguments of Marxism and Philosophy against his social democratic and Communist critics with the important exception that he was now anti-Leninist. Korsch now believed that Lenin did not represent a break with the Second International; rather there was theoretical affinity between the two:

 

the real division on all major and decisive questions is between the old Marxist orthodoxy of Kautsky allied to the new Russian or 'Leninist' orthodoxy on the one side, and all critical and progressive theoretical tendencies in the proletarian movement today on the other side.[27]

 

Lenin had only attacked the social democrats in the heat of battle, but had not abandoned their fundamental premises. For Korsch, Lenin was mainly a practical politician, unconcerned with questions of materialism or dialectics.

 

Secondly, there was a Jacobin and authoritarian tendency in Lenin who “energetically defended the idea that socialism can only be brought to the workers 'from outside', by bourgeois intellectuals who are allied to the workers' movement.”[28] Leninism was an example of how the Marxist theory of proletarian revolution still bore the imprint of Jacobinism. Lenin's overriding pragmatism meant he could justify every twist and turn of the Bolsheviks and make “permanent virtue out of a temporary necessity.”[29] In the USSR, Lenin's ideology was used by the party to legitimize the development of capitalism as “building socialism.” For Korsch, Leninism was, at the end of the day, a bourgeois and anti-working class ideology that the proletariat needed to break with.

 

The majority of Korsch's political views on Lenin are simplistic and easily refuted by serious scholarship, but his severe judgment of Lenin as a philosopher deserves more serious consideration. Is it true that Lenin shared the basic philosophical premises of the Second International? Central to Korsch's argument is his negative appraisal of Lenin's 1908 work, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Here, Lenin does display a certain vulgar materialism, but even this needs to be qualified. Lenin defends Engels' conclusions on eighteenth-century materialism that it was mechanical and anti-dialectical. At another point, Lenin states: “Marx and Engels laid the emphasis in their works rather on dialectical materialism than on dialectical materialism, and insisted on historical materialism rather than on historical materialism.”[30] Korsch could hardly have taken issue with these remarks.

 

Korsch barely refers to Lenin's more developed philosophy in the Philosophical Notebooks. Lenin wrote these notebooks during World War I and engaged heavily with Hegel's work. While Lenin's Notebooks were not published until 1932, they marked the true beginning of Hegelian Marxism and Philosophical Bolshevism. Lenin's study of Hegel enabled him to clear away the cobwebs of outmoded thinking and prepare himself for the tasks of proletarian revolution. As Michael Löwy observed: “The study of Hegelian logic was the instrument by means of which Lenin cleared the theoretical road leading to the Finland Station in Petrograd. In March-April 1917, freed from the obstacle represented by pre-dialectical Marxism, Lenin could, under pressure of events . . . , [apply] himself to studying the problem [of revolution] from a practical and, concrete and realistic angle . . .”[31] As we have already mentioned, Lenin's statements on Hegel in On the Significance of Militant Materialism were known and quoted approvingly by Korsch. Lenin's recovery of Hegel and the forging of a truly Philosophical Bolshevism was taken up by not simply Korsch, Lukács and Gramsci, but Trotsky and Bukharin in their own philosophical notebooks. Indeed, it was Trotsky who remarked that “Bolshevizing” the Communist parties required “the whole of Hegel and the wisdom of books, and the meaning of all philosophy ...”[32]

 

In Lenin and Philosophy (1938), Korsch does mention Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks, but largely focuses on Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Part of the reason for Korsch's neglect of Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks is that he had moved away from a revolutionary appreciation of Hegel. Now Hegel is seen more for his bourgeois standpoint than his revolutionary method. Logically, it followed that Lenin's embrace of Hegel was a sign of Jacobinism and that the Russians were following the path of the French Revolution and capitalist development:

 

A belated revival of the whole of the formerly disowned idealistic dialectics of Hegel served to reconcile the acceptance by the Leninists of old bourgeois materialism with the formal demands of an apparently antibourgeois and proletarian revolutionary tendency .... Thus the whole circle not only of bourgeois materialistic thought but of all bourgeois philosophical thought from Holbach to Hegel was actually repeated by the Russian dominated phase of the Marxist movement, which passed from the adoption of 18th century and Feuerbachian materialism by Plekhanov and Lenin in the pre-war period to Lenin's appreciation of the "intelligent idealism" of Hegel and other bourgeois philosophers of the 19th century as against the "unintelligent materialism" of the earlier 18th-century philosophers.[33]

 

Indeed, Korsch himself had come to reject Hegel's place in the philosophy of Marxism by the end of the 1930s. In his last major work, Karl Marx (1938), which is an exposition of Marxism, Korsch hardly discusses the dialectic. Korsch refers to Marx's most Hegelian works, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (published in 1932), noting that they “anticipated all the critical and revolutionary conclusions which were later embodied in Capital.”[34] However the philosophical implication of the 1844 manuscripts, which were in line with Marxism and Philosophy, were largely ignored.

 

Hegel is valued by Korsch not so much for his dialectical philosophy, but his empirical knowledge of bourgeois society. According to Korsch, Hegel “took both the name and contents of his 'civil society' ready-made from the English and French social philosophers, politicians and economists. Behind Hegel, as Marx said, stood the 'English and French of the 18th century' with their new discoveries of the structure and movement of society who, in turn, reflected the real historical development which culminated in the Industrial Revolution in England after the middle of the eighteenth century and in the great French Revolution of 1789-1815.”[35]

 

Korsch's materialist interpretation of Hegel bore similarities to Lukács, his old philosophical comrade-in-arms. In his Young Hegel, Lukács argued “during one crisis in [Hegel's] life, at a time when he had become estranged from the ideals of the great contemporary revolution, he found his way out of the labyrinth and back to dialectics with the aid of a compass provided by political economy and in particular the economic condition of England.”[36] Despite their apparent convergence on Hegel and civil society, Korsch and Lukács remained quite divided. Lukács still maintained that the philosophy of Marxism was dialectical materialism, while Korsch's Karl Marx had a positivistic bias denying that Marxism requires a philosophical basis: “Marx's materialist science, being a strictly empirical investigation into definite historical forms of society, does not need a philosophical support.”[37] Korsch had come full circle from the champion of Hegelian Marxism to rejecting Hegel for a Marxist empiricism.

 

Conclusion

 

After his emigration to the United States in 1936, Korsch largely retreated from political involvement. He spent his time teaching at Tulane University and working at the International Institute for Social Research in New York City. He did maintain a friendly correspondence with the Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht and wrote occasional articles on Marxism. The years of isolation took their toll and he appeared to give up on Marxism as a philosophy of revolution. In 1950, Korsch wrote that “all attempts to restore the Marxist doctrine as a whole and in its original function as a theory of the working-class social revolution are reactionary utopias.”[38] Despite this pessimism, this was not Korsch's final break with Marxism. He saw glimmers of hope in national liberation struggles and planned to write an introduction to an anthology of Mao Zedong's writings for their creative application of Marxism. It was not to be. In 1956, Korsch learned that he was fatally ill and five years later, he died in Belmont, Massachusetts on October 21, 1961.

 

At his best, Korsch was a (Anti)Philosophical Bolshevik, who believed that the restoration of Marxism meant recovering its Hegelian roots so it could act as the philosophy of the working class. In our time, when Marxism has been debased both theoretically and practically as a guide to socialist revolution, we should not hesitate to continue Korsch's mission.

 

Notes

 

[1] Quoted in Patrick Goode, Karl Korsch: A Study in Western Marxism (New York: Macmillan Press, 1979), 26.

 

[2] Quoted in Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), 10.

 

[3] Karl Korsch, “A Non-Dogmatic Approach to Marxism,” in Karl Korsch: Revolutionary Theory, ed. Douglas Kellner (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977), 277.

 

[4] Korsch 1970, 43.

 

[5] Ibid. 44.

 

[6] Ibid. 57.

 

[7] Ibid. 71.

 

[8] Ibid. 72.

 

[9] Ibid. 65.

 

[10] Ibid.

 

[11] Karl Korsch, Karl Marx (Brill: Boston, 2016), 122-123.

 

[12] Korsch 1970, 68.

 

[13] Helena Sheehan, Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History (Atlantic: Humanities Press, 1985), 261.

 

[14] Ibid.

 

[15] Korsch 1970, 35 and 97.

 

[16] Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 5, “What is to be Done? Burning Questions for Our Movement,” (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974), 369. (henceforth LCW)

 

[17] Quoted in David Renton, Dissident Marxism: Past Voices for Present Times (New York: Zed Books, 2004), 78.

 

[18] Quoted in Korsch 1970, 15.

 

[19] Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971), 27.

 

[20] Korsch 1970, 45.

 

[21] “The Marxist Dialectic” in Kellner 1977, 135-136.

 

[22] Ibid. 136; Martin Jay, Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to Habermas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 135-137.

 

[23] Lukács 1971, 1.

 

[24] Korsch 1970, 90-91.

 

[25] Lukács 1971, 83.

 

[26] Ibid. 78-9.

 

[27] Korsch 1970, 101.

 

[28] Ibid. 114.

 

[29] Korsch 1970, 114.

 

[30] LCW, vol. 14, “Materialism and Empirio-criticism,” 329. I am also drawing on the arguments in Goode 1979, 126-8.

 

[31] Michael Löwy, On Changing the World: Essays in Political Philosophy, From Karl Marx to Walter Benjamin (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1993), 88.

 

[32] Leon Trotsky, The Lessons of October (London: Union Books, 1993), 67.

 

[33] Karl Korsch, "Lenin's Philosophy," in Anton Pannekoek, Lenin as Philosopher (London: Merlin, 1975 ), 114-15. See also the discussion in Kevin Anderson, Lenin, Hegel and Western Marxism: A Critical Study (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 178-180.

 

[34] Korsch 2016, 76-77.

 

[35] Ibid. 9-10.

 

[36] Georg Lukács, Young Hegel: Studies in the Relations between Dialectics and Economics (London: Merlin Books, 1975), xxvii.

 

[37] Korsch 2016, 122.

 

[38] “Ten Theses on Marxism Today” in Kellner 1977, 281.

 

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