Karl Korsch

Last updated
Karl Korsch
Korsch-karl.jpg
Karl Korsch
Born15 August 1886
Died21 October 1961(1961-10-21) (aged 75)
Alma mater University of Jena (Dr.jur., 1910)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Western Marxism
Main interests
Politics, economics, law
Notable ideas
The principle of historical specification (comprehending all things social in terms of a definite historical epoch)

Karl Korsch (German: [kɔɐ̯ʃ] ; August 15, 1886 – October 21, 1961) was a German Marxist theoretician and political philosopher. [1] Along with György Lukács, Korsch is considered to be one of the major figures responsible for laying the groundwork for Western Marxism in the 1920s. [2]

Contents

Early years

Karl Korsch was born in the small rural village of Tostedt (near Hamburg) to Carl August Korsch and his wife Therese on August 15, 1886. [3] Although Karl's father worked as a secretary in a city hall bureau, he was deeply devoted to studying the philosophy of Leibniz in his private life. He wrote an unpublished book covering the development of Leibnitz's theories of the monads. [4] Always longing for something more urban and intellectual, Carl August made the decision to relocate his family west to a village just outside Meiningen in the Thuringen region when Karl was eleven years old. [5] The move not only allowed the elder Korsch to obtain employment at a local bank (where he eventually rose to the position of vice president), it also gave his children the opportunity to receive a better education. Karl, who showed great intellectual promise at a young age, excelled as a student during his years of schooling at Meiningen.

Beginning in 1906, Korsch successively attended universities in Munich, Geneva, and Berlin, studying various subjects such as philosophy and humanities in preparation for a more concentrated study in the field of law. [5] Korsch then entered the University of Jena (incidentally, the same university that awarded Karl Marx his doctorate in philosophy in 1841) to begin working on his law degree in 1908. When he was not occupied with his studies, Korsch was extremely active in the Freie Studenten, a left-of-center student group which pushed for further liberalization of the school's code of behavior. [5] Korsch also found time to become editor of the student newspaper, to which he also contributed articles. In addition, Korsch organized and participated in lectures that featured prominent socialist speakers such as Eduard Bernstein and Karl Liebknecht. The extent of his extracurricular activities did not seem to have the slightest detrimental effect on Korsch's academic performance since he managed to earn his doctor of law from the University of Jena's in 1910. [6] His thesis title was Die Anwendung der Beweislastregeln im Zivilprozess und das qualifizierte Geständnis. It was around this time that Korsch met Hedda Gagliardi, whom he would eventually marry in 1913.

First World War

Korsch received a grant in 1912 to travel to England and work on translating and writing a commentary to a legal text by Sir Ernest Schuster. [5] During this time, Korsch became a member of the Fabian Society, a reformist socialist organization. In 1913 he married Hedda Gagliardi, who came from a bourgeois family. [4] She was a grandchild of feminist Hedwig Dohm, who would be closely involved in his theoretical work. Hedda Korsch from 1916 was a teacher at the Wickersdorf Free School Community. Korsch's stay in England came to an end in the summer of 1914 when he received orders to report to his military regiment at Meiningen for maneuvers. Despite being opposed to a war that he knew was on the horizon, Korsch nevertheless made the decision to return to his native country because in the words of his wife: “He wanted to be with the masses, and they would be in the army.” At the start of the war, Korsch initially held the rank of lieutenant but was quickly demoted to sergeant for daring to voice his objections to the German Army's invasion of neutral Belgium. However, these disciplinary measures did little to shake Korsch of his pacifist convictions; throughout the war, he refused to carry any sort of weapon into battle. [6] According to Hedda Korsch, Karl's rationale for going into combat unarmed was “that it made no difference, since you were just as safe with or without a weapon: the point was that you were safe neither way.” Instead of fighting, Korsch made it his personal mission to save as many lives as he could. As the conflict wore on, Korsch was decorated several times and was even re-promoted to the rank of captain. He was awarded the Iron Cross twice for his bravery under fire. [6] More important than these official accolades, Korsch's strong moral character and reputation for bravery under fire helped him garner the respect of many of the men in his company. An account cited that he had to change his North German accent to be understood by the soldiers and the common people. [4]

In 1917 he joined the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), which had broken away from the Social Democratic Party of Germany over the later's support for the war. When widespread unrest began to sweep through the German military in 1917, this company established a soldiers’ soviet with Korsch being elected by his fellow soldiers to serve as one of this soviet's delegates. This "red company" was one of the last to be demobilized, a process which occurred in January 1919.

Political activism in Germany, 1917–1933

Korsch's wartime experiences in Germany had radicalised him, especially the ferment within the leftwing parties of Germany following the Russian Revolution. Korsch focused his studies and writings on working-out a replacement economic system for workers' councils to implement across Germany, published under the title What is Socialization? in March 1919. Korsch was part of the USPD faction which joined the German Communist Party in 1920. This was despite his misgivings about the twenty-one Conditions required for adherence to the Comintern. [7] He became Communist Minister of Justice in the regional Thuringian government in October 1923.

Korsch attributed the failure of the German revolution to the lack of ideological preparation and leadership of the working class. Accordingly, he turned his focus to developing workers' organisations into bodies subjectively capable of realizing revolutionary opportunities. In contrast to what seemed to him a materialist fatalism, he thought it would be possible to galvanize workers' organisations into bolder political action if more effort was put into educating workers in the deeper theory of Marxism.

In 1926 he formed the Entschiedene Linke (Determined Left) with Ernst Schwarz. It initially attracted 7,000 members, [8] before joining the Communist Workers Party of Germany in June 1927.

Exile

Having been active in left-wing politics in Germany from 1917–1933, he left on 27 February 1933, the night of the Reichstag fire. At first he stayed in England and Denmark.

The deaths of Dora Fabian and Mathilde Wurm

The bodies of Dora Fabian and Mathilde Wurm were found in a locked bedroom in London on 4 April 1935. In the subsequent coroner's inquest Korsch was to play a significant role. Fabian had been working with Dr. (Anton) Roy Ganz of the Swiss Police to investigate the activities of Hans Wesemann, a former Social Democrat journalist who had become a Nazi agent. [9] In fact Korsch had attended an interview with Ganz at which Inspector Jempson of the Special Branch had been present, but without Korsch being aware of his identity. Korsch later claimed that Ganz had encouraged him to reveal his revolutionary sentiments in front of the policeman and suggested that this was a factor in the expulsion of Korsch from Britain a few months later.

Life in the United States

In 1936, he settled in the United States with his wife, teaching at Tulane University, New Orleans, and working at the International Institute for Social Research, New York City. Korsch died in Belmont, Massachusetts on October 21, 1961.

In his later work, he rejected orthodox Marxism as historically outmoded, wanted to adapt Marxism to a new historical situation, and wrote in his Ten Theses (1950) that "the first step in re-establishing a revolutionary theory and practice consists in breaking with that Marxism which claims to monopolize revolutionary initiative as well as theoretical and practical direction" and that "today, all attempts to re-establish the Marxist doctrine as a whole in its original function as a theory of the working classes social revolution are reactionary utopias." [10]

Philosophical work

Korsch was especially concerned that Marxist theory was losing its precision and validity – in the words of the day, becoming "vulgarized" – within the upper echelons of the various socialist organizations. His masterwork, Marxism and Philosophy, is an attempt to re-establish the historic character of Marxism as the heir to Hegel. It commences with a quote from Vladimir Lenin's On the Significance of Militant Materialism: "We must organize a systematic study of the Hegelian dialectic from a materialist standpoint." Korsch's critique of traditional bourgeois concept of progress in his work Karl Marx stressed that the development of material productive sources is not a natural result or a result of independent economic evolution and can be changed by man. [11] He maintained that the revolutionary transformation of the mode of production and labor is essential to realize a proletarian revolution. [12]

In Korsch's formulation, Hegel represented at the level of ideas the real, material progressiveness of the bourgeoisie. Alongside the extinction of 'Hegelianism' around 1848, the bourgeoisie lost its claim to that progressive role in society, ceasing to be the universal class. Marx, in taking Hegel and transforming that philosophy into something new, in which the workers would be the progressive class, himself represented the moment at which the revolutionary baton materially passed from bourgeoisie to workers. To Korsch, the central idea of Marxian theory was what he termed "the principle of historical specification". This means to "comprehend all things social in terms of a definite historical epoch". (Korsch, Karl Marx, p. 24) He emphasizes that Marx "deals with all categories of his economic and socio-historical research in that specific form and in that specific connection in which they appear in modern bourgeois society. He does not treat them as eternal categories." (op. cit., p. 29f.) He was also noted for claiming that socialism must not confine itself to the "socialization of the means of production" and, instead, construct useful formula for the socialistic organization of the national economy. [13]

Korsch's stance had ramifications which were unpalatable to the official Communist Party structure – not least, casting the Party's own ideological weaknesses as the only material explanation for the failure of the revolution. Published in 1923, Marxism and Philosophy was strongly opposed by Party faithful and other left-wing figures, including Karl Kautsky and Grigory Zinoviev. [14] Zinoviev famously said of Korsch and his fellow critic Lukács, "If we get a few more of these Professors spinning out their theories, we shall be lost." Over the subsequent five years, the German Communist Party gradually purged all such dissenting voices. Korsch survived within a current known as the Resolute Lefts, until his expulsion in April 1926. [14] He remained a communist deputy to the Reichstag.

Influence

Korsch's critique was not accepted into Marxist–Leninist communist theory. However it remained influential amongst communist dissenters and academics for several decades. Within those currents, particularly in Germany, Britain, Hungary and Italy, his influence varies from group to group, but became more significant with the brief revival of revolutionary politics in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Korsch taught and befriended Bertolt Brecht, the Marxian playwright, who said he picked Korsch to instruct him in Marxism due to his independence from the Communist Party. He also instructed Felix Weil, the founder of the Institute for Social Research, from which the highly influential Frankfurt School was to emerge. He also influenced the German Marxist historian Arthur Rosenberg. Indirect disciples include Franz Jakubowski and Nildo Viana. Sidney Hook attended Korsch lectures in Berlin in 1928.

Works

Related Research Articles

Karl Marx German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist and journalist

Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. Born in Trier, Germany, Marx studied law and philosophy at university. He married Jenny von Westphalen in 1843. Due to his political publications, Marx became stateless and lived in exile with his wife and children in London for decades, where he continued to develop his thought in collaboration with German thinker Friedrich Engels and publish his writings, researching in the British Museum Reading Room. His best-known titles are the 1848 pamphlet The Communist Manifesto and the three-volume Das Kapital (1867–1883). Marx's political and philosophical thought had enormous influence on subsequent intellectual, economic and political history. His name has been used as an adjective, a noun, and a school of social theory.

Frankfurt School School of social theory and critical philosophy

The Frankfurt School was a school of social theory and critical philosophy associated with the Institute for Social Research, at Goethe University Frankfurt in 1929. Founded in the Weimar Republic (1918–1933), during the European interwar period (1918–1939), the Frankfurt School comprised intellectuals, academics, and political dissidents dissatisfied with the contemporary socio-economic systems of the 1930s. The Frankfurt theorists proposed that social theory was inadequate for explaining the turbulent political factionalism and reactionary politics occurring in 20th century liberal capitalist societies. Critical of both capitalism and of Marxism–Leninism as philosophically inflexible systems of social organization, the School's critical theory research indicated alternative paths to realizing the social development of a society and a nation.

Paul Mattick German-American writer, Marxist theorist and revolutionary

Paul Mattick Sr. was a Marxist political writer and social revolutionary, whose thought can be placed within the council communist and left communist traditions.

Raya Dunayevskaya American Marxist philosopher and humanist activist

Raya Dunayevskaya, later Rae Spiegel, also known by the pseudonym Freddie Forest, was the American founder of the philosophy of Marxist humanism in the United States. At one time Leon Trotsky's secretary, she later split with him and ultimately founded the organization News and Letters Committees and was its leader until her death.

Marxism Economic and sociopolitical worldview based on the works of Karl Marx

Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that uses a materialist interpretation of historical development, better known as historical materialism, to understand class relations and social conflict as well as a dialectical perspective to view social transformation. It originates from the works of 19th-century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. As Marxism has developed over time into various branches and schools of thought, there is currently no single definitive Marxist theory.

Michael Löwy

Michael Löwy is a French-Brazilian Marxist sociologist and philosopher. He is emeritus research director in social sciences at the CNRS and lectures at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Author of books on Karl Marx, Che Guevara, Liberation Theology, György Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Lucien Goldmann and Franz Kafka, he received the CNRS Silver Medal in 1994.

Libertarian Marxism Set of political philosophies emphasizing the anti-authoritarian and libertarian aspects of Marxism

Libertarian Marxism is a broad scope of economic and political philosophies that emphasize the anti-authoritarian and libertarian aspects of Marxism. Early currents of libertarian Marxism such as left communism emerged in opposition to Marxism–Leninism.

Marxist schools of thought

Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that originates in the works of 19th century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxism analyzes and critiques the development of class society and especially of capitalism as well as the role of class struggles in systemic economic, social and political change. It frames capitalism through a paradigm of exploitation and analyzes class relations and social conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development - materialist in the sense that the politics and ideas of an epoch are determined by the way in which material production is carried on.

<i>Main Currents of Marxism</i> 1976 book by Leszek Kołakowski

Main Currents of Marxism: Its Origins, Growth and Dissolution is a work about Marxism by the political philosopher Leszek Kołakowski. Its three volumes in English are The Founders, The Golden Age, and The Breakdown. It was first published in Polish in Paris in 1976, with the English translation appearing in 1978. In 2005, Main Currents of Marxism was republished in a one volume edition, with a new preface and epilogue by Kołakowski. The work was intended to be a "handbook" on Marxism by Kołakowski, who was once an orthodox Marxist but ultimately rejected Marxism. Despite his critical stand toward Marxism, Kołakowski endorsed the philosopher György Lukács's interpretation of the philosopher Karl Marx.

Marxist humanism School of Marxism aligned with humanist philosiphies

Marxist humanism is an international body of thought and political action rooted in an interpretation of the works of Karl Marx. It is an investigation into "what human nature consists of and what sort of society would be most conducive to human thriving" from a critical perspective rooted in Marxist philosophy. Marxist humanists argue that Marx himself was concerned with investigating similar questions.

Young Marx

The correct place of Karl Marx's early writings within his system as a whole has been a matter of great controversy. Some believe there is a break in Marx's development that divides his thought into two periods: the "Young Marx" is said to be a thinker who deals with the problem of alienation, while the "Mature Marx" is said to aspire to a scientific socialism.

Marxist–Leninist atheism, also known as Marxist–Leninist scientific atheism, is the irreligious and anti-clerical element of Marxism–Leninism, the official state ideology of the Soviet Union. Based upon a dialectical-materialist understanding of humanity's place in nature, Marxist–Leninist atheism proposes that religion is the opium of the people; thus, Marxism–Leninism advocates atheism, rather than religious belief.

Herbert Marcuse German philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist

Herbert Marcuse was a German-American philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist, associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. Born in Berlin, Marcuse studied at the Humboldt University of Berlin and then at Freiburg, where he received his PhD. He was a prominent figure in the Frankfurt-based Institute for Social Research – what later became known as the Frankfurt School. He was married to Sophie Wertheim (1924–1951), Inge Neumann (1955–1973), and Erica Sherover (1976–1979). In his written works, he criticized capitalism, modern technology, Soviet Communism and entertainment culture, arguing that they represent new forms of social control.

Marxist philosophy Philosophy influenced by Marxist political thought

Marxist philosophy or Marxist theory are works in philosophy that are strongly influenced by Karl Marx's materialist approach to theory, or works written by Marxists. Marxist philosophy may be broadly divided into Western Marxism, which drew from various sources, and the official philosophy in the Soviet Union, which enforced a rigid reading of Marx called dialectical materialism, in particular during the 1930s. Marxist philosophy is not a strictly defined sub-field of philosophy, because the diverse influence of Marxist theory has extended into fields as varied as aesthetics, ethics, ontology, epistemology, theoretical psychology and philosophy of science, as well as its obvious influence on political philosophy and the philosophy of history. The key characteristics of Marxism in philosophy are its materialism and its commitment to political practice as the end goal of all thought. The theory is also about the hustles of the proletariat and their reprimand of the bourgeoisie.

György Lukács Hungarian philosopher and critic

György Lukács was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher, literary historian, critic, and aesthetician. He was one of the founders of Western Marxism, an interpretive tradition that departed from the Marxist ideological orthodoxy of the Soviet Union. He developed the theory of reification, and contributed to Marxist theory with developments of Karl Marx's theory of class consciousness. He was also a philosopher of Leninism. He ideologically developed and organised Lenin's pragmatic revolutionary practices into the formal philosophy of vanguard-party revolution.

Orthodox Marxism

Orthodox Marxism is the body of Marxist thought that emerged after the death of Karl Marx (1818–1883) and which became the official philosophy of the majority of the socialist movement as represented in the Second International until the First World War in 1914. Orthodox Marxism aims to simplify, codify and systematize Marxist method and theory by clarifying the perceived ambiguities and contradictions of classical Marxism.

Western Marxism Current of Marxist theory

Western Marxism is a current of Marxist theory that arose from Western and Central Europe in the aftermath of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the ascent of Leninism. The term denotes a loose collection of theorists who advanced an interpretation of Marxism distinct from both classical and Orthodox Marxism and the Marxism-Leninism of the Soviet Union.

<i>History and Class Consciousness</i> 1923 book by György Lukács

History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics is a 1923 book by the Hungarian philosopher György Lukács, in which the author re-emphasizes the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's influence on the philosopher Karl Marx, analyzes the concept of "class consciousness," and attempts a philosophical justification of Bolshevism.

Marxs method

Various Marxist authors have focused on Marx's method of analysis and presentation as key factors both in understanding the range and incisiveness of Karl Marx's theoretical writing in general and Das Kapital in particular. One of the clearest and most instructive examples of this is his discussion of the value-form, which acts as a primary guide or key to understanding the logical argument as it develops throughout the volumes of Das Kapital.

Outline of Marxism Overview of and topical guide to Marxism

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Marxism:

References

  1. Devlin, Nicholas (2021). "Karl Korsch and Marxism's interwar moment, 1917–1933". History of European Ideas. doi:10.1080/01916599.2021.1975149. ISSN   0191-6599.
  2. Jacoby, Russell (1991). "Western Marxism". In Bottomore, Tom; Harris, Laurence; Kiernan, V.G.; Miliband, Ralph (eds.). The Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Second ed.). Blackwell Publishers Ltd. p. 581. ISBN   0-631-16481-2.
  3. Goode, Patrick (1991). "Karl Korsch". In Bottomore, Tom; Harris, Laurence; Kiernan, V.G.; Miliband, Ralph (eds.). The Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Second ed.). Blackwell Publishers Ltd. p. 294. ISBN   0-631-16481-2.
  4. 1 2 3 Mulhern, Francis (2011). Lives on the Left: A Group Portrait. London: Verso Books. pp. 14, 15. ISBN   978-1-84467-699-6.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Korsch, Karl (1974). Kellner, Douglas (ed.). Karl Korsch: Revolutionary Theory. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. pp. 6, 7. ISBN   0-292-74301-7.
  6. 1 2 3 Renton, David (2004). Dissident Marxism: Past Voices for Present Times. London: Zed Books Ltd. p. 64. ISBN   1-84277-292-9.
  7. Korsch, Karl (1970). Halliday, Fred (ed.). Marxism and Philosophy . New York: Monthly Review Press. ISBN   0902308505.
  8. Die Entstehung der GIK, 1927-1933, accessed 13 July 2010
  9. (Anton) Roy Ganz&f=false
  10. Ten Theses on Marxism Today, Thesis 2, Korsch 1950
  11. Korsch, Karl (2016). Karl Marx. Leiden: BRILL. p. 151. ISBN   978-90-04-19395-6.
  12. Piccone, Paul (1983). Italian Marxism. Berkeley: Univ of California Press. p. 187. ISBN   0-520-04798-2.
  13. Schmelzer, Albert (2017). THE THREEFOLDING MOVEMENT, 1919: A History. Rudolf Steiner's Campaign For A Self-Governing, Self-Managing, Self-Educating Society. Forest Row: Rudolf Steiner Press. p. 25. ISBN   978-1-85584-541-1.
  14. 1 2 Kołakowski, Leszek (2005). Main Currents of Marxism. London: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 1034. ISBN   978-0-393-32943-8.
  15. According to WorldCat there has been a publication in 1936 (London); but we may suppose that's a mistake