10 things about Karl Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy

Marxism and Philosophy

  1. Karl Korsch is a Marxist theorist who argues that Marxism, properly understood from a dialectical materialist perspective, is descended from (though opposed to) Hegelianism. His more practical thesis is that a revolutionary Marxist practice cannot achieve its goals without a simultaneous development in Marxist theory. That thesis seems quaint today but this was written in the 20s where I guess a lot of Marxists thought they could just “do” politics without constantly reevaluating their theory.
  2. Some of Korsch’s favourite phrases are: bourgeois scholars, vulgar-marxist [left uncapitalized], scientific socialism, and social/scientific/economic/bourgeois consciousness.
  3. Korsch claims that recently (in the 20s) Marxist theory has taken on the character of a “pure bourgeois ideology” under “the peculiar ideological guise of a return to the pure teaching of original or true Marxism.”
  4. Luckily, Karl Korsch is here to help restore “the correct – dialectical and revolutionary – conception of original Marxism.”
  5. Of course, Korsch’s essay was also attacked as “revisionist” and “pure bourgeois ideology.” In response, Korsch wrote an “Anti-Critique” which consists mostly of Korsh claiming that those who claim that he has misinterpreted them and Marx are in fact misinterpreting him [Korsh].
  6. Marxist theory can be tiring.
  7. But instead of just shitting all over Korsh I’d like to highlight some interesting stuff in this book.
  8. Korsh highlights the nuances of Marx’s dialectical materialism in opposition to what might be called “positive” or “mechanical” materialism. The mechanical materialist reduces everything to material objects. Thus ideas, concepts, thoughts, philosophies, lose their power; ideas are just ideas and have no influence on the real world of material things. Thus all we need to do is change the material conditions of society, and we will in turn change how we think. Dialectical materialism on the other hand does not consider thought to be independent of being; it is a being whose existence is brought about by and in turn effect the material foundation. While there are no ideas that pre-figure the material world (like in Hegel’s idealism or Plato’s theory of forms) the ideas that exist are not completely subservient to their material foundation. The difference is similar to the neuroscientist who says our thoughts and actions are completely determined by the structure of our brain verses the neuroscientist who says the brain exhibits plasticity – that the way we think can influence the material structure of the brain.
  9. For Korsch, philosophies and ideas can subsist even when the material conditions that brought them about have been abolished. This is why a theoretical as well as a practical element is necessary for Marxist politics.
  10. I’d still rather read Marx than Marxists.
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