Paul Mattick. 1964

The Marxism of Karl Korsch

Source: Kurasje Archive;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden, for 2003.

The new interest in Marxism, as reflected in numerous publications, seems to substantiate George Lichtheim’s remark that ‘a new doctrine becomes academically respectable only after it has petrified’.[1] From this point of view the renewed concern with Marx resembles an intellectual wake over the dead body of Marxism and the disposition of some of its still-usable properties among the heirs. If nothing good can be said about past Marxian practice, the aspects of Marxian theory, at least, can be and have been assimilated into current social sciences. Marx himself, it is said, is thereby honoured, for ‘the highest triumph a great scholar can achieve is when his theories lose their special character and become an integral part of the scientific life of society.[2]

The increasingly tolerant criticism of Marx reflects, on the one hand, the transformation of capitalism itself, and, on the other, the need to strengthen bourgeois ideology by adapting it to changed social conditions. But while the bourgeoisie, at least in part, appears ready to incorporate an emasculated Marxism into its own ideology, the official labour movement tries to free itself of the last remnants of its Marxian heritage. It does so, however, not as an independent labour movement in quest of a new and more effective theory and practice for achieving its own emancipation, but as an accredited social institution within existing society. It is thus clear that the renaissance of Marxism in the bookstalls and universities does not signify the return of a revolutionary consciousness, heralding new social struggles for the liberation of the working class, but rather its present ineffectiveness as an instrument of social change.

It would, of course, be a miracle if the theories evolved by Marx more than a hundred years ago still fitted the present situation. Marx believed not in miracles but in social change. He based his theories on the experiences of the past and on an analysis of existing conditions in order to discover the sources of social development in general and of capitalism in particular. His theories sprang from the recognition of an actually-existing social movement opposed to prevailing conditions, and they were expected to help this movement realise its own potentialities. These theories, and the social practice at their base, were themselves subject to change; Marxism, too, was but a historical phenomenon. His expectations have not come to pass. The Marxian doctrine prevails as a set of ideas unconnected with real social practice, or as the ‘false consciousness’ of state-prescribed ideologies in support of an un-Marxian practice.

It is with these preliminaries in mind that the work of Karl Korsch is best approached. Korsch called himself a Marxist throughout his adult life, but he adhered to a Marxism without dogmas. His work displays a critical attitude towards Marx and the Marxists, even though it was intended to strengthen, not weaken, the Marxist movement. He understood this movement strictly as the proletarian class struggle for the abolition of capitalist society, and Marxian theory had meaning for him only as an indivisible and essential part of this social transformation.

Like Marx, Korsch came to the socialist movement by way of philosophy and through a strong sense for social justice which rebelled against the conditions of the labouring population. Born into a middle-class family in 1886, he had a sheltered youth and went on to study philosophy, law, economics, and sociology in Jena, Munich, Berlin, and Geneva; in 1911 he became a doctor of jurisprudence at the University of Jena. The same university gave him a professorship in 1919. As a student, Korsch was associated with the ‘Free Student Movement’, which opposed the traditional and generally reactionary fraternities, and attempted, albeit in a vague way, to establish links between the academic professions and the socialist movement. Between the years 1911 and 1914 Korsch lived in England, studying and practising English and International Law; while there he joined the Fabian Society.

As a philosopher Korsch was at first influenced by Kant; in a later period, mainly by Hegel, Feuerbach, and Marx. Although he took his departure from the study of law, he shifted his emphasis, by way of philosophical studies, from the technicalities of law to their material foundations, to economics and politics. Most of his early writing, which he did in England, displays the influence of Fabianism and of the syndicalist and guild-socialist tendencies within the labour movement. His concern even then was with the practical activities of the movement rather than its theories. The latter, Korsch found, concentrated on the destruction of capitalism and showed little interest in the construction of the new society. Satisfied neither with the political-administrative reformism of the Fabian Society, nor with the purely economic proposals of syndicalism, Korsch favoured a direct and continuous implementation of socialist theory by practical activities which would actually make a difference in the social developmental process.

The year 1914 brought Korsch back to Germany and into the army where he remained throughout the war. The anti-war movement, which found its voice in 1915 in Zimmerwald and a year later in Kienthal, he welcomed with enthusiasm. After his demobilisation in 1919 he joined the USPD-the German Independent Socialist Party. Back at the University of Jena, he lectured on civil law and procedure, especially labour law and collective bargaining, as well as social science, contemporary history, and philosophy. His publications from 1919 onward show a preoccupation with the practical issues of socialism and with its character as a proletarian endeavour. ‘All nationalisation’, he wrote in 1919, ‘which claims to represent the interests of the working population must, first of all, make a reality of participation of the workers in the organisation, administration, and determination of production and the social production process’.[3] Korsch was still speaking in terms of participation, not of control, because he did not think the working class was ready, nor the situation ripe, for the realisation of socialism in the full Marxian sense of a free and equal association of producers. He suggested a combination of workers’ autonomy in industry with centralised planning via political institutions, a combination, in brief, of syndicalist and socialist ideas. It was by a system of workers’ councils, operating on the factory level and in political life, that both self-determination and social regulation were to be realised.[4]

The radical wing of the German socialist movement in the 1918 revolution and its aftermath demanded a total reconstruction of society on the basis of a system of workers’ councils (on the pattern of the Russian Soviets), designed to bring all economic and political power into the hands of the working class. This radical group consisted mainly of the left-wing within the Independent Socialist Party, the Spartakusbund, which at the end of 1918 became the German Communist Party (KPD). At this time, however, and regardless of their differences, all socialist organisations advocated nationalisation. The differences between moderate and radical socialists seemed to be merely questions of procedure; whether to reach socialism by the methods of political democracy or by way of proletarian dictatorship.

The slogan, ‘All power to the workers’ councils’, implied the latter, for its realisation would leave other sections of the population without political representation. But to give them representation in a National Assembly implied the restoration of the power they had temporarily lost and the end of the nationalisation programme. The choice was avoided by deciding for both the workers’ councils and the National Assembly-the councils in emasculated form as part of the Weimar Constitution.

With no prospects of early nationalisation, Korsch turned to an investigation of the reasons for the socialist failure. Obviously, the working class was not ready to utilise its opportunities, despite the long period of Marxist indoctrination; their Marxism, Korsch found, had degenerated into a mere system of knowledge and was no longer the consciousness of a revolutionary practice out to realise its revolutionary goal. It was then necessary to reconstruct the revolutionary, active side of Marxism, as exemplified in the Bolshevik Revolution. It was in this spirit that Korsch turned to a reinterpretation of Marxian theory in opposition to both the ‘orthodox’ and the ‘revisionist’ wings of the Marxism of the Second International.[5] It was in this spirit, too, that he entered the Communist Party with the majority of the Independent Socialists, even though he was not happy with the conditions of admission to the Communist International, which subordinated the national communist parties to the programme and tactics of the Moscow centre, controlled by the Russian Communist Party. Korsch shared the belief of the bolsheviks that the socialist workers were bound to gravitate towards the Moscow International. His command of Marxian theory led to his rapid elevation into the party’s intellectual leadership. He became a communist representative in the Thuringian Diet and, in 1924, a member of the German Reichstag. He also became editor of, and frequent contributor to, the party’s theoretical organ, Die Internationale. The events of the ‘crisis year’ of 1923-the French occupation of the Ruhr, the runaway currency inflation, the series of large-scale strikes, the fiasco of the short lived communist attempt at insurrection in Hamburg, and the emergence of the Nazi movement-events in which both the Comintern and the KPD showed themselves indecisive and lacking in judgement, brought Korsch in opposition to the official, though changing, party line. He became the spokesman of its radical left-wing, Entschiedene Linke, and the editor of its oppositional organ, Kommunistische Politik. Although expelled from the KPD in 1926. Korsch remained a member of the Reichstag until 1928. From then on, he continued his political activity outside any definite organisational frame.

Among Korsch’s early writings, Marxism and Philosophy is perhaps the most important, and this despite its apparently strictly theoretical nature. It was supplemented by various other essays on the materialist conception of history and the Marxian dialectic.[6] These works were not so much inquiries into the relationship between Marxism and philosophy as they were answers to the question of what Marxism itself represented. In this way, the theoretical became at once a practical concern.

According to Hegel, a philosophy cannot be anything but ‘its time expressed in ideas.’ Korsch conceived both bourgeois philosophy and Marxism as expressions of one and the same historical development, which created in the proletariat the necessary counterpart to the bourgeoisie. The ideational relationship between bourgeois philosophy and Marxism was one aspect of the real and contradictory differences between labour and capital. Marxism was conditioned upon the existence of capitalism and was independent only as the point of view of the proletarian class in its struggle against bourgeois society. It could arise only in conjunction with an actual social movement transcending the historical limitations of capitalism. Bourgeois science and philosophy could not develop beyond the material conditions of their own existence. Where the capitalist mode of production arrested further social development, it also arrested the development of science and philosophy. It was the working class which would break the general social deadlock through its own emancipation, removing the class limitations of social, scientific, and philosophical development. That did not mean that Marxism, as the theory and practice of the proletarian class, developed its own science and philosophy; it meant that the actual abolition of the capitalist mode of production would also end the science and philosophy peculiar to it.

Korsch was aware, of course, that Marxism refers to itself as scientific socialism and not as a philosophy, and that both Marx and Engels equated bourgeois philosophy with philosophy as such. Just as Marx denounced not only one particular historical form of the state-the bourgeois state-but the state as such, so he fought not only against particular philosophical systems but for the elimination of philosophy. How was this to be accomplished? Obviously not by a single mental act. Just as the abolition of the state would require a whole historical process, so the defeat of philosophy would demand a prolonged ideological struggle. The question of the relationship between Marxism and philosophy would persist for as long as those conditions prevailed which had given rise to bourgeois philosophy and to its Marxian counterpart, scientific socialism.[7]

Korsch’s concern with the relation between Marxism and philosophy did not imply a particular interest in philosophy on his own part, nor an attempt to revive the criticism of philosophy-which had been the young Marx’s starting-point in his criticism of capitalism; it derived from his desire to restore Marxism’s revolutionary content. The revolutionary character of Marxism had been lost and could be regained only through the resumption of an actual struggle against capitalist society. This struggle seemed at hand in the revolutionary events released by the first World War. In these upheavals the Marxism of the Second International came into conflict with the Marxism of the Third International. How and why did this happen? Wherein did these two movements actually differ? The question had to be answered by applying the materialist conception of history to the ‘history of the Marxist labour movement itself.

In so doing, Korsch divided Marxian history into three distinct periods. The first begins with Marx’s philosophical communism and ends with the Communist Manifesto. It was still largely dominated by philosophy as a comprehensive criticism of existing conditions, which includes, but does not separate and isolate, the economic, political, and ideological elements constituting ‘the totality of social life and development. This period came to an end with the defeat of the revolutionary movements. After that a long, non-revolutionary period ensued which altered the character of Marxism. And this could not be otherwise, for Marxism itself insists upon the interdependence of theory and practice. The new revolutionary upheavals initiated by the Russian Revolution promised a third and revolutionary period of Marxism.

During the long period of inaction, Korsch argued, Marx and Engels developed their theories by giving them an increasingly scientific content. This. however, did not dissolve their system into a number of special and generally applicable social sciences; it retained its identity as an all-embracing critical theory of the whole of capitalist theory and practice, which also could be overcome only in its entirety, through the overthrow of the social relations on which it was based. While philosophy was thus replaced by science, science did not become the key to the social transformation process. Marxism was still conceived as the revolutionary consciousness of an actually-occurring revolutionary process terminating in ‘the abolition of capitalism. While this revolutionary consciousness had evolved out of philosophy, it increased its effectiveness by way of science; but it was neither science nor philosophy in the restricted sense of these terms.

The return of revolutionary conditions, in Korsch’s view, would also mark the return to a revolutionary social consciousness. The revolutionary process was at once ideational and actual. But as history has to be made by men, this implied that the revolutionary consciousness had to be fostered as much as the actual transformation of its socio-economic base. It was not possible to neglect one in favour of the other without jeopardising both. By attacking once again on all fronts of social awareness and social practice, there would be restored the radical activity of Marxism’s revolutionary past which had been lost during its evolutionary period-a loss which manifested itself in the reactionary character of the Marxism of the Second International.

Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy embodying these ideas, appeared in 1923 in Germany and a year later in Russia. Although written for the communist and against the social-democratic theory and practice, both rejected it as a deviation from true Marxism. For Kautsky it was as false as the whole of communism. For the bolsheviks, it was an idealist revision of Leninist Marxism. Rejection by both the main Marxist tendencies pointed to their common commitment to the Marxism of the Second International, despite their otherwise divergent political practices. Korsch answered their criticism in the second edition (1930), but by this time he had overcome all his illusions with respect to the revolutionary potentialities of the Third International.

Korsch now recognised a definite affinity between the Leninist version of Marxism and the Marxism of the Second International. Although the latter had been split on theoretical lines into a so-called ‘revisionist’ wing and an ‘orthodox’ wing, this did not affect actual policies; both wings were revisionist. Their Marxism was mere ideology, that is, the ‘false consciousness’ of a reformist practice. This, Korsch conceded, may have been unavoidable, but there was no need to contend, as both Kautsky and Lenin did, that the working class by itself was not able to develop a socialist consciousness, that this had to be brought to it from the outside, by the socialist-oriented, educated bourgeoisie. Socialist consciousness, in these conditions, was not the revolutionary activity of the working class, but the result of the intelligentsia’s scientific insight into social mechanisms and their laws of development.

With this, socialist consciousness ceased to be what it had been for Marx, namely, the theoretical expression of the proletarian class struggle. If Kautsky’s ‘orthodoxy’ represented the false consciousness of a revisionist practice, Lenin’s revolutionary Marxism was no better, existing only in ideological form as the false consciousness of a non-socialist activity. It did not express the practical necessities of the modern, international, anti-capitalist class struggle, but was determined by specific Russian conditions, which required not so much the emancipation as the creation of an industrial proletariat.

This situation could be altered only by revolutionary working-class action on an international scale-wherever there was an objective possibility of transforming capitalist into socialist society. Without such actions, the bolsheviks were condemned to bring into being a new social form of oppression, which was bound, in its own self-defence, to subordinate the revolutionary aspirations of the international working class to its own narrow ends. So long as there was a possibility of the Russian Revolution being extended westward, the Leninist attempt to drive it beyond its objective limitations conformed to the requirements of a Western proletarian revolution. With the West’s failure this was no longer true. Korsch therefore argued that it was necessary to dissociate proletarian communism from bolshevism and the Third International, as, previously, it had been necessary to break away from the reformism of the Second International. Both movements had to be opposed, equally with capitalism in all its manifestations; the international radical labour movement should not be exploited for the specific purposes of the bolshevik regime and the national interests of Russia.

Korsch parted with the Communist International less because he had, since 1923, found its theory wanting and a mere repetition of Kautsky’s orthodoxy, than because the communist movement had become an objectively counter-revolutionary force. It was not that its policies were the outcome of false theories but that they were determined by the concrete needs of the Russian state, and by the special interests of its new ruling elite and their bureaucratic retinue. By trying to use international communism for Russia’s national needs, the bolsheviks were repeating the miserable performance of the Second International which, in 1914, also sacrificed internationalism to nationalism.[8] The new counter-revolutionary role of bolshevism was apparent not only in Russia’s internal and foreign policies but in the everyday policies of all the national communist parties as well.

First in his own paper, Kommunistische Politik, later in Franz Pfempfert’s anti-bolshevik and anti-social-democratic Aktion, in Franz Jung’s Der Gegner, in various liberal publications and academic journals, Korsch continued his criticism of the labour movement, whether openly reformist or seemingly radical, always combining his critique with an elucidation and critical interpretation of Marxian doctrine. The themes of his articles ranged from questions of Hegel’s dialectic, over various aspects of Marxian theory, to contemporary political and economic issues, and established his pre-eminence as a Marxist polemicist, even though he found a diminishing circle of appreciative readers and a growing number of political enemies.

Particularly outstanding was his polemic[9] against Kautsky’s magnum opus, The Materialistic Conception of History, which appeared in 1927. In it Kautsky himself repudiated his past ‘orthodoxy’ in the interest of ‘scientific progress’. In the attempt to develop Marx’s historical materialism through its extension by way of the natural sciences, Kautsky took as his starting-point not the dialectic of society as derived from Hegel, but the evolutionary biological theories of Darwin. Kautsky’s work confirmed Korsch’s earlier critique of the ‘scientific socialism’ of the Second International, as well as his assertion that its orthodoxy merely hid its own revisionist inclinations which were now, finally, proclaimed as an advance over Marx.

In 1932, Korsch prepared a new edition of the first volume of Marx’s Capital,[10] again stating in his preface and commentary that, contrary to the assumptions of many Marxists, Marx himself did not differentiate between the specifically historical and the strictly theoretical-economic content of his work. In the generally accepted view of Rudolf Hilferding, for instance, Marxism was a scientific system of the general laws of social production and Marxian economic theory an application of the general law to the commodity-producing society. Marx’s labour theory of value and the materialist conception of history were seen as identical, whereas for Marx the first referred only to capitalism and .the second was not a general economic law but elucidated historical development as a whole. In being an effective critique of bourgeois political economy, Marx’s Capital was, of course, as Korsch pointed out, also a contribution to economic science. But political economy was for Marx not only a theoretical system of propositions, either true or false, but a piece of historical reality, i.e., the totality and the history of bourgeois society, and as such it constituted the subject-matter of Capital.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Korsch left Germany for England, went from there to Denmark, and in 1936 emigrated to the United States. During his stay in Denmark he spent much time with Bertolt Brecht,[11] who had previously attended his lectures in Berlin, and began work on his book Karl Marx for Professor Morris Ginsberg’s series of sociological studies.[12]

Korsch’s Karl Marx is perhaps the richest and at the same time the most concentrated interpretation of Marxism. It is at once historical, sociological, and economic. Despite the auspices under which it was published, it denies any connection between Marxism and what is generally thought of as sociology. Its concern is with the original ideas of Marx rather than with their subsequent development, and these ideas are viewed in the light of recent historical events.

Korsch’s exposition is organised around three principles: historical specification, change, and criticism. Marx was strictly concerned, he wrote, with capitalist society and its fetishistic economic categories; his sole interest was to change society; the particulars of this change were left to the future. This did not exclude theoretical generalisation; but by analysing the specific historical form of bourgeois society Marx attained a general knowledge of social development far transcending that particular form, and by penetrating the fetishistic categories of political economy, his critique became the theory of an impending revolution. Marx’s theory of the class struggle was itself class struggle and did not pretend or desire to be anything else.

Marxism, in Korsch’s view, was the transitional theory of capitalist society as a transitory phase of historical development. It dealt ‘with all ideas as being connected with a definite historical epoch and the specific form of society pertaining to that epoch, and recognises itself as being just as much an historical product as any other theory pertaining to a definite stage of social development and to a definite social class’ (p. 84). This historical character of Marxism excluded any form of dogmatism, and Korsch devoted a great part of his subsequent work to freeing Marxism from such encumbrances.

Korsch’s book found only a limited response, and his political ideas even less, in a social climate shaped by preparations for war and by the defeat, either actual or by default, of all working-class aspirations. The Spanish Civil War and its partial transformation into an imperialist contest found Korsch siding with the anarcho-syndicalists and their short-lived attempts to collectivise social production and distribution. All manifestations of proletarian independence through direct action for working-class objectives Korsch now perceived as so many signs pointing to the persistence of proletarian class consciousness within the expanding area of authoritarian control over ever larger spheres of social life. Not ideological adherence to Marxist doctrine, but action by the working class on its own behalf was the key to a possible rebirth of the proletarian movement.

Standing outside the official labour movement, and quite unfit for the increasingly conformist academic world, Korsch’s life in America was one of great isolation, which became more pronounced during the war and its aftermath. For most of the time he had no other outlet than the publications of the ‘Council Communists’,[13] themselves a small and isolated group with a consistently radical Marxist point of view, whose anti-parliamentary and anti-trade unionist views Korsch now shared. His contributions dealt with the monopolistic transformation of capitalism, with the false and real issues of the second world war, and with the workers’ attitude to the war; in Korsch’s view the war could not further their real interests whatever its outcome. ‘The workers’, he wrote, ‘have already too long done other people’s tasks, imposed on them under the high-sounding names of humanity, of human progress, of justice, and freedom, and what not. . . . The only task for the workers, as for every other class, is to look out for themselves’.[14]

In 1950 Korsch visited Europe and delivered a series of lectures in Germany and Switzerland, in which he propounded Ten theses on the state of Marxism.[15] At first sight, these seemed to indicate Korsch’s total break with Marxism. It no longer made sense, he stated, even to raise the question whether or not Marx’s and Engels’s teachings still had theoretical validity and practical applicability. Marx’s theory in its original function, as the theory of the workers’ socialist revolution, could not be restored and all attempts to do so were reactionary Utopias. To make a first step towards the reconstruction of revolutionary theory and practice, it was necessary to deny Marxism’s monopolistic claims upon the revolutionary movement, and to consider Marx merely as one of many founders and developers of socialism, along with the so-called Utopian socialists, and with Marx’s great competitors, Blanqui, Proudhon and Bakunin. Important parts of Marx’s theory remained valid, but their functions had changed with changing conditions. Particularly critical for Marxism was its dependence on the backward economic and political circumstances in which it arose, and its consequent connection with the political forms of the bourgeois revolution. Equally critical was the belief that England constituted the model for all subsequent capitalist development, and that it was this particular type of development that provided the necessary presupposition for socialism. These conditions and assumptions gave rise to the Marxist overestimation of the state as the decisive instrument of the socialist revolution, as well as to the mystical identification of capitalist development with the proletarian revolution.

Because of these characteristics, it was possible for Lenin to adapt and transfer Marxism, in a new form, to Russia and Asia, and to change Marxian socialism from a revolutionary theory to pure ideology, which could be used for a variety of different goals, and was so used in the Russian Revolution and in the world at large. But the mere transformation of competitive private capitalism into a monopoly over the means of production and social control did not lead to the self-determination of the workers, and was not, whatever else it might be, any longer a revolutionary goal.

What was new in these theses was only their tone. Otherwise they were merely a summing-up of Korsch’s life-long critical preoccupation with Marxism in its relation to the workers’ revolution, and a consequence of his conviction that Marxism itself could not comprehend more than a particular stage of historical development. As once he had worked his way from Marx’s theories to the Russian Revolution, so now he worked his way back from Leninism to Marxism, and found the former already contained in the latter. This discovery, however, required the intermediary actual application of Marxism to social reality. The bourgeois degeneration of Marxism in Russia, as Korsch had pointed out in 1938, ‘was not essentially different from the outcome of the series of ideological transformations which . . . befell the various currents of so-called Western Marxism. Less than at any previous time does Marxism today serve as a theoretical weapon in an independent struggle of the proletariat, for the proletariat and by the proletariat’.[16] But now he found the seeds of all these transformations already embedded in the time-conditioned Marxism of Marx himself.

What in Marxian theory and practice appeared as anti-bourgeois at one stage of capitalist development became assimilable to the capitalist mode of production at another stage. What seemed to be the road to socialism led to a new type of capitalism. Thus Korsch’s criticism of Marxian orthodoxy, particularly of its Leninist version, finally became a critique of Marxism itself and therewith, of course, self-criticism. However, it was not, he said, ‘directed against what may be called in a very comprehensive sense the Marxist, that is, the independent revolutionary movement of the international working class’. It was directed against the insufficiency of Marxism, in all its various stages, to serve this revolutionary movement in an unambiguous way.[17]

* * *

A great number of fragmentary drafts for articles, as well as outlines for contemplated books, attest to Korsch’s continued desire to proceed from the criticism of Marxism to an understanding of the theoretical and practical requirements of socialism under the prevailing conditions and their ascertainable tendencies. For he was still convinced that, like the capitalism of old, capitalism in its modem monopolistic form also has its historical limitations. If this was no longer possible within the old Marxist frame of reference, the new revolutionary theory and practice would nevertheless ‘be a kind of Marxism of the twentieth century, though it could not be called by that name. To serve that end, Korsch not only tried to look forward, but also re-examined those theories and movements of the past which had opposed Marxism not because it was socialist, but because it appeared not socialistic enough, by incorporating into itself aspects of a capitalist nature and of capitalist development-such as government centralisation of decision-making-which would hamper the self-determination of the working class.

Korsch also realised that the so-called under-developed countries would, in one form or another, employ Marxian ideology for immediate ends that did not correspond with the concept of socialism as the emancipation of the industrial proletariat and the abolition of social class relations. But these transformations were real and had to be related to the general process of social change now under way on a world-wide scale. To describe this process in Marxian terms was to misunderstand it; nor was it possible to ignore this actual transformation process by adhering to a Marxism which did not fit the real situation.

It is not clear whether the fragmentary state of Korsch’s various endeavours to deal with the present world situation and its revolutionary, or counter-revolutionary, potentialities was due to difficulties inherent in the subject matter itself, or was related to the progressive loss of his own abilities-the result of an illness which was slowly destroying him. His last coherent attempt to formulate his new ideas has the significant title, The Time of Abolitions. This investigates the possibilities and requirements of the expected abolition of the capitalist mode of production, of capital, of labour itself, and of the state. It tries to segregate the realistic from the Utopian elements in Marx’s thinking on these questions, and to go one step beyond Marx in considering the probabilities of a socialist future.

Korsch died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1961.


1. G. Lichtheim, Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study (London, 1961), p. 394.

2. L. Kolakowsld. Der Mensch ohne Alternative (Munich, 1961) p. 23.

3. K. Korsch, ‘Sozialisierung und Arbeiterbewegung’, in Freies Deutschland, Hannover, 1919.

4. K. Korsch, Was ist Sozialisierung? Sorialistische Schriftenreeihe, Heft 1, Hannover, 1919.

5. K. Korsch, Quintessence des Marxismus (Berlin-Leipzig, 1922); Kernpunkte der Materialistischen Geschichtsauffassung (Berlin, 1922); Marxismus und Philosophie, Archiv fur die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung (Leipzig, 1923), etc.

6. Collected in the second, enlarged edition of Marxismus und Philosophie (Leipzig, 1930).

7. Ibid. p. 89.

8. K. Korsch, Der Weg der Komintem (Berlin, 1926).

9. K. Korsch, Die Materialistische Geschichtsauffassung: Eine Auseinandersetsuns mil Karl Kautsky (Leipzig, 1929).

10. Das Kapital. Mit Vorrede und Anmerkungen von Karl Korsch (Berlin, 1932).

11. Brecht referred to Korsch and to Fritz Stemberg as his Marxist teachers. But their teaching was obviously lost on the pupil, who remained a Stalinist with bourgeois inclinations until his death. However, there were some results of the Korsch-Brecht ‘collaboration’, for instance, Brecht’s attempt (in rather questionable taste) to modernise and re-write the Communist Manifesto in hexametric form. See: W. Rash, ‘Bertold Brecht’s Marxistischer Lehrer’, Merkur, October 1963; Sinn und Form, No. 2/3, 1963.

12. Published in London in 1938 and re-issued in New York, 1963. A German version is soon to appear under the auspices of the Institute for Social History, Amsterdam.

13. Living Marxism and, later, New Essays, both published in Chicago from 1934 to 1943. A selection of Korsch’s articles from these periodicals will be published by the Amsterdam Institute for Social History, and another selection by Feltrinelli, Milan. See also K. Korsch, ‘The New Program of the American Workers Party’, Council Correspondence (Chicago), January 1935.

14. Living Marxism, Vol. V, No. 3, p. 47.

15. Published in 1959 in Arguments (Paris), No. 16.

16. K. Korsch. ‘The Marxist Ideology in Russia’, Living Marxism, Vol IV, No. 2, p. 50; ‘Marx’s Stellung in der Europaeischen Revolution von 1848’, Die Schule, No. 5, 1948.

17. K. Korsch, ‘Marxism and the Present Task of the Proletarian Class Struggle’, Living Marxism, Vol. IV, No. 4, p. ll9.