The anti-philosophical Marxism of Karl Korsch

Karl Marx

The Marxist tradition involves an incredibly rich pool of ideas and approaches, fed by multiple streams and feeding into a diversity of tributaries. It nourishes countless intellectual labors and explorations, and in our time of crisis and turmoil it promises to inform an increasing number of struggles to change the world—which is precisely the purpose of the methodology and doctrines developed by Karl Marx and his cothinkers.

The unique interpretation of Marxism developed by Karl Korsch (1886–1961) is perhaps not the best place to start for someone just coming to terms with Marx’s approach. But there is no denying the impact of challenging perspectives associated with his incredibly stark and lean analyses. Korsch’s two most salient works are available in English: Marxism and Philosophy (published in 1923, a mere sixty-eight pages in its 1970 English-language edition), and Karl Marx (published in 1938, at 173 pages in its 2016 edition). The second of these has just come out in a new edition, part of Brill’s Historical Materialism series. Both books bristle with contradictions, in some ways mirroring the contradictory qualities of the time in which Korsch lived, but also reflecting the author’s idiosyncrasies. 

Korsch is often identified, with Georg Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, as a foundational trio of what has been called “Western Marxism.”1 As was the case with Lukács and Gramsci, he  blended G. W. F. Hegel’s dialectical philosophy with the revolutionary approach of Marx and Lenin, and was also a prominent figure in the early Communist movement, with a sophisticated orientation incompatible with the dogmatic rigidities of Stalinism. Korsch’s works do not compare well, however, with the richer and more substantial output of the other two. In the movement’s early heroic years, all three were leading figures in their respective Communist parties (Hungary, Italy, and—in Korsch’s case—Germany), yet Korsch was far less of a political leader, less consistent, and in some ways less durable than either Gramsci or Lukács. “Whatever Korsch’s merits as a Marxist,” David Renton has noted, “Lukács was more successful in bringing his theory and practice together.” The same is certainly true of Gramsci.2

Korsch’s background

The lived experience from which Korsch’s writing flowed, however, suggests that he can have important insights to offer.3 A relatively privileged family background enabled him to follow academic pursuits in philosophy and law, but the well-educated young man was troubled by the social inequalities and oppression of the working class in his industrial German homeland, and he was initially drawn to the ideas of Britain’s moderate Fabian socialists. The brutalizing shock of World War I profoundly radicalized him—drafted into the military, he was an actively antiwar soldier. The revolutionary ferment of 1918–1920 propelled him into the upper circles of the rapidly growing German Communist Party. Korsch became editor of its theoretical journal in 1924. 

As befitted someone in his position, the uncompromisingly militant tenor of his Marxism was matched by his uncompromisingly militant Leninism. A good introduction of his position could be found—he informed his readers—in a newly translated pamphlet by Joseph Stalin, Foundations of Leninism. He also explained to his comrades the virtue of the new workers’ state, the Soviet Republic, enforcing “scientific organization and ideological dictatorship.”4 

And yet he was destined to run afoul of authoritarian currents taking hold within the movement to which he had committed himself. For example, he identified the perspectives of his Marxism and Philosophy with the brilliant essays contained in History and Class Consciousness by Georg Lukács—who was engaged in a factional battle with Bela Kun, a favorite of Communist International chieftain Gregory Zinoviev. Korsch, as one friend later commented, was inclined to “lay too much stress on his own integrity” (for example, allowing the expression of different points of view in the theoretical journal), an approach that left him vulnerable within the context of the emerging power struggles in the Communist movement. In 1924, Zinoviev publicly lashed out at both Lukács and Korsch as bourgeois-tainted “Professors” who didn’t understand Marxism.5 

Things got even worse after Zinoviev was shunted aside by Stalin. Korsch was marginalized and, leading a small leftist faction, finally ejected from the Party altogether in 1926, definitively giving up on it by 1928. In 1930—now associating with leftist “council communists,” whom Lenin had targeted in the 1920 polemic Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder,6—Korsch was offering an open critique of Lenin as not truly representing Marx’s revolutionary perspectives, a view corresponding to that of his new-found comrades, although his consistency on this matter sometimes flagged.

On a dozen different pages in his 1938 work, Korsch cites Lenin as a reliable authority who gives accurate voice to the meaning of Marx’s approach. Not only does he make inclusive reference to “Marx and other dialectical materialists as Engels, Antonio Labriola, Georgi Plekhanov, and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin,” but he seems to take Lenin’s side in the famous conflict with his own “left-wing communist” friends:

Just as, after the final defeat of the 1848 revolution, Marx and Engels had confronted the subjective and emotional hopes of the leftists of 1850 with the cruel materialist analysis of the objective economic position and the sober perspective resulting from this, so Lenin came to grips with the activist-revolutionary tendencies of the left communists of 1920 who, in an objectively changed situation, adhered to the slogans of the direct revolutionary situation unleashed by World War I.7 

Korsch, at various times, articulated themes common among “Western Marxists”—seeing Marx’s materialist dialectics not as a universal methodology applicable to nature, but as relevant only to social realities. Also typical was his inclination to see the Marxism of the Second International and even of Engels as different from and inferior to Marx’s perspectives (although, as already indicated, for Korsch this hardly amounted to thoroughgoing rejection). 

There is little doubt that the author of Karl Marx was a thoughtful and knowledgeable theorist with more than two decades of experience in the workers’ movement. A veteran educator in the substantial revolutionary circles of pre-Hitler Germany, he was seen by one of the twentieth century’s greatest playwrights, Bertolt Brecht, and also by the influential US philosopher Sidney Hook, as a highly valued teacher of Marxism. While both Brecht and Hook acknowledged learning much of value from Korsch, both could also be devastatingly critical of him precisely in the period when he wrote the work under consideration. “He is very much in favor of the struggle, but he himself does not actually struggle,” Brecht once commented, and Hook recalled that “an impressive air of revolutionary integrity about Karl Korsch” coexisted with “a baffling obscurity about his specific beliefs.” Korsch “believes in the proletariat,” noted Brecht, implying that there was something almost mystical about this belief, since it led to a fatalistic optimism: “Sometimes it seems to me that he would feel it his duty to do more if he believed in it less.” Hook described the theorist, in his 1930s exile, as having “an idealized version of the worker as the center of his political allegiance but no firsthand contacts with actual workers.”8 

All of this may have something to do with some of the problematically sweeping assertions in his Karl Marx volume. Perhaps this simply involves a leap over a logical step or two. It can be argued that Marxism is a perspective influenced by the struggles of the working class (the proletariat), and that it exists for the purpose of advancing the interests of the working class. Historically it has sometimes been, and in the present and future it can be, influential within the working class. It has been and can be embraced and utilized by working-class activists committed to advancing the class struggle against the capitalists, winning improvements for workers, and eventually replacing capitalism with the economic democracy of socialism. What Korsch does with this is to employ telescoped formulations that will strike some readers as highly problematical. 

For example, Korsch tells us that first, Marx was “an outspoken revolutionary and even a proletarian socialist” (although no knowledgeable person, Korsch included, would claim that Marx was actually a wage-worker), that second, “Marx instilled in the minds of the workers the materialist lesson that . . . they themselves must bring . . . a social revolution penetrating the economic basis of existing bourgeois society” (although there are many, many, workers—of Marx’s time and since—who have not been “instilled” in this way), and that third, “the principles of the Marxian critique of existing society” are “proletarian” and that “Marxian theory . . . represents the new views and claims of the oppressed class in bourgeois society” (although this would be news to a majority of those who labor as part of the world’s working class).9

“My teacher is a disappointed man,” Brecht once wrote of Korsch. “The things he took part in did not turn out according to his ideas.” Fifteen years after the publication of Karl Marx, a demoralized Korsch was teaching at an American university in relative isolation and obscurity. US capitalism’s widespread affluence in the late 1950s had a seeming stability, matched by the seeming lack of working-class struggles—quite different from realities that had propelled him in a revolutionary direction decades before. Within his small circle of political friends, he began raising critical questions about the Marxism in which he had believed for so many years—some later claiming that he had abandoned Marxism at the end of his life, others interpreting this (as his wife insisted) as an attempt to clear the decks and further develop his revolutionary perspectives.10

When one utters the name “Karl Korsch,” however, what is generally being referenced are the views articulated in his two remarkably brief works of 1923 and 1938. In the remainder of this review, we will touch first on idiosyncrasies and limitations before working our way to the strengths of Korsch’s Karl Marx

Ironies and idiosyncrasies

Marxism and Philosophy, the work for which Korsch is best known, is a readable essay offering a well-informed exploration of the philosophical background and context that contributed to the development of Marx’s outlook. The very title suggests that this may be the first stop for anyone wishing to engage with the philosophical aspects of Marxism. 

Yet there is an irony here, grounded in Korsch’s understanding of the eleventh of Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845): “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.” Korsch suggests Marxism is best seen as “anti-philosophy. This poses a challenge. Alex Callincos also comments that Marx and Engels saw this as asserting “their final and irrevocable departure from speculation’s realm of shades for the firmer ground of empirical science, whose premises are not the abstractions of philosophy, but ‘the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions of their life’”—although he adds, “it is one of the many paradoxes of Marxism’s history that this parting of the ways between philosophy and historical materialism seems never to have been finally accomplished.” This raises the obvious question of whether Marx and Engels actually, seriously meant what Callinicos and Korsch say they meant. Helena Sheehan argues, to the contrary, 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.”11 Different Marxists have certainly done different things with all of this. As Marxist philosopher Roy Edgley once summed it up:

Either there is a distinctive Marxist philosophy that opposes bourgeois philosophy, perhaps as Marxist social science opposes the bourgeois social sciences. Or there is a philosophy in Marxism that is not distinctively Marxist, a philosophy Marxism shares with bourgeois social thought, the opposition being between Marxist and bourgeois theory being at a scientific level. Or there is no such thing as a philosophy of any kind in Marxism because Marxism opposes bourgeois philosophy by opposing philosophy as such.12 

Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy appears to articulate the third of these positions. Marx and Engels, Korsch tells us, were not attempting to create some new socialist or communist philosophy. “They rather saw the task of their ‘scientific socialism’ as that of definitively overcoming and superseding the form and content, not only of all previous bourgeois idealist philosophy, but thereby of philosophy altogether.” This approach is maintained in Karl Marx: “Marx’s materialist science, being a strictly empirical investigation into definite historical forms of society, does not need a philosophical support. The only reason why, from a certain point in their development, the materialist philosophers Marx and Engels turned their backs on every philosophy, even materialist philosophy . . . is the fact that they wanted to go one step further and outbid the materialism of philosophy by a directly materialist science and practice.”13

A similar irony is related to the fact that his 1938 work was part of a prestigious series entitled “Modern Sociologists” (also including volumes on Auguste Comte, Edward B. Tylor, Vilfredo Pareto, Thorstein Veblen)—and yet Korsch took the same stance toward this discipline as he did toward philosophy, distinguished only by being even more dismissive:

If we think of the Sociology begun by Comte and in fact first named by him, we shall not find any affinity or link between it and Marxism. Marx and Engels, with all their keen desire to extend and enhance the knowledge of society, paid no attention to either the name or contents of that ostensibly new approach to the social studies. . . . The science of socialism as formulated by Marx, owed nothing to this “sociology” of the 19th and 20th centuries, which originated with Comte and was propagated by Mill and Spencer. . . . Bourgeois sociologists refer to the revolutionary socialist science of the proletariat as an “unscientific mixture of theory and politics.” Socialists, on the other hand, dismiss the whole bourgeois sociology as mere “ideology.” [S]ociology as a special branch of learning . . . represents nothing more than an escape from the practical, and therefore also theoretical, tasks of the present historical epoch. Marx’s new socialist and proletarian science, which, in a changed historical situation, further developed the revolutionary theory of the classical founders of the doctrine of society, is the genuine social science of our time.14

In exploring more deeply the meaning of these critical remarks, it may be helpful to define terms. “Philosophy” is commonly defined as the study of general and fundamental problems concerning existence, knowledge, values, reason, etc., so it would seem that Marxism itself is inseparable from—not some kind of “advance beyond”—such stuff. “Sociology” is, likewise, commonly defined as precisely the sort of thing that Marxism does: the study of society, including its origins, development, organization, as well as the existence, the interaction, and clashes between social groups, also involving attention to matters having to do with social stability and social change. 

But Korsch insisted that both philosophy and sociology as we know them (as well as all the other social sciences, in fact what he sweepingly terms “the positive sciences”) represent “bourgeois ideology.” Not only have they developed within bourgeois society, but they are saturated with positive assumptions regarding the capitalist status quo, which is seen as representing “the natural order of things,” in fact reflecting biases that favor its perpetuation.

We will want to return to this understanding of “bourgeois ideology” shortly, but the point is that Korsch’s terminology can sometimes pose challenges and misunderstandings. “Korsch declared that the revolutionary process was a total attack on bourgeois society that brought the abolition not only of its philosophy but of all of its sciences,” as Helena Sheehan sums it up, adding the perturbed complaint: “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.” The shrewd ex-Marxist philosopher Leszek Kolakowski comments that for Korsch, Marxism “is neither a science nor a philosophy, but a theoretical and practical critique of existing society” which is “‘subordinated’ to revolutionary aims”—the overthrow of capitalism by the organized working class, and its replacement with socialism. Or as Korsch himself emphasizes, Marxism “is not only a theory of bourgeois society but, at the same time, a theory of the proletarian revolution.”15

This hardly whisks away the critical questions posed by Sheehan, whose objections might best be met by the terminological shift articulated in comments by radical sociologist C. Wright Mills, dropping the idiosyncratic usage that Korsch employs. Marx, he insisted, “is both a philosopher and an empirical sociologist. . . . Marxism is at once an intellectual and moral criticism. In its documents, in its very conceptions, the two are often difficult to separate, but it is political philosophy and at the same time it is definitely social science.”16

In justice to Korsch, however, he himself offers formulations that seem consistent with the understanding of Mills. “Marx’s materialist research, while not for a moment abandoning its character of a strictly theoretical science,” he writes in Karl Marx, “yet consciously assumes its particular function within the whole of a movement striving to transform existing society, and thus constitutes itself as a necessary part of the revolutionary action of the modern proletariat.” Similarly, in Marxism and Philosophy (in a manner seemingly inconsistent with other formulations) he refers to “the independent essence of Marxist philosophy,” and to “the revolutionary materialistic dialectic, which is the philosophy of the working class.”17

Theoretically close to Korsch in this period, Sidney Hook expressed the central thrust of Korsch’s (and his own) Marxism this way: 

If a man’s life has any connection with his thought, then Marx’s revolutionary activity should provide the clue to the central purpose of his thinking. Whatever Marxism might mean to his disciples, there can be no question but that for Marx it meant the theory and practice of the proletarian revolution. Every one of his doctrines was a generalization of an historic experience in the class struggle or a proposed solution of some problem in that struggle. . . . If Marxism is the theory and practice of social revolution in capitalist society, then its first consideration must be a persistent and critical survey of all the social and political factors, which affect the possibilities of successful political action.18

It might be argued, however, that the insight in this assertion needs to be balanced with another, one that will help revolutionaries avoid a potential debilitating rigidity. It might go against the grain of Korsch’s schema to posit an objective reality whose complex and fluid dimensions can be perceived by various approaches—not simply the “revolutionary proletarian” standpoint associated with Korsch’s understanding of Marx. But cutting one’s self, or one’s Marxism, off from these other approaches in a self-contained grandeur—convinced of the inherent incorrectness of those not sharing one’s distinctive revolutionary outlook—could pave the way for a failure to understand important aspects of reality’s complex totality. 

To restrict one’s self to the narrow confines of what will advance the revolution may, in fact, undermine one’s ability to advance one’s understanding of the world, as well as one’s ability to advance the revolutionary liberation struggle. 


The chapters of Korsch’s Karl Marx are grouped into three parts—“Society,” “Political Economy,” and “History.” Particularly fruitful in the book’s first part is his emphasis on what he terms “the principle of historical specification,” which he combines with what he sees as two other elements of Marxism—the “principle of change” and “the principle of criticism.” 

Comprehending “all things social in terms of a definite historical epoch,” Marx “criticizes all the categories of the bourgeois theorists of society in which that specific character has been effaced.” Korsch stresses, “Every truth, according to the Marxists, applies only to a definite set of conditions; it is therefore not absolute but relative, not independent and complete in itself, but contingent upon external facts.” This is in contrast to economists and other “bourgeois” social scientists who “ingenuously regard society’s basic relationships as having the immutable character of a genuine natural law, and are for just this reason unable to become aware of any other than this actually given form of society. . . . When they speak of ‘society’ in general, we can still, with only slight variations, recognize in that so-called general society the well-known features of present-day bourgeois society.”19 

Korsch also notes that “bourgeois society may contain the conditions of earlier societies in a further developed form,” although sometimes “in degenerate, stunted, and travestied forms.” Present-day society also “contains within itself the germs of its future developments, though by no means their complete determination.” He comments that the notion of “evolution as applied by bourgeois social theorists, is closed on both sides, and in all past and future forms of society rediscovers only itself,” while the Marxist approach to development “is, on the contrary, open on both sides.” He adds that in “the principle of evolution as used by the bourgeois social investigators, there is no room for the conscious human-social act, which shall radically transform and overthrow the present order of society.” Noting the “unhistorical” quality permeating bourgeois social science when dealing with contemporary realities, he quotes Marx’s taunting critique: “Thus there was history, but there is no more.” Free from such a status quo bias, Marxist social analysts would be capable of a “critical investigation of the existing conditions,” enhanced by an understanding of the possibility of “a transition from the present historical phase to a higher form of society.”20

Yet another strength in this volume is Korsch’s approach to history, with its emphasis on the creative energies of human beings—particularly of the masses of oppressed laborers—in making history. He cites the compelling comment of Marx and Engels from The Holy Family

History does nothing, it possesses no immense wealth, it fights no battles! It is rather man, real, living man—who does everything, who possesses and fights; it is not history which uses men, as a means to carry out its end, as if it were a separate person, but it is nothing besides man in the pursuit of his ends.21

Korsch adds (seeing the “motor force” of history as an interactive blend of technological development and class struggle) that “Marx and Lenin did not think for a moment of supplanting the real revolutionary action of the working class by a passive belief in a mere economic process of development which would after a considerable amount of waiting finally achieve the revolutionary change with the inevitability of a natural process.” Rather, the workers “must with their own hands break the fetters that obstruct the development of the productive forces and establish the higher production-relations of a new progressive epoch of society.”22 

A number of notable points can be found in Korsch’s discussion of political economy. “Capital is only nominally the subject of Marx’s new economic theory,” he writes. “Its real theme is labor both in its present-day economic form of subjugation by capital and in its development, through the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, to a new directly social and socialist condition.” He argues that it is “the great illusion of our epoch that capitalistic society is a society consisting of free and self-determining individuals can only be maintained by keeping the people unconscious of the real contents of those basic relations of the existing social order.” Bourgeois economists mask reality “by representing the real social relations between the classes of the capitalists and the wage laborers as an inevitable result of the free and unhampered ‘sale’ of the commodity ‘labor power’ to the owner of the capital,” without acknowledging the unequal power, coercion, and exploitation inherent in this “free” exchange.23

The way that Korsch presents Marx’s economics may strike some readers as having a contemporary resonance. Consider his discussion of the labor theory of value and theory of surplus value. Marx, following the classical political economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo, saw labor as the creator of “value.” This means that the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labor time necessary for its production. The worker’s ability to work (his or her “labor-power”) is itself a commodity to be sold, for wages, in this voraciously buying-and-selling economy, an economy of “generalized commodity production.” But the value of the products needed to sustain the worker (reflected in the worker’s wages, the payment for the utilization of his or her labor-power) is less than the amount of value that the worker creates for the capitalist employer (the amount of labor actually squeezed out of the worker). The consequent surplus value is the key to the capital accumulation process, through which the capitalists spectacularly increase their profits, at the expense of the exploited workers. 

Stressing that “it was never the intention of Marx” to utilize this analysis or provide a “direct determination of the price of commodities” (which had become a center of debate between some critics and partisans of Marx24), Korsch notes Marx’s own belief “that the ‘production prices’ of commodities produced by capitals of various organic constitution can no longer be identical with their ‘values’ as determined by the ‘law of value.’” He goes on to explain:

It would be nearer the truth to say that the working of this law appears in the general development of the prices of commodities, in which the continuous depreciation in value of the commodities, effected by the ever-increasing productivity of social labor consequent upon the further accumulation of capital, constitutes the decisive factor. The ultimate meaning of this law as shown in its operation by Marx in all three volumes of Capital does not consist, however, in supplying a theoretical basis for the practical calculation of the businessman seeking his private advantage, or for the economic-political measures taken by the bourgeois statesman concerned with the general maintenance and furtherance of the capitalist surplus-making machinery. The final scientific purpose of the Marxian theory is rather to reveal “the economic law of motion of modern society” and that means at the same time the law of its historical development. Even more clearly was this expressed by the Marxist Lenin when he said that “the direct purpose of a Marxist investigation consists in the disclosure of all forms of the antagonism and exploitation existing in present-day capitalist society in order to aid the proletariat to do away with them.”25 

The dynamics of the capital accumulation process—an insatiable quest for more profits, to be invested to realize more and more profits—has the dual impact of spectacular creation and spectacular destruction, as Korsch notes: 

This increasing destruction of its own foundations is forced upon present-day capitalism by an objective development of its inherent tendencies. It is produced by the ever-increasing accumulation and concentration of capital; by the growing monopolist tendencies of the big industrial and financial combines; by the increasing appeal to the State to rescue “the community at large” from the dangers brought about by the impending collapses of hitherto proud and tax-evading private enterprises.26

Korsch focused on related developments, which would soon help generate the global holocaust of World War II, noting that capitalism’s destruction of its own foundations would also be helped along by “dreadnought demands for subsidy raised by the various direct and indirect producers of armaments.” He concludes that the very process designed to avoid crisis would make each one worse:

In trying to escape from the periodical crises which threaten more and more the existence of bourgeois society, and in a desperate attempt to overcome the existing acute crisis of the whole capitalist system, the bourgeoisie is compelled, by continually fresh and deeper “interferences” with the inner laws of its own mode of production, and continually greater changes in its own social and political organization, to prepare more violent and more universal crises and at the same time, to diminish the means of overcoming future crises. In organizing peace it prepares for war.27

Commenting that “the mass-employment offered by a new war” was already being “partially anticipated by a hitherto unheard-of extension of the direct and indirect armament industries both in the fascist countries and in democratic Britain and pacifistic U.S.A.,” he observed that war “has the incomparable advantage that it will never cause an undesirable glut of the market because it destroys the commodities it produces simultaneously with their production and, incidentally, destroys a considerable portion of the ‘excessive’ workers themselves.”28

And so it came to pass: the horrific World War II, followed by the decades’ long Cold War—which gave capitalism a glorious new lease on life, pulling it out of the Great Depression that had seemed to promise the very different, revolutionary outcome anticipated in Korsch’s 1938 study. That the destruction of his hopes was the result of forces he himself had identified in that work is not without interest. No less significant is the fact that much of what Korsch wrote about almost eight decades ago seems consistent with what is happening all around us in the twenty-first century. 

  1. See Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism (London: Verso, 1979).
  2. David Renton, Dissident Marxism, Past Voices for Present Times (London: Zed Books, 2004), 80; Paul Le Blanc, “Spider and Fly: The Leninist Philosophy of Georg Lukács,” Historical Materialism, vol. 21, no. 2 (2013), 47–75; Paul Le Blanc, From Marx to Gramsci: A Reader in Revolutionary Marxist Politics (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016), 333–378.
  3. This draws from Patrick Goode, Karl Korsch, A Study in Western Marxism (London: Macmillan Press, 1979); Russell Jacoby, Dialectic of Defeat: Contours of Western Marxism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 92–99; and Douglass Kellner, “Korsch’s Revolutionary Marxism,” in Douglass Kellner, ed., Karl Korsch: Revolutionary Theory (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977), 3–113. The volume edited by Kellner also contains a good selection of Korsch’s “lesser” writings.
  4. Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), 97.
  5. Zinoviev, “Report of E. C. C. I.,” Fifth Congress of the Communist International, Abridged Report (London: Communist Party of Great Britain, 1924), 16–17; Joel Geier, “Zinovievism and the Degeneration of World Communism,” International Socialist Review 93, Summer 2014, 41–73. The friend referred to here was Bertolt Brecht.
  6. See Paul Mattick, Anti-Bolshevik Communism (London: Merlin Press, 1978), and Jacoby, 72–81.
  7. Karl Korsch, Karl Marx (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2016), 47, 155.
  8. Sidney Hook Out of Step: An Unquiet Life in the 20th Century (New York: Harper and Row, 1987), 111–112. Brecht’s comments are quoted from Margot Heinemann, “Karl Korsch” (in response to letter by Geoffrey Minish), London Review of Books, vol. 17, September 16, 1982,
  9. Korsch, Karl Marx, 41, 57, 76,137.
  10. Goode, 170–187. Brecht quoted from Heinemann.
  11. Quoted in Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy, 74–75, 95, and in Karl Marx, 197. Alex Callinicos, Marxism and Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985),1; Helena Sheehan, Marxism and the Philosophy of Science, A Critical of History (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1993), 261.
  12. Roy Edgley, “Philosophy,” in David McLellan, ed., Marx, The First 100 Years (London: Fontana, 1983), 241.
  13. Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy, 30–31; Korsch, Karl Marx, 122, 123.
  14. Korsch, Karl Marx, 7, 8, 11.
  15. Sheehan, 261; Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, vol. 3 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 322–323; Korsch, Karl Marx, 57.
  16. C. Wright Mills, The Marxists (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1962), 102.
  17. Korsch, Karl Marx, 56; Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy, 35, 97.
  18. Sidney Hook, “The Scope of Marxian Theory,” in V. F. Calverton, ed., The Making of Society: An Outline of Sociology (New York: Random House, 1937), 852. This repeats themes to be found in Hook’s classic Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx (New York: John Day Co., 1933), in which he expresses his indebtedness to Korsch for confirmation of his own “hypothesis of the practical-historical axis of Marx’s thought” (xii). It is worth pondering that Hook found it impossible to sustain this orientation beyond the 1930s, as did Korsch.
  19. Korsch, Karl Marx, 12, 28–29.
  20. Ibid., 32, 34, 37, 46, 54.
  21. Quoted in ibid., 136.
  22. Ibid., 156.
  23. Ibid, 90, 101.
  24. A discussion of the controversies around the transformation of values into prices can be found in Paul M. Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968), 109–130.
  25. Korsch, Karl Marx, 109–110. 
  26. Ibid., 104.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid., 105.


Issue #67

September 2009

Iran: rebellion and reaction

Issue contents

Top story




Critical Thinking


  • Humanitarian imperialism and its apologists

    Ashley Smith reviews The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War by Conor Foley; Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror by Mahmood Mamdani; Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War by Jean Bricmont; Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law by China Miéville; and The Liberal Defense of Murder by Richard Seymour
  • Debating how to change the world

    Eric Kerl reviews Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism, and Radical History by Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic