Karl Korsch: Practical Socialism and Revolutionary Marxism
In the early 1900s Karl Korsch (1886-1961), best known for his influential role in the development of cultural Marxism, was originally a member of the Fabian Society. He was born August 15th 1886 in Tostedt near Hamburg into a middle class family — his father was a bank manager. He studied philosophy, law, economics, and sociology in Jena, Munich, Berlin, and Geneva, receiving a doctor of jurisprudence at the University of Jena in 1911. In 1912 he joined the SPD (the German Social Democratic Party) and also went to London to work with Sir Ernest Shuster, a professor of law, who wanted someone to edit and translate into German a book he had written on English civil law and procedure.
While he only stayed in England for three years Korsch joined the Fabian Society while there. He was attracted to their emphasis on the “values of ideas” and “will” and “humanity” as this “counterposed to the lifeless, dry-as-dust economics of Marxism.”1 In addition, Korsch liked their “concrete, practical engagement” reflected in their attempt to construct “a finished plan for the socialisation of the economy.”2 Most of his early writing reflects the influence of Fabianism on his thinking, such as his The Fabian Society (1912), which praised and professed admiration for them.
In 1914 he returned to Germany and increasingly turned towards Marxism. In 1919 he broke with the SPD and joined the USPD — the German Independent Socialist Party, which was the most important section of the Second International at that time. Also in 1919 the University of Jena offered him a professorship in Public and Labour Law, a position he held until 1923, and became the assistant of the socialist professor Robert Wilbrandt on the Socialisation Commission for Coal Mining (Berlin). During his assistantship he developed “his own ‘Programme for Practical Socialism'” and published a pamphlet What is Socialisation?, hoping that these, “like the information pamphlets of the Fabian Society, would give the ‘mentally gifted’ a correct understanding of the essence of socialism and encourage them to join in helping to realise concrete socialist plans.”3
In October 1923 he became Communist Minister of Justice in the Thuringian government and a leading member of the Communist Party. In 1922 he attended a Marxist “work week” in Ilemenau, Thuringia, which was funded by the young Felix Weil, who was son of international grain speculator Hermann Weil, member of the Frankfurt Soldiers’ and Workers’ Council, and previous student of Wilbrandt (1919). Participants in this week-long seminar included “Georg Lukács, Weil’s close friend Friedrich Pollock (an economist), Karl August Wittfogel (a member of the German Communist Party), and Richard Sorge (later to gain fame as a Russian spy in the Far East).”4 This meeting of minds, which was “devoted to a discussion of Korsch’s yet unpublished manuscript ‘Marxism and Philosophy’,” became the organisational groundwork for the creation of the Frankfurt School.5
Marxism and Philosophy was published in 1923. In this work Korsch defended revolutionary Marxism and criticised Second International socialism for its “degeneration” and inferiority to “Marx’s socialism;” for Korsch, this form of socialism had become reformist rather than revolutionary, theoretical rather than practical, and accepting of the capitalist state.6 He considered Marxism as anti-bourgeois philosophy in respect to Marx’s statement in his Theses on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Korsch thought that the leading Socialists of the day had ignored philosophy and separated scientific socialism off from the wider political and class-based struggles associated with original revolutionary Marxism. Surmising that Marxism is a form of revolutionary action that unites theory and practice via practical human action, or praxis, he attempted to “reconstruct the revolutionary, active side of Marxism, as exemplified in the Bolshevik Revolution .” With his emphasis on practical socialism he stood in “opposition to both the ‘orthodox’ and the ‘revisionist’ wings of the Marxism of the Second International.”
When Marxism and Philosophy was published it was quite evident that Korsch was beginning to differ from Fabian-style socialism and Marxist revisionism. However, both G.B. Shaw and the Webbs also advocated practical socialism as reflected by Bolshevism, and they were supportive of the later nationalistic socialism put forward by Stalin in 1924 in the pamphlet Socialism in One Country.7 Shaw said “Stalin is a good Fabian”8 and the Webbs wrote Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? (1935). However, between 1934 and 1940 Stalin initiated what was to become known as the Great Purge or the Great Terror, and these leading Fabians still supported this, seemingly contradicting their emphasis on non-violent gradual reformism.
The estimated number of unnatural deaths during the Russian Civil Wars of 1917-1923 stands between 6 and 9 million; the estimated average number of unnatural deaths during the Stalin regime (1924-53) stands at around 30 million.
In the early 1920s the Bolshevism that Korsch liked was revolutionary, proletarian, and purely anti-capitalist, but the Bolshevism that the Webbs and Shaw liked was go-slow, elitist, and in cooperation with capitalists: it was a “state-capitalist, or state-socialist, form of capital production.”
Korsch eventually argued not just against capitalism and the reformism, revisionism, and Orthodoxy of the Second and Third Internationals, but also against Bolshevism. He was convinced that the latter was a regime of “false consciousness” that “exploited” the “international radical labour movement” and thus was not beneficial to proletarian communism.
Korsch’s new ideas and dissent eventually led to his expulsion from the Communist Party in 1926. By the late 1920s Korsch completely broke with Bolshevism, stating that “its content and function [had] become a seemingly classless but in reality bourgeois and anti-proletarian state ideology.”9
Founding Members of The Institute for Social Research a.k.a The Frankfurt School
As stated above, the Weil-funded Marxist seminar in 1922 was centered on Korsch’s yet-to-be published Marxism and Philosophy and eventually led to the formation of the Frankfurt School. Initially Korsch had a large influence, in terms of his emphasis on praxis — practical political activism — and in terms of introducing the ‘gradualism’ of Fabianism: “Korsch had been discussing the idea of founding a Marxist discussion and research institute modeled on the Fabian Society.”10
The Frankfurt School started out as the Institute for Social Research, which was officially created on February 3rd 1923 by members of the German Communist Party at Frankfurt University, and funded by Felix Weil’s father, who provided “a yearly income of 120,000 Marks.”11 It officially opened on June 22 1924, was co-chaired by Felix and his father Hermann, and directed (3rd Feb 1923) by Carl Grϋnberg (1861-1940), after the future-appointed first director (1922), Fabian member Kurt Albert Gerlach, died at the age of 36 from diabetes before he could take up the position. Nevertheless, Gerlach left his 8000 volume library to Felix Weil, who then passed it on to the Institute.
Frankfurt School Cultural Marxism
The early beginnings of the Frankfurt School emphasised the reformulation of Marxism. The Marxist proletariat revolution was not going according to plan, as signified by World War I (the working classes, rather than aligning with their class, gave preference to their nations and fought each other), and by the socialist regimes under Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin in Russia spawned by the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. Marxist intellectuals gathered in the Weimar Republic to discuss why the revolution had not taken place in Europe, and returned to the drawing board to perform a “searching reexamination of the very foundations of Marxist theory with the dual hope of explaining past errors and preparing for future action.” The Frankfurt School was explicitly created to do this research and planning “to become a major force in the revitalization of Western European Marxism in the postwar years.”12
As they reworked Marxist theories they developed a new strain of Marxism that gave priority to the radical transformation of the cultural superstructure (foundations) of Western civilization. They perceived Christianity and Western cultural traditions as obstacles to the revolution, which needed to be severed at their roots. This Marxist ideology came to be called cultural Marxism, a non-violent but revolutionary collectivist ideology that seeks the gradual gain of power via the modification of laws, institutions, and social organisations.
Other than Korsch, there were three European Marxist theorists who had a significant impact on Frankfurt School cultural Marxism: in the initial founding stages, Georg Lukács (1885-1971), and in the later stages, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979), whose writings were particularly influential in the 1960s, especially on the British-created Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, or the Birmingham School (1964) and the counter-culture movement and the New Left.
Lukács was born in Hungary to one of Hapsburg Empire’s leading bankers, József Löwinger. In the year after the Hungarian revolution (1918) he became Deputy Commissar for education and culture for the short-lived (just over 4 months) Bela Kun Bolshevik regime in Budapest, Hungary. During this position Lukács argued for the necessity of terror and was involved in what is called the Red Terror, named after the Red Terror in Soviet Russia, which involved mass-murder, torture, and oppression. A pack of about 200 young men, the “Lenin Boys,” sought out and killed counter-revolutionaries and dissidents in Hungary at this time. Disappointed with the way the revolution had developed — it was a disaster — Lukács asked “Who will save us from Western civilization?”
While he was Deputy Commissar Lukács sought to destroy society along with the traditional values of the West, writing: “I saw the revolutionary destruction of society as the one and only solution,” and: “A worldwide overturning of values cannot take place without the annihilation of the old values and the creation of new ones by the revolutionaries.” His methods became known as cultural terrorism.13 One of these methods to undermine traditional Western culture was the introduction of a radical sex education program; “special lectures and supportive literature were developed to instruct Hungarian children” about free love and sexual intercourse, to repudiate middle class family codes of monogamy, and “to deride and ignore the authority of parental authority, and precepts of traditional morality.”14 In addition, the promiscuity and rebellion of women against patriarchy was promoted.
Lukács participated in the 1922 Marxist work week in Thuringia, and thus helped found the Frankfurt School. In 1923 he published History and Class Consciousness, the same year that Korsch published his Marxism and Philosophy. Lukács argued that the Christian cultural institutions of the West were oppressive, intolerant, and had “blinded” people “to their true class interests” (Bill Lind, The Origins of Political Correctness). He wanted to destroy the cultural institutions of the West so that power would “fall into their laps like ripened fruit” and the Communist state could be created.15
Lukács also influenced the Frankfurt School development of Critical Theory.
Critical Theory: Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno
Critical Theory was largely developed by the writings of Max Horkheimer (1895-1973) and Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) in the 1930s and early 1940s, culminating in their jointly written book, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944). Critical Theory is a dialectical method of critical analysis of the existing order of the West. Raymond V. Raehn defines Critical Theory as “essentially destructive criticism of the main elements of Western culture, including Christianity, capitalism, authority, the family, patriarchy, hierarchy, morality, tradition, sexual restraint, loyalty, patriotism, nationalism, heredity, ethnocentrism, convention and conservatism” (Raymond Raehn, The Historical Roots of Political Correctness). These organisations were to be changed: “captured…converted” and “politicised” into agents of revolution by a slow and gradual infiltration.16
Horkheimer, son of a wealthy textile businessman, became director of the Frankfurt School in 1930 and, like the Fabians and many other European Marxists, wanted “a subtle revolution” that would be undertaken by “the penetration and transformation of the cultural traditions and institutions of Western Civilization.”17 However, following Hitler’s rise to power (1933), many of the Frankfurt School members left Germany and immigrated to the USA. In 1934, Columbia University helped these “political refugees” set up a version of the Frankfurt School based in New York City, called the Institute for Social Research. During this time, an Emergency Program for European Scholars and “the University in Exile,” were established and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, and intended to bring these Marxist scholars to the USA. These intellectuals began careers in America that impacted the 1960s counter-culture movements and eventually laid the groundwork for the social and psychological sciences that dominate Western academia today.
Adorno, son of a successful German wine merchant, was an influential thinker of the Frankfurt School, becoming its director in 1958. He left for New York in 1938, getting teaching positions at Princeton and Berkeley, and in 1950 he published a major work, The Authoritarian Personality. Writing the preface of this work, Horkheimer states: “This is a book about social discrimination” and “the position of minorities in modern society, and more specifically the problem of religious and racial hatreds” associated with “the authoritarian type of man,” a complicated personality syndrome that can be measured according to an “F Scale” (F stands for fascism).18
Focusing on conservative rather than leftist authoritarianism, in this work Adorno argued that the traditional family is the “seedbed of fascism” and there is an “inherent authoritarianism of the father-figure.”19 Raehn writes that it “was premised on one basic idea,” namely that “a society of Christianity, capitalism and the patriarchal-authoritarian family created a character prone to racial prejudice and German fascism” (Raehn, Political Correctness). Here are a few quotes from it:
It is a well-known hypothesis that susceptibility to fascism is most characteristically a middle-class phenomenon, that it is ‘in the culture’ and, hence, that those who conform the most to this culture will be the most prejudiced.
…conformity works against the values of cultural diversity.
The power‑relationship between the parents, the domination of the subject’s family by the father or by the mother, and their relative dominance in specific areas of life also seemed of importance for our problem.
It would then be more understandable why the German family, with its long history of authoritarian, threatening father figures, could become susceptible to a fascist ideology.
A tendency to transmit mainly a set of conventional rules and customs, may be considered as interfering with the development of a clear-cut personal identity in the growing child.
Another aspect of traditionalism is the tendency to oppose innovations or alterations of existing politic‑economic form.
Another European Marxist theorist that came to influence the development of Critical Theory and cultural Marxism was the Italian, Antonio Gramsci. Like the Frankfurt School theorists, he thought that in order to overthrow capitalism the cultural institutions of the West, the roots, had to be severed. Between 1929 and 1935, while in prison, he outlined a plan for a future revolution involving cultural changes from within, now well-known in The Prison Notebooks. Although he died in 1937 his writings did not become published until the 1950s. These writings contain his theory of cultural hegemony (cultural dominance by the ruling class), and two methods for a counter-hegemonic force to eventually gain power: “war of position” and “war of movement.”
According to Richard Howson, the “war of position” is the “struggle for emancipation” of the subordinated and marginalised classes and “enables the opposition forces to break down the dominating groups socio-cultural influence and, simultaneously, works to disperse their military strength, giving the opposition the spatial and temporal conditions to develop a collective consciousness and a determined will to construct and employ their own strikeforce” (my emphasis).20 Gramsci’s strategy of “war of position” is one of gradual infiltration, like Fabian “permeation” and “honeycombing;” it is, in the 1968 interpretation by Rudi Dutschke, “a long march through the institutions.”21 Dutschke (1940-1979) was the leading spokesperson for the German student movement of the 1960s and was inspired by Gramsci and the Frankfurt School.
In America, the leading spokesman (“guru”) for the counter-culture movement, the most influential and supportive figure associated with American political activism and the New Left, was Frankfurt theorist, Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979). Marcuse was born in Berlin into an upper-middle class family. He joined the Social Democratic Party while a student and received his PhD in 1922 from the University of Freiburg. He helped co-found the Frankfurt School and then moved to the US in 1934. During World War II he worked with the government on anti-Nazi propaganda, and after the war he taught at a series of Universities: Columbia, Harvard, Brandeis, and the University of California.
The student rebellion and the resistance to the draft and the Vietnam War provided the conditions for Marcuse to promote his work and that of the Frankfurt School. Two of his books, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry Into Freud (1955) and One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (1964) influenced the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the student movement as a whole, and the sexual revolution. Along with another member of the Frankfurt School, Erich Fromm (1900-1980, who wrote about the “social construction” of sex differences), Marcuse synthesised Freudian psychoanalytical theories of sexual repression and Marxian theory.
In Eros and Civilization (1955) Marcuse advocated the idea of “Polymorphous Perversity” (natural sexual libido of infants to age five), a notion that emphasised sexual liberation from socially normative sexual behaviors via an infantile and primitive Pleasure Principle. In line with Fromm and others, he promoted free love and thought that “sexual repression” is a product of capitalist society and that “sexual liberation” would precede a social revolution. This “sexual revolution would require the destruction of traditional concepts of family, parenthood and child rearing.”22 To him, gender, sex, marriage, and the family were merely social constructs that needed to be deconstructed for liberation to occur.
In One Dimensional Man (1964) Marcuse argued that new forms of social control — mass media, advertising, and industrial management — had stifled the negation of oppositional activity, creating a one-dimensional universe empty of critical thought and revolutionary potential. People, who had formerly been of revolutionary potential, were now, in mass-consumer society, “assimilated,” but this did not indicate “the disappearance of classes, but the extent to which the needs and satisfactions that serve the preservation of the Establishment are shared by the underlying population.”23 He added: “Under the conditions of a rising standard of living, non-conformity with the system itself appears to be socially useless.”24
In other words, the working classes were no longer a viable source for revolutionary socialism. Marcuse still sought radical social change and looked for new sources of revolutionary force to accomplish it. According to Douglas Kellner, a third generation Critical Theorist, Marcuse “reflect[ed] upon the potential for liberation in Third World revolutionary movements, the possibilities of solidarity between those organisations and racial forces in the highly industrialised countries, and the potential for emancipatory social transformation in the New Left, student anti-war movement, feminism, black power, and other social forces of the era.”25
These new sources of radical social change were also found in the waves of immigrants from the onset of non-European mass-immigration and the growth of ethnic immigrant communities, as well as in the wake of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Sexual Revolution. Marcuse claimed opposition movements had the “right” to stake moral and political demands against Western orthodoxy in their bid for “natural liberation” and emphasized their marginalisation, oppression, and victimhood as central to their solidarity.
Cultural Marxist Tactics since the Sixties
The “permeation” strategies of Fabian socialism and the “long march” of the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School has been manifested in numerous cultural and political developments and reforms since the 1960s, including: Feminism, Affirmative Action, Deconstruction (Derrida, 1967), the transformation of the Family, Church, Education, and Morals (transvaluation), Third-World Opposition movements, Anti-Nationalism, Cultural Contempt, Anti-Discrimination and Immigration reforms, White Privilege, White Guilt, Diversity, Tolerance, Political Correctness, and Multiculturalism.
In the early 1970s the New Left splintered into separate groups, seeing Critical Theorists entering the media and educational institutions and promoting anti-authoritarianism, anti-establishment, and the destruction and remaking of Western culture. Cultural Marxists use a culturally pessimistic tactic that involves repeating over and over that Western societies “are the greatest repositories of racism, sexism, nativism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, fascism, and Nazism,” all due to its traditional Christian traditions.26 This is a tactic that is similar, if not directly taken from, the Communist Directive of the Moscow Central Committee of 1943:
When certain obstructionists (to communism) become too irritating, label them, after suitable buildups, as fascist or Nazi […] and use the prestige of anti-fascist and tolerance organisations to discredit them. Members and front organizations must continually embarrass, discredit and degrade our critics. Accuse them of being traitors to the war effort, fascists, Red-baiters, peace-destroyers, Quislings, labor-traitors… The association will, after enough repetition, become “fact” in the public mind.27
Another strategy that is employed is the labeling of the opposition as mentally ill and/or in need of psychological reconditioning. Programs such a sensitivity and diversity training [see here, and here, and here, and here] are designed to instill “correct attitudes,” which is the replacement of old values with new ones.
Still another tactic, particularly today under the rubric of “tolerance” and “political correctness,” is the complete intolerance and punishment of any resistance to multiculturalism and mass-immigration. Some of the methods used are dehumanisation, demonization, stigmatisation, job loss, and even arrest of members of the opposition, which are nefariously justified by touting words such as racist, supremacist, Nazi, ethnocentric, and right-wing extremist.
Elitist Socialist-Capitalist Syntheses
Not only is Fabian and Frankfurt School socialism different from Marxist socialism by explicit strategy (gradualism versus violent revolution), this socialism is also different by source of revolutionary potential: Fabians focus on the elites, and cultural Marxists on subalterns, rather than the proletarians (working classes). Bolshevism, Fabianism, and cultural Marxism can be considered as elite forms of socialism, whether in intellectual, political, cultural, or economic terms. As they no longer focus on the working classes they are bourgeois revolutionary theories rather than a proletarian revolutionary movement. They are revolutions from above, not below; they are not grassroots or democratic; they are plutocratic, oligarchic, and dictatorial. These socialist intellectuals “march through the institutions” to effect a “gradual” revolution from above and are sponsored by the capitalist forces they supposedly oppose. According to Bolton,
the “[s]trategy of international oligarchy is dialectics: the conflict of opposing forces that generates a synthesis. This dialectical method … [explains] why the oligarchy so often seems to be backing opposite ideologies, governments and policies” and “The oligarchs…apparently operate on the dialectical premise that what will result from their ‘controlled conflict’ will be a socialist-capitalist synthesis which we might call the ‘World Collectivist State’; a world order that will be communistic in organisation but run by oligarchs rather than commissars.”28
Another way of looking at this is “Third Way” economics, such as advocated by Fabian PMs Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and the UK Fabian Labour government. This is an attempt to reconcile left and right wing politics through a synthesis of right-wing economic policies i.e. capitalism and left-wing social policies i.e. socialism.
Multiculturalism and World Governance
The “permeation” and “long march” of Fabianism and cultural Marxism continues today in the policies of multiculturalism and mass-immigration. For example, a prominent Canadian intellectual and Queens University scholar of multiculturalism, William Kymlicka, writes that “there was a deep institutional embedding of multiculturalism” in Canada.29
Multiculturalism, initiated in the federal statement of multiculturalism in 1971 by PM Pierre Trudeau, was gradually implemented, step-by-step, in what Kymlicka and his colleague Keith Banting explicitly refer to (without citing) as part of the “long march through the institutions at all levels of Canadian society” (my emphasis).30
In fact, according to Hugh Donald Forbes, political economy professor at the University of Toronto, Pierre Trudeau considered multiculturalism “a big political experiment” that had as its “aim” the testing and refinement of “a theory of how to overcome national or ethnic conflict.” This experiment involved the mixing of:
the populations of existing states even further, with a view to ultimately separating state and nation altogether, thus undermining the psychological basis for an intense and exclusive state patriotism and preparing the way for the necessary transition to a world of semi-sovereign states (or provinces) under some form of global governance.31
 Cyril Levitt, “Karl Korsch: A Review Essay”, Labour/Le Travailleur, 10, 1982: 176
 Rolf Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories & Political Significance, MIT Press, 1995: 11
 Theonomy and Autonomy: Studies in Paul Tillich’s Engagement with Modern Culture, edited by John Jesse Carey, Mercer University Press, 1984: 68
 The Frankfurt School: Critical Assessments, edited by Jay Bernstein, Routledge, 1994: 45
 Renton: 67
 Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, Oxford University Press, 1986: 67-68
 Marilynne Robinson, Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution: 119
 Levitt: 179-181
 Bernstein: 45
 Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950, University of California Press, 1996: 8
 Ibid. 3-4
 Patrick J. Buchanan, The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization, New York, 2002: 75
 William A. Borst, The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy, 2004: 106
 Buchanan: 77
 Ibid. 77
 Kerry Bolton, Revolution from Above: Manufacturing ‘Dissent’ in the New World Order, Arktos, 2011: 105
 T.W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswick, Daniel J. Levinson, and R. Nevitt Sanford, The Authoritarian Personality: Studies in Prejudice, 1950: ix
 Bolton: 106
 Richard Howson, Challenging Hegemonic Masculinity, London, 2005: 19
 Rudi Dutschke, On Anti-Authoritarianism: 249
 Bolton: 106
 Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, 1964: 17
 Ibid. 13
 Herbert Marcuse, The New Left and the 1960s: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 3, edited and introduction by Douglas Kellner, New York: Routledge, 2005: 17
 Buchanan: 80
 Soviet Total War: “Historic Mission” of Violence and Deceit, Vol. 1, Committee on Un-American Activities, United States House of Representatives, 1956: 347
 Bolton: 268
 “The Canadian Model of Diversity in a Comparative Perspective”, in Multiculturalism and the Canadian Constitution, edited by Stephen Tierney, UBC Press, 2008: 71-74
 Keith Banting and Will Kymlicka, “Canadian Multiculturalism: Global Anxieties and Local Debates”, British Journal of Canadian Studies, 23, no.1, 2010: 52
 Hugh Donald Forbes, “Trudeau as the First Theorist of Canadian Multiculturalism”, in Multiculturalism and the Canadian Constitution: 34