KARL KORSCH VS THE MOUFFE-DIVERS

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Sun Mar 19 20:26:20 MST 1995


A coincidental reading of a book by Karl Korsch published as far
back as 1938 reminds me and ought to give pause to the
Laclau-Mouffe-divers who think they are doing something new:

Korsch, Karl.  KARL MARX.  New York: Russell and Russell, 1963
(originally 1938).  247 pp.

I was just finishing up a cursory reading of this book and several
passages from Chapter VI -- Basis and superstructure -- struck me,
particularly:

"Besides the system of materialistic economics, which has been
represented in detailed form by Marx in _Capital_, there are,
according to this second school [the first tendency discussed is
reductionist economism], other partial systems which have not yet
been fully carried out but which are theoretically equally
important parts of the whole of an all-comprehensive materialistic
system.  There are, for example, the "materialistic" systems of
politics, law, philosophy, culture, etc.

"Thus the economic materialism of Marx is disintegrated into a
series of separate and co-ordinated "sociological" sciences and
thereby stripped of all definite historical contents as well as of
its distinct revolutionary character.  From a radical attack upon
the whole of the present-day capitalistic mode of production it is
transformed into a theoretical criticism of various aspects of the
existing capitalist system as its economic organization, its
State, its educational system, its religion, art, science; a
criticism which no longer necessarily leads up to a revolutionary
practice, but may just as well spend itself (and actually has
already spent itself) in all kinds of reforms, which nowhere
surpass the bounds of the existing bourgeois society and its
State."  (p. 219)

"The assumed one-sidedness of the Marxian materialistic conception
of history exists in truth only in its abstract formulation.  A
theoretical statement of the connections between the economic,
political, juridical, and intellectual structure of a given
society unavoidably generalizes, to a certain extent, the definite
historical facts .... They are indeed "one-sided" as compared with
the imaginary "completeness" of the actual historical "experience"
or, for that matter, with the mere copying of reality which is the
aim of a purely descriptive historical science, or with that
"concrete" reproduction of the real which may be achieved by an
artistic representation.  But that "one-sidedness" is only another
name for the generality of the scientific form.  One might as well
complain of the "one-sidedness" of the physicists who subject the
many different kinds of movement of inanimate and animate bodies
to the law of gravity, without taking into account the
"modifications" brought about by secondary conditions.  Just as
with the laws of physics and technology, the apparent
"one-sidedness" adhering to the "laws" of social being, historical
development, and practical action as formulated by Marx, in no way
interferes with their practical and theoretical utility, nay more,
that utility depends upon the "one-sidedness of their theoretical
formulation."  (p. 223)


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