In the link above, celebrated linguist, American foreign policy critic and Anarcho-Syndicalist Noam Chomsky calls Hegelian Marxist and Left Communist fellow traveller Karl Korsch “sort of an Orthodox Marxist”. This relatively unimportant*but it’s been a while since I wrote on this blog and I already typed out my critique of Chomsky for saying this in tweet form.
Okay, so put simply, there are two things Chomsky could mean by “Orthodox Marxist”. He might be using the rigorous definition and mean what has historically been known as Orthodox Marxism, or he might be being lazy and use it to mean what Wikipedia calls Classical Marxism.
1. Actually Existing Orthodox Marxism: By Orthodox Marxism we simply mean the Marxism of the Second International and Karl Kautsky. It is Marxism which ceases to be a method of critical analysis and becomes instead a codified ideology. Sectarianism aside though, Korsch cannot be said to be a Marxist in this sense, for the simple reason that he is very critical of Orthodox Marxism, and of Karl Kautsky. To illustrate with a quote from Marxism and Philosophy: “In fact, very many later Marxists, apparently in highly orthodox compliance with the masters’ instructions, dealt in exactly the same unceremonious way not only with Hegelian philosophy but with philosophy as a whole. Thus, for example, Franz Mehring more than once laconically described his own orthodox Marxist position on the question of philosophy by saying that he accepted the ‘rejection of all philosophic fantasies’ which was the precondition for the masters’(Marx and Engels) immortal accomplishments’.” (my italics). Korsch, who as stated previously was a Hegelian- or Western- Marxist, is clearly critiquing this position. Then, on Kautsky, from the Anti-Critique, there is (apologies for the lengthy quote): “Kautsky is the clearest example of orthodox Marxist prejudices about the real historical development of Marxism. For him, it is not only the theoretical metamorphoses of the different Marxist tendencies of the Second International, but the ‘extension of Marxism undertaken by Marx and Engels with the Inaugural Address of 1864 and concluded with Engels’s introduction to the new edition of Marx’s Class Struggles in France in 1895’ which ‘broadened’ Marxism from a theory of proletarian revolution into a ‘theory valid not only for revolutionary phases but also for non-revolutionary periods’. At this stage, Kautsky had only robbed Marxist theory of its essentially revolutionary character: he still, however, professed to regard it as a ‘theory of class struggle’. Later he went much further. His most recent major work, The Materialist Conception of History, eliminates any essential connection between Marxist theory and proletarian struggle whatever. His whole protest against my alleged ‘charge’ that Marx and Engels impoverished and banalized Marxism is merely a cover for a scholastic and dogmatic attempt to base his own betrayal of Marxism on the ‘authority’ of Marx and Engels. He and others once made a pretence of accepting Marxist theory, but have long since denatured it out of recognition, and have now abandoned the last remnants of it.”
So, Korsch cannot be regarded as an Orthodox Marxist in this sense, himself believing Orthodox Marxism to be an ideology that led to Social Democracy and later on Revisionism, as well as being undialectical.
2. Classical Marxism is simply the theories of Marx- and to a lesser extent Engels- himself. Korsch cannot be seen as an Orthodox Marxist in this regard either, as he directly critiques Marxism and Marx in his Ten Theses on Marxism Today. I won’t quote from it, it’s very short and easy to read, but in it he critiques Classical Marxism’s reliance on the state and bourgeoisie methods of revolution, and is sympathetic to Bakunin and Proudhon, amongst others. Indeed, Korsch would become sympathetic to Anarchism in general, supporting the Anarcho-Syndicalists in the Spanish Revolution.
This is about as Heterodox as Marxists as you can become whilst still remaining coherently a Marxist, or at least how Marxist is understood in a political sense.
So, there you have it, out of the two ways Chomsky could have meant Orthodox Marxist both cannot rightly be applied.
*okay, completely unimportant