Re: [OPE-L] Karl Korsch

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Wed Apr 11 2007 - 15:44:03 EDT

Hi Dogan,
You have made me think about the source of Marx's ideas about totality and
historical discontinuities and socialized epistemology, so I haven't been
able to respond to your posts yet.

Perhaps what Korsch has partially in mind is how in the course of his
critique of political economy Marx explodes the metaphysical conception of
the self at the heart of philosophical liberalism.

I sent this quote from Bhikhu Parekh to the list before:

Bhikhu Parekh, Marx?s Theory of Ideology, pp. 38-39
Again in order to argue that an individual could sell his labour to
others, his physical and
mental capacities and activities, of which his labour ultimately consists,
must be considered
alienable, and therefore not an integral and inseparable part of him. The
classical Athenian
believed that to render any form of service, especially the physical, to
another man in return for
money, even if only for a short time, was a form of slavery, and
unacceptable to a free man. Since
the bourgeois mode of production required that men should be free to sell
their labour, that is
their skills, capacities and activities to others, it had to define the
individual so that were
not considered an integral and inseparable part of him. He had to be seen
as somehow separate from
and only contingently related to them, so that he is not believed to be
sold when they are, and is
doomed to remain free even when his activities and skills are no longer
under his control. In
order to say that his freedom is not compromised when his abilities,
skills and activities are
placed at another man?s disposal, he had to be defined in the barest
possible manner.

Since almost everything about an individual was considered alienable?his
skills, capacities, and
activities?the crucial question arose as to what as to be considered
essential to him, such that
its alienation was his alienation and his loss of control over it amounted
to his loss of freedom.
The bourgeois society by and large located his essential humanity in the
interrelated capacities
of choice and will. For it they represented man?s differentia specifica,
and were the bases of
human dignity. The individual was, above all, an agent. As long as he was
not physically
overpowered, hypnotized or otherwise deprived of his powers of choice and
will, his actions were
uniquely his, and therefore sole responsibility. It did not matter how
painful his alternatives
were, how much his character had been distorted by his background and
upbringing and how much his
capacities of choice and will were debilitated by his circumstances. As
long as he was able to
choose, his choices were his responsibility. The individual was abstracted
from his social
background and circumstances which could not be considered co-agents of
and co-responsible for his
actions. He stood alone, all by himself, striped of his social relations,
circumstances and
background, in a word, his social being as Marx called it, facing the
world in his sovereign
isolation and, like God, exercising his conditioned freedom of choice and
will. In short their
conditions of existence required the bourgeoisie to equate the individual
with an abstract mental
capacity, namely the capacity to choose and will, and to define him in
asocial and idealist

When the individual is so austerely conceived, the question arises as to
how he is related to his
alienable bodily and mental activities and powers. They cannot be
conceived as his modes of being,
the ways in which ?he? expresses himself and exists for himself and
others; they can only be
understood as something he has rather than he is. The bourgeois writers
appropriately them as his
properties, which in the legal language become his possessions. If ?he?
referred to the totality
of his being and not merely to the will or choice, his power and
activities would be seen as an
integral part of him, as constitutive of him, and therefore not as his
possessions which he could
dispose of ?at will?. He would not be able to alienate them, any more than
he could alienated his
will or choice. And his so-called ?freedom? to sell his capacities and
activities would appear not
as freedom, but slavery.

> In *Marxism and Philosophy* Karl Korsch says Marxian critique of political
> economy is at the same time a deeper critique of philosophy than was in
> early Marxian writings. How can we make a sense of this?
> Thanks for replies
> Dogan
> "A radical critique of bourgeois society can no longer start from
> ‘any’ form of theoretical or practical consciousness whatever, as Marx
> thought as late as 1843. It must start from the particular forms of
> consciousness which have found their scientific expression in the
> political economy of bourgeois society. Consequently the critique of
> political economy is theoretically and practically the first priority. Yet
> even this deeper and more radical version of Marx’s revolutionary
> critique of society never ceases to be a critique of the whole of
> bourgeois society and so of all its forms of consciousness. It may seem as
> if Marx and Engels were later to criticise philosophy only in an
> occasional and haphazard manner. In fact, far from neglecting the subject,
> they actually developed their critique of it in a more profound and
> radical direction. For proof, it is only necessary to re-establish the
> full revolutionary meaning of Marx’s critique of political economy, as
> against certain mistaken ideas about it which are common today. This may
> also serve to clarify both its place in the whole system of Marx’s
> critique of society, and its relation to his critique of ideologies like
> philosophy."
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