Orthodox Marxism

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As orthodox Marxism refers to the to the beginning of the 1890s, World War important theoretical flow within the German Social Democracy and the Second International , which in contrast to reformism on the need for a revolutionary insists development. The main spokesmen were initially Karl Kautsky , August Bebel , Georgi Walentinowitsch Plechanow and Antonio Labriola .

In addition, in contrast to reformism, representatives of Austromarxism such as Otto Bauer and Rudolf Hilferding as well as revolutionaries such as Lenin , Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky have been called "orthodox Marxists". Leninism , Trotskyism and Marxism-Leninism as well as other dogmatic currents are therefore occasionally also called "orthodox-Marxist".

Philosophy and philosophy of science

The orthodox Marxists consider scientific socialism to be the heirs of classical German philosophy in the sense of overcoming and replacing. They believe that they are based on the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels . In 1886, Engels wrote in his review of Ludwig Feuerbach and the outcome of classical German philosophy :

“Then Feuerbach's 'Essence of Christianity' came. In one fell swoop, it dispelled the contradiction by raising materialism back to the throne without further ado. Nature exists independently of all philosophy; it is the basis on which we humans, even natural products, have grown up; apart from nature and man there is nothing, and the higher beings that our religious imagination created are only the fantastic reflection of our own being. The spell was broken; the 'system' had been blown up and thrown aside, the contradiction, as it existed only in the imagination, was dissolved. "

According to Karl Korsch , the orthodox Marxists tossed philosophy aside in exactly the same way that Ludwig Feuerbach had done with Hegelian philosophy at the time . Any idealism in this sense was rejected in favor of a materialistic view. Nature and society develop deterministically according to the same laws, and these laws are in principle accessible to scientific research. The orthodox Marxists were supporters of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution . They thus understood historical materialism as a special case of dialectical materialism as it had been developed by Engels in the Anti-Dühring .

Political orientation

While the spokesman for revisionism Eduard Bernstein wanted to gradually achieve a socialist society through political reforms within the existing parliamentary system, Karl Kautsky insisted on the inevitability of revolution. However, he saw their point in time in a possibly more distant future, if a sufficient mass base were created.

Word usage

As early as 1872, the opponents of Marx and Engels within the First International accused them of advocating “orthodox dogmatics”. Since then, the term "Marxist orthodoxy" has been used repeatedly with an ironic, critical meaning, often on the part of other socialists. The bourgeois press adopted the term. Finally, Kautsky went over to characterizing the position of the majority of the SPD, which he himself represented, as the "orthodox" one, mostly putting the word in quotation marks. According to Karl Korsch, up to the beginning of the First World War, both the representative of the social democratic center Kautsky, the Austromarxist Otto Bauer and the revolutionary Bolshevik Vladimir Ilyich Lenin were all considered orthodox Marxists who set themselves apart from revisionism.

The End

After the outbreak of the First World War, many social democratic parties initially concluded a “truce” with the respective national governments, temporarily giving up the goal of revolutionary development in favor of national interests. As a result, the Second International disintegrated. Kautsky and Lenin were at odds over whether the time had come for revolution in Russia. The Marxist orthodoxy splintered in different opposing directions and lost its political influence. Following the October Revolution of 1917, a Marxist “restoration” that is so characteristic of itself took place in Russia. In retrospect, the representatives of Orthodoxy were also referred to as " centrists " by Lenin, Leon Trotsky and the Comintern .


As a result of the first neo-Marxist criticism of Marxist orthodoxy, the level of social criticism implicitly already achieved with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was re-appreciated. Georg Lukács criticized the historicizing reading of the previous orthodox interpretation of Marx and replaced it with a logical one in which the proletariat becomes the subject of history. For Lukacs, the goal of a new, correctly understood orthodoxy is no longer a final refutation of revisionist and utopian tendencies, but rather the careful mediation between the current tasks and the totality of the historical process. For Karl Korsch , too, the task of mediating between theory and practice arises. However, in contrast to Lukacs, he gives up the revolutionary role of the proletariat.

Major works

Individual evidence

  1. MEW Vol. 21, p. 272
  2. compare: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The alleged splits in the International , 1872, MEW Vol. 18, p. 35
  3. ^ Korsch: Marxism and Philosophy
  4. Lukacs: What is Orthodox Marxism?
  5. ^ A b According to M. Heinrich: Annotated list of literature on the criticism of political economy
  6. ^ A b c According to I. Elbe: Between Marx, Marxism and Marxisms - readings of Marx's theory


  • Karl Korsch: The materialistic conception of history. A discussion of Karl Kautsky (1929), in: E. Gerlach (Ed.), Karl Korsch, Die Materialistische Geschichtsaufstellung and other writings , Frankfurt / Cologne 1974 (1971)
  • Karl Korsch: Marxism and Philosophy
  • Georg Lukacs: What is Orthodox Marxism ?, in: History and Class Consciousness , 1923
  • Urs Jaeggi (1977): Some Remarks on Orthodoxy and Dogmatism in Historical Materialism . In: ders./Axel Honneth (ed.): Theorien des Historischen Materialismus , Frankfurt am Main 1977, pp. 145–163

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