E. Belfort Bax

Bourgeois Scholarship and “Dangerous” Doctrines

(27 November 1897)

Bourgeois Scholarship and “Dangerous” Doctrines, Justice, 27th November 1897, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We are living, it would seem, in an age in which class interest not merely shapes, the policy of the statesman and the coat of the party politician, but enters as a distinct factor into the theories of the scholar. The man of learning nowadays is keen to scent the possible applications of an otherwise harmless-looking doctrine or fact, and still keener to note the actual part played by such doctrine or fact in the theory of modern Socialism. After having discovered that it does play a part, he no longer hesitates to set about attempting to undermine it or at best cast doubt upon it. This he evidently considers to be his duty to the class which necessarily furnishes the chief readers of his books and bearers of his lectures.

Now, the first attempt to sap an outpost of Socialism from the theoretical side was aimed at an economic doctrine – a doctrine up to that time received complacently by most economists, handed down as it had been from the classical political economy, and based as it was on the obvious facts of production in a community where production is not artificially limited. This doctrine amounted to the simple proposition that the average commodity freely producible and reproducible has as the basis of its value the average quantum of labour necessary in that community to produce it, or, in other words, that equal quanta of labour as embodied in such commodities exchange on the average for equal quanta of labour. No sooner had modern Socialism begun to grow menacing, and, in consequence, the writings of Marx to be widely read and discussed, than the economist, concerned for the maintenance of the economic status quo, took alarm at the subversive doctrine he conceived to lay bidden in this harmless proposition, which he had hitherto accepted in all its obviousness. Forthwith the whole tribe of Fabian theorists, Liberal, and Tory professors, and other opponents of Socialism start full cry waving the flag of Jevons and Final Utility. This it was supposed would save the world from a revolutionary Social Democracy, since value once denied to consist in embodied labour, there could no longer, it was thought, be any suggestion of the right of the labourers to the enjoyment of the value of their embodied labour. The right of the producer collectively to the things produced collectively would now go by the board, since what gave the things their value was not the labour crystallised in them, but an abstract psychological quality having nothing to do with their production at all. There were, I believe, not wanting at one time, small lights of the Fabian society to deny that over production was the cause of crises (!), in fact there was no end to the professed scepticism on the most elementary principles of political economy provided any possible application favourable to Socialism, or “Marxism,” as they called it, was suspected of lurking under them.

But it is not only on the economic side that truths of dangerous tendency have been controverted by the bourgeois scholar. Has not the well-established fact of the existence of group-marriage as a well-defined stage in the history of sex-relationship been traversed by Dr. Westermarck and others in the supposed interests of the monogamic principle, which, by the way, some would like to trace back to the lower vertebrates? By these apologists, every instance of “pairing” for season, necessitated by obvious economic conditions as to food supply, the protection of offspring, &c., has been dressed into the service as an illustration of the eternity of monogamy. Now, since Socialists have been prominent in pointing out that the monogamic marriage of modern civilisation is based on certain special forms of individual property-holding ; and since they have further insisted that compulsory life-long monogamy must inevitably pass away with these forms, giving place to a rational freedom in sex-relationship in which, whatever may be the prevalent form, external compulsion will play no part – since all this is a matter of common knowledge, it is not difficult to see at whom and at what is directed the attempt to special-plead monogamy as a permanent institution in the past of humanity.

The latest in the way of the sapping and mining of dangerous truths is the concerted attempts being made by a certain young school of sociological scholars “on the make” to discredit the fact of primitive or tribal communism and of the institutions immediately growing nut of it. Now, there is probably no generalisation concerning the earlier stages of human society or the remote past of mankind so well attested by the cumulative evidence alike of the history of institutions, of the relics of prehistoric social formations, of the earlier writings and inscriptions of historical peoples, and of the analogy of savage and barbaric communities at the present time or in the recent past, than is this fact of the universality of group-communism as the primitive economic form of human society. The names of Emil de Laveleve, of Georg Ludwig Maurer, and of the late Sir Henry Maine, are specially associated with the accumulation and sifting of evidence in connection with this subject. Their works remain as monuments of lifelong industry in this one department of research. The dangez of the line of his investigations were taking in offering a precedent for subversive tendencies, and in shaking men’s faith in the eternal sacredness of private property, was pointed out to Maine on the first publication of his Village Communities, an insinuation against which he thought it necessary to shield himself by arguing that progress in civilisation had meant the dissolution of these old kinship communistic groups. But, this notwithstanding, there was no suggestion at that time on the part of anybody of denying or minimising the facts. It is only since modern Socialism has insisted, in season and out of season, on the truth that bourgeois civilisation is destined to work out its own contradiction, that bourgeois apologists and other “moderate” and “sensible” men have felt it incumbent upon them to deny facts that seemed to them inconvenient and dangerous. I have before me a significant instance of the terror exercised by primitive communism on the promoters, for example, of university extension, in the last edition, published this year, of a little book of their series on the Industrial History of England. The writer, Mr. de Gibbins, M.A., after a brief notice of the mark-organisation, is careful in the present issue of his work to insert sundry safeguarding parentheses and footnotes to the effect that in all probability primitive communism and the mark-organisation never existed at all.

To this base use is modern scholarship descending – to blacking the boots of capitalism!


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 21.6.2004