E. Belfort Bax

The Materialist Conception of History

(12 August 1905)

Materialist Conception of History, Justice, 12th August 1905, p.6. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DEAR COMRADE, – Askew’s answer to Hyndman on the above question, quite apart from the appositeness of his explanations in given cases, simply amounts to an affirmation of what no Socialist would think of denying; to wit, that no historical event is absolutely independent of economic conditions. But this is beside the question. The question with those who, like myself, hold what I have elsewhere termed the “synthetic,” as opposed to the one-sided materialist, view, is – can the whole historical process be adequately explained by a reference simply to its economic side or not? Is every event causally reducible to contemporary economic conditions? Sometimes the extreme materialist conceptionists answer yes, sometimes no. But whether their categorical answer be yes or no, their implied answer, as given in their historical applications of the doctrine, is always yes. Like Kautsky in his controversy with myself, when hard pressed in argument they wriggle like eels, shifting their position as it suits their argument. It is impossible to bring them to a definite issue, as I pointed out in my a final rejoinder to Kautsky (not translated by Askew) in Die Sozialistische Monatshefte for June, 1898.

I would put it to Askew whether he really thinks his economical solutions (in some of which, by the way, he follows Kautsky almost word for word, of the events referred to by Hyndman, even granting them to contain a measure of truth, were sufficient of themselves to explain those events?

It should be remarked, by the way, that Askew repeats the popular fallacy that “the Christians were originally a Communistic sect.” This they most certainly never were, much as they may have inculcated the duty of almsgiving. The individualist society of the Roman Empire so required a personal religion and found it in the new cult from the East of which Christianity was the final historical expression. The older Pagan system was social – tribal or civic.


Yours, E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 9.7.2004