N.I. Bukharin: Historical Materialism - a System of Sociology


2: Determinism and Indeterminism (Necessity and Free Will)

a. The Question of Freedom or Lack of Freedom of the Individual

WE have seen that in social life as well as in the life of nature there is a certain regularity of law, yet one may have doubts on this point. As a matter of fact, social phenomena are created by persons. Society consists of persons who think, cogitate, feel, pursue purposes, act. One does one thing; another for example, may do the same thing; a third, another thing; etc. The result of all these actions is a social phenomenon. Without people there would be no society, there would be no social phenomena. If social phenomena follow a uniform law and if they are nevertheless the result of the actions of men, it follows that the actions of each individual also depend on something. It thus follows that man and his will are not free, but bound, being subject also to certain laws. If this were not the case, if each man and his will did not depend on anything, where would we get any regularity in social phenomena? There would be no such thing. This is clear to everyone. If everybody were lame, it follows that the whole of society would be a society of lame persons: there would be nothing with which to form a society of my other kind.

But, on the other hand, what is this question of the dependence of human will? Does not man himself decide what he wishes to do? I decided to drink water, and I am drinking water; I decided then go to the meeting, and I made up my mind to go. On a free evening, my comrades proposed that we go to the Proletkult Theatre, while others wanted to go to the Comedy Theatre; I decided to go to the Proletkult; I myself decided it. Has not man therefore the freedom of choice? Is he not free in his actions, in his wishes, in his desires, his aspirations? Is he a puppet, a mere chessman moved by forces outside of himself? Does not every man know from his own experience that he may freely resolve, choose, act?

This question is called in philosophy the question of freedom or of freedom of the human will. The doctrine which maintains that the human will is free (independent) is called indeterminism (the doctrine of the unconditioned, independent will). The doctrine which maintains that the human will is dependent, conditioned, unfree, is called determinism (the doctrine of the dependence or conditioning of the will). We must therefore decide which of these two points of view is the correct one.

First of all let us consider to what the doctrine of indeterminism would lead us if we should pursue it to its logical conclusion. If the human will is free and depends on nothing at all, this would mean that it is without cause. But this being the case, what would be the result? The result would be the good Old Testament religious theory. As a matter of fact we should then have the following condition: Everything in the world is accomplished according to certain laws. Everything, from the multiplication of fleas to the motions of the solar system has its causes; only the human will is not subject to this rule. It constitutes the sole exception. Here man is already no longer a part of nature, he is a sort of god standing above the world. Consequently the doctrine of freedom of the will leads straight to religion, which explains nothing, for in religion there is no knowledge but only blind belief in the practices of the devil, in the mysterious, in the supernatural, in bugbears of all kinds.

Of course this is unreasonable. In order to crack this little nut, we must dwell on this point for a bit. Often - almost always - there is a confusion between the feeling of independence, and real objective independence. Let us take an example. Let us suppose that at a meeting you are looking at the speaker. He takes a glass of water from the table and empties it thirstily. What does he feel when he reaches for the glass? He is fully conscious of his freedom. He himself has decided that he should drink the water and not - let us say - dance a jig. He feels his freedom. But does this mean that he is really acting without cause, and that his will is truly independent? By no means. Every sensible man will at once recognize the nature of the case. He will say: "The speaker's throat is dry." What does this mean? Simply, that the exertion of speaking has brought about such changes in the speaker's throat as to call forth in him a desire to drink water. That is the cause. An alteration in his organism (physiological cause) has brought about a certain desire. It therefore follows that we must not confuse a sense of freedom of the will, the feeling of independence, with causelessness, with an independence of human desires and actions. These are two entirely different things. And yet, the confusion of these two things is very frequent in all the reasonings of the indeterminists, who wish at any price to rescue the special "divinity" of the human spirit.

One of the greatest philosophers, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) wrote concerning most of these philosophers: "They obviously think of man in nature as of a state within the state, for they believe that man disturbs nature more than he complies with it; and that he has unconditional power over his actions, being determined from within himself and not from elsewhere." (Ethics, German translation by Otto Baensch, Leipzig, 1919, p.98). This erroneous conception arises only because men are not yet conscious of the external causes of their own actions. "Thus, a child believes it desires milk of its own volition, likewise, the angry boy believes he desires revenge, voluntarily, while the timid man believes he voluntarily desires to flee" (ibid., p.105). Leibnitz (1646-1716) likewise speaks of men as losing sight of the causes of their actions (causas . . . fugientes), which gives them the illusion of absolute freedom; he mentions the example of the magnetic needle, which, if it were able to think, would surely rejoice (laetaretur) in its constantly pointing to the north pole (G. G. Leibnitz Opera omnia, Tomus I, Genevae, 1768, p.155 ).

The thought was expressed by D. Merezhkovsky, before he was attacked by his apocalyptic anti-bolshevik insanity

Each drop of rain,
If minded as you,
Descending from on high,
A blessing from heaven,
Would surely have surmised:
"No aimless power
Controlleth me,
For of my own free will
Upon the thirsting fields below
Swiftly I fall."

At bottom, people completely contradict in their actions the theory of the freedom of the will. For, if the human will were entirely independent of everything, it would be impossible to act at all, since there would be no possibility of reckoning or of predicting. Let us suppose that a speculator is going to the market. He knows there will be trading and haggling there, that each seller will ask too much, and that the purchasers will attempt to obtain lower prices, etc. But he does not expect that people will be walking about on all fours in the market, like cats, because it is contrary their nature. What does that mean? Simply, that their organism is constituted in a certain way. But do not clowns go about on all fours? Yes, for the reason that their will is determined other conditions, and when the speculator goes to the circus he expects that people will go about on all fours, at the circus, "contrary to nature". Why do the buyers wish to buy cheap? For the simple reason that they are buyers. Their position as buyers "obliges" them to secure cheap goods; their wish, their will, their action is determined in this direction. But suppose this man is a seller? He will then act in the contrary direction. He will seek to sell as high as possible. It follows, in consequence, that the will is not at all independent, that it is determined by a number of causes, and that persons could not act at all if this were not the case.

Let us now approach the subject from another standpoint. Everyone knows that a drunken man will develop "stupid" desires and that he will perform "stupid" actions. His will acts in a different manner from that of the sober man; the reason is to be found in alcoholic poisoning. Simply introduce a certain quantity of alcohol into the human organism, and the "divine will" begins to indulge in pranks that will surprise the saints. The reason is obvious. Or, let us take another example; feed salt to a man; he will necessarily begin "freely" to desire to drink much more than usual; the cause is quite obvious And suppose we feed the man "normally"? He will then drink a "normal" quantity of water; he will "feel like" drinking as any other man would "feel like" drinking. In other words, in this case also, the will is precisely as dependent as in the unusual cases.

Man will fall in love when his organism has developed to that point. Man in a condition of extreme exhaustion surrenders to "black despair". In a word, man's feeling and will are dependent on the condition of his organism and on the circumstances in which on he finds himself. His will, like all the rest of nature, is conditioned by certain causes, and man does not constitute an exception to all the rest of the world: whether he desire to scratch his ear, or accomplish heroic deeds, all his actions have their causes. To be sure, in some cases these causes are very difficult to ascertain. But that is another matter. We have by no means succeeded in ascertaining all the causes in the domain of inanimate nature. But this does not mean that these things cannot be explained at all. We must bear in mind that, as we have seen, not only the "normal" cases are subject to the law of cause and effect. All phenomena are subject to this law. The mental diseases may serve as the clearest example. Is it possible that the incoherent, stupid, strange and peculiar desires and actions of the mentally deranged, the insan, can have any law of cause and effect, any "order"? Even these have their causes. Under the influence of certain causes the insane behave in a certain way; under certain other influences, they will behave in another way, under a third set of causes, in still another way; etc. In other words, even in the case of the insane, law of cause and effect remains in full force.

This is the basis of the classification of mental diseases, all of which play be traced back along certain lines: 1. Heredity (syphilis, tuberculosis, etc.); 2. Lesions (traumata); 3. Intoxications (poisons); 4. Various destructive influences and commotions (cf. "Mental Diseases" in Granat's Russian Encyclopedia). For example, the dementia of dipsomania is described as follows: "The patients believe that evil things are planned against them, that all those around them are in a plot, not only neighbors, but even domestic animals and inanimate objects" etc. (A. Bernstein, same article). Dipsomania is a result of alcoholic intoxication. In progressive paralysis (due to syphilis) we have different "symptoms": first stage, mental disturbance, levity, coarse actions, credulity; second stage, hallucinations (ideas of grandeur; the patient becomes a millionaire, a king, etc.); third stage, general collapse (P. Rosenbach: "Progressive Paralysis," in Brockhaus Russian Encyclopedia, vol. 49). In the case of certain lesions diseased condition of certain portions of the brain or nervous system), the will is determined in certain directions; in other lesions, in other directions, etc. The entire practice of medicine in nervous diseases is based on the dependence of the mental life on certain causes.

We have purposely chosen examples of the most varied kind. A consideration of these examples has shown that under all conditions, both usual and unusual, both normal and abnormal, the will, the feeling, the actions, of the individual man always have a definite cause; they are always conditioned ("determined"), defined. The doctrine of freedom of the will (indeterminism) is at bottom an attenuated form of a semi-religious view which explains nothing at all, contradicts all the facts of life, and constitutes an obstacle to scientific development. The only correct point of view is that of determinism.

b. The Resultant of the Individual Wills in Unorganized Society

There is no doubt that society consists of individual persons, and that a social phenomenon is composed of a numerous aggregation of individual feelings, moods, wills, actions. A social phenomenon is, in other words, the result (or, as is sometimes said, the "resultant", the sum total) of the individual phenomena. Prices are an excellent example. Buyers and sellers go to market. The sellers have the goods, the buyers have the money. Each of the sellers and buyers is aiming at a certain object: each of them makes a certain estimate of goods and money, ponders, calculates, scratches and bites. The result of all this commotion in the market is the market price. This price may not represent the idea of any individual buyer or seller; it is a social phenomenon arising as a result of a struggle of the various wills. The same phenomenon as in price-fixing is also observable in all other social relations. Let us take, for example, the epoch of the revolution Some persons proceed more energetically, others less so; some are pushing in one direction; others in another. From this struggle between persons there finally, after the "victory of the revolution", arises a new social structure, a new order of things. A certain order of social relations, wrote Marx, "is as much a product of human beings as is canvas, linen, etc." (Karl Marx: The Poverty of Philosophy, French edition, Giard and Brière, 1908, page 155).

We may consider in this connection two different cases, each of which has peculiarities of its own. These two cases are: that of unorganized society, or a simple commodities or capitalistic society; and that of organized communist society. In the former case, let us take the extremely typical example mentioned above, namely the example of price fixing. What will be the relation of the price which is fixed on the market, with the desires, with the estimates and intentions which were present in the mind of each individual who came to market? It is obvious that the price will not coincide with these wishes. For many persons this price will be outright ruinous; namely, for those who simply cannot buy anything "at such prices," and who leave the spot, their pennies in their pockets and their stomachs empty; also for those who are wiped out by the, fact that the price is too low for them. Everyone knows that a great number of tradesmen, petty merchants and petty peasants are destroyed by the fact that the great factory owners flood the market with their cheap wares, which ruin the petty trader, unable to maintain the struggle, unable to meet prices at the low points to which they may go, when depressed under the weight of the great mass of goods thrown on the market by the great capitalists.

We mentioned above another characteristic example, the example of the imperialist war, in which many capitalists in the various countries desired to make seizures, with great resulting impoverishment; from this impoverishment was born the revolution against the capitalists; although, of course, these capitalists had not desired such a revolution at all.

What does this mean? It means that an unorganized society, where there is no planful production where classes are fighting each other, where nothing is done according to plan, but in an elemental natural manner, the result obtained (social phenomenon) does not coincide with the wishes of many persons. Or, as Marx and Engels frequently said, social phenomena are independent of the consciousness, the feeling and the will of individuals. This "independence of the will of persons" consists not in the fact that the events of social life proceed outside of the persons concerned, but in the fact that in unorganized society, in chaotic, elemental evolution, the social product of this will (or wills) does not coincide with the objects that are proposed by many persons, but sometimes is in direct contradiction with these objects (a man wishing to make profit finds himself ruined).

A great many objections against Marxism are based on the misunderstanding of the phrase "independence of the will", as used by Marx and Engels. A few lines from Engels will be in place here:

"Nothing appears without an intentional purpose, without an end desired . . . . That which is willed but rarely happens. In the majority of cases the desired ends cross and interfere with each other. So, the innumerable conflicts of individual wills and individual agents in the realm of history reach a conclusion which is on the whole analogous to that in the realm of nature, which is without definite purpose. The ends of the actions are intended, but the results which follow from the actions are not intended, or in so far as they appear to correspond with the end desired, in their final results are quite different from the conclusion wished" (Feuerbach, translated by Austin Lewis, Chicago 1906, pp.104, 105)

"Men make their own history, in that each follows his own desired ends independent of results, and the results of these many wills acting in different directions and their manifold effects upon the world constitute history . . . . But ... we have seen in history that the results of many individual wills produce effects, for the most part quite other than what is wished - often, in fact, the very opposite" (Feuerbach, p.105, 106).

From the above it follows that in unorganized society, as well as in any other society, events are accomplished not outside of the will of the individuals, but through this will. In this case the individual man is subject to an unconscious natural process which is the product of the individual wills.

Let us now turn our attention to another circumstance. Once a certain social result of the individual wills has been obtained, this social result determines the conduct of the individual. We must emphasize this point, for it is very important.

Let us begin with the example that has already been mentioned twice, namely, that of price fixing. Let us assume that a pound of carrots costs so much on the market. It is obvious that both the new purchasers and the new sellers already have had this price in mind in advance, that they have already been approximately assuming this price in their reckonings. In other words, the social phenomenon (price) has a determining influence on the individual phenomena (offers and demands). The same thing takes place in all the other phases of life. The incipient painter bases his activity on all the preceding evolution of his art and on the social feelings and social tendencies with which he is surrounded. On what are the actions of the statesman based? On the circumstances under which he acts: he may desire either to strengthen a certain order or destroy it. This will depend in turn on the side on which he stands, on the environment in which he lives, on the social class and on the social aspirations from which he draws his strength. In other words, his will also is determined by social conditions.

We have seen above that in unorganized society the final consequence very often is different - sometimes quite different - from the original desires of the persons involved. It may here be said that the "social product" (social phenomenon) dominates the persons. And this, not only in the sense that it determines the conducts of these persons, but even in the sense that it directly contradicts their desires. Thus, in unorganized society we may set up the following laws

1. Social phenomena are the resultant of the conflict of individual wills, feelings, actions, etc.

2. Social phenomena determine at any given moment the will of the various individuals.

3. Social phenomena do not express the will of individual persons, but frequently are a direct contradiction of this will; they prevail over it by force, with the result that the individual often feels the pressure of social forces on his actions (example: the ruined merchant, the capitalist, who has stood for war, is disestablished by the revolution, etc.).

c. The Collectively Organized Will (the Resultant of Individual Wills in Organized Communist Society)

Let us now consider the state of affairs in organized society. In such a society there is no anarchy in production; there are no classes, no class struggles, no oppositions of class interests, etc. There are not even contradictions between personal and social interests. We are now dealing with a friendly brotherhood of workers with a common plan for production.

What now is the situation of the individual will? Of course, society will continue to consist of persons, and social phenomena will continue to be the product of the individual wills. But the character of this aggregation, the method by which this resultant is obtained, are completely different from those obtaining in unorganized society. In order to grasp this difference clearly, let us take a little preliminary example. Let us suppose that we have a little society or circle of persons who have organized to sing together. All propose the same goal for themselves, propose to solve the questions involved, to evaluate the difficulties with which they are faced, in short, they make resolutions in common and carry them out in common. Their common action, their common resolution - these are already a collective "product". But this product is not an external, crude, elemental force flying in the face of the individual desires; on the contrary, it constitutes an enhanced possibility of each individual's attaining his desire. Five men resolve to lift a stone together. Alone, none of them could lift it; together, they do so without difficulty. The general resolution does not differ by a hair's breadth from the desire of each individual. On the contrary, it aids in the realization of this desire.

The case will be the same - but on a more magnificent scale, and in more intricate form - in communist society (by which we mean not the period of proletarian dictatorship, nor the first steps of communism, but the fully developed communist society in which there are no remnants of classes, no state, and no external legal norms). In such a society, all the relations between men will be obvious to each, and the social volition will be the organization of all their wills. It will not be a resultant obtained by elemental accident, "independent" of the will of the individual, but a consciously organized social decision. We therefore cannot have the same result as in capitalist society. Under communism, the "social product" will, not dominate over men, but men will control their own decisions, for the very reason that it is they who make the resolve, and who make it consciously. It will be impossible to observe social phenomena whose effect on the majority of the population will be harmful and ruinous.

But it by no means follows from the above that in a communist society the social will and the will of the individual will be independent of everything, or that there will be freedom of the will under communism, with man suddenly becoming a supernatural creature who is not subject in any way to the law of cause and effect. Under communism, man will remain a portion of nature, subject to the general law of cause and effect. Will not each individual continue to depend on the circumstances surrounding him? He will; he will not act as a savage in Central Africa or as a banker belonging to the trading firm of J. Pierpont, Morgan and Company, or as a hussar in the period of the imperialist war. He will act as a member of the communist society. The circumstances of life will determine man's will. Everyone, for example, understands that it will be necessary for a communist society to struggle with nature, and consequently the conditions of this struggle will of themselves define the conduct of men, etc. In a word, the deterministic theory will remain in full force in communist society also.

Therefore, we may set up the following laws in the case of organized society

1 Social phenomena are the resultant of the conflict of individual wills, feelings, actions, etc. But here this process does not proceed with elemental confusion, but - in the decisive instances - in an organized manner.

2 Social phenomena determine at any given moment the will of the various individuals.

3 Social phenomena are an expression of the will of men and usually do not fly in the face of this will; men control their own decisions and do not feel any pressure of blind social forces upon them, since these forces have been replaced by a national social organization.

Engels wrote that humanity, in its transition to communism, makes a "leap" from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom. Some bourgeois scholars inferred that Engels meant that determinism would lose its validity in communist society. This view is based on a crude distortion of Marxism. Engels meant - and rightly that in the communist society evolution would assume a consciously organized character, as opposed to the unconscious, blind, elemental stage. Men will know what they are doing and how they must operate under the given circumstances. "Freedom is the recognition of necessity."

d. Accidentalism in General

In order to understand fully the general interdependence of phenomena, we must continue to dwell here on the discussion of so called "accidentalism". As a matter of fact, we very frequently encounter accident in every-day life, as well as in social life. Certain scholars have even taken up special investigations of the rôle of accident in history". We very frequently speak of accident: persons "chanced" to be walking in the street; a brick, falling from the roof, killed a man; by chance I purchased an extremely rare book; accidentally, in a strange city, I met a man I had not seen for twenty years, etc. Further examples: playing "heads or tails", or dice. By accident, "heads" came out: I won; by accident, it was "tails": I lost. How shall we explain this accident in terms of natural law, or, in other words, where does causal necessity enter here?

Let us examine this question. Let us first consider the case of "heads" and "tails". Why, for example, should "heads" come out on top? Is it true that there were no reasons, no causes? There must have been causes. Heads came out on top, because, with a coin of given shape, I made certain motions with my hand, with a certain force, in a certain direction; result: the coin fell with a certain surface down, etc. If all these conditions should be repeated, inevitably "heads" would again appear. And if the experiment should be made a third time, the result would be the same. But the fact is that in tossing the coin, it is simply impossible to discount all the circumstances in advance. A slight inclination of the hand, a flip of a finger, a change of the force with which the coin is tossed, all these will influence the result. The causes leading to the result (obverse or reverse appearing on top) cannot there be calculated in practice. They exist, but we cannot reckon with them, because we do not know them. In this case we term our ignorance "accident".

Let us now take another example: my accidental meeting with an acquaintance whom I had not seen for twenty years. It is not difficult to see that there are causes for this meeting; impelled by certain causes I left at a certain time and went by a certain route a certain speed; impelled by another set of causes, my acquaintance at a certain time began his journey on a certain road, with a certain speed. It is quite evident that the combined action of all these causes necessarily brought about our meeting. Why should this meeting appear accidental to me? Why should it seem me that no causal necessity was present? For the very simple that I am ignorant of the causes governing my friend's that I am ignorant even of the fact that he is living in the same city, and consequently am unable to foresee our meeting.

If, of two or more causal chains (series) of intersecting actions, we know only one, the phenomenon obtained by their intersection will appear accidental to us, though in reality it is in accordance with law. I know one of the chains (one series) of causes, those resulting in my own passing through the street; of the other chain (series) of causes, those impelling my friend, I am ignorant. For this reason, this intersection strikes me as an "accidental" phenomenon. Strictly speaking, therefore, there are no accidental, i.e., causeless phenomena. But phenomena may impress us as "accidental" when their causes are insufficiently clear to us.

Spinoza already knew this: he states that "a thing is called accidental merely through lack of inner understanding because the series of causes is concealed from us" (Ethics, translation by Baensch, Leipzig, 1919, p.30). John Stuart Mill, in his System of Logic, Book iii., chap. xvii, par. 2, after making a correct analysis, writes as follows: "It is incorrect, then, to say that any phenomenon is produced by chance; but we may say that two or more phenomena are conjoined by chance, that they coexist or succeed one another only by chance; meaning that they are in no way related through causation; that they are neither cause and effect, nor effects of the same cause, nor effects of causes between which there subsists any law of coexistence, nor even effects of the same original collocation of primeval causes." We have italicized the incorrect statements. The fact is (in the example of my meeting a friend) that I did not leave my house because my friend had gone away, and my friend did not set out because I had gone away. But if there is given a certain "distribution of causes", i.e., if we assume as given that I went away at a certain time, on a given path, with given speed, and if we assume the same details to be given in the case of my friend, we are in possession of the causes of our meeting; there is as little of accident and independence in this "distribution of causes" as in the case of eclipses of the sun or moon, which are determined by a certain situation ("meeting") of celestial bodies.

e. Historical "Accident"'

After what has been said above, the question of so called "historical accident" is a relatively simple matter.

If at bottom all things proceed in accordance with law, and if there is nothing that is accidental - causeless - it is clear there can be no such thing as accident in history. Each historical event, however accidental it may appear, is absolutely and completely conditioned by certain causes; historical accidentalism also simply means the intersection of certain causal series of which only one series is known.

Sometimes, however, the term historical accident is used in another sense. For instance, when we say that the imperialist war was a necessary result of the evolution of world capitalism, we are also in the habit of adding that the murder of the Austrian Archduke was an accidental phenomenon; but here "accident" is something different. When we speak of the necessity (causal necessity, inevitability) of the imperialist war, we infer this inevitability from the immense power of certain causes in the evolution of society, causes leading to war. Similarly, the war in its turn is also an event of immense importance, an event exerting a decisive influence on the further destinies of society. Therefore, the expression "historical accident" as used here, signifies a circumstance that does not play an important part in the chain of social events: even if this "accident" had not come to pass, the subsequent evolution would have been altered so little as not to be essentially changed in any way. In the given case: the war would have come if the Archduke had not been killed, for the "crux of the matter" was not in this slaying, but in the sharpening of the between the imperialist powers, growing fiercer day by day with the evolution of capitalist society.

May we say that such "accidental" phenomena play no part at all in social life, that they have no effect on the destinies of society, that they are equivalent to zero? A truly correct answer could deny the importance even of "accidental" events, for each event, "insignificant" though it may be, actually has an influence on all of subsequent history.

The important point is the magnitude of the effect of such an event on the evolution of the future. When we speak of phenomena that are "accidental" in the sense above indicated, their practical influence is unimportant, insignificant, infinitely small. This influence may be infinitesimal, but it is not zero. We shall understand this if we consider the combined aggregate action of such "accidental" facts. For example: let us consider the fixing of prices. The market price is fixed by the conflict of a great mass of guesses on the part of buyers and sellers. If we consider a single case, a single price-estimate, the meeting of a single buyer and a single seller, such an instance may be considered "accidental". Merchant John Brown fleeces old man Smith. This act, from the point of view of the market-price, i.e., of a social phenomenon, the resultant of a multitude of meetings between various estimates, accidental. What does it matter what happened to John Brown in any given case? What we want is the final result, the social phenomenon, the typical fact in the matter. We often hear such statements, and they are quite reasonable. For the individual case is of negligible importance. But just combine a great number of such "accidents", and you will at once see that their "accidental nature" begins to disappear. The function and significance of many actions, their combined action, is at once felt in the sequel. So the individual cases are by no means zero quantities, for zero, however frequently multiplied, will never give more than zero.

We therefore observe that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an accidental phenomenon in the historical evolution of society; the fact that Karl Kautsky could not sleep one night because he was dreaming of the terrors of the Bolshevik Revolution; the fact that the Austrian Archduke was killed shortly before the war; the fact that England was pursuing a colonial policy; the fact that the world war was brought about; in a word, all events, from the most petty and insignificant to the most epoch-making events of our times, are equally not accidental, are equally conditioned by causes, i.e., are equally the result of causal necessity.

f. Historical Necessity

It follows from the above that the conception of "accident" must also be banished from the social sciences. Society and its evolution are as much subject to natural law as is everything else in the universe.

Characteristically enough, the doctrine of accident, when it seriously admits accidentalism as a fact, leads directly into a faith in the supernatural, a faith in God. This is the basis of the so called "cosmological proof" of the existence of God; if the cosmos is not subject to the law of cause and effect, it is evident that there must be a special cause for its existence and evolution. This alleged reasoning is also designated as a "proof of the accidental nature of the universe" (e contingentia mundi), and may be found in Aristotle, Cicero, Leibnitz, Christian Wolff, etc. In the present period of decline and disintegration of bourgeois society, the doctrine of accident is again being widely accepted (for instance, by the French philosophers Boutroux, Bergson, etc.).

The conception of accidentalism is directly opposed to that of necessity (causal necessity).

"A thing is necessary when it follows inevitably from certain causes." When we say that a certain phenomenon was a historical necessity, we mean that it necessarily had to follow, without regard to whether it would be good or bad. When we speak of causal necessity, we are not giving the slightest indication of our opinion of the event, of its desirability or undesirability; we are considering only its inevitability. But we must not - as is often done - conuse two entirely different conceptions: necessity in the sense of "great desirability", and causal necessity. No two things could farther apart. And when we speak of historical necessity, we not mean "desirability" from the standpoint of - let us say - progress, but the inevitable result of the course of social evolution. In this sense, we may speak of the historical necessity of the rapid growth of the productive forces at the end of the Nineteenth Century, or of the disappearance of the so called Cretan civilization. Necessary means only: conditioned by cause.

We now are brought to a rather difficult question, still connected with this difficult matter of necessity.

Let us suppose that we have before us a human society which has doubled in population in the course of twenty years. We may rightly infer that production has grown in this society. If it had not grown, the society could not have doubled its population. If this society has increased in numbers, production must also have increased. This example would not seem to require further explanation. But what does it involve? We are here seeking by a special method the cause of social growth, the cause that constitutes the necessary condition of this growth. If this condition is not present, there will be no growth; if there is a growth, as a consequence, this condition must also be present.

This example might lead to conflicts of the following nature. At the beginning of this book we mercilessly cast out teleology. Now it looks as if we were ourselves restoring it: "Drive nature out by the door, and she will fly in through the window." But does our formulation of this question permit this inference? For the growth of society, for the doubling of its numbers, it was necessary that production should increase. The growth and increase of society is the goal, the "telos". The increase of production is the means for realizing this goal. The natural law of growth is therefore a teleological natural law. But this would be equivalent to a violation of scientific method, and to falling into the open arms of the priests

As a matter of fact, we are dealing with an entirely different at all teleological in its nature. We are here proceeding from the assumption that society has grown (in a concrete case, we may proceed from the fact that society has grown). But then, society may not grow. And if it should not grow, but - let us say - should decrease by one-half, and if, furthermore, the decrease should be due to insufficient food, it is clear that production must have been curtailed. No man can be prevailed upon to behold "purpose" in the destruction of society. No one can be induced, in this case, to reason as follows: the goal is the decrease in the numbers of society by insufficient food; the means for realizing this goal is a curtailment of production. Here we cannot see teleology at all. We are simply seeking the condition (cause) leading to the result (effect). The necessary condition for further evolution is also frequently called historical necessity. In this sense of the term "historical necessity", we may speak of the "necessity" of the French Revolution, without which capitalism could not have continued to grow; or of the "necessity" of the so called "Liberation of the Serfs" in Russia in 1861, without which Russian capitalism could not have developed. In this sense we may also speak of the historical necessity of socialism, since without it human society cannot continue to develop. If society is to continue to develop, socialism will inevitably come. This is the sense in which Marx and Engels speak of "social necessity".

The method of finding the necessary conditions from the given or accepted facts was very often used by Marx and Engels, although but little attention has been given to their use of this method. The whole of Capital is built up on it. Given: a commodities-producing society with all its elements; how explain its existence? Answer: it can exist only under the condition that the law of value exists; countless commodities are exchanged against each other; how may we explain this? It is possible only if we assume the existence of a money system (social necessity of money). Capital is accumulated on the basis of the laws of commodities circulation. This is possible only because the value of the labor power is lower than that of the product turned out, etc.

g. Are the Social Sciences Possible? Is Prediction Possible in this Field?

From what has been said above it follows that prediction is possible in the domain of the social sciences as well as in that of the natural sciences. Such prediction is not of the kind practiced by the charlatan or faker, but is of scientific nature. We know, for example, that astronomers are able to predict with the utmost precision the time of an eclipse of the sun or moon; they can predict the appearance of comets or of great numbers of "falling stars"; meteorologists can predict the weather - sunshine, wind, storm rain. There is nothing mysterious about these predictions, as we may see from the example of the astronomer, who knows the laws of motion of the planets; the path followed by sun, moon, earth; and also, the velocities with which they move, and at what points they will be in their paths at a certain time. There is nothing miraculous in the fact that under these conditions it can be precisely calculated when the moon will come between the earth and the sun and hide the "light of heaven" from our sight. Now, let us ask whether there is anything similar to this in the social sciences; the answer is in the affirmative. If we know the laws of social growth, the paths along which society necessarily travels, the direction of this evolution, it will not be difficult for us to define the future society. In social science we have had many instances of such predictions which have been fully justified by the outcome. On the basis of our knowledge of the laws of social evolution, we predicted economic crises, the devaluation of paper money, the world war, the social revolution as a result of the war; we predicted the behavior of the various groups, classes and parties in the time of the Russian Revolution; we predicted, for example, that the Social-Revolutionists would be transformed, after the proletarian coup d'etat, into a counter-revolutionary party of rich peasants, of Whites, of lawless bands; long before the revolution, as early as the nineties of the last century, Russian Marxists were predicting the inevitable growth of capitalism in Russia and with it the inevitable growth of the workers' movement. We might give hundreds of examples of such predictions, in none of which is there anything miraculous, once we know the laws of the social-historical process.

We cannot predict the time of the appearance of any such phenomenon, for we do not yet possess sufficient information regarding the laws of social evolution to be able to express them in, precise figures. We do not know the velocity of the social processes but we are already in a position to ascertain their direction.

Bulgakov, in his Capitalism and Agriculture (in Russian, 1900, vol. pp.457-458) says: "Marx considered it possible to measure and predict the future in accordance with past and present, whereas each epoch furnishes new facts and new forces of historical evolution - the creative power of history never runs dry. Therefore, any prognosis with regard to the future, which is based on the results of the present, must necessarily (!!!) be in error. . . The veil of the future is impenetrable." The same author, in his Philosophy of Economy (in Russian, Moscow, 1972, p.272): "But even much more modest predictions may be admitted, in the case of social science, only with a grain of salt. The `tendencies of evolution' determined by science and favorable to socialism, have very little in common with the `laws of natural science', that Marx takes them to be. They are merely `empirical' . . . they have an entirely different logical nature from that of the laws of mechanics." These quotations from Professor Bulgakov will serve as a very characteristic example of the "refutation" of Marxism; needless to say, they will not hold water. Bulgakov thinks that the laws of capitalist evolution, for example, are "empirical laws". "Empirical" is the term given to such causal relations as have not yet been unraveled. For instance, it has been observed that more boys are born than girls, but the reasons for the phenomenon are unknown. Such "laws" are truly different in their "logical nature". But this is not the case with the laws of evolution of socialism, which have a causal thread. The law of the centralization of capital, for instance, is not an "empirical law", but a real law of natural science. If small production units are competing with large ones, the victory of the latter is inevitable. We know the causal connections; we may predict the victory of large-scale production in Japan or in Central Africa.

Our first quotation from Bulgakov is merely superficial literary drivel. History "furnishes new facts", the creative power of history does not run dry, etc. But the evolution of nature also furnishes "new facts"; such new facts are not unknown to the natural sciences, or to mathematics, with their different "logical nature". Bulgakov is right only in his statement that we never know everything, but that is no reason for inferring that science is an insufficient instrument.

It is also quite characteristic that Bulgakov, in his Philosophy of Economy, dwells frequently and very seriously on angels, the lust of the flesh, man's fall from grace, Saint Sophia, etc. This stuff, to be sure, is of a "different logical nature", one that much resembles the charlatanry and quackery attacked by Bulgakov.

The theory of determinism in the field of social phenomena, and of the possibility of scientific prediction, has called forth a number of replies, of which we shall consider one, from the mouth of R. Stammler. Stammler asks the Marxists - who maintain that socialism must come with the same degree of certainty as does an eclipse of the sun - why the Marxists should attempt to bring about socialism in that case. One of two things is true, says Stammler, either socialism will come, like an eclipse of the sun, in which case there is no reason for effort, for struggle, for a party organization of the working class, etc.; for no one would think of organizing a party to support an eclipse of the sun; for, in organizing a party, in conducting the struggle, etc., you are admitting that it is possible that socialism may not come; but you desire it, and consequently are struggling for it.

But such is not the nature of the necessity of socialism. It is easy, in view of our foregoing exposition, to detect Stammler's error. An eclipse of the sun does not depend either directly or `indirectly on human desires; in fact, it does not depend on men at all. All humans might die, without distinction of class, sex, nationality, and age, and yet the sun would be eclipsed at a certain moment. The case with social phenomena is entirely different, for they are accomplished through the will of men. Social phenomena without humans, without society, would be something like a round square or burning ice. Socialism will come inevitably because it is inevitable that men, definite classes of men, will stand for its realization, and they will do so under circumstances that will make their victory certain. Marxism does not deny the will, but explains it. When Marxists organize the Communist Party and lead it into battle, this action is also an expression of historical necessity, which finds its form precisely through the will and the r actions of men.

Social determinism, i.e., the doctrine that all social phenomena are conditioned, have causes from which they necessarily flow, must not be confused with fatalism, which is a belief in a blind, inevitable destiny, a "fate", weighing down upon everything, and to which everything is subjected. Man's will is nothing. Man is not a quantity to be considered among causes; he is simply a passive substance. This teaching denies the human will as a factor in evolution, which determinism does not.

This "Fate" is often embodied in godlike creatures, as the Moira of the ancient Greeks, the Parcae of the Romans; in a number of Fathers of the Church (for instance, Saint Augustine), the doctrine of pre-destination plays the same role; the Reformer Calvin illustrates the same phenomenon (cf. R. Wipper: Church and State in Geneva in the Sixteenth Century, in Russian); we have a particularly striking expression of fatalism in Islam. But we cannot help calling attention to this fatalistic tendency among the Social-Democrats. Precisely in that section of the Social-Democracy which has allied itself with the bourgeoisie, Marxism has degenerated into a fatalistic notion. Cunow, whose whole "philosophy" is expressed in the thesis that "history is always right", and that therefore no one should oppose either the World War or imperialism, is the best example of this fatalistic distortion of Marxism. This distorted view would represent any communist uprising of the workers as a senseless effort to violate the laws of historical evolution from without, and not as an outcome of historical necessity.


Karl Marx: A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, Introduction. Friedrich Engels: Anti-Dühring. Friedrich Engels: Feuerbach(translation by Austin Lewis, Chicago, 1906). Plekhanov (Beltov): On the Question of the Development of the Monistic Standpoint in History. Plekhanov: Criticism of Our Critics. Plekhanov: Fundamental Problems of Marxism (all three in Russian). N. Lenin: Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (translated). V. Bazarov: Authoritarian Metaphysics and the Autonomous Personality (in Russian; sketches contributing to a realistic Weltanschauung). A Labriola: Aufsätze.