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


4: Society

a. Concept of Aggregates; Logical and Real Aggregates

We encounter not only simple bodies, which at once impress us as constituting units (for example, a sheet of paper, a cow, John Smith), but also meet with compound units, intricate quantities. When considering the movement of the population, we may say the number of male infants born within a certain interval of time has increased so much. We then regard this "number of male infants" as a total quantity, existing apart from the various units, and considered as a unit in itself (a "statistical aggregate"). We also speak of a forest, a class, human society, and at once find that we are dealing with compound quantities: we regard these quantities as individual quantities, but we likewise know that these wholes consist of elements having a certain degree of independence the forest consists of trees, bushes, etc.; the class, of the various persons constituting it, etc. Such composite quantities are called aggregates.

From the examples given above we may learn, however, that aggregates may be of various kinds: when we speak of the male infants born in a certain year, and when we speak of the town forest, it is clear that there is a difference between the two. In the one case, that of the male infants, we know that these individuals are not found together in life, in actual reality: one is in one place and another in another; none has any influence on another; each is for himself. It is we who are combining them when we add them up. It is we who make the aggregation: this is a mental aggregate, a paper aggregate, not a living or real aggregate. Such artificial aggregates may be called imaginary or logical aggregates. But when we speak of society, or of a forest, or of a class, the case is quite different; here the union of the component elements is not only a mental (logical) union. For we have before us the forest, with its trees, bushes, grass, etc., which surely constitutes an actual living whole. The forest is not merely a summation of its various elements. All these elements are continually interacting one upon the other, in other words, they are in a state of constant mutual interaction. Cut down some of the trees, and perhaps the others will wither by reason of the subsequent decrease in moisture, or perhaps they will grow better because they can get more sun. We are here clearly dealing with an interaction of the parts making up "the forest", and the interaction here is a perfectly real one, existing in fact, not imagined by us for one purpose or another. Furthermore: this interaction is of long duration and constant, being present as long as the whole continues to exist. Such aggregates are called real aggregates.

All these differences are conditional. Strictly speaking, there are no simple units. John Smith is in reality a whole colony of cells, i.e., he is a highly complicated body. We have seen that even the atom may be subdivided. And as (in principle) there are no limits of divisibility, so there are ultimately no uniform units. Nevertheless, our distinctions may hold within certain limits: an individual human is an individual body and not a totality, when compared with society; but he is a composite body, a real aggregate, when compared with the cell, etc. If we wish to speak in a non-comparative way, we make use of the term system. System and real aggregate are identical terms. The conditional nature of all these distinctions may be shown in another way also: strictly speaking, the entire universe is an infinite real aggregate, all the particles of which are in process of constant and uninterrupted interaction. We thus have an interaction between all the objects and elements of the universe, but this interaction is in some cases more or less direct, in some cases more or less indirect. Hence our distinctions, as made above; they hold good - as we have said - when understood dialectically, i.e., within certain bounds, conditionally, according to circumstances.

b. Society as a Real Aggregate or a System

Let us now view society from this standpoint. There is no doubt that society constitutes a real aggregate, for there is a constant uninterrupted process of mutual interaction between its various parts. Mr. Smith went to the market; there he traded, exerted an influence on the formation of the market price, which in turn influenced the world market, perhaps in an infinitesimal degree, but nevertheless it was an influence on world prices; the latter, in turn, influence the market of the country in which Mr. Smith lives, and the little market which he frequents; on the other hand, let us say he buys a herring at the market; this will have an influence on his budget, for it will make him spend the rest of his money in a certain way, etc., etc. Thousands of such little influences be enumerated. Mr. Smith gets married for this purpose he has bought a number of presents and thus has exerted economic influence on other persons. Being an orthodox Christian, and not a Bolshevik, he calls in the priest and thus strengthens the Church organization, and this act will have its effect in little waves on the influence of the Church, and on the entire system of feelings and tendencies in the given society; he has paid money to the priest, and thus has increased the demand for the commodities demanded by priests, etc. His wife bears him children, and this in turn produces thousands of consequences. It is easy to see that many persons are influenced, in however slight a degree, by the fact of John Smith's marriage. Mr. Smith enters the Liberal Party in order to do his "duty as a citizen". He begins to attend meetings, together with hundreds like him, to experience the same feelings of hatred for the cursed rascals who loaf about the streets and support those children of Satan, the Bolsheviks. Their influence at the meetings, touches and moves, either directly or indirectly, a great number of persons. To be sure, this influence may be difficult to ascertain but, no matter how small it may be, it yet exists. And no matter what branch of activity our Mr. Smith might enter, you would always observe that he had an influence on others; as well as others on him. For in society, all things are united by millions of little threads.

We have begun with the individual man, and shown his influence on others. But we might just as well begin with the manner in which society acts on him. There is a great industrial boom, and the concern for which Smith is working as chief bookkeeper is making more profits; Mr. Smith gets a little "raise". War breaks out; Mr. Smith is enlisted, defends the fatherland of his employers (he is convinced he is defending civilization) and is killed in the war. Such is the power of social relations.

If we picture to ourselves the immense number of mutual interactions existing in human society, if only in our day, we shall find a magnificent picture taking shape before us. Some of these relations are of crude elemental force; they are not regulated in any way, or by any person; the interactions of persons on one another are countless in their expressions. But there are also many more or less regulated and organized forms, from government authority down to the chess club and the bald-headed men's society. If we consider that all these countless interactions are constantly intersecting each other, we shall understand how truly tremendous is the Babylonian confusion of influences and mutual interactions in social life.

Wherever there is a mutual interaction of long duration, we have a real aggregate, a "system". But we must point out the fact that a real aggregate or system is by no means necessarily characterized by a conscious organization of the parts of this system, and this statement is true both of animate nature and of inanimate nature, both of "mechanisms" and of "organisms". Some persons go so far as to deny the very existence of society because there are other systems existing within society (classes, groups, parties, circles, organizations of various kinds, etc., etc.). But there is no doubt of the mutual interaction of these systems and groups within society (struggles between classes and parties, moments of cooperation, etc.); furthermore, the persons constituting these groups may be influencing the remaining persons in other connections in an entirely different way (the capitalist and the worker, who purchases from the same capitalist goods for his own consumption). Furthermore, these groups-in the mutual interactions between them-are not organized; we here have an elemental social product; a "social resultant" (see our discussion of determinism, in chapter ii) is nevertheless obtained in this unorganized and elemental process (which will continue until a communist society is realized). Yet, there is such a social "product". It exists; it is an irrefutable fact of reality; world prices are a definite fact; so are world literature, or world routes of commerce, or world war; these facts are - sufficient to show that human society, embodied in the systems of the various nations, really does exist at the present time.

In general, whenever we have a sphere of constant mutual interaction, we also have a special system, a special real aggregate. The broadest system of mutual interactions, embracing all the more permanent interactions between persons, is society.

We define society as a real aggregate, or as a system of interactions, rejecting all the attempts of the so called "organic school" to interpret society in terms of an organism.

The official object of the "organic" theory is perfectly expressed in the fable of Menenius Agrippa, a Roman patrician who used the following "organic" arguments to conciliate the rebellious Plebeians: the hands may not rebel against the head, for otherwise the entire human body would be ruined. The social interpretation of the organic theory is the following: the ruling class is the head; the workers, or slaves, are the arms and legs; as arms and legs may not in nature replace the head, it is well for subordinates to hold their peace!

This wise humility on the part of the organic theory has made it quite popular among the bourgeoisie. The "founder" of sociology, Auguste Comte, considered society as a collective organism (organisme collectif); Herbert Spencer, the most popular of bourgeois sociologists, considered society to be something self-organic, without consciousness to be sure, but possessing organs, tissues, etc. René Worms even endows society with consciousness, as in the case of the individual, and Lilienfeld declares outright that society is an organism as much as a crocodile or the inventor of this theory. No doubt society has much in common with an organism; but it also has much in common with a mechanism. These traits, precisely, are the traits of any true totality, any system. But as we have no intention to take up such childish problems as to what constitutes the liver or the vermiform appendix of society, or what social phenomena are equivalent to ulcers, we shall not dwell on this point at all, the more since the adherents of the organic theory seem themselves to be ready to fall into the arms of mysticism, and to reconstruct society as a huge fabulous beast.

Society thus exists as a true aggregate of the persons composing it, as a system of mutually interacting elements. As we have seen, the number of mutual interactions in this system is endless. But the very existence of society suggests that all these numberless forces, acting in the most various directions, do not constitute a mere insane whirl, but move, as it were, through certain channels, in obedience to an internal law. If there were an outright and complete chaos, there would be no possibility of even an unstable equilibrium in society, in other words, there would be no society at all. We have discussed above the question as to the law of human actions, from the point of view of the individual (see chapter ii). We now take up the question from the other side, from the point of view of society and the conditions of its equilibrium. The result, however, is the same; we are brought to recognize the regularity of the social process. It is easiest to discover this uniformity. in the social process by an investigation of the conditions of social equilibrium. But before proceeding to this subject, we must dwell more in detail on the nature of society itself. It is not enough to say that it is a system of mutually interacting persons, or that this system is in force over a long period. It is necessary to explain the nature of this system, how it is distinguished from other systems, what is its necessary condition of life, and its necessary condition of equilibrium.

c. The Character of the Social Relations

The mutual interaction between persons, which constitutes social phenomena, is quite various. What is the condition for the permanence of these relations? In other words, where is the basic condition of equilibrium for the whole system, among all these interactions? What is the basic type of social relation without which all other types would be inconceivable?

The basic social relation is that of labor, as expressed chiefly in social labor, i.e., in the conscious or unconscious work performed by people for each other. This becomes clear at once from an assumption of the opposite. Let us assume for a moment that the labor relation between persons should be destroyed, that products (goods) should not be transmitted from one place to another, that people should cease working for each other, that social labor should lose its social character. The result would be the disappearance of society, which would fly into a thousand pieces. Or, to take another example: Christian missionaries are sent to tropical countries to preach a knowledge of God and the Devil. These missionaries thus establish the so called higher intellectual relations. Would it be possible for these relations to endure between the country from which these gentlemen have set forth and the "savages" to whom they are sent, if there were no frequent steamers, no regular (as opposed to casual) exchange, i.e., if no working relations should be established between the "civilized" countries and the home of the "savages"? All such relations can only be permanent when they are of the nature of working relations. The bond of labor is the fundamental condition for the possibility of an internal equilibrium in the system of human society.

We may also approach this question from another side. No system, including that of human society, can exist in empty space; it is surrounded by an "environment", on which all its conditions ultimately depend. If human society is not adapted to its environment, it is not meant for this world; all its culture will inevitably pass away; society itself will be reduced to dust. Thinking as hard as they can, none of the idealist professors can offer the slightest proof in opposition to our assertion that all the life of society, the very question of its life or death, depends on the relation between society and its environment, i.e., nature. We have spoken of this above, and may consider the subject disposed of. The social relation between men which most clearly and directly expresses this relation to nature is the relation of work. Work is the process of contact between society and nature. By work, energy is transferred from nature to society; and it is on this energy that society lives and develops (if it develops at all). Labor is also an active adaptation to nature. In other words, the process of production is a fundamental living process. of society. Consequently, the labor relation is a fundamental social relation. Or, in the words of Marx, "we must seek the anatomy of society in its economy",1) i.e., the structure of society is its labor structure ("its economic structure"). Consequently, our definition of society will read: society is the broadest system of mutually interacting persons, embracing all their permanent mutual interactions, and based upon their labor relations.

We have thus arrived at a completely materialist view of society. The basis of its structure is a working relation, just as the basis of life is the material process of production.

The following objection is often raised: "If things are as you say, how are the labor relations established? Do not people speak together, think together, in the process of labor? Is the labor relation then not a psychic, a spiritual relation? Where is your materialism now? What do all your labor and your labor relations amount to, if not to psychological relations?"

This question is worth going into, in order that future misunderstandings may be avoided. Let us begin with a simple example, that of a factory at work. In the factory there are unskilled workers and various types of skilled workers; some are working at certain machines, some at others; in addition, there are foremen, engineers, etc. Marx describes the condition as follows in his Capital: 2) "The essential division is, into workmen who are actually employed on machines (among whom are included a few who look after the engine) and into mere attendants (almost exclusively children) of these workmen. Among the attendants are reckoned, more or less, `feeders' who supply the machines with the material to be worked. In addition to these two principal classes, there is a numerically unimportant class of persons, whose occupation it is to look after the whole machinery and repair it from time to time; such as engineers, mechanics, joiners, etc." Such are the labor relations between the people in the factory. What is the prime nature of these relations? In the fact that each person is occupied with "his own job", but his job is only a part of the whole. The individual worker is therefore stationed at a certain place, goes through a certain motion, has a certain material contact with things and with other workers, uses up a certain quantity of material energy. All these relations are material, physical relations. Of course, they may have their "psychological" side; people think, exchange thoughts, converse, etc. But these activities will be determined by their distribution in the factory building, by the machines at which they are stationed, etc. In other words, they are distributed through the factory as distinct physical bodies; they are therefore in certain physical, material relations in time and in space. Such is the material, working organization of the workers in a factory, which Marx calls the "collective worker"; we are now dealing with a material human working system. When in operation, we have the process of material labor; men give out energy, and turn out a material product. This is also a material process, also having its "psychological" aspect.

What we have just observed in the factory is also applicable on a more intricate and far vaster scale in human society as a whole. For all of society constitutes a peculiar human working apparatus, in which the overwhelming majority of persons or groups of persons occupy a certain place in the working process. For instance, in present-day society, which includes all of so called "civilized mankind", and perhaps even more, wheat, as we have seen, is chiefly produced in certain countries; cacao, in certain other countries; metal products, in still another group of countries, etc. And within the various countries, certain factories produce one group of products, other factories other products. All these workers, peasants, colonial slaves, and even the engineers, overseers, foremen, organizers, etc., who are placed in the various corners of the earth, distributed over the various quarters of the globe, are all actually, although perhaps not consciously, working for each other. And when masses of commodities pass #rom one country to another, from factory to market, from market through tradesman to consumer, all this constitutes a material bond between all these persons. They are a part of the material skeleton, the working apparatus of a single social life. When we read of the life of the bees, we do not consider it remarkable to find the writer beginning with the discussion of the kinds of bees, the work they perform, the relations between them, both in time and in space, in a word, the material working apparatus of the "society of the bees". No one would think of considering the bees as a psychical aggregate, a "spiritual brotherhood", although he might speak of the instincts and the psychic life of the bees, of their "manners and customs", etc. But man, with his divine nature, must not be subjected to the same treatment as the bees!

It is self-evident that psychical interactions of the most varied kinds are inestimably more numerous in human society than even in a herd of the most highly developed apes. The "mind" of human society, i.e., all its psychic interactions, are as far superior to the "mind" of the herd of apes, as the mind of the individual man is superior to the mind of the individual ape. But the infinitely varied, complicated, exceptionally rich patterns of these mental and spiritual inter-relations, presenting all the colors of the rainbow, and constituting the "mind" of present-day society, also have their "body", without which they cannot exist, any more than the mind of the individual man can exist without his sinful earthly body. This "body" is the labor skeleton, the system of material relations between persons in the process of labor, or, as Marx puts it, the production relations.

Sentimental petty bourgeois dames may think it "terrible" to explain the divine fragrance of the narcissus as due to an excitation of so prosaic an organ as the nasal mucous membrane; and these ladies are not much different from most bourgeois scholars. Some of the latter will venture to deride the "organic theory", as does an Italian professor. A. Loria, who plagiarized Marx and could not digest him: "The German scholar Schäffle goes to grotesque lengths in his enumeration of social strata, organs, segments, blood vessels, motor centers, nerves, and ganglia; but the other sociologists of the same school are not much more moderate than he. They have already gone so far as to describe the social thigh, the social solar plexus, the social lungs. They already point to the vascular system of society, represented by the savings banks. A professor at the Sorbonne describes the clergy as a fatty nervous tissue. Another sociologist compares the nerve fibers with telegraph wires, and the human brain with a central telegraph office. One writer .goes so far as to distinguish male nations from female nations. In his opinion, the conquering states are males, who subjugate the defeated nations; while the defeated nations "are female nations." (Achille Loria: Die Soziologie, Jena, 1901, p.39.) This is all very well, but even the best of the bourgeois scholars become quite timid when they reach the confines of materialism. Professor E. Durkheim, in his book "On the Division of Labor", having emphasized the conception of "moral density" (by which he means the frequency and intensity of psychical interactions between men), goes on to say: The moral density cannot become greater unless the material density simultaneously becomes greater" (la densité morale me peut done s'accroître sans que la densité materielle s'accroisse en même temps . . .). This simply means that the "mental turnover" between men is based on the "material turnover", i.e., the density and frequency of the material, physical interactions is the condition for the corresponding density and frequency of their mental interactions. After making this correct statement, M. Durkheim is frightened at having expressed so materialist a thought and beats a retreat: "But it is useless (!!) to attempt to show which of the two phenomena determines the other; it is sufficient to have stated that they are indissoluble." (E. Durkheim: De la division du travail social, Paris 1893: p.283.) Useless, I suppose, because people are afraid to appear in decent bourgeois society as materialists.

Most modern bourgeois sociologists consider society to be a certain psychical system, a psychical "organism", or the like, which is quite in accord with the idealist view of the universe. The fundamental error of these theories is in their separating "mind" from "matter", and then declaring this "mind" to be incapable of explanation, i.e., their deifying it. In some societies, the psychical interactions are different from those of other societies. For instance, in the reign of Nicholas I, there was a "spirit" of police violence, of subjection under the Czar's might, love of the traditional, while Soviet Russia presents something quite different, i.e., the psychical interrelations have become altogether different. Psychological theories of society cannot explain this difference; here again the only scientific conception is that of materialism (Marx speaks of an "organism of production"; cf. Capital, vol. iii).

d. Society and Personality; Precedence of Society over the Individual

Society consists of individual persons; it could not exist without them, as we may assume without further discussion. But society is not merely an aggregate of persons, constituting their sum. Society is more than a mere summation of its various Jacks and Jills. We have already seen that society is a real aggregate, a "system"; we have seen that it is a very complicated system of mutual interactions between the various persons, which interactions are extremely varied in quality and quantity. This means that society, as a whole, is greater than the sum of its parts. It cannot in any way be reduced to these parts, which is also true of many systems of various kinds, both living organisms and dead mechanisms. For instance, let us take the case of any machine, a simple watch, let us say. Take any such machine apart and lay its component parts in a heap. This heap will constitute their sum; but it will not be the machine; it will not be the watch; for the heap lacks the definite relation, the definite mutual interaction. of the parts which transforms them into a mechanism. What makes these parts a whole? A certain arrangement of them. The same is true in society; society consists of people; but if these people, in the labor process, should not be at their posts at each given moment, if they were not connected by the labor bond between them, there would be no society.

We must here point out another phenomenon observed in society; namely, society consists not only of various persons mutually interacting, either directly or indirectly; it also consists of mutually interacting groups of persons, also constituting "real aggregates", standing as it were between society and the individual. For instance, present-day society is exceedingly large; already people in the most remote countries have been brought into relation, are being drawn in further and further, by a labor bond; there is practically a world society. But this society of almost 1,500,000,000 persons mutually interacting, united by the fundamental tie (of labor), as well as countless other ties, includes within it partial systems of persons united in some way or other; classes, states, church organizations, parties, etc. This subject will be discussed in detail later. For the present, we must observe that within society there are a great number of groups of men; these groups, in turn, also consist of individual persons; the mutual interrelations between these persons usually become more frequent and intimate "in their own circle" than between men in general; the German philosopher and sociologist, G. Simmel, rightly observes that the narrower the circle of mutually interacting persons, the more intimate the relations between them, in general; besides, all these groups come into contact among themselves. In other words, the various individuals constituting society do not always influence each other directly, but through groups, through partial systems within the single great system of human society. Let us consider, for instance, an individual worker in capitalist society. Whom does he meet most frequently, with whom does he talk, discuss questions, etc.? Most often, it is with workers; very rarely does he meet artisans, or peasants, or bourgeois. This is an illustration of the existence of the class relation. This worker most frequently comes into contact with other classes, not simply as an individual personality, but as a member of his class, sometimes even as a member of a consciously organized body, a party, a trade union, etc. The same case applies also to the other groups in society, not only to classes: scholars associate mostly with scholars; journalists, with journalists; priests with priests, etc.

In the material field, we find that society is not a mere aggregate of persons, that it is more than their sum, that their grouping and definite "disposition" (Marx calls it their "distribution") in the labor process amounts to something new, something greater than their "sum" or "aggregate". The same holds good also in the psychological ("mental") life, which plays a very important part. We have already several times made use of the example of the fixing of a market price as a result of various individual guesses. The price is a social phenomenon, a social "resultant", a product of the mutual interactions of persons. The price is not an average of the guesses, nor does it in every case approximate the individual guesses, for the individual guesses are a personal matter, concerning one man only, existing only in his mind, while the actual price is something that influences all; it is an independent fact which all must count on; an objective fact though it be immaterial (see chapter ii of this book); the price, in other words, is something new, something that leads its own social life, is independent more or less of individual persons, although it is created by them. The case with the remaining evidences of the psychical life is the same. Languages, the political system, science, art, religion, philosophy, and a great number of less important phenomena and subdivisions, such as fashions, customs, "good behavior", etc., etc., all are products of social life, a result of the mutual interaction of persons, of their constant association with each other.

Just as society is not merely a sum of the persons composing it, so the mental life of society is not merely a sum of the ideas and feelings of the individual persons composing it, but is a product of the association with each other, is to a certain extent something apart, new, not to be explained as a mere arithmetical sum; it is a new element resulting from the mutual interactions of persons.

We can thus explain the necessity of special social sciences; Wundt correctly remarks: "It is rather the uniting and interacting of individuals which produces this community as such, and thereby also awakens in the individual, performances specifically appertaining to the common life." (W. Wundt: Völkeypsychologie, vol. i, part i, Leipzig,. 1911, p.21.)

Individual men are inconceivable outside of society, without society. Nor can we imagine society's having been established by the various persons, living, as it were, in their "natural state", coming together and uniting in order to form a society. This conception was at one time quite widespread, but it is entirely erroneous. If we trace the development of human society, we shall find that it was originally composed of a herd, and not at all of individual creatures of human shape, living in various places, who suddenly discovered, one fine day, that it would be a fine thing (bright savages that they were!) to live together; and, having talked the thing over to the general satisfaction in their meetings, got together for the construction of a society. "The starting point (of science, N. B.)," wrote Karl Marx, "is the individual, producing in society, and thence comes the socially conditioned production of these individuals. The individual and isolated hunter and fisher . . . belongs to the insipid illusions of the Eighteenth Century "Production by isolated individual sons outside of society . . . is as great an absurdity (Unding) as would be the growth of language without the assumption of persons living together and talking with each other."3)

The doctrine of the individual man entering into contractual relations with others was expressed with particular crassness in J. J. Rousseau's work, Le Contrat social (1762); man is born free in a "state of nature"; to assure his liberty, he enters into relations with others; society, as a state form, arises on the basis of the "social contract" (Rousseau draws no distinction between state and society). "The object of the social contract," writes Rousseau (Book ii, chap. 5), "is to protect the signatory parties." As a matter of fact, Rousseau does not investigate the true origin of the society or the state, but merely states what must be, what is the conception of society from the standpoint of "reason", i.e., how a decent society should be constructed. Anyone violating the "contract" is subject to punishment. It followed logically that kings abusing their power must be deposed. Therefore, Rousseau's doctrine, in spite of its entirely erroneous conceptions, played an important revolutionary role during the French Revolution.

Man's social qualities could develop only in society. It is an absurdity to suppose that man (in the savage state) could have recognized the advantages of society without ever having seen a society. This would really be equivalent to assuming the growth of language among persons not in contact with each other, and distributed in various places. Man always was, as Aristotle puts it, "a social animal", i.e., an animal living in society, never out of society. We cannot imagine that human society was "established" (a merchant, who has himself established a corporation, may imagine that human society was brought about in the same way). Human society has existed as long as there have been humans; humans have never existed outside of society. Man is a social animal "by his nature"; his "nature" is a social nature, changing with society; he lives in society "by his nature", and not by agreement or contract with other persons.

Man having always lived in society, i.e., having always been social man, it follows that the individual has always had society as his environment. Since society has always constituted this environment for the individual, it is natural to infer that this environment has also determined the various individuals: one society, or environment, has produced one kind of individual; another society, another kind of individual; "a man is known by the company he keeps".

An interesting question which has been a source of many disputes, is that of the role of the individual in history.

This question is not as difficult as it may seem. Does the individual play a part, or is he a mere zero in the course of events? Of course, since society consists of individuals, the action of any individual will have its influence on social phenomena. The individual does play a "part"; his actions, feelings, desires enter into the social phenomenon as a component part; "men make history". Social phenomena are composed of the mutual interactions of the forces of the various individuals, as we have seen.

Furthermore, if the various individuals influence society, is it possible to determine how the actions of the various individuals are brought about? Yes; for we know that the will of man is not free, that it is determined by external circumstances. Since the external circumstances, in the case of the individual, are social circumstances (the conditions of life of the family, the group, the given occupation, the class, the situation of the entire society at a certain moment), his volition will be determined by external conditions; from them he will draw the motives of his activity. For instance, the soldier in the Russian army at the time of Kerensky observed that his peasant farm was going to pieces, that life was getting harder, that there was no end of the war in sight, that the capitalists were becoming more impudent, and were not giving the land to the peasants. Thence arose the motives of his action: to put a stop to the war, seize the land, and, for this purpose, overthrow the government. Social circumstances therefore determine the individual's motives.

These circumstances set the limits for the realization of the goals proposed by the individual person. Milyukov, in 1917, wished to strengthen the influence of the bourgeoisie and to lean for support on the Allies; but his desire was not realized; circumstances shifted so that Milyukov obtained nothing of what he wished.

Furthermore, if we examine each individual in his development, we shall find that at bottom he is filled with the influences of his environment, as the skin of a sausage is filled with sausage-meat. Man "is trained" in the family, in the street, in the school. He speaks a language which is the product of social evolution; he thinks thoughts that have been devised by a whole series of preceding generations; he is surrounded by other persons with all their modes of life; he has before his eyes an entire system of life, which influences him second by second. Like a sponge he constantly absorbs new impressions. And thus he is "formed" as an individual. Each individual at bottom is filled with a social content. The individual himself is a collection of concentrated social influences, united in a small unit.

Another circumstance is worthy of attention. Often the role of the individual is quite large by virtue of his specific place and the specific work which he performs. For instance, the general staff of an army consists of a small number of persons only, while the army itself counts hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of persons. It is apparent to anyone that the significance of the few persons in the general staff far exceeds that of the great number in the army (soldiers or officers). If the enemy should succeed in taking the general staff, this might be equivalent, under certain circumstances, to a defeat of the entire army. The importance of these few persons is therefore very great. But what would the general staff amount to without its telephone system, its reports, its announcements, its maps, its opportunities to issue orders, the discipline in the army, etc.? Very little. The persons constituting the general staff might be no more than the rest of the army; their strength, their significance is the result of a special social connection, of the organization within which these persons are working. To be sure, they may be capable of discharging their duties (they may have sufficient training or natural aptitude, the latter developed by experience, as was the case with many of Napoleon's generals, or with the commanders of the Red Army). But apart from this special connection, they lose their significance entirely. The opportunity on the part of the general staff to exert a powerful influence on the army is conditioned by the army itself, by its structure, its dispositions, by the aggregate of mutual interactions that have here been brought together.

In society the case is the same. The role of political leaders, for instance, is much larger than the role of the average man of a certain class or party. Of course, it is necessary to have certain aptitudes, mental qualities, experience, etc., in order to become a political leader. But it is also clear that in the absence of the necessary organizations (parties, unions, a proper approach to the masses, etc.) the "leaders" could not play such an important part. It is the strength of the social bonds that gives strength to the individual persons of prominence. Quite similar is the case in other relations also, let us say with regard to inventors, scholars, etc. They can "develop" only under certain circumstances. Suppose an inventor, talented by nature, has had no opportunity to "push himself", has learned nothing, read nothing, has been obliged to take up an entirely different activity, for instance, selling rags. His "talent" would go to pot; no one would ever hear of him. Just as the military leader is inconceivable without an army, so the technical inventor is inconceivable without machinery, apparatus and the people that go with them. And, on the other hand, if our rag-dealer should succeed in "making his way in the world", i.e., in occupying a certain place in the system of social relations, he might become a second Edison. We might give any number of such examples, but it is self-evident that in all these cases society has a certain influence, and that it is impossible to "develop" except on the basis of this influence within which the social (class, group, general) demand is felt.

Thus, the social relations themselves impart importance to the various individuals.

This point of view has made very slow headway, for the reasons so brilliantly revealed by M. N. Pokrovsky (Outlines of the History of Russian Culture, vol. i, p.3, in Russian). The historian, by reason of his personal situation, is a mental worker, an intellectual; proceeding to a consideration of his more specific earmarks, he is a man who does work in writing, a literary worker. What is more natural for him than to consider mental work as the chief substance of history, and literary works, from poems and romances to philosophical treatises and scientific publications, as the fundamental facts of civilization?" Furthermore, "men who do mental work - quite naturally " were seized with the pride that dictated the hymns of praise to the Pharaohs. They began to believe that they were making history." It should be added that this professional standpoint fully coincided with the class standpoint of the ruling classes, the minority that dominated the great majority. It is not difficult to see that this emphasis and preference for leaders, particularly kings, princes, etc., and also for so called geniuses - is closely allied with the religious point of view; for here the social power is overlooked, the power which is conferred by society on the individual; in its stead, the historian visualizes the inscrutable, i.e., actually, "divine" power of the individual person. This is excellently expressed by the Russian philosopher, V. S. Solovyov, in his Justification of the Good, chap. iv: "The providential persons who have enabled us to share the heights of religion and of human enlightenment were originally by no means the creators of these possessions. That which they gave us was taken by them from earlier world-historic geniuses, heroes and martyrs, all of whom we must bear gratefully in mind. We must attempt to restore the full line of our mental ancestors, the men through whom Providence has been impelling mankind forward on the path to perfection. " In these 'chosen vessels,' we worship that which He (the Heavenly Father) has imbued them with; in these visible counterfeits of invisible divinity, the divinity itself is recognized and worshiped." This balderdash speaks for itself - it requires no refutation.

It follows from the above that the "individual" always acts as a social individual, as a component part of a group, a class, a society. The "individual" is always filled with a social content, for which reason it is necessary, in an effort to understand the growth of society, to begin with a consideration of the social conditions, and to proceed from them, if that be necessary, to the individual; the contrary process is worthless. By means of the social relations - by an investigation of the conditions of the entire social life, the life of a class, of a trade group, the family, the school, etc.- we may more or less explain the development of the individual; but we could never explain the development of society by means of the development of the "individual". For each individual, whatever be his activity, always has in mind what has already taken place in society; for example, when the buyer goes to market to buy shoes or bread, his price estimates are based on his personal approximation to prices now prevalent or formerly prevalent on the market. When the inventor devises a new machine, he proceeds on the basis of what is already in existence, on the basis of existing technique or existing science, on the problems presented by this science, on the demands of practical work, etc. In a word, if we should attempt - as do certain bourgeois scholars - to explain social phenomena on the basis of individual phenomena (on the individual psychology), we should have not an explanation, but an absurdity; the social phenomenon (for instance, the price) cannot be explained by the individual phenomenon (for instance, the value put upon the goods by Smith, Jones, or Robinson), but their estimates can be explained by the price which Smith, Jones, or Robinson had in mind from some previous occasion. We have therefore seen that the individual draws his motives from the generality, the social environment; the conditions under which the social environment develops provide the limits for the individual's activity; the individual's role is determined by social conditions. Society takes precedence over the individual.

e. Societies in Process of Formation

The fact that man has always existed in society by no means signifies that new societies may not be formed or that old societies may not grow.

Let us assume that at a certain time various human groups are in existence at various points on the earth's surface, and that these human organizations have no relation whatever with each other; they are divided by mountains, rivers and oceans, and have not yet attained a stage of "cultural development" that would enable them to overcome these obstacles. If they succeed in coming into contact with each other at all, it is only at the rarest intervals, and with no regularity; a permanent relation does not exist between them.

Under these circumstances, we cannot speak of a single great society embracing these various groups. Instead of a universal society, we have as many societies as there are groups of the kind mentioned, for the basis of society, its most outstanding characteristic, is a permanent labor bond, a series of "production relations", constituting a skeleton for the entire system. In the case above described there is no such relation between the groups, no universal society, but a number of petty societies, each with its own special history.

We cannot therefore speak of a union of "men" in a single society, but may only group them as "men", as opposed to other animals; in other words, we may consider them as united in a biological group (as distinct from fleas, giraffes, elephants); but not in a social group from the standpoint of social science, of sociology; we are dealing with a single type of animal, but not with a single society. From the standpoint of biological unity, it is sufficient that these animals should have the same morphology, the same organs, etc. But sociological unity would require that these animals should work together in some way or other, not simultaneously, not merely in parallel activities, but together.

Some go so far as to deny that society exists as a unit. For example, Professor Wipper says:4) "A completely closed system of natural economy has perhaps never existed from the beginning of civilization. We have always had commercial relations, colonization, migrations, propaganda. Doubtless, independent work has been done in certain places, much has been simultaneously accomplished within various geographical limits and conditions by independent effort, but perhaps the next following stage in evolution has in most cases been attained by a sudden bound, as a sort of premature lesson, crudely and imperfectly taught, but nevertheless repeated by others and later learned." But while there may never have been an absolute, complete system, there is no doubt whatever that the exchange relations existing between various human societies were once extremely slight. For instance, what relations existed between the European peoples and America. before Columbus? Even among the European peoples themselves - let us say - in the Middle Ages, relations were very weak. It is therefore impossible in such cases to speak of a single human society; humanity was then a unit only from the biological standpoint.

Let us now suppose that contacts begin between our various societies, first, military contacts, then commercial relations. These commercial relations become more and more permanent; finally a time comes when one society cannot exist without the other; certain societies produce chiefly one thing, while others produce another thing; these products are exchanged and thus the societies work upon each other, this work now having a regular and not merely accidental character, which is necessary far the existence of both groups of societies. We now already have a single society on a large scale, formed by the union of societies once distinct from each other.

The opposite process may also take place; under certain conditions, society may dissolve into a number of societies (usually under conditions of decline).

It follows that society is not a permanent thing, existing from time immemorial for we may trace, the process of its formation. For example, we have seen such a process going on in the second half of the Nineteenth Century and the beginning of the Twentieth Century. In various ways (through colonial wars, the increase in exchanges of goods, export and import of capital, movement of population from one country to another, and the like) closet and closer mutual relations have been built up between countries. All countries have been joined by permanent economic bond, which means, in the last analysis, labor bond. A world economic system has resulted, world capitalism has grown up, all of whose parts are interrelated with each other. Together with the international movement of things and people: commodities, capital, workers, merchants, engineers, traveling salesmen, etc., a tremendous current of ideas has also been moving from country to country: scientific ideas, artistic ideas, philosophical ideas, religious ideas, political ideas, etc., etc. The world trade in ma terial things has brought with it a world exchange of mental products. A single human society has begun to exist, having a single history.


K. Marx: A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, Chicago, 1913. K. Marx: Capital, vol. i, Chicago, 1915; F. Engels: Anti-Dühring; F. Engels: Feuerbach (translated into English by Austin Lewis, Chicago, 1906; H. Cunow: Soziologie, Ethnologie and materialistische Geschichtsauffassung. H. Cunow: Die Marxsche Geschichts-, Gesellschafts- and Staatslehre; Grundziige der Marxschen Soziologie, vol. i; Plekhanov: Twenty Years (in Russian); N. Bukharin: The Economic Theory of the Leisure Class. On the subject of production relations, cf. N. Bukharin: Imperialism and World Economy.


1)Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy.

2)Chicago, Charles H. Kerr Company, 1915, vol. i, p.459.

3)Karl Marx: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, printed with A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Chicago, 1913, pp.265-261.

4)KIn his article, "New Horizons in the Science History" (in Russian), of in the periodical Sovremenny Mir, November, 1906.