Further Studies in a Dying Culture. Christopher Caudwell 1949
In the course of our examination of bourgeois culture, we have always reached, at a certain stage in our analysis, a basic world-view which is the product of the bourgeois economy and gives a characteristic shape to every form of its ideology. It is not an error in the sense that it can be isolated, as a separate mistake, from every department of culture. It is only revealed an analysis as an unseen force, not explicit in the formulations of that culture, but acting like a pressure from outside. It gives to that culture a characteristic distortion which is not visible to those who still live within the framework of that economy. This bourgeois world-view is not however a fixed consciousness. Like the society of which it is a product, it changes, and may even appear as its own opposite – just as a photograph has positive and negative components, and yet remains the same partial view of reality.
This world-view is the product of a society divided into classes, as all previous highly cultivated civilisations have been. The essence of all class-societies is that the ruling power is exercised by a minority. Social process is directed not by the necessities of the process alone – of which society is as yet not fully conscious – but by the wills of the ruling individuals. Thus the individual will appears as alone active and creative. The aim of all society – man’s attempt to become free of the forces of nature – seems in such societies to be realised by passive obedience by the ruled to the will of the ruler, who is guided by his individual desires. This is how it appears to rulers and ruled, but in fact both classes are the outcome of a division of labour and derive their rôles, not from Will, but from their status in social production.
Such a division of the labour process, which involves a class passively and blindly labouring and another class directing these labours according to their consciousness of the necessities of the case, is both an advance and a weakness as compared with the primitive communism of the simplest societies, in which each member labours for the tribe without important distinction or difference. It is an advance because it involves a sharpening of consciousness at the pole of the ruling class and a more intensive production of social wealth. It is a weakness because it produces a deadening of consciousness at the pole of the ruled class and a cleavage between the conscious enjoyment of the ruling class and the blind action of the ruled class. It makes possible a permanent inequality of status because the ruling class, by virtue of directing the labour of the exploited, can also ensure the flow of the bulk of its products into their own lives, leaving to the exploited the minimum necessary to ensure an efficient existence.
Thus a material inequality is reflected in an inequality of consciousness. Not only does thinking become the prerogative of the exploiting class, but it also gradually becomes separated from action and moreover is favoured socially to the extent to which it separates itself from action, because it is just this separation which has generated its superior status as the mark of the ruling, ‘cunning’, or administrative class. This separation is anti-social because it hamstrings thought and baffles action; and yet it is produced by social forces.
The direction of their labours by the ruling class is not of course the result of a free election by the ruled in favour of the members of the ruling class. Were this the case they would not be a ruling class but organs of society, like the look-out animal posted by a herd of herbivores. Actually, their direction is coercive, and is enforced by the forms of society. The class is created by a right, a legal form of property, which is enforced by the conscious organs of society against the exploited class. This cannot be a right to an empty thing, but must be a property right in the means of production. In all societies the means of production have to be worked by men. In primitive societies virtually the only means of production are men and land, there is nothing else of economic importance, and here the right which forms the basis of a ruling class is the right to own land and men. In later civilisations it is also the right to own individually all those means of production without which men cannot exist. The right to own these, coercively enforced by society, ensures that the owning class rules the non-owning class, even without the right to own men.
The form of its ownership is what constitutes a class, and the rights of the ruling class, visible in its laws, conventions and religion, are also the expression of the main characteristics of the economy. The labour process is common to all societies; the division into exploiters and exploited is a feature peculiar to class societies; the form this division takes is peculiar to each particular class society. Slave-owning societies are divided, broadly, into free men and slaves; feudal societies into lords and serfs; developed bourgeois societies into capitalists and ‘free’ workers, who must bring their labour-power to market because they are excluded from ownership of all means of production.
The ideology of all such civilisations is that of the ruling class, for the division of labour into a class, functionally, of thinkers and a class, functionally, of labourers causes the aggregation of all social consciousness at the pole of the ruling class, as long as the division persists. Hence even the most developed culture expresses at its height the view of the ruling class – its aspirations, its vicissitudes, and its weaknesses. In a revolution, when power passes from one class to another, a corresponding ideological revolution takes place, though evidently this can only happen if the conditions of the labour process have developed an antagonistic consciousness in the exploited class.
Thinking emerges historically as a partner to action, both vested in the one individual. Their separation in the class division of society begets eventually a corresponding inefficiency of action and decay in thought, so that the collapse of a culture is marked simultaneously by a material decline and an ideological bankruptcy.
The division of labour is a progressive element in social development, and the fact that individuals genetically gifted with ‘brains’ perform directive rôles and others gifted for action perform active rôles is not in itself anything but desirable. Both thinker and actor then form part of the one social process, and there is a unity in social action as when an architect plans, a foreman directs, and labourers build a house. But the consciousness of a class society does not emerge as the consciousness of a specific labour process, for then there would not be a class ruling on the basis of property right, but administrators or administrative organs, thrown up by society according to the necessities of the labour process. But this consciousness emerges divorced from action or from society, as a right inherent in the individual or in the nature of things. If this right emerged from the necessities of the social process it would not need formal protection; it does not so emerge and must therefore be secured and protected by laws, by the visible forms of society, which must therefore be class forms. The right may come by inheritance, by being born or called to a status which carries with it the right or by some kind of formal transfer between individuals. And all the forms of society are directed to defending the right.
Hence we do not in such societies get men naturally and by the consent of society emerging as thinkers, but consciousness is established as the right of a class, which at the best can only be painfully won by a few in other classes, who are then sucked into the ruling class. It is this buttressing of rights which produces the characteristic distortion in the ideology of that class, and this class ideology is, as we have seen, also the ideology of that society’s whole culture. All such ideologies of a ruling class have this in common, that they see thought, consciousness, will, their class prerogatives), not as determined by action or by the outer reality which thought goes out in action to know and change, but as innate – free in the sense in which they regard themselves as free. Consciousness becomes a privilege which is not actively created but which is ‘given’ by birth or chance. This is an illusion, and cannot be pursued without revealing its contradictions. It is illusion common to all class-cultures, and therefore to all the ideologies so far produced by history except that of dialectical materialism.
In bourgeois society the distorting effect of the illusion is least in physics, which is consequently the first science to emerge in that society and the last to collapse. The distortion will necessarily be greatest in the sphere of social relations, in the science of society or history, and in fact of bourgeois history one can ask – has bourgeois history yet been born? History as interpreted by bourgeois culture has shown only the faintest resemblance to a scientific discipline, and this applies most sharply to those very historians who regard themselves as truly scientific and objective.
Indeed, the creation of a science of history involves the doom of bourgeois culture. It is for this reason that bourgeois historians have so frequently arrived at the conclusion that history is not, and cannot be, a science. They were correct in this measure, that history cannot be a science within the sphere of bourgeois culture.
Capitalist economy, as it develops its contradictions, reveals, as at opposed poles, on the one hand the organisation of labour in the factory, in the trust, in the monopoly; on the other hand the disorganisation of labour in the competition between these units. The development of monopoly and the increase of amalgamations by no means eases the tension of the transition to a completely organised world of industry. Such a transition requires the extinction of capitalist property and the end of the exploitation of labour, but the increasing organisation within the monopoly produces increasing competition between the monopolies. The amalgamations of capitalist economy result in violent and disruptive struggles on the part of profit-seeking capital to find elbow room for profit outside ‘stabilised’ markets. ‘Stabilisation’ thus generates acute instability, and the nationalisation of a market by a monopoly produces a flow of profit which, just because the market is self-limited by monopoly, cannot be used in it and is therefore exported to weaker markets as a new disruptive factor. This external disorganisation, which is intensified by increasing internal organisation as long as it takes place within the categories of bourgeois economy, is seen clearly to-day in the growth of economic nationalism and Fascism, and the fresh round of imperialist wars now preparing.
But just the same phenomenon is seen in bourgeois ideology. We have highly organised sciences or departments of biology, physics, psychology, anthropology, engineering, æsthetics, education, yet not only do they not form an integrated world-view, but their very increase of internal organisation produces a dis-organisation of culture as a whole. As the result of the development of its constituent disciplines, bourgeois culture is violently disrupted – the same disaster as is befalling capitalist economy, and due ultimately to the same cause.
The only real solution of the contradictions of capitalist economy is of course the elimination of the factor which produces the external disorganisation in spite of the internal organisation. As soon as the external disorganisation grows faster than the internal Organisation (which has been the case since 1900), from that time bourgeois economy is doomed, and only awaits the hand of whatever executioner history has provided – in this case the proletariat. This doom involves the complete socialisation of production and the realisation by society of the laws of its own functioning, through consciousness of which it becomes able to organise itself.
Capitalist economy has become conscious of the environment. It knows the necessities involved in making matter obey its will. It has done so with the illusion that this control alone is sufficient to force nature to obey man’s. But the knowledge of non-human necessities is not enough to ensure the conquest of nature. Man is a part of nature, and it is not man in the abstract of which society is composed but of actual men, in given times and places. The conquest of nature is the work of these men organised in a society, and nature only obeys ‘man’ in so far as this organisation, or ‘civilisation’, is an accomplished fact, and she by no means obeys ‘a man’, an individual, except in so far as his purpose is a part of the purpose of organised men as a whole. This involves co-operation. A number of individuals striving for antagonistic ends is itself disorganisation and will result, not in nature obeying one man’s will (for the others negate it) or the sum of wills (for the wills contradict each other), but in a mean which will reflect none of their wills – such an unwished-for result as a war or a slump.
A man does not control nature by knowing the laws necessary to make hats, or by being free of the domain of physics, for nature obeys not man the individual but men organised in a society, and fulfils not any particular will but the historic outcome of all wills in action. Therefore men must know in addition to the necessities of ‘nature’, the necessities of co-operation, and the historic outcome of actions undertaken socially. This knowledge is part and parcel of the co-operation of social action, for if it is known that such and such actions are necessary to attain an end, those actions must be taken. Hence such a knowledge involves the overthrow of bourgeois economy and its replacement of communist economy.
But bourgeois economy is not homogeneous – it is a class society. Indeed that very class division is what produces its characteristic form. There is always a class to whose individual wills all society bends and whose individual wills are in the sum realised in the conquest of nature, whatever the consequences to the rest of society. This class of victorious wills, the ruling class, is one that, as capitalist economy decays, necessarily grows more limited. The area of freedom in capitalist economy progressively contracts. But this by no means involves the peaceful vacation by this class of their thrones, for their possession of all social freedom, while it is a diminishing freedom in sum, is also one which, because the class itself is attenuated, is per capita greater. Thus the inducement to struggle to retain their power increases at the same rate as their power as individuals over social production increases. But at the other pole, the forces of the unfree gather.
All this is reflected in the present state of culture. Witnessing its widespread disorganisation, we ask: ‘How can men’s knowledge of the necessities of “nature,” as evidenced in biology, physics and the rest, be integrated and reconciled in a connected world-view, and made useful to man so that it becomes more than theoretical knowledge – knowledge active in society?’
The answer is: ‘Only by an understanding of the crucible in which this knowledge was generated.’ Is this not the function of psychology? No, for psychology is the science of the individual mind and all its various forms of consciousness. These forms themselves are given it by its experiences, and these are social experiences. The disorganisation of these internally organised but closed worlds of human knowledge can only be cured by an understanding of the very thing of which they are the product – of society. It is not man, the individual, who produces science; the criterion of a scientific truth is that it is objective, that it can be tested by other men – not by all men (lunatics and morons and savants) but men as socially organised, and hence, through the actions and appropriate organisation of society, competent to test these truths. The ‘solution’ of the anarchy of bourgeois culture is the same as for bourgeois economy, that men become conscious of the necessities of themselves, not as individuals or as humanity in the undifferentiated abstract, but as men in social action – in the case of economy as a whole, this means conscious as men actually engaged in producing, for social ends; and in the case of ideology in particular it means conscious as men actually engaged in studying reality for social ends. But men – real, contemporary individuals – can only become so conscious as they are part of the transformation of bourgeois into communist culture, as real participants in the mêlée of the revolutionary struggle, which transformation is itself the result of the actions of the anti-bourgeois class, the proletariat. The proletariat, because of its position and organisation in bourgeois society, is the vanguard of the fight. It seems therefore that to understand history it is necessary to make it, and this in fact is the case; it is a necessity in which history is not different from but similar to other sciences.
The ground plan of history as a science was laid by Marx and Engels, and was an outcome of their own participation in the history-making struggle of the working-class at that time – the first stage in the anti-bourgeois offensive of the proletariat. This science of Marx and Engels is historical materialism – a view of the world as a unity because it is a material world, and a view of the world as a development because it has a history. When bourgeois culture has been completely replaced by communist culture, as the result of a social revolution and its aftermath of socialist construction, then all the organised disciplines of bourgeois culture will be integrated in a consistent world-view. That world-view will necessarily be historical – that is to say, it will be the view of the development of men as socially organised beings, not an arbitrary or spontaneous development, but a determined process. Psychology, biology, and physics will not be absorbed by history, any more than factory organisation or school organisation or theatre organisation will be absorbed by social organisation. By the removal of the disruptive factor, private profit, these organisations will generate the social organisation and, as a result of this organisation, themselves differentiate and become enriched. The renaissance of history will not therefore be the amalgamation of the sciences, but the removal of the hidden force that was distorting and isolating them to an increasing degree. Once this is removed, they will communicate, and this communication will be history. This communication will revitalise them and raise them to new heights, for it is just their isolation and their ignorance of their own roots in social process that is holding back their development.
If man has, so far, been unable to write history, it means that all civilisation up to the present has been a part of the prehistoric stage of society. Man’s understanding of history in a scientific sense is shown by his capacity to make it, not blindly but according to his will; just as his understanding of physics is shown by his ability to make the elements fulfil his predictions. Thus the understanding of history is involved with that very transition from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom, which is the characteristic of the last stage of pre-history, the emergence of the proletariat as a class to end classes and so inaugurate an historic civilisation.
Marx was the first who was able to show that history was really made by men – not by man in the abstract as a developing animal, nor by outstanding men as sporadic forces, but constantly by the whole group of individuals existing in society. That is not to say he saw history as the story of a group, for this is again to abstract, to lump concrete individuals into an ideal group. It was because history was the story of different individuals playing different parts that the relations between them were important, and just because they arose as the result of society’s action on matter, their expression in art, morals, science, religion and law were real factors in the history of society. It was because Marx saw that history was the story of all individuals that he saw it must be the science of organised society, for only in organisation do individuals acquire a meaning; it is only by virtue of the warp and woof of manifold relations engendered by social relations, which intersect in nodes, that the nodes or individuals are individualised and become more than specimens of a species.
What is history? It is the story of men. But men may be considered as lumps of matter, and as such they perform in the course of time certain movements. This is not the subject of history, but of physics. History is interested in those qualitative innovations of mankind which differentiate it from ‘nature’ – from dead matter and animals. History is the law of motion of men, not as matter or as living breathing organisms or as animals, but as something distinct from all these spheres, as socially organised animals.
History then only begins where physics, physiology and biology leave off. The laws of physics pervade all spheres, but physiology and biology have also new laws. The laws of physiology in turn are valid in biology which, however, is the domain of qualitatively new laws. History only starts when fresh laws, inclusive of but additional to physical, physiological and biological laws begin to operate, and the evolution and change of these laws is the subject of history. It is only in this sphere that we can begin to speak of history. But what is it that distinguishes man, in all stages of humanity, from the beasts? Marx had only to ask and answer this question to uncover the whole sphere of laws appropriate to history.
History has this peculiarity additional to other sciences that, as it were, it forces man to bend round and look himself in the eyes.
Having proceeded through physics, physiology and biology to history, he finds as part of history, the production of these very sciences, which it thus transcends. The ideological circle is then closed, but only when it has included as material factors, as things linked together causally at each stage, every sphere of human activity. And the closure is only spatial – for history is what men make and men continue to live, and history, and all the ideologies of whose genesis it is the record, continue to unfold. It unfolds in the present, in our action as we live and move in the real society of to-day. Closed ideologically, the circle is open in action with which it is therefore unified. History leads from and through action to man’s mind.
But the last thing the bourgeois wishes to do is to look himself in the eyes.
Marx’s answer to the question, What is it that differentiates man from the animals? is this, that man is organised and organised in a social way: there is no such thing as lone man, bat only real living men, and not merely men clumped like swarming locusts, but arranged in social relations arising out of economic production. The co-operation necessary to production makes them unite, and makes them men.
But (it may be said) the bees, ants and wasps unite for economic production, and this does not make them human. True, and what is the biological difference between the social insects and man? With them, this organisation is instinctive: bees and wasps in any situation will reproduce it. But men will not reproduce their society instinctively. European culture and capitalism are not instinctive. Men, turned as babes into a jungle, would wander through it as mere brutes, without individuality or consciousness, feral and dumb.
This proves that man’s behaviour, ideas, art, science, laws, ethics, technique are not in him, in his genetic make-up. In his genetic make-up is only plasticity, the potentiality of this or a thousand other shapes. These things must therefore all be outside him and imprinted on him, not as a stereotype prints a drawing, mechanically, but rather as a body cell, by being in a certain part of the embryo and in a certain relation to other parts, becomes a bone, fat, or epidermal cell, and yet if transplanted will change its nature according to its new situation.
What is there then, outside man the unit, which has this effect on him? Simply the relations into which he enters with other men, not willingly but because he is born into such a society, just as its relations with other cells affect the body cell, not voluntarily but because it is in such a place. Thus all the social relations expressed in all the possible interactions between man and man become, with Marx’s interpretation, not something superadded to humanity or ‘put into practice’ by man, but something which makes the concrete man what he is. But, being so made, he makes other men different, still through these same real channels. Thus there is a real meaning to the definition of man as organised men, which separates it from the apparent organisation of the hive. The organisation is more than the individual men and cannot be predicted from the bare babe, because it has a law of growth of its own, occupying æons, but still it is an organisation of men. It is not an environment. The organisation of, for example, moths swarming round a flame or beasts round a salt lick is environmental, the organisation of bees in a hive is innate. But the organisation of men, which produces the very phenomena which history is to study, is neither; it is social.
History thus becomes, not the study of individuals, of their innate capacities and responsive changes to stimuli (for that is psychology) nor the study of the influence of the environment on men (for that is ecology), but it is the study of this organisation which is neither innate nor given in the environment, and which although it is the organisation of men in nature has a law of development neither human nor natural but economic. Now it is certain that bourgeois culture could not analyse this organisation, for it is just this organisation which bourgeois economy, as its pre-requisite, denies and veils in every possible way. Bourgeois culture is constantly proclaiming man the individual against this organisation, and is continually involving itself in contradiction, for all the qualities it calls ‘individual’, so far from being antagonistic to organisation are generated by it, and the very state which it claims to be produced by organisation – featureless, unfree man—is man as he exists if robbed of organisation, or as he must have been before he passed from brute to human. This also involves that the bourgeois, struggling for these precious individualities, produces to his consternation still higher degrees of organisation, and struggling against organisation, produces a loss of individuality. Because he is struggling blindly he produces everything unexpectedly and anarchically, and he shows his lack of history by this simple test, that he is unable to make history consciously. History must always be made because men, conscious or unconscious, still live and so history comes into being for the bourgeois as a series of surprises and catastrophes – the opposite to what he desires. Man still remains, although the subject of history, in the prehistoric stage of culture.
But why, asks Marx, does this organisation come into being at all? It is not just any organisation – a chance arrangement of men, for it is evident that it has an evolution: that is to say, each stage is caused by and is born from the preceding stage. Why, if it is not determined by an instinct, is it not determined by the environment, and if it is not determined by either, is not its cause outside the Universe, undetermined, immaterial, and unknowable? If one could explain how this organisation came into being, one could grasp its internal law of motion, and then the movement of history would be understood and man could make history consciously.
Either this organisation is divine, immaterial and unknowable, or it must come from the one activity which would form part of the Universe, and yet be distinguishable from man and environment taken separately – it must come from the interaction of men and environment together. If these are separate, and then come together and produce a transaction, this transaction is a new and yet a determined material entity, and the result or synthesis is the starting point for a fresh movement.
But what is the interaction of man and environment, by which both are changed – both instinctual man and natural environment? This interaction is economic production, and it is true that it is just this which distinguishes man, at the earliest levels we know, from the animals. The visible results of this interaction, the real factors in history, are environinentalised men and humanised environment.
What is meant by environmentalised men? How can a human being be said to be conditioned by the environment?
In this way. If, for example, men wish to act upon the environment – say, to move a log – the shape of the log requires that a certain minimum number unite, that they all push together, and that they arrange themselves round the log in certain ways. They have then been organised by the task – by the necessities of the piece of nature to which they found themselves opposed.
They have also themselves changed as a result. Participation in the task has added to their knowledge of logs. They may as a result of many such different tasks come to invent the lever, and now in levering the log; they will be organised by the task in a different way. One level of organisation has led to another.
Thus all the distinctive qualities of man – his consciousness of reality, as for example the detachability of logs (science), his emotional relations as when all push heartily together on the log (art), his social relations as when one instructs others when to push (law, ethics, convention), his medium for socially integrating experience and volitions in connexion with the log (language, writing), are environmental. So, it is true, are the organic adaptations to the water of the otter or the whale.
But whereas such organic adaptations are adaptations of the individual to the environment, those of men are adaptations of the social relations of a body of men to the environment. The otter is adapted to the water through his innate corporeal transformations. Man is still better adapted to the water, but only through society, because society has built ships, created ports, developed navigation, and can so master the water. Man’s adaptations are not to the water, but to society, which only as a whole, as an organised co-operative system, is adapted to the water. Man’s speech, physical knowledge and civic pride are not directly adapted to the water; they are adapted to an organised society, and only in organised society is there a human adaptation to water. When we say environmentalised man, we mean therefore men with an organisation produced among them by the necessities of the environment, and not men with individual changes like the otter’s flat tail, produced in them by the environment. But since men are organised and are the units of the organisation, they are changed by it. They are not as units changed (like the otter) by the environment; they are changed as units by the organisation in which they participate to face the environment. They do not, as bare men and units, face the environment: as such units they face only organised society, into which they are born. What is this organisation? It is the organisation into which men are forced when as a body they work together to change the environment. It is the organisation imposed by economic production which generates the non-instinctive and characteristically human qualities.
The same organisation is also reflected in the humanised environment. The environment too is changed, not merely by the movement of material cities, roads, port, ships, machinery, cultivated plants, agriculture, clearings), but also because this very process, by revealing the structure of reality more clearly, makes the environment different for man. The cosmos of our culture is a different environment from the cosmos of Egyptian man; and equally men, by being changed, become different for the environment and different for each other. The man of modern psychology and physiology is not the man of the Australian corroboree; the cosmos-for-the-blackfellow is not the cosmos-for-us.
Thus what we call organisation is the outcome of one double process – the environmentalisation of organised men, begetting all the human values – language, science, art, religion, consciousness; and the humanisation of nature, begetting the material changes in nature and man’s own greater understanding of reality. Thus the development of humanity is not the increasing separation of man from a ‘state of nature’. It is man’s increasing interpenetration with nature. History is not, as the bourgeois supposes, the story of man in himself, or of human ‘nature’ (which changes too little to be the subject of history) but the story of this increasing interpenetration of nature by man as a result of his struggle with it. It is the story of economic production. The story of man is not the story of the increasing subjection of man’s freedom and individuality to organisation in order to cope with nature, but his growth of freedom and individuality through organisation imposed by nature, in his interaction with it. The impossibility of ever finding human values or material causes separate in history is due to this very fact, that history is the study of their increasing interpenetration and of the rich development of this inseparable network of relations. History is the study of the object-subject relation of men-nature, and not of either separately. It is the study of the products of men acting on nature and being acted on by it. Nature never finds itself faced by individual men, but always by men working co-operatively in economic production; and man never finds himself faced by nature directly, but always by society organised by nature.
Thus, as a result of economic production a man finds himself born not into nature, but into a society already organised by interpenetration with nature, and into a nature already changed and X-rayed by this. He does not ever at any stage consciously form a society; society forms him. He in turn, as a result, is an active centre for a fresh transformation; he in turn forms society. Thus social development proceeds, and this is history.
History occurs not only on the human side, for, though society changes nature, nature so changed imposes fresh forms of organisation on society.
Which comes first then in time, the individual man or society? Did not individual men ever find themselves without society and, having regard to the necessities of the case, consciously enter into social co-operation? No, society came first, for it would have been sub-human anthropoids, unconsciously and blindly forced to enter into some rude forms of economic production unknown to other animals, which were by this very activity forced to become men.
Versions of History
It was Marx who first laid bare then the subject of history, which was not till then distinguished and is to-day still not distinguished within the categories of bourgeois culture. He first showed that all men’s activities are the subject of history and must be included in it. He showed that not merely ‘great men’ working along special channels, ‘important ideal’ or special occasions – ‘times of ferment’ – produce the motion of civilisation; but every man, in the active relations he enters into with other men, has a causal rôle in determining the movements of history. Such a notion had before only been conceived under the false notion of a whole people passively and solidly providing the background of history, while great men, great occasions, and great cultures acted as accidental disturbances or inflammations of this passive lump. Marx’s analysis of social relations was evolutionary and therefore revolutionary: it was from the activity of the people themselves, as a causal result, that great men, great occasions, and great cultures emerged, and in turn developed an internal law of motion.
Bourgeois culture, which set itself at its best period the task of understanding everything around it, has certainly attempted a causal scheme of history. It was doomed to fail in this attempt for the same reason as bourgeois philosophy was doomed to fail, because it seized hold first of the object as distinct from the subject, and then, forced by the logic of reality to seize the subject, it found itself in an equally untenable position. Subject and object, although opposite poles, interpenetrate. In the individual this interpenetration is sensation. In men this interpenetration is history. It is an active interpenetration, and in proportion as bourgeois culture becomes the culture of a class whose rôle is consciousness, and which is divorced from the exploited class whose task is action, there occurs the separating out of the two elements of sensation. Then both history and epistemology disintegrate.
The first causal scheme of history which bourgeois culture gave birth to was the environmental or metaphysical-materialist explanation, according to which man’s social history is the result of his environment. A hot climate produces black races. Where there is coal, there will spring up an industrial culture. In the cold zones man is necessarily a hunter. On rivers and by the sea he is a navigator or fisher. Fertile zones support dense populations and make possible town life. Regular floods ensure the creation of a settled agriculture.
Now this explanation, in spite of its power, ultimately has fatal weaknesses. It ignores the active creative rôle of man, and envisages him as passively moulded by the environment; this obviously cannot be the case.
For example, coal exists in many parts of the world: but only in a certain place and in a certain time did it give rise to industrial predominance. In other places cultural development was built up on water power. There are thousands of islands in the world: on some the inhabitants have no boats; on others, craft ranging from coracles and bladders to ocean-going liners. The ancient Britons lived over coal-seams, but for them the coal did not exist, and could not therefore determine their existence.
This reveals the ‘hole’ in the mechanical-materialist interpretation. The conditioning resources of Nature only exist, as determinants, insofar as from being things-in-themselves they become things-for-us. Coal did not exist for the ancient Briton because he had no technique for extracting it. The technique depends on a certain social organisation, when the necessary division of labour (capitalist mining) exists to make coal a determining social factor. Similarly, air only exists as an important transport medium for a race which has the necessary technique and social organisation to fly, and water only exists as a means of navigation for races able to build boats, the size and complexity of their boats in turn depending on their state of economic development.
Thus any scheme which makes the material configuration of the environment the determining factor in civilisation falls because it does not see that the environment is not something fixed. As environment, its very qualities depend on the subject, man, and primarily on his social organisation. It becomes an environment mineable in places only when technique and social organisation make mining possible. It becomes an environment which can be tilled and will produce crops in places, only when social organisation has advanced to a stage where culture is possible. It becomes an environment which can be navigated in places only when social organisation makes possible the building and sailing of ships.
Thus, although the environment in the form of rivers, iron, coal and air contains determining factors for society at each stage of its evolution, which factors prove determinant depends upon the technical and social organisation of man at that stage: in brief, on his economic production. The environment as environment is changed by economic production, not merely in its reality but in its potentiality. Thus the causal rôle in history cannot be played by the environment as an active matrix for passive society, for society itself selects at each stage, not arbitrarily but as a result of precedent evolution, which are to be the determining factors in the environment.
On the realisation of this the explanation of history by environment breaks down, for after stripping from society all qualities not purely environmental, nothing recognisably human is left. It does not follow that the environment plays no part in determining history. On the contrary, at every stage the environment-for-man is determinant. But the environment-for-man changes at every stage, and its change must therefore be sought in society.
This leads to the idealistic interpretation of history, in which history is made by man’s desires, ideas, and aims. But this theory is wrecked on the opposite difficulty to that of the mechanical-materialist explanation. The latter is unable to explain the change of the environment, the former is unable to explain the constancy of man – by constancy we mean his constancy as bare individual. If a Melanesian, an ancient Athenian and a modern English babe were allowed to grow up in a wood, or for that matter a deserted town or factory, none would show any of the characteristics of its parents’ culture – either their language, their economic production, or their consciousness. They would grow up sub-human. This shows that man remains through the ages relatively unchanged, or that at least his genetic change is in no way proportioned to his change as a member of contemporary society. This raises the dilemma, how can the unchanging genotype, acting on the environment, beget the change we have discussed? The answer can only be that it is a change, not in individual man but in his association – in that interpenetration of man with nature which is neither man alone nor bare nature, but is a system of economic production, including on the one hand machines, plant, capital and cities, and on the other hand the social relations, science, art, law and culture which have been generated by this system. This system, although it is composed of units and of environment, has a history and a law of motion to be found in the analysis of the unit or the environment separately.
Thus it is that bare man, born into this system, becomes moulded by it and so changed in turn operates through the system on the environment and brings about further changes which are the basis of a new departure.
Ideas themselves can only be the product of such an existing organisation. Napoleon, Caesar or Plato gets his language, the things he sees, his assumptions and desires, from engaging in social life, from being educated and living in a Greek City or Rome or Republican France.
That is not to say that ideas are a mere iridescence. On the contrary, it is precisely in Marxism that ideas become real things, being both caused and in turn creating an effect. Darwin’s consciousness, being formed, undergoes its own law of development and produces changes in the system in which he lives. Just as the environment, with indefinite potentialities-in-itself, reveals successively new, definite potentialities for man as a result of the evolution of technique, so bare man, with indefinite possibilities of consciousness, reveals a consciousness appropriate to the system in which he finds himself, either Melanesian or Athenian. Man’s consciousness then is a real determining factor in history, but it is not man’s consciousness that produces at each stage social organisation for economic production, but social organisation for economic production which produces man’s consciousness. Being is prior to thinking, and we can easily see that this must be so, for all living organisms engage in activity which is not conscious activity, and this unconscious activity is phylogenetically and ontogenetically prior to conscious activity. Thus in the human body the sympathetic system acts unconsciously and is prior to and more fundamental than the more highly organised conscious activities. It is just because consciousness is subtle and richer that it is sequent to unconsciousness.
No analysis of society which aims to be really causal can take consciousness as prior, and write history in terms of man’s desires and ideas. True, history is made partly by the conscious actions of men, and any causal explanation must include consciousness; but it must include consciousness as it develops historically, as an outcome of the development of economic production and the division of labour.
And although men’s history-making actions are conscious and willed, the results by no means tally with the aims, but are in fact often quite other. Indeed this is the chief characteristic of the prehistoric stage of civilisation. How then can ideas play a causal rôle, in the sense that history is their realisation, when events contradict men’s intentions? Only if, opposing the intentions, there is a kind of devil or evil force, and this ceases to be a causal explanation. If we take as primary the interpenetration of man with nature, of which ideas are the most refined product, we are then in a position to explain both the disasters and the successes of ideas, and to understand why men will and act as they do, and why their volition and actions produce the results we know. Living precedes ideas; and men must breathe and be fed to have them.
Because of the failure of the theory of consciousness as the causal explanation of history, an attempt was made by later idealists to make the cause of history, not ideas in the heads of men (conscious purposes) but ideas absolute and out of the heads of men. Certainly these absolute ideas outside the heads of men need no sustenance nor determining cause, but just because of that they furnish no causal explanation of history. Of these explanations by absolute ideas (fixed ‘cycles of decay'; realisations of ‘Hellenic and Faustian cultures’) the best known and most consistent is Hegel’s. Such an explanation is faced with the dilemma of admitting, either that these absolute ideas now exist really and that therefore evolution is at an end, or do not really exist, in which case causation is explained as the work of non-existents, and this is easily seen for the logical trick it is. Again, if these absolute ideas are real existents now, either in the past the absolute ideas existed or were later generated by the process of history. If the former, then how can reality and the ideas be in mutually-determining relation; if the latter, how can the ideas be the cause of that which has generated them?
In Spengler’s crude form, or in the absurd form given it by Fisher (who explains bourgeois civilisation as the evolution of ‘the ideal of liberty’) absolute idealism shows itself even less adequate than with Hegel, and, as compared with mechanical-materialism, is a mark of the increasing poverty of bourgeois thought.
Obviously the environmental ‘explanation’ of history corresponds to mechanical-materialism in bourgeois philosophy, with neo-Darwinism in biology, and with behaviourism in psychology. Similarly, the purposive ‘explanation’ corresponds to idealism in philosophy, neo-Lamarckianism in biology, and the instinct and hormic schools in psychology.
As these explanations by their own development expose their bankruptcy, there is regression to a kind of history which is believed to be a compromise, or synthesis, but which is in fact nothing but a confession of the breakdown of the culture producing it. This system has as its expression in philosophy, positivism or phenomenalism, but it is constantly being forced by its own contradictions into a confused eclecticism. How does this positivism appear in bourgeois history?
Positivism asserts that man’s sole concern is with sensa, or phenomena. Since subject and object are, according to positivism, alike inaccessible (for the object is an unknowable thing-in-itself), sensa are the sole data of science and no true statements as to reality are possible. Laws are merely convenient summaries or lucky predictive accidents. Since the object is declared unknowable, the real ground of causality – the material basis of sensation – is eliminated. The world no longer possesses a unity due to its materiality, and sensa are connected in no causal way: anything might happen.
Of course such an attitude is a negation of science and in its pure form is hardly practicable. The subject or the object is in fact smuggled in illegitimately by some backdoor. For example, laws become convenient statements (Mach), or the world becomes the work of a mathematician (Jeans). In this way a spurious unity is given to some restricted field of reality. A collection of such spurious unities not themselves unified, a farrago of mutually contradictory categories, becomes the content of science when any large domain of reality is surveyed. Thus positivism necessarily involves eclecticism.
This is visible in bourgeois history in two forms. First of all there is the monstrously detailed collection of facts, of inscriptions, pipe rolls, potsherds, and records of every description which become valued simply for their own sake, as if a sufficient accumulation of them would eventually in some mysterious way give birth to a history. This would be a correct assumption if such detail work were part of an ordered programme, had a method, or were carried out at the impulse of a general science of history with understood laws and a causal programme. Instead, it is like a curiosity shop; it is the collecting of detail for its own sake, and since the domain of history is all men’s activities, the jackdaw accumulation of such facts can proceed indefinitely until not all the volumes of mankind could hold the records. No science of history, however, would have been produced even then, for it is the function of science to control and direct the collection of such facts now and, in this control and direction, to receive confirmation, negation or transformation. Such an accumulation, as long as it remains fundamentally unscientific, only adds to the confusion.
Men’s opinions of events, however resurrected and authentic, do not form history, for we do not learn the characteristics of an epoch by learning the opinions of its members concerning it, any more than we learn the character of a man by his opinion of himself. We do not learn the laws of history’s movement from the intentions of its units, for events, though produced by the conscious actions of men, do not realise their hopes. We learn these laws, as we learn those of the physiology of bodies and the evolution of animals, by the objective study of what exists independent of consciousness, in the course of a development in which theory marches step by step with practice, and the observed fact at every stage must transform the theory. If no general theory applying to all men’s activities exists, how can even the most minute study of the records of dead men’s activities be of value?
History is an evolution, a change; and we can no more expect to derive the real pressure and being of a civilisation from its language and material surroundings at any stage than we could expect naked man, put into a deserted London, to become a modern Londoner. All social qualities derive from society in movement, inheriting capital and transforming it, and we cannot understand the congealed products of each stage – its records – without understanding the metabolism of the society that produced them. We might as soon attempt to recreate the appearance and habit of the fossil animal from his bones without a study of living organisms to-day.
The staggering accumulation of unrelated petty detail which is bourgeois history to-day, naturally produces attempts at organisation. These contradict the basic positivism of the approach, and have to be smuggled in illegitimately. These attempts are necessarily restricted to limited fields: one historian will explain Egyptian history as the product of Nilotic conditions; another will explain the decline of Greece in terms of malaria; a third will explain bourgeois history as the growth of the idea of liberty, a fourth will explain medieval history as the triumph of Christo-Roman conceptions of order; a fifth will explain the development of the human race as a result of mineral deficiency; a sixth will explain the diffusion of heliolithic culture by the attraction of gold deposits; a seventh will explain the growth of capitalist economy by the bringing back of bullion from South America, and so on, endlessly. Faced with the task of explaining the whole domain of culture, the historian has no hesitation in combining Freudian, behaviouristic, diffusionistic, pathological, idealistic and materialistic explanations, even though their premises are mutually contradictory. How can such a mixture call itself history, if by history is understood any causal or scientific account of men’s activities in Time?
But history, as a science, is history in the present. It is science separating the past as preserved in the present. No one can cognise the past directly. But this separation of the past from the present is in fact the function of all sciences, for in so far as the universe has a history, all sciences have as their task the understanding of how things come into being and are at each stage determined by their past. Thus, just as the foundation of biology is evolution and metabolism, so the foundation of physics is cosmogony and motion. Yet this study of the past of the domain of qualities proper to the science in question has one main end, that of discovering the law of motion of all qualities comprised in it, their passage from not-being into being and back again.
This law of motion is discovered with a purpose; for just as the discovery through cosmogony of the most universal laws of physics, and, through paleontology, of the most universal laws of life, taught men the structure of physics-now and life-now, so the discovery through history of the most universal laws of society teaches men the structure of society-now. But it does not rest there. There is passage not only to the past from the present but back again. Thus our knowledge of physiology and embryology is derived from paleontology, but then, equipped with knowledge derived from physiology, we turn with fresh understanding to those relics of the past which were the starting point of our researches. It is not a mere dialectic movement of theory. The theory develops because at each stage it issues in active experiment and prediction: biology develops in experiments with organisms, in predictions of where and for what to look among fossils or evolutionary survivals; biology grows. Physics develops in experiments with bridges and engines, in predictions of what to look for in the field of space. Thus a science is always this separation out from the present of the past which, having being conserved in the present is different, and begets a dialectic antagonism which generates the future. This is merely the reflection in theory of what happens in reality, where the past is also preserved, by the conservation laws, in the present, and by a kind of polar tension produces the new.
But the two processes, the theoretical and the objective, do not run on ‘in parallel’. They intermingle, for the theoretical is the reflex of the objective and at every stage is seen to be the result of a material movement. Theory is always transformed as the result of a practical, objective transaction. History therefore appears as the most vital of the sciences in this respect, that it is the study of the very movement of society which generates the other sciences and itself.
Thus history too cannot escape from the method and life of all other sciences, which is to separate the past from the present in the only way in which it can be separated, as a contradiction, as a negation, which is synthesised in the future. The past to history is all that is-not-here, all that is not-in-the-present, and yet we in the present are studying it now in the present; but because, hitherto unconscious of this past, we now become conscious of it, we are not what we were, we are changed, something new has come to be. The present is now something new; it is the future. All this is not theoretical; it takes place both in action and thought. That is what we mean when we say, ‘The separation, as a negation, of the past from the present, begets the negation of the negation, the “past as seen by the present,” which is the future.’
The process is not contemplative, it is active. The change can only be a real change if new consciousness is not a mere iridescence, but a real entity, determining and determined. In fact consciousness, in its full active realisation, is just such a real determining entity. New consciousness (new knowledge, theory, or hypothesis) can only come into being as the result of an action, an experiment, a contact with reality which negates existing consciousness and as the result of this tension produces new consciousness – a new theory, hypothesis, or system of knowledge. This is the method of individual sensation, but when dealing with categories of sensation socially valid and generally organised, it becomes the method of science.
It must equally be the method of history. History cannot seize hold of the past by a divine ingestion; it can only seize hold of the present in the past. It cannot extract a theory from the present by an undetermined, one-way contemplation; it can only do so by testing at each stage its historical theories in practice. Its historical theories are precisely its conscious formulations of man’s destiny, purpose, and rôle. History is an analysis of all the statements about man that are made in his laws, his ethics, his art, his religion, his science, and his hopes, and it puts this analysis into practice by living according to them or alternatively by denying them and transforming them. Hence the science of history is part of the practical activity of living according to the social consciousness of an age or alternatively of rebelling against it and transforming it. Indeed this must be so, for if history deals with all man’s activities – his hates, loves and hopes as well as his building and feeding – it cannot be separated from his loving, hating, building and feeding now: if history is the theory of how he did these in the past, it cannot neglect the theory of how he does these in the present, and since science at every stage passes over into practice, it cannot neglect to undertake the confirmation or transformation of these activities now.
This is not merely the method of sensation and science, it is the general method of man’s living. Thus, when men begin to question in any age the contemporary theory of social relations embodied in their art, their science, their laws, their morality, their system of social distribution, status, and rights, then it is a sign that their practical experience has proved the defects, or ‘errors’, in the ideological system as a whole or in part; but it is also a sign that, given in the very facts of their experience which expose the falsity of this superstructure, is the outline of the new superstructure which will more adequately express their real concrete being. The transformation accomplished, being and thinking are both on a new level, are both transformed by the interaction and ready for a new development.
This then explains the evolution of society. The primary factor is concrete being: the actual production in which men engage more or less consciously and willingly but which, considered as a whole, is unconscious. This is the evolution of technique – associated men changing nature as step by step the necessities of nature progressively unfold in reciprocal contact with technique, so that each reflects the other and yet both change for each other. This is the massive basis of society, and just as man may only eat, or eat and think, but cannot only think, so this developing technique with all the division of labour and the sharpening differentiation and increasing complexity it produces, is not all conscious and in any case is never conscious in one head, but is accompanied on the one hand by plexi of unrelated desires, hopes and thoughts in individual heads which are born and die, and, on the other hand by shared desires, hopes and thoughts which endure in the form of language, scientific disciplines, art products, traditions, conventions, laws and moralities. The throwing up of these secondary products exerts in turn a final influence on the whole, but there is never any doubt as to which is prior.
Because laws, sciences, languages, arts, distribution systems, moralities and all the social relations and status arrangements connected therewith, are as it were the most generalised, the most social, the most recent, and the furthest removed from nature of all economic products, they form the superstructure or most abstract portion of history. They form the theory of human life, the consciousness of society, the visible flower of activity; but they grow from, are nourished by, and are a new aspect of living, breathing, working, active men. If men in the course of their interaction with nature, living practically as men in nature and in society, are faced with an objective fact that contradicts this social theory of life, a tension is generated which will ultimately bring about the appropriate modification of the superstructure. Moreover, because it is a social or shared superstructure, only those facts will bring about its modification which are capable of being made social facts, facts connected with man’s relation as associated man to outer reality. We may say if we like that minor transformations of technique ultimately affect the whole superstructure. Or we may say with more detail that when associated men immediately in interaction with nature discover discrepancies between theory and practice, immediate detailed theory is modified accordingly – (’technological improvement’) – and as the minor discrepancies accumulate, theories more and more general or ‘social’ in scope are affected, until ultimately the whole superstructure is modified – ‘ideological development’.
This is the evolutionary theory of society; which holds good for all society that has any consciousness and is at grips with nature; but the two are the same – conscious man is socially productive man. This theory is therefore the basic theory of human society. It is the fundamental law of motion of history, and applies to all men’s theories and to all men’s activities. Necessarily, because it is a scientific theory, it sees history as still being made now and all men’s contemporary theories and activities as part of the science of history. History can only find the theoretical past in the theoretical present and can only develop the theoretical present by being active, and so producing the real future.
In the history of evolution, Marx also discovered revolution. He found, as a well-known objective fact, that instead of the superstructure being always gradually, by small increments, remodelled by men’s daily activity, there were periods when the whole superstructure, as if with explosive force, was rapidly shattered and transformed. Laws, sciences, arts, rights, distribution systems – all were involved in one stupendous explosion, lasting for one or two centuries, like the slow motion film of a bursting bomb.
Now this could only mean one thing, that for some reason an insulating gap had opened between the superstructure (theory) and the basis (practice) so that practice could not continually modify theory. As a result the antagonism had grown and the tension had at last become so terrific that the resultant explosion had shattered almost every portion of the old superstructure. An obvious example was the bourgeois revolution which inaugurated the ‘modern era’.
But why (Marx asked) should revolutions be? Why should the superstructure show this rigidity, and permit an explosive antagonism to be generated in society?
Marx’s answer was one of the most revelatory hypotheses ever framed. The antagonism is itself only a reflection in the ideological sphere of a fundamental division in production, and this division is expressed, in the sphere of social relations, by antagonistic classes, of which one class is the conscious, contemplative, directing, and therefore ruling class and the other is the unconscious, active, directed and ruled class. Therefore the antagonism between conscious superstructure and active technique is an antagonism which reflects the division of society’s economic production. One class directs economic production consciously and by so doing is able to direct the flow of the bulk of society’s economic products into its life. The other class is directed and exploited. The directive, conscious class is the class that produces the consciousness of society: the superstructure is the product of the exploiting class.
But the exploited class is the class that performs the actual labour; it is the class which is directly at grips with nature; it is the class which handles the productive forces of society. The ruling class only came into being because its members performed a socially useful function, by directing labour they increased the productive efficiency of society as a whole. The first stages of such a class society are therefore an increase in productive forces because of the new class structure. The society flourishes.
But as the society develops the class antagonism develops. There is a growing division between thinking and acting, between the exploiters and exploited. Theory flies apart from practice; the ruling class become less functional, and more parasitic, contemplative and idealistic, and the exploited class more and more become the sole controllers of the productive forces of society at the same time as they become more and more divorced from its products. The productive forces as they develop indicate the increasing technical power of man and his increasing practical experience of reality, but since the productive forces are the domain of the exploited, and the theory or superstructure is the creation of the exploiting class, there is only generated a growing antagonism between theory and practice, evident in an increasing divorce of man’s professions from reality, and of the outward forms of society from its true content. There is an increase in exploitation, in the parasitical rôle of the exploiting class, and a growing contradiction between what man could do and what he is actually doing. Man thinks fine things and does hateful ones. He is ‘sinful’, base, and degenerate, at the very time when his notions are most highfalutin.
This antagonism cannot but continue to develop, for every growth in productive forces exposes the faults of the superstructure and, at the same time, makes the non-productive class ding more closely to it. The superstructure now becomes transformed through the necessities of maintaining the class division which begot it, and it becomes transformed into a class-fortress and base for reaction, counter-revolution and Fascism – thus adding to the bitterness of the struggle. Revolution occurs when the exploited class, operating the productive forces of society, revolts and shatters the whole superstructure that crippled it.
This revolt is not a blind shattering. The exploited class, in control of the productive force, has by its very development of those forces learned the new technique which negates the superstructure of the exploiting class. Because theory and practice have got into antagonistic hands, each development of productive forces could not transform the superstructure in an evolutionary manner, but these developments accumulated until they attained explosive force. Thus, by the time a revolutionary situation has matured, there is a whole new superstructure latent in the exploited class, arising from all they have learned from the development of productive forces, and this becomes the starting point for the superstructure of the new society, which therefore is one which starts on a higher plane than that of the overthrown society. This is the creative rôle of revolutions. It is shown clearly in the bourgeois revolution, where the exploited class of the towns, the bourgeoisie, because of the development as productive forces of bourgeois private property, overthrew the feudal regime with its superstructure based on status or degree, and established one based on private property.
The proletarian revolution is a consequence of the increasing antagonism between bourgeois superstructure and proletarian labour, and when the crippling by the superstructure of the productive forces – visible in slumps, poverty, war and unemployment – grows unbearable, not only does the proletariat revolt but the very technical developments which increased its productivity – social organisation of production inside the unit – also generates the ideology which transforms the capitalist superstructure. The proletarian superstructure is, long before the revolution in Russia, already extant in embryo in the form of Marxism or scientific socialism, and this is in turn the product of the analysis by Marx of capitalist production. In this analysis of the past history of society in contemporary capitalism, he saw the new productive forces made possible by the proletarianisation of labour, and only realisable in communism.
Thus Marx was able to answer the question as to why the superstructure becomes detached from the foundations, and society is rent in twain. It is the result of a class cleavage. He was able to show that these classes themselves only arose as a development of special forms of production – the slave with agricultural production, the bourgeois with feudal production, and the proletarian with capitalist production; and he was able also to show how the transformation of the superstructure, the accompaniment of revolution, was not an arbitrary shattering, but the realisation in new social relations of possibilities already latent in practice.
The same analysis answers our original question, why the bourgeois sciences, for all their achievement, are unable to create a synthetic ideology but by their very development bring about the disintegration of bourgeois culture. Sciences are ultimately in empirical contact with reality; they have a technical, practical basis. This differentiates science from mere theory. This practical basis is the front, as it were, along which science advances, and the new matter it encounters should travel up to the superstructure and modify it. But, as we have seen, the superstructure or ‘world-view’ of a culture is the creation of a ruling class which becomes increasingly divorced from practice, increasingly self-illusory and non-functional. An antagonism therefore arises between this central ideology and the advancing practical front of science, which results in a crippling and distortion of science in proportion as it becomes generalised, and approaches wide theoretical formulations. As a result science is repelled by the central ideology, and gathers itself round its most practical fronts which thus become closed worlds – detached and isolated sciences. This has as a further result the separation of the world-view from the sciences, with its ensuing collapse and disintegration, and the impoverishment of the now isolated, separate sciences.
Since classes are not arbitrary absolute creations, but come into being as specific developments of economy, they are by no means inevitable. The exploitation relationship is not essential to society, and Marx showed that the proletariat in fact occupied the special historical position of the class destined to end classes, to bring about its own extinction as a class.
Since the bourgeoisie, once expropriated, has no social status, it must cease to exist, and then the coercive content of the State superstructure vanishes. Only one class is left – that is to say, there are no classes – and this class both owns and operates the productive forces of society. There is no longer a fundamental cleavage between theory and practice, which now can affect each other directly and rapidly, and each innovation in practice can at once affect the superstructure.
Such a conception of history not only exposed the fundamental law of motion of social men, but it also reinstated history as a science like other sciences, that is, one in which practice is the ally of theory and vice-versa. No more than it is possible to separate the science of chemistry from laboratory experiments, or that of cosmogony from physical experiments, is it possible to separate history, which is the apex of the sciences, from social activity. History then becomes, not merely a study of inscriptions and records and witnesses, but the means of answering questions which were in olden days phrased in such symbolic forms as: ‘What is my duty to my neighbour?’ ‘What is man’s destiny?’ ‘Why is Truth independent of me?’ ‘What is the worth of Beauty?’ ‘What must I do to be saved?’ ‘Is Evil real?’ History becomes, just because it is the study of the past in the present, the guide to the future. Since future history is made only by the present actions of men, as they realise themselves, such a history must necessarily be a guide to action now. And each such action, by establishing or modifying or enriching the content of the science of history, also increases its penetrative power in analyses of the past, and enables it with increasing success to separate the past from that present in which the past is implicit.
Thus Marx and Engels not only explained the movement of history, they also made history real and scientific by making it a guide to man’s action in relation to society now. Because we, in a bourgeois world, live in a time when the superstructure of the bourgeois class cripples the productive powers of organised labour, historical materialism is a guide to our action in changing this superstructure and participating in the proletarian revolution. Of course it is just this in Marxism that scandalises the bourgeoisie – it is an historical science, and is therefore warm and breathing. Historical materialism is not a mere dead congelation of knowledge of the past, as if the past were something separate from the present and outside it, or as if the social activities of all men who went before us were altogether external to us, instead of being forces in a movement of which we are the momentary apex and culmination. It is the past active in the present and aiding man actively to produce the future.