Arrigo Cervetto 1989-1995

Method and the Science-Party

Source: Internationalism. Journal of Marxist Analysis;
First Published: éditions Science Marxiste, Marxist Science Publications, 1998;
Translated: from the Italian, © Éditions Science Marxiste, October 2012;

Publisher’s note.

This volume groups together articles already published as editorials in the montly Lotta Comunista from June 1989 to February 1995, when the death of their author unexpectedly interrupted their publication.

Arrigo Cervetto returned in them to material that he had been working on since the early ’60s, in a long-term commitment to defining the bases for the entrenchment of the Leninist party in Italy. This material, which he had expanded upon, was used in a series of conferences held in 1971. Part of those papers was used posthumously in the editorials published from April 1995 to April 1996: these are not included in the present volume. Apart from a few corrections of misprints the articles are presented in their original version. The subdivision into chapters, with their relative headings, is editorial.

Foreword to the English Edition

In June 1989 Arrigo Cervetto started to publish a long series of front-page editorials in the monthly Lotta Comunista. The series would continue until his untimely death in February 1995.

In these articles the author referred to jottings, notes and observations that had been the fruit of studies he had been carrying out since the early 1960s. These were the years in which a young generation of Communists had taken upon itself the task of building up the internationalist party: drawing on the origins of its method and political science constituted a necessary step forward in tying together the thread of Marxist theory that had been torn apart by the Stalinist counterrevolution.

It should be pointed out immediately that the choice of frontpage editorial for the publication of theoretical reflections, apparently remote from the tumultuous circumstances of the years between 1989 and 1991, was not casual. It stressed the essentiality of theory for the understanding of the present, and reasserted the connection between theory and political practice that forms the foundation of the conception of the science-party, while at the same time resurrecting the teachings of Lenin that Stalinist nationalism believed it had buried once and for all.

In the passage from the 1980s to the 1990s exceptional events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, German reunification, the implosion of the Soviet Union, the definite burial of the Yalta order and the renewed dash forward towards European unification combined in a sudden historical acceleration that marked a break with the preceding world. And it is precisely in moments of rupture, of crisis, in which changes are more tumultuous, concentrating decades-long processes in a short period of time and opening up more uncertain developments, that firm anchorage to Marxist theory is more than ever indispensable.

Only in the light of a solid theoretical base is scientific knowledge of reality possible. Ultimately, this means knowledge of the forces in the field and of their struggle, and hence the formulation of a conscious, motivated line of action. This is «the synthesis of theory and practice», the basis of the concept of the science-party, of the strategy-party, a concept that is counter-current to the common perception that sees mainly the organisational aspect of the party.

It is no coincidence that the exposition of Cervetto’s reflections starts from the highest point reached by the preceding Marxist generations, i.e. from Lenin, who entrenched the concept of the strategy-party in the everyday struggle of the Russian proletariat, demonstrating the universality of the Bolshevik experience in the facts of history. Cervetto writes: «The absence of a scientific analysis of the real movement of society leads inevitably to a distorted representation of social reality; in its turn, theoretical error leads to political error. The absence of scientific analysis means the absence of revolutionary strategy. Without strategy, tactics become tacticism, flexibility khvostism, caution capitulation, deliberation indecision, resoluteness sectarianism, propaganda “programrnism”, and agitation demagogy».

1989 and the successive years were marked by a sudden “change of pace” in the multipolar contention among the powers. This worldshaking transition that — let us remember — was followed and analysed point by point in the other pages of our newspaper, imposed a “vision of the age” and offered the opportunity to sharpen the arms of theory in a comparison with the vision of previous times.

The starting point for Cervetto’s reflection was the sixteenth century, «defined as the century of radical changes in world history», since during its unfolding the most favourable conditions for capitalist development matured in Western Europe and «the territorial space of a continent and the long time of a war that lasted into the next century were incubated».

«The Renaissance saw the beginning of modern history and of modern scientific research, i.e. of complete, systematic, scientific development», when «philosophy and politics [took] their first steps in the new era together». It was «a period of particular intensification and complexity of the class struggles that was reflected in the huge leap forward in philosophical and political thought».

These are the origins of the political thought of the still revolutionary bourgeoisie that culminated in materialism and fielded its best exponents against the pre-existing social order in the struggle for its political entrenchment.

These are the sources of the scientific method. It is from here, from the highest point of the production of political and philosophical theories reached by the bourgeoisie, that Marx would take his starting point. He would reap their legacy in order to extend materialism to social science and to the analysis of capitalist society that the bourgeoisie, once it had come into power, considered the culmination of the evolution of human society and not a passing phase.

The study of the bases of bourgeois thought and the linking of them materialistically «to the historical situation and the correlation of forces» is a necessary step in stripping — together with Lenin the forms and formulas of the fetishism with which history has clothed them. The invocation of Bukharin and of the question of democracy is exemplary. In the imperialist phase of the concentration of power democracy has changed in substance, but in the historical process of ideas it conserves the trappings of the age of the democratic and revolutionary bourgeoisie.

Cervetto’s survey embraces a vast quantity of material within the time span of three centuries of history, in which he “meets” dozens of philosophers, politicians, economists and scientists. But we have to flee the temptation of reading it as a “textbook”. The history of philosophy normally presents a succession of different theories as an “evolution of ideas”. On the contrary, of every author examined, Cervetto evaluates the aspect essential to his collocation with respect to the class struggle in a scholastic, synoptic — and not sequential framework: «Hobbes’s Leviathan dates back to 1653, Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise to 1670, Petty’s Treatise of Taxes and Contributions to 1662 and Locke’s Two Treatises of Government to 1690. In the second half of the seventeenth century, within a forty-year time span, four great analyses came to maturation, analyses that followed the course of the Thirty Years’ War, in the first half of the century, between the declining Spanish power and the rising French power, as well as the explosion of bourgeois revolutions in England and Holland. An exceptional theoretical reflection that would be picked up again in successive periods with high theoretical levels and be highly considered even in our times was concentrated within a relatively short time span».

Obviously, he does not deny the individual “freedom of thought” of the thinkers. Indeed, at the very moment when the class struggle intensifies more spaces open up. Spinoza «grew up in a period in which materialistic ideas were being defined, and in which the fierce struggle among the various political-religious currents, such as was being fought precisely in England, made freedom of the press and religious freedom [,as well as freedom of thought,] possible, even if only partially». Nevertheless, «Spinoza’s philosophy was a product of the Dutch bourgeois revolution».

Ideas are an indirect product of the class and class fraction struggles, of a social reality which the theoreticians interpret even transcending their own intentions. Hobbes, who wanted to provide a theory for and defend the absolute monarchy, arrived, as a materialist, at a theory of the state that «belongs to the great body of bourgeois theories». Cervetto comments: «How could it happen that an intellectual piece of work virtually conceived by its author as anti-bourgeois has, on the contrary, become a theoretical product of the bourgeoisie? What seems a paradox is, instead, a good example of what the Marxist method defines as “social determination”. [⋯] Theoretical production (the production of ideas) arises from social practice».

In the first pages of the book Cervetto refers to the well-known letter Engels wrote to Borgius on 25 January 1894: «The further the particular sphere which we are investigating is removed from the economic sphere and approaches that of pure abstract ideology, the more shall we find it exhibiting accidents in its development, the more will its curve run in a zigzag. So also you will find that the axis of this curve will approach more and more nearly parallel to the axis of the curve of economic development the longer the period considered and the wider the field dealt with».

To investigate the axis of theory: this is the key to the reading of the book. «“Economic influences” act in their “political disguise”: this offers a guideline for an analysis able to identify the shell and the content of politics».

Consistent with this guideline, Cervetto’s analysis of the evolution of great bourgeois theoretical thought, from the beginning of the emancipation of politics from ethics with Machiavelli, to the consolidation of materialism and the modern theories of the state, is accompanied by constant references to the great phenomena of the economic evolution, to market development, trade flows, scientific discoveries and technical innovation, geographical discoveries, the formation of the nation-states and fiscal centralisation, the constitution of geopolitical “spaces”, the rise and fall of powers and wars.

It is the “vision of an age”. «Two centuries, two great bourgeois revolutions, and an infinite number of wars characterised the time of the consolidation of a science suited to the new mode of capitalist production. When we say that Marxism is a young science, we are drawing inspiration from the great lessons of history, of social history, and of the history of thwarted and unrecognised discoveries».

Years ago, on the occasion of the first publication of the collected articles, we wrote: «It is not easy to explain today the extraordinary impact that the proposal of the Marxist method as a critical analysis of the political theory, philosophy and science of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had on the few lucky youths of the generation of twenty-year-olds of the time, immersed as they were in grassroots-initiative movements. Those who were able to grasp the link between that theory and our practical struggle realised the immense value that the political hypothesis of the Leninist party had in comparison with what the then parliamentary and extra-parliamentary political panorama offered» (Lotta Comunista, September 1998).

This is a consideration that we feel is equally valid today.

The “crisis in global relations” triggered by the financial crisis of 2007 is accelerating the processes that have been at work for decades: the rise of Asia, the irruption of new powers into the world market — with China in the lead — and the relative decline of the old imperialist metropolises are changing the framework of international relations. The axis of history has shifted towards the East, multipolar competition is becoming more intense, and contention is now at a continental level. The battle to define a “new world order” is in full swing. These are world-shaking changes that impose a “vision of the age”.

The imperialist bourgeoisie is irreversibly conservative and reactionary. It is now up to the “young science” of the proletariat, Marxism.

A reflection on the sources of the scientific method is a “breath of fresh air”, the opening up of a vaster horizon that at the same time offers a methodological tool to the younger generations that are embarking on the internationalist political struggle.


Theory and Our Unprecedented Task

According to Lenin’s aptly chosen expression, the «three sources», i.e. the concepts from which Marxism sprang, were «German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism». This is a concept that can be traced in Engels’ analyses from 1843 onwards. England, as well as France and Germany, he states, reached the conclusion that Communism was necessary, but the English reached it «practically», the French «politically» and the Germans «philosophically».

The «three sources and three component parts» of Marxism are primarily the theoretical patrimony accumulated in Europe by the political, economic and philosophical thought of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

In 1989 the end of the set-up sanctioned by the Yalta division was the outcome of a strategic rupture that can only be measured over centuries. Russia’s disintegration and Germany’s reunification freed the forces that would accelerate the European process, but the irruption of Asia into the world’s capitalist cycle, with its dialectic of development and crisis, was the epochal structural change that triggered that dynamic.

«Vision of the Age» is the Lotta Comunista article that wound up that fateful year. Arrigo Cervetto commented in it on a Nikolai Bukharin passage regarding the theoretical link between Lenin and Marx. Lenin’s Marxism «was the product of an imperialist era» and could not be the mere repetition of Marx’s. It was the solution to the new problems that had been spawned by the social evolution; the «empirical concepts that serve theoretical generalisations» were also new.

Furthermore, observes Cervetto, the vision of the age as a whole «requires comparison with the vision of the previous age». This theoretical requirement, which became a political task to be dealt with, imposed a return to the sources of the Marxist method: a task that by its very nature was also recognition of the bases of bourgeois thought in Europe, bases from which the contradiction of revolutionary thought sprang dialectically.

The 1991 war in the Persian Gulf, a crucial phase of this strategic rupture, offered the opportunity to make this link between theory and revolutionary strategy explicit, a link that is also the link with our science-party. Marxism «becomes a necessity because it allows us to look ahead», beyond passivity and indifference. The acceleration in history can be understood only through historical materialism. «The analysis of the sixteenth century as the century of accelerations and of a break with the past in world history is a model for our Marxist vision: Europe takes off, Asia loses ground, remaining the continent of a hundred thousand villages and despotism, and America walks on stage». The end of the Yalta division, German reunification, the break-up of the USSR and the Gulf War, leading to their interweaving and new divisions, «weigh on the balance of history like a third world war with an unpredictable outcome».

The reflection on method that Arrigo Cervetto elaborated from 1989 onwards was also his last theoretical legacy, interrupted in 1995 by his death. The Political Shell returned to the Marxist state theory, and developed the concept of «imperialist democracy» to anchor the careful analysis of «non-correspondence» to Marxist science. In this sense, the book was the«offspring» of the «imbalance crisis», since it encapsulated the theoretical aspect of the strategic and political battle fought to entrench the Leninist organisation in the Italian metropolis throughout decades of protracted «noncorrespondence» between political forms and economic evolution whose outlet could only be European.

The writings now collected in Method and the Science-Party seek «the theoretical axis» of the world-shaking transition in the multipolar contention — which has one of its kingpins in European unification — in the origins of method and of political science, as well as in modern history from the sixteenth century on. This is a transition that updates to a continental chessboard our «unprecedented task» of entrenching the Bolshevik party in an imperialist metropolis.

It is no coincidence that ten years after the 1989 strategic divide, the authors of the ideologies and political theories of European imperialism are posing themselves the problems of the crisis and the transformation of the nation-state, and are seeking the touchstone for the European process precisely in the emergence of the modern states from medieval society.

In the Far East, where decades of turbulent development have engulfed the hundred thousand villages of backwardness and dragged billions of individuals into the modern era of class struggle, crises, and capitalist wars, it is the glare of nuclear explosions that is accompanying the rise of new powers and the consolidation of their states.

All of this provides the ideologues of super-imperialism, today reincarnated in the bards of peaceful globalisation, with a Sisyphean task.

While the European bourgeoisies attempt to conceive a continental state after the bloodletting of two imperialist world wars, the Asian epicentre is generating new Leviathans with nuclear claws.

Starting from Europe five centuries ago, capitalism undoubtedly unified the world market, but only for the world to be once again divided and shaken violently by imperialist competition, its crises and its wars. Meanwhile, however, it has made the proletariat universal for the first time in history.

Analysed, collected, transformed and dialectically overturned in the science-party that is their contradiction, these real trends themselves and the historical dimensions in which they mask themselves become tools of our global class in its revolutionary strategy.

The profile of the militant Bolshevik drawn by Lenin, a profile that Cervetto claimed is topical, also springs from this. The sources of Marxism, inevitably European and distinctive, become universal in their synthesis «of the German organiser and propagandist, the French agitator, the practical Englishman and the Russian revolutionary wholly devoted to the cause of the proletariat».

Chapter One


The Theory and Practice of Dialectics

At the Berne Conference of the sections of the Bolshevik Party abroad, held from 27 February to 4 March 1915, the divergence over the plan for the theoretical analysis of imperialism, over the definition itself of the phenomenon and over its development trends became a practical, a political, and a tactical divergence.

Bukharin presented theses that Lenin defined as “semi-anarchical”.

The premise of his theses stated that: «The contemporary era of imperialist wars presents the proletariat of the advanced countries with the task of realising its ultimate aim: the transformation of a capitalist society into a socialist society through the seizing of political power»*

If Lenin agreed with this premise, he did not agree with the tactical consequences that Bukharin drew from it.These can be summarised as follows.

  1. — «The centre of gravity of the proletarian struggle has to shift from the sphere of struggle for general democratic demands to the sphere of the proletariat’s socialist demands».
  2. — Proletarian tactics have to «develop the material content of the socialist revolution».
  3. — Tactics have to bring about socialist unification from below, as opposed to the imperialist unification of countries imposed from above.

In September of the same year Bukharin published an article in the periodical Kommunist, an article that would be the kernel of his book Imperialism and World Economy. In the end, Lenin wrote the foreword to Bukharin’s work at the end of 1915.

Theoretical and political debate fused in the high temperature of the struggle on all fronts.

Hegel’s Science of Logic inspired Lenin to write this long comment: «Not empty negation, not futile negation, not sceptical negation, vacillation and doubt is characteristic and essential in dialectics, which undoubtedly contains the element of negation and indeed as its most important element — no, but negation as a moment of development, retaining the positive, i.e., without any vacillations, without any eclecticism».

A little further on he wrote that without the union of negation with affirmation «dialectics becomes empty negation, a game, a sepsis», and that dialectics reduced to theoretical eclecticism becomes the ideological justification of political vacillation.

Lenin wrote that «the “dialectical moment”, i.e., scientific consideration, demands the demonstration of difference, connection, transition».

Hence, the analysis of imperialism has to demonstrate the difference, connection and transition in the dynamics of social development.

The fine-tuning of the theoretical tool of the Notebooks raised the tone of the Berne political confrontation when negation and affirmation merged in the strategy debated by Lenin and Bukharin.

* All the Bukharin quotations have been translated from the Italian by Lotta Comunista.

The Practical Sense of Theories

On 17 February 1924 — one month after Lenin’s death — Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin made a speech at the Communist Academy, a speech that helps us to understand Lenin’s reasoning.

His initial observation is particularly interesting: «Lenin’s generally considered as a brilliant, peerless man of action, but as a theoretician he’s often far from being appreciated at his real worth. I think it’s now time to straighten things out.(⋯) Lenin didn’t clarify, concentrate or classify his theory in a given number of organic expositions day by day. Almost all his theoretical conceptions, formulas and generalisations, which are to be found in the numerous volumes of his works, are never presented to the reader in a concise, perfectly worked-out form ⋯».

Bukharin returns to Lenin’s way of setting out his thoughts and theories and offers the following explanation: «I believe that the fact that Lenin couldn’t enunciate his theories in a concentrated form derives from the fact that his life was predominated by action, a predominance that, in its turn, derives from the nature of our era, which is mainly an era of action. We can act well only when theory’s a tool in our hands, a weapon that we can use to perfection, when doctrine isn’t something that dominates and overwhelms us».

The fact that action predominated in Lenin’s life influenced how he set out his theory and how he analysed the relationship between theory and action: «What I mean by this is that one of Lenin’s most typical and most interesting characteristics was that he grasped the practical sense of every thesis and of every theory. We’ve often had occasion to joke about how Lenin was exaggeratedly practical in tackling certain theoretical matters; but now, after many years of revolution, we see that our jokes come home to roost, and we understand that they were the result of our old habits as intellectuals, as specialists in narrow fields: journalists, men of letters, or people whose profession is that of dealing more or less with theory».

Bukharin explains why Lenin’s method was not «exaggeratedly practical» and says: «Just as Lenin loathed theoretical processes and hair-splitting — which often annoyed us and for which he mocked us — so he refused to admit the superfluous and considered theoretical concepts and doctrines from a purely practical point of view. Furthermore, according to Marxism, it’s clear that theories cannot but have a practical sense».

The practical sense of theories: herein lies the strength of Lenin’s Marxism.

Bukharin recognises this frankly when he admits: «But it filled us “specialists” in theory with repugnance to consider only the practical sense of doctrines, and, in this respect, Lenin was much more forward-looking than us, because his background led him to reject certain things that still had an attraction for us».

Exactly, Lenin was forward-looking.

The Practical Sense of Formulas

Nikolai I. Bukharin agreed that the Marxism of the Marx and Engels era should be defined as “the algebra of revolution”.

This was the Marxism «of an epoch in European history that could in no way be called peaceful. Europe was going through one upheaval after the other, the greatest of which was the 1848 revolution». Bukharin sees the practical sense of theories in the “three great periods” of the “historical evolution of Marxism” that correspond to three great epochs in European history and the Workers’ Movement.

The transformation of the prevailing ideology of the Workers’ Movement corresponded to the “relative stabilisation” of European capitalism after 1848.

The imperialist war heralded in the third great period of Marxism.

The author draws the following formula from this: «There are undoubtedly many theoretical guidelines on destruction in Marx, but very few on construction. This was a field in which everything had to be created, and so it seems to me that the greatest theoretical contribution that Lenin made to Marxism may be summed up as follows: Marx formulated the algebra of capitalist development and revolutionary action, while Lenin added the algebra of the new phenomena of destruction and construction, together with their arithmetic, i.e. he solved the algebraic formulae from an even more concrete and practical angle».

This formula succeeds in incisively pointing out the relationship between theory and practice, an aspect that we wish to highlight.

Lenin’s theoretical and practical action emerges from it: «Another interesting characteristic that we could never understand without the previous formula should be added to it: Lenin pitilessly stripped every thesis and dogma of its fetishistic nature. At the beginning we were often amazed at the boldness with which he posed certain theoretical and practical problems».

This boldness lay in his method: «This is how Lenin expressed this idea in one of his more general tactical formulas. “Countless mistakes — he said — are made through the mechanical application of watchwords and orders that were perfectly valid at a given moment and in a given situation to a different historical situation, correlation of forces and state of things”».

Bukharin offers an extremely interesting example of this: «Let’s examine our adversaries’ democratic ideology. For a certain period we were also democrats, we demanded a democratic republic and a constituent assembly a few months before dissolving it. This was quite natural. Nevertheless, only those who realised the political relativity of these watchwords, those who understood that in a capitalist regime we could not expect the middle class to disband their workers’ organisations, and this because the demand for freedom for the latter had inevitably to be expressed in the formula “Freedom for all”, could change their attitude».

The question of democracy is linked to the historical situation and the correlation of forces.

Marxist political science is incompatible with the fetishism of forms and formulas.

The Practical Formula for Theoretical Concepts

Nikolai I. Bukharin correctly considers the inability to abandon democratic formulas as fetishism.

He says that democratic formulas corresponded to a certain phase in the Communist struggle: «But as we passed to another historical epoch, to another situation, we had to renounce this formula. Those who made a fetish of it ended up finding themselves lagging behind events and, ultimately, on the other side of the barricades. We could give infinite examples of this kind».

This meant that the Communists could champion democracy in the phase of the assertion of the democratic republic, but in a new “historical situation” and in a new “correlation of forces”, they had to abandon this formula unless they wanted to find themselves lagging behind the historical trend, i.e. lagging behind in the acquisition of the awareness of what was required.

If freedom was the awareness of what was required, then those who lingered on democratic formulas, besides falling prey to fetishism, did not acquire the awareness of what was required by the new formulas.

And even less were they free, since they did not understand the development process of the formulas: «What only now seems evident to us, Lenin had already technically examined in its minutest details. Only our superficially-minded enemies could believe that Lenin was a rough-hewn man, an ill-squared block».

The author acutely observes that, although a number of the watchwords launched by Lenin were «deliberately simplified», they were actually the result «of deep reflection on the expediency of these watchwords», on the mentality of the masses and on what they are able to understand.

The watchword reflected Lenin’s will to get as many people as possible to participate in the struggle.

This required «deep reflection to find the means to achieve it».

Bukharin says that watchwords did not fall from the sky, i.e. they were not the fruit of abstract “invention”. We could add that the watchword is a “discovery” of Marxist political science.

Bukharin aptly defines it as «the practical formula of a complex of theoretical concepts meditated upon point by point». He adds: «If we read Lenin’s works volume by volume and gather his thoughts systematically, we can follow the road that he took in working out these matters. Precisely because he was a theoretician of great intellectual stature who was able to analyse each combination of the class forces and draw from them theoretical generalisations and, consequently, practical political deductions, Lenin was able to achieve great strategic changes».

The Bolshevik leader successfully and incisively explains the analytical process that led Lenin to discover the «practical formula of a complex of theoretical concepts».

This is a process that translates the analysis of the real movement of society into political action.

It is true that Lenin: «Had no equal in wielding the weapon of Marxism, to which he constantly had recourse and which he turned now in one direction and now in another, as the occasion required. His Marxism was geared exclusively to the interests of the social revolution, it had no respect for any kind of fetish, and well understood the meaning of every doctrine, sentence or idea».

As we can see, Bukharin insists on Lenin’s capacity to grasp the practical sense of every idea.

The Synthesis of Theory and Practice

Lenin’s search for the practical sense of every idea was scientific. He therefore discovered the mutual links between the structural and the political and ideological movements.

He tried to discover both the mutual and the specific relationship, i.e. the relationship in a given time and in a given situation, between practice and theory.

He did not restrict himself to stating that ideology is determined by the social structure. Lenin was a materialist and not an objectivist. Nor was he a subjectivist, since he moved beyond the Enlightenment demystification of the ideas at issue.

Bukharin understood him: «Whenever there was an internal or external theoretical deviation from Marxism, Lenin immediately tackled it from a practical point of view, because he was perfectly aware of how theory is linked to practice and how ideas can be freed from their verbal shell».

The Bolshevik theoretician picks up the theme of the connection between ideas and practice: «I have already said that the algebra of capitalist development and of the revolution is to be found in Marx, and the algebra, but also the arithmetic of the contemporary period, in Lenin».

He gives an example: «In Capital Marxist analysis does not examine the peasants in general, because they do not represent a specific class of capitalist society. This is higher algebra and is not enough for an arithmetic operation. Lenin stands out because he is able to combine the more abstract algebra — which corresponds in mathematics to the general theory of numbers or to the set theory — and arithmetic. He was able to decipher the algebraic formulae, to add the small factors to the big, for example the great ideas about electrification and the purely practical need for an economy without great means, or, in the theoretical field, to deal with the great philosophical problems and at the same time to see the faulty theoretical formulas that could subsequently become dangerous».

Bukharin introduces the theme of faulty theoretical formulas. But how can they be recognised?

This is his answer: «This capacity to see the epoch as a whole as well as in its minutest details, to analyse such questions as the “thing-in-itself” and to understand at the same time the theoretical value of a congressional resolution (how can we not remember that Lenin devoted many pages of his pamphlet Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution to how resolutions should be written?); this prodigious aptitude for grasping the smallest and the biggest things in their right proportions, for finding the right place at a political and theoretical level for the minutest details, putting them all in their place and in the most favourable way for the working class, has found its expression in a remarkable synthesis of theory and practice».

The vision of the epoch as a whole is the basis of a higher strategy.

The Vision of the Epoch

But the vision of the epoch as a whole requires a comparison with the vision of the previous epoch.

Nikolai I. Bukharin believes that the formula “Marxism in science, Leninism in tactics” is wrong, since theory and practical struggle cannot be separated. Lenin’s Marxism was the product of an imperialist epoch.

The author clarifies this: «It is not a mere repetition of Marx’s Marxism, since the epoch in which we live is not a mere repetition of the one in which Marx lived. Both these epochs have the following characteristic in common: neither is organic, and the current epoch is even less so than in Marx’s time. Marx’s Marxism was the product of a revolutionary epoch. Lenin’s is also the product of an extremely storm-tossed and revolutionary epoch».

The theoretician attempts to grasp what Marx’s and Lenin’s epochs have in common: «But there are evidently many new things in the field of social evolution, in the empirical “concepts” that serve to formulate theoretical generalisations, and in the problems that they pose for the revolutionary proletariat, problems that require a solution. This is why our present Marxism is no mere repetition of the ideas expounded by Marx».

Lenin’s Marxism, in fact, cannot be the mere repetition of Marx’s, since it is the solution to the problems emerging from the social evolution.

If Marxism were incapable of analysing and resolving these problems, it would show itself to be a theory unsuited to social movement and change. Instead of a science it would be a utopia.

It may occur that the followers of Marxism in a new epoch reveal a subjective incapacity to continue along the path of science and to analyse both the constant and the specific features of the social evolution.

The absence of a scientific analysis of the real movement of society leads inevitably to a distorted representation of social reality; in its turn, theoretical error leads to political error.

The absence of scientific analysis means the absence of revolutionary strategy. Without strategy, tactics become tacticism, flexibility khvostism, caution capitulation, deliberation indecision, resoluteness sectarianism, propaganda “programmism”, and agitation demagogy.

Freedom is the awareness of need: awareness of social reality is the condition for theory free from blind conditioning.

If the followers of Marxism are incapable of continuing along the path of science they cause a historical delay in the dialectical link between theory and the real movement of society.

Like every science, Marxism does not fear the discredit fostered by its antagonists and favoured by its friends. The strength of science lies in its truth, i.e. in its capacity to represent reality.

Truth is the strength of Marxism. The rest belongs to the process of spreading Marxist science and to the struggle to apply Marxism, it belongs to the cycles of advance and delay.

Bukharin tends to absolutise and does not consider the cycles of the Marxist movement.

In short, the vision of the epoch as a whole cannot ignore the level of theoretical and political awareness reached in the epoch itself.

Spectrum of Methods

Bukharin reflects on what he considers to be the «new facts of social and economic policy that form the foundations of Lenin’s Marxism» and that Marx could not know.

He pinpoints four groups of issues.

The first consists in «a new phase in the development of capitalist relations. Marx knew the already past epoch of merchant capital; he knew industrial capital, which was considered as the classic type of capitalism in general». Engels «saw only the beginning of cartels and trusts».

Bukharin says, correctly, that Marx could not know the «new phase of capitalist evolution» or the new phenomena that «all refer to financial capital and its imperialist policy». But he does not explain why the new phase has to be seen as the «reorganisation of the relations of production within capitalism».

A new phenomenon was the world war: «the second group of issues is linked to the world war, to the disruption of capitalist relations. Whatever the intensity attributed to the disruption of capitalism and the forecasts being made about it, whatever the assessment of the current economic situation in Western Europe in particular, and whatever formula is proposed, there is no doubt at all that we are in the presence of phenomena that did not exist previously».

One way or another, the need for a Marxist theory about the world war was being proposed, a need, according to Bukharin, felt by both Lenin and himself.

Financial capital, imperialist war and state capitalism: «At the time of the founders of scientific socialism there were neither state capitalism and the phenomena linked to it, nor the phenomena of the disruption and disorganisation of the capitalist mechanism, with the other specific phenomena that accompany it both in industry and in money circulation. These phenomena pose a whole new spectrum of new and extremely interesting theoretical problems from which it is necessary to draw practical conclusions for our action. This is another order, and a very vast one, of highly significant phenomena that Marx and Engels did not know».

The third issue is the Revolution: «There is then a third series of phenomena, closely linked to the workers’ uprising in the period of the collapse of capital relations. Its emergence is due to the violent clash within the capitalist organisms, to wars, which are a particular form of competition, a form that was unknown in the epoch in which Marx and his friends lived».

Bukharin links the Revolution to the unprecedentedness of an imperialist war.

«Finally, there is still a fourth series of brand new issues linked to the epoch, or to the beginning of the epoch, regarding the supremacy of the working class».

Bukharin’s conclusion is that, if Marxism is considered not only as «a spectrum of methods», but also as «the sum of the ideas formulated through the application of these methods», Lenin’s Marxism «covers a vaster field than Marx’s Marxism».

His conclusion, however, does not solve the problem.

Chapter Two


Method and Experience

We must learn to work with concepts. Engels reminds us of this in his Anti-Dühring: «The results in which experiences are summarised are concepts: the art of working with concepts is not inborn, nor is it given with ordinary everyday consciousness, but requires real thought, and this thought similarly has a long empirical history, not more and not less than empirical natural science».

This thesis can be summarised in the formula of the necessity of theory.

The results of experiences are summed up in concepts, but without «the art of working with concepts», of connecting, selecting and comparing them, there is no theory.

Political experience, for example, does not lead to political theory, to the theory of the state, without the acquisition of the «art of working with concepts», the method and the technique of philosophy.

In a passage from the Dialectics of Nature Engels observes: «However great one’s contempt for all theoretical thought, nevertheless one cannot bring two natural facts into relation with one another, or understand the connection existing between them, without theoretical thought. The only question is whether one’s thinking is correct or not».

As can be seen, even the simple connection between two individual natural phenomena requires theoretical thought.

This is a requirement that also applies to political phenomena.

Philosophy and politics are two faces of theory.

In his famous letter of 27 October 1890, Engels introduced Conrad Schmidt to the political-philosophical theories of the greatest thinkers. By participating in the social division of labour, the people who deal with philosophy exert an «influence upon the whole development of society, even on its economic development» through «their productions». But all the same they themselves «remain under the dominating influence of economic development». «This can be most readily proved in the bourgeois period».

The first example given is Thomas Hobbes: «He was the first modern materialist (in the eighteenth century sense), but he was an absolutist in a period when absolute monarchy was at its height throughout the whole of Europe and when the fight of absolute monarchy versus the people was beginning in England».

Hobbes is followed by Locke, who published Two Treatises of Government in 1691, forty years after The Leviathan. The difference between an absolutist and an empiristic conception of the state is contained in half a century of British politics and social revolution.

Engels points this out: «Locke, both in religion and politics, was the child of the class compromise of 1688. The English deists and their more consistent successors, the French materialists, were the true philosophers of the bourgeoisie, the French even of the bourgeois revolution».

Finally Germany, where «the German petty bourgeois runs through German philosophy from Kant to Hegel, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively».

The experience of three bourgeoisies is to be found in their different philosophical and political theories.

Method and the Material of Thought

Engels establishes a specific relationship between philosophical theory and political theory: «But the philosophy of every epoch, since it is a definite sphere in the division of labour, has as its presupposition certain definite intellectual material handed down to it, from which it takes its start. And that is why economically backward countries can still play first fiddle in philosophy: France in the eighteenth century compared with England, on whose philosophy the French based themselves, and later Germany in comparison with both».

The thesis of the advantage of economically backward countries allows us to formulate a hypothesis about the evolution of the theories of the state.

Engels says: «But the philosophy of both France and Germany and the general blossoming of literature at that time were also the result of a rising economic development. I consider the ultimate supremacy of economic development established in these spheres too, but it comes to pass within conditions imposed by the particular sphere itself: in philosophy, for instance, through the operation of economic influences (which again generally only act under political, etc., disguises) upon the existing philosophic material handed down by predecessors».

The «economic influences» act in their «political disguises»: this is a guideline for an analysis that is able to identify the political shell and its content.

Engels makes an important observation: «Economy creates nothing absolutely new (a novo), but it determines the way in which the material of thought is altered and further developed, and that too for the most part indirectly, for it is the political, legal and moral reflexes which exercise the greatest direct influence upon philosophy».

As we can see, the relationship between the economic structure and the superstructure is dialectical: the structure indirectly determines the «way in which [the material of thought underlying philosophical theories] is altered and further developed».

It is politics that acts directly on philosophy. Theory (philosophical and political, vision and method) is the result of the overall dialectical relationship.

It is worth recalling a passage from Engels, a passage from a wellknown and often quoted letter*: «The further the particular sphere which we are investigating is removed from the economic sphere and approaches that of pure abstract ideology, the more shall we find it exhibiting accidents in its development, the more will its curve run in a zigzag. So also you will find that the axis of this curve will approach more and more nearly parallel to the axis of the curve of economic development the longer the period considered and the wider the field dealt with».

Indirectly, theory becomes [joined] to the axis of economic development.

* Letter to Walther Borgius, 25 January 1894.

The First Steps of the Method

Philosophy and politics take their first steps in the new era together.

The Renaissance saw the beginning of modern history and of modern scientific research, i.e. of complete, systematic, scientific development.

Engels writes in his Dialectics of Nature. «It is the epoch which had its rise in the last half of the fifteenth century. Royalty, with the support of the burghers of the towns, broke the power of the feudal nobility and established the great monarchies, based essentially on nationality, within which the modern European nations and modern bourgeois society came to development».

While the nobility and the bourgeoisie were clashing, the Peasants’ War in Germany pointed to the future class struggles, since it brought not only the rebellious peasants onto the stage. Behind them loomed «the beginnings of the modern proletariat».

Italy «rose to an undreamt-of flowering of art, which seemed like a reflection of classical antiquity and was never attained again».

In Italy, France and Germany the first modern literature arose. Shortly afterwards, England and Spain also had their periods of classical literature.

With the discovery of America, the foundations of world trade and of the transition from handicrafts to manufacturing were laid.

«The dictatorship of the Church over men’s minds was shattered ⋯». The Germanic peoples embraced Protestantism. «It was the greatest progressive revolution that mankind has so far experienced, a time which called for giants and produced giants — giants in power of thought, passion, and character, in universality and learning. The men who founded the modern rule of the bourgeoisie had anything but bourgeois limitations. On the contrary, the adventurous character of the time inspired them to a greater or less degree. There was hardly any man of importance then living who had not travelled extensively, who did not command four or five languages, who did not shine in a number of fields».

Leonardo da Vinci was a great painter, mathematician, mechanic, engineer and physicist. «Albrecht Dürer was painter, engraver, sculptor, and architect, and in addition invented a system of fortification».

Political theory was also in need of a giant and found him in Florence: «Machiavelli was statesman, historian, poet, and at the same time the first notable military author of modern times».

Engels does not measure the stature of personalities with a psychological metre but according to the social character of the epoch: «The heroes of that time had not yet come under the servitude of the division of labour, the restricting effects of which, with its production of onesidedness, we so often notice in their successors. But what is especially characteristic of them is that they almost all pursue their lives and activities in the midst of the contemporary movements, in the practical struggle; they take sides and join in the fight, one by speaking and writing, another with the sword, many with both. Hence the fullness and force of character that makes them complete men».

To work with the arm and the mind: a vision of Marxism thrown in the face of its opponents.

Method and the Ideological State

Machiavelli saw the tendency in modern history towards the consolidation of the state as an “organised force” in its national territory. But his vision is restricted, since he makes the success or the failure of the state depend on the astuteness or ineptitude of its statesmen.

We can say that politics in Machiavelli’s reflection is partly reduced to a “technique” of politics, and that this reduction prevents us from identifying the social base that determines the state and, ultimately, its particular characteristics. Taken out of this context, “political theory” does not allow us to use the mass of early-sixteenth-century Italy’s empirical observations that constitutes the scientific contribution of Machiavelli’s work. Indeed, according to George H. Sabine, the Florentine Secretary reaches opposite conclusions, i.e. that:

  1. economic, religious and moral factors are social forces that the able politician (the political expert) can use to the advantage of the state;
  2. the able politician can even create these factors in favour of the state.

We can understand Gramsci’s development of this within the framework of his theory of the “historical bloc” of the “modern Prince”. Apart from its idealistic approach that inverts determination and that Gramsci obviously could not accept, there is one aspect of Machiavelli’s theory of the state that is integrated into Gramsci’s analysis: the role of the state in the production of ideologies.

This is a largely ignored aspect of the Machiavelli-Gramsci relationship. Of course, after four centuries Gramsci could not think that ideologies are born outside “civil society”. His pre-Marxist conception lies rather in its inner link to “civil society” and in its overestimation of the “ideological” role of the state, as can be seen in the formula “coercion plus consensus equals hegemony”.

If we think that ideas are mainly produced by the so-called “ideological apparatus” of the state, we can deduce that state institutions play an absolute role in its structure and superstructure. Machiavelli’s theory of the absolutist state is therefore adopted by the theory of the totalitarian state.

But if we conceive of the ideology production process as more complex, more than that of the alleged totalitarian “ideological state”, we need to place this process within the classes and class fractions connected to the overall capital process, to the process of production and of the surplus value share-out.

The state cannot embrace the whole process, also because it reflects all its contradictions.

There will therefore be “particular” class fraction ideologies — produced by these fractions themselves — that will affect the state since they are ideologies for taking over the state institutions, increasing their own influence, and giving rise to a favourable combination of forces within the state.

The clash of the ruling class fractions can become a struggle to use the state as a populariser of ideologies, which, for that matter, is the fundamental ideological role that it plays: a populariser, therefore, more than a producer. This is also true when it spreads the unitary ideology, the ideology that keeps the fractions of the ruling class united, both internally in the conservation of social relations and externally in the share-out of the world market.

The state, a populariser of ideas that justify its existence vis-à-vis the social classes and their fractions, and that motivates its position and action in the international state system, a system of balance and clash.

Ideas are produced by the society that produces the state.

Method and Transformation of the Political Form

Market development at the end of the fifteenth century, when Machiavelli founded the series of modern theories of the state, poses the problem of the transformation of the old medieval state forms.

Economically and politically, medieval society was a mainly local society in which trade took place via flows of controlled commodities and in monopolised markets.

This kind of trade could be regulated by the guilds and took place within the framework of municipal institutions, since the commercial body was constituted by the towns and had limited freedom of movement.

The state took on the form of a federation and did not succeed in controlling a vast territory, given also the scarcity of means of communication.

When means of communication spread, the monopolised commercial system plunged into a crisis, since it no longer offered any advantages. On the other hand, the merchants benefited, since they could exploit all the markets, control all the production, and overcome the powers of the guilds and urban institutions. The state gained the possibility of regulating, protecting and encouraging trade, both at home and abroad, a possibility that the single towns came to lack.

In the sixteenth century the states implemented a commercial policy that increased their national power via duties and taxes that they could obtain more copiously and more easily from the commercial middle class than they could from the towns, with which they were in perennial fiscal conflict, and from the countryside, in which the nobility and clergy were often exempt from taxation.

On the other hand, a strong state was in the commercial middle class’s interest, and it became the natural ally of the monarchy against the towns and the nobility. It was in its interest that the old feudal form of the monarchical state should be superseded and, since it could not yet control parliament, which was influenced by the nobility, it let the state subordinate it.

State centralisation, whether legislative and judiciary or military, also benefited the commercial middle class, in view of its interest in preventing the nobility from fostering and financing bands of mercenaries.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century the absolute monarchy was becoming the prevalent state form. It imposed itself with brute force.

In the theoretical field this meant the end of the feudal “constitutional” theory of the state and the mothballing of the state theory of the free towns. The new state theory was dynastic “legitimism”. It became the most widespread theory until it was overthrown by the bourgeois theory of nationalism.

In the social field the development of the absolutist state led to the transformation of part of the agrarian rent into a tax.

The Church witnessed the expropriation of its rich “monasteries”, and the state tended to shift the old power relations established with its ally to its own benefit. As a result, the clergy was submitted to state control and saw its legal power limited. From an ally of the state the Church was demoted to being a collaborator. From universal Church it tended to dwindle to national Church.

With the union of the two kingdoms of Castile and Aragon Spain became the greatest sixteenth century power.

With the end of the Wars of the Roses and the reign of Henry Ⅶ, England was ruled by the absolute Tudor monarchy. This lasted until the reign of Elizabeth Ⅰ. The state encouraged maritime policy; and the mercantile bourgeoisie found itself strengthened at the very moment when parliament, influenced by the nobility, was declining.

The effect of the advent of new classes, of new states and of new powers on philosophical and political theories was strong and destined to last.

Method and Cosmopolitanism

Machiavelli’s society prepared modern history.

In Germany the weakness of the Empire favoured the local interests of the nobility. The absolutist state emerged only in Prussia and Austria, while France became the most fertile soil for the new state form.

It was above all the local institutions that were weakened by the Hundred Years’ War. But in the second half of the fifteenth century France became the most united nation in Europe, since all its military forces were united under the state, which imposed a national tax to pay for its army. The creation of a Citizens’ Army led to the subjection of Brittany and Burgundy. Having lost control over taxes, the local institutions lost the possibility of influencing and holding the state to ransom.

It is important to note this aspect if we wish to connect economic theory (and especially public finance) with military and political theory. Via fiscal power, the state acquired military power.

In Italy, the development of the Communes and of the commercial and industrial middle classes had not succeeded, in the previous period, in creating a central state capable of fielding a citizen military force, whether army or militia, and able, meanwhile, to devise a foreign policy against the emerging powers in Europe.

Not even the north of the peninsula was successful in developing a state capable of playing a major role in a historic formative phase of the continent’s great states.

Searching for the causes of this incapacity has long presented a persistent problem in the history of capitalism, a problem that has never been finally and substantially resolved.

Those who have insisted on the lack of a domestic market, given the separation of the towns from the countryside, and on the prevalence of a foreign market, have not considered the fact that the French market was not much different. But, and moreover, they forget that at issue was the incapacity to establish an absolutist, and not a bourgeois, state: two kinds of state that are not to be confused.

Gramsci adds, among the other causes, the cosmopolitanism of Italy’s markets, a cosmopolitanism that created an atmosphere suited to the behaviour of intellectuals who lacked that national ideology that could conceive of a unitary state.

At this point we can, instead, say that what should be called “absolutist” ideology is vastly different from what we have defined as “national” ideology, even if a number of the ideas in the latter find inspiration in the former. Moreover, many of the French merchants were cosmopolitan, so this was not the feature that clearly distinguished them from the Italian merchants.

The theory of “consensus”, of the role of culture and of intellectuals, and of the role of the “ideological-political” superstructure in building a state led Gramsci to seek the causes of Italy’s incapacity in both “economic” (the lack of a domestic market) and “cultural” terms (the intellectuals’ cosmopolitanism). He overestimated trade and culture and underestimated politics, neglecting the role of “force”, of “coercive” force and not “abstract” force.

Favouring the “consensus” category, believing it to be suited to grasping the historical course of the political process, Gramsci neglected the “force” category in his analysis of the formation of the Renaissance absolutist state. And yet Marx and Engels had repeatedly mentioned it, and precisely with reference to that period of European history. One need only think of Engels’ theory on “violence”, a theory that Gramsci explicitly does not contest.

The problem of the causes should therefore be linked to the causes of the lack of “determination” of the force required to build the absolutist state in Italy, i.e. the lack of “determination” of the military power of the state.

In short, the problem was that of the non-unification of fiscal power such as to create a military power as a technical apparatus and an organisation, and not only as a culture.

Here we have the dialectical interweaving of political and economic problems in a historical research still to be carried out and completed.

Method and Taxes

In this case, historical research is no longer generic research into the market or cultural research into the ideology of cosmopolitan intellectuals, but concrete research into inland revenue and taxes.

Obviously, the reduction of the historical problem to a problem of taxes is also an operation based on an abstraction, but on a necessary abstraction since it is the only one that can permit us to analyse the economic and political aspects of the matter in a concrete way.

Only by taking this approach would it be possible to reconstruct that “combined action” that determined the non-formation of an absolutist state in Italy and to decipher the deep mechanism of one of the historic cases of political science and philosophy.

The struggle over taxes turned into an economic and political clash among the classes and class fractions in the reality of an age of transition.

The thesis that assigns a decisive role to the policy of the Papacy in the formation of the European powers and, consequently, in Italy’s failure to become a power, is one-sided.

In essence, Gramsci, too, partially picks up the thesis present, though left unfinished, in Machiavelli’s thought, and this prevents him from placing the action of the Papacy in a more correct vision of the “combined action” of factors.

In view of this limitation, the Machiavelli-Gramsci theory does not resolve the question that it poses, i.e. the question of the evaluation of the forces in the field.

The Papacy was strong enough to be able to negotiate its income and therefore to influence the quantity and quality of the taxes needed for its military power and centralisation. But this capacity did not constitute a determining force in the process of the formation of the absolutist state, however much cultural movements may play an important role in it.

There still remains the task of analysing the general framework of all the factors that historically determined that “combined action” that saw the Papacy act as a contrasting force to the formation of an absolutist state in Italy, in conjunction with the formation of centralistic states in France and Spain.

Finally, there remains the hypothesis, put forward in recent decades, of the so-called “colonial surplus”.

If this hypothesis is tenuous in the case of capitalist development and the bourgeois state, it is even more so when it deals with the absolutist state. In the Iberian peninsula itself the formation of absolutist states preceded the “colonial surplus” and was preceded, if anything, by a trade profit.

It is impossible to try to resolve a problem of historical research into socio-economic formation by having recourse to a generic category such as “surplus”.

Of the five states (Naples, Florence, Venice, Milan, and the Papal State), none had a “unifying force”. The Papacy tended to act as an arbitrator or, at least in part, to implement a “balancing” policy.

Machiavelli held it responsible for Italy’s failed unification, since it was too weak to implement it and too strong to prevent it, and above all because it encouraged the intervention of foreign powers.

The Florentine thinker would have to explain why the Papacy was weak. The times in which he lived did not allow him to go beyond the conviction that a society decays because it lacks virtue.

Method and Virtue

Machiavelli’s philosophy and political theory attach great importance to virtue.

Society lacks virtue because human nature is selfish and basically aggressive, since it tends towards the acquisition of goods and power. There is no limit to this human desire, whereas goods and power are limited by their natural scarcity. The fact that humans are always in conflict and competition derives from this contradiction.

In Machiavelli’s thought, philosophical reflection on human nature becomes political reflection, i.e. reflection on the permanent struggle among humans.

Competition among humans threatens chaos. Only the force in the hands of the law, i.e. the state, can prevent this.

The state has to be “wise”, i.e. it has to act on the basis of its knowledge of human nature: it has to make “property” and “life” safe if it is to win the consensus of those it governs. It can kill, but not plunder.

This rule of political conduct can be linked to the general observation about natural scarcity. A predatory state would worsen the situation instead of resolving it.

It is no coincidence that Machiavelli thought that it is the weakness and inadequacy of each individual that creates the need for a state to protect him or her.

The law of the state forms the “character” or “virtue” of its people, since morality and virtue derive from the law.

As only a genius could do, the Florentine thinker thus opened the way for political science: it is politics that creates morality, and not morality that creates politics. In other words: politics must not be a slave to religion, the state must not be subordinated to the Church, and politics is not a tool of morality.

The primacy of politics overthrows the primacy of religion, and overturns the hierarchy of the institutions, with the state on top, and the Church below.

The primacy of politics opened the way for political science since it cleared the ground for the future fierce clash over the political economic relationship, a clash that would absorb generations of combatants on the theoretical and political fronts of the three classes.

To Machiavelli’s way of thinking, the purpose of the state is to develop the morality of society.

The legislator is the creator not only of the state but of the whole of society. However, the criterion for judging a state is not to be found in morality but in efficiency, in its success. To be successful the state can, indeed must, use every means, since they are justified by their end.

The formula of the end justifying the means has become famous thanks to the criticism of all the currents that opposed the Florentine thinker but, taken out of the context of the organic theory that incorporates it, it is little more than a quip. There was no need for Niccolò Machiavelli to synthesise an idea that has always inspired political practice, and that the Church itself admits, making itself the end.

The crux of Machiavelli’s theory is not the end-means relationship, but rather that of politics-morality, and it is precisely on the latter that, having won against the Church, he succumbs to economics.

Method would still have to go through centuries of evolution before the issue could stand on its own two feet and discover that primacy of economics that would finally allow the laying of the foundations of political science.

Much of Machiavelli’s work is devoted, instead, to explaining the use of “wisdom” on the part of the state.

The author establishes a number of rules that are really nothing but empirical generalisations taken from the diplomatic world (astuteness, deception, trickery, etc.) elevated, arbitrarily, to pure politics.

The rules of political action are inspired by a philosophical vision that sees humans as selfish by nature and a state that, with its laws, is the only power that holds society together and obliges the individual to behave morally.

This explains the dual behaviour of society (moral) and of the state (amoral). And since it is obliged to use amorality, the state must use it wisely. The first act of wisdom may be considered that of regulating amorality, i.e. of establishing the rules of political action.

We again find ourselves faced with an idea of ideological state.

To make society moral, the state has to be amoral.

The amoral political state is, at one and the same time, the moral ideological state. This well-known formula assumes a clearer profile.

Chapter Three


Method and Moralism

Machiavelli limited himself to describing the «mechanism» of government and the political and military tools that reinforce the state.

His concept can be summed up in a few points.

  1. The unification ofltaly via that «Prince» (State) that is stronger than the others and that opposes the Vatican (on this point the Florentine’s «national conception» clearly refers to the French example).
  2. To emerge and impose his authority the «Prince» (State) has to abolish the unreliable bands of mercenaries and create a national army.
  3. The Italian State, established through force, will have to adopt every means to impose «moral reform» on society via the law.
  4. Once society is no longer «corrupt», the problem of establishment of the state will no longer be posed, but that of its conservation. This is possible only through the law, i.e. through its citizens’ consensus.
  5. The social force that can establish a state of this kind is not the nobility, which has become a source of corruption, but the «Prince» together with the citizens, i.e. together with the bourgeoisie.

Given their empiricism and moralising matrix, in which the ideal state is based on the Greek city-state and the Roman Republic, the political rules established by Machiavelli cannot be recognised as scientific criteria.

The thinker is disgusted by the «corruption» of sixteenth-century Italy. This is the contradiction of his political theory.

Political analysis becomes science when it manages to discover objective reality. It does this when it succeeds in moving beyond moral judgement, since reality must be recognised for what it is and not for what it ought to be according to personal feelings.

Every young class and every new movement inevitably suffer from moralising infantilism, and often, as occurs with the Workers’ Movement, this infantilism drags on over the centuries like a lay man’s curse. Moralising infantilism contributes to delaying the mas tery and assimilation of science.

By establishing the primacy of politics over morals Machiavelli opened the way for science, but then he immediately fell back into moralism and slowed down the continuation of the process he had begun.

The sixteenth century has been defined as the «century of radical changes» in world history, a century that was characterised by the presence of different levels of development. The most favourable conditions for capitalist development were to be found in Western Europe, thanks to its proximity to the commercial shipping routes and its remoteness from the regular invasions from Asia.

Its distance from these allowed the West European area to preserve its productive forces from the destruction of the invaders and to favour the acceleration of its times of production, also via its access to the riches plundered in America, Asia and Africa.

Its land-territory worked in Western Europe’s favour and its seaterritory placed it in a position of superiority. Land invasions were a backward form in comparison with the sea invasions that the European fleets carried out in that Asia that was so threatening in the East.

The dialectic of qualitatively different territories became, at the same time, the dialectic of non-equivalent historical times.

The first capitalist forms within feudal society appeared with both decentralised and centralised manufacturing. The productive forces developed in the crafts, agriculture and commerce, leading to the development of science and techniques, the real frameworks of civil society in which the philosophy of politics and the politics of philosophy took shape.

The military question leapt forward within a few decades.

Thanks to progress in metallurgy the use of gunpowder for cannons and small arms began.

In the sixteenth century, the firearm led to a radical change in strategy: the cuirasses of the cavalry became vulnerable, artillery could destroy previously impregnable fortresses, and artillery and the infantry slowly replaced heavy cavalry.

The territorial space of a continent and the long time of a war that lasted into the next century had been incubated.

Method and the New Culture

The division of labour in craftwork is linked to the technical development of the textile industry and of mining, followed by that of metalwork.

The development of the productive forces was made possible by “primitive accumulation”, i.e. by the expropriation of the direct producers of the countryside and the towns and their formation into free labour, and was favoured by the accumulation of big capital in private hands.

In England this process occurred in its classic, complete form.

The peasants were expropriated, eliminated as a class, and forcibly pushed by special laws into manufacturing, into which flowed the capital in private hands coming from the spoliation of populations through trade and acts of piracy.

In other countries the process assumed less precise forms and gave rise to exceptional social complexity, since, in the manufacturing period, capitalism was not yet the main mode of production. The old classes of feudal lords, peasants and craftsmen continued to exist, and were quantitatively prevalent. The political superstructure, the feudal state, therefore survived.

The consequence of the geographical discoveries and of the formation of the first elements of the world market, as well as the regular links that were established among the various parts of the world, marked the beginning of a new historical phase, a phase that lasted one and a half centuries, from the discovery of America until the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648.

The midwives of modern history were guns and books.

Since new classes (capitalist owners of the means of production and wage-earning workers) had sprung up, the new historical phase would constitute a period of particular intensification and complexity of the class struggles that was reflected in the huge leap forward in philosophical and political thought.

As has seldom occurred in history, the problem of power and of the state, which had become a practical problem, became the focal point of theory.

The curtain went up on the first act in Germany, with the Peasants’ War and the Protestant Reformation. Capitalist production, still in its infancy, and the country’s internal economic and political divisions made it impossible to develop the country’s structure. The attempted revolution was defeated by an obstacle that the bourgeois revolutions in England and in France would not come up against, since they would take place under the political unity of the absolutist state.

On the other hand, the capitalistically more advanced Low Countries saw the victory of their bourgeois revolution. This took place in the form of a national struggle for liberation from feudal Spain that was preventing its development. The culture and ideology suitable to revolutionary change adjusted precisely to socio-economic development.

The cultural transformations expressed themselves through the ideology of Renaissance Humanism and the Protestant religious ideology of the Reformation. Criticism of medieval Catholicism inspired culture. This divided into various currents of the feudal, bourgeois and popular strata, and directed the struggle against the Papacy, a struggle that boosted the independence of the young European States.

These movements would supply the ideological-religious shell for the first bourgeois revolutions, which could thus speak the language of the masses and provide traditional values with a new socio-economic content.

But it was in natural science, necessary to the technological development of the productive forces, that the deepest break with theology occurred.

Method and Natural Science

The break with the dominant theological ideology occurred in astronomy, geography, medicine and, in general, in the sciences regarding nature, specifically in the field of its technical-productive transformation.

In the other fields the shell remained religious, i.e. still dominated by the theology that some were attempting to reform. Generally speaking, the science-ideology relationship is complex. This was even more the case in the period we are examining. For this reason too, it cannot be viewed in isolation, but as a period determined by the evolution of social relations.

Theology was attacked precisely by those social forces that saw it as an obstacle to economic development. Subsequently, this fact would have major repercussions for the formation of the philosophical and political currents. A link with the political forms of the “nation” can be seen.

The medieval “nationalities”, with their common territories, languages and cultures, formed the potential base for the bourgeois “nation”, to which was added economic commonality, or a national market.

A superstructural process that would lead to the absolutist state, a process characteristic of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, corresponded to the structural process of the formation of national markets. The ruling class of the old feudal society was forced to adapt itself to the new processes of development, and consequently created a new form of feudal monarchy that replaced the representative monarchy founded on the “estates” of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Hence, the absolute monarchy emerged as the highest form of centralisation of the feudal state, the political form that embraced both the legislative and the executive power.

In Moralising Criticism and Critical Morality, Marx writes: «Absolute monarchy appears in those transitional periods when the old feudal estates are in decline and the medieval estate of burghers is evolving into the modern bourgeois class, without one of the contending parties having as yet finally disposed of the other».

Marx’s thesis on none of the factions getting the upper hand is important because it explains not only the new absolutist political form, but also the centralistic nature of how it was exercised.

The new executive political power was indubitably the expression of a balance between classes and factions, as is sometimes recalled in the case of Bonapartism. What remains to be done is to deepen the research into the various kinds of balance and their inevitable centralistic dynamic.

At the end of the fifteenth century, after the Wars of the Roses, England was united under the Tudors. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the new state would struggle, first against Spain and then against Holland, to establish trade routes.

In France, the struggle occurred internally to consolidate the state, and externally to oppose the Hapsburgs’ imperialist plans based on Spain, Austria and Germany. France allied itself with Turkey in this struggle and favoured the division of Germany into many small states.

Spain reached the height of its power in the mid-sixteenth century, thanks to its colonial possessions, after which it began to decline and the Low Countries broke away.

In Italy too, after a number of cities had been the cradles of capitalist development in the previous two centuries, rapid decline and marked fragmentation began mid-century.

Method and Territorial Expansion

Manoeuvring between the nobility and the bourgeoisie (which was without rights), the executive power of the absolutist state was able to achieve apparent and relative independence; encouraging the contrasts between the nobility, the clergy and the bourgeoisie in the representative institutions in the legislative power, it immobilised them.

But the absolutist state played a progressive historical role since:

  1. it unified large territories;
  2. it ensured order and favoured trade;
  3. it thus created favourable conditions for capitalist development;
  4. it encouraged the bourgeoisie, because the development of industry and commerce ensured a growing tax yield;
  5. it therefore granted loans to entrepreneurs, applied customs duties, and fought trade wars abroad.

In his previously mentioned work, Marx says that the absolute monarchy saw the protection of trade and industry as an indispensable condition for its own greatness and power as a nation.

But this condition for the greatness of the absolutist state was also the condition for reinforcing the bourgeoisie, intent on eliminating every obstacle to its economic development.

In western and south-western Germany, through which passed the trade routes from the Mediterranean to the North at the beginning of the sixteenth century, towns had grown rapidly and capitalist relations had developed. But, after the repression of the Peasants’ War and subsequent to the shifting of trade flows to the Atlantic, economic development halted in those German areas too.

The effects on philosophical and political thought, as well as on the state forms themselves, were immediately felt. The Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, a kind of representative monarchy, belonged to the Archdukes of Austria (Hapsburgs), who, in alliance with the Papacy, wanted to strengthen their sovereignty over the Empire, to further extend it, and to oppose the formation of nation-states.

This policy was implemented energetically by Charles Ⅴ (1519–1556), under whom Spain and all its colonies were included in the Empire.

But even after the disintegration of Charles Ⅴ’s monarchy, the Hapsburg policy remained that of attempting to assert its sovereignty and to block the formation of nation-states.

The decline of Spain and Italy in the South, with the consequent disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire and the weakening of the Papacy, contributed to the rise of the North.

As early as the mid-sixteenth century Sweden was the strongest state in the North, after supplanting the presence of Denmark through a series of wars. The Baltic, with its trade, became a “Swedish sea”.

The Russian State, which was also on the rise, did not want to be excluded from the control of the Baltic. In the fifteenth century, Turkey had subdued the Balkans and threatened central and southeastern Europe. Bohemia and Hungary, defeated by Turkey in 1526, had ended up under Austria, which thus became a plurinational anti-Turkish state. Russia therefore found one line of expansion towards central and south-eastern Europe — blocked. In the North, Poland opposed Russia’s expansion into the Baltic area and Sweden was gearing up for armed conflict.

Russia would therefore expand eastwards as far as the Pacific, annexing many ethnic groups and nationalities. The Asian route would largely be the result of the resistance that Russia met with in three directions.

To establish its presence in Ukraine and Belarus it was obliged to clash with Poland and Lithuania; to get a glimpse of the Baltic it had to confront Sweden; and to dip its toes in the Black Sea it had to sort things out with Turkey.

Pressed on all sides, the state in the Slav area assumed autocratic forms.

Practical Experience and Modern Science

In the 16th century the development of technical tools accentuated the social division of labour. The increase in productivity led to an increase in the surplus product and therefore in the revenue of the ruling classes and of the state. In its turn, this led to a further social division of labour. Mining, metallurgical, textile and manufacturing activities in general became independent from agriculture and brought about changes in the countryside, where there was an increase in the produce and livestock destined for exchange with industrial products.

This trade between agricultural produce and industrial manufactures expanded the towns as a whole, and some in particular, while others, such as Florence, declined as wool centres. The disintegration process of small-scale production began. The technological perfecting of the means of production required sums of money that the small producer did not have. Therefore, in order to purchase the new machines, the craftsman had to borrow precisely from the goods and money dealer to whom he delivered his products. With the introduction of the new machinery, such industrial sectors as mining and metallurgy could not be run by small producers. The productive process assumed an increasingly social nature and became so complex and articulated that the single sectors found themselves in trade relations that went beyond the local market and that therefore required long-distance transport.

The merchants became the means by which such trade was possible and which led to large-scale production and competitive big business, i.e. to large-scale concentrated manufacturing. “Primitive accumulation” was born and big capital was formed.

The new techniques spread to transport, and to navigation in particular, as well as to agriculture, where deforestation and land reclamation, facilitated by the evolution of tools provided by metallurgy, increased the cultivable area and made the transition from biennial crop rotation to triennial and even quadrennial possible in such countries as Holland and England.

Progress in navigation was marked first of all by the compass and the sextant and then by more manoeuvrable and mobile ships, such as the caravels.

As the water wheel was perfected it came to play a primary role, since it no longer needed big rivers and could be driven by artificial water channels. It led to the improvement of spinning in textile manufacturing and to the use of more complex devices in mining.

The water wheel was also used to blow the bellows in metal melting furnaces, thus raising the temperature, and for heavy hammers in iron working. The first machine tools required for the transformation of iron into strips and wire also developed thanks to the driving power of water. The creation of the drill was linked to the growth in artillery and to the perfecting of precision mechanics, partly deriving from the production of the wind-up clock.

In the one and a half centuries since the consolidation of the big modern states, the development of the productive forces and of the capitalist relations of production required a leap forward in science.

The massive use of mechanisms in manufacturing and of firearms in the military sphere provided practical elements for scientific research into mechanics and for the solution of mathematical problems. For example, the practical requirements of artillery required the definition of the trajectory, postulating the formulation of the laws on the fall and motion of bodies.

The creation of hydro-technical tools required research into the hydro-dynamic laws, and the increase in maritime transport demanded astronomical methods that could calculate the longitude.

The use of lenses led to the study of the phenomena of light refraction, and the knowledge of chemistry increased with the development of metallurgy and dyeing. Practical experience made science necessary.

Method and the Cosmos

What determined technological progress in turn allowed it. The microscope and the telescope, the thermometer, the hygrometer, and the mercury barometer, i.e. “machines” that are not directly at the service of production but of science, were invented.

These instruments themselves contributed to the struggle to free science from theological scholasticism, since they allowed people to see what had not previously been seen, i.e. an unknown objective reality.

As Engels explains in his Introduction to Dialectics of Nature, the first sector of natural science in which the new scientific spirit was expressed and the greatest discoveries were made was astronomy.

Copernicus (1473–1543) attacked the geocentric (Aristotle-Ptolemy) theory corresponding to the Christian ideology that the Earth was the centre of “the universe”. Any criticism of the geocentric theory meant attacking the Church and its official theological doctrine.

In 1507 Copernicus demonstrated the correctness of the heliocentric theory, according to which the planets revolve around the sun. But only in 1543, on the very day of his death, was his book On the Revolutions ofthe Heavenly Bodies published. Right until the very end its author could not decide to take the field openly.

The importance of the heliocentric theory was overwhelming, so much so that Luther and the Protestants attacked it immediately, closely followed by the Catholic Church.

Its first victim was Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) who was born five years after Copernicus’ death and who lived in the second half of the sixteenth century before being burned at the stake.

Giordano Bruno developed Copernicus’ theory, arguing that the world is infinite, with a multitude of heavenly bodies consisting of a single material substance. He stated that the Sun is only one of many stars and that it is only one of many heavenly bodies, similar to others.

The great minds that tackled the Universe were concentrated in the last part of the sixteenth century and the first of the seventeenth.

Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) was just sixteen years younger than Giordano Bruno, and the German Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) twenty-three.

The Italian physicist and astronomer confirmed Copernicus’ theory (declared heretical in 1616), with the telescope that he himself had made. Using the laws of mechanics that he himself had formulated, he refuted Ptolemy’s theory about the Earth’s immobility once and for all. In 1633 the Inquisition forced him to recant.

Kepler, obliged to roam from town to town as a result of persecution on the part of Catholics, perfected Copernicus and demonstrated that the planets move in ellipses and not in a circular motion.

Galileo and Kepler’s work laid the groundwork for Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687) that defined the basic laws of mechanics and the universal law of gravitation.

Method and Defensive Political Skill

Some notes handwritten by Engels on the history of Germany are of particular theoretical interest.

The author deals with the period from 1500 to 1648 and writes:

«Germany was disintegrating more and more: its centre was extremely weak in the late 15 century, while France and England were more or less centralised and already formed nations. As they were busy colonising foreign territories, the German princes, and the Emperor who increasingly followed in their wake, were not threatened by a foreign invasion in the very heart of Germany, so that the need for national unity was felt less than in France (that had to defend itself and unite against the English during the Hundred Years’ War, in which the gentry, opposed to centralisation, was decimated), Spain (that had just been reconquered and freed from the Moors), Russia (which had expelled the Tartars), and England (expelled from France and engaged in the Wars of the Roses, during which its feudal nobility was decimated)».

Pressure for national unity is found in the threat of foreign invasion. National unity arose as a need for defence, both in France and in England.

Germany was engaged in the colonisation of foreign territories and felt less need for defence. Contrary to Engels, in expounding the state system the colonisation of territories, i.e. a historical phenomenon that has accompanied the formation of its institutions, is taken little into account.

The author writes: «In Europe there was the Renaissance, namely the general decadence of feudalism and the rise of the towns, under the dominion of the absolute monarchy, which developed the future domestic market and created a state industry; in other words, it developed the future bourgeois nation through the political violence concentrated in the state».

Renaissance Europe was the Europe of the absolute monarchy that concentrated political violence, previously decentralised in the feudal powers, in the state. By concentrating political violence, absolutism developed the «future bourgeois nation» and paved the way for the new state.

Engels says that Germany was at the level of the other European countries.

His assessment is of particular significance since it destroys any concept of the alleged gradual evolution of economics and the state, an evolution that, for historical materialism, proceeds, on the con trary, by breaks, catastrophes and leaps.

The argument that the absolutist state in Germany was formed only when economic development allowed it loses all value.

Engels writes: «Germany remained more or less at the same level as the other West European countries, but the power of the Emperor, squandered abroad, failed at home, so feudal decomposition and the rise of the towns had a decentralising effect, against which the absolute monarchy knew how to react everywhere else, maintaining national unity against the centrifugal trends of society».

In spite of economic development at the level of the other European countries, Germany did not centralise political violence in an absolutist state. It was not the development of production that was lacking, as a mechanistic determinism rich in presumption and poor in historical knowledge often decrees.

It was feudal decomposition that caused decentralisation in the absence of political action on the part of a monarchy that had no urgent need for defence.

Engels reiterates his argument: «The factor of the political violence of the centralising monarchy was therefore lacking in Germany, which could have been more easily unified than any other country, if the dignity of the Holy Roman Emperor (and his claim to world domination that made him believe he was Rome’s successor) had not prevented the formation of a German nation-state, and if he had not thrown away his forces in the Italian expeditions (in which Austria would throw away its forces to date)».

Germany lacked the centralisation of political violence, it lacked a national ideology. It was captive to the Emperor’s feudal ideology.

«In these conditions, the Emperor continued to be eligible for election (like the first Frankish kings!). This prevented the nation from blending with a dynasty: in the 15 century in particular, dynasties changed at decisive moments, as soon as the princes felt themselves threatened».

Ultimately, the political form of the Empire prevented the concentration of political violence. The democracy of the nobles held back the absolutism of the bourgeoisie!

Liberal and democratic prejudices fail to grasp the depth of Engels’ analysis: «In France, even in this period, we find economic fragmentation, a characteristic of feudalism, but it was overcome by force, thanks to the political skill demonstrated by both the absolute monarchy and the bourgeoisie and proletariat, under the influence of the French social environment».

Hence, «economic fragmentation» was not the basic obstacle.

It was political skill in using the force capable of overcoming this condition that was lacking.

Engels’ method allowed the definition of the problem of «political skill», i.e. of a subjective factor par excellence, within the scientific framework of the historical analysis of the formation of the absolutist state.

Chapter Four


Method and Contradictory Development

According to Marx, «the model capitalist nation of the 17 century is Holland», the country where capitalism won its first lasting victory over feudalism.

The decisive blow would be given by the English Revolution and would open up the possibility of general capitalist development.

It is impossible to understand the historical process of capitalist development without taking into account the factors involved in changing the general environment in which the social species evolve.

Only when the factors are linked in a favourable combination does general capitalist development become possible.

We can say that the particular evolution of the state system becomes the expression of a favourable combination. The sixteenth and seventeenth century wars marked precisely the advent of a situation conducive to capitalist development in the world.

The wars between the declining and the rising powers hastened, hothouse fashion, the advent of the bourgeoisie.

Even in Holland and England the bourgeoisie was obliged to share power with the landed gentry, to whom it left the senior military, diplomatic and administrative posts. In the same period, autocracy grew stronger in Russia, resulting in a Russian variant of the feudal absolutist state, the definition of which, however, has been the subject of heated debate for about a century.

What interests us here is to stress that the primitive accumulation of capital did not occur in every country in England’s classic forms, and that uneven development was long-lasting.

Engels speaks of «second-edition serfdom», present in northeastern Germany and in some areas of the Hapsburg Empire, the Baltic, Poland and Russia. The growing demand for agricultural produce from Western Europe, in the process of industrialisation, was directed towards Central and Eastern Europe.

The change in the general environment caused an evolution of the social institutions that was as differentiated as the evolution of biological organisms.

We have seen that the sixteenth century colonial expansion of the German princes deprived Germany of the need for a centralistic state that would be able to defend it.

Capital accumulation in the West European seventeenth century modified the environment and strengthened the landowners in Eastern Europe, since they found an outlet for their agricultural produce in a world market created by the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie.

The spread of capitalism in the world is not a linear process.

Indeed the seventeenth century demonstrates that, in the short term, the development of the bourgeoisie in the west of Europe reinforced the aristocracy in the east; while in the long term, the balance of this evolution showed a different result.

«Second-edition serfdom», which even used legal means to force the peasants to work on the land for feudal masters, slowed down the separation of the rural population from the means of production.

In England, the bourgeoisie, supported by the farmers, tried to do away with the feudal absolutist state that was slowing down economic development.

In the North American colonies, revolution, led by local bourgeois and supported by free peasant-farmers, turned into a war of liberation from the English.

In Russia, instead, the peasant revolts, first led by Stenka Razin and then by Emelian Pugachev, were directed against the nobility, but were in thrall to an ideology that would end up reinforcing the autocratic state under the illusion that the Tsar would be able to influence the Lords of the “dead souls”.

Thanks to their being absolutist states, three “great nations” were strengthened: Russia, England and France. But their common political form had a different socio-economic content, a content that held a different historical outcome in store.

The bourgeois revolution would break out in France a century and a halflater than in England; and after another 1 30 years it would break out in Russia.

Method and Agricultural Development

As Marx and Engels were to write two centuries later, an old feudal and corporative organisation that could no longer meet the growing demand and the new markets survived in England into the first half of the seventeenth century.

In 1651 the mining industry, with 3 million tons of coal a year, accounted for 80 % of all the fossil fuels extracted in Europe. Since 1551 coal production had risen by 14 times and the extraction of iron ore by 3. There were 8,000 furnaces with an average weekly production of 3–4 tons of metal.

It was forbidden to export wool, but not wool products.

The so-called «merchant adventurers», who supplanted their foreign counterparts — such as those of the Hanseatic League sprang up. At the beginning of the century, the East India Company was founded with 9,500 shareholders. In only forty years it doubled its trade turnover and tripled customs revenue.

The half-century balance was anything but negative. Qualitatively, however, it was less so. The old feudal organisation hindered the development of the relations of production and increased England’s delay with respect to Holland as regards industry and the fleet.

In 1600 as much as one-third of English trade was carried by foreign vessels. A specific feature of capitalist development emerged in the island, a feature that was reflected in politics, in its forms and rhythms.

Four of the country’s five and a half million inhabitants lived in rural areas, and of the towns only London had 200,000 residents.

Capitalist development in agriculture was by no means inferior to that of industry, indeed it surpassed it.

Agriculture had long been connected to the market and was therefore the object of capital investment, even before industry.

The primitive accumulation of capital had been going on in the countryside in a consistent manner for half a century.

As early as the beginning of the seventeenth century, in view of the separation of the producers from the means of production, the productive forces in the countryside — forage crops, land reclamation, agricultural implements, and improvements in general — developed very rapidly.

A special feature in the class alignment corresponded to the English characteristic of industrial delay with respect to capitalism in agriculture.

If we take the French subdivision into the famous “three estates” (the clergy, the nobility, and commoners) as valid for English society too, we find a greater fluctuation in the island, where the passage from one “estate” to another occurred more easily.

The younger sons of the Peers of the Realm were formally part of the lower nobility, or gentry, and became noble-entrepreneurs, equivalent to the bourgeois. And in the bourgeoisie, many people, after acquiring titles of nobility, still continued their capitalist activity.

It is important to bear in mind the division of the nobility into two social types destined to clash in the revolution. The new nobility, whose representatives were known as gentlemen, was tied to profit and used its estates for capitalist profit. Its income exceeded that of the Peers, Bishops and affluent Yeomen as a whole.

From 1561 to 1640 Crown estates diminished by 75 and those of the Peers by 50%, while those of the gentlemen increased by 20 %. The new nobility was becoming a bourgeois fraction and tended to transform its land into bourgeois property free from feudal ties.

The old nobility and the absolutist state that was influenced by it opposed this attempt. This led to a revolutionary crisis and to the two agricultural programmes of the English Revolution: that of the gentlemen and that of the farmers who wanted to transform the traditional copyhold into freehold.

The revolutionary crisis developed within the nobility itself, but became irresistible when the spotlight turned on its other protagonists: the bourgeoisie and the masses.

Philosophy and State Theories

Alongside the new nobility-turned-bourgeois we find the bourgeoisie and the masses, in all their stratifications.

The higher stratum of the bourgeoisie was made up of:

  1. the hundreds of businessmen of the City of London tied to the trade and industrial protectionism of the absolutist state;
  2. the contractors and financiers of the Crown;
  3. the creditors of the old nobility;
  4. the stakeholders of the monopolised Trading Companies.

The middle stratum of the bourgeoisie included:

  1. middling merchants;
  2. the elite of the Guild master craftsmen.

This stratum rejected the dictates of the absolutist state, but its political behaviour was hesitant because it enjoyed certain privileges.

And finally, the stratum of the non-guild entrepreneurs, those of centralised and decentralised manufacturing, the most hostile to the system.

The masses had no political rights and were not represented in parliament. They had four basic components:

  1. small artisans;
  2. small farmers;
  3. wage-earners;
  4. poor peasants.

They were the decisive force that accelerated the English Revolution, a force that was used against feudalism by the bourgeoisie and the new nobility in one of the watersheds of history, with a combination and vast array of social protagonists.

Ideology played a role at the outset of national cultural unity, while the bureaucracy, with military-administrative unification, completed the economic unity provided by the bourgeoisie, and cultural commonality was favoured by linguistic unity, with the vernacular replacing “universal” Latin.

This process of linguistic unification could not be carried out by science, the content of which was incomprehensible to the masses, and which, in fact, would still be expressed in Latin for a long time.

Nor could it be done by art, since its language was feudal and used also by the Church; bourgeois art would certainly change its content and form, but it could never be a basic tool for the unification of culture and language.

Only with literature (poetry, plays, novels, etc.) would the national language be imposed and the influence of the bourgeois materialist ideology be established over the masses. Music would also assume an important role, especially on the occasion of moveable feasts.

George Sabine argues that, before the Civil Wars of 1640, state theories were less clear in England than in France. We agree with him.

There were basically four French theoretical positions.

The Huguenots maintained that the absolutist state had to have the people’s (the bourgeoisie’s) consensus, since the state resides in the people.

The Jesuits embraced the same theory but with opposite ends, since they tended to prevent a strong absolutist state from creating a national Church independent from the Vatican.

Conversely, the absolutist bureaucrats espoused the legitimist theory of the Divine Right of Kings.

Finally, Bodin, in Les Six livres de la République (The Six Books of the Commonwealth) worked out a constitutional theory, with a pact guaranteed by the king.

The absolutist Tudor state in England was based, instead, on a compromise with all the fractions of the bourgeoisie, or at least with the better-off of them. On the whole, the bourgeoisie was stronger than in France, and no fraction had anything to gain from supporting the legitimist theory of the Divine Right of Kings, or the theory of the People’s Right.

In fact, the tendency was towards a “constitutional” state.

Method and Energy-based Science

In the second half of the seventeenth century the heliocentric theory, Galileo’s dynamics and (Cartesian) physics became firmly established.

The development of the productive forces determined the need for an explanation that was more than a description, an explanation that would demonstrate the relationships among natural phenomena in a mathematical form.

Linear simplicity, quantitative determination and the experimental basis of science were required.

Also in the case of these requirements science saw all the relationships in nature as relationships that could be traced back to the mechanical forces of attraction and repulsion: even chemical and biological phenomena were seen as the mechanical motion of particles.

Mathematical abstractions would be considered forms of a priori knowledge.

There was no dialectical conception of the abstraction-concreteness relationship in the process. In our opinion, it would be productive development that would lead to a leap forward. However, the development of the productive forces was no longer due to craftsmanship but to energy.

Conversely, further mechanism reflected the development of craftsmanship in science.

Just the leap forward in energy would entail a number of new problems regarding the forms of the motion of matter and, therefore, a new vision of the motion of matter that would go beyond that of the now inadequate mechanistic motion.

In the development of science the biggest contribution would not be made by manufacturing techniques but by the machines that produced energy for manufacturing: from the standpoint of science, in fact, rather than from that of production.

Karl Marx warns in Capital. «This narrow technical basis excludes a really scientific analysis of any definite process of industrial production, since it is still a condition that each detail in the process gone through by the product must be capable of being done by hand and of forming, in its way, a separate handicraft». The machine still played a minor role in manufacturing. It was the hydraulic-power engine that paved the way for machine-based industry. In any case, the machine «supplied the great mathematicians of that time with a practical basis and stimulant to the creation of the science of modern mechanics» (K. Marx, Capital).

With the hydraulic-power engine, science found itself facing the most important problems of mechanics: the concepts of inertia, of acceleration, and of force.

On the basis of these concepts science created mathematical models that it applied to astronomic, physical, chemical and geological processes.

To give an example: the precise measuring of time led to research into uniform or uniformly accelerated motion. The Dutchman Christiaan Huygens inserted the balance wheel into clocks. It was thus possible to study the speed of physical processes.

The clock became the main instrument in navigation for the measuring of longitudes.

The precise measurement of political longitudes was becoming an imperative.

Science and Machines

In the manuscripts devoted to Dialectics of Nature Engels writes that it is necessary to study the sequence of the development of the single branches of natural science.

Astronomy is necessary, he says, because of the importance of the seasons for both pastoral and farming populations, but it can be studied only with the help of mathematics.

At a certain level of agricultural development and in certain regions (elevation of water for irrigation in Egypt), and especially with the rise of towns, large buildings, manufacturing, navigation and wars, mechanics is required. This also needs the help of mathematics.

So right from the very beginning production determined the emergence and growth of the sciences.

Scientific research in the strict sense of the term was limited to these three fields throughout ancient times.

In the fields of physics and chemistry it was not possible to do more than gather facts and order them as systematically as possible.

Physiology was «a pure guessing game».

The starting point for the Industrial Revolution in England is to be found in machines and machine tools, i.e. machines that allow the replacement of the worker in the functions in which he acts directly on the object of his work.

Karl Marx goes deeper into this in Capital «The implements of labour, in the form of machinery, necessitate the substitution of natural forces for human force, and the conscious application of science, instead of rule of thumb».

Machines subdivide production into elementary physicochemical processes.

Another characteristic of the Industrial Revolution was the mechanised factory; at a scientific level this entailed the discovery and definition of the laws of the mechanical movement of heavy loads. Steam engines would then pose the problem of the definition of the laws of molecular movement.

The development of the hydraulic engine made the knowledge of the movement of water as matter, i.e. hydrodynamics, necessary.

Another aspect highlighted by the progress in mechanics was the knowledge of the mechanics of construction, i.e. building and shipbuilding. Some mathematicians worked out the theory of elasticity, and calculations, especially as regards arches, vaults and timber, assumed an important role.

The steam engine freed industry from many obstacles. But it is necessary to see an aspect of the science-technology dialectical relationship in it. With manufacturing techniques mathematics and mechanics developed at a sufficiently high scientific level to permit the designing of machines necessary to the mechanisation of weaving. But for this a change in the energy base was required, i.e. the use of the steam engine as a general-purpose engine.

According to Engels this was «the first truly international invention».

There occurred the radical transformation of the energy bases of production, since hydraulic power limited the size of the factories, spread out the location of plants, and prevented the concentration of industry in the towns, something that was required also because of the high transport costs destined to be reduced by the use of steam as the motive power of the means of transport themselves.

Social classes and fractions, political currents and political philosophers followed the transformation of the energy bases over the decades and centuries.

Shells of the Ideologies and of the Historical Processes

The Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century posed the problem of the Church-State relationship in England too. The one between the absolutist state and the papal Church had already been resolved with the defeat of the latter. There remained the problem of what kind of national Church.

This problem was important because, with the defeat of Catholicism, the English Church had become national, and represented, besides its income, all the fractions of the bourgeoisie.

The clash of all the class fractions occurred, therefore, on the battlefield of the national Church in the seventeenth century.

From the viewpoint of Marxist methodology this offers a kind of exceptional analysis. For the first and last time a bourgeois struggle took place on the battlefield of the Church and of theology.

This had already happened a century earlier, with the Reformation and the Peasants’ Wars, but in a more backward phase. It would be different a century later.

In eighteenth century France, there would no longer be any need for the shell of religion and theology, since the bourgeois ideology had become independent both in method and philosophy.

From this point of view, the English seventeenth century was a transitional phase in the formation of the ideology of the new class.

Following the example of Engels, we should therefore seek the ideologies of the budding revolution within the tangle of theology.

In his Utopia (1516), Thomas More attacks commercial enterprise as immoral and greedy for gain. Nostalgia for an imaginary communitarian past is projected into the future Utopia. The king and parliament must not regulate religion since they would reject its universality; on the contrary, the state must be subordinate to the Universal Church (the Vatican), since the supremacy of the state or of parliament over the Church is a usurpation of spiritual independence.

This Catholic state theory clearly states that, in matters of faith, there can be no subordination to the law: the state or parliament could decree that God does not exist!

Class struggles and transformations bring about new processes in the state system.

From the second half of the seventeenth century the set-up that had been determined by the Thirty Years’ War and that had led to the hegemony of France and Sweden began to disintegrate. Two wars accompanied this phase: the War of the Spanish Succession (1707–1713) and the Great Northern War (1700–1721).

Three great seventeenth-century powers (Spain, Holland and Sweden) were already in decline at the beginning of the new century.

In 1714 Spain finally lost its possessions in Italy and the Low Countries. Holland was obliged to yield its commercial and colonial power to England. And Sweden lost its military power with the Great Northern War.

At the end of this process, three great powers (Spain, Holland and Sweden) had been replaced by three “great new powers” (Prussia, Russia, and Austria).

In the dialectic of the historical process, the decline and rise of powers take on multilateral and extremely complex dimensions.

Given the decline of Poland, control of the Baltic passed to Russia, which grew in importance also in the South, on the Black Sea, where Turkey was growing weaker. And in the Northeast, it annexed the vast stretches of Siberia, thus reaching the Pacific.

Prussia (formerly the Grand Duchy of Brandenburg) also became a top-level military power, enlarging its territory at the expense of Poland, Sweden, the small German principalities and Austria.

It is no coincidence that the Prussian rise weakened the position of the Hapsburgs in Germany and forced them to concentrate their energies in Austria in order to strengthen the multinational state in its struggle against the Ottoman Empire. The Hapsburgs therefore grew stronger in Hungary and in the Slav lands taken from Turkey, and took over northern Italy from Spain in 1714 (subsequent to the War of the Spanish Succession).

Religious Currents and State Theories

The Anglicans were English Protestants linked to the absolutist state and had their own theory about the “national Church”.

Actually, the problem of the state at the beginning of the seventeenth century was present in two relationships:

  1. State — national Church;
  2. King — Common Law Courts — Parliament.

These two relationships were finally resolved in the centralisation of the state and in the dynamic of the feudal and bourgeois fractions.

It was precisely this dynamic that opposed the centralisation of the absolutist state and prevented the establishment of a relative balance.

The fact is that the clash between the feudal and the bourgeois fractions could not be kept within the framework of a single national Church. The dissidence of the Presbyterians, the Independents and the Sectarians gained ground.

The Anglican theory of the “national Church” conceived of three kinds of law: God’s eternal law, natural law, given by God to order Nature, and national law, which humans, by nature social beings, have to obey. Hence, society gives its consensus to the state it has constituted.

The political and state theories elaborated by the Anglicans basically rested on this religious conception.

Since, always in the conception we are examining, national law was not contrary to God’s law, the English State and the English Church embraced the same field. Every Englishman was a Christian and every Christian in England was English.

This integral Christian society therefore became at one and the same time Church and State.

Eternal law did not need an institution of its own, but was entrusted to the state and the national Church. The king was king by divine right. He was the head of the state and the head of the Church.

The break with the Papacy was clean, and became irreversible as the landed gentry created their absolutist state.

The political crisis would not be provoked so much by papism as by the fractions of the bourgeoisie that emerged from the development of the domestic market and from the new historical phenomenon of the world market.

George Sabine, particularly scrupulous as regards political doctrines, is less so in the case of the dynamic of the rising, declining and changing classes.

The commercial, monopolistic bourgeoisie was the expression of the English Calvinists. The Presbyterians, a current of the Anglican national Church, from which they would be excluded in 1662, were in agreement with the Catholics over spiritual independence and also tended towards clerical control of the state on the part of their Church.

But theirs was a national and not a universal Church, such as was claimed by the Catholics, and their demand for the separation of the Church from the state would have meant a national but independent Church.

Unlike the French and Scottish Calvinists, the Presbyterians did not justify rebellion against the state. Indeed, during their rise in the first years of the Civil War, they sought to make Presbyterianism the national Church, but through the king.

Then the Congregationalists, or Independents, emerged. They were Calvinists that differed from the Presbyterians in their religious reformation, but not as the agrarian, commercial and industrial fractions of the new bourgeois class.

The Congregationalists believed that religious reformation could be implemented immediately, without any agreement with the Anglican Church and the State. As the Church is a voluntary association of Christians, in order to reform it had to renounce the support of the state.

Starting from this standpoint, the Congregationalists renounced a national Church, as would the Massachusetts Independents in America.

The Church and the State have to be independent and not only separate. Neither the Church nor the State can impose religion.

This was the most advanced political position of the most advanced fractions of the English bourgeoisie in the iron century.

Political Theories of the New Class

Although the Congregationalists proclaimed religious tolerance, they did not put it into practice as regards the so-called Sectarians.

Until 1640 the latter had few followers, even if they were the strongest opponents of the monarchy, and consequently reached the height of their power in Oliver Cromwell’s Model Army, with the execution of the king and the second civil war.

The economic crisis, brought on by the war, produced the Levellers. They mainly came from the Independents and theorised an exaggerated form of the latter’s doctrine.

The Baptists and the Quakers resolved the State-Church relationship by radically reducing the ecclesiastical organisation. Indeed, the national Church was annulled, since, for the Sectarians, religion is inner illumination and spiritual experience.

If it is possible to speak of a specific state theory, we have to consider that the Baptists believed that no obedience was owed to the law and to the state in a world destined to end in the near future.

The emergence of the ecclesiastical question was one of the manifestations of the breakdown in the balance established with the foundation of the English absolutist state. The upper middle class increased its social weight and tended to shift the balance through new power relationships, pressing on the state and on the king both via the religious currents and via the local parliaments.

Since the bourgeois front was complex, all the fractions of the new class, with their characteristics and specific aims, entered into a political process that could be conceived of as a struggle for rebalance, precisely to underline a constant of the correspondence of the political forms to the dynamic of economic development.

The highest tension of the class and class fraction struggles triggers a series of civil wars.

The previous state theories had basically concerned the balance of power between the monarchy and parliament. The political struggle, instead, spawned state theories in which the supremacy of either one or the other asserted itself, in harmony with the attempt at a decisive shift in the balance.

The three greatest philosophers of the age (Bacon, Hobbes and Locke) would be the main elaborators of the state theories.

When Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was born, Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was a seventeen-year-old youth, and when John Locke was born (1632–1704), Hobbes was forty-four. This three-generation time span of political struggles accumulated a bourgeois state theoretical potential destined to last for three centuries.

We believe that the longue durée of theories born as “breaking of the balance” theories lies in the fact that they are variations on the dawning liberal and democratic dictatorship of the ruling capitalist economy.

There could have been no better delivery room than seventeenthcentury England.

With the breaking of the balance, the clash between King and Parliament grew fierce. James Ⅰ wanted a kind of absolute power and clashed with the Common Law Courts over the royal prerogatives.

Francis Bacon was in favour of a strong royal prerogative, and his theory of royal power could be considered a pre-bourgeois theory of the absolutist state if it did not express a harmony-balance conception projected in a global sphere.

Furthermore, Bacon devoted himself to reflection and philosophy after his exclusion from political life in 1621, when Parliament accused him of venality over a question of money.

He had entered the House of Commons in 1593, as a protégé of the Earl of Essex, in his turn one of the queen’s favourites.

When the Earl of Essex fell into disgrace, Bacon placed himself directly at the king’s service, climbing up the ladder of the highest posts, from Attorney General to Lord Privy Seal to Lord Chancellor.

After sinking low, he scaled the heights of theory.

Rational Method and Omnilateral Development

Francis Bacon wanted England to become the greatest power in North-West Europe and to be the “leading state” of Protestantism, a “leading state” that would develop an “aggressive policy” on the continent. The theory of the “leading state” accompanied the rise of the English power and proposed the coalition on the continent of all the forces that opposed the Spanish power, the Catholic state par excellence, and, after it, the French power.

The English State had therefore to form a union with Scotland and “to colonise” Ireland. To be able to carry out this mission it had to be based on a strong, warlike people, i.e. on an aggressive people.

But how can it become this in the political philosopher’s opinion?

His answer reflects a new balance formula that follows the breakdown of the previous balance.

The people, i.e. the bourgeois fractions and the rural and urban masses, can be strong and aggressive only if it pays few taxes, if it faces a weak nobility, and if it is headed by a king to whom national expansion guarantees a vast income.

In The Holy Family of 1845, Marx and Engels state: «Materialism is the natural-born son of Great Britain». Already the Franciscan Duns Scotus (1265–1308) asked “whether it was possible for matter to think”, and answered with “nominalism”, which «in general is the first expression of materialism».

Taking refuge in God’s omnipotence, he made «theology preach materialism».

This is an aspect that could be reconsidered in Baruch Spinoza’s successive monism.

The two authors argue: «The real progenitor of English materialism and all modern experimental science is Bacon».

They explain his progeniture: «To him natural philosophy is the only true philosophy, and physics based upon the experience of the senses is the chiefest part of natural philosophy»; Bacon often quotes Anaxagoras and Democritus as his authorities. According to him «the senses are infallible and the source of all knowledge. All science is based on experience, and consists in subjecting the data furnished by the senses to a rational method of investigation».

In Bacon’s thought this rational method is «induction, analysis, comparison, observation, experiment».

It is summarised as follows: «Among the qualities inherent in matter, motion is the first and foremost, not only in the form of mechanical and mathematical motion, but chiefly in the form of an impulse, a vital spirit, a tension ·..).

Given this vision, Bacon’s materialism contains in itself«the seeds of omnilateral development». «It becomes unilateral» with Hobbes.

The theoretician of the “leading [Protestant] state” stopped on the threshold of the bourgeois revolution, after having championed its power.

Ludovico Geymonat writes in La storia delpensierofilosofico e scientifico that for Bacon as well as for Galileo nature was not only “listened to” but also “questioned”. The difference lies in the kind of questioning: «Bacon’s questioning, in fact, is so structured as to seek in phenomena their “form”, their “latent schematism” and their common features; instead Galileo’s aims to discover the laws of phenomena, i.e. the mathematical proportions between one phenomenon and another».

Geymonat expresses a particular opinion of his: on the one hand Bacon is the “prophet” of the “great scientific revolution” that marks the beginning of the modern era and, on the other, he remains outside «the laborious and complicated historical process that was in fact implementing the scientific revolution, and that had almost completed it at the beginning of the seventeenth century».

Chapter Five


Modern Materialism and Scientific Miracle

In his letter of 27 October to Conrad Schmidt, Engels states that even philosophers remained under «the dominating influence of economic development» during the bourgeois period: Hobbes was the first «modern materialist», but, as he lived at the moment of the flourishing of the absolutist state, he was «an absolutist», and John Locke, «both in religion and politics, was the child of the class compromise of 1688».

Engels sets off from this judgement to find their immediate successors in the French materialist philosophers and to see the contradiction of philistinism in the German philosophers.

We repropose these judgements because they constitute a solid starting point for the thesis of Marx and Engels’ transition from materialism to communism.

In The Holy Family (1845), Marx and Engels write that Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) «is the man who systematises Baconian materialism». In his thought, «knowledge based upon the senses[⋯] passes into the abstract experience» of geometry, «proclaimed as the queen of sciences»; «physical motion is sacrificed to mechanical or mathematical motion».

Materialism thus «turns ascetic» and passes into «an intellectual entity». Hobbes is the «man who systemises Baconian materialism».

We can interpret systemisation in two senses: that of politics and that of science.

At this point, the problem of the birth of modern science arises.

Engels deals with it in his Dialectics of Nature. «If, after the dark night of the Middle Ages was over the sciences suddenly arose anew with undreamt-of force, developing at a miraculous rate, once again we owe this miracle to production».

In essence, Engels thought that technique anticipates science; indeed, we can say that it is technological development that allows the development of science.

He established four basic reasons for this «miracle»: «In the first place, following the crusades, industry developed enormously and brought to light a quantity of new mechanical (weaving, clockmaking, milling), chemical (dyeing, metallurgy, alcohol), and physical (spectacles) facts».

The «new instruments» of production had a dialectical influence on the way of thinking: «[They] not only gave enormous material for observation, but also provided quite other means for experimenting than previously existed, and allowed the construction of new instruments; it can be said that really systematic, experimental science now became possible for the first time».

In short, the «new instruments» allowed the construction of further «new instruments»: «Secondly, the whole of West and Middle Europe, including Poland, now developed in a connected fashion, even though Italy was still at the head owing to its old-inherited civilisation».

The expansion of the old space became a factor of development, as did also the discovery of new space: «Thirdly, geographical discoveries — made purely for the sake of gain and, therefore, in the last resort of production — opened up an infinite and hitherto inaccessible amount of material of a meteorological, zoological, botanical, and physiological (human) bearing».

And «fourthly, there was the printing press».

Mathematics, astronomy, and mechanics had already become sciences. With Galileo and Evangelista Torricelli (1608–1647), who was the first to study the movement of liquids in connection with industrial waterworks, «physics [became] definitely separate from chemistry».

The Contradiction of Modern Science

In his letter (27 October 1890) to Conrad Schmidt, Engels establishes a link between Britain and France: «The English deists and their more consistent successors, the French materialists, were the true philosophers of the bourgeoisie, the French even of the bourgeois revolution».

This distinction is important since it sees the French materialists giving birth to bourgeois philosophy, whereas «the German petty bourgeois runs through German philosophy from Kant to Hegel, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively».

In his Dialectics of Nature the author follows the historical process of the complete separation of physics from chemistry.

The chemist Robert Boyle (1627–1691) «put chemistry on a stable base as a science», and the English physician William Harvey (1578–1657) did the same for physiology, as a consequence of his discovery of the circulation of blood in men and animals.

As we can see, Engels is tracing a historical line of the development of science.

With the discovery of the cell and the development of organic chemistry, comparative morphology and physiology and their evolution into scientific disciplines became possible.

Zoology and botany evolved, together with palaeontology, thanks to Georges Cuvier. And, finally, the foundations of geology were laid: from astronomy-mathematics-mechanics to biology-geology through chemistry-physics-physiology.

Natural research threw off the fetters of theology. The development of the sciences struggled «to win its right of existence», and, when it broke with ideology, «proceeded with giant strides».

Engels writes that at the end of this period, characterised by Isaac Newton and Charles Linnaeus, mechanics and mathematics had been brought to «a certain perfection»; with René Descartes and analytical geometry, John Napier and logarithms, Gottfried Leibniz and Newton and differential and integral calculus, «the basic features of the most essential mathematical methods were established».

Mechanics is seen as part of the general laws of the motion of matter, but its central point is the «view of the absolute immutability of nature».

The science of the first half of the seventeenth century is superior to that of Greek antiquity «in knowledge and even in the sifting of its material», but is inferior «in the theoretical mastery of this material, in the general outlook on nature».

According to the Greeks the world was essentially something that had emerged from chaos. On the contrary, the scientists of the seventeenth century thought that the world was «something ossified, something immutable».

What is extremely important is Engels’ observation, i.e. modern scientists had greater knowledge and analysed facts better than the ancient Greeks, and yet they did not master them theoretically. «In contrast to the history of mankind, which develops in time, there was ascribed to the history of nature only an unfolding in space.

All change, all development in nature, was denied».

Science «suddenly found itself confronted by an out-and-out conservative nature in which even today everything was as it had been since the beginning and in which — to the end of the world or for all eternity — everything would remain as it had been since the beginning».

It therefore sought and found its ultimate resort «in an impulse from outside that was not to be explained from nature itself».

This contradiction characterised modern science and would crop up on various occasions.

It managed to resolve it in part when it fought with all its might and main against the ideologies of the Old World.

Not yet a slave to the division oflabour and immersed in practical experience, it fought political battles that would lead it away from the “ossified world” and involve it in the “chaos” of history, in the incessant dynamic of the class struggles, in the dialectic of the time and space of society.

General Conception and Natural Science

It is philosophy that is involved in the “chaos” of history and the class struggles.

The following is Engels’ laudatory assessment: «It is to the highest credit of the philosophy of the time that it did not let itself be led astray by the restricted state of contemporary natural knowledge».

Copernicus began the period renouncing theology; Newton closed it «with the postulate of a divine first impulse» and «pompously baptised [attraction] as “universal gravitation”».

The general conception preceded the stage of the knowledge of nature.

From Spinoza right to the «great French materialists» philosophy clung to the principle of explaining the universe, leaving to the science of the future «the justification in detail».

Engels also includes in this period the materialists of the eighteenth century «because no natural scientific material was available to them other than that above described».

In the battle of theories, the general conception took on the value of a principle, dominating natural science and setting a kind of record.

Engels comments: «The first breach in this petrified outlook on nature was made not by a natural scientist but by a philosopher».

Immanuel Kant abolished «the question of the first impulse», and in his theory «the earth and the whole solar system appeared as something that had come into being in the course of time».

This discovery of Kant’s contained «the point of departure for all further progress». If the Earth were something that had come into being, then everything — plants, animals, etc. — had also come into being.

Instead, observes Engels, this “philosophical discovery” remained without immediate results since scientists remained yoked to metaphysics and were captivated by the idea of the immutability of matter.

Only at the end of the eighteenth century did Pierre-Simon Laplace and Friedrich Herschel develop the “nebular hypothesis”.

Engels comments: «It is, however, permissible to doubt whether the majority of natural scientists would so soon have become conscious of the contradiction of a changing earth that bore immutable organisms, had not the dawning conception that nature does not just exist, but comes into being and passes away, derived support from another quarter».

The rise of natural science was strongly contrasted, even though it favoured the growth of the productive forces.

At first the acknowledgement that not only the Earth, but also its «present» surface, possessed a «history in time» occurred «reluctantly enough».

Engels helps us to understand how much resistance and inertia greets a new conception that anticipates, at a philosophical and methodological level, the progress of scientific discoveries in the historical process.

Two centuries, two great bourgeois revolutions, and an infinite number of wars characterised the time of the consolidation of a science suited to the new mode of capitalist production.

When we say that Marxism is a young science, we are drawing inspiration from the great lessons of history, of social history, and of the history of thwarted and unrecognised discoveries.

The Scientific Discovery of Motion

In his Dialectics of Nature Engels reconstructs the scientific discovery of changing nature.

«Geology arose» and revealed not only the terrestrial strata formed one after another, but also «no longer existing» plants and animals within those strata.

Cuvier’s theory «was revolutionary in phrase and reactionary in substance» since he put «a whole series of repeated acts of creation» in place of a single divine creation.

Lyell’s theory led directly to the «gradual transformation of the organisms and their adaptation to the changing environment, to the mutability of species».

Engels warns us yet again that neither Lyell nor his disciples drew these conclusions because «tradition is a power not only in the Catholic Church but also in natural science».

Often the conclusions that revolutionise our way of seeing reality are drawn in spite of scientific tradition. This is demonstrated by the history of science.

In the mid-nineteenth century, through the work of Julius R.

Mayer and James J. Joule, physics demonstrated the transformation of heat into mechanical energy and of mechanical energy into heat.

The Welsh lawyer William R. Grove proved that all so-called physical energies «become transformed into one another under definite conditions without any loss of energy occurring».

These energies that were «the immutable “species” of physics, were resolved into variously differentiated forms of the motion of matter, convertible into one another according to definite laws».

Physics, like astronomy before it, had arrived at a result that necessarily pointed to «the eternal cycle of matter in motion».

Subsequently, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and John Dalton attacked «the old ideas of nature from another aspect». Chemistry demonstrated that its laws «have the same validity for organic as for inorganic bodies», preparing «by inorganic means» «compounds that hitherto had been produced only in the living organism».

«To a large extent the gulf» between organic and inorganic nature that had seemed impassable was bridged.

Systematically organised scientific journeys and expeditions, the traders’ explorations of the European colonies, and the further progress of palaeontology, anatomy, and physiology accumulated so much material that the application of the «comparative method» became possible.

Engels underlines the «notable» progress of physiology «since the systematic use of the microscope and the discovery of the cell». «The conditions of life of the various floras and faunas» were determined by means of comparative physical geography. On the other hand the various organisms were compared with one another according to their homologous organs.

The more deeply and exactly this research was carried on, «the more did the rigid system of an immutable, fixed organic nature crumble away at its touch».

Animals turned up «that made a mockery of all previous classification».

The Forms of Motion

Biology plays an important role in the scientific discovery of changeable nature. It took a great step forward when it attacked the theory of the stability of the species and proclaimed the descent of man theory. Charles Darwin would lead the attack to its victorious conclusion in 1859.

Dialectics of Nature is right in saying that the biological form of motion becomes a historical form: «The new conception of nature was complete in its main features; all rigidity was dissolved, all fixity dissipated, all particularity that had been regarded as eternal became transient, the whole of nature shown as moving in eternal flux and cyclical course».

The brilliant intuition of the founders of Greek philosophy re-emerged as «the result of strictly scientific research in accordance with experience».

Engels embraces the whole of history: there is little to be added to that.

With the development of the modes of production philosophical intuition can become science. This was impossible with the slave mode of production.

Only the productive forces of the capitalist mode of production made possible «strictly experimental scientific research» that demonstrated «brilliant intuition».

Engels continues: «Man too arises by differentiation. Not only individually, by differentiation from a single egg cell to the most complicated organism that nature produces — no, also historically».

The concept of «differentiation» in history is to be underlined.

After «thousands of years of struggle» man acquired «the differentiation of hand from foot, and erect gait». He became «distinct from the monkey».

Thus the basis was laid for the development of articulate speech and the «mighty development of the brain».

Man’s differentiation represents the history of labour and technology. «With men we enter history».

Animals have their history too: the history of evolution. «This history, however, is made for them, and in so far as they themselves take part in it, this occurs without their knowledge or desire».

But in human society «we find that there still exists a colossal disproportion between the proposed aims and the results arrived at, that unforeseen effects predominate, and that the uncontrolled forces are far more powerful than those set in motion according to plan».

The uncontrolled forces determine a history that is self-fulfilling. «And this cannot be otherwise as long as the most essential historical activity of men, the one which has raised them from bestiality to humanity and which forms the material foundation of all their other activities, namely the production of their requirements of life, that is today social production, is above all subject to the interplay of unintended effects from uncontrolled forces».

In the most advanced industrial countries we have subdued «the forces of nature» and have thereby «infinitely multiplied production».

Science leads to the knowledge of the «forces of nature» and to their multiplying use: unlimited production, a form of the «transformations of motion which are f?y nature inherent in moving matter».

The Changes in Motion

The source of unlimited production is the evolution of the species. Dialectics of Nature highlights this: «The specialisation of the hand — this implies the tool, and the tool implies specific human activity, the transforming reaction of man on nature, production».

Engels is precise. There are animals that have tools, but as parts of their bodies (ants, bees and beavers). There are animals that produce, but the effect of their production on the natural environment is null. Only man has transformed nature: in the last resort this depends «on the hand».

Even the steam engine «depends, because it is a tool, in the last resort on the hand».

The transformation of motion becomes consciousness: «But step by step with the development of the hand went that of the brain»; first of all consciousness «of the conditions for separate practically useful actions», and then, arising from the preceding, insight into the natural laws governing them. Hence the means for reacting on nature also grew. Hand and brain were correlated: «The hand alone would never have achieved the steam engine if the brain of man had not attained a correlative development with it, and parallel to it, and partly owing to it».

The result of control over the «natural forces» is «infinitely multiplied production» and recurrent big economic crises.

The evolution of the species has arrived at a devastating contradiction, a huge problem that bourgeois thought, both rationalistic and irrationalistic, does not help to solve. The refusal of techniques, cultivated by many of the twentieth century currents, reproposes all the contradictions that the development of the productive forces had overcome. Engels grasps the drama in this and expounds it in unforgettable pages.

Far from a utopian escape to the future, Engels’ reflection probes as never before into the very bases of theory: «Only conscious organisation of social production, in which production and distribution are carried on in a planned way» can solve the contradiction of the productive forces. «Historical evolution» can make this solution possible and overcome the contradiction between infinitely multiplied production and the recurrence of economic crises.

Engels says that a new historical era will begin in which the human race «and especially natural science will experience an advance that will put everything preceding it in the deepest shade».

Engels’ historical perspective is not utopian. It is no coincidence that he foresees an advance that links the human race and natural science, an advance capable of dealing theoretically and politically with the Great Contradiction between infinitely multiplied production and recurrent economic crises, between the development of the productive forces and the social relations of production.

Such pages of Dialectics of Nature as the following require deep reflection: «Nevertheless, “all that comes into being deserves to perish”. Millions of years may elapse, hundreds of thousands of generations be born and die ⋯», but the heat of the sun will inexorably decline and organic life on Earth will no longer be possible.

The planets and solar systems demonstrate this as they follow or precede the life of our system.

But «in theoretical natural science, [⋯] we have very often to reckon with incompletely known magnitudes».

In short, the transformations of motion make the magnitudes to be reckoned with incompletely known.

The Transformations of Motion

Natural science is not linear. It follows the meandering of its historical evolution. Hence Engels can say: «Logical consistency of thought must at all times help to get over defective knowledge».

Modern natural science has had to take over from philosophy «the principle of the indestructibility of motion».

Philosophy has formulated «the principle of the indestructibility of motion».

The motion of matter is not only mechanical motion, a mere shift, but is heat, light, electric tension, chemical composition and decomposition, life and consciousness.

To say, therefore, that matter during the whole unlimited time of its existence has only one possibility of differentiating its motion «is equivalent to maintaining that matter is mortal and motion transitory». But matter is not mortal. «The indestructibility of motion cannot be merely quantitative, it must also be conceived qualitatively».

Matter without motion is inconceivable. And motion is indestructible.

Engels develops materialist philosophy as only a true scientist can do. He poses the question of the formation of «our island universe».

Either we must have recourse «to a creator», or we are forced to the conclusion that «it was produced in a natural way by transformations of motion which are by nature inherent in moving matter, and the conditions of which therefore also must be reproduced by matter ⋯».

Any analysis has to study the natural process of the transformations of motion.

Dialectics of Nature follows this process: «It is an eternal cycle in which matter moves, a cycle that certainly only completes its orbit in periods of time for which our terrestrial year is no adequate measure, a cycle in which the time of highest development, the time of organic life and still more that of the life of beings conscious of nature and of themselves, is just as narrowly restricted as the space in which life and self-consciousness come into operation; a cycle in which every finite mode of existence of matter[⋯] is equally transient».

The manifestations of matter follow this cycle, «wherein nothing is eternal but eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws according to which it moves and changes».

Engels states unequivocally: «But however often, and however relentlessly, this cycle is completed in time and space, however many millions of suns and earths may arise and pass away, however long it may last before the conditions for organic life develop, however innumerable the organic beings that have to ariseand to pass away before animals with a brain capable of thought are developed from their midst, and for a short span of time find conditions suitable for life, only to be exterminated later without mercy, we have the certainty that matter remains eternally the same in all its transformations, that none of its attributes can ever be lost, and therefore, also, that with the same iron necessity that it will exterminate on the earth its highest creation, the thinking mind, it must somewhere else and at another time again produce it».

The «thinking mind» has reached the universe of matter. It can never be lost.

Chapter Six


Method of the Artificial Body

Starting from Francis Bacon’s theory that knowledge is supplied by the senses, Thomas Hobbes demonstrates that intuition, thought and representation are manifestations of the corporeal, i.e. of objective reality.

If ideas, as Bacon maintains, originate in the sensible world, they are real ideas, since «thought cannot be separated from thinking matter». It follows that matter is «the subject of all changes».

Hence the word “infinite” (“universal body” superior to the “bodies” represented by “ideas”) is «meaningless». Hobbes systematises “Baconian materialism”: ««Since only the corporeal is perceptible and knowable, we can know nothing of the existence of God».

Marx and Engels continue the quotation: «My own existence alone is certain. Every human passion is a mechanical movement which has a beginning and an end. The objects of impulse are what we call good».

We can better understand why Hobbes is the systematiser of “Baconian materialism”: «Man is subject to the same laws as nature».

Their conclusion is important for seventeenth century politics: «Power and freedom are identical».

Dialectics, the dialectics of three centuries of bourgeois revolutions, would have to arrive to demonstrate that “power” and “freedom” are direct opposites.

In systematising Bacon, Hobbes does not found his fundamental principle (knowledge and ideas originate in the sensible world).

He does not found the principle of determination.

The English civil war forced theory to chase after the events.

Parliament was obliged to exercise a sovereign power that it had never — well, only faintly — requested. The absolute state was obliged to theorise absolutism.

Hobbes was writing during the political crisis and believed that he was upholding the Absolute Monarchy; actually, the latter could no longer use his thought. His materialism, necessary for his theory of the state, would be used by the bourgeoisie, as would also be his theory of the state itself.

Hobbes ended up damaging the very part that he believed he was helping, since he objectively demolished the old ideology. He himself stated that his theory was compatible with any established government, even republican. It thus served the ends of liberalism.

Hobbes’s political theory is directly related to a philosophical system that regards the whole of Nature.

The “new science” (Galileo) suggested the revolutionary idea that the corporeal world is a mechanical system, in which everything that occurs can be explained with geometrical precision by the mutual shifting of bodies.The object of motion, established by Newton’s theory of planetary motion, was picked up again by this “new science”, by mathematics and physics.

Hobbes reproposed this principle and stated that each motion is nothing but a motion, that each form of natural process is composed of fundamental motions, and that from simple shifts one moves on to more complex cases that do not apparently look like motions.

His philosophical system deals with the “physical body” (physics = geometry plus mechanics), the more complex motion of the human body (philosophy and psychology), and the “artificial body”, i.e. the most complex “body?’, society or the state.

Political theory dealt with this “artificial body” in the course of the English Revolution.

Natural Law and Politics

According to Thomas Hobbes’s theory, politics deals with the “artificial body”, i.e. a more complex body than both the “physical” body of geometry and mechanics and the “human” body.

The state, which is a complex case, also derives from mechanical causes; psychology (ideas) and politics (facts) are assimilated into physics.

The idea that politics is a science is of extreme importance.

But Hobbes did not formulate a specific method for social science.

On the contrary, he transferred to politics the prevailing scientific method of the time: geometry.

This method started from simpler problems and, when it arrived at the more complex, used what it had previously demonstrated; consequently, every phase of development was guaranteed by what had preceded it.

With the adoption of this approach, Hobbes followed a construction of “logical” abstractions, to which he arrived precisely by disregarding empirical demonstrations, and arguing that the conclusion cannot derive from the systematic observation of the facts.

The application of his “geometrical-mechanical” method led Hobbes to lay a foundation for his political theory.

Human behaviour, with its sensations, feelings and thoughts, is a form of motion. Social behaviour, on which politics is based, is none other than a special case of human behaviour with regard to mutual human relationships.

Political science is therefore founded on human behaviour, on psychology, and its method is deductive, as it is for all sciences.

Politics, like all the actions of human nature, is governed by a single law.

Hobbes deduced from this that it can exercise efficient control over the actions determined by human behaviour.

This assertion of the oneness of natural law is a great materialist conquest.

According to G. Sabine, the meaning of “natural law”, of theological derivation, was twofold up to Hobbes: on the one hand it regarded physics and astronomy, in which the mechanical principle prevailed, and on the other it included ethics and law, in which the principle was transcendental. On the one hand, “natural law” was a law of motion, and on the other, instead, a value, a form of intuition, an external principle.

After Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza would try to conciliate natural science with ethics and religion, attempting to eliminate via his “monism” the “dualism” of “natural law”.

Natural science had poached the physical world from theology, but not the social world; the “physical body”, but not the “artificial body”.

In Hobbes’s “monism”:

  1. nature and human nature are regulated by a single cause-andeffect “natural law”;
  2. law and ethics are part of this law;
  3. both human and social life are determined by a cause and not by a moral end.

Therefore, “natural law” does not set any moral value. People impulsively conform to it without being aware of this.

According to Hobbes, the main impulse behind “natural law” is self-preservation.

Like Machiavelli, he recognised human egoism, but placed it within a kind of scientific psychology, in which desire or aversion find an outlet in the “will”.

While in Machiavelli, egoism was still seen from a moral point of view, Hobbes already dealt with it scientifically, since he did not conceive of pleasure and pain as desires in themselves, but as predetermined emotions. There is no room for moral judgement.

The Utilitarians would then arrive and put individual egoism back in the moralising sackful of desires.

Method and Leviathan

Ludovico Geymonat shrewdly observes: «The totally rationalistic method employed by Hobbes in his reasoning should be noted: he applies to political science, or — as it was called — to civil philosophy the method of natural science, of composition (or synthesis) and of decomposition (or analysis), and all of this with cogency, with close reasoning that shakes and upsets his opponents. But the main strength of Hobbes’s words lies in his complete lack of prejudice and, it could even be said, in his cynicism».

We find this cogency in the concepts that make his work Leviathan (1653) one of the masterpieces of political science. “Composition” and “decomposition” interlink smoothly, without any straining.

Politics, or the “desire for power”, is connected to personal security and the security of future assets; therefore, for every individual other human beings count only in this sense.

Hobbes makes an important observation here as he points out that individuals are more or less equal as regards power and cunning, and that therefore no one can ever consider himself to be safe.

At this point the state becomes necessary because, if it fails to regulate human conduct, there is “war of all against all”.

Besides being necessary, the state is possible since, as well as desire in the state of nature, there is also reason that teaches «every man to fly a contra-natural destruction».

Reason is «a more calculated self-interest that leads man to society».

According to Hobbes, everyone’s aim is none other than biological self-preservation. Life grants no respite in the search for means of self-preservation, means that lead to the struggle for existence precisely because they are precarious. Therefore the “desire” for personal security is inseparable from the desire for power, i.e. for the means to guarantee future assets.

Hobbes argues that “desires” are not desires in themselves, but predetermined emotions, just like pleasure or pain.

While Machiavelli sees egoism from a moralistic point of view, Hobbes considers it scientifically.

There is no room for moral judgement. Individual self-interest in subjective terms will be taken up again by the Utilitarians, who belonged to a more mature phase of bourgeois thought; a sign that “empirical” ideology no longer needed the English thinker’s marked materialism that draws him close to the “conditioned reflex” theory. “Natural law” pushes people to try to achieve personal security.

It follows that self-preservation requires peace and co-operation rather than violence and competition; but peace requires mutual trust and the keeping of the social contract.

In Hobbes’s theory, the state provides security since it guarantees peace and keeps the social contract, and is justified only because it assures greater personal advantage.

The “artificial body”, the state, is created because reason, which is none other than perfected self-interest, finds it more advantageous than the non-state. The state is a “Leviathan”.

Hobbes’s individualism expresses the bourgeois “laissez-faire” spirit on this point and demolishes the ideology of an absolute monarchy based on the morals of loyalty and reverence.

Individuals, however, cannot agree spontaneously to honour the social contract. Reason is too weak to impose honouring it and to punish its transgressors. Consequently, the state is identified with force.

Method and Social Practice

In Hobbes’s theory of the state there is a social contract between individuals, but reason, which had led to the contract, is no longer sufficient. Hence, the state is not “consensus” but “union”, i.e. the submission of all to the will of one. The state alone has no superiors.

There derives from this that there is no distinction between society and the state or between the state and government. Hobbes avers that “society” does not exist without “the state”, because it is a “headless crowd”: the contract regards the state and not society.

The “Leviathan” makes no distinction between “law” and “morals”: it is a “mortal God” with a sword and a pastoral staff.

Hobbes derives monarchical absolutism from this, but if we examine his theory of the state more closely, it goes beyond the monarchical form since, for him, the state institute is will and unlimited authority.

That Hobbes’s theory is not limited to the state form is demon strated by another of his theories, of mature bourgeois content, according to which:

  1. the government that does not give its subjects security will find itself with an opposition;
  2. the winning opposition deprives kings of their sovereign power.

Hobbes was an absolutist, but not a legitimist. For him the law is power; there is no law without power. After Charles I’s execution he wanted to abandon the monarchy.

If Hobbes was strategically bourgeois, he was not yet tactically so. Rejecting the theory of mixed government (state and parliament) with the thesis that sovereign power is indivisible, he did not see the phases of the bourgeois rise, the manoeuvring of alliances precisely to reach that sovereign indivisible power, that class dictatorship that is the bourgeois state, in which parliament and every institution com prise the “state”.

When Hobbes says that “sovereign power” can also reside in parliament, provided that it has the strength, he is essentially setting out a bourgeois theory.

No “civil law” can be contrary to “natural law”: this is the basic principle of the bourgeois state, for which nature is none other than capitalist production.

With his assertion of the absolutism of the state and his equation of morals with the law, Hobbes totally subordinated the Church to the state. In this regard, too, he was a bourgeois.

As a materialist, he considered faith in immateriality an error deriving from Aristotle, and spread by the clergy to its own advantage.

Spirituality, he says, is a chimera, a figment of the imagination.

To his way of thinking, religion must be submitted to the state.

The duty of the Church is to educate.

In its fundamental aspects, Hobbes’s theory of the state belongs to the great body of bourgeois theories.

How could it happen that an intellectual piece of work virtually conceived by its author as anti-bourgeois has, on the contrary, become a theoretical product of the bourgeoisie?

What seems a paradox is, instead, a good example of what the Marxist method defines as “social determination”.

Practice is not individual practice, but social practice, class practice.

It is an “idealistic” aberration to think that theory arises from individual practice: this would indicate the existence of “individual” theory. Theoretical production (the production of ideas) arises from social practice.

Birth of the English Materialist Theory

The process followed by Hobbes, with individual practice contrasting with his social theory, is the demonstration of this.

The fact that he was unaware of the wide-ranging effects of his state theory and of its bourgeois nature strengthens this demonstration.

In the lives of single theoreticians we often happen to grasp a series of aspects that immediately help us to identify the social nature of their work; but this does not mean that we should conceive of social determination as immediate and individual, i.e. as immediately reflected in individual experience.

On the other hand, neither can we see social determination alone in a theory. Limiting ourselves to affirming this principle means not doing any scientific analysis. It is necessary to see how and why a theory has been defined.

This analysis is made easier in Hobbes’s case.

First of all, its objective reality consists in a bourgeois social practice that had reached a high level with the revolution in England.

Secondly, Hobbes as an individual opposed bourgeois social practice.

There is a social production of ideas, a social mechanism that is “reflected” in the individual’s mind, irrespective of his awareness or consciousness.

If an individual theory were to correspond to every individual practice (supposing that a purely individual practice outside any social relationship is possible), there would be no class ideologies, but only single, individual ideologies, i.e. individual characteristics of thought, equivalent to many other features of each individual in the human race.

If this were possible, we would have a mechanical adaptation of practice to theory; practice would be in an immediate biological relationship with theory. People would be simple people-machines and not complex social people.

This is how the eighteenth century mechanistic materialists, of whom modern-day “superstructuralists” are only a grotesque and unwitting imitation, would see it.

If class practice is social practice, the fact that an individual behaves as if it were individual practice is pure coincidence.

Theory is social since it is the product of social practice; that it is formulated by a particular individual is equally fortuitous.

Hobbes’s individual practice was anti-bourgeois. He wanted a theory for this individual practice, but this theory did not limit itself to systematising his practice, i.e. to finding an ideology. There would have been no need for his intellectual effort since the ideology had already existed for some time.

Hobbes wanted to move beyond this, and herein lies his greatness.

He wanted to analyse the reality that, ideologically, he believed still corresponded to his ideas.

But it was as a materialist that he analysed this reality, and so, in his materialistic theory and practice, he succeeded in discovering objective reality by scientific means. He discovered bourgeois individualism and the bourgeois state. He left ideology aside and then picked it up again to clothe his discoveries.

Materialism and Tolerance

With Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) a bourgeois theory of politics took shape.

When Baruch was born in Amsterdam of Spanish Jewish parents who had fled from Catholic persecution, Francis Bacon (1561–1626) had been dead for six years, William Petty (1623–1687) was only nine years old, Descartes (1596–1650) was thirty-six and Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) forty-four.

Spinoza’s contemporary was John Locke (1632–1704).

Hobbes’s Leviathan dates back to 1653, Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise to 1670, Petty’s Treatise of Taxes and Contributions to 1662 and Locke’s To Treatises of Government to 1690.

In the second half of the seventeenth century, within a forty-year time span, four great analyses came to maturation, analyses that followed the course of the Thirty Years’ War, in the first half of the century, between the declining Spanish power and the rising French power, as well as the explosion of bourgeois revolutions in England and Holland.

An exceptional theoretical reflection that would be picked up again in successive periods with high theoretical levels and be highly considered even in our times was concentrated within a relatively short time span.

Baruch Spinoza died when he was 45, after the lynching of the republican and democratic De Witt brothers, decreed by William of Orange in 1672.

The philosopher was a friend of the two leaders; his Theologico-Political Treatise and his Political Treatise, left unfinished, were inspired by the De Witts’ actions.

Democracy is identified as the rational form of the state. This is a new formulation with respect to Hobbes. The Englishman’s reasoning had led to the absolutist form of the state with a capitalist content.

Spinoza’s philosophy was a product of the Dutch bourgeois revolution. He was 16 when Holland’s war against Spain ended, and he grew up in a period in which materialistic ideas were being defined, and in which the fierce struggle among the various political-religious currents, such as was being fought precisely in England, made freedom of the press and religious freedom possible, even if only partially.

After starting his religious studies in the local synagogue, Spinoza was expelled because of his criticism of dogmatism. Incurably ill with tuberculosis, he was taken in by the Christian Collegiant sect in Rijnsburg where, after his marriage, he lived modestly, working as a lens grinder from 1656 to 1663.

His association with Mennonites and Collegiants, who disagreed with both Catholics and orthodox Protestants, influenced his maturation.

In fact, Spinoza found himself in the uncommon situation of being outside any religious community, thanks to the free thinking born of the theological and philosophical confrontation of the time and to the tolerance that sprang from the clash among the different currents.

Democratic ideology turns reality upside down and makes being tolerant derive from the idea of tolerance. But the history of social struggles and of their corresponding political struggles speaks clearly.

Clashes between classes, class fractions, and political or religious currents lead to a more or less momentary balance of forces. On various historical occasions, different theories — such as those on tolerance and Bonapartism — are born.

Marxist political science developed precisely through analysing the theories that claimed to explain one of the most complex outcomes of the class struggle and the resolute political struggle, i.e. the outcome of balance, in cultural terms.

Method of Passion and Reason

When Spinoza published his Theological-Political Treatise anonymously in 1670, the Dutch bourgeoisie was already in power and committed to maintaining the new social order. Spinoza’s state theory reflects this historic event when he calls for a strong republic, because people are split between those who follow reason and those who are moved by passion.

The rights of the individual and the rights of the state extend as far as their force does, since society is a system of forces.

The Treaty says that: «No society can exist without government and force».

The task of the state is to find a stable balance of these forces.

Whoever changes this balance, harming people’s physical and rational lives, has to be removed from society with the “safest means”. The violence of the bourgeois revolution is justified as an act of “reason” as opposed to the impulses of “passion”, often conceived as a disturbing force.

On the contrary, the state assures people of their “inalienable natural rights”, i.e. private property and freedom of thought and conscience: rights, precisely, of physical and rational life.

In the political theory of the Dutch philosopher, the stable balance of forces becomes the result of the knowledge of the passions.

In our interpretation, religious tolerance is one aspect of the balance of forces, and indeed proves that it has become a stable balance, particularly as it is taken as the condition for the development of science and education.

Spinoza assigns a practical and political role to philosophy.

Science-philosophy must know the passions (love, hate, anger, envy, personal liking, ambition, etc.) so that people do not become slaves to them. Passions are neither to condemn nor to praise but to understand, because they are part of human nature just as heat and cold, wind and rain are part of the atmosphere.

Therefore passion is nature capable of being known by reason.

Spinoza reaches a very important conclusion when he puts understanding above weeping and laughing: there is no absolute r good, there is no absolute evil, there is no heaven-sent moral rule, there is nothing that is inherently just or unjust.

The philosopher develops his monistic theory of knowledge: passions are none other than natural forces that can be known by a natural force that is reason.

Passions and reason are natural forces guided by politics, by the state. The monistic theory of knowledge becomes the basis of Spinoza’s theory of the state.

When he states that people are passion and reason, inasmuch as they are inseparable parts of nature, he sets himself against Descartes’ dualism, composed of a physical and a spiritual principle. Spinoza enunciates a monistic system in the form of geometrical demonstrations.

A) Nature alone exists; it is God, since it is the creator-cause of itself.

B) All things are merely manifestations, parts of a single “substance”, matter. They do not exist outside this, but for it and with it.

C) Things change and move, but the “substance” (matter) remains unchangeable and eternal.

D) In the world there is causal necessity. The existence of supernatural phenomena is impossible.

Spinoza’s materialism has both a mechanistic and a metaphysical trait, but it introduced the monistic vision, as opposed to the dualistic, into the bourgeois revolution.

Metaphysical Materialism and Rationalism

With his important theory of Nature as the cause of itself, Spinoza had not yet resolved the problem of the determination of thought.

He therefore introduced the idea of animation into matter, arbitrarily forcing his representation of the natural process.

The metaphysical nature of his materialism, although exceptional in its substantial atheism, is revealed by this.

Actually, his atheism can initially be considered metaphysical. This can be seen from his judgements on religion, the first of which has become a classic: religion is «the fantasy and delirium of a timid and oppressed soul».

A second judgement is more markedly political: «⋯ the means of inculcating in the people veneration for its monarchs, as if they were gods».

On the other hand, the link between the state form and veneration is more markedly historical: monarchs and gods.

But it is Spinoza’s materialism that is metaphysical.

This trait emerges from his definition of the essential indivisible properties of matter, two of which are considered extension and thought. The extension of matter is conceived of in the mutual mechanical-spatial connection of the world and in the materiality of “substance”.

In short, the representation of matter ended up weighing on Spinoza’s theory of the state, even if he strove to discover how the world had developed.

Engels recognised this in his Dialectics of Nature. «It is to the highest credit of the philosophy of the time ⋯ that — from Spinoza down to the great French materialists — it insisted on explaining the world from the world itself and left the justification in detail to the natural science of the future».

Engels never tired of recalling, on every occasion, the debt that science owes to philosophy.

Ludovico Geymonat’s Storia delpensiero.filosofico e scienti.fico [History of Philosophical and Scientific Though] makes a comparison with Leviathan: «The difference that he himself made between his own ideas and those of the Englishman Hobbes lies precisely in the fact that, while the Hobbesian state absorbs its subjects into itself in order to crush their autonomy, his aims, on the contrary, to protect and ensure its citizens’ prerogatives by incorporating them into the ends for which it had arisen».

The citizens confer all the sovereignty of the people on the state power in exchange for security and protection.

For Spinoza, the citizen, who is capable of imposing the rule of reason on himself, will never be a slave; it is significant that Geymonat’s book defines as “political rationalism” the Dutch theoretician’s thought, in which, of the three forms of government — monarchical, aristocratic and democratic — the first two are considered deformations of the third.

The theoretical and historical comparison regards the “rationalism” of politics.

The Rationalist Method

In short, the differences and similarities between the English theoretician and the Dutch are the consequence of three decades of revolutions and wars. According to the Low Countries’ social contract, the state has to have absolute power over its citizens and exclusive authority.

Geymonat argues in his Storia:«Up to this point Spinoza does not seem to deviate from the Hobbesian model».

His conception differs in that he maintains that the integration of single individuals into the state system is exclusively due to the «greater security of the welfare of individuals offered by the state body; it is only due to this prospect that they are willing to renounce the freedom they enjoyed in the state of nature».

The prospect, therefore, is that of a stronger state than the absolutist. Absolute and exclusive authority is the guarantee of a formidable institution.

The strong state is democratic.

Geymonat goes on to say: «In other terms, the state, in spite of its omnipotence, cannot — according to Spinoza — enslave individual thought, nor can it subjugate reason. Hence, the citizen that is able to impose the dominion of reason on himself will never be a slave.

Slavery is caused only by the fact that an individual carries out actions that do not benefit him but those who ordered them; since the state orders actions that are useful for everyone, it cannot have as its aim the slavery of its citizens, but their true freedom.»

The Tractatus state is not a “Leviathan” because it does not have the strength, but because it has more. It cannot subjugate its citizens’ reason because this would be denying itself; it is precisely from reason, i.e. from its citizens’ interests, that its omnipotence derives.

Political rationalism takes a step forward with Spinoza with respect to Hobbes. He goes from passion to reason, and from fear to interest.

The democratic state is the strongest state because it holds the greatest power: «That is, if each individual hands over the whole of his power to the body politic, the latter will then possess sovereign natural right over all things; that is, it will have sole and unquestioned dominion, and everyone will be bound to obey, under pain of the severest punishment. A body politic of this kind is called a Democracy, which may be defined as a society which wields all its power as a whole».

In his notebooks on Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise (1841), Marx annotates the passage taken from Chapter ⅩⅥ, “The Foundations of the State”.

The Italian editor of the notebooks writes that «Marx found himself a Communist without ceasing to be a Liberal».

But he has to take The German Ideology into account: «Starting with Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Bodinus and others of modern times, not to mention earlier ones, might has been represented as the basis of right. Thereby, the theoretical view of politics was freed from morality, and apart from the postulate of an independent treatment of politics nothing was accepted».

Marx had reached his destination: Communism.

Chapter Seven


Modern Theory and Military Tax

In the course of the seventeenth century, one of the results of the end of the set-up that collapsed with the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) was the transformation of the relations among the powers, to the detriment of Spain and in favour of France. Subsequently, French supremacy would be weakened by a series of wars against England and by the loss of important colonies in America and Asia.

Italian supremacy had lasted until the second half of the fifteenth century, a period during which Venice and Genoa reigned supreme in the commercial sector and promoted the industrial development of Lombard and Tuscan towns.

The collapse ofltalywould contribute to the birth of Machiavelli’s political theory, precisely in that Florence of the height of Italy’s artistic glory and of its fading from the international scene.

The question of military spending and of who pays for it entered the Modern Era thanks to the finely honed writings of Ser Niccolò.

Starting from the decline of the Mediterranean basin and the rise of the Atlantic — a consequence of the discovery of America — the two Spanish and Austrian branches of the Hapsburgs established themselves as the greatest powers in Europe. They formed a union of kingdoms, dukedoms and scattered provinces that played a leading role for one and a half centuries.

With the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, which sanctioned the defeat of Spain, both the Iberian power and the Low Countries declined.

One hundred and fifty years of conflict over supremacy in Europe meant huge spending on armies, weapons and fleets.

Military spending is an old political problem. The history of Rome and of the Roman Empire is, in part, a history of struggles for the fitting-out of armies and fleets, a clash over the maintenance of, or increase or reduction in, the armed forces, and a contention over the necessary taxes and levies. One need only think that one-third of the sixty or so emperors rose to that rank by acclamation of the legions.

Thanks to the resources it had discovered in America, the Spanish Empire was born rich. Military spending was fuelled by this booty, and was of little interest to the ingenious architects of a “Siglo de oro” left to the world as a legacy.

Paul Kennedy has studied the decline of Spain and has paid particular attention to military spending. He points out that, of the Hapsburg possessions in Italy and Flanders, withdrawal from Italy was the less advisable. In the first half of the sixteenth century the French would fill in the huge power vacuum, and would use Italy’s wealth to their ends — to the detriment of the Hapsburgs. In the second half, Italy was, quite literally, the outer bulwark of Spain itself as it faced Ottoman expansion towards the West.

Italy’s wealth was therefore a contribution to Spanish military spending in the sixteenth century.

The historian goes on to say that, by exclusion, the Low Countries were the only area in which Hapsburg spending could be cut: thanks to problems with the terrain and to attempts at fortification, the costs of maintaining an army in Flanders during the eighty years’ war against the Dutch were quite high and greatly exceeded those of all the other fronts. Even at the height of the Thirty Years’ War five or six times more money was spent on the Flanders garrison than on the forces in Germany.

This military spending paved the way for Spain’s swift decline.

Method of Political Arithmetic

The historian Paul Kennedy sums up the conclusion to the Spanish military spending needed to fight on the European continent as follows: to maintain its “bastion” in the Mediterranean Spain had to send millions of ducats to Italy, to be added to those already gathered there. During the Thirty Years’ War the pattern was again inverted and Italian taxes helped to pay for the wars in Germany and the Low Countries; but, if we consider the whole 1519–1659 period, it is hard to believe that the Hapsburg possessions in Italy made more substantial contributions to the joint coffers (if they actually did contribute) than what was paid out for their own defence.

It no longer added up, not even historically.

By the mid-seventeenth century the rise of France, Great Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia was underway, while Spain, the Low Countries, Sweden, Turkey and Poland were in decline.

Taxes could not make the implacable wheel of history turn back.

It was the London revolution that needed them.

William Petty (1623–1687) was a contemporary of John Locke (1632–1704). Both were physicians: the former started his career as professor of anatomy at the University of Oxford and went on to become physician-general of the English troops in Ireland in 1652; and the latter became the Count of Shaftesbury’s personal physician in 1668.

But it is not in this field that they left their mark.

Marx promoted Petty to the position of “father of bourgeois political economy”. High praise indeed, but he deserved it.

With William Petty, economics developed alongside political theory. In his researches into economics he adopted the inductive method formulated by the materialists Bacon and Hobbes, i.e. he did not limit himself, as did the mercantilists, to the empirical observation of reality, but tended to go beyond the identification of the phenomenon and to grasp the inner laws that regulated it.

For example, he contested the mercantilist theory whereby national wealth is defined according to the amount of money in circulation. For Petty there is no direct dependence between the amount of paper money in circulation and the mass of commo dities.

He laid the bases for the theory of labour-value: “labour is the Father and active principle of wealth, as lands are the Mother”. Labour is conceived as the minim um of the means needed to subsist, and value, whether land rent or monetary, is the general form of surplus labour.

The theoretician drew close to the idea of the division of the working day into necessary time and surplus labour. In essence, the value of labour is conceived thanks to Petty’s anti-mercantilism, while the concept of profit as an independent category is still lacking.

On the other hand, Petty did not differ from the mercantilists in their belief that state intervention in economic life was necessary.

Where he did differ, however, was in auguring free trade at an international level.

Counsellor to Oliver Cromwell and successively to Charles II, he carried out a major inquiry into the distribution of the lands confiscated in Ireland and reorganised them on the basis of a new land register.

He defined his work on economic statistics, made increasingly necessary by Britain’s social and productive development, as “political arithmetic”.

In A Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1662) he analysed taxes, and in Political Arithmetic he applied his statistical method.

In his essay on the Political Anatomy of Ireland (1672, pub. 1691), he calculated that the country’s national wealth (lands, houses, ships, livestock, etc.) amounted to 250 million pounds sterling and its circulating monetary stock to 6 million. He argued that stock (income) constitutes the least part of national wealth (social capital).

The land register as a basis for taxation became an immortal theory thanks to William Petty.

Mercantilism and Political Arithmetic

In the fourth volume of Capital Marx compares Petty with Locke and argues that the works of the latter have a certain «dependence» on the works of the former.

According to the British historian Eric Roll, his independence from mercantile interests led Petty to grasp the transition from mercantile to industrial capitalism and, therefore, to formulate a critique of the mercantilist theory.

It was his personal background, from the son of a poor Hampshire weaver to finance inspector and rich landowner, after having been a cabin boy, a pedlar, a sailor, a clothier, a doctor, and an anatomy professor, that helped him to formulate an in-depth critique that would long remain unsurpassed. His critique of mercantilism developed in a preparatory phase to industrial capital and in a period of great political upheaval, during which the old political forms underwent profound transformations.

The mercantilist price theory reflected mercantile practice. Given that wealth in this activity is the same as commercial capital, constituted by money, the best way to increase national wealth is to sell with a profit, i.e. at a higher price than the purchase price.

This is also true of foreign trade. Profit is made at the moment of trading.

With industrial capital the problem of wealth and value is posed in a new way and can no longer be seen as trading; it has to be dealt with in production, in which capital is employed in both its constant and its circulating form before entering the trading process.

The thought of the creator of “political arithmetic” follows this transitional phase in the English market.

Eugen Dühring accused Marx of having attached too much importance to Petty in Capital, and jumped from Locke to the physiocrats and then to Hume in order to exalt the latter’s role.

In Engels’ second chapter of Anti-Dühring, devoted to “Political Economy”, Marx replied to his critic: «With Herr Dühring’s permission we restore the chronological order, putting Hume before the physiocrats».

Locke and Sir Dudley North «gave us proof of how the first bold strokes which Petty dealt in almost every sphere of political economy were taken up one by one by his English successors and further developed. The traces of this process during the period 1691 to 1752 are obvious even to the most superficial observer⋯ That period, which abounded in original thinkers, is therefore the most important for the investigation of the gradual genesis of political economy».

The correct historical development helps to assign Petty the place that he deserves.

Dühring exaggerated Hume’s role so as to be able to demonstrate that the creation of political economy was the work of “more illuminated philosophy”.

Marx hit back by seeing in Hume an «indefatigable partisan of the Whig oligarchy» who served as embassy secretary in Paris and subsequently as undersecretary of state. In conclusion, he cites a harsh judgement expressed by William Cobbett.

The attempt to deny Petty the paternity of political economy is easily dismantled.

All the criticism of economics is systemised, also in order to lay the scientific foundations for the criticism of politics.

Economics and the Social Contract

Comparing William Petty with John Locke, Marx analysed his work on the interest rate published in 1691, three years after his return to England from asylum in France and Holland and his appointment by William of Orange as Royal Commissioner for Trade and the Colonies.

Sir Dudley North was the first to have «the correct conception of interest», since he conceived of money as a form of capital and not as a means of circulation, and the first to dispose of «a definite concept of stock or capital».

The concept of “capital” therefore springs from the correct conception of “interest”.

Marx continues his explanation: «Taking Locke’s general doctrine of labour together with his doctrine of the origin of interest and rent- for he considers surplus-value only in these specific forms surplus-value is nothing but anotherperson’s labour, surplus-labour, which land and capital — the conditions of labour — enable their owners to appropriate».

In the forefront of his consideration is the concept of landed property; but let’s continue: «Ownership of a greater quantity of conditions of labour than one person can himself put to use with his own labour is, according to Locke, a political invention that contradicts the law of nature on which private property is founded».

Marx pinpointed the philosopher’s contribution to political economy, but it needs to be put into its historical context.

Locke’s work is important because, at a certain moment during the struggles in England, it stands out as crushing criticism of land ownership. According to Locke, the ownership of the means of production above the capitalist entrepreneur’s personal limit is a «capitalist [i.e. state] invention» of the landowner.

The author transmutes his philosophy into a page of bourgeois political economy. It is no coincidence that Marx, who had studied Locke as a philosopher in the 1840s, rediscovered him as an econ omist in 1861.

It is necessary to follow him in the development of the concept of property: «One limit to property is therefore the limit ofpersonal labour, the other, that a man should not amass more things than he can use».

But, given that there are perishable products: «⋯ thus came in the use of money, some lasting thing that men might keep without spoiling, and that by mutual consent men would take in exchange for the truly useful but perishable supports of life».

Marx sees the limit to property and continues: «Thus arises the inequality of individual property, though the limit ofpersonal labour rematns».

He thus expounds the limit of labour: «Labour gives things almost all their value (value here is equivalent to use-value, and labour is taken as concrete labour, not as a quantum; but the measuring of exchange-value by labour is in reality based on the fact that the labourer creates use-value). The remainder of use-value which cannot be resolved into labour is the gift of nature, and hence in its essence common property. What Locke therefore tries to show is not the contradiction — that property can nevertheless be acquired by other procedures than labour — but how, in spite of the common property in nature, individual property could be created by individual labour».

Capitalist property is created by labour. This is its social limit.

Labour and the Social Contract

Marx cites a series of passages and comments: «In this passage Locke has in part the polemical interest of showing landed property that its rent is in no way different from usury. Both “transfer that Profit, that was the Reward of one Man’s Labour, into another Man’s Pocket” through the unequal distribution of the conditions of production».

He makes a distinction: «Locke’s view is all the more important because it was the classical expression of bourgeois society’s ideas of right as against feudal society, and moreover his philosophy served as the basis for all the ideas of the whole of subsequent English political economy».

This offers us a useful guideline: philosophy as the foundation of economic theories.

The dual quality of nature: objective reality and labour.

Locke fought on two fronts: against the nobility he argued that nature without labour is common property, and in favour of the bourgeoisie he thought that nature is activity, labour, and that property, as a product of labour, represents an aspect of nature.

The philosopher’s simultaneously materialistic and empirical position emerges.

But when he applies his method to economic reality he does not fall into mechanistic materialism, unlike, for example, the French philosophers who, faced with a more backward economic reality, fell into ideal generalisations.

To elaborate his constitutional theory of the state, John Locke was forced to disagree with Thomas Hobbes and to oppose common sense to the logic of the greatest seventeenth century theoretician.

In short, he enunciated the bourgeois social practice of the 1688 set-up whereby the monarchy and parliament are held responsible to the people, and their power is limited by the moral law and institutional conventions.

In his 1690 To Treatises of Government the community is considered an illusion: it exists solely for the co-operation established by individuals and is due to the single advantages of its members. With the state, both individuals and the community play a socially useful role. But the state makes the subjection of the individual inevitable.

According to George Sabine, Locke accepted the concept of self-interest from Hobbes, but interpreted the law of nature as the innate, irrevocable right that is inherent in each individual.

Private property was a typical example of this. Hence Locke, too, believed that the state has to defend the rights of individuals.

We can observe that it is the definition of these rights that permeates Locke and that brings him to reject the absolutist theory of the state.

The state of nature is seen as a state of peace and mutual assistance, and not as war against everyone else, as Hobbes saw it.

To this way of thinking, nature demonstrates rights and duties, but has no organisation that establishes rules (the state, civil law, the magistracy, etc.).

Any thing, whether just or unjust, remains so for all eternity.

Therefore, says Locke, each individual must protect his own property as best he can. It derives from this that morality (rights and duties) is intrinsic to nature.

Hence it is morality (nature) that makes the law, and not the law that makes morality.

According to the philosopher, what is typical of the law of nature (of natural rights) is property-right. In the state of nature property was considered a common good, and in the Middle Ages, as it was for Roman law, community of ownership was considered the perfect natural state.

But the individual is entitled to the land that is the labour of his body and the fruit of his labour. It is on this thesis that Marx dwells when he studies Locke as an economist.

Property and the Social Contract

Towards the end of the seventeenth century the English theory of the state advanced political experience.

Locke says that labour is part of man, hence property exists independently from and prior to the agreement among the components of the community. It is a right that each individual brings to society in his own person.

Society and the state do not create this right, but are appointed to protect the pre-existing property-right.

Labour and property are the points of reference of the social contract theory.

It seems to us that Locke retains the medieval theory of the law of nature more than Hobbes, purifying it of its original imprint that dictated the social good and formulating it as individual right that limits the institutional reach of society in liberty-private property.

Even though indirectly, this reflects the political and economic evolution of the English bourgeoisie.

While for Hobbes egoism is mainly biological self-preservation, for Locke it is the natural right to the private ownership of the product of labour. Egoism has become socially, objectively, and ideologically bourgeois. It is no coincidence that half a century had gone by since the civil war.

To leap from the biological to the social a leap in method was required. Hobbes’s materialism was no longer sufficient.

As regards this thesis, too, the author of the Two Treatises of Government was inspired by bourgeois social practice, and especially by that of the colonists of the new land of America.

Labour extends a man’s personality to the object that he produces, since he spends his energy on it. The usefulness of the object produced depends on the labour employed on it.

As greater production is useful to the community, i.e. to everyone, it corresponds to peace and not to a “war of all against all”, as Hobbes claimed.

Locke fights Hobbes’s theory of egoism and formulates a theory of his own in which he upholds the social usefulness and benefit of private property even for those who have no property.

This is an approach that reflects the rise of the bourgeois class.

With the introduction of this new ideological element he advances science by transferring egoism from psychology to man’s productive activity, i.e. to a relationship of the individual with others, to a social relationship.

The fundamental problem that Locke has to resolve is that of demonstrating empirically that the natural law, i.e. property, is moral and juridical law.

This leads him to criticise innate ideas — all the forms of preconception in morals, religion, and science itself. He argues that there are no innate ideas and that ideas derive from the senses; no idea is innate in the mind. But we cannot trust in immediate evidence, since a false idea may appear obvious.

Locke moves beyond immediate evidence and lays the methodological foundation of empiricism, which will be subsequently developed by David Hume.

Even so, it remains a materialist conception since, scientifically, it refers to mathematics.

In essence:

  1. he demonstrates the origin of ideas empirically, but denies the certainty of all empirical knowledge;
  2. he constructs a demonstrative morality similar to geometry.

We may think that Locke cannot be an empiricist, since he has to demonstrate the natural law-moral law equivalence empirically.

Consensus and the Social Contract

Seeking to demonstrate the equivalence between nature and morality,John Locke wants to demonstrate the equivalence between property and rights, inventing a reality that may adapt itself to this requirement.

He therefore adopts the mathematical-geometrical method, a scientific logic based on a not empirically demonstrated axiom.

In this case the axiom is natural property-right.

The not empirically demonstrated axiom is that of nature-property-morality. It is here that the social justification of property and the corresponding ideology of morality are introduced into the natural reality of labour to which Locke refers materialistically.

His method presents the dual aspect of being substantially empiricist in his theory of ideas and rationalist in his theory of the state.

This explains why it has been used in two directions, in that of the English theory of empiricism and in that of the French theory of rationalism.

The concept round which his theory of the state revolves is natural property-right. Its logical development leads to a society expressed by the consensus of individuals.

Consequently the state will be the tool of society that has the right to make laws, including penalties, and to use the force of the association of individuals to regulate and defend property.

This power can derive only from the consensus of individuals, since the state can have no other right than that coming from individuals.

In this vision state power is, in the end, the natural power of each individual entrusted, by common consent, to a body able to protect individual rights better than each individual can do. And it is precisely this mutual authorisation that obliges the individual to submit to the majority.

The form of government therefore depends on the majority, and even if its greatest authority is revealed in its legislative activity, it is always the people that holds the supreme power of changing the legislation.

Locke sums up the experience of the English Revolution, with the definitive consolidation of Parliament, as he defines the legislative power and states that, as the executive power depends on the legislative, the two functions have to be separate.

This thesis of the separation of powers lacks a third power, the judicial power, which Montesquieu will contemplate in his theory.

As Jean-Jacques Rousseau developed his state theory of the social contract in the form of the theory of popular sovereignty, he would criticise Locke for having halted the exercise of the popular will at a single act, that of the Constitution.

On the contrary, we can hypothesise that the English philosopher’s theory represents the compromise of the 1688 bourgeoisie, a compromise in which the state is seen as a balance between the Crown, Church, Nobility, and People.

Locke could not affirm popular sovereignty, i.e. the purely bourgeois state. With consensus based on the natural law he affirmed the role of the bourgeoisie in establishing the “general framework” (the Constitution) of the balance of power among the state classes.

It is no coincidence that his theory of the state would be the general line of Whig liberalism for many years to come.

The Double Function of the Social Contract State Theory

The corroboration of social practice explains why Locke’s theory goes beyond the period in which it was formulated and projects itself into the following century.

His materialism dealt with future development and linked itself to the unfolding of a new century.

Until the practice of a new class struggle became a pressing need, the ideological element present in Locke’s materialism would not yet be a concrete contradiction in political theory and would remain a logical contradiction within his theory itself.

That natural law was property was only an ideological statement that did not correspond to reality, but that capitalist property was a natural-historical evolution was demonstrated by the development of reality itself.

This is why, given the materialist analysis of reality, Locke’s theory of the state could anticipate the future until the moment when the development of economic and social reality would create new balances in the state. This would be when, with the Liberals, the industrial bourgeoisie acquired popular consensus, popular sovereignty, and universal suffrage that also enabled it to have and to use the dawning proletariat against the landowners.

Consensus, as Locke conceives it, was realised in the rise of the bourgeoisie. Popular sovereignty, as conceived by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was not realised because it was petty-bourgeois utopianism and, from a democratic angle, opposing social contract consensus with popular sovereignty was a sterile exercise.

To defend the validity of the 1688 revolution Locke, in opposition to Hobbes, claimed the right to oppose tyranny, and introduced the distinction between “unjust” and “just” war, a distinction that would have many disciples in future times.

Another distinction appears between “moral validity” and “force”, an anti-Hobbes thesis subsequently developed by Rousseau and Kant.

The concept is simple: morality is permanent since it is nature, and whoever usurps it uses force and provokes another force, revolution.

In this thesis, too, the philosopher reflects the practice of the English bourgeoisie that tended towards the free, peaceful progress of its development and recourse to rebellion in the case of impediments.

This rebellion that would no longer be of use to the English bourgeoisie would turn out to be advantageous to the French.

By adopting the principle of insurrection, Locke’s theory of the state succeeded in carrying out a double function. In England it became an empiristic theorisation of the practice that concluded the bourgeois revolution, and in France it constituted a theoretical subject that would prepare the revolution of a hundred years later.

From the human consciousness viewpoint, the social contract state theory can regard the subject-intellect-reality relationship.

Intellect-sensation would then be the theory of the empirical practice of the Industrial Revolution; it is a theory that would be of great help to the development of techniques.

It would be up to Hegel to downgrade the intellect and subordinate it to reason-idea.

But the Industrial Revolution corresponded to the English intellect, and 1789 to the French reason, while the philistinism of the German bourgeoisie corresponded to reason-idea.

Chapter Eight


Two Kinds of Materialism

Dealing with eighteenth century materialism in their work The Holy Family (1845), Marx and Engels established an important premise that we can also read as a line of demarcation between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

They say that the French Enlightenment did not limit itself to a struggle against the existing state and religions, but also involved an open, explicit struggle against seventeenth century metaphysics, and in particular that of René Descartes (1596–1650), Nicolas de Malebranche (1638–1715), Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716). Philosophy was counterposed to metaphysics.

The sense of this opposition, reviewed by the two authors, becomes clear in the exposition of their criticism of Hegelism that accompanied the breaks with democracy and the transition to historical materialism and Communism.

Their criticism says explicitly that seventeenth century metaphysics, driven from the field by the French Enlightenment, notably by eighteenth century French materialism, experienced a victorious and substantial restoration in the speculative German philosophy of the nineteenth century. It states that Hegel linked this philosophy in a masterly fashion with all subsequent metaphysics and with German idealism, thus founding a metaphysical universal kingdom.

Hegelian dialectics reproposes Johann G. Fichte and Friedrich W. Schelling’s idealism, and becomes a new metaphysics. Therefore, write Marx and Engels, it is necessary to attack speculative metaphysics: «It will be defeated for ever by materialism, [represented by Feuerbach] in the theoretical domain, [and by] French and English socialism and communism ⋯ in the practical domain».

According to Marx and Engels, there are two trends in French materialism: one traces its origin to Descartes, the other to Locke.

Julien de Lamettrie (1709–1751) and Paul-Henry d’Holbach (1723 1789) can be connected to the first with their respective works L’homme machine (1748) and Système de la nature (1770).

John Locke, instead, continued the English materialism of Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, and can be connected to Etienne de Condillac (1715–1780) and Claude-Adrien Helvétius (1715–1771) with his De l’esprit (1758) and De Phomme (1773).

This new generation was born in the first decades of the century, when its great predecessors were already dead and gone, and while Paris and London were disputing which of them was to be the heir to Madrid. It would not reach intellectual maturity until halfway through the century — in any case, a generation before that of the Jacobins and Girondists. As can be seen, this evolution embraced the whole of the eighteenth century. Two trends met during this time span, but led to two different outcomes: the first to French natural science, and the second directly to socialism.

For Marx and Engels, materialism was not enough, since mechanical materialism led to natural science and not to social science, i.e. to socialism that becomes scientific.

The growing importance of the capitalist mode of production involved the expansion of natural science and of its interconnected technology. Its scientific concept became predominant, and no trace remained of the historical process that had made it so. The fecundity of a battle that, from materialist criticism, had led to the criticism of a class-divided society was lost in an apologetic exaltation of science.

Even in the revolutionary movement this misunderstanding of the place of science has often prevailed at the expense of Marx’s criticism.

Natural and Social Effects

In his Dialectics of Nature Engels defines the difference between “natural effects” and “social effects” as follows: «But if it required the labour of thousands of years for us to learn a little of how to calculate the more remote natural effects of our actions in the field of production, it has been still more difficult in regard to the more remote social effects of these actions». We can say that the “natural effects” stop at production, while the “social effects” reach the heights of criticism of political economy.

Another passage from Dialectics of Nature is significant: «And when afterwards Columbus discovered this America, he did not know that by doing so he was giving a new lease of life to slavery, which in Europe had long ago been done away with, and laying the basis for the Negro slave trade».

The man who utterly discredited metaphysics was Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), the author of the 1695–1697 Dictionnaire Historique et Critique. The weapon he used was scepticism. Like Ludwig Feuerbach, he was impelled to struggle against speculative theology by the recognition that speculation, in its Hegelian form, was the last-ditch attempt of theology. Bayle had derived from his experience enough religious doubt to formulate a sceptical criticism that saw metaphysics as the final buttress of faith.

He therefore submitted metaphysics to a historical analysis in which he criticised Spinoza and Leibniz. He prepared France for the diffusion of materialism.

One of the two trends of French materialism traces its origin to Descartes. In La Physique he had attributed automatic force to matter, and had conceived mechanical motion as the final act, thus completely separating his physics from his metaphysics. In his physics field, matter is the sole substance, the sole foundation of existence and knowledge.

Let us observe that the French philosopher could still have been counted among the exponents of mechanical materialism had he not embraced metaphysics by distinguishing matter from the spirit.

His concept became a conciliatory ideology that found its expression in Jansenism, i.e. in a theological vision that had as its background the class struggles fought in the absolutist state during the seventeenth century in France.

The materialism of Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655) and Thomas Hobbes counterposed Descartes’ metaphysics.

Seventeenth century metaphysics, as found in Descartes and Leibniz, was still mixed with the positive content of the discoveries in science, mathematics, and physics, but at the beginning of the eighteenth century the “positive sciences” had set themselves up as autonomous spheres”, separate from metaphysics.

This had become “insipid” and was made up only of ideal entities.

Metaphysics lost all credit in the practical configuration of French life.

The materialists Helvetius and Condillac followed in Locke’s footsteps, while the mechanical materialists Lamettrie and D’Holbach followed Descartes in physics but rejected his metaphysics. It is in mechanical natural science that Cartesian materialism could celebrate its great successes at the hands of his followers.

The Liberalism of Absolutism

Through Richelieu and Mazarin, the absolutist-bureaucratic monarchy reached one of its apogees with Louis ⅩⅣ and the last forty years (1675–1715) of his long reign, considered by some as years of decadence because of the cost of its military victories.

Its ambitious expansionist trends were opposed by the whole of Europe, and especially by bourgeois England: the cost of its military campaigns led to the imposition of taxes that, to the widespread discontent of France’s bourgeois fractions, pushed the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

As it pursued this policy, the state also depended on the Jesuits to oppose the Gallicans and the Protestants, who made up much of the new class.

This state crisis opened the way for the Enlightenment, i.e. to an explicit political version of its philosophy.

Cultural publications became means of social debate. In 1690 John Locke published his Two Treatises on Civil Government, in which he presented his philosophy in a political form, with the aim of defending the 1688 revolution. This brought the fifty-year period of political philosophy that had accompanied the English civil wars to a close at a moment when the new government had to consolidate the compromise that had been reached. English thought became conservative.

But some elements of Locke’s materialism and a number of his political ideas took root in France, where the relationship between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie in the seventeenth century was not the same as in England. The latter’s absolutist monarchy had had to turn itself into a constitutional monarchy, and had been forced to submit to the political power of parliament, able to influence state power as a whole.

The substantial balance of the classes in France did not lead to the transformation of the absolutist state. On the contrary, it led to its apogee.

The cultural clash immediately assumed political overtones. Every one of its aspects contained elements of political theory (Voltaire and poetry, Rousseau and the novel, Diderot and D’Alembert and science, Turgot and Montesquieu, etc.).

Culture explicitly presented itself as politics, as had never occurred in any other historical period apart from in ancient Greece. We can understand why such a cultural-political reawakening was also to mark the birth of modern Communism.

The debate heated up. George Sabine sees it as an «obsession», and even lists some of its features:

  1. as a philosophical theory it presented «little that was new», since it echoed English materialism;
  2. it was a «mass of ideas, endlessly repeated with various applications»;
  3. it was mass «popularisation», or a «rabble-rousing» phase;
  4. it was the updating of old ideas expressed in a new way;
  5. philosophical rationalism became popular eclecticism.

At the beginning, French liberalism admired the English government. The natural law was the law of reason, since it was believed that the natural law was essentially individual interest. The state existed only to foster freedom and property ownership, and had to establish a representative government that would ensure a society in which individual capacity could develop to the point of growing rich.

It is at this point that French liberalism contradicted itself. The absolutist monarchy could not permit itself any kind of reform that would see the development of bourgeois rights.

Given the impossibility of the gradual implementation of the “rights of man”, their assertion became a generic, demagogic assertion, open to every possible interpretation.

This is also why, unlike Locke, French rationalism was prevalently innovative and opposed to tradition; hence anti-historical, since it did not consider that the present is the development of the past.

The Liberalism of Reason

Given its “rabble-rousing” nature, the French bourgeois theory could not make a dialectical recovery of its past. If it had delved more deeply into history, it would have left a stronger resistance to the enemy ideology, based precisely on the past, on history. Beating this ideology meant putting the blinkers on half of history.

This lost ground would be recovered in the following century by the bourgeois historians of the class struggles.

In Germany, on the contrary, theory did not have to deal with the political battle of “rabble-rousing”, and expressed Hegelian “dialectics”.

Since the French bourgeoisie, unlike the English, could not debate its interests “empirically” and “concretely”, given the absence of specific political institutions, it set out its state theory in a general form.

Therefore on French soil the English state theory lost its empirical nature, derived from everyday practice.

The Church held one-fifth of the land, the nobility had similar privileges but less state power, and the bourgeoisie, given the stranglehold of land rent, could not even expand into the countryside and become big landowners like its English cousins. The French bourgeoisie was therefore typically urban, and its main creditor was the state.

Since the nobility held neither political nor state power, the absolutist state had a vast civil service that, together with the inertia of the nobility, contributed to increasing parasitism. Furthermore, the civil service blocked the bourgeoisie’s access to political careers.

If we add to this the tax exemption of the clergy and the nobility, we can see that this question of privileges was paramount. We can therefore understand why Locke’s theory in France became more critical of privileges than it was in Britain.

In the seventeenth century appeal to reason had led to a great intellectual thrust forward and to a new frontier for science. But in the meantime this thrust forward had become “prudent moralism”. With Isaac Newton’s Principia (1687), science inspired conviction and faith in progress.

Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws was published in 1748 (David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature had come out in 1739-40).

Sixty years had gone by since Locke’s Two Treatises on Civil Government and, together with Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Inequalities of Man (1755), we find the two greatest political philosophers of the new century, with their new theories.

The author used as his starting point the consideration that the state depends on the circumstances in which a people lives (climate, soil conditions, economy, industry, mentality, morals, customs, etc.), and is therefore an aggregate that requires the mutual regulation of all its institutions.

Unlike the other rationalists, Montesquieu considered the “complexity” of the state: it is no coincidence that he took an interest in the comparative “history” and analysis of, for example, France, Russia and Turkey.

In order to combat French absolutism, his aim was that of analysing the conditions to restore the “old French freedoms”.

This is another reason why his “complexity” was subsequently taken up by the conservatives.

The Liberalism of the Three Powers

The Spirit of Laws criticises Hobbes and establishes the natural law as a general principle, since it offers a rule of absolute justice, prior to the juridical “positive law”.

But the natural law has to operate in different environments and produce different situations. The natural law will find itself operating in particular states and in particular conditions.

For Montesquieu the state is a kind of fixed institution that is modified by its particular environment.

There are three kinds of states: republican, monarchic, and despotic.

He draws on the English experience for the separation of powers.

According to the philosopher, the reciprocal balance between legislative, executive, and juridical power guarantees liberty.

The theory of the state as the separation of the three powers is a fundamental theory of liberalism. Its historical roots are important.

The theory of the three powers is important because it expresses both the general interest and the particular interests of the various bourgeois fractions.

Montesquieu turns the English practice, i.e. the historical phase in which the conquest of political power and state power on the part of economic power occurred, into a theory.

In the long cycle of their struggles, the balances between the classes and the fractions in England had a complex historical development that embraces various centuries and that requires specific concepts in order to be analysed and described. The concept “power” is a simplified concept that only scratches the surface of the phenomenon. The balance of powers assumes the function of the appropriate concept corresponding to the subject under examination.

From this point of view, Montesquieu’s theory generalises historical practice, and can do so since, unlike other forms of rationalism, it conserves a general conception of its complexity and concreteness.

To be more precise, it would be the comparative analysis of the two societies that would introduce the concreteness of the power dynamic into French rationalism.

As Montesquieu was a rationalist, in the sense that he tended to see ethics in the natural law, he did not understand the crucial role of economic power and, therefore, the real law of social motion, although he did take it into consideration in the complexity of factors.

In his essay on Montesquieu, the French philosopher Louis Althusser develops Porshnev’s interpretation in his works on the Fronde and popular revolts in France in the 17 and 18 centuries, an interpretation that denies the absolute monarchy the role of arbiter between the two opposing classes of the feudal lords and the bourgeoisie.

Porshnev says that we cannot attribute to the French bourgeoisie of the time characteristics of radical antagonism to the landowning class; indeed, the development of the bourgeoisie was of a mercantile type and did not affect the landowners’ exploitation.

The political regime of the absolute monarchy was none other than a political form suited to maintaining the landowners’ supremacy and exploitation while the mercantile economy was developing.

The traditional interpretation of Montesquieu’s theory of the balance of powers, i.e. the one summed up by Marx in 1845, is rejected: «For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an “eternal law”».

The Utilitarian Liberal State

Helvetius belonged to the school of French materialism that derived from John Locke: he formulated the theory of knowledge, which is a materialist concept, for his theory of the state.

Locke envisaged a natural history of the intellect, in which ideas are not innate but derive from the senses. In his Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume perfected this theory of understanding, with his thesis that the “association of ideas” is, in the psychological field, the demonstrative principle of what gravitational attraction is in the physical world.

For Hume, demonstrating mental processes, or the processes of ideas, meant reducing them to elements of sensation, showing their evolution through the law of association.

Condillac popularised this psychological theory in France, and Helvetius developed it for his theory of the state in his work De P’esprit (Essays on the Mind) (1758).

Natural laws are linked to only two driving forces that are innate in human beings: the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

All the more complex motives derive from this “association of ideas” between pleasure and pain and what causes them. In essence, they are seen as conditioned reflexes.

Human beings tend to reap pleasure to the full and to suffer as little as possible. Ethics, or the concept of good and evil, must therefore be an empirical science, like physics, and in this “ethic” science self-interest assumes the same importance as motion in physics.

Self-interest is the law of motion of moral science. This has remained behind with respect to the other sciences, since it was entrusted to fanatical priests and tyrants.

Helvetius developed his political conception on the basis of this theory of human behaviour, derived from Locke and Hume’s theory of understanding.

As individuals consider as good what is in their own interest, so nations consider as moral what is in the general interest.

The state has to base itself on a line of rational conduct, the objective of which is «the greatest good for the greatest number».

Therefore the «particular good» of a particular group is contrary to the state.

With its laws the state has to spread knowledge in order to make particular interests consonant with the common good.

Helvetius’s theory of the state is based on ethical utilitarianism.

The postulate whereby individual happiness becomes the greatest general happiness is really an act of faith: faith in the harmony of Nature.

This faith is none other than bourgeois ideology, which sees the welfare of society in the welfare of the individual bourgeois.

Posed scientifically, however, the problem leads to Communism.

Biographical Profiles

The writings now collected in Method and the Science-Party seek «the theoretical axis» of the world-shaking transition in the multipolar contention — which has one of its kingpins in European unification — in the origins of method and of political science, as well as in modern history from the sixteenth century on. This is a transition that updates to a continental chessboard our «unprecedented task» of entrenching the Bolshevik party in an imperialist metropolis.

It is no coincidence that ten years after the 1989 strategic divide, the authors of the ideologies and political theories of European imperialism are posing themselves the problems of the crisis and the transformation of the nation-state, and are seeking the touchstone for the European process precisely in the emergence of the modern states from medieval society.

In the Far East, where decades of turbulent development have engulfed the hundred thousand villages of backwardness and dragged billions of individuals into the modern era of class struggle, crises, and capitalist wars, it is the glare of nuclear explosions that is accompanying the rise of new powers and the consolidation of their states.

All of this provides the ideologues of super-imperialism, today reincarnated in the bards of peaceful globalisation, with a Sisyphean task.

While the European bourgeoisies attempt to conceive a continental state after the bloodletting of two imperialist world wars, the Asian epicentre is generating new Leviathans with nuclear claws.

Starting from Europe five centuries ago, capitalism undoubtedly unified the world market, but only for the world to be once again divided and shaken violently by imperialist competition, its crises, and its wars. Meanwhile, however, it has made the proletariat universal for the first time in history.

(from the foreword)