Joseph Dietzgen (1873)

Scientific Socialism

First published: Volksataat, 1873;
Source: Philosophical Essays, 1917;
Scanned and marked up: Andy Blunden Proofread: Andy Carloff, 2010

A considerable number of readers of the Volksstaat are opposed to elaborate and searching essays in these columns. I doubted therefore whether the following would be suitable for publication. Let the editor decide. Yes I beg to consider whether it is not as valuable to engage the more advanced minds and to gain qualified thoroughgoing comrades as to strive for great numbers by publishing popular articles. Both these aims, I think, should be kept in view. If the party is really of opinion that the emancipation from misery cannot be accomplished by mending particular evils but by a fundamental revolution of society, it necessarily follows that an agitation on the surface is inadequate and that it is moreover our duty to undertake an enquiry into the very basis of social life. Let us now proceed:

Contemporary socialism is communistic. Socialism and communism are now so near each other that there is hardly any difference between them. In the past they differed from each other as does liberalism from democracy, the latter being in both cases the consistent and radical application of the former. From all other political theories communistic socialism is distinguished by its principle that the people can only be free when they free themselves from poverty, when their struggle for freedom is fought out on the social, i. e., on the economic, field. There is this difference between the modern and the older socialistic and communistic theories: in the past it was the feeling, the unconscious rebellion, against the unjust distribution of wealth, which constituted the basis of socialism; to-day it is based on knowledge, on the clear recognition of our historic development. In the past socialists and communists were able only to find out the deficiencies and evils of existing society. Their schemes for social reconstruction were fantastic. Their views were evolved not from the world of realities, not from the concrete conditions surrounding them, but from their mental speculations, and were therefore whimsical and sentimental. Modern socialism, on the other hand, is scientific, just as scientists arrive at their generalizations not by mere speculation, but by observing the phenomena of the material world, so are the socialistic and communistic theories not idle schemes, but generalizations drawn from economic facts. We see for instance that the communistic mode of work is being more and more organized by the bourgeoisie itself. Only the distribution still proceeds on the old lines and the product is withheld from the people. The small production is disappearing while production on a large scale takes its place.

Those are facts resulting from the economic development of history and not from any conspiracy of communistic socialists. If we define work as an industrial undertaking whose products the worker uses for his own consumption, and an industrial undertaking as the work, whose products go to the market, then it is not difficult to perceive how the development of industry must finally result in an organization of productive work. On the material organization of society scientific socialism is based.

Scientific socialists apply the inductive method. ‘They stick to facts. They live in the real world and not in the spiritualist regions of scholasticism. The society we are striving for differs from the present but by formal modifications. Indeed, the society of the future is contained in the present society as the young bird is in the egg. Modern socialism is as yet more of a scientific doctrine than of a political party creed, though we are also rapidly approaching this stage. And strange to say, the international is of purely national descent: it proceeds from the German philosophy. If there be a grain of truth in the prating of “German” science, then the scientific German can only be found in his philosophic speculation. This speculation is on the whole an adventurous journey, yet at the same time a voyage of discovery. As the clumsy musket of our forefathers represents a necessary stage to the Prussian needle gun of the present time, so the metaphysical speculations of a Leibnitz, Kant, Fichte, Hegel are the. inevitable paths leading up to the scientific proposition, that the idea, the conception, the logic or the thinking are not the premise, but the result of material phenomena. The interminable discussions between idealism and materialism, between nominalists and spiritualists on the one hand, and the realists or sensualists on the other hand, as to whether the idea was produced by the world or the world by the idea, and which of the two was the cause or the effect – this discussion, I say, forms the essence of philosophy. Its mission was to solve the antithesis between thought and being, between the ideal and the material. A proof of this view I find in the fortnightly review Unsere Zeit for the second half of January, 1873, in an essay on intoxicating articles of consumption, as wine, tobacco, coffee, brandy, opium, etc. The author, after having stated that the use of intoxicants was to be found among all nations at all times and under all conditions of human society, proceeds to declare that the cause of that fact must be looked for there, where the cause of all religion and philosophy lies, in the antithesis of our being, in “the partly divine, partly animal nature of man.” This antagonism between divinity and animality in human nature is in other words the antithesis between the ideal and the material. Religion and philosophy work towards a reconciliation of those conflicting principles. Philosophy proceeded from religion and began to rebel against its conception of life. In religion the idea is the primary element which creates and regulates matter. Philosophy, the daughter of religion, naturally inherited a good deal of her mother’s blood. She needed ages of growth to generate the antireligious, scientific result, the apodictically safe proposition, that the world is not the attribute of spirit, but, on the contrary, that spirit, thought, idea is only one of the attributes of matter. Hegel, it is true, did, not carry science to that height, yet so near was he to it that two of his followers, Feuerbach and Marx, scaled the summit. The clearing up of speculation helped Feuerbach to give us his wonderful analysis of religion, and enabled Marx to penetrate the deepest recesses of law, politics and history. When, we see, however, Herbart, Schopenhauer, Hartman, etc., still going on speculating and philosophizing, we cannot regard them as more than stragglers, lost in the phantastic depth of their own thoughts, lagging behind in the back-woods and not knowing that the speculative fire has been overcome in the front. On the other hand, Marx, the leader of scientific socialism, is achieving splendid success by applying inductive logic to branches of knowledge which have hitherto been maltreated by speculation. As far back as the year, 1620 Francis Bacon declared in his “Novum Organon” the inductive method as the saviour from unfruitful scholasticism and as the rock on which modern science was to be built.

Indeed, where we have to deal with concrete phenomena, or, as it were, with palpable things, the method of materialism has long since reigned supremely. Yet, it needed more than practical success: it needed the theoretical working-out in all its details in order to completely rout its enemy, the scholastic speculation or deduction. In his famous “History of Civilization in England” Thomas Buckle speaks at great length of the difference between the deductive and inductive mind, without, as it seems, having grasped the essence of the matter; he but proves what he admits himself in the introduction to his work that, though having made German philosophy a serious study, he did not fully penetrate it. If this happens to ripe and ingenious scholarship, what shall become of immature and superficial general knowledge which deals not with specialties but with the general results of science? In order to indicate clearly the scientific basis of socialism, I venture to enter more fully into the general result of philosophy, into the solution of the antithesis between the deductive and inductive method. But I fear lest the result of metaphysics, so ostentatiously announced, may appear to the reader as somewhat insignificant and commonplace. I beg, therefore, to remind you of Columbus who by means of an egg once for all furnished the proof that great discoveries resolve themselves into an ingenious, yet simple, idea.

When we retire to the solitude of our cell to search there in deep contemplation, or, as it were, in the inner-most of our brains, for the right way we want to follow the next morning, we must remember that our mental effort can be successful only because of our previous, if involuntary, experiences and adventures which we, by help of our memory, have taken along into our cell.

That tells the whole story of philosophic speculation or deduction. These philosophers imagine they have drawn their theories, not from concrete material, but from the innermost of their brains, while, as a matter of fact, they have but performed an unconscious induction, a process of thought, of argument not without material, but with indefinite and therefore, confused material. Conversely, the inductive method is distinguished only by this that its deduction is done consciously. Scientific laws are deductions drawn by human thinking from empiric material. The spiritist needs material just as the materialist needs spirit. This thesis, when brought out with mathematical precision, is the result of philosophic speculation.

That may appear simple enough, yet even a cursory examination of any of our reviews will teach us how little familiar that truth is not only to our journalists and writers but also to our historians and statesmen who are untiring in their attempts to evolve views and theses not from the existing conditions but from their heads, hearts, consciences, categorical imperatives or from some other unreal, mystical and spiritual corner. The concrete questions of the day are, as a rule, solved by, or with the help of, given material. But in the discussion with Bismarck whether might goes before right or conversely; in the squabbles of theology whether the gods are made by the world or the world by the gods; whether catechisms or natural sciences enlighten the mind; whether history moves upward to a higher stage or goes down to the Day of judgment; in political and economic questions: whether capital or labor creates value, whether aristocracy or democracy is the right form of government, whether we have to work on conservative, liberal or revolutionary lines; in short, in abstract categories, in matters of philosophy, religion, politics and social life, our leaders of science find themselves in the most unscientific confusion. They test human institutions by such principles or ideas as the idea of justice, of liberty, of truth, etc. “We,” says Frederick Engels, “describe things as they are. Proudhon, on the other hand, wants our present society to arrange itself, not according to the laws of its economic development, but in conformity with the ‘precepts of justice.’” Proudhon is in this respect the “prototype of all unscientific doctrinairism.”

A far superior guide in half such questions is modern socialism. Owing to its philosophical foundation it stands out prominently as a unanimous, firm and compact, method amidst the endless and shifting dissensions of its political opponents of every shade and opinion. What the dogma is to the religious belief, material facts are to the science of inductive socialism, while the views of liberalism are as whimsical and elusive as the ideal conceptions, as the ideas of eternal justice or liberty on which the liberals believe to be safely based.

The fundamental proposition of inductive socialism may be thus formulated: there is no eternal principle or an a priori idea of the divine, just and free; there is no revelation or a chosen people, but there are material factors which govern human society.

Far from bewailing that fact, we acknowledge it as absolutely necessary and reasonable, as something which may be denied by power of imagination, but which cannot be altered, nor, indeed, ought it to be altered. By granting that society is dominated by material interests we do not deny the power of the ideals of the heart, mind, science and art. For we have no more to deal with the absolute antithesis between idealism and materialism, but with their higher synthesis which has been found in the knowledge that the ideal depends on the material, that divine justice and liberty depend on the production and distribution of earthly goods. In the wide range of human needs the bodily ones are the most indispensable; our physical needs must first be satisfied before we are able even to think of our mental ones and those of our heart, eye and ear. The same holds good in the life of nations and parties. Their abstract conceptions depend on the way they make their living. Tribes living by warfare and booty have not the same heaven, the same sense of justice or of liberty as our patriarchs are supposed to have had who, as is well known, were living on cattle-breeding. Knights and monks had notions of righteousness, of virtue and honour which were decidedly illiberal and anti-bourgeois, because their means of life were not supplied by factory labor and financial transactions.

Of course, the defenders of Christianity strongly object to those views. In order to prove the independence of spirit from matter and of philosophy from economics they make, the assertion that the same Christian truth is invariably taught to all sorts and conditions of men and under all climes. They forget, however, how they trimmed the sails to the wind. They forget likewise that the love preached by the apostles and church fathers – the love which gave away the second coat is no more the many-coated love under the overcoat which strips the poor to the skin – of course, rightfully. To the diverse modes of property and trade correspond diverse Christianties. The institution of slavery in U. S. A. was Christian, and Christianity was slave-holding there. The religious reformation of the sixteenth century was not the cause, but the effect, of the social reformation that followed upon the shifting of the economic center from the manor to the city. And that was preceded by the rise of navigation and the discovery of the New World and new trade-routes, which indicate the rise of manufacture. Industrial life having no use for ascetic bodies introduced the protestant doctrine of grace that abolished religious exercises in favor of stern industrial work.

That the materialist conception of history is scientific induction and not idle speculation manifests itself even more clearly when we apply it to political party problems. With its help the tangled mass of party struggles can be easily unravelled into a clear, running thread. The squire is enthusiastic over the absolute monarchy as the absolute monarchy cared for the squirearchy. Manufacturers, merchants, bankers, in short, capitalists liberal or constitutional, for constitutionalism is the call expression of capitalism, which liberalizes bad trade commerce, supplies the factories with free labor, promotes banking and financial transactions, and, in general of the interests of industrial life. Philistines, small tradesmen and peasants join party or the other according to the promises made with regard to the promotion of their well-being and to the relief from the effects of competition with big capital.

The familiar accusation of political hypocrisy which Parliamentary parties throw at each other was suggested to Bismarck by one of the renegades of our camp whom he likes to employ. That accusation is based on the recognition that the aristocratic and middle class consciousness was formed by the material requirements of the landed and manufacturing and trading classes, and that behind their idealistic watchwords of religion, patriotism, freedom and progress lurks the concrete interest as the motor power. I cannot deny that many of their followers are not conscious of their real motives, and that they sincerely believe their political work to be purely idealistic. But I should like to remark that it is with recognitions as with epidemics, they are in the air and people feel them somehow. Indeed, the political hypocrisy of our time is half conscious, half unconscious. There are many people who take the ideological phrases as gospel truth, but also the artful are by no means rare who want them to be taken as such. The matter can be easily explained. Different classes, distinguished by their different material conditions succeed each other to political power. The interests of the ruling class are always for a certain time in harmony with the interests of the community, that is with the progressive forces of civilization. And it is that harmony which justifies the ruling class in regarding itself as the spring of social welfare. However, the onward march of history changes everything, also the justification for ruling power. When the economic interests of the ruling class cease to be in harmony with the general welfare, when the ruling class loses its functions and falls into decay, then its leaders can only save their predominant position by hypocrisy; their phraseology has been emptied of all reality. It is no doubt true that some individuals rise above class interests and join the new social power which represents the interest of the community. So did Abbé Sieyès and Count de Mirabeau in the French Revolution, who, though belonging to the ruling classes, became the advocates of the third Estate. Still, these are exceptions proving only the inductive rule that, in social as in natural science, the material precedes the ideal.

It may appear rather contradictory to make the Hegelian system of philosophy with its pronounced idealism the starting point of the materialist conception of history yet, the Hegelian “Idea” is striving for realization; it is indeed a materialism in disguise. Conversely, the Hegelian reality appears in the mask of the “Idea,” or of the logical conception. In one of the latest issues of Blätter für Unterhaltung Herr J. Volkelt makes the following remark: “Our modem thinkers have to submit to the crucial test of empiricism. The Hegelian principle has no reason to be afraid of such a test. Consistently followed up it means that the spirit of history can only be conceived through the existing material.” Gleams of truth like these we can find now here and there in the periodical literature, but for a consistent and systematic application of the theory we must to scientific socialism. The inductive method draws its mental conclusion from concrete facts. Scientific socialism considers our views dependent upon our material needs, and our political standpoint dependent upon the economic position of the class we belong to. Moreover, this conception corresponds with the aspirations of the masses whose needs are in the first place material, while the ruling class must necessarily base itself on the deductive principle, on the preconceived unscientific notion that the spiritual salvation and the mental training of the masses are to precede the solution of the social question.