Socialism and Modern Science Enrico Ferri 1900


Editor, etc.

I have read in your journal a letter from Mr. Herbert Spencer in which he, relying on indirect information conveyed to him, regarding my book, Socialism and Modern Science, expresses “his astonishment at the audacity of him who has made use of his name to defend socialism.”

Permit me to say to you that no socialist has ever dreamt of making Mr. Spencer (who is certainly the greatest of living philosophers) pass as a partisan of socialism. It is strange, indeed, that anyone could have been able to make him believe that there is in Italy enough ignorance among writers as well as among readers for one to misuse so grotesquely the name of Herbert Spencer, whose extreme individualism is known to all the world.

But the personal opinion of Herbert Spencer is a quite different thing from the logical consequence of the scientific theories concerning universal evolution, which he has developed more fully and better than anyone else, but of which he has not the official monopoly and whose free expansion by the labor of other thinkers he can not inhibit.

I myself, in the preface of my book, pointed out that Spencer and Darwin stopped half-way on the road to the logical consequences of their doctrines. But I also demonstrated that these very doctrines constituted the scientific foundation of the socialism of Marx, the only one who, by rising above the sentimental socialism of former days, has arranged in a systematic and orderly fashion the facts of the social economy, and by induction drawn from them political conclusions in support of the revolutionary method of tactics as a means of approach to a revolutionary goal.

As regards Darwinism, being unable to repeat here the arguments which are already contained in my book and which will be more fully developed in the second edition, it suffices for me to remind you – since it has been thought fit to resort to arguments having so little weight as appeals to the authority of individuals – that, among many others, the celebrated Virchow foresaw, with great penetration, that Darwinism would lead directly to socialism, and let me remind you that the celebrated Wallace, Darwinian though he is, is a member of the English League for the Nationalization of the Land, which constitutes one of the fundamental conclusions of socialism.[88]

And, from another point of view, what is the famous doctrine of “class-struggle” which Marx revealed as the positive key of human history, but the Darwinian law of the “struggle for life” transformed from a chaotic strife between individuals to a conflict between collectivities?

Just the same as every individual, every class or social group struggles for its existence. And just as the bourgeoisie struggled against the clergy and the aristocracy, and triumphed in the French Revolution, in the same way to-day the international proletariat struggles, and not by the use of violence, as is constantly charged against us, but by propaganda and organization for its economic and moral existence at present so ill assured and depressed to so sadly low a plane.

As regards the theory of evolution, how can any one not see that it most flagrantly contradicts the classical theories of political economy, which looks upon the basic laws of the existing economic organization as eternal and immutable laws?

Socialism, on the contrary, maintains that the economic institutions and the juridical and political institutions are only the historical product of their particular epoch, and that therefore they are changing, since they are in a state of continuous evolution, which causes the present to differ from the past, just as the future will be different from the present.

Herbert Spencer believes that universal evolution dominates over all orders of phenomena, with the exception of the organization of property, which he declares is destined to exist eternally under its individualistic form. The socialists, on the contrary, believe that the organization of property will inevitably undergo – just as all other institutions – a radical transformation, and, taking into consideration its historical transformations, they show that the economic evolution is marching and will march faster and faster – as a consequence of the increased evils of individualist concentration – toward its goal, the complete socialization of the means of production which constitute the physical basis of the social and collective life, and which must not and can not therefore remain in the hands of a few individuals.

Between these two doctrines it is not difficult to decide which is the more in harmony with the scientific theory of physical and social evolution.

In any case, with all the respect due to our intellectual father, Herbert Spencer, but also with all the pride to which my scientific studies and conscience give me the right, I am content with having repelled the anathema which Herbert Spencer – without having read my book and on indirect and untrustworthy information – has thought proper to hurl with such a dogmatic tone against a scientific thesis which I have affirmed – not merely on the strength of an ipse dixi (a mode of argument which has had its day) – but which I have worked out and supported with arguments which have, up to this time, awaited in vain a scientific refutation.

Rome, June, 1895.


87. This appendix is a copy of a letter addressed by M. Ferri to an Italian newspaper which had printed a letter addressed by Herbert Spencer to M. Fiorentino.

88. Wallace has advanced beyond this “half way house,” and now calls himself a Socialist. – Tr.