Henryk Grossman 1943

The Evolutionist Revolt against Classical Economics
(Excerpt from part II)

Written: 1943;
First Published: 1943;
Source: Journal of Political Economy, LI, 6, December 1943; pp506-522.
Transcription/Markup: Steve Palmer;
Proofread: Steve Palmer.
Copyleft: These extracts are published under the fair use provision of relevant copyright legislation.

[On the crisis and the role of the working class][1]

Marxism sharply distinguishes itself from the voluntarism of the utopian Socialists as well as from the pseudo-revolutionarism of putschists or partisans of the coup d'etat. At the same time, Marxism does not give up the idea of revolution, but regards it as the necessary conclusion of the evolutionary process and as the instrument for achieving the transition to a new economic structure.

In his … theory, dealing with the objective developmental trends within capitalism, "the natural laws of its movement,"[2] Marx tries to show that there is a limit to the development of capitalism, that it must reach a peak after which a declining phase will set in and that at a certain point the further functioning of the system will become impossible and its collapse inevitable. The system must be transformed not only because the working people reject it but also because the ruling classes cannot find any way out. During this critical period, despite progress in restricted sectors (technology, chemistry), the system as a whole loses its progressive character, and the symptoms of its disintegration grow more and more numerous; the system becomes a fetter on further development and can preserve itself only by violence and increasingly severe repression of the newly emerging social forces. In the end, however, it must be defeated in the conflict with these forces and yield to them. Thus progress is achieved only at the price of the misery and humiliation of individuals and entire peoples.

Marx undertook to demonstrate the historical necessity of the decline and final disintegration of capitalism. When the process of accumulation reaches a certain point, he shows, there will be a transformation of quantity into quality. A condition of oversaturation with capital will arise, and no adequate new possibility for capital investment will be available. All further accumulation of capital will become impossible, and society will enter a permanent period of growing accumulation of idle capital, on the one hand and of large-scale permanent unemployment, on the other. Thus the process of disintegration will begin. The property-owners' fear of losing their privileges gives the spiritual and political life of this period a reactionary character. In short, the whole structure of capitalism will be shaken to its roots, and the basis will have been laid for great political and economic transformations.[3]

in Marx's general theory … no economic system, no matter how weakened, collapses by itself in automatic fashion. It must be "overthrown." The theoretical analysis of the objective trends leading to a paralysis of the system serves to discover the "weak links" and to fix them in time as a sort of barometer indicating when the system becomes ripe for change. Even when that point is reached, change will come about only through active operation of the subjective factors. This part of the theory Marx developed in his study of the class struggle. Marx has frequently been charged with a "fatalistic" theory of the "historical necessity" of social development in some given direction. Such a charge rests on a serious misunderstanding of the theory of the class struggle. In all his writings Marx characteristically emphasizes the unity of theory and practice. This so-called "historical necessity" does not operate automatically but requires the active participation of the working class in the historical process. This participation, however, is itself not something arbitrary but follows from the pressure of the objective factors. The student of history and the forward-looking practical politician must therefore consider this subjective factor as in fact another objective condition of the historical process.[4]

While, for instance, Saint-Simon and his school do not give the working class any political role in the transformation of society, the main result of Marx's doctrine is the clarification of the historical role of the proletariat as the carrier of the transformative principle and the creator of the socialist society. … If philosophers from Montesquieu to Feuerbach taught that man is a product of natural and social environment, Marx observes that to an even greater extent man is influenced by his action on his environment. In changing the historical object, the subject changes himself.[5] Thus the education of the working class to its historical mission must be achieved not by theories brought from outside but by the everyday practice of the class struggle. This is not a doctrine but a practical process of existing conflicts of interests, in which doctrines are tested and accepted or discarded. Only through these struggles does the working class change and re-educate itself and become conscious of itself. Marx's attack on the "fatalistic economists"[6] is only an illustration of the fact that his dialectical concept of history has a twofold significance. … The dialectical concept of history is not merely an instrument with which to explain history but also an instrument with which to make history. "Men make their own history, but .... they do not make it .... under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances found and transmitted from the past."[7]

It is in this double sense that the Marxist theory of the class struggle is to be understood. On the one hand, it is an expression of the existing conflict of interests between classes. At the same time, it transcends the mere statement of an existing factual condition, not as a fatalistic expectation of evolution, but as a guide to the active participation of the working class in the historical process. By this activity the objective tendencies can be realized and the forces of a reactionary but powerful minority that stand in the way of further development and progress overcome. In this latter sense the class struggle has always been a decisive subjective factor in history.[8]


1. From Henryk Grossman “The Evolutionist Revolt against Classical Economics II. In England – James Steuart, Richard Jones, Karl Marx”, Journal of Political Economy, LI, 6, December 1943, pp 519-521.

2.  Capital, I, 14. It must be stressed that Marx does not use the word "trend" or "tendencies" in the usual sense of the term; by "trend" he means "tendencies working with iron necessity toward inevitable results" (ibid., p. 13). The other factors and countertrends can weaken or slow up the dominant trend but not prevent it from asserting itself. Else where Marx speaks about "that higher form to which present society is irresistibly tending by its own economical agencies" (The Civil War in France, p. 61).

3.  For a detailed study of this theoretical analysis see Henryk Grossmann, Das Akkumulations und Zusammenbruchsgesesetz (Leipzig, 1929).

4.  Of course, "class struggle" is not to be understood in the primitive sense that the workers must blindly attack the entrepreneur class wherever the two come into contact. Both the content and the form of the class conflicts are themselves determined by the attained level of historical development and by the concrete historical situation.

5.  Capital, I, 198

6.  Poverty of Philosophy, p. 105.

7.  Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in Handbook of Marxism, p. 116.

8.  Sismondi, for instance, says that "the freedom of the Occident results from the rebellion of the non owners" (against a small minority of landowners). ... "Between the tenth and the twelfth centuries, people without land reconquered freedom for the future generations" (Histoire des republiques italiennes du moyen age [Paris, 1840], III, 499, 107).