Karl Kautsky

The Aims and Limitations of the
Materialist Conception of History


Originally published in German in Neue Zeit, Jahrg.XX., 22.
Translation published in The Social Democrat, February 1903, pp.98-112.
Many thanks to Adam Buick.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

BAX begins his reply with pointing out the impossibility of touching, in a limited article, on all the points which have arisen.

The same impossibility I share. It would be very tempting to institute a comparison between the article in No.6 of the Neue Zeit, where Bax compares my wit to a funeral march, and his latest, in which be warns our reader, the poor innocent, not to be misled by my dazzling wit, which, in any case, as he remarks, is coupled with unworthy tricks. It would be tempting to illustrate more closely the Bax method of quotation, which consists in this, that he, without scruple, invents a quotation which he requires, if the requisite book “is not at his disposal at the time,” to, later, when he is found out in this famous method, generously “allow his opponent a triumph.” No less tempting would it be to examine more closely the Bax method of deciding historical questions by means of imaginary pictures, to see how he attempts to decide the question whether the Lay-Cup was simply a battle cry for the Hussites, not by means of facts which actually occurred, but by pointing to a nobleman, who did not exist, and to his fate, which never occurred.

But I must also try to be short. Certainly, I am not of opinion that that justifies inaccuracy and invented quotations; but it certainly seems to me to carry with it the necessity to confine discussion to the essential and principal points.

A most important point appears to me – the separation of the causes, which give to every special phenomenon their special form, from the laws which lie at the root of a totality of particular kinds of phenomena. The traditional objections of the critics to the Marxian theory of value, as against the materialist conception of history, rest principally on the confusion of these two different elements, and also the “improvement”or “completion” of our friend Bax appears to me to be thus characterised.

To the setting clear of this point I dedicated a special article in No.8 of the Neue Zeit, in which I came to the conclusion, “that the development of Society and of the ideas that prevail in it, are governed by law, and that we have to look for the motor power of this development, and the ultimate ground of the same, in the development of the economic conditions. To each particular stage of the development of the economic conditions corresponds particular social forms and ideas. To examine these laws and connections is the most important and fundamental work of the historian. Is this work done, then it will be comparatively easy to comprehend the development in a particular case.”

Very beautifully is the distinction which I there pointed out, set out by Marx in the third volume of Capital (Vol.II, p.324, 325). “It is always the immediate relation of the proprietor of the means of production to the real producer-a relation whose actual form invariably corresponds to a particular stage of the development of the kind and method of labour, and therefore of their social powers of production, in which we find the innermost secret, the hidden foundation of the whole social construction, and therefore, also of the political form of the relative sovereignty and dependence, of the in short existing specific form of State. This does not prevent that the same economic basis – the same according to the principal conditions – by means of various empirical circumstances, natural conditions, race relations and external historical influences, etc., can exhibit endless variations and gradations, which are only to be understood by means of analysis of these empirically produced circumstances.”

The distinction of the “hidden foundation” of the social total processes, from the “numberless empirical circumstances” which condition their appearance at any time, that is the chief difficulty which everybody has to master who will do the materialist conception of history justice. This point I attempted in the first place to make clear, and to that it is to be ascribed that I was longer in my answer than was acceptable to myself.

I am afraid, however, that nevertheless I did not succeed in making the matter as clear as was requisite. At least, Bax in his reply enters into the unessential points, the main question he ignores. He contents himself with saying that “to three-quarters” we occupy the same theoretical position. And when I remark that the kind of materialist conception of history which he imputes to me, is in no respect mine, and that mine simply strikes him as one-sided, because he does not distinguish between the foundation and the surface of the phenomena, then he reaffirms his satisfaction that I “have already made a step to overcome the one-sidedness of my position,” and “made a great step to meet him.”

I only needed to prove that of what flax had written about the materialist conception of history not one word was true, and he would have found that I have completely got over my one-sidedness and confirmed every word of his. But if he avoids the root question, nevertheless his remarks on one or two side points show how very little we have come any nearer, how closely flax sticks to his confusion of the foundation and the surface of phenomena.

He had, in answer to the question, Whence came the decline of the Greek intellectual life? pointed to the “exhaustion of the Greek Spirit,” and other similarly thoroughgoing explanations. I considered that this explanation explained nothing; that in the study of the economic development of Greece one was, on the contrary, properly forced to the conclusion that it was an economic revolution which brought about the spiritual awakening of Greece, and another economic revolution which caused the decline. What has Ba said against that? “That is quite beautiful and appropriate; it proves, however, nothing more than that an unusually favourable soil was ready, and disappeared later. It gives, however, no information as to the direction of the method of thought, or about the forms of art, or finally about the essence of Greek art in general.”

A famous refutation! My explanation of the rise and fall of the Greek Spirit is quite beautiful and appropriate, but not sufficient, because it does not answer a number of other questions which flax hastily spreads out before us.

Naturally I would have to proceed quite differently, did I wish to explain the forms of Greek art, than in the treatment of the above question. Indeed, my method would have to be different, because we ate not here dealing with discovering the secret motor-force of a social development, but with recognition of the various causes which gave to a particular phenomenon lying on the surface its particular forms.

If flax had understood me it is impossible he should have confused these two themes with one another. That economic motives do not suffice to an explanation of the forms of the surface, I have myself pointed out.

Now flax is of opinion, that at this very place where these motives show themselves insufficient, he has come to the rescue with his “improvement” or “completion.”

But what will be improved or completed? How does it help me to explain the forms of Greek art by pointing to the “psychological motor power”? We are dealing here with “the analysis of empirically obtained circumstances.” And to approximately understand the particular forms of Greek architecture, I must study the artistic traditions, which the Greeks also brought forward, the forms and colours which were offered to them by nature and their daily life, the stimulation from the civilised peoples with whom they came into contact, the peculiarity of their building material, and technique, and then, finally, besides, particular race qualities would come into account, and for individual works of art and aesthetic schools the influences of prominent personalities and, besides, a whole series of circumstances.

The Bax improvement is superfluous if we limit our investigation to the hidden foundation of the total social processes; for an explanation of the surface forms it does not suffice, because it only brings one aspect forward, among the countless ones which are to be taken into account.

That is the sum of our controversy over principles. It is impossible to say more, because Bax has not gone any farther into this side of the question. All the more fruitful is he in criticism of details. He certainly thinks, by their fruits shall ye know them. Are the fruits worthless, it is clear that the tree is no good. Bax proves this because I was not able to solve the problem he set me, and also because the solutions I attempted failed.

He looks on it as a sign of weakness, that I did not accept his kind invitation to give, on the way, a materialist history of philosphy as a whole, and in order that people may believe that I am beaten, with that he brings his friend Hyndman’s testimony to confirm it. [1]

The Bax challenge to me reminds me of that of Cuvier, who demanded Lamarck to show him a transitional form between Pal~otheriau and the present horse, and since the latter could not do this, declared the development theory then and there for ever disproved. Later, certainly, this transitional form was found in the hipparion. But there are still people who apply the same tactics, and, e.g., deny Darwinism because the link between man and his animal ancestors is not yet found. Why, therefore, should Bax not see in the fact of the unwritten materialist history of philosophy a striking argument in his favour?

Certainly I have given finger-posts as to the connection between philosophy and the material conditions, but they do not appear to satisfy Bax, since they refer simply to natural science and social science. “Natural and social science are both evidently just those fields which are closest bound up with the material and special economic development. He had, however, expressly spoken of the main problems of philosophy, e.g., theory of knowledge (epistemology), the analysis of the forms of consciousness, the importance of reality in general.”

Excuse me, dear Bax, but even at the risk of being accused of “trivialities,” &c., I must call your attention to the fact that you certainly spoke of something which is connected with main (Haupt) but not of main problems (Hauptprobleme). You declared, “The history of philosophy in its three main divisions (Haupt abschnitten) cannot be deduced in its main outlines (Hauptzugen) from economic causes.”

How is it, then, that the “main outlines” of the history of philosophy have become their “main problems.” That is very simple. I. had shown that the development of the knowledge of nature as that of the knowledge of society is conditioned through the economic development, and with that had given the required proof that the history of philosophy in its main outlines is to be traced back to economic causes, since the “main outlines” of the history of philosophy are palpably most closely bound up with the history of natural science and social science. Much easier than to dispute the question is all of a sudden to “quote it round from a question of “main characteristics” into a question of “main problems,” and these main problems again shrink to one, the theory of knowledge, since the analysis of the forms of consciousness and the question of the importance of reality coincide with it. But even this main problem of the purest philosophy has very material roots. It would lead us too far to show how, e.g., the modern social development created that state of mind in the philosophising class, i.e., the bourgeois intellectual class, which made them inclined for a refutation of philosophical materialism; it is sufficient to point out that the origin and cultivation of it was bound up in the closest connection with the development of the modern sciences and their technique. Where would it be without the experiments and theory of acoustics and optics, without the physiology of the organs of sense, without Helmholtz, Rokitansky, Zoellner, Wundt, and others? This connection is so well-known that I do not need to dwell any further on it.

Certainly, however, as philosopher I am a poor simpleton, who has no sense of accuracy; a “raw materialist” who asserts that thought is a function of the brain, and get this latter, as well as the whole world, only in my consciousness.

Readers have no need to fear that I am going to begin a disputation with Bax to decide off-hand so simple a controversy as idealism or materialism. I will allow myself simply to ask Bax one question: He explains the decline of the Greek intellect by means of an intermixture of the Greeks with other races. Just in the same way he explains the puritanical spirit from the peculiar intermixture of nations which took place in England. What sense has this, if not that he explains the intellect (or spirit) as a product of the whole human organism?

And in the same article, in which he considers it the lowest materialism that I describe thought as a function of the brain, he declares “that our modern customs and a part of our modern ethics point without doubt to a change of the human organism ... Our finer feelings spring from a refinement of the nervous system.” If I spoke of thought as a function of the brain, I had no intention of raising a philosophical controversy which would have taken us a long way out of our way. I only wished to point out, that for us materialist historians, the ideas which come forward in history had no independent existence of their own, but were confined to the human head, so that “the question whether and how far ideas can influence society coincides with the question whether and how the individual can do it.”

Even that Bax cannot agree to. Unfortunately space does not allow him “to give a full exposition of the reasons, still I call Kautsky’s attention to the fact that an idea very often has quite a different effect on a crowd than on individuals.” And he points to the experience of meetings, &c.

This argument is certainly conclusive, and I cannot deny the phenomenon which Bax calls my attention to with such an air of importance – much the less repudiate it, since I already fourteen years ago spoke of it, as a phenomenon which “although universally known, still in our opinion Espinas has first introduced into sociology and psychology. On page 361 of his book he shows how the passions of men and animals increase in society. A well attended assembly becomes quite differently inspired by the same speaker to a badly attended, it on the other hand on its part inspires the speaker much more,” &c. [2]

Thus Bax’s argument was known to me. If I did not take any notice of it, the reason was simple, because with the assertion I put forward here it had nothing at all to do. Bax has here again made use of the lack of room for a “quid pro quo” and exchanged the assertion, that the influence of an idea on society is synonymous with the influence of the individuals, who are the exponents of this idea, with the assertion that the solitary individual takes up an idea in the same manner as a crowd.

Since Bax contents himself with this argument, we unfortunately do not learn if he really is of opinion that the influence of the human intellect on Society is quite different from the influence of the men on it. And yet it were not without importance for our discussion to know that. Because Bax asserts, as before, that just as good as the human intellect, the economic relations “could also build their own chains of cause and effect,” at least “to a certain degree.” For the human intellect is the proof, as I have shown, brought by the fact that I have not written a materialist history of philosophy. For the economic development the proof is brought forward in the following sentences: “One might almost say that it develops itself mechanically without any evident interference of the conscious human intelligence in the essentials of the process.” “One could almost say” that the sentence says nothing at all if Bax had not expressed himself as above quoted a few lines earlier. I take it, therefore, for granted that Bax wanted to say something and was not merely mystifying us. Now let us place before us a fraction of the economic development, be it ever so short, that proceeds without the interference of the conscious human intellect, that is, till Bax corrects us, without the interference of man. What are economic relations? On the one hand, relations of man to nature, on the other hand relations of men between themselves, but always relations of men. And these are to develop themselves without men stirring themselves. To “be able even to almost conceive this idea” is a crass effect of that fetishism which sees in the relations of men relations of things. An economic relation cannot exist for a single second “without the interference of the human intellect.” Only through this origin do the relations exist and develop themselves – by which certainly is not said that they always correspond to the intentions of “the conscious human intellect.” That is again another matter.

Immediately after he asserts that the economic development “to a certain extent” proceeds without the help of the human intellect, Bax declares “No one has more expressly pointed out than the writer of these lines that hitherto throughout the whole of human history the economical relations have been the master and the intellect the servant, to speak with Kautsky.”

What assertion did he put forward in his first attack (in the Zeit) against us, from which the whole discussion started? “In every concrete human society the reciprocal action of these two elements are inseparable (of the material conditions and the human intellect).” One time one preponderates, at another the other. “But even in the period, for which we possess an historical record, we find-and that is indisputable-distinct periods in which the ‘ideological element’ predominates.”

Therefore, material conditions and human intellect exist in inseparable reciprocal action, but therewith “one can almost say that the economic development fulfils itself without an evident interference of the conscious human intelligence,” and “No one has more expressly” than Bax “pointed to the fact that through the whole of human history the economic relations have been the master and the intellect the servant.” But it is just as indisputable that in “particular periods the intellect was the master and ruled the economic element.”

That is the Baxian enlarged and improved new edition of the materialist conception of history, and anyone who finds in it a fully meaningless eclecticism, which falls from one contradiction into the other, proves by that his own philosophical ignorance and low materialism.

So much about the philosophy of history. And now something about the application. In this I have not fared better than with the materialist history of philosophy. One of the instances Bax found fault with, my explanation of the decay of the Greek philosophy and art, I have already examined.

Another is afforded by my remark, “France had become senile under Louis XV.” “That an historian so well read as our friend Kautsky could represent such a superficial view as he announces in the assertion that the French nation had become senile under Louis XV, only because the upper, and namely Court society, was somewhat used up, I should hardly have credited ... The apparent rottenness of the state of society, at that time, so far as it is at all true, could rather be described as a partial paralysis brought about by its petrified, feudal bureaucratic forms, and the oppression from above.”

It is to be seen I have made an unpardonable oversight; I was superficial enough to speak of the senility of the French nation in an instance in which the diagnosis evidently ought to have run – paralysis The symptoms of the illness are the exhausted state of the Court society, oppression from above, petrified forms.

I believed certainly that I saw other symptoms.

France under Louis XV was on the way to complete national ruin; her agriculture was neglected, one bad harvest followed n another, and a third of the cultivable soil was not tilled. The number of the beggars amounted to more than a million, highway robbery could not be put down, in the towns commerce and industry stood still. The State was rushing into bankruptcy, was plundered at home and powerless abroad. Art declined, nothing flourished except political, economical and anti-ecclesiastical literature, a literature of protest against the general ruin. It was rendered fruitful through the comparison of “senile” France with the thriving neighbouring Free States, with Switzerland, Holland (since the War of Independence the United States also had a powerful influence on France) especially, however, with the youthful flourishing England. “During the two generations which elapsed between the death of Louis XIV. and the outbreak of the Revolution there was hardly a Frenchman of distinction who did not either visit England or learn English.” [3] Just as little as modern scientific Socialism is an exclusively German product was the literature of the enlightenment an exclusively French product.

Now let our readers puzzle out for themselves the question if the above symptoms betoken rather paralysis or senility.

Still another medico-historical question is raised by Bax. He had quite decidedly asserted “that the whole of human life develops itself in the history.” I permitted myself a gently-expressed doubt on the question, and asked if the functions of the human organism, digestion, &c., had also developed themselves in history. Bax declares coolly he is ready to stand up to me. “I assert quite decidedly that the functions of the human organism have developed themselves during the hisLorical period, or at least altered.” That means a brave champion begins the defence of his standpoint with that, then he leaps over to another. Alteration and development are, namely, different things. Not every alteration is a development. It would take us too far to discuss that more closely; it suffices to point to the fact that, if I ruin my stomach, that is an alteration, but does not imply a development of the function of digestion. Then Bax proceeds to discuss the functions of the nervous system, therefore – evidently from lack of space – to a subject which I never mentioned – of the historical development of “conception” he does not speak. I purposely did not speak of the nervous systems, because it is that part of the human organism of which one could easiest believe that it had developed in the historical period. I cannot express myself more decidedly, since this subject is still enveloped in darkness. In spite of my “good materialism,” I cherish doubts against allowing that “Our modern human feelings, our humanity, our sympathy with the suffering in general has for basis an enormous change in our nervous systems as against those of man, let us say, in the Middle Ages,” since this

nervous system shows a wonderful capacity as soon as it is transferred to barbarian surroundings, e.g., to the Colonies, to quickly cast off all human feelings and to compete in barbarism with the barbarians. Certainly we can take for granted that our nervous system in consequence of the growing division of labour is in many respects quite differently constituted to that of primitive man. Here one can speak of a differentiation, this essential sign of a development. On the other hand, I never heard that in the functions of “digestion, procreation, and parturition” any division of labour had been introduced in the course of the development of culture. That these functions alter with every change of the method of life is self-evident, that does not only alter in the case of digestion and parturition, but also in procreation. “It can be proved that the system of reproduction is to quite an extraordinary extent sensitive to altered conditions of life.” [4] I had, however, expressly spoken of development, not of alterations – certainly again one of these unworthy tricks in which Bax finds me so rich.

Not less than in these two cases have I, with my economical explanation of “Puritanical methods of thought and customs of the English,” come thoroughly to grief, and my explanation with its apparent brilliancy proves itself by nearer examination as quite fallacious.

Bax, for lack of anything better, was seized with the intuition to explain English Puritanism from the peculiarity of the English racial-mixture. I called his attention to the fact that this mixture of races was completed in the twelfth century, and could, therefore, hardly explain English Puritanism, which first became a dominating force in England during the seventeenth century. However, Bax is not to be so easily put out of countenance. For what purpose would he have discovered the historical method of “we assume”? “Will Kautsky deny the possibility that a characteristic can remain latent a long time, till it is brought into activity through a combination of external circumstances? That happens in the case of individuals, and I do not see why the supposition should be so absurd that it can just as well occur in a nation. Now, the last was my hypothesis.” Excuse me! it is no hypothesis, but simply a notion to support another notion, since an hypothesis must be based on certain facts; the Baxian assertion, on the contrary, is only based on the consideration “I do not see why this assumption should be so absurd.” Certainly it must be allowed that more absurd suppositions are possible.

Not so easy is the matter for us materialists, and that is certainly a weighty argument against our conception of history. With us it is everything to investigate the special circumstances. These, however, have shown me the following facts: firstly, Puritanism is the necessary mode of thought of particular classes under particular conditions. As during the Middle Ages, with their almost universal system of barter, “live and let live” the maxim of peasants, bourgeoisie, and wage-workers, so these classes succumb commencement of the capitalist method of production to a at the gloomy Puritanism, and indeed so much the more, the faster, and the more incisively the economic and corresponding political development makes itself felt, and the more lively is the reaction of the lowest classes against it.

False, quite false! exclaims Bax, and holds up for me the carousals of the German peasants in the Peasants’ War and the feasts, the pomp and splendour which distinguished the kingdom of God in Münster. Such phenomena would have been impossible among the English Puritan population. Therefore was the Puritanism in England “much more strict and more logical.”

As in the case of his “racial-mixture,” Bax has again the misfortune that his chronology does not fit in. The carousals of the peasants took place more than a century before the commencement of the régime of English Puritanism. At that time the peasants were much closer to the mediaeval barter stage, whose maxim was “Live and let live,” not simply in Germany, but also in England. Thomas More, the contemporary of the Peasants’ War, points to anything other than Puritan strictness in England, when he exclaims in his Utopia against the undue luxury: “Not only the attendants of the nobles, and the handworkers, but even thepeasants, and every other class, display a shameless extravagance in clothes, and all cultivate luxury in food, &c.” A century of capitalism had to pass before the Puritan strictness could become · the ruling opinion in the democratic classes. Nevertheless, for the upholder of the theory of racial-mixture centuries are of no importance; at least not then, when they do not suit his purpose.

But the splendour of the kingdom of God in Münster? Does that not prove that the Anahaptists were much less puritanically inclined than their English comrades ? No! This point proves simply that Bax once again had not got the History of Socialism handy. Since there is cogently proved from the original sources that the Anabaptists behaved themselves very quietly, and their would-be “feasts” were of a very harmless nature, and the “pomp and splendour” nothing but a pastime with the captured jewels, invented to counteract the boredom and the depressing influences of a siege. This “pomp,” just like the monarchy and the polygamy, is to be explained by the quite abnormal circumstances which the siege produced. This gave me occasion to explain in the strongest possible manner what I thought of those bourgeois writers who, from interested motive or ignorance, have characterised the quite special peculiarities of the kingdom of God in Münster as typical of the Anabaptist movement. This flies just as much in the teeth of the facts as it does when our opponents declare the burning of the Louvre at the end of the Paris Commune as a proof of hostility of the Social-Democracy to art. I never dreamt, as I showed up these wilful misrepresentations, that a Social-Democratic writer would ever use the same argument to avoid having to give up a notion which had seized him. Just as certain as the Puritanism of the English peasants at the time of the English Revolution does it stand with the Puritanism of the German Anabaptists. The second fact, however, which showed to me the concrete conditions was this, that the very class of which I found that they, under the general social conditions of the seventeenth century everywhere inclined to puritanism, attained in England to quite a different position than they did in the rest of Europe.

“But did the classes in question (small bourgeoisie, peasants, wage-workers) really rule during this period? Everyone acquainted with English history must answer with a decided ‘No’.”

Really? But who then did rule during the Revolution? Bax names “a portion of the poorer nobility, but principally the medium landlords (the yeomen and country gentlemen) and the richer merchants and handicrafts masters of the towns.”

Thus the medium landlords ruled during the Revolution, the yeomen and the country gentlemen. But who were the yeomen? According to one person who was “acquainted with English history,” they were “small land owners who cultivated their land with their own hand and had a modest competence,” therefore peasants. [5] The country gentleman of the seventeenth century was, however, according to the same authority, “commonly a Tory,” a true supporter of the hereditary monarchy. The handicrafts-master in the town, however, one usually considers with the small bourgeoisie. Therefore, that the peasants and small bourgeoisie ruled during the Revolution Bax allows; that they exercised sole authority I have never asserted. Among the ruling elements of the English revolutionary period Bax has forgotten one, the most important of all – the Republican, all-powerful army, which was composed of peasants, small bourgeoisie, and wage-workers (apprentices, home-working weavers, and others), and championed their common class interests.

Where, in face of these facts, the “authority on English history” is to be found who will answer the question whether those classes during the English Revolution were the ruling ones with a “No” cannot be hard to guess. We will take for granted that Bax unfortunately, had, when he wrote this, no book on the English Revolution handy, and therefore was obliged to find his authority as he found the “Cloak,” and many other things. That the Republic lasted only eleven years is true. But it is equally true that the influence of the bourgeois classes in England, which it rang in, did not end with the Restoration, but continued in modified form, and was soon again so strong that after one generation the “glorious” Revolution was possible which finally confirmed constitutional rule. The peasantry was, in the meantime, in great part ruined, and sunk into the class of wage-workers. In place of that, however, the contemporaneously rising class of manufacturers became the type of the “abstinent” – i.e., the saving – Puritan. How their Puritanism modified itself, from generation to generation, with the development of industry is proved by the work of Dr. Aitken, which Marx quotes in Capital (Vol.I., chap.22).In short, the English Puritanism meets us as an historical phenomenon, which dominated the public life in the same degree that certain classes, to the conditions of whose life it corresponds, can impress the same with their stamp.

After that I leave it to our readers to decide whether they prefer a methodical explanation of history through concrete facts to their explanation by means of more or less clever notions.

A polemic seldom results in either of the opponents declaring himself beaten or converted. The standpoint of everybody is the product of a whole life, and, besides, the relations which are dealt with in the discussion of social questions are far too complicated for it to be possible to exhaustively describe all their aspects in the course of a discussion. Also for the elucidation of the truth to the public, who are not concerned, a discussion does not always contribute. From a systematic explanation, is it therein unfavourably distinguished. that certain points get unduly brought into prominence. But just therein rests the value, wben besides a systematic description it comes to a definite result. Especially can it perform great service in rendering a new theory clear, since thQ human intellect is conservative, and only too inclined to carry over its old views into the new theories, as systematic description does not suffice to make clear to the heads the full difference between the new theory and allied old ones. There the polemic must help against the old acquaintances and allied phenomena. So was Capital first fully made clear to us through the polemic with Dühring and the republication of the almost forgotton controversy with Proudhon. The views of the Communist Manifesto and Capital are now well known in the Socialist movement, but the old utopian method of thought is too familiar and too powerful not to make itself unconsciously felt from time to time. Then it is necessary to be on guard to show clearly the difference of outwardly related but inwardly divided methods of thought. Thus the distinction between Rodbertus’s and Marx’s Socialism was necessary, and it appears to us still necessary to call attention to the fact that there is a difference between materialist and utopian Marxism.

I recognise that it is Bax’s merit, by means of his attack on us, to have provoked the above discussion, and therewith the clearing up of this difference. Whatever one may think of the result it has rendered one thing clear, that among those who acknowledge the results of the Marx-Engels labours there are two streams which, quite apart from individualist differences, as they occur within those streams, distinguish themselves by the method of theoretical research as well as in the practical tactics.



1. By the way, if Hyndman gives pure mathematics as a “striking example” of an abstract science “to whose development, technical progress and economic conditions have played little or no part among the principal impetus,” he would with that go in the teeth of the real history of this science. “In no way, however, In pure mathematics is the understanding solely occupied with its own creations and imaginations ... Pure mathemathic has for subject the space, forms, quantity, relations of the real world, therefore a very real substance ... like all other sciences the mathematic arose from the needs of men-from the measuring of land and the contents of vessels, from the calculation of time and mechanics” (Engels, Anti-Dühring, I.3). How intimate the connection of the history of pure mathematics and the history of technical development is, is shown by the names of its heroes. In any case Dühring himself gives pure mathematics only as a proof of the possibility of “a priori” performances of the understanding, therefore, always as an exception in the history of Science, and involves himself over and above that in contradictions which leave nothing remaining but a science, which, except as a principal impetus has a development freed from the rest of the world of experience – is, therefore, far from the picture which Hyndman gives of it.

2. Die Sozialen Triebe in der Thierwelt, Neue Zeit, 1883, p.70.

3. Buckle, History of Civilisation, I, 2, p.193 (German Edition). Not having the English edition by me here, I am unable to give the page in English or the quotation literally. – J.B.A.

4. Darwin, Descent of Man, German Edition, I, p.247.

5. Macaulay, History of England, German edition, vol.I, p.245.


Last updated on 16.7.2004