Karl Kautsky

Ethics and the Materialist Conception Of History

Chapter V
The Ethics of Marxism

1. The Roots of the Materialist Conception of History

The rapid progress of the natural sciences since the French Revolution is intimately connected with the expansion of capitalism from that time on. The capitalist big industry rests more and more on the application of science and consequently had every reason to supply it with men and means. The modern technic gives to science not only new objects of activity but also new tools and new methods. The international communication finally brought new material to it. Thus it acquired strength and means to carry the idea of evolution successfully through.

But even more than for natural science was the French Revolution an epoch of importance for the Science of society, the so-called mental sciences. Because in natural science the idea of evolution had already given a great stimulus to many thinkers. In mental science on the other hand it was only to be found in the most rudimentary attempts. Only after the French Revolution could it develop in them.

The mental sciences – Philosophy, Law, History, Political Economy – had been for the rising Bourgeoisie before the French Revolution in the first place a means of fighting the ruling powers, social and political, which opposed them and had their roots in the past. To discredit the past, and to paint the new and coming in contrast to it, as the only good and useful, that formed the principal occupation of these sciences.

That has altered since the Revolution. This gave the Bourgeoisie the essence of what they wanted. It revealed to them, however, social forces which wanted to go further than themselves. These new forces began to be more dangerous than the relies of the deposed old. To come to an agreement with the latter became only a requirement of political sagacity on the part of the Bourgeoisie. Therewith, however, their opinion on the past was bound also to grow milder.

On the other hand the Revolution had brought a great disillusionment to the Ideologues themselves. Great as were its achievements for the Bourgeoisie, they were not up to the expectations of a harmonious empire of “morality”, general well being, and happiness, such as had been looked for from the overthrow of the old. No one dared to build hopes on the new; the more unsatisfactory the present, so much the more terrifying were the reminiscences of the most recent past which the present had brought to a head, so much the more bright did the farther past appear. That produced as is well known Romanticism in art. But it produced also similar movements in the mental sciences. Men began to study the past, not in order to condemn it, but to understand it; not to show up its absurdity, but to understand its reasonableness.

But the Revolution had done its work too thoroughly for men to dream of re-establishing what had been set aside. Had the past been rational, so it was necessary to see that it had become irrational. The socially necessary and reasonable ceased with that to appear as an unchangeable conception. Thus arose the view of a social evolution.

That applied first to the knowledge of German History. In Germany the above described process was most markedly to be seen. The revolutionary method of thought had never penetrated so deeply, had never struck such deep roots as in France, the Revolution had not worked so thoroughly, had shaken the forces and opinions of the past in a less degree, and finally had appeared on the scene more as a disturbing than an emancipating element.

But to the study of the German past there associated itself the investigation of similar periods. In America the young community of the United States was already so far advanced, that there a separate class of intellectuals had already developed a real American literature and science. What specially distinguished America from Europe, was, however, the close contact of the capitalist civilization of the white man with Indian barbarism. That was the object which especially attracted literature and sciences. Soon after the German romanticism there arose the American Indian romance and soon after the rise of the historical school of law, the revival of the old fairy tales and the world of legends, and the comparative philological research in Germany, the scientific theory of the social and linguistic conditions of the Indians in America.

At an earlier period, however, the settlement of the English in India had afforded the possibility, nay, the necessity, of a study of the languages, the customs, the laws of these territories. At the commencement of the nineteenth century the knowledge of Sanscrit had penetrated as far as Germany, which laid the foundation for the comparative study of languages, which in its turn afforded the most valuable insight into the life of the Indo-Germanic peoples in primitive times. All this rendered it possible to treat the accounts given by civilized observers on primitive peoples as well as the discoveries of weapons and tools of disappeared races differently from formerly when they had been simply looked on as curiosities. They now became material to prolong the already revealed parts of human development still further into the past and to close up many of the gaps.

In this entire historical work there was, however, lacking the object which had up to then ruled the entire writing of history – the distinguished human individual. In the written sources, from which formerly the knowledge of human history was exclusively culled, only the extraordinary had been related, because it was that only which seemed noteworthy to the chronicler of the events of his time. Who cared to describe what was everyday, what everybody knew! The extraordinary man, the extraordinary event, such as wars and revolutions, alone seemed worth relating. Thus it was that for the traditional historians, who never got beyond writing up from the sources handed down to them with more or less criticism, the big man was the motor power in history; in the feudal period the king, the military commander, the religious founder, and the priests. In the eighteenth century these very men were branded by the Bourgeois intellectuals as the authors of all the evil in the world, and the philosophers on the other hand as legislators and teachers, as the only real instruments of progress. But all progress appears to be only external, or simple change or clothes. That period in which the sources of historical writing began to flow more abundantly, the time of the victory of the Greeks over the Persian Invasion, was the culminating period of the social development. From that time on society in the lands round the Mediterranean began to decay, it went down and down till the Barbarian Immigration. Only slowly have the peoples of Europe since then developed themselves again to a higher level socially, and even in the 18th century they had not risen far above the lead of classical antiquity, so that in many points of politics, of philosophy, and especially of art the latter could rank as a pattern.

History, as a whole, appeared simply as a rise and descent, a repetition of the same circle; and just as the simple individual can set himself continually higher aims than he arrives at, because as a rule he fails, so did this circle appear as a horrible tragi-comedy in which all that was most elevated and strongest was doomed to play wretched parts.

Quite otherwise was it with primitive history. That with its individual departments. History of Law, Comparative Philology, Ethnology, found in the material which they worked up, not the extraordinary and the individual but the every day and commonplace described. But for that very reason can primitive history trace with certainty a line of continuous development. And the more her material grows, the more it is possible to compare like with like, the more it is discovered that this development is no chance, but according to law. The material which is at our disposal is on the one side facts of the technical arrangements of life, on the other of law, custom and religion. To them the law controlling this means nothing else than to bring technics into a causal connection with the legal, metal, and religious conceptions without the help of extraordinary individuals or events.

This connection was, however, discovered almost simultaneously from another side, namely statistics.

So long as the Parish was the most important economic institution, statistics were hardly required. In the Parish it was easy to get a view of the state of affairs. But even if statistics were made there, they could scarcely suggest scientific observations, as with such small figures the law had no chance of showing itself. That was bound to alter, as the capitalist method of production created the modern states, which were not, like the earlier, simple bundles of communes or parishes and provinces, but unitary bodies with important economic functions.

Besides that, however, the capitalist method of production developed the state not simply to the inner market, but beside that created the world market. That produced highly complicated connections which were not to be controlled without the means of statistics. Founded for the practical purpose of tax gathering and raising of recruits, for customs, and finally for the Insurance societies, it gradually embraced wider and wider spheres and produced a mass of observations on a large scale, which showed laws which must impress themselves on observant compilers of the material. In England this happened at the end of the 17th century, when Petty arrived at a political arithmetic, in which, however, “estimates” played a very big role. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the method of statistical enquires was so complete and its sphere so varied that it was possible to discover with the greatest certainty the laws governing the actions of great masses of men. The Belgian Quetelet made an attempt in the thirties, to describe in this manner the physiology of human society.

They saw that the determining element in the alterations of human action was always a material change, usually an economic one. Thus was the decrease and increase of crime, of suicide, marriages, shown to be dependent on the prices of corn.

Not as if economic motives were for instance the sole cause that marriages were made at all. Nobody would declare the sexual passion to be an economic motive. But the alteration in the annual number of marriages is called forth by changes in the economic situation.

Besides all these new sciences there is finally to be mentioned a change in the character of the modern writing of history. The French Revolution came to the fore so clearly as a class-struggle, that not only its historian must recognize that, but a number of the historians were inspired to investigate in other periods of history the role of the class wars, and to see in them the motive forces of human development. The classes are, however, again a product of the economic structure of society, and from this spring the antagonisms, therefore the struggles of the classes. What holds every class together, what divides them from other classes, determines their opposition to men, is the particular class interests, a new kind of interest, about which no moralist of the eighteenth century had had any idea whatever school he might belong to.

With all these advances and discoveries which certainly often enough were only piece-meal and by no means quite clear by the time of the forties in the nineteenth century all the essential elements of the materialist conception of history had been supplied. They only waited for the master who should bring them under control and unify them. That was done by Engels and Marx.

Only to deep thinkers such as they were was an achievement of that nature possible, in so far that was their personal work. But no Engels, no Marx could have achieved it in the 18th century, before all the new sciences had produced a sufficient mass of new results. On the other hand a man of the genius of a Kant or a Helvetius could also have discovered the materialist conception of history if at their time the requisite scientific conditions had been at hand. Finally, however, even Engels and Marx despite their genius and despite the preparatory work, which the new sciences had achieved, would not have been able even in the time of the forties in the 19th century, to discover it, if they had not stood on the standpoint of the proletariat, and were thus socialists. That also was absolutely necessary to the discovery of this conception of history. In this sense is it a proletariat philosophy and the opposing views are Bourgeois philosophies.

The rise of the idea of evolution took place during a period of reaction, when no immediate farther development of society was in question; the conception consequently only served for the explanation of the previous development, and thereby only in a certain sense, that of a justification, nay, at times more, a glorification of the past. Just as through Romanticism and the historical school of jurisprudence, there goes through the entire study of early times, even through Sanscrit study – I may point to the example of Schopenhauer’s Buddhism – in the first decades of the last century a reactionary trait. So was it with that philosophy which made the evolutionary idea of that period the centre of its system, the Hegelian. Even that was only intended to be a panegyric on the previous development, which had now found its close in the monarchs by the will of God. As a reactionary philosophy this philosophy of the development was bound to be an idealist philosophy, since the present, the reality, was in too great a contradiction with its reactionary tendencies.

As soon as reality, that is the capitalist society, had got so far as to be able to make itself felt in face of these tendencies, the idealist conception of evolution became impossible. It was superseded by a more or less open materialism. But only from the proletariat point of view was it possible to translate the social development into a materialistic one – in other words to recognize in the present an evolution of society proceeding according to natural laws.

The Bourgeoisie was obliged to close its eyes to all idea of a further social evolution, and repudiate every philosophy of evolution, which did not simply investigate the development of the part to understand this, but also in order to understand the tendencies of the new society of the future and to hammer out weapons for the struggle of the present, which is destined to bring about this form of society of the future.

So soon as this period of intellectual reaction after the great Revolution had been overcome, and the Bourgeoisie which had regained self respect and power had made an end to all artistic and philosophic romanticism in order to proclaim materialism, they could not all the same get as far as the historic materialism. Deeply founded as this was in the circumstances of the time, so was it no less in the nature of the circumstances, that that could only be a philosophy of the proletariat, that it was repudiated by science so far as it lay in the influence of the Bourgeoisie, repudiated to such an extent that even the socialist author of the history of materialism, Albert Lange, only mentions Karl Marx in that work as an economist and not as a philosopher.

The idea of evolution, generally accepted for the natural sciences, even fruitful for certain special branches of mental science, has remained dead for the sciences as a whole as taught by Bourgeois science. The Bourgeoisie could not even get further than Hegel in their philosophy. They fell back into a materialism which stands considerably below that of the 18th century, because it is purely natural philosophy, and has no theory of society to show. And when this narrow materialism no longer suited them, they turned to the old Kantianism, purified from all the defects which had been superseded by science in the meantime, but not emancipated from its Ethic which was now the bulwark which was to be brought against the materialist theory of Social Evolution.

In the economic sciences the Bourgeoisie hovered between a historic conception which certainly acknowledges an evolution of society, but denies necessary laws of this development, and a view which recognizes necessary laws of Society but denies the social development and believes it possible to discover in the psychology of primitive man all the economic categories of modern society. To this conception there was added a naturalistic (or natural scientific) which tries to reduce the laws of society to laws of biology, that is, to the laws of animal and plant organisms, and really amounts to nothing short of a denial of social development.

Since the Bourgeoisie has grown conservative, only from the proletarian standpoint is a materialist view of social development possible.

It is true that the dialectical materialism is a materialism of its own kind, which is quite different from the materialism of natural science (naturalism). Many friends have wished accordingly in order to avoid misunderstandings, to substitute another word for the word materialism.

But if Marx and Engels held on to the word materialism that had the same ground as the refusal to rechristen their Manifesto of the Communists into a manifesto of the Socialists. The word socialism covers today such various wares, among them some really worthless, Christian and national socialisms of all kinds; the word communism on the other hand describes unmistakably and clearly the aims of a proletariat fighting a revolutionary fight for its emancipation.

So also by a designation of the dialectical materialism as dialectical “monism”, or “Criticism” or “Realism” were its significance as opposition to the Bourgeois world lost. The word “materialism” on the other hand has signified since the victory of Christianity a philosophy of the fight against the ruling powers. Therefore has it come into disrepute with the Bourgeoisie. hut for that very reason have we followers of the proletarian philosophy every reason to hold fast to this very name, which also can be justified in fact. And a conception of Ethics, which rises from this philosophy can rank as a materialistic one.


II. The Organization of Human Society

a. The Technical Development

Let us now regard man from the standpoint of the materialist conception of history at the stage at which we left him in the last chapter, at the boundary which divided him from the rest of the animal world. What is it that raises him above it? Do there exist between him and them only gradual differences or is there also an essential difference? Neither as a thinking nor as a moral being is man essentially different from the animals. Does not perhaps the difference lie in the fact that he produces, that is, adapts material found in nature by means of change of form or of place to his purposes? This activity is, however, also found in the animal world. To leave out of account many insects, such as bees and ants we find among many warm blooded animals, nay, even among many fishes, species of productive activity, namely, the production of refuges and dwellings, with underground buildings, and so on. And, however much of this productive activity is also the product and result of inherited instincts and the positions, they are often so suitably adapted to various circumstances, that consciousness, the knowledge of causal connections, must also play a part thereby.

Or is it the use of tools which raises man above the animals? Also note that among animals we find at least the beginnings of the application of tools, of branches, of trees for defence, of stones for cracking nuts and so on. This intelligence as well as the development of the feet to hands enables the apes to do that.

Thus not the production of means of consumption and not the use of tools distinguishes man from the animals. What, however, alone distinguishes the former is the production of tools, which serve for production, for defence or attack. The animal can at the most find the tool in nature: it is not capable of inventing such. It may produce things for its immediate use, prepare dwellings, collect provisions but it does not think so far as to produce things which will not serve for direct consumption, but the production of the means of consumption.

With the production of the means of production the animal man begins to become the human man; with that he breaks away from the animal world to found his own empire, an empire with its own kind of development, which is wholly unknown in the rest of nature, in which nothing similar is to be found.

So long as the animal only produces with the organs provided by nature, or only uses tools which nature gives him, it cannot rise above the means thus provided for them by nature. His development only occurs in the manner that his own organism develops itself, his own organs unfold themselves – the brain included: a slow and unconscious process carried on by means of the struggle for life, which the animal can in no way hurry on by its conscious activity.

On the other hand the discovery and production of the tool – the word employed in the widest sense – means that man consciously and purposely gives himself new organs, or strengthens or lengthens his natural organs, so that he can still better or easier produce the same that these organs produced, but besides that he is in a position to arrive at results which were formerly quite unattainable for him. But as man is not simply an animal endowed with higher intelligence and hands – the necessary assumption of the application and production of tools, – but also must have been from the very beginning a social animal, the discovery and production of a tool by a specially gifted individual – a Marx or Kant or Aristotle inhabiting the trees of the primitive tropical forests who had found it was not lost with his death. His herd took up the invention and carried it on, won with it an advantage in the struggle for life, so that their descendants could flourish better than the other members of their kind. But further perspicacity which was to be found in the herd served the purpose from now on of rendering the discovery more complete or to invent new things.

Even if a certain degree of intelligence and the development of the hand forms the necessary condition for the discovery and production of tools, so the social character of man afforded the conditions for the continual addition of new and the improvement of old discoveries, thus leading to a continual development of the technic. The slow and unconscious process of the development of the individuals through the struggle for life, as it ruled the entire remaining organic world, gives way more and more in the human world in favour of the conscious transformation, adaptation and improvement of the organs, a development which in its beginning, measured by modern standards, is extremely slow and hard to notice, but which all the same goes much quicker than the natural selection. The technical progress forms from now on the foundation of the entire development of man. On that and not on any special divine spark rests all by which man is distinguished from the animals.

Every single step forwards on this path of technical development is a conscious and intentional. Each arises from the endeavor to increase the powers of man over the limits set by nature. But each of these technical advances brings also of necessity effects with it, which were not intended by its authors and could not be, because they were not in a position even to expect them, effects, which just as much as natural selection could be called adaptation to the surroundings, surroundings, however, which men had artificially modified. In these adaptations, however, consciousness, the knowledge of the new surroundings, and its requirements, again plays a role, this nevertheless is not that of an independent directory force.

b. Technic and Method of Life.

Let us seek, in order to get a clearer idea of what has been said, to give ourselves an idea what consequences it was bound to have when primitive man arrived at the first tool, where he joined the stone and the stick, which the ape had already used, to make a hammer, an axe or a spear. Naturally the description which here follows can only be a hypothetical one, as we have no witness of the whole process. But it is not to serve as a proof, only as an illustration. We make it as simple as possible, disregarding for example the influence which the fishing could have had on primitive man.

So soon as primitive man possessed the spear, he was put in a position to hunt still bigger animals. Was his food up to then principally from tree fruits and insects, as well as probably little birds and young birds, now he could kill even bigger animals, meat became from now on more important for his food. The majority of the bigger animals, however, live on the earth, not in the trees, hunting thus drew him from his airy regions down to the earth. Still more. The animals most adapted for the chase, the ruminants, are rare in the primitive forest. The more man became a hunter, the more could he emerge from the forest in which primitive man was hid.

This account, as I have said, is purely hypothetical. The process of evolution may have been the reverse. Equally as the discovery of the tool and the weapons could have driven men out of the primitive forest to draw forth into open grass land where the trees were farther apart, just as well might forces which drove primitive man from his original abode have been the spur to the discovery of weapons and tools. Let us assume, for instance, that the number of men increased over their means of subsistence in a glacial period, say the glacier of the central Asiatic mountain range sank low down and forced the inhabitants from their forests into the grass plains which bordered it or that an increasing dryness of the climate ever more and more cleared the forest and caused more and more grass land to come up in it. In all these cases primitive man would have been obliged to give up his free life and to move about on the earth; he was obliged from now on to seek for animal food, and could no longer in the same degree feed himself from tree fruits. The new method of life induced him to use often stones and sticks and brought him nearer to the discovery of the first tools and weapons.

Whatever development we accept, the first or the second – and both could have taken place independent of each other at different points – from both of them we see clearly the close connection which exists between new means of production and new methods of life and new needs.

Each of these factors necessarily produces the other, each becomes necessarily the cause of changes, which in their turn hide new fresh changes in their bosom. Thus every discovery produces inevitable changes, which give rise to other discoveries, and therewith brings new needs and methods of life which again call forth new discoveries and so on – a chain of endless development which becomes so much quicker and complicated, the farther it proceeds and the more the possibility and facility of new discoveries grows.

Let us consider the consequences which the rise of hunting as a source of food for man and his emergence from the primitive forest was bound to draw with it.

Besides the meat, man took in place of the tree fruits, roots and fruits of the grasses, corn and maize into his bill of fare. In the primitive forest a cultivation of plants is impossible and to clear the primitive forest is beyond the power of primitive man. The latter could not, however, even arrive at this idea. He lived from tree fruits; to plant fruit trees which would first bear fruit after many years assumes that already a high degree of culture and settlement has been attained. On the other hand the planting of grasses in meadows and steppes is much easier than in the primitive forest and can be brought about with much simpler tools. The thought of planting grasses, which often bear fruits after only a few weeks, is, however, easier conceivable than that of planting trees. Cause and effect are so nearly connected in this case that their dependence is easier to see and even the unsettled primitive man might expect to be able to hope to be able to hold out the period between seed time and harvest in the neighborhood of the cultivated ground.

On the other hand man so soon as he left the primitive forest was far more at the mercy of climatic changes than in his primitive home. In the thick forest the changes of temperature between day and night are much less than on the open plain, on which during the day a burning sun rules and by night a powerful radiation and loss of heat. Storms are also less noticeable in the forest than in a woodless territory, and against rain and hail this latter offers much less protection than the almost impenetrable foliage of the forest. Thus man forced on to the plains was bound to feel a need for shelter and clothing which the primitive man in the tropical forest never felt. If the man apes had already built themselves formal nests for the night repose he was bound to go farther and build walls and roofs for protection, or to seek shelter in caves or holes. On the other hand it was no great step to clothe himself in the skins of animals, which remained over after the flesh had been taken out of them. It was certainly the need for protection against cold which allowed mankind to aspire for the possession of fire. Its technical ability he could only gradually learn after he had used it a long time. The warmth which it gave out was on the other hand at once evident. How man came to the use of fire will perhaps never be certainly known. But it is certain that man in the primitive forest had no need for it as a source of heat, and was not able amid the continual damp to maintain it. Only in a drier region, where greater quantities of dry fire material were to be found at intervals, moss, leaves, brushwood, could fires arise which made man acquainted with fire. Perhaps through lightning or more likely from the sparks of a flint, the first tool of primitive man, or from the heat which arose from boring holes in hard wood.

We see how the entire life of man, his needs, his dwelling, his means of sustenance were changed, and one discovery finally brought numerous others in its train, so soon as it was once made, so soon as the making of a spear or an axe had been achieved. In all these transformations consciousness played a great part, but the consciousness of other generations than those which had discovered the spear or the axe. And the tasks which were presented to the consciousness of the later generations, were not set by that of the former, they arose by necessity and spontaneously as soon as the discovery was made.

But with the change of dwelling, of the needs of the winning of sustenance, of the entire method of life, are the effects of the discovery not exhausted.

c. Animal and Social Organism.

The division of labour among the organs in the animal organism has certain limits, since they are hide bound to the animal organism, and cannot be changed at pleasure and their number is limited. On the other hand a limit is herewith set for the variety of the functions which an animal organism is capable of performing. It is, for instance, impossible that the same limb should serve equally well for holding things, for running and for flying, not to speak of other specializations.

The tool on the other hand can be changed by man. He can adapt it to a simple definite purpose. Is this fulfilled then he puts it on one side, it does not hinder him in other work for which he requires quite other tools. If the number of his limbs is limited, his tools are innumerable.

But not simply the number of the organs of the animal organism is limited, but also the force with which any of them can be moved. It can be in no case greater than the strength of the individual himself, to whom they belong, they must always be less, since it has to nourish all its organs besides the one in motion. On the other hand, the force which moves a tool is by no means confined to one individual. So soon as it is separated from the human individual, many individuals can unite to operate it, nay, they can use other than human forces for the purpose, say the beasts of burden, again water, wind or steam.

Thus in contrast to the animal organism the development of the artificial organs of man is unlimited, at least measured by human ideas. They find their limit only in the mass of the moving forces, which Sun and Earth place at the disposal of man.

The separation of the artificial organs of man from his personality has, however, still other effects. If the organs of the animal organisms are bound up with it, that means that every individual has the same organs at his disposal. The sole exception is formed by the organs of reproduction. Only in this region is a division of labour to be found among the higher organisms. Every other division of labour in the animal organism rests simply on the fact that certain individuals take over certain functions for a certain period, for example, the sentry duty, as leader, etc., without requiring for the purpose organs which are different to those of other individuals.

The discovery of the tool on the other hand made it possible that in a society certain individuals should exclusively use certain tools or any way so much oftener that they understand its use far better than any one else. Thus we come to a form of division of labour in human society, which is of quite another kind from the modest beginnings of such in the animal societies In the latter there remains, with all the division of labour a being by itself, which possesses all the organs, which it requires for its support. In human society that is less the case, the farther the division of labour advances in it. The more developed is this, so much the greater the number of the organs which society has at its disposal for the gaining of their sustenance and the maintenance of their method of life, but so much the greater also the number of the organs, which are required, and so much more dependent the organs over which the individual commands. So much the greater the power of society over nature, but so much the more helpless the individual outside of society, so much the more dependent from it. The animal society, which arises as a natural growth, can never raise its members above nature. On the other hand human society forms for the human individual a nature which is a quite peculiar world, apart from the rest, a world which apparently interferes with its being made more than nature, with which latter it imagines itself the better able to cope the more the division of labour increases.

And the latter is practically just as unlimited as the technical progress itself; it finds its limits only in the expansion of the human race.

If we found above, that the animal society is an organism of a peculiar kind, different from the plant and animal, so we now find that the human society again forms a peculiar organism, which is not only different from the plant and animal individual, but is essentially different from the animal society.

Before all there come two distinguishing features into account. We have seen that the animal organism itself possesses all the organs which it requires for its own existence, while the human individual under the advanced division of labour cannot live by itself without society – the Robinson Crusoes, who without any means produce everything for themselves are only to be found in children’s story books and scientific works of Bourgeois economists, who believe that the best way to discover the laws of society is to completely ignore it. Man is in his whole nature dependent on society, it rules him, only through the peculiar nature of this is he to be understood.

The peculiar nature of society is, however, in a continual change, because in distinction to the animal society human society is always subject to development in consequence of the advance of their technic. Animal society develops itself probably only in the same degree as the animal species which forms it. Far faster does the process of development proceed in human society. But nothing can be falser than to conceive it according to the nature of the development of the individual, and distinguish the ways of youth, of maturity, of decay and death in it. So long as the sources of force hold out over which the earth commands, therefore so long the foundation of technical progress does not disappear, we have no decay and death of human society to expect, this will, with the advance in technic ever more and more advance and is in this sense immortal.

Every society is modeled by the technical apparatus at its command, and the people who set it going, for which purpose they enter into the complicated social relations. So long as this technical apparatus keeps on improving, and the people who move it, neither diminish in number nor in mental nor physical strength, there can be no talk of a dying out of society.

That sort of thing has never occurred as a permanent condition to any society as yet. Temporarily certainly it occurs, in consequence of peculiarities with which we will make acquaintance later on, that the social relations which sprang from social needs, get petrified and hinder the technical apparatus and the growth of the members of society in number and in intellectual and physical force, nay even give rise to a reactionary movement. That can, however, to speak historically, never last long, sooner or later these fetters of society are burst, either by internal movement, revolutions, or, and what is oftener the case, by impulse from without by wars. Again society changes from time to time a part of its members, its boundaries or its names and it can seem to the observer as if the society had shown traces of old age, and was now dead. In reality, however, if we want to take a simile from the animal organism, it has only been suffering from a disease from which it has emerged with renewed strength. Thus did for instance the society of the Roman imperial times not die but rejuvenated through German blood, they began after the migrations of the peoples with partially new people to improve and build up their technical apparatus.


III. The Changes in the Strength of The Social Instincts

a. Language

Since human society in contrast to the animal is continually changing, for that very reason the people in it must be continually changing. The alteration in the conditions of life must react on the nature of the men, the division of labour necessarily develops some of his natural organs in a greater degree and transforms many. Thus for instance the development of the human ape from a tree fruit eater into a devourer of animals and plants, which are to be found on the ground, was bound to be connected with a transformation of the hind pair of hands into feet. On the other hand, since the discovery of the tool no animal has been subject to such manifold and rapid changes in his natural surroundings as man and no animal confronted with such by an ever growing problem of adaptation to his surroundings as he, and had to use its intellect to the same degree as he. Already at the beginning of that career which he opened with the discovery of the first tool, superior to the rest of the animals by reason of his adaptability and his intellectual powers, he was obliged in the course of his history to encourage both qualities in the highest degree.

If the changes in the society are able to transform the organism of man, his hands, his feet, his brain, how much the more and how much greater to change his consciousness, his views of that which was useful and harmful, good and bad, possible and impossible.

If man begins his rise over the animals with the discovery of the tool, he has no need to first create a social compact as was believed in the 18th century and as many theoretical jurists still believe in the 20th. He enters on his human development as a social animal with strong social impulses. The first ethical result of human society could only be to influence the force of these impulses. According to the character of society these impulses will be either strengthened or weakened. There is nothing more false than the idea that the social impulses are bound to be continually strengthened, as society develops.

At the beginning of human society that certainly will have been true. The impulses which in the animal world had already developed the social impulses, human society, permits to remain in full strength, it adds further to that – cooperation in work. This co-operation itself has made a new instrument of intercourse of social understanding necessary, language. The social animals could get through, with few means of mutual understanding, cries of persuasion, of joy, of fright, of alarm, of anger and sensational noises. Every individual is with them a whole, which can exist for itself alone. But sensational noises do not, however, suffice, if there is to be common labour or if different tasks are to be allotted, or different products divided. They do not suffice for individuals who are helpless without the help of other individuals. Division of labour is impossible without a language, which describes not merely sensations, but also things and processes, it can only to that degree develop in which language is perfected, and it for its part brings with it the need for it.

In language itself the description of activities and especially the human, is the most primitive; that of the things comes later. The verbs are older than the nouns, the former form the roots from which the latter are derived.

Thus declares Lazarus Geiger:

“When we ask ourselves why light and color were no nameable objects for the first stage of language while the act of painting of the colors was, the answer lies in this that man first only described his actions or those of his kind; he noticed only what happened to himself or in the immediate and to him directly interesting neighborhood, at a period when he had for such things as light and dark, shining objects and lightning no sense and no power of conception. If we take samples from the great number of concepts which we have already touched on (in the book) they go back in their beginning to an extremely limited circle of human movements. For this reason the conception of natural objects evolves in such a remarkably roundabout manner from that conception of a human activity, which in one way or other called attention to them and often brings something that is a distant approximation to them. So the tree is something stripped of its bark, the bark something ground, the corn which grows on it something without the husk. Thus earth and sea, nay even the idea cloud, and heaven itself, emerge from the same root concept of something ground up or painted, a sort of clay-like liquid.” (Der Ursprung der Sprache, pp.151-3.)

This way of the development of language is not surprising if we grasp the fact that the first duty of language was the mutual understanding of men in common activities and common movements. This role of language as a help in the process of production makes it clear why language had originally so few descriptions of color. Gladstone and others have concluded from that that the Homeric Greeks and other primitive peoples could only distinguish few colors. Nothing more fallacious than that. Experiments have shown that barbarian peoples have a very highly developed sense of color. But their color technic is only little developed, the number of colors which they can produce is small, and hence the number of their descriptions of color is small.

“When man gets so far as to apply a color stuff, then the name of his color stuff easily takes on an adjectival character for him. In this way arise the first names of colors.” (Grant Allen, The Color Sense, p.254.)

Grant Allen points to the fact, that even today the names of colors increase as the color technic grows. The names of the colors serve first the purpose of technic and not the purpose of describing nature.

The development of language is not to be understood without the development of the method of production. From this latter it depends whether a language remains the dialect of a tiny tribe or a world language, which a hundred million men speak.

With the development of language an uncommonly strong means of social cohesion is won, an enormous strengthening and a clear consciousness of the social impulses. In addition it certainly produced quite other effects; it is the most effectual means of retaining acquired knowledge, of spreading this, and handing it on to later generations; it first makes it possible to form concepts, to think scientifically. Thus it starts the development of science and with that brings about the conquest of nature by Science. Now man acquires a mastery over Nature and also an apparent independence of her external influences, which arouse in him the idea of freedom. On this I may be allowed a private deviation. Schopenhauer very rightly says:

The animal has only visual presentations and consequently only motives which it can visualize. The dependence of its acts of will from the motives is thus clear. In men this is no less the case and they are impelled (always taking the individual character into account) by the motive with the strictest necessity: only these are not for the most part visual but abstract presentations, that is conceptions, thoughts which are nevertheless the result of previous views thus of impression from without. That gives him a certain freedom, in comparison namely with the animals. Because he is not like the animal determined by the visual surroundings present before him but by his thoughts drawn from previous experiences or transmitted to him through teaching. Hence the motive which necessarily moves him is not at once clear to the observer with the deed, but he carries it about with him in his head. That gives not only to his actions taken as a whole, but to all his movements an obviously different character from those of the animal; he is at the same time drawn by finer invisible ones. Thus all his movements bear the impress of being guided by principles and intentions, which gives them the appearance of independence and obviously distinguishes them from those of the animal. All these great distinctions depend however entirely from the capacity for abstract presentations, conceptions. (Preisschrift über die Grundlage der Moral, 1860, p.148.)

The capacity for abstract presentations depends again on language. Probably it was a deficiency in language which caused the first concept to be formed. In Nature there are only single things; language is, however, too poor to be able to describe every single thing. Man must consequently describe ail things which are similar to each other with the same word; he undertakes with that however, at the same time unconsciously a scientific work, the collection of the similar, the separation of the unlike. Language is then not simply an organ of mutual understanding of different men with each other but has become an organ of thinking. Even when we do not speak to others, but think to ourselves only the thoughts must be clothed in certain words.

Does, however, language give man a certain freedom in contrast to the animals, this, all the same, only develops on a higher plane what the formation of the brain had already begun.

In the lower animals the nerves of motion are directly connected with the nerves of sensation; here every external impression at once releases a movement. Gradually, however, a bundle of nerves develops into a centre of the whole nervous system, which receives all the impressions and is not obliged to transmit all to the motor nerves, but can store them up and work them off. The higher animal gathers experiences which it can utilize and impulses which even under certain circumstances it can hand on to its descendants.

Thus through the medium of the brain the connection between the external impression and the movement is obscured. Through language, which renders possible the communication of ideas to others, as well as abstract conceptions, scientific knowledge, and convictions, the connection between sensation and movement becomes in many cases completely unrecognizable.

Something very similar happens in economics. The most primitive form of the circulation of wares is that of barter of commodities: of products which serve for personal or productive consumption. Here from both sides an article of consumption is given and received. The object of the exchange, that is consumption, is clear.

That alters with the rise of an element to facilitate circulation, money. Now it is easy to sell without at once buying, just as the brain makes it possible that impressions should work on the organism without at once releasing a movement. And as this renders possible a storing up of experiences and impulses, which can even be transmitted to descendants, so can notoriously from gold a treasury be collected. And as the collection of that treasury of experiences and impulses under the necessary social conditions finally renders really possible the development of science and the conquest of nature by science, so does the collection of every treasure render possible when certain social conditions are also there the transformation of money into capital, which raises the productivity of human labor in the highest degree and completely revolutionizes the world within a few centuries to a greater degree than formerly occurred in hundreds of thousands of years.

And so just as there are Philosophers who believe that the elements, Brain and Language, intellectual powers and ideas which form the connection between sensation and movement are not simple means to arrange this connection more conveniently for the individual and society, thus apparently to increase their strength, but that they are of themselves sprung from independent sources of power, nay, finally coming even from the creator of the world, – so there are economists who imagine that money brings about the circulation of goods and, as capital, renders it possible to develop human production enormously; that it is this that is the starter of this circulation, the creator of these forces, the producer of all values which are produced over and above the product of the primitive handwork.

The theory of the productivity of capital rests on a process of thought which is very similar to that of the freedom of the will and the conception of a moral law, independent of time and space, which regulates our actions in time and space.

Marx was just as logical when he contradicted the one process of thought as the other.

b. War and Property

A further means beside community in work and language to strengthen the social impulses, is formed by the social development through the rise of war.

We have no reason to suppose that primitive man was a warlike being. Herds of ape men who gathered together in the branches of trees with copious sources of food can have squabbled and driven each other away. That this got so far as killing their opponents, of that there is no example among the living apes of today. Of male gorillas it is reported that they occasionally fight each other with such fury, that one kills the other, but that is a fight for a wife, not a fight for feeding grounds.

That changes so soon as man becomes a hunter, who has command of tools, which are directed in killing, and who has grown accustomed to killing, to the shedding of strange blood. Also another factor comes into account, which Engels has already pointed out to explain the cannibalism which often comes up at this period: the uncertainty of the sources of food. Vegetable food is in the tropical forest in abundance. On the grassy plains, on the other hand, roots and fruits are not always to be found, the capture of game is moreover for the most part a matter of chance. The beasts of prey have thus acquired the capacity of being able to fast for incredibly long periods. The human stomach has not such powers of endurance. Thus necessity easily forces a tribe of savages to a fight for life or death with another neighboring tribe, which has got a good hunting territory; then the passions aroused by the fight and agonizing hunger finally drive him not simply to kill the foe but also to eat him.

In this way technical progress lets loose struggles, which the ape man did not know, fights not with animals of other kinds, but with the members of his kind themselves, struggles, often more bloody than those with the leopard and the panther, against which at least the bigger apes understand very well how to defend themselves when united in greater numbers.

Nothing is more fallacious than the idea that the progress of culture and increase of knowledge necessarily bring also higher humanity with them. We could far better say, the ape is humaner, therefore more human than man. Murder and slaughter in numbers of his species for economic motives are products of culture of technic in arms. And up to now the perfection of these has ranked as a great part of the intellectual labor of mankind.

Only under special circumstances and in special classes will there in the farther progress of culture be produced what we call the refinement of manners. The progress in division of labor assigns the task of killing animals and man to certain classes – Hunters, Butchers, Executioners, Soldiers, etc., who then occupy themselves with brutality or cruelty either as a sport or as a business within the boundaries of civilization. Other classes are entirely relieved of the necessity nay, even the possibility of shedding blood, so for instance, the vegetarian peasants in the river valleys of India, who are prevented by nature from keeping great herds of animals and for whom the ox is too costly as a beast of burden or the cow as a giver of milk for them to be in a position to kill them. Even the majority of the town inhabitants of the European states since the decay of the town Republics and the rise of paid armies as well as the rise of a special class of butchers are relieved of the necessity to kill life. Especially the intellectuals have been for centuries so unused to the spilling of blood, which they ascribed to their higher intelligence, which roused milder feelings in them. But in the last century the universal military service has become again a general institution of most European States and the wars are again become people’s wars, and with that the refinement of manners among our intellectuals has reached its end. They have become since then considerably more brutal; the death penalty which even in the fifty years of last century was generally condemned, meets with no opposition any longer, and the cruelties of colonial wars, which fifty years ago at least in Germany would have made their authors impossible, are excused today – even glorified.

In any case war plays among modern peoples no more the same role as once among the nomadic pastoral and hunting tribes. But if it produces cruelty and bloodthirstiness on the one hand, it shows itself on the other as a powerful weapon to strengthen the bonds within the family, or society. The greater the dangers which threaten the individual, so much the more dependent does he feel himself from his society, his family, his class n-ho alone with their joint forces can protect him. So much the greater the respect enjoyed by the virtues of unselfishness or a bravery which will risk life for the society. The more bloody the wars between tribe and tribe, the more will the system of selection have effect among them, those tribes will assert themselves best who have not only the strongest but also the cleverest, the bravest, the most self sacrificing and best disciplined members to show. Thus war works in primitive times in the most various manners to strengthen the social instincts in men. War, however, alters its forms in the course of the social evolution. Also its causes change.

Its first cause, the uncertainty of the sources of food, ceases so soon as agriculture and breeding of animals are more developed. But then begins a new cause of war: the possession of wealth. Not private property but the tribal property. Side by side with tribes in fruitful regions we find others in unfruitful; adjoining nomadic, water searching and poor shepherds, settled peasants to whom water has no longer value, whose farming produces plentiful surpluses, etc. War now becomes robbery and defense against robbery, and it has remained in essence the same till today.

Even this kind of war has a strengthening effect on the social instincts, so long as the property in the tribe is in the main communal. On the other hand the strengthening of the social instincts through war ceases to strengthen the social instincts the more classes are formed in the community, and war becomes more and more a simple affair of the ruling classes, whose endeavors are aimed towards an increase in their sphere of exploitation; or to put themselves in the place of another ruling class on a neighboring land. For the subject classes it is often enough in such wars no more about any question of their existence, and occasionally not even any question of a better or worse standard of life for them but only who is to be their lord. On the other hand, the army becomes either an aristocratic army, in which the mass of the people has no part, or where they co-operate it becomes a paid or a compulsory army, which is commanded by the ruling classes, and must put their lives at stake not for their own property, their own wives and children, but to champion the interests of others, often hostile interests. No more from social instincts but solely from fright for a remorselessly cruel penal code are such armies held together. They are divided by the hate of the mass against the leaders, by the indifference, even the mistrust of the latter against their subordinates.

At this stage war ceases to be for the mass of the people a school of social feelings. In the ruling, warrior classes it becomes a school of a haughty, overbearing demeanor towards the governed classes, because it teaches the ruling classes to treat the former just as they do the common soldiers in the army, to degrade them to blind subordination to an absolute commander and to dispose of their forces, nay, even their life without any scruples.

This development of war is as we have said already a consequence of the development of property, which again comes from the technical development.

Every object, which is produced in society or with which production is carried on in it must be at the disposal of some one and dispose of it can either a group or a single individual or the entire society. The nature of this disposal is determined in the first place by the nature of the things, and the nature of the method of production and that of the products. Who himself made his weapons, used them himself; just so who prepared himself a garment or an ornament; on the other hand it was equally natural that the house which was built by the common labor of the tribe should be inhabited in common by them. The various kinds of enjoyment of the various things for utility was always allowed, and repeated from generation to generation became the fixed customs.

Thus arose a law of custom, which was then extended still further in this way, that as often as quarrels arose over this method of all or about persons who had the right to all, the assembled members of the tribe decided. Law did not arise from any thought out legislation or social compact, but from a custom resting on the technical conditions, and where these did not suffice, on individual decisions of the society which decided each case by itself. Thus arose little by little a complicated right of property in the various means of production and products of society.

Common property, however, preponderated in the beginning, especially in the means of production, a soil worked in common, water apparatus, houses, even also herds of animals and other things besides. Even this common property was bound very largely to strengthen the social impulses, the interest in the common good, and also the subordination to the same and the dependence on the same.

Very differently did the private property of single families or individuals work out, so soon as it arrived at such a pitch that it began to usurp the place of common property. That began when in consequence of the growing division of labor the various branches of hand work began to separate themselves from agriculture in which they had hitherto found a by-employment; when they became more and more independent and separated into branches.

This development means an extension of the sphere of society through the division of labor, an extension of the number of those men who thereby form a society, because they work for each other and thus are mutually dependent for their existence on each other. But this extension of the social labor does not develop on the lines of an extension of work in common, but towards a separation of individuals from the common work, and to making their work the private work of independent producers who produce that which they themselves do not consume, and obtain in return the products of other branches to consume them.

Thus at this stage the common production and common property in the means of production of societies, each in the main satisfying its own wants, for example, the mark or at least the house community give way before the individual production and property of single individuals or pairs with their children, who produce commodities. That is production not for their own use but for sale, for the market.

With that there arises side by side with private property, which had already existed at an earlier period, even if not to so great an extent, an entirely new element in society: the competitive struggle of the different producers of the same kind, who struggle against each other for their share of the market.

War and competition are often regarded as the only forms of the struggle for existence in the entire natural world. In fact both arise from the technical progress of mankind and belong to its special peculiarity. Both are distinguished from the struggle for existence of the animal world therein, that the latter is a struggle of individuals or entire societies against the surrounding nature, a fight against living and nonliving forces of nature in which those best fitted out for the particular circumstances could best maintain themselves and reproduce their kind. But it is no fight for life or death against other individuals of the same kind, with the exception of a few beasts of prey, even with whom, however, the last kind of struggle plays only a secondary part in the struggle for life, and with the exception of the struggle for the sexual natural selection. With man alone, thanks to the perfection of his tools, the struggle against individuals of the same kind to maintain themselves in the struggle for life comes to the fore. But even then there is a great distinction between wars and the struggle for existence. The first is a struggle which breaks out between two different societies; it means an interruption of production and this can never be a permanent institution. It presupposes, however, at least where no great class antagonisms exist, the strongest social cohesion and this encourages in the highest degree the social instincts. Competition on the other hand is a struggle between individuals, and indeed between individuals of the same society. This struggle is a regulator, certainly a moot peculiar one, which keeps the social co-operation of the various individuals going, and arranges, that in the last resort these private producers shall always produce what is socially necessary. If war forms an occasional interruption of production, the struggle for existence, so does the struggle for life form its constant and necessary companion in the production of commodities.

Just as war so does competition mean a tremendous waste of force, but it is also a means to extort the highest degree of tension of all the productive forces and their most rapid improvement. It has consequently a great economic importance, till it creates such gigantic productive forces that the frame-work of commodity-production becomes too narrow, as one time the frame-work of the primitive social or co-operative production became too narrow for the growing division of labor. The overproduction not less than the artificial limitation of production by employers’ associations, shows that the time is past when competition as a spur to production helps on social evolution.

But it has always done even this, only because it drove it on to the greatest possible expansion of production. On the other hand the competitive struggle between individuals of the same society has under all circumstances an absolutely deadly effect on the social impulses. Since in this struggle each one asserts himself so much the better the less he allows himself to be led by social considerations, the more exclusively he has his own interest in eye. For men under a developed system of production of commodities it seems only too clear that egoism is the only natural impulse in man, and that the social impulses are only a refined egoism or an invention of priests to get the mastery over man, or to be regarded as a supernatural mystery. If in society of today the social impulses have kept any strength, it is only due to the circumstance that general commodity production is only quite a young phenomenon, hardly 100 years old, and that in the degree in which the primitive democratic communism disappears and therewith war ceases to be a source of social impulses, a new source of the same breaks forth so much the stronger, the class war of the forwards struggling exploited classes of the people, a war not by paid soldiers, not by conscripts, but by volunteers, fought not for other people’s interests but in the interests of their own class.


Last updated on 25.12.2003