Karl Korsch, Karl Marx 1938
1. Marxism and Sociology
2. The Principle of Historical Specification
3. The Principle of Historical Specification (continued)
4. The Principle of Change
5. The Principle of Criticism
6. A New Type of Generalization
7. Practical Implications
What is the relationship between Marxism and modern sociological teaching? If we think of the Sociology begun by Comte and in fact first named by him, we shall not find any affinity or link between it and Marxism. Marx and Engels, with all their keen desire to extend and enhance the knowledge of society, paid no attention to either the name or contents of that ostensibly new approach to the social studies. Nor were they impressed by the gains the Comtist school made among the progressive intelligentsia of their time. It appears from their correspondence that Marx at one time in the sixties, with his main attention concentrated on the final manuscript of his principal work, picked up from the shelves of the British Museum and read through Comte’s Cours de philosophie positive of 1830-42, “because the English and French make such a fuss about the fellow.” Yet there is even more evidence in the text of Capital itself that this reading left no mark in his theoretical work. On still another occasion, in writing to an otherwise highly esteemed Comtist, Marx made it perfectly clear that he was “thoroughly opposed to Comtism as a politician” and had “a very poor opinion of it as a man of science.”
Marx’s attitude is theoretically and historically well founded. The science of socialism as formulated by Marx, owed nothing to this “sociology” of the 19th and 20th centuries which originated with Comte and was propagated by Mill and Spencer. It would be more correct to say that since the days when young Auguste Comte, hitherto the most enthusiastic disciple of the Utopian socialist Saint-Simon, suddenly broke with his “great master” to work out his own pedantic system of a “positivistic” sociology from a few of the formidable mass of ideas continuously poured forth by that excessively productive mind, bourgeois social thought has been a reaction against the theory and thus also against the practice of modern socialism. Up to the present day “sociologists” have endeavoured to submit another way of answering the embarrassing questions first raised by the rising proletarian movement. From this standpoint only is it possible to understand the essential unity of the manifold theoretical and practical tendencies which during the last hundred years have found their expression under the common denomination of Sociology.
Marxism, then, stands in a much more original and direct relationship to those new problems which modern historic development has put on the agenda of present-day society, than the whole of the so-called “sociology” of Comte, Spencer, and their followers. Bourgeois sociologists refer to the revolutionary socialist science of the proletariat as an “unscientific mixture of theory and politics.” Socialists, on the other hand, dismiss the whole bourgeois sociology as mere “ideology.”
There is, however, quite a different relation between the Marxian theory and another body of social thought which descended from an earlier time when the name of “sociology” had not yet been invented, but “society” had already been discovered and recognized along with physical nature as an equally material and important realm of human knowledge and human action.
As Marx himself records in 1859, he embarked upon his new materialistic theory of society, sixteen years before, because of certain grave doubts which had recently assailed his belief in the idealistic philosophy of Hegel. He had at that time just gone through the new and stimulating experiences of his first short period of political activity. As an editor of the Rheinische Zeitung (1842-43) he had for the first time found himself called upon to take part in the discussion of “so-called material interests.” He had thus been led to occupy himself with “economic questions.” On the other hand, he had become aware of the decisive importance which a closer study of the ideas of “French socialism and communism” was bound to have for the furtherance of revolutionary developments in Germany. While the combined effect of all these new impulses had already considerably undermined his faith in the old Hegelian formulae, the real nature of that Prussian State which had been so sublimely exalted by Hegel was finally revealed to him by a most conclusive personal experience. He was compelled to resign from the staff of the Rheinische Zeitung which under his leadership within less than a year had become the most conspicuous organ of the progressive movement in pre-revolutionary Germany. Nor was his withdrawal sufficient, as had been hoped by the frightened managers, to arrest the judgment of suppression pronounced against the Rheinische Zeitung by an equally frightened government.
Thus confronted with an increasing number of striking discrepancies between his philosophical creed and his actual experiences, Marx turned once more to Hegel. A detailed “critical revision” of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, on which he concentrated for the next five months, led him to the conclusion that
legal relations as well as forms of State cannot be understood out of themselves nor out of the so-called general development of the human mind but, on the contrary, are rooted in the material conditions of life, the aggregate of which Hegel, following the precedent of the English and French of the 18th century, grouped together under the name of “civil society,” and that the anatomy of civil society is to be sought for in Political Economy.
We see here the decisive significance which the concept of “civil society” had gained for the young Marx who was then just passing from Hegelian idealism to his later materialistic theory. While still formally basing his criticism of Hegel’s glorification of the State on the realistic statements concerning the nature of civil society embodied in the same Hegelian work, Marx now definitely abandoned Hegel and all his idealistic philosophy. Instead, he associated himself with those great enquirers into the social nature of man who, in the preceding centuries, had first set up the new idea of Civil Society as a revolutionary slogan, and had even unearthed, in the new science of Political Economy, the material foundations of that new and “civilized” form of society.
Hegel, indeed, had not derived the deep realistic knowledge which, under the heading of Civil Society, stands out in such sharp relief against the rest of his book from an independent study of the as yet extremely backward conditions of German society. He took both the name and contents of his “civil society” ready-made from the French and English social philosophers, politicians, and economists. Behind Hegel, as Marx said, stood the “English and French of the 18th century” with their new discoveries of the structure and movement of society who, in their turn, reflected the real historical development which culminated in the Industrial Revolution in England after the middle of the 18th century and in the great French Revolution of 1789-1815.
Marx, then, in developing his new socialist and proletarian science, took his cue from that early study of society which, although first communicated to him by Hegel, had really been born of the revolutionary epoch of the bourgeoisie. This appears most strikingly in his complete adoption of the scientific results of classical Political Economy as developed by Petty and Boisguillebert, Quesnay, Smith, and Ricardo, and taken from them by Marx’s immediate predecessors, the German idealist philosophers Kant, Fichte, and Hegel. There is, so far, not much difference between Marx’s reference to Political Economy as an “anatomy of civil society,” and Hegel’s philosophical attempt to base the State on Civil Society, and Civil Society on the “System of Needs” as explored by the new science of “Political Economy.” He had even more expressly, in an earlier study, described the “system of needs” as the “first form of government,” underlying such higher developed forms as the State and the law. Yet there is this tremendous difference from the outset that Hegel had all along used the realistic knowledge borrowed from the classical economists only for the purpose of enhancing the importance of his ultimately idealistic system, while Marx made Political Economy the pivot of a wholly materialistic theory of society.
The very pungency with which Marx in his later writings repeatedly pointed out that post-classical bourgeois economy (the so-called “vulgar” economy) had not advanced beyond Ricardo in any important points, and scornfully dismissed the new socio-scientific synthesis of Comte’s “Positivism” for the infinitely greater achievement of Hegel, shows once more the lasting importance of that early phase of economic and social thought for the theory of Marx. This is true even though he far transcended those older theories in asserting the new development of society and the new needs and aims of the proletariat, now arising as an independent class. The proletariat guided by Marxian theory is therefore not only, as Friedrich Engels put it, “the inheritor of German classical philosophy.” It is also the inheritor of classical bourgeois economics and social research. As such, it has transformed the traditional classical theory in accordance with the intervening changes in historical conditions.
Marx no longer regards bourgeois society from the standpoint of its first phase of development and its opposition to the feudal structure of mediaeval society. He is not interested only in the static laws of its existence. He treats bourgeois society in all its aspects as a transitory historical phenomenon. He explores the whole process of its genesis, and the tendencies contained therein which, in their further development, will lead to its revolutionary overthrow. He finds these tendencies twofold: objective in the economic basis of bourgeois society, subjective in the new division of social classes arising out of this same economic basis and not out of politics, law, ethics, etc. Thus “civil society,” which until then had constituted a homogeneous whole, opposed only to feudalism, is now torn into two opposed “parties.” The assumed “civil society” is in reality “bourgeois society,” namely, a society based on the cleavage of classes, in which the bourgeois class controls other classes economically and therefore politically and culturally. So at last “la classe la plus laborieuse et la plus misérable” enters the widened horizon of social science. Marxian theory recognizes the class war of the oppressed and exploited wage labourers to be a war for the abolition of present-day society. As a materialistic science of the contemporary development of bourgeois society, Marxian theory is at the same time a practical guide for the proletariat in its struggle to realize proletarian society.
The later artificial detachment of sociology as a special branch of learning, which dates its scientific origin from Comte, and at its best allows the great original thinkers who did the real productive work in this field to stand as its “forerunners,” represents nothing more than an escape from the practical, and therefore also theoretical, tasks of the present historical epoch. Marx’s new socialist and proletarian science which, in a changed historical situation, further developed the revolutionary theory of the classical founders of the doctrine of society, is the genuine social science of our time.
Marx comprehends all things social in terms of a definite historical epoch. He criticizes all the categories of the bourgeois theorists of society in which that specific character has been effaced. Already in his first economic work we find him reproaching Ricardo for having applied the specifically bourgeois concept of rent to “landed property of all epochs and of all countries. This is the error of all economists who represent bourgeois production conditions as eternal.”
The scope of the principle of historical specification is clearly demonstrated in this example. Landed property has been widely different in character and has played very different parts in the various historical epochs of society. The different ways in which primitive communal property in land had been broken up directly influenced the varied forms of the later development of society based upon private property. Up to the Middle Ages landed property, i.e., agriculture, constituted the central category dominating all the other categories of production, just as capital does in present-day bourgeois society. The different ways in which, in different parts of the world, feudal property in land, upon the victory of the bourgeois mode of production, was subjected to capital, the different ways in which rent was transformed into a part of capitalistic surplus value, and agriculture into an industry, determined to a great extent the structure of the various capitalistic systems which arose therefrom. They retain an importance even for the forms of the labour movements which were later to arise within them, and for the different forms in which the transition to the socialist mode of production will ultimately be effected in each of the different systems. For this reason Marx investigated with particular care, to the end of his life, the history of landed property and rent as shown on the one hand in the United States, and on the other hand in Russia. Similarly, Lenin, in his book on The Development of Capitalism in Russia, at the end of the 19th century, analysed the specific historical forms of this transitionary process. Yet all this comprehensive study of the various historical forms, serves only, both with Marx and Lenin, as a base for the working out of the specific character of capitalistic rent in the fully developed bourgeois society.
In the fundamental analysis of the modern Capitalistic Mode of Production which forms the subject matter of the first book of Capital, Marx does not deal with the category of rent at all. What is discussed here, in addition to the general function of the soil as an element of the labour process itself, is only the manner in which the historical transition to the modern capitalistic mode of production reacted upon the conditions of the agricultural proletariat, first, in fully developed industrial countries, second, in such countries as Ireland that have fallen behind in the process of industrialization, and finally in actual colonies. The proper place for a discussion of “rent” is in a section of the third book of Capital in which the forms of Capitalistic Distribution are analysed, as they arise from the historical forms of Capitalistic Production. Even here, there is no room for an independent analysis of earlier historical forms. A few scattered remarks serve to illuminate the contrast between the modern bourgeois form of landed property and past historical forms; and consideration of the historical Genesis of Capitalistic Rent is relegated to a supplementary chapter at the end.
“Rent,” then, as discussed in the Marxian theory, is in no way a general term referring to landed property of all epochs. It refers to “a specific historical form into which feudal land ownership and small peasants’ agriculture have been transformed through the influence of capital and of the capitalistic mode of production.” In this sense, and in this sense only, an analysis of modern capitalistic rent, or of the portion of the surplus value produced by the industrial capital which falls into the hands of the capitalistic landowner, forms a necessary part of the complete analysis of the process of capitalistic production contained in the three books of Capital.
The principle of historical specification is further demonstrated by the way Marx deals with the different historical forms of “capital” itself. Just as in the present epoch Industrial Capital appears as the standard form of all capital, so did “Merchants’ Capital” and its twin brother, “Interest-bearing Capital,” and the various sub-forms of these (more exactly described by Marx as “capital for trading in goods,” “capital for trading in money,” “capital for lending money”), occupy an independent and, in certain respects, a predominating position in the epochs preceding capitalistic society and, indeed, in the first phases of capitalist society itself. Even within the fully developed capitalist economy of today the merchant and the banker, though not involved in actual production like the industrial capitalist, perform a definite function in the circulation of capital. They also participate in the distribution of the “surplus value”; a considerable part of the yearly amount at the disposal of the capitalist class as a whole falls to their share as “commercial profit” and “interest” – just as we have seen another part of it going in the form of “rent” to the landed-property-owners who have as little to do with actual production. Moneylenders’ capital has even recaptured an important position – though not, as some Marxists have recently believed, a definite supremacy – in its new form as an integral part of the modern so-called “finance capital,” i.e., a system of highly concentrated capital obtained by the fusion of private and State-controlled bank capital with trust and State-controlled industrial capital.
The Marxian analysis of modern capitalistic production starts from the assumption that the previously independent forms of trading-capital and money-capital have been transformed into mere accessories of the now prevailing form. It is true that all capitalistic production bears the stamp of its historical origin from the intrusion of the merchant into the sphere of feudal production. Capitalistic production remains, even today, essentially a production for sale. Every article resulting from capitalistic production is to be sold as a commodity, whether to another industrial capitalist who needs it for carrying on his own process of production or, ultimately, to the immediate consumer. Again, all capitalistic production is conditioned by a given amount of disposable money. Thus the very way in which “capital” first arose and gained control of production through the money supplied by wealthy individuals, merchants, usurers, etc., constantly repeats itself under the present conditions of a fully developed industrial production. “Every new aggregate of capital,” says Marx, “comes on the stage, that is, on the market, whether of commodities, labour, or money, even in our days, in the form of money that by a definite process has to be transformed into capital.”
Nevertheless the “secret,” not only of “how capital produces” but also of “how capital is produced” – and incidentally the key to the abolition of all capitalistic exploitation and wage slavery – can in no way be discovered through an analysis of the functions performed by those “accessory” forms of capital in the process of circulation, or of the revenues which accrue to the capitalists concerned, in consideration of the “services” performed in that sphere. “One will therefore understand,” says Marx, “why in our analysis of the basic form of capital, of the form in which it determines the economic organization of modern society, its popular, and, as it were, antediluvian forms, ‘trading capital’ and ‘usurers’ capital,’ for the present (viz., in the analysis of the actual process of the capitalistic production in the first book of Capital) are entirely ignored.”
Even when, in the second and third books of Capital, Marx comes back to these “antediluvian forms” in dealing with Capitalistic Circulation and Distribution, he takes as his main theme not their historical development but only the specific forms into which they have been transformed by the action of modern industrial capital. The historical analyses which run through the whole of the sections concerned, and both of the supplementary chapters under the headings “Historical data concerning merchants’ capital” and “Pre-capitalistic conditions” merely serve to enlighten that great historical process through which, in the course of centuries and millenaries, trade and money transactions lost more and more of their originally dominating position until they assumed their present place as mere subordinate modes of existence of the various functions which industrial capital sometimes adopts and sometimes discards within the sphere of its circulation.
There is one aspect alone under which rent as well as trading capital and money-capital might have been treated as a proper theme in Marx’s analysis of the modern capitalistic mode of production. According to an original and more comprehensive scheme of procedure, Marx would have followed up the more strictly economic topics of production, circulation and distribution, social classes, etc., as now discussed in the three books of Capital, by an investigation of what may be called “economic questions of a higher order” such as the relation between town and country and the international relations of production.
Only with these later researches would Marx’s analysis have reached the point where the antagonism of landed property to capital, as well as that of trade and money-capital to industrial capital, survives in present-day society – the latter as a characteristic difference in general structure and outlook between trading cities and factory towns, commercial and industrial States; the former as a persisting conflict between the aims of the rural farmers and the industrial and commercial interests represented by the towns; and, on an international scale, between primarily agricultural and definitely industrial countries.
The principle of historical specification as illustrated by the preceding examples (landed property and the various forms of capital) is strictly adhered to by Marx. He deals with all categories of his economic and socio-historical research in that specific form and in that specific connection in which they appear in modern bourgeois society. He does not treat them as eternal categories. Nor does he, for that matter, transform himself into an historian. While fully aware of the different specific forms in which many economic categories of modern bourgeois society had occurred in earlier epochs, he does not go into the history of “money,” of “exchange of commodities,” of “wage-labour,” or of that of “cooperation,” “division of labour,” etc. He discusses the different stages of the historical development of all these economic concepts, and of the political, juridical, and other ideological concepts bound up with them, only in so far as it is necessary for his main theme, i.e. the specific character assumed by them in modern bourgeois society.
The contrast which exists in this respect between Marx and his forerunners comes out most strikingly upon comparison. While the work of the last representative of classical bourgeois economy, David Ricardo, is devoted to the “Principles of Political Economy,” Marx restricted his economic research to “modern bourgeois production” and finally gave the work which contains his analysis and critique of the whole of traditional Political Economy the plain and definite name “Capital.” Ricardo begins the exposition of his system with the general concept of “value”; Marx commences the critical investigation of the theory and the facts underlying modern bourgeois economy with an external object, a palpable thing, “commodity.” While Ricardo frees the economic concept of “value” from the last earthly impurities that were still attached to it by his predecessors, Marx regards even the more concrete term of “commodity” as still too abstract to serve as a starting point for his critical analysis of modern bourgeois production. He therefore excludes from his application of the term those cases in which an exchange of commodities has occurred as an isolated phenomenon, under entirely different historical conditions. He deals with “commodity” only as an offshoot of the “general commodity production” prevailing in modern industrial society. The single commodity, then, is not an independent entity. It is but one of the units into which that “immense collection of commodities,” which had been defined by the classical economists as the “wealth of nations,” is to be resolved for the purpose of scientific investigation. It is an element of that mass of exchangeable products which Marx, by a most significant alteration of the accepted Smithian term, called the “bourgeois wealth” or, more precisely, the “wealth of those societies in which the capitalistic mode of production prevails.” Only thus specifically defined do “commodities” form the subject matter of Marx’s economic analysis. Only as properties of a commodity so defined do the general concepts of “value in use” and “value in exchange,” and the other terms of the classical economic system derived from those fundamental concepts, interest him.
This applies even to the most general term of “value” which, according to Marx, must still be distinguished from “value in exchange” – the latter being only the external form in which the intrinsic “value” of a given commodity manifests itself in the ratio of exchange of such commodities. This most abstract term, which Marx adopted from the later classical economists, has been highly suspect to some well-meaning but superficial interpreters of Marx who found that the concept of an intrinsic “value,” distinct from exchange-value, reeks of scholasticism, metaphysical realism, Hegelian idealism, and what not, and for this reason does no credit to a “materialistic” science. As a matter of fact, the somewhat “minute” Marxian analysis of the “form of value or value in exchange” as contained in a section of the first chapter of Capital, has not unjustly been indicted, as Marx himself anticipated it to be, on the count of difficulty. Nevertheless, there is no point in accepting the term “exchange value,” as taken by Marx from his forerunners, the founders of classical Political Economy, and rejecting that of an intrinsic “value” which was used by him only as a means to work out more clearly the true contents of the classical value concept, and to expose critically the “Fetishism” bound up with the term as used by his predecessors.
The Marxian interpretation of “value” is far removed from that peculiar misconception by which some earlier writers had held it to be a physical property belonging to things along with those other physical properties which establish the utility of such things for human wants or their “use-value.” Nor did he share the more refined mistake which at his time, in spite of several refutations, still lingered in the minds of the economists, and by which “value” was regarded as a metaphysical property belonging, not to the things themselves nor to their substance but, as it were, to “things in exchange.” Value, according to Marx, is first of all no physical property. “So far no chemist has ever discovered exchange-value either in a pearl or in a diamond.” The value pertaining to useful things when they are exchanged as commodities may well be called a “meta-physical” quality, but only in that extremely unmetaphysical sense of being not a physical but a social quality, applying to the products of human labour or rather to the labour itself by which such useful things are produced and to the labourers producing them within a “commodity-producing society,” i.e., under the conditions prevailing in present-day capitalistic society.
Modern economists have tried to improve upon classical economic theory by pointing to the fact that “value” is not a property pertaining to a thing (or to the members of a class of things), but is rather a relation connecting two or more things, and Jevons has made much of that “discovery.” In fact, there is nothing particularly new in this Jevonsian “relativism” as against those classical writers who had defined the value pertaining to “things of exchange” as a purely quantitative relation, and it altogether misses the point where the classical concept of “value” was indeed vulnerable. Marx was fully conscious of the fact that all concepts of “value” are strictly “relative” terms. They either denote an immediate relation between objects and man (which is realized by actual “use” or consumption), or a relation of a different order (realized by the “exchange” of such objects), viz., the quantitative relation in which use-values of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort whenever they are exchanged. The relations of the latter order had been regarded by the classical economists as the only “value” to be dealt with in a strictly economic science, and had been styled by them “value in exchange,” as distinguished from mere utility or “value in use.” Marx easily agreed with the classical writers when they established the difference in kind prevailing between “exchange-value” as a quantitative relation arising through the selling and buying of commodities on the market, i.e., by a social process; and “use-value” as a merely qualitative relation between external objects and man. But he did not agree with them in the ultimate location of the social relations manifesting themselves in the “value” relations of commodities as established by their exchange. For the purpose of bringing out the point which really interested him, he made use of the as yet vague distinction, made by the classicists, between “exchange-value” as the apparent phenomenon and “value” as the hidden entity underlying its appearance. By an apparently notional development (in the best Hegelian style) of the various connotations of the classical term of “value,” he in fact disclosed the real social nature of the fundamental human relations underlying the so-called “value” of the classicists. They do not arise between the commodities as exchanged on the market nor, for that matter, between the persons selling and buying such commodities, but rather they are previously established by the definite forms in which the workers producing such commodities cooperate in their production under the control of the capitalist. Thus, the relation manifested by the “value” of things is essentially a “social relation of production” arising between men and men. Indeed, as we shall see in a more detailed way in the second part of this book, the main result of Marx’s “Critique” of the traditional theory of Political Economy consists in the discovery and description of these fundamental social relations of men – relations which, for a definite historical epoch, appear to the subjects concerned in the disguised and, as it were, perverted form of relations of things, viz., as “value-relations” of the commodities cooperatively produced by them and mutually exchanged on the market.
”Value” then, in all its denominations, like other economic things or relations such as “commodity,” “money,” “labour-power,” “capital,” etc., means to Marx a socio-historical fact or something which though not described in physical terms is still empirically given in a strictly verifiable manner. “We must always keep in mind in dealing with economic theory, as indeed with all other socio-historical science, that the subject matter, here modern bourgeois society, is given in the mind of the observer just as it is in reality, and that its categories express, therefore, forms of being, modes of existence, and often only single aspects of this definite society or subject matter.”
We shall later study the far-reaching theoretical and practical implications of the difference between this Marxian principle of historical specification and the abstract concepts of classical Political Economy. We here confine ourselves to one most important result. The concept of “commodity” in the specific form and context in which it appears under the conditions of the present system of “capitalistic commodity production,” includes from the very beginning a commodity of a peculiar nature, incorporating the flesh and blood in the hands and heads wage-labourers – the commodity labour-power. “These labourers who have to sell themselves piecemeal are a commodity like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.” Furthermore, the sellers of that peculiar commodity, under the very condition of its sale, are never in the position of free agents, for they “live only so long as they find work, and find work only so long as their labour increases capital.”
Thus the term of “commodity” as used by Marx presupposes the transformation of labour power into a commodity, and “commodity production” is equivalent to present-day capitalistic commodity production. Only by bearing this in mind can we understand the importance of that general analysis of “Commodity” which in Marx’s book precedes all further analysis and critique of the economic conditions prevailing in present society. It is only thus that the distinctive historical conditions of the present epoch of a fully developed capitalistic mode of production can be brought out in full relief without cutting them off from their more general, but equally historical, background. Commodity, according to Marx, means capital; but capital, both historically and theoretically, means a lot more than a mere exchange of commodities. Marx is aware of the “definite historical conditions” which are necessary that a product may become a “commodity” and that, in the further development, “money” may appear as the general commodity, for the purpose of exchange. “The appearance of products as commodities presupposed such a development of the social division of labour, that the separation of use-value from exchange-value, a separation which first began with barter, must already have been completed.” Again, “the particular functions of money which it performs, either as the mere equivalent of commodities, or as means of circulation, or means of payment, as hoard, or as universal money, point to very different stages in the process of social production.” Yet we know by experience that a relatively primitive development of society suffices for the production of all these forms. It is otherwise with capital. “The historical conditions of its existence are by no means given with the mere circulation of money and commodities. It can spring into life only when the owner of the means of production and subsistence meets in the market with the free labourer selling his labour-power. And this one historical condition comprises a world’s history. Capital, therefore, announces from its first appearance a new epoch in the process of social production.”
Only at this stage are we able to grasp the full importance of industrial capital as the only form which adequately represents the nature of modern capitalistic production. “Industrial capital,” according to an express assertion of Marx which we may safely take to be his final and most complete statement on this matter, “gives to production its capitalistic character. Its existence includes that of class antagonism between capitalists and labourers. To the extent that it assumes control over social production, the technique and social organization of the labour process are revolutionized and with them the economic and historical type of society. The other kinds of capital, which appear before the industrial capital amid past or declining conditions of social production, are not only subordinated to it and suffer changes in the mechanism of their functions corresponding with it, but move on it as a basis; they live and die, stand and fall, as this, their basis, lives and dies, stands and falls.”
The principle of historical specification, besides its theoretical significance as an improved method of sociological analysis and research, becomes of first-rate importance as a polemical weapon in the practical struggle waged against the existing conditions of society. The manner in which this weapon is wielded by the Marxists appears most clearly in a section of the Communist Manifesto of 1848, dealing with “the bourgeois objections to communism.” One basic form of argument recurs in all the replies to the bourgeois indictment of communism. In answer to the accusation that they want to abolish property, individuality, liberty, culture, law, family, “fatherland,” etc., the communists say that the point at issue is not the general conditions of all social life but only the specific historical form assumed by them in present-day bourgeois society. All economic, class, and other characters constituting that specific historical form are discussed, with the result that the would-be defenders of the natural and necessary foundations of society are revealed to be the biassed protagonists of the particular conditions of the existing bourgeois order and the particular needs of the bourgeois class.
The first objection raised by the bourgeoisie is that the Communists want to abolish property. To this, the Manifesto replies:
The abolition of existing property relations is not a peculiar
feature of Communism. All property relations in the past have been
continually subject to historical change.
The French revolution, for example, abolished feudal property in favour of bourgeois property.
The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of all property, but the abolition of bourgeois property.
But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few.
In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.
It is then further argued that this modern form of property can no longer be described as a “hard-won, personally acquired property” forming “the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity and independence.” A property answering that ideological concept of the theoretical spokesmen of the bourgeoisie was “the property of the petty artisan and of the small peasant,” a form of property that existed before the bourgeois form. The communists have no need to abolish that. “The development of industry has abolished it and is abolishing it daily.” “The present form of property moves in the antagonism of capital to wage-labour.” It has a specific and different significance for each of the two great classes confronting each other in modern bourgeois society. “To be a capitalist is to have not only a personal, but a social, status in production.” In the same way, wage-labour, labour of the proletarian, does not create property for the labourer, it creates capital, i.e., the social power that exploits wage-labour. “The abolition of property, therefore, does not mean the transformation of personal property into social property; it is only the social character of the property that undergoes a change, it loses its class character.”
The second objection of the bourgeoisie is that the communists want to destroy individuality and freedom. Communism replies that what is at stake here is only the “bourgeois individuality, independence and freedom”:
By freedom is meant, under the present bourgeois conditions of production: free trade, free selling and free buying. But if haggling disappears, free haggling disappears also. This talk about free haggling, and all other braggadocio of our bourgeoisie about freedom in general, has a meaning, if any, only in contrast with restricted haggling, with the fettered traders of the Middle Ages, but has no meaning when opposed to the Communist abolition of haggling, of the bourgeois conditions of production, and of the bourgeoisie itself.
The bourgeois calls it an “abolition of property” when private property is abolished. But this property exists in the hands of his class only by being cut off from the vast majority of society. From the moment when labour can no more be transformed into capital, money, rent, in one word, into a social power, capable of being monopolized, he complains that “individuality is being destroyed.” He confesses, therefore, that by “individuality” he means none other than that of the bourgeois, i.e., the capitalistic owner of property. “This individuality must, indeed, be destroyed.”
In the same way, the bourgeoisie confuses the general concept of work, and activity, with the specific bourgeois form of wage-labour, the forced labour of the propertyless labourer for the benefit of the non-labouring owners of capital. If the bourgeoisie is afraid lest “with the abolition of private property all activity will cease and universal laziness overtake us,” the Manifesto rejoins:
According to this, bourgeois society ought long ago to have been wrecked through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything do not work. The whole of this objection is but another expression of the tautology: There can no longer be any wage-labour where there is no longer any capital.
Next, the bourgeoisie laments the threatened loss of culture through the advent of Communism. To this complaint also, Marx has a specific reply:
Just as to the bourgeois the disappearance of class property is the
disappearance of production itself, so the disappearance of class
culture is to him identical with the disappearance of all
That culture the loss of which he laments is, for the enormous majority, a mere training to act as a machine.
The same lack of discernment as in the case of individuality, freedom, and culture, is shown in the sweeping indictment brought against communism on account of its professed hostility to the State and the law. The so-called “subversive tendencies” of the communists are, in fact, not directed against those general functions of unifying the elements of society into a living and developing whole, which, in the past, have been fulfilled, though in an increasingly defective manner, by State compulsion and coercive law. The real target of the communistic attack is the present State which has dropped those historical functions one after another until it has become a mere “executive committee managing the common affairs of the bourgeois class as a whole” – and the present law which, by a similar process, has become nothing but “the will of the bourgeoisie made into a law for all” – a will whose contents are determined by the material conditions of existence of the bourgeois class.”
Abolition of the family! “Even the most radical,” says the Communist Manifesto, “flare up at this infamous purpose of the Communists.” Once more the Marxist replies specifically:
On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form it exists only for the bourgeoisie. But it finds its complement in the forcible absence of the family among the proletarians and in public prostitution.
The communists admit that they want to “abolish the exploitation of children by their parents.”
They retort to that ever-recurring, stupid assumption of the professional red-baiter that “Communists want to introduce a community of wives,” that, on the contrary, “the present system of bourgeois marriage is in reality a system of wives in common.” Besides, it is obvious that “the abolition of the present system of production must involve the abolition of the community of women arising out of that system, that is, of prostitution both official and unofficial.”
To the further charge made by nationalists that communism is going to “abolish the Fatherland,” the Manifesto replies that, in present-day bourgeois society, “the workers have no Fatherland.” “One cannot take from them what they do not have.”
The attitude of the proletariat of each country regarding so-called “national interests” depends on the specific stage reached by the workers’ movement in its historical development on a national and an international scale:
To the extent that exploitation of one individual by another is
abolished the exploitation of one nation by another is also
With the disappearance of the antagonism between classes within the nation, the hostility of one nation to another will disappear.
In reply to “the indictment levelled against Communism from a religious, philosophical and from an ideological standpoint generally,” the Manifesto summarily points to the specific historical character of all human ideas:
What else does the history of ideas prove than that intellectual
production changes its character as material production is changed? The
ruling ideas of an age have ever been only the ideas of the ruling
When the ancient world was in decline, the ancient religions were conquered by Christianity. When Christian ideas succumbed in the 18th century to the ideas of enlightenment, feudal society fought its death battle with the then revolutionary bourgeoisie. The ideas of religious liberty and freedom of conscience merely expressed the sway of free competition within the domain of knowledge.
This argument holds good also against that more enlightened fraction of the bourgeoisie who concede that religious, moral, philosophical, political, legal ideas, etc., have been modified in the course of historical development but, at the same time, reproach Communism for abolishing the eternal truths common to all historical epochs, such as freedom, justice, etc.; or for abolishing religion and morality altogether, instead of remoulding them on a new basis. Marx replies that, even in this most absolute form, the so-called “general ideas” must always have a specific historical element. While they do not depend on the definite form which class oppositions have assumed in any particular epoch of social development, they do depend on the historical fact, continuing through all those epochs, of the existence of class antagonism:
Whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past
ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No
wonder, then, that the social consciousness of all past ages, despite
the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common
forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish, except with the
total disappearance of class antagonism.
The communistic revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations. No wonder, then, that its development involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.
Traditional theory of society, spread over several hundred years and split into many schools and currents, does not present itself to the present-day observer as a homogeneous entity. This is true even if we disregard the fundamental divergence which has occurred within bourgeois thought since the beginning of the 19th century, when a new and predominantly historical current opposed itself – at first with a monopolistic claim, later only as a supplementary second form – to the hitherto prevailing theoretical approach.
The classical phase of bourgeois social theory, continuing into the first decades of the 19th century, is characterized by an unconscious generalization of the new bourgeois principles. Later, in the hands of the “vulgar” economists of the 19th century, that unsophisticated attitude became a more or less conscious tendency to represent the economic system of bourgeois society in contrast to its politics – or at least its basic part, i.e., production as distinguished from distribution – as a general and unchangeable form of all social life. Finally, the founders of modern “Economics,” and the corresponding schools of “general” or “formal” Sociology, have even raised the “unspecific” treatment of their subject matter to the very principle and criterion of their new and assumedly “disinterested” scientism. A more detailed analysis will be necessary to point out the special manner in which the a priori of definite premises evolving out of the historical and class-conditioned position of all bourgeois science, penetrates into the methods and results of each school and into the concepts and propositions set up by the single investigator.
A further complication is added by the fact that, in dealing with contemporary bourgeois social theory, we can often no longer exactly determine how far it represents a reaction to the attack of the proletarian class. Not a few among the most important of its later developments can be directly traced to the Marxian theory. We mention particularly, from the last two generations of German sociologists, jurists, historians, and philosophers, Toennies and Stammler, Max Weber and Troeltsch, Scheler and Mannheim; and among the economists, as not the most important but, perhaps, the most typical representative of this whole group – Werner Sombart. The manifold broken and distorted forms assumed by the controversy with Marxism under the particular conditions of German academic science, appear most strikingly in the last-named savant, whose many and extensive writings on modern capitalism and socialism testify by their contents, even more clearly than by the apparent acknowledgment of the author, to the fact that “all that is good in this work is due to the spirit of Marx.”
Werner Sombart began his career in the early 90’s as what he himself recently, at a conference of the Sociological Society in Zurich, called a “convinced Marxist;” but later, with the changing political and social conditions leading up to the present regime of a so-called “National Socialism” in Germany, he changed heart and from a disguised Marxist became an altogether undisguised and outright anti-Marxist. Notwithstanding all these subsequent disfigurations, the irresistible influence originally exercised by Marx’s theory on all present-day bourgeois social science is clearly evident even in the later career of Sombart. As late as 1928, at the afore-mentioned Conference of the Sociologists, he claimed to have been the first to enunciate the principle of the so-called “non-evaluative character of a genuine sociological science” and, incidentally, traced back that well-known doctrine of contemporary social research to the “contradiction” which forty years before had arisen within himself, that is, between his internal “conviction” and his worldly position as a “Royal Prussian University Professor.”
For all these reasons, in confronting the general principles of the Marxian theory with bourgeois science we shall not so much refer to the more recent displays of contemporary social thought in which their persisting difference has already been modified to a certain extent by mutual interaction. We shall rather try to bring out the contrast in the pure form in which it originally appeared in the classical and post-classical bourgeois writers of the 18th and early 19th centuries on the one hand, and in the writings of Marx and Engels on the other.
Classical bourgeois economists concern themselves with existing bourgeois society. They ingenuously regard society’s basic relationships as having the immutable character of a genuine natural law, and are for just this reason unable to become aware of any other than this actually given form of society.
Even when bourgeois social theorists appear to speak of other social forms, their real subject matter is the particular form of bourgeois society whose main characteristics they find duplicated in all other forms. When they speak of “society” in general, we can still, with only slight variations, recognize in that so-called general society the well-known features of present-day bourgeois society. This is most evident in the writings of the great founders of bourgeois social science in the 17th and 18th centuries and their followers, the German idealistic philosophers from Kant to Hegel, who naïvely used not only the term “society,” but even the term “civil society” as a timeless concept.
Even when bourgeois investigators speak of an historical “development” of society, they do not step beyond the magic circle of bourgeois society. They consider all the earlier forms as “preliminary stages” leading up to its present fully developed form. They constantly apply to the preceding historical epochs the concepts drawn from the social conditions existing today. Right into the 19th century they described those phases of primitive history which can by no means be represented by the categories of modern bourgeois society, such as property, State, family, etc., as not belonging to history proper, but merely “prehistoric.” Even Johann Gottfried Herder, who stood in a much closer relation to real history than most of his contemporaries, wrote in his “Diary”: “How many ages may have passed by before we learned to know or think? The Phoenician? The Ethiopian? Or none of these? Are we then, with our Moses, in the right place?”
Just as in their study of past conditions, so in their conception of the future, bourgeois social theorists remain tied to the bourgeois categories. They simply cannot conceive of any changes other than those set forth in due sequence by a further unfolding of the fundamental principles appearing in present-day bourgeois society. They regard all social revolutions as pathological interferences with “normal” social development. They expect, after the revolutionary “cycle” has run its full course, pre-revolutionary social conditions to be re-established as unchanged, as, according to a similar theory held by the politicians, the political conditions of the ancient régime are re-established in due course by the “Restoration.” They hold all tendencies of revolutionary socialism and communism which aim at anything beyond, as mere “disturbances of healthy social progress” and theoretically “unscientific” fantasies.
Marx’s social science is opposed to all those traditional concepts of classical bourgeois theory. The contrast is, however, not so simple that it can be reduced to the biblical formula “Let your speech be yea, yea – nay, nay.” It would be altogether wrong, for instance, to imagine that since the bourgeois theory is the doctrine of a “bourgeois society,” Marx’s socialist theory must of necessity be the doctrine of a “socialist society.” As a matter of fact, scientific socialism is not at all concerned with the painting of a future state of society. Marx leaves that to the sectarians of the old and new Utopias. According to his materialistic principle, he deals with the real form of society which exists today, i.e., bourgeois society. As against the bourgeois “theorists” who continually tend to generalize in one way or another the facts they “discover,” he more nearly approaches the method of the bourgeois “historians,” from which, however, he keeps himself all the more aloof in another direction through his insistence on a strictly theoretical form of scientific knowledge.
Nor is the bourgeois concept of developmental stages wholly repudiated by Marx. He distinguishes the historical forms of “Asiatic,” “Antique” and “Feudal Society,” and groups them, together with modern “Bourgeois Society,” into a series of “progressive epochs of socio-economic formation.” Although he no longer regards, as the bourgeois theorists had done, all previous forms of society as mere preliminary steps to its present and final formation, still he indulges in the statement that bourgeois society is the last “antagonistic” form of society and as such “concludes the prehistory of a really human society.” While he objects to an arbitrary extension of concepts derived from the present bourgeois state of society, he sets forth the principle that bourgeois society, as the “most developed and most complex historical organization of production,” furnishes a key to the understanding of earlier epochs of social and economic formation. He even endorsed, in his early years, the “correct idea” underlying that “common fiction of the 18th century which regarded the primitive state of man as the true state of human nature.” As we shall see in our further investigation, Marx and Engels adopted a similar attitude in their dealing with the fresh impetus which that Rousseauan slogan of the 18th century had in the meantime received through the discovery of a so-called “primitive communism.” From their socialistic point of view, they welcomed the assumption, supported by the leading investigators of the time, of a classless, communistic form preceding all hitherto known society. They did not, however, blindly accept the speculative implications of the new theory, but rather used the historical facts brought forth by Morgan and other explorers of ancient society as a further critical challenge to the “eternal truths” of the more fundamental aspects of the existing class-dominated society.
There is, of course, a much greater difference between the Marxian and the traditional bourgeois approach to the future developments arising from the present state of society. While even the most progressive bourgeois thinkers of the 19th century set their hopes on the slow and gradual process of a so-called “evolution,” Marx insisted on the inevitability, in a society based on class struggle, of a social revolution. Yet in a broader sense the evolutionary concept is not completely wiped out in the Marxian theory. Even the most violent and disruptive revolution remains, according to Marx, a mere step within an historical process through which the productive forces of man, and thus also the whole economic, political, and ideologic structure of society, “evolve” in a solemn and gigantic rhythm from revolution to revolution. Just as there is – in spite of all the intervening revolutions, and, in fact, realized by those revolutions – one progressive line of development leading up from the historic and “prehistoric” past to the contemporary form of bourgeois society, so will the socialist and communist society springing from the revolutionary action of the proletarian class, in spite of its break with the established bourgeois order, still remain a further outgrowth of the whole past and present history of an identical “subject” (mankind) acting upon and adapting itself to an identical “object” (nature).
Apart from the revolutionary contents of the Marxian concept of development, there is another fundamental difference between the materialistic theory of the historical process and that metaphysical concept of “evolution” which was later, chiefly under the influence of Spencer, blindly accepted by such orthodox Marxists as Kautsky and as blindly rejected by such heterodox Marxists as Georges Sorel, as a principle of scientific sociology. Marx recognized from the outset the delusive character of that so-called “historical evolution,” according to which “the last stage regards the preceding stages as only preliminary to itself and, therefore, can only look at them one-sidedly. While “orthodox evolutionists” imagined, with Spencer, that they could explain the more complex organization of the higher types both of animal species and social forms by reference to the simpler organization of the lower, Marx shattered that illusion by the paradoxical statement that “the anatomy of man is a key to the anatomy of the ape.”
This critical consciousness breaks the magic spell of the metaphysical “law” of evolution. From an a priori valid axiom, it is reduced to a working hypothesis which must be empirically verified in each case. Even though bourgeois society does provide a “key” to earlier epochs, it does not follow that such categories as commodity, money, State, law, etc., must have the same meaning for ancient society and its mode of production as they have for modern capitalist production and for the bourgeois society which is based upon it. Thus, the path is made free for a strictly empirical research. Bourgeois society may contain the conditions of earlier societies in a further developed form. It may contain them as well in degenerate, stunted, and travestied forms. Thus the communal property of primitive times, according to Marx, was revived in a travestied form in the Russian “Mir.” The present system of society likewise contains within itself the germs of its future developments, though by no means their complete determination. The false idealistic concept of evolution as applied by bourgeois social theorists, is closed on both sides, and in all past and future forms of society rediscovers only itself. The new, critical and materialistic Marxian principle of development is, on the contrary, open on both sides. Marx does not deal with Asiatic, Antique, or Feudal Society, and still less with those primitive societies which preceded all written history, merely as “preliminary stages” of contemporary society. He regards them, in their totality, as so many independent historical formations which are to be understood within their own categories. In the same way he defines the socialist and communist societies arising out of the proletarian revolution not only as further developed forms of bourgeois society, but as a new type which is no longer to be basically explained under any of the bourgeois categories. Marx’s quarrel with the Utopian socialists is not, as many have imagined, inspired by their idea of a future commonwealth totally different from the present state of contemporary bourgeois society. On the contrary, the weakness of the Utopian socialists lies in the fact that, in attempting to portray a socialist future, they at bottom only idealized the existing conditions of society, leaving out the shadows. All such Utopian schemes will, when worked out in detail and put into practice, inevitably reproduce only the same old bourgeois form of society we know so well. On the other hand, Marxism, while carefully avoiding a detailed painting of future stages, nevertheless endeavours to find, within contemporary bourgeois society, the main tendencies of a further development leading up, first to that transitional stage opened by the proletarian revolution, and ultimately, to those further advanced stages which Marx called a completely developed communistic society. Communistic society in its “first phase,” just emerging from the womb of bourgeois society after protracted labour pains, will still be determined in many ways in its economic, political, legal, intellectual, and moral structure by bourgeois principles. Communistic society in its “second phase,” where it has already developed on its own basis, will be as far removed from the principles of present-day bourgeois society as is, in the other direction, the classless and Stateless “primitive Communism” of the earliest epochs of human society. Communistic society, when it is fully developed, will have left the narrow bourgeois horizon far behind and will ultimately realize the principle which, in an abstract manner, was first enunciated by the “Utopian” pioneers on the threshold of the 19th century: “From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.”
To the philosophical dialectic of Hegel, which he otherwise regarded as the perfected instrument of a developmental investigation of society, Marx raised the objection that, although fraught with deep insight into the historical past, it did not genuinely accept the reality of historical change. Hegel, who glorified existing institutions and moderate progress within the narrow confines of the contemporary Prussian state, carefully restricted the validity of his dialectical principle to the past developments of society and consigned future progress in a purposely irrational manner to the “mole burrowing below the surface.” Even in criticizing the so-called “Pre-formation Hypothesis,” according to which all future forms are already physically contained in those that precede them, he emphasized at the same time the correctness of its main idea that social development “remains with itself in its process and that by such a development no new content is brought about, but only a change of form.” Development is, therefore, according to Hegel, “only to be regarded as if it were a play; the something else which is set by it, is in fact nothing else.” It is evident that from this standpoint which, in its unyielding Hegelian formula, amounts almost to an involuntary criticism of the principle of evolution as used by the bourgeois social investigators, there is no room for the conscious human-social act, which shall radically transform and overthrow the present order of society. Hegel said, concerning the real “purpose” of all historical action, that “it is already fulfilled in truth, and need not wait for us.” Its actual performance, then, serves only “to remove the semblance as if it were not yet performed.” Hence, in contrast to some of his followers, who later on actually tried to use his dialectical method as an instrument for revolution, Hegel considered the only purpose of his philosophy to be to “re-establish” the conviction from which “every unsophisticated consciousness starts”: “What is rational is real, and what is real is rational”; and thus to bring about a final “reconciliation” between “reason as self-conscious mind” and “reason as a given reality.”
It is here that we face the most important consequence of the total destruction of bourgeois evolutionary metaphysics which is implied in Marx’s materialistic criticism of the Hegelian Idealist dialectic. Marx’s study of society is based upon a full recognition of the reality of historical change. Marx treats all conditions of existing bourgeois society as changing or, more exactly, as conditions being changed by human actions. At the same time, he regards all, even the most general categories of social science, as categories changeable and to be changed. He dismisses all the concepts applied by bourgeois social theorists and historians, in which the present form of society is in any way withdrawn from the constant flux of things, whether the writer deals with present-day bourgeois conditions as “natural” and as having always existed; or whether, on the contrary, he erects an impassable barrier between past social conditions and the present-day bourgeois state of society; or whether, again, he recognizes a real change only with respect to previous history and closes the whole development of human society with the bourgeois state reached in the present age. Bourgeois society, then, is no longer in any sense a general entity which can be justified by another than the historical title. It is a transitory stage which has been reached in the present time, and is valid temporarily for this particular epoch, yet to be replaced by another stage in an historical movement. It is at the same time but the present result of an earlier phase, and the starting point of a new phase, of the social class struggle leading to social revolution.
The description of existing bourgeois conditions as specific conditions of a transitory phase in an historical process, assumes a further importance as a theoretical basis for a critical examination of the structure of present society as a particular historical type of socio-economic formation.
Just as in actual history every revolutionary movement of the bourgeoisie bred, as an undercurrent, independent stirrings of that class which was more or less the undeveloped predecessor of the modern proletariat, there have been even in the infancy of bourgeois thought some isolated thinkers who anticipated the criticism of the bourgeois principles which had not as yet been put into practice. Apart from these exceptional cases, a real theoretical understanding of the historical process and the self-criticism bound up with it did not arise in bourgeois thought until the very end of its classical epoch, when the revolutionary fight of the bourgeoisie against feudal society had come to its end and a new divergence of classes had begun to manifest itself within the hitherto united industrial society.
It was not a criticism, but in fact a glorification when, in the middle of the 17th century, Hobbes described the existing state of bourgeois society (or, as he imagined in conformity with the prevailing delusion of contemporary thinkers, of “society” in general) as a “bellum omnium contra omnes” or “a war of every man against every man,” which is only effectively and finally brought to a close by “a common Power to keep them all in awe,” i.e., by the iron dictatorship of the State. Again, it was a glorification of bourgeois society when, 50 years later, Mandeville spoke of its peculiar construction, purposely devised by an “all-cunning” Providence, in his paradoxical equation “Private vices – public benefits.” Once more, it was a glorification when, at the close of the 18th century, Kant discovered the “antagonism of unsocial sociality” by which eventually “the first true steps from uncouthness to culture, and the agreement to live in a society, are pathologically thrust upon man.” “All culture and art which adorn mankind, the most beautiful social order, are fruits of that unsociality which by its own nature is compelled to discipline itself and thus fully to develop the germs of nature through an art forced upon it from without.”
While the Darwinian formula of a “struggle for existence” along with the older formula of Hobbes, had been misapplied by the eulogists of capitalism as a cosmic substructure of a so-called universal law of “free competition,” Darwin himself had conversely borrowed his general concept from contemporary bourgeois economics. In the Introduction to the second edition of his famous work he said: “This is the doctrine of Malthus as applied to the whole realm of animal and plant life.” Indeed, the specific historical form of the division of labour which results from the competition of the isolated commodity producers within present bourgeois society is so far from being an unchangeable law of human nature that it can be best understood as a brute unconscious form of social self-preservation in contrast to the conscious organization of the division of labour within a really cooperative society. In that sense “civil society” had already been characteristically described by Hegel as a “geistiges Tierreich” (“the animal world reproduced in the world of the mind”). The analogy was further developed by Marx in Capital when he described the division of labour prevailing within present capitalistic society, as an organization which “confronts independent commodity producers one with another, who recognize no authority other than that of competition, that is, the coercion exercised upon them by the pressure of their reciprocal interests, just as in the animal kingdom the ‘war all against all’ maintains, more or less, the conditions of existence all species.” It would be preferable, perhaps, in a strictly socio-economic research, to avoid altogether such parallels which never quite fit. However, the manner in which Darwin projects into nature, as an absolute law, the Competitive Struggle in bourgeois society, and in which Kropotkin equally unwarrantably transforms the opposite principle of cooperation prevailing in communist society into an absolute Law of Mutual Help in the Animal and Human World, are both quite different in calibre from the recent attempt by a former orthodox Marxist to project a self-invented pacifistic and evolutionary principle of a so-called Natural Equilibrium from present-day society, where it does not apply, to the whole animal and plant world, where it likewise does not apply.
The fundamental weakness of all the more significant interpretations of society in this epoch (inclusive of Rousseau’s teaching, the bourgeois novel of Robinson Crusoe, and the whole of the new bourgeois science of Political Economy) consists in the unhistorical manner in which they deal with the specific conditions of bourgeois society, its mode of production, its State, and its law, as final; regarding them as a natural and rational society at last attained and now in its main features unchangeable or, what practically amounts to the same, as being capable of unlimited perfection. When Marx (in the “Seventh and last Observation” of his Anti-Proudhon) denounced this thoughtless procedure as applied by the economists, he hit the whole school in the shrewd sentence, “Thus there was history, but there is no more.”
Thus bourgeois theorists have dealt with all earlier forms of society as barbaric preliminary stages leading up to their own, ultimately established civil society. This truly “barbaric” procedure was, according to Marx, unavoidable so long as their principal task consisted in fighting out their historical struggle with feudalism under the conditions of a bourgeois society not yet finally constituted. It served as a weapon in the battle for progress and did not need, as long as it still had a revolutionary spark in it, any further justification. It appears, from a historical viewpoint, as a last faint echo of those stronger, if more naïve, forms in which during the Peasant War and the English Revolution the “prehistory of humanity” pictured in the Bible and during the French Revolution the natural state of man, were opposed as a true civil state of society to the feudal and corrupted order of the Middle Ages. Those were revolutionary slogans of the new bourgeois class against feudalism.
When Adam delved and Eve span
Where was then the gentleman?
There was no such excuse for the further preservation of that antiquated method at a time when the victory of the bourgeois principle over feudalism had been finally won and the theorists of the triumphant bourgeoisie awoke to find themselves transformed unawares from revolutionary pioneers into the tedious panegyrists of an established order of society. Compare, for instance, the characteristic phraseology of the scientific founder of bourgeois “Ideology,” Destutt de Tracy, who boasted that among the “Ancients” (i.e., in all epochs previous to the present “French Era”) “social art” had not been sufficiently perfected “to give their empire that state of higher civilization and that strong organization which are necessary to secure the existence of nations effectively policed.” Or, compare those bourgeois historians of the French Restoration period in the 19th century who, like Guizot, Thiers, and Thierry, expressly set themselves the task of rewriting world history as the history of the bourgeois class.
In this phase the real progress of social science no longer consisted in the further development of bourgeois principles, but in their critique. The genuine self-criticism now for the first time arising within bourgeois science originated with the growth of classical political economy from Adam Smith to Ricardo and found its complete expression in the last phase of the development of classical German philosophy from Kant to Hegel.
Hegel’s philosophical system is, as the last system of classical German philosophy, the sum and recapitulation not only of all the earlier phases of bourgeois social theory, but also of its inherent contradictions. Like Ricardo, the last classical writer in the field of economics, so Hegel in his philosophy brought into sharper relief the striking contrasts within the structure of civil society which had already been revealed to a certain extent by Mandeville, Ferguson, Adam Smith, Kant, etc., but which with them had been ultimately harmonized in some “higher” or “deeper” unity. Even Hegel, in dealing with the material conditions of existing society, nowhere passed beyond the range of bourgeois thought. Still this new world of the bourgeoisie with its internal oppositions ranging themselves like so many unbridgeable chasms, as it was now philosophically exposed by Hegel under the direct influence of Ricardo, stood in a striking contrast to that “best of all possible worlds” into which even the most daring among the bourgeois thinkers of the preceding generation had ideologically transfigured the hard facts of existing social life.
In Ricardo’s economic system and in Hegel’s philosophy, bourgeois society reached the highest grade of critical self-consciousness of which it was capable without violating its own principles. This happened at a time when, in the most developed capitalistic countries such as England and France a “criticism from without” had opposed itself to bourgeois society in the growing revolt of the proletarian class. Just as the last classical economist (Ricardo) had already been faced by a consciously socialist critic of all bourgeois economic science (Sismondi), so Hegel reflected the tremors set up in his philosophical exposition of “civil society” under the foundations of bourgeois society by the new class of the hired labourers. He had realistically described this new “class” which had been brought into being by the bourgeoisie itself, as one “bound to the particular work of modern industry” and as one living “in need and dependence” and “excluded from all the advantages of bourgeois society”; as a “great mass” submerged below that “mode of subsistence” which is a necessary premise to the enjoyment of social rights, and sinking, by an inevitable law of bourgeois society itself, in the same proportion as the “excess of wealth” is increased into an increasing “excess of poverty.”
He furthermore accurately indicated that it is not a question here of “misery” alone, such as had inevitably arisen in earlier times through the parsimony of nature. It is a “social question” in the real sense of the term, pertinent to modern society, and one which must be solved by society. “No one can assert a right against nature, but, in the state of society, the defect takes at once the form of an injustice inflicted on one or the other class. The important question as to how poverty is to be relieved is one which particularly agitates and annoys society.” He described in characteristic language the “temper” of the great masses of industrial workers which is inseparably bound up with the socially inflicted poverty in which they are forced to live. “It is,” he says, “an inner revolt against the rich, against society, against the government, etc.”
The impassable limit for Hegel, as for all other social scientists of the bourgeoisie, consisted in the fact that he saw the new social class only negatively as the “mob,” and did not realize at the same time its positive revolutionary implications.
Even more distinctly than in its contents, the critical element inherent in Hegel’s philosophy manifests itself in his method. Hegel, unlike Ricardo, had not contented himself with stating the fundamental “principles” and letting the most glaring theoretical discordances stand as so-called “modifications.” He endeavored to confine within one philosophical system, both the given condition of the existing bourgeois State and what he called its “idea.” The “dialectical method” is the great instrument by which Hegel in his philosophy, complying with the needs of a class pressing toward the termination of the revolutionary movement and to a political and social “restoration,” performed the remarkable task of reconciling within a so-called “unity of contradictions,” the most irreconcilable oppositions resulting from the historical development of bourgeois society itself, and from its later confrontation with the rising class of the proletarian wage-labourers. Whilst his basic description of the existing conditions of “civil society,” though suffering from vagueness, abruptness, and arbitrary judgments, still contains the deep insight of a genius fully aware of bourgeois reality, the cloven foot of his philosophy unequivocally reveals itself in the “speculative” superstructure of Hegel’s system, which, in an apparent endeavour to establish a new idealistic creed corresponding to the needs of the present time, actually restores the whole bulk of old Medieval metaphysics – inclusive of the Christian dogma – which had been so utterly refuted by the spokesmen of early bourgeois materialism in the intervening centuries of progressive thought.
This Hegelian method, which had proved so efficient in swallowing the most powerful contradictions, offered no small temptation to the generation of radical thinkers which arose in the period immediately following Hegel’s death, when the unchallenged sway of Hegelian philosophy preceded, during the 30’s and 40’s of the 19th century, the final decline of the Hegelian and, indeed, all bourgeois philosophy. They thought that the mighty instrument, forged by the last great philosopher of the bourgeois class, could easily be made available for the more advanced criticism raised against the very principle of the bourgeois status quo in the name of the new revolutionary class. All that was needed was to consider the “premature” termination of Hegel’s philosophy in the glorification of the bourgeois society, its State, its philosophy, its religion and art, to be only an “inconsistency,” on the part of the conservative “systematizer,” in the application of his own revolutionary “method.” In fact Lassalle – and Proudhon for a time – did assign this new historical task to Hegel’s dialectical method.
Marx and Engels saw clearly that the old bottle could no longer hold the new wine. It is true that they too, in the formation of their new proletarian and materialistic criticism of bourgeois society, took their departure from Hegel’s idealistic philosophy and even preserved the term “Dialectic”as a comprehensive name for the several new principles which they worked out and applied in the process of their scientific investigation. But, as will be shown in the third part of this book, all that apparent “Hegelianism” did not amount, in Marx, to more than what he at one time most appropriately called an “occasional flirtation with Hegel’s peculiar mode of expression.” In actual fact, he completely broke with the whole of Hegel’s speculative philosophy. He transplanted the dialectical method of Hegel from an idealistic to a materialistic basis, and in the process of that materialistic “reversal” stripped from it all those elements which he had already thoroughly exposed in an earlier phase of his philosophical development as its underlying “mystification.” The theory of the new revolutionary movement of the 19th century no longer needed to exercise itself in the art of moving forward and backward at the same time, and to represent its new aims as the “restoration” of the old. It “left the dead to bury their dead” in order to come to its own content.
The principles of the Marxian critique of existing society, being proletarian and no longer bourgeois, are opposed to the philosophical system of Hegel not only in content, subject matter, and aim, but quite as much in theoretical form. If Marx, indeed, took his start from a critical and revolutionary reversal of the principles inherent in Hegel’s method, he certainly went on to develop, in a strictly empirical manner, the specific methods of his own materialistic criticism and research.
There is, aside from the theoretical self-criticism of bourgeois society represented by the later classical writers, another, and entirely different, criticism which flows from the latter of the two above-mentioned currents of 19th century bourgeois thought and which, this time, is directed against the very principle of theoretical analysis itself. Marx, from his new standpoint, saw at once the Historico-Romantic School which after the close of the great French Revolution had joined, and even in part preceded, the socialists in the attack upon the victorious bourgeois principles. He disclosed in his article on The Philosophical Manifesto of the Historical School of Law, and in the analysis of the “Reactionary Socialism” embodied in the Communist Manifesto, the essentially reactionary trend of that apparently “anti-bourgeois” and “anti-capitalistic” current which – like reactionary Fascism and Hitlerism today – “upbraided the bourgeoisie more for having produced a revolutionary proletariat than for having produced a proletariat at all.” He has also seen the theoretical loss bound up with this sentimental regression from the only present and real form of social life to mediaeval feudality and even further back to archaic conditions of society – the so-called “origins” of culture, art, economics, etc. “The Historical School,” jests Marx, “has so emphasized its affection for ‘sources’, that it requires the sailor to sail, not on the stream but on its source.”
While thus refuting the entire theoretical and practical “philosophy” of the Historical School, in agreement with all progressive spirits of the age, Marx was at the time aware of the actual progress which had been made by this new school of social research from a purely scientific point of view. Moreover, he discovered the critical and forward tendency inherent in the apparently backward turn. Writing to Engels on the 25th of March, 1868, he said: “The first reaction against the French Revolution and the ‘enlightenment’ bound up with it was naturally, to see everything as mediaeval and romantic. Even such writers as Grimm are not free from this. The second reaction is to see beyond the Middle Ages back into the primitive history of each people. That corresponds to the socialist view, although the scholars have no idea of the connection. Thus they are surprised to find the newest in the oldest, and even ‘Egalitarians,’ to a degree which would scandalize Proudhon.”
From this sentence, to which a hundred similar ones might be added from Marx’s and Engels’s writings, can be seen the main significance that the study of primaeval society, then passing through its first great period of discovery, had at that time acquired for the revolutionary science of Marx. The very fact that now, for the first time, those social forms of existence which had hitherto been so far removed from present-day conditions and had been accessible to the modern world at best in legend and poetry were opened up to sober scientific research, was for Marx and Engels a sign that bourgeois society in its present stage of development already contained within itself the tendencies toward a change more radical than any achieved by previous historical revolutions. The basic importance of primitive history rests on this general assumption rather than on the analogy which Marx, half in joke, draws between the “egalitarian” conditions of primaeval society and the communist society of the future.
While the term “primaeval communism,” created by the first discoverers, has since been rather indiscriminately applied to the various types of early society, there still remains a striking, and even somewhat paradoxical, difference between the bourgeois and the Marxian use of the underlying concept. The idea of an historical past repeating itself in the future fits in very well with the bourgeois concept of development, with its glorification of existing bourgeois conditions, and with its rejection of “communism” as implying a general loss of culture and eventual relapse from the present “all time high” of human achievement to primitive barbarism and decay. On the other hand, the assumption that Marx and Engels should have seen in the conditions prevailing in a distant past an actual anticipation of conditions to be reached in an equally distant future, and thus reduced the Communist programme to a mere restoration of that long bygone past, utterly contradicts the materialistic principle underlying the whole of Marxian theory. Marx presents human society as an historical development progressing from a lower to a higher organization of the material productive forces. He sees in the modern capitalistic mode of production, with its immense unfolding of productive powers far exceeding all earlier epochs, an indispensable material foundation for that more highly developed form of communal life which will be inaugurated by the social revolution of the modern working class.
Nevertheless, many bourgeois writers up to the present day, after a perfunctory recital of the well-known theoretical unsoundness of the assumption of a “Primaeval Communism,” and after a scholarly refutation of the historical mistakes allegedly committed in this respect by the Marxists, quite naïvely go on to make use of the term and its underlying assumption. On the contrary, the idea of a primitive “Communism” preceding the various systems based on private property is openly accepted from the outset by the Marxists but at the same time is nowhere used by them as an argument for a positive historical statement. It serves them rather as a starting point for a more thorough and more critical investigation of the given conditions of existing society including even its most far-reaching and, from a less comprehensive viewpoint, remote developmental tendencies.
There is then, from the very principle of Marxian materialistic research, a great significance in the investigation of the primitive conditions prevailing in the early history of mankind. Yet this investigation is made by the Marxists, not for the purpose of acquiring a direct knowledge of the really communistic forms and contents of a future, post-capitalist society, but rather with the indirect aim of a more comprehensive approach to the study of historical change. Marx and Engels saw in the scientific unfolding of primaeval history a necessary premise for their materialistic investigation of present-day society, whose basic forms can only be fully elucidated by an exact study of primitive society, its development and dissolution, and the different forms of its transition to the later systems based on private property and class opposition. For example, in order to explain scientifically the surviving remains of communal property and the various original types of private property in the Greek, Roman, Germanic, Celtic, and Slavonic social systems, it is necessary to back to the various forms of primitive communal property and the corresponding different forms of their dissolution.
Besides this main interest, there are some other advantages to be gained from that source for a critical and revolutionary science. The critical science of the proletarian class was the first to break loose from the accepted single track idea of progress, and to show that those apparently “wild” and “barbaric” conditions of the primaeval past, in spite of their material deficiencies, uncouthness, and benightedness, still contained many qualities which compare most favourably with present-day “civilized” conditions. Marx and Engels in that respect only continued, in a more highly developed form, the “criticism of civilization” which had been initiated before them by the first great Utopian socialists, above all by Charles Fourier in his vital attack on the self-complacent assurance of the bourgeois conception the world. It is only with a knowledge of the totally non-bourgeois forms of a primitive society that it becomes possible for the social revolutionary to imagine a further development which will go beyond the bourgeois conditions of present-day society not only by a gradual readjustment of its existing pattern but by a fundamental change of the whole system. The communist societies of the future will, in proportion to their increasing distance from the present-day bourgeois status, “correspond,” no longer merely to Mediaeval and Antique Society, but to a still further distant and entirely non-bourgeois past. They will not conform, however, to those early conditions commonly referred to as Primitive Communism in any other way than in their analogous position “equally aloof from present-day society.” There need be, in fact, as little structural likeness between those primaeval conditions of humanity (or for that matter the equally “primitive” conditions of the so-called “savage” tribes today) and the future conditions of a fully developed communist society, as there is at the present time between the “unconscious” elements of the mental structure of modern bourgeois man as recently disclosed by the psychoanalysts on the one hand, and the “corresponding” states of either primaeval man or the free individuals of a no longer bourgeois society of the future.
The occurrence of a genuine critical impulse in the history of bourgeois social thought, then, is restricted to a short and clearly defined period. It emerged from the last phase of the revolutionary epoch of the bourgeoisie, and it ended with the expiration of this, the “classical” epoch of bourgeois social science. As we shall show in detail in the second part of this book, none of the post-classical schools of bourgeois economists has even approximated the critical detachment which, for a strictly limited time, had been reached by such thinkers as Ricardo. The same applies to the post-Hegelian developments of bourgeois philosophy and, indeed, to all other branches of post-classical bourgeois thought, even though more recently its hitherto prevailing tendency to accept unconditionally or to defend and glorify existing conditions has been overshadowed, in some cases, by the apparent counteraction of a directly opposite tendency.
The vehement protests raised from time to time by otherwise well-disposed critics against some particularly disgraceful aspects of the existing social order, the occasional lapses of an exceptionally impressionable literatus into an entire negation of present society, and the equivalent pessimistic, ironic, or sceptical currents in contemporary bourgeois philosophy do not initiate a new phase in the development of modern social thought. All apparent expressions of an enhanced bourgeois “self-criticism,” varying from the Freudian scientific analysis of the Civilization and its Discontents, to the inflation of such minor “discontents” into a Decline of the West, or a final Breakdown of Modern Civilization, rather serve the purpose of opening an illusory outlet to the feelings aroused in the lower strata of the bourgeoisie by their increasingly oppressed condition, or to the temporary hangovers befalling the entire class under the impact of a defeat in war or of a major economic depression.
Such ideological phenomena, while purporting to express an increasing critical self-consciousness of bourgeois society, indicate only an increasing unwillingness on the part of the hitherto ruling class to understand its own social mode of existence as a specific entity.
The essential futility of every attempt of contemporary bourgeois self-criticism appears most strikingly in the ideological repercussions, resulting from the periodic cycle through which modern industry runs. The alternate occurrence of an absolute denial and an equally absolute acceptance of the universal crisis, periodically repeating itself in the theory of bourgeois economists, along with the periodical recurrence of prosperity and depression, can best be regarded as being itself a secondary phenomenon of a given phase of the industrial cycle. The fact that bourgeois economists have not yet arrived at a “theory of the crisis,” independent of the momentary fluctuations of the industrial process, only emphasizes once more a definite incapacity of present-day bourgeois society to grasp “specifically” the process of its own destruction.
A critical investigation of the existing conditions of mankind which conceives of the imminent breakdown of existing bourgeois conditions not as an absolute disintegration but as a transition from the present historical phase to a higher form of society can only be attempted and carried through in an unbiassed and consistent manner by the new social class produced by the bourgeoisie itself.
Before we deal with the practical implications of Marx’s critical investigation of existing bourgeois society, we shall discuss a strictly theoretical problem arising from the statements made in the preceding chapters with regard to the main methodological principles of Marxian science. How does that emphasis on “specification,” which we have shown to be the very foundation of Marx’s materialistic criticism and research, conform to the equally fundamental demand for some degree of generalization which is necessarily bound up with every attempt at a truly scientific statement, and is certainly recognized by Marx.
As shown in the second and third chapters, Marx scornfully dismissed the superficial and arbitrary procedure of the bourgeois social scientists who described the various conditions of different historical stages in the terms of the same general concepts and thus “by a sleight of hand represented bourgeois conditions as unchangeable natural laws pertaining to society in abstracto.” He was equally critical of that complete abstention from all theoretical generalization which is the idea vaguely aimed at by the Historical School and other irrationalists. As against both, he worked out a new type of generalization.
Here again, Marx took his departure from the work of the idealistic philosopher Hegel. This latter too had rejected the abstractual procedure commonly applied by the social theorists as well as what he called the “conceptlessness” underlying the historical trends of the early 19th century. In opposition to both, he had posed another principle: that of the “truly general.” The “general” as it appears in the most developed forms of philosophical thought is, according to Hegel’s terminology, dialectically identical with the “particular” and, indeed, with “individual existence.” Or, as this Hegelian principle has been most succinctly recapitulated in a single sentence: “Truth is concrete.”
Of course, this highly paradoxical formula had not yet acquired with the idealistic philosopher that unequivocally realistic connotation which it was to assume later with Marx and such other dialectic materialists as Engels, Antonio Labriola, Plechanov, and Lenin. The new emphasis laid by Hegel on the subject matter of human thought as against its mere form was not meant as a materialistic adherence to the given external facts, but rather served as a starting point for a new and more refined form of the most daring philosophical abstraction. Philosophical thought, according to Hegel, is no more to be regarded as being a mere reflection, in the mind of the philosopher, of the concrete facts of an external world. It is, on the contrary, understood to be the most concrete existence itself, and to comprise within itself both the abstract concepts formed as a first approach to truth in ordinary practical and theoretical human thought, and the equally “abstract” forms of externally given “concrete” realities.
Hegel’s “concrete,” then, by no means coincides with the sensually concrete of given experience and practical action. Factual knowledge was for him a means rather than an end. A faithful acceptance of the empirical data of nature and history was to prepare the ground for an idealistic reconstruction of the universe and thus to testify once more to the absolute precedence of the conceptual form over all external existence.
Thus the real meaning of the Hegelian “concrete” was somewhat one-sidedly interpreted by that remarkable series of theoretical and practical leaders of the revolutionary proletarian movement beginning with Lassalle and ending with Lenin who looked at Hegel’s philosophy as an essentially empirical method of thought. The irremovable ambiguity pervading the whole of the Hegelian philosophy affects also his apparently realistic approach to “the concrete.” If on the one hand he conceived of the philosophical idea as something other than an empty form and defined it as “that which is the concrete itself,” he was equally ready to explain that he did not understand by the concrete “what is commonly understood by this term,” but merely the speculative “concrete” resulting from idealistic philosophical thought.
The theorists of abstraction proceeded to the formation of their general concepts by starting from the concrete of common experience and getting rid of its particular qualities by a method of successive elimination. The irrationalists believed that they could get hold of the concrete in an immediate manner. Hegel fancied that in his philosophy he had reached the concrete truth of the idea by starting from a first general concept and supplying the details by a successive adoption of the particular results of scientific research and historical development. Marx was the first to work out a rational type of generalization, different from the traditional conceptual procedures hitherto applied by the various schools of social, historical and philosophical thought, and more akin to the constructive procedures recently invented by the experimental scientists. With him, as shown by the examples discussed in the second and third chapters of this book, the “general” of the concept is no longer set up against concrete reality as another realm; but every “general,” even in its conceptual form, necessarily remains a specific aspect of a mentally dissected part of the historical concrete of existing bourgeois society.
Thus the unconscious and half-hearted self-criticism of bourgeois social science which had previously made its appearance in the Historical School and in Hegel, was finally transformed, by Marx, into an attack against both the ideas and the existence of the bourgeois order. The fixed abstractions of bourgeois science, which had long since ceased to serve as tools of a truly progressive thought and had degenerated into fetters upon the further advance of social knowledge, were now confronted with their present concrete existence. Hence, the previously established status of modern “civilized” society was deprived of its false halo; and its underlying prose, the real conditions of life under capitalistic rule, could be freely contrasted with the germs of a new proletarian mode of existence. The “concrete,” i.e., the real, social, economic, and class contents of existing society were confronted with their abstract conceptual form, and the as yet unformed substance of a new proletarian socialist and communist “becoming” was opposed to the fully determined forms of existing bourgeois “being.” This is one of the “materialistic” tendencies of the new, revolutionary science of society.
While bourgeois science defines the wealth of society as the “wealth of nations” or a “general property,” and the State as a form of unity necessary for society, Marx does not deny the “abstract” truth of such statements. He simply adds that, under the prevailing “concrete” conditions, the wealth of a nation is the capital of the ruling bourgeois class and that, in the same way, the present bourgeois State is the political form of the rule of the bourgeoisie over the proletarian class. In the same way, Marx does not question the “abstract” proposition that “all combined labour on a large scale, both in capitalist and socialist production, requires a directing authority, in order to secure the necessary harmony among the individual activities and to perform the general functions arising from the movement of the whole productive body as distinguished from the movements of its independent organs.” He merely calls attention to the exploitation and despotism which the capitalistic direction of the social labour process inflicts upon the wage-labourers subordinated to it, under the prevailing social conditions. While the bourgeois apologists compare the function of modern capitalistic management with that of the conductor of an orchestra, Marx compares the concrete forms in which, under fully developed capitalistic conditions, the command over the mass of workmen collaborating in a workshop is exercised in the name of the absentee owner through a whole hierarchy of managers, foremen, overlookers, etc., with the command of an army through its commissioned and non-commissioned officers. In spite of the apparent “freedom” of the labour contract there is, from a social point of view, no voluntary self-subordination of the army of workers to a supreme leadership necessary for the common good. “The capitalist is not a capitalist because he is a leader of industry. He becomes a commander of industry because he is a capitalist. Supreme command in industry is an attribute of capital, just as, in feudal times, supreme command in war and in the courts of justice was an attribute of the landed proprietor.” Moreover, such uniformity of command exists in bourgeois society only for the single workshop within a system of social production which as a whole, is neither planned nor directed, and barely balanced subsequently only by the competitive struggle of individual commodity producers. As a general rule, there is even an inverse relation between the authority exercised within the single workshop and the existence of a planned cooperation within the whole of a given capitalistic society. It is precisely the people most loudly extolling the wholesome results of an unconditional subordination of individual workers to the capitalistic “organization of labour,” who denounce equally loudly every kind of deliberate control and regulation of the social process of production as an invasion of the inviolable property rights, liberty, and self-determining “genius” of the individual capitalist. “It is characteristic that the enthusiastic apologists of the factory system can find nothing worse to say against every general organization of cooperative work, than that it would transform the whole of society into a factory.” This whole process of confronting the abstract bourgeois concepts of State and Authority with the actual facts of the master and servant relationship growing directly out of the present-day form of capitalistic production, ultimately resolves itself into a transition to the new form of socialist production just struggling into being. While in bourgeois society the dead accumulated labour of the past rules as “capital” over present living labour, in communist society conversely, the accumulated labour of past generations will be but a means to widen, to enrich, and to further the existence of the workers.
While the bourgeois social theorists, with so-called “general” concepts framed according to their usual abstractual procedure, ended by not grasping any real historical stage of social development at all, Marx, by his rational use of a new theoretical procedure conceived on the model of the dialectical principle of Hegelian philosophy, arrived at the unique form of generalization which is in keeping with the most fully developed methods of modern experimental science. Bourgeois “sociologists,” who apparently are concerned with society in general, remain entwined in the particular categories of bourgeois society. Marx, by analyzing the specific historical form of bourgeois society, attains a general knowledge of a social development far transcending that particular form. While the bourgeois theorists endeavour to proceed to an abstract general concept of “society” by a successive elimination of more and more empirically (i.e., historically) given data of bourgeois society, and thus often unconsciously retain just those features which happen to be the most singular ones, Marx is aware of the fact that the only possible way of comprehending the general concept, or the “law,” of a particular historical form of society is through its actual historical change. Modern natural science no longer employs the old scholastic Aristotelian method. It no longer bases its generalizations upon an arbitrarily chosen common feature of a given number of objects which is thus constituted as a class of such objects. For instance, it does not proceed from the observation of falling stones to a general law of the fall of stones. It proceeds from the analysis of a single case observed in all its particularity, or rather from a single experiment carried out under exactly determined conditions, to formulate the general law of gravity which now, under varying conditions with correspondingly varying results, applies alike to falling stones, to stones at rest, and also to such other things as balloons, planets and comets. In the same manner an exact social science cannot form its general concepts by the simple abstraction of certain more or less arbitrarily chosen traits of the given historical form of bourgeois society. It must secure the knowledge of the general contained in that particular form of society by the exact investigation of all the historical conditions underlying its emergence from another state of society and by the actual modification of its present form under exactly established conditions. Only thus can social research be transformed into an exact science based upon observation and experiment.
Just as in modern natural science the general law has no independent existence outside the collection of the particular cases covered by its application, so the social law exists only in the historical development through which a particular form of society proceeds from its particular state in the past to its particular state in the present and from that to the social forms brought about by its further change. Thus the only genuine laws in social science arc the laws of historical change. The Russian reviewer of Capital, whose statements are quoted in part and adopted by Marx in the Postscript to the second edition, has most aptly brought out this realistic principle of the new Marxian science. He shows that Marx, in spite of the outward form of his presentation which, according to the reviewer, is “idealistic” in the German, i.e., the bad, sense of the term, “is in actual fact enormously more of a realist than any of his predecessors in the realm of economic criticism.” Whereas in idealistic philosophical thought as well as in the ordinary abstract way of scientific thinking, the facts of a particular social state are compared with some “idea,” Marx’s criticism confronts a given fact “not with the idea, but only with another fact,” and so, by the most exact possible study of each fact, represents the facts themselves as “different momenta of a development” confronting one another. While the old economists set up abstract general laws of economic life which were expected to apply equally to the past, the present, and the future, no such general laws of economic life are conformable to the principle of historical change, as established by Marx.
In his opinion, on the contrary, every historical period has laws peculiar to itself. ... As soon as life has gone through a given period of development and is passing over from one given stage to another, it begins also to be controlled by other laws. ... Nay, more, one and the same phenomenon is subject to entirely different laws as a result of the difference in the general structure of the social organisms replacing each other in the historical process, of the variation of their various organs, of the difference in the conditions under which they function, etc. Marx denies, for example, that the law of population is one and the same for all periods and all places. He contends, on the contrary, that every stage of development has its own law of population. ... As productive powers move on in their development, so do social conditions and the laws governing them change. While Marx sets himself the task of investigating and explaining the capitalistic economic order from this standpoint, he merely outlines in strictly scientific terms the aim that every exact investigator of economic conditions must have in view. ... The scientific value of such research lies in the disclosure of the particular laws which control the origin, existence, development, and death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher one. Such, indeed, is the value of Marx’s book.
Connection with a practical social movement is not peculiar to the Marxian theory. Bourgeois theory of society as well, in all its phases, has served a definite practical purpose. In its classical period it served the aims of the rising industrial class struggling for the theoretical and practical supremacy of the new bourgeois principles over the obsolete forms of feudal society. Later, after the victory of the bourgeois principles, bourgeois social thought split into parts. Its main current took to defending the established rule of the bourgeois class against the now rising proletarian class, and for this purpose posed as a “pure” and assumedly “unbiassed” science. Another current, following a tendency already visible in Comte, elaborated a more or less consciously counter-revolutionary set of ideas, foreshadowing the political programmes which were later to be adopted and put into practice by such movements as Italian Fascism and German National Socialism.
The only point which distinguishes the Marxist theory is that it represents the interests of another class and that it is conscious of its class character in a rational way, and not only in the delusive manner of a fascist or national socialist “mythology.” “The theoretical propositions of the Communists express merely, in general terms, actual conditions of an existing class struggle, or of an historical movement going on under our very eyes.” The representatives of liberal and democratic bourgeois science who naïvely assumed that this statement of the Communist Manifesto implied a surrender, on the part of the Marxists, of the claim to the theoretical truth of their ideas, resemble the theologians who regard every religion but theirs as the invention of men and only their own as a divine revelation. Materialistic criticism, which defines all theoretical truths as mere historical “forms of social consciousness,” does in no way abandon the quest for theoretical truth, but only replaces the traditional concept of an absolute truth by a less ambitious and much more practical idea. Every truth, according to the Marxists, applies only to a definite set of conditions; it is therefore not absolute but relative, not independent and complete in itself, but contingent upon external facts. today’s truth, then, depends upon the existing mode of material production and the class struggle arising therefrom. But this new definition of truth in no way lessens, nay, it enhances, the strictness of the formal demands which must be fulfilled by a “true” proposition from the standpoint of materialistic science.
What goes on here is only a repetition of the same process by which in the beginnings of bourgeois society, at first in the struggle of lay thought against the theological and metaphysical system of the Middle Ages, then in that of empiricism against all metaphysics, present-day “bourgeois” science was created. On the very threshold of the new age, Bacon, in his Novum Organum, which was to assist the emerging bourgeois science in the assertion of its new methods of empirical research, proclaimed the historical character of every science: “Recte enim veritas temporis filia dictur non auctoritatis.” On that authority of all authorities, Time, he based the superiority of the finally emancipated new science as against the dogmatic tenets of mediaeval authorities.
This time, however, the proposed change of traditional historical form of consciousness reaches further, and by an apparently reversionary movement the very “freedom” and “independence” which was the boast of bourgeois philosophy and science during the intervening epoch of its almost unchallenged supremacy, is now called in question again. Not only are the theological and metaphysical creeds which had been re-accepted by the bourgeoisie in a remodelled form now utterly “debunked,” but also the new philosophy of the bourgeois era, and the whole body of its new historical and social truths, are finally stripped of their imaginary independence and drawn into the flux of things and the torment of the battle. Unconditional “this-sidedness,” and a distinct historical and class character, become essential attributes not only of the contents, but also of the form of knowledge. This applies even to the revolutionary theory itself. The Marxian theory, which deals with all ideas as being connected with a definite historical epoch and the specific form of society pertaining to that epoch, recognizes itself as being just as much an historical product as any other theory pertaining to a definite stage of social development and to a definite social class. Thus the new science of the proletariat breaks with the last “ideological” limitations which had still hampered the critical self-consciousness of social science, and by reason of which the bourgeois investigators had imagined that, because their science had been freed from the specific fetters of mediaeval dogma and metaphysics, it had become, once for all, a “free science,” standing “above” the antagonisms of the new social order and of the pressure of vested interests.
The materialistic theory of the historical development of society is a particular form of the social consciousness of the present epoch and thus is itself a part of that historical development. The materialistic theory of the class struggle is itself class struggle. The materialistic theory of the social revolution of the proletarian class is at the same time a powerful lever in that same social revolution.
Thus amplified, all examples we have hitherto given to illustrate the critical and revolutionary functions of the materialistic theory, gain a new and enhanced significance.
If the materialistic science of society treats such subjects of social investigation as State and law (seemingly “above class”) in their specific historical character, i.e., as a State for the bourgeoisie and a law against the proletariat, it does not enunciate a pure theoretical proposition which may incidentally furnish a suitable argument for the practical attacks of the proletariat against existing bourgeois institutions. There is a much closer connection between the theoretical contents and the practical implications of the Marxian statement, for the two are, in fact, but related aspects of one single whole. The same applies to Marx’s specific description of social wealth as “bourgeois wealth,” i.e., as a collection of “commodities,” which are not produced because they are useful, but because of the value and surplus value they contain; or again, as the wealth of the capitalist class from which the proletariat is excluded; or as capitalistic plenty and proletarian poverty; or, finally, as the capitalist’s own property ( “Eigentum”) which for the proletariat (to use an apt expression of Lassalle’s) is for ever but “the other man’s property” ( “Fremdtum”). It also applies to material production, now considered in its specific character as a “capitalistic commodity production,” i.e., as an apparent activity of capital “breeding surplus value,” behind which is hidden the real exploitation of the actual producers by the monopolistic owners of the social means of production: and so on, through the whole series of economic, political, legal, cultural, and other bourgeois categories.
It is also much more than a mere progress of theoretical knowledge when the materialistic theory, by its consistent application of the principle of change, immerses each and every social entity in the flux of an historical transition and thus reinterprets all static concepts of things in terms of so many dynamic processes and of an historical struggle between the social classes.
By this process of an historical specification of all bourgeois institutions, and by insistence on the constant working of change, materialistic science achieves in a theoretical way what is achieved in practice by the real historical movement of the proletariat. Thus Marx’s materialistic social research though not for a moment abandoning its character of a strictly theoretical science, yet consciously assumes its particular function within the whole of a movement striving to transform existing society, and thus constitutes itself as a necessary part of the revolutionary action of the modern working class.
The ruling classes deny the scientific character of Marxism because of its class limitations. Marxism bases the wider and deeper truth of its propositions on its proletarian class character.
Marxian theory, viewed in its general character, is a new science of bourgeois society. It appears at a time when within bourgeois society itself, an independent movement of a new social class is opposing the ruling bourgeois class. In opposition to the bourgeois principles it represents the new views and claims of the class oppressed in bourgeois society. It is, so far, not a positive but a critical science. It “specifies” bourgeois society and investigates the tendencies visible in the present development of society, and the way to its imminent practical transformation. Thus it is not only a theory of bourgeois society but, at the same time, a theory of the proletarian revolution.