Antonio Labriola

Socialism and Philosophy




Frascati (Rome), September 10, 1898.

While Sorel has not given any sign of recommencing up to the present time, it may be that he will still do so. However, I have good reasons to fear that he will take quite a different road than I expected, if he should recommence, since now he is talking of his Crisis of Scientific Socialism (See his article in Critica Sociale, May 1, 1898, pages 134-138), which he wrote with reference to the same publications of Merlino, which he had so severely criticised the year before, in Le Devenir Social (October, 1897, pages 854-858).

But whether he does or does not recommence the discussion of the general problems which I treated in the foregoing letters addressed to him, I feel compelled to state at this place, in order to avoid misunderstanding and save the reader from mistakes, that I shall not follow him in his immature and premature lucubrations on the theory of value (in the Journal des Economistes, Paris, May 15, 1897; Sozialistische Monatatshefte, Berlin, August, 1897, Giornale degli Economisti, Rome, July, 1898). Without entering into the merits of these lucubrations, a thing which cannot be done in passing, or as a pastime, I want to say that I don't care to share the indefinite company of Sorel merely for the pleasure of being quoted among the examples for a Crisis of Marxism (See Th. Masarky, Die Krise des Marxismus, Vienna, 1898, French translation in the Revue de Sociologie, July, 1898, where Sorel is quoted in support of this precious literary discovery). In my opinion there are many dramatis personae in this alleged crisis, who either have not learned their lines very well, or are afraid to learn them, or recite them wretchedly.

The same reservation I must also make in regard to Croce, and I make it with some insistence, so far as his memorial on The Interpretation and Critique of some Concepts of Marxism is concerned, which was published in Naples, in 1897, and reproduced in Le Devenir Sociale, volume IV, February and March, 1898.

Although this work is supposed to be a free review of my Socialism and Philosophy (as the author himself says on page 3), the fact it that aside from some useful observation on historical methods and a few sagacious remarks on political tactics it contains theoretical enunciations, which have nothing to do with my publications and opinions, but which are rather diametrically opposed to them. Should I now engage officially in an explicit polemic against the whole dissertation, which is worthy of perusal for so many other reasons? But why should I? What good would it do? I gladly let the free reviewer enjoy his liberty of opinion, so long as it does not pass in the eyes of the reader for a complement of my own, and at that as a complement endorsed by myself.

However, I cannot confine myself to the general reservation, which is sufficient in the case of Sorel. I must rather take up a few general points of criticism.

I pass without further notice over the subtle and scholastic distinctions, upon which Croce insists, such as that between pure and applied science, economic and moral man, egoism and utility, what we are and what we should be, and so forth, because a tolerance of traditional scholasticism is largely a part of my profession. This scholasticism may serve to give to youthful ingenuousness its first training, but it is never a full and concrete science. How is the astronomer ever going to prevent people from saying that the sun rises and sets? I might refer to another case similar in logic and about in line with this one, treated in chapters VI and VIII of my essay on Historical Materialism. There I have shown, step by step, that the elements which are indispensable as a material for experimental and direct cognition, turn at a certain point into aspects, or into parts of a complex mental combination, as the case may be. But, I ask for the sake of greater clearness, how can a man, whose mind is still engrossed in such a narrow logic of first experimental cognition, undertake to grapple with the problem of Marxism, which stands above such vulgar distinctions, or, to be polite toward our adversaries, professes to stand above them? Is not this a fight with too unequal weapons? I should like to invite Croce to try his art of critique on some other field, to read critically some treatise on Energitica, for instance the recent one of Helm, to let Helmholtz, R. Mayer, and such men, go to the devil, and restore honor and worship the common sense for which light always shines and heat is always warm.

But where does Croce get the idea – and that when dealing with Marx – that aside from the various economies succeeding one another in history, of which the economy of capitalist industry is a particular case (but, mark well, the only case which has so far produced its theory, represented by many schools and schools of schools), there exists a pure economy, which sheds light all of its own accord and explains all those cases, or let us say, all those forms of prosaic experience? An animal in itself, aside from the visible and palpable animals? And what is the content of this economy of superhistorical and supersocial man, who becomes more bothersome than all the supermen of literature and philosophy? Is it, perhaps, a naked doctrine of wants and appetites, based solely on the natural environment, but without any experience through labor, without tools, and without precise interrelations of common life and society? This conjecture might probably pass as an explanation of the psychology of prehistorical life. But no, this economy of man in himself is supposed to be perpetual and still existing. And here is where I get lost. For instance, he tells us on page 19: "I hold firmly to the economic construction of the hedonist principle, to marginal utility, to final utility, and finally to the economic explanation of profit on capital as arising from different degrees of utility of present and future. But this does not do away with the necessity of a sociological explanation of profits on capital. And this explanation, with others of the same nature, cannot be found in any other way than the one in which Marx sought it." My friend Croce is quite an insatiable fellow, and for this reason he might seem rather capricious to those who don't know him. He swallows at one month full a whole system of economics, a system which pretends to embrace all economic knowledge. This system, by the way, is well enough known in Italy, where it has prominent representatives, and even some who have continued and perfected it, such as Barone, who, it is claimed, elaborated the theory of distribution. In affirming his confession of faith, which cannot help being full of gladness, seeing that it is hedonistic, he makes a special bid for admiration by his statement that he accepts the economic explanation (it could not well be other than economic) of "profit on capital as arising from different degrees of utility of the present and future goods." And now he might as well say that Marx was ignorant and wasted his time, when he devoted so much effort in his researches into the origin, production, and distribution of surplus value, for which he looked in an entirely different direction from Croce. For this, in the last analysis, was Marx's essential and specific contribution to economics as a critic and innovator. The blessed formula of M-M', that is, of money returned with more money, was so to say the fixed idea in the mind of the explorer Marx, the pivot of his entire research. Now Croce, having made his confession of faith as a convinced hedonist, acts like a man who has eaten and drunk his fill and wants to eat and drink some more by turning to Marx in the quest after a sociological theory, which should supplement the other one, which Croce so firmly and decisively accepts. Of course, Marx cannot tell him anything else but this: "Chase your hedonistic mincemeat to the devil. Don't ask me any questions about such nonsense. I can offer you only the direct opposite." In fact, Croce is compelled to make up a Marx more or less different from the real one, so that he may have a Marx whose principles may seem reconcilable with those undebatable ones of hedonism. In speaking of the way, in which Marx "could succeed in discovering and defining the social origin of profit, or surplus-value," he writes the following sentence: "Surplus-value, in pure economy, is a meaningless term, as the term itself shows, since surplus value is extra-value and passes out of the field of economics. But it has a meaning, and is not absurd, as a concept of a distinction made in comparing one society with another, one fact with another, or two hypotheses with one another." And then he adds in a note: "I make amends for an error which I committed in one of my former essays, in which, while saying correctly that surplus-value is not a purely economic concept, I defined it further inexactly as a moral concept. And I should rather have said, as I say now, that surplus-value is a concept of a difference between economic sociology and applied economics, and not of pure economics. Morals has nothing to do with this, and it has no part in the entire analysis of Marx." I would advise Croce, when he writes his third memorial, to confess that he could make amends for his first error, for it was at least a generalization of an opinion commonly held by vulgar socialism, namely, that surplus-value is the thing, on account of which the exploited are protesting; but that he has no excuse for his second error, because he is no longer capable of deciphering his own thoughts. And this is true not merely because he continually confounds profit. interest, and surplus-value, but because he assumes in more than one place that there is such a thing as a laboring society as a form in itself. (perhaps in distinction from a society of saints in paradise? And he says: "Marx compared capitalist society with one of its own parts, isolated and elevated to an independent existence; in other words, he compared capitalist society with an economic society by itself (but only in so far as it is a laboring society)." And he continues: "The Marxian economy is one which studies the abstract laboring society."

If any one should feel the need of freeing himself from the accursed metaphysical bacillus, which is to blame for such arguments as these, I would recommend to him as a remedy the perusal, not of the polemics of economists, not even those of Germany, who wrote their criticisms of the works of Dietzel, since these may seem doubtful, but of the Logic of Wundt (Vol. II, Part II, pages 499-533). In this Logic, by the way, you will find, on other pages than those just cited, that surplus value is precisely used as an illustration of a typical case of a social law. Would you believe it! And Wundt is not particularly kind, either to the sociologists, or to the so-called social laws.

Finally, then, this so-called pure economies, as it is called in Italy, which is always the land of emphasis or exaggeration, or this method of research and systematization, which developed on the weak, unfamiliar, or forgotten foundations laid by Gossen, Walrass, and Jevons, and is now vulgarly known by the name of the Austrian school, is merely a variety of theoretical interpretation for the same empirical facts of modern economic life which have always been the object of study of so many other schools. It is distinguished from the classic school (which was not so anti-historical as some would have us believe, and as R. Schüler showed in his work, Die klassische Nationalökonomie, Berlin, 1895) by a greater tendency to abstraction and generalization. It strives to make more evident the psychological stages which accompany the economic processes and relations. It uses and misuses mathematical expedients. It is not entirely superhistorical, although it often stages characters like Robinson Crusoe, whom it tries to hide afterwards under the cloak of subtle individualistic psychology. Indeed, it is so little superhistorical that it assumes from actual history two concepts and molds them into theoretical extremes, namely the liberty to work and the liberty of competition, which have been carried to their maximum as hypotheses. For this reason it is palpable, comprehensible, and debatable on the points which it seeks to make, because it can be confronted with the experiences, of which it is often a forced and one-sided interpretation. The general public in France has now an opportunity to read a clear and full explanation of the theory of value of this school in E. Petit's book Etude critique des différentes Th?ories de la Valeur, Paris, 1897.

Returning to Croce, I do not know how to conceal my astonishment over his ridicule of Engels, who speaks of the science of economics as historical in one place, and as theoretical in another. For those who cling to words it will be enough to say, that historical, as applied in this case, is the opposite of the fixed and immutable idea of nature (such as the famous natural laws of vulgar economy), and theoretical is used as the opposite of the grossly descriptive and empirical method of knowledge. But that is not all. Every theory is but a more or less perfect presentation of the relative conditions of certain facts, which appear homogeneous, reconcilable, and connected in any field of knowledge. But all these various groups are elements of a process of development. Now, if some physiologist, after having explained the physical and mechanical theory of lung breathing, should close by saying that breathing is not dependent exclusively on lungs, and that lungs themselves are but one particular product in the general history of the growth of organisms, would you want to drag this physiologist as a defendant before the court of some other pure science, for instance, before the court of purest physiology, which studies the metaphysical entity Life instead of living beings?

In fact, Croce upbraids Marx in more than one place for not having established points of relationship between his method and the concepts of pure economy, in order to show "by a methodical exposition that the apparently most widely differing facts of the economic world are ultimately governed by the same law, or, what amounts to the same, that this law shows itself in different ways in passing through different organizations without any change on its own part, for otherwise the mode and criterion of the explanation itself would be missing." If Marx were in a position to reply to this, he would not know what to say. This is beyond Marx. Nor is it even a question any longer of such abstract generalizations of the hedonistic school as are commonly used in legitimate processes of abstraction and isolation by all sciences that seek to derive principles by starting out from an empirical basis. Here we find ourselves in the presence of an economic law which assumes the guise of an entity, as it were, and passes mysteriously through the various phases of history, in order that they may not have to part. That is the pure possible, which in reality turns out to be: the real impossible. Dühring is a back number, even if he is defended occasionally by Croce. Here it is a question of re-encountering difficulties in the preliminary conception of every scientific problem which exclude from comprehension not only Marx, but three quarters of the contemporaneous thought. The formal logic of blessed memory becomes the arbiter of knowledge. Let us remember, however, that Port-Royal "Logic" used to have an extended sale throughout France. You start out with a concept of the greatest extension and the smallest content, and by means of mechanically increased notations you arrive at a concept of the smallest extension and the greatest content. Then, if we come across a real process, such as the transition from invertebrates to vertebrates, or from primitive communism to private property of the land, or from undifferentiated root words to differentiated verbs and nouns in the Aryan and Semitic groups, we do not regard these facts as the outcome of a slow and real process of actual development, but we take recourse to a nice and preconceived concept and write by a facile method of notation first an a, then an a', then an a'', and an a''' then an a'''' and so forth, and everything will be lovely. I think this will do on this point.

As a result, we come across the following somewhat queer statements: The society studied by Marx in Capital "is an ideal and diagrammatic society, deduced from a few hypotheses, which might eventually not have been realized in the course of history" (page 2). Here Marx becomes a theoretical illustrator of a sort of utopia. Then we read on page 4 that "Marx assumed outside of the camp of pure economic theory a proposition which amounts to the famous equality of value and labor." Indeed, where did he get it? Did he find it, perhaps, as some say, by "pushing to its ultimate consequences a rather unfortunate concept of Ricardo?" This Ricardo ought to be expelled in short order from the history of science, because he did not hit upon a more fortunate term. At another place (page 20, footnote) Croce takes issue with Pantaleoni, because this writer "combats Böhm-Bawerk and asks him, where the borrower of capital gets the money to pay interest with." Pantaleoni says indeed on page 301 of his Principii di Economia Politica: "The generative cause of interest is found in the productivity of capital in its capacity as a supplementary factor in a lucrative technical process requiring a certain time, not in the virtue of time, which would leave things as it found them." Here, and throughout one whole chapter, Pantaleoni repeats in the manner peculiar to his school, and in his own style, that explanation of interest through the productivity of (money) capital, which came out victor as early as the 17th century in the controversies with the moralists and canonists and assumed its elementary economic form for the first time in Barbon and Massey. This is the only explanation which the economist can give, until the productivity of capital, which appears evident on the face of things is itself made an object of analysis. It is this which Marx has later carried out into the more general formula and genetic principle of surplus-value. In this same chapter, Pantaleoni engages in an able controversy against Böhm-Bawerk, who, to speak with Croce, "gives an (economic) explanation of profit on capital as arising from the different degrees of utility of the present and future goods." [1]

Would you enact for your pastime the following ideological farce: Assume on one side the legitimate expectation of the creditor, and on the other the honest promise of the debtor? Place these two psychological attributes, which speak so well for the excellence of their minds, in due evidence. Then suppose that both creditor and debtor are as perfect economic men as they must be presumed to be after they have been born with the trademark of Gossen stamped upon their brains. [2] Then add the notion of abstract time.

After thus constituting the Holy Trinity of expectation, promise, and time, attribute to it the power of converting itself into that surplus of value which must be contained, say, in the boots produced with the borrowed money. For the borrower, if he would pay off his debt with interest, must die of starvation, unless he can himself gain something by the transaction. But this is putting an iron collar upon science. In reality, time in economics as well as in nature is simply a measure of a process. Particularly in economics it is a measure of the processes of production and circulation (in other words, and in the last analysis, a measure of labor). And time is also a measure of interest only to the extent that it enters into economics in this way. A time which operates as a real cause as time in itself is a creature of mythology. (On the mythical survivals in the representation of time read Zeit und Weile in the Ideale Fragen of Lazarus, Berlin, 1878, pages 161–232). If we are to return to mythology, then let us place that most ancient Kronos, whom the common Grecian people confounded with chronos (time), on his throne in heaven high above Mount Olympus. And if expectations, promises, and hopes are by themselves real causes of economic facts, then let us give ourselves without reserve to magic.

Either through inadvertence, or by means of a bizarre literary form, it appears as though Croce were butting his head against magic when he writes on page 16: "And if in Marx's hypothesis the commodities appear as labor jelly or crystallized labor, why might not they appear in another hypothesis as a jelly of wants, as quantities of crystallized wants?" Holy gods! Marx was not exactly a model of what one might call classic diction, especially so far as the plasticity, transparency, and continuity of his illustrations are concerned. Marx was a scientist. But his illustrations, while often bizarre, are never whimsical or facetious, and they always say something profoundedly realistic. If you repeat this illustration of jelly, or paste, which, by the way, has nothing sacramental or obligatory about it, to the first shoemaker that you happen to meet, he will at once tell you that he understands it, and he may refer to his calloused hands, bent back, and perspiring brow and affirm that the boots which he produces contain a part of himself, his mechanical energy directed by his will according to a preconceived plan, which his brain activity carries out while he is engaged on his work. But so far none but wizards have believed, or pretended to believe, that we can transfer a part of ourselves to some commodity by mere wishes, regardless of whether this commodity is produced or not.

Psychology will not stand any trifling. I would not undertake to say in so many words, how much of it should enter into the assumptions of political economy. But I am at least certain that most of the psychological concepts which hedonists and others are chasing in economics have an air of beings there on purpose to blind the unwary, a certain air of being thought out, not actually discovered, a certain air of having been imported from vulgar terminology, not critically evolved. It is another case of repeating that the craftsman should look to his tools. And I know furthermore that the whole gamut of human psychology runs from wants to labor, as it does in the case of the particular feeling of thirst, which is a desire to drink, which a baby does not yet associate with the idea of water, let alone with the movements necessary to procure it, while a provident laborer with mature will and intellect, a will in which experience and imagination, imitation and invention combine, digs a well or opens up a spring. It was the shortcoming of vulgar psychology that it attempted to reduce this living formation to a dry skeleton, and yet the economists of our day still show a great preference for the same thing in their particular lucubrations. The pyschology of labor, which would be the crowning of determinism, remains yet to be written.

What good will this postcript do?, some readers may ask. Just this much: I am not the shield bearer of Marx, I am open to every critique, I am myself critical in everything I say, and therefore I do not forget the sentence that to understand means to overcome. But I am disposed to add that to overcome one must have understood.


Rome, December 31, 1898.

This little booklet of mine, as the postcript also shows, was scheduled to appear in Paris in September of this year. Accidental causes retarded its publication.

In the meantime Sorel has delivered himself body and soul to the crisis of Marxism, treats of it, expounds it, comments on it with gusto wherever he gets an opportunity, for instance in the Revue Parlementaire of December 10, pages 597–612 (where he converts this crisis into one of socialism) and in the Rivista Critica del Socialismo, Rome, Number I, pages 9-21. And he establishes and canonizes it still more in his preface to Merlino's Formes et Essence du Socialisme. We are ultimately threatened with a congress of thinking secessionists.

There we have evidently a war of the Frond before us!

What was I to do? Begin all over again? Write an anti-Sorel after I had written an avec-Sorel? I did not yield to the temptation. It is true that I had named my composition of a somewhat unusual make-up a Discourse. But a man discourses when he feels like it, not when he is commanded.

I merely ask the reader to look at the dates of these letters, or these little monographs in loose style, which I addressed to Sorel. These dates run from April 20, to September l5, 1897. I was writing to that Sorel. not to this new one. I was addressing the old Sorel, whom I had known in the pages of Le Devinir Social, who had introduced me to the French readers in the quality of a Marxist, who had sent me letters full of fine observations and interesting critical reflections. It is true, he was full of doubts, and seemed at times impregnated with the spirit of a frondeur, but when I wrote with a mind intent on him, I did not think, in 1897, that he would so shortly become the herald of a war of secession. O how glad it will make the small lights of intellectualism, or those who need a testimonial to prove that they are not cowards! Sorel leaves at least a little ray of hope for us, when he writes: "I and some friends of mine shall try hard to utilize the treasures of reflexion and hypotheses collected by Marx in his books. This is the best way to derive advantage from a work of genius which has remained unfinished." (Revue Parlementaire, same issue, page 612). Well, there are thus many auguries for the new year, which commences tomorrow, in this benign and pitiful work of salvage, which, by the way, neither I nor a good many others like myself feel in need of.

I feel no rancor, but I certainly cannot help feeling some mortification. In offering these pages of somewhat unconventional composition to the French reading public, I fear that intelligent readers – and France has a greater abundance of them than any other country – will say to me: You are a pretty tolerable conversationalist, but a very poor teacher. You open your didactic dialogue with a friend like an erudite man, and now this friend runs over to the other side!

Is it not so, Mr. Sorel? Well, then, let us accommodate all parties. This dialogue has been only a monologue. I wish it were otherwise.


By Antonio Labriola, French Translation, Paris, Giard et Briere 1897.

Contemporaneous socialism presents a character of originality which has struck all the economists. It owes this character to the fact that it is inspired by the ideas enunciated by Karl Marx on Historical Materialism. Wherever these ideas have deeply penetrated into the consciousness of people, the Socialist Party is strong and alive otherwise it is weak and divided into sects.

The Marxian theses have generally not been well understood in France by the writers, who occupy themselves with social questions. Mr. Bourguin, professor at the university of Lille, wrote in 1892 [3]: "The thinkers among our socialists do not accept the blighting doctrine of their master, from which the idea of Right and Justice is so rigorously banished, without reservation. It is a strange garment, which they wear with little ease and which they will no doubt touch up some day in order to fit it better to their own figure." The writer was referring to an essay published in 1887 by Mr. Rouanet, in the Revue Socialiste, under the title: Le matérialisme ?conomique de Marx et le socialisme fran?ais.

Nearly all those who speak of historical materialism know this doctrine solely through this essay of Mr. Rouanet. This writer has occupied for a long time an important place in the advanced parties of France. He informed his readers that he had made a profound study of Marx and that he had devoted himself to exhaustive researches, in order to understand Hegel. One would naturally think him to be well informed. [4]

Before beginning the perusal of the exposition, which Mr. Labriola gives in excellent, but very concise, terms of historical materialism, the French reader should guard himself against widely disseminated prejudices. For this reason I think it necessary to show here, how false and futile the great objections against the Marxian doctrine are. We must, therefore, pause to consider the ideas enunciated by Mr. Rouanet in 1887.

The prejudices existing among us have to a large extent a sentimental origin. Mr. Rouanet has gone to a lot of trouble to show that the Marxian doctrines run counter to the French genius. We hear this reproach repeated every day. In what consists this antagonism?

The problem of modern development, considered from the materialist point of view, rests upon three questions: 1) Has the proletariat acquired a clear consciousness of its existence as an indivisible class? 2) Has it enough strength to begin the struggle against the other classes? 3) Is it in a position to overthrow, together with the capitalist organisation, the entire system of traditional ideologies? It is for sociology to reply.

If a man adopts the principles of Marx, he can say that there is no longer any social question. He can even say that socialism (in the ordinary and historical meaning of the term), is outgrown. In fact, research then applies no longer to what society should be, but to what the proletariat can accomplish in the present class struggle.

This manner of looking at things does not suit the French genius, at least not those who have the pretension to claim that they represent it. In our country, the progressive parties contain an appalling number of men of genius, whose talent present society is misunderstanding, who have in their hearts an infallible oracle of Justice, who have devoted their lives to the elaboration of marvelous plans for insuring the happiness of humanity. These gentlemen do not wish to step down from their fastidious tripods and mingle with the crowd. They are made to lead, not to become the co-operators in a proletarian task. They intend to defend the rights of intelligence against those audacious ones who lack respect for the liberal Olympus, and who do not take sufficient account of mentality.

Add to this that these rare spirits have a naive faith in French supremacy, in the leading role of France [5], that they have the superstition of revolutionary phraseology, and that they practice with devotion the cult of great men. They cannot forgive Marx, Engels, and especially Lafargue for lacking in respect for their own revered idols.

I do not belong to those who have a great admiration for French genius, so understood. Besides, I have reason to believe that this sort of French genius is not the kind possessed by those of my countrymen who devote themselves to scientific research and do not feel the need of posing as the spiritual leaders of the people.

The great reproach advanced against the doctrine of Marx from a scientific point of view is that of leading to fatalism. According to Rouanet, it is very close to Hegelian idealism, divested of its "nebulous transcendentalism." [6] It has "the same fatal succession of events, which are necessary phases of a process not enlightened by human will, and even a cult of force, that sombre god of iron, who is the blind instrument of the laws of the great Fate destined to fulfillment in spite of everything." One might make many objections to the idea which this French author makes for himself of the philosophy of Hegel. But a superficial perusal of Capital suffices to show that Marx never thought of the evolutionary apocalypse so generously attributed to him.

Determinism assumes that changes are automatically connected with one another, that simultaneous phenomena form a compact mass having a determined structure, that there are iron laws insuring a necessary order between all things. Nothing of the kind is found in Marx's doctrine. Events are considered from an empirical point of view. It is their interconnection which results in the historical law that determines the temporary mode of their generation. The demand is no longer that we should recognize in the social world a system analogous to the astronomical. We are only asked to recognise that the intermingling of causes produces sufficiently regular and characteristic periods to permit of their becoming objects for an intelligent understanding of facts.

Marx gives a very good view of the multiplicity of causes which have produced modern capitalism. Nothing proves that these causes must appear together at a determined date. Their fortuitous co-existence engenders the transformation of industry and changes all social relations.

But some insist and say that, according to Marx, all political, moral, esthetic phenomena are determined (in the strict meaning of the word) by economic phenomena. What can such a formula signify? To say that one thing is determined by another without at the same time giving a precise description of the way in which they join is to utter one of those absurdities, which have made the vulgarisers of vulgar materialism so ridiculous.

Marx is not responsible for this caricature of his historical materialism. The fact that all sociological manifestations, in order to be made clear, must be placed upon their economic basis does not imply that an understanding of the basis obviates an understanding of the superstructure. The connections between the economic underpinning and the products resting upon it are very variable and cannot be translated into any general formula. This cannot be called determinism, since there is nothing to be determined.

Mr. Rouanet forms a very singular conception of the Marxian doctrine. He assumes that the means of production, the economic organisation, and the social relations, are beings, which succeed one another like palaeontological species by the mysterious road of evolution, and that the entire history of humanity is deduced from them by laws, which he does not know any more than I do, and which Marx has never divulged. Historical materialism would thus have an idealist basis, namely the fatal succession of the forms of production! That would certainly be a very singular conception.

A distinguished professor, Mr. Petrone [7], agrees with Mr. Rouanet in maintaining that historical materialism fails when applied to the Christian Revolution. I believe, on the contrary, that the theories of Marx throw a certain light upon this question, by showing the reasons which prevent the historian from fully understanding what took place. We cannot discuss the problem scientifically, because we lack the elements necessary for clearing it up. The Italian author places himself upon the Catholic standpoint. Mr. Rouanet invents a fantastic history. The scientists should keep still and wait until the monuments shall have revealed to us the economic conditions of the primitive church.

Mr. Bourguin wants to know [8] whether we must not count among the active forces "the more or less developed consciousness among the laborers of being objects of alleged exploitation." But is not the development of class-consciousness the pivot of the social question, in the eyes of Marx? One needs but to have a mediocre knowledge of the works of the great socialist philosopher to know that.

Can Marx be accused of having given too little attention to human mentality, he, who has shown the importance of the least creations of inventive genius? Nowhere does intelligence appear in such strong relief as in technology, whose historical role is placed in the front rank in a striking manner, in Capital. I know very well that the representatives of French genius have but little esteem for machine builders, who are incapable of declaiming formidable cantatas on the Rights of Man from the speaker's platform. But simple mortals believe with Mr. Bourdeau [9] that the steam engine "has exerted more influence on social organisation than all the systems of philosophy."

Does this mean that intellectual and moral products are without historical efficacy, as some pretend to be the result of historical materialism? Not at all. Such products possess the faculty of detaching themselves from their natural cradle and assuming a mystical form, "as though they were independent beings able to communicate with mankind and one another." [10] After they have thus freed themselves, they are liable to enter into the most diverse imaginary combinations. No great revolution has ever taken place without producing many insistent illusions. It is again Marx who tells us so. But this statement goes against the grain of our men of progress. They don't like the idea of having ascribed to fantasy what they ascribe to reason. For to do so, means to lack respect for all the Titans of the present and past.

In his introduction to his translation of the selected works of Vico, Michelet wrote: "The word of the new science is that humanity is of its own making.... Social science dates from the day on which this great idea was expressed for the first time. Hitherto humanity thought that it owed its progress to the hazards of individual genius.... History was a sterile spectacle, at most a fantasmagoria."

How is history made? Engels tells us in the following passage: "The innumerable conflicts of individual wills and individual agents in the realm of history reach a conclusion which is on the whole analogous to that in the realm of nature, which is without definite purpose. The ends of the actions are intended, but the results which follow from the actions are not intended, or in so far as they appear to correspond with the end desired, in their final results are quite different from the conclusion wished." [11] This thesis is admitted by scientists without any difficulty. But it is full of despair for the great men whose genius is flowing over. Their plans cannot be realised as they have conceived them! And yet these plans are so well laid, that one cannot touch them without interfering with their efficacy and assailing Justice, whose authorised delegates these gentlemen are.

But let us leave aside all these vulgar objections and take up what constitutes in my eyes the vulnerable part of the doctrine, that part which the French critics have not yet examined.

Many scientists are disposed to admit the value of historical materialism as a training of the mind, and to recognise that the Marxian theses furnish useful hints for the historian of institutions. [12] But it remains to find out what is the metaphysical basis of this theory. It serves no end to say that this search is superfluous, that we may follow the same method which was so successful in psychology after the discussion of the soul had been abandoned. But where is the metaphysician who remains entirely indifferent to the metaphysical problem ? Every one has his own hypothesis. And these hypotheses, often adroitly dissimulated, distinguish the various schools. Many mistakes have been made by a hasty application of historical materialism. Nearly all these mistakes may be traced to agnosticism, which the authors professed and which really concealed imperfectly elaborated working hypotheses.

On the other hand, if we examine the applications made by Marx, we find that he employed a great many psychological principles, which have not been generally enunciated in a scientific form. To the extent that we advance we will see the necessity of stepping forward from this provisional position and cutting solid timber for the support of historical relations.

Here, then, are two great blanks. The disciples of Marx should make efforts to complete the work of their master. This master seems to have feared nothing so much as the idea of leaving behind a system of too great rigidness and firmness. He understood that a theory is at the end of its career, when it is completed, and that the condition of all metaphysical science is to leave a wide door for further development. The prudence of Marx was extreme. He did not try to terminate a single theory. Recent discussions show that he had not said his last word on value and surplus-value. How blind are, therefore, the critics who accuse the disciples of Marx of wishing to lock up the human thought in a ring fence built by their master!

In this work of perfection we must follow the example set by Marx and be prudent. The time has not come for the enunciation of the metaphysics and the definition of the psychology of historical materialism, so long as its basis has been studied only in a limited way.

Men of great hearts say that the spirit cannot rest content in this state of expectation, when it is a question of Morality and Right. Superficial critics are not slow in denouncing the absence of ideals, without asking themselves whether a reasonable theory of ethics can be independent of metaphysics, and whether the latter is worth anything without a scientific basis. One may admit the historical and social value of moral teaching [13] without having the pretension of imposing upon it rules, laws, and postulates evolved out of the imagination. It seems rather that by giving to ethics a basis of metaphors, insufficient psychological theories, or declamations on Nature, the effect of this teaching is considerably curtailed. To bring morality down to earth, to divest it of all fantasy, does not mean to deny it. On the contrary it means to treat it with the respect due to the work of reason. Is it a denial of science to leave aside the speculations on the essence of things and to stick to realities?

Capital is full of appreciation for morality. It is, therefore, rather paradoxical to reproach Marx with having carefully avoided all consideration of Justice. Every one has his own interpretation for this word. Mr. Bourguin, in the above cited passage, stands on the ancient theory of a moral sense. But this theory is out of date. Mr. Rouanet speaks [14] of "a natural justice, conforming to the law of social development, which is the free solidarity of the diverse parties constituting humanity as a whole and coming closer and closer together." This is evidently what Marx called "Humbug of juridical ideology dear to the French democrats and socialists. [15] The fact that the two above-mentioned authors are in agreement in imputing a certain moral character to the doctrine of Marx proves only that they do not find in Capital an expression of their personal theories on morality, which, moreover, have no value.

It is in the name of the metaphysics of morals that Jaurès took part in this debate and proposed to reconcile the materialist and idealist points of view. Nothing seemed easier to him. He affirms, first of all, that the disciples of Marx recognise the existence of a "direction in the economic and human movement." He asks that he be granted as an indisputable axiom that there is in history not only "a necessary evolution, but an appreciable direction and an ideal sense." To admit these premises would be to explain history by means of idealism, and only idealism. It would be a rejection of the doctrine of Marx. But if that is so, how can he reconcile them? Very simple. If we condemn all the ideas of Marx, we proclaim the author as a great man, as great a man as his disciples can desire. [16]

If we admit everything the famous orator demands, we shall be convinced that the "word Justice has a meaning even in the materialist conception of history!" This conclusion is true, only it has a different meaning from that of Mr. Jaurès. "Humanity seeks itself," he says, "and affirms itself, no matter how different may be its environment.... It is the same sigh of suffering and hope which comes from the mouth of the slave, the serf, and the proletarian. It is the immortal breath of humanity, which is the soul of the thing we call Right." Marx certainly never thought of that!

I have said enough to make it plain that historical materialism has been almost unknown in France. The book of Mr. Labriola brings the French readers in touch with new regions, through which the learned Italian professor conducts us with great ability.

The publication of this work marks a date in the history of Socialism. It is, indeed, the first time that an author of the Latin tongue studies in an original and profound manner one of the philosophical foundations on which contemporaneous socialism rests. The work of Mr. Labriola occupies a marked place in the libraries, by the side of the classic books of Marx and Engels. It constitutes a methodical elucidation and development of a theory, which the masters of new socialist thought have never treated in a didactic manner. His book is, therefore, indispensable for those who wish to understand proletarian ideas.

More than the works of Marx and Engels, the present work addresses itself to the foreign public with a taste for social problems. The historian will find in these pages substantial and precious hints for the study of the genesis and transformation of institutions.

Paris, December 1896.

Appendix 4


An Article Published by Antonio Labriola in the Rivista Italiana Di Sociologia, Volume III, 1899.

I refer here to a book, which is neither brief, nor easy to read, written by Th. G. Masaryk, professor at the Bohemian university of Prague, and published quite recently. How voluminous it is may be seen at the foot of this page [17], where I give its title in full. I do not intend however, to write a mere review of this book. And if it should be said that the expression of a personal opinion on a book requires its review, I would reply that this one would have to assume the proportions and make-up of an article.

My name, and the title of my article, might lead one to infer that I was about to engage in party polemics. The reader may rest in peace. I shall not confound the pages of the Rivista italiana di sociologia with the columns of a political daily.

I will merely say in passing that the great uproar made curiously enough by the political press of Italy, whether daily or otherwise periodical, over the alleged death of Socialism on account of a socalled Crisis of Marxism appears to me as one more proof of that organic national vice which one might call the right to ignorance. Not one of those grave diggers of Socialism, who jumbled the most incompatible writers indiscriminately together in order to get a crowd around their crisis, thought of asking himself these simple and honest questions: May the critique raised in other countries in matters of Marxism have any direct bearing upon Italy? Had, or has, this theory any solid footing and established spread in our country? And finally, has the Italian Socialist Party sufficient strength, and enough adherents among the masses, and does it carry within itself such development, complex conditions and political aims as reveal the precise and clear marks of a stable and durable proletarian organisation, so that a thorough discussion of the theory will amount to a discussion of things rather than of words? And, to go more to the bottom of the matter, can any one tell whether the whole thorny path of economic development has already been traveled, which led to the establishment of the socalled capitalist system in other countries, and of which Marxism is the critical reflex?

Whoever would have asked these and similar questions, would have come to the honest conclusion that there cannot be any crisis of a thing.... which does not yet exist.

It may be, or rather it is certain, that none of these necrologists of Socialism knew that the phrase of a Crisis of Marxism was coined and set in circulation by professor Masaryk, whose lot it was (quite unknown to him, as happens frequently to strangers in matters concerning Italy) to bring to our country a new and unexpected contribution to the fortune of words. But this is a fact. The expression – Crisis of Marxism – was invented by Masaryk in numbers 177 to 179 of the Zeit of Vienna, in February 1898, and these articles of his were later on gathered in one pamphlet [18] and published under the date of March 10. And mark well, the author of this discovery in literature did not have in mind to declare that Socialism was dying, but merely that it seemed to him he was observing a crisis within Marxism. In fact, he concluded as follows: "I would admonish the enemies of Socialism not to nurse any vain hopes for their own parties on account of this crisis of Marxism, which may rather strengthen Socialism considerably, if its leaders will frankly criticise its fundamentals and overcome their defects. Like every other social reform party, Socialism has its fountain of life in the manifest imperfections of the present social order, in its injustice, immorality, and above all in the material, moral, and intellectual misery of the great masses of all nations." [19]

On those 24 pages, which were too few for the importance of the subject, the data concerning the crisis – so far as it related to the German social-democracy, and with a few references to French and English literature – were collected, enumerated, defined, in a rather hasty manner... But what avails it to speak of the little work of March 10, 1898, since these 24 pages have become 600 in the book of March 27, 1899, 600 mind you, which in turn is "too much enough," as a Neapolitan would say, both as concerns the substance of the subject treated and the patience of the average reader?

Professor Masaryk is a positivist. This term has in Italy an exceedingly wide and elastic meaning, but for him, as a professed philosopher, it means in so many words that he is standing on the line which leads from Comte to Spencer... or to Masaryk himself. I am not in a position to accord to him all the admiration which is, perhaps, due to him. For he has the habit of writing in Bohemian, which is rather inconvenient for me. Hitherto I had not read anything by him except his Concrete Logic in its German translation. Nor would I split hairs about the subtle meaning of his expressions, because this book has been translated by Mr. Kalandra into a rather bureaucratic German. The work as a whole, as the author himself states in his preface, must not be considered under the aspect of composition and style. It is an ultra-academic production, with the customary division into introduction and sections. There are five of the latter, followed by a recapitulation, and they are subdivided into chapters, with subheadings of A, B, C, and so on, down to a division of the subdivisions into 162 paragraphs, with various bibliographies in a loose and in a concentrated order, and with a truly wonderful index, which makes you think of a lot of things which you don't find in the book on turning to it, and with the inevitable table of contents. In short, it is a book of comprehensive and instructive lessons, poised in tone, with occasional touches of lightness, and it is edited after the model of an encyclopedia. However, not all lessons can be referred to the same date. While this book, originally written in the Bohemian language and announced in the small booklet of the preceding year which may take its place for those who don't care to read 600 pages, was being printed in the German language, the now famous book of Bernstein (quoted in a footnote on page 590 of Masaryk's book) appeared, and the author felt the need of accommodating his friends with it in another place. [20]

The achievement of Masaryk is truly in a class by itself. He is not a socialist, he has an extensive knowledge of socialist literature, he is not a professional adversary of Socialism, he judges it from on high, in the name of Science. He was a member of the Reichsrath of Cisleithania, but is at the same time a nationalist and progressist, which, so far as I know, is never found as a combination in Young Czechs. At present, it seems to me, he is keeping himself aloof from politics. He publishes a review which is somewhat similar to our Nuova Antologia. He is a scientist by profession, that is, a great reader and accurate reporter of what he reads, to the point of the minute detail of the smallest particle. And this is the first and principal defect of his book. The book discusses an infinite number of things, but it never gets to the real point. It is as though the author's view were obstructed by printed matter and obscured by the shadows of the writers, through whom he wends his way with so much obsequiousness for all, like a, man whose eyes have lost all sense of perspective. Isn't it the principal duty of one, who undertakes to study the fundamentals of Marxism, to be in a position to answer the following question on the strength of a study of actual conditions: "Do you, or don't you, believe in the possibility of a transformation of the societies of the most advanced countries, which would do away with the causes and effects of class-struggles?" In view of this general problem the question of the mode of transition into that desired or foreseen future society is a matter of secondary importance. For that mode of transition is not subject to our judgment and assuredly does not depend on our definitions. So far as this general proposition is concerned, it is, I will not say a matter of indifference, but certainly of subordinate value, to know what part of the thought and opinions (many confound these two, unfortunately) of Marx and of his direct followers, and interpreters agree, or does not agree, with the present and future conditions of the proletarian movement. It is not necessary that a man should be a passionate partisan of historical materialism in order to understand that theories have a value as theories, that is, in so far as they throw light upon a certain order of facts, but that as mere theories they are not the cause of anything.

But Mr. Masaryk is also a doctrinaire, that is, a believer in the power of ideas, in other words, an academic thinker, for whom everything consists in a struggle for the general world conception. We need not be surprised, then, that he rejects with sovereign contempt the expression mass instinct. This critique, which derives from Science all its assumption of an impartial judgment of the practical struggles of life, and which ignores the guidance of thought by the natural course of history, is and remains essentially fallacious, because it keeps turning around Marxism, without ever touching its nerve, which is the general conception of the historical development from the point of view of the proletarian revolution.

In stopping to define Masaryk's particular achievement, I think I will pay him with Italian courtesy for his ignorance of my writings bearing upon his argument. If he had ever read them, he would, perhaps, see that one can even nowadays be an advocate of historical materialism, making allowance, of course, for the new historical and social experiences made in the meantime and with such a revision of concepts as follows naturally in the development of thought. And that one can be so without descending to a controversy dealing with minute points and coming to blows with the party press, and without proclaiming one's self as a discoverer or author of a crisis of Marxism. Theories which are in a process of development and progress do not lend themselves to erudite and philological treatment, such as may be accorded to past forms of thought, and to the things transmitted to us by tradition and called antique. But the intellectual temperaments of men differ so much from one another! Some – and these are few –present the public with the results of their own work and do not feel obliged to append to it an intimate history of their readings down to a portrait of the pen used by them. Others – and these are the majority – feel the pressing need of putting the whole fruit of their reading into print. They are fastidious guardians of their notes and will not let the least part of their labors get lost, be it for the present or the future. Professor Masaryk, who stretches the discussion of some momentary proposition over 600 pages, is one of these. The proposition is simply this: What can an outsider make of Marxism at present, seeing that it is being discussed within the party? Professor Masaryk, who has read so much, cannot help considering also Marxism according to the sacramental formulas of philosophy, religion, ethics, politics. and so on to infinity. And the curious part of it is that he, who has so much deference for the bureaucracy of the universities and for the pigeon holes of scientific fetishism, declares finally that Marxism is a syncretic system (incidentally all through his book, and explicitly on page 587)! It had seemed to me that this theory was just exactly the reverse of syncretic, and rather so pronouncedly unitarian that it tends not only to overcome the doctrinaire antagonism between science and philosophy, but also the more obvious one between theory and practice. But Mr. Masaryk is what he is. So let us follow him through his pigeon holes.

We gladly leaves to others the pastime of occupying themselves with Socialism as a tendency to legal reforms after the manner of A. Menger. He declares that he does not interfere directly in questions of economics (in which, as a matter of fact, he seems to be lame on both feet.) He confines himself to discussing above all the philosophy of Marx, which exists even though it has not been expounded in a special work written for that purpose. And he studies on 600 pages the crisis so far as it is strictly "scientific and philosophical." (Page 5.) Do not expect, therefore, that our author should give you a concrete examination of actual conditions in the economic world from first hand study, nor a practical and comprehensive manual of social legislation. Whether the proletarianisation of the masses continues or not, whether Marx's theory of value is exact or not, these and other related questions, while of the greatest importance, do not interest him as a philosopher. (Page 4.) The practical result of his studies is merely to advise the socialists to stick to the program of Engels in 1895, that is, to parliamentarian tactics. This is what they are actually doing all over the world, and, in my humble opinion, for the simple reason that they cannot do anything else without proving themselves either insane or senseless. However, Masaryk reinforces his advice with the admonition that the socialists should also drop the Marxian ideologies! Once more, then, it is not the natural course of the political changes of civilized Europe which has induced the socialists to change their tactics (the author could not tell us how long the present tactics will, or may, last), but it is the ideas which change and must change. Everything is merged in the struggle for the Weltanschauung (world conception) – see especially pages 586 to 592 – as is natural in a writer who holds so closely to the sacramental concepts of scientific classification (Page 4) and to the super-eminent position of philosophy.

The philistine, in his professorial subspecies, reveals himself here fully in his true nature. To be intimately familiar with socialist literature, and yet ignore the innermost soul and meaning of Socialism! If this meaning is once grasped, it is a matter of course that it changes scientific orientation completely, and changes also the position of science in the economy of our interests. But Masaryk never gets so far, because he would have to leave the confines of definitions in order to do that. For this reason his book, while full of conscientious information and free from professional contempt of Socialism, amounts in intent and effect to an enormous plea of Positivism against Marxism!

Two observations occur to me at this point. The foregoing statement will sound strange to many in Italy, where it is customary to designate anything and everything by the term Positivism. On the other hand, I have said frequently that that mode of conceiving of life and the world which is understood by the name of historical materialism, has not come to perfection in the writings of Marx and Engels and their immediate followers. And I declare now more pointedly that the development of this theory proceeds still slowly, and will perhaps proceed at the same gait for a good while.

But such books as Masaryk's serve no good purpose. It is indeed an accumulation of objections in the name of Positivism, but not in the name of an authentic and direct revision of the problems of historical science, not in the name of actual political questions. The socalled crisis is not made the object of publicist examination, nor of sociological study, but is rather a blank space, or a pause, in which the author proceeds to deposit, or recite, his philosophical protests.

One essay, which is neither useless nor devoid of interest, is devoted to the first formation of the thought of Marx (pages 17–89). But the result is rather scant. "Marx ultimately found in the continuous mutation of the social structure the historical reason of Communism, a something which imposes its sway of its own necessity. – According to Marx, philosophy is the natural copy of the world process. – Communism follows from history itself. –The materialism of Marx is a historical materialism.–" Such propositions as these, which reproduce at one stroke of the pen the fundamental thought of the author in question, should induce our critic, it seems to me, to examine the fundamentals of these conceptions, in order to overthrow them, if he can. And what does Mr. Masaryk do instead? A few lines further along he writes: "His philosophy, and that of Engels, bear the imprint of eclecticism." And thereupon he treats us under letter D of heading II to a Russian salad of controversial opinions of Bax, K. Schmidt, Stern, Bernstein, Plekanoff, Mehring, so far as they have discussed the question whether this philosophy, from a Marxist point of view, is, or is not, reconcilable with a return to Kant, Spinoza, or others. And he never remembers the poet who was present at the foundation of the university of Prague, in order to exclaim with him: Poor and nude goest thou, philosophy!

Somewhat disconnected is the treatment accorded by the author to historical materialism (pages 92-168). He speaks first of the different definitions and their clash, and comes finally to a critique founded on that old bore, the doctrine of factors, which he hides more or less under a rather doubtful and uncertain sociological and psychological phraseology. Lastly, the idea of an objectively unitarian conception of history is repugnant to our author, and it frequently happens that he confounds the explanation of historical mass effects primarily by way of changes in the economic foundation with the curt and crude explanation of some particular historical fact out of particular and concrete economic conditions. We need not wonder then when we see he considers Marx as a sort of deteriorated Comte, who becomes an unconscious follower of Schopenhauer and accepts the primacy of the will, which doctrine, however, contradicts the sacred trinity of intellect, feeling, and will. Likely enough poor Marx did not know that man had not only an intellect, but also a liver, which is so much more surprising as he was himself suffering from liver trouble! Perhaps this is a good reason why he did not see that surplus-value is an eminently ethical concept!

A university professor who treats his subject matter as he does his profession, may easily be tempted to subject a certain author to the test of all the various doctrines which he, as a critic, is in the habit of studying and handling. And then it happens through a strange illusion of the erudite, that the terms of comparison, which are in the subjective mind of the critic, become surreptitiously terms of actual derivation. This happened also to Masaryk. Here we find him, just when he is right in the midst of his attempted comparisons, contradicting himself by the sententious statement (page 166) : "In fact, Marx molded into a formula something which was in the air, as the saying is, and for this reason I have not attributed much weight to particular influences on his mental development." Therefore, I would say, start all over again and try the opposite way. In the author whom you criticise this opposite process took place, for he rose from a critique of economy and from the fact of the class struggle to a new conception of history and by the same way further to a new orientation on the general problems of cognition (and, mind you, not by a modification of the thing which is technically called historical research). But you do violence to the facts. You turn them upside down and you follow a course which is not the one chosen by the object of your critique. But of course, you, a professional philosopher, descend from the altitude of definitions to the particular thing called historical materialism. And with all due obsequiousness to red tape, you thus come to the theory of the class struggle as one comes to a corollary in logic.

In this case, likewise, a faithfulness to material exposition renders all the more conspicuous the incapacity for an intimate and vivid understanding. We meet here and there with a few useful remarks concerning the insufficient precision of such terms as bourgeoisie, proletariat, etc., and more valuable ones concerning the impossibility of reducing all of present society to those famous two classes, seeing that it is of a more complex and differentiated composition. In spite of all this he shows a singular inaptitude for grasping so simple an idea as the following: Seeing that social life is so intricate, the intentions of some individual may all be erroneous. This fact induces our author to say that Marxism reduces individual consciousness down to a pure illusion. It goes against his grain to believe that economic laws should be subject to a natural process of development. Well, then, let him prove that the succession of historical events can be changed by arbitrary acts. After claiming a spontaneousness (what is that?) of the forces which give an impulse to history, and proclaiming the aristocracy of the philosophical spirit, the author tells us that Marxian determinism is identical with fatalism, and then he confesses (page 234): "I explain the world and history theistically." Thank God!

Now we come at last to the main question, that is, the explanation of the capitalistic world (pages 235-313) and the critique of Communism and the development of civilization (pages 313–386). This is the essential point for socialists, and they cannot be combatted on any other ground. But the author descended from the heights, and so let it be. I cannot deny – to begin with his conclusions – that there is some justification in his remarks about our excessive primitiveness and simplicity, especially as concerns the attempt of Engels to outline in brief the main phases of the history of civilization. The origin of the state, or of class society, by means of dominion and authority, assuming the presence of private property and the monogamic family, has various modes of development in particular and concrete historical cases, and no facile explanation will hold good in the attempt to make too simple diagrams plausible. It may happen that socialists will ordinarily, in everyday argument, see the intricacies of history in too simple a light and reduce them too much in size. This leads them to smooth the intricacies of present society too much into the same likeness, in an arbitrary manner. It is also certain that it will not do to refer continually to the negation of the negation, for this is not an instrument of research, but only a comprehensive formula, valid, indeed, but post factum. It is furthermore certain that Communism, that is, a more or less remote approach of present society to a new form of production, will not be the mental fruit of subjective dialectics. For this reason I believe – to be courteous in the use of arms against my adversaries – that there is but one sole mode of seriously combatting Socialism, and that is to prove that the capitalist system, for the present at least, has enough adaptability to reduce, for an indefinite time, all proletarian movements at bottom to meteoric agitation, without ever resulting in an ascending process, which will finally eliminate class rule with wage slavery. This is the gist of the critical efforts of such schools as that of Brentano and his followers. But this does not seem to be the kind of bread that is suitable for the teeth of Mr. Masaryk, who reveals all his inaptitude for grasping the economic connection of his subject matter, especially in the chapter which he devotes to a criticism of surplus-value. (Pages 250–313.)

After wending his way through a mass of references concerning the vexatious question of the alleged fundamental difference between the first and third volumes of Capital, Masaryk repudiates the theory of surplus value as inexact, and then he affirms that Marx could not take his departure from the concept of utility, because his extreme objectivity prevented him from taking psychological considerations into account! Then he proceeds to give his own opinion as to the position which political economy should occupy among the sciences, assuming it to be dependent on the premises of general sociology. He rejects the idea that political economy is a historical science and re-affirms his belief in a pretended science of economics which, without being confounded with ethics, shall embrace the whole man, and not only man as a worker. He advances some sophistry on the impossibility of finding a measure of labor, so far as it, in its turn, is to serve as a measure of value, and considers surplus-value as a mental concept derived from the hypothesis of two classes engaged in a mutual struggle. By means of many subterfuges he writes an apology of the capitalist so far as he is enterprising, that is, a worker and manager. And while he fulminates against the parasitic class and against dishonest commerce, he demands ethics which shall teach to each his duty and place. He is kind enough to admit that Marx discovered the importance of small laborers, even though he is said to have fallen into such little errors as Masaryk notes, for instance, the reduction of complex labor to simple labor, and above all the belief in a class-struggle when there is really nothing but a struggle between individuals.

But if it is so easy to reduce historical materialism to powder, if class-struggles as a dynamic of history are but an erroneous generalization of ill-understood facts, if the expectations of facts, if the expectations of Communism are practically utopian, if the theories of Capital are so obviously false, and if all the fundaments of Marxism have now been destroyed, why does Masaryk take the pains to write another two hundred pages on rights, ethics, religion, and so forth, that is, on the systems which are called ideological? For my part, I should have been satisfied with the statements made, for instance, on pages 509-519, which fill a sort of blank intervening between the net work of paragraphs. There he tries to come to some final summing up, but through defects in his style there is too little concentration of thought and the summary lacks conciseness. This attempted summary gives a sort of a survey of the characteristics of Marxism and thereby brings the thesis of the author into a stronger relief.

Marx – this is the gist of this summary – marks the extreme limit of the reaction against subjectivism, so far as he regards nature as the primary and consciousness as the resulting thing. His is therefore an absolute positive objectivism. For him history is the antecedent and the individual the consequent. Hence his conception amounts to an absolute negation of individualism. The question of understanding is purely a practical one. Between the nature of man and human history there is a perfect accord. There is no other source of human consciousness outside of the one offered by history. Man consists entirely of what man makes. Hence the economic foundation of all the rest. Hence labor as a leading thread of history. Hence the conviction that the various social forms are but different forms of organization of labor. Hence the point of view of Socialism, no longer as a mere aspiration or expectation. Hence the conception of Communism, not as a simple diagram of economic relations, but as a new consciousness exceeding the limits of all present illusions and as an application of positive humanitarianism. But this extreme objectivism is now breaking up by a return to Kant, that is, to criticism. Marx's work was incomplete. He could not overcome Hegel, he found no adequate expression for his tendencies, he relapsed into the romanticism of Rousseau, he tried in vain to extricate himself from Ricardo and Smith, whom he attempted to criticise, and he remained the author of an incomplete system. He personifies, as it were, a philosophical tragedy. He pressed old ideas into the service of new ideals, he could not find any other incentive for revolutionary work but an impulse toward hedonism, and therefore he remained aristocratic and absolutistic in his revolutionary passion.

So far Masaryk's characteristic. I leave it to some one with a faculty of adequate expression to give color to this outline. It certainly is calculated to call our attention to the great tragedy of labor, which runs through all history. [21] But all this leaves our author unmoved in his academic pedantry. He does not oppose one conception to another in his rapid survey of a new interpretation of human destinies, but merely objects to it in the name "of the mission of our time to find a new synthesis of the sciences" (page 513). Then he calls in once more Hume and Kant, and asks the question: What is truth? And then follows a discussion of the new neo-ethics, which must descend to give us a scientific critique of society. The new philosophy must solve the problem of religion, which Marx believed to have overcome, calling it a form of illusion. Pessimism is the dominant note of our time. Schopenhauer approached the truth somewhat by making of the will the root of the world. Marx was a pendant to him with his unilateral theory of labor. Marxism has the shortcoming of having remained negative. "Capital is but the economic transcript of Mephistopheles by Faust," (so he says on page 516, and if you don't believe me, go and see for yourselves!). And finally we learn – if I have understood him right – that the crisis consists essentially in a return to Kant and a leaning of the revolutionary spirit toward parliamentarianism. This, then, marks the beginning of the Masaryk epoch in the world's history.

Kant and the parliament, so let it be! But which Kant? Does he mean the Kant of the most private of private philistine lives in Königsberg? Or does he mean the revolutionary author of subversive writings, who seemed to Heine like one of the heroes of the Great Revolution? And which parliament of the ordinary and customary make-up is destined to transform history? Well, then, let us say Kant and the Convention. But the Convention followed after the revolution, that is, after the downfall of an entire social system, the ruin of a whole political order, the unchaining of all class passions...and that will do. Mr. Masaryk, as a professional academic sociologist, has the right to ignore that living, agitated, impulsive, passionate history, which pleases those other human beings who have a sympathetic feeling for human realities. He can, therefore, rest comfortably in the persuasion that the period of revolutions is gone by for ever, and that we have definitely entered the period of slow evolution, the idyll of quiet and resigned reason.

Still, let us turn to his pigeon holes.

The course on the theory of the state and of law (pages 387–426) combats principally the point of view, according to which this or that is a secondary or derived form as compared to society in general. The state exists from the very beginning of evolution, and it will always exist because reason and morality approve of it (page 405); and man, "by his natural disposition, does not only like to command, but also to be commanded and to obey willingly." Natural inequalities justify hierarchy (page 406). And that settles it! But if that is true, why take such pains to demonstrate that law is not to be derived from economic condition? Why waste time in combating the equalitarian theories of Engels? To what end does he appeal to the awesome authority of Bernstein (page 409), who is said to have restored the state to honor (imagine, in an article in the Neue Zeit!!), declaring that it is a thing which the socialists no longer wish to abolish, but only to reform? It is easy enough for him to find himself in accord with the everyday mind, which does not hesitate to admit, just like Mr. Masaryk, that there are just inequalities, and among them some unjust ones. I wish he would tell us his measure of what is just!

I pass over the chapter entitled Nationality and Internationality (pages 426-565), in which the author, aside from exhibiting his indignation over the Slavophobja of Marx, makes some useful observations concerning those obstacles to internationalism which arise naturally from peculiarities of the national mind, and I paused for a minute to consider the remarkable paradoxes which he pronounces in regard to religion (pages 455–481. Here he reveals himself as a true decadent. Catholicism and Protestantism are for him still the fundamental facts of life and have a preponderating infuence on the destinies of the world! We are all either the one or the other. Indeed, all modern philosophy is protestant, and there is no catholic philosophy unless it be by default (and what about your Comte?). Marx contains an element of Catholicism, not only because he adopted French Socialism, which is Catholic and repugnant to the Protestant mind, but because he was authoritative, an enemy of individuality, an internationalist, and a champion of absolute objectivism (page 476). Just as the French revolution was largely a religious movement, so all contemporaneous Socialism carries within itself a religious element. Here and there he approaches the idea that Catholicism and Protestantism supplement one another. And likely enough the author thinks that the religion of the future is being prepared by Socialism, seeing that "faith is the highest objectivism of normal man, and for this very fact social... But the objectivism of Marx is too bilious." (Page 480.)

If religion is perennial, if the state is immortal, if law is natural, it remains to be seen whether ethics (pages 482–500) must not be super-eternal. The author claims for moral consciousness the privilege of an indisputable and first-hand fact. I need not stop to declare that one need not be a historical materialist, nor even a simple materialist, in order to assign to such an infantile opinion a place among the fairy tales. And for this reason I thank the author for his quotation of magazine articles, in which a Bernstein, a Schmidt, and socialists like them, are said to have advanced ethical reasons against Marx's indifference to morality (page 497).

On pages 500–508 we find the shortcomings of Socialism in the matter of art.

All these reasons as well the statements of the author in section V concerning the practical politics of Socialism, which are treated under two heads, one of them entitled Revolution and Reform, the other Marxism and Parliamentarianism, make us acquainted with a doctrinaire handiwork of the finest verbalistic kind. That Socialism has developed during these last fifty years from a sect into a party is well enough known. That imperative and categorical Communism as conceived at one time has become Social-Democracy, is likewise known. That Socialist parties are at present engaged in a varied and differentiated practical work, is not only a historical fact, but also a making of history on their part. That in all these things mistakes are made and practical uncertainties encountered, is inevitable for human beings. But it is also true that, in order to understand these things, one must live among them and study them with the eye and intellect of the historical observer.

And what does Mr. Masaryk do? He sees nothing but divisions into categories. And so he comes to the idea of a transition from a systematical revolutionism to a negation of the possibility of any revolution, from romanticism to experience, from revolutionary aristocracy to democratic ethics, from a categorical imperative to empirical methods, from absolute objectivism to selfcritique, from Titanic conceptions to I don't know what, but we know only that "Faust-Marx becomes a voter" (page 562). You fortunate socialist voters, who complete the work of Goethe!

And then look at the specious method of the author. He assumes that the personality of Marx (whose biography he claims not to know for some reason, on page 517) is indefinitely prolonged, us it were, throughout all the actions and the expressions of the socialist parties and socialist press, and he places the words and deeds of all others to the account of the Marxism of Marx, as though they were his own alterations and revisions. But it seems that the Nemesis overtook him, because he wanted to be too much at one time, this Marx, namely a German philosopher and a Latin revolutionist, a Protestant and a Catholic – and the revenge of Protestantism overtook him (page 566), so that we have here the real device of the crisis, the plain meaning of the new Ninth Thermidor of Maximilian Carl Robespierre Marx.

It is not worth my while to follow the author in his ramblings through the whole socialist press and party documents in his attempt to rake together the proofs for the dissolution of Marxism by the work of the Marxists themselves, who are a sort of prolonged Marx. His thesis is that Socialism becomes constitutional. Everything is good enough to prove this thesis, even a call upon the testimony of Enrico Ferri, who is supposed to have said, I really don't know where, that a republic is in the private interest of the bourgeois parties. Therefore away with the republic! And this is the hope of the author: "That Socialism will lose the acute marks of atheism, materialism, and revolutionism, and develop ultimately into a true democracy, which shall acquire the proportions of a universal conception of life and the world, a politics sub specie aeternitatis," with an outlook upon eternity (page 858). So far as I am concerned, I must confess that I don't understand that.

I have read the 600 pages of Mr. Masaryk with unusual care and patience, considering that the nature of my occupations prevents me from perusing one and the same book all in one sitting. I had a great curiosity to see it as soon as it was announced. So much had been said and gossiped about a crisis of Marxism by such a large number of persons of mediocre and little culture, which, besides, was almost always incongruous, that I thought I might learn a good deal from the masterpiece of the author of the new phrase in social science. I have been thoroughly disillusioned by the things which I have mentioned above.

Mr. Masaryk assuredly has nothing in common with the various kinds of professional ignorance and audacious assertiveness, which have produced so many definitive criticisms of Socialism in so short a time in our happy country, where all sorts of moral and intellectual anarchism are in flower. The author with whom I have been occupied shares nothing with the socalled crisis of Marxism in Italy but the outward label, and this label has reached us without a doubt by way of the French press.

The honest and modest intention of Masaryk was simply to preach the funeral service over Marxism in the name of another philosophy. He collected the material for his critique in patiently and minutely elaborated notes. It is clear from his whole context, and from the equanimity of his tone throughout the work, in what name and for what purpose he wrote this critique. The social question is one fact, Socialism is another fact, Socialism and Marxism are one (the author repeats this several times, and it seems to me he makes a great mistake), but the social problem must be solved in a different way than the one expected by Marxian Socialism. Therefore let us retouch, revise, and overturn the Weltanshauung, on which Marxism is based, and since the Marxists themselves are just discussing this question, let us step between them in this crisis as an arbiter.

What Masaryk personally wants in practice, we shall probably find out better some other time. And I confess that I am not consumed by a desire to know it. But the perusal of his book has made me think of a whole century of the history of thought.

Positivism has from its beginning walked at the heels of Socialism. So far as the ideas are concerned, the two things were born about the same time in the vague mind of the genius Saint-Simon. They were in a way the reverse supplements of the principles of the Revolution. The antagonism between these two things developed in the varicolored following of Saint-Simon. And at a certain point Comte became the representative of the reaction (the aristocratic one, as Masaryk would say), which assigns to men their position and destination according to the fixed diagram of the system, in the name of classifying and omniscient science. To the extent that Socialism became the consciousness of the class-struggle within the orbit of capitalist production, and to the extent that sociology, often badly tried, rallied around historical materialism, Positivism, the infidel heir of the spirit of the revolution, retired into the supereminent pride of scientific classification, which deprecates the materialist conception of science itself, according to which it would be a changeable thing subject to the transformation of natural conditions, in other words, subject to labor. Masaryk is too modest a man to imitate the scientific infallibility of Comte, but he is enough professor to cling to the idea that the Weltanschauung is something above the social question of the humble laborers. Turn it whichever way you want to, there is always something of a priest in a professor. He creates the God whom he adores, whether it is a fetish or a sacred host.

And now we may say that we understand.

I might feel tempted to quote a few passages from my writings, which would show clearly the distinction between criticism and a crisis. But it seems to me that I have gone far enough.

Since politics cannot be anything else but a practical and working interpretation of a certain historical moment, Socialism is today confronted – generally speaking, and without taking into account local differences of the various countries – by the following difficult and intricate problem: It must beware of losing itself in vain attempts at a romantic reproduction of traditional revolutionism (or, as Masaryk would say, it must flee from ideology), and yet it must take care at the same time not to fall into an acquiescent and willing attitude which would cause its disappearance in the elastic mechanism of the bourgeois world by means of compromise. Some people nurse the desire, the expectation, the hope, of such an acquiescence of Socialism, and these apologists of the present order of society have attributed great weight to the open literary controversies within the party, and to the modest book of Bernstein which was raised at one stroke to the honor of a historical work. [22] This fact characterizes and condemns this book as well as so many similar expressions. But all this has nothing to do with Masaryk. Masaryk, as a professor in the exercise of his profession, has expounded philology by means of type.

Rome, June 18, 1899.


1. In revising the proof sheets it occurs to me that the reader might be in doubt about the character of this writer. Pantaleoni, whom I defend at this place, is himself a representative of that hedonism which Croce, employing the well-known illustration of the two foci of an ellipse, would like to reconcile with Marxism. He is even an extreme representative of that school. Pantaleoni is so extreme in his partisanship, that in his introduction to his course at Geneva, in this semester, (see his "Prolusione," reproduced in the November issue of the "Giornale Degli Economisti." page 407-431) he expels the name of Marx from the history of science – which cannot register any errors! – (See page 427.) He has a very poor opinion of the socialists, especially those of Italy, and regards them as fools, apostles of violence, and worse (see his letter of August 12, this year, on pages 101-110 of the work of professor Pareto on "La Libert? Economique et les Ev?nements d'Italie," Lausanne, 1898, especially pages 103 and following). [RETURN TO TEXT]

2. I take pleasure in referring for this trademark to the strong criticism of the very sagacious Lexis in his article on marginal utility in the supplementary volume of the "Handwerterbuch" of Conrad.[RETURN TO TEXT]

3. Des rapports entre Proudhon et K. Marx, page 29.[RETURN TO TEXT]

4. I note by the way that Mr. Rouanet had read nothing by Marx but the "Communist Manifesto" and "Capital." Moreover, he had but a rather imperfect idea of the economic theories contained in this lastnamed work.[RETURN TO TEXT]

5. Only one country seems to me to have the right to claim an exceptional place in our modern civilization: Italy, the common fatherland of Free and cultured spirits.[RETURN TO TEXT]

6. Revue Socialist, May, 1887, p. 400.[RETURN TO TEXT]

7. Mr. Petrone is a free lecturer at the university of Rome. He has written a very interesting critical report on the book of Mr. Labriola in the "Rivista internationale di science sociali e discipline ausiliarie," fourth year, volume XI, pages 551-560.[RETURN TO TEXT]

8. Des rapports entre Proudhon et K. Marx, page 25.[RETURN TO TEXT]

9. Journal des D?bats, May 1, 1896.[RETURN TO TEXT]

10. Capital, French translation, page 28. Marx says this of commodities.[RETURN TO TEXT]

11. Feuerbach, "The Roots of the Socialist Philosophy," pages 104-105.[RETURN TO TEXT]

12. Mr. Petrone admits this without any difficulty. While Mr. Bourdeau says that the theses of Marx throw a new light on history. (D?bats, October 13, 1896.)[RETURN TO TEXT]

13. On the great importance of morals on socialist philosophies read the fine observations of Mr. B. Croce in his Sulla concezione materialistica della storia, published in the Atti della Accademia Pontaniana, Vol. XXVI, 1896.[RETURN TO TEXT]

14. Revue socialiste, June, 1887,.page 591.[RETURN TO TEXT]

15. Letter on the Gotha Program, published in Revue d'?conomie politique, 1894, page 758. The German text appeared in the Neue Zeit, ninth year, Vol. I, number 18, pages 560-575.[RETURN TO TEXT]

16. This paradox was published in the Jeunesse socialiste, January, 1895, under the title of Idealism of History. Read the spirited reply of Mr. Lafargue in the February number.[RETURN TO TEXT]

17. Die Philosophischen und sociologischen Grundlagen des Marxismus – Studien zur sozialen Frage, von Th. G. Masaryk. Professor an der böhmischen Universität Prag, Wien, C. Konegen, pages XV and 600, in large octavo.[RETURN TO TEXT]

18. Die wissenschaftliche und philosophische Krise innerhalb des gegenwärtigen Marxismus. Vienna, 1898, 24 pages.[RETURN TO TEXT]

19. Ibidem, page 24. The same statement is now amply repeated in the present book near its close, especially on pages 59-92. To mention another little illustration of the fortune of a word, I observe that the crisis within Marxism has become the crisis of Marxism in the French translation of this work by Bugiel, Paris, 1898, (extract from the Revue internationale de sociologie, July number).[RETURN TO TEXT]

20. This was done in numbers 239 and 240, of April 2O, and May 6, of the Vienna "Zeit". He had done the same in October of last year with the message of Bernstein to the national convention at Stuttgart.[RETURN TO TEXT]

21. See letter IX of Socialism and Philosophy[RETURN TO TEXT]

22. With reference to the book of Bernstein see my article in Le Mouvement Socialiste, May 1899.[RETURN TO TEXT]


Transcribed for the Marx / Engels Internet Archive in 1997 by Rob Ryan.