G.V. Plekhanov

The Development of the Monist View of History

Chapter III
The Utopian Socialists

If human nature is invariable, and if, knowing its main qualities, we can deduce from them mathematically accurate principles in the sphere of morality and social science, it will not be difficult to invent a social order which would fully correspond to the requirements of human nature, and just for that very reason, would be an ideal social order. The materialists of the eighteenth century were already very willing to engage in research on the subject of a perfect system of laws (legislation parfaite). These researches represent the utopian element in the literature of the Enlightenment. [1]

The Utopian Socialists of the first half of the nineteenth century devoted themselves to such researches with all their heart.

The Utopian Socialists of this age fully shared the anthropological views of the French materialists. Just like the materialists, they considered man to be the product of the social environment around him [2], and just like the materialists they fell into a vicious circle, explaining the variable qualities of the environment of man by the unchanging qualities of human nature.

All the numerous utopias of the first half of the present century represent nothing else than attempts to invent a perfect legislation, taking human nature as the supreme criterion. Thus, Fourier takes as his point of departure the analysis of human passions; thus, Robert Owen in his Outline of the Rational System of Society starts from the “first principles of human nature,” and asserts that “rational government” must first of all “ascertain what human nature is”; thus, the Saint-Simonists declare that their philosophy is founded on a new conception of human nature (sur une nouvelle conception de la nature humaine) [3]; thus, the Fourierists say that the social organization invented by their teacher represents a number of irrefutable deductions from the immutable laws of human nature. [4]

Naturally, the view of human nature as the supreme criterion did not prevent the various socialist schools from differing very considerably in defining the qualities of that nature. Thus, in the opinion of the Saint-Simonists, “the plans of Owen contradict to such an extent the inclinations of human nature that the sort of popularity which they, apparently, enjoy at the present time” (this was written in 1825) “seems at first glance to be inexplicable. [5] In Fourier’s polemical pamphlet, Pièges et charlatanisme des deux sectes Saint-Simon et Owen qui promettent l’association at le progrès, we can find a number of harsh statements that the Saint-Simonists’ teaching also contradicts all the inclinations of human nature. Now, as at the time of Condorcet, it appeared that to agree in the definition of human nature was much more difficult than to define a geometrical figure.

To the extent that the Utopian Socialists of the nineteenth century adhered to the view-point of human nature, to that extent they only repeated the mistakes of the thinkers of the eighteenth century-an error which was common, however, to all social science contemporary with them. [6] But we can see in them an energetic effort to break out of the narrow confines of an abstract conception, and to take their stand upon solid ground. Saint-Simon’s works are especially distinguished for this.

While the writers of the French Enlightenment very frequently regarded the history of humanity as a series of more or less happy, but chance occurrences [7], Saint-Simon seeks in history primarily conformity to law. The science of human society can and must become just as exact as natural science. We must study the facts of the past life of mankind in order to discover, in them the laws of its progress. Only he is capable of foreseeing the future who has understood the past. Expressing the task of social science in this way, Saint-Simon in particular turned to the study of the history of Western Europe since the fall, of the Roman Empire. The novelty and scope of his views can be seen from the fact that his pupil Thierry could practically effect a revolution in the study of French history. Saint-Simon was of the opinion that Guizot also borrowed his views from himself. Leaving this question of theoretical property undecided, we shall note that Saint-Simon was able to trace the mainsprings of the internal development of European societies further than his contemporary specialist historians. Thus, if both Thierry and Mignet, and likewise Guizot, pointed to property relations as the foundation of any social order, Saint-Simon, who most vividly and for the first time threw light on the history of these relations in modern Europe, went further and asked himself: why is it that precisely these, and no other relations, play such an important part? The answer is to be sought, in his opinion, in the requirements of industrial development. “Up to the fifteenth century lay authority was in the hands of the nobility, and this was useful because the nobles were then the most capable industrialists. They directed agricultural works, and agricultural works were then the only kind of important industrial occupation.” [8] To the question of why the needs of industry have such a decisive importance in the history of mankind, Saint-Simon replied that it was because the object of social organization is production (le but de l’organisation sociale c’est la production). He attributed ,great significance to production identifying the useful with the productive (l’utile, c’est la production). He categorically declared that “la politique ... c’est la science de la production.”

It would seem that the logical development of these views should have brought Saint-Simon to the conclusion that the laws of production are those very laws by which in the last analysis social development is determined, and the study of which must be the task of the thinker striving to foresee the future. At times he, as it were, approaches this idea, but that only at times.

For production the implements of labour are necessary, These implements are not provided by nature ready-made, they are invented by man. The invention or even the simple use of a particular implement presupposes in the producer a certain degree of intellectual development. The development of “industry” is, therefore, the unquestionable result of the intellectual development of man-kind. It seems as though opinion, “enlightenment” (lumières) here also reign unchallenged over the world. And the more apparent the important role of industry be-comes, the more is confirmed, seemingly, this view of the philosophers of the eighteenth century. Saint-Simon holds it even more consistently than the French writers of the Enlightenment, as he considers the question of the origin of ideas in sensations to be settled, and has less grounds for meditation on the influence of environment on man. The development of knowledge is for him the fundamental factor of historical advance. [9] He tries to discover the laws of that development; thus he establishes the law of three stages – theological, metaphysical and positive – which later on Auguste Comte very successfully gave out to be his own “discovery.” [10] But these laws, too, Saint-Simon explains in the long run by the qualities of human nature. “Society consists of individuals,” he says. “Therefore the development of social reason can be only the reproduction of the development of the individual reason on a larger scale.” Starting from this fundamental principle, he considers his “laws” of social development finally ascertained and proved when-ever he succeeds in discovering a successful analogy in the development of the individual confirming them. He holds, for example, that the role of authority in social life will in time be reduced to zero. [11] The gradual but incessant diminution of this role is one of the laws of development of humanity. How then does. he prove this law? The main argument in its favour is reference to the individual development of man. In the elementary school the child is obliged unconditionally to obey his elders; in the secondary and higher school, the element of obedience gradually falls into the background, in order finally to yield its place to independent action in maturity. No matter how anyone may regard the history of “authority,” everyone will nowadays agree that here, as everywhere, comparison is not proof. The embryological development of any particular individual (ontogenesis) presents many analogies with the history of the species to which this individual belongs: ontogenesis supplies many important indications about phylogenesis. But what should we now say of a biologist who would attempt to assert that the ultimate explanation of phylogenesis must be sought in ontogenesis? Modern biology acts in the exactly opposite way: it explains the embryological history of the individual by the history of the species.

The appeal to human nature gave a very peculiar appearance to all the “laws” of social development formulated both by Saint-Simon himself and by his followers.

It led them into the vicious circle. The history of mankind is explained by its nature. But what is the key to the understanding of the nature of man? History. Obviously, if we move in this circle, we cannot understand either the nature of man or his history. We can make only some individual, more or less profound, observations concerning this or that sphere of social phenomena. Saint-Simon made some very subtle observations, sometimes truly instinct with genius: but his main object – that of discovering a firm scientific foundation for “politics” – remained unattained.

“The supreme law of progress of human reason,” says Saint-Simon, “subordinates all to itself, rules over everything: men for it are only tools. And although this force [i.e., this law] arises from ourselves (dérive de nous), we can just as little set ourselves free from its influence or subordinate it to ourselves as we could at our whim change the working of the force which obliges the earth to revolve around the sun ... All we can do is consciously to submit to this law (our true Providence) realizing the direction which it prescribes for us, instead of obeying it blindly. Let us remark in passing that it is just in this that will consist the grand step forward which the philosophical intelligence of our age is destined to accomplish.” [12]

And so humanity is absolutely subordinated to the law of its own intellectual development; it could not escape the influence of that law, should it even desire to do so. Let us examine this statement more closely, and take as an example the law of the three stages. Mankind moved from theological thought to metaphysical, from metaphysical to positive. This law acted with the force of the laws of mechanics.

This may very well be so, but the question arises, how are we to understand the idea that mankind could not alter the workings of this law should it even, desire to do so? Does this mean that it could not have avoided metaphysics if it had even realized the advantages of positive thinking while still at the end of the theological period? Evidently no; and if the answer is no, then it is no less evident that there is some lack of clarity in Saint-Simon’s view of the conformity of intellectual development to law. Wherein lies this unclarity and how does it come about?

It lies in the very contrasting of the law with the desire to alter its action. Once such a desire has made its appearance among mankind, it becomes itself a fact in the history of mankind’s intellectual development, and the law must embrace this fact, not come into conflict with it. So long as we admit the possibility of such a conflict, we have not yet made clear to ourselves the conception of law itself, and we shall inevitably fall into one of two extremes: either we shall abandon the standpoint of conformity to law and will be taking up the viewpoint of what is desirable, or we shall completely let the desirable – or more truly what was desired by the people of the given epoch – fall out of our field of vision, and thereby shall be attributing to law some mystical shade of significance, transforming it into a kind of Fate. “Law” in the writings of Saint-Simon and of the Utopians generally, to the extent that they speak of conformity to law, is just such a Fate. We may remark in passing that when the Russian “subjective sociologists” rise up in defence of “personality,” “ideals” and other excellent things, they are warring precisely with the utopian, unclear, incomplete and therefore worthless doctrine of the “natural course of things.” Our sociologists appear never even to have heard what constitutes the modern scientific conception of the laws underlying the historical development of society.

Whence arose the utopian lack of clarity in the conception of conformity to law? It arose from the radical defect, which we have already pointed out, in the view of the development of humanity which the Utopians held-and, as we know already, not they alone. The history of humanity was explained by the nature of man. Once that nature was fixed, there were also fixed the laws of historical development, all history was given an sich, as Hegel would have said. Man can just as little interfere in the course of his development as he can cease being man.. The law of development makes its appearance in the form of Providence.

This is historical fatalism resulting from a doctrine which considers the successes of knowledge – and consequently the conscious activity of man – to be the mainspring of historical progress.

But let us go further.

If the key to the understanding of history is provided by the study of the nature of man, what is important to me is not so much the study f the facts of history as the correct understanding of human nature. Once I have acquired the right view of the latter, I lose almost all interest in social life as it is, and concentrate all my attention on social life as it ought to be in keeping with the nature of man. Fatalism in history does not in the least interfere with a utopian attitude to reality in practice. On the contrary, it promotes such an attitude, by breaking off the thread of scientific investigation. Fatalism in general marches frequently hand in hand with the most extreme subjectivism. Fatalism very commonly proclaims its own state of mind to be an inevitable law of history. It is just of the fatalists that one can say, in the words of the poet:

Was sie den Geist der Geschichte nennen,
Ist nur der Herren eigner Geist.

The Saint-Simonists asserted that the share of the social product which falls to the exploiters of another’s labour, gradually diminishes. Such a diminution was in their eyes the most important law governing the economic development of humanity. As a proof they referred to the gradual decline in the level of interest and land rent. If in this case they had kept to the methods of strict scientific investigation, they would have discovered the economic causes of the phenomenon to which they pointed, and for this they would have had attentively to study production, reproduction and distribution of products. Had they done this they would have seen, perhaps, that the decline in the level of interest or even of land rent, if it really takes place, does not by any means prove of itself that there is a decline in the share of the property owners. Then their economic “law” would, of course, have found quite a different formulation. But they were not interested in this. Confidence in the omnipotence of the mysterious laws arising out of the nature of man directed their intellectual activity into quite a different sphere. A tendency which has predominated in history up to now can only grow stronger in the future, said they: the constant diminution in the share of the exploiters will necessarily end in its complete disappearance, i.e., in the disappearance of the class of exploiters itself. Foreseeing this, we must already today invent new forms of social organization in which there will no longer be any place for exploiters. It is evident from other qualities of human nature that these forms must be such and such ... The plan of social reorganization was prepared very rapidly: the extremely important scientific conception of the conformity of social phenomena to law gave birth to a couple of utopian recipes ...

Such recipes were considered by the Utopians of that day to be the most. important problem with which a thinker was faced. This or that principle of political economy was not important in itself. It acquired importance in view of. the practical conclusions which followed from it. J.B. Say argued with Ricardo about what determined the exchange value of commodities. Very possibly this is an important question from the point of view of specialists. But even more important is it to know what ought to determine value, and the specialists, unfortunately, do not attempt to think about this. Let us think for the specialists. Human nature very clearly tells as so and so. Once we begin to listen to its voice, we see with astonishment that the argument so important in the eyes of the specialists is, in reality, not very important. We can agree with Say, because from his theses there follow conclusions fully in harmony with the requirements of human nature. We can agree with Ricardo too, because his views likewise, being correctly interpreted and supplemented, can only reinforce those requirements. It was in this way that utopian thought unceremoniously interfered in those scientific discussions the meaning of which remained obscure for it. It was in this way that cultivated men, richly gifted by nature, as for example Enfantin, resolved the controversial questions of the political economy of their day.

Enfantin wrote a number of studies in political economy which cannot be considered a serious contribution to science, but which nevertheless cannot be ignored, as is done up to the present day by the historians of political economy and socialism. The economic works of Enfantin have their significance as an interesting phase in the history of the development of socialist thought. But his attitude to the arguments of the economists may be well illustrated by the following example.

It is known that Malthus stubbornly and, by the way, very, unsuccessfully contested Ricardo’s theory of rent. Enfantin believed that truth was, in fact, on the side of the first, and not of the second. But he did not even con-test Ricardo’s theory: he did not consider this necessary. In his opinion all “discussions on the nature of rent and as to the actual relative rise or fall of the part taken by the property-owners from the labourer ought to be reduced to one question: what is the nature of those relations which ought in the interests of society to exist between the producer who has withdrawn from affairs” (that was the name given by Enfantin to the landowners) “and the active producer” (i.e., the farmer)? “When these relations become known, it will be sufficient to as-certain the means which will lead to the establishment of such relations; in doing so it will be necessary to take into account also the present condition of society, . but nevertheless any other question” (apart from that set forth above) “would be secondary, and would only impede those combinations which must promote the use of the above-mentioned means.” [13]

The principal task of political economy, which Enfantin would prefer to call “the philosophical history of industry,” consists in pointing out both the mutual relations of various strata of producers and the relation-ships of the whole class of producers. with the other classes of society. These indications must be founded on the. study of the historical development of the industrial class, and such a study must be founded on “the new conception of the human race,” i.e., in other words, of human nature. [14]

Malthus’s challenge to Ricardo’s theory of rent was closely bound up with his challenge to the very well-known-as people now say-labour theory of value. Paying little attention to the substance of the controversy, Enfantin hastened to resolve it by a utopian addition (or; as people in Russia say nowadays, amendment) to Ricardo’s theory of rent: “If we understand this theory aright,” he says, “we ought, it seems to me, to add to it that ... the labourers pay (i.e., pay in the form of rent) some people for the leisure which those enjoy, and for the right to make use of the means of production.”

By labourers Enfantin meant here also, and even principally, the capitalist farmers. What he said of their relations with the landowners is quite true. But his “amendment” is nothing more than a sharper expression of a phenomenon with which Ricardo himself was well acquainted. Moreover, this sharp expression (Adam Smith sometimes speaks even more sharply) not only did not solve the question either of value or of rent, but completely removed it from Enfantin’s field of view. But for him these questions did not in fact exist. He was interested solely in the future organization of society. It was important for him to convince the reader that private property in the means of production ought not to exist. Enfantin says plainly that, but for practical questions of this kind, all the learned disputes concerning value would be simply disputes about words. This, so to speak, is the subjective method in political economy.

The Utopians never directly recommended this “method.” But that they were very partial to it is shown, among other ways, by the fact that Enfantin reproached Malthus (!) with excessive objectivity. Objectivity was, in his opinion, the principal fault of that writer. Who-ever knows the works of Malthus is aware that it is precisely objectivity (so characteristic, for example, of Ricardo) that was always foreign to the author of the Essay on the Principle of Population. We do not know whether Enfantin read Malthus himself (everything obliges us to think that, for example, the views. of Ricardo were known to him only from the extracts which the French economists made from his writings) ; but even if he did read them, he could hardly have assessed them at their true value, he would hardly have been able to show that real life was in contradiction to Malthus. Preoccupied with. considerations about what ought to be, Enfantin had neither the time nor the desire attentively to study what really existed. “You are right,” he was ready to say to the first sycophant he met. “In present-day social life matters proceed just as you describe them, but you are excessively objective; glance at the question from the humane point of view, and you will see that our social life must be rebuilt on new foundations.”

Utopian dilettantism was forced to make theoretical concessions to any more or less learned defender of the bourgeois order. In order to allay the consciousness rising within him of his own impotence, the Utopian con-soled himself by reproaching his opponents with objectivity: let us admit you are more learned than I, but in return I am kinder. The Utopian did not refute the learned defenders of the bourgeoisie; he only made “footnotes” and “corrections” to their theories.

A similar, quite. utopian attitude to social science meets the eye of the attentive reader on every page of the works of our “subjective” sociologists. We shall have occasion yet to speak a good deal of such an attitude. Let us meanwhile quote two vivid examples.

In 1871 there appeared the dissertation by the late N. Sieber [4*]: Ricardo’s theory of value and capital, in the light of later elucidations. In his foreword the author benevolently, but only in passing, referred to the article of Mr. Y. Zhukovsky [5*]: The school of Adam Smith and positivism in economic science (this article appeared in the Sovremennik [6*] of 1864). On the subject of this passing reference, Mr. Mikhailovsky remarks:

“It is pleasant for me to recall that in my article On the Literary Activity of Y. G. Zhukovsky I paid a great and just tribute to the services rendered by our economist. I pointed out that Mr. Zhukovsky had long ago expressed the thought that it was necessary to return to the sources of political economy, which provide all the data for a correct solution of the main problems of science, data which have been quite distorted by the modern textbook political economy. But I then indicated also that the honour of priority in this idea, which later on proved so fruitful in the powerful hands of Karl Marx, belonged in Russian literature not to Mr. Zhukovsky, but to another writer, the author of the articles Economic Activity and Legislation (Sovremennik, 1859), Capital and Labour (1860), the Comments on Mill, etc. [7*] In addition to seniority in time, the difference between this writer and Mr. Zhukovsky can be expressed most vividly in the following way. If, for example, Mr. Zhukovsky circumstantially and in a strictly scientific fashion, even somewhat pedantically, proves that labour is the measure of value and that every value is produced by labour, the author of the above-mentioned articles, without losing sight Of the theoretical aspect f the question, lays principal stress on the logical and practical conclusion from it: being produced and measured by labour, every value must belong to labour.” [15]

One does not have to be greatly versed in political economy to know that the “author of the Comments on Mill” entirely failed to understand the theory of value which later received such brilliant development “in the powerful hands of Marx.” And every person who knows the history of socialism understands why that author, in spite of Mr. Mikhailovsky’s assurances, did in fact “lose sight of the theoretical aspect of the question” and wandered off into meditations about the basis on which products ought to be exchanged in a well-regulated society. The author of the Comments on Mill regarded economic questions from the standpoint of a Utopian. This was quite natural at the time. But it is very strange that Mr. Mikhailovsky was unable to divest himself of this point of view in the 70s (and did not do so even later, otherwise he would have corrected his mistake in the latest edition of his works) when it was easy to acquire a more correct view of things, even from popular works. Mr. Mikhailovsky did not understand what “the author of the Comments on Mill” wrote about value. This took place because he, too, “lost sight of the theoretical aspect of the questionand wandered off into the “logical practical conclusion from it,” i.e., the consideration that “every value ought to belong to labour.” We know already that their passion for practical conclusions always had a harmful effect on the theoretical reasoning of the Utopians. And how old is the “conclusion” which turned Mr. Mikhailovsky from the true path is shown by the circumstance that it was being drawn from Ricardo’s theory of value by the English Utopians even of the 1820s. But, as a Utopian, Mr. Mikhailovsky is not interested even in the history of utopias..

Another example. Mr. V.V., in 1882, explained in the following way the appearance of his book, The Destinies of Capitalism in Russia:

“The collection now offered to the reader consists of articles printed earlier in various journals. In publishing them as a separate book, we have brought them only into external unity, disposed the material in a somewhat different fashion and eliminated repetitions” (far from all: very many of them remained in Mr. V.V.’s book – G.P.). “Their content has remained the same; few new facts and arguments have been adduced; and if nevertheless we venture for a second time to present our work to .the attention of the reader, we do so with one sole aim-by attacking his world-outlook with all the weapons at our command, to force the intelligentsia to turn its attention to the question raised” (an impressive picture: “Using all the weapons at his command,” Mr. V.V. attacks the world outlook of the reader, and the terrified intelligentsia capitulates, turns its attention, etc. – G.P.) “and to challenge our learned and professional publicists of capitalism and Narodism to study the law of the economic development of Russia-the foundation of all the other expressions of the life of the country. Without the knowledge of this law, systematic and successful social activity is impossible, while the conceptions of the immediate future of Russia which prevail amongst us can scarcely be called a law” (conceptions ... can be called law?! – G.P.) “and are hardly capable of providing a firm foundation for a practical world outlook” (Preface, p. 1).

In 1893 the same Mr. V.V., who had by now had time to become a “professional,” though, alas! still not a “learned” publicist of Narodism, turned out to be now very remote from the idea that the law of economic development constitutes “the foundation of all the other expressions of the life of the country.” Now “using all the weapons” he attacks the “world outlook” of people who hold such a “view”; now he considers that in this “view, the historical process, instead of being the creation of man, is transformed into a creative force, and man into its obedient tool” [16]; now he considers social relations to be “the creation of the spiritual world of man,” [17] and views with extreme suspicion the theory of the conformity to law of social phenomena, setting up against it “the scientific philosophy of history of Professor of History N.I. Kareyev [8*]” (hear, O tongues, and be stilled, since the Professor himself is with us!). [9*] [18]

What a change, with God’s help! What brought it about? Why, this. In 1882 Mr. V.V. was looking for the “law of the economic development of Russia,” imagining that that law would be only the scientific expression of his ownideals.” He was even convinced that he had discovered such a “law” – namely, the “taw” that Russian capitalism was stillborn. But after this he did not live eleven whole years in vain. He was obliged to admit; even though not aloud, that stillborn capitalism was developing more and more. It turned out that the development of capitalism had become all but the most unquestionable “law of the economic development of Russia.” And lo, Mr. V.V. hastened to turn his “philosophy of history” inside out: he who had sought for a “law” began to say that such a search is quite an idle waste of time. The Russian Utopian is not averse to relying on a “law”; but he immediately renounces it, as Peter did Jesus, if only the “law” is at variance with that “ideal” which he has to support, not only for fear, but for conscience’s sake. However Mr. V.V. even now has not parted company with the “law” for ever. “The natural striving to. systematize its views ought to bring the Russian intelligentsia to the elaboration of an independent scheme of evolution of economic relations, appropriate to the requirements and the conditions of development of this country; and this task will be undoubtedly performed in the very near future” (Our Trends, p.114). In. “elaborating” its “independent scheme,” the Russian intelligentsia will evidently devote itself to the same occupation as Mr. V.V. when, in his Destinies of Capitalism, he was looking for a “law.” When the scheme is discovered – and Mr. V.V. takes his Bible oath that it will be discovered in the immediate future – our author will just as solemnly make his peace with the principle of conformity to law, as the father in the. Testament made his peace with his prodigal son. Amusing people! It is obvious that, even at the time when Mr. V.V. was still looking for a “law,” he did not clearly realize what meaning this word could have when applied to social phenomena. He regarded “law” as the Utopians of the 20s regarded it. Only this can explain the fact that he was hoping to discover the law of development of one country – Russia. But why does he at-tribute his modes of thought to the Russian Marxists? He is mistaken if he thinks that, in their understanding of the conformity of social phenomena to law, they have gone no further than the Utopians did. And that he does think this, is shown by, all his arguments against it. And he is not alone in thinking this: the “Professor of History” Mr. Kareyev himself thinks this; and so do all the opponents of “Marxism.” First of all they attribute to Marxists a utopian view of the conformity to law of social phenomena, and then strike down this view with more or less doubtful success. A real case of tilting at windmills!

By the way, about the learned “Professor of History.” Here are the expressions in which he recommends the subjective view of the historical development of humanity:

“If in the philosophy of history we are interested in the question of progress, this very fact dictates the selection of the essential content of knowledge, its facts and their groupings. But facts cannot be either invented or placed in invented relations” (consequently there must be nothing arbitrary either in the selection or in the grouping? Consequently the grouping must entirely correspond to objective reality? Yes! Just listen! – G.P.) “and the presentation of the course of history from a certain-point of view will remain objective, in the sense of the truth of the presentation. Here subjectivism of another kind appears on the scene: creative synthesis may bring into existence an entire ideal world of norms, a world of what ought to be, a world of the true and just, with which actual history, i.e., the objective representation of its course, grouped in a certain way from the standpoint of essential changes in the life of humanity, will be compared. On the basis of this comparison there arises an assessment of the historical process which, however, must also not be arbitrary. It must be proved that the grouped facts, as we have them, really do have the significance which we attribute to them, having taken up a definite point of view and adopted a definite criterion for their evaluation.”

Shchedrin [10*] writes of a “venerable Moscow historian” who, boasting of his objectivity, used to say: “It’s all the same to me whether Yaroslav beat Izyaslav or Izyaslav beat Yaroslav.” Mr. Kareyev, having created for himself an “entire ideal world of norms, a world of what ought to be, a world of the true and just,” has nothing to do with objectivity of that kind. He sympathizes, shall we say, with Yaroslav, and although he will not allow him-self to represent his defeat as though it were his victory (“facts cannot be invented”), nevertheless he reserves the precious right of shedding a tear or two about the sad fate of Yaroslav, and cannot refrain from a curse addressed to his conqueror Izyaslav. It is difficult to raise any objection to that kind of “subjectivism.” But in vain does Mr. Kareyev represent it in such a colourless and therefore harmless plight. To present it in this way means not to understand its true nature, and to drown it in a stream of sentimental phraseology. In reality, the distinguishing feature of “subjective” thinkers consists in the, fact that for them the “world of what ought to be, the world of the true and just” stands outside any connection with the objective course of historical development: on one side is “what ought to be,” on the other side is “reality,” and these two spheres are separated by an entire abyss – that abyss which among the dualists separates the material world from the spiritual world. [11*] The task of social science in the nineteenth century has been, among other things, to build a bridge across this evidently bottomless abyss. So long as we do not build this bridge, we shall of necessity close our eyes to reality and concentrate all our attention on “what ought to be” (as the Saint-Simonists did, for example): which naturally will only have the effect of delaying the translation into life of this “what ought to be,” since it renders more difficult the forming of an accurate opinion of it.


1. Helvetius, in his book, De l’Homme, has a detailed scheme of such “perfect system of laws.” It would be in the highest degree interesting and instructive to compare this utopia with the utopias of the first half of the nineteenth century. But unfortunately both the historians of socialism and the historians of philosophy have not up to now had the slightest idea of any such comparison. As for the historians of philosophy in particular, they, it must be said in passing, treat Helvetius in the most impermissible way. Even the calm and moderate Lange finds no other description for him than “the superficial Helvetius.” The absolute idealist Hegel was most just of all in his attitude to the absolute materialist Helvetius.

2. “Yes, man is only what omnipotent society or omnipotent education make of him, taking this word in it widest sense, i.e., as meaning not only school training or book education, but the education given us by men and things, events and circumstances, the education which begins to influence us from the cradle and does not leave us again for a moment.” Cabet, Voyage en Icarie, 1848 ed., p.402.

3. See Le Producteur, Vol.I, Paris 1825, Introduction.

4. “Mon but est de dormer une Exposition Elémentaire, claire et facilement intelligible, de l’organisation sociale, déduite par Fourier des Lois de la nature humaine.” (V. Considérant, Destinée, Sociale, t.I, 3e edition, Déclaration.) “Il serait temps enfin de s’accorder sur ce point: est-il à propos, avant de faire des lois, de s’enquérir de la véritable nature de l’homme, afin d’harmoniser la loi, qui est par elle-même modifiable, avec la nature, qui est immuable et souveraine?” Notions élémentatres de la science sociale de, Fourier, par l’auteur de la Défense du Fouriérisme (Henri Gorsse, Paris 1844, p.35). – “My aim is to give an Elementary Exposition, clear and easy to understand, of the social organization deduced by Fourier from the laws of human nature (V. Considerant, Social Destiny, Vol.I, 3rd ed., Declaration). It is high time we reached agreement on the following point: would not it be better, before making laws, to inquire into the real nature of man in order to bring the law, which is in itself modifiable, into harmony with Nature, which is immutable and supreme?”

5. Le Producteur, Vol.I, p.139.

6. We have already demonstrated this in relation to the historians of the Restoration. It would be very easy to demonstrate it also in relation to the economists. In defending the bourgeois social order against the reactionaries and the Socialists, the economists defended it precisely as the order most appropriate to human nature. The efforts to discover an abstract “law of population” – whether they came from the Socialists or the bourgeois camp – were closely bound up with the view of “human nature” as the basic conception of social science. In order to be convinced of this, it is sufficient to compare the relevant teaching of Malthus, on the one hand, and the teaching of Godwin or of the author of the Comments on Mill [1*], on the other. Both Malthus and his opponents equally seek a single, so to speak absolute, law of population. Our contemporary political economy sees it otherwise: it knows that each phase of social development has its own, particular, law of population. But of this later.

7. In this respect the reproach addressed by Helvetius to Montesquieu is extremely characteristic: “In his book on the reasons for the grandeur and decadence of Rome, Montesquieu has given insufficient attention to the importance of happy accidents in the history of that state. He has fallen into the mistake too characteristic of thinkers who wish to explain everything, and into the mistake of secluded scholars who, forgetting the nature of men, at-tribute to the people’s representatives invariable political views and uniform principles. Yet often one man directs at his discretion those important assemblies which are called senates.” Pensées et Reflexions, CXL, in the third volume of his Complete Works, Paris MDCCCXVIII. Does not this remind you, reader, of the theory of “heroes and crowd” now fashionable in Russia? [2*] Wait a bit: what is set forth further will show more than once how little there is of originality in Russian “sociology.”

8. Opinions litteraires, philosoplaiques et induslrielles, Paris 1825, pp. 144-45. Compare also Catechisrne politique des industriels.

9. Saint-Simon brings the idealistic view of history to its last and extreme conclusion. For him not only are ideas (“principles”) the ultimate foundation of social relations, but among them “scientific ideas” – the “scientific system of the world” – play the principal part: from these follow religious ideas which, in their turn, condition the moral conceptions of man. This is intellectualism, which prevailed at the same time also among the German philosophers, but with them took quite a different form.

10. Littré strongly contested the statement of Hubbard when the latter pointed out this ... borrowing. He attributed to Saint-Simon only “the law of two stages”: theological and scientific. Flint, in quoting this opinion of Littré, remarks: “He is correct when he says that the law of three stages is not enunciated in any of Saint-Simon’s writings” (The Philosophy of History in Europe, Edinburgh and London MDCCCLXXIV, p.158). We shall contrast to this observation the following extract from Saint-Simon: “What astronomer, physicist, chemist and physiologist does not know that in every branch of knowledge the human reason, before proceeding from purely theological to positive ideas, for a long time has used metaphysics? Does there not arise in every one who has studied the history of sciences the conviction that this intermediate stage has been useful, and even absolutely indispensable to carry out the transition?” (Du systeme industriel, Paris MDCCCXXI, Preface, pp.vi-vii). The law of three stages was of such importance in Saint-Simon’s eyes that he was ready to explain by this means purely political events, such as the predominance of the “legists and metaphysicians” during the French Revolution. It would have been easy for Flint to “discover” this by carefully reading the works of Saint-Simon. But unfortunately it is much easier to write a learned history of human thought than to study the actual course of its development.

11. This idea was later borrowed from him and distorted by Proudhon, who built on it his theory of anarchy.

12. L’Organisateur, p.119 (Vol.IV of the Works of Saint-Simon, or Vol.XX of the Complete Works of Saint-Simon and Enfantin).

13. In his article, Considérations sur la baisse progressive du loyer des objets mobiliers et immobiliers, Le Producteur, Vol.I, p.564.

14. See in particular the article in Le Producteur, Vol.IV, Considérations sur les progrès de l’économie politique.

15. N.K. Mikhailovsky, Works, Vol. II, Second ed., St. Petersburg 1888, pp.239-40.

16. Our Trends, St. Petersburg 1893, p.138.

17. Op. cit., pp.9, 13, 140, and many others.

18. Ibid., p.143 et seq.



Editorial Notes

1*. the author of Comments on Mill is N.G. Chernyshevsky, who devoted a number of pages to criticism of Malthusianism. (Cf. N.G. Chernyshevsky, Collected Works, Vol.IX, Goslitizdat Publishing House 1949, pp.251-334.)

2*. For the first time Mikhailovsky used the term “heroes and crowd” in his article of the same title, which he wrote in 1882. (Cf. N.K.Mikhailovsky, Collected Works, Vol.II, St. Petersburg 1907, pp.95-190.)

3*. “What they call the Spirit of History is only the spirit of these gentlemen themselves,” Goethe, Faust, Part I.

4*. Sieber, Nikolai Ivanovich (1844-1888), Russian economist, one of the first popularizers of Marx’s economic theory in Russia.

5*. Zhukovsky, Yuly Galaktionovich (1822-1907), bourgeois economist and publicist, opponent of Marxist political economy.

6*. Sovremennik – a political, scientific and literary monthly founded by A.S. Pushkin. It was published in St. Petersburg from 1836 to 1866. From 1847 it came under the editorship of A.A. Nekrasov and I.I. Panayev. Among its contributors were the outstanding figures of Russian revolutionary democracy V.G. Belinsky, N.G. Chernyshevsky, N.A. Dobrolyubov and M.Y. Saltykov-Shchedrin. Sovremennik was the most progressive magazine of its time, the mouthpiece of the Russian revolutionary democrats. It was suppressed by the Tsarist government in 1866.

7*. The reference is to Nikolai Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky.

8*. Kareeyev, Nikolai Ivanovich (1850-1931), Russian liberal historian and publicist, opponent of Marxism.

9*. This is a slightly changed phrase from the Manifesto issued by Nicholas I in 1848 in connection with the revolutions in Vienna, Paris and Berlin. The original phrase read: “Hear, O tongues and be stilled, since the Lord Himself is with us.” The Manifesto was intended to restrain the liberal elements in Russian sociaty and to intimidate revolutionary Europe.

10*. Shchedrin – pen-name of M.Y. Saltykov (1829-1889), great Russian satirist and revolutionary democrat. The words of a “Moscow historian” freely rendered by Plekhanov (Shchedrin mentions Mstislav and Rostislav) are borrowed from Shchedrin’s Modern Idyll which describes the feuds of Russian dukes in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

11*. As formulated by Mikhailovsky, dualism maintained the existence of two truths – “the truth of verity”, i.e. the truth of what actually is, and “the truth of justice” – what ought to be.


Last updated on 23.12.2004