G.V. Plekhanov

The Development of the Monist View of History

Chapter V
Modern Materialism

The bankruptcy of the idealist point of view in explaining the phenomena of nature and of social development was bound to force, and really did force, thinking people (i.e., not eclectics, not dualists) to return to the materialist view of the world. But the new materialism could no longer be a simple repetition of the teachings of the French materialist of the end of the eighteenth century. Materialism rose again enriched by all the acquisitions of idealism. The most important of these acquisitions was the dialectical method, the examination of phenomena in their development, in their origin and destruction. The genius who represented this new direction of thought was Karl Marx.

Marx was not the first to revolt against idealism. The banner of revolt was raised by Ludwig Feuerbach. Then, a little later than Feuerbach, the Bauer brothers appeared on the literary scene: their views merit particular attention on the part of the present-day Russian reader.

The views of the Bauers were a reaction against Hegel’s idealism. Nevertheless, they themselves were saturated through and through with a very superficial, one-sided and eclectic idealism.

We have seen that the great German idealists did not succeed in understanding the real nature or discovering the real basis of social relations. They saw in social development a necessary process, conforming to law, and in this respect they were quite right. But when it was a question of the prime mover of historical development, they turned to the Absolute Idea, the qualities of which were to give the ultimate and most profound explanation of that process. This constituted the weak side of ideal-ism, against which accordingly a philosophical revolution first broke out. The extreme Left-wing of the Hegelian school revolted with determination against the “Absolute Idea.”

The Absolute Idea exists (if it exists at all) outside time and space and, in any case, outside the head of each individual man. Reproducing in its historical development the course of the logical development of the Absolute Idea, mankind obeys a force alien to itself, standing outside itself. In revolting against the Absolute Idea, the young Hegelians revolted first of all in the name of the independent activity of man, in the name of ultimate human reason.

“Speculative philosophy,” wrote Edgar Bauer, “is very mistaken when it speaks of reason as some abstract, absolute force ... Reason is not an objective abstract force, in relation to which man represents only something subjective, accidental, passing; no, the dominating force is man himself, his consciousness of self, and reason is only the strength .of that consciousness. Consequently there is no Absolute Reason, but there is only reason which changes eternally with the development of consciousness of self: it does not exist at all in its final form, it is eternally changing.” [1]

And so there is no Absolute Idea, there is no abstract Reason, but there is only man’s consciousness, the ultimate and eternally changing human reason. This is quite true; against this even Mr. Mikhailovsky would not argue, although as we already know he can find anything “debatable” ... with more or less doubtful success. But, strangely enough, the more we underline this correct thought, the more difficult becomes our position. The old German idealists adapted the conformity to law of every process in nature and in history to the Absolute Idea. The question arises, to what will we adapt this conformity to law when we have destroyed its carrier, the Absolute Idea? Let us suppose that in relation to nature a satisfactory reply can be given in a few words: we adapt it to the qualities of matter. But in relation to history things are far from being as simple: the dominating force in history turns out to be man’s consciousness of self, eternally changing ultimate human reason. Is there any conformity to law in the development of this reason? Edgar Bauer would naturally have replied in the affirmative, because for him man, and consequently his reason, were not at all something accidental, as we have seen. But if you had asked the same Bauer to explain to you his conception of conformity to law in the development of human reason: if you had asked him, for example, why in a particular historical epoch reason developed in this way, and in another epoch in that way, practically speaking you would have received no reply from him. He would have told you that “eternally developing human reason creates social forms,” that “historical reason is the motive force of world history” and that consequently every particular social order proves to be obsolete as soon as reason makes a new step in its development. [2] But all these and similar assurances would not be a reply to the question, but rather a wandering around the question of why human reason takes new steps in its development, and why it takes them in this direction and not in that. Obliged by you to deal precisely with this question, E. Bauer would have hastily put it aside with some meaning-less reference to the qualities of the ultimate, eternally changing human reason, just as the old idealists con-fined themselves to a reference to the qualities of the Absolute Idea.

To treat reason as the motive force of world history, and to explain its development by some kind of special, immanent, internal qualities meant to transform it into something unconditional – or, in other words, to resurrect in a new form that same Absolute Idea which they had just proclaimed to be buried for ever. The most important defect of this resurrected Absolute Idea was the circumstance that it peacefully co-existed with the most absolute dualism or, to be more precise, even unquestionably presupposed it. As the processes of nature were not conditioned by ultimate, eternally changing human reason, two forces turned out to be in existence: in nature – matter, in history – human reason. And there was no bridge connecting the motion of matter with the development of reason, the realm of necessity with the realm of freedom. That was why we said that the views of Bauer were saturated through and through with a very superficial, one-sided and eclectical idealism.

“Opinion governs the world” – thus declared the writers of the French Enlightenment. Thus also spoke, as we see, the Bauer brothers when they revolted against Hegelian idealism. But if opinion governs the world, then the prime movers of history are those men whose thought criticizes the old and creates the new opinions. The Bauer brothers did in fact think so. The essence of the historical process reduced itself, in their view, to the refashioning by the “critical spirit” of the existing store of opinions, and of the forms of life in society conditioned by that store. These views of the Bauers were imported in their entirety into Russian literature by the author of the Historical Letters [1*] – who, by the way, spoke not of the critical “spirit” but of critical “thought,” because to speak of the spirit was prohibited by Sovremennik.

Once having imagined himself to be the main architect, the Demiurge of history, the “critically thinking” man thereby separates off himself and those like him into a special, higher variety of the human race. This higher variety is contrasted to the mass, foreign to critical thought, and capable only of playing the part of clay in the creative hands of “critically thinking” personalities. “Heroes” are contrasted to the “crowd.” However much the hero loves the crowd, however filled he may be with sympathy for its age-long needs and its continuous sufferings, he cannot but look down on it from above, he cannot but realize that everything depends upon him, the hero, while the crowd is a mass alien to every creative element, something in the nature of a vast quantity of ciphers, which acquire some positive significance only in the event of a kind, “critically thinking” entity condescendingly taking its place at their head. The eclectic idealism of the Bauer brothers was the basis of the terrible; and one may say repulsive, self-conceit of the “critically thinking” German “intellectuals” of the 1840s; today, through its Russian supporters, it is breeding the same defect in the intelligentsia of Russia. The merciless enemy and accuser of this self-conceit was Marx, to whom we shall now proceed.

Marx said that the contrasting of “critically thinking” personalities with the “mass” was nothing more than a caricature of the Hegelian view of history: a view which in its turn was only the speculative consequence of the old doctrine of the oppositeness of Spirit and Matter. “Already in Hegel the Absolute Spirit of history [3] treats the mass as material and finds its true expression only in philosophy. But with Hegel the philosopher is only the organ through which the creator of history, the Absolute Spirit, arrives at self-consciousness by retrospection after the movement has ended. The participation of the philosopher in history is reduced to this retrospective consciousness, for the real movement is accomplished by the Absolute Spirit unconsciously [4], so that the philosopher appears post festum. Hegel is doubly inconsistent: first because while declaring that philosophy constitutes the Absolute Spirit’s existence he refuses to recognize the real philosophical individual as the Absolute Spirit; secondly because according to him the Absolute Spirit makes history only in appearance. For as the Absolute Spirit becomes conscious of itself as the creative World Spirit only in the philosopher and post festum, its manufacture of history exists only in the opinion and conception of the philosopher, i.e., only in the speculative imagination. Mr. Bruno Bauer [5] eliminates Hegel’s inconsistency. First, he proclaims Criticism to be the Absolute Spirit and himself to be Criticism. Just as the element of criticism is banished from the mass, so the element of the mass is banished from Criticism. Therefore Criticism sees itself embodied not in a mass, but in a small handful of chosen men, exclusively in Mr. Bauer and his followers. Mr. Bauer further does away with Hegel’s other inconsistency. No longer, like the Hegelian spirit, does he make history post festum and in imagination. He consciously plays the part of the World Spirit in opposition to the mass of the rest of mankind; he enters in the present into a dramatic relation with that mass; he invents and carries out history with a purpose and after mature meditation. On one side stands the Mass, that material, passive, dull and unhistorical element of history. On the other side stand The Spirit, Criticism, Mr. Bruno and Co., as the active element from which arises all historical action. The act of social transformation is reduced to the brain work of Critical Criticism.” [6]

These lines produce a strange illusion: it seems as though they were written, not fifty years ago, but some month or so ago, and are directed, not against the German Left Hegelians, but against the Russian “subjective” sociologists. The illusion becomes still stronger when we read the following extract from an article of Engels:

“Self-sufficient Criticism, complete and perfect in itself, naturally must not recognize history as it really took place, for that would mean recognizing the base mass in all its mass massiness, whereas the problem is to redeem the mass from massiness. History is therefore liberated from its massiness, and Criticism, which has a free attitude to its object, calls to history, saying: ‘You ought to have happened in such and such a way?’ All the laws of criticism have retrospective force: history behaved quite differently before the decrees of Criticism than it did after them. Hence mass history, the so-called real history, deviates considerably from critical history ...” [7]

Who is referred to in this passage? Is it the German writers of the 40s, or some of our contemporary “sociologists,” who gravely discourse on the theme that the Catholic sees the course of historical events in one way, the Protestant in another, the monarchist in a third, the republican in a fourth: and that therefore a good subjective person not only can, but must, invent for himself, for his own spiritual use, such a history as would fully correspond to the best of ideals? Did Engels really foresee our Russian stupidities? Not at all! Naturally, he did not even dream of them, and if his irony, half a century later, fits our subjective thinkers like a glove, this is to be explained by the simple fact that our subjective nonsense has absolutely nothing original in it: it represents nothing more than a cheap Suzdal [3*] print from a caricature of that same “Hegelianism” against which it wars so unsuccessfully ...

From the point of view of “Critical Criticism,” all great historical conflicts amounted to the conflict of ideas. Marx observes that ideas “were worsted” every time they did not coincide with the real economic interests of that social stratum which at the particular time was the bearer of historical progress. It is only the understanding of those interests that can give the key to understanding the true course of historical development.

We already know that the French writers of the Enlightenment themselves did not close their eyes to interests, and that they too were not averse to turning to them for an explanation of the given condition of a given society. But their view of the decisive importance of interests was merely a variation of the “formula” that opinions govern the world: according to them, the interests themselves depend on men’s opinions, and change with changes in the latter. Such an interpretation of the significance of interests represents the triumph of idealism in its application to history. It leaves far behind even German dialectical idealism, according to the sense of which men discover new material interests every time the Absolute Idea finds it necessary to take a new step in its logical development. Marx understands the significance of material interests quite otherwise.

To the ordinary Russian reader the historical theory of Marx seems some kind of disgraceful libel on the human race. G.I. Uspensky [4*], if we are not mistaken, in his Ruin, has an old woman, the wife of some official who even in her deathbed delirium obstinately goes on repeating the shameful rule by which she was guided all her life: “Aim at the pocket, the pocket!” The Russian intelligentsia naively imagines that Marx attributes this base rule to all mankind: that he asserts that, whatever the sons of man have busied themselves with, they have always, exclusively and consciously “aimed at the pocket.” The selfless Russian “intellectual” naturally finds such a view just as “disagreeable” as the theory of Darwin is “disagreeable” for some official dame who imagines that the whole sense of this theory amounts to the outrageous proposition that she, forsooth, a most respectable official’s lady, is nothing more than a monkey dressed up in a bonnet. In reality Marx slanders the “intellectuals” just as little as Darwin does official dames.

In order to understand the historical views of Marx, we must recall the conclusions at which philosophy and social and historical science had arrived in the period immediately preceding his appearance. The French historians of the Restoration came as we know to the conclusion that “civil conditions,” “property relations,” constitute the basic foundation of the entire social order. We know also that the same conclusion was reached, in the person of Hegel, by idealist German philosophy – against its will, against its spirit, simply on account of the inadequacy and bankruptcy of the idealist explanation of history. Marx, who took over all the results of the scientific knowledge and philosophic thought of his age, completely agrees with the French historians and Hegel about the conclusion just mentioned. I became convinced, he said, that

“legal relations as well as forms of state are to be grasped neither from themselves nor from the so-called general development of the human mind, but rather have their roots in the material conditions of life, the sum-total of which Hegel, following the example of the Englishmen and Frenchmen of the eighteenth century, combines under the name of ‘civil society,’ that, however, the anatomy of civil society is to be sought in political economy.” [5*]

But on what does the economy of the given society depend? Neither the French historians, nor the Utopian Socialists, nor Hegel have been able to reply to this at all satisfactorily. All of them, directly or indirectly, referred to human nature. The great scientific service rendered by Marx lies in this, that he approached the question from the diametrically opposite side, and that he regarded man’s nature itself as the eternally changing result of historical progress, the cause of which lies outside man. In order to exist, man must support his organism, borrowing the substances he requires from the external nature surrounding him. This borrowing presupposes a certain action of man on that external nature. But, “acting on the external world, he changes his own nature.” In these few words is contained the essence of the whole historical theory of Marx, although naturally, taken by themselves, they do not provide an adequate understanding of it, and require explanations.

Franklin called man “a tool-making animal.” The use and production of tools in fact does constitute the distinguishing feature of man. Darwin contests the opinion that only man is capable of the use of tools, and gives many examples which show that in an embryonic form their use is characteristic for many mammals. And he naturally is quite right from his point of view, i.e., in the sense that in that notorious “human nature” there is not a single feature which is not to be found in some other variety of animal, and that therefore there is absolutely no foundation for considering man to be some special being and separating him off into a special “kingdom.” But it must not be forgotten that quantitative differences pass into qualitative. What exists as an embryo in one species of animal can become the distinguishing feature of another species of animal. This particularly applies to the use of tools. An elephant breaks off branches and uses them to brush away flies. This is interesting and instructive. But in the history of the evolution of the species “elephant” the use of branches in the fight against flies probably played no essential part; elephants did not become elephants because their more or less elephant-like ancestors brushed off flies with branches. It is quite otherwise with man. [8]

The whole existence of the Australian savage depends on his boomerang, just as the whole existence of modern Britain depends on her machines. Take away from the Australian his boomerang, make him a tiller of the soil, and he of necessity will change all his mode of life, all his habits, all his manner of thinking, all his “nature.”

We have said: make him a tiller of the soil. From the example of agriculture it can clearly be seen that the process of the productive action of man on nature presupposes not only the implements of labour. The implements of labour constitute only part of the means necessary for production. Therefore it will be more exact to speak, not of the development of the implements of labour, but more generally of the development of the means of production, the productive forces – although it is quite certain that the most important part in this development belongs, or at least belonged tip to the present day (until important chemical industries appeared) precisely to the implements of labour.

In the implements of labour man acquires new organs, as it were, which change his anatomical structure. From the time that he rose to the level of using them, he has given quite a new aspect to the history of his development. Previously, as with all the other animals, it amounted to changes in his natural organs. Since that time it has become first of all the history of the perfecting of his artificial organs, the growth of his productive forces.

Man – the tool-making animal – is at the same time a social animal, originating in ancestors who for many generations lived in more or less large herds. For us it is not important at this point why our ancestors began to live in herds-the zoologists have to ascertain, and are ascertaining, this-but from the point of view of the philosophy of history it is extremely important to note that from the time the artificial organs of man began to play a decisive part in his existence, his social life itself began to change, in accordance with the course of development of his productive forces.

“In production, men not only act on nature but also on one another. They produce only by co-operating in a certain way and mutually exchanging their activities. In order to produce, they enter into definite connections and relations with one another and only within these social connections and relations does their action on nature, does production, take place.” [9]

The artificial organs, the implements of labour, thus turn out to be organs not so much of individual as of social man. That is why every essential change in them brings about changes in the social structure.

“These social relations into which the producers. enter with one another, the conditions under which they ex-change their activities and participate in the whole act of production, will naturally vary according to the character of the means of production. With the invention of a new instrument of warfare, fire-arms, the whole internal organization of the army necessarily changed; the relationships within which individuals can constitute an army and act as an army were transformed and the relations of different armies to one another also changed. Thus the social relations within which individuals produce, the social relations of production, change, are transformed, with the change and development of the material means of production, the productive forces. The relations of production in their totality constitute what are called the social relations, society, and, specifically, a society at a definite stage of historical development, a society with a peculiar, distinctive character. Ancient society, feudal society, bourgeois society are such totalities of production relations, each of which at the same time denotes a special stage of development, in the history of mankind.” [10]

It is hardly necessary to add that the earlier stages of human development represent also no less distinct totalities of production relations. It is equally unnecessary to repeat that, at these earlier stages too, the state of the productive forces had a decisive influence on the social relations of men.

At this point we must pause in order to examine some, at first sight fairly convincing, objections.

The first is as follows.

No one contests the great importance of the implements of labour, the vast role of the forces of production in the historical progress of mankind – the Marxists are often told – but it was man who invented the implements of labour and made use of them in his work. You yourselves recognize that their use presupposes a comparatively very high degree of intellectual development. Every new step forward in the perfecting of the implements of labour requires new efforts of the human intellect. Efforts of the intellect are the cause, and the development of the productive forces the consequence. Therefore the intellect is the prime mover of historical progress, which means that those men were right who asserted that opinions govern the world, i.e., that human reason is the governing element.

Nothing is more natural than such an observation, but this does not prevent it from being groundless.

Undoubtedly the use of the implements of labour presupposes a high development of the intellect in the animal man. But see the reasons which modern natural science gives as an explanation for this development.

“Man could not have attained his present dominant position in the world without the use of his hands, which are so admirably adapted to act in obedience to his will,” says Darwin. [11] This is not a new idea: it was previously expressed by Helvetius. But Helvetius, who was never able to take his stand firmly on the viewpoint of evolution, was not able to clothe his own thought in a more or less convincing form. Darwin put forward in its defence an entire arsenal of arguments, and although they all naturally have a purely hypothetical character, still in their sum-total they are sufficiently convincing. What does Darwin say, then? Whence did quasi-man get his present, quite human hands, which have exercised such a remarkable influence in promoting the successes of his “intellect”? Probably they were formed in virtue of certain peculiarities of the geographical environment which made useful a physiological division of labour between the front and rear limbs. The successes of “intellect” appeared as the remote consequence of this division and – again in favourable external circumstances – became in their turn the immediate reason for the appearance of man’s artificial organs, the use of tools. These new artificial organs rendered new services to his intellectual development, and the successes of “intellect” again reflected themselves upon the organs. We have before us a long process in which cause and consequence are constantly alternating. But it would be a mistake to examine this process from the standpoint of simple interaction. In order that man should take advantage of the successes already achieved by his “intellect” to perfect his artificial implements, i.e., to increase his power over nature, he had to be in a certain geographical environment, capable of providing him with (1) materials necessary for that perfecting, (2) the object the working up of which would presuppose perfected implements. Where there were no metals, the intellect of social man alone could not in any circumstances lead him beyond the boundaries of the “polished stone period”; and in just the same way in order to pass on to the pastoral and agricultural life he required certain fauna and flora, without which “intellect would have remained motionless.” But even this is not all. The intellectual. development of primitive societies was bound to proceed the more quickly, the greater were the mutual connections between them, and these connections were, of course, the more frequent, the more varied were the geographical conditions of the localities which they inhabited, i.e., the less similar, consequently, were the products of one locality and those of another. [12] Lastly, all know how important in this respect are the natural means of communication. It was already Hegel who said that mountains divide men, while seas and rivers bring them together. [13]

Geographical environment exercises no less decisive an influence on the fate also of larger societies, the fate of states arising on the ruins of the primitive clan organizations.

“It is not the mere fertility of the soil, but the differentiation of the soil, the variety of its natural products, the changes of the seasons, which form the physical basis for the social division of labour, and which, by changes in the natural surroundings, spur man on to the multiplication of his wants, his capabilities, his means and modes of labour. It is the necessity of bringing a natural force under the control of society, of economizing, of appropriating or subduing it on a large scale by the work of man’s hand, that first plays the decisive part in the history of industry. Examples are, the irrigation works in Egypt, Lombardy, Holland, or in India and Persia where irrigation, by means of artificial canals, not only supplies the soil with the water indispensable to it, but also carries down to it, in the shape of sediment from the hills, mineral fertilizers. The secret of the flourishing state of industry in Spain and Sicily under the dominion of the Arabs lay in their irrigation works.” [14]

Thus only thanks to certain particular qualities of the geographical environment could our anthropomorphic ancestors rise to that height of intellectual development which was necessary to transform them into tool-making animals. And in just the same way only certain peculiarities of the same environment could provide the scope for using in practice and constantly perfecting this new capacity oftool-making.” [8*] In the historical process of the development of productive forces, the capacity of man for. “tool-making” must be regarded first of all as a constant magnitude, while the surrounding external conditions for the use of this capacity in practice have to be regarded as a constantly varying magnitude. [15]

The difference in results (the stages of cultural development) achieved by various human societies is explained precisely by the fact that environment did not permit the various human tribes to make practical use to an equal extent of their capacity to “invent.” There is a school of anthropologists who trace the origin of the difference in results mentioned in the different qualities of the races of man. But the view of this school does not hold water: it is merely a new variation of the old method of explaining historical phenomena by references to “human nature” (or here, references to racial nature), and in its scientific profundity it has not gone very much farther than the views of Molière’s doctor, who sagely proclaimed that opium sends one to sleep because it has the quality of sending to sleep (a race is backward because it has the quality of backwardness).

Acting on external nature, man changes his own nature. He develops all his capacities, among them also the capacity of “tool-making.” But at any given time the measure of that capacity is determined by the measure of the development of productive forces already achieved.

Once an implement of labour has become an object of production, the very possibility – as well as the greater or lesser degree – of perfecting its manufacture entirely depends on the implements of labour with the help of which it is manufactured. This is comprehensible to any one even without explanation. But this is what, for example, may seem quite incomprehensible at first glance. Plutarch, when mentioning the inventions made by Archimedes during the siege of Syracuse by the Romans, finds it necessary to apologize for the inventor. It is, of course, indecent for a philosopher to occupy himself with things of this kind, he reflects, but Archimedes was justified by the extremity in which his country found itself. We ask, who would now think of seeking for circumstances which extenuate the guilt of Edison? We nowadays do not consider shameful – quite the opposite – the use by man in practice of his capacity for mechanical inventions, while the Greeks (or if you prefer the Romans), as you see, took quite a different view of this. Hence the course of mechanical discovery and invention among them was bound to proceed – and actually did proceed – incomparably more slowly than amongst ourselves. Here once again it might seem that opinions govern the world. But whence did the Greeks derive such a strange “opinion”? Its origin cannot be explained by the qualities of the human “intellect.” It remains only to recall their social relations. The societies of Greece and Rome were, as we know, societies of slave-owners. In such societies all physical labour, all the work of production, fell to the lot of the slaves. The free man was ashamed of such labour, and therefore naturally there was established a contemptuous attitude even to the most important inventions which bore on the processes of production-and among them to the mechanical inventions. That is why Plutarch looked on Archimedes in a very different way from that in which we now regard Edison. [16] But why was slavery established in Greece? Was it not because the Greeks, on account of some errors of their “intellect,” considered the slave-owning order to be the best? No, it was not because of that. There was a time when the Greeks also had no slavery, and at that time they did not at all consider the slave-owning social order to be natural and inevitable. Later on, slavery arose among the Greeks, and gradually began to play a more and more important part in their life. Then the view of the citizens of Greece also changed: they began to defend slavery as a quite natural and unquestionably essential institution. But why, then, did slavery arise and develop among the Greeks? Evidently, for the same reason that it arose and developed in other countries as well, at a certain stage of their social development. And this reason is well known: it consists in the state of the productive forces. For, in fact, in order that it should be more profitable for me to make my conquered enemy into a slave, rather than into roast meat, it is necessary that the product of his unfree labour should be able to maintain not only his own existence but, at least in part, mine too: in other words, a certain stage of development of the productive forces at my disposal is essential. And it is precisely through this door that Slavery enters history. Slave labour is not very favourable to the development of the productive forces; in conditions of slavery it advances extremely slowly, but still it does advance. Finally there arrives a moment at which the exploitation of slave labour proves to be less advantageous than the exploitation of free labour. Then slavery is abolished, or gradually dies out. It is shown to the door by that same development of the productive forces which introduced it into history. [17] Thus we, returning to Plutarch, see that his view of Archimedes’s inventions was conditioned by the state of the productive forces of his age. And as views of this kind undoubtedly have a vast influence on the. further course of discovery and invention, we can say all the more that for every given people, at every given period of its history, the further development of its productive forces is determined by their condition in the period under examination. [9*]

Naturally, wherever we have to deal with inventions and discoveries, we deal also with “reason.” Without reason discoveries and inventions would have been just as impossible as they were before man appeared on the earth. The teaching we are setting forth does not at all leave out of account the role of reason; it only tries to explain why reason at every given time acted in this way, and not otherwise; it does not despise the successes of reason, but only seeks to find a sufficient cause for them.

Lately another objection has begun to be made to the same teaching, and we shall leave Mr. Kareyev to set it forth:

“In course of time,” says this writer, having more or less successfully expounded the historical philosophy of Engels, “Engels supplemented his view by new considerations which introduced an essential alteration. If previously he had recognized as the foundation of the material conception of history only the investigation of the economic structure of society, later on he recognized as equally important the study of family structure. This took place under the influence of new conceptions of the primitive forms of marriage and family relations, which forced him to take into account not only the process of the production of products but also the process of the reproduction of human generations. In this respect the influence came in part from Morgan’s Ancient Society [10*],” etc. [18]

And so, if earlier Engels “recognized as the foundation of the material” (?) “conception of history the investigation of the economic structure of society,” later on, “having recognized as equally important,” etc., he, practically speaking, ceased to be an “economic” materialist. Mr. Kareyev sets forth this event in the tone of a dispassionate historian, while Mr. Mikhailovsky “skips and jumps” on the same subject; but both of them say essentially one and the same thing, and both repeat what before them was said by the extremely superficial German writer Weisengrün in his book, Entwicklungsgesetze der Menschheit. [11*]

It is quite natural that such a remarkable man as Engels, who during whole decades followed attentively the advance of science of his time, should very substantially “supplement” his basic view of the history of humanity. But there are supplements and supplements, as there are “fagot et fagot.” In this case the whole question is, did Engels change his views as a result of the “supplements” which were introduced in them? Was he really obliged to recognize, side by side with the development of “production,” the action of another factor, allegedly “equally important” with the first? It is easy for anyone to reply to this question who has even the least willingness to make an attentive and serious approach to it.

Elephants sometimes beat off flies with branches, says Darwin. We have remarked in this connection that nevertheless these branches play no essential part in the life of elephants, and that the elephant did not become an elephant because he used branches. But the elephant multiplies. The male elephant has a certain relationship with the female. The male and the female have a certain relationship with their young. It is clear that these relations have not been created by “branches”: they have been created by the general conditions of life of this species, conditions in which the role of a “branch” is so infinitely small that it can without error be equated to zero. But imagine that in the life of the elephant the branch begins to play a more and more important part, in the sense that it begins more and more to influence the structure of those general conditions on which depend all the habits of elephants, and in the long run their very existence. Imagine that the branch has acquired at length a decisive influence in creating these conditions. Then we shall have to recognize that it determines in the long run also the relations of the male elephant with the female and with his young. Then we shall have to recognize that there was a time when the “family” relations of elephants developed independently (in the sense of their relation with the branch), but that later on there came a time when those relations began to be determined by the “branch.” Will there be anything strange in such an ad-mission? Absolutely nothing, except the strangeness of the very hypothesis that a branch might suddenly acquire a decisive importance in the life of the elephant. And we know ourselves that in relation to the elephant this hypothesis cannot but seem strange; but in application to the history of man things are different.

Man only gradually separated off from the animal world. There was a time when in the life of our anthropoid ancestors tools played just as insignificant a part as branches play in the life of the elephant. During this very long period, the relations between the anthropoid males and the anthropoid females, just as the relations between each and their anthropoid young, were determined by the general conditions of life of this species, which bore no relation whatsoever to the implements of labour. On what did then depend the “family” relations of our ancestors? It is the naturalists who must explain this: the historian has as yet nothing to do in this sphere. But now the implements of labour begin to play a more and more important part in the life of man, the productive forces develop more and more, and there comes at length a moment when they acquire a decisive influence on the whole structure of social, and among them of family, relations. It is at this point that the work of the historian begins: he has to show how and why the family relations of our ancestors changed in connection with the development of their productive forces, how the family developed in accordance with economic relations. But obviously, once he sets about such an explanation, he has in studying the primitive family to reckon not only with economics: for people multiplied even before the implements of labour acquired their decisive significance in human life: even before this time there existed some kind of family relations which were determined by the general conditions of existence of the species homo sapiens. What then has the historian to do here? He will have, first of all, to ask for a service record of this species from the naturalist, who is passing over to him the further study of the development of man; and he will have secondly to supplement this record “out of his own resources.” In other words he will have to take the “family,” as it came into existence, shall we say, in the zoological period of the development of humanity, and then show what changes were introduced into it during the historical period, under the influence of the development of the productive forces, in consequence of changes in economic relations. That is all Engels says. And we ask: when he says this, is he in the least changing his “original” view of the significance of the productive forces in the history of humanity? Is he accepting, side by side with the working of this factor, the working of some other, “of equal importance”? It would seem that he is changing nothing, it would seem that he is accepting no such factor. Well, but if he is not, then why do Messrs. Weisengrün and Kareyev talk about a change in his views, why does Mr. Mikhailovsky skip and jump? Most probably because of their own thoughtlessness.

“But after all, it is really strange to reduce the history of the family to the history of economic relations, even during what you call the historical period,” shout our opponents in chorus. It may be strange, and maybe it is not strange: this is debatable, we shall say in the words of Mr. Mikhailovsky. And we don’t mind debating it with you, gentlemen, but only on one condition: during the debate behave seriously, study attentively the meaning of our words, don’t attribute to us your own inventions, and don’t hasten to discover in us contradictions which neither we nor our teachers have, or ever had. Are you agreed? Very well, let’s debate.

One cannot explain the history of the family by the history of economic relations, you say: it is narrow, one-sided, unscientific. We assert the contrary, and turn to the mediation of specialist investigators.

Of course you know the book of Giraud-Teulon: Les origines de la famille? We open this book which you know, and we find in it for example the following passage:

“The reasons which brought about the formation within the primitive tribe” (Giraud-Teulon says, in point of fact, “within the horde” – de la horde) “of separate family groups are evidently connected with the growth in wealth of this tribe. The introduction into use, or the discovery, of some grain, the domestication of new species of animals, could be a sufficient reason for radical transformations in savage society: all great successes of civilization always coincided with profound changes in the economic life of the population” (p.138). [19]

A few pages further on we read:

“Apparently the transition from the system of female kinship to the system of male kinship was particularly heralded by conflicts of a juridical character on the basis of property right” (p.141).

And further on:

“The organization of the family in which male right predominates was everywhere aroused, it seems to me, by the action of a force as simple as elemental: the right of property” (p.146).

You know, of course, what significance in the history of the primitive family McLennan attributes to the killing of children of the female sex? Engels, as we know, has a very negative attitude to McLennan’s researches; but all the more interesting is it for us in the present case to learn the views of McLennan on the reason which gave rise to the appearance of infanticide, which allegedly exercised such a decisive influence on the history of the family.

“To tribes surrounded by enemies, and, unaided by art, contending with the difficulties of subsistence, sons were a source of strength, both for defence and in the quest for food, daughters a source of weakness.” [20]

What was it, then, that brought about, in McLennan’s opinion, the killing of children of the female sex by the primitive tribes? The insufficiency, of the means of existence, the weakness of the productive forces: if these tribes had enough food, probably they would not have killed their little girls merely out of fear that one day an enemy might come and possibly kill them, or take them away into captivity.

We repeat that Engels does not share McLennan’s view of the history of the family, and we too find it very unsatisfying; but what is important at this stage is that McLennan, too, shares in the sin with which Engels is reproached. He, too, seeks in the state of the productive forces the answer to the riddle of the history of family relations.

Need we continue our extracts, and quote from Lippert or Morgan? We see no need of this, for whoever has read them knows that in this respect they are just as great sinners as McLennan and Engels. Not without sin on this occasion, as is well known, is Herbert Spencer himself, although his sociological views have absolutely nothing in common with “economic materialism.”

Of course it is possible to take advantage of this last circumstance for polemical purposes, and to say: there you are! So one can agree with Marx and Engels on this or that individual question, and not share their general historical theory! Of course one can. The only question is, on whose side will logic be.

Let us go further.

The development of the family is determined by the development of property right, says Giraud-Teulon, adding that all successes of civilization in general coincide with changes in the economic life of humanity. The reader probably has noticed himself’ that Giraud-Teulon is not quite precise in his terminology: his conception of “property right” is covered, as it were, by the conception of “economic life.” But after all, right is right, and economy is economy, and the two conceptions should not be mixed up. Where has this property right come from? Perhaps it arose under the influence of the economy of the given society (civil law always serves merely as the expression of economic relations, says Lassalle), or perhaps it owes its origin to some quite(different reason. Here we must continue the analysis, and not interrupt it precisely at the moment when it is becoming of particularly profound and most vital interest.

We have seen already that the French historians of the Restoration did not find a satisfactory reply to the question of the origin of property right. Mr. Kareyev, in his article Economic Materialism in History, deals with the German historical school of law. It will not be a bad thing for us also to recall the views of this school.

Here is what our professor says about it.

“When at the beginning of the present century there arose in Germany the so-called ‘historical school of law,’ [12*] which began to examine law not as a motionless system of juridical norms, as it was conceived of by previous jurists, but as something moving, changing, developing, there appeared in this school a strong tendency to contrast the ‘historical view’ of law, as the sole and exclusively correct view, with all other possible views in this sphere. The historical view never tolerated the existence of scientific truths applicable to all ages, i.e., what in the language of modern science are called general laws, and even directly denied these laws, and together with them any general theory of law, in favour of the idea that law depends on local conditions – a dependence which has always and everywhere existed, but does not exclude principles which are common to all nations.” [21]

In these few lines there are very many ... how shall we put it? ... shall we say, inexactitudes, against which the representatives and supporter’s of the historical school of law would have raised a protest. Thus, for example, they would have said that, when Mr. Kareyev ascribes to them the denial of “what in the language of science are called general laws,” he either deliberately distorts their view, or else is confusing conceptions in a way most unbefitting a “historiosophist,” mixing up those “laws” which fall within the scope of the history of law, and those which determine the historical development of nations. The historical school of law never dreamed of denying the existence of the second kind of law, and always tried to discover them, although its efforts were not crowned with success. But the very cause of its failure is extremely instructive, and if Mr. Kareyev were to give himself the trouble of thinking about it, perhaps – who knows – he too would make clear for himself, at last, the “substance of the historical process.”

In the eighteenth century people were inclined to explain the history of law by the action of the “legislator.” The historical school strongly revolted against this inclination. As early as 1814, Savigny formulated the new view in this way:

“The sum-total of this view consists of the following: every law arises from what in common usage, but not quite exactly, is called customary law, i.e., it is brought into being first of all by the custom and faith of the people, and only afterwards by jurisprudence. Thus it is everywhere created by internal forces, which act unnoticed, and not by the personal will of the legislator.” [22]

This view was later developed by Savigny in his famous work System des heutigen römischen Rechts.

“Positive law,” he says in this work, “lives in the general consciousness of a people, and therefore we have to call it popular law ... But this must not in any event be understood as meaning that law has been created by individual members of the people arbitrarily ... Positive law is created by the spirit of a people, living and acting in its individual members, and therefore positive law, not by accident but of necessity, is one and the same law in the consciousness of individual persons.” [23]

Savigny continues:

“If we consider the question of the origin of the State, we shall have in the same way to locate it in supreme necessity, in the action of a force building outward from within, as was shown earlier in the case of law in general; and this applies not only to the existence of the State in general, but also to that particular form which the State assumes in every individual nation.” [24]

Law arises in exactly the same “invisible way” as language, and it lives in the general consciousness of a people, not in the shape “of abstract rules, but in the shape of a living conception of institutions of law and in their organic connection, so that, when necessity arises, the abstract rule has to be formed in its logical shape from this general conception, by means of a certain artificial process (durch einen künstlichen Prozess). [25]

We are not interested here in the practical aspirations of the historical school of law; but as far as its theory is concerned, we can already say, on the basis of the words of Savigny here quoted, that it represents:

  1. A reaction against the view held widely in the eighteenth century that law is created by the arbitrary will of individual persons (“Legislators”) ; and an attempt to furnish a scientific explanation of the history of law, to understand that history as a process which is necessary, and which, therefore, conforms to law.
  2. An attempt to explain that process, starting from a completely idealist point of view: “the spirit of a people,” the “consciousness of a people,” is the final authority to which the historical school of law appealed.

Puchta expressed the idealist character of the views of this school even more sharply.

Primitive law, with Puchta, just as with Savigny, is customary law. But how does customary law arise? The opinion is often expressed that this law is created by everyday practice (Uebung), but this is only a particular case of the materialist view of the origin of popular conceptions.

“Exactly the opposite view is the right one: everyday practice is only the last moment, it only ex-presses and embodies the law which has arisen, and which lives in the conviction of the individuals belonging to the particular people. Custom influences conviction only in the sense that the latter, thanks to custom, becomes more conscious and more stable.” [26]

And so the conviction of a people concerning this or that legal institution arises independently of everyday practice, and earlier than “custom.” Whence does this conviction come from, then? It arises from the depth of the spirit of the people. The particular form this conviction takes with a particular people is to be explained by the particular features of the spirit of the people concerned. This is very obscure-so obscure that it does not contain any symptom of a scientific explanation. Puchta himself feels that things here are not quite satisfactory, and tries to put them right with an observation of this kind:

“Law arises by an imperceptible path. Who could take upon himself to trace those paths which lead to the origin of the given conviction, to its conception, its growth, its flourishing, its manifestation? Those who tried to do so, for the most part started from mistaken ideas.” [27]

“For the most part.” ... That means that there also existed investigators whose initial ideas were correct. To what conclusions, then, about the genesis of popular views on law did these persons arrive? We must suppose that this remained a secret for Puchta, because he does not go one step further than meaningless references to the qualities of the spirit of the people.

Nor is any explanation provided by the above-quoted remark of Savigny that law lives in the general consciousness of a people, not in the shape of abstract rules, but “in the shape of a living conception of legal institutions in their organic connection.” And it is not difficult to understand what it was that impelled Savigny to give us this somewhat muddled information. If we had presumed that law exists in the consciousness of a people “in the shape of abstract rules,” we should thereby in the first place have come up against the “general consciousness” of the jurists, who know very well with what difficulty a people grasps these abstract rules, and secondly, our theory of the origin of law would have assumed a too incredible form. It would have appeared that before entering into any practical relations one with another, before acquiring any practical experience whatsoever, the men constituting the given people work out definite legal conceptions for themselves, and having laid in a store of these, as a tramp does of crusts, they set forth into the sphere of everyday practice, enter upon their historical path. Nobody, of course, would believe this, and so Savigny eliminates the “abstract rules”: law exists in the consciousness of the people not in the shape of definite conceptions, it represents, not a collection of already fully-shaped crystals, but a more or less saturated solution out of which, “when necessity for this arises,” i.e., when coming up against everyday practice, the required juridical crystals are precipitated. Such an approach is not without its ingenuity, but naturally it does not in the least bring us nearer to a scientific understanding of phenomena.

Let us take an example:

The Eskimos, Rink tells us, scarcely have any regular property; but in so far as it can be spoken of, he enumerates three forms which it takes:

“1. Property owned by an association of generally more than one family – e.g., the winter house ...

“2. Property, the common possession of one, or at most of three families of kindred – viz., a tent and everything belonging .to the household, such as lamps, tubs, dishes of wood, soapstone pots; a boat, or umiak, which can carry all these articles along with the tent; one or two sledges with the dogs attached to them; ... the stock of winter provisions ...

“3. As regards personal property – i.e., owned by every individual ... his clothes ... weapons, and tools or what-ever was specially used by himself. These things were even regarded as having a kind of supernatural relation to the owner, reminding us of that between the body and the soul. Lending them to others was not customary.” [28]

Let us try and conceive of the origin of these three views of property from the standpoint of the old historical school of law.

As, in the words of Puchta, convictions precede every-day practice, and do not arise on the basis of custom, one must suppose that matters proceeded in the following way. Before living in winter houses, even before they began to build them, the Eskimos came to the conviction that one winter houses appeared among them, they must belong. to a union of several families. In the same way, our savages convinced themselves that, once there appeared among them summer tents, barrels, wooden plates, boats, pots, sledges and dogs, all these would have to be the property of a single family or, at most, of three kindred families. Finally, they formed no less firm a conviction that clothes, arms and tools must constitute personal property, and that it would be wrong even to lend these articles. Let us add to this that probably all these “convictions” existed, not in the shape of abstract rules, but “in the shape of a living conception of legal institutions in their organic connection,” and that out of this solution of legal conceptions there were precipitated – “when necessity for this arose,” i.e., as they encountered winter dwellings, summer tents, barrels, stone pots, wooden plates, boats, sledges and dogs – the norms of customary Eskimo law in their more or less “logical form.” And the qualities of the above-mentioned legal solution were determined by the mysterious qualities of the Eskimo spirit.

This is not a scientific explanation at all, but a mere “way of talking” – Redensarten, as the Germans say.

That variety of idealism which was maintained by the supporters of the historical school of law proved in its explanation of social phenomena to be even more fallacious than the much more profound idealism of Schelling and Hegel.


1. Edgar Bauer, Der Streit der Kritik mit Kirche and Staat, Berne 1844, p.184.

2. Loc. cit., p.185.

3. The same as the Absolute Idea.

4. The reader will not have forgotten the expression of Hegel quoted earlier: the owl of Minerva begins to fly only in the evening.

5. Bruno Bauer was the elder brother of Edgar, mentioned earlier, and the author of a book famous in its day, Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker.

6. F. Engels and K. Marx, Die heilige Familie, oder Kritik der Kritischen Kritik. Gegen Bruno Bauer and Consorten. Frankfurt am Main 1845, pp.126-28. This book is a collection of articles by Engels and Marx directed against various opinions expressed in the “Critical Criticism.” The passage quoted is taken from an article by Marx [2*] against an article by Bruno Bauer. It was also from Marx that the passage quoted in the preceding chapter (see pp.137-39 – Ed.) was taken.

[The passage is in chapter 6 – by Marx – of The Holy Family (Gesamtausgabe, Part I, Vol.3, pp.267-58). – Tr.]

7. Ibid., p.21.

8. “So thoroughly is the use of tools the exclusive attribute of man that the discovery of a single artificially-shaped flint in the drift or cave-breccia is deemed proof enough that man has been there.” Daniel Wilson, Prehistoric Man, Vol.I, London 1876, pp. 151-52.

9. K. Marx, Wage Labour and Capital in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol.I, Moscow 1955, p.89. – Ed.

10. Ibid., pp.89-90. – Ed.

11. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, London 1875, p.51.

12. In the well-known book of von Martius, on the primitive inhabitants of Brazil [6*], several interesting examples can be found which show how important are what seem to be the most insignificant peculiarities of various localities, in developing mutual relations between their inhabitants.

13. However, it must be observed about the sea that it does not always bring men together, Ratzel (Anthropo-Geographie, Stuttgart, 1882, p.92) justly remarks that at a certain low stage of development the sea is an absolute frontier, i.e., it renders impossible any relations whatsoever between the peoples it divides. For their part, relations which are made possible originally only by the characteristics of geographical environment leave their impression on the physiognomy of primitive tribes. Islanders are markedly distinguished from those dwelling on continents.

“Die Bevölkerungen der Inseln sind in einigen Fällen völlig andere als die des nächst gelegenen Festlandes oder der nächsten grösseren Insel; aber auch wo sie ursprünglich derselben Rasse oder Völkergruppe angehören, sind sie immer weit von der selben verschieden; and zwar, kann man hinzusetzen, in der Regel weiter als die entsprechenden festländischen Abzweigungen dieser Rasse oder Gruppe untereinander” (Ratzel, loc. cit., p.96). (“The inhabitants of islands are in some cases totally different from those of the nearest mainland or the nearest larger island; but even where they originally belonged to the same race or group of peoples, they are always widely different from the latter; and indeed one can add, as a rule, that they differ more widely than do the corresponding branches of this race or group on the mainland among themselves.” p.96. – Ed.) Here is repeated the same law as in the formation of the species and varieties of animals.

14. Marx, Das Kapital (3rd ed.), pp.524-526. [7*] In a footnote Marx adds: “One of the material bases of the power of the State over the small disconnected producing organisms in India, was the regulation of the water supply. The Mohammedan rulers of India understood this better than their English successors.” We may compare with the opinion of Marx, quoted above, the opinion of a most recent investigator: “Unter dem, was die lebende Natur dem Menschen an Gaben bietet, ist nicht der Reichtum an Stoffen, sondern der an Kräften oder, besser gesagt, Kräfteanregungen am höchsten zu schätzen” (Ratzel, loc. cit., p.343). [“Among the gifts which living Nature offers to men, that to be prized most highly is not material wealth, but energy, or rather the means of producing energy” (Ratzel, loc. cit., p.343).]

15. “We must beware,” says L. Geiger, “of ascribing to premeditation too great a part in the origin of implements. The discovery of the first implements of the highest importance took place, of course, by accident, like many great discoveries of modern times. They were of course rather discovered than invented. I arrived at this view in particular on account of the circumstance that the names of ‘implements never arise from their manufacture, that those names never have a genetic character, but arise from the use which is made of the implement. Thus, in the German language Scheere (scissors), Säge (saw), Hacke (pick-axe) are objects which shear (scheeren), saw (sägen), hack (hacken). This law of language must all the more attract our attention because the names of devices which do not represent tools are formed by a genetic or passive method, from the material or from the work of which or thanks to which they arise. Thus, a skin as a receptacle for wine in many languages originally means the skin torn off an animal: to the German Schlauch corresponds the English slough (snakeskin): the Greek ascós is simultaneously a skin in the sense of receptacle, and the skin of a beast. Here, consequently, language shows us quite evidently how and out of what was manufactured the device called a skin. It is otherwise in relation to implements; and they at first – if we base ourselves on language – were not manufactured at all. Thus the first knife could be found by accident, and I would say made use of in play, in the shape of a sharpened stone.” L. Geiger, Die Urgeschichte der Menschheit im Lichte der Sprache, mit besonderer Beziehung auf die Entstheung des Werkzeugs, pp.36-37 (in the collection Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Menschheit, Stuttgart 1878).

16. “For the art of mechanics ... was first originated by Eudoxus and Archytas, who embellished geometry with its subtleties, and gave to problems incapable of proof by word and diagram a support derived from mechanical illustrations that were patent to the senses ... But Plato was incensed at this, and inveighed against them as corrupters and destroyers of the pure excellence of geometry, which thus turned her back upon the incorporeal things of abstract thought and descended to the things of sense, making use, moreover, of objects which required much mean and manual labour. For this reason mechanics was made entirely distinct from geometry, and being for a long time ignored by philosophers came to be regarded as one of the military arts” (Plutarchi, Vita Marcelli, edit. Teubneriana, C. Sintenis, Lipsiae 1883, Ch.XIV, pp.135-36). As the reader will see, Plutarch’s view was far from new at that time.

17. It is known that for a long time the Russian peasants themselves could have, and not infrequently did have, their own serfs. The condition of a serf could not be attractive to a peasant. But in the then state of the productive forces of Russia not a single peasant could find that condition abnormal. A “muzhik” who had made some money just as naturally began to think about buying serfs as a Roman freeman strove to acquire slaves. The slaves who revolted under the leadership of Spartacus waged war with their lords, but not with slavery; if they had succeeded in winning their freedom, they would themselves, in favourable circumstances, and with the most tranquil conscience, have become slave-owners. Willy nilly one recalls at this point the words of Schelling, which acquire a new meaning, that freedom must be necessary. History shows that any of the forms of freedom makes its appearance only where it becomes an economic necessity.

18. See Economic Materialism in History, in Vestnik Yevropy, August 1894, p.601.

19. We quote from the French edition of 1874.

20. J.F. McLennan, Studies in Ancient History: Primitive Marriage, 1876, p.111.

21. Vestnik Yevropy, July 1894, p.12.

22. Friedrich Karl von Savigny, Vom Beruf unserer Zeit für Gesetzgebung and Rechtswissenschaft, 3rd ed., Heidelberg 1840, p.14. The first edition appeared in 1814.

23. Berlin edition, 1840, Vol.I, p.14.

24. Ibid., p.22.

25. Ibid., p.16.

26. Cursus der Institutionen, Leipzig, 1841, Vol.1, p 31. In a footnote Puchta speaks sharply of the eclectics who strive to reconcile contradictory views of the origin of law, and uses such expressions that willy-nilly the question arises: can he possibly have anticipated the appearance of Mr. Kareyev? But on the other hand it must be said that in Germany at the time of Puchta they had quite enough eclectics of their own. Whatever. else there may be a shortage of, there are always and everywhere inexhaustible reserves of that type of mind.

27. Ibid., p, 28.

28. H.J. Rink, Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo, 1875, pp.9-10, 30.



Editorial Notes

1*. Historical Letters was written by P. Lavrov and published in St. Petersburg in 1870 under the pen-name P.L. Mirtov.

2*. K. Marx and F. Engels, The Holy Family, Moscow 1956, pp.115-117.

3*. Suzdal – from the Suzdal locality in Russia, where icon painting was widespread. Icon prints produced in Suzdal in great quantities were cheap and unartistic. Hence, the adjective Suzdal has come to denote something that is cheap and unartistic.

4*. Uspensky, Gleb Ivanovich (1843-1902), prominent Russian writer, revolutionary democrat.

5*. K. Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Cf. K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, vol.1, Moscow 1958, p.362.

6*. Plekhanov’s reference here is to Martius’s book Von dem Rechtszustande unter den Ureinwohnern Brasiliens, Munich 1832.

7*. Karl Marx, Capital, vol.1, Moscow 1958, p.513.

8*. Plekhanov’s arguments about the significance of the geographical environment in social progress cannot be regarded as absolutely correct. In his later works Plekhanov even speaks of the determining influence of the geographical environment on the entire course of social progress.

While pointing out quite rightly that the geographical environment influences man through social relations, that the latter, once they have arisen, develop in conformity with their inner laws, Plekhanov is mistaken when he says that social structure “is determined in the long run by the characteristics of the geographical environment” and that “the capacity of man for tool-making must be regarded first of all as a constant magnitude, while the surrounding external conditions for the use of this capacity in practice have to be regarded as a constantly varying magnitude”.

Geographical environment is unquestionably one of the constant and indispensable conditions of development of society and, of course, influences the development of society, accelerates or retards its development. But its influence is not the determining influence, inasmuch as the changes and development of society proceed at an incomparably faster rate than the changes and development of the geographical environment. In the space of three thousand years three different social systems have been successively superseded in Europe: the primitive communal system, the slave system and the feudal system. In the eastern part of Europe, in the USSR, even four social systems have been superseded. Yet during this period geographical conditions in Europe have either not changed at all, or have changed so slightly that geography takes no note of them. And that is quite natural. Changes in geographical environment of any importance require millions of years, whereas a few hundred or a couple of thousand years are enough for even very important changes in the system of human society.

It follows from this that geographical environment cannot be the chief cause, the determining cause of social development, for that which remains almost unchanged in the course of tens of thou-sands of years cannot be the chief cause of development of that which undergoes fundamental changes in the course of a few hundred years.

9*. Plekhanov develops these thoughts far more fully in additions not included in the second edition. (Cf. The Literary Legacy of G.V. Plekhanov, Coll.IV, 1937, p.209.

10*. L. Morgan, Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery Through Barbarism to Civilization, New York 1878.

11*. Plekhanov’s posthumous article against Weisengrün, one of the early “critics” or Marx, is to be found in The Literary Legacy of G.V. Plekhanov, Coll.V, 1937, pp.10-17.

12*. The historical school of law (right) was a reactionary trend in German jurisprudence at the end of the 18th century and in the first half of the 19th century defending feudalism and feudal monarchy against the conception of state law advanced by the French Revolution. Its chief representatives were Hugo, Savigny and Puchta.


Last updated on 23.12.2004