G.V. Plekhanov

The Development of the Monist View of History

Chapter V
Modern Materialism
(Part 2)

How did science emerge from that blind alley in which idealism found itself? Let us hear what Mr. M. Kovalevsky, one of the most distinguished representatives of modern comparative law, has to say.

Pointing out that the social life of primitive tribes bears on itself the stamp of communism, Mr. Kovalevsky (listen, Mr. V.V.: he also is a “professor”) says:

“If we enquire as to the real foundations for such an order of things, if we try and discover the reasons which forced our primitive forefathers, and still oblige modern savages, to maintain a more or less sharply expressed communism, we shall have in particular to learn the primitive modes of production. For the distribution and consumption of wealth must be determined by the methods of its creation. And as to this, ethnography states the following: hunting and fishing peoples secure their food as a rule in hordes ... In Australia the kangaroo is hunted by armed detachments of several tens, and even hundreds,, of natives. The same takes place in northern countries when hunting the reindeer ... It is beyond doubt that man is incapable of maintaining his existence alone; he needs help and support, and. his forces are multiplied ten-fold by association ... Thus we see social production at the beginning of social development and, as the necessary natural consequence – of this, social consumption. Ethnography abounds in facts which prove this.” [29]

Having quoted the idealist theory of Lermina, according to which private property arises. from the self-consciousness of the individual, Mr. Kovalevsky continues:

“No, this is not so. It is not for this reason that primitive man arrives at the idea of the personal appropriation of the chipped stone which serves him as a weapon, or of the skin which covers his body. He arrives at this idea in consequence of the application of his individual forces to the production of the object concerned. The flint which serves him as an axe has been chipped by his own hands. At the hunt in which he engaged together with many comrades, he struck the final blow at the animal, and therefore the skin of that animal becomes his personal property. The customary law of savages is distinguished by great exactness on this question. It carefully provides beforehand, for example, for the case in which the hunted animal fell under the joint blows of two hunters: in that event the animal’s skin becomes the property of the hunter whose arrow penetrated nearest to the heart. It also provides for the case in which an already wounded animal was given the finishing blow by a hunter who turned up accidentally. The application of individual labour logically gives rise, consequently, to individual appropriation. We can trace this phenomenon through all history. He who planted a fruit tree becomes its owner ... Later a warrior who won a certain booty becomes its exclusive owner, so that his family no longer has any right to it. In just the same way a priest’s family has no right to the sacrifices which are made by the faithful, and which become his personal property. All this is equally well confirmed by the Indian laws and by the customary law of the South Slavs, Don Cossacks or ancient Irish. And it is important not to make any mistake as to the true principle of such appropriation, which is the result of the application of personal effort. to the procuring of a definite object. For when the personal efforts of a man are supplemented. by the help of his kin ... the objects secured no longer become private property.” [30]

After all that has been said, it will be comprehensible why it is arms, clothes, food, adornments, etc., that first become objects of personal appropriation. “Already from the first steps taken, the domestication of animals – dogs, horses, cats, working cattle – constitutes the most important fund of personal and family appropriation ...” [31] But to what extent the organization of production continues to influence the modes of appropriation is shown, for example, by such a fact: among the Eskimos the hunting of whales takes place in big boats and big detachments, and the boats which serve for this purpose represent social property. But the little boats which serve for transporting the objects of family property themselves belong to separate families, or “at most to three kindred families.”

With the appearance of agriculture, the land also becomes an object of appropriation. The subjects of property in land become more or less large unions of kindred. This, naturally, is one of the forms of social appropriation. How is its origin to be explained? “It seems to us,” says Mr. Kovalevsky, “that its reasons lie in that same social production which once upon a time involved the appropriation of the greater part of movable objects.” [32]

Naturally, once it has arisen, private property enters into contradiction to the more ancient mode of social appropriation. Wherever the rapid development of productive forces opens a wider and wider field for “individual efforts,” social production fairly rapidly disappears, or continues to exist in the shape, so to speak, of a rudimentary institution. We shall see later on that this process of the disintegration of primitive social property at various times and in various places through the most natural, material necessity, was bound to be marked by great variety. At present we will only stress the general conclusion of the modern science of law that legal conceptions – or convictions, as Puchta would have said – are everywhere determined by the modes of production.

Schelling said on one occasion that the phenomenon of magnetism must be understood as the embedding of the “subjective” in the “objective.” All attempts to discover an idealist explanation for the history of law represent no more than a supplement, a “Seitenstück,” to idealist natural philosophy. It amounts always to the same, sometimes brilliant and ingenious, but always arbitrary and always groundless meditations on the theme of the self-sufficing, self-developing spirit.

Legal conviction could not precede everyday practice for this one reason alone that, if it had not grown out of that practice, it would have no reason for existence whatsoever. The Eskimo stands for the personal appropriation of clothes, arms and implements of labour for the simple reason that such appropriation is much more convenient, and is suggested by the very qualities of the things involved. In order to learn the proper use of his weapon, his bow or his boomerang, the primitive hunter must adapt himself to it, study all its individual peculiarities, and if possible adapt it to his own individual peculiarities. [33] Private property here is in the nature of things, much more than any other form of appropriation, and therefore the savage is “convinced” of its advantages: as we know, he even attributes to the implements of individual labour and to arms some kind of mysterious connection with their owner. But his conviction grew up on the basis of everyday practice, and did not precede it: and it owes its origin, not to the qualities of his “spirit,” but to the qualities of the articles which he is using, and to the character of those modes of production which are inevitable for him in the existing state of his productive forces.

To what extent everyday practice precedes legal “conviction” is shown by the numerous symbolic acts existing in primitive law. The modes of production have changed, with them have likewise changed the mutual relations of men in the process of production, everyday practice has changed, yet “conviction” has retained its old shape. It contradicts the new practice, and so fictions appear, symbolic signs and actions, the sole purpose of which is formally to eliminate this contradiction. In the course of time the contradiction is at last eliminated in an essential way: on the basis of the new economic practice a new legal conviction takes shape.

It is not sufficient to register the appearance, in a given society, of private property in this or that object, to be able thereby to determine the character of that institution. Private property always has limits which depend entirely on the economy of society. “In the savage state man appropriates only the things which are directly useful to him. The surplus, even though it is acquired by the labour of his hands, he usually gives up gratuitously to others: to members of his family, or of his clan, or of his tribe,” says Mr. Kovalevsky. Rink says exactly the same about the Eskimos. But whence did such ways arise among the savage peoples? In the words of Mr. Kovalevsky, they owe their origin to the fact that savages are not acquainted with saving. [34] This is not a very clear expression, and is particularly unsatisfactory because it was very much abused by the vulgar economists. Nevertheless, it can be understood in what sense our author uses the expression. “Saving” is really unknown to primitive peoples, for the simple reason that it is inconvenient and, one may say, impossible for them to practise it. The flesh of an animal that has been killed can be “saved” only to an inconsiderable extent: it goes bad, and then becomes quite unsuitable for use. Of course, if it could be sold, it would be very easy to “save” the money got for it. But money does not yet exist at this stage of economic development. Consequently, the economy of primitive society itself fixes narrow limits with – in which the spirit of “thrift” can develop. Moreover, today I was lucky enough to kill a big animal, and I shared its meat with others, but tomorrow (hunting is an uncertain business) I will return with empty hands, and others of my kin will share their booty with me. The custom of sharing thus appears as something in the nature of mutual insurance, without which the existence of hunting tribes would be quite impossible.

Finally, one must not forget that private property among such tribes exists only in an embryo form, while the prevailing property is social. The habits and customs which have grown up on this basis, in their turn, set limits to the arbitrary will of the owner of private property. Conviction, here too, follows economy.

The connection of the legal conceptions of men with their economic life is well illustrated by the example which Rodbertus readily and frequently used in his works. It is well known that the ancient Roman writers energetically protested against usury. Cato the Censor considered that a usurer was twice as bad as a thief (that was just what the old man said: exactly twice). In this respect the Fathers of the Christian Church were completely at one with the heathen writers. But – a remarkable fact – both revolted only against interest produced by money capital. But to loans in kind, and to the surplus which they brought, there was an incomparably milder attitude. Why this difference? Because it was precisely money or usurers’ capital that was effecting terrible devastations in society at that time: because it was precisely this that was “ruining Italy.” Legal “conviction,” here too, went hand-in-hand with economy.

“Law is the pure product of necessity or, more exactly, of need,” says Post. “In vain should we seek in it any ideal. basis whatsoever.” [35] We should say that this was quite in the spirit of the most modern science of law, if our scholar did not display a fairly considerable confusion of conceptions, very harmful in its consequences.

Speaking generally, every social union strives to work out such a, system of law as would best satisfy its needs and would be most useful for it at the given time. The circumstance that the particular sum-total of legal institutions is useful or harmful for society cannot in any way depend on the qualities of any “idea” whatsoever, from whomsoever the idea might come; it depends, as we have seen, on the modes of production and on those mutual relations between people which are created by those modes. In this sense law has not and cannot have any ideal foundations, as its foundations are always real. But the real foundations of every given system of law do not exclude an ideal attitude towards that system on the part of the members of the given society. Taken as a whole, society only gains from such an attitude of its members towards that system. On the contrary, in its transitional epochs, when the system of law existing in society no longer satisfies its needs., which have grown in consequence of the further development of productive forces, the advanced part of the population can and must idealize a new system of institutions, more in keeping with the “spirit of the time.” French literature is full of examples of such an idealization of the new advancing order of things.

The origin of law in “need” excludes an “ideal” basis of law only in the conception of those people. who are accustomed to relegate need to the sphere of crude matter, and to contrast this sphere to the “pure spirit,” foreign to need of every kind. In reality, only that is “ideal” which is useful to men, and every society in working out its ideals is guided only by its needs. The seeming exceptions from this incontestably general rule are explained by the fact that, in consequence of the development of society, its ideals frequently lag behind its new needs. [36]

The realization of the dependence of social relations on the state of productive forces is penetrating more and more into modern social science, in spite of the inevitable eclecticism of many scientists and in spite of their idealist prejudices. “Just as comparative anatomy has raised to the level of a scientific truth the Latin proverb that ‘from the claws I recognize the lion,’ so the study of peoples can from the armament of a particular people form an exact conclusion as to the degree of its civilization,” says Oscar Peschel, whom we have already quoted. [37]

“With the mode of procuring food is bound up most intimately the dissection of society. Wherever man joins with man a certain authority appears. Weakest of all are the social ties among the wandering hunter hordes of Brazil. But they have to defend their areas and need at least a military chief. The pastoral tribes are for the most part under the authority of patriarchal sovereigns, as the herds belong as a rule to a single master, who is served by his fellow-tribesmen or by previously independent but later impoverished possessors of herds. The pastoral form of life is mostly, though not exclusively, characterized by great migrations of peoples, both in the north of the Old World and in South Africa; on the other hand, the history of America knows only of individual attacks by wild hunter tribes on the fields of civilized peoples which attract them. Entire peoples which leave their previous places of habitation could make great and prolonged journeys only when accompanied by their herds, which provided them with the necessary food on their way. Furthermore, prairie cattle-breeding itself impels a change of pastures. But with the settled mode of life and agriculture there immediately appears the striving to make use of the labour of slaves ... Slavery leads sooner or later to tyranny, since he who has the largest number of slaves can with their help subject the weakest to his will ... The division into free men and slaves is the beginning of the division of society into estates.” [38]

Peschel has many considerations of this kind. Some of them are quite just and very instructive; others are “debatable” for more than Mr. Mikhailovsky. But what we are concerned with here are not particular details but the general direction of Peschel’s thought. And that general direction completely coincides with what we have already seen in the work of Mr. Kovalevsky: it is in the modes of production, in the state of the productive forces, that he seeks the explanation of the history of law and even of the whole organization of society.

And this is precisely what Marx long ago and insistently advised writers on social science to do. And in this lies to a considerable extent, though not completely (the reader will see later why we say: not completely), the sense of that remarkable preface to A Critique of Political Economy which had such bad luck here in Russia, which was so terribly and so strangely misunderstood by the majority of Russian writers who read it in the original or in extracts.

“In the social production of their life, men enter in-to definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum-total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure ...” [13*]

Hegel says of Schelling that the fundamental principles of the system of that philosopher remain undeveloped, and his absolute spirit appears unexpectedly, like a pistol-shot (wie aus der Pistole geschossen). When the average Russian intellectual hears that in Marx “everything is reduced to the economic foundation” (others say simply: “to the economic”), he loses his head, as though someone had suddenly fired a pistol by his ear. “But why to the economic?” he asks dejectedly and uncomprehendingly. “Of course the economic is also important (especially for the poor peasants and workmen). But after all, no less important is the intellectual (particularly for us intellectuals).” What has just been set forth has, we hope, shown the reader that the perplexity of the average Russian intellectual occurs in this case only because he, that intellectual, was always a little careless about what was “particularly important intellectually” for himself. When Marx said that “the anatomy of civil society is to be sought in political economy,” he did not at all intend to upset the world of learning by sudden pistol-shots: he was only giving a direct and exact reply to the “damned questions” which had tormented thinking heads for a whole century.

The French materialists, consistently developing their sensationalist views, came to the conclusion that man, with all his thoughts, feelings and aspirations, is the product of his social environment. In order to go further in applying the materialist view to the study of man, it was necessary to solve the problem of what conditions the structure of the social environment, and what are the laws of its development. The French materialists were unable to reply to this question, and thereby were forced to be false to themselves and return to the old idealist point of view which they had so strongly condemned: they said that environment is created by the “opinion” of men. Dissatisfied with this superficial reply, the French historians of the Restoration set themselves the task of analyzing social environment. The result of their analysis was the conclusion, extremely important for science, that political constitutions are rooted in social relations, while social relations are determined by the state of property. With this conclusion there arose before science a new problem, without solving which it could not proceed: what then determines the state of property? The solution of this problem proved to be beyond the powers of the French historians of the Restoration, and they were obliged to dismiss it with remarks on the qualities of human nature which explained absolutely nothing at all. The great idealists of Germany – Schelling and Hegel – who were their contemporaries in life and work, already well understood how unsatisfactory was the point of view of human nature: Hegel made caustic fun of it. They understood that the key to the explanation of the historical advance of humanity must be sought outside human nature, This was a great service which they rendered: but in order that that service should prove completely fruitful for science, it was necessary to show where precisely that key should be sought. They looked for it in the qualities of the spirit, in the logical laws of development of the absolute idea. This was a radical error of the great idealists, which returned them by roundabout ways to the point of view of human nature, since the absolute idea, as we have already seen, is nothing else than the personification of our logical process of thought. The discovery of the genius of Marx corrects this radical error of idealism, thereby inflicting on it a deadly blow: the state of property, and with it all the qualities of the social environment (we saw in the chapter of idealist philosophy that Hegel, too, was forced to recognize the decisive importance of the “state of property”) are determined, not by the qualities of the absolute spirit and not by the character of human nature, but by those mutual relations into which men of necessity enter one with another “in the social production of their life,” i.e., in their struggle for existence. Marx has often been compared with Darwin – a comparison which arouses Messrs. Mikhailovsky, Kareyev and their fraternity to laughter. Later we shall say in what sense that comparison should be understood, although probably many readers already see it without our help. Here we shall permit ourselves, with all due respect to our subjective thinkers, another comparison.

Before Copernicus, astronomy taught that the earth is a motionless centre, around which revolve the sun and the other celestial bodies. This view made it impossible to explain very many phenomena of celestial mechanics. The Polish genius approached their explanation from quite the opposite point of view: he presupposed that it was not the sun that revolves around the earth, but on the contrary the earth around the sun. The correct view-point had been discovered, and much became clear that had been unclear before Copernicus.

Before Marx, writers on social science had taken human nature as their point of departure, and thanks to this, the most important questions of human development had remained unanswered. Marx’s teaching gave affairs quite a different turn: while man, to maintain his existence, acts on the external world, he changes his own nature [14*], said Marx. Consequently the scientific explanation of historical development should be begun at the opposite end: it is necessary to ascertain in what way does this process of the productive action of man on external nature take place. In its great importance for science, this discovery can be boldly placed on a par with the discovery of Copernicus, and on a par with the greatest and most fruitful discoveries of science in general.

Strictly speaking, previous to Marx. social science had much less in the way of a firm foundation than astronomy before Copernicus. The French used to call, and still call, all the sciences bearing on human society, “sciences morales et politiques” as distinct from “science” in the strict sense of the word, under which name were understood, and are still understood, only the exact sciences. And it must be admitted that, before Marx, social science was not and could not be exact. So long as learned men appealed to human nature as to the highest authority, of necessity they had to explain the social relations of men by their views, their conscious activity; but the conscious activity of man necessarily has to present itself to him as free activity. But free activity excludes the conception of necessity, i.e., of conformity to law: and conformity to law is the necessary foundation of any scientific explanation of phenomena. The idea of freedom obscured the conception of necessity, and thereby hindered the development of science. This aberration can up to the present day be observed with amazing clarity in the “sociological” works of “subjective” Russian writers.

But we already know that freedom must be necessary. By obscuring the conception of necessity, the idea of freedom itself became extremely dim and a very poor comfort. Driven out at the door, necessity flew in at the window; starting from their idea of freedom, investigators every moment came up against necessity, and in the long run arrived at the melancholy recognition of its fatal, irresistible and utterly invincible action. To their horror, freedom proved to be an eternally helpless and hopeless tributary, an impotent plaything in the hands of blind necessity. And truly pathetic was the despair which at times seized upon the clearest and most generous idealistic minds.

“For several days now I have been taking up my pen every minute,” says Georg Büchner, “but cannot write a word. I have been studying the history of the revolution. I have felt myself crushed, as it were, by the frightful fatalism of history. I see in human nature the most repulsive dullness, but in human relations an invincible force, which belongs to all in general and to no one in particular. The individual personality is only foam on the crest of the wave, greatness is only an accident, the power of genius is only a puppet-show, a ridiculous attempt to fight against iron law, which at best can only be discovered, but which it is impossible to subject to one’s will.” [39]

It may be said that, to avoid such bursts of what naturally was quite legitimate despair, it was worth while even for a time abandoning one’s old point of view, and attempting to liberate freedom, by appealing to that same necessity which made a mock of her. It was necessary once again to review the question which had already been put by the dialectical idealists, as to whether freedom does not follow from necessity, and whether the latter does not constitute the only firm foundation, the only stable guarantee and inevitable condition of human freedom.

We shall see to what such an attempt led Marx. But as a preliminary let us try and clear up for ourselves his historical views, so that no misunderstandings should remain in our minds on that subject.

On the basis of a particular state of the productive forces there come into existence certain relations of production, which receive their ideal expression in the legal notions of men and in more or less “abstract rules,” in unwritten customs and written laws. We no longer require to demonstrate this: as we have seen, the present-day science of law demonstrates it for us (let the reader remember what Mr. Kovalevsky says on this subject). But it will do no harm if we examine the question from the following different point of view. Once we have ascertained in what way the legal notions of men are created by their relations in production, we shall not be surprised by the following words of Marx: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being” (i.e., the form of their social existence – G.P.), “but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” [15*] Now we know already that at least in relation to one sphere of consciousness this is really so, and why it is so. We have only to decide whether it is al-ways so, and, if the answer is in the affirmative, why it is always .so? Let us keep for the time being to the same legal notions.

“At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution.” [16*]

Social ownership of movable and immovable property arises because it is convenient and moreover necessary for the process of primitive production. It maintains the existence of primitive society, it facilitates the further development of its productive forces, and men cling to it, they consider it natural and necessary. But now, thanks to those property relations and within them, the productive forces have developed to such an extent that a wider field has opened for the application of individual efforts. Now social property becomes in some cases harmful for society, it impedes the further development of its productive forces, and therefore it yields place to personal appropriation: a more or less rapid revolution takes place in the legal institutions of society. This revolution necessarily is accompanied by a revolution in the legal conceptions of men: people who thought previously that only social property was good, now began to think that in some cases individual appropriation was better. But no, we are expressing it inaccurately, we are representing as two separate processes what is completely inseparable, what represents only two sides of one and the same process: in consequence of the development of the productive forces, the actual relations of men in the process of production were bound to change, and these new de facto relations expressed themselves in new legal notions.

Mr. Kareyev assures us that materialism is just as one-sided in its application to history as idealism. Each represents, in his opinion, only a “moment” in the development of. complete scientific truth. “After the first and second moments must come a third moment: the one-sidedness of the thesis and that of the antithesis will find their application in the synthesis, as the expression of the complete truth.” [40] It will be a most interesting synthesis. “In what that synthesis will consist, I shall not for the time being say,” the Professor adds. A pity! Fortunately, our “historiosophist” does not very strictly observe this vow of silence which he has imposed upon himself. He immediately gives us to understand in what will consist and whence will arise that complete scientific truth which will, in time, be understood by all enlightened humanity, but for the time being is known only to Mr. Kareyev. It will grow out of the following considerations:

“Every human personality, consisting of body and soul, leads a two-fold life – physical and psychical – appearing before us neither exclusively as flesh with its material requirements, nor exclusively as spirit with its intellectual and moral requirements. Both the body and the soul of man have their requirements, which seek satisfaction and which place the individual personality in different relationships to the external world, i.e., to nature and to other men, i.e., to society, and these relationships are of a two-fold character.” [41]

That man consists of soul and body is a just “synthesis,” though hardly what one would call a very new discovery. If Mr. Professor is acquainted with the history of modern philosophy, he must know that it has been breaking its teeth on this same synthesis for whole centuries, and has not been able to cope with it properly. And if he imagines that this “synthesis” will reveal to him “the essence of the historical process,” Mr. V.V. himself will have to agree that something is going wrong with his “professor,” and that it is not Mr. Kareyev who is destined to become the Spinoza of “historiosophy.”

With the development of the productive forces, which lead to changes in the mutual relationships of men in the social process of production, there change all property relations. But it was already Guizot who told us that political constitutions are rooted in property relations. This is fully confirmed by modern knowledge. The union of kindred yields place to the territorial union precisely on account of the changes which arise in property relations. More or less important territorial unions amalgamate in organisms called states, again in consequence of changes which have taken place in property relations, or in consequence of new requirements of the social process of production. This has been excellently demonstrated, for example, in relation to the large states of the East. [42] Equally well this has been explained in relation to the states of the ancient world. [43] And, speaking generally, it is not difficult to demonstrate the truth of this for any particular state on whose origin we have sufficient in-formation. In doing so we only need not to narrow, consciously or unconsciously, Marx’s view. What we mean is this.

The particular state of productive forces conditions the internal relations of the given society. But the same state of the productive forces also conditions its external relations with other societies. On the basis of these external relations, society forms new requirements, to satisfy which new organs arise. At a superficial glance, the mutual relations of individual societies present themselves as a series of “political” acts, having no direct hearing on economics. In reality, what underlies relations between societies is precisely economics, which determines both the real (not only external) causes of inter-tribal and international relations, and their results. To each stage in the development of the productive forces corresponds its own particular system of armament, its military tactics, its diplomacy, its international law. Of course many cases may be pointed out in which international conflicts have no direct relationship with economics. And none of the followers of Marx will dream of disputing the existence of such cases. All they say is: don’t stop at the surface of phenomena, go down deeper, ask yourself on what basis did this international law grow up? What created the possibility of international conflicts of this kind? And what you will arrive at in the long run is economics. True, the examination of individual cases is made more difficult by the fact that not infrequently the conflicting societies are going through dissimilar phases of economic development.

But at this point we are interrupted by a chorus of acute opponents. “Very well,” they cry. “Let us admit that political relations are rooted in economic relations. But once political relations have been given, then, wherever they came from, they, in turn, influence economics. Consequently, there is interaction here, and nothing but interaction.”

This objection has not been invented by us. The high value placed upon it by opponents of “economic materialism” is shown by the following fact.

Marx in his Capital cites facts which show that the English aristocracy used the political power to achieve its own ends in the sphere of landownership. Dr. Paul Barth, who wrote a critical essay entitled Die Geschichtsphilosophie Hegel’s and der Hegelianer, has seized on this to reproach Marx with contradicting himself [18*]: you yourself, he says, admit that there is interaction here: and to prove that interaction really exists, our doctor refers to the book of Sternegg, a writer who has done much for the study of the economic history of Germany. Mr. Kareyev thinks that “the pages devoted in Barth’s book to the criticism of economic materialism may be recommended as a model of how the problem of the role of the economic factor in history should be solved.” Naturally, he has not failed to point out to his readers the objections raised by Barth and the authoritative statement of Inama-Sternegg, “who even formulates the general proposition that interaction between politics and economy is the fundamental characteristic of the development of all states and peoples.” We must bring at least a little light into this muddle.

First of all, what does Inama-Sternegg actually say? On the subject of the Carolingian period in the economic history of Germany he makes the following remark:

“The interaction between politics and economics which constitutes the main feature of development of all states and all peoples can be traced here in the most exact fashion. As always the political role which falls to the lot of a given people exercises a decisive influence on the further development of its forces, on the structure and elaboration of its social institutions; on the other hand, the internal strength innate in a people and the natural laws of its development determine the measure and the nature of its political activity. In precisely this way the political system of the Carolings no less influenced the changing of the social order and the development of the economic relations in which the people lived at that time than the elemental forces of the people – its economic life – influenced the direction of that political system, leaving on the latter its own peculiar imprint.” [44]

And that’s all. It’s not very much; but this is thought sufficient to refute Marx.

Now let us recall, in the second place, what Marx says about the relations between economies on the one hand, and law and politics on the other.

“Legal and political institutions are formed on the basis of the actual relations of men in the social process of production. For a time these institutions facilitate the further development of the productive forces of a people, the prosperity of its economic life.” These are the exact words of Marx; and we ask the first conscientious man we meet, do these words contain any denial of the importance of political relations in economic development, and is Marx refuted by those who remind him of that importance? Is it not true that there is not a trace of any such denial in Marx, and the people just mentioned are refuting nothing at all? To such an extent is it true that one has to consider the question, not of whether Marx has been refuted, but of why he was so badly understood? And to this question we can reply only with the French proverb: la plus belle fille du monde ne peut donner que ce qu’elle a (the most beautiful girl in the world can only give what she has got – Ed.). The critics of Marx cannot surpass that measure of understanding with which a bountiful Nature has endowed them. [45]

Interaction between politics and economics exists: that is just as unquestionable as the fact that Mr. Kareyev does not understand Marx. But does the existence of interaction prohibit us from going further in our analysis of the life of society? No, to think that would mean al-most the same as to imagine that the lack of understanding displayed by Mr. Kareyev can prevent us from attaining correct “historiosophical” conceptions.

Political institutions influence economic life. They either facilitate its development or impede it. The first case is in no way surprising from the point of view of Marx, because the given political system has been created for the very purpose of promoting the further development of the productive forces (whether it is consciously or unconsciously created is in this case all one to us). The second case does not in any way contradict Marx’s point of view, because historical experience shows that once a given political system ceases to correspond to the state of the productive forces, once it is transformed into an obstacle to their further development, it begins to decline and finally is eliminated. Far from contradicting the teachings of Marx, this case confirms them in the best possible way, because it is this case that shows in what sense economics dominates politics, in what way the development of productive forces outdistances the political development of a people.

Economic evolution brings in its wake legal revolutions. It is not easy for a metaphysician to understand this because, although he does shout about interaction, he is accustomed to examine phenomena one after another, and one independently of another. But it will be understood without difficulty by anyone who is in the least capable of dialectical thinking. He knows that quantitative changes, accumulating gradually, lead in the end to changes of quality, and that these changes of qualities represent leaps, interruptions in gradualness.

At this point our opponents can stand it no longer, and pronounce their “slovo i delo[19*]; why, that’s how Hegel used to talk, they shout. That’s how all Nature acts, we reply.

A tale is soon told, but work goes more slowly. In its application to history, this proverb may be altered in this way: a tale is told very simply, but work is complex in the extreme. Yes, it’s easy to say that the development of productive forces brings in its train revolutions in legal institutions? These revolutions represent complex processes, in the course of which the interests of individual members of society group themselves in the most whimsical fashion. For some it is profitable to support the old order, and they defend it with every resource at their command. For others the old order has become already harmful and hateful, and they attack it with all the strength at their disposal. And this is not all. The interests of the innovators are also far from similar in all cases: for some one set of reforms are more important, for others another set. Disputes arise in the camp of the reformers itself, and the struggle becomes more complicated. And although, as Mr. Kareyev so justly re-marks, man consists of soul and body, the struggle for the most indisputably material interests necessarily rises before the disputing sides the most undoubtedly spiritual problem of justice. To what extent does old order contradict justice? To what extent are the new demands in keeping with justice? These questions inevitably arise in the minds of those who are contesting, although they will not always call it simply justice, but may personify it in the shape of some goddess in human, or even in animal shape. Thus, notwithstanding the injunction pronounced by Mr. Kareyev, the “body” gives birth to the “soul”: the economic struggle arouses moral questions – and the “soul” at closer examination proves to be the “body.” Thejusticeof the old believers not infrequently turns out to be the interests of the exploiters.

Those very same people who, with such astounding inventiveness, attribute to Marx the denial of the significance of politics assert that he attached no significance whatsoever to the moral, philosophical, religious or aesthetic conceptions of men, everywhere and anywhere seeing only “the economic.” This once again is unnatural chatter, as Shchedrin put it. Marx did not deny the “significance” of all these conceptions, but only ascertained whence they came.

“What is electricity? A particular form of motion. What is heat? A particular form of motion. What is light? A particular form of motion. Oh, so that’s it! So you don’t attach any meaning either to light, or to heat, or to electricity! It’s all one motion for you; what one-sidedness, what narrowness of conception!” Just so, gentlemen, narrowness is the word. You have understood perfectly the meaning of the doctrine of the transformation of energy.

Every given stage of development of the productive forces necessarily involves definite grouping of men in the social process of production, i.e., definite relations of production, i.e., a definite structure of the whole of society. But once the structure of society has been given, it is not difficult to understand that the character of that structure will be reflected generally in the entire psychology of men, in all their habits, manners, feelings, views, aspirations and ideals. Habits, manners, views, aspirations and ideals will necessarily have to adapt themselves to men’s way of life, to their mode of procuring their subsistence (to use Peschel’s expression). The psychology of society is always expedient in relation to its economy, always corresponds to it, is always determined by it. The same phenomenon is repeated here which the Greek philosophers themselves noticed. in nature: expediency triumphs, for the reason that that which is inexpedient is by its very character doomed to perish. Is it advantageous for society, in its struggle for existence, that there should be this adaptation of its psychology to its economy, to the conditions of life? Very advantageous, because habits and views which did not correspond to its economy and which contradicted the conditions of existence would interfere with the maintenance of that existence. An expedient psychology is just as useful for society as organs which are well fitted for their task are useful for the organism. But to say that the organs of animals must be appropriate to the conditions of their existence – does that mean the same as saying that the organs have no significance for the animal? Quite the contrary. It means recognizing their colossal and essential significance. Only very weak heads could understand matters otherwise. Now the same, the very same, gentlemen, is the case with psychology. Recognizing that it adapts itself to the economy of society, Marx thereby was recognizing its vast and irreplaceable significance.

The difference between Marx and, for example, Mr. Kareyev reduces itself in this case to the fact that the latter, in spite of his inclination to “synthesis,” remains a dualist of the purest water. In his view, economics are here and psychology is there: the soul is in one, pocket and the body in another. Between these two substances there is interaction, but each of them maintains its in-dependent existence, the origin of which is wrapped in the darkest mystery. [46] The point of view of Marx eliminates this dualism. With him the economy of society and its psychology represent two sides of one and the same phenomenon of the “production of life” of men, their struggle for existence, in which they are grouped in a particular way thanks to the particular state of the productive forces. The struggle for existence creates their economy, and on the same basis arises their psychology as well. Economy itself is something derivative, just like psychology. And that is the very reason why the economy of every progressing society changes: the new state of productive forces brings with it a new economic structure just as it does a new psychology, a new “spirit of the age.” From this it can be seen that only in a popular speech could one talk about economy as the prime cause of all social phenomena. Far from being a prime cause, it is itself a consequence, a “function” of the productive forces.

And now follow the points promised in the footnote.

“Both the body and the soul of man have their requirements, which seek satisfaction and which place the individual personality in different relationships to the external world, i.e., to nature and to other men ... The relation of man to nature, according to the physical and spiritual needs of the personality, therefore creates, on the one hand, various kinds of arts aiming at ensuring the material existence of the personality and, on the other hand, all intellectual and moral culture ...” [20*]

The materialist attitude of man to nature rests upon the requirements of the body, the qualities of matter. It is in the requirements of the body that one must discover “the causes of hunting, cattle-breeding, agriculture, manufacturing industry, trade and monetary operations.” From a common-sense point of view this is so, of course: for if we have no body, why should we need cattle and beasts, land and machines, trade and gold? But on the other hand, we must also say: what is body without soul? No more than matter, and matter after all is dead. Matter of itself can create nothing if in its turn it does not consist of soul and body. Consequently matter traps wild beasts, domesticates cattle, works the land, trades and presides over the banks not of its own intelligence, but by direction of the soul. Consequently it is in the soul that one must seek the ultimate cause for the origin of the-materialist attitude of man to nature. Consequently the soul also has dual requirements; consequently it also consists of soul and body – and that somehow sounds not quite right. Nor is that all. Willy-nilly “opinion” arises about the following subject as well. According to Mr. Kareyev it appears that the materialist relation of man to nature arises on the basis of his bodily requirements. But is that exact? Is it only to nature that such relations arise? Mr. Kareyev, perhaps, remembers how the abbé Guibert condemned the municipal communes who were striving for their liberation from the feudal yoke as “base” institutions, the sole purpose of existence of which was, he said, to avoid the proper fulfilment of feudal obligations. What was then speaking in the abbé Guibert – ”body” or “soul”? If it was the “body” then, we say again, that body also consisted of “body” and “soul”; and if it was the “soul” then it consisted of “soul” and “body,” for it displayed in this case under examination very little of that unselfish attitude to phenomena which, in the words of Mr. Kareyev, represents the distinctive feature of the “soul.” Try and make head or tail of that! Mr. Kareyev will say, perhaps, that in the abbé Guibert it was the soul that was speaking, to be exact, but that it was speaking under dictation from the body, and that the same takes place when man is occupied with hunting, with banks, etc. But first of all, in order: to dictate, the body again must consist both of body and of soul. And secondly, a crude materialist may remark: well, there’s the soul talking under the dictation of the body, consequently the fact that man consists of soul and body does not in itself mean anything at all. Perhaps throughout history all the soul has been doing is to talk under dictation from the body? Mr. Kareyev, of course, will be indignant at such a supposition, and will begin refuting the “crude materialist.” We are firmly convinced that victory will remain on the side of the worthy professor; but will he be greatly helped in the fray by that unquestionable circumstance that man consists of soul and body?

And even this is not all. We have read in Mr. Kareyev’s writings that on the basis of the spiritual requirements of personality there grow up “mythology and religion ... literature and arts” and in general “the theoretical attitude to the external world” (and to one-self also), “to questions of being and cognition,” and likewise “the unselfish creative reproduction of external phenomena” (and of one’s own intentions). We believed Mr. Kareyev. But ... we have an acquaintance, a technological student, who is passionately devoted to the study of the technique of manufacturing industry, but has displayed no “theoretical” attitude to all that has been listed by the professor. And so we find ourselves asking, can our friend be composed only of a body? We beg Mr. Kareyev to resolve as quickly as he can this doubt, so tormenting for ourselves and so humiliating for a young, extremely gifted technologist, who maybe is even a genius!

If Mr. Kareyev’s argument has any sense, it is only the following: man has requirements of a higher and lower order, he has egotistical strivings and . altruistic feelings. This is the most incontestable truth, but quite incapable of becoming the foundation of “historiosophy.” You will never get any further with it than hollow and long-since hackneyed reflections on the theme of human nature: it is no more than such a reflection itself.

While we have been chatting with Mr. Kareyev, our perspicacious critics have had time to catch us contradicting ourselves, and above all Marx. We have said that economy is not the prime cause of all social phenomena, yet at the same time we assert that the psychology of society adapts itself to its economy: the first contradiction. We say that the economy and the psychology of society represent two sides of one and the same phenomenon, whereas Marx himself says that economy. is the real foundation on which arise the ideological superstructures: a second contradiction, all the more lamentable for us because in it we are diverging from the views of the man whom we undertook to expound. Let us explain.

That the principal cause of the social historical process is the development of the productive forces, we say word for word with Marx: so that here there is no contradiction. Consequently, if it does exist anywhere, it can only be in the question of the relationship between the economy of society and its psychology. Let us see whether it exists.

The reader will be good enough to remember how private property arises. The development of the productive forces places men in such relations of production that the personal appropriation of certain objects proves to be more convenient for the process of production. In keeping with this the legal conceptions of primitive man change. The psychology of society adapts itself to its economy. On the given economic foundation there rises up fatally the ideological superstructure appropriate to it. But on the other hand each new step in the development of the productive forces places men, in their daily life, in new mutual relations which do not correspond to the relations of production now becoming outdated. These new and unprecedented situations reflect themselves in the psychology of men, and very strongly change it. In what direction? Some members of society defend the old order: these are the people of stagnation. Others – to whom the old order is not advantageous – stand for progress; their psychology changes in the direction of those relations of production which in time will replace the old economic relations, now becoming outdated. The adaptation of psychology to economy, as you see, continues, but slow psychological evolution precedes economic revolution. [47]

Once this revolution has taken place, a complete harmony is established between the psychology of society and its economy. Then on the basis of the new economy there takes place the full flowering of the new psychology. For a certain time this harmony remains unbroken, and even becomes stronger and stronger. But little by little the first shoots of a new discord make their appearance; the psychology of the foremost class, for the reason mentioned above, again outlives old relations of production: without for a moment ceasing to adapt itself to economy, it again adapts itself to the new relations of production, constituting the germ of the future economy. Well, are not these two sides of one and the same process?

Up to now we have been illustrating the idea of Marx mainly by examples from the sphere of the law of property. This law is undoubtedly the same ideology we have been concerned with, but ideology of the first or, so to speak, lower sort. How are we to understand the view of Marx regarding ideology of the higher sort – science, philosophy, the arts, etc.?

In the development of these ideologies, economy is the foundation in this sense, that society must achieve a certain degree of prosperity in order to produce out of itself a certain stratum of people who could devote their energies exclusively to scientific and other similar occupations. Furthermore, the views of Plato and Plutarch which we quoted earlier show that the very direction of intellectual work in society is determined by the production relations of the latter. It was already Vice who said of the sciences that they grow out of social needs. In respect of such a science as political economy, this is clear for everyone who has the least knowledge of its history. Count Pecchio justly remarked that political economy particularly confirms the rule that practice always and everywhere precedes science. [48] Of course, this too can be interpreted in a very abstract sense; one may say: “Well, naturally science needs experience, and the more the experience the fuller the science.” But this is not the point here. Compare the economic views of Aristotle or Xenophon with the views of Adam Smith or Ricardo, and you will see that between the economic science of ancient Greece, on the one hand, and the economic science of bourgeois society, on the other, there exists not only a quantitative but also a qualitative difference – the point of view is quite different, the attitude to the subject is quite different. How is this difference to be explained? Simply by the fact that the very phenomena have changed: relations of production in bourgeois society don’t resemble production relations in ancient society. Different relations in production create different views in science. Furthermore; compare the views of Ricardo with the views of some Bastiat, and you will see that these men have different views of production relations which were the same in their general character, being bourgeois production relations. Why is this? Because at the time of Ricardo these relations were still only flowering and becoming stronger, while in the time of Bastiat they had already begun to decline. Different conditions of the same production relations necessarily had to reflect themselves in the views of the persons who were defending them.

Or let us take the science of public law. How and why did its theory develop? “The scientific elaboration of public law,” says Professor Gumplowicz, “begins only where the dominating classes come into conflict among themselves regarding the sphere of authority belonging to each of them. Thus, the first big political struggle which we encounter in the second half of the European middle ages, the struggle between the secular and the ecclesiastic authority, the struggle between the Emperor and the Pope, gives the first impetus to the development of the German science of public law. The second disputed political question which brought division into the midst of the dominating classes, and gave an impulse to the elaboration by publicists of the appropriate, part of public law was the question of the election of the

Emperor,” [49] and so on.

What are the mutual relations of classes? They are, in the first place, just those relations which people adopt to one another in the social process of production – production relations. These relations find their expression in the political organization of society and in the political struggle of various classes, and that struggle serves as an impetus for the appearance and development of various political theories: on the economic foundation there necessarily arises its appropriate ideological superstructure.

Still, all these ideologies, too, may be of the first quality, but are certainly not of the highest order. How do matters.. stand, for example, with philosophy or art? Before replying to this question, we. must make a certain digression.

Helvetius started from the principle that l’homme n’est que sensibilité. From this point of view it is obvious that man. will avoid unpleasant sensations and will strive to acquire only those which are pleasant. This is the inevitable, natural egotism of sentient matter. But if this is so, in what way do there arise in man quite unselfish strivings, like love of truth or heroism? Such was the problem which Helvetius had to solve. He did not prove capable of solving it, and in order to get out of his difficulty he simply crossed out that same x, that same unknown quantity, which he had undertaken to define. He began to say that there is not a single learned man who loves truth unselfishly, that every man sees in it only the path to glory, and in glory the path to money, and in money the. means of procuring for himself pleasant physical sensations, as for example, by purchasing savoury food or beautiful slaves. One need hardly say how futile are such explanations. They only demonstrated what we noted earlier – the incapacity of French metaphysical materialism to grapple with questions of development.


29. M. Kovalevsky, Tableau des origines et de l’évolution de la famille et de la propriété, Stockholm 1890, pp.52-53. The late N. Sieber’s Outlines of Primitive Economic Culture contains numerous facts demonstrating with the utmost clarity that modes of appropriation are determined by modes of production.

30. Ibid., p.95.

31. Ibid., p.57.

32. Ibid., p.93.

33. It is known that the intimate connection between the hunter and his weapon exists in all primitive tribes. – “Der Jäger darf sich keiner fremden Waffen bedienen,” (“The hunter must not make use of a stranger’s weapons.” – Ed.) says Martius of the primitive inhabitants of Brazil, explaining at the same time whence these savages derived such a “conviction”: “Besonders behaupten diejenigen Wilden, die mit dem Blasrohr schiessen, dass dieses Geschoss durch den Gebrauch eines Fremden verdorben werde, und geben es nicht aus ihren Händen”. (“In particular these savages who shoot with a blowpipe insist that this weapon is spoiled when used by a stranger, and don’t allow it out of their hands.”) (Von dem Rechtszustande unter den Ureinwohnern Brasiliens, Munich 1832, p.50.) “Die Führung dieser Waffen (bows and arrows) erfordert eine grosse Geschicklichkeit und beständige Uebung. Wo sie bei wilden Völkern im Gebrauche sind, berichten uns die Reisenden, dass schon die Knaben sich mit Kindergeräten im Schiessen üben.” (“The use of these weapons (bows and arrows) requires great skill and constant practice. Where they are in use among savage peoples, we are told by travellers, the boys already practise shooting with toy weapons.”) (Oskar Peschel, Völkerkunde, Leipzig 1875, S. 190.)

34. Loc. cit., p.56.

35. Dr. Albert Hermann Post, Der Ursprung des Rechts. Prolegomena zu einer allgemeinen vergleichenden Rechtswissenschaft, Oldenburg 1876, p.25.

36. Post belongs to the category of these people who have far from parted with idealism yet. Thus, for example, he shows that the union of kindred corresponds to hunting and nomad society, and that with the appearance of agriculture and the stable settlement bound up with it, the union of kindred yields place to “Gaugenossenschaft” (we should call it the neighbour-community), it would seem clear that the man is seeking the key to the explanation of the history of social relations in nothing else than the development of productive forces. in individual cases Post is almost always true to such a principle. But this does not prevent him regarding “im Menschen schaffend ewigen Geist” (“the Eternal Spirit, creating in Man” – Ed.) as the fundamental cause of the history of law. This than has been, as it were, specially created in order to delight Mr. Kareyev.

37. Loc. cit., p.139. When we were making this extract, we imagined Mr. Mikhailovsky quickly rising in his seat, crying: “I find this debatable: the Chinese may be armed with English rifles. Can one on the basis of these rifles judge of the degree of their civilization?” Very well asked, Mr. Mikhailovsky: from English rifles it is not logical to draw conclusions about Chinese civilization. It is of English civilization that one must judge from, them.

38. Loc. cit., pp. 252-53.

39. In a letter to his betrothed, written in 1833. Footnote for Mr. Mikhailovsky: This is not the Büchner who preached materialism in the “general philosophical sense”: it is his brother, who died young, the author of a famous tragedy, The Death of Danton.

40. Vestnik Yevropy, July 1894, p.6.

41. Ibid., p.7.

42. See the book of the late L. Mechnikov on the Great Historical Rivers. [17*] In this book the author in essence only summarized the conclusions arrived at by the most authoritative specialist historians, such as Lenormant. Élisée Reclus says in his introduction to the book that Mechnikov’s view will mark an epoch in the history of science. This is untrue, in the sense that the view is not a new one: Hegel expressed it in the most definite way. But undoubtedly science will gain a great deal if it consistently adheres to that view.

43. See Morgan’s Ancient Society and Engels’s book, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.

44. Deutsche Wirtschaftsgeschichte bis zum Schluss der Karolingenperiode, Leipzig 1889, Vol.I, pp.233-34.

45. Marx says that “every class struggle is a political struggle.” Consequently, concludes Barth, politics in your opinion does not influence economics at all, yet you yourself quote facts proving ... etc. Bravo, exclaims Mr. Kareyev, that’s what I call a model of how one ought to argue with Marx! The “model” of Mr. Kareyev displays a remarkable power of thought altogether. “Rousseau,” says the model, “lived in a society where class distinctions and privileges were carried to the extreme, where all were subjected to an all-powerful despotism; and yet the method of the rational structure of the state borrowed from antiquity – the method which was also used by Hobbes and Locke – led Rousseau to create an ideal of society based on universal equality and popular self-government. This ideal completely contradicted the order existing in France. Rousseau’s theory was carried out in practice by the Convention; consequently, philosophy influenced politics, and through it economics” (loc. cit., p.58). How do you like this brilliant argument, to serve which Rousseau, the son of a poor Genevese Republican, turns out to be the product of aristocratical society? To refute Mr. Barth means to repeat oneself. But what are we to say of Mr. Kareyev, who applauds Barth? Ah, Mr. V.V., your “professor of history” is poor stuff, really he is! We advise you quite disinterestedly: find yourself a new “professor.”

46. Don’t imagine that we are slandering the worthy professor. He quotes with great praise the opinion of Barth, according to which “law carries on a separate, though not independent existence.” Now, it’s just this “separateness though not independence” that prevents Mr. Kareyev from mastering “the essence of the historical process.” How precisely it prevents him will be immediately shown by points in the text.

47. In essence this is the very psychological process which the proletariat of Europe is now going through: its psychology is already adapting itself to the new, future relations of production.

48. “Quand’essa cominciava appena a nascerc net diciassettesimo secolo, alcune nazioni avevano già da più secoli florito colla loro sola esperienza, da cui poscia la scienza ricavo i suoi dettami.” Storia della Economia pubblica in Italia, ecc., Lugano 1829, p.11. [“Even before it (political economy) began to take shape in the seventeenth century, some nations had been flourishing for several centuries relying solely on their practical experience. That experience was later used by this science for its propositions.” – Ed.]

John Stuart Mill repeats: “In every department of human affairs, Practice long precedes Science ... The conception, accordingly, of Political Economy as a branch of Science is extremely modern; but the subject with which its enquiries are conversant has in all ages necessarily constituted one of the chief practical interests of mankind.” Principles of Political Economy, London 1843, Vol.I, p.1.

49. Rechtsstaat and Sozialismus, Innsbruck 1881, pp.124-25.



Editorial Notes

13*. K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol.I, Moscow 1955, pp. 362-63.

14*. K. Marx, Capital, Vol.1, Moscow 1958, p.177.

15*. K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol.I, Moscow 1955, p.363.

16*. Ibid., p.368.

17*. Plekhanov here refers to L.I. Mechnikov’s book La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques, avec une préface de M. Elisée Reclus, Paris 1889.

18*. Plekhanov refers to Paul Barth’s objections to Marx in Die Geschichtsphilosophie Hegels und der Hegelianer bis auf Marx und Hartmann, Leipzig 1890, pp.49-50.

19*. “Slovo i delo” gosudarevo (the word and deed of the sovereign) – the conventional name for the Tsarist political police method in the Russian Empire in the 18th century. To say “word and deed” meant to report state crimes.

20*. Quotation from N.I.Kareyev’s Economic Materialism in History, Vestnik Yevropy, July 1894, p.7.


Last updated on 23.12.2004