Sydney Libertarianism 2002

Anderson on Marx and Marxism

Written: by students of John Anderson from notes taken in his lectures;
Source: Serialised in Heraclitus No. 95, April 2002;
Transcribed: by Curtis Price.

(Especially because of the unfortunate identification of Marxism with the views and practices of Stalinist Communism, the demise of the USSR has made serious consideration of Marx and Marxism unfashionable. But then nowadays any serious consideration of social theory seems to be out of court – compare, as a manifest example, how our “opinion-makers” seem blithely to assume the truth of a Rousseau-type theory of social individualism/atomism. About that view at least, Anderson would be in agreement with Marx in sharply criticising it.

At any rate, readers may find interesting some lectures by John Anderson that will be serialized in Heraclitus. These were nine lectures he gave to the WEA in October and November 1947 on “Marx and Modern Thought.” Our account is based on notes taken by Ruth Walker, together with notes taken by Bill Maidment who attended the course from the fourth lecture on.)


In the Communist Manifesto there is an approach to the major questions. It was written for a special group, German refugees in London known as The Communist League, and is a statement of the views of this group. It is then a pamphlet, and is a piece rhetoric containing exaggerations and propaganda. It isn’t a work of scholarship as are some others of Marx’s writings. However, it was effective in getting certain views across and there is constant reference to it both by supporters and opponents.

Sorel, about forty years ago, wrote a pamphlet The Decomposition of Marxism, pointing to inconsistencies in Marx and his followers, and the way in which the latter were going different ways. However, the Russian Revolution caused a revival of interest in Marxism, and whether Leninism was true or false Marxism, it put Marxism on the map. Sidney Hook was one stimulated by Leninism and he tries to follow up the controversies to their sources. However the impact of Leninism on Western thought might not amount to a revival of Marxian thought – it might be an Indian summer. There is the possibility that decomposition has since gone on more rapidly.

Study such as that connected with a course of this kind is something opposed to the Marxian view. The latter raises the question: – What is the object of study? or, as part of what social process, in connection with what movement, are we conducting the study? The vital point in the Marxist theory in this connection is that unless we are studying to make some change, then so far as we are studying, it is only to keep things as they are, to maintain the status quo. This is the Marxist view concerning a claim that we are engaged in disinterested study. It is maintained especially in relation to the study of the human, the social etc., but consistency would require it to be held concerning all study.

If we accept this view, we put an obstacle in the way of study. We are denying one of the conditions under which study is possible, denying an interest in things themselves, in how things go on independently of what we want. Taking study as part of a program is being side-tracked to the question “What is to be done?”

This view of study is connected with a special view of practicality; it is the bringing about of some special kind of result that is considered. The bringing about of further study is a practical result in a general sense of practical, and the other view is narrow and arbitrary.

In Marxism we find the doctrine of the priority of some social facts over others. Some social arrangements come first, others follow. To say, as Marxists do, that certain things can wait until the fundamentals are settled is misleading. It is connected with their assumptions about Progress and Reform. They set aside cultural for material goods, thus weakening the interest in the former things. There is no assurance that when material goods are attended to, the others can be gone on with later. There is as strong an imperative for us to go on with our studying as for others to ‘ go on with other activities.

The “practical” interest in Marxian theory is misleading. It leads to that theory being taken as an article of faith for the accomplishing of the thing in question. Such faiths have been important in social development in the past, and there is no suggestion that one holding such a faith “ought” to turn and be a theorist, but still this faith does take the place of theory. Many people take Marx as a Bible; they are determined to believe every word. This brings out one aspect of Marxism as a movement. It is held to because it promises Emancipation (compare Religion and the promise of Salvation). For people having this attitude at least, Marxism is a kind of fantasy. A relevant question here is how much utopianism there is in Marx, in spite of his contrast drawn between Scientific and Utopian Socialism.

With the Manifesto go various Prefaces to the different editions. In one of these Engels makes a comparison between Marx and Darwin. He gives one definition of Marxist theory, presenting as the fundamental proposition that class struggles have formed an evolutionary series, and that the proletariat, in emancipating itself, will free society from all class wars. Referring to this, Engels says that it is destined to do for history what Darwin’s theory has done for biology. Actually the two positions are very different and this view about history is inferior to Darwin’s contribution.

Darwin is concerned with a theory setting forth the conditions and characteristics of biological development in general – how things could and did happen by the mechanism of Variation and Natural Selection. These are large conceptions as he was dealing with species in any place and at any time. Although the Darwinian theory has been interpreted in line with a view of a single, total evolutionary process from simpler to more complex forms of living things (compare H. Spencer), we don’t need a belief in progress to work with Darwinian theory.

If Marx were doing something similar, he would set out general laws for social matters, not deal with Society as one thing proceeding from the primeval to the complex, having a single continued progress. It is because of this notion of Progress that Max Eastman says Marx reads his desires into history. Marx was interested in the production of a certain kind of result, he wanted society to move in one direction. Darwin is more significant for real study because he was not concerned with bringing about one special result.

It is curious that Marxists have not applied Darwinian conceptions to social history. They talk vaguely of doing so, but they make Darwin’s “struggle for existence” a struggle between persons for the means of subsistence. They don’t conceive of social struggle as between types of social activity, organisations, institutions, etc. Even Marx, although he had a considerable sense of social organisation, applied evolutionary notions only in the sense that he believed in a single line of development; he did none of the detailed work that could be done with Darwinian categories.

At the same time, Marx’s work was a great stimulus to social thinking, and led to a criticism of individualism (as seen eg. in Bentham), even if there is some in Marx himself.

When we approach study of the subject with the assumption that society can be changed, we are ruling out one alternative, that things are not open to our manipulation.

Marx did not start off with belief in the proletariat. What he did have was an ideal of complete equality, complete democracy, and he came to think of the proletariat as the instrument of this, as the force which would establish it. There was a rising democratic spirit in the Rhineland in which Marx was caught up. He was brought up in the French Revolution atmosphere of Equality and Fraternity.


(There was a preliminary discussion connected with points that had been raised in class about the views of Marx and Engels): Hook thinks that for Marx dialectic is a social process, not applying to “nature,” though Engels says it does. Eastman in The Last Stand of Dialectic Materialism rejects this distinction between Marx and Engels. The issue is complicated because Marx would really have a social monism, would be taking all things to be social – see Theses on Feuerbach; here Marx and Engels seem to be the same.

What about knowledge – did they have a representationalist view? Lenin takes Engels’ view to be representational. Hook rejects the copying interpretation – he takes the matter to be one of a fitting together, not a crude copying. Possibly there is some difference between Engels and Marx, Engels holding more to a copying view, being more Lockean and less Hegelian than Marx.

It is doubtful whether two people could be in such agreement and mutual understanding as Marx and Engels are generally supposed to be.

As regards social movements, there is no question whether they exist or not. Compare the way we talk of working class movements, trade union movements, the Oxford movement, and so on. Whatever we mean by these expressions in detail, we do recognise movements. The difficulties are rather concerning causation in relation to them, concerning the details. Here the main contention is that it is not decisions that are important, but that the mode of life is prior to the program formed. Anyone taking the social view will reject the view that we should always look for the agent, or for some group of individuals.

The individual is no more an initiator of movements, a first beginner of things, than anything else in nature. He is not a first cause for any process in human affairs. Considering planetary movements, it is not said that Neptune behaves thus and Mercury thus, and an attempt made to get a theory by reference to the movements of these various things. Rather we think of these movements as something within the solar system, we take then as parts of processes of the solar system. The system is treated as originally broken off from central mass, and the present movements as intelligible only by reference to this breaking off. How each thing behaves is largely a function of the system in which it exists.

From our sophisticated point of view the most convenient way of distinguishing movements might be by policies, programs and ideologies; but even if this is the most convenient way of distinguishing them, we should not take the ideology to have originated the movement rather than being something thrown up by the movement.

Status of Theory

If we postpone or subordinate theory we are likely to distort it, and secondly theorising is as practical as any other activity; it is something people “go in” for. There is a different organisation of material made by a person interested in theory from that made by one with a practical end. The practical interest brings together a number of things which we should not study together.

The view taken up in opposition to this is that so-called theorising for its own sake means a neglecting of the needs of the workers (the theorist in an ivory tower etc.). Here note that J.A. is not saying that we ought to postpone other practical things to the theoretical. The point is that taking any group (such as the workers) it has no essential aims; study can also be a central aim.

It is false to try to judge all things in terms of one social struggle which is said to being “betrayed” by the theorists; there is a plurality of struggles. If we could truly conceive all things to be subordinated to economic freedom, there would be nothing to be interested in when we got there. It is often assumed that with emancipation all people could devote themselves to “higher” interests, but many are just not interested in theory at all. This is why we can argue that what is often called “Marxism” is misleading – it involves a pretence at having made a study which is superior to others. This exemplifies “proletarian vanity.” The argument starts from the existence of certain disabilities amongst the proletariat, hindrances to some types of activity. It is claimed that “we have as much right to amenities as anyone else.” Then it is said that we have as much culture as any other group, and finally that the only culture of any importance is that which advances us. This attitude is misleading and prejudicial to study. Compare the demagogic persuasions of the workers by Lenin that they have a better science than others; he gives a universal solution to the workers, presents theory as easy and urges them to get on with practice, the cry being that a detached concern with theory can wait until freedom comes.

Scientific Socialism

In the Manifesto we get an indication of what the position is, but it can’t be said to be fully worked out anywhere. According to the Manifesto scientific socialism means the demonstration of the inevitability of socialism; it is seen as a necessary consequence of social conditions now. The bourgeoisie especially is supposed to produce its own grave-diggers. The development of capitalism produces the proletariat and the conditions under which the proletariat can work so as to end capitalism.

A sketch of history is given. Socialism is society in its true form, something fully socialised; there is conflict in any other form. The argument does not begin with capitalism but suggests a period of pre-history. The historical period begins with the struggle of classes which proceeds up to capitalism where we have the most naked opposition, and in the post-historic era there will be no conflicts.

The theory is discussed by Eastman and by John West (ie. Burnham) with respect to the inevitability of socialism. Eastman is opposed to inevitability – he says that the question for us is to get as much as we can, ie. , he takes a voluntarist line. Burnham takes socialism to have a high probability, but leaves a margin for revolutionary ardor to come in. (This is the pre-Managerial Revolution Burnham.) He brings up the distinction between subjective and objective. The suggestion is that the objective conditions might be right, but the subjective ones not, eg. there might be treachery. But if we do have such incalculable factors interfering with the objective, the economic, if the economic does not determine everything in social matters, then how could it be proved that it does determine it in the long run, that the others only act as retarding factors? How could we say there is a necessary sequence of which socialism is the final phase? But without this it would not be a scientific view to say that socialism is the inevitable outcome of society. Compare the points about Darwin and Marx last week. For Darwin there is not development of the organic world from one stage to another – there is no guarantee of advance.

If we are dealing with things under conditions, it can’t be a question concerning the whole world. If it is a matter of things under conditions, then we can get plenty of verifications for a theory of development – compare the ages of man. We can get the notion of normal development (compare “late adolescence,” “early senility”), and plenty of observations of this type of development. But Marx’s view is of a sequence of Ages of history, not a question of many sequences; there is a single sequence, not a possibility of various sequences of, say, slavery to feudalism to capitalism etc. This means that we can’t distinguish faster and slower sequences; the assumption of the whole theory is that a stage happens only once. Maturity has never existed before; it is impossible then to predict that this state of affairs must follow the present one. There is no question of socialism having occurred in many other cases as a culmination.

A theory of that kind – of socialism having occurred before as a culmination would cut across the Marxian theory. It would mean either that socialism had been followed by retrogression or else that society had died out completely. If there had been retrogression before, there would be the possibility of it again after socialism was again reached, and so no argument for general progress. The choice would lie between retrogression and dying out, for there is nothing in society analogous to Death after Reproduction, no elder society etc. This is not inconceivable, but not what Marx has in mind. There is no reproduction in the sense even of a socialist society sending out colonies which might start at lower levels. Again, there is no question of a culmination in socialism in some specific area, and then the appearance of man elsewhere, going through the process again. This also, even if conceivable, is not what Marx means.

Marx takes a total or complete view concerning society, and this is not what is attempted in any other science – that is, except as science is sometimes popularly represented. Thus in physics there is no question of a general beginning or a final cessation.


According to Marxian theory there was primitive communism followed by struggle, but if this is so, then why is there not a chance of struggle even if we get communism again? It is also a weakness in the Marxian theory that it can’t explain how struggle could ever begin. Actually anthropologists oppose the theory of primitive communistic society. The use of the theory in the Marxian position is to meet the sort of objection J.A. has been raising, ie., the notion is that socialist society is something having characters previous societies have had; it isn’t just out of the blue.

The Marxist answer to the question why socialism could not give way to struggle if primitive communism was followed by such struggle is that: final socialism contains highly developed industry, so that man can cope with natural catastrophes such as famine. They have the organisation to meet it – in fact they have it now though they don’t use it.

There are no signs of an elimination of conflict in society at present. Marx has a false view of human nature in thinking of a complete co-operation at some period. This is a variety of idealist view – we can’t bring interests to a final common denominator – the view is based on a notion of an ultimate perfect human nature; at present we are supposed to have only imperfect approximations to this.

As regards the supposed priority of the economic, could there be conflict in activities without economic conflict? There are fundamental divergences other than economic and it is purely arbitrary to say that this sort of cleavage can be kept within limits, and there that there is a problem of what is to be given up in relation to these other conflicts.


Marx & Engels On Economic Interpretation of History or Historical Materialism

This is not so much a theory of society as one of social history. It is proper, in studying social organisations, to consider them as historical, not just as something promulgated (governed by fiats or constitutions). Marx gave a stimulus to this – considering things as processes – though it is by no means peculiar to him. The bad side of the position is the treatment of things in terms of origins (or earlier forms), the doctrine that we see what a thing is by seeing what it began as. It is in any case a different matter to say that we are studying society as – that social history is – a movement from lower to higher. On an historical treatment retrogression is as possible as progress. This utopianism is connected with Hegel’s progressive reality; it is not based on historical conditions; it is also based on Marx’s hopes that the slogans of the French Revolution should become actual.

Eastman suggests that Marx never set out the theory in full as a positive account but rather made “applications” of it, and that Engels came nearer to a full treatment. We have to fall back on occasional utterances & to remember that Marx was an agitator.

In the Critique of Political Economy Marx says that men enter into relations of production which are independent of their will, and law etc. depend on these relations. It is not consciousness that determines men’s social life, but the other way round. This doctrine is opposed to voluntarism, and is connected with the view that if social affairs were determined by human will, this is something so variable that no science of social affairs would be possible. Certainly believers in free will can’t allow there is a science of society. People’s ideas (including their ideas of what they are doing) are not what determine social affairs, and in upholding social determinism Marx is opening up social science.

Marx contends that much that presents itself as pure theory is really apologetics (which is part of what is meant by “ideology”). Granting this, there is still the question of what is meant by speaking (as Engels and Marx do) of something forming the basis or the real foundation on which arise legal forms, ideas etc. We can in fact talk significantly about capitalist politics, capitalist culture etc.; these are sorts of things that are there, occurring under capitalism, going on in certain ways. Engels later says that he and Marx never intended that the economic foundation was determinative of everything; all parts of the superstructure were supposed to influence social affairs (see letter to Bloch). But what is meant by the basis if we go on to talk of the movement of the superstructure determining the movement of the base? If we compare the basis and superstructure of a house, there is interaction here and also it is possible to have the basis without the superstructure. If this is the kind of metaphor followed, society appears to be a ramshackle affair, liable to fall any moment. The main suggestion is that the basis comes first in time (compare Engels at Marx’s funeral). Thus, the notion is that human beings must have food and clothing first before they can interest themselves in science, art, etc. It is actually impossible to separate an interest in subsistence from others, or to say that it can be settled first or independently. For Marx a society is thought of as a productive organisation, showing co-operation, but it is not the case that co-operation is first followed for survival, and later for more advanced objects.

Marx’s material here is influenced by his work concerning the exploitation of the working class, by the notion that for them at least subsistence is the question; the primary social problem is to remove the disabilities of the working class. The bourgeoisie is unfit to rule because it cannot ensure subsistence to the workers; it needs to feed them rather than be fed by them. (Compare the serfs in earlier times; and Engels, The Working Class in England, and Disraeli in Sybil on “the two nations.”) This view gives a picture of some conditions at that period, but it is not a picture of the workers in general, then or ever; if it were, if it were true as Marx says in The Holy Family that the proletariat is practically divested of humanity, then we could not regard the proletariat (that which is dehumanized) as the moving force to a new society – which is free etc. And yet Marx goes straight on to treat being this force as the mission of the workers. There is a clear contradiction here, but Marx is borrowing from Hegel, giving a dialectic proof of a dialectical revolution. In the proletariat we have the negation of humanity, therefore, through the proletariat we must have the reaffirmation of humanity. The resort to such an argument shows the weakness of any formal proof that might be offered.

There is a contradiction in Marx between determinism and voluntarism. The latter is seen in the appeal to the proletariat, the urging of its members to unite as they have nothing to lose but their chains. This agitational line is incompatible with the theoretical line which is the main one in his work. If the proletariat is in the degraded position he puts forward, he is showing that it could not be the instrument of a rise from its position. For such a rise he has to appeal for a movement which would involve the non-proletariat, which would have such leaders as Marx coming in and propagandising the workers.

Marx’s own attack on Utopian Socialists is important here, ie., his attack on them for their philanthropic line, for thinking that society can be moved by their schemes, their plans for betterment. He pointed out that “only as being the most suffering class does the proletariat exist for them”; it is “the gradual spontaneous class-organisation of the proletariat” that Marx thinks will lead to changes. But if the proletariat is as he imagines, it could not have this organisation. In Marx we have an exaggeration in the picture of the degradation of the working class; if things were so, there would be no working class organisations, but these exist, and so the working class doesn’t represent the antithesis of humanity and there is no argument to the necessity of socialism from this.

Seeing this exaggeration alters our view concerning bourgeois society. Instead of seeing it as a matter of those who have rights set over against those who don’t, we see a conflict between different types of organisations, granting that some are certainly stronger than others.

Finally, it is questionable whether economic activities are necessary for other activities in a way that others are not for them, and certainly questionable whether without interest in ideas we should have an interest in subsistence. In any case the necessary doesn’t have to come first in time, nor is it the “most important” in any value sense.

(Discussion: Suggestion that for Marx the working class was dehumanised only in its poverty, so that moral and political strength could remain with them. But would this be possible in Marxist theory? On education: education is a field of battle for social interests, then it is suggested that progress should “start with the children” the question is what would other forces be doing?)


See writings by Bernstein and Laurat.

There is dualism in Marx’s thought; humanitarianism is disavowed but it is there, and the other strain is the theory that advance in productive organisation is to be brought about by the proletarian revolution which will raise society to a higher level. (This will remove anti-social tendencies and produce a truly social state of affairs.)

There is a tendency among Marxists to come down on one side or the other of these two strains of thought, either to drop the view of the essentially productive character of the working class and come down on the betterment side, or else to drop the betterment and emphasise the side of morality, to be opposed to the utilitarian attitude.

In Bernstein we have something close to the first of these; he is chiefly concerned with betterment, while Sorel takes the second line. With Sorel the notion of a state of society to be achieved in dropped, and we have the study of present tendencies as things valuable in themselves. Sorel finds a productive movement in the working class, especially amongst those associated with syndicalism, and he looks on the working class as non-utilitarian.

Bernstein is concerned with reform rather than revolution. He argues that the sort of revolt that can come from the oppressed has no organising power, and that the only improvement in conditions is one that proceeds ‘through democracy. There can only be development of the rights workers already have in democracy. There is no urgent question of a final aim, Socialism, but reforms are the important thing. For Sorel, the workers are the representative in modern society of productive forces, and it is their business to assert this morality now, not to aim at something in the future.

(Burnham has set up the possibility of; a managerial revolution as something not allowed for in Marxism. Notice that Laurat is opposed to this sort of managerial view, though not acquainted with Burnham’s work, when dealing with the new type German and Italian systems and with Bolshevism in Russia. He says that Marx had fully allowed for these systems, that they need no departure from Marx’s view about the progress of society. His view is not at all persuasive.

Burnham is trying to put forward a different view of revolution from Marx1s -more what Marx would call counter revolution. He is saying there is no guarantee of progress to socialism; he always denied the dialectic and denied that Marx ever committed himself to the inevitability doctrine.)

In Bernstein’s case, he in effect rejects inevitability, and insists on freedom. He supports a distributive morality, but places less emphasis on this than on freedom.

Priority of the Economic

Some interpretations of this are not in line with the main Marxist view. Engels’ position is an example, ie. the view that what comes first is the securing of the needs of living, and that the ornaments of life come afterwards. This conflicts especially with the doctrine that consciousness follows and doesn’t lead social conditions; it would mean that the demands men make for food, clothing etc, are made first, and then they go on to make other demands. But this is to put men’s consciousness first, and is contrary to social determinism’s account of the priority of social conditions.

Compare Marxist ethics, Kautsky for example. We find here a remarkable treatment of the conceptions of evolution. The question Marxists raise of survival is always survival of individuals, of persons, not of forms of social activity, of institutions. And there is crude Darwinism in with it, as though the struggle for existence were a fight among individuals. There are also non-scientific notions of a will to live etc., an instinct of self-preservation. This “instinct” is discussed only be reference to results, and the loose talk about it never meets the point that only some do survive. It is this crude evolutionism that is seen in Jack London. This way of looking at things is bound up with the view that men’s getting the conditions of existence comes first.

With Darwin there are first things of a certain sort, and they are better adapted to survive. There is no question of their aiming at doing so. Anyhow, even on an individualistic basis, there would always be the question of survival on certain terms, of a fight for a certain kind of life.

Much time is spent by Marxists in denying that their doctrine is one of motives (eg. of an economic man), and in affirming that they are not concerned with people’s aims but with institutions, and this is implied by Marx’s view that consciousness is something that follows. And Engels’ view, of the priority of the economic motive, seen in his letters, cuts across the priority of the economic as such.

On the view that a purely economic society gives rise to others, how could we account for the rise of new forms? We should have to come back to the view which Engels is not ready to take, that these other things are merely apparent, that their real content is economic. If they are independent, there is no question of priority. There is interaction in any society we can contemplate, a clashing of different organisations, and no one of them appearing as the determinant.

We could argue that the economic organisation has a much greater influence than the others. There is a problem about how we specify quantities, but still we do pass such judgements. But if it is only a question of degree, how can we get the view of a necessary progress etc.?

What is often done (and not only in Marxian theory) is that writers trace an influence (and one can always find an economic influence) and then turn this influence into the sole determinant. The notion would be that the economic determines this aspect, and that if we analyse enough, we find it determines every feature. Engels is really committed to this by his talk of “final analysis.” If we got a thoroughly clear view, we should see determination by economic forces throughout according to him.

The effect of this is the treatment of influence as determinant, and the affixing of labels without justification, eg. “bourgeois.” The notion is that we thus get at the inwardness of phenomena, and don’t need to consider them any further. There actually is no single history to be unrolled in this way.

Marx says that we distinguish between the development of material conditions and their conflict, and between the conditions and the legal etc, forms in which they fight it out. The fundamentals can be distinguished with the precision of natural science, but not so with the ideological forms. In his letters Engels says that he and Marx overestimated the economic, that often the legal etc. forms were best for our seeing the struggle. Eastman asks why there should be this difference between the fundamental and the ideological, why there would be no science of the ideological. He thinks that Marx is leaving room for his, Eastman’s voluntarism, ie., that there is a certain freedom for people. They can ask “What can we do with the material conditions,” and then do it. (He takes this as a denial that the determinants of material conditions are those of ideas?) Actually Marx’s passage doesn’t uphold Eastman’s view, for it is not a denial of the theoretical possibility of a science concerning legal forms etc.

Marx goes on to say that we can’t judge of a period’s transformation by its own consciousness, anymore than we accept a person’s view of his own character. Ideological conflicts are to be explained by those in productive forces. Later we shall be able to get a clearer view of events now. This suggests that Eastman’s interpretation is wrong.

It is an arbitrary view that no social system ever disappears until it has produced all the social forms for which it has room. Compare Engels – that the time always has the man. Linked with this is the notion that mankind only takes up problems which it can solve, which hardly fits in with the view about consciousness lagging behind.

Marx goes on to give broad forms of social organisation, or relations of production – Asiatic, feudal, bourgeois, the bourgeois being the last of social antagonisms. (This is one of the things Bernstein calls in question, but he doesn’t realise that progressive realisation of antagonism is part of Marx’s position.)

These conceptions aren’t just broad; they are very rough and inadequate. Thus what is the meaning of Asiatic? Is it nomadic? Marx takes the Graeco-Roman organisation to be based on slavery, feudalism on serfdom, and the bourgeois system on working for wages. The description of the Graeco-Roman is inadequate. There certainly were slaves, but they weren’t the major factor in production, were not comparable to wage workers nowadays. Sparta was in a special position, but if we take Athens, there were many free cultivations etc. There was a use of slaves in certain industries, eg. in the silver mines, and there were some for domestic work, some for agriculture, but there were many non-slaves in various crafts.

We can’t say that the typical class struggle of the period was between slaves and others; it was really between landed interests and others; we need to see this to understand Athenian history.

Also it is false that the passage from one form to another was by revolution, unless we just mean a transformation. Bernstein thinks the Marxists take the French Revolution as the typical revolution, but there was nothing comparable to this earlier in history. For example feudalism was a compromise form. And there was no political revolution at all between the Graeco-Roman organisation and the German one, which wasn’t a slave society at all. There is no single track development such as Marx wants. The only definitely distinguishable revolution in Marx’s sense is the bourgeois one. Here we do have the connection with economic changes and also the development of the new within the old.

There is nothing comparable in relation to a proletarian revolution. No forms are growing up that would be capable of getting power at a time of political upheaval. Bernstein refers to co-operatives, but has to admit that consumers’ co-operatives are developed more than producers’, and he doesn’t think that we can argue that trade unionism supplies an alternative organisation.

Bernstein contends that even if we adopt Marx’ s line, we could not say that at present the proletariat is at a level for a revolution. Revolution is not the order of the day at least. The question is only of developing working class movements within democracy.


There is an opposition of strains in Marx’s thought between the philanthropic and anti-philanthropic. A solution of the dichotomy is offered by Bernstein’s view about a revision of Marx. See his Evolutionary Marxism , but the translation appears not to be full. Sorel in his Decomposition of Marxism (ie., breaking down, analysis, of Marxism) about 1907, pays considerable deference to Bernstein and has quotations which do not appear in the English version. Thus Bernstein distinguishes between the “constructive” (Utopian Socialism) and the “destructive” (popular revolutionaryism) strains. The former is taken as peaceful and evolutionary, and the latter as conspiratorial, demagogic, terrorist; and there is a contrast in regard to economic organisation and political expropriation. Sorel agrees there is a contrast but has a different line of solution.

Bernstein’s emphasis is on evolution and on the question of the “maturity” of the working class and its capacity to undertake the tasks of revolution (compare Laurat.) He backs this up by quotations from Marx, eg. that it is only after a long time that workers are able to carry out their historic mission (on The Civil War in France). But according to Marx there are long struggles without any ideals to realise; the struggles only set free a movement which is irresistible. But Bernstein dissents from the view that the proletariat has no ideals; he argues we should move from cant to Kant, should emphasise the moral side and recognise an absolute ideal (not be cynical).

Sorel also emphasises the “moral” side of the working class movement but he does not take it to involve a Kantian view of absolute rectitude of human behaviour; rather he finds a special morality, the ethic of the producer in the proletariat as the revolutionary class.

Bernstein is opposing the notion of class morality and implying a doctrine of social unity, of a cohesion of interests. He is really opposed to the Marxist view of class struggle, while Sorel of course thinks that this is what is especially Marxist, in contrast with what comes from the Utopians etc.

Bernstein criticizes a good deal of Marx as out of date, narrow, confused, and aims at revising its crudity. He suggests Marx and Engels changed their views very much on leading conceptions – see Engels1 late letters .on the materialist conception of history. Engels claims that for propaganda purposes he and Marx first expressed themselves rashly in their emphasis on the economic factor. But Bernstein thinks this is false, that the more balanced view is a real modification; it makes out the economic factor is very important but without the primacy of the original theory as in Preface to Critique of Political Economy. J.A. thinks Engels was probably sincere, but that his change shows real uncertainty concerning the earlier view.

Bernstein also thinks in the case of the theory of labor value and surplus value that there wasn’t just a bringing out of complications in later views, but a break from the purity of the original formula.

Likewise Bernstein questions the theory of crisis. He believes there is a greater interval between periods of crisis as time goes on. And he argues against the concentration theory in regard to industry; he finds evidence of the persistence of decentralization in Germany and England in the late 1890s period.

He also opposes the doctrine of increasing misery; he sees trade unionism as a moderating influence on the rigours of capitalism; there is an ameliorated situation, not a desperate one.

Bernstein’s position is not quite consistent or thoroughly worked out, but it is a stimulus to thought on the subject.

The major question he raises is that of democracy. It is a condition of the political maturity of the proletariat and of workers generally that they are living in a democratic regime. It is here that they get a training in political and economic organisation. He argues that democracy is not as such a class state of society; there is a suppression of class government, but not of classes. In arguing that democracy is needed for the maturity of the working class he is largely dropping the view of class division which is especially associated with Marxism. This makes him take up an essentially reformist line. He reproaches the German Social Democratic Party for not recognising its own reformist character, pointing out that it is idle for it to pretend it is a revolutionary party as ordinarily understood.

The opposition between the evolutionary view and the revolutionary one is associated with the French leader Blanqui who was a keen revolutionist.

Sorel thinks Bernstein was right about the hypocrisy of German Social Democracy; its policy was a reformist one. Bernstein was trying to be realistic here but Kautsky and others were scandalised by his view; though in fact what they did was utter revolutionary phrases when they were without force.

The question of maturity and democracy is an important one. In democracy there is less opposition between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie than Marx gave account of. Bernstein points to the workers’ having active powers and growing rights within the existing democratic system, and presents his view as a natural development of certain parts of Marxist theory. He opposes the catastrophic view of the conquest of power by the workers. He objects to the notion that they would simply impose on other interests. He takes a comment of Marx (new Manifesto edition 1872) to support this, namely that the Paris Commune showed the workers cannot just take over the state-machine ready made and run it. Bernstein takes this to mean they must also make room for others. But this, as Lenin shows, is not what Marx meant. In State and Revolution he quotes Marx’s 1871 letter in which he held that the workers must smash the state-machine; they must create new organisations different from those of the previous regime, and substitute citizen administration for state bureaucracy .Compare Marx’s view (Civil War in France) that much in the Louis Bonaparte regime goes back to the feudal period; compare too his discussions about a civilian army in contrast to a professional one.)

Bernstein then is wrong in claiming Marx’s support for his view about the need of the working class to cooperate with others, but he may be right in holding that the cooperation view is the correct one. It is only with a certain equipoise of powers that one can have democracy and a political system in one sense of the word, ie., even if each is trying to gain power,- there needs to be equipoise.

Sorel finds traces of both Blanquism and Utopianism in Marx and thinks that these tend to run together. He sees the opposition between the doctrines of amelioration and of conspiratorial seizure of power, but considers that if you have an uprising you will have political leadership, a group acting for the people, using workers for their own purposes. There may be the gaining of something for the followers but only by bringing into being a new type of social bureaucracy. But that is not so very different from the Utopians; there is a division of leaders and led in both situations as regards the workers.

Sorel takes the class struggle to be the chief Marxist thing. He discusses the French syndicalists of his time who, he says, are not revolutionaries in the Blanquist sense – they are not concerned to grab the state, or again with political maturity. They are rather concerned with the independent view which the workers have, something that comes out most clearly in the notion of the general strike and the social conception of myth – where the assertion of irreconcilability is the central thing. Sorel makes fun of those who are trying to work out a new scheme for the organisation of society. In practice its organisation is done by capitalism itself, while what workers are concerned with is independence, with the running of factories without the sort of direction imposed by capitalism. But Sorel is not especially concerned with a definite outcome. The vital thing, in his eyes, is the assertion of values by the workers that go with this attitude of irreconcilability; it is not the achievement of an end which is vital but the assertion of their own morality, of values other than comsumers1 values.

There is something in Marx of this view that moral protest is the workers’ position, but it will hardly do. It is not embraced by any considerable section of the working class, which is mainly concerned with bourgeois values of betterment, etc., not with heroic values. The former values are present in any workers’ movement we know of, so even if Sorel is right in asserting a moral opposition there is no reason for holding that this attitude is especially to be associated with the workers. A producers’ outlook is neither common nor peculiar to them, nor is it something that is especially helped by the processes of capitalist production. The case is not made out for continual, automatic progress in organisation without any devising procedure. Again, the producers’ outlook is hardly formed simply by the fact that the workers work in workshops without relation to profit, ownership etc.; that does not ensure that the workers get a producers’ outlook and shake off notions of expropriation. There is more here in Bernstein’s view that in the development of modern society one gets a variety of ways of participating in political activity within the democratic system.

Sorel is very much opposed to the party; he insists on the class. The class view is present in the strike and most fully in the conception of the general strike This gives the clearest notion of what Sorel means by the working class. But Sorel presents too simple a view of Marx’s position – Marx would not agree that the party can be done away with.

Neither Bernstein nor Sorel gives a clear view of what is meant by working-class revolution or the socialist transformation of society. But then Sorel is least concerned with outcomes; his concern is with moral regeneration. He thinks we cannot anticipate what the outcome might be, but that even if all our hopes are illusory they still bring about moral regeneration. Hence the place of myth in his position. On this matter he draws a comparison with the belief in a Second Coming; he takes this to have helped to give unity to the Christian movement as a force in Western society. Also he argues that the Christian church made advances by irreconcilability, by opposition to the world, not by any sort of political behaviour. There does seem to be something to the view that moral regeneration is connected with opposition to the world, ie., opposition to current views and values.

(In discussion, Doug McCallum: Bernstein’s position is often treated as giving ideology to the reformist movement and as leading to a division of leaders and led, to workers themselves not participating in movements. But can we trace the workers’ subordination to leaders to evolutionist or reformist doctrine? Remember Sorel’s doctrine that the revolutionary doctrine also leads to this. This suggests the question whether the working class is not really just servile.)


Bernstein makes a distinction between the socialisms of Blanqui with his uprising view and that involving the “maturity” of the workers; Lenin is clearly right in criticising Bernstein’s account of the attitude of workers’ government to the existing state apparatus so far as Marxism is concerned .

Rosa Luxembourg, in replying to Bernstein, says that while the workers are not yet mature enough to take charge of society, it is not by passive “education” but by attempts to take power that they will achieve maturity – as eg. with the Paris Commune. This is also Lenin’s line: the Paris Commune was a necessary step on the way to sovietism.

There is, however, a divergence between Luxembourg and Lenin: Luxembourg solved the Marxist dilemma by holding that strength was gained through struggle, but Lenin in What Is To Be Done held that socialism must be brought to the workers from without. He endorses a quotation from Kautsky in which socialist theory is presented as requiring bourgeois elements. Given this it is difficult to pretend that we have a proletarian revolution if it is a combination of proletarian and non-proletarian elements; we have accident here, even adventurism, something which is not in line with Marx’s view that there is a necessary development towards socialism. This led to accusations against Lenin, even as against Blanqui. See Laurat who says that the Lenin sort of overthrow cannot be proletarian.

Anderson says here there are attempts to solve insoluble problems; the proletariat has an impossible role given Marx’s theory of what the proletariat is. We can’t argue on the basis of hardship, ie., that because the proletariat is badly off it is bound to overcome difficulties. This is against all lessons of history.

Sorel’ s view is that both alternatives – a gradual policy of reform (philanthropy) and a conspiratorial uprising – are mistaken. Both will have an official party at its head, both will create divisions similar to those supposed to be being fought, ie., the workers will be tying themselves to politicians, to leaders who will only look after workers’ interests on the supposed basis of good will or philanthropy. Lenin’s own class of professional revolutionaries is separate from the working class.

Sorel in Reflections on Violence, where he is not especially concerned with any seizing of power, often speaks in terms of revolutionary syndicalism, of workers taking over workshops and the organisation developed for them by capitalism. Beyond this industrial material there is nothing about what society would be like and Sorel insists that it is impossible to tell in detail about the future. He takes the conception of a decisive battle to be important in the working class movement; he thinks the movement could not continue without this conception, but he is not -prepared to look beyond this. For him it is impossible to picture what society would be. He repudiates not only parliamentarism but also a party for the working class. He is concerned only with working men in factories whose views are taken as summed up in the general strike.

There is a duality of emphasis in Sorel, on the one hand on fight, on the class struggle (which is essential in Marx), and on the other hand on organisation, juridical relations etc. In one paper he contrasts the Christian outlook and that of socialism precisely in regard to this point, that socialism has views about organisation whereas Christianity is purely philanthropic – the poor are given food by the rich and their beliefs by the Church, which treats them merely as receivers and consumers, not as producers.

But Sorel doesn’t really bring out a socialist organisational line; his picture of workers running a workshop is not enough. There is nothing in this about juridical relations. He has the notion (1) of organisational continuity especially in connection with industry and also (2) of heroic values being developed in connection with revolutionary syndicalism, going with the general strike. As regards values, he takes the outcome not to be important.

What is important is the rejection of current values, those especially associated with capitalism. There is no sign of surety of final victory though Sorel might argue that it is only with ideas of this kind that one could get victory.

Anderson says in regard to the rejection of the commercial values which are especially associated with capitalism, this does not require even the idea of final overthrow, and it is not peculiar to the proletariat. Sorel himself refers to the kinship of the revolutionary workers and the artist, who is taken to have the spirit of initiative, a care for exactitude and a rejection of the notion of reward. And the rejection of commercial morality is not common to the workers; many have a consumer outlook, a bourgeois mentality. Many are people concerned with possessions, and are just objecting to the present division of property. Sorel is identifying the proletariat with his friends, the syndicalists.

The vital thing in Sorel1s work is the rejection of reward and the connected rejection of an attitude of bringing about results. This brings in a doctrine of perpetual opposition – which is more liberal than socialistic though they are linked perhaps in the development of socialism. Compare the position of Max Nomad (an anarchist?) who thinks we are driven by recent events to see that there will never be a society of free and equal people, that freedom is a matter of opposition. There is revolutionism in this in a sense, as it involves continual struggle and the overthrowing in certain minds of bourgeois values. (Sorel tries, in various ways, to contrast two moralities. See him on sublimity.)

James Burnham (with particular reference to The Managerial Revolution) is concerned with difficulties in the conception of a proletarian revolution; he argues it is not happening or going to happen in our time. He begins by examining the notion of the permanence of capitalism (often assumed by apologists for capitalism), and says this is no longer able to be maintained. The opposed view-that it will be replaced by socialism he calls the “only alternative” theory. Thus many people think that because Russia is not capitalist, it is socialist. He says the change there is into a managerial society. In chapter 4 he makes general and special objections to socialism’s supposed occurrence at the present time in a somewhat similar way to Bernstein. He also makes Eastman’s point that there is no positive proof in Marx of a trend from capitalism to socialism; only the hope that socialism will follow. ,

Notice that Rosa Luxembourg said that Bernstein, in denying that capitalism was breaking up into socialism, was denying other parts of the theory also, eg. the class view. This is a fair comment because of the intimate connection of the various parts of Marxism, but still Burnham could be right about the lack of demonstration of the coming of socialism. In Marxism the role of the proletariat is the main thing here. When capitalism is breaking up it is said the proletariat must be able to step in and take over. The workers have no one to dispossess but a handful of finance-capitalists because of the centralization found in capitalism. But that does not show how the workers do so, and also Burnham, like Bernstein, argues that some sectors of the economy have not come under capitalist organisation in the way Marx predicted, eg. agriculture has not.

What is new in Burnham is the emphasis on the new middle class, managers, accountants, bureaucrats, etc. who do not fit either into the capitalist class or the proletariat. Burnham thinks it is their coming to power that we see happening, unequally of course in different places. But he thinks the change is definitely discernible and that the collapse of capitalism means the coming of a managerial society.

Anderson says Burnham overlooks certain factors, ones often overlooked also by Marxists. He emphasises the economic category of management rather than organisation (reference by Anderson to Marshall the economist). We could put in management between workers and organisation, its difference from organisation being that managers are especially concerned with internal arrangements – as distinct from external organisation in relation to the market and other industry. There is no hard and fast line of division, but a definite difference. Burnham is unduly influenced by doctrines of technocracy in America; internally concerned manager organisers cannot be put above the external organisers; without a vital relation to markets there would be no industry at all.

Burnham may be quite correct in thinking that the capitalist entrepreneur loses influence in a managerial society; but his work must be taken over by someone, and in this type of society it is taken over by the politician, the political entrepreneur. Burnham refers to engineers and politicians in regard to Communist Russia, but he places too much emphasis on engineers in taking them to be the leading class in the politico-engineering society, as in Russia.

Sorel tries out what he interprets as main Marxist ideas to construct a theory of socialism and the proletariat; he has to construct gap-fillers to avoid the weakness of the basis. He proceeds from a rejection of the view that something ought to be, depending on the view that social forces have no independent character.

There is doubt as to whether a set of precepts can be taken as expressing a person’s social position. The real subject of moral theory is the distinction between various modes of living and outlooks, Anderson says.

Marxian socialism implies that a group divorced from organisational activity can take over the organisation of society. If a group is not in a low moral state it is hard to say the group is exploited or oppressed.

Compare too the argument against setting aside culture first in favour of the settlement of the economic issue – or sinking of freedom in the present for the sake of future gains. This points to a low moral view which indicates that the persons concerned are unequal to the task they purport to undertake.

Sorel is building up an artificial theory: heroism and nobility are “manifested in strikes; he moves from this to the notion of the General Strike and the idea of irreconcilables, and then to the identification with Marxian socialism.

He separates proletarian violence from middle class use of force; and he contrasts the syndicalist general strike with political general strikes as in the seizure of power. He wants to exclude from socialism those things he doesn’t like; he attributes to the workers a heroism that is not common or peculiar to working class activity. Compare the instance of the Moscow trials and the attitude of the working class (non-professional communists) and their acceptance of “reasons of state.” Through his conception of the general strike Sorel is trying to impose an artificial unity of the working class.

There is the question of the need to reject the whole class theory of socialism, according to which groups are defined by relation to “the sale of labor power”; the argument against this being the most useful way to distinguish groups.

There is a contradiction in Sorel between his doctrine of violence and irreconcilables and the work of organisation – he has a view about social regeneration that consists solely in regard to the organisation of the factory.


We can refer back to Burnham; his case for the imminence of a managerial revolution is the impossibility of a proletarian revolution; this is the alternative to socialism and capitalism. Burnham doesn’t treat of the view that you would always get a managerial revolution with an attempt to achieve socialism. It may be argued that any break from capitalist democracy is a break into bureaucracy, autocracy, hierarchical socialism.

Burnham points to a special province for the technocrats; he argues that there is a growth of this class and that its special kind of managerial work will be more an more prominent in the society of the future. There is the question of the distinction between management and organiation – internal and external organisation, as in the distinction between management and directors (capitalist entrepreneurs). Burnham argues that the latter is becoming less important as compared with the managing type; he says in Russia (Stalin’s USSR) it is the managing type which has most specifically come to the front; this he sees as what is most special about Russia which, he says, has come closest to the institutional type of the future (though Nazi Germany was somewhat similar).

Anderson says this view is a serious mistake; it makes the organisation of society and political control a mere appendage of technicians ; whereas it is

in fact the other way round – even if there is independence and a cleavage, the political type is dominant. Seizure of power is the seizure of the main types of enterprise in society by this group, and the technicians are under them.

Burnham is in line with Marxism where it tries to minimise the function of direction; profit of superintendence earns wages, but that is not profit-earned, it is only the profit of surplus. This, in both Burnham and Marx, is a false view, which is carried on in the doctrine of value, in which it is implied that there is no value except that of the workers’ labor. Despite their professions to the contrary, Marx and Engels make moral appeals, eg. “exploitation.” If we had an amalgamation of labor and industry we would have a better form of organisation; exploitation would then have some meaning, but it does not in the notion of the worker being deprived of the production of his labor.


How ethical issues are treated by Marxism.

Marxists take a relative view of ethics: ethics being the expression of the needs of a certain group. They attempt here to explain things by their origins, which is a confusion – ie., there is a confusion between character and origin; a confusion between what gives rise to a doctrine and the truth of the doctrine.

There is always the assumption that certain views are absolutely true in attempting to put forward any theory. Marx and Engels make use of terms which would be meaningless apart from this absolutist view – compare their talk about “progress,” moving from “lower to higher.”

There are suggestions of an absolutist view of ethics in accidental or special remarks of Marx, but no systematic treatment of it. Compare his views about the diffusion and the equitable sharing of goods and activities. Marx points out the looseness of this (in The Gotha Program); people have so many different wants. The ideal of diffusion or general distribution is weak because it doesn’t make precise what are the different types of activity; once specified it might be seen that these can’t be diffused throughout society. For example, the level of culture in a society is not measured by its diffusion but by the height to which particular manifestations have reached; by its nature it is always a limited sort of thing, is always carried on with difficulty in any sort of society. Culture is a struggle of a minority against a pressure of mass interests.

Marxism has had a prejudicial effect in so far as it has tried to read economic interests into all forms of art and science. Compare its view that cultural activity must concern itself with social problems, must be on one side or the other. But culture loses its special scientific or artistic character when it becomes partisan; links itself with parties or takes sides. Objective theory is not a manifesto or an urging of certain activities. Yet we find in Marxism the notion of proletarian mathematics even, if there is objectivity in mathematics, then it is found also in physics, biology, and so on.

The Marxist belief that there is a universal ability to contribute implies a doctrine of perfectionism, a view concerning the nature of man – compare the theological view that man is made for a certain purpose.

The influence of Marx is also connected with a pluralistic view of society, with its emphasis on the division of interests in capitalist society. This does open up the subject, allow a better statement of the problem – though there is a natural tendency to accept what goes with pluralism in Marxist theory and conflicts with it, especially the notion of future unity.

Looking at the question of optimism and pessimism, we find that Marxism is given over almost entirely to the optimistic view. There is a Marxist tie-up with the ideas of the 18th century and the French revolution. Modern pessimism has been almost entirely passed by Marxism (compare Nietzsche’s pessimism and also Sorel’s). There is in Marxism a theological egalitarianism and optimism: for while admitting that present society is not what people would like it to be, it maintains that the present state of society is a necessary stage in the passage to things as we would like them to be. But if we recognise a plurality of social interests, we have to recognise that there is no future unity, that the environment, natural and social, is in some way alien to man, a hindrance to man.

Cultural, including theoretical, activity is concerned first to maintain itself, rather than to extend itself. This is its fight – to prevent itself from being annihilated. And one of the main things to fight against is the diffusion view. If extension is the slogan, people are not sufficiently concerned with the conditions under which learning itself can take place. They go on to take as learning something exceedingly inferior. We get larger and larger buckets of smaller and smaller beer.

There is a tendency for rights of non-interference to disappear, partly under the impact of Marxism, with its concern with collective control. There was a great period of culture with rising capitalism, and the notion of non-interference is especially associated with capitalism; though for bourgeois theorists it was to hold only for certain things.

The social levelling which Marxism involves means the disappearance of a many-sided culture.


Freedom, not as just absence of hindrance, which is purely negative, but as a thing that could go on, is connected with non-interference. The use of the term freedom could not be explained without a positive sense; compare the notion of a general flowering of cultural activities in the classical periods of different cultures. It does not matter very much whether we regard freedom as such a condition of society or as a characteristic of a type of mind which flourishes there – the free or adventurous type of person. But if freedom is taken purely negatively, we could not connect it with adventurousness. (We get the negative view again if we take the free person just as opposed to current prejudices.) It is under such conditions of free (in the positive sense) mentality and society that we have culture.

People interested in Socialism have this situation facing them. See Hegel’s remark somewhere concerning people who want to get away from the evils of society and migrate to America, that “Here or nowhere is your America”; the other view is an otherworldly one. Similarly we might say “Here or nowhere is your Socialism!” If one cannot get free from current prejudices, lead a free or emancipated sort of life here, there is no reason to think that one will do it by a number of mechanical adjustments. Actually emancipation is connected with social pluralism.

This lecture has been a summing up of more general material and J.A. is going on next to Politics or Political Pluralism and the theory of the State.

After discussion: Different branches of culture can flourish in different parts of society. We can put too much emphasis on cultural minority. Political life is a form of culture. Marxian theory has of course assisted us to a sense of movements.

Compare Sorel on the development of cultural activities in workers’ activities. He presents irreconcilability (violence) as the contribution, or the cultural side, of Socialism. We need to recognise conflict and diversity. Culture is a minority tendency wherever it comes from, but it comes from different regions. Compare the question of folk culture and folk music in connection with the culture of lower classes.

N.B. The precariousness of culture. It has hung on in cracks, so to speak, not as something dominant on either side. No one gets a salary for being cultured. Culture has only a precarious hold on the university.


Last week the view was mentioned that the worker, being unable to contribute to culture, therefore goes for betterment. But against that is this:, as well as contributors, there is a need for appreciators of theory, of the criticism of present-day tendencies. And there is much more forceful criticism if one is not hampered by the general social outlook. There is a simplifying of all problems by the Marxian approach with its constant talk of exploitation and emancipation. Criticism nowadays is largely an escape from Marxist thought – compare Burnham.

Even with coterie groups and special journals etc., you get fairly wide criticism and have workers participating in them. This was true of the British journal The New Age, edited by A.R.Orage, which flourished from the 1910s to the early 1920s. This journal incidentally was keenly read by Anderson’s parents and siblings and greatly influenced his early critical thought.) Universities with their cultural activity are not co-extensive with critical activity but there is an important link – which illustrates the need for “colleges” in the sense of repositories of traditions & sources continuity and by a connection with similar institutions elsewhere, the frequency of pedantry, passivity and mere traditionalism notwithstanding.

Criticism amongst workers will include criticism of Marxism and of the contradictions of Marxism (though some of them are only apparent contradictions). There is a distinction between just emphasising the contradictions and seeing where the Marxist position leads – as eg. in the covering up of issues by accepting the “need for action”; in this regard the so-called theory has more the character of a religion.

Marxist Theory of the State

The contradictions in this theory are brought out in Lenin’s The State and Revolution.” This is entirely unoriginal, consisting largely of quotations from Marx and Engels, but does bring out what Anderson calls the insoluble problem.

Engels speaks of the function of the State as being that of moderating the collision of forces in society; at a certain stage of society it will disappear just as at a certain earlier stage it had to arise. It is arising from society but placing itself above it. There is a notion of an irreconcilable antagonism being reconciled by another force, but a contradiction is implied in the belief that these forces can be reconciled – if they are indeed irreconcilable, the only possible relation for them is fighting; but Lenin tries to use Hegelian language to present the situation as one of the breaking out and resolution of antagonisms according to the dialectic.

But then Lenin takes a different view on the next page: the State is the organ of class domination, the oppression of one class by another, this being part of the function of capitalism itself. Confusion arises from the attempt to reconcile the class explanation with the actual facts of the case: that you don’t have this absolute cleavage. There is this passing over to the doctrine of domination – an organ arising to check opposition is supposed to become an organ of dominant power, but no reason is given why if one class is stronger it should need this special organ to keep the other class in check. The doctrine of the moderating function of the State is nearer the truth.

Thus, we can consider the State just as the distribution of powers within society, ie. the system of rights distributed among types of social activity.

A more special view comes up of the State as an organ, “ for the settlement of collision, of adjustment, of an institution or organisation which has as its primary function the settlement of conflict between social powers. On this view the State is a form of compromise. As far as you get a working scheme you have acknowledgment by one interest of the rights of another interest; it implies an instability, a continual re-adjustment and development in the State in the alteration of rights.

There is the still more special point that once you have State machinery, that generates an interest of its own: the politician’s, the official’s interest, in maintaining certain special rights of their own, their powers and perquisites.

But this duality of function does not in itself imply a growing instability, it is quite compatible with as much instability as you can expect to find under those conditions. It comes to place itself above society and separate itself from society; by virtue of its vested authority it can get rights suited to it more easily than other powers can. It need not be an organ of other interests; it can be seen as distinct from though entering into relations with the dominant class.


In this connection we have the Marxist doctrine of Bonapartism – but the idea of a State rearing itself even apparently raising itself above society would be impossible if the State is the executive committee of the ruling class as claimed, then that is what it is.

Marx allows that Bonapartism occurs only in very special circumstances, as in France under Louis Bonaparte. The opportunity for this arises when there is an unstable equilibrium, existing compromises won’t work and no class is sufficiently powerful to take over, so you get a regime which increases the political power of the State. But there is then the question of how long this could last. Development from it would be in two directions, (l) the inability of Bonapartism to go on, a resurgence of the other powers in society, or (2) a greater concentration of force leading to a state of tyranny approaching slavery, i.e. the disappearance of political life. There is a question here of how far any coup, any seizure of power, will always precipitate this sort of development.

For (2) compare Russia. The Trotskyists had learned discussions as to whether the Stalinist regime was Bonapartist or not, and if so, as to just when it became so. They were in difficulties because they could not admit that the Russian regime was absolutist from the outset, that the organisation was merely made more complete.

The economic interpretation of history was criticised earlier; here there is the question of the relation of political powers to the economic powers, and in this regard we can raise the question of what is a power and whether it won’t always be political, even when economic. Isn’t any power in a society in some sense political?

In regard to the State’s becoming more powerful, we can mention the anarchist theory of the State (more about this next time), the general question of dictatorship and democracy, and the question of Parliamentarism (which Lenin so strongly attacks).

Thus there is the view about Parliamentarism that parliament is a mere “talking shop” or on the other hand a set of rulers or exploiters chosen by the people once every so many years. But this view is connected with the failure to see the real diversity of interests which there are and their clash in the arena of public life; it is connected with the simplification found throughout Marxism.

What Lenin offers as a genuine and democratic substitute (the Soviet system) has proved no such thing at all. (From a study of Trotsky Anderson came to see the State as a balance of powers.)

(Then some more material apparently by Anderson in discussion:

Australia has had its own critical movements in the literary field. Value – just showing up illusions.

A weakness of Rationalists (some of them) has been making the error of trying to put something in place of God, eg. evolution.

Taking power involves officialdom – which means loss of revolutionary power whether it is desired or not.

Marx is anxious to take a sympathetic view of art, but is prevented by his general principles from making anything of it. Compare his treatment of Greece. As this was a slave state, its manifestations for him should have a servile aspect. He has to say that the delight we take in Greek art is the same as that we take in children’s art, though what we could make of this itself in terms of the class theory is obscure; anyhow he treats the Greek period as the infancy of the race. A belittling here of what he cannot deal with. Evasion of the fact that Greek works are of greater value than things in the modern period. Likewise in the case of Plato as a thinker.)

The communards were chiefly Proudhonites, so their social line was generally opposed to Marx’s. Marx is in a dubious position, but he does definitely suggest that the communards didn’t go far enough.

By virtue of its vested authority it can get rights suited to it more easily than other powers can. It need not be an organ of other interests; it can be seen as distinct from though entering into relations with the dominant class.


In this connection we have the Marxist doctrine of Bonapartism – but the idea of a State rearing itself even apparently raising itself above society would be impossible^ if the State is the executive committee of the ruling class a & 6laimed, then that is what it is.

Marx allows that Bonapartism occurs only in very special circumstances, as in France under Louis Bonaparte. The opportunity for this arises when there is an unstable equilibrium, existing compromises won’t work and no class is sufficiently powerful to take over, so youget a regime which increases the political power of the State. But there is then the question of how long this could last. Development from it would be in two directions, (1) the inability of Bonapartism to go on, a resurgence of the other powers in society, or (2) a greater concentration of force leading to a state of tyranny approaching slavery, ie. the disappearance of political life. There is a question here of how far any coup, any seizure of power, will always precipitate this sort of development.

For (2) compare Russia. The Trotskyists had learned discussions as to whether the Stalinist regime was Bonapartist or not, and if so, as to just when it became so. They were in difficulties because they could not admit that the Russian regime was absolutist from the outset, that the organisation was merely made more complete.*

The economic interpretation of history was criticized earlier; here there is the question of the relation of political powers to the economic powers, and in this regard we can raise the question of what is a power and ‘ whether it won’t always be political, even when economic. Isn’t any power in a society in some sense political?

In regard to the State’s becoming more powerful, we can mention the anarchist theory of the State (more about this next time), the general question of dictatorship and democracy, and the question of Parliamentarism (which Lenin so strongly attacks).

Thus there is the view about Parliamentarism that parliament is a mere “talking shop” or on the other hand rulers or exploiters chosen by the people once every so many years. But this view is connected with the failure to see the real diversity of interests which there are and their clash in the arena of public life; it is connected with the simplification found throughout Marxism.

What Lenin offers as a genuine and democratic substitute (the Soviet system) has proved no such thing at all. (From a study of Trotsky Anderson came to see the State as a balance of powers.)

(Then some more material apparently by Anderson in discussion:

Australia has had its own critical – movements in the literary field. Value – just showing up illusions.

A weakness of Rationalists (some of them) has been making the error of trying to put something in place of God, eg. evolution.

Taking power involves officialdom – which means loss of revolutionary power whet it is desired or not.

Marx is anxious to take a sympathetic view of art, but is prevented by his general principles from making anything out of it. Compare his treatment of Greece. As this was a slave state, its manifestations for him should have a servile aspect. He has to say that the delight we take in Greek art is the same as that we take in children’s art, though what we could make of this itself in terms of the class theory is obscure; anyhow he treats the Greek period as the infancy of the race. A belittling here of what he cannot deal with. Evasion of the fact that Greek works are of greater value than things in the modern period. Likewise in the case of Plato as a thinker.)


Accepting the broader view of the State, ie. of interrelated powers at a given time, Lenin’s view of “bourgeois democracy” – democracy only for the bourgeoisie – is mistaken. There is not a total dictatorship, but a balance of powers, a system of rights, in which the workers have a definite place with some economic and political powers. If the other view were correct a workers’ revolution would be impossible; that the workers do have some part in the existing system is necessary for any idea that that the workers can seize power.

There is a contrast, then, in the Marxian theory of the State between contradictory-quotations from Engels about the State as “the executive committee of the bourgeoisie” and as “softening collisions” between social powers. Anderson takes the latter as the better view. It is when the State itself becomes a powerful interest among others that Bonapartism arises.

It is impossible to reduce struggling forces just to economic factors. The workers are part of social organisation, they do have political powers, otherwise there would be no possibility of political overthrow or revolution. Lenin’s account of democracy is contrary to the existence of workers’ organisations and workers’ parties.

The opposite view about proletarian dictatorship, upheld by Lenin, supposedly democracy for workers, involves deliberate disfranchisement of organisations which are not proletarian and ultimately those which are not organisations of the Communist Party, and thence to the autocracy of a small group.

The conception of bourgeois democracy is thus used as an argument for the setting up of an alternative: a bureaucracy enforcing sanctions against non-privileged groups. This is linked with the theory of the seizure of power. About that Sorel held: the capture of the State can only mean the setting up of tyranny. Hence, in so far as Marx is committed to the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Sorel was committed to a rejection of Marxism.

The excuse for dictatorship and disfranchisement is that it is the majority which gets franchisement. However, it is a misunderstanding to take democracy just as majority rule. There is no political freedom unless there are certain things held apart from the ruling of the majority – some things decided by minorities, some things left untouched, and small groups able to continue. The notion of ruling by the majority is an empty concept, similar to that about socialism providing for Welfare. Majority decision means nothing specific unless what is decided is a specific defined matter.

How far are people who take this line hypocritical? This is hard to say. Lenin was a fanatic, but seemed sincerely a believer that this line was for the general benefit. He was, however, unscrupulous in being prepared to be demagogic in order to attract support in a crisis. There is pathology in mentality of this sort – the obsessional following of a line, an inability to see any disability in following it.

What the line does inevitably lead to is a narrow and anti-critical tyranny. The justification for the policy is built up from a false view of Western society. The search for security ‘. also leads to tyranny; it would not do so only if we could trust to the goodwill of the people in charge – a goodwill which Marx rejects up to a point (he seems to do so in The Communist Manifesto).

There can be no sort of dictatorship of a liberating character; it can only lead to narrower control of society. Sorel, in connection with “goodwill” and with State control, points out how the careerism of politicians is bound up with the Parliamentary process, and with revolutionary seizure of power. Revolutionary syndicalists thus were opposed to careerism and to State control.


Anarchism was found in diverse places during the 19th century, including in the First International with Bakunin and his followers. The unscrupulousness of Marx was shown here; in order to stop the First International being captured by Bakuninites, he got it moved to America. Which effectively ended the First International. It exemplifies the line of “control or smash,” which is a correlate of the belief that history is on one’s side. This is not the deliberate hypocrisy it might appear to be, but it is antidemocratic. Such decisions are not made in relation to any system of rights, but just as the line following from a theory. It is an instance of “protecting people for their own good” (a position which appears whenever we have Labor in power).

Bakunin in God and the State refers to himself as a “revolutionary socialist”; but he is more anarchist than Marx and for his anarchism Marx feared him – and as a result pushed him out. This work is a pamphlet and is not consecutive or clear. In it Bakunin holds that religion exists to uphold the State, which stands for the rule of a particular group. He starts off with an attempt to explain the origin of religion, and goes on to show that the function of religion is to get people to accept authority. It is authority he is concerned to attack, ie. the authority (which religion subserves; of some human beings over others. He allows that knowledge gives a certain authority, but there is no political status involved in that. (Compare how a bootmaker may be an authority on boots, but there is no question of his forcing others to wear certain boots.)

Bakunin reverses Voltaire’s phrase by saying that “If God existed it would be necessary to abolish him.” The friends of freedom would have to fight against such a supreme authority as God, if he existed. There is an analogy between God and the State: the State does in a sense exist and it is necessary to abolish it as the organ of authority in society. Or, there is the need to abolish the idea of God, and also the idea of the State as conceived in the common idea of it as a recognition of the unity of social interests, as something in which all particular interests blend. That is, there is something of a pluralist line in anarchism, as in Bakunin1s sense here of a plurality, or non-unity, of interests, a recognition of various social organisations not making up a single organisation (or if they did, not voluntarily). It is as proper to say Bakunin wanted to abolish belief in the State as the State itself.

To this extent anarchism is opposed to Marxism with its belief in unhindered co-operation for a common purpose of all groups as soon as the capitalist class is eliminated. Then there will just be social unity.

Lenin takes the same sort of naive line about what will happen when the State has disappeared. There will be the realisation of full democracy, and we will come to the fundamental social virtues that have been recognised for thousands of years in sermons. This is just altruism, your neighbor’s good is equal to your own etc. – with no notion of any positive activity persons. In other words, just a popular form of Christian morality; not a revolutionary morality, not even the morality of devotion to a cause; the sort of activity involved is not specified, there is no distinction of one sort of life from another, no view of positive ways of working of social groups and movements.

Compare a pamphlet by Emil Burns on “What Is Marxism?” in which there is blind optimism in the unlimited mutability of human life, and the view that the nature of men depends wholly on environment. The future state of freedom is taken to depend on the vague notion that then men will have all sorts of opportunities which they don’t have now; which is purely a negation of what we have now, nothing positive is said. Which is just Utopian -though unlike the Utopians the Marxists make no attempt to work things out in detail.

In contrast, the anarchists like Bakunin have a greater sense of the plurality of social interests, and are readier to accept the doctrine of social provinces, of independent movements.

Max Nomad

Max Nomad wrote an article in the Modern Monthly, edited by V.F. Calverton, in December 1936. In this Nomad presents a doctrine of perpetual opposition, of the impossibility of successful revolution. This is because the overturn of an existing regime is always followed by a failure of the “lower orders” to get out of the revolution what they expected – they are simply tools used by one interest seeking to overthrow another. Burnham in his The Managerial Revolution was probably influenced by this article. (Note. Anderson was correct in this surmise. Burnham was directly influenced by Nomad when he attended a course of lectures he gave in New York in the 1930s, and Nomad was rather bitter about Burnham1s unwillingness ever to admit the influence Nomad had on him.) Nomad inappropriately calls his article “The Tragedy of the Underdog.” It is a sign of a hangover of the philanthropic outlook to speak thus of the underdog. It is better to say that freedom, in so far as it exists in any society, does so in opposition and subject to repression. There is inevitable struggle between lovers of freedom and supporters of established rights and no victory for the former. There are periods only of relative advancement and relative setback. It is a condition of the existence of freedom that it should always fight against obstacles.

However, we can accept Nomad’s central point that the group that comes to power by any overthrow is always a special one and is concerned to hold down other interests. Such a view gives a clearer picture of our own time and that of other times than we get from the continual progressivist view of the Marxists.

Final (apparently long) discussion

Ryan (first name not known): For Marx, with regard to any State the question is What property relations is it set up to maintain? A false view of Marxism is given by Anderson’s keeping to Lenin. A deep-rooted fear of any change is the real basis for Anderson’s position. Mention of the dialectic. .

George Munster: Bakunin tries to explain the rise of religion by priestcraft, but fails to do so. He also gives a psychological explanation – divinity is a projection and elevation of human characters; but this is no explanation of what sort of things would be elevated, or what the social effects would be.

Alec Ritchie: Marx is simplifying things by his talk of property relations, the titles to certain goods. There are variations of rights concerning one’s property, concerning what one can do with property. Customs have to be recognised which control this sort of thing. We can’t replace the State as a system of rights by the notion of property relations – it is much more complex. Terms such as “feudal State,” “slave State” are used to/cover a variety of ways of living, whatever these may have in common. “Bourgeois State” also covers different types of organisation. Also there are “mixed” States – compare Marx and Engels themselves on this – re feudal remnants. They too easily arrive at one strain as dominant. If we take descriptions of France and England at the beginning of the century we have to recognise different types of organisation in the two – eg. re agrarian organisation. Just to call them “bourgeois” is to ignore important differences. Marx wants an essential difference between States because he wants an historical order, he wants to have fundamental classifications proceeding in their order.

Rudi Fischer: Calling people slaves doesn’t give a full account of their social status or settle the question of the society in which they exist. People might all be nominally slaves, the property of other people, but have very different positions. Compare Epictetus – a slave, but able to compose ethical works, which would not be possible for slaves in many societies. There are similar ambiguities in any general descriptions.

John Anderson: The dialectic is bound up with theory of social necessity. Categories now which have superseded others will themselves be superseded. The dialectic is used to indicate that there is a logical definite order in things.

It lends itself to Apologetics. Thus capital is associated with capitalism, so when certain changes take place in relation to the rights of capitalists, it is assumed that we no longer have capitalism. This ignores similarities, the fact that there is still monopoly of enterprise by a particular group. For apologetic purposes Marxists exaggerate the change, minimise the common points. Burnham also exaggerates the change that has taken place.

Strategy, balancing of possibilities or tendencies, planning of policies – even this cannot be done without relying on formal logic. Unless we know that there are certain general truths etc., there can be no balancing of estimates. We need positive knowledge of the way things will develop under certain conditions. Absolute connections, absolute truths are required for practice.

As to misrepresenting Marx by dealing with Lenin, Lenin backs up his interpretation all along by straight quotations from Marxian writings, and he particularly emphasises the dictatorship of the proletariat, the smashing of the State apparatus.

The impression that one gets from Lenin is certainly that the Paris Commune failed because the communards were not ruthless enough. Marx was in two minds about the Commune he didn’t want to go on record against any working class rising, but the communards were chiefly Proudhonites, so their social line was generally opposed to Marx’s. Marx is in a dubious position, but he does definitely suggest that the communards didn’t go far enough.

No matter how seldom Marx referred to the dictatorship of the proletariat, he did so refer to it because of a definite belief that he had, and Lenin is not wrong in associating it with the first period of socialism.

The chief contention was that Lenin drew false conclusions because of false premises concerning the bourgeois State. With regard to workers’ rights, the question is not of their being in Parliament – but of rights of organisation, regular forms of activity.

It is not as opposed to all change but as a lover of freedom, as concerned to maintain something which is constantly attacked, that J.A. speaks. What people take to be evils are indices of what they’d take to be a good life Humanitarianism undervalues the most important part of culture.

What is extended by a group is its present way of behaving. Socialism can’t be just a movement for Socialism.