James D Young 1969

Marxism, Liberalism and the Process of Industrialisation

Source: Survey, no 71/72, Winter/Spring 1969. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

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During the past decade a perverted form of Marxism has penetrated the consciousness of economic historians, sociologists and economists in Europe and America as well as in the Third World. This preoccupation with the type of problem raised by Karl Marx in the nineteenth century has been reflected in one of the influential books of the postwar era, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto by WW Rostow. Since Rostow’s book first appeared in 1960 an increasing number of scholars entrenched in the universities of Western Europe and America have devoted a good deal of attention to the genesis, social structure and ideological underpinnings of industrial capitalism. In contrast to Karl Marx, who declared that capitalism had come into the world ‘dripping with blood from head to foot’, a new school of scholars led by TS Ashton, WH Hutt, NG Smelser and EE Lampton have presented a sophisticated defence of early British capitalism. Thus Ashton has written: ‘The notion that the coming of factories meant a “depersonalisation” of relations in industry is the reverse of the truth.’

Side by side with the revision of the historical studies undertaken by the pessimists — for example, Marx, Engels, the Hammonds and the Webbs — concerning the conditions of the British working people during the Industrial Revolution, a critique of the arguments of Max Weber and RH Tawney has gained widespread currency in the academic world. The role of ideological motivation in the rise of liberal capitalism among entrepreneurs — and particularly the role of religion and the protestant ethic — are in partial disrepute. [1] Nevertheless, a rehabilitation of the role traditionally allotted to ideological motivation in the advent of liberal capitalism among the proletariat — and, perhaps more importantly, in initiating the pattern of socialisation and in underpinning the new forms of social control — has been attempted by sociologists and historians such as Eric Fromm, EP Thompson and Sidney Pollard.

In The Decay of Capitalist Civilisation Sidney and Beatrice Webb insisted that the initial success of liberal capitalism had rested on its ability ‘to apply the whip of starvation’. Notwithstanding the Webbs’ original insights into the methods of social control evolved by British capitalists during the Industrial Revolution, the training of the proletariat was, in fact, a very complex process in which ‘the whip of starvation’ played a relatively minor role. The socialisation of former domestic workers, Irish immigrants and Scottish Highlanders, or the transformation of the peasantry and pre-industrial labour force into a factory proletariat was achieved (in the colourful phrase of Sidney Pollard) through ‘an assault on working-class morals’.

By the early 1960s the socialisation of the pre-industrial labour force by means of ideological indoctrination was mapped out by sociologists as an essential feature of the early phases of industrialisation. British and American scholars recognised that the creation of ‘a new work-discipline’ had led entrepreneurs, whether they were right-wing authoritarians like Josiah Wedgwood or left-wing humanitarians like Robert Owen, to hack out a new character-structure for the emerging proletariat suitable to an industrial environment and compatible with a hierarchical social structure. Moreover, the perfection of clock time or the instruments for measuring ‘socially necessary labour time’ produced, in the opinion of some students of industrialisation, a regularisation of the new work rhythms of industrial civilisation.

Therefore sociologists and historians have seen work-discipline as an inevitable and automatic feature of industrial capitalism at a certain stage of evolution. This approach has enabled communist and left-wing scholars to see in the Irish immigrants a sub-strata of the British proletariat who were ‘docile’ and ‘willing’ to accept starvation wages. In opposition to those scholars who have seen the socio-economic behaviour of the Irish in Britain during the Industrial Revolution as a feature of industrialisation, many communist and authoritarian socialist scholars have traced the strike-breaking activities of the Irish immigrants back to inherent racial or character defects. This fitted in well with the theoretical position of those communist academics who lauded the Luddites (Eric J Hobsbawm, for example, described ‘machine-breaking as a form of collective bargaining’), and simultaneously characterised working-class opposition to industrialisation in communist countries as ‘sabotage’ and ‘crimes against the state’.

In Britain during the Industrial Revolution the training and work-discipline of the indigenous labour force required ‘steady methodical application, inner motivation of sobriety, forethought, and punctilious observation of contracts’. Those who were culturally alienated from the evolving industrial society — for example, the Irish and the Scottish Highlanders — were also essential as a supplementary labour force. Thus EP Thompson has argued that in England:

... the heavy manual occupations at the base of industrial society required a spendthrift expense of sheer physical energy — an alternation of intensive labour and boisterous relaxation which belongs to pre-industrial labour rhythms, and for which the English artisan or weaver was unsuited both by reason of his weakened physique and his Puritan temperament. [2]

This argument is capped by the assertion that ‘the worker had to be turned into his own slave-driver’.

This argument is cogently presented, and truly ingenious in its conception of how the process of industrialisation was accomplished in Britain. There are, however, a few uncomfortable facts which have been overlooked in this view of the forces creating an industrial proletariat. A recent study of an important agency for inculcating the new moral values of industrialism into working people has called into question the extent to which a section of the Scottish proletariat was exposed to capitalist ideology. [3] What is needed to back up Thompson’s argument is a statistical analysis of the number of working people who attended church or who were exposed in other institutions to the moral values of the emergent industrial society. Another important factor which has been ignored is the way the trade unions not only opted for capitalist values, but also operated sanctions against their own members who were in danger of practising the customs and traditions of the pre-industrial labour force. This happened in some cases in the eighteenth century before the new ideology of industrial capitalism had been firmly established. The building trade unions in the eighteenth century, for example:

... excluded anyone ‘defiling themselves with unclean women — committing adultery — being guilty of any lewd, obnoxious or disloyal practices whereby he may be liable to public censure from Church or state...’. Nor would it admit any ‘drunkard, swearer, or Sabbath-breaker’. From a sociological standpoint these rules were further complicated by the fact that they combined ‘economy with Puritanism’. [4]

A further significant point is that the trade unions among the agricultural workers often encouraged secret oaths and the values of pre-industrial society. The existence of a multi-dimensional bourgeois culture is as plausible an explanation for differing labour rhythms in a society undergoing industrialisation as the divergent elements in the labour force created by the transitional stage of the new industrial society. In the case of the building trade unions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the new rules and sanctions — and the working-class values underlying them — hinted at a community or plurality of interests which are the antithesis of a monolithic, totalitarian trade-union movement. However, it is only during the past few years that scholars have questioned the traditional Marxist assumption that the culture of British capitalism and industrial man are inseparable.

What then is the exact relationship between industrialism and capitalism? As this question has been hotly debated in academic circles by American and European liberals, a group of scholars led by Clark Kerr has evolved the theory of convergence. All modern capitalist and communist societies are, according to this theory, becoming alike. The theory of convergence is, in fact, based, in the words of Walter Laqueur, ‘on the assumption that industrialisation and urbanisation create a civilisation common to all modern societies, not only similar forms of production but also political institutions that are alike’. [5] A number of liberal scholars have questioned the convergence theory; and Raymond Aron has drawn attention to ‘the different types of industrial society’ in the contemporary world.

Among the overwhelming majority of Marxists the consensus of opinion is that industrialism and capitalism in Western Europe are inseparable. A few Marxists, whose antecedents are rooted in the prewar Trotskyist Fourth International, adhere to the theory that capitalism and industrialism are also inseparable in the so-called ‘socialist third of the world’. [6] A variant of the convergence theory is seen in Bertram D Wolfe’s claim that ‘many of the features which Marx identified with “capitalism” were actually features of modern industry under any ism’. [7] In the contemporary ‘socialist’ countries undergoing the process of industrialisation the ‘features which Marx identified with capitalism’ — the division of labour, the exploitation of labour and wage differentials — are both visible and identifiable. But are these features characteristics of industrialism or capitalism? This problem is wrapped up in metaphysics and semantic difficulties, and there is no easy or definitive answer to it.

Nonetheless, a neo-Marxist has argued that ‘one way of reading the working-class movement during the Industrial Revolution is as a movement of resistance to the annunciation of economic man’. [8] In an earlier study this same historian recognised that the process of industrialisation inevitably produces successive stages and evolutionary cultural and economic patterns. Thus he wrote: ‘It is notorious that in the early stages of industrialisation, the growing towns attract uprooted and migrant labour of all types; this is still the experience of Africa and Asia today.’ [9] Here he is employing God’s most precious gift to the historian: hindsight; and he seems to imply that everything is inevitable after it has happened more than once. At least Marx has a different methodological approach, and, when he says that history ‘does nothing’, he is trying to break out of the limits of his own determinist philosophy. Contemporary Marxists and neo-Marxists are only now beginning to face the question of the validity and effectiveness of making a moral critique of an inevitable historical process.

VG Kiernan, a neo-Marxist, who has gone much further in his ‘critical criticism’ of traditional Marxist concepts than his co-thinkers such as Ralph Miliband and EP Thompson, now recognises that ‘for Marxism today the study of ethics, not in the abstract but in the setting of history, cannot be treated as a mere annexe to be built on to it, but must become an integral part of it’. [10] This recognition of the problem of the dichotomous relationship between Marxist ethics and contemporary Marxist historiography and sociology has not yet led Kiernan to confront the logical contradictions within Marxist philosophy itself. Nevertheless, he is, I think, worrying over his own intellectual assumptions when he questions whether it really is possible to criticise morally an inevitable process in any adequate way. He has tried to resolve this problem by arguing thus: ‘Marx took ethics for granted, assuming that all men not blinded by prejudice or self-interest must think alike about social morality. What he thought must be gathered from what he condemned as wrong, child labour in factories for example.’ [11] Few other Marxists would agree with his judgement; and, though Kiernan’s novel explanation is not entirely convincing, it has the merit of raising the problem of ethics in relation to general socialist activity. This is particularly relevant to socialist attitudes in relation to the problems of industrialisation. Kiernan has, however, evaded as much as he has ‘explained’, since even neo-Marxists accept the thesis of inevitable ‘stages of economic growth’. How can Marxists argue that the extermination of the Scottish Highlanders was necessary for the growth of British capitalism, and yet morally criticise the historical actors who brought this about?

In 1963 EP Thompson justified his study The Making of the English Working Class by undermining ‘the lessons of history’:

... the greater part of the world today is still undergoing problems of industrialisation, and of the formation of democratic institutions, analogous in many ways to our own experience during the Industrial Revolution. Causes which were lost in England might, in Asia or Africa, yet be won.

A central theme of this book is the role of ‘inevitability’ in history. Against the almost demonic impersonal power of ‘inevitability’ he offers the counterpoise of ‘human agency’, that is, the choice and options open to individuals in the making of history. In Britain during the Industrial Revolution, he argues, ‘it still is not possible to speak of “totalitarian” or “Asiatic” despotism’. Meanwhile the experience in contemporary countries undergoing industrialisation has not encouraged those neo-Marxists, who in the mid-1950s and early 1960s had hoped to see a reconciliation of democratic institutions and industrialisation in the Third World. This socio-economic reality has prompted Herbert Marcuse to argue that industrialisation in the contemporary world dictates totalitarianism. Here the arguments of most right-wing and left-wing sociologists and historians about the social character of industrialisation in the contemporary world have tended to coalesce.

Industrialisation in Britain during the period between 1750 and 1860 was not ‘despotic’ or ‘totalitarian’ any more than it arose from democratic consensus. This fundamental fact was decisive in allowing working-class values, class-consciousness and institutions to emerge and crystallise in opposition to the cultural dominance of the ruling Úlite. In Russia, however, the first surge towards industrialisation came between 1870 and 1918. A great deal of technical and managerial skill was provided by the Germans; the British provided most of the capital equipment; and the French provided most of the capital invested in coal, iron and textiles. By 1918 Russia was still very backward when compared to West European countries. The country was not just backward quantitatively, but also in terms of economic efficiency. Output per worker remained very low, and so did wages.

Russian industrialisation emerged in the context of autocratic feudalism, and the nascent working classes were subjected to intense exploitation. Housing conditions were bad, hours of work were long, industrial accidents were frequent, and strikes were often put down by force. [12] In Russia in Revolution 1890-1918 Lionel Kochan has argued that ‘no antithesis exists between industrialisation and an authoritarian political system. On the contrary, industrialisation supplies its own, improved methods of social control.’ [13] Contemporary opinion was not so sure about the effectiveness of the new methods of social control. Indeed one writer was of the opinion that in this period ‘the half-peasant character of our factory proletariat gives it a peculiar, rebellious trait’. A major problem confronting the Russian entrepreneur at this time was the link between the factory and village, which enabled many peasant-workers to resist the temptation to commit themselves fully to factory life. This probably slowed down the process of industrialisation and the formation of a permanent working class.

An important consequence of the factory-village link was the absence of a fully developed sense of class-consciousness among the industrial proletariat, since the proletariat were, in sociological jargon, only semi-committed to industrialism. ‘The half-peasant character of the factory proletariat’ delayed the formation of the labour movement, which by the time it arrived on the Russian scene in the early twentieth century lacked experience in working-class democracy and self-activity. As late as 1904 the early factory workers were essentially peasants who yearned for life on the soil. As Theodore H Von Laue has written:

Behind this worker stood the foreman ready to fine him for dremlenie, for daydreaming and the shoddy work it caused. The peasant-worker’s exertions in the factory were shorn of their spiritual wholeness. The connexion between his inner motivation and his outward motions had been severed, the harmony broken. [14]

Under Tsarism the Russian proletariat had been deprived of the type of conditions which had made it possible for the British ‘working class to make itself as much as it was made’. At that time the Russian class structure was fluid; and some newspapers had pressed the bureaucracy into granting limited protection to the factory workers. The next stage of industrialisation witnessed the creation of a proletariat ‘committed’ (that is, in the sense of being thrown into a prison) to industrial society.

Whether Russian socio-economic experience can be mapped out as a scientifically recognisable stage of economic growth between 1860 and 1917 Ó la Rostow, a distinct pattern of industrialisation was nonetheless discernible. As Rostow puts it:

With 1861, and the freeing of the serfs, the process of creating the preconditions for take-off accelerates: both technically — in the build-up of social overhead capital and the bases for modern industry — and in terms of the ideas, attitudes and aspirations of various groups of Russians. Then, by 1890 or so, the Russian take-off begins.

On the other hand Raymond Aron has convincingly pointed out that it is a myth to suppose ‘capitalism necessarily evolves into socialism (Soviet style)’. [15] The crux of the problem has been outlined by Alexander Gerschenkron in a discussion of the socio-economic prerequisites of modern industrialisation: ‘the Soviet case is a very peculiar one, and for many reasons pre-revolutionary Russia seems to provide a much more “normal” case for a discussion of specific patterns of substitution in the process of industrialisation’. [16]

Within this context the Russian working class was evolving as ‘a social and cultural formation’ rather than as a ‘thing’. Moreover, if the evolving Russian working class was not able to ‘make itself’ in a democratic environment, it still had some autonomy. Indeed, Leon Trotsky described ‘the political strike’ of the workers in the early years of the twentieth century as ‘the battering ram which the awakening nation directs against the walls of absolutism’. For Trotsky ‘the political strike’ employed by the Russian workers, ‘so rare in Western Europe’, was a new and fundamental form of struggle.’ [17] On the other hand Gerschenkron has compared the Russian labour movement at this time to the German labour movement during the heyday of Bebel and Liebknecht. As Gerschenkron puts the argument:

Similarly, the economic position of labour was clearly improving. In the resurgence of the strike movement economic problems seemed to predominate. It is true, of course, that in the specific conditions of the period any wage conflict tended to assume a political character because of the ready interventions of the police and military forces on behalf of management. But this did not mean that the climate of opinion and emotion within the labour movement was becoming more revolutionary; as is shown by the history of European countries (such as Austria or Belgium), sharp political struggles marked the period of the formation of labour movements that in actual fact, though not always in the language used, were committed to reform. There is little doubt that the Russian labour movement of those years was slowly turning towards revisionist and trade-unionist lines. [18]

Whether we agree with Trotsky or Gerschenkron — and the evidence supports the latter — a striking feature of the Russian labour movement was the absence of major indigenous working-class leaders.

The absence of proletarian revolutions in Europe in the 1920s, envisaged by the leaders of the Third International, compelled the Bolshevik theoreticians to revise traditional Marxist concepts. Marx had assumed ‘the primitive accumulation of capital’ to be a basic prerequisite for a society undergoing industrialisation; and he had further assumed that socialism could only be built on the foundations of an industrial society. So, in order to rescue Lenin’s ‘operational Marxism’ from Marx’s inhibiting concepts concerning the preconditions for socialism, Trotsky and Preobrazhensky advanced the theory of ‘the primitive socialist accumulation of capital’ and rapid industrialisation.

By the early 1920s the creation of an authoritarian form of work-discipline and the eradication of absenteeism, bad time-keeping and disobedience in factories and mines had been initiated by the Communist Party. The trade unions had also been robbed of their real function as associations for the protection and improvement of working-class wages and working conditions. The transition to totalitarian rule was facilitated by the Russian tradition of autocratic feudalism and authoritarian rule under Lenin. In 1930 Kh Rakovsky, a dissident Bolshevik, declared: ‘A ruling class other than the proletariat is crystallising before our eyes.’ Moreover, the Stalinist bureaucracy indoctrinated the workers with the sort of ‘bourgeois’ values which were common to the early stages of industrialisation in Britain. As well as introducing new forms of social control by means of what the Webbs, in another context, characterised as ‘applying the whip of starvation’ to discipline the working class, the ruling bureaucracy also used the bait of incentives in the form of piece-work rates. Stalinist theoreticians tried to justify wage differentials and piece-work rates as ‘socialist emulation’. But Marx had been scathing in his criticism of piece-work, and there were no texts in his writings to vindicate piece-work in any conceivable circumstances. As Marx wrote: ‘Piece-work therefore lay the foundations of the modern “domestic labour,” as well as of a hierarchically organised system of exploitation and oppression.’ [19]

The dichotomy between Marx’s views on piece-work and piece-wages and Stalinist practice created a ‘false consciousness’ in the bureaucrats who had to cope with the tensions and contradictions of this unforeseen situation. The fact that the Stalinists succeeded in imposing a total ‘harmony’ between the worker’s ‘inner motivation and his outward motions’ was the central feature of Russian industrialisation under a totalitarian dictatorship. In this situation the Russian working class had no opportunity to ‘make itself’, and, whether or not Dwight MacDonald’s conjecture of the inseparable relationship between totalitarianism and ‘mass man’ had a foundation in reality, the Russian workers had no autonomous class culture of their own. A plural culture is anathema in a totalitarian society. The relationship between the character-structure of the Russian working class and the social structure during the Stalinist phase of industrialisation has not been studied in depth, yet Hans Gerth and C Wright Mills justified it thus:

The key importance, in fact, of the rise of the Soviet Union to great international stature lies in this simple fact: for the first time in the intricate history of the industrial revolution men can now see that this industrialisation does not require capitalism as an institutional framework, that it can be accomplished without depending upon private initiative, and that when it is carried out by state bureaucrats, industrialisation can even be a more rapid and orderly process than when carried out by private capitalists running private firms for private profits. [20]

A considerable number of democratic socialists in the advanced industrial societies took it for granted in the 1950s and early 1960s that the industrialisation of backward countries could only be achieved by the decree of dictatorial Úlites. C Wright Mills, who came out of a ‘Wobbly’ family in Texas, was no exception, and he thereby abrogated the philosophy of democratic socialism.

In the Stalinist era the key factor in creating ‘an inner motivation’ in the Russian working class had been the social character of totalitarianism. The Stalinist bureaucracy exorcised ‘the motivational conflicts’ of the workers, the broken harmony of their inner motivations and their outward motions, by means of psychological terrorism. This terrorism had partially depended on a still evolving ‘Marxist’ ideology, of the legitimatisation of a ‘false consciousness’ in traditional Marxist terms, compatible with the needs of rapid industrialisation. Under Stalin industrialisation was accelerated by a powerful national afflatus, an impulse to make up for lost opportunities in Tsarist times, and by the bureaucracy’s objective economic compulsions — for example, by the need to ‘attract uprooted and migrant labour of all types’ into the factories, mines and collective farms, and by the crucial need to catch up with other industrial nations.

The process by which the socialisation of the Russian working class was accomplished in the Stalin era has been inevitably wrapped in obscurity. Marxists are generally more interested in masses than in individuals, and only a handful of Marxists have made a serious study of the role of human agency in the historical process. Leon Trotsky was, for example, compelled to invent a fictitious character, ‘a collective Markin’, who embodied all the virtues of the ‘proletarian’ (sic!) makers of the Bolshevik revolution. Between the period when Russia embarked upon rapid industrialisation and her emergence as a major industrial power the bureaucracy had succeeded in ‘making’ a modern proletariat. Neither Marxist nor liberal scholars have so far displayed much interest in how this was accomplished, and there are few signs of their being willing to do so in the future. If the intellectuals opt for rapid industrialisation, and justify this course of action by futurist arguments, the methods by which the pre-industrial labour force is moulded in the crucible of societies undergoing industrialisation will seem to be an irrelevance.

And yet the character of the socialisation of pre-industrial labour will determine whether democratic or totalitarian forms of government emerge during the process of industrialisation in the developing world. Under Stalin industrialisation was ‘purchased at a catastrophic cost to human consciousness’. In the metamorphosis of Russian industrialisation the potential ‘Luddites’ were transformed into Stakhanovites. By contrast industrialisation in Britain was accompanied by ‘sharp and, in the main, open social struggle’:

From this process of social struggle rather than as an automatic corollary of industrialisation, the great democratic triumphs which we associate with the nineteenth century were won. They came not simply because England was being industrialised; they came because the industrialisation was accompanied by a rich social history in which a vast growth of human awareness took place. [21]

The socialisation of the Russian working class was imposed in obscurity by applying ‘the whip of starvation’, by means of terrorism, and by initiating the whole range of social controls available to a totalitarian state. As industrialisation was accomplished under a totalitarian dictatorship, the Russians were not able to produce a class-conscious working class, an ‘aristocracy of labour’ or an independent labour movement. In contrast to the British working class, the Russian working ‘class’ has not had to search for norms, and this has created its own problems. In a perceptive paragraph Alexander Gerschenkron has explained the consequences:

It can be argued that viewing the Soviet economy as ‘socialist’ does little to advance our understanding of that economy. Rather, it is the fact that the policy of rapid industrialisation has been inaugurated and maintained by a totalitarian dictatorship and that the mechanics of dictatorial power have come to dominate the economic processes; this has created curious incongruities and actually prevented, or at least delayed, the mental adjustment of the population to the normalcy of a fully industrialised society. [22]

These problems are of contemporary (as well as of historical) relevance. They are shaping contemporary socialist attitudes about the irrelevance — or need for — independent trade unions and democratic institutions in countries undergoing industrialisation. It is interesting, too, in this context to note that the attitudes of those Marxists who have written on the problems of industrialisation (for example, Eric J Hobsbawm in his introduction to Marx’s Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations) are not significantly different from those of Western liberals like WW Rostow who have offered their own prescriptions. As the communist bureaucracies emerged in the emergent countries in the postwar years, the ruling Úlites were increasingly forced to work out a refined ‘Marxist’ theory to justify and legitimise exploitation under communist industrialisation. Ota Sik, a Czechoslovakian Marxist, has recently argued that:

At the socialist stage of development labour is still relatively onerous (long hours) and intensive. There is a relative lack of variety, work is monotonous, and, for most people, offers little creative scope. There is still a fairly rigid division of labour, binding the majority to one occupation for life. Consequently, as a general rule people expend their labour for others, primarily because labour is the condition for acquiring from others the use values needed for themselves. [23]

Here a communist economist has captured the appeal and the ethos of contemporary communist propaganda in the emergent countries. Naturally, such propaganda has a strong emotional appeal for the technocrats, administrators and civil servants in those countries; and it has had little impact on the indigenous proletariat. Against the value-system on which the exploitation of the working class rests in those countries where the communists hold sway or are struggling for supremacy, Marx’s criticism of industrialisation still has some relevance.

In recent years Eric J Hobsbawm has argued that from 1873 onwards:

... the development of the Russian revolutionary movement led Marx and Engels to place their hopes for a European revolution in Russia. No misinterpretation of Marx is more grotesque than the one which suggests that he expected a revolution exclusively from the advanced countries of the West.

Dr Hobsbawm has distorted the argument about Marx’s expectations — and consequences — of a socialist revolution in an underdeveloped country, yet he has unwittingly given support to the socialist critics of Stalinism by admitting that Marx’s preoccupation with Russian history in the last decade of his life sprang from his hatred of the inherent inhumanity of industrialisation. He has also conceded that Marx’s changing attitudes were conditioned by ‘his growing hatred of and contempt for capitalist society’:

It seems probable that Marx, who had earlier welcomed the impact of Western capitalism as an inhuman but historically progressive force on stagnant pre-capitalist economies, found himself increasingly appalled by this inhumanity. [24]

This evidence has weakened the arguments of such ‘Marxists’ as Leon Trotsky, Bruno Rizzi, C Wright Mills and Isaac Deutscher, who claimed that Stalinist industrialisation represented a progressive historical force. Dr Hobsbawm’s evidence has given no solace to those ‘Marxists’ who sought vindication for the exploitation of working people in the writings of Marx. But when Hobsbawm judges the impact of exploitative industrialism on working people in Britain and Russia, he inevitably reveals his moral schizophrenia. Therefore the exploitation of the British working class was inhuman and reprehensible; and the exploitation of the Russian working class was, accordingly, historically necessary and progressive. However, the contradictory evidence in Marx’s writings has served to strengthen the confusion amongst socialists in the West about the socialist attitude towards industrialisation in the developing world. Moreover, Marx himself was never really sure whether all revolts were progressive or useless by impeding more advanced regimes; and those who have followed him are often caught up in this duality, this contradiction.

In the West the majority of socialists, whether they belong to the authoritarian or the libertarian left, assume that industrialisation in the developing world will be both authoritarian and progressive. Thus the options are closed; the purpose of struggling against preordained ‘fate’ is questioned; and the juggernaut of modernisation beckons the pre-industrial labour force forward to new forms of social control. In contrast to EP Thompson’s early optimism about ‘winning causes’ in Asia or Africa ‘which were lost in England’, he has now opted for a less optimistic perspective. In a recent article he sounds a note of fatalism: ‘Without time-discipline we could not have the insistent energies of industrial man... whether this discipline comes in the form of Methodism, or of Stalinism, or of nationalism, it will come in the developing world.’ [25] If there were crucial differences between British and Russian industrialisation, then what is important for the developing world is whether the new work-discipline comes in a Methodist or a Stalinist form. This is what will determine the outcome — whether Asia and Africa will throw up Luddites or Stakhanovites, democratic labour movements or state-controlled labour movements, a totalitarian reality or a democratic utopia. In opposition to the interpreters of inexorable contemporary ‘reality’ in the developing world, the message of Leszek Kolakowski, the Polish philosopher, is still valid and relevant:

The only protest of the utopian against social reality is that it is morally wrong; his only instrument for influencing the course of social reality is to tell people how the world should look to fulfil those criteria of absolute good and evil...

Between obedience to the world of reality and obedience to the moral imperative, an abyss gapes on whose brink the great historical tragedies have been played: the tragedies of conspiratorial insurrections predesigned to disaster and the opposite kind of tragedies, of collaboration with crime as a result of the belief in its inevitability. On both these brinks, the moral history of the revolutionary movement of recent years has also been staged.


1. SB Clough and CW Cole, Economic History of Europe (Boston, 1952), p 153.

2. EP Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963), p 433.

3. A Alan Maclaren, ‘Presbyterianism and the Working Class in a Mid-Nineteenth-Century City’, Scottish Historical Review, Volume 46, 1967, pp 115-39.

4. Raymond Postgate, The Builders’ History (London, 1923), p 18.

5. Walter Laqueur, The Fate of the Revolution (London, 1967), p 186.

6. Tony Cliff, Stalinist Russia: A Marxist Analysis (London, 1955), pp 222-52.

7. Bertram D Wolfe, Marxism: 100 Years in the Life of a Doctrine (London, 1967), p 346.

8. EP Thompson, ‘The Peculiarities of the English’, Socialist Register 1965 (London, 1965), p 356.

9. EP Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963), p 421.

10. Victor G Kiernan, ‘Notes on Marxism in 1968’, Socialist Register 1968 (London, 1968), p 206.

11. Victor G Kiernan, ‘Notes on Marxism in 1968’, Socialist Register 1968 (London, 1968), p 207.

12. GV Rimlinger, ‘Autocracy and the Early Russian Factory System’, Journal of Economic History, Volume 20, 1960, pp 72-79.

13. Lionel Kochan, Russia in Revolution 1890-1918 (London, 1967), p 52.

14. Theodore H Von Laue, ‘Russian Peasants in the Factory 1892-1904’, Journal of Economic History, Volume 21, 1961, p 80.

15. Raymond Aron, 18 Lectures on Industrial Society (London, 1967), p 5.

16. Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (New York, 1965), p 49.

17. Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution (New York, 1959), p 32.

18. Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (New York, 1965), p 141.

19. Karl Marx, Capital (London, 1949), p 564.

20. Hans Gerth and C Wright Mills, Character and Social Structure (London, 1965), pp 475-76, my emphasis.

21. Lewis Coser and Irving Howe, ‘Authoritarians of the “Left"’, Voices of Dissent (New York, 1958), p 96.

22. Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (New York, 1965), p 2, my emphasis.

23. Ota Sik, ‘Socialist Market Relations and Planning’, in CH Feinstein (ed), Socialism, Capitalism and Economic Growth: Essays Presented To Maurice Dobb (London, 1967), p 139, emphasis in original. My critical remarks on Ota Sik’s writings do not detract from my unconditional support for the revisionists in Czechoslovakia.

24. Karl Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations: With an Introduction by Eric J Hobsbawm (London, 1964), p 50.

25. EP Thompson, ‘Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism’, Past and Present, no 38, 1967. On the general problems of historical determinism versus human agency in relation to the role of the labour movement in industrial societies, see my review article, ‘A Survey of Some Recent Literature on the Labour Movement’, Political Quarterly, Volume 39, no 2, 1968, pp. 205-15.