Vanguard November 1915

Hyndman v. Marx

Source: unattributed, possibly by Maclean, but more probably by Peter Petroff. November 1915, p. 2 & 10;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The Materialist Interpretation of History is one of the fundamental principles of Scientific Marxist Socialism. It is the view of history which ascribes the ultimate cause and the great moving power of all events in the history to the economic development of society, to the changes in production, distribution and exchange, to the resulting division of society into classes and to the struggles between these classes This brilliant generalization was first formulated by Karl Marx. Also Lewis Morgan, an independent inquirer, arrived at the same conclusion, for he says “Inventions and discoveries stand in serial relations along the lines of human progress, and register its successive stages; while social and civil institutions, in virtue of their connection with perpetual human wants have been developed from a few primary germs of thought. They exhibit a similar register of progress. These institutions, inventions and discoveries have embodied and preserved the principal facts now remaining illustrative of this experience. When collated and compared they tend to show the unity of origin of mankind, the similarity of human wants in the same stage of advancement and the uniformity of the operations of the human mind in similar conditions of society.”

Of course Marx’s generalization does not imply that only economic motives and no others have any weight. According to Hyndman’s quotation Marx says:- “The mode of production of the material life of society conditions the political and intellectual life of progress generally.” The word generally modifies the generalization. As soon as a man perceives the laws of the economical development of our society and applies his will to influence these laws in a certain direction he becomes a factor which affects these laws. Marx saw capital was organizing industry and that this organization was going to culminate in trusts with the captains of industry as the future kings. Marx was not satisfied with seeing this state of things inaugurated. He issued his Communist Manifesto and asked the workers the human factor, to interfere with this trend of economic development. Every Socialist reacts upon the economic development to the extent of the weight of his personality in society. A Tolstoy and a Hyndman though giants in a way, speak and their voices carry little weight. The stumbling block is the backward economic development.

Hyndman and Belfort Bax

We all know and appreciate the work Comrades Hyndman and Belfort Bax have done for the socialist movement yet, their attack on the Materialist Interpretation of History in “The English Review” for December cannot go unchallenged. Karl Kautzky challenged Hyndman before on this point about a year ago, but Hyndman has not taken it up, to my knowledge. The reason that Hyndman has not been challenged before by British Socialists, is I think, due to the fact, that Hyndman has not repudiated Marx’s generalization outright, and has not clearly substituted for it a theory of his own. This lack of clearness on Hyndman’s part I find in his articles in “The English Review” for December and February. In the first article Hyndman rejects the Materialist Interpretation in an unmistakable way, yet; in his second article, “The Coming Triumph of Marxist Socialism,” as the very title shows, he tries to prove that Marxist Socialism will be victorious without making any reservation that his Marxism leaves out the Materialist Interpretation of History. In fact in the second article, Hyndman says: The views of Marx, far less modified by time than those of Darwin, will be upheld by nearly all the delegates at the international Socialist Congress after the war as they were before it .... The Marxists alone possess the key to the complex historic, economic and social evolution which leads to the new period.” Any person who had not read Hyndman’s December article, but only that published in February, would have been led to believe that he embraces Marxism in toto.

Proofs – not Convincing.

Besides, Hyndman did not do justice to Historical Materialism by tacking it on to an article on the present war. His chief argument is that the present war is not a capitalist war, therefore the Materialist Interpretation of History; which tries to explain everything by economic motives, is all wrong. But the bulk of International Socialists claim that the present war is one between different Capitalist Imperialisms for the possession of colonial markets and for world power. This view has as much right to stand as that of Hyndman; hence Comrade Hyndman has no right to lay it down as an axiom that the causes of the present war go counter to the Materialist Interpretation of History.

The Crusades.

The further we go back into history the more disputable become the cause and purport of certain events. In spite of that it seems to me that Comrade Hyndman had not weighed his facts carefully before adducing them in favour of his argument. He says that the Crusades cannot be explained by Historical Materialism. That is an erroneous idea fostered by bourgeois historians. When one looks at the facts more closely one notices that Crusaders were moved by some very gross material reasons. The first troop of Crusaders of about 40,000 was led by Peter the Hermit (whom Hyndman quotes) and Walter de Pexeio, nicknamed “Havenought.” As neither Peter nor Walter had any worldly possessions and had to help themselves to things on the way to Palestine, the whole 40,000 were killed off by Bulgarians and others whose countries they traversed and plundered. They never reached even Constantinople. In the same year (1095) another mob of 15,000 set off, led by the priest, Gottschalk. By way of diversion they killed off a number of Jews in the towns on the Rhine, for then (as now) in Russia a Jewish “pogrom” was not a thing all idealism, but yielded some tangible booty to the looters. The pious looters never reached Palestine but were killed on the way by hostile Christians. As the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Manuel Komnenos, had seen the pious Crusaders on their way to Palestine through Constantinople on the first Crusade, he joined hands with the Sultan of the Saracens in the second Crusade (1147) and helped him to destroy the army, of 70,000 men clad in mail. In the fourth Crusade (1203) the Crusaders, fascinated by the riches of the Byzantine Empire, conquered Constantinople and never reached Palestine.

Plunder the Aim.

The above facts prove amply that the bourgeois idealist view of the Crusaders is quite wrong. They were adventurers and the off-scouring from all over Europe, and went to the East in the hope of a rich booty. Their actions spoke louder than words.

Another pious band of Crusaders, the Livonian Knights of the Order of the Sword, conquered the Baltic Provinces and made the natives serfs about the year 1200. The Baltic Provinces do not lie in Palestine, and we have the Baltic Barons with us to this day.


Hyndman also claims that the early movements of Mohammedanism are not traceable to the economics of the time. It is true that the rank and file may have been inspired by religious motives, but the basic fact in all the wars remains that when one nation felt impelled to attack another it was because it required more elbow room, i.e., economic reasons caused the transmigrations and wars. If was the more vigorous civilization, not always the most advanced, that conquered (Tartars in Russia, Goths in Italy; etc.) But the reason that the Arabs and Turks resisted the Crusaders so well was their advanced civilization, which in the case of the Moors in Spain reached its highest point. The Arabs gave us the Arabic numerals and algebra. The Moors turned the South of Spain into a flourishing garden; the Christians since then have turned it into a wilderness. Do not the facts suggest that the Moharnmedan nations achieved such results, not owing to psychologic factors, but owing to the fact that they built upon a high economic civilization? The Holy War has been proclaimed in Turkey now, but religious fervour cuts no ice against superior armaments produced by a superior economic civilization.

Other Proofs.

Hyndman admits that “the wars in China, Burmah, South Africa, Morocco, Tonquin, Cochin-Cochin, Madagascar, Manchuria, Korea, Cuba, Tripoli and the Philippines were undoubtedly all of them capitalist wars in the strict sense.... The wars of emancipation, such as those of Hungary and the Balkan Principalities, cannot be brought under this head; nor can the wars of Germany against Austria and France. The war between Great Britain, France, Russia, Servia, etc., against Germany and Austria is likewise not a capitalist war in its origin.”

Capitalist and Economic Causes.

When the expression “capitalist wars” is used it implies that here the war is waged by a capitalist state with an economic end in view. When in primitive society (which had outgrown cannibalism) a member captured an enemy it was done to make him a slave; i.e., to derive economic benefit from him. A tribe made war on another tribe for the same reason. In nearly all the wars of antiquity and of the middle ages we can detect the economic motive if we examine the facts more carefully and discard the motives given by orthodox historians. When one nation subdued another it meant that the subjugated nation was subjected to economic exploitation. It either had to pay a tax (Tartars and the conquered Russians 13-15 centuries) or the conquerors came, settled in its midst (William the Conqueror), and made the people support them. When a nation tried to free itself it did so to ensue its economic independence on which political, religious, and other institutions are based, according to Marx). A war may be designated capitalist only if it falls within the capitalist period (after 1750), and if we use it in the Marxian sense. Colonial wars were waged before 1750 between the English, the Dutch, and the French; they were not capitalist wars, yet, their motives were purely economic. As the word capitalist has a narrow, special meaning, it is better to use the word economic.

Wars of Emancipation.

Therefore, also the wars of emancipation of Hungary, of Poland, of Italy; though presumably waged on behalf of freedom, were wars to give economic power to the Hungarian, Polish, or Italian nobility and bourgeoisie. The Hungarian peasant or workman is just as much oppressed to-day by his Hungarian landlord and capitalist as he would have been if Hungary had succeeded in throwing off the Austrian yoke (as Italy did, for instance). The peasant and the workman are in an identical position in Hungary and Italy; but the Hungarian nobility and bourgeoisie may have less freedom of action. That the Balkan States had such love for their oppressed brothers in Turkey is a fine myth. When the Allies had finished off Turkey and their Christian brothers were safe on Christian territory, why did Servia and Greece (two Greek orthodox Christian countries) attack Bulgaria (another Greek orthodox Christian country)? For the simple reason that economic motives (greater economic power through the conquest of more territory) outweighed all others, as they always do, and they began to cut each other’s throats. There were no idealist reasons for the Balkan War; it was a matter of pure and simple Imperialist Capitalist expansion.

In the same way the wars of Germany against Denmark, Austria and France, were wars to increase German territory and to consolidate the German State. The war against Denmark extended Prussia’s sea border, and the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 gave Germany hegemony on the European continent. This condition was necessary that Germany might be respected by her neighbours and become enabled to develop her industry and commerce in peace. The wars were waged to gain economic advantages.

(To be continued)

This does not appear in the following issues. Perhaps it was planned for the January issue which was seized.