Eduard Bernstein

Evolutionary Socialism

Chapter I
The Fundamental Doctrines of Marxist Socialism


(a) The Scientific Elements of Marxism

“With them Socialism became a science which has now to be worked out in all its details and connections.” – ENGELS: Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science.

German Social Democracy acknowledges to-day as the theoretical foundation of its activity the theory of society worked out by Marx and Engels and called by them scientific socialism. That is to say, that whilst Social Democracy, as a fighting party, supports certain interests and tendencies, it strives for aims set up by itself. In the designation of those aims it follows closely the methods of a science which is capable of an objective proof based only on an experience and logic to which it conforms. For what is not capable of such proof is no longer science but rests on subjective impulses, on mere desire or opinion.

In all sciences a distinction can be drawn between a pure and an applied science. The first consists of principles and of a knowledge, which are derived from the whole series of corresponding experiences and therefore looked upon as universally valid. They form the element of stability in the theory. From the application of these principles to single phenomena or to particular cases of practical experience, is formed an applied science; the knowledge won from this application put together in propositions forms the principles of the applied science. These form the variable element in the structure of a science.

The terms constant and variable are only to be taken here conditionally. For the principles of pure science are also subject to changes which, however, occur in the form of limitations. With advancing knowledge, propositions to which formerly absolute validity was attached are recognised as conditional and are supplemented by new scientific propositions which limit that validity, but which, at the same time, extend the domain of pure science. On the other hand single propositions of the applied science retain their validity for defined cases. A proposition in agricultural chemistry or electrical engineering in so far as it has been tested at all, always remains true as soon as the preliminary conditions on which it rests are restored. But the great number of the elements of these premises and their manifold possibilities of combination cause an infinite variety of such propositions and a constant shifting of their importance in relation to one another. Practice creates ever new materials of knowledge, and every day changes, so to say, its aspect as a whole, continually placing under the heading of outworn methods what was once a new acquisition.

A systematic stripping of its applied parts from the pure science of Marxist socialism has not hitherto been attempted, although important preparations for it are not wanting. Marx’s well-known presentation of his conception of history in the preface of A Contribution to the Criticism of Political Economy and the third part of Fr. Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific should be named here in the first place as being of the greatest importance. In the preface just mentioned Marx presents the general features of his philosophy of history and society in such concise and decisive sentences, so free from all reference to special phenomena and special forms, as has never been found elsewhere with equal clearness. No important thought concerning the Marxist philosophy of history is wanting there.

Engels’ writing is partly a more popular drafting of Marx’s propositions, partly an extension of them. Reference is made to special phenomena of social evolution, such as modern society, characterised by Marx as bourgeois society, and its further path of development is sketched out in more detail so that one, as regards many passages, can apply the term of applied science to it. Single details can be passed over without the fundamental thoughts suffering any damage. But in its principal propositions the presentation is still sufficiently general to be claimed for the pure science of Marxism. This is warranted and required by the fact that Marxism claims to be more than an abstract theory of history. It claims at the same time to be a theory of modern society and its development. If one wishes to discriminate very strictly, one could describe this part of the Marxist theory as an applied doctrine, but it is a thoroughly essential application of the Marxist theory without which it would lose nearly all significance as a political science. Therefore the general or chief propositions of these deductions regarding modern society must be ascribed to the pure doctrine of Marxism. If the present order of society resting legally on private property and free competition is a special case in the history of humanity, it is at the same time a general and lasting fact in the present civilised world. Everything in the Marxist characterisation of bourgeois society and its evolution which is unconditioned – that is, everything whose validity is free from national and local peculiarities – would accordingly belong to the domain of pure science; but everything that refers to temporary and local special phenomena and conjectures, all special forms of development, would on the other hand belong to applied science.

When we separate the fabric of the Marxist doctrine in the manner above named we are able to estimate the import of its separate propositions to the whole system. With every proposition of the pure science a portion of the foundation would be torn away and a great part of the whole building would be robbed of its support and fall down. But it is otherwise with the propositions of the applied science. These could fall without shaking the foundations in the least. A whole series of propositions in the applied science could fall without dragging down the other parts in sympathy.

Such a systematic division into the finer details lies, however, beyond the plan of this work, as it is not intended to be an exhaustive presentation and criticism of the Marxist philosophy. It suffices for my purpose to denote as the chief parts of what in my opinion is the building of the pure science of Marxism, the programme already mentioned of historical materialism, the theory (the germ of which is already contained therein) of the wars of the classes in general and the class war between bourgeoisie and proletariat in particular, as well as the theory of surplus value with that of the method of production in a bourgeois society and the description of the tendencies of the development of this society. Like the propositions of the applied science, those of the pure science are of different values to the system.

No one will deny that the most important element in the foundation of Marxism, the fundamental law so to say which penetrates the whole system, is its specific philosophy of history which bears the name of the materialist interpretation of history. With it Marxism stands or falls in principle; according to the measure in which it suffers limitations will the position of the other elements towards one another be affected in sympathy.

Every search into its validity must, therefore, start from the question whether or how far this theory is true.



(b) The Materialist Interpretation of History and Historic Necessity

“We had to emphasise face to face with our opponents the chief principle (the economic side) denied by them, and there was not always time, place, and opportunity to do justice to the other considerations concerned in and affected by it.” – FRIEDRICH ENGELS: Letter of 1890 reprinted in the Sozialistischen Akademiker, October, 1895.

The question of the correctness of the materialist interpretation of history is the question of the determining causes of historic necessity. To be a materialist means first of all to trace back all phenomena to the necessary movements of matter. These movements of matter are accomplished according to the materialist doctrine from beginning to end as a mechanical process, each individual process being the necessary result of preceding mechanical facts. Mechanical facts determine, in the last resort, all occurrences, even those which appear to be caused by ideas. It is, finally, always the movement of matter which determines the form of ideas and the directions of the will; and thus these also (and with them everything that happens in the world of humanity) are inevitable. The materialist is thus a Calvinist without God. If he does not believe in a predestination ordained by a divinity, yet he believes and must believe that starting from any chosen point of time all further events are, through the whole of existing matter and the directions of force in its parts, determined beforehand.

The application of materialism to the interpretation of history means then, first of all, belief in the inevitableness of all historical events and developments. The question is only, in what manner the inevitable is accomplished in human history, what element of force or what factors of force speak the decisive word, what is the relation of the different factors of force to one another, what part in history falls to the share of nature, of political economy, of legal organisations, of ideas.

Marx, in the already quoted passage gives the answer, that he designates as the determining factor, the material productive forces and the conditions of production among men at the time. “The method of production of the material things of life settles generally the social, political, and spiritual process of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their mode of existence, but on the contrary their social existence that determines [the nature of] their consciousness. At a certain stage in their development the material productive forces of society come into opposition with the existing conditions of production or, which is only a legal expression for it, with the relations of property within which they have hitherto moved. From forms of development of the forces of production, these relations change into fetters. Then enters an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the whole gigantic superstructure (the legal and political organisations to which certain social forms of consciousness correspond) is more slowly or more quickly overthrown. One form of society never perishes before all the productive forces are evolved for which it is sufficiently comprehensive, and new or higher conditions of production never step on to the scene before the material conditions of existence of the same have come to light out of the womb of the old society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production ..... but the productive forces developing in the heart of the bourgeois society create at the same time the material conditions for the solution of this antagonism. The previous history of human society, therefore, terminates with this form of society. [1]

It must first be observed by anticipation that the concluding sentence and the word “last” in the preceding sentence are not capable of proof but are hypotheses more or less well founded. But they are not essential to the theory and even belong much more to the applications of it, and they may therefore be passed over here.

If we look at the other sentences we are struck, above all, by their dogmatic wording, except the phrase the “more slowly or more quickly” (which indeed hides a good deal). In the second of the quoted sentences “consciousness” and “existence” are so sharply opposed that we are nearly driven to conclude that men were regarded solely as living agents of historical powers whose work they carry out positively against their knowledge and will. And this is only partly modified by a sentence omitted here as of secondary consideration in which is emphasised the need of discriminating in social revolutions between the material revolution in the conditions of production and the “ideologistic forms” in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. On the whole the consciousness and will of men appear to be a very subordinate factor of the material movement.

In the preface to the first volume of Capital we come across a sentence savouring no less of predestination. “We are concerned,” it reads, with reference to the “natural laws” of capitalist production, “with these tendencies working and forcing their way with iron necessity.” And yet just when he was speaking of law, a milder concept comes forward – that of tendency. And on the next page stands the sentence so often quoted, that society can “shorten and soften” the birth pains of phases of development in conformity with nature.

The dependence of men on the conditions of production appears much more qualified in the explanation Friedrich Engels gives of historical materialism, during the lifetime of Karl Marx and in agreement with him, in his book against Dühring. There it reads that the “final causes of all social changes and political revolutions” are to be sought, not in the brains of men but “in changes of methods of production and exchange.” But “final causes” includes concurrent causes of another kind – causes of the second or third degree, etc., and it is clear that the greater the series of such causes is, the more limited as to quantity and quality will be the determining power of the final causes. The fact of its action remains, but the final form of things does not depend on it alone. An issue which is the result of the working of different forces can only be reckoned upon with certainty when all the forces are exactly known and placed in the calculation according to their full value. The ignoring of a force of even a lower degree involves the greatest deviations, as every mathematician knows.

In his later works Engels has limited still further the determining force of the conditions of production – most of all in two letters reprinted in the Sozialistischen Akademiker of October, 1895, the one written in the year 1890, the other in the year 1894. There, “forms of law,” political, legal, philosophical theories, religious intuitions or dogmas are enumerated as forces which influence the course of historical struggles and in many cases “are factors preponderating in the determination of their form.” “There are then innumerable forces thwarting one another,” we read, “an endless group of parallelograms of forces, from which one resultant – the historical event – is produced which itself can again be looked upon as the product of a power working as a whole without consciousness or will. For what every single man wills is hindered by every other man, and the result of the struggle is something which no one had intended.” (Letter of 1890.) “The political, legal, philosophical, religious, literary, artistic evolution rests on the economic evolution. But they all react on one another and on the economic basis.” (Letter of 1895.) It must be confessed that this sounds somewhat differently from the passage from Marx quoted above.

It will, of course, not be maintained that Marx and Engels at any time overlooked the fact that non-economic factors exercise an influence on the course of history. Innumerable passages from their early writings can be quoted against such suppositions. But we are dealing here with a question of proportion – not whether ideologic factors were acknowledged, but what measure of influence, what significance for history were ascribed to them, and in this respect it cannot be denied that Marx and Engels originally assigned to the non-economic factors a much less influence on the evolution of society, a much less power of modifying by their action the conditions of production than in their later writings. This corresponds also to the natural course of the development of every new theory. Such a one always first appears in sharp categoric formulation. In order to gain authority, the untenability of the old theory must be shown, and in this conflict one-sidedness and exaggeration are easily manifested. In the sentence which we placed as a motto to this section of the volume, Engels acknowledges it unreservedly, and in the following sentence he remarks : “It is unfortunately only too common for a man to think he has perfectly understood a theory and is able forthwith to apply it, as soon as he has made the chief propositions his own.” He who to-day employs the materialist theory of history is bound to employ it in its most developed, not in its original, form – that is, he is bound in addition to the development and influence of the productive forces and conditions of production to make full allowance for the ideas of law and morals, the historical and religious traditions of emery epoch, the influences of geographical and other circumstances of nature – to which also the nature of man himself and his spiritual disposition belong. This must be kept quite particularly in view when it is a question no longer of simple research into earlier epochs of history, but of foretelling coming developments, if the materialist conception of history is to be of use as a guide to the future.

In a letter to Conrad Schmidt dated October 27th, 1890, Friedrich Engels showed in an excellent manner how from being products of economic development, social institutions become independent social forces with actions of their own, which in their turn may react on the former, and according to circumstances, promote or hinder them or turn them into other directions. He brings forward in the first place the power of the state as an example, when he completes the definition of the state mostly given by him – as the organ of the government of the classes and of repression – by the very important derivation of the state from the social division of labour. [2] Historical materialism by no means denies every autonomy to political and ideologic forces – it combats only the idea that these independent actions are unconditional, and shows that the development of the economic foundations of social life – the conditions of production and the evolution of classes – finally exercises the stronger influence on these actions.

But in any case the multiplicity of the factors remains, and it is by no means always easy to lay bare the relations which exist among them so exactly that it can be determined with certainty where in given cases the strongest motive power is to be sought. The purely economic causes create, first of all, only a disposition for the reception of certain ideas, but how these then arise and spread and what form they take, depend on the co-operation of a whole series of influences. More harm than good is done to historical materialism if at the outset one rejects as eclecticism an accentuation of the influences other than those of a purely economic kind, and a consideration of other economic factors than the technics of production and their foreseen development. Eclecticism – the selecting from different explanations and ways of dealing with phenomena – is often only the natural reaction from the doctrinaire desire to deduce everything from one thing and to treat everything according to one and the same method. As soon as such desire is excessive the eclectic spirit works its way again with the power of a natural force. It is the rebellion of sober reason against the tendency inherent in every doctrine to fetter thought.

Now, to whatever degree other forces besides the purely economic, influence the life of society, just so much more also does the sway of what, in an objective sense, we call historic necessity change. In modern society we have to distinguish in this respect two great streams. On the one side appears an increasing insight into the laws of evolution and notably of economic evolution. With this knowledge goes hand in hand, partly as its cause, partly again as its effect, an increasing capability of directing the economic evolution. The economic natural force, like the physical, changes from the ruler of mankind to its servant according as its nature is recognised. Society, theoretically, can be freer than ever in regard to the economic movement, and only the antagonism of interests among its elements – the power of private and group elements – hinders the full transition of freedom from theory to practice. Yet the common interest gains in power to an increasing extent as opposed to private interest, and the elementary sway of economic forces ceases according to the degree in which this is the case, and in all places where this is the case. Their development is anticipated and is therefore accomplished all the more quickly and easily. Individuals and whole nations thus withdraw an ever greater part of their lives from the influence of a necessity compelling them, without or against their will.

But because men pay ever greater attention to economic factors it easily appears as though these played a greater part to-day than formerly. That, however, is not the case. The deception is only caused because in many cases the economic motive appears freely to-day where formerly it was concealed by conditions of government and symbols of all kinds. Modern society is much richer than earlier societies in ideologics which are not determined by economics and by nature working as an economic force. Sciences, arts, a whole series of social relations are to-day much less dependent on economics than formerly, or, in order to give no room for misconception, the point of economic development attained to-day leaves the ideological, and especially the ethical, factors greater space for independent activity than was formerly the case. In consequence of this the interdependency of cause and effect between technical, economic evolution, and the evolution of other social tendencies is becoming always more indirect, and from that the necessities of the first are losing much of their power of dictating the form of the latter.

“The Iron Necessity of History” receives in this way a limitation, which, let me say at once, signifies in regard to the practice of social democracy, no lessening but an increasing and qualifying of its social political tasks.

Thus we see the materialist conception of history to-day in another form than it was presented at first by its founders. It has gone through a development already, it has suffered limitations in absolutist interpretation. That is, as has been shown, the history of every theory. It would be the greatest retrogression to go back from the ripe form which Engels has given it in the letters to Conrad Schmidt to the first definitions and to give it a “monistic” interpretation based on these.

The first definitions are rather to be supplemented by those letters. The fundamental idea of the theory does not thereby lose in uniformity, but the theory itself gains in scientific character. only with these supplements does it become truly a theory of the scientific treatment of history. In its first form it could become in the hand of a Marx a lever of mighty historical discoveries, but even his genius was led by it to all kinds of false conclusions. [3]

Finally, the question arises, up to what point the materialist conception of history has a claim to its name, if we continue to widen it in the above-mentioned manner through the inclusion of other forces. In fact, according to Engels’ explanations, it is not purely materialist, much less purely economic. I do not deny that the name does not completely fit the thing. But I seek progress not in making ideas confused, but in making them precise; and because it is of primary importance in the characterisation of a theory of history to acknowledge in what it differs from others, I would, far from taking offence at the title “Economic Interpretation of History”, keep it, in spite of all that can be said against it, as the most appropriate description of the Marxist theory of history.

Its significance rests on the weight it lays on economics; out of the recognition and valuation of economic facts arise its just services to the science of history, and the enrichment which this branch of human knowledge owes to it. An economic interpretation of history does not necessarily mean that only economic forces, only economic motives, are recognised; but only that economics forms an ever recurring decisive force, the cardinal point of the great movements in history. To the words “materialist conception of history” still adhere all the misunderstandings which are closely joined with the conception of materialism. Philosophic materialism, or the materialism of natural science, is in a mechanical sense deterministic. The Marxist conception of history is not. It allots to the economic foundation of the life of nations no unconditioned determining influence on the forms this life takes.



(c) The Marxist Doctrine of Class War and of the Evolution of Capital

The doctrine of the class wars rests on the foundation of the materialist conception of history. “ It was found,” writes Engels in Anti-Dühring, “that all history [4] hitherto was the history of class wars, that the classes fighting each other are, each time, the outcome of the conditions of production and commerce in one word, of the economic conditions of their epoch.” (3rd edition, page 12). In modern society it is the class war between the capitalist owners of the means of production and the producers without capital, the wage workers, which imprints its mark on history in this respect. For the former class Marx took from France the term BOURGEOISIE, and for the latter the term PROLETARIAT. This class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat is accordingly the antagonism, transferred to men, which is in the conditions of production to-day, that is, in the private character of the method of appropriation and the social character of the method of production. The means of production are the property of individual capitalists who appropriate to themselves the results of the production, but the production itself has become a social process; that means, a production of commodities for use made by many workers on a basis of systematic division and organisation of labour. And this antagonism conceals in itself, or has, a second conflict, as a supplement the systematic division and organisation of work within the establishments for production (workshop, factory, combination of factories, etc.) is opposed by the unsystematic disposal of the produce on the market.

The starting point of the class struggle between capitalists and workers is the antagonism of interests which follows from the nature of the utilisation of the labour of the latter by the former for profit. The examination of this process of utilisation leads to the doctrine of value and of the production and appropriation of surplus value.

It is significant for capitalist production and the order of society founded thereon, that men in their economic relations stand opposed to one another throughout as buyers and sellers. It recognises in social life no general legal relations of dependence but only actual ones following from purely economic relations (differences of economic means, relation of hirer and hired, etc.). The worker sells to the capitalist his power to work for a definite time, under definite conditions, and for a definite price – wages. The capitalist sells the products (manufactured with the help of the worker – that is, by the whole of the workers employed by him) in the goods market at a price which, as a rule and as a condition of the continuance of his undertaking, yields a surplus above the amount which the manufacture costs. What is, then, this surplus?

According to Marx it is the surplus value of the labour accomplished by the worker. The goods are exchanged on the market at a value which is fixed by the labour embodied in them, measured according to time. What the capitalist has put in in past-we would even say dead-labour in the form of raw material, auxiliary material, wear and tear of machinery, rent, and other costs of production, appears again unchanged in the value of the product. It is otherwise with the living work expended on it. This costs the capitalist wages; it brings him an amount beyond these, the equivalent of the value of labour. The labour value is the value of the quantity of labour worked into the product; the worker’s wages is the selling price of the labour power used up in production. Prices, or the value of labour power, are determined by the cost of maintenance of the worker as it corresponds with his historically developed habits of life. The difference between the equivalent (Erlös) of the labour-value and the labour-wage is the surplus value which it is the natural endeavour of the capitalist to raise as high as possible and in any case not to allow to sink.

But competition on the market of commodities presses constantly on the price of commodities, and an increase of sales is again only obtained by a cheapening of production. The capitalist can attain this cheapening in three kinds of ways: lowering of wages, lengthening of the hours of work, an increase in the productivity of labour. As at a given time there are always definite limits to the first two, his energy is always being turned to the last one. Better organisation of work, inter-unification of work and perfecting of machinery are, in the more developed capitalist societies, the predominating means of cheapening production. In all these cases the consequence is that the organic composition o f capital, as Marx calls it, is changing. The relation of the portion of capital laid out in raw materials, tools for work, etc., increases; the portion of capital laid out in labour wages decreases; the same amount of commodities is produced by fewer workers, an increased amount by the old or even by a less number of workers. The ratio of the surplus value to the portion of capital laid out in wages Marx calls the rate of surplus value or of exploitation, the ratio of the surplus value to the whole capital invested in producing he calls the rate of profit. From the foregoing it is self-evident that the rate of surplus can rise at the same time as the rate of profit falls.

According to the nature of the branch of production we find a very different organic combination of capital. There are undertakings where a disproportionately large portion of the capital is spent on instruments of work, raw material, etc., and only a relatively small amount on wages; and others where the wages form the most important part of the expenditure of capital. The first represent higher, the second lower, organic combinations of capital. If an equal proportionate rate ruled throughout between the surplus value attained and the labour wage, in these latter branches of production the profit rates would in many cases exceed those in the first by multiples: But that is not the case. In a developed capitalist society goods are sold not at their labour values but at their prices of production, which consist of the cost of production (workers’ wages plus dead work used up) and of an additional expense which corresponds with the average profit of the whole social production, or the profit rate of that branch of production in which the organic combination of capital shows an average ratio of wages-capital to capital employed for the other purposes. The prices of commodities in the different branches of production, therefore, show by no means the same relation to their value. In some cases they are constantly far below the value, and in others constantly above it, and only in those branches of production with an average composition of capital do they approach the value. The law of value disappears altogether from the consciousness of the producers; it works only behind their backs, whilst the level of the average profit rate is regulated by it at longer intervals only.

The coercive laws of competition and the growing wealth of capital in society tend to lower constantly the profit rate, whilst this is delayed by forces working in opposite directions but is not permanently stopped. Overproduction of capital goes hand in hand with forces creating a superabundance of workers. Greater centralisation is always spreading in manufactures, commerce, and agriculture, and an expropriation of the smaller capitalists by the greater grows. Periodic crises brought about by the anarchy in production in conjunction with the under-consumption of the masses are always reappearing in a more violent and more destructive character; and they hasten the process of centralisation and expropriation by the ruin of innumerable small capitalists. On the one side is generalised the collective – cooperative – form of the process of work on an always growing scale, in an ascending degree; on the other side increases “with the constantly diminishing number of capitalist magnates who usurp and monopolise all the advantages of this process of transformation, the mass of misery, oppression, servitude, deterioration, exploitation, but also with it the revolt of the working class constantly increasing and taught, united and organised by the mechanism of the capitalist process of production itself.” Thus the development reaches a point where the monopoly of capital becomes a fetter to the method of production that has thriven on it, when the centralisation of the means of production and the socialisation of labour become incompatible with their capitalist garment. This is then rent. The expropriators and usurpers are expropriated by the mass of the nation. Capitalist private property is done away with.

This is the historical tendency of the manner of production and appropriation, according to Marx. The class which is called upon to carry out the expropriation of the capitalist class and the transformation of capitalist into public property, is the class of the wage earners, the proletariat. For this purpose must the class be organised as a political party. This party at a given moment seizes the power of the State and “changes the means of production first of all into State property. But therewith the proletariat negatives itself as a proletariat, therewith it puts an end to all differences of class and antagonisms of class, and consequently also puts an end to the State as a State.” The struggle for individual existence with its conflicts and excesses is over, the State has nothing more to oppress “and dies off.” [5]

So far, in the most concise compression possible, I have endeavoured to set forth the most important propositions of that part of the Marxist theory which we have to consider as essential to his socialism. Just as little as – or, rather, still less than – the materialist theory of history has this part of the theory sprung from the beginning in a perfected form from the head of its authors. Even more than in the former case can a development of the theory be shown which, whilst firmly maintaining the chief points of view, consists of limiting the propositions at first represented as absolute. In the preface to Capital (1867), in the preface to the new edition of the Communist Manifesto (1872), in the preface and a note to the new edition of the Poverty of Philosophy (1884), and in the preface to the Class Struggles in the French Revolution (1895), some of the changes are shown which in the course of time have been brought to pass with regard to various corresponding matters in the views of Marx and Engels. But not all the changes to be cited here and elsewhere with reference to single portions or hypotheses of the theory have found full consideration in its final elaboration. Marx and Engels confined themselves sometimes merely to hinting at, sometimes only to stating in regard to single points, the changes recognised by them in facts, and in the better analyses of these facts, which influenced the form and application of their theory. And even, in the last respect contradictions are not wanting in their writings. They have left to their successors the duty of bringing unity again into their theory and of co-ordinating theory and practice.

But this duty can only be accomplished if one gives an account unreservedly of the gaps and contradictions in the theory. In other words, the further development and elaboration of the Marxist doctrine must begin with criticism of it. To-day, the position is that one can prove everything out of Marx and Engels. This is very comfortable for the apologists and the literary pettifogger. But he who has kept only a moderate sense for theory, for whom the scientific character of socialism is not “only a show-piece which on festive occasions is taken out of a plate cupboard but otherwise is not taken into consideration,” he, as soon as he is conscious of these contradictions, feels also the need of removing them. The duty of the disciples consists in doing this and not in everlastingly repeating the words of their masters.

In this sense has been undertaken the following criticism of some elements of the Marxist doctrine. The wish to keep within moderate bounds a volume intended in the first instance for the use of working men, and the necessity of finishing it within a few weeks explain why an exhaustive treatment of the subject has not even been attempted. At the same time, let it be understood once for all that no pretensions are raised as to originality in the criticism. Most, if not all, of what follows has in substance been worked out – or at least indicated – by others already. The justification for this essay is not that it discloses something not known before but that it acknowledges what has been disclosed already.

But this is also a necessary work. The mistakes of a theory can only be considered as overcome when they are recognised as such by the advocates of that theory. Such recognition does not necessarily signify the destruction of the theory. It may rather appear after subtraction of what is acknowledged to be mistaken – if I may be allowed to use an image of Lassalle – that it is Marx finally who carries the point against Marx.




1. A Contribution to the Criticism of Political Economy. Preface.

2. Certainly in the Origin of the Family it is shown in detail how the social division of labour makes the rise of the state necessary. But Engels lets this side of the origin of the state fall completely, and finally treats the state, as in Anti-Dühring, as only the organ of political repression.

3. “It is much easier,” says Marx in a much-quoted passage in Capital, “to find by analyses the earthly kernel of religious, hazy imaginations than by the reverse process to evolve from the actual conditions of life their heavenly form. The latter is the only materialistic and therefore scientific method” (Capital, I, 2nd ed., p.386). In this contrast there is great exaggeration. Unless one already knew the heavenly forms, the method of deduction described would lead to all kinds of arbitrary constructions, and if one knew them the deduction described is a means of scientific analysis, but not a scientific antithesis to analytic interpretation.

4. In the fourth edition of the work Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, follow here the limiting words “with the exception of primitive societies”.

5. Engels, Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.


Last updated on 16.3.2003