Benedetto Croce

Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx

CHAPTER III. Concerning the Interpretation and Criticism of some Concepts of Marxism

I. Of the Scientific Problem in Marx's Das Kapital

Notwithstanding the many expositions, criticisms, summaries and even abbreviated extracts in little works of popular propaganda, which have been made of Karl Marx s work, it is far from easy, and demands no small effort of philosophical and abstract thought, to understand the exact nature of the investigation which Marx carried out. In addition to the intrinsic difficulty of the subject, it does not appear that the author himself always realised fully the peculiar character of his investigation, that is to say its theoretical distinctness from all other investigations which may be made with his economic material; and, throughout, he despised and neglected all such preliminary and exact explanations as might have made his task plain. Then, moreover, account must be taken of the strange composition of the book, a mixture of general theory, of bitter controversy and satire, and of historical illustrations or digressions, and so arranged that only Loria, (fortunate man!), can declare Das Kapital to be the finest and most symmetrical of existing books; it being, in reality, unsymmetrical, badly arranged and out of proportion, sinning against all the laws of good taste; resembling in some particulars Vico's Scienza nueva. Then too there is the Hegelian phraseology beloved by Marx, of which the tradition is now lost, and which, even within that tradition he adapted with a freedom that at times seems not to lack an element of mockery. Hence it is not surprising that Das Kapital has been regarded, at one time or another, as an economic treatise, as a philosophy of history, as a collection of sociological laws, so-called, as a moral and political book of reference, and even, by some, as a bit of narrative history.

Nevertheless the inquirer who asks himself what is the method and what the scope of Marx's investigation, and puts on one side, of course, all the historical, controversial and descriptive portions (which certainly form an organic part of the book but not of the fundamental investigation), can at once reject most of the above-mentioned definitions, and decide clearly these two points:

(1) As regards method, Das Kapital is without doubt an abstract investigation; the capitalist society studied by Marx, is not this or that society, historically existing, in France or in England, nor the modern society of the most civilised nations, that of Western Europe and America. It is an ideal and formal society, deduced from certain hypotheses, which could indeed never have occurred as actual facts in the course of history. It is true that these hypotheses correspond to a great extent to the historical conditions of the modern civilised world; but this, although it may establish the importance and interest of Marx's investigation because the latter helps us to an understanding of the workings of the social organisms which closely concern us, does not alter its nature. Nowhere in the world will Marx's categories be met with as living and real existences, simply because they are abstract categories, which, in order to live must lose some of their qualities and acquire others.

(a) As regards scope, Marx's investigation does not cover the whole field of economic fact, nor even that one ultimate and dominant portion, whence all economic facts have their source, like rivers flowing from a mountain. It limits itself, on the contrary, to one special economic system, that which occurs in a society with private property in capital, or, as Marx says, in the phrase peculiar to him, capitalist. There remained untouched, not only the other systems which have existed in history and are possible in theory, such as monopolist society, or society with collective capital, but also the series of economic phenomena common to the different societies and to individual economics. To sum up, as regards method, Das Kapital is not an historical description, and as regards scope, it is not an economic treatise, much less an encyclopedia.

But, even when these two points are settled, the real essence of Marx's investigation is not yet explained. Were Das Kapital nothing but what we have so far defined, it would be merely an economic monograph on the laws of capitalist society. (1) Such a monograph Marx could only have made in one way: by deciding on these laws, and explaining them by general laws, or by the fundamental concepts of economics; by reducing, in short, the complex to the simple, or passing, by deductive reasoning, and with the addition of fresh hypotheses, from the simple to the complex. He would thus have shown, by precise exposition, how the apparently most diverse facts of the economic world are ultimately governed by one and the same law; or, what is the same thing, how this law is differently refracted as it takes effect through different organizations, without changing itself, since otherwise the means and indeed the test of the explanation would be lacking. Work of this nature had been already carried out, to a great extent, in Marx's time, and since then it has been developed yet further by economists, and has attained a high degree of perfection, as may be seen, for instance, in the economic treatises of our Italian writers, Pantaleoni and Pareto. But I much doubt whether Marx would have become an economist in order to devote himself to a species of research of almost solely theoretical, or even scholastic, interest. His whole personality as a practical man and a revolutionist, impatient of abstract investigation which had no close connection with the interests of actual life, would have recoiled from such a course. If Das Kapital was to have been merely an economic monograph, it would be safe to wager that it would never have come into existence.

What then did Marx accomplish, and to what treatment did he subject the phenomena of capitalist society, if not to that of pure economic theory? Marx assumed, outside the field of pure economic theory, a proposition; the famous equivalence between value and labour; i.e. the proposition that the value of the commodities produced by labour is equal to the quantity of labour socially necessary to produce them. It is only with this assumption that his special investigation begins.

But what connection has this proposition with the laws of capitalist society? or what part does it play in the investigation? This Marx never explicitly states; and it is on this point that the greatest confusions have arisen, and that the interpreters and critics have been most at a loss.

Some of them have explained the law of labour-value as an historical law, peculiar to capitalist society, all of whose manifestions it determines; (2) others rightly seeing that the manifestations of capitalist society are by no means determined by such a law, but comply with the general economic motives characteristic of the economic nature of man, have rejected the law as an absurdity at which Marx arrived by pressing to its extreme consequences an unfortunate concept of Ricardo.

Criticism was thus bewildered between entire acceptance, combined with a clearly erroneous interpretation, and entire and summary rejection of Marx's treatment; until, in recent years, and especially after the appearance of the third and posthumous volume of Das Kapital, it began to seek out and follow a better path. In truth, despite its eager defenders, the Marxian doctrine has always remained obscure; and, despite contemptuous and summary condemnation, it has always displayed also an obstinate vitality not usually possessed by nonsense and sophistry. For this reason it is to the credit of Professor Werner Sombart, of Breslau University, that he has declared, in one of his lucid writings, that Marx's practical conclusions may be refuted from a political standpoint, but that, scientifically, it is above all important to understand his ideas. (3)

Sombart, then, breaking openly with the interpretation of Marx's law of value as a real law of economic phenomena, and giving a fuller, and I may say, a bolder expression to the timid opinions already stated by another (C. Schmidt), says, that Marx's law of value is not an empirical but a conceptual fact (Keine empirische, sondern eine gedankliche Thatsache); that Marx's value is a logical fact (eine logische Thatsache), which aids our thought in understanding the actual realities of economic life. (4)

This interpretation, in its general sense, was accepted by Engels, in an article written some months before his death and published posthumously. To Engels it appeared that 'it could not be condemned as inaccurate, but that, nevertheless, it was too vague and might be expressed with greater precision." (5)

The acute and courteous remarks on the theory of value, published lately in an article in the Journal des Economistes by an able French Marxian, Sorel, indicate a movement in the same direction. In these remarks he acknowledges that there is no way of passing from Marx's theory to actual phenomena of economic life, and that, although it may offer elucidation, in a somewhat limited sense, it does not appear further that it could ever explain, in the scientific meaning of the word. (6)

And now too Professor Labriola, in a hasty glance at the same subject, referring clearly to Sombart, and partly agreeing and partly criticising, writes: 'the theory of value does not denote an empirical factum nor does it express a merely logical proposition, as some have imagined; but it is the typical premise without which all the rest would be unthinkable.' (7)

Labriola's phrase appears to me, in fact, somewhat more accurate than Sombart's; who, moreover, shows himself dissatisfied with his own term, like someone who has not yet a quite definite concept in view, and hence cannot find a satisfactory phrase.

'Conceptual fact,' 'logical fact' expresses much too little since it is evident that all sciences are interwoven from logical facts, that is from concepts. Marx's labour-value is not only a logical generalisation, it is also a fact conceived and postulated as typical, i.e. something more than a mere logical concept. Indeed it has not the inertia of the abstract but the force of a concrete fact, (8) which has in regard to capitalist society, in Marx's investigation, the function of a term of comparison, of a standard, of a type. (9)

This standard or type being postulated, the investigation, for Marx, takes the following form. Granted that value is equal to the labour socially necessary, it is required to show with what divergencies from this standard the prices of commodities are fixed in capitalist society, and how labour-power itself acquires a price and becomes a commodity. To speak plainly, Marx stated the problem in unappropriate language; he represented this typical value itself, postulated by him as a standard, as being the law governing the economic phenomena of capitalist society. And it is the law, if he likes, but in the sphere of his conceptions, not in economic reality. We may conceive the divergencies from a standard as the revolt of reality when confronted by this standard which we have endowed with the dignity of law.

From a formal point of view there is nothing absurd about the investigation undertaken by Marx. It is a usual method of scientific analysis to regard a phenomenon not only as it exists, but also as it would be if one of its factors were altered, and, in comparing the hypothetical with the real phenomenon, to conceive the first as diverging from the second, which is postulated as fundamental, or the second as diverging from the first, which is postulated in the same manner. If I build up by deductive reasoning the moral rules which develop in two social groups which are at war one against another, and if I show how they differ from the moral rules which develop in a state of peace, I should be making something analogous to the comparison worked out by Marx. Nor would there be great harm (although the expression would be neither fortunate nor accurate) in saying, in a figurative sense, that the law of the moral rules in time of war is the same as that of the rules in time of peace, modified to the new conditions, and altered in a way which seems, ultimately, inconsistent with itself. As long as he confines himself to the limits of his hypothesis Marx proceeds quite correctly. Error could come in only when he or others confuse the hypothetical with the real, and the manner of conceiving and of judging with that of existing. As long as this mistake is avoided, the method is unassailable.

But the formal justification is insufficient: we need another. With a formally correct method results may be obtained which are meaningless and unimportant, or mere mental tricks may be performed. To set up an arbitrary standard of comparison, to compare, and deduce, and to end by establishing a series of divergencies from this standard; to what will this lead? It is then, the standard itself which needs justification: i.e. we need to decide what meaning and importance it may have for us.

This question too, although not stated exactly in this way, has occurred to Marx's critics; and an answer to it has been already given some time ago and by many, by saying that the equivalence of value and labour is an ideal of social ethics, a moral ideal. But nothing could be imagined more mistaken in itself and farther from Marx's thought than this interpretation. What moral inference can ever be drawn from the premise that value is equal to the labour socially necessary? If we reflect a little, absolutely none. The establishment of this fact tells us nothing about the needs of the society, which needs will make necessary one or another ethical-legal system of property and of methods of distribution. Value may certainly equal labour, nevertheless special historical conditions will make necessary society organised in castes or in classes, divided into governing and governed, rulers and ruled; with a resulting unequal distribution of the products of labour. Value may certainly equal labour; but even supposing that fresh historical conditions ever make possible the disappearance of society organised in classes and the advent of a communistic society, and even supposing that in this society distribution could take place according to the quantity of labour contributed by each person, this distribution would still not be a deduction from the established equivalence between value and labour, but a standard adopted for special reasons of social convenience. (10) Nor can it be said that such an equivalence supplies in itself an idea of perfect justice (even though unrealizable), since the criterion of justice has no relation to the difference often due to purely natural causes, in the ability to do more or less social labour and to produce a greater or smaller value. Thus neither a rule of abstract justice nor one of convenience and social utility can be derived from the equivalence between value and labour. Rules of either kind can only be based on consideration of a quite different grade from that of a simple economic equation.

Sombart, avoiding this vulgar confusion, has been better advised in looking for the meaning of the standard set up by Marx in the nature of society itself, and apart from our moral judgments. Thus he says that labour is the economic fact of greater objective importance, and that value, in Marx's view, is nothing 'if not the economic expression of the fact of the socially productive power of labour, as the basis of economic existence.'

But this investigation appears to me to be merely begun and not yet worked out to a conclusion; and if I might suggest wherein it needs completion, I should remark that it is necessary to attempt to give clearness and precision to this word objective, which is either ambiguous or metaphorical. What is meant by an economically objective fact? Do not these words suggest rather a mere presentiment of a concept instead of the distinct vision of this concept itself?

I will add, merely tentatively, that the word objective (whose correlative term is subjective) does not seem to be in place here. Let us, instead, take account, in a society, only of what is properly economic life, i.e. out of the whole society, only of economic society. Let us abstract from this latter all goods which cannot be increased by labour. Let us abstract further all class distinctions, which may be regarded as accidental in reference to the general concept of economic society. Let us leave out of account all modes of distributing the wealth produced, which, as we have said, can only be determined on grounds of convenience or perhaps of justice, but in any case upon considerations belonging to society as a whole, and never from considerations belonging exclusively to economic society. What is left after these successive abstractions have been made? Nothing but economic society in so far as it is a working society. (11) And in this society without class distinctions, i.e. in an economic society as such and whose only commodities are the products of labour, what can value be? Obviously the sun, of the efforts, i.e. the quantity of labour, which the production of the various kinds of commodities demands. And, since we are here speaking of the economic social organism, and not of the individual persons living in it, it follows that this labour cannot be reckoned except by averages, and hence as labour socially (it is with society, I repeat, that we are here dealing) necessary.

Thus labour-value would appear as that determination of value peculiar to economic society as such, when regarded only in so far as it produces commodities capable of being increased by labour.

From this definition the following corollary may be drawn: the determination of labour value will have a positive conformity with facts as long as a society exists, which produces goods by means of labour. It is evident that in the imaginary county of Cocaigne this determination would have no conformity with facts, since all goods would exist in quantities exceeding the demand; similarly it is also evident that the same determination could not take effect in a society in which goods were inadequate to the demand, but could not be increased by labour.

But hitherto history has shown us only societies which, in addition to the enjoyment of goods not increasable by labour, have satisfied their needs by labour. Hence this equivalence between value and labour has hitherto had and will continue for an indefinite time to have, a conformity with facts; but, of what kind is this conformity? Having ruled out (1) that it is a question of a moral ideal, and (2) that it is a question of scientific law; and having nevertheless concluded that this equivalence is a fact (which Marx uses as a type), we are obliged to say, as the only alternative, that it is a fact, lout a fact which exists in the midst of other facts; i.e. a fact that appears to us empirically as opposed, limited, distorted loy other facts, almost like a force amongst other forces, which produces a resultant different from what it would produce if the other forces ceased to act. It is not a completely dominant fact but neither is it non-existent and merely imaginary. (12)

It is still necessary to remark that in the course of history this fact has undergone various alterations, i.e., has been more or less obscured; and here it is proper to do justice to Engels' remark in reference to Sombart; that as regards the way in which the latter defines the law of value 'he does not bring out the full importance which this law possesses during the stages of economic development in which it is supreme.' Engels makes a digression into the field of economic history to show that Marx's law of value, i.e. the equivalence between value and the labour socially necessary, has been supreme for several thousand years. (13) Supreme is too strong a term; but it is true that the opposed influences of other facts to this law have been fewer in number and less intense under primitive communism and under medieval and domestic economic conditions, whilst they have reached a maximum in the society based on privately owned capital and more or less free universal competition, i.e. in the society which produces almost exclusively commodities. (14)

Marx, then, in postulating as typical the equivalence between value and labour and in applying it to capitalist society, was, as it were, making a comparison between capitalist society and a part of itself, isolated and raised up to an independent existence: i.e. a comparison between capitalist society and economic society as such (but only in so far as at is a working society). In other words, he was studying the social problem of labour and was showing by the test implicitly established by him, the special way in which this problem is solved in capitalist society. This is the justification, no longer formal but real, of his method.

It was in virtue of this method, and by the light thrown by the type which he postulated, that Marx was able to discover and define the social origin of profit, i.e. of surplus value. Surplus value in pure economics is a meaningless word, as is evident from the term itself; since a surplus value is an extra value, and thus falls outside the sphere of pure economics. But it rightly has meaning and is no absurdity, as a concept of difference, in comparing one economic society with another, one fact with another, or two hypotheses with one another.

It is also in virtue of the same premise that he was able to arrive at the proposition: that the products of labour in a capitalist society do not sell, unless by exception, for their value, but usually for more or less, and sometimes with great deviations from their value; which is to say, to put it shortly, value does not coincide with price. Suppose, by hypothesis the organisation of production were suddenly changed from a capitalist to a communistic system, we should see at once, not only that alteration in the fortunes of men which appeals so much to popular imagination, but also a more remarkable change: a change in the fortunes of things. A scale of valuation of goods would then fashion itself, very different for the most part, from that which now exists. The way in which Marx proves this proposition, by an analysis of the different components of the capital employed in different industries, i.e. of the proportion of fixed capital (machines, etc.) and of floating capital (wages), need not be explained here in detail.

And, in the same way, i.e. by proving that fixed capital increases continually in comparison with floating capital, Marx tries to establish another law of capitalist society, the law of the tendency of the rate of profits to fall. Technical improvement, which in an abstract economic society would show itself in the decreased labour required to produce the same wealth, shows itself in capitalist society in a gradual decline in the rate of profits. (15) But this section of Volume III of Das Kapital is one of the least developed in this little worked-out posthumous book; and it seems to me to be worth a special critical essay, which I hope to write at another time, not wishing to treat the subject here incidentally. (16)


Marxian economics is thus a study of abstract working society showing the variations which this undergoes in the different social economic organisations. This investigation Marx carried out only in reference to one of these organizations, i.e. the capitalist; contenting himself with mere hints in regard to the slave and serf organizations, primitive communism, the domestic system and to savage conditions. (17)

In this sense he and Engels declared that economics (the economics studied by them), was an historical science. (18) But here, too, their definition has been less happy than the investigation itself; we know that Marx's researches are not historical, but hypothetical and abstract, i.e. theoretical. (19) They might better be called researches into sociological economics, if the word sociological were not one which is employed most variously and arbitrarily.

If Marx's investigation is thus limited, if the law of value postulated by him is the special law of an abstract working society, which only partially takes effect in economic society as given in history, and in other hypothetical or possible economic societies, the following results seem to follow evidently and readily: (1) That Marxian economics is not general economic science; (2) that labour-value is not a general concept of value. Alongside, then, of the Marxian investigation, there can, or rather must, exist and flourish a general economic science, which may determine a concept of value, deducing it from quite different and more comprehensive principles than the special ones of Marx. And, if the pure economists, confined to their own special province, have been wrong to show an ungenerous intellectual dislike for Marx's investigations, his followers, in their turn, have been wrong to regard ungratefully a branch of research which was alien to them, calling it now useless, and now frankly absurd.

Such is, in effect, my opinion, and I freely acknowledge that I have never been able to discover other antithesis or enmity between these two branches of research except the purely accidental one of the mutual antipathy to and mental ignorance of each other, of two groups of students. Some have resorted to a political explanation; but, with no wish to deny that political prepossessions are often the causes of theoretical errors, I do not consider an explanation as adequate and appropriate, which resolves itself into accusing a large number of students of allowing themselves blindly and foolishly to be overcome by passions alien to science; or, what is worse, of knowingly falsifying their thought and constructing a whole economic system from motives of practical opportunism.

Indeed Marx himself had not the time or means to adopt an attitude, so to speak, towards the purists, or the hedonists, or the utilitarians, or the deductive or Austrian school, or whatever else they may call themselves. But he had the greatest contempt for the oeconomia vulgaris, under which term he was wont to include also the researches of general economics, which explain what needs no explanation and is intuitively evident, and leave unexplained what is more difficult and of genuine interest. Nor has Engels discussed the subject; but an indication of his opinion may be found in his attack on Dühring. Dühring was struggling to find a general law of value, which should govern all possible types of economic organisation; and Engels refuted him: 'Anyone who wishes to bring under the same law the political economy of Terra del Fuoco and that of modern England, can produce nothing' but the vulgarest commonplaces.' He scorns the truth of ultimate instance, the eternal laws of value, the tautologous and empty axioms which Herr Dühring would have produced by his method. (20) Fixed and eternal laws are non-existent: there is then no possibility of constructing a general science of economics, valid for all times and in all places. If Engels had meant to refer to those who affirm the eternity and inevitability of the laws characteristic of capitalist society, he would have been justified; and would have been aiming his blows at a prejudice which history alone suffices to refute, by showing as it does, how capitalism has appeared at different times, replacing other types of economic organization, and has also disappeared, replaced by other types. But in Dühring's case the criticism was much beside the mark; since Dühring did not indeed mean to set up the laws of capitalist society as fixed and eternal; but to determine a general concept of value, which is quite another matter: or, in other words, to show how, from a purely economic point of view, capitalist society is explained by the same general concepts as explain the other types of organization. No effort, not even that of Engels, will suffice to stop such a problem from being stated and solved; unless it were possible to destroy the human intellect, which, in addition to particular facts, recognises universal concepts.

It would be instructive to examine the references which there are in Marx's Das Kapital to unfinished analyses, extraneous to his special method; for in this dependence on analysis the researches of pure economics have their origin. What is, for instance, abstract human labour (abstrakt menschliche Albeit) a concept which Marx uses like a postulate? By what method is that reduction of complex to simple labour accomplished, to which he refers as to an obvious and ordinary matter? And if, in Marx's hypothesis, commodities appear as congealed labour or crystalised labour, why by another hypothesis, should not all economic goods and not only commodities, appear as congealed methods of satisfying needs or as crystalised needs? I read at one point in Das Kapital: 'Things which in themselves are not commodities, e.g. knowledge, honour, etc., may be sold by their owners; and thus, by means of their price, acquire the form of commodities. A thing may formally have a price without having a value. The expression of the price here becomes imaginary like certain quantities in mathematics.' (21) Here is yet another difficulty, indicated but not overcome. Where are these formal or imaginary prices to be found? And what are they? By what laws are they governed? Or are they perhaps like the Greek words in Latin prosody, which according to the school rule, per Ausoniae fines sine lege vagantur? – Questions of this kind are answered by the researches of pure economics.

The philosopher Lange also, who rejected Marx's law of value, which he regarded as an extravagant production, a child of sorrow, thinking it unsuitable and in this he was justified, as a general law of value, arrived at the solutions which have since been given of the latter, a long time before the researches of the purists came into blossom. 'Some years ago,' he wrote in his book on labour problems, 'I too worked at a new theory of value, which should be of such a character as to show the most extreme cases of variation in value as special cases of the same formula.' And, whilst adding that he had not completed it, he intimated that the course which he attempted was the same as that hastily glanced at by Jevons in his Theory of political economy, published in 1871. (22)

To any of the more cautious and moderate Marxians it is plainly evident that the researches of the Hedonists are not merely to be rejected as erroneous or unfounded; and hence an attempt has been made to vindicate them in reference to the Marxian doctrine as an economic psychology, having its place alongside of true economics itself. But this definition contains a curious equivocation. Pure economics is quite apart from psychology. indeed, to begin with, it is hard to fix the meaning of the words economic psychology. The science of psychology is divided into formal and descriptive. In formal psychology there is no place either for economic fact nor for any other fact which may represent a particular content. In descriptive psychology, it is true, are included representations, sentiments and desires of an economic content, but included as they appear in reality, mixed with the other psychical phenomena of different content, and inseparable from them. Thus descriptive economic psychology can be, at most, an approximate limitation, by which we take as a subject of special description the way in which men (at a given time and place, or even in the mass as hitherto they have appeared in history) think, feel and desire in respect to a certain class of goods which are usually called material or economic, and which, however, stand in need of specification and definition. Subject-matter, in truth, better suited to history than to science, which regards such matters only as empty and unimportant generalizations. This may be seen in the long discussion of the matter by that most weighty of pedants, Wagner, in his manual, which, of all that has been written on the question, I think the most worthy of notice, and which is yet, in itself, a thing very little worthy of notice or conclusive. (23) An enumeration and description of the various tendencies which exist in men as they appear in ordinary life: egoistical and altruistic tendencies, love of self-advantage and fear of disadvantage, tear of punishment and hope of reward, sense of honour and fear of disgrace and public contempt, love of activity and dislike of idleness, feeling of reverence for the moral code, etc., this is what Wagner calls economic psychology; and which might better be called : various observations in descriptive psychology, to be kept in mind whilst studying the practical questions of economics. (24)

But what, pray, has pure economics in common with psychology? The purists start from the hedonistic postulate, i.e. from the economic nature itself of man, and deduce from it the concepts of utility (economic utility which Pareto has proposed to call by a special name, ofelimita, from the Greek {omega phi epsilon lambda iota mu omicron sigma}) of value, and directly, all the other special laws in accordance with which man behaves in so far as he is an abstract homo oeconomicus. They do exactly what the science of ethics does with the moral nature; and the science of logic with the logical nature; and so on. At this rate then would ethics be a psychology of ethics and logic a psychology of logic? And, since all that we know passes through the human mind, ontology would be a psychology of existence, mathematics a psychology of mathematics, and we should thus have confused the most diverse things, ending in a disorder the aim of which would be no longer comprehensible. Hence we conclude, that with care and the exercise of a little thought, it will necessarily be agreed that pure economics is not a psychology, but is the true and essential general science of economic facts.

Professor Labriola, too, shows a certain ill-humour which does not seem to me entirely justified, towards the pure economists, 'who', he says, 'translate into psychological conceptualism the influence of risk and other analogous considerations of ordinary commercial practice! And they do well I answer because the mind desires to give an account even of the influences of risk and of commercial practice,and to explain their mechanism and character. And then, psychological conceptualism; is not this an unfortunate connection between what your intellect shows you that pure economics really is (science which takes as its starting point an irreducible concept), and that hazardous definition of psychology which has been criticised above? Are not the noun and adjective in opposition to one another? And further, Labriola speaks contemptuously of the 'abstract atomism' of the hedonists, in which, 'one no longer knows what history is, and progress is reduced to mere appearance.' (25) Here too, it does not seem to me that his contempt is justified; for Labriola is well aware that in all abstract sciences, concrete and individual things disappear and that their elements alone remain as objects to be considered: hence this cannot be made a ground for special complaint against economic science. But history and progress, even if they are alien to the study of abstract economics, do not therefore cease to exist and to form the subject of other studies of the human mind; and this is what matters.

For my part I hold firmly to the economic notion of the hedonistic guide, to utility-ophelimity, to final utility, and even to the explanation (economic) of interest on capital as arising from the different degrees of utility possessed by present and future goods. But this does not satisfy the desire for a sociological, so to speak, elucidation of interest on capital; and this elucidation, with others of the same kind, can only be obtained from the comparative considerations put before us by Marx. (26)


Historical materialism if it is to express something critically acceptable, can, as I have had occasion to state elsewhere, (27) be neither a new a priori notion of the philosophy of history, nor a new method of historical thought; it must be simply a canon of historical interpretation. This canon recommends that attention be directed to the so-called economic basis of society, in order that the forms and mutations of the latter may be better understood.

The concept canon ought not to raise difficulty, especially when it is remembered that it implies no anticipation of results, but only an aid in seeking for them; and is entirely of empirical origin. When the critic of the text of Dante's Comedia uses Witte's well-known canon, which runs: 'the difficult reading is to be preferred to the easy one,' he is quite aware that he possesses a mere instrument, which may be useful to him in many cases, useless in others, and whose correct and advantageous employment depends entirely on his caution. In like manner and with like meaning it must be said that historical materialism is a mere canon; although it be in truth a canon most rich in suggestion.

But was it in this way that Marx and Engels understood it? and is it in this way that Marx's followers usually understand it?

Let us begin with the first question. Truly a difficult one, and offering a multiplicity of difficulties. The first of these arises so to speak, from the nature of the sources. The doctrine of historical materialism is not embodied in a classical and definite book by those authors, with whom it is as it were identified; so that, to discuss that book and to discuss the doctrine might seem all one thing. On the contrary it is scattered through a series of writings, composed in the course of half a century, at long intervals, where only the most casual mention is made of it, and where it is sometimes merely understood or implied. Anyone who desired to reconcile all the forms with which Marx's and Engels have endowed it, would stumble upon contradictory expressions, which would make it impossible for the careful and methodical interpreter to decide what, on the whole, historical materialism meant for them.

Another difficulty arises in regard to the weight to be attached to their expressions. I do not think that there has yet been a study of what might be called Marx's forma mentis; with which Engels had something in common, partly owing to congeniality, partly owing to imitation or influence. Marx, as has been already remarked, had a kind of abhorrence for researches of purely scholastic interest. Eager for knowledge of things (I say, of concrete and individual things) he attached little weight to discussions of concepts and the forms of concepts; this sometimes degenerated into an exaggeration in his own concepts. Thus we find in him a curious opposition between statements which, interpreted strictly, are erroneous; and yet appear to us, and indeed are, loaded and pregnant with truth. Marx was addicted, in short, to a kind of concrete logic. (28) Is it best then to interpret his expressions literally, running the risk of giving them a meaning different from what they actually bore in the writer's inmost thoughts? Or is it best to interpret them broadly, running the opposite risk of giving them a meaning, theoretically perhaps more acceptable, but historically less true?

The same difficulty certainly occurs in regard to the writings of numerous thinkers; but it is especially great in regard to those of Marx. And the interpreter must proceed with caution: he must do his work bit by bit, book by book, statement by statement, connecting indeed these various indications one with another, but taking account of differences of time, of actual circumstances, of fleeting impressions, of mental and literary habits; and he must submit to acknowledge ambiguities and incompleteness where either exists, resisting the temptation to confirm and complete by his own judgment. It may be allowed for instance, as it appears to me for various reasons, that the way in which historical materialism is stated above is the same as that in which Marx and Engels understood it in their inmost thoughts; or at least that which they would have agreed to as correct if they had had more time available for such labours of scientific elaboration, and if criticism had reached them less tardily. And all this is of importance up to a certain point, for the interpreter and historian of ideas; since for the history of science, Marx and Engels are neither more nor less than they appear in their books and works; real, and not hypothetical or possible persons. (29)

But even for science itself, apart from the history of it, the hypothetical or possible Marx and Engels have their value. What concerns us theoretically is to understand the various possible ways of interpreting the problems proposed and the solutions thought out by Marx and Engels, and to select from the latter by criticism those which appear theoretically true and welcome. What was Marx's intellectual standpoint with reference to the Hegelian philosophy of history? In what consisted the criticism which he gave of it? Is the purport of this criticism always the same for instance in the article published in the Deutschfranzösische Jahrbücher, for 1844, in the Heilige Familie of 1845, in the Misere de la philosophie of 1847, in the appendix to Das Komnunistische Manifest of 1848, in the preface to the Zur Kritik of 1859, and in the preface to the 2nd edition of Das Kapital of 1873? Is it so again in Engels' works in the Antidühring, in the article on Feuerbach, etc.? Did Marx ever really think of substituting, as some have believed, Matter or material fact for the Hegelian Idea? And what connection was there in his mind between the concepts material and economic? Again, can the explanation given by him, of his position with regard to Hegel: 'the ideas determined by facts and not the facts by the ideas,' be called an inversion of Hegel's view, or is it not rather the inversion of that of the ideologists and doctrinaires? (30) These are some of the questions pertaining to the history of ideas, which will be answered some time or other: perhaps at present the time has not yet arrived to write the history of ideas which are still in the process of development. (31)

But, putting aside this historical curiosity, it concerns us now to work at these ideas in order to advance in theoretical knowledge. How can historical materialism justify itself scientifically? This is the question I have proposed to myself, and to which the answer is given by the critical researches referred to at the beginning of this paragraph. Without returning to them I will give other examples, taken from the same source, that of the Marxian literature. How ought we to understand scientifically Marx's neo-dialectic? The final opinion expressed by Engels on the subject seems to be this: the dialect is the rhythm of the development of things, i.e. the inner law of things in their development. This rhythm is not determined a priori, and by metaphysical deduction, but is rather observed and gathered a posterior), and only through the repeated observations and verifications that are made of it in various fields of reality, can it be presupposed that all facts develop through negations, and negations of negations. (32) Thus the dialect would be the discovery of a great natural law, less empty and formal than the so-called law of evolution and it would have nothing in common with the old Hegelian dialect except the name, which would preserve for us an historical record of the way in which Marx arrived at it. But does this natural rhythm of development exist? This could only be stated from observation, to which indeed, Engels appealed in order to assert its existence. And what kind of a law is one which is revealed to us by observation? Can it ever be a law which governs things absolutely, or is it not one of those which are now called tendencies, or rather is it not merely a simple and limited generalization this recognition of rhythm through negations of negations, it is not some rag of the old metaphysics, from which it may be well to free ourselves. (33) This is the investigation needed for the progress of science. In like manner should other statements of Marx and Engels be criticised. What for example shall we think of Engels' controversy with Dühring concerning the basis of history: whether this is political force or economic fact? Will it not seem to us that this controversy can perhaps retain any value in face of Dühring's assertion that political fact is that which is essential historically, but in itself has not that general importance which it is proposed to ascribe to it? We may reflect for a moment that Engels' thesis: 'force protects (Schubert) but does not cause (verursacht) usurpation,' might be directly inverted into another that: 'force causes usurpation, but economic interest protects it,' and this by the well known principle of the interdependence and competition of the social factors.

And the class war? In what sense is the general statement true that history is a class war? I should be inclined to say that history is a class war (1) when there are classes, (2) when they have antagonistic interests, (3) when they are aware of this antagonism, which would give us, in the main, the humourous equivalence that history is a class war only when it is a class war. In fact sometimes classes have not had antagonistic interests, and very often they are not conscious of them; of which the socialists are well aware when they endeavour, by efforts not always crowned with success (with the peasantry, for example, they have not yet succeeded), to arouse this consciousness in the modern proletariat. As to the possibility of the non-existence of classes, the socialists who prophesy this non-existence for the society of the future, must at least admit that it is not a matter intrinsically necessary to historical development, since in the future, and without classes, history, it may well be hoped will continue. In short even the particular statement that 'history is a class war,' has that limited value of a canon and of a point of view, which we have allowed in general to the materialist conception. (34)

The second of the two questions proposed at the beginning is: How do the Marxians understand historical materialism? To me it seems undeniable that in the Marxian literature, i.e. the writings of the followers and interpreters of Marx, there exists in truth a metaphysical danger of which it is necessary to beware. Even in the writings of Professor Labriola some statements are met with which have recently led a careful and accurate critic to conclude that Labriola understands historical materialism in the genuine and original sense of a metaphysic, and that of the worst kind, a metaphysic of the contingent. (35) But although I have myself, on another occasion, pointed out those statements and formulae which seem to me doubtful in Labriola's writings, I still think, as I thought then, that they are superficial outgrowths on a system of thought essentially sound; or to speak in a manner agreeing with the considerations developed above, that Labriola, having educated himself in Marxism, may have borrowed from it also some of its over-absolute style, and at times a certain carelessness about the working out of concepts, which are somewhat surprising in an old Herbartian like himself, (36) but which he then corrects by observations and limitations always useful, even if slightly contradictory, because they bring us back to the ground of reality.

Labriola, moreover, has a special merit, which marks him off from the ordinary exponents and adapters of historical materialism. Although his theoretical formulae may here and there expose him to criticism, when he turns to history, i.e. to concrete facts, he changes his attitude, throws off as it were, the burden of theory and becomes cautious and circumspect: he possesses, in a high degree, respect for history. He shows unceasingly his dislike for formulae of every kind, when concerned to establish and scrutinise definite processes, nor does he forget to give the warning that there exists 'no theory, however good and excellent in itself, which will help us to a summary knowledge of every historical detail.' (37)

In his last book we may note especially a full inquiry into what could possibly be the nature of a history of Christianity. Labriola criticises those who set up as an historical subject the essence of Christianity, of which it is unknown where or when it has existed; since the history of the last centuries of the Roman Empire shows us merely the origin and growth of what constituted the Christian society, or the church, a varying group of facts amidst varied historical conditions. This critical opinion held by Labriola seems to me perfectly correct; since it is not meant to deny, (what I myself, do not deny) the justification of that method of historical exposition, which for lack of another phrase, I once called histories by concepts, (38) thus distinguishing it from the historical exposition of the life of a given social group in a given place and during a given period of time. He who writes the history of Christianity, claims in truth, to accomplish a task somewhat similar to the tasks of the historians of literature, of philosophy, of art: i.e. to isolate a body of facts which enter into a fixed concept, and to arrange them in a chronological series, without however denying or ignoring the source which these facts have in the other facts of life, but keeping them apart for the convenience of more detailed consideration. The worst of it is that whereas literature, philosophy, art and so on are determined or determinable concepts, Christianity is almost solely a bond, which unites beliefs often intrinsically very diverse; and, in writing the history of Christianity, there is often a danger of writing in reality the history of a name, void without substance. (39)

But what would Labriola say if his cautious criticism were turned against that history of the origin of the family, of private property and of class distinctions, which is one of the most extensive historical applications made by the followers of Marx: desired by Marx, sketched out by Engels on the lines of Morgan's investigations, carried on by others. Alas, in this matter, the aim was not merely to write, as could, perhaps, have been done, a useful manual of the historical facts which enter into these three concepts, but actually an additional history was produced: A history, to use Labriola's own phrase, of the essence family, of the essence class and of the essence private property, with a predetermined cadence. A 'history of the family,' to confine ourselves to one of the three groups of facts,can only be an enumeration and description of the particular forms taken by the family amongst different races and in the course of time: a series of particular histories, which unite themselves into a general concept. It is this which is offered by Morgan's theories, expounded by Engels, which theories modern criticism have cut away on all sides.(40*) Have they not allowed themselves to presuppose, as an historical stage, through which all races are fated to pass, that chimerical matriarchate, in which the mere reckoning of descent through the mother is confused with the predominance of woman in the family and that of woman in society? Have we not seen the reproofs and even the jeers directed by some Marxians against those cautious historians who deny that it is possible to assert, in the present condition of the criticism of sources, the existence of a primitive communism, or a matriarchate, amongst the Hellenic races? Indeed, I do not think that throughout this investigation proof has been given of much critical foresight.

I should also like to call Labriola's attention to another confusion, very common in Marxian writings, between economic forms of organisation and economic epochs. Under the influence of evolutionist positivism, those divisions which Marx expressed in general: the Asiatic, the antique, the feudal and the bourgeois economic organisation, have become four historical epochs: communism, slave organization, serf organization, and wage-earning organization. But the modern historian, who is indeed not such a superficial person as the ordinary Marxians are accustomed to say, thus sparing themselves the trouble of taking a share in his laborious procedure, is well aware that there are four forms of economic organization, which succeed and intersect one another in actual history, often forming the oddest mixtures and sequences. He recognises an Egyptian mediaevalism or feudalism, as he recognises an Hellenic mediaevalism or feudalism; he knows too of a German neo-mediaevalism which followed the flourishing bourgeois organisation of the German cities before the Reformation and the discovery of the New World; and he willingly compares the general economic conditions of the Greco-Roman world at its zenith with those of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Connected with this arbitrary conception of historical epochs, is the other of the inquiry into the cause (note carefully; into the cause) of the transition from one form to another. Inquiry is made, for instance, into the cause of the abolition of slavery, which must be the same, whether we are considering the decline of the Greco-Roman world or modern America; and so for serfdom, and for primitive communism and the capitalist system: amongst ourselves the famous Loria has occupied himself with these absurd investigations, the perpetual revelation of a single cause, of which he himself does not know exactly whether it be the earth, or population or something else yet it should not take much to convince us, (it would suffice for the purpose to read, with a little care, some books of narrative history), that the transition from one form of economic, or more generally, social, organization, to another, is not the result of a single cause, nor even of a group of causes which are always the same; but is due to causes and circumstances which need examination for each case since they usually vary for each case. Death is death; but people die of many diseases.

But enough of this; and I may be allowed to conclude this paragraph by reference to a question which Labriola also brings forward in his recent work, and which he connects with the criticism of historical materialism.

Labriola distinguishes between historical materialism as an interpretation of history, and as a general conception of life and of the universe (Lebens-und-Weltanschauang), and he inquires what is the nature of the philosophy immanent in historical materialism; and after some remarks, he concludes that this philosophy is the tendency to monism, and is a formal tendency.

Here I take leave to point out that if into the term historical materialism two different things are intruded, i.e.: (1) a method of interpretation; (2) a definite conception of life and of the universe; it is natural to find a philosophy in it, and moreover with a tendency to monism, because it was included therein at the outset. What close connection is there between these two orders of thought? Perhaps a logical connection of mental coherence? For my part, I confess that I am unable to see it. I believe, on the contrary, that Labriola, this time, is simply stating a proposition of historical materialism what he thinks to be the necessary attitude of modern thought with regard to the problems of ontology; or what, according to him, should be the standpoint of the socialist opinion in regard to the conceptions of optimism and pessimism; and so on. I believe, in short, that he is not making an investigation which will reveal the philosophical conceptions underlying historical materialism; but merely a digression, even if a digression of interest and importance. And how many other most noteworthy opinions and impressions and sentiments are welcomed by socialist opinion! But why christen this assemblage of new facts by the name of historical materialism, which has hitherto expressed the well-defined meaning of a way of interpreting history? Is it not the task of the scientist to distinguish and analyse what in empirical reality and to ordinary knowledge appears mingled into one?


It has become a commonplace that, owing to Marx's work, socialism has passed from utopia to science, as the title of a popular booklet by Engels expresses it; and scientific socialism is a current term. Professor Labriola does not conceal his doubts of such a term; and he is right.

On the other hand, we hear the followers of other leaders, for instance the extreme free traders (to whom I refer by preference honoris causa, because they, too, are amongst the idealists of our times), in the name of science itself, condemn socialism as anti-scientific and declare that free trade is the only scientific opinion.

Would it not be convenient if both sides retraced their steps and mortified their pride a little, and acknowledged that socialism and free trade may certainly be called scientific in metaphor or hyperbole; but that neither of them are, or ever can be, scientific deductions? And that thus the problem of socialism, of free trade and of any other practical social programme, may be transferred to another region; which is not that of pure science, but which nevertheless is the only one suited to them?

Let us pause for an instant at free trade. It presents itself to us from two points of view, i.e. with a two-fold justification. In the older aspect it undeniably has a metaphysical basis, consisting in that conviction of the goodness of natural laws and that concept of nature (natural law, state of nature, etc.) which, proceeding from the philosophy of the 18th century, was predominant in the 18th century.(41*) 'Do not hinder Nature in her work and all will be for the best.' A similar note is struck, only indirectly, by a criticism like that of Marx; who, when analysing the concept of nature, showed that it was the idealogical complement of the historical development of the middle class, a powerful weapon of which this class availed itself against the privileges and oppressions which it intended to overthrow. (42) Now this concept may indeed have originated as a weapon made occasional use of historically, and nevertheless be intrinsically true. Natal law in this case, is equivalent to rational law; it is necessary to deny both the rationality and the excellence of this law. Now, just because of its metaphysical origin, this concept can be rejected altogether, but cannot be refuted in detail it disappears with the metaphysic of which it was a part, and it seems at length to have really disappeared. Peace to the sublime goodness of natural laws.

But free trade presents itself to us, among its more recent supporters, in a very different aspect – the free traders, abandoning metaphysical postulates, assert two theses of practical importance: (a) that of an economic hedonistic maximum, which they suppose identical with the maximum of social desirability; (43) and (b) the other, that this hedonistic maximum can only be completely secured by means of the fullest economic liberty. These two theses certainly take us outside metaphysics and into the region of reality; but not actually into the region of science. Indeed the first of them contains a statement of the ends of social life, which may perhaps be welcome, but is not a deduction from any scientific proposition. The second thesis cannot be proved except by reference to experience, i.e. to what we know of human psychology, and to what, by approximate calculation, we may suppose that psychology will still probably be in the future. A calculation which can be made, and has been made with great acumen, with great erudition and with great caution and which hence may even be called scientific, but only in a metaphorical and hyperbolical sense, as we have already remarked: hence the knowledge which it affords us, can never have the value of strictly scientific knowledge. (44) Pareto, who is both one of the most intelligent and also one of the most trustworthy and sincere, of the recent exponents and supporters of free trade, (45) does not deny the limited and approximate nature of its conclusions; which appears to him so much the more clearly in that he uses mathematical formulae, which show at once the degree of certainty to which statements of this kind may lay claim.

And, in effect, communism (which has also had its metaphysical period, and earlier still a theological period) may, with entire justice, set against the two theses of free trade, two others of its own which consist: (a) in a different and not purely economic estimate of the maximum of social desirability; (b) in the assertion that this maximum can be attained, not through extreme free trade, but rather through the organization of economic forces; which is the meaning of the famous saying concerning the leap from the reign of necessity ( = free competition or anarchy) into that of liberty ( = the command of man over the forces of nature even in the sphere of the social natural life). But neither can these two theses be proved; and for the same reasons. Ideals cannot be proved; and empirical calculations and practical convictions are not science. Pareto clearly recognises this quality in modern socialism; and agrees that the communistic system, as a system, is perfectly conceivable, i.e. theoretically it offers no internal contradictions (§ 446). According to him it clashes, not with scientific laws, but with immense practical difficulties (l.c.) such as the difficulty of adopting technical improvements without the trial and selection secured by free competition; the lack of stimuli to work; the choice of officials, which in a communistic society would be guided, still according to him, not by wholly technical reasons, as in modern industry, but on political and social grounds (837). He admits the socialist criticism of the waste due to free competition; but thinks this inevitable as a practical way of securing equilibrium of production. The real problem he says is: whether without the experiments of free competition it is possible to arrive at a knowledge of the line (the line which he calls mn) of the complete adaptation of production to demand, and whether the expense of making a unified (communistic) organisation of work, would not be greater than that needed to solve the equations or production by experiments (718, 867). He also acknowledged that there is something parasitical in the capitalist (Marx's sad-faced knight); but, at the same time, he maintains that the capitalist renders social services, for which we do not know how otherwise to provide. (46) If it be desired to state briefly the contrasts in the two different points of view, it may be said that human psychology is regarded by the free traders as for the most part, determined, and by the socialists, as for the most part changeable and adaptable. Now it is certain that human psychology does change and adapt itself; but the extent and rapidity of these changes are incapable of exact determination and are left to conjecture and opinion. Can they ever become the subject of exact calculation?

If now we pass to considerations of another kind, not of what is desirable, that is of the ends and means admired and thought good by us; but of what under present circumstances, history promises us; i.e. of the objective tendencies of modern society, I really do not know with what meaning many free traders cast on socialism the reproach of being Utopian. For quite another reason socialists might cast back the same reproach upon free trade, if it were considered as it is at present, and not as it was fifty years ago when Marx composed his criticism upon it. Free Trade and its recommendations turn upon an entity which now at least, does not exist: i.e. the national or general interest of society; since existing society is divided into antagonistic groups and recognizes the interest of each of these groups, but not, or only very feebly, a general interest. Upon which does free trade reckon? On the landed proprietors or on the industrial classes, on the workmen or on the holders of public dignities? Socialism, on the contrary, from Marx onwards, has placed little reliance on the good sense and good intentions of men, and has declared that the social revolution must be accomplished chiefly by the effort of a class directly interested, i.e. the proletariat. And socialism has made such advances that history must inquire whether the experience that we have of the past justifies the supposition that a social movement, so widespread and intense, can be reabsorbed or dispersed without fully testing itself In the sphere of facts. On this matter too I gladly refer to Pareto, who acknowledges that even in that country of free traders' dreams, in England, the system is supported not owing to people's conviction of its intrinsic excellence, but because it is in the interests of certain entrepreneurs. (47) And he recognises, with political acumen, that since social movement takes place in the same manner as all other movements, along the line of least resistance, it is very likely that it may be necessary to pass through Socialistic state,in order to reach a state of free competition (§ 791).

I have said that the extreme free traders, much more than the socialists, are idealists, or if one prefers it, ideologists. Hence in Italy we are witnesses of this strange phenomenon, a sort of fraternising and spiritual sympathy between socialists and free traders, in so far as both are bitter and searching critics of the same thing, which the former call the bourgeois tyranny and the latter bourgeois socialism. But in the field of practical activity the socialists (and here I no longer refer especially to Italy) undoubtedly make progress whilst the free traders have to limit themselves to the barrenness of evil-speaking and of aspirations, forming a little group of well-meaning people of select intelligence, who make audience for one another. (48) By this I mean no reproach to these sincere and thoroughly consistent free-traders: rather I sincerely admire them; their lack of success is not their own fault.

I wish merely to remark that if ideals, as the philosopher says, have short legs, those of the free traders' ideals are indeed of the shortest.

I could continue this exemplification, bringing forward various other social programmes, such as that of state socialism, which consists in accepting the socialist ideal, but as an ultimate end perhaps never fully attainable, and extending its partial attainment over a long course of centuries; and in relying for the effective force, not in a revolutionary class, nor simply in the views of right thinkers, but in the state, conceived as a creative power, independent of and superior to individual wills. It is certainly undeniable that the function of the state, like all social functions, owing to a complication of circumstances, amongst which are tradition, reverence, the consciousness of something which surpasses individuals, and other impressions and sentiments which are analysed by collective psychology, acquires a certain independence and develops a certain peculiar force; but in the estimation of this force great mistakes are made, as socialist criticism has clearly shown: and, in any case, whether it be great or small, we are always faced by a calculation; and one moreover, in the region of opinion, which region science may, in part, yet bring under its power, but which in a great degree will always be rebellious to it.

Oh the misuses which are made of this word science! Once these misuses were the monopoly of metaphysics, to whose despotic nature they appeared suitable. And the strangest instances could be quoted, even from great philosophers, from Hegel, from Schopenhauer, from Rosmini, which would show how the humblest practical conclusions, made by the passions and interests of men, have often been metaphysically transformed into inferences from the Spirit, from the Divine Being, from the Nature of things, from the finality of the universe. Metaphysics hypostatised whet it then triumphantly inferred. The youthful Marx wittily discovered in the Hegelianism of Bruno Bauer, the pre-established harmony of critical analysis (Kritische Kritik) under German censorship. Those who most frequently have the word in their mouths make a sort of Sibyl or Pythia of a limited intellectual function. But the desirable is not science, nor is the practicable. (49)

Is scientific knowledge then in fact superfluous in practical questions? Are we to assent to this absurdity? The attentive reader will be well aware that we are not here discussing the utility of science, but the possibility of inferring, as some claim to do, practical programmes from scientific prepositions; and it is this possibility only which is denied.

Science, in so far as it consists in knowledge of the laws governing actual facts, may be a legitimate means of simplifying problems, making it possible to distinguish in them what can be scientifically ascertained from what can only be partially known. A great number of things which are commonly disputed, may be cleared up and accurately decided by this method. To give an example, when Marx in opposition to Proudhon and his English predecessors (Bray, Gray, etc.) showed the absurdity of creating labour bonds, i.e. labour-money; and when Engels directed similar criticisms against Dühring, and then again, perhaps with less justification, against Rodbertus (50) or when both established the close connection between the method of production and the method of distribution, they were working in the field proper to scientific demonstration, trying to prove an inconsistency between the conclusions and the premises, i.e. an internal contradiction in the concepts criticised. The same may be said of the proof, carefully worked out by the free traders, of the proposition: that protection of every kind is equivalent to a destruction of wealth. And if it were possible to establish accurately that law of the tendency of the rate of profits to decline, with which Marx meant to correct and widen the Ricardian law deduced from the continuous encroachments of the rent of land, it could be said, under certain conditions, that the end of the bourgeois capitalist organisation was a scientific certainty, though it would remain doubtful what could take its place

This limitation 'uncle' certain conditions' is the point to be noticed. All scientific laws are abstract laws; and there is no bridge over which to pass from the concrete to the abstract; just because the abstract is not a reality, but a form of thought, one of our, so to speak, abbreviated ways of thinking. And, although a knowledge of the laws may light up our perception of reality, it cannot become this perception itself.

Here we may agree with what Labiola justly felt, when, showing his dissatisfaction with the term scientific socialism, he suggested, though without giving any reasons, that that of critical communism might be substituted. (51)

If then from abstract laws and concepts we pass to observations of historical fact, we find, it is true, points of agreement between our ideals and real things, but at the same time we enter upon those difficult calculations and conjectures, from which it is always impossible to eliminate, as was remarked above, the diversity of opinions and propensities.

In face of the future of society, in face of the path to be pursued, we have occasion to say with Faust – Who can say I believe? Who can say I do not believe?

Not indeed that we wish to advocate or in any way justify a vulgar scepticism. But at the same time we need to be sensible of the relativity of our beliefs, and to come to a determination in practice where indetermination is an error. This is the point; and herein lie all the troubles of men of thought; and hence arises their practical impotence, which art has depicted in Hamlet. Neither shall we wish, in truth, to imitate that magistrate, famous for miles around the district where he officiated for the justice of his decisions, of whom Rabelais tells us, that he used the very simple method, when about to make up his mind, of offering a prayer to God and settling his decision by a game of odd and even. (52) But we must strive to attain personal conviction, and then bear always in mind that great characters in history have had the courage to dare. 'Alea jacta est.' said Caesar; 'Gott helfe mir, amen!' said Luther. The brave deeds of history would not be brave if they had been accompanied by a clear foresight of the consequences, as in the case of the prophets and those inspired by God.

Fortunately, logic is not life, and man is not intellect alone. And, whilst those same men whose critical faculty is warped, are the men of imagination and passion, in the life of society the intellect plays a very small part, and with a little exaggeration it may even be said that things go their way independent of our actions. Let us leave them to their romances, let them preach, I will not say in the market places where they would not be believed, but in the university lecture rooms, or the halls of congresses and conferences the doctrine that science (i.e. their science) is the ruling queen of life. And we will content ourselves by repeating with Labriola that 'History is the true mistress of all us men, and we are as it were vitalised by History.'


Labriola, with his usual piquancy, lashes those who reduce history to a case of conscience or to an error in bookkeeping.

With this he recalls us to the two-fold consideration (1) that for Marx the social question was not a moral question, and (2) that the analysis made by Marx of capitalism amounts to a proof of the laws which govern a given society, and not indeed to a proof of theft, as some have understood it, as though it would suffice to restore to the workman the amount of his wrongfully exacted surplus labour, so that the accounts may turn out in order, and the social question be satisfactorily solved. (53)

Leaving the second consideration, which yet gives us an instance of the ludicrous travesties which may be made of a scientific theory, let us pause for a moment over the first formula, which usually gives the greatest offense to non-socialists; so much so that many of them wish to put a little salt in the broth and complete socialism by morality.

In actual fact, offense and moral indignation have never been caused less appropriately.

Those remarks in Marx's writings which savour of moral indifference, bear a very limited and trivial meaning. Consider a moment, as indeed has been considered many times, that no social order of any kind can exist without a basis of slavery, or serfdom, or hired service; that is to say that slavery, or serfdom, or hired service are natural conditions of social order, and that without them a thing cannot exist, which is so necessary to man that, at least since he was man, he has never done without it, viz., society. Faced by such a fact, what meaning would our moral judgment have, directed against these governing human beings who call themselves slave owners, feudal lords and bourgeois capitalists, and in favour of these governed human beings who call themselves slaves, serfs, free labourers; neither of whom could be different from what they are, nor could otherwise fulfil the function assigned to them by the very nature of things. (54) Our condemnation would be a condemnation of the inevitable; a Leopardian curse directed against the genital power which rules in secret to the general harm. But moral praise or blame has reference always to an act of will, good or bad; and such judgments would on the contrary be directed against a fact, which has not been willed by anyone, but is endured by every one because it cannot be different. You, indeed, may lament it; but by lamenting it, you not only do not destroy it, you do not even touch it, i.e., you waste your time.

This is what Marx calls the impotence of morality, which is as much as to say that it is useless to propound questions which no effort can answer and which are therefore absurd.

But when, on the other hand, these conditions of subjection are not conceived as necessary for the social order in general, but only as necessary for a stage in its history; and when new conditions make their appearance which render it possible to destroy them (as was the case in the industrial advance toward serfdom, and as the socialists reckon will happen in the final phase of modern civilisation in regard to wage earners and capitalism); then moral condemnation is justified, and, up to a certain point, is also effective in quickening the process ot destruction and in sweeping away the last remnants of the past.

This is the meaning of Marx's other saying: that morality condemns what has already been condemned by history. (55)

I cannot manage to see any difficulty in agreeing to remarks of this kind, even from the standpoint of the strictest ethical theories. There is here no question of misunderstanding the nature of morality, and of wishing to make it into something fortuitous or relative; but simply of determining the conditions of human progress, turning the attention from the inevitable effects to the fundamental causes, and seeking remedies in the nature of things and not in our caprices and pious wishes. It must needs be thought that the opposition proceeds, not from intellectual error, but rather from human pride, or vanity it may be, owing to which many desire to retain for their wretched words a little of the virtue of the divine word, which created light by its decree. (56)

The same feeling must perhaps be present as the basis of the horror which usually greets the other practical maxim of the socialists; that the workman educates himself by the political struggle. But Labriola is fully justified in admiring in the advance of German socialism 'the truly new and imposing instance of social pedagogy; viz. that, amongst such an enormous number of men, particularly of workmen of the lower middle class, a new consciousness is developing, within which compete in equal degree, a direct sense of the economic situation, which incites to the struggle, and the socialist propaganda understood as the goal or point of arrival.' What means have the preachers of moral maxims at their disposal, to secure a result equal to this? Who are these workmen who combine in associations, who read their newspapers, discuss the acts of their delegates and accept the decisions of their congresses, if not men who are educating themselves morally?

But there is not only a question of vanity and pride in that feeling of aversion, which animates many with regard to the practical maxims of the socialists, and in the desire, which people also show, of undertaking in the name of morality or religion, the spiritual direction of the education of the working man; nor shall we wish to be so ingenuous and complacent as to confine ourselves to such a partial explanation. There is more, there is, I might almost say, an apprehension and a fear. An apprehension, little justified, lest the political organisation of the proletariat may lead to a brutal and unrestrained outbreak of the masses and to I know not what kind of social ruin: as if such outbreaks were not recorded by history in precisely those periods in which it is usual to suppose that the dominion of religion over conscience was greatest, as in the jacqueries of the fourteenth century in France, and again in the peasants' wars in Germany, and in which there was no organisation and political culture amongst the common people. (57) A fear, which is on the contrary thoroughly justified and arises from the knowledge that instinctive and blind proletariat movements are conquered by force; whereas organisation combined with an enlightened consciousness, is not conquered or only suffers temporary reverses. Does not Mommsen remark, in reference to the slave revolts in ancient Rome; that states would be very fortunate if they were in no other dangers besides those which might come to them from the revolts of the proletariat, which are no greater than the dangers arising front the claws of hungry bears or wolves?

These statements concerning ethics and socialist pedagogy having been explained, someone might yet ask: – But what was the philosophical opinion of Marx and Engels in regard to morality? Were they relativists, utilitarians, hedonists, or idealists, absolutists, or what else?

I may be allowed to point out that this question is of no great importance, and is even somewhat inopportune, since neither Marx nor Engels were philosophers of ethics, nor bestowed much of their vigorous ability on such questions. It is indeed of consequence to determine that their conclusions in regard to the function of morality in social movements and to the method for the education of the proletariat, contain no contradiction of general ethical principles, even if here and there they clash with the prejudices of current pseudo-morality. Their personal opinions upon the principles of ethics did not take an elaborate scientific form in their books; and some wit and some sarcasm are not adequate grounds upon which to base a discussion of the subject.

And I will say yet more; in ethical matters, I have not yet succeeded in freeing myself from the prison of the Kantian Critique, and do not yet see the position taken up by Kant surpassed; on the contrary, I see it strengthened by some of the most modern tendencies, and to me the way in which Engels attacks Dühring with regard to the principles of morality in his well-known book, does not in truth appear very exhaustive. (58) Here again the procedure is repeated which we have already criticised in connection with the discussions upon the general concept of value. Where Dühring, owing to the exigencies of scientific abstraction, takes for consideration the isolated individual and explicitly states that he is dealing with an abstract illustration (Denkschema), Engels remarks, wittily but erroneously that the isolated man is nothing but a new edition of the first Adam in the Garden of Eden. It is true that in that criticism are contained many well-directed blows; and it might even be called just, if it refers only to ethical conceptions in the sense of assemblages of special rules and moral judgments, relative to definite social situations, which assemblages and constructions cannot claim absolute truth for all times, and all places, precisely because they are always made for particular times and particular places. But apart from these special constructions, analysis offers us the essential and ruling principles of morality, which give opportunity for questions which may, truly, be differently answered, but which most certainly are not taken into account by Marx and Engels. And, in truth, even if some may be able to write on the theory of knowledge according to Marx, (59) to write on the principles of ethics according to Marx seems to me a somewhat hopeless undertaking.


The preceding remarks are partly attempts at interpretation, and partly critical emendations of some of the concepts and opinions expressed by Marx and in the Marxian literature. But how many other points deserve to undergo revision ! Beginning with that concentration of private property in a few hands, which threatens to become something like the discredited iron law of wages, and ending with that strange statement in the history of philosophy that the labour movement is the heir of German classical philosophy. And attention could thus be given to another group of questions which we have not discussed (ea. to the conception of future society) in regard to their detailed elucidation and their practical and historical applications. (60) If that decomposition of Marxism, which some have predicted, (61) meant a careful critical revision, it would indeed be welcome.

To sum up, in the meantime, the chief results which are suggested in the preceding remarks: they maintain.

1. In regard to economic science, the justification of Marxian economics, understood not as general economic science, but as comparative sociological economics, which is concerned with a problem of primary interest for historical and social life.

2. In regard to the philosophy of history, the purification of historical materialism from all traces of any a priori standpoint (whether inherited from Hegelianism or an infection from ordinary evolutionism) and the understanding of the theory as a simple, albeit a fruitful, canon of historical interpretation.

3. In regard to practical matters, the impossibility of inferring the Marxian social programme (or, indeed any other social programme) from the propositions of pure science, since the appraisement of social programmes must be a matter of empirical observations and practical convictions; in which connection the Marxian programme cannot but appear one of the noblest and boldest and also one of those which obtain most support from the objective conditions of existing society.

4. In regard to ethics, the abandonment of the legend of the intrinsic immorality or of the intrinsic anti-ethical character of Marxism.

I will add a remark on the second point. Many will think that if historical materialism is reduced to the limits within which we have confined it, it will not only no longer be a legitimate and real scientific theory (which we are indeed prepared to grant) but will actually lose all importance whatever, and against this second conclusion we once more, as we have done already on another occasion, make vigorous protest. Undoubtedly the horror expressed by some for pure science and for abstractions is inane, since these intellectual methods are indispensable for the very knowledge of concrete reality; but no less inane is the complete and exclusive worship of abstract propositions, of definitions, of theorems, of corollaries: almost as if these constituted a sort of aristocracy of human thought. Well! the economic purists (not to draw examples from other fields, though numbers could be found in pure mathematics) prove to us, in fact, that the discovery of scientific theorems, strictly, unimpeachably scientific,is frequently neither an over-important nor over-difficult matter. To be convinced thereof we need only remark how many eponimi of new theorems issue from every corner of the German or English schools. And concrete reality, i.e. the very world in which we live and move, and which it concerns us somewhat to know, slips out, unseizable, from the broad-meshed net of abstractions and hypotheses. Marx, as a sociologist, has in truth not given us carefully worked out definitions of social phenomena, such as may be found in the books of so many contemporary sociologists, of the Germans Simmel and Stammler, or of the Frenchman Durckheim; but he teaches us, although it is with statements approximate in content and paradoxical in form, to penetrate to what society is in its actual truth. Nay, from this point of view, I am surprised that no one has thought of calling him 'the most notable successor of the Italian Niccolo Machiavelli'; a Machiavelli of the labour movement.

And I will also add a remark on the third point if the social programme of Marxism cannot be wholly included in Marxian science, or in any other science, no more can the daily practice of socialist politics be, in its turn, wholly included in the general principles of the programme, which programme, if we analyse it, determines (1) an ultimate end, (the technical organisation of society); (2) an impulse, based on history, towards this end, found in the objective tendencies of modern society (the necessity for the abolition of capitalism and for a communistic organization, as the one possible form of progress); (3) a method (to accelerate the final phases of the bourgeoisie, and to educate politically the class destined to succeed them). Marx, owing to his political insight, has for many years in a striking manner, joined with, and guided by his advice and his work, the international socialist movement; but he could not give precepts and dogmas for every contingency and complication that history might produce. Now the continuation of Marx's political work is much more difficult than the continuation of his scientific work. And, if, in continuing the latter, the so-called Marxians have sometimes fallen into a scientific dogmatism little to be admired, some recent occurrences remind us of the danger, that the continuation of the former may also degenerate into a dogmatism with the worst effects, i.e. a political dogmatism. This gives food for thought to all the more cautious Marxians, amongst whom are Kautsky and Bernstein in Germany, and Sorel in France; Labriola's new book, too, contains serious warnings on the matter.

November, 1897.


1. 'An immense monograph' (of economics understood) it is called by Professor Antonio Labriola, the most notable of the Italian Marxians, in his recent book (Discorrcodo di filosophia e socialismo, Rome, Loescher, 1898). But in an earlier work (In Memoria del 'Manifesto dei Comunisti', 2nd ed. Rome, 1895, p. 36) he defined it as 'a philosophy of history '.

2. I leave out those who regard the law of labour-value as the general law of value. The refutation is obvious. How could it ever be 'general' when it leaves out of account a whole category of economic goods, that is the goods which cannot be increased by labour?

3. WERNER SOMBART: Zur Kritik des oekonomischer Systems von Karl Marx (in the Archiv fur soziale Gesetzgebung and Statistik, Vol. vii, 1894, pp. 555-594). I have not by me the criticism (from the Hedonistic point of view) of this article by Sombart – on the third volume of Das Kapital – made last year by BOHM BAWERK in the Miscellany in honour of Knies.

4. Loc. cit., p. 571, at seq.

5. In the Neue Zeit xiv. vol. I, pp. 4-11, 37-44, I quote from the Italian translation: Dal terzo volume del 'Capitale,' preface and notes by F. Engels, Rome 1896, p. 39.

6. Sur la théorie Marxiste de la valeur (in the Journal des Economistes, number for March 1897, pp. 122-31, see p. 228).

7. Discorrendo di sorialismo e di filosophia, p. 21.

8. It must be carefully noticed that what I call a concrete fact may still not be a fact which is empirically real, but a fact made by us hypothetically and entirely imaginary, or a fact partially empirical, i.e. existing partially in empirical reality. We shall see later on that Marx's typical premise belongs properly to this second class.

9. I accept the term employed by Labriola so much the more readily since it is the same as that used by me a year ago. See Essay on Loria (Materialismio Storico, pp. 48-50).

10. In making an hypothesis of this nature, Marx distinguished clearly that, in such a case, 'labour-time would serve a down purpose: on the one hand as standard of value, on the other as a standard of the individual share reckoned to each producer in the common labour' (andrerseits dient die Arbeitzeit zugleich als Mass des individuellen Antheils des Producenten an der Gemeinarbeit, und daher auch an dem individuell verzehbaren Theil des Gemein products): See Das Kapital I, p. 45.

11. This is a different thing from the workmen or operatives in our capitalist society, who form a class, i.e. a portion of economic society and not economic society in general and in the abstract, producing goods which can be increased by labour.

12. It may be doubted whether this general application of labour-value to every working economic society was included in the ideas of Marx and Engels, when the numerous passages are recalled in which one or other has declared many times that in the future communistic society the criterion of value will disappear and production will be based on social utility, of Engels as early as in the Umrisse 1844, (Italian translation in Critica sociale a. v. 1895) Marx, Misère de la philosophie, 2nd ed. Paris, Giard et Brière. 1896, p. 83; Engels Antidühring, p. 335. But this must be understood in the sense that, not being a hypothetical communistic society based on exchange, the function of value (in exchange) would lose, according to them, its practical importance; but not in the other sense that in the opinion of the communistic society the value of goods would no longer equal the labour which they cost to society. Because even in such a system of economic organization, value-labour would be the economic law which entirely governed the valuation of individual commodities, produced by labour. There would be that clearness of valuation which Marx describes in his Robinsonia, cf: Das Kapital, p. 43.

13. Dal terzo volume del 'Capitale,' pp. 42-55.

14. Hence also Marx in §4 of Chap. I.: Der Fetischcharakter der Waare and sein Geheimniss (I. pp. 37-50) gave a brief outline of the other economic systems of medieval society, and of the domestic system: 'Aller Mysticismus der Waarenwelt, all der Zauber und Spuk, welcher Arbeitsprodukte auf grundlage der Waarenproduktion umnebelt, verschwindet daher sofort, sobal wir zu anderen Producktions formen fliichten (p. 42). The relation between value and labour appears more clearly in the less complex economic systems, because less opposed and obscured by other facts.

15. Das Kapital, Book III., sec. III., Chaps. XIII, XIV, XV, Gesetz des tendentiellen Falk der Profitrate (vol. iii., Part I, pp. 191-249).

16. The task of Marx's followers ought to be to free his thought from the literary form which he adopts, to study again the questions which he propounds, and to work them out with new and more accurate statements, and with fresh historical illustrations. In this alone can scientific progress consist. The expositions made hitherto of Marx's system, are merely materials; and some (like Aveling's) consist entirely in a series of little summaries, which follow the original chapter by chapter and prove even more obscure. For the law of the fall in the rate of profits, see below, chap. V.

17. 'To follow out completely this criticism of bourgeois economics a knowledge of the capitalist form of production, exchange and distribution is not alone adequate. We ought similarly to study at least in their essential features and taken as terms of comparison, the other forms which have preceded it in time, or exist alongside of it in less developed countries. Such an investigation and comparison has hitherto been briefly expounded only by Marx; and we owe almost entirely to his researches what we know about pre-bourgeois theoretical economics.' (ENGELS, Antidühring, p. 154). This was written by Engels twenty years ago; and since then the literature of economic history has grown remarkably, but historical research has been seldom accompanied by theoretical research.

18. 'Political economy is essentially an historical science.' (ENGELS, l.c., p. 150).

19. What is strange is that ENGELS (in the passage quoted in the penultimate note) says himself most truly that Marx has written theoretical economics, nevertheless in the sentence quoted in the last note (which appears in the same book and on the same page) he states definitely that economics in the Marxian sense is nothing but an historical science.

20. Antidühring, pp. 150, 155.

21. Das Kapital, I, p. 67.

22. F. A. LANGE, Die Arbeiterfrage, 5th ed., Winterthur, 1894, (the author's last revision was in 1874) see p. 332; of p. 248 and on p. 124, the quotation from Gossen's book, then very little known.

23. ADOLF WAGNER, Grundlegung den politischen oekonomie, 3rd Ed., Leipzig, 1892, vol. I, pt. I; Bk. I, ch. i. Die Wirthschaftliche Natur des Menschen, pp. 70-137.

24. I may be allowed to remark that in similar discussions, economists usually make the serious mistake of making the concept economic coincide with the concept egoistic. But the economic is an independent sphere of human activity, in addition to all the others, such as the spheres of ethics, aesthetics, logic, etc. The moral goods and the satisfaction of the higher moral needs of man, just because they are goods, and needs, are taken into account in economics, but still only as goods and needs, not as moral or immoral, egoistic or altruistic. In like manner, a manifestation (by words or by any other means of expression) is taken into account in aesthetics; but only as a manifestation not as true, false, moral, immoral, useful, harmful, etc. Economists are still impressed by the fact that Adam Smith wrote one book of theory and of ethics, and another of economic theory; which may interpret to mean that one dealt with a theory of altruistic facts and the other with one of egoistic facts. But if this had been so, Adam Smith would have discussed, in both of his chief works, facts of an ethical character, estimable or reprehensible; and would not have been an economist at all; a ridiculous conclusion which is a reductio ad absurdum of the identification of economic action with egoism.

25. Discorrendo di socialismo e di filesophia, 1. vi.

26. It is strange how among the students of pure economics also this need for a different treatment makes itself felt, leading them to contradictory statements and to insuperable perplexities. PANTALEONI, Principi di economia pura, Florence, Barbera, 1889, p. 3, Ch. iii § 3 (pp. 299-302), contradicts Bohm-Bawerk, inquiring whence the borrower of capital at interest is able to find the wherewithal to pay the interest. PARETO, Introd. critica agli Estratti del Capitale del Marx, Ital. trans. Palermo, Sandron, 1894, p. xxx, n.: 'The phenomena of surplus value contradicts Marx's theory which determines values solely by labour. But, on the other hand, there is an expropriation of the kind which Marx condemns. It is not at all proved that this expropriation helps to secure the hedonistic maximum. But it is a difficult problem how to avoid this expropriation.' A learned and accurate Italian work which attempts to reconcile the opinions of the hedonistic school with those of the followers of Ricardo and Marx, is the memorandum of Prof. G. RICCA SALERMO, La theoria del valore nella storia delle dottrine e dei fatti economici, Rome 1894. (extr. from the Memorie dei Lincei, s. v. vol. I., pt. i.)

27. See above, chap. 1.

28. The over-abused Dühring was not mistaken when he remarked that in Marx's works expressions occur frequently 'which appear to be universal without being actually so' (Allgemein aussehen ohne es zu sein). Kritische Gerchichte der Nationalökonomie and des Socialismus, Berlin, 1871, p. 527.

29. GENTILE, Una critica del materialismo storico in the Studi storici of Crivellucci, vol. VI, 1897, pp. 379-423, throws doubt on the interpretation offered by me of the opinions of Marx and Engels, and on the method of interpretation itself. I gladly acknowledge that in my two earlier essays I do not clearly point out where precisely the textual interpretation ends and the really theoretical part begins; which theoretical exposition, only by conjecture and in the manner described above, can be said to agree with the inmost thoughts of Marx and Engels. In his recent book, La filosofia di Marx, Pisa, Spoerri, 1899 (in which the essay referred to is reprinted), Gentile remarks (p. 104), that, although it is a very convenient practice, and in some cases legitimate and necessary 'to interpret doctrines, by calling a part of their statement worthless or accidental in form and external and weak, and a part the real substance and essential and vital, it is yet necessary to justify it in some way.' He means certainly, 'justify it as historical interpretation,' since its justification as correction of theory cannot be doubtful. It seems to me that even historically the interpretation can be justified without difficulty when it is remembered that Marx did not insist, (as Gentile himself says) on his metaphysical notions; and did certainly insist on his historical opinions and on the political policy which he defended. Marx's personality as a sociological observer and the teacher of a social movement, certainly outweighs Marx as a metaphysician which he was almost solely as a young man. That it is worth the trouble to study Marx from all sides is not denied, and Gentile has now admirably expounded and criticised his youthful metaphysical ideas.

30. I confess that I have never been able to understand – however much I have considered the matter – the meaning of this passage (which ought however to be very evident, since it is quoted so often without any comment), in the preface to the second edition of Das Kapital: 'Meine dialektische Methode ist der Grundlage nach von der Hegel'schen nicht nur verschieden, sondern ihr direktes Gegentheil. Fur Hegel is der Denkprocess, den er sogar unter dem Namen Idee in ein selbständiger subjeckt verwandelt, der Demjurg des Wirklichen, das nur seine aüstere Erscheinung bildet. Bei mir ist umgekehrt das Ideelle nichts Andres als das im Menschenkopf umgesetzte und ubersetzte Materielle.' (Das Kapital I, p. xvii.) Now it seems to me that the Ideelle of the last phrase has no relation to the Denkproress and to the Hegelian Idea of the preceding phrase, cf. above pp. 17. Some have thought that by the objections there stated, I intended to deny Marx's Hegelian inspiration. It is well to repeat that I merely deny the logical relation affirmed between the two philosophical theories. To deny Marx's Hegelian inspiration would be to contradict the evidence.

31. Answers to several of the questions suggested above are now supplied in the book already referred to, by GENTILE: La Filosofia di Marx.

32. Antidühring, pt. I. ch. xiii., especially pp. 138-145, which passage is translated into Italian in the appendix to the book by Labriola referred to above: Discorrendo di socialismo e di filosophia, cf. Das Kapital, I . p. xvii, 'Gelingt dies und spiegelt sick nun das Leben des stoffs ideell wieder, so mag es aussehen, als habe man es mit einer Konstruction a priori zu thun.'

33. LANGE, indeed, in reference to Marx's Das Kapital, remarked that the Hegelian dialectic, 'the development by antithesis and synthesis, might almost be called an anthropological discovery. Only in history, as in the life of the individual, development by antithesis certainly does not accomplish itself so easily and radically, nor with so much precision and symmetry as in speculative thought.' ('Die Arbeiterfrage, pp. 248-9.)

34. With regard to the abstract classes of Marxian economics and the real or historical classes, see some remarks by SOREL in the article referred to in the Journal des Economistes, p. 229.

35. G. GENTILE, o.c. in Studi storici, p. 421. cf 400-401.

36. Labriola has indeed an exaggerated dislike for what he calls the scholastic: but even this exaggeration will not appear wholly unsuitable as a reaction against the method of study which usually prevails among the mere men of letters, the niggardly scholars, the empty talkers and jugglers with abstract thought, and all those who lose their sense of close connection between science and life.

37. Discorrendo di socialismo e di filosophia, 1. ix.

38. In torno alla storia della cultura (Kulturgeschichtein Atti dell Accad. Pant.; vol. xxv. 1895, p. 8.)

39. 'If by Christianity is meant merely the sum of the beliefs and expectations concerning human destiny, these beliefs' – writes Labriola – 'vary as much, in truth, as in the difference, to mention only one instance, between the free will of the Catholics after the Council of Trent, and the absolute determination of Calvin!' (L.c. ix.)

40. Without referring to the somewhat unmethodical work of Westermarck, History of Haman Marriage, see especially Ernst Grosse's book, Die Formen der Familie and die Formen des Wirthschaft, Freiburg in B., 1896.

41. This connection is shortly but carefully dealt with by INGRAM, History of Political Economy, Edinburgh, A. & C. Black, 1888, p. 62.

42. See, amongst many passages, MARX, Misère de la philosophie, p. 167, at see. ENGELS, Antidühring, p. 1, et set.

43. On the hedonistic maxima, cf. Bertolini-Pantaleoni, Cenni sul concetto di massimi edonistici individuali e collectivi (in Giorn, degli Econ., s II vol. iv) and Coletti, in the same Giornale, vol. v.

44. In regard to this metaphysical use of the word science; there even exists in Italy a Rivilta di Bolivia scientifica! And the metaphor may pass here also.

45. Cours d'économie politique, Lausanne, 1896-7.

46. Cf. also his criticism of Marx already referred to. p. xviii.

47. Sauf l'Angleterre, où règne le libre échange principalement parcequ'il est favourable aux interets de certains entrepreneurs, le reste des pays civilises verse de plus en plus dans le protectionnisme (§ 964).

48. See the Giornale degli econonlisti, excellent in all its critical sections: and especially Pareto's chronirles therein.

49. It may be remarked that in the difficulty of distinguishing the purely scientific from the practical lies the chief cause of the dangers and poverty of the social and political sciences. And we may even smile at those scientists or their ingenious admirers, who claim to accomplish the salvation of the social and political sciences, by applying to them the methods, as they say, of the natural sciences. (An Italian astronomer, ingenuous as clever, has suggested the formation of sociological observatories which, in a few years would make sociology something like astronomy!) Alas! the matter is not so simple; all sociologists intend indeed to apply exact methods; but how can this application succeed when one advances per ignes or over ground which moves; d'una e d'altra parts sì come l'onda chefagge e s'appressa? (From both sides like the wave which ebbs and flows.)

50. See the preface of the German translation of Misère de la philosophie, 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1892, and now also in French in the reprint of the original text of the same work (Paris, Giard et Brière, 1896.)

51. The word communism is also more appropriate, since there are so many socialisms (democratic state, catholic, etc.). On the relation between the materialistic theory of history and socialism, see GENTILE, op. cit., passim.

52. Pantagruel, III, 39-43

53. The absurdity of this interpretation will come out clearly if it is merely remembered that there are many cases in which the capitalist manufacturer pays for the labour of his workman, a price higher than what he then realists on the market: cases, it is true, where the capitalist is proceeding towards ruin and bankruptcy; but which he cannot, on this account, always avoid. 'Marx part des recherches faites par cette école Anglaise, dont it avail fait une etude approfondie; et il veut expliquer le profit sans admettre aucon brigandage.' (SOREL, art. cit., p. 227.)

54. See in Antidühring, p. 303, the historical justification of class divisions.

55. From among the many passages which support this interpretation, cf; Antidühring, pp. 152-3, 206 and especially pp. 61-2, and the preface to the German translation of Misère de la Philosophie, 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1892 pp. IX-X, cf. also Labriola, o.c. Lett. VIII.

56. See LABRIOLA, o.c. l. cit., the remarks on the difficulty with which the theory of historical materialism meets owing to mental dispositions, and amongst those who wish to moralist socialism.

One instance, in some respects analogous to this which arises from the discussions on Marx's ethics, is the traditional criticism of Machiavelli's ethics: which was refuted by De Sanctis (in the remarkable chapter devoted to Machiavelli, in his Storia Della letteratura), but which continually recurs and is inserted even in Professor Villari's book, who finds this defect in Machiavelli: that he did not consider the moral question.

I have always asked myself for what reason, by what obligation, by what agreement, Machiavelli was bound to discuss all kinds of questions, even those for which he had neither preparation nor sympathy. Can it be said, by way of example, to some one who is researching in chemistry: – Your weak and erroneous spot is that you have not gone back from your detailed investigations to the general metaphysical enquiries into the principles of reality? Machiavelli starts from the establishment of a fact: the condition of war in which society found itself; and gives rules suited to this state of affairs. Why should he, who was not cut out for a moral philosopher, discuss the ethics of war? He goes straight to practical conclusions. Men are wicked he says and to the wicked it is needful to behave wickedly. You will deceive him who would certainly deceive you. You will do violence to him who would do violence to you. These maxims are neither moral nor immoral, neither beneficial nor harmful; they become one of the two according to the subjective aims and the objective effects of the action, i.e. according to the intentions and the results. What is evident is that a morality which desired to introduce into war the maxims of peace would be a morality for lambs fit for the slaughter, not for men who wish to repel injustice and to maintain their rights. 'And if men were all good, this precept would not be good, etc., etc.' says Machiavelli himself. (Principe, ch. XVIII). Villari is also troubled by the old formula concerning the 'end which justifies the means' and the 'moral end' and the 'immoral means'. It is however sufficient to consider that the means, just because they are means, cannot be divided into moral and immoral, but merely into suitable and unsuitable. Immoral means, unless as an expression in current speech, is a contradiction in terms. The qualification moral or immoral can only belong to the end. And, in the examples usually given, an analysis made with a little accuracy shows at once, that it is never a question of immoral means but of immoral ends. The height of the confusion is reached by those who introduce into the question the absurd distinction of private and public morality.

I may be pardoned the digression; but, as I said, questions which are really analogous reappear now in connection with the ethical maxims of Marxism.

57. And it would be to the point to draw a comparison between the peasants' rebellions, with which modern Italy has supplied us with another example in recent years, and the political struggles of the German workmen, or the economic struggles of the Trade Unions in England.

58. See in particular P. I. ch. ix., Moral sand Recht, Ewige Wahrheiten.

59. See, in particular, MARX'S ideas: Ueber Feuerbach, in 1845, in the appendix to Engels' book, Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der Klassischen deutschen Philosophie, 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1895, pp. 59-62; and cf. ANDLER in Revue de metaphysique, 1897, LABRIOLA, o.c. passim and GENTILE, l.c., p. 319. From this point of view (i.e. limiting the statement to the theory of knowledge) we might speak like Labriola of historical materialism as a philosophy of practice, i.e. as a particular way of conceiving and solving, or rather of overcoming, the problem of thought and of existence. The philosophy of practice has now been designedly studied by Gentile in the volume referred to.

60. Some interpretations would be merely verbal explanations. To some it will appear a very hard statement that socialism aims at abolishing the State. Yet it suffices to consider that the State, among socialists, is synonymous with difference of classes and the existence of governing classes, to understand that as in such a case we can speak of the origin of the State, so we can speak of its end; which does not mean the end of organised society (cf. Antidühring,, p. 302). The conception of the way in which capitalist society will come to an end demands no little critical working out; on this point the thought of Marx and Engels is not without obscurities and inconsistencies (cf. Antidühring, pp. 287 et seq. and p. 297).

61. See CH. ANDLER, Les origines du socialisms d'état en Allemagne, Paris, Alcan, 1897. Andler promises a book, and is now giving a course of lectures on the decomposition of Marxism.