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Dialectics and Marxism
Dialectical materialism as taught by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is the most popular metaphysical doctrine of our age. It is today the official philosophy of the Soviet empire and of all the schools of Marxism outside of this empire. It dominates the ideas of many people who do not consider themselves Marxians and even of many authors and parties who believe they are anti-Marxians and anti-communists. It is this doctrine which most of our contemporaries have in mind when they refer to materialism and determinism.
When Marx was a young man, two metaphysical doctrines whose teachings were incompatible with one another dominated German thought. One was Hegelian spiritualism, the official doctrine of the Prussian state and of the Prussian universities. The other was materialism, the doctrine of the opposition bent upon a revolutionary overthrow of the political system of Metternich and of Christian orthodoxy as well as of private property. Marx tried to blend the two into a compound in order to prove that socialism is bound to come “with the inexorability of a law of nature.”
In the philosophy of Hegel logic, metaphysics, and ontology are essentially identical. The process of real becoming is an aspect of the logical process of thinking. In grasping the laws of logic by aprioristic thinking, the mind acquires correct knowledge of reality. There is no road to truth but that provided by the study of logic.
The peculiar principle of Hegel’s logic is the dialectic method. Thinking takes a triadic way. It proceeds from thesis to antithesis, i.e., the negation of the thesis, and from antithesis to synthesis, i.e., the negation of the negation. The same trinal principle of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis manifests itself in real becoming. For the only real thing in the universe is Geist (mind or spirit). Matter has its substance not in itself. Natural things are not for themselves (für sich selber). But Geist is for itself. What—apart from reason and divine action—is called reality is, viewed in the light of philosophy, something rotten or inert (ein Faules) which may seem but is not in itself real.1
No compromise is possible between this Hegelian idealism and any kind of materialism. Yet, fascinated by the prestige Hegelianism enjoyed in the Germany of the 1840’s, Marx and Engels were afraid to deviate too radically from the only philosophical system with which they and their contemporary countrymen were familiar. They were not audacious enough to discard Hegelianism entirely as was done a few years later even in Prussia. They preferred to appear as continuators and reformers of Hegel, not as iconoclastic dissenters. They boasted of having transformed and improved Hegelian dialectics, of having turned it upside down, or rather, of having put it on its feet.2 They did not realize that it was nonsensical to uproot dialectics from its idealistic ground and transplant it to a system that was labeled materialistic and empirical. Hegel was consistent in assuming that the logical process is faithfully reflected in the processes going on in what is commonly called reality. He did not contradict himself in applying the logical apriori to the interpretation of the universe. But it is different with a doctrine that indulges in a naïve realism, materialism, and empiricism. Such a doctrine ought to have no use for a scheme of interpretation that is derived not from experience but from apriori reasoning. Engels declared that dialectics is the science of the general laws of motion, of the external world as well as of human thinking; two series of laws which are substantially identical but in their manifestation different insofar as the human mind can apply them consciously, while in nature, and hitherto also to a great extent in human history, they assert themselves in an unconscious way as external necessity in the midst of an infinite series of apparently contingent events.3 He himself, says Engels, had never had any doubts about this. His intensive preoccupation with mathematics and the natural sciences, to which he confesses to have devoted the greater part of eight years, was, he declares, obviously prompted only by the desire to test the validity of the laws of dialectics in detail in specific instances.4 These studies led Engels to startling discoveries. Thus he found that “the whole of geology is a series of negated negations.” Butterflies “come into existence from the egg through negation of the egg . . . they are negated again as they die,” and so on. The normal life of barley is this: “The barleycorn . . . is negated and is supplanted by the barley plant, the negation of the corn. . . . The plant grows . . . is fructified and produces again barleycorns and as soon as these are ripe, the ear withers away, is negated. As a result of this negation of the negation we have again the original barleycorn, however not plainly single but in a quantity ten, twenty, or thirty times larger.”5
It did not occur to Engels that he was merely playing with words. It is a gratuitous pastime to apply the terminology of logic to the phenomena of reality. Propositions about phenomena, events, and facts can be affirmed or negated, but not the phenomena, events, and facts themselves. But if one is committed to such inappropriate and logically vicious metaphorical language, it is not less sensible to call the butterfly the affirmation of the egg than to call it its negation. Is not the emergence of the butterfly the self-assertion of the egg, the maturing of its inherent purpose, the perfection of its merely passing existence, the fulfillment of all its potentialities? Engels’ method consisted in substituting the term “negation” for the term “change.” There is, however, no need to dwell longer upon the fallacy of integrating Hegelian dialectics into a philosophy that does not endorse Hegel’s fundamental principle, the identity of logic and ontology, and does not radically reject the idea that anything could be learned from experience. For in fact dialectics plays a merely ornamental part in the constructions of Marx and Engels without substantially influencing the course of reasoning.6
The Material Productive Forces
The essential concept of Marxian materialism is “the material productive forces of society.” These forces are the driving power producing all historical facts and changes. In the social production of their subsistence, men enter into certain relations—production relations—which are necessary and independent of their will and correspond to the prevailing stage of development of the material productive forces. The totality of these production relations forms “the economic structure of society, the real basis upon which there arises a juridical and political superstructure and to which definite forms of social consciousness correspond.” The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, and spiritual (intellectual) life process in general (in each of its manifestations). It is not the consciousness (the ideas and thoughts) of men that determines their being (existence) but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development the material productive forces of society come into contradiction with the existing production relations, or, what is merely a juridical expression for them, with the property relations (the social system of property laws) within the frame of which they have hitherto operated. From having been forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into fetters of them. Then comes an epoch of social revolution. With the change in the economic foundation the whole immense superstructure slowly or rapidly transforms1 itself. In reviewing such a transformation,1 one must always distinguish between the material transformation1 of the economic conditions of production, which can be precisely ascertained with the methods of the natural sciences, and the juridical, political, religious, artistic,2 or philosophical, in short ideological, forms in which men become conscious (aware) of this conflict and fight it out. Such an epoch of transformation can no more be judged according to its own consciousness than an individual can be judged according to what he imagines himself to be; one must rather explain this consciousness out of the contradictions of the material life, out of the existing conflict between social productive forces and production relations. No social formation ever disappears before all the productive forces have been developed for which its frame is broad enough, and new, higher production relations never appear before the material conditions of their existence have been hatched out in the womb of the old society. Hence mankind never sets itself tasks other than those it can solve, for closer observation will always discover that the task itself only emerges where the material conditions of its solution are already present or at least in the process of becoming.3
The most remarkable fact about this doctrine is that it does not provide a definition of its basic concept, material productive forces. Marx never told us what he had in mind in referring to the material productive forces. We have to deduce it from occasional historical exemplifications of his doctrine. The most outspoken of these incidental examples is to be found in his book, The Poverty of Philosophy, published in 1847 in French. It reads: The hand mill gives you feudal society, the steam mill industrial capitalism.4 This means that the state of practical technological knowledge or the technological quality of the tools and machines used in production is to be considered the essential feature of the material productive forces, which uniquely determine the production relations and thereby the whole “superstructure.” The production technique is the real thing, the material being that ultimately determines the social, political, and intellectual manifestations of human life. This interpretation is fully confirmed by all other examples provided by Marx and Engels and by the response every new technological advance roused in their minds. They welcomed it enthusiastically because they were convinced that each such new invention brought them a step nearer the realization of their hopes, the coming of socialism.5
There have been, before Marx and after Marx, many historians and philosophers who emphasized the prominent role the improvement of technological methods of production has played in the history of civilization. A glance into the popular textbooks of history published in the last one hundred and fifty years shows that their authors duly stressed the importance of new inventions and of the changes they brought about. They never contested the truism that material well-being is the indispensable condition of a nation’s moral, intellectual, and artistic achievement.
But what Marx says is entirely different. In his doctrine the tools and machines are the ultimate thing, a material thing, viz., the material productive forces. Everything else is the necessary superstructure of this material basis. This fundamental thesis is open to three irrefutable objections.
First, a technological invention is not something material. It is the product of a mental process, of reasoning and conceiving new ideas. The tools and machines may be called material, but the operation of the mind which created them is certainly spiritual. Marxian materialism does not trace back “superstructural” and “ideological” phenomena to “material” roots. It explains these phenomena as caused by an essentially mental process, viz., invention. It assigns to this mental process, which it falsely labels an original, nature-given, material fact, the exclusive power to beget all other social and intellectual phenomena. But it does not attempt to explain how inventions come to pass.
Second, mere invention and designing of technologically new implements are not sufficient to produce them. What is required, in addition to technological knowledge and planning, is capital previously accumulated out of saving. Every step forward on the road toward technological improvement presupposes the requisite capital. The nations today called underdeveloped know what is needed to improve their backward apparatus of production. Plans for the construction of all the machines they want to acquire are ready or could be completed in a very short time. Only lack of capital holds them up. But saving and capital accumulation presuppose a social structure in which it is possible to save and to invest. The production relations are thus not the product of the material productive forces but, on the contrary, the indispensable condition of their coming into existence.
Marx, of course, cannot help admitting that capital accumulation is “one of the most indispensable conditions for the evolution of industrial production.”6 Part of his most voluminous treatise, Das Kapital, provides a history—wholly distorted—of capital accumulation. But as soon as he comes to his doctrine of materialism, he forgets all he said about this subject. Then the tools and machines are created by spontaneous generation, as it were.
Furthermore it must be remembered that the utilization of machines presupposes social cooperation under the division of labor. No machine can be constructed and put into use under conditions in which there is no division of labor at all or only a rudimentary stage of it. Division of labor means social cooperation, i.e., social bonds between men, society. How then is it possible to explain the existence of society by tracing it back to the material productive forces which themselves can only appear in the frame of a previously existing social nexus? Marx could not comprehend this problem. He accused Proudhon, who had described the use of machines as a consequence of the division of labor, of ignorance of history. It is a distortion of fact, he shouted, to start with the division of labor and to deal with machines only later. For the machines are “a productive force,” not a “social production relation,” not an “economic category.”7 Here we are faced with a stubborn dogmatism that does not shrink from any absurdity.
We may summarize the Marxian doctrine in this way: In the beginning there are the “material productive forces,” i.e., the technological equipment of human productive efforts, the tools and machines. No question concerning their origin is permitted; they are, that is all; we must assume that they are dropped from heaven. These material productive forces compel men to enter into definite production relations which are independent of their wills. These production relations farther on determine society’s juridical and political superstructure as well as all religious, artistic, and philosophical ideas.
The Class Struggle
As will be pointed out below, any philosophy of history must demonstrate the mechanism by means of which the supreme agency that directs the course of all human affairs induces individuals to walk in precisely the ways which are bound to lead mankind toward the goal set. In Marx’s system the doctrine of the class struggle is designed to answer this question.
The inherent weakness of this doctrine is that it deals with classes and not with individuals. What has to be shown is how the individuals are induced to act in such a way that mankind finally reaches the point the productive forces want it to attain. Marx answers that consciousness of the interests of their class determines the conduct of the individuals. It still remains to be explained why the individuals give the interests of their class preference over their own interests. We may for the moment refrain from asking how the individual learns what the genuine interests of his class are. But even Marx cannot help admitting that a conflict exists between the interests of an individual and those of the class to which he belongs.1 He distinguishes between those proletarians who are class conscious, i.e., place the concerns of their class before their individual concerns, and those who are not. He considers it one of the objectives of a socialist party to awake to class consciousness those proletarians who are not spontaneously class conscious.
Marx obfuscated the problem by confusing the notions of caste and class. Where status and caste differences prevail, all members of every caste but the most privileged have one interest in common, viz., to wipe out the legal disabilities of their own caste. All slaves, for instance, are united in having a stake in the abolition of slavery. But no such conflicts are present in a society in which all citizens are equal before the law. No logical objection can be advanced against distinguishing various classes among the members of such a society. Any classification is logically permissible, however arbitrarily the mark of distinction may be chosen. But it is nonsensical to classify the members of a capitalistic society according to their position in the framework of the social division of labor and then to identify these classes with the castes of a status society.
In a status society the individual inherits his caste membership from his parents, he remains through all his life in his caste, and his children are born as members of it. Only in exceptional cases can good luck raise a man into a higher caste. For the immense majority birth unalterably determines their station in life. The classes which Marx distinguishes in a capitalistic society are different. Their membership is fluctuating. Class affiliation is not hereditary. It is assigned to each individual by a daily repeated plebiscite, as it were, of all the people. The public in spending and buying determines who should own and run the plants, who should play the parts in the theater performances, who should work in the factories and mines. Rich men become poor, and poor men rich. The heirs as well as those who themselves have acquired wealth must try to hold their own by defending their assets against the competition of already established firms and of ambitious newcomers. In the unhampered market economy there are no privileges, no protection of vested interests, no barriers preventing anybody from striving after any prize. Access to any of the Marxian classes is free to everybody. The members of each class compete with one another; they are not united by a common class interest and not opposed to the members of other classes by being allied either in the defense of a common privilege which those wronged by it want to see abolished or in the attempt to abolish an institutional disability which those deriving advantage from it want to preserve.
The laissez-faire liberals asserted: If the old laws establishing status privileges and disabilities are repealed and no new practices of the same character—such as tariffs, subsidies, discriminatory taxation, indulgence granted for nongovernmental agencies like churches, unions, and so on to use coercion and intimidation—are introduced, there is equality of all citizens before the law. Nobody is hampered in his aspirations and ambitions by any legal obstacles. Everybody is free to compete for any social position or function for which his personal abilities qualify him.
The communists denied that this is the way capitalistic society, as organized under the liberal system of equality before the law, is operating. In their eyes private ownership of the means of production conveys to the owners—the bourgeois or capitalists in Marx’s terminology—a privilege virtually not different from those once accorded to the feudal lords. The “bourgeois revolution” has not abolished privilege and discrimination against the masses; it has, says the Marxian, merely supplanted the old ruling and exploiting class of noblemen by a new ruling and exploiting class, the bourgeoisie. The exploited class, the proletarians, did not profit from this reform. They have changed masters but they have remained oppressed and exploited. What is needed is a new and final revolution, which in abolishing private ownership of the means of production will establish the classless society.
This socialist or communist doctrine fails entirely to take into account the essential difference between the conditions of a status or caste society and those of a capitalistic society. Feudal property came into existence either by conquest or by donation on the part of a conqueror. It came to an end either by revocation of the donation or by conquest on the part of a more powerful conqueror. It was property by “the grace of God,” because it was ultimately derived from military victory which the humility or conceit of the princes ascribed to special intervention of the Lord. The owners of feudal property did not depend on the market; they did not serve the consumers; within the range of their property rights they were real lords. But it is quite different with the capitalists and entrepreneurs of a market economy. They acquire and enlarge their property through the services they have rendered to the consumers, and they can retain it only by serving daily again in the best possible way. This difference is not eradicated by metaphorically calling a successful manufacturer of spaghetti “the spaghetti king.”
Marx never embarked on the hopeless task of refuting the economists’ description of the working of the market economy. Instead he was eager to show that capitalism must in the future lead to very unsatisfactory conditions. He undertook to demonstrate that the operation of capitalism must inevitably result in the concentration of wealth in the possession of an ever diminishing number of capitalists on the one hand and in the progressive impoverishment of the immense majority on the other hand. In the execution of this task he started from the spurious iron law of wages according to which the average wage rate is that quantum of the means of subsistence which is absolutely required to enable the laborer to barely survive and to rear progeny.2 This alleged law has long since been entirely discredited, and even the most bigoted Marxians have dropped it. But even if one were prepared for the sake of argument to call the law correct, it is obvious that it can by no means serve as the basis of a demonstration that the evolution of capitalism leads to progressive impoverishment of the wage earners. If wage rates under capitalism are always so low that for physiological reasons they cannot drop any further without wiping out the whole class of wage earners, it is impossible to maintain the thesis of the Communist Manifesto that the laborer “sinks deeper and deeper” with the progress of industry. Like all Marx’s other arguments this demonstration is contradictory and self-defeating. Marx boasted of having discovered the immanent laws of capitalist evolution. The most important of these laws he considered the law of progressive impoverishment of the wage-earning masses. It is the operation of this law that brings about the final collapse of capitalism and the emergence of socialism.3 When this law is seen to be spurious, the foundation is pulled from under both Marx’s system of economics and his theory of capitalist evolution.
Incidentally we have to establish the fact that in capitalistic countries the standard of living of the wage earners has improved in an unprecedented and undreamt-of way since the publication of the Communist Manifesto and the first volume of Das Kapital. Marx misrepresented the operation of the capitalist system in every respect.
The corollary of the alleged progressive impoverishment of the wage earners is the concentration of all riches in the hands of a class of capitalist exploiters whose membership is continually shrinking. In dealing with this issue Marx failed to take into account the fact that the evolution of big business units does not necessarily involve the concentration of wealth in a few hands. The big business enterprises are almost without exception corporations, precisely because they are too big for single individuals to own them entirely. The growth of business units has far outstripped the growth of individual fortunes. The assets of a corporation are not identical with the wealth of its shareholders. A considerable part of these assets, the equivalent of preferred stock and bonds issued and of loans raised, belong virtually, if not in the sense of the legal concept of ownership, to other people, viz., to owners of bonds and preferred stock and to creditors. Where these securities are held by savings banks and insurance companies and these loans were granted by such banks and companies, the virtual owners are the people who have claims against them. Also the common stock of a corporation is as a rule not concentrated in the hands of one man. The bigger the corporation, as a rule, the more widely its shares are distributed.
Capitalism is essentially mass production to fill the needs of the masses. But Marx always labored under the deceptive conception that the workers are toiling for the sole benefit of an upper class of idle parasites. He did not see that the workers themselves consume by far the greater part of all the consumers’ goods turned out. The millionaires consume an almost negligible part of what is called the national product. All branches of big business cater directly or indirectly to the needs of the common man. The luxury industries never develop beyond small-scale or medium-size units. The evolution of big business is in itself proof of the fact that the masses and not the nabobs are the main consumers. Those who deal with the phenomenon of big business under the rubric “concentration of economic power” fail to realize that economic power is vested in the buying public on whose patronage the prosperity of the factories depends. In his capacity as buyer, the wage earner is the customer who is “always right.” But Marx declares that the bourgeoisie “is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery.”
Marx deduced the excellence of socialism from the fact that the driving force of historical evolution, the material productive forces, is bound to bring about socialism. As he was engrossed in the Hegelian brand of optimism, there was to his mind no further need to demonstrate the merits of socialism. It was obvious to him that socialism, being a later stage of history than capitalism, was also a better stage.4 It was sheer blasphemy to doubt its merits.
What was still left to show was the mechanism by means of which nature brings about the transition from capitalism to socialism. Nature’s instrument is the class struggle. As the workers sink deeper and deeper with the progress of capitalism, as their misery, oppression, slavery, and degradation increase, they are driven to revolt, and their rebellion establishes socialism.
The whole chain of this reasoning is exploded by the establishment of the fact that the progress of capitalism does not pauperize the wage earners increasingly but on the contrary improves their standard of living. Why should the masses be inevitably driven to revolt when they get more and better food, housing and clothing, cars and refrigerators, radio and television sets, nylon and other synthetic products? Even if, for the sake of argument, we were to admit that the workers are driven to rebellion, why should their revolutionary upheaval aim just at the establishment of socialism? The only motive which could induce them to ask for socialism would be the conviction that they themselves would fare better under socialism than under capitalism. But Marxists, anxious to avoid dealing with the economic problems of a socialist commonwealth, did nothing to demonstrate the superiority of socialism over capitalism apart from the circular reasoning that runs: Socialism is bound to come as the next stage of historical evolution. Being a later stage of history than capitalism, it is necessarily higher and better than capitalism. Why is it bound to come? Because the laborers, doomed to progressive impoverishment under capitalism, will rebel and establish socialism. But what other motive could impel them to aim at the establishment of socialism than the conviction that socialism is better than capitalism? And this pre-eminence of socialism is deduced by Marx from the fact that the coming of socialism is inevitable. The circle is closed.
In the context of the Marxian doctrine the superiority of socialism is proved by the fact that the proletarians are aiming at socialism. What the philosophers, the utopians, think does not count. What matters is the ideas of the proletarians, the class that history has entrusted with the task of shaping the future.
The truth is that the concept of socialism did not originate from the “proletarian mind.” No proletarian or son of a proletarian contributed any substantial idea to the socialist ideology. The intellectual fathers of socialism were members of the intelligentsia, scions of the “bourgeoisie.” Marx himself was the son of a well-to-do lawyer. He attended a German Gymnasium, the school all Marxians and other socialists denounce as the main offshoot of the bourgeois system of education, and his family supported him through all the years of his studies; he did not work his way through the university. He married the daughter of a member of the German nobility; his brother-in-law was Prussian minister of the interior and as such head of the Prussian police. In his household served a maid, Helene Demuth, who never married and who followed the Marx ménage in all its shifts of residence, the perfect model of the exploited slavey whose frustration and stunted sex life have been repeatedly depicted in the German “social” novel. Friedrich Engels was the son of a wealthy manufacturer and himself a manufacturer; he refused to marry his mistress Mary because she was uneducated and of “low” descent;5 he enjoyed the amusements of the British gentry such as riding to hounds.
The workers were never enthusiastic about socialism. They supported the union movement whose striving after higher wages Marx despised as useless.6 They asked for all those measures of government interference with business which Marx branded petty-bourgeois nonsense. They opposed technological improvement, in earlier days by destroying new machines, later by union pressure and compulsion in favor of feather-bedding. Syndicalism—appropriation of the enterprises by the workers employed in them—is a program that the workers developed spontaneously. But socialism was brought to the masses by intellectuals of bourgeois background. Dining and wining together in the luxurious London homes and country seats of late Victorian “society,” ladies and gentlemen in fashionable evening clothes concocted schemes for converting the British proletarians to the socialist creed.
The Ideological Impregnation of Thought
From the supposed irreconcilable conflict of class interests Marx deduces his doctrine of the ideological impregnation of thought. In a class society man is inherently unfit to conceive theories which are a substantially true description of reality. As his class affiliation, his social being, determines his thoughts, the products of his intellectual effort are ideologically tainted and distorted. They are not truth, but ideologies. An ideology in the Marxian sense of the term is a false doctrine which, however, precisely on account of its falsity, serves the interests of the class from which its author stems.
We may omit here dealing with many aspects of this ideology doctrine. We need not disprove anew the doctrine of polylogism, according to which the logical structure of mind differs in the members of various classes.1 We may furthermore admit that the main concern of a thinker is exclusively to promote the interests of his class even if these clash with his interests as an individual. We may finally abstain from questioning the dogma that there is no such thing as the disinterested search for truth and knowledge and that all human inquiry is exclusively guided by the practical purpose of providing mental tools for successful action. The ideology doctrine would remain untenable even if all the irrefutable objections that can be raised from the point of view of these three aspects could be rejected.
Whatever one may think of the adequacy of the pragmatist definition of truth, it is obvious that at least one of the characteristic marks of a true theory is that action based on it succeeds in attaining the expected result. In this sense truth works, while untruth does not work. Precisely if we assume, in agreement with the Marxians, that the end of theorizing is always success in action, the question must be raised why and how an ideological (that is, in the Marxian sense, a false) theory should be more useful to a class than a correct theory? There is no doubt that the study of mechanics was motivated, at least to some extent, by practical considerations. People wanted to make use of the theorems of mechanics to solve various problems of engineering. It was precisely the pursuit of these practical results that impelled them to search for a correct, not for a merely ideological (false) science of mechanics. No matter how one looks at it, there is no way in which a false theory can serve a man or a class or the whole of mankind better than a correct theory. How did Marx come to teach such a doctrine?
To answer this question we must remember the motive that impelled Marx to all his literary ventures. He was driven by one passion—to fight for the adoption of socialism. But he was fully aware of his inability to oppose any tenable objection to the economists’ devastating criticism of all socialist plans. He was convinced that the system of economic doctrine developed by the Classical economists was impregnable, and remained unaware of the serious doubts which essential theorems of this system had already raised in some minds. Like his contemporary John Stuart Mill he believed “there is nothing in the laws of value which remains for the present or any future writer to clear up; the theory of the subject is complete.”2 When in 1871 the writings of Carl Menger and William Stanley Jevons inaugurated a new epoch of economic studies, Marx’s career as a writer on economic problems had already come to a virtual end. The first volume of Das Kapital had been published in 1867; the manuscript of the following volumes was well along. There is no indication that Marx ever grasped the meaning of the new theory. Marx’s economic teachings are essentially a garbled rehash of the theories of Adam Smith and, first of all, of Ricardo. Smith and Ricardo had not had any opportunity to refute socialist doctrines, as these were advanced only after their death. So Marx let them alone. But he vented his full indignation upon their successors who had tried to analyze the socialist schemes critically. He ridiculed them, calling them “vulgar economists” and “sycophants of the bourgeoisie.” And as it was imperative for him to defame them, he contrived his ideology scheme.
These “vulgar economists” are, because of their bourgeois background, constitutionally unfit to discover truth. What their reasoning produces can only be ideological, that is, as Marx employed the term “ideology,” a distortion of truth serving the class interests of the bourgeoisie. There is no need to refute their chains of argument by discursive reasoning and critical analysis. It is enough to unmask their bourgeois background and thereby the necessarily “ideological” character of their doctrines. They are wrong because they are bourgeois. No proletarian must attach any importance to their speculations.
To conceal the fact that this scheme was invented expressly to discredit the economists, it was necessary to elevate it to the dignity of a general epistemological law valid for all ages and for all branches of knowledge. Thus the ideology doctrine became the nucleus of Marxian epistemology. Marx and all his disciples concentrated their efforts upon the justification and exemplification of this makeshift. They did not shrink from any absurdity. They interpreted all philosophical systems, physical and biological theories, all literature, music, and art from the “ideological” point of view. But, of course, they were not consistent enough to assign to their own doctrines merely ideological character. The Marxian tenets, they implied, are not ideologies. They are a foretaste of the knowledge of the future classless society which, freed from the fetters of class conflicts, will be in a position to conceive pure knowledge, untainted by ideological blemishes.
Thus we can understand the thymological motives that led Marx to his ideology doctrine. Yet this does not answer the question why an ideological distortion of truth should be more advantageous to the interests of a class than a correct doctrine. Marx never ventured to explain this, probably aware that any attempt to would entangle him in an inextricable jumble of absurdities and contradictions.
There is no need to emphasize the ridiculousness of contending that an ideological physical, chemical, or therapeutical doctrine could be more advantageous for any class or individual than a correct one. One may pass over in silence the declarations of the Marxians concerning the ideological character of the theories developed by the bourgeois Mendel, Hertz, Planck, Heisenberg, and Einstein. It is sufficient to scrutinize the alleged ideological character of bourgeois economics.
As Marx saw it, their bourgeois background impelled the Classical economists to develop a system from which a justification of the unfair claims of the capitalist exploiters must logically follow. (In this he contradicts himself, as he drew from the same system just the opposite conclusions.) These theorems of the Classical economists from which the apparent justification of capitalism could be deduced were the theorems which Marx attacked most furiously: that the scarcity of the material factors of production on which man’s well-being depends is an inevitable, nature-given condition of human existence; that no system of society’s economic organization could create a state of abundance in which to everybody could be given according to his needs; that the recurrence of periods of economic depressions is not inherent in the very operation of an unhampered market economy but, on the contrary, the necessary outcome of government’s interfering with business with the spurious aim of lowering the rate of interest and making business boom by inflation and credit expansion. But, we must ask, of what use, from the very Marxian point of view, could such a justification of capitalism be for the capitalists? They themselves did not need any justification for a system which—according to Marx—while wronging the workers was beneficial to themselves. They did not need to quiet their own consciences since, again according to Marx, every class is remorseless in the pursuit of its own selfish class interests.
Neither is it, from the point of view of the Marxian doctrine, permissible to assume that the service which the ideological theory, originating from a “false consciousness” and therefore distorting the true state of affairs, rendered to the exploiting class was to beguile the exploited class and to make it pliable and subservient, and thereby to preserve or at least to prolong the unfair system of exploitation. For, according to Marx, the duration of a definite system of production relations does not depend on any spiritual factors. It is exclusively determined by the state of the material productive forces. If the material productive forces change, the production relations (i.e., the property relations) and the whole ideological superstructure must change too. This transformation cannot be accelerated by any human effort. For as Marx said, “no social formation ever disappears before all the productive forces are developed for which it is broad enough, and new higher production relations never appear before the material conditions of their existence have been hatched out in the womb of the old society.”3
This is by no means merely an incidental observation of Marx. It is one of the essential points of his doctrine. It is the theorem on which he based his claim to call his own doctrine scientific socialism as distinguished from the merely utopian socialism of his predecessors. The characteristic mark of the utopian socialists, as he saw it, was that they believed that the realization of socialism depends on spiritual and intellectual factors. You have to convince people that socialism is better than capitalism and then they will substitute socialism for capitalism. In Marx’s eyes this utopian creed was absurd. The coming of socialism in no way depends on the thoughts and wills of men; it is an outgrowth of the development of the material productive forces. When the time is fulfilled and capitalism has reached its maturity, socialism will come. It can appear neither earlier nor later. The bourgeois may contrive the most cleverly elaborated ideologies—in vain; they cannot delay the day of the breakdown of capitalism.
Perhaps some people, intent upon salvaging the Marxian “ideology” concept, would argue this way: The capitalists are ashamed of their role in society. They feel guilty at being “robber barons, usurers, and exploiters” and pocketing profits. They need a class ideology in order to restore their self-assertion. But why should they blush? There is, from the point of view of the Marxian doctrine, nothing in their conduct to be ashamed of. Capitalism, in the Marxian view, is an indispensable stage in the historical evolution of mankind. It is a necessary link in the succession of events which finally results in the bliss of socialism. The capitalists, in being capitalists, are merely tools of history. They execute what, according to the preordained plan for mankind’s evolution, must be done. They comply with the eternal laws which are independent of the human will. They cannot help acting the way they do. They do not need any ideology, any “false consciousness,” to tell them that they are right. They are right in the light of the Marxian doctrine. If Marx had been consistent, he would have exhorted the workers: Don’t blame the capitalists; in “exploiting” you they do what is best for yourselves; they are paving the way for socialism.
However one may turn the matter, one cannot discover any reason why an ideological distortion of truth should be more useful to the bourgeoisie than a correct theory.
The Conflict of Ideologies
Class consciousness, says Marx, produces class ideologies. The class ideology provides the class with an interpretation of reality and at the same time teaches the members how to act in order to benefit their class. The content of the class ideology is uniquely determined by the historical stage of the development of the material productive forces and by the role the class concerned plays in this stage of history. The ideology is not an arbitrary brain child. It is the reflection of the thinker’s material class condition as mirrored in his head. It is therefore not an individual phenomenon conditional upon the thinker’s fancy. It is enjoined upon the mind by reality, i.e., by the class situation of the man who thinks. It is consequently identical with all members of the class. Of course, not every class comrade is an author and publishes what he has thought. But all writers belonging to the class conceive the same ideas and all other members of the class approve of them. There is no room left in Marxism for the assumption that the various members of the same class could seriously disagree in ideology. There exists for all members of the class only one ideology.
If a man expresses opinions at variance with the ideology of a definite class, that is because he does not belong to the class concerned. There is no need to refute his ideas by discursive reasoning. It is enough to unmask his background and class affiliation. This settles the matter.
But if a man whose proletarian background and membership in the workers’ class cannot be contested diverges from the correct Marxian creed, he is a traitor. It is impossible to assume that he could be sincere in his rejection of Marxism. As a proletarian he must necessarily think like a proletarian. An inner voice tells him in an unmistakable way what the correct proletarian ideology is. He is dishonest in overriding this voice and publicly professing unorthodox opinions. He is a rogue, a Judas, a snake in the grass. In fighting such a betrayer all means are permissible.
Marx and Engels, two men of unquestionable bourgeois background, hatched out the class ideology of the proletarian class. They never ventured to discuss their doctrine with dissenters as scientists, for instance, discuss the pros and cons of the doctrines of Lamarck, Darwin, Mendel, and Weismann. As they saw it, their adversaries could only be either bourgeois idiots1 or proletarian traitors. As soon as a socialist deviated an inch from the orthodox creed, Marx and Engels attacked him furiously, ridiculed and insulted him, represented him as a scoundrel and a wicked and corrupt monster. After Engels’ death the office of supreme arbiter of what is and what is not correct Marxism devolved upon Karl Kautsky. In 1917 it passed into the hands of Lenin and became a function of the chief of the Soviet government. While Marx, Engels, and Kautsky had to content themselves with assassinating the character of their opponents, Lenin and Stalin could assassinate them physically. Step by step they anathematized those who once were considered by all Marxians, including Lenin and Stalin themselves, as the great champions of the proletarian cause: Kautsky, Max Adler, Otto Bauer, Plechanoff, Bukharin, Trotsky, Riasanov, Radek, Sinoviev, and many others. Those whom they could seize were imprisoned, tortured, and finally murdered. Only those who were happy enough to dwell in countries dominated by “plutodemocratic reactionaries” survived and were permitted to die in their beds.
A good case can be made, from the Marxian point of view, in favor of decision by the majority. If a doubt concerning the correct content of the proletarian ideology arises, the ideas held by the majority of the proletarians are to be considered those which truthfully reflect the genuine proletarian ideology. As Marxism supposes that the immense majority of people are proletarians, this would be tantamount to assigning the competence to make the ultimate decisions in conflicts of opinion to parliaments elected under adult franchise. But although to refuse to do this is to explode the whole ideology doctrine, neither Marx nor his successors were ever prepared to submit their opinions to majority vote. Throughout his career Marx mistrusted the people and was highly suspicious of parliamentary procedures and decisions by the ballot. He was enthusiastic about the Paris revolution of June 1848, in which a small minority of Parisians rebelled against the government supported by a parliament elected under universal manhood suffrage. The Paris Commune of the spring of 1871, in which again Parisian socialists fought against the regime duly established by the overwhelming majority of the French people’s representatives, was still more to his liking. Here he found his ideal of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the dictatorship of a self-appointed band of leaders, realized. He tried to persuade the Marxian parties of all countries of Western and Central Europe to base their hopes not upon election campaigns but upon revolutionary methods. In this regard the Russian communists were his faithful disciples. The Russian parliament elected in 1917 under the auspices of the Lenin government by all adult citizens had, in spite of the violence offered to the voters by the ruling party, less than 25 per cent communist members. Three-quarters of the people had voted against the communists. But Lenin dispersed the parliament by force of arms and firmly established the dictatorial rule of a minority. The head of the Soviet power became the supreme pontiff of the Marxian sect. His title to this office is derived from the fact that he had defeated his rivals in a bloody civil war.
As the Marxians do not admit that differences of opinion can be settled by discussion and persuasion or decided by majority vote, no solution is open but civil war. The mark of the good ideology, i.e., the ideology adequate to the genuine class interests of the proletarians, is the fact that its supporters succeeded in conquering and liquidating their opponents.
Ideas and Interests
Marx assumes tacitly that the social condition of a class uniquely determines its interests and that there can be no doubt what kind of policy best serves these interests. The class does not have to choose between various policies. The historical situation enjoins upon it a definite policy. There is no alternative. It follows that the class does not act, since acting implies choosing among various possible ways of procedure. The material productive forces act through the medium of the class members.
But Marx, Engels, and all other Marxians ignored this fundamental dogma of their creed as soon as they stepped beyond the borders of epistemology and began commenting upon historical and political issues. Then they not only charged the nonproletarian classes with hostility to the proletarians but criticized their policies as not conducive to promoting the true interests of their own classes.
The most important of Marx’s political pamphlets is the Address on the Civil War in France (1871). It furiously attacks the French government which, backed by the immense majority of the nation, was intent upon quelling the rebellion of the Paris Commune. It recklessly calumniates all the leading members of that government, calling them swindlers, forgers, and embezzlers. Jules Favre, it charges, was “living in concubinage with the wife of a dipsomaniac,” and General de Gallifet profited from the alleged prostitution of his wife. In short, the pamphlet set the pattern for the defamation tactics of the socialist press which the Marxians indignantly chastised as one of the worst excrescences of capitalism when the tabloid press adopted it. Yet all these slanderous lies, however reprehensible, may be interpreted as partisan strategems in the implacable war against bourgeois civilization. They are at least not incompatible with Marxian epistemological principles. But it is another thing to question the expediency of the bourgeois policy from the standpoint of the class interests of the bourgeoisie. The Address maintains that the policy of the French bourgeoisie has unmasked the essential teachings of its own ideology, the only purpose of which is “to delay the class struggle”; henceforth it will no longer be possible for the class rule of the bourgeoisie “to hide in a nationalist uniform.” Henceforth there will no longer be any question of peace or armistice between the workers and their exploiters. The battle will be resumed again and again and there can be no doubt about the final victory of the workingmen.1
It must be noted that these observations were made with regard to a situation in which the majority of the French people had only to choose between unconditional surrender to a small minority of revolutionaries or fighting them. Neither Marx nor anybody else had ever expected that the majority of a nation would yield without resistance to armed aggression on the part of a minority.
Still more important is the fact that Marx in these observations ascribes to the policies adopted by the French bourgeoisie a decisive influence upon the course of events. In this he contradicts all his other writings. In the Communist Manifesto he had announced the implacable and relentless class struggle without any regard to the defense tactics the bourgeois may resort to. He had deduced the inevitability of this struggle from the class situation of the exploiters and that of the exploited. There is no room in the Marxian system for the assumption that the policies adopted by the bourgeoisie could in any way affect the emergence of the class struggle and its outcome.
If it is true that one class, the French bourgeoisie of 1871, was in a position to choose between alternative policies and through its decision to influence the course of events, the same must be true also of other classes in other historical situations. Then all the dogmas of Marxian materialism are exploded. Then it is not true that the class situation teaches a class what its genuine class interests are and what kind of policy best serves these interests. It is not true that only such ideas as are conducive to the real interests of a class meet with approval on the part of those who direct the policies of the class. It may happen that different ideas direct those policies and thus get an influence upon the course of events. But then it is not true that what counts in history are only interests, and that ideas are merely an ideological superstructure, uniquely determined by these interests. It becomes imperative to scrutinize ideas in order to sift those which are really beneficial to the interests of the class concerned from those which are not. It becomes necessary to discuss conflicting ideas with the methods of logical reasoning. The makeshift by means of which Marx wanted to outlaw such dispassionate weighing of the pros and cons of definite ideas breaks down. The way toward an examination of the merits and demerits of socialism which Marx wanted to prohibit as “unscientific” is reopened.
Another important address of Marx was his paper of 1865, Value, Price and Profit. In this document Marx criticizes the traditional policies of the labor unions. They should abandon their “conservative motto, A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work! and ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, Abolition of the wages system!”2 This is obviously a controversy about which kind of policy best serves the class interests of the workers. Marx in this case deviates from his usual procedure of branding all his proletarian opponents traitors. He implicitly admits that there can prevail dissent even among honest and sincere champions of the class interests of the workers and that such differences must be settled by debating the issue. Perhaps on second thought he himself discovered that the way he had dealt with the problem involved was incompatible with all his dogmas, for he did not have printed this paper which he had read on June 26, 1865, in the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association. It was first published in 1898 by one of his daughters.
But the theme we are scrutinizing is not Marx’s failure to cling consistently to his own doctrine and his lapses into ways of thinking incompatible with it. We have to examine the tenability of the Marxian doctrine and must therefore turn to the peculiar connotation the term “interests” has in the context of this doctrine.
Every individual, and for that matter every group of individuals, aims in acting at the substitution of a state of affairs that suits him better for a state of affairs that he considers less satisfactory. Without any regard to the qualification of these two states of affairs from any other point of view, we may say in this sense that he pursues his own interests. But the question of what is more desirable and what is less is decided by the acting individual. It is the outcome of choosing among various possible solutions. It is a judgment of value. It is determined by the individual’s ideas about the effects these various states may have upon his own well-being. But it ultimately depends upon the value he attaches to these anticipated effects.
If we keep this in mind, it is not sensible to declare that ideas are a product of interests. Ideas tell a man what his interests are. At a later date, looking upon his past actions, the individual may form the opinion that he has erred and that another mode of acting would have served his own interests better. But this does not mean that at the critical instant in which he acted he did not act according to his interests. He acted according to what he, at that time, considered would serve his interests best.
If an unaffected observer looks upon another man’s action, he may think: This fellow errs; what he does will not serve what he considers to be his interest; another way of acting would be more suitable for attaining the ends he aims at. In this sense a historian can say today or a judicious contemporary could say in 1939: In invading Poland Hitler and the Nazis made a mistake; the invasion harmed what they considered to be their interests. Such criticism is sensible so long as it deals only with the means and not with the ultimate ends of an action. The choice of ultimate ends is a judgment of value solely dependent on the judging individual’s valuation. All that another man can say about it is: I would have made a different choice. If a Roman had said to a Christian doomed to be lacerated by wild beasts in the circus: You will best serve your interests by bowing down and worshiping the statue of our divine Emperor, the Christian would have answered: My prime interest is to comply with the precepts of my creed.
But Marxism, as a philosophy of history claiming to know the ends which men are bound to aim at, employs the term “interests” with a different connotation. The interests it refers to are not those chosen by men on the ground of judgments of value. They are the ends the material productive forces are aiming at. These forces aim at the establishment of socialism. They use the proletarians as a means for the realization of this end. The superhuman material productive forces pursue their own interests, independently of the will of mortal men. The proletarian class is merely a tool in their hands. The actions of the class are not its own actions but those which the material productive forces perform in using the class as an instrument without a will of its own. The class interests to which Marx refers are in fact the interests of the material productive forces which want to be freed from “the fetters upon their development.”
Interests of this kind, of course, do not depend upon the ideas of ordinary men. They are determined exclusively by the ideas of the man Marx, who generated both the phantom of the material productive forces and the anthropomorphic image of their interests.
In the world of reality, life, and human action there is no such thing as interests independent of ideas, preceding them temporally and logically. What a man considers his interest is the result of his ideas.
If there is any sense in the proposition that the interests of the proletarians would be best served by socialism, it is this: the ends which the individual proletarians are aiming at will be best achieved by socialism. Such a proposition requires proof. It is vain to substitute for such a proof the recourse to an arbitrarily contrived system of philosophy of history.
All this could never occur to Marx because he was engrossed by the idea that human interests are uniquely and entirely determined by the biological nature of the human body. Man, as he saw it, is exclusively interested in the procurement of the largest quantity of tangible goods. There is no qualitative, only a quantitative, problem in the supply of goods and services. Wants do not depend on ideas but solely on physiological conditions. Blinded by this preconception, Marx ignored the fact that one of the problems of production is to decide what kind of goods are to be produced.
With animals and with primitive men on the verge of starvation it is certainly true that nothing counts but the quantity of edible things they can secure. There is no need to point out that conditions are entirely different for men, even for those in the earliest stages of civilization. Civilized man is faced with the problem of choosing among the satisfactions of various needs and among various modes of satisfying the same need. His interests are diversified and are determined by the ideas that influence his choosing. One does not serve the interests of a man who wants a new coat by giving him a pair of shoes or those of a man who wants to hear a Beethoven symphony by giving him admission to a boxing match. It is ideas that are responsible for the fact that the interests of people are disparate.
Incidentally it may be mentioned that this misconstruing of human wants and interests prevented Marx and other socialists from comprehending the distinction between freedom and slavery, between the condition of a man who himself decides how to spend his income and that of a man whom a paternal authority supplies with those things which, as the authority thinks, he needs. In the market economy the consumers choose and thereby determine the quantity and the quality of the goods produced. Under socialism the authority takes care of these matters. In the eyes of Marx and the Marxians there is no substantial difference between these two methods of want satisfaction; it is of no consequence who chooses, the “paltry” individual for himself or the authority for all its subjects. They fail to realize that the authority does not give its wards what they want to get but what, according to the opinion of the authority, they ought to get. If a man who wants to get the Bible gets the Koran instead, he is no longer free.
But even if, for the sake of argument, we were to admit that there is uncertainty neither concerning the kind of goods people are asking for nor concerning the most expedient technological methods of producing them, there remains the conflict between interests in the short run and those in the long run. Here again the decision depends on ideas. It is judgments of value that determine the amount of time preference attached to the value of present goods as against that of future goods. Should one consume or accumulate capital? And how far should capital depletion or accumulation go?
Instead of dealing with all these problems Marx contented himself with the dogma that socialism will be an earthly paradise in which everybody will get all he needs. Of course, if one starts from this dogma, one can quietly declare that the interests of everybody, whatever they may be, will be best served under socialism. In the land of Cockaigne people will no longer need any ideas, will no longer have to resort to any judgments of value, will no longer think and act. They will only open their mouths to let the roast pigeons fly in.
In the world of reality, the conditions of which are the only object of the scientific search for truth, ideas determine what people consider to be their interests. There is no such thing as interests that could be independent of ideas. It is ideas that determine what people consider as their interests. Free men do not act in accordance with their interests. They act in accordance with what they believe furthers their interests.
The Class Interests of the Bourgeoisie
One of the starting points of the thinking of Karl Marx was the dogma that capitalism, while utterly detrimental to the working class, is favorable to the class interests of the bourgeoisie and that socialism, while thwarting only the unfair claims of the bourgeoisie, is highly beneficial to the whole of mankind. These were ideas developed by the French communists and socialists and disclosed to the German public in 1842 by Lorenz von Stein in his voluminous book Socialism and Communism in Present-Day France. Without any qualms Marx adopted this doctrine and all that was implied in it. It never occurred to him that its fundamental dogma might require a demonstration, and the concepts it employs a definition. He never defined the concepts of a social class and of class interests and their conflicts. He never explained why socialism serves the class interests of the proletarians and the true interests of the whole of mankind better than any other system. This attitude has been up to our time the characteristic mark of all socialists. They simply take it for granted that life under socialism will be blissful. Whoever dares to ask for reasons is by this very demand unmasked as a bribed apologist of the selfish class interests of the exploiters.
The Marxian philosophy of history teaches that what brings about the coming of socialism is the operation of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself. With the inexorability of a law of nature, capitalistic production begets its own negation.1 As no social formation ever disappears before all the productive forces are developed for which it has room,2 capitalism must run its full course before the time comes for the emergence of socialism. The free evolution of capitalism, not upset by any political interference, is therefore, from the Marxian point of view, highly beneficial to the—we would have to say “rightly understood” or long-term—class interests of the proletarians. With the progress of capitalism on the way to its maturity and consequently to its collapse, says the Communist Manifesto, the laborer “sinks deeper and deeper,” he “becomes a pauper.” But seen sub specie aeternitatis, from the point of view of mankind’s destination and the long-run interests of the proletariat, this “mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, and exploitation” is in fact to be regarded as a step forward on the road toward eternal bliss. It appears therefore not only vain but manifestly contrary to the—rightly understood—interests of the working class to indulge in—necessarily futile—attempts to improve the wage earners’ conditions through reforms within the framework of capitalism. Hence Marx rejected labor union endeavors to raise wage rates and to shorten the hours of work. The most orthodox of all Marxian parties, the German Social-Democrats, voted in the eighties in the Reichstag against all measures of Bismarck’s famous Sozialpolitik, including its most spectacular feature, social security. Likewise in the opinion of the communists the American New Deal was just a foredoomed scheme to salvage dying capitalism by postponing its breakdown and thereby the appearance of the socialist millennium.
If employers oppose what is commonly called pro-labor legislation, they are consequently not guilty of fighting what Marx considered to be the true interests of the proletarian class. On the contrary. In virtually freeing economic evolution from the fetters by means of which ignorant petty bourgeois, bureaucrats, and such utopian and humanitarian pseudo socialists as the Fabians plan to slow it down, they are serving the cause of labor and socialism. The very selfishness of the exploiters turns into a boon for the exploited and for the whole of mankind. Would not Marx, if he had been able to follow his own ideas to their ultimate logical consequences, have been tempted to say, with Mandeville, “private vices, public benefits,” or, with Adam Smith, that the rich “are led by an invisible hand” in such a way that they “without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society?”3
However, Marx was always anxious to bring his reasoning to an end before the point beyond which its inherent contradictions would have become manifest. In this regard his followers copied their master’s attitude.
The bourgeois, both capitalists and entrepreneurs, say these inconsistent disciples of Marx, are interested in the preservation of the laissez-faire system. They are opposed to all attempts to alleviate the lot of the most numerous, most useful, and most exploited class of men; they are intent upon stopping progress; they are reactionaries committed to the—of course, hopeless—task of turning history’s clock back. Whatever one may think of these passionate effusions, repeated daily by newspapers, politicians, and governments, one cannot deny that they are incompatible with the essential tenets of Marxism. From a consistent Marxian point of view the champions of what is called prolabor legislation are reactionary petty bourgeois, while those whom the Marxians call labor-baiters are progressive harbingers of the bliss to come.
In their ignorance of all business problems, the Marxians failed to see that the present-day bourgeois, those who are already wealthy capitalists and entrepreneurs, are in their capacity as bourgeois not selfishly interested in the preservation of laissez faire. Under laissez faire their eminent position is daily threatened anew by the ambitions of impecunious newcomers. Laws that put obstacles in the way of talented upstarts are detrimental to the interests of the consumers but they protect those who have already established their position in business against the competition of intruders. In making it more difficult for a businessman to reap profit and in taxing away the greater part of the profits made, they prevent the accumulation of capital by newcomers and thus remove the inducement that impels old firms toward the utmost exertion in serving the customers. Measures sheltering the less efficient against the competition of the more efficient and laws that aim at reducing or confiscating profits are from the Marxian point of view conservative, nay, reactionary. They tend to prevent technological improvement and economic progress and to preserve inefficiency and backwardness. If the New Deal had started in 1900 and not in 1933, the American consumer would have been deprived of many things today provided by industries which grew in the first decades of the century from insignificant beginnings to national importance and mass production.
The culmination of this misconstruction of industrial problems is the animosity displayed against big business and against the efforts of smaller concerns to become bigger. Public opinion, under the spell of Marxism, considers “bigness” one of the worst vices of business and condones every scheme devised to curb or to hurt big business by government action. There is no comprehension of the fact that it is solely bigness in business which makes it possible to supply the masses with all those products the present-day American common man does not want to do without. Luxury goods for the few can be produced in small shops. Luxury goods for the many require big business. Those politicians, professors, and union bosses who curse big business are fighting for a lower standard of living. They are certainly not furthering the interests of the proletarians. And they are, precisely also from the point of view of the Marxian doctrine, ultimately enemies of progress and of improvement of the conditions of the workers.
The Critics of Marxism
The materialism of Marx and Engels differs radically from the ideas of classical materialism. It depicts human thoughts, choices, and actions as determined by the material productive forces—tools and machines. Marx and Engels failed to see that tools and machines are themselves products of the operation of the human mind. Even if their sophisticated attempts to describe all spiritual and intellectual phenomena, which they call superstructural, as produced by the material productive forces had been successful, they would only have traced these phenomena back to something which in itself is a spiritual and intellectual phenomenon. Their reasoning moves in a circle. Their alleged materialism is in fact no materialism at all. It provides merely a verbal solution of the problems involved.
Occasionally even Marx and Engels were aware of the fundamental inadequacy of their doctrine. When Engels at the grave of Marx summed up what he considered to be the quintessence of his friend’s achievements, he did not mention the material productive forces at all. Said Engels:
As Darwin discovered the law of evolution of organic nature, Marx discovered the law of mankind’s historical evolution, that is the simple fact, hitherto hidden beneath ideological overgrowths, that men must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing before they can pursue politics, science, art, religion, and the like, that consequently the production of the immediately required foodstuffs and therewith the stage of economic evolution attained by a people or an epoch constitute the foundation out of which the governmental institutions, the ideas about right and wrong, art, and even the religious ideas of men have been developed and by means of which they must be explained—not, as hitherto had been done, the other way round.1
Certainly no man was more competent than Engels to provide an authoritative interpretation of dialectic materialism. But if Engels was right in this obituary, then the whole of Marxian materialism fades away. It is reduced to a truism known to everybody from time immemorial and never contested by anybody. It says no more than the worn-out aphorism: Primum vivere, deinde philosophari [“first live, then philosophize”].
As an eristic trick Engels’ interpretation turned out very well. As soon as somebody begins to unmask the absurdities and contradictions of dialectical materialism, the Marxians retort: Do you deny that men must first of all eat? Do you deny that men are interested in improving the material conditions of their existence? Since nobody wants to contest these truisms, they conclude that all the teachings of Marxian materialism are unassailable. And hosts of pseudo philosophers fail to see through this non sequitur.
The main target of Marx’s rancorous attacks was the Prussian state of the Hohenzollern dynasty. He hated this regime not because it was opposed to socialism but precisely because it was inclined to accept socialism. While his rival Lassalle toyed with the idea of realizing socialism in cooperation with the Prussian government led by Bismarck, Marx’s International Workingmen’s Association sought to supplant the Hohenzollern. Since in Prussia the Protestant Church was subject to the government and was administered by government officials, Marx never tired of vilifying the Christian religion too. Anti-Christianism became all the more a dogma of Marxism in that the countries whose intellectuals first were converted to Marxism were Russia and Italy. In Russia the church was even more dependent on the government than in Prussia. In the eyes of the Italians of the nineteenth century anti-Catholic bias was the mark of all who opposed the restoration of the Pope’s secular rule and the disintegration of the newly won national unity.
The Christian churches and sects did not fight socialism. Step by step they accepted its essential political and social ideas. Today they are, with but few exceptions, outspoken in rejecting capitalism and advocating either socialism or interventionist policies which must inevitably result in the establishment of socialism. But, of course, no Christian church can ever acquiesce in a brand of socialism which is hostile to Christianity and aims at its suppression. The churches are implacably opposed to the anti-Christian aspects of Marxism. They try to distinguish between their own program of social reform and the Marxian program. The inherent viciousness of Marxism they consider to be its materialism and atheism.
However, in fighting Marxian materialism the apologists of religion have entirely missed the point. Many of them look upon materialism as an ethical doctrine teaching that men ought only to strive after satisfaction of the needs of their bodies and after a life of pleasure and revelry, and ought not to bother about anything else. What they advance against this ethical materialism has no reference to the Marxian doctrine and no bearing on the issue in dispute.
No more sensible are the objections raised to Marxian materialism by those who pick out definite historical events—such as the rise of the Christian creed, the crusades, the religious wars—and triumphantly assert that no materialist interpretation of them could be provided. Every change in conditions affects the structure of demand and supply of various material things and thereby the short-run interests of some groups of people. It is therefore possible to show that there were some groups who profited in the short run and others who were prejudiced in the short run. Hence the advocates of Marxism are always in a position to point out that class interests were involved and thus to annul the objections raised. Of course, this method of demonstrating the correctness of the materialist interpretation of history is entirely wrong. The question is not whether group interests were affected; they are necessarily always affected at least in the short run. The question is whether the striving after lucre of the groups concerned was the cause of the event under discussion. For instance, were the short-run interests of the munitions industry instrumental in bringing about the bellicosity and the wars of our age? In dealing with such problems the Marxians never mention that where there are interests pro there are necessarily also interests con. They would have to explain why the latter did not prevail over the former. But the “idealist” critics of Marxism were too dull to expose any of the fallacies of dialectical materialism. They did not even notice that the Marxians resorted to their class-interest interpretation only in dealing with phenomena which were generally condemned as bad, never in dealing with phenomena of which all people approve. If one ascribes warring to the machinations of munitions capital and alcoholism to machinations of the liquor trade, it would be consistent to ascribe cleanliness to the designs of the soap manufacturers and the flowering of literature and education to the maneuvering of the publishing and printing industries. But neither the Marxians nor their critics ever thought of it.
The outstanding fact in all this is that the Marxian doctrine of historical change has never received any judicious critique. It could triumph because its adversaries never disclosed its fallacies and inherent contradictions.
How entirely people have misunderstood Marxian materialism is shown in the common practice of lumping together Marxism and Freud’s psychoanalysis. Actually no sharper contrast can be thought of than that between these two doctrines. Materialism aims at reducing mental phenomena to material causes. Psychoanalysis, on the contrary, deals with mental phenomena as with an autonomous field. While traditional psychiatry and neurology tried to explain all pathological conditions with which they were concerned as caused by definite pathological conditions of some bodily organs, psychoanalysis succeeded in demonstrating that abnormal states of the body are sometimes produced by mental factors. This discovery was the achievement of Charcot and of Josef Breuer, and it was the great exploit of Sigmund Freud to build upon this foundation a comprehensive systematic discipline. Psychoanalysis is the opposite of all brands of materialism. If we look upon it not as a branch of pure knowledge but as a method of healing the sick, we would have to call it a thymological branch (geisteswissenschaftlicher Zweig) of medicine.
Freud was a modest man. He did not make extravagant pretensions regarding the importance of his contributions. He was very cautious in touching upon problems of philosophy and branches of knowledge to the development of which he himself had not contributed. He did not venture to attack any of the metaphysical propositions of materialism. He even went so far as to admit that one day science may succeed in providing a purely physiological explanation of the phenomena psychoanalysis deals with. Only so long as this does not happen, psychoanalysis appeared to him scientifically sound and practically indispensable. He was no less cautious in criticizing Marxian materialism. He freely confessed his incompetence in this field.2 But all this does not alter the fact that the psychoanalytical approach is essentially and substantially incompatible with the epistemology of materialism.
Psychoanalysis stresses the role that the libido, the sexual impulse, plays in human life. This role had been neglected before by psychology as well as by all other branches of knowledge. Psychoanalysis also explains the reasons for this neglect. But it by no means asserts that sex is the only human urge seeking satisfaction and that all psychic phenomena are induced by it. Its preoccupation with sexual impulses arose from the fact that it started as a therapeutical method and that most of the pathological conditions it had to deal with are caused by the repression of sexual urges.
The reason some authors linked psychoanalysis and Marxism was that both were considered to be at variance with theological ideas. However, with the passing of time theological schools and groups of various denominations are adopting a different evaluation of the teachings of Freud. They are not merely dropping their radical opposition as they have already done before with regard to modern astronomical and geological achievements and the theories of phylogenetic change in the structure of organisms. They are trying to integrate psychoanalysis into the system and the practice of pastoral theology. They view the study of psychoanalysis as an important part of the training for the ministry.3
As conditions are today, many defenders of the authority of the church are guideless and bewildered in their attitude toward philosophical and scientific problems. They condemn what they could or even should endorse. In fighting spurious doctrines, they resort to untenable objections which in the minds of those who can discern the fallaciousness of the objections rather strengthen the tendency to believe that the attacked doctrines are sound. Being unable to discover the real flaw in false doctrines, these apologists for religion may finally end by approving them. This explains the curious fact that there are nowadays tendencies in Christian writings to adopt Marxian dialectical materialism. Thus a Presbyterian theologian, Professor Alexander Miller, believes that Christianity “can reckon with the truth in historical materialism and with the fact of class-struggle.” He not only suggests, as many eminent leaders of various Christian denominations have done before him, that the church should adopt the essential principles of Marxian politics. He thinks the church ought to “accept Marxism” as “the essence of a scientific sociology.”4 How odd to reconcile with the Nicene creed a doctrine teaching that religious ideas are the superstructure of the material productive forces!
Marxian Materialism and Socialism
Like many frustrated intellectuals and like almost all contemporary Prussian noblemen, civil servants, teachers, and writers, Marx was driven by a fanatical hatred of business and businessmen. He turned toward socialism because he considered it the worst punishment that could be inflicted upon the odious bourgeois. At the same time he realized that the only hope for socialism was to prevent further discussion of its pros and cons. People must be induced to accept it emotionally without asking questions about its effects.
In order to achieve this, Marx adapted Hegel’s philosophy of history, the official creed of the schools from which he had graduated. Hegel had arrogated to himself the faculty of revealing the Lord’s hidden plans to the public. There was no reason why Doctor Marx should stand back and withhold from the people the good tidings that an inner voice had communicated to him. Socialism, this voice announced, is bound to come because this is the course that destiny is steering. There is no use indulging in debate about the blessings or ills to be expected from a socialist or communist mode of production. Such debates would be reasonable only if men were free to choose between socialism and some alternative. Besides, being later in the succession of stages of historical evolution, socialism is also necessarily a higher and better stage, and all doubts about the benefits to be derived from it are futile.1
The scheme of philosophy of history that describes human history as culminating and ending in socialism is the essence of Marxism, is Karl Marx’s main contribution to the prosocialist ideology. Like all similar schemes including that of Hegel, it was begot by intuition. Marx called it science, Wissenschaft, because in his day no other epithet could give a doctrine higher prestige. In pre-Marxian ages it was not customary to call philosophies of history scientific. Nobody ever applied the term “science” to the prophecies of Daniel, the Revelation of St. John, or the writings of Joachim of Flora.
For the same reasons Marx called his doctrine materialistic. In the environment of left-wing Hegelianism in which Marx lived before he settled in London, materialism was the accepted philosophy. It was taken for granted that philosophy and science admit of no treatment of the mind-body problem but that taught by materialism. Authors who did not want to be anathematized by their set had to avoid being suspected of any concession to “idealism.” Thus Marx was anxious to call his philosophy materialistic. In fact, as has been pointed out above, his doctrine does not deal at all with the mind-body problem. It does not raise the question of how the “material productive forces” come into existence and how and why they change. Marx’s doctrine is not a materialist but a technological interpretation of history. But, from a political point of view, Marx did well in calling his doctrine scientific and materialistic. These predicates lent it a reputation it would never have acquired without them.
Incidentally it must be noted that Marx and Engels made no effort to establish the validity of their technological interpretation of history. In the earlier days of their careers as authors they enunciated their dogmas in clear-cut, challenging formulations such as the above-quoted dictum about the hand mill and the steam mill.2 In later years they became more reserved and cautious; after the death of Marx, Engels occasionally even made remarkable concessions to the “bourgeois” and “idealistic” point of view. But never did Marx or Engels or any of their numerous followers try to give any specifications about the operation of a mechanism which would, out of a definite state of the material productive forces, bring forth a definite juridical, political, and spiritual superstructure. Their famous philosophy never grew beyond the abrupt enunciation of a piquant aperçu.
The eristic tricks of Marxism succeeded very well and enrolled hosts of pseudo intellectuals in the ranks of revolutionary socialism. But they did not discredit what economists had asserted about the disastrous consequences of a socialist mode of production. Marx had tabooed the analysis of the operation of a socialist system as utopian, that is, in his terminology, as unscientific, and he as well as his successors smeared all authors who defied this taboo. Yet these tactics did not alter the fact that all Marx contributed to the discussion on socialism was to disclose what an inner voice had told him, namely that the end and aim of mankind’s historical evolution is expropriation of the capitalists.
From the epistemological point of view it must be emphasized that Marxian materialism does not accomplish what a materialist philosophy claims to do. It does not explain how definite thoughts and judgments of value originate in the human mind.
The exposure of an untenable doctrine is not tantamount to confirmation of a doctrine conflicting with it. There is need to state this obvious fact because many people have forgotten it. The refutation of dialectical materialism implies, of course, invalidation of the Marxian vindication of socialism. But it does not demonstrate the truth of the assertions that socialism is unrealizable, that it would destroy civilization and result in misery for all, and that its coming is not inevitable. These propositions can be established only by economic analysis.
Marx and all those who sympathize with his doctrines have been aware that an economic analysis of socialism will show the fallacy of the prosocialist arguments. The Marxists cling to historical materialism and stubbornly refuse to listen to its critics because they want socialism for emotional reasons.
[1 ]See Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Weltgeschichte, ed. Lasson (Leipzig, 1917), pp. 31–4, 55.
[2 ]Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der klassischen deutschen Philosophie (5th ed. Stuttgart, 1910), pp. 36–9.
[3 ]Ibid., p. 38.
[4 ]Engels, Herrn Eugen Dührings Revolution in Science (Anti-Dühring), (London, Lawrence & Wishart Ltd., 1934). See Engels, September 23, 1885, preface, p. 15.
[5 ]Ibid., p. 152.
[6 ]E. Hammacher, Das philosophisch-ökonomische System des Marxismus (Leipzig, 1909), pp. 506–11.
[1 ]The term used by Marx, umwälzen, Umwälzung, is the German-language equivalent of “revolution.”
[2 ]The German term Kunst includes all branches of poetry, fiction, and playwriting.
[3 ]K. Marx, Zur Kritik der politischen Oekonomie, ed. Kautsky (Stuttgart, 1897), Preface, pp. x–xii.
[4 ]“Le moulin à bras vous donnera la société avec le souzerain; le moulin à vapeur, la société avec le capitaliste industriel.” Marx, La Misère de la philosophie (Paris and Brussels, 1847), p. 100.
[5 ]Marx and some of his followers at times also included natural resources in the notion of material productive forces. But these remarks were made only incidentally and were never elaborated, obviously because this would have led them into the doctrine that explains history as determined by the structure of the people’s geographical environment.
[6 ]Marx, La Misère de la philosophie (1847), English trans., The Poverty of Philosophy (New York, International Publishers, n.d.), p. 115.
[7 ]Ibid., pp. 112–13.
[1 ]Marx’s Communist Manifesto has been reprinted many times including in the Eastman anthology: Max Eastman, ed. Capital: The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings, pp. 314–55. “This organization of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves” (p. 331).
[2 ]Of course, Marx did not like the German term “das eherne Lohngesetz” [“the iron law of wages”] because it had been devised by his rival Ferdinand Lassalle.
[3 ]Marx, Das Kapital, 1, 728. [English trans. Capital, Charles H. Kerr, 1906. Modern Library, pp. 836–37.
[4 ]On the fallacy implied in this reasoning, see below pp. 116 ff.
[5 ]After the death of Mary, Engels took her sister Lizzy as mistress. He married her on her deathbed “in order to provide her a last pleasure.” Gustav Mayer, Frederick Engels (The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1934), 2, 329.
[6 ]Marx, Value, Price and Profit, ed. E. Marx Aveling (Chicago, Charles H. Kerr & Co. Cooperative), pp. 125–6. See below, p. 91.
[1 ]Mises, Human Action, 4th ed. 1996, pp. 72–91.
[2 ]Mill, Principles of Political Economy, Bk. III, ch. 1, § 1.
[3 ]Marx, Zur Kritik der politischen Oekonomie, p. xii (see above, pp. 72 f.).
[1 ]E.g., “bourgeois stupidity” (about Bentham, Das Kapital, 1, 574), “bourgeois cretinism” (about Destutt de Tracy, ibid., 2, 465), and so on. [See p. 54; quote re Bentham on p. 668, n. 2, bottom line; Eng. trans. re Bentham Mod. Lib. 1, 668, n. 2. Quote re Destutt de Tracy in Kapital, 2, 465.]
[1 ]Marx, Der Bürgerkrieg in Frankreich, ed. Pfemfert (Berlin, 1919), p. 7.
[2 ]Marx, Value, Price and Profit, pp. 126–7.
[1 ]Marx, Das Kapital, 1, 728. [Eng. trans. vol. I, p. 837 (See Socialism, p. 498 n.)].
[2 ]See above, pp. 71 and 85.
[3 ]Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Pt. IV, ch. 1 (Edinburgh, 1813), (Liberty Fund, 1982), pp. 184–5.
[1 ]Engels, Karl Marx, Rede an seinem Grab [“Remarks at His Gravesite”], many editions. Reprinted in Franz Mehring, Karl Marx (2d ed. Leipzig, 1919, Leipziger Buchdruckerei Aktiengesellschaft), p. 535.
[2 ]Freud, Neue Folge der Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse (Vienna, 1933), pp. 246–53.
[3 ]Of course, few theologians would be prepared to endorse the interpretation of an eminent Catholic historian of medicine, Professor Petro L. Entralgo, according to which Freud has “brought to full development some of the possibilities offered by Christianity.” P. L. Entralgo, Mind and Body, trans. by A. M. Espinosa, Jr. (New York, P. J. Kennedy and Sons, 1956), p. 131.
[4 ]Alexander Miller, The Christian Significance of Karl Marx (New York, Macmillan, 1947), pp. 80–1.
[1 ]See below, pp. 116 ff.
[2 ]See above, p. 73.