Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4.: Examination of the Materialist Conception of History - The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed
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4.: Examination of the Materialist Conception of History - H.B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed 
The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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Examination of the Materialist Conception of History
We have now described in outline the social reality with which Marxists compare the false views of society that they call ideologies. Our next step must be to consider the reasons they give for holding that the Materialist Conception of History is a true account of social reality. This is not easy, however, since Marxists tend to regard the theory as one that any candid person is bound to accept as soon as he understands it, or as one that the whole creation conspires to proclaim, or as one that immediately illumines the dark places of history. But there are one or two specific arguments that can be examined.
Stalin, following Lenin, argues (1), that if matter is primary and mind derivative, then “the material life of society, its being, is also primary, and its spiritual life secondary,” and (2), that if mind “reflects” an objectively existing material world, then “the spiritual life of society” reflects “the material life of society,” which is “an objective reality existing independently of the will of man.”45
Let us then consider (1). The contention is that from the materialist thesis that matter existed first and mind evolved from it; it follows that it is changes in “the material life of society,” that is, in the productive forces, that bring about the major changes in social life, and in art, religion, and philosophy. More briefly still, the contention is that philosophical materialism entails historical materialism. It is not difficult to see, however, that this is not so. The matter that is “primary” in the doctrine of philosophical materialism is such things as gases, seas, and rocks, but “the material life of society” consists of tools, inventions, and skills. The alleged social primacy of “the material life of society,” therefore, is quite a different thing from the alleged primacy of matter over mind, for the “material life of society” that determines the political and ideological forms itself contains mental components, whereas, on the Marxist view, it is from mindless matter that mind has sprung. From the premise that mind sprang from matter, nothing can be concluded about the causes of social development. The fact that Frankenstein had made his monster did not prevent the monster from destroying Frankenstein, and if the monster had made Frankenstein, Frankenstein might still have had the power to control it.
No one who is convinced by my argument against (1) will accept (2) either, for (2), like (1), rests upon an equivocation between “material” in the sense of “purely physical” and “material” in the sense of “technological.” “The material life of society” is, indeed, something that individual men are born into and have to accept much as they do the physical world itself, but it depends upon mankind as a whole in a way that physical nature does not. Once it is clear that “the material life of society” includes socially inherited skills and experience, then the difference between the Materialist Conception of History and theories such as Comte’s, according to which intellectual development is the cause of social progress, is very much diminished. The Marxist theory might, indeed, be reworded so as to state that social advance depends in the first instance upon the success with which men solve their technological problems. But among the factors involved in the solution of such problems are the intelligence and persistence of the human beings concerned. Intelligence and persistence are, in a broad sense, moral as well as physical or physiological qualities. Another way, therefore, of putting the Marxist view would be to say that the application of a given amount of intelligence and energy to technological problems has an enormously greater influence on social development in general than the application of that same quantity would have if it were directed to political, moral, and other ideological problems. I do not know whether this is true, but its truth or falsity cannot be decided by reference to the view that mind came from matter or that individual men have to submit themselves to already existing ways of life.
The above arguments show that Lenin and Stalin thought that the Materialist Conception of History was seen to be obviously true once philosophical materialism was accepted. Both Marx and Engels thought that there is something obvious about the theory. In the Communist Manifesto Marx wrote: “Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man’s ideas, views, and conceptions, in one word, man’s consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of material existence, in his social relations and in his social life?” And in his speech at the graveside of Marx, Engels said that Marx “discovered the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat and drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, religion, art, etc.” Marx’s view thus is that it does not require “deep intuition” to see that the Materialist Conception of History is true, and Engels refers to it as “a simple fact.” What is this “simple fact”? The simple fact seems to be that in order to pursue politics, religion, and art men must keep alive, and that in order to keep alive they must eat and drink. This, surely, has never been denied, unless by someone who argues that angelic politicians, priests, and artists operate beyond the grave. And no one, surely, would deny that people’s ideas change as the things and situations change about which the ideas are ideas. Such truisms hardly seem to establish the Materialist Conception of History. They are held to be relevant, I suppose, to an evolutionary theory of the origins of human society, according to which the first men are supposed to have been a sort of animal that could keep themselves alive but were ignorant of politics, science, and religion. There was a time, it is supposed, when these creatures were only just able to keep themselves alive, and during this time influencing one another, thinking, and praying were activities that they could not afford. First there had to be the activities that kept them alive, and only then could they start on these less vital ones. Now let us leave aside the question of prayer, and consider only the activities of influencing one another—or any other political activity—and thinking. Are we to suppose that these do not play a part in keeping men alive? Do men think only after they have found food and shelter? Do they quarrel with one another and maneuver with friends and enemies only when the day’s work is done? On analysis, I suggest, this sort of argument can do no more than say that early men must have found it very hard to keep alive and succeeded in doing so only in so far as they found food, drink, and shelter. To say that success in these directions must have preceded politics, science, and religion is like saying that eggs must have preceded hens, or that hens must have preceded eggs.
In the Communist Manifesto, however, Marx puts forward what looks like another argument in favor of the Materialist Conception of History when he writes: “What else does the history of ideas prove than that intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material production is changed?” Here he seems to be supporting his case by reference to history. But to say that the Materialist Conception of History is a historical theory is not to say anything very precise, for there are different sorts of historical enquiry agreeing in little except the claim to report or explain the human past. Now when Marx supports the Materialist Conception of History by historical considerations one of the things he does, I think, is to construct what Dugald Stewart, writing early in the nineteenth century, had called “Theoretical or Conjectural History,” and what French writers of the eighteenth century had called Histoire Raisonnée. Dugald Stewart, in explaining what “Theoretical or Conjectural History” consists of, wrote: “In examining the history of mankind, as well as in examining the phenomena of the natural world, when we cannot trace the process by which an event has been produced, it is often of importance to show how it may have been produced by natural causes.”46 Now Marx, it seems to me, arrives at the Materialist Conception of History in this way, except that he seems to claim to know how the events must have been produced. This may be seen from Capital, volume 1, chapter 5, § 1, which is entitled “The Labour Process.” Here Marx endeavors to explain what human labor is. Men are parts of nature who act on the rest of nature with their bodily organs so as to make it supply their wants. They thus change the rest of nature, and in doing so they develop their own potentialities. (I imagine that an example of this would be the development of human skill through agriculture so as to produce new tastes and such works as Virgil’s Georgics.) Bees just build cells, but men transfer to nature cells that previously had existed in their heads—their works are realizations of themselves. Unlike other animals, men use tools to transform nature into something that they have previously conceived. As they use tools to do this, and as the use of tools is a specific characteristic of men, Franklin was right to call man “a tool-making animal.” It therefore follows that the various sorts of tool that men have made and used in the past enable us to distinguish one human epoch from another, as with the stone, bronze, and iron ages. Just as we can from an examination of fossil bones discover what sorts of animal once inhabited the earth, so, from an examination of tools left behind by them, we can reconstruct the nature of men and societies that are now extinct. The types of tool enable us to discern “the social relations amid which labour was performed.”47
It will be noticed that this argument has two strands. In the first place it is argued that tool making and tool using (technology) are the specific human characteristic. In the second place, variations in the use of tools are regarded as evidence for fundamental variations in the societies and men that use them. As to the first strand in the argument, it is as if Marx had agreed with Aristotle that man has an essence but had disagreed with him about what that essence is. Whereas Aristotle had said that man is a rational animal, Marx said he was a tool-making and tool-using animal. Thus the argument fundamentally is that since men are essentially tool makers and tool users, their society is the necessary outcome of their tool-making and tool-using activities. It is also worth noticing that the proposition that men, in transforming nature, develop their own potentialities, is obviously suggested by the thesis of Hegel’s Phenomenology that men, in changing the natural world by their labor, gain a fuller consciousness of their own nature. Indeed, Hegel’s metaphysical observations on human labor are transformed by Marx into a theory of society and of human progress according to which men discover and unfold their powers in the process of controlling nature.
Let us start our examination of this view by seeing how it is linked with the Aristotelian theory of essences. Very briefly, an essence is that without which something could not be what it is, that which makes the thing the sort of thing it is. To take an example, the essence of a knife is to cut by means of a blade fixed into a handle. Something without a blade or handle would not be a knife, for knives cut, and cannot do so without these parts. On the other hand, however, knives may have handles of different colors and blades of different shapes without ceasing to be knives. These features that knives may cease to have without ceasing to be knives are called their accidental features in distinction from the essential features they must have if they are to be knives. Now there are different sorts of knife, such as paper-knives and carving knives. These, too, have their essential and their accidental features. It is essential to the paper-knife to cut paper, and to the carving knife to cut meat, and as these are very different operations, different sorts of blade and handle will be needed if they are to be these sorts of knife. Paper-knives, for example, will have to be smaller than carving knives, carving knives broader-bladed than paper-knives. Again, it does not matter what color their handles are. Now Marx’s view, so far as it is that tool making and tool using are the essence of man, is that, just as all knives must cut by means of a blade fixed into a handle, so all men must be tool makers and tool users; that just as there are paper-knives and carving knives, so there are men who make and use stone tools, and men who make and use metal tools; and that just as cutting paper requires one sort of blade and cutting meat requires another, so making and using stone tools requires one sort of politics, law, and ideology, and making and using metal tools requires another. On the basis of the theory of essences, therefore, the analogy between man and a knife is as follows. Technology is an essential feature of man, as cutting by means of a blade fixed in a handle is essential to a knife. Having a stone age technology or a bronze age technology corresponds to being a paper-knife or a carving knife. Stone age politics, law, and ideology correspond to the blade and handle essential to a paper-knife, and bronze age politics, law, and technology correspond to the blade and handle essential to a carving knife. But when we draw out the analogy in this way we see that it cannot be fully maintained from the Marxist point of view. For it is a well-known Marxist contention that politics, law, and ideology belong only to class societies, and will not exist in the future communist society after the withering away of the state and the rise of social self-awareness. But, if we follow our analogy, this would be as though there could be a specific sort of knife that had no specific sort of blade and handle. But there could not be any such thing. Hence, the Marxist view that technology is of the essence of man and determines the different sorts of society and ideology is not consistent with the other Marxist view that there will be no politics and no ideology in the communist society of the future.
In noting this, we discover, I suggest, a most serious flaw in the Marxist view of history. If man is to have an essence in anything like the way in which knives have essences—and this is what is implied by the view that he is a “tool-making animal”—then this essence sets a limit to the possibilities open to him, so that he cannot evade or transcend anything that the essence necessitates. But if the various types of technology involve various types of politics, law, and ideology, by what right can we say that one particular type of technology gets rid of all politics, law, and ideology? There can be little doubt, I think, that Marx felt this difficulty and endeavored to meet it by the theory that men develop their own powers as they work on the natural world. This last view may be interpreted as a theory of progress rather than as a theory of essences. Knives must always be knives, and we know pretty much what sort of thing they are. There is nothing about knives, as knives, that can ever cause more than a slight or momentary astonishment. They go on cutting, perhaps better and better, but it is still cutting that they do, and we know just what that is. Progress in knives is progress in the same rather simple thing. It is approaching nearer and nearer to an already clearly conceived end, the perfect cut. But human progress is not like this. It does not consist in getting closer and closer to some foreseeable perfect consummation, but rather in developing new possibilities that can only occur to men in the course of their attempts to develop those already known to them. This is so even if we admit that technology is the essence of man, for the purposes and types of machines can only be foreseen a stage or two ahead, and the technology of even the fairly near future is quite unpredictable by us.48 To say that man has an essence is to suggest that he is a fairly simple and predictable sort of thing like a knife, or even an oak tree. To say that his essence is tool making and tool using is to modify this suggestion somewhat, but still to restrict the sphere of his development to one only of his activities. If someone is bent on talking of the human essence, then I think that rationality is more suitable than technology, since it is more fundamental and manifests itself more widely. However that may be, it was by committing himself to the view that technology is the essence of man that Marx convinced himself and others that the Materialist Conception of History is obviously true.
In the passage I am discussing, Marx gives what appear to be archaeological reasons for holding that technology is of the essence of man. From its fossilized remains, he argues, the structure and mode of life of a prehistoric animal can be reconstructed. Similarly, he goes on, from the tools of a vanished people the organization of its society can be inferred. But we cannot infer from the fact that certain parts of its body have survived that these were its fundamental or essential parts when the animal was alive, and so too, I should have thought, we cannot conclude that the tools that survived from an extinct culture were more essential to it than other things that have completely disappeared. The archaeological argument only has force if we already believe that technology is the determining feature in human life. From the fact that something survives of an extinct animal or culture it does not follow that it must have been the essential feature of that animal or society. The Stone Age is so called because the men of that time were unable to work metals and so left only stone implements behind them, not because everything else in their lives was determined by or depended on the stone that they worked. The Stone Age was not stone in the way in which Old Red Sandstone is red.
We have now considered the principle behind the conjectural history involved in the Materialist Conception of History. We have seen that Marx’s account of it is based upon his view that the essence of man is his technology. We have argued that man is not the sort of being that has an essence, since, unlike such things as knives, whose structure is determined by a single end, such as that of cutting, men are complex beings who constantly discover new aims as they achieve or fail to achieve their old ones. We have argued, furthermore, that Marx’s appeal to archaeology does not show that technology is the fundamental determining force in history but only presupposes that technology is the essence of man. We have also argued that Marx, in saying that man has an essence, was implying that human progress is a much more simple and limited thing than in fact it is, and that in saying that man changes himself in changing the world he is in effect denying that man has an essence at all. Our next step must be to consider the claim that the Materialist Conception of History is not conjectural history at all, but a comprehensive view based on the facts of history. For when, in the Communist Manifesto, Marx said that his view was supported by “the history of ideas” he may well have meant something of this sort. The Materialist Conception of History, that is, would be an account of social development supported by the facts of history, much as the geological theory of the formation of the earth’s surface is supported by the nature and position of rocks and fossils. That Marx held such a view may be seen from his constant references, in The German Ideology, to the empirical nature of his view of history, as well as from his general criticism of Hegel’s speculative philosophy of history.
The Materialist Conception of History has undoubtedly had a great influence on historical study in the twentieth century. Many non-Marxists are prepared to admit that it suggests a fruitful method for historical investigation, and it has been held to be of value as “a sort of recipe for producing empirical hypotheses.”49 It would, indeed, be foolish to deny that since the theory was first formulated there has been, at least in part under its influence, a good deal of interesting research into the technology and economic life of past societies. It should not be forgotten, however, that Marx had been preceded in this by Adam Smith and others. The growth of economic science, quite apart from Marx, naturally led historians to look with new eyes at the commerce and industry of past ages, while the growth of inventions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries aroused interest in the technologies of the past. But all this relates primarily to historical description, i.e., to discovering and recording economic and technological facts in addition to the political and religious and literary ones that had interested previous historians. The Materialist Conception of History, however, is a theory of historical explanation. It is one thing to admit that historians have done well to consider the commerce, industry, class structure, competing interests, and changing outlooks of past societies, but quite another to say that the technological factors determine all the rest. If this last is a coherent hypothesis, then it should be possible to test it, to see whether those things are which would have to be if it were true. If, on the other hand, it is not a coherent hypothesis, then we do not know how to test it, and any good that comes from considering it will be accidental. It is my view that it is not a coherent hypothesis, and that therefore historical research cannot confirm it, but on the contrary is likely to be led by it into confusions. This is not to say that it may not also help in the advancement of historical knowledge; incoherent hypotheses, such as Kepler’s astrological ones, have often led to important discoveries, though they get rubbed away and lost when their work is done. Marxists, however, do not regard the Materialist Conception of History as an expendable hypothesis but rather as a truth which reveals why history happened as it did and what is next to come of it. It would be impertinent for a philosopher to criticize the coherence of a hypothesis that was being used in a provisional way in the course of some particular investigation. The examination of eternal truths and established dogmas, however, is his proper business.
In the Materialist Conception of History three main sorts of notion appear. There are, in the first place, those such as “matter,” “contradiction,” “dialectics,” “nodal lines,” which I have called metaphysical and which Marxists themselves would prefer to call philosophical or fundamental. In the second place, there are those that relate primarily to the Marxist analysis of society, such as “productive forces,” “productive relationships,” “division of labor,” “classes,” “revolution.” And thirdly, there are the various historical epochs recognized by Marxists, such as “primitive communism,” “feudalism,” “capitalism.” The first two sets of notions are used to explain how the epochs distinguished in the third set have emerged and developed, and to predict the coming epoch. In brief, the Marxists claim to have established the outlines of a science of history which, in its general structure, is not unlike the science of geology. Just as the geologist, by interpreting his observations in the light of physics, chemistry, and biology, is enabled to establish a sequence of geological epochs, so the Marxist claims to utilize his analysis of society in terms of division of labor, classes, productive forces, etc., in order to plot the series of past social epochs and to predict the coming of the next.
In what follows I shall say something about the principal notions in each of these three main classes.
In the first class I select for discussion (a) the notion of “contradiction” and (b) the notion of “nodal lines.”
(a) When I discussed the notion of “contradiction” as applied by Marxists to the material world, I suggested that it is primarily a logical notion and agreed with those critics of Marxism who have said that physical events or things cannot contradict one another. But I also pointed out that a man who asserts what another man denies is contradicting that other man, that in contradicting him he is, in a sense, opposing him, and that it is only a short step from opposition to struggle. To say that physical events contradict or oppose one another is to speak anthropomorphically. That being so, we cannot say out of hand that “contradiction” is not a suitable notion for applying to human societies. The contradictions that hold between propositions or statements are involved in the assertions and denials that form part of the social interplay of human beings. Now the social contradiction most frequently cited by Marxists is probably that which they say holds between “social production” and “capitalist appropriation.” This is explained by Engels as follows. Before the advent of the capitalist system, the workman, owning his own tools and raw materials, produced commodities that were his property until he sold them. He was the owner, that is, of the products of his own individual labor. Under capitalism, however, the workman is a member of an elaborately organized group; his labor is no longer individual but social. The plant and tools he works with and the raw material he works on belong to the capitalist, and the commodities so produced belong to the capitalist also. The capitalist, that is, becomes the owner of the products of other people’s labor. But, Engels argues, individual ownership of a commodity presupposes that the commodity has been individually produced, so that to have individual ownership of a socially produced commodity is to treat what is socially produced as if it were individually produced. This, according to Engels, is a contradiction.50 There are many points at which this argument might be criticized, but what I am concerned with is the notion of contradiction involved in it. Engels believes, I suggest, that the social production of commodities cannot go on indefinitely in association with the individual ownership of the commodities so produced. He seems to be arguing that the organization of production under capitalism is so very different from the organization of production under the system that preceded capitalism that capitalism cannot for long retain the pre-capitalist system of ownership of the commodities produced. This must be because there is something about the capitalist, social, method of production that will ultimately make private ownership of the commodity unlikely or impossible. A simple example of a social change which makes the retention of an old social arrangement unlikely is that of the adoption of printing. Once books came to be printed, it was unlikely, though not impossible, that books would continue to be copied and illustrated by hand. It was unlikely, because printing is so much cheaper than hand copying; it was not impossible, because the copyists might have had sufficient social or political influence to induce the community to continue paying a higher price for a proportion of its books. It might be quite naturally said, therefore, that there was a contradiction involved in wishing to have both cheap printed books and hand-produced books, though it might be better to say that these two things were incompatible with one another. A simple (and simplified) example of a social change that makes the retention of an existing state of affairs impossible is the following. In a community where the level of production is not rising and cannot rise it is decided that there shall be an increase of investment abroad without affecting the level of consumption or of investment at home. But it is impossible that this should take place, for it is impossible that something should be taken from a finite quantity and for that quantity to remain the same. Yet it might well happen that people should unthinkingly try to do both these things, or to do other things that were really logically impossible. Perhaps Engels’ use of the word “contradiction” means that he thought that “capitalist appropriation” and “social production” are contradictory in this last, most stringent, sense, though his use, in the same discussion of the word “incompatibility” (p. 298) and, in an analogous discussion, of the word “antithesis,” may suggest the first sense. However that may be, it cannot be justly argued that the Marxist use of the term “contradiction” in social contexts is open to the objections that are rightly made to its use as descriptive of physical events.
There is a good deal that might be enquired into about contradictions in human affairs. For example, when A seeks to be superior to B, and B to be superior to A, they cannot both be superior to the other in the same respect, though each may succeed in achieving equality with the other. The relationship between A and B has then some analogy with that between contradictory and contrary propositions in the Aristotelian logic, where, of contradictories one must be true, and of contraries both can be false. Only one man can win, but both may fail to win. Again, the man who makes contradictory statements succeeds in saying nothing, but the man who unwittingly pursues a policy and the negation of that policy may undo each of the things he sets out to do, but he cannot be said to do nothing as the man who contradicts himself says nothing. Some philosophers, furthermore, have argued that just as there is a logic of propositions, so there is a logic of imperatives. Of these, some have argued that the logic of imperatives is similar to the logic of propositions, while others have said that there must be great differences between them—that, for example, while from the conjunctive proposition “He put on a lifebelt and jumped into the water” we may validly infer either of the conjuncts, e.g., “He jumped into the water,” we cannot, from the imperative “Put on a lifebelt and jump into the water,” infer the single command “Jump into the water.” These considerations show that there are some interesting problems to be investigated here, and it is to be regretted that Marxists, whose theory of social contradictions raises some of them, have, as far as I am aware, left them unexplored.
(b) There is, then, some merit, or at least some philosophical suggestiveness, in the notion of contradictions in society, but I am afraid that the theory of qualitative leaps across nodal lines, when applied to social affairs, can bring little but confusion. Now we saw in Chapter II that Hegel and, following him, Marx and Engels, lumped together a number of different things under this heading. One of these was the sort of change that occurs when substances form a new substance by chemical combination as distinct from mere mechanical mixture. Most people have seen that sort of change take place in a test tube. When the chemicals are mixed there is a striking change of color or condition. I do not imagine that we need spend long in disposing of the suggestion that social changes are at all like this. For the individuals who make up society do not get fused or transmuted, as in chemical combination, but remain, changed perhaps, but still recognizable, as in mechanical mixtures. And if it be argued that it is organizations, or institutions, that coalesce in this way, then it is clear that they are being metaphorically regarded as substances like sulphuric acid or sodium chloride. The important conception, for our present discussion, is clearly that of a series of gradual quantitative changes terminated by a sudden qualitative leap, as in the cooling of water and its transformation into ice. We have to consider whether there is anything to be gained by applying this notion to the changes that take place in human societies. And it is not without interest that Hegel seems first to have thought of this in connection with human affairs and only later applied it in his reflections about nature. In the Marxist theory, the most important nodal lines are, of course, those that run between one historical epoch and another. If we take technology as basic, we must suppose that a form of technology that is the foundation of a certain social system for a time develops in ways that contain nothing new but are merely variations on a single technological theme; then the economic, political, religious, and other ideological changes that result from this will be of the same gradual, unoriginal sort; next, there is a technological revolution, and instead of another variation there is an absolutely new theme—there is now a new technology imbedded in the old society; new ideologies and a new social system will ultimately follow. What we have to consider is, first, the nature of this technological leap, and secondly, the nature of the social changes that result from it.
That there is a difference between gradual technical improvements and new inventions I am fully persuaded. Once the working of iron, for example, has been introduced, it is natural and not very difficult to foresee the working of other metals. The thing that was not natural, and could not have been foreseen, just was the working of metals. We must distinguish, that is, between routine inventions and creative inventions. The latter are unpredictable though their routine development can be foreseen. No particular invention can be predicted, for to predict it in detail would be to make the invention. But it is often easy to see, in a general way, the directions in which a new invention may be developed. If what is the other side of a nodal line is an unpredictable novelty, then creative inventions are the other side of nodal lines. But not every creative invention starts a new social system. The invention of the wheel seems not to have had this effect, yet it is surely as much of a technological leap as the invention of metal-working. Furthermore, while the invention itself may be described as a leap, its acceptance may well be so gradual as to be describable as a crawl. As the new technology comes to be adopted, the society which adopts it is gradually changed. What is sudden or abrupt, I suggest, is the noticing rather than what is noticed—the new order surprises people because their main concern was with the old things that they were used to rather than with the new thing that was creeping up behind them. If we turn our attention again to the invention itself we may ask whether it is preceded by a series of gradual changes that correspond to the gradual lowering of temperature that precedes the freezing of the water. There does not seem to be any such thing, for the gradual changes are seen in the development of an invention rather than in the preparation for it. It may sometimes happen that a new idea was, as we say, “in the air” for a time before it took definite form, but the analogy between this and the dropping of temperature over continuous degrees is obviously very slight. There is an analogy, however, between this and the gradual increase in size of the workshops in which workmen were employed for wages—the growth of what Stalin calls “large manufactories.” Fairly large factories, it is argued, existed in the pre-capitalist era, but when many of them got beyond a certain size the change of scale was at the same time a change in the nature of the system, and hence quantity has become transformed into quality. But on the face of it this is an example, not of the water-ice transformation, but of the grains-heap or not-bald-bald transformation, which, as I pointed out in Chapter II, involves a decision on our part about how many grains we are going to call a heap, or about how great a lack of hair we are going to call baldness. This does not mean that between not-heap and heap, or between not-bald and bald, there had been a tremendous jump, but only that different words are going to be used for the different sides of an almost invisible division. We are going to call it capitalism when there are a lot of very large workshops—a verbal leap does duty for a factual crawl, and justifiably so because the opposite ends of the crawl are so very different from one another. We can now see one of the reasons for the obscurities in the technological aspects of the Materialist Conception of History. The transition from primitive communism to slave society, and from the earlier phase of capitalism to industrial capitalism, was by means of sudden, unforeseeable inventions, the use of iron and the use of power-driven machinery respectively. The transition from the slave society to feudalism, and from feudalism to the first phase of capitalism, however, was by means of cumulative improvements that at a certain stage suggest a change of name. The expression “transformation of quantity into quality” is used to cover both, and hence is here a source of confusion.
It would be most misleading, of course, to suggest that Marx’s own account of the coming of capitalism is vitiated by this confusion between a qualitative change in the things described and a decision to draw a line between the application of the words “feudalism” and “capitalism.” When we consider his description of how “co-operation,” the first phase of capitalism, came about, we find him saying such things as that the employer of a large number of workmen has more assurance of getting an average performance from them than the employer of only a few, since these few may happen to be unusually stupid or unskillful. Again, he points out that it is likely to be cheaper to provide a single building for a large number of workmen than to provide several separate buildings for small groups of them. He says, furthermore, that when a considerable number of men work together under the same roof, their output may increase because of “emulation” and “a certain stimulation of the animal spirits.”51 Now here are three different reasons for the spread of larger workshops than had hitherto been favored, viz., that the employer of a considerable number of workmen is less dependent on the abilities of any one of them than a small employer is; that it is less costly to construct a large factory for, say, one hundred men, than to construct ten factories each housing ten men; that men working together in large groups feel the urge to work harder than they would work if they were alone or in small groups. How miserably inadequate to this sort of discussion is the “quantity-quality” formula. Here are three different reasons that lead in one direction. The first reason concerns the number of men, regardless of whether they work in a factory or not. The second concerns the costs of building and their effects on the price of what is produced in them. The third concerns an alleged principle of group psychology applied to men who have not yet formed trade unions. There is no single category here, such as temperature, that permits of measurable degrees of increase or decrease, nor is there a single quantity that all three factors move toward—for there is no reason to suppose that the number of men required to avoid having too many useless workmen is anything like the number required to get the most economical building or to stimulate the “animal spirits.” The “quantity-quality” formula gives rise to the misleading picture of feudalism being lowered in degree, unit by unit, until it is replaced by the first unit of capitalism, icy but exhilarating. But the difference between feudalism and capitalism is most dissimilar from the difference between a liquid and a solid, and not very like the difference between the “look” or “form quality” of a number of grains and a heap of grains. It may at first sight appear, to take Hegel’s example, that there is some analogy with the case of the constitution that works well for a small state and then breaks down when the state grows beyond a certain size. But when we look into the matter, we find that the constitution broke down because there was too much work for the officials, or because they failed to adapt themselves to the new jobs they were called upon to do, or because the population lost interest, or for a combination of these and other reasons, just as there were a number of very different reasons, according to Marx, for the development of feudal workshops into capitalist factories. When Hegel put forward this view of a right proportion between population and constitution he was not only influenced by Montesquieu’s explanation of the decline of Rome, but was concerned to show that there was a degree of truth in Pythagoras’s theory that “things are numbers.” The social theorist is not bound to accept such speculations.
So much, then, for the main metaphysical notions involved in the Materialist Conception of History. We must now turn to the most important part of the theory, the part that comprises the Marxist analysis of society. Certain of the conceptions used by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin are common to Marxism and to non-Marxist social theory, and I need not, therefore, discuss them here. But basic and essential in the Marxist analysis are the notions of “productive forces,” and “productive relationships,” which together constitute “the material conditions of life.” If these are coherent conceptions, then the theory may still be coherent in its main outlines, but if they are not, then the Materialist Conception of History cannot be coherent. Now I have already shown very briefly what is meant by these terms, basing my interpretation on the Preface to the Critique of Political Economy (the most frequently quoted text) and on Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism. The distinction between the “productive forces” and “productive relationships” is also drawn, though not always in the same words, in the early pages of The German Ideology, and the following passages from the Communist Manifesto are of importance: “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and with them the whole relations of society.” The bourgeois productive forces are listed as “. . . subjection of nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground.” Unfortunately, in no passage known to me is the distinction between productive forces and productive relationships illustrated by detailed examples, and I must therefore make my own attempt to repair this omission, and develop my criticisms in doing so.
Now a relationship between a number of different men is involved in the use of most large tools and machines. A fishing vessel, for example, needs several men to operate it, and we should therefore be prepared to say that the vessel itself is a productive force, and that the relations of its crew to one another as helmsman, cabin boy, crew, and captain, are productive relationships. It might be said that this does not hold for small tools, since, for example, an individual can make and use a spade all on his own. This objection, however, is what Marx called a “Robinsonade.” Just as, on his view, there are no isolated hunters or fishers, so there are no isolated agriculturalists. Unless the man with the spade could expect that the land he was digging would be left alone for the crops to grow, there would be no point in his digging. Although his fellow men may not be physically present when he digs, his behavior is part of a system of social relationships in which he, as an individual, is playing a recognized part. He and the people who do not trample down his crops are co-operating, though not so obviously, just as the cabin boy and helmsman are.
The examples of the fishing vessel and the spade may be used to call attention to yet a further element in the notion of productive relationships. If we suppose that the fish and the agricultural produce in question are not merely consumed by the families of the actual producers but are exchanged or sold, then the men who fish and the men who dig are in fact involved in still wider relationships. For their work is done largely with a view to supplying other people with what they want, and getting from these other people things other than fish and farm produce. We see, therefore, that there are three main types of productive relationships: (a) those involved in the very operation of the instruments of production (e.g., steering a ship while someone else looks after the sails); (b) those wider relationships that grow up in order to allow production to go on without interruption (e.g., the explicit or tacit agreement that land that has been dug shall not be trampled); (c) the economic relationships that exist when the objects produced are commodities for exchange (e.g., the fisherman throws away, or consumes himself, some sorts of fish he knows he will not be able to sell). If only (a) were in view, the theory could hardly be called anything but the Technological Theory of History, but with (c) in mind it is natural to think of it as an economic theory of history. A mingling of all three may be seen in the following passage from the Preface to the Critique of Political Economy: “The aggregate of these productive relationships constitutes the economic structure of society, the real basis on which a juridical and political superstructure arises, and to which definite forms of social consciousness correspond. The mode of production of the material means of existence conditions the whole process of social, political, and intellectual life.”
The passage quoted above from the Communist Manifesto appears to stress the technological element of the theory, for the bourgeoisie are represented as “revolutionizing” the relations of production as a result of “revolutionizing” the instruments of production. What does such a view amount to? We can best decide, I suggest, if we consider in turn what connections there are between changes in the instruments of production on the one hand, and those sorts of productive relationship that we have labeled (a), (b), and (c).
It seems to me that to say that changes in productive forces bring about changes in productive relationships in sense (a) is to utter a sort of tautology. Let us imagine a society of fishermen who fish from small canoes each of which is paddled by one man. The productive forces are the men paddling their individual canoes, and individually fishing from them. The productive relationships are their putting to sea individually and working as independent individuals. Now let us suppose that someone invents and constructs a large sailing vessel. This will be a new sort of productive force. But it will bring with it a change in the productive relationships, for the new craft will require someone to man the sails, someone to steer, and perhaps several men to cast large nets. Now in what way does the new invention bring with it new productive relationships in sense (a)? It seems to me that in talking of the new invention we are talking of new job-relationships. In designing the large sailing vessel, the inventor was also arranging for new functions to be performed. What he invents is not only a new physical structure, but also the system of working it. Vessel and crew, contrivance and workmen, are elements in a single design. In designing the fabric the inventor has also designed the working functions. His invention is a new division of labor. When, therefore, it is said that any considerable changes in productive forces must bring about changes in productive relationships, and when “productive relationships” is understood in sense (a), the “must” indicates a tautology, for new machines are not merely differently constructed machines but machines that have to be worked in new ways. I do not call this proposition a tautology in order to disparage it, for it is often a most important thing to bring tautologies to light, and I think that the present one is by no means unilluminating. What we have to beware about with tautologies, however, is the tendency to transfer the certainty that they possess to other propositions that are not tautologies at all. That this has happened in the Materialist Conception of History I hope to show in a moment. First, however, let us give the name “technological relationships” to productive relationships in sense (a).52
Suppose, then, we understand “productive relationships” in sense (b), in the sense of wider relationships than those involved in actually operating the tools or machines but necessary if they are to be worked at all. Let us call such relationships “para-technological relationships.” It is easy to see in general what these are. No one would dig if the crops were constantly trampled down; no one would take a trawler to sea if it were liable to be taken from him. If the instruments of production are to be operated at all, there must be rules about who operates them and what happens to them when they are not being operated. There must be some law or custom of property. One way of settling these matters would be to have private property in land and trawlers, and this, according to Marxists, involves a division into classes, classes, according to Lenin being divisions among men arising from their different relations to the instruments of production. On this interpretation, then, the Materialist Conception of History is the theory that corresponding to each main type of productive forces there is a set of property relations and class divisions, and that important changes in the former are necessarily followed, sooner or later, by important changes in the latter. (We must emphasize “sooner or later,” for it is an important part of the theory that for a time the old productive relationships can linger on, hampering the new methods of production.) What sort of connection is this, between the productive forces and the para-technological relationships? Not the same sort of connection as that between the productive forces and the technological relationships. That sort of connection, it will be remembered, was simply that a change in the form of a tool or machine is at the same time a change in the form of the jobs performed by the men who use it. Hence it could not possibly be the case that the new type of machine was being used and the old type of productive relationships survived. But when “productive relationships” is understood in the sense of para-technological relationships, it is expressly maintained that old para-technological relationships can, for a time, exist alongside the new productive forces. On the face of it, therefore, the connection between productive forces and para-technological relationships is a fairly loose one. There are many conceivable ways, for example, in which the newly invented vessel might be guarded between voyages or controlled in the course of them, but on the Marxist view, although there are many logical possibilities, only one of them is in fact possible at any given time. If a sufficiently important change is made in the forces of production, there is only one way of dealing with the resultant indirect problems of social organization that could in fact be adopted in the long run—once the new productive forces have been set in motion, there is only one possible way open for dealing with their indirect effects.
I have not been able to find in the writings of leading Marxists any reason for this social fatalism, but from what has already been said, it is easy to see how they came to adopt it. For it is easy to see how the constraining necessity that holds between productive forces and technological relationships should be transferred in thought to para-technological relationships also. The notion of “productive relationships” is left vague, and the devil of confusion enters in and confounds two different forms of it. And a further confusion arises as follows. When agriculture was first introduced, the hunting or pastoral people who had discovered it must have had to devise some land regulations that would enable cultivation to go on unhindered. A modern example is the need for new sorts of international treaty when aircraft comes to be widely used. Nomads need no land law, and earth-bound people need no air law. Failure to develop a land law or air law would have prevented the development of agriculture or air travel. In the absence of suitable para-technological arrangements, the technological innovations would have been nothing but ingenious dreams. Luck might have preserved a season’s crops or enabled the aircraft to make some flights, but as agriculture or aviation were pursued more persistently, either chaos would have ensued or else some para-technological rules would have had to be accepted. These rules, of course, need not have been promulgated by anyone, but may just have “grown” in the course of action. To say, therefore, that agriculture and aviation flourish is to imply that suitable para-technological rules have been adopted. Looking at the matter retrospectively we see that the para-technological relationships “had to be,” since those things exist that could not have existed without them. But before they were adopted it was by no means certain that they would be. Furthermore, all sorts of possible para-technological relationships are consistent with any given type of productive force—all sorts of systems of land-tenure, for example, with the early techniques of agriculture—so that there is no justification for supposing that those actually adopted were necessarily adopted.
Before we consider productive relationships of type (c), there is an important point to notice that arises from what we have just said. For it has now become apparent that para-technological relationships comprise moral, customary, and legal ones, and that therefore law and morals cannot properly be regarded as superstructures. Our previous examples serve to illustrate this. If a hunting people become agriculturalists, the land and its preservation, ipso facto, acquire a new importance. Rules for allowing or preventing access to the land are necessary. Conduct that had previously been permissible is now frowned on or prohibited. Trespassing is a new crime, respecting one’s neighbor’s landmark a new virtue. New sorts of disputes arise between agriculturalists and hunters—there are still farmers who resent the hunting pack—and between agriculturalists themselves. These new types of dispute will require new types of judgment, and these will have to be enforced. Hence, productive relationships, in the sense of para-technological relationships, are moral, legal, and political. The Marxist scheme is of a material basis comprising productive forces and productive relationships, of a legal and political superstructure forming the next layer, and of an ideological superstructure, comprising morals, as well as religion, art, and philosophy, at the very top. We now see, however, that an analysis of the Marxist distinctions uncovers moral and legal and political relationships as aspects of the productive relationships themselves, and hence as aspects of the material basis of society. Since the theory itself is thus confused, attempts to verify it are like trying to carry water in a sieve.
We now come to the third type of productive relationship, the type involved when what is produced is produced for barter or sale. As I mentioned earlier, it is this type that sometimes secures for the whole Marxist complex of “material conditions of life” the epithet “economic.” Let us call such relationships “market relationships.” Then according to the Materialist Conception of History important technological changes bring with them important changes in market relationships. This view is obviously correct. When goods are exchanged, improved means of producing them may lead to their becoming cheaper, to their producers making a higher profit, or to both. In terms of people this means that more people enjoy more of the goods in question, that some producers are able to enjoy more other things than they could before, or both. The technological changes have changed people’s lives. The extent of such changes becomes even more apparent if the technological innovation is a means for producing a type of commodity, such as a television set, that had not existed before. A new activity of living has then been introduced. But it is equally obvious that market considerations influence the course of technological change. In a society where money is used, the producers aim at producing more or different goods partly because they think that the goods would be bought if produced. This, surely, is an influence of market relationships, via men’s conception of them, on the productive forces. Once there is production for sale, then the producers’ estimates of what the buyers want will influence the producers’ thought about their tools and machines. Productive forces on the one hand, therefore, and productive relationships of type (c) on the other hand, are distinguishable in thought, but are not so distinguished from one another in fact as to permit observations to be made, in societies where money is used, of productive forces that are not also elements in productive (i.e., market) relationships.
This brings us to a further fatal weakness of the Materialist Conception of History as a theory for which the support of factual evidence is claimed. The theory concerns the relationship of various social elements to one another. These elements are: productive forces, productive relationships, a political and legal superstructure,53 and an ideological superstructure. The theory is that the productive forces are the prime causal agency. If there is to be evidence for such a theory, the elements must not only be distinguishable in thought, but must be met with apart from one another. Or alternatively, if they cannot be found, each of them, in a pure state, it must be possible to assess the influence of each by some sort of statistical device, as psychologists have endeavored to do with certain factors of the mind. For if the elements are never found apart, and if there are no means of separating them out statistically, there is no means of deciding whether the theory is true or false. The elements of the Materialist Conception of History are distinguishable neither in thought nor in fact. We have already shown that men using their instruments of production are men in social relations with one another. It is not a case of men using their productive instruments and of this causing social relations between them, as though there could first be something purely technological and then something social. Perhaps the use of the word “material” in the expression “material conditions of life” has led people to think of productive instruments as purely physical things, like rocks or rivers, the purely physical changes of which produce social changes. Marx himself, before his dogmas took possession of him, had no such idea, but emphasized how tools and machines are socially inherited. We may refer to his letter of December 28, 1846, to P. V. Annenkov, in which he says that society is “the product of man’s reciprocal activity” and mentions “the productive forces won by the previous generation.” But if the instruments of production are like that, then it is not possible to say: “Here is a purely technological, productive, material change that is the cause of those social changes.” For the technological is not really distinguishable, even in thought, from the social, nor production from co-operation. In their early days, again, Marx and Engels saw this very clearly when they wrote: “It follows from this that a certain mode of production, or industrial stage, is always combined with a certain mode of co-operation, or social stage, and this mode of co-operation is itself a ‘productive force.’”54 Our analysis of the notion of “productive relationship” has shown that this involves law, morals, and politics, and we can see that it is not fanciful to regard them as parts of the means of production. For good laws, good morals, and good government can help production, as bad laws, bad morals, and bad government can hinder it. The “material or economic basis” of society is not, therefore, something that can be clearly conceived, still less observed, apart from the legal, moral, and political relationships of men. Since this is so, there is no definite hypothesis to which evidence is relevant, and this is why discussion of the Marxist theory of history is apt to become a futile beating of the air. I venture to suggest that it is a merit of the analysis I have given of the Materialist Conception of History, that it serves to explain why that theory has seemed so obviously true to so many well-informed and intelligent people. It has seemed obviously true because of the tautologies concealed in the language in which the theory is formulated. The theory gives the appearance of being based on facts, and of being subject to the verdict of facts in the way that, say, Boyle’s Law is. On the one hand, the theory seems to say, there are productive forces, and on the other there are productive relationships which carry, poised one on top of the other, like the baskets of a Billingsgate porter, political and legal relationships and ideologies. Analysis of what is being said, however, shows that the porter is not separable from the baskets, and the baskets are not separable from one another, so that what had seemed a wonderful feat of balancing turns out to be as commonplace as walking with one’s head on one’s shoulders.
I will conclude this critical discussion of the Materialist Conception of History with a few comments on the third aspect of it, the division of history into epochs. As this is a part of Marxism that Professor Popper has dealt with very fully in his Open Society and Its Enemies under the title of “historicism,” I shall only make some brief remarks of my own.
(1) I have already pointed out that it is natural enough to compare the Marxist series of epochs with the series of geological strata. Indeed, the early writers on geology regarded themselves as a sort of historian. Thus the subtitle of Leibniz’s Protogaea refers to “the first appearance of the earth and the traces of its most ancient history in the very monuments of nature.” In the eighteenth century, fossils were compared with coins discovered in ancient ruins from which their date and origin may sometimes be re-constructed. (Sunt instar nummorum memoralium quae de praeteritis globi nostri fatis testantur, ubi omnia silent monumenta historica.) The phrase “medal of creation,” used, I believe, in the Bridgewater Treatises, illustrates this view. Geology, we might say, is the most historical of the natural sciences. But its full success is due to the existence of other, non-historical, natural sciences. Fossils provide the information they do largely because of what biologists have discovered. Chemistry and physics make their essential contributions to the geological accounts of rock strata and their relations to one another. If these other sciences could not be brought to its aid, geology would not be an explanatory science at all but a mere chronicle. Now if I am right in arguing that the fundamental conceptions of the Marxist theory of society are incoherent, then they are incapable of bringing the sort of order into the events of human history that has been achieved for the physical development of the earth and of the living beings on it.
(2) When Marx and Engels began their careers, geology was already attracting the attention of the intellectual world. In the Paris Manuscripts Marx writes that geognosis, as he calls it, makes it unnecessary to appeal to creation to account for the development of the earth and of animal species.55 His archaeological references in Capital, volume 1, show how he was influenced by the geological analogy. “The relics of the instruments of labor,” he writes, “are of no less importance to the study of vanished socio-economic forms, than fossil bones are in the study of the organization of extinct species.”56 In itself this observation is valuable, but I think it is important to see that the analogy of geological with historical epochs can be most misleading. (a) Clearly there is an analogy between geology and archaeology. With geology there are two definite sets of data, fossils of a certain type and rocks of a certain composition. It is thus possible to ascertain which fossils are found in which rocks, and thus to date the appearance of various types of living being. With archaeology there are also two sets of data, tools, buildings, or ornaments of a certain type, and soil at certain depths, though this last is not nearly as definite as are the different sorts of rock. Still, it is possible to say such things as that paleolithic remains are likely to be found at lower levels than neolithic remains. It is possible that remains of our own civilization will be dated by future archaeologists in terms of their depth in the soil or even in terms of the type of soil they are found in. Now the method of correlating types of life with certain sorts of rock may well exaggerate the definiteness of the break between one pre-human epoch and another, since in some cases at any rate the division between one epoch and another was not as abrupt as the division between one stratum and another. The strata are our means of discovering about the epochs, not the epochs themselves. But however this may be with geological epochs, epochs of human history certainly should not be regarded as so definitely delimited one from another. Even archaeology does not present us with a series of earth strata to correlate with types of tool, and when we come to consider the living civilizations themselves there are no clear-cut divisions in them that we can associate with types of tool. Of course, someone might decide to distinguish historical epochs from one another by the type of tool used in them, but this would be like defining geological strata in terms of the fossils found in them instead of finding a correlation between fossils of a certain type and strata of a certain composition. And we could also decide to distinguish historical epochs in terms of religions or of political organizations. We distinguish pre-historic periods in terms of material objects such as tools because they are all we have to go on. (b) This brings us to a different but associated point. We know that, once the various geological epochs have been distinguished from one another, they will remain so distinguished for all time unless there is an enormous unnoticed mistake in the theory. It has been established as well as anything of the sort can be that the earth has passed through such and such phases of development. But it is difficult to believe that the epochs of human history distinguished at one time will be the same as those to be distinguished later on, even though the earlier historians had not made any enormous unnoticed mistake. There are two main reasons for this. One is that new sorts of knowledge develop that enable us to look back on the past with new eyes. There is no doubt, for example, that the development of economics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to a fruitful re-examination of the past. The Reformation, and the Puritan Revolution, for example, can now be seen differently and more perspicuously than before. I have no doubt that future scientific developments will have similar effects, and that such re-assessments could only cease if knowledge ceased to grow. But it is not only the growth of science that will lead to constant re-assessment. As one event succeeds another, we are able to use more and more recent experiences to throw light on earlier events. For example, the taking of the Bastille, the September Massacres, the Committee of Public Safety, present a very different appearance when seen as steps toward Napoleon and nineteenth-century demagogic nationalism, from that presented even to the coolest and most rational observer in 1796. As the stream of history is prolonged new vantage points are constantly set up from which its higher reaches can be the better surveyed. A fixed series of historical epochs could only be established and believed in by a people whose science had stopped developing and whose experience was atrophied. To use Marxist jargon against the Marxist view, the theory that there is a series of definite epochs of mankind is unprogressive and undialectical.
(3) The Marxist theory of epochs is not only an account of the past, but is also, and mainly, a prediction of the end of capitalism and of the coming of communism. Now it is important to notice at this stage that there are certain sorts of prediction of human affairs that could not possibly be made. These are, to make a rough list, predictions of what I have called creative inventions, of new scientific discoveries, of new social devices and techniques, of new religions, and of new forms of art. It is particularly important that the student of Marxism should be aware that creative inventions and scientific theories cannot be predicted, since science and technology are regarded by Marxists as fundamental features of society. If the rest of society depends on technology and science, and if the future of them is not predictable, then the future of society as a whole is not predictable. Now we have seen that it is possible to say, with good reason, that a certain sort of invention is likely to be made—for example, that there will soon be color television. What is not possible is the prediction of a radically new invention, for to predict such an invention would be to make it. Mother Shipton is said to have predicted airplanes, and Erasmus Darwin mentioned them in a well-known poem. But such unfounded and vague speculations do not deserve to be called predictions. What a queer thing science would be if hypotheses and formulae flashed into the minds of scientists and were then verified or falsified by reference to facts. It is not just prediction that makes science, but rational prediction, and science itself, as well as technology, is only in part subject to rational prediction. There is often good reason to say that further members of a certain range of problem, earlier members of which have already been solved, will be solved before very long, but it is never possible to do more than this. If we could specify the scientific discovery, we should have made it.57 This holds, too, of such social devices as joint-stock companies and life insurance. That it holds also of types of religion and art is, after what has been said, obvious. Indeed, it was in connection with such matters that the principle was first enunciated, in rather vague terms, in the nineteenth century, by such writers as J. A. Froude and F. H. Bradley. Froude, for example, in his lecture on the “Science of History,” given at the Royal Institution on 5 February 1864, said: “Well, then, let us take some general phenomenon, Mahometanism, for instance, or Buddhism. These are large enough. Can you imagine a science which would have foretold such movements as those?”58 In all such fields an act of creation is achieved from time to time. When it has happened, we can sometimes see how it has come about, but the signs that are afterward seen to lead toward it are not signs at all before it happened. When Marxists speak of “leaps” in history, they ought to mean something like this. But when they suppose they can predict the future of society as a whole, they have abandoned this view for a “scientism” that is incompatible with it. Rational prediction would be possible of a whole society only if it was no longer progressing. “For a people only in the period of their stagnation,” writes Bradley, “for a person only when the character and the station have become fixed for ever, and when the man is made, is it possible to foreknow the truth of the fresh achievement; and where progress has its full meaning, and evolution is more than a phrase, there the present is hard, and the future impossible to discover.”59
[45. ]Dialectical and Historical Materialism, p. 115. Lenin argues (2) in M. and E-C, p. 278.
[46. ]This account of “Theoretical or Conjectural History” is based on Gladys Bryson’s Man and Society (Princeton University Press, 1945), pp. 88ff.
[47. ]Capital, vol. 1 (Everyman edition), p. 172.
[48. ]More will be said about this later.
[49. ]W. H. Walsh, An Introduction to Philosophy of History (London, 1951), p. 162.
[50. ]Anti-Dühring, pp. 296ff.
[51. ]Capital, vol. 1, p. 341.
[52. ]Some of the sentences in this paragraph are from my paper entitled “The Materialist Conception of History,” published in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1951–52, pp. 207ff.
[53. ]Harrington, in Oceana, used the term “Superstructure” in this sense, contrasting it with the “Center or Basis of every Government” which contains “the Fundamentall Lawes,” which concern “what it is that a man may call his own, that is to say, Proprietie.”
[54. ]The German Ideology, p. 18.
[55. ]M.E.G.A., I, 3, p. 124.
[56. ]Capital, p. 172.
[57. ]I have discussed this in “Comte’s Positivism and the Science of Society” (Philosophy, vol. 26, no. 99, Oct. 1951), pp. 9–12, where I give references to recent discussions.
[58. ]Short Studies in Great Subjects (1894 edition), vol. 1, pp. 17–18.
[59. ]The Presuppositions of Critical History. Collected Essays, vol. 1, p. 5.