Front Page Titles (by Subject) II: Marxist Ethics - The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed
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II: Marxist Ethics - 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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© 1962 by H. B. Acton. The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by H.B. Acton’s estate. It is reproduced here by permission and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission.
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Marxist Social Science as a Form of Social Regeneration
It is well known that one of the problems that nineteenth-century thinkers found most disturbing was that as natural science developed it appeared to overthrow religion and morality by demonstrating the subjection of mankind to a natural order of things where strife ruled and the weak were thrust aside. Thus Tennyson asked whether the conclusion to be drawn from geology was that man
About the same time Clough wrote:
Clough remained perpetually in a somewhat distressed unbelief, but Tennyson thought that scientific knowledge could be supplemented by a higher wisdom in which love and faith were comprised. What is mere knowledge, he asked
Comte and his followers thought they could meet the situation by finding both religion and morality, faith and love, in science itself. Humanity replaced God as an object of worship, the earth became the Great Fetish, and honesty, patience, disinterestedness, and justice were held to be virtues inseparable from the pursuit of scientific truth. Comte, indeed, argued that in the last resort all science was absorbed into sociology, the science of society, and that sociology was at the same time a complete code of morals.
I have already shown, in Section 1 of the previous chapter, that in 1844 Marx, too, had played with the idea of a social knowledge which, in becoming scientific like the natural sciences, would “subordinate them to itself.” But the main line of argument used by Marxists is that just as natural science is the progressive mastery of nature by man, so social science is man’s mastery over his social conditions. There is a sort of Promethean pride about this view, and it is worth noting that at the end of the preface to his Doctoral Dissertation Marx had written: “Prometheus is the chief saint and martyr of the philosophical calendar.”1
In presenting this view, Stalin writes: “Hence the science of the history of society, despite all the complexity of the phenomena of social life, can become as precise a science as, let us say, biology, as capable of making use of the laws of development of society for practical purposes. Hence the party of the proletariat should not guide itself in its practical activity by casual motives, but by the laws of development of society, and by practical deductions from these laws. Hence Socialism is converted from a dream of a better future for humanity into a science. Hence the bond between science and practical activity, between theory and practice, their unity, should be the guiding star of the party of the proletariat.”2 Many years before, he had written, in his Anarchism or Communism, “Proletarian Socialism is based not on sentiment, not on abstract ‘justice,’ not on love for the proletariat, but on the scientific grounds quoted above.”3 Engels had written in the Anti-Dühring that the earlier socialism criticized the existing capitalist mode of production and its consequences, but could not explain them, and hence “could not get the mastery over them; it could only simply reject them as evil.”4 And he went on to say that with the “discovery” of the Materialist Conception of History and the Theory of Surplus Value “socialism became a science. . . .” Some such view appears to be expressed, though not very clearly, in the eighth of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, where he writes: “All social life is essentially practical. All the mysteries which urge theory into mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.” The following passage, however, from Marx’s Preface to the first edition of Capital, volume 1, is somewhat clearer. “When a society has discovered the natural laws which regulate its own movement (and the final purpose of my book is to reveal the economic law of motion of modern society), it can neither overleap the natural phases of evolution, nor shuffle them out of the world by decrees. But this much, at least, it can do; it can shorten and lessen the birth-pangs.”
Tennyson, we have seen, thought that the pursuit of science apart from moral considerations necessarily became a pursuit of power. I am not sure that this is so, since a man of science might desire knowledge itself quite apart from the power it brought him. But on the Marxist view of science as a union of theory and practice, natural science just is power over nature, and social science just is power over society. Engels’ word “mastery” is significant. The science that is theory and practice combined is power over, mastery or control of, nature and society, and as such is held to be good. The obvious objection to this is that control over nature and society may be good or bad according to the use that is made of it. The chemical knowledge that enables disease to be cured may also enable enemies to be poisoned, and knowledge of social mechanisms may be used by some only all too enlightened despot for purposes of enslavement. Why did Marx admire Prometheus? For his defiance of the gods? This could only be good if there were gods and they were bad. For his courage? Courage can be exercised in a bad cause, as the career of Dr. Goebbels shows. For his power of invention? Certainly, knowledge and ingenuity cannot fail to evoke our admiration, as do the gait of a tiger and the marking of a snake, but as these examples show, admiration is no proof of the moral excellence of its object. Perhaps, then, he admired Prometheus as a benefactor of mankind. If so, it would seem that the cause of his admiration was that Prometheus courageously defied the envious gods and suffered for it in the service of mankind. The intelligence and inventiveness that enabled him to bring fire to the earth would, unless they had been used for the benefit of others, have had no more moral significance than the song of a bird. That mastery of nature does not, in itself, connote any desirable moral qualities, is recognized in the modern mythology of demon scientists such as Professor Moriarty and Doctor Moreau. The superiority over physical nature and the animal world that man shows in his intelligence and skill is not, in itself, morally desirable. This I take to be the defensible element in Rousseau’s criticisms of civilization.
The Marxist, no doubt, will attempt to meet this difficulty in the following manner. As science and industry develop, he will argue, man too develops morally, for in developing his technology he necessarily changes his productive relationships, and with them his law, politics, and ideologies; morals, therefore, as ideology, are linked with science and industry. It should be observed, however, in answer to this argument, that according to Marxism the development of technology (i.e., of science and industry) is basic and real, whereas the development of ideologies, including the moral one, is nothing but a shadowy transformation of one illusion into another. The argument provides no means of passing, therefore, from the practice of science and industry to a non-illusory moral outlook. The Marxist is bound to the dogma that morality is parasitical on science and industry, though the non-Marxist will readily admit that science and industry, being human activities, are subject to moral assessment as all human activities are, and cannot themselves provide the standards in terms of which they may all be judged.
Let us now consider somewhat more closely Marx’s contention that a knowledge of Marxist social science enables us to know that certain events—notably, the proletarian revolution—are bound to happen, and that when we know this we can use our knowledge to make their coming less unpleasant than it otherwise would have been (“to shorten and lessen the birth-pangs”). There is clearly a comparison with the way in which science can help us to soften the impact of physical disasters. We must all die, but with the help of medical science we can defer death and lessen its pains. We cannot abolish hurricanes, but meteorologists can forecast them, and we can strengthen our houses accordingly. We foresee death and storm, and make use of science to go through with them as comfortably as may be. This, clearly, is the analogy that Marx is working with. Capitalism will break down, the proletarian revolution will come, and, armed with this foreknowledge, we can make the interim less miserable than it otherwise would have been. The two examples I have given, however, are not of exactly the same type. The meteorologist can predict the hurricane, but we can do nothing to stop it or to slow it down. It needs no scientist to tell us we all must die, but scientists can help us to defer our deaths. It would seem, from the passage I have quoted, that the breakdown of capitalism and the proletarian revolution are thought by Marx to be more like death than like a hurricane—that they cannot be prevented altogether, but can be delayed or hastened. No one wants hurricanes, and most people want their death delayed. But some people will want to delay the breakdown of capitalism, and others to hasten it. Marx, in this passage, appears to suppose that everyone will want to get through with it as quickly as possible. Now since there is a remarkable agreement about what are physical evils—such things as death, disease, cold, hunger, and physical injury—there is also agreement about the proper function of science in foreseeing, mitigating, delaying, and preventing them. With social breakdowns and revolutions, however, it is very different, for some will be opposed to the very things that others look forward to. Mark Pattison, like Marx, though for different reasons, thought that socialism was inevitable, but his comment was “I hate it.” Furthermore, as physical science has developed, some things that at one time were thought to be inevitable have been found to be preventable. Diseases are the best example of this. Marx should not have considered it impossible for other social scientists, to whom the breakdown of capitalism was unwelcome, to discover, perhaps even with the aid of his diagnosis, means of keeping it indefinitely in being. Against this it may be argued that all previous social systems have ultimately broken down and that capitalism can hardly be an exception. This, however, is not a clear-cut argument like the argument that as all previous generations of men have died we shall too. Social systems or historical epochs cannot be instances in an induction in the way that men or ravens can be. We have a very clear notion of what it is for a man to die, but we have no such clear notion of what it is for a social system to break down. Indeed, as I have already argued, the distinctions between one historical epoch and another are unlike those between geological strata, and therefore still less like those between individual men or animals. Blurred notions such as that of a historical epoch do not permit of the definite sort of predictions that can be made when there is a number of clearly distinguishable individuals. We are all agreed as to the tests to ascertain whether a man is dead, but how do we decide that capitalism has broken down? We deceive ourselves with almost empty phrases if we suppose that we can make predictions about such things as societies, civilizations, revolutions, classes, social orders, and constitutions, as we can about men, genes, gases, and stars. If anything even approaching this is to be possible, these terms must be given definitions that will allow precise differences to be recorded.
It is not without interest, perhaps, in this connection, to mention that in 1857, two years before Marx published his Critique of Political Economy, a body was founded known as the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. Its Transactions were arranged under the following five heads: Jurisprudence and the Amendment of the Law; Education; Punishment and Reformation; Public Health; and Social Economy. The sort of topics discussed in each section may be seen from the following examples, one from each section, taken from the first volume of the Transactions: Judicial Statistics; An Inquiry on Early Withdrawal from School in Swansea and Its Neighbourhood; Crime and Density of Population; Houses for Working Men—Their Arrangement, Drainage, and Ventilation; the Early Closing Movement. The papers submitted vary greatly in merit, but the prevailing manner of approach is to provide information on the topic chosen, to analyze the information provided, and to make suggestions about remedies for any evils brought to light in this way. The notions employed are seldom so general as “society,” “capitalism,” “revolution,” etc., but are rather of the relative particularity of “convictions,” “sentences,” “bankruptcies,” “adulteration of food,” “drainage,” and “penny banks.” It is true, of course, that at some stage enquiries of this sort need to be linked together, and the policies they suggest have to be co-ordinated. But this would seem to be the sort of approach to social science that is most likely to ensure that its exponents know what they are talking about. Furthermore, since these men made no claims to a godlike detachment from human affairs, they did not easily disguise their prejudices from one another, as can be seen from the reports of their discussions.
To return, however, to our theme—the idea that just as science and history enable men to master nature, so Marxist social science enables us to control society. Mastering nature is discovering its laws of operation and making use of this knowledge to serve human ends, as men do when, discovering that friction causes fire, they are enabled to keep themselves warm and to cook food. One form of controlling society is for some people to discover how others can be threatened and cajoled and to use this knowledge to control these others. This is the sort of control that can be got by skillful use of propaganda, and it presupposes a division into enlightened (i.e., scientific) masters and ignorant followers. Just as mastery over nature is manipulation of physical things for the satisfaction of human desires, so mastery over society would be the control of the many by the few for the prime satisfaction of the few. Clearly this is not the sort of control over social processes that the Marxists consciously advocate. Whatever control over social processes is, it is regarded by them as something opposed to class domination, and something which would readily appeal to unprejudiced people. The view they are endeavoring to put forward is, I think, something to the following effect.
If we did not know some of the causes of disease or cold or storm we should be pretty much at their mercy, as savages still are. When we know some of their causes we can prevent them from happening or protect ourselves against them when they do happen. Similarly there are social disasters, such as unemployment, slumps, and wars, which come to men ignorant of their causes just as if they were physical catastrophes like epidemics. If we could discover what causes them, they too could be prevented, or at least guarded against. Such social occurrences are like purely physical occurrences in one very important respect—no one wills them or decides that they are to happen. They are by-products of what people do decide. Thus someone invents a new machine, and men are put out of work though neither the inventor nor the employer aimed at this; a number of company directors decide to postpone capital developments, and there is a slump which they would have paid a lot to avoid; or two governments make a completely mistaken assessment of one another’s intentions and find themselves involved in a war that neither of them wanted. There are, of course, important differences between these examples, notably the difference between a slump, which is never declared, and a war, which generally is. But in all these cases individuals, and even governments, find themselves, as it is popularly expressed, in the grip of forces they cannot control. The unemployment, slump, and war result from many decisions on other matters by people aiming at other things. (“War-mongers” are characters in Marxist propaganda and do not feature in Marxist social theory.) We may say that such occurrences are unwilled and impersonal, unwilled because no one aims at producing them, impersonal because to their victims they seem like such natural catastrophes as storms and epidemics. Now one thing that Marxists mean by mastery over social processes is the knowledge of what causes such phenomena, and the resulting ability to prevent them from happening. (Incidentally, we can prevent some, but not all diseases, but storms and death we cannot prevent at all, so that Marxists are more optimistic about the possibilities of “social control” than experience of the natural sciences justifies.) The result would be that only those things would happen in human society that men had decided should happen. Fear of slumps is like fear of epidemics, and as no one now fears the Black Death, so no one in a society from which the unwilled and impersonal had been eliminated would have to fear unemployment, slumps, and war.
It should be noticed in the first place that the contrast between what is willed and what is unwilled is not necessarily a contrast between what is good and what is bad, for some people deliberately aim at harming others. The removal from human society, therefore, of what is unwilled may not mean the removal of all that is evil, for intended evil would still remain. This being so, the improvement of human society depends on the aims of those who direct the improvements as well as upon the knowledge they may have of social forces. We may ask, in the second place, whether everything in society that is unwilled is bad like storms and epidemics. Marxists appear to assume that it must be, probably as a result of some trace, in Marx’s thought, of the Hegelian view that “self-consciousness” was the perfect condition of spirit. But surely employment (supposing it to be good, in contrast to unemployment), booms, and peace are often as little the result of deliberate effort as are their less welcome contraries. The New York skyline is no less to be admired because no one designed it, and not all the effects on society of educational systems that were left to take their own way, or of haphazardly competing outlooks and theories, have been regrettable. Control over nature, we may observe, is a small area of control in an immense desert of uncontrol. The background of human effort is still an untamed accumulation of seas, mountains, and planets. Nor, unless we are in a particularly “Promethean” mood, do we regret this. Is there any reason why we should want something radically different in society? That we should wish to see nothing there but what has been deliberately put there? Before answering “Yes” to this question, we should consider what it implies. Its chief implication is that there should be no conflicting aims at all, for as soon as aims conflict, circumstances grow up which neither of the conflicting parties had aimed at, that is to say, unwilled circumstances. If A wants policy X, and B, who wants policy Y, opposes him in this, then perhaps X, perhaps Y, or perhaps neither X nor Y, will result. This, in its turn, implies that if there are to be no unwilled circumstances, everything that anybody does must be willed in accordance with some universally accepted or imposed set of co-ordinating principles. It is only by successful total planning that unwilled social by-products can be completely eliminated. The qualification “successful” is, of course, very important, since if in any respect the plan breaks down, things will happen that no one has intended. For if the single authority aims at X and fails to achieve it, then whatever results is something that was not planned. When we consider how little of intention there is in an individual personality or the spirit of a people, how the structure of scientific truth and the evolution of artistic styles have provided mankind with a succession of not altogether unwelcome surprises, and how most languages proliferate from uncontrolled sources, the idea of achieving a self-conscious mastery over all social processes is seen to be as impracticable as it is depressing. It may be argued that it is only necessary to plan to prevent bad unwilled events, such as unemployment and slumps, and that therefore I have exaggerated when I said that the Marxist’s aim requires total planning of society. But it is characteristic of Marxism to stigmatize as “reformism” the removal of particular evils one after another. It is true that there is every reason to suppose that mistakes will be made by those who carry out particular, limited reforms, so that as the reforming process continues, new, unwilled difficulties will present themselves. This, I suggest, is a good reason for not expecting any human arrangements to be perfect. But the Marxist’s response is to conclude that “reformism” is necessarily bad and that its evils can be avoided by “revolution,” that is, by a complete overthrow of the old system of things and its replacement by a new one decreed by the revolutionaries. This is to substitute total re-modeling for piecemeal improvement, and requires those who do the re-modeling to be very clever indeed if they are not to be confronted by a much more formidable array of unintended evils than face the reformers. For if so very much is risked on one venture, the penalty of failure is correspondingly great.
From Marx’s earliest writings there has been, in the Communist movement, an emphasis on basic human wants or needs. The idea seems to be that Marxist social science has become morality, or rather has become a more desirable substitute for morality, in that it teaches how the basic wants and needs of men can and will be satisfied. This will come about as the power of the proletariat is extended until it becomes a ruling class and finally brings classes to an end. In a classless society all basic wants will be satisfied because there will be no exploiters. But an account of social policy in terms of wants or desires must suppose both that satisfaction is better than frustration and that some wants or desires are more worthy of satisfaction than others. If this were not so, there could be no reason why most men should not be slaughtered to allow the rest to live in luxury in the ruins of civilization, nor why widespread happiness should not be induced by universal indulgence in opium. In any case, the words “needs,” “basic,” and “exploitation” introduce moral conceptions. I have already discussed the ambiguities of the word “needs,” and the word “basic” introduces similar difficulties. Clearly, by basic needs Marxists mean amounts and kinds of food and shelter which every person in a highly developed society like our own is entitled to, or has a right to. Again, by “exploitation” they do not mean merely the making use of some social opportunity, but the wrongful use of it to the detriment of others. This moral use of the word is particularly likely to predominate in the German language, since the German word—Ausbeutung—is formed from Beute, which means loot, prey, spoil, plunder, much as the English word “booty” does. The Marxist can derive moral precepts from his social science only to the extent that they already form, because of the vocabulary used, a concealed and unacknowledged part of it.
In the course of his account of Historical Materialism in his Karl Marx, Mr. Isaiah Berlin says that the theory cannot be rightly objected to on the ground that in it moral recommendations are illicitly derived from mere matters of fact, since “Marx, like Hegel, flatly rejected this distinction. Judgments of fact cannot be sharply distinguished from those of value: all one’s judgments are conditioned by practical activity in a given social milieu: one’s views as to what one believes to exist and what one wishes to do with it, modify each other. . . . The only sense in which it is possible to show that something is good or bad, right or wrong, is by demonstrating that it accords or discords with the historical process, assists it or thwarts it, will survive or will inevitably perish.”5 Now it is true that Hegel objected to the procedure (characteristic of the Understanding, and, on his view, needing correction by the Reason) of making clear-cut oppositions such as that between what is matter of fact and that which only ought to be but is not. It is true also that he maintained that social institutions were moral creations as well as matters of fact, and that he concluded his Philosophy of History with the following words: “That the history of the world, with all the changing scenes which its annals present, is this process of development, and the realization of Spirit—this is the true Theodicaea, the justification of God in History. Only this insight can reconcile spirit with the History of the World—viz., that what has happened, and is happening every day, is not ‘without God,’ but is essentially His Work.”6 It cannot be denied that Marx was influenced by such views. They do not, however, form part of, and are, indeed, inconsistent with, the Materialist Conception of History. If I am right in my interpretation, that theory is established “in the manner of the natural sciences.” It is held by its exponents to be a science of morals, aesthetics, and religion, but moral, aesthetic, and religious judgments are shown, by means of this “science,” to be ideological distortions of social realities. Therefore for Marx to say that judgments of fact and value are necessarily mixed up with one another would be for him to say that no science of society is possible. Indeed, it would involve him in a skepticism about the truth of natural science too, which, as I judge, he would have found most shocking. It seems to me that an important feature of the Materialist Conception of History is the attempt to show that valuations are superstructural forms of “false consciousness” which Marxist social science enables us to “see through.” Mr. Berlin, I suggest, implicitly acknowledges this when he interprets Marx as holding that “The only sense in which it is possible to show that something is good or bad, right or wrong, is by demonstrating that it accords or discords with the historical process, assists it or thwarts it, will survive or will ultimately perish.” Hegel’s view was that the course of history, taken as a whole, is divinely good; historical events, he held, were at the same time divine events, so that whatever happened was, in its degree, good; facts were more than mere facts, they were elements in the goodness of things. But the view that Mr. Berlin is attributing to Marx in the sentence beginning “The only sense . . .” is the view, not that facts are also valuable, but that value is reducible to fact, that to say that Communism is right is merely to say that it will prevail, and that to say that liberalism is wrong is merely to say that it will disappear from the world. The contrast may be seen if we compare the broad outlines of the two theories. Hegel’s Philosophy of Right is, in effect, a comprehensive system of political philosophy in which no attempt is made to avoid moral assessments, and in which even titles of divine honor are openly bestowed on the state. Marx, on the other hand, set out to explain, in terms of what he considered to be natural facts, how the institutions of society come to be decorated with pretentiously misleading moral and theological coloring.
Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History
So far my discussion of Marxist ethics has been confined to the Marxist attempt—which, historically considered, is a branch of the nineteenth-century Positivist attempt—to derive principles of right conduct from some alleged science of society. We must now, however, look somewhat more closely at what Marxists say about moral beliefs, remembering that in their view morality is an ideology. In the present section I shall be concerned with the most general aspects of the theory, the account, we might put it, of what morality itself is held to be. In later sections I shall discuss some of the chief Marxist proposals for the reform of morality. For the texts show that, inconsistent as it may appear to be, Marxism is a program for the reform of morality as well as an attempt to reduce it to science. All students of Marxism must at some stage have felt that there is at the very least a difficulty in reconciling the Marxist attack on class divisions and “exploitation” with the view that moral ideals are masks that cover interests. This is a problem to be kept in mind throughout all that follows.
The chief account of the matter is that given by Engels in chapters 9, 10, and 11 of his Anti-Dühring. Here Engels argues that there are no “eternal truths” in morality, but that moral codes must vary with changes in the conditions of human life. Engels held that at the time when he was writing (1877) there were three main moralities being preached, “the christian-feudal morality,” “the modern bourgeois morality,” and “the proletarian morality of the future.” The first of these was based on economic forces that were rapidly dying; the second was the ideological construction of the capitalist ruling class; the third was emerging as capitalism produced the proletariat, and would replace the other two when the proletarian revolution had been effected. Although he does not say what they are, Engels admits that there are likenesses between these three moral systems. These likenesses have two main causes: in the first place, the feudal, capitalist, and emerging proletarian society are different stages of a single economic development; and in the second place, the economic fact of private property requires recognition in all non-communist moral systems, although “Thou shalt not steal” would be quite unnecessary in “a society in which the motive for stealing has been done away with.” Engels argued, furthermore, that as one class has succeeded another in the conflicts of the past “there has on the whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge,” and that “a really human morality which transcends class antagonisms and their legacies in thought becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class contradictions, but has even forgotten them in practical life.” It is the proletarian morality that “contains the maximum of durable elements” and “in the present represents the overthrow of the present, represents the future.” The chief element of the morality of the future, it appears, will be equality: “. . . the real content of the proletarian demand for equality is the demand for the abolition of classes. Any demand for equality which goes beyond that of necessity passes into absurdity.”7
When we read that moral codes depend upon conditions of life, that these vary with changes in the economic basis of society, and that each class has its own morality, we are tempted to conclude that Engels was arguing for what is called a relativist view of morality, i.e., a view according to which there are many different groupings of men each with its own standards of moral conduct, but that there is no universal standard of moral conduct in terms of which the manifold particular codes can be rationally assessed. It might seem, furthermore, that the Marxist version of Relativism is somewhat as follows: The differences between human groupings are all, in the last resort, differences between their economic structures; all non-communist societies are class-divided and therefore all moral codes in them will be class codes; when an economic system is firmly established, the generally accepted morality will be that of the exploiting class, and justice will be, as Thrasymachus the Greek Sophist said it was, “the interest of the stronger”; but when a new economic system is in process of development, the rising class whose interests are tied to it will develop a moral outlook that will bolster its own interests as opposed to those of the class that has hitherto ruled supreme, and in this way a conflict of class interests will manifest itself as a clash of moral codes. From all this it would follow that moral fervor is a disguise for class interest, and that, since classes judge one another in terms of incompatible standards, conflict between them can never end by their submitting themselves to some commonly accepted rule; their interests may conceivably bring them to a truce, but they can never submit themselves to the tribunal of an agreed morality. That this is Engels’ view seems to be suggested by his remark that “the proletarian demand for equality” is “an agitational means in order to rouse the workers against the capitalists on the basis of the capitalists’ own assertions.”8 Lenin, too, has let fall a number of phrases which suggest this form of Relativism, as when, in his “Address to the Third Congress of the Russian Young Communist League,” he said: “When people talk to us about morality we say: for the Communist, morality lies entirely in this compact, united discipline and conscious mass struggle against the exploiters. We do not believe in an eternal morality, and we expose all the fables about morality.”9
Nevertheless, however much relativist arguments may be used to confute and discourage those who accept the traditional codes, there is in Marxist ethics a claim to absoluteness. It has already been pointed out that Engels held that there are elements common to the feudal, bourgeois, and proletarian moralities, and that “there has on the whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge.” So too Lenin, in the sentence following the passage I have just quoted from his speech to the Russian Young Communist League, said: “Morality serves the purpose of helping human society to rise to a higher level, and to get rid of the exploitation of labour.” Rosenthal and Yudin’s article on “Ethics” in their Handbook of Philosophy concludes with these words: “Communist morality takes the position that only that which contributes to the abolition of human exploitation, poverty, and degradation, and to the building and strengthening of a system of social life from which such inhuman phenomena will be absent is moral and ethical.” And Mr. Shishkin is quoted as having written as follows in an article entitled “The Decay of Anglo-American Ethics” in the Soviet periodical Voprosy Filosofii: “The chief struggle [in Anglo-American ethics] is against Marxist ethics, and its objective and rigorous norms and principles derived from a scientific understanding of society; ethical relativism was important in the thought of Rosenberg and Goebbels.”10 From all this it will be seen that moral standards are not held by Marxists to be merely different from one another, but are said to have progressed as the earlier codes gave way to others that were closer to the Communism of the future. How, then, in view of what has been said in the previous chapter about the nature of ideologies, can we understand the claim that Communist morality is superior to the morality that went before it?
From the passages I have quoted it will be seen that there are four main respects in which Marxist ethics differs from ethical relativism. In the first place it is held that there are elements common to the feudal, bourgeois, and proletarian moralities. Little is said about these common elements, but undoubtedly the view is that no society could survive in which there was no respect for human life or for personal possessions, no loyalty, no courage, no care for the helpless. These “conditions of human peace,” as Hobbes called them, are referred to by Lenin as “the elementary rules of social life that have been known for centuries and repeated for thousands of years in all school books.”11 To call attention to such principles, however, is not sufficient, on its own, to eliminate ethical relativism, since, although a rule such as “murder is wrong” may be universal in the sense that every society recognizes it as binding within itself, it may not be universal in the sense that every society regards it as applying to its conduct toward foreigners as well as within its own bounds. The universal acceptance of a rule such as “It is wrong to murder fellow-tribesmen” (or “non-backsliding fellow party-members”) is compatible, therefore, with the belief that it is right to kill anyone else. The Marxists’ references to elements common to all moral codes, although they may be meant to constitute a rejection of Relativism, do not conclusively show that they are this.
In the second place, however, it is quite clear that Engels wrote of progress in morality, and that this implies some standard in terms of which the various stages are estimated. He speaks, too, of “a truly human morality which transcends class antagonisms,” and asserts that this will be achieved when classes have been abolished. We should note, too, Lenin’s phrase “helping human society to rise to a higher level” and Rosenthal and Yudin’s talk of getting rid of such “inhuman phenomena” as “human exploitation, poverty, and degradation.” Thus, those societies are the better ones in which there is the least exploitation, the least poverty, the least “degradation.” “Human,” in this context, has two meanings. A “human” morality is, in the first place, one in which religious and theological elements play no part. In the second place, it is a morality which extends to all human beings by requiring the abolition of all poverty and all exploitation. It is “human” in the sense of being both atheistic and applicable to all men.
In the third place, the emerging proletarian morality is held to be superior to all those which preceded it. This is because the proletariat is the class which, exploited as it is in capitalist society, will surely bring capitalist society to an end, and in so doing will abolish classes, exploitation, and poverty. It does not seem that proletarian morality is preferred by Marxists solely because it is the morality of the class that has a future, of the class that will become the ruling class. They also prefer it because it is the morality of the class that will bring classes to an end. They appear to have the picture of a morality that extends the ambit of its respect as it spreads from a few feudal lords to the more numerous bourgeoisie, and thence to the proletarians who will finally be the whole of mankind.
It must be said in the fourth place, however, that the standard of moral assessment is itself held by Marxists to depend upon the level of economic (or technological) development of society. Here we come to the central, and most difficult, aspect of Marxist moral theory. There can be no doubt that capitalist industrial society is much more effective, from an industrial point of view, than any society that has gone before it. The standard of comparison between it and its predecessors in this regard is the quantity and quality of goods producible during any given time, “quality,” of course, being understood in a sense that excludes artistic excellence or moral suitability. It is obvious that a society in which wireless sets and cyclotrons are produced is industrially more advanced than one in which steam power has not yet been employed. Now the Marxists maintain the following theses: (a) that moral codes are parasitic on industrial achievement; (b) that private ownership of the means of production is a hindrance to the industrial progress of modern society; (c) that when this hindrance has been removed by the abolition of capitalism, industrial progress will be vastly accelerated; and (d) that the classless morality of the new society will show a corresponding advance on that of the class-divided societies of the past. The view is summarized in an article in Soviet Studies as follows: “Just as each stage of human development possesses a certain level of consciousness which is the highest attainable in the historical conditions, so it also possesses an understanding of good and evil which is the highest attainable in the same conditions. Since we needs must love the highest when we see it, it is the duty of each individual not to aim lower than the ethical ideals of his society; and a society or social group which falls short in its ethical ideal of those ideals previously established is morally retrogressive. It follows from the general propositions of historical and dialectical materialism that a community in a higher stage of organization will reflect its social attainments in its higher stage of morals; and consequently ethical studies may be closely related to, and based on, the exact knowledge (“science”) which is provided by sociology.”12
What is the relation between (a) and (d) above? Surely it does not follow that, because moral codes depend upon industrial systems, the more advanced the industrial system, the higher the moral code. If “industrial progress” is understood in a sense that is independent of “moral progress,” then no amount of industrial progress can give the slightest ground for supposing that there has been any moral progress whatever. Moral progress must be understood in moral, not in technological, terms. One is tempted to suppose that Marxists, having relinquished the view that morality is strengthened by divine support, have nevertheless felt the need for something else to support it when there is no God to do so, and have picked on technology for the role of substitute deity. The Marxist view must be either that industrial progress is the same thing as moral progress, or else that industrial progress is a sure sign of moral progress. We have rejected the first suggestion, and if there is to be anything in the second it will have to be possible to know what moral progress is independently of knowing what industrial progress is. For to know that changes in one thing are a sure sign of changes in another, both things must have been observed changing. For example, thermometers can only be used to measure the temperature of a room because we have been able to experience both the changes from hotter to colder and colder to hotter, and changes in the height of the column of mercury. The Marxist is rather like a man who, disgusted at the idea of feeling hot or cold, will refer only to the “objective and rigorous norms” on the temperature scale, and asserts that they are what hot and cold really are. Indeed, there is a further analogy between the use of thermometers and the Marxist correlation of industrial with moral progress. Once a scale of temperature has been established, the scale can “register” both discriminations and quantities that no one can have experienced. For example, no one is conscious of a change of temperature of (say) half a degree Fahrenheit, and no one has ever been conscious of a heat of 2000° Fahrenheit. Once the scale has been established it acquires a certain independence and appears to measure things that are quite beyond the range of human experience. The initial correlation between the marks on the scale and what people feel gets lost sight of. The Marxist use of the notion of industrial progress appears to have broken loose in a somewhat similar way from its initial conjunction with moral progress. First it was correlated with a norm, and then it became a norm itself.
According to the French Hegelian scholar M. Jean Hyppolite there is in Marx’s Capital a conflict between two inconsistent points of view, the one Darwinian and the other Hegelian.13 There is a similar conflict, it seems to me, between the ethical implications of the Materialist Conception of History and Engels’ and Lenin’s view that there has been and will be moral progress. For, as I have pointed out, the Materialist Conception of History is held to be “faithfully established in the manner of the natural sciences,” and must therefore, like them, be amoral. It purports to show that the struggle between classes will in fact cease with the victory of the proletariat. Each class has its morality, the victory of the proletariat will be the victory of proletarian morality, and the dissolution of classes will bring the dissolution of class morality. This is the amoral Darwinian theory which is held to explain the genesis of moral standards and their role as weapons in the class war. On this view, the superiority of a moral standard consists in its replacing the standards of vanquished classes, and the superiority of a classless morality consists in its having ousted all others, just as, for Darwin, the fittest are those who succeed in surviving, not those who, in some moral sense, ought to survive. When Marxists talk of moral progress, however, they desert this amoral Darwinism for something not unlike the Hegelian theodicy. Out of the clash of classes, they suppose, superior forms of society are developed which would never have existed at all if the clashes had been mitigated or suppressed. In spite of apparent retrogressions man is progressing. His earliest stage was one of primitive, almost innocent communism. His fall from this state was necessary if he was to advance to a developed, self-conscious (i.e., planned) industrial communism. Industrial civilization, thinks the Marxist when he is in the Hegelian frame of mind, makes possible the mastery of man over himself so that, want and exploitation having been abolished, free men can each develop, without hindrance from others, the latent powers which class-divided societies had inhibited. In the progress of man what, to use Hegelian language, was merely implicit and ideal becomes explicit and real. Such a state of things would not be merely the latest in the succession of social orders, but would be both their consummation and the standard in terms of which their shortcomings would be judged.
We have now seen some of the Marxist attempts at making these inconsistent views go along together. The least Darwinian element in the first amoral theory was the view that the struggle between classes would come to an end through the abolition of classes altogether. (Darwin did not suggest that one species would oust all the rest.) Now the abolition of classes is a conception that readily gives rise to moral judgments. In so far as class differences involve exploitation, that is, the unjust use of power, the disappearance of classes may be supposed, rightly or wrongly, to lead to the disappearance of exploitation. (It is by no means certain that other forms of injustice would not arise after class injustices had been removed.) A classless society, again, is readily conceived as one in which moral respect is given to all men instead of only to some. It is easy, that is, to pass from the amoral conception of a classless society to the moral conception that Kant described as a Kingdom of Ends, i.e., a society in which everyone is an object of moral respect. The link, I suggest, is the notion of universality; it is supposed on the one hand that if classes are abolished all men will belong to a single society, and it is supposed on the other hand that moral progress consists in more and more men being accepted as members of a single moral world. In combining the two views, however, Marxists inconsistently hold both that morality is mere ideology and that it is capable of real improvement.
At this point it will be useful to revert for a moment to the Marxist discussion of phenomenalism. The exponents of phenomenalism, we said, generally deny that they are saying that there are no physical objects. They claim instead to be providing an analysis, in terms of actual and possible sense data, of what it is to be a physical object. Now it might be suggested, at this stage of the argument, that the Marxist account of morals as ideology is really an analysis of what morality is rather than a denial of the validity of moral judgments. It might be said, that is, that the theory of ideologies, as applied to morals, is the view that when people make moral judgments they are really giving expression to their attitudes and endeavoring to get other people to share them. This is a view held today by a number of philosophers who are not Marxists at all. The chief difference between the Marxist analysis of morals, therefore, and these “attitude and persuasion” theories would be that the Marxists have a lot to say about how the attitudes are formed, whereas these philosophers ignore that side of the matter as altogether irrelevant to what they call “philosophy.” On this interpretation, then, when Marxists say that morality is an ideology they are saying (a) that moral judgments are expressions of people’s attitudes and at the same time attempts to get other people to have the same attitudes toward the same things, and (b) that these attitudes arise from class situations, and that these, in their turn, arise out of economic circumstances. Now Marxists object to the phenomenalist analysis of physical objects on the ground that it is idealism in disguise. Might we not have expected them to have objected to the “attitude and persuasion” theory of morals on the ground that it is a disguise for all that is arbitrary and unprincipled in human conduct? (Mr. Shishkin, it will be remembered, seems to have taken this view, though in an inconsistent way.) That is how the Stoics, whom I earlier compared with the Marxists, looked at the matter, but in this regard Marxism is more like ancient skepticism than it is like Stoicism. The reason why they treat ethical subjectivism differently from how they treat perceptual subjectivism is, I suggest, that they think they can find scientific evidence for the existence of men with various wants, but feel that there is no evidence at all for such things as moral values. If this is so, then Marxists think they can “reduce” morality to wants and persuasions in a way in which physical objects cannot be reduced to sense data. Now I criticized phenomenalism on the ground that its view of physical objects was based on such things as reflections in mirrors and the images of dreams and delirium, whereas the status of these last can only be understood in terms of real things that are not reflections, not dreams, not delirium; the phenomenalist assumes, in saying what sense data are, that physical objects are not sense data and his alleged analysis of matter is a hollow, painted substitute for it. Now I suggest that the “interest and persuasion” analysis of morals suffers from an analogous defect. There is the same zeal for immediately perceived ultimates—in the case of morals these are wants, desires, and persuadings. But there is also the same failure to notice that these “ultimates” are not real existences at all, that wants, desires, and persuadings are themselves moral, or are understandable by relation to or in contrast with what is moral. We have seen this sort of false abstraction in another context, when the attempt was made to describe a “material basis” of society that was supposed to have in it none of the features that belonged to the “superstructure.” Phenomenalism, the Materialist Conception of History, and the “attitude and persuasion” analysis of morals are all of them, in their different ways, results of misleading abstraction, a misleading abstraction that fabricates unreal units, sense data, the “material basis” of society, and “wants, desires, and persuadings.” A further point to notice in this connection is that, just as the phenomenalist bases his theory on illusions, hallucinations, images, so the moral subjectivist bases his analysis on moral divergences, and as the realist bases his view on developed and successful perception, so the moral objectivist bases his analysis on developed and successful moral conduct.
It will be remembered that in Chapter I of Part One of this book I called attention to the fact that one of Lenin’s arguments against phenomenalism was that phenomenalism is a form of idealism, that idealism is a disguised form of religion, that religion is dangerous to communism, and that therefore phenomenalism should be rejected. Basic to this argument is the assumption that it is legitimate to reject a philosophical theory on the ground that it appears to be a hindrance to the victory of the proletariat under Communist Party leadership. In still more general terms, Lenin’s argument assumes that it is legitimate to reject a philosophical theory on the ground that it appears to conflict with a political movement supposed to be working for the long-term interests of mankind. Now that we have discussed the Materialist Conception of History and the moral theory that goes with it, we are in a better position to discuss this assumption of Lenin’s than we were when our chief concern was the Marxist view of nature. We can now see that when Lenin dismisses phenomenalism on the ground that it is dangerous to communism, he regards it, as he regards all non-Marxist philosophical theories, as an ideology, i.e., as an expression of some class-interest. His view seems to be that, if the arguments its supporters put forward can be intellectually refuted, well and good, but that if they appear for the time being to be too subtle for this, then Marxists must try to prevent them from being accepted by such means as scorn or moral indignation or expulsion of the heretics. From Lenin’s procedure it can be seen that he regarded it as necessary both to deal with arguments on the intellectual plane, and also to unmask the ideologies that produce them. It will, of course, be remembered that Marxists consider that they themselves are being scientific when they expose the ideologies of other classes. They believe, too, that in doing this they are helping on the ultimate good of all mankind.
It cannot be reasonably denied that beneath the surface of philosophical argumentation there is often the desire to gain acceptance for a way of living and appreciating as well as for a way of thinking. There is no doubt that most of those philosophers who have accepted idealism have sought, in this philosophy, to justify some form of rational religion. Again, it is obvious that most positivists have the practical aim of getting rid of what they consider to be superstition. The idealist endeavors to show that religious hopes are not all in vain, the positivist to show that they are illusory and should be replaced by the clear-cut expectations that he imagines the natural sciences provide. Idealist views, as with Hegel, tend to be respectful of tradition, Positivist views, as during the French Enlightenment, to be contemptuous of it. (Hume and Comte, it is true, are very notable instances to the contrary.) Some realists and materialists, revolted by what seems to them to be irresponsible “cleverness,” aim, like the Stoics, to secure agreement on a set of basic truths that should provide a foundation for common agreement and mutual respect. Most of those who engage in philosophical thought have some such fundamental aims. Their thinking is associated with their meditations on life and death and with their conception of how men ought to conduct themselves. In their philosophizing they often approach near to prophecy or poetry. Philosophers who today talk of philosophical “puzzles” minimize these aspects of philosophical thought, whereas those who talk of “problems” or “predicaments” tend to stress them. But whether minimized or stressed, they are there.
Now it looks very strange when Lenin, in a book where the views of Berkeley, Mach, and Poincaré are under discussion, calls upon his comrades to close the ranks. It is important first to see what justification there could be for these methods. If someone asserts as true something he knows to be false, it is idle to argue with him about the truth of what he is saying, though it may be important to argue with those he might mislead. For he is making the assertion in order to deceive, not in order to add to the sum of knowledge. Again, if someone is carried away by his hopes and interests to enunciate false statements as gestures of faith or defiance, concern with the detail of his falsehoods may lead his opponents to lose sight of the practical reasons for which he uttered them. Such men, in uttering what have the appearance of statements, are chiefly endeavoring to achieve some practical aim. Since intellectual illumination is not their object, argumentative procedures that assumed that it was would be out of place, in the sense that they would not be directed at the main point of what the men were doing. Thus, when Lenin, in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, writes abusively, he is assuming that idealists are conscious or unconscious deceivers, that their arguments are not really concerned with reaching truth, but are a sort of slogan to rally supporters and discourage the enemy. He conceives himself as replying to slogans by slogans, to actions by actions. It is likely that he was all the more ready to behave like this in that he was convinced of the practical bearing of all genuine (Marxist or scientific) thinking. Furthermore, social circumstances or psychological concomitants can be enquired into in the case of any sort of view, whether it be true or false. For example, Marxists consider that the methods of the natural sciences, being based on experience and practice, lead toward truth. But although this is so, there is no reason why sociologists should not investigate the social background of physicists and compare it with that of biologists, nor why psychologists should not enquire whether there is a special type of personality that predisposes men to become scientists. Such enquiries, it will be seen, are quite irrelevant to the truth or falsity of the theories that the scientists put forward. Descartes’s pride no more discredits his scientific discoveries than Darwin’s humility accredits his. Whether a scientific theory is true or false is settled by scientific argument, not by reference to the nature of the propounder’s motives. Suppose, then, that a Marxist admits this but asserts that philosophy is in a different case since it is an ideology. But philosophy proceeds by argument, and whether an argument is acceptable or not depends on how well it has been conducted. Philosophical arguments may be a different sort of argument from scientific ones, but in the one case as in the other sociological and psychological questions about the arguers are quite different from and quite irrelevant to the acceptability of the arguments themselves. It is only when an argument is manifestly bad and yet its expounder sticks to it in the face of annihilating criticism that we begin to feel justified in asking why he should continue arguing in this curious way. That is to say, the unmasking of ideologies, in the sense of showing the class interests that prompt them, is only in place when the belief that is thus unmasked has already been shown to be false. Thus, quite apart from questions of good manners that may differ from place to place and time to time, no controversialist is entitled to refer to his opponent’s motives unless the arguments that his opponent has used have been shown by argument to be untenable. If someone refuses to consider an argument on the ground that the man who put it forward has an axe to grind, this refusal is a political act, not a scientific or philosophical one.
This completes what I have to say about the direct relationship of Marxist ethics with the Materialist Conception of History. I shall now pass on to consider some of the details of Marxist ethics, commencing with a brief account of some important arguments from Marx and Engels’ Holy Family. I have chosen this way of beginning both because the arguments are of considerable intrinsic interest and also because they enable us to see some of the moral considerations that influenced Marx and Engels at the time when their system of ideas had just been formed.
Marx and Eugène Sue
In 1842–43 the Journal des Débats published in daily installments Eugène Sue’s novel The Mysteries of Paris. It was then published in book form and widely read throughout Europe. It is an extraordinary mixture of melodrama, moralizing, and social criticism. The main plot concerns the efforts of Rodolphe, Prince of Geroldstein, to rectify by his own efforts some of the wrongs of modern society that were to be found in the life of Paris. Fleur-de-Marie, a pure-hearted young waif (who is subsequently discovered to be Rodolphe’s daughter) is rescued from her miserable life among Parisian criminals, becomes conscious of sinfulness, repents, and dies after having been admitted to a convent and made its abbess. Le Chourineur (the Ripper), a simple-minded assassin whose crimes are due to poverty and misfortune rather than to an evil nature, is reclaimed by Rodolphe and gratefully saves his life. Le Maître d’Ecole (the Schoolmaster), a criminal who appears to be quite beyond reclamation, is blinded by the orders of Prince Rodolphe so that he may not be able to injure others any more and will also be forced to meditate on his crimes and perhaps repent of them. In the course of the many loosely knit episodes of which the story is composed, Sue describes the miseries of the poor and the callousness of the rich. He proclaims that much crime is due to poverty, that the poor are much less blameworthy for their crimes than the rich are for theirs, and that it is much more difficult for the uneducated poor to obtain justice than for the educated and well-to-do. Incidents in this and others of his novels are used by Sue to show the need for social reforms. Thus, he considers that the death penalty should be abolished, but that blinding might be the supreme penalty for particularly atrocious crimes. He also advocates the establishment of farms where ex-convicts could work and re-establish themselves in society. Regeneration, however, on his view, could only occur as the result of genuine repentance which, therefore, should be the chief end of punishment. In discussing the social evils of unemployment, he proposes the establishment of a People’s Bank to give help to men who are unavoidably out of work. He also sketched a scheme for pawnshops which would lend money without interest to respectable artisans. He holds that women were unjustly treated by the Civil Code, and that they should have the right to keep their own property and to obtain divorce. It should be mentioned that Sue took pains to give an accurate account of life in prisons and among the very poor. He later wrote The Wandering Jew and other “social novels,” and in 1850 was elected to the National Assembly as a deputy of the extreme left. Although Louis Napoleon, on the ground that he was a distant relation of his, struck Sue’s name from the list of his opponents who were to be imprisoned and exiled, Sue refused this privilege and insisted on accepting these penalties along with the rest of the protesting deputies. Under the influence of Sue there was founded in 1843 a periodical called La Ruche Populaire (“The People’s Beehive”). This was edited by artisans, and had at the head of the first issue the following quotation from the Mysteries of Paris: “It is good to give help to honest and unfortunate men who cry out for it. But it is better to find out about those who are carrying on the struggle with honor and energy, to go to their aid, sometimes without their knowing it . . . and to ward off betimes both poverty and the temptations that lead to crime.” Sue was accused by some of “disguising communism under entertaining forms,” by others he was praised for drawing the attention of the prosperous classes to the misery which they tried to ignore.14
Now in 1843 Bruno Bauer, a leading figure among the “Young Hegelians,” had founded at Charlottenburg a periodical called Die Allgemeine Literaturzeitung. A young man called Szeliga (who later had a reasonably successful career in the Prussian army) discussed in this periodical certain of the social ideas of the Mysteries of Paris. He took Sue very seriously, and sought to give his views the sanction of the Hegelian philosophy. Marx and Engels’ Holy Family, published in 1845, was intended as a general attack on the ideas of Bruno Bauer and his supporters as developed in the Allgemeine Literaturzeitung. Two long chapters of the book, written by Marx himself, are given over to criticizing Szeliga for taking Sue so seriously, and to a destructive analysis of the moral and social ideals recommended in the Mysteries of Paris. It is thus possible to obtain from these chapters a pretty good idea of Marx’s moral outlook at the time when his social theories were being developed. In my view they throw considerable light on some important aspects of Marx’s ethics.
Marx considers that the “conversion” of le Chourineur by Prince Rodolphe transforms him into a stool-pigeon and then into a faithful bulldog. “He is no longer even an ordinary bulldog, he is a moral bulldog.”15 Similarly he considers that Rodolphe, in “rescuing” Fleur-de-Marie, has changed her from a girl capable of happiness “first into a repentant sinner, then the repentant sinner into a nun, and then the nun into a corpse.”16 So too, in blinding the Maître d’Ecole, Rodolphe has, according to Marx, acted in the true Christian fashion according to which “it is necessary to kill human nature to cure it of its diseases.”17 Again, Rodolphe deplores the fact that maid-servants may be seduced by their masters and driven by them into crime, but “he does not understand the general condition of women in modern society, he does not regard it as inhuman. Absolutely faithful to his old theory, he merely deplores the absence of a law to punish the seducer and to associate terrible punishments with repentance and expiation.”18 Marx’s general comment on the ethics of Rodolphe’s conduct is as follows: “The magic means by which Rodolphe works all his rescues and all his marvelous cures, are not his beautiful words, but his money. This is what moralists are like, says Fourier. You must be a millionaire in order to imitate their heroes. Morality is impotence in action. Whenever it attacks a vice, morality is worsted. And Rodolphe does not even rise to the point of view of independent morality, which rests on consciousness of human dignity. On the contrary, his morality rests on consciousness of human frailty. It embodies moral theology.”19 And in conclusion Marx argues that even Rodolphe’s morality is a sham, since his activities in Paris, though they have righting the wrong as their ostensible aim, are really a means of gratifying himself by playing the role of Providence. His moral hatred of wrong is a hypocritical cover for his personal hatred of individuals.20
Is all this an attack on morality as such, or is it merely an attack on what Marx considers to be false morality? It certainly looks as if Marx is both attacking morality as such and as a whole (“Morality is impotence in action”), and is also attacking false morality. (“. . . Rodolphe does not even rise to the point of view of independent morality, which rests on consciousness of human dignity.”) If this is what he is doing, then he is inconsistent. For false morality can only be criticized in the light of a morality held to be less false, whereas if all morality is rejected, this must be in favor of something that is not morality and that does not allow that the drawing of moral distinctions is a legitimate activity. Marx seems to be saying the following four things: (a) that it is bad for criminals to be cowed and rendered less than human by means of punishment, repentance, and remorse; (b) that those who advocate punishment and urge repentance do so out of revenge, hypocritically; (c) that punishment, repentance, and remorse, even if aided by reforms of the penal laws and by measures enabling the poor to help themselves, can never reach and destroy the roots of crime; (d) and that the moral approach to crime is powerless to check it. His comments on Sue’s novel show that he thinks there is something in human nature that should be preserved and is in fact destroyed by punishment and repentance. But it is not altogether clear what Marx thinks is wrong about them. Le Chourineur, from being a man, though a rough and dangerous one, repents and becomes, in Marx’s opinion, a mere “moral bulldog.” What, then, is bad about this new condition? Is it that le Chourineur has lost his pride and independence and now wishes only to be an obsequious hanger-on of Prince Rodolphe? If this is so, then perhaps Marx’s objection is not to repentance as such, but to false repentance, and not to punishment as such, but to the punishment that breaks a man’s spirit. Again, is it Marx’s view that all those who support the punishment of criminals are really doing nothing but find outlets for their own resentments or support for their own interests? Is all justice hypocritical?
Now Marx clearly has an ideal of what it is to live a truly human life. Fawning upon rich benefactors is not a part of this ideal, nor is dwelling on one’s personal guilt or renouncing the world in a nunnery. Someone lives a truly human life if he exercises his native abilities, enjoys nature and human society, and maintains a decent independence in relation to other men. In so far as punishment cripples the criminal, takes away his independence, and makes him obsequious, it has, according to Marx, done harm rather than good. It will be objected, however, that the criminal has ignored the rights of other people and can therefore hardly lay claim to remain unharmed by them. In an article he wrote in the New York Times in 185321 Marx considered this reply in the form given to it by Kant and Hegel, viz., that the criminal, in denying the rights of someone else, calls down upon himself the denial of his own rights by other people, so that his punishment is a fitting retort to his own deed. Marx admits that this view has the merit of regarding the criminal as a being who is worthy of respect, but he argues that the whole conception is dangerously abstract. For it takes account only of the free-will of the criminal and the violation of rights in general, but ignores the fact that the criminal is a concrete human being with particular motives and temptations living in a society organized in a specific manner. The view of Kant and Hegel, he asserts, only dresses up in philosophical language the ancient lex talionis of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. And he concludes: “Punishment, at bottom, is nothing but society’s defence of itself against all violations of its conditions of existence. How unhappy is a society that has no other means of defending itself except the executioner.” But these comments in the New York Times do not reveal all of Marx’s mind on the subject. For from the passages I have quoted from the Holy Family it is clear that Marx thought that punishment was bad because the societies that inflicted it were bad. If a society is so organized that independent and courageous men are driven to crime, or if in the society acts are prohibited that are necessary for the proper development of human nature, then when the society in question “defends itself” by the punishment of criminals, its professions of justice are hypocritical. They are hypocritical, in Marx’s view, for two reasons: in the first place, because the criminals are either unusually independent men or helpless victims and therefore are in neither case deserving of punishment; in the second place, because the just course would be to change the society instead of forcing men into crime and then punishing them for what they could not help.
If I have interpreted Marx correctly, it would appear that no one, on his view, would commit a crime unless he was an unusually vigorous man pent in by bad laws, or a feeble man in the grip of bad social circumstances. He does not, in the passages I have referred to, consider the possibility that someone might deliberately violate the rights of another. The only wrongdoing that he appears to admit might be freely willed without excuse is the hypocritical ardor to punish the unfortunate. In so far as his admiration is for vigor and power, it is for something that certainly does command admiration, though the admiration is not for anything moral in it. Power or vigor is admired, as in a tiger, for the beauty or economy of its exercise, but is not a feature of human beings that necessarily commands moral approval. In any case, a man who admires power and vigor to the extent of even commending it in a man who breaks the chains of law, is hardly consistent in excusing these feeble criminals who are the victims of social circumstance. If power is good, then feebleness is bad, and if feebleness is excused, then it may be necessary to condemn power. Furthermore, even though a society is bad, it may nevertheless be better to punish and prevent certain violations of right such as murder that take place within it, than to allow the wrongdoer to go scot-free, however physically admirable or abjectly excusable he may be. The right to life and to personal property may be defended in a society that is in many other respects a bad one. Many of those in it who defend these rights may, by these very actions, be defending much else that ought not to be, such as exploitation of man by man. Is it wrong, then, to protect the genuine rights because other rights are violated? Ought those who support law and order in this society always to suffer the pangs of a bad conscience? Marx can hardly say “Yes,” because he has ridiculed the idea of remorse and expiation. Marx’s position, it would seem, ought to be that in such a bad society those who support the punishment of wrongdoers ought to work to remove the injustices that lead to wrongdoing—the sincerity of their remorse would be shown by the practical strength of their reforming zeal. But if remorse and repentance are rejected, a good deal of the driving force behind the activities of reformers will have been dissipated.
It is clear that, mixed up in Marx’s moral indignation—a thing which he himself has just described as impotent—is the belief that crime is the outcome of social circumstances, that social circumstances change in accordance with some impersonal impetus, and that in a classless society there would be no crime because there would be no occasions for it. We may see in Marx’s judgments some of the confusion that has beset much of the “progressive” moral thinking of our time. Morality is regarded as somehow inferior to science, and yet the most bitter moral criticisms are directed against industrial and scientific society. Or the “progressive” moralist will prefer one sort of morality, a morality of power and achievement, and will also profess a more than Christian solicitude for the welfare of those who have failed through weakness. He will say that it is “uncivilized” to indulge in moral indignation, and will nevertheless vehemently attack the vice of hypocrisy. But such criticisms as these, however justified they may be, do not take us to the heart of the morality, or moral substitute, that Marx gave to the Marxist movement. In the sections that follow I shall try to get a bit closer to it by considering both the critical and constructive aspects of it in some detail. The attack on morality may be better described, I think, as an attack on “moralism,” and this will be the theme of the next section. This will be followed by a section in which is discussed the Marxist doctrine of how man’s lost unity may be restored. In the section after that I briefly discuss the Marxist theory of the state, since Marx’s condemnation of punishment was at least partly the result of his view that the state which administers punishment is a means by which the dominating class interests are secured.
Marxism and Moralism
The adjective “moralistic” is today used in spoken English to express criticism of exaggerated or misplaced moral judgments. For example, someone may be said to have a moralistic attitude toward crime if he is more concerned with the guilt of the criminals than with ways and means of stopping crimes from being committed. More generally, the noun “moralism” is used for an exaggerated or misplaced zeal for conventional moral rules. In chapter 25 of the Categorical Imperative Professor Paton says that his defense of the Kantian moral theory may be criticized by some people as “the product of moralistic prejudice” (p. 264), and it is clear from the context that a moralistic prejudice is one that results from an excessive emphasis on moral considerations. In the New Yorker for 26 September 1953 there is a criticism of a play based on the murder for which Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters were hanged. The critic mentions the theory that Mrs. Thompson’s letters describing her own unsuccessful attempts to murder her husband were romantic imaginations, and writes that this hypothesis was “too much for a literal-minded and moralistic judge and jury.” Here the force of the adjective “moralistic” seems to be that the judge’s and the jury’s moral disapproval of Mrs. Thompson’s adultery prejudiced them against recognizing an important possibility. Perhaps there is also the suggestion that the judge and jury overestimated the badness of adultery. Again, in a leading article in the London Times of 28 October 1953, it is stated that those who wish for the general recognition of the Chinese government by other governments do not base their contention on the “moralistic conception” that recognition is a “moral benediction.” Here too the word “moralistic,” and the phrase “moral benediction” are used somewhat pejoratively to disclaim any fanatical concern with the making of moral judgments. The adjective “moralistic” and the noun “moralism” are, then, used to indicate and depreciate the exaggeration of morality itself, or the exaggeration of those parts of morality that are concerned with the reprobation of guilt. It is easy to see, therefore, that when Marx appears to be attacking morality, he may really be intending to attack moralism.
Now in the parts of the Holy Family in which he discusses the Mysteries of Paris Marx more than once refers approvingly to Fourier’s criticisms of capitalist morality, and it is interesting to notice that “moralism” was one of the things that Fourier had attacked. According to Fourier there are four “false and deceptive sciences,” and to these he gives the names “moralism,” “politics,” “economism,” and “metaphysics.” (The analogy with the theory of ideologies is striking.) Moralism was the term used by Fourier for what he regarded as the pre-scientific repressive methods of controlling the passions of mankind. It was his view that the passions should not be suppressed, but first studied, and then utilized. (A well-known example of this view of his is the scheme by which scavenging, an occupation that disgusts most grown-up people, should be undertaken by children, who enjoy playing with mud and dirt.) An objective study of contemporary society would show, he believed, that it was riddled with falsehood and hypocrisy; that what was thought to be repression of the animal desires was really a diverting of them from real to imaginary satisfactions; that men were cheated by appeals to their patriotism into sacrificing their lives for other men who were in search of commercial gain; that women were robbed of happiness by being educated to ideals of chastity; that reformers who persuaded governments to suppress social evils such as slavery were misled by the “philanthropic illusion” that mere repression was sufficient to stop evils that were rooted in human nature. Fourier thought that moralism was a lazy creed, resulting from an unwillingness to study and understand the workings of the passions. When Marx said that morality was “impotence in action” (he actually used the French phrase impuissance mise en action), he was no doubt thinking of Fourier’s view that moralists take the lazy, quasi-magical course of forbidding and suppressing crime instead of the patient, scientific course of understanding its motives and redirecting them to the social good (“harmonizing” was one of Fourier’s favorite expressions). “Moralism,” then, in Fourier’s system, was the name given to the complex of practices and attitudes in which (1) the part to be played by scientific understanding in improving the lot of man was ignored, in which (2) the human passions were to be suppressed instead of utilized for the common good, and in which (3) the inevitable failure of suppression and repression was followed by concealments and hypocrisies. The current senses of “moralistic” that I have just mentioned agree well enough with this conception. The critics of Kantian moral philosophy mentioned by Professor Paton think that Kant gave too much weight, in his analysis of morality, to the influence of moral reason as compared with men’s passions and self-interest. The writer in the New Yorker thought that the judge and jury were insufficiently informed of the realities of human passion, and were therefore hasty in their judgment of Mrs. Thompson. The writer in the Times thought that indignation at Chinese intransigence might lead governments to be concerned with punishment when they should be concerned with future good.
It seems to me that a fundamental feature of the attack on moralism is the idea that blaming social evils, or preaching against them, or suppressing them, are inadequate ways of dealing with them, and should at any rate be preceded, if not replaced, by an understanding of them. Marx put this very clearly in a review he wrote for the Gesellschaftsspiegel of a French book about suicide. “Man,” he wrote, “seems a mystery to man: one knows only how to blame him, there is no knowledge of him.”22 This is a view that is very easily confused with the idea that morality should be abandoned in favor of a science that is at the same time a transformation of the social world. I have already discussed this more general and radical idea, so that it is sufficient now to say something about the somewhat less radical one that I have just described. And in the first place I suppose I need take up very little space in saying how very widespread and important a view it is today. That preaching, moral indignation, and even moral seriousness could be well dispensed with if only the causes of social evils were known and remedies for them thereby became possible, is the conscious creed of some and an unexpressed assumption of many more. It is an important element not only of the Marxist outlook but of much that is regarded as “progressive” in liberalism and in non-Marxist socialism. Nor is it devoid of all foundation. For, as Marx himself pointed out, not all the evils of society are the result of deliberate wickedness on the part of individual men. Unemployment, for example, is something that is almost as unwelcome to some employers, many of whom may be put out of business in the course of it, as it is to its working-class victims, and it certainly cannot be prevented by telling employers that it is their duty not to dismiss their employees, or by ordering them to provide jobs and wages for them. Analysis of what brings it about, however, has suggested ways in which, in certain circumstances, governments can take measures that prevent it. If these measures are followed by other evils, this does not mean that anyone has aimed at producing these either, and further enquiry and ingenuity may discover new remedies to be applied by governments, by other corporate bodies, or by individuals. In general, many of the social evils from which men suffer are no more the result of human malevolence than are such physical evils as disease or earthquake. Revilings or penalties are, in such cases, as futile as shaking one’s fist at a storm. Furthermore, it is possible that some deliberately evil acts, such as looting or rape in wartime, or a cowardly suicide during a financial depression, would not have occurred if the situation within which they arose had been prevented from coming about. Thus, when a soldier is shot for rape or looting it may well occur to those who have to enforce the penalty that such crimes would not take place if war itself could be prevented. It is almost as though society were responsible for the crime rather than the men who are punished for it. But tempting as it is to talk in terms that appear to shift moral responsibility from the individual to society as a whole, we should not allow ourselves to be misled by this language, and the following seem to me to be some main considerations to be borne in mind.
(a) It is always the case that evil deeds depend upon circumstances in the sense that if the circumstances had been different the deed might not have been committed. If Judas had not met Jesus he would not have betrayed him, but no one would argue that it was the accident of their meeting rather than Judas himself that was responsible for the deed. (Some people, perhaps even Marx, sometimes speak as though circumstances give rise to passions and motives and that these drive men willy-nilly this way and that. But if this were so, there would be no actions at all, and so no responsibility and no morals, and discussion of the sort we are here engaged in would be nonsensical. But most people, and Marx and Marxists most of the time, do not speak in this way except in metaphor.) The idea rather is that there are persistent social circumstances, such as poverty, which offer temptations that a proportion of men may be expected to succumb to, so that the way to reduce wrongdoing is to remove or reduce the temptations to it by producing circumstances in which they can seldom arise. The production of such circumstances, of course, would also remove from some other people the chance of valiantly overcoming these temptations, but this would be justified chiefly on the ground that it is more important to protect those who would be victims of crime than to provide occasions for moral heroism. Marx seems to have thought, and perhaps he was right, that some of the “crimes” that take place in evil societies are not wrong at all, but are justifiable acts of revolt against intolerable restraints. The practical conclusion that may be drawn is that, besides the duties of protecting individuals from lawless acts and helping the victims of war, unemployment, and poverty, there is, somehow, a duty to overcome lawlessness in general, and to prevent war, poverty, unemployment, and other social evils.
(b) There is, I have said, “somehow” a duty to attempt these things. But whose duty is it? And how is it to be pursued? It is natural to suppose that the duty rests on those best able to fulfill it, that is, on those whose influence in society is greatest, and thus it came about in the nineteenth century that statesmen and well-to-do people concerned themselves with “the condition of the people,” as it was called. This meant that those who were influential in public life were thought to have a duty not only to uphold the law and to help the unfortunate but also to try to change those social conditions in which crime and misfortune accumulated. But on the Marxist view, the moral and social conceptions of the bourgeois ruling class must reflect and support their own interests, which are not the interests of the working classes. From this it is concluded that any benefits that the working classes have received from the bourgeoisie—and it cannot be denied that they have received some—have been unwillingly conceded to them, either as the price of their support against the landowning interest, or in the hope of enticing them away from more radical courses. Marxists, therefore, believe that the only duty that a member of the bourgeoisie can have to help promote the transformation of society must take the form of joining the working-class party that is out to destroy the capitalist order. The working-class Marxist is thus in the happy position of having a duty that is consistent with pride in his class, whereas the bourgeois Marxist must be ashamed of his birth and can only do good when he has renounced it. Thus all reforms promoted by non-Marxists are regarded as hypocritical maneuvers. Not only is moral endeavor diverted from the fulfillment of duties within the social order to the duty of transforming it, but it is not admitted to be moral endeavor unless it is under the direction of the Communist Party.
(c) It is obvious, therefore, that the Communist creed gives definite guidance about whose duty it is to take action to cure the evils that are held to pervade capitalist society. It is the duty (as well as the interest) of the proletariat to take this action, and particularly of the members of “the party of the proletariat.” From this it follows that anyone who seriously desires to cure the evils in question will join the party of the proletariat. The non-Marxist who wishes to see these evils brought to an end has no such definite course open to him. He may lose faith in the efficacy of individual action without knowing what is to replace it. In his perplexity he often turns to the state, for the state is a powerful body capable of drastic action in the public sphere. I do not think it is at all fanciful to say that a result of increased preoccupation with the cure of pervasive social evils has been a transfer of moral concern from individuals and families to state and party. Churches, both because they are conservative in outlook and because they wished to avoid political entanglements, have been more interested in the alleviation of social evils than with their cure. There was a period when industrial concerns like Lever Brothers endeavored to fulfill the newly conceived duties by such means as housing schemes for their employees. But when giant evils are regarded as maladies requiring equally giant cures, men look for giant physicians, therapeutic Leviathans, in the form of governments and mass parties. It may well be that there are other possibilities of remedy not yet apparent to us, but until these are manifest the attack on moralism must tend to a transfer of moral interest. Praising, blaming, and preaching have not been eliminated but have taken on new forms in other places. If the clergyman’s sermons no longer inspire many men to action, governments try to persuade traders to lower their prices or to preach workmen into temporary contentment with their wages.
(d) Another feature of the attack on moralism is a rejection of moralizing. Moralizing is calling people’s attention to moral principles which they ought to follow, and those who reject moralizing have the idea that not only is it useless—and this is the point that we have so far been considering—but also that it is insincere. Marxists, and many non-Marxists too, feel that there is something mean and hypocritical about those who preach morality, as though the preaching were incompatible with the practice of it. I think that this attitude has arisen in part because of the social leveling that has been in progress since the French Revolution. People are unwilling to listen to sermons unless they accept the authority of the preacher or of his message, and throughout the nineteenth century the old message and the old preachers commanded less and less respect, so that now, in the mid–twentieth century, many people regard moral preaching as a base substitute for moral action. Just as Shaw held that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” so the anti-moralist seems to believe that “those who will, do; those who don’t, preach.” (Well-bred, sheltered people often suppose that the main moral principles are so plain that there is something tedious and ill-mannered in mentioning them. They may be right as regards their own social circle, but there are levels of society in which there is very little, if any, conception of duty.) In Marxist morality moral approval is reserved for deeds only, and neither words nor intentions are allowed to have moral weight. This may be illustrated by a passage from The German Ideology in which Marx criticizes the German bourgeoisie for its cowardly acceptance of the morality of “the good will.”23 Marx seems to have believed that Kant taught that a good will was good in abstraction from deeds, but he was quite wrong in believing this, since in the passage in which Kant describes the good will he says that it is not “a mere wish,” but “the straining of every means so far as they are in our control.”24 But Marx, in the passage in question, was concerned to draw a contrast between French liberalism, which was a liberalism of deeds which carried through the French Revolution, and German liberalism, which he thought had been a liberalism of mere intentions that led nowhere; and to draw another contrast between the concrete interests (such as reform of taxation) which gave vigor to French liberalism, and the formalism which, he believed, had rendered German liberalism powerless.
Two associated but distinct theses are involved in this panegyric of action. In the first place Marx is asserting that if someone does not practice his professed moral principles, then they are not his principles at all but mere verbal professions. This is just what Kant holds in his doctrine of “maxims,” but in Marxism it becomes associated with the theory of the union of theory and practice and gets a peculiar moral application. It is argued, for example, that people who preach reform but give support only to projects of gradual improvement, show by their deeds that they have found little to quarrel with in the existing social order. Now part, but only part, of this argument is correct. Moral principles are practical principles, and we know what a man’s practical principles are from his deeds more than from his words alone, so that if what a man does differs widely and often from what he says he believes he ought to do, we feel justified in concluding that his moral talk was mere talk so far as it concerned himself. Involved with this is the view of the Theses on Feuerbach that there is no impassable barrier between thoughts (or acts of will) “in the mind” and practice (or deeds) in the natural world. But this truth should not be confused, as Marxists do confuse it, with the falsehood that sincerity in wanting to cure social ills is possessed only by those who work with the Communist Party for the violent overthrow of the capitalist system. If it were perfectly clear that the evils in question would be cured in this way, and would not be cured but would get much worse if this course were not adopted, then there would be some justification for doubting the sincerity of cautious bourgeois reformers. But once it is allowed to be possible that there may be other means of curing the evils in question, or once it is granted that some of them may not be curable at all, this “activism,” as the attitude in question is sometimes called, loses its plausibility. “By their fruits ye shall know them” is one thing, and Marxist “activism” is quite another. But this “activism” exerts a powerful spell on people of good will who wish to help in the cure of social evils and are persuaded that there is one way only in which this can be done.
A second point to notice in Marx’s attack on the “good will” is that he depreciates the intentions and aims of the agent by comparison with his deeds and their effects. This is different from the point that it is by the deeds of men that we chiefly get to know their intentions. This second point is that the intentions of men matter very little by comparison with what they set in motion by their deeds. I think that this view has colored Marxist thinking ever since Marx’s day and accounts, in part, for an aspect of it that puzzles non-Marxists. When some line of Marxist policy fails, the leader responsible for it may be cast aside, vilified, and shot, even though he may have struggled his utmost to bring the policy to success. It is well known that men like Bukharin who appear to have spent their lives in the Communist cause, are reviled as traitors to it because the policy they advocated was abandoned by the Party. The non-Marxist feels that to blame and disgrace a man merely because his policy fails is morally indefensible. Now part of the Communist objection to such men may be that if they do something that harms the Party they cannot sincerely believe in the Party. That is, part of the objection may result from a stupid misapplication of the dictum “By their fruits ye shall know them.” But I suggest that there is more in it than this, and that another reason for the Communists’ attitude is that they judge a statesman entirely in terms of what he achieves, and that they judge what he achieves entirely in terms of its success in promoting the aims of the Communist Party. I think it is important to notice that when this attitude is adopted the statesman is regarded as a means to the securing of certain aims and as nothing else. The judgment that is passed on him is passed merely in respect of the success or failure of his instrumentality and not in respect of him as a person. His loyalty to the cause as he understands it counts for nothing by comparison with the fact that he miscalculated or was frustrated by events. Thus the Marxists who behave in the way I have described are treating the men they call traitors not as persons, not as beings with some independent moral value, not, as Kant put it, as “ends,” but as broken links in some impersonal process. Yet there is something almost compelling about the way in which the Marxist comes to this. We judge men’s sincerity, he argues, by their deeds; intentions that are belied by deeds were never there, but are simulated by hypocritical words; men’s sincerity is shown by their work for the oppressed, and therefore by their work for the Party that champions the oppressed; men who, from within this Party, pursue policies that endanger its success are the most dangerous enemies of mankind. It is in some such way, it seems to me, that Marxists pass from the condition in which they demand responsible moral commitment to that in which they require only mechanical, and therefore irresponsible, obedience. They have followed the well-worn path that leads from moral indignation, through revolt and revolutionary administration, to cynicism and ultimate nihilism.
A further element in Marx’s criticism of the Kantian “good will” was, it will be remembered, that the German liberals who made profession of it were not pursuing any specific, concrete interests, but merely thought in terms of a formal equality of man that they failed to link with any of the real needs of their time. He accuses them, that is, of being for “equality” but not for any specific equalities. Marx, like Hegel and Fourier, suggests that morality is not an affair of pure practical reason detached from the passions of men. He regards Kant as holding that there is a pure moral reason, distinct from the passions, that ought to bring them into subjection to itself but is frequently unable to do so. We may develop Marx’s view on this matter somewhat as follows. Those who suppose that there is reason on the one hand and passion and interests on the other go on to maintain that morality requires the suppression of the latter by the former. They look upon man as split in two and hope for unity to be established by one half dominating the other. Yet in fact, the argument proceeds, the half that is to play the role of master is not a reality at all, but an abstraction, the shadow of a shade. The shade, on Marx’s view, is the soul as the central feature of religious belief, and the pure moral reason is the shadow of this. Marx thought that the morality of repression was bound up with belief in this soul, and that a morality of development would discard it. In the Christian morality, he held, man was divided against himself, whereas the rejection of supernatural beliefs and of their philosophical counterparts was implicit in any system that looked forward to the development of integrated human beings. In the next section, therefore, we must consider the Marxist ideal of man’s lost unity restored.
Man’s Lost Unity Restored
In recent years, particularly in France, a good deal has been written about Marx’s so-called Paris Manuscripts or Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts, an unpublished and uncompleted work in which Hegelian notions are associated with economic theory. It used to be held that the obscure arguments contained in this work find no place in the Materialist Conception of History that Marx developed soon after, but more careful study has made it clear that, although Marx gave up the terminology of these manuscripts, the ideas themselves had a lasting effect on his system of thought. They play no obvious part in the writings of Lenin and Stalin, but we are justified in giving some attention to them because of the part they have played in forming the Marxist moral ideal. What I shall have to say about them is, of course, only a very brief outline of what would need saying if our main concern had been with the development of Marx’s own views rather than with the Marxist outlook that has grown from them.25
Now there are two key words in Marx’s Paris Manuscripts, the word Entäusserung, generally translated “alienation,” which in German has the meaning of giving up, parting with, renouncing, and the stronger word Entfremdung, which means “estrangement.” Marx took these words from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, and we must therefore first see what they were there used to express. The fundamental idea of Hegel’s Phenomenology is that mind is not a simple, self-contained substance distinct from and independent of the external world, but a complex being that develops from mere sense awareness through a series of phases in which more and more of its potentialities are unfolded to an ultimate self-consciousness which contains in itself all the earlier phases. Mind is activity, and since there can be no activity without an object on which it is exercised, Hegel considered that mind could only become conscious of itself by becoming aware of the objects that its activity brought to being. We may get an idea of what Hegel means if we consider that an artist or man of science can only come to realize what he is capable of by producing works of art or by framing theories and then considering them as objective achievements—he will certainly learn more about himself in this way than by trying to catch himself thinking as Bouvard and Pécuchet tried unsuccessfully to do in Flaubert’s novel. There is no mind, according to Hegel, without distinction and opposition, and in the Preface to the Phenomenology he writes of “the earnestness, the pain, the patience, the labour of the negative.” This is no mere metaphor, and at various stages of the Phenomenology Hegel shows how mind’s consciousness of itself is improved by such means as the manual labor of the slave who comes to learn about himself in carrying out the plans of his master, or in the subtleties of speech and architecture, or in the worship given to the gods. “The labouring consciousness,” he says in connection with the slave, “thus comes to apprehend the independent being as itself.” It is Hegel’s view that mind could not develop by staying at home; it must work for its living, and this means that it grows by consuming itself, by putting itself into what, to begin with, appeared opposed and alien. (We may see here a development of Locke’s defense of property as something into which a man has put himself.) This going outside itself by which mind develops its powers is called by Hegel Entäusserung or alienation. Without it man would have remained at the level of mere animal life and there would have been no civilization. It follows that there could be no progress or civilization without opposition and division. And this division must be in the minds of men. On the one hand there is mind as externalized in its works, and on the other hand there is the mind that confronts them. Hegel mentions various occasions when this opposition between mind and its products was particularly acute. One was when the ancient city-state had collapsed and the individual, feeling oppressed and deserted under the Roman despotism, retreated into himself or fled to God, and thus opposed his religious life that was dedicated to God to his everyday life in which he was subject to Caesar. Whereas the Athenian of the age of Pericles had felt at home in the city, the Christian of the Imperial period felt a stranger in the pagan world. Again, with the coming of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, men lost their earlier assurance of their place in the scheme of things and were torn between their faith and their intelligence. (We may think here of the portentous conflict within the mind of Rousseau, and of the later “romantic agony.”) Hegel uses the word Entfremdung for these unhappy divisions in the mind of man as, through conflict, he moves on to new achievements. Briefly, the theme of the Phenomenology is the mind’s progress from mere unreflective living through opposition, labor, alienation, and estrangement, to the ultimate harmonious self-consciousness. This, fundamentally, is the theme of the Marxist philosophy of history in which mankind passes from classless primitive communism through class struggle to the ultimate communism in which, freed from class divisions, men take conscious control of their destiny.
I do not propose to discuss the details of Marx’s criticisms of Hegel’s Phenomenology—it is sufficiently obvious that, like Feuerbach, he considered that Hegel concerned himself with abstract categories instead of with concrete realities. But whereas Feuerbach had given to Hegel’s metaphysical language a psychological interpretation, Marx made use of it for social criticism. The main point of Marx’s translation of economic language into Hegelian language is that he draws an analogy between the condition of the proletarian in capitalist society and the condition of the estranged, divided mind that has not yet achieved harmonious self-consciousness. According to Hegel the estranged mind is lost in a world that seems alien to it, although it is a world that it has labored to construct. According to Marx men living in capitalist society are faced by a social order that, although it results from what they do, exerts a senseless constraint over them as if it were something purely physical presented to their senses. Again, according to Hegel the acute points of estrangement come after periods of relative harmony, and according to Marx the estrangement of man in capitalism has reached a degree not touched before. A savage living in a cave, he says, does not feel a stranger there, since he has discovered that by so living he can improve his life. But a proletarian living in a cellar is not at home there since it belongs to another who can eject him if he does not pay his rent.26 The contrast is between a man who by his labor transforms the alien world into something that he recognizes as his, and a man whose labor helps to construct a system that takes control of him. The one man’s labor is an enhancement and extension of himself, the other man’s labor is his own impoverishment. And it is not only the results of his labor that have this effect, but the labor itself is an activity quite foreign to his nature. “The worker feels himself only when he is not working and when he is at work he feels outside himself.”27 Under capitalism, then, the human labor which could, if consciously employed, extend the power of man, is blindly spent in subjecting him to his own unconsciously formed creations.
Before we comment on this let us see how, in the same work, Marx develops the idea by showing the part played by money. Money, he argues, leads to the substitution of an unnatural, distorted society for the natural society in which human powers come to their fruition. It does this by becoming the necessary intermediary between a desire and its satisfaction. For the possession of money enables a man to satisfy the most exorbitant desires, and the lack of it prevents him from satisfying the most elementary ones. Someone with no money cannot effectively desire to travel and study however much these activities might contribute to his development as a human being, whereas someone with money may realize these desires even though he is quite incapable of profiting from them. Thus money has the power of turning idea into reality, and of making a reality (i.e., a genuine human power) remain a mere idea.28 It is natural and human, he argues, for love to be responded to by love, trust by trust, for the man of taste to enjoy pictures, for forceful and eloquent men to influence others. But money distorts all this by enabling the man who is devoid of love to purchase it, the vulgar man to buy pictures, the coward to buy influence. Marx illustrates this by the famous passage in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens in which Timon says that “Gold! Yellow, glittering, precious gold” will “make black, white; foul, fair; wrong, right; base, noble; old, young; coward, valiant;” etc. This was a favorite passage of Marx’s throughout his life, and he quoted it twenty years later in Capital, volume 1, to illustrate his argument that it is not only commodities that may be turned into money but also “more delicate things, sacrosanct things which are outside the commercial traffic of men.” “Modern society,” he goes on, “which, when still in its infancy, pulled Pluto by the hair of his head out of the bowels of the earth, acclaims gold its Holy Grail, as the glittering incarnation of its inmost vital principle.”29 In Capital, volume 1, commodities are defined by Marx as goods produced for exchange,30 and it is money that makes such exchange possible on a large scale. In capitalist society almost all goods are produced for sale and are therefore commodities, and this, according to Marx, prevents most of the members of that society from seeing that the exchange value of these goods results from the labor put into their production. This is not concealed in feudal society where direct domination prevails, since a man who has to do forced labor or to pay tithes cannot fail to notice that, fundamentally, it is his labor, that is, himself, that he gives, and that it is to the lord or the priest that he gives himself. But in capitalist society the goods that are produced for sale take on a fetishistic character, as if their exchange value were something inherent in them, like the god that is supposed to inhabit the stone. Men are kept at it producing goods for money as if money or commodities were the end of life. First gold, and then capital, became the Fetish that commanded men’s lives just as some stone idol controls the lives of African barbarians.
Marx’s religious comparison here shows the continuing influence of Feuerbach. In Capital, volume 1, Marx underlines the comparison. He argues that primitive people believe in nature-gods because they do not know how to arrange their affairs with one another and with nature. “Such religious reflexions of the real world,” he writes, “will not disappear until the relations between human beings in their practical everyday life have assumed the aspect of perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations between man and man, and as between man and nature.” So too, he holds, with the commodity fetish. “The life process of society, this meaning the material process of production, will not lose its veil of mystery until it becomes a process carried on by a free association of producers, under their conscious and purposive control.”31 “Mystery” is one of Feuerbach’s key words, and “conscious and purposive control” is Feuerbach’s and Marx’s substitute for the Hegelian self-consciousness. The equation of “life process of society” with “the material process of production” is, however, a departure from his earliest views which obviously diminishes their moral impact.
In the first place, then, let us consider Marx’s view that when, as in capitalist society, goods are produced for sale, i.e., for money, most people’s lives are as pointless as are the lives of those who worship non-existent gods. The reference, it will be remembered, is to Feuerbach’s argument that it is because of their disappointments in this life that men have imagined a world of gods who provide merely substitute satisfactions for their real needs. Now it seems to me that Feuerbach and Marx were much too ready to suppose that the world can be so ordered that substitute satisfactions will not be necessary. Some of the chief evils that beset mankind seem to be inseparable from the condition of being human. Death is the source of many of our main griefs and the source, too, of many of our religious hopes, and as long as men die and want to live, and as long as some die when others remain alive, the need for religious consolation will continue. There is no need for me to dwell on other griefs such as personal ugliness or insignificance often cause which, though not universal as death is, nevertheless give rise to the same need for a spirit world. It is those who are lucky, sheltered, hard, or unusually intelligent, who may expect to escape this need, but it must remain, I should suppose, a feature of any human society that we are justified in thinking about. If this is so, no amount of social remodeling is likely to extinguish the propensity of human beings to split themselves and the world into something material and something spiritual.
But on the face of it money is not as closely linked with the condition of being human as belief in another world is, for men have lived without money and might conceivably do so again. Marx is on stronger ground, therefore, in looking forward to the dispelling of the money illusion. His view appears to be that money diverts men’s minds from their real concerns to illusory ones just as, on his view, the worship of the gods diverts them from their primary earthly concerns. Now I do not think that this matter is nearly as simple as Marx thought it was. He assumes that he knows what men’s “real concerns” are, or, as he puts it in the Paris Manuscripts, what a “human” life is and must be. In this work men’s real concern is to develop their powers free from illusion, but in Capital the reality of human society is, as the passage quoted in the last paragraph shows, “the material process of production.” This is one of the points at which confusion enters into the whole Marxist scheme of things. When we talk about men’s real concerns we are talking in moral terms about what they ought to concern themselves with, but when Marx talks about “social reality” he means society as it really is in contrast with society as it falsely appears to people who do not understand its workings. In the Paris Manuscripts he was still a moralist, whereas in Capital he claims to be a man of science saying what must be. Nowhere, it seems to me, is he clear whether he is thinking of moral illusions or of material illusions, of mistakes about what we ought to do or of mistakes about what is. This may be seen even in his use of the passage from Timon of Athens. It seems to me that Timon’s mistake was to have believed that money could buy friendship. He found when his money had gone that the men he had been giving it to were not his friends at all, and he ought to have concluded that you get friends by giving yourself rather than by giving money. Marx does not draw the conclusion that money cannot buy love or taste, but he rather concludes that it can buy these things and that therefore people without it cannot get them. The story of Timon shows that money is not all-powerful, not that everything can be done with it. In Capital Marx says that money is a “radical leveller, effaces all distinctions,” and there is a sense in which this is true. In an aristocratic society only members of the aristocracy may be allowed to live in manor-houses or to wear certain styles of dress, but once the society is sufficiently permeated by commerce anyone with the money to buy one may live in a manor-house and the style of clothes one wears will depend on what one is able and willing to buy. But it does not follow from this that money will buy even prestige, since this is something that nouveaux riches often fail to obtain with it.
This brings me to a further aspect of this point. Marx is arguing that in a money economy people mistake the shadow for the substance, the symbol for the reality. Money is a symbol enabling goods to be equated with one another, but people live on food not on money. Now this is true if we take “live” in the sense of “keep alive,” for coins and banknotes have no intrinsic power of nourishing. But money may also be regarded as a sign of success, and in this sense the possession of money, although it may not chiefly concern the buying of goods and services, is by no means empty or pointless, for the prestige it brings is real enough. Here again the Marxist tendency is to regard such things as prestige as illusory and to confuse this with the judgment that they are bad. Again, an individual whose life is spent in the pursuit of money may, if those psychologists are right who say so, be endeavoring to hoard it as a substitute for excrement, but he does get satisfaction of a sort from his strange behavior. People may obtain money (1) in order to buy goods or services with which to keep alive and develop their powers; or they may obtain it (2) in order to get social prestige—and this course is reasonable only in a society where money does give social prestige; or they may obtain it (3) to satisfy some unconscious desire. Now (1) and (2) are not quite as different as they may at first seem, for people tend to spend their money in ways that at least will not bring social disapproval. But (3) is quite different from (1) and (2), since the pathological miser hoards with a passion that is not much affected by social disapproval.32 Thus his obsession may bring pleasure in one way and pain in another, in so far as he meets social disapproval. It is also different from (1) and (2) in that the miser does not know what is leading him along the course he is following, would probably wish to do something else if he did know, and is generally unhappy except when he is adding to his hoard or counting it over. On the other hand, people may admit to themselves that they want “to get on,” and not want to do anything else when this is pointed out to them. At any rate their pursuit of money is not empty or mistaken merely because money is a symbol. If it is mistaken, it is because there are other things more worthy of pursuit than the prestige that money brings. It is not mistaken because money is a symbol for eating and drinking and other so-called “material” activities. It is worth noticing that religious belief cannot be regarded as significantly like the behavior of the pathological miser, since in any single community it is widespread, if not universal, and brings men together in activities that are esteemed, whereas the miser is at odds with his fellow men and therefore with himself.
The second point I should like to make about Marx’s early account of “estrangement” is that it is linked with his later view that it is through the division of labor that man is divided and repressed. Indeed, one of his criticisms of money is that it facilitates the division of labor. Now Marx distinguished different sorts of division of labor. In the first place there is what in Capital, volume 1, he calls “the social division of labour in society at large.” This includes the natural division of labor between men and women, young and old, strong and feeble, as well as that between the various crafts and professions.33 It is his view that in all societies except primitive communism it is inseparable from private property and classes. This he contrasts with what he calls “the manufacturing division of labour” in which capitalist employers assign to their workmen particular tasks determined by the organization of their industry. Men engaged in the manufacturing division of labor Marx calls “detail workers”; these are men who, for example, do not make a watch but only one part of a watch, and, Marx says, “a worker who carries out one and the same simple operation for a lifetime, converts his whole body into the automatic specialized instrument of that of that operation.”34 But even this is not the most specialized type of division, for the extreme of specialization arises when machinery has been invented and the individual worker’s job is determined by the structure and working of the machine. Marx calls this “machinofacture.” He says that machinofacture requires the “technical subordination of the worker to the uniform working of the instrument of labour”35 and leads to child labor, long working hours, and unhealthy working conditions. Now Marx holds that all types of the division of labor limit the activities of individuals and divide them. In The German Ideology he writes: “. . . As long as man remains in natural society . . . as long therefore as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as labour is distributed, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity, but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or critic.”36 And in Capital he writes: “Even the division of labour in society at large entails some crippling both of mind and body.”37 But of course in the latter work his chief concern is to show the much greater evils that follow from the subdivision of labor that is characteristic of machine industry. The question therefore arises of what communism is a remedy for, and of what sort of remedy it is. Is it a remedy for the evils of all division of labor? If so, then under communism there would be no division of labor. Or is it a remedy for the extremes of the division of labor such as occur in machine industry? If so, a division of labor that accorded with natural aptitudes might still exist in communist society. It will be seen from the passage I have quoted from The German Ideology that when that book was written Marx looked forward to the end of the division of labor, in the sense that no one would be confined to one sort of job. A few years later Engels wrote a little essay in the form of a series of questions entitled “Grundsätze des Kommunismus.” Question 20 is: “What will be the results of the eventual abolition of private property?” and in the course of answering it Engels says that industry will be managed according to a plan, that this will require men whose capacities are developed “on all sides,” and that in such a society children will be trained to pass easily from job to job. In this way, he continues, classes will vanish.38 Marx did not incorporate this idea into the Communist Manifesto where the communist society is vaguely described as “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” But in 1875, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx returned to this idea when, in describing the second phase of the communist society of the future, he says that “the servile subjection of individuals to the division of labour” will disappear, and with it the opposition between intellectual and bodily work. It is not clear whether this means that the division of labor will disappear or whether it will continue but that men will no longer be enslaved by it, but as communist industry is to be highly productive we may suppose that Marx meant that the jobs could be divided without the men who carry them out being divided.
The root of the matter, as with so much else in Marxist theory, is contained in The German Ideology. The paragraph following that which I quoted on pages 219–20 commences as follows: “This crystallization of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to nought our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.”39 What is here being said is that human inventiveness has led to an organization of society that no one has planned, and that this organization, with its division of labor, is something which each individual, and each generation of individuals, must accept as a social fact to which they must adjust themselves. The argument is that men have to fit themselves to the results of their efforts instead of producing by their efforts something that they want. Thus, when there is a division of labor individuals are drawn into some limited mode of work (which is therefore a limited mode of life) which directs their activities in a direction that they have not chosen. If people are to live complete lives instead of merely partial ones, they must, in a highly developed society, be able to choose and perform lots of jobs. (We need not pursue here Engels’ secondary point that in communist society a more generalized type of ability will be called for.) The communist ideal is one in which nothing happens that has not been planned and in which everyone can live the sort of life he wants to. Now quite apart from the obvious objection that such a state of affairs is most unlikely to be achieved, I think we may make the more radical objection that it could not conceivably be achieved. For if plans are to be carried out, things will be done that some people have objected to, or if nothing is done that anyone objects to plans cannot be carried out. Furthermore, as I argued on pages 176–77, to assume that a society is completely under human control is to assume that no one ever makes a mistake or miscalculation. Marxists are so anxious to free men from unwilled social forces that they propose to subject them to an infallible and unavoidable social plan, the organization and operation of which they have never explained.
I have already shown how very similar to the views of Fourier on “moralism” Marx’s views are, and now, in conclusion, I should like to show how closely Marx’s objection to the evils of the division of labor resembles another part of Fourier’s ethical theory. Fourier believed that the social order of his time ran counter to three of the most important and fundamental human passions, the Cabalist passion or passion for intrigue, the Butterfly passion or passion for variety, and the Composite passion or passion for mingling the pleasures of the senses and of the soul. The Cabalist passion we need not now discuss, although it is important enough since, according to Fourier, it involves the confounding of ranks so that superiors and inferiors come closer together, and thus is incompatible with rigid class distinctions. The other two, however, are regarded by Fourier as justifying two of his most characteristic proposals, the passage in the course of each working day from one job to another, and the mingling of bodily and mental elements in all work and all enjoyment. According to him the subdivision of labor in industrial society with the long hours at monotonous tasks that it then involved was quite incompatible with human happiness. In one of his accounts of what he called “attractive labour” he describes a day in the life of a member of the future society as consisting of “attendance at the hunting group,” “attendance at the fishing group,” “attendance at the agricultural group under cover,” and attendance at four or five other groups as well as work in the library, visits to the “court of the arts, ball, theatre, receptions,” etc. There is no need to underline the similarity between this and the account in The German Ideology of the member of communist society who hunts in the morning, fishes in the afternoon, rears cattle in the evening, and criticizes after dinner. In discussing the Composite passion Fourier argues that the attempt to enjoy intellectual pursuits without mingling them with the pleasures of eating, drinking, pleasant company, etc., leads to a thin and bored state of mind, whereas the attempt to enjoy the pleasures of the senses without any intellectual admixture leads to an unsatisfactorily brutish condition. He extends this idea in ingenious ways so as to maintain, for example, that an ambition that has no element of interest about it is inferior to one in which more is at stake than mere glory or reputation. If we consider Marx’s condemnation of the division of intellectual from bodily labor, his criticism of German liberalism for its detachment from real social interests, and his general requirement that social arrangements should satisfy the whole of human nature and not lead to its division into mutilated parts, we can see how much of the moral stimulus of Marxism came from Fourier. In Fourier this positive moral impetus is as strong as the criticism of moralism. Marx, however, more sophisticated but less clear-headed than Fourier, spent so much effort in criticizing the existing social order that he had none left for the task of describing the one that was to replace it.
The Supersession of the State
It will be remembered that Marx, in his discussion of Sue’s Mysteries of Paris, and in a later newspaper article, criticized the institution of punishment on the ground that it was better to cure social evils than merely to repress their consequences. But another reason why Marx was hostile to punishment was that, in so far as it is a means of upholding rights, it is carried out by a state or government, and states or governments are organizations for protecting the interests of a ruling class. Because he believed that this is what the state essentially is, Marx held that all its activities, even those that might on the face of it appear innocent enough, must in some way express its nature as an instrument of class domination. “Political power,” he wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another.” We have already seen enough of the Marxist theory to realize that law and politics are held to be superstructural by comparison with the basic productive forces. Hence the nature and exercise of state (political) power can only be understood in terms of underlying technological or industrial conditions. The view is that as the various technological epochs succeed one another, different sets of interests proceed to organize their supremacy. In the Ancient World it was slave-owners who saw to it that the laws were formulated and enforced in ways favorable to them; in feudal society it was the landowners, and in capitalist society it is the bourgeoisie, who rule by methods that ensure the supremacy of the social arrangements that their interests require. The proletariat is destined to dispossess the bourgeoisie and to inaugurate a society without classes and without domination.
This is the general view, but we must now elaborate some of the details. Why is it, we may ask, that a government is needed to promote the interests of a ruling class, when the real power of this class consists in its control of the productive forces? The Marxist answer is that where classes exist, opposed interests exist, so that it becomes necessary for those whose position in the scheme of production is unfavorable to be kept from rebelling against those whose position is favorable, whether these dissidents are the adherents of an outmoded or the pioneers of a new system. Threats of force, and also the use of it, are therefore employed to prevent the social order from collapsing in continuous civil war. Now the state just is an organization which, within a given territory, makes and upholds by force and threat of force the rules of conduct that foster the interests of a ruling class. As Lenin put it in his literal way: “It consists of special bodies of armed men who have at their disposal prisons, etc.”40 Police, armies, judges, officials, punishment, prisons—these, according to Marxists, make up the state. Of course, a ruling class maintains itself in power by other means besides coercion. For example, there will be men who frame and advocate the view of the world, the ideology, that expresses the outlook and interests of the ruling class. Such ideologies will spread from the ruling class to the subject classes and bind the latter to the former by bonds of speculation. But on the Marxist view the essence of the state is coercion.
It is also an important Marxist view that in primitive communist society there was no state. The idea that state and society are not the same thing is familiar enough. Locke’s “state of nature,” for example, was a social condition in which there was no “political superior,” and many writers since have pointed out that in many of the simpler societies there is no distinct organization for dealing by force with breaches of custom. No doubt the distinction between society and state came into Marxism from the writings of Saint-Simon (which Marx and Engels both quote) and from the Saint-Simonian ideas that were discussed in Marx’s family and in the University of Berlin when Marx was a student there. Indeed, Saint-Simonianism was a very active movement in Europe at the time when Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels were forming their views, and Comte (who in his early years was Saint-Simon’s secretary) on the one hand, and Marx and Engels on the other, may be regarded as developing in rather different ways certain doctrines laid down by Saint-Simon. Saint-Simon, then, regarded the state as a relic of the military and theological era that was being replaced by the industrial era; hence in the state order was secured by means of authority and force, whereas industrial and scientific society, the spontaneous outcome of labor and inventiveness, needed no theological authority or military caste to foster its development. According to Saint-Simon the priests, kings, soldiers, and lawyers who support the state have no real functions to perform in industrial society and will soon find themselves out of work there.41 The Marxist theory is, then, that the state arises when an exploiting class organizes force in its interests. But if this is so, it will have no raison d’être when classes have been abolished and class conflicts have ceased to rage. The form of organization that primitive communism knew nothing of will, under the communism of the future, be superfluous. Marxists write of the following sequence of future events: (1) the proletarian attack on the bourgeois state; (2) the “smashing” (zerbrechen) of the bourgeois state by the party of the proletarian class (Marx’s letter to Kugelmann of 12 April 1872); (3) the establishment of a proletarian state which will act, as by their very nature all states must act, in the interests of a class, but this time of the proletarian class; (4) the overcoming of all opposition from other classes, and in particular from the bourgeoisie, by vesting all the means of production in the proletarian state—the so-called “dictatorship of the proletariat,” a phrase used by Marx himself more than once, and notably in his Critique of the Gotha Programme; (5) a period of “withering away” of the proletarian state which is completed when there is no more class opposition and when production has reached a point enormously higher than was possible in capitalist society—the “withering away” is indicated in Engels’ Anti-Dühring; (6) the transition from capitalism to communism is to proceed via “socialism,” a system under which private property has been abolished without yet removing all scarcity; under socialism it is not yet possible for each individual to receive all that he wants, and the principle of distribution is that each individual’s reward is proportionate to the amount of work he has done, deductions being made for depreciation of plant, new capital projects, sickness, and old age benefits, etc.; (7) under communism itself the individual, his work no longer “alien” to him, works according to his capacity and receives in accordance with his need. (I do not know of any explanation of the word “need” in this context. It seems to mean just “desire.”) (8) If a proletarian revolution takes place in one state while capitalism continues in others, then the proletarian state must continue in order that the transition to communism may not be interfered with from outside. This is the reason given by Stalin in his Report to the Eighteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R., 1935, for the fact that the Soviet state has not yet “withered away,” and is showing signs of becoming stronger.
I feel pretty sure that the account of the matter given in Lenin’s State and Revolution is a reasonable interpretation of the views of Marx and Engels and a reasonable application of them to later circumstances. Perhaps there is some doubt about the meaning of “smash” in Marx’s letter to Kugelmann, since the qualification “on the Continent” might leave open the possibility of a revolution in England or the U.S.A. without this dismal act of destruction. However, Marx’s and Engels’ preface to the 1872 German edition of the Communist Manifesto seems to imply that the proletariat could not secure its ends by means of “the ready-made state machinery” anywhere. So far as the authority of dead writers can be used in such circumstances, it appears to tell against “reformist” interpretations of them in this regard. Nor is it unreasonable for Stalin to argue that internal social changes brought about in Soviet Russia need to be protected against possible attacks from without. The dubious element in his argument is that leading Communists such as Trotsky and Bukharin “were in the services of foreign espionage organizations and carried on conspiratorial activities from the very first days of the October Revolution.” The question to consider, therefore, is not whether the Marxist-Leninist theory of the state is a consistent development of the tradition—in the main it obviously is; nor whether Marx and Engels would have approved of present-day Communist Party interpretations of it—this we can never know; but whether, as it stands, it is a tenable account of the state and of what politics is, and whether the prophecies involved in it are credible.
Let us consider it first, then, as an account of the state and of politics. And let us agree straight away that the distinction between society and state is both valid and important. The word “state,” of course, is ambiguous, and can mean either a society governed through laws, police, judges, etc., or the governmental organization itself as a part of the state in the first sense of the word. But the Marxist theory does not run into any difficulties because of this ambiguity. The main difficulty in the theory, it seems to me, arises from the association in it between politics and the state. As with so many Marxist doctrines there is a good deal of vagueness here, but it seems pretty clear that Marxists, like many others, use the term “politics” in a sense that links it indissolubly with the state and hence with government and force. People are entitled to attach meanings and to develop them so long as they make their intentions clear. But social theorists have suggested, rightly, in my opinion, that there are disadvantages in associating “politics” exclusively with the state, with government, and with force, because the effect of this is to dissociate the term “politics” from other forms of organization where it is normally and usefully employed. This dissociation, of course, is intended by Marxists, but I think that their view of what is possible falls into error because of it, for if force and politics and domination are not merely aspects of the state but spread more widely than the state does, then the abolition of the state may not be the abolition of force and politics and domination. Now suppose we interpret “politics” widely to indicate the means used to influence people, to get them to do what one wants them to do. (This is the idea of Professor Harold Lasswell, but I am not developing it in his way.) Then politics will form a part or aspect of almost all social activity, whether within a family where children try to influence parents and parents children, or a church where differences of policy lead to party maneuvers. But influence is exerted in different ways for different ends. What is called “force” or “coercion” is influence by means of threat with some physical penalty as a pain in the event of non-compliance. Marxists rightly point out that influence is obtained or exerted by what they call economic means—by the threat of dismissal from a job or of lower wages, for example. And their theory is probably intended to mean that economic influence is more fundamental than, and the cause of, influence by means of laws and penalties, that the latter sort of influence is always sought for as a means of consolidating the former. This would amount to saying that state laws are always made and enforced in order to get people to work for purposes they would otherwise reject. (The idea that laws may develop from custom and, in some cases, protect some people from exploitation, is just completely ignored.) If it is objected that, say, the refusal to employ them could bring them to heel through fear of starvation much more readily than legal threats, the answer is that they might then use violence against their employers and the law has been made just to prevent this.
This, I think, is the sort of consideration that the Marxist theory is designed to emphasize. And the objection to it surely is that it is absurdly incomplete. In the first place, coercion, i.e., influencing by violence or the threat of violence, is more widespread than government is. It is a feature of what Locke called “the state of nature,” as in the “Bad Lands” beyond the United States frontier in the nineteenth century, or on the high seas before piracy was suppressed, as well as, sporadically, within organized societies. In the second place, the users of what might be called “naked force” in some circumstances prove more powerful than the wielders of economic power. Engels objected to this “force” theory, which Dühring had sponsored, that if it comes to fighting those win who have the best fighting equipment and therefore the most advanced industrial development. Now of course, other things being equal, a more industrially advanced people will win a war against an industrially inferior nation. But there are other things which may not be equal, particularly the will and energy to struggle valiantly. A notable example of this is the defeat of the highly armed forces of Chiang Kai-shek by the Chinese Communists who obtained many of their arms by capturing them. Indeed, an indifference to industrial advance can, in some circumstances, prove a strong lever to upset the plans of highly industrialized groups, as happened in the conflict between Dr. Moussadek and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The weak can often gain an end by blackmail, as when a beggar exposes his sores. This brings me to a third difficulty in the Marxist view. The Marxist theory of the state is based on the assumption that there is one basic type of exploitation, and that this is economic in the sense of being bound up with the productive forces and productive relations. Although it has not, as far as I know, been worked out in detail, the idea is that certain groups of people are in a favorable position in relation to others, in that through their ownership and control of certain means of production—slaves, land, factories, and raw materials—they can gain advantages for themselves at the expense of the rest of the community. Now I have already made the objection, on pages 155–57, that technological, political, and moral factors are all so intimately concatenated that to say that the first determines the other two is to move about abstractions, and it is now easy to see that questions of ownership and control are legal and political functions involved in the very processes of production. But even if (though baselessly) we grant that there are solely economic actions, these are not the only ones by which individuals can gain advantage for themselves at the expense of others. Clever people, for example, have natural advantages which they often use to their own benefit in pursuit of pre-eminence and power. It is true that clever people generally wish to exploit their abilities in the economic sphere, but this is as much because economic predominance is a sign of success as because it brings success. I suggest that Marxists are quite wrong in supposing that there is one fundamental type of favorable position in society, that of owning and controlling the means of production, and that all other types of favorable position are derivative from this and unimportant by comparison with it. In some circumstances, as the cases of the beggar and of Dr. Moussadek show, weakness can be a favorable position from which exploitation may be exercised. Granted that if people are in favorable positions then some of them will utilize them to exploit others, then the only way to abolish exploitation is to prevent there being any favorable positions. This is the point at which the optimism of the Marxist theory is so deceptive, for it is only if economic exploitation is the source of all exploitation that abolition of it can free everyone from all exploitation.
The term “exploitation,” of course, when it is used of the relations of men toward one another, is a moral term that suggests that the exploiters (a) get the exploited to do what the exploiters want them to do, (b) do this to the advantage of the exploiters, and (c) do it to the disadvantage of the exploited. Or we may say that exploitation is taking undue advantage of a favorable social position. It is clear, therefore, that use of the word “exploitation” normally implies a view about what taking undue advantage of a favorable social position is, or implies something about the morality of (a), (b), and (c) above. Is it always wrong to get someone to do what you want him to do? Is it always wrong to do this to your own advantage? Is it always wrong to do this to someone else’s disadvantage? An affirmative answer is more readily given to the third question than to the other two, but we need to consider them all if we want some idea of what constitutes undue influence of one person over others. Marxists leave these questions undiscussed but appear, from their criticisms and proposals, to argue somewhat as follows. Economic exploitation is the source of all exploitation and is essentially the exploitation of class by class. It is therefore of the first importance that this type of exploitation should be got rid of and that steps are taken to do what will lead to this. It is the dictatorship of the proletariat that will lead to this, so that anything that brings that dictatorship nearer is good. The argument loses all its force if economic exploitation is not the source of all exploitation, and it loses most of its force if there is any doubt about ending economic exploitation by means of a proletarian revolution.
Now most people would say that there must be quite a lot of doubt about this. For, they would argue, we cannot tell in advance how honorable or how clever or how energetic the proletarian leaders will be. Furthermore, large social upheavals are apt to raise problems that no one had foreseen, so that their ultimate outcome is something that we cannot reasonably regard as certain when we make our present decisions. Such considerations appear obvious to anyone who has had any contact with public affairs or who has any knowledge of history, but Marxists seem to regard them as unimportant. How has this come about? It is at this point of the argument that we must make brief mention of the notion of surplus value. According to the Marxist theory of surplus value there is nothing that a capitalist, whether an individual or a company, can possibly do that could put an end to his exploitation of his workpeople short of his ceasing to be a capitalist, since the extortion of surplus value is a necessary element in the process of employing men to make goods for sale in a market at a price that keeps the employer in business. Anything, therefore, that puts an end to profits puts an end to surplus value and puts an end to exploitation in this sense. Since the proletarian dictatorship is the dispossession and the suppression of the capitalists, it is also the end of exploitation, in this sense. We might almost say that exploitation is defined out of the social order through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Now in Marx’s Capital the capitalist system is indicted for the way in which workers are kept working long hours in unhealthy conditions that barely enable them to keep alive. Suppose that, as appears to be the case in this country now, workers under what is still predominantly a capitalist system—for that is what Marxists say it is—do not work long hours and are able to live fairly comfortable lives. Is anyone going to say that they are still exploited because, however comfortable they may be, surplus value is being filched from them so long as their labor contributes to the profits of any employer? This would surely be a most metaphysical sort of exploitation that could exist when no one was aware of it. It might be argued that what is wrong is that the employer usually obtains a much larger proportion of the proceeds than the employee does and that this inequality is unjust. According to Engels, however, as we saw on pages 181–82, it is absurd to demand any equality that goes beyond the abolition of classes. So we still seem to be left with the view that what is wrong about capitalist exploitation is neither misery nor inequality but something that can only be discovered by reading Marx’s Capital—or rather those parts of it that do not refer to the miseries of work in early Victorian England. This is so obviously unsatisfactory that Marxists have had to seek for other palpable evils to attribute to capitalism now that the old ones have largely disappeared from the areas in which capitalism prevails. These new evils are imperialism and war, and they are alleged to result from the capitalists’ search for profits. I cannot here discuss the Marxist theories about these phenomena, but it is obvious that they pursue their general plan of “economic” interpretations when they regard the pride, frustration, and miscalculation that seem to play such a large part in causing wars as merely phenomenal by comparison with such factors, which they dignify with the adjective “real,” as industrial expansion and the struggle for markets.
There is a great deal more that might be said about this view, but I shall confine myself to two points only. The first concerns Engels’ argument—for what he says may be taken as an argument—that since there was no state and no exploitation under primitive communism, there need (and will) be no state and no exploitation under the communism of the future. There is an element of truth here, viz., the claim that the state is not an essential feature of human society. But those societies in which there is no state, in which, that is to say, there is no specific organization for the making and maintenance of law by force if need be, are small and simple ones, and, I should have thought, necessarily so. For people can work and live together without ever clashing only when they share a common and fairly simple outlook and are all, so to say, under one another’s eyes. But industrial societies, as we know them, are large and complex, and offer all sorts of opportunity for idiosyncrasy and evasion. It is unbelievable that the members of such vast and complicated societies should work together with as little need for a law-making and law-enforcing body as the members of a small community. However, this is just what Marxists do believe. What is established first by the proletarian dictatorship, and is then upheld by force spontaneously exerted against lawbreakers by “the armed workers” (who are “men of practical life, not sentimental intellectuals, and they will scarcely allow anyone to trifle with them”), will, according to Lenin, become under communism a matter of habit.42
My second and last point concerns the Marxist objection to Utopianism. Lenin, in State and Revolution, recognized that the Marxist views about the future communist society might be criticized as Utopian. In rebutting this charge he says that “the great Socialists” did not promise that communism would come but foresaw its arrival; and in foreseeing communism, he goes on, they “presupposed both a productivity of labour unlike the present and a person unlike the present man in the street. . . .”43 Marxists, then, according to Lenin, do not say that they will inaugurate a communist society of abundance and freedom, but, like astronomers predicting the planetary movements, say that it will and must come. To promise to do something is Utopian, to foresee that it must come is not. And I think that he is arguing that “the great Socialists” also foresaw a greatly increased productivity and a new type of human being, whereas Utopians merely hoped for these things and called upon people to bring them about. Lenin’s objections are based on the discussion of Utopian socialism in Engels’ Anti-Dühring. According to Engels, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen, the Utopian socialists whose views paved the way for Marx’s scientific socialism, regarded socialism as “the expression of absolute truth, reason, and justice,” thought that it was a mere accident that it had not been discovered earlier, and assumed that it needed only to be discovered “to conquer the world by virtue of its own power.”44 “What was required,” they held, “was to discover a new and more perfect social order and to impose this on society from without, by propaganda and where possible by the example of model experiments.”45 They imagined the outlines of a new society “out of their own heads, because within the old society the elements of the new were not yet generally apparent; for the basic plan of the new edifice they could only appeal to reason, just because they could not as yet appeal to contemporary history.”46 Hence they produced “phantasies of the future, painted in romantic detail.”47 Their inadequacy in this regard was due, according to Engels, to the fact that they lived at a time when capitalism was still immature and did not yet allow the lineaments of the new society to be discerned within it.48
Utopians, then, make promises rather than predictions. (It is not relevant to our present point, but surely promising is a guarantee that the promissee may make a prediction about the future behavior of the promissor.) They appeal to reason and justice, and imagine reasonable and just societies “out of their own heads,” instead of observing the first beginnings of a new society within the existing one. They think it is sufficient to advocate a new society of the sort they have imagined, or to try to bring it into being on a small scale, for the world to be convinced by their scheme.
Now this last point is important. It is a defect of Utopias of most sorts that they leave vague the means of transition from the existing state of affairs to the future ideal. This means that two things are left vague, viz., who are to bring the changes about, and how they are to proceed in doing it. Marxists claim that there is no vagueness in their view on these particulars. It is the proletariat, under suitable leadership, who will bring the changes about, and they will do so by a revolutionary dictatorship under which the bourgeoisie are expropriated and suppressed. But of course this very precision (such as it is) may turn many influential people against Marxist scientific socialism. But according to the Marxists this does not matter in the long run, because the already existing proletariat is the first beginning of the new society. When a party has been formed to lead it, socialism is no longer an aspiration but an actual movement. But although Marxists are right in pointing out that Utopians often fail to show how the transition from the actual to the ideal is to be effected, and although Marxists do have a theory and policy about this, this is not enough to show that their view is at all adequate. The first difficulty in it is this. Marxists claim that their view of the future society is not invented out of their heads, but is based on the first beginnings of the new society already apparent within capitalism. These first beginnings must be the proletarian class beginning to be organized by and in a party. But what is there here that certainly foreshadows a condition in which there is no force and no domination? Nothing, it seems to me, except the fact that Communists, if they get the chance, are going to put an end to private property, unless it be the increase in productivity that capitalism has brought with it—that other forms of organization will increase it still further is mere aspiration. Lenin, in the passage I have just quoted, says that men in communist society will not be like the present man in the street. Let us see what Engels says about this. We may look forward, he says, following Saint-Simon, to “the transformation of political government over men into the administration of things and the direction of productive processes.”49 “The seizure of the means of production by society,” he goes on, “puts an end to commodity production, and therewith to the domination of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by conscious organization on a planned basis. The struggle for individual existence comes to an end. And at this point, in a certain sense, man finally cuts himself off from the animal world, leaves the condition of animal existence behind him and enters conditions which are really human. . . . Men’s own social organization which has hitherto stood in opposition to them as if arbitrarily decreed by Nature and history, will then become the voluntary act of men themselves. . . . It is humanity’s leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom.”50 Anarchy, then, is replaced by plan, politics by “administration” (whatever this may be), the struggle for existence by peace, the animal by something “really human,” divided mankind by unified mankind, specialization by universal adaptability.
I feel sure that anyone who reflects on these contrasts must conclude that, for all that Marxists say about their views being based on observed facts in the capitalist world, in fact their future communism is even more out of touch with human realities than are the speculations of the Utopians whom they criticize. Furthermore, the future they depict is extremely vague, and they refuse to make it more precise on the ground that such precision is Utopian, that detailed specification of not yet developed societies are romantic fantasies. (We may compare this with the exponents of Negative Theology who can only say what God is not, but never what he is.) But if they are right in this last contention, then surely they are wrong in claiming that their view differs from Utopianism in being predictive in any important sense. Very vague predictions are of even less practical value than are detailed wishes. I do not think that the “predictions” about communist society have much more content in them than the more baffling among the utterances of the Delphic Oracle. What is this “administration” that is so different from “government,” and this “planning” and “direction” that are consistent with the full development of each individual and can be made effective without the use of force? They are so different from anything that we have had experience of in developed societies, where administrators (generally) have the law behind them, where planning and direction meet with opposition, and where all must reconcile themselves to some limited and specialized career, that it is hard to attach any definite meaning to them at all. And what scientific prediction can it be that says we shall leave the condition of animal existence behind us? This is something that even Fourier might have repudiated, and that Owen would have taken seriously only during that period of his life when he was in communication with departed spirits. It is difficult to see how any attentive reader of their works could have taken at their face value the Marxists’ profession of being scientific socialists rather than Utopians. They do in some manner fill in the gap between present conditions and the future society they look forward to—they insert between the two a real and active movement, but this has the function, not of making their system a scientific one, but of being a seat of authority which can give unquestioned guidance to any doubter within it. Marxism is Utopianism with the Communist Party as a visible and authoritative interpreter of the doctrine striving to obtain supreme power. The scientific part of Marxist politics concerns the methods by which the Communist Party maintains itself and aims to spread its power, and here Marxism and Realpolitik go hand in hand. But the alleged goal of the Marxist activities is a society in which there is administration without law, planning without miscalculation, direction without domination, high productivity without property or toil, and, it would seem, unrepressed men who nevertheless have left the condition of animal existence behind them.
A Reader. You have joined issue with Marxism on so many different topics that I am in danger of losing sight of the main issues—if, that is to say, there are any. So I should like to ask you whether you think there is any fundamental flaw in the Marxist philosophy that is the source of all the particular errors you claim to have noticed.
The Author. There is, in my view, a pretty fundamental incoherence in it, but I should hesitate to say that it is the source of all the errors. Marxism, it seems to me, is a mixture of two philosophies which cannot consistently go along together, positivism on the one hand and Hegelianism on the other.
Reader. Can you explain this briefly and in less technical terms?
Author. It is not easy to do both of the things you ask, but what I mean is that on the one hand Marxists reject speculative philosophy in favor of the scientific methods, and on the other hand they import into their philosophy features from the philosophy of Hegel, a speculative philosopher who allowed only a limited value to the scientific methods.
Reader. I am not yet convinced, for might it not be argued that the Marxists have transformed what they have borrowed from Hegel so as to make it consistent with the positivistic part of their theory?
Author. Marxists do claim to have transformed what they have borrowed from Hegel, and they don’t like being called positivists. Nevertheless I think the inconsistency is there. Marxists both claim to rest their views on what can be observed and handled, and maintain such theories as that the material world has contradictions in it because nothing can move without being and not being at the same place at the same time. To accept Zeno’s argument at its face value is to argue contradiction into the material world where certainly it is not perceived, and this is the very thing that speculative philosophers are criticized for doing.
Reader. Isn’t this a minor slip rather than a fundamental error?
Author. It is surely a most important thesis of the Marxist philosophy that matter develops into new forms by means of the contradictions in it. This, indeed, is the feature of dialectical materialism that distinguishes it from mechanical materialism, and my argument is that, rightly or wrongly, it is established speculatively and not by the methods of the sciences or by observation.
Reader. I now see that your objection is more than a mere debating point, but I wonder whether you have not made too much of the Marxist opposition to speculative philosophy. The quotations you gave from Marx’s early writings show that in the eighteen-forties he, like Feuerbach, was much occupied in refuting the claims of speculative philosophers and in showing that speculative philosophy was a sort of disguised theology or rationalized religion. But must we suppose that this had any considerable effect on his later views?
Author. The effect can hardly be exaggerated. Feuerbach had thought he could show that religious beliefs were the illusory outcome of human failure, and that speculative philosophy was, so to say, the educated man’s substitute for religious belief. Marx extended this idea so as to maintain that moral and political beliefs are disguises for economic interests. The whole theory of ideologies, therefore, is a development of Feuerbach’s theory of religion, and assumes, like that theory, that the way to know the real world is to look and see and manipulate and move around in it. Speculative philosophy, according to Marx, is an ideology, that is to say, a set of unfounded views of the world manufactured at the prompting of wish or interest.
Reader. When, therefore, at the beginning of our discussion you said that Marxists inconsistently combine positivism and Hegelianism, by “positivism” you meant the rejection of speculative philosophy, or of metaphysics, as it is generally called today, in favor of the methods of the sciences?
Author. Yes, I was using the word to cover just those two things, the rejection of metaphysics and the acceptance of science. But it is commonly used to cover something else as well, a view about what science itself really is. According to this view, it is impossible to obtain any knowledge of what is the cause or source of our experiences, and science, therefore, must consist in ascertaining how our experiences are correlated with one another. Those who hold this view say that when physicists talk about such things as electrons, which, of course, are not entities that are directly seen or touched, what they are really talking about is what they do see or touch when they set up the appropriate apparatus and see, for example, the photograph that results from using it. On this view the electron is the experiments, the photograph, and, for all I know, the clarification that ensues. This view is akin to phenomenalism, the view that physical objects are permanent possibilities of sensation, and, like phenomenalism, is rejected by Marxists because they regard it as a form of Idealism. It is this theory that Marxists have chiefly in mind when they attack positivism. They themselves combine their rejection of metaphysics with a sort of scientific realism much as d’Alembert and other Encyclopedists did, and much as did Comte, their nineteenth-century successor.
Reader. Marxists seem to think that this realism of theirs gives due weight to the importance of practice in human knowledge. Indeed, the notion of practice seems to play a very important part in the Marxist philosophy as a whole. Would you say that Marxism is a sort of pragmatism?
Author. I don’t think it is very profitable to compare such an ambiguously formulated philosophy as Marxism with such a vague one as William James’s pragmatism or with such an obscure one as Dewey’s instrumentalism—three impalpables, we might say, that can never touch. But by considering the various things that are meant by the expression “union of theory and practice” in Marxism, we can make our way toward some of its most characteristic teachings. You may remember that when we considered the Marxist theory of science we came to the conclusion that by “practice” Marxists mean the verification of theories by observation and experiment, experimentation itself, and the making of the things that the theories are about. Bacon was one of the intellectual heroes of the Encyclopedists and he had said a lot about the practical possibilities of science, which he regarded as a sort of rational alchemy. His idea was that if only we could discover the natures that make the different sorts of thing the sorts of thing they are, we should be able to engender them ourselves, and, by adding, removing, and mixing, to transform one sort of thing into another as the alchemists had hoped to do with the Philosopher’s Stone. I dare say that these ideas came to Marx and Engels through Feuerbach, but however that may be, they believed that science and industry were fundamentally the same thing. Like Bacon, they were fascinated by the myth of Prometheus, and felt that the idea of mankind becoming lord and master of nature was an exalting one.
Reader. I cannot see that you have done much in this book to dispel that idea—if indeed you think it ought to be dispelled.
Author. I do think it is a confused sort of idea in which ethics and science are mixed up together. On the face of it, it is one thing to say that knowledge ought to be used for the improvement of man’s lot and quite another thing to say that knowledge just is the practical effort to achieve this. And again, it is one thing to say that men ought to develop their native powers, and quite another to say that they ought to subject the physical world to themselves. No doubt the conception that knowledge is human power mingled in Marx’s mind with Hegel’s idea that men’s consciousness of themselves develops as they put themselves into their scientific and artistic and other achievements—but it was not a purely physical world that Hegel had in mind. Now on page 31 I suggested that thinking activity (what Marx calls contemplation) itself only changes the thinking agent, and is therefore distinct from practice which is an activity that brings about changes beyond the thought of the agent. This distinction is not upset by the fact that theoretical activity is often, perhaps always, aided by the performance of practical acts which help in imagining an hypothesis or in verifying it. Science, one might suggest, is contemplation aided by practice, whereas industry is practice aided by contemplation.
Reader. Perhaps this is just what Marxists mean when they talk about the union of theory and practice in scientific enquiry.
Author. I think they must mean more than that. From what Marx says in the Theses on Feuerbach it would seem that he thought that practical activity was the genus of which theoretical activity was a species.
Reader. But if that is so, there should be other co-ordinate species of practical activity besides theoretical activity or thinking. I mean that if practice is the genus and thought is one species of it, we should expect to find other species, just as there are other species of color besides red and other species of triangle besides the scalene. Do Marxists say what these other species are?
Author. I can’t remember that they do, and I fear that their view has not been properly developed in this regard. It would be rather odd, wouldn’t it, to say that walking and breathing and lifting and thinking are various types of practical activity?
Reader. Yes, the first three of these activities appear to be like one another in a way in which they differ from the fourth. But then, the first two don’t seem to be quite the same type of activity as the third.
Author. There is clearly a lot that needs enquiry here. But a Marxist who had these points brought before him would argue that if we say that activity is the genus and that thinking and practice are the two species or specifications of it, then we have surreptitiously smuggled an incorporeal soul into the human being.
Reader. Can’t we say that a human being can act by way of thought as well as by way of practice without committing ourselves to the view that he has an incorporeal soul? And anyway, why should incorporeal souls be taboo?
Author. I don’t think there ought to be any taboos in philosophy, but incorporeal souls are taboo to Marxists, and not only to them. The reason why Marxists suppose that the existence of incorporeal souls would be entailed by the existence of acts of thought or contemplation is that the manifestly practical acts of walking or breathing or lifting are performed by means of bodily members such as legs, lungs, and arms, whereas there seem to be no parts of the body with which we think. Assuming, therefore, that all activities are carried out with or by means of something, thinking, if it is not done by means of any bodily organ, must be done by means of something incorporeal, a soul or spirit. This, I think, is the line of argument that Marxists try to avoid by their rather vague talk about there being no mere contemplation.
Reader. But do we not see with our bodily eyes and hear with our bodily ears, and are not seeing and hearing activities which do not change or even affect their objects in the way that touching and manipulating necessarily do theirs?
Author. I am not sure that we see with our eyes in the same sense of “with” as that in which we walk with our legs and lift with our arms. For whereas legs (natural or artificial) are part of what is meant by walking, and whereas limbs and holding are part of what is meant by lifting, some people have denied that eyes and ears are part of what is meant by seeing and hearing. They deny this because, they say, we can conceive of people having the experiences called “seeing” and “hearing” even if they had no eyes and no ears, as blind and deaf men might see and hear in their dreams—and they need no artificial eyes or artificial ears to do this with.
Reader. Need we go into all this? Is it not sufficient to say that thinking is a human activity that is analogous to seeing and hearing rather than to touching and manipulating?
Author. If we do go further into it we shall be starting another book instead of concluding this one. Let us merely suggest, then, that thinking may be better understood in terms of seeing and hearing than in terms of manipulating, and that the Marxist notion of practice is based on manipulating. When one comes to think of it, Engels, in the Dialectics of Nature, argued that it is the hand that distinguishes the human being from his non-human ancestors. “No simian hand,” he says, “has ever fashioned even the crudest stone knife.” Perhaps it is that materialists are unusually impressed with the importance of touching and grasping, and that Marxists have exaggerated this tendency with their view that men first manipulate things with their hands, then improve their manipulations by means of instruments, and thus change the world by their labor—labor being fundamentally manual.
Reader. I seem to remember that Veblen said that modern science results from combining the practical matter-of-factness of our everyday tasks and skills with idle, disinterested curiosity. On his view, the practical matter-of-factness, if left to itself, results in a limited, uncurious technology, and curiosity, if left to itself, leads to nothing but amusing myths, but when the two are combined modern science arises and speculative daring is used to explain what is. Do you think that Marxists mean anything like this?
Author. Perhaps they do, though I think that all the time they hanker to belittle speculation and to exalt practical matter-of-factness. An example of this is their scorn for Utopianism—which, as Max Weber pointed out, plays an important part in science in so far as ideal or isolated cases help us to make sense of what is very complicated. Engels, you may remember, considered that Utopians got the scheme of an ideal society out of their own heads, whereas scientific socialists saw the future society in the beginnings of it actually to be found in the present. He criticizes Utopians as a sort of speculator, but himself regards scientific socialists as a sort of copyist. Yet predictions do more than copy, and science, he holds, is essentially predictive.
Reader. But Marxist social science is only a sort of copying, for the first beginnings of the future society are not the same thing as the future society itself. On Engels’ view, as you reported it, surely a scientific socialist may be compared with a man who can reconstruct the skeleton of some prehistoric animal from some of its bones.
Author. Your example brings even more confusion into the Marxist theory. What Marxists claim principally to be able to do is not to reconstruct a particular prehistoric social form but to predict a universal future one. And they claim that their view is scientific because it is firmly based on what is. They would seem to be suggesting that their predictions of what will be are really nothing but descriptions of what is, or at any rate only a little more than descriptions of it.
Reader. Isn’t this the sort of thing that scientists call extrapolation? And don’t they mean by this the process of discovering a trend, or direction of change, in some contemporary sequence of events, so that we may have at any rate a reasonable expectation about its immediate future course?
Author. Your last few questions have raised so many problems that I hardly know which one to start with. You are quite right in saying that Marxists regard prediction as a fundamental feature of science. This is shown rather amusingly in Lenin’s assertion that Marxists are scientific because they foresee a society free from want and strife, and that Utopians are not scientific because they merely promise such a society. This, it seems to me, is to add clairvoyance to alchemy. The emphasis on prediction can easily foster the notion of the scientist as a sort of magician whose formulae are of interest only because of the material transformations and predictions that they enable him to make. But what differentiates a scientist from a magician is that the scientist is interested in the transformations and predictions because of their bearing on his formulae rather than in his formulae because of the transformations and predictions they may in fact lead up to. Ability to predict does not always go with theoretical understanding. Now you asked whether Marxist social predictions could be regarded as extrapolations from the present state of society. A society with no classes, no social conflicts, no state, and no domination does not seem to be a development of any trend that is at all apparent in the society we now inhabit where conflicts are acute and governments are extending their influence over the lives of their subjects. The only Marxist extrapolations that appear to have any basis are those that indicate coming revolutions, and after all these are events that Marxists are trying their utmost to bring about and may, therefore, succeed in making true. The only predictions that are of scientific interest are those that arise from a correct analysis of the subject-matter.
Reader. But isn’t that the very thing that Marxists claim—that by means of the Materialist Conception of History they have provided a scientific analysis of social institutions and development which explains both the sequence of past epochs and the necessity of the future communist society?
Author. That is, indeed, the Marxist claim, but I hope I have shown that it is pitched much too high. I hope, too, that you don’t want me to go through my criticisms of the Materialist Conception of History again. But in case you do, let me forestall you by saying that in my opinion, for which I have given reasons, the basis-superstructure distinction is untenable, and that, if we provisionally allow the distinction to be made, the Marxist thesis, if it is to amount to anything at all, is that the only way in which important changes can occur in the superstructure is as a result of changes in the basis. Marxists confuse this, I believe, with such truisms as that there can be no superstructure without a basis (politicians and priests must eat if they are to do their jobs), and that changes in the basis lead to changes in the superstructure (inventions set legal and political problems). If I am right in this, then the Materialist Conception of History has received more credit than it deserves, and this from non-Marxists as well as Marxists. If every historian who looks for the influence of industrial and commercial changes on government policy is to be called a Marxist, or even held to be under Marxist influence, then the term “Marxism” has lost all precision. The modern growth of economic and industrial history is not a tribute to Marxist theory but a testimony to the extension of historical curiosity.
Reader. You need have no fear that I shall try to drag you through the whole miserable business again, but you did say that your technological interpretation of the Materialist Conception of History was not the only possible interpretation of it, and I am wondering whether the confusions you have criticized might be avoided in some other version of the theory.
Author. Although my chapter on the Materialist Conception of History is a long one, it is only one chapter in a book that goes into many other topics, and I did not spend time in it discussing the other possible interpretations of Marx’s and Engels’ vague and sometimes contradictory utterances. If I had, it would have been time wasted, since Professor Bober has done this job in the second edition of his Karl Marx’s Interpretation of History. His careful treatment of them makes it quite clear that nothing very coherent can be derived from them.
Reader. In your account of the Materialist Conception of History you didn’t mention Stalin’s discussion Concerning Marxism in Linguistics,1 and I have heard that this modifies in important ways the theory as hitherto accepted. Are there any signs in Stalin’s answers to the questions put to him about the linguistic theories of J. Y. Marr of any radical change in the Materialist Conception of History?
Author. Marr, the philologist whose views Stalin criticized, had held that language was a part of the superstructure of society, and was therefore determined by the economic basis and must vary with it. Stalin objected that the Russian language remains substantially the same as it was at the time of Pushkin although the economic basis of Russian society had changed from feudalism to capitalism and from capitalism to socialism since then. A language, he argued, must be the same for a whole society, for proletarians as well as for bourgeoisie, if communication is to be possible and the society is to hold together. Whereas the changes from feudalism to capitalism and from capitalism to socialism involved sudden breaks or leaps, language develops gradually and in independence of such changes in the economic basis, although, of course, the vocabulary is affected by them. Incidentally, Stalin said: “It should be said in general for the benefit of comrades who have an infatuation for explosions that the law of transition from an old quality to a new by means of an explosion is inapplicable not only to the history of the development of languages: it is not always applicable to the other social phenomena of a basis or superstructural character. It applies of necessity to a society divided into hostile classes. But it does not necessarily apply to a society which has no hostile classes.”
Reader. I don’t see what is meant by qualifying “apply” with “necessarily” and “classes” with “hostile” in the last sentence, for these qualifications might suggest that “explosions” are possible in the society in question, and that not all classes need be hostile. But in spite of such obscurities, the passage is surely very important in so far as it limits the extension of the leap-across-nodal-lines type of change even in non-socialist societies. After all, language is a most important and pervasive social institution. I suppose, then, that since language is not now regarded as a part of the superstructure it must belong to the basis.
Author. I don’t think we can draw that conclusion with any confidence. Stalin has distinguished, in the pamphlet we are discussing, between what he calls “production, man’s productive activity,” which he seems to equate with “the productive forces”; “the economy,” which he labels “the basis,” and which, I suppose, is what Marx called “productive relationships”; and the superstructure. The productive forces are, so to say, a sub-basis below the economic basis. He goes on to say that “production, man’s productive activity” does not have direct access to the superstructure, but can only influence it via the basis, that is, via the economy. He argues that a reason for holding that language is not superstructural is that it is directly affected by “man’s productive activity” and does not have to wait upon changes in the economy. I suppose he means that language is necessary to and changes its vocabulary in our working relationships. He certainly compares language with “the implements of production,” saying it is like them in that it may “equally serve a capitalist system and a socialist system.” We might suppose, then, that he intended to place it in what I have called the sub-basis as one of “the productive forces.” But he also says that language “is connected with man’s productive activity directly, and not only with man’s productive activity, but with all his other activity in all his spheres of work, from production to the basis, and from the basis to the superstructure.” Some people have therefore suggested that Stalin intended his readers to conclude that language is a third social category additional to the categories of basis and superstructure.2 However this may be, it seems pretty clear that the basis-superstructure classification has proved inadequate. I hope I may regard this as an indirect confirmation of my thesis that it is impossible to isolate them in fact or even in thought.
Reader. If we do talk about language as a third category, are we not making it into a sort of thing with gas-like properties, distinct from the more solid things that make up the basis and superstructure?
Author. It is very difficult to talk about institutions without creating this sort of impression. Stalin actually says in the pamphlet we are discussing that the superstructure “becomes an exceedingly active force, actively assisting its basis to take shape and consolidate itself. . . .”
Reader. Most considerate of it, I’m sure. But may we now return to the topic of the union of theory and practice? We have so far considered this alleged union as a feature of science in general, but it is obviously most important in the sphere of social science, or, as Marxists call it, “scientific socialism.” Would it be correct to say that the Marxist argument, in outline, is that social science is the activity of controlling and regenerating society just as natural science is the activity of controlling nature and putting it at the service of man?
Author. That is how I have interpreted the matter.
Reader. I suppose it might be said that someone who rejected Marx’s Baconian theory that natural science is control over nature might nevertheless argue that social science is necessarily a practical affair. Don’t you think that although there may be people whose interest in the physical world is idle and detached, no one could possibly take a merely detached interest in human society?
Author. Of course a passion to reform society brings more people to the study of the social sciences than a passion to change the surface of the earth brings to the study of physics and chemistry. But this does not mean that social science is social reform—or “scientific socialism”—any more than physics is factory-building.
Reader. I can’t have made my point clear. I meant that what social scientists say in their capacity of social scientists affects the social world in a way in which what physicists say in their capacity of physicists does not affect the physical world.
Author. I suppose that all the atoms in the universe are unconscious of what is said about them, whereas it is only most of the people in the world who are unconscious of what social scientists say about them.
Reader. But what social scientists say does influence some people sometimes.
Author. What physicists say influences some atoms sometimes. Perhaps the point is that physical theories are of practical importance only when they are utilized in some human project—they influence the physical world through the aims of people. But it seems to me that this is just what social theories do—people who are aware of them, or, more often, of some simplified version of them, use them in the course of furthering some aim of theirs or to influence other people’s aims.
Reader. Perhaps you are right. But at any rate I think that Marxists must have a more radical view of the practical bearing of social science.
Author. I am sure they have. When they talk of “scientific socialism” they mean that social predictions can be made true by human action. Predictions that were not based on good grounds when they were first made may nevertheless help to bring about their own fulfillment by becoming the aims of a well-organized and determined group of men. Not all predictions that have been transformed into aims can realize themselves in this way, but predictions about the destruction of an institution may well do so when the institution in question is in any case difficult to maintain or demands a great deal of self-restraint or intelligence from the men who uphold it.
Reader. Are you not yourself now putting forward the sort of useless truism that you have criticized in Marxism? A fragile institution is one that is unlikely to withstand attacks, and therefore the prediction that it would break down was correct even when it was made, although attacks on it inspired by the prediction may hasten its end.
Author. What you have said might have been true if you had been speaking of a weak institution, although when we say that someone is weak we don’t always mean that he hasn’t long for this world. But the word “fragile” was properly chosen, and it is one thing to say that something is fragile, another thing to predict that it will break, and still another thing to set about breaking it. But if someone says it will be broken and tries to break it, it is more likely to be broken than before, although how much more likely will depend upon what efforts are made to protect it. Imagine a very fragile vase in a room where everyone is anxious that it should be preserved. It may be that it is impervious to destructive agents in the atmosphere, so that the only occasion on which it is in any danger of being broken is when someone cleans it. If it nevertheless breaks it will be through an accident. Now suppose that one man in the room changes his mind and wants to break it. Even if all the rest still want to preserve it they now have to be very wary to see that he doesn’t get near enough to carry out his design. If he uses force to try to get near it, it may get broken in the ensuing confusion. In such circumstances, and especially if the iconoclast, as we may call him, persuades others to join with him, it is the easiest thing in the world for the vase to be broken, and very difficult for it to be preserved. Now whether any human institutions are immune to violence I do not know, but I think that the introduction of violence into a society which has institutions which need peace if they are to flourish will almost certainly destroy these institutions. And the benefits of exchanging goods produced for sale can only be secured in a fairly peaceful and settled society.
Reader. This is a most depressing aspect of the thesis about the union of theory and practice. Have we now dealt with all of its repercussions in the Marxist philosophy?
Author. No. It has some quite interesting moral aspects. I don’t think it is fanciful to suppose that when Marxists deplore the separation of mental from physical labor they are not only concerned with the class antagonisms involved in it but also with the narrowing of the individual’s life which they think it entails. There is a very long tradition in European thought which makes the cultivation of the mind the chief aim of human endeavor. This tradition has even affected moralists who might have been expected to oppose it, such as the materialist Epicurus, who talked of the powers of the mind to increase pleasures by means of memory and anticipation. Fourier broke with this tradition to the extent of arguing that in the highest good both sorts of pleasure must co-operate, since neither is at its best without the other. I should guess that this idea impressed Marx and Engels at a very early stage of their careers.
Reader. But surely the distinction between mind and body isn’t the same as the distinction between theory and practice?
Author. They are not precisely the same, but there can be no practice, that is to say, no action in or on the material world, without the body. Marx considered that it was not consistent with materialism to admit a purely mental activity in which the body was not committed.
Reader. Now we seem to be in danger of muddling two quite different things—the factual distinction between mind and body and the ethical distinction between the value of mental activity and the value of bodily activity. If Marxist materialism is true, and if there can’t be any purely mental activity, then there is no point in talking about purely mental pleasures or purely mental values.
Author. I agree. You may remember that this issue of the mingling (or muddling) of fact and value arose when, on pages 179–80, I discussed a passage from Mr. Berlin’s Karl Marx. I there said that on the Marxist view moral valuations are a sort of “false consciousness,” so that it is when we are thinking “in the manner of the natural sciences” that we are free from illusions. But questions of fact and value so often mingle in Marx’s writings that he may well have wished to deny the distinction, as Mr. Berlin says he did. Sometimes we have to forget the theory of ideologies if we are to make anything of Marxist ethics.
Reader. Is there anything more to be said about the union of mental and physical labor?
Author. It is of some interest to know that Stalin has said that there is no longer any antagonism between mental and physical labor in the U.S.S.R. “Today,” he says, “the physical workers and the managerial personnel are not enemies but comrades and friends, members of a single collective body of producers who are vitally interested in the progress and improvement of production. Not a trace remains of the former enmity between them.”3 He goes on to distinguish between the antagonism between mental and physical labor, the distinction between them, and the essential distinction between them. The essential distinction between mental and physical labor, he says, “will certainly disappear,” but some distinction, though inessential, must always remain, “if only because the conditions of labour of the managerial staffs and those of the workers are not identical.” Stalin explains that by “essential distinction” he means “the difference in their cultural and technical levels.” You will notice that when Stalin talks of “mental labour” he has industrial managers in mind, not mathematicians or literary critics. He appears to accept a pretty fundamental division of labor, as, of course, any reasonable person must.
Reader. Are there any other moral aspects of the union of theory and practice?
Author. Perhaps there is a trace of it in the scorn that Marx and his followers have for moral intentions, for what Marx called “the good will,” by comparison with deeds and consequences. But we saw that his view is very confused here because no one would ever say that a mere intention was good apart from any efforts to realize it. Marx, as a materialist, is very touchy about anything that is supposed to be locked up in an incorporeal mind. I also wonder whether his attack on moralism was not associated with some such idea—that guilt and repression are not practical, though what he really meant was that they pervert practice.
Reader. The “union of theory and practice” formula does seem to cover quite a lot—the verifying of hypotheses, the making of experiments, using scientific knowledge and testing it in the processes of manufacture, social science as inseparable from social revolution, Fourier’s morality of Composite passions, and, if you are right, Marx’s morality of deeds.
Author. Before we finish I should like to emphasize once more the way in which the aim of achieving self-consciousness appears to dominate the Marxist philosophy. The philosophers of the Enlightenment had attacked traditional ways of living as fit only for children who unquestioningly accept their parents’ guidance. Hegel’s Absolute was full self-consciousness where nothing was vague, where, as he put it, there was no “immediacy.” Feuerbach transformed this speculative view into the psychological one that a heightened knowledge of ourselves would dispel religious illusions. Marx thought that Hegel’s “self-consciousness” and Feuerbach’s “self-disillusionment” were too theoretical and abstract, and therefore sought to make them practical and concrete in terms of the self-conscious revolutionary deed that will hasten society’s passage to communism. Or let us look at the sequence of ideas in relation to freedom. Philosophers of the Enlightenment had said that men would be free when, abandoning traditions that they were not responsible for, they themselves chose the rules they would live by, but they assumed that all men would choose the same fundamental rules though within these they would pursue different policies. Marx thought that as long as there was private property, as long as individuals entered into a social order that had developed unplanned from the clash of individual policies, individuals were not free because their society was not under their control. Liberals attacked tradition in order that individuals might choose their own ends, but they believed in an economic harmony that was as uncontrived as tradition—the individual was to be self-conscious, but the social harmony was maintained by a hidden hand. For the Marxists no hands were to be hidden, no faces were to be masked, no mysteries to be unrevealed. As Marx put it in Capital, the relations between man and man and man and nature were to be “perfectly intelligible and reasonable,” and society was to be “under their conscious and purposive control.”
Reader. You said that the philosophers of the Enlightenment assumed that if people consciously and rationally chose their principles of conduct they would all choose the same fundamental ones. I take it that you mean that they still assumed the existence of a natural moral law revealed by candid and intelligent reflection.
Author. Or if not natural law, then rules for the attainment of happiness that were equally though differently authoritative.
Reader. The liberal view was, then, that people should be free to make “experiments in living” within these fundamental rules. But this is bound to lead to a lot of variety and to set people at odds with one another. Marxists, it seems to me, want to calm the liberal turbulence, but I’m not at all clear what sort of calm it is that they look forward to.
Author. I have not been able to find much about the “purposive control” and “perfectly intelligible and reasonable” relationships that I just mentioned. The liberal idea was that each individual should have “purposive control,” while the whole, in the main, was left to adjust itself. But the Marxist wants there to be “purposive control” of the whole society, and thinks that once economic exploitation—which so far as we are concerned means privately owned industry—is abolished, this will be compatible with individual freedom from coercive control. If a conscious plan is to be pursued by the whole society and no one is to oppose it, there must be unanimity of aim among the members of the society. Either there is a natural unanimity of aim which was only kept from expressing itself earlier by private industry, or else an artificial unanimity of aim will be somehow secured during the interim period of proletarian dictatorship. Lenin’s reference to habit, which I called attention to on page 232, suggests the latter, and seems therefore to adumbrate the restoration of a traditional form of society, for habitual behavior, though it may result from past choices, is not itself chosen or self-conscious.
Reader. I think you are exaggerating, for surely individuals can acquire habits in a society that is not predominantly traditional. Lenin was not talking about traditions at all, he was talking about habits.
Author. I believe I have a point here, although I may have exaggerated it. If Lenin means that self-seeking or recalcitrant individuals are to be forced into conformity during the period of proletarian dictatorship when there is still a coercive state, then in the subsequent social order where there is no state there must be non-coercive means of securing universal co-operation. What could these be? I don’t suppose that Lenin thought that nonconformity would be bred out of men. If he had thought that the social order would have become so attractive that everyone would immediately see that to co-operate in it was the rational thing to do, then he need not have talked of habit since it would have become unnecessary even though it in fact arose. Surely he must have meant that new generations would be inducted into a non-coercive social order which they would not dream of questioning, and this, I suggest, is a traditional order. We should not be surprised at this. Saint-Simon, with his “New Christianity,” and Comte, with his “Religion of Humanity,” had looked forward to a future in which the volatile liberal anarchy was replaced by something more akin to the Catholic society that had preceded it. Marx despised the Saint-Simonians and positivists for engaging in ritual performances when they might have been destroying capitalism, but I think he shared with them the ideal of a smoothly running, organized society.
Reader. Your reference to Saint-Simon and Comte reminds me that Marxism has sometimes been called a secular religion. Do you think there is any advantage in talking about it in such terms?
Author. I don’t think that much is to be gained by it. There is some similarity between the Communist Party and the Roman Catholic Church in the way in which authority is organized, since both are continuously existing societies which accept the decisions of a supreme body on matters of doctrine and policy. But after all, Protestant churches are quite differently constituted and are none the less religious. If we take “religion” in the sense in which it involves belief in a supernatural world and a mysterium tremendum, Marxism, with its stress on material nature and its opposition to mysteries, is profoundly anti-religious. Indeed, Marx’s philosophy took its rise from Feuerbach’s attempt to dissolve religion by exposing its psychological basis. In this connection I should like to call your attention to an ad hominem criticism that can be brought against Marx and Marxism. Marx agreed with Feuerbach that belief in God and Heaven divided the believer’s mind and prevented him from dealing adequately with the realities of this world here below. But, we may ask, does not the constant striving for a vaguely conceived communist society of the future divert the Communist’s energies from the realities of the world here now? There are more ways than one in which the shadow can be sought instead of the substance.
Reader. I rather think that some Marxists, if ever they read this book, will say that your analysis of Marxism leaves out the dialectical features of it altogether.
Author. It is easy to make that sort of accusation because the term “dialectical,” on Marxist lips and pens, is not only very vague, but also a term of esteem.
Reader. Still, I don’t think you should run away from the charge by suggesting that “undialectical” is just a term of abuse.
Author. I tried to explain in Part One, Chapter II, that when Marxists talk about the dialectics of nature they conceive of the physical world as in constant change, of the coming of emergent qualities, and of contradictions in the nature of things. When they talk about dialectics in social affairs they think of social oppositions, of revolutionary “leaps,” of progress through destruction—of mors immortalis, immortal death, as Marx put it. In spite of all these doctrines, Marxists, in my opinion, have argued undialectically in one important sense of the word. A dialectical change, it will be remembered, is one in which the process is not by repetition, not “in a circle,” as Stalin put it, but “onward and upward,” “from the lower to the higher.” Stalin was obviously trying to contrast something he believed was genuine progress with repetition and re-arrangement of what already is, and I think he was right. But progress of this sort cannot be predicted except in a most general and uninformative way. No doubt it is a submerged awareness of this that makes Marxists so emphatic in their refusal to predict the details of communist society. Yet the assertion that social science is prediction and control is an essential feature of Marxism. (The attempt to do without prediction led to syndicalism.) Progress can be reported but not predicted.
Reader. This is an unexpected reversal of roles. Are there any other aspects of Marxism that are open to this strange accusation?
Author. Another sense of “dialectical” is that in which it is opposed to the “metaphysical” procedure of considering things in isolation from one another instead of in their real and intimate connections. Now it seems to me that the basis-superstructure distinction suffers from this very defect, for all that Marxists say about the superstructure influencing the basis. The Marxist error is to regard as parts what are really aspects. There is no behavior that is just political behavior, no behavior that is just economic behavior, and so on. The political man, the economic man, the poet, indeed, and the priest, are abstractions, not interacting forces.
Reader. The objection might be made that you misrepresented the case when at the beginning of our discussion you said that Marxists inconsistently combine a belief in the adequacy of scientific method with Hegelianism. For, it might be said, Marxists hold that science is itself dialectical so that there is not the opposition that you have claimed.
Author. When Marxists say that science is dialectical they are using Hegelian terminology but are not thinking Hegelian thoughts. When they are not meditating on nodal lines, they are asserting that no scientific theory should be regarded as beyond criticism, that the various sciences should not be isolated from one another, and that laws of change should be sought for as well as laws of equilibrium. These are things that non-Marxists say in other words.
Reader. Marxists often speak approvingly of the dialectical method in politics. Lenin, I believe, is praised as a leading practitioner of it.
Author. When the word is used in such contexts it connotes approval of the ability to deal effectively with the singularities of events. The dialectical political strategist never allows his ultimate principles of action to divert his eyes from concrete details or to prevent him from adapting himself rapidly to changes in the situation. There is no philosophical profundity here, but rather a peculiar, though not altogether unsuitable, choice of a word. The dialectical statesman also knows how to deal with unexpected changes in the situation—though their unexpectedness must be due to his lack of social science. It is curious that these political uses of the term “dialectical” are not unlike the eulogistic use of the word “empirical” now common in this country, the use, namely, in which the adaptable, flexible approach to political events is contrasted with the rationalistic, rigid approach.
Reader. Before we part I should like to ask whether you could sum up your criticisms of Marxism in a phrase or two.
Author. Let me be briefer still and say that Marxism is a philosophical farrago.
The following has no claim to be a bibliography, but is an annotated list of books and articles that I have found of particular value for the understanding of the philosophy of Marxism.
Adams, H. P., Karl Marx in His Earlier Writings (London, 1940).
Contains summaries of all the early writings (including the Doctoral Dissertation) and is therefore particularly useful for those who do not read German.
Barth, Hans, Wahrheit und Ideologie (Zurich, 1945).
This learned and skillfully constructed book deals especially with the origins of the idea of an “ideology,” and stresses the importance of this notion in Marx’s thought. It is a notable contribution to the history of ideas.
Berlin, Isaiah, Karl Marx (London, 2nd edition, 1948).
Especially chapters 3, 4, and 6 for a clear and perceptive introductory treatment.
Bober, M. M., Karl Marx’s Interpretation of History (2nd edition, revised, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1950).
It is essential to read the greatly revised second edition, which is a masterly exposition and criticism of Marxism by an economist. The most detailed and important criticism of the Materialist Conception of History that I know of.
Bochenski, I. M., Der Sowjetrussische Dialektische Materialismus (Diamat) (Berne, 1950, 2nd revised edition, 1956).
A short and clear exposition of current philosophical views in the Soviet Union, with a useful bibliography of about five hundred items.
Hook, Sidney, From Hegel to Marx. Studies in the Intellectual Development of Karl Marx (London, 1936).
Contains expositions of the views of those who chiefly influenced Marx’s early thought (Hegel, Feuerbach, Stirner, etc.). There is an Appendix with translations of important philosophical passages from Marx’s early writings.
Hyppolite, Jean, “La Structure du ‘Capital’ et de quelques présuppositions philosophiques dans l’oeuvre de Marx.” Bulletin de la Société Française de Philosophie, 42e année, No. 6, Oct.–Dec. 1948 (Paris).
The leading French Hegelian scholar uses his knowledge of Hegel to illuminate Marx’s thought. This valuable article is discussed by Aron, Bréhier, Madame Prenant, Rubel, and others. It is reprinted, without the discussion, in Hyppolite’s Etudes sur Marx et Hegel, pp. 142–68.
Popitz, Heinrich, Der Entfremdete Mensch: Zeitkritik und Geschichts-philosophie des jungen Marx (Basel, 1953).
A detailed exposition of Marx’s earliest writings showing their connections with the philosophy of Hegel.
Popper, Karl, The Open Society and Its Enemies. Vol. 2, The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel and Marx (London, 1945).
This book is too well known to need comment from me, except to say that the detailed discussion of Marx’s social theories contained in it relates especially to methodological matters that I have not myself dealt with. The criticism is all the more telling by virtue of the sympathy shown toward some of Marx’s aspirations.
Rotenstreich, Nathan, Marx’ Thesen über Feuerbach. Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie, XXXIX/3 and XXXIX/4 (Berne, 1951).
A commentary on the much-quoted “theses” in which the preeminence of “practice” in the Marxist outlook is demonstrated.
Rubel, Maximilien, Pages choisies pour une éthique socialiste. Textes réunis, traduits, et annotés, précédés d’une introduction à l’éthique Marxienne (Paris, 1948).
The form taken by this anthology makes it an important contribution to the interpretation of Marx. See the same author’s Karl Marx: Essai de biographie intellectuelle (Paris, 1957).
Venable, Vernon, Human Nature, The Marxian View (London, 1946).
A painstaking analysis and rather uncritical defense of the social theory of Marx and Engels.
Wetter, Gustav A., S.J., Der Dialektische Materialismus: Seine Geschichte und sein System in der Sowjetunion (Freiburg, 1952). Translated into English from the 4th revised German edition by Peter Heath with the title Dialectical Materialism (London, 1958).
A comprehensive (647 pp.) account of philosophy in the Soviet Union, containing detailed summaries and criticisms of leading books and articles published there. Indispensable for the student of Marxist-Leninist philosophy. There is a bibliography of 266 items, most of them in Russian or by Russians. The same author has a work in Italian, Il materialismo dialettico sovietico (Giulio Einaudi Editore, 1948), in which more space is given to “the classics” such as Lenin.
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[1. ]M.E.G.A., I, 1, i, p. 10.
[2. ]History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Moscow, 1939), pp. 114–15.
[3. ]Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1951, p. 66.
[4. ]Pp. 32–33.
[5. ]Karl Marx (2nd edition, London, 1948), p. 140.
[6. ]Translated by Sibree (New York, 1944), p. 457.
[7. ]This last quotation is from p. 121; the previous passages are from pp. 106–8.
[8. ]Anti-Dühring, p. 121.
[9. ]The Essentials of Lenin (London, 1947), vol. 2, p. 670.
[10. ]Soviet Studies, vol. 1, no. 3, Jan. 1950.
[11. ]State and Revolution (London, 1933), p. 69.
[12. ]Soviet Studies, vol. 1, no. 3, Jan. 1950, p. 227.
[13. ]“La Structure du ‘Capital’ et de quelques présuppositions philosophiques dans l’oeuvre de Marx,” Bulletin de la Société Française de Philosophie, Oct.–Dec. 1948. Reprinted in Hyppolite’s Etudes sur Marx et Hegel.
[14. ]These details are to be found in Eugène Sue et le Roman-Feuilleton, by Nora Atkinson (Paris, 1929). The author does not mention Marx.
[15. ]M.E.G.A., I, 3, p. 342.
[16. ]Ibid., p. 353.
[17. ]Ibid., p. 355.
[18. ]Ibid., p. 373.
[19. ]Ibid., pp. 379–80.
[20. ]Ibid., p. 386.
[21. ]Gesammelte Schriften von Marx und Engels, pp. 80ff. (ed. Riazanov). Translated and quoted in Pages choisies pour une éthique socialiste, ed. Maximilien Rubel, Paris, 1948. M. Rubel’s collection and arrangement is a most valuable contribution to the understanding of Marx’s ethical teaching.
[22. ]M.E.G.A., I, 3, p. 394 (Der Mensch scheint ein Geheimnis für den Menschen: man weiss ihn nur zur tadeln und man kennt ihn nicht).
[23. ]M.E.G.A., I, 5, pp. 175ff.
[24. ]Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, chap. 1.
[25. ]The reader is referred to: Hyppolite, “La structure du ‘Capital’ et de quelques présuppositions philosophiques dans l’oeuvre de Marx,” Etudes sur Marx et Hegel, Paris, 1955, pp. 142–68. Rubel, Pages choisies pour une éthique socialiste (Paris, 1948). (This excellent anthology is almost indispensable for the student of Marx’s ethical ideas.) H. Popitz, Der Entfremdete Mensch (Basel, 1953). (A detailed, documented analysis.) Pierre Bigo, Introduction à l’oeuvre economique de Karl Marx (Paris, 1953). Abram L. Harris, “Utopian Elements in Marx’s Thought,” Ethics, vol. 60, no. 2, Jan. 1950 (Chicago).
[26. ]M.E.G.A., I, 3, pp. 135–36.
[27. ]Ibid., p. 85.
[28. ]Ibid., p. 148.
[29. ]Capital (Everyman edition), p. 113.
[30. ]Ibid., p. 9.
[31. ]Ibid., pp. 53–54.
[32. ]I rather think that Timon was a pathological giver.
[33. ]Capital, pp. 369ff.
[34. ]Ibid., p. 356.
[35. ]Ibid., p. 452.
[36. ]P. 22.
[37. ]I, p. 384.
[38. ]M.E.G.A., VI, 1, pp. 516–19.
[39. ]Pp. 22–23.
[40. ]State and Revolution, p. 10.
[41. ]See G. D. Gurvich, Vocation actuelle de la sociologie (Paris, 1950), pp. 572–80.
[42. ]State and Revolution, p. 79.
[43. ]P. 75.
[44. ]Anti-Dühring, p. 25.
[45. ]Ibid., p. 285.
[46. ]Ibid., p. 292.
[47. ]Ibid., p. 291.
[48. ]Ibid., p. 285.
[49. ]Ibid., p. 285 and p. 309.
[50. ]Ibid., pp. 311–12.
[1. ]Supplement to New Times, No. 26, June 28, 1950.
[2. ]“Marx, Stalin and the Theory of Language,” by M. Miller, Soviet Studies, vol. 2, no. 4, April 1951.
[3. ]Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1952), p. 31. The other quotations are from p. 34.