H.B. Acton, “Marxist Ethics” (1955)
Note: This extract is part of The OLL Reader: An Anthology of the Best of the OLL, the table of contents of which can be found here. It is from "Part X: The Critique of Socialism and Interventionism".
For more information on socialism see:
- Socialism: A Study Guide and Reader
- Topic: Socialism and the Classical Liberal Critique
- People: School of Thought: Socialism
- Debate: Fabian Socialism vs. Radical Liberalism
|H.B. Acton (1908-1974)|
H.B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). </titles/877>.
- Section on "Marxist Ethics", parts 4-6: "Marxism and Moralism," "Man's Lost Unity Restored," and "The Supercession of the State." </titles/877#lf6844_label_229>
© 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.
4.: 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."23Marx 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.
5.: 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 Athensin 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.32Thus 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.33It 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.
6.: 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 sayabout 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.
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).
M.E.G.A., I, 5, pp. 175ff.
Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, chap. 1.
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).
M.E.G.A., I, 3, pp. 135–36.
Ibid., p. 85.
Ibid., p. 148.
Capital (Everyman edition), p. 113.
Ibid., p. 9.
Ibid., pp. 53–54.
I rather think that Timon was a pathological giver.
Capital, pp. 369ff.
Ibid., p. 356.
Ibid., p. 452.
I, p. 384.
M.E.G.A., VI, 1, pp. 516–19.
State and Revolution, p. 10.
See G. D. Gurvich, Vocation actuelle de la sociologie (Paris, 1950), pp. 572–80.
State and Revolution, p. 79.
Anti-Dühring, p. 25.
Ibid., p. 285.
Ibid., p. 292.
Ibid., p. 291.
Ibid., p. 285.
Ibid., p. 285 and p. 309.
Ibid., pp. 311–12.
Readings from the OLL Reader
- Alexis de Tocqueville, “On Socialism” (1848)
- Auberon Herbert, “Against Force and Socialist Compulsion” (1898)
- Bruce Smith, “True Liberalism vs. Socialism” (1888)
- David A. Wells, “Free Trade” (1882)
- Eugen Richter, “Economic Chaos after the Socialist Revolution” (1893)
- Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, “The Error in the Marxist System” (1896)
- Frédéric Bastiat, “Individualism and Fraternity” (June 1848)
- Gustave de Molinari, “Protection and Restrictions on Free Trade” (1853)
- Gustave de Molinari, “On Socialism and Property Rights” (1849)
- H.B. Acton, “Marxist Ethics” (1955)
- Herbert Spencer, “From Freedom to Bondage” (1891)
- John Stuart Mill, “The Difficulties of Socialism” (1879)
- Ludwig von Mises, “Socialism, Interventionism, and the Free Market” (1949)
- Ludwig von Mises, “The Impossibility of Economic Calculation under Socialism” (1922)
- No. 11: William Graham Sumner, “The Conquest of the United States by Spain” (1898)
- No. 25: Étienne de la Boétie, “The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude” (1576)
- No. 70: David Hume, “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth” (1777)
- No. 71: Lysander Spooner, “Natural Law; or the Science of Justice” (1882)
- No. 72: “Three Agreements of the People” (1647-49)
- No. 74: John Millar, “Circumstances which tend to increase the power of the Sovereign” (1771)
- No. 75: William Graham Sumner, “The Forgotten Man and Woman” (1883)
- Thomas Mackay “The Interest of the Working Class in Free Exchange” (1894)
- Wordsworth Donisthorpe, “An Analysis of Socialism” (1889)
- Yves Guyot, “The Socialist Tyranny” (1893)