The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Fri Jan 11, 2019 8:59 pm

Marx's Prophecy

18: The Coming of Socialism

I

Economic historicism is the method applied by Marx to an analysis of the impending changes in our society.
According to Marx, every particular social system must destroy itself, simply because it must create the forces which produce the next historical period. A sufficiently penetrating analysis of the feudal system, undertaken shortly before the industrial revolution, might have led to the detection of the forces which were about to destroy feudalism, and to the prediction of the most important characteristics of the coming period, capitalism. Similarly, an analysis of the development of capitalism might enable us to detect the forces which work for its destruction, and to predict the most important characteristics of the new historical period which lies ahead of us. For there is surely no reason to believe that capitalism, of all social systems, will last for ever. On the contrary, the material conditions of production, and with them, the ways of human life, have never changed so quickly as they have done under capitalism. By changing its own foundations in this way, capitalism is bound to transform itself, and to produce a new period in the history of mankind.

According to Marx's method, the principles of which have been discussed above, the fundamental or essential-forces which will destroy or transform capitalism must be searched for in the evolution of the material means of production. Once these fundamental forces have been discovered, it is possible to trace their influence upon the social relationships between classes as well as upon the juridical and political systems.

The analysis of the fundamental economic forces and the suicidal historical tendencies of the period which he called 'capitalism' was undertaken by Marx in Capital, the great work of his life. The historical period and the economic system he dealt with was that of western Europe and especially England, from about the middle of the eighteenth century to 1867 (the year of the first publication of Capital). The 'ultimate aim of this work', as Marx explained in his preface [2], was 'to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society', in order to prophesy its fate. A secondary aim [3] was the refutation of the apologists of capitalism, of the economists who presented the laws of the capitalist mode of production as if they were inexorable laws of nature, declaring with Burke: 'The laws of commerce are the laws of nature, and therefore the laws of God.' Marx contrasted these allegedly inexorable laws with those which he maintained to be the only inexorable laws of society, namely, its laws of development; and he tried to show that what the economists declared to be eternal and immutable laws were in fact merely temporary regularities, doomed to be destroyed together with capitalism itself.

Marx's historical prophecy can be described as a closely knit argument. But Capital elaborates only what I shall call the 'first step' of this argument, the analysis of the fundamental economic forces of capitalism and their influence upon the relations between the classes. The 'second step', which leads to the conclusion that a social revolution is inevitable, and the 'third step', which leads to the prediction of the emergence of a classless, i.e. socialist, society, are only sketched. In this chapter, I shall first explain more clearly what I call the three steps of the Marxist argument, and then discuss the third of these steps in detail. In the two following chapters, I shall discuss the second and the first steps. To reverse the order of the steps in this way turns out to be best for a detailed critical discussion; the advantage lies in the fact that it is then easier to assume without prejudice the truth of the premises of each step in the argument, and to concentrate entirely upon the question whether the conclusion reached in this particular step follows from its premises. Here are the three steps.

In the first step of his argument, Marx analyses the method of capitalist production. He finds that there is a tendency towards an increase in the productivity of work, connected with technical improvements as well as with what he calls the increasing accumulation of the means of production. Starting from here, the argument leads him to the conclusion that in the realm of the social relations between the classes this tendency must lead to the accumulation of more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands; that is to say, the conclusion is reached that there will be a tendency towards an increase of wealth and misery; of wealth in the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, and of misery in the ruled class, the workers. This first step will be treated in chapter 20 ('Capitalism and its Fate').

In the second step of the argument, the result of the first step is taken for granted. From it, two conclusions are drawn; first, that all classes except a small ruling bourgeoisie and a large exploited working class are bound to disappear, or to become insignificant; secondly, that the increasing tension between these two classes must lead to social revolution. This step will be analysed in chapter 19 ('The Social Revolution').

In the third step of the argument, the conclusions of the second step are taken for granted in their turn; and the final conclusion reached is that, after the victory of the workers over the bourgeoisie, there will be a society consisting of one class only, and, therefore, a classless society, a society without exploitation; that is to say, socialism.

II


I now proceed to the discussion of the third step, of the final prophecy of the coming of socialism.

The main premises of this step, to be criticized in the next chapter but here to be taken for granted, are these: the development of capitalism has led to the elimination of all classes but two, a small bourgeoisie and a huge proletariat; and the increase of misery has forced the latter to revolt against its exploiters. The conclusions are, first, that the workers must win the struggle, secondly that, by eliminating the bourgeoisie, they must establish a classless society, since only one class remains.

Now I am prepared to grant that the first conclusion follows from the premises (in conjunction with a few premises of minor importance which we need not question). Not only is the number of the bourgeoisie small, but their physical existence, their 'metabolism', depends upon the proletariat. The exploiter, the drone, starves without the exploited; in any case, if he destroys the exploited then he ends his own career as a drone. Thus he cannot win; he can, at the best, put up a prolonged struggle. The worker, on the other hand, does not depend for his material subsistence on his exploiter; once the worker revolts, once he has decided to challenge the existing order, the exploiter has no essential social function any longer. The worker can destroy his class enemy without endangering his own existence. Accordingly, there is only one outcome possible. The bourgeoisie will disappear.

But does the second conclusion follow? Is it true that the workers' victory must lead to a classless society? I do not think so. From the fact that of two classes only one remains, it does not follow that there will be a classless society. Classes are not like individuals, even if we admit that they behave nearly like individuals so long as there are two classes who are joined in battle. The unity or solidarity of a class, according to Marx's own analysis, is part of their class consciousness [4], which in turn is very largely a product of the class struggle. There is no earthly reason why the individuals who form the proletariat should retain their class unity once the pressure of the struggle against the common class enemy has ceased. Any latent conflict of interests is now likely to divide the formerly united proletariat into new classes, and to develop into a new class struggle. (The principles of dialectics would suggest that a new antithesis, a new class antagonism, must soon develop. Yet, of course, dialectics is sufficiently vague and adaptable to explain anything at all, and therefore a classless society also, as a dialectically necessary synthesis of an antithetical development [5].)

The most likely development is, of course, that those actually in power at the moment of victory — those of the revolutionary leaders who have survived the struggle for power and the various purges, together with their staff — will form a New Class: the new ruling class of the new society, a kind of new aristocracy or bureaucracy [6]; and it is most likely that they will attempt to hide this fact. This they can do, most conveniently, by retaining as much as possible of the revolutionary ideology, taking advantage of these sentiments instead of wasting their time in efforts to destroy them (in accordance with Pareto's advice to all rulers). And it seems likely enough that they will be able to make fullest use of the revolutionary ideology if at the same time they exploit the fear of counter-revolutionary developments. In this way, the revolutionary ideology will serve them for apologetic purposes: it will serve them both as a vindication of the use they make of their power, and as a means of stabilizing it; in short, as a new 'opium for the people'.

Something of this kind are the events which, on Marx's own premises, are likely to happen. Yet it is not my task here to make historical prophecies (or to interpret the past history of many revolutions). I merely wish to show that Marx's conclusion, the prophecy of the coming of a classless society, does not follow from the premises. The third step of Marx's argument must be pronounced to be inconclusive.

More than this I do not maintain. I do not think, more particularly, that it is possible to prophesy that socialism will not come, or to say that the premises of the argument make the introduction of socialism very unlikely. It is, for instance, possible that the prolonged struggle and the enthusiasm of victory may contribute to a feeling of solidarity strong enough to continue until laws preventing exploitation and the misuse of power are established. (The establishment of institutions for the democratic control of the rulers is the only guarantee for the elimination of exploitation.) The chances of founding such a society will depend, in my opinion, very largely upon the devotion of the workers to the ideas of socialism and freedom, as opposed to the immediate interests of their class. These are matters which cannot be easily foreseen; all that can certainly be said is that class struggle as such does not always produce lasting solidarity among the oppressed. There are examples of such solidarity and great devotion to the common cause; but there are also examples of groups of workers who pursue their particular group interest even where it is in open conflict with the interest of the other workers, and with the idea of the solidarity of the oppressed. Exploitation need not disappear with the bourgeoisie, since it is quite possible that groups of workers may obtain privileges which amount to an exploitation of less fortunate groups [7].

We see that a whole host of possible historical developments may follow upon a victorious proletarian revolution. There are certainly too many possibilities for the application of the method of historical prophecy. And in particular it must be emphasized that it would be most unscientific to close our eyes to some possibilities because we do not like them. Wishful thinking is apparently a thing that cannot be avoided. But it should not be mistaken for scientific thinking. And we should also recognize that the allegedly scientific prophecy provides, for a great number of people, a form of escape. It provides an escape from our present responsibilities into a future paradise; and it provides the fitting complement of this paradise by overstressing the helplessness of the individual in face of what it describes as the overwhelming and demoniacal economic forces of the present moment.  

III


If we now look a little more closely at these forces, and at our own present economic system, then we can see that our theoretical criticism is borne out by experience. But we must be on our guard against misinterpreting experience in the light of the Marxist prejudice that 'socialism' or 'communism' is the only alternative and the only possible successor to 'capitalism'. Neither Marx nor anybody else has ever shown that socialism, in the sense of a classless society, of 'an association in which the free development of each is the warrant for the free development of all' [8], is the only possible alternative to the ruthless exploitation of that economic system which he first described a century ago (in 1845), and to which he gave the name 'capitalism' [9]. And indeed, if anybody were attempting to prove that socialism is the only possible successor to Marx's unrestrained 'capitalism', then we could simply refute him by pointing to historical facts. For laissez-faire has disappeared from the face of the earth, but it has not been replaced by a socialist or communist system as Marx understood it. Only in the Russian sixth of the earth do we find an economic system where, in accordance with Marx's prophecy, the means of production are owned by the state, whose political might however shows, in opposition to Marx's prophecy, no inclination to wither away. But all over the earth, organized political power has begun to perform far-reaching economic functions. Unrestrained capitalism has given way to a new historical period, to our own period of political interventionism, of the economic interference of the state. Interventionism has assumed various forms. There is the Russian variety; there is the fascist form of totalitarianism; and there is the democratic interventionism of England, of the United States, and of the 'Smaller Democracies', led by Sweden [10], where the technology of democratic intervention has reached its highest level so far. The development which led to this intervention started in Marx's own day, with British factory legislation. It made its first decisive advances with the introduction of the 48-hour week, and later with the introduction of unemployment insurance and other forms of social insurance. How utterly absurd it is to identify the economic system of the modern democracies with the system Marx called 'capitalism' can be seen at a glance, by comparing it with his 10-point programme for the communist revolution.

If we omit the rather insignificant points of this programme (for instance, '4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels'), then we can say that in the democracies most of these points have been put into practice, either completely, or to a considerable degree; and with them, many more important steps, which Marx had never thought of, have been made in the direction of social security. I mention only the following points in his programme: 2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. (Carried out.) 3. Abolition of all right of inheritance. (Largely realized by heavy death duties. Whether more would be desirable is at least doubtful.) 6. Central control by the state of the means of communication and transport. (For military reasons this was carried out in Central Europe before the war of 1914, without very beneficial results. It has also been achieved by most of the Smaller Democracies.) 7. Increase in the number and size of factories and instruments of production owned by the state . . . (Realized in the Smaller Democracies; whether this is always very beneficial is at least doubtful.) 10. Free education for all children in public (i.e. state) schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form ... (The first demand is fulfilled in the Smaller Democracies, and to some extent practically everywhere; the second has been exceeded.)

A number of points in Marx's programme— (for instance: '1. Abolition of all property in land') have not been realized in the democratic countries. This is why Marxists rightly claim that these countries have not established 'socialism'. But if they infer from this that these countries are still 'capitalist' in Marx's sense, then they only demonstrate the dogmatic character of their presupposition that there is no further alternative. This shows how it is possible to be blinded by the glare of a preconceived system. Not only is Marxism a bad guide to the future, but it also renders its followers incapable of seeing what is happening before their own eyes, in their own historical period, and sometimes even with their own co-operation.

IV


But it could be asked whether this criticism speaks in any way against the method of large-scale historical prophecy as such. Could we not, in principle, so strengthen the premises of the prophetic argument as to obtain a valid conclusion? Of course we could do this. It is always possible to obtain any conclusion we like if only we make our premises sufficiently strong. But the situation is such that, for nearly every large- scale historical prophecy, we would have to make such assumptions concerning moral and other factors of the kind called by Marx 'ideological' as are beyond our ability to reduce to economic factors. But Marx would have been the first to admit that this would be a highly unscientific proceeding. His whole method of prophecy depends on the assumption that ideological influences need not be treated as independent and unpredictable elements, but that they are reducible to, and dependent on, observable economic conditions, and therefore predictable.

It is sometimes admitted even by certain unorthodox Marxists that the coming of socialism is not merely a matter of historical development; Marx's statement that 'we can shorten and lessen the birth-pangs' of the coming of socialism is sufficiently vague to be interpreted as stating that a mistaken policy might delay the advent of socialism even for centuries, as compared with the proper policy which would shorten the time of the development to a minimum. This interpretation makes it possible even for Marxists to admit that it will depend largely upon ourselves whether or not the outcome of a revolution will be a socialist society; that is to say, it will depend upon our aims, upon our devotion and sincerity, and upon our intelligence, in other words, upon moral or 'ideological' factors. Marx's prophecy, they may add, is a great source of moral encouragement, and it is therefore likely to further the development of socialism. What Marx really tries to show is that there are only two possibilities: that a terrible world should continue forever, or that a better world should eventually emerge; and it is hardly worth our while to contemplate the first alternative seriously. Therefore Marx's prophecy is fully justified. For the more clearly men realize that they can achieve the second alternative, the more surely will they make a decisive leap from capitalism to socialism; but a more definite prophecy cannot be made.

This is an argument which admits the influence of irreducible moral and ideological factors upon the course of history, and with it, the inapplicability of the Marxist method. Concerning that part of the argument which tries to defend Marxism, we must repeat that nobody has ever shown that there are only two possibilities, 'capitalism' and 'socialism'. With the view that we should not waste our time in contemplating the eternal continuation of a very unsatisfactory world, I quite agree. But the alternative need not be to contemplate the prophesied advent of a better world, or to assist its birth by propaganda and other irrational means, perhaps even by violence. It can be, for instance, the development of a technology for the immediate improvement of the world we live in, the development of a method for piecemeal engineering, for democratic intervention [12]. Marxists would of course contend that this kind of intervention is impossible since history cannot be made according to rational plans for improving the world. But this theory has very strange consequences. For if things cannot be improved by the use of reason, then it would be indeed an historical or political miracle if the irrational powers of history by themselves were to produce a better and more rational world [13].

Thus we are thrown back to the position that moral and other ideological factors which do not fall within the scope of scientific prophecy exert a far-reaching influence upon the course of history. One of these unpredictable factors is just the influence of social technology and of political intervention in economic matters. The social technologist and the piecemeal engineer may plan the construction of new institutions, or the transformation of old ones; they may even plan the ways and means of bringing these changes about; but 'history' does not become more predictable by their doing so. For they do not plan for the whole of society, nor can they know whether their plans will be carried out; in fact, they will hardly ever be carried out without great modification, partly because our experience grows during construction, partly because we must compromise [14]. Thus Marx was quite right when he insisted that 'history' cannot be planned on paper. But institutions can be planned; and they are being planned. Only by planning [15], step by step, for institutions to safeguard freedom, especially freedom from exploitation, can we hope to achieve a better world.


V

In order to show the practical political significance of Marx's historicist theory, I intend to illustrate each of the three chapters dealing with the three steps of his prophetic argument by a few remarks on the effects of his historical prophecy upon recent European history. For these effects have been far-reaching, because of the influence exercised, in Central and Eastern Europe, by the two great Marxist parties, the Communists and the Social Democrats.

Both these parties were entirely unprepared for such a task as the transformation of society. The Russian Communists, who found themselves first within reach of power, went ahead, entirely unaware of the grave problems and the immensity of sacrifice as well as of suffering which lay ahead. The Social Democrats of Central Europe, whose chance came a little later, shrank for many years from the responsibilities which the Communists had so readily taken upon themselves. They doubted, probably rightly, whether any people but that of Russia, which had been most savagely oppressed by Tsarism, would have stood up to the sufferings and sacrifices demanded from them by revolution, civil war, and a long period of at first often unsuccessful experiments. Moreover, during the critical years from 1918 to 1926, the outcome of the Russian experiment appeared to them most uncertain. And, indeed, there was surely no basis for judging its prospects. One can say that the split between the Central European Communists and Social Democrats was one between those Marxists who had a kind of irrational faith in the final success of the Russian experiment, and those who were, more reasonably, sceptical of it. When I say 'irrational' and 'more reasonably', I judge them by their own standard, by Marxism; for according to Marxism, the proletarian revolution should have been the final outcome of industrialization, and not vice versa [16]; and it should have come first in the highly industrialized countries, and only much later in Russia [17].

This remark is not, however, intended as a defence of the Social Democratic leaders [18] whose policy was fully determined by the Marxist prophecy, by their implicit belief that socialism must come. But this belief was often combined, in the leaders, with a hopeless scepticism concerning their own immediate functions and tasks, and what lay immediately ahead [19]. They had learned from Marxism to organize the workers, and to inspire them with a truly wonderful faith in their task, the liberation of mankind [20]. But they were unable to prepare for the realization of their promises. They had learned their textbooks well, they knew all about 'scientific socialism', and they knew that the preparation of recipes for the future was unscientific Utopianism. Had not Marx himself ridiculed a follower of Comte who had criticized him in the Revue Positiviste for his neglect of practical programmes? 'The Revue Positiviste accuses me', Marx had said [21] scornfully, 'of a metaphysical treatment of economics, and further — you would hardly guess it — of confining myself to a merely critical analysis of actual facts, instead of prescribing recipes (Comtist ones, perhaps?) for the kitchen in which the future is cooked.' Thus the Marxist leaders knew better than to waste their time on such matters as technology. 'Workers of all countries, unite!' — that exhausted their practical programme. When the workers of their countries were united, when there was an opportunity of assuming the responsibility of government and laying the foundations for a better world, when their hour had struck, they left the workers high and dry. The leaders did not know what to do. They waited for the promised suicide of capitalism. After the inevitable capitalist collapse, when things had gone thoroughly wrong, when everything was in dissolution and the risk of discredit and disgrace to themselves considerably diminished, then they hoped to become the saviours of mankind. (And, indeed, we should keep in mind the fact that the success of the Communists in Russia was undoubtedly made possible, in part, by the terrible things that had happened before their rise to power.) But when the great depression, which they first welcomed as the promised collapse, was running its course, they began to realize that the workers were growing tired of being fed and put off with interpretations of history [22]; that it was not enough to tell them that according to the infallible scientific socialism of Marx fascism was definitely the last stand of capitalism before its impending collapse. The suffering masses needed more than that. Slowly the leaders began to realize the terrible consequences of a policy of waiting and hoping for the great political miracle. But it was too late. Their opportunity was gone.

These remarks are very sketchy. But they give some indication of the practical consequences of Marx's prophecy of the coming of socialism.
 
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Thu Jan 31, 2019 5:31 am

19: The Social Revolution

The second step of Marx's prophetic argument has as its most relevant premise the assumption that capitalism must lead to an increase of wealth and misery; of wealth in the numerically declining bourgeoisie, and of misery in the numerically increasing working class. This assumption will be criticized in the next chapter but is here taken for granted. The conclusions drawn from it can be divided into two parts. The first part is a prophecy concerning the development of the class structure of capitalism. It affirms that all classes apart from the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and especially the so-called middle classes, are bound to disappear, and that, in consequence of the increasing tension between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the latter will become increasingly class- conscious and united. The second part is the prophecy that this tension cannot possibly be removed, and that it will lead to a proletarian social revolution.

I believe that neither of the two conclusions follows from the premise. My criticism will be, in the main, similar to that propounded in the last chapter; that is to say, I shall try to show that Marx's argument neglects a great number of possible developments.

I

Let us consider at once the first conclusion, i.e. the prophecy that all classes are bound to disappear, or to become insignificant, except the bourgeoisie and the proletariat whose class consciousness and solidarity must increase.
It must be admitted that the premise, Marx's theory of increasing wealth and misery, provides indeed for the disappearance of a certain middle class, that of the weaker capitalists and the petty bourgeoisie. 'Each capitalist lays many of his fellows low', as Marx puts it [1]; and these fellow capitalists may indeed be reduced to the position of wage-earners, which for Marx is the same as proletarians. This movement is part of the increase of wealth, the accumulation of more and more capital, and its concentration and centralization in fewer and fewer hands. An analogous fate is meted out to 'the lower strata of the middle class', as Marx says [2]. 'The small tradespeople, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and the peasants, all these sink gradually into the proletariat; partly because their small capital, insufficient as it is for the scale on which modern industry is conducted, is overwhelmed in the competition with the bigger capitalists; partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless by new means of production. Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population.' This description is certainly fairly accurate, especially so far as handicrafts are concerned; and it is also true that many proletarians come from peasant stock.

But admirable as Marx's observations are, the picture is defective. The movement he investigated is an industrial movement; his 'capitalist' is the industrial capitalist, his 'proletarian' the industrial worker. And in spite of the fact that many industrial workers come from peasant stock, this does not mean that the farmers and peasants, for instance, are all gradually reduced to the position of industrial workers. Even the agricultural labourers are not necessarily united with the industrial workers by a common feeling of solidarity and class consciousness. 'The dispersion of the rural workers over large areas', Marx admits [3], 'breaks down their power of resistance at the very time when the concentration of capital in a few hands increases the power of resistance of the urban workers.' This hardly suggests unification in one class-conscious whole. It shows, rather, that there is at least a possibility of division, and that the agricultural worker might sometimes be too dependent upon his master, the farmer or peasant, to make common cause with the industrial proletariat. But that farmers or peasants may easily choose to support the bourgeoisie rather than the workers was mentioned by Marx himself [4]; and a workers' programme such as the one of the Manifesto [5], whose first demand is the 'abolition of all property in land', is hardly designed to counteract this tendency.

This shows that it is at least possible that the rural middle classes may not disappear, and that the rural proletariat may not merge with the industrial proletariat. But this is not all. Marx's own analysis shows that it is vitally important for the bourgeoisie to foment division among the wage-earners; and as Marx himself has seen, this might be achieved in at least two ways. One way is the creation of a new middle class, of a privileged group of wage-earners who would feel superior to the manual worker [6] and at the same time dependent upon the rulers' mercy. The other way is the utilization of that lowest stratum of society which Marx christened the 'rabble-proletariat'. This is, as pointed out by Marx, the recruiting ground for criminals who may be ready to sell themselves to the class enemy. Increasing misery must tend, as he admits, to swell the numbers of this class; a development which will hardly contribute to the solidarity of all the oppressed.

But even the solidarity of the class of industrial workers is not a necessary consequence of increasing misery. Admittedly, increasing misery must produce resistance, and it is even likely to produce rebellious outbreaks. But the assumption of our argument is that the misery cannot be alleviated until victory has been won in the social revolution. This implies that the resisting workers will be beaten again and again in their fruitless attempts to better their lot. But such a development need not make the workers class-conscious in the Marxist sense [7], i.e. proud of their class and assured of their mission; it may make them, rather, class-conscious in the sense of being conscious of the fact that they belong to a beaten army.
And it probably will do so, if the workers do not find strength in the realization that their numbers as well as their potential economic powers continue to grow. This might be the case if, as Marx prophesied, all classes, apart from their own and that of the capitalists, were to show a tendency to disappear. But since, as we have seen, this prophecy need not come true, it is possible that the solidarity of even the industrial workers may be undermined by defeatism.

Thus, as opposed to Marx's prophecy which insists that there must develop a neat division between two classes, we find that on his own assumptions, the following class structure may possibly develop: (1) bourgeoisie, (2) big landed proprietors, (3) other landowners, (4) rural workers, (5) new middle class, (6) industrial workers, (7) rabble proletariat. (Any other combination of these classes may, of course, develop too.) And we find, furthermore, that such a development may possibly undermine the unity of (6).

We can say, therefore, that the first conclusion of the second step in Marx's argument does not follow.
But as in my criticism of the third step, here also I must say that I do not intend to replace Marx's prophecy by another one. I do not assert that the prophecy cannot come true, or that the alternative developments I have described will come to pass. I only assert that they may come to pass. (And, indeed, this possibility can hardly be denied by members of the radical Marxist wings who use the accusation of treachery, bribery, and insufficient class solidarity as favourite devices for explaining away developments which do not conform to the prophetic schedule.) That such things may happen should be clear to anybody who has observed the development which has led to fascism, in which all the possibilities I have mentioned played a part. But the mere possibility is sufficient to destroy the first conclusion reached in the second step of Marx's argument.

This of course affects the second conclusion, the prophecy of the coming social revolution. But before I can enter into a criticism of the way in which this prophecy is arrived at, it is necessary to discuss at some length the role played by it within the whole argument, as well as Marx's use of the term 'social revolution'.

II

What Marx meant when he spoke of the social revolution seems at first sight clear enough. His 'social revolution of the proletariat' is a historical concept. It denotes the more or less rapid transition from the historical period of capitalism to that of socialism. In other words, it is the name of a transitional period of class struggle between the two main classes, down to the ultimate victory of the workers. When asked whether the term 'social revolution' implied a violent civil war between the two classes, Marx answered [8] that this was not necessarily implied, adding, however, that the prospects of avoiding civil war were, unfortunately, not very bright. And he might have added further that, from the point of view of historical prophecy, the question appears to be perhaps not quite irrelevant, but at any rate of secondary importance. Social life is violent, Marxism insists, and the class war claims its victims every day [9]. What really matters is the result, socialism. To achieve this result is the essential characteristic of the 'social revolution'.

Now if we could take it as established, or as intuitively certain, that capitalism will be followed by socialism, then this explanation of the term 'social revolution' might be quite satisfactory. But since we must make use of the doctrine of social revolution as a part of that scientific argument by which we try to establish the coming of socialism, the explanation is very unsatisfactory indeed. If in such an argument we try to characterize the social revolution as the transition to socialism, then the argument becomes as circular as that of the doctor who was asked to justify his prediction of the death of a patient, and had to confess that he knew neither the symptoms nor anything else of the malady — only that it would turn into a 'fatal malady'. (If the patient did not die, then it was not yet the 'fatal malady'; and if a revolution does not lead to socialism, then it is not yet the 'social revolution'.) We can also give to this criticism the simple form that in none of the three steps of the prophetic argument must we assume anything whatever that is deduced only in a later step.

These considerations show that, for a proper reconstruction of Marx's argument, we must find such a characterization of the social revolution as does not refer to socialism, and as permits the social revolution to play its part in this argument as well as possible. A characterization which fulfils these conditions appears to be this. The social revolution is an attempt of a largely united proletariat to conquer complete political power, undertaken with the firm resolution not to shrink from violence, should violence be necessary for achieving this aim, and to resist any effort of its opponents to regain political influence. This characterization is free from the difficulties just mentioned; it fits the third step of the argument in so far as this third step is valid, giving it that degree of plausibility which the step undoubtedly possesses; and it is, as will be shown, in agreement with Marxism, and especially with its historicist tendency to avoid a definite [10] statement about whether or not violence will actually be used in this phase of history.

But although if regarded as an historical prophecy the proposed characterization is indefinite about the use of violence, it is important to realize that it is not so from a moral or legal point of view. Considered from such a point of view, the characterization of the social revolution here proposed undoubtedly makes of it a violent uprising; for the question whether or not violence is actually used is less significant than the intention; and we have assumed a firm resolution not to shrink from violence should it be necessary for achieving the aims of the movement. To say that the resolution not to shrink from violence is decisive for the character of the social revolution as a violent uprising is in agreement not only with the moral or legal point of view, but also with the ordinary view of the matter. For if a man is determined to use violence in order to achieve his aims, then we may say that to all intents and purposes he adopts a violent attitude, whether or not violence is actually used in a particular case. Admittedly, in trying to predict a future action of this man, we should have to be just as indefinite as Marxism, stating that we do not know whether or not he will actually resort to force. (Thus our characterization agrees in this point with the Marxist view.) But this lack of definiteness clearly disappears if we do not attempt historical prophecy, but try to characterize his attitude in the ordinary way.

Now I wish to make it quite clear that it is this prophecy of a possibly violent revolution which I consider, from the point of view of practical politics, by far the most harmful element in Marxism; and I think it will be better if I briefly explain the reason for my opinion before I proceed with my analysis.

I am not in all cases and under all circumstances against a violent revolution. I believe with some medieval and Renaissance Christian thinkers who taught the admissibility of tyrannicide that there may indeed, under a tyranny, be no other possibility, and that a violent revolution may be justified. But I also believe that any such revolution should have as its only aim the establishment of a democracy; and by a democracy I do not mean something as vague as 'the rule of the people' or 'the rule of the majority', but a set of institutions (among them especially general elections, i.e. the right of the people to dismiss their government) which permit public control of the rulers and their dismissal by the ruled, and which make it possible for the ruled to obtain reforms without using violence, even against the will of the rulers. In other words, the use of violence is justified only under a tyranny which makes reforms without violence impossible, and it should have only one aim, that is, to bring about a state of affairs which makes reforms without violence possible.

I do not believe that we should ever attempt to achieve more than that by violent means. For I believe that such an attempt would involve the risk of destroying all prospects of reasonable reform. The prolonged use of violence may lead in the end to the loss of freedom, since it is liable to bring about not a dispassionate rule of reason, but the rule of the strong man. A violent revolution which tries to attempt more than the destruction of tyranny is at least as likely to bring about another tyranny as it is likely to achieve its real aims.

There is only one further use of violence in political quarrels which I should consider justified. I mean the resistance, once democracy has been attained, to any attack (whether from within or without the state) against the democratic constitution and the use of democratic methods. Any such attack, especially if it comes from the government in power, or if it is tolerated by it, should be resisted by all loyal citizens, even to the use of violence. In fact, the working of democracy rests largely upon the understanding that a government which attempts to misuse its powers and to establish itself as a tyranny (or which tolerates the establishment of a tyranny by anybody else) outlaws itself, and that the citizens have not only a right but also a duty to consider the action of such a government as a crime, and its members as a dangerous gang of criminals. But I hold that such violent resistance to attempts to overthrow democracy should be unambiguously defensive. No shadow of doubt must be left that the only aim of the resistance is to save democracy. A threat of making use of the situation for the establishment of a counter-tyranny is just as criminal as the original attempt to introduce a tyranny; the use of such a threat, even if made with the candid intention of saving democracy by deterring its enemies, would therefore be a very bad method of defending democracy; indeed, such a threat would confuse the ranks of its defenders in an hour of peril, and would therefore be likely to help the enemy.


These remarks indicate that a successful democratic policy demands from the defenders the observance of certain rules. A few such rules will be listed later in this chapter; here I only wish to make it clear why I consider the Marxist attitude towards violence one of the most important points to be dealt with in any analysis of Marx.

III

According to their interpretation of the social revolution, we may distinguish between two main groups of Marxists, a radical wing and a moderate wing (corresponding roughly, but not precisely [11], to the Communist and the Social Democratic parties).

Marxists often decline to discuss the question whether or not a violent revolution would be 'justified'; they say that they are not moralists, but scientists, and that they do not deal with speculations about what ought to be, but with the facts of what is or will be. In other words, they are historical prophets who confine themselves to the question of what will happen. But let us assume that we have succeeded in persuading them to discuss the justification of the social revolution. In this case, I believe that we should find all Marxists agreeing, in principle, with the old view that violent revolutions are justified only if they are directed against a tyranny. From here on, the opinions of the two wings differ.

The radical wing insists that, according to Marx, all class rule is necessarily a dictatorship, i.e. a tyranny [12]. A real democracy can therefore be attained only by the establishment of a classless society, by overthrowing, if necessary violently, the capitalist dictatorship. The moderate wing does not agree with this view, but insists that democracy can to some extent be realized even under capitalism, and that it is therefore possible to conduct the social revolution by peaceful and gradual reforms. But even this moderate wing insists that such a peaceful development is uncertain; it points out that it is the bourgeoisie which is likely to resort to force, if faced with the prospect of being defeated by the workers on the democratic battlefield; and it contends that in this case the workers would be justified in retaliating, and in establishing their rule by violent means [13]. Both wings claim to represent the true Marxism of Marx, and in a way, both are right. For, as mentioned above, Marx's views in this matter were somewhat ambiguous, because of his historicist approach; over and above this, he seems to have changed his views during the course of his life, starting as a radical and later adopting a more moderate position [14].

I shall examine the radical position first, since it appears to me the only one which fits in with Capital and the whole trend of Marx's prophetic argument. For it is the main doctrine of Capital that the antagonism between capitalist and worker must necessarily increase, and that there is no compromise possible, so that capitalism can only be destroyed, not improved. It will be best to quote the fundamental passage of Capital in which Marx finally sums up the 'historical tendency of capitalist accumulation'. He writes [15]: 'Along with the steady decrease in the number of capitalist magnates who usurp and monopolize all the advantages of this development, there grows the extent of misery, oppression, servitude, degradation, and exploitation; but at the same time, there rises the rebellious indignation of the working class which is steadily growing in number, and which is being disciplined, unified, and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist method of production. Ultimately, the monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production which has flourished with it, and under it. Both the centralization in a few hands of the means of production, and the social organization of labour, reach a point where their capitalist cloak becomes a strait-jacket. It bursts asunder. The hour of capitalist private property has struck. The expropriators are expropriated.'

In view of this fundamental passage, there can be little doubt that the core of Marx's teaching in Capital was the impossibility of reforming capitalism, and the prophecy of its violent overthrow; a doctrine corresponding to that of the radical wing.
And this doctrine fits into our prophetic argument as well as can be. For if we grant not only the premise of the second step but the first conclusion as well, then the prophecy of the social revolution would indeed follow, in accordance with the passage we have quoted from Capital. (And the victory of the workers would follow too, as pointed out in the last chapter.) Indeed, it seems hard to envisage a fully united and class-conscious working class which would not in the end, if their misery cannot be mitigated by any other means, make a determined attempt to overthrow the social order. But this does not, of course, save the second conclusion. For we have already shown that the first conclusion is invalid; and from the premise alone, from the theory of increasing wealth and misery, the inevitability of the social revolution cannot be derived. As pointed out in our analysis of the first conclusion, all we can say is that rebellious outbreaks may be unavoidable; but since we can be sure neither of class unity nor of a developed class consciousness among the workers, we cannot identify such outbreaks with the social revolution. (They need not be victorious either, so that the assumption that they represent the social revolution would not fit in with the third step.)

As opposed to the radical position which at least fits quite well into the prophetic argument, the moderate position destroys it completely. But as was said before, it too has the support of Marx's authority. Marx lived long enough to see reforms carried out which, according to his theory, should have been impossible. But it never occurred to him that these improvements in the workers' lot were at the same time refutations of his theory. His ambiguous historicist view of the social revolution permitted him to interpret these reforms as its prelude [16] or even as its beginning. As Engels tells us [17], Marx reached the conclusion that in England, at any rate, 'the inevitable social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means. He certainly never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling class to submit, without a "pro-slavery rebellion", to this peaceful and legal revolution'. This report agrees with a letter [18] in which Marx wrote, only three years before his death: 'My party . . . considers an English revolution not necessary but — according to historic precedents — possible.' It should be noted that in the first at least of these statements, the theory of the 'moderate wing' is clearly expressed; the theory, namely, that should the ruling class not submit, violence would be unavoidable.

These moderate theories seem to me to destroy the whole prophetic argument [19]. They imply the possibility of a compromise, of a gradual reform of capitalism, and therefore, of a decreasing class-antagonism. But the sole basis of the prophetic argument is the assumption of an increasing class-antagonism. There is no logical necessity why a gradual reform, achieved by compromise, should lead to the complete destruction of the capitalist system; why the workers, who have learned by experience that they can improve their lot by gradual reform, should not prefer to stick to this method, even if it does not yield 'complete victory', i.e. the submission of the ruling class; why they should not compromise with the bourgeoisie and leave it in possession of the means of production rather than risk all their gains by making demands liable to lead to violent clashes. Only if we assume that 'the proletarians have nothing to lose but their fetters' [20], only if we assume that the law of increasing misery is valid, or that it at least makes improvements impossible, only then can we prophesy that the workers will be forced to make an attempt to overthrow the whole system. An evolutionary interpretation of the 'social revolution' thus destroys the whole Marxist argument, from the first step to the last; all that is left of Marxism would be the historicist approach. If an historical prophecy is still attempted, then it must be based upon an entirely new argument.

If we try to construct such a modified argument in accordance with Marx's later views and with those of the moderate wing, preserving as much of the original theory as possible, then we arrive at an argument based entirely upon the claim that the working class represents now, or will one day represent, the majority of the people. The argument would run like this. Capitalism will be transformed by a 'social revolution', by which we now mean nothing but the advance of the class struggle between capitalists and workers. This revolution may either proceed by gradual and democratic methods, or it may be violent, or it may be gradual and violent in alternate stages. All this will depend upon the resistance of the bourgeoisie. But in any case, and particularly if the development is a peaceful one, it must end with the workers assuming 'the position of the ruling class' [21], as the Manifesto says; they must 'win the battle of democracy'; for 'the proletarian movement is the self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority'.

It is important to realize that even in this moderate and modified form, the prediction is untenable. The reason is this. The theory of increasing misery must be given up if the possibility of gradual reform is admitted; but with it, even the semblance of a justification for the assertion that the industrial workers must one day form the 'immense majority' disappears. I do not wish to imply that this assertion would really follow from the Marxist theory of increasing misery, since this theory has never taken sufficient heed of the farmers and peasants. But if the law of increasing misery, supposed to reduce the middle class to the level of the proletariat, is invalid, then we must be prepared to find that a very considerable middle class continues to exist (or that a new middle class has arisen) and that it may co-operate with the other non-proletarian classes against a bid for power by the workers; and nobody can say for certain what the outcome of such a contest would be. Indeed, statistics no longer show any tendency for the number of industrial workers to increase in relation to the other classes of the population. There is, rather, the opposite tendency, in spite of the fact that the accumulation of instruments of production continues. This fact alone refutes the validity of the modified prophetic argument. All that remains of it is the important observation (which is, however, not up to the pretentious standards of a historicist prophecy) that social reforms are carried out largely [22] under the pressure of the oppressed, or (if this term is preferred) under the pressure of class struggle; that is to say, that the emancipation of the oppressed will be largely the achievement of the oppressed themselves [23]. IV The prophetic argument is untenable, and irreparable, in all its interpretations, whether radical or moderate.
But for a full understanding of this situation, it is not enough to refute the modified prophecy; it is also necessary to examine the ambiguous attitude towards the problem of violence which we can observe in both the radical and the moderate Marxist parties. This attitude has, I assert, a considerable influence upon the question whether or not the 'battle of democracy' will be won; for wherever the moderate Marxist wing has won a general election, or come close to it, one of the reasons seems to have been that they attracted large sections of the middle class. This was due to their humanitarianism, to their stand for freedom and against oppression. But the systematic ambiguity of their attitude towards violence not only tends to neutralize this attraction, but it also directly furthers the interest of the anti- democrats, the anti-humanitarians, the fascists.

There are two closely connected ambiguities in the Marxist doctrine, and both are important from this point of view. The one is an ambiguous attitude towards violence, founded upon the historicist approach. The other is the ambiguous way in which Marxists speak about 'the conquest of political power by the proletariat', as the Manifesto puts it [24]. What does this mean? It may mean, and it is sometimes so interpreted, that the workers' party has the harmless and obvious aim of every democratic party, that of obtaining a majority, and of forming a government. But it may mean, and it is often hinted by Marxists that it does mean, that the party, once in power, intends to entrench itself in this position; that is to say, that it will use its majority vote in such a way as to make it very difficult for others ever to regain power by ordinary democratic means. The difference between these two interpretations is most important. If a party which is at a certain time in the minority plans to suppress the other party, whether by violence or by means of a majority vote, then it recognizes by implication the right of the present majority party to do the same. It loses any moral right to complain about oppression; and, indeed, it plays into the hands of those groups within the present ruling party who wish to suppress the opposition by force.

I may call these two ambiguities briefly the ambiguity of violence and the ambiguity of power-conquest. Both are rooted not only in the vagueness of the historicist approach, but also in the Marxist theory of the state. If the state is, essentially, a class tyranny, then, on the one hand, violence is permissible, and on the other, all that can be done is to replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by that of the proletariat. To worry much about formal democracy merely shows lack of historical sense; after all 'democracy is ... only one of the stages in the course of the historical development', as Lenin says [25].


The two ambiguities play their role in the tactical doctrines of both the radical and the moderate wings. This is understandable, since the systematic use of the ambiguity enables them to extend the realm from which prospective followers may be recruited. This is a tactical advantage which may, however, easily lead to a disadvantage at the most critical moment; it may lead to a split whenever the most radical members think that the hour has struck for taking violent action. The way in which the radical wing may make a systematic use of the ambiguity of violence may be illustrated by the following extracts taken from Parkes' recent critical dissection of Marxism [26]. 'Since the Communist Party of the United States now declares not only that it does not now advocate revolution, but also that it never did advocate revolution, it may be advisable to quote a few sentences from the program of the Communist International (drafted in 1928).' Parkes then quotes among others the following passages from this programme: 'The Conquest of power by the proletariat does not mean peacefully "capturing" the ready-made bourgeois state by means of parliamentary majority ... The conquest of power ... is the violent overthrow of bourgeois power, the destruction of the capitalist state apparatus . . . The Party ... is confronted with the task of leading the masses to a direct attack upon the bourgeois state. This is done by ... propaganda ... and ... mass action ... This mass action includes ... finally, the general strike conjointly with armed insurrection ... The latter form ... which is the supreme form, must be conducted according to the rules of war ...' One sees, from these quotations, that this part of the programme is quite unambiguous; but this does not prevent the party from making a systematic use of the ambiguity of violence, withdrawing, if the tactical situation [27] demands it, towards a non-violent interpretation of the term 'social revolution'; and this in spite of the concluding paragraph of the Manifesto [28] (which is retained by the programme of 1928): 'The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their aims can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all the existing social conditions . . . '

But the way in which the moderate wing has systematically used the ambiguity of violence as well as that of power-conquest is even more important. It has been developed especially by Engels, on the basis of Marx's more moderate views quoted above, and it has become a tactical doctrine which has greatly influenced later developments. The doctrine I have in mind might be presented as follows [29]: We Marxists much prefer a peaceful and democratic development towards socialism, if we can have it. But as political realists we foresee the probability that the bourgeoisie will not quietly stand by when we are within reach of attaining the majority. They will rather attempt to destroy democracy. In this case, we must not flinch, but fight back, and conquer political power. And since this development is a probable one, we must prepare the workers for it; otherwise we should betray our cause. Here is one of Engels' passages [30] on the matter: 'For the moment ... legality ... is working so well in our favour that we should be mad to abandon it as long as it lasts. It remains to be seen whether it will not be the bourgeoisie . . . which will abandon it first in order to crush us with violence. Take the first shot, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie! Never doubt it, they will be the first to fire. One fine day the . . . bourgeoisie will grow tired of . . . watching the rapidly increasing strength of socialism, and will have recourse to illegality and violence.' What will happen then is left systematically ambiguous. And this ambiguity is used as a threat; for in later passages, Engels addresses the 'gentlemen of the bourgeoisie' in the following way: 'If . . . you break the constitution ... then the Social Democratic Party is free to act, or to refrain from acting, against you — whatever it likes best. What it is going to do, however, it will hardly give away to you to-day!'

It is interesting to see how widely this doctrine differs from the original conception of Marxism which predicted that the revolution would come as the result of the increasing pressure of capitalism upon the workers, and not as the result of the increasing pressure of a successful working-class movement upon capitalists. This most remarkable change of front [31] shows the influence of the actual social development which turned out to be one of decreasing misery. But Engels' new doctrine, which leaves the revolutionary, or more precisely, the counter-revolutionary, initiative to the ruling class, is tactically absurd, and doomed to failure. The original Marxist theory taught that the workers' revolution will break out at the depth of a depression, i.e. at a moment when the political system is weakened by the breakdown of the economic system, a situation which would contribute greatly to the victory of the workers. But if the 'gentlemen of the bourgeoisie' are invited to take the first shot, is it conceivable that they will be stupid enough not to choose their moment wisely? Will they not make proper preparations for the war they are going to wage? And since, according to the theory, they hold the power, will such a preparation not mean the mobilization of forces against which the workers can have no slightest chance of victory? Such criticism cannot be met by amending the theory so that the workers should not wait until the other side strikes but try to anticipate them, since, on its own assumption, it must always be easy for those in power to be ahead in their preparations — to prepare rifles, if the workers prepare sticks, guns if they prepare rifles, dive bombers if they prepare guns, etc.

V

But this criticism, practical as it is, and corroborated by experience, is only superficial. The main defects of the doctrine lie deeper. The criticism I now wish to offer attempts to show that both the presupposition of the doctrine and its tactical consequences are such that they are likely to produce exactly that anti-democratic reaction of the bourgeoisie which the theory predicts, yet claims (with ambiguity) to abhor: the strengthening of the anti-democratic element in the bourgeoisie, and, in consequence, civil war. And we know that this may lead to defeat, and to fascism.

The criticism I have in mind is, briefly, that Engels' tactical doctrine, and, more generally, the ambiguities of violence and of power-conquest, make the working of democracy impossible, once they are adopted by an important political party. I base this criticism on the contention that democracy can work only if the main parties adhere to a view of its functions which may be summarized in some rules such as these (cp. also section II of chapter 7):

1. Democracy cannot be fully characterized as the rule of the majority, although the institution of general elections is most important. For a majority might rule in a tyrannical way. (The majority of those who are less than 6 ft. high may decide that the minority of those over 6ft. shall pay all taxes.) In a democracy, the powers of the rulers must be limited; and the criterion of a democracy is this: In a democracy, the rulers — that is to say, the government — can be dismissed by the ruled without bloodshed. Thus if the men in power do not safeguard those institutions which secure to the minority the possibility of working for a peaceful change, then their rule is a tyranny.

2. We need only distinguish between two forms of government, viz. such as possess institutions of this kind, and all others; i.e. democracies and tyrannies.

3. A consistent democratic constitution should exclude only one type of change in the legal system, namely a change which would endanger its democratic character.

4. In a democracy, the full protection of minorities should not extend to those who violate the law, and especially not to those who incite others to the violent overthrow of the democracy [32].

5. A policy of framing institutions to safeguard democracy must always proceed on the assumption that there may be anti- democratic tendencies latent among the ruled as well as among the rulers.

6. If democracy is destroyed, all rights are destroyed. Even if certain economic advantages enjoyed by the ruled should persist, they would persist only on sufferance [33].

7. Democracy provides an invaluable battle-ground for any reasonable reform, since it permits reform without violence. But if the preservation of democracy is not made the first consideration in any particular battle fought out on this battle- ground, then the latent anti-democratic tendencies which are always present (and which appeal to those who suffer under the strain of civilization, as we called it in chapter 10) may bring about a breakdown of democracy. If an understanding of these principles is not yet developed, its development must be fought for. The opposite policy may prove fatal; it may bring about the loss of the most important battle, the battle for democracy itself.

As opposed to such a policy, that of Marxist parties can be characterized as one of making the workers suspicious of democracy. 'In reality the state is nothing more', says Engels [34], 'than a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and this holds for a democratic republic no less than for a monarchy.' But such views must produce:

(a) A policy of blaming democracy for all the evils which it does not prevent, instead of recognizing that the democrats are to be blamed, and the opposition usually no less than the majority. (Every opposition has the majority it deserves.)

(b) A policy of educating the ruled to consider the state not as theirs, but as belonging to the rulers.

(c) A policy of telling them that there is only one way to improve things, that of the complete conquest of power. But this neglects the one really important thing about democracy, that it checks and balances power.

Such a policy amounts to doing the work of the enemies of the open society; it provides them with an unwitting fifth column. And against the Manifesto which says [35] ambiguously: 'The first step in the revolution of the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class — to win the battle of democracy', I assert that if this is accepted as the first step, then the battle of democracy will be lost.


These are the general consequences of Engels' tactical doctrines, and of the ambiguities grounded in the theory of the social revolution. Ultimately, they are merely the last consequences of Plato's way of posing the problem of politics by asking 'who should rule the state?' (cp. chapter 7). It is high time for us to learn that the question 'who is to wield the power in the state?' matters only little as compared with the question 'how is the power wielded?' and ' how much power is wielded?' We must learn that in the long run, all political problems are institutional problems, problems of the legal framework rather than of persons, and that progress towards more equality can be safeguarded only by the institutional control of power.  

VI

As in the previous chapter, I shall now illustrate the second step by showing something of the way in which the prophecy has influenced recent historical developments. All political parties have some sort of 'vested interest' in their opponent's unpopular moves. They live by them and are therefore liable to dwell upon, to emphasize, and even to look forward to them. They may even encourage the political mistakes of their opponents as long as they can do so without becoming involved in the responsibility for them. This, together with Engels' theory, has led some Marxist parties to look forward to the political moves made by their opponents against democracy. Instead of fighting such moves tooth and nail, they were pleased to tell their followers: 'See what these people do. That is what they call democracy. That is what they call freedom and equality! Remember it when the day of reckoning comes.' (An ambiguous phrase which may refer to election day or to the day of revolution.) This policy of letting one's opponents expose themselves must, if extended to moves against democracy, lead to disaster. It is a policy of talking big and doing nothing in the face of real and increasing danger to democratic institutions. It is a policy of talking war and acting peace; and it taught the fascists the invaluable method of talking peace and acting war.

There is no doubt about the way in which the ambiguity just mentioned played into the hands of those fascist groups who wanted to destroy democracy. For we must reckon with the possibility that there will be such groups, and that their influence within the so-called bourgeoisie will depend largely on the policy adopted by the workers' parties.

For instance, let us consider more closely the use made in the political struggle of the threat of revolution or even of political strikes (as opposed to wage disputes, etc.). As explained above, the decisive question here would be whether such means are used as offensive weapons or solely for the defence of democracy. Within a democracy, they would be justified as a purely defensive weapon, and when resolutely applied in connection with a defensive and unambiguous demand they have been successfully used in this way. (Remember the quick breakdown of Kapp's putsch.) But if used as an offensive weapon they must lead to a strengthening of the anti-democratic tendencies in the opponent's camp, since they clearly make democracy unworkable. Furthermore, such use must make the weapon ineffective for defence. If you use the whip even when the dog is good, then it won't work if you need it to deter him from being bad. The defence of democracy must consist in making anti-democratic experiments too costly for those who try them; much more costly than a democratic compromise . . . The use by the workers of any kind of non- democratic pressure is likely to lead to a similar, or even to an anti- democratic, counterpressure — to provoke a move against democracy. Such an anti-democratic move on the part of the rulers is, of course, a much more serious and dangerous thing than a similar move on the part of the ruled. It would be the task of the workers to fight this dangerous move resolutely, to stop it in its inconspicuous beginnings. But how can they now fight in the name of democracy? Their own anti-democratic action must provide their enemies, and those of democracy, with an opportunity.

The facts of the development described can, if one wishes, be interpreted differently; they may lead to the conclusion that democracy is 'no good'. This is indeed a conclusion which many Marxists have drawn. After having been defeated in what they believed to be the democratic struggle (which they had lost in the moment they formulated their tactical doctrine), they said: 'We have been too lenient, too humane — next time we will make a really bloody revolution!' It is as if a man who loses a boxing match should conclude: boxing is no good — I should have used a club . . . The fact is that the Marxists taught the theory of class war to the workers, but the practice of it to the reactionary diehards of the bourgeoisie. Marx talked war. His opponents listened attentively; then they began to talk peace and accuse the workers of belligerency; this charge the Marxists could not deny, since class war was their slogan. And the fascists acted.


So far, the analysis mainly covers certain more 'radical' Social Democratic parties who based their policy entirely upon Engels' ambiguous tactical doctrine. The disastrous effects of Engels' tactics were increased in their case by the lack of a practical programme discussed in the last chapter. But the Communists too adopted the tactics here criticized in certain countries and at certain periods, especially where the other workers' parties, for instance the Social Democrats or the Labour Party, observed the democratic rules.

But the position was different with the Communists in so far as they had a programme. It was: 'Copy Russia!' This made them more definite in their revolutionary doctrines as well as in their assertion that democracy merely means the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie [36]. According to this assertion, not much could be lost and something would be gained if that hidden dictatorship became an open one, apparent to all; for this could only bring the revolution nearer [37]. They even hoped that a totalitarian dictatorship in Central Europe would speed up matters. After all, since the revolution was bound to come, fascism could only be one of the means of bringing it about; and this was more particularly so since the revolution was clearly long overdue. Russia had already had it in spite of its backward economic conditions. Only the vain hopes created by democracy [38] were holding it back in the more advanced countries. Thus the destruction of democracy through the fascists could only promote the revolution by achieving the ultimate disillusionment of the workers in regard to democratic methods. With this, the radical wing of Marxism [39] felt that it had discovered the 'essence' and the 'true historical role' of fascism. Fascism was, essentially, the last stand of the bourgeoisie. Accordingly, the Communists did not fight when the fascists seized power. (Nobody expected the Social Democrats to fight.) For the Communists were sure that the proletarian revolution was overdue and that the fascist interlude, necessary for its speeding up [40], could not last longer than a few months. Thus no action was required from the Communists. They were harmless. There was never a 'communist danger' to the fascist conquest of power. As Einstein once emphasized, of all organized groups of the community, it was only the Church, or rather a section of the Church, which seriously offered resistance.  
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Fri Feb 01, 2019 2:23 am

Part 1 of 2

20: Capitalism and its Fate

According to Marxist doctrine, capitalism is labouring under inner contradictions that threaten to bring about its downfall. A minute analysis of these contradictions and of the historical movement which they force upon society constitutes the first step of Marx's prophetic argument. This step is not only the most important of his whole theory, it is also the one on which he spent most of his labour, since practically the whole of the three volumes of Capital (over 2,200 pages in the original edition [1]) is devoted to its elaboration. It is also the least abstract step of the argument since it is based upon a descriptive analysis, supported by statistics, of the economic system of his time — that of unrestrained capitalism [2]. As Lenin puts it: 'Marx deduces the inevitability of the transformation of capitalist society into socialism wholly and exclusively from the economic law of the movement of contemporary society.'

Before proceeding to explain in some detail the first step of Marx's prophetic argument, I shall try to describe its main ideas in the form of a very brief outline.

Marx believes that capitalist competition forces the capitalist's hand. It forces the capitalist to accumulate capital. By doing so, he works against his own long-term economic interests (since the accumulation of capital is liable to bring about a fall of his profits). But although working against his own personal interest, he works in the interest of the historical development; he works, unwittingly, for economic progress, and for socialism. This is due to the fact that accumulation of capital means (a) increased productivity; increase of wealth; and concentration of wealth in a few hands; (b) increase of pauperism and misery; the workers are kept on subsistence or starvation wages, mainly by the fact that the surplus of workers, called the 'industrial reserve army', keeps the wages on the lowest possible level. The trade cycle prevents, for any length of time, the absorption of the surplus of workers by the growing industry. This cannot be altered by the capitalists, even if they wish to do so; for the falling rate of their profits makes their own economic position much too precarious for any effective action. In this way, capitalist accumulation turns out to be a suicidal and self-contradictory process, even though it fosters the technical, economic, and historical progress towards socialism.

I


The premises of the first step are the laws of capitalist competition, and of the accumulation of the means of production. The conclusion is the law of increasing wealth and misery. I begin my discussion with an explanation of these premises and conclusions.

Under capitalism, competition between the capitalists plays an important role. 'The battle of competition', as analysed by Marx in Capital [3], is carried out by selling the commodities produced, if possible at a lower price than the competitor could afford to accept. 'But the cheapness of a commodity', Marx explains, 'depends in its turn, other things being equal, upon the productivity of labour; and this, again, depends on the scale of production.' For production on a very large scale is in general capable of employing more specialized machinery, and a greater quantity of it; this increases the productivity of the workers, and permits the capitalist to produce, and to sell, at a lower price. 'Large capitalists, therefore, get the better of small ones . . . Competition always ends with the downfall of many lesser capitalists and with the transition of their capital into the hands of the conqueror.' (This movement is, as Marx points out, much accelerated by the credit system.)

According to Marx's analysis, the process described, accumulation due to competition, has two different aspects. One of them is that the capitalist is forced to accumulate or concentrate more and more capital, in order to survive; this means in practice investing more and more capital in more and more as well as newer and newer machinery, thus continually increasing the productivity of his workers. The other aspect of the accumulation of capital is the concentration of more and more wealth in the hands of the various capitalists, and of the capitalist class; and along with it goes the reduction in the number of capitalists, a movement called by Marx the centralization [4] of capital (in contradistinction to mere accumulation or concentration).

Now three of these terms, competition, accumulation, and increasing productivity, indicate the fundamental tendencies of all capitalist production, according to Marx; they are the tendencies to which I alluded when I described the premise of the first step as 'the laws of capitalist competition and of accumulation'. The fourth and the fifth terms, however, concentration and centralization, indicate a tendency which forms one part of the conclusion of the first step; for they describe a tendency towards a continuous increase of wealth, and its centralization in fewer and fewer hands. The other part of the conclusion, however, the law of increasing misery, is only reached by a much more complicated argument. But before beginning an explanation of this argument, I must first explain this second conclusion itself.

The term 'increasing misery' may mean, as used by Marx, two different things. It may be used in order to describe the extent of misery, indicating that it is spread over an increasing number of people; or it may be used in order to indicate an increase in the intensity of the suffering of the people. Marx undoubtedly believed that misery was growing both in extent and in intensity. This, however, is more than he needed in order to carry his point. For the purpose of the prophetic argument, a wider interpretation of the term 'increasing misery' would do just as well (if not better [5]); an interpretation, namely, according to which the extent of misery increases, while its intensity may or may not increase, but at any rate does not show any marked decrease.

But there is a further and much more important comment to be made. Increasing misery, to Marx, involves fundamentally an increasing exploitation of the employed workers; not only in numbers but also in intensity. It must be admitted that in addition it involves an increase in the suffering as well as in the numbers of the unemployed, called [6] by Marx the (relative) 'surplus population' or the 'industrial reserve army'. But the function of the unemployed, in this process, is to exert pressure upon the employed workers, thus assisting the capitalists in their efforts to make profit out of the employed workers, to exploit them. 'The industrial reserve army', Marx writes [7], 'belongs to capitalism just as if its members had been reared by the capitalists at their own cost. For its own varying needs, capital creates an ever-ready supply of exploitable human material . . . During periods of depression and of semi-prosperity, the industrial reserve army keeps up its pressure upon the ranks of the employed workers; and during periods of excessive production and boom, it serves to bridle their aspirations.' Increasing misery, according to Marx, is essentially the increasing exploitation of labour power; and since labour power of the unemployed is not exploited, they can serve in this process only as unpaid assistants of the capitalists in the exploitation of the employed workers. The point is important since later Marxists have often referred to unemployment as one of the empirical facts that verify the prophecy that misery tends to increase; but unemployment can be claimed to corroborate Marx's theory only if it occurs together with increased exploitation of the employed workers, i.e. with long hours of work and with low real wages.

This may suffice to explain the term 'increasing misery'. But it is still necessary to explain the law of increasing misery which Marx claimed to have discovered. By this I mean the doctrine of Marx on which the whole prophetic argument hinges; namely, the doctrine that capitalism cannot possibly afford to decrease the misery of the workers, since the mechanism of capitalist accumulation keeps the capitalist under a strong economic pressure which he is forced to pass on to the workers if he is not to succumb. This is why the capitalists cannot compromise, why they cannot meet any important demand of the workers, even if they wished to do so; this is why 'capitalism cannot be reformed but can only be destroyed' [8]. It is clear that this law is the decisive conclusion of the first step. The other conclusion, the law of increasing wealth, would be a harmless matter, if only it were possible for the increase of wealth to be shared by the workers. Marx's contention that this is impossible will therefore be the main subject of our critical analysis. But before proceeding to a presentation and criticism of Marx's arguments in favour of this contention, I may briefly comment on the first part of the conclusion, the theory of increasing wealth.

The tendency towards the accumulation and concentration of wealth, which Marx observed, can hardly be questioned. His theory of increasing productivity is also, in the main, unexceptionable. Although there may be limits to the beneficial effects exerted by the growth of an enterprise upon its productivity, there are hardly any limits to the beneficial effects of the improvement and accumulation of machinery. But in regard to the tendency towards the centralization of capital in fewer and fewer hands, matters are not quite so simple. Undoubtedly, there is a tendency in that direction, and we may grant that under an unrestrained capitalist system there are few counteracting forces. Not much can be said against this part of Marx's analysis as a description of an unrestrained capitalism. But considered as a prophecy, it is less tenable. For we know that now there are many means by which legislation can intervene. Taxation and death duties can be used most effectively to counteract centralization, and they have been so used. And anti-trust legislation can also be used, although perhaps with less effect. To evaluate the force of Marx's prophetic argument we must consider the possibility of great improvements in this direction; and as in previous chapters, I must declare that the argument on which Marx bases this prophecy of centralization or of a decrease in the number of capitalists is inconclusive.

Having explained the main premises and conclusions of the first step, and having disposed of the first conclusion, we can now concentrate our attention entirely upon Marx's derivation of the other conclusion, the prophetic law of increasing misery. Three different trends of thought may be distinguished in his attempts to establish this prophecy. They will be dealt with in the next four sections of this chapter under the headings: II: the theory of value; III: the effect of the surplus population upon wages; IV: the trade cycle; V: the effects of the falling rate of profit.

II


Marx's theory of value, usually considered by Marxists as well as by anti- Marxists as a corner-stone of the Marxist creed, is in my opinion one of its rather unimportant parts; indeed, the sole reason why I am going to treat of it, instead of proceeding at once to the next section, is that it is generally held to be important, and that I cannot defend my reasons for differing from this opinion without discussing the theory. But I wish to make it clear at once that in holding that the theory of value is a redundant part of Marxism, I am defending Marx rather than attacking him. For there is little doubt that the many critics who have shown that the theory of value is very weak in itself are in the main perfectly right. But even if they were wrong, it would only strengthen the position of Marxism if it could be established that its decisive historico-political doctrines can be developed entirely independently of such a controversial theory.

The idea of the so-called labour theory of value [9], adapted by Marx for his purposes from suggestions he found in his predecessors (he refers especially to Adam Smith and David Ricardo), is simple enough. If you need a carpenter, you must pay him by the hour. If you ask him why a certain job is more expensive than another one, he will point out that there is more work in it. In addition to the labour, you must pay of course for the timber. But if you go into this a little more closely, then you find that you are, indirectly, paying for the labour involved in foresting, felling, transporting, sawing, etc. This consideration suggests the general theory that you have to pay for the job, or for any commodity you may buy, roughly in proportion to the amount of work in it, i.e. to the number of labour hours necessary for its production.

I say 'roughly' because the actual prices fluctuate. But there is, or so at least it appears, always something more stable behind these prices, a kind of average price about which the actual prices oscillate [10], christened the 'exchange-value' or, briefly, the 'value' of the thing. Using this general idea, Marx defined the value of a commodity as the average number of labour hours necessary for its production (or for its reproduction).


The next idea, that of the theory of surplus value, is nearly as simple. It too was adapted by Marx from his predecessors. (Engels asserts [11] — perhaps mistakenly, but I shall follow his presentation of the matter — that Marx's main source was Ricardo.) The theory of surplus value is an attempt, within the limits of the labour theory of value, to answer the question: 'How does the capitalist make his profit?' If we assume that the commodities produced in his factory are sold on the market at their true value, i.e. according to the number of labour hours necessary for their production, then the only way in which the capitalist can make a profit is by paying his workers less than the full value of their product. Thus the wages received by the worker represent a value which is not equal to the number of hours he has worked. And we can accordingly divide his working day into two parts, the hours he has spent in producing value equivalent to his wages and the hours he has spent in producing value for the capitalist [12]. And correspondingly, we can divide the whole value produced by the worker into two parts, the value equal to his wages, and the rest, which is called surplus value. This surplus value is appropriated by the capitalist and is the sole basis for his profit.

So far, the story is simple enough. But now there arises a theoretical difficulty. The whole value theory has been introduced in order to explain the actual prices at which all commodities are exchanged; and it is still assumed that the capitalist is able to obtain on the market the full value of his product, i.e. a price that corresponds to the total number of hours spent on it. But it looks as if the worker does not get the full price of the commodity which he sells to the capitalist on the labour market. It looks as if he is cheated, or robbed; at any rate, as if he is not paid according to the general law assumed by the value theory, namely, that all actual prices paid are, at least in a first approximation, determined by the value of the commodity. (Engels says that the problem was realized by the economists who belonged to what Marx called 'the school of Ricardo'; and he asserts [13] that their inability to solve it led to the breakdown of this school.) There appeared what seemed a rather obvious solution of the difficulty. The capitalist possesses a monopoly of the means of production, and this superior economic power can be used for bullying the worker into an agreement which violates the law of value. But this solution (which I consider quite a plausible description of the situation) utterly destroys the labour theory of value. For it now turns out that certain prices, namely, wages, do not correspond to their values, not even in a first approximation. And this opens up the possibility that this may be true of other prices for similar reasons.

Such was the situation when Marx entered the scene in order to save the labour theory of value from destruction. With the help of another simple but brilliant idea he succeeded in showing that the theory of surplus value was not only compatible with the labour theory of value but that it could also be rigidly deduced from the latter. In order to achieve this deduction, we have only to ask ourselves: what is, precisely, the commodity which the worker sells to the capitalist? Marx's reply is: not his labour hours, but his whole labour power. What the capitalist buys or hires on the labour market is the labour power of the worker. Let us assume, tentatively, that this commodity is sold at its true value. What is its value? According to the definition of value, the value of labour power is the average number of labour hours necessary for its production or reproduction. But this is, clearly, nothing but the number of hours necessary for producing the worker's (and his family's) means of subsistence.

Marx thus arrived at the following result. The true value of the worker's whole labour power is equal to the labour hours needed for producing the means of his subsistence. Labour power is sold for this price to the capitalist. If the worker is able to work longer than that, then his surplus labour belongs to the buyer or hirer of his power. The greater the productivity of labour, that is to say, the more a worker can produce per hour, the fewer hours will be needed for the production of his subsistence, and the more hours remain for his exploitation. This shows that the basis of capitalist exploitation is a high productivity of labour. If the worker could produce in a day no more than his own daily needs, then exploitation would be impossible without violating the law of value; it would be possible only by means of cheating, robbery, or murder. But once the productivity of labour has, by the introduction of machinery, risen so high that one man can produce much more than he needs, capitalist exploitation becomes possible. It is possible even in a capitalist society which is 'ideal' in the sense that every commodity, including labour power, is bought and sold at its true value. In such a society, the injustice of exploitation does not lie in the fact that the worker is not paid a 'just price' for his labour power, but rather in the fact that he is so poor that he is forced to sell his labour power, while the capitalist is rich enough to buy labour power in great quantities, and to make profit out of it.

By this derivation [14] of the theory of surplus value, Marx saved the labour theory of value from destruction for the time being; and in spite of the fact that I regard the whole 'value problem' (in the sense of an 'objective' true value round which the prices oscillate) as irrelevant, I am very ready to admit that this was a theoretical success of the first order. But Marx had done more than save a theory originally advanced by 'bourgeois economists'. With one stroke, he gave a theory of exploitation and a theory explaining why the workers' wages tend to oscillate about the subsistence (or starvation) level. But the greatest success was that he could now give an explanation, one in keeping with his economic theory of the legal system, of the fact that the capitalist mode of production tended to adopt the legal cloak of liberalism. For the new theory led him to the conclusion that once the introduction of new machinery had multiplied the productivity of labour, there arose the possibility of a new form of exploitation which used a free market instead of brutal force, and which was based on the 'formal' observance of justice, equality before the law, and freedom. The capitalist system, he asserted, was not only a system of 'free competition', but it was also 'maintained by the exploitation of the labour of others, but of labour which, in a formal sense, is free' [15].

It is impossible for me to enter here into a detailed account of the really astonishing number of further applications made by Marx of his value theory. But it is also unnecessary, since my criticism of the theory will show the way in which the value theory can be eliminated from all these investigations. I am now going to develop this criticism; its three main points are (a) that Marx's value theory does not suffice to explain exploitation, (b) that the additional assumptions which are necessary for such an explanation turn out to be sufficient, so that the theory of value turns out to be redundant, (c) that Marx's theory of value is an essentialist or metaphysical one.

(a) The fundamental law of the theory of value is the law that the prices of practically all commodities, including wages, are determined by their values, or more precisely, that they are at least in a first approximation proportional to the labour hours necessary for their production. Now this 'law of value', as I may call it, at once raises a problem. Why does it hold? Obviously, neither the buyer nor the seller of the commodity can see, at a glance, how many hours are necessary for its production; and even if they could, it would not explain the law of value. For it is clear that the buyer simply buys as cheaply as he can, and that the seller charges as much as he can get. This, it appears, must be one of the fundamental assumptions of any theory of market prices. In order to explain the law of value, it would be our task to show why the buyer is unlikely to succeed in buying below, and the seller in selling above, the 'value' of a commodity. This problem was seen more or less clearly by those who believed in the labour theory of value, and their reply was this. For the purpose of simplification, and in order to obtain a first approximation, let us assume perfectly free competition, and for the same reason let us consider only such commodities as can be manufactured in practically unlimited quantities (if only the labour were available). Now let us assume that the price of such a commodity is above its value; this would mean that excessive profits can be made in this particular branch of production. It would encourage various manufacturers to produce this commodity, and competition would lower the price. The opposite process would lead to an increase in the price of a commodity which is sold below its value. Thus there will be oscillations of price, and these will tend to centre about the values of commodities. In other words, it is a mechanism of supply and demand which, under free competition, tends to give force [16] to the law of value.

Such considerations as these can be found frequently in Marx, for instance, in the third volume of Capital [17], where he tries to explain why there is a tendency for all profits in the various branches of manufacture to approximate, and adjust themselves, to a certain average profit. And they are also used in the first volume, especially in order to show why wages are kept low, near subsistence level, or, what amounts to the same, just above starvation level. It is clear that with wages below this level, the workers would actually starve, and the supply of labour power on the labour market would disappear. But as long as men live, they will reproduce; and Marx attempts to show in detail (as we shall see in section IV), why the mechanism of capitalist accumulation must create a surplus population, an industrial reserve army. Thus as long as wages are just above starvation level there will always be not only a sufficient but even an excessive supply of labour power on the labour market; and it is this excessive supply which, according to Marx, prevents the rise of wages [18]: 'The industrial reserve army keeps up its pressure upon the ranks of the employed workers; ... thus surplus population is the background in front of which there operates the law of supply and demand of labour. Surplus population restricts the range within which this law is permitted to operate to such limits as best suit the capitalist greed for exploitation and domination.'

(b) Now this passage shows that Marx himself realized the necessity of backing up the law of value by a more concrete theory; a theory which shows, in any particular case, how the laws of supply and demand bring about the effect which has to be explained; for instance, starvation wages. But if these laws are sufficient to explain these effects, then we do not need the labour theory of value at all, whether or not it may be tenable as a first approximation (which I do not think it is). Furthermore, as Marx realized, the laws of supply and demand are necessary for explaining all those cases in which there is no free competition, and in which his law of value is therefore clearly out of operation; for instance, where a monopoly can be used to keep prices constantly above their 'values'. Marx considered such cases as exceptions, which is hardly the right view; but however this may be, the case of monopolies shows not only that the laws of supply and demand are necessary to supplement his law of value, but also that they are more generally applicable.

On the other hand, it is clear that the laws of supply and demand are not only necessary but also sufficient to explain all the phenomena of 'exploitation' which Marx observed — the phenomena, more precisely, of the misery of the workers side by side with the wealth of the entrepreneurs — if we assume, as Marx did, a free labour market as well as a chronically excessive supply of labour. (Marx's theory of this excessive supply will be discussed more fully in section IV below.) As Marx shows, it is clear enough that the workers will be forced, under such circumstances, to work long hours at low wages, in other words, to permit the capitalist to 'appropriate the best part of the fruits of their labour'. And in this trivial argument, which is part of Marx's own, there is no need even to mention 'value'.

Thus the value theory turns out to be a completely redundant part of Marx's theory of exploitation; and this holds independently of the question whether or not the value theory is true. But the part of Marx's theory of exploitation which remains after the value theory is eliminated is undoubtedly correct, provided we accept the doctrine of surplus population. It is unquestionably true that (in the absence of a redistribution of wealth through the state) the existence of a surplus population must lead to starvation wages, and to provocative differences in the standard of living.

(What is not so clear, and not explained by Marx either, is why the supply of labour should continue to exceed the demand. For if it is so profitable to 'exploit' labour, how is it, then, that the capitalists are not forced, by competition, to try to raise their profits by employing more labour? In other words, why do they not compete against each other on the labour market, thereby raising the wages to the point where they begin to become no longer sufficiently profitable, so that it is no longer possible to speak of exploitation? Marx would have answered — see section V, below — 'Because competition forces them to invest more and more capital in machinery, so that they cannot increase that part of their capital which they use for wages'. But this answer is unsatisfactory since even if they spend their capital on machinery, they can do so only by buying labour to build machinery, or by causing others to buy such labour, thus increasing the demand for labour. It appears, for such reasons, that the phenomena of 'exploitation' which Marx observed were due, not, as he believed, to the mechanism of a perfectly competitive market, but to other factors — especially to a mixture of low productivity and imperfectly competitive markets. But a detailed and satisfactory explanation [19] of the phenomena appears still to be missing.)

(c) Before leaving this discussion of the value theory and the part played by it in Marx's analysis, I wish to comment briefly upon another of its aspects. The whole idea — which was not Marx's invention — that there is something behind the prices, an objective or real or true value of which prices are only a 'form of appearance' [20], shows clearly enough the influence of Platonic Idealism with its distinction between a hidden essential or true reality, and an accidental or delusive appearance. Marx, it must be said, made a great effort [21] to destroy this mystical character of objective 'value', but he did not succeed. He tried to be realistic, to accept only something observable and important — labour hours — as the reality which appears in the form of price; and it cannot be questioned that the number of labour hours necessary for producing a commodity, i.e. its Marxian 'value', is an important thing. And in a way, it surely is a purely verbal problem whether or not we should call these labour hours the 'value' of the commodity. But such a terminology may become most misleading and strangely unrealistic, especially if we assume with Marx that the productivity of labour increases. For it has been pointed out by Marx himself [22] that, with increasing productivity, the value of all commodities decreases, and that an increase is therefore possible in real wages as well as real profits, i.e. in the commodities consumed by workers and by capitalists respectively, together with a decrease in the 'value' of wages and of profits, i.e. in the hours spent on them. Thus wherever we find real progress, such as shorter working hours and a greatly improved standard of living of the workers (quite apart from a higher income in money [23], even if calculated in gold), then the workers could at the same time bitterly complain that the Marxian 'value', the real essence or substance of their income, is dwindling away, since the labour hours necessary for its production have been reduced. (An analogous complaint might be made by the capitalists.) All this is admitted by Marx himself; and it shows how misleading the value terminology must be, and how little it represents the real social experience of the workers. In the labour theory of value, the Platonic 'essence' has become entirely divorced from experience [24] ...
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

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Part 2 of 2

III

After eliminating Marx's labour theory of value and his theory of surplus value, we can, of course, still retain his analysis (see the end of (a) in section II) of the pressure exerted by the surplus population upon the wages of the employed workers. It cannot be denied that, if there is a free labour market and a surplus population, i.e. widespread and chronic unemployment (and there can be no doubt that unemployment played its role in Marx's time and ever since), then wages cannot rise above starvation wages; and under the same assumption, together with the doctrine of accumulation developed above, Marx, although not justified in proclaiming a law of increasing misery, was right in asserting that, in a world of high profits and increasing wealth, starvation wages and a life of misery might be the permanent lot of the workers.

I think that, even if Marx's analysis was defective, his effort to explain the phenomenon of 'exploitation' deserves the greatest respect. (As mentioned at the end of (b) in the foregoing section, no really satisfactory theory seems to exist even now.) It must be said, of course, that Marx was wrong when he prophesied that the conditions which he observed were to be permanent if not changed by a revolution, and even more when he prophesied that they would get worse. The facts have refuted these prophecies. Moreover, even if we could admit the validity of his analysis for an unrestrained, a noninterventionist system, even then would his prophetic argument be inconclusive. For the tendency towards increasing misery operates, according to Marx's own analysis, only under a system in which the labour market is free — in a perfectly unrestrained capitalism. But once we admit the possibility of trade unions, of collective bargaining, of strikes, then the assumptions of the analysis are no longer applicable, and the whole prophetic argument breaks down. According to Marx's own analysis, we should have to expect that such a development would either be suppressed, or that it would be equivalent to a social revolution. For collective bargaining can oppose capital by establishing a kind of monopoly of labour; it can prevent the capitalist from using the industrial reserve army for the purpose of keeping wages down; and in this way it can force the capitalists to content themselves with lower profits. We see here why the cry 'Workers, unite! ' was, from a Marxian point of view, indeed the only possible reply to an unrestrained capitalism.

But we see, too, why this cry must open up the whole problem of state interference, and why it is likely to lead to the end of the unrestrained system, and to a new system, interventionism [25], which may develop in very different directions. For it is almost inevitable that the capitalists will contest the workers' right to unite, maintaining that unions must endanger the freedom of competition on the labour market. Non- interventionism thus faces the problem (it is part of the paradox of freedom [26]): Which freedom should the state protect? The freedom of the labour market, or the freedom of the poor to unite? Whichever decision is taken, it leads to state intervention, to the use of organized political power, of the state as well as of unions, in the field of economic conditions. It leads, under all circumstances, to an extension of the economic responsibility of the state, whether or not this responsibility is consciously accepted. And this means that the assumptions on which Marx's analysis is based must disappear.


The derivation of the historical law of increasing misery is thus invalid. All that remains is a moving description of the misery of the workers which prevailed a hundred years ago, and a valiant attempt to explain it with the help of what we may call, with Lenin [27], Marx's 'economic law of the movement of contemporary society' (that is, of the unrestrained capitalism of a hundred years ago). But in so far as it is meant as an historical prophecy, and in so far as it is used to deduce the 'inevitability' of certain historical developments, the derivation is invalid.

IV

The significance of Marx's analysis rests very largely upon the fact that a surplus population actually existed at his time, and down to our own day (a fact which has hardly received a really satisfactory explanation yet, as I said before). So far, however, we have not yet discussed Marx's argument in support of his contention that it is the mechanism of capitalist production itself that always produces the surplus population which it needs for keeping down the wages of the employed workers. But this theory is not only ingenious and interesting in itself; it contains at the same time Marx's theory of the trade cycle and of general depressions, a theory which clearly bears upon the prophecy of the crash of the capitalist system because of the intolerable misery which it must produce. In order to make as strong a case for Marx's theory as I can, I have altered it slightly [28] (namely, by introducing a distinction between two kinds of machinery, the one for the mere extension, and the other for the intensification, of production). But this alteration need not arouse the suspicion of Marxist readers; for I am not going to criticize the theory at all.

The amended theory of surplus population and of the trade cycle may be outlined as follows. The accumulation of capital means that the capitalist spends part of his profits on new machinery; this may also be expressed by saying that only a part of his real profits consists in goods for consumption, while part of it consists in machines. These machines, in turn, may be intended either for the expansion of industry, for new factories, etc., or they may be intended for intensifying production by increasing the productivity of labour in the existing industries. The former kind of machinery makes possible an increase of employment, the latter kind has the effect of making workers superfluous, of 'setting the workers at liberty' as this process was called in Marx's day. (Nowadays it is sometimes called 'technological unemployment'.) Now the mechanism of capitalist production, as envisaged by the amended Marxist theory of the trade cycle, works roughly like this. If we assume, to start with, that for some reason or other there is a general expansion of industry, then a part of the industrial reserve army will be absorbed, the pressure upon the labour market will be relieved, and wages will show a tendency to rise. A period of prosperity begins. But the moment wages rise, certain mechanical improvements which intensify production and which were previously unprofitable because of the low wages may become profitable (even though the cost of such machinery will begin to rise). Thus more machinery will be produced of the kind that 'sets the workers at liberty'. As long as these machines are only in the process of being produced, prosperity continues, or increases. But once the new machines are themselves beginning to produce, the picture changes. (This change is, according to Marx, accentuated by a fall in the rate of profit, to be discussed under (V), below.) Workers will be 'set at liberty', i.e. condemned to starvation. But the disappearance of many consumers must lead to a collapse of the home market. In consequence, great numbers of machines in the expanded factories become idle (the less efficient machinery first), and this leads to a further increase of unemployment and a further collapse of the market. The fact that much machinery now lies idle means that much capital has become worthless, that many capitalists cannot fulfil their obligations; thus a financial crisis develops, leading to complete stagnation in the production of capital goods, etc. But while the depression (or, as Marx calls it, the 'crisis') takes its course, the conditions are ripening for a recovery. These conditions mainly consist in the growth of the industrial reserve army and the consequent readiness of the workers to accept starvation wages. At very low wages, production becomes profitable even at the low prices of a depressed market; and once production starts, the capitalist begins again to accumulate, to buy machinery. Since wages are very low, he will find that it is not yet profitable to use new machinery (perhaps invented in the meanwhile) of the type which sets the workers at liberty. At first he will rather buy machinery with the plan of extending production. This leads slowly to an extension of employment and to a recovery of the home market. Prosperity is coming once again. Thus we are back at our starting point. The cycle is closed, and the process can start once more.

This is the amended Marxist theory of unemployment and of the trade cycle. As I have promised, I am not going to criticize it. The theory of trade cycles is a very difficult affair, and we certainly do not yet know enough about it (at least I don't). It is very likely that the theory outlined is incomplete, and, especially, that such aspects as the existence of a monetary system based partly upon credit creation, and the effects of hoarding, are not sufficiently taken into account. But however this may be, the trade cycle is a fact which cannot easily be argued away, and it is one of the greatest of Marx's merits to have emphasized its significance as a social problem. But although all this must be admitted, we may criticize the prophecy which Marx attempts to base upon his theory of the trade cycle. First of all, he asserts that depressions will become increasingly worse, not only in their scope but also in the intensity of the workers' suffering. But he gives no argument to support this (apart, perhaps, from the theory of the fall in the rate of profit, which will be discussed presently). And if we look at actual developments, then we must say that terrible as are the effects and especially the psychological effects of unemployment even in those countries where the workers are now insured against it, there is no doubt that the workers' sufferings were incomparably worse in Marx's day. But this is not my main point.

In Marx's day, nobody ever thought of that technique of state intervention which is now called 'counter cycle policy'; and, indeed, such a thought must be utterly foreign to an unrestrained capitalist system. (But even before Marx's time, we find the beginning of doubts about, and even of investigations into, the wisdom of the credit policy of the Bank of England during a depression [29].) Unemployment insurance, however, means intervention, and therefore an increase in the responsibility of the state, and it is likely to lead to experiments in counter cycle policy. I do not maintain that these experiments must necessarily be successful (although I do believe that the problem may in the end prove not so very difficult, and that Sweden [30], in particular, has already shown what can be done in this field). But I wish to assert most emphatically that the belief that it is impossible to abolish unemployment by piecemeal measures is on the same plane of dogmatism as the numerous physical proofs (proffered by men who lived even later than Marx) that the problems of aviation would always remain insoluble. When the Marxists say, as they sometimes do, that Marx has proved the uselessness of a counter cycle policy and of similar piecemeal measures, then they simply do not speak the truth; Marx investigated an unrestrained capitalism, and he never dreamt of interventionism. He therefore never investigated the possibility of a systematic interference with the trade cycle, much less did he offer a proof of its impossibility. It is strange to find that the same people who complain of the irresponsibility of the capitalists in the face of human suffering are irresponsible enough to oppose, with dogmatic assertions of this kind, experiments from which we may learn how to relieve human suffering (how to become masters of our social environment, as Marx would have said), and how to control some of the unwanted social repercussions of our actions. But the apologists of Marxism are quite unaware of the fact that in the name of their own vested interests they are fighting against progress; they do not see that it is the danger of any movement like Marxism that it soon comes to represent all kinds of vested interests, and that there are intellectual investments, as well as material ones.

Another point must be stated here. Marx, as we have seen, believed that unemployment was fundamentally a gadget of the capitalist mechanism with the function of keeping wages low, and of making the exploitation of the employed workers easier; increasing misery always involved for him increasing misery of the employed workers too; and this is just the whole point of the plot. But even if we assume that this view was justified in his day, as a prophecy it has been definitely refuted by later experience. The standard of living of employed workers has risen everywhere since Marx's day; and (as Parkes [31] has emphasized in his criticism of Marx) the real wages of employed workers tend even to increase during a depression (they did so, for example, during the last great depression), owing to a more rapid fall in prices than in wages. This is a glaring refutation of Marx, especially since it proves that the main burden of unemployment insurance was borne not by the workers, but by the entrepreneurs, who therefore lost directly through unemployment, instead of profiting indirectly, as in Marx's scheme.

V

None of the Marxist theories so far discussed do even seriously attempt to prove the point which is the most decisive one within the first step; namely, that accumulation keeps the capitalist under a strong economic pressure which he is forced, on pain of his own destruction, to pass on to the workers; so that capitalism can only be destroyed, but not reformed. An attempt to prove this point is contained in that theory of Marx's which aims at establishing the law that the rate of profit tends to fall.

What Marx calls the rate of profit corresponds to the rate of interest; it is the percentage of the yearly average of capitalist profit over the whole invested capital. This rate, Marx says, tends to fall owing to the rapid growth of capital investments; for these must accumulate more quickly than profits can rise.


The argument by which Marx attempts to prove this is again rather ingenious. Capitalist competition, as we have seen, forces the capitalists to make investments that increase the productivity of labour. Marx even admitted that by this increase in productivity they render a great service to mankind [32]: 'It is one of the civilizing aspects of capitalism that it exacts surplus value in a manner and under circumstances which are more favourable than previous forms (such as slavery, serfdom, etc.) to the development of the productive powers, as well as to the social conditions for a reconstruction of society on a higher plane. For this, it even creates the elements; ... for the quantity of useful commodities produced in any given span of time depends upon the productivity of labour.' But this service to mankind is not only rendered without any intention by the capitalists; the action to which they are forced by competition also runs counter to their own interests, for the following reason.

The capital of any industrialist can be divided into two parts. One is invested in land, machinery, raw materials, etc. The other is used for wages. Marx calls the first part 'constant capital' and the second 'variable capital'; but since I consider this terminology rather misleading, I shall call the two parts 'immobilized capital' and 'wage capital'. The capitalist, according to Marx, can profit only by exploiting the workers; in other words, by using his wage capital. Immobilized capital is a kind of a dead weight which he is forced by competition to carry on with, and even to increase continually. This increase is not, however, accompanied by a corresponding increase in his profits; only an extension of the wage capital could have this wholesome effect. But the general tendency towards an increase in productivity means that the material part of capital increases relatively to its wage part. Therefore, the total capital increases also, and without a compensating increase in profits; that is to say, the rate of profit must fall.

Now this argument has been often questioned; indeed, it was attacked, by implication, long before Marx [33]. In spite of these attacks, I believe that there may be something in Marx's argument; especially if we take it together with his theory of the trade cycle. (I shall return to this point briefly in the next chapter.) But what I wish to question here is the bearing of this argument upon the theory of increasing misery.

Marx sees this connection as follows. If the rate of profit tends to fall, then the capitalist is faced with destruction. All he can do is to attempt to 'take it out of the workers', i.e. to increase exploitation. This he can do by extending working hours; speeding up work; lowering wages; raising the workers' cost of living (inflation); exploiting more women and children. The inner contradictions of capitalism, based on the fact that competition and profit-making are in conflict, develop here into a climax. First, they force the capitalist to accumulate and to increase productivity, and so reduce the rate of profit. Next, they force him to increase exploitation to an intolerable degree, and with it the tension between the classes. Thus compromise is impossible. The contradictions cannot be removed. They must finally seal the fate of capitalism.

This is the main argument. But can it be conclusive? We must remember that increased productivity is the very basis of capitalist exploitation; only if the worker can produce much more than he needs for himself and his family can the capitalist appropriate surplus labour. Increased productivity, in Marx's terminology, means increased surplus labour; it means both an increased number of hours available to the capitalist, and on top of this, an increased number of commodities produced per hour. It means, in other words, a greatly increased profit. This is admitted by Marx [34]. He does not hold that profits are dwindling; he only holds that the total capital increases much more quickly than the profits, so that the rate of profit falls.


But if this is so, there is no reason why the capitalist should labour under an economic pressure which he is forced to pass on to the workers, whether he likes it or not. It is true, probably, that he does not like to see a fall in his rate of profit. But as long as his income does not fall, but, on the contrary, rises, there is no real danger. The situation for a successful average capitalist will be this: he sees his income rise quickly, and his capital still more quickly; that is to say, his savings rise more quickly than the part of his income which he consumes. I do not think that this is a situation which must force him to desperate measures, or which makes a compromise with the workers impossible. On the contrary, it seems to me quite tolerable.

It is true, of course, that the situation contains an element of danger. Those capitalists who speculate on the assumption of a constant or of a rising rate of profit may get into trouble; and things such as these may indeed contribute to the trade cycle, accentuating the depression. But this has little to do with the sweeping consequences which Marx prophesied.

This concludes my analysis of the third and last argument, propounded by Marx in order to prove the law of increasing misery.

VI

In order to show how completely wrong Marx was in his prophecies, and at the same time how justified he was in his glowing protest against the hell of an unrestrained capitalism as well as in his demand, 'Workers, unite!', I shall quote a few passages from the chapter of Capital in which he discusses the 'General Law of Capitalist Accumulation' [35]. 'In factories . . . young male workers are used up in masses before they reach the age of manhood; after that, only a very small proportion remains useful for industry, so that they are constantly dismissed in large numbers. They then form part of the floating surplus population which grows with the growth of industry . . . Labour power is so quickly used up by capital that the middle-aged worker is usually a worn-out man . . . Dr. Lee, medical officer of health, declared not long ago "that the average age at death of the Manchester upper middle class was 38, while the average age at death of the labouring class was 17; while at Liverpool those figures were represented as 35 against 15 ..." ... The exploitation of working-class children puts a premium upon their production . . . The higher the productivity of labour ... the more precarious become the worker's conditions of existence . . . Within the capitalist system, all the methods for raising the social productivity of labour . . . are transformed into means of domination and of exploitation; they mutilate the worker into a fragment of a human being, they degrade him to a mere cog in the machine, they make work a torture, ... and drag his wife and children beneath the wheels of the capitalist Juggernaut ...It follows that to the degree in which capital accumulates, the worker's condition must deteriorate, whatever his payment may be ... the greater the social wealth, the amount of capital at work, the extent and energy of its growth, ... the larger is the surplus population ... The size of the industrial reserve army grows as the power of wealth grows. But ... the larger the industrial reserve army, the larger are the masses of the workers whose misery is relieved only by an increase in the agony of toil; and ... the larger is the number of those who are officially recognized as paupers. This is the absolute and general law of capitalist accumulation ... The accumulation of wealth at the one pole of society involves at the same time an accumulation of misery, of the agony of toil, of slavery, ignorance, brutalization, and of moral degradation, at the opposite pole ...'

Marx's terrible picture of the economy of his time is only too true. But his law that misery must increase together with accumulation does not hold. Means of production have accumulated and the productivity of labour has increased since his day to an extent which even he would hardly have thought possible. But child labour, working hours, the agony of toil, and the precariousness of the worker's existence, have not increased; they have declined. I do not say that this process must continue. There is no law of progress, and everything will depend on ourselves. But the actual situation is briefly and fairly summed up by Parkes [36] in one sentence: 'Low wages, long hours, and child labour have been characteristic of capitalism not, as Marx predicted, in its old age, but in its infancy.'

Unrestrained capitalism is gone. Since the day of Marx, democratic interventionism has made immense advances, and the improved productivity of labour — a consequence of the accumulation of capital — has made it possible virtually to stamp out misery. This shows that much has been achieved, in spite of undoubtedly grave mistakes, and it should encourage us to believe that more can be done. For much remains to be done and to be undone. Democratic interventionism can only make it possible. It rests with us to do it.


I have no illusions concerning the force of my arguments. Experience shows that Marx's prophecies were false. But experience can always be explained away. And, indeed, Marx himself, and Engels, began with the elaboration of an auxiliary hypothesis designed to explain why the law of increasing misery does not work as they expected it to do. According to this hypothesis, the tendency towards a falling rate of profit, and with it, increasing misery, is counteracted by the effects of colonial exploitation, or, as it is usually called, by 'modern imperialism'. Colonial exploitation, according to this theory, is a method of passing on economic pressure to the colonial proletariat, a group which, economically as well as politically, is weaker still than the industrial proletariat at home. 'Capital invested in colonies', Marx writes [37], 'may yield a higher rate of profit for the simple reason that the rate of profit is higher there where capitalist development is still in a backward stage, and for the added reason that slaves, coolies, etc., permit a better exploitation of labour. I can see no reason why these higher rates of profit . . . , when sent home, should not enter there as elements into the average rate of profit, and, in proportion, contribute to keeping it up.' (It is worth mentioning that the main idea behind this theory of 'modern' imperialism can be traced back for more than 160 years, to Adam Smith, who said of colonial trade that it 'has necessarily contributed to keep up the rate of profit'.) Engels went one step further than Marx in his development of the theory. Forced to admit that in Britain the prevailing tendency was not towards an increase in misery but rather towards a considerable improvement, he hints that this may be due to the fact that Britain 'is exploiting the whole world'; and he scornfully assails 'the British working class' which, instead of suffering as he expected them to do, 'is actually becoming more and more bourgeois'. And he continues [38]: 'It seems that this most bourgeois of all nations wants to bring matters to such a pass as to have a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat side by side with the bourgeoisie.' Now this change of front on Engels' part is at least as remarkable as that other one of his which I mentioned in the last chapter [39]; and like that, it was made under the influence of a social development which turned out to be one of decreasing misery. Marx blamed capitalism for 'proletarianizing the middle class and the lower bourgeoisie', and for reducing the workers to pauperism. Engels now blames the system — it is still blamed — for making bourgeois out of workers. But the nicest touch in Engels' complaint is the indignation that makes him call the British who behave so inconsiderately as to falsify Marxist prophecies 'this most bourgeois of all nations'. According to Marxist doctrine, we should expect from the 'most bourgeois of all nations' a development of misery and class tension to an intolerable degree; instead, we hear that the opposite takes place. But the good Marxist's hair rises when he hears of the incredible wickedness of a capitalist system that transforms good proletarians into bad bourgeois; quite forgetting that Marx showed that the wickedness of the system consisted solely in the fact that it was working the other way round. Thus we read in Lenin's analysis [40] of the evil causes and dreadful effects of modern British imperialism: 'Causes: (1) exploitation of the whole world by this country; (2) its monopolistic position in the world market; (3) its colonial monopoly. Effects: (1) bourgeoisification of a part of the British proletariat; (2) a part of the proletariat permits itself to be led by people who are bought by the bourgeoisie, or who are at least paid by it.' Having given such a pretty Marxist name, 'the bourgeoisification of the proletariat', to a hateful tendency — hateful mainly because it did not fit in with the way the world should go according to Marx — Lenin apparently believes that it has become a Marxist tendency. Marx himself held that the more quickly the whole world could go through the necessary historical period of capitalist industrialization, the better, and he was therefore inclined to support [41] imperialist developments. But Lenin came to a very different conclusion. Since Britain's possession of colonies was the reason why the workers at home followed 'leaders bought by the bourgeoisie' instead of the Communists, he saw in the colonial empire a potential trigger or fuse. A revolution there would make the law of increasing misery operative at home, and a revolution at home would follow. Thus the colonies were the place from which the fire would spread . . .

I do not believe that the auxiliary hypothesis whose history I have sketched can save the law of increasing misery; for this hypothesis is itself refuted by experience. There are countries, for instance the Scandinavian democracies, Czechoslovakia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, to say nothing of the United States, in which a democratic interventionism secured to the workers a high standard of living, in spite of the fact that colonial exploitation had no influence there, or was at any rate far too unimportant to support the hypothesis. Furthermore, if we compare certain countries that 'exploit' colonies, like Holland and Belgium, with Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Czechoslovakia which do not 'exploit' colonies, we do not find that the industrial workers profited from the possession of colonies, for the situation of the working classes in all those countries was strikingly similar. Furthermore, although the misery imposed upon the natives through colonization is one of the darkest chapters in the history of civilization, it cannot be asserted that their misery has tended to increase since the days of Marx. The exact opposite is the case; things have greatly improved. And yet, increasing misery would have to be very noticeable there if the auxiliary hypothesis and the original theory were both correct.

VII

As I did with the second and third steps in the previous chapters, I shall now illustrate the first step of Marx's prophetic argument by showing something of its practical influence upon the tactics of Marxist parties.

The Social Democrats, under the pressure of obvious facts, tacitly dropped the theory that the intensity of misery increases; but their whole tactics remained based upon the assumption that the law of the increasing extent of misery was valid, that is to say, that the numerical strength of the industrial proletariat must continue to increase. This is why they based their policy exclusively upon representing the interests of the industrial workers, at the same time firmly believing that they were representing, or would very soon represent, 'the great majority of the population' [42]. They never doubted the assertion of the Manifesto that 'All previous historical movements were movements of minorities ... The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.' They waited confidently, therefore, for the day when the class consciousness and class assuredness of the industrial workers would win them the majority in the elections. 'There can be no doubt as to who will be victorious in the end — the few exploiters, or the immense majority, the workers.' They did not see that the industrial workers nowhere formed a majority, much less an 'immense majority', and that statistics no longer showed any tendency towards an increase in their numbers. They did not understand that the existence of a democratic workers' party was fully justified only as long as such a party was prepared to compromise or even to co-operate with other parties, for instance with some party representing the peasants, or the middle classes. And they did not see that, if they wanted to rule the state solely as the representatives of the majority of the population, they would have to change their whole policy and cease to represent mainly or exclusively the industrial workers. Of course, it is no substitute for this change of policy to assert naively that the proletarian policy as such may simply bring (as Marx said [43]) 'the rural producers under the intellectual leadership of the central towns of their districts, there securing to them, in the industrial worker, the natural trustee of their interests . . . '

The position of the Communist parties was different. They strictly adhered to the theory of increasing misery, believing in an increase not only of its extent but also of its intensity, once the causes of the temporary bourgeoisification of the workers were removed. This belief contributed considerably to what Marx would have called 'the inner contradictions' of their policy.

The tactical situation seems simple enough. Thanks to Marx's prophecy, the Communists knew for certain that misery must soon increase. They also knew that the party could not win the confidence of the workers without fighting for them, and with them, for an improvement of their lot. These two fundamental assumptions clearly determined the principles of their general tactics. Make the workers demand their share, back them up in every particular episode in their unceasing fight for bread and shelter. Fight with them tenaciously for the fulfilment of their practical demands, whether economic or political. Thus you will win their confidence. At the same time, the workers will learn that it is impossible for them to better their lot by these petty fights, and that nothing short of a wholesale revolution can bring about an improvement. For all these petty fights are bound to be unsuccessful; we know from Marx that the capitalists simply cannot continue to compromise and that, ultimately, misery must increase. Accordingly, the only result — but a valuable one — of the workers' daily fight against their oppressors is an increase in their class consciousness; it is that feeling of unity which can be won only in battle, together with a desperate knowledge that only revolution can help them in their misery. When this stage is reached, then the hour has struck for the final show-down.

This is the theory and the Communists acted accordingly. At first they support the workers in their fight to improve their lot. But, contrary to all expectations and prophecies, the fight is successful. The demands are granted. Obviously, the reason is that they had been too modest. Therefore one must demand more. But the demands are granted again [44]. And as misery decreases, the workers become less embittered, more ready to bargain for wages than to plot for revolution.

Now the Communists find that their policy must be reversed. Something must be done to bring the law of increasing misery into operation. For instance, colonial unrest must be stirred up (even where there is no chance of a successful revolution), and with the general purpose of counteracting the bourgeoisification of the workers, a policy fomenting catastrophes of all sorts must be adopted. But this new policy destroys the confidence of the workers. The Communists lose their members, with the exception of those who are inexperienced in real political fights. They lose exactly those whom they describe as the 'vanguard of the working class'; their tacitly implied principle: 'The worse things are, the better they are, since misery must precipitate revolution', makes the workers suspicious — the better the application of this principle, the worse are the suspicions entertained by the workers. For they are realists; to obtain their confidence, one must work to improve their lot.

Thus the policy must be reversed again: one is forced to fight for the immediate betterment of the workers' lot and to hope at the same time for the opposite.


With this, the 'inner contradictions' of the theory produce the last stage of confusion. It is the stage when it is hard to know who is the traitor, since treachery may be faithfulness and faithfulness treachery. It is the stage when those who followed the party not simply because it appeared to them (rightly, I am afraid) as the only vigorous movement with humanitarian ends, but especially because it was a movement based on a scientific theory, must either leave it, or sacrifice their intellectual integrity; for they must now learn to believe blindly in some authority. Ultimately, they must become mystics — hostile to reasonable argument.

It seems that it is not only capitalism which is labouring under inner contradictions that threaten to bring about its downfall . . .
 
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

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21 An Evaluation of the Prophecy

The arguments underlying Marx's historical prophecy are invalid. His ingenious attempt to draw prophetic conclusions from observations of contemporary economic tendencies failed. The reason for this failure does not lie in any insufficiency of the empirical basis of the argument. Marx's sociological and economic analyses of contemporary society may have been somewhat one-sided, but in spite of their bias, they were excellent in so far as they were descriptive. The reason for his failure as a prophet lies entirely in the poverty of historicism as such, in the simple fact that even if we observe to-day what appears to be a historical tendency or trend, we cannot know whether it will have the same appearance to-morrow.

We must admit that Marx saw many things in the right light. If we consider only his prophecy that the system of unrestrained capitalism, as he knew it, was not going to last much longer, and that its apologists who thought it would last forever were wrong, then we must say that he was right. He was right, too, in holding that it was largely the 'class struggle', i.e. the association of the workers, that was going to bring about its transformation into a new economic system. But we must not go so far as to say that Marx predicted that new system, interventionism [1], under another name, socialism. The truth is that he had no inkling of what was lying ahead. What he called 'socialism' was very dissimilar from any form of interventionism, even from the Russian form; for he strongly believed that the impending development would diminish the influence, political as well as economic, of the state, while interventionism has increased it everywhere.

Since I am criticizing Marx and, to some extent, praising democratic piecemeal interventionism (especially of the institutional kind explained in section VII to chapter 17), I wish to make it clear that I feel much sympathy with Marx's hope for a decrease in state influence. It is undoubtedly the greatest danger of interventionism — especially of any direct intervention — that it leads to an increase in state power and in bureaucracy. Most interventionists do not mind this, or they close their eyes to it, which increases the danger. But I believe that once the danger is faced squarely, it should be possible to master it. For this is again merely a problem of social technology and of social piecemeal engineering. But it is important to tackle it early, for it constitutes a danger to democracy. We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than that only freedom can make security secure.

But let us return to Marx's prophecy. One of the historical tendencies which he claimed to have discovered seems to be of a more persistent character than the others; I mean the tendency towards the accumulation of the means of production, and especially towards increasing the productivity of labour. It seems indeed that this tendency will continue for some time, provided, of course, that we continue to keep civilization going. But Marx did not merely recognize this tendency and its 'civilizing aspects', he also saw its inherent dangers. More especially, he was one of the first (although he had some predecessors, for instance, Fourier [2]) to emphasize the connection between 'the development of the productive forces' in which he saw [3]'the historical mission and justification of capital', and that most destructive phenomenon of the credit system — a system which seems to have encouraged the rapid rise of industrialism — the trade cycle.

Marx's own theory of the trade cycle (discussed in section IV of the last chapter) may perhaps be paraphrased as follows: even if it is true that the inherent laws of the free market produce a tendency towards full employment, it is also true that every single approach towards full employment, i.e. towards a shortage of labour, stimulates inventors and investors to create and to introduce new labour-saving machinery, thereby giving rise (first to a short boom and then) to a new wave of unemployment and depression. Whether there is any truth in this theory, and how much, I do not know. As I said in the last chapter, the theory of the trade cycle is a rather difficult subject, and one upon which I do not intend to embark. But since Marx's contention that the increase of productivity is one of the factors contributing to the trade cycle seems to me important, I may be permitted to develop some rather obvious considerations in its support.

The following list of possible developments is, of course, quite incomplete; but it is constructed in such a way that whenever the productivity of labour increases, then at least one of the following developments, and possibly many at a time, must commence and must proceed in a degree sufficient to balance the increase in productivity.

(A) Investments increase, that is to say, such capital goods are produced as strengthen the power for producing other goods. (Since this leads to a further increase of productivity, it cannot alone balance its effects for any length of time.)

(B) Consumption increases — the standard of living rises:

(a) that of the whole population;

(b) that of certain parts of it (for instance, of a certain class).

(C) Labour time decreases:

(a) the daily labour hours are reduced;

(b) the number of people who are not industrial workers increases, and especially

(b1) the number of scientists, physicians, artists, businessmen, etc., increases. (b2) the number of unemployed workers increases.

(D) The quantity of goods produced but not consumed increases:

(a) consumption goods are destroyed;

(b) capital goods are not used (factories are idle);

(c) goods, other than consumption goods and goods of the type (A), are produced, for instance, arms;

(d) labour is used to destroy capital goods (and thereby to reduce productivity).

I have listed these developments — the list could, of course, be elaborated — in such a way that down to the dotted line, i.e. down to (C, b1), the developments as such are generally recognized as desirable, whilst from (C, b2) onward come those which are generally taken to be undesirable; they indicate depression, the manufacture of armaments, and war.  

Now it is clear that since (A) alone cannot restore the balance for good, although it may be a very important factor, one or several of the other developments must set in. It seems, further, reasonable to assume that if no institutions exist which guarantee that the desirable developments proceed in a degree sufficient to balance the increased productivity, some of the undesirable developments will begin. But all of these, with the possible exception of armament production, are of such a character that they are likely to lead to a sharp reduction of (A), which must severely aggravate the situation.

I do not think that such considerations as the above are able to 'explain' armament or war in any sense of the word, although they may explain the success of totalitarian states in fighting unemployment. Nor do I think that they are able to 'explain' the trade cycle, although they may perhaps contribute something to such an explanation, in which problems of credit and money are likely to play a very important part; for the reduction of (A), for instance, may be equivalent to the hoarding of such savings as would otherwise probably be invested — a much-discussed and important factor [4]. And it is not quite impossible that the Marxist law of the falling rate of profit (if this law is at all tenable [5]) may also give a hint for the explanation of hoarding; for assuming that a period of quick accumulation may lead to such a fall, this might discourage investments and encourage hoarding, and reduce (A).

But all this would not be a theory of the trade cycle. Such a theory would have a different task. Its main task would be to explain why the institution of the free market, as such a very efficient instrument for equalizing supply and demand, does not suffice to prevent depressions [6], i.e. overproduction or underconsumption. In other words, we should have to show that the buying and selling on the market produces, as one of the unwanted social repercussions [7] of our actions, the trade cycle. The Marxist theory of the trade cycle has precisely this aim in view; and the considerations sketched here regarding the effects of a general tendency towards increasing productivity can at the best only supplement this theory.

I am not going to pronounce judgement on the merits of all these speculations upon the trade cycle. But it seems to me quite clear that they are most valuable even if in the light of modern theories they should by now be entirely superseded. The mere fact that Marx treated this problem extensively is greatly to his credit. This much at least of his prophecy has come true, for the time being; the tendency towards an increase of productivity continues: the trade cycle also continues, and its continuation is likely to lead to interventionist counter-measures and therefore to a further restriction of the free market system; a development which conforms to Marx's prophecy that the trade cycle would be one of the factors that must bring about the downfall of the unrestrained system of capitalism. And to this, we must add that other piece of successful prophecy, namely, that the association of the workers would be another important factor in this process.

In view of this list of important and largely successful prophecies, is it justifiable to speak of the poverty of historicism? If Marx's historical prophecies have been even partially successful, then we should certainly not dismiss his method lightly. But a closer view of Marx's successes shows that it was nowhere his historicist method which led him to success, but always the methods of institutional analysis. Thus it is not an historicist but a typical institutional analysis which leads to the conclusion that the capitalist is forced by competition to increase productivity. It is an institutional analysis on which Marx bases his theory of the trade cycle and of surplus population. And even the theory of class struggle is institutional; it is part of the mechanism by which the distribution of wealth as well as of power is controlled, a mechanism which makes possible collective bargaining in the widest sense. Nowhere in these analyses do the typical historicist 'laws of historical development', or stages, or periods, or tendencies, play any part whatever. On the other hand, none of Marx's more ambitious historicist conclusions, none of his 'inexorable laws of development' and his 'stages of history which cannot be leaped over', has ever turned out to be a successful prediction. Marx was successful only in so far as he was analysing institutions and their functions. And the opposite is true also: none of his more ambitious and sweeping historical prophecies falls within the scope of institutional analysis. Wherever the attempt is made to back them up by such an analysis, the derivation is invalid. Indeed, compared with Marx's own high standards, the more sweeping prophecies are on a rather low intellectual level. They contain not only a lot of wishful thinking, they are also lacking in political imagination. Roughly speaking, Marx shared the belief of the progressive industrialist, of the 'bourgeois' of his time: the belief in a law of progress. But this naive historicist optimism, of Hegel and Comte, of Marx and Mill, is no less superstitious than a pessimistic historicism like that of Plato and Spengler. And it is a very bad outfit for a prophet, since it must bridle historical imagination. Indeed, it is necessary to recognize as one of the principles of any unprejudiced view of politics that everything is possible in human affairs; and more particularly that no conceivable development can be excluded on the grounds that it may violate the so-called tendency of human progress, or any other of the alleged laws of 'human nature'. 'The fact of progress', writes- [8]H. A. L. Fisher, 'is written plain and large on the page of history; but progress is not a law of nature. The ground gained by one generation may be lost by the next.'

In accordance with the principle that everything is possible it may be worth while to point out that Marx's prophecies might well have come true. A faith like the progressivist optimism of the nineteenth century can be a powerful political force; it can help to bring about what it has predicted. Thus even a correct prediction must not be accepted too readily as a corroboration of a theory, and of its scientific character. It may rather be a consequence of its religious character and a proof of the force of the religious faith which it has been able to inspire in men. And in Marxism more particularly the religious element is unmistakable. In the hour of their deepest misery and degradation, Marx's prophecy gave the workers an inspiring belief in their mission, and in the great future which their movement was to prepare for the whole of mankind. Looking back at the course of events from 1864 to 1930, I think that but for the somewhat accidental fact that Marx discouraged research in social technology, European affairs might possibly have developed, under the influence of this prophetic religion, towards a socialism of a non- collectivist type. A thorough preparation for social engineering, for planning for freedom, on the part of the Russian Marxists as well as those in Central Europe, might possibly have led to an unmistakable success, convincing to all friends of the open society. But this would not have been a corroboration of a scientific prophecy. It would have been the result of a religious movement — the result of the faith in humanitarianism, combined with a critical use of our reason for the purpose of changing the world.

But things developed differently. The prophetic element in Marx's creed was dominant in the minds of his followers. It swept everything else aside, banishing the power of cool and critical judgement and destroying the belief that by the use of reason we may change the world. All that remained of Marx's teaching was the oracular philosophy of Hegel, which in its Marxist trappings threatens to paralyse the struggle for the open society.
 
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

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Marx's Ethics

22. The Moral Theory of Historicism


The task which Marx set himself in Capital was to discover inexorable laws of social development. It was not the discovery of economic laws which would be useful to the social technologist. It was neither the analysis of the economic conditions which would permit the realization of such socialist aims as just prices, equal distribution of wealth, security, reasonable planning of production and, above all, freedom, nor was it an attempt to analyse and to clarify these aims.

But although Marx was strongly opposed to Utopian technology as well as to any attempt at a moral justification of socialist aims, his writings contained, by implication, an ethical theory. This he expressed mainly by moral evaluations of social institutions. After all, Marx's condemnation of capitalism is fundamentally a moral condemnation. The system is condemned, for the cruel injustice inherent in it which is combined with full 'formal' justice and righteousness. The system is condemned, because by forcing the exploiter to enslave the exploited it robs both of their freedom. Marx did not combat wealth, nor did he praise poverty. He hated capitalism, not for its accumulation of wealth, but for its oligarchical character; he hated it because in this system wealth means political power in the sense of power over other men. Labour power is made a commodity; that means that men must sell themselves on the market. Marx hated the system because it resembled slavery.

By laying such stress on the moral aspect of social institutions, Marx emphasized our responsibility for the more remote social repercussions of our actions; for instance, of such actions as may help to prolong the life of socially unjust institutions.

But although Capital is, in fact, largely a treatise on social ethics, these ethical ideas are never represented as such. They are expressed only by implication, but not the less forcibly on that account, since the implications are very obvious. Marx, I believe, avoided an explicit moral theory, because he hated preaching. Deeply distrustful of the moralist, who usually preaches water and drinks wine, Marx was reluctant to formulate his ethical convictions explicitly. The principles of humanity and decency were for him matters that needed no discussion, matters to be taken for granted. (In this field, too, he was an optimist.) He attacked the moralists because he saw them as the sycophantic apologists of a social order which he felt to be immoral; he attacked the eulogists of liberalism because of their self-satisfaction, because of their identification of freedom with the formal liberty then existing within a social system which destroyed freedom. Thus, by implication, he admitted his love for freedom; and in spite of his bias, as a philosopher, for holism, he was certainly not a collectivist, for he hoped that the state would 'wither away'. Marx's faith, I believe, was fundamentally a faith in the open society.

Marx's attitude towards Christianity is closely connected with these convictions, and with the fact that a hypocritical defence of capitalist exploitation was in his day characteristic of official Christianity. (His attitude was not unlike that of his contemporary Kierkegaard, the great reformer of Christian ethics, who exposed [1] the official Christian morality of his day as anti-Christian and anti-humanitarian hypocrisy.) A typical representative of this kind of Christianity was the High Church priest J. Townsend, author of A Dissertation on the Poor Laws, by a Wellwisher of Mankind, an extremely crude apologist for exploitation whom Marx exposed. 'Hunger', Townsend begins his eulogy [2], 'is not only a peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure but, as the most natural motive of industry and labour, it calls forth the most powerful exertions.' In Townsend's 'Christian' world order, everything depends (as Marx observes) upon making hunger permanent among the working class; and Townsend believes that this is indeed the divine purpose of the principle of the growth of population; for he goes on: 'It seems to be a law of nature that the poor should be to a certain degree improvident, so that there may always be some to fulfil the most servile, the most sordid, the most ignoble offices in the community. The stock of human happiness is thereby much increased, whilst the more delicate ... are left at liberty without interruption to pursue those callings which are suited to their various dispositions.' And the 'delicate priestly sycophant', as Marx called him for this remark, adds that the Poor Law, by helping the hungry, 'tends to destroy the harmony and beauty, the symmetry and order, of that system which God and nature have established in the world.'

If this kind of 'Christianity' has disappeared to-day from the face of the better part of our globe, it is in no small degree due to the moral reformation brought about by Marx. I do not suggest that the reform of the Church's attitude towards the poor in England did not commence long before Marx had any influence in England; but he influenced this development especially on the Continent, and the rise of socialism had the effect of strengthening it in England also. His influence on Christianity may be perhaps compared with Luther's influence on the Roman Church. Both were a challenge, both led to a counter-reformation in the camps of their enemies, to a revision and re-valuation of their ethical standards. Christianity owes not a little to Marx's influence if it is to-day on a different path from the one it was pursuing only thirty years ago. It is even partly due to Marx's influence that the Church has listened to the voice of Kierkegaard, who, in his Book of the Judge, described his own activity as follows [3]: 'He whose task it is to produce a corrective idea, has only to study, precisely and deeply, the rotten parts of the existing order — and then, in the most partial way possible, to stress the opposite of it.' ('Since that is so', he adds, 'an apparently clever man will easily raise the objection of partiality against the corrective idea — and he will make the public believe that this was the whole truth about it.') In this sense one might say that the early Marxism, with its ethical rigour, its emphasis on deeds instead of mere words, was perhaps the most important corrective idea of our time. [4] This explains its tremendous moral influence.

The demand that men should prove themselves in deeds is especially marked in some of Marx's earlier writings. This attitude, which might be described as his activism, is most clearly formulated in the last of his Theses on Feuerbach [5]: 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.' But there are many other passages which show the same 'activist' tendency; especially those in which Marx speaks of socialism as the 'kingdom of freedom', a kingdom in which man would become the 'master of his own social environment'. Marx conceived of socialism as a period in which we are largely free from the irrational forces that now determine our life, and in which human reason can actively control human affairs. Judging by all this, and by Marx's general moral and emotional attitude, I cannot doubt that, if faced with the alternative 'are we to be the makers of our fate, or shall we be content to be its prophets?' he would have decided to be a maker and not merely a prophet.

But as we already know, these strong 'activist' tendencies of Marx's are counteracted by his historicism. Under its influence, he became mainly a prophet. He decided that, at least under capitalism, we must submit to 'inexorable laws' and to the fact that all we can do is 'to shorten and lessen the birth-pangs' of the 'natural phases of its evolution' [6]. There is a wide gulf between Marx's activism and his historicism, and this gulf is further widened by his doctrine that we must submit to the purely irrational forces of history. For since he denounced as Utopian any attempt to make use of our reason in order to plan for the future, reason can have no part in bringing about a more reasonable world. I believe that such a view cannot be defended, and must lead to mysticism.
But I must admit that there seems to be a theoretical possibility of bridging this gulf, although I do not consider the bridge to be sound. This bridge, of which there are only rough plans to be found in the writings of Marx and Engels, I call their historicist moral theory [7].

Unwilling to admit that their own ethical ideas were in any sense ultimate and self-justifying, Marx and Engels preferred to look upon their humanitarian aims in the light of a theory which explains them as the product, or the reflection, of social circumstances. Their theory can be described as follows. If a social reformer, or a revolutionary, believes that he is inspired by a hatred of 'injustice', and by a love for 'justice', then he is largely a victim of illusion (like anybody else, for instance the apologists of the old order). Or, to put it more precisely, his moral ideas of 'justice' and 'injustice' are by-products of the social and historical, development. But they are by-products of an important kind, since they are part of the mechanism by which the development propels itself. To illustrate this point, there are always at least two ideas of 'justice' (or of 'freedom' or of 'equality'), and these two ideas differ very widely indeed. The one is the idea of 'justice' as the ruling class understands it, the other, the same idea as the oppressed class understands it. These ideas are, of course, products of the class situation, but at the same time they play an important part in the class struggle — they have to provide both sides with that good conscience which they need in order to carry on their fight.

This theory of morality may be characterized as historicist because it holds that all moral categories are dependent on the historical situation; it is usually described as historical relativism in the field of ethics. From this point of view, it is an incomplete question to ask: Is it right to act in this way? The complete question would run like this: Is it right, in the sense of fifteenth-century feudal morality, to act in this way? Or perhaps: Is it right, in the sense of nineteenth-century proletarian morality, to act in this way? This historical relativism was formulated by Engels as follows [8]: 'What morality is preached to us to-day? There is first Christian-feudal morality, inherited from past centuries; and this again has two main subdivisions, Roman Catholic and Protestant moralities, each of which in turn has no lack of further subdivisions, from the Jesuit- Catholic and Orthodox-Protestant to loose "advanced" moralities. Alongside of these, we find the modern bourgeois morality, and with it, too, the proletarian morality of the future . . . '

But this so-called 'historical relativism' by no means exhausts the historicist character of the Marxist theory of morals. Let us imagine we could ask those who hold such a theory, for instance Marx himself: Why do you act in the way you do? Why would you consider it distasteful and repulsive, for instance, to accept a bribe from the bourgeoisie for stopping your revolutionary activities? I do not think that Marx would have liked to answer such a question; he would probably have tried to evade it, asserting perhaps that he just acted as he pleased, or as he felt compelled to. But all this does not touch our problem. It is certain that in the practical decisions of his life Marx followed a very rigorous moral code; it is also certain that he demanded from his collaborators a high moral standard. Whatever the terminology applied to these things may be, the problem which faces us is how to find a reply which he might have possibly made to the question: Why do you act in such a way? Why do you try, for instance, to help the oppressed? (Marx did not himself belong to this class, either by birth or by upbringing or by his way of living.)

If pressed in this way, Marx would, I think, have formulated his moral belief in the following terms, which form the core of what I call his historicist moral theory. As a social scientist (he might have said) I know that our moral ideas are weapons in the class struggle. As a scientist, I can consider them without adopting them. But as a scientist I find also that I cannot avoid taking sides in this struggle; that any attitude, even aloofness, means taking sides in some way or other. My problem thus assumes the form: Which side shall I take? When I have chosen a certain side, then I have, of course, also decided upon my morality. I shall have to adopt the moral system necessarily bound up with the interests of the class which I have decided to support. But before making this fundamental decision, I have not adopted any moral system at all, provided I can free myself from the moral tradition of my class; but this, of course, is a necessary prerequisite for making any conscious and rational decision regarding the competing moral systems. Now since a decision is 'moral' only in relation to some previously accepted moral code, my fundamental decision can be no 'moral' decision at all. But it can be a scientific decision. For as a social scientist, I am able to see what is going to happen. I am able to see that the bourgeoisie, and with it its system of morals, is bound to disappear, and that the proletariat, and with it a new system of morals, is bound to win. I see that this development is inevitable. It would be madness to attempt to resist it, just as it would be madness to attempt to resist the law of gravity. This is why my fundamental decision is in favour of the proletariat and of its morality. And this decision is based only on scientific foresight, on scientific historical prophecy. Although itself not a moral decision, since it is not based on any system of morality, it leads to the adoption of a certain system of morality. To sum up, my fundamental decision is not (as you suspected) the sentimental decision to help the oppressed, but the scientific and rational decision not to offer vain resistance to the developmental laws of society. Only after I have made this decision am I prepared to accept, and to make full use of, those moral sentiments which are necessary weapons in the fight for what is bound to come in any case. In this way, I adopt the facts of the coming period as the standards of my morality. And in this way, I solve the apparent paradox that a more reasonable world will come without being planned by reason; for according to my moral standards now adopted, the future world must be better, and therefore more reasonable. And I also bridge the gap between my activism and my historicism. For it is clear that even though I have discovered the natural law that determines the movement of society, I cannot shuffle the natural phases of its evolution out of the world by a stroke of the pen. But this much I can do. I can actively assist in shortening and lessening its birth-pangs.


This, I think, would have been Marx's reply, and it is this reply which to me represents the most important form of what I have called 'historicist moral theory'. It is this theory to which Engels alludes when he writes [9]: 'Certainly, that morality which contains the greatest number of elements that are going to last is the one which, within the present time, represents the overthrow of the present time; it is the one which represents the future; it is the proletarian morality . . . According to this conception, the ultimate causes of all social changes and political revolutions are not increasing insight into justice; they are to be sought not in the philosophy but in the economics of the epoch concerned. The growing realization that existing social institutions are irrational and unjust is only a symptom . . . ' It is the theory of which a modern Marxist says: 'In founding socialist aspirations on a rational economic law of social development, instead of justifying them on moral grounds, Marx and Engels proclaimed socialism a historical necessity.' [10] It is a theory which is very widely held; but it has rarely been formulated clearly and explicitly. Its criticism is therefore more important than might be realized at first sight.

First, it is clear enough that the theory depends largely on the possibility of correct historical prophecy. If this is questioned — and it certainly must be questioned — then the theory loses most of its force. But for the purpose of analysing it, I shall assume at first that historical foreknowledge is an established fact; and I shall merely stipulate that this historical foreknowledge is limited; I shall stipulate that we have foreknowledge for, say, the next 500 years, a stipulation which should not restrict even the boldest claims of Marxist historicism.

Now let us first examine the claim of historicist moral theory that the fundamental decision in favour of, or against, one of the moral systems in question is itself not a moral decision; that it is not based on any moral consideration or sentiment, but on a scientific historical prediction. This claim is, I think, untenable. In order to make this quite clear, it will suffice to make explicit the imperative, or principle of conduct, implied in this fundamental decision. It is the following principle: Adopt the moral system of the future! or: Adopt the moral system held by those whose actions are most useful for bringing about the future! Now it seems clear to me that even on the assumption that we know exactly what the next 500 years will be like, it is not at all necessary for us to adopt such a principle. It is, to give an example, at least conceivable that some humanitarian pupil of Voltaire who foresaw in 1764 the development of France down to, say, 1864 might have disliked the prospect; it is at least conceivable that he would have decided that this development was rather distasteful and that he was not going to adopt the moral standards of Napoleon III as his own. I shall be faithful to my humanitarian standards, he might have said, I shall teach them to my pupils; perhaps they will survive this period, perhaps some day they will be victorious. It is likewise at least conceivable (I do not assert more, at present) that a man who to-day foresees with certainty that we are heading for a period of slavery, that we are going to return to the cage of the arrested society, or even that we are about to return to the beasts, may nevertheless decide not to adopt the moral standards of this impending period but to contribute as well as he can to the survival of his humanitarian ideals, hoping perhaps for a resurrection of his morality in some dim future.

All that is, at least, conceivable. It may perhaps not be the 'wisest' decision to make. But the fact that such a decision is excluded neither by foreknowledge nor by any sociological or psychological law shows that the first claim of historicist moral theory is untenable. Whether we should accept the morality of the future just because it is the morality of the future, this in itself is just a moral problem. The fundamental decision cannot be derived from any knowledge of the future.

In previous chapters I have mentioned moral positivism (especially that of Hegel), the theory that there is no moral standard but the one which exists; that what is, is reasonable and good; and therefore, that might is right. The practical aspect of this theory is this. A moral criticism of the existing state of affairs is impossible, since this state itself determines the moral standard of things. Now the historicist moral theory we are considering is nothing but another form of moral positivism. For it holds that coming might is right. The future is here substituted for the present — that is all. And the practical aspect of the theory is this. Amoral criticism of the coming state of affairs is impossible, since this state determines the moral standard of things. The difference between 'the present' and 'the future' is here, of course, only a matter of degree. One can say that the future starts to-morrow, or in 500 years, or in 100. In their theoretical structure there is no difference between moral conservatism, moral modernism, and moral futurism. Nor is there much to choose between them in regard to moral sentiments. If the moral futurist criticizes the cowardice of the moral conservative who takes sides with the powers that be, then the moral conservative can return the charge; he can say that the moral futurist is a coward since he takes sides with the powers that will be, with the rulers of to-morrow.

I feel sure that, had he considered these implications, Marx would have repudiated historicist moral theory. Numerous remarks and numerous actions prove that it was not a scientific judgement but a moral impulse, the wish to help the oppressed, the wish to free the shamelessly exploited and miserable workers, which led him to socialism. I do not doubt that it is this moral appeal that is the secret of the influence of his teaching. And the force of this appeal was tremendously strengthened by the fact that he did not preach morality in the abstract. He did not pretend to have any right to do so. Who, he seems to have asked himself, lives up to his own standard, provided it is not a very low one? It was this feeling which led him to rely, in ethical matters, on understatements, and which led him to the attempt to find in prophetic social science an authority in matters of morals more reliable than he felt himself to be.

Surely, in Marx's practical ethics such categories as freedom and equality played the major role. He was, after all, one of those who took the ideals of 1789 seriously. And he had seen how shamelessly a concept like 'freedom' could be twisted. This is why he did not preach freedom in words — why he preached it in action. He wanted to improve society and improvement meant to him more freedom, more equality, more justice, more security, higher standards of living, and especially that shortening of the working day which at once gives the workers some freedom. It was his hatred of hypocrisy, his reluctance to speak about these 'high ideals', together with his amazing optimism, his trust that all this would be realized in the near future, which led him to veil his moral beliefs behind historicist formulations.

Marx, I assert, would not seriously have defended moral positivism in the form of moral futurism if he had seen that it implies the recognition of future might as right. But there are others who do not possess his passionate love of humanity, who are moral futurists just because of these implications, i.e. opportunists wishing to be on the winning side. Moral futurism is widespread to-day. Its deeper, non-opportunist basis is probably the belief that goodness must 'ultimately' triumph over wickedness. But moral futurists forget that we are not going to live to witness the 'ultimate' outcome of present events. 'History will be our judge!' What does this mean? That success will judge. The worship of success and of future might is the highest standard of many who would never admit that present might is right. (They quite forget that the present is the future of the past.) The basis of all this is a halfhearted compromise between a moral optimism and a moral scepticism. It seems to be hard to believe in one's conscience. And it seems to be hard to resist the impulse to be on the winning side.

All these critical remarks are consistent with the assumption that we can predict the future for the next, say, 500 years. But if we drop this entirely fictitious assumption, then historicist moral theory loses all its plausibility. And we must drop it. For there is no prophetic sociology to help us in selecting a moral system. We cannot shift our responsibility for such a selection on to anybody, not even on to 'the future'.


Marx's historicist moral theory is, of course, only the result of his view concerning the method of social science, of his sociological determinism, a view which has become rather fashionable in our day. All our opinions, it is said, including our moral standards, depend upon society and its historical state. They are the products of society or of a certain class situation. Education is defined as a special process by which the community attempts to 'pass on' to its members 'its culture including the standards by which it would have them to live' [11], and the 'relativity of educational theory and practice to a prevailing order' is emphasized. Science, too, is said to depend on the social stratum of the scientific worker, etc.

A theory of this kind which emphasizes the sociological dependence of our opinions is sometimes called sociologism; if the historical dependence is emphasized, it is called historism. (Historism must not, of course, be mixed up with historicism.) Both sociologism and historism, in so far as they maintain the determination of scientific knowledge by society or history, will be discussed in the next two chapters. In so far as sociologism bears upon moral theory, a few remarks may be added here. But before going into any detail, I wish to make quite clear my opinion concerning these Hegelianizing theories. I believe that they chatter trivialities clad in the jargon of oracular philosophy.

Let us examine this moral 'sociologism'. That man, and his aims, are in a certain sense a product of society is true enough. But it is also true that society is a product of man and of his aims and that it may become increasingly so. The main question is: Which of these two aspects of the relations between men and society is more important? Which is to be stressed?

We shall understand sociologism better if we compare it with the analogous 'naturalistic' view that man and his aims are a product of heredity and environment. Again we must admit that this is true enough. But it is also quite certain that man's environment is to an increasing extent a product of him and his aims (to a limited extent, the same might be said even of his heredity). Again we must ask: which of the two aspects is more important, more fertile? The answer may be easier if we give the question the following more practical form. We, the generation now living, and our minds, our opinions, are largely the product of our parents, and of the way they have brought us up. But the next generation will be, to a similar extent, a product of ourselves, of our actions and of the way in which we bring them up. Which of the two aspects is the more important one for us to-day?

If we consider this question seriously, then we find that the decisive point is that our minds, our opinions, though largely dependent on our upbringing are not totally so. If they were totally dependent on our upbringing, if we were incapable of self-criticism, of learning from our own way of seeing things, from our experience, then, of course, the way we have been brought up by the last generation would determine the way in which we bring up the next. But it is quite certain that this is not so. Accordingly, we can concentrate our critical faculties on the difficult problem of bringing up the next generation in a way which we consider better than the way in which we have been brought up ourselves.

The situation stressed so much by sociologism can be dealt with in an exactly analogous way. That our minds, our views, are in a way a product of 'society' is trivially true. The most important part of our environment is its social part; thought, in particular, is very largely dependent on social intercourse; language, the medium of thought, is a social phenomenon. But it simply cannot be denied that we can examine thoughts, that we can criticize them, improve them, and further that we can change and improve our physical environment according to our changed, improved thoughts. And the same is true of our social environment.


All these considerations are entirely independent of the metaphysical 'problem of free will'. Even the indeterminist admits a certain amount of dependence on heredity and on environmental, especially social, influence. On the other hand, the determinist must agree that our views and actions are not fully and solely determined by heredity, education, and social influences. He has to admit that there are other factors, for instance, the more 'accidental' experiences accumulated during one's life, and that these also exert their influence. Determinism or indeterminism, as long as they remain within their metaphysical boundaries, do not affect our problem. But the point is that they may trespass beyond these boundaries; that metaphysical determinism, for instance, may encourage sociological determinism or 'sociologism'. But in this form, the theory can be confronted with experience. And experience shows that it is certainly false.


Beethoven, to take an instance from the field of aesthetics, which has a certain similarity to that of ethics, is surely to some extent a product of musical education and tradition, and many who take an interest in him will be impressed by this aspect of his work. The more important aspect, however, is that he is also a producer of music, and thereby of musical tradition and education. I do not wish to quarrel with the metaphysical determinist who would insist that every bar Beethoven wrote was determined by some combination of hereditary and environmental influences. Such an assertion is empirically entirely insignificant, since no one could actually 'explain' a single bar of his writing in this way. The important thing is that everyone admits that what he wrote can be explained neither by the musical works of his predecessors, nor by the social environment in which he lived, nor by his deafness, nor by the food which his housekeeper cooked for him; not, in other words, by any definite set of environmental influences or circumstances open to empirical investigation, or by anything we could possibly know of his heredity.

I do not deny that there are certain interesting sociological aspects of Beethoven's work. It is well known, for instance, that the transition from a small to a large symphony orchestra is connected, in some way, with a socio-political development. Orchestras cease to be the private hobbies of princes, and are at least partly supported by a middle class whose interest in music greatly increases. I am willing to appreciate any sociological 'explanation' of this sort, and I admit that such aspects may be worthy of scientific study. (After all, I myself have attempted similar things in this book, for instance, in my treatment of Plato.)

What then, more precisely, is the object of my attack? It is the exaggeration and generalization of any aspect of this kind. If we 'explain' Beethoven's symphony orchestra in the way hinted above, we have explained very little. If we describe Beethoven as representing the bourgeoisie in the process of emancipating itself, we say very little, even if it is true. Such a function could most certainly be combined with the production of bad music (as we see from Wagner). We cannot attempt to explain Beethoven's genius in this way, or in any way at all.

I think that Marx's own views could likewise be used for an empirical refutation of sociological determinism. For if we consider in the light of this doctrine the two theories, activism and historicism, and their struggle for supremacy in Marx's system, then we will have to say that historicism would be a view more fitting for a conservative apologist than for a revolutionary or even a reformer. And, indeed, historicism was used by Hegel with that tendency. The fact that Marx not only took it over from Hegel, but in the end permitted it to oust his own activism, may thus show that the side a man takes in the social struggle need not always determine his intellectual decisions. These may be determined, as in Marx's case, not so much by the true interest of the class he supported as by accidental factors, such as the influence of a predecessor, or perhaps by shortsightedness. Thus in this case, sociologism may further our understanding of Hegel, but the example of Marx himself exposes it as an unjustified generalization. A similar case is Marx's underrating of the significance of his own moral ideas; for it cannot be doubted that the secret of his religious influence was in its moral appeal, that his criticism of capitalism was effective mainly as a moral criticism. Marx showed that a social system can as such be unjust; that if the system is bad, then all the righteousness of the individuals who profit from it is a mere sham righteousness, is mere hypocrisy. For our responsibility extends to the system, to the institutions which we allow to persist. It is this moral radicalism of Marx which explains his influence; and that is a hopeful fact in itself. This moral radicalism is still alive. It is our task to keep it alive, to prevent it from going the way which his political radicalism will have to go. 'Scientific' Marxism is dead. Its feeling of social responsibility and its love for freedom must survive.  
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