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 Dec 07, 2018 12:30 am

Marx's Method

13: Marx's Sociological Determinism

The collectivists . . . have the zest for progress, the sympathy for the poor, the burning sense of wrong, the impulse for great deeds, which have been lacking in latter-day liberalism. But their science is founded on a profound misunderstanding and their actions, therefore, are deeply destructive and reactionary. So men's hearts are torn, their minds divided, they are offered impossible choices.

-- Walter Lippmann.

It has always been the strategy of the revolt against freedom 'to take advantage of sentiments, not wasting one's energies in futile efforts to destroy them' [1]. The most cherished ideas of the humanitarians were often loudly acclaimed by their deadliest enemies, who in this way penetrated into the humanitarian camp under the guise of allies, causing disunion and thorough confusion. This strategy has often been highly successful, as is shown by the fact that many genuine humanitarians still revere Plato's idea of 'justice', the medieval idea of 'Christian' authoritarianism, Rousseau's idea of the 'general will', or Fichte's and Hegel's ideas of 'national freedom'. [2] Yet this method of penetrating dividing and confusing the humanitarian camp and of building up a largely unwitting and therefore doubly effective intellectual fifth column achieved its greatest success only after Hegelianism had established itself as the basis of a truly humanitarian movement: of Marxism, so far the purest, the most developed and the most dangerous form of historicism.

It is tempting to dwell upon the similarities between Marxism, the Hegelian left-wing, and its fascist counterpart. Yet it would be utterly unfair to overlook the difference between them. Although their intellectual origin is nearly identical, there can be no doubt of the humanitarian impulse of Marxism. Moreover, in contrast to the Hegelians of the right-wing, Marx made an honest attempt to apply rational methods to the most urgent problems of social life. The value of this attempt is unimpaired by the fact that it was, as I shall try to show, largely unsuccessful. Science progresses through trial and error. Marx tried, and although he erred in his main doctrines, he did not try in vain. He opened and sharpened our eyes in many ways. A return to pre-Marxian social science is inconceivable.
All modern writers are indebted to Marx, even if they do not know it. This is especially true of those who disagree with his doctrines, as I do; and I readily admit that my treatment, for example of Plato [3] and Hegel, bears the stamp of his influence.

One cannot do justice to Marx without recognizing his sincerity. His open-mindedness, his sense of facts, his distrust of verbiage, and especially of moralizing verbiage, made him one of the world's most influential fighters against hypocrisy and pharisaism. He had a burning desire to help the oppressed, and was fully conscious of the need for proving himself in deeds, and not only in words. His main talents being theoretical, he devoted immense labour to forging what he believed to be scientific weapons for the fight to improve the lot of the vast majority of men. His sincerity in his search for truth and his intellectual honesty distinguish him, I believe, from many of his followers (although unfortunately he did not altogether escape the corrupting influence of an upbringing in the atmosphere of Hegelian dialectics, described by Schopenhauer as 'destructive of all intelligence' [4]). Marx's interest in social science and social philosophy was fundamentally a practical interest. He saw in knowledge a means of promoting the progress of man [5].

Why, then, attack Marx? In spite of his merits, Marx was, I believe, a false prophet. He was a prophet of the course of history, and his prophecies did not come true; but this is not my main accusation. It is much more important that he misled scores of intelligent people into believing that historical prophecy is the scientific way of approaching social problems. Marx is responsible for the devastating influence of the historicist method of thought within the ranks of those who wish to advance the cause of the open society.

But is it true that Marxism is a pure brand of historicism? Are there not some elements of social technology in Marxism? The fact that Russia is making bold and often successful experiments in social engineering has led many to infer that Marxism, as the science or creed which underlies the Russian experiment, must be a kind of social technology, or at least favourable to it. But nobody who knows anything about the history of Marxism can make this mistake. Marxism is a purely historical theory, a theory which aims at predicting the future course of economic and power- political developments and especially of revolutions. As such, it certainly did not furnish the basis of the policy of the Russian Communist Party after its rise to political power. Since Marx had practically forbidden all social technology, which he denounced as Utopian [6], his Russian disciples found themselves at first entirely unprepared for their great tasks in the field of social engineering. As Lenin was quick to realize, Marxism was unable to help in matters of practical economics. 'I do not know of any socialist who has dealt with these problems', said Lenin [7], after his rise to power; 'there was nothing written about such matters in the Bolshevik textbooks, or in those of the Mensheviks.' After a period of unsuccessful experiment, the so-called 'period of war-communism', Lenin decided to adopt measures which meant in fact a limited and temporary return to private enterprise. This so-called NEP (New Economic Policy) and the later experiments — five-year plans, etc. — have nothing whatever to do with the theories of 'Scientific Socialism' once propounded by Marx and Engels. Neither the peculiar situation in which Lenin found himself before he introduced the NEP, nor his achievements, can be appreciated without due consideration of this point. The vast economic researches of Marx did not even touch the problems of a constructive economic policy, for example, economic planning. As Lenin admits, there is hardly a word on the economics of socialism to be found in Marx's work — apart from such useless [8] slogans as 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs'. The reason is that the economic research of Marx is completely subservient to his historical prophecy. But we must say even more. Marx strongly emphasized the opposition between his purely historicist method and any attempt to make an economic analysis with a view to rational planning. Such attempts he denounced as Utopian, and as illegitimate. In consequence, Marxists did not even study what the so- called 'bourgeois economists' attained in this field. They were by their training even less prepared for constructive work than some of the 'bourgeois economists' themselves.

Marx saw his specific mission in the freeing of socialism from its sentimental, moralist, and visionary background. Socialism was to be developed from its Utopian stage to its scientific stage [9]; it was to be based upon the scientific method of analysing cause and effect, and upon scientific prediction. And since he assumed prediction in the field of society to be the same as historical prophecy, scientific socialism was to be based upon a study of historical causes and historical effects, and finally upon the prophecy of its own advent.

Marxists, when they find their theories attacked, often withdraw to the position that Marxism is primarily not so much a doctrine as a method. They say that even if some particular part of the doctrines of Marx, or of some of his followers, were superseded, his method would still remain unassailable. I believe that it is quite correct to insist that Marxism is, fundamentally, a method. But it is wrong to believe that, as a method, it must be secure from attacks. The position is, simply, that whoever wishes to judge Marxism has to probe it and to criticize it as a method, that is to say, he must measure it by methodological standards. He must ask whether it is a fruitful method or a poor one, i.e. whether or not it is capable of furthering the task of science. The standards by which we must judge the Marxist method are thus of a practical nature. By describing Marxism as purest historicism, I have indicated that I hold the Marxist method to be very poor indeed [10].

Marx himself would have agreed with such a practical approach to the criticism of his method, for he was one of the first philosophers to develop the views which later were called 'pragmatism'. He was led to this position, I believe, by his conviction that a scientific background was urgently needed by the practical politician, which of course meant the socialist politician. Science, he taught, should yield practical results. Always look at the fruits, the practical consequences of a theory! They tell something even of its scientific structure. A philosophy or a science that does not yield practical results merely interprets the world we live in; but it can and it should do more; it should change the world. 'The philosophers', wrote Marx [11] early in his career, 'have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.' It was perhaps this pragmatic attitude that made him anticipate the important methodological doctrine of the later pragmatists that the most characteristic task of science is not to gain knowledge of past facts, but to predict the future.

This stress on scientific prediction, in itself an important and progressive methodological discovery, unfortunately led Marx astray. For the plausible argument that science can predict the future only if the future is predetermined — if, as it were, the future is present in the past, telescoped in it — led him to adhere to the false belief that a rigidly scientific method must be based on a rigid determinism. Marx's 'inexorable laws' of nature and of historical development show clearly the influence of the Laplacean atmosphere and that of the French Materialists. But the belief that the terms 'scientific' and 'determinist' are, if not synonymous, at least inseparably connected, can now be said to be one of the superstitions of a time that has not yet entirely passed away [12]. Since I am interested mainly in questions of method, I am glad that, when discussing its methodological aspect, it is quite unnecessary to enter into a dispute concerning the metaphysical problem of determinism. For whatever may be the outcome of such metaphysical controversies as, for example, the bearing of the Quantum theory on 'free-will', one thing, I should say, is settled. No kind of determinism, whether it be expressed as the principle of the uniformity of nature or as the law of universal causation, can be considered any longer a necessary assumption of scientific method; for physics, the most advanced of all sciences, has shown not only that it can do without such assumptions, but also that to some extent it contradicts them. Determinism is not a necessary pre-requisite of a science which can make predictions. Scientific method cannot, therefore, be said to favour the adoption of strict determinism. Science can be rigidly scientific without this assumption. Marx, of course, cannot be blamed for having held the opposite view, since the best scientists of his day did the same.

It must be noted that it is not so much the abstract, theoretical doctrine of determinism which led Marx astray, but rather the practical influence of this doctrine upon his view of scientific method, upon his view of the aims and possibilities of a social science. The abstract idea of 'causes' which 'determine' social developments is as such quite harmless as long as it does not lead to historicism. And indeed, there is no reason whatever why this idea should lead us to adopt a historicist attitude towards social institutions, in strange contrast to the obviously technological attitude taken up by everybody, and especially by determinists, towards mechanical or electrical machinery. There is no reason why we should believe that, of all sciences, social science is capable of realizing the age-old dream of revealing what the future has in store for us. This belief in scientific fortune-telling is not founded on determinism alone; its other foundation is the confusion between scientific prediction, as we know it from physics or astronomy, and large-scale historical prophecy, which foretells in broad lines the main tendencies of the future development of society. These two kinds of prediction are very different (as I have tried to show elsewhere [13]), and the scientific character of the first is no argument in favour of the scientific character of the second.

Marx's historicist view of the aims of social science greatly upset the pragmatism which had originally led him to stress the predictive function of science. It forced him to modify his earlier view that science should, and that it could, change the world. For if there was to be a social science, and accordingly, historical prophecy, the main course of history must be predetermined, and neither good-will nor reason had power to alter it. All that was left to us in the way of reasonable interference was to make sure, by historical prophecy, of the impending course of development, and to remove the worst obstacles in its path. 'When a society has discovered', Marx writes in Capital [14], 'the natural law that determines its own movement, . . . even then it can neither overleap the natural phases of its evolution, nor shuffle them out of the world by a stroke of the pen. But this much it can do; it can shorten and lessen its birth-pangs.' These are the views that led Marx to denounce as 'Utopianists' all who looked upon social institutions with the eyes of the social engineer, holding them to be amenable to human reason and will, and to be a possible field of rational planning. These 'Utopianists' appeared to him to attempt with fragile human hands to steer the colossal ship of society against the natural currents and storms of history. All a scientist could do, he thought, was to forecast the gusts and vortices ahead. The practical service he could achieve would thus be confined to issuing a warning against the next storm that threatened to take the ship off the right course (the right course was of course the left!) or to advising the passengers as to the side of the boat on which they had better assemble. Marx saw the real task of scientific socialism in the annunciation of the impending socialist millennium. Only by way of this annunciation, he holds, can scientific socialist teaching contribute to bringing about a socialist world, whose coming it can further by making men conscious of the impending change, and of the parts allotted to them in the play of history. Thus scientific socialism is not a social technology; it does not teach the ways and means of constructing socialist institutions. Marx's views of the relation between socialist theory and practice show the purity of his historicist views.

Marx's thought was in many respects a product of his time, when the remembrance of that great historical earthquake, the French Revolution, was still fresh. (It was revived by the revolution of 1848.) Such a revolution could not, he felt, be planned and staged by human reason. But it could have been foreseen by a historicist social science; sufficient insight into the social situation would have revealed its causes. That this historicist attitude was rather typical of the period can be seen from the close similarity between the historicism of Marx and that of J.S. Mill. (It is analogous to the similarity between the historicist philosophies of their predecessors, Hegel and Comte.) Marx did not think very highly of 'bourgeois economists such as ... J.S. Mill' [15] whom he viewed as a typical representative of 'an insipid, brainless syncretism'. Although it is true that in some places Marx shows a certain respect for the 'modern tendencies' of the 'philanthropic economist' Mill, it seems to me that there is ample circumstantial evidence against the conjecture that Marx was directly influenced by Mill's (or rather by Comte's) views on the methods of social science. The agreement between the views of Marx and of Mill is therefore the more striking. Thus when Marx says in the preface to Capital, 'It is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the ... law of motion of modern society' [16], he might be said to carry out Mill's programme: 'The fundamental problem ... of the social science, is to find the law according to which any state of society produces the state which succeeds it and takes its place.' Mill distinguished fairly clearly the possibility of what he called 'two kinds of sociological inquiry', the first closely corresponding to what I call social technology, the second corresponding to historicist prophecy, and he took sides with the latter, characterizing it as the 'general Science of Society by which the conclusions of the other and more special kind of inquiry must be limited and controlled'. This general science of society is based upon the principle of causality, in accordance with Mill's view of scientific method; and he describes this causal analysis of society as the 'Historical Method'. Mill's 'states of society' [17] with 'properties ... changeable ... from age to age' correspond exactly to Marxist 'historical periods', and Mill's optimistic belief in progress resembles Marx's, although it is of course much more naive than its dialectical counterpart. (Mill thought that the type of movement 'to which human affairs must conform ... must be ... one or the other' of two possible astronomical movements, viz., 'an orbit' or 'a trajectory'. Marxist dialectics is less certain of the simplicity of the laws of historical development; it adopts a combination, as it were, of Mill's two movements — something like a wave or a corkscrew movement.)

There are more similarities between Marx and Mill; for example, both were dissatisfied with laissez-faire liberalism, and both tried to provide better foundations for carrying into practice the fundamental idea of liberty. But in their views on the method of sociology, there is one very important difference. Mill believed that the study of society, in the last analysis, must be reducible to psychology; that the laws of historical development must be explicable in terms of human nature, of the 'laws of the mind', and in particular, of its progressiveness. 'The progressiveness of the human race', says Mill, 'is the foundation on which a method of . . . social science has been ... erected, far superior to ... the modes ... previously . . . prevalent . . . ' [18] The theory that sociology must in principle be reducible to social psychology, difficult though the reduction may be because of the complications arising from the interaction of countless individuals, has been widely held by many thinkers; indeed, it is one of the theories which are often simply taken for granted. I shall call this approach to sociology (methodological) psychologism [19]. Mill, we can now say, believed in psychologism. But Marx challenged it. 'Legal relationships', he asserted [20], 'and the various political structures cannot ... be explained by . . . what has been called the general "progressiveness of the human mind".' To have questioned psychologism is perhaps the greatest achievement of Marx as a sociologist. By doing so he opened the way to the more penetrating conception of a specific realm of sociological laws, and of a sociology which was at least partly autonomous.

In the following chapters, I shall explain some points of Marx's method, and I shall try always to emphasize especially such of his views as I believe to be of lasting merit. Thus I shall deal next with Marx's attack on psychologism, i.e. with his arguments in favour of an autonomous social science, irreducible to psychology. And only later shall I attempt to show the fatal weakness and the destructive consequences of his historicism.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Mon Dec 10, 2018 1:52 am

14: The Autonomy of Sociology

A concise formulation of Marx's opposition to psychologism [1], i.e. to the plausible doctrine that all laws of social life must be ultimately reducible to the psychological laws of 'human nature', is his famous epigram: 'It is not the consciousness of man that determines his existence — rather, it is his social existence that determines his consciousness.' [2] The function of the present chapter as well as of the two following ones is mainly to elucidate this epigram. And I may state at once that in developing what I believe to be Marx's anti-psychologism, I am developing a view to which I subscribe myself.

As an elementary illustration, and a first step in our examination, we may refer to the problem of the so-called rules of exogamy, i.e. the problem of explaining the wide distribution, among the most diverse cultures, of marriage laws apparently designed to prevent inbreeding. Mill and his psychologistic school of sociology (it was joined later by many psychoanalysts) would try to explain these rules by an appeal to 'human nature', for instance to some sort of instinctive aversion against incest (developed perhaps through natural selection, or else through 'repression'); and something like this would also be the naive or popular explanation. Adopting the point of view expressed in Marx's epigram, however, one could ask whether it is not the other way round, that is to say, whether the apparent instinct is not rather a product of education, the effect rather than the cause of the social rules and traditions demanding exogamy and forbidding incest [3]. It is clear that these two approaches correspond exactly to the very ancient problem whether social laws are 'natural' or 'conventional' (dealt with at length in chapter 5). In a question such as the one chosen here as an illustration, it would be difficult to determine which of the two theories is the correct one, the explanation of the traditional social rules by instinct or the explanation of an apparent instinct by traditional social rules. The possibility of deciding such questions by experiment has, however, been shown in a similar case, that of the apparently instinctive aversion to snakes. This aversion has a greater semblance of being instinctive or 'natural' in that it is exhibited not only by men but also by all anthropoid apes and by most monkeys as well. But experiments seem to indicate that this fear is conventional. It appears to be a product of education, not only in the human race but also for instance in chimpanzees, since [4] both young children and young chimpanzees who have not been taught to fear snakes do not exhibit the alleged instinct. This example should be taken as a warning. We are faced here with an aversion which is apparently universal, even beyond the human race. But although from the fact that a habit is not universal we might perhaps argue against its being based on an instinct (but even this argument is dangerous since there are social customs enforcing the suppression of instincts), we see that the converse is certainly not true. The universal occurrence of a certain behaviour is not a decisive argument in favour of its instinctive character, or of its being rooted in 'human nature'.

Such considerations may show how naive it is to assume that all social laws must be derivable, in principle, from the psychology of 'human nature'. But this analysis is still rather crude. In order to proceed one step further, we may try to analyse more directly the main thesis of psychologism, the doctrine that, society being the product of interacting minds, social laws must ultimately be reducible to psychological laws, since the events of social life, including its conventions, must be the outcome of motives springing from the minds of individual men.

Against this doctrine of psychologism, the defenders of an autonomous sociology can advance institutionalist views [5]. They can point out, first of all, that no action can ever be explained by motive alone; if motives (or any other psychological or behaviourist concepts) are to be used in the explanation, then they must be supplemented by a reference to the general situation, and especially to the environment. In the case of human actions, this environment is very largely of a social nature; thus our actions cannot be explained without reference to our social environment, to social institutions and to their manner of functioning. It is therefore impossible, the institutionalist may contend, to reduce sociology to a psychological or behaviouristic analysis of our actions; rather, every such analysis presupposes sociology, which therefore cannot wholly depend on psychological analysis. Sociology, or at least a very important part of it, must be autonomous.

Against this view, the followers of psychologism may retort that they are quite ready to admit the great importance of environmental factors, whether natural or social; but the structure (they may prefer the fashionable word 'pattern') of the social environment, as opposed to the natural environment, is man-made; and therefore it must be explicable in terms of human nature, in accordance with the doctrine of psychologism. For instance, the characteristic institution which economists call 'the market', and whose functioning is the main object of their studies, can be derived in the last analysis from the psychology of 'economic man', or, to use Mill's phraseology, from the psychological 'phenomena ... of the pursuit of wealth' [6]. Moreover, the followers of psychologism insist that it is because of the peculiar psychological structure of human nature that institutions play such an important role in our society, and that, once established, they show a tendency to become a traditional and a comparatively fixed part of our environment. Finally — and this is their decisive point — the origin as well as the development of traditions must be explicable in terms of human nature. When tracing back traditions and institutions to their origin, we must find that their introduction is explicable in psychological terms, since they have been introduced by man for some purpose or other, and under the influence of certain motives. And even if these motives have been forgotten in the course of time, then that forgetfulness, as well as our readiness to put up with institutions whose purpose is obscure, is in its turn based on human nature. Thus 'all phenomena of society are phenomena of human nature' [7], as Mill said; and 'the Laws of the phenomena of society are, and can be, nothing but the laws of the actions and passions of human beings', that is to say, 'the laws of individual human nature. Men are not, when brought together, converted into another kind of substance . . . ' [8]  

This last remark of Mill's exhibits one of the most praiseworthy aspects of psychologism, namely, its sane opposition to collectivism and holism, its refusal to be impressed by Rousseau's or Hegel's romanticism — by a general will or a national spirit, or perhaps, by a group mind. Psychologism is, I believe, correct only in so far as it insists upon what may be called 'methodological individualism' as opposed to 'methodological collectivism'; it rightly insists that the 'behaviour' and the 'actions' of collectives, such as states or social groups, must be reduced to the behaviour and to the actions of human individuals. But the belief that the choice of such an individualistic method implies the choice of a psychological method is mistaken (as will be shown below in this chapter), even though it may appear very convincing at first sight. And that psychologism as such moves on rather dangerous ground, apart from its commendable individualistic method, can be seen from some further passages of Mill's argument. For they show that psychologism is forced to adopt historicist methods. The attempt to reduce the facts of our social environment to psychological facts forces us into speculations about origins and developments. When analysing Plato's sociology, we had an opportunity of gauging the dubious merits of such an approach to social science (compare chapter 5). In criticizing Mill, we shall now try to deal it a decisive blow.

It is undoubtedly Mill's psychologism which forces him to adopt a historicist method; and he is even vaguely aware of the barrenness or poverty of historicism, since he tries to account for this barrenness by pointing out the difficulties arising from the tremendous complexity of the interaction of so many individual minds. 'While it is ... imperative', he says, never to introduce any generalization ... into the social sciences until sufficient grounds can be pointed out in human nature, I do not think any one will contend that it would have been possible, setting out from the principle of human nature and from the general circumstances of the position of our species, to determine a priori the order in which human development must take place, and to predict, consequently, the general facts of history up to the present time.' [9] The reason he gives is that 'after the first few terms of the series, the influence exercised over each generation by the generations which preceded it becomes ... more and more preponderant over all other influences'. (In other words, the social environment becomes a dominant influence.) 'So long a series of actions and reactions ... could not possibly be computed by human faculties . . . '

This argument, and especially Mill's remark on 'the first few terms of the series', are a striking revelation of the weakness of the psychologistic version of historicism. If all regularities in social life, the laws of our social environment, of all institutions, etc., are ultimately to be explained by, and reduced to, the 'actions and passions of human beings', then such an approach forces upon us not only the idea of historico-causal development, but also the idea of the first steps of such a development. For the stress on the psychological origin of social rules or institutions can only mean that they can be traced back to a state when their introduction was dependent solely upon psychological factors, or more precisely, when it was independent of any established social institutions. Psychologism is thus forced, whether it likes it or not, to operate with the idea of a beginning of society, and with the idea of a human nature and a human psychology as they existed prior to society. In other words. Mill's remark concerning the 'first few terms of the series' of social development is not an accidental slip, as one might perhaps believe, but the appropriate expression of the desperate position forced upon him. It is a desperate position because this theory of a pre-social human nature which explains the foundation of society — a psychologistic version of the 'social contract' — is not only an historical myth, but also, as it were, a methodological myth. It can hardly be seriously discussed, for we have every reason to believe that man or rather his ancestor was social prior to being human (considering, for example, that language presupposes society). But this implies that social institutions, and with them, typical social regularities or sociological laws [10], must have existed prior to what some people are pleased to call 'human nature', and to human psychology. If a reduction is to be attempted at all, it would therefore be more hopeful to attempt a reduction or interpretation of psychology in terms of sociology than the other way round.

This brings us back to Marx's epigram at the beginning of this chapter. Men — i.e. human minds, the needs, the hopes, fears, and expectations, the motives and aspirations of human individuals — are, if anything, the product of life in society rather than its creators. It must be admitted that the structure of our social environment is man-made in a certain sense; that its institutions and traditions are neither the work of God nor of nature, but the results of human actions and decisions, and alterable by human actions and decisions. But this does not mean that they are all consciously designed, and explicable in terms of needs, hopes, or motives. On the contrary, even those which arise as the result of conscious and intentional human actions are, as a rule, the indirect, the unintended and often the unwanted by-products of such actions. 'Only a minority of social institutions are consciously designed, while the vast majority have just "grown", as the undesigned results of human actions', as I have said before [11]; and we can add that even most of the few institutions which were consciously and successfully designed (say, a newly founded University, or a trade union) do not turn out according to plan — again because of the unintended social repercussions resulting from their intentional creation. For their creation affects not only many other social institutions but also 'human nature' — hopes, fears, and ambitions, first of those more immediately involved, and later often of all members of the society. One of the consequences of this is that the moral values of a society — the demands and proposals recognized by all, or by very nearly all, of its members — are closely bound up with its institutions and traditions, and that they cannot survive the destruction of the institutions and traditions of a society (as indicated in chapter 9 when we discussed the 'canvas-cleaning' of the radical revolutionary).

All this holds most emphatically for the more ancient periods of social development, i.e. for the closed society, in which the conscious design of institutions is a most exceptional event, if it happens at all. To-day, things may begin to be different, owing to our slowly increasing knowledge of society, i.e. owing to the study of the unintended repercussions of our plans and actions; and one day, men may even become the conscious creators of an open society, and thereby of a greater part of their own fate. (Marx entertained this hope, as will be shown in the next chapter.) But all this is partly a matter of degree, and although we may learn to foresee many of the unintended consequences of our actions (the main aim of all social technology), there will always be many which we did not foresee.

The fact that psychologism is forced to operate with the idea of a psychological origin of society constitutes in my opinion a decisive argument against it. But it is not the only one. Perhaps the most important criticism of psychologism is that it fails to understand the main task of the explanatory social sciences.

This task is not, as the historicist believes, the prophecy of the future course of history. It is, rather, the discovery and explanation of the less obvious dependences within the social sphere. It is the discovery of the difficulties which stand in the way of social action — the study, as it were, of the unwieldiness, the resilience or the brittleness of the social stuff, of its resistance to our attempts to mould it and to work with it.

In order to make my point clear, I shall briefly describe a theory which is widely held but which assumes what I consider the very opposite of the true aim of the social sciences; I call it the 'conspiracy theory of society'. It is the view that an explanation of a social phenomenon consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon (sometimes it is a hidden interest which has first to be revealed), and who have planned and conspired to bring it about.

This view of the aims of the social sciences arises, of course, from the mistaken theory that, whatever happens in society — especially happenings such as war, unemployment, poverty, shortages, which people as a rule dislike — is the result of direct design by some powerful individuals and groups. This theory is widely held; it is older even than historicism (which, as shown by its primitive theistic form, is a derivative of the conspiracy theory). In its modern forms it is, like modern historicism, and a certain modern attitude towards 'natural laws', a typical result of the secularization of a religious superstition. The belief in the Homeric gods whose conspiracies explain the history of the Trojan War is gone. The gods are abandoned. But their place is filled by powerful men or groups — sinister pressure groups whose wickedness is responsible for all the evils we suffer from — such as the Learned Elders of Zion, or the monopolists, or the capitalists, or the imperialists.

I do not wish to imply that conspiracies never happen. On the contrary, they are typical social phenomena. They become important, for example, whenever people who believe in the conspiracy theory get into power. And people who sincerely believe that they know how to make heaven on earth are most likely to adopt the conspiracy theory, and to get involved in a counter-conspiracy against non-existing conspirators. For the only explanation of their failure to produce their heaven is the evil intention of the Devil, who has a vested interest in hell.

Conspiracies occur, it must be admitted. But the striking fact which, in spite of their occurrence, disproves the conspiracy theory is that few of these conspiracies are ultimately successful. Conspirators rarely consummate their conspiracy.

On several occasions Steiner also spoke on the conspiracy against Germany by international Freemasonry and Theosophy: “I have drawn your attention to the demonstrable fact that in the 1890’s certain occult brotherhoods in the West discussed the current world war, and that moreover the disciples of these occult brotherhoods were instructed with maps which showed how Europe was to be changed by this war. English occult brotherhoods in particular pointed to a war that had to come, that they positively steered toward, that they set the stage for.”

-- Anthroposophy and its Defenders, by Peter Staudenmaier and Peter Zegers

The clattering of hooves could be heard approaching along the street. It sounded near and metallic, then suddenly stopped. I leaped to the window and saw Demian dismounting below. I ran down.
"What is it, Demian?"

He paid no attention to my words. He was very pale and sweat poured down his cheeks. He tied the bridle of his steaming horse to the garden fence and took my arm and walked down the street with me.

"Have you heard about it?"  

I had heard nothing.

Demian squeezed my arm and turned his face toward me, with a strangely somber yet sympathetic look in his eyes.

"Yes, it's starting. You've heard about the difficulties with Russia."  

"What? Is it war?"

He spoke very softly although no one was anywhere near us.

"It hasn't been declared yet. But there will be war. You can take my word for that. I didn't want to worry you but I have seen omens on three different occasions since that time. So it won't be the end of the world, no earthquake, no revolution, but war. You'll see what a sensation that will be! People will love it. Even now they can hardly wait for the killing to begin -- their lives are that dull! But you will see, Sinclair, that this is only the beginning. Perhaps it will be a very big war, a war on a gigantic scale. But that, too, will only be the beginning. The new world has begun and the new world will be terrible for those clinging to the old. What will you do?"

I was dumfounded, it all sounded so strange, so improbable.

"I don't know -- and you?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

''I'll be called up as soon as the mobilization order comes through. I'm a lieutenant."

"You, a lieutenant! I had no idea."

"Yes, that was one of the ways I compromised. You know I dislike calling attention to myself so much I almost always went to the other extreme, just to give a correct impression. I believe I'll be on the front in a week."

"My God."

"Now don't get sentimental. Of course it's not going to be any fun ordering men to fire on living beings, but that will be incidental. Each of us will be caught up in the great chain of events. You, too, you'll be drafted, for sure."...

How curious all this was, and, fundamentally, how beautiful! And now there was to be war. What we had talked about so often was to begin. Demian had known so much about it ahead of time. How strange that the stream of the world was not to bypass us any more, that it now went straight through our hearts, and that now or very soon the moment would come when the world would need us, when it would seek to transform itself. Demian was right, one could not be sentimental about that. The only remarkable thing was that I was to share the very personal matter of my fate with so many others, with the whole world in fact. Well, so be it! ...

Soon there was war, and Demian, strangely unfamiliar in his uniform, left us. I accompanied his mother home. It was not long before I, too, took my leave of her. She kissed me on the mouth and clasped me for a moment to her breast. Her great eyes burned close and firmly into mine.

All men seemed to have become brothers -- overnight. They talked of "the fatherland" and of "honor," but what lay behind it was their own fate whose unveiled face they had now all beheld for one brief moment. Young men left their barracks, were packed into trains, and on many faces I saw a sign -- not ours -- but a beautiful, dignified sign nonetheless that meant love and death. I, too, was embraced by people whom I had never seen before and I understood this gesture and responded to it. Intoxication made them do it, not a hankering after their destiny. But this intoxication was sacred, for it was the result of their all having thrown that brief and terribly disquieting glance into the eyes of their fate.

-- Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth, by Hermann Hesse

It is true, it is true, what I speak is the greatness and intoxication and ugliness of madness.
But the spirit of the depths stepped up to me and said: "What you speak is. The greatness is, the intoxication is, the undignified, sick, paltry dailiness is. It runs in all the streets, lives in all the houses, and rules the day of all humanity. Even the eternal stars are commonplace. It is the great mistress and the one essence of God. One laughs about it, and laughter, too, is. Do you believe, man of this time, that laughter is lower than worship? Where is your measure, false measurer? The sum of life decides in laughter and in worship, not your judgment."  

I must also speak the ridiculous. You coming men! You will recognize the supreme meaning by the fact that he is laughter and worship, a bloody laughter and a bloody worship. A sacrificial blood binds the poles. Those who know this laugh and worship in the same breath.

After this, however, my humanity approached me and said: "What solitude, what coldness of desolation you lay upon me when you speak such! Reflect on the destruction of being and the streams of blood from the terrible sacrifice that the depths demand."

But the spirit of the depths said: "No one can or should halt sacrifice. Sacrifice is not destruction, sacrifice is the foundation stone of what is to come. Have you not had monasteries? Have not countless thousands gone into the desert? You should carry the monastery in yourself. The desert is within you. The desert calls you and draws you back, and if you were fettered to the world of this time with iron, the call of the desert would break all chains. Truly, I prepare you for solitude."

After this, my humanity remained silent. Something happened to my spirit, however, which I must call mercy.

My speech is imperfect. Not because I want to shine with words, but out of the impossibility of finding those words, I speak in images. With nothing else can I express the words from the depths.

The mercy which happened to me gave me belief, hope, and sufficient daring, not to resist further the spirit of the depths, but to utter his word. But before I could pull myself together to really do it, I needed a visible sign that would show me that the spirit of the depths in me was at the same time the ruler of the depths of world affairs.

It happened in October of the year 1913 as I was leaving alone for a journey, that during the day I was suddenly overcome in broad daylight by a vision: I saw a terrible flood that covered all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. It reached from England up to Russia, and from the coast of the North Sea right up to the Alps. I saw yellow waves, swimming rubble, and the death of countless thousands.

This vision lasted for two hours, it confused me and made me ill. I was not able to interpret it. Two weeks passed then the vision returned, still more violent than before, and an inner voice spoke: "Look at it, it is completely real, and it will come to pass. You cannot doubt this."...

From then on the anxiety toward the terrible event that stood directly before us kept coming back. Once I also saw a sea of blood over the northern lands.

In the year 1914 in the month of June, at the beginning and end of the month, and at the beginning of July, I had the same dream three times: I was in a foreign land, and suddenly, overnight and right in the middle of summer, a terrible cold descended from space. All seas and rivers were locked in ice, every green living thing had frozen.

The second dream was thoroughly similar to this. But the third dream at the beginning of July went as follows:

I was in a remote English land. It was necessary that I return to my homeland with a fast ship as speedily as possible. I reached home quickly. In my homeland I found that in the middle of summer a terrible cold had fallen from space, which had turned every living thing into ice. There stood a leaf-bearing but fruitless tree, whose leaves had turned into sweet grapes full of healing juice through the working of the frost. I picked some grapes and gave them to a great waiting throng.

In reality, now, it was so: At the time when the great war broke out between the peoples of Europe, I found myself in Scotland, compelled by the war to choose the fastest ship and the shortest route home. I encountered the colossal cold that froze everything, I met up with the flood, the sea of blood, and found my barren tree whose leaves the frost had transformed into a remedy. And I plucked the ripe fruit and gave it to you and I do not know what I poured out for you, what bitter-sweet intoxicating drink which left on your tongues an aftertaste of blood....

Therefore the spirit foretold to me that the cold of outer space will spread across the earth. With this he showed me in an image that the God will step between men and drive every individual with the whip of icy cold to the warmth of his own monastic hearth.

-- The Red Book: Liber Novus, by C.G. Jung

Mussolini's transformation away from Marxism into what eventually became fascism began prior to World War I, as Mussolini had grown increasingly pessimistic about Marxism and egalitarianism while becoming increasingly supportive of figures who opposed egalitarianism, such as Friedrich Nietzsche. By 1902, Mussolini was studying Georges Sorel, Nietzsche, and Vilfredo Pareto. Sorel's emphasis on the need for overthrowing decadent liberal democracy and capitalism by the use of violence, direct action, general strikes and neo-Machiavellian appeals to emotion impressed Mussolini deeply. His use of Nietzsche made him a highly unorthodox socialist, due to Nietzsche's promotion of elitism and anti-egalitarian views. Prior to World War I, Mussolini's writings over time indicated that he had abandoned the Marxism and egalitarianism that he had previously supported, in favour of Nietzsche's übermensch concept and anti-egalitarianism. In 1908, Mussolini wrote a short essay called "Philosophy of Strength" based on his Nietzschean influence, in which Mussolini openly spoke fondly of the ramifications of an impending war in Europe in challenging both religion and nihilism: "a new kind of free spirit will come, strengthened by the war, ... a spirit equipped with a kind of sublime perversity, ... a new free spirit will triumph over God and over Nothing." --

-- Fascism, by Wikipedia

Christianity, too, has fallen into a lower degree of contempt than ever. Realizing that it was moribund, it made a supreme and suicidal effort, and plunged into the death-spasm of the first world-war. It was too far corrupt to react to the injections of the White formula which might have saved it. We see today that Christianity is more bigoted, further divorced from reality, than ever. In some countries it has again become a persecuting church.

-- The Three Schools of Magick, Magick Without Tears, by Aleister Crowley

According to Wilhelm II, World War I resulted from a conspiracy between his enemies, the blood kin Czar Nicholas II and King George V, and their affiliated secret societies. --

The American Red Double-Cross, by Dr. Len Horowitz


The Moving Finger writes; and having writ, Moves on; nor all your Piety or Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

-- The Horror of It -- Camera Records of War's Gruesome Glories, by Frederick A. Barber

In 1933 Jung recalled: "At the outbreak of war I was in Inverness, and I returned through Holland and Germany. I came right through the armies going west, and I had the feeling that it was what one would call in German a Hochzeitsstimmung, a feast of love all over the country: Everything was decorated with flowers, it was an outburst of love, they all loved each other and everything was beautiful. Yes, the war was important, a big affair, but the main thing was the brotherly love all over the country, everybody was everybody else's brother, one could have everything anyone possessed, it did not matter. The peasants threw open their cellars and handed out what they had. That happened even in the restaurant and buffet at the railroad station. I was very hungry. I had had nothing to eat for about twenty-four hours, and they had some sandwiches left, and when I asked what they cost, they said, "Oh nothing, just take them!" And when I first crossed the border into Germany, we were led into an enormous tent full of beer and sausages and bread and cheese, and we paid nothing, it was one great feast of love."

-- The Red Book: Liber Novus, by C.G. Jung

War I abhor, And yet how sweet The sound along the marching street Of drum and fife, and I forget Broken old mothers, and the whole Dark butchery without a soul. Oh, it is wickedness to clothe Yon hideous, grinning thing that stalks Hidden in music, like a queen That in a garden of glory walks Till good men love the thing they loathe; Art, thou hast many infamies, But not an infamy like this. Oh, snap the fife and still the drum, And show the monster like she is.

-- The Horror of It -- Camera Records of War's Gruesome Glories, by Frederick A. Barber

Why is this so? Why do achievements differ so widely from aspirations? Because this is usually the case in social life, conspiracy or no conspiracy. Social life is not only a trial of strength between opposing groups: it is action within a more or less resilient or brittle framework of institutions and traditions, and it creates — apart from any conscious counter-action — many unforeseen reactions in this framework, some of them perhaps even unforeseeable.

To try to analyse these reactions and to foresee them as far as possible is, I believe, the main task of the social sciences. It is the task of analysing the unintended social repercussions of intentional human actions — those repercussions whose significance is neglected both by the conspiracy theory and by psychologism, as already indicated. An action which proceeds precisely according to intention does not create a problem for social science (except that there may be a need to explain why in this particular case no unintended repercussions occurred). One of the most primitive economic actions may serve as an example in order to make the idea of unintended consequences of our actions quite clear. If a man wishes urgently to buy a house, we can safely assume that he does not wish to raise the market price of houses. But the very fact that he appears on the market as a buyer will tend to raise market prices. And analogous remarks hold for the seller. Or to take an example from a very different field, if a man decides to insure his life, he is unlikely to have the intention of encouraging some people to invest their money in insurance shares. But he will do so nevertheless. We see here clearly that not all consequences of our actions are intended consequences; and accordingly, that the conspiracy theory of society cannot be true because it amounts to the assertion that all results, even those which at first sight do not seem to be intended by anybody, are the intended results of the actions of people who are interested in these results.

The examples given do not refute psychologism as easily as they refute the conspiracy theory, for one can argue that it is the sellers' knowledge of a buyer's presence in the market, and their hope of getting a higher price — in other words, psychological factors — which explain the repercussions described. This, of course, is quite true; but we must not forget that this knowledge and this hope are not ultimate data of human nature, and that they are, in their turn, explicable in terms of the social situation — the market situation.

This social situation is hardly reducible to motives and to the general laws of 'human nature'. Indeed, the interference of certain 'traits of human nature', such as our susceptibility to propaganda, may sometimes lead to deviations from the economic behaviour just mentioned. Furthermore, if the social situation is different from the one envisaged, then it is possible that the consumer, by the action of buying, may indirectly contribute to a cheapening of the article; for instance, by making its mass-production more profitable. And although this effect happens to further his interest as a consumer, it may have been caused just as involuntarily as the opposite effect, and altogether under precisely similar psychological conditions. It seems clear that the social situations which may lead to such widely different unwanted or unintended repercussions must be studied by a social science which is not bound to the prejudice that 'it is imperative never to introduce any generalization into the social sciences until sufficient grounds can be pointed out in human nature', as Mill said [12]. They must be studied by an autonomous social science.

Continuing this argument against psychologism we may say that our actions are to a very large extent explicable in terms of the situation in which they occur. Of course, they are never fully explicable in terms of the situation alone; an explanation of the way in which a man, when crossing a street, dodges the cars which move on it may go beyond the situation, and may refer his motives, to an 'instinct' of self-preservation, or to his wish to avoid pain, etc. But this 'psychological' part of the explanation is very often trivial, as compared with the detailed determination of his action by what we may call the logic of the situation', and besides, it is impossible to include all psychological factors in the description of the situation. The analysis of situations, the situational logic, plays a very important part in social life as well as in the social sciences. It is, in fact, the method of economic analysis. As to an example outside economics, I refer to the 'logic of power' [13], which we may use in order to explain the moves of power politics as well as the working of certain political institutions. The method of applying a situational logic to the social sciences is not based on any psychological assumption concerning the rationality (or otherwise) of 'human nature'. On the contrary: when we speak of 'rational behaviour' or of 'irrational behaviour' then we mean behaviour which is, or which is not, in accordance with the logic of that situation. In fact, the psychological analysis of an action in terms of its (rational or irrational) motives presupposes — as has been pointed out by Max Weber [14] — that we have previously developed some standard of what is to be considered as rational in the situation in question.

My arguments against psychologism should not be misunderstood [15]. They are not, of course, intended to show that psychological studies and discoveries are of little importance for the social scientist. They mean, rather, that psychology — the psychology of the individual — is one of the social sciences, even though it is not the basis of all social science. Nobody would deny the importance for political science of psychological facts such as the craving for power, and the various neurotic phenomena connected with it. But 'craving for power' is undoubtedly a social notion as well as a psychological one: we must not forget that, if we study, for example, the first appearance in childhood of this craving, then we study it in the setting of a certain social institution, for example, that of our modern family. (The Eskimo family may give rise to rather different phenomena.) Another psychological fact which is significant for sociology, and which raises grave political and institutional problems, is that to live in the haven of a tribe, or of a 'community' approaching a tribe, is for many men an emotional necessity (especially for young people who, perhaps in accordance with a parallelism between ontogenetic and phylogenetic development, seem to have to pass through a tribal or 'American-Indian' stage). That my attack on psychologism is not intended as an attack on all psychological considerations may be seen from the use I have made (in chapter 10) of such a concept as the 'strain of civilization' which is partly the result of this unsatisfied emotional need. This concept refers to certain feelings of uneasiness, and is therefore a psychological concept. But at the same time, it is a sociological concept also; for it characterizes these feelings not only as unpleasant and unsettling, etc., but relates them to a certain social situation, and to the contrast between an open and a closed society. (Many psychological concepts such as ambition or love have an analogous status.) Also, we must not overlook the great merits which psychologism has acquired by advocating a methodological individualism and by opposing a methodological collectivism; for it lends support to the important doctrine that all social phenomena, and especially the functioning of all social institutions, should always be understood as resulting from the decisions, actions, attitudes, etc., of human individuals, and that we should never be satisfied by an explanation in terms of so-called 'collectives' (states, nations, races, etc.). The mistake of psychologism is its presumption that this methodological individualism in the field of social science implies the programme of reducing all social phenomena and all social regularities to psychological phenomena and psychological laws. The danger of this presumption is its inclination towards historicism, as we have seen. That it is unwarranted is shown by the need for a theory of the unintended social repercussions of our actions, and by the need for what I have described as the logic of social situations.

In defending and developing Marx's view that the problems of society are irreducible to those of 'human nature', I have permitted myself to go beyond the arguments actually propounded by Marx. Marx did not speak of 'psychologism', nor did he criticize it systematically; nor was it Mill whom he had in mind in the epigram quoted at the beginning of this chapter. The force of this epigram is directed, rather, against 'idealism', in its Hegelian form. Yet so far as the problem of the psychological nature of society is concerned, Mill's psychologism can be said to coincide with the idealist theory combated by Marx [16]. As it happened, however, it was just the influence of another element in Hegelianism, namely Hegel's Platonizing collectivism, his theory that the state and the nation is more 'real' than the individual who owes everything to them, that led Marx to the view expounded in this chapter. (An instance of the fact that one can sometimes extract a valuable suggestion even from an absurd philosophical theory.) Thus, historically, Marx developed certain of Hegel's views concerning the superiority of society over the individual, and used them as arguments against other views of Hegel. Yet since I consider Mill a worthier opponent than Hegel, I have not kept to the history of Marx's ideas, but have tried to develop them in the form of an argument against Mill.  
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:19 am

15: Economic Historicism

To see Marx presented in this way, that is to say, as an opponent of any psychological theory of society, may possibly surprise some Marxists as well as some anti-Marxists. For there seem to be many who believe in a very different story. Marx, they think, taught the all-pervading influence of the economic motive in the life of men; he succeeded in explaining its overpowering strength by showing that 'man's overmastering need was to get the means of living' [1]; he thus demonstrated the fundamental importance of such categories as the profit motive or the motive of class interest for the actions not only of individuals but also of social groups; and he showed how to use these categories for explaining the course of history. Indeed, they think that the very essence of Marxism is the doctrine that economic motives and especially class interest are the driving forces of history, and that it is precisely this doctrine to which the name 'materialistic interpretation of history' or 'historical materialism' alludes, a name by which Marx and Engels tried to characterize the essence of their teaching.

Such opinions are very common; but I have no doubt that they misinterpret Marx. Those who admire him for having held them, I may call Vulgar Marxists (alluding to the name 'Vulgar Economist' given by Marx to certain of his opponents [2]). The average Vulgar Marxist believes that Marxism lays bare the sinister secrets of social life by revealing the hidden motives of greed and lust for material gain which actuate the powers behind the scenes of history; powers that cunningly and consciously create war, depression, unemployment, hunger in the midst of plenty, and all the other forms of social misery, in order to gratify their vile desires for profit. (And the Vulgar Marxist is sometimes seriously concerned with the problem of reconciling the claims of Marx with those of Freud and Adler; and if he does not choose the one or the other of them, he may perhaps decide that hunger, love and lust for power [3] are the Three Great Hidden Motives of Human Nature brought to light by Marx, Freud, and Adler, the Three Great Makers of the modern man's philosophy....)

Whether or not such views are tenable and attractive, they certainly seem to have very little to do with the doctrine which Marx called 'historical materialism'. It must be admitted that he sometimes speaks of such psychological phenomena as greed and the profit motive, etc., but never in order to explain history. He interpreted them, rather, as symptoms of the corrupting influence of the social system, i.e. of a system of institutions developed during the course of history; as effects rather than causes of corruption; as repercussions rather than moving forces of history. Rightly or wrongly, he saw in such phenomena as war, depression, unemployment, and hunger in the midst of plenty, not the result of a cunning conspiracy on the part of 'big business' or of 'imperialist war-mongers', but the unwanted social consequences of actions, directed towards different results, by agents who are caught in the network of the social system. He looked upon the human actors on the stage of history, including the 'big' ones, as mere puppets, irresistibly pulled by economic wires — by historical forces over which they have no control. The stage of history, he taught, is set in a social system which binds us all; it is set in the 'kingdom of necessity'. (But one day the puppets will destroy this system and attain the 'kingdom of freedom'.)

This doctrine of Marx's has been abandoned by most of his followers — perhaps for propagandist reasons, perhaps because they did not understand him — and a Vulgar Marxist Conspiracy Theory has very largely replaced the ingenious and highly original Marxian doctrine. It is a sad intellectual come-down, this come-down from the level of Capital to that of The Myth of the 20th Century.

Yet such was Marx's own philosophy of history, usually called 'historical materialism'. It will be the main theme of these chapters. In the present chapter, I shall explain in broad outlines its 'materialist' or economic emphasis; after that, I shall discuss in more detail the role of class war and class interest and the Marxist conception of a 'social system'.


The exposition of Marx's economic historicism [4] can be conveniently linked up with our comparison between Marx and Mill. Marx agrees with Mill in the belief that social phenomena must be explained historically, and that we must try to understand any historical period as a historical product of previous developments. The point where he departs from Mill is, as we have seen, Mill's psychologism (corresponding to Hegel's idealism). This is replaced in Marx's teaching by what he calls materialism.

Much has been said about Marx's materialism that is quite untenable. The often repeated claim that Marx does not recognize anything beyond the 'lower' or 'material' aspects of human life is an especially ridiculous distortion. (It is another repetition of that most ancient of all reactionary libels against the defenders of freedom, Heraclitus' slogan that 'they fill their bellies like the beasts' [5].) But in this sense, Marx cannot be called a materialist at all, even though he was strongly influenced by the eighteenth-century French Materialists, and even though he used to call himself a materialist, which is well in keeping with a good number of his doctrines. For there are some important passages which can hardly be interpreted as materialistic. The truth is, I think, that he was not much concerned with purely philosophical issues — less than Engels or Lenin, for instance — and that it was mainly the sociological and methodological side of the problem in which he was interested.

There is a well-known passage in Capital [6], where Marx says that 'in Hegel's writing, dialectics stands on its head; one must turn it the right way up again ...' Its tendency is clear. Marx wished to show that the 'head', i.e. human thought, is not itself the basis of human life but rather a kind of superstructure, on a physical basis. A similar tendency is expressed in the passage: 'The ideal is nothing other than the material when it has been transposed and translated inside the human head. ' But it has not, perhaps, been sufficiently recognized that these passages do not exhibit a radical form of materialism; rather, they indicate a certain leaning towards a dualism of body and mind. It is, so to speak, a practical dualism. Although, theoretically, mind was to Marx apparently only another form (or another aspect, or perhaps an epi-phenomenon) of matter, in practice it is different from matter, since it is another form of it. The passages quoted indicate that although our feet have to be kept, as it were, on the firm ground of the material world, our heads — and Marx thought highly of human heads — are concerned with thoughts or ideas. In my opinion, Marxism and its influence cannot be appreciated unless we recognize this dualism.

Marx loved freedom, real freedom (not Hegel's 'real freedom'). And as far as I am able to see he followed Hegel's famous equation of freedom with spirit, in so far as he believed that we can be free only as spiritual beings. At the same time he recognized in practice (as a practical dualist) that we are spirit and flesh, and, realistically enough, that the flesh is the fundamental one of these two. This is why he turned against Hegel, and why he said that Hegel puts things upside down. But although he recognized that the material world and its necessities are fundamental, he did not feel any love for the 'kingdom of necessity', as he called a society which is in bondage to its material needs. He cherished the spiritual world, the 'kingdom of freedom', and the spiritual side of 'human nature', as much as any Christian dualist; and in his writings there are even traces of hatred and contempt for the material. What follows may show that this interpretation of Marx's views can be supported by his own text.

In a passage of the third volume of Capital [7], Marx very aptly describes the material side of social life, and especially its economic side, that of production and consumption, as an extension of human metabolism, i.e. of man's exchange of matter with nature. He clearly states that our freedom must always be limited by the necessities of this metabolism. All that can be achieved in the direction of making us more free, he says, is 'to conduct this metabolism rationally, . . . with a minimum expenditure of energy and under conditions most dignified and adequate to human nature. Yet it will still remain the kingdom of necessity. Only outside and beyond it can that development of human faculties begin which constitutes an end in itself — the true kingdom of freedom. But this can flourish only on the ground occupied by the kingdom of necessity, which remains its basis ...' Immediately before this, Marx says: 'The kingdom of freedom actually begins only where drudgery, enforced by hardship and by external purposes, ends; it thus lies, quite naturally, beyond the sphere of proper material production. ' And he ends the whole passage by drawing a practical conclusion which clearly shows that it was his sole aim to open the way into that non-materialist kingdom of freedom for all men alike: 'The shortening of the labour day is the fundamental prerequisite.'

In my opinion this passage leaves no doubt regarding what I have called the dualism of Marx's practical view of life. With Hegel he thinks that freedom is the aim of historical development. With Hegel he identifies the realm of freedom with that of man's mental life. But he recognizes that we are not purely spiritual beings; that we are not fully free, nor capable of ever achieving full freedom, unable as we shall always be to emancipate ourselves entirely from the necessities of our metabolism, and thus from productive toil. All we can achieve is to improve upon the exhausting and undignified conditions of labour, to make them more worthy of man, to equalize them, and to reduce drudgery to such an extent that all of us can be free for some part of our lives. This, I believe, is the central idea of Marx's 'view of life'; central also in so far as it seems to me to be the most influential of his doctrines.

With this view, we must now combine the methodological determinism which has been discussed above (in chapter 13). According to this doctrine, the scientific treatment of society, and scientific historical prediction, are possible only in so far as society is determined by its past. But this implies that science can deal only with the kingdom of necessity. If it were possible for men ever to become perfectly free, then historical prophecy, and with it, social science, would come to an end. 'Free' spiritual activity as such, if it existed, would lie beyond the reach of science, which must always ask for causes, for determinants. It can therefore deal with our mental life only in so far as our thoughts and ideas are caused or determined or necessitated by the 'kingdom of necessity', by the material, and especially by the economic conditions of our life, by our metabolism. Thoughts and ideas can be treated scientifically only by considering, on the one hand, the material conditions under which they originated, i.e. the economic conditions of the life of the men who originated them, and on the other hand, the material conditions under which they were assimilated, i.e. the economic conditions of the men who adopted them. Hence from the scientific or causal point of view, thoughts and ideas must be treated as 'ideological superstructures on the basis of economic conditions'. Marx, in opposition to Hegel, contended that the clue to history, even to the history of ideas, is to be found in the development of the relations between man and his natural environment, the material world; that is to say, in his economic life, and not in his spiritual life. This is why we may describe Marx's brand of historicism as economism, as opposed to Hegel's idealism or to Mill's psychologism. But it signifies a complete misunderstanding if we identify Marx's economism with that kind of materialism which implies a depreciatory attitude towards man's mental life. Marx's vision of the 'kingdom of freedom', i.e. of a partial but equitable liberation of men from the bondage of their material nature, might rather be described as idealistic.

Considered in this way, the Marxist view of life appears to be consistent enough; and I believe that such apparent contradictions and difficulties as have been found in its partly determinist and partly libertarian view of human activities disappear.


The bearing of what I have called Marx's dualism and his scientific determinism on his view of history is plain. Scientific history, which to him is identical with social science as a whole, must explore the laws according to which man's exchange of matter with nature develops. Its central task must be the explanation of the development of the conditions of production. Social relationships have historical and scientific significance only in proportion to the degree in which they are bound up with the productive process — affecting it, or perhaps affected by it. 'Just as the savage must wrestle with nature in order to satisfy his needs, to keep alive, and to reproduce, so must the civilized man; and he must continue to do so in all forms of society and under all possible forms of production. This kingdom of necessity expands with its development, and so does the range of human needs. Yet at the same time, there is an expansion of the productive forces which satisfy these needs.' [8] This, in brief, is Marx's view of man's history.

Similar views are expressed by Engels. The expansion of modern means of production, according to Engels, has created 'for the first time ... the possibility of securing for every member of society ... an existence not only . . . sufficient from a material point of view, but also . . . warranting the . . . development and exercise of his physical and mental faculties' [9]. With this, freedom becomes possible, i.e. the emancipation from the flesh. 'At this point ... man finally cuts himself off from the animal world, leaves ... animal existence behind him and enters conditions which are really human.' Man is in fetters exactly in so far as he is dominated by economics; when 'the domination of the product over producers disappears man ... becomes, for the first time, the conscious and real master of nature, by becoming master of his own social environment ... Not until then will man himself, in full consciousness, make his own history ... It is humanity's leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom.'

If now again we compare Marx's version of historicism with that of Mill, then we find that Marx's economism can easily solve the difficulty which I have shown to be fatal to Mill's psychologism. I have in mind the rather monstrous doctrine of a beginning of society which can be explained in psychological terms — a doctrine which I have described as the psychologistic version of the social contract. This idea has no parallel in Marx's theory. To replace the priority of psychology by the priority of economics creates no analogous difficulty, since 'economics' covers man's metabolism, the exchange of matter between man and nature. Whether this metabolism has always been socially organized, even in pre-human times, or whether it was once dependent solely on the individual, can be left an open question. No more is assumed than that the science of society must coincide with the history of the development of the economic conditions of society, usually called by Marx 'the conditions of production'.

It may be noted, in parentheses, that the Marxist term 'production' was certainly intended to be used in a wide sense, covering the whole economic process, including distribution and consumption. But these latter never received much attention from Marx and the Marxists. Their prevailing interest remained production in the narrow sense of the word. This is just another example of the naive historico-genetic attitude, of the belief that science must only ask for causes, so that, even in the realm of man-made things, it must ask 'Who has made it?' and 'What is it made of?' rather than 'Who is going to use it?' and 'What is it made for?'


If we now proceed to a criticism as well as to an appreciation of Marx's 'historical materialism', or of so much of it as has been presented so far, then we may distinguish two different aspects. The first is historicism, the claim that the realm of social sciences coincides with that of the historical or evolutionary method, and especially with historical prophecy. This claim, I think, must be dismissed. The second is economism (or 'materialism'), i.e. the claim that the economic organization of society, the organization of our exchange of matter with nature, is fundamental for all social institutions and especially for their historical development. This claim, I believe, is perfectly sound, so long as we take the term 'fundamental' in an ordinary vague sense, not laying too much stress upon it. In other words, there can be no doubt that practically all social studies, whether institutional or historical, may profit if they are carried out with an eye to the 'economic conditions' of society. Even the history of an abstract science such as mathematics is no exception [10]. In this sense, Marx's economism can be said to represent an extremely valuable advance in the methods of social science.

But, as I said before, we must not take the term 'fundamental' too seriously. Marx himself undoubtedly did so. Owing to his Hegelian upbringing, he was influenced by the ancient distinction between 'reality' and 'appearance', and by the corresponding distinction between what is 'essential' and what is 'accidental'. His own improvement upon Hegel (and Kant) he was inclined to see in the identification of 'reality' with the material world [11] (including man's metabolism), and of 'appearance' with the world of thoughts or ideas. Thus all thoughts and ideas would have to be explained by reducing them to the underlying essential reality, i.e. to economic conditions. This philosophical view is certainly not much better [12] than any other form of essentialism. And its repercussions in the field of method must result in an over-emphasis upon economism. For although the general importance of Marx's economism can hardly be overrated, it is very easy to overrate the importance of the economic conditions in any particular case. Some knowledge of economic conditions may contribute considerably, for example, to a history of the problems of mathematics, but a knowledge of the problems of mathematics themselves is much more important for that purpose; and it is even possible to write a very good history of mathematical problems without referring at all to their 'economic background'. (In my opinion, the 'economic conditions' or the 'social relations' of science are themes which can easily be overdone, and which are liable to degenerate into platitude.)

This, however, is only a minor example of the danger of over-stressing economism. Often it is sweepingly interpreted as the doctrine that all social development depends upon that of economic conditions, and especially upon the development of the physical means of production. But such a doctrine is palpably false. There is an interaction between economic conditions and ideas, and not simply a unilateral dependence of the latter on the former. If anything, we might even assert that certain 'ideas', those which constitute our knowledge, are more fundamental than the more complex material means of production, as may be seen from the following consideration. Imagine that our economic system, including all machinery and all social organizations, was destroyed one day, but that technical and scientific knowledge was preserved. In such a case it might conceivably not take very long before it was reconstructed (on a smaller scale, and after many had starved). But imagine all knowledge of these matters to disappear, while the material things were preserved. This would be tantamount to what would happen if a savage tribe occupied a highly industrialized but deserted country. It would soon lead to the complete disappearance of all the material relics of civilization.

It is ironical that the history of Marxism itself furnishes an example that clearly falsifies this exaggerated economism. Marx's idea 'Workers of all countries, unite!' was of the greatest significance down to the eve of the Russian Revolution, and it had its influence upon economic conditions. But with the revolution, the situation became very difficult, simply because, as Lenin himself admitted, there were no further constructive ideas. (See chapter 13.) Then Lenin had some new ideas which may be briefly summarized in the slogan: 'Socialism is the dictatorship of the proletariat, plus the widest introduction of the most modern electrical machinery.' It was this new idea that became the basis of a development which changed the whole economic and material background of one-sixth of the world. In a fight against tremendous odds, uncounted material difficulties were overcome, uncounted material sacrifices were made, in order to alter, or rather, to build up from nothing, the conditions of production. And the driving power of this development was the enthusiasm for an idea. This example shows that in certain circumstances, ideas may revolutionize the economic conditions of a country, instead of being moulded by these conditions. Using Marx's terminology, we could say that he had underrated the power of the kingdom of freedom and its chances of conquering the kingdom of necessity.

The glaring contrast between the development of the Russian Revolution and Marx's metaphysical theory of an economic reality and its ideological appearance can best be seen from the following passages: 'In considering such revolutions', Marx writes, 'it is necessary always to distinguish between the material revolution in the economic conditions of production, which fall within the scope of exact scientific determination, and the juridical, political, religious, aesthetic, or philosophic — in a word, ideological forms of appearance . . .' [13] In Marx's view, it is vain to expect that any important change can be achieved by the use of legal or political means; a political revolution can only lead to one set of rulers giving way to another set — a mere exchange of the persons who act as rulers. Only the evolution of the underlying essence, the economic reality, can produce any essential or real change — a social revolution. And only when such a social revolution has become a reality, only then can a political revolution be of any significance. But even in this case, the political revolution is only the outward expression of the essential or real change that has occurred before. In accordance with this theory, Marx asserts that every social revolution develops in the following way. The material conditions of production grow and mature until they begin to conflict with the social and legal relations, outgrowing them like clothes, until they burst. 'Then an epoch of social revolution opens', Marx writes. 'With the change in the economic foundation, the whole vast super-structure is more or less rapidly transformed ... New, more highly productive relationships' (within the superstructure) 'never come into being before the material conditions for their existence have been brought to maturity within the womb of the old society itself.' In view of this statement, it is, I believe, impossible to identify the Russian Revolution with the social revolution prophesied by Marx; it has, in fact, no similarity with it whatever [14].

It may be noted in this connection that Marx's friend, the poet H. Heine, thought very differently about these matters. 'Mark this, ye proud men of action', he writes; 'ye are nothing but unconscious instruments of the men of thought who, often in humblest seclusion, have appointed you to your inevitable task. Maximilian Robespierre was merely the hand of Jean-Jacques Rousseau ...'
[15] (Something like this might perhaps be said of the relationship between Lenin and Marx.) We see that Heine was, in Marx's terminology, an idealist, and that he applied his idealistic interpretation of history to the French Revolution, which was one of the most important instances used by Marx in favour of his economism, and which indeed seemed to fit this doctrine not so badly — especially if we compare it now with the Russian Revolution. Yet in spite of this heresy, Heine remained Marx's friend [16]; for in those happy days, excommunication for heresy was still rather uncommon among those who fought for the open society, and tolerance was still tolerated.

My criticism of Marx's 'historical materialism' must certainly not be interpreted as expressing any preference for Hegelian 'idealism' over Marx's 'materialism'; I hope I have made it clear that in this conflict between idealism and materialism my sympathies are with Marx. What I wish to show is that Marx's 'materialist interpretation of history', valuable as it may be, must not be taken too seriously; that we must regard it as nothing more than a most valuable suggestion to us to consider things in their relation to their economic background.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:48 am

16: The Classes

An important place among the various formulations of Marx's 'historical materialism' is occupied by his (and Engels') statement: 'The history of all hitherto existing society is a history of class struggle.' [1] The tendency of this statement is clear. It implies that history is propelled and the fate of man determined by the war of classes and not by the war of nations (as opposed to the views of Hegel and of the majority of historians). In the causal explanation of historical developments, including national wars, class interest must take the place of that allegedly national interest which, in reality, is only the interest of a nation's ruling class. But over and above this, class struggle and class interest are capable of explaining phenomena which traditional history may in general not even attempt to explain. An example of such a phenomenon which is of great significance for Marxist theory is the historical trend towards increasing productivity. Even though it may perhaps record such a trend, traditional history, with its fundamental category of military power, is quite unable to explain this phenomenon. Class interest and class war, however, can explain it fully, according to Marx; indeed, a considerable part of Capital is devoted to the analysis of the mechanism by which, within the period called by Marx 'capitalism', an increase in productivity is brought about by these forces.

How is the doctrine of class war related to the institutionalist doctrine of the autonomy of sociology discussed above [2]? At first sight it may seem that these two doctrines are in open conflict, for in the doctrine of class war, a fundamental part is played by class interest, which apparently is a kind of motive. But I do not think that there is any serious inconsistency in this part of Marx's theory. And I should even say that nobody has understood Marx, and particularly that major achievement of his, anti-psychologism, who does not see how it can be reconciled with the theory of class struggle. We need not assume, as Vulgar Marxists do, that class interest must be interpreted psychologically. There may be a few passages in Marx's own writings that savour a little of this Vulgar Marxism, but wherever he makes serious use of anything like class interest, he always means a thing within the realm of autonomous sociology, and not a psychological category. He means a thing, a situation, and not a state of mind, a thought, or a feeling of being interested in a thing. It is simply that thing or that social institution or situation which is advantageous to a class. The interest of a class is simply everything that furthers its power or its prosperity.

According to Marx, class interest in this institutional, or, if we may say so, 'objective', sense exerts a decisive influence on human minds. Using Hegelian jargon, we might say that the objective interest of a class becomes conscious in the subjective minds of its members; it makes them class-interested and class-conscious, and it makes them act accordingly. Class interest as an institutional or objective social situation, and its influence upon human minds, is described by Marx in the epigram which I have quoted (at the beginning of chapter 14): 'It is not the consciousness of man that determines his existence — rather, it is his social existence that determines his consciousness.' To this epigram we need add only the remark that it is, more precisely, the place where man stands in society, his class situation, by which, according to Marxism, his consciousness is determined.

Marx gives some indication of how this process of determination works. As we learned from him in the last chapter, we can be free only in so far as we emancipate ourselves from the productive process. But now we shall learn that, in any hitherto existing society, we were not free even to that extent. For how could we, he asks, emancipate ourselves from the productive process? Only by making others do the dirty work for us. We are thus forced to use them as means for our ends; we must degrade them. We can buy a greater degree of freedom only at the cost of enslaving other men, by splitting mankind into classes; the ruling class gains freedom at the cost of the ruled class, the slaves. But this fact has the consequence that the members of the ruling class must pay for their freedom by a new kind of bondage. They are bound to oppress and to fight the ruled, if they wish to preserve their own freedom and their own status; they are compelled to do this, since he who does not do so ceases to belong to the ruling class. Thus the rulers are determined by their class situation; they cannot escape from their social relation to the ruled; they are bound to them, since they are bound to the social metabolism. Thus all, rulers as well as ruled, are caught in the net, and forced to fight one another. According to Marx, it is this bondage, this determination, which brings their struggle within the reach of scientific method, and of scientific historical prophecy; which makes it possible to treat the history of society scientifically, as the history of class struggle. This social net in which the classes are caught, and forced to struggle against one another, is what Marxism calls the economic structure of society, or the social system.

According to this theory, social systems or class systems change with the conditions of production, since on these conditions depends the way in which the rulers can exploit and fight the ruled. To every particular period of economic development corresponds a particular social system, and a historical period is best characterized by its social system of classes; this is why we speak of 'feudalism', 'capitalism', etc. 'The hand- mill', Marx writes [3], 'gives you a society with the feudal lord; the steam- mill gives you a society with the industrial capitalist.' The class relations that characterize the social system are independent of the individual man's will. The social system thus resembles a vast machine in which the individuals are caught and crushed. 'In the social production of their means of existence', Marx writes [4], 'men enter into definite and unavoidable relations which are independent of their will. These productive relationships correspond to the particular stage in the development of their material productive forces. The system of all these productive relationships constitutes the economic structure of society', i.e. the social system.

Although it has a kind of logic of its own, this social system works blindly, not reasonably. Those who are caught in its machinery are, in general, blind too — or nearly so. They cannot even foresee some of the most important repercussions of their actions. One man may make it impossible for many to procure an article which is available in large quantities; he may buy just a trifle and thereby prevent a slight decrease of price at a critical moment. Another may in the goodness of his heart distribute his riches, but by thus contributing to a lessening of the class struggle, he may cause a delay in the liberation of the oppressed. Since it is quite impossible to foresee the more remote social repercussions of our actions, since we are one and all caught in the network, we cannot seriously attempt to cope with it. We obviously cannot influence it from outside; but blind as we are, we cannot even make any plan for its improvement from within. Social engineering is impossible, and a social technology therefore useless. We cannot impose our interests upon the social system; instead, the system forces upon us what we are led to believe to be our interests. It does so by forcing us to act in accordance with our class interest. It is vain to lay on the individual, even on the individual 'capitalist' or 'bourgeois', the blame for the injustice, for the immorality of social conditions, since it is this very system of conditions that forces the capitalist to act as he does. And it is also vain to hope that circumstances may be improved by improving men; rather, men will be better if the system in which they live is better. 'Only in so far', Marx writes in Capital [5], 'as the capitalist is personified capital does he play a historical role ... But exactly to that extent, his motive is not to obtain and to enjoy useful commodities, but to increase the production of commodities for exchange' (his real historical task). 'Fanatically bent upon the expansion of value, he ruthlessly drives human beings to produce for production's sake . . . With the miser, he shares the passion for wealth. But what is a kind of mania in the miser is in the capitalist the effect of the social mechanism in which he is only a driving-wheel ... Capitalism subjects any individual capitalist to the immanent laws of capitalist production, laws which are external and coercive. Without respite, competition forces him to extend his capital for the sake of maintaining it.'

This is the way in which, according to Marx, the social system determines the actions of the individual; the ruler as well as the ruled; capitalist or bourgeois as well as proletarian. It is an illustration of what has been called above the 'logic of a social situation'. To a considerable degree, all the actions of a capitalist are 'a mere function of the capital which, through his instrumentality, is endowed with will and consciousness', as Marx puts it [6], in his Hegelian style. But this means that the social system determines their thoughts too; for thoughts, or ideas, are partly instruments of actions, and partly — that is, if they are publicly expressed — an important kind of social action; for in this case, they are immediately aimed at influencing the actions of other members of the society. By thus determining human thoughts, the social system, and especially the 'objective interest' of a class, becomes conscious in the subjective minds of its members (as we said before in Hegelian jargon [7]). Class struggle, as well as competition between the members of the same class, are the means by which this is achieved.

We have seen why, according to Marx, social engineering, and consequently, a social technology, are impossible; it is because the causal chain of dependence binds us to the social system, and not vice versa. But although we cannot alter the social system at will [8], capitalists as well as workers are bound to contribute to its transformation, and to our ultimate liberation from its fetters. By driving 'human beings to produce for production's sake' [9], the capitalist coerces them 'to develop the forces of social productivity, and to create those material conditions of production which alone can form the material bases of a higher type of society whose fundamental principle is the full and free development of every human individual.' In this way, even the members of the capitalist class must play their role on the stage of history and further the ultimate coming of socialism.

In view of subsequent arguments, a linguistic remark may be added here on the Marxist terms usually translated by the words 'class- conscious' and 'class consciousness'. These terms indicate, first of all, the result of the process analysed above, by which the objective class situation (class interest as well as class struggle) gains consciousness in the minds of its members, or, to express the same thought in a language less dependent on Hegel, by which members of a class become conscious of their class situation. Being class-conscious, they know not only their place but their true class interest as well. But over and above this, the original German word used by Marx suggests something which is usually lost in the translation. The term is derived from, and alludes to, a common German word which became part of Hegel's jargon. Though its literal translation would be 'self-conscious', this word has even in common use rather the meaning of being conscious of one's worth and powers, i.e. of being proud and fully assured of oneself, and even self- satisfied. Accordingly, the term translated as 'class-conscious' means in German not simply this, but rather, 'assured or proud of one's class', and bound to it by the consciousness of the need for solidarity. This is why Marx and the Marxists apply it nearly exclusively to the workers, and hardly ever to the 'bourgeoisie'. The class-conscious proletarian — this is the worker who is not only aware of his class situation, but who is also class-proud, fully assured of the historical mission of his class, and believing that its unflinching fight will bring about a better world.

How does he know that this will happen? Because being class-conscious, he must be a Marxist. The Marxist theory itself and its scientific prophecy of the advent of socialism are part and parcel of the historical process by which the class situation 'emerges into consciousness', establishing itself in the minds of the workers.


My criticism of Marx's theory of the classes, as far as its historicist emphasis goes, follows the lines taken up in the last chapter. The formula 'all history is a history of class struggle' is very valuable as a suggestion that we should look into the important part played by class struggle in power politics as well as in other developments; this suggestion is the more valuable since Plato's brilliant analysis of the part played by class struggle in the history of Greek city states was only rarely taken up in later times. But again, we must not, of course, take Marx's word 'all' too seriously. Not even the history of class issues is always a history of class struggle in the Marxian sense, considering the important part played by dissension within the classes themselves. Indeed, the divergence of interests within both the ruling and the ruled classes goes so far that Marx's theory of classes must be considered as a dangerous over- simplification, even if we admit that the issue between the rich and the poor is always of fundamental importance. One of the great themes of medieval history, the fight between popes and emperors, is an example of dissension within the ruling class. It would be palpably false to interpret this quarrel as one between exploiter and exploited. (Of course, one can widen Marx's concept 'class' so as to cover this and similar cases, and narrow the concept 'history', until ultimately Marx's doctrine becomes trivially true — a mere tautology; but this would rob it of any significance.)

One of the dangers of Marx's formula is that if taken too seriously, it misleads Marxists into interpreting all political conflicts as struggles between exploiters and exploited (or else as attempts to cover up the 'real issue', the underlying class conflict). As a consequence there were Marxists, especially in Germany, who interpreted a war such as the First World War as one between the revolutionary or 'have-not' Central Powers and an alliance of conservative or 'have' countries — a kind of interpretation which might be used to excuse any aggression. This is only one example of the danger inherent in Marx's sweeping historicist generalization.

On the other hand, his attempt to use what may be called the 'logic of the class situation' to explain the working of the institutions of the industrial system seems to me admirable, in spite of certain exaggerations and the neglect of some important aspects of the situation; admirable, at least, as a sociological analysis of that stage of the industrial system which Marx has mainly in mind: the system of 'unrestrained capitalism' (as I shall call it [10]) of one hundred years ago.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Thu Jan 10, 2019 5:06 am

17: The Legal and the Social System

We are now ready to approach what is probably the most crucial point in our analysis as well as in our criticism of Marxism; it is Marx's theory of the state and — paradoxical as it may sound to some — of the impotence of all politics.


Marx's theory of the state can be presented by combining the results of the last two chapters. The legal or juridico-political system — the system of legal institutions enforced by the state — has to be understood, according to Marx, as one of the superstructures erected upon, and giving expression to, the actual productive forces of the economic system; Marx speaks [1] in this connection of 'juridical and political superstructures'. It is not, of course, the only way in which the economic or material reality and the relations between the classes which correspond to it make their appearance in the world of ideologies and ideas. Another example of such a superstructure would be, according to Marxist views, the prevailing moral system. This, as opposed to the legal system, is not enforced by state power, but sanctioned by an ideology created and controlled by the ruling class. The difference is, roughly, one between persuasion and force (as Plato [2] would have said); and it is the state, the legal or political system, which uses force. It is, as Engels [3] puts it, 'a special repressive force' for the coercion of the ruled by the rulers. 'Political power, properly so called,' says the Manifesto [4], 'is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing the other.' A similar description is given by Lenin [5]: 'According to Marx, the state is an organ of class domination, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; its aim is the creation of an "order" which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression . . . ' The state, in brief, is just part of the machinery by which the ruling class carries on its struggle.

Before proceeding to develop the consequences of this view of the state, it may be pointed out that it is partly an institutional and partly an essentialist theory. It is institutional in so far as Marx tries to ascertain what practical functions legal institutions have in social life. But it is essentialist in so far as Marx neither inquires into the variety of ends which these institutions may possibly serve (or be made to serve), nor suggests what institutional reforms are necessary in order to make the state serve those ends which he himself might deem desirable. Instead of making his demands or proposals concerning the functions which he wants the state, the legal institutions or the government to perform, he asks, 'What is the state?'; that is to say, he tries to discover the essential function of legal institutions. It has been shown before [6] that such a typically essentialist question cannot be answered in a satisfactory way; yet this question, undoubtedly, is in keeping with Marx's essentialist and metaphysical approach which interprets the field of ideas and norms as the appearance of an economic reality.

What are the consequences of this theory of the state? The most important consequence is that all politics, all legal and political institutions as well as all political struggles, can never be of primary importance. Politics are impotent. They can never alter decisively the economic reality. The main if not the only task of any enlightened political activity is to see that the alternations in the juridico-political cloak keep pace with the changes in the social reality, that is to say, in the means of production and in the relations between the classes; in this way, such difficulties as must arise if politics lag behind these developments can be avoided. Or in other words, political developments are either superficial, unconditioned by the deeper reality of the social system, in which case they are doomed to be unimportant, and can never be of real help to the suppressed and exploited; or else they give expression to a change in the economic background and the class situation, in which case they are of the character of volcanic eruptions, of complete revolutions which can perhaps be foreseen, as they arise from the social system, and whose ferocity might then be mitigated by non-resistance to the eruptive forces, but which can be neither caused nor suppressed by political action.

These consequences show again the unity of Marx's historicist system of thought. Yet considering that few movements have done as much as Marxism to stimulate interest in political action, the theory of the fundamental impotence of politics appears somewhat paradoxical. (Marxists might, of course, meet this remark with either of two arguments. The one is that in the theory expounded, political action has its function; for even though the workers' party cannot, by its actions, improve the lot of the exploited masses, its fight awakens class consciousness and thereby prepares for the revolution. This would be the argument of the radical wing. The other argument, used by the moderate wing, asserts that there may exist historical periods in which political action can be directly helpful; the periods, namely, in which the forces of the two opposing classes are approximately in equilibrium. In such periods, political effort and energy may be decisive in achieving very significant improvements for the workers. — It is clear that this second argument sacrifices some of the fundamental positions of the theory, but without realizing this, and consequently without going to the root of the matter.)

It is worth noting that according to Marxist theory, the workers' party can hardly make political mistakes of any importance, as long as the party continues to play its assigned role, and to press the claims of the workers energetically. For political mistakes cannot materially affect the actual class situation, and even less the economic reality on which everything else ultimately depends.

Another important consequence of the theory is that, in principle, all government, even democratic government, is a dictatorship of the ruling class over the ruled. 'The executive of the modern state', says the Manifesto [7], 'is merely a committee for managing the economic affairs of the whole bourgeoisie . . .' What we call a democracy is, according to this theory, nothing but that form of class dictatorship which happens to be most convenient in a certain historical situation. (This doctrine does not agree very well with the class equilibrium theory of the moderate wing mentioned above.) And just as the state, under capitalism, is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, so, after the social revolution, it will at first be a dictatorship of the proletariat. But this proletarian state must lose its function as soon as the resistance of the old bourgeoisie has broken down. For the proletarian revolution leads to a one-class society, and therefore to a classless society in which there can be no class- dictatorship. Thus the state, deprived of any function, must disappear. 'It withers away,' as Engels said [8].


I am very far from defending Marx's theory of the state. His theory of the impotence of all politics, more particularly, and his view of democracy, appear to me to be not only mistakes, but fatal mistakes. But it must be admitted that behind these grim as well as ingenious theories, there stood a grim and depressing experience. And although Marx, in my opinion, failed to understand the future which he so keenly wished to foresee, it seems to me that even his mistaken theories are proof of his keen sociological insight into the conditions of his own time, and of his invincible humanitarianism and sense of justice.

Marx's theory of the state, in spite of its abstract and philosophical character, undoubtedly furnishes an enlightening interpretation of his own historical period. It is at least a tenable view that the so-called 'industrial revolution' developed at first mainly as a revolution of the 'material means of production', i.e. of machinery; that this led, next, to a transformation of the class structure of society, and thus to a new social system; and that political revolutions and other transformations of the legal system came only as a third step. Even though this Marxist interpretation of the 'rise of capitalism' has been challenged by historians who were able to lay bare some of its deep-lying ideological foundations (which were perhaps not quite unsuspected by Marx [9], although destructive to his theory), there can be little doubt about the value of the Marxist interpretation as a first approximation, and about the service rendered to his successors in this field. And even though some of the developments studied by Marx were deliberately fostered by legislative measures, and indeed made possible only by legislation (as Marx himself says [10]), it was he who first discussed the influence of economic developments and economic interests upon legislation, and the function of legislative measures as weapons in the class struggle, and especially as means for the creation of a 'surplus population', and with it, of the industrial proletariat. It is clear from many of Marx's passages that these observations confirmed him in his belief that the juridico-political system is a mere 'superstructure' [11] on the social, i.e. the economic, system; a theory which, although undoubtedly refuted by subsequent experience [12], not only remains interesting, but also, I suggest, contains a grain of truth.

But it was not only Marx's general views of the relations between the economic and the political system that were in this way influenced by his historical experience; his views on liberalism and democracy, more particularly, which he considered to be nothing but veils for the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, furnished an interpretation of the social situation of his time which appeared to fit only too well, corroborated as it was by sad experience. For Marx lived, especially in his younger years, in a period of the most shameless and cruel exploitation. And this shameless exploitation was cynically defended by hypocritical apologists who appealed to the principle of human freedom, to the right of man to determinate his own fate, and to enter freely into any contract he considers favourable to his interests.

Using the slogan 'equal and free competition for all', the unrestrained capitalism of this period resisted successfully all labour legislation until the year 1833, and its practical execution for many years more [13]. The consequence was a life of desolation and misery which can hardly be imagined in our day. Especially the exploitation of women and children led to incredible suffering. Here are two examples, quoted from Marx's Capital: 'William Wood, 9 years old, was 7 years and 10 months when he began to work ... He came to work every day in the week at 6 a.m., and left off about 9 p.m ...' 'Fifteen hours of labour for a child 7 years old!' exclaims an official report [14] of the Children's Employment Commission of 1863. Other children were forced to start work at 4 a.m., or to work throughout the night until 6 a.m., and it was not unusual for children of only six years to be forced to a daily toil of 15 hours. — 'Mary Anne Walkley had worked without pause 26-1/2 hours, together with sixty other girls, thirty of them in one room ... A doctor, Mr. Keys, called in too late, testified before the coroner's jury that "Mary Anne Walkley had died from long hours of work in an overcrowded workroom ..." Wishing to give this gentleman a lecture in good manners, the coroner's jury brought in a verdict to the effect that "the deceased had died of apoplexy, but there is reason to fear that her death had been accelerated by overwork in an overcrowded workroom".' [15] Such were the conditions of the working class even in 1863, when Marx was writing Capital', his burning protest against these crimes, which were then tolerated, and sometimes even defended, not only by professional economists but also by churchmen, will secure him forever a place among the liberators of mankind.

In view of such experiences, we need not wonder that Marx did not think very highly of liberalism, and that he saw in parliamentary democracy nothing but a veiled dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. And it was easy for him to interpret these facts as supporting his analysis of the relationship between the legal and the social system. According to the legal system, equality and freedom were established, at least approximately. But what did this mean in reality! Indeed, we must not blame Marx for insisting that the economic facts alone are 'real' and that the legal system may be a mere superstructure, a cloak for this reality, and an instrument of class domination.

The opposition between the legal and the social system is most clearly developed in Capital. In one of its theoretical parts (treated more fully in chapter 20), Marx approaches the analysis of the capitalist economic system by using the simplifying and idealizing assumption that the legal system is perfect in every respect. Freedom, equality before the law, justice, are all assumed to be guaranteed to everybody. There are no privileged classes before the law. Over and above that, he assumes that not even in the economic realm is there any kind of 'robbery'; he assumes that a 'just price' is paid for all commodities, including the labour power which the worker sells to the capitalist on the labour market. The price for all these commodities is 'just', in the sense that all commodities are bought and sold in proportion to the average amount of labour needed for their reproduction (or using Marx's terminology, they are bought and sold according to their true 'value' [16]). Of course, Marx knows that all this is an over-simplification, for it is his opinion that the workers are hardly ever treated as fairly as that; in other words, that they are usually cheated. But arguing from these idealized premises, he attempts to show that even under so excellent a legal system, the economic system would function in such a way that the workers would not be able to enjoy their freedom. In spite of all this 'justice', they would not be very much better off than slaves [17]. For if they are poor, they can only sell themselves, their wives and their children on the labour market, for as much as is necessary for the reproduction of their labour power. That is to say, for the whole of their labour power, they will not get more than the barest means of existence. This shows that exploitation is not merely robbery. It cannot be eliminated by merely legal means. (And Proudhon's criticism that 'property is theft' is much too superficial [18].)

In consequence of this, Marx was led to hold that the workers cannot hope much from the improvement of a legal system which as everybody knows grants to rich and poor alike the freedom of sleeping on park benches, and which threatens them alike with punishment for the attempt to live 'without visible means of support'. In this way Marx arrived at what may be termed (in Hegelian language) the distinction between formal and material freedom. Formal [19] or legal freedom, although Marx does not rate it low, turns out to be quite insufficient for securing to us that freedom which he considered to be the aim of the historical development of mankind. What matters is real, i.e. economic or material, freedom. This can be achieved only by an equal emancipation from drudgery. For this emancipation, 'the shortening of the labour day is the fundamental prerequisite'.


What have we to say to Marx's analysis? Are we to believe that politics, or the framework of legal institutions, are intrinsically impotent to remedy such a situation, and that only a complete social revolution, a complete change of the 'social system', can help? Or are we to believe the defenders of an unrestrained 'capitalist' system who emphasize (rightly, I think) the tremendous benefit to be derived from the mechanism of free markets, and who conclude from this that a truly free labour market would be of the greatest benefit to all concerned?

I believe that the injustice and inhumanity of the unrestrained 'capitalist system' described by Marx cannot be questioned; but it can be interpreted in terms of what we called, in a previous chapter [20], the paradox of freedom. Freedom, we have seen, defeats itself, if it is unlimited. Unlimited freedom means that a strong man is free to bully one who is weak and to rob him of his freedom. This is why we demand that the state should limit freedom to a certain extent, so that everyone's freedom is protected by law. Nobody should be at the mercy of others, but all should have a right to be protected by the state.

Now I believe that these considerations, originally meant to apply to the realm of brute-force, of physical intimidation, must be applied to the economic realm also. Even if the state protects its citizens from being bullied by physical violence (as it does, in principle, under the system of unrestrained capitalism), it may defeat our ends by its failure to protect them from the misuse of economic power. In such a state, the economically strong is still free to bully one who is economically weak, and to rob him of his freedom. Under these circumstances, unlimited economic freedom can be just as self-defeating as unlimited physical freedom, and economic power may be nearly as dangerous as physical violence; for those who possess a surplus of food can force those who are starving into a 'freely' accepted servitude, without using violence. And assuming that the state limits its activities to the suppression of violence (and to the protection of property), a minority which is economically strong may in this way exploit the majority of those who are economically weak.

If this analysis is correct [21], then the nature of the remedy is clear. It must be a political remedy — a remedy similar to the one which we use against physical violence. We must construct social institutions, enforced by the power of the state, for the protection of the economically weak from the economically strong. The state must see to it that nobody need enter into an inequitable arrangement out of fear of starvation, or economic ruin.

This, of course, means that the principle of non-intervention, of an unrestrained economic system, has to be given up; if we wish freedom to be safeguarded, then we must demand that the policy of unlimited economic freedom be replaced by the planned economic intervention of the state. We must demand that unrestrained capitalism give way to an economic interventionism [22]. And this is precisely what has happened. The economic system described and criticized by Marx has everywhere ceased to exist. It has been replaced, not by a system in which the state begins to lose its functions and consequently 'shows signs of withering away', but by various interventionist systems, in which the functions of the state in the economic realm are extended far beyond the protection of property and of 'free contracts'.[/b][/size] (This development will be discussed in the next chapters.)


I should like to characterize the point here reached as the most central point in our analysis. It is only here that we can begin to realize the significance of the clash between historicism and social engineering, and its effect upon the policy of the friends of the open society.

Marxism claims to be more than a science. It does more than make a historical prophecy. It claims to be the basis for practical political action. It criticizes existing society, and it asserts that it can lead the way to a better world. But according to Marx's own theory, we cannot at will alter the economic reality by, for example, legal reforms. Politics can do no more than 'shorten and lessen the birth-pangs'. [23] This, I think, is an extremely poor political programme, and its poverty is a consequence of the third-rate place which it attributes to political power in the hierarchy of powers. For according to Marx, the real power lies in the evolution of machinery; next in importance is the system of economic class- relationships; and the least important influence is that of politics.

A directly opposite view is implied in the position we have reached in our analysis. It considers political power as fundamental. Political power, from this point of view, can control economic power. This means an immense extension of the field of political activities. We can ask what we wish to achieve and how to achieve it. We can, for instance, develop a rational political programme for the protection of the economically weak. We can make laws to limit exploitation. We can limit the working day; but we can do much more. By law, we can insure the workers (or better still, all citizens) against disability, unemployment, and old age. In this way we can make impossible such forms of exploitation as are based upon the helpless economic position of a worker who must yield to anything in order not to starve. And when we are able by law to guarantee a livelihood to everybody willing to work, and there is no reason why we should not achieve that, then the protection of the freedom of the citizen from economic fear and economic intimidation will approach completeness. From this point of view, political power is the key to economic protection. Political power and its control is everything. Economic power must not be permitted to dominate political power; if necessary, it must be fought and brought under control by political power.

From the point of view reached, we can say that Marx's disparaging attitude towards political power not only means that he neglects to develop a theory of the most important potential means of bettering the lot of the economically weak, but also that he neglected the greatest potential danger to human freedom. His naive view that, in a classless society, state power would lose its function and 'wither away' shows very clearly that he never grasped the paradox of freedom, and that he never understood the function which state power could and should perform, in the service of freedom and humanity.
(Yet this view of Marx stands witness to the fact that he was, ultimately, an individualist, in spite of his collectivist appeal to class consciousness.) In this way, the Marxian view is analogous to the liberal belief that all we need is 'equality of opportunity'. We certainly need this. But it is not enough. It does not protect those who are less gifted, or less ruthless, or less lucky, from becoming objects of exploitation for those who are more gifted, or ruthless, or lucky.

Moreover, from the point of view we have reached, what Marxists describe disparagingly as 'mere formal freedom' becomes the basis of everything else. This 'mere formal freedom', i.e. democracy, the right of the people to judge and to dismiss their government, is the only known device by which we can try to protect ourselves against the misuse of political power [24]; it is the control of the rulers by the ruled. And since political power can control economic power, political democracy is also the only means for the control of economic power by the ruled. Without democratic control, there can be no earthly reason why any government should not use its political and economic power for purposes very different from the protection of the freedom of its citizens.


It is the fundamental role of 'formal freedom' which is overlooked by Marxists who think that formal democracy is not enough and wish to supplement it by what they usually call 'economic democracy'; a vague and utterly superficial phrase which obscures the fact that 'merely formal freedom' is the only guarantee of a democratic economic policy.

Marx discovered the significance of economic power; and it is understandable that he exaggerated its status. He and the Marxists see economic power everywhere. Their argument runs: he who has the money has the power; for if necessary, he can buy guns and even gangsters. But this is a roundabout argument. In fact, it contains an admission that the man who has the gun has the power. And if he who has the gun becomes aware of this, then it may not be long until he has both the gun and the money. But under an unrestrained capitalism, Marx's argument applies, to some extent; for a rule which develops institutions for the control of guns and gangsters but not of the power of money is liable to come under the influence of this power. In such a state, an uncontrolled gangsterism of wealth may rule. But Marx himself, I think, would have been the first to admit that this is not true of all states; that there have been times in history when, for example, all exploitation was looting, directly based upon the power of the mailed fist. And to-day there will be few to support the na'ive view that the 'progress of history' has once and for all put an end to these more direct ways of exploiting men, and that, once formal freedom has been achieved, it is impossible for us to fall again under the sway of such primitive forms of exploitation.

These considerations would be sufficient for refuting the dogmatic doctrine that economic power is more fundamental than physical power, or the power of the state. But there are other considerations as well. As has been rightly emphasized by various writers (among them Bertrand Russell and Walter Lippmann [25]), it is only the active intervention of the state — the protection of property by laws backed by physical sanctions — which makes of wealth a potential source of power; for without this intervention, a man would soon be without his wealth. Economic power is therefore entirely dependent on political and physical power. Russell gives historical examples which illustrate this dependence, and sometimes even helplessness, of wealth: 'Economic power within the state,' he writes [26], 'although ultimately derived from law and public opinion, easily acquires a certain independence. It can influence law by corruption and public opinion by propaganda. It can put politicians under obligations which interfere with their freedom. It can threaten to cause a financial crisis. But there are very definite limits to what it can achieve. Caesar was helped to power by his creditors, who saw no hope of repayment except through his success; but when he had succeeded he was powerful enough to defy them. Charles V borrowed from the Fuggers the money required to buy the position of Emperor, but when he had become Emperor he snapped his fingers at them and they lost what they had lent.'

The dogma that economic power is at the root of all evil must be discarded. Its place must be taken by an understanding of the dangers of any form of uncontrolled power. Money as such is not particularly dangerous. It becomes dangerous only if it can buy power, either directly, or by enslaving the economically weak who must sell themselves in order to live.

We must think in these matters in even more materialist terms, as it were, than Marx did. We must realize that the control of physical power and of physical exploitation remains the central political problem. In order to establish this control, we must establish 'merely formal freedom'. Once we have achieved this, and have learned how to use it for the control of political power, everything rests with us. We must not blame anybody else any longer, nor cry out against the sinister economic demons behind the scenes. For in a democracy, we hold the keys to the control of the demons. We can tame them. We must realize this and use the keys; we must construct institutions for the democratic control of economic power, and for our protection from economic exploitation.

Much has been made by Marxists of the possibility of buying votes, either directly or by buying propaganda. But closer consideration shows that we have here a good example of the power-political situation analysed above. Once we have achieved formal freedom, we can control vote-buying in every form. There are laws to limit the expenditure on electioneering, and it rests entirely with us to see that much more stringent laws of this kind are introduced [27]. The legal system can be made a powerful instrument for its own protection. In addition, we can influence public opinion, and insist upon a much more rigid moral code in political matters. All this we can do; but we must first realize that social engineering of this kind is our task, that it is in our power, and that we must not wait for economic earthquakes miraculously to produce a new economic world for us, so that all we shall have to do will be to unveil it, to remove the old political cloak.


Of course, in practice Marxists never fully relied on the doctrine of the impotence of political power. So far as they had an opportunity to act, or to plan action, they usually assumed, like everybody else, that political power can be used for the control of economic power. But their plans and actions were never based on a clear refutation of their original theory, nor upon any well-considered view of that most fundamental problem of all politics: the control of the controller, of the dangerous accumulation of power represented in the state. They never realized the full significance of democracy as the only known means to achieve this control.

As a consequence they never realized the danger inherent in a policy of increasing the power of the state. Although they abandoned more or less unconsciously the doctrine of the impotence of politics, they retained the view that state power presents no important problem, and that it is bad only if it is in the hands of the bourgeoisie. They did not realize that all power, and political power at least as much as economic power, is dangerous. Thus they retained their formula of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They did not understand the principle (cp. chapter 8) that all large-scale politics must be institutional, not personal; and when clamouring for the extension of state powers (in contrast to Marx's view of the state) they never considered that the wrong persons might one day get hold of these extended powers. This is part of the reason why, as far as they proceeded to consider state-intervention, they planned to give the state practically limitless powers in the economic realm. They retained Marx's holistic and Utopian belief that only a brand-new 'social system' can improve matters.

I have criticized this Utopian and Romantic approach to social engineering in a previous chapter (chapter 9). But I wish to add here that economic intervention, even the piecemeal methods advocated here, will tend to increase the power of the state. Interventionism is therefore extremely dangerous. This is not a decisive argument against it; state power must always remain a dangerous though necessary evil. But it should be a warning that if we relax our watchfulness, and if we do not strengthen our democratic institutions while giving more power to the state by interventionist 'planning', then we may lose our freedom. And if freedom is lost, everything is lost, including 'planning'. For why should plans for the welfare of the people be carried out if the people have no power to enforce them? Only freedom can make security secure.

We thus see that there is not only a paradox of freedom but also a paradox of state planning. If we plan too much, if we give too much power to the state, then freedom will be lost, and that will be the end of planning.

Such considerations lead us back to our plea for piecemeal, and against Utopian or holistic, methods of social engineering. And they lead us back to our demand that measures should be planned to fight concrete evils rather than to establish some ideal good. State intervention should be limited to what is really necessary for the protection of freedom.

But it is not enough to say that our solution should be a minimum solution; that we should be watchful; and that we should not give more power to the state than is necessary for the protection of freedom. These remarks may raise problems, but they do not show a way to a solution. It is even conceivable that there is no solution; that the acquisition of new economic powers by a state — whose powers, as compared to those of its citizens, are always dangerously great — will make it irresistible. So far, we have shown neither that freedom can be preserved, nor how it can be preserved.

Under these circumstances it may be useful to remember our considerations of chapter 7 concerning the question of the control of political power and the paradox of freedom.


The important distinction which we made there was that between persons and institutions. We pointed out that, while the political question of the day may demand a personal solution, all long-term policy — and especially all democratic long-term policy — must be conceived in terms of impersonal institutions. And we pointed out that, more especially, the problem of controlling the rulers, and of checking their powers, was in the main an institutional problem — the problem, in short, of designing institutions for preventing even bad rulers from doing too much damage.

Analogous considerations will apply to the problem of the control of the economic power of the state. What we shall have to guard against is an increase in the power of the rulers. We must guard against persons and against their arbitrariness. Some types of institution may confer arbitrary powers upon a person; but other types will deny them to that person.

If we look upon our labour legislation from this point of view, then we shall find both types of institution. Many of these laws add very little power to the executive organs of the state. It is conceivable, to be sure, that the laws against child labour, for example, may be misused, by a civil servant, to intimidate, and to dominate over, an innocent citizen. But dangers of this kind are hardly serious if compared with those which are inherent in a legislation that confers upon the rulers discretionary powers, such as the power of directing labour [28]. Similarly, a law establishing that a citizen's misuse of his property should be punished by its forfeiture will be incomparably less dangerous than one which gives the rulers, or the servants of the state, discretionary powers of requisitioning a citizen's property.

We thus arrive at a distinction between two entirely different methods [29] by which the economic intervention of the state may proceed. The first is that of designing a 'legal framework' of protective institutions (laws restricting the powers of the owner of an animal, or of a landowner, are an example). The second is that of empowering organs of the state to act — within certain limits — as they consider necessary for achieving the ends laid down by the rulers for the time being. We may describe the first procedure as 'institutional' or 'indirect' intervention, and the second as 'personal' or 'direct' intervention. (Of course, intermediate cases exist.)

There can be no doubt, from the point of view of democratic control, which of these methods is preferable. The obvious policy for all democratic intervention is to make use of the first method wherever this is possible, and to restrict the use of the second method to cases for which the first method is inadequate. (Such cases exist. The classical example is the Budget — this expression of the Chancellor's discretion and sense of what is equitable and just. And it is conceivable although highly undesirable that a counter-cycle measure may have to be of a similar character.)

From the point of view of piecemeal social engineering, the difference between the two methods is highly important. Only the first, the institutional method, makes it possible to make adjustments in the light of discussion and experience. It alone makes it possible to apply the method of trial and error to our political actions. It is long-term; yet the permanent legal framework can be slowly changed, in order to make allowances for unforeseen and undesired consequences, for changes in other parts of the framework, etc. It alone allows us to find out, by experience and analysis, what we actually were doing when we intervened with a certain aim in mind. Discretionary decisions of the rulers or civil servants are outside these rational methods. They are short-term decisions, transitory, changing from day to day, or at best, from year to year. As a rule (the Budget is the great exception) they cannot even be publicly discussed, both because necessary information is lacking, and because the principles on which the decision is taken are obscure. If they exist at all, they are usually not institutionalized, but part of an internal departmental tradition.

But it is not only in this sense that the first method can be described as rational and the second as irrational. It is also in an entirely different and highly important sense. The legal framework can be known and understood by the individual citizen; and it should be designed to be so understandable. Its functioning is predictable. It introduces a factor of certainty and security into social life. When it is altered, allowances can be made, during a transitional period, for those individuals who have laid their plans in the expectation of its constancy.

As opposed to this, the method of personal intervention must introduce an ever-growing element of unpredictability into social life, and with it will develop the feeling that social life is irrational and insecure. The use of discretionary powers is liable to grow quickly, once it has become an accepted method, since adjustments will be necessary, and adjustments to discretionary short-term decisions can hardly be carried out by institutional means. This tendency must greatly increase the irrationality of the system, creating in many the impression that there are hidden powers behind the scenes, and making them susceptible to the conspiracy theory of society with all its consequences — heresy hunts, national, social, and class hostility.

In spite of all this, the obvious policy of preferring where possible the institutional method is far from being generally accepted. The failure to accept it is, I suppose, due to different reasons. One is that it needs a certain detachment to embark on the long-term task of re-designing the 'legal framework'. But governments live from hand to mouth, and discretionary powers belong to this style of living — quite apart from the fact that rulers are inclined to love those powers for their own sake. But the most important reason is, undoubtedly, that the significance of the distinction between the two methods is not understood. The way to its understanding is blocked to the followers of Plato, Hegel, and Marx. They will never see that the old question 'Who shall be the rulers?' must be superseded by the more real one 'How can we tame them?'


If we now look back at Marx's theory of the impotence of politics and of the power of historical forces, then we must admit that it is an imposing edifice. It is the direct result of his sociological method; of his economic historicism, of the doctrine that the development of the economic system, or of man's metabolism, determines his social and political development. The experience of his time, his humanitarian indignation, and the need of bringing to the oppressed the consolation of a prophecy, the hope, or even the certainty, of their victory, all this is united in one grandiose philosophic system, comparable or even superior to the holistic systems of Plato and Hegel. It is only due to the accident that he was not a reactionary that the history of philosophy takes so little notice of him and assumes that he was mainly a propagandist. The reviewer of Capital who wrote: 'At the first glance ... we come to the conclusion that the author is one of the greatest among the idealist philosophers, in the German, that is to say, the bad sense of the word "idealist". But in actual fact, he is enormously more realistic than any of his predecessors ...' [30], this reviewer hit the nail on the head. Marx was the last of the great holistic system builders. We should take care to leave it at that, and not to replace his by another Great System. What we need is not holism. It is piecemeal social engineering.

With this, I conclude my critical analysis of Marx's philosophy of the method of social science, of his economic determinism as well as of his prophetic historicism. The final test of a method, however, must be its practical results. I therefore proceed now to a more detailed examination of the main result of his method, the prophecy of the impending advent of a classless society.  
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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


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.


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.  


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.


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.


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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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.


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'.


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.


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.


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.  


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.


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.


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

Postby admin » Fri Feb 01, 2019 2:24 am

Part 2 of 2


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Postby admin » Wed Mar 20, 2019 2:18 am

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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