Socialism: Utopian And Scientific
- A brief summary of developments of the materialist conception of history, the capitalist mode of production, and modern scientific socialism.
The Development Of Socialism
Modern socialism is, in its content, primarily the product of the recognition, on the one hand, of the class antagonisms prevailing in modern society between proprietors and non-proprietors, between capitalists and wage-workers, and on the other, of the anarchy ruling in production. In its theoretical form, however, it originally appears as a more developed and allegedly more consistent extension of the principles laid down by the great French philosophers of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Like every new theory, modern socialism had at first to link itself with the intellectual data ready to hand, however deeply its roots lay in material economic facts.
The great men who in France were clearing men's minds for the coming revolution acted in an extremely revolutionary way themselves. They recognized no external authority of any kind. Religion, conceptions of nature, society, political systems — everything was subjected to the most unsparing criticism: everything had to justify its existence before the judgment-seat of reason or give up existence. The reasoning intellect became the sole measure of everything. It was the time when, as Hegel says, the world was stood on its head, first in the sense that the human head and the principles arrived at by its thinking claimed to be the basis of all human action and association; but then later also in the wider sense that the reality which was in contradiction with these principles was, in fact, turned upside down. Every previous form of society and state, every old traditional notion was flung into the lumber-room as irrational; the world had hitherto allowed itself to be led solely by prejudice; everything in the past deserved only pity and contempt. The light of day, the realm of reason, now appeared for the first time; henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege and oppression were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal justice, equality based on nature, and the inalienable rights of man.
We know today that this realm of reason was nothing more than the idealized realm of the bourgeoisie; that eternal justice found its realization in bourgeois justice; that equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the most essential rights of man; and that the government of reason, Rousseau's social contract, came into being, and could only come into being, as a bourgeois democratic republic. The great thinkers of the eighteenth century were no more able than their predecessors to go beyond the limits imposed on them by their own epoch.
But side by side with the antagonism of the feudal nobility and the burghers who claimed to represent all the rest of society, there was the general antagonism of exploiters and exploited, of the rich idlers and the toiling poor. It was precisely this circumstance that enabled the representatives of the bourgeoisie to put themselves forward as the representatives not of one special class but of the whole of suffering humanity. Still more. From its origin the bourgeoisie was saddled with its antithesis: capitalists cannot exist without wage-workers, and, in the same proportion as the mediaeval burgher of the guild developed into the modern bourgeois, so the guild journeyman and the day-labourer outside the guilds developed into the proletarian. And although, on the whole, the burghers in their struggle with the nobility could claim to represent at the same time the interests of the different working classes of that period, in every great bourgeois movement there were independent outbursts of that class which was the more or less developed forerunner of the modern proletariat. For example, at the time of the German Reformation and the Peasants' War, the Anabaptists and Thomas Munzer; in the great English Revolution, the Levellers; in the great French Revolution, Babeuf.
There were theoretical manifestations corresponding with these revolutionary uprisings of an as yet immature class; in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, utopian pictures of ideal social conditions, in the eighteenth, direct communistic theories (Morelly and Mably). The demand for equality was no longer limited to political rights but was also extended to the social conditions of individuals; it was not merely class privileges that were to be abolished, but class distinctions themselves. An ascetic communism prohibiting all the pleasures of life copied from Sparta was thus the first form of the new teaching. Then came the three great Utopians: Saint-Simon, to whom the bourgeois current still had a certain significance side by side with the proletarian, Fourier, and Owen, who in the country where capitalist production was the most developed and under the influence of the antagonisms begotten by it systematically worked out his proposals for the abolition of class distinctions in direct relation to French materialism.
One thing is common to all three. Not one of them appears as a representative of the interests of the proletariat which historical development had in the meantime produced. Like the philosophers of the Enlightenment, they want to emancipate not a particular class to begin with, but all humanity at once. Like them, they wish to bring in the realm of reason and of eternal justice, but this realm is as far as heaven from earth from that of the philosophers of the Enlightenment. For the bourgeois world based upon the principles of these philosophers is also irrational and unjust and, therefore, finds its way to the dustbin just as readily as feudalism and all earlier orders of society. If pure reason and justice have not hitherto ruled the world, it is only because they have not been rightly understood. What was wanting was only the individual man of genius, who has now arisen and who has recognized the truth. The fact that he has now arisen, that the truth has been recognized precisely at this moment, is not an inevitable event following of necessity in the chain of historical development, but a mere happy accident. He might just as well have been born five hundred years earlier and might then have spared humanity five hundred years of error, strife and suffering.We saw how the French philosophers of the eighteenth century, the forerunners of the Revolution, appealed to reason as the sole judge of everything in existence. A rational state, a rational society, were to be founded; everything running counter to eternal reason was to be remorselessly done away with. We saw also that this eternal reason was in reality nothing but the idealized understanding of the middle burgher, who was just then evolving into the bourgeois. But when the French Revolution had realized this rational society and state, the new order of things, however rational as compared with earlier conditions, proved to be by no means absolutely rational. The state based upon reason completely collapsed. Rousseau's social contract had found its realization in the Reign of Terror, from which the bourgeoisie, after losing faith in its own political capacity, had taken refuge first in the corruption of the Directorate and finally under the wing of the Napoleonic despotism. The promised eternal peace was turned into an endless war of conquest. The society based upon reason had fared no better. Instead of dissolving into general prosperity, the antagonism between rich and poor had become sharpened by the elimination of the guild and other privileges, which had bridged it over, and of the charitable institutions of the Church, which had mitigated it. As far as the small capitalists and small peasants were concerned, the "freedom of property" from feudal fetters, which had now become a reality, proved to be the freedom to sell their small property, which was being crushed under the overpowering competition of big capital and big landed property, to these very lords, so that freedom of property turned into "freedom from property" for the small capitalists and peasant proprietors. The rapid growth of industry on a capitalist basis raised the poverty and misery of the working masses to a condition of existence of society. Cash payment increasingly became, in Carlyle's phrase, the sole social nexus. The number of crimes increased from year to year. Though not eradicated, the feudal vices which had previously been flaunted in broad daylight were now at any rate thrust into the background. In their stead, the bourgeois vices, hitherto nursed in secret, began to blossom all the more luxuriantly. Trade developed more and more into swindling. The "fraternity" of the revolutionary slogan was realized in the chicanery and envy of the battle of competition. Oppression by force was replaced by corruption, the sword as the prime social lever by money. "The right of the first night" passed from the feudal lords to the bourgeois manufacturers. Prostitution assumed hitherto unheard-of proportions. Marriage itself remained as before the legally recognized form, the official cloak of prostitution, and, moreover, was copiously supplemented by adultery.
In short, the social and political institutions born of the "triumph of reason" were bitterly disappointing caricatures of the splendid promises of the philosophers of the Enlightenment. All that was wanting was the men to formulate this disappointment, and they came with the turn of the century. Saint-Simon's Letters from Geneva appeared in 1802, Fourier's first book appeared in 1808, although the groundwork of his theory dated from 1799; Robert Owen took over the direction of New Lanark on January 1, 1800.
At this time, however, the capitalist mode of production, and with it the antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, was still very undeveloped. Large-scale industry, which had only just arisen in England, was still unknown in France. But, on the one hand, large-scale industry promotes the conflicts which make a revolution in the mode of production and the abolition of its capitalist character absolutely necessary — conflicts not only between the classes begotten of it, but also between precisely the productive forces and the forms of exchange created by it. On the other hand, it is in these gigantic productive forces themselves that it promotes the means of resolving these conflicts. If, therefore, the conflicts arising from the new social order were only just beginning to take shape around 1800, this is even truer for the means of resolving them. During the Reign of Terror, the propertyless masses of Paris were able to gain the mastery for a moment, and thus to lead the bourgeois revolution to victory against the bourgeoisie itself. But in doing so they only proved how impossible it was for their domination to last under the conditions then obtaining. The proletariat, which was only just separating itself from these propertyless masses as the nucleus of a new class and was as yet quite incapable of independent political action, appeared as an oppressed, suffering estate, to which, in its incapacity to help itself, help could at best be brought in from without, from above down.
This historical situation also dominated the founders of socialism. Their immature theories corresponded to the immature state of capitalist production and the immature class situation. The solution of the social problems which as yet lay hidden in undeveloped economic relations was to spring from the human brain. Society presented nothing but abuses; to remove them was the task of reflective reason. It was a question of inventing a new and more perfect social order and of imposing it on society from without, by propaganda and wherever possible by the example of model experiments. These new social systems were foredoomed to be Utopias; the more they were worked out in detail, the more inevitably they became lost in pure fantasy.
Having established this, we shall not dwell a moment longer on this aspect, now belonging wholly to the past. We can leave it to the literary small fry to quibble solemnly over these fantasies, which today only make us smile, and to crow over the superiority of their own sober reasoning over such "insanity". For ourselves, we delight in the inspired thoughts and germs of thought that everywhere break out through their fantastic covering and to which these philistines are blind.
Saint-Simon was a son of the great French Revolution, at the outbreak of which he was not yet thirty. The Revolution was the victory of the third estate, i.e., of the great masses of the nation, who were active in production and in trade, over the thus far privileged idle estates, the nobility and the clergy. But the victory of the third estate soon revealed itself as exclusively the victory of a small part of this estate, as the conquest of political power by its socially privileged stratum, i.e., the propertied bourgeoisie. To be sure, the bourgeoisie had already developed rapidly during the Revolution, partly by speculation in the lands of the nobility and of the Church which had been confiscated and then sold, and partly by frauds on the nation by means of army contracts. It was precisely the domination of these swindlers that brought France and the Revolution to the verge of ruin under the Directorate, and thus gave Napoleon the pretext for his coup d'état.
Hence in Saint-Simon's mind the antagonism between the third estate and the privileged estates took the form of an antagonism between "workers" and "idlers". The idlers were not merely the old privileged persons, but also all who lived on their incomes without taking any part in production or distribution. The "workers" were not only the wage-workers but also the manufacturers, the merchants, the bankers. That the idlers had lost the capacity for intellectual leadership and political supremacy had been proved and finally settled by the Revolution. That the non-possessing classes lacked this capacity seemed to Saint-Simon proved by the experiences of the Reign of Terror. Who then was to lead and command? According to Saint-Simon, science and industry, both united by a new religious bond destined to restore that unity of religious ideas which had been broken since the Reformation — a necessarily mystical and rigidly hierarchical "new Christianity". But science was the scholars; and industry was, in the first place, the active bourgeois, manufacturers, merchants, bankers. Of course, these bourgeois were to transform themselves into public officials, into trustees of society, of a sort; but they were still to hold a commanding and even economically privileged position vis-à-vis the workers. The bankers especially were to be called upon to direct the whole of social production by the regulation of credit. This conception was in exact keeping with a time when large-scale industry and with it the chasm between bourgeoisie and proletariat were only just coming into existence in France. But what Saint-Simon especially lays stress on is this: what interests him first and above all other things is the lot of "the largest and poorest class"(la classe la plus nombreuse et la plus pauvre).
In his Letters from Geneva, Saint-Simon already laid down the principle that "all men ought to work". In the same work he also recognized that the Reign of Terror was the reign of the propertyless masses. "See," he calls out to them, "what happened in France at the time when your comrades held sway there; they brought about a famine."
But to recognize the French Revolution as a class struggle and not simply as one between nobility and bourgeoisie, but between nobility, bourgeoisie, and those without any property, was, in the year 1802, a discovery of the greatest genius. In 1816 he declared that politics was the science of production and foretold the complete absorption of politics by economics. Although the knowledge that economic conditions are the basis of political institutions appears here only in embryo, what is already very plainly expressed is the transition from political rule over men to the administration of things and the guidance of the processes of production — that is to say, the "abolition of the state", about which there has recently been so much noise. Saint-Simon showed the same superiority over his contemporaries, when in 1814, immediately after the entry of the Allies into Paris, and again in 1815, during the Hundred Days' War, he proclaimed the alliance of France with England, and then of both these countries with Germany, as the only guarantee for the prosperous development and peace of Europe. To preach an alliance with the victors of Waterloo to the French in 1815 undoubtedly required as much courage as historical foresight.
If in Saint-Simon we find a masterly breadth of view, by virtue of which almost all the ideas of later socialists that are not strictly economic are found in him in embryo, we find in Fourier a criticism of the existing conditions of society which, while genuinely French and witty, is none the less penetrating. Fourier takes the bourgeoisie, their inspired prophets before the Revolution and their mercenary sycophants after it, at their own word. He mercilessly lays bare the material and moral misery of the bourgeois world. He confronts it with the earlier philosophers' dazzling promises of a society ruled solely by reason, of a civilization yielding universal happiness, of an illimitable human perfectibility, as well as with the rose-coloured phraseology of the bourgeois ideologists of his time. He shows how everywhere the most pitiful reality corresponds with the most high-sounding phrases, and he overwhelms this hopeless fiasco of phrases with his mordant sarcasm.
Fourier is not only a critic; his eternal sprightliness makes him a satirist, and assuredly one of the greatest satirists of all time. He depicts with equal virtuosity and wit the swindling speculation that blossomed out on the downfall of the Revolution and the universal shopkeeping spirit of the French commerce of the time. Still more masterly is his criticism of the bourgeois form of the relations between the sexes and of the position of woman in bourgeois society. He was the first to declare that in any given society the degree of woman's emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation.
But it is in his conception of the history of society that Fourier appears at his greatest. He divides its whole course thus far into four stages of development, savagery, the patriarchy, barbarism, and civilization, the last coinciding with what is now called bourgeois society, i.e., with the social order that came in with the sixteenth century. He proves that "the civilized order gives every vice practised by barbarism in a simple fashion a complex, ambiguous, equivocal, hypocritical form"; that civilization moves in "a vicious circle", in contradictions which it constantly reproduces without being able to solve, so that it constantly attains the opposite of what it wants to achieve, or pretends it wants to achieve. So that, for example, "under civilization poverty is born of abundance itself".
Fourier, as we see, handles dialectics with the same mastery as his contemporary Hegel. Using these same dialectics, he points out in opposition to the talk about illimitable human perfectibility that every historical era has its downward as well as upward phase, and he applies this way of looking at things to the future of the whole human race. Just as Kant introduced the idea of the ultimate destruction of the earth into natural science, Fourier introduced that of the ultimate destruction of the human race into historical thought.
Whilst in France the hurricane of the Revolution swept over the land, in England a quieter but on that account no less mighty upheaval was taking place. Steam and the new tool-making machinery were transforming manufacture into modern large-scale industry and thus revolutionizing the whole foundation of bourgeois society. The sluggish pace of development of the manufacturing period changed into a veritable period of storm and stress in production. The division of society into big capitalists and propertyless proletarians went on with ever-increasing rapidity; between these, instead of the former stable middle estate, an unstable mass of artisans and small shopkeepers, which constituted the most fluctuating section of the population, now led a precarious existence.
The new mode of production was still only at the beginning of its upward phase; it was still the normal, regular mode of production — the only possible one under existing conditions. Nevertheless, even then it was producing crying social abuses — the herding together of a homeless population in the worst quarters of the large towns; the dissolution of all traditional bonds of descent, of patriarchal subordination, of the family; overwork, especially of women and children, on an appalling scale; massive demoralization of the working class, suddenly flung into altogether new conditions, from the country into the town, from agriculture into industry, from stable conditions of existence into insecure ones changing from day to day.
At this juncture a 29-year-old manufacturer came forward as a reformer — a man of almost sublime, child-like simplicity of character, and at the same time a born leader of men such as is rarely seen. Robert Owen had adopted the teaching of the materialist philosophers of the Enlightenment: that man's character is the product of his inherited constitution on the one hand, and of his environment during his lifetime, especially during his period of growth, on the other. In the Industrial Revolution most of his class saw only chaos and confusion, and the opportunity of fishing in troubled waters and getting rich quickly. He saw in it the opportunity of putting his favourite theory into practice, and so of bringing order out of chaos. He had already tried it out with success in Manchester, as the manager of a factory with 500 workers. From 1800 to 1829 he directed the great cotton-spinning mill of New Lanark in Scotland as managing partner, along the same lines but with greater freedom of action, and with a success which won him a European reputation. He transformed a population, which originally consisted of the most diverse and for the most part very demoralized elements and which gradually grew to 2,500, into a model colony, in which drunkenness, police, magistrates, lawsuits, poor law relief and any need for charity were unknown. All this simply by placing the people in conditions more worthy of human beings, and especially by having the rising generation carefully brought up. He was the inventor of infant schools, and first introduced them at New Lanark. From the age of two the children came to school, where they enjoyed themselves so much that they could scarcely be got home again. Whilst his competitors worked their people thirteen to fourteen hours a day, in New Lanark the working-day was only ten and a half hours. When a crisis in cotton stopped work for four months, his unemployed workers received their full wages all the time. Yet the business more than doubled in value, and to the last yielded large profits to its proprietors.
In spite of all this, Owen was not content. The existence he had contrived for his workers was, in his eyes, still far from being worthy of human beings. "The people were slaves at my mercy." The relatively favourable conditions in which he had placed them were still far from allowing an all-round rational development of the character and of the intellect, much less the free exercise of all their faculties.
"And yet, the working part of this population of 2,500 persons was daily producing as much real wealth for society as, less than half a century before, it would have required the working part of a population of 600,000 to create. I asked myself, what became of the difference between the wealth consumed by 2,500 persons and that which would have been consumed by 600,000?"
The answer was clear. It had been used to pay the proprietors of the establishment five per cent on their invested capital and in addition, a profit of over £300,000. And that which held for New Lanark held to a still greater extent for all the factories in England.
"If this new wealth had not been created by machinery, …the wars …in opposition to Napoleon and to support the aristocratic principles of society, could not have been maintained. And yet this new power was the creation of the working class."
To the working class, therefore, the fruits belonged too. To Owen the newly created gigantic productive forces, which had hitherto served only to enrich individuals and to enslave the masses, offered the foundations for a reconstruction of society and were destined, as the common property of all, solely to work for the common good of all.
Owenite communism arose in this purely business way, as the outcome, so to speak, of commercial calculation. Throughout, it maintained this practical character. Thus, in 1823, Owen proposed the relief of the distress in Ireland by communist colonies, and drew up complete estimates of initial costs, yearly expenditure, and probable revenue. Similarly, in his definitive plan for the future, the technical working out of details is managed with such practical knowledge — plan, elevation and bird's-eye view all included — that, once the Owenite method of social reform is accepted, there is little to be said against the actual arrangement of details even from a specialist's point of view.
His advance in the direction of communism was the turning-point in Owen's life. As long as he was simply a philanthropist, he was rewarded with nothing but wealth, applause, honour, and glory. He was the most popular man in Europe. Not only men of his own class, but statesmen and princes listened to him approvingly. But when he came out with his communist theories, it was quite a different story. Three great obstacles seemed to him especially to block the path to social reform, private property, religion, and marriage in its present form. He knew what confronted him if he attacked them — universal ostracism by official society and the loss of his whole social standing. But nothing of this prevented him from attacking them without fear of the consequences, and what he had foreseen came to pass. Banished from official society, with a conspiracy of silence against him in the press, and ruined by his unsuccessful communist experiments in America in which he sacrificed all his fortune, he turned directly to the working class and continued working in their midst for thirty years. Every social movement, every real advance in England on behalf of the workers is linked with Owen's name. Thus in 1819, after five years' effort he pushed through the first law limiting the labour of women and children in factories. He presided over the first congress at which all the Trade Unions of England united in a single great trade union association. He introduced as transition measures to the complete communist organization of society, on the one hand, co-operative societies (both consumers' and producers'), which have since at least given practical proof that the merchant and the manufacturer are quite superfluous personages. On the other hand, he introduced labour bazaars for the exchange of the products of labour through the medium of labour-notes with the labour-hour as the unit; institutions necessarily doomed to failure, but completely anticipating the much later Proudhon exchange bank, and differing only from the latter in that they did not claim to be the panacea for all social ills, but just a first step towards a much more radical transformation of society.
The Utopians' outlook has governed the socialist ideas of the nineteenth century for a long time and in part still does. Until very recently all French and English socialists paid homage to it. The earlier German communism, including that of Weitling, also belongs to it. To all these, socialism is the expression of absolute truth, reason and justice and needs only to be discovered to conquer the world by virtue of its own power; as absolute truth is independent of time, space, and human historical development, it is a mere accident when and where it is discovered. At the same time, absolute truth, reason and justice are different for the founder of each different school; and as each one's special brand of absolute truth, reason and justice is in turn conditioned by his subjective understanding, his conditions of existence, the measure of his knowledge and his intellectual training, there is no other ending possible in this conflict of absolute truths than that they should grind each other down. Hence, from this nothing could come but a kind of eclectic, average socialism, such as in fact has dominated the minds of most of the socialist workers in France and England up to the present time; a mish-mash permitting of the most manifold shades of opinion; a mish-mash of the less striking critical statements, economic theories and pictures of future society of the founders of different sects; a mish-mash which is the more easily produced, the more the sharp edges of precision of the individual constituents are rubbed down in the stream of debate, like rounded pebbles in a brook. To make a science of socialism, it had first to be placed upon a real basis.
The Introduction Of Dialectics
In the meantime, the new German philosophy, terminating in Hegel, had arisen along with and after the French philosophy of the eighteenth century. Its greatest merit was its resumption of dialectics as the highest form of thinking. The old Greek philosophers were all born dialecticians, and Aristotle, the most encyclopaedic intellect among them, had already investigated the most essential forms of dialectical thought. On the other hand, although the newer philosophy, too, included brilliant exponents of dialectics (e.g., Descartes and Spinoza), it had become — especially under English influence — increasingly stuck in the so-called metaphysical mode of reasoning, by which the French of the eighteenth century were also almost wholly dominated, at all events in their special philosophical works. Outside philosophy in the narrow sense, the French nevertheless produced masterpieces of dialectic; we need only call to mind Diderot's Rameau's Nephew and Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Among Men. We give here, in brief, the essential character of these two modes of thought.
When we reflect on nature or the history of mankind or our own intellectual activity, at first we see the picture of an endless maze of connections and interactions, in which nothing remains what, where and as it was, but everything moves, changes, comes into being and passes away. At first, therefore, we see the picture as a whole, with its individual parts still more or less kept in the background; we observe the movements, transitions, connections, rather than the things that move, change and are connected. This primitive, naïve but intrinsically correct conception of the world is that of ancient Greek philosophy, and was first clearly formulated by Heraclitus: everything is and also is not, for everything is in flux, is constantly changing, constantly coming into being and passing away.
But this conception, correctly as it expresses the general character of the picture of phenomena as a whole, does not suffice to explain the details of which this picture is made up, and so long as we do not know these, we are not clear about the whole picture. In order to understand these details we must detach them from their natural or historical connection and examine each one separately according to its nature, special causes and effects, etc. This is primarily the task of natural science and historical research, branches of science which for the Greeks of classical times occupied only a subordinate position on very good grounds, because they had first of all to piece together the materials for these sciences to work upon. Only after a certain amount of natural and historical material has been collected can critical analysis, comparison, and arrangement in classes, orders, and species be undertaken. The beginnings of the exact natural sciences were, therefore, worked out first by the Greeks of the Alexandrian period, and later on, in the Middle Ages, further developed by the Arabs. Genuine natural science dates from the second half of the fifteenth century, and from then on it has advanced with ever increasing rapidity. The analysis of nature into its individual parts, the division of the different natural processes and objects into definite classes, the study of the internal anatomy of organic bodies in their manifold forms — these were the fundamental conditions for the gigantic strides in our knowledge of nature that have been made during the last four hundred years. But this has bequeathed us the habit of observing natural objects and processes in isolation, detached from the general context; of observing them not in their motion, but in their state of rest; not as essentially variable elements, but as constant ones; not in their life, but in their death. And when this way of looking at things was transferred by Bacon and Locke from natural science to philosophy, it begot the narrow, metaphysical mode of thought peculiar to the last centuries.
To the metaphysician, things and their mental images, ideas, are isolated, to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, fixed, rigid objects of investigation given once for all. He thinks in absolutely unmediated antitheses. "His communication is 'yea, yea; nay, nay'; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." For him a thing either exists or does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another; cause and effect stand in a rigid antithesis one to the other.
At first sight this way of thinking seems to us most plausible because it is that of so-called sound common sense. Yet sound common sense, respectable fellow that he is in the homely realm of his own four walls, has very wonderful adventures directly he ventures out into the wide world of research. The metaphysical mode of thought, justifiable and even necessary as it is in a number of domains whose extent varies according to the nature of the object, invariably bumps into a limit sooner or later, beyond which it becomes one sided, restricted, abstract, lost in insoluble contradictions, because in the presence of individual things it forgets their connections; because in the presence of their existence it forgets their coming into being and passing away; because in their state of rest it forgets their motion. It cannot see the wood for the trees. For everyday purposes we know and can definitely say, e.g., whether an animal is alive or not. But, upon closer inquiry, we find that this is sometimes a very complex question, as the jurists very well know. They have cudgelled their brains in vain to discover a rational limit beyond which the killing of the child in its mother's womb is murder. It is just as impossible to determine the moment of death, for physiology proves that death is not a sudden instantaneous phenomenon, but a very protracted process.
In like manner, every organic being is every moment the same and not the same; every moment it assimilates matter supplied from without and gets rid of other matter; every moment some cells of its body die and others build themselves anew; in a longer or shorter time the matter of its body is completely renewed and is replaced by other molecules of matter, so that every organic being is always itself, and yet something other than itself.
Further, we find upon closer investigation that the two poles of an antithesis, like positive and negative, are as inseparable as they are opposed, and that despite all their opposition, they interpenetrate. In like manner, we find that cause and effect are conceptions which only hold good in their application to the individual case as such; but as soon as we consider the individual case in its general connection with the universe as a whole, they merge, they dissolve in the concept of universal action and reaction in which causes and effects are constantly changing places, so that what is effect here and now will be cause there and then, and vice versa.
None of these processes and modes of thought fit into the frame of metaphysical thinking. But for dialectics, which grasps things and their conceptual images essentially in their interconnection, in their concatenation, their motion, their coming into and passing out of existence, such processes as those mentioned above are so many corroborations of its own procedure.
Nature is the test of dialectics, and it must be said for modern science that it has furnished this test with very rich and daily increasing materials, and thus has shown that in the last resort nature works dialectically and not metaphysically; that she does not move in an eternally uniform and perpetually recurring circle, but goes through a genuine historical evolution. In this connection Darwin must be named before all others. He dealt the metaphysical conception of nature the heaviest blow by his proof that the organic world of today — plants, animals, and consequently man too — is the product of a process of evolution going on through millions of years. But since the natural scientists who have learned to think dialectically are still few and far between, this conflict of the results of discovery with traditional modes of thinking explains the endless confusion now reigning in theoretical natural science, the despair of teachers as well as students, of authors and readers alike.
An exact representation of the universe, of its evolution and of that of mankind, and of the reflection of this evolution in the minds of men can therefore only be obtained by the method of dialectics with its constant regard to the general actions and reactions of becoming and ceasing to be, of progressive or retrogressive changes. And it is in this spirit that modern German philosophy immediately set to work. Kant began his career by resolving the stable solar system of Newton and its eternal duration, after the famous initial impulse had once been given, into a historical process, the formation of the sun and all the planets out of a rotating nebulous mass. From this he already drew the conclusion that, given this origin of the solar system, its future death followed of necessity. Half a century later his theory was established mathematically by Laplace, and after another half century the spectroscope confirmed the existence in cosmic space of such incandescent masses of gas in various stages of condensation.
This new German philosophy terminated in the Hegelian system. In this system — and this is its great merit — the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is for the first time represented as a process, i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development; and the attempt was made to show internal interconnections in this motion and development. From this point of view the history of mankind no longer appeared as a wild whirl of senseless deeds of violence, all equally condemnable at the judgment-seat of mature philosophic reason and best forgotten as quickly as possible, but as the process of evolution of humanity itself. It was now the task of the intellect to follow the gradual march of this process through all its devious ways, and to trace out the inner logic running through all its apparently contingent phenomena.
That the Hegelian system did not solve the problem it posed itself is immaterial here. Its epoch-making merit was that it posed the problem. This problem is indeed one that no single individual will ever be able to solve. Although Hegel was — with Saint-Simon — the most encyclopaedic mind of his time, he was restricted, first, by the necessarily limited extent of his own knowledge and, second, by the limited extent and depth of the knowledge and conceptions of his epoch. To these limits a third must be added. Hegel was an idealist. To him the thoughts within his brain were not the more or less abstract images of actual things and processes, but on the contrary, things and their development were only the realized images of the "Idea", existing somehow from eternity before the world existed. Consequently everything was stood on its head and the actual interconnection of things in the world was completely reversed. Although Hegel had grasped some individual interconnections correctly and with genius, yet for the reasons just given there is much that in point of detail necessarily turned out botched, artificial, laboured, in a word, upside down. The Hegelian system as such was a colossal miscarriage — but it was also the last of its kind. In fact, it was suffering from an internal and incurable contradiction. On the one hand, its essential postulate was the conception that human history is a process of development, which, by its very nature, cannot find its intellectual final term in the discovery of any so-called absolute truth. But on the other hand, it laid claim to being the very essence of precisely this absolute truth. A system of natural and historical knowledge which is all-embracing and final for all time is in contradiction with the fundamental laws of dialectical thinking; which by no means excludes, but on the contrary includes, the idea that systematic knowledge of the entire external world can make giant strides from generation to generation.
The recognition of the complete inversion of previous German idealism necessarily led to materialism, but, it must be noted, not to the purely metaphysical, exclusively mechanical materialism of the eighteenth century. In contrast to the naïvely revolutionary, flat rejection of all previous history, modern materialism sees history as the process of development of humanity and its own task as the discovery of the laws of motion of this process. The conception was prevalent among the French of the eighteenth century and later in Hegel that nature was a whole, moving in narrow circles and for ever remaining immutable, with eternal celestial bodies, as in Newton's teaching, and with unalterable species of organic beings, as in Linnaeus' teaching. In opposition to this conception, modern materialism embraces the more recent advances of natural science, according to which nature too has its history in time, the celestial bodies, like the organic species with which they became peopled under favourable conditions, coming into being and passing away, and the recurrent cycles, insofar as they are at all admissible, assuming infinitely vaster dimensions. In both cases modern materialism is essentially dialectical and no longer needs any philosophy standing above the other sciences. As soon as each separate science is required to clarify its position in the great totality of things and of our knowledge of things, a special science dealing with this totality is superfluous. All that remains in an independent state from all earlier philosophy is the science of thought and its laws — formal logic and dialectics. Everything else merges into the positive science of nature and history.
But whilst the revolution in the conception of nature could only be made to the extent that research furnished the corresponding positive materials, certain historical events had already asserted themselves much earlier which led to a decisive change in the conception of history. In 1831, the first working-class rising took place in Lyon; between 1838 and 1842, the first national working-class movement, that of the English Chartists, reached its height. The class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie came to the front in the history of the most advanced countries in Europe in proportion to the development, on the one hand, of modern industry, and on the other, of the recently acquired political supremacy of the bourgeoisie. Facts more and more strenuously gave the lie to the teachings of bourgeois economics on the identity of the interests of capital and labour, on the general harmony and general prosperity flowing from free competition. None of these things could be ignored any longer, any more than the French and English socialism, which was their theoretical, though extremely imperfect, expression. But the old idealist conception of history, which was not yet dislodged, knew nothing of class struggles based on material interests, indeed knew nothing at all of material interests; production and all economic relations appeared in it only as incidental, subordinate elements in the "history of civilization".
The new facts made imperative a new examination of all past history. Then it was seen that all past history, with the exception of its primitive stages, was the history of class struggles; that these social classes warring with each other are always the products of the relations of production and exchange — in a word, of the economic relations of their epoch; that therefore the economic structure of society always forms the real basis, from which, in the last analysis, the whole superstructure of legal and political institutions as well as of the religious, philosophical, and other ideas of a given historical period is to be explained. Hegel had freed the conception of history from metaphysics — he had made it dialectical; but his conception of history was essentially idealistic. But now idealism was driven from its last refuge, the conception of history; now a materialistic treatment of history was advanced, and the way found to explain man's consciousness by his being, instead of, as heretofore, his being by his consciousness.
Henceforward socialism no longer appeared as an accidental discovery by this or that intellect of genius, but as the necessary outcome of the struggle between two classes produced by history — the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Its task was no longer to manufacture as perfect a system of society as possible, but to examine the historico-economic process from which these classes and their antagonism had of necessity sprung and to discover in the economic situation thus created the means of ending the conflict. But the earlier socialism was just as incompatible with this materialist conception of history as the French materialists' conception of nature was with dialectics and modern natural science. The earlier socialism certainly criticized the existing capitalist mode of production and its consequences. But it could not explain this mode of production, and, therefore, could not get the mastery of it. It could only simply reject it as evil. The more violently it denounced the exploitation of the working class, which is inseparable from capitalism, the less able was it clearly to show in what this exploitation consists and how it arises. But for this it was necessary, on the one hand, to present the capitalist mode of production in its historical interconnection and its necessity for a specific historical period, and therefore also the necessity of its doom; and, on the other, to lay bare its essential character, which was still hidden. This was done by the discovery of surplus-value. It was shown that the appropriation of unpaid labour is the basic form of the capitalist mode of production and of the exploitation of the worker effected by it; that even if the capitalist buys the labour-power of his worker at the full value it possesses as a commodity on the market, he still extracts more value from it than he paid for; and that in the last analysis this surplus-value forms those sums of value from which there is heaped up the constantly increasing mass of capital in the hands of the possessing classes. The process both of capitalist production and of the production of capital was explained.
These two great discoveries, the materialist conception of history and the revelation of the secret of capitalist production through surplus-value, we owe to Marx. With them socialism became a science, which had now to be elaborated in all its details and interconnections.
The Materialist Conception Of History
The materialist conception of history starts from the principle that production and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of every social order; that in every society that has appeared in history, the distribution of wealth and with it the division of society into classes or estates are dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. Accordingly, the ultimate causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in their growing insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch. The growing recognition that existing social institutions are irrational and unjust, that reason has become unreason, and kindness a scourge, is only a sign that changes in the modes of production and exchange have silently been taking place with which the social order adapted to earlier economic conditions is no longer in keeping. From this it also follows that the means of eliminating the abuses that have been brought to light must also be present, in a more or less developed condition, within the changed relations of production themselves. These means are not to be invented out of one's brain, but discovered by the brain in the existing material facts of production.
Where, then, does modern socialism stand?
It is now pretty generally conceded that the existing social order is the creation of the ruling class of today, of the bourgeoisie. The mode of production peculiar to the bourgeoisie, which since Marx has been called the capitalist mode of production, was incompatible with the local privileges and the privileges of estate as well as with the reciprocal personal ties of the feudal system. The bourgeoisie shattered the feudal system and on its ruins built the bourgeois social order, the realm of free competition, of freedom of movement, of equal rights for commodity owners and all the glories of capitalism. The capitalist mode of production could now develop freely. Since steam and the new tool-making machinery transformed the older manufacture into large-scale industry, the productive forces evolved under the guidance of the bourgeoisie developed with a rapidity and on a scale unheard of before. But just as manufacture and the handicraft industries, which had experienced a further growth under its influence, had come into conflict with the feudal trammels of the guilds in their time, so large-scale industry, in its more complete development, now comes into conflict with the barriers within which the capitalist mode of production holds it confined. The new productive forces have already outgrown the bourgeois form of using them; and this conflict between productive forces and mode of production is not a conflict engendered in men's heads, like that between original sin and divine justice, but it exists in the facts, objectively, outside us, independently of the will and even actions of the men who have brought it on. Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex in thought of this actual conflict, its ideal reflection in the minds of above all the class directly suffering under it, the working class.
Now, in what does this conflict consist?
Prior to capitalist production, i.e., in the Middle Ages, small-scale production generally prevailed, based upon the workers' private ownership of their means of production: the agriculture of the small peasant, freeman or serf, and the handicrafts in the towns. The instruments of labour — land, agricultural implements, the workshop, the hand tool — were the instruments of labour of single individuals, adapted for individual use, and, therefore, of necessity puny, dwarfish, circumscribed. But for this very reason they normally belonged to the producer himself. To concentrate these scattered, limited means of production, to enlarge them, to turn them into the powerful levers of production of the present day was precisely the historic role of the capitalist mode of production and of its upholder, the bourgeoisie. In Part IV of Capital Marx gives a detailed account of how the bourgeoisie has historically accomplished this since the fifteenth century through the three phases of simple co-operation, manufacture and large-scale industry. But as is also shown there, the bourgeoisie could not transform these limited means of production into mighty productive forces without at the same time transforming them from individual means of production into social means of production only workable by a collectivity of men. The spinning wheel, the hand-loom and the blacksmith's hammer were replaced by the spinning machine, the power-loom and the steam hammer, and the individual workshop by the factory commanding the co-operation of hundreds and thousands of workmen. Like the means of production, production itself changed from a series of individual operations into a series of social acts, and the products from individual into social products. The yarn, the cloth and the metal goods that now came out of the factory were the common product of many workers, through whose hands they had successively to pass before they were ready. No one person could say of them: "I made that, this is my product."
But where the spontaneous division of labour within society, a division of labour which arose gradually and planlessly, is the fundamental form of production, it imprints on the products the form of commodities, the mutual exchange, purchase and sale of which enable the individual producers to satisfy their manifold wants. This was the case in the Middle Ages. The peasant, for example, sold the artisan agricultural products and bought from him the products of his craft. The new mode of production infiltrated this society of individual producers, of commodity producers. It set up the planned division of labour, as it was organized in the individual factory, in the midst of the spontaneous, planless division of labour such as then prevailed throughout society; side by side with individual production, social production made its appearance. The products of both were sold in the same market, and, consequently, at the same prices, at least approximately. But planned organization was stronger than the spontaneous division of labour; the factories working socially produced their commodities more cheaply than the isolated small producers. Individual production succumbed in one field after another. Social production totally revolutionized the old mode of production. But this, its revolutionary, character was so little recognized that it was, on the contrary, introduced as a means of increasing and promoting commodity production. In its origin, it was directly tied up with certain already existing levers of commodity production and exchange: merchant capital, handicrafts, wage-labour. Since social production itself appeared as a new form of commodity production, the old forms of appropriation characteristic of commodity production remained in full force for it too.
In commodity production as it had developed in the Middle Ages, any question concerning the identity of the owner of the product of labour just couldn't arise. The individual producer had generally produced it from his own raw material, which was often his own handiwork, with his own instruments of labour, and by his own or his family's manual labour. There was no need whatever for him to appropriate the product to begin with, it belonged to him wholly as a matter of course. His ownership of the product was therefore based upon his own labour. Even where outside help was used, it was generally of little importance, and often received other compensation in addition to wages; the guild apprentice and journeyman worked less for board and wages than for training to become master craftsmen themselves.
Then came the concentration of the means of production in large workshops and manufactories, their transformation into actual social means of production. But the social means of production and products were treated as if they were still the means of production and the products of individuals they had been before. Hitherto, the owner of the instruments of labour had appropriated the product, because it was normally his own product and the auxiliary labour of others was the exception. Now the owner of the instruments of labour continued to appropriate the product, although it was no longer his product, but exclusively the product of the labour of others. Thus, the products which were now turned out socially were not appropriated by those who had actually set the means of production in motion and actually turned out the products, but by the capitalists. The means of production and production itself have become social in essence. But they are subjected to a form of appropriation which presupposes private production by individuals, and under which, therefore, everyone owns his own product and brings it to market. The mode of production is subjected to this form of appropriation, although it removes the presupposition on which the latter rests. The whole conflict of today is already present in embryo in this contradiction which gives the new mode of production its capitalist character. The more the new mode of production became dominant in all decisive fields of production and in all economically decisive countries, and the more it reduced individual production to an insignificant residue, the more glaring did the incompatibility of social production with capitalist appropriation necessarily become.
As we have said, the first capitalists found the form of wage-labour already in existence. But wage-labour as the exception, as a side-occupation, as an auxiliary, as a transitory phase. The agricultural labourer who occasionally went to work as a day labourer had a few acres of his own land, from which alone he could get his living in a pinch. The regulations of the guilds ensured that the journeyman of today became the master craftsman of tomorrow. But this changed as soon as the means of production became social and were concentrated in the hands of capitalists. Both the means of production and the products of the small individual producer increasingly depreciated in value; there was nothing left for him to do but to go to the capitalist and work for wages. From being an exception and an auxiliary, wage-labour became the rule and the basic form of all production; from being a side-occupation, it now became the worker's exclusive activity. The occasional wage-worker was transformed into the wage-worker for life. Furthermore, the number of lifelong wage-workers was enormously increased by the simultaneous collapse of the feudal system, the disbanding of the feudal lords' retainers, the eviction of peasants from their homesteads, etc. The separation of the means of production concentrated in the hands of the capitalists, on the one side, from the producers now possessing nothing but their labour-power, on the other, was accomplished. The contradiction between social production and capitalist appropriation became manifest as the antagonism between proletariat and bourgeoisie.
We have seen that the capitalist mode of production infiltrated a society of commodity producers, individual producers, whose social nexus was mediated through the exchange of their products. But every society based on commodity production has the peculiarity that the producers in it have lost command over their own social relations. Each produces for himself with the means of production which happen to be at his disposal and in order to satisfy his individual needs through exchange. No one knows how much of the article he produces is coming onto the market or how much will be wanted, no one knows whether his individual product will meet a real need, whether he will cover his costs or even be able to sell it at all. Anarchy of social production prevails. But like all other forms of production, commodity production has its own peculiar laws, which are inherent in and inseparable from it; and these laws assert themselves despite anarchy, in and through anarchy. They are manifested in the only persistent form of the social nexus, in exchange, and impose themselves on the individual producers as compulsory laws of competition. At first, therefore, they are unknown to these producers themselves and have to be discovered by them gradually, only through long experience. Thus they assert themselves without the producers and against the producers, as the natural laws of their form of production, working blindly. The product dominates the producers.
In mediaeval society, especially in the earlier centuries, production was essentially for the producer's own use. In the main it only satisfied the wants of the producer and his family. Where personal relations of dependence existed as in the countryside, it also contributed towards satisfying the wants of the feudal lord. No exchange was involved here, and consequently the products did not assume the character of commodities. The peasant family produced almost everything it required — utensils and clothing as well as food. It was only when it succeeded in producing a surplus beyond its own wants and the payments in kind due to the feudal lord — it was only at this stage that it also produced commodities; this surplus thrown into social exchange and offered for sale became a commodity. The town artisans, it is true, had to produce for exchange from the very beginning. But they too covered the greatest part of their own wants themselves; they had gardens and small fields; they sent their cattle out into the communal woodland, which also provided them with timber and firewood; the women spun flax, wool, etc. Production for the purpose of exchange, the production of commodities, was only just coming into being. Hence, restricted exchange, restricted market, stable mode of production, local isolation from the outside world, and local unity within: the Mark in the countryside, the guild in the town.
But with the extension of commodity production and especially with the emergence of the capitalist mode of production, the previously dormant laws of commodity production began to operate more openly and more potently. The old bonds were loosened, the old dividing barriers were broken through, the producers were more and more transformed into independent, isolated producers of commodities. The anarchy of social production became obvious and was carried to further and further extremes. But the chief means by which the capitalist mode of production accentuated this anarchy in social production was the exact opposite of anarchy — the increasing organization of production as social production in each individual productive establishment. With this lever it put an end to the old peaceful stability. In whatever branch of industry it was introduced, it suffered no older method of operation alongside it; wherever it laid hold of a handicraft, it wiped the old handicraft out. The field of labour became a field of battle. The great geographical discoveries and the colonization which followed on them multiplied markets and hastened the transformation of handicraft into manufacture. The struggle broke out not only between the individual local producers; in turn the local struggles grew into national struggles, the commercial wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Finally, large-scale industry and the creation of the world market have made the struggle universal and at the same time given it an unparalleled virulence. Between individual capitalists, as between whole industries and whole countries, advantages in natural or artificial conditions of production decide life or death. The vanquished are relentlessly cast aside. It is the Darwinian struggle for individual existence, transferred from nature to society with a fury raised to the nth power. The brutish state of nature appears as the peak of human development. The contradiction between social production and capitalist appropriation reproduces itself as the antagonism between the organization of production in the individual factory and the anarchy of production in society as a whole.
The capitalist mode of production moves in these two phenomenal forms of the contradiction immanent in it by its very origin, it relentlessly describes that "vicious circle" which Fourier had already discovered. But what Fourier in his day was as yet unable to see is that this circle is gradually narrowing, that the motion is rather in the form of a spiral and must come to an end, like the motion of the planets, by collision with the centre. It is the motive force of the social anarchy of production which increasingly transforms the great majority of men into proletarians, and it is the proletarian masses in their turn who will ultimately put an end to the anarchy of production. It is the motive force of the social anarchy of production which transforms the infinite perfectibility of the machine in large-scale industry into a compulsory commandment for each individual industrial capitalist to make his machinery more and more perfect, under penalty of ruin.
But the perfecting of machinery means rendering human labour superfluous. If the introduction and increase of machinery meant the displacement of millions of hand workers by a few machine workers, the improvement of machinery means the displacement of larger and larger numbers of machine workers themselves, and ultimately the creation of a mass of available wage-workers exceeding the average employment needs of capital, a complete industrial reserve army, as I called it as long ago as 1845, an army available at times when industry is working at high pressure, to be thrown out onto the streets by the inevitable ensuing crash, a constant dead weight on the feet of the working class in its struggle for existence with capital, a regulator to keep wages down to the low level which suits the needs of capital. Thus it comes about that machinery, to use Marx's phrase, becomes the most powerful weapon in the war of capital against the working class, that the instruments of labour constantly knock the means of subsistence out of the worker's hands, that the very product of the worker is turned into an instrument for his enslavement. Thus it comes about that from the very beginning economy in the instruments of labour becomes at once the most reckless squandering of labour-power and robbery committed against the normal conditions requisite for the labour function; that machinery, the most powerful means for shortening labour-time, is converted into the most unfailing means for transforming the entire span of life of the worker and his family into disposable labour-time for the purpose of expanding the value of capital. Thus it comes about that the overwork of some becomes the precondition for the unemployment of others and that large-scale industry, which hunts the whole world over for new consumers, confines the consumption of the masses at home to a starvation minimum and thus undermines its own internal market. "The law that always equilibrates the relative surplus population, or industrial reserve army, to the extent and energy of accumulation, this law rivets the labourer to capital more firmly than the wedges of Vulcan did Prometheus to the rock. It involves an accumulation of misery corresponding to the accumulation of capital. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, bestialization, moral degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product as capital." (Marx, Capital, p. 671.) To expect any other distribution of the products from the capitalist mode of production is like expecting the electrodes of a battery not to decompose water, not to develop oxygen at the positive pole and hydrogen at the negative, so long as they are connected with the battery.
We have seen how the capacity for improvement of modern machinery, which is pushed to a maximum, is transformed by the anarchy of social production into a compulsory commandment for the individual industrial capitalist constantly to improve his machinery, constantly to increase its productive power. The bare factual possibility of extending his field of production is transformed into a similar compulsory commandment for him. The enormous expansive force of large-scale industry, compared to which that of gases is mere child's play, now appears to us as a need for qualitative and quantitative expansion that laughs at all counteracting pressure. Such counteracting pressure is formed by consumption, by sales, by markets for the products of large-scale industry. But the capacity of the market to expand, both extensively and intensively, is primarily governed by quite different laws which operate far less energetically. The expansion of the market cannot keep pace with the expansion of production. The collision becomes inevitable, and since it can yield no solution so long as it does not burst the capitalist mode of production itself, it becomes periodic. Capitalist production generates a new "vicious circle".
In fact, since 1825, when the first general crisis erupted, the whole industrial and commercial world, production and exchange among all civilized peoples and their more or less barbarian appendages, have broken down about once every ten years. Trade comes to a standstill, markets are glutted, products lie around in piles as massive as they are unsaleable, hard cash disappears, credit vanishes, factories are idle, the working masses lack the means of subsistence because they have produced too much of them, bankruptcy follows upon bankruptcy, forced sale upon forced sale. The stagnation lasts for years, and both productive forces and products are squandered and destroyed wholesale, until the accumulated masses of commodities are finally run down at a more or less considerable depreciation and until production and exchange gradually begin to move again. By degrees the pace quickens, it becomes a trot, the industrial trot passes into a gallop, and the gallop in turn passes into the unbridled onrush of a complete industrial, commercial, credit and speculative steeple chase, only to end up again, after the most breakneck jumps — in the ditch of a crash. And so on over and over again. We have now experienced it fully five times since 1825, and at this moment (1877) we are experiencing it for the sixth time. The character of these crises is so clearly marked that Fourier hit them all off when he described the first as a crise pléthorique, a crisis of superabundance.
In these crises, the contradiction between social production and capitalist appropriation ends in a violent explosion. The circulation of commodities is for the moment reduced to nothing; money, the means of circulation, becomes an obstacle to circulation; all the laws of commodity production and commodity circulation are turned upside down. The economic collision has reached its culminating point: the mode of production rebels against the mode of exchange.
The fact that the social organization of production within the factory has developed to the point at which it has become incompatible with the anarchy of production in society which exists side by side with and above it — this fact is made palpable to the capitalists themselves by the forcible concentration of capitals which takes place during crises through the ruin of many big and even more small capitalists. The whole mechanism of the capitalist mode of production breaks down under the pressure of the productive forces which it itself has created. It is no longer able to transform the whole of this mass of means of production into capital; they lie idle, and for this very reason the industrial reserve army must also lie idle. Means of production, means of subsistence, available workers, all the elements of production and of general wealth are there in abundance. But "abundance becomes the source of distress and want" (Fourier), because it is precisely abundance that prevents the conversion of the means of production and subsistence into capital. For in capitalist society the means of production cannot begin to function unless they have first been converted into capital, into means for the exploitation of human labour-power. The necessity for the means of production and subsistence to take the character of capital stands like a ghost between them and the workers. It alone prevents the coming together of the material and personal levers of production; it alone forbids the means of production to function and the workers to work and to live. Thus on the one hand the capitalist mode of production stands convicted of its own incapacity to continue the administration of these productive forces. On the other hand, these productive forces themselves press forward with increasing power towards the abolition of the contradiction, to their deliverance from their character as capital, towards the actual recognition of their character as social productive forces.
It is this counterpressure of the productive forces, in their mighty upgrowth, against their character as capital, this increasingly compulsive drive for the recognition of their social nature, which forces the capitalist class itself to treat them more and more as social productive forces, as far as this is at all possible within the framework of capitalist relations. The period of industrial boom with its unlimited credit inflation no less than the crash itself operating through the collapse of large capitalist establishments, drives towards that form of the socialization of larger masses of means of production which we find in the various kinds of joint-stock companies. Many of these means of production and communication are so colossal from the outset that, like the railways, they exclude all other forms of capitalist exploitation. At a certain stage of development this form, too, no longer suffices; the large-scale producers in one and the same branch of industry in a country unite in a "trust", an association for the purpose of regulating production. They determine the total amount to be produced, parcel it out among themselves and thus enforce the selling price fixed beforehand. Since such trusts usually go to pieces as soon as business becomes bad, for this very reason they push towards a still more concentrated socialization. The whole branch of industry is converted into one big joint-stock company, and internal competition gives place to the internal monopoly of this one company; this happened as early as 1890 with English alkali production, which, after the fusion of all the forty-eight large works, is now carried on by a single company, under centralized direction, with a capital of £6 million.
In the trusts, free competition changes into monopoly and the planless production of capitalist society capitulates before the planned production of the invading socialist society. Of course, this is initially still to the benefit of the capitalists, but the exploitation becomes so palpable here that it must break down. No nation would put up with production directed by trusts, with such a barefaced exploitation of the community by a small band of coupon-clippers.
In one way or another, with trusts or without, the state, the official representative of capitalist society, is finally constrained to take over the direction of production. This necessity for conversion into state property first appears in the big communication organizations: the postal service, telegraphs and railways.
If the crises revealed the bourgeoisie's incapacity to continue to administer the modern productive forces, the conversion of the large production and communication establishments into joint-stock companies, trusts and state property shows that the bourgeoisie can be dispensed with for this purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist are now conducted by salaried employees. The capitalist no longer has any social activity save the pocketing of revenues, the clipping of coupons and gambling on the Stock Exchange, where the different capitalists fleece each other of their capital. Just as at first the capitalist mode of production displaced the workers, so now it is displacing the capitalists, relegating them, just as it did the workers, to the superfluous population, although not immediately to the industrial reserve army.
But neither conversion into joint-stock companies and trusts nor conversion into state property deprives the productive forces of their character as capital. This is obvious in the case of joint-stock companies and trusts. But the modern state, too, is only the organization with which bourgeois society provides itself in order to maintain the general external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against encroachments either by the workers or by individual capitalists. The modern state, whatever its form, is an essentially capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal aggregate capitalist. The more productive forces it takes over into its possession, the more it becomes a real aggregate capitalist, the more citizens it exploits. The workers remain wage-workers, proletarians. The capitalist relationship is not abolished, rather it is pushed to the limit. But at this limit it changes into its opposite. State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but it contains within itself the formal means, the handle to the solution.
This solution can only consist in actually recognizing the social nature of the modern productive forces and in therefore bringing the mode of production, appropriation and exchange into harmony with the social character of the means of production. This can only be brought about by society's openly and straightforwardly taking possession of the productive forces, which have outgrown all guidance other than that of society itself. Thus the social character of the means of production and of the products, which today reacts against the producers themselves, periodically ruptures the mode of production and exchange, and enforces itself only as a law of nature working blindly, violently and destructively, will be quite consciously asserted by the producers, and instead of being a source of disorder and periodic collapse will change into the most powerful lever of production itself.
The forces operating in society work exactly like the forces of nature — blindly, violently and destructively, so long as we fail to understand them and take them into account. But once we have recognized them and understood their action, their trend and their effects, it depends solely on ourselves to increasingly subject them to our will and to attain our ends through them. This is especially true of the mighty productive forces of the present day. As long as we obstinately refuse to understand their nature and their character — and the capitalist mode of production and its defenders resist such understanding with might and main — these forces operate in spite of us and against us, dominate us, as we have shown in detail. But once their nature is grasped, they can be transformed from demoniacal masters into willing servants in the hands of the producers working in association. It is the difference between the destructive force of electricity in the lightning of a thunderstorm and the tamed electricity of the telegraph and the arc light, the difference between a conflagration and fire working in the service of man. With this treatment of the present-day productive forces according to their nature, which is now at last understood, a socially planned regulation of production in accordance with the needs of the community and of each individual takes the place of the anarchy of social production. The capitalist mode of appropriation, in which the product enslaves first the producer and then the appropriator as well, will thus be replaced by the mode of appropriation of the product based on the nature of the modern means of production themselves: on the one hand, direct social appropriation as a means of maintaining and extending production, and on the other direct individual appropriation as a means of existence and enjoyment.
By increasingly transforming the great majority of the population into proletarians, the capitalist mode of production creates the force which, under penalty of its own destruction, is compelled to accomplish this revolution. By increasingly driving towards the transformation of the vast socialized means of production into state property, it itself points the way to the accomplishment of this revolution. The proletariat seizes state power and to begin with transforms the means of production into state property. But it thus puts an end to itself as proletariat, it thus puts an end to all class differences and class antagonisms and thus also to the state as state. Moving in class antagonisms, society up to now had need of the state, that is, an organization of the exploiting class at each period for the maintenance of its external conditions of production, that is, particularly for the forcible holding down of the exploited class in the conditions of oppression (slavery, villeinage or serfdom, wage-labour) given by the existing mode of production. The state was the official representative of the whole of society, its concentration in a visible body, but it was so only in so far as it was the state of that class which in its time represented the whole of society: in antiquity, the state of the slave-owning citizens, in the Middle Ages of the feudal nobility, in our time, of the bourgeoisie. When ultimately it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself superfluous. As soon as there is no social class to be held in subjection any longer, as soon as class domination and the struggle for individual existence based on the anarchy of production existing up to now are eliminated together with the collisions and excesses arising from them, there is nothing more to repress, nothing necessitating a special repressive force, a state. The first act in which the state really comes forward as the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — is at the same time its last independent act as a state. The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another and then dies away of itself.
The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production. The state is not "abolished", it withers away. It is by this that one must evaluate the phrase "a free people's state" with respect both to its temporary agitational justification and to its ultimate scientific inadequacy, and it is by this that we must also evaluate the demand of the so-called anarchists that the state should be abolished overnight.
Since the historical emergence of the capitalist mode of production, the seizure of all the means of production by society has often been dreamed of, by individuals as well as by whole sects, more or less vaguely as an ideal of the future. But it could only become possible, it could only become a historical necessity, when the actual conditions for its realization were present. Like every other social advance, it is becoming realizable not through the acquisition of the understanding that the existence of classes is in contradiction with justice, equality, etc., not through the mere will to abolish these classes, but through certain new economic conditions. The cleavage of society into an exploiting and an exploited class, a ruling and an oppressed class, was the necessary outcome of the previous low development of production. Society is necessarily divided into classes as long as the total social labour only yields a product but slightly exceeding what is necessary for the bare existence of all, as long as labour therefore claims all or almost all the time of the great majority of the members of society. Side by side with this great majority exclusively enthralled in toil, a class freed from direct productive labour is formed which manages the general business of society: the direction of labour, affairs of state, justice, science, art, and so forth. It is therefore the law of the division of labour which lies at the root of the division into classes. However, this does not mean that this division into classes was not established by violence and robbery, by deception and fraud, or that the ruling class, once in the saddle, has ever failed to strengthen its domination at the cost of the working class and to convert its direction of society into increased exploitation of the masses.
But if, upon this showing, division into classes has a certain historical justification, it does so only for a given period of time, for given social conditions. It was based on the insufficiency of production; it will be swept away by the full development of the modern productive forces. In fact the abolition of social classes presupposes a level of historical development at which the existence not merely of this or that particular ruling class but of any ruling class at all, and therefore of class distinction itself, has become an anachronism, is obsolete. It therefore presupposes that the development of production has reached a level at which the appropriation of the means of production and of the products, and consequently of political supremacy and of the monopoly of education and intellectual leadership by a special social class, has become not only superfluous but also a hindrance to development economically, politically and intellectually.
This point has now been reached. Its political and intellectual bankruptcy is hardly a secret any longer to the bourgeoisie itself, and its economic bankruptcy recurs regularly every ten years. In each crisis society is suffocated beneath the weight of its own productive forces and products of which it can make no use and stands helpless in face of the absurd contradiction that the producers have nothing to consume because consumers are lacking. The expansive force of the means of production bursts asunder the bonds imposed upon them by the capitalist mode of production. Their release from these bonds is the sole prerequisite for an unbroken, ever more rapidly advancing development of the productive forces, and thus of a practically unlimited growth of production itself. Nor is this all. The social appropriation of the means of production puts an end not only to the current artificial restrictions on production, but also to the positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products which are now the inevitable concomitants of production and which reach their zenith in crises. Further, it sets free for the community at large a mass of means of production and products by putting an end to the senseless luxury and extravagance of the present ruling classes and their political representatives. The possibility of securing for every member of society, through social production, an existence which is not only perfectly adequate materially and which becomes daily richer, but also guarantees him the completely free development and exercise of his physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now present for the first time, but it is present.
The seizure of the means of production by society eliminates commodity production and with it the domination of the product over the producer. The anarchy within social production is replaced by consciously planned organization. The struggle for individual existence comes to an end. It is only at this point that man finally separates in a certain sense from the animal kingdom and that he passes from animal conditions of existence to really human ones. The conditions of existence environing and hitherto dominating humanity now pass under the dominion and control of humanity, which now for the first time becomes the real conscious master of nature, because and in so far as it becomes master of its own social organization. The laws of man's own social activity, which have hitherto confronted him as extraneous laws of nature dominating him, will then be applied by man with full knowledge and hence be dominated by him. Man's own social organization, which has hitherto confronted him as a process dictated by nature and history, now becomes a process resulting from his own voluntary action. The objective extraneous forces which have hitherto dominated history now pass under the control of man himself. It is only from this point that man will himself make his own history fully consciously, it is only from this point that the social causes he sets in motion will preponderantly and ever increasingly have the effects he wills. It is humanity's leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom.
In conclusion, let us briefly sum up the course of our development:
I. Mediaeval Society: Small-scale individual production. Means of production adapted to individual use, hence primitive, clumsy, petty, puny in effect. Production for immediate consumption, by the producer himself or by his feudal lord. Only where a surplus of production over this consumption occurs does this surplus get offered for sale and enter into exchange: production of commodities, therefore, only in its nascent state; but it already contains within itself, in embryo, the anarchy in social production.
II. Capitalist Revolution: Transformation of industry, at first by means of simple co-operation and manufacture. Concentration of the previously scattered means of production into large workshops, and consequently their transformation from individual into social means of production, a transformation which by and large does not affect the form of exchange. The old forms of appropriation remain in force. The capitalist appears: in his character as owner of the means of production he also appropriates the products and turns them into commodities. Production has become a social act; exchange and with it appropriation remain individual acts, the acts of individuals: the social product is appropriated by the individual capitalist. Fundamental contradiction, from which there arise all the contradictions in which present-day society moves and which large-scale industry brings to light.
A) Separation of the producer from the means of production. Condemnation of the worker to wage-labour for life. Antagonism of proletariat and bourgeoisie.
B) Growing prominence and increasing effectiveness of the laws governing commodity production. Unbridled competitive struggle. Contradiction between social organization in the individual factory and social anarchy in production as a whole.
C) On the one side, perfecting of machinery, which competition makes a compulsory commandment for each individual manufacturer, and which is equivalent to a constantly increasing displacement of workers: industrial reserve army. On the other, unlimited expansion of production, likewise a compulsory law of competition for every manufacturer. On both sides, unheard-of development of the productive forces, excess of supply over demand, overproduction, glutting of markets, crises every ten years, vicious circle: here, superabundance of means of production and products — there, superabundance of workers without employment and means of existence; but these two levers of production and of social well-being are unable to co-operate, because the capitalist form of production forbids the productive forces to function and the products to circulate unless they are first turned into capital — which their very superabundance prevents. The contradiction has grown into an absurdity: the mode of production rebels against the form of exchange. The bourgeoisie is convicted of incapacity to manage its own social productive forces any further.
D) Partial recognition of the social character of the productive forces imposed on the capitalists themselves. Appropriation of the large production and communication organizations, first by joint-stock companies, later by trusts, then by the state. The bourgeoisie proves itself a superfluous class; all its social functions are now performed by salaried employees.
III. Proletarian Revolution: Solution of the contradictions: the proletariat seizes the public power and by virtue of this power transforms the social means of production, which are slipping from the hands of the bourgeoisie, into public property. By this act, the proletariat frees the means of production from their previous character as capital, and gives their social character complete freedom to assert itself. Social production according to a predetermined plan now becomes possible. The development of production makes the further existence of different social classes an anachronism. In proportion as the anarchy of social production vanishes, the political authority of the state dies away. Men, at last masters of their own mode of social organization, consequently become at the same time masters of nature, masters of themselves — free.
To accomplish this world-emancipating act is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To grasp the historical conditions of this act and therefore its very nature, and thus to bring the conditions and character of its own action to the consciousness of the class that is destined to act, the class that is now oppressed — this is the task of scientific socialism, the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement.
-  This is the passage on the French Revolution: "The thought, the concept of right, all at once asserted itself, and against this the old scaffolding of wrong could make no stand. In this conception of right, therefore, a constitution has now been established, and henceforth everything must be based upon this. Ever since the sun has been in the firmament and the planets have circled round it, the sight had never been seen of man standing on his head — i.e., on thought — and building reality after this image. Anaxagoras was the first to say that nous, reason, rules the world; but now, for the first time, man had come to recognize that the Idea must rule mental reality. And this was a magnificent surmise. All thinking beings have joined in celebrating this epoch. A sublime emotion prevailed at that time, an enthusiasm of reason sent a thrill through the world as if the reconciliation of the divine with the profane had only now come about" (Hegel, Philosophy of History, German ed., 1840, p. 555). Is it not high time to set the Anti-Socialist Law in action against these teachings of the late Professor Hegel which are so subversive and such a public danger? [Note by Engels; italics in the last three sentences of the quotation from Hegel are Engels'. — Ed.]
-  Münzer (around 1490-1525) was a revolutionary leader and ideologist of the radical peasant-plebeian wing during the Reformation and the Peasants' War. He propagated utopian, egalitarian communism.
As for the Levellers, Engels here obviously has in mind the True Levellers and the egalitarian Diggers, who constituted the extreme left wing of the Levellers.
Babeuf (1760-97) was a utopian communist and the theorist and leader of the "Conspiracy of Equals".
-  Lettres d'un Habitant de Genève à ses Contemporains (Letters of a Resident of Geneva to his Contemporaries) is Saint-Simon's first work; it was written in Geneva in 1802 and published anonymously in Paris in 1803. The first work of importance by Charles Fourier was Théorie des Quetre Mouvements et des Destinées Générales (Theory of the Four Movements and Destinies in General), written early in the 19th century and published anonymously in Lyon in 1808 (the title page gives Leipzig as the place of publication, apparently for censorship reasons). New Lanark — a cotton mill with a workers' settlement near the town of Lanark, Scotland; it was founded in the early 1780s.
-  "Lettres d'un habitant de Genève à ses contemporains" in OEuvres de Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon, Editions Anthropos, Paris, 1966, Vol. I, Book I, p. 55 and pp. 41-42.
-  The eighth letter in the series: "Lettres de Henri Saint-Simon a un Americain". Ibid., Vol. I, Book II, p. 186.
-  Engels is referring to the two pamphlets co-authored by Saint Simon and A. Thierry: "De la réorganisation de la société Européenne…" and "Opinion sur les mesures à prendre contre la coalition de 1815". The first was written in October 1814, the second in May 1815. Ibid., Vol. I, Book I, pp. 153-218 and Vol. VI, pp. 353-79.
-  See Fourier's statement in his first book, Théorie des Quatre Mouvements: "As a general thesis, social progress and changes in a period take place by reason of the progress of women towards freedom, and the decay of the social system takes place by reason of the decrease in women's freedom." From this he draws the following conclusion: "The extension of the rights of women is the basic principle of all social progress." (Fourier, Textes Choisis, edited by F. Armand, Editions Sociales, Paris, 1953, p. 124.)
-  Ibid., pp. 64-65 and 70.
-  Ibid., pp. 95 and 105. For the "vicious circle" of civilization, see pp. 104 and 129-30.
-  Ibid., pp. 66-67.
-  See A. L. Morton, The Life and Ideas of Robert Owen, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1962, p. 80.
-  From "The Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race", a memorial addressed to all the "red Republicans, Communists and Socialists of Europe", and sent to the provisional government of France, 1848, and also "to Queen Victoria and her responsible advisers". [Note by Engels.]
-  Robert Owen. "Report of the Proceedings at the Several Public Meetings, Held in Dublin… on the 18th March, l2th April, 19th April and 3rd May", Dublin, 1823.
-  An Act, introduced on Owen's initiative in June 1815, was passed by Parliament only in July 1819 after it had been emasculated. The Act regulating labour at cotton mills banned the employment of children under the age of nine and limited the working day to 12 hours for persons under 16. Since Owen's proposal to appoint salaried factory inspectors was defeated, the Act became a dead letter.
-  In October 1833 Owen presided over a congress of co-operative societies and trade unions in London, which led to the formation of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in February 1834. The Union's membership grew to half a million in a few weeks. It was Owen's intention that it would take over the management of production and remake society peacefully. This utopian plan collapsed very quickly. In face of powerful opposition from bourgeois society and the state, the Union ceased to exist in August 1834.
-  Equitable Labour Exchange Bazaars were founded by workers' co-operatives in various parts of England; Owen opened the National Equitable Labour Exchange Bazaar in London in September 1832 and it existed until mid-1834. Proudhon made an attempt to organize the Banque du Peuple in Paris in January 1849. It existed for about two months, but only on paper, as it failed before it began to function.
-  For an English translation of Le Neveu de Rameau, see Diderot, Rameau's Nephew and D'Alembert's Dream, translated by L. W. Tancock, Penguin Books, 1966; for an English translation of Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Among Men, see Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses, translated by G. D. H. Cole, J. M. Dent, Everyman Library.
-  The Alexandrian period of science dates from the third century B. C. Its name derives from the Egyptian port of Alexandria, which was a major centre of international trade. The first two centuries of the Alexandrian age witnessed the rapid advance of mathematics and mechanics (Euclid, Archimedes), astronomy, anatomy, physiology, geography and other sciences.
-  There is no need to explain here that, even if the form of appropriation remains the same, the character of the appropriation is just as much revolutionized as production by the process described above. Of course two very different kinds of appropriation are involved in whether I appropriate my own product or that of another person. It may be noted in passing that wage-labour, in which the whole capitalist mode of production is to be already found in embryo, is very ancient; in a sporadic, scattered form it existed for centuries alongside slave-labour. But the embryo could develop into the capitalist mode of production only when the necessary historical preconditions had been established. [Note by Engels.]
-  The wars of the 17th and the 18th century between the major European powers for hegemony in the trade with India, the East Indies and America and for the seizure of colonial markets. At first the principal rivals were England and Holland (the Anglo-Dutch wars of 1652-54, 1664-67 and 1672-74 were typical commercial wars), and later England and France. England won these wars, and towards the close of the 18th century almost the whole of world trade was concentrated in her hands.
-  The Condition of the Working Class in England, p. 109 [German edition]. [Note by Engels.]; Marx and Engels, On Britain, Moscow, 1954, p. 119. — Ed.
-  See Marx, Capital, Moscow. 1961, Vol. I, pp. 435-36 and 487; and pp. 408 and 462. — Ed
-  Ibid., p. 645, translation revised, Engels' italics. — Ed.
-  I say is constrained to. For it is only when the means of production or communication have actually outgrown direction by joint-stock companies and therefore their nationalization has become economically inevitable — it is only then that this nationalization, even when carried out by the state of today, represents an economic advance, the attainment of another preliminary step towards the seizure of all the productive forces by society itself. But since Bismarck became keen on nationalizing, a certain spurious socialism has recently made its appearance — here and there even degenerating into a kind of flunkeyism — which without more ado declares all nationalization, even the Bismarckian kind, to be socialistic. To be sure, if the nationalization of the tobacco trade were socialistic, Napoleon and Metternich would rank among the founders of socialism. If the Belgian state, for quite ordinary political and financial reasons, constructed its own main railway lines, if Bismarck, without any economic compulsion, nationalized the main Prussian railway lines simply in order to be better able to organize and use them in face of war, in order to train the railway officials as the government's voting cattle, and especially in order to secure a new source of revenue independent of parliamentary votes, such actions were in no sense socialistic measures, whether direct or indirect, conscious or unconscious. Otherwise, the Royal Maritime Company, the Royal Porcelain Manufacture, and even the regimental tailors in the army would be socialist institutions, or even, as was seriously proposed by a sly dog in the 'thirties, during the reign of Frederick William III, the nationalization of the — brothels. [Note by Engels.]
-  A "free people's state": this slogan is criticized in Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme (FLP, Peking, 1972, pp. 26-29), Engels' letter to Bebel of March 18-28, 1875 (ibid., pp. 42-43), and Lenin's The State and Revolution (FLP, Peking, 1970, pp. 21-22 and 76-79).
-  A few figures may give an approximate idea of the enormous expansive force of the modern means of production even under the weight of capitalism. According to Giffen's latest estimates (see Robert Giffen, "Recent Accumulations of Capital in the United Kingdom", Journal of the Statistical Society, London, Vol. 16, 1878.), the total wealth of Great Britain and Ireland was, in round figures:
As for the squandering of means of production and products resulting from crises, the total loss to the German iron industry alone in the last crash was estimated at 455,000,000 marks [£22,750,000] at the Second German Industrial Congress (Berlin, February 21, 1878). [Note by Engels.]