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(sup) The Utopian Vol. 1 Anarchist's criticism of KARL MARX'S THEORY OF CAPITAL by Ron Tabor I. (2/2)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 8 Jun 2003 16:49:20 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E



After his discussion of commodities and value, Marx turns to the analysis of
exploitation under capitalism, the production of surplus value. For Marx, this
is the heart of the capitalist mode of production. To understand how surplus
value is produced and to grasp the role this plays in Marx's analysis, one must
first understand what Marx means by the term ?exploitation.?


For Marx, all class societies have as their ?material basis? the fact that, at a
certain stage of social development, the productivity of labor reaches a point
where it can produce an economic surplus. This means that a given group of
people can produce, in any given time, an economic product that is more than
enough to enable them to survive and maintain their families during that

This surplus creates the basis for a ruling class to arise, a tiny elite that
performs no productive labor but appropriates the surplus produced by the
laboring class or classes. Beyond enabling the ruling class to live in luxury,
the surplus is utilized to maintain that class's dominant position and the
economic relations this entails, particularly by means of the state. The
production of an economic surplus and its appropriation by a ruling class
constitute what Marx and Engels call ?exploitation.?

In the Marxist system, the concept of exploitation plays a crucial and defining
role. For one thing, all class societies are characterized by the fact that they
are based on and made possible by exploitation. This distinguishes them from
non-class societies, including primitive communism and the
socialism/communism that will follow the overthrow of capitalism, which are
said to be non-exploitive.

In addition, in Marx's analysis class societies are distinguished by the way
exploitation is carried out. In pre-capitalist class societies, exploitation was
explicit and direct. Under slavery-based modes of production, for example,
the entire product of the slaves' labor, including the surplus, was directly
appropriated by the slave owners, who then gave some of it back to the slaves
in the form of food and clothes. In feudal societies, serfs were obligated to
work a certain number of days per week on land devoted to the lords' upkeep,
or to give a certain portion of what they grew or a certain amount of money to
the lords.

Here, the serfs explicitly produced the surplus for the lords. In contrast to
such arrangements, exploitation under capitalism is hidden and indirect. The
producing class, the working class or proletariat, is not owned by, socially
bound to or legally subordinate to the capitalist class. Legally, the workers are
free. Workers and capitalists all participate in the market as owners/sellers of
commodities. The workers sell their commodity, their labor-power, to the
capitalists and receive in payment wages which they use to buy food and
clothes, etc., from other commodity producers. Yet, through this formally
and legally equal relationship, which does not on the surface appear to be
exploitive, the workers are exploited by the capitalists. Capitalism is the only
class society based on this indirect type of exploitation, and to show how this
occurs is one of the chief purposes of Marx's analysis of capital. He calls it the
?secret of capitalist production.?


For Marx, the key to unlocking this secret lies in understanding the unique
nature of the commodity the workers sell to the capitalists, their labor-power.

Labor-power is qualitatively different from the other commodities utilized in
the capitalist production process. When these other commodities-raw
materials, tools and machinery-are used in production, the value embodied in
them is passed on, at once or over time (as they are used up), to the
commodities that are produced. As this occurs, value is neither created nor
destroyed but remains constant, which is why Marx called these elements of
production ?constant capital.? In contrast to all other commodities,
labor-power creates value (since, for Marx, labor is the source of all value).
As a result, it is the only commodity which, when consumed in production, is
capable of creating more value than it is worth. For this reason, Marx called it
?variable capital.?

Since the value of a given commodity is equal to the amount of average labor
necessary to produce it, the value of labor-power, for a given period, is equal
to the amount of labor needed to produce that labor-power. In other words,
the value of labor-power is equal to the amount of labor needed to maintain
the worker and his/her family (so that the worker's children will replace
him/her when he/she can no longer work), during this time. Because the
productivity of labor under capitalism is such that it can produce an
economic surplus, the worker and his/her children can be maintained for one
day by an amount of value that is less than the equivalent of a full day's labor:
let's say the worker and his family can be maintained for one day by the value
equivalent of five hours of labor. This is what the capitalist pays the worker.
The amount of time the worker spends producing the value of her/his
labor-power Marx calls ?necessary labor-time.?

But when the capitalist hires the worker for a day, he/she gets to use the
worker's labor-power for the full workday, say, eight hours. During this time,
the worker produces commodities that are worth eight hours of labor. But, as
we've seen, the worker is only paid the equivalent of five hours of labor. The
difference-what the workers produce in three hours, which Marx calls
?surplus labor-time?-belongs to the capitalist. This is ?surplus value.? It is
embodied in the commodities the worker produces and is ?realized,? that is,
turned into money, when the capitalist sells the commodities.

In other words, in the course of a day's work, each worker produces, in value
terms, not only enough to maintain him/herself and his/her children during
this time, but an additional amount of value, a surplus value, which is
appropriated by the capitalist even though the capitalist did not participate in
the productive labor needed to produce it. In Marx's analysis, this is the
uniquely capitalist form of exploitation: the production and appropriation of
surplus value.

This process is made possible by the interaction, or contradiction, between
the use-value and the exchange-value of labor-power. When the capitalists
hire workers for wages, they pay them the exchange-value of their
labor-power, how much it costs to produce it. But in the process, the
capitalists get the right to use the use-value of this labor-power. This is the
concrete labor of the worker, which includes his/her ability to create surplus
value. Superficially, because the capitalists pay the workers wages based on
how many hours they've worked or how much they've produced, it looks as if
the capitalists purchase the workers' actual labor. In fact, they buy the
workers' labor-power, which is worth less, in value terms, than the value they

Marx puts this as follows: ?What really influenced him [the capitalist-RT]
was the specific use-value which this commodity [labour-power-RT]
possesses of being a source not only of value, but of more value than it has
itself. This is the special service that the capitalist expects from labour-power,
and in this transaction he acts in accordance with the ?eternal laws? of the
exchange of commodities. The seller of labour-power, like the seller of any
other commodity, realises its exchange-value, and parts with its use-value.?
(Capital, Vol. 1, as above, p. 193, emphasis in original.)


p1 p2 p4 DemocracyBlake Jesus


For Marxists, the theory of surplus value is one of the most convincing
aspects of his analysis of capitalism. Among other things, it seems to prove
that capitalism is an exploitive system. But like the world view of which it is a
part, it is a philosophical argument parading as scientific.

This is suggested by Marx's terminology: his very use of the word
?exploitation.? In its normal usage, ?exploitation? has a moral connotation. It
implies that people are being treated in an unfair, unjust manner. To say that
workers are being exploited usually means that they are being forced to work
harder, and/or are being paid less, than they should be, according to some
standard of fairness. To be against exploitation and to wish to end it, in this
standard usage, is a moral or ethical stance, which is usually accompanied by a
feeling, such as concern, pity or indignation.

Now, not only does Marx use the term exploitation, he employs it with its
moral connotations very much intact. Marx's writings are infused with moral
feelings-disapproval, disgust, bitterness, outrage, And Marx himself was
clearly motivated by these emotions: why else would he have spent most of
his life investigating, exposing and trying to overthrow what he obviously
considered an inhumane, rotten system?

In fact, Marx does make a moral case against capitalism. He judges and
denounces it on the basis of two interrelated standards. One, powerfully
raised during the French Revolution and going back at least to early
Christianity, if not to ancient Judaism, is the belief in human equality. (This
is a moral equality, since human beings are not otherwise equally endowed.)
Since human beings are morally equal, this judgment goes, they should be
treated equally. In effect, Marx denounces capitalism for defining equality
abstractly and narrowly, and demands that it be extended from the political
and juridical spheres, which is where the French Revolution left it, to the
economic and social realm. In other words, he insists that equality be made
substantial, not merely formal.

This demand to extend and redefine equality leads to Marx's adherence to the
second standard in relation to which he judges capitalism. This is socialism,
under which there will be no appropriation of the economic surplus by a
ruling class. Thus, Marx's moral argument against capitalism is twofold: 1)
the system is unjust; 2) things don't have to be this way; there's another way
to run society that is not based on exploitation and all that that entails.

Despite this, Marx downplays and in a sense denies this moral argument. His
advocacy of socialism, he contends, is not moralistic but scientific. He
explicitly rejects-he even makes fun of-moral arguments. Such arguments, so
we're told, are characteristic of ?petty bourgeois? critics of capitalism, not

In a preface to The Poverty of Philosophy, one of Marx's works polemicizing
against such a critic, Proudhon, Engels put it this way:

?According to the laws of bourgeois economics, the greatest part of the
product does not belong to the workers who have produced it. If we now say:
that is unjust, that ought not to be so, then that has nothing immediately to
do with economics. We are merely saying that this economic fact is in
contradiction to our sense of morality. Marx, therefore, never based his
communist demands upon this, but upon the inevitable collapse of the
capitalist mode of production which is daily taking place before our eyes to an
ever greater degree.? (Friedrich Engels, Preface to the First German Edition
of Karl Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy, 1884, p. 11, emphasis in original.)

In other words, as Marx sees it, his argument for socialism is not based on a
moral argument but upon a (presumed) fact: that capitalism will inevitably
collapse and (we can complete the thought) be replaced by a socialist society.

But merely saying this does not do away with Marx's moral argument for
socialism. In fact, for Marx the scientific and the moral arguments mesh.
This is because he assumes, as did Hegel, that history and morality ultimately
coincide, in other words, that what he deems morally desirable (socialism)
will actually come to pass. As a result, Marx's moral argument and his
supposedly scientific one are combined, each one fueling the other. Yet, Marx
hides his moral argument behind the scientific one. (This combination of
moral and scientific arguments, along with the claim that the argument is not
moralistic at all, is one of the things that gives Marxism such a powerful
appeal. There is something deeply gratifying to be told that what one yearns
for-a truly just society-is both affirmed and predicted by science.)

Of course, it is one thing to assume that socialism is inevitable (or highly
likely) and another thing to prove it. And if it can't be proved, then Marx's
case for the scientific nature of his brand of socialism collapses.

But Marx doesn't prove that socialism is inevitable; he only seems to prove it.
And he does so via the method we've seen at work before: by assuming it
from the beginning. This method-basing one's argument on assumptions that
imply one's conclusions-is apparent in Marx's discussion of capitalist


First, rather than proving that capitalism is exploitive, Marx's demonstration
is in fact tautological: it follows from his definition. Since labor is the source
of all value and capital, as I'll discuss in the next article, is merely
accumulated labor that the capitalists have expropriated from the workers,
which is how Marx defines them, then the fact that the capitalists wind up
with anything is, by definition, exploitive. In other words, since, according to
Marx's definition, all value is traceable to labor, the entire product belongs to
those who work, the workers., And the possibly productive contribution of
capital, the state, or any other social factor, is never addressed; it is simply
defined away.

Despite the fact that his entire demonstration of the exploitive nature of
capitalism rests on a definition, Marx never explicitly argues for this
definition (that labor is the source of all value). It is merely stated and taken
to be obvious. As he explicitly admits, his conception of value, along with
much else in his analysis, was originally developed by Smith and Ricardo.
Marx took it over, modified it somewhat and then used it for his own
purposes, among them to demonstrate that capitalism is exploitive and to
show how this exploitation occurs, Ironically, then, Marx relies on the
authority of bourgeois economics (when, in his opinion, it was still scientific)
to establish his point, Look, he says in effect, the capitalists' own science
demonstrates that capitalism is exploitive.

But if Marx's definition is wrong, if labor is not the sole source of value and
capital cannot simply be described as accumulated labor, then Marx's
argument doesn?t hold, at least not without being significantly modified. In
short, while it may seem as if Marx has demonstrated the exploitive nature of
capitalism, he really hasn't. He's just defined it that way.


In addition to merely defining capitalism as exploitive, Marx uses the term
exploitation in a very selective and self-serving manner, so that it furthers his
argument without appearing to do so.

In Marxist theory, exploitation only occurs in the realm of material
production: this is the only area in which the term is ever used and, Marxists
insist, the only sphere in which it properly applies. Yet, hierarchical societies
entail various types of oppressive relations in addition to the one that Marx
calls exploitation. Under capitalism, for example, there are white
supremacy/racism, male chauvinism/sexism, political domination, and the
authoritarian intellectual/psychological relations apparent in religious beliefs
and political ideologies. In my view, these oppressive relations are essential
characteristics of the system and not mere reflections or derivations of the
supposedly more fundamental relation of economic exploitation, as Marxists

Intriguingly, the forms these non-economic relations take under capitalism
are effectively described by Marx's analysis of capitalist exploitation.


Take, for example, the relation between leaders and ordinary members of any
hierarchical organization, such as a trade union, a church or a political party.
For their part, the rank-and-file members voluntarily join and participate in
the activities of the organization because they agree with its program, goals
and methods. To varying degrees, they give their time, energy, thought and
money to the organization, and insofar as it achieves its goals, the members
get the satisfaction of seeing their own aims promoted. In other words, the
members voluntarily participate in the organization and get something out of
it, something they believe to be at least roughly equivalent to the energy and
other resources they devote to it.

Yet, the real advantage of this arrangement goes to the leaders of the
organization. To the degree that the organization is hierarchical, it serves to
augment the power of those at the top of the hierarchy. Because the leaders
ultimately make the decisions about the activities and direction of the
organization (which they do even in relatively democratic groups), it is
primarily their power, influence and status in society that are increased. The
organization serves as a vehicle to carry out their aims, magnifying their own
efforts, as a kind of lever, through mobilizing the resources of the rank and

In what fundamental way does the relationship just described differ from that
described in Marx's analysis of capitalist exploitation? The leaders utilize the
members' energy, thoughts and resources to increase their own power. And,
like the capitalists, they do so through a free exchange. The members are not
cheated. They join voluntarily and get something out of their participation
(otherwise they wouldn't join or continue to be members). Yet, through this
relationship it is the leaders' interests that are served. This, in my view, is a
form of exploitation.

Even a ?good? traditional (patriarchal) marriage-in which the husband is not
physically or mentally abusive and even when the wife works and shares some
of the decision-making-reveals the same dynamic. To the degree that the
husband dominates the relationship and makes the basic decisions, the chief
advantages of the arrangement go to him. He directs his spouse's efforts
towards what are his goals, however much she shares them. The wife gets
something out of the relationship, and her participation, at least legally and
formally, is voluntary. But her efforts largely serve to achieve her husband's
purposes. Here too, it seems to me, we have exploitation.

Not least, the relation between the state aid ordinary citizens in so-called
democratic societies has the same basic character. In theory, such citizens are
free: we have civil liberties, we can form political parties and other
institutions to fight for our rights and interests, we even vote (at least some
of us do) to determine who constitutes the government. And, as we were told
during the Cold War, we can leave the country if we don't like it here.

Despite this freedom, we are oppressed and, I would argue, exploited. Rather
than being our instrument, the state constitutes a powerful apparatus whose
function is to maintain the existing social system under which the majority of
people serve the needs of a tiny ruling class. Moreover, it takes our money
and, at times, our labor to serve its purposes. It, too, is a lever through which
an elite mobilizes the energy and other resources of those beneath them in
the social hierarchy to serve their own interests.

In fact, any human relation in which one person or set of people, by dint of
political power, legal status, wealth or merely by force of personality, has
another individual or individuals pursue his/their (the former's) interest, has
this exploitive character.

What is common to all the relations we have described is: (1) one person or
group has authority, or power, over another or others; (2) this power is
utilized to promote the interests of those who have it, which reinforces their
power; and (3) the oppressive nature of these relations is obscured by the fact
that they are entered into, or seem to be entered into, voluntarily. Through
these relations, people at the top of the hierarchy are able to direct the
activities of those below them and to utilize them for their own ends. In the
same sense that Marx describes the relation between capitalist and worker,
the people at the bottom are exploited.

Seen this way, what Marx calls exploitation is merely the specifically
economic variant or manifestation of a more general type of social relation
that characterizes capitalist society and on which it can be said to be based.
Theoretically, then, someone trying to analyze the nature of capitalism as a
social system might have focused on any of the oppressive relations that
characterize the system. Or, even better, he/she might have tried to discern
the characteristic common to all these relations, that is, to discover the
nature of the more general social relation of which economic exploitation is a
variant. Instead, Marx chose to focus on the economic realm and arbitrarily
reserved the term exploitation to it.


This decision flows from and reflects Marx's contention that it is the events
that occur in the economic realm that determine what happens in the rest of
society. But this position, which is the basis of Marx's entire worldview, is
precisely what needs to be proved if Marx's analysis of capitalism is to have
any scientific validity. But it never is. It's not even demonstrated or really
even argued for. It is simply assumed. And once it is, Marx's ?proof? that
socialism is inevitable is already half made.

One of the reasons why Marx can get away with this type of argument is that
his position that economics is the determining factor in the development of
society is, at first sight, rather plausible. After all, people must eat, be clothed
and have shelter if they are to survive and do anything else, such as have
children, establish a state, produce art and science, participate in religious
activities, etc. And since economic activity appears so fundamental in this
sense, it seems reasonable to believe that material production is the
foundation upon which all the other facets of society arise and develop. This
conclusion seems particularly true of capitalist society, in which the narrowly
economic aspect of society-industry, commerce, the development of
technology-has acquired an especially dynamic character, certainly in
comparison to earlier societies. (Indeed, in precapitalist societies, one can
hardly discern a distinct economic realm at all.)

This latter consideration was probably crucial in the development of Marx
and Engels' outlook. At the time they were developing their theory, European
society was undergoing a vast upheaval. Capitalist industry was growing
rapidly, particularly in England but in other countries as well, and as it did so,
it had a profound influence on society as a whole.

The growth of industry increased the size of the working class and
condemned the workers to live in filthy, disease-ridden slums. It caused
periodic economic crises, which shut down significant sectors of the economy
for months, if not years, and threw millions of people out of work. In
response, the workers launched strikes and organized mass movements for
social improvements and political rights. Some workers, along with
concerned intellectuals, developed socialist, anarchist and other radical ideas.
Not least, these developments led, or seemed to have led, to revolutions in
1830 and 1848. Before that, the same processes, at an earlier stage of
development, appeared to have brought about the French Revolution, the
most powerful social upheaval of the era. In short, at the time Marx and
Engels were elaborating their ideas, it certainly seemed as if the development
of capitalist industry, and economic activity in general, were shaping the
evolution of the whole of society.

Marx's view of the determining role of economic activity also seems plausible
in light of the fact that if one looks back at history from the vantage point of
today, one pattern that seems to emerge most strikingly from the apparently
chaotic events, tendencies and countertendencies, is the growth of
humanity's technical apparatus and economic power. Whatever else has
happened throughout our history, our technical prowess and economic power
have certainly increased, and all the other realms of society have been
modified accordingly.

Yet, it is one thing to recognize that the development of material production
is a powerful, even a preponderant, factor in social life and has therefore
played a major role in shaping our history. It is another thing to contend that
it is the determining factor, the one that is ultimately responsible for the
character and evolution of all the other spheres of society and society as a

This question of determinism-whether a given phenomenon or event can be
said to be determined, strictly and narrowly caused, by another phenomenon
or event-is a complicated one with a long history of controversy behind it. It
is one of those issues which has not been resolved and, in my opinion, never
will be. Although there isn't space here for a lengthy discussion of the issue, I
can't resist discussing it a bit.

In Marx's day, scientific laws were presumed to be deterministic: all
phenomena were believed to be directly and uniquely determined by prior
phenomena, with no room for chance. In other words, things happen the way
they do and can only happen this way. In this conception, what most people
call chance merely reflects our ignorance of the true causes of any given

The question of determinism is integrally connected to that of prediction: the
deterministic nature of a scientific law is reflected and revealed in its ability
to enable one to predict the future state of a given system or structure. Thus,
in the deterministic view, if one (a so-called omniscient observer) knew the
present positions of all the particles in the universe, one could, by
extrapolating the laws of physics, predict the precise state of the universe at
some future time. (This was the example used by the great French
astronomer, Laplace.) In Marx's day, most scientists believed that all aspects
of nature were capable of being explained by theories that have this predictive
quality, and so it was thought that all natural reality is determined in this

Marx's conception of science is thoroughly embedded in this outlook. He
thought social reality was determined in the same way as the physical world
and saw himself as developing a comparable science of society and a scientific
form of socialism. In other words, he tried to extend science, as understood in
his day, to the world of social phenomena. (He wasn't the only one. Before
him, the socialist Henri Saint-Simon had sought to carry through the same
project, while Saint-Simon's disciple, Auguste Comte, is considered the
founder of modern sociology.)

Since that time, we've come to realize that while some scientific theories,
such as the theory of relativity, are deterministic, others, such as those that
pertain to the realm of subatomic particles (quantum mechanics), are not. In
the latter world, one cannot even determine the precise current state
(specifically, the exact position and momentum) of any given subatomic
particle or set of particles, let alone a future one; all one can get is a range of
probabilities for both. Other realms of physics, such as thermodynamics
(heat), the flows of fluids and other phenomena (which reveal a property
known as chaos), and much of biology are also probabilistic.

Scientists and philosophers of science don?t quite know what to make of all
this and the debate continues to rage. At least two questions are involved;
moreover, they appear to be inextricably linked. One is what really exists,
that is, whether events are in fact determined, in the sense that they are
uniquely ordained by prior events. The other is the power of our knowledge:
whether we can precisely know what this reality is and, as a result, be able to
predict future events. Thus, it may be that reality is determined, but that the
limitations of our current theories or our inability to precisely perceive the
phenomena in question prevent us from being able to make precise
predictions of future developments. (This was, in essence, the position Albert
Einstein took in relation to the philosophical problems presented by quantum
mechanics.) It is also possible that reality is not fully determined, and that the
limitations on our ability to predict reflect the de facto indeterminism of
reality; some facets of reality only appear to be predictable. Or, perhaps some
aspects of reality (the macro world of physics) are determined while others
(the realm of subatomic particles) are not. (This, more or less, is the
interpretation accepted by most scientists today.)

The problems concerning the question of determinism in these spheres
become even greater in the realm of social life, the fields studied by history,
economics, sociology, political science, psychology, cultural studies, etc. And
because social life is so complex, the problem of distinguishing between what
is and what we can know seems virtually insurmountable.

Take any given social or historical event. There are so many factors involved,
so many individuals with their own ideas, tastes, emotions, their own
backgrounds, so many external circumstances-geography, climate, economic
conditions, political developments, social customs, national traditions,
etc.-that it is impossible even to identify them all, let alone come up with an
explanation that explains precisely why this event and not some other
occurred when, where and how it did. As a result, the social sciences have
made very little (if any) progress in developing deterministic-type theories.
At best, only tiny facets of social life are predictable. Thus, it may be that
social reality is strictly determined. But if the complexity of social life and the
resultant limitations of our knowledge prevent us from being able to
understand precisely why a given historical event occurred or to be able to
predict future social developments, this amounts to the same thing,
practically speaking, as saying that social life is not strictly determined. In
other words, when it comes to social life, we cannot, with the present state of
our knowledge, predict the future.

But this is precisely what Marx claimed to be able to do. Reflecting the
conceptions of his era, he insisted: (1) that social reality is determined in the
same sense as the macro world of physics; (2) that he had in fact discovered
the laws of social development; and (3) that based on these laws he had
accurately predicted the future of human society, specifically, the collapse of
capitalism and the establishment of socialism. But in light of what we now
know, we can see that Marx's contention, both his broader claim and his
specific assertion that the development of the mode of production
determines the evolution of society as a whole, is nothing more than an
extravagant assumption.

Even on a less philosophical level, we can see that Marx's insistence on the
determining character of material production is questionable.

In reply to our discussion of the non-economic relations that characterize
capitalism, a Marxist would argue that these relations are themselves based
upon economic exploitation. The proof of this is that they were brought about
by developments in the economic sphere, specifically, the expansion of
commodity production to the point where it dominates economic and social
life. Before this, social relations were constrained within direct, explicitly
defined and customarily sanctioned relations of domination and
subordination, such as those that characterized slave or feudal societies. It
was only with the development of commodity production and capitalism that
other, freer, types of hierarchical relations became possible. Thus, according
to the Marxist argument, it was the change in the nature of material
production that brought about or caused the changes in the social sphere.

But what this argument fails to address is how this process-the development
and eventual social domination of commodity production-began. Commodity
production existed for thousands of years prior to the period when it began to
undermine feudalism and lay the basis for capitalism. Yet it always remained
subordinated to the dominant economic, social and political forms in which it
existed. It did not, in other words, lead to the destruction of the societies in
which it found itself and to the creation of capitalism. What was it, then,
about feudal society that enabled this latter, world transforming process to

A Marxist would look for the answer in the realm of material production, but
to me the answer lies not in the economic nature of feudalism, but in
feudalism's political structure. Specifically, it lies in the fact that feudalism
was decentralized-political power was fragmented-so that neither the state,
nor the Catholic Church, nor any other institution was powerful enough to
impose its sway throughout the entire realm in which feudal, or feudal-type,
societies predominated. It was this fact-the decentralized and limited nature
of political authority-that enabled tiny burgs or towns to emerge outside, as it
were, the social and legal bonds of these societies. And these burgs were the
seedbeds of both the expansion of commodity production and the
development of the specific type of social relation, the so-called ?free labor
contract,? that makes capitalist production possible.

In other words, while it may be true that it was developments in the economic
realm which, once launched, caused the destruction of feudalism and the
development of capitalism and its specific contractual form of hierarchical
relations, these economic developments were in fact caused by prior
conditions of a non-economic nature. These included the geography, climate
and prior history of northern Europe, all of which combined to give birth to
the politically decentralized society known as feudalism. And this in turn
made possible the irruption of (bourgeois) freedom into, and its eventual
conquest over, class-divided, state-dominated societies, including, of course,
our own.


Aside from the purely philosophical issues, the main reason to make the
claim that one area of social life (the development of the mode of
production), determines the nature and evolution of society as a whole is to
be able to predict the future development of society. For if all of society
ultimately rests on and is determined by the development of one particular
social sphere, all one would need to do to predict future social conditions is to
discern the underlying logic of that realm and to project that development
into the future. How that sphere, or social ?factor,? develops would then
dictate how society as a whole will evolve. In other words, if one facet of
society were the determining factor in social development and if one could
discover the logic or ?laws of motion? of the evolution of that sphere, one
could predict the evolution of society, in the same way that physicists can
predict the future state of the universe.

Not only does this explain why Marx advocated his version of what we might
call monocausal social determinism, it also helps to explain (in addition to
the overall plausibility of his position) why he singled out material production
as the determining factor. Of all the forms of human relations, it is the
economic one that most readily lends itself, or appears to lend itself, to
scientific treatment.

At the time Marx and Engels were developing their world view, the
philosophical standpoint that appeared to be the basis of scientific theories
was materialism, the belief that the fundamental reality of the universe is
matter and that consciousness and ideas are products of the motion and
organization of material entities. As a result, Marx and Engels assumed that a
scientific theory of society had to be materialistic, and of all the social
spheres, it seemed to them that the economic one was the most material.
After all, economics deals with material objects: tools, machines, clothing,
food, etc. In contrast, the political, cultural and ideological realms involve
decidedly less material entities. Ergo, a materialist theory of society had to be
based on economics.

In addition to being material, the economic realm seems most
science-friendly in another respect. Science searches for constant relations
and recurring patterns that can be discerned under a mass of apparently
random changes. Through experiments, observation and other ways of
collecting data, and with a healthy dose of intuition, scientists develop
scientific hypotheses that are meant to explain the phenomena under

These hypotheses are then checked through their ability to explain and,
where possible, to predict events. Confirmed by their success at such
explanation and prediction, the hypotheses become theories and ultimately
what we call ?scientific laws.? If a given set of phenomena cannot be reduced
to some kind of abstraction, that is, if one can't discern some general and
repeatable relations, patterns and dynamics among them, they do not become
the material of science.

Now, of all the realms of society, the one that appears most amenable to
scientific treatment is the economic. In the world of economics, in other
words, one can most readily discern from among the chaotic, ?gritty? events
of social life the relations, patterns and dynamics that can be built into a
scientific theory.

Here, for example, one can conceive of and analyze the nature of
commodities and the overall dynamics of the market. One can describe an
abstract capitalist: someone whose existence has been reduced to the desire to
make money. One can also define a worker simply as someone who must sell
his/her labor-power to survive. With these definitions as a starting point and
with enough diligence, one can develop a model and ultimately an entire
theory of the capitalist economy, one that excludes non-economic
phenomena, that demonstrates that the system develops in a discernible and
predictable way.

The above considerations, I would argue, explain why Marx's concern to
develop a scientific basis for socialism led him to develop the specific type of
?materialist? conception of history and society that he did.

p1 p2 p4 DemocracyBlake Jesus


Unfortunately, this theory, along with his analysis of capitalism and his entire
program, is based on the two propositions that social reality is determined
and that material production is the determining factor, neither of which he
proved. Instead, he assumed them and built the edifice of his worldview on
these assumptions.

As a result, what passes for proof (and what is taken as proof by those seeking
to be convinced) is the detailed elaboration of historical events and social
structures (particularly capitalism) that are applications or exemplifications
of his overall theory that take his unproven assumptions as their starting
point. Thus, instead of proving his theory, Marx hopes that its overall
plausibility and its ability to provide convincing explanations of social
phenomena will suffice in lieu of actual proof.

We can now see, from a broader perspective than before, that Marx's entire
procedure is based on the circular type of reasoning we first encountered
when discussing his method. Seeking to prove that socialism will emerge
more or less inevitably out of the internal dynamics of capitalism (and all
previous history), Marx looked for, and believed he found, the specific realm
of human activity that is both the foundation of all the others and the one
that most lends itself to scientific treatment. Analyzing this sphere, Marx
built a model of capitalism's economic processes and then tried to show that
the internal logic of this model drives the system toward a condition that
renders its overthrow virtually inevitable.

But Marx's conclusion is foreordained by his initial assumption and
motivates his procedure at every stage of the argument. First, he assumes that
material production is the basis of capitalist society and all previous social
systems and determines their evolution. Flowing from this assumption, he
chooses to investigate the economic dynamics of capitalism. And based once
again on this assumption, he assumes that the dynamics that he discovers in
the realm of capitalist production will not be offset by the non-economic
factors he excluded from his analysis. At the end of this process, he comes to
the (not very surprising) conclusion that these dynamics will lead to the
overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism.

Not surprisingly, this circular method is the same as that followed by Hegel in
the presentations of his philosophy, particularly the Phenomenology of Mind.
Hegel specifically refuses to state and demonstrate his assumptions and
method at the beginning. Instead, he invites us to give up our preconceptions
and enter into the spontaneous process of consciousness and see where it
takes us. Of course, we wind up exactly where Hegel wants us to, because what
Hegel calls the spontaneous process of consciousness is precisely Hegel's own
method, which we have now unwittingly accepted. (See The Phenomenology
of Mind, by G. W. F. Hegel, Harper and Row, New York, 1967, preface.)

In fact, in his book on Hegel, Martin Heidegger describes this circular method
as an essential characteristic of philosophy as a whole. (See Martin
Heidegger, Hegel?s Phenomenology of Spirit, Indiana University Press,
Bloomington, 1994, n. 30.)

Yet, Marx's reasoning is based on an additional assumption that is as
questionable as his overall circular procedure. Even if economics (the
development of the mode of production) has determined the entire evolution
of human society, and even if capitalism does evolve precisely as Marx
predicts-in other words, even if Marx's theory is an entirely correct
description of human history up till now-how do we know that the logic that
has determined history up to this point will continue to determine it in the
future? Even more important, how do we know that this logic will lead to the
creation of a form of society which has never been seen before, a society that,
according to Marx himself, operates according to totally new rules, one that
involves, for the first time in history, conscious control of our destinies?

Perhaps the creation of this new society involves not an extension of the
internal logic of capitalism (and all forms of class society), but a revolutionary
departure from, a radical break with, that logic? Although Marx describes
the transition from capitalism to socialism as a ?leap from the realm of
necessity to the realm of freedom,? in his theory this leap occurs through the
same logic that has determined human history up to the present.

This, by itself, is enough to explain the totalitarian outcomes of Marxist-led
revolutions. People who believe that the ideal society will be created through
the same (coercive) logic that has, according to their theory, determined
history up to now, will, if they get the opportunity, create a society that is
based on and embodies coercion.


Yet, behind this assumption lies another that is even more doubtful. This is
Marx?s belief that his theory, and scientific theories in general, are capable of
fully explaining reality. In other words, Marx believed that our knowledge is
actually or potentially absolutely true, in the sense of being an absolutely, or
nearly absolutely, faithful reproduction of reality.

In contrast, I believe that our knowledge, particularly our knowledge of social
life, is relative, at best an approximate conjecture about the true structure of
reality. Even what are now considered to be the demonstrated verities of
physics-the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics-will someday be
shown to be incorrect or, at best, limited, approximately correct subsets of
broader theories, much as Isaac Newton's laws of motion are now seen. To
me, the cosmos is much too large and too complex to be fully graspable by our
finite minds, looking out from our tiny corner of the universe. In other words,
reality transcends all attempts to explain it theoretically; it is always more
complicated-more gritty and unpredictable-than any theory, no matter how

But some people are so impressed with the progress of our knowledge that
they think that our theory, conceived as ?scientific laws,? actually determines
reality. In other words, that the true, underlying structure of reality consists
of the ?scientific laws? that we have discovered.

To a considerable degree, science itself suffers from this tendency (as the
very term ?scientific law? suggests). But it is saved from the worst
implications of this fallacy by its demand that theories be continually tested
against reality and by the fact that it doesn't claim to be a total, logically
unified philosophic system. As a result, whatever the philosophical beliefs of
particular scientists, science, in practice, accepts that theory is inherently
limited-at best, an attempt to comprehend a reality that is more complex.

In contrast, Marxism is founded on this very illusion. Despite its claim to be
materialist, it in fact contends that Marxist theory, the ?laws of motion?
Marx claimed to have discovered, is the underlying, true reality, and that
external reality-the reality we perceive-is a reflection of, and is determined
by, that theory. This is, as I've stressed, the standpoint of philosophical
Idealism. (For an excellent discussion of this question as it pertains to both
Marx and Hegel, see Truth and Reality in Marx and Hegel: A Reassessment,
by Czeslaw Prokopczyk, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1980.)


Of course, if all these questions are not susceptible of proof, as I believe, then
my argument is no more provable than Marx's. But beliefs often have
practical consequences and can be judged accordingly. And the practical
consequences of Marxism have been palpable.

Among other things, Marxism has exerted a powerful attraction on certain
people, particularly but not exclusively intellectuals, who are deeply disturbed
by the past and present brutality of human existence. For such individuals,
Marxism is a highly seductive doctrine.

Not the least of Marxism's appeal is its vision of the future: a classless,
stateless, totally democratic and just society that will be created by a global
uprising of the downtrodden and oppressed. This vision goes back to the very
sources of the Judeo-Christian tradition and is deeply rooted in the moral
sentiments of Western civilization, which has achieved, for good or for bad,
nearly total global hegemony.

Integrally connected to this, Marxism provides an affirmation of one's moral
outrage at the injustices of contemporary society. To be told not only that
such outrage is justified but that it has history on its side-that sooner or later
history will bring about the destruction of evil and the triumph of the good
and the just-is intensely moralizing.

Finally, for those Marxists who take its credo of the ?unity of theory and
practice? seriously and join Marxist organizations, Marxism provides a focus
and structure to one's life. As a result of these and other factors, Marxism has
had an extroardinarily powerful appeal to large numbers of people in the 150
years of its existence.

To these people, who in a sense want to be or are looking to be convinced,
Marxism's claims to be scientific are taken as good coin. In particular,
Marxism seems at least as scientific as the fields of economics, sociology and
political science that are held up in academia as its superiors, and which are
so obviously apologetic of capitalism. The sheer volume of Marx's research,
the scope and ingenuity of his theory, and the fact that all of its facets seem so
logically consistent, all contribute to the belief that Marxism is scientific. In
other words, for such people, who are in fact looking for an all-encompassing
doctrine, Marxism's appears to be scientific, or at least a reasonable first
approximation of a science of society that is in process of development.

Yet, not only is Marxism a seductive doctrine, it is also addictive. Once one
becomes committed to it, one's critical faculties become distorted. Marxists
don't look at Marxism critically, to see what may be the matter with it, the
way they analyze other theories. Rather, they spend considerable energy
seeking to validate it, looking for confirmations of it. And they go to
considerable lengths to overlook or explain away the numerous
contradictions and questionable propositions with which Marxist theory
abounds. (Is socialism inevitable or merely highly probable? Is consciousness
a simple reflection of material reality or does it have its own autonomy? If
socialism is inevitable, why bother to struggle for it? If Marxism is the true
standpoint of the proletariat, why isn?t the proletariat socialist? And why
hasn?t the international socialist revolution occurred already?) Once one has
adopted it, Marxism is very difficult to give up and, like other types of
addiction, usually entails an intense emotional and moral crisis to do so.

Probably most important for my argument here, Marxism has a profound
impact on the moral sensibilities of Marxists. The belief that Marxism is The
Truth gives many of not most Marxists the psychological conviction, the
moral certainty, to support, justify, and when necessary, carry out actions
they would not otherwise consider. Only if one believes that Marxism
represents the true theory of reality and the true path to the liberation of
humanity-an end to centuries of oppression, poverty, disease and war-would
one be willing to seize control of the state and to use the massive coercive
power of that institution to carry out the violent social engineering that the
socialist revolution, in its Marxist conception, requires.

Actually, it is probably more accurate to describe this as certainty struggling
with doubt, a dialectic that the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard
labored so intently to describe. Surrounded by doubters, most Marxists
remain well aware of the fact that Marxism may be wrong. But they continue
to struggle to prove the truth of their convictions. This dynamic-that of
someone trying to convince oneself of the truth of one?s belief-is often at the
root of religious or ideological zealotry and provides one of its driving forces.

It is this aspect of Marxism that explains (or helps explain) why apparently
decent, humane people-people moved by the highest moral sentiments-have
been capable of carrying out the most ruthless of measures, involving the
killing, imprisonment and torture of tens of millions of people. By the same
token, it helps explain the depth of the illusions so many people have had in
the so-called ?socialist societies,? despite overwhelming evidence of the true
nature of these regimes. Seen this way, Marxism, and the theory of capital
which is a crucial part of it, is ultimately an ethical or moral doctrine. In the
name of the struggle for human liberation, it justifies an effort to remake
society through the full force and violence of an omnipotent state.

Of course, Marxists have the right to think any way they want, even to be
deluded. But when they use the power of a dictatorial state to try to impose
their delusions on everybody else, the result is not, and never can be, human


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