The Inconsistencies of Scientific Socialism: Socialistic Fallacies, Part Four
“Karl Marx is nothing but an inventor and manufacturer of myths with which he abuses the credulity of his followers.”
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
In Book Six, Guyot continues his attack on Karl Marx and his system. Having displayed the major flaws in German socialism’s economic, historical, and sociological theories, Guyot proceeds to undermine the supposedly scientific foundations of socialism. Because Marx’s economics indicates that capital will become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands over time, his historical and sociological theory indicated that “natural necessity” would push the great laboring class to revolt against the property owners. The resulting conflict and settlement determined the course for history’s next phase. Marx and Engels believed themselves the prophets of humanity’s post‐capitalist phase of development. One may wonder, then, why communism continued to fail and capital remains entrenched. After all, if the scientifically determined facts of economics, history, and sociology determined that class rebellion was inevitable, reasonable people may have expected to see it by now. As it turns out, “the prophets of catastrophes” and global class revolution more often than not fail to properly examine their assumptions. They fail to recognize that the great mass of people do not want class war–they want liberty from the undue impositions of power. Marx and the majority of his followers believed in 1) the “scientific socialism” that identified the class war between proletarians and capitalists, 2) the “theatrical socialism” necessary to affect an explosive revolution, and 3) “opportunistic socialism” to ease the laborer’s life in the meantime. A tangled mess of contradictions, these three positions attracted little support as a bundle and only the opportunistic version garnered significant popular interest. Through all the years Marxist intellectuals went on philosophizing and theorizing about what the poor should do, the poor largely went about their own lives, class war and “natural necessity” be damned.
By Yves Guyot. New York: The MacMillan Company. 1910. 227–239 (Excerpts).
Book VI. The Inconsistencies of Scientific Socialism.
Chapter I. “Scientific” Prophecies.
Marx and Engels set themselves up as scientific prophets. Beyond Ricardo’s a priori fomula, they felt the most profound distrust of the natural laws of exchange as put forward by economists. But they affirmed the existence of “natural necessity,” by introducing the notion of which to socialistic thought they claimed to have effected a great revolution. They claimed to have traced, in the “Communist Manifesto,” the process which was fated to end in communism.
Economic development realizes itself in a particular manner and it is precisely because it does so that all the items with which the programme is concerned attain their fulfilment. Accordingly there is no escape for you members of the middle classes and capitalists, and for you workmen and wage‐earners; your triumph is assured, for everything will come to pass just as we have foretold. Karl Marx is God, and Engels is his prophet!
Three and twenty centuries have elapsed since Thuscydides defined the function of history as being to ascertain the truth as regards the past in order to foresee the future. But to ascertain the truth is essential, and he who fails to do so and invents facts instead of observing them misleads himself in his forecasts as well as others. In “Das Kapital” Karl Marx says: “Reflection on the forms of social life and consequently the scientific analysis of them, follows a course which is completely opposed to their movement,” or, in other words, the present explains the past, but does not explain the future. Consequently the true disciple of Marx should cut all the part of the “Communistic Manifesto” which deals with the future, and examine only the historical movement.
The whole of Marx’ “natural necessity” is founded upon the pauperization of the greatest number and the concentration of capital and of industry in the hands of an increasingly restricted number of persons. Now, as this phenomenon fails to take place, “natural necessity” does not exist. If Marx and Engels had been logical, they would have ended in fatalism. In the absence of the necessity on the part of their followers of action of any kind, they have only to watch economic forces at work, bringing into play on the one hand the concentration of capital, and on the other the formation of the proletariat masses. If the need for communism is natural, one has only to wait until it comes forward of itself and there is no occasion for traumatic intervention which would only disturb its development. It is better to leave it to overcome the crisis of its growth undisturbed.
Werner Sombart states that the followers of Marx are in fact convinced that this natural process fulfils itself independently of human activity. It is best therefore to leave it to itself. This is both logical and inoffensive. Yet he admits that “natural necessity (Naturothwendigkeit) rests upon a series of ideas which are not entirely clear.” And he has his doubts. “There does not,” he says, “appear in the writings of Marx and of Engels any evidence of the progress of the social movement corresponding to a scientific method.”
Marx says that in the past all social movements have been brought about by minorities, but that “the proletariat movement is the spontaneous movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority.” Still, it is necessary that this immense majority, the outcome of “natural necessity” should exist, and the failure of this natural necessity is proved by industrial returns. If the facts upon which this process is based are incorrect, surely the process will fail to develop itself. And how can Socialists who claim to be scientific invoke its aid when experience demonstrates it to be based on a fallacy? If the followers of Marx really believed in “natural necessity,” they would leave economic society to evolve itself without interference. The law of the concentration of capital by surplus labour, being a natural necessity and bound to end in the triumph of the proletariat through the agency of communism, Marx’s followers ought not to attempt to delay the communistic millennium.
And yet they ask for labour legislation in the programmes of the Gotha Congress (1875), the Erfurt Congress (1891), and even in the programme of the Havre Congress (1880), which was drafted by Marx himself. Furthermore, in the great work in which he sets forth his doctrine, he has acclaimed the Factory Act of 1850 as a “great charter,” immeasurably superior to the “pompous catalogue of the Rights of Man.” This was an inconsistency, for if the Factory Act has the effect of diminishing the amount of “surplus‐value,” it retards the “natural necessity” of the advent of communism.
Every form of intervention proposed or approved by the Socialists, with the object of ameliorating the condition of the workmen, is an obstacle placed in the way of Marx’ prophecies. When the bourgeoisie, imbued with the idea of paternal state control, attempt to give “satisfaction to the workers,” repeat that “something ought to be done,” and attempt to prevent the social revolution by petty police measures, they are quite logical. But when Karl Marx counsels such measures and extols the Factory Acts, is he not deserving of the epithet of a “smooth talker” applied by skeptical workmen to those who adopt this policy, as advocated by Le Play and his school? If the Factory Acts have had the beneficial results which Karl Marx so enthusiastically extols, how comes he to predict that England will be the first country to witness the advent of communism?
Chapter II. The Prophets of “Catastrophes.”
Karl Marx and Engels and their followers prove that, while invoking “natural necessity” they all foresee a tempestuous social revolution, the end of the capitalist world blazing forth in a general conflagration amid thunder and lightning.
In the preface to the edition of “Das Kapital” published in 1867, Karl Marx says that the progress of the social upheaval is visible in England to all eyes. And in 1875, despite the experience of the Commune, he says in a note at the end of the French edition that England will be the centre of the explosion. Yet all the official Continental Socialists unite in declaring that the English do not understand the class war, and persist in spite of the fact that five and twenty members of trade unions, attached to the Labour Party, only gained admission to the Stuttgart Congress by equivocating. The English workmen remind themselves that if some of their interests are opposed to those of their employers, there are others more numerous which they have in common. M. Vandervelde said said that every time the workmen fight for higher wages, they apply the principle of the class war, and it was decided not to exclude these refractory recruits.
It is twenty years since Wolmar rallied Bebel upon his predictions of a great European war, at the end of which the nations, disgusted at the butchery and ruined by universal bankruptcy, would take their destinies in their hands, and “in this grand symphony, the social democracy would play the first violin.”
“Since 1845,” says Werner Sombart, “Marx and Engels have unceasingly dreamed of revolutions, of real revolutions rising to fever heat, and have predicted their approaching explosion. This can only follow from an analysis of the situation which is wanting in realism, and from an erroneous appreciation of political, economic and social forces.” These words were written in 1886, and in a letter to Paul Lafargue, dated in 1892, Engels fixed 1898 as the time when the Socialist party would possess itself of power in Germany.
Karl Marx and Engels have therefore always been in contradiction with their own assertion of “natural necessity,” at one time by requiring the State to set obstacles in its way by means of labour legislation, at another by dreaming of insurrections, revolutions and dramatic catastrophes. Their followers continue to entertain the same chimaeras, some as means of attracting recruits and of intimidating their opponents, others with the artlessness of believers in a millennium. M. Gabriel Deville appeals to “all the resources which science places within the reach of those who have something to destroy.” M. Jules Guesde, only the other day at the Nancy Congress, “placed the gun to his cheek,” notwithstanding the fact that this attitude is out of date.
M. Georges Sorel, a retired chief engineer of the department of Roads and Bridges, who has found interest in employing his leisure with a systematic and conscientious study of Socialism in general and of Marxism in particular, has discovered in the course of his researches that Marx himself, and a fortiori those who make use of his name, are guilty of a number of heresies, with which he contends by the aid of the “inherent principles” of Marxism. He proposes to treat the theories which the doctrinal Socialists refuse to admit, and the militant Socialists regard as axiomatic, as myths removed outside all controversy. What a fall is here! Scientific Socialism ending in folk‐lore!
Karl Marx is nothing but an inventor and manufacturer of myths with which he abuses the credulity of his followers, but M. Georges Sorel adds that the doctrine of the end of the world had had so great an influence from the point of view of the Christian propaganda that it ought to be carefully preserved as the final doctrine of the Socialistic Day of Judgment. M. Faubert once asked him whether the doctrine of the end of the world did not have the force of a deception, to which M. Sorel replied that the promises of a Christian millennium have never been realized and Christianity has always preserved many faithful followers.
Chapter III. Admissions of the Apostles.
The Socialists of the end of the nineteenth century thought to enshrine international Socialism in the German chapel of Karl Marx and Engels. Jules Guesde had imported it into France a few years after the war, at a time when, with the feelings of humility of the vanquished, we were completing the invasion of 1870 by apologies for German military organization, German education, German literature, German beer and German sausages. In their “Communist Manifesto” of 1847 Marx and Engels had modestly decorated their Socialism with the epithet “true.” This document was the Gospel to which every Socialistic aspirant had to make a confession of faith.
The influence of Karl Marx, like that of all prophets, is due not so much to what he says, as to what he promises to say. If one permitted onself to make certain objections to the first volume of “Das Kapital,” which appeared in 1867, his faithful disciples would make a confession of faith to the second volume, which was not to appear until 1885, two years after his death. If one still ventured to contest some of Marx’ rough generalisations, they would refer you to the third volume, which did not appear until 1895. These two volumes were published under the care of Engels, who recognizes, particularly with regard to the third volume, that he had only a very rough outline to deal with. This question, therefore, arises: If Marx’ conception was as clear as he pretended, why this delay in the elaboration of its exposition? He was able to reduce all economic, historical and social science to one formula. Why, then, so many attempts to extract it? On reading these three bulky volumes we find not only a quantity of rubbish, but a number of compilations, principally culled from the English “Reports on Commercial Distress (1847–1848)” and the “Reports on Bank Acts (1857–1858).” It follows that the documents from which Karl Marx’ theories are to be gathered extend back over a period of fifty or sixty years.
In 1886, Herr Werner Sombart, a professor at the University of Breslau, delivered a course of lectures at Zurich, intended for the glorification of Karl Marx, but he commenced with this admission: “A perusal of the writings of Marx and Engels since the complete development of their ideas, that is from 1847 to 1883, presents the intellectual heritage which they have bequeathed to us, at first sight, as a disordered confusion of the most conflicting conceptions. It represents an extremely heavy pot‐pourri of contradictory doctrines.” Nevertheless, as a conscientious disciple, he adds that “at the end of half a century after its conception, we are still in search of the true meaning of the profound significance of his doctrine.” In his restless desire for orthodoxy he puts forward the view that “Marx and Engels were not always consistent Marxists, either in theory or in practice.”
M. J. Bourdeau did not exaggerate when he observed that Marxism includes three doctrines, the “hermetic,” which its authors alone possessed, and of which Herr Kautsky, the great Marxist theologian, and editor of the “Neue Zeit,” is perhaps one of the few surviving depositaries, if we admit that Engels did not carry the secret with him to the grave; an “esoteric” doctrine upon which a small band of doctors and disciples are wont to comment; and finally an “exoteric” doctrine for the purposes of propaganda and of public meetings.
In point of fact, Marx was the propagator of at least three different Socialisms:–
1. The Socialism which is called scientific. The Social Revolution was the “natural necessity” of the struggle of the two classes, the increasingly numerous and increasingly wretched proletarians and the increasingly rich and decreasingly numerous capitalists.
2. Theatrical Socialism. The Revolution which is to call forth a volcanic explosion.
3. Opportunist Socialism, promoting limitation of the hours of labour, minimum wages, weekly day of rest, etc.
The majority of Socialists imitate Karl Marx and profess all three forms, despite the contradictions which they involve. Herr Werner Sombart desired “a psychological foundation for social development, to which Karl Marx has hardly paid attention.”
We are only familiar with this psychological foundation through the programmes, declarations and declamations of the Socialist leaders. With regard to France, their most marked characteristics are collected in my “Comedie Socialiste.” They proceed by means of antitheses, after the manner of Louis Blanc. Private property is accompanied by misery. Therefore it must be abolished. There are people who find it inconvenient to pay their rent. Therefore houses must be owned by the State. There are people who are in want of work. Therefore the State must possess itself of all the means of production and supply everybody with work! Here are some people who are richer than others. Therefore the State must possess itself of all wealth. This is the agenda at political and election meetings, garnished with a few pleasantries such as are calculated to flatter the low instincts of greed and covetousness. In surrendering themselves to the psychological exploitation of the pilgrims who are seeking the Socialist Mecca, expert Socialists are merely following the course adopted by Marx.
Herr Werner Sombart, after recognizing his obscurities and incoherences, concludes by passing the following eulogy upon him: “The work of Karl Marx has been to abolish cant in the political and social sphere.” It has certainly not abolished metaphor. In the “Communist Manifesto” he speaks of the “frozen wave of calculating egoism,” and twenty years later in “Das Kapital” he repeats in various forms the sentence “capital is dead labour that, vampire‐like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks”–a metaphor which will only impress those who still believe in ghost stories.
Karl Marx talks of the “habitual charlatanism and pretended science” of Proudhon. Yet both adopt the same method, the same boldness of asseveration and the same subtlety as regards verbal distinctions. If Proudhon bases the whole of his “Contradictions Economiques” upon a sentence of Jean Baptiste Say’s, and Lassalle constructs the iron law of wages upon a sentence of Ricardo’s, Karl Marx bases the whole of his system upon Ricardo’s statement that profits rise or fall in exact proportion to the rate of wages. He also repeats with approval Richardo’s statement that if you lower the cost of maintenance by lowering the price of food and raiment, you will find that wages will end by falling, despite a considerable increase in the demand for labour.
“Scientific Socialism,” therefore, has no real existence from the historical, economic or psychological point of view. The facts which have unfolded themselves during the last sixty years have been in contradiction with the theories of the “Communist Manifesto.” The followers of Marx are obliged to recognize the obscurities, incoherences and contradictions of his work. Nevertheless they recapitulated his dogmas at the Erfurt Congress in 1891, and declined to renounce them, while at the Lubeck Congress in 1901 Bebel secured the condemnation of Bernstein by 203 votes to 31.
The Socialists have been forced to abandon their scientific pretensions, for science has but one object, the search after truth; and their professors, finding themselves between the necessity of admitting either their ignorance or their want of faith, sacrifice their morality to their desire to preserve their reputation for perspicacity. While admitting that the “iron law of wages” was still a subject of discussion at the Gotha Congress, they said that this was merely by way of a political concession to the followers of Lassalle. And yet Liebknecht said, at the Breslau Congress, that Marx’ work is capable of the most conflicting interpretations. These are indeed singular scientific conditions. M. Charles Andler asserts that “all Socialistic doctrine renounces the claim to be considered as a science. A man is only a Socialist by conviction or by sentiment. An ideal is incapable of demonstration.” M. Georges Sorel’s conclusion is that “Socialists are wrong in trying to form a scientific party.” He reminds them that the Church has been hampered by making its theological doctrines jointly and severally answerable for supernatural propositions. “Everyone,” he continues, “recognizes that a strict revision of the doctrine bequeathed by Marx and Engels is required.”
The German Socialists claim to be the sole observers of social evolution. On proceeding to verify their assertions, we find the following results:–
(1) Lassalle’s “iron law of wages” is a deduction from a proposition of Ricardo, which is belied by the facts.
(2) Karl Marx’ theory of surplus labour is derived from the same proposition of Ricardo; his theory of value is merely a plagiarism of a mutilated definition of Ricardo’s measure of value.
(3) The theory of a social dichotomy contained in the “Communist Manifesto” is a proposition devoid of all reality.
(4) All the fundamental conceptions of German Socialism are a priori “conceptions which are not in accordance with the facts.”
The founders and leaders of Socialist schools of thought have not sought after scientific truth for its own sake; they have all made truth subordinate to certain political conceptions.