gifford lectures - Socialism
Chairman of the WR Committee
Join date: 2007-08-17
Location: Austria - Vienna
|Subject: gifford lectures - Socialism Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:27 pm|| |
3. The Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science
Solemnly our young voices
Take the vow to be true to the cause,
We are proud of our choices,
We are serving humanity's laws.
L, Oshanin, “World Youth Song,” in
Silber, ed., Lift Every Voice!
Because I was born into, and grew up in, a working-class family that belonged to a Communist Party community, I heard a great deal of vernacular Marxism being talked around me, from a very early age. I listened eagerly, and I avidly absorbed Marxist ideas about capitalism, socialism, and revolution, including the idea that the revolution transforming capitalism into socialism would come at a more or less predictable time, since the advent of that revolution was assured by the laws of history.
When I was about twelve years old, I met a man called Tim Buck, who was then general secretary of the Canadian Communist Party.1 I was dazzled when I met him, not because he had a brilliant personality, but because I believed that his expert grasp of the laws of history meant that he knew when socialism would come to Canada. How amazing it must be (so I thought, in my dazzlement) to know a thing like that! It puzzles me, in retrospect, that I did not ask Tim Buck to tell me when socialism would come. Perhaps I thought that it was the special privilege of the leader to know when the revolution would happen. Or maybe I thought that twelve-year-olds were too young to be told, or that they did not have the right to ask.
But, while thinking that Tim Buck knew when socialism would come, I did not also think that he would simply watch it come—that he would arrange not to be too busy in the month in question, so that he could have, a ringside seat at the revolutionary action. Of course I did not think that I thought that he would be, and that he thought he would be, in the thick of the struggle himself.
Yet what role might there be for him, and indeed for human will in general and for political action in particular, if the advent of socialism was foredoomed? Well, think about pregnancy. The expectant mother may Believe that she will have a baby in a particular week or month, but she need not therefore believe that there will be no role for a midwife when she comes to term. So, too, capitalism is pregnant with socialism, but good politics is needed to ensure its safe delivery. Classical Marxism was dominated by an obstetric conception of political practice; Lectures 3 and 4 are devoted to exposing that conception.
In prosecution of that aim, I shall begin by addressing the Marxian distinction between utopian and scientific socialism. After nodding, briefly, in the direction of Friedrich Engels’ book on that subject, I shall offer a short exposition of Marxism, taking as my text Lenin's pamphlet “The Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism”—these sources and components being, so he rightly said, German philosophy, French socialism, and British political economy. I shall strive, in my reconstruction of Lenin, to convey how powerful Marxism was, in its own conception of itself, and how strong and prideful a contrast Marx and Engels and their followers felt able to draw between themselves and the socialists whom they stigmatized as utopian. I shall describe what made the utopians count as such, in the view of Marx and Engels, and then what, in their own view, ensured that they themselves counted as scientific. And in Lecture 4 I shall investigate the obstetric motif itself, after expounding a view about mathematics which was propounded by Hegel and which was undoubtedly one source of Marxism's obstetric conception. You won't have to be a mathematician to follow that. To understand Hegel's view, you will only have to know, in the broadest terms, what mathematics is.
In later lectures, I shall confront the problem that the big factual claims which were to ensure delivery of the ideal are no longer believable. This means that socialists must abandon the obstetric conception,2 and that they must, in some measure, be utopian designers, which does not mean that they must be utopian in every respect in which those called utopian by Marx and Engels were utopian. And then I shall ask whether structural design is indeed enough—whether we can settle for changing the world and not also the soul.
I begin, then, with the Marxian distinction between utopian and scientific socialism, “scientific socialism” being the name that Engels gave to what came to be called “Marxism.”3 The most extended presentation of the distinction between scientific and utopian socialism, by a Marxist, is the one that Engels provided in 1878 in his book Anti-Dühring, but the I relevant chapters of Anti-Dühring4 were published separately from it, in 1880, in French, under the title Socialisme utopique et socialisme scientific (Utopian Socialism and Scientific Socialism). The chapters them reappeared, again as a separate book, in German, in 1882, under the instructively different title Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus von der Utopiezur Wissenschaft (The Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science). The conventional English title of the work, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, displays a significant loss of information, relative to the German title, since it fails to convey what the German title implies: that socialism was utopian before it was scientific. It is, as we shall see, a major thesis of scientific socialism that socialism could not but have been first utopian and only later scientific.5 Note, further, the extraordinary suggestion in the German title of Engels’ book that socialism became not merely scientific, but a science. That is a stronger claim than the claim that it became scientific. One might say of a body of doctrine which is centrally a political philosophy that it has in certain respects a scientific character and is therefore not only philosophical but also scientific. But to call socialism a science suggests that scientificity is the centrally correct classification of the socialism Engels commends, and that is a stronger, and more puzzling, claim.
When Engels contrasted utopian and scientific socialism, he had a conception of Marxism in mind. The best brief classical exposition of that conception, an exposition which underlines its self-interpretation as scientific, is Lenin's “Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism,” which was published in 1913. I shall here indicate, following Lenin, what the three components were. But I shall strive to do a bit better than Lenin (in this particular respect!) by displaying more clearly than Lenin did how the three parts of Marxism that he identified were so combined by Marx as to make each part far more consequential than it was in the isolated condition in which Marx had first encountered it.
I shall expound this material without a word of criticism, as though I believed it all, which I do not. This I do in fulfillment of my announced intention to make vivid how powerful Marxism was in the conception of Marxism that the classical Marxists entertained.
The three sources of Marxism came from three European countries, in each of which a single one of them was most highly developed.6 And each source was a field of thought which presented itself without relationship to the other two, so that it was an act of supreme ingenuity on Marx's part to bring the three together. In the order in which Marx appropriated the three elements, they were: first, the dialectical mode of analysis, which he drew from the philosophy he had studied as an adolescent and as a young man in his native Germany; second, French socialist ideas that flourished among intellectuals critical of capitalism in the France of Marx's day, the France which was the country of his first exile; and, finally, the classical political economy, or economics, which Marx mastered in his final exile, in Great Britain.
I start where Marx started, with philosophy, and more particularly with the rich philosophical notion that I shall call the “dialectical idea.”7
Now, the words “dialectic,” “dialectical,” “dialectically,” and especially “undialectical,” which is the most popular of these words, because it is the most aggressive—these words have been used with undisciplined abandon across the Marxist tradition, but I shall mean one reasonably precise thing by the word “dialectical” here. The dialectical idea that I have in mind appears in embryonic form in various episodes in the history of thought, but its most powerful exponent was the German philosopher Hegel, who died in 1831, less than ten years before Marx became a student of law and philosophy in a German academic world that was then still under Hegel's shadow.
This dialectical idea is that every living thing, every functioning thing, every live thing, including not only the literally living things studied by biology but also live systems of ideas or trends in art or smoothly functioning societies or vigorous families—every such thing develops by unfolding its inner nature in outward forms and, when it has fully elaborated that nature, it dies, disappears, is transformed into a successor form precisely because it has succeeded in elaborating itself fully. So the dialectical idea is the idea of self-destruction through self-fulfillment, of self-fulfillment in a self-destruction which generates a new creation.
Examples: The flower runs to seed, and new flowers come. The family brings the children to maturity and thereby dissolves itself and enabled the creation of new families. The genre of painting flourishes when it has not yet been entirely explored, and becomes stale and dead when it had been; a new genre then emerges. Every developing thing is a victim of its own success.
Now, the broadest canvas on which Hegel sketched the dialectical idea was world history, which, so he thought, was the story of the Weltgeist, the world spirit, which is God in His manifestation on earth in human consciousness. God knows Himself only in human beings, so that His self-knowledge is their self-knowledge, and their knowledge of Him is also their knowledge of themselves.8
What happens in history is that the world spirit undergoes growth in self-awareness, and the vehicle of that growth at any given time is a (geographically located) culture, a culture which stimulates the growth of God's self-awareness, and therefore of human self-awareness, and which perishes when it has stimulated more growth than it can contain. Cultures, the spirits of distinct societies, are the units of historical development to which the dialectical principle is applied. Thus, for example, the civilization of medieval Europe perfects itself in its visual arts, in its conception of nature, in its religion, in its literature, and so forth and is then fully self-aware; nothing is hidden, and, as a result, what was medieval Europe is ripe for transformation into Renaissance protomodern Europe.
A one-sentence summary of the Hegelian philosophy of history:
History is the history of the world spirit and, derivatively, of human consciousness, which undergoes growth in self-knowledge, the stimulus to and vehicle of which is a culture, which perishes when it has stimulated more growth than it can contain.
In that summary, the dialectical idea of self-destruction through self-fulfillment plays a key role: the culture destroys itself by perfecting itself, just as the acorn does in the course of transforming itself into an oak.9 Later (see the end of section 6 below), I shall indicate how Marx preserved the dialectical idea, and, therefore, the structure of Hegel's account of history, while transforming its content (the italicized part of the foregoing summarizing sentence) from a spiritual one into a materialist one.
Marx encountered the second source and component part of Marxism10 during his French exile.11 This was the socialist project, as propounded by such authors as Etienne Cabet, Henri de Saint-Simon, and Charles fourier—a vision of a better society, one lacking the manifest injustice and misery of capitalism; one, too, that was rational in its workings because planned, rather than market-driven and therefore anarchic and irrational, as was capitalism. This French socialism was, however, utopian, which means a number of things, but one thing it means is that French socialism was undialectical, in the sense of “dialectical” that I have expounded. French socialism was undialectical because it offered no account of capitalism which showed how capitalism would transform itself and generate socialism as its own proper successor.
The problem with the utopians was not that they were too optimistic in what they thought could be accomplished. Marx and Engels were not less Optimistic than they were, and therefore could not (and in fact did not) accuse the utopians of being utopian in the vulgar sense of being too Optimistic. Rather, the socialists were utopian in the sense that they lacked a realistic conception of how socialism would come to be: they did not see that it was to be produced by social reality itself.
A dialectical approach to the problem of overcoming capitalism demands an account of how capitalism itself produces socialism, as a consequence of its own self-transformation. The French socialists provided a deep critique of capitalism, but it was a moralizing rather than a dialectical critique, showing the evils and irrationalities of capitalism without pointing out how capitalism would induce socialism as its own supersession. And the associated utopian conception of practice simulated the engineeering model of alteration from without: it is utopian and undialectical so to construe the relationship between political ideals and political practice that the socialist project gets represented as one of clearing away capitalism to produce an empty plane on which socialism is constructed, like the project of an engineer who demolishes a rotten building in order to raise one of her own design in its place. Dialectically inspired political practice is, by contrast, a matter of working with the forces within capitalism itself which are destined to transform it. Hence the socialist transformation for Marx is not, as it is for the French socialists, merely for the proletariat, to relieve their misery, but by the proletariat—the proletariat being the force within capitalist reality that subverts it, the creation of capitalism that overturns its creator.
World Republic will prevail!
Chairman of the WR Committee
Join date: 2007-08-17
Location: Austria - Vienna
|Subject: Re: gifford lectures - Socialism Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:28 pm|| |
But this application of the dialectical idea to capitalism so as to generate socialism, this synthesis of German philosophy and French socialism remained schematic without provision of a third component: an analysis of the economic dynamic of capitalism. And that was the major intellectual appropriation of Marx's final exile, in Britain, where he studied the classical political economists more thoroughly than perhaps anyone else has ever done.12
Bourgeois political economy was undialectical. In its debased postclassical (that is, post-Adam-Smith-and-David-Ricardo) form, it depicted capitalism as a smoothly self-reproducing system, destined for lasting success. In its more tragic and truly classical form it indeed depicted a development for capitalism, but one culminating not in a higher form of economy but in the ‘stationary state,’ at which development stops. Marx refashioned the classical analysis so as to show how capitalist competition abolishes itself by creating enterprises of implicitly social character in which the capitalist becomes obsolete, so that little but his removal is needed to establish socialism. It is not a great exaggeration to say that, in the view of Marx and Engels, socialism is what capitalism has made of itself, minus the capitalist class.13
Capitalism was thereby placed within the dialectical frame that Hegel had used to describe cultures, as an entity governed by a principle of self-development that was also a principle of self-destruction and self-transcendence into a higher form. But Marx generalized that account of capitalist self-transformation to the universal plane of history as a whole and thereby generated the theory of historical materialism, which as I said earlier, preserves the structure of the Hegelian philosophy of history but alters its content. The content is now materialist, Since history is now the history of human industry, and not, as it was for Hegel, the history of the world-spirit manifesting itself in human consciousness. Correspondingly, the central growth is not, now, in the historical subject's self-awareness but in its productive power, in its sovereignty over nature rather than over self; and the unit of development is not, now, a culture, but an economic structure. So the following sentence both conveys the theory of historical materialism and displays how it alters the content of Hegel's theory while preserving its structure, the common structure of the two theories being given by the nonitalicized parts of the sentence:
History the history of human industry, which undergoes growth in productive power, the stimulus to and vehicle of which is an economic structure which perishes when it has stimulated more growth than it can contain.
The human problem now lies in humanity's relationship to the world, not to itself. The problem is to turn the world into a home for humanity, by overcoming the scarcity in the relationship between humanity and nature which induces social division. Scarcity induces social division because it imposes repugnant labor and a consequent class antagonism between those whose lives must be given over to that labor and those whose lighter task it is to see to it that others carry out the repugnant labor that scarcity imposes. With the massive productive power generated by capitalism, repugnant labor is no longer required, and class division therefore loses its progressive function.
So, with the transition from Hegel to Marx, self-awareness is no longer at center stage. Deficiencies in human self-awareness are no longer due to the immaturity of the development of consciousness as such, but be rooted in defective social structures which produce ideological illusions that conceal and/or defend their inequities.14
We can now understand how Lenin was able to boast that Marx's teachings “arose as a direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy, and socialism ,” and that Marxism “is the legitimate successor of the best that was created by humanity in the nineteenth century in the shape of German philosophy, English political economy, and French socialism.”15 We can appreciate the grandeur, or at least the grand ambition, of Marx's theoretical structure by contrasting its plenitude with the restricted character of each of the three components that he brought together, as that component presented itself in its original, isolated form.
The Hegelian philosophy was profound and fertile. But it was also a fantasy, one that could have been produced only in a country bewitched by its romance with philosophy—so bewitched, indeed, by its romance with philosophy that German idealism could represent history as, in essence, a succession of states of consciousness. Thus, by implication German idealism depreciated the material roots of human existence. Its upward spin into abstracted other-worldliness is corrected by the this worldly focus of French socialism and British political economy, which Marx united with the revolutionary dialectical idea that he took form German philosophy.
The French provided the necessary vision of a better social reality, but with the French it was nothing but a vision, because the French lacked, on the one hand, the dialectical idea, and, on the other, British political economy, which could be used to produce a realistic application of the dialectical idea to capitalism. Socialism then emerges not as a mere vision but as a realistic projection of the future of capitalism itself.
Finally, British political economy was without a conception of a better future and condemned humanity to capitalism, precisely because it lacked the German dialectical principle which counseled search for Self-transcendence in self-destructive self-development, and also because it lacked the socialist ideal which it fell to France to provide.
I now want to explore the Marxist self-conception further, by looking more closely at the distinction that Marxism drew between itself and utopian socialism.
As we have seen, utopian socialism counts as utopian because of its unrealistic conception of the practice that leads to socialism. It models that practice on the activity of an engineer, and engineers proceed undialectically. They prescribe a new form to reality. Contrast midwives who deliver the form that develops within reality.
But that utopian unrealism about political practice followed, according to Marx and Engels, from the utopians’ illuded conception of the causes and grounds of their own thought and aspiration. The heart of their utopianism was their idea that their proposals were warranted by, and caused by their perception of, universally valid principles of freedom and justice, rather than warranted and caused by the needs of the time, by what was now historically possible and necessary. The utopians’ primary lack of realism was about what they were: it was a lack of self-understanding. Considerable social criticism does not spring, otherwise uncaused, from reflection by hard-thinking people of good will; considerable social criticism is the necessary consequence of the tensions and demands of social reality itself. The utopian movement was indeed such a consequence, but the utopians did not think of it in that way. The dialectic of social reality rising to consciousness of itself was instanced in there own case, but they were unaware of that dialectic. They thought they could direct a historical process which was, in fact, directing them.
If the heart of the utopian’ unrealism was their unrealistic self-perception, as masters, not servants, of the historical process, then to ask what caused then to be utopian is to ask what caused them to have that self-perception. In Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels provides a two-part answer to that question.16
First, at the time of the early socialists, the contradictions of capitalism were, though sufficiently severe to generate some kind of socialist critique nevertheless not yet so severe as they were to become. And connectedly—for this first part of Engels’ answer has a two-fold character—connected with the fact that the system was not yet manifestly falling apart, it, the system, had not yet so transformed itself that socialism could be seen as a natural outgrowth of it, rather than, as the utopians saw it, as a desirable replacement for it to be instituted not in accordance with against its own tendencies.
And the second part of the answer to the question about what caused the utopians to be utopian is that, at the time they were writing, the working-class movement was still immature, and the utopians therefore did not see themselves as organically united with it. They could not but we themselves as bringing liberation to the workers from a social and intellectual position unambiguously superior to that of those who were to be liberated. And the two parts of the explanation are connected, since the proletarian movement grows stronger as and because the contradictions of capitalism grow more severe and it becomes more visible that socialism constitutes their solution.
The utopians did not see that the emancipation of the workers can and must be the task of the workers themselves. They did not see that it could be because the proletariat was still politically weak. And they did not see that it had to be because the privileged orders had not yet revealed their remorselessly one-sided class perspective, just because, the proletariat being as yet weak, there was no challenge to privilege which would elicit class selfishness in its full savagery.
World Republic will prevail!
Chairman of the WR Committee
Join date: 2007-08-17
Location: Austria - Vienna
|Subject: Re: gifford lectures - Socialism Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:28 pm|| |
The contrast between utopian and scientific socialism, together with its causal explanation, is vividly stated by Marx in this splendid passage (I have added explanatory remarks in the passages in brackets):
Just as the economists are the scientific representatives of the bourgeois class, so the Socialists and the Communists are the theoreticians of the proletarian class. So long as the proletariat is not yet sufficiently developed to constitute itself as a class [so long, that is, as proletarians at large do not identify themselves as members of the proletariat as such] and consequently so long as the struggle itself of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie has not yet assumed a political character [so long, that is, as class struggle consists of isolated skirmishes, and is not on a national scale, of class against class], and [so long as] the productive forces are not yet sufficiently developed in the bosom of the bourgeoisie itself to enable us to catch a glimpse of the material conditions necessary for the emancipation of the proletariat and for the formation of a new society, these theoreticians are merely utopians who, to meet the wants of the oppressed classes, improvise systems and go in search of a regenerating science [that is, theory]. But in the measure that history moves forward, and with it the struggle of the proletariat assumes clearer outlines, they no longer need to seek science in their minds; they have only to take note of what is happening before their eyes and to become its mouthpiece. So long as they look for science and merely make systems, so long as they are at the beginning of the struggle, they see in poverty nothing but poverty, without seeing in it the revolutionary, subversive side, which will overthrow the old society [which is to say that they lack the dialectical idea] Fran this moment science, which is a product of the historical movement, has associated itself consciously with it, has ceased to be doctrinaire and has become revolutionary.17
Science becomes revolutionary when it unifies itself with the historical process. And once revolutionary scientific socialism appears on the scene, utopian socialism, which, for all its historically unavoidable limitation, was profoundly progressive in its time, becomes instead deeply reactionary in bearing, since the limitations from which it suffered are now avoidable. As Marx wrote: “It is natural that utopianism, which before the era of materialist-critical socialism concealed the latter within it self in nuce, coming now post festum can only be silly—silly, stale, and fundamentally reactionary.”18
Having looked at what makes utopian socialism utopian, let us now ask: What makes scientific socialism scientific, according to Marx and Engels?
The most obvious and least interesting sense, though not therefore the least important sense, in which it is, in their view, scientific, is that it possesses a scientifically defensible theory of history in general and of capitalism in particular.
Rather more interestingly, its very practice is scientific, because it proceed under the guidance of that theory, and not under the inspiration of ahistorical ideals, or, indeed, as we shall see, of any ideals.19
But the most interesting claim is about how the movement which possesses the science relates to the social reality which generates the movement and the science—to the “real basis”20 on which they rest. The movement understands that basis and, consequently, how it itself arises upon it; one may indeed say that it arises through understanding that upon which it arises. It is the consciousness of social reality, in a political form. It is social reality's consciousness of itself.21
Recall that what made the utopians utopian was, at root, their inadequate self-perception. They failed, and could not but fail, to understand their own historical significance. The nature of their historical significance ensured that they would not understand it, for their thought and practice were the necessarily immature reflection of an immature proletarian movement, itself necessarily still immature because capitalism itself was not yet thoroughly developed.
Scientific socialism is what it is because of a different self-perception. It understands itself, and it understands utopian socialism as the latter could not understand itself. It understands itself as utopian socialism could not, as the reflex of the stage of development at which it arises, this now being the stage when capitalism's contradictions are acute and the proletarian movement is strong. It understands itself as the consciousness of that movement, rather than as inspired by universally valid ideals. It consequently22 looks for the solution to the evils of capitalism in the process in which capitalism is transforming itself. So we find Engels, in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, tracing the movement from competitive capitalism to state monopoly capitalism, and from that to socialism. The means of ending the conflict, he says, is to be found within the conflict itself.23 Capitalism will itself produce socialism, with a little help from socialism's friends.
Now, Engels is not here voicing the merely commonsense thought that if you want to solve a problem you must study that problem in its concrete actuality. He means that there is a unique solution to the social problem, to be discovered within the problem, and toward which the development of the problem itself is tending. This solution needs only to be delivered. The obstetric metaphor often invoked by Marx and Engels aptly conveys their meaning. For in the normal (i.e., un-Caesarian etc.) case, the midwife does not consider possible ways of getting the baby out. She does not consider ideals she wants to realize and rank method of achieving them. The prescribed way forward is dictated by the process of pregnancy itself. The solution is the consummation of the full development of the problem.
In a curious, and massively optimistic, argument, Engels proposes that the solution must be obstetric in nature, just because the problem is so acutely felt (again, I insert clarifications in brackets):
The growing perception that existing social institutions are unreasonable and unjust, that reason has become unreason, and right wrong, is only proof that in the modes of production and exchange changes have silently taken Place, With which the social order, adapted to earlier economic conditions, is no longer in keeping. [In short, the popularity of the attack on the mode of production as unjust and irrational reflects the fact that the mode is now dysfunctional.] From this [from this dysfunctionality] it also follows that the means of getting rid of the incongruities that have been brought to light must also be present, in a more or less developed condition, within the changed modes of production themselves. These means are not to be invented by deduction from fundamental principles, but are to be discovered in the stubborn facts of the existing system of production.24
Background to the argument of the passage is the general historical materialist claim that changes in ideas reflect changes in modes of production. And—so Engels no doubt reasoned—since changes in ideas reflect changes in modes of production, a growing perception that the mode of production is unjust, which begins even at the utopian stage of socialism, reflects a reality in which that mode is becoming unviable; he further and infers that the means of establishing a freshly viable mode will be found within the old mode itself (and not by deduction from basic principles). Accordingly, the widespread sense of injustice is an infallible sign both that a soluble sociohistorical problem is in being, and that the solution to it will be found within the developing social reality itself.
Three generalizations are in play here, which we can formulate as follows:
P: Widespread major changes in ideas about society arise in response to changes in its mode of production.
Generalization p is not stated in the passage, but it is p from which q, which is the message (more or less) of the first sentence of the passage, is inferred:
q: Ideas critical of a mode of production arise on a broad scale only when and because that mode is obsolescent—that is, no longer suited to the needs of production.25
And r, which is supposed to follow from q, sums up the second and third sentences of the passage.
r: When the mode of production is obsolescent (and such critical ideas therefore arise), the means of transforming the mode of production so that suitability to the needs of production will be restored will be found within that existing mode of production itself.
Engels, so I have supposed, infers q from p, and he appears to infer from q (I do not think that he intends r as an independent claim). But neither q nor r is evidently true, even if p is.
Against the inference from p to q: an oppressed class might develop ideas critical of the mode of production under which they are oppressed and even secure wide sympathy for their claims, when that mode is still functional for production. There was plenty of criticism of industrial capitalism and sympathy for its victims at its inception. That would not contradict p, but it would contradict q. And one can readily deny r even if one affirms both p and q—which is to say that even if it is true both that big ideas about society reflect big changes in its mode of production, and that critical ideas achieve wide currency only when and because the mode of production is dysfunctional, there might yet be no reason to think that a solution to the problem will be found within the dysfunctional structure itself. Indeed, there might be no solution discernible, anywhere.
Let me nuance that last point. “No longer suited,” in q, is ambiguous. It can be taken either absolutely or comparatively. It can mean that the mode of production is absolutely unsuited—that it no longer allows production to proceed as before, that it produces less than it used to. But if the mode of production is in that (absolute) sense no longer suited to the needs of production, then it does not follow that a superior mode, which is suited to those needs, must be available (because the old mode is out-moded). If, on the other hand, “no longer suited” means “less well suited than some other mode,” then, by definition, a superior mode is possible. But on this comparative understanding of “no longer suited,” a mode could now be awful, yet not “no longer suited,” since it might be true that nothing better than it is now feasible.26
The obviousness to Engels of r may partly depend on the exhibited ambiguity in “no longer suited.” If a mode is declared to be unsuited according to the first, and absolute, sense distinguished above (that is because it now fetters production), and irrespective of whether a better mode is available, and one then slides unconsciously to the comparative sense, it will then follow, through illicit equivocation on the two senses that when a mode is no longer vigorous, a new mode which is more vigorous must be available.
But I said that the equivocation articulated above may (only) partly explain Engels’ confidence in r. And that is because, even if it would be easy to add (to its being available) that the new and better mode would, sooner or later, be discovered, why must that new mode reside within the ode itself? This additional element in r comes from Hegelian dialectics not scientific or even diagnosably (by me anyway) fallacious reasoning.
Whether or not the view expressed in Engels’ propositions q and r is defensible, there could not be a more optimistic one with respect to the task of changing society. For q and r entail that the task will not be undertaken—or not, anyway, on a large scale—until success is guaranteed. The optimistic entailment is that, as Marx said, “mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since … the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.”27
The present optimism is not about how good society can be made to be, though that optimism was also in Marxism, but about how easy it is to find the route to the better society. I am not aware of a rigorous defense of this line of thought in Marxist tradition from beginning to end, but think it has been a powerful and a dangerous inheritance. I think Marx himself look this line for granted because of his Hegelian background, which in this respect he never transcended. The distinction between utopian and scientific socialism turns out to be profoundly Hegelian. It represents a return of the repressed philosophy which disfigured the attempt at science.
In next lecture, I shall try to substantiate that etiological claim.
PS: What do you think of it?
I think it pretty much shows that some of our members are utopian socialists/communists!
World Republic will prevail!
gifford lectures - Socialism