Marx and Engels -1

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SOC203Y-History of Social Theory 17-Jan-2011
Ideology & the Development of Sociological Theory:
Marx and Engels – I
Why do we study Marx?
One answer would be that he was one of the severest and original critics of the capitalist
system. He was also a critic of class structure in societies. But, because this course is
really devoted to what we call classical social theory, we study him because we regard him
as a very important, outstanding thinker of the 19th century. When we get to Max Weber,
we’ll see that Weber calls Marx a great thinker. As we can see from the chapters, one of
the most important contributions that Marx makes was in the area of historical sociology.
How does historical sociology differ from historians? As discussed in the Tocqueville
lecture, the historian studies the unique and unrepeatable processes of history, i.e. there
was only one Julius Caesar, one Napoleon, etc. A good historian is also a good sociologist.
But, the historical sociologist really focuses attention on what we would call causes and
consequences. They really want to explain things; they’re not just telling a story. We are
justified in using Tocqueville as an example because he captured the main character of
American society and he also gave one of the explanations of the French Revolution,
which is unsurpassed – nobody has contradicted Tocqueville’s analysis.
In order to understand Marx, we will begin with saying that there are three component,
elements of Marx’s theory:
1) The first, of course, is Hegele. Marx was a student of Hegele’s. As a matter of fact,
when he was a young university student, there was even a group that was called the
Left or the Young Hegeleans. He was a member of that group. We may know
something about Hegele, but Zeitlin will review some of the main ideas because many
would agree that Marx was Hegele’s best and most distinguished student because he
had internalized the dialectic way of thinking. One of the major elements of Marx’s
intellectual consciousness is Hegele and the whole Hegelean tradition.
2) The second component or element is French Socialism. We’ve already studied one
of the major thinkers and one of the first French socialists; namely, Saint-Simon; there
were others. Eventually, Frederick Engels, who was a co-author of Marx’s, called them
Utopian Socialists and suggested that Marx had a much more rigorous and scientific
approach to things.
3) The third component is also extremely important because Marx spent most of his
life on this … that is English classical economics or English political economy, which is
what they called it in those days. Whom are we referring to here: Adam Smith; David
Ricardo; James Mill and John Stuart Mill; Thomas Robert Malthus and his theory of
population; and commentators on Marx’s capital three volumes. People like Joseph
Schumpeter, who was sort of a disciple of Weber, said, “Marx didn’t miss a single
source”. Marx was so aridite that he covered every single possible source in those
three volumes of Capital. The most important element is that perhaps that is what
capital is all about, i.e. trying to explain how the system emerged and how it works. It
works in such a manner as to create a huge proletariat and alienation and
dehumanizing. People like Tocqueville and Marx and others who observed the
consequences of the industrial revolution couldn’t believe how de-humanizing and
degrading the whole system was. 69 hours per week, when he visited Manchester and
they were living in cellar apartments, etc. It was really a de-humanizing experience.
Marx was a political refugee and the only place that he could acquire refuge was in
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SOC203Y-History of Social Theory 17-Jan-2011
England. He was in England for 30 years, at the Library of the British Museum and that
is where he wrote Capital.
Hence, those are the three components: Hegele, French Socialism, and English Classical
Marx and Hegele
Hegele was a philosophical idealist. When we read Rulers and Ruled, we explained the
difference between philosophical idealism and philosophical materialism. Plato was a
philosophical idealist with his theory of the forms. The idealists believed that Reason,
Spirit are immanent, i.e. some kind of governing principle in history. History doesn’t just
develop on its own, it just doesn’t happen, it’s not a chaotic jumble. From Hegele’s point
of view, when he uses the word development, he means that there are certain stages in it
and that it’s sort of governed by some kind of principle, i.e. some internal principle, and
that being a 19th century thinker, like many other 19th century thinkers, he was partly
influenced by the enlightenment and partly influenced by the romantic conservative
reaction. But, the part where we talk about the dialectic and developmental, etc. that part
comes from the romantic conservative reaction.
In order to understand Hegele, we might even go back to Heraclitus. Heraclitus was a pre-
Socratic philosopher and he said that you cannot step into the same river twice. One of
his disciples, Cratilus, said you can’t even step into the same river once. Why not?
Because it’s in a constant state of flux and he used that as a metaphor for the entire
Hence, in the first place, in order to understand Hegele, we have to understand that he
realized that nothing is static, that everything is in a state of flux, this is so fundamental
that it’s undeniable. But, he said one more thing, which was, “war is the father of all
things”. War in the generic sense includes conflict especially as applied to the human
condition. Zeitlin’s wife thinks the human species is a flawed species because we are
divided against ourselves in so many ways and, indeed, in so many murderous ways. All
we have to do is read the newspaper. As a matter of fact, Hegele said, “history is a
slaughter bench”. We don’t know how lucky we are to be living in a civilized society like
Canada. Because, even to the south, they don’t even have a national health plan; they
don’t have a safety net to speak of. On top of that, you have some of the most
disadvantaged people in the society who volunteer for the armed forces, hoping that they
are going to get an education and some kind of way of making a living when there is 25
million unemployed people in the United States. The statistics for the Iraqi war – this is
not a political statement, it’s just a fact – over 4,000 young Americans were killed, 20,000
were mutilated – medical science now has ways of saving their lives, but, unfortunately,
they’ve been mutilated, and millions of refugees. Then, of course, we have a war going on
in Afghanistan for almost ten years.
One of the things that Marx would say is that it’s outrageous that the Prince, or the Rulers,
or the Government would send people into an unnecessary war. Hence, war is the father
of all things because not only are we divided against ourselves in the way Zeitlin
suggested, but also even within societies. When Marx says the opening line of the
Communist Manifesto, “the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class
struggle, class conflict, class warfare,” etc. When we get to his historical sociology, we will
go through the various modes of production or epochs that Marx discusses, which were
class structured, and in which there was, in fact, class conflict. We may recall that he
says, “patricians and plebeians, lords and serfs and peasants,” … right up until the
bourgeois epic where you have capitalists and workers.
Thinking dialectically means for Hegele, among other things, not only process, but internal
contradictions. When we say that something develops, development means that you’re
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SOC203Y-History of Social Theory 17-Jan-2011
overcoming the internal contradictions. Hence, from his point of view, having a kind of
19th century optimistic view of history and looking back on history, he is saying that if you
start with the earliest societies, there was very little freedom. We may remember
Montesquieu talking about oriental despotism. In that society, when Alexander the Great
conquered the Persian Empire, he noticed that even the top ministers prostrated
themselves before the emperor and never knew if they were going to come out of that
interview dead or alive. Hence, they are looking at the earliest side and Marx calls it the
Asiatic mode of production. Hence, it’s a despotism. Then he goes on to the stage of
antiquity where you’re talking about Greece and Rome, etc. Obviously, one could say that
in Athens there was certainly more freedom than Persia or China at the time; and even
Sparta, which was an oligarchy – it had two Kings, it had Ephors, it had a Senate; whether
you should go to war or not is a big deal, it’s a big question, and both Kings, the Ephors,
and the Senate had to agree; hence, it was not taken lightly. Hence, there was more
freedom, even in Spartan oligarchy than there was in oriental despotism of any kind. Marx
moves his way through these epochs – for him development means overcoming … when
you come to certain kinds of society, even Athens, or even the American Republic – he
lived long enough to witness the early stages of the American Republic, there was a
fundamental contradiction there, which we talked about last week when Tocqueville said if
ever there’s going to be a violent civil war or a revolution it will be because of the
condition of the black Americans at the time, who were slaves. Hence, that’s an internal
contradiction. In order for society to reach a higher stage from the standpoint of freedom,
it had to overcome these internal contradictions.
As far as socialism is concerned, the main point – if we stick with Saint-Simon for a
moment – is that the utilitarians had said “laissez-faire”, i.e. leave it alone; he who
governs least, governs best; and from the time of Adam Smith, i.e. the idea of the invisible
hand; just leave it along because if government intervenes it will just muck it all up and
destabilize it. The truth is that historically it never really worked that way; nowhere did it
work that way. But in 1819, if we go back to the chapter on Saint-Simon, the famous
Swiss economist named Cismondi said that the greatest good is the greatest number, i.e.
if everyone pursues his/her own interest it’s going to rebound to the greatest number.
Cismondi proved that it just isn’t happening; on the contrary, with every commercial crisis,
things are getting worse especially for the have nots, etc. Hence, there was Cismondi and
others and then Saint-Simon himself recognized that there is some kind of a defect in the
existing system. We can’t call it capitalism yet because Marx coined that term. But, it
was obviously some kind of capitalist or commercial system and since you did have these
recurring crises and this kind of class conflict, etc. Saint-Simon and other thinkers decided
that the only way to overcome the defects of this system is to have – we must not forget
that they were influenced by Newton, they were influenced by science, etc. – rational
planning of the economy. The system looked irrational. When we get to Marx, we’ll see
that one of his famous footnotes says, “the silliest dogma of classical political economy is
that there will always be a buyer for every seller.” But, of course, we know that even
today, there is a continuing relevance of Marx because look at what happened to Wall
Street; look what happened to the automobile industry; how come we have 25 million
unemployed people? Hence, it’s not as if he is some kind of an insignificant 19th century
thinker. Hence, Saint-Simon decided that the only way to avoid these defects of the
system of his time was to have rational planning. Who should the planners be? They
should be the scientists, i.e. the council of Newton, and it’s to be an authoritarian system,
an elitist system because you had to have a PhD in order to be among the planners. If you
opened your mouth and expressed political opinions without having a PhD, Saint-Simon
and Comte called it vagabond liberty, i.e. who are you to express political opinions if
you’re not a scientist.
It was authoritarian and it was elitist. When we come to the 20th century, the question for
many people - for example, in Britain, the Fabians, i.e. people like George Bernard Shaw,
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