1 Feb 2011
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, well 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
Tocquevilles analysis.
In order to understand Marx, we will begin with saying that there are three component, elements of Marxs
1) The first, of course, is Hegele. Marx was a student of Hegeles. 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 Hegeles 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. Weve 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 Marxs, 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 thisthat 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 Marxs capital three volumes. People like Joseph
Schumpeter, who was sort of a disciple of Weber, said, Marx didnt 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 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 Economy.
Marx and Hegele
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SOC203Y-History of Social Theory 17-Jan-2011
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, its not a chaotic jumble. From Hegeles point of
view, when he uses the word development, he means that there are certain stages in it and that its 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 its in a constant state of flux and he used that as a metaphor for the
entire universe.
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 its 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. Zeitlins 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 warthis is
not a political statement, its just a factover 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 its 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 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, its 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, its 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 epochsfor him
development means overcoming … when you come to certain kinds of society, even Athens, or even the
American Republiche 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 theres going to
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SOC203Y-History of Social Theory 17-Jan-2011
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, thats 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 pointif we stick with Saint-Simon for a momentis 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 its going
to rebound to the greatest number. Cismondi proved that it just isnt 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 havewe 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, well 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, its 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 its 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, and others; people in early America and
other places in Europethe question was whether you could have a democratic form of socialism. Pretty soon,
this became a movement in Europe. In other words, everybody was a socialist in those days; there was a strong
labour movement and even at the time of the great depression of the 1930s, this was an unresolved crisis. There
were millions of unemployed; there were soup lines; there were bread lines; there was no market for the pigs, so
they had to bury them; there was no market for milk; there was no buyer for every seller. Hence, they poured
milk down the sewers; it was just a pretty dark period. This is why we had Marxist societies of one kind or
another at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cambridge, Oxford, they were either communist or socialist because it was
in the air and nobody could figure out another way of dealing with the crisis. The term for this became social
democracy. The question when we get to Marx is was he a democrat?” because he does use some authoritarian
language. Hence, its still being debated. The rhetoric, unfortunately, suggests that he may have been
authoritarian. He had no patience for any of his rivals, who he thought, not because they were rivals, but because
he thought they didnt know what they were talking about. One of the issues we may have a chance to talk about
is was he a democrat.
We have Hegele, we have French socialism, and now classical political economy. The reason they used the term
political economy and not economics is because it is, in fact, a political discipline, and even farther than that, its
a nationalist system. This means that in every society, including Canadawhat is economics? Economics can be
defined as the study of scarcity. Everything is scarce. Some would say, what about air? what about water? We
all know how scarce water is in the planet as a whole and even fresh air is pretty scarce. Hence, economics is the
study of scarcity and how to distribute the scarce resources in a particular society. Thats why they called it
political economy because a decision was made politically. Obviously, if the resources are scarce, those who are
in power or more powerful are going to carry more weight in deciding how to distribute the scarce resources, than
people who are at the bottom of the heap.
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