- The Insufficiency of Economic Materialism
The deeper we trace the political influences in history, the more are we convinced that the "will to power" has up to now been one of the strongest motives in the development of human social forms. The idea that all political and social events are but the result of given economic conditions and can be explained by them cannot endure careful consideration. That economic conditions and the special forms of social production have played a part in the evolution of humanity everyone knows who has been seriously trying to reach the foundations of social phenomena. This fact was well known before Marx set out to explain it in his manner. A whole line of eminent French socialists like Saint-Simon, Considerant, Louis Blanc, Proudhon and many others had pointed to it in their writings, and it is known that Marx reached socialism by the study of these very writings. Furthermore, the recognition of the influence and significance of economic conditions on the structure of social life lies in the very nature of socialism.
It is not the confirmation of this historical and philosophical concept which is most striking in the Marxist formula, but the positive form in which the concept is expressed and the kind of thinking on which Marx based it. One sees distinctly the influence of Hegel, whose disciple Marx had been. None but the "philosopher of the Absolute," the inventor of "historical necessities" and "historic missions" could have imparted to him such self-assurance of judgment. Only Hegel could have inspired in him the belief that he had reached the foundation of the "laws of social physics", according to which every social phenomenon must be regarded as a deterministic manifestation of the naturally necessary course of events. In fact, Marx's successors have compared "economic materialism" with the discoveries of Copernicus and Kepler, and no less a person than Engels himself made the assertion that, with this interpretation of history, socialism had become a science.
It is the fundamental error of this theory that it puts the causes of social phenomena on a par with the causes of mechanistic events in nature. Science concerns itself exclusively with the phenomena which are displayed in the great frame which we call Nature, which are consequently limited by space and time and amenable to the calculations of human thought. For the realm of nature is a world of inner connections and mechanical necessities where every event occurs according to the laws of cause and effect. In this world there is no accident. Any arbitrary act is unthinkable. For this reason science deals only with strict facts; any single fact which runs contrary to previous experiments and does not harmonise with the theory can overthrow the most keenly reasoned doctrine.
In the world of metaphysical thought the practical statement that the exception proves the rule may have validity, but in science never. Although the forms nature produces are of infinite variety, every one of them is subject to the same unalterable laws. Every movement in the cosmos occurs according to strict, inexorable rules, just as does the physical existence of every creature on earth. The laws of our physical existence are not subject to the whims of human will. They are an integral part of our being and our existence would be unthinkable without them. We are born, absorb nourishment, discard the waste material, move, procreate and approach dissolution without being able to change any part of the process. Necessities eventuate here which transcend our will. Man can make the forces of nature subservient to his ends, to a certain extent he can guide their operation into definite courses, but he cannot stop them. It is just as impossible to sidetrack the separate events which condition our physical existence. We can refine the external accompanying phenomena and frequently adjust them to our will, but the events themselves we cannot exclude from our lives. We are not compelled to consume our food in the shape which nature offers it to us or to lie down to rest in the first convenient place, but we cannot keep from eating or sleeping, lest our physical existence should come to a sudden end. In this world of inexorable necessities there is no room for human determination.
It was this very manifestation of an iron law in the eternal course of cosmic and physical events which gave many a keen brain the idea that the events of human social life were subject to the same iron necessity and could consequently be calculated and explained by scientific methods. Most historical theories have root in this erroneous concept, which could find a place in man's mind only because he put the laws of physical being on a par with the aims and ends of men, which can only be regarded as results of their thinking.
We do not deny that in history, also, there are inner connections which, even as in nature, can be traced to cause and effect. But in social events it is always a matter of a causality of human aims and ends, in nature always of a causality of physical necessity. The latter occur without any contribution on our part; the former are but manifestations of our will Religious ideas, ethical concepts, customs, habits, traditions, legal opinions; political organisations, institutions of property, forms of production, and so on, are not necessary implications of our physical being, but purely results of our desire for the achievement of preconceived ends. Every idea of purpose is a matter of belief which eludes scientific calculation. In the realm of physical events only the must counts. In the realm of belief there is only probability: It may be so, but it does not have to be so.
Every process which arises from our physical being and is related to it, is an event which lies outside of our volition. Every social process, however, arises from human intentions and human goal setting and occurs within the limits of our volition. Consequently, it is not subject to the concept of natural necessity.
There is no necessity for a Flathead Indian woman to press the head of her newborn child between two boards to give it the desired form. It is but a custom which finds its explanation in the beliefs of men. Whether men practice polygamy, monogamy or celibacy is a question of human purposiveness and has nothing in common with the laws of physical events and their necessities. Every legal opinion is a matter of belief, not conditioned by any physical necessity whatsoever. Whether a man is a Mohammedan, a Jew, a Christian or a worshipper of Satan has not the slightest connection with his physical existence. Man can live in any economic relationship, can adapt himself to any form of political life, without affecting in the slightest the laws to which his physical being is subject. A sudden cessation of gravitation would be unthinkable in its results. A sudden cessation of our bodily functions is tantamount to death. But the physical existence of man would not have suffered the slightest loss if he had never heard of the Code of Hammurabi, of the Pythagorean theorem or the materialistic interpretation of history.
We are here stating no prejudiced opinion, but merely an established fact. Every result of human purposiveness is of indisputable importance for man's social existence, but we should stop regarding social processes as deterministic manifestations of a necessary course of events. Such a view can only lead to the most erroneous conclusions and contribute to a fatal confusion in our understanding of historical events.
It is doubtless the task of the historian to trace the inner connection of historical events and to make clear their causes and effects, but he must not forget that these connections are of a sort quite different from those of natural physical events and must therefore have quite a different valuation. An astronomer is able to predict a solar eclipse or the appearance of a comet to a second. The existence of the planet Neptune was calculated in this manner before a human eye had seen it. But such precision is only possible when we are dealing with the course of physical events. For the calculation of human motives and end results there is no counterparts because these are not amenable to any calculations whatsoever. It is impossible to calculate or predict the destiny of tribes, races, nations, or other social units. It is even impossible to find complete explanations of their past. For history is, after all, nothing but the great arena of human aims and ends, and every theory of history, consequently, a matter of belief founded at best only on probability; it can never claim unshakeable certainty.
The assertion that the destiny of social structures is determinable according to the laws of a so called "social physics" is of no greater significance than the claim of those wise women who pretend to be able to read the destinies of man in tea cups or in the lines of the hands. True, a horoscope can be cast for peoples and nations but the prophecies of political and social astrology are of no higher value than the prognostications of those who claim to be able to read the destiny of a man in the configuration of the stars.
That a theory of history may contain ideas of importance for the explanation of historical events is undeniable. We are only opposed to the assertion that the course of history is subject to the same (or similar) laws as every physical or mechanical occurrence in nature. This false, entirely unwarranted assertion contains another danger. Once we have become used to throwing the causes of natural events and those of social changes into one tub, we are only too inclined to look for a fundamental first cause, which would in a measure embody the law of social gravitation, underlying all historical events. When once we have gone so far, it is easy to overlook all the other causes of social structures and the interactions resulting from them.
Every concept of man which concerns itself with the improvement of the social conditions under which he lives, is primarily a wish concept based only on probability. Where such are in question, science reaches its limits, for all probability is based only on assumptions which cannot be calculated, weighed or measured. While it is true that for the foundation of a world-view like, for instance, socialism, it is possible to call upon the results of scientific investigation, the concept itself does not become science, because the realisation of its aim is not dependent upon fixed, deterministic processes, as is every event in physical nature. There is no law in history which shows the course for every social activity of man. Whenever up to now the attempt has been made to prove the existence of such a law, the utter futility of the effort has at once become apparent.
Man is unconditionally subject only to the laws of his physical being. He cannot change his constitution. He cannot suspend the fundamental conditions of his physical being nor alter them according to his wish. He cannot prevent his appearance on earth any more than he can prevent the end of his earthly pilgrimage. He cannot change the orbit of the star on which his life cycle runs its course and must accept all the consequences of the earth's motion in space without being able to change it in the slightest. But the shaping of his social life is not subject to this necessary course because it is merely the result of his willing and doing. He can accept the social conditions under which he lives as foreordained by a divine will or regard them as the result of unalterable laws not subject to his volition. In the latter case, belief will weaken his will and induce him to adjust himself to given conditions. But he can also convince himself that all social forms possess only a conditioned existence and can be changed by human hand and human mind. In this case he will try to replace the social conditions under which he lives with others and by his action prepare the way for a reshaping of social life.
However fully man may recognise cosmic laws he will never be able to change them, because they are not his work. But every form of his social existence, every social institution which the past has bestowed on him as a legacy from remote ancestors, is the work of men and can be changed by human will and action or made to serve new ends. Only such an understanding is truly revolutionary and animated by the spirit of the coming ages. Whoever believes in the necessary sequence of all historical events sacrifices the future to the past. He explains the phenomena of social life, but he does not change them. In this respect all fatalism is alike, whether of a religious, political or economic nature. Whoever is caught in its snare is robbed thereby of life's most precious possession; the impulse to act according to his own needs. It is especially dangerous when fatalism appears in the gown of science, which nowadays so often replaces the cassock of the theologian; therefore we repeat: The causes which underlie the processes of social life have nothing in common with the laws of physical and mechanical natural events, for they are purely the results of human purpose, which is not explicable by scientific methods. To misinterpret this fact is a fatal self-deception from which only a confused notion of reality can result.
This applies to all theories of history based on the necessity of the course of social events. It applies especially to historical materialism, which traces every historical event to the prevailing conditions of production and tries to explain everything from that. No thinking man in this day can fail to recognise that one cannot properly evaluate an historical period without considering economic conditions. But much more one-sided is the view which maintains that all history is merely the result of economic conditions, under whose influence all other life phenomena have received form and imprint.
There are thousands of events in history which cannot be explained by purely economic reasons, or by them alone. It is quite possible to bring everything within the terms of a definite scheme, but the result is usually not worth the effort. There is scarcely an historical event to whose shaping economic causes have not contributed, but economic forces are not the only motive powers which have set everything else in motion. All social phenomena are the result of a series of various causes, in most cases so inwardly related that it is quite impossible clearly to separate one from the other. We are always dealing with the interplay of various causes which, as a rule, can be clearly recognised but cannot be calculated according to scientific methods.
There are historical events of the deepest significance for millions of men which cannot be explained by their purely economic aspects. Who would maintain, for instance, that the invasions of Alexander were caused by the conditions of production of his time? The very fact that the enormous empire Alexander cemented together with the blood of hundreds of thousands fell to ruin soon after his death proves that the military and political achievements of the Macedonian world conqueror were not historically determined by economic necessities. Just as little did they in any way advance the conditions of production of the time. When Alexander planned his wars, lust for power played a far more important part than economic necessity. The desire for world conquest had assumed actually pathological forms in the ambitious despot. His mad power obsession was a leading motive in his whole policy, the driving force of his warlike enterprises, which filled a large part of the then known world with murder and rapine. It was this power obsession which made the Caesaro-Papism of the oriental despot appear so admirable to him and gave him his belief in his demigod-hood.
The will to power which always emanates from individuals or from small minorities in society is in fact a most important driving force in history. The extent of its influence has up to now been regarded far too little, although it has frequently been the determining factor in the shaping of the whole of economic and social life.
The history of the Crusades was doubtless affected by strong economic motives. Visions of the rich lands of the Orient may have been for many a Sir Lackland or Lord Have-Naught a far stronger urge than religious convictions. But economic motives alone would never have been sufficient to set millions of men in all countries in motion if they had not been permeated by the obsession of faith so that they rushed on recklessly when the cry, "God wills it!" was sounded, although they had not the slightest notion of the enormous difficulties which attended this strange adventure. The powerful influence of religious conviction on the people of that time is proved by the so-called Children's Crusade of the year 1212. It was instituted when the failure of the former crusading armies became more and more apparent, and pious zealots proclaimed the tidings that the sacred sepulchre could only be liberated by those of tender age, through whom God would reveal a miracle to the world. It was surely no economic motive which persuaded thousands of parents to send those who were dearest to them to certain death.
But even the Papacy, which had at first only hesitatingly resolved on calling the Christian world to the first Crusade, was moved to it far more by power-political than by economic motives. In their struggle for the hegemony of the church it was very convenient for its leaders to have many a worldly ruler, who might have become obstreperous at home, kept busy a long time in the Orient where he could not disturb the church in the pursuit of its plans. True, there were others, as, for instance, the Venetians, who soon recognised what great economic advantages would accrue to them from the Crusades; they even made use of them to extend their rule over the Dalmatian Coast, the Ionic Isles and Crete. But to deduce from this that the Crusades were inevitably determined by the methods of production of the period would be sheer nonsense.
When the Church determined upon its war of extermination against the Albigenses, which cost the lives of many thousands, made waste the freest, intellectually most advanced land in Europe, destroyed its highly developed culture and industry, maimed its trade and left a decimated and bitterly impoverished population behind, it was led into its fight against heresy by no economic considerations whatsoever. What it fought for was the unification of faith, which was the foundation of its efforts at political power. Likewise, the French kingdom, which later on supported the church in this war, was animated principally by political considerations. It became in this bloody struggle the heir of the Count of Languedoc, whereby the whole southern part of the country came into its hands, naturally greatly strengthening its efforts for centralisation of power It was, therefore, principally because of the political motives of church and state that the economic development of one of the richest lands in Europe was violently interrupted, and the ancient home of a splendid culture was converted into a waste of ruins.
The great conquest by the Arabs, and especially their incursion into Spain which started the Seven Hundred Years' War, cannot be explained by any study, however thorough, of the conditions of production of that time. It would be useless to try to prove that the development of economic conditions was the guiding force of that mighty epoch. The contrary is here most plainly apparent. After the conquest of Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors, there arose in Spain a new politico-religious power under whose baneful influence the whole economic development of the country was set back hundreds of years. So effective was this incubus that the consequences are noticeable to this day over the whole Iberian Peninsula. Even the enormous streams of gold, which after the discovery of America poured into Spain from Mexico and the former Inca Empire, could not stay its economic decline; in fact, only hastened it.
The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon with Isabella of Castile laid the foundation of a Christian monarchy in Spain whose right hand was the Grand Inquisitor. The ceaseless war against the Moorish power waged under the banner of the church had fundamentally changed the mental and spiritual attitude of the Christian population and had created the cruel religious fanaticism which kept Spain shrouded in darkness for hundreds of years. Only under such pre-conditions could that frightful clerico-political despotism evolve, which after drowning the last liberties of the Spanish cities in blood, lay on the land like a horrible incubus for three hundred years. Under the tyrannical influence of this unique power organization the last remnant of Moorish culture was buried, after the Jews and Arabs had first been expelled from the country. Whole provinces which had formerly resembled flowering gardens were changed to unproductive wastes because the irrigating systems and the roads of the Moors had been permitted to fall into ruin. Industries, which had been among the first in Europe, vanished almost completely from the land and the people reverted to long antiquated methods of production.
According to the data of Fernando Garrido there were at the beginning of the sixteenth century in Seville sixteen hundred silk weavers' looms which employed one hundred and thirty thousand workers. By the end of the seventeenth century there were only three hundred looms in action.
It is not known how many looms there were in Toledo in the sixteenth century but there were woven there four hundred and thirty-five thousand pounds of silk annually, employing 38,484 persons. By the end of the seventeenth century this industry had totally vanished. In Segovia there were at the end of the sixteenth century 6,000 looms for weaving cloth, at that time regarded as the best in Europe. By the beginning of the eighteenth century this industry had so declined that foreign workers were imported to teach the Segovians the weaving and dyeing of cloth. The causes of this decline were the expulsion of the Moors, the discovery and settling of America, and the religious fanaticism which emptied the work rooms and increased the number of the priests and monks. When only three hundred looms remained in Seville the number of monasteries there had increased to sixty-two and the clergy embraced 14,000- persons. 1
And Zancada writes concerning that period: "In the year I655 seventeen guilds disappeared from Spain; together with them the workers in iron, steel, copper, lead, sulphur, the alum industry and others." 2
Even the conquest of America by the Spaniards, which depopulated the Iberian Peninsula and lured millions of men away into the new world, cannot be explained exclusively by "the thirst for gold," however lively the greed of the individual may have been. When we read the history of the celebrated conquista, we recognise, with Prescott, that it resembles less a true accounting of actual events than one of the countless romances of knight errantry which, in Spain especially, were so loved and valued.
It was not solely economic reasons which repeatedly enticed companies of daring adventurers into the fabled El Dorado beyond the great waste of waters. Great empires like those of Mexico and the Inca state which contained millions, besides possessing a fairly high degree of culture, were conquered by a handful of desperate adventurers who did not hesitate to use any means, and were not repelled by any danger, because they did not value their own lives any too highly. This fact becomes explicable only when we take a closer view of this unique human material, hardened by danger, which through a seven hundred years' war had been gradually evolved. Only an epoch in which the idea of peace among men must have seemed like a fairy tale out of a long-vanished past and in which the centuries-long wars, waged with every cruelty, appeared as the normal condition of life, could have evolved the wild religious fanaticism characteristic of the Spaniards of that time. Thus becomes explicable that peculiar urge constantly to seek adventure. For a mistaken concept of honour, frequently lacking all real background, a man was instantly ready to risk his life. It is no accident that it was in Spain that the character of Don Quixote was evolved. Perhaps that theory goes too far which seeks to replace all sociology by the discoveries of psychology, but it is undeniable that the psychological condition of men has a strong influence in the shaping of man's social environment.
Hundreds of other examples might be cited from which it is clearly apparent that economics is not the centre of gravity of social development in general, even though it has indisputably played an important part in the formative processes in history, a fact which should not be overlooked any more than it should be excessively overestimated. There are epochs when the significance of economic circumstances in the course of social events becomes surprisingly clear, but there are others where religious or political motives obviously interfere arbitrarily with the normal course of economics and for a long time inhibit its natural development or force it into other channels. Historical events like the Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, the great revolutions in Europe, and many others, are not comprehensible at all as purely economic. We may however readily admit that in all these events economic factors played a part and helped to bring them about.
This misapprehension becomes still more serious when we try to identify the various social strata of a definite epoch as merely the typical representations of quite definite economic interests. Such a view not only narrows the general field of view of the scholar, but it makes of history as a whole a distorted picture which can but lead us on to wrong conclusions. Man is not purely the agent of specific economic interests. The bourgeoisie, for instance, has in all countries where it achieved social importance, frequently supported movements which were by no means determined by its economic interests, but often stood in open opposition to them. Its fight against the church, its endeavours for the establishment of lasting peace among the nations, its liberal and democratic views regarding the nature of government, which brought its representatives into sharpest conflict with the traditions of kingship by the grace of God, and many other causes for which it has at some time shown enthusiasm are proofs of this.
It will not do to argue that the bourgeoisie under the steadily growing influence of its economic interests quickly forgot the ideals of its youth or basely betrayed them. When we compare the storm and stress period of the socialistic movement in Europe with the practical politics of the modern labor parties, we are soon convinced that the pretended representatives of the proletariat are in no position to attack the bourgeoisie for its inner changes. None of these parties has, during the worst crisis which the capitalist world has ever passed through, made even the slightest attempt to influence economic conditions in the spirit of socialism. Yet never before were economic conditions riper for a complete transformation of capitalistic society. The whole capitalistic economic system has gotten out of control. The crisis, which formerly was only a periodic phenomenon of the capitalistic world, has for years become the normal condition of social life. Crisis in industry, crisis in agriculture, crisis in commerce, crisis in finance! All have united to prove the inadequacy of the capitalistic system. Nearly thirty million men are condemned for life to miserable beggary in the midst of a world which is being ruined by its surplus. But the spirit is lacking‹the socialistic spirit that strives for a fundamental reconstruction of social life and is not content with petty patchwork, which merely prolongs the crisis but can never heal its causes. Never before has it been so clearly proved that economic conditions alone cannot change the social structure, unless there are present in men the spiritual and intellectual prerequisites to give wings to their desires and unite their scattered forces for communal work.
But the socialist parties, and the trade union organisations, which are permeated with their ideas, have not only failed when it became a question of the economic reconstruction of society; they have even shown themselves incapable of guarding the political legacy of the bourgeois democracy; for they have everywhere yielded up long-won rights and liberties without a struggle and have in this manner aided the advance of fascism in Europe, even though against their will.
In Italy, one of the most prominent representatives of the Socialist Party became the perpetrator of the fascist coup d'etat) and a whole group of the best-known labor leaders, with D'Aragona at their head, marched with flying banners into Mussolini's camp.
In Spain, the Socialist Party was the only one which made peace with the dictator, Primo de Rivera. Likewise today, in the glorious era of the Republic, whose hands are red with the blood of murdered workers, that party proves itself the best guard of the capitalistic system and willingly offers its services for the limitation of political rights.
In England, we witness the peculiar spectacle of the best-known and ablest leaders of the Labor Party suddenly turning into the nationalistic camp, by which action they inflicted on the party, whose advocates they had been for decades, a crushing defeat. On this occasion Philip Snowden charged against his former comrades that "they had the interest of their class more in view than the good of the state," a reproach which unfortunately is not justified but which is very characteristic of "His Lordship," as he is now called.
In Germany, the social democracy as well as the trade unions have supported with all their powers the notorious attempts of the great capitalist industrialists at the "rationalisation" of industry, which has reacted so catastrophically upon labor and has given a morally stagnated bourgeoisie the opportunity to recuperate from the shocks which the lost war had given them. Even a pretentiously revolutionary labor party like the Communist Party in Germany appropriated the nationalistic slogans of reaction, by which contemptuous denial of all socialistic principles they hoped to take the wind out of the sails of threatening fascism.
To these examples many more might be added to show that the representatives of the great majority of organised socialistic labor hardly have the right to reproach the bourgeoisie with political unreliability or treason to its former ideals. The representatives of liberalism and bourgeois democracy showed at recent elections at least a desire to preserve appearances, while the pretended defenders of proletarian interests abandoned their former ideals with shameless complacency in order to do the work of their opponents.
A long line of leading political economists, uninfluenced by any socialistic considerations, have expressed their conviction that the capitalistic system has had its day and that in place of an uncontrolled profit economy a production-for-use economy based on new principles must be instituted if Europe is not to be ruined. Nevertheless, it becomes even more apparent that socialism as a movement has in no wise grown to meet the situation. Most of its representatives have never advanced beyond shallow reform, and they waste their forces in factional fights as purposeless as they are dangerous, which in their idiotic intolerance remind us of the behaviour of mentally petrified church organisations. Small wonder that hundreds of thousands of socialists fell into despair and let themselves be caught by the rat-catchers of the Third Reich.
It could be objected here that the necessities of life itself, even without the assistance of the socialists, were working toward the alteration of existing economic conditions, because a crisis with no way out becomes at last unendurable. We do not deny this, but we fear that with the present cessation in the socialistic labor movement there may occur an economic reconstruction about which the producers will have absolutely nothing to say. They will be confronted with the accomplished facts which others have created for them, so that in the future, too, they will have to be content with the part of coolies which had been planned for them all the while. Unless all signs deceive us, we are marching with giant strides toward an epoch of state capitalism, which is likely to assume for the workers the shape of a modern system of bondage in which man may be regarded as merely an instrument of production, and all personal freedom will be absolutely extinguished.
Economic conditions can, under certain circumstances, become so acute that a change in the existing social system is a vital necessity. It is only a question in which direction we shall then move. Will it be a road to freedom, or will it result merely in an improved form of slavery which, while it secures for man a meagre living, will rob him of all independence of action? This, and this only, is the question. The social constitution of the Inca Empire secured for every one of its subjects the necessary means of subsistence, but the land was subject to an unlimited despotism, which cruelly punished any opposition to its command and degraded the individual to a will-less tool of the state power.
State capitalism might be a way out of the present crisis, but most assuredly it would not be a road to social freedom. On the contrary, it would submerge men in a slough of servitude which would mock at all human dignity. In every prison, in every barrack there is a certain equality of social condition. Everyone has the same food, the same clothes, renders the same service, or performs the same task; but who would affirm that such a condition presents an end worth working for?
It makes a difference whether the members of a social organization are masters of their fate, control their own affairs and have the inalienable right to participate in the administration of their communal interests, or are but the instruments of an external will over which they possess no influence whatsoever. Every soldier has the right to share the common rations but he is not permitted to have a judgment of his own. He must blindly obey the orders of his superior, silencing, if need be, the voice of his own conscience, for he is but a part of a machine which others set in motion.
No tyranny is more unendurable than that of an all-powerful bureaucracy which interferes with all the activities of men and leaves its stamp on them. The more unlimited the power of the state over the life of the individual, the more it cripples his creative capacities and weakens the force of his personal will. State capitalism, the most dangerous antithesis of real socialism, demands the surrender of all social activities to the state. It is the triumph of the machine over the spirit, the rationalisation of all thought, action and feeling according to the fixed norms of authority, and consequently the end of all real intellectual culture. That the full scope of this threatening development has not been grasped up to now, that the idea that it is necessitated by current economic conditions has even been accepted, may well be regarded as one of the most fateful signs of the times.
The dangerous mania which sees in every social phenomenon only the inevitable result of capitalistic methods of production has implanted in men the conviction that all social events arise from definite necessity and are economically unalterable. This fatalistic notion could only result in crippling men's power of resistance, and consequently making them receptive to a compromise with given conditions, no matter how horrible and inhuman they may be.
Every one knows that economic conditions have an influence on the changes in social relations. How men will react in their thoughts and actions to this influence is of great importance, however, in determining what steps they may decide to take to initiate an obviously necessary change m the conditions of life. But it is just the thoughts and actions of men which refuse to accept the imprint of economic motives alone. Who would, for instance, maintain that the Puritanism which has decidedly influenced the spiritual development of Anglo-Saxon people up to the present day tas the necessary result of the economic capitalistic order then in its infancy, or who would try to prove that the World War was absolutely conditioned by the capitalistic system and was consequently unavoidable?
Economic interests undoubtedly played an important part in this war as they have in all others, but they alone would not have been able to cause this fatal catastrophe. Merely the sober statement of concrete economic purposes would never have set the great masses in motion. It was therefore necessary to prove to them that the quarrel for which they were to kill others, for which they were to be killed themselves, was "the good and righteous cause." Consequently, one side fought "against the Russian despotism," for the "liberation of Poland"‹and, of course, for the "interests of the fatherland," which the Allies had "conspired" to destroy. And the other side fought "for the triumph of Democracy" and the "overthrow of Prussian militarism" and "that this war should be the last war."
It might be urged that behind all the camouflage by which the people were fooled for over four years there stood, after all, the economic interests of the possessing classes. But that is not the point. The decisive factor is that without the continuous appeal to men's ethical feelings, to their sense of justice, no war would have been possible. The slogan, "God punish England!" and the cry, "Death to the Huns!" achieved in the last war far greater miracles than did the bare economic interests of the possessing classes. This is proved by the fact that before men can be driven to war they must be lashed into a certain pitch of passion and by the further fact that this passion can only be aroused by spiritual and moral motives.
Did not the very people who year after year had proclaimed to the working masses that every war in the era of capitalism springs from purely economic motives, at the outbreak of the World War abandon their historic-philosophical theory and raise the affairs of the nation above those of the class? And these were the ones who, with Marxist courage of conviction, supported the statement in The Communist Manifesto: "The history of all society up to now has been the history of class struggles."
Lenin and others have attributed the failure of most of the socialist parties at the beginning of the war to the leaders' fear of assuming responsibility, and with bitter words they have flung this lack of courage in their faces. Admitting that there is a great deal of truth in this assertion‹although we must beware in this case of generalising too freely‹ what is proved by it?
If it was indeed fear of responsibility and the lack of moral courage which induced the majority of the socialist leaders to support the national interests of their respective countries, then this is but a further proof of the correctness of our view. Courage and cowardice are not conditioned by the prevailing forms of production but have their roots in the psychic feelings of men. But if purely psychic motives could have such a compelling influence on the leaders of a movement numbering millions that they abandoned their fundamental principles even before the cock had crowed thrice, and marched with the worst foes of the socialistic labor movement against the so-called hereditary enemy, this only proves that men's actions cannot be explained by conditions of production, with which they often stand in sharpest contrast. Every epoch in history provides superabundant evidence of this.
It is, then, a patent error to explain the late war solely as the necessary result of opposing economic interests. Capitalism would still be conceivable if the so called "captains of world industry" should agree in an amicable manner concerning the possession of sources of raw materials and the spheres of market and exploitation, just as the owners of the various economic interests within a country come to terms without having to settle their differences on each occasion with the sword. There exist already quite a number of international organisations for production in which the capitalists of certain industries have gotten together to establish a definite quota for the production of their goods in each country. In this manner they have regulated the total production of their branches by mutual agreement on fundamental principles. The International Steel Trust in Europe is an example of it. By such a regulation capitalism loses nothing of its essential character; its privileges remain untouched. In fact, its mastery over the army of its wage slaves is considerably strengthened.
Considered purely economically, the War was therefore by no means inevitable. Capitalism could have survived without it. In fact, one can assume with certainty that if the directors of the capitalistic order could have anticipated the war's results it would never have happened.
It was not solely economic interests which played an important part in the late war, but motives of political power, which in the end did most to let loose the catastrophe. After the decline of Spain and Portugal, the dominant power in Europe had fallen to Holland, France and England, who opposed each other as rivals. Holland quickly lost its leading position, and after the Peace of Breda its influence on the course of European politics grew gradually less. But France also had lost after the Seven Years' War a large part of its former predominance and could never recover it, especially since its financial difficulties became constantly more acute and led to that unexampled oppression of the people from which the Revolution sprang. Napoleon later made enormous efforts to recover for France the position she had lost in Europe, but his gigantic efforts were without result. England remained the implacable enemy of Napoleon, who soon recognised that his plans for world power could never come to fruition as long as the "nation of shopkeepers," as he contemptuously called the English, was unconquered. Napoleon lost the game after England had organised all Europe against him. Since then England has maintained its leading position in Europe, indeed in the whole world.
But the British Empire is not a continuous territory as other empires were before it. Its possessions are scattered over all the five continents, and their security is dependent upon the position of power which Britain occupies in Europe. Every threat to this position is a threat to the continued possession of colonies by England. As long as on the continent the formation of the modern great states, with their gigantic armies and fleets, their bureaucracy, their capitalistic enterprises, their highly developed industries, their foreign trade agreements, their exports and their growing need of expansion could still be overlooked, Britain's position as a world power remained fairly untouched; but the stronger the capitalistic states of the continent became, the more had Britain to fear for its hegemony. Every attempt by a European power to secure new trade, or territory supplying raw materials, to further its export by trade agreements with foreign countries, and to give its plans for expansion the widest possible room, inevitably led sooner or later to a conflict somewhere with British spheres of interest and had always to look for hidden opposition by Britain.
For this reason it necessarily became the chief concern of the British foreign policy to prevent any power from obtaining predominant influence on the continent, or, when this was unavoidable, to use its whole skill to play one power against the other. Therefore, the defeat of Napoleon III by the Prussian army and Bismarck's diplomacy could only be very welcome to Britain, for France's power was thereby crippled for decades. But Germany's development of its military power, the initiation of its colonial policy and, most of all, the building of its fleet and its steadily growing plans for expansion (as its "urge to eastward" became increasingly noticeable and distasteful to the English) conjured up a danger for the British Empire that its representatives could not afford to disregard.
That British diplomacy unhesitatingly used any means to oppose the danger is no proof that its directors were by nature more treacherous or unscrupulous than are the diplomats of other countries. The idle talk about "perfidious Albion" is just as silly as the chatter about "a civilised warfare." If British diplomacy proved superior to that of the Germans, if it was cleverer in its secret intrigues, it was so only because its representatives had had much longer experience and because, fortunately for them, the majority of responsible German statesmen from Bismarck's time were but will-less lackeys of imperial power. None of them had the courage to oppose the dangerous activities of an irresponsible psychopath and his venal camarilla.
However, the foundation of this evil is to be sought not in individual persons but in power politics itself, irrespective of who practices it or what immediate aims it pursues. Power politics is only conceivable as making use of all means, however condemnable these may appear to private conscience, so long as they promise results, conform to reasons of state and further the state's ends.
Machiavelli, who had the courage to collect systematically the methods of procedure of power politics and to justify them in the name of reasons of state, has set this forth already in his "Discorsi" clearly and definitely: "If we are dealing with the welfare of the Fatherland at all, we must not permit ourselves to be influenced by right or wrong, compassion or cruelty, praise or blame. We must cavil at nothing, but we must always grasp at the means which will save the life of the country and preserve its freedom."
For the perfect power politics every crime done in the service of the state is a meritorious deed if it is successful. The state stands beyond good and evil; it is the earthly Providence whose decisions are in their profundity as inexplicable to the ordinary subject as is the fate ordained for the believer by the power of God. Just as, according to the doctrines of theologians and pundits, God in his unfathomable wisdom often uses the most cruel and frightful means to effect his plans, so also the state, according to the doctrines of political theology, is not bound by the rules of ordinary human morality when its rulers are determined to achieve definite ends by a cold-blooded gamble with the lives and fortunes of millions.
When a diplomat falls into a trap another has set for him, it ill becomes him to complain of the wiles and lack of conscientiousness of his opponent, for he himself pursues the same object, from the opposite side, and only suffers defeat because his opponent is better able to play the part of Providence. One who believes that he cannot exist without the organised force which is personified in the state must be ready also to accept all the consequences of this superstitious belief, to sacrifice to this Moloch the most precious thing he owns, his own personality.
It was principally power-political conflict, growing out of the fateful evolution of the great capitalistic states, which contributed importantly to the outbreak of the World War. Since the people, and especially the workers, of the various countries neither understood the seriousness of the situation nor could summon the moral courage to put up a determined resistance to the subterranean machinations of the diplomats, militarists and profiteers, there was no power on earth which could stay the catastrophe. For decades every great state appeared like a gigantic army camp which opposed the others, armed to the teeth, until a spark finally sprung the mine. Not because all happened as it had to happen did the world drive with open eyes toward the abyss, but because the great masses in every country had not the slightest idea what a despicable game was being played behind their backs. They had to thank their incredible carelessness and above all their blind belief in the infallible superiority of their rulers) and so-called spiritual leaders, that for over four years they could be led to slaughter like a will-less herd.
But even the small group of high finance and great industry, whose owners so unmistakably contributed to the releasing of the red flood, were not animated in their actions exclusively by the prospect of material gain. The view which sees in every capitalist only a profit machine may very well meet the demands of propaganda, but it is conceived much too narrowly and does not correspond to reality. Even in modern giant capitalism the power-political interests frequently play a larger part than the purely economic considerations, although it is difficult to separate them from each other. Its leaders have learned to know the delightful sensation of power, and adore it with the same passion as did formerly the great conquerors, whether they find themselves in the camp of the enemies of their government, like Hugo Stinnes and his followers in the time of the Germany money crisis, or interfere decisively in the foreign policy of their own country.
The morbid desire to make millions of men submissive to a definite will and to force whole empires into courses which are useful to the secret purposes of small minorities, is frequently more evident in the typical representatives of modern capitalism than are purely economic considerations or the prospect of greater material profit. The desire to heap up ever increasing profits today no longer satisfies the demands of the great capitalistic oligarchies. Every one of its members knows what enormous power the possession of great wealth places in the hands of the individual and the caste to which he belongs. This knowledge gives a tempting incentive and creates that typical consciousness of mastery whose consequences are frequently more destructive than the facts of monopoly itself. It is this mental attitude of the modern Grand Seigneur of industry and high finance which condemns all opposition and will tolerate no equality.
In the great struggles between capital and labor this brutal spirit of mastery often plays a more decided part than immediate economic interests. The small manufacturers of former times still had certain rather intimate relationships to the masses of the working population and were consequently able to have more or less understanding of their position. Modern moneyed aristocracy, however, has even less relationship with the great masses of the people than did the feudal barons of the eighteenth century with their serfs. It knows the masses solely as collective objects of exploitation for its economic and political interests. It has in general no understanding of the hard conditions of their lives. Hence the conscienceless brutality, the power urge, contemptuous of all human right, and the unfeeling indifference to the misery of others.
Because of his social position there are left no limits to the power lust of the modern capitalist. He can interfere with inconsiderate egoism in the lives of his fellowmen and play the part of Providence for others. Only when we take into consideration this passionate urge for political power over their own people as well as over foreign nations are we able really to understand the character of the typical representatives of modern capitalism. It is just this trait which makes them so dangerous to the social structure of the future.
Not without reason does modern monopolistic capitalism support the National Socialist and fascist reaction. This reaction is to help beat down any resistance of the working masses, in order to set up a realm of industrial serfdom in which productive man is to be regarded merely as an economic automaton without any influence whatsoever on the course and character of economic and social conditions. This Caesarean madness stops at no barrier. Without compunction it rides roughshod over those achievements of the past which have all too often had to be purchased with the heart's blood of the people. It is always ready to smother with brutal violence the last rights and the last liberties which might interfere with its plans for holding all social activities within the rigid forms set by its will. This is the great danger which threatens us today and which immediately confronts us. The success or failure of monopolistic capitalistic power plans will determine the structure of the social life of the near future.