The Key to History

E.W., in his reply to my letter, assumes that I have no evidence for claiming that Marx believed that history was governed by laws which operate independent of the will of man; but his assumption, I don’t think, is based on a proper understanding of Marxism, for when we turn to the Author’s Prefaces in Capital we find this written: “Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history, governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence.” On page 789 of the same book, that is (the Moore and Aveling translation Capital) there is written: “The Capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the Capitalist mode of production, produces Capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of the proprietor. But Capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of nature, its own negation.” Here we have Marx dealing with impersonal forces which operate independent of the wills of the Capitalists, that is, the laws inherent in Capitalist production which, according to Marx, are not willed by men.

It is true that Marx did not view history as something apart from men, but nevertheless he did not believe that men created the laws of history and directed the social movement according to their wills; for according to Marx it is impersonal forces working outside of will, consciousness and intelligence that force men to play a certain role in history. [It is true that ends are not always realized merely because men will them, but nevertheless, the motivation towards their realisation could not exist independent of their wills.] E.W. says that it is only when conditions are fulfilled can the will to exploit become effective, but he seems to forget here that these conditions for exploitation are willed by men. Capitalism no more came into existence independent of the will of men than Feudalism went out independent of their wills. E.W. talks about objective conditions, but does not state what these objective conditions are. The objective conditions of Capitalist production are created by the subjective content and can therefore only be understood and motivated through subjectivity.

However, there is nothing wrong m speaking about objective conditions relating to Capitalist production as long as this is understood. The objective conditions of industry do not come out of the blue, they are created by men. E.W. would have us believe that objective conditions arise out of unwilled activities. This is true of climate, etc., but not of things created by men.

E.W. says that the absence of certain conditions made Socialism impossible 500 years ago, and that the presence of certain objective conditions make it possible today, but he seems to forget that the presence of certain objective conditions today make world destruction more of a possibility than the establishment of Socialism, and in that respect these objective conditions, which we have today for the realisation of Socialism, are worse than the objective conditions of 500 years ago; for, although it may not have been possible to realise Socialism at that time, it was at least impossible for them to realise the possibility of world destruction. However, seeing that E.W. believes that there is a key to history, he will no doubt believe that all the destructive objective conditions of today will, in the end, bring men nearer to the realisation of Socialism. But then again, this view is not founded on fact, but only belief which is opposed to facts as they stand today.
R. Smith


If Mr. Smith believes that history is the outcome of the projection of the wills of individuals, how explain the fact that men’s historical activities have developed along definite lines, expressed in particular and class relations—Slavery—Feudalism—Capitalism? Mr. Smith himself offers neither evidence nor explanation for his views. Social classes are not created by the wills of individuals, they are the outcome of prior economic development. The way wealth is organised and distributed between classes—the social relation of production—is dependent on a given stage of social development. The fact that at different times, men have found themselves, slave owner or slave, feudal lord or serf, employer or employee, expresses a definite historic mode of production, independent of the wills of those who participate in it and regardless of their good or bad intent. Different men are born in different social situations, hence unwilled by them. It is the degree of ’economic development corresponding to a given social situation which provides the objective possibilities for individuals having common economic aims, i.e., class aims, to further their interests. The material basis for existence and its degree of economic development in which men find themselves are the indispensable conditions for the continuance and furtherance of their productive activities. The material basis for mens existence is not, as Mr. Smith imagines, the creation of men’s subjective processes i.e., their personal wishes, wills or desires; Individuals did not will themselves to become feudal lords no more than serfs willed serfdom. Nor did the bourgeois who for centuries were weaker than the feudal lords suddenly vanquish Feudalism by merely willing it out of existence.

Mr. Smith offers two quotes from Capital, neither of which gives support to his assertion that Marx held history to be an impersonal process. is method of quoting leaves much to be desired. The first quote —”which treats of social movements, governed by laws independent of human will or consciousness ” are not Marx words, but those of a reviewer of Capital, describing what he believed to be Marx’s historical method. Nevertheless, it is a fact that laws which are expressions (often approximate) of objective regularities discoverable in events do not depend on our will or consciousness or the law of gravity, etc., although by understanding them, they can be used in practical life. Again, the law of value which regulates present exchange relations is not dependent on the will or consciousness of the Capitalist. It is true the Capitalist via exploitation wills to expand his capital. If he did not attempt to do both these things he would cease to be a Capitalist. Thus the Capitalist “will” moves within the bounds of iron compulsions.

In Mr. Smith’s second quote, Marx is pointing out that small scattered private property is transformed into large-scale Capitalist property and this in turn would be transformed into common property as inexorably as a law of nature. Marx showed that the economic development which dissolved Feudalism and with it petty private production inevitably led to Capitalism. No historian has been able to show that there could have been any major social alternative to Capitalism. Yet so far as men being puppets of an impersonal economic process, it was this economic development, culminating in Capitalism, which gave rise to an unparalled scope and intensity for men’s activities, although it was class activities for class ends.

Again, Capitalism produces the will for Socialism and the economic conditions for making it effective, just as Capitalism alone makes it possible to devastate the world with the hydrogen bomb. That is why Socialism and the hydrogen bomb were impossible 500 years ago. As Mr. Smith unwittingly admits this was because the objective conditions were different then. Socialism is the only alternative to Capitalism and it is this path which the working class must take if they are to achieve their class emancipation. Such is the nature of historic inevitability.

How little this second quote of Mr. Smith’s has to do with fatalism is seen by the fact that the quote is lifted from a whole passage in which Marx makes human effort and moral indignation indispensable features of the social revolution.

Marx not only said men make history he exemplified it in his own actions. Again, his works Class Struggles and 18th Brumaire are brilliant illustrations of his dictum. What Mr. Smith should have done was to show through Marx’s voluminous works where he even once said, “ men do not make history.” But this Mr. Smith cannot do.

E. W.

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