Imágenes de páginas

explanation, is only valid when directed against exaggerations of the theory. The criticisms of Eduard Bernstein and other members of the "Revisionist" group within the international Socialist movement, for example, apply not so much to the theory itself, as Marx and Engels developed it, as to the crude applications of it by some of their disciples. As Frederick Engels himself has remarked, "It is unfortunately only too common for a man to think he has perfectly understood a theory and is able forthwith to apply it, as soon as he has made the chief propositions his own.


It may be freely admitted-as Engels himself has donethat in their earlier statements of the theory Marx and Engels were not always careful to make it clear beyond the possibility of honest misconception that they recognized the influence of spiritual and other non-economic factors upon historical development. But he who would either employ or judge a theory must take it in its most developed form, that is, in the form which comprises the fullest and maturest thought of the minds responsible for the theory. Criticisms of the theory which confine themselves to the earlier and cruder statements of it, and ignore the later developments and improved statements of it, is not honest criticism. It may also be admitted that, even in the statements of the theory by Engels toward the end of his life, the sense of proportion is not perfectly maintained, and that the sphere of influence ascribed to spiritual and ideological factors is too limited. But these things do not touch the essentials of the theory. It is a sufficient reply to the objection that the theory does not afford a sufficient explanation of the whole progress of human history, to point to the fact that neither Marx nor Engels claimed that it did anything of the sort. It is essentially a criticism directed against a misconception and misstatement of the theory, rather than against the theory itself.

Not much time need be wasted in a discussion of the criticism that the theory is sordid, and that it is unworthy of humanity to attribute its activity and its progress to economic conditions. The question to ask is not "Is the theory pleasing?" but "Is it true?" We might as well deny that the beauty of the rose is made possible only 1 1 Engels, Anti-Dühring.

through the unlovely soil in which its roots are sustained, as refuse to admit that the finest idealism may be rooted in the commonplace processes of making a living.

General acceptance of the theory: Through the general acceptance of the principle of evolution and the idea of the continuity of the historical process, the economic interpretation of history has gained acceptance far beyond the limits of the Socialist movement. People may differ as to the application of the theory and the conclusions to be drawn from it, but there is no longer any great opposition to the theory in its application to the great social transformations of the past, to religious forms, to ethical and legal codes and to a large number of important specific historical events.

In the light of the theory we are now in a position to discuss the development of the economic organization of society as the basis for a further treatment of Socialist theories and ideals.


1. Socialists regard economic forces as the chief factors in the bringing about of social change.

2. The Economic Interpretation does not exclude the "spiritual factors"; it is not fatalistic and does not deny free will.

3. The economic factors largely determine religious forms, ethical standards and the content of legal codes.

4. The Economic Interpretation of History applies primarily to the explanation of stages in social evolution, but at the same time it directly explains many specific historical events.


1. What was the origin of the theory of the Economic Interpretation of History?

2. Why is the term "economic" preferable to "materialistic" in this connection?

3. What factors other than the economic have influenced history? 4. In what ways have the economic factors influenced religious forms? Ethical codes?

5. How are economic class distinctions reflected in legal codes? 6. What is meant by the "Great Man" theory of history?

7. Illustrate the economic interpretation theory by events in American history. In English history.

8. What are the chief objections to the theory and how do Socialists answer them?


Hillquit, M., Socialism in Theory and Practice, Chap. III and IV. Kautsky, K., Ethics and the Materialistic Conception of History. Marx, Karl, Capital. Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Preface.

Rogers, J. E. T., The Economic Interpretation of History.

Seligman, E. R. A., The Economic Interpretation of History.

Simons, A. M., Social Forces in American History.

Spargo, John, Socialism, a Summary and Interpretation of Socialist Principles, Chap. IV.



The economic stages: Any classification of economic history must necessarily be somewhat arbitrary, for the whole process of development has been subject to variation. In different parts of the world the social groups have lived under varied environmental conditions.

Some writers have divided economic history into stages on the basis of labor forms, as:

(1) Independent or communal labor with slaughter of enemies.

(2) Slavery and serfdom.

(3) Wage-labor regulated by individual contract.

(4) Collective bargaining.

Other writers have taken the process of exchange as the basis of classification and describe three stages:

(1) "Truck" or barter economy.

(2) Money economy.

(3) Credit economy.

Perhaps the most common classification is that based on production and the increasing control of man over nature. The division is into five stages:

(1) The stage of direct appropriation.

(2) The pastoral stage.

(3) The agricultural stage.

(4) The handicraft stage.

(5) The industrial stage.

Finally, the German economist, Buecher, classifies economic history on the basis of the development of the economic unit:

(1) The stage of household economy.

(2) The stage of town economy.

(3) The stage of national economy. (4) The stage of world economy.

These classifications are not at all conflicting, and all are

suggestive. The two last classifications, however, best explain the historical process.

The stage of direct appropriation: This is the primitive stage of human development in which man lived by hunting and fishing, and by the vegetable foods, such as nuts, fruit and roots, which could be obtained without cultivation. It corresponds to the epoch of savagery in social evolution. Exchange and the transfer of goods are unimportant. Primitive communism is the rule and there are no sharply marked social classes.

There is a marked difference between tribes in this stage who live chiefly by hunting and those who life chiefly by fishing or subsist on a vegetable diet. The hunting tribes are more warlike, occupy a larger territory and are generally of a higher physical type. Their dwellings are very simple and usually temporary. Fishing tribes are peaceful and occupy restricted territories near the sea coast. They build permanent dwellings and construct boats and fishing imple


The pastoral stage: This stage is marked by the domestication of animals, and the care of large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. Pastoral groups are usually migratory or nomadic, wandering from place to place in search of the best pasturage, and living in tents. This stage corresponds with the middle stage of barbarism in Europe and Asia. The life of the Hebrew patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as described in the book of Genesis, is a perfect example of life in the pastoral stage.

Slavery became general in the pastoral stage and the conception of private property was greatly extended. Social distinctions became clearer. Men of great wealth like Abraham were powerful chiefs, and were absolute rulers of the households of wives, concubines, descendants, followers, and slaves. Private property in land was not yet generally recognized and there was little commerce. Such commerce as there was took the form of barter.

The agricultural stage: The agricultural stage opens up an entirely new field of activity to man. Having already learned the food uses of fruits, grains, nuts and roots, and how to manage animals, he now combines his knowledge and becomes a plant producer. A denser population becomes

« AnteriorContinuar »