Karl Marx

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For Loria, one of the greatest living champions of the doctrine of economic determinism, sees no difficulty in reconciling that doctrine with a firm belief in the magistral efficacy, at the stage which evolution has now reached, of the deliberate human will. "The economic natural force," writes Eduard Bernstein (Evolutionary Socialism, p. 14), "like the physical, changes from the ruler of mankind to its servant, according as its nature is recognised." Herein is embodied the application in the special economic field of the profound general truth that by scientific study man, the child of nature, learns to control nature, and thereby to mould his own being and social environment in accordance with the dictates of his own enlightened will. Similarly Loria is far from the rigid economic determinism which would refuse to admit the existence of "ideal" causation, or the [Pg 16]possibility in the sphere of sociology of intelligently adapting means to ends. "Idealism" is a word which has been soiled by such ignoble use that one really hesitates to employ it; but we must distinguish between idealism and sentimentalism, and between idealism and window dressing. The right sort of idealism is realist idealism, and Loria is a realist idealist. He distinguishes clearly between fatalism and quietism, on the one hand, and economic determinism tempered by rationalist guidance, on the other.

In The Economic Foundations of Society (pp. 376 et seq.) he writes: "Can we say that a doctrine leads to fatalism which concedes a fertile field to human activity, and which only seeks to mark out the limits within which such efforts may be applied? Can we give the name of quietism to a theory whose aims lie in the direction of substituting enlightened action, aware of its ends, for blind and ignorant innovation which is powerless to realise its [Pg 17]purposes?... Turning to consider the great social transformations which alter the structure of property, our theory does, it is true, deny that such movements can be effected before the necessary change in economic conditions has rendered them inevitable; but far from this conclusion leading to the degradation of human nature, it seems to us to inspire the highest sentiments. If we examine the great spontaneous movements that have sought to modify economic conditions before their time, we shall find that they all lacked definite purpose. There was no clear idea of the new order of things to be substituted for the old; on this account these movements were wanting in discipline; they were anarchic, and hence their lack of effect. Our theory, on the contrary, declares that it is first of all necessary to learn the nature of the future social system, and, after this knowledge has been acquired, to substitute a co-ordination of effort towards this rigorously determined end for the blind[Pg 18] and disorganised attempts that have thus far been made in this direction.... Far from leading towards fatalism our theory tends to encourage rational human activity, which alone can prevent, or at least mitigate, the confusion otherwise attendant upon the social metamorphosis.... A wide field is thus opened to human activity, and it is certainly a noble mission for mankind to withdraw social development from the operation of the blind and brutal forces of physical evolution and to submit the process to the kindlier and more civilised action of human reason."

The definitive exposition of Loria's views is to be found in The Economic Synthesis; but since in his theory of social evolution the effects of increasing population play so notable a part, reference must first be made to his examination of Malthus' theory of population. At the outset, however, let us recall Marx's attitude to the Malthusian doctrine.

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Marx rejected the idea that, for human beings, population tends to grow in such a manner as necessarily to press on the means of subsistence. Though he accepted Darwinism and had a profound admiration for Darwin, as far as the human species is concerned he rejected Malthusianism (on which Darwinism is based), and wrote of Malthus in terms of bitter personal hostility. The animus we may ignore, but the arguments are worth recapitulating. Pressure of population, he says, is the outcome of capitalism. On p. 645 of Capital Marx writes: "The labouring population ... produces, along with the accumulation of capital produced by it, the means by which it is itself made relatively superfluous, is turned into a relatively surplus population, and it does this always to an increasing extent. This is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production, and in fact every special historic mode of production has its own special laws of population, historically[Pg 20] valid within its limits alone. An abstract law of population exists for plants and animals only, and only in so far as man has not interfered with them." Later in the same chapter he says (in effect) that undue fertility is characteristic of poverty-stricken circumstances, and that with improved conditions the population difficulty tends to settle itself.

We shall see that Loria says much the same thing, and shall consider the assertion presently.

At a later date (1875) Marx writes somewhat more guardedly. In his Criticism of the Gotha Programme the reference to the Malthusian doctrine of population runs as follows: "But if I accept this law [the iron law of wages] as formulated by Lassalle, I must likewise accept its foundation. What is this foundation? As F. A. Lange showed shortly after Lassalle's death, the iron law of wages is founded upon Malthus' theory of population, a theory which Lange himself espoused.[Pg 21] Now if the iron law of wages be correct, it is impossible to abrogate it, even if we should do away with wage labour a hundred times over, for not the wage system alone, but every social system, must be governed by the law. Upon this foundation, for fifty years and more, economists have continued to demonstrate that socialism could never suppress poverty, which they regard as resulting from the nature of things. Socialism, they declare, can only generalise poverty, can only diffuse it simultaneously over the whole surface of society!"

Does it not almost seem as if Marx, by 1875, had, for a moment at least, glimpsed the real difficulty? For if we grant for the sake of argument that the excess of population under capitalism be only a relative excess, if we grant that each historic mode of production has its own special law of population, the question we have to ask ourselves as socialists is, "What will be the law of population under socialism?" May not socialism tend to promote an[Pg 22] absolute excess of population? Will not natural increase, stimulated by easy circumstances, threaten the stability of the system unless the growth of population be deliberately checked? Will not the inhabitants of each area have to specify some limit beyond which it is undesirable that the population of that area should increase? Ways and means, social and individual, lie beyond our present scope. But in our opinion Paul Lafargue, Henry George, and many others who have written on this question, and who have endeavoured to meet the Malthusian difficulty by a simple denial of the facts upon which "Parson Malthus" grounded his theory, have displayed more zeal than knowledge. As Karl Pearson wrote thirty years ago: "Marx by abusing Malthus has not solved the population difficulty"; and we agree with the same writer that "the acceptance of the law discovered by Malthus is an essential of any socialistic theory which pretends to be scientific"; but happily it is no[Pg 23] longer true that "Kautsky seems to stand alone among socialists in accepting the Malthusian law and its consequences" (The Ethic of Free-thought, 1888, pp. 438-9).

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