My very personal (and critical) selection of Marxist thought

Alberto Diaz-Cayeros
203 min readApr 29, 2024
English: Portrait of Karl Marx (1818–1883) 24th August 1875 International Institute of Social History

My son has been participating in the protests that have sprung around campuses in the United States, and asked me for recommendations on what to read related to Marxism, Che Guevara, or the Zapatistas. American students in US Universities are rarely exposed to Marxist thought. They do not read Marx, neither in high school nor in college. They have some rudimentary language and vague ideas, from scattered readings of contemporary scholars, mostly in the humanities, who still use a Marxist perspective. Student´s ideas of Marxism are often filtered by many later contributions (European and American scholars, including Habermas, Althusser, Lukács, Žižek, and sometimes even thinkers in the global South). Students rarely read the dense philosophical and jargonish texts directly, but have absorbed them through what is shared by their professors and peer students.

In my generation in Mexico we read Marxist texts. The entry point was usually the introduction by Marta Harnecker and maybe something by Ernst Bloch. Most history we read was written by Marxist historians. If we were more curious, we could read Eduardo Galeano´s Open Veins in Latin America, the Communist Manifesto, the classic book by Lenin on Imperialism, some Teoría de la Dependencia or some Enrique Dussel and Paulo Freire. I am no Marxism specialist by any stretch of the imagination, but I want to share to my college student son, and to other students in the US, my highly personal reader, with selections of Marxist thought, and some of their critiques.

This reader will certainly disappoint “true” Marxists, because my own journey is highly idiosyncratic. While an admirer of Marxist concepts, I am quite skeptical about its contemporary applicability as a social scientific theory. I am hoping this readings will inspire those who want to have a deeper understanding of the concepts they are using in the language in the encampments and demonstrations. Marxism is a sophisticated social theoretical framework that permeates much of the way any of us understands the world.

I have chosen specific readings, some of them relatively long, but much shorter than the full text they are extracted from, that reflect my own personal travels with Marxism. I have selected four sections from Capital, Volume 1, that provide a sense of how Marxist political economy can be understood as a highly sophisticated formal theory, based on logic and an attempt at scientific explanation. I have no taste — in fact I have increasingly less patience — for the Hegelian Marx, and hundreds or thousands of books written as “critiques” in that tradition, which in my view are minor amendments or abstruse philosophical debates internal to Marxist thought. I have not selected anything in that scholarly tradition.

In contrast, I think Marx as the economist, from a materialist perspective firmly grounded on classic Political Economy, was truly insightful. I have included as the follower of that political economy tradition a selection from the work of Thomas Piketty, who has provided a powerful way of recasting the classic concerns regarding capital, but I also recommend everyone to read Branko Milanovic. I firmly believe that anyone who reads Marx must also read anti-Marxist critiques, the most powerful of which, at least in the readings of my youth, were the critique to historicism by Karl Popper. I have also included other critical perspectives, developed by one of the Analytic Marxists I most admire, Adam Przeworski, regarding the idea of the proletariat becoming a majority. I am also including some paragraphs from Vaclav Havel’s essay the Power of the Powerless, a critique to real existing socialism.

There is a selection from the one Marxist thinker in Latin America I believe was the most insightful in understanding the plight of indigenous people, Jose Carlos Mariategi. I also include some of Gramsci’s thoughts on intellectuals. I include the powerful and beautifully written diagnosis of poverty and development in Southern Mexico by the Zapatistas.

On contemporary authors, I have selected some paragraphs from Piketty’s recasting of the problem of capital and inequality. And although I am only starting to read many of the Marxist feminists in the past few years, I include a selection from Silvia Federici. I close the selection with some musings from Adam Przeworski on what he thinks remains valuable in Marxist thought today.

The Communist Manifesto (1848)

Every university student should read the Communist Manifesto, as part of their general culture — in the same way as US students are exposed to read the Declaration of Independence. The classic text was written by Karl Marx his friend and frequent collaborator, Friedrich Engels, in a moment of revolutionary fervor in Europe. I have chosen to highlight some classic quotes, to be placed in context. Excerpts include the summary of some features of class relations in the feudal and the modern modes of production, the characteristics of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, a note on the incorporation of women and children in the labor force, and some insights regarding the origin of inequality. It ends with the erroneous teleological vision of “civilized” progress and a forecast of revolution coming first to Germany.


A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.

Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?

Two things result from this fact:

I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power.

II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself.

To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London and sketched the following manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages.

Chapter I. Bourgeois and Proletarians(1)

[German Original]

The history of all hitherto existing society(2) is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master(3) and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.

From the serfs of the Middle Ages sprang the chartered burghers of the earliest towns. From these burgesses the first elements of the bourgeoisie were developed.

The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.

The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolised by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle class; division of labour between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labour in each single workshop.

Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even manufacturer no longer sufficed. Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionised industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry; the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.

We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.

Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune(4): here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.

The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, and one customs-tariff.

In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.

Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of machinery, etc.

Modern Industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organised like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

The less the skill and exertion of strength implied in manual labour, in other words, the more modern industry becomes developed, the more is the labour of men superseded by that of women. Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are instruments of labour, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and sex.

Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.

The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.

The “dangerous class”, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.

In the condition of the proletariat, those of old society at large are already virtually swamped. The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations; modern industry labour, modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character. Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.

All the preceding classes that got the upper hand sought to fortify their already acquired status by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation. The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property.

All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.

Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.

In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.

Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of the feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.

The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

The Communists turn their attention chiefly to Germany, because that country is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution that is bound to be carried out under more advanced conditions of European civilisation and with a much more developed proletariat than that of England was in the seventeenth, and France in the eighteenth century, and because the bourgeois revolution in Germany will be but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution.

In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.

In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.

Finally, they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries.

The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

Working Men of All Countries, Unite!

Transcribed by Zodiac
Html Markup by Stephen Baird (1999)

Paper Stones by Adam Przeworksi and John Sprague

I include, after the compelling prose of the Communist Manifesto, the prologue of Paper Stones by Adam Przeworksi and John Sprague, a book that provides an analysis of why socialist parties throughout the world had to make compromises once they entered the electoral arena, due to the reality of the proletariat never becoming a majority in any country. This is a perspective from Analytic Marxism. This school of thought, my more preferred form of Marxist, embraces values regarding equality and community, but is willing to accept other methodological approaches, and is highly critical of many Marxist views. While there are many critical schools within Marxism, I have chosen to include criticisms that are for the most part radical enough so as to question some of the central premises in Marx, rather than marginal corrections or amendments.



One should stress the importance and significance which, in the modem world, political parties have in the elaboration and diffusion of a conception of the world, because essentially what they do is to work out the ethics and the politics corresponding to these conceptions and act, as it were, as their historical ‘laboratory’.

Antonio Gramsci

No political party ever won an electoral majority on a program offering a socialist transformation of society. At the end of the nineteenth century, as socialist parties entered into the competition for votes, they saw in universal suffrage an institution that would allow the working class to proceed from “political to social emancipation,” as Marx had put it fifty years earlier. Elections were to open the “parliamentary road” to socialism; they were to bring about a “peaceful revolution” from a society based on the exploitation of workers to one that would provide conditions for universal liberation. Barricades were no longer needed when workers could cast ballots: votes were “paper stones.”

The syllogism was simple and persuasive. Since most people suffer from poverty and oppression inherent in the capitalist organization of society, and since elections are decided by numbers, socialism would become the electoral expression of an immense majority. Great masses would provide the mandate for legislating society into socialism. Socialism was the telos, universal suffrage was to be the instrument, and yet it has never happened, at least not thus far.

Involvement in electoral politics was inevitable if socialist parties were to establish roots among workers. Nor could it be merely symbolic. As long as participation in electoral competition is instrumental for improving the conditions of workers in the short run, any political party that seeks a mass following must avail itself of this opportunity. In spite of the distrust which the plunge into electoral politics often evoked among socialists, abstention was never a feasible option. Workers did not become organized as a political party everywhere; but wherever they can, workingclass parties do participate in electoral competition.

Observers often saw dilemmas in the involvement of workers in any of the institutions of capitalist society, including elections. “Whatever seeks to extend itself under domination runs the risk of reproducing it” — this would be the fate of working-class organizations under capitalism (Horkheimer 1973:5). In order to realize the revolutionary goal of bringing about socialism, workingclass parties must avail themselves of the opportunities that exist in capitalist society. But to the extent to which electoral participation is instrumental in improving the condition of workers within the confines of capitalism, socialism is no longer urgently necessary.

Socialism cannot be achieved without participation in democratic institutions, but participation erodes the will for socialism: this is the frequently bemoaned dilemma of democratic socialism.

Yet the protagonists — socialist leaders who marched their parties onto electoral battlefields — never saw their choice as a dilemma. They entered electoral politics with the goal of winning an overwhelming popular mandate for socialism, even if they were compelled to enter by the need to improve the immediate conditions of workers. They entered with ultimate goals and they knew they would win.

This divergence between cause and purpose is perhaps a sign of rationalization. Yet the crucial question is not about the motivations of party leaders but about the effect of electoral participation on the movement for socialism. It is a question about conditions which are independent of anyone’s will, about the structure of the situation in which a socialist movement finds itself in a democratic capitalist society.

The decision to participate is but a prologue to the history of socialism, but prologues delimit the entire play. Once leaders of socialist parties decided to enter into electoral competition, the electoral system structured their future choices. To be effective in elections — for whatever goals — a party must win votes, and votes are measured in numbers. Hence the perpetual issue facing the parties that organize workers is whether or not to seek electoral suoport elsewhere in the society. Leaders of socialist parties must repeatedly decide whether or not to seek electoral success at the cost, or at least the risk, of diluting class lines and consequently diminishing the salience of class as a motive for the political behavior of workers themselves.

Contrary to the enthusiastic expectations with which socialist leaders initially joined the game of elections, workers — the proletarians who “had nothing to sell but their labor power” and “nothing to lose but their chains” — never became a numerical majority in any society. Hence the electoral mandate for socialism could not be obtained from workers alone. Democratic institutions played a perverse trick with socialist intentions — the emancipation of the working classes could not be the task of workers themselves if this emancipation was to be accomplished through elections.

Given the minority status of workers, leaders of class-based parties must choose between a party homogeneous in its class appeal but sentenced to perpetual electoral defeats or a party that struggles for electoral success at the cost of diluting its class orientation.

This is the alternative presented to socialist, social democratic, labor, communist, and other parties by the particular combination of class structure and political institutions found in democratic capitalist societies.

This choice is not between revolution and reform. There is no a priori reason — pace Lukacs (1971:60) — and no historical evidence to suppose that a minority, class-pure, electoral party of workers would be any more revolutionary than a majority party heterogeneous in its class basis. Indeed, class-pure, electoral parties of workers, of which the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) during the Weimar period is perhaps the prime example, can be committed exclusively to the defense of corporate interests of workers within the confines of capitalism. A pure party of workers constituting a majority of the electorate could have perhaps maintained its commitments without compromise, as socialists said they would when they saw the working class as majoritarian. But to continue as a minority party dedicated exclusively to ultimate goals in a system which requires a majority— more, an overwhelming mandate — to attempt to realize these goals would have been absurd. Keeping a party class pure produces at best a sect of guardians of the eternal flame (Schumpeter 1942). To gain electoral influence for whatever aims, from the ultimate to the most immediate, working class parties had to seek support from other people, to enter into alliances, and to make compromises. The decision to participate in elections ineluctably altered the logic of revolutionary transformations. A majority composed of workers could not provide the mandate for socialism because workers never became a majority. The only question was whether a majority for socialism, and indeed for any more proximate goals, could be obtained by seeking electoral support among people other than workers.

With the support of workers alone or of the people in general, electoral majorities turned out to be an elusive goal. No party won an electoral majority on a program offering a socialist transformation of society, but very few won majorities with any program.

Elections rarely result in majorities: about one election in fifteen yields the majority of votes cast to a single party. And there is no reason to stop at the magic number of 50 percent. Why has no party ever obtained an overwhelming mandate in a free election, for anything? How does it happen that no party has ever obtained the support of one-half of those entitled to vote? When, at the beginning of the century, socialist leaders witnessed the spectacular growth of their electoral strength, winning an overwhelming majority seemed just a matter of time, indeed of a few elections. And yet all extrapolations remained frustrated — socialist parties settled down to some share of the vote typically inferior to 50 percent. All growth was arrested as it approached 50 percent, almost as if electoral institutions were designed in a way that would prevent any political force from obtaining overwhelming support for any social transformation.

What kind of system is it that socialists got themselves into? Can parties that appeal to workers win an overwhelming majority of votes given the class structure of industrialized capitalist societies? Is there an inherent dilemma that makes an electoral mandate for socialism impossible to obtain? Is this a dilemma that makes an overwhelming victory of any party, behind any program, impossible ? What is the range of choice available to socialist parties? Have they exploited the opportunities historically available to them?

Capital (Volume One) by Karl Marx

Karl Marx was a monumental thinker, writing complex and sophisticated texts regarding history, philosophy and political economy. I have chosen to highlight some sections of Capital, Volume 1, which are crucial to understand more current contributions of scholars of inequality, such as Branko Milanovic or Thomas Piketty. The sophistication of the theoretical apparatus is often lost when Marxist jargon is simply thrown out with concepts such as “exchange value”, “fetichism o of the commodity”, or “primitive accumulation”. I follow these excerpts from Capital with some paragraphs of the Popperian critique to all historicist thinking, not just Marxism.



The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,”[1] its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.

A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference.[2] Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or indirectly as means of production.

Every useful thing, as iron, paper, &c., may be looked at from the two points of view of quality and quantity. It is an assemblage of many properties, and may therefore be of use in various ways. To discover the various uses of things is the work of history.[3] So also is the establishment of socially-recognized standards of measure for the quantities of these useful objects. The diversity of these measures has its origin partly in the diverse nature of the objects to be measured, partly in convention.

The utility of a thing makes it a use value.[4] But this utility is not a thing of air. Being limited by the physical properties of the commodity, it has no existence apart from that commodity. A commodity, such as iron, corn, or a diamond, is therefore, so far as it is a material thing, a use value, something useful. This property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful qualities. When treating of use value, we always assume to be dealing with definite quantities, such as dozens of watches, yards of linen, or tons of iron. The use values of commodities furnish the material for a special study, that of the commercial knowledge of commodities.[5] Use values become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth. In the form of society we are about to consider, they are, in addition, the material depositories of exchange value.

Exchange value, at first sight, presents itself as a quantitative relation, as the proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort,[6] a relation constantly changing with time and place. Hence exchange value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in terms.[7] Let us consider the matter a little more closely.

A given commodity, e.g., a quarter of wheat is exchanged for x blacking, y silk, or z gold, &c. — in short, for other commodities in the most different proportions. Instead of one exchange value, the wheat has, therefore, a great many. But since x blacking, y silk, or z gold &c., each represents the exchange value of one quarter of wheat, x blacking, y silk, z gold, &c., must, as exchange values, be replaceable by each other, or equal to each other. Therefore, first: the valid exchange values of a given commodity express something equal; secondly, exchange value, generally, is only the mode of expression, the phenomenal form, of something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it.

Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions may be, can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron. What does this equation tell us? It tells us that in two different things — in 1 quarter of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quantities something common to both. The two things must therefore be equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of them, so far as it is exchange value, must therefore be reducible to this third.

A simple geometrical illustration will make this clear. In order to calculate and compare the areas of rectilinear figures, we decompose them into triangles. But the area of the triangle itself is expressed by something totally different from its visible figure, namely, by half the product of the base multiplied by the altitude. In the same way the exchange values of commodities must be capable of being expressed in terms of something common to them all, of which thing they represent a greater or less quantity.

This common “something” cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any other natural property of commodities. Such properties claim our attention only in so far as they affect the utility of those commodities, make them use values. But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterised by a total abstraction from use value. Then one use value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient quantity. Or, as old Barbon says,

“one sort of wares are as good as another, if the values be equal. There is no difference or distinction in things of equal value … An hundred pounds’ worth of lead or iron, is of as great value as one hundred pounds’ worth of silver or gold.”[8]

As use values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange values they are merely different quantities, and consequently do not contain an atom of use value.

If then we leave out of consideration the use value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour. But even the product of labour itself has undergone a change in our hands. If we make abstraction from its use value, we make abstraction at the same time from the material elements and shapes that make the product a use value; we see in it no longer a table, a house, yarn, or any other useful thing. Its existence as a material thing is put out of sight. Neither can it any longer be regarded as the product of the labour of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other definite kind of productive labour. Along with the useful qualities of the products themselves, we put out of sight both the useful character of the various kinds of labour embodied in them, and the concrete forms of that labour; there is nothing left but what is common to them all; all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract.

Let us now consider the residue of each of these products; it consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homogeneous human labour, of labour power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure. All that these things now tell us is, that human labour power has been expended in their production, that human labour is embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all, they are — Values.

We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use value. But if we abstract from their use value, there remains their Value as defined above. Therefore, the common substance that manifests itself in the exchange value of commodities, whenever they are exchanged, is their value. The progress of our investigation will show that exchange value is the only form in which the value of commodities can manifest itself or be expressed. For the present, however, we have to consider the nature of value independently of this, its form.

A use value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because human labour in the abstract has been embodied or materialised in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? Plainly, by the quantity of the value-creating substance, the labour, contained in the article. The quantity of labour, however, is measured by its duration, and labour time in its turn finds its standard in weeks, days, and hours.

Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle and unskilful the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production. The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour power. The total labour power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units. Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of the average labour power of society, and takes effect as such; that is, so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary. The labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. The introduction of power-looms into England probably reduced by one-half the labour required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth. The hand-loom weavers, as a matter of fact, continued to require the same time as before; but for all that, the product of one hour of their labour represented after the change only half an hour’s social labour, and consequently fell to one-half its former value.

We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour time socially necessary for its production.[9] Each individual commodity, in this connexion, is to be considered as an average sample of its class.[10] Commodities, therefore, in which equal quantities of labour are embodied, or which can be produced in the same time, have the same value. The value of one commodity is to the value of any other, as the labour time necessary for the production of the one is to that necessary for the production of the other. “As values, all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labour time.”[11]

The value of a commodity would therefore remain constant, if the labour time required for its production also remained constant. But the latter changes with every variation in the productiveness of labour. This productiveness is determined by various circumstances, amongst others, by the average amount of skill of the workmen, the state of science, and the degree of its practical application, the social organisation of production, the extent and capabilities of the means of production, and by physical conditions. For example, the same amount of labour in favourable seasons is embodied in 8 bushels of corn, and in unfavourable, only in four. The same labour extracts from rich mines more metal than from poor mines. Diamonds are of very rare occurrence on the earth’s surface, and hence their discovery costs, on an average, a great deal of labour time. Consequently much labour is represented in a small compass. Jacob doubts whether gold has ever been paid for at its full value. This applies still more to diamonds. According to Eschwege, the total produce of the Brazilian diamond mines for the eighty years, ending in 1823, had not realised the price of one-and-a-half years’ average produce of the sugar and coffee plantations of the same country, although the diamonds cost much more labour, and therefore represented more value. With richer mines, the same quantity of labour would embody itself in more diamonds, and their value would fall. If we could succeed at a small expenditure of labour, in converting carbon into diamonds, their value might fall below that of bricks. In general, the greater the productiveness of labour, the less is the labour time required for the production of an article, the less is the amount of labour crystallised in that article, and the less is its value; and vice versâ, the less the productiveness of labour, the greater is the labour time required for the production of an article, and the greater is its value. The value of a commodity, therefore, varies directly as the quantity, and inversely as the productiveness, of the labour incorporated in it. [A]

A thing can be a use value, without having value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour. Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, &c. A thing can be useful, and the product of human labour, without being a commodity. Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, indeed, use values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use values, but use values for others, social use values. (And not only for others, without more. The mediaeval peasant produced quit-rent-corn for his feudal lord and tithe-corn for his parson. But neither the quit-rent-corn nor the tithe-corn became commodities by reason of the fact that they had been produced for others. To become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it will serve as a use value, by means of an exchange.)[12] Lastly nothing can have value, without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value.


A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying human wants, or from the point that those properties are the product of human labour. It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was. [26a]

The mystical character of commodities does not originate, therefore, in their use value. Just as little does it proceed from the nature of the determining factors of value. For, in the first place, however varied the useful kinds of labour, or productive activities, may be, it is a physiological fact, that they are functions of the human organism, and that each such function, whatever may be its nature or form, is essentially the expenditure of human brain, nerves, muscles, &c. Secondly, with regard to that which forms the ground-work for the quantitative determination of value, namely, the duration of that expenditure, or the quantity of labour, it is quite clear that there is a palpable difference between its quantity and quality. In all states of society, the labour time that it costs to produce the means of subsistence, must necessarily be an object of interest to mankind, though not of equal interest in different stages of development.[27] And lastly, from the moment that men in any way work for one another, their labour assumes a social form.

Whence, then, arises the enigmatical character of the product of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities? Clearly from this form itself. The equality of all sorts of human labour is expressed objectively by their products all being equally values; the measure of the expenditure of labour power by the duration of that expenditure, takes the form of the quantity of value of the products of labour; and finally the mutual relations of the producers, within which the social character of their labour affirms itself, take the form of a social relation between the products.

A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour. This is the reason why the products of labour become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses. In the same way the light from an object is perceived by us not as the subjective excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of something outside the eye itself. But, in the act of seeing, there is at all events, an actual passage of light from one thing to another, from the external object to the eye. There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things quâ commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

This Fetishism of commodities has its origin, as the foregoing analysis has already shown, in the peculiar social character of the labour that produces them.

As a general rule, articles of utility become commodities, only because they are products of the labour of private individuals or groups of individuals who carry on their work independently of each other. The sum total of the labour of all these private individuals forms the aggregate labour of society. Since the producers do not come into social contact with each other until they exchange their products, the specific social character of each producer’s labour does not show itself except in the act of exchange. In other words, the labour of the individual asserts itself as a part of the labour of society, only by means of the relations which the act of exchange establishes directly between the products, and indirectly, through them, between the producers. To the latter, therefore, the relations connecting the labour of one individual with that of the rest appear, not as direct social relations between individuals at work, but as what they really are, material relations between persons and social relations between things. It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire, as values, one uniform social status, distinct from their varied forms of existence as objects of utility. This division of a product into a useful thing and a value becomes practically important, only when exchange has acquired such an extension that useful articles are produced for the purpose of being exchanged, and their character as values has therefore to be taken into account, beforehand, during production. From this moment the labour of the individual producer acquires socially a two-fold character. On the one hand, it must, as a definite useful kind of labour, satisfy a definite social want, and thus hold its place as part and parcel of the collective labour of all, as a branch of a social division of labour that has sprung up spontaneously. On the other hand, it can satisfy the manifold wants of the individual producer himself, only in so far as the mutual exchangeability of all kinds of useful private labour is an established social fact, and therefore the private useful labour of each producer ranks on an equality with that of all others. The equalisation of the most different kinds of labour can be the result only of an abstraction from their inequalities, or of reducing them to their common denominator, viz. expenditure of human labour power or human labour in the abstract. The two-fold social character of the labour of the individual appears to him, when reflected in his brain, only under those forms which are impressed upon that labour in every-day practice by the exchange of products. In this way, the character that his own labour possesses of being socially useful takes the form of the condition, that the product must be not only useful, but useful for others, and the social character that his particular labour has of being the equal of all other particular kinds of labour, takes the form that all the physically different articles that are the products of labour, have one common quality, viz., that of having value.

Hence, when we bring the products of our labour into relation with each other as values, it is not because we see in these articles the material receptacles of homogeneous human labour. Quite the contrary: whenever, by an exchange, we equate as values our different products, by that very act, we also equate, as human labour, the different kinds of labour expended upon them. We are not aware of this, nevertheless we do it.[28] Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic. Later on, we try to decipher the hieroglyphic, to get behind the secret of our own social products; for to stamp an object of utility as a value, is just as much a social product as language. The recent scientific discovery, that the products of labour, so far as they are values, are but material expressions of the human labour spent in their production, marks, indeed, an epoch in the history of the development of the human race, but, by no means, dissipates the mist through which the social character of labour appears to us to be an objective character of the products themselves. The fact, that in the particular form of production with which we are dealing, viz., the production of commodities, the specific social character of private labour carried on independently, consists in the equality of every kind of that labour, by virtue of its being human labour, which character, therefore, assumes in the product the form of value — this fact appears to the producers, notwithstanding the discovery above referred to, to be just as real and final, as the fact, that, after the discovery by science of the component gases of air, the atmosphere itself remained unaltered.

What, first of all, practically concerns producers when they make an exchange, is the question, how much of some other product they get for their own? In what proportions the products are exchangeable? When these proportions have, by custom, attained a certain stability, they appear to result from the nature of the products, so that, for instance, one ton of iron and two ounces of gold appear as naturally to be of equal value as a pound of gold and a pound of iron in spite of their different physical and chemical qualities appear to be of equal weight. The character of having value, when once impressed upon products, obtains fixity only by reason of their acting and re-acting upon each other as quantities of value. These quantities vary continually, independently of the will, foresight and action of the producers. To them, their own social action takes the form of the action of objects, which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them. It requires a fully developed production of commodities before, from accumulated experience alone, the scientific conviction springs up, that all the different kinds of private labour, which are carried on independently of each other, and yet as spontaneously developed branches of the social division of labour, are continually being reduced to the quantitative proportions in which society requires them. And why? Because, in the midst of all the accidental and ever fluctuating exchange relations between the products, the labour time socially necessary for their production forcibly asserts itself like an over-riding law of Nature. The law of gravity thus asserts itself when a house falls about our ears.[29] The determination of the magnitude of value by labour time is therefore a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities. Its discovery, while removing all appearance of mere accidentality from the determination of the magnitude of the values of products, yet in no way alters the mode in which that determination takes place.

Man’s reflections on the forms of social life, and consequently, also, his scientific analysis of those forms, take a course directly opposite to that of their actual historical development. He begins, post festum, with the results of the process of development ready to hand before him. The characters that stamp products as commodities, and whose establishment is a necessary preliminary to the circulation of commodities, have already acquired the stability of natural, self-understood forms of social life, before man seeks to decipher, not their historical character, for in his eyes they are immutable, but their meaning. Consequently it was the analysis of the prices of commodities that alone led to the determination of the magnitude of value, and it was the common expression of all commodities in money that alone led to the establishment of their characters as values. It is, however, just this ultimate money form of the world of commodities that actually conceals, instead of disclosing, the social character of private labour, and the social relations between the individual producers. When I state that coats or boots stand in a relation to linen, because it is the universal incarnation of abstract human labour, the absurdity of the statement is self-evident. Nevertheless, when the producers of coats and boots compare those articles with linen, or, what is the same thing, with gold or silver, as the universal equivalent, they express the relation between their own private labour and the collective labour of society in the same absurd form.

The categories of bourgeois economy consist of such like forms. They are forms of thought expressing with social validity the conditions and relations of a definite, historically determined mode of production, viz., the production of commodities. The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour as long as they take the form of commodities, vanishes therefore, so soon as we come to other forms of production.

Since Robinson Crusoe’s experiences are a favourite theme with political economists,[30] let us take a look at him on his island. Moderate though he be, yet some few wants he has to satisfy, and must therefore do a little useful work of various sorts, such as making tools and furniture, taming goats, fishing and hunting. Of his prayers and the like we take no account, since they are a source of pleasure to him, and he looks upon them as so much recreation. In spite of the variety of his work, he knows that his labour, whatever its form, is but the activity of one and the same Robinson, and consequently, that it consists of nothing but different modes of human labour. Necessity itself compels him to apportion his time accurately between his different kinds of work. Whether one kind occupies a greater space in his general activity than another, depends on the difficulties, greater or less as the case may be, to be overcome in attaining the useful effect aimed at. This our friend Robinson soon learns by experience, and having rescued a watch, ledger, and pen and ink from the wreck, commences, like a true-born Briton, to keep a set of books. His stock-book contains a list of the objects of utility that belong to him, of the operations necessary for their production; and lastly, of the labour time that definite quantities of those objects have, on an average, cost him. All the relations between Robinson and the objects that form this wealth of his own creation, are here so simple and clear as to be intelligible without exertion, even to Mr. Sedley Taylor. And yet those relations contain all that is essential to the determination of value.

Let us now transport ourselves from Robinson’s island bathed in light to the European middle ages shrouded in darkness. Here, instead of the independent man, we find everyone dependent, serfs and lords, vassals and suzerains, laymen and clergy. Personal dependence here characterises the social relations of production just as much as it does the other spheres of life organised on the basis of that production. But for the very reason that personal dependence forms the ground-work of society, there is no necessity for labour and its products to assume a fantastic form different from their reality. They take the shape, in the transactions of society, of services in kind and payments in kind. Here the particular and natural form of labour, and not, as in a society based on production of commodities, its general abstract form is the immediate social form of labour. Compulsory labour is just as properly measured by time, as commodity-producing labour; but every serf knows that what he expends in the service of his lord, is a definite quantity of his own personal labour power. The tithe to be rendered to the priest is more matter of fact than his blessing. No matter, then, what we may think of the parts played by the different classes of people themselves in this society, the social relations between individuals in the performance of their labour, appear at all events as their own mutual personal relations, and are not disguised under the shape of social relations between the products of labour.

For an example of labour in common or directly associated labour, we have no occasion to go back to that spontaneously developed form which we find on the threshold of the history of all civilised races.[31] We have one close at hand in the patriarchal industries of a peasant family, that produces corn, cattle, yarn, linen, and clothing for home use. These different articles are, as regards the family, so many products of its labour, but as between themselves, they are not commodities. The different kinds of labour, such as tillage, cattle tending, spinning, weaving and making clothes, which result in the various products, are in themselves, and such as they are, direct social functions, because functions of the family, which, just as much as a society based on the production of commodities, possesses a spontaneously developed system of division of labour. The distribution of the work within the family, and the regulation of the labour time of the several members, depend as well upon differences of age and sex as upon natural conditions varying with the seasons. The labour power of each individual, by its very nature, operates in this case merely as a definite portion of the whole labour power of the family, and therefore, the measure of the expenditure of individual labour power by its duration, appears here by its very nature as a social character of their labour.

Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour power of the community. All the characteristics of Robinson’s labour are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labour, and therefore simply an object of use for himself. The total product of our community is a social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently necessary. The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive organisation of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers. We will assume, but merely for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labour time. Labour time would, in that case, play a double part. Its apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains the proper proportion between the different kinds of work to be done and the various wants of the community. On the other hand, it also serves as a measure of the portion of the common labour borne by each individual, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption. The social relations of the individual producers, with regard both to their labour and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and that with regard not only to production but also to distribution.

The religious world is but the reflex of the real world.[note] And for a society based upon the production of commodities, in which the producers in general enter into social relations with one another by treating their products as commodities and values, whereby they reduce their individual private labour to the standard of homogeneous human labour — for such a society, Christianity with its cultus of abstract man, more especially in its bourgeois developments, Protestantism, Deism, &c., is the most fitting form of religion. In the ancient Asiatic and other ancient modes of production, we find that the conversion of products into commodities, and therefore the conversion of men into producers of commodities, holds a subordinate place, which, however, increases in importance as the primitive communities approach nearer and nearer to their dissolution. Trading nations, properly so called, exist in the ancient world only in its interstices, like the gods of Epicurus in the Intermundia, or like Jews in the pores of Polish society. Those ancient social organisms of production are, as compared with bourgeois society, extremely simple and transparent. But they are founded either on the immature development of man individually, who has not yet severed the umbilical cord that unites him with his fellowmen in a primitive tribal community, or upon direct relations of subjection. They can arise and exist only when the development of the productive power of labour has not risen beyond a low stage, and when, therefore, the social relations within the sphere of material life, between man and man, and between man and Nature, are correspondingly narrow. This narrowness is reflected in the ancient worship of Nature, and in the other elements of the popular religions. The religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish, when the practical relations of every-day life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature.

The life-process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan. This, however, demands for society a certain material ground-work or set of conditions of existence which in their turn are the spontaneous product of a long and painful process of development.

Political Economy has indeed analysed, however incompletely,[32] value and its magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has never once asked the question why labour is represented by the value of its product and labour time by the magnitude of that value.[33] These formulæ, which bear it stamped upon them in unmistakable letters that they belong to a state of society, in which the process of production has the mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him, such formulæ appear to the bourgeois intellect to be as much a self-evident necessity imposed by Nature as productive labour itself. Hence forms of social production that preceded the bourgeois form, are treated by the bourgeoisie in much the same way as the Fathers of the Church treated pre-Christian religions.[34]

To what extent some economists are misled by the Fetishism inherent in commodities, or by the objective appearance of the social characteristics of labour, is shown, amongst other ways, by the dull and tedious quarrel over the part played by Nature in the formation of exchange value. Since exchange value is a definite social manner of expressing the amount of labour bestowed upon an object, Nature has no more to do with it, than it has in fixing the course of exchange.

The mode of production in which the product takes the form of a commodity, or is produced directly for exchange, is the most general and most embryonic form of bourgeois production. It therefore makes its appearance at an early date in history, though not in the same predominating and characteristic manner as now-a-days. Hence its Fetish character is comparatively easy to be seen through. But when we come to more concrete forms, even this appearance of simplicity vanishes. Whence arose the illusions of the monetary system? To it gold and silver, when serving as money, did not represent a social relation between producers, but were natural objects with strange social properties. And modern economy, which looks down with such disdain on the monetary system, does not its superstition come out as clear as noon-day, whenever it treats of capital? How long is it since economy discarded the physiocratic illusion, that rents grow out of the soil and not out of society?

But not to anticipate, we will content ourselves with yet another example relating to the commodity form. Could commodities themselves speak, they would say: Our use value may be a thing that interests men. It is no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong to us as objects, is our value. Our natural intercourse as commodities proves it. In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange values. Now listen how those commodities speak through the mouth of the economist.

“Value” — (i.e., exchange value) “is a property of things, riches” — (i.e., use value) “of man. Value, in this sense, necessarily implies exchanges, riches do not.”[35] “Riches” (use value) “are the attribute of men, value is the attribute of commodities. A man or a community is rich, a pearl or a diamond is valuable…” A pearl or a diamond is valuable as a pearl or a diamond.[36]

So far no chemist has ever discovered exchange value either in a pearl or a diamond. The economic discoverers of this chemical element, who by-the-bye lay special claim to critical acumen, find however that the use value of objects belongs to them independently of their material properties, while their value, on the other hand, forms a part of them as objects. What confirms them in this view, is the peculiar circumstance that the use value of objects is realised without exchange, by means of a direct relation between the objects and man, while, on the other hand, their value is realised only by exchange, that is, by means of a social process. Who fails here to call to mind our good friend, Dogberry, who informs neighbour Seacoal, that, “To be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune; but reading and writing comes by Nature.”[37]

Part II: The Transformation of Money into Capital. Chapter Four: The General Formula for Capital

The circulation of commodities is the starting-point of capital. The production of commodities, their circulation, and that more developed form of their circulation called commerce, these form the historical ground-work from which it rises. The modern history of capital dates from the creation in the 16th century of a world-embracing commerce and a world-embracing market.

If we abstract from the material substance of the circulation of commodities, that is, from the exchange of the various use-values, and consider only the economic forms produced by this process of circulation, we find its final result to be money: this final product of the circulation of commodities is the first form in which capital appears.

As a matter of history, capital, as opposed to landed property, invariably takes the form at first of money; it appears as moneyed wealth, as the capital of the merchant and of the usurer. [1] But we have no need to refer to the origin of capital in order to discover that the first form of appearance of capital is money. We can see it daily under our very eyes. All new capital, to commence with, comes on the stage, that is, on the market, whether of commodities, labour, or money, even in our days, in the shape of money that by a definite process has to be transformed into capital.

The first distinction we notice between money that is money only, and money that is capital, is nothing more than a difference in their form of circulation.

The simplest form of the circulation of commodities is C — M — C, the transformation of commodities into money, and the change of the money back again into commodities; or selling in order to buy. But alongside of this form we find another specifically different form: M — C — M, the transformation of money into commodities, and the change of commodities back again into money; or buying in order to sell. Money that circulates in the latter manner is thereby transformed into, becomes capital, and is already potentially capital.

Now let us examine the circuit M — C — M a little closer. It consists, like the other, of two antithetical phases. In the first phase, M — C, or the purchase, the money is changed into a commodity. In the second phase, C — M, or the sale, the commodity is changed back again into money. The combination of these two phases constitutes the single movement whereby money is exchanged for a commodity, and the same commodity is again exchanged for money; whereby a commodity is bought in order to be sold, or, neglecting the distinction in form between buying and selling, whereby a commodity is bought with money, and then money is bought with a commodity. [2] The result, in which the phases of the process vanish, is the exchange of money for money, M — M. If I purchase 2,000 lbs. of cotton for £100, and resell the 2,000 lbs. of cotton for £110, I have, in fact, exchanged £100 for £110, money for money.

Now it is evident that the circuit M — C — M would be absurd and without meaning if the intention were to exchange by this means two equal sums of money, £100 for £100. The miser’s plan would be far simpler and surer; he sticks to his £100 instead of exposing it to the dangers of circulation. And yet, whether the merchant who has paid £100 for his cotton sells it for £110, or lets it go for £100, or even £50, his money has, at all events, gone through a characteristic and original movement, quite different in kind from that which it goes through in the hands of the peasant who sells corn, and with the money thus set free buys clothes. We have therefore to examine first the distinguishing characteristics of the forms of the circuits M — C — M and C — M — C, and in doing this the real difference that underlies the mere difference of form will reveal itself.

Let us see, in the first place, what the two forms have in common.

Both circuits are resolvable into the same two antithetical phases, C — M, a sale, and M — C, a purchase. In each of these phases the same material elements — a commodity, and money, and the same economic dramatis personae, a buyer and a seller — confront one another. Each circuit is the unity of the same two antithetical phases, and in each case this unity is brought about by the intervention of three contracting parties, of whom one only sells, another only buys, while the third both buys and sells.

What, however, first and foremost distinguishes the circuit C — M — C from the circuit M — C — M, is the inverted order of succession of the two phases. The simple circulation of commodities begins with a sale and ends with a purchase, while the circulation of money as capital begins with a purchase and ends with a sale. In the one case both the starting-point and the goal are commodities, in the other they are money. In the first form the movement is brought about by the intervention of money, in the second by that of a commodity.

In the circulation C — M — C, the money is in the end converted into a commodity, that serves as a use-value; it is spent once for all. In the inverted form, M — C — M, on the contrary, the buyer lays out money in order that, as a seller, he may recover money. By the purchase of his commodity he throws money into circulation, in order to withdraw it again by the sale of the same commodity. He lets the money go, but only with the sly intention of getting it back again. The money, therefore, is not spent, it is merely advanced. [3]

In the circuit C — M — C, the same piece of money changes its place twice. The seller gets it from the buyer and pays it away to another seller. The complete circulation, which begins with the receipt, concludes with the payment, of money for commodities. It is the very contrary in the circuit M — C — M. Here it is not the piece of money that changes its place twice, but the commodity. The buyer takes it from the hands of the seller and passes it into the hands of another buyer. Just as in the simple circulation of commodities the double change of place of the same piece of money effects its passage from one hand into another, so here the double change of place of the same commodity brings about the reflux of the money to its point of departure.

Such reflux is not dependent on the commodity being sold for more than was paid for it. This circumstance influences only the amount of the money that comes back. The reflux itself takes place, so soon as the purchased commodity is resold, in other words, so soon as the circuit M — C — M is completed. We have here, therefore, a palpable difference between the circulation of money as capital, and its circulation as mere money.

The circuit C — M — C comes completely to an end, so soon as the money brought in by the sale of one commodity is abstracted again by the purchase of another.

If, nevertheless, there follows a reflux of money to its starting-point, this can only happen through a renewal or repetition of the operation. If I sell a quarter of corn for £3, and with this £3 buy clothes, the money, so far as I am concerned, is spent and done with. It belongs to the clothes merchant. If I now sell a second quarter of corn, money indeed flows back to me, not however as a sequel to the first transaction, but in consequence of its repetition. The money again leaves me, so soon as I complete this second transaction by a fresh purchase. Therefore, in the circuit C — M — C, the expenditure of money has nothing to do with its reflux. On the other hand, in M — C — M, the reflux of the money is conditioned by the very mode of its expenditure. Without this reflux, the operation fails, or the process is interrupted and incomplete, owing to the absence of its complementary and final phase, the sale.

The circuit C — M — C starts with one commodity, and finishes with another, which falls out of circulation and into consumption. Consumption, the satisfaction of wants, in one word, use-value, is its end and aim. The circuit M — C — M, on the contrary, commences with money and ends with money. Its leading motive, and the goal that attracts it, is therefore mere exchange-value.

In the simple circulation of commodities, the two extremes of the circuit have the same economic form. They are both commodities, and commodities of equal value. But they are also use-values differing in their qualities, as, for example, corn and clothes. The exchange of products, of the different materials in which the labour of society is embodied, forms here the basis of the movement. It is otherwise in the circulation M — C — M, which at first sight appears purposeless, because tautological. Both extremes have the same economic form. They are both money, and therefore are not qualitatively different use-values; for money is but the converted form of commodities, in which their particular use-values vanish. To exchange £100 for cotton, and then this same cotton again for £100, is merely a roundabout way of exchanging money for money, the same for the same, and appears to be an operation just as purposeless as it is absurd. [4] One sum of money is distinguishable from another only by its amount. The character and tendency of the process M — C — M, is therefore not due to any qualitative difference between its extremes, both being money, but solely to their quantitative difference. More money is withdrawn from circulation at the finish than was thrown into it at the start. The cotton that was bought for £100 is perhaps resold for £100 + £10 or £110. The exact form of this process is therefore M — C — M′, where M′ = M + ∆ M = the original sum advanced, plus an increment. This increment or excess over the original value I call “surplus-value.” The value originally advanced, therefore, not only remains intact while in circulation, but adds to itself a surplus-value or expands itself. It is this movement that converts it into capital.

Of course, it is also possible, that in C — M — C, the two extremes C — C, say corn and clothes, may represent different quantities of value. The farmer may sell his corn above its value, or may buy the clothes at less than their value. He may, on the other hand, “be done” by the clothes merchant. Yet, in the form of circulation now under consideration, such differences in value are purely accidental. The fact that the corn and the clothes are equivalents, does not deprive the process of all meaning, as it does in M — C — M. The equivalence of their values is rather a necessary condition to its normal course.

The repetition or renewal of the act of selling in order to buy, is kept within bounds by the very object it aims at, namely, consumption or the satisfaction of definite wants, an aim that lies altogether outside the sphere of circulation. But when we buy in order to sell, we, on the contrary, begin and end with the same thing, money, exchange-value; and thereby the movement becomes interminable. No doubt, M becomes M + ∆ M, £100 become £110. But when viewed in their qualitative aspect alone, £110 are the same as £100, namely money; and considered quantitatively, £110 is, like £100, a sum of definite and limited value. If now, the £110 be spent as money, they cease to play their part. They are no longer capital. Withdrawn from circulation, they become petrified into a hoard, and though they remained in that state till doomsday, not a single farthing would accrue to them. If, then, the expansion of value is once aimed at, there is just the same inducement to augment the value of the £110 as that of the £100; for both are but limited expressions for exchange-value, and therefore both have the same vocation to approach, by quantitative increase, as near as possible to absolute wealth. Momentarily, indeed, the value originally advanced, the £100 is distinguishable from the surplus-value of £10 that is annexed to it during circulation; but the distinction vanishes immediately. At the end of the process, we do not receive with one hand the original £100, and with the other, the surplus-value of £10. We simply get a value of £110, which is in exactly the same condition and fitness for commencing the expanding process, as the original £100 was. Money ends the movement only to begin it again. [5] Therefore, the final result of every separate circuit, in which a purchase and consequent sale are completed, forms of itself the starting-point of a new circuit. The simple circulation of commodities — selling in order to buy — is a means of carrying out a purpose unconnected with circulation, namely, the appropriation of use-values, the satisfaction of wants. The circulation of money as capital is, on the contrary, an end in itself, for the expansion of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement. The circulation of capital has therefore no limits. [6]

As the conscious representative of this movement, the possessor of money becomes a capitalist. His person, or rather his pocket, is the point from which the money starts and to which it returns. The expansion of value, which is the objective basis or main-spring of the circulation M — C — M, becomes his subjective aim, and it is only in so far as the appropriation of ever more and more wealth in the abstract becomes the sole motive of his operations, that he functions as a capitalist, that is, as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will. Use-values must therefore never be looked upon as the real aim of the capitalist; [7] neither must the profit on any single transaction. The restless never-ending process of profit-making alone is what he aims at. [8] This boundless greed after riches, this passionate chase after exchange-value [9], is common to the capitalist and the miser; but while the miser is merely a capitalist gone mad, the capitalist is a rational miser. The never-ending augmentation of exchange-value, which the miser strives after, by seeking to save [10] his money from circulation, is attained by the more acute capitalist, by constantly throwing it afresh into circulation. [11]

The independent form, i.e., the money-form, which the value of commodities assumes in the case of simple circulation, serves only one purpose, namely, their exchange, and vanishes in the final result of the movement. On the other hand, in the circulation M — C — M, both the money and the commodity represent only different modes of existence of value itself, the money its general mode, and the commodity its particular, or, so to say, disguised mode. [12] It is constantly changing from one form to the other without thereby becoming lost, and thus assumes an automatically active character. If now we take in turn each of the two different forms which self-expanding value successively assumes in the course of its life, we then arrive at these two propositions: Capital is money: Capital is commodities. [13] In truth, however, value is here the active factor in a process, in which, while constantly assuming the form in turn of money and commodities, it at the same time changes in magnitude, differentiates itself by throwing off surplus-value from itself; the original value, in other words, expands spontaneously. For the movement, in the course of which it adds surplus-value, is its own movement, its expansion, therefore, is automatic expansion. Because it is value, it has acquired the occult quality of being able to add value to itself. It brings forth living offspring, or, at the least, lays golden eggs.

Value, therefore, being the active factor in such a process, and assuming at one time the form of money, at another that of commodities, but through all these changes preserving itself and expanding, it requires some independent form, by means of which its identity may at any time be established. And this form it possesses only in the shape of money. It is under the form of money that value begins and ends, and begins again, every act of its own spontaneous generation. It began by being £100, it is now £110, and so on. But the money itself is only one of the two forms of value. Unless it takes the form of some commodity, it does not become capital. There is here no antagonism, as in the case of hoarding, between the money and commodities. The capitalist knows that all commodities, however scurvy they may look, or however badly they may smell, are in faith and in truth money, inwardly circumcised Jews, and what is more, a wonderful means whereby out of money to make more money.

In simple circulation, C — M — C, the value of commodities attained at the most a form independent of their use-values, i.e., the form of money; but that same value now in the circulation M — C — M, or the circulation of capital, suddenly presents itself as an independent substance, endowed with a motion of its own, passing through a life-process of its own, in which money and commodities are mere forms which it assumes and casts off in turn. Nay, more: instead of simply representing the relations of commodities, it enters now, so to say, into private relations with itself. It differentiates itself as original value from itself as surplus-value; as the father differentiates himself from himself qua the son, yet both are one and of one age: for only by the surplus-value of £10 does the £100 originally advanced become capital, and so soon as this takes place, so soon as the son, and by the son, the father, is begotten, so soon does their difference vanish, and they again become one, £110.

Value therefore now becomes value in process, money in process, and, as such, capital. It comes out of circulation, enters into it again, preserves and multiplies itself within its circuit, comes back out of it with expanded bulk, and begins the same round ever afresh. [14] M — M′, money which begets money, such is the description of Capital from the mouths of its first interpreters, the Mercantilists.

Buying in order to sell, or, more accurately, buying in order to sell dearer, M — C — M′, appears certainly to be a form peculiar to one kind of capital alone, namely, merchants’ capital. But industrial capital too is money, that is changed into commodities, and by the sale of these commodities, is re-converted into more money. The events that take place outside the sphere of circulation, in the interval between the buying and selling, do not affect the form of this movement. Lastly, in the case of interest-bearing capital, the circulation M — C — M′ appears abridged. We have its result without the intermediate stage, in the form M — M′, “en style lapidaire” so to say, money that is worth more money, value that is greater than itself.

M — C — M′ is therefore in reality the general formula of capital as it appears prima facie within the sphere of circulation.

Part VIII: Primitive Accumulation. Chapter Twenty-Six: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation

We have seen how money is changed into capital; how through capital surplus-value is made, and from surplus-value more capital. But the accumulation of capital presupposes surplus-value; surplus-value presupposes capitalistic production; capitalistic production presupposes the pre-existence of considerable masses of capital and of labour power in the hands of producers of commodities. The whole movement, therefore, seems to turn in a vicious circle, out of which we can only get by supposing a primitive accumulation (previous accumulation of Adam Smith) preceding capitalistic accumulation; an accumulation not the result of the capitalistic mode of production, but its starting point.

This primitive accumulation plays in Political Economy about the same part as original sin in theology. Adam bit the apple, and thereupon sin fell on the human race. Its origin is supposed to be explained when it is told as an anecdote of the past. In times long gone by there were two sorts of people; one, the diligent, intelligent, and, above all, frugal elite; the other, lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living. The legend of theological original sin tells us certainly how man came to be condemned to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow; but the history of economic original sin reveals to us that there are people to whom this is by no means essential. Never mind! Thus it came to pass that the former sort accumulated wealth, and the latter sort had at last nothing to sell except their own skins. And from this original sin dates the poverty of the great majority that, despite all its labour, has up to now nothing to sell but itself, and the wealth of the few that increases constantly although they have long ceased to work. Such insipid childishness is every day preached to us in the defence of property. M. Thiers, e.g., had the assurance to repeat it with all the solemnity of a statesman to the French people, once so spirituel. But as soon as the question of property crops up, it becomes a sacred duty to proclaim the intellectual food of the infant as the one thing fit for all ages and for all stages of development. In actual history it is notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, briefly force, play the great part. In the tender annals of Political Economy, the idyllic reigns from time immemorial. Right and “labour” were from all time the sole means of enrichment, the present year of course always excepted. As a matter of fact, the methods of primitive accumulation are anything but idyllic.

In themselves money and commodities are no more capital than are the means of production and of subsistence. They want transforming into capital. But this transformation itself can only take place under certain circumstances that centre in this, viz., that two very different kinds of commodity-possessors must come face to face and into contact; on the one hand, the owners of money, means of production, means of subsistence, who are eager to increase the sum of values they possess, by buying other people’s labour power; on the other hand, free labourers, the sellers of their own labour power, and therefore the sellers of labour. Free labourers, in the double sense that neither they themselves form part and parcel of the means of production, as in the case of slaves, bondsmen, &c., nor do the means of production belong to them, as in the case of peasant-proprietors; they are, therefore, free from, unencumbered by, any means of production of their own. With this polarization of the market for commodities, the fundamental conditions of capitalist production are given. The capitalist system presupposes the complete separation of the labourers from all property in the means by which they can realize their labour. As soon as capitalist production is once on its own legs, it not only maintains this separation, but reproduces it on a continually extending scale. The process, therefore, that clears the way for the capitalist system, can be none other than the process which takes away from the labourer the possession of his means of production; a process that transforms, on the one hand, the social means of subsistence and of production into capital, on the other, the immediate producers into wage labourers. The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. It appears as primitive, because it forms the prehistoric stage of capital and of the mode of production corresponding with it.

The economic structure of capitalist society has grown out of the economic structure of feudal society. The dissolution of the latter set free the elements of the former.

The immediate producer, the labourer, could only dispose of his own person after he had ceased to be attached to the soil and ceased to be the slave, serf, or bondsman of another. To become a free seller of labour power, who carries his commodity wherever he finds a market, he must further have escaped from the regime of the guilds, their rules for apprentices and journeymen, and the impediments of their labour regulations. Hence, the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-workers, appears, on the one hand, as their emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds, and this side alone exists for our bourgeois historians. But, on the other hand, these new freedmen became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and of all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.

The industrial capitalists, these new potentates, had on their part not only to displace the guild masters of handicrafts, but also the feudal lords, the possessors of the sources of wealth. In this respect, their conquest of social power appears as the fruit of a victorious struggle both against feudal lordship and its revolting prerogatives, and against the guilds and the fetters they laid on the free development of production and the free exploitation of man by man. The chevaliers d’industrie, however, only succeeded in supplanting the chevaliers of the sword by making use of events of which they themselves were wholly innocent. They have risen by means as vile as those by which the Roman freedman once on a time made himself the master of his patronus.

The starting point of the development that gave rise to the wage labourer as well as to the capitalist, was the servitude of the labourer. The advance consisted in a change of form of this servitude, in the transformation of feudal exploitation into capitalist exploitation. To understand its march, we need not go back very far. Although we come across the first beginnings of capitalist production as early as the 14th or 15th century, sporadically, in certain towns of the Mediterranean, the capitalistic era dates from the 16th century. Wherever it appears, the abolition of serfdom has been long effected, and the highest development of the middle ages, the existence of sovereign towns, has been long on the wane.

In the history of primitive accumulation, all revolutions are epoch-making that act as levers for the capital class in course of formation; but, above all, those moments when great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled as free and “unattached” proletarians on the labour-market. The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil, is the basis of the whole process. The history of this expropriation, in different countries, assumes different aspects, and runs through its various phases in different orders of succession, and at different periods. In England alone, which we take as our example, has it the classic form. [1]


The excerpts from Capital are followed by a selection of some of the writing of Karl Popper in the Open Society and its Enemies, a powerful critique to Marxist and other forms of historicism, that conceive societies as going on some inexorable march towards a particular end point. The basic point in Popper is that such visions do not comply with a criterion of social scientific standards, because they are not falsifiable: they propose hypotheses that are not scientific, because they are impossible to prove wrong. The reason to include that critique is to highlight that Marx, the classic political economist, was advancing a series of scientific hypotheses and theories, some of which are still relevant to the world we live in today, but many others have not withstood a scientific scrutiny as good social science.



This book raises issues which may not be apparent from the table of contents.

It sketches some of the difficulties faced by our civilization — a civilization which might be perhaps described as aiming at humaneness and reasonableness, at equality and freedom ; a civilization which is still in its infancy, as it were, and which continues to grow in spite of the fact that it has been so often betrayed by so many of the intellectual leaders of mankind. It attempts to show that this civilization has not yet fully recovered from the shock of its birth — the transition from the tribal or ‘ closed society \ with its submission to magical forces, to the “ open society ’ which sets free the critical powers of man. It attempts to show that the shock of this transition is one of the factors that have made possible the rise of those reactionary movements which have tried, and still try, to overthrow civilization and to return to tribalism. And it suggests that what we call nowadays totalitarianism belongs to a tradition which is just as old or just as young as our civilization itself.

It tries thereby to contribute to our understanding of totalitarianism, and of the significance of the perennial fight against it.

It further tries to examine the application of the critical and rational methods of science to the problems of the open society.

It analyses the principles of democratic social reconstruction, the principles of what I may term ‘ piecemeal social engineering ’ in opposition to * Utopian social engineering ’ (as explained in Chapter 9). And it tries to clear away some of the obstacles impeding a rational approach to the problems of social reconstruction. It does so by criticizing those social philosophies which are responsible for the widespread prejudice against the possibilities of democratic reform. The most powerful of these philosophies is one which I have called historicism. The story of the rise and influence of some important forms of historicism is one of the main topics of the book, which might even be described as a collection of marginal notes on the development of certain historicist philosophies. A few remarks on the origin of the book will indicate what is meant by historicism and how it is connected with the other issues mentioned.

Although I am mainly interested in the methods of physics (and consequentiy in certain technical problems which are far removed from those treated in this book), I have also been interested for many years in the problem of the somewhat unsatisfactory state of sopie of the social sciences and especially of social philosophy. This, of course, raises the problem of their methods.

My interest in this problem was greatly stimulated by the rise of totalitarianism, and by the failure of the various social sciences and social philosophies to make sense of it.

In this connection, one point appeared to me particularly urgent. One hears too often the suggestion that some form or other of totalitarianism is inevitable. Many who because of their intelligence and training should be held responsible for what they say, announce that there is no escape from it. They ask us whether we are really naive enough to believe that democracy can be permanent ; whether we do not see that it is just one of the many forms of government that come and go in the course of history. They argue that democracy, in order to fight totalitarianism, is forced to copy its methods and thus to become totalitarian itself. Or they assert that our industrial system cannot continue to function without adopting the methods of collectivist planning, and they infer from the inevitability of a collectivist economic system that the adoption of totalitarian forms of social life is also inevitable.

Such arguments may sound plausible enough. But plausibility is not a reliable guide in such matters. In fact, one should not enter into a discussion of these specious arguments before having considered the following question of method : Is it within the power of any social science to make such sweeping historical prophecies ? Can we expect to get more than the irresponsible reply of the soothsayer if we ask a man what the future has in store for mankind ?

This is a question of the method of the social sciences. It is clearly more fundamental than any criticism of any particular argument offered in support of any historical prophecy.

A careful examination of this question has led me to the conviction that such sweeping historical prophecies are entirely beyond the scope of scientific method. The future depends on ourselves, and we do not depend on any historical necessity.

There are, however, influential social philosophies which hold the opposite view. They claim that everybody tries to use his brains to predict impending events ; that it is certainly legitimate for a strategist to try to foresee the outcome of a battle ; and that the boundaries between such a prediction and more sweeping historical prophecies are fluid. They assert that it is the task of science in general to make predictions, or rather, to improve upon our everyday predictions, and to put them upon a more secure basis; and that it is, in particular, the task of the social sciences to furnish us with long-term historical prophecies.

They also believe that they have discovered laws of history which enable them to prophesy the course of historical events.

The various social philosophies which raise claims of this kind, I have grouped together under the name historicism. Elsewhere, in The Poverty of Historicism^ I have tried to argue against these claims, and to show that in spite of their plausibility they are based on a gross misunderstanding of the method of science, and especially on the neglect of the distinction between scientific prediction and historical prophecy. While engaged in the systematic analysis and criticism of the claims of historicism, I also tried to collect some material to illustrate its development.

The notes collected for that purpose became the basis of this book. The systematic analysis of historicism aims at something like scientific status. This book does not. Many of the opinions expressed are personal. What it owes to scientific method is largely the awareness of its limitations : it does not offer proofs where nothing can be proved, nor does it pretend to be scientific where it cannot give more than a personal point of view. It does not try to replace the old systems of philosophy by a new system. It does not try to add to all these volumes filled with wisdom, to the metaphysics of history and destiny, such as are fashionable nowadays. It rather tries to show that this prophetic wisdom is harmful, that the metaphysics of history impede the application of the piecemeal methods of science to the problems of social reform. And it further tries to show that we may become the makers of our fate when we have ceased to pose as its prophets.

In tracing the development of historicism, I found that the dangerous habit of historical prophecy, so widespread among our intellectual leaders, has various functions. It is always flattering to belong to the inner circle of the initiated, and to possess the unusual power of predicting the course of history. Besides, there is a tradition that intellectual leaders are gifted with such powers, and not to possess them may lead to loss of caste. The danger, on the other hand, of their being unmasked as charlatans is very small, since they can always point out that it is certainly permissible to make less sweeping predictions ; and the boundaries between these and augury are fluid.

But there are sometimes further and perhaps deeper motives for holding historicist beliefs. The prophets who prophesy the coming of a millennium may give expression to a deep-seated feeling of dissatisfaction ; and their dreams may indeed give hope and encouragement to some who can hardly do without them. But we must also realize that their influence is liable to prevent us from facing the daily tasks of social life. And those minor prophets who announce that certain events, such as a lapse into totalitarianism (or perhaps into ‘ managerialism ’), are bound to happen may, whether they like it or not, be instrumental in bringing these events about. Their story that democracy is not to last for ever is as true, and as little to the point, as the assertion that human reason is not to last for ever, since only democracy provides an institutional framework that permits reform without violence, and so the use of reason in political matters. But their story tends to discourage those who fight totalitarianism ; its motive is to support the revolt against civilization. A further motive, it seems, can be found if we consider that historicist metaphysics are apt to relieve men from the strain of their responsibilities. If you know that things ar-e bound to happen whatever you do, then you may feel free to give up the fight against them. You may, more especially, give up the attempt to control those things which most people agree to be social evils, such as war ; or, to mention a smaller but nevertheless important thing, the tyranny of the petty official.

I do not wish to suggest that historicism must always have such effects. There are historicists — especially the Marxists — who do not wish to relieve men from the strain of their responsibilities. On the other hand, there are some social philosophies which may or may not be historicistic but which preach the impotence of reason in social life, and which, by this anti-rationalism, propagate the attitude : ‘ either follow the Leader, the Great Statesman, or become a Leader yourself ’ ; an attitude which for most people must mean passive submission to the forces, personal or anonymous, that rule society.

Now it is interesting to see that some of those who denouncereason, and even blame it for the social evils of our time, do so on the one hand because they realize the fact that historical prophecy goes beyond the power of reason, and on the other hand because they cannot conceive of a social science, or of reason in society, having another function but that of historical prophecy. In other words, they are disappointed historicists ; they are men who, in spite of realizing the poverty of historicism, are unaware that they retain the fundamental historicistic prejudice — the doctrine that the social sciences, if they are to be of any use at all, must be prophetic. It is clear that this attitude must lead to a rejection of the applicability of science or of reason to the problems of social life — and ultimately, to a doctrine of power, of domination and submission.

Why do all these social philosophies support the revolt against civilization ? And what is the secret of their popularity ? Why do they attract and seduce so many intellectuals ? I am inclined to think that the reason is that they give expression to a deep-felt dissatisfaction with a world which does not, and cannot, live up to our moral ideals and to our dreams of perfection. The tendency of historicism (and of related views) to support the revolt against civilization may be due to the fact that historicism itself is, largely, a reaction against the strain of our civilization and its demand for personal responsibility.


For the Open Society {about 4⁰ B C) : Although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it.

Pericles of Athens.

Against the Open Society {about 80 years later): The greatest principle of all is that nobody, whether male or female, should be without a leader. Nor should the mind of anybody be habituated to letting him do anything at all on his own initiative; neither out of zeal, nor even playfully. But in war and in the midst of peace — to his leader he shall direct his eye and follow him faithfully. And even in the smallest matter he should stand under leadership. For example, he should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals. . only if he has been told to do so. In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently, and to become utterly incapable of it.

Plato of Athens.




It is widely believed that a truly scientific or philosophical attitude towards politics, and a deeper understanding of social life in general, must be based upon a contemplation and interpretation of human history. While the ordinary man takes the setting of his life and the importance of his personal experiences and petty struggles for granted, it is said that the social scientist or philosopher has to survey things from a higher plane. He sees the individual as a pawn, as a somewhat insignificant instrument in the general development of mankind. And he finds that the really important actors on the Stage of History are either the Great Nations and their Great Leaders, or perhaps the Great Classes, or the Great Ideas. However this may be, he will try to understand the meaning of the play which is performed on the Historical Stage ; he will try to understand the laws of historical development. If he succeeds in this, he will, of course, be able to predict future developments. He might then put politics upon a solid basis, and give us practical advice by telling us which political actions are likely to succeed or likely to fail.

This is a brief description of an attitude which I call hisioricism. It is an old idea, or rather, a loosely connected set of ideas which have become, unfortunately, so much a part of our spiritual atmosphere that they are usually taken for granted, and hardly ever questioned.

I have tried elsewhere to show that the historicist approach to the social sciences gives poor results. I have also tried to outline a method which, I believe, would yield better results. But if historicism is a faulty method that produces worthless results, then it may be useful to see how it originated, and how it succeeded in entrenching itself so successfully. An historical sketch undertaken with this aim can, at the same time, serve to analyse the variety of ideas which have gradually accumulated around the central historicist doctrine — the doctrine that history is controllied by specific historical or evolutionary laws whose discovery would enable us to prophesy the destiny of man.

Historicism, which I have so far characterized only in a rather abstract way, can be well illustrated by one of the simplest and oldest of its forms, the doctrine of the chosen people. This doctrine is one of the attempts to make history understandable by a theistic interpretation, i.e. by recognizing God as the author of the play performed on the Historical Stage. The theory of the chosen people, more specifically, assumes that God has chosen one people to function as the selected instrument of His will, and that this people will inherit the earth.

In this doctrine, the law of historical development is laid down by the Will of God. This is the specific difference which distinguishes the theistic form from other forms of historicism. A naturalistic historicism, for instance, might treat the developmental law as a law of nature ; a spiritual historicism would treat it as a law of spiritual development j an economic historicism, again, as a law of economic development. Theistic historicism shares with these other forms the doctrine that there are specific historical laws which can be discovered, and upon which predictions regarding the future of mankind can be based.

There is no doubt that the doctrine of the chosen people grew out of the tribal form of social life. Tribalism, i.e. the emphasis on the supreme importance of the tribe without which the individual is nothing at all, is an element which we shall find in many forms of historicist theories. Other forms which are no longer tribalist may still retain an element of collectivism; they may still emphasize the significance of some group or collective — for example, a class — without which the individual is nothing at all. Another aspect of the doctrine of the chosen people is the remoteness of what it proffers as the end of history.

For although it may describe this end with some degree of definiteness, we have to go a long way before we reach it. And the way is not only long, but winding, leading up and down, right and left. Accordingly, it will be possible to bring every conceivable historical event well within the scheme of the interpretation. No conceivable experience can refute it. But to those who believe in it, it gives certainty regarding the ultimate outcome of human history.

A criticism of the theistic interpretation of history will be attempted in the last chapter of this book, where it will also be shown that some of the greatest Christian thinkers have repudiated this theory as idolatry. An attack upon this form of historicism should therefore not be interpreted as an attack upon religion.

In the present chapter, the doctrine of the chosen people serves only as an illustration. Its value as such can be seen from the fact that its chief characteristics are shared by the two most important modern versions of historicism, whose analysis will form the major part of this book — the historical philosophy of racialism or fascism on the one (the right) hand and the Marxian historical philosophy on the other (the left). For the chosen people racialism substitutes the chosen race (of Gobineau’s choice), selected as the instrument of destiny, ultimately to inherit the earth. Marx’s historical philosophy substitutes for it the chosen class, the instrument for the creation of the classless society, and at the same time, the class destined to inherit the earth. Both theories base their historical forecasts on an interpretation of history which leads to the discovery of a law of its development.

In the case of racialism, this is thought of as a kind of natural law; the biological superiority of the blood of the chosen race explains the course of history, past, present, and future; it is nothing but the struggle of races for mastery. In the case of Marx’s philosophy of history, the law is economic ; all history has to be interpreted as a struggle of classes for economic supremacy. The historicist character of these two movements makes our investigation topical. We shall return to them in later parts of this book. Each of them goes back directly to the philosophy of Hegel. We must, therefore, deal with that philosophy as well. And since Hegel in the main follows certain ancient philosophers, it will be necessary to discuss the theories of Heraclitus, Plato and Aristotle, before returning to the more modern forms of historicism.



The collectivists . . have the zest for progress, the sympathy for the poor, the burning sense of wrong, the impulse for great deeds, which have been lacking in latter-day liberalism. But their science is founded on a profound misunderstanding . . , and their actions, therefore, are deeply destructive and reactionary. So men’s hearts are torn, their minds divided, they are offered impossible choices. Walter Lippmann.

It has always been the strategy of the revolt against freedom ‘to take advantage of sentiments, not wasting one’s energies in futile efforts to destroy them ’ The most cherished ideas of the humanitarians were often loudly acclaimed by their deadliest enemies, who in this way penetrated into the humanitarian camp under the guise of allies, causing disunion and thorough confusion. This strategy has often been highly successful, as is shown by the fact that many genuine humanitarians still revere Plato’s idea of ‘justice’, the medieval idea of ‘Christian’ authoritarianism, Rousseau’s idea of the ‘ general will ’, or Fichte’s and Hegel’s ideas of ‘national freedom’. Yet this method of penetrating, dividing and confusing the humanitarian camp and of building up a largely unwitting and therefore doubly effective intellectual fifth column achieved its greatest success only after Hegelianism had established itself as the basis of a truly humanitarian movement : of Marxism, so far the most developed and purest form of historicism.

It is tempting to dwell upon the similarities between Marxism, the Hegelian left-wing, and its fascist counterpart. Yet it would be utterly unfair to overlook the difference between them. Although their intellectual origin is nearly identical, there can be no doubt of the humanitarian impulse of Marxism. Moreover, in contrast to the Hegelians of the right-wing, Marx made an honest attempt to apply rational, scientific methods to the most urgent problems of social life. The scientific value of this attempt is unimpaired by the fact that it was, as I shall try to show, largely unsuccessful. Science progresses through trial and error. Marx tried, and although he erred in his main doctrines, he did not try in vain. He opened and sharpened our eyes in many ways. A return to pre-Marxian social science is inconceivable. All modern writers are indebted to Marx, even if they do not know it. This is especially true of those who disagree with him, as I do; and I readily admit that my treatment, for example of Plato and Hegel, bears the stamp of his influence.

One cannot do justice to Marx without recognizing his sincerity. His open-mindedness, his sense of facts, his distrust of verbiage, and especially of moralizing verbiage, made him one of the world’s most influential fighters against hypocrisy and Pharisaism. He had a burning desire to help the oppressed, and was fully conscious of the need for proving himself in deeds, and not only in words. His main talents being theoretical, he devoted immense labour to forging what he believed to be scientific weapons for the fight to improve the lot of the vast majority of men. His sincerity in his search for truth and his intellectual honesty distinguish him, I believe, from many of his followers (although unfortunately he did not altogether escape the corrupting influence of an upbringing in the atmosphere of Hegelian dialectics, described by Schopenhauer as ‘ destructive of all intelligence ’ . Marx’s interest in social science and social philosophy was fundamentally a practical interest. He saw in knowledge a means of promoting the progress of man.

Why, then, attack Marx ? In spite of his merits, Marx was, I believe, a false prophet. He was a prophet of the course of history, and his prophecies did not come true; but this is not my main accusation. It is much more important that he misled scores of intelligent people into believing that historical prophecy is the scientific way of approaching social problems. Marx is responsible for the devastating influence of the historicist method of thought within the ranks of those who wish to advance the cause of the open society.

But is it true that Marxism is a pure brand of historicism ? Are there not some elements of social technology in Marxism? The fact that Russia is making bold and often successful experiments in social engineering has led many to infer that Marxism, as the science or creed which underlies the Russian experiment, must be a kind of social technology, or at least favourable to it.But nobody who knows anything about the history of Marxism can make this mistake. Marxism is a purely historical theory, which aims at predicting the future course of economic and power-political developments and especially of revolutions.

As such, it certainly did not furnish the basis of the policy of the Russian Communist Party after its rise to political power. Since Marx had practically forbidden all social technology, which he denounced as Utopian his Russian disciples found themselves at first entirely unprepared for their great tasks in the field of social engineering. As Lenin was quick to realize, Marxism was unable to help in matters of practical economics. ‘ I do not know of any socialist who has dealt with these problems’ said Lenin after his rise to power ; ‘ there was nothing written about such matters in the Bolshevik textbooks, or in those of the Mensheviks.’ After a period of unsuccessful experiment the so-called ‘ period of war-communism Lenin decided to adopt measures which meant in fact a limited and temporary return to private enterprise. This so-called NEP (New Economic Policy) and the later experiments — five-year plans, etc. — have nothing whatever to do with the theories of ‘ Scientific Socialism ’ once propounded by Marx and Engels. Neither the peculiar situation in which Lenin found himself before he introduced the NEP, nor his achievements, can be appreciated without due consider- ation of this point. The vast economic researches of Marx did not even touch the problems of a constructive economic policy, for example, economic planning. As Lenin admits, there is hardly a word on the economics of socialism to be found in Marx’s work— apart from such useless ® slogans as ‘ from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs ’. The reason is that the economic research of Marx is completely subservient to his historical prophecy. But we must say even more. Marx strongly emphasized the opposition between his purely historicist method and any attempt to make an economic analysis with a view to rational planning. Such attempts he denounced as Utopian, and as illegitimate. In consequence, Marxists did not even study what the so-called ‘ bourgeois economists ’ attained in this field. They were by their training even less prepared for constructive work than some of the ‘ bourgeois economists ’ themselves.

Marx saw his specific mission in the freeing of socialism from its sentimental, moralist, and visionary background. Socialism was to be developed from its Utopian stage to its scientific stage; it was to be based upon the scientific method of analysing cause and effect, and upon scientific prediction. And since he assumed prediction in the field of society to be the same as historical prophecy, scientific socialism was to be based upon a study of historical causes and historical effects, and finally upon the prophecy of its own advent. Marxists, when they find their theories attacked, often withdraw to the position that Marxism is primarily not so much a doctrine as a method. They say that even if some particular part of the doctrines of Marx, or of some of his followers, were superseded, his method would still remain unassailable. I believe that it is quite correct to insist that Marxism is, fundamentally, a method. But it is wrong to believe that, as a method, it must be secure from attacks. The position is, simply, that whoever wishes to judge Marxism has to probe it and to criticize it as a method, that is to say, he must measure it by methodological standards. He must ask whether it is a fruitful method or a poor one, i.e. whether or not it is capable of furthering the task of science. The standards by which we must judge the Marxist method are thus of a practical nature. By describing Marxism as purest historicism, I have indicated that I hold the Marxist method to be very poor indeed.

Marx himself would have agreed with such a practical approach to the criticism of his method, for he was one of the first philosophers to develop the views which later were called ‘pragmatism He was led to this position, I believe, by his conviction that a scientific background was urgently needed by the practical politician, which of course meant the socialist politician. Science, he taught, should yield practical results. Always look at the fruits, the practical consequences of a theory !

They tell something even of its scientific structure. A philosophy or a science that does not yield practical results merely interprets the world we live in ; but it can and it should do more; it should change the world. ‘ The philosophers wrote Marx early in his career, ‘ have only interpreted the world in various ways ; the point however is to change it.’ It was perhaps this pragmatic attitude that made him anticipate the important methodological doctrine of the later pragmatists that the most characteristic task of science is not to gain knowledge of past facts, but to predict the future.

This stress on scientific prediction, in itself an important and progressive methodological discovery, unfortunately led Marx astray. For the plausible argument that science can predict the future only if the future is predetermined — if, as it were, the future is present in the past, telescoped in it — led him to adhere to the false belief that a rigidly scientific method must be based on a rigid determinism. Marx’s ‘ inexorable laws ’ of nature and of historical development show clearly the influence of the Laplacean atmosphere and that of the French Materialists. But the belief that the terms ^ scientific ’ and ‘ determinist ’ are, if not synonymous, at least inseparably connected, can now be said to be one of the superstitions of a time that has not yet entirely passed away Since I am interested mainly in questions of method, I am glad that, when discussing its methodological aspect, it is quite unnecessary to enter into a dispute concerning the metaphysical problem of determinism. For whatever may be the outcome of such metaphysical controversies as, for example, the bearing of the Quantum theory on ‘ free-will ’, one thing, I should say, is settled. No kind of determinism, whether it be expressed as the principle of the uniformity of nature or as the law of universal causation, can be considered any longer a necessary assumption of scientific method ; for physics, the most advanced of all sciences, has shown not only that it can do without such assumptions, but also that to some extent it contradicts them. Determinism is not a necessary prerequisite of a science which can make predictions. Scientific method cannot, therefore, be said to favour the adoption of strict determinism. Science can be rigidly scientific without this assumption. Marx, of course, cannot be blamed for having held the opposite view, since the best scientists of his day did the same.

It must be noted that it is not so much the abstract, theoretical doctrine of determinism which led Marx astray, but rather the practical influence of this doctrine upon his view of scientific method, upon his view of the aims and possibilities of a social science. The abstract idea of ‘ causes ’ which * determine ’ social developments is as such quite harmless as long as it does not lead to historicism. And indeed, there is no reason whatever why this idea should lead us to adopt a historicist attitude towards social institutions, in strange contrast to the obviously technological attitude taken up by everybody^ and especially by determinists^ towards mechanical or electrical machinery. There is no reason why we should believe that, of all sciences, social science is capable of realizing the age-old dream of revealing what the future has in store for us. This belief in scientific fortune-telling is not founded on determinism alone ; its other foundation is the confusion between scientific prediction^ as we know it from physics or astronomy and large-scale historical prophecy^ which foretells in broad lines the main tendencies of the future development of society.

These two kinds of prediction are very different (as I have tried to show elsewhere and the scientific character of the first is no argument in favour of the scientific character of the second. Marx’s historicist view of the aims of social science greatly upset the pragmatism which had originally led him to stress the predictive function of science. It forced him to modify his earlier view that science should, and that it could, change the world. For if there was to be a social science, and accordingly, historical prophecy, the main course of history must be predetermined, and neither good-will nor reason had power to alter it.

All that is left to us in the way of reasonable interference is to make sure, by historical prophecy, of the impending course of development, and to remove the worst obstacles in its path. ‘When a society has discovered’, Marx writes in Capital ‘ the natural law that determines its own movement, . . even then it can neither overleap the natural phases of its evolution, nor shuffle them out of the world by a stroke of the pen. But this much it can do ; it can shorten and lessen its birth-pangs.’ These are the views that led Marx to denounce as ‘ Utopianists ’ all who looked upon social institutions with the eyes of the social engineer, holding them to be amenable to human reason and will, and to be a possible field of rational planning. These ‘ Utopianists ’ appeared to him to attempt with fragile human hands to steer the colossal ship of society against the natural currents and storms of history. All a scientist could do, he thought, was to forecast the gusts and vortices ahead. The practical service he could achieve would thus be confined to issuing a warning against the next storm that threatened to take the ship off the right course (the right course was of course the left !) or to advising the passengers as to the side of the boat on which they had better assemble.

Marx saw the real task of scientific socialism in the annunciation of the impending socialist millennium. Only by way of this annunciation, he holds, can scientific socialist teaching contribute to bringing about a socialist world, whose coming it can further by making men conscious of the impending change, and of the parts allotted to them in the play of history. Thus scientific socialism is not a social technology ; it does not teach the ways and means of constructing socialist institutions, Marx’s views of the relation between socialist theory and practice show the purity of his historicist views. Marx’s thought was in many respects a product of his time, when the remembrance of that great historical earthquake, the French Revolution, was still fresh. (It was revived by the revolution of 1848.) Such a revolution could not, he felt, be planned and staged by human reason. But it could have been foreseen by a historicist social science; sufficient insight into the social situation would have revealed its causes.

Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality by Jose Carlos Mariategui

The four sections on Marx are profoundly important to think about the world we live in, with capitalism apparent in every corner, through the commodification of our lives. Marx’s distinction between use and exchange value; the fetishism of the commodity; the mysterious transformation that makes it possible for money to become more money; and the concept of primitive accumulation, are critical to understand inequality. However it thinking about the conditions of underdevelopment in Latin America required a better understanding of the colonial experience and countries outside of Europe, a knowldege that frankly Marx did not have, typical of a European Scholar immersed in German Romanticism and Western Thought. The most insightful Latin American Marxist in my mind was Mariategui, who was able to provide a compelling explanation of the specific dilemmas indigenous peoples in the Americas faced when confronted with the reality of capitalism. I have selected his Marxist analysis of extractivism, but there is also much to be learned from his analysis of indigenous peoples understood not just as agrarian peasants, but with a distinct identity, which classic Marxist thought is ill equipped to analyze.


Essay One: Outline of the Economic Evolution

The Colonial Economy

The degree to which the history of Peru was severed by the conquest can be seen better on an economic than on any other level. Here the conquest most clearly appears to be a break in continuity. Until the conquest, an economy developed in Peru that sprang spontaneously and freely from the Peruvian soil and people. The most interesting aspect of the empire of the Incas, which was a grouping of agricultural and sedentary communities, was its economy. All historical evidence agrees that the Inca people — industrious, disciplined, pantheist, and simple — lived in material comfort. With abundant food their population increased. The Malthusian problem was completely unknown to the empire. Although the collectivist organization directed by the Incas had weakened the Indians’ individual initiative, it had instilled in them the habit of a humble and religious obedience to social duty, which benefitted the economic system. The Incas derived as much social utility as possible from this trait. They improved the vast Inca territory by constructing roads, canals, et cetera, and they extended its borders by conquering nearby tribes. Collective work and common effort were employed fruitfully for social purposes.

The Spanish conquistadors destroyed this impressive productive machine without being able to replace it. The indigenous society and the Inca economy were wholly disrupted and annihilated by the shock of the conquest. Once the bonds that had united it were broken, the nation dissolved into scattered communities. Indigenous labor ceased to function as a concerted and integrated effort. The conquistadors were mainly concerned with distributing and wrangling over their rich booty. They plundered the treasures of temples and palaces; they allotted land and men with no thought of their future use as forces and means of production.

The viceroyalty marks the beginning of the difficult and complex process of forming a new economy. During this period, Spain tried to organize its immense colony politically and economically. The Spaniards began to till the soil and mine the gold and silver. On the ruins and remnants of a socialist economy, they established the bases of a feudal economy.

But Spain did not send to Peru, nor for that matter to any of its other possessions, throngs of colonizers. The weakness of the Spanish Empire lay precisely in its character and structure as a military and ecclesiastic rather than a political and economic power. No large bands of pioneers, like those who disembarked on the shores of New England, arrived in the Spanish colonies. Viceroys, courtesans, adventurers, priests, lawyers, and soldiers were almost the only ones to come to Spanish America. Therefore, no real colonizing force developed in Peru. The population of Lima was made up of a small court, a bureaucracy, a few monasteries, officials of the Inquisition, merchants, domestic servants, and slaves. [1] Furthermore, the Spanish pioneer had no talent for creating working groups. Instead of making use of the Indian, he seemed to be intent on exterminating him. And the colonizers could not create a solid and integrated economy by themselves. The very foundation of colonial organization was defective because it lacked demographic cement. There were not enough Spaniards and mestizos to develop the territorial wealth on a large scale. And since Negro slaves were imported to work on the coastal plantations, the elements and characteristics of a slave society were mixed into those of a feudal society.

Only the Jesuits, with their systematic positivism, showed in Peru, as in other countries of America, some aptitude for economic creation. The latifundia assigned to them prospered and traces of their organization still survive. Remembering how skillfully the Jesuits in Paraguay made use of the natives’ natural inclination to communal work, it is not surprising that this congregation of the sons of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, as Unamuno called them, created centers of work and production on Peruvian soil, while nobles, lawyers, and priests enjoyed a luxurious and worldly life in Lima.

Almost the sole interest of the colonizers was the mining of Peruvian gold and silver. I have referred more than once to the tendency of the Spaniards to settle in the lowlands and to how they feared and distrusted the Andes, of which they never really felt themselves masters. Undoubtedly, the criollo towns that formed in the sierra were the result of mining activities. The conquest of the sierra would have been even more incomplete had it not been for the Spaniards’ greed for the precious metals buried deep within the Andes.

These were the historical bases of the new Peruvian economy, of the colonial economy, colonial to its roots — a process that is still evolving. Let us now examine the outlines of a second stage, the stage in which a feudal economy gradually became a bourgeois economy, but without losing its colonial character within the world picture.

The Economic Foundations of the Republic

Like the first, the second stage of this economy derives from a political and military event. The first stage arose from the conquest. The second stage began with independence. But whereas the conquest was entirely responsible for the formation of our colonial economy, independence appears to have been determined and dominated by the latter process.

I have already had occasion, since my first Marxist attempt to ground Peruvian history in the study of economic events, to concern myself with the economic aspect of the War of Independence, and my reasoning was as follows: The ideas of the French Revolution and of the North American Constitution were favorably received in South America, where there already existed an emerging bourgeoisie which, because of its economic needs and interests, could and should have been infected by the revolutionary spirit of the European bourgeoisie. Spanish America could not have achieved its independence had it not commanded a heroic generation, sensitive to the emotional tenor of its time, able and willing to carry out a genuine revolution. From this point of view, independence takes on the appearance of a romantic adventure. But this does not contradict my thesis of an economic pattern underlying the revolution of liberation. The directors, caudillos, and ideologists of this revolution did not precede or transcend the economic premises and causes of this event. Intellectual and emotional circumstances did not precede economic circumstances.

Spain’s policy totally obstructed and thwarted the economic development of its colonies by not permitting them to trade with any other nation and by reserving to itself the privileges of the mother country to monopolize all commerce and business carried on in its dominions.

The producing forces of the colonies naturally fought to shake off these fetters. If the emerging economy of the embryonic nations of America was to develop, it needed above all to be free of the rigid authority and medieval mentality of the king of Spain. The student of this period cannot help but see here that South America’s independence movement was only too obviously inspired by the interests of the criollo and even the Spanish population, rather than by the interests of the indigenous population.

From the standpoint of world history, South America’s independence was determined by the needs of the development of Western or, more precisely, capitalist civilization. The rise of capitalism had a much more decisive and profound, if less apparent and recognizable, influence on the evolution of independence than the philosophy and literature of the Encyclopedists. The British Empire, fated to become the real and unsurpassed representative of the interests of capitalist civilization, was taking shape. In England, center of liberalism and Protestantism, it was industry and machinery that prepared the way for capitalism, rather than that country’s traditionally cited political philosophy and religious belief. Therefore, England — with the clear sense of destiny and historic mission that was to gain it hegemony in capitalist civilization — played a leading role in South America’s independence. Whereas the prime minister of France, the nation that some years earlier had given the world a great revolution, refused to recognize these young South American republics that could export “not only their products but their revolutionary ideas,”[2] Mr. Canning, faithful interpreter and agent of England’s interests, recognized them and thereby justified their right to separate from Spain and, in addition, to organize themselves democratically. And even before Mr. Canning, the bankers of London — no less timely and effective for being usurers — had financed the formation of the new republic.

The Spanish Empire sank into oblivion because it did not rest on military and political foundations and, especially, because it represented an outdated economy. Spain could supply its colonies only with priests, lawyers, and nobles. Its colonies craved more practical and modern instruments and, consequently, turned to England’s industrialists and bankers. Acting as agents of an empire created by a manufacturing and free trade economy, the new-style colonizers wanted, in turn, to dominate these markets.

The economic interests of the Spanish colonies and of the capitalist West coincided exactly, although, as often happens in history, neither of the parties concerned was aware of this fact.

The new nations, following the same natural impulse that had led them to independence, dealt with the capital and industry of the West in order to obtain the elements and relations necessary to expand their economies. They began to send to the capitalist West the products of their soil and subsoil and to receive from it cloth, machinery, and a thousand industrial products. In this way, a continual and increasing trade was established between South America and Western civilization. The countries on the Atlantic naturally benefited most from this trade because of their proximity to Europe. Argentina and Brazil, especially, attracted great quantities of European capital and immigrants; and the floods from the West left rich and homogeneous deposits that accelerated the changes by which the economy and culture of these countries gradually acquired the function and structure of the European economy and culture. There, liberal, bourgeois democracy could take root, whereas in the rest of South America it was blocked by extensive and tenacious remains of feudalism. In this period, the general historical process in Peru entered a stage that differentiated and separated it from the historical process of other countries in South America. Because of geography, some countries would advance more rapidly than others. The independence that had united them in a common cause decreed that they should part to follow their individual destinies. Since European ships could reach Peru’s ports only after a very long voyage, that country found itself closer geographically to the Orient, and its trade with Asia became substantial. The Peruvian coast received contingents of Chinese immigrants who replaced the Negro slaves imported during the viceroyalty and emancipated partly as a result of the transformation from a feudal to a more or less bourgeois economy. But trade with Asia could not contribute effectively to the formation of a new Peruvian economy. Peru, having emerged from the conquest and confirmed its independence, required the machinery, techniques, and ideas of the Europeans, the Westerners.

The Period of Guano and Nitrates

There is a chapter in the evolution of the Peruvian economy that opens with the discovery of guano and nitrates and closes with the loss of this wealth. Here is found a full explanation of a series of political phenomena in our historical process that have been distorted and falsified by a superficial approach to Peruvian history based on anecdotes and rhetoric. However, my rapid interpretation does not propose to explore or closely examine these phenomena, but to point out and define the essential characteristics of the formation of our economy, in order to make clearer its colonial cast. Let us consider only the economic facts.

It is interesting that in the story of the republic such coarse and humble substances as guano and nitrates should have taken over the role that had been reserved to gold and silver in a more romantic and less positivist era. Spain wanted and kept Peru as a producer of precious metals. England preferred Peru as a producer of guano and nitrates. But the motive remained the same; only the times changed. The attraction of Peru’s gold diminished with the discovery of gold in California. On the other hand, guano and nitrates — found almost exclusively in Peru — had been worthless to previous civilizations but were extremely valuable to an industrial civilization. These materials, on a remote coast in the South Pacific, were essential to the development of European or Western industrialism. In addition, unlike other Peruvian products they were not hampered by the rudimentary and primitive state of land transport. Whereas gold, silver, copper, and coal mined from the Andes had to be conveyed great distances over rugged mountain ranges, guano and nitrate deposits lay on the coast within easy reach of the cargo ships.

These natural resources were so easily exploited that they became the center of the country’s economic life and occupied a disproportionately large place in the Peruvian economy. The treasury derived its principal revenue from their export and the country felt wealthy. The government made lavish use of its credit, mortgaging its future to English finance.

This is in broad outline the entire history of guano and nitrates from a purely economic standpoint. The rest, at first glance, belongs to the historian. But as in all such cases, the economics of the situation is much more complex and far-reaching than it appears.

Guano and nitrates, first and foremost, generated a lively trade with the Western world during a period when Peru, in its unfavorable geographical location, had little hope of attracting the colonizing and civilizing currents that were sweeping through other Latin American countries. This trade placed its economy under the control of British capital. Later, as a result of debts guaranteed by both products, Peru was forced to hand over to England the administration of its railroads, that is, the very key to the exploitation of its resources.

The profits earned from the export of guano and nitrates created in Peru, where property always had preserved its aristocratic and feudal character, the first solid elements of commercial and banking capital. Those who profited directly and indirectly from the wealth on the coast began to constitute a capitalist class. The bourgeoisie that developed in Peru was related in its origin and structure to the aristocracy, which, though composed chiefly of the descendants of colonial landholders, had been obliged by its role to adopt the basic principles of liberal economics and politics. This circumstance, which will be referred to in later essays, is pertinent to the following statements: “In the first period of independence, the struggle between military factions and leaders appeared to be a consequence of the lack of an integrated bourgeoisie. Peru had lagged behind other Spanish American countries in defining the elements of a liberal bourgeoisie; to enable the latter to function, it needed to establish a strong capitalist class. Meanwhile, power remained in the hands of the military caudillos. The Castilla regime marked the consolidation of the capitalist class. Government concessions and profits from guano and nitrates created capitalism and a bourgeoisie which, once organized into civilismo, soon took over all power.”

Another aspect of this chapter in the economic history of Peru was the shifting of the economy to the coast. The search for gold and silver had compelled the Spaniards — against their inclination to settle on the coast — to maintain advanced posts in the sierra. Mining was the mainspring of the economic system imposed by Spain and required that the colonial regime be based in the sierra, an area which previously had supported a genuinely and typically agrarian society. Guano and nitrates corrected this situation by strengthening the power of the coast. The new Peru moved to the lowlands, thereby intensifying its social dualism and conflict, which to this day remain its greatest historical problem.

The period of guano and nitrates, therefore, cannot be isolated from the subsequent development of Peru’s economy, because it contains the roots and elements of the period that follows. One consequence of guano and nitrates, the War of the Pacific, did not cancel out the other consequences of their discovery and exploitation. With the loss of these resources came the tragic realization of the danger of an economic prosperity supported or held together almost solely by the possession of natural wealth at the mercy of the greed or aggression of foreign imperialism or vulnerable to the continual changes in industrial needs arising from scientific invention. Caillaux speaks with obvious capitalist realism of the economic and industrial instability produced by scientific progress.[3]

During the period dominated and characterized by trade in guano and nitrates, the transformation of Peru’s economy from feudal to bourgeois received its first powerful stimulus. If, instead of a mediocre metamorphosis of the ruling class, there had emerged a new class with vigor and purpose, unquestionably that transformation would have progressed more evenly and firmly. Peru’s postwar history is evidence of this. Its defeat and loss of nitrate territory initiated a prolonged decline in productive drive, unfortunately not compensated for by a liquidation of the past.

The Character of Peru’s Present Economy

The last chapter in the evolution of the Peruvian economy is its postwar period. This chapter begins with the almost complete collapse of the country’s productive energy.

Defeat not only meant that the national economy lost its principal resources, nitrates and guano; it also meant the paralysis of economic initiative, a general depression in production and commerce, the depreciation of national currency, and the loss of foreign credit. Bleeding and mutilated, the country suffered from a terrible anemia.

Again, as after independence, military leaders took charge; but they were spiritually and organically incapable of directing the task of economic reconstruction. Very soon the capitalist group that had formed during the period of guano and nitrates resumed its activity and returned to power. The solution they found for the monetary problem, for example, was typical of the mentality of latifundistas or large landowners. They were indifferent not only to the interests of the proletariat but also to those of the bourgeoisie, the only social groups that would be ruined by the abrupt demonetization of paper currency.

This measure and the Grace Contract were undoubtedly the most significant and characteristic actions taken by a landholding plutocracy to eliminate the economic consequences of the war.

The Grace Contract ratified British domination in Peru by delivering the state railways to the English bankers who until then had financed the republic and its extravagances. At the same time, it gave the London financial market the guarantees necessary to make new investments in Peruvian business. No immediate results were obtained with the restoration of the government’s credit; but prudent and safe investments again began to attract British capital. The Peruvian economy, by means of a practical examination of its condition as a colonial economy, secured some aid for its convalescence. With the completion of the railway to Oroya, traffic was opened to the industrial products of the department of Junin, permitting large-scale exploitation of its mining wealth.

Pierola fully adapted his economic policy to the same interests. The democratic caudillo, who for so long had thunderously aroused the masses against the wealthy, now took pains to carry out a civilismo administration. His tax system and fiscal measures removed any possible doubts that might have been raised by his phraseology and metaphysics. This confirms the principle that the meaning and shape of men, their policy and deeds, are more clearly revealed on an economic than on a political level. The fundamental aspects of this chapter, in which our economy, recuperating from its postwar crisis, slowly organized itself on less lucrative but more solid bases than those of guano and nitrates, can be outlined by the following facts:

1. The appearance of modern industry. The establishment of factories, plants, transport, et cetera, which has transformed life on the coast. The formation of an industrial proletariat with a growing natural tendency to adopt a class ideology, thereby blocking one of the traditional paths of caudillo proselytism and changing the terms of the political struggle.

2. The role of finance capital. The emergence of national banks which finance various industrial and commercial enterprises but which are very limited in scope because of their subservience to foreign capital and large agricultural properties; and the establishment of branches of foreign banks serving the interests of North American and English finance.

3. The shorter distance and increased traffic between Peru and the United States and Europe. As a result of the opening of the Panama Canal, Peru’s geographical position has notably improved and its incorporation into Western civilization has accelerated. 4. The gradual substitution of North American for British ascendancy. The Panama Canal seems to have brought Peru closer to the United States than to Europe. The participation of North American capital in the exploitation of Peru’s copper and petroleum, which have become two of its most important products, furnishes a broad and enduring base for the growing influence of the United States. Exports to England, which in 1898 made up 56.7 percent of total exports, by 1923 came only to 33.2 percent. In the same period, exports to the United States rose from 9.5 percent to 39.7 percent. And this trend was even more striking in imports: whereas in that twenty-five year period, imports from the United States went up from 10.0 percent to 38.9 percent, those from Great Britain dropped from 44.7 percent to 19.6 percent.[4]

5. The development of a capitalist class no longer dominated by the old aristocracy. Although agricultural property owners retain their power, the authority of families with viceregal names has declined. The bourgeoisie has grown stronger.

6. The rubber illusion. In its halcyon days, Peru thought it had found El Dorado in its tropical forests, which temporarily acquired enormous value in the economy. They especially caught the imagination of the country and attracted hordes of “hardy adventurers.” This illusion — tropical in origin and tone — faded with the fall in the price of rubber.[5]

7. The excess profits of the European period. The boom in Peruvian products caused a rapid increase in domestic private wealth. The hegemony of the coast in the Peruvian economy was reinforced.

8. The policy on borrowing. The reestablishment of Peruvian credit abroad has enabled the government once again to use loans to carry out its public works program.[6] North America also has replaced Great Britain as creditor. Overflowing with gold, the New York market offers the best terms. North American bankers study the possibilities of lending capital to Latin American governments. And they are careful, of course, that such investments benefit North American industry and commerce.[7]

These would appear to be the principal aspects of the economic evolution of Peru in its postwar period. This series of comments does not permit a thorough study of the foregoing statements or propositions. I have sought only to sketch some of the essential characteristics of the formation and development of the Peruvian economy.

I shall make a final observation: the elements of three different economies coexist in Peru today. Underneath the feudal economy inherited from the colonial period, vestiges of the indigenous communal economy can still be found in the sierra. On the coast, a bourgeois economy is growing in feudal soil; it gives every indication of being backward, at least in its mental outlook.

The Agrarian Economy and the Feudal Latifundium System

Peru, despite its expanded mining industry, remains an agricultural country. The great majority of the population is rural, with the Indian, who is usually and by tradition a farmer, making up four-fifths of the population. Since 1925, as a result of price declines in sugar and cotton and of diminishing yields, mining exports have greatly exceeded agricultural. The rapid rise in exports of petroleum and derivatives from Lp. [libras peruanas] 1,387,778 in 1916 to Lp. 7,421,128 in 1926 has been a significant factor. But farm production is only partially represented by export products: cotton, sugar and derivatives, wool, and rubber. Agriculture and livestock supply domestic consumption, whereas mining products are almost entirely exported. Imports of food and beverages reached Lp. 4,148,311 in 1925. The largest item in these imports is wheat, which the country still does not produce in sufficient quantities. There are no complete statistics on domestic production and consumption. Estimating a daily per capita consumption of 50 centavos on agricultural and livestock products, more than Lp. 84,000,000 was spent by the population of 4,609,999 counted in 1896. If it is assumed that there are now 5,000,000 inhabitants, domestic consumption reaches a total of Lp. 91,250,000. These figures show the enormous importance of agricultural and livestock production in the country’s economy.

Mining, on the other hand, employs a small number of workers — 28,592 in 1926, according to the Extracto estadistico. The manufacturing industry also uses little labor.!, Sugar cane haciendas alone employed 22,367 men and 1,173 women in their fields in 1926; cotton haciendas used 40,557 laborers in 1922–1923, the last period for which there are published statistics; and rice haciendas used 11,332 laborers in 1924–1925.

Most agricultural and livestock products consumed in the country come from the valleys and tablelands of the sierra. On the coastal haciendas, food crops amount to less than the minimum set by a law passed when food became very expensive because landholders were growing almost nothing but sugar and cotton in order to take advantage of the soaring prices of these two products.

The landowning class has not been transformed into a capitalist middle class, ally of the national economy.[8] Mining, commerce, and transport are in the hands of foreign capital. The latifundistas have been satisfied to serve as the latter’s intermediaries in the production of sugar and cotton. This economic system has kept agriculture to a semi-feudal organization that constitutes the heaviest burden on the country’s development.

The survival of feudalism on the coast is reflected in the stagnation and poverty of urban life. There are few towns and cities on the coast, and the village as such hardly exists except for the occasional cluster of plots that still adorns the countryside in the midst of a feudalized agrarian structure.

In Europe, the village is descended from the fief.[9] On the Peruvian coast, the village does not exist because the fief is still preserved virtually intact. The hacienda with its more or less classic manor house and usually wretched workers’ compound [rancheria], and the sugar mill with its outbuildings [colcas], are the typical rural community. This lack of villages and scarcity of towns prolongs the desert into the cultivated and fertile land of the valley.

Cities, according to a law of economic geography, are formed regularly in valleys where roads intersect. The rich and broad-valleys of the Peruvian coast, which head the statistics of national production, have not yet produced a city. At their crossroads or railway stations may be found scattered towns — torpid, malaria-ridden and feeble, lacking either rural health or urban attire. And in some cases, as in the Chicama Valley, the lati-fundium has begun to suffocate the city. Capitalist enterprise, more than the castle or the feudal domain, opposed the prerogatives of the city by competing for its business and robbing it of its function.

Within European feudalism, the elements of growth — the factors of town life — were, in spite of the rural economy, much greater than within criollo semi-feudalism. The countryside, however secluded, needed the town. It had, above all, a surplus of food crops to dispose of. Instead, the coastal hacienda grows cotton or sugar cane for distant markets. Assured of the transport of these products, it has little interest in relations with its surroundings. Food crops, when not completely eliminated by the cultivation of cotton or sugar cane, are raised only for consumption on the hacienda. In many valleys, the town receives nothing from and possesses nothing in the countryside. Therefore, it lives in poverty from a few urban trades, from the men it sends to work at the hacienda, and from its wearisome employment as a way station for the many thousands of tons of agricultural products that pass through it annually. The rare stretch of farmland supporting an independent and industrious — community is an oasis in a succession of fiefs that, defaced by machinery and rails, have lost the stamp of a noble tradition.

In many cases, the hacienda completely closes its doors to outside trade: only its company stores are allowed to supply its workers. On the one hand, this practice indicates that the peasant is treated as a thing and not as a person; on the other, it prevents the town from fulfilling the role that would maintain it and guarantee its development within the rural economy of the valleys. The hacienda, by taking over the trade and transport as well as land and dependent industries, deprives the town of a livelihood and condemns it to a sordid and meager existence.

The industries and commerce of cities are subject to supervision, regulations, municipal taxes. Community life and services are sustained by their activity. The latifundium, however, escapes these rules and levies. It can compete unfairly with urban industry and commerce and is in a position to ruin them.

The favorite legal argument for large estates is that they are essential to the creation of great production centers. Modern agriculture, it is claimed, requires expensive machinery, huge investments, and expert management. Small properties cannot meet these needs. Exports of sugar and cotton safeguard Peru’s balance of payments.

But the crops, the machinery, and the exports that the latifundistas boast of are far from being their own achievement. Production of cotton and sugar has flourished thanks to the stimulus of credits obtained for that purpose and on the basis of appropriated lands and cheap labor. The financial organization of these crops, which depend for development and profit on the world market, is not the result of either the foresight or the cooperation of landowners. The latifundium simply has adapted itself to outside incentives. Foreign capital, in its perennial search for land, labor, and markets, has financed and directed the work of landowners by lending them money secured by the latters’ products and properties. Many mortgaged estates already are being directly administered by exporting firms.

The country’s landowning aristocracy has most clearly shown its incompetence in the department of La Libertad, where it owned large valley haciendas. Many years of capitalist development brought the following results: the concentration of the sugar industry in the region of two huge sugar mills, Cartavio and Casa Grande, both foreign-owned; the absorption of domestic business by these two enterprises, especially the second, which also monopolized import trade; and the commercial decline of the city of Trujillo and the bankruptcy of most of its import firms.[10]

The old landowners of La Libertad, with their provincialism and feudal customs, have not been able to resist the expansion of foreign capital enterprise, with its scientific methods, discipline, and determination. In general, all this has been lacking in local landholders, some of whom could have accomplished as much as the German industrialists if they had had the same entrepreneurial temperament.

The criollo landowner is handicapped by his Spanish heritage and education, which keeps him from clearly perceiving and understanding all that distinguishes capitalism from feudalism. The moral, political, and psychological elements of capitalism apparently have not found a favorable climate here.[11] The capitalist, or rather the criollo landowner, believes in income before production. The love of adventure, the drive to create, and the organizing ability that characterize the authentic capitalist are almost unknown in Peru.

Capitalist concentration has been preceded by a stage of free competition. Great modern property does not arise, therefore, from great feudal property, as the criollo landowner probably imagines; all to the contrary, it could only emerge after the great feudal property had been broken up and dissolved. Capitalism is an urban phenomenon; it has the spirit of the industrial, manufacturing, mercantile town. Therefore, one of its first acts was the liberation of land and the destruction of the fief. The development of the city had to be sustained by the free activity of the peasant.

In Peru, the meaning of republican emancipation has been violated by entrusting the creation of a capitalist economy to the spirit of the fief — the antithesis and negation of the spirit of the town.

Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci

Gramsci opened my eyes to a novel form of Marxism, that seemed so much less dogmatic and more applicable to social reality. I have chosen the discussion of the role of intellectuals, given the privilege that students in universities have in being devoted to learning and studying, but his contributions to the theory of hegemony are also fundamental.

The Intellectuals

First Published: Gramsci, Antonio. 1949. Gli intellettuali e l’organizzazione della cultura, Edited by F. Platone. Turin: Nuovo Universale Einaudi;
Source: Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. “The Intellectuals”, in Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Translated and Edited by Q. Hoare and G. N. Smith. New York: International Publishers, page 3–23;
Transcribed: Jason Sanford Greenberg;
Proofed and corrected: by Kevin Goins, 2007.


I. The Formation of the Intellectuals

Are intellectuals an autonomous and independent social group, or does every social group have its own particular specialised category of intellectuals? The problem is a complex one, because of the variety of forms assumed to date by the real historical process of formation of the different categories of intellectuals.

The most important of these forms are two:

1. Every social group, coming into existence on the original terrain of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata[1] of intellectuals which give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields. The capitalist entrepreneur creates alongside himself the industrial technician, the specialist in political economy, the organisers of a new culture, of a new legal system, etc. It should be noted that the entrepreneur himself represents a higher level of social elaboration, already characterised by a certain directive [dirigente][2] and technical (i.e. intellectual) capacity: he must have a certain technical capacity, not only in the limited sphere of his activity and initiative but in other spheres as well, at least in those which are closest to economic production. He must be an organiser of masses of men; he must be an organiser of the “confidence” of investors in his business, of the customers for his product, etc. If not all entrepreneurs, at least an élite amongst them must have the capacity to be an organiser of society in general, including all its complex organism of services, right up to the state organism, because of the need to create the conditions most favourable to the expansion of their own class; or at the least they must possess the capacity to choose the deputies (specialised employees) to whom to entrust this activity of organising the general system of relationships external to the business itself. It can be observed that the “organic” intellectuals which every new class creates alongside itself and elaborates in the course of its development, are for the most part “specialisations” of partial aspects of the primitive activity of the new social type which the new class has brought into prominence.[A]

Even feudal lords were possessors of a particular technical capacity, military capacity, and it is precisely from the moment at which the aristocracy loses its monopoly of technico-military capacity that the crisis of feudalism begins. But the formation of intellectuals in the feudal world and in the preceding classical world is a question to be examined separately: this formation and elaboration follows ways and means which must be studied concretely. Thus it is to be noted that the mass of the peasantry, although it performs an essential function in the world of production, does not elaborate its own “organic” intellectuals, nor does it “assimilate” any stratum of “traditional” intellectuals, although it is from the peasantry that other social groups draw many of their intellectuals and a high proportion of traditional intellectuals are of peasant origin.[4]

2. However, every “essential” social group which emerges into history out of the preceding economic structure, and as an expression of a development of this structure, has found (at least in all of history up to the present) categories of intellectuals already in existence and which seemed indeed to represent an historical continuity uninterrupted even by the most complicated and radical changes in political and social forms.

The most typical of these categories of intellectuals is that of the ecclesiastics, who for a long time (for a whole phase of history, which is partly characterised by this very monopoly) held a monopoly of a number of important services: religious ideology, that is the philosophy and science of the age, together with schools, education, morality, justice, charity, good works, etc. The category of ecclesiastics can be considered the category of intellectuals organically bound to the landed aristocracy. It had equal status juridically with the aristocracy, with which it shared the exercise of feudal ownership of land, and the use of state privileges connected with property.[B] But the monopoly held by the ecclesiastics in the superstructural field[C] was not exercised without a struggle or without limitations, and hence there took place the birth, in various forms (to be gone into and studied concretely), of other categories, favoured and enabled to expand by the growing strength of the central power of the monarch, right up to absolutism. Thus we find the formation of the noblesse de robe, with its own privileges, a stratum of administrators, etc., scholars and scientists, theorists, non-ecclesiastical philosophers, etc.

Since these various categories of traditional intellectuals experience through an “esprit de corps” their uninterrupted historical continuity and their special qualification, they thus put themselves forward as autonomous and independent of the dominant social group. This self-assessment is not without consequences in the ideological and political field, consequences of wide-ranging import. The whole of idealist philosophy can easily be connected with this position assumed by the social complex of intellectuals and can be defined as the expression of that social utopia by which the intellectuals think of themselves as “independent”, autonomous, endowed with a character of their own, etc.

One should note however that if the Pope and the leading hierarchy of the Church consider themselves more linked to Christ and to the apostles than they are to senators Agnelli and Benni[5] the same does not hold for Gentile and Croce, for example: Croce in particular feels himself closely linked to Aristotle and Plato, but he does not conceal, on the other hand, his links with senators Agnelli and Benni, and it is precisely here that one can discern the most significant character of Croce’s philosophy.

What are the “maximum” limits of acceptance of the term “intellectual”? Can one find a unitary criterion to characterise equally all the diverse and disparate activities of intellectuals and to distinguish these at the same time and in an essential way from the activities of other social groupings? The most widespread error of method seems to me that of having looked for this criterion of distinction in the intrinsic nature of intellectual activities, rather than in the ensemble of the system of relations in which these activities (and therefore the intellectual groups who personify them) have their place within the general complex of social relations. Indeed the worker or proletarian, for example, is not specifically characterised by his manual or instrumental work, but by performing this work in specific conditions and in specific social relations (apart from the consideration that purely physical labour does not exist and that even Taylor’s phrase of “trained gorilla”[6] is a metaphor to indicate a limit in a certain direction: in any physical work, even the most degraded and mechanical, there exists a minimum of technical qualification, that is, a minimum of creative intellectual activity.) And we have already observed that the entrepreneur, by virtue of his very function, must have to some degree a certain number of qualifications of an intellectual nature although his part in society is determined not by these, but by the general social relations which specifically characterise the position of the entrepreneur within industry.

All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals.[D]

When one distinguishes between intellectuals and non-intellectuals, one is referring in reality only to the immediate social function of the professional category of the intellectuals, that is, one has in mind the direction in which their specific professional activity is weighted, whether towards intellectual elaboration or towards muscular-nervous effort. This means that, although one can speak of intellectuals, one cannot speak of non-intellectuals, because non-intellectuals do not exist. But even the relationship between efforts of intellectual-cerebral elaboration and muscular-nervous effort is not always the same, so that there are varying degrees of specific intellectual activity. There is no human activity from which every form of intellectual participation can be excluded: homo faber cannot be separated from homo sapiens.[7] Each man, finally, outside his professional activity, carries on some form of intellectual activity, that is, he is a “philosopher”, an artist, a man of taste, he participates in a particular conception of the world, has a conscious line of moral conduct, and therefore contributes to sustain a conception of the world or to modify it, that is, to bring into being new modes of thought.

The problem of creating a new stratum of intellectuals consists therefore in the critical elaboration of the intellectual activity that exists in everyone at a certain degree of development, modifying its relationship with the muscular-nervous effort towards a new equilibrium, and ensuring that the muscular-nervous effort itself; in so far as it is an element of a general practical activity, which is perpetually innovating the physical and social world, becomes the foundation of a new and integral conception of the world. The traditional and vulgarised type of the intellectual is given by the man of letters, the philosopher, the artist. Therefore journalists, who claim to be men of letters, philosophers, artists, also regard themselves as the “true” intellectuals. In the modern world, technical education, closely bound to industrial labour even at the most primitive and unqualified level, must form the basis of the new type of intellectual.

On this basis the weekly Ordine Nuovo[8] worked to develop certain forms of new intellectualism and to determine its new concepts, and this was not the least of the reasons for its success, since such a conception corresponded to latent aspirations and conformed to the development of the real forms of life. The mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence, which is an exterior and momentary mover of feelings and passions, but in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organiser, “permanent persuader” and not just a simple orator (but superior at the same time to the abstract mathematical spirit); from technique-as-work one proceeds to technique-as-science and to the humanistic conception of history, without which one remains “specialised” and does not become “directive”[9] (specialised and political).

Thus there are historically formed specialised categories for the exercise of the intellectual function. They are formed in connection with all social groups, but especially in connection with the more important, and they undergo more extensive and complex elaboration in connection with the dominant social group. One of the most important characteristics of any group that is developing towards dominance is its struggle to assimilate and to conquer “ideologically” the traditional intellectuals, but this assimilation and conquest is made quicker and more efficacious the more the group in question succeeds in simultaneously elaborating its own organic intellectuals. The enormous development of activity and organisation r education in the broad sense in the societies that emerged from the medieval world is an index of the importance assumed in the modern world by intellectual functions and categories. Parallel with the attempt to deepen and to broaden the “intellectuality” of each individual, there has also been an attempt to multiply and narrow the various specialisations. This can be seen from educational institutions at all levels, up to and including the organisms that exist to promote so-called “high culture” in all fields of science and technology.

School is the instrument through which intellectuals of various levels are elaborated. The complexity of the intellectual function in different states can be measured objectively by the number and gradation of specialised schools: the more extensive the “area” covered by education and the numerous the “vertical” “levels” of schooling, the more complex the cultural world, the civilisation, of a particular state. A point of comparison can be found in the sphere of industrial technology: the industrialisation of a: country can be measured by how well equipped it is in the production of machines with which to produce machines, and in the manufacture of ever more accurate instruments for making both machines and further instruments for making machines, etc. The country which is best equipped in the construction of instruments for experimental scientific laboratories and in the construction of instruments with which to test the first instruments, can be regarded as the most complex in the technical-industrial field, with the highest level of civilisation, etc. The same applies to the preparation of intellectuals and to the schools dedicated to this preparation; schools and institutes of high culture can be assimilated to each other. In this field also, quantity cannot be separated from quality. To the most refined technical-cultural specialisation there cannot but correspond the maximum possible diffusion of primary education and the maximum care taken to expand the middle grades numerically as much as possible. Naturally this need to provide the widest base possible for the selection and elaboration of the top intellectual qualifications — i.e. to give a democratic structure to high culture and top-level technology — is not without its disadvantages: it creates the possibility of vast crises of unemployment — for the middle intellectual strata, and in all modern societies this actually takes place.

It is worth noting that the elaboration of intellectual strata in concrete reality does not take place on the terrain of abstract democracy but in accordance with very concrete traditional historical processes. Strata have grown up which traditionally “produce” intellectuals and these strata coincide with those which have specialised in “saving”, i.e. the petty and middle landed bourgeoisie and certain strata of the petty and middle urban bourgeoisie. The varying distribution of different types of school (classical and professional) [10] over the “economic” territory and the varying aspirations of different categories within these strata determine, or give form to, the production of various branches of intellectual specialisation. Thus in Italy the rural bourgeoisie produces in particular state functionaries and professional people, whereas the urban bourgeoisie produces technicians for industry. Consequently it is largely northern Italy which produces technicians and the South which produces functionaries and professional men.

The relationship between the intellectuals and the world of production is not as direct as it is with the fundamental social groups but is, in varying degrees, “mediated” by the whole fabric of society and by the complex of superstructures, of which the intellectuals are, precisely, the “functionaries”. It should be possible both to measure the “organic quality” [organicità] of the various intellectual strata and their degree of connection with a fundamental social group, and to establish a gradation of their functions and of the superstructures from the bottom to the top (from the structural base upwards). What we can do, for the moment, is to fix two major superstructural “levels”: the one that can be called “civil society”, that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called “private”, and that of “political society” or “the State”. These two levels correspond on the one hand to the function of “hegemony” which the dominant group exercises throughout society and on the other hand to that of “direct domination” or command exercised through the State and “juridical” government. The functions in question are precisely organisational and connective. The intellectuals are the dominant group’s “deputies” exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government. These comprise:

1. The “spontaneous” consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is “historically” caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.

2. The apparatus of state coercive power which “legally” enforces discipline on those groups who do not “consent” either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed.

This way of posing the problem has as a result a considerable extension of the concept of intellectual, but it is the only way which enables one to reach a concrete approximation of reality. It also lashes with preconceptions of caste. The function of organizing social hegemony and state domination certainly gives rise to a particular division of labour and therefore to a whole hierarchy of qualifications in some of which there is no apparent attribution of directive or organisational functions. For example, in the apparatus of social and state direction there exist a whole series of jobs of a manual and instrumental character (non-executive work, agents rather than officials or functionaries).[11] It is obvious that such a distinction has to be made just as it is obvious that other distinctions have to be made as well. Indeed, intellectual activity must also be distinguished in terms of its intrinsic characteristics, according to levels which in moments of extreme opposition represent a real qualitative difference — at the highest level would be the creators of the various sciences, philosophy, art, etc., at the lowest the most humble “administrators” and divulgators of pre-existing, traditional, accumulated intellectual wealth.[E]

In the modern world the category of intellectuals, understood in this sense, has undergone an unprecedented expansion. The democratic-bureaucratic system has given rise to a great mass of functions which are not all justified by the social necessities of production, though they are justified by the political necessities of the dominant fundamental group. Hence Loria’s[13] conception of the unproductive “worker” (but unproductive in relation to whom and to what mode of production?), a conception which could in part be justified if one takes account of the fact that these masses exploit their position to take for themselves a large cut out of the national income. Mass formation has standardised individuals both psychologically and in terms of individual qualification and has produced the same phenomena as with other standardised masses: competition which makes necessary organisations for the defence of professions, unemployment, over-production in the schools, emigration, etc.

The Different Position of Urban and Rural-type Intellectuals

Intellectuals of the urban type have grown up along with industry and are linked to its fortunes. Their function can be compared to that of subaltern officers in the army. They have no autonomous initiative in elaborating plans for construction. Their job is to articulate the relationship between the entrepreneur and the instrumental mass and to carry out the immediate execution of the production plan decided by the industrial general staff, controlling the elementary stages of work. On the whole the average urban intellectuals are very standardised, while the top urban intellectuals are more and more identified with the industrial general staff itself.

Intellectuals of the rural type are for the most part “traditional”, that is they are linked to the social mass of country people and the town (particularly small-town) petite bourgeoisie, not as yet elaborated and set in motion by the capitalist system. This type of intellectual brings into contact the peasant masses with the local and state administration (lawyers, notaries, etc.). Because of this activity they have an important politico-social function, since professional mediation is difficult to separate from political. Furthermore: in the countryside the intellectual (priest, lawyer, notary, teacher, doctor, etc.), has on the whole a higher or at least a different living standard from that of the average peasant and consequently represents a social model for the peasant to look to in his aspiration to escape from or improve his condition. The peasant always thinks that at least one of his sons could become an intellectual (especially a priest), thus becoming a gentleman and raising the social level of the family by facilitating its economic life through the connections which he is bound to acquire with the rest of the gentry. The peasant’s attitude towards the intellectual is double and appears contradictory. He respects the social position of the intellectuals and in general that of state employees, but sometimes affects contempt for it, which means that his admiration is mingled with instinctive elements of envy and impassioned anger. One can understand nothing of the collective life of the peasantry and of the germs and ferments of development which exist within it, if one does not take into consideration and examine concretely and in depth this effective subordination to the intellectuals. Every organic development of the peasant masses up to a certain point is linked to and depends on movements among the intellectuals.

With the urban intellectuals it is another matter. Factory technicians do not exercise any political function over the instrumental masses, or at least this is a phase that has been superseded. Sometimes, rather, the contrary takes place, and the instrumental masses at least in the person of their own organic intellectuals exercise a political influence on the technicians.

The central point of the question remains the distinction between’ intellectuals as an organic category of every fundamental social group and intellectuals as a traditional category. From this distinction there flow a whole series of problems and possible questions for historical research.

The most interesting problem is that which, when studied from this point of view, relates to the modern political party, its real origins, its developments and the forms which it takes. What is the character of the political party in relation to the problem of the intellectuals? Some distinctions must be made:

1. The political party for some social groups is nothing other than their specific way of elaborating their own category of organic intellectuals directly in the political and philosophical field and not just in the field of productive technique. These intellectuals are formed in this way and cannot indeed be formed in any other way, given the general character and the conditions of formation, life and development of the social group.[F]

2. The political party, for all groups, is precisely the mechanism which carries out in civil society the same function as the State carries out, more synthetically and over a larger scale, in political society. In other words it is responsible for welding together the organic intellectuals of a given group — the dominant one — and the traditional intellectuals.[14] The party carries out this function in strict dependence on its basic function, which is that of elaborating its own component parts — those elements of a social group which has been born and developed as an “economic” group — and of turning them into qualified political intellectuals, leaders [dirigenti] and organisers of all the activities and functions inherent in the organic development of an integral society, both civil and political. Indeed it can be said that within its field the political party accomplishes its function more completely and organically than the State does within its admittedly far larger field. An intellectual who joins the political party of a particular social group is merged with the organic intellectuals of the group itself and is linked tightly with the group. This takes place through participation in the life of the State only to a limited degree and often not at all. Indeed it happens that many intellectuals think that they are the State, a belief which, given the magnitude of the category, occasionally has important consequences and leads to unpleasant complications for the fundamental economic group which really is the State.[G]

That all members of a political party should be regarded as intellectuals is an affirmation that can easily lend itself to mockery and caricature. But if one thinks about it nothing could be more exact. There are of course distinctions of level to be made. A party might have a greater or lesser proportion of members in the higher grades or in the lower, but this is not the point. What matters is the function, which is directive and organisational, i.e. educative, i.e. intellectual. A tradesman does not join a political party in order to do business, nor an industrialist in order to produce more at lower cost, nor a peasant to learn new methods of cultivation, even if some aspects of these demands of the tradesman, the industrialist or the peasant can find satisfaction in the party.

For these purposes, within limits, there exists the professional association, in which the economic-corporate activity of the tradesman, industrialist or peasant is most suitably promoted. In the political party the elements of an economic social group get beyond that moment of their historical development and become agents of more general activities of a national and international character. This function of a political party should emerge even more clearly from a concrete historical analysis of how both organic and traditional categories of intellectuals have developed in the context of different national histories and in that of the development of the various major social groups within each nation, particularly those groups whose economic activity has been largely instrumental. The formation of traditional intellectuals is the most interesting problem historically. It is undoubtedly connected with slavery in the classical world and with the position of freed men of Greek or Oriental origin in the social organisation of the Roman Empire.

Note. The change in the condition of the social position of the intellectuals in Rome between Republican and Imperial times (a change from an aristocratic-Corporate to a democratic-bureaucratic régime) is due to Caesar, who granted citizenship to doctors and to masters of liberal arts so that they would be more willing to live in Rome and so that others should be persuaded to come there. (“Omnesque medicinam Romae professos et liberalium artium doctores, quo libentius et ispi urbem incolerent et coeteri appeterent civitate donavit.” Suetonius, Life of Caesar, XLII.) Caesar therefore proposed: 1. to establish in Rome those intellectuals who were already there, thus creating a permanent category of intellectuals, since without their permanent residence there no cultural organisation could be created; and 2. to attract to Rome the best intellectuals from all over the Roman Empire, thus promoting centralisation on a massive scale. In this way there came into being the category of “imperial” intellectuals in Rome which was to be continued by the Catholic clergy and to leave so many traces in the history of Italian intellectuals, such as their characteristic “cosmopolitanism”, up to the eighteenth century.

This not only social but national and racial separation between large masses of intellectuals and the dominant class of the Roman Empire is repeated after the fall of the Empire in the division between Germanic warriors and intellectuals of romanised origin, successors of the category of freedmen. Interweaved with this phenomenon are the birth and development of Catholicism and of the ecclesiastical organisation which for many centuries absorbs the major part of intellectual activities and exercises a monopoly of cultural direction with penal sanctions against anyone who attempted to oppose or even evade the monopoly. In Italy we can observe the phenomenon, whose intensity varies from period to period, of the cosmopolitan function of the intellectuals of the peninsula. I shall now turn to the differences which are instantly apparent in the development of the intellectuals in a number of the more important countries, with the proviso that these observations require to be controlled and examined in more depth.

As far as Italy is concerned the central fact is precisely the international or cosmopolitan function of its intellectuals, which is both cause and effect of the state of disintegration in which the peninsula remained from the fall of the Roman Empire up to 1870.

France offers the example of an accomplished form of harmonious development of the energies of the nation and of the intellectual categories in particular. When in 1789 a new social grouping makes its political appearance on the historical stage, it is already completely equipped for all its social functions and can therefore struggle for total dominion of the nation. It does not have to make any essential compromises with the old classes but instead can subordinate them to its own ends. The first intellectual cells of the new type are born along with their first economic counterparts. Even ecclesiastical organisation is influenced (gallicanism, precocious struggles between Church and State). This massive intellectual construction explains the function of culture in France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was a function of international and cosmopolitan outward radiation and of imperialistic and hegemonic expansion in an organic fashion, very different (therefore from the Italian experience, which was founded on scattered personal migration and did not react on the national base to potentiate it but on the contrary contributed to rendering the constitution of a solid national base impossible.

In England the development is very different from France. The new social grouping that grew up on the basis of modern industrialism shows a remarkable economic-corporate development but advances only gropingly in the intellectual-political field. There is a very extensive category of organic intellectuals — those, that is, who come into existence on the same industrial terrain as the economic group — but in the higher sphere we find that he old land-owning class preserves its position of virtual monopoly. It loses its economic supremacy but maintains for a long time a politico-intellectual supremacy and is assimilated as “traditional intellectuals” and as directive [dirigente] group by the new group in power. The old land-owning aristocracy is joined to the industrialists by a kind of suture which is precisely that which in other countries unites the traditional intellectuals with the new dominant classes.

The English phenomenon appears also in Germany, but complicated by other historical and traditional elements. Germany, like Italy, was the seat of an universalistic and supranational institution and ideology, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, and provided a certain number of personnel for the mediaeval cosmopolis, impoverishing its own internal energies and arousing struggles which distracted from problems of national organisation and perpetuated the territorial disintegration of the Middle Ages. Industrial development took place within a semi-feudal integument that persisted up to November 1918, and the Junkers preserved a politico-intellectual supremacy considerably greater even than that of the corresponding group in England. They were the traditional intellectuals of the German industrialists, but retained special privileges and a strong consciousness of being an independent social group, based on the fact that they held considerable economic power over the land, which was more “productive” than in England. [15] The Prussian Junkers resemble a priestly-military caste, with a virtual monopoly of directive-organisational functions in political society, but possessing at the same time an economic base of its own and so not exclusively dependent on the liberality of the dominant economic group. Furthermore, unlike the English land-owning aristocracy, the Junkers constituted the officer class of a large standing army, which gave them solid organisational cadres favouring the preservation of an esprit de corps and of their political monopoly.[H]

In Russia various features: the political and economico-commercial organisation was created by the Norman (Varangians), and religious organisation by the Byzantine Greeks. In a later period the Germans and the French brought to Russia the European experience and gave a first consistent skeleton to the protoplasm of Russian history. National forces were inert, passive and receptive, but perhaps precisely for this reason they assimilated completely the foreign influences and the foreigners themselves, Russifying them. In the more recent historical period we find the opposite phenomenon. An élite consisting of some of the most active, energetic, enterprising and disciplined members of the society emigrates abroad and assimilates the culture and historical experiences of the most advanced countries of the West, without however losing the most essential characteristics of its own nationality, that is to say without breaking its sentimental and historical links with its own people. Having thus performed its intellectual apprenticeship it returns to its own country and compels the people to an enforced awakening, skipping historical stages in the process. The difference between this élite and that imported from Germany (by Peter the Great, for example) lies in its essentially national-popular character. It could not be assimilated by the inert passivity of the Russian people, because it was itself an energetic reaction of Russia to her own historical inertia.

On another terrain, and in very different conditions of time and place, the Russian phenomenon can be compared to the birth of the American nation (in the United States). The Anglo-Saxon immigrants are themselves an intellectual, but more especially a moral, élite. I am talking, naturally, of the first immigrants, the pioneers, protagonists of the political and religious struggles in England, defeated but not humiliated or laid low in their country of origin. They import into America, together with themselves, apart from moral energy and energy of the will, a certain level of civilisation, a certain stage of European historical evolution, which, when transplanted by such men into the virgin soil of America, continues to develop the forces implicit in its nature but with an incomparably more rapid rhythm than in Old Europe, where there exists a whole series of checks (moral, intellectual, political, economic, incorporated in specific sections of the population, relics of past régimes which refuse to die out) which generate opposition to speedy progress and give to every initiative the equilibrium of mediocrity, diluting it in time and in space.

One can note, in the case of the United States, the absence to a considerable degree of traditional intellectuals, and consequently different equilibrium among the intellectuals m general. There has been a massive development, on top of an industrial base, of the whole range of modern superstructures. The necessity of an equilibrium is determined, not by the need to fuse together the organic intellectuals with the traditional, but by the need to fuse together in a single national crucible with a unitary culture the different forms of culture imported by immigrants of differing national origins. The lack of a vast sedimentation of traditional intellectuals such as one finds in countries of ancient civilisation explains, at least in part, both the existence of only two major political parties, which could in fact easily be reduced to one only (contrast this with the case of France, and not only in the post-war period when the multiplication of parties became a general phenomenon), and at the opposite extreme the enormous proliferation of religious) sects.[I]

One further phenomenon in the United States is worth studying, and that is the formation of a surprising number of negro intellectuals who absorb American culture and technology. It is worth bearing in mind the indirect influence that these negro intellectuals could exercise on the backward masses in Africa, and indeed direct influence if one or other of these hypotheses were ever to be verified: 1. that American expansionism should use American negroes as its agents in the conquest of the African market and the extension of American civilisation (something of the kind has already happened, but I don’t know to what extent); 2. that the struggle for the unification of the American people should intensify in such a way as to provoke a negro exodus and the return to Africa of the most independent and energetic intellectual elements, the ones, in other words, who would be least inclined to submit to some possible future legislation that was even more humiliating than are the present widespread social customs. This development would give rise to two fundamental questions: 1. linguistic: whether English could become the educated language of Africa, bringing unity in the place of the existing swarm of dialects? 2. whether this intellectual stratum could have sufficient assimilating and organising capacity to give a “national” character to the present primitive sentiment of being a despised race, thus giving the African continent a mythic function as the common fatherland of all the negro peoples? It seems to me that, for the moment, American negroes have a national and racial spirit which is negative rather than positive, one which is a product of the struggle carried on by the whites in order to isolate and depress them. But was not this the case with the Jews up to and throughout the eighteenth century? Liberia, already Americanised and with English as its official language, could become the Zion of American negroes, with a tendency to set itself up as an African Piedmont.[18]

In considering the question of the intellectuals in Central and South America, one should, I think, bear in mind certain fundamental conditions. No vast category of traditional intellectuals exists in Central or South America either, but the question does not present itself in the same terms as with the United States. What in fact we find at the root of development of these countries are the patterns of Spanish and Portuguese civilisation of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, characterised by the effects of the Counter Reformation and by military parasitism. The change-resistant crystallisations which survive to this day in these countries are the clergy and a military caste, two categories of traditional intellectuals fossilised in a form inherited from the European mother country. The industrial base is very restricted, and has not developed complicated superstructures. The majority of intellectuals are of the rural type, and, since the latifundium is dominant, with a lot of property in the hands of the Church, these intellectuals are linked with the clergy and the big landowners. National composition is very unbalanced even among the white population and is further complicated by the great masses of Indians who in some countries form the majority of the inhabitants. It can be said that in these regions of the American continent there still exists a situation of the Kulturkampf and of the Dreyfus trial, [19] that is to say a situation in which the secular and bourgeois element has not yet reached the stage of being able to subordinate clerical and militaristic influence and interests to the secular politics of the modern State. It thus comes about that Free Masonry and forms of cultural organisation like the “positivist Church” are very influential in the opposition to Jesuitism. Most recent events (November 1930), from the Kulturkampf of Calles in Mexico[20] to the military-popular insurrections in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Chile and Bolivia, demonstrate the accuracy of these observations.

Further types of formation of the categories of intellectuals and of their relationship with national forces can be found in India, China and Japan. In Japan we have a formation of the English and German type, that is an industrial civilisation that develops within a feudal-bureaucratic integument with unmistakable features of its own.

In China there is the phenomenon of the script, an expression of the complete separation between the intellectuals and the people. In both India and China the enormous gap separating intellectuals and people is manifested also in the religious field. The problem of different beliefs and of different ways of conceiving and practising the same religion among the various strata of society, but particularly as between clergy, intellectuals and people, needs to be studied in general, since it occurs everywhere to a certain degree; but it is in the countries of East Asia that it reaches its most extreme form. In Protestant countries the difference is relatively slight (the proliferation of sects is connected with the need for a perfect’ suture between intellectuals and people, with the result that all the crudity of the effective conceptions of the popular masses is reproduced in the higher organisational sphere). It is more note-worthy in Catholic countries, but its extent varies. It is less in the Catholic parts of Germany and in France; rather greater in Italy, particularly in the South and in the islands; and very great indeed in the Iberian peninsula and in the countries of Latin America. The phenomenon increases in scale in the Orthodox countries where it becomes necessary to speak of three degrees of the same religion: that of the higher clergy and the monks, that of the secular clergy and that of the people. It reaches a level of absurdity in East Asia, where the religion of the people often has nothing whatever to do with that of books, although the two are called by the same name.

The Power of the Powerless (1979) by Vaclav Havel

Latin Americans of my generation grew with great admiration towards the mythology of the Cuban Revolution, acriticism of American imperialism in Central America, and we saw the triumph of the Sandinistas. Many of us had posters of Che Guevara in our walls. However, the processes unfolding in Eastern Europe only became intelligible to me once I understood the authoritarian character of “real existing socialism” in my readings of Vuelta magazine and the writings of Solyenitzin and Havel. The Power of the Powerless is a text that provides an antidote to Soviet collectivism and the subtle ways in which dictatorships are able to keep power, despite being illegitimate among their citizens, a theme that is central in Gramsci’s concept of hegemony.


[Translated by Paul Wilson, “The Power of the Powerless” has appeared several times in English, foremost in The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe, edited by John Keane, with an Introduction by Steven Lukes (London: Hutchinson, 1985). That volume includes a selection of nine other essays from the original Czech and Slovak collection.]


A specter is haunting Eastern Europe: the specter of what in the West is called “dissent.” This specter has not appeared out of thin air. It is a natural and inevitable consequence of the present historical phase of the system it is haunting. It was born at a time when this system, for a thousand reasons, can no longer base itself on the unadulterated, brutal, and arbitrary application of power, eliminating all expressions of nonconformity. What is more, the system has become so ossified politically that there is practically no way for such nonconformity to be implemented within its official structures.

Who are these so-called dissidents? Where does their point of view come from, and what importance does it have? What is the significance of the “independent initiatives” in which “dissidents” collaborate, and what real chances do such initiatives have of success? Is it appropriate to refer to “dissidents” as an opposition? If so, what exactly is such an opposition within the framework of this system? What does it do? What role does it play in society? What are its hopes and on what are they based? Is it within the power of the “dissidents”-as a category of subcitizen outside the power establishment-to have any influence at all on society and the social system? Can they actually change anything?

I think that an examination of these questions-an examination of the potential of the “powerless”-can only begin with an examination of the nature of power in the circumstances in which these powerless people operate.


Our system is most frequently characterized as a dictatorship or, more precisely, as the dictatorship of a political bureaucracy over a society which has undergone economic and social leveling. I am afraid that the term “dictatorship,” regardless of how intelligible it may otherwise be, tends to obscure rather than clarify the real nature of power in this system. We usually associate the term with the notion of a small group of people who take over the government of a given country by force; their power is wielded openly, using the direct instruments of power at their disposal, and they are easily distinguished socially from the majority over whom they rule. One of the essential aspects of this traditional or classical notion of dictatorship is the assumption that it is temporary, ephemeral, lacking historical roots. Its existence seems to be bound up with the lives of those who established it. It is usually local in extent and significance, and regardless of the ideology it utilizes to grant itself legitimacy, its power derives ultimately from the numbers and the armed might of its soldiers and police. The principal threat to its existence is felt to be the possibility that someone better equipped in this sense might appear and overthrow it.

Even this very superficial overview should make it clear that the system in which we live has very little in common with a classical dictatorship. In the first place, our system is not limited in a local, geographical sense; rather, it holds sway over a huge power bloc controlled by one of the two superpowers. And although it quite naturally exhibits a number of local and historical variations, the range of these variations is fundamentally circumscribed by a single, unifying framework throughout the power bloc. Not only is the dictatorship everywhere based on the same principles and structured in the same way (that is, in the way evolved by the ruling super power), but each country has been completely penetrated by a network of manipulatory instruments controlled by the superpower center and totally subordinated to its interests. In the stalemated world of nuclear parity, of course, that circumstance endows the system with an unprecedented degree of external stability compared with classical dictatorships. Many local crises which, in an isolated state, would lead to a change in the system, can be resolved through direct intervention by the armed forces of the rest of the bloc.

In the second place, if a feature of classical dictatorships is their lack of historical roots (frequently they appear to be no more than historical freaks, the fortuitous consequence of fortuitous social processes or of human and mob tendencies), the same cannot be said so facilely about our system. For even though our dictatorship has long since alienated itself completely from the social movements that give birth to it, the authenticity of these movements (and I am thinking of the proletarian and socialist movements of the nineteenth century) gives it undeniable historicity. These origins provided a solid foundation of sorts on which it could build until it became the utterly new social and political reality it is today, which has become so inextricably a part of the structure of the modern world. A feature of those historical origins was the “correct” understanding of social conflicts in the period from which those original movements emerged. The fact that at the very core of this “correct” understanding there was a genetic disposition toward the monstrous alienation characteristic of its subsequence development is not essential here. And in any case, this element also grew organically from the climate of that time and therefore can be said to have its origin there as well.

One legacy of that original “correct” understanding is a third peculiarity that makes our systems different from other modern dictatorships: it commands an incomparably more precise, logically structured, generally comprehensible and, in essence, extremely flexible ideology that, in its elaborateness and completeness, is almost a secularized religion. It of fears a ready answer to any question whatsoever; it can scarcely be accepted only in part, and accepting it has profound implications for human life. In an era when metaphysical and existential certainties are in a state of crisis, when people are being uprooted and alienated and are losing their sense of what this world means, this ideology inevitably has a certain hypnotic charm. To wandering humankind it offers an immediately available home: all one has to do is accept it, and suddenly everything becomes clear once more, life takes on new meaning, and all mysteries, unanswered questions, anxiety, and loneliness vanish. Of course, one pays dearly for this low-rent home: the price is abdication of one’ s own reason, conscience, and responsibility, for an essential aspect of this ideology is the consignment of reason and conscience to a higher authority. The principle involved here is that the center of power is identical with the center of truth. (In our case, the connection with Byzantine theocracy is direct: the highest secular authority is identical with the highest spiritual authority.) It is true of course that, all this aside, ideology no longer has any great influence on people, at least within our bloc (with the possible exception of Russia, where the serf mentality, with its blind, fatalistic respect for rulers and its automatic acceptance of all their claims, is still dominant and combined with a superpower patriotism which traditionally places the interests of empire higher than the interests of humanity). But this is not important, because ideology plays its role in our system very well (an issue to which I will return) precisely because it is what it is.

Fourth, the technique of exercising power in traditional dictatorships contains a necessary element of improvisation. The mechanisms for wielding power are for the most part not established firmly, and there is considerable room for accident and for the arbitrary and unregulated application of power. Socially, psychologically, and physically, conditions still exist for the expression of some form of opposition. In short, there are many seams on the surface which can split apart before the entire power structure has managed to stabilize. Our system, on the other hand, has been developing in the Soviet Union for over sixty years, and for approximately thirty years in Eastern Europe; moreover, several of its long-established structural features are derived from Czarist absolutism. In terms of the physical aspects of power, this has led to the creation of such intricate and well-developed mechanisms for the direct and indirect manipulation of the entire population that, as a physical power base, it represents something radically new. At the same time, let us not forget that the system is made significantly more effective by state ownership and central direction of all the means of production. This gives the power structure an unprecedented and uncontrollable capacity to invest in itself (in the areas of the bureaucracy and the police, for example) and makes it easier for that structure, as the sole employer, to manipulate the day-to-day existence of all citizens.

Finally, if an atmosphere of revolutionary excitement, heroism, dedication, and boisterous violence on all sides characterizes classical dictatorships, then the last traces of such an atmosphere have vanished from the Soviet bloc. For, some time now this bloc has ceased to be a kind of enclave, isolated from the rest of the developed world and immune to processes occurring in it. To the contrary, the Soviet bloc is an integral part of that larger world, and it shares and shapes the world’s destiny. This means in concrete terms that the hierarchy of values existing in the developed countries of the West has, in essence, appeared in our society (the long period of co-existence with the West has only hastened this process.) In other words, what we have here is simply another form of the consumer and industrial society, with all its concomitant social, intellectual, and psychological consequences. It is impossible to understand the nature of power in our system properly without taking this into account.

The profound difference between our system-in terms of the nature of power-and what we traditionally understand by dictatorship, a difference I hope is clear even from this quite superficial comparison, has caused me to search for some term appropriate for our system, purely for the pur poses of this essay. If I refer to it henceforth as a “posttotalitarian” system, I am fully aware that this is perhaps not the most precise term, but I am unable to think of a better one. I do not wish to imply by the prefix “poso” that the system is no longer totalitarian; on the contrary, I mean that it is totalitarian in a way fundamentally different from classical dictatorships, different from totalitarianism as we usually understand it.

The circumstances I have mentioned, however, form only a circle of conditional factors and a kind of phenomenal framework for the actual composition of power in the posttotalitarian system, several aspects of which I shall now attempt to identify.


The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.

Obviously the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone. The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time it is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?

Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient;’ he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the facade of something high. And that something is ideology.

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe.

The smaller a dictatorship and the less stratified by modernization the society under it, the more directly the will of the dictator can be exercised- In other words, the dictator can employ more or less naked discipline, avoiding the complex processes of relating to the world and of self justification which ideology involves. But the more complex the mechanisms of power become, the larger and more stratified the society they embrace, and the longer they have operated historically, the more individuals must be connected to them from outside, and the greater the importance attached to the ideological excuse. It acts as a kind of bridge between the regime and the people, across which the regime approaches the people and the people approach the regime. This explains why ideology plays such an important role in the post-totalitarian system: that complex machinery of units, hierarchies, transmission belts, and indirect instruments of manipulation which ensure in countless ways the integrity of the regime, leaving nothing to chance, would be quite simply unthinkable without ideology acting as its all-embracing excuse and as the excuse for each of its parts.


We have seen that the real meaning of the greengrocer’s slogan has nothing to do with what the text of the slogan actually says. Even so, this real meaning is quite clear and generally comprehensible because the code is so familiar: the greengrocer declares his loyalty (and he can do no other if his declaration is to be accepted) in the only way the regime is capable of hearing; that is, by accepting the prescribed ritual, by accepting appearances as reality, by accepting the given rules of the game. In doing so, however, he has himself become a player in the game, thus making it possible for the game to go on, for it to exist in the first place.

If ideology was originally a bridge between the system and the individual as an individual, then the moment he steps on to this bridge it becomes at the same time a bridge between the system and the individual as a component of the system. That is, if ideology originally facilitated (by acting outwardly) the constitution of power by serving as a psychological excuse, then from the moment that excuse is accepted, it constitutes power inwardly, becoming an active component of that power. It begins to function as the principal instrument of ritual communication within the system of power.

The whole power structure (and we have already discussed its physical articulation) could not exist at all if there were not a certain metaphysical order binding all its components together, interconnecting them and subordinating them to a uniform method of accountability, supplying the combined operation of all these components with rules of the game, that is, with certain regulations, limitations, and legalities. This metaphysical order is fundamental to, and standard throughout, the entire power structure; it integrates its communication system and makes possible the internal exchange and transfer of information and instructions. It is rather like a collection of traffic signals and directional signs, giving the process shape and structure. This metaphysical order guarantees the inner coherence of the totalitarian power structure. It is the glue holding it together, its binding principle, the instrument of its discipline. Without this glue the structure as a totalitarian structure would vanish; it would disintegrate into individual atoms chaotically colliding with one another in their unregulated particular interests and inclinations. The entire pyramid of totalitarian power, deprived of the element that binds it together, would collapse in upon itself, as it were, in a kind of material implosion.

As the interpretation of reality by the power structure, ideology is always subordinated ultimately to the interests of the structure. Therefore, it has a natural tendency to disengage itself from reality, to create a world of appearances, to become ritual. In societies where there is public competition for power and therefore public control of that power, there also exists quite naturally public control of the way that power legitimates itself ideologically. Consequently, in such conditions there are always certain correctives that effectively prevent ideology from abandoning reality altogether. Under totalitarianism, however, these correctives disappear, and thus there is nothing to prevent ideology from becoming more and more removed from reality, gradually turning into what it has already become in the post-totalitarian system: a world of appearances, a mere ritual, a formalized language deprived of semantic contact with reality and transformed into a system of ritual signs that replace reality with pseudo-reality.


Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.

The bill is not long in coming. He will be relieved of his post as manager of the shop and transferred to the warehouse. His pay will be reduced. His hopes for a holiday in Bulgaria will evaporate. His children’s access to higher education will be threatened. His superiors will harass him and his fellow workers will wonder about him. Most of those who apply these sanctions, however, will not do so from any authentic inner conviction but simply under pressure from conditions, the same conditions that once pressured the greengrocer to display the official slogans. They will persecute the greengrocer either because it is expected of them, or to demonstrate their loyalty, or simply as part of the general panorama, to which belongs an awareness that this is how situations of this sort are dealt with, that this, in fact, is how things are always done, particularly if one is not to become suspect oneself. The executors, therefore, behave essentially like everyone else, to a greater or lesser degree: as components of the post-totalitarian system, as agents of its automatism, as petty instruments of the social auto-totality.


Individuals can be alienated from themselves only because there is something in them to alienate. The terrain of this violation is their authentic existence. Living the truth is thus woven directly into the texture of living a lie. It is the repressed alternative, the authentic aim to which living a lie is an inauthentic response. Only against this background does living a lie make any sense: it exists because of that background. In its excusatory, chimerical rootedness in the human order, it is a response to nothing other than the human predisposition to truth. Under the orderly surface of the life of lies, therefore, there slumbers the hidden sphere of life in its real aims, of its hidden openness to truth.

The singular, explosive, incalculable political power of living within the truth resides in the fact that living openly within the truth has an ally, invisible to be sure, but omnipresent: this hidden sphere. It is from this sphere that life lived openly in the truth grows; it is to this sphere that it speaks, and in it that it finds understanding. This is where the potential for communication exists. But this place is hidden and therefore, from the perspective of power, very dangerous. The complex ferment that takes place within it goes on in semidarkness, and by the time it finally surfaces into the light of day as an assortment of shocking surprises to the system, it is usually too late to cover them up in the usual fashion. Thus they create a situation in which the regime is confounded, invariably causing panic and driving it to react in inappropriate ways.

It seems that the primary breeding ground for what might, in the widest possible sense of the word, be understood as an opposition in the post-totalitarian system is living within the truth.

The Two Winds by the Movimiento Zapatista (Subcomandante Marcos)

There are powerful texts that continue to be written by the Zapatista movement, but this one remains, in my mind, one of the most poignant pieces showing the potential of Marxist thought for the analysis of social reality. This is one text I have kept in full due to its unique combination of analysis, its specificity to the Mexican reality, and the beautifully written suggestive prose.


Chiapas: The Southeast in Two Winds. A Storm and a Prophecy

[This essay by Insurgent Subcommander Marcos of the Zapatista National Liberation Army was written in August of 1992. Although it was not released publicly until January 27, 1994, we have placed it first because it puts the Zapatista uprising in context.]

The First Wind: The One From Above

Chapter One

This chapter tells how the supreme government was affected by the poverty of the Indigenous peoples of Chiapas and endowed the area with hotels, prisons, barracks, and a military airport. It also tells how the beast feeds on the blood of the people, as well as other miserable and unfortunate happenings.

Suppose that you live in the North, Center, or West of this country. Suppose that you heed the old SECOTUR (Department of Tourism) slogan, “Get to know Mexico first.” Suppose that you decide to visit the Southeast of your country and that in the Southeast you choose to visit the state of Chiapas. Suppose that you drive there (getting there by airplane is not only expensive but unlikely, a mere fantasy: There are only two “civilian” airports and one military one). Suppose that you take the Transitsmica Highway. Suppose that you pay no attention to the Army barracks located at Matías Romero and that you continue on to Ventosa. Suppose that you don’t notice the Department of Government’s immigration checkpoint near there (the checkpoint makes you think that you are leaving one country and entering another). Suppose that you decide to take a left and head towards Chiapas. Several kilometers further on you will leave the state of Oaxaca and you will see a big sign that reads, “WELCOME TO CHIAPAS.” Have you found it? Good, suppose you have. You have entered by one of the three existing roads into Chiapas: The road into the northern part of the state, the road along the Pacific coast, and the road you entered by are the three ways to get to this Southeastern corner of the country by land. But the state’s natural wealth doesn’t leave only by way of these three roads. Chiapas loses blood through many veins: Through oil and gas ducts, electric lines, railways, through bank accounts, trucks, vans, boats and planes, through clandestine paths, gaps, and forest trails. This land continues to pay tribute to the imperialists: petroleum, electricity, cattle, money, coffee, banana, honey, corn, cacao, tobacco, sugar, soy, melon, sorghum, mamey, mango, tamarind, avocado, and Chiapaneco blood flows as a result of the thousand teeth sunk into the throat of the Mexican Southeast. These raw materials, thousands of millions of tons of them, flow to Mexican ports and railroads, air and truck transportation centers. From there they are sent to different parts of the world: The United States, Canada, Holland, Germany, Italy, Japan, but with the same fate — to feed imperialism. The fee that capitalism imposes on the Southeastern part of this country oozes, as it has since from the beginning, blood and mud.

A handful of businesses, one of which is the Mexican State, take all the wealth out of Chiapas and in exchange leave behind their mortal and pestilent mark: in 1989 these businesses took 1,222,669,000,000 pesos from Chiapas and only left behind 616,340,000,000 pesos worth of credit and public works. More than 600,000,000,000 pesos went to the belly of the beast.

In Chiapas, Pemex [the national oil company] has 86 teeth clenched in the townships of Estación Juárez, Reforma, Ostuacán, Pichucalco, and Ocosingo. Every day they suck out 92,000 barrels of petroleum and 517,000,000,000 cubic feet of gas. They take away the petroleum and gas, and in exchange leave behind the mark of capitalism: ecological destruction, agricultural plunder, hyperinflation, alcoholism, prostitution, and poverty. The beast is still not satisfied and has extended its tentacles to the Lacandona jungle: eight petroleum deposits are under exploration. The paths are made with machetes by the same campesinos who are left without land by the insatiable beast. The trees fall and dynamite explodes on land where campesinos are not allowed to cut down trees to cultivate. Every tree that is cut down costs them a fine that is 10 times the minimum wage, and a jail sentence. The poor cannot cut down trees, but the petroleum beast can, a beast that every day falls more and more into foreign hands. The campesinos cut them down to survive, the beast to plunder.

Chiapas also bleeds coffee. Thirty-five percent of the coffee produced in Mexico comes from this area. The industry employs 87,000 people. Forty-seven percent of the coffee is for national consumption and 53% is exported abroad, mainly to the United States and Europe. More than 100,000 tons of coffee are taken from this state to fatten the beast’s bank accounts: in 1988 a kilo of pergamino coffee was sold abroad for 8,000 pesos. The Chiapaneco producers were paid 2,500 pesos or less.

The second most important plunder, after coffee, is beef. Three million head of cattle wait for middle-men and a small group of businessmen to take them away to fill refrigerators in Arriaga, Villahermosa, and Mexico City. The cattle are sold for 400 pesos per kilo by the poor farmers and resold by the middle-men and businessmen for up to ten times the price they paid for them.

The tribute that capitalism demands from Chiapas has no historical parallel. Fifty-five percent of national hydroelectric energy comes from this state, along with 20% of Mexico’s total electricity. However, only a third of the homes in Chiapas have electricity. Where do the 12,907 kilowatts produced annually by hydroelectric plants in Chiapas go?

In spite of the current trend toward ecological awareness, the plunder of wood continues in Chiapas’s forests. Between 1981 and 1989, 2,444,777 cubic meters of precious woods, conifers, and tropical trees were taken from Chiapas. They were taken to Mexico City, Puebla, Veracruz, and Quintana Roo. In 1988 wood exports brought a revenue of 23,900,000,000 pesos, 6,000% more than in 1980.

The honey that is produced in 79,000 beehives in Chiapas goes entirely to US and European markets. The 2,756 tons of honey produced annually in the Chiapaneco countryside is converted into dollars which the people of Chiapas never see.

Of the corn produced in Chiapas, more than half goes to the domestic market. Chiapas is one of the largest corn producers in the country. Sorghum grown in Chiapas goes to Tabasco. Ninety percent of the tamarind goes to Mexico City and other states. Two-thirds of the avocados and all of the mameys are sold outside of the state. Sixty-nine percent of the cacao goes to the national market, and 31% is exported to the US, Holland, Japan, and Italy. The majority of the bananas produced are exported.

What does the beast leave behind in exchange for all it takes away?

Chiapas has a total area of 75,634.4 square kilometers, some 7.5 million hectares. It is the eighth largest state and is divided into 111 townships organized, for the purposes of looting, into nine economic regions. Forty percent of the nation’s plant varieties, 36% of its mammal species, 34% of its reptiles and amphibians, 66% of its bird species, 20% of its fresh-water fish, and 80% of its butterfly species are found in Chiapas. Seven percent of the total national rainfall falls in Chiapas. But its greatest wealth is the 3.5 million people of Chiapas, two-thirds of whom live and die in rural communities. Half of them don’t have potable water and two-thirds have no sewage service. Ninety percent of the rural population pay little or no taxes.

Communication in Chiapas is a grotesque joke for a state that produces petroleum, electricity, coffee, wood, and cattle for the hungry beast. Only two-thirds of the municipal seats have paved-road access. Twelve thousand communities have no other means of transport and communication than mountain trails. Since the days of Porfirio Díaz, the railroad lines have serviced capitalism rather than the people. The railroad line that follows the coast (there are only two lines: the other crosses the northern part of the state) dates back to the turn of the century, and its tonnage is limited by the old bridges that cross the canyons of the Southeast. The only port in Chiapas, Puerto Madero, is just one more way for the beast to extract the state’s resources.

Education? The worst in the country. At the elementary school level, 72 out of every 100 children don’t finish the first grade. More than half of the schools only offer up to a third grade education and half of the schools only have one teacher for all the courses offered. There are statistics, although they are kept secret of course, that show that many Indigenous children are forced to drop out of school due to their families’ need to incorporate them into the system of exploitation. In any Indigenous community it is common to see children carrying corn and wood, cooking, or washing clothes during school hours. Of the 16,058 classrooms in 1989, only 96 were in Indigenous zones.

Industry? Look, 40% of Chiapas’s “industry” consists of Nixtamal mills, tortillas, and wood furniture mills. Large companies (petroleum and electricity), 0.2% of the total industry, belong to the Mexican government (and soon to foreigners). Medium-sized industry, 0.4% of the total industry, is made up of sugar refineries and fish, seafood, flour, milk, and coffee processing plants. Of the state’s industry, 94% of the area’s industry is micro-industry.

The health conditions of the people of Chiapas are a clear example of the capitalist imprint: One-and-a-half million people have no medical services at their disposal. There are 0.2 clinics for every 1,000 inhabitants, one-fifth of the national average. There are 0.3 hospital beds for every 1,000 Chiapanecos, one third the amount in the rest of Mexico. There is one operating room per 100,000 inhabitants, one half of the amount in the rest of Mexico. There are 0.5 doctors and 0.4 nurses per 1,000 people, one-half of the national average.

Health and nutrition go hand in hand in poverty. Fifty-four percent of the population of Chiapas suffer from malnutrition, and in the highlands and forest this percentage increases to 80%. A campesino’s average diet consists of coffee, corn, tortillas, and beans.

This is what capitalism leaves as payment for everything that it takes away…

This part of the Mexican territory, which willingly annexed itself to the young independent republic in 1824, appeared in national geography when the petroleum boom reminded the country that there was a Southeast (82% of Pemex’s petrochemical plants are in the Southeast; in 1990 two-thirds of public investment in the Southeast was in energy). Chiapas’s experience of exploitation goes back for centuries. In times past, wood, fruits, animals, and men went to the metropolis through the veins of exploitation, just as they do today. Like the banana republics, but at the peak of neoliberalism and “libertarian revolutions,” the Southeast continues to export raw materials, just as it did 500 years ago. It continues to import capitalism’s principal product: death and misery.

One million Indigenous people live in these lands and share a disorienting nightmare with mestizos and ladinos: their only option, 500 years after the “Meeting of Two Worlds,” is to die of poverty or repression. The programs to improve the conditions of poverty, a small bit of social democracy which the Mexican state throws about and which, under the regime of Salinas de Gortari carries the name Pronasol, are a joke that brings bloody tears to those who live under the rain and sun.

Welcome! You have arrived in the poorest state in the country: Chiapas.

Suppose that you drive on to Ocosocoatla and from there down to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state capital. You don’t stay long. Tuxtla Gutierrez is only a large warehouse which stores products from other parts of the state. Here you find some of the wealth which will be sent to whatever destinations the capitalists decide. You don’t stay long, you have just barely touched the lips of the wild beast’s bloody jaws. You go on to Chiapas de Corzo without noticing the Nestle’ factory that is there, and you begin to climb up into the mountains. What do you see? One thing is certain, you have entered another world, an Indigenous world. Another world, but the same as that in which millions of people in the rest of the country live.

Three hundred thousand Tzotziles, 120,000 Choles, 90,000 Zoques, and 70,000 Tojolabales inhabit this Indigenous world. The supreme government recognizes that “only” half of these 1,000,000 Indigenous people are illiterate.

Continue along the mountain road and you arrive in the region known as the Chiapaneco highlands. Here, more than 500 years ago, Indigenous people were the majority, masters and owners of land and water. Now they are only the majority in population and in poverty. Drive on until you reach San Cristóbal de las Casas, which 100 years ago was the state capital (disagreements among the bourgeoisie robbed it of the dubious honor of being the capital of the poorest state in Mexico). No, don’t linger. If Tuxtla Gutierrez is a large warehouse, San Cristóbal is a large market. From many different routes the Tzotziles, Tzeltales, Choles, Tojolabales, and Zoques bring the Indigenous tribute to capitalism. Each brings something different: wood, coffee, cloth, handicrafts, fruits, vegetables, corn. Everyone brings something: sickness, ignorance, jeers, and death. This is the poorest region of the poorest state in the country. Welcome to San Cristóbal de las Casas, a “Colonial City” according to the history books, although the majority of the population is Indigenous. Welcome to Pronasol’s huge market. Here you can buy or sell anything except Indigenous dignity. Here everything is expensive except death. But don’t stay too long, continue along the road, the proud result of the tourist infrastructure. In 1988 there were 6,270 hotel rooms, 139 restaurants, and 42 travel agencies in this state. This year, 1,058,098 tourists visited Chiapas and left 250,000,000,000 pesos in the hands of restaurant and hotel owners.

Have you calculated the numbers? Yes, you’re right: there are seven hotel rooms for every 1,000 tourists while there are only 0.3 hospital beds per 1,000 Chiapaneco citizens. Leave the calculations behind and drive on, noticing the three police officials in berets jogging along the shoulder of the road. Drive by the Public Security station and continue on passing hotels, restaurants, large stores and heading towards the exit to Comitán. Leaving San Cristóbal behind you will see the famous San Cristóbal caves surrounded by leafy forest. Do you see the sign? No, you are not mistaken, this natural park is administered by…the Army! Without leaving your uncertainty behind, drive on…Do you see them? Modern buildings, nice homes, paved roads…Is it a university? Workers’ housing? No, look at the sign next to the cannons closely and read: “General Army Barracks of the 31st Military Zone.” With the olive-green image still in your eyes, drive on to the intersection and decide not to go to Comitán so that you will avoid the pain of seeing that, a few meters ahead, on the hill that is called the Foreigner, North American military personnel are operating, and teaching their Mexican counterparts to operate radar. Decide that it is better to go to Ocosingo since ecology and all that nonsense is very fashionable. Look at the trees, breath deeply…Do you feel better? Yes? Then be sure to keep looking to your left, because if you don’t you will see, seven kilometers ahead, another magnificent construction with the noble symbol of SOLIDARIDAD on the facade. Don’t look. I tell you, look the other way. You don’t notice that this new building is…a jail (evil tongues say that this is a benefit of Pronasol; now campesinos won’t have to go all the way to Cerro Hueco, the prison in the state capital). No brother, don’t lose heart, the worst is always hidden: Excessive poverty discourages tourism. Continue on, down to Huixtán, up to Oxchuc, look at the beautiful waterfall where the Jatate river, whose waters cross the Lacandona Jungle, begins. Pass by Cuxulja and instead of following the detour to Altamirano drive on till you reach Ocosingo: “The Door to the Lacandona Jungle…”

Good, stay a while. Take a quick tour around the city… Principal points of interest? The two large constructions at the entrance to the city are brothels, next door is a jail, the building further beyond, a church, this other one is a beef-processing plant, that other one, Army barracks, over there is the court, the Municipal building, and way over there is Pemex. The rest are small piled-up houses which crumble when the huge Pemex trucks and ranch pick-up trucks pass by.

What does it look like? A Porfirista-type large-landed estate? But that ended 75 years ago! No, don’t follow the road that goes to San Quintín, in front of the Montes Azules Reserve. Don’t go to where the Jatate and Perlas rivers join, don’t go down there, don’t walk for three eight-hour days, don’t go to San Martín and see that it is a very poor and small community, don’t approach that shed that is falling to pieces. What is it? A sometimes church, school, meeting room. Now it is a school. It is 11 a.m.. No, don’t go closer, don’t look in, don’t look at the four groups of children riddled with tapeworms and lice, half-naked, don’t look at the four young Indigenous teachers who work for miserable pay for which they have to walk three days, the same three days that you just walked, to collect. Don’t notice that the only division between the classrooms is a small hall. Up to what grade do they teach here? Third. No, don’t look at the posters which are the only thing that the government has sent to these children. Don’t look at them: They are posters about AIDS prevention.

Better for us to move on, let’s return to the paved roads. Yes, I know that it is in bad condition. Let’s leave Ocosingo, continue to admire the countryside… The owners? Yes, ranch owners. What is produced? Cattle, coffee, corn… Did you see the National Indigenous Institute? Yes, the one as you leave the city. Did you see those pickup trucks? They are given on credit to Indigenous campesinos. They only take unleaded gas because it’s better for the environment… There is no unleaded gas in Ocosingo? Well, that’s not a big thing… Yes, you are right, the government is worried about the campesinos. Of course evil tongues say that there are guerrillas in these mountains and that the government’s financial aid is really to buy Indigenous people’s loyalty, but these are rumors, surely they are just trying to undermine Pronasol… What? The Citizen’s Defense Committee? Oh yes! It consists of a group of “heroic” ranchers, traders, and corrupt union bosses who organize small guards to threaten the people. No, I already told you that the Porfirista large-landed estate was done away with 75 years ago… It would be better for us to move on…At the next intersection take a left. No, don’t go towards Palenque. Let’s go to Chilón… Pretty, no? Yes.

Yajalon…it’s very modern, it even has a gas station… Look, there’s a bank, the municipal building, the courthouse, over there the Army… It looks like another hacienda? Let’s go and you won’t see those other large, modern buildings on the outskirts of town, along the road to Tila and Sabanilla with their big beautiful SOLIDARIDAD signs, you won’t see that it is…a jail.

Good, we have arrived at the intersection. Now to Ocosingo…Palenque? Are you sure? Okay, let’s go. Yes, the countryside is beautiful. Are those ranches? You’re correct: they produce cattle, coffee, wood. Look, we’re already at Palenque. A quick tour of the city? Okay. Those are hotels, over there restaurants, the municipal building, the courthouse, those are the Army barracks, and over there… What? No, I already know what you’re going to tell me… Don’t say it… Tired? Okay, we’ll stop for a bit. You don’t want to see the pyramids? No? Okay. Xi’Nich? Ah…an Indigenous march. Yes, it’s going to Mexico City. How far? 1,106 kilometers. Results? The government receives their petitions. Yes, that’s all. Are you still tired? More? Let’s wait… To Bonampak? The road is very bad. Okay, let’s go. Yes, the panoramic route…This is the Federal Military Reserve, that other one belongs to the Navy, the one over there belongs to the Department of Government… Is it always like this? No, sometimes they top it off with a campesinos’ protest march. Tired? Do you want to go back? Okay. Other places? Different places? In what country? Mexico? You will see the same. The colors will change, the languages, the countryside, the names, but the people, the exploitation, the poverty and death are the same. Just look closely in any state in the Republic. Well, good luck…And if you need a tourist guide please be sure to let me know. I’m at your service. Oh! One more thing. It will not always be this way. Another Mexico? No, the same…I am talking about something else, about other winds beginning to blow, as if another wind is picking up…

Chapter Two

This chapter tells the story of the Governor, an apprentice to the viceroy, and his heroic fight against the progressive clergy and his adventures with the feudal cattle, coffee and business lords. It also tells other equally fantastic tales.

Once upon a time there was a viceroy made of chocolate with a peanut for a nose. The viceroy’s apprentice, Governor Patrocinio González Garrido, in the manner of the old monarchs who were put in power by the Spanish crown during the Conquest, has re-organized the geography of Chiapas. The assignment of spaces to the urban and rural categories is a somewhat sophisticated exercise of power but when directed by Mr. González Garrido’s denseness, it has reached exquisite levels of stupidity. The viceroy decided that cities with services and benefits should be for those who already have everything. And he decided, the viceroy that is, that the masses are fine out in the open, exposed to wind and rough weather, and that they only deserve space in the jails, which never cease to be uncomfortable. Because of this, the viceroy decided to construct jails in the outskirts of the cities so that the proximity of the undesirable and delinquent masses would not disturb the rich. Jails and Army barracks are the principal works promoted by this governor in Chiapas. His friendship with ranchers and powerful businessmen is a secret to no one. Neither is his animosity for the three dioceses which regulate the state’s Catholic life. The Diocese of San Cristóbal, headed by Bishop Samuel Ruiz, is a constant menace to González Garrido’s reorganizing project. Hoping to modernize the absurd system of exploitation and extraction which prevails in Chiapas, Patrocinio González comes up against the stubbornness of religious and secular figures who support and preach Catholicism’s option for the poor.

With the hypocritical applause of Aguirre Franco, the Bishop of Tuxtla Gutierrez, and the mute approval of the Bishop of Tapachula, González Garrido sustains and gives new life to the “heroic” conspiracies of ranchers and businessmen against the members of the Diocese of San Cristóbal. “Don Samuel’s teams,” as they are called by some, are not made up of inexperienced believers: Before Patrocinio González Garrido had even dreamed of being state governor, the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas preached the right to freedom and justice. For one of the country’s most backward bourgeoisie, the agricultural bourgeoisie, this could only mean one thing: rebellion. These rancher and business “patriots” and “believers” know how to prevent rebellion: the existence of privately financed, armed paramilitary groups trained by members of the Federal Army, Public Security police and state law is well known by the campesinos who suffer from their threats, torture and gunshots.

A few months ago, Father Joel Padrón from the parish of Simojovel was arrested. Accused by the region’s ranchers of initiating and taking part in land take-overs, Father Joel was arrested by state authorities and held in the Cerro Hueco Jail in the state capital. The mobilization of the members of the Diocese of San Cristóbal (those of Tuxtla Gutierrez and Tapachula were conspicuous in their absence) and a federal compromise succeeded in obtaining the parish priest Padrón’s freedom.

While thousands of campesinos marched in Tuxtla Gutierrez to demand Padrón’s freedom, ranchers in Ocosingo sent their paramilitary forces to clear out property-owning campesinos. Four hundred men, armed by the ranchers, destroyed and burned houses, beat Indigenous women and murdered a campesino, Juan, by shooting him in the face. After the expulsion, the paramilitary forces- composed mostly of workers from local ranches and small-property owners proud of partaking in raids with the young ranchers-drove along the region’s roads in pickup trucks provided by their masters. Ostentatiously displaying their arms, drunk and intoxicated, they shouted: “Ranchers are number one!” and warned everyone that it was only the beginning. Undaunted, municipal authorities in Ocosingo and soldiers stationed in the region looked passively on the gunmen’s triumphant parade.

In Tuxtla Gutierrez, almost 10,000 campesinos marched in favor of Father Padrón’s release. In a corner of Ocosingo, Juan’s widow buried her husband, victim of the proud ranchers. There was no march or protest petition for Juan’s death. This is Chiapas.

Recently, Viceroy González Garrido was the protagonist of a new scandal, which was uncovered because the press reported the story. With the viceroy’s approval, Ocosingo’s feudal lords organized the Committee for Citizen Defense, a blatant attempt to institutionalize their neo-Porfirista paramilitary forces that keep order in the countryside of Chiapas. Surely nothing would have happened had it not been for the discovery of a plot to assassinate the parish priest Pablo Ibarren and the nun María del Carmen, along with Samuel Ruiz, the Bishop of San Cristóbal. The plot was reported by the honest Chiapaneco press, which even now exists, and reached national forums. There were retractions and denials; the viceroy declared that he maintains good relations with the Church and named a special committee to investigate the case. The investigation yielded no results, and the waters returned to their course.

During the same days, government agencies made some horrifying statistics known: in Chiapas 14,500 people die every year, the highest mortality rate in the country. The causes? Curable diseases such as respiratory infections, enteritis, parasites, amoebas, malaria, salmonella, scabies, dengue, pulmonary tuberculosis, trachoma, typhus, cholera and measles. Many say that the figure is actually over 15,000 because deaths in marginalized zones, the majority of the state, are not reported… During Patrocinio González Garrido’s four-year term more than 60,000 Chiapanecos have died, most of them poor. The war against the people, directed by the viceroy and commanded by the feudal lords, consists of methods more subtle than bombardments. There is no mention in the press of this murderous plot which costs lives and land as in the days of the Conquest.

The Committee for Citizen Defense continues to carry out its proselytizing work, holding meetings to convince the rich and poor of the city of Ocosingo that they should organize and arm themselves so that the campesinos won’t enter the city because they will destroy everything, without respecting the rich or the poor. The viceroy smiles with approval.

Chapter Three

This chapter tells how the viceroy had a brilliant idea and put this idea into practice. It also tells how the Empire decreed the death of socialism, and then put itself to the task of carrying out this decree to the great joy of the powerful, the distress of the weak and the indifference of the majority. It tells of Zapata and how he is said to be still be alive. It also tells of other disconcerting events.

The viceroy is worried. The campesinos refuse to applaud the institutional pillage written into the new Article 27 of the Constitution. The viceroy is enraged. The poor aren’t happy with being exploited. They refuse to humbly accept the charity that Pronasol spreads around the Chiapaneco countryside. The viceroy is desperate. He consults his advisors. His advisors tell him an old truth: Jails and military bases aren’t enough to ensure continued domination. It is also necessary to control people’s thoughts. The viceroy is disturbed. He paces his palace. Then he stops and smiles.

XEOCH: Rap and lies for the campesinos.

In Ocosingo and Palenque, Cancue and Chilón, Altamirano and Yajalón, the Indigenous people are celebrating. A new gift from the supreme government has made life a little happier for the peons, small landowners, landless campesinos and impoverished inhabitants of the ejidos. They have been given a local radio station that reaches the most isolated corners of eastern Chiapas. The station’s programming is fitting: Marimbas and rap music proclaim the good news. The Chiapaneco countryside is being modernized. XEOCH transmits from the township of Ocosingo and can be found at 600 Mhz AM from four in the morning till 10 at night. Its news shows abound with lies. They tell of the “disorientation” that “subversive” lay-workers spread among the peasantry, the abundance of aid credits that are never received by the Indigenous communities, and the existence of public works that have never been built. The viceroy is also given time on the air so that he can remind the population with threats that not all is lies and rap music; there are also jails and military bases and a penal code which is the most repressive in the Republic. The penal code punishes any expression of discontent. The laws against demonstrations, rebellion, inciting to riot, etc., demonstrate that the viceroy is careful to maintain everything in order.

There isn’t any reason to fight. Socialism has died. Long live conformity and reform and the modern world and capitalism and all of the cruelties that are associated with them! The viceroy and the feudal lords dance and smile euphorically in their palaces. Their joy is disconcerting for the few free-thinkers who live in the area. Even they are incapable of understanding. They are without hope. It is true that one must fight, but the balance of forces isn’t favorable, now isn’t the time. We must wait longer, maybe years. We must be alert against the adventurers. We must make sure that nothing happens in the cities or in the countryside, that everything continues as always. Socialism has died. Long live capitalism! Radio, the print media, and television proclaim it. It is repeated by some ex-socialists who are now sensationally changed.

Not everyone hears the voices of hopelessness and conformity. Not everyone is carried away by hopelessness. There are millions of people who continue on without hearing the voices of the powerful and the indifferent. They can’t hear; they are deafened by the crying and blood that death and poverty are shouting in their ears. But, when there is a moment of rest, they hear another voice. They don’t hear the voice that comes from above; they hear the voice that is carried to them by the wind from below, a voice that is born in the Indigenous heart of the mountains. This voice speaks to them about justice and freedom, it speaks to them about socialism, about hope…the only hope that exists in the world. The oldest of the old in the Indigenous communities say that there once was a man named Zapata who rose up with his people and sang out, “Land and Freedom!” These old campesinos say that Zapata didn’t die, that he must return. These old campesinos also say that the wind and the rain and the sun tell the campesinos when to cultivate the land, when to plant and when to harvest. They say that hope is also planted and harvested. They also say that the wind and the rain and the sun are now saying something different: that with so much poverty, the time has come to harvest rebellion instead of death. That is what the old campesinos say. The powerful don’t hear; they can’t hear, they are deafened by the brutality that the Empire shouts in their ears. “Zapata,” insists the wind, the wind from below, our wind.

The Second Wind: The Wind From Below

Chapter Four

This chapter tells how dignity and defiance joined hands in the Southeast, and how Jacinto Pérez’s phantoms run through the Chiapaneco highlands. It also tells of a patience that has run out and of other happenings which have been ignored but have major consequences.

These people were born dignified and rebellious, brothers and sisters to the rest of Mexico’s exploited people. They are not just the product of the Annexation Act of 1824, but of a long chain of ignominious acts and rebellions. From the time when cassock and armor conquered this land, dignity and defiance have lived and spread under these rains.

Collective work, democratic thinking, and subjection to the decisions of the majority are more than just traditions in Indigenous zones. They have been the only means of survival, resistance, dignity, and defiance. These “evil ideas,” as they are seen by landholders and businessmen, go against the capitalist precept of “a lot in the hands of a few.”

It has mistakenly been said that the Chiapas rebellion has no counterpart, that it is outside the national experience. This is a lie. The exploited Chiapaneco’s specialty is the same as that of exploited people from Durango, Veracruz, or the plateau of northern Mexico: to fight and to lose. If the voices of those who write history speak excessively, it is because the voice of the oppressed does not speak…yet. There is no historic, national, or regional calendar that has documented each and every rebellion against this system that is imposed and maintained with blood and fire throughout the national territory. In Chiapas, this rebel voice is only heard when it shakes the world of the landowners and businesspeople. Indeed, the phantom of Indigenous barbarism strikes government-building walls and gains access with the help of revolution, trickery, and threats. If the rebellion in the Southeast loses, as the rebellions lost in the North, Center, and West, it is not the result of bad timing, it is because wind is the fruit of the land; it comes in time and ripens in the breasts of those who have nothing but dignity and rebelliousness. And this wind from below, that of rebellion and dignity, is not just an answer to the wind from above. It is not just an angry response or the destruction of an unjust and arbitrary system. Rather it carries with it a new proposal, a hope of converting rebellion and dignity into freedom and dignity.

How will this new voice make itself heard in these lands and across the country? How will this hidden wind blow, this wind which now blows only in the mountains and canyons without yet descending to the valleys where money rules and lies govern? This wind will come from the mountains. It is already being born under the trees and is conspiring for a new world, so new that it is barely an intuition in the collective heart that inspires it…

Chapter Five

This chapter tells how the dignity of the Indigenous people tried to make itself heard, but its voice only lasted a little while. It also tell how voices that spoke before are speaking again today and that the Indians are walking forward once again but this time with firm footsteps. They are walking together with other dispossessed peoples to take what belongs to them. The music of death that now plays only for those who have nothing will now play for everyone. It also tells of other frightful things which have happened and, they say, must happen.

The Indigenous march to Xi’Nich, composed of campesinos from Palenque, Ocosingo, and Salto de Agua, demonstrates the system’s absurdity. These Indigenous people had to walk 1,106 kilometers to make themselves heard. They had to go to the capital of the Republic in order for the central power to arrange a meeting with the viceroy. They arrived in Mexico City when capitalism was painting a frightful tragedy across the skies of Jalisco. They arrived at the capital of old New Spain, now Mexico, exactly 500 years after the foreign nightmare imposed itself in the night of this land. They arrived and all the honest and noble people, of which there are still some, listened to them and the voices that oppress them today in the Southeast, North, Center and West of the country also listened to them. They walked back, another 1,106 kilometers, their bags filled with promises. Again, nothing came of it….

In the municipal seat of Simojovel campesinos belonging to the CIOAC organization were attacked by people paid by local ranchers. The campesinos in Simojovel have decided to stop being silent and to respond to the ranchers threats. Campesinos surround the municipal seat. Nothing and no one enters or leaves without their consent. The Federal Army withdraws to its barracks, the police retreat, and the state’s feudal lords demand arms in an attempt to restore order and respect. Negotiating commissions come and go. The conflict appears to have resolved itself. But the causes persist. With the same outward appearances everything returns to calm.

In the town of Betania, in the outskirts of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Indigenous people are regularly detained and harassed by judicial agents for cutting firewood for their homes. The judicial agents say that they are only doing this to protect the environment. The Indigenous people decide to stop being silent and kidnap three judicial officials. They take the Panamerican highway and cut off communications to the east of San Cristóbal. At the intersection between Ocosingo and Comitán, campesinos are holding the judiciaries and they demand to speak to the viceroy before they will agree to unblock the road. Business comes to a halt, tourism collapses. Negotiating commissions come and go. The conflict appears to resolve itself but the causes persist. With the same outward appearances, everything returns to calm.

In Marque’s de Comillas, in the township of Ocosingo, campesinos cut wood to survive. The judicial officials arrest them and confiscate the wood for their commander. The Indigenous people decide to stop being silent and they take the agents’ vehicles and kidnap the agents. The Governor sends Public Security police who are kidnapped in the same way. The Indigenous people hold on to the trucks, the wood and the prisoners. They let the prisoners go. There is no response. They march to Palenque to demand solutions and the Army oppresses them and kidnaps their leaders. They hold on to the vehicles. Negotiating commissions come and go. The government lets the leaders go, the campesinos return the vehicles. The conflict appears to resolve itself but the causes persist. With the same outward appearance everything returns to calm.

In the municipal seat of Ocosingo, 4,000 Indigenous campesinos from the organization ANCIEZ march from different points of the city. Three marches converge in front of the Municipal building. The municipal president doesn’t know what it’s all about and flees. On the floor of his office is a calendar indicating the date: April 10, 1992. Outside Indigenous campesinos from Ocosingo, Oxchuc, Huixtán, Chilón, Yajalon, Sabanilla, Salto de Agua, Palenque, Altamirano, Margaritas, San Cristóbal, San Andre’s and Cancuc dance in front of a giant image of Zapata painted by one of them, recite poetry, sing, and speak. Only they are listening. The landowners, businessmen, and judicial officials are closed up in their homes and shops, the federal garrison appears deserted. The campesinos shout that Zapata lives and the struggle continues. One of them reads a letter addressed to Carlos Salinas de Gortari [President of Mexico, 1988 — present] in which they accuse him of having brought all of the Agrarian Reform gains made under Zapata to an end, of selling the country with the North American Free Trade Agreement and of bringing Mexico back to the times of Porfirio Díaz. They declare forcefully that they will not recognize Salinas’ reforms to Article 27 of the Political Constitution. At two o’clock in the afternoon the demonstration disperses, in apparent order, but the causes persist. With the same outward appearances everything returns to calm.

Abasolo is an ejido in the township of Ocosingo. For years, campesinos took land that legally belonged to them. Three of this community’s leaders have been put in jail and tortured by the Governor. The Indigenous people decide to stop being silent and they take the San Cristóbal-Ocosingo highway. Negotiating commissions come and go. The leaders are freed. The conflict appears to resolve itself but the causes persist. With the same outward appearance everything returns to calm.

Antonio dreams of owning the land he works on, he dreams that his sweat is paid for with justice and truth, he dreams that there is a school to cure ignorance and medicine to scare away death, he dreams of having electricity in his home and that his table is full, he dreams that his country is free and that this is the result of its people governing themselves, and he dreams that he is at peace with himself and with the world. He dreams that he must fight to obtain this dream, he dreams that there must be death in order to gain life. Antonio dreams and then he awakens… Now he knows what to do and he sees his wife crouching by the fire, hears his son crying. He looks at the sun rising in the East, and, smiling, grabs his machete.

The wind picks up, he rises and walks to meet others. Something has told him that his dream is that of many and he goes to find them.

The viceroy dreams that his land is agitated by a terrible wind that rouses everything, he dreams that all he has stolen is taken from him, that his house is destroyed, and that his reign is brought down. He dreams and he doesn’t sleep. The viceroy goes to the feudal lords and they tell him that they have been having the same dream. The viceroy cannot rest. So he goes to his doctor and together they decide that it is some sort of Indian witchcraft and that they will only be freed from this dream with blood. The viceroy orders killings and kidnappings and he builds more jails and Army barracks. But the dream continues and keeps him tossing and turning and unable to sleep.

Everyone is dreaming in this country. Now it is time to wake up…

The storm is here. From the clash of these two winds the storm will be born, its time has arrived. Now the wind from above rules, but the wind from below is coming…

The prophecy is here. When the storm calms, when rain and fire again leave the country in peace, the world will no longer be the world but something better.

The Lacandona Jungle, August 1992

Women, Witch-Hunting and Enclosures in Africa Today by Silvia Federici

Feminist perspectives within Marxist thought are complex and varied, since many emerge only in the past few decades, perhaps less weighted by old debates regarding Marxist thought from, for example, the Lacanian perspective or the Frankfurt School or other variants. The work I have been reading in the past few years shows how phenomena that might apparently be inescrutable or too puzzling with conventional political economy tools, become transparently clear with a feminist lens. I have chosen a text by Silvia Federici, but I would also recomment Rita Segato, Bell Hooks, Francois Verges, which I was reading (in Spanish) during my time teaching in Madrid last year, in the wonderful collection Mapas of Traficantes de Sueños. I apologize that in this Federici selection I could not recover the rich and informative footnotes, that are available in the full text.

FULL TEXT AVAILABLE HERE: Sozial.Geschichte Online 3 (2010) 2

It is by now well documented that the past three decades have seen thousands of mostly African and Indian women accused of being witches and killed or maimed or chased out of their communities. Since their inception, these attacks have been expanding to new regions and new groups, also targeting children and elderly men. Long reported only by journalists and a handful of anthropologists, witchcraft killings have lately come to the attention of human rights organizations and the United Nations.1 But the driving forces behind them and their implications, especially for women, are only superficially analyzed. It is clear, moreover, that there is hardly a commitment, at a local or global level, to investigate their causes and find remedies against them, although it is recognized that improving the economic status of women and the elderly, for example through the introduction of pension schemes, would have a positive effect.2 Social movements have generally not addressed this subject, plausibly for fear of contributing to the hostile ideological campaign to which Africans and other colonized populations are subjected in the international press. The criticism directed at US feminists for their denunciation of female genital mutilation during the 1980s may also have been a consideration. I myself have wondered whether my concern with this subject might not be viewed as an undue interference in matters that can be manipulated to justify imperial agendas. I have however set aside this preoccupation given that my objective is precisely to highlight the role played in these witch-hunts by the neo-liberal economic policies which the international financial institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund above all) have imposed on the countries of the global South during the 1980s and 1990s. I argue, in fact, that the current persecution of ‘witches’ is rooted in the intense social crisis that economic liberalization has produced in much of the world, to the extent that it has stripped entire populations of their means of subsistence, torn communities apart, deepened economic inequalities and forced people to compete for diminishing resources. There is evidence, for instance, that many witch-hunts are linked to the breakdown of communal land ownership patterns and the land privatization drives that neo-liberal economists have prescribed. Such land privatization drives see local authorities, businessmen and landowners cooperate in grabbing land and striking at those less capable of defending themselves or resisting expropriation.

To make these points is not to underestimate or exonerate the deep-seated misogyny and patriarchalism that these attacks on women reveal. It means, however, to recognize that the governments and international financial institutions that have promoted this new round of ‘primitive accumulation’ bear a responsibility for these killings. Such recognition constitutes a necessary step, in my view, both towards identifying the causes of this phenomenon and towards undermining the assumption that witch-hunting is no more than a legacy of African or Indian traditions.

Why Speak of Witch-Hunts?

In contrast with the persecution of so-called witches that took place in Europe from the 15th to the 18th centuries, and which was primarily instigated by clerical and state authorities, the present attacks would seem to come from below, as a response to local rivalries, familial jealousies or fears generated by sudden, inexplicable deaths. But the scale of the persecutions, their geographical extension across cultural and religious boundaries, the similarities of form and context and the fact that the same social groups are victimized suggest broad underlying causalities and even unarticulated schemes whose nature I will try to identify.

It is worth noting, in this context, that state-led persecution of witches is not unheard of. A campaign against witches and ‘black magicians’ has been conducted for some years by Saudi Arabia’s religious police, leading to several arrests and death sentences, including that of a woman accused of having caused impotence in a man.3 In March 2009, hundreds of people in Gambia were arrested by members of the presidential guard and driven to camps where they were forced to drink poisonous beverages; the detainees were charged with witchcraft.4 In Malaysia, Muslim clerics are calling for anti-witchcraft laws, arguing that robbers use magic spells. Moreover, anthropologists have noted a new tendency among African politicians to use magical claims to project political power ever since the early 1990s. 5 These examples suggest a transformation in the language and tools of power, of which the revamping of religion as a means of political legitimation is clearly a part. But they still belong to a different category than the broad campaigns against ‘witches’ that have developed in the last three decades, and which appear as a veritable war against women.

Exact figures are lacking, for many killings are not reported. But it is generally agreed that the number of people, mostly elderly women, who have been murdered on charges of witchcraft during the last three decades is in the tens of thousands in Africa alone. In parts of the continent (Northern Ghana, South Africa), there are now ‘witch refugee camps’ where women threatened with death, or expelled by their communities, live in exile, supported by local governments or NGOs.6 According to a UN report, 2,500 killings were recorded in India between 1987 and 2003, but it is agreed that the actual figure is much higher and that many more women were tortured, maimed, traumatized for life. Hundreds of attacks on ‘witches’ have also been reported in Nepal, Papua New Guinea, more recently East Timor, and in parts of South America.

As mentioned, the authorities generally fail to punish or even pursue the witch-hunters, though these often act openly and in the presence of bystanders. In Africa, many attacks on ‘witches’ are carried out at night, by groups of vigilantes usually composed of young men and acting under cover of darkness. But witch-hunts are also very public events, perpetrated in full daylight. A recent attack on five people accused of being witches in the Kisii region of Kenya was video-recorded and can be seen on YouTube.7 In some cases, witch-finders have gone from village to village, invited by local chiefs, submitting everyone to frightening interrogations and punishments. 8 Mob killings are frequent in India and Nepal, where the murder of ‘witches’ often occurs after a village court has sentenced the accused to death and she has been paraded naked through the streets. Some Indian states have passed anti-witchhunting legislation (Bihar in 1999, Jhakharand in 2001), but few of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

Why have governments been so unresponsive and, most crucially, how to account for these attacks on women reminiscent of the European 17th century witch-hunts? These are difficult questions to answer, if we wish to go beyond the immediate causes. What is certain, however, is that much more is at stake than ‘tradition’ and ‘superstition’.

We can note, in this context, that anti-witchcraft movements only emerged in Africa and India during the colonial period. 9 Prior to colonization, Africans believed in the existence of evildoers, embodiments of evil spirits, capable of causing death, but rarely did they kill the suspected ‘witches’. 10 A confession or the payment of a fine was usually sufficient for reconciliation. It is even questionable whether we can speak of ‘witchcraft’ with reference to pre-colonial times, as the concept is a European construct, the product of a specific historical and political trajectory, irreducible to any African belief system. In India, it was with the coming of the Europeans that the shamanic powers attributed to women were assimilated to black magic.11 In any case, no appeal to ‘tradition’ can explain why it was during the 1980s and 1990s that witch-hunting became a serious problem in so many parts of the world. Indeed, all the evidence indicates that today’s witch-hunts are not a legacy of the past but an effect of the deep crisis that globalization and the neo-liberal restructuring of the economy have produced within the fabric of social life in much of Africa and Asia.

2. Witch-Hunting and Primitive Accumulation

A powerful description of this crisis is found in Contemporary Witch-Hunting in Gusii, Southwestern Kenya by Justus Ogembo,12 an anthropologist and a native of the area who has given us one of the very few studies of the social context in which witch killings are occurring. Ogembo points a finger at the structural adjustment and trade liberalization programs that were introduced in Africa in the mid 1980s by the World Bank and the IMF, ostensibly to attract foreign investment and make African labor more competitive on the world market. But instead of being a path to economic development, these programs have so destabilized African communities, so weakened their reproductive systems that many people have become convinced of being the victims of an evil conspiracy.13 Structural adjustment has created massive unemployment, devalued the local currency and placed basic commodities out of reach of most of the population. It has also gutted public services (health, education, transport). Its effects have thus been traumatic for millions of people who have found themselves unable to provide for their families and communities virtually overnight. As Ogembo points out, rising inequalities and mortality rates, the latter due to malnutrition, poor road maintenance and the spread of AIDS, have contributed to fuel the suspicion of foul play. In Gusii all these factors played a role. In the background of the 1992–1994 murders there were the collapse of the price of pyrethrum, one of the two commercial crops grown in the area, an astronomically high unemployment rate following massive retrenchment in the public service sector and the presence of a youth unable to access any form of education or income, thus ready to be hired as vigilantes or in paramilitary operations.

At the same time, many accusations are evidently manufactured to rob people of their property and particularly of their land. Indeed, land plays such a key role in the present witch-hunts that it is tempting to hypothesize that they are primarily a means of land grabbing.

Those most vulnerable to this sort of expropriation are single, and more specifically widowed or divorced women. Typically, women whose husbands have died and who insist on keeping the land the couple has acquired are accused of being witches by the relatives of the deceased. This is as true in Africa as in India and Nepal, especially in regions that have strong patrilineal traditions and where the wife is never completely integrated into the family structure. Accusing women of being witches is an easy way to avoid attending to their land claims.14 But the land question is also central to the dynamics of witchcraft accusations in a more general sense.

Considering the danger the present witch-hunts represent for women and the suffering they inflict on them, their children and their communities, we can only speculate why more feminists have not chosen to speak up and mobilize. Some may think that focusing on this issue will divert attention from broader political concerns like war, global debt and environmental crises. As we have seen, there may also be a reluctance to tackle this subject for fear of promoting colonial stereotypes. Consequently it is mostly journalists and academics who have analyzed witch-hunting; as a result, the issue has been depoliticized. Most accounts are written in a detached mode, exhibiting little outrage over the horrific destiny that so many of the accused have met. Few scholars have words of sympathy for the women, men and children who have been murdered. One US anthropologist has even collaborated with a witch-hunter. For months he followed him from village to village in Zambia, tape-recording his interrogations and publicly performed exorcisms, eventually giving him the photographs he had taken, well aware the witch-hunter would use them to publicize his work.29 Another American scholar, an economist in this case, has used witch-hunting as an example to illustrate the logic of people’s behavior; in a class video, he describes how droughts and economic downturns make it “necessary” for people in impoverished communities “to hack grandma to death.” 30

Feminist interventions, then, are crucial to the creation of a different type of scholarship, one dedicated to better understanding the conditions that produce witch-hunts and to building a constituency of human rights activists and social justice groups committed to ending the persecutions. Models for such scholarship and activism are not lacking. For years, Indian feminists have mobilized public opinion against dowry murders, making it a global issue while at the same time retaining control over its definition. Confronted with the growing number of women killed by fire, starting in the late 1970s, they have launched a broad educational campaign showing that dowries have become for the Indian middle class a means of capital accumulation; the murders were committed by “entrepreneurial families who killed so that their sons could remarry and amass more wealth.”31 The campaign involved street theater, demonstrations and sit-ins in front of both the houses of the murderers and the police stations to pressure the police to arrest the killers. The campaigners also came up with songs and slogans, naming and shaming the killers. They formed neighborhood groups and arranged public meetings where men pledged never to ask for a dowry again. Teachers took to the street to protest against dowry murders. In this way feminists “reversed decades of indifference” and even induced the government to introduce a bill making cruel treatment of one’s wife a punishable offence.32

The same direct action tactics are now being applied to confront the witch-hunters who can continue to torture and kill only as long as they believe they have a license to do so. In India and Nepal some legal support organizations are joining the fight and so are women’s groups. In Kathmandu, a shelter for women charged with witchcraft has been set up. In Africa, women and community groups are also coming forward against the attacks on witches, especially those affecting children.

These forms of mobilization are crucial; they are the first line of resistance to witch-hunting. But for witch-hunts to become a key issue in the international feminist and social justice movements a broad research project is needed providing a “more systematic, more specific” analysis of the connection between “global economic restructuring and the outbreak of witch-hunts and murders.”33 Again echoing Ogembo, we can say that the recent anthropological studies have shed light on the various ways in which globalization has intensified the fear of the occult especially in African societies. But the body of scholarship devoted to this issue is still very limited, and the interpretative framework it provides fails to address many crucial questions.

For instance, what kind of class struggle is taking place in the rural areas of Africa and Asia that is driving many villagers to become expropriators themselves, often of their own kin? Who is manipulating and arming the youth that carries on the attacks against the so-called witches? Who benefits directly and indirectly from the killings? We also need to better understand the history of the Christian, evangelical sects that operate in Africa and have spread to almost every part of the world during the 1990s. What political forces are behind them? What is the significance of the timing of their worldwide crusade, coinciding with the onset of structural adjustment and neo-liberalism? How to explain their obsession with witchcraft and the devil, coupled in most cases with an open endorsement of wealth acquisition and self-enrichment?

In the body of literature analyzing the contemporary witch-hunts, these questions are not asked. Part of the problem is that the motivation driving the contemporary anthropological research on witchhunting is essentially a cultural one. Tracing the return of magic and the fear of the occult on the contemporary scene serves to challenge the assumption that modernity is equivalent to progress rather than uncovering the social dynamics and forces responsible for the murders of ‘witches’. What is needed is a research effort committed to the termination of this persecution. An important aspect of such an effort consists in identifying the social, political and economic forces that create witch-hunters.

Putting Distribution Back at the Center of Economics: Reflections on Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty has recast some important Marxist ideas on capital and growth as they relate to income and wealth distribution, within the tradition of mainstream economics. His long book is full of historical evidence, and deep theoretical thinking, and it became a bestseller spurring countless critiques and responses.

FULL TEXT AVAILABLE HERE: Journal of Economic Perspectives — Volume 29, Number 1 — Winter 2015 — Pages 67–88

When a lengthy book is widely discussed in academic circles and the popular media, it is probably inevitable that the arguments of the book will be simplified in the telling and retelling. In the case of my book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014), a common simplification of the main theme is that because the rate of return on capital r exceeds the growth rate of the economy g, the inequality of wealth is destined to increase indefinitely over time. In my view, the magnitude of the gap between r and g is indeed one of the important forces that can explain historical magnitudes and variations in wealth inequality: in particular, it can explain why wealth inequality was so extreme and persistent in pretty much every society up until World War I (for discussion, see Chapter 10 of my book). That said, the way in which I perceive the relationship between r > g and wealth inequality is often not well-captured in the discussion that has surrounded my book — even in discussions by research economists.

In this essay, I will return to some of the themes of my book and seek to clarify and refocus the discussion concerning those themes. For example, I do not view r > g as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century, or for forecasting the path of income and wealth inequality in the 21st century. Institutional changes and political shocks — which can be viewed as largely endogenous to the inequality and development process itself — played a major role in the past, and will probably continue to do so in the future. In addition, I certainly do not believe that r > g is a useful tool for the discussion of rising inequality of labor income: other mechanismsand policies are much more relevant here, for example, the supply and demand of skills and education. One of my main conclusions is that there is substantial uncertainty about how far income and wealth inequality might rise in the 21st century and that we need more transparency and better information about income and wealth dynamics so that we can adapt our policies and institutions to a changing environment.

My book is primarily about the history of the distribution of income and wealth. Thanks to the cumulative efforts of several dozen scholars, we have been able to collect a relatively large historical database on the structure of national income and national wealth, and the evolution of income and wealth distributions, covering three centuries and over 20 countries. The first objective of my book was to present this body of historical evidence and to analyze the economic, social, and political processes that can account for the evolutions that we observe in the various countries since the Industrial Revolution. I stress from the beginning that we have too little historical data at our disposal to be able to draw definitive judgments. On the other hand, at least we have substantially more evidence than we used to have.

My book is probably best described as an analytical historical narrative based upon this new body of evidence. In this way, I hope I can contribute to placing the study of distribution and of the long-run back at the center of economic thinking. Many 19th century economists, including Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx, put the distribution question at the center of political economy. However, they had limited data at their disposal, and so their approach was mostly theoretical. In contrast, since the mid-20th century, a number of economists, most notably Simon Kuznets and Anthony Atkinson, have been developing the possibility of an approach that blends theory with more data-intensive and historical approaches. This historical data collection project on which my book is based follows directly in the tradition of the pioneering works by Kuznets (1953) and Atkinson and Harrison (1978).

In this essay, I will take up several themes from my book that have perhaps become attenuated or garbled in the ongoing discussions of the book, and will seek to re-explain and re-frame these themes. First, I stress the key role played in my book by the interaction between beliefs systems, institutions, and the dynamics of inequality. Second, I briefly describe my multidimensional approach to the history of capital and inequality. Third, I review the relationship and differing causes between wealth inequality and income inequality. Fourth, I turn to the specific role of r > g in the dynamics of wealth inequality: specifically, a larger r − g gap will amplify the steady-state inequality of a wealth distribution that arises out of a given mixture of shocks. Fifth, I consider some of the scenarios that affect how r − g might evolve in the 21st century, including rising international tax competition, a growth slowdown, and differential access by the wealthy to higher returns on capital. Finally, I seek to clarify what is distinctive in my historical and political economy approach to institutions and inequality dynamics, and the complementarity with other approaches.

Beliefs Systems, Institutions, and the Dynamics of Inequality

In my book, I attempt to study not only the dynamics of income and wealth inequality, but also the evolution of collective representations of social inequality in public discussions and political debates, as well as in literature and movies. I believe that the analysis of representations and beliefs systems about income and wealth is an integral and indispensable part of the study of income and wealth dynamics.

Indeed, a main conclusion of my analytical historical narrative is stated in the introduction of the book (p. 20, 35), that “one should be wary of any economic determinism in regard to inequalities of wealth and income . . . The history of the distribution of wealth has always been deeply political, and it cannot be reduced to purely economic mechanisms. . . . It is shaped by the way economic, social, and political actors view what is just and what is not, as well as by the relative power of those actors and the collective choices that result. It is the joint product of all relevant actors combined. . . . How this history plays out depends on how societies view inequalities and what kinds of policies and institutions they adopt to measure and transform them.” As I wrote in a follow-up essay with a co-author: “In a sense, both Marx and Kuznets were wrong. There are powerful forces pushing alternatively in the direction of rising or shrinking inequality. Which one dominates depends on the institutions and policies that societies choose to adopt” (Piketty and Saez 2014, p. 842–43).

The role of political shocks and changing representations of the economy is especially obvious when one studies inequality dynamics during the 20th century. In particular (p. 20), “the reduction of inequality that took place in most developed countries between 1910 and 1950 was above all a consequence of war and revolution and of policies adopted to cope with these shocks. Similarly, the resurgence of inequality after 1980 is due largely to the opposite political shifts of the past several decades, especially in regard to taxation and finance.”

Toward a New Historical and Political Economy Approach to Institutions

In my book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, I attempt to develop a new historical and political economy approach to the study of institutions and inequality dynamics. Economic forces such as the supply and demand for skills, wage bargaining models, or the effect of r − g on wealth dynamics, also play a role. But ultimately, what really matters is the interaction between economic forces and institutional responses, particularly in the area of educational, labor, and fiscal institutions.

I believe that institutions like the welfare state, free education, or progressive taxation, or the effects of World War I, the Bolshevik revolution, or World War II on inequality dynamics and institutional change, each need to be analyzed in a precise and concrete manner within the historical, social, and political context in which they develop. While Acemoglu and Robinson (2012) in their earlier book take a very long-run perspective on the history of the planet (from prehistoric times to the “great discoveries” and the formation of the modern world), I tend to focus on the historical periods and countries on which I was able to collect systematic data, that is, on the 18th, 19th, and especially the 20th centuries (an important period indeed for the formation of the modern social and fiscal state).

My approach to institutions emphasizes the role of political conflict in relation to inequality. In particular, wars and revolutions play a large role in my account of inequality dynamics and institutional change in the 20th century. Of course, steady democratic forces caused by the extension of suffrage also played an important role in the rise of more inclusive social, educational, and fiscal institutions during the 19th and 20th centuries. But many of the most important changes did not come simply from the steady forces of peaceful electoral democracy: rather, specific historical events and political shocks often played an important role. For example, there is little evidence of a natural movement toward more progressive taxation until the violent military, political, and ideological shocks induced by World War I (see Figure 3). Belief systems and collective representations about social inequality and the role of government were deeply affected by World War I and the rise of communism, as they were by the Great Depression, World War II, and then, at the end of the 20th century, by the stagflation of the 1970s and the fall of the Soviet Union.

It is particularly interesting to note that until 1914, the French elite often justified its strong opposition to the creation of a progressive income tax by referring to the principles of the French Revolution. In the view of these elites, France had become equal after 1789 thanks to the end of aristocratic privileges and the development of well-protected property rights for the entire population. Because everybody had been made equal in their ability to hold property, there was no need for progressive taxation (which would be suitable for aristocratic Britain, the story went, but not for republican France). What I find particularly striking in this pre-1914 debate is the combination of strong beliefs in property-rights-centered institutions and an equally strong denial of high inequality. In my book, I try to understand what we can learn from the fact that wealth inequality was as large in France in 1914 as in 1789, and also from the fact that much of the elite was trying to deny this. I believe there are important implications for the current rise in wealth and income inequality and the current attempts to minimize or deny that they are occurring. Then as now, when various shocks are tending to push wealth (and income) inequality higher at a time when r − g is at sustained high levels, the result can be a concentration of wealth that is high in historical terms.

Of course, I am not arguing that it will always take wars, revolutions, and other disruptive or violent political shocks to make institutional changes happen. In the case of early 20th century Europe, one can certainly argue that extreme inequality contributed to the high social tensions of the time and the rise of nationalism. But beliefs systems and resulting perceptions and policies can also be affected by peaceful public discussion. However we should not take this for granted. It is important to recognize the role of political conflict in the history of inequality and institutional change. It often took major fights to deliver change in the past, and it is not impossible that it will be the same in the future.

What Have I Learned from Marx and What Still Stands? by Adam Przeworksi

My admiration to the way Przeworski continues questioning what we know or do not know, as an analytic Marxist compels me to close this reader with his musings on what we should be still learning from Marx.

FULL TEXT AVAILABLE HERE: Przeworski, A. (2021). What Have I Learned from Marx and What Still Stands? Politics & Society, 49(4), 433–450.

Should one read Marx today? Which of his theories survive the test of time and which should be abandoned? This article reviews four of Marx’s themes: the quest for material abundance, the compatibility of capitalism and democracy, the role of the state, and the theory of the dynamics of capitalism.

So what role did Marx’s (and Engels’s) writings play in my intellectual development? As I said, what originally attracted me to Marx was the question he posed in his early writings, namely, what life would be like if people were liberated from having to toil in order to survive, if everyone’s basic material needs were satisfied, if they were free to pursue whatever else they would want; in Marx’s example, fish in the morning and solve mathematical equations in the afternoon. It was a utopia but an eye-opening one. It pushed me to read Social Freudians avidly, to the point that I almost flunked out of the graduate program at Northwestern University because some professors thought that such interests had no place in a department of political science. But then the winds of history blew me to Chile, at the time when the fundamental intellectual issue was the compatibility of capitalism and democracy and the practical political question was whether socialism could be reached through democratic means. These two themes would form my intellectual agenda from then on. And there I found inspiration in Marx’s political analyses of the events in France between 1848 and 1851: I read and reread them, taught them, and discussed them in print. My interest in Marx led me to teach a course titled “Marxist Theory of the State,” which subsequently changed its title to “Theories of the State” (which generated The State and the Economy under Capitalism), and then to “Introduction to Political Economy” (lectures published as States and Markets).12 Finally, to understand Marx in causal terms, I tried to find microfoundations to his theories, which led me to game-theoretic interpretations of his analyses. Applying this methodological apparatus showed that he was often wrong in his conclusions but also that the questions he asked were seminal.

Capitalism and Democracy

The conclusion that Marx draws from the events in France is this comment on the “bourgeois constitution”:

The classes whose social slavery the constitution is to perpetuate, proletariat, peasantry, petty bourgeoisie, it puts in possession of political power through universal suffrage. And from the class whose old social power it sanctions, the bourgeoisie, it withdraws the political guarantees of this power. It forces the political rule of the bourgeoisie into democratic conditions, which at every moment jeopardize the very foundations of bourgeois society. From the ones it demands that they should not go forward from political to social emancipation; from the others they should not go back from social to political restoration. (The Class Struggles in France, 62)

The combination of democracy and capitalism is thus an inherently unstable form of organization of society, “only the political form of revolution of bourgeois society and not its conservative form of life” (Eighteenth Brumaire, 18), “only a spasmodic, exceptional state of things . . . impossible as the normal form of society” (Writings on the Paris Commune, 198).

Where Marx erred is with regard to the structure of conflict between workers and capitalists, which he saw as zero-sum: wages and profits “stand in inverse ratio to each other. Capital’s share, profit, rises in the same proportion as labour’s share, wages, falls and vice versa” (Wage Labour and Capital, 35). This is obviously true at the margin, but then Marx makes a fatal leap:

Even the most favourable situation for the working class, the most rapid possible growth of capital, however much it may improve the material existence of the worker, does not remove the antagonism between his interests and the interests of the bourgeoisie. Profit and wages remain as before in inverse proportions. (Wage Labour and Capital, 37)

If the bourgeoisie invests and the economy grows, there are joint gains to exploit: both profits and wages can increase. Workers can trade off current wages for future employment and consumption. No wonder, then, that Marx’s view about the incompatibility of capitalism and democracy turned out to be false. In some — specifically thirteen — countries, democracy and capitalism coexisted without interruptions for at least a century and in many other countries for shorter but nevertheless extended periods, most of which continue until today. Working-class parties that had hoped to abolish private property of productive resources realized that this goal was unfeasible; they learned to value democracy and to administer capitalist economies whenever elections brought them into office. Trade unions, also originally viewed as a mortal threat to capitalism, learned to moderate their demands. The outcome was a compromise, the “Keynesian welfare state”: working-class parties and trade unions consented to capitalism, while bourgeois political parties and organizations of employers accepted some redistribution of income. Governments learned to manage this compromise: to regulate working conditions, develop social insurance programs, and equalize opportunities, while promoting investment and counteracting economic cycles. The compromise, however, was tenuous. It collapsed under the neoliberal offensive of the 1980s, with consequences that still remain to be seen.19

Economic and Political Inequality

It is interesting that in a text written in 1844, Marx offered a reason why equality of political rights may not be a mortal threat to property:

The state abolishes, in its own way, distinctions of birth, social rank, education, occupation, when it declares that birth, social rank, education, occupation, are non-political distinctions, when it proclaims, without regard to these distinctions, that every member of the nation is an equal participant in national sovereignty. Nevertheless the state allows private property, education, occupation to act in their way — i.e., as private property, as education, as occupation, and to exert the influence of their special nature. (“On the Jewish Question”)

When they enter the realm of politics as citizens, individuals become anonymous. As citizens, they are not wealthy or poor, white or black, educated or illiterate, male or female. They have no qualities. But this does not mean that they have suddenly become equal. As individuals, they remain wealthy or poor, educated or not. They are still endowed with unequal resources. And these resources matter for the influence they can and do exert over policies of governments. Democracy is a universalistic system, a game with abstract, impartial rules. But the resources different groups bring to this game are unequal. Consider a basketball game played between people who are seven feet tall and people who are short like me. The outcome is clear. When groups compete for political influence, economic power is transformed into political power, and political power in turn becomes instrumental for economic power. Organized in encompassing and centralized unions, allied with political parties, wage earners can exert political muscles of their own, as in Scandinavia. But the political playing field is unequal in any economically unequal society.

Wealth or income affects political influence through several channels, with stronger or weaker effects on political inequality. Consider only two mechanisms: (1) even when they have equal rights, some people do not enjoy the material conditions necessary to participate in politics; and (2) the competition among interest groups for political influence leads policymakers to favor larger contributors. First, political inequality may emerge in economically unequal societies without anyone’s doing anything to enhance their influence or to reduce the influence of others, simply because some people do not enjoy the material conditions necessary to exercise their political rights. Rights to act are hollow in the absence of the enabling conditions, so that the inequality of these conditions is sufficient to generate unequal political influence. Second, money can be used to influence results of elections or to influence government policies given results of elections. While politicians and bureaucrats may have various motivations, the inescapable fact is that politics costs money. Hence, even if all they want is to win elections, politicians may be willing to sell political influence.20 And because people with high incomes have more to lose from redistribution than people with low incomes gain from it, rich people spend more money on politics.

Effective political equality is not possible in socially and economically unequal societies. Economic equality cannot be achieved in politically unequal societies. This is a vicious circle. The naked fact is that democracy is not effective in reducing inequality.

The State

Marx’s often-quoted phrase on the state in The Communist Manifesto reads thus: “The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the entire bourgeoisie” (Chap. 1). The natural questions are what the “common affairs of the entire bourgeoisie” are and why the state would manage them. The hint is provided in several other texts where Marx repeats versions of this formulation, adding “against encroachments by individual capitalists as well as of workers.” This complication gave rise to intense and exceptionally fruitful debates in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Marx repeatedly emphasizes that capitalists, as well as workers, compete with one another. In our contemporary language, they are both engaged in a prisoner’s dilemma, pursuing their individual interests against the common one. Both capitalists and workers play a two-level game: against one another and against the other class. To that extent, the common affair of the entire bourgeoisie is to thwart the danger presented by the working class, which threatens profits as well as capitalism.

The debates on the Marxist theory of the state that started with a polemic between Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas in 1969 radically extended the list of problems faced by the bourgeoisie.21 To understand why, we need to step back. In Marx’s theory of the development of capitalism (more about which below), capitalist relations of production reproduce themselves automatically, by the mere repetition of acts of production: “Capitalist production of itself reproduces the separation between labour power and the means of labour. It thereby reproduces and perpetuates the conditions for exploiting the labourer” (Capital, vol. I, 577). Although purportedly Marx intended at some time to write a fourth volume of Capital, to be dedicated to the state, there is nothing he could have written. According to the theory in the three volumes he did write, the state has no role in the reproduction of capitalism. This assumption became visibly untenable as capitalism was experiencing fiscal crises, “decommodification” crises, and legitimation crises.22 The theory that emerged from those debates, in several variants, maintained that the conditions necessary for capitalism to survive are not created spontaneously by the capitalist system of production and exchange, so that if capitalism is to last, the state must actively generate such conditions. The role of the state is to fill the “functional gaps” of capitalism.

But why would the state, populated by people selected in democratic elections, including many on the political Left, manage the common affairs of the bourgeoisie against encroachments by individual capitalists as well as by organized workers? One answer was that the state is almost always populated by “men drawn from the world of business and property or from the professional middle class.”23 This is a feeble answer on both empirical and theoretical grounds. Another answer, to which I claim coauthorship, is “structural dependence of the State on capital.”24 Because private investment decisions determine the future possibilities of consumption and employment, even pro-labor governments must anticipate the reactions of potential investors and employers to all of their decisions. While these constraints leave room for choosing particular policies, they cannot go too far in threatening profitability. But neither of these answers was given by Marx, and neither is specifically “Marxist”: the first is shared by “power elite” theories and the second by neoclassical political economy.25



Alberto Diaz-Cayeros

Mexicano orgulloso, migrante renuente. Economista ITAM y Politólogo Duke. Senior Fellow en CDDRL y Director Centro Estudios Latinoamericanos Stanford University