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Is There a Marxist Sociology?

lU[IEn IiOlDmAnn

15 THERE AmARHI5T 50[IOl06Y?

Translated and IntradlHed bV Ion

the socially relevant, like so many practitioners of the
‘sociology of literature’.

When Lucien Goldmann’ s essay , Is There a Marxist
Sociology?’ first appeared in Les Temps Modernes in 1957,
it made an important contribution to the revival of a serious
consideration of the Marxist method. The scientistic
deformation of Marxism, emanating from Moscow, was beginning
to wear thin, and had been proving an ideal Aunt Sally for a
horde of hack scholars determined to ‘refute’ Marxism. At
the same time, in both Eastern and Western Europe, various
versions of ‘ethical’ and ‘humanistic’ Marxisms were being
developed by those who wanted to break with the brutalities
of the Stalin era without having, to find a scientific
explanation of why they happened. Goldmann’ s stress on the
concept of ‘totality’ as central to dialectical thinking cuts
through the false dichotomies of fact and value, science and
ethics, ends and means, etc.

MoreoVer, since Goldmann’s active political commitment
was limited to taking stands on particular issues, he did not
suffer from inhibitions of the later Lukacs, and was able to
make useful analyses of such ‘modernist’ literary trends as
the French nouveau roman.

Goldmann’s Philosophy and Human Sciences is still a
valuable counter-manual for anyone exposed to bourgeois
social science. Yet Go1dmann, for all his concern with
, totali ty’, does not follow Lukacs in what was the fundamental
proposi tion of History and Class Consciousness: “For when
confronted by the overwhelming resources of knowledge, culture
and routine which the bourgeoisie undoubtedly possesses and
will continue to possess as long as it remains the ruling
class, the only effective superiority of the proletariat, its
only decisive weapon is its ability to see the social totality
as a concrete historical totality.’ (Merlin, 1971, p.197) It
is Goldmann’ s denial of the revolutionary capaci ty of the
working class, his attempt to divorce Marxism from proletariat
and to justify it in terms of its own ‘ comprehensiveness’ ,
that makes much of Goldmann’s writing, especially the essays
posthumously collected in Marxisme et Sciences Humaines
(Gallimard, 1970), sO disappointingly reformist and complacent.

In the last resort his Marxism is a brilliant tool for interpreting the world, but not for changing it.

Goldmann, whose premature death at the age of fifty-seven
in 1970 was a serious loss to Marxist scholarship, will be
remembered for two things. Firstly, he played a major part in
reviving the early literary and philosophical works of the
Hungarian Marxist George Lukacs – The Soul and the Forms,
The Theory of the Novel, and History and Class Consciousness which had been suppressed by the Stalinist bureaucracy, and
I’?nounced by Lukacs himself.

Secondly, in his major literary studies, Goldmann made a
positive and original application of Lukacs’ method, which in
Lukacs’ early works often suffers from extreme obscurity of
expression. Goldmann takes from Lukacs a fundamental concern
wi th the uni ty of form and content, insisting on taking the
work as a totality, and not making a surgical extraction of

In a recent bookl Mr.

thesis that in Marx’ s work
objective and ‘scientific’

revolutionary ethic on the

Ian H. Birchal1.

December 1971.

and notably Hegelian thought, had inextricably united in his
work statements of fact and judgments of value, and in
particular had shown, from the Communist Manifesto right up to
his final works, that he was irrevocably opposed to any
attempt to base socialism on any kind of ethical values.

Maximilien Rubel puts forward the
there is a duality between an
‘sociology’ on the one hand and a

The problem of the existence of a Marxist ‘ethic’ and a
I.larxist ‘sociology,’ or, in more general terms the prohlems of
the relation between judgments of fact and judgments of value,
in dialectical thought in general, and in Marx’s work in
particular, is far from being a new one. It was the object of
a long and searching discussion in Marxist theory between the
years 1904 and 1930; a discussion involving the principal
theoreticians of the various tendencies,notably Karl Vorlander,2
Karl Kautsky, Max Adler 3 and Georg Lukacs; a discussion carried
on in numerous articles and many works of a very high scientific

However, Western non-socialist thought in the second
half of the nineteenth century was characterised by a break
with the dialectical tradition, and the progressive triumph
of historicism 5 and of scientism. 6
Thus academic philosophy
at the end of the nineteenth century had come back to the
idea of a radical division between judgments of fact (sciences)
and judgments of value (social engineering or ethics).

Germany, this position was presented for the most part as a
‘return to Kant’ (neo-Kantianism, which was in reality a return
to Fichte 7). In France, Poincare 8 expressed it in a phrase
destined to become famous, saying that from premises in the
indicative mood one could never draw a conclusion in the
imperative mood.

The reader will excuse us if, in approaching this particularly difficult problem in the history of dialectical thought,
we start off with these works, which, although old, are serious
and documented, rather than with Mr. Rubel’s book, which does
not even mention all of them, although it takes up their themes
– unfortunately on a lower level.4

Since there was no watertight division between academic
thought and socialist thought, and since, moreover, this
evolution was the expression of a general stabilisation of
Western societies which also impinged on the working-class
movement, this conception rapidly became dominant among the
main theoreticians of so-called orthodox Marxism (Kautsky,
Plekhanov, etc). who transformed the dialectical concept of
‘scientific social ism’ into a scientistic concept of science

To understand the or~gins of this discussion, we must
first of all pface it in the context of Marxist thought at the
end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the

The fact is that Marx, continuing classical philosophy,


For want of a better word, we shall use this term, which we
know to be quite inadequate, to indicate alongside of the
positions of scientism – explicative or empirical – the whole
set of comprehensive positions, which admit that we can
understand human realities only in the total historical
context of an age or civilisation – a context implying ends
and values – but refuses to join with these theoretical
analyses, the historian’s own values and thus still claims
to remain on an objective leveL
The common feature of these positions is a comprehensive
relativism, summed up in a famous phrase of Ranke’s: every
age is equally close to the divinity. (LG)


The French scientisme and scientiste are rendered ‘scientism’

and ‘scientistic,’ in the sense of application to human
phenomena of the methods of natural science.


Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814); German idealist and
nationalist philosopher, influenced by Kant.


Henri Poincare (1854-1912); great French mathematician,
who in later years turned to philosophy of science.

Reprinted from International Socialism 34. Autumn 1968.

Notes followed by the indication (LG) are Goldmann’ s original
notes; the others have been added by the translator.

1. Maximilien Rubel: Karl Marx. Essai de biographie
intellectuelle, Paris, Marcel Riviere, 1957. (LG)
2. Karl Vorlander (1860-1928).

German neo- Kantian phi losopher,
author of Kant und Man:, Tubingen, 1926.

3.Max Adler (1873-1937), leading theorist of the AustroMarxist school.

4. Obviously we are confining ourselves here to a schematic
outline, reduced to the strict minimum necessary to approach
the problem, and we shall not mention all the many authors
who have directly or incidentally dealt with this subject. (LG)



‘in the indicative mood,’ which was objective and foreign to
any value judgment. Moreover, since on the one hand they
were leaders of socialist movements, and on the other hand,
they believed and desired themselves to be faithful t~the
thought of Marx, and thus implicitly to Marx’s notorious
hostility to any ‘ethical’ socialism, they conceived of the
action implied by Marx’s works and by any taking of a socialist
position, on the model of a social technology, based on an
objective science of society, in the same way as a technology
proper was based on the objective sciences of nature. For them,
this social technology constituted socialist politics.

, And yet nonetheless a deeper ethical thought was
implied in a latent fashion in this very apparent
hostility to ethics and idealism.

Socialism cannot
free itself from ethics historically or logically,
neither on the theoretical level nor in fact. My
time being limited, I must give up the attempt to
show you how the young Marx and Engels were obviously
impelled by ethical motives to shift from their
.radical bourgeois posi tions to communist posi tions.

And abundant proof of this can be found in the works
of Dr. Woltmann l2 and Professor Masaryk,l3 and above
all in the early writing of Marx and Engels just
published by Mehring. But even in the works where
they are both making their main attack on “true or
philosophical” socialism such as the Communist
in an almost entirely economic work
such as Capi tal, which has as its explici t intention
purely to “reveal the economic law of development of
modern society,” they cannot avoid ethics. The
Manifesto, for example, operates by means of a
series of ethical expressions such as “oppressors
and oppressed,” “shameless exploitation,” etc.

reproaches the bourgeoisie for having “resolved personal
worth into exchange val ue,” for “having drowned it in
the icy water of egotistical calculation,” for having
created an “unscrupulous” freedom of trade; and it ends
up by setting up the already mentioned ideal of a free
“associa tion. ”
In Ca pi tal, ethical terms are, admi ttedly, relatively less frequent, but they are still
there. Already in the introduction we find a “bad”
situation, “exploitation,” the “furies of private
interest,” the “more brutal or more humane forms” of
the class struggle. And if we read the famous chapters
on the misery in England after the industrial revolution,
we, like Woltmann, will speak on an “ethical” point of
view in Caoital, which, admittedly, does not adopt the
language~ preacher, but rather that of irony,
satire and sarcasm, stemming from a deeply suffering
heart’ (Vorlander, Kant and Marx, pp 22-23).

The situation is clear: ‘orthodox’ Marxism, like academic
thought, upheld the existence of an objective science of history
and society, and merely called for active intervention of a
political kind into social life; such intervention was based
on this selfsame science, and was intended to accelerate an
evolution which was inevitable in itself. The dispute between
Marxist thinkers and academic philosophers was not over the
nature of objectivity in the social and historical sciences on this all were in agreement – but on the practical complement
of these sciences, a complement which according to the orthodox
Marxists was to be of a political nature, but according to the
many academic thinkers, notably the neo-Kantians, of an ethical


Now in this situation, the position of the ‘orthodox’

Marxists was difficult to defend. For obviously Marx’s work
contained something quite different from a collection of
‘political recipes’ conceived on the model of technology. One
need read only a few pages to find oneself faced with a militant
humanism, conferring value on man, which the ‘orthodox’ positions
found it difficult to account for, at least on the theoretical
level. It was therefore easy to foresee the immiment appearance
of a neo-Kantian interpretation of Marxism. And it came – after
Cohen,9 NatorplO and other academic neo-Kantians had taken up
a position in favour of an ethical socialism – with Karl
Vorlander’s lecture ‘Kant and Marx’ in 1904. Developing a
posi tion he was to defend in several works right up to the end
of his life, Vorlander, who was both an academic and a socialist
militant, affirmed that socialism could not be deduced either
from an ‘objective’ science foreign to any value judgment, nor
from a political technique, for which it, indeed, had to
provide the basis. So he maintained, as Mr Rubel does today,
that any socialism, and thus implicitly Marx’s socialism,
necessarily had an ethical character. Nonetheless, as a
serious philosophical thinker knowing thoroughly the works of
Marx, Vorlander opts immediately for one of the three versions
between which Mr Rubel is perpetually oscillating. For him
Karl Marx’ s ‘socialist ethics were implicit and involuntary.

To illustrate his positions we will take the liberty of
quoting a long passage from his lecture of 1904, the substance
of which will be found unchanged in the author’s later works:

But if Woltmann and Masaryk, quoted by Vorlander, like
Cohen, Natorp, etc, had little effect in socialist circles,
Vorlander himself had a rapid success. Soon he was able to
publish a triumphant balance-sheet, showing that the idea of
ethical socialism was tending to hecome the philosophical
position of the reformist wing of the parties of the Second

So the ‘orthodox’ Marxists were obliged to reply. There
were, of course, a number of articles directed against Vorlander,
but the principal reply was a pamphlet by Karl Kautsky, Ethics
and the Materialist Conception of History (Berlin, 1906)-;- which
was destined to be for a long time a sort of ‘orthodox’ breviary
on the controversial point.

The fact that the principal reply to neo-Kantianism came
from Kautsky is obviously no coincidence. Most of the theorists
of ‘orthodox’ Marxism at this time, notably Plekhanov, were of
a more or less Spinozan tendency, and at all events were
rigorous determinists (we must remember that Marx was not a
determinist – see in particular the Third Thesis on Feuerbach,
quoted be low); as a resul t, they were particularly defence less
in face of the objections of Vorlander and the neo-Kantians in
general. [Jenying any final ends in history and social life,
they obviously had difficulty in placing the ‘ultimate ends’

of historical evolution anywhere other than in the ethics of
individual consciences; and if they sti 11 decl ined to do thi s,
it was out of loyalty to the thought of Harx, notoriously
hostile to any idea of ethical socialism, and from a political
instinct, rather than in the name of a coherent theoretical
position. Kautsky, on the other hand, was one of the rare
theoreticians of ‘orthodox’ Marxism, who, having always tried
to establish a synthesis between Marxism and Darwinism, had
retained the idea of an immanent fina li ty in the organi c and
historical world, and by this very fact was apparentll. able to
defend himself better against the criticisms of the neo-Kantians.

, At first sight the socialism of Marx and Engels seems
totally indifferent and even hostile to the ethical
viewpoint. But even if it were not true of Marx, as I
was told by someone who knew him personal I y, tha t he
burst out laughing every time anyone spoke to him of
morality, it is still true that the foundations of
their socialism were deliberately – please excuse the
disrespectful expression – stripped of all moralising.

The Communist Manifesto openly declares, for example,
that laws, morality and religion are merely bourgeois
prejudices behind which are hidden so many bourgeois
interests. The theoretical affirmations of socialists
are not based, we are told, on ideas invoked or
discovered by some thinker who wants to improve the
world, but simply the general expression of real
social relations, of a class struggle which really
exists. Not only his polemic ag.;linst Proudhon, but
also a note in Capital, is ironic at the expense of
the idea of eternal justice,” and any reader of
capital or the other great fundamental theoretical
work of scientific socialism, Engels’ Anti-Duhring,
knows with what conscious deliberation they both
excluded ethical points of view from their deductions.

The philosophical pivot of his text is the sentence in
which, speaking of the organic world, he writes:

, How can we explain this curious repulsion against
ethical idealism, from which socialism in fact draws
its greatest strength? Well, it can easily be understood from the historical and psychological point of
view •••.• ‘

• If we consider the organic world, it presents above
all one characteristic in opposition to the inorganic
world – finality.’ (p 45)

And after having analysed these historical and psychological
reasons’ (hostility to the speculative idealism of Kant, Fichte
and Hegel, the struggle against ‘true socialism”ll etc),
Vorlander continues:


Herman Cohen (1842-1918); German neo-Kantian philospher,
founder of the ‘Marburg’ school; his pupils were among the
revisionist wing of social-democracy.

In reality, this highly questionable synthesis of Marxism
and Darwinism, which met the most serious r~servations from
other Marxist theoreticians, did not give Kautsky any superiority
at all in face of the neo- Kantian arguments. An obj ecti ve
science, whether determinist or finalist, does not allow any
conclusions in the imperative. The argument of Poincare, which

Ludwig Woltmann (1871-1907); German doctor – developed
from socialism to Social Darwinism and ended up a disciple
of Gobineau’ s raci sm


Paul Natorp (1854-1924); German neo-Kantian philosopher.


‘True Socialism;’ prevalent among German petty-bourgeois
literati before 1848; of Communist Manifesto Ill-I-c.



Thomas Masaryk (1850-1937); Czech sociologist, later Czech
President (1918-1935), father of Jan Masaryk, Czech minister
who committed suicide in 1948

already existed when Vorlander began to formulate his criticism,
remained irrefutable. The fact that historical evolution is
necessarily oriented towards socialism in no way provides an
obligation for any particular person to accelerate that evolution,
or even merely to approve it. Thus it is no surprise that at the
end of Kautsky’s pamphlet we find a passage which in fact reaches
the same position as Vorlander:

, Nor can the social-democratic organisation of the
proletariat, in its class struggle, do without the
moral ideal, without ethical indignation against
exploitation and class oppression.

But this ideal
has nothing to do with scientific socialism, the
scientific study of the laws of evolution of the
social organism in order to know the trends and
the necessaru ends of the proletarian class struggle.

‘It is true that in the case of a socialist, the
thinker is also a militant, and no man can be
artificially cut in two parts of which one has
nothing to do with the other; so sometimes even
in Marx’s scientific research we perceive a moral

But he always, correctly, tried to exclude
it as far as possible.

For in science, the moral
idea becomes a source of errors, i f it attempts to
prescribe the ends of science’ (p 141).

Hilferding,16 <'i1thor of Finance Capi tal and Hinister of
Finance in the Weimar Repuhlic, the jurist Karl Renner,17
first presid('nt of the Austrian Repuhlic after the last w~r,
the militant and theoretician Otto B;U('r,18 and fina11' the
philosopher, 'lax Adler. 19
The last named, a writer and thinker of the highpst level,
de-oted an important part of his work to the problems of the
Y"elatiPJ1s bE'tween the thought of Kant and Marx, and left
J1u:llerous hooks, whi ch by their form as well as their content,
exercised a wide influpnce on several generations of young
socialists in Central Europe.

In compari son wi th the positions of Vorlander, Kautsky and
Plekhanov, we could characterise ~·lax Adler’s thought as a
position of synthesis, adding however that it was much more
coherent than theirs. Like all of them, he believed. in
the radical separation of judgments of fact and judgments of
value. Together with Vorlander and vari ous other ethj_~al
socialists, he admitted the existence of a relationship between
the thought of Kant and that of Marx, and alsc the foct that,
in the indiviJual ~inds of militants, socialism takes O~ the
aspect of an ethical value; like Plekhanov hut unlike Kautsky,
he rejected any final ends in social and historical life, and
compared Harx’ s philosphical positions to those of Spinoza;
like Plekhanov, Kautsky and the ‘orthodox Marxists,’ he
categorically rejected any ethical foundation to socialism.

Of course this is an isolated passage in a text directed
ent irely against neo- Kantiani srn and ethical social ism, and
Kautsky was certainly sincere in his convictions. It is nonetheless true that hy recognising the existence of a ‘confusion’

hetween ethical judgments and judgments of fact in 11arx, and
even by admitting that thi.s confusion was inevitable for any
socialist militant, he implicitly recognised the superiority,
at least the intellectual superiority, of the nco-Kantian
positio~s on the essential point of the debate.

Adler thus came to an original conclusion, and, it must
be admitted, one which was the most satisfactorv of all those
elaborated on the basis of a separation between- theory and
practice, between judgments of fact and judgments of value.

For him, and this is one of his principal ideas, Marx was
a sociologist, and, moreover, the founder of sociolog-. Marx’ s
work was above all a sociological work.

We should, however, add that this theoretical superiori t}’

oi the ethical pOSitions of Vorlander over the scientism of
KaJtsky and Plekhanov hac; only ncwaday ..; becoJT,e apparent, while
at the time the two positions very rapidly became the philosophi~al expre5sions of two ideological and political currents, in
the follOwing llaY:

, According to the Marxist conception, socialism will
be achieved, not because it is justified from an
ethical point of view, but because it will be the
resul t of a causal process.

The fact that the product
of causality is also justified from an ethical DOint
of view is in no way secondary, and for a Marxi~t is not
an accident.

But this convergence of the causal
necessities of evolution with the ethical justification
is a sociological problem. Within Marxist thought this
problem can be resolved only in a causal manner.

Explicit reformism lVas for a long time to base itself, and
to some extent still bases itself, on a& ethical socialism,
although fOl” some time it has usually abandoned any attempt to
give a philosophical foundation to its politics, and in
particular to relate it in any way to Marx’s thought.

, Following H. Cohen, a large number of thinkers – I
would particularly name Stammler,20 Natorp, Staudinger 21
and Vorlander – right up to the present time, have
found the connection between Marx and Kant in the idea
that socialism must be complemented by an ethical
justification of its ends such as is given in the
practical philosophy of Kant:.

Inversely-, scientistic and anti-ethical ‘Ma;:xism’ – the
cOl:ception of social ist politics as a social technique founded
011 an objective science – ,Ias for a very long time the
phil’)sop!1ical basis of the apparently revolutionary but in fact
reformist attitude of the orthodox, or ‘centrist’ wing of the
parties of the Second International; moreover, in our own day,
it has been taken up, on a much lower theoretical level, by
the appor:~;-,tly reVOlutionary but in fact defensive and conservative tendency of Stalinism.

, Such a fashion of establishing the agreement must,
however, be energetically repudiated, and precisely
from a Marxist point of view.

Marxism is a system of
sociological knowledge.

It bases socialism on the
causal knowledge of the processes of social life.

Marxism and sociology are one and the same thino.’

(Max Adler: Kant and Marxism, Berlin, p.14l).

But in between these two positions and their respective
theoreticians, there was in Marxist thought during the period
1904-1939 a third intermediary current known on the theoretical
level as Austro-Harxism, and on the political level under the
highly expressive nick-name of the Two-and-a-Half International!4
This movement could be compared – making all necessary reservations, and stressing that this comparison is formulated here
only to assist the understanding of the contemporary reader to the present day independent left, embracing under this title
the whole range frolJl 1 ‘Observateur to 1 ‘Express and from Les
Tempts Modernes to l’EspritP with however, the difference, due
to a set of particular c~rcumstances which we cannot elaborate,
that this movement became in one country, Austria, the ideology
of a significAnt part of the working class, a fact expressed
by the existence of the Austrian Socialist Party and the
particular place taken up by it within the Second International.

From the intellectual point of view, what concerns us here is
the fact that Austro-Harxism produced a whole group of theoreticians who were among the most brilliant socialist thinkers
up to the second world war, notably the economist Rudolf

It is Marx, and not, as is usually believed, Auguste
Comte, who is the true founder of sociology.

‘While the development of Comte’s positivism was


Rudolf Hilferding (1879-1944).


Karl Renner (1870-1950); of the Austro-Marxists the most
sympathetic to gradualism,


Otto Bauer (1881-1938); Austrian Foreign Minister 1918-1919,
exiled 1934; see also T. Cliff, ‘The End of Deutscher’s
Road,’ ~ 15.


Admittedly Hilferding and Renner ended up hy integrating
themselves with the reformist State bureaucracy, wherpCis
Bauer and, above all, Adler stuck to the original pusit: .;ns
of Austro-Marxism. But here too we must beware of oversimplification. Right up to the end, we can recognise in
Hilferding and Renner their Atistro-Marxist origins. A
seriouy study of reformist thought in German social-democracy
before 1933 would probably come to distinguish several
groups of theoreticians – among them the former AustroMarxists, the former ‘centrists,’ the new bureaucracy, and
-scarcely integrated into the party machine – the ethical
socialists (Vorlander, Bernstein, etc), who are, in reality,
bourgeois liberals led by their convictions to turn to
socialism. (LG)


Rudolf Stammler (1856-1938); German neo-Kantian philosopher
and jurist.


F. Staudinger; neo-Kantian philosopher, writing in Germany
in the l890s.

14. The two are not identical, but the independent left-wing
socialism indicated – in common language and by a more or
less legitimate extension of the term – by the name Twoand-a-Half International found an im¥hrtant theoretical
expression only in Austro-Marxism.

e term itself had
first of all been used to refer to the Union of Socialist
Parties for International Action, founded in Vienna after
the first World War. (LG)
1 5. L’ Ob s erva t eur (1 at er ;,F;.,.r;:an:;.c;..e:..-….:0:.,:;b:;:s:.;:6.;r.:.v:;;..e:..:u:.:r;.z…..;;.::=-.:r-….::..::..::..;:~,;:::..=.=..::.::.L
weekly run by Gilles Martinet an Clau e
orientation; L’Express, weekly, editor J-J Servan-Schreiber;
increasingly less left, more like Time in style; Les Temps
Modernes, political and literary revIew, directed by Sartre;
Esprit,review, founded 1932 by Emmanuel Mounier. An English
parallel would be: from the New Statesman to New Left Review.


implies an objective science distinct and separable from any
value judgment, what might be called, to use Poincare’s terminology, a ‘science in the indicative mood.’ On this point, the
different trends of Marxist philosophy merely follow the
scientism which characterised academic thought at the end of
the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, by
that very fact diverging from the dialectical .tradition of the
classical German thought of Kant, Hegel and Marx. The differences
bet~een these three positions consist in the fact that Vorlander,
and ‘Wi th him a large number of thinkers who are partisans of
explicit reformism, affirm correctly with Poincare, that from
a science in the indicative mood one can never derive any conclusion in the imperative mood, and thus there could be no
‘scientific socialism,’ since any taking up of·a socialist
position necessarily has an ethical hasis. This position very
rapidly became the ideology of a certain explicit reformist
trend consisting. primarily of some bourgeois democrats brought
to socialism by taking seriously the demand for individual
freedom for ~ men.

more or less contemporary wi th that of Marx’ s
thought, with Comte, sociology remained a programme rather than a fully elaborated science.

Comte’s thought still affects us through the great
idea of a positivist conception of the spiritual’

life of humanity, that is, through the idea that
by causal laws we can also grasp social na ture,
just as for a long time it has been admi tted we can
grasp physical nature. But beyond this methodological
point of view, he had nothing to contribute to the
realisation of this programme, and his practical
attitude never went beyond a mere glorification
of the val ue and importance of science for poli tics. ‘

(Max Adler, The Thought of Marx, pp 89-90.)
‘It is only in Marxism that politics really becomes
what its name affirms, an art in the Greek sense of
the word, that is, competent and adequate action on
the evolution of social and State life, in a word,
social technology’ (idem, p 108).

The ‘orthodox’ positions (Plekhanov, Kautsky, etc, up to
the modern Stalinists) categorically oppose any attempt to give
socialism an ethical foundation, for to them it seems a kind of
reactionary deception and phraseology; in this, they continue
the attitude already adopted by ~1arx and Engels themselves.

To the ethical conceptions of the reformists, they oppose a
political conception of historical action, which comprehends
the latter as a sort of social technology, without, however,
clearly realising that no practical attitude, whether political
or ethical, ~an be derived from a science in the indicative
mood. Such a science can, like the natural sciences, indicate
the most effective means to achieve a certain end; it could
never indicate the ends themselves.

Basically – whether it
is a question of a Darwinian conception i.mplying a certain
final i sm, as in Kautsky, or of a Spinozan and ri gorous ly
deterministic conception, as with Plekhanov – on the most
important level these positions had, in fact, yielded ground
before the neo-Kantian attacks, SO that we have in Kautsky,
albeit in a more veiled form than in Vorlander, the affirmation,
quoted above, of the existence of confusion, of judgments of
fact and judgments of value in Marx.

As far as the relations between Kant and Marx are
concerned, Max Adl er elahorated quite an original theory,
making the Kantian a priori, as it were, a first discovery
of the collective consciousness, and Kant himself into the
creator of the first epistemological elements that made
sociology possible. Marx thus finds himself place in the
direct continuation of a line going from Kant, who discovers
the existence of social consciousness, to Fichte, who introduces the idea of action, and to Hegel, who mbkes this social
consciousness historical and poses the prohlems of the laws
governing its dynamics. The sociology of Marx becomes for
Max Adler the culmination of classical German philosophy. We
can see the superiority of his position in . comparison to
those already developed by other Marxist thinkers.

In comparison to Vorlander, Adler remained within the
limits of orthodoxy, rejecting any attempt to complement Marx’s
thought with that of Kant, while at the same time making Marx as he was, without any attempt to revise hill’ – the culminatIon
of an evolution inaugurated by Kantian philosophy.

In comparison with Kautsky, he rejected any mixture of Darwinism and
Marxism, preserving the purely historical and social character
of the latter, while refusing, like Kautsky and Marx himself,
any attempt to found socialism on ethical values, and moreover,
apparently taking a more orthodox position than Kautsky, for
he rejected any kind of finalism.

Taken up again in our day by the 5talinists, this position
appears to us to develop among the bureaucratic machines of
working-class parties every time that, in order to win the
masses, these bureaucracies claim to ~e Explicit:y revolutionar

when in reality they no longer are. One might, with a certain
lack of precision necessary in an article for a journal,
characterise it as the conception of the ‘managerial’ sections
in the working-class movement. We may add that this analysis
comes from Harx himself who expressed it in a famous text: the
Third Thesis on Feuerbach. 23

In comparison with Plekhanov, who at this time, together
with Kautsky, was recognised as the principal theoretician of
orthodoJ> Harxism, Max Adler seemed to accept in a rigorous
manner the comparison, upheld by the latter, between Spinoza
and Marxism, and like him rejected any idea of finality;
nonetheless, he had a better understanding of ethical reality,
for, he explained, social determinism was operative precisely
through collective consciousness, which alone transformed
bioloryical realities into social facts, and for the individual,
took ~n the aspect of wi 11 and the ethical norm. 22

Finally, the third position, that of Max Adler, very
widespread in intellectual circles, and finding its political
reality in the social-democratic left (Austro-Marxism and the
journal Klassenkampf [Class Struggle] in Germany), on the one
hand held a Spinozan and rigorously determinist conception of
social life and saw in Marx, not just a sociologist, hut the
creator of scientific sociology; on the other hand, it intended
to complement this sociology hy an attitude which was hoth
ethical and political, of which the final ends “,ould have an
objective character for the scholar, an ethical and political
character for the man of action (the ‘two faces’ of events), so
that Marxist sociology would provide the knowledge of the most
effective means to achieve – thanks to a politics which is a
social technology – these ends which are simultaneously
objective (for the theoreticians) and political and ethical
(for the militant).

It is understandable that Kautsky and Plekhanov remained,
for many years for most militants, the great ‘orthodox’ theoreticians, thanks to their hostility to any attempt to complement
Marx’s thought with that of any other philosopher, notably
Kant; but on the other hand, Max Adler’ s theory seemed to offer
most satisfaction to intellectuals concerned to understand the
problems themselves, and who more or less cle~r~y pe:ceived the
inextricable difficulties of the orthodox pOSItIons In face of
the offensive of neo-Kantian socialism.

We can also appreciate the authority enjoyed by Max Adler,
and the growing influence of his thought on young socialist

It was at this stage in the discussion that there
appeared in 1923 the work hy Georg Lukacs, Historv and Class
Consciousness,24 which has since become a classic. This work,
reverting to the dialectical tradition of Hegel and Marx, made
a direct attack on the premise common to all the positions
which we have listed, namely, the existence of an ohjective
Marxist sociology and the legitimacy of a separation between
judgments of fact and judgments of value.

To sum up, what characterises these three fundamental
positions (despite their differences, we are classing ~ogether
Kautsky and Plekhanov) is that they all hold that MarXIsm

22. ‘The consciousness of ends now appears solely as a psychic
form through which causality unfolds in a particular sphere
of being which is characterised as social being by its
collective (gattungsmassig) consciousness. Thus the world
3.i action – life and human action – is grasped in all its
potent richness without being degraded to a mere semblance
of liberty or diluted to the illusion of self-consciousness.

It can be understood only as the obverse side of causal
necessity, of which the aspect involving events belongs to
theoretical study and the side involving will to immediate
experience – and both of them simultaneously. It is by
this kind of thought, which, since Spinoza, tends more and
more to a total expression, and for which Marx, after the
enormous impulse given by Hegel, gained admission into the
whole sphere of social life, with a rare force of social
understanding, that we can resolve the fundamental problem
of social theory, a problem which still creates difficulties
even for modern thinkers, and somet imes 1eads them into
error; the problem of the relations between individual
liberty and historical necessity.’ (M Adler, The Thought of
Man, Berlin, p 77.) (LG)

Lukacs showed that if one accepted the idea of an

23. ‘The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men
are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing,
forgets that it is men that change circumstances and that
the educator himself needs educating. Hence, this doctrine
necessarily arrives at dividing society into two parts, one
of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the
changing of circumstances and of human activity can be
conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary
practice.’ (we quote the text made explicit and published
by Engels, the more compact version by Marx saying exactly
the same thing.) (LG)


24. Lukacs, Histoire et Conscience de Classe, (French translation)
Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1960.

Two extracts were
published in English in ~ 24 and 25.

obj ective science in t:le indicative mood, action could no
longer be conceived except in terms of ethics or social
technology; inversely, if one began with a conception of
historical action as individual action, one could conceive
it only in ethical or technical terms, and sooner or later,
if one d~vcloped one’s thought consistently, one would arrive
at the idea of an objective ~cience of society. But it is
precisely all these complementary c.oncepts – sociology science
of social life, technical or ethical action – which seemed to
him questionable and above all undialectical.

For him, what characterises historical action, is precisely
the fact that it is not carried out by isolated individual s,
but by groups who simultaneously know and constitute history.

Therefore neither the group i;::-‘” the individual who is part of
it can consider social and his,-,..,;- ic;::.l 11 [e from thf’ out <;ide,
in an objective fashion. The knowledge of historical and
social life ::'s not science but consciousness although it must
obviously strive towards the attainment of a rigour an-d–precision comparable to those achieved in an objective
fashion by the natural sciences.

Any separation of judgments
of fact and judgments of value, and, similarly, any separation
of theory and practice is impossible in the process of understanding history; the very affirmation of such a separation
will l)ave an ideological and distorting effect. Historical
know:edge is not a comtemplative science; historical action
is neither social technique (Machiavelli) nor ethical action
(Kant); the two constitute an indivisl.ble whole which is a
progress i ve awareness and the march of humanity towards

The ethical conceptions of socialism, moreover, lead to a
liber;;l ideology which subordinates the end to the means and the
group to the individual; the conceptions of socialist action as
social technology, conversely, subordinate the means to the
end and the individual to the collective. The dialectical
position of Lukacs, however, is characterised by its refusal
of any subordination, of means to ends or of ends to means, of
grouFs to individuals or of individuals to groups, etc. Ends,
means, groups , individual s, parties, masses, etc, are for
di alecdcal thought the constituent elements of a dynamic
totali ty, within which the greatest necessity is to combat, in
every concrete situation, the ever recurring danger of the
primacy of one or other of them in relation to the others and
to the whole.

:his Lukacsian position restored to Marx’ s work its true
internal coherence, and at one stroke got rid of all the socalled ‘dualities,’ ‘inconsistencies,’ ‘confusions,’

‘ph’i losophical inadequacies,’ etc, and so it seems to us the
only possible starting point for a real rebirth of dialectical
thought in all its strength and fertility.

We have published several works l.nspired by this viewpoint and which elaborate on it; so we do not need to dwell on
it further here, but simply refer the reader to these works. 25
We need only mention that, in our view (and in this we go further
than Lukacs, who was content tr show that a consistent dialectica 1 thought must necessarily refuse, even on the individual
level, any conception of socialist action as ethical value or
15 social technology), on the level of individual consciousness,
‘”r;at corresponds to the dl.alectical conception of history is
the immanent act of fai 1:h, and, in particular, the act of faith
in the form of the wager.

The history of Lukacs’ book is wellknown; it met the resistance of two bureaucracies – socialist
and communist – and was suppressed only a few years after its

Soon after, the triumph of Stalinism was to put a stop to
this ciscussion about the existence of a Marxist ‘ethics’ or
‘sociology’ just as it stopped all the other great theoretical
discussions which were the pride and the very life of Marxism.

In fact, since about 1930, a great wave of obscurantism has
continued to ‘spread over the working-class movement; on the one
hand, the Stalinists replaced living thought by a scholasticism
limi ted to quotations from the ‘masters’ and a servi le interpretation of them; on the other hand, in the reformist camp,
there was a progressive abandoning of any attempt to connect
in any way wi th dialectical thought and Marx’ s work. It was
only a few isolated thinkers here and there who, as freelancers and against the stream, tried to continue a tradition
which social and political evolution seemed to be condemning
to oblivion.

(a): Ethics and sociology in Marx’ s work are two autonomous
and complementary elements.

(b): They are implicitly and involuntarily confused
(Vorlander’s position).

(c): An original position developed by Mr Rubel: Marx – for
inexplicable reasons – is supposed to have created a
conscious and deliberate confusion of these two hetergeneous elements.

We shall give our readers a single example of this
perpetual oscillation. In the eight pages of the section
entitled ‘Sociology of Revolution,’ in which Mr. Rubel,
among many other things, approaches the key issue of the
relations between the conditioning of men by the social
environment, and the transformation of this environment by
human activity – an insoluble problem for any determinist
thought, and especially for sociological thought, as Marx
himself stressed in the Third Thesis on Feuerbach – he points,
as throughout his work, to the existence of a duality in
Marx’s thought. As to the nature of this duality, let us
look at three passages of this same section:

(a) ‘Sociological explanation and ethical reflection
thus go on an equal footing, and together provide the
basis for an operational theory of the causes, conditions and object.ives of the modern social revolution.

All the same, the causes and conditions of the revolution are not always clearly differentiated, and Marx
h.imself knowlingly (Goldnann’ s emphasis) confused
them, having from the start taken on the double role
of sociologist and revolutionary, of observer and
actor. But the theoretical analysis of this position,
though humanly it is intelligib1.e and acceptable,
cannot admi t, on pain of being made sterile, this
deliberate (Goldmann’ s emphasis) confusion of the
necessary and the possible.’ (p 216.)

(b): But two pages further on, Mr Rubel wri tes:

‘Marx here envisages proletarian revolution

Mr. Rubel, who takes the credit for having raised this
problem in France where most of the works we have just mentioned
are almost entirely unknown – takes up both Vorlander’s idea of

L. Goldmann: Introduction a la Philosophie de Kant (idees,
nrf, 1967) (fust published 1948); Sciences Humaines et
Philosophie (Gonthier, 1966) (first pubhshed 1952);
The Hidden God (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964) (first
published 1956).

Moreover, he does not seem to have any very precise idea
of the nature of the relations between ‘ethics’ and ‘sociology’

in Marx’s work. In fact, not only does he never define what
he means by these words,27 but, furthermore, he seems to
oscillate on this point between at least three different

There is thus supposed to be in Marx – and ~1r Rubel
repeats it elsewhere – a conscious and deliberate confusion
of two theoretically incompatible positions.

We now come to Mr Rubel’ s book, which we shall analyse only
from the point of view of its key idea, that of the existence of
a so-c~ lled duality between ‘sociology’ and ‘ethics’ in Karl
Marx’s work.


an ethic which is supposed to be the basis of Marx’s socialist
ideal, and Max Adler’s idea of the SOciological character of
Marxist thought. Moreover, he takes this position without any
reference to the former discussion. 26 and without telling us how
he intends to reconcile these two ideas. In fact, it is. of
course, not by chance that Vorlander and the neo-Kantians said
so little about Marxist sociology, while Max Adler limited
ethics to an individual perspective without any historical
scope. The idea of progress towards socialism is in fact for
Marx both part of his theoretical construction, and of his
~c.aie of values, it hso to speak, together with the problem
of the transformation of men by social conditions and of
social conditions by men, one of the main touchstones by means
of which we can judge whether his thought is monist or dualist.

Thus, for tho”c who accept a dualist interpretation, the problem
is posed whether this idea should be placed on the ethical
side – in which case they are led to deeply modify and question
the whole theoretical structure of Marxist thought – or on the
sociological side, as Max Adler did, – in which case there
remains for ethics only the sphere of individual consciousness
which decides whether or not to ally itself with the objectively
necessary historical evolution. Mr Rubel, however, does not
seem to hav~ noticed this problem; he simply proclaims that
there is in Marx an ‘ethics’ and a ‘sociology,’ without ever
attempting to delineate the scope of either of them.


26.On Vorlander, Mr Rubel simply says, in a note intended to
show the fragmentary nature of all biographies of Karl Marx
before his own, that he ‘analyses the philosophical scope of
Marxist thought’ (p 7); on Max Adler, in another note, that
at the time of the discussion about State and Revolution
‘while recognising the merit of Lenin’s writl.ngs, he
nonetheless criticised its Blanquist tendency’ (p 415). (LG)
27. It is true that in another work (Pages choisies our une
ethique socialiste, preface, p XXVH Mr Rubel wrl.tes ‘The
Marnst ethl.c is characterised negatively by its amoralism,
;md positively by its essentially pragmatic approach.’

It is difficult to know what this ‘amoral’ ethic is; if we
understand aright, it is simply a question of opposing
authentic ethics to ‘moralising verbalism’ – what Vorlander
called ‘moralising’ – which is of course, evident but in no
way affects the problem. (LG)

which he repeats untiringly and with no serious analys s:

this is ethics, this is sociology, and sometimes, this s both
at the same time. Statements and evaluations being ind ssolubly
linked in ~’larx’s work, one may say that in each of these comments,
~lr Rubel is right and wrong at the same time. Right to the
extent that there is in fact in Marx’s text the statement or
value judgment he sees there; wrong to the extent that the
value judgment is never autonomous and independent of the
analysis of facts, and thereby is not ethical, while the
stAtements are never objective and free from any particular
standpbint, and thereby are not sociological. Of course, by
snatching a fragment out of context one can give the impression
of a pure statement or a pure value judgment (in such a case,
however, it would be enough to look at the preceding and
following lines and pages to realise the distortion), but it is
not always easy to do so, and Mr Rubel’s comments and classifications are so accidental and gratuitious that he sometimes
calls ‘sociological’ fragments in which the value judgment is
as plain as a pikestaff, and on the other hand, he lists as
‘ethical’ passages·or ideas in which the ethical element is
minimal. We may mention two really surprising examples:

according to what one might call a monist
(Goldmann’s emphasis) view ..• Now it is plain
that the two component parts of these “material
elements” established by Marx are not identical
in nature … We are inclined to believe that,
if we stand on the ground of the operational
method of sociological exploration which seems
to have been adopted by Marx, there is reason
to make a clear distinction between the sphere
of the material structure, subject to truly
scientific techniques of research and observation,
and the sphere of human behaviour, subject to ethical
criteria and judgments. 28
‘Let us add that this distinction is not, we must
recognise, explicitly established in Marx’s work,
but it is nonetheless certain that implicitly it
derives from the whole career of one who was a
partisan and a revolutionary.’ (p 218)

Here we are back at Vorlander’s position: Marx thought
he was a monist, and, without wanting to and without being
conscious of it, he combined in his work two heterogeneous
elements which the theoretician – in this case Mr Rubel must separate in the name of coherence.

On page 95 of his book, Mr Rubel quotes the famous
passage from the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s
PhilosophY of Right.

(c): Finally, two pages further on, after a long quotation
from the German Ideologv, Mr Rubel concludes the section as

‘Religious distress is at the same time the
expression of real distress and the protest
against real distress. Religion is the sigh
of the oppressed creature, the heart of a
heartless world, just as it is the spirit of
a spiritless situation. It is the opium of
the people. ‘

, A harmonious blending of sociological themes and
ethical postulates, this text, much earlier than
Marx’s main works, and somewhat before his taking
up of a political career, contains the quintessence
of his theoretical and political teaching and
therefore the key to all his future scientific
work.’ (p220.)

And he adds the following comment:

‘Contrary to a very widespread interpretation, this
is a psycho-sociological analysis of the religious
sentiment, rather than a proclamation of atheism.

There is no condemnation pronounced on religion
(Goldmann’s emphasis) no moral judgment on the
believer. ‘

This time, the blend is ‘harmonious,’ and there is no
longer any confusion, voluntary or involuntary.

Here also, Mr Rubel, while permanently oscillating between
three interpretations which are certainly not easy to reconcile,
does not even seem to suspect the existence of a problem.

Admittedly Mr. Rubel himself seems to have been aware of
the rather surprising character of these lines for he immediately


On this subject, we must also point out a really surprising
discovery. For Mr. Rubel has found one single text in which
~1arx is supposed himself to affirm the existence of a fundamentaduality and even a contradiction in his work. So he sees the
proof that Harx is ‘deliberately confusing’ (and he stresses
‘we say indeed deliberately’) ‘the scientific hypothesis and the
ethical postulate,’ and he thinks that this text can be seen,
when closely examined, as the recognition of a ‘fundamental
ambigui ty ·in his theoretical approach’ (pp 435-436). We can
understand why he devotes to it the last section of his book
before the conclusion, under the title ‘Ambiguity and
Subjectivity. ‘

‘Nonetheless, Marx blends with his analysis of a
concrete situation a fundamental value judgment
on the absurdity of a social order which makes
possible, even inevitable, the religious alienation
of man.’ (p 96.)

All this is clearly false and indefensible. Marx condemns
simultaneously the social order and the religion which is part
of it. He does not ‘blend’ a judgment of value with an objective
analysis, but, as throughout his work, makes a dialectical
analysis in which understanding, explanation and evaluation are
strictly inseparable.

For Marx himself to affirm ‘that his objective analysis
refutes his own subjective fantasies,’ that ‘the way in which
he presents, to himself or to others, the ultimate result of
the present movement, of the present social process, has no
connection with his real analysis,’ would at the very least
be a sensational discovery! What is it in fact? A letter from
Marx to Engels, known since the first publication of their
correspondence in 1913, in which he points out to his friend in the context of their joint efforts to publicise Capital in
the bourgeois press – what he might write in an article they
were intending to have printed in a liberal paper as if
_wri tten b an 0 onent of Marx’ s ideas. For any serious
historian this simply proves that Marx new the objections
that could be made to him from a purely seientistic point of
view (to be later formulated by Cohen, Natorp, Rubel, etc),
and that he regarded them as neither serious nor valid, but
fit, as he wrote in the same letter, for a good joke, ‘an
amusing touch,’ to trick an opponent. (Letter from Marx to
Engels, 7 December 1867.) It would need all Mr Rubel’s
naivety to find in this an argument in favour of his own

At another point we learn ~B 223, note), in the course of a
discussion of a work by Duveau,
that ‘the dichotomy of social
classes and the theme of social catastrophe’ are not, as Sorel
thought, ideological themes, but ‘rather ethical themes!” Evolution to catastrophe and above all the dichotomy of social
classes as ethical themes! It would be difficult, it seems, to
go further along the road of confusion.

We may add in passing that in a commentary – the “‘hole of
which is disputable – on the Theses on Feuerbach, the supreme
monist dialectical text, in which ~larx contrasts his absolute
unity of thought and action with Feuerbach’s empiricist and
contemplative position, Hr Rubel goes so far as to comment on
the Eighth Thesis (p 170) ‘Social life is essentially practical.

All mysteries which mislead theory to mysticism find their
rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension”of
this practice,’ in the following way:

‘It is therefore by no means a question of rejecting
the theoretical interpretation and explanation of
social phenomena. Marx merely refuses to consider
theory as dn end in itself; the scientific rigour
of any theory about society is confirmed all the more
strongly if it is accompanied by a constant recourse
to empirical observation.’!

In fact, Mr Rubel’ s work is no more than a compilation
of a large number of quotations from Marx, following each of

Let us note in passing the inexactness of a text which
establishes an opposition within social life between ‘the
material structure subject to techniques of scientific
observation’ and the ‘sphere of human behaviour’ subject
to ethics. Can one imagine for a single moment a ‘science’

of social life – whether, moreover, it be sociological or
historical – which would eliminate the sphere of human
behaviour from the field of its observation?

It is true that a few lines earlier Mr Rubel contrasted
‘material phenomena – productive forces and social intercourse – and truly human reactions’ which ‘do not derive
from the same principle of causality,’ But what is ‘social
intercourse’ if not a ‘truly human reaction’?

Rubel’s whole book is characterised by this lack of
terminological accuracy which merely expresses the absence
of conceptual rigour, (LG)

By substituting observation for practice, Mr Rubel thus
comes to maintain that l1arx is opposing to Feuerbach what in
fact are Feuerbath’s own positions. We leave it to the reader
to draw his own conclusions.

To conclude, let us say a few words about Mr Ruhel’s
intention in itself, and th~ way in which he conceives his
‘intellectual biography.’ At the heginning of his book he
tells us that biographies hefore his own gave only ‘fragmentary
portraits,’ and that the various researchers who have tried to



Georges Duveau (1903-1958); French historian, mainly
concerned with social history of the nineteenth century,

grasp Marx’s thought ‘did not succeed in the r intentions,’

above all because they ‘approached Marx ones dely,’ and
deliberately ‘isolated the economist, the ph losopher, or the
historian,’ etc. Of course there is an element of truth in
these remarks, since all scientific work is necessari ly partial
and needs to be complemented by the contribution of later

But to our knowledge, no biography of Marx has
previously had the idea, a ridiculous one to say the least, of
radically separating the study of his thought from that of his
political action. An ‘intellectual’ biography which speaks of
‘the deep-rooted anarchism’ of Marx (p 85), of his ‘anarchist
profession of faith,’ (p 146), etc, but contains no mention of
his struggle, in theory and practice, against Bakunin; a
biography in which ~larx is attributed with an ethical conception
of socialism, but does not even mention the conflict with the
German socialist leaders at the time of the Hochherg case,
during which ~larx and Engels resolutely took up a principled
position against any collaboration with those who based
socialism on morality; such divisions (which, however, derive
naturally from Rubel’ s view which totally separates theory
and practice) seem to us questionable in the biography of any
thinker, but become purely and simply a distortion in the case
of Marx, for whom thought was never separable from struggle
and action. 30

We could add, in dealing with Mr Rubel’s book, very many
more criticisms of the same scope and kind. Obviously the
dimensions of an article do not permit this.

Let us simply say that all this does not seem serious to
us. Mr. Rubel has wasted a considerable effort in order to
affirm, without proof, that Mar x ‘s thought is ambiguous, confused
and contradictory, and in particular to write an ‘intellectual
biography’ of Harx which scarcely touches on the real problems
posed by a genetic study of Marxist thought. Doubtless he has
read very many texts by Marx, but he did not possess the
necessary philosophical, economic and political culture to bring
to a successful conclusion the extremely complex and difficult
task he had set himself. Further, he never discusses the works
already in existence on the subjects he treats, being satisfied
with sometimes indicating their key idea and passing value
judgments on them (usually negative judgments in the case of
Marxist works), which, however, he hardly ever tries to justify.

By its dogmatism, its peremptory tone, the inadequacy of its
conceptual equipment, Mr Rubel’s book is simply the other side
of the coin to the Stalinist works of recent years, for, despite
its opposite positions, it shows just the same faults as the

Thus the radical critique of works of this kind is an
indispensahle condition for a real rebirth of Marxist thought
and the development of the scientific ‘Marxology’ which Mr
Rubel, rightly, so keenly desires.

30. Admittedly Mr Rubel writes (p 14) ‘An examination of Marx’s
strictly political career would reveal these motivations
even more clearly; however, we have deliberately excluded
everything not immediately relevant to the subject in view,
‘A second work will be devoted to this examination.’

It is precisely this radical separation of the intellectual
and practical which seems to us, from the methodological
point of view, highly disputable. (LG)

Trevor PatemaD
The republication of R.D. Laing and A. Esterton’s Sanity
Madness and the Family as a paperback (Penguin Books, 1970)
made me buy it and read it again. Despite myself, I re-read
the book as a philosopher, but in the event this proved to he
frui tful. It is a philosopher’s reading of the first case
study of the book, the study of the Abbott family, that I
present in this article.

was imagining things to be going on between her parents.

These open yet unavowed non-verbal exchanges between
father and mother were in fact quite public and perfectly
obvious. Much of what could be taken to be paranoid
about Maya arose because she mistrusted her own mistrust.

She could not really believe that what she thought she
saw going on was going on.” (p.40)

A glance at the Appendix to the chapter on the Abbotts
(pp.a9-50 of the Penguin edition) will show that many if not
most of the statements made hy the parents ahout the ‘schizophrenic’ daughter, Maya, and by Maya about herself are factual
statements. For example, Maya says that she worried ov-er–examinations; the parents contradict this: she did not worry.

In g2neral, both parties make claims to knowledge – the daughter
about herself and the parents about their daughter – but claims
,,’hich contradict each other.

My reading of this runs as follows. We learn to ‘tell
right from wrong’ mainly from our parents. They are our chief
moral authorities, from whom we learn not simply a list of
particular rights and wrongs, but general rules of right and
wrong (ethical principles) and, importantly, criteria for
telling right from wrong where no general rule obviously
applies or where it is a case of making an exception to a
general rule. Of course, all of this, no doubt, goes on

Most of the argument which Laing and Esterton transcribe
from interviews with Maya and her family and reproduce in the
chapter on the Abbotts is also about matters of fact.

dominant feature of these arguments is, in my reading, conflict
over what is or was the fact of the matter. In this conflict,
tile feature of the ‘schi zophrenic’ daughter, as evidenced in
her statements, which I wish to single out is her inability
ei ther to state or, more radically, to know what is true and
what is false in a given situation. I shall suggest as a
possible explanation that this could be because she has not
learnt to tell true from false. Despite the strange protestations of Laing and Esterton in the Preface to the second
edition, there is good evidence in the text for inferring that
this failure to learn must be explained in a way which involves
reference to the behaviour of the parents and not simply hy
invoking some (undiscovered) organic deficiency in the patient,
Haya. In short, I>’aya does not learn because she is unable to
and she is unable to partly because of the way her parents

Though there is no common phrase like ‘learning to tell
right from wrong’ to express it, I suggest that we also learn,
mainly from our parents, how to tell true from false – veridical
from delusive perceptions, correct from incorrect statements.

Here again we learn not just lists; we also assimilate criteria:

we acquire an unconscious mastery of the criteria and the ways
of applying them which indicate to us when, for example, we can
legitimately say’ I know . . • ‘ and when we can only legitimately
say ‘I believe . . .’: when we have a right to be sure, when not,
and so on. In other words, parents are our epistemological
authori ties, that is, authorities on questions like: what can
we know? How can we know? How can we know that we know? When
can we claim to know? and so on.

Maya, like most children, regarded her parents as epistemological (‘ cogni tive’ would be a possible al ternati ve) authorities.

In her case, as in all of the cases studied by Laing and
Esterton, the degree of reliance she had to place on her parents
was increased by the closed nature of the Abbott family.

addition, these families were often very Christian and this
could add another reinforcement to the reliance on parents. For
rej ection of the parents as epistemological authorities could
be construed as a breach of the rule: Honour thy Father, and
thy Mother.

Consider the following passage from Laing and Esterton’s
commentary on this case:

“An idea of reference that she [the daughter – TP]
had was that something she could not fathom was going
on between her parents, seemingly about her.

Indeed there was. When they were all interviewed
together, her mother and fa ther kept exchanging wi th
each other a constant series of nods, winks, gestures,
knowing smiles, so obvious to the observer that he
commented on them after twenty minutes of the first
such interview. They continued, however, unabated and

The consequences, so it seems to us, of this failure
by her parents to acknowledge the validi ty of similar
comments by Maya, was that Maya could not know [my
italics – TP] when she was perceiving or when she


Maya’s parents consistently deny the truth of her statements
and thereby undermine any developing mastery of epistemological
criteria and/or her perceptions themselves. She is thus disabled from achieving a cognitive mastery of the world. The growth
of cognitive autonomy is inhibited or destroyed – it depends
when and for how long these interactions continue. In the case
of Maya the analysis is complicated by the fact that she was
away from home from the age of 8 to the age of 14. In the
absence of a clear knowledge of what happened in that period,
my formulations of necessity vacillate a little. She remains
epistemologically dependent on her parents, just as a child
whose parents treated all cases of morality/immorality as
unique and therefore failed to transmit any means of discrimin-

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