“Economic Determinisms” in Marxism

  • Alvin W. Gouldner
Part of the Critical Social Studies book series (CSOCS)


We find ourselves in a situation which is at once remarkable but common: the people whom we are studying are also studying us. As the tale goes, we have put our eye to the keyhole and the first thing we observe is another eye staring back at us. We are not isolated, superior anthropologists studying faraway illiterates, nor industrial sociologists studying supposedly naive factory workers. Those about whom we are reflecting are just as reflective as we, and, sometimes, they disagree with our conclusions.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Norman Levine, The Tragic Deception: Marx contra Engels (Santa Barbara: Clio Books, 1975), p. 104.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Richard J. Bernstein, Praxis and Action: Contemporary Philosophies of Human Activity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), p. 58. This somewhat glowing interpretation of Marxism glosses its internal contradictions and reduces it to a philosophy of praxis, therby implying that the generations of Marxists, who had viewed it as a scientific socialism, were altogether mistaken. Despite this lopsidedness, in which no textual evidence is offered to justify Bernstein’s views, it is refreshingly lucid and of considerable originality. Even more original is his The Structuring of Social and Political Theory (London: Basil Blackwell, 1976).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Melvin Rader, Marx’;s Interpretation of History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979). Rader quotes from the Charles Kerr edition of 1904, pp. 11–12, while the last sentence-quoted is Rader’s own rendition on his p. 15.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Moreover, the question is not so much what bedingt means today, but how it was used in Marx’s own time by educated Germans. The Grimms’ dictionary gives us some indication of this (see Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch [Leipzig: Herzel, 1854]). Although Rader holds that Marx would have used bestimmt had he wished to say the mode of production “determines” rather than “conditions” the superstructure, the Grimms, however, note that bestimmen was then a synonym for bedingen. Moreover, they also note that bedingt is grounded in causa. Finally, bedingt is built upon ding which means thing. This suggests that when Marx used bedingt, he was implying a mode of influence appropriate to inanimate objects, to produced objects rather than to the actions of persons, or at least likening the doing and action of persons to the making of objects, to which indeed bedingt refers. Bedingt thus seems to resonate the notion of an external causation imposed on things. It therefore implies strong not weak control over the object made, a binding rather than, say, an inducement. My colleague, Steven Schwarzschild, indicates that his own studies of Hegel’s usage of bestimmt suggest that this often referred to the Geist’;s control over human affairs. Bedingt, then, would have a more mechanistic resonance, while bestimmt had a more organicist import, or what Louis Althusser has referred to as the “expressionist” model of Hegel’s logic of causation. It may be that Marx’s use of bedingt was not an effort to tone down determinism, but to avoid Hegel’s form of expressionist determinism. Bedingt would also be more consistent with Marx’;s theory of alienation, for with its conflation of making and doing and its stress on the former, the sense is that man is now not treated as a proper human “subject” but is controlled as if a thing—is thingified. Moreover, the more mechanistic resonance of bedingt would also seem to be more consistent (than bestimmt) with Marx’s growing convergence with the mechanistic logic of nineteenth-century science’s determinism.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, 1846–1895, trans. Dona Torr (New York: International Publishers, 1942), p. 519.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Jonathan Frankel, ed., Valdimir Akhimov on the Dilemmas of Russian Marxism, 1895–1903 (London & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 7.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1972), cited by Engels on p. 589.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    On this see the excellent discussion by Shlomo Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1968), chapter 6, “The Revolutionary Dialectics of Capitalist Society.”CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 27.
    Ibid., p. 355. Dona Torr’s translation strangely reads “… starting point of an historical development,” but David McLellan and Dirk J. Struik also use the wording I follow here. See Birth of the Communist Manifesto, ed. D. J. Struik (New York: International Publishers, 1975), p. 132.Google Scholar
  10. The German reads: “… dann kann das heutige russische Gemeineigentum zum Ausgangspunk einer kommunistischen Entwicklung dienen.” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Das Kommunistische Manifest, ed. Erich Gleischer (Munich: Verlage der SPO, 1946) p. 7.Google Scholar
  11. 28.
    Karl Marx, Selected Writings, ed. David McLellan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 577.Google Scholar
  12. 30.
    Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. I, translated from the 4th German ed. by Eden and Cedar Paul, published in 2 vols with an introduction by G. D. H. Cole (London and Toronto: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1930), vol. 2, p. 846.Google Scholar
  13. 31.
    Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authorized English edition of 1888, supervised by Engels, published by Charles H. Kerr, Chicago, pp. 7–8.Google Scholar
  14. 32.
    Irving M. Zeitlin, Marxism: A Re-Examination (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1967), p. 81. An intelligent Hegelian and an unaccountably neglected discussion whose serious scope is compressed into an economical and lucid formulation.Google Scholar
  15. 33.
    Victor M. Perez-Diaz, State, Bureaucracy and Civil Society: A Critical Discussion of the Political Theory of Karl Marx (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1978), p. 70. A sure-footed and sometimes brilliant contribution of great promise. Perez-Diaz may be in the process of creating a left functionalism.Google Scholar
  16. 34.
    Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, p. 475. The letter to Schmidt of 5 August 1890 precedes this.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Alvin W. Gouldner 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alvin W. Gouldner

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations