The Rise and Fall of "Scientific Socialism"

Courtesy Reuters

Joseph SCHUMPETER gave us the perfect definition of Marx's scientific socialism when he called it "preaching in the garb of analysis." After observing this illusory fusion of science and ethics for more than a century, we are fully aware of its consequences: the concentration of absolute power in the hands of self-appointed executors of history's "laws," and their easy justification of deprivation and oppression as the "scientifically" necessary price to be paid for a future good society.

Before socialists claimed to be scientists, or, as in the case of the Marxist revisionists, after they abandoned the claim, their behavior was ethically consistent with their goals and, in fact, differed little from that of their bourgeois opponents. But when they insisted that their goals were not only just, but also scientifically necessary and historically inevitable, they moved from this shared ethical code to one radically inconsistent with the moral foundations of socialism, one allowing the fullest scope to violence, cynicism and implacable conflict.

But if we are only too familiar with the dangers inherent in Marx's secular chiliasm, we have also learned something about the conditions that help promote it. Parallels between the emergence of Marxism in Germany and its later spread to Russia suggest, for instance, that one such circumstance is the prevalence of what might be called vulgar positivism, a theory of knowledge that favored the easy formulation and uncritical acceptance of allegedly scientific laws of history by assuming an essential affinity between the study of human society and the study of nature.

A second, more important condition would seem to be the dramatic failure of earlier radical movements, such as those in western Europe in the 1840s and in Russia during the "populist" 1870s, and the consequently powerful attraction for defeated rebels of doctrines preaching inevitable success. The effect of that failure is seen in the progression of Marx's own career, from the voluntaristic idealism of his philosophical notebooks, through the mid-century debacle to the long, arduous research in

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