Introductory Essay
Frederic L. Bender

The text of the debate between Herbert Marcuse and Sir Karl Popper which follows in this volume raises many important issues. Although the informality of the original format gave neither thinker sufficient opportunity to present his position in its greatest strength and subtlety, the basic lines of Marcuse's neomarxian critical theory and Popper's naturalist liberalism are clearly outlined. The crucial issues between the two participants are (1) their anthropological‑axiological positions with respect to the "nature" of man, society, and the practical functions of democracy as a mode of self-government; (2) the conceptions of science and of philosophy which lie behind each thinker's claims with respect to these; and (3) their respective conceptions of the means required and feasible for attaining their respective social goals. The remarks which follow will attempt to focus upon, and deal critically with, the problems implicit in these three areas.

It should be noted at the outset that the two frames of reference are mutually exclusive. Marcuse holds that late capitalist society, "the wealthiest and most technically advanced in history," both can and should offer "the greatest and most tangible opportunities for a peaceful and liberated human existence, but is instead a society that most efficiently represses these opportunities for peace and liberation." [1] Popper, on the other hand, sees all social orders of which we have any knowledge as containing "injustice and repression, poverty and destitution," but holds that in the contemporary western democracies these evils are combatted through representative democracy, the existence of certain political liberties, and the actions of the state itself. In Popper's opinion, these societies "are very imperfect and in need of reform, but they are the best ever." Marcuse contrasts late capitalist society with ideals of social existence and humanity which he believes can and should be achieved with the resources currently available. Popper, however, contrasts contemporary capitalist society with other contemporary societies and concludes in favor of the relative merits of the former. The argument which follows will demonstrate that the Marxian conception of social science regards the reduction of social phenomena to "facts" and "values" as a positivist abstraction having no legitimate place in social theory. It then follows that neither position represented in this "debate" is altogether satisfactory from a Marxist perspective—Popper's because of its ideological content, and Marcuse's because of the ideological form in which it is presented here.



The first issue concerns Marcuse's and Popper's opposing conceptions of democracy, which in turn rest upon contrasting conceptions of man. Whereas the question of the nature and potential of man has been a leading theme of Marcuse's work, it has been generally lacking in Popper's. This is compensated by Popper's evident acceptance of the liberal assumptions about man, which have been enshrined in the ideology of the democracies which he is concerned to defend. The liberal conception of man, as found in such classical writers as John Locke, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and T.H. Green, rests upon the following assumptions: [2]

(1) Each individual is conceived as essentially separated from his fellows, related to them for common purposes only accidentally, temporarily, and for reasons of apparent utility to each individual. This is generally presented by liberal theorists as the claim that the only free social relations are contractual ones and that only a society based upon a contract by its members, or at least upon their tacit consent, can be a "just" society, that is, one in which men are "free" in the bourgeois sense.

(2) Each individual is seen as being essentially an egoist seeking to satisfy his needs and desires through acquiring utilities (use-values) as embodied in commodities. These needs and desires are themselves assumed to be infinite; that is, man is seen as a bundle of drives which lead him to consume utilities. Since these drives can never be satisfied but at most are only temporarily satiated, and since the drives themselves may be multiplied without end, there is in principle no rational limit in this conception of human consumption. This irrationality, implying what was thought to be man's kinship to animals rather than to God, defined the novelty of the bourgeois ideology as contrasted with the late medieval world view. The market economy, or capitalism, even in its petty‑commodity, pre‑industrial form, which allows an individual who possesses commodities with exchange-value to choose his satisfactions from among all the use‑values available, is held to be justified as (a) the economic basis of the "free" society; (b) providing incentive to maximize production for the sake of profit, which at least in principle is for the sake of consumption; and (c) allowing for the concentration of capital, which in turn fosters expanded production and increased profit.

(3) Prior to the definitive triumph of the bourgeoisie over the feudal ruling classes, liberal theorists argued that the chief function of government was to apply force sufficient to coerce naturally rapacious egoists into desisting from mutual assault and plunder. This argument, implicit in Machiavelli and explicit in Hobbes, is still used by Popper, who remarks: "The state protects its citizens from brute force through legal and political institutions." Once bourgeois property and political relations were secured, liberal theorists, such as Locke, Thomas Jefferson and the framers of The Rights of Man, found it expedient to claim instead that the bourgeois rights of free disposal over one's own person, which is essentially the freedom to enter into contractual economic relations, and property, which was held to derive from one's person or from the labor which one "invests" in producing a commodity, are immutable and beyond legitimate infringement or usurpation by the state.

(4) Insofar as it was generally assumed, at least from Adam Smith to the middle of the nineteenth century, that a market economy leads to the production of the maximum quantity of goods possible in any given set of circumstances, it was also held that a market economy is the most efficient (rational) economic system, as well as the most "just."

(5) Finally, there is the further presupposition that if one has only one's labor‑power to exchange for a wage, one cannot engage in remunerative work, no matter how socially necessary, unless one is allowed access to the means of production—that is, that one have a job. The distinction between socially necessary work and a job means that those who possess no commodities to exchange must enter into a labor contract with the owners of the means of production (the owners of capital) in order to receive the wage necessary to maintain their existence and that of their dependents. This implies that the owners of capital will exact a "price" from the laborer for allowing him to work, for they would have no motivation to make work available at the "risk" of their capital were it not to  be profitable to them. This "price" exacted from the laborers is the extraction of surplus value, which is the defining characteristic of capitalist production. [3] The classical political economists' model of a society of petty commodity producers engaged in mutually beneficial exchange has never corresponded to the historical reality of capitalism, which has been based instead on the exploitation of wage labor, because there has never been a capitalist society in which all its members have had surplus commodities (other than labor‑power) available for exchange. Furthermore, there must always exist in capitalism a class of persons who possess no exchangeable commodities except their labor‑power, or else there would be no wage labor and hence no industrial production. Now, the worker is "free" to work for this or that capitalist as he prefers, and he is even "free" to avoid work altogether. But insofar as this latter alternative usually leads to considerable hardship, we find that the freedom to enter into a voluntary contractual obligation with a particular capitalist is at the same time the necessity to enter into an exploitative relationship with some particular capitalist or other, in order that one and one's dependents do not starve.


In light of the above, we can now inquire into the relation between the liberal assumptions and democracy. First, insofar as liberal theory assumes the extraction of surplus value as a "natural" foundation of society, there can be no liberal "economic" democracy. But even in merely political terms, during its first two centuries liberal theory was not at all democratic; on the contrary, theorists such as Hobbes, Smith, Malthus and Bentham argued that the greater social good achieved through increased production outweighs any unfortunate effects of the increased inequality of wealth and poverty and the destruction of traditional forms of life. It seemed obvious that only those who own property (both fixed and movable) have a permanent "interest" in society and thus should have the exclusive right to political representation. It was only in the mid-nineteenth century that some liberal theorists such as J. S. Mill and T. H. Green had foresight sufficient to appreciate the potential power of the industrial proletariat and to advocate the democratization of political, but not of economic, life. Their liberal‑democratic approach, which eventually won widespread acceptance,  called for governmental action to ameliorate the condition of the proletariat, lest there occur a revolution which would destroy the capitalist order entirely. This approach led eventually to welfare-state liberalism, in which the basic principles of capitalist production are left untouched: the government uses its taxation powers to redistribute a small fraction of the social wealth to the indigent, while the spheres of production, exchange, and distribution become increasingly concentrated in the hands of large‑scale enterprises enjoying control over their respective branches of industry or commerce ("neocapitalism").

Although Popper offers us no concrete picture of his "open society," it is clear from various remarks that his ideal is that of a neocapitalist society in which reason is said to prevail. Since he believes that the state is a "necessary evil" —which is a classic ideological obscuration of  the reality of the active intervention of the state on behalf of the corporate capitalist class—what he seeks is a more reasonable society in which conflicts are settled "rationally" by a state open to ideas and criticism. This means a maximization of input to those who run the society (owners, managers, politicians, bureaucrats), who as "rational" individuals will be open to criticism and will be flexible in their actions. Such a society would be dynamic by virtue of the "force" of critical ideas. It would be a free society with equal opportunities for all to express their opinions, no matter how diverse or opposed to the status quo, and there would be institutions by which the "weak" would be protected from the "strong." But this conception involves no substantial changes in the theory of liberal democracy or the neocapitalist social reality, except the strengthening of the illusion of social harmony through the appearance of increased discussion and "rationality." For how can one expect that critical ideas which challenged the privileges and power of the owners, managers, etc. would be accepted by these individuals? Why would such a society be any more just than the present version of liberal-democracy, given Popper's admission that there would exist institutions for the protection of the weak from the strong—which means that there would still be "weak" and "strong"—and that these institutions, like everything else, would be under the control of the "strong"? Here Popper naively assumes that good argument alone would prevail, much as it does in the practice of the natural sciences. It must be borne in mind, however, that there is, at least ideally, no power-dimension in the development of scientific theory, but rather that scientists form a community with a common interest in the progress of their discipline. Given the antagonistic relations of individuals and classes in any capitalist society, is it not gratuitious to assume that social relations in such a society could ever be analogous to those within the community of scientific researchers?

Political life is a continual struggle for power, either for its continuance or for its transfer. his struggle can be ended only if the power-dimension is eliminated from social life. This, in turn, can be achieved only if three conditions prevail: (1) that all productive property be socially appropriated and subject to the democratic control of the immediate producers within the framework of an economic plan openly and democratically accepted by the majority of the people; (2) that there be no exploitation of some persons by others, which means that there is no extraction of surplus value from one class by another, leaving all economically, politically, and morally equal; and (3) that the citizenry jealously guard its freedom lest, through neglect or otherwise, there arise differentiations of power, giving rise once again to class divisions. Welfare-liberalism, based as it is upon preserving the social inequality of the two most important classes, can never be anything but a limited and formal political democracy, for by definition it denies the majority of the populace access to the economic power which they must have in order to alter their social situation.


By contrast, the socialist conception of man, society, and democracy does not begin from the egoistic man of bourgeois society. Rather, recognizing that for nearly the entire life of the human species the exigencies of survival have dictated cooperative labor and social organization, although of course on a rudimentary level, it regards the egoism and class‑division of society, generally prevalent since the founding of the neolithic cultures, as a limitation to be overcome, now that mankind has achieved the material basis of socialism, at least in the developed countries. This "revolution" in human existence requires the utilization of the technical advances of the past two centuries to create a culture—a system of social relations promoting individual development—which surpasses the actual limitations of bourgeois man and is worthy of the vast potential of socialist man. Because socialism inherently involves surpassing the bourgeois limitations on human development (alienation and repression), it is possible only on the basis of a highly developed, automated process of production, in which the advances of the natural sciences are continually transformed into the machines and techniques for overcoming human material want. A socialist society is conceivable only as one of abun­dance, in which the production of goods and services is measured against the socially‑affirmed rational needs of individuals, rather than against the opportunities for private profit in a manipulable market. In economic terms this means creating an economy producing socially‑determined use‑values rather than exchange-values.

The theoretical framework of critical theory rests on research by Marx into the concrete economic conditions of the particular historical juncture of the capitalist epoch. As such, the Marxist argument is not merely a counterposition to liberalism on the levels of anthropology‑axiology and political theory. Given the fact that in the course of developing the materialist interpretation of history, Marx repudiated philosophy and came to regard all merely philosophical analyses as ideological (forms of false consciousness), such a purely philosophical consideration of certain premises of the socialist view would be somewhat distorting. [4] All social phenomena exhibit axiological characteristics, and Marxist critical theory, based as it is on the materialist interpretation of history, is value oriented.

From this perspective, the philosophical consideration of axiological problems has a legitimate but subordinate place within critical theory; that it has remained largely undeveloped is probably a vestige of the naturalistic interpretation of Marxism as "scientific socialism" which has generally, prevailed since the 1880's. A strong position against this orthodoxy has been taken by Agnes Heller who, following Georg Lukacs, argues:

From the viewpoint of Marxian sociology, it is im­possible to empirically derive values. Marx, in fact, did have a fundamental universal value axiom from which all his values and value judgments can be axiologically derived. This ontologically primary and empirically underivable category is abundance (Reichtum). What is "abundance"? It is the many-sided unfolding of the essential power of the species. Thus, we obtain the first value axiom: value is whatever helps the enrichment of the powers of the species: and the second value axiom: the highest value is the ability of individuals to appropriate the abundance of the species. [5]

Nonetheless, in their present debate neither Popper nor Marcuse has considered the socialist position in this light. Accordingly, accepting these limitations and restricting ourselves for the time being to the purely philosophical consideration of the political and anthropological‑axiological levels, we may note that in place of the conception of the mutual hostility of egoists underlying capitalism and liberalism, Marxists argue from the following propositions, which are themselves derived from the materialist interpretation of history.

(1) The "nature" of man is at all times and places the result of the historical and social circumstances in which men live, and is therefore subject to modification as social relations and conditions themselves change. Such alteration occurs chiefly through the mediation of men themselves, most importantly through labor. Although men are not (at least not yet) the creators of their genetic constitution, it is only to the extent that they create and modify their social and productive relations that they are, collectively, the creators of their own being. Each new generation in its turn modifies the natural environment and the social milieu which it has inherited and which it then passes on to its successors. For the most part, this dialectical process of modification of environment, milieu, and men themselves has not been a self‑conscious one, but rather it has resulted from the aggregation of the unplanned and usually conflicting actions of individuals and groups. Socialists regard the conscious self‑creative potentiality of mankind, taken both collectively and individually, and the possibility of replacing a hostile society of egoists with a community of developed individuals, as mankind's distinctively and normatively "human" trait. The concrete actualization of these two potentialities in history is precisely what is meant by socialism.

(2) Thanks in large part to the advances made under capitalism, the current state of productive capacities in the industrialized countries makes it possible to ensure for every person at the very least a sufficiency of those use‑values necessary to exist without fear of hunger, poverty, exposure to the elements, lack of medical care, etc. The first social priority is thus that of providing these goods to everyone, regardless of his or her social status.

(3) Each individual has the "right" not to be economically exploited and equally the "responsibility" not to exploit others. It follows that the private ownership of the means of production is incompatible with socialism and that workers themselves must develop ways to regulate production for social needs in such a manner that each producer participates in the production process maximally and in the greatest variety of ways. This would require a major rise in the cultural level and understanding of the members of the working class‑indeed, the real appropriation of culture by all members of society instead of by a privileged few whose leisure is gained at the expense of others. At the same time that the production process is to be organized according to the participation of the producers (workers' self-management), it must also be organized according to the needs of society as a whole and decided upon democratically such that the will of the people actively shapes the planning of production (social self-management). It is at the interface of these two forms of self-management that the institutional organization of a socialist society must emerge and about which it would be pointless at this time to speculate in detail.

(4) It follows that a socialist society will be inherently "political" in all important realms of general concern. It must also be fully democratic, in the sense that all decisions will have to be based upon the widest discussion and participation by all persons concerned. This will of necessity entail the "remaking" of egoists into uncoerced participating members of a community, and will take considerable time to achieve. Without the existence of special economic interests and the power of the privileged, political relations in such a society should be reduced to an effort to identify that course of action which is most in the public interest in any set of circumstances. Obviously the necessary changes in individual outlook upon their society-become-community will be enormous in comparison to the cynicism and egoism currently prevalent. [6] Despite the yawning cultural gap between the actual and the potential, it cannot be overly stressed that socialism is possible only as democracy and, equally, that democracy is actualizable only as socialism.

(5) Only with the elimination of alienated labor, exploitation, and class‑dictatorship, will it become possible for all individuals to partake of the unlimited possibilities of self‑development lying both. within and without the labor process. That is, in a socialist society everyone will possess the "right" to the free development of his or her human needs, e.g., self-development, knowledge, sensuality, imagination, creative activity, capacity for communication, solidarity, and beauty. [7] A socialist society would increase personal diversity, as the rigors of a class-determined existence are first reduced and then eliminated. This relates to Marcuse's belief that it will eventually be possible for those who choose to work no more than the socially‑necessary minimum (itself to be determined by democratic choice among possible economic plans) to spend most of their time in personal development, interpersonal relations, or enjoyment. Beyond this minimum, work should become a source of enjoyment to those who find their satisfaction in continued, voluntary work, while the lives of all would be enriched by their participation in the numerous aspects of cultural development. [8]

Marcuse makes the interesting suggestion that such a socialist society would arise through a "revolution of disgust" at the injustice, absurdity, and evils of neocapitalism, now that the poverty of the immediate producers in industrially developed countries is no longer an issue. He sees socialism as entailing the abolition of inane desires fostered through the manipulation of needs, the institution of a rational division of both labor and the social product, and the emancipation of the repressed life-instincts. In other words, he understands socialism as the liberation of people from the exploitative domination of their unconscious motivations, by which their acquisitive, aggressive, and compulsive drives are manipulated and strengthened for the sake of increasing the sale of manufactured gadgets and "industrialized" services, allowing for the free play of the pleasure instinct. His chief point is that, as the productive capacities for conquering men's rational needs exist now, the "revolution of disgust" will take as its touchstone the inhumanity of neocapitalism for the creation of the first normatively "human" society.

Like Popper, however, Marcuse (and socialists generally) gives us only general ideas and not a concrete outline of the society which he seeks. [9] This is a practical problem of considerable importance, given the highly effective integration of bourgeois values by the working class, most notably in the United States. On the other hand, the reply that drawing up detailed plans for the society of the future is only to indulge in utopian fantasies which are objectively counterrevolutionary is not unfounded either. But the vagueness of liberals and that of Marxists have different origins. Whereas Marxists have confused the discussion of socialist values with that of preparing utopian blueprints, Popper and other liberal reformers remain vague about their goals because to specify them would be to show their identity with the assumptions underlying the very situation which is in need of reform. Marxists must begin their analysis of socialist values with a critique of the bourgeois anthropological-axiological assumptions, exposing the contrast between the neocapitalist limitations on human development and the possibilities concretely within reach. This is by no means the same thing as drawing up blueprints for utopia; it is rather the working out of the guiding principles of socialist praxis in the anticipated context of advanced economic development proceeding beyond neocapitalism. In this context, praxis would result from the dialectic of the anthropology‑axiology of socialism ("Marxian humanism") and the demands of the concrete political situation. Even Marxists as committed to the "humanist" perspective as the early Lukacs have avoided such an analysis for purposes of political expediency—i.e., they do not wish to raise socialist values over the possible political needs of the proletariat. Thus, although Lukacs is quite correct in noting that "during the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat the nature and the extent of freedom will be determined by the state of the class struggle, the power of the enemy, the importance of the threat to the dictatorship, the demands of the classes to be won over, and by the maturity of the classes allied to and influenced by the proletariat," [10] his conclusion that "freedom cannot represent a value in itself (any more than socialization)" is no different in principle from that view which made it appear to the Lenin‑Trotsky (and later Stalin) dictatorship perfectly consistent with Marxism to ruthlessly destroy the freedom of the proletariat when faced with the threat of counterrevolution. [11] Lukacs's statement that "freedom must serve the rule of the proletariat, not the other way round," [12] must not be interpreted to mean that a "socialist" bureaucracy can destroy the freedom of the proletariat precisely in the name of that freedom.

In view of all this, it should be stated in no uncertain terms that the "utopian" dimension of socialism in Marcuse's sense, i.e., that mode of thinking which demands the negation of a present characterized by alienation and repression in all aspects of life, [13] is at most half of the Marxian image of the historical nexus of late capitalism. It was not unintentionally that Marx excoriated utopianism among socialists and communists. [14] As Walter Benjamin has put it, the image of the "liberated grandchildren" is far less significant for praxis that of the "enslaved ancestors" or, we might add, the "repressed contemporaries." [15] After all, Capital abounds in studies in exacting detail of the latter while it ignores the former almost entirely. [16] Of course, the passages on "free time" in Marx's Grundrisse should suffice to refute those Marxists who would deny the "utopian" dimension in the later Marx altogether. [17]


Thus far we have contrasted the views of Marcuse and Popper in terms of their conceptions of the ideal society and the anthropological‑axiological assumptions underlying these conceptions. Nonetheless, in arguing on general philosophical or ideological grounds, we have sacrificed some concreteness. Thus it might seem as though the choice between the two "alternative" conceptions of man, society and democracy, were simply a matter of decision, as though the two positions are on a par with one another and are ultimately just two alternative metaphysics. As we shall see below, if the problem is posed in this manner, we cannot avoid conceding its outcome to Popper, for by assuming that all choices between ideologies are subjective and idiosyncratic, we would be placing ourselves in the "marketplace of ideas" where nonrational decisions precede intellectual choices. What must be shown is that it is not a matter of "choosing" between liberalism and socialism, but rather that the (relative) validity of Marxism can be demonstrated on the basis of two criteria: that of rigor with respect to social and historical science, and that of adequacy to liberating praxis in history. We must first show that each position represents a different conception of and tradition in science and philosophy—Popper those of naturalism and positivism, and Marcuse those of critical theory and the materialist interpretation of history. Ultimately, the question comes down to the respective conceptions of nature and history and the relations between these and praxis, which now brings us to the second major issue between Popper and Marcuse.


Popper's approach to history is an exclusively empirical one in which he is at pains to stress history's contingency (against vulgar Marxism, among other opponents) and the impossibility of its democratic control. This is clear in his indictment of the doctrine he calls "historicism," which, along with what he calls "utopianism," is said to be the theoretical basis of totalitarianism. He states:

I mean by "historicism" an approach to the social sciences which assumes that historical prediction is their principal aim, and which assumes that this aim is attainable by discovering the "rhythms" or the "patterns," the "laws" or the "trends" that underlie the evolution of history. . . . And I have not hesitated to construct arguments in its support which have never, to my knowledge, been brought forward by historicists themselves. I hope that, in this way, I have succeeded in building up a position really worth attacking. [18]

It is worth noting that Popper has constructed this "historicism"—or more accurately, historical naturalism, since it assimilates the study of history to the natural scientific interest in prediction and control—from such a variety of doctrines that his critique reduces to an argument against a straw man.

Be this as it may, his chief argument against the alleged predictability of history lies in the claim that history is changed by progress in scientific knowledge, but that since advances in science are themselves scientifically unpredictable, history itself is scientifically unpredictable. [19] Suffice it to say that non­scientific claims to the predictability of history are simply dismissed. But since the course of history is thus held to be unpredictable, Popper's so‑called "historicism" is inherently dogmatic, that is, unscientific; furthermore, it would follow that there was no history before Copernicus, Galileo and Newton! Popper claims that when historicism is combined into a ruling ideology with "utopianism," which is also "unscientific" because it is based upon values and not upon facts, total social control by the state (totalitarianism) follows. He states:

The strongest element in the alliance between historicism and Utopianism is, undoubtedly, the holistic approach which is common to both . . . . Both overlook . . . the fact that "wholes" in this sense can never be the object of scientific inquiry. Both parties are dissatisfied with "piecemeal tinkering" and "muddling through": they wish to adopt more radical methods . . . . The control must be complete, for in any department of social life which is not so controlled, there may lurk the dangerous forces that make for unforeseen changes. [20]

The difficulties of this argument are many, not the least of which was pointed out by Marcuse when he noted that scientific knowledge only enters into history as accepted knowledge, so that the role science plays in historical change must itself be understood in historical terms, rather than history having to be understood in scientific ones. [21] That is, whereas Popper's position implies that scientific ideas affect the course of history directly but unpredictably, they in fact have effect only insofar as science itself forms a constitutive part of the social‑historical totality (more strictly, of bourgeois society, given the recent origins of natural science), thus modifying this totality and affecting other social structures within it—production, the state, etc.—only to the extent that the "acceptability" of the scientific ideas in question is mediated by the prevailing state of this totality, which mediation is thus extra‑scientific. Progress in many branches of scientific research may have no effect whatsoever on history, or, alternatively, these advances will have an effect to the extent that they are integrated into the social totality, modifying it in turn, which effects may or may not be predictable in social‑historical, but not scientific, terms.

This brings us to the heart of the discrepancy between the views of Popper and Marcuse: the question of the status of "totalities"—or, in bourgeois terms, "wholes"—and the capacity of science to treat them rigorously. As we have seen, the most important of Popper's betes noires is what he calls "holism," which allegedly is common to historicism and utopianism. This concept represents a confusion on Popper's part between the bourgeois holism of Mannheimian sociology of knowledge and Gestaltism in psychology on the one hand, and the dialectics of socio‑historical totalities as in Marx and Lukacs on the other. [22] This holism is but a bourgeois rejection of an equally bourgeois atomism in the attempt to deal with concrete phenomena, especially social and psychological ones. As we shall see below, the bourgeois "whole" differs from the Marxist conception of totality insofar as the former is non-antagonistic. The links between holism, utopianism, historicism and totalitarianism are delineated by Popper as follows:

Holistic or Utopian social engineering, as opposed to piecemeal social engineering . . . aims at remodelling the "whole of society" in accordance with a definite plan or blueprint; it aims at "seizing the key positions" and at extending "the power of the State . . . until the State becomes nearly identical with society," and it aims, furthermore, at controlling from these "key positions" the historical forces that mould the future of the developing society: either by arresting this development, or else by foreseeing its course and adjusting society to it. [23]

Given this relation, Popper's case against historicism rests upon the connection between the assumed predictability of historical events and the possibility of that control over them which, Popper assumes, implies a totalitarian state. For history to be determined, human actions must exhibit a completely thinglike character, just as classical mechanics requires its objects to have no "internal" motion but to move entirely in accord with external forces. On the other hand, the classical argument for the indeterminism of history is that of the alleged existence of human "free will," which supposedly ensures that individuals can and do act without external causes (voluntarism). Obviously, only on the first of these views would history be predictable, and so Popper's "historicists" must be determinists, since they assume history is predictable. Yet Popper's "totalitarians" are assumed to control history completely (at least within a given society), so they need to be extreme voluntarists, as Stalin and Hitler indeed were. Thus, despite Popper's desire to identify them, the "historicists" and the "totalitarians" hold contradictory conceptions of history.


For Marxisrn, the whole argument over predictability is entirely beside the point. Although the vulgar Marxists of the Second International, and the Bolsheviks, were determinists in their philosophy of history, [24] there is no justification in Marxian socialism for such determinism, or for voluntarism. In fact, the interrelated Marxian conceptions of man, praxis, and history all imply in the strongest terms the indeterminability of historical events. This indeterminability is not voluntaristic but rather is ambiguous, as long as societal life is not organized socialistically. This will be the case as long as Marx's observation holds, viz., that "men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living." [25] This will be the case as long as men are still (1) acting individualistically, without social control over social production, and (2) under the domination of the inherited inadequacy of "tradition"—that is, scarcity. On the contrary, realized "Communism" for Marx is precisely the overcoming of these two conditions; and it is for this reason that he considers it to be the telos of history. As he formulated this point in 1844,

Communism is the positive abolition of private property, of human self‑alienation, and thus the real appropriation of human nature through and for man. It is . . . a complete and conscious return [of man to himself] which assimilates all the wealth of previous development . . . . It is the definitive resolution of the antagonism between man and nature, and between man and man . . . . It is the solution to the riddle of history and knows itself to be this solution. [26]

Only at this stage of social and economic development will men's freedom be grounded in a democratic "voluntarism" involving all members of society and differing from previous voluntarisms by supporting their freedom of self‑development and not their enslavement to the totalitarian state. Prior to such a stage, however, men and their social relations will continue to exhibit thinglike (objectlike) characteristics in some important respects. Individuals will often fail to behave as free agents but rather will exhibit such lawlike behavior as makes possible a limited form of approximate historical prediction. But this predictability must be understood as a symptom of that reification of individuals and their social relations which is a historical consequence of class‑dominated societies. Even so, human action, and hence history, is always ambiguous because no matter how overwhelming the alienation of this reification might seem, men are always potentially and in part actually free beings, capable of negating their reified social milieu, of modifying it, or even destroying it and creating a new one through revolutionary praxis. To this extent, even in a controlled totalitarian system such as that of Stalinism, social relations never admit the strict and total determinism (and predictability) of natural events. Men are always subjects, although prior to the full development of socialism they are always alienated ones; in the terminology of the early Lukacs, they are the "identical subject‑objects" of history, who possess the potentiality of reappropriating their individual and collective subjectivity, i.e., their freedom. It should be noted that Lukacs reserves the term "identical subject-object of history" for the proletariat, and does not apply it to "mankind" at large, because at this historical juncture only the proletariat is a class which is almost entirely an object and which can also transcend this objectivity by creating a new social totality through revolutionary praxis. [27] Similarly, Maurice Merleau‑Ponty writes:

Even in a Marxist perspective effective history follows its internal logic to the very end only if men become aware of it, understand it in the Marxist sense, and complete the movement which is [only] roughly indicated in things. The historian who writes the history of 1917 cannot, even if he is a Marxist, pretend that the revolution was predestined; he must [on the contrary] show it was possible—even probable—but not prefabricated. The course of universal history is not determined even for him: socialism will come, but who knows when or by what paths? [28]

Thus, Marxists do not agree with Popper that history is simply contingent, although they know it to be subject to the vicissitudes, for the most part beyond anyone's control, of the actions of individuals and groups. They further agree that predictability in detail is precluded, for they are not historicists as Popper has defined the terms. That is,

Marxism . . . recognizes that nothing in history is absolutely contingent, that historical facts . . . form an intelligible system and present a rational development. But the characteristic thing about Marxism . . . is its admission that . . . the final synthesis is not necessitated but depends upon a revolutionary act whose certainty is not guaranteed by any divine decree nor by any metaphysical structure of the world . . . . It is therefore characteristic of Marxism to admit that history is both logical and contingent, that nothing is absolutely fortuitous but also that nothing is absolutely necessary—which is what we meant . . . when we said that there are dialectical facts. [29]

Yet, given the ambiguity of history, it is possible and indeed necessary for praxis to undertake the scientific project of analyzing the forces and structures present in any historical nexus in order to discover the tendencies which are present, as in Merleau‑Ponty's affirmation that "socialism will come, but who knows when or by what paths." The classical analysis demonstrating this is, of course, that of Marx in Capital. This analysis does not assume that history is determined by causal laws as discovered by natural science, but it does indicate the probable direction of historical movement given certain assumptions about the probable behavior of individuals who make up historically‑significant social groups: for example, the behavior of individual capitalists at various stages of the business cycle, behavior which invariably leads to the repetition of the cycle, despite their own wishes. This gives us a glimpse, although only a brief one at this stage of the argument, at the differences between the naturalistic and the Marxian conceptions of the nature and functions of social science (in this case history), conceptions which we shall see underlie the entire problematic of the liberal and socialist Weltanschauungen.


Popper, who rejects determinism in history, nonetheless assumes it for the study of nature, since his model of science is that of the natural sciences—most importantly physics, a model which has been the paradigm of natural science since the seventeenth century. It was in physics that Galileo and Newton established for the first time the efficacy of what Popper was later to call the "hypothetical‑deductive method." Yet ironically, insofar as Popper would have the social sciences modeled on the natural sciences, he contradictorily introduces a deterministic model into the study, and thus into the desired "engineering" of society, a move which places him in the camp of those who would reduce people to things and manipulate their reified social relations.

To appreciate the roots of this irony, we must recognize that the naturalism of classical physics is essentially bourgeois, and that it shares with the market economy and other liberal presuppositions a common foundation in the basic assumption of a reified world. Furthermore, when the natural sciences are assumed to be the only fitting paradigms of the social sciences (or "sciences of man") their own underlying bourgeois foundations are inevitably hidden. This results in turn in the complicity of the social sciences in the bourgeois (today neocapitalist) order such that significant structural change (liberation) is banished from the horizon of these sciences and from the "piecemeal social engineering" of the "open society" which is supposed to be based upon them.

The basic achievement of Galileo in founding the methodology of the natural sciences was the formulation and successful demonstration of a paradigm of a systematic rational knowledge of nature, newly defined by him as objective nature, which would lead eventually to a system of demonstrable, i.e., deductive, propositions characterizing the law‑governed determined interactions of pure bodies. [30] Such an abstract, objective nature is obviously not the "nature" of our everyday experience. The "nature" we meet when we walk through a forest, look up at the stars, or notice animals or plants, is not "objective" but rather a compound of instinctual, practical, religious, aesthetic and other such meanings. Mathematics is necessary to natural science in order to underpin that process of abstraction from these meanings which enables the scientist to speak of a purely objective nature governed by laws. The ultimate goal of the Galilean revolution is the conception of everything that exists as a body or a complex of bodies, and of all phenomena as events resulting from the interactions of bodies. The goal of classical natural science and the accompanying rationalist philosophy was thus a systematic episteme of objective nature, a program that would overcome the ambiguity of the experienced world, now to be characterized with the epithet "subjective.” [31] With widespread acceptance by the literate public of this subjective‑objective distinction, the fact that science originates in an explicit abstraction from pre‑scientific experience, recognized clearly by Galileo but gradually forgotten as science became increasingly a matter of intellectual technique, lost its strangeness and became obscured. This made it possible for the naive ontology of natural objects (Galileo's "pure bodies") to become widely accepted by philosophers by the eighteenth century (hence Kant's "Copernican revolution" in epistemology) and subsequently by the general public. It is worth noting in passing that classical modem philosophy, i.e., rationalism, originated with Descartes and Hobbes, who saw its task to be the grounding of natural science in indubitable "first truths" (later, Kant's "transcendental logic"), from which ensuing propositions concerning objective nature would derive their validity. Only with Hume's skepticism did there arise the positivist repudiation of the ideal of a deductive system of science originating in metaphysics, with the result that a modem Humean such as Popper could state that science is not a system of truths but only one of tentative hypotheses.

Hence Popper states, correctly, that the natural sciences "do not consist of positive or certain knowledge," but he draws from this the false conclusion that there is "no positive, certain knowledge, there is but hypothetical knowledge." He objects to the Marxists because "they think they know a great deal," which is to say that they are dogmatic; but his own skepticism reduces to nihilism, since, if science cannot give us certain knowledge (episteme) but only hypotheses, it does not follow that there is no such possible episteme unless one gratuitously identifies all knowledge with scientific knowledge. On the contrary, the phenomenological school of philosophy has amply demonstrated that all forms of conceptualization are grounded in pre‑predicative experience, the "knowledge" of which cannot be based upon the conceptualized paradigm of the natural sciences. This is the case because the pre‑scientific experiences of meaning which were occluded with the expansion of natural scientific objectivism are in principle, prior to, and untouched by, this process of objectification. [32] Popper's skepticism amounts to the dogmatic and false denial that there can be any knowledge other than natural scientific knowledge, and the correct claim that scientific knowledge itself is hypothetical and not epistemic. This attitude has the effect of precluding investigation of the human realm, the realm of experienced meanings including specifically socialized ones, in any way other than by the misplaced reduction of experience to natural events and the interaction of bodies. Thus, Popper's denial that he is a positivist is ridiculous. By narrowly defining positivism as teaching "Stay with what is perceived," Popper identifies positivism with the limited perspective of the Vienna Circle, which in general sees, science as inductively empirical. Popper's chief contribution is to have seen and demonstrated that science is not inductive at all, but deductive. Nonetheless, this is not sufficient to spare him from the charge of being a positivist: his positivism consists precisely in the claim that "above all there is scientific progress." This is pure positivism in the Comtean tradition, the uncritical faith in the transformative powers of natural science and the uncritical acceptance of the obfuscation of its own bourgeois "metaphysical" presuppositions. Furthermore, as we shall see, the realm of social significations is characterized by the presence of totalities, the parts of which are united by functional and dialectical relations, rather than merely by bodies and their aggregations, as well as by negativities. With this vast field open for investigation, dialectically and phenomenologically, there is no reason to concede to Popper that episteme is impossible. This point is central to Marxism for, to cite Merleau-Ponty again,

It is precisely this idea, that nothing can be isolated in the total context of history, which lies at the heart of Marxism, with, in addition, the idea that because of their greater generality economic phenomena make a greater contribution to historical discourse—not that they explain everything that happens but that no progress can be made in the cultural order, no historical step can be taken unless the economy . . . is organized in a certain way. [33]

In fact, Popper's skeptical imputation of a latent dogmatism to Marxism reflects the positivist dogma that there is no "truth" in politics, that all values are subjective (i.e. idiosyncratic and indemonstrable). It follows that any claim to criticize bourgeois institutions and values would a priori be "unscientific" because science allegedly deals only with facts and not with values. Needless to say, Marxism denies the concreteness of this distinction, and relegates it to the realm of positivist abstraction because there are no social phenomena which are not both factual and normative. Natural science deals with projected objectivities, which are idealizations, rather than with nature as it is concretely experienced even by the scientist. The reader should note Hegel's remark concerning scientific observation, that "consciousness 'observes,' i.e., reason wants to find and to have itself in the form of [an] existent object, to be in [the] concrete sensuously‑present form. [But] consciousness thus observing believes [meint] and, indeed, says that it wants to discover not itself, but, on the contrary, the inner being [i.e., the laws] of things qua things." [34]

The proper Marxist response to positivist nihilism masquerading as the philosophy of science, and its debasing of all criticism of positive social facts as being "merely subjective" or "emotive" consists in actually working out the theory of the praxis, especially in labor, and thereby the theory of society, nature and history, so as to demonstrate the existence of the "normative" in the phenomenal by studying social-historical phenomena in their concreteness. That is, Marxism denies the reification of objective facts, and the subjectivization of values. This distinction is based upon destroying the context of concrete phenomena, as Lukacs notes when he states that "the 'pure' facts of the natural sciences arise when a phenomenon of the real world is placed (in thought or reality) into an environment where its laws can be inspected without outside interference. This process is reinforced by reducing phenomena to their purely quantitative essence." [35] In contrast to this, the occluded meaning of Galilean science as the objectification of Being, with its parallels in Descartes's metaphysics and Hobbes's psychology and social theory, is by no means accidentally related to the objectification or reification of the social relations and consciousness characteristic of the bourgeois society which was forming in the womb of feudalism contemporaneously with the first successes of natural science.

As Marx has shown, capitalism arose as the feudal economy was being transformed into a system of production based exclusively upon commodity production, and especially on the reduction of the laborer to the commodity "labor‑power." Now, a commodity is nothing but an economic object, the crystallization of living labor standing over against its producers and dominating them, i.e., turning them into its objects. [36] The labor process in capitalism is nothing but the reified activity of the laborer as an object (the commodity labor‑power) upon other objects (raw materials, tools, etc.), all of which are the property of the capitalist. From the latter's viewpoint, the labor process is simply the consumption of all these commodities which he has purchased in order to produce surplus value, "a process between things . . . that have become his property." [37] The laborer can only regain his subjectivity (and still an alienated one at that) outside the labor process, in his free time and when he "freely" seeks another labor contract with another capitalist. Because the capitalist labor process is nothing but the interaction of objects for private profit, it is an atomizing process: it is based on the uncoordinated actions of individuals in total economic competition with one another. There is no functioning interest in the economic whole, the local, regional, national and international production-exchange‑distribution‑consumption process, but only the antagonistic interplay of isolated economic "atoms." As a functional part of bourgeois society as a totality, nascent science shared in the atomism and objectivism of this society and its implicit view of the world, as Popper has grasped in noting that "'wholes' . . . can never be the object of [naturalistic] scientific inquiry." [38]

Thus we have Popper's testimony to the atomism, as well as Galileo's to the objectivism, of natural science, both of which are salient characteristics of nascent bourgeois society. In contrast, Marxism denies that science must be objectivistic and atomistic; instead, regarding social science, these attributes only ideologize it. As Merleau‑Ponty has put it, "sociology cannot recognize any permanent elements in the different wholes into which they are integrated [i.e., the rejection of the constancy‑hypothesis, already developed by the Gestalt psychologists], no facts external to one another, but, in the case of each society, should recognize a totality where phenomena give mutual expression to each other and reveal the same basic theme." [39]

We can now see why Popper's attempt to maximize natural scientific rationality in neocapitalist social relations represents the application of a highly refined bourgeois metaphysics (which Popper would deny, since it is buried beneath the positivist self­conception of science) as well as an equally refined method to an advanced state of bourgeois social development. Thus, the cure and the symptoms are but different manifestations of the same malady. We can now also see that the reason Popper does not give any concrete picture of the "open society" and the role to be played therein by scientific "reason" is that it would not differ in any essentials from the contemporary western neocapitalist democracies. The formalism of the "open society," which is based on the ideological notion of the "marketplace of ideas" and which possesses all the "freedom" of the capitalist marketplace, follows directly from Popper's theory of science, which in turn follows from his acceptance of the positivist separation of fact and value. This separation is the basis of his argument against the "Platonism" which he detects with some justification in Hegel (and in vulgar Marxism, we should add) but which is, despite Popper's assertions, not present in Marx. [40] Popper's critique of Plato is motivated by the goal of refuting all claims that there might be knowledge of political values; yet Popper speaks in a loose manner of the "value" of every human being, a concept which can never be justified on the basis of his theory of science. Thus, when he speaks of the "moral superiority" of rationalism—by which he means the rejection of every claim to intellectual authority—and of the non‑totalitarian attitude which allegedly follows from this rationalism, we must note that this skepticism merely masks the irrational authority of liberalism, from which point of view all political values are equally unverifiable.

This irrationalism is shown up by the telling points made below by the interviewer: (1) that the "social evils" which Popper wishes to see remedied are themselves values albeit negative ones (or better, that they are phenomena, in that "facts" and "values" have no existence except in the analysis of the positivist) and therefore on his own grounds Popper could never have knowledge of them upon which to base piecemeal reform; and (2) that the whole idea of the "open society" is based upon the belief in the moral superiority of naturalistic reason, which belief must itself be irrational or nonrational and whose "moral superiority," itself a value, could never be demonstrated "scientifically."

As Bacon phrased it at the dawn of the seventeenth century scientific revolution, "Knowledge is power"—by which we must understand power over both nature and men. As such, the political use of what Popper calls "critical" scientific reason would uncritically overlook the fundamental flaws of the contemporary neocapitalist western democracies, although it might streamline the prevailing system by making things more efficient. "Critical" discussions would be solely about choosing the most efficient means, and the only significant participants would be those who have a monopoly on knowledge of means, viz., the technicians and managers, and those who have already established the ends, viz., the owners, politicians and bureaucrats. Popper's "open society" would in fact be the St.‑Simonian autocracy of the owners and the men of science.


But the problem of the homology of science and bourgeois society as a totality becomes even more acute in the social sciences, which deal in large measure with the problems of this very society. With respect to political economy, it is here that Marx argued that a bourgeois social science could be nothing but an obfuscation of the status quo of capitalism because of its blindness to its own theoretical foundations in its acceptance of capitalism. Marx differentiated himself from the political economists by understanding these foundations in political and historical rather than in natural terms. He saw the goal of his theoretical work as changing political economy into a critical social science, a critique of the eco­nomic presuppositions of capitalism which was to be accomplished by criticizing classical political economy and demonstrating the historical origins and fate of capitalism. Such a critical economic science would, then, be the theoretical framework of a thoroughly democratic and socialist society in which nothing would be beyond discussion and criticism; among other things, this science would demonstrate the necessity of workers' and social self‑management in such a society. The same would be true of all praxis leading up to the transition to socialism, which must be understood within the framework of a critical theory that anticipates it while being nourished by present social-historical realities. For Max Horkheimer, critical theory "confronts history with that possibility which is always concretely visible within it.” [41] Similarly, for Marx

the construction of the future and its completion for all times is not our task, what we have to accomplish . . . is all the more clear: relentless criticism of all existing conditions, relentless in the sense that the criticism is not afraid of its findings and just as little afraid of the conflict with the powers‑that‑be. [42]

Insofar as classical political economy failed to question the foundations of capitalism as to its anthropological‑axiological assumptions and its historical limitations, it was for Marx unworthy of the name “science." Marxian critical social science, whose paradigm is the critique of political economy, is distinguished from its bourgeois counterpart in that it seeks to provide, by its radical anatomy of capitalism as the exploitation of alienated labor, the theoretical knowledge needed to transform that social system by revolutionary praxis. Positivist social science, on the other hand, accepts the existence of capitalism as "natural" in order to reduce it to facts for analysis and in order to assist the capitalists by advising them how to make the system function more efficiently. The philosophical or anthropological-axiological basis of Marx's critique of classical political economy is his conception of the authentic potentialities of human existence in an advanced industrial society, and of the alienation of bourgeois man (proletarian and capitalist alike), which he had worked out in his manuscripts of 1844. The metaphilosophical basis of this critique is the materialist interpretation of history, in which all technical economic questions are addressed within the context of bourgeois society as a developing self-contradictory historical totality.

To appreciate fully the contrast between Marxian and naturalistic social science we must recall the crucial role played in the former by the concept of totality and its repudiation by naturalistic science as represented by Popper. As Lukacs has noted, Marx's statement that "'the relations of production of every society form a whole' is the methodological point of departure and the key to the historical understanding of social relations." [43] The Marxist dialectic, far from being laws of nature as Engels had maintained, [44] is rather an approach to the study of historical phenomena which stresses the antagonistic‑ character of social totalities and the negativities inherent in them.

It is not the primacy of economic motives in historical explanation that constitutes the decisive difference between Marxian and bourgeois thought, but the point of view of totality . . . . Proletarian science is revolutionary not just by virtue of its revolutionary ideas which it opposes to bourgeois society, but above all because of its method. The primacy of the category of totality is the bearer of the principle of revolution in science. [45]

The "facts" of positivist social science, which are considered as given ("positively") and in mutual isolation are themselves products of the social system.

Thus, when "science" maintains that the manner in which data immediately present themselves is an adequate foundation of scientific conceptualization and that the actual form of these data is the appropriate starting point for the formation of scientific concepts, it thereby takes its stand simply and dogmatically on the basis of capitalist society. It uncritically accepts the nature of the object as it is given and the laws of that society as the unalterable foundation of "science." [46]

Instead, these "facts" must be understood in terms of their historical origins and relations rather than as immediately given; that is, they must be examined historically and dialectically. This in turn means that the facts must be understood in terms of an antagonistic totality, as capitalism was analyzed by Marx, for these "contradictions" belong to the very nature of social reality. Our understanding of social phenomena is a matter of understanding their function in terms of their place in the social‑historical process.

On the other hand, bourgeois society wants to understand its existence as harmonious and its values as eternal. This is the function of bourgeois social science. When the ideal of scientific knowledge is applied to nature it validly furthers our knowledge, even if hypothetical. But when it is applied to society this ideal becomes an ideological weapon of the bourgeoisie. Bourgeois social science "must think of capitalism as being predestined to eternal survival by the eternal laws of nature and reason. Conversely, contradictions that cannot be ignored must be shown to be purely surface phenomena." [47] Specifically, the stress on "objectivity" in economics conceals the fact that economic categories are reified forms of the relations of capitalist production. The economic system appears as a mechanism for the production of "goods" and "services" according to the "law" of supply and demand, but what is overlooked is that these economic categories represent nothing other than the exploitation of labor and alienated and de­humanized social relations. Thus, the Marxist critique of political economy is not merely a disagreement among economists about economic problems, but an explicit critique of the classical economists' acceptance of the capitalist system of production as "natural" and an implicit critique of the application of natural scientific methodology to social‑historical reality. We may note in passing that Marx's critique applies mutatis mutandis to neoclassical, marginalist, and Keynesian economics as well.

Far from being caught in the positivist dichotomy of values and facts, which thinks of political pre­suppositions as biasing one's scientific analyses—as even the leading Marxist economists of the Second International believed—Marx's critical approach to the economic and other phenomena of bourgeois society enabled him as a revolutionary to mediate his theory with emancipatory praxis. This revolutionary capacity in Marx's theory raises for us the central question of the philosophy of the social sciences: What is the interest which guides their cognitive inquiry? [48] In the case of the natural sciences, the guiding interest is that of control over nature. The social sciences, insofar as they remain naturalistic, have as their own interest the working out of this concern for control in terms of their study of social relations. A critical social science, on the other hand, has as its guiding interest the emancipation of men from dehumanizing social relations. As such, the critical social sciences have a clearly defined relation to praxis which is lacking in the positivist naturalist social sciences, whose claims to "objectivity" conceal their roots in, and uncritically accept, the capitalist totality.


The problem of interest is acute in the social sciences precisely because the observer does not study an abstract object‑world, but rather meaning-structures, which do not admit of reduction to the form of objective laws as do natural phenomena. Despite their reification in bourgeois society, human agents are conscious, value‑oriented beings who seek to achieve various goals through their actions. Furthermore, the value system that is studied by the social scientist is by and large a part of his own life history, sedimented in the meaning‑structure of his experience and his Weltanschauung. Thus either (1) he is a part of what he investigates (or better, it is a part of him) and cannot exclude his affections even in cognitive operations as basic as the organization of data, or (2) he is as objective as possible and thus makes himself into an outsider who is unaffected by the object of his study, in which case he cannot experience the social meaning-structure he is investigating as it is experienced by members of the social system under investigation; that is, his knowledge remains mediated by his techniques. In the first case there is necessarily a loss of objectivity but perhaps a compensating increase in insight, whereas in the second there is the loss of the intuitive knowledge which makes the members of the society under investigation able to grasp the meaning-structures in question by living through them. "The knowledge of the real . . . nature of a phenomenon, the knowledge of its historical character and the knowledge of its actual function in the totality of society, form . . . a single, individual act of cognition. The unity is shattered by the pseudo‑scientific method." [49]

But a critical, non‑positivist social science must be more than the intuitions of individual researchers; it must be based upon a dialectical conception of reason which guides it both methodologically and axiologically. We can distinguish two methods of scientific investigation which have had success in their respective domains: (1) that of causal explanation (Erklarung) in the natural sciences and (2) that of interpretation (Verstehen or Hermeneutik) in the humanities. The social sciences are problematical because of the ambiguity of social forms, which are neither entirely law‑determined nor the expressions of creative spirit. Insofar as human action is often unfree, and social relations often reified, natural scientific methodology plays a legitimate, if limited, role in the sciences of man. Indeed there are aspects of social life, especially in a capitalist society, which show thinglike characteristics and lawlike regularity. But, on the other hand, insofar as men are goal‑oriented, evaluating, creative beings, social science must appropriate the method of Verstehen in its investigation of the meaning‑structures of men's social world(s). A dialectical social science is one which, through its logic and its interpretation of history, mediates the apparent contradiction between these two methods as it attempts to understand a social system as a totality. Rather than being merely an application of natural science to the domain of social "facts," such a critical social science has available to it two modes of emancipation: the individual one of psychological therapy and the collective one of political activity. In both modes, critical social science mediates theory and emancipatory praxis. The function of the critical social scientist is thus to aid in the process of overcoming that dehumanization of individuals and of social relations which characterizes neocapitalist society, since his theoretical research into the grounds of this dehumanization is inherently related to emancipatory praxis.

The interviewer's question below to Marcuse concerning the criteria necessary to justify the "correctness" of the new society indicates the difference between critical theory and utopian thinking. In the latter case, the values sought for the new society are indemonstrable precisely because a utopian value-system is unrelated to existing historical conditions and so is said to be valid for all time. But critical theory recognizes that, just as facts and values are not distinct in reality, although every social phenomenon may be reduced to a "fact" and a "value" upon analysis, so too it recognizes that social phenomena are not static but are always changing toward the horizon of the future, as the potentialities of societies continue to change. Critical theory criticizes irrational social phenomena to the extent that they are dehumanizing and analyzes their potential for transformation. In so doing, it can point to various historical possibilities in any given situation. The critical theorist can justify one or more of these possibilities in terms of his philosophical anthropology and the materialist interpretation of history, which we have seen to be axiological in part. But only the actual movement of history will decide among the possibilities specified by the theorist, or create new ones he had not anti­cipated. Thus, the specific role of the theorist is that of criticizing the irrational and clarifying the alternatives, not that of leading revolutions or of building new societies. As Marx observed,

we do not face the world in doctrinaire fashion with a new principle, declaring, "Here is truth, kneel here!" We develop new principles for the world out of the principles of the world. We do not tell the world, "Cease your struggles, they are stupid; we want to give you the true watchword of the struggle." We merely show the world why it actually struggles; and the awareness of this is something that the world must acquire even if it does not want to. [50]


This brings us to our third major issue: that of the respective ways of attaining the two contrasting goals of Marcuse and Popper. Popper gives us no answer to the question as to how the "open society" can be realized, except the claim that it will be by "piecemeal social engineering" and the pious hope that "reason," by which is meant that natural, scientific, instrumental reason which we now know to be uncritical in the neocapitalist social context, may prevail. Granting that there is a great deal of such "rational" criticism generated from all levels of our society, we must still ask why those who possess power would be interested in following this criticism if it is in any way prejudicial to their interests. Furthermore, it seems obvious that any criticism which radically questions the foundations of our society will find no favor among the owners and social "engineers." What Popper completely ignores is that in a class society political life revolves around the question of power; it may incidentally include such things as discussion, rights, elections, and the like, but those who already possess social power have to be coerced into acting upon any criticism which does not support their interests, no matter how socially constructive that criticism might be. But this brings us immediately to the matter of political violence, by which is meant coercion of all degrees and types, which Popper is anxious to avoid.

If we were to accept the ends suggested by Popper, the only means of bringing about the "piecemeal social engineering" of which he speaks are proscribed by him. It is this illusion that reform is possible without entering into political struggle, that it can be achieved solely by the force of disinterested argument among men and women of good will, which reveals the glaringly ideological nature of Popper's "open society." Such a society is impossible to actualize within the limits set by Popper himself, and, even if it could be achieved, it would gain us nothing in terms of human emancipation. It would be necessary that all reforms be indeed in the interest of the ruling class for them to undertake the "engineering" necessary to bring them about. Nevertheless, in The Poverty of Historicism, after correctly arguing that the utopian social engineer would have to be vested with almost dictatorial powers in order to be able to carry out his program, Popper observes,

I do not believe that any corresponding criticism of the piecemeal method can be offered. This method can be used . . . to search for, and fight against, the greatest and most urgent evils of society, rather than to seek, and to fight for, some ultimate good. . . . But a systematic fight against definite wrongs, against concrete forms of injustice and exploitation, and avoidable suffering such as poverty or 'unemployment, is a very different thing from the attempt to realize a distant ideal blueprint of society . . . . There is no inherent reason why this method should lead to an accumulation of power, and to the suppression of criticism. [51]

As we have seen, even "piecemeal" social engineering is social engineering within a class society; the control over that society may be delegated to the social engineers, but it will nonetheless remain vested in the hands of the owners and bureaucrats. The accumulation of power would in fact increase in such a society, since the engineering would begin on the basis of power already accumulated by the monopolists and oligopolists who own and control the means of production. As outlined above, they would expect their interests to be served by any proposed social "reforms." It is evident from this passage that Popper treats "concrete forms of injustice or exploitation" as positive facts without considering their roots in a capitalist system of production common to both the contemporary reality and Popper's proposed "open society." There are, for Popper, only the two alternatives of dictatorial utopian planning and "open" piecemeal reform. His point that all dictatorships, whether of the left or the right, are the same is valid only if the starting point is that of a democracy, although an imperfect one, such as in the contemporary western democracies. Although it is an enormous problem which cannot be resolved here, it is incumbent upon socialists to address themselves to the question of the organization of the revolutionary movement and of post‑revolutionary institutions in order to guard against the recrudescence of dictatorial tendencies in future socialist society. It should be obvious that the Soviet experience with "democratic centralism" in Party and State has been a political as well as a human disaster. On the other hand, the Chinese experience, despite the ever‑present danger of authoritarian bureaucracy, appears thus far to have avoided sinking into an irreversible bureaucratic centralism. Regardless of this, however, the point to be made here is that neither side of Popper's dichotomy leads to human emancipation. Socialism is no utopia; as Marx once said, the forced changing of social circumstances by a few individuals possessing the Truth (Popper's utopian engineering, either with or without the democratic facade) "must divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to the other." [52] But the question of means admits of at least three, not just two, alternative answers. The way out of the dilemma, which will lead to fundamental structural change in the direction of emancipation, is through the concerted action of the people, leading themselves and establishing a democratic socialism. This is neither "utopian" dictatorship nor mere piecemeal reform.

The goal of the truly open society—that is, socialist society—can be achieved, if at all, only through a protracted struggle. As long as the United States remains the bastion of world neocapitalism, the world will remain the scene of continued conflict as various peoples struggle to free themselves from foreign economic domination. Given their economic underdevelopment, this is by no means equivalent to the immediate struggle for human emancipation, but is merely one condition for its eventual attainment. At the same time, any domestic manifestation of the struggle for fundamental social change will meet with repression, the subtler the better from the government's point of view. [53]

Popper would have us believe that progress in our ideas and the application of science to social problems can replace violent revolutions. But there has never been a non‑violent social revolution. His positivist faith in the intrinsic relation of scientific progress to the happiness of mankind ignores the fact that politics is never "disinterested" as long as society is divided along class lines, any more than is science. Popper also refers to the distinction between a peaceful and violent overthrow, and alleges that Marxists have never adequately dealt with this ambiguity. In a certain sense he is right, for Marxists do not consider the question of violence to be fundamental; what is fundamental is emancipation, not the means necessary to achieve it. [54] As noted above, however, there are, nonetheless, certain guidelines which define the emancipatory nature of the political struggle which must not be violated. The only realistic reply to Popper on this point is that, hopefully, given a transition from neocapitalism to socialism, only that amount of force will be used which is absolutely necessary, and no more. But we can be sure that at least as much force as the bourgeoisie presently uses to defend its privileges will have to be used against it, and that in the last analysis this is what will decide the general level of violence.

We know as well that the bourgeoisies of numerous countries have already shown themselves willing to embrace fascism when they have considered it necessary. Because the ruling class already possesses a near-monopoly on the means of force, it is obviously wise for revolutionaries to avoid the use of violence for some time.

They will have to develop means of struggle other than direct, violent confrontation, such as mass economic action, including strikes and boycotts, election campaigns, legal actions directed against the corporations and the government, and the so‑called infiltration of important social institutions. The political struggles that have occurred in the past decade give some ground for hope that these seeds will fall on fertile ground. The antiwar movement demonstrated that widespread and sustained popular opposition to the government can prevent it from carrying out its aims with impunity. In the process millions of Americans had their eyes opened for the first time to the brutality "normally" perpetrated in their name, and we may well suspect that despite the current political lull the political consciousness of the people will never be quite the same. But the political activity of the 1960's failed to produce a permanent mass radical opposition, especially a radical working class one, as dissent was diffused by the liberal-reformist candidacies of McCarthy, Kennedy, and McGovern, and by the government's use of force, as at Kent State. True, the political consciousness of the exploited minorities was raised considerably. But in terms of political power, these groups can at best only disrupt the system; they do not have sufficient power to bring it to a standstill. It is not unrealistic to envision the wholesale repression of these groups should

they begin to pose a serious threat to the established order. Similarly, the student movement, which as of this writing has been largely dissipated, simply cannot wield the power necessary to shake the system to its foundations. This is true despite the fact that, in the long run, the dissemination of critical ideas among future generations is of paramount importance for breaking the syndrome of the automatic conformity of the younger generation to the consumer society. The women's movement, for its part, possesses the potential of challenging the foundations of a social system which exploits both the men who are forced into alienated labor and the women who are either exploited in the labor force or excluded from it entirely by prejudice. Still, the economic and political power of the political segment of the women's movement is as yet quite limited. The only real possibility of bringing neocapitalist society to a standstill remains with the workers as workers rather than fragmented as women or minority groups. It is only with the formation of a mass socialist workers' movement which will not hesitate to act as a radical political force that there is any significant possibility of asserting the power necessary to bring about the collapse of the bourgeois state—or, for that matter, significant social reform. Only the working class has the potential to create a socialist society, since the fundamental problem to be overcome in the transition to socialism is precisely the alienation of labor.

It is essential however, that the transition to socialism occur from below and that production be organized from below at all levels, for no party, bureaucracy, or state can replace the free association of the people. Only in this way can socialism fulfill all that it promises. It follows that a radical labor movement is the single most important condition necessary, although by itself not sufficient for the growth of a broad socialist movement. The current conditions and loyalties of the leadership of the American working class should give sufficient indication of how far we still have to go. Nonetheless, as Marx asserted over a century ago at the foundation of the International Workingmen's Association, "The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself."


1 Quotations from Marcuse and Popper which are not footnoted are taken from the debate contained within this volume. [—> main text]

2 On the basic assumptions of liberalism and the market society, cf., especially, C. B. Macpherson, Democratic Theory: Essays in Retrieval (Oxford, 1973), pp. 4‑6. [—> main text]

3 This rather unorthodox version of the concept of exploitation as the net transfer of powers" from one class to the other was first used, to my knowledge, by Macpherson, Democratic Theory, p. 9. [—> main text]

4 I have discussed in detail Marx's repudiation of philosophy in The Betrayal of Marx (New York, 1975), pp. 14‑29. [—> main text]

5 Agnes Heller, Towards a Marxist Theory of Value (Carbondale, II., 1972), p. 19. [—> main text]

6 Marcuse has explored the extent of these changes in Eros and Civilization (New York, 1962). [—> main text]

7 For a discussion of man's "human" or "higher‑level" needs, cf. Mihailo Markovic, From Affluence to Praxis (Ann Arbor, 1973), pp. 91‑92 passim. [—> main text]

8 Eros and Civilization, pp. 180‑202. [—> main text]

9 Cf. Ernest Mandel, Marxist Economic Theory (New York, 1970), 2: 605‑89 for a stimulating treatment of these issues in a concrete, non-utopian manner. [—> main text]

10 Georg Lukacs, History and Class‑ Consciousness (London, 1968), p. 292. [—> main text]

11 Cf. The Betrayal of Marx, pp. 279‑92, 298‑314, 321‑27, 354‑78, 411‑28. [—> main text]

12 History and Class Consciousness, p. 292. [—> main text]

13 Cf. Marcuse, One‑Dimensional Man (Boston, 1964), pp. 132‑33. [—> main text]

14 Cf. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, vol. 2 and The Communist Manifesto, part 3, for the classic Marxist polemic against utopianism. [—> main text]

15 Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (New York, 1968), p. 260. [—> main text]

16 Cf. Marx's schematic treatment of the transition from the "realm of necessity" to the "realm of freedom" in Capital (Moscow, 1966), 3: 820. [—> main text]

17 Marx, Grundrisse (New York, 1973), pp. 705‑706, 708. [—> main text]

18 The Poverty of Historicism (New York, 1961), p. 3. [—> main text]

19 Ibid., pp. vi‑viii. [—> main text]

20 Ibid., p. 74. [—> main text]

21 "Karl Popper and Historical Laws," in Studies in Critical Philosophy (Boston, 1973), pp. 197 ff. [—> main text]

22 Part of the difficulty in getting to the bottom of Popper's critique of Marxism is that it is directed against the vulgar Marxism of the Second International, including the Austro‑Marxists whom Popper had studied in his youth, and so‑called "dialectical materialism," the philosophical ideology of the Soviet Union. Cf. The Betrayal of Marx, pp. 1‑52 passim. [—> main text]

23 The Poverty of Historicism, p. 67. The quotations are taken from Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia (New York, 1936), described here by Popper as "the most elaborate exposition of a holistic and historicist programme known to me." [—> main text]

24 Plekhanov went furthest in tempering his determinism with a recognition of the element of contingency introduced by individual human agents, as is illustrated in his The Role of the Individual in History (New York, 1940). It is also important to recognize that, despite their theoretical determinism, both Lenin and Stalin were voluntarists in praxis. On this, cf. The Betrayal of Marx, pp. 44, 324‑26. [—> main text]

25 The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Moscow, n.d.), p. 15. [—> main text]

26 "Private Property and Communism," in Karl Marx: The Essential Writings, ed. F. Bender (New York, 1972), p. 89. [—> main text]

27 History and Class Consciousness, pp. 122‑23. [—> main text]

28 Maurice Merleau‑Ponty, "The Metaphysical in Man," in Sense and Non‑Sense (Evanston, Il., 1964), p. 92n. [—> main text]

29 Merleau‑Ponty, "Concerning Marxism," ibid., p. 120. [—> main text]

30 Our discussion of the significance of Galileo's work largely follows Husserl's argument in The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (Evanston, Il., 1970), pp. 21‑59. [—> main text]

31 That is, until an objective science of "subjectivity" (psychology) could be developed. [—> main text]

32 Cf. Husserl, Ibid., pp. 48‑53, 111‑14 passim; Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (New York, 1962), pp. 95‑134; Enzo Paci, The Function of the Sciences and the Meaning of Man (Evanston, Il., 1972), pp. 19‑24; Erwin Straus, The Primary World of the Senses (New York, 1963), pp. 1 58‑86; and especially Merleau‑Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception (London, 1965), pp. 207‑42 passim. [—> main text]

33 "Concerning Marxism," in Sense and Non‑Sense, p. 112. [—> main text]

34 G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind (London, 1961), p. 282. I have altered Baillie's translation somewhat. [—> main text]

35 History and Class‑Consciousness, p. 6. [—> main text]

36 Capital (Moscow, 1965), 1: 71‑83. [—> main text]

37 Ibid., p. 185, italics added. [—> main text]

38 The Poverty of Historicism, p. 74. [—> main text]

39 "The Metaphysical in Man," in Sense and Non‑Sense, p. 90. [—> main text]

40 The Open Society and Its Enemies (New York, 1963), 2: 41. [—> main text]

41 Max Horkheimer, "The Authoritarian State (1940)," in Telos 15 (Spring, 1973), 11. [—> main text]

42 Letter to Arnold Ruge, September, 1843, in The Essential Writings, p. 41. [—> main text]

43 History and Class Consciousness, p. 9. The citation from Marx is from The Poverty of Philosophy (Moscow, 1966), p. 96. [—> main text]

44 Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature (Moscow, 1966), p. 62. [—> main text]

45 History and Class Consciousness, p. 27. [—> main text]

46 Ibid., p. 7. [—> main text]

47 Ibid., p. 11. [—> main text]

48 In this discussion of the "interest" of the sciences, I am dealing with the problem raised by J. Habermas in Science and Human Interests (Boston, 1971). [—> main text]

49 History and Class Consciousness, p. 14. [—> main text]

50 The Essential Writings, p. 43. [—> main text]

51 Popper, The Poverty of Historicism, pp. 91‑92. [—> main text]

52 Marx, third "Thesis on Feuerbach," in The Essential Writings, p. 153. [—> main text]

53 But the struggle is still at a very rudimentary stage, characterized by widespread but not politicized discontent and utterly lacking in radical political tradition. The immediate and compelling need, therefore, is to develop a revolutionary consciousness; unless political discussion, criticism, and organization take place on a sustained, large scale, as was begun—but only begun—in the recent antiwar movement, socialist politics will be mere sectarianism. This points to the enormous task of the intellectuals and artists in raising the level of national political consciousness—a task which itself must begin with an attack on manipulative mass culture as a form of domination. They must show that the widespread discontent and protests, for example the outcry over the destruction of our environment, are implicitly socialist, and that until the social structure is radically changed only minor concessions can be gained. This is not to say that intellectual work can substitute for revolutionary work among the proletariat. By no means: it is rather to insist on an important precondition for that revolutionary work, without which it would be in vain. [—> main text]

54 Needless to say, this point is controversial. Two classic statements on the necessity of violence are by L. Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism (Ann Arbor, 1969), and Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York, 1965). In this context the classic positions against violence are to be found in Karl Kautsky, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat (Ann Arbor, 1964), and, from an ethical standpoint, Albert Camus, The Rebel (New York, 1956). [—> main text]

SOURCE: Bender, Frederic L. "Marxism, Liberalism, and the Foundations of Scientific Method," pp. 1-53 of:

Marcuse, Herbert; Popper, Karl. Revolution or Reform? A Confrontation. Ed. A. T. Ferguson; trans. Michael Aylward & A. T. Ferguson; intro. Frederic L. Bender; afterword to German ed., Franz Stark. Chicago: Precedent Publishing Co., 1976. Originally published in German as Revolution oder Reform? Herbert Marcuse u. Karl Popper. Eine Konfrontation, ed. Franz Stark, 1972.

Revolution or Reform? A Confrontation (Herbert Marcuse & Karl Popper): Contents

Vienna Circle, Karl Popper, Frankfurt School, Marxism, McCarthyism & American Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

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