Participation, Bureaucracy, and the Limits
of Tolerance

with Paul Kurtz, Mihailo Marković, J. P. Van Praag,
and Niculae Bellu

Paul Kurtz: In this Marxist-non-Marxist humanist dialogue, we have, agreed that humanism rejects the traditional supernatural view of man and the moral creed derived from it. Does humanism presuppose its own ethical theory? If so, what is it?

Mihailo Marković: By all means, humanism presupposes a developed theory which is based on some fundamental philosophical and anthropological principles. And humanism also provides a theory about certain values—universal human values—and also about specific values of particular societies. Very important among those values are ethical values, values which regulate human relationships. I think humanism is almost unthinkable without an ethical theory.

J. P. Van Praag: I think this is a good question. It should also help to clarify the relationship of humanism to religion. For I would not suggest that religious people could not be humane, yet modern humanists are characterized by the fact that they derive their values or realize them within human experience and their concept of human nature. I would like to point out that humanism, as far as ethics is concerned, is not merely the negation of religion, nor is it quite the same as atheism. For although humanists are atheists, they have a concept of man, which may be characterized by some very basic notions, such as self-realization and solidarity.

Kurtz: In other words, you are saying that although humanism has a negative aspect in that it attacks all supernaturalistic theories which dehumanize man, it also has a positive moral position. Perhaps Professor Bellu might suggest from his point of view what some of the positive moral values of humanism are.


Niculae Bellu: I believe, first, that every humanism of consequence must be allied with a sociology of practice. If we wish to preserve the free man in the sense of humanism, then this liberty must be conceived as a liberty of practice and of creation. Moreover, man has a meaning sufficient unto himself. He does not need an a priori or transcendental theory in order to explain his proper creation or energy. Therefore, his secularity implies a theory of the liberty of man. The moral values of humanism involve liberty, not repression.

Marković: It seems to me that Marxist ethical theory as contained in Marxist humanism presupposes a whole conception about human practice. It emphasizes that activity of man which is not compulsory, but free and creative; not just routine technical work, but activity directed toward the satisfaction of the needs of other people. What directly follows from this is a series of ethical principles: the principle of freedom, the principle of solidarity, and the principle of the autonomy of the individual who tries to affirm his individual capacities without subordinating them to strict authority. I would like to point out that in The Communist Manifesto, Marx said at one place that the future society will be a society in which “the freedom of the individual will be the condition of the freedom of the whole society.”

Kurtz: Well, then you are saying something similar to Professor Van Praag when he talks about the self-realization of autonomous and creative individuals. Are there other values we share?

Marković: Yes, we also agree that equal opportunities should be given to people, and that there should be more social justice.

Kurtz: But is the same thing meant by all these concepts, or are there differences between us at the same time?

Van Praag: Well, there may be differences, but to a great extent, I think we agree at least until now. I would like to provide some clarification of this point. Paul Kurtz said just a few moments ago that humanism was not simply an attack on orthodox religion. I would say it is not the primary purpose of humanism to attack religion, but rather to formulate a basis for a humanist practice in everyday life. And so far I think we are quite in agreement with each other.


Kurtz: Yes, there are certain moral principles which humanists hold in common, but surely when one comes to practices, differences arise. What are some of these differences?

Marković: Perhaps some differences arise when we ask the question, under what conditions it is practically possible to materialize equal opportunity for people and develop social justice. There are also differences when we ask whether our primary concern should be to educate man, to educate the individual, who would then develop an appropriate form of society, or whether some fundamental changes should be introduced into the social structure. But now, again, there are also many Western humanists who think some changes in the social structure are needed, and some think that even radical changes are needed. But it could be the case that by this concept, “radical”, we mean different things. Marxist-humanists always emphasize that the necessary conditions of the full realization of the values of equal opportunity and social justice are certain profound changes in the society, socialization of production, overcoming commodity production, overcoming state power, and so on.

Kurtz: What you are suggesting is that it is not enough to enunciate general principles and values, but they need to be applied to concrete economic, political, and social structures and institutions. We hear much today about the need to radicalize those social structures that dehumanize man—one may ask, which social structures need to be modified?

Bellu: Perhaps I can say some words concerning the relationship between values and social structures. In our era, Marxism and socialism—even the conceptions of sociology, philosophy, and politics—are approaching a value which represents for the world of today a hope and a dream: capitalism and the structures of capitalism, in our view, have developed in a direction that suffocates and prevents the many-valued development of man and has to be changed. These changes are based upon an idea of Marx, the idea of human responsibility, and of the possibility of liberty within necessity. The problem of structure is not simply a question of industry and economy—even though one cannot achieve what we want without the development of industry and economy—but it is also a question of values. Therefore, it is necessary to find an equilibrium between the hard necessities required by the organization, on the one hand, and the idea [155/156] of participation and liberation—not simply an idea of liberation for work, but liberation for participation—on the other. On the contrary, the idea of work should be an idea of active engagement, which provides us with a new hypothesis and a new man of Marxist typology.

Kurtz: In other words you are saying we have to transform economic, political, and social structures. Moreover, you are presenting one of the key ideas of our dialogue—the significance and value of participation by individuals in the social structure. Here there is substantial agreement on a practical question.

Van Praag: Well, yes, I think that there is considerable agreement among us in this respect. Let me say first, what this agreement is: It is, I think, that in order to realize human values it is necessary to develop practical theories about society, and to change society—some would even say to radically change society, though there is some disagreement among humanists in the Western world about that. But the difference between us is, I think, that the Western humanist movement leaves it to the individual humanist to engage in several political, cultural, and social activities in order to realize that end. I mean the humanist movement as such in the West is a movement which seeks to make clear what is required, but the way in which it should be realized is left to individuals.

Participation and Bureaucracy

Kurtz: We all seem to emphasize participation as a democratic principle.

Marković: Participation is really a basic principle which we all accept because it seems clear that an individual who could not participate in important decision-making in the social life would be an individual without real freedom, and an individual reduced to the status of an object. He would be an individual who is not an historical subject, one who does not take part and also cannot contribute to the changes in a desired direction. What is important, it seems to me, is that this participation should be in all the various social spheres: both in the political sphere and in the economic sphere, where people take part in production, in various services, and also in the field of culture. So everywhere where [156/157] people work, they should be allowed the right to take part in decision-making, not only in discussion, not only in the analysis of a given situation, but also in making basic decisions. Without this, I don’t see that we have a really democratic society.

Kurtz: You’re saying that participation should not simply be advisory, but the decision should actually have some effect upon policy.

Marković: Yes, and the decision should also be about crucial matters.

Kurtz: In the socialist countries the great emphasis is placed upon changing the economic structure, particularly the relationships of production. There is much less emphasis upon this in Western societies, though there are in the West humanists who are socialists, and humanists who are nonsocialists. And great efforts are made in the West, even within the capitalist system to democratize business organizations, corporations, and labor unions—though many socialists in the East would no doubt think this was inadequate. But there is a second area, and that is the area of political democratization. I wonder if anyone would care to comment on the need for political participation?

Marković: This is obviously one of the basic forms of participation because what else is politics but the making of decisions about fundamental objectives and programs. If a human being doesn’t take part in political decision-making, he is almost completely eliminated from the historical process; and he is really reduced to the status of a thing. An especially great obstacle to political participation is the existence of a strong state and the apparatus of party organizations which has a monopoly of political powers. Although under some historical conditions, especially in rather underdeveloped countries, there might be a great need for some centralized political institutions, still, in the process of the progressive development of a society and also in the development of culture and education, an increasing number of people are qualified and have sufficient experience, in addition to general culture and intelligence, to take part in political decision-making. There is surely no need to still retain this division of labor or to make it a professional division of labor into those who rule and those who are ruled.


Kurtz: In many socialist countries, one of the major problems is to democratize in the political sense and to avoid the bureaucratization of political decision. In what sense is Stalinism in Eastern Europe still relevant?

Marković: Stalinism is an extreme form of bureaucracy, and all socialist countries have suffered. At least 10 years ago, some socialist countries, some even earlier, had undertaken certain measures to overcome this drastic form of bureaucratism. Some countries have gone further in that direction, some less far. There are even sometimes some retrogressive tendencies; and there are some phases of stagnation. But I think historically speaking, the future goal of all socialist societies should be to get rid of Stalinism completely.

Bellu: I would like to say some words on the same problem developed by Marković. I think that he is right. I would add that participation is a process which is open, contradictory, and in change. If one regards participation from the point of view of stagnant metaphysics, one can criticize it and say it is an illusion or it is utopian. But from the point of view of living reality, one sees that participation is still weak—because, as Marković has already said very well “that men are often not competent enough,” or because there is a monopolizing of decision-making. But between these poles there is a contradiction, a battle, a competition for competence on the part of the mass of men and a critique of the monopolization of power. Therefore, it is necessary to create a social experiment, one that is open to the possibility of participation and that will develop, concretize, and crystallize participation in order to construct a new typology. I agree that we need, from the democratic and antidictatorial point of view, to encourage the initiative of participation. Even if there are mistakes, we cannot create a profound revolution without the masses participating. This would be more than a political revolution; it would be a profound social revolution.

Van Praag: Well, I need not add much to that, for participation today is a key ideal of every humanist, much like justice and freedom and the other basic values we mentioned before. Participation is extremely important because it provides a driving power and impulse for changing society—though I repeat that humanists may differ about how to change [158/159] society. In any case the greatest possible participation means at the same time the greatest possible development of personal responsibility. For instance, in education, I think we should already start to take participation not only as an end but also as a means. Thus, participation can be a starting point for all humanists to promote those changes in society, in the political and the cultural sphere, that are required for more humane living, for cooperating and working together.

Bellu: I would like to add one word of detail. Participation must also be developed in the subjectivity of man. Man must sanctify participation as a need of his existence. Here we are confronted with a revolution which envisages not simply a social revolution, but a psychological revolution.

Kurtz: Although we may all agree on the need for participation and for developing creative and responsible individuals, in Eastern Europe emphasis is upon participation in the economic structure, whereas in Western Europe there is great stress laid upon political democracy and intellectual and artistic freedom. Thus, there are between us important differences in regard to practice. Even though, presumably the ideal of all humanists is that all institutions which impede development and restrict liberty should be modified to allow for participation.

Marković: Participation is primarily a political problem, because in those societies, in which you do not have private property and in which the means of production are socially owned, it is still possible to have a state which has everything in its hands, leaving no opportunity for the millions of ordinary people to participate in the real decision-making So it is primarily a political question. But it is not only a political question for as I said, people must have the right to participate where they work, in economic enterprises. Though even this has political aspects because these enterprises replace political institutions in the process of management. Thus, in fact, the realization of real participation at all the levels of decision-making, not only in discussion, means a profound political change.

Kurtz: In this dialogue many are struck by the common problems faced by people both in the East and the West. In Eastern Europe, and in Yugoslavia in particular, you have developed workers-councils where there is some degree, at least on the local level, of self-management; and in many [159/160] Western countries there is an attempt to democraticize the immediate organizations in which people live and work and are identified. But as already suggested, participation must not only be on the lower levels, but on high levels of power and decision-making.

Marković: Of course there must be means for participation on the intermediate level, for a whole region, for a whole branch, and also at a higher level for the global society; and this obviously involves considerably deeper participation in politics. Of course, this cannot mean the complete abolition of professional politicians, because every organized modern society will need some experts, administrators, and executives.

Kurtz: You’re no doubt speaking about the growth of bureaucracy, which is a basic problem in socialist societies.

Marković: I speak about the need of having a so-called bureaucracy—I mean experts—subordinated to the body of the elected representatives of the people.

Van Praag: I quite agree with all of this. There is, particularly in Western society, a growing feeling among humanists that participation should be on all levels and in all fields, not only in the political field where we have a democracy, but in the economic field, in universities, and in other institutions. The movement toward participation, I believe to be one of the most progressive forces in the modern world, and I think more and more also among Western humanists—even if they are not socialists. There is a feeling that more participation should be granted to more people on all levels and in all fields.

Marković: Without participation society is facing one of its most serious problems: namely, that some societies are entering the phase of post-industrial society characterized among other things by the science of cybernetics. We shall very soon have machines able to surpass man in all routine operations of planning and calculating the effects of various alternative programs and so on. The problem arises: Who will control this enormous power which is growing under our eyes? Should there be only one particular social group or will it be the organized society as a whole—namely, the democratically elected representatives of the people.

Kurtz: What you’re pointing to, then, is that in all industrial societies and indeed, in all developing societies, capitalist [160/161] and socialist, there is that common problem of technology and of large-scale organization. We then face a common difficulty, and as humanists, we tend to point to a common solution—democracy and participation as a means of realizing and achieving social justice of individuals, though, again, we have our differences.

Marković: Speaking of differences, it would be a wrong impression that there are only differences between the camp of Marxist-humanists, on the one hand, and the camp of Western humanists, on the other hand. In fact, among Marxist-humanists there are very large differences, especially between those who are quite satisfied with the present state of affairs and who are ready to accept the fact that a huge state and party apparatus should have all the power in their hands for a long period of time, and those who fight for participation immediately and now and at all levels. On the other hand, among Western humanists there are considerable differences between liberal and radical humanists. My feeling is that radical humanists are actively engaged in bringing about rather important qualitative changes in many social institutions; and in that respect they are very close to some Marxist-humanists.

The Limits of Tolerance

Kurtz: One point for considerable discussion in the dialogue has been the principle of tolerance, which so many Western humanists cherish as a basic social value, but which many Marxists have criticized.

Bellu: Tolerance is a complex and contradictory concept. We have discussed tolerance much in this dialogue. There are those who believe tolerance has precisely an ethical dimension and that it is necessary to tolerate others. But in concrete politics, tolerance must be relative, for we cannot be tolerant of those forces which are anti-tolerant, such as fascism. It is necessary to be careful—for humanism cannot be developed without some intolerance. It is thus necessary to have a general view of tolerance in the domain of human behavior. Human behavior in a revolutionary era must emphasize certain tendencies which we will have to develop. However, it is not always possible to say beforehand what [161/162] is real or not real. If we smother everything, then the history of mankind will be blocked. Therefore, we must be functionally and ontologically tolerant. But at the same time, the lessons of history tell us that tolerance cannot be absolute. From the point of view of politics, it is necessary to confront certain tendencies with vigilance, else we may be duped.

Kurtz: Of course on this crucial point, there are obviously some profound differences between liberal non-Marxist humanists and Marxist humanists. For liberal humanism places a high premium upon tolerance, especially in the realms of politics, morality, science, and the arts.

Van Praag: Though, to a certain extent, I think that it cannot be taken for granted that tolerance means that everything is tolerated. Tolerance is not a mere formal principle, it is a material principle, I mean a principle which must have content. It requires that those forces and possibilities that increase the possibility of tolerance are furthered, are promoted. But those forces that decrease them should not be tolerated. Otherwise there would be a mere formal application of the principle. It is not a recipe which can be used as a kind of law, but it is just a tendency which directs our activities and which makes it necessary, I think from several points of view, to place the greatest trust in tolerance in our society. There is, first of all, this tolerance of human behavior of which Professor Bellu spoke. There is, more importantly, of course, tolerance in politics. I think it is necessary if we are to gather the greatest possible community aiming at a change in society. Moreover, it is a principle itself of a new society—that people should be free to follow their own way of living, as far as possible, relationships, of course, to other peoples and with the requirements of society taken into account. I think that the problem of the limits of tolerance is not as difficult as many Marxists sometimes thinks it is—if one does not consider it to be a formal principle, but a material principle.

Marković: If we are to have a society in which an individual has the freedom to develop himself and his abilities, and to join in free relationships with other people, then such a society can never be realized without respecting the principle of tolerance. A man could not be trusted who would only speak about such a free society in the distant future and who would be utterly intolerant now. We come to the [162/163] real issue when we admit that this is a value, and when we ask what is the relationship of this value to other values. Whenever we ask a question, we must put that question into a direct context. So the real issue occurs when there is a conflict of values. And here already disagreements begin. There is a whole continuum of positions from those of the Stalinist, who asks for tolerance towards his ideology but who is utterly intolerant towards all other ideologies, and the liberal-humanists point of view, characterized by a general assertion of tolerance without specifying any historical conditions under which tolerance should be materialized. The difficult problem is that sometimes there are some social structures, and social powers, so firmly entrenched that just to assert the principle of toleration without any qualification might mean just the preservation of the status quo. And it also might mean that these powers and structures would continue to be simply tolerated. It seems to me that it is already an old tradition, not something invented by the Marxists, but an achievement of liberal bourgeois democratic thought that when a government or when other social forces do not respect the agreement and the contracts between the government and the people, the people are not obligated to tolerate such a government.

Van Praag: Here I disagree in part, not with the conclusions, but with the basis of them. Tolerance is used by Marković again in a formal sense. If one says that the government or a power group will not allow people or other groups to develop according to the requirement we put on the human basis, then I could not speak of tolerance.

Kurtz: Surely we must make a distinction. Tolerance does not mean that we should tolerate wicked social forces or repressive governments, but only that we should tolerate different beliefs, attitudes, and values. Although we wish to change corrupt social institutions, and we do not condone injustices, still we say in the West that we should be tolerant and permit different opinions and values and allow them to prevail. Liberals have been distressed by the unwillingness of many Marxists to tolerate differences of thought and value. Most humanists in the West were encouraged by the liberalization that seemed to be occurring in Eastern Europe especially in Czechoslovakia, and made in the name of Marxist-humanism, or as Dubcek has said “socialism with a human [163/164] face.” We were equally shocked by the suppression of these tendencies. This is no doubt the time to pose a crucial question: What are the chances for democratic humanism succeeding in the future in Eastern Europe?

Marković: Of course, most old time Stalinists claim to be “humanists”—even in the Soviet Union. B. Mitin, former editor of Problems of Philosophy for example, says that Leninist-Stalinists are “humanists” and that everything that the Communist party has done it has done for man. But one must distinguish between an official ideology, which is a rationalization on the one hand, and critical socialist humanism, which is not an ideology, on the other. Some dogmatic Marxists are aware that socialist theory stems from the humanistic theory of Marx; they use it in an apologetic way and they claim that what should be is already there. On the other hand, critical socialist humanists develop a critical evaluation of the present state of affairs and the whole road which has been passed. Here too there are some differences between (a) romantic and idealistic humanists who claim that man is a free, creative, social being and that all problems may be solved within existing socialist societies, and (b) those who relate this humanistic vision to a concrete analysis of existing conditions, trying to find out what should be the next thing to do in order to overcome degradation and alienation.

Kurtz: How widespread is the latter humanistic socialism, which is critical of existing socialist societies, and which aims at freedom, tolerance, and increased democratization?

Marković: Critical socialist humanism is widespread among the youth and the intellectuals, though the bureaucracy in most countries is opposed to its implementation.

Bellu: Socialist humanism in the full democratic sense is a great force. It must not have a basis in the intellectuals only, but there is also a need to develop it among the wider mass of people. In Yugoslavia, it seems most advanced; and it is beginning in Rumania. We know what happened in Czechoslovakia.

Marković: The great danger is that apathy and skepticism will develop because of difficulties with Stalinists and because people now see that many of the ideal aspirations for socialism have not been achieved. This is particularly the case in Poland, for example.


Bellu: I reiterate, socialist humanism, as we have talked about has a great influence among the intellectuals. But we cannot really say what will be the dominant influence in the future. The point is that we must battle for it. It is a strong latent force. But there is always the danger of Stalinism.

Van Praag: Here is a task for the future. It is clear, all least from our dialogue, that humanists must continue to work for toleration, participatory democracy, and freedom as genuine humanistic principles; and this is true not only within a given society but between societies. Unless we are tolerant and willing to listen to other points of view, we could not discuss, let alone live in the same world. If nothing else, this is the basic lesson of our dialogue.

SOURCE: “Participation, Bureaucracy, and the Limits of Tolerance” (III: Concluding Dialogue), with Paul Kurtz, Mihailo Marković, J. P. Van Praag, and Niculae Bellu, in Tolerance and Revolution: A Marxist-non-Marxist Humanist Dialogue, edited by Paul Kurtz and Svetozar Stojanović (Beograd: Philosophical Society of Serbia, 1970), pp. 153-165.

Note: I have corrected all typographical spelling errors & corrected an incorrectly formulated English word to ‘democratiz/e/ation’. Other textual idiosyncracies remain as in the original. — RD

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