The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.

This essay aims at presenting Joseph Schumpeter as a ‘bourgeois Marxist’. The term is paradoxical, intentionally so: it aims at drawing attention to a small group of powerful thinkers of our century, who adopted many aspects of Marx’s analytical approach but firmly rejected one thing: his commitment to the working class. They reinterpreted Marx from a bourgeois point of view trying, by this roundabout but very effective means, to confront and confound his great revolutionary challenge. Three contemporary authors strike me as paradigmatic of the species: Schumpeter, Galbraith and Rostow. To these I would add John Maynard Keynes.

Viewed as a ‘bourgeois Marxist’, however, Joseph Alois Schumpeter is in most respects entirely antithetical to Keynes. With the author of the General Theory it is no problem at all to show that he was a bourgeois and proud of it—we have his own word to go by. It is on the other hand rather difficult to argue that he was a Marxist in any sense, even the rather unconventional sense employed here. With Schumpeter the case is exactly the opposite: his Marxism cannot possibly be gainsaid; it bursts through the seams of virtually everything he wrote. Nor did he ever attempt to deny the influence of Marx on his work, belittle his debt to or in any way conceal his vast admiration for the author of Capital. The extent of his direct acquaintance with Marx’s political, rather than economic, writings is not easy to document fully. In Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy footnote1 he refers to The Class Struggles in France. It is quite possible that he had read a lot more; he certainly had absorbed some of the spirit of Marxist political analysis indirectly, through contacts with Rudolph Hilferding, Otto Bauer, Karl Renner—his contemporary Austro-Marxists. The fact remains that his evaluation of the political impotencies of the bourgeoisie strikingly echoes Marx’s own observations on bourgeois timidity and abnegation.

To the extent that he was a ‘bourgeois Marxist’ Schumpeter was a peculiar kind of bourgeois, displaying simultaneously a withering contempt and a real admiration for that class, and in proportions reminiscent of Marx himself. The Austrian bore deeply inscribed in his consciousness the marks of the great defeat of the Central European bourgeoisie—Austrian, German, Hungarian—at the hands of the aristocracy, in the historical class confrontations of the mid nineteenth century. This psychology, or rather historical memory, of defeat he was later to sublimate into a romantic admiration for the nobility, not only aping some of their mannerisms in his daily life, but also in his intellectual work trying to justify the persistence of the influence of the aristocracy in bourgeois politics. He even went so far as to use the aristocratic ethos as a source of inspiration in the shaping of political institutions appropriate to capitalism, wherever a genuine aristocracy of the blood happened to be thin on the ground.

If later in his life Schumpeter was troubled by signs of fading aristocracy, earlier he had been scathingly critical of what he took to be an insufficiently developed spirit of capitalism in the ranks of the modern bourgeoisie. Documenting in one of his earliest, and best, socio-political studies—The Sociology of Imperialisms (1919)—the historic compromise between the majority of the European bourgeoisie and the aristocracy of absolute monarchy he wrote:

For that very reason, in his position as leader of the feudal powers and as a warlord, the sovereign survived the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and as a rule—except in France—won victory over political revolution. The bourgeoisie did not simply supplant the sovereign, nor did it make him its leader, as did the nobility. It merely wrested a portion of his power from him and for the rest submitted to him. It did not take over from the sovereign the state as an abstract form of organization. The state remained a special power, confronting the bourgeoisie.footnote2

The result of this partial victory and partial defeat was that the ruling elite of modern society, at least in Europe, became a rather hybrid formation: