Bourgeois democracy dates from the French Constitution of 1793, which was its highest and most radical expression. Its defining principle is the division of man into the citoyen of public life and the bourgeois of private life—the one endowed with universal political rights, the other the expression of particular and unequal economic interests. This division is fundamental to bourgeois democracy as a historically determinate phenomenon. Its philosophical reflection is to be found in de Sade. It is interesting that writers like Adorno are so preoccupied with de Sade, because he is the philosophical equivalent of the Constitution of 1793.
The ruling idea of both was that man is an object for man—rational egoism is the essence of human society. Now it is obvious that any attempt to recreate this historically past form of democracy under socialism is a regression and an anachronism. But this does not mean that the aspirations towards socialist democracy should ever be dealt with by administrative methods. The problem of socialist democracy is a very real one, and it has not yet been solved. For it must be a materialist democracy, not an idealist one. Let me give an example of what I mean. A man like Guevara was a heroic representative of the Jacobin ideal—his ideas were transported into his life and completely shaped it. He was not the first in the revolutionary movement to do this. Leviné in Germany, or Otto Korvin here in Hungary, was the same. One must have a deep human reverence for the nobility of this type. But their idealism is not that of the socialism of everyday life, which can only have a material basis, built on the construction of a new economy. But I must add immediately that economic development by itself never produces socialism. Khruschev’s doctrine that socialism would triumph on a world scale when the standard of living of the ussr overtook that of the usa was absolutely wrong. The problem must be posed in a quite different way: one can formulate it like this. Socialism is the first economic formation in history which does not spontaneously produce the ‘economic man’ to fit it. This is because it is a transitional formation, of course—an interlude in the passage from capitalism to communism. Now because the socialist economy does not spontaneously produce and reproduce the men appropriate for it, as classical capitalist society naturally generated its homo œconomicus, the divided citoyen/bourgeois of 1793 and de Sade, the function of socialist democracy is precisely the education of its members towards socialism. This function is quite unprecedented, and has no analogy with anything in bourgeois democracy. It is clear that what is needed today is a renaissance of Soviets—the system of working-class democracy which arose every time there was a proletarian revolution, in the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the October Revolution itself. But this will not occur overnight. The problem is that the workers are indifferent here: they will not believe in anything initially.
One problem in this respect concerns the historical presentation of necessary changes. In recent philosophical debates here, there has been considerable argument over the question of continuity versus discontinuity in history. I have come down firmly for discontinuity. You will know the classical conservative theses of De Tocqueville and Taine that the French Revolution was not a fundamental change in French history at all, because it merely continued the centralizing tradition of the French State, which was very strong under the Ancien Régime with Louis xiv, and was taken even further by Napoleon and then the Second Empire afterwards. This outlook was decisively rejected by Lenin, within the revolutionary movement. He never presented basic changes and new departures as merely continuations and improvements of previous trends. For example, when he announced the New Economic Policy, he never for one moment said that this was a ‘development’ or ‘completion’ of War Communism. He stated quite frankly that War
In the twenties, Korsch, Gramsci and I tried in our different ways to come to grips with the problem of social necessity and the mechanistic interpretation of it that was the heritage of the Second International. We inherited this problem, but none of us—not even Gramsci, who was perhaps the best of us—solved it. We all went wrong, and today it would be quite mistaken to try and revive the works of those times as if they were valid now. In the West, there is a tendency to erect them into ‘classics of heresy’, but we have no need for that today. The twenties are a past epoch; it is the philosophical problems of the sixties that should concern us. I am now working on an Ontology of Social Being which I hope will solve the problems that were posed quite falsely in my earlier work, particularly History and Class Consciousness. My new work centres on the question of the relationship between necessity and freedom, or as I express it, teleology and causality. Traditionally, philosophers have always built systems founded on one or the other of these two poles; they have either denied necessity or denied human freedom. My aim is to show the ontological inter-relation of the two, and to reject the ‘either-or’ standpoints with which philosophy has traditionally presented man. The concept of labour is the hinge of my analysis. For labour is not biologically determined. If a lion attacks an antelope, its behaviour is determined by biological need and by that alone. But if primitive man is confronted with a heap of stones, he must choose between them, by judging which will be most adaptable to his use as a tool; he selects between alternatives. The notion of alternatives is basic to the meaning of human labour, which is thus always teleological—it sets an aim, which is the result of a choice. It thus expresses human freedom. But this freedom only exists by setting in motion objective physical forces, which obey the causal laws of the material universe. The teleology of labour is thus always co-ordinated with physical causality, and indeed the result of any individual’s labour is a moment of physical causality for the teleological orientation (Setzung) of any other individual. The belief in a teleology of nature was theology, and the belief in an immanent teleology of history was unfounded. But there is teleology in all human labour, inextricably inserted into the causality of the physical world. This position, which is the nucleus
British history has been the victim of what Marx called the law of uneven development. The very radicalism of Cromwell’s Revolution and then the Revolution of 1688, and their success in assuring capitalist relations in town and countryside, became the cause of England’s later backwardness. I think your review has been quite right to emphasize the historical importance of capitalist agriculture in England, and its paradoxical consequences for later English development. This can be seen very clearly in English cultural development. The dominance of empiricism as an ideology of the bourgeoisie dates only from after 1688, but it achieved tremendous power from then on, and completely distorted the whole previous history of English philosophy and art. Take Bacon, for example. He was a very great thinker, far greater than Locke, of whom the bourgeoisie made so much later on. But his significance was entirely concealed by English empiricism, and today if you want to study what Bacon made of empiricism, you must first understand what empiricism made of Bacon—which is something quite different. Marx was a great admirer of Bacon, you know. The same thing happened to another major English thinker, Mandeville. He was a great successor of Hobbes, but the English bourgeoisie forgot him altogether. You will find Marx quoting him in the Theories of Surplus Value, however. This radical English culture of the past was concealed and ignored. In its place, Eliot and others gave a quite exaggerated importance to the metaphysical poets—Donne and so on—who are much less significant in the whole developing history of human culture. Another revealing eposide is the fate of Scott. I have written about Scott’s importance in my book on the Historical Novel—you see he was the first novelist who saw that men are changed by history. This was a tremendous discovery, and it was immediately perceived as such by great European writers like Pushkin in Russia, Manzoni in Italy and Balzac in France. They all saw the importance of Scott and learnt from him. The curious thing, however, is that in England itself Scott had no successors. He too was misunderstood and forgotten. There was thus a break in the whole development of English culture, which is very visible in later radical writers like Shaw. Shaw had no roots in the English cultural past, because nineteenth-century English culture was
Today, English intellectuals should not merely import Marxism from outside, they must reconstruct a new history of their own culture: this is an indispensable task for them, which only they can accomplish. I have have written on Scott, and Agnes Heller on Shakespeare, but it is the English essentially who must rediscover England. We in Hungary too had many mystifications about our ‘national character’ such as you have in England. A true history of your culture will destroy these mystifications. In that perhaps you are helped by the depth of the English economic and political crisis, that product of the law of uneven development of which I spoke. Wilson is doubtless one of the most astute and opportunist bourgeois politicians anywhere today—yet his government has been the most utter and disastrous fiasco. That too is a sign of the depth and intractability of the English crisis.
The Theory of the Novel was an expression of my despair during the First World War. When the War started, I said Germany and Austro-Hungary will probably defeat Russia and destroy Czarism: that is good. France and England will probably defeat Germany and Austro-Hungary and destroy the Hohenzollerns and Habsburgs: that is good. But who will then defend us from English and French culture? My despair at this question found no answer, and that is the background to Theory of the Novel. Of course, October gave the answer. The Russian Revolution was the world-historical solution to my dilemma: it prevented the triumph of the English and French bourgeoisie which I had dreaded. But I should say that the Theory of the Novel, with all its mistakes, did call for the overthrow of the world that produced the culture it analysed. It understood the need for a revolutionary change.