In Defence of October

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Historical Materialism and the Arts

Written: 1899 
Source: Art and Society & Other Papers in Historical Materialism, 1974 Oriole Editions;
Transcribed: Harrison Fluss for, February 2008.

We shall state frankly at the outset that we intend to view art from the standpoint of the materialist conception of history). What is the materialist conception of history?

We shall first define the idealist view of history, and then show wherein the materialist conception differs from it.

The idealist view of history in its pure form maintains that the fundamental factor in the historical development of mankind is the development of thought and knowledge. This view reigned supreme in the eighteenth century and continued into the nineteenth. Even Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte, whose views were in certain respects in direct opposition to those of the philosophers of the eighteenth century, both strongly upheld it. For instance Saint-Simon, who was interested in the origin of the social organization of the Greeks [1], concluded: “Their religious system served as a foundation for their political system... . The former was taken as a model for the creation of the latter.” As proof of this he cites the fact that the Greek Olympus was a republican gathering; no matter how varied the constitutions of the different Greek states, they had one thing in common-they were all republican. [2] This is not all. The Greek religious system, which according to Saint-Simon underlay their political system, was itself a product of their scientific knowledge, their scientific conception of the universe. It was these scientific conceptions which formed the very foundation of their social life; and the development of those ideas was the mainspring of the historical development of their social life, the principal factor in changing the historical forms of their mode of existence.

Likewise Auguste Comte believed that “the entire social mechanism rests in the final analysis on opinions.”[3] This is clearly a repetition of the view of the Encyclopaedists, according to whom “opinion rules the world.”

Another variety of idealism found expression in Hegel’s absolute idealism. How does Hegel explain the historical development of mankind? An example will suffice. Hegel asks: Why did Greece fall? After mentioning many causes, he states that the main cause, according to his philosophy, is that Greece was simply a manifestation of one stage in the development of the absolute Idea, and it had to fall when this stage was passed.

Hegel, while realizing that “Lacedaemon fell because of inequalities of property,” nevertheless maintains that social relations, as well as the historical development of mankind in general, are determined in the last analysis by the laws of logic, by the development of thought.

The materialist conception of history is diametrically opposed to the above view. Whereas Saint-Simon, regarding history from the idealist standpoint, declares that the social relations of the Greeks are to be explained in terms of their religious beliefs, from the materialist standpoint we maintain that the republican Olympus of the Greeks reflects their social system. And whereas Saint-Simon, asked how the religious views of the Greeks originated, replies that they are the result of their scientific views, we, on the contrary, hold that the historical development of these scientific views was determined by the rise and decline of the productive forces which the people of Iliad had at their disposal.[4]

This is our method of interpreting history. Is it correct? This is not the place to ascertain whether it is or not. All we ask here is that you grant us its correctness and join us in our study of art from this point of departure. It is clear that the examination of a specific problem, the problem of art, will be at the same time a test of our general theory of history. If this general theory is wrong, then we shall explain very little indeed of the evolution of art. If, however, we find that this approach explains the evolution of art better than any other theory, then that will in itself be a new and strong proof of the soundness of our method.

But here we foresee an objection: Darwin, in his famous book, The Descent of Man, brought together many observations to prove that the sense of beauty plays an important role in the lives of animals. Our attention will be drawn to these facts, and we will be told that the origin of the sense of beauty must be explained biologically; it will also be remarked that the evolution of the sense of beauty in man cannot be explained merely in terms of the economic basis of society. Since Darwin’s view of the development of species is undoubtedly materialistic, it will be urged that biological materialism offers excellent material for criticism of one-sided historical (economic) materialism.

This objection is a serious one and we shall reply to it. We shall do so the more gladly because our reply to this objection will be at the same time a reply to a series of similar objections based upon researches into the psychic lives of animals.

First of all we shall attempt to summarize as clearly as possible the conclusions to which we must come on the basis of the facts brought out by Darwin. Let us see what his own conclusions are.

In the second chapter of the first part of his book, we read:

Sense of Beauty – This sense has been declared to be peculiar to man. But when we behold male birds elaborately displaying their plumes and splendid colors before the females, whilst other birds, not thus decorated make no such display, it is impossible to doubt that the females admire the beauty of their male partners. As women everywhere deck themselves with these plumes, the beauty of such ornaments cannot be disputed. The Bower-birds, by tastefully ornamenting their playing-passages with gaily-colored objects, as do certain humming-birds their nests, offer additional evidence that they possess a sense of beauty. So with the song of birds, the sweet strains poured forth by the males during the season of love are certainly admired by the females, of which fact evidence will hereafter be given. If females birds had been incapable of appreciating the beautiful colors, the ornaments, and voices of their male partners, all the labor and anxiety exhibited by them in displaying their charms before the females would have been thrown away; and this it is impossible to admit. Why certain bright colors should excite pleasure, when in harmony, cannot, I presume, be explained any more than why certain flavors and scents are agreeable; but assuredly the same colors and the same sounds are admired by us and by many of the lower animals.[5]

Thus the facts given by Darwin indicate that lower animals have aesthetic tastes which coincide closely with those of man. [6] This, however, does not explain the origin of these tastes; if biology does not explain the origin of our aesthetic tastes, it can even less explain their historical development. But let Darwin speak for himself:

The taste for the beautiful, at least as far as female beauty is concerned, is not of a special nature in the human mind; for it differs widely in the different races of man, and is not quite the same even in the different nations of the same race. Judging from the hideous ornaments and the equally hideous music admired by most savages, it might be urged that their aesthetic faculty was not so highly developed as in certain animals, for instance, in birds. [7]

If the taste for the beautiful differs with different nations of the same race, it is clear that we cannot look for the causes of these differences in biology. Darwin himself tells us that we must carry our search in another direction. In the second English edition of his book, The Descent of Man, we read the following:

With cultivated men such [aesthetic] sensations are intimately associated with complex ideas and trains of thought. [8]

This is very important. It leads us from biology to sociology, as it is obvious, according to Darwin, that social causes determine civilized man’s aesthetic sensations and the complex association of ideas connected with them. But is Darwin right in assuming that such associations exist only for civilized people? No, he is not, as we can easily prove. It is known that an important role in the ornamentation of primitive man is played by skins, claws and teeth. How is this to be explained? By the combination of the colors and lines of these objects? No. The savage, attiring himself in the skins, paws and teeth of a tiger, for instance, or the skin and horns of a bison, exalts his own skill and strength. He who conquers the skillful is himself skilled, he who conquers the strong is himself strong. It is quite possible that there is also some superstition intermingled with this idea. Schoolcraft relates that “An ornament made of the claws of the grizzly bear, the most ferocious beast of the West, is much coveted by warriors, who fancy themselves, when carrying such a symbol, as being endowed with that animal’s courage and ferocity. It is in this sense an amulet as well as an ornament. Indeed, there are but few of the ornaments of the Indians that have not this two-fold character."[9] Surely in this instance it cannot be assumed that the Indians like the skins, claws and teeth of animals merely because of the combinations of color and line. [10] No, the opposite is far more probable, i.e., that these things were first worn merely as signs of bravery, skill and strength, and only afterwards did they begin to call forth aesthetic feelings and become ornamental. From this it follows that not only are aesthetic feelings among savages associated with complex ideas, but they occasionally arise under the influence of such ideas.

Another instance: It is known that the women of certain African races wear iron rings on their hands and legs. “The wives of some of the wealthy are often laden with iron to such a degree that, without exaggeration, I may affirm, that I have seen several carrying about with them close upon half a hundredweight of these savage ornaments. The heavy rings with which the women load their wrists and ankles, clank and resound like the fetters of slaves.” [11] This, of course, is rather inconvenient, but that does not prevent them from wearing with pleasure these “fetters of slaves,” as Schweinfurth calls them. Now why is it so agreeable to a Negro woman to wear such fetters? Because with them she seems, to herself and to others, more beautiful. This notion is the result of a very complex association of ideas. Passion for such ornaments developed, according to Schweinfurth, among those tribes living in the iron age, for whom iron is a precious metal. That which is precious seems beautiful, for the idea of wealth is associated with it. A woman of one of those tribes seems to herself and to others to be more beautiful when she wears twenty pounds of rings than when she wore only ten pounds, i.e., when she was poorer. It is clear that it is not the beauty of the iron rings which determines, but rather the idea of wealth which is associated with them.

A third instance: Among the Batoka, of the Upper Zambesi, a man whose upper incisor teeth are not pulled out is considered very ugly. Where did they get this strange conception of beauty? It, too, was formed as the result of a complex association of ideas. With their incisor teeth pulled out, the Batoka try to imitate the ruminant animals; to us this would seem to be a rather dubious ambition, but the Batoka are a shepherd tribe that deify their cows and bulls. [12] Here again the beautiful is that which is precious, and we see that aesthetic ideas arise on a foundation of ideas of quite a different order.

The best example, however, is the one quoted by Darwin from the Livingstones. [13]

Among the Makalolo the women pierce their upper lip and insert a ring made of metal or bamboo, called a pelele. When an old Makalolo chief was asked why their women wear these peleles, he was very much surprised at such an absurd question. “For beauty, to be sure! Men have beards and whiskers; women have none; and what kind of creature would a woman be without whiskers, and without the pelele? She would have a mouth like a man, and no beard, ha! ha! ha!!” The origin of this custom is difficult to determine, but without doubt it is to be sought not in the laws of biology, to which it obviously has no relation, but in some complex association of ideas. [14] In view of these examples we feel justified in declaring that responses to certain colors and designs, even among primitive peoples, are associated with very complex ideas, and many of these forms and combinations seem beautiful to them only because of these associations.

But what gives rise to these associations, and what is the source of the complex ideas connected with these responses? Obviously this question cannot be answered biologically, but only sociologically. Now if the materialist conception of history provides a more adequate solution than any other view, and if it can be shown that the aforementioned complex association of ideas is created and determined in the last analysis by the economic conditions and the state of the productive forces of the given society, then we must admit that Darwinism does not in the least contradict the materialist conception of history.

Although at this point we cannot dwell much longer on the relationship of Darwinism to our doctrine, let us at least turn our attention to the following:

It may be well first to premise that I do not wish to maintain that any strictly social animal, if its intellectual faculties were to become us active and as highly developed as in man, would acquire exactly the same moral sense as ours. In the same manner as various animals have some sense of beauty, though they admire widely different objects, so they might have a sense of right and wrong, though led by it to follow widely different lines of conduct. If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering. Nevertheless, the bee, or any other social animal, would in our supposed case gain, as it appears to me, some feeling of right or wrong, or a conscience. [15]

What conclusion is to be drawn from this? That in the moral conceptions of men there is nothing absolute, that they change as social conditions change. And what determines these conditions? What causes them to change? On this matter Darwin is silent; and if we say, and prove, that they are created and changed by the forces of production, according to the development of those forces, then not only do we not contradict Darwin, but we even add to what he has said and explain what he has left unexplained. And this we shall do by applying to the study of social phenomena the same principles that served him so well in the field of biology.

It may seem rather strange to relate Darwinism to the materialist conception of history. Darwin’s sphere of activity was quite different. He studied the descent of man as a zoological species. Those who are of the materialistic viewpoint wish to explain the historical destiny of this species. Their field of investigation begins where Darwin’s ended. Their work cannot replace that of the Darwinists; likewise the most splendid discoveries of the Darwinists cannot replace their investigations, but can only prepare the ground for them, just as the physicist who prepares the grounds for the chemist does not thereby invalidate the necessity for chemical research. [16]

The crux of the problem here is as follows: Darwin’s theory appeared in its time as a very great and necessary step forward in the development of biological science, and satisfied the most searching questions put to it. Can the same be said of the materialist conception of history? Can it be said that in its time it too appeared as an inevitable step forward in the development of social science? And is it now able to satisfy all the demands put to it? To these questions we can reply in the affirmative with absolute certainty. And we hope to show that this certainty is not without foundation.

But let us return to aesthetics. From the above quotations it is clear that Darwin views the development of aesthetic tastes in the same light as the development of moral feelings. Human beings, like many animals, have a sense of beauty – that is, they are able to experience a special kind of pleasure (aesthetic pleasure) caused by certain objects and phenomena.

But what are the objects and phenomena which afford them so much pleasure? This depends upon the environment in which they are brought up, and live and act. Human nature makes it possible for man to have aesthetic tastes and conceptions. His environment determines the transformation of this potentiality into reality. This environment explains how a given social man (i.e., society, nation or class) has only certain aesthetic tastes and conceptions and not others.

This is the obvious conclusion of Darwinism, and it will not be opposed by any historical materialist. In fact every historical materialist will see in it a further confirmation of his view. Certainly none would ever think of rejecting any of the well-known characteristics of human nature, or of entering into an arbitrary discussion upon the subject. Historical materialists have consistently maintained that if human nature is immutable, then it cannot explain the historical process, which presents a sum of constantly changing phenomena; on the other hand if human nature changes with the course of historical development, then it is evident that there must be some objective cause for these changes.

Therefore it is the duty of both the historian and the sociologist to go beyond the limit of discussions about human nature.

Let us take even such a characteristic as the proclivity toward imitation. Gabriel Tarde, who has done some very interesting research into the laws of imitation, finds in them the soul of society. According to his definition, each social group consists of a combination of beings partially imitating each other and partially imitating a mutual model. Imitation has undoubtedly played a very important role in the history of all our ideas, tastes, styles and customs. The materialists of the eighteenth century emphasized its enormous importance: “Man is all imitation,” said Helvetius. However, there is little doubt that Tarde’s theory of imitation is based on a false premise.

When the restoration of the Stuarts in England temporarily restored the reign of the ancient nobility, this nobility was not in the least inclined to imitate the extreme representatives of the revolutionary bourgeoisie – the Puritans; rather they displayed a strong inclination to habits and tastes directly contrary to the Puritan rules of life. Puritan strictness of morals gave way to extreme licentiousness. To do and to love that which the Puritans had prohibited became a virtue. The Puritans were very religious, the Cavaliers were latitudinarian, even atheistic. The Puritans persecuted literature and the theatre; their downfall was the signal for a new and violent passion for these things. The Puritans wore short hair and condemned luxury in dress; after the Restoration, long hair, elegant clothes and card playing became the rage. [17] In short, we discover not imitation but contradiction, which evidently also exists in human nature.

But why did this sense of contradiction in the mutual relations of the nobility and the bourgeoisie develop so strongly in England in the seventeenth century? Simply because that was an age of bitter struggle between the nobility and the bourgeoisie, or rather the “third estate.” We may conclude, then, that although man undoubtedly has a strong tendency toward imitation, this tendency develops only in certain social relations, such as those existing in France in the seventeenth century, when the bourgeoisie consciously, though unsuccessfully, attempted to imitate the nobility; recall Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. In other social relations the tendency toward imitation is replaced by the opposite tendency, which for the time being we shall call the tendency toward contradiction. But we have expressed this incorrectly. The tendency toward imitation did not disappear among the English of the seventeenth century. In the mutual relations between the people of the same class it was displayed as clearly as ever. Beljame describes the Cavaliers as follows: “These people are not even unbelievers; they deny a priori, in order not to be mistaken for Roundheads, and in order to spare themselves the trouble of thinking.” [18] About these people we can say that they contradicted in order to imitate. But in imitating the infidels they of course contradicted the Puritans. Imitation proved to be, therefore, a source of contradiction. But we know that if among the English nobility the weaker noblemen imitated the stronger ones, this was due to the fact that disbelief was considered good breeding, and it became such only by virtue of contradiction, as a reaction against Puritanism-a reaction which, in its turn, came as a result of the above-mentioned class struggle. Therefore at the basis of all this complex dialectic of psychological phenomena there were facts of a social nature; and from all this it is obvious to what extent and in what sense the conclusion made above from Darwin’s thesis is correct: that man’s nature makes it possible for him to have certain conceptions (or tastes or inclinations), and that upon his environment depends the transformation of this potentiality into reality-the environment makes him have precisely these conceptions (or tastes or inclinations) and not others. If we are not mistaken, this was admitted by one of the Russian historical materialists:

If the stomach is provided with a certain amount of food it sets to work in accordance with the general laws of digestion. But is it possible through these to explain why in your stomach there is tasty and nourishing food every day, while in my stomach this is but rare? Do these laws explain why some eat too much while others die of hunger? It seems that this explanation must be sought elsewhere, in entirely different laws. The same is true of man’s mind. Once he is put in a certain condition, once his surroundings give him certain impressions, he combines them according to certain general laws; and here again the results differ extremely, according to the diversity of the impressions received. But what places him in such a condition? What determines the stream and character of those impressions? This is a question which is not to be solved by any laws of thought.

And further: Imagine a rubber ball falling from a high tower. Its movements are governed by certain well-known and obvious laws of mechanics. But the ball strikes a sloping plane. Its movements alter according to another also very simple and well-known mechanical law. As a result a broken line of movement is produced, made possible by the combined action of the two abovementioned laws. But where did the sloping plane come from? That is not explained by either of the laws, nor by their united action. It is exactly the same with man’s thought. Whence came the conditions according to which its movements are subjected to the combined action of certain laws? This is not explained by any of the separate laws nor by their combined action.

We are firmly convinced that the history of ideology can be understood only by those who accept this sound and obvious truth.

Let us go further. In discussing imitation, we mentioned the tendency toward contradiction as directly opposing it.

This should be studied carefully.

We know what an important role the “principle of antithesis” plays in the emotions of men and animals, according to Darwin.

Certain states of mind lead, as we have seen in the last chapter, to certain habitual movements which were primarily, or may still be, of service; and we shall find that when a directly opposite state of mind is induced, there is a strong and involuntary tendency to the performance of movements of a directly opposite nature, though these have never been of any service. [19]

Darwin cites many examples which demonstrate clearly that the “principle of antithesis” explains a great deal about the expression of emotions. We ask is this principle evident in the origin and development of customs?

When a dog throws himself on his back before his master, his pose, summing up as it does the very opposite of antagonism or resistance, is an expression of obedience. The principle of antithesis is obvious here. It is also evident in the case described by the traveller Burton. The Negroes of the Wanyamwezi tribe, passing through their enemies’ village, carry no weapons, so as not to provoke a quarrel. Nevertheless in their own homes, where they are comparatively out of danger, every one of them is armed with at least a club. [20] If, remarks Darwin, a dog turns up his maw, as if to say to his master: “Look, I am your servant,” then the Wanyamwezi Negro, disarming when it seems he should be armed, in the same way tells his enemy: “The thought of self-defense is far from my mind; I rely entirely upon your generosity.”

The various modes of expressing grief also furnish illustration of the principle of antithesis, David and Charles Livingstone state that a Negress never leaves home without her pelele except when she is in mourning. [21] “Whenever a Niam-niam has lost any very near relative the first token of his bereavement is shown by shaving his head. His elaborate coiffure-that which had been his pride and his delight, the labor of devoted conjugal hands is all ruthlessly destroyed, the tufts, the braids, the tresses being scattered far and wide about the roads in the recesses of the wilderness.” [22] According to Du Chaillu, in Africa upon the death of a man occupying an important place in his tribe, many Negroes attire themselves in dirty clothes. [23]

On the island of Borneo, some of the natives, in order to express grief, take off their usual cotton clothes and put on garments made of the bark of trees, the kind used in ancient times. [24] Some of the Mongolian tribes turn their clothes inside out for the same purpose. [25] In all of these instances, in order to express certain emotions there is an action which is the exact opposite of that which is considered normal, essential, useful or pleasant in the ordinary course of life.

Thus, while ordinarily it is considered good to change from dirty clothes to clean clothes-in cases of grief the opposite takes place, in accordance with the principle of antithesis, i.e., clean clothes give way to soiled. The aforementioned natives of Borneo were quite pleased with their cotton garments, but in their time of sorrow the principle of antithesis operates to cause them to revert to the ancient clothes made of treebark. Until such time as their normal life is interrupted by some grief the Mongolians wear their clothing like all other people, but because this seems so normal they turn their garments inside out as soon as something happens. A further and more vivid example: Schweinfurth relates that many African Negroes “as a sign of grief ... wear a cord round the neck.” [26]

In all these cases the emotion is expressed by an action contrary to the one which is considered useful or agreeable in the normal course of life. Because of the great number of such cases, we are convinced that many customs owe their origin to the action of the principle of antithesis. And if this conviction has any foundation in fact then we can suppose that the development of our aesthetic conceptions is also influenced by this principle. Is there any factual material to confirm such a proposition? We believe there is.

In Senegambi, rich Negresses wear slippers which are so small that their feet do not fit into them, with the result that these ladies are distinguished by a very awkward gait. This awkward gait, however, is considered extremely attractive. [27]

How did this come about?

In order to understand this, we must first of all note that the poor, working Negresses do not wear the abovementioned slippers, and have a normal gait. They cannot walk like the rich coquettes do, because it would consume too much time. And it is only on account of this distinction that the awkward gait of the rich women is so attractive; time is not valuable to them, for they do not have to work. In itself this gait has no value; it becomes significant only by contrast with the gait of the women who work. The principle of antithesis is obvious here, but notice that it is called forth by social reasons: by the existence of inequality of property among the Negroes of Senegambi.

Let us recall what we have said earlier about the morals of the Cavaliers after the Restoration of the Stuarts, and it will be seen with what a peculiar effect the tendency to contradiction operates in social psychology. Such virtues as industriousness, temperance, strictness of family morals, etc., were very necessary for the bourgeoisie, whose aim was to occupy a higher social and political position. But did the struggling nobility need the vices counteracting the bourgeois virtues? No, these vices sprang up not as a weapon in the struggle for existence, but as a psychological result of this struggle: hating the class whose final triumph would end all the privileges of the aristocracy, the nobility began to despise also all bourgeois virtues, and therefore began to practice the opposite vices. This tendency to vice appeared as a correlative change (if I may borrow this term from Darwin). In social psychology such correlative changes occur quite frequently; one must note them. At the same time, however, one must remember that in the last analysis they, too, are called forth by social reasons.

From the history of English literature we know how strongly the psychological action of the principle of antithesis, brought about by class struggle, reflected itself upon the aesthetic conceptions of the upper classes of society. The English aristocracy who lived in France during their exile became acquainted with the French theatre and French literature, which, being the product of a refined aristocracy, was more suited to their own aristocratic tendencies than the English literature and theatre of the Elizabethan age. After the Restoration, French tastes began to dominate the English stage and English literature. The English then began to berate Shakespeare in the same way as the French, who, strongly adhering to classical traditions, considered him “a drunken savage.” His Romeo and Juliet was then considered bad; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “ridiculous and insipid”; Henry VIII was found to be “a simple thing,” and Othello, “a mean thing.” [28] Such criticism of Shakespeare does not entirely disappear even as late as the next century. Hume thought that Shakespeare’s genius was overrated in the same manner as disproportioned and misshapen bodies often appear more gigantic than they really are. He censured the dramatist for his total ignorance of all theatrical art and conduct.

Pope regretted that Shakespeare wrote for the people and did without the protection of his prince and the encouragement of the court. Even the famous Garrick, a worshipper of Shakespeare, tried to ennoble his “idol” by omitting the grave-diggers’ scene in Hamlet, and he gave a happy ending to King Lear. But the democratic part of the English theatre-going public continued to feel the deepest devotion to Shakespeare. Garrick confessed that in altering Shakespeare’s plays he ran the risk of having “the benches thrown at his head” by the rabble. His French friends in their letters complimented him on his tres hasardeuse entreprise and the “courage” with which he faced the danger – car je connois la populace angloise, adds one of them. [29]

The licentiousness of the nobility of the second half of the seventeenth century was also reflected, of course, on the English stage, where it became extreme indeed. According to Eduard Engels, English comedies written between 1660 and 1690 almost without exception belong to the realm of pornography. [30] In view of this we can say a priori that sooner or later in England (due to the principle of antithesis) there would inevitably appear dramatic productions concerned chiefly with depicting and exalting bourgeois virtues. Such plays were indeed written and produced later by the ideologists of the English bourgeoisie. However, we shall leave the discussion of this type of play for the time when we speak of the French comedie larmoyante, the sentimental comedy.

So far as we know the most brilliant observation of the significance of this in the history of aesthetic conceptions was made by Hippolyte Taine. [31] In his illuminating and interesting, A Tour Through the Pyrenees, he tells of a talk with one of his table companions, Paul, who, it is quite evident, adequately expresses the author’s own point of view:

You go to Versailles, and you cry out against the taste of the seventeenth century... . But cease for an instant to judge according to your habits and wants of the day... . We have the right to admire wild, uncultivated spots, as once men had the right of getting tired of them. Nothing uglier to the seventeenth century than a true mountain. [32] It recalled a thousand ideas of misfortune. The men who had come out from the civil wars and semi-barbarism thought of famines, of long journeys on horseback through rain and snow, or the wretched black bread mingled with straw, of the foul hostelries, infested with vermin. They were tired of barbarism as we of civilization... . These old wasted mountains ... refresh us after our pavements, our offices and our shops. You only love them for this cause, and this cause removed, they would be as unpleasant to you as to Madame de Maintenon. [33]

We like wild landscapes as a change from city views, of which we are tired. City landscapes and trimmed gardens were liked by the people of the seventeenth century as a contrast from the wild countryside. The action of the “principle of antithesis” is here obvious, and demonstrates clearly to what extent psychological laws can serve to explain the history of ideology in general, and the history of aesthetics in particular.

The principle of antithesis played an important role in the psychology of the people of the seventeenth century, just as it plays an important role in the psychology of our contemporaries. Why then are our aesthetic tastes so different from the tastes of the seventeenth century? Because we live in an entirely different environment. Therefore we come to the conclusion already known to us: the psychological nature of man enables him to have aesthetic conceptions, and Darwin’s principle of antithesis (Hegel’s “contradiction”) plays an immensely important role, unappreciated even to this day, in the mechanism of those conceptions. But why a given man has certain tastes and not others, why he likes only certain things and not others – this depends upon his environment. Taine’s example illustrates well the character of those conditions: it is obvious that these are social conditions whose totality is determined-we speak abstractly for the time being – by the course of development of human culture. [34]

Here we anticipate an objection on your part. You will say: “Supposing that Taine’s illustration points to social conditions as being responsible for the action of the basic laws of our psychology; supposing that your examples also point to the same. Is it not possible to find examples that would indicate an entirely different conclusion? Are there no examples indicating that the laws of our psychology operate under the influence of surrounding nature?”

Our answer is that of course there are such examples. Taine’s illustration deals precisely with our reactions to nature. The point is, however, that these reactions vary in accordance with our attitude toward nature, and our attitude is determined by the course of development of our social culture.

Taine uses the landscape as an example. It is to be noted that in the history of painting, the landscape in general is not always regarded in the same light. Michelangelo and his contemporaries neglected it. It becomes important in Italy only toward the very end of the Renaissance. For the French artists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also it had no particular meaning. In the nineteenth century there is an abrupt change; the landscape comes to be esteemed for its own sake, and young painters such as Flers, Cabat and Theodore Rousseau seek inspiration in the bosom of nature, on the outskirts of Paris, in Fontainebleau, and in Medon; the possibility of such inspiration was not even suspected by painters of the time of Le Brun and Boucher. Why? Because the social conditions of France changed, and the psychology of the French changed as a result. And so in various epochs of social development man has different reactions to nature, for he looks upon it from different points of view.

The operation of general laws upon the psychological nature of man never ceases, of course. However, since in each epoch human minds, because of changes in social relationships, are saturated with different materials, it is not strange that different effects are produced.

Another example. Some writers have expressed the thought that human beings find ugly that which suggests the features of lower animals. This is right when applied to civilized people, though even here there are many exceptions: a lion’s head does not seem ugly to us. Nevertheless, despite such exceptions, we can assert that civilized man, conscious that he is an incomparably higher being in comparison with the creatures of the forest, fears to resemble them and even tries to exaggerate his unlikeness. [35]

When it comes to primitive man, however, we find a vivid and sweeping contrast. It is known that primitive men often pull out their incisor teeth in order to resemble ferocious animals; some dress their hair to give it the appearance of horns. [36] Often this tendency to imitate animals is connected with some primitive religious faith. [37] But this does not change the matter in the least. If primitive man looked upon the lower animals as we do, there would be no place for animals in religious performances. Primitive man, then, looks upon them differently. Why? Because he stands on a different level of culture. That means that if in one case men try to resemble animals and in another try not to resemble them, then the difference of attitude depends upon cultural conditions, i.e., again upon the social conditions above mentioned...Furthermore, we can express ourselves much more clearly by saying it depends upon the degree of development of the respective productive forces, upon the means of production. And in order not to be accused of exaggeration and one-sidedness of vision, we shall cite a quotation from the learned German traveller Karl von den Steinen:

We cannot expect to understand these men [says he of the Brazilian Indians], unless we regard them as products of a hunting existence. The bulk of their experiences has to do with animals, and therefore they have explained to themselves the phenomena of nature, and formed their outlook on life, chiefly by means of these experiences, since new experiences can be understood only in terms of the old. Consequently their artistic motives, as we shall see, are derived with a disconcerting partiality from the animal kingdom. Indeed their whole surprisingly rich culture is rooted in their hunting existence... .[38]

Chernishevsky in his dissertation Life and Aesthetics wrote:

We like plants with freshness of color and splendor of form, revealing a life full of energy and strength. The withering plant is not good, nor a plant which has little vital sap.

Chernishevsky’s dissertation is an extremely interesting and remarkable example of the application of the general principles of Feuerbach’s materialism to questions of aesthetics. But history has always been a poor place for this kind of materialism as is well seen from the above quoted lines. “We like plants.” But who is “we?” People’s tastes are extremely changeable, as Chernishevsky remarks many times in his essay. It is known that primitive tribes, such as Bushmen and Australians, never adorn themselves with flowers, though they live in a country redolent with their presence. The Tasmanians are said to be an exception, but it is impossible to verify this, for the Tasmanians have died out. At any rate it is very well known that in the ornamentation of primitive hunting people who took their motives from animals, plants are entirely absent. Contemporary science can explain this in no other way than on the basis of productive forces.

The ornamental motives which the hunting tribes have borrowed from Nature consist almost exclusively of animal and human forms. These people choose thus precisely those phenomena that have the highest practical interest for them. The primitive hunter leaves the care of the plant-food, which he cannot indeed dispense with, to the women, as being a lower occupation, and himself gives to the plants no special attention. In this way we explain why no traces are found in his ornamentation of plant motives which are so richly and gracefully unfolded in the decorative art of civilized people... . The transition from animal to plant ornament is in fact the symbol of the greatest advance that has been accomplished in the history of culture-the transition from hunting to agriculture. [39]

[Primitive art reflects so clearly the state of productive forces that now when there is doubt the state of those forces is determined by art. Thus the Bushmen draw people and animals very readily and with comparative ease; some of their grottoes are excellent picture galleries. But they never draw plants. There is only one known exception to this rule: in picturing a hunter hiding behind a bush, the crude depiction of the bush indicates how unusual this subject is for the primitive painter. On this ground some ethnologists conclude that if the Bushmen ever had a higher culture than at present, which, generally speaking, is not impossible, they most certainly have never known agriculture.] [40]

If all this is correct, then we can formulate the conclusions which we made above on the basis of Darwin’s words: the psychological nature of the primitive huntsman makes possible his aesthetic tastes and conceptions; and the state of his productive forces – the hunting state – determines that only these and no other tastes and conceptions are formed. This conclusion, throwing a bright light upon the art of hunting tribes, is also another argument for the validity of the materialist conception of history.

[Among civilized people the mode of production has a less obvious and more indirect influence upon art. To the superficial observer this fact seems to invalidate the materialist conception of history, but in reality, when considered in the profound manner of a sociologist, it gives it brilliant support.]

Let us now consider another psychological law, one that has also played an important role in the history of art, and yet has not had the attention it deserves.

Burton tells us that certain African Negroes, while their music is at a low ebb, and they remain contented with the simplest and most monotonous combinations, yet take great delight in harmony. “The fisherman will accompany his paddle, the porter his trudge, and the housewife her task of rubbing down grain, with song.” [41] Casalis says the same thing about a tribe of the Basutos. “Sometimes, to lighten their labors, the women assemble together, and grind their corn in unison, singing an air which perfectly accords with the harmonious tinkling of the rings on their arms.” [42]The men of that tribe, when they soften their skins, let out strange yells: “a mixture of nasal grunts, clucking, and shrill cries, which, though most discordant, are in perfect time ... every effort, every turn, is accompanied by one of those strange sounds.” [43] “It is more especially the time that charms their ear. Those airs in which the measure is most marked afford them the most pleasure.” [44] “To increase the pleasure they find in the regular movements of the hands and feet, they hang about their persons garlands composed of little leathern bells. ... It is for the purpose of excelling in their dance that the African loads his person with glass beads and wears immense copper rings round his neck, arms, and ankles.” [45] The music of the Brazilian Indians also reveals a strong sense of rhythm, although at the same time they are weak in melody, and have no sense of harmony. [46] The same can be said of the natives of Australia. [47] In a word, rhythm plays an important part in the lives of primitive people. Response to rhythm, just as musical sensibility in general, is evidently one of the principal characteristics of the psycho-physiological nature of men. And not only men.

The perception, if not the enjoyment of musical cadences and of rhythm is probably common to all animals [says Darwin], and no doubt depends on the common physiological nature of their nerve systems. [48]

In view of this one might assume that qualities which are common to both men and animals do not depend on social conditions and certainly not on the state of the forces of production. However, although such a supposition seems logical at first sight it will not bear critical examination. Science has shown that such dependence does exist. And let us not forget that science has done this in the person of one of the greatest economists, Karl Bucher.

As can be seen from the aforementioned quotations, man’s ability to notice and to enjoy rhythm leads to the fact that the primitive producer in the course of his work readily follows a certain time and accompanies the movement of his body with singing or with rhythmical jingling of various trinkets. But what determines this rhythmical beat kept by our primitive producer? Why only these and no other bodily movements? This depends on the technological character of the given productive process, on the technique of the given production. Among primitive peoples each form of labor has its own song, the refrain of which is always adjusted to the rhythm of the productive movements. [49]With the development of the forces of production the significance of rhythmic activity in the productive process decreases. But even among civilized people, for example in Germany, according to Bucher, each season’s labor has its definite song, and every task a music of its own. [50] It is also necessary to note that depending on how the labor is performed – whether individually or in groups – the songs are arranged either for solo singing or chorus, the last being divided also into several categories. And in all cases the rhythm of these songs follows closely the rhythm of the productive process. But that is not all. The technological character of the process governs also the subject matter of these songs. The study of the mutual relationship between labor, music and poetry led Bucher to conclude that “while in the first stages of their development labor, music and poetry were usually blended, labor was the predominant element, the others being only of secondary importance.” [51]

Since the sounds accompanying many industrial processes have in themselves a musical function, and since for primitive people the principal element is rhythm, it is easy to understand how their simple musical compositions grew out of the sounds made by the contact of their working implements with the object of their labor. They would emphasize these sounds, vary the rhythm and adapt them to express human emotions. [52] In order to do this it became necessary to make changes in the working implements, which were thus turned into musical instruments.

The first implements to undergo such changes were those which the producer used simply to beat or strike the object of his labor. It is known that the drum was the first instrument to spread among primitive peoples, and with many of them the drum is still their only musical instrument. String instruments belong to the same category, for when primitive musicians play these they beat along the strings. Wind instruments take secondary place; the flute is often used to accompany group work and provide a certain rhythm. [53] We cannot here give a more detailed account of Bucher’s theory – in brief, he is convinced that the origin of poetry lies in the energetic bodily movements which we call labor, and that this applies not only to poetical form but also to poetical content. [54]

If Bucher’s remarkable findings are correct, then we can justly say that the nature of man (the physiological nature of his nervous system) endowed him with the capacity to notice and to enjoy musical rhythm, while his technique of production has determined the course of the development of this capacity.

Scholars have already observed the close relationship between the productive forces of primitive people and their art. But since in many instances these scholars have been philosophical idealists, they have recognized these relationships much against their own will, and have given them a wrong interpretation. For instance a well-known historian of art, Wilhelm Lubke, says that among primitive peoples art bears the stamp of natural necessity whereas among civilized people it is a spiritual consciousness. Such reasoning can only be defined as idealistic prejudice. In reality, artistic creativeness is subordinate to necessity no less among civilized people than it is among primitive people. The difference is that among civilized people art’s direct dependence upon the technical means of production disappears. Of course we know that this difference is important. But we also know that this difference is caused by the development of the means of production, leading to the division of social labor among various classes. This does not contradict the materialist view of the history of art; on the contrary it provides new evidence of its validity.

* * *

Consider the “law” of symmetry. Its significance is great and unquestionable. In what is it rooted? Most probably in the construction of the human, as well as animal body. That which is crippled or deformed always leaves a very bad impression upon a physically normal person.

Thus we see that the ability to enjoy symmetry is also given us by nature. To what extent this ability would have developed if it had not been strengthened and nurtured by the mode of life of primitive people, we do not know. We do know that the primitive man is principally a hunter. This mode of life, as we have seen, leads to the cultivation of animal motives in his decoration. And this leads the primitive artist, from a very young age, to pay a great deal of attention to the law of symmetry. [55]

That the sense of symmetry in man is cultivated by these factors can be seen from the fact that primitive peoples (and not only the primitives) in their ornamentation use horizontal symmetry more than vertical [56]: look carefully at any human figure or animal and you will notice that horizontal and not vertical symmetry is more natural to him. Furthermore it should be noted that utensils and weapons often demand symmetrical form in accordance with their character and purpose. If the Australian savage, in decorating his shield, acknowledges the value of symmetry as it was acknowledged by the highly civilized builders of the Parthenon, it is obvious that the sense of symmetry in itself explains nothing in the history of art, and in this instance, as in other instances, one has to say: nature gives man the ability, and the practice and application of this ability is determined by the course of development of his culture.

We use the term culture purposely. Reading it you will exclaim: “Who has ever denied that? We only say that the development of culture is determined not alone by economics and the development of the forces of production.”

Alas! Such objections are very familiar. However, it is difficult to understand why even intelligent people cannot see the logical flaw in these arguments.

As a matter of fact you would prefer that the course of culture be determined also by other “factors.” Now, does art belong among those other “factors?” You will say that of course art does belong among them. Then we have the following situation: The course of the development of culture is determined, among other factors, by the development of art, and the development of art is determined by the development of human culture. The same can be said about the other “factors”: economics, politics, institutions, morals, etc. Then what do we get? We get the following: The course of the development of human culture is determined by the development of all of the enumerated factors, and the enumerated factors are determined by the development of culture.

You must agree that in analyzing questions of social development one must reason more seriously.

There can be little doubt that henceforth criticism (scientific theory of aesthetics) will be able to make greater strides by relying more on the materialist conception of history. It is our belief that in the past also critics stood on more solid ground the more closely they approached the historical views expressed above. For example we might consider the evolution of criticism in France.

This evolution is closely related to the development of general historical ideas. The scholars of the eighteenth century looked upon history from the idealist point of view. They saw in the accumulation and spreading of knowledge the most important and profound cause of the historical development of mankind. If the spread of knowledge and the general evolution of human thought actually represents the main reason for historical movement, the question naturally arises: On what does the evolution of thought depend? From the point of view of the eighteenth century there is only one answer to this question: man’s nature, and the immanent laws of the development of his mind. But if the nature of man in itself conditions the growth of the whole development of his mind, it is clear that the nature of man conditions also the growth of literature and art. It seems, therefore, that the nature of man – and only this – can and must give us the key to an understanding of the growth of literature and art in civilized society.

Human nature is such that it lives through various stages – childhood, youth, middle age, etc. Literature and art also pass through these stages in the course of their development.

“Which nation was not first a poet and then a thinker?” asks Grimm in his Correspondence Litteraire, meaning by this that the flourishing of poetry corresponds to the childhood and youth of nations, while the accomplishments of philosophy correspond to maturity. This eighteenth-century view was inherited by the nineteenth century. We even find this in Mme de Stael’s famous book, The Influence of Literature upon Society, where there are also to be found the rather important seeds of an entirely different outlook.

An attentive examination of the three different eras of Grecian Literature, will enable us very distinctly to discover in them the natural progress of the human mind...Homer stamped the character of his genius on the first epoch of Grecian Literature: the age of Pericles was distinguished by a rapid progress in the Drama, in eloquence, in morality, and by the first dawnings of philosophy. In the time of Alexander, a more profound study of the philosophical sciences became the principal occupation of those who possessed literary talents. It must indeed be acknowledged, that the powers of the human mind require to be unfolded to a certain degree, before it can reach the elevations of poetry; but it must likewise be confessed, that the range of a poetical fancy must be somewhat checked, when the progress of civilization and of philosophy has rectified all the errors of the imagination. [57]

Meaning that once a nation has outgrown its youth, poetry must perforce come to a certain decline.

Mme de Stael was aware of the fact that the younger nations, notwithstanding all their intellectual achievements, had not made a single poetical contribution which could be placed on a higher level than the Iliad or the Odyssey. This threatened to shake her belief in the continuous and steadfast improvement of mankind; she therefore did not wish to part with the theory of the various ages, inherited by her from the eighteenth century, a theory which would enable her easily to dismiss the difficulties noted above.

As a matter of fact we can see that according to this theory the decline of poetry resulted from the intellectual maturity of the civilized nations of the whole world; but when Mme de Stael, leaving these comparisons, turns to the history of the literature of the younger nations, she is able to see it in an entirely new light. Especially interesting are her chapters dealing with French literature.

French gaiety and French taste, have been proverbial in all the countries of Europe [she says in Chapter XVIII], and that taste and gaiety have generally been attributed to the national character: but what is a national character if not the result of the institutions and circumstances which influence the happiness, interests, and customs of a people? Since those circumstances and those institutions have been changed, and even in the most tranquil periods of the revolution, the most striking contrasts have not been the subject of one single epigram, or of one spirited pleasantry. Many of those men who have obtained great ascendancy over the destiny of France, were destitute of every grace of expression and brilliancy of understanding; perhaps even they were indebted for some part of their influence to the gloom, silence, and chilling ferocity, that pervaded both their manners and their sentiments. [58]

We are not here concerned with either the people to whom Mme de Stael refers or the truth of her implications. In her opinion, national character is the product of historical conditions. But what is national character if not human nature as it appears in the spiritual characteristics of a nation?

If a given nation’s character is determined by its historical development obviously this character could not have been a primary factor in its development. Hence it follows that literature – which is a reflection of national character – is a product of the same historical conditions which determined this character. Which means that it is not the nature of man, not the character of a given nation, which explains its literature, but its history and social order. It is from this point of view that Mme de Stael looks upon the literature of France. Her chapter dealing with French literature of the seventeenth century represents a very interesting attempt to explain this literature in terms of the socio-political relationships of the period and the psychology of the French nobility in its relation to the monarchy.

Here we find many shrewd observations concerning the psychology of the ruling class of that period, and several correct predictions as to the future of French literature.

Nothing similar to this [the literature of the seventeenth century] will ever be witnessed in France while under a government of a different nature, however it may be constituted [said Mme de Stael]; which will be a convincing proof, that what was called French genius, and French grace, were only the result of monarchical institutions and manners, such as they have for many past ages existed in France. [59]

This new theory of literature as a product of the social order gradually came to be the predominant theory in European criticism of the nineteenth century.

In France, Guizot repeats it in his literary essays. It is also expressed by Sainte-Beuve, who, it is true, accepts it not without reservations; finally it finds its fullest expression in the works of Taine.

Taine held to the opinion that “every change in the state of men leads to a change of their psychology.” The literature and art of every society is to be explained precisely by its psychology, because “the production of the human spirit, as the production of living nature, is explained only by its environment.” Therefore in order to understand the history of the art and literature of a country, one must study the history of the changes which took place in the life of its inhabitants. This is the absolute truth. It suffices only to read his Philosophy of Art, History of English Literature, or Italy, to find many illuminating illustrations. Taine, however, like Mme de Stael and others of his predecessors, still clung to the idealist view of history, and hence his apt and true illustrations did not serve him as well as they might serve an historian of literature and art.

Since an idealist looks upon the progress of human thought as the principal motive force of history, Taine concluded that man’s psychology is determined by his environment and man’s environment is determined by his psychology. This reasoning leads to a number of contradictions and difficulties from which Taine, like the philosophers of the eighteenth century, emerged by resorting to human nature, in the form of race. What doors this key opened for him can be seen from the following example. It is known that the Renaissance began in Italy earlier than in any other country, and in general Italy was the first to emerge from the Middle Ages. What was the reason for these changes in the environment of the Italians? These changes were due to the peculiarities of their race, answers Taine. We leave it to you to judge the worth of such an explanation. Here is another example. In the Sciarra Palace, in Rome, Taine saw a landscape by Poussin, and he remarks in this connection that Latins, because of the peculiarities of their race, respond to a landscape in a special manner: they accept it “only as decoration in order to appropriate it and subordinate it to man”; whereas Germans love nature “for itself.” [60] Further on this same Taine, discussing another landscape by this same Poussin, says: “In order fully to appreciate it, however, one must love tragedy, classic verse, the pomp of etiquette, and seigneurial or monarchical grandeur. The distance between these and modern sentiments is infinite.” [61] Now why are modern sentiments so far removed from the sentiments of the people who loved the pomp of etiquette, tragedy and classic verse? Is it because the Frenchmen of the time of the “Sun King” belonged to a different race from the Frenchmen of the nineteenth century? A queer question! Taine himself persistently repeats that the psychology of men changes with changes in their environment. We have not forgotten this and we repeat after him: Our contemporary environment is far removed from the environment of the people of the seventeenth century; therefore our sentiments are far removed from the sentiments of the contemporaries of Boileau and Racine. It remains to find out why the environment has changed, that is, why the ancien r & gime gave way to the present bourgeois system; why the Stock Exchange rules where once, without exaggeration, Louis XIV could say: “I am the State!” And to this question we find the only satisfactory answer in the economic history of the country.

As you know, of course, various writers with different shades of opinion have opposed Taine’s view. We might say, however, that none of Taine’s critics has been able to shake that principle which embodies all that is sound in his aesthetic doctrine, which is, in sum, that art is the result of human psychology and that the psychology of men changes with their environment. Furthermore, not one of them was able to perceive the deep contradiction making impossible further development of Taine’s views. Not one of them realized that according to his interpretation of history, human psychology, which is determined by historical conditions, turns out to be the final cause of those conditions. Why did no one notice this contradiction? Because it was part and parcel of their own historical conceptions. What is this contradiction? What elements does it consist of? It consists of two elements, one of which is called the idealist view of history, and the other the materialist view. When Taine said that men’s psychology changes with their environment, he was a materialist; but when he declared that the environment of a people is determined by their psychology, he repeated the idealist view of the eighteenth century. Needless to say it was not the latter view which dictated his best work on the history of art and literature.

In order to avoid the abovementioned contradiction which so clearly hampers the development of the profound and brilliant views of the French art critics, one must reason as follows: The art of every nation is determined by its psychology; its psychology, by its conditions; and its conditions are determined in the last analysis by the state of its productive forces and its productive relations. This is the materialist view of history.


1. Greece had a special significance for Saint-Simon, for in his opinion “it is among the Greeks that the liuman mind first began seriously to concern itself with social organization.”

2. See his Memoire sur la Science de FHomnic.

3. Cours de le philosophie positive, Vol. I, p. 48, Paris, 1830.

4. Several years ago [in 1897 – A. F.] a work called Les Origines de la Technologic was published in Paris. The author, A. Espinas, endeavored to explain the development of the ancient Greeks’ Weltanschauung in terms of their productive forces. This is a most important and interesting attempt, for which we must be very grateful to the author, despite the many errors of the book.

5. Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man and Selection in relation to Sex, 2 vols., Vol. 1, pp. 63-64, London, 1871.

6. According to Wells, Darwin overemphasized the significance of aesthetic reactions on the part of the lower animals in connection with selection in relation to sex. However, we will leave it to the biologists to determine the validity of Wells’ objection, and proceed on the assumption that Darwin was correct.

7. Darwin: ibid.

8. Darwin: op. cit., p. 92, London, 1874 (2nd ed., revised and augmented).

9. Henry R. Schoolcraft: Historical and Statistical Information respecting the History, Conditions, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, 5 vols., Vol. Ill, pp. 63-69, Philadelphia, 1851-1855.

10. There is a case, however, where objects of the same kind are liked only for their color.

11. Ceorg Schweinfurth: The Heart of Africa, translated by E. E. Frewer, 2 vols. Vol. I, p. 163, New York, 1874. Also Paul B. Du Cliaillu: Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, p. 33, New York, 1861.

12. Schweinfurth: ibid., Vol. I, p. 151. 

13. David and Charles Livingstone: Narrative of an Expedition to Zambesi, p. 128, New York, 1866 – A.F.1

14. Later on we shall try to explain this on the basis of the development ol productive forces in primitive society.

15. Darwin: ibid., Vol. I, p. 73.

16. The biological research of the Darwinists, in so far as it deals with the development of organic forms, cannot but advance scientific methods in sociology in so far as it deals with the development of social organization and its products: human thoughts and feelings. However, we do not in the least share the social views of Darwinists such as Haeckel. Many so-called Darwinists in their arguments about human society do not use Darwin’s methods, but only idealize the instincts of the animals (mostly carnivorous) studied by the great biologist. The social conclusions which Darwin reached on the basis of his theory have little resemblance to the conclusions formulated from his theory by the majority of his followers. Darwin considered the development of the social instincts to be extremely vital to the success of the species; those Darwinists who preach social struggle of all against all cannot share this view.

17. Alexandre Beljanie: Le Public el les Homines de Lettres en Angleterre au Dix-huilieme Steele, pp. 1-10, Paris, 1881. Also H. Taine: Histoire de la Littera-ture Anglaisc, Vol. 11, pp. 443 

18. Beljame: ibid., pp. 7-8.

19. Charles Darwin: Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, p. 50, New York, 1873. 

20. Richard F. Burton: The Lake Regions of Central Africa, 2 vols. Vol. 1, p. 307, London, 1860.

21. Livingstone: ibid., p. 127

22. Schweinfurth: ibid., Vol. II, p. 34. 

23. Du Chaillu: ibid., p. 280.

24. Friedrich Ratzel: Volkerkunde, p. 65, B. J. Einleitung.

25. Ratzel: The History of Mankind, translation of Volkerkunde by E. B. Tylor, 3 vols., Vol. III, p. 326, London, 1898.

26. Schweinfurth: ibid., Vol. I, p. 154.

27. Laurent Jean-Baptiste Berenger-Feraud: Les Peuplades de la Senegambie, p. 11, Paris, 1879.

28. Beljame: ibid., pp. 40-41. Cf. Taine: ibid., pp. 508-512.

29. See the interesting work of J. J. Jusserand: Shakespeare in France, p. 301, London, 1899.

30. Eduard Engels: Geschichte der Englischen Literatur, p. 269, Leipzig, 1893 (3rd ed.).

31. Gabriel Tarde had a very fine opportunity to study the psychological action of this principle in his book UOpposition Universelle, Essai d’une Theorie des Contraires, published in 1897. However, for some reason he did not take advantage of this opportunity, confining himself to a few minor comments. It is true, as he says [p. 245], that his book is not a sociological treatise. If it were, and if he had abandoned his idealist point of view, he would undoubtedly have covered the subject.

32. Let us remember that this conversation takes place in the Pyrenees.

33. Hippolyte Taine: A Tour through the Pyrenees, pp. 194-196, New York, 1874.

34. The operation of the psychological principle of contradiction is already evident in the lowest levels of culture, from the division of labor between the sexes; also from the distinctions made in matters of dress noted by many travellers. For instance: “Here [in Bongoland], as in every other quarter of the globe, the male sex desires to be externally distinguished from the female, and they differ widely in their habits in this respect” (Schweinfurth: ibid. Vol. I, pp. 293-294), and the males [of the Niam-niam tribe] waste a great deal of time on the arrayal of their hair, whilst the head-gear of the women is modest and simple (Schweinfurth: ibid., Vol. II, pp. 6-7). See Karl von den Steinen: Unter den Naturvolkern Zentral-Brasiliens, p. 298, Berlin, 1894, for a reference to the influence of the division of labor between the sexes upon the dance. It may be said with full conviction that the tendency on the part of man to distinguish himself from women appears earlier than the inclination to consider himself superior to the lower animals. Is it not true that in this instance the basic characteristics of the psychological nature of man are expressed in a rather paradoxical manner?

35. “In this idealization of nature, sculpture was guided by hints from nature herself; the chief emphasis was placed on those characteristics which distinguish man from the brute. An erect posture led to greater slenderness and length of the leg. The increasing height of the forehead in the evolution of animal life led to the formation of the Greek profile. The general principle, already enunciated by Winckelmann, that in nature planes do not merge imperceptibly into each other, but are sharply broken, permitted an accentuation of the sharp edges of the eye sockets and the nostrils, and of the equally sharp-edged contour of the lips.” Herman Lotze: Geschichte der Aeslhetik in Deutschland, p. 568, Munich, 1868.

36. The missionary Heckewelder relates that once when he visited an Indian whom he knew, he found him preparing for a dance. Dancing, of course, has great social significance among primitive peoples. The Indian had decorated his face in the following unique manner: “When we viewed him on profile on one side, his note represented the beak of an eagle... .When we turned round to the other side, the same nose represented the snout of a pike...He seemed much pleased with his execution, and having his looking-glass with him, he contemplated his work, seemingly with great pride and exultation.” John Heckewelder: History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations who once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States, p. 204, Philadelphia, 1876 (new and revised ed.).

37. Cf. J. G. Frazer: Totemism, pp. 26 ff., Edinburgh, 1887; Schweinfurth: ibid., Vol. I, pp. 406-407.

38. Karl von der Steinen: ibid., p. 201.

39. Ernst Grosser The Beginnings of Art, p. 156, New York, 1900.

40. See Raoul Allier’s interesting introduction to Frederic Christol’s Au Sud de FAfrique, Paris, 1897.

41. Burton: ibid., Vol. II, p. 291.

42. E. Casalis: The Basutos, p. 143, London, 1861.

43. Casalis: ibid., p. 134. 

44. Casalis: ibid., p. 150.

45. Casalis: ibid., p. 150.

46. Von den Steinen: ibid., p. 326.

47. See Edward J. Eyre: “Manners and Customs of the Aborigines of Australia” in Journal of Expeditions of Discovery into Centred Australia, etc., Vol. II, p. 229, London, 1847.

48. DarwinThe Descent of Man, Vol. II, p. 333, London, 1871.

49. Karl Bucher: Arbeit und Rhythmus, pp. 21-23, 35, 50, 53-54, Leipzig, 1896.

50. Bucher: ibid., p. 29.

51. Bucher: ibid., p. 78.

52. Bucher: ibid., p. 91.

53. Bucher: ibid., pp. 91-92. 

54. Bucher: ibid., p. 80.

55. I say from a very young age because among primitive peoples children’s games represent their education and serve to develop their artistic talent. Christol points out that the children of the Basutos make clay models of various animals such as cows, horses, etc. Of course this sculpture is not art, but civilized people could not compare in this respect with the little African “savages.” In primitive society children’s games are closely related to the productive occupations of their elders; this fact has a bearing on the relation between play and social life.

56. See the drawings of Australian shields in Ernst Grosse: The Beginnings of Art, p. 124, New York, 1900.

57. Mme de Stael: The Influence of Literature upon Society, 2 vols., Vol. I, 83, London, 1812.

58. Mme de Stael: ibid., Vol. II, p. 48.

59. Mme de Stael: ibid., Vol. II, p. 61

60. H. Taine: Italy, Rome and Naples, translated by J. Durand, Vol. I, p. 222,

61. H. Taine: op. cit., Vol. I, p. 223 – A J.

The February Revolution
Strikes and protests erupt on women's day in Petrograd and develop into a mass movement involving hundreds of thousands of workers; within 5 days the workers win over the army and bring down the hated and seemingly omnipotent Tsarist Monarchy.
Lenin Returns
Lenin returns to Russia and presents his ‘April Theses’ denouncing the Bourgeois Provisional Government and calling for “All Power to the Soviets!”
The June Days
Following the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, the reformist leaders called a demonstration to show the strength of "democracy". 400,000 people attended, the vast majority carried banners with Bolshevik slogans.
The July Days
Spontaneous, armed demonstrations against the Provisional Government erupt in Petrograd. The workers and soldiers are suppressed by force, introducing a period of reaction and making the peaceful development of the revolution impossible.
The Kornilov Affair
Following the July days, the Bolsheviks were driven underground and the forces of reaction were emboldened. This process culminated in the reactionary forces coalescing around General Kornilov, who attempt to march on Petrograd and crush the revolutionary movement in its entirety.
The October Revolution
The Provisional Government is overthrown. State power passes to the Soviets on the morningm of 26th October, after the Bolsheviks’ Military Revolutionary Committee seize the city and the cabinet surrenders.
  • V. I. Lenin

    V. I. Lenin

    "The dominating trait of his character, the feature which constituted half his make-up, was his will..."
  • L. Trotsky

    L. Trotsky

    “Astounding speeches, fanfares of orders, the unceasing electrifier of a weakening army.”
  • G. Plekhanov

    G. Plekhanov

    "In the final analysis the brilliant aspects of Plekhanov’s character will endure forever."
  • G. O. Zinoviev

    G. O. Zinoviev

    "Zinoviev has won the reputation of being one of the most remarkable orators – a difficult feat."
  • Y. M. Sverdlov

    Y. M. Sverdlov

    “He did not die on the field of battle, but we are right to see him as a man who gave his life for the cause.”
  • V. Volodarsky

    V. Volodarsky

    “He was always to be seen in the front row, the on-the-spot leader. So, they killed him.”
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Reading Guides

  • The 1917 February Revolution

    The 1917 February Revolution

    The February Revolution saw a mass strike develop from below at a furious pace which posed the question of state power within a week of its inception. Workers in Petrograd took to the streets against intolerable bread shortages, the slaughter
  • Lenin Returns in April

    Lenin Returns in April

    This reading guide contains some of Lenin’s most important writings and speeches made in the April period, accompanied by works which provide further details of events at that stage of the Revolution.
  • The June Days 1917

    The June Days 1917

    This reading guide informs the May-June period of the Revolution with analysis, accounts of those who were involved and important speeches and writings of the time.
  • The July Days 1917

    The July Days 1917

    This selection of texts covers the background, events and consequences of the July Days. Next, we will turn our attention to one of those consequences – the Kornilov putsch in late August.
  • The Kornilov affair

    The Kornilov affair

    Kornilov’s failed coup brought the direct action of the masses into play again, and proved to them once and for all that they were the only force in society capable of transforming their own living conditions. For the first time,
  • The October Insurrection 1917

    The October Insurrection 1917

    The following series of articles provides in-depth analyses and first-hand accounts of the events immediately preceding, during and after the greatest event in human history: the October Revolution, in addition to reflections on its aftermath.
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