Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The Philosophy of the Pseudoprogressives

Posted by M. C. on August 19, 2022


Let us quote one of Anderson’s observations. In commenting upon America’s abandonment of the gold standard he remarks:

There is no need in human life so great as that men should trust one another and should trust their government, should believe in promises, and should keep promises in order that future promises may be believed in and in order that confident cooperation may be possible. Good faith—personal, national, and international—the first prerequisite of decent living, of the steady going on of industry, of governmental financial strength, and of international peace. (pp. 317–318)

Such were the ideas that prompted the self-styled progressives to depreciate Anderson as “orthodox,” “old-fashioned,” “reactionary” and “Victorian.” Sir Stafford Cripps, who twelve times solemnly denied that he would ever change the official relation of the pound against dollars and then, when he had done so, protested that he naturally could not admit such intention, is more to their liking.

Ludwig von Mises

1. The Two Lines of Marxian Thought and Policies

In all countries which have not openly adopted a policy of outright and all-around socialization the conduct of government affairs has been for many decades in the hands of statesmen and parties who style themselves “progressives” and scorn their opponents as “reactionaries.” These progressives become sometimes (but not always) very angry if somebody calls them Marxians. In this protest they are right in so far as their tenets and policies are contrary to some of the Marxian doctrines and their application to political action. But they are wrong in so far as they unreservedly endorse the fundamental dogmas of the Marxian creed and act accordingly. While calling in question the ideas of Marx, the champion of integral revolution, they subscribe to piecemeal revolution.

There are in the writings of Marx two distinct sets of theorems incompatible with each other: the line of the integral revolution, as upheld in earlier days by Kautsky and later by Lenin, and the “reformist” line of revolution by installments as vindicated by Sombart in Germany and the Fabians in England.

Common to both lines is the unconditional damnation of capitalism and its political “superstructure,” representative government. Capitalism is described as a ghastly system of exploitation. It heaps riches upon a constantly diminishing number of “expropriators” and condemns the masses to increasing misery, oppression, slavery and degradation. But it is precisely this awkward system which “with the inexorability of a law of nature” finally brings about salvation. The coming of socialism is inevitable. It will appear as the result of the actions of the class-conscious proletarians. The “people” will finally triumph. All machinations of the wicked “bourgeois” are doomed to failure.

But here the two lines diverge.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels designed a plan for the step-by-step transformation of capitalism into socialism. The proletarians should “win the battle of democracy” and thus raise themselves to the position of the ruling class. Then they should use their political supremacy to wrest, “by degrees,” all capital from the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels give rather detailed instructions for the various measures to be resorted to. It is unnecessary to quote in extenso their battle plan. Its diverse items are familiar to all Americans who have lived through the years of the New Deal and the Fair Deal.

It is more important to remember that the fathers of Marxism themselves characterized the measures they recommended as “despotic inroads on the rights of property and the conditions of bourgeois production” and as “measures which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which in the course of the movement outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.”1

It is obvious that all the “reformers” of the last one hundred years were dedicated to the execution of the scheme drafted by the authors of the Communist Manifesto in 1848. In this sense Bismarck’s Sozialpolitik as well as Roosevelt’s New Deal have a fair claim to the epithet Marxian.

But on the other hand, Marx also conceived a doctrine radically different from that expounded in the Manifesto and absolutely incompatible with it. According to this second doctrine

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