the Rathouse
Series of Very Abbreviated Versions of Classical Philosophical Works for Very Busy People.
Chapter 18:    The Coming of Socialism

In this chapter and the two that follow, Popper tested the coherence of the chain of predictions that Marx made for the coming of socialism following the revolution. He identified three steps in the argument and his strategy was to start by accepting Marx’s assumptions regarding the first two steps and examine whether the third step followed. In this chapter he concluded that it did not.

In the next chapter he went back a step in the chain of argument, to see if the second step followed from the first. Again he concluded that it did not. In the chapter after that he critically examined the first step of the argument.

"In the first step of his argument, Marx analyses the method of capitalist production. He finds that there is a tendency towards an increase in the productivity of work, connected with technical improvements as well as with what he calls the increasing accumulation of the means of production. Starting from here, the argument leads him to the conclusion that in the realm of the social relations between the classes this tendency must lead to the accumulation of more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands; that is to say, the conclusion is reached that there will be a tendency towards an increase of wealth and misery; of wealth in the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, and of misery in the ruled class, the workers. This step will be treated in chapter 20 (‘Capitalism and its Fate’)."

"In the second step of the argument, the result of the first step is taken for granted. From it, two conclusions are drawn: first, that all classes except a small ruling bourgeoisie and a large exploited working class are bound to disappear, or to become insignificant; secondly, that the increasing tension between these two classes must lead to a social revolution. This step will be analysed in chapter 19 on The Social Revolution."

"In the third step of the argument, the conclusions of the second step are taken for granted in their turn; and the final conclusion reached is that, after the victory of the workers over the bourgeoisie, there will be a society consisting of one class only, and, therefore, a classless society, a society without exploitation; that is to say, socialism."

The question at this stage is: can we assume that a classless society will emerge from a battle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, after these are the only two classes left and the increasing misery of the workers has driven them to desperation? In Popper's view there was no assurance that the workers’ victory must lead to a classless society because classes are not like individuals and whatever unity they might manage to achieve during a "class war" would be most unlikely to survive the end of the conflct with the "class enemy". 

"The most likely development is, of course, that those actually in power at the moment of victory — those of the revolutionary leaders who have survived the struggle for power and the various purges, together with their staff—will form a New Class: the new ruling class of the new society, a kind of new aristocracy or bureaucracy; and it is most likely that they will attempt to hide this fact. This they can do, most conveniently, by retaining as much as possible of the revolutionary ideology, taking advantage of these sentiments instead of wasting their time in efforts to destroy them (in accordance with Pareto’s advice to all rulers). And it seems likely enough that they will be able to make fullest use of the revolutionary ideology if at the same time they exploit the fear of counter-revolutionary developments. In this way, the revolutionary ideology will serve them for apologetic purposes: it will serve them both as a vindication of the use they make of their power, and as a means of stabilizing it; in short, as a new ‘opium for the people’."

The assumptions of the first and second stops of the prophecy remain to be challenged. In fact, of course, the downward spiral of the workers did not happen as anticipated. On the contrary, their conditions improved, in parallel with a great deal of state regulation and intervention which is usually regarded as the driving force for progress. However (to anticipate a different argument) the really interesting question is how much of the workers’ gains can be attributed to state intervention and how much came from increased productivity and cognate advances (in transport and the mobility of the workforce, for example) that had nothing to do with regulations and interventions.

Chapter 17 The Legal and Social System     Chapter 19 The Social Revolution (1)

Start of The Shorter OSE

The Open Society and its Enemies
Karl Popper