Human Action by Ludwig von Mises: The Socialist Doctrine and Polylogism

[Polylogism is the notion that different groups of people have different and incompatible modes of logic. Polylogism is a false axiom used in many ideologies (Marxism, etc) to form the basis of irreconcilable differences between the different groups]

Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises, pp. 689-691

2. The Socialist Doctrine

Karl Marx was not the originator of socialism. The idea of socialism was fully elaborated when Marx adopted the socialist creed. Nothing could be added to the praxeological description of the socialist system as developed by his predecessors, and Marx did not add anything. Neither did Marx refute the objections against the feasibility, desirability, and advantageousness of socialism raised by earlier authors and by his contemporaries. He never even embarked upon such a venture, fully aware as he was of his inability to succeed : in it. All that he did to fight the criticisms of socialism was to hatch out the doctrine of polylogism.

However, the services that Marx rendered to the socialist propaganda were not confined to the invention of polylogism. Still more important was his doctrine of the inevitability of socialism. Marx lived in an age in which the doctrine of evolutionary meliorism was almost generally accepted. The invisible hand of Providence leads men, independently of their wills, from lower and less perfect stages to higher and more perfect ones. There prevails in the course of human history an inevitable tendency toward progress and improvement. Each later stage of human affairs is, by virtue of its being a later stage, also a higher and better stage. Nothing is permanent in human conditions except this irresistible urge toward progress. Hegel, who died a few years before Marx entered the scene, had presented this doctrine in his fascinating philosophy of history, and Nietzsche, who entered the scene just at the time when Marx withdrew, made it the focal point of his no less fascinating writings. It has been the myth of the last two hundred years. What Marx did was to integrate the socialist creed into this meliorist doctrine. The coming of sociaIism is inevitable, and this by itself proves that socialism is a higher and more perfect state of human affairs than the preceding state of capitalism. It is vain to discuss the pros and cons of socialism. Socialism is bound to come “with the inexorability of a law of nature.” Only morons can be so stupid as to question whether what is bound to come is more beneficial than what preceded it. Only bribed apologists of the unjust claims of the exploiters can be so insolent as to find any fault with socialism. If we attribute the epithet Marxian to all those who agree with this doctrine, we must call the immense majority of our contemporaries Marxians. These peopIe agree that the coming of socialism is both absolutely inevitable and highly desirable. The “wave of the future” drives mankind toward socialism. Of course, they disagree with one another as to who is to bc entrusted with the captaincy of the socialist ship of state. There are many candidates for this job. Marx tried to prove his prophecy in a twofold way. The first is the method of Hegelian dialectics. Capitalist private property is the first negation of individual private property and must beget its own negation, viz., the establishment of public property in the means of production.* Things were as simple as that for the hosts of Hegelian writers who infested Germany in the days of Marx. The second method is the demonstration of the unsatisfactory conditions brought about by capitalism.

Marx’s critique of the capitalist mode of production is entirely wrong. Even the most orthodox Marxians are not bold enough to support seriously its essential thesis, namely, that capitalism results in a progressive impoverishment of the wage earners. But if one admits for the sake of argument all the absurdities of the Marxian analysis of capitalism, nothing is yet won for the demonstration of the two theses, viz., that socialism is bound to come and that it is not only a better system than capitalism, but even the most perfect system, the final realization of which will bring to man eternal bliss in his earthly life. All the sophisticated syllogisms of the ponderous volumes published by Marx, Engels, and hundreds of Marxian authors cannot conceal the fact that the only and ultimate source of Marx7s prophecy is an alleged inspiration by virtue of which Marx claims to have guessed the plans of the mysterious powers determining the course of history. Like Hegel, Marx was a prophet communicating to the people the revelation that an inner voice had imparted to him. The outstanding fact in the history of socialism between 1848 and 1920 was that the essential problems concerning its working were hardly ever touched upon. The Marxian taboo branded all attempts to examine the economic problems of a socialist commonwealth as “unscientific.” Nobody was bold enough to defy this ban. It was tacitly assumed by both the friends and the foes of socialism that socialism is a realizable system of mankind’s economic organization. The vast literature concerning socialism dealt with alleged shortcomings of capitalism and with the general cultural implications of socialism. It never dealt with the economics of socialism as such. The socialist creed rests upon thee dogmas: First: Society is an omnipotent and omniscient being, free from human frailty and weakness. Second: The coming of socialism is inevitable. Third: As history is a continuous progress from less perfect conditions to more perfect conditions, the coming of socialism is desirable. For praxeology and economics the only problem to be discussed in regard to socialism is this: Can a socialist system operate as a system of the division of labor?


  1. Cf. Marx, Das Kapital (7th ed. Hamburg, 1914), I, 728.
  2. lbid.