In many respects the most powerful school of socialism the world has so far seen is essentially a product of this kind of “Historismus”. Although in some points Karl Marx adopted the tools of the classical economists, he made little use of their main permanent contribution, their analysis of competition. But he did wholeheartedly accept the central contention of the historical school that most of the phenomena of economic life were not the result of permanent causes but only the product of a special historical development. It is no accident that the country where the historical school had had the greatest vogue, Germany, was also the country where Marxism was most readily accepted.
The fact that this most influential school of socialism was so closely related to the general antitheoretical tendencies in the social sciences of the time had a most profound effect on all further discussion of the real problems of socialism. Not only did the whole outlook create a peculiar inability to see any of the permanent economic problems which are independent of the historical framework, but Marx and the Marxians also proceeded, quite consistently, positively to discourage any inquiry into the actual organization and working of the socialist society of the future. If the change was to be brought about by the inexorable logic of history, if it was the inevitable result of evolution, there was little need for knowing in detail what exactly the new society would be like. And if nearly all the factors which determined economic activity in the present society would be absent, if there would be no problems in the new society except those determined by the new institutions which the process of historical change would have created, then there was indeed little possibility of solving any of its problems beforehand. Marx himself had only scorn and ridicule for any such attempt deliberately to construct a working plan of such an “utopia”. Only occasionally, and then in this negative form, do we find in his works statements about what the new society would not be like. One may search his writings in vain for any definite statement of the general principles on which the economic activity in the socialist community would be directed.1
Marx’s attitude on this point had a lasting effect on the socialist of his school. To speculate about the actual organization of the socialist society immediately stigmatized the unfortunate writer as being “unscientific” the most dreaded condemnation to which a member of the “scientific” school of socialism could expose himself. But even outside the Marxian camp the common descent of all modern branches of socialism from some essentially historical or “institutional” view of economic phenomena had the effect of successfully smothering all attempts to study the problems any constructive socialist policy would have to solve. As we shall see later, it was only in reply to criticism from the outside that this task was ultimately undertaken.