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Max

Weber's

/
/

Interpretation
of

Karl

Marx*

BY CARL

MAYER

]VtoRE than thirtyyears ago, Albert Salomon published an essay1


in which he asserted not merely that Max Weber's work could be
understood only if seen against the background of Karl Marx but
also that Weber's work itself was the product of an intense, lifelong preoccupation with Marx. This assertion is not literally correct. In the firstphase of Weber's scientificwork- prior to his illness of 1899-1902 - Marx's work meant little to him. What he did,
before 1900, was to utilize the categories in Marx's system in a
unique manner for his own investigations (for examples, in the
fascinating little study of the social causes of the decline of the
ancient world). Beyond this, he spoke of the shattered scientific
system of Marx, which was then being hammered dogmatically
into the minds of the German workers.
There is no trace of an actual critical analysis of Marx. Weber
was influenced by other sources: Mommsen in the field of Roman
agrarian history;Meitzer for the historyof the Germanic agrarian
structure; the exponents of historical economics for his sociopolitical essays. However, this changed completely in the second
phase of his productivity,when he started to develop the theoretical-methodological foundations for his further work, simultaneously throwinghimself into the immense materials for his investigations into the sociology of religion. The beginnings of this
work made it necessary for him to deal with Marx. His biographer, Marianne Weber, reported that in 1918 he presented the
i References
seemtobe totwoessays
written
in 1934and 1935--"Max
bySalomon
Weber'sMethodology,"
I (1934),147-168,
SocialResearch,
and "Max Weber'sSoSocialResearch
60-73.
, II (1935),
ciology,"

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results of his studies in the sociology of religion in Vienna under


the title "The Positive Critique of the Materialist Conception of
History." What is the result of this critical discussion of Marx?
Not the only, but the predominant opinion of the interpreters
of Weber's work is the following: On the one hand, in spite of all
differencesin detail, there is no refutation of Marx by Weber in
terms of basic methodological-theoreticalpositions. On the other
hand, there exists far-reachingaccord in the substantive analysis
of the themes identical in both: the structure of what has been
called the modern world; its development; and its consequences.
To cite two entirely differentwriterswho have expressed radical
opinions in this regard: Schumpeter, in his book Democracy, Socialism and Capitalism, writes: "The whole of the facts and the
arguments of Max Weber fit perfectlyinto the systemof Marx."
Another author, Lichtheim, insisted a few years ago that Max
Weber's work could easily be transposed into the terminologyof
Marx's system.
It is important that the same thesis has been advanced by Gerth
and Mills, whose views largely dominated the Weber interpretation in the United States and, as far as I can see, also exercised a
in Gergreat influence in the postwar interpretation of Weber
intermany. To be sure, in recent years Weber has been further
But
the
Nietzsche.
preted, not only in regard to Marx but also to
basic thesis, as for example by Baumgarten and Mommsen, remains: Whether the problems of Weber coincide with those of
Marx- that is, whether in the interpretationof modern capitalism
there is identity in principle.
I shall attempt, by a comparative analysis of the key positions
of Weber and Marx, to make this thesis the subject of my discus-

sion.
It seems to me that there are two possible ways to achieve this
goal. The firstway is the exact comparison between Marx's and
Weber's respective analyses of the origin of the character and the
in an
consequences of modern capitalism. This has been done
to
exemplary manner by Karl Lowith. It would be pointless

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simply repeat his investigationshere. Nor would this be particularly fruitfulif one does not accept all of Lowith's assertions. The
other possible method is a comparison of those fundamental
methodological-theoreticalprinciples which we find in Marx's and
Weber's work respectively. This is what I wish to do today, and
I shall develop my position in five points. Before I enter upon
the analysis itself,however, I wish to make a prefatorycomment,
lest what I am about to say be misunderstood.
Such a comparative analysis makes sense only if we take Weber's
explicit or implicit interpretationof Marx as its basis. We must
relegate to the background the question of whetherWeber's interpretation of Marx is adequate. I shall deal with this question
brieflyat the end of these considerations. Now to the five points
which will serve to articulate my topic.

The Problem of Ideology


The firstpoint concerns the structureof social systemsand the
problem of ideology. We approach this fromthe simplest vantage
point: We all know that Marx (whether or not this was a particularly happy choice of expression) differentiatedbetween the socalled substructureand the superstructureof a social system. By
substructure,he designated both the so-called productive forces
and the social relations of production built upon them. The
term "productive forces" has to be understood in its broadest
sense; not merely in the sense of the technologyof a given society,
but also as embracing nature, science, technique, and the division
of labor. By social relations of production, again, Marx understands the social relationships which develop among the different
members of the societyon the basis of these productive forces. To
put it briefly(and juridically) he means by this the conditions of
ownership on which the class structure,ultimately the political
order, and the solutions of the power problem are based. For
Marx, the substructure or basis- occasionally also called "real-

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ity"- is specificallya combination of productive forces and social


relations of production of a verycomplex nature.
On the other side, there is the phenomenon of the so-called
superstructure,which Marx divides into two levels. The firstis
the low level of conceptions or theories which people develop in
regard to the social order. The second is the higher,abstract level
of ultimate conceptions of the nature of man, the nature of the
world, metaphysics,religion, the symbolic world, and the like.
The decisive problem I am aiming at is the question of the relationship between the substructure and the superstructure. To
express Marx's point of view, we may say that the superstructure,
in relation to the substructure,consists of ideology. We have the
opposition of two concepts: reality,as represented by the substructure, and ideology, as represented by the superstructure. It is
important,in the face of the very complex and heterogeneous use
of the concept of ideology, to clarifywhat Marx means by it. He
understands two things by this conception, which, it seems to me,

he denotes with great precision.


On one hand, ideology means that the notions people have, on
the upper or lower levels of thinking, do not have autonomous
sources but are dependent upon the substructure. To quote
Marx's famous dictum: It is not consciousness which determines existence, but existence which determines consciousness.
How Marx conceives this in detail is problematic. We find
concepts such as "product," occasionally even "expression of being" (Ausdruck des Seins). However, it is clear that ideology means
the absence of any autonomy of man's ideas.
There is, however, also a second significanceto Marx's concept
of ideology: Ideas (that is, consciousness in the broadest meaning
of the term) are not only dependent upon existence but theyreflect
this existence inadequately and, as a result, there comes about
what we know as "false consciousness"- that is, ideologies. In other
words, the superstructure does not rest securely upon the substructure. The reason for this can, of course, be found in the
special antinomic structureof social reality which is expressed in

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classes and the class struggle. Let us take examples of Marx's use of
the concept of ideology. Marx's own thinkingwas much influenced
by the then classical British economists- consider the great influence of Ricardo on the Marxian system. Marx is perfectlywilling to admit that classical economic theory represents the appropriate, theoreticallyaccurate expression of the given social relationships. What he criticizes and unmasks as ideology is that, in
his opinion, classical economics made an absolute out of categories which were appropriate to a specificsocial system,and distorted them into "natural" categories of timeless validity. Here,
according to Marx, the ideologization of theoretical economics
talcesshape. Or, to take a second, even more important example,
which already played a role for the early Marx: the problem of
religion or of metaphysical systems. Marx does not claim that
the conceptions men have of the ultimate meaning and purpose
of life are necessarily false. What he does say is that such conceptions (which we may find, for example, in the Christian religion or in idealistic philosophy) can be false wherever they transform temporally valid categories into eternally valid categories.
To put it another way, theyhave succumbed to the fallacyof hypostatization. It is this hypostatization which forms the basis for
Marx's conception of the nature of religion, especially the essence
of Christianityand its critique (Feuerbach).
Now the conclusions from this very brief firstconsideration.
For Marx, science is in the position not only to describe the structure of social systemsbut to determine and explain this structure
in its particular combination; that is, to demonstrate especially
that what is accepted as an externally valid viewpoint is merely
transcendental illusion. But just as Kant can reveal the transcendental illusion of metaphysics,Marx too accepts that science
can unmask the transcendental illusion of ideologies. But it cannot get rid of them, because they are a necessary element whose
function resides in the dominating classes' need for ideology in
order to conceal their interests. The obliteration of ideology is
the task of revolutionaryaction. The demonstration of the ideo-

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logical character of the superstructure is the task of scientific


theory. Marx believed he had solved this scientificproblem.
What is Weber's position in this regard? Needless to say, it is
evident that Weber recognized the problem of the sub- and superstructure (as well as the relationship between them). Weber too,
in his substantive analyses, thinks in such concepts as "real" and
"ideal" factors; Weber too is familiar with the problem of the
ideologies- that is, the embellishment of originally adequate ideas,
their distortions in the transcendental illusion previously mentioned. But here we come to the firstpoint of disagreement. The
decisive differencefor Weber is this: For all his acknowledgment
of the relation between the sub- and superstructure,for all his
acceptance of the significanceof ideologies as expressions of special
interest, the ultimate sources of the ideas forming the superstructure are autonomous and cannot be derived from "social
existence."
Weber does not accept Marx's assertion that social existence determines consciousness. To be sure, he does not claim that consciousness determines existence. But he says that the final and
ultimate source of metaphysics,of religions and mythologies,cannot be derived from social existence; they are of autonomous
origin.
If this is so, then Weber is confronted by a very serious and
difficultproblem: How to explain the connection between substructureand superstructure,between real and ideal factors. At
any rate, he cannot revertto monocausality,to merely causal interpretation which is not removed when one speaks of "reciprocal
effects"(Wechselwirkung) in Marx. This does not mean a thing.
How can Weber solve this problem afterhe closed the path Marx
had opened up, the path of causal and direct derivation?
Weber provides no systematictreatmentof this problem. But
in his general sociology of religion, there are hints of attempts to
deal with it. The fundamental concepts of his approach appear
in various sections of his work, without giving us any certainty

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as to what he means. However, it finds its real significance in


the systematicsociology of religion in the concept of elective affinity ( Wahlverwandschaft
). Weber does not think in terms of
- that is,
mutual causalities but in concepts of elective affinities
in most general terms, elective affinitiesbetween existence and
consciousness. This is, of course, not the place to deal with this
problem in a detailed and adequate way. But let us say this much:
In his systematicsociology of religion, Weber makes the following
construction. He takes social groups and strata, asks what their
special interests are. Then he inquires, in a second process of
his investigations,what naturally adequate world view, what general view regarding the nature of the world and of man, follows
fromthem. So for the peasant, the worker,the positivelyor negatively privileged middle classes, etc. And then he takes a final,
third step, and asks to what extent (to use one of Max Scheler's
expressions) these relativelynatural aspects of the world conform
to or conflictwith the autonomously evolved religious systemand
the theological constructionsof philosophical-metaphysicalspeculation, how much they help or hinder these, etc.
The concept of elective affinity,
furthermore,is known in literature. You will find it in Goethe's works; interestinglyenough,
you will also find it in the beginnings of chemistrywith its notion
of attraction and repulsion among the elements. Weber makes
this concept productive for the solution of the problem of the relationship between super- and substructure,of the real and ideal
spheres,which Marx seems to have solved in his concept of ideology. However one regards this Weberian solution, it differsfundamentally from that of Marx. We can approach this differencein
yet another way: We can say that Marx's systemis characterized
by a monism of access (Zugang); Weber's by a fundamental dualism. For Weber, to use a more current expression, there is an
"ontological difference"between the real and the ideal sphere.

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The Problem of Social Action


The second point I wish to consider concerns the problem of
the explanation of social change and the problem of action in
general and social action in particular. Just as, for Marx, economics determinesthe structureof the society,so too it determines
the changes which appear in this area. The economic changes
are the ones (according to Marx in his famous passage in the
introduction to the Critique of Political Economy) which, slowly
or rapidly, pull along the enormous superstructureof ideologies
and transformit. To be sure, Marx was cognizant of the fact
that economic structures and changes are the results of human
action. He was equally aware of the fact that economic changes
by themselvesdo not bring about changes in the social body, but
that this is possible only by means of human action. But- and
this I believe to be the crucal point in the comparison with Weber
- for Marx, human actions, however necessary,are merely a dependent, not an independent, variable. They are organs, means,
methods to bring about changes.
How does Weber approach this point of the explanation of
what we today designate by the somewhat colorless term "social
change"? Weber is of course aware of the tremendous significance
of economic changes, if one takes this expression only in the broad
sense of changes in a specificsociety. He knows as well as Marxthere is no differencehere- that changes, of course, can only be
brought about by action, the actions of people or of groups of
people. The decisive difference:For Weber, action cannot be derived from existence. It representsan independent variable. Action is not merely the product of the conditions and their changes;
the action, so to speak, stands on its own feet. This, again, is not
to say that social changes can be explained exclusively by the
actions of people, as perhaps in the "great men" theoryof history.
It means, rather, that Weber sees the problem as a dualistic one,
as an interplayof objectively given economic facts (in this case of
social changes) and the reactions of people to them in the most

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differingways. We have two groups of factors,and we must take


both in their relative independence and then attempt to explain
their interrelation.
Weber does not give us any substantive answer to the question,
how does this interplay take place? There are, however, various
modifications. First of all, Weber's theory tells us that social
change is to be understood as the product, the result of the dialectic between objective givenness and subjective action. But this is
not all. We still have to consider a second point. There is, for
Weber, in regard to the problem of social change, an extraordinary
formof action. There is the common, natural, normal action, and
then there is an extraordinary,abnormal, unusual action. For this
form of action Weber coined the term "charisma" (in a different
context, to be sure, but this isn't the place to go into that). There
are people who act in an extraordinary manner. It is Weber's
thesis that essentially qualitative changes, historically,take place
in differingsocial systemsif there is something like "charismatic"
- that is to say, extraordinary- action.
Whether the exponents of this extraordinaryaction are adventurers (the significanceof the adventurer for the development of
capitalism is one of Weber's special subjects) or whether they are
prophets or founders of religions (and this is very carefully analyzed by Weber) who introduce a new law beyond the limits of
the traditional- this is irrelevant. What is decisive is the significance of the extraordinary action for the phenomenon we call

"social change."
Why is this the case? Weber, in contrast to Marx, sees the
change of social systems not as normal, natural, and matter-ofcourse but as unnormal and problematic, because in all social systems the element of tradition has a decisive place. This creates
the problem of how traditionally similar, repetitive actions can
be interrupted.
In the place of determinism of action, Weber puts indeterminism. This means, however, that science is not in a position to
directly make prognoses regarding whether and in what manner

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social change can take place. This is in contrast to Marx, who


believed that science cannot tell whether and in what direction
men actually act but, on the basis of his theory of social change,
that science can tell what form this action must take in order
to be correct. For Weber, it is impossible to explain the problem
of correct action scientifically. For Marx, it is possible. This is
one of the basic positions of his entire system.

The Problem, of the Dialectic


A brief word with regard to the third point I wish to consider.
It concerns the question of social dynamics and the problem of
the dialectic. In contrast to the questions I have dealt with in
the second point, it is not here a matter of the causes of social
dynamics but of the law of social dynamics. In English we refer
to it as "patterns of social change." As far as Marx is concerned,
the basic featureof his systemis the factorof internal and external
contradiction,or the mutual conflictsof the diverse social elements
ensuing fromconflict. The law of development is nothing other
than dialectic ( die im Konflikt angelegte Dialektik). This dialectic expresses itself in the following way: First, the conflictis only
latentlyand potentially present and hidden by a relative harmony
of interests. Then it becomes actual. It continues to rise, finally
reaching a point where it puts the existence of the society in
question. That is the revolutionarysituation which can only be
solved by the creation of a new social system. Whether or not this
transformationfrom one social systemto another takes place externally,in a revolutionary form,is of little importance.
Weber too saw the problem of social conflictin its significance
for the social dynamic. If one wishes to classify,Weber belongs,
with Marx, to the group of theoristsof conflict,not to that aggregation of theorists of harmony. To that extent, there is agreement with Marx. The differencebetween Marx and Weber begins with the significancewhich is ascribed to the fact of conflict.

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First, it is by no means taken for granted by Weber that the conflict itself develops an inner dialectical dynamic in the manner
I have described. A society, in other words, can very well continue to exist, no matter how much it is shaken by conflict,if the
traditions continue to carry their greater weight. Second, the
the conflictmay be solved within a social system. That is at least
a theoretical possibility. Only in rare cases comes about that transition to a new social systemwhich Marx regarded as normal.
Naturally, this has far-reachingconsequences for the interpretation of the theoryof the dynamic of social systems. Summarizing, we can place the positions of both men in opposition to each
other: Marx's theory of the dialectic of conflict,Weber's theory
of the differentpossibilities of resolving a given conflict.

The Problem of Evolution


The fourthpoint I wish to deal with is the most difficultamong
these considerations. It concerns the relationship of the different
social systemsto one another within the dynamic process of history. Here we do not occupy ourselves with the question of the
inner dynamic of any social system,but with the question of the
dynamic connection of the differinggiven typesor stages of society.
This includes the problem of evolution.
It has been claimed that Marx could not possibly have been a
theoristof evolution because he preaches revolution. It has also
been said that Marx, in principle, cannot be a theoristof evolution
because he teaches the dialectic of conflict. Both objections, however plausible theyseem, do not appear to be correct to me.
The contrastbetween evolution and revolution is not a genuine
antinomy. The process of evolution may well make use of revolution as an organ. As concerns the second point, I believe a sharp
division must be made between Marx's teachings regarding the
inner dynamic of a social systemand the dynamic interconnections
among differentsocial systems. My thesis is and on this I am

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in agreement with Schumpeter- that Marx used the dialectic as


a principle of explaining the inner dynamic of a society, but in
order to explain the sequence of differentsocial systemshe used
the scheme of evolutionary theory. This, at least, applies for the
following decisive considerations which constitute evolutionary
theory.
First, every social systemis potentially preformed in the antecedent social system. Marx, as you know, used the image of the
womb of the old societyfromwhich the new society is born. Second, each system follows the antecedent one necessarily, for the
antecedent systemnot only creates the conditions for its successor
but is also its cause. Third, every systemin the evolutionary sequence is a higher formthan its antecedent, not only in its degree
of technical differentiationbut definitelyin a general sense: it

represents a higher stage of development morally, intellectually,


politically,economically, and technically. Marx is indeed the most
severe critic of the modern capitalist system. But do not forget
that no one else has spoken of it in such positive terms. It is
absolutely impossible to separate this positive element from the
critical element. The criticism refers to the fact that capitalism
is not yet socialism, containing merely its potentiality. The praise
consistsin the assertion that capitalism, so far,representsthe highest stage of development in the historyof social systems.
It is interesting to see that Weber, too, occasionally uses the
evolutionary scheme. Thus, in a fascinating study of the structure of late antiquity, he traced the emergence of the feudalism
that came to full flower in the Middle Ages. But it would be
erroneous to conclude from this that Weber was an evolutionist.
He was not an evolutionist in the same sense in which Marx was.
In fact, he radically rejected the three decisive characteristicsof

evolutionary theory,to the extent to which they are used in the


social domain. That is, he rejected the thesis of the preformation
of a later society in the society immediately preceeding; he rejected the thesis of the necessityof developmental stages; and he
emphatically rejected the notion that technically more differen-

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tiated societies are of higher value in other spheres too- politically, intellectually, and morally. How, Weber asks, could one
possibly value the modern world more highly than the world of
classical antiquity? This, for him, is simply impossible- at any
rate, impossible on the basis of a scientificanalysis. For Marx it
is possible, because he is an evolutionist.

The Scope of Science


And now let us come to the final point. I shall attempt to put
it as brieflyas possible. This concerns the meaning and purpose
of historical-socialdevelopment and the scope of scientificanalysis.
The word "development" here is to be taken in an entirelycolorless, formal sense. For Marx, these concerns took the form of the
problems of the ultimate goal toward which history is heading
and the ultimate meaning which manifests itself in historic development. We know that he believed he could answer both
these questions, not in the manner of speculative philosophers or
Utopian socialists but with the authority of science. Science, he
believed, could give clear and objectively valid answers to the
questions of the ultimate aim and meaning of history.2
Why? For Marx, it was established that the historyof the human species has its immanent aim and realizes its own purpose
innately. It is, I believe, important that Marx found the final
stage and the crowning of historyto be socialism: this is the application of the theoryfor the specificsituation of the present. The
decisive aspect here is that Marx does not preach socialism but
represents it as the necessary ultimate goal of history.
2It mustbe assumed
theMarxianscheme
ofthe"last
thatMayerheresimplified
more
time.
Marx
of
in
order
not
to
take
first
ofall,
up
distinguished,
stage" history
oftheproletariat,
a political
transitional
a stagethatwould
stageofthedictatorship
thisstagewasdispasswiththe"withering
away"of thestate. Socioeconomically,
the
it was to be followed
as socialism;
by thestageof communism,
tinguished
and
difference
that
between
formal
freedom.
This
equality complete
picture,
being
of course,
is a concession
of Marxto Utopiansocialism.

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In this area he differsfrom evolutionism, which proclaims an


ever increasing,infiniteprogress. He gives historya definiteterminal point: What characterizes socialism is, in the end, that essentially nothing further happens. Similarly, Marx answers concretely the problem of the purpose of history. This problem is
answered in the confrontation of the essential freedom of man
with alienation, or in the confrontationbetween domination and
freedom from domination.
The decisive differencebetween Weber and Marx is not in
the details but in the fundamentals. It lies in this: Quite aside
from the question of socialism vs. capitalism, domination vs. free-:
dom from domination, Marx asserts on principle what Weber
totallyrejects- that science is in a position to answer the question
of the ultimate aim of social historyand its meaning. For Weber,
this lies beyond the province of science. Here, of course, is the
origin of the famous principle of value neutrality in Weber's
sociology and in science in general. (I shall not deal with this
distinction here.) For Weber, science is not qualified to answer
questions concerning the aim and meaning of history. One can
approach this problem only speculatively. In this respect, Weber
does not see a differencebetween Marx and the other speculative
systemsbut only a formal identity. Marx did not answer, with
scientificauthority,questions the Utopian socialists had posed speculatively. The differencebetween Utopian and so-called scientific
socialism disappears.

Results and Sociological Perspective


The thesis which has dominated the Marx-Weber discussion
asserts that there may be differencesin detail but no differences
in principle. Speaking negatively,it seems to me that this thesis
has to be reversed: Aside from the fact that the way the problem
is put is similar, it is correctto say that there is agreement in many
essential details, but there is a fundamental differencein regard

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to the decisive methodological positions with which we are confronted in the social sciences.
In this short address I have attempted to represent the problem,
not to elucidate it critically or to ask who was right, Marx or
Weber. Must we deceide in favorof one or the other? One could
perhaps make an attempt,as Peter E erger has done in an interesting but, I believe, ultimately impossible way, to combine Marx's
and Weber's sociology of religion. Or is there perhaps a third
way out of this thicket? The question of a critical comparison
of Marx and Weber lies beyond the scope of these considerations.
I merely wish to prepare the ground for such a critical analysis,
and then to make two negative observations suggesting how I
believe this problem must be approached.
It has often been said by Marxists, especially in our time, that
whateverWeber may have said and whatever he may have thought
of his position, Weber fundamentally misunderstood Marx.
Weber's analysis, it has been said, is a criticism of vulgar Marxism. Or rather, Weber's critique concerns the "vulgar," not the
"genuine," Marx. This position was particularlydeveloped when,
after Weber's death, Marx's early writings became increasingly
accessible to us, and particularlyafterthe discoveryof the famous/

notorious Paris fragmentson "Political Economics and Philosophy." It has been said that only the interpretationof this manuscript can give us a genuine understanding of Marx, whereas
Weber's interpretation,together with many interpretationsfrom
the Marxist camp itself (consider Kautsky, Plekhanov, Labriola,
etc.) all concern vulgar Marxism and do not represent the genuine
Marx.
In this connection, two things are interesting: First, there is
no doubt that the rediscovery of Marx's early writings has given
the study of Marx a new impetus. The question is, however,
whether this impetus has put us in a position to find the key to
an understanding of Marx. The editors of Marx's early writings,
in 1932, expressed the hope that now, finally,there was the possibility of understanding Marx as he understood himself, and that

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now the completely sterile controversiesof the later Marxists were


obviated.
If one considers the literature in this field,one must regretfully
admit that these expectations have not come true. There is,
firstof all, the greatestdifferenceof interpretationconcerning the
young Marx. Consider those who interpreted the young Marx
as nothing more than a reverse Hegelian, or the attemptsto bring
the young Marx into the vicinity of phenomenology, as Marcuse
did. The fact is that today there is still no unity regarding the
correct interpretationof the early writingsof Marx. Even less is
there agreement on the decisive problem, namely, the relationship
between the early and the later Marx. To a large extent,only the
latter was Max Weber's basis.
Opposed to the notion that there is a unity in Marx's life work
to which the early writings give us a key, there is for example
Althusser's thesis that there is a fundamental contradiction between the younger and the older Marx. The older Marx is not
the continued development, the articulation of the younger Marx,
but totally supersedes him. In Althusser's view, for example, it
is possible to interpret Marx in terms of modern structuralism.
However, I cannot go into those questions here.
A word must be said regarding the extent to which these discussions, these new aspects of Marx studies have affectedWeber's
understanding of Marx. Let me render my opinion in three
statements. First, I am of the opinion that there is an inner continuitybetween the early and the late Marx. I cannot prove this
here; I am merely communicating it. I am also of the opinion
that a fundamental problem is always present, like a red thread,
throughout all of Marx's analyses: How does the unavoidable
alienation of man come about, and how is it overcome again? This
is the basis of the problem of alienation which is so much under
discussion.
Second, there is no doubt that Weber did not see this aspect of
Marx's scientifictheory- at least not sufficiently. This is hardly
surprising,since the decisive workswere not accessible at the time,

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and the few comments regarding the fetishisticcharacter of merchandise in capitalist society neither dealt with the problem sufficiently nor clarified it. But is that to say, as those who accuse
Weber of vulgar Marxism often do, that Weber's implicitly or
explicitly stated theses regarding the most essential principles of
Marx's methodology are fallacious? They require shoring up;
they need the support of a philosophical anthropology, such as
that found in Marx. But theyare essentiallycorrect.
Third, a furtherobjection with which the exponents of Marxism reproach Weber goes in the exactly opposite direction. They
do not claim that Weber misunderstood Marx. Rather, they resort to the so-called "sociology of knowledge" in the conventional
sense of the term- that is, the sociology of ideas, including those
ideas which find their theoretical expression in science. They
look forproof that Weber's position does not representany science
at all but was rather, Marxistically speaking, an ideology. Can it
be that Weber's work represents an enormously complex expression of his bourgeois limitations (since he, as you know, described
himselfas bourgeois)? Does he merely express the typical obtuseness of the modern middle-class citizen who cannot recognize the
truth? It is impossible to treat here the problem of the sociology
of knowledge in this area. But I would like to mention two points
with which sociology of knowledge must occupy itself. First, is
it possible that, from the social origins of a scientificwork, one
can draw conclusions regarding its objective validity? And two,
if this is the case, what are the social conditions under which science ( Wissenschaft) is at all possible?

Conclusion
These are the two questions which I believe must be posed if
we wish to consider this objection to Weber specifically. Weber
himselfdeveloped the counterthesisthat the problem of the social
genesis and the question of the validity of scientificinvestigation

718

SOCIAL

RESEARCH

are totally differentquestions. It seems certain to me that the


question, what are the social conditions which make science possible in the firstplace, requires an answer quite differentfrom the
Marxist one.
There remains the problem "Marx and Weber" - that is, "Marx
or Weber" - to be answered factually on the basis of their work.
There are two problems. One, if I understand it correctly,it is
the task of the social sciences in general and of sociology specifically to explain and describe the surrounding social reality. Thus,
the question is: Who gives us the better key to the description
and understanding of social phenomena, Marx or Weber? It is
certain that we can learn very little from Marx as regards the
descriptive part. For description is at home in the realm of a
social phenomenology. Weber has a tremendous amount to tell
us in this area, even though I haven't treated this at all. As concerns the question of explanation (the origins, nature, or consequences of a social reality) in its differentaspects, we ask ourselves
whether Weber's or Marx's categories are more helpful to us in
grasping our surrounding social reality,be it in its historic origins
or its present condition. Who gives us better information as to
the origin of those historic consequences of the modern world,
especially of modern capitalism? Who gives us better information
regarding the question of the better explanation of those social
problems directlyinvolving us, such as the problems of the capitalist and socialist social systems? This is the question which, I
believe, must be posed, and the answer to which depends on how
one relates to Marx or Weber.
Finally, one must pose a methodological question, or to use
Weber's phrase, a question which concerns methodology as theory
of science ( Wissenschaftslehre
). What are those philosophicalcpistomological principles upon which science may be established?
For Marx, undoubtedly, these principles were definitivelylaid
methoddown by Hegel. Marx, throughoutall his transformations,
remains
a
One
could
demonstrate
this
very
Hegelian.
ologically
neatly on the basis of his evolutionism and his dialectic. Weber,

WEBER'S

INTERPRETATION

OF MARX

719

on the other hand, is a Kantian. Weber believes that the fundamental philosophical-epistemological problems which social science poses can be solved only on the basis of Kant's epistemology,
that is, his critique of knowledge. Kant asked, how is science
possible, referringto natural science. Weber asked, how is science
possible- referringto social science. Both answer the question
positively,by presenting the possibility and the limits of science.
The fundamental problem on this level, which is posed with the
confrontation of Marx and Weber, is the problem of Hegel vs.
Kant, or Kant vs. Hegel.3
3 This alternative
to an American
reader. In pre-Hitler
Germaybe puzzling
a student
ofthesocialsciences
hadtogetinvolved
in philosophy,
andhe was
many,
withtheonlyacademic
alternative
available:to becomea Hegelianor
presented
a Kantian.It is somewhat
German
amazingto see that,apparently,
present-day
students
are stilloffered
thesamechoice.At least,Mayerwas confident
thathis
hearers
understood
it wellenoughto savehimself
explanation.
anyfurther

* Thisessayis thetranslation
ofa guestlecture
thatCarlMayergaveat theUniof thesameyear,he repeated
ofConstance
in January
1973. In December
versity
thislecture
at theUniversity
of Darmstadt.
At thetimeofhisdeathin 1974,he
wasworking
at an extended
version
ofitforpublication.
RichardGrathoff
of
The Germantextof theessaywaspublished,
byProfessor
the University
of Constance,
underthe title"Die Marx-Interpretation
von Max
inSozialeWelt,
XXV(1974),
265-277.
Weber,"
LoreWagnertranslated
thelecture
intoEnglish.The English
version
omitsan
initialparagraph
of personal
remarks.SinceMayerhad spokenwithoutmanueditorial
from
of thetexthavebeennecessitated
script,
changes
by thetransition
theGerman
totherequirements
ofwritten
styleoforalpresentation
English
exposition. Atoneor twopoints,
in theGerman
texthavebeenresolved
ambiguities
by
formulations
consonant
withthesenseof thelecture.
adopting
to authors
and publications
without
Occasionally,
Mayerreferred
properidentification.The editorof theGermantextdid notfurnish
thebibliographical
inandtheEnglish
translator
wasnotin a position
to rectify
hisomissions.
formation,
The basicargument
ofthelecture
is in no wayaffected
bythisminorflaw.