The Crisis of our Ideologies

From Karl Polanyi
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[83] The consciousness of men is determined by their social existence.

I. The ruling ideas of capitalist society are in crisis, for the first, transitional phase of capitalist epoch is drawing to a close and the next period, which is in gestation, will give rise to a different set of prevailing values.

The first phase of the capitalist system was characterised by …

a) The apprehension of moral values in contemporary capitalist society is governed by an expansion of self-consciousness: […] Cf. Ibsen […]

b) In art, the ruling ideas …

[84] 2. The next period of the capitalist age will, we expect, produce more or less stable conditions of material existence… […]

3. In the age of organised capitalism, the ruling ideas of society will undergo a thoroughgoing transformation. As a result of the increasing centralisation of capital, private property will no longer possess an individual character, and as a result, individual consciousness will appear superfluous to the interests of capital. Indeed, abstract, impersonal capital will only strengthen the cohesion of capitalist society. In the age of collective bargaining, the uniformity of consciousness and standardisation will become increasingly valued, the growth of regulation will displace entrepreneurship, stable economic conditions will make the critical mentality appear superfluous and loathsome, even immoral. … […]

4. By 'socialism' we refer neither neither to an economic system nor to am movement but to a philosophy consisting of domains of knowledge (historical materialism, [85] etc.) and ideas (ethic, etc.). […]

5. In this way, socialist ideology is returned to its originators - the bourgeoisie. […]

6. As a result, the working class will lose a substantial segment of its theoretical armoury, which will instead turn into a mean of self-defence for the capitalist class. History thus repeats itself: the capitalist system will turn socialism into a state religion, just as the Roman Empire took over Christianity, the militant religion of the rebellious slaves.

7. Syndicalism may be regarded as one of the theoretical manifestations of this crisis. […]

(Translation: Adam Fabry)

Text Informations

Original Publication: “Nézeteink válsága”, Huszadik Század[1], 11.1-2, p. 125-127
KPA: 01/06 (10 pages; 2 copies of the original article and an english translation)
Published English Translation: “The crisis of our ideologies”, in DALE Gareth (ed.), Karl Polanyi: The Hungarian Writings, p. 83-85
Other languages:

Lg Name
FR La crise de nos idéologies

See also places where Polanyi explains his text

Editor's Note

  1. Published in 1910 in this journal, a note says that the text was written in 1909 in a larger form.