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The Historical Distinctiveness of Central Europe

A Study in the Philosophy of History


Krzysztof Brzechczyn

The aim of this book is to explain economic dualism in the history of modern Europe. The emergence of the manorial-serf economy in the Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary in the 16th and the 17th centuries was the result of a cumulative impact of various circumstantial factors. The weakness of cities in Central Europe disturbed the social balance – so characteristic for Western-European societies – between burghers and the nobility. The political dominance of the nobility hampered the development of cities and limited the influence of burghers, paving the way to the rise of serfdom and manorial farms. These processes were accompanied by increased demand for agricultural products in Western Europe

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Civilizational Dimensions of Non-Marxian Historical Materialism

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Appendix 1:

Civilizational Dimensions of Non-Marxian Historical Materialism


An argument frequently used to criticize non-Marxian historical materialism states that this theory gives importance to the conflict/antagonistic dimension of a historical process, and almost completely neglects the civilizational dimension.447 Very often in this way Leszek Nowak’s three-volumed book titled U podstaw teorii socializmu (The Foundation of a Theory of Socialism) was interpreted.448 However, Nowak was aware of the significance of the civilizational perspective of a historical process. He argued as follows:

The problem is that social evolution comprises two perspectives – class perspective (referring to economic, political and cultural class) and civilizational perspective (referring to the three areas, respectively). Production is an area of social conflict, but it may also improve human living conditions. Politics is a battlefield for power; however, it may also shape long-lasting institutions, habits and traditions. Culture is an area of rivalry for access to human minds; however, it may also create values. One of the typical forms of ideological thinking is justly described by exclusively focusing on a civilizational perspective; however, this perspective exerts significant influence on social evolution ←329 | 330→and should be considered at some stage of comprehensive development of theoretical construct.449

However, lack of more advanced grasp of civilizational perspectives of social life in the present shape of non-Marxian historical materialism does not mean that this theory did not make any attempts to conceptualize this perspective of social life.

The purport of the present essay is to offer a recapitulation and a review of the so-far taken attempts to do so and to indicate a possible development of this theory. Therefore, first, I will modify the typology of social practice. And second, using my typology of societies in non-Marxian historical materialism, I will attempt to match types of class stratification with social practices giving them the best chance of spread. Finally I will explicate the terms of ecological balance and imbalance, and analyze the impact of ecological conditions on the diffusion of various types of class stratification and, indirectly, its their influence on various social practices.

2Civilizational Aspects of Non-Marxian Historical Materialism

The present recapitulation and review limits to two most significant publications and it excludes singular comments present elsewhere. The first was written by Grzegorz Tomczak, the second – by Leszek Nowak. Tomczak analyses the influence of economic collapse on social evolution. He situates economic collapse in the economic-social perspective between crisis – understood as failure to satisfy the historically established social needs – and cataclysm understood as “a violent decrease of the level of means necessary for biological survival.”450 The consequence of economic collapse is a decrease of production of the division II (consumer goods) below the threshold of reproduction of workforce. Depending on the duration and tempo, the author has distinguished four types of economic collapse:

catastrophe – sudden and long-lasting;

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shock – sudden and short-lasting;

decline – gradual and long-lasting;

breakdown – gradual and short-lasting.

Tomczak analyzed in detail the influence of economic decline and catastrophe on the evolution of an economic society (comprising two classes: owners and producers) and a political-economic society (comprising three classes: a class of rulers, a class of owners and a people’s class) and concretized relevant models in non-Marxian historical materialism. The most important conclusion emerging from these amendments was the following assertion:

the economic collapse is a factor strengthening the political authority since the occurrence of economic collapse causes an increase of the importance of the coercive measures being at the disposal of the rulers’ class. It leads to domination of the political momentum over the economic one which in several variants results in totalitarization […] It is not a coincidence that […] totalitarian systems developed in periods of deep economic crises which in the light of hypotheses presented in this paper can be counted to one of the mentioned types of economic collapse.451

The second of the aforementioned articles was written by Leszek Nowak who introduced the margin effect to his theory of historical process. This effect is characterized by “actions led by own interests of rivals leads under special circumstances to making the competitive mechanism ineffective; as a result, the former rivals lose contrasting interests and begin to act in line with the common interest.”452 This situation requires more detailed explanation of social practice.

According to Nowak, social practices have primary conditions (capital), not produced by it, but processed into final conditions (product). The most popular social practice is liberal. It is characterized by unlimited number of participants and maximization of individual goals instead of common goals (community goals). Leszek Nowak argues that totalitarization of social practice means limitation of the number of participants of social practice that its effectiveness decreases. As a result, the problem of exhaustion of resources is solved. Nowak also distinguished solidaristic social practice founded on unlimited number of participants who nonetheless manage to maximize not their individual, but common goals.

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3Social Practice versus Types of Class Stratification

I find it important that the two criteria distinguished by Leszek Nowak: the way of realization of a given goal (maximization or optimization) and the number of participants (unlimited or restricted) of social practice are independent from each other. If we cross-examine them, we obtain four, not three types of social practice.

Let us use the term “social practice” to designate a socio-economic practice that predominantly leads to re-shaping of the natural environment. According to the first criterion, it is possible to distinguish social practices that impose limitations on the group of participants and those that do not impose such limitations. According to the second criterion, individuals may maximize their individual goals and satisfy common goals. A contrary situation, in which individuals satisfy their individual goals and maximize common goals, is also possible. When we cross-examine these two criteria, we receive four variants of social practice:

Tab. 2: Typology of social practice

Number of participants of social practice/Type of goals realized




liberal (i)

etatist (ii)


solidaristic (iii)

corporate (iv)

This allows distinguishing, apart from Leszek Nowak’s liberal, solidaristic and etatist social practices, also another type – corporate one. Let’s present a characteristic of each type of social practice. The liberal type can be characterized in the following way:

(1) there are no limitations with respect to the group of subjects of the possible social practice;

(2) subjects of the given practice maximize their particular interests (individual or group);

(3) those participants who realize in the most effective way chosen goals (maximization of spiritual domination, profit, power) remain in the further stages of the given social practice.

A historical example of a system founded on the above-described rules to the highest degree is Euro-Atlantic capitalism. The biggest advantage of liberal civilizational evolution is its effectiveness. This effectiveness decreases as ←332 | 333→natural environment resources, that the given social practice is founded on, are close to exhaustion. Then, either the rules of the social practice change, or the practice disappears causing destruction of the social system. The other three types of socio-economic precise are characterized by lower effectiveness. These are: etatist, solidaristic and corporate practice. The etatist practice can be characterized in the following way:

(1) limitations imposed on the group of participants of the social practice;

(2) participants maximize their individual goals;

(3) those participants who realize in the most effective way chosen goals remain in the further stages of the given social practice

A historical example of a system founded on the above-described criteria can be model of triple-lordship society (the co-called real socialism) where triple lords intervenes into economic life and limits effectiveness of economy.

The solidaristic evolution can be characterized in the following way:

(1) no restrictions imposed on the participants of the said social practice;

(2) participants maximize community goals and satisfy individual ones;

(3) those participants who realized in the most effective way chosen goals remain in the further stages of the given social practice.

The above-described type of social practice – as far as we know – has not yet been realized. The corporate social practice can be characterized in the following way:

(1) restrictions imposed on the participants of the said social practice;

(2) participants of the said practice maximize community goals and satisfy individual ones;

(3) those participants who realized chosen goals (maximization community goals and satisfying individual ones) in the most effective way remain in the further stages of the said social practice.

The example of this type of social practice maybe guilds in medieval towns, that decided on the number of liberated apprentices and the scope and price of production of the craft business was decided by the guild that required mandatory participation. Guild regulations were reinforced by family ties, customs and traditions, and religious cult – every guild had a patron.

The above-distinguished social practices are not implemented in a social void, but appear in a certain social context. This context would be best described by a ←333 | 334→presentation of an advanced typology of class stratification in non-Marxian historical materialism.453

The above typology hinges on the assumption that class division are not present only in economy but also spontaneously appears in other spheres of human activities, such as politics and culture. On the material level of political life, we can distinguish means of coercion. Relation to them divides society into two groups: the class of rulers that decides about destination of the means of coercion and the class of citizens deprived of this possibility. Economic life has an analogical internal structure. On the material level it is possible to distinguish means of production that establish division into a class of owners and a class of direct producers. In culture, the relation to the means of spiritual production – such as printing press, radio, television, etc. – establishes a division into a class of priest who decide on the use of the different kinds of mass media, and the rest of society (a class of believers) devoid of such possibility.

Following from this, the divide of social life allows us to differentiate three separate and autonomous types of class stratification. In politics, the ruling class, which has means of coercion at its command, expands its sphere of regulation at the expense of the autonomy of citizens. In economy, the class of owners maximizes the surplus product at the expense of income of producers. In culture, the class of priests disposing the means of spiritual production deepens their spiritual control and limits the autonomy of the flock. Therefore, social antagonisms founded on unequal access to material social means (of coercion, production and indoctrination) in all three areas of social life have an autonomous character. Class divisions from neighboring spheres of social life may only weaken or strengthen them. Class divisions may also cumulate and the same social class may take control over means of coercion and means of production, or means of coercion and means of spiritual production, in order to reinforce its social power.

The type and level of the accumulation of class divisions is the foundation of typology of societies built in the notion apparatus of non-Marxian historical materialism. The simplified version of this typology is based on the following criteria:

what type of class interest dominates in a given society;

what is the level of cumulation of class divisions, namely, whether the dominating class is single, double or triple.

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I will now discuss the above-mentioned criteria in detail. In the case of class societies (triple-moment variant) and supra-class societies (in double-moment variant) implementation of criterion (i) leads to distinguishing the dominant class of disposers of the material means of society (rulers, owners and priests). In the case of single-moment societies, where one social class controls the means of coercion, production and indoctrination, implementation of this criterion leads to distinguishing the priority class interest of this triple class of disposers.

The domination of class A over class B means that in the case of conflict between them, in the long-run, the interest of class A is maximized. Therefore, the social class A, which dominates over the rest of society this way, is called the principal class. The priority of the class interest of type A over the class interest of type B means that in the situation in which the maximization of the interest of B excludes the maximization of class interest of A, in the long-run the interest of A is maximized. In other words, the class interest of B is instrumentally subordinated to the maximization of interest of A. The main class interest in a given society realized by the triple class of disposers will be this class interest which has such understood priority over the remaining class interests. Depending on whether the class interest is the maximization of power, profit or spiritual domination as an understood priority in a given society, one may distinguish respectively a political, economic or hierocratical type of society.

The one and the same class of social potentates can merge the disposition over the social means of two (e.g. means of production and means of coercion), or three (e.g. means of production, means of coercion and means of indoctrination) kinds of material means. Therefore respect it is possible to distinguish single (e.g. rulers), double (e.g. rulers-owners) and triple (e.g. rulers-owners-priests) social classes. This is the second criterion of the constructed typology. Depending on the level of the accumulation of class divisions, every social type of society can appear in the single-, double- and triple-moment variants. For example, the principal class may be a single class (triple-moment variant of society), a double class that combines political power with spiritual or economic power (double-moment variant) or a triple class that merges disposition over means of coercion with disposition over means of production and mass communication (single-moment variant of society).

Let us now consider relations between the disseminated type of social practice and a type of class stratification. Liberal type of social practice is possible in a triple-moment economic society. Only in this society access to a certain class of owners depends on gaining control over allocation of production forces. As the class of proprietors is domineering, political authorities are unable to impose ←335 | 336→far-reaching limitations on economic practice, and certainly cannot dictate who can be in control of allocation of production forces.

The etatist type of social practice has the best chances of spreading in double- and single-moment political society. In this social system, the dominating class of rulers seizes control over means of production (by becoming a double class of rulers-owners) and/or of means of indoctrination (by becoming a triple class of rulers-owners-priests) and is able to limit the number of participants of a said social practice.

At the same time, however, the corporate type of social practice has the best chance of diffusion in a double- and triple moment hierocratic or economic society.Top-down corporatization occurs in a hierocratic type of society. In such system, the class of priests is able to limit the number of participants of a socio-economic practice, allowing only those who accept implementation of common goals, and not individual. Effective limiting of participants of the social practice is possible when priests additionally take control over means of coercion or means production, or both.

Bottom-up corporatization occurs when a class of owners additionally takes control over means of coercion and indoctrination (or enters class alliance with the class of priests). This is exemplified by a medieval guild that rations economic activity and regulates culture, the social life and customs of its owners.

As far as we know, the solidaristic type of social practice has not been spread on a mass scale. Its dissemination requires two conditions. First, it should be a society with three separate classes (three-momentum), so none of the classes would limit the possibilities of social advancement: transition from one class to another. Second, it should be a triple moment hierocratic society: priests impose their worldview on the other members of the society (the flock) in a way that he justifies the domination of communal goals over individual ones. This is all that we can say according with this level of idealization of non-Marxian historical materialism.

To conclude: we could say that the types of social practice distinguished above may be widespread in the following types of class structures:

liberal – triple-moment economic society;

etatist – single- and double-moment political society;

corporate – single- and double-moment hierocratic and/or economic society;

solidaristic – triple-moment hierocratic society.

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4Between Ecological Conditions and Socio-economic Practice

We should consider, what influences diffusion of a class structure of a certain type. In general, in non-Marxian historical materialism transformation of class structures depends on class mechanisms – results of social revolutions. The victorious people’s revolutions directed against the classes of rulers and owners accelerate the accumulation of power and ownership, but the defeated people’s revolutions stimulate concessions leading to separation of class divisions.

It is important to take into consideration how diffusion of a class structure of a certain type depends on civilizational mechanisms of social evolution. In order to do so, I will characterize the state of ecological balance and imbalance. According to the definition coined by Jan Kieniewicz:

Ecological balance occurs when the level of social pressure exerted on the environment does not surpass the threshold of resistance, established individually depending on resources and implemented technologies. In other words, the society does not behave or act in a way that causes the environment to transform, which could, in turn, force the society to, for example, implement new technologies reinforcing pressure exerted on the resources of the ecosystem or react in any other way resulting in increasing pressure on the environment.454

This idea could also be expressed with the terminology of non-Marxian historical materialism. Let us once more discuss the relation between society and natural environment. It is supposed that are certain initial conditions (resources) of a socio-economic practice, not produced by it, but reshaped in the process of work into certain final conditions – consumable objects.

The state of ecological balance occurs when implementation of a socio-economic practice does not influence changes of the natural environment that, in turn, enforces significant reshaping of the mode of implementation of the social practice, but allows for stable continuation of a given practice. In the context of ecological balance, a socio-economic practice is implemented without destabilizing the class system.

The state of economic imbalance takes place when implementation of a social practice results in a change of the natural environment, in turn, enforcing a change in the mode of implementation of the social practice. Unchanged continuation of the said social practice would otherwise result in destabilization of the social system followed by its destruction.

The impact of ecological context on socio-economic practice is not exerted directly, but via a type of class stratum. We have a following dependency triad:

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Ecological conditions – Class structure – Socio-economic practice

I assume that the dependency relationship between ecological conditions, type of class structure and socio-economic practice are of an adaptive nature.455 We could present them in the following way:

(i) that type of class structure, from a set of historically given types of class structures, becomes adopted on a mass scale which ensures – in certain ecological conditions – the optimal social stability;

(ii) that type of socio-economic practice, from a set of social practices, becomes adopted on a mass scale which ensures – within a certain type of class structure – the optimal interest of the dominant social class.

If in the state of ecological balance, all types of class structure satisfy the criterion of social stability to a similar degree, none of them is favored by ecological conditions. An emergence and diffusion of supra-class or class structures depends mainly on class mechanisms. However, when economic triple-moment class structure appears, a liberal socio-economic practice ensures the highest effectiveness and it will suppress other types of practices. Therefore this kind of practice becomes widespread on a mass scale and economic triple-moment system will become economically superior over alternative supra-class systems.456

Differently, the state of ecological imbalance favors social supra-class structures, as only they satisfy the criterion of social stability. The type of goals imposed on individuals and the number of persons allowed independent economic activity limit the effectiveness of the socio-economic practice in a way that does not influence the ecological balance. Paradoxically enough, under the conditions bordering ecological imbalance, a decrease of economic effectiveness increases social stability. An increase of economic effectiveness would result in quicker exhaustion of resources and destabilization of the social system. Therefore, in the context of ecological imbalance, supra-class social structures are shaped of political, hierocratic and economic type, that create favorable conditions for diffusion of socio-economic practices of etatist and corporate type.

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446 The paper appears in an English translation for the first time. The Polish original: “Wymiar cywilizacyjny nie-Marksowskiego materializmu historycznego. Rekapitulacja dotychczasowych ujęć i próba rozwinięcia” was published in Studia z Filozofii Polskiej, Vol. 8 (2013), pp. 43–53.

447 “Almost” does not equal “completely.” The first model of class society included adaptation mechanisms of production organization to the achieved technological level or the influence of technological progress. These civilization factors have been predominantly analyzed with reference to their influence on the dynamics of class conflict, see: Nowak, Property and Power, pp. 78–101.

448 Piotr Przybysz, “Pochwała metody,” Czas Kultury, Nos. 1–2 (1992), p. 51.

449 Leszek Nowak, “Efekt kresowy w procesie historycznym,” in: Marksizm, liberalizm, próby wyjścia, eds. Leszek Nowak and Piotr Przybysz (Poznań: Zysk i S-ka, 1997), p. 310.

450 Grzegorz Tomczak, “The Economic Collapse in Two Models of Socio-Economic Formation,” in: Dimensions of the Historical Process, ed. Leszek Nowak (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1989), p. 259.

451 Tomczak, “The Economic Collapse,” p. 269.

452 Nowak, “Efekt kresowy,” p. 312.

453 Brzechczyn, O wielości linii rozwojowych, pp. 73–86.

454 Jan Kieniewicz, Ekspansja, kolonializm, cywilizacja (Warszawa: DiG, 2008) p. 47.

455 Nowak, “The Theory of Socio-Economic Formations,” pp. 110–121.

456 After Kieniewicz, we should acknowledge the need for distinction of the following terms: the state of “retardation,” “stagnation” and “progress” (Kieniewicz, Ekspansja, pp. 114–115). In a paraphrase of my theory, the state of retardation results from imbalanced development of supra-class societies, and stagnation occurs in the context of balanced development. Progress, on the other hand, characterizes balanced development of class societies.