The Western Socialist
Vol. 29 - No. 228
No. 4, 1962
pages 17-20

The Encyclopaedia Britannica On Karl Marx

"Let knowledge grow from more to more and thus be human life enriched."

In these words does the Encyclopaedia Britannica introduce its readers to the cornucopia of material available in its volumes. Therefore, in turning to Professor C. Landauer's exposition of Marxism in the 1961 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Volume 14, page 994), one might expect to gain knowledge. Instead, the theoretical system formulated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels is the subject, not of scientific or serious criticism (ever welcome to Marxians), but, as we shall see, of criticism based upon misrepresentation.

In the comments to follow, reference to Marx and Engels will be made to refute Prof. Landauer's erroneous charges and also to show that there is no excuse for misrepresentation or misunderstanding if time is taken to carefully read the writings of Marx and Engels.


First of all, just as if it were a fact, the following is presented by the professor: "Marxist determinism promises victory to the working class and thus is apt to strengthen the latter's self-confidence in the class struggle, but at the same time the question arises as to why workers should make sacrifices in order to bring about developments which are inevitable in any event."

Marx and Engels never claimed that capitalism would evolve into socialism as an inevitable event without a conscious effort from the workers. On the contrary, they maintained that the workers would be the active factor in the transformation. They further insisted (constantly) that the development of capitalism itself produces the conditions necessary for the formation of a politically-united class-conscious proletariat.

Engels deals with this in a well-defined manner in his work, Anti-Duhring "It is the driving force of the anarchy in social production which transforms the great majority of men more and more into proletarians, and it is again the masses of the proletariat who will finally make an end to anarchy in production." (Anti-Duhring, page 284, C. H. Kerr edition.)

And Marx tells us: ". . . the imminent laws of capitalistic production . . . develop . . . the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common . . . the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and this, the international character of the capitalistic regime . . . but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself." (Capital, vol. 1, p. 836, C. H. Kerr edition.)

The only question, therefore, which arises here is the professor's audacity in presenting in the name of Marx a product of his own imagination.

"Economic Interpretation of History"

Next on the list is an indirect confession of mental bankruptcy, for the professor makes the following statement: "The most problematic point in the economic interpretation of history is the ambiguity of the concept of economic change." (Author's emphasis.)

Marx and Engels found the economic factor to be the important factor in the movement of historical events. With the formulation of the Materialist Conception of History, man was presented with the means of understanding why social systems change. As Marx says: "It is not the articles made, but how they are made, and by what instruments, that enables us to distinguish different economical epochs." (Capital, vol. 1, p. 200.)

Engels, in no way ambiguously, wrote in a letter to a student (Jan. 25, 1895): "We hold that in the final analysis, economic conditions constitute the determinative factor in historical evolution. . . that the political, philosophical, religious, literary, artistic, etc., evolutions are based on the economic evolution. They all react upon each other and upon the economic bases. It does not mean that the economic factor is the sole active cause and all others merely-passive effects. But the whole situation presents a mutual interaction among the various forces on the bases of economic necessity, which latter force ultimately prevails.. . History is not as some would imagine for the sake of this greater convenience, an automatic effect of the economic situation, but men themselves make their own history. Certain it is, however, that men act in accordance with the prevailing conditions that dominate their field of action and among these the economic circumstances, however much influenced by political and ideological forces, are always of chief importance." (The Western Socialist, Mar.-Apr. 1953).

In the light of the above, the only "problematic point" needing to be considered is the degree of impertinence of a certain professor who would judge and condemn scientific theory without first having attempted to comprehend it.


Our professor, consistent in his inconsistencies, offers the following paragraph: "For the consistent Marxist dialectician, straight-line, gradual progress can never lead to worthwhile results . . . Since true reform, which does not destroy the present system but gradually transforms it, is ruled out, revolution becomes necessary, and to a consistent believer in dialectics the suffering and sacrifices of violent change constitute the price mankind has to pay to have any essential progress at all. . . This was the philosophy that Marx professed."

The "worthwhile results" of "gradual progress" can only be viewed relatively. On one hand, every technical advancement in the means of production generally results in greater profits for the owning class, therefore a worthwhile result for them. On the other hand, the "gradual progress" of capitalism has developed the means of social production to a stage that is more and more becoming incompatible with minority ownership. It is from this development that the idea is growing for the necessity of establishing social ownership and democratic control, therefore a worthwhile result. It is to this objective that Marxists devote their energies, and so to state that gradual progress cannot for Marxists lead to worthwhile results is quite absurd.

Reforms have relatively little to do with revolution, although lack of reform may indeed result in a general revolt as in Cuba where this was discovered by the American capitalist class, to their loss and Cuban capitalism's gain.

The Marxian analysis of capitalism shows that the inherent anarchy of social production tied to minority ownership is resulting in an ever-greater degree of proletarian class consciousness, thereby bring us closer to production for use, i.e., the Socialist revolution.

That Marx "professed violent change" as his "philosophy" is not true. However, a "philosophy" of violent change with suffering and sacrifice is and always has been the patented philosophy of the capitalist class. For example, during the French industrial revolution a capitalist philosopher (Diderot) said, "Mankind will not be free until the last king has been strangled with the entrails of the last priest." That "philosophy" was a direct manifestation of the economic needs of the beneficiaries of the industrial revolution, the ancestors of the present day capitalists, and was embraced by them because the monarch represented the interests of the landed aristocrats, while the established church owned almost a third of the property, thereby standing in the way of the ascent of King Capital. Marx points out, "The history of . . . their expropriation is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire." (Capital, vol. 1, p. 786.)

The international Socialist revolution will be an act of the majority. Any violence, if such occurs, will be instigated by the minority. Marx put it this way: "The transformation of scattered private property, arising from individual labour, into capitalist property is, naturally, a process, incomparably more protracted, violent, and difficult, than the transformation of capitalist private property, already practically resting on socialised production, into socialised property. In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people, by a few usurpers in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people." (Capital, vol. 1, p. 837.)

Class Struggle

Professor Landauer writes: "As Marx was not a consistent dialectician, he wrote many passages that are incompatible with the belief in illimitable class struggle. There exists, therefore, a cleavage in the Marxist system between the belief in democratic evolution and the contrary belief in the inevitability of revolution ending in dictatorship."

Marx tells why he applied the dialectic method: ". . . because it includes in its comprehension an affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence because it lets nothing impose upon it and is in its essence critical and revolutionary." (Capital, vol. 1, p. 26.)

The professor offers no proof that Marx was not a consistent dialectician; he has no proof. That he anticipated possible criticism is suggested by his vague and diffuse treatment of the class struggle — unless, of course, he simply did not know what he was talking about, in which case we can only beg him to keep quiet until after his next visit with Marx's Capital.

We shall see later that the professor, in his reference to dictatorship, is under the illusion that the capitalist revolution of 1917 in Russia was a Socialist revolution. The "cleavage" which he found, therefore, exists not in the Marxian system but in the professor's head.

Marx and Engels saw the Socialist revolution as the outcome of the organized movement of the class-conscious majority. Here is a passage from Marx, "To fit the workers for their historic task of inaugurating the new society would require years of patient educational work." And one from Engels, "Marx and I rely on the intellectual maturity of the working class to achieve their emancipation." (Socialist Standard, June 1959, p. 87.)

Labour Value Theory

Theories of Marx are "once again refuted" by our professor, as usual without proof, in the following manner: "In elaborating the theory that 'exploitation of labour' is the only source of profit, (in the third volume of Das Capital), Marx ran into difficulties that caused him to deviate from the logical consequences of the labour value theory on which he had based his initial propositions. This widely discussed self-contradiction, however, merely adds one more argument to the body of proofs by which modern theory has refuted the explanation of value from labour time."

Marx in volume 3 of Capital (Das Kapital) says, "In volumes 1 and 2 we were dealing only with the values of the commodities. Now we have dissected this value on the one hand into a cost price, and on the other we have developed out of it another form, that of the price of production of commodities." (Page 192.)

Generally speaking, critics of Marx accuse him of contradictions in volumes 2 and 3 of Capital over the source of value, the claim being that Marx has value coming from cost price or price of production.

Marx gives this definition of value in volume 3, (p. 166), "The value of every commodity, including the commodities of which capital consists, is determined, not by the necessary labour-time contained in it individually, but by the social labour time necessary for its reproduction."

Cost price and price of production are dealt with on page 195 of the same volume: "The cost-price of a commodity refers only to the quantity of paid labour contained in it, while its value refers to all the paid and unpaid labour contained in it. The price of production refers to the sum of the paid labour plus a certain quantity of paid labour determined by conditions which are independent of the individual sphere in which this particular commodity was produced."

Marx establishes that value is determined by social labour in volume 1 and clearly states it again in volume 3, as we have just seen. In the meantime we shall wait for Professor Landauer to present us with even one argument, prior to seeing "one more argument" of his or anyone else's, that refutes Marx's explanation of the source of value. This critic of Marx, in the manner customary to Marx critics, prefers to make his assertions without attempting to prove them, pretending that such proofs have been produced by others, are well known and do not need to be restated.

Appraisal of Marxism

Finally, Professor Landauer offers an appraisal of Marxism. Marxism, he says, "has supplied totalitarian enemies of freedom with important intellectual weapons. Marxism is the only admissible social doctrine in the Soviet Union . . . although more recently the inadequacies of the labour value theory as a basis for rational planning have caused important, if not tactic, modifications of Marxism."

Russia is a totalitarian power, not because it has accepted the ideology of Marxism, but because it possesses all the essential features of capitalism. Marxism has been distorted and misrepresented by the upholders of Russian capitalism, even as the professor has done in the pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, even as the upholders of capitalism throughout the world have always done. It is not the inadequacies of the "labour value theory" but the validity of this theory that has caused not modifications but suppression, distortion and persecution of any who would uphold Marx's theories in Russia.

We can only conclude that if "knowledge is to grow from more to more and thus be human life enriched" through the efforts of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the quality of these efforts will need to undergo some improvement.