It has been said by the cynic that each man considers himself, and each woman considers her husband, the greatest of men. Be that as it may, it is not to the man whose influence over a few is the greatest, but to him through whom has been exerted the most far-reaching influence for good over the greatest number of the world’s inhabitants and through whom the progress of man’s happiness has most largely been caused, that must be accorded the premier position in the estimation of mankind.
I am not a believer in the “great man” theory which attributes historical events and social changes to the genius, courage, and enterprise of this individual or that, but hold rather the view that the development of society in accordance with natural law through a never-ending cancatenation of cause and effect, action and reaction of forces, has always produced at the required juncture, instruments in the shape of men for further progress.
It is always difficult to apportion to any one man the share due to him of any great movement or thought or invention, inasmuch as he takes advantage of the work done by the many who have gone before. Nevertheless, it is always interesting to survey the proportions and gaze on the personality of the men with whose names have been associated movements and ideas which have to any appreciable extent influenced the thoughts and actions of any considerable section of the human race.
I think, however, it is not to the man of science in the laboratory, not to the man of letters in the library, not to the inventor in the workshop that we have to look so much as to the social investigator and teacher, the world teacher who, through the science of society and universal philosophy, has shown how best the laboratory and literature and invention can be applied for the advantage of the race. If we judge then by this standard and look among the philosophers we shall find but one teacher whose influence has been manifested in the founding of a school of social thought which is world-wide. That teacher is Karl Marx.
Marx is known less in this country than he is on the Continent, but even here are to be found a goodly number of people clear in the perception of the truths unveiled by Marx, and more than that, the philosophy, the religion and the political ideas of those who are opposed to him are leavened by his views. In England as in America, in Australasia as in Japan, in South America as in South Africa, and everywhere in Europe do we find men with common aims, common hopes, and common ideals, building on the doctrines formulated by Marx a practical constructive policy for the banishment of the social ills from which men suffer, for the laying of a satisfactory basis of human life in the establishment of a society which shall provide adequately for man’s material needs,and through his material well-being secure a healthier intellectual and moral character for the race.
What, then, was the teaching of Marx ? His main position is to be found in his Das Kapital in which he discusses the economy of capitalist society, tracing its origin and development and foretelling its ultimate end. His main theses were that all rent, interest and profit find their source in the unpaid labour of the working-class ; that from free competition monopoly must necessarily arise, large capitals being able to crush small capitals and absorb them, while these large capitals grew larger in the hands of individual owner, limited liability company, combine, trust; that through the introduction of machinery and the consequent production of machinery by machinery, human labour is displaced and an industrial reserve of unemployed is necessarily established; that this same machinery more and more specialises man’s effort till man becomes a routine worker carrying on monotonous detail operations; and that arising from the industrial anarchy in society as regards both production and distribution is the poverty and consequent misery of the wage-working population.
Far more wide-reaching than all these however, is his materialistic conception of history, and his claim that all history has been a history of class struggles which will last until the lowest class, the class of the workers, gains political control and uses the power its members thereby gain to abolish all classes by abolishing the basis of class society, i.e., private property in the means of living. The materialist conception of history, as understood by Marx, is not necessarily associated with a belief in scientific or physiological materialism—that all phenomena can be explained in terms of molecules or atoms or any lower form of matter into which molecules or atoms can be resolved. Marx’s theory is that the economic modes of production and of distribution in any society are, in the main, the governing factors upon which the social structure, religion, political and juridical relations of that society depend. If this theory be sound then it follows that any change in any of the existing relations of man to man must be preceded by a change in industrial methods, and that any change in industrial methods is reflected in the social phenomena of society.
That Marx was not only a great thinker but a great leader of men can be disputed by no one who has examined the political strength of Socialism. A man who, in indicating the mainspring of social development, has laid the foundation stone of that mighty international movement with its millions of adherents, must have been equipped with more than ordinary vision. And to those who believe that the future of society must follow the lines laid down by him, it reasonably appears that the name of Karl Marx will for all time be associated with the most momentous social transformation heretofore witnessed in history. He who in the midst of a poverty-stricken exile laid down the principles guiding a world-wide movement destined to shape the society of the future must be hailed by friend and foe as one of the world’s greatest, and by Socialists as the greatest, measured by his influence for the betterment of the lives of men and the regeneration of society.