1920s >> 1921 >> no-207-november-1921

Book Review: ‘The Life and Teaching of Karl Marx’


‘The Life and Teaching of Karl Marx’, by M. Beer. National Labour Press, Ltd. 3s. 6d. net.

As an example of stern compression and yet lucid exposition of Marx’s teachings, this little book deserves high praise. In 132 pages of fair-sized type there is given a sketch of the life of Marx, his development in knowledge and thought, his work in the various movements of the Working Class, his theories of history and class struggles, and his economic discoveries. In addition, a brief account of the Hegelian Philosophy, so far as it deals with the Dialectic, is placed in 19 pages of the Introduction. Marx’s connection and debt to this school of philosophy is well shown.

After so clear a summary of Marx’s economic theories, it is astounding to find the following statements by M. Beer on page 130:

    “Marx’s theory of value explains neither the vast and unparalleled accumulation of wealth nor the movement of prices during the last sixty years. Wealth, measured in values, has, in the last few decades, increased by many times the increase in living labour power. In this connection the old formula can be reversed: wealth increases in geometrical, living labour power in arithmetical progression. The greatest difficulty in Marx is that inventors and discoverers, the chemists and physicists, the pioneers and organisers of industry and agriculture are not regarded by him as creators of surplus value. Thinkers who, by chemical researches and discoveries, double the productive capacity of the soil and conjure forth values in millions from the waste products of industry; physicists who place new sources of power and means of production at the disposal of mankind and multiply the productivity of labour; organisers who co-ordinate new methods of working—all this creative and directive work demanding, as it often does, an infinite amount of intensive intellectual effort, is not considered to have increased the total sum of exchange values of the nation.”

How familiar, even stale, all this reads to the student of Marx. How long, for instance, is it since W. H. Mallock said very similar things and tried to  justify the Capitalists’ ownership of wealth by claiming that it was due to the wonderful intellectual endowment “of the Few.”

And in another respect M. Beer is like Mallock and Co.—he is unable to give any alternative explanation. Nay, more; he does not even attempt to demonstrate or prove his case—he merely states it and passes on. Fortunately, there is one author who has met the objection of M. Beer that “creative and directive work” does not count in the theory of value. This author says:

    “All combined labour on a large scale requires more or less a directing authority in order to secure the harmonious working of the individual activities, and to perform the general functions that have their origin in the action of the combined organism, as distinguished from the action of its separate organs. A single violin player is his own conductor; an orchestra requires a separate one.”

Further on the same author says:

    “As co-operation extends its scale this despotism takes forms peculiar to itself. Just as at first the capitalist is relieved from actual labour as soon as his capital has reached that minimum amount with which capitalist production, as such, begins, so now he hands over the work of direct and constant supervision of the individual workman and groups of workmen to a special kind of wage labourer.”

This author’s name is Karl Marx, and the quotations will be found on pages 321 and 322 of “Capital” (Sonnenschein Ed.). It is the wage-labourer who provides exchange value, and, as here seen, the organisers, chemists, physicists, etc., are but “special kinds of wage-labourers.”

In the matter of prices, Marx was always careful to point out that, while he assumed free and full competition among the Capitalists in working out his theory, the factor of monopoly would make an important difference. This is seen to-day where combinations or trusts exist. Here prices are fixed by what “the market will bear,” though the latter will sometimes be affected by the competition of substitutes. The Standard Oil Trust has a practical monopoly of petroleum oils used in Australia; but local substitutes act to keep down the price of petroleum to a certain level. But even in these cases the difference between price and value, and the enormous profits made by many Trusts, are only explainable by Marxian laws—no other explanation fits the facts. Strange to relate, after all the shortcomings of the Marxian theory which M. Beer has discovered, he says:

    “However, as far as the distribution of products is concerned, Marx’s theory is, generally speaking, correct.” -Page 130.

This admission knocks out so much of his previous statement, that one wonders why either—or both—were made.

The charge of three shillings and sixpence net for a 132 pages pamphlet in paper covers is ridiculously high. In view of the usefulness of the work, the price should be reduced to bring it within the reach of the mass of the workers.

J. Fitzgerald

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