1920s >> 1924 >> no-241-september-1924

A Lord discovers the real Marx

One does not frequently discover in the books and articles written about Marx by his opponents any genuine attempt to impart to the reader an adequate idea of the contents of Marx’s works. “The Real Karl Marx” (an article by Lord Riddell in John O’ London’s Weekly, July 26, 1924) merits some consideration, however, for, as a travesty of Marx’s teachings, it is rather more absurd than the ordinary bourgeois production.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss Lord Riddell’s method of misrepresentation, but to point out a few slips made by him in his application of that method, in the first place it should be noted that where Lord Riddell falls in the cart (if one may use a proletarian expression in writing of a bourgeois) is in his choice of a victim. It is common knowledge among Socialists that Marx and Engels never did appear particularly well in the “rôle” of victims of misrepresentation of the type now under review. Both of them had a peculiar habit of replying to their critics’ misrepresentations—sometimes half a century or more before those misrepresentations were made.

A few examples will serve to show wherein “The Real Karl Marx” of Lord Riddell differs from Marx. Lord Riddell, discussing the history of Marx’s ideas, writes as follows :—

“Adam Smith laid down that labour is the source of all wealth and the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities (“Wealth of Nations,” 1776). In 1817 Ricardo (1772-1823) published his “Political Economy,” in which he stated that the worker receives as wages only so much as is required to furnish him with the necessities of life estimated according to the custom of the time.
Marx based his theories for the reconstruction of Society upon a narrow interpretation of these propositions.”

Marx, in his critical notes on the Gotha Programme, says :

“Labour is not the source of all wealth. Nature, no less than labour, is the source of use-values (and of these material wealth essentially consists); and labour is itself no more than a manifestation of a natural force, human labour-power.”

Marx’s work, “The Poverty of Philisophy,” is itself a reply to the last sentence quoted from Lord Riddell’s article, but the following passage from Engels’ preface to that work may usefully be given here :

“The above application of the theory of Ricardo, which shows to the workers that the totality of social production, which is their product, belongs to them because they are the only real producers, leads direct to Communism. But it is also, as Marx shows, false in force, economically speaking, because it is simply an application of morality to economy. According to the laws of bourgeois economy, the greater part of the product does not belong to the workers who have created it. If, then, we say, ‘That is unjust, it ought not to be,’ that has nothing whatever to do with economy ; we are only stating that this economic fact is in contradiction to our moral sentiment. That is why Marx never based upon this his Communist conclusions, but rather upon the necessary overthrow, which is developing itself under our eyes every day, of the capitalist system of production.”

A brief examination thus shows that Marx’s alleged “narrow interpretation” is merely the product of Lord Riddell’s imagination.

Elsewhere our critic refers to various matters which, he says, Marx’s theory disregarded. He says : “It also disregarded the necessity of leadership in industry.” Marx’s reply to this may once more be quoted :

“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.”


“Just as at first the capitalist is relieved from actual labour so 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 workmen and groups of workmen, to a special kind of wage labourer. An industrial army of workmen, under the command of a capitalist, requires, like a real army, officers (managers), and sergeants (foremen, overlookers), who, in while the work is being done, command in the name of the capitalist. The work of supervision becomes their established and exclusive function.”—Capital, Vol. 1, chapter 13.)

Lord Riddell, in the course of a pretence at a representation of what he calls Marx’s theory, says : “The workers, however, become organised and develop class consciousness—viz., a recognition of their rights as opposed to those of other classes.” Marx certainly recognised the necessity for class-consciousness. But “rights” ! How little use Marx’s theory had for the recognition of rights is realised by anyone who has given any attention to his works. Especially in the already-mentioned Notes on the Gotha Programme does Marx deal with this matter. Discussing the expression “equal rights to the whole product of labour,” occurring in that Programme, he shows how “Like all right, therefore, it is substantially an unequal right.” Further on, too, he denounces the “endeavour to uproot the realistic conceptions which (after long labour) have been firmly implanted“ in the minds of our members, and to replace them by ideological fustian about rights and all the rest of it.”

It is possible here only to touch upon a very small proportion of Lord Riddell’s mistakes. The following, however, must be given as his best attempt at concentrated misrepresentation ;

“The English edition of his chief work, Capital, was issued in 1886. In the preface his co-author, Frederick Engels, committed himself to the statement that British prosperity seemed to have run its course, that we were landed in ‘the slough of a permanent and chronic depression,’ and that the increase of population would shortly lead to a revolution.”

What Engels did write, in his preface, was :

“The decennial cycle of stagnation, prosperity, over-production and crisis, ever recurrent from 1825 to 1867, seems indeed to have run its course; but only to land us in the slough of despond of a permanent and chronic depression.”—(Capital. Swan, Sonnenschein, Lowrey & Co., 1887.)

The real Engels is as quoted here, and the real riddle is : How did our critic manage to quote nearly a whole line of Engels’ preface nearly correctly? As regards the statement, attributed to Engels, that “the increase of population would shortly lead to a revolution,” it must be admitted that Lord Riddell here deals Engels a nasty blow, the only defence being that Engels did not make that statement.

Lord Riddell gives what purports to be, but most certainly is not, a description ot Marx’s materialist conception of history. What Lord Riddell does not know about this side of Marx’s teachings is evidently well worth knowing. For of Marx he writes : “In 1845 he was expelled from Paris. After this he went to Brussels, where, in conjunction with Frederick Engels, he planned a series of European revolutions to subvert the existing order.” This is the best joke penned by Lord Riddell in his article. Revolutions planned by Marx and Engels ! By those who had formulated the materialist conception of history, according to which the latter is a history of class struggles ! By those who had maintained that “the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself” ! If Lord Riddell’s version is not a crude joke, then how admirable must have been the modesty of the author of “The Struggle of the Classes in France (1848—1850).”

A clue to the source of Lord Riddell’s mistakes, to use a polite expression, may be found in another of his references to Capital. He remarks : “It is not exciting reading, but its teachings diluted and embellished have been spread in all civilised countries by devoted adherents.” Whether or not Capital is exciting reading depends, of course, upon the reader. But if ever Lord Riddell should desire to become acquainted with the subject of his criticism it would still be of advantage to him to read Marx’s works rather than his “teachings diluted and embellished” by devoted adherents of capitalism.


(Socialist Standard, September 1924)

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