Book Review: The latest criticism of Karl Marx
We have been asked to deal with a publication called “The Socialist’s Bible.” It is sold by the “Industrial League and Council,” which is one of the many bodies aiming at a reconciliation between the employed and employing classes.
The endless stream of books to prove that Marx was wrong is not only a tribute to Marx in showing how great is the respect his writings still inspire, but it reminds us also how limited and unscientific is the outlook of sections of the propertied class. Not knowing the way in which real social forces work, and quite lacking a sense of proportion, they are told and believe in their simplicity that revolutions are made by the wrongheaded brilliance of the Cromwells, the Rousseaus and the Marxs of history. What, then, could be more natural than the everlasting effort to stop the coming revolution by hurling tomes and pamphlets at the reputation of Marx? How perverse they must think the workers are who go on organising and striking despite, and, in fact, indifferent to the repeated “destruction” of Marxian theories. And how aggravating that the theories keep coming up as fresh and sound as ever although Labourites and Tories, intellectuals and economists have all agreed together that they are as dead as the Dodo.
The anonymous author of this pamphlet :discusses Karl Marx’s Theories” in 20 pages, and while going out of his way to appear generous in recognition of the genius of the man, rejects his philosophy in detail and in the lump.
He says nothing that is new, but in case there are novices who may be imposed upon we can perhaps usefully point out some weaknesses in these old restated objections to Marxism. A short sketch of the life of Marx is followed by some silly and ill-informed remarks about his influence on Socialism in England. We are told that few Socialists have ever read Marx, but rely upon “some small explanatory handbook.” This is a queer complaint from the author of a 20-page ” small explanatory handbook” which is to serve Marx critics in place of reading Marx himself; and worse follows.
Our critic of Marx goes not to Marx for his references and for a statement of the Marxian case, but to a “small explanatory handbook” by Mr. A. E. Cook. What we get is not a discussion of Marx but a cheap triumph over the grossly inaccurate work of one whose ignorance of Marx has been exposed in the pages of the Socialist Standard.
On page 1 Marx is condemned for not being “ scientific and impartial.’’ On page 2 it is admitted that he was scientific enough to “avoid any moral condemnation of the Capitalist,” which is a tribute not earned by many active political workers and writers in their attacks on their opponents’ theories.
We are told that “Events having falsified his doctrine of social change the followers of Marx do not lay stress upon it.” The critic cautiously gives no evidence for the second assertion, but it saved him from the trouble of having to show where the doctrine has been proved false. The Socialist Party of Great Britain regards the doctrine as still unassailable, and is prepared to defend it.
The first volume of “Capital” was published in 1867 and it is argued that “many of the evils which Marx regarded as permanent features of industry have since been removed.” Our author does not offer to tell us that the poverty of the poor and the riches of the wealthy are some of the evils which “have since been removed,” and they happen to be very important. He forgets, too, that the first Factory Act was passed as early as 1802; and that at the end of the last war it was still necessary to set up numerous Trade Boards to remove “sweating.” At the present time we have a Conservative Government compelled to give legal protection against intolerably low wages to the workers in what is almost our chief industry—agriculture. Has poverty passed away—if so why health insurance and pensions for the aged and for widows? Has insecurity been abolished from the lives of the wealth producers in face of 1¼ million unemployed dependent on the dole?
The most important of the foundations of the Marxian argument is the increasing disparity between the economic positions of the working and propertied classes. This tendency has not passed away. Relative to the powers of wealth production, the workers, as Marx forecast, have been and are getting worse off. Power and wealth are concentrated more and more at one end of the social scale, poverty and individual helplessness at the other. Events have justified Marx, not falsified him.
The author of the pamphlet is aware that Marx did not claim that labour is the source of all wealth; that, in fact, he pointed out the absurdity of ignoring the existence of wealth provided by Nature. But he attributes to Marx the assertion that an object “is worth something because it is useful.” (Page 4.)
On the contrary, what Marx said was that an article, “therefore, has value only because human labour . . . has been embodied in it.” (Capital, Vol. I., page 5, 1912 Edition. W. Glaisher.)
This is what comes of going for information to small handbooks.
Objection to the labour theory is made on the ground that “virgin soil or an undeveloped mine have a value for exchange although no labour has been put into them ” (p. 6). He omits, as is usual in this type of argument, to give instances of virgin soil, and undeveloped mines which have value for exchange. There are at the present day vast areas of land and mineral resources to be had for nothing. When, and not until, the necessary labour has been expended to make the soil usable and both the soil and the minerals accessible to civilisation, will they have exchange value.
There are other points that could be mentioned, but enough has been written to show that even where the criticisms are levelled against Marx and not against Cook, the author makes no real attempt to justify them, and that the basic theories of Marxism have not been seriously attacked, far less demolished.