1920s >> 1929 >> no-294-february-1929

A Professor Smashes Marx’s Theories

Professor Thomas Nixon Carver, who has held the chair of Political Economy at Harvard University for twenty-six years, “smashes” Marxism in the usual style in the American “Current History” magazine. In his contribution to the debate on “Marxism To-day,” he starts his attack by referring to Marx, thus: —

  The most complete exposition of doctrines based on this fundamental premise is found in the writings of Karl Marx, particularly in “Das Kapital,” He was a philosopher and capable of reasoning clearly enough, and he had the courage, which many lack, to follow his reasoning to its ultimate conclusions. The difficulty is not with his reasoning. It is with the assumption with which he starts. Any one who accepts that assumption must follow him to the bitter end. If we start with a different assumption and reason with equal accuracy, we reach a very different set of conclusions.

What this “assumption” is we are not told. And consequently Prof. Carver leaves the issue untouched.

As a general argument against Marx, we are told that “prosperity is more widely diffused in capitalistic countries that in non-capitalistic countries,” and that “capital is a means of earning wealth by adding to the wealth of others.”

The prosperity of capitalist countries compared with others is due to the rapid development of industry on a large scale. This industry is operated by the working class. And the so-called prosperity is that of the owners, while the wage-working producers remain poor as a class in every country.

Prof. Carver apparently thinks that Socialists object to Capitalism as a mistake or monstrosity, whereas we recognise its place in social evolution as a pre-condition for the coming of Socialism. The very development that led to modern Capitalism, so ably sketched by Marx, is childishly used by this “great” American professor as an argument against Marx!

The Professor says that the concentration of wealth can go along with diffused ownership. How much diffused? Instead of showing that in actual life concentration and diffusion proceed together, he leaves this task and accuses Marx of laying down an “iron law of wages.” He says:—

“There is, of course, even according to the Marxian theory a lower limit to the poverty of the masses. They must be given enough to enable them to work and to reproduce their kind, at least in sufficient numbers to stick the labour market. Even livestock, including slaves, must be given that much of the owners are to make anything out of them. What the Marxian calls “wage slaves,” and what others call “free labourers,” can never get any more under the capitalistic system. This is the so-called iron law of wages. The labour cost theory of value is not Marxian, but was taken over from the economists of the eighteenth century.”

This great idol of Individualists in America with a big reputation as an economist has the nerve to attack Marx without reading him. In “Capital” as well as “Value, Price and Profit,” Marx showed that the workers must struggle continually with the employers over hours and wages to prevent their standards sinking. Nowhere did Marx state an “iron law of wages”; in fact, in his criticism of the Gotha Programme he specially set to oppose that so-called law which was the pet idea of Lassalle. The iron law of wages of Lassalle said that wages cannot fall or rise for long above bare subsistence, because of wages increased for any time the wage-workers would have more children, and if wages fell continually for some time the workers would have much fewer offspring. So the increase or decrease of competing workers would adjust wages once again to the iron law. Marx, on the other hand, while showing that on the average the workers obtained the cost of their subsistence, only got this by means of struggle. He pointed out that historical and social factors entered into changing standards of living and that the idea that you cannot raise wages held by Malthusians like Citizen Weston (in Value, Price and Profit) was opposed to the facts of economic life.

The “iron law of wages” theory might be called a mixture of Karl Marx and Marie Stopes.

Finally, the Professor says: “Capital is not predatory; it is productive. It equips industries,” etc. The equipment is capital, Mr. Carver states. If so, who produces the equipment? Not the owners, but the working class. Who operates the equipment? Again, the workers.

Is the Capitalist productive? Most modern Capitalists are shareholders in concerns where the entire work is carried on by hired workers, plainly showing the parasitic nature of the owning class.

Prof. Carver never attempts to show that there is no exploitation of the workers, but indulges in weak evasions and misrepresentations like those referred to. So Marx is “smashed” again by the “hot air” of an economic professor.

Adolph Kohn