Marx Among the Classics


At last the first volume of Marx’s great work on Capitalist Production has been brought within easy reach of the workers’ pockets.

Forty-three years ago the first English translation appeared in two volumes, but the price put it beyond the average worker’s means.

Few workers, unfortunately, were interested in studying Marx in those days, and when later on the publishers, Swan, Sonnerschein & Co., became a limited company they sold the copyright of Marx’s “Capital” to a firm, who issued it as a publishers remainder. The same type was continually used to print from until it became impossible to print again, unless the work was reset in new type.

The translation, however, was a good one. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling had performed a creditable task, and Frederick Engels, the co-worker of Marx, revised the work on completion.

When the sheets printed from the old type had been used up, the copyright holders would not go to the expense of setting- up the book again, and so “Capital” was no longer published in this country.

Last year, Swan Sonnerschein’s successors, Allen and Unwin, Ltd., went to the expense of having “Capital” translated afresh, and published in a well-printed volume at 12s. 6d. Eden and Cedar Paul made a very readable translation, and a copy was sent by the translators to our late comrade, J. Fitzgerald, for review. This appeared in THE SOCIALIST STANDARD last year. The price, however, was still too high for the worker.

This, we are pleased to say, has now been remedied. “Capital” has been included in the Everyman Library (translated by E. and C. Paul), among the great classics of literature, science, philosophy. The great volume on Capitalist Production is now to be had in two volumes at 2s. each. The size is a handy one, and will easily fit into the pocket. The print is good, and the general get-up makes it a credit to those responsible.

For years Marx’s work was treated with a “conspiracy of silence.” Economic development, with its effects on the workers, was, however, on Marx’s side, and so more and more workers became interested in reading and studying “Capital,” in order to understand the inner workings of the system and the nature of its Economics. The “conspiracy of silence” has gone to a large extent, and now practically every bookstall and bookshop will have “Marx” on sale.


The reader of this new edition will be astounded to find that it contains an introduction by G. D. H. Cole, which is not an introduction to Marx’s work at all.

Mr. Cole, who was a Fabian, Guild Socialist, and Labour Party propagandist, is now a member of the Government’s Economic Advisory Council. He has never been a supporter of Marx’s economic ideas, and his introduction shows he has not understood them. Why did the publishers get Mr. Cole to write the foreword, seeing that he holds that the Marxian theory of value is “not worth preserving to-day “? No evidence whatever is brought against the correctness of the labour theory of value as explained by Marx.


On page xviii, Mr. Cole “explains” the materialist conception of history as follows : “Marx’s materialism is not materialistic in the sense that it excludes the action of mind, but only that it seeks its reality in this world of men and things, and not in any universe of ideas transcending this world and its limitations.” Any student of Marx will see that Mr. Coles’ “wide” definition is not a definition of Marx’s historical materialism at all. In fact, any idealist, positivist, or other believer in ideal forces can agree with Cole, and be entirely opposed to the view that material conditions are the real foundations of social change.


Mr. Cole says : “There is nothing specifically Marxian about Marx’s theory of value; what is novel is the use to which he puts the theory, and not the theory itself.”

In actual fact, Marx took the labour theory of Adam Smith, Ricardo, etc., (the implications of which had not been seen by them), clarified it, applied it to the commodity labour-power, and related it to an exhaustive analysis of the actual labour process under Capitalism.

Wherever a previous Economist had made a similar point to Marx credit was always given, but Marx’s work teems with criticism of the fathers of political economy. In the “Histories of Surplus Value,” by Marx, edited by Karl Kautsky, there is a storehouse of information, showing the limitations of Adam Smith and his school of thought.

On page 22 Mr. Cole writes as though Marx accepted the “Iron Law of Wages,” of Ricardo, etc., which was a mixture of Malthus’ overpopulation theory with economics. Marx specifically rejected this so-called law of wages, together with the false laws of population of Malthus.

The cream of Mr. Cole’s pedantic introduction is his statement that “it is fully possible to hold the theory of Surplus Value without holding the Labour theory of Value, on which superficially it appears to depend ” (page xxiii).

Marx’s theory of Surplus Value is simply the logical result of the theory of value. Without the value theory there is no basis in Economics for surplus value.

Unless socially necessary labour time is the measure of value, there is no evidence of surplus value. The difference between the value of labour power, bought by the capitalist, and the value produced by that same labour power—that is surplus value.


Among the many statements of Mr. Cole’s to prejudice, mystify or confuse the reader of “Capital” is this : “By all economists, save the Marxists, the Labour theory has long been discarded.” This would imply that another theory has taken its place. What is the new theory which has replaced Marx?

The entire information we get from Mr. Cole is this. “All modern theories—if we may still leave the Marxists aside for the moment—are very far removed from the ‘amount of labour’ theory which Marx took over from Ricardo and McCulloch.

“How, then, does it happen that the Marxists have gone on for quite half a century re-affirming Marx’s views, and wholly unshaken by all the criticism that orthodox economists have been able to bring against them?”

What have these criticisms been? One economist, the father of the entire modern capitalist school, Bohm Bawerk, said that Marx ignored scarcity as a factor in value. Actually Marx had dealt with the scarcity factor in the first few pages of “Capital.” The other capitalist “economists” of note, Jevons, Marshall, Seligman, etc., took refuge in supply and demand, as their answer to Marx, but as supply and demand only accounted for fluctuations, the central point around which variations took place was still left unexplained.

“Final Utility” and “Marginal Utility” were the modern theories of supply and demand which evaded the determinant of value.


Mr. Cole does not tell us where Marx’s theory of Value is wrong. He resorts to an old device of stating that in the third volume (Capitalist Production as a whole), Marx admitted that values of articles do not coincide with prices.

Readers of Engels’ Preface to the second volume of “Capital” will be familiar with this argument. Engels challenged the critics of Marx to do something neither Ricardo or his followers could accomplish— to explain how the rates of profits in the various industries are equalised on the basis of the law of value.

Engels told the economic writers that the answer would be given in the third volume of “Capital.” It was. And the problem which proved insoluble to Ricardo was solved.

Mr. Cole may claim that the Labour theory of value has been given up by Marx because he agreed that market prices did not agree with the value of articles sold. Mr. Cole has not dealt with Marx’s explanation and, therefore, in spite of all the critics who have come and gone, Marx’s theory of value still remains to be answered.

On the question of value and prices we will quote from one who studied Marx’s economics, and wrote the best popular guide to Marxian Economics which has been published—Karl Kautsky’s “The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx.”

“The opponents of the Marxian theory of value are fond of asserting that Marx himself threw overboard his own theory, which he developed in the first volume of “Capital,” in the third volume, in which he demonstrates that, in consequence of the tendency towards an equalisation of profits under developed capitalise commodity production, the prices of most commodities permanently deviate from their values, inasmuch as the prices of one half of these commodities are permanently as much below their values as those of the other half are above them. But Marx would have thrown overboard his theory of value only if he had contended that prices are independent of their values. Far from doing this, the third volume of “Capital” proves rather that production prices, about which market prices oscillate, remain in complete dependence upon the law of value, without which they cannot be explained. It is precisely the factor of the average profit, which causes the deviations of production prices from values, that can only be explained by the laws of surplus-value, which in their turn arise from those of value.”

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