The Intellectuals and Marx

A correspondent asks why it is that accredited “intellectuals like Shaw, Wells and Laski are not Marxists.”

One reason, clearly demonstrated by the writings and speeches of the gentlemen in question, is that they have never got within miles of understanding Marx. We have shown in these columns how Laski misrepresents Marx’s writings (and declines to reply to criticisms). Shaw on occasion talks the most utter nonsense about Marx. A year or two ago he brazenly informed an ignorant crowd of business men connected with the building trade that Marx claimed to be able to tell from, say, a piece of pottery, what was the nature, the arts, sciences, politics, etc., of the social system under which it was produced. When Shaw was challenged to say where Marx was supposed to have made this extraordinary and absurd claim, Shaw remained silent.

Wells principal contribution to “intellectual” criticism of Marx was to inform the world that he did not like Marx’s beard.

However, even if the intellectuals did understand Marx’s views they would still be unlikely to avow themselves publicly as Marxists. Marx analysed the capitalist system and explained its growth and decay, and its relation to the series of social systems that have preceded it. He revealed the laws governing these historical changes and showed that the present system will pass into history as inevitably as those which preceded it, and will be followed by the only possible alternative— Socialism. All the conditions are present and ripe for the change, except one, the desire of the working class for it. The only remedy for this is knowledge, and it is this knowledge which it is the aim of the Socialist to spread. When this knowledge is spread sufficiently the end of capitalism is certain.

The position of the “intellectuals,” however, even assuming they accepted Marx, would be difficult. The institutions of learning are financed and controlled by the capitalist class for the purpose of providing technical and scientific knowledge useful in industry and administration, and of teaching ideas which suit their interest. A university professor, who applied to history, economics and politics, the Marxist theories of the materialist Conception of History and the Labour Theory of Value, would learn pretty quickly that he had no control over his job and reputation.

The dramatist or novelist who used his craft, to aim at the overthrow of capitalism would also learn that his popularity and success depended on something more than his genius. Many examples could be quoted of ostracism, calumny and persecution of many in the academic and literary world whose love of truth was stronger than their respect for capitalist interests. Whether the ”intellectual,” academic or literary, is “accredited” or “discredited” depends how far he avoids giving offence to the ruling class and to the majority of the population who so far accept the ideas and standards of the ruling class.

It is quite reasonable to suppose that, as greater numbers of workers become socialists, many of the intellectuals will be less inclined to support capitalism. Marx and Engels held this opinion. They say in the Communist Manifesto: —

  “Finally, when the class war is about to be fought to a finish, disintegration of the ruling class and the old order of society becomes so active, so acute, that a small portion of the ruling class breaks away to make common cause with the revolutionary class, the class which holds the future in its hands. Just as in former days part of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now part of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat. Especially does this happen in the case of some of the bourgeois ideologues, who have achieved a theoretical understanding of the historical movement as a whole.”