1940s >> 1940 >> no-431-july-1940

The Importance of Marxism—(continued)

<< Continued from the June 1940 issue.

Thomas Hodgskin was joint honorary secretary of the London Mechanics’ Institute. According to Marx, his writings are outstanding in the realm of economic science. In his work,. “The Natural and Artificial Rights of Property Contrasted,” Hodgskin says: —

“At present, all the wealth of society goes first into the possession of the capitalist, and even most of the land has been purchased by him; he pays the landowner his rent, the labourer his wages, the tax and tithe gatherer their claims, and keeps a large, indeed the largest, and a continually augmenting share of the annual produce of labour for himself. The capitalist may now be said to be the first owner of all the wealth of the community. . . . The capitalist was originally a labourer, or the descendant of a villein, and he obtained profit on what he was able to save from the produce of his own labour, after he had wrested his liberty from his masters, because he was then able to make them respect his right to use the produce of his own industry. But what he then received, and now receives, under the name of profit, is a portion of the wealth annually created by labour. In fact, the capitalist has obtained the whole of the landlord’s power, and his right to have profit is a right to receive a portion of the produce of the landlord’s slaves.” (PP. 98-99, Steil Edition, published in 1832.)

In another work entitled “Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital” Hodgskin writes:

“The capitalists and labourers form the great majority of the nation, so that there is no third power to intervene betwixt them. They must and will decide the dispute of themselves. . . .  I am certain, however, that till the triumph of labour be complete, till productive industry alone be opulent and till idleness alone be poor, till the admirable maxim that he who sows shall reap be solidly established, till the right of property shall be founded on principles of justice and not those of slavery, till man shall be held more in honour than the clod he treads on or the machine he guides—there cannot and there ought not to be either peace on earth or good-will amongst men.” (P. 105, Labour Publishing Co. Ed.)

Like Thompson, however, Hodgskin advocates the establishment of communist colonies with “just exchanges.”

J. F. Bray (1805-1895) is the author of “Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy” (1839). In this work he uses vitriolic language against what he contends to be the forcible and unjust robbery of the working class. In the opening chapter he writes:

  “Throughout the whole universe, from the most stupendous planet to the individual atom, changes are perpetual—there is nothing at rest— nothing stationary, to affirm therefore that governmental institutions require no reformation—that social systems need no alteration—is just as absurd as to say that the man shall wear the swaddling clothes that befitted his infancy and be pleased in maturity with the rattle which charmed his childhood. . . . What are the working classes of every nation but beasts of burden without hearts and without souls whose doom it is to labour and to die? If they complain of tyranny and dare to resist they are slaughtered like wild beasts. The very marrow of their bones and the life blood of their children is drunk up with incessant toil.” (London School of Economics Ed.)

Bray repudiates any attempt to solve the workers’ problems by reforming Capitalism. His comments in this connection would be very well directed to the Labour Party of to-day.

     “Slavery in nature, if not in name, has ever been, is now, and ever will be, the portion of the working classes in every country where inequality of property exists in connection with the gradation of classes (p. 21) . . . . from this it will follow that the present state of things cannot be remedied unless we change at once our whole social system, for alter our forms of government as we will, no such change can affect the system and no such change can prevent inequality of possessions and the division of society into employers and employed—and therefore as a necessary consequence no such change can remove the evils which this system and this division of society engender.” (P. 37.)

The following statements by Bray are humorous as well as fiery:

  “In all civilised communities, as they are called, society is thus divided into idlers and producers, into those who obtain double allowance for doing nothing and those who receive only half-allowance for doing double work.” (P. 23.)
“No other than the present social system could by any possibility create and perpetuate the gross injustice which is now inflicted upon the great body of exchangers—the working class. They form, like their parent earth, a common pasture-ground, on which all crawling and creeping things may feed and fatten.” (P. 88.)

Finally, have we not often been confronted with the objection that there will he no incentive to invent things under Socialism? We shall let Bray reply to this point:

   “The inventor will ever receive, in addition to his just pecuniary reward, that which genius only can obtain from us—the tribute of our admiration.” (P. 45.)

Karl Rodbertus (1805-1875) is in many respects a spiritual ancestor of the Nazi “theoreticians,” who to-day, prattle so much about “True German Socialism.” (Wahrer Sozialismus.) Like the English Utopians, Rodbertus deduced his “Socialism” from the implications of the Ricardian theory of value, but he differed with them in this respect : In his work “Zur Erkenntniss unserer Staatswirtschaftlichen Zustande,” 1842 (On the Explanation of our Economic Position), he maintained that the collective ownership of the means of life was something to be established in five hundred years to come. In the meanwhile, he contended, rent, interest and profit (Rodbertus called all three “Rente”) would still have to exist, but the Prussian State would have to take over the means of life and distribute the products of labour equally among the three classes of the German community. That is to say that for having laboured twelve hours the worker would receive under Rodbertus’s scheme a certificate entitling him to the product of four hours’ work, the Junkers and Capitalists receiving the other two thirds. In his “Zweiter Brief an Von Kirchmann” (1850-51, published in English by Swan, Sonnenschein & Co., 1898, under the title of “Overproduction and Crises”), Rodbertus writes:

   “. . . . Present-day society may indeed be well compared to a band of travellers in the desert. Suffering with thirst they find a spring which would suffice to refresh and strengthen them all, but a small number constitute themselves masters of the spring; they grudge giving the majority more than a few drops to quench their thirst; they themselves take long draughts, but the stream flows faster than they are able to drink, and so from satiety and want of good-will they let half of the gushing stream waste itself in the sand.” (PP. 57-58.)

Rodbertus falsely laid claim to be the founder of Scientific Socialism. Engels, however, has aptly categorised him as the “veritable founder of Prussian State Socialism.” In his preface to the second volume of “Capital” Engels says amongst other things:

     “Marx began his economic studies in Paris, in 1843, starting with the prominent Englishmen and Frenchmen. Of German economists he knew only Rau and List, and he did not want any more of them. Neither Marx nor I heard a word of Rodbertus’ existence, until we had to criticise in the ‘Neue Rheinische Zeitung,’ 1848, the speeches he made as the representative of Berlin and as Minister of Commerce. . . .  On the other hand, Marx showed that he knew even then, without the help of Rodbertus, whence came the ‘surplus value of the capitalists,’ and he showed furthermore how it was produced, as may be seen in his ‘Poverty of Philosophy,’ 1847, and in his lectures on wage-labour and capital, delivered in Brussels in 1847.” (P. 14, Kerr Ed.)

On page 24 of the same preface Engels continues :

  “Marx stands in the same relation to his predecessors in the theory of surplus-value that Lavoisier maintains to Priestley and Scheele The existence of those parts of the value of products, which we now call surplus-value, had been ascertained long before Marx. It had also been stated with more or less precision that it consisted of that part of the labourer’s product for which its appropriator does not give any equivalent. But there the economists halted. Some of them, for instance the classical bourgeois economists investigated, perhaps, the proportion in which the product of labour was divided among the labourer and the owner of the means of production. Others, the Socialists, declared that this division was unjust and looked for utopian means of abolishing this injustice. They remained limited by the economic categories which they found at hand.
“Now Marx appeared. And he took an entirely different view from all his predecessors. What they had regarded as a solution, he considered a problem. He saw that he had to deal neither with dephlogisticized air, nor with fire-air, but with oxygen. He understood that it was not simply a matter of stating an economic fact, or of pointing out the conflict of this fact with ‘eternal justice and true morals,’ but of explaining a fact which was destined to revolutionise the entire political economy, and which offered a key for the understanding of the entire capitalist production, provided you knew how to use it.”

Marx’s “Capital”

In our survey we have ranged over the entire field of political economy prior to Marx. Let us now turn our attention exclusively to the economic writings of Marx himself. We have already indicated (see May Socialist Standard) that the central theme of all political economy is the theory of value. This theory is intended by Marx not merely to solve the riddle of the determinant of prices, but also to reveal the economic law of motion of modern society. Apart from his earlier writings on economics Marx’s main works are “Capital,” volumes I, II and III, and “Theories of Surplus Value” (three volumes). Only the first volume of “Capital” was published during Marx’s lifetime. Volumes II and III were issued by Engels in 1885 and 1894. “Theories of Surplus Value” (Theorien über den Mehrwert—not yet translated into English) were issued by Karl Kautsky, Engels’ literary executor. The works published after Marx’s death were compiled from his remaining fragmentary manuscripts, and consequently are not so rounded-off as the first volume. Notwithstanding this they remain to this day the most exhaustive scientific analysis of Capitalism that has yet been published.

Solomon Goldstein

(To be continued.>>)