Book Review: Marx Against Keynes (John Eaton)

Marx Against Keynes, by John Eaton. Price 3/6. 1951.

This book is published by Lawrence & Wishart— a fact which leads us. after many bitter experiences, to expect that though Mr. Eaton may start off with Marx, before long he will end up with V. I. Lenin, “Socialist” countries, colonial “liberation” movements, “Moscow the workers’ citadel,” old Uncle Joe Stalin and all. And so it does, in fact, turn out.

It is particularly interesting in this case, however, since, in criticising Keynes and his admittedly capitalist economic theories, Mr. Eaton uses arguments and sentences, even whole paragraphs, which speak just as loudly against the present practice in Soviet Russia. Let us look at one or two examples.

On page 16, we find Mr. Eaton saying this:

“The adherents of bourgeois theory do not in their day-to-day policies look towards the ending of wage-slavery; they do not see in the wage-profit relationship the source of crisis and all the incalculable consequences that stem from it throughout the capitalist world. Socialism becomes therefore only a matter of talk. In practice, the policies of these people aim only at easing the chafing of the workers’ chains and to ensure ‘the feeding of the slave in his slavery.’ But Capitalism in the period of its general crisis is less and less able to do even this except for exceptional and fleeting periods.”

We could hardly find anywhere a more accurate indictment of the Soviet system: everything fits: the contrast between theory and practice, the lip-service to Socialism combined with the capitalist practices of wage-labour, profits and general exploitation, it’s all there. “They do not in their day-to-day policies look towards the ending of wage-slavery.” Too true, Mr. Eaton, too true!

And there is more to come. On page 72, we find him saying this:

“In the period of monopoly Capitalism, the capitalist State no longer ‘holds the ring’ for the capitalist class as a whole, but is subordinated to the most powerful sections of the capitalist class, namely, the monopoly capitalists, who seek to use the State to advance their own economic interests.”
“This section of the capitalists no longer opposes State-interference in the economic sphere, but on the contrary, is continually requiring the State to take action on its behalf, to salvage its profits, to protect its ‘spheres of influence,’ etc., etc.” In Soviet Russia, this process has been completed. The monopoly capitalists and the State have become one. Let us go on to the next page (p. 73) and see what Lenin has to say about monopoly capitalism and State. (“V. I. Lenin; State and Revolution”: 1917.):
“The imperialist war has greatly accelerated and intensified the process of transformation of monopoly Capitalism into State-monopoly Capitalism. The monstrous oppression of the masses of the toilers by the State—which is becoming merged more and more with the all-powerful capitalist combines—is becoming ever more monstrous.”

And there speaks a man who knows. He ought to know. He helped considerably in the process of making it more monstrous! For in Soviet Russia, where every great industry is a monopoly, run to make a profit, using wage-workers, Capitalism has found in the State a happy and safe resting-ground, where interest comes in as regularly as clockwork, where there are no troubles with labour to cause loss of time through strikes and so forth (unrest in the Soviet labour force is always caused by Trotskyite-Fascist-Imperialist-Wall Street agents—and we know what to do with them! Heil, Joe), and where workers are made more and more productive with the help of the State propaganda machine. It may not be a Workers’ Paradise—but it certainly is a rich man’s Paradise! As far as the workers are concerned, Lenin’s words must sound very sharply and very much to the point, if they have ears to hear.

Time after time Eaton swings into the same line, that the British Labour Government (and indeed the greater part of the British Labour Movement) says it is socialist, and then goes off and plays the capitalist game. And time after time his criticisms come back like a boomerang and smite him hip and thigh. On page 65, for example, he laughs to scorn the “ Socialism” of Douglas Jay and Clement Attlee and its “claim to be socialistic.” He says that the “whole point” about it is that “it preserves the production relations of Capitalism.” He is apparently unable to see this is also the case in the Soviet Fatherland, so tenderly watched over by Big Brother Stalin. What are wage-labour, capital investment, buying and selling, and all the rest, if not the “ production relations of Capitalism ”?

This combination of clear-sightedness with blindness is quite startling at times. On page 23 we find the following: “One may here be pardoned for asking under what circumstances wages may go up. They cannot, according to capitalist theory, go up in a seller’s market because that inflates prices, nor in a buyer’s market because high wage costs would put the capitalists out of the competitive race. They cannot go up when profits are low, because the capitalists must be left some profit margins; they cannot go up when profits are high because something must be put to reserves to safeguard the future.”

“In short, such theory proves that wages must never go upland this, if nothing else, it proves itself a truly capitalist theory.” Quite true. Very nice. But doesn’t Mr. Eaton see that this is always true of wages? That they are always kept down as near the physical minimum as possible? That they are never raised without a fight, or the threat of a fight? Doesn’t he see that that’s a permanent characteristic of Capitalism, whether in England, America, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia or wherever it finds itself? Only three pages before, he has quoted Marx on surplus value! He quotes the very passage where Marx says that the division of the total product of industry, the determination of its profit, “is only settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labour, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction. The matter resolves itself into a question of the respective powers of the combatants.” Eaton adds that “ In 1949, for example, the capitalists got £3,055 million in profits and the workers £4,280 million in wages; but there is no eternal law that says the division must be just that and no other.”

We do not appear to have any figures for 1949 for the Soviet Union, but it must be obvious that the same sort of division took place there. The Russian workers are wage-workers, just the same as we are. They are exploited by Capitalism, just the same as we are. The only difference is, their propertied people are in a stronger position than ours are. They have the full and direct backing of the State, with all its coercive machinery, both physical and mental.

But still Mr. Eaton turns his blind eye. And we begin to wonder. We begin to wonder whether he really can’t see the similarity between Labour Britain and Soviet Russia, between Keynesian theory and Soviet practice.

We begin to wonder whether the eye really is blind—or whether his invocations of Marx and imprecations on Keynes are not just so much verbiage thrown up like a smoke-screen, to hide his real intention of bemusing any workers who may read his book into the belief that Marxism and the Soviet Union have some link, some actual connection. And this suspicion is borne out by his frequent references to the Happy Fatherland. He says, for example (p. 89), that the 1914—18 War was an “armed conflict between the great capitalist powers in the course of which one of their number was overthrown and the first Socialist State was established.”

By what feat of legerdemain Socialism can be established in one country—Socialism, which is of its very essence an international system—he does not inform us. Neither does he tell us how in a semi-feudal system Socialism could have been established—Socialism, which has as its prerequisite the full development of the productive forces of Capitalism. He does not tell us, in fact, how the impossible was achieved—for the very simple reason that it was not achieved! But he goes on quite happily (on pages 22 and 53—4, for example) to assume that Russia is socialist, that Russia’s allies are socialist—and that Socialism is the opposite of Capitalism! He can’t have it both ways. Either Russia is capitalist, and has similar productive relations and similar interests with other capitalist countries at a similar level of development, or else it is socialist. But we have shown that it isn’t socialist—compare the definition of Socialism at the head of the Declaration of Principles of the S.P.G.B.—so it must be capitalist. “But it calls itself socialist.” Very well. Memo: when a supporter of the Russian national interest (e.g., a member or supporter of the Communist Party) says “ Socialism,” what he means is “Capitalism,” Russian State Capitalism. “But it is opposed to Capitalism.” No. Not Capitalism. Capitalists. And particularly rival capitalists! In the same sense, Lord Nuffield, or General Motors, are against capitalists. They are brought to a position of opposition by the economic forces that make them what they are. And in just the same way, Russia, Joe Stalin or no Joe Stalin, is brought to a position of opposition to other capitalist countries by the very forces that make it impossible to establish Socialism in one country.

And so it goes on. We have not the space to expose all Mr. Eaton’s false arguments and misleading tricks of the pen. He descends at times to the lowest level of verbiage, as (p. 11)—“The workers, inspired by the Russian Revolution, had Socialism in their hearts “! And then surprises us by a piece of honesty (or a slip of the pen) as (p. 44)—”In short, he (Keynes) is not a Bolshevik defending wages, but simply an exponent of ‘novel measures ’ defending Capitalism.” A fine distinction, Mr. Eaton, a very fine distinction.

In spite of all this, Mr. Eaton’s criticisms of Keynes are both clear and valid. He shows that Keynesian theories are completely insufficient to do what they profess to do, namely, make Capitalism work smoothly and prevent unemployment. He shows, too, that the Labour movement is evidencing a tendency to get on to the Keynesian bandwagon. For these reasons, the book is worth reading, at least for those who want a handy introduction to Keynes’ theories (the section on Keynes, from the bottom of page 33 to the top of page 52, is all that one really wants to read) and the bearing on them of the Marxian conception of surplus value and the accumulation of capital. It is written on a very simple level.

For those who can sort out the wheat from the chaff, there is some matter in the book to warrant a perusal. For the uninstructed reader, it is a dangerous quagmire.

J. C. R.

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