1950s >> 1956 >> no-627-november-1956

The Misplacing of Marx

The ruling class, through its defenders, have tried many methods over the years to kill the influence of his work, but, like a ghost, Marx continues to haunt them. In the early years he was ignored, but the penetration, power and pungency of his outlook compelled opponents to take notice of him. Then followed bitter attacks upon him and his views, but social development took the point out of these attacks and revealed the ignorance and malevolence of the attackers.

 

Since then Marx and his work has been approached from different angles, in the endeavour to remove the sting. He has been patronised on the plea that he was quite an energetic and fruitful thinker, but, alas, his theories were all wrong! That what he said was perhaps justified in his day, but times have changed. That his criticism of Capitalism was searching and true in his day, but Capitalism has completely changed since then. And so on. But it was no good. In spite of the claims that his theories were all wrong, and that no reputable economist or historian accepted them, time has shown that Capitalism is still fundamentally the same old Capitalism, and quotations from his writings reveal that his criticisms, his theories, and his conclusions are as applicable today as they were when they were written long ago.
In an editorial in The Times Literary Supplement (21st September, 1956) there is another approach to the work of Marx. He has become respectable, but the sting has been removed.

 

The editorial is concerned with a new book on Marx by T. B. Bottomore and M. Maximilien Rabel. The editorial tells us:

“The purpose of the editors is to exhibit Marx as, first and foremost, not a philosopher or an economist, but a student of society, and to show how much in the modem development of social theories is due to the impetus derived from Marx.”

The editorial then claims that Hegel was the root of Marxism: “Had Saint-Simon never written a line, the broad outlines of Marxism might still have been the same: without Hegel Marxism could not have existed.” This sweeping statement is nonsense; it ignores the fact that all past thinkers and practical movements played important parts in what ultimately became the Marxian outlook. The philosophers, from Aristotle to Feuerbach; the pre-French Revolutionary writers who were lumped
together as the Encyclopaedists; economists from Sir Wm. Petty to Ricardo, including Benjamin Franklin; and finally the Utopian Socialists, whose influence, in spite of the editorial, may have been the most important in shaping the direction of Marx’s outlook.

 

The editorial then goes on:

 

“Once this reservation [relating to Hegel’s influence] is made, however, the case for Marx’s influence on the development of sociological thinking is overwhelmingly made out.”

 

This is a clever way of putting it; not that he was right in his outlook, but that be had a great influence in the development of modern thinking—but they refrain from enlightening us on the subject of modern thinking.

 

The real kick, however, is contained in the last few lines of the editorial:

 

“And it is possible to pay tribute to Marx’s role in the formation of modern social theory without necessarily subscribing to all his conclusions. Few of the leading sociologists of the last fifty years have in fact been Marxists. But the study of society would not have attained the stature, or assumed the form, which it has reached to-day without the many-sided insights which Marx brought to it.”

 

There we have it! He was not a bad old chap; did a lot of good work in his time, but, of course, we have progressed far beyond him now! Thus he can be safely canonised and forgotten.

 

But the devil of it is “He’s dead, but be won’t lie down! ”

 

Gilmac.