1960s >> 1963 >> no-708-august-1963

Editorial: Apologies to Karl Marx

Future historians interpreting our eventful epoch will note outstanding happenings like the two world wars, the overthrow of Czarism in Russia, the rise of independent countries in Asia and Africa, the decline of the British and other Colonial empires, and so on. Possibly the single event that will loom the largest will be the rise of Russia as a world power under the half century of government by a party calling itself Communist.


And if the historians have any insight at all they will be astonished to discover the almost total failure of politicians, economists and other so-called leaders of thought in our age to understand what has been going on before their eyes. And they may well comment that, if there can be degrees of ignorance, the products of the public schools and universities seem, if anything, to have been even more remote from reality than the rest.


So for over forty years, apart from the Socialist few who recognised from the outset that Socialism (Communism) was out of the question in Russia and that that country was ripe for the building of a modern capitalist state, we have had the endless stream of alleged information about Russia describing it in terms of “Communism” or “Socialism” or “Marxism,” all three of which are completely inapplicable.


It is hardly possible to open a newspaper or political journal without meeting this nonsense. Three recent examples within a week were “Does Marxist Economy Work?” in the New Daily, “Communist Economy Under Change” (title of a book published in June), and the following from the Financial Times: “ The Russians have lived through 45 years of Communism.”


Translating these statements into real terms, the first is an argument to the effect that centralised planning in Russia is not the success it is claimed to be; the second and third likewise refer to Russian State Capitalism.


What then would the writers offer as their defence for such misdescription? The fact that the Russian leaders call themselves Communists or Marxists? But this has about as much relevance as to describe British capitalism as a Christian economy because Macmillan goes to Church, or to say that the British lived for a number of years under vegetarianism because the late Stafford Cripps did not eat meat.


Of course, as the years have passed by and the nature of the Russian economy has been seen more clearly through the mists of propaganda and prejudice, some of the Western politicians have grasped the truth.of the matter. Two examples are the late John Foster Dulles telling the Russian Minister of Trade, Mikoyan, that Eisenhower and he recognised that Russia is a State capitalist economy: and an article in the 75th Anniversary number of the Financial Times last February saying that what Lenin and his party did in Russia in the name of Marxism seemed at least to some Marxists “to be standing Marx on his head.”


But time really does have its revenges. The book referred to above was reviewed by the New Daily, which draws the moral that the deficiencies of the centralised planning in Russia, Poland and Yugoslavia are the failures of “Marxism as an economic system.” The same book, reviewed in the Economist (June 29th) induces the reviewer to admit that the failures described in the book are not the result of Marxism but of Keynesian doctrines:


With all due apologies to Karl Marx, the economic experiments now being carried on in his name are really mainly experiments in Keynesianism à outrance. They have the virtues of Keynesianism (full employment of resources; and thus construction of productive power) and the vices of à outrance (maldistribution of resources and thus a lower standard of living than those nations’ massed productive power should warrant). If there were any justice in idolatry, Soviet economists would soon be taking down Marx’s statues for replacement by Keynes’s; but should then hold interesting dialectical debates on the respects in which Keynesianism is being deviationistically applied.”


The Economist writer stops too soon. When the Russian Keynesians have finished arguing about Keynes among themselves they could discuss with the Economist the respective merits of carrots and big sticks for keeping the workers under control and then continue to discover some defence of Russian, British, American, Chinese, etc. capitalism against the Marxian criticism advanced by Socialists.