1960s >> 1967 >> no-757-september-1967

Another View

We wrote to three opponents of Marxism, asking them to contribute their criticism to this centenary issue. Mr. Raymond V. McNally, a regular correspondent to the “Financial Times”, sent me a letter which we publish, with our comments, and we are grateful to him for doing so. The Economic League thanked us for our letter but said: “We do not wish to avail ourselves of the offer made therein”. Enoch Powell, M.P., wrote: “I confess I cannot recollect having written or stated my views on Marx anywhere, and I do not feel competent to do so.”

 

Dear Sir,
It seems fitting for the centenary of the publication of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital to be commemorated by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, for it was in this country that Marx did the bulk of his research and writing.

 

Since first studying this monumental work over 30 years ago, my continuing interest in it has stemmed chiefly from the impact it has had on the quality of modern thought. In Britain alone, the activities and attitudes of the trade unions, and the increasing intervention of government in economic and social life unmistakably bear the stamp of Marxist influence, which therefore, must bear considerable responsibility for the steady decline in this country’s economic and political power during the last 50 years.

 

Although Das Kapital reveals occasional flashes of real insight, unfortunately it never succeeds in putting them together in one integrated whole. As a result, it never arrives at a true understanding of the nature and functioning of capitalism. Whether Marx would be pleased by what has transpired since his death in 1883 is a big question. Certainly what has replaced capitalism in Soviet Russia can scarcely be called a ‘higher’ social organism. Indeed, Marx was quite aware of what ‘makes production by slave labour such a costly process.’ Doubtless, if he were alive today, he would suffer some mental agony over the spectacle of Marxist Russia relying on capitalistic America to feed her starving people — a striking example of a country that combines industrialism and famine.

 

But Marx’s work (even including Karl Kautsky’s three volumes entitled Theories of Surplus-value prepared from Marx’s own notes) always struck me as a kind of ‘unfinished symphony.’ There is too big a gap between fact and theory. Factually (in his more objective moments) he has the capitalist-employer appear as a very busy and important person — initiating, financing, organising, employing and directing labour, keeping the books, seeking out markets, and buying and selling. In fact, he makes it quite clear that the worker left to his own devices would scarcely be any better off than he was in feudal times. Yet, theoretically, the capitalist appears to be a dismembered spirit, no longer the brains and spark-plug of the enterprise who makes such a valuable contribution to the production of wealth. Instead, it is the lowly worker who creates all values, saves the capitalist from starvation by providing him with an ‘unearned’ income and gives him the means for accumulating capital, in the form of Surplus-value.

 

In vain one seeks an explanation from Marx for this vast disparity between fact and theory. For the truth is that he has become the victim of his own dialectics that leave no room for introducing realities into his various theories, even if he were so disposed. In borrowing the worst from the classical economists and leaving the best, and making manual labour the sole source of value, he cannot include the labour-power of the capitalist-employer in any category of values except as an expropriator. Thus, unlike the classical school, he is compelled, not only to oppose the intelligence and genius of the innovator, but even to deny their existence.

 

But since Marx knows that it is the results of this muscular exercise of labour-power and not the labour-power itself that is of value to the capitalist, he must now perform a semantic convulsion and turn the worker into a commodity. In this way he gives the labour-power a value based on ‘the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of the labourer,’ akin to the value of any commodity ’that lies hidden behind’ its exchange-value. Thus, he has the capitalist pay wages for the worker’s subsistence (‘hidden’ value) and not for the results of the exercise of his labour-power.

 

These results, says Marx, the capitalist gets for nothing! This then is the sum and substance of the famous Surplus-value theory, the very core of his entire thesis. But instead of the worker being ‘tricked’ by the capitalist and the capitalist mode of production, it is the capitalist and society that have been tricked by Marx’s dialectics, thus earning him from an American economist in the nineteenth century the title of ‘Prince of Muddleheads.’

 

It seems tragic that in this ‘enlightened’ age, so much human energy is wasted squabbling over a mythical Surplus and striving with increasing futility to divide it up, while capitalism, buffeted on all sides by abuse, excessive taxation, government regulations and intransigent trade unions, tries to carry an ungrateful world on its weary shoulders. Such are the fruits of Marxism.

 

Yet a final word. In one of his more lucid moments, Marx seemed to glimpse, as through a rift in the clouds, the true nature of capitalist production when he wrote that commodities ‘cannot go to market and make exchanges of their own account’ but ‘must, therefore, have recourse to their guardians, who are also their owners.’ Further, that these owners ‘whose will resides in these objects’ (italics mine) ‘must make the exchange by means of an act of mutual consent’ and ‘must, therefore, mutually recognise in each other the right of private proprietors (italics mine; Vol. I, Book I, Part I, Chap. II)’.

 

Here Marx seems to recognise that the value of any property ultimately lies in its private administration, that is, at the point of exchange, thus ensuring its equitable, civilised distribution. By contrast — since it takes two to make an exchange — the so-called common ownership and administration of property can distribute wealth, not fairly on the basis of values freely arrived at, but only arbitrarily and erratically by a sort of tribal technique.

 

Yours faithfully,
Raymond V. McNally
65 Eaton Square,
London, S.W.1.

 

Reply: 

 

Mr. McNally seems to think that the surplus over and above what people get as wages and salaries is “mythical’’. No doubt this is news to those who live off rent, interest and profit — a property income they receive even if they do no work. As far as we know, the only way in which wealth can be produced is by work, by human beings applying their mental and physical energies to the materials found in nature. It follows therefore that non-work incomes like rent, interest and profit can only come out of the wealth produced by those who do work.

 

Nor did Marx say that manual work was the only work that counted. A little thought will show that it doesn’t make sense to separate so-called brain and so-called manual work; both are necessary for any work.

 

‘Marxist’ Russia is, of course, just a myth.

 

Editorial Committee