1990s >> 1998 >> no-1125-may-1998


Outdated Marx?

Dear Editors,

Having read the Socialist Standard for several months now I must admit that your politics interest me but as far as your views on Marx are concerned I find them old-fashioned and irrelevant. Admittedly last century there was a place for Marxism to help to educate the working class, but the workers are more “street-wise” now and probably more self-centred, though they are fragmented, but the class struggle just does not exist for most of these people. Why don’t you ditch your Marxist views and find a more dynamic method to drive yourself forward and gather the more radical sections of the working class with you? Marx will always be a historic figure for the part he played a hundred and odd years ago, but none of his predictions came true, so why all the emphasis on his methodology?

JOHN LOOMES, Sheffield

Reply: You exaggerate. None of Marx’s “predictions” came true? Has the control of industry become more and more concentrated into fewer and fewer hands? Has the proportion of capital invested in plant, machinery and equipment grown more and more in relation to that spent on living labour? Has the process of capital accumulation proceeded, not smoothly, but in fits and starts, periods of rapid growth ending in periods of slump? Have the rich got richer? Have more and more of the old middle classes become employees? Has the peasantry declined? Has the proportion of wage and salary earners in the working population gone up? Have money-commodity relations spread more and more into all aspects of life? Has the economy become more and more international and globalised? Need we continue?

We don’t blindly adhere to everything Marx said and did. In fact we criticise him on some points, for instance his taking sides in wars and his support for some nationalist movements. We recognise that, because he was politically active at a time when capitalism had not yet fully built up the material basis for a world socialist society, he took up positions on day-to-day issues which are no longer relevant today now that capitalism has done this.

The reason why we continue to refer to Marx’s views on capitalism and history is not because it was him who put them forward but because he happened to be the first person to “lay bare the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production”. The conceptual tools he developed for analysing capitalism (value, labour-power, surplus value, constant capital, variable capital, rate of surplus value, rate of profit, etc.) are still useful today. Similarly with the tools he developed for analysing past and present societies and social change (forces of production, relations of production, economic base, political and ideological superstructure, class, class interest, class struggle, etc.).

It is true that Marx’s expectation was that the working class would become more and more class conscious and that when a majority had become socialists they would take political action to abolish capitalism and establish socialism and that this hasn’t happened (obviously). But because it hasn’t happened yet does not mean that it never will. If that was true then capitalism would last for ever. But, presumably, you don’t believe that any more than we do.–Editors.



Dear Editors,

I have been interested in Marx’s works for over 60 years and I like to keep tabs on our economy as it unfolds. I do not profess to be an expert in business affairs but from where I sit way up in the bleachers, you might say, I get a wide-angled view that encompasses the whole world. I do not get overly excited about the details, like international skirmishes, the constant bickering over trade agreements or disagreements. I’m aware of them but only as they affect the overall picture itself and how the capitalists react to the various problems. I read all about merging and down-sizing, and about bankruptcies and mass lay-offs of thousands of workers. I see the Dow plunge 550 points in one day. I like to see Marx’s predictions come true, mainly because he has been misquoted and maligned for the past 100 years or more.

In my amateurish way I hope to shed some light on the future of the capitalist system according to Marx. What we have at present is the culmination of thousands of years of progress in the methods in which man produces his needs. It is of paramount importance that we advance to the next system in an orderly way. If we are not careful we may extinguish all life on the planet before Socialism can be established and lose our chance of finally controlling our destiny, within the limits of time and space.

With the introduction of nuclear devices and the constant friction generated on the international scene by capitalist economics we may go the way of the dinosaurs and take with us all other forms of life and all that sustains life, the animals, the birds and the bees, and yes, the vegetation, the water and the very air we breath. Must we bring it to an end? We are heading in that direction.

PS. My father moved from Preston, Lancashire, in 1912 and brought with him to Winnipeg socialist ideas. I moved to California in 1953 mainly for the climate. Legally I am still a Canadian citizen but I like to think I am a citizen of the world.

WILLIAM HEWITSON, Santa Maria, California

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