Sunday, January 29, 2017

Marx and Engels (1968)

Book Review from the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels (with an introduction by A. J. P. Taylor) Pelican, 3s. 6d.

A. J. P. Taylor, the television "intellectual" has written an “introduction" to this edition which is longer than the manifesto itself. Since he is not a Marxist one would expect Taylor to misunderstand a good deal of what Marx and Engels wrote. But a surprising feature of this essay is the number of purely factual errors which he has managed to cram into it. A couple of examples: he claims that Marx called his system “dialectical materialism" and that Proudhon coined the phrase “Property is theft”. In fact, the first of these expressions is derived from George Plekhanov (who perhaps got it from Joseph Dietzgen) and was never used by Marx, while Proudhon's famous answer to the question “What is property?" was lifted bodily from Brissot's writings.

But quite apart from such ignorant blunders, Taylor does his level best to misrepresent Marx. He tries to show that Marx was little more than a simple- minded utopian:
The social conflicts which were the basis of his system would finally produce a synthesis where no conflicts were left, and history would come to an end. This synthesis was socialism, an ideal society or Utopia where everyone would be happy without conflict for ever more, (our emphasis)
Anyone who has even glanced at the preface to the Critique of Political Economy will remember that its author writes exactly the opposite—that Socialism will be the beginning of human history, that capitalism with its class antagonisms represents “the closing chapter of the prehistoric stage of human society.” Socialists maintain that when we have freed ourselves from capitalism's strait-jacket mankind will be able to take a leap forward, completely dwarfing the results of all previous social revolutions. Certainly no Socialist, least of all Marx, would suggest that the new society will be similar to the stagnant perfection of the Christians’ paradise.

Another of Taylor’s claims is that “Marx in his analysis never seems to acknowledge the middlemen and administrators who make capitalism work. The more capitalism flourishes, the more there are of them.” Not only did Marx recognise these ‘middlemen’ and managers as being essential to capitalist industry, he also emphasised that they were members of the working class.
Just as at first the capitalist is relieved from actual labour . . .  so now, he hands over the work of direct and constant supervision of the individual workmen. and groups of workmen, to a special kind of wage-labourer. An Industrial army of workmen, under the command of a capitalist, requires, like a real army, officers (managers), and sergeants (foremen, overlookers), who, while the work is being done, command in the name of the capitalist. (Capital. Vol. I Chap. XIII our emphasis)
In the best tradition of Marx's critics, Taylor is also fond of making sweeping, and often staggering, judgments — but offering no evidence to back them up. Thus the Labour Theory of Value is dismissed as “no longer academically respectable" (Marx would probably be relieved at this), while “the fundamental cause of the 1848 revolutions was the increase in population which had become general since the beginning of the century."

It is interesting to note that in contrast to some comments ridiculing Engels’ early work, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, Taylor concedes that "it is still a historical authority of the first importance, even though apologists for capitalism have criticised its exaggerations." Another striking point is that, towards the end of his essay, Taylor makes a reference to state capitalism in Russia. But this is hardly enough to compensate for the page loads of inanities elsewhere.

Despite its glossy cover, then, this book is a poor bargain at 3/6. A better buy would be the centenary edition of the Manifesto, brought out by our party, which is still selling at a shilling.
John Crump

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