Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Squaring the Circle (1967)

From the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Russian state capitalism claims that Marxian economics is its economic theory. The Socialist Party of Great Britain rejects this claim. A comparison of Marxian and Russian state economics will show that in Russia Marx’s theories have been twisted beyond recognition.

In Capital Marx examines the working of capitalism in detail. He takes as the basic unit of the capitalist economy the commodity, an item of wealth produced for sale. Where goods are produced for sale then, and only then, do they have a value. The law of value operates only where there is commodity-production. For thousands of years goods, produced for sale under pre-capitalist conditions, exchanged more or less at their values. Capitalism, which is a system of production for profit as well as for sale, is more complex and commodities only accidentally exchange at their values. Nevertheless the law of value still operates. In fact, under capitalism all the paraphernalia of exchange—money, prices, trade, banks, bills, bonds, credit—are developed to a high degree.

For Marx the classless society that would replace capitalism—which he called either Socialism or Communism— would not be an exchange economy. Wealth would be produced for social use and not for profit or for sale. Hence the law of value would not operate in Socialist society. There would be no commodities, no money, no prices, no trade, no banks and the like.

This was also how all the Social Democratic writers on Marxian economics, people like Kautsky, Luxemburg, Boudin and Untermann, saw it. The standard textbook on Marxian economics used by all sections of Russian Social Democracy, including the Bolsheviks, was A Short Course of Economic Science by A. Bogdanov first published in 1897. Bogdanov was not a Bolshevik (in fact he later came to see Russia as state capitalist) but his book was still used after 1917 and was translated into English in 1923 and distributed by the so-called Communist Party of Great. Britain, from whose edition we quote:
The new society will be based not on exchange but on natural self-sufficing economy. Between production and consumption of products there will not be the market, buying and selling, but consciously and systematically organised distribution (p.389).
After 1917 the Bolsheviks felt a need for a textbook on their party's theory. Bukharin and Proebrazhensky were commissioned to write one. This work, The A.B.C. of Communism, appeared in Russian in 1919 and was translated into English in 1922. Here is what Bukharin wrote of Socialism (which he, for political reasons, calls Communism):
The communist method of production presupposes in addition that production is not for the market, but for use. Under communism, it is no longer the individual manufacturer or the individual peasant who produces; the work of production is effected by the gigantic co-operative as a whole. In consequence of this change, we no longer have commodities, but only products. These products are not exchanged one for another; they are neither bought nor sold. They are simply stored in the communal warehouses, and are subsequently delivered to those who need them. In such conditions, money will no longer be required (p72).
This, then, was the theory that the Bolshevik rulers inherited and it was in fact the Marxian position. After thinking they were introducing Socialism in Russia immediately, the Bolsheviks were forced to face the facts: the transition from capitalism to Socialism which they saw as their task was going to take a long time. Their experts on Marxian economics argued that in the transition period the law of value, together with money, prices, wages and profits, would continue to operate but would gradually wither away as the transition period drew to an end.

However, when in 1936 Stalin proclaimed that Socialism now existed in Russia, such a radical departure from Bolshevik, let alone Marxian, theory was bound to lead to difficulties. For Marx Socialism was not an exchange economy, yet in supposedly Socialist Russia all the paraphernalia of exchange existed. How was this contradiction to be explained? Stalin’s philosophers erected a false distinction between Socialism and Communism (which Marx used interchangeably to refer to the classless society of the future) saying that Socialism was a stage below “full” Communism, when there would be no exchange. But this was not really adequate for till then the Bolsheviks had not seen even their “lower stage of communism” as an exchange economy. After much mental gymnastics the state economists had no choice; they had to square the circle. An article on “The Teaching of Economics in the Soviet Union” appeared in 1943 (translated into English in the American Economic Review of September 1944); The authors were quite frank:
The mistakes of the former teaching in denying the operation of the law of value in socialist society created insurmountable difficulties in explaining the existence under socialism of such categories as money, banks, credit, etc. The understanding of the role and significance of the law of value under socialism makes it possible correctly to cast light upon all these problems, in a strictly logical interrelation, proceeding from the premise that under socialism too the law of value functions and, furthermore, evaluating the fundamental peculiarities under which it functions in socialism (p.523).
They overcame the difficulties by merely asserting the law of value would still operate under Socialism and had the insolence to add that “the notion that the law of value plays no part in socialism is, in essence, opposed to the whole spirit of Marxist political economy.”

They argued that whereas under capitalism the law of value worked blindly under “socialism” it was controlled by the state in the interests of society. This led them to make some peculiar statements which seem like parodies on the Marxian position:
The labour of the members of socialist society produces commodities.
The value of a commodity in socialist society is determined not by the units of labour actually expended on its production, but by the quantity of labour socially necessary for its production and reproduction.
In socialist society the product of labour is a commodity; it has use value and value.
There was, however, one conclusion they stopped short of; that wages in Russia were the price of labour power. This would have conflicted with the claim that in Russia the exploitation of man by man had been abolished and that work was performed by the free labour of members of a classless community. For if wages existed so would the whole mechanism of exploitation. To this day this remains an inconsistency in Russian state economics. If anyone in Russia is going to point it out it will have to be the workers there, not the state philosophers.

After the war the Great Leader himself stepped in. In his Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R., Stalin discusses “commodity production under socialism” and “the law of value under socialism”. The position decreed in 1943 still holds. A popular pamphlet Fundamentals of Marxist Political Economy, brought out by the Novosti Press Agency in 1965, poses the question “How does the law of value operate under socialism?”
Under socialism this law operates as a controlled force but it remains an objective economic law (p.122).
As a matter of fact the Russian state does try to plan capitalism by monkeying about with the law of value. Substitute “state capitalism” for “socialism” and Russian state economics begins to make sense. What is claimed to be Marxian economics is in fact the (mistaken) economic theory of state capitalism. It has nothing in common with what Marx wrote save some of the terminology.
Adam Buick

Marxism Today (1967)

From the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

On an occasion such as the centenary of the publication of Volume I of Marx's Capital it is appropriate to consider whether Marxism is more widely accepted today than it was fifty or a hundred years ago, but no simple answer can be given to that question.

Some parts of Marxist theory seem to have lost ground while others have gained; but to a large extent both developments have to be weighed against the extent to which acceptance has been based on less than full understanding.

In the most shallow aspect, the use of Marx as a name to inspire political movements, a notable change has taken place. At one time there were social democratic parties in European and other countries which described themselves as Marxist and do so no longer. But it is a change of little real significance. Nominal acceptance of Marxism by the leaders meant little to the majority of members. It did not determine their principles and policy, as was to be proved by their attitude to capitalist wars and, when they became governments by their disregard of Socialism and absorption in the sterile task of trying to administer capitalism. How little Marxism meant to these parties can be shown by comparing them with the British Labour Party. While they professed to be Marxist the British Party made no such claim: as a former secretary put it, the British party owed more to Methodism than to Marx. Yet as political parties and as governments their behaviour was identical.

While the social democratic parties have dropped their lip service to Marx this role has been taken by the communist parties but with just as little justification.

Certainly one aspect of Marxism, the Materialist Conception of History has made a large and increasing impact though many of those who have been influenced do not regard themselves as Marxists and some may indeed even be unaware of the source of the influence. Sir Isaiah Berlin, eminent Oxford Professor of Political and Social Theory and by no means an uncritical admirer of Marx acknowledged the debt in an interview published in the Observer (6.11.66).
. . . there are certain originally resisted truths which Marxism put on the map. For example, the notion that . . . classes exist and class consciousness exists and has a decisive effect on men — that, although violently exaggerated, is now something no rational man denies. The notion of reification, to use a technical term —the idea that human beings tend to regard institutions which they themselves have in the past created as something objective and inexorable, the product of objective laws, like the phenomenon of gravitation — whereas they can in fact be altered by sufficient concentration and direction of human will-power and energy, if necessary by revolution — is again something which is by now accepted by quite a large number of sane thinkers.
A non Marxist historian, the late Professor Hearnshaw claimed for Marx that he “created the beginnings of scientific outlook in social studies" and that “the aspirations towards human equality, perhaps the most significant feature of the modern mind, draws its chief nourishment from him".

When we turn to Marx’s writings on economics it is a different story. The attitude of the popular TV and newspaper commentator, Bernard Levin, is typical of most of the Press and of the academic world. He wrote:
Das Kapital is after all, a vast book of no more relevance to conditions in Britain today . . . than the controversial philosophy of Haeckel or Henri Bergson. All Marx's major prophecies have been conclusively proved wrong by events, and much of his theory has been entirely exploded for half a century, indeed, the central economic doctrine—his labour theory was shown to be based on a misconception almost in his own lifetime. (Daily Mail, 13.9.65).
Regrettably, as so often happens with Marx-critics, Levin did not explain why he holds the labour-theory to be erroneous, or what are the major prophecies disproved by events. (Could he perhaps be induced to use our columns to tell us more?) There is however, a sufficient, if not exactly good, reason why Marx's writings appear to the popular commentators, the economists and politicians to be irrelevant. Marx scientifically analysed the way in which capitalism works according to its own economic laws and he put the capitalist system in perspective in the evolution of society. He saw the future of mankind in the replacement of capitalism by Socialism. He did not and could not work within the false assumption that capitalism is eternal and that we must therefore seek daily expedients to lessen the chaos and correct the contradictions inherent in the capitalist order. It was therefore only to be expected that the economists and politicians in today's world should decide that Marx has nothing to offer of use to them.

Confident in their baseless belief that it only needed expertise and goodwill to get rid of all the “bad" features of capitalism they did not want to read Marx and learn there that they were wasting their efforts. But how does this prove Marx to be irrelevant or show his prophecies to be wrong?

Marx showed how capitalism functions through expansions and contractions of the market and production and why it needs unemployment They ridiculed the idea as old fashioned, and did they not have Keynes to show them how to achieve full employment? But just as the Labour Government in 1929-31 planned to reduce unemployment and ended with achieving a record level, so in 1967 after nearly three years in office, the Wilson government in July scored the highest summer unemployment (nearly 500,000) for any year since the war.

Marx showed too (the misconceived labour-theory, according to Levin) that the money commodity, gold, has value like any other commodities, and that an over-issue of inconvertible paper money will push up prices. This, too, they scoffed at, but events have proved Marx right.

Also on the Labour government's prize exhibit, the incomes policy, Marx had something to say a hundred years ago. In the early days the Labour Party had the simple belief that the cure for an oncoming crisis is to push up wages. Marx was familiar with this argument and pointed out that if it were true crises would never happen because as a fact, in a period of boom, wages invariably rise and rise faster than the increase in production of consumer goods. Standing their former belief on its head the Labour government now seeks to prevent crises by preventing wages from rising: if they had read Marx's analysis of the situation they would have known that this was equally pointless except from the standpoint of protecting profits.

So who has been proved wrong, Marx or his detractors?

In another field Marxism was under fire from two opposite quarters—from those who said Marx did not know about the growth of monopoly and from those who said that his observations on the trend towards concentration of industry and wealth were mistaken.

Both were wrong. Marx fully understood the anxiety of capitalists to protect themselves if they could, against competition by forming monopolies and it ill becomes Labour Party critics to venture into this because, in their lack of any comprehensive economic understanding, they started as a party committed to the doctrine of keeping capitalist units small and competitive, only to come now to an officially backed policy of encouraging mergers so that British capital can stand up to the big battalions in capitalism abroad.

Before leaving Marx and his prophecies perhaps Mr. Levin, particularly in the light of current developments in Russia would like to show that Marx was wrong in prophesying that it was impossible for that country, or any other, to leap into Socialism without going through the normal phases of capitalism
Edgar Hardcastle

"Capital" in its place (1967)

From the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

There was a song we used to sing, on Labour League of Youth outings:
Karl Marx's body lies a-moulding in the grave,
Forgotten by the workers whom he gave his life to save
He wrote Das Kapital but never had a shave . . .
There is no need, of course, to take this sort of stuff seriously, except that it does signify a common attitude to Marx—usually by those who have not read a word of what he wrote, who think that anyone with a name and a beard like that must be a humourless, inflexible bigot, in love with remote theory and out of touch with the real world.

We young Labourites were going to reform the world—fill every stomach, banish disease, abolish war. It was all very simple. There were problems in the world because of faulty reasoning on the part of someone; or because of a lack of charity by Them; or greed; or a miscalculation. We would not have recognised the word, but we were idealists; we thought the deficiencies in society could be explained, and remedied, in terms of ideas. We had not read Engels, but he named those who had held similar concepts as Utopians:
If pure reason and justice have not hitherto ruled the world, this has been due only to the fact that men have not rightly understood them. What was lacking was just the individual man of genius, who has now arisen and has recognised the truth . . . (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific).
The question we never faced—the question no reformer ever faces—was, if society’s ideas are “bad”, what makes them so? Why are they not “good” ideas? Why is society so “unreasonable” that it accepts an arrangement which allows a few people to enjoy almost boundless wealth while the condition of the vast majority is never better than insistent poverty and can sink as low as outright starvation? Why is society so “foolish” as to waste so much of its resources on destruction? Such questions are endless but had we known, or cared, the one logical and consistent answer to them had already been found, by that man whose beard caused us so much amusement.

One of the essentials of the Marxist analysis of society is the Materialist Conception of History which, among other things, sees ideas in their place as the products of material conditions and not as the makers of those conditions:
. . . economic production and the structure of society of every historical epoch necessarily arising therefrom constitute the foundation for the political and intellectual history of that epoch . . . (Engels — Preface to the German edition of the Communist Manifesto, 1883).
From this viewpoint, history is not the jumble of accidents, personal misdeeds and romantic mysteries which was served to us as the staple diet of our schooldays. History is a continuous process of social development, passing from one system to another, marking its way with periods of social revolution and with each system giving rise to its own class antagonisms.

Man’s history, in other words, has been a process of class struggles which have brought him now to capitalism, a system with only two classes and therefore with only one class to struggle for its emancipation. Capitalism has done many things. It has broken the customs and taboos of earlier society, it has massed its people into great productive units. It has entirely separated one of its classes from the means of production and by so doing has brought into existence the most explicit of class divisions in human society. Capitalism has developed—and continues to develop—the process of extracting a surplus product, from the unprivileged class for the privileged class, into an unprecedented science.

This, then, is capitalism. But how do we examine the system, how explain its workings, its class relations, its method of exploitation? How do we come to an understanding of capitalism’s tendencies and the process by which it nourishes the seeds of its own destruction?

This analysis was the work of Marx’s Capital.

The first question Marx had to ask was—what is the mode of production in capitalist society? The answer was commodity production, that the mass of wealth under capitalism was produced as commodities. “Our investigation” said Marx, “must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.” 

Marx’s method is to isolate the commodity, as ". . . in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another.” From this simple statement he goes on to examine the commodity in detail; the limits within which one will exchange with another, the implications of the social relationship of value, the way in which commodities perform their function of exchanging so as to realise a surplus value for the capitalist class.

Marx examined the nature of the commodity which all workers possess—human labour power—and he revealed the process by which the working class are exploited, he revealed the reasons for their alienation from the means of production and he charted the course of their ever-deepening misery and degradation:
. . . within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productiveness of labour are brought about at the cost of the individual labourer; all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the producers; they mutilate the labourer into a fragment of a man, degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, destroy every remnant of charm in his work, and turn it into a hated toil . . . (Capital, p.661).
This passage, which ends with the famous statement that “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e. on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital,” has come in for much criticism from those who argue that the opposite tendency has taken place, that capitalism has solved its problems and makes its people ever happier in a flood of washing machines, cars and television sets.

But is what Marx said true? Misery? Agony? Join the rush-hour, take your place on a fast assembly line with everyone trying to keep up the bonus, have a go at finding somewhere to live which is bearable and within the pay packet of an average worker. Look into the figures of families who are suffering extremes of poverty amid the so-called Welfare State, which was another of those things which were supposed to have proved Marx wrong. [1]

Brutality? Look up the recent crime statistics, with their evidence that we live in times of almost unprecedented violence. [2] Consider the fact that men now earn their living by making the things which have the power almost to wipe out settled life on the earth. Mental degradation? This is the age when capital accumulation usually means the use of computers and automative techniques of production, when human beings are reduced to blips on a magnetic tape, metallic numbers to be scanned by an electronic eye, when exploitation is constantly being refined and intensified. This is 1967, when people are considered fit subjects for experiments by sonic booms, to see whether they can stand the noise made by the machines which the British aircraft industry hopes will bring it some big profits.

Capital probes the entire mechanism of capitalist society. While the “orthodox” economists grapple with their feeble expedients—their selective employments taxes, their import restrictions, their manipulations of Bank Rate—the Marxist analysis explains it all. And not at all in the popularly supposed manner of the unsmiling “Red Prussian.” Although he deals with a difficult and intricate subject, Marx never leaves his readers in doubt that he is a human being. His writing not only has power, but wit and movement as well:
Our capitalist, who is at home in his vulgar economy, exclaims: “Oh! but I advanced my money for the express purpose of making more money." The way to Hell is paved with good intentions, and he might just as easily have intended to make money, without producing at all. He threatens all sorts of things. He won't be caught napping again. In future he will buy the commodities in the market, instead of manufacturing them himself. But if all his brother capitalists were to do the same, where would he find his commodities in the market? And his money he cannot eat, (Capital, p.172).
Marx shows how capitalism develops and how and why it will end. He shows that there is now only one subject class, and that it is their historical function to abolish private property and build the new society of Socialism. All this is in his works, in Capital and others. But at the same time Marx was clear that none of this was inevitable; he knew that men make their own history and that, working within the society they find, they must carry out their historical task.

What this means is that capitalism is not a matter of mankind, in some blindingly tragic mistake, getting onto the wrong path. It is not a matter of incorrect or anti-social ideas. In the same way, Socialism will not happen simply because we think it is a "right” idea. Both systems are part of man’s social evolution, both have their own super-structure of institutions and ideas springing from a basis which can be scientifically examined and classified.

Socialists are distinguishable for their grasp of all this. Non-Socialists, however sincere they may be, however pressing the problems they protest against, can be identified by their failure to appreciate the scientific case for Socialism. We Labourites did not grasp it, as we jauntily sang about the dead revolutionary's beard. But Marx had already had his say, on we the reformers and those who had gone before and were to come after us:
They all want the impossible, namely, the conditions of bourgeois life without the necessary consequences of those conditions. (Letter to Paul V. Annenkov, December 28, 1846).

All quotations from Capital are taken from the edition published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd. in 1946.

[1] According to a letter from Professor Peter Townsend in the Guardian (8/7/67), there are probably 450,000 families, with over 1,400,000 children, with resources less than the basic national assistance standards. Another 165,000 families, with 510,000 have resources up to £2 a week above this standard and another 130,000 families (370,000 children) have up to £3 a week more. Townsend gives the average standard as £15.

[2] The Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of Constabulary gives the figures for crime during 1966, compared to those for 1938. Some of these are:
                                                                                                                                           1938 1966
Found guilty of offences against the person:                                                                   1,583 16,036
Found guilty of malicious wounding (included in above figures):                          1,195 14,198

The Chief Inspector comments that the increase in crimes of violence is “one of the most disturbing features in the present crime situation."

The Book's background (1967)

From the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1847 Karl Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy. It was written in French and was a criticism of Proudhon’s Philosophy of Poverty. Of the Poverty of Philosophy Engels remarks that it was written “when Marx had just elucidated the principles of his new historical and economic theory”. In 1859 Marx wrote his Critique of Political Economy which was the forerunner of Capital. Vol. I of the latter was published in 1867, and was the only volume of Capital that he himself saw through the press.

Thus twenty years of preparation elapsed between his first book on the subject and the publication of Capital. During those twenty years many changes occurred in the world signifying the development of modem capitalism.

Now let us take a brief look at the background of the times in which Marx was writing his book.

It was the birthtime of modern industry, with the industrial capitalists just coming to power. The Bessemer process of making steel was soon to be patented and shortly afterwards the first steel ship was launched. In the factories and on the land hours of labour were long and the exploitation of women and children was widespread. Everywhere the expression of revolutionary opinion, and even radical criticism of existing evils, met with ruthless suppression, and the spokesmen were frequently imprisoned by the governments of the time. Here and there groups of workers exchanged expressions of international brotherhood but, for the most part, workers were too concerned with their own local troubles to have time to worry about the hardships of their fellows abroad.

In 1848 oppressive conditions had led to a wave of revolutions throughout Europe; a mixture that included working class and nationalist revolts. The real basis of the struggles was the movement of the industrial capitalist for elbow room and political power; the other classes were just pawns, sometimes awkward ones, in this struggle. The spark that set the movement alight was a commercial crisis which, starting in England in 1847, upset production and trade. It affected every economic group, each of which hoped to solve its difficulties in the various uprisings. The most troublesome element in these struggles was the working class, the only really energetic class in the movement, which pushed its claims to the front at the beginning and eventually frightened some of the revolutionary fervour out of the other groups.

The outcome of these uprisings was the suppression, for the time being, of incipient working class movements like the Chartists movement in England and similar movements in France and Germany. At the same time, in France, the uprising enabled Napoleon’s nephew, Louis, to get into the seat of power and inaugurate the Third Empire. The latter came to an ignominious end with the defeat of France in the war of 1871. The uprisings also elevated the power of the Prussian state, leading to the unification of Germany, and the nationalist movement in Italy that led to the unification of Italy.

The instabilities and suppressions of the Forties, along with the discoveries of gold in California and Australia, started the emigration of large numbers of people from Europe to America, where they hoped to start a new, less frustrated and more comfortable, life; a hope that often met with defeat. The Irish famine of the late forties, together with abortive nationalist uprisings, drove a large number of Irish abroad, most of them to America.

America at this time was roughly split into two different sections; the industrial North and the agricultural South. The South supplied cotton and other agricultural products to the Northern manufacturers but had the principal influence in political control. Development of the North was hampered by burdens put upon them by Southern enactments. Resentment grew until it finally boiled over in the bitter Civil War that broke out in 1861. Although, on the northern side, it was extolled as a war to end slavery, it was in fact a war waged by the North for control of political power by the industrialists in order to remove obstacles in the way of their expansion. One among the many ways in which the South was obstructing the march of the North was in land hunger. The Southern planters needed to constantly extend their landholdings for their cotton and tobacco plantations, and were coming up against, and trying to swallow, the lands of Northern cattle and sheep farmers.

At the beginning of the Civil War the incipient labour movements were opposed to it, but they eventually gave up their opposition and lined up with the North. The outcome of the war, and the victory of the North, released a rapid movement of expansion in industry, fanning and transport. The West was opened up, working class exploitation on a grand scale began to flourish and, along with this the basis was laid for a growing group of American tycoons to accumulate large fortunes by the most ruthless methods.

In the meantime in Europe the spread of the ideas contained in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, and the growing contact of English and Continental workers, led to discussions which were instrumental in establishing the International Working Mens Association in 1864, in which Marx played a leading part. It had an uneasy existence and collapsed after a few years, partly through the opposition of English trade union leaders and the machinations of the Anarchists, but mainly because the workers were not yet ready to accept the principles laid down by the International. However a movement was growing in Germany and other countries which brought about the establishment of a number of social democratic parties, the flimsy basis of which, in working class understanding, was not finally disclosed until they fell to pieces in the First World War.

During the twenty years Marx worked on Capital, English governments were acquiring territory by war or trickery in various parts of the world, and building up the empire that has since largely disintegrated. In three wars with China it pierced the Chinese wall and opened up ports to European trade. In the second war, 1854-1860, the Chinese were forced to legalise the importation of Opium.

One of the outstanding events of the period was the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species which gave a solid foundation to the theory of evolution. Another was the first successful laying of the Atlantic Cable in 1866.

Two acts passed, one in 1864 and the other in 1868, are indications of the extent of the exploitation of children. In 1864 the employment of child chimney sweeps was forbidden. The children used to be pushed up the chimneys to clear the soot. Like all such acts its implementation was constantly infringed. In 1868 gang labour of children under eight years of age in agriculture was prohibited.

In 1867, the year the first volume of Capital was published, the Court of Queens Bench decided that trade unions were illegal associations acting in restraint of trade!

During the twenty years Marx was engaged in writing his book, the world had undergone upheavals and changes in the course of which some of the remaining relics of Feudalism were swept away, the owners of land and industry grew richer but the working class still remained a subject and exploited class.

The Birth of "Capital" (1967)

From the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

We celebrate the centenary of the publication of Volume 1 of Karl Marx’s "Das Kapital” by these special articles on the book and its Influence.

In September 1867, Otto Meissner of Hamburg published the first edition of the book that was to rank with Darwin’s Origin of the Species, and Morgan’s Ancient Society; Volume One of Capital. What Darwin’s book did for natural science, and Morgan’s for sociology, Marx's Capital did for political economy. In this work Marx was able, by his use of the dialectical method, to solve the riddle of value, which had eluded all previous economists, and so lay the foundation for a scientific understanding of capitalism.

At the end of 1865 the work existed in the form of an enormous manuscript which only Marx could prepare for publication. From January 1866 to March 1867, out of this mass of material, he produced the first volume of Capital, in the form we have it today, a complete work. This was an achievement which displayed a terrific working capacity, as during this period he was troubled by ill-health, including a serious illness in February 1866, and by an accumulation of debts that worried him.

The final work was started in January 1866. Marx writing to Engels in February of that year said. . . “I enjoyed licking the infant clean after so many birth pangs”. No work of this nature has ever been written under more difficult circumstances. On at least two occasions, Marx fixed a time limit for its completion; in 1851 it was five weeks, in 1859 it was six weeks. Always the time limit was ignored, due to his tremendous care and scrupulous regard for facts, from which he would not be shaken, even by the impatient urging of his friend Engels.

The first bundle of manuscript was sent to Meissner in November 1866. In April 1867, Marx personally took the rest of the material to Hamburg, and was able to complete the arrangements for publication.

A letter from Engels to Marx, dated April 1867, portrays the strain Marx underwent during the years of preparation.
I have always thought that the damned book on which you have worked so long was the reason for all your misfortunes, and that you would never be able to overcome them as long as you had not shaken it off. Its incompleteness dragged you down physically, intellectually and financially, and I can well understand that you feel a different fellow now that you have got rid of it
The hope expressed in this letter was only partly fulfilled. Marx was not able to maintain the improvement in his health, nor was his financial position very much better, although he was optimistic when he wrote to Engels on 7 May. . . .  "I firmly hope and trust that by the end of the year I shall be a made man, at least in the sense that I hope to be able to reform my financial position”. He did not become a ’made man’ by the end of the year, or at any time.

Marx, on his return to London, corrected the proof sheets and at two o'clock in the morning of the 16 August 1867 wrote to Engels informing him that the last printer’s sheet had just been corrected. “So this volume is now finished”. His tribute to Engels reads . . .  “I must thank you alone that it was possible, without your sacrifices for me, I could never possibly have done the enormous amount of work for the three volumes. I embrace you with heartfelt thanks. Greetings, my dearly beloved friend.”

Marx was, during this period, very anxious about his book. Writing to Engels on 2nd November 1867, he said . . . “The fate of my book makes me nervous. I see and hear nothing”. The impatience shown by this quotation was hardly justified. The book had been published barely two months, certainly not long enough to write and publish a proper criticism. Engels and Dr. Kugelman, the latter a friend of Marx, did their best to call attention to the book. Between them they secured the publication of advance notices in a number of journals, and even a reprint of the introduction. In addition, they prepared an advertisement, which was quite sensational for those days — the publication of a biographical article in Die Gartenlaube. But Marx requested them to stop ‘Such nonsense’.

The article which Engels wrote for Die Gartenlaube was eventually published in a Berlin paper, and later, in an abbreviated form, by William Liebknecht in a Social Democratic journal.

Shortly after this, Marx’s work received some excellent criticism; Engels in the Demokratischer Wochenblatt, Schweitzer in the Social Democrat, a review by Joseph Dietzgen. Eugen Dühring, did a review in Meyer’s Encyclopaedia of 1867. Although Marx was not quite satisfied, he declared it ‘quite decent’. However, it was not long before Dühring, did his best to tear the book to pieces.

Probably one of the most curious opinions of the first volume came from a friend of Marx, Freiligrath, who was presented with a copy by the author. Frieligrath wrote to Marx, thanking him and commenting,
I know that many young merchants, and manufacturers in the Rhineland are enthusiastic about the book, and in such circles it will fulfil its real aim, and besides, it will prove an indispensible work of reference for students.
It seems fantastic that anyone should have regarded Capital in such a manner.

Ruge, an anti-socialist who as a young man fought for the Hegelian doctrine, wrote as follows:
It is an epoch-making work and it sheds a brilliant, sometimes dazzling, light on the development, decline, birth pangs and the horribly painful maladies of social periods. The passages on the production of surplus value by unpaid labour, the expropriation of the workers who work for themselves, and the approaching expropriation of the expropriators are classic. Marx’s knowledge is wide and scholarly, and he possesses splendid dialectical talent The book is far above the intellectual horizon of many people, and many newspaper writers, but it will make its way despite the breadth of its plan, or perhaps it will exercise a powerful influence for this reason.
Ludwig Feuerbach reacted in much the same way as Ruge, with the difference that he was less interested in the dialectics of the author, than the fact that the book was "Rich in undeniable facts of the most interesting, but at the same time, most horrible nature”.

In his preface to the second edition, dated 24 January 1873, Marx refers to the reception of the first edition in the following words:
The learned and unlearned spokesmen of the German bourgeoisie tried at first to kill 'Das Kapital' by silence, as they had managed to do with my earlier writings. As soon as they found that these tactics no longer fitted in with the conditions of the times, they wrote under the pretence of criticising my book, prescriptions 'for the tranquilisation of the bourgeois mind’ But they found in the workers' press (see e.g. Joseph Dietzgen’s articles in the Volkstaat) antagonists stronger than themselves, to whom (down to this very day) they owe a reply.
The statement by Ruge, that the book would ‘make its way’ has been proven correct.

During the century since the first appearance of Capital, it has been translated into many, if not all, languages. One of the early translations, in 1872, was Russian.

Permission to publish was given by the Russian censorship authority with the explanation that "although the political opinions of the author are of a very definitely socialist character, the manner of its presentation is certainly not such as to make the book open to all, and in addition, it is written in a strictly scientific fashion, so that in the opinion of the committee it should not be prosecuted”.

The reasoning of the committee of 1872 was as strange then as that of censors today. It was during this period that work commenced on a French edition. The English translation appeared in 1886, three years after the death of Marx.

One of the difficulties which has stood in the way of understanding Capital is one which Marx suggests in his Preface to the First edition, where he says: “I pre-suppose of course, a reader who is willing to learn something new and therefore, to think for himself”. Such readers are very rare. Marx was very optimistic when he made the supposition. Another difficulty has been, and still is, that of the alleged Marxists who apparently have never read the main work of Marx, or have never understood what they read, so that all sorts of weird ideas are attributed to Marx, and to Capital. Engels once asked to be spared the Marxists.
R. Ambridge

Party Notices (1921)

Party News from the January 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Editorial Committee will be glad to receive for publication brightly written branch Reports. No report should exceed fourteen and a half pages of the “S.S.,” for the simple reason that we do not wish to encroach upon the back page or to leave out the title of our organ, and we rather favour the idea of completing the report in one issue.


Old Moneybags, the Party Treasurer, declares that the Party Publicity Agent will have to be hanged if that Thousand Pounds is not raised this year. Well, so he ought to be. Will all who are tired of sitting on the family chest with a revolver and bombs, to discourage thieves, please send their money along for us to look after. Think what a shock it would be to any decent burglar when he flashed his dark lantern on your door to find our Acknowledgment List nailed thereon, and underscored the announcement—“Comrade Nosumthink, his last brass farthing*’! 


Economic Class at Head Office, 17 Mount Pleasant, W.C.1. (off Farringdon Road) on Thursdays at 8 p.m. Try to attend.

Society in Effigy (1957)

Theatre Review from the June 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the Phoenix Theatre, London, Tennessee Williams’ play, Camino Real (Royal Way), is one of imagination run riot, which is also a plea for imagination and humanity. This is not a story but a nightmare; an allegory of man’s inhumanity to man, which we can read back into the world we know. Here, on the Camino Real, "the well of humanity has run dry”; here is known only callousness and greed, and those who do not fit in get short shrift. People have no value as human beings and are worth more dead than alive. Poverty is a crime and law is for the property owner and the sharper. On the Camino Real the most dangerous word is “ hermano "—brother—which unites the masses and creates unrest. The daily ritual of the social myth—the restoration of the virginity of a gipsy girl by the moon—maintains the social equilibrium.

Tennessee Williams’ theme is that a world that rejects the humanity of man becomes the horror comic of the Camino Real, or, in the words of the play, “a comic, strip read backwards."

If the theme is a grim one, it is set in a play nevertheless full of colour, richness and humour. In all. a fascinating circus of life well worth a visit if you've got a few shillings to spare and feel like a tough evening.
Ian Jones