Sunday, April 5, 2020

A Trio of “Intellectuals.” (1920)

Book Review from the July 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the many developments that capitalism has brought to a high degree is the group of employees of the capitalists who carry out the various non-manual functions in modern society. This group comprises the managers, supervisors, lawyers, bankers, stockbrokers, journalists, politicians, in fact all those who love to describe themselves as “intellectuals.”

Being, as a rule, better paid than the rest of the wage slaves, there is considerable competition for these jobs, with the result of an over­-crowding of this particular market. For the moment we are only concerned with the position of two sections of this group.

One endeavours to obtain pay and position from the masters by pointing out the “dangers” of Socialism and so hoping to, more or less, scare the masters into engaging them for the purpose of exposing the “fallacies of Marx,” etc. This section is found, largely, among the jour­nalists and university professors.

The other section, failing in this pursuit, try to obtain a footing in the camp of the “common workers” and offer themselves as “guides,” “leaders,” “experts,” etc. to the “lower orders.”

A good example of a combination among individuals from both these sections has lately come our way.

In March 1883 Marx died. The next month an article was published in Italy purporting to be a biography of Marx Apparently about 1916 this article was reprinted with some alterations and additions, as a pamphlet. This pamphlet was translated into English in 1918 as a great work from a wonderful professor who has made marvellous discoveries in economic and social science, some of whose works have been translated into English. Who is this giant and what are his works? Let the following quotation tell us.
  Marx had hardly died, when Mr. Achille Loria hastily published an article about him in the Nuova Antologia (April, 1883). He starts out with a biography of Marx full of misinformation, and follows it up with a critique of Marx’s public, political and literary activity. He misrepresents the materialist conception of history of Marx and twists it with an assurance which indicates a great purpose. And this purpose was later accomplished. In 1886, the same Mr. Loria published a book entitled La teoria economica delta costituzione politica (The Economic Foundations of Society), in which he announced to his admiring contemporaries that the materialist conception of history, so completely and purposely misrepresented by him in 1883, was his own discovery. True, the Marxian theory is reduced to a rather Philistine level in this book. And the historical illustrations and proofs abound in mistakes which would not be pardoned in a high school boy. But what does that matter? He thinks he has established his claim that the discovery that always and everywhere the political conditions and events are explained by corresponding economic conditions was not made by Marx in 1845, but by Mr. Loria in 1886. At least this is what he has tried to make his countrymen believe, and also some Frenchmen, for his book has been translated into French. And now he can pose in Italy as the author of a new and epoch-making theory of history, until the Italian socialists will find time to strip the illustre Loria of his stolen peacock feathers. 
But this is only an insignificant sample of Mr. Loria’s style of doing things. He assures us that all of Marx’s theories rest on conscious sophistry; that Marx was not above using false logic, even though he knew it to be so, etc. And after thus biasing his readers by a whole series of such contemptible insinuations, in order that they may regard Marx as just such an unprincipled upstart as Loria, accomplishing his effects by the same shameless and foul means as this professor from Padua, he has a very important secret for the readers, and incidentally he touches upon the rate of profit.” (Engels’ Preface to 3rd Volume of “Capital,” pp. 25-26.)
We need not now discuss the highly technical point of the rate of profit. When Marx referred in Volume I. of “Capital” to the detailed working out of this problem in a future volume Mr. Loria stated that the problem was insoluble and that the promised volume would never appear. Yet when the second Volume of “Capital” was published, with Engels’ challenge to the Robertians, Mr. Loria attempted to solve the insoluble by taking up the challenge. Even in this position he is a mere copyist. Another “great professor”—Bohm-Bawerk—had said that Marx had no solution, and that he would never publish the promised volume. Some years after saying so he was constrained to write a book entitled “Karl Marx and the Close of his System” against the volume he had said would never appear.

And in another point is the same practice followed. Mr. Loria takes the Malthusian theory of population and modifying it by taking (without acknowledgement) a part of Herbert Spencer’sNew Theory of Population,” presents the jumble as his own original discovery.

Of Loria’s criticisms of Marx we need only refer to two statements made on consecutive pages. On page 67 he says :
  It is undeniable that Marx’s thesis of the progressive concentration of wealth into the hands of an ever-diminishing number of owners, and of the correlatively progressive impoverishment of the common people, has not been confirmed. It has indeed been confuted by the most authoritative statistics collected since the publication of the book.
On page 68 he says:
  Again, no one can deny that the contrast between high grade and low grade incomes has of late exhibited an enormous increase ; that banking concentration, and the sway of the banks over industry (a source of increasing disparity in fortunes) has attained in recent years in intensity which even Marx could not foresee; and that subsequently to the publication of Capital and to the death of its author, the social fauna has been enriched by an economic animal of a species previously unknown, the multimillionaire, whose existence undeniably reveals an unprecedented advance in capitalist concentration. Agrarian and industrial concentration attained preposterous proportions such as he had never ventured to predict In the American Union a single landed estate will embrace territories equal to entire provinces, while industrial capital becomes amassed by milliards in the hands of a few despotic trusts so that two-thirds of the entire working population are employed by one-twentieth of all the separate enterprises in the country. 
We are told that this is a free country, so, having paid his half-crown for a ninety page pamphlet, one third of which consists of an introduction by the translators, the reader has full liberty to choose which of the above statements he will accept.

The introduction is worthy of the body of the pamphlet. The translators—Eden and Cedar Paul—are members of the second section of the “intellectuals” referred to above, who have condescended to come down among the common people and teach them how to achieve their emancipation. Possessing all the ignorance of the “educated,” they lack none of their conceit. As an example we find on page 16 that they agree with Karl Pearson when he says:
  “the acceptance of the law discovered by Malthus is an essential of any Socialistic theory which pretends to be scientific.”
What is this “law discovered by Malthus ? Neither law nor discovery of his. Malthus stole certain ideas from Price, Wallace, and others and put them forward as his own. Reduced to a few words the “law” is that population increases in a geometrical ratio (2-4-8-16-32, etc.) while the means of subsistence increase only in’ arithmetical ratio (1-2-3-4-5, etc.) Hence the poverty of the working class is due entirely to there being more at Nature’s table than Nature can feed. Our “intellectuals” say Lafargue, Henry George, and others who have endeavoured to meet the Malthusian difficulty “by a simple denial of the facts” have displayed more zeal than knowledge. The sentence quoted is a “simple” lie. Not simple denial, but complete exposure of the falsity of the so-called facts has been the work of these opponents. How ignorant “intellectuals” can be is shown by the following facts.

Malthus wrote his book partly as a general explanation of the misery prevalent in his day, and partly against Godwin’s book, “Political Justice,” that was an expression of revolt against that misery. Godwin wrote a crushing reply to Malthus entitled “On Population.” Malthus, although he lived to edit five more editions of his work, made no attempt to meet Godwin’s exposure of his fallacies. Henry George in “Progress and Poverty” has taken Godwin’s case and, adding further facts and evidence, discovered since Godwin wrote, has presented a reply that no Malthusian has been able to touch.

Not satisfied with Loria’s falsifications of Marx, the translators try one themselves, though only by suggestion. On page 15 they quote Marx’s criticism of Lassalle’s “Iron Law of Wages” from the Gotha Programme. Marx had pointed out that the “Iron Law of Wages” rested upon the Malthusian theory of population, and said if this “law” were correct then it would be a waste of time to try and overthrow the system of wage labour as the “law” could not be overthrown and would assert itself under any system. He then pointed out that this was exactly the argument used by the hired apologists of the master class, who claimed that Socialism would merely make poverty universal because of this “law.”

Now say our translators, “Does not it almost seem as if Marx by 1875, had, for a moment at least, glimpsed the real difficulty.”

To suggest that Marx “for a moment at least” accepted the truth of the Malthusian “law” whose falsities he had exposed shows not only the conceit of the people making the suggestion, but also their readiness to attempt to mislead those members of the working class who may read their introduction to Loria.

Further exposure of their ignorance is given in their reference to Loria’s remarks on the neglect by Marxists of the great question of technical development. Loria says: “This physiology of industry which is now the least studied and least appreciated of Marx’s labours nevertheless constitutes his most considerable and most enduring contribution to science.”

The answer of the translators to this charge is to refer to William Paul’s slovenly and inac­curate sketch of the State and to Newbold’s journalistic articles as forming a reply. The splendid work of Lafargue, Kautsky, Sanial, and others in this field is evidently unknown to these intellectuals.

The value of the judgement of the translators on current events is dearly shown when on page 30 they refer to Workers’ Committees—dead as a door nail to-day, except under the guise of the capitalist Whitley Councils—and Industrial Unionism, with its idiocy of proposing that unarmed men can beat the Army, as new forms of organisation for the working class.

Apart from the evidence it supplies of the ignorance and conceit of the “intellectuals” who contribute to its pages, the worth of the pam­phlet to students of sociology is measured by the price of waste paper.
Jack Fitzgerald

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Hat tip to ALB for originally scanning this in.