Monday, May 11, 2020

A Duke Distorts Marx (1986)

Book Review from the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

“This, it seems to me, is Marx’s legacy to the world. For love, tolerance and compassion he has substituted hatred, envy and oppression. For honesty and justice he has substituted the interest of the party. Although it is a sad commentary on human nature that so many people are eager to adopt such doctrines of violence and conflict, there is one thing we must all learn from Marx. It is now more important than ever that we learn and understand the guiding principles of our own system, if we are to make it fulfil our ambitions to live in freedom, in harmony, in prosperity and in justice.” (HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, A Question of Balance, p.30).

So ends the Duke of Edinburgh’s published attack on the ideas of Marxism. Before we turn to deal with the distortion, be it intended or ignorant, contained in that attack, it is worth congratulating this titled spokesman for legalised robbery for taking the bother to commit his ideas to print. Too often the nonsensical dogmas of anti-Marxism are offered as casual asides or vague references, so making them harder to answer. Here we have a clear account of why one member of the capitalist class thinks that Marxism is wrong. Let us examine his criticisms.

The Duke—or whoever might have assisted him in composing his attack—has taken the trouble to find out a little about who Marx was and what he wrote. On page 6 we are presented with a concise biographical sketch, deficient more in its omissions than in relation to any false information. The reader is told that Marx “appears to have had an enormous capacity for painstaking work, a vivid and forceful literary style, considerable imagination, and a single-minded devotion to a particular philosophy”. It is stated that Marx held that “the bourgeoisie had . . .  to be destroyed by the abolition of all private property”. This is half right. In fact, both state and private property must be abolished and Marx was advocating the abolition of class relationships, particularly that of wage labour and capital, therefore the bourgeoisie (or capitalist class) will be destroyed as a class personifying capital, but not as individual people. The Duke contends that “capitalism has proved to be a great deal more flexible than (Marx) ever imagined”. There is probably some validity in this.

Having stated those points where the Duke was correct or nearly, so let us list his numerous errors and distortions.

 . . . it becomes apparent that at the heart f the terrorist campaign, or of the liberation army… or of civil unrest, there is a hard core of Marxists. Furthermore it cannot be entirely coincidence that wherever such a state of conflict exists the terrorists, liberators or revolutionaries are almost invariably supported by money, arms or men and women from countries under Marxist regimes. (p.5)

Are we to assume from this that any army or government or individual psychopath who chooses to adopt the label Marxist will be regarded by those attacking Marxism as representatives of Marxist ideas? The Russian dictators and sections of the IRA and various anti-social organisers of civil disorder adopt the Marxist label, but that makes such people no more “Marxists” than is the German Democratic Republic democratic. The linking of a label with an idea is only valid if those being labelled hold the ideas and act on the ideas to which the label refers. The Duke gives no evidence to show that terrorists are carrying out principles to be found in the writings of Marx; not a scrap of evidence is offered to show that “Marxist regimes” are Marxist societies. This is a classical distortion tactic, used by those who find it easier to smear than to prove.

In fact, on page 26 the Duke states that “Marxism has given ambitious politicians an absolutely ideal method of acquiring and keeping absolute power”. Indeed, many capitalist leaders have usurped the rhetoric of Marxism in order to run the system of oppression which genuine Marxists seek to destroy. If the Duke of Edinburgh cares to read the history of British Royalty he will discover that by manipulating the ideas of religion the British monarchy was able to attain absolute power, justified by the doctrine of divine right. If the Duke was informed he would realise that it is necessary to check the credentials of those who pose as Marxist governments and activists, if he is informed, then he is dishonest, for he will know that their credentials are bogus.

“His weakness, if that is the appropriate word for it, seems to have been a hopelessly unrealistic understanding of human nature.”

We must assume from this that the Duke does understand “human nature”. Odd, then, that he at no point attempts to define it. The reason could be that it is a totally nonsensical concept, used too often by people who speak before they think. Marx argued that human behaviour is socially determined and that our ideas and actions are not inherently produced. Rather than asserting that this is “hopelessly unrealistic”, where is the evidence against it? The Duke states that Marx’s “obsession with science and scientific socialism . . . seems to have blinded him to the power, variety and irrational nature of human emotions and talents and to the fact that such qualities of human nature are equally distributed among all people regardless of class or intellect”. (p.7) Does this mean that there are as many slum-dwellers obtaining Oxford degrees as millionaires’ children? Are there as many princes suffering the frustration of the dole queue as sons and daughters of miners? And what is this “irrational nature” which the Duke finds in human emotions? Human thought and feeling is linked to the rational pursuit of survival and comfort, if he has discovered some irrational content beyond this material interpretation, let the Duke spell it out for us rather than making vague and pointless references. Human nature has always been the concept most loved by the defender of the status quo. The slave-owner of old would say that it was human nature for negroes to be owned by white masters. The Duke of Edinburgh invokes the same undefined theory in defence of the modem form of slavery, the wages system.

“Marx, like many before and since his time, went to considerable lengths to make his selection of facts fit his particular theories.”

These aristocratic liars obviously believe that they have only to assert a view and it will be accepted. If Marx distorted the facts to fit his interpretation of capitalism why has there been no satisfactory effort made to offer other facts which will show Marx’s ideas to be false? Where are the “facts”, to show that poverty is not caused by the system under which the few own and control the means of wealth production and distribution? What “facts” exist to demonstrate that workers are not exploited at the point of production by being paid a wage which is less than the value of what we produce? Where are the “facts” denying that the history of property society is a history of class struggle? Wise men have had over a century since Marx’s death to provide us with “facts” that will not fit in with “his particular theories”. Wise men have yet to disprove Marx’s facts, and the Duke, who is not “wise”, hasn’t done this either.

“Marx believed very strongly that it was impossible to have a satisfactory society where there was such a crude division between those who owned property and capital and those who owned nothing but their wages. Naturally in a purely static situation this would be intolerable, but no human system is static and the freer the system the more quickly the self-correcting mechanism works and the greater the movement between classes is likely to be.”

So the Duke agrees with Marx that the crude division between those who own property and those who are wage slaves is “intolerable”. But the argument he puts is that, given a free society, the poor will be able to correct this situation and be come capitalists. A century after Marx’s death the crude class division still exists. in Britain the richest one per cent of the population own more of the accumulated wealth than the poorest eighty per cent added together. How long do as the Duke think it will take for this “self-correcting mechanism” to move those who are dependent on selling their abilities for wages or salaries to gain entry into the capitalist class? Of course, this will never happen because the capitalist minority can only survive by living parasitically off of the labour of the wealth-creating majority. It is “intolerable” that this division exists but, unlike the Duke, Marxists are not expecting the system to correct the problem.

“There was a utopian belief that every human problem could be solved by scientific analysis and the operation of altruistic human will. All that was necessary was to identify and eradicate the cause of the problem and everything would immediately become all sweetness and light. Marx was convinced that be had achieved all this in his theory of historical materialism.”

Nowhere did Marx ever state such a point of view. it has been invented by the dishonest Duke. It would be “utopian” to assert that “every human problem” can be solved by science but Marx was talking about problems caused by the social system, not those of natural causation. A system which makes wars inevitable can be removed and there will be no more wars. It is a basic principle of science that effects are eradicated by first removing their cause –Marx did not invent such an idea and the Duke cannot disprove it. Marx made no reference to “the operation of altruistic human will”. this is yet another of the Duke’s absurd phrases. In fact, the establishment of socialism depends on material self-interest, not abstract altruism. Socialism will not be “all sweetness and light” and Marx never used such a silly phrase. We can say that it will be an efficient, co-operative, peaceful social system, free from the bitterness and darkness of world capitalism. If the Duke cares to argue with that he will have a debate on his hands; any old fool can knock down a utopian dream which Marx was not indulging in, but not any old fool will be allowed to get away with it.

“One of the features of Marxist analysis is the constant use of group denominations and particularly the references to the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, as if there was no such thing as individual will. What sort of an argument is it to say that because all my colleagues and contemporaries are behaving in a certain way, that is the way that historical materialism has ordained I must believe?”

Needless to say, the Duke does not define this mysterious “individual will”—this man is a master of the undefined concept. My individual will is to live in Buckingham Palace: but which is more influential—my “will” or my class position? All people are either workers or they are capitalists and if they are in the former class they are robbed and they are relatively poor and they have a world to win, if they are in the latter class they are exploiters and they are relatively rich and the world is theirs. There are those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess. As for “individual will”, the Duke can buy mine from me for the price of one of his Rolls Royces. A person’s class position generally determines their ideas: that is why it is not surprising to find the husband of the richest woman in the world opposing Marxism. When members of the boss class start flocking into the Socialist Party we shall take more seriously the claim that historical materialism does not ordain how humans think and behave.

“As Marx’s ideas entailed the confiscation from private capitalists of all means of production, distribution, transport and communication, all these things would have to be centralised in the hands of the State, by which he meant the hands of the proletariat organised as the ruling class.”

Here the Duke asserts that Marx stood for centralised state capitalism. Untrue. The abolition of class monopoly necessitates the removal of the state, which Marx pointed out is merely the executive committee of the exploiting class. Marx argued that with the emancipation of the working class there will be no class left to be exploited and the logical implication of that is that there will be no socialist state. So, when the proletariat (or workers) are organised as the ruling class, which will happen when the state is democratically conquered, that will at the same time be the end of classes, including a ruling class, and the end of the state. The centralised state has nothing to do with socialism, but is a feature of coercive capitalism. A great deal of the Duke’s attack on Marxism rests on the assumption that a centralised state will create an elitist bureaucracy which will become a new ruling class. This is correct. The Duke opposes such a new ruling class, of the type which took over from the Tsars in Russia, because he is a defender of the old ruling class; Marxists oppose state and private capitalism: they are opposed to all ruling classes.

“Of all Marx’s ideas the most explosive was his choice of one particular class or group of citizens within a society—distinguished only by their relative wealth and occupations—to be held responsible for everything that is unsatisfactory in that society.”

Once again the Duke demonstrates his failure to grasp –or his ability to distort –Marxism. It is not a Marxist contention that the capitalists as individuals are the cause of the problems of the working class. It is not a question of individual will. The whole point of Marx’s writings is that the capitalist system demands that capitalists must act in certain ways if they are not to descend into the working class –a miserable fate, as we are sure the Duke will agree. The point of Marxism is not to blame this group or that class, but to expose the system and to show that it can never be run in the interest of the wealth producers, even if all the bosses were jolly decent chaps.

“…(Marxists) whole ideology is based on the idea that any degree of force, subversion, terrorism, persecution and dishonesty is justified in achieving and maintaining the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

This is rich, coming from a defender of British capitalism. The very tactics listed have all been used by the Duke’s own class in order to preserve the dictatorship of King Capital. In no way did Marx ever advocate or defend these methods. It was Karl Marx who stated that “The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class themselves”, the same principle has been advocated by The Socialist Party, the only Marxist party in Britain, since 1904. We seek to establish a free and democratic society and we are the first to point out that this will never be brought about by any of the tactics used by our class enemies, such as those listed above. We seek to establish a society of mutual co-operation, not a dictatorship—a society which will be classless. We have congratulated our class enemy on having the openness to commit his ideas to paper, it is a pity that we are not able to offer similar congratulations on his honesty, intelligence and clarity, all of which are far too undignified to enter the mind of this pompous Royal distorter.
Steve Coleman

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Copied from the SPGB website.