Jack Fitzgerald

The Centenary of Marx

Source: Socialist Standard, May 1918.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain
HTML Markup: Michael Schauerte
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Into the midst of the greatest slaughter the world has ever known obtrudes one of those arbitrary divisions of time called a century, in this case marked off by an event of great interest for the working class.

On the 5th of May, 1818, at the old German town of Trier, was born a boy whose discoveries, research, arid propaganda were to mark an epoch in human knowledge and progress, and who stands out as an intellectual giant in a century noted for its number of great intellects. This boy was Karl Marx.

After the customary school course and attendance at the universities both of Bonn and of Berlin, Marx wished to take up a lectureship in philosophy, but was advised not to do so by his friend, Bruno Bauer.

At 24 years of age Marx was offered the editorship of a new paper called the “Journal of the Rhine” (Rheinsche Zeitung), run by a radical section of the growing commercial class.

It was while in charge of this paper that the social questions and problems pushing themselves forward in that transition period induced Marx to take up the studies of economics and social development, resulting in his world-famous works.

This editorship, conducted with conspicuous ability, involved Marx in a running fight with the censorship, a fight that ended in 1843 with the suppression of the paper.

Marx, now married, moved to Paris and helped to found the “German-French Annals” (Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher) that ran for a short time. It was while engaged on this paper that he met Frederich Engels, who became his closest friend and co-worker for the remainder of his life. Engels, even before Marx, though two years younger, had already got rid of his Hegelian views and undoubtedly helped Marx to free himself completely from the bonds of this Ideal Philosophy.

Marx now joined the staff of the Paris “Advance” (Vorwarts) and in conjunction with Heine and others produced the pamphlet The Holy Family, a satirical criticism of German philosophical Idealism.

His meeting with Engels brought out the fact that both of them had reached the same conclusions on the question of social development independently of each other.

When Marx s continued attacks upon the Russian Government led the latter to persuade M. Guizot, the French Minister, to expel him from France and he removed to Brussels, he and Engels worked out their theory of the “Materialist Conception of History” in the MSS. of two large volumes that the unsettled circumstances of the time prevented being printed. As Marx puts it, however, the MSS. “had accomplished our main purpose—the clearing up of the question to ourselves”.

It was while in Brussels that Marx delivered his lecture on “Free Trade,” and those on “Wage-Labour and Capital,” afterwards published as pamphlets. Here, too. he wrote his famous Poverty of Philosophy, in answer to Proudhon’s Philosophy of Misery—a volume that is a fine example of keen analysis and powerful argument dressed in the scathing sarcasm of which Marx was a master, as well as an instance of the acknowledgment and credit he always gave his predecessors. Many of the authors mentioned would have been forgotten long ago had Marx not rescued them from oblivion. Every one of the critics who so loudly claim to have discovered forerunners of Marx —Anton Menger, Beatrice Potter, James Connolly, etc.—have had these “discoveries” placed in their hands by Marx.

It was while in Brussels that Marx and Engels joined the Communist Alliance, which in 1847, after changing its constitution, instructed Marx and Engels to draw up a manifesto of its principles.

The result was the world-renowned pamphlet The Communist Manifesto, published early in 1848, and probably the most remarkable and widely-read pamphlet ever printed. Even to-day, seventy years after its first publication, its principles still apply, and some of its tactical methods remain the best for the working class to follow.

Under the storm raised in Belgium by the February (1848) Revolution in France, the Belgian Government expelled Marx, and once more he went to Paris. But he did not stay long. Revolution was spreading in Germany and he returned to Cologne to start the “New Journal of the Rhine.” As the Clerical “Journal of the Cross” put it, the new paper attacked everything holy, from the king and administration of the realm down to the policeman. Small wonder that the victorious reactionary government of 1849 suppressed the paper in May of that year.

Marx returned again to Paris but was ordered to leave France, and he came to London, where he stayed till his death.

To obtain a living he wrote articles for various papers. Those he contributed to the New York Tribune on the Revolution in Germany have since been published in book form by his daughter Eleanor, under the title “Revolution and Counter-Revolution” in the “Social Science Series.” Another series of articles dealing with the Crimean War has been published under the title “The Eastern Question.” The pamphlets on the Life of Lord Palmerston and the Secret Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century are also-compiled from these articles.

Early in 1852 Marx wrote the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, the most brilliant application of the Materialist Conception of History to a particular set of events that has yet been written. The career and character of Napoleon III. has been mercilessly exposed in this pamphlet, while the analysis and explanation of the events leading up to his seizure of power in 1851 sweep away the cloud of fog and mystery in which the muddled historians of the master class have wrapped that event.

In the same year as Darwin’s Origin of Species appeared (1869) Marx published his Critique of Political Economy, that later, modified and expanded, formed the first volume of Capital.

Here again forgotten authors are brought to light and credit given them for their work. The manner in which John Gray completely anticipated Proudhon by about 16 years in his scheme of exchange is a case in point.

In London Marx found both the materials—in the Reading Room of the British Museum —and the social conditions necessary for the production of his master work, Capital.

Of this epoch-making production, that ranks with Darwin’s Origin of Species and Morgan’s Ancient Society as standing above all the other grand intellectual efforts of the 19th Century, he only lived long enough to see the first volume through the Press. From the mass of materials he had gathered in his studies, some of which had been roughly arranged in the order intended for publication, Engels prepared the second and third volumes for the Press. They have since been published in English by Kerr & Co., Chicago. The first volume was published in 1867.

During 1863-64 Marx took part in the efforts to form an “International Working Men’s Association” that was finally launched on the 28th September, 1864. It was to the Congress of this Association in 1865 that he read the paper now published as Value, Price, and Profit. This magnificent propaganda pamphlet is the best simple summary of the fundamentals of Marxian economics yet produced, and is a sample of the clear and direct style Marx could use when not dealing with the more technical parts of the subject.

He drew up the addresses of this body on the Franco-German War, the third of which, entitled Civil War in France, is a magnificent sketch of the rise and fall of the Commune of Paris of 1871 and a scathing indictment of the politicians who surrounded and succeeded Napoleon III. It is also another fine example of the application of the Materialist Conception of History to a particular event.

Marx died on 14th March, 1883, after a long illness, his end undoubtedly being hastened by the death of his wife in 1881 and his favourite daughter, Jenny, in 1882.

Marx s life-work falls into two main divisions. The first is his criticism of political economy and the second is his analysis of social development. His theoretical studies and literary work is more largely concerned with the first division as a glance at the list of his works published in English will show.

This list includes the pamphlets on Wage-Labour and Capital, and Free Trade, and also the Critique of Political Economy, Poverty of Philosophy, Value, Price, and Profit, and the three volumes of Capital.

In addition, though not yet translated into English, Kautsky from Marx’s materials (left by Engels) has published some volumes on Theories of Surplus-Value.

Of Capital it is no exaggeration to say that no work ever written on economics has attracted so much attention and attempted criticism. Every professor of political economy and every petty journalist feels bound to criticise, without having troubled to read, Marx’s unanswerable exposure of the present system. The two great features of Capital are the solving of the riddle of Value and the demonstration of the appropriation of Surplus-Value. While, as Marx points out, both William Petty and Benjamin Franklin hit upon the true nature of Value, its analysis and working-out was not achieved until Capital appeared. By his discovery of the two-fold character of labour—its abstract and concrete qualities—he was able to prove that values of commodities are determined by the quantity of necessary social labour-time taken to produce (or reproduce) the commodities. The complete and overwhelming truth of this statement is shown among other things by a simple fact. Every improvement in machinery, every increase in “efficiency,” whether of the individual employees or in their organisation, has one object in view—to shorten the time taken to produce a given article, and so increase the profits of the masters.

With the enormous masses of wealth always present in modern capitalist society under our eyes, it has practically become impossible to deny the existence of Surplus-Value. The question fiercely debated was, whence this surplus? Marx, in a long, closely-reasoned analysis, has shown that this surplus is provided by the unpaid labour-power of the workers. Put into simple terms, and referring the reader to Capital for its demonstration, this means that the wages of the worker are always less than the value of the articles he produces in the time covered by those wages. This is fully admitted in all business transactions, as no employer will engage a worker unless he can make the engagement “pay”—that is, unless he obtains a profit as a result of employing that worker.

The weirdest theories have been put forward to gloss over this glaring fact, from what may be termed the “discount” theory of Bohm-Bawerk to the “money makes money” nonsense of the yellow Press journalist.

On the subject of social development the list, and size of the works, is much smaller. It includes the Communist Manifesto, the 18th Brumaire, the sketch of the general theory in the Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, to some extent The Eastern Question, and the addresses of the International on the Paris Commune.

Marx’s son-in-law, the late Paul Lafargue, has given a splendid description of the Materialist Conception of History and how to apply it in one of his finest essays—“Marx’s Historical Method.” He brings the work of the 18th century Italian philosopher, Giambista Vico, from the shelf where it had lain forgotten, to show how even at that time ideas of the materialist forces in history were beginning to take shape. The following quotations from Lafargue’s essay will illustrate this.

“The social world, says Vico, “is undoubtedly the work of man, whence it results that we may and must find its principle nowhere else than in the modifications of human intelligence.” Again he says :

There necessarily exists in the nature of human affairs, a universal mental language, common to all nations, which designs uniformly the substance of the things playing an active part in the social life of men and expresses it with as many modifications as there are different aspects these things can take on. We recognise its existence in proverbs, those maxims of popular wisdom, which are of the same substance in alienations, ancient and modern, although they are expressed in so many different ways.

Perhaps Vico’s most striking statement, considering the age in which he lived, is when he says that it is not man’s virtues but his vices which are the active forces in history. It is not “disinterestedness, generosity and humanity, but ferocity, avarice and ambition which create and develop societies.”

Contemporary with Marx, but working in an entirely different field of science, the great American ethnologist Lewis H. Morgan, independently arrived at similar conclusions to both Vico and Marx.

In his monumental work Ancient Society Morgan says:

It may be remarked finally that the experiences of mankind has run in nearly uniform channels; that human necessities in similar conditions have been the same; and that the operations of the mental principle have been uniform by virtue of the specific identity of the brain of all the races of mankind. (P. 8.)

In the preface to the first volume of Capital Marx says: “The country that is more developed industrially only shows to the less developed the image of its own future.” (P. XVII.)

Vico thought the human forces that developed societies were due to divine intelligence. Morgan held the view that it was the ideas of property that was the chief factor in that development. “It [the idea of property] not only led mankind to overcome the obstacles which delayed civilisation, but to establish political society on the basis of territory and property. A critical knowledge of the evolution of the idea of property would embody, in most respects, the most remarkable portion of the mental history of mankind.” (Ancient Society, p. 6.)

But whence the change in the ideas of property? What is the “divine intelligence” behind man’s vices? Marx and Engels answer, “the mode of production.”

The most unstable factor in society, the one that is continually changing, is the method of producing and distributing the articles needed to satisfy man’s requirements. This change having reached a certain stage of development, is hampered by the existing relations of property. A struggle arises between those interested in developing the means of production and those interested in preserving existing property relations. These two sets of individuals form two different classes, and their conflict, based on their economic conditions, forms the CLASS STRUGGLE that has characterised every change in the forms of society.

The individuals carrying on this struggle usually claim, and often imagine, they are fighting for certain ideals as “Freedom of Industry,” “Liberty to choose one’s employer,” but sooner or later the real interests involved are exposed. Marx has given some splendid illustrations of this factor in the 18th Brumaire.

Year by year the development of capitalism is demonstrating the truth of this theory with ever-increasing clearness. Those who for years have sneered at Marx now calmly appropriate his discoveries, and apply them to certain problems, not only without acknowledgment, but with the suggestion that they have made the discovery themselves.

Thus Mr. Bernard Shaw wrote last November some articles for the Daily Express on “How to settle the Irish Question.” In the early e80’s Mr. Shaw accepted and defended the theories of Marx till a debate took place with Professor Wicksteed in the old Socialist magazine Today on the theories of Marx v. those of Jevons. Mr. Shaw defended the former. Shortly after the debate Mr. Shaw announced his conversion to the Jevonian theory. Since then he has ever been ready to sneer at Marx and Marxians.

In the articles mentioned Mr. Shaw easily shows the folly of the Sinn Feiners’ idea of relying on their own force to obtain freedom from England. But when he comes to explain the vigorous agitation by Ulster for preserving the Union he has to adopt, without the slightest hint that it is not his own original idea, the eeeout-of-date” method of Marx. In his second article he says:

Ulster should study the Tariff Reform Movement in England before shouting any such ultimatum. That movement was a very simple one. The manufacturing Midlands in England wanted to manufacture everything that was used in England, and demanded a Tariff to keep foreign goods out. The coast towns of England, being maritime carriers, wanted everything used in England manufactured abroad, and everything made in England sent abroad to pay for it. That, and not the principles of Free Trade, which nobody in the country understood or cared about (except Mr. Balfour, who was forced by his party to go back on them) was what defeated the Tariff Reform League. Now Belfast is a coast town and dockyard, as overwhelmingly interested in Free Trade as Portsmouth or Southampton.

Further on in the same article he says:

Ulster is far more in the grip of modern industrial civilisation than the other provinces” and “is dependent for its materials as for its credit and cash on the international capitalist civilisation of which it is a part. It is this very dependence that makes Ulster cling to the Union and dread separation.

What is this but the explanation of certain simple phenomena by the sneered at Marxian method?

And to show how slender is the solidarity of the classes in Ulster he has to accept the facts of the class struggle so fiercely denied by all good Fabians. For in the same article he says that if Home Rule were passed the Ulster employers, when elected, “would be only too glad to combine in the Irish Parliament with the Catholic farmers of the South to curb the pretensions of the industrial proletariat.”

Such are Time’s revenges!

Not only with Mr. Shaw, however. The Independent Labour Party have throughout their existence repudiated and attempted to belittle the teachings of Marx. They published with glee Bernstein’s book in which he tried to show that Marx was wrong and in need of “Revision.” Now, to their chagrin this world-war has driven Bernstein to repudiate his former work and to admit that Marx’s teachings were correct. Nor is this all. The I.L.P., while allowing its members in Parliament to vote the War Credits, and some of them to take part in the recruiting campaign, denounced the war as the result of secret diplomacy. The agitation fell as flat as ditch water. Then some of their writers started to use the formerly despised Marxian method and sought the explanation in the economic interests involved. Only by this method have they been able to present a case against the war.

From every quarter the truth is standing forth as to the economic conditions that are at the root of this war, and powerfully demonstrating the soundness of Marx’s analysis. French capitalists claim that Germany annexed Alsace-Lorraine for its coal and iron, but also admit that this is the reason they want these provinces “restored.” England upon declaring war at once started to take control of the German Colonies and the road to the East through Mesopotamia. When Japan started to enter Siberia the Manchester Guardian admitted that her action was exactly the same as Germany’s in Western Russia—forcible annexation for commercial purposes. And, as pointed out previously in the SOCIALIST STANDARD, America only entered officially into the war when her economic interests began to be endangered.

When this military carnage has ceased the capitalist class will combine to a greater extent than before. In many canes the “national” boundaries will be ignored and the capitalists of groups of nations will combine to control whole series of industries in the world-competition. The elimination of competition between those forming these combinations will mean a more economical and efficient management of those industries, which in simple language means that fewer workers will be required to manage the same amount of wealth production and distribution as before, resulting in an increase in the number of unemployed.

To ensure a smooth working of these huge complex organisations it will be necessary to persuade the workers to increase their “efficiency” by further enslaving themselves, under the cloak of “taking part in the management.” With this object the Whitley Committee was appointed, and its recommendation of “Joint Councils of Employers and Employed” is one more added to the long list of devices introduced to swindle the workers into assisting to make worse their conditions of existence.

Of much greater importance is the obtaining of power to safeguard and expand these enlarged economic interests. Whitley Committees will be useless here, and the only road to this power is the possession of the political machinery that controls the armed forces, powers of taxation, and of the enactment of laws.

In many cases the capitalist may not trouble to seek election himself. He can send his agents, as his paid servants, to carry out his instructions. This has the additional advantage that if opposition is aroused by any of their actions, he can leave his agent to be the public scapegoat (and sometimes remove him— to a better paid office) and so divert attention from the real enemy.

The number of “salaried” wage-slaves is steadily increasing and these people are finding a growing difficulty in obtaining employment. Hence the competition among them for the political jobs of the master class. Lawyers and journalists swarm into the political organisations of the masters—the Tory and Liberal Associations, with their subsidiary bodies the Tariff Reform and Free Trade Leagues, etc.—in their hunt after jobs. Still there is not room for all here, and a large number are left to seek a footing elsewhere. To these the Labour Party have now officially opened their doors, so the future will see an increased competition of office and job hunters in the political field. This will result in further confusing the minds of the uninstructed workers, particularly as these candidates will call themselves “democratic,” “labour,” or even “Socialist.”

When returned to Parliament under these conditions they will obey the orders of the master class, just as the Labour Party have done before and during the war.

But the more efficient and economical production of wealth will mean an increasing insecurity of life with the consequent greater misery of the mass of the workers. The latter will be forced by these very facts to study more and more the economic and historical questions before them. As they do this they will realise in ever-growing numbers the correctness of the teachings of Marx, Morgan, and Engels, and will organise to take control of political power for the purpose of abolishing capitalism.

Only by this method can they obtain control and ownership of the means of production and organise them with the object of satisfying the needs and wishes of society under the best conditions available within their knowledge and with the result of making happiness and leisure the portion of every member of society. To this end Marx devoted the best years of his life, and the fruits of his labours are a legacy of inestimable value to the working class.