Karl Marx

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In the posthumous work Marx traces the development of the theory of surplus value through its three essential stages, the prericardian, the Ricardian, and the postricardian. To the first of these phases belong the theories of the physiocratic school, whose essence Marx grasps with marvellous acuteness, maintaining that the theories in question were the doctrinal reflection of the interests of the rising capitalist class, constrained to pretend that its own[Pg 143] economic claims were the logical expression of the advantage of the landed and feudalist classes then politically dominant. Particularly noteworthy are the comments on the teaching of Adam Smith. The second volume contains a searching criticism of the Ricardian system, and above all of Ricardo's theories of value and of profit. In the third section Marx passes judgment on the theories of Ricardo's successors, Malthus, Senior, and John Stuart Mill, for these writers, says Marx, follow the setting sun of bourgeois economic science, follow that science to its now inevitable doom.

It was a fixed idea with Marx that the theoretical analysis of capitalist relationships had secured its fullest and most adequate expression in the pages of Ricardo; he believed that Ricardo had supplied the ultimate synthesis possible on these lines; that any further progress of economic science in its bourgeois trappings had become impossible; that its decline amid contradictions and perversions was [Pg 144]inevitable; and that economics could only be renewed and reborn when the disintegrated vesture of bourgeois economic relationships had been completely thrown aside to give place to a definitive and superior social form. It is scarcely necessary to point to the sophisms and the arbitrary assumptions upon which this concept is based; but it must be admitted that the poverty, deficiency, and incurable vanity of current economic science increasingly tend to give the theory an awkward semblance of truth.

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To-day, now that the fruits of Marx's meditations, be it only as the result of the work of collaborators, be it only with many gaps and imperfections, have all been given forth to the reading world, it is at length possible to take a general view, and to pass a dispassionate judgment upon the pre-eminent worth of his writings. The most austere criticism must bow reverently before such gigantic mental attainments as have few counterparts in the history of scientific thought, garnering from all branches of knowledge on behalf of the undying cause of mankind. The most inexorable criticism should recognise in Marx the supreme merit of having been the first to introduce the evolutionary concept into the [Pg 146]domain of sociology, the first to introduce it in the only form appropriate to social phenomena and social institutions; not as the unceasing and gradual upward-movement outlined by Spencer, but as the succession of agelong cycles rhythmically interrupted by revolutionary explosions, proceeding in accordance with the manner sketched by Lyell for geological evolution, and in our own time by de Vries for biological evolution.

With the aid of this concept, strictly positive and scientific, Marx triumphantly overthrew, on the one hand classical economic science, taken prisoner by its own notion of a petrified society, and on the other the philosophy of law and idealist socialism which were convinced that it was possible to mould the world in accordance with the arbitrary conceptions of the thinker. Looked at in this light, the work of Marx presents a new instrument for the use of the philosophy of history and for the use of sociology; and it has contributed no[Pg 147] less powerfully to the advance of technological science, thanks to the writer's masterly investigation into the successive forms of the technical instrument of productive machinery. In this respect more than in any others Marx may be compared with Darwin, and may indeed be spoken of as the Darwin of technology: for no one has ever had a profounder knowledge than Marx of the structural development of the industrial mechanism, no one else has followed step by step the formation and upward elaboration of productive technique; just as Darwin, with invincible mental energy, traced the evolution of animal technique, the development of the functional apparatus of organised beings.

This physiology of industry, which is now the least studied and least appreciated of Marx's scientific labours, nevertheless constitutes his most considerable and most enduring contribution to science. Noteworthy, in especial, and destined to form a permanent and [Pg 148]integral part of the economic science of the world, are Marx's analyses of money, credit, the circulation of capital, poverty, primitive accumulation, not to speak of the historico-critical investigations into the work of the British classical economists—for here Marx, without prejudice to the merits of those who have fought honourably in this difficult arena, will ever remain the most brilliant and most profound commentator. For these mighty and noble contributions, his name will be inscribed in imperishable letters in the history of creative thought.

But if his sociological, historical, and technological investigations, if his studies of money, the banking system, and industrial statistics, be so many intellectual jewels of which no praise can be excessive, it is none the less true that his fundamental economic theory is essentially vitiated and sophistical, and that he is himself responsible for reducing it to hopeless absurdity. We arrive, therefore, at this[Pg 149] remarkable result: that Marx, whose primary aim it was to be a theorist of political economy, and to deal only in subsidiary fashion with the philosophy of history and technology, secured a triumphant success in these subordinate fields; whereas in respect of the fundamental object of his thought, his work was a complete failure.

Nor can we deny that the very design of Marx's work, however marvellous in the Michelangelesque grandeur of its ensemble, does not satisfy those who insist upon strictly scientific method, and that in this respect Marx stands far below the great masters of positive science. For, however admirable and however great this man who succeeded in subsuming an entire world within the limits of an extremely simple initial principle, and whose life was but the development of an equation which he had formulated at its outset, how far more straightforward and trustworthy, how far more scientific, was the[Pg 150] method of Darwin, who never formulated any apriorist principles, but, quite free from preconceptions, accepted phenomena in the order of progressive complexity in which life itself presented them. Darwin first studied the natural formation of organised beings, then devoted himself to an examination of the larger types, and was finally led to infer their development by evolutionary growth. This method, which follows nature and reflects it, seems far more worthy of respect, far more honest, far more strictly scientific, than the other method, which manipulates the truth, does violence to the truth, in order to accommodate it to hidden ends.

There is no reason, therefore, to be surprised that such a flood of criticism should have been directed against this colossus, or that on the morrow of the completion of Marx's work the skies of the two hemispheres should have rung with disorderly clamour proclaiming the crisis, nay the failure, of Marxism. But that[Pg 151] which is less easy to understand, that which discloses the utter immaturity of economic science as well as of contemporary socialism, is that criticism has not been directed against the truly vulnerable point of the system, but has been solely concerned in attacking its better defended and less fragile parts. In fact the scientific and socialist currents partially or wholly opposed to Marxism display a strange reverence for his theory of value, or do not venture to attack it, but concentrate their forces against the statistical and historical theories which are the deductions and complements of the Marxist theory of value.

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