Karl Marx

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These activities, however, did not completely interrupt his intellectual labours, for during the period at which we have now arrived he published in the "New York Tribune" a series of articles upon Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany and upon Political Struggles in France. In 1852, in "The Revolution," published in the German tongue in New York, there had appeared the article The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Substantially these writings are an application of the materialist conception of history to the more conspicuous events of the recent political history of Germany and of France. In addition, Marx published in the "Tribune" a series of articles of a more [Pg 86]distinctively political character, dealing with The Eastern Question, displaying marvellous erudition and a wonderful power of forecasting events.

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Nevertheless, the organisation of the proletariat, and his journalistic labours, however intense and however weighty, did not represent in the life of Marx anything more than a vexatious parenthesis or a regrettable delay in the fulfilment of the supreme task he had set before himself from the very outset of his life in Britain. Hardly, in fact, had Marx settled down in the wonderful town of London, to the economist so inexhaustible a field for study and experience, than he proposed to rebuild from the foundations the entire edifice of his economic and statistical knowledge, which was at that time comparatively small when contrasted with the vast extent of his preliminary readings in philosophy. In the British Museum library, therefore, he plunged[Pg 88] into the study of the classical economists of the island realm, showing inexhaustible patience in tracing the earliest and most trifling ramifications of economic science.

Beginning with the study of the theory of rent, he went on to the study of money, of the relationship between the quantity of metal in circulation and the rate of exchange, of the influence of bank reserves upon prices, and so forth. He then devoted himself to the theories of value, profit, interest, and population. Simultaneously he studied without remission statistics, blue books, ministerial and parliamentary concerns.

From all this gigantic toil he derived the materials for the writing of the work which was henceforward to be at once the sorrow and the joy of his life. His first intention was to limit himself to a critical history of political economy, or a detailed analysis of the theories which he had so often enunciated, as well as of the lacunae which had become [Pg 89]apparent in them. But an unexpected result issued from the mental contact with this huge mass of science and analysis, for he believed that he had made a splendid and startling discovery whereby the sacred theory of profit could be utterly exploded.

Now, therefore, he outlined the design of his great work, which was to consist of two parts; a first, historico-critical, intended to elucidate the different forms of the theory of profit as expounded by the various British economists; and a second, theoretical and constructive, which was to announce to the world the author's own doctrine. This method of exposition is substantially identical with that followed by Böhm-Bawerk in his Capital and Interest, and it corresponds moreover to the immediate requirements of the investigation, which ought to begin with the study of prevailing opinions and doctrines, and then only proceed to innovation. But a more attentive examination of the question soon [Pg 90]convinced Marx that this would not be the most efficacious method of furnishing a theoretical reproduction of actualities, since, to this end, we must let the phenomena tell their own tale before we proceed to call to account those who have already analysed them, and before we draw attention to the ways in which their conception of the facts diverges from that which reality, when directly questioned, reveals. The method has ever been preferred by the most gifted theorists, and has been applied by Bergson with admirable dexterity in his Creative Evolution. Marx, therefore, never weary of destroying and refashioning, inverted his original design, and promptly began the study and analysis of concrete phenomena, to proceed then only to a criticism of the theories of his precursors. It was in accordance with such criteria that he wrote his Criticism of Political Economy, of which the first instalment was published at Berlin in 1859.

The most notable portion of this work is[Pg 91] the preface, which contains the first statement of the theory of historical materialism. The relationships of men in social life, says Marx, are determined by the conditions of production, are necessary relationships independent of the individual will; these determined relationships constitute the real foundation upon which is erected the legislative, political, moral, and religious superstructure of every age. The relationships of production, or the economic relationships prevailing at a given period, are a natural and necessary outcome of the method of production, or rather of the historic phase of the instrument of production. But sooner or later the further development of the productive forces generates a new configuration in technical method, a configuration incompatible with the prevailing relationships of production, those correlative to the productive order hitherto dominant. There then occurs an explosion, a social revolution, which disintegrates economic relationships,[Pg 92] and, by ricochet, disintegrates existing social relationships, replacing them by better economic relationships, adequate to the new and more highly evolved phase of the productive instrument.

In broad outline it may be said that economic evolution has exhibited four progressive phases; the Asiatic economy, the classical economy, the feudalist economy, and the modern bourgeois or capitalist economy. The evolution of the productive instrument, never arrested in its secular march, will in due course renew the eternally recurrent opposition between the method of production and the relationships of production, rendering these incompatible. Once more will come an explosion, the last of the great social convulsions, whereby the bourgeois economic order will be overthrown and will be replaced by the co-operative commonwealth. This new development will close the primary epoch of the history of human society.

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But the work we are discussing is further noteworthy inasmuch as it reflects a special phase of our author's thought, a thought which never ceased to exhibit a struggle between opposing trends and was ever oppressed by their contrast. The book, in fact, shows Marx continually involved in antiquated Hegelian machinery, or proceeding through a chain of categories evolving one from another—capital, landed property, the wage system, the state, foreign commerce, the world market. From each of these categories we may infer how the process of their successive development is accomplished. We are led to infer that the wage system is the outcome of landed proprietorship, for the expropriation of the peasant proprietors produces the proletarianised masses offering labour power for sale; and we are led to infer that the constitution of the world market is the crown and the epilogue of modern capitalist economy. In fact, according to Marx, the historic mission of [Pg 94]capitalism based upon wage labour, whose origins go back to the sixteenth century, is the creation of the world market. The world market is now devoted to the colonisation of California and Australia and to the opening of trading ports in China and Japan; its creation marks the climax of capitalism's historic mission, and indicates the approaching end of the economic form which was destined to fulfill it.

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