Thursday, November 09, 2006

Marx And Commentators On Marx On The Justice Of Capitalism (Part 3 Of 3)

In part 1, I quoted Marx arguing against criticizing capitalism on the basis that it is unfair. In part 2, I showed some current scholars are well aware of this reading of Marx. Here I look back at Engels and the golden age of the Second International.

Lenin, of course, had a world-wide impact on history. He wrote a lot, but the pamphlet from which the following quotation is taken is one of his more well-known works:
"In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx goes into some detail to disprove the Lassallean idea of the workers' receiving under Socialism the 'undiminished' or 'full product of their labour.' Marx shows that out of the whole of the social labour of society, it is necessary to deduct a reserve fund, a fund for the expansion of production, for the replacement of worn-out machinery, and so on; then, also, out of the means of consumption must be deducted a fund for the expenses of management, for schools, hospitals, homes for the aged, and so on..." -- V. I. Lenin (1932), Chapter V., Sect. 3
I stumbled upon a book by Boudin in some used bookstore. I don't know much about him. I think he was an American. Here we see that even a less celebrated commentator on Marx gets my point in this series of posts:
"In his great work on capital and interest, where more than one hundred pages are devoted to the criticism of this theory, Böhm-Bawerk starts out his examination of the theory by characterizing it as the 'theory of exploitation' and the whole trend of his argument is directed towards one objective point: to prove that the supposedly main thesis of this theory, that the income of the capitalists is the result of exploitation, is untrue; that in reality the workingman is getting all that is due to him under the present system. And the whole of his argument is colored by his conception of the discussion as a controversy relative to the ethical merits or demerits of the capitalist system...

We therefore advisedly stated in the last chapter that in employing the adjectives 'necessary' and 'surplus' in connection with labor or value, it is not intended to convey any meaning of praise or justification in the case of the one, nor of condemnation or derogation in the case of the other. As a matter of fact, Marx repeatedly stated that the capitalist was paying to the workingman all that was due him when he paid him the fair market value of his labor power. In describing the process of capitalist production, Marx used the words, 'necessary' and 'surplus' in characterizing the amounts of labor which are necessarily employed in reproducing what society already possesses and that employed in producing new commodities or values. He intended to merely state the facts as he saw them, and not to hold a brief for anybody." -- Louis Boudin (1907).
Engels had a lot to do with how Marx is interpreted and understood. Some question whether some of Engels' interpretations were misleading and too oversimplified. But here I think Engels is correct in his overall point about what Marx wrote:
"The above application of the Ricardian theory, that the entire social product belongs to the workers as their product, because they are the sole real producers, leads directly to communism. But, as Marx indicates too in the above-quoted passage, formally it is economically incorrect, for it is simply an application of morality to economics. According to the laws of bourgeois economics, the greatest part of the product does not belong to the workers who have produced it. If we now say: that is unjust, that ought not to be so, then that has nothing immediately to do with economics. We are merely saying that this economic fact is in contradiction to our sense of morality. Marx, therefore, never based his communist demands upon this, but upon the inevitable collapse of the capitalist mode of production which is daily taking place before our eyes to an ever greater degree; he says only that surplus value consists of unpaid labour, which is a simple fact. But what formally may be economically incorrect, may all the same be correct from the view of world history. If the moral consciousness of the mass declares an economic fact to be unjust, as it has done in the case of slavery or serf labour, that is a proof that the fact itself has been outlived, that other economic facts have made their appearance, owing to which the former has become unbearable and untenable. Therefore, a very true economic content may be concealed behind the formal economic incorrectness." -- Frederick Engels, Preface to the First German Edition of Marx (1975)
  • Boudin, Louis B. (1907). The Theoretical System of Karl Marx In The Light of Recent Criticism, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co.
  • Lenin, V. I. (1932). State and Revolution, New York: International Publishers
  • Marx, Karl (1975). The Poverty of Philosophy, Moscow: Progress Publishers

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