Karl Marx, Clear as Mud
[Reprinted from a Land-Theory online
discussion, 7 March 2000]
Marx's waffling writings are sometimes cutting and brilliantly
polemical but often confusing and clear as mud.
So what I mean by him being 'clear and radical' or shedding positive
light, is something like this:
Marx understood that the intellectual or philosophical problem was in
fact a social problem (the materialist basis of history). The problem
was a social and economic system that is in fact a system of
inequality and exploitation. (these of course have always existed
throughout history in their various forms, e.g., slavery, feudalism,
Marx understood that the necessary task was to understand and analyze
the mechanics of the system of exploitation currently operating
('bourgeois society' or 'capitalism') To conduct this analysis, Marx
began a study of English political economy, smith, Ricardo etc. This
helped him, but also led him astray where their analysis, e.g.,
Ricardo's value theory, was flawed. Marx understood that there a need
for a critique of political economy, and a criticism of capitalism,
showing how the inherent injustice of it would lead to reaction and
protest, and with the aid of 'scientific' socialism (provided by
Marx), an irresistible push to reform and change would lead to utopia,
which is 'communism' or the classless society. Starting his career as
a philosopher, Marx became a classical economist, his study of
political economy was thorough, and in the end a lifelong project.
Most importantly, Marx understood the crucial role that 'ideology'
has in shaping and leading social movements, whether
socialist/revolutionary or conservative/reactionary. He deliberately
and self-consciously positioned himself as the leading 'idealogue' of
the socialist movement. He had such success with this that much of the
20thC was spent dealing with his impact, the negatives (there of
course were plenty) as well as the positives of Marxist analysis
(which were not that many, unfortunately).
But there were two fatal weaknesses in the Marxian project, which I
suspect are intertwined:
1. - revolutionary politics. Marx assumed or believed that
revolutions would and must occur and this is how change and reform
would be achieved. He generally derided 'liberalism' and pretty much
had no faith at all in liberal institutions such as parliament,
elections, free speech etc. etc. He maintained you really needed to
cut to the chase and get on with the inevitable revolution. Of course
this would be bloody, but it is the law of history.
The massive, fatal flaw in this assumption is not appreciating the
corrupting influence of Power on human affairs. 'All power corrupts,
and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' The colossal, monstrous
horror of Stalinism is directly related to marx's error here. The
truth is that non-violence, democracy, civil liberties, devolution of
power etc, mundane as they might seem, are in fact the right way, the
only way forward. We need more, not less of these things and they are
a prerequisite for real reform.
2. - economic analysis. Marx made a real head start with his
economic analysis but got disastrously sidetracked with another
colossal blunder. Marx through his studies had determined that 'the
expropriation of the masses from the soil' was the basis of the
'capitalist mode of production'. Again and again he virtually gives a
Georgist analysis of this. In fact, a Georgist can read many marxist
passages with instruction and profit looking at it from the Georgist
perspective. But again he made an assumption, that the market/price
system could or should be dispensed with in a more 'advanced'
He failed to perceive (or was unwilling to admit) that the single tax
was in fact adequate to the task of destroying capitalism as an
exploitative class system.
He also failed to perceive that modern production and economies could
not even function without the aid of the price system. Famously, in
Capital he fails to specify how production will occur in 'socialist'
society and with a wave of the hand dismisses the whole question by
saying he is not providing a 'recipe' for the 'cook shops of the
future.' What a blunder!
George, of course, avoids both these blunders but his voice was not
heard where it mattered. Our task is speak the truth of the Georgist
message, in the places where it counts.