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Marx's Legacy

Marx died in 1883 at the age of 64. Engels put together Marx's unfinished second volume of Capital, its subtitle: The Process of Circulation of Capital. It went to press in 1885, and, like Volume I, it didn't sell. Engels did the same for Marx's third volume, subtitled The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole. It covered Marx's thoughts on the rise and fall of rates of profit leading to an inevitable collapse of the capitalist order. It went to press in 1894 and also didn't sell.

Marx had attempted to be scientific. In his speech at Marx's grave, Engels said, "Just as Darwin discovered the law of development or organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history." Many would disagree. In the 20th century the philosopher Bertrand Russell would describe Marx as not scientific but the "last of the great system-builders."

note112

Marx knew he was prejudicial in his formulations. Marx's labor theory of value and his "surplus value" were calculations he intended to demonstrate capitalist exploitation of wage earners. The sociologist-economist Vilfred Pereto (1848-1924) applauded Marx's recognition of class struggle but not his labor theory of value, and he viewed Marx's classless society as a utopian illusion.

Karl Marx

The sociologist Max Weber (1864-1924) complained that collective ownership of the means of production would abolish any kind of efficient calculation and produce gross inefficiency, and he claimed that in a Marxist society people would still be working under a hierarchy, made worse by the hierarchy's fusion with state power.

The economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946 ) would claim like Marx that a capitalist economy would not automatically right itself from a crisis if it were just left alone, but Keynes believed Marx's economics was "scientifically erroneous" and not applicable to the modern world.

As to Marx's influence, Russia's Georgi Plekhanov (1856-1918) founded a Marxist organization toward the end of Marx's life. And with Plekhanov in Russia was Vladimir Lenin. Lenin was adamantly for revolution, seeing himself as an orthodox follower of Marx and Engels, and Lenin was vituperative in his denunciations of the "revisionists" who believed in reforms.

The historian Joyce Appleby writes of a contribution by Marx that is historical rather than a tool for analysis today. She writes:

What Marx and his followers got right was the coherence of a new class of owners determined to use its influence and money to secure policies that favored its interests. note113

The somewhat conservative sociologist Francis Fukuyama offers his opinion that ideas do not become powerful unless they speak to the concerns of large numbers of ordinary people. Fukuyama claims that the Marxist scenario was undermined as "the real living standards of the industrial working class kept rising." note114

Sources

Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution, by Mary Gabriel, 2011.

The Relentless Revolution: the History of Capitalism, by Joyce Appleby, 2010

The Worldly Philosophers, by Robert L Heilbroner, 1986.

Politics and Opinion in the19th Century, by John Bowle, 1964.

Six people take sides on the motion Marx was right, Intelligence Squared, April 2013

"The Revenge of Karl Marx," by Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Magazine, April 2009

 

Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.