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Marx? Not as we know him… or, why bother quoting from Das Kapital when you can make up any old rubbish? January 28, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Marxism, Society, Uncategorized.
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I was at a meeting last week when someone asked me had I received the email doing the rounds with the quote from Marx that prophesied the current financial crisis. No was my response, what was in it? The person was a bit vague, but apparently Marx had foreseen all the details including the collapse of banks, their nationalisation and ultimately how communism would be the only answer.

Now, I could have been cheered, but somehow I didn’t recall anything about ‘nationalisation of the banks’ as an aspect of Marx’s thesis, or at least not in that precise formulation. Or indeed the idea that banks would collapse. That level of detail, or rather that oddity, didn’t strike me as ringing entirely true.

So I asked them to forward me it…

Here it is in all its glory…

“Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalized, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism.”

Karl Marx, 1867

Got to love the date… but curiously no reference to the original text is given. Which is hardly surprising since it’s a construct in every detail. It’s all over the internet if you google it, but this post at least recognises it for what it is…

I guess I could still be cheered that a broad non-Marxist, or non-Marxist influenced, swathe of the population is at least being exposed to his name, if not his actual thinking, but I’m not really. It just seems to me that whoever ‘composed’ the piece threw it in because it was the only oppositional handle they could think of.

And I haven’t found the energy to say anything about it to my colleague.

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Comments»

1. Starkadder - January 28, 2009

Used to pass a whole shelf of the Big Beardy’s works in the UCC library,
but I never went beyond “The Communist Manifesto”.

Mind you, a few years ago my aunt was complaining about how
“unrealistic” the SWP’s aims were. “They’re still dreaming about
nationalising the banks!” ;) .

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2. WorldbyStorm - January 28, 2009

Well now we know statism – at least of the nationalising variety isn’t the answer… or at least that it can be turned to the rights advantage…

I’ll be the first to admit I never read DK. Tried to. Dipped in. Dipped out fairly sharpish. Never succeeded.

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3. Garibaldy - January 28, 2009

I saw this story earlier this or last week in the Daily Telegraph I think it was. I think they were suggesting it was a banker’s joke.

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4. WorldbyStorm - January 29, 2009

It’s certainly doing the rounds…

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5. Wednesday - January 29, 2009

That set off my bullshit detector too. Must forward that link to the person who sent me that quote!

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6. ejh - January 29, 2009

I Googled part of it and immediately realised it was a fake when none of the URLs were anything to do with Marxism or leftwing politics. Westhamonline was one of them, I recall.

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7. Crocodile - January 29, 2009

Isn’t the word ‘technology’ a bit of a giveaway?

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8. ejh - January 29, 2009

Probably, but as the passage would have originally been written in German, it could be claimed that the translation was modern and used an anachronistic term…

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9. WorldbyStorm - January 29, 2009

It’s not even the tone of Marx… and yet… interesting that it should appear now.

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10. John O'Farrell - January 29, 2009

OK, so the Old Man didn’t say that, but he did say this, at an after-dinner chat in 1956.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1856/04/14.htm

“In our days, everything seems pregnant with its contrary: Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labour, we behold starving and overworking it; The newfangled sources of wealth, by some strange weird spell, are turned into sources of want.”

I used a chunk of that in a piece for AgendaNI which is due out next week. Marx wrote millions of words on the first global economy, so he was bound to get some stuff right. How similar it is to the widely quoted sentiments of Alan Ahearne:
“The mess in which the Irish economy finds itself largely stems from the house price bubble, not from problems in the public sector. It is probably not a coincidence that some of the most vocal critics of the public sector today were among the most conspicuous cheerleaders for the housing boom.”

If you really want to watch some of that cheerleading, watch my hero Morgan Kelly on Prime Time in 2007, with my old sparring buddy Jim Power of Friends First (no conflict of interest, then).

http://www.rte.ie/news/2007/0417/primetime_av.html?2239303,null,230

Keep up the good work.

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11. Phil - January 29, 2009

ejh – “as the passage would have originally been written in German, it could be claimed that the translation was modern”

Translators of Marx always have to be a bit free – compare J O’F’s quote – “The newfangled sources of wealth”. Unless of course that’s a direct translation of the German term neugefangelt, in which case will I my coat get.

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12. skidmarx - January 29, 2009

“but he did say this, at an after-dinner chat in 1956.”

While his spirit was leading the Hungarian revolt?

Hal Draper’s “Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution” is very good on How Not To Quote Marx. I believe that’s the title of one of the prefaces.After reading that I looked at Isaiah Berlin’s book on Marx and saw that he was an example of the soddy standards of marxology which would be considered unacceptable about other authors.

I do have many of the Collected Works though I haven’t read that much of it. There is a great article from 1843 or 1844 where he talks about how the possession of wealth gives its possessor an authority I’ve never seen quoted anywhere.

It was the last line:”the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism” that set off alarm bells for me: the emancipation of the working-class is the act of the capitlaist state’s response to crisis.

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13. Seán Báite - January 30, 2009

ejh – none of the URLs were anything to do with Marxism or leftwing politics. Westhamonline was one of them

But aren’t they originally the works team of an iron works (hence the nickname /crest ) ? I do realise their hooligan gangs have very little to do with the left of the spectrum alright – but I reckon there weren’t too many city trader badboys in the early days.
If he was alive in 1956 (;->) and hadn’t moved from London – I think they would’ve been his local team (unless he was a Spurs man).

I also seem to recall a passage in Volume IV that confirms they’ll avoid relegation again this year… :-) Or is it just the translation ?

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14. ejh - January 30, 2009

unless he was a Spurs man

Don’t confuse Tottenham Hotspur with the pubs on Tottenham Court Road…

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15. Seán Báite - January 30, 2009

I get most things confused, ejh – esp. if they have anything to do with London :-)

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16. ejh - January 30, 2009

You’re not the only one. Amazing number of people get off the Tube at White Hart Lane thinking it’s the right one for the football ground (also see “Queen’s Park”).

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17. Jim Monaghan - January 30, 2009

http://www.marxists.org/

The above allows you to search the works of Marx and most of his followers including Connolly.It is an amazing archive and it is in a number of languages.It even has the relatively obscure such as Daniel DeLeon or Dandilion as my partner refers to him.
Jim Monaghan

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18. NollaigO - January 30, 2009

Going astray in London:

On my first visit to London in 1965 [correct date!] I decided to go to Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park on Sunday afternoon. So I got the tube to Hyde Park Corner! [Geddit?!]
After wandering around for many minutes, there was no sight of Speakers’ Corner. In the distance I could hear chanting. Moving towards the sounds, I came across a protest march: Young Socialist banners demanding ” Tory Wilson out!” Chants of ” Victory to the VietCong ” All this was was highly disorientating to my then political awareness: Wilson a Tory?! Wern’t the Young Socialists in the Labour Party and not communists?! Was I really in London?!
My sense of equilibrium was restored by the old woman besides me who was out walking the poodles and also stopped to observe the demo. After a robust sequence of “Out! Out! Out!” she turned to her husband and observed ” I suppose the it keeps them occupied on a Sunday afternoon”
I knew then that I was in London.

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19. ejh - January 30, 2009

The above allows you to search the works of Marx and most of his followers including Connolly

Not much good on the Victoria Line though….

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20. Leveller on the Liffey - January 30, 2009

Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, Chelsea and Millwall weren’t founded till after Marx died in 1883. That said, Tottenham (as Hotspur FC) were established a year before the famous left winger turned up his toes so Sir Alan Sugar may have followed in some really famous footsteps.

Jim Monaghan: Thanks for the Marx link. That’s why I like CLR so much: interesting AND useful.

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21. PJ Callan - January 31, 2009

A great archive for Marxist works is at –

http://www.marx2mao.com

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22. Leveller on the Liffey - February 1, 2009

Cheers, PJ.

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23. WorldbyStorm - February 1, 2009

Fascinating stuff PJ. Thanks.

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24. Starkadder - February 1, 2009

“It even has the relatively obscure such as Daniel DeLeon or Dandilion as my partner refers to him.”

That reminds me-the late Thomas M. Disch wrote a humourous poem called “The Tale of Dan De Lion”.

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25. CL - February 1, 2009

The Times (London) copped on to this ‘marxian quote’ some weeks ago. But then they print:
_’Albert Einstein had a specific theory about the relativity of man and bee. “If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe,” he is supposed to have said, “then man would only have four years of life left.”’ –
This one has been traveling around the ‘net too but without any proof that Einstein ever said it.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article5604401.ece

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26. Starkadder - February 1, 2009

I assume at least one CLR poster has read Rius’ “Marx For Beginners”
or “Introducing Marx”, as it’s also known? I have a whole shelf full of
Icon’s “Introducing” series.

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27. ejh - February 2, 2009
28. skidmarx - February 2, 2009

26. Marx For Beginners isn’t that good (assumes Marx would have liked “actually existing socialism”). What is really good is “Marx’s Capital For Beginners” by David Smith and Phil Evans, which unfortunately only seems to have had one edition, which lays out Capital for beginners like it says on the tin.

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29. Sean - February 2, 2009

OK, admittedly, this particular quote is not what Marx said in his own words. However, it does fit rather neatly into standard Marxist theories of crisis, due to the declining rate of profit of capital. Consider the following quote from Marx:

‘Under all circumstances, a portion of the old capital would be compelled to lie fallow, to give up its capacity of capital and stop acting and producing value as such. The competitive struggle would decide what part would have to go into this fallow state. So long as everything goes well, competition effects a practical brotherhood of the capitalist class as we have seen in the case of the average rate of profit, so that each shares in the common loot in proportion to the magnitude of his share of investment. But as soon as it is no longer a question of sharing profits, but of sharing losses, everyone tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and load as much as possible upon the shoulders of some other competitor … competition then transforms itself into a fight of hostile brothers. The antagonism of the interests of the individual capitalists and those of the capitalist class as a whole then makes itself felt as previously the identity of these interests impressed itself practically as competition’ (Marx, Capital Volume III p248 (Translation Kerr ed. Volume III p.297)).

The quote, and a nice explanation of Marxist crisis theory, can be found here: http://www.marxists.org/subject/economy/authors/yaffed/1972/mtccs/mtccs3.htm#ref3b

The falling rate of profit from non-performing loans, in this case, leads to a seizure in the credit market between banks, which leads to companies no longer financing their operations, which leads to layoffs – in turn generating the social tension that leads to some form of crisis conflict and alters the mode of production. It may not alter it into communism, but it does need to reduce the concentration of capital, to re-inflate the rate of profit.

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30. Dublin Opinion » Blog Archive » Trading Capital on Fake Quotes - February 4, 2009

[...] Prescient, eh? Except of course, as WorldbyStorm points out, it’s a fake. [...]

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