The Marxian Crisis and Neo-Marxians

The Marxian Crisis and The Neo-Marxians

To speak of Neo-Marxism, which is of quite recent growth, is to anticipate the chronological order somewhat, but some such procedure seems imperative in the interests of logical sequence. It has the further merit of dispensing with any attempt at criticism, a task which the Neo-Marxians have exclusively taken upon their own shoulders.

The two phases of the crisis must needs be kept distinct. The one, which is predominantly critical—or reformative, if that phrase be preferred—is best represented by M. Bernstein and his school. The other, which is more or less of an attempt to revive Marxism, has become current under the name of Syndicalism.

1. The Neo- Marxian Reformists

If we take Marx's economic theories one by one as we have done, we shall find that there is nothing very striking in any of them, and that even the most important of them will not stand critical scrutiny. We might even go farther and say that this work of demolition is partly due to the posthumous labours of Marx himself. It was the publication of his later volumes that served to call attention to the serious contradiction between the later and the earlier sections of his work. Marxism itself, it seems, fell a prey to that law of self-destruction which threatened the overthrow of the whole capitalistic regime. Some of Marx's disciples have, of course, tried to justify him by claim­ing that the work is not self-contradictory, but that the mere enumera­tion of the many conflicting aspects of capitalistic production strikes the mind as being contradictory. If this be so, then Kapital is just a new edition of Proudhon's Contradictions economiques, which Marx had treated with such biting ridicule. And if the capitalist regime is really so full of contradictions that are inherent in its very nature, how difficult it must be to tell whether it will eventuate in collectivism or not and how very rash is scientific prophecy about annihilation and a final catastrophe!

With the beginning of the twentieth century the fundamental theory of Marxism, that of labour-value, was abandoned by a great number of modern Marxians, who were gradually veering round and adopting either the 'final utility' or the 'economic equilibrium' theory. Even Marx himself, despite his formal acceptance of the labour-value theory, is constantly obliged to admit—not explicitly, of course—that value depends upon demand and supply. Especially is this the case with profits, as we have already had occasion to remark. What appears as an indisputable axiom in the first volume is treated as a mere working hypothesis in the later ones.

But seeing that the other Marxian doctrines—the theories of surplus value and surplus labour, for example—are mere deductions from the principle of labour-value, it follows that the overthrow of the first principle must involve the ruin of the other two. If labour does not necessarily create value, or if value can be created without labour, then there is no proof that labour always begets a surplus value and that the capitalist's profit must largely consist of unremunerated labour. The Neo-Marxians in reply point to the fact that surplus labour and surplus value do exist, else how could some individuals live without working? They must obviously be dependent upon the labour of others.1 All this is very true, but the fact had been announced by Sismondi long before, and the evil had been denounced both by him and the English critics. It is the old problem of unearned increment which formed the basis of Saint-Simon's doctrine and Rodbertus's theory, and which was taken up by the English Fabians.

It is difficult to see what definite contribution Marx has made to the question, and the old problem as to whether workers are really exploited or not and whether the revenues obtained by the so-called idle classes correspond to any real additional value contributed by themselves still remains unsettled. We can only say that his historical exposition contains several very striking instances which seem to prove this exploitation, and that this is really the most solid part of his work.

Passing on to the law of concentration—the vertebral column of the Marxian doctrine—we shall find upon examination that it is in an equally piteous condition. The most unsparing critic in this case has been a socialist of the name of Bernstein, who has adduced a great number of facts—many of them already advanced by the older economists—which go to disprove the Marxian theory, and which may be summarized as follows. It may be impossible to deny that the number of great industries is increasing rapidly and that their power is growing even more rapidly than their numbers, but it certainly does not seem as if the small proprietors and manufacturers were being ousted. Statistics, on the contrary, show that the number of small independent manufacturers (the artisans who, according to Marxian theory, had begun to disappear as far back as the fourteenth century) is actually increasing. Some new invention, such as photography, cycling, or the application of electricity to domestic work, or the revival of an industry such as horticulture, gives rise to a crowd of small industries and new manufacturers.

But concentration as yet has scarcely made an appearance even in agriculture, and all the efforts of the Marxians to make this industry fit in with their theory have proved utterly useless. America as well as Europe has been laid under tribute with a view to supplying figures that would prove their contention. The statistics, however, are so confusing that directly opposite conclusions may be drawn from the same set of figures. The amount of support which they lend to the Marxian contention seems very slight indeed. On the whole they may be said to lend colour to the opposite view that the number of businesses is at least keeping pace with the growth of population. Were this to be definitely verified it would set a twofold check upon the Marxian theory. Not only would it be proved that petite culture is on the increase, but it would also be found that it is on the increase simply because it is more productive than 'the great industry.'

But suppose for the sake of hypothesis that we accept the law of concentration as proved. That in itself is not enough to justify the Marxian doctrine. To do this statistics proving an increasing concen­tration of property in the hands of fewer individuals are also necessary; but in this case the testimony of the figures is all in the opposite direc­tion. We must not be deceived by the appearance of that remarkable species the American millionaire. There are men who are richer than the richest who ever lived before, but there are also more men who are fairly rich than ever was the case before The number of men who make a fortune—not a very great one, perhaps, but a moderate-sized or even a small one—is constantly growing. Joint-stock companies, which according to the Marxian view afforded striking evidence of the correctness of his thesis, have, on the contrary, resulted in the distribution of property between a greater number of people, which proves that the concentration of industry and the centralization of property are two different things. Or take the wonderful development of the co-operative movement, and reflect upon the number of prole­tarians who have been transformed into small capitalists entirely through its instrumentality. To think that expropriation in the future will be easier because the number of expropriated will be few seems quite contrary to facts. It looks as if it were the masses, whose num­bers are daily increasing, who will have to be expropriated, after all. More than half the French people at the present day possess property of one kind or another—movable property, land, or houses. And yet the collectivists never speak except with the greatest contempt of these rag-ends and tatters of property, fondly imagining that when the day of expropriation comes the expropriated will joyfully throw their rags aside in return for the blessings of social co-proprietorship. Apparently, however, the Marxians themselves no longer believe all this. Their language has changed completely, and just now they are very anxious to keep these rags and tatters in the hands of their rightful owners.

The changes introduced into the programme as a result of this have transformed its character almost completely. When it was first drawn up and issued as a part of the Communist Manifesto nearly a hun­dred years ago everybody expected that the final disappearance of the small proprietor was a matter of only a few years, and that at the end of that time property of every description would be concentrated in the hands of a powerful few. This continuous expropriation would, of course, swell the ranks of the proletariat, so that compared with their numbers the proprietors would be a mere handful. This would make the final expropriation all the easier. With such disparity in numbers the issue was a foregone conclusion, no matter what method was employed, were it a revolution or merely a parliamentary vote.

Unfortunately for the execution of this programme, not only do we find the great capitalist still waxing strong, which is quite in accordance with the orthodox Marxian view, but there is no evidence that the small proprietor or manufacturer is on the wane. The Marxian can scarcely console himself with the thought that the revo­lution is gradually being accomplished without opposition when he sees hundreds of peasant proprietors, master craftsmen, and small shopkeepers on every side of him. Nor is there much chance of forcing this growing mass of people, which possibly includes the majority of the community even now, to change its views. We can hardly expect them to be very enthusiastic about a programme that involves their own extinction.

A distinction has obviously been drawn between two classes of proprietors. The socialization of the means of production is only to apply to the case of wealthy landowners and manufacturers on a large scale—to those who employ salaried persons. But the property of the man who is supporting himself with the labour of his own hands will always be respected. The Marxians defend themselves from the reproach of self-contradiction and opportunism by stating that their action is strictly in accordance with the process of evolution. You begin by expropriating those industries that have arrived at the capitalistic and wage-earning stage. The criterion must be the presence or otherwise of a surplus value.

The conclusion is logical enough, but one would like to know what is going to become of the small independent proprietor. Will he be allowed to grow and develop alongside of the one great proprietor— the State? We can hardly imagine the two systems coexisting and hopelessly intermingled, as they would have to be, but still with freedom for the individual to choose between them. The collectivists have at any rate made no attempt to disguise the fact. They look upon it merely as a temporary concession to the cowardice of the small proprietor, who will presently willingly abandon his own miser­able bit of property in order to share in the benefits of the new regime, or who will at any rate be put out of the running by its economic superiority. But since the prospects do not seem very attractive to those immediately concerned, it may be as well to dispense with any further consideration of the subject.

But there is another question. What has become of the class struggle in Neo-Marxism? The doctrine, though not altogether denied, is no longer presented as a deadly duel between two classes and only two, but as a kind of confused melee involving a great number of classes, which makes the issue of the conflict very uncertain. The picture of society as consisting merely of two superimposed layers is dismissed as being altogether too elementary. On the contrary, what we find is increasing differentiation even within the capitalist class itself. There is a perpetual conflict going on between borrower and lender, between manufacturer and merchant, between trader and landlord, the last of which struggles is especially prominent in the annals of politics. It has a long history, but in modern times it has taken the form of a political battle between the Conservative and Liberal parties.

These undercurrents complicate matters a great deal, and on occa­sion they have a way of dramatically merging with the main current, when both parties seek the help of the proletariat. In England, for example, the manufacturers succeeded in repealing the Corn Laws, which dealt a hard blow at the landed proprietors, who in turn passed laws regulating the conditions of labour in mines and factories. In both cases the working classes gained something—tertius gaudens! Then there are the struggles among the working classes themselves. Not to speak of the bitter animosity between the syndicats rouges and the syndicats jaunes, there is the rivalry between syndicalists and non-syndicalists, between skilled workmen and the unskilled. As Leroy-Beaulieu remarks, not only have we a fourth estate, but there are many signs of a fifth.

And what of the great catastrophe? The Neo-Marxians no longer believe in it. The economic crises which furnished the principal argu­ment in support of the catastrophic theory are by no means as terrible as they were when Marx wrote. They are no longer regarded as of the nature of financial earthquakes, but much more nearly resemble the movements of the sea, whose ebb and flow may to some extent be calculated.

And the materialistic conception of history? "Every unbiased person must subscribe to that formula of Bernstein: The influence of technico-economic evolution upon the evolution of other social institutions is becoming less and less."1 What a number of proofs of this we have! Marxism itself furnishes us with some. The principle of class war and the appeal to class prejudice owe much of the hold which they have to a feeling of antagonism against economic fatalism. In other words, they draw much of their strength from an appeal to a certain ideal. It is, of course, true that facts of very different charac­ter, economic, political, and moral, react upon one another, but can anyone say that some one of them determines all the others? Econo­mists have been forced to recognize this, and the futile attempt to discover cause or effect has recently given place to a much more promising search for purely reciprocal relations.

It is by no means easy to determine how much Marxism there is in Neo-Marxism. "Is there anything beyond the formulae which we have quoted, and which are becoming more disputable every day? Is it anything more than a philosophical theory which purports to explain the conflicts of society?"2 Bernstein tells us somewhere that socialism is just a movement, and that "the movement is everything, the end is nothing."

2. The Neo-Marxian Syndicalists

Doctrinaire Marxism seemed languishing when a number of professed disciples found a fresh opportunity of reviving its ideals and of justifying its aims in a new movement of a pre-eminently working-class character known as Syndicalism.

Our concern is not with the reformist movement, occasionally spoken of as Trade Unionism, which constitutes the special province of M. Bernstein and the Neo-Marxians of his school, but rather with militant syndicalism, which as yet scarcely exists anywhere except in France and Italy, and which in France is represented by the Con­federation generale du Travail.
What connexion is there between Marxism and syndicalism? Of conscious, deliberate relationship there is scarcely any. The men who direct the Confederation have never read Marx, possibly, and would hardly concern themselves with the application of his doctrines. On the other hand, we have been told by Sorel that the programme of the Confederation geneVale du Travail (OCT.) is in strict conformity with the Marxian doctrine; that since the reforming passion has so seized hold of the Neo-Marxians as to drive them to undermine the older doctrine altogether, it is necessary to turn to the new school to find the pure doctrine. They make the further claim of having aroused new enthusiasm for the Marxian doctrines.

(a) Firstly, Georges Sorel and his followers have re-emphasized the essentially proletarian character of socialism. Not only is there to be no dealing with capitalist or entrepreneur, but no quarter is to be given to intellectuals or politicians. The professional labour syndicate is to exclude every one who is not a workman, and it has no interest at heart other than that of the working class. Contempt for intellectualism is a feature of Marxism, and so is the emphasis laid upon the beauty and worth of labour, not of every kind of labour, but merely of that labour which moulds or transforms matter—that is, of purely manual labour.

No institution seems better fitted to develop class feeling—that is, the sense of community of interests binding all the proletarians together against the owners—than the syndicai. Organization is necessary if social consciousness is to develop. This is as true in the economic as it is in the biological sphere, and this is why the syndicat is just what was needed to transform the old socialistic conception into real socialism. Marx could not possibly have foreseen the vast potentialities of the syndicat. If he had only known it how his heart would have rejoiced! The Neo-Marxians can never speak of syndicalism without going into raptures. No other new source of energy seems left in this tottering middle-class system. But syndicalism has within it the promise of a new society, of a new philosophy, even of a new code of morality which we may call producers' ethics, which will have its roots in professional honour, in the joy that comes from the accomplishment of some piece of work, and in their faith in progress.

(b) New stress has been laid upon the philosophy of class war, and a fresh appeal has been made for putting it into practice. The only real, sensible kind of revolution is that which must sooner or later take place between capitalists on the one hand and wage-earners on the other, and this kind of revolution can only be effected by appealing to class feeling and by resorting to every instrument of conflict, strikes, open violence, etc. All attempts at establishing an understanding with the bourgeois class, every appeal for State intervention or for con­cessions, must be abandoned. Explicit trust must be placed in the method of direct action.

Strife is to be the keynote of the future, and in the pending struggle every trace of bourgeois legalism will be ruthlessly swept aside. The fighting spirit must be kept up, not with a view to the intensification of class hatred, but simply in order to hand on the torch.

The struggle has hitherto been the one concern of the revolutionary syndicalists. Unlike the socialists, they have never paid any attention either to labour or to social organization. All this has, fortunately, been done by the capitalist, and all that is required now is simply to remove him.

(c) Nor has the catastrophic thesis been forgotten. This time it has been revived, not in the form of a financial crisis, but in the guise of a general strike. What will all the bourgeois generalship, all the artillery of the middle class, avail in a struggle of that kind? What is to be done when the worker just folds his arms and instantly brings all social life to a standstill, thus proving that labour is really the creator of all wealth? And although one may be very sceptical as to the possibility of a general strike—the scepticism is one that is fully shared in by the syndicalists themselves—still this "myth," as Sorel calls it, must give a very powerful stimulus to action, just as the Christians of the early centuries displayed wonderful activity in view of their expectation of the second coming of Christ.

The word 'myth' has been a great success, not so much among working men, to whom it means nothing at all, but among the intel­lectuals. It is very amusing to think that this exclusively working-class socialism, which is not merely anti-capitalist, but also violently anti-intellectual, and which is to "treat the advances of the bourgeoisie with undisguised brutality," is the work of a small group of 'intel­lectuals ' possessed of remarkable subtlety, and even claiming kinship with Bergsonian philosophy.2 A myth, perhaps! But what difference is there between being under the dominion of a myth and following in the wake of a star such as guided the wise men of the East, or being led by a pillar of flame or a cloud such as went before the Israelites on their pilgrimage towards the Promised Land?3 Such faith and hopeborrowed from the armoury of the triumphant Church of the first century, such a conception of progress which swells its followers with a generous, almost heroic passion, puts us out of touch with the historic materialism so dear to the heart of Marx and brings us into line with the earlier Utopian socialists whom he so genuinely despised. Sorel recognizes this. "You rarely meet with a pure myth," says he, "without some admixture of Utopianism."