Jack Fitzgerald

Marx's Theories Debated

Source: Socialist Standard, August 1910.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2016). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

We take from the Manchester Chronicle of June 18 the following report of a debate which took place at the Rusholme Public Hall between J. Fitzgerald, representing the Socialist Party, and Mr. G. W. de Tunzelmann, B.Sc., M.I.E.E., representing the Anti-Socialist Union. The subject of the debate was "That the theoretic system of Karl Marx is unsound."

Mr. de Tunzelmann said the three doctrines of Marx which he wished to dispose of were first his materialistic view of society; secondly, his economic theory; and thirdly, Marx's views of the "class war." Marx had emphatically declared atheism to be essential to his system; no doubt because materialism was prevalent at the time he wrote. Nowadays materialism was a dead horse, and not even a fifth rate thinker supported it. Without flogging a dead horse he would certainly like to know how the materialist would account for a man's conviction of his own personal identity with what he was twenty years ago, although in that time every particle in his body had been renewed more than once. Thus the very foundation of Marx's economic system was rotten at the very beginning. The foundation of Marx's economic theory was his theory of exchange-value, which was that the exchange-value of a commodity, i.e., the price it fetched in the open market, was determined by the material and the labour put into that material. He admitted the varying quality of labour, and that it must contain brain work and hand work. This was the right view of value, according to which the price or value of any commodity was determined by the amount of hand and brain labour spent upon it, the cost of the material, and the law of supply and demand. Marx, however, dropped out the cost of the material, claiming that this could be expressed in terms of labour only, as though sand could be turned into gold dust if only enough labour were spent upon it. He also stated that brain work could be expressed in terms of hand work. By way of illustrating the utter absurdity of Marx's theory of the exchange-value of a commodity the speaker instanced the case of a trawler which in a haul of an hour took up a large number of fish, and in the next haul a large tree stump which had broken the net and allowed the fish to escape. Yet according to Marx's idea of ignoring the material and counting only the labour, the two hauls were of the same value, nay, the value of the last was even greater, because the time taken up in repairing the net after the second haul had to be included. In fact Marx's theory was only part of the practical exchange value, just as a watch case was part of a watch, and his economic arguments were mere thimble-rigging. In business transactions Marx talked about what he called "surplus-value," which was, he assumed, obtained by robbing the worker of half his wages, and was the equivalent of capital. Afterwards he asserted that all profit, as well as capital, was obtained by robbing the worker of part of his wages. This involved the obvious absurdity that no profit could be made on fixed capital, i.e., buildings, machinery, and so on; but only on variable capital which was expended in wages. He also made the false assumption that the capitalist did no work, ran no risk, and had no share in the industrial process, though elsewhere he admitted that the same capitalist had to arrange the conditions of production and organise the process so as to attain success. Besides this, and without attempting to prove what he said, he stated that all capitalists were simply robbers, and the necessity for a class war between them and the workers followed as a natural consequence. Capital, like other forms of wealth, might be transferred by robbery from one holder to another, but before this could be done it had to be called into being, and no process of robbery could do that. On the basis that all capital was a fixed quantity, and its accumulation only possible by robbing the worker, Marx concluded that the working classes must be growing poorer, and predicted that sooner or later a bloody revolution would be the result. He also contended that machinery gave the capitalist greater power over the workers and increased their poverty. Both conclusions were in direct conflict to historical fact.

Mr. Fitzgerald said his opponent had claimed that no fifth rate thinker accepted Marx's materialistic conception of history, yet Lewis H. Morgan, probably the greatest ethnologist that ever lived, discovered independently this basis of society, and laid it down in his book, Ancient Society. Another writer, Professor Seligmann, of Columbia University, said in his Economic Interpretation of History, "Whether or no we agree with Marx's analysis of industrial society. it is safe to say that, perhaps with the exception of Ricardo. there has been no more original, no more powerful, and no more acute intellect in the entire history of economic science." This was from an opponent of Socialism, and, when taken into consideration with what other economic writers like Jenks, Thorold Rogers, and Loria had said, quite disproved Mr. de Tunzelmann's statement. Men like Bain, Haeckel, and Spencer were materialists, the statements of the last named in his Data of Ethics being rank materialism. If mind remained whilst matter changed, as Mr. de Tunzelmann had stated, then persons whilst passing from childhood to old age had the same mind as they were born with ! To talk of mind being independent of matter was absurd. No one ever saw the two apart, or saw mind acting without a body. Many wild and inaccurate statements were made about Marx, who gave a sketch of the materialist conception of history in his preface to The Critique of Political Economy. Mr. de Tunzelmann disputed Marx's analysis of value and denied that surplus-value came from labour power. That needed examination. All wealth consisted of two elements—the material provided by nature, and the human energy necessary to convert that material into a form suitable for man's use. This was the only source of wealth. If any section existed in society who enjoyed the best of life without doing anything towards its production, obviously they could only do so by robbing the producers. Who were the producers ? The working class. You never saw a capitalist going down a mine to dig coal, nor driving an express engine, nor building the tall chimneys, etc. All these things were done by members of the working class, and by them alone. Hence the wealth the capitalist class enjoyed was stolen from the workers.

Mr. de Tunzelmann had waxed very eloquent over the risks the capitalist ran of losing his money, and how he deserved rewarding for this risk. Well, which was more important, inanimate things or animate life? And we had juet had an example at Whitehaven, where 137 miners had lost their lives for profit, showing how the workers risked their lives in mine, mill, and factory every day. What was the employers' risk compared to this ?

Mr. de Tunzelmann said the contention that mind must be an entity independent of matter was no ground for the absurd conclusion that a man's mind underwent no development during his life-time. Herbert Spencer was not a materialist, neither was Haeckel, and Bain, another authority quoted by Mr. Fitzgerald, was not, in any sense of the word, a first class thinker. Marx claimed that social relations were independent of the will, and that material conditions formed the only factor in social progress. Certainly those conditions formed a factor of fundamental importance, but not the only factor, because, if so, it was equal to saying that the personality of the engineer who changed the face of a country, as, for example, in the case of the Assouan dam, had nothing to do with the result. In regard to Mr. Fitzgerald's closing remarks he would suggest that it was not necessary for a capitalist to go down a coal mine any more than it was necessary or desirable for a general of the army to lead a cavalry charge. It was not claimed that brain work could do away with hand work, or vice versa, though the prices paid for both could be compared. Yet even then it did not follow that one could be expressed in terms of the other. If the capitalist paid for the direction of his capital, then his share was diminished by the amount so paid; it was not taken from the workers. Mr. de Tunzelmann congratulated his opponent on the skill he had shown in reading lengthy extracts which seemed to have little relevance to the subject, in order to plug up the holes that had been made in Marx's economics.

Mr. Fitzgerald claimed that his opponent had given away his case by admitting in the second speech what he denied in the first, namely, that material conditions were a factor of "great fundamental importance." The case of the engineer who designed the Assouan dam certainly proved nothing to the contrary. This was the "great man" theory that had been demolished by Spencer in his Study of Sociology. Spencer said the great man was the "resultant of an enormous aggregate of 'forces that have been co-operating for ages." The engineer was not born with, but acquired, his knowledge during his life, and it was the working class that supplied the things he required in order to live. Moreover, he was dependent upon many others, masons, navvies, and so on, for the construction of the dam, and even he himself was only the servant of the, capitalist. The comparison of brain and hand work was going on daily, and if the brain worker received £100 for his work and the hand worker £10 for his, obviously the work of the former was compared to the labour of ten manual workers. Turning to the illustration of the two hauls given in Mr. de Tuczelmann's first speech, Mr. Fitzgerald asserted that this was a misrepresentation, as it merely showed the waste constantly occuring in manufacturing processes which was generally recognised. In fact, in trying to prove that Marx only counted labour in his calculations and omitted the value of raw material, Mr. de Tunzelmann's own examples flatly contradicted him.

In his third speech Mr. de Tunzelmann said all the examples he had given of exchange-value, to which his opponent objected, fulfilled all Marx's conditions. The conclusions drawn were therefore a logical consequence of Marx's theory, and Mr. Fitzgerald would not be able to persuade people of greater intelligence than that possessed of a row of cabbages that this was not so. Mr. Fitzgerald appeared to glorify egotism, which was rather a surprising position for an avowed Socialist to take up. It was well to remember that the capitalist was not paid for providing the worker with work, but for paying him his wages every week, and providing buildings, machinery, etc.

Mr. Fitzgerald pointed out that his opponent still persisted in saying that Marx stated that the economic was the only factor, and that man was determined by his surroundings, and in view of that he would read Marx's own words, which were : "The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society—the real foundation upon which legal and political superstructures." Marx also said : "Man makes his own history, but he does not make it out of the whole cloth." On this point, continued Mr. Fitzgerald, he claimed complete victory. Then again, to say that the capitalist provided the workers with buildings, machinery, etc., was, in his opinion, begging the question. Where did the capitalist get them from? He did not produce them. The workers produced them as they produced all wealth. During the debate Mr. de Tunzelmann had not proved the unsoundness of one of Marx's theories. The materialist conception of history was supported by the great thinkers that had been quoted and by the facts of history itself; the theory of "surplus-value" had been proved by the general surplus in production as well as by the details of wages being less than the product; and finally it was apparent that a class straggle must exist where one class held the means of life and enslaved the other.