E. 22. Karl Marx [a] , [1]

Karl Marx

The name of Marx will immediately suggest to you, I have no doubt, the idea of socialism. Now, before coming to the particular contribution of Marx to the thought of his time, and his effect on ours, let us just ask ourselves--what meaning do we attach to the word "socialism"?

Socialism in its most general sense constitutes a protest against unequal distribution of wealth and income, of opportunity and well-being among the people. It proposes to introduce, whether gradually or by sudden revolution, a more equal distribution and therefore, it is urged, a juster order of society. This idea is a simple one; and it may be wondered why socialism has only come into prominence in comparatively recent times.

The fact is that civilisation itself, and anything in the way of criticism of an established order of society, are also of rather recent origin. For long ages man accepted without much question the political and social institutions, which he inherited, such as implicit obedience to an hereditary ruler, the inheritance of property by certain customary rules and so on. [2] Those institutions are often descended from pre-historic times, when life was hard and stern. They were probably not adopted by choice, but were necessary for his loosely organised existence, in family or tribe. That organisation--which we call society--enabled him to become lord of the world. With the institutions, he inherited a number of instincts, evolved in the remote past, which made living in society under these institutions a sort of second nature.

So you see, criticisms of institutions by reference to whether they are reasonable or just is a modern idea. It flourished for a brief space among the ancient Greeks, who did, as you know, think about what kind of government is best and why we should feel obliged to obey the law. It emerged again in English parliamentary struggles, largely based on religious protestantism, and in the French Revolution. It was chiefly directed to secure freedom from tyranny, and then equality of political rights. Should the King have absolute power; then, should he have a Parliament; then, what should the powers of the Parliament be as against the King; then, who should be in it? [3]

Next we may ask--supposing that privilege and tyranny are overthrown, the protection of law is made available for all, there is equal voting and elected assemblies; in short, complete equality of political rights for every individual--is this the end of criticism? Have we not to seek to match political freedom with economic freedom? Have we not to ask can men be free and equal politically, if they are not equal economically?

In the last hundred years many critical people have been asking, such questions as--"Is it possible for property to be unequally divided without the rich acquiring excessive power?" And the wider question--"Is not unequal distribution itself an injustice bound sooner or later to come up for criticism wherever there is freedom of thought and expression?"

I confess that I believe that it is. I think that socialism in this broad sense is bound to be on the programme of reform of all progressive and open-minded people. John Stuart Mill, one of the greatest Englishmen of the early Victorian period, already reached that conclusion. [4] I hope you will all read his books. [5]

Marx, who has had greater influence than any other individual socialist, thought so too. But Marx gave socialist thinking a particular twist of his own, which it is my duty to explain this afternoon.

Marx was born in Germany in 1818. His parents were Jews. His father, to save himself from persecution which revived in Germany after the overthrow of Napoleon, was officially received into the Christian church. He was a man of moderate and enlightened ideas. His son had a university education, and while he was at the university he was influenced by the latest ideas of the time. Germany was then suffering from a reactionary government; the ideas of the French Revolution of liberty and equality had not yet gained a firm footing on the Continent. This fact is important. We English have won political freedom by successive steps. It is natural for us to suppose that economic freedom and economic justice can also be secured by similar methods in the fullness of time, and to be content to leave it at that. But to someone living on the continent when the French Revolution has just been apparently proved a failure and the old despotic methods of government had come back, things were bound to seem otherwise. Marx felt that events had proved that victories on the political front would not hold good without a simultaneous victory on the economic front, that equality of political right could not be effective not even kept in being for long if property remained in the hands of a few capitalists. [6] The rich men--the capitalists--if they were left rich, would soon, Marx felt, put an end to political liberty for the poor. So Marx argued that it was futile for workers to rest content with the right to vote: they must get control of economic power, and hence, Marx argued, the necessity of a revolution which would put the economically oppressed classes into power, and give them control over the wealth of the nation.

Marx spent his early years in journalism. He wrote for a German paper and used it to spread his socialist ideas. But the Press was not free in Germany. He was harassed by the censorship, so he migrated to Paris in 1843, where he came in contact with other advanced and brilliant thinkers of many nationalities. He continued his propaganda, and was actively interested in the revolutions which occurred in many parts of Europe in the year 1848. In this year he published a pamphlet entitled the Communist Manifesto which embodies the leading ideas of his philosophy. [7]

He [8] came to England in 1849 under threat of the police, and remained here until his death in 1883. Here in London he lived in obscurity and extreme poverty. He spent most of his time reading in the British Museum, preparing his vast treatise on Capital in which his views were to be set out in full. [9] The first volume appeared in 1867; the other two were edited by his friend and collaborator, Engels, and only appeared after his death.

At the same time, he devoted himself to organising the socialist movement throughout Europe. [10]

I now come to the three peculiar contributions Marx made to socialist thought. [11]

First--he believed that events of history are not due to personal decisions on the part of people like Julius Caesar or Henry VIII or Napoleon. He believed that they are bound by natural law to follow each other in a certain order. In particular he believed that our economic system, which we may call capitalism, is necessarily bound to destroy itself by its own working [12] and that the property-less class will then seize power and after a transition period will be able to establish a class-less society. Some people, such as Mill, have thought of socialism as the triumph of reason and goodness; they pictured a number of sensible and high-minded men getting together, deciding to throw overboard our present system, and agreeing together, with mutual give and take, to establish a more decent system.

But Marx did not see things in this way. He saw the change as bound to come because the very system which capitalists were trying to work was doomed--as he thought he [b] knew--to destroy them; and then the property-less would come to power, not by anyone's leave, nor because it was wise and just, but because it was inevitable that they should, as that the melting of the mountain snows in China should bring down the Yangstse flood.

Now you might think that this idea of inevitability would be rather discouraging to socialist workers, since it would make their devotion and self-sacrifice appear unnecessary. But Marx consoles them with the reflection that they might make the transition more orderly and expeditious than if it were just left to chance. The coming floods could be directed into carefully prepared canals.

Moreover, it makes a strong appeal to men to feel that they are certainly on the winning side, especially if the why and wherefore of the certain victory is something of a mystery. [13] They pride themselves on knowing better than their neighbours what the inevitable outcome of things will be. They are the few clever men among a pack of blind fools.

The idea of the inevitability of the trend of history is not peculiar to Marx. His particular view of history is partly derived from that of a German philosopher called Hegel, who was the fashion when Marx was at Berlin University. Unhappily Hegel was a rather tortuous and muddled thinker, [14] and we find this same lack of clarity in Marx. If you try, when you are older, to follow Marx's thought you will soon be lost in long-winded phraseology, and you will inevitably be driven to the conclusion that most of it is meaningless word-spinning. [15] Marx's theory about the inevitably of history is called by the alarming name of dialectical materialism. I do not think that any impartial person who has had his mind disciplined by any really strict science, would fail to regard d[ialectical]. m[aterialism]. as the greatest nonsense.

On the other hand, when we leave Marx's theories about history, and come to his own particular interpretations of historical events, we find him much more brilliant and penetrating.

Well now, the second thing that was peculiar to Marx's kind of socialism was his insistence that all human action has an economic motive. By the economic motive we mean the quest for bread and butter and for all that money will buy. All historical events, Marx thought, may be described as being caused by desire for money, or what money will buy. The ambitions of potentates, the intrigues of statesmen and kings, the ideals of great men, religious movements, all these, Marx thought, are superficialities. The true underlying force is always economic self-seeking--the desire for money--particularly the self-interest of economic classes. [16]

Here Marx has done good work in stressing an important aspect of the truth, but it is possible that he overstates his case. He is often very shrewd, and telling when he tears down the veil of cant and self-righteousness which conceals plain economic self-interest.

There is quite a modern touch when he describes how men who parade disinterested idealism are often really actuated by sinister selfish motives. For example the powers that be when they support religion, do so, he thinks, not out of love of religion, but because religious teaching serves to make the working classes submissive. [17]

But is bread and butter the sole important motive? What about love of power over others for its own sake? Isn't that also a very important force? And what about the all pervasive influence of love, especially repressed love, of which you will hear in the talk on Freud a far deeper and subtler [c] thinker? [18] And I would add another motive, which seems especially important when we are thinking of socialism, a sense of justice, the will to abide by a system of rules of conduct, which reason shows to be conducive to the common good. Marx does not believe in the existence of such a force as the love of justice. Yet I believe that without it the organisation of man in an effective political society would have been much more difficult, if not impossible. [19]

I say that justice is especially to the point when we are thinking about socialism, for to the ordinary man it seems its strongest point. So you see that by excluding all recognition of it from his theory, Marx gave his theory of socialism [20] a peculiar twist which seems to take it right out of the straight line of human progress.

Not that Marx lacked a sense of justice himself. On the contrary, he had a burning sense of the injustices of the poor. But the fact that none the less he would not give justice a place in his explanation of history makes him perhaps seem what you and I would think double-faced.

You see, he might say to a king, "you pretend to administer justice, but you build up your ideas of justice in the way best calculated to feather your own nest", so we may say to Marx, "you pretend that socialism--the equal distribution of wealth--is but a recognition of the inevitable triumph of the superior force of the workers. But all the time, sir, you really believe in its triumph because you are convinced of its justice. Are you dealing fairly with us?" [d]

No theory is satisfactory that is not honest with itself. Whatever is the case in the practical world, in thought and science honesty alone can survive.

Well now, what was the third point we ought to think of in considering Marx's socialism? We must look at Marx as an economist. Economics, I expect you know, consists of the study of how our system of production and consumption, exchange, money, banking, insurance, and so on, actually works. Marx's ideas of how the system works are very important because he believed he understood the system better than anyone else. That was why he felt able to predict the inevitable march of events, the breakdown of capitalism and the triumph of the property-less class. Thus his economics is essentially linked with his idea of the inevitability of history. [21] The greater part of his life was devoted to studies in economic work and these studies were embodied in the huge volumes of his treatise on Capital--Das Kapital. He himself thought this book of the highest importance. He admitted that he owed most of his ideas to other economists, such as Adam Smith, Ricardo, and J. S. Mill, whose works he studied at the British Museum. But he owed more than he thought. He re-dressed their ideas in new and frightening words. [22] And I am afraid he did not always see the difference between giving a new name to an old idea and having a new idea. And it must also, alas, be recorded that his understanding of the writers whom he professed to follow was by no means perfect.

The fact is that Marx was not a clear or capable thinker. He had a lumbering, awkward sort of mind. In expounding some problem in economics, he often covers pages with elaborate arithmetical calculations and intricate arguments, when a brighter head could easily have reached the same conclusion in two or three lines. He was very dogged and persistent, but he was seriously handicapped by sheer lack of mental ability. [23] , [24] , [25]

What, then, was the secret of his great power over men for nearly a hundred years? He undoubtedly had vast industry and vast learning. I like to think of him as the father of economic history. And he had a burning and undivided passion to redress the ills of the downtrodden. He was fearlessly outspoken; and, when it came to exposing the shams and hypocrisies of prosperous and complacent people, he had a deft cunning combined with a heartfelt and withering scorn. When we think of the sufferings of the oppressed through long ages, we are bound to pay homage to the man who exposed their wrongs and castigated their oppressors with a rage and power that is without parallel before or since. And posterity will do him homage.

Yet I do not think he will have abiding power as a prophet. [26] He is too negative. A prophet must have sweetness and light. He must have a positive feeling for beauty and goodness. Marx is a great idol in Russia today; it is curious, for they have had their nineteenth century prophets, men like Tolstoi and Turgenev, Dostoewsky and Tchechov, who had a far deeper understanding of the suffering soul of man, and combined with it a deep understanding of his goodness. To compare Marx as a friend of the downtrodden with these men is like comparing a street orator with the prophets of Israel. But of course those Russians were simple story tellers with no claim to be scientific. [27]

And so perhaps we have the secret, that it was a combination of qualities in Marx which raised him so high. He was thinker enough to be called a philosopher, especially by those who are impressed by high-sounding words and elaborate tortured arguments. There is more than a touch of mystery-mongering in Marxism. If his system of thought will not stand examination, we must none the less admire the passion and tireless labour which he devoted to constructing it; we must admire his life, which by all ordinary standards was one of extreme squalor and misery, but was illuminated by sacrifice to a cause and by his own inner conviction and courage, steady and undeviating. And the cause, even if we do not like the particular twist he gave to it, with his emphasis on self-interest and force, remains a great cause--the lifting of their burdens from the downtrodden and the establishment of a class-less society.

  1. 1. This text is the outline of a broadcast lecture for the BBC National programme, delivered on 23 June 1939, addressed to sixth forms, following an invitation from Mary Somerville, educationist and broadcasting executive at the BBC (see letter 906 R); for the listeners' reactions see letter 915 R from Somerville.

    Of this document three versions are extant (see source note a to this essay for references to their respective location). The older is a script, probably transcribed from an outline submitted by Harrod, with numerous extensive suggestions from the editor mainly regarding the form of the speech (but also pointing out some dogmatism: see note 26 ) in relation to the audience capacity of understanding. The second version was an elaboration of the second, more refined in style, still with some editorial recommendation typed in. The version used here as copy text is the only one retained by Harrod. It incorporates some of the required changes, but other adjustments which were introduced in the other draft are not present in this one. A straight comparison of the texts therefore is not sufficient to univocally determine which version is the latest. The relevant differences between versions are reported in editorial notes.

    2. The example, requested by the editor, does not appear in the other two versions.

    3. This passage expands upon the first draft. In the other version the following sentence concludes the paragraph: "And now again the spirit of criticism has bobbed up to ask, what should the powers of the Government vis a vis the individual be; what right has the State over the individual?".

    4. Probably refers to J. S. Mill's Autobiography, in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, edited by J. M. Robson and J. Stillinger, vol. 1 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press and London: Routledge, 1981), chapter 7, in particular p. 238, and to the posthumous "Chapters on Socialism", in On Liberty, edited by Stefan Collini (Cambridge: at the University Press, 1989).

    5. In the second version at BBC, the sentence continues: "and another great English book by George Adam Smith, `The Wealth of Natives'" [sic].

    6. This specification, inserted on requested by the editor, does not appear in the other two versions.

    7. K. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1962).

    8. In the second BBC version the paragraph opens as follows: "Most of the revolutions failed, however. Marx was discouraged and disillusioned."

    9. K. Marx, Capital. A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1961).

    10. On the editor's suggestion, Harrod dropped the following sentence which appears in the first draft only: "He was the mainstay of the First International and before his death had established the position of being the most potent influence in the socialist movement, throughout the world."

    11. Although in a different order, Harrod's recognition of Marx's main contributions strictly follows the classification offered by H. B. W. Joseph in The Labour Theory in Value in Karl Marx:

    • One is the economic interpretation of history, the view that the real clue to the explanation of the course of events in the history of mankind is to be found in the conditions under which men live. One is his analysis of the actual course and growth of modern capitalistic industry [...] and the contention that it is inevitably moving towards its own collapse, and supersession by a communistic state .... The third is his theory of value. (London: Oxford University Press and Humphrey Milford, 1923, p. 7)

    Joseph's book is based on his lectures on "Justice and Wages", which Harrod attended during Hilary term 1921 (Harrod's detailed notes, which include the part on Marx, are preserved in HP V-12). It should be noted, in reference to the similarity which has been remarked in the literature between the fundamental equation of Harrod's dynamics and the Marxian reproduction schemes (see e.g. Z. B. Orzech and S. Groll, "Otto Bauer's Scheme of Expanded Reproduction as an Early Harrodian Growth Model", History of Political Economy 15:4, 1983, pp. 529-48; and M. Bronfenbrenner and M. Wolfson, "Marxian Macrodynamics and the Harrod Growth Model", History of Political Economy 16:2, 1984, pp. 175-86), that the schemes of simple or enlarged reproduction are not mentioned in Harrod's lecture notes--nor they are in Joseph's book.

    12. The editor pointed out that the idea of capitalism destroying itself was too difficult for the audience, and suggested to expand. In the other version at BBC instead of the words "by its own working" Harrod wrote: "by selfishness and injustice and lack of understanding on the part of the rich--the capitalists--".

    13. The following sentence in the first version was dropped on the editor's suggestion: "The appeal becomes almost religious."

    14. In the first draft Harrod expounded on Hegel, but the editor pointed out that passage was too difficult for the audience: "Hegel's idea of the inevitability of history depends on his view that the course of actual events is only a reflection of the inevitable development of ideas in the human mind. He was a sort of idealist. Marx, on the other hand, combined Hegel's historical method with a belief that everything is controlled by purely material causes. This made confusion worse confounded. Of course if Marx had been able to combine the kind of inevitability which we get in the world governed by material forces, that would have been a wonderful achievement. But, alas, he cannot be thought to have succeeded in this attempt."

    15. In the second BBC version the remainder of the paragraph is substituted by the following words: "Before his days, historians had almost completely neglected to study the question of what the poor people felt about the system that let some people be rich and some poor. Marx calls this the `class conflict'. Marx brought this matter forward in a way that made it a real thing to all the world, so that no statesman and no historian could remain unconscious of it."

    16. Harrod shortly referred to the materialistic interpretation of history in his review of H. Sée's Matérialisme Historique et Interprétation Économique de l'Histoire: Harrod 1928:5 .

    17. This paragraph does not appear in the other two versions.

    18. In the first version the passage on Freud was much longer, but was cut on the editor's suggestion (it was dropped altogether in the second BBC version): "[Freud showed] how another fundamental human force, physical love, is at work all the time governing actions which on the surface seem to have entirely different motive. And if Freud has confirmed Marx in making us think that things are not always as they seem on the surface, and often have a self-interested and sinister significance, yet in another way Freud makes it impossible to accept the full Marxian doctrine. Freud may have exaggerated the importance of his own special subject of interest, physical love, as Marx did his, but he has convinced the thinking world of its widespread ramifications, and no one is likely again to hold that bread and butter is the whole important motive."

    19. In the other two versions the paragraph concludes as follows: "Some may think it sentimental to suppose it, but I suggest that the scientific and impartial way of testing the question is to ask whether such a force, if it exists, is likely to have assisted man in his past programs. I suggest that a capacity for justice has been a reason for the greater flexibility and therefore higher efficiency of human societies, compared with those of the animal world."

    20. In the first draft the words "theory of socialism" were substituted by "school of thought".

    21. This sentence does not appear in the other two versions.

    22. In the first draft Harrod explained that the new terminology was "designed to discredit the capitalist class".

    23. In the first draft Harrod added: "which may have been further fuddled by the Hegelian training of his youth".

    24. Letter 22 R from H. F. Scott-Stokes dated 3 May 1922 suggests that Harrod was already convinced that Marx's thought was hopelessly confused.

    25. Frank Pakenham described in his autobiography a lecture by Harrod on Marx, held on "a summer term shortly before the war":

    • Fourth Lecture in my symposium on Marx. Roy Harrod: `Marx in the Keynesian Analysis'. Roy is not a Forbes Robertson for nothing, and when in form is the most histrionic and arresting lecturer in my experience. Speaking in Christ Church Hall he suddenly swings round and addresses the portrait of Cardinal Wolsey behind him, whom for the moment he sees and makes us all see as Marx. `What have you got to say for yourself you old rascal,' he cries shaking his fist at the picture. `How do you answer that, Marx? ... you do well to be silent. I will leave you skulking in your corner.' He swings around again to his audience. `Thirty years in the British Museum had addled a once fine intelligence. What was left at the bottom of it all? Mud, mud, mud ...' (F. A. Pakenham, Born to Believe. An Autobiography, London: Cape, 1953, pp. 86-87)

    26. The editor remarked that the judgement in this paragraph "is of course relative--a pronouncement from Olympus! I'd soften it; otherwise they [the audience] can do no more than take it as a dogmatic statement".

    27. This sentence substitutes the following passage in the first draft: "But, it may be said, Marx was a theorist and they were mere story tellers. And yet Marx as a theorist did not amount to so very much".

    1. a. TD with autograph corrections and additions, 12 pages numbered from the second, in HP V-356. Two preliminary versions (see editorial note 1 to this essay) are extant. One is the original script, 13 pages TD, with frequent insets by the editor, suggesting how better to address an audience of sixth-formers. The other is also a script, eight pages TD, indicating "version edited by DSB and sent to speaker", with a few insets of the same character of (but more concise than) those in the first. Both documents are housed in BBC: Harrod, Sir Roy, Talks file 1 1939-50 (also in Schools Script microfilm 17/18).

      b. Ts: «thought knew»; correct in the second BBC version.

      c. Ms addition: «subter».

      d. Ts: inverted comma missing.


Welcome page

top of page

Return to index of this section

Go to previous page

Go to next page

 

Karl Marx

The name of Marx will immediately suggest to you, I have no doubt, the idea of socialism. Now, before coming to the particular contribution of Marx to the thought of his time, and his effect on ours, let us just ask ourselves--what meaning do we attach to the word "socialism"?

Socialism in its most general sense constitutes a protest against unequal distribution of wealth and income, of opportunity and well-being among the people. It proposes to introduce, whether gradually or by sudden revolution, a more equal distribution and therefore, it is urged, a juster order of society. This idea is a simple one; and it may be wondered why socialism has only come into prominence in comparatively recent times.

The fact is that civilisation itself, and anything in the way of criticism of an established order of society, are also of rather recent origin. For long ages man accepted without much question the political and social institutions, which he inherited, such as implicit obedience to an hereditary ruler, the inheritance of property by certain customary rules and so on. [2] Those institutions are often descended from pre-historic times, when life was hard and stern. They were probably not adopted by choice, but were necessary for his loosely organised existence, in family or tribe. That organisation--which we call society--enabled him to become lord of the world. With the institutions, he inherited a number of instincts, evolved in the remote past, which made living in society under these institutions a sort of second nature.

So you see, criticisms of institutions by reference to whether they are reasonable or just is a modern idea. It flourished for a brief space among the ancient Greeks, who did, as you know, think about what kind of government is best and why we should feel obliged to obey the law. It emerged again in English parliamentary struggles, largely based on religious protestantism, and in the French Revolution. It was chiefly directed to secure freedom from tyranny, and then equality of political rights. Should the King have absolute power; then, should he have a Parliament; then, what should the powers of the Parliament be as against the King; then, who should be in it? [3]

Next we may ask--supposing that privilege and tyranny are overthrown, the protection of law is made available for all, there is equal voting and elected assemblies; in short, complete equality of political rights for every individual--is this the end of criticism? Have we not to seek to match political freedom with economic freedom? Have we not to ask can men be free and equal politically, if they are not equal economically?

In the last hundred years many critical people have been asking, such questions as--"Is it possible for property to be unequally divided without the rich acquiring excessive power?" And the wider question--"Is not unequal distribution itself an injustice bound sooner or later to come up for criticism wherever there is freedom of thought and expression?"

I confess that I believe that it is. I think that socialism in this broad sense is bound to be on the programme of reform of all progressive and open-minded people. John Stuart Mill, one of the greatest Englishmen of the early Victorian period, already reached that conclusion. [4] I hope you will all read his books. [5]

Marx, who has had greater influence than any other individual socialist, thought so too. But Marx gave socialist thinking a particular twist of his own, which it is my duty to explain this afternoon.

Marx was born in Germany in 1818. His parents were Jews. His father, to save himself from persecution which revived in Germany after the overthrow of Napoleon, was officially received into the Christian church. He was a man of moderate and enlightened ideas. His son had a university education, and while he was at the university he was influenced by the latest ideas of the time. Germany was then suffering from a reactionary government; the ideas of the French Revolution of liberty and equality had not yet gained a firm footing on the Continent. This fact is important. We English have won political freedom by successive steps. It is natural for us to suppose that economic freedom and economic justice can also be secured by similar methods in the fullness of time, and to be content to leave it at that. But to someone living on the continent when the French Revolution has just been apparently proved a failure and the old despotic methods of government had come back, things were bound to seem otherwise. Marx felt that events had proved that victories on the political front would not hold good without a simultaneous victory on the economic front, that equality of political right could not be effective not even kept in being for long if property remained in the hands of a few capitalists. [6] The rich men--the capitalists--if they were left rich, would soon, Marx felt, put an end to political liberty for the poor. So Marx argued that it was futile for workers to rest content with the right to vote: they must get control of economic power, and hence, Marx argued, the necessity of a revolution which would put the economically oppressed classes into power, and give them control over the wealth of the nation.

Marx spent his early years in journalism. He wrote for a German paper and used it to spread his socialist ideas. But the Press was not free in Germany. He was harassed by the censorship, so he migrated to Paris in 1843, where he came in contact with other advanced and brilliant thinkers of many nationalities. He continued his propaganda, and was actively interested in the revolutions which occurred in many parts of Europe in the year 1848. In this year he published a pamphlet entitled the Communist Manifesto which embodies the leading ideas of his philosophy. [7]

He [8] came to England in 1849 under threat of the police, and remained here until his death in 1883. Here in London he lived in obscurity and extreme poverty. He spent most of his time reading in the British Museum, preparing his vast treatise on Capital in which his views were to be set out in full. [9] The first volume appeared in 1867; the other two were edited by his friend and collaborator, Engels, and only appeared after his death.

At the same time, he devoted himself to organising the socialist movement throughout Europe. [10]

I now come to the three peculiar contributions Marx made to socialist thought. [11]

First--he believed that events of history are not due to personal decisions on the part of people like Julius Caesar or Henry VIII or Napoleon. He believed that they are bound by natural law to follow each other in a certain order. In particular he believed that our economic system, which we may call capitalism, is necessarily bound to destroy itself by its own working [12] and that the property-less class will then seize power and after a transition period will be able to establish a class-less society. Some people, such as Mill, have thought of socialism as the triumph of reason and goodness; they pictured a number of sensible and high-minded men getting together, deciding to throw overboard our present system, and agreeing together, with mutual give and take, to establish a more decent system.

But Marx did not see things in this way. He saw the change as bound to come because the very system which capitalists were trying to work was doomed--as he thought he [b] knew--to destroy them; and then the property-less would come to power, not by anyone's leave, nor because it was wise and just, but because it was inevitable that they should, as that the melting of the mountain snows in China should bring down the Yangstse flood.

Now you might think that this idea of inevitability would be rather discouraging to socialist workers, since it would make their devotion and self-sacrifice appear unnecessary. But Marx consoles them with the reflection that they might make the transition more orderly and expeditious than if it were just left to chance. The coming floods could be directed into carefully prepared canals.

Moreover, it makes a strong appeal to men to feel that they are certainly on the winning side, especially if the why and wherefore of the certain victory is something of a mystery. [13] They pride themselves on knowing better than their neighbours what the inevitable outcome of things will be. They are the few clever men among a pack of blind fools.

The idea of the inevitability of the trend of history is not peculiar to Marx. His particular view of history is partly derived from that of a German philosopher called Hegel, who was the fashion when Marx was at Berlin University. Unhappily Hegel was a rather tortuous and muddled thinker, [14] and we find this same lack of clarity in Marx. If you try, when you are older, to follow Marx's thought you will soon be lost in long-winded phraseology, and you will inevitably be driven to the conclusion that most of it is meaningless word-spinning. [15] Marx's theory about the inevitably of history is called by the alarming name of dialectical materialism. I do not think that any impartial person who has had his mind disciplined by any really strict science, would fail to regard d[ialectical]. m[aterialism]. as the greatest nonsense.

On the other hand, when we leave Marx's theories about history, and come to his own particular interpretations of historical events, we find him much more brilliant and penetrating.

Well now, the second thing that was peculiar to Marx's kind of socialism was his insistence that all human action has an economic motive. By the economic motive we mean the quest for bread and butter and for all that money will buy. All historical events, Marx thought, may be described as being caused by desire for money, or what money will buy. The ambitions of potentates, the intrigues of statesmen and kings, the ideals of great men, religious movements, all these, Marx thought, are superficialities. The true underlying force is always economic self-seeking--the desire for money--particularly the self-interest of economic classes. [16]

Here Marx has done good work in stressing an important aspect of the truth, but it is possible that he overstates his case. He is often very shrewd, and telling when he tears down the veil of cant and self-righteousness which conceals plain economic self-interest.

There is quite a modern touch when he describes how men who parade disinterested idealism are often really actuated by sinister selfish motives. For example the powers that be when they support religion, do so, he thinks, not out of love of religion, but because religious teaching serves to make the working classes submissive. [17]

But is bread and butter the sole important motive? What about love of power over others for its own sake? Isn't that also a very important force? And what about the all pervasive influence of love, especially repressed love, of which you will hear in the talk on Freud a far deeper and subtler [c] thinker? [18] And I would add another motive, which seems especially important when we are thinking of socialism, a sense of justice, the will to abide by a system of rules of conduct, which reason shows to be conducive to the common good. Marx does not believe in the existence of such a force as the love of justice. Yet I believe that without it the organisation of man in an effective political society would have been much more difficult, if not impossible. [19]

I say that justice is especially to the point when we are thinking about socialism, for to the ordinary man it seems its strongest point. So you see that by excluding all recognition of it from his theory, Marx gave his theory of socialism [20] a peculiar twist which seems to take it right out of the straight line of human progress.

Not that Marx lacked a sense of justice himself. On the contrary, he had a burning sense of the injustices of the poor. But the fact that none the less he would not give justice a place in his explanation of history makes him perhaps seem what you and I would think double-faced.

You see, he might say to a king, "you pretend to administer justice, but you build up your ideas of justice in the way best calculated to feather your own nest", so we may say to Marx, "you pretend that socialism--the equal distribution of wealth--is but a recognition of the inevitable triumph of the superior force of the workers. But all the time, sir, you really believe in its triumph because you are convinced of its justice. Are you dealing fairly with us?" [d]

No theory is satisfactory that is not honest with itself. Whatever is the case in the practical world, in thought and science honesty alone can survive.

Well now, what was the third point we ought to think of in considering Marx's socialism? We must look at Marx as an economist. Economics, I expect you know, consists of the study of how our system of production and consumption, exchange, money, banking, insurance, and so on, actually works. Marx's ideas of how the system works are very important because he believed he understood the system better than anyone else. That was why he felt able to predict the inevitable march of events, the breakdown of capitalism and the triumph of the property-less class. Thus his economics is essentially linked with his idea of the inevitability of history. [21] The greater part of his life was devoted to studies in economic work and these studies were embodied in the huge volumes of his treatise on Capital--Das Kapital. He himself thought this book of the highest importance. He admitted that he owed most of his ideas to other economists, such as Adam Smith, Ricardo, and J. S. Mill, whose works he studied at the British Museum. But he owed more than he thought. He re-dressed their ideas in new and frightening words. [22] And I am afraid he did not always see the difference between giving a new name to an old idea and having a new idea. And it must also, alas, be recorded that his understanding of the writers whom he professed to follow was by no means perfect.

The fact is that Marx was not a clear or capable thinker. He had a lumbering, awkward sort of mind. In expounding some problem in economics, he often covers pages with elaborate arithmetical calculations and intricate arguments, when a brighter head could easily have reached the same conclusion in two or three lines. He was very dogged and persistent, but he was seriously handicapped by sheer lack of mental ability. [23] , [24] , [25]

What, then, was the secret of his great power over men for nearly a hundred years? He undoubtedly had vast industry and vast learning. I like to think of him as the father of economic history. And he had a burning and undivided passion to redress the ills of the downtrodden. He was fearlessly outspoken; and, when it came to exposing the shams and hypocrisies of prosperous and complacent people, he had a deft cunning combined with a heartfelt and withering scorn. When we think of the sufferings of the oppressed through long ages, we are bound to pay homage to the man who exposed their wrongs and castigated their oppressors with a rage and power that is without parallel before or since. And posterity will do him homage.

Yet I do not think he will have abiding power as a prophet. [26] He is too negative. A prophet must have sweetness and light. He must have a positive feeling for beauty and goodness. Marx is a great idol in Russia today; it is curious, for they have had their nineteenth century prophets, men like Tolstoi and Turgenev, Dostoewsky and Tchechov, who had a far deeper understanding of the suffering soul of man, and combined with it a deep understanding of his goodness. To compare Marx as a friend of the downtrodden with these men is like comparing a street orator with the prophets of Israel. But of course those Russians were simple story tellers with no claim to be scientific. [27]

And so perhaps we have the secret, that it was a combination of qualities in Marx which raised him so high. He was thinker enough to be called a philosopher, especially by those who are impressed by high-sounding words and elaborate tortured arguments. There is more than a touch of mystery-mongering in Marxism. If his system of thought will not stand examination, we must none the less admire the passion and tireless labour which he devoted to constructing it; we must admire his life, which by all ordinary standards was one of extreme squalor and misery, but was illuminated by sacrifice to a cause and by his own inner conviction and courage, steady and undeviating. And the cause, even if we do not like the particular twist he gave to it, with his emphasis on self-interest and force, remains a great cause--the lifting of their burdens from the downtrodden and the establishment of a class-less society.

1. This text is the outline of a broadcast lecture for the BBC National programme, delivered on 23 June 1939, addressed to sixth forms, following an invitation from Mary Somerville, educationist and broadcasting executive at the BBC (see letter 906 R); for the listeners' reactions see letter 915 R from Somerville.

Of this document three versions are extant (see source note a to this essay for references to their respective location). The older is a script, probably transcribed from an outline submitted by Harrod, with numerous extensive suggestions from the editor mainly regarding the form of the speech (but also pointing out some dogmatism: see note 26 ) in relation to the audience capacity of understanding. The second version was an elaboration of the second, more refined in style, still with some editorial recommendation typed in. The version used here as copy text is the only one retained by Harrod. It incorporates some of the required changes, but other adjustments which were introduced in the other draft are not present in this one. A straight comparison of the texts therefore is not sufficient to univocally determine which version is the latest. The relevant differences between versions are reported in editorial notes.

2. The example, requested by the editor, does not appear in the other two versions.

3. This passage expands upon the first draft. In the other version the following sentence concludes the paragraph: "And now again the spirit of criticism has bobbed up to ask, what should the powers of the Government vis a vis the individual be; what right has the State over the individual?".

4. Probably refers to J. S. Mill's Autobiography, in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, edited by J. M. Robson and J. Stillinger, vol. 1 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press and London: Routledge, 1981), chapter 7, in particular p. 238, and to the posthumous "Chapters on Socialism", in On Liberty, edited by Stefan Collini (Cambridge: at the University Press, 1989).

5. In the second version at BBC, the sentence continues: "and another great English book by George Adam Smith, `The Wealth of Natives'" [sic].

6. This specification, inserted on requested by the editor, does not appear in the other two versions.

7. K. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1962).

8. In the second BBC version the paragraph opens as follows: "Most of the revolutions failed, however. Marx was discouraged and disillusioned."

9. K. Marx, Capital. A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1961).

10. On the editor's suggestion, Harrod dropped the following sentence which appears in the first draft only: "He was the mainstay of the First International and before his death had established the position of being the most potent influence in the socialist movement, throughout the world."

11. Although in a different order, Harrod's recognition of Marx's main contributions strictly follows the classification offered by H. B. W. Joseph in The Labour Theory in Value in Karl Marx:

One is the economic interpretation of history, the view that the real clue to the explanation of the course of events in the history of mankind is to be found in the conditions under which men live. One is his analysis of the actual course and growth of modern capitalistic industry [...] and the contention that it is inevitably moving towards its own collapse, and supersession by a communistic state .... The third is his theory of value. (London: Oxford University Press and Humphrey Milford, 1923, p. 7)

Joseph's book is based on his lectures on "Justice and Wages", which Harrod attended during Hilary term 1921 (Harrod's detailed notes, which include the part on Marx, are preserved in HP V-12). It should be noted, in reference to the similarity which has been remarked in the literature between the fundamental equation of Harrod's dynamics and the Marxian reproduction schemes (see e.g. Z. B. Orzech and S. Groll, "Otto Bauer's Scheme of Expanded Reproduction as an Early Harrodian Growth Model", History of Political Economy 15:4, 1983, pp. 529-48; and M. Bronfenbrenner and M. Wolfson, "Marxian Macrodynamics and the Harrod Growth Model", History of Political Economy 16:2, 1984, pp. 175-86), that the schemes of simple or enlarged reproduction are not mentioned in Harrod's lecture notes--nor they are in Joseph's book.

12. The editor pointed out that the idea of capitalism destroying itself was too difficult for the audience, and suggested to expand. In the other version at BBC instead of the words "by its own working" Harrod wrote: "by selfishness and injustice and lack of understanding on the part of the rich--the capitalists--".

13. The following sentence in the first version was dropped on the editor's suggestion: "The appeal becomes almost religious."

14. In the first draft Harrod expounded on Hegel, but the editor pointed out that passage was too difficult for the audience: "Hegel's idea of the inevitability of history depends on his view that the course of actual events is only a reflection of the inevitable development of ideas in the human mind. He was a sort of idealist. Marx, on the other hand, combined Hegel's historical method with a belief that everything is controlled by purely material causes. This made confusion worse confounded. Of course if Marx had been able to combine the kind of inevitability which we get in the world governed by material forces, that would have been a wonderful achievement. But, alas, he cannot be thought to have succeeded in this attempt."

15. In the second BBC version the remainder of the paragraph is substituted by the following words: "Before his days, historians had almost completely neglected to study the question of what the poor people felt about the system that let some people be rich and some poor. Marx calls this the `class conflict'. Marx brought this matter forward in a way that made it a real thing to all the world, so that no statesman and no historian could remain unconscious of it."

16. Harrod shortly referred to the materialistic interpretation of history in his review of H. Sée's Matérialisme Historique et Interprétation Économique de l'Histoire: Harrod 1928:5 .

17. This paragraph does not appear in the other two versions.

18. In the first version the passage on Freud was much longer, but was cut on the editor's suggestion (it was dropped altogether in the second BBC version): "[Freud showed] how another fundamental human force, physical love, is at work all the time governing actions which on the surface seem to have entirely different motive. And if Freud has confirmed Marx in making us think that things are not always as they seem on the surface, and often have a self-interested and sinister significance, yet in another way Freud makes it impossible to accept the full Marxian doctrine. Freud may have exaggerated the importance of his own special subject of interest, physical love, as Marx did his, but he has convinced the thinking world of its widespread ramifications, and no one is likely again to hold that bread and butter is the whole important motive."

19. In the other two versions the paragraph concludes as follows: "Some may think it sentimental to suppose it, but I suggest that the scientific and impartial way of testing the question is to ask whether such a force, if it exists, is likely to have assisted man in his past programs. I suggest that a capacity for justice has been a reason for the greater flexibility and therefore higher efficiency of human societies, compared with those of the animal world."

20. In the first draft the words "theory of socialism" were substituted by "school of thought".

21. This sentence does not appear in the other two versions.

22. In the first draft Harrod explained that the new terminology was "designed to discredit the capitalist class".

23. In the first draft Harrod added: "which may have been further fuddled by the Hegelian training of his youth".

24. Letter 22 R from H. F. Scott-Stokes dated 3 May 1922 suggests that Harrod was already convinced that Marx's thought was hopelessly confused.

25. Frank Pakenham described in his autobiography a lecture by Harrod on Marx, held on "a summer term shortly before the war":

Fourth Lecture in my symposium on Marx. Roy Harrod: `Marx in the Keynesian Analysis'. Roy is not a Forbes Robertson for nothing, and when in form is the most histrionic and arresting lecturer in my experience. Speaking in Christ Church Hall he suddenly swings round and addresses the portrait of Cardinal Wolsey behind him, whom for the moment he sees and makes us all see as Marx. `What have you got to say for yourself you old rascal,' he cries shaking his fist at the picture. `How do you answer that, Marx? ... you do well to be silent. I will leave you skulking in your corner.' He swings around again to his audience. `Thirty years in the British Museum had addled a once fine intelligence. What was left at the bottom of it all? Mud, mud, mud ...' (F. A. Pakenham, Born to Believe. An Autobiography, London: Cape, 1953, pp. 86-87)

26. The editor remarked that the judgement in this paragraph "is of course relative--a pronouncement from Olympus! I'd soften it; otherwise they [the audience] can do no more than take it as a dogmatic statement".

27. This sentence substitutes the following passage in the first draft: "But, it may be said, Marx was a theorist and they were mere story tellers. And yet Marx as a theorist did not amount to so very much".

a. TD with autograph corrections and additions, 12 pages numbered from the second, in HP V-356. Two preliminary versions (see editorial note 1 to this essay) are extant. One is the original script, 13 pages TD, with frequent insets by the editor, suggesting how better to address an audience of sixth-formers. The other is also a script, eight pages TD, indicating "version edited by DSB and sent to speaker", with a few insets of the same character of (but more concise than) those in the first. Both documents are housed in BBC: Harrod, Sir Roy, Talks file 1 1939-50 (also in Schools Script microfilm 17/18).

b. Ts: «thought knew»; correct in the second BBC version.

c. Ms addition: «subter».

d. Ts: inverted comma missing.