Marx the apologist for capitalism

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May 15, 2003 by AK

Theodore Dalrymple in an interview:


<...> in some ways Mrs Thatcher was a mirror-image Marxist. Everything that Marx abhorred she thought was good, and she thought (or she appeared to think—I’m not sure she gave enough attention to it) that if only we could get the economy right then everything else would follow. But in fact the market can completely destroy social relations if the market is completely uninformed by any kind of vision.

Compare this with Marx’s and Engels’ characterization of the bourgeoisie in the Communist Manifesto:


The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. <...> The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. <...> The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation into a mere money relation.

I suspect that, although this piece sounds like an invective, Marx had little sympathy for “feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations”. Still — isn’t the wise Dr. Dalrymple echoing the much-reviled prophet?

What follows in the Communist Manifesto, however, is more of a panegyric:


The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. <...> To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. <...> The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature. <...> The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. <...> The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. <...> The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.

And so on, and so forth. Note how this is related to the conflict between the neos and the paleos, the metropolitans and the provincials. How right was Schumpeter when he called Marx a great apologist of capitalism! The concept of “creative destruction” is flickering through the lines of the Manifesto.

My admiration for Marx’s wit doesn’t mean, of course, that I am any kind of Marxist. Moreover, I don’t believe people are compelled to act by great ideas; much more so by strong emotions and simplifying distortions of great ideas.


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