Karl Marx and Henry George
Robert Bruce Brinsmade
[Reprinted from the Single Tax Review,
EDITOR SINGLE TAX REVIEW:
W. H. Kaufman made a brave attempt in your March-April number to
reconcile the doctrines of Marx and George, yet I hardly think he has
succeeded where the masters themselves failed. In economics -- as
Kaufman postulates -- exactitude of definition is all-important, but I
find no warrant at all in the 2,200 tedious pages of the three volumes
of the English edition of "Capital" to warrant Kaufman's
translation of Das Kapital as "Private Monopoly."
In fact, the first two volumes scarcely mention monopoly, being
occupied chiefly with the origin and operation of the factory system
in general and of the cotton manufacture of England in particular.
Single Taxers cannot consistently accept Marx's definition of value: "The
average socially necessary labor time required to produce an article."
Whatever measure of value may be found convenient, in some future
cooperative commonwealth, under our existing system, it is certain
that, the temporary prices may be fixed by the higgling of the market,
they must finally depend upon the cost of reproduction on marginal
land. Thus value is not fixed anywhere but on marginal land; and even
there not alone by the cost of labor, but also by that equally
necessary expense of production, the cost for the use of capital,
Basing his first two volumes of "Capital" on his wrong
definition of value, Marx consistently reiterates in them that "surplus
value" represents a robbery of the workman by his employer, who
is thus considered a thief because he takes any interest on his
invested true capital (buildings, machinery, etc.). And this absurd
moral result was the chief feature of Marx's system that was opposed
by George, as it tended to incite class antagonism and obstruct
During his later years Marx began to focus his mind on the land
instead of only on labor and capital; and, in volume III of "Capital"
he records the result. Curiously enough he now discovers that the
ordinary employer has little "surplus value" to steal, for
by the action of free competition his profits will be reduced to the
minimum interest essential for encouraging the investment of the
necessary industrial capital. Therefore it is only one class of "capitalist"
- the owner of some special privilege in production, like an unusual
waterfall or urban site - that can be said to be getting anything that
he doesn't deserve. This discovery, so naively recorded by Marx,
overthrew all the claptrap of the then existing Socialist propaganda
about the "slavery of the wage-system," the "exploitation
of the proletariat by the bourgeois," etc. Yet Marx himself
apparently made no public repudiation of this claptrap; and even the
Socialist parties of today have not done so and still continue their
The explanation of this anomaly is that volume III of "Capital"
was published posthumously, and not till 1893, or twenty years after
the Marxian Socialism of volumes I and II of "Capital" had
become the doctrine of an international political party. The few
Socialist leaders who ever perused volume III of "Capital"
were evidently "practical" men who did not care to blow up
the pedestals on which they were standing by announcing that the
political economy of their platforms was a mesh of fallacies and so
acknowledged by the founder of their party himself, before his death.
The first plank of Marx's International Platform of 1847, quoted by
Kaufman, as advocating the nationalization of the rent of land, was
evidently not considered of much importance by its author, for he did
not investigate the subject of land for his "Capital" until
near his death, some forty years later. Moreover, this plank is
certainly not "the heart of Marxian Socialism," as Kaufman
claims, because in every Socialist platform yet published "the
public ownership of all means of production" is not only the
heart, but 'the stomach, liver and lights.
The Socialist platforms say nothing about restricting public
ownership to private monopolies, or even to Kaufman's "necessary"
non-monopolies, if words have any uniform meaning in Socialist
circles. Evidently Kaufman believes words can mean anything, for he
takes upon himself to interpret Marx's laborious explanations and
definitions in the sense that he deems useful to prove Marx a wise man
instead of a "near fool."
Like all Socialist writers, Kaufman's ambiguity does not stop with
words, but extends to economic relationships. His doubt if George
could distinguish "if a fish swimming in a lake were land or
capital" ignores the accepted definition of economic land, i e., "any
natural resources which can be monopolized." Surely, the
important question to determine is not the wildness of the fish but
its susceptibility to monopolization. If monopoly is impossible then a
fish, in a lake, is neither land nor capital, but a potential
commodity (like an ungrown sheaf of wheat or an uncaptured wild
turkey), and can only become an actual commodity and acquire value
after the labor of catching it has been expended by some fisherman.
Should the lake be monopolizable, then the fish would become a part of
the natural resources of the lake just as an ore body is a part of the
natural resources of mineral land. And just as the value of mineral
land would depend on the net profit remaining after the cost of
excavating and marketing the mineral had been paid, so the value of
fishing "land" (a stocked lake), would depend on the cost of
catching and selling the fish. If the fish had to be "hand fed,"
it would merely mean that the cost of feeding them would reduce the
net profit (gross proceeds less cost for labor and capital), of
operating the fishery as compared with one of self-feeding fish.
It certainly "is to laugh" at Kaufman's grotesque defense
of George's "Labor Question" from the "contempt of the
Marxian scholar." No one, much less George, needs any defense
from such "scholars," for anyone who takes his title to
scholarship from the perusal of Marx, is worthy of little intellectual
respect. "Capital" may impress the ignorant Socialist
proletariat by its length, its involved style and its array of tedious
calculations; but it is safe to affirm that few of its admirers have
ever read a tithe of its 2,200 pages. It is palpably one of the most
tiresome of books - even in the "dismal" library of
political economy - and, as I have previously explained, its
conclusions, barring those in the last book on land, are out of accord
with facts and tend to disrupt society by inciting class hatred.