[OPE-L] Marx and markets

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sat Jan 07 2006 - 10:17:32 EST

His knighthood for services to journalism in 2004 notwithstanding, Simon
Jenkins is possibly confusing Karl Marx with Adam Smith, the latter whom
wrote that "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for
merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against
the public or in some contrivance to raise prices." (The Wealth of Nations,
Book 1, Chapter 10 http://geolib.com/smith.adam/won1-10.html). Smith argued
that corporations had been established precisely to prevent a reduction in
prices. Jenkins similarly writes, in his article referred to by Michael, for
example that "If it is the case that monopolists have contrived to throttle
the $200 computer, I pray that some genius will come to my aid."

To my knowledge, Marx had no dictum that "capitalism is a conspiracy not by
the free market but against it". Although referring to "capital",
"capitalistic" and "capitalists", Marx rarely used the specific word
"capitalism" anyway, the widespread use of which emerged only some time
after he had published Capital Vol. 1 (though, as Raymond Williams noted,
the word was in use from the early 19th century; and already in 1792, Arhur
Young (1741-1820) had referred in his journal of "Travels in France" to
"moneyed men, or capitalists").

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels did however write, with a bit of
splendid sarcastic rhetoric, as follows: "Bourgeois socialism attains
adequate expression when, and only when, it becomes a mere figure of speech.
Free trade: for the benefit of the working class. Protective duties: for the
benefit of the working class. Prison reform: for the benefit of the working
class. This is the last word and the only seriously meant word of bourgeois
socialism. It is summed up in the phrase: the bourgeois is a bourgeois --
for the benefit of the working class."

Socialism was discredited in Eastern Europe, but the same fashion resurfaces
in neoliberalism. These days, we might substitute "the poor" for "the
working class" and "the rich" for the "the bourgeois" in Marx & Engels's
statement. Until the invasion of Iraq, everybody was for peace. Now
everybody is for the poor, or at any rate, the rich should be persuaded that
they should treat the poor compassionately. Only capitalism can end world
poverty, after all (sic.). With a bit of healthy competition. (Dutch Finance
Minister Gerrit Zalm introduces also a more subtle distinction between the
poor in rich countries and the really poor in poor countries, implying that
the former is something inevitable and to an extent voluntary, while the
latter is something oppressive we could or ought to do something about - you
really cannot compare the two kinds of poverty).

No doubt Jenkins is justified in rejecting stupid conspiracy theories, and
recognising the progressive side of business innovations, but in this he is
no different from the Marx in the Communist Manifesto. Even so, exulting
competition against the encroaches of corporate monopolies is historically a
very old phenomenon, which Marx sourced to the ""small man", the "petit
bourgeois". What is ignored in all this is, that the new technologies
require an enormous amount of co-operation between people, and that they are
created *by* workers for *capital*. Capital creates nothing, people do. It
is only in the fantasies of the business press that the creative power of
human work is turned into the creative power of capital, so that men of
wealth simultaneously appear to be the most creative (the "creative genius
of Bill Gates"). The underlying idea is, that business gets people to
cooperate through the cash nexus, and that there is no other way. Yet,
without an enormous amount of unpaid, voluntary human co-operation, all
markets would would totally disintegrate.

What we need are some better books on the relation of competition and
cooperation, and on how markets really function, never mind neoclassical


PS - long before he started advising the Tories on poverty reduction, Bob
Geldof wrote this lyric:

As soon as I wake up every day,
I look at the papers to see what they say,
I know most what I read will be a lot of lies,
But then you learn really fast to read between the lines,
'Cos I know (he knows)
What I read ain't true
I know (he knows)
And I'm telling you
I know (he knows)
If they say it's red, it's blue
Don't believe what you read,
Do you believe what you read?
No, I don't believe what I read.

Marx himself observed that the modern press could, in a thrice, spread more
lies than had been produced in the whole of histoy hitherto. Telling the
truth could be much more difficult.

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