This concluding portion of the gospel of Marx—its prophecies—has been in many of its details so completely falsified by events that even his most ardent disciples no longer insist on it. I have only mentioned it here because of the further light which it throws on what alone, in this discussion, concerns us—namely, the Marxian theory of labour as the sole producer of wealth, and the absolute nullity, so far as production goes, of every form of activity associated with the possession of capital, or with any class but the labouring.
This theory of production, then, which has been the foundation of socialism as a party—or, as Gronluend, a disciple of Marx, calls it, “its idee mere”—and which is still its foundation for the great majority of socialists, we will now examine in detail, and, considering how complex are the processes of production in the modern world, ask how far it gives us, or fails to give us, even an approximately complete account of them.
We shall find that, in spite of the plausibility with which the talent of Marx invested it, this basic doctrine of so-called scientific socialism is the greatest intellectual mare’s-nest of the century which has just ended; and when once we have realised with precision on what, in the modern world, the actual efficiency of the productive process depends, we shall see that the analysis of Marx bears about the same relation to the economic facts of to-day that the child’s analysis of matter into the four traditional elements, or the doctrine of Thales that everything is made of water, bears to the facts of chemistry as modern science has revealed them to us.
The root error of the Marxian
Its omission of directive ability.
Ability and labour defined
In approaching the opinions of another, from whom we are about to differ, we gain much in clearness if at starting we can find some point of agreement with him. In the case of Marx we can find this without difficulty, for the first observation which our subject will naturally suggest to us is an admission that, within limits, his theory of production is true. Whatever may be the agencies which are required to produce wealth, human effort is one of them; and into whatever kinds this necessary agency may divide itself, one kind must always be labour, in the sense in which Marx understood it—in other words, that use of the hands and muscles by which the majority of mankind have always gained their livelihood.