Did Marx Really Say This?


by Sean Gabb

In the past few days, I’ve had this alleged quote from Kark Marx sent to me about a dozen times:

“Owners  of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology,  pushing them to take more and more expensive  credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid  debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have  to be nationalised, and the State will have to take  the road which will eventually lead to communism.”

It’s followed by the alleged attribution: “Karl  Marx, Das Kapital,  1867″

I’m not much of a Marx scholar. However, this looks remarkably like the alleged statements on gun control by “Adolphe” Hitler, and all those musings on Jews and central banking by American revolutionaries. I’m pretty sure it’s a fake.

First, look at the language used. I grant that this is supposed to have been translated from German. Even so, the word “stimulate” only took on the meaning given here in the 1930s. The word “technology” only came into general use in the 1960s.

Next, look at the implied theory. Marx claimed that market forces would push wage rates down to subsistence level, and that universal immiserisation would bring on the socialist revolution – communism coming only later. This passage claims that immiserisation will come about through debt slavery, and that there will be an institutional jump to communism.

And there are the implied facts. Even in England, there was no consumer credit available to the working classes until after the Great War. In the 1860s, there was building society lending to buy property, and the usual loan sharks. The banks played no part in this. The 1866 banking crisis was brought on by a stock market collapse, and had something to do with over-investment in railway building. No other banking crisis of the 19th century was brought on by working class failure to keep up debt repayments.

I say, then, that the quote is another fake. Most of these are made up by Americans, too lazy to do proper research or eager to project their own silly notions into the past. This one, I suspect, was made up by a Frenchman who learned British English. The overall tone is slightly French, and the spelling of “nationalised” is British.

Why are these fake quotes nearly always so obviously fake? Why do so many people believe them?

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24 responses to “Did Marx Really Say This?

  1. Hmm, looks fake to me too. It doesn’t fit with Marxist theory. I can’t remember it from Das Kap, though my memory for detail is poor it has to be said.

    “Owners of capital” doesn’t strike me as the way what he wrote either.

    Just as an aside, a great proportion of these sorts of quotes about banks and bankers seem to be created by and circulate in the American populist movement, the descendents of the Free Silverites, people like Bill Still who favour a rapidly expansionary monetary policy to prevent “money shortages”.

  2. Snopes say “fake” too.

  3. It’s nearly 30 years since I read the Everyman edition of Capital. KM was no Adam Smith when it came to style, but he was a better read than Hayek. He often *sounded* like von Mises. Only to be expected, I suppose – both German Jews, writing about economics from outside a mainstream they despised.

    Worth noting for Ian B: Hans-Hermann Hoppe – no crypto-leftie he! – says that something like Marxian class and exploitation theory is an accurate descripton of any society that has no free market. This makes him an interesting link between the Austrians and the left libertarians you keep denouncing.

  4. I’m not so much denouncing them as arguing that “left libertarians” and “right libertarians” aren’t the same movement. If Libertarian is so broad an umbrella as to include both camps, it’s useless. We have nothing in common.

    Leftists like Carson only denounce the State because, they believe, it is a “capitalist” construct, without which everyone would turn into natural communists. This is antipodal to the “right Libertarian” position in favour of individualism and social and economic freedom. As I pointed out in another thread, Marx himself believed in an ultimately stateless society. Was Marx a “Libertarian” too?

    I haven’t read that particular Hoppe; but if he said that, he’s wrong too. Marxist economics describes a situation that can never exist in the real world, because its precepts (particularly Labour Value Theory) are wrong. There’s no war around that.

  5. Was Marx a libertarian? He showed no regard in his personal life for the rights of others, and his teleology had a reign of terror built into it. You can add the impossibility of the society he insisted lay on the other side of this terror, and the gross authoritarianism – at best – of all actually-existing Marxist societies. But Rothbard was sometimes willing to take him as a libertarian of sorts.

    I won’t make any case of my own for including Marx within our tradition. But I will repeat that the libertarian movement has room for many more points of view than you are willing to allow.

  6. “In my imagination, Leftists like Carson only denounce the State because, they believe, it is a ‘capitalist’ construct, without which everyone would turn into natural communists.”

    There, fixed that for ya.

  7. I suppose I am, in some small way, to blame for this myself – but we do seem to be moving away from what Karl Marx may have said to what Kevin Carson may think.

    If you all want to make this thread into another intellectual equivalent of the Itchy and Scratchy Show, just go right ahead. For me, however, this is the joyous day when Mr Blake’s Sword of Damascus comes out in paperback.

    • Dr. Gabb,

      I’m not particularly interested in arguing with Ian over his mendacious mischaracterizations of Carson’s motives and positions yet again.

      But, when I noticed him engaged in a new round of said mendacious mischaracterizations, I’m almost always going to mention it in some way.

      The point is not to re-start the back-and-forth, it’s to put a quick neon “PANTS ON FIRE” sign over IanB for the benefit of new readers who haven’t been through previous iterations of the discussion.

      If he wants to lead them away from truth and fact, I’m going to at least make him work at it.

  8. Oh, now you’ve done it….

  9. It’s a wind-up. if Marx had really said it, then the LeftoNazi banker-hatroids would have had ample time to dig it out and trumpet it, even if they had to go into the British Library. In just the same way, the “911-truthers” have had the think end of 11 years to pull up living whistle-blowers able to state chapter, verse and a real paper-trail of the records f how “George W Bush had the Twin Towers blown up, to fall at terminal speed, which means Thermite”.

  10. It ought to be added, that Marx-hater that I was, am and ever will be, I really did try to read a translation of “das Kapital” once. It was hard going. No, I didn’t finish it, sorry.

  11. I don’t know why you indulge in this denialism Thomas, I really don’t. The only distinction between Carsonism and Marxism is that Carson puts the cart before the horse and has the State wither away in order to allow communism, whereas Marx has the Communist revolution, then raw communism, then the eventual stateless communism.

    I mean, I can understand why you might defend Carson’s position. I just can’t fathom why you keep denying it. His work is widely available online. Anyone can read it. His denunciation of capitalism, of the free market, of the “rate of profit”, of “right wing” libertarians. HIs support for overtly communist causes. His quoting of Marx and other communists. The only way he is a Libertarian is that he retools every mad leftist in history as a Libertarian.

    As I said, there are two groups using the word “libertarian” to some degree at the moment. Firstly us individualist free marketeers, who have enough traction that arch-lefties like Toynbee and Monbiot denounce us, and then, for the academics, there are “libertarian socialists” like Noam Chomsky and Kevin Carson. So at best, we’ve got a battle over who gets the word, but eventually somebody’s going to have to withdraw; and since the Left already have virtually every other useful word, “liberal”, “progressive” and so on, I think that since we have the primary popular association with libertarian, we should get it. But we can’t both have it, because we’re entirely antipodal. Individualist vs. Collectivist, pro-markets vs anti-markets [1], industrialism vs romanticism, and so on. We can’t carry on like this.

    I appreciate that Kevin Carson is not the only far-leftist using (or appropriating) the word “Libertarian”. There are lots. Carson just happens to be more prominent than many and his posts appear here and Sean is paradoxically enamoured of him.

    Any church so broad as to contain Mises[2] and Marx has no doctrine at all. It’s an “anyone” movement. That is completely useless. It’s like trying to have a movement for both Nazis and Jews. It can’t be done.

    [1] I appreciate that Carson likes to talk about “free markets” but what he actually describes is “no markets” on communist principles.

    [2] Talking of which, Carson is also known for his opposition to “Misesianism”.

    • IanB,

      Like I said, I’m not particularly interested in arguing with you over your mendacious mischaracterizations of Carson’s motives and positions yet again. I just say “yeah, you’re either lying or completely not getting it again” when you lie or completely don’t get it again, so that people who may not have been around the last time I caught you lying or completely not getting it will know to check on what you say instead of just assuming that you’re both honest and knowledgeable.

  12. Which bit haven’t I got, Thomas? Which part am I lying about? You can never answer that.

    • IanB,

      “Which bit haven’t I got, Thomas?”

      Actually, I’ve answered it probably 50 times, but I guess I’m up for a summary re-hashing.

      The part you don’t get is that Carson is, to use your terminology, an “individualist free marketeer” who’s willing to accept whatever results free markets produce (but predicts that they would produce specific ones you might not like), while you’re a guy who dismisses every anti-market state injustice in history, from the Enclosures right up to this week’s latest patent trolling horror headline in the name of “protecting innovation,” claiming that the results of said injustices “would have happened anyway” due to the inevitability of free markets producing the results you’ve decided you like.

  13. The quotation is not genuine! Das Kapital is on the Internet and searchable, but as Sean says, it is clearly something written since 2008 credit crunch. For a start, Marx did not say the State would have to take the road to Communism! What he said was that the bourgeois state would be overthrown in a revolution!

    I like this false quotation from Cicero, which is quoted all over the Internet, but unfortunately not found in his works:

    “”A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and he carries his banners openly against the city. But the traitor moves among those within the gates freely, his sly whispers rustling through all alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears no traitor; he speaks in the accents familiar to his victim, and he wears their face and their garments and he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation; he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of a city; he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared. The traitor is the plague”

    See http://lafpac.org/index.php/the-news/50-tea-party

  14. Whatever else they did, I don’t think people bought “technology” in the 1860s.

    The language of the quote doesn’t “feel” right at all. It has to be a modern pastiche.

  15. IanB

    Because you seem to be a little light on facts:

    Marx – Society over the individual / no private property
    Carson – Individualist / private property

    Cant put it any simpler than that.

  16. Ah, now you’re lying about me you see Thomas. I’m an anti-corporatist free marketeer. I consistently and openly oppose corporatism. In fact I’ve just been over at the Dialy Telegraph making the case that workfare is driving supermarket jobs into the slavery category.

    The Enclosures is a specific issue and is a quite complex history which can’t be discussed in your soundbitey “it was evil” sort of way. The issue has come up because you guys don’t comprehend how markets work; one way or another, the people are going to get kicked off their subsistence farms, either by competition, or by the State. Because subsistence farming is less productive than factory farming. What I have said is that the point is somewhat moot as to which way to lose your ancestral farm is kinder- the State action or the market action. The latter is more libertarian, but probably not any nicer to experience. That’s all.

    But Carson (et al), he wants to believe that that can be avoided. So he blames the State entirely for it, even though the Enclosure Acts were historically only partly responsible anyway. Many parts of the country had very little use of them. Carson’s agrarian communism does not work which is the main point. Advanced economies are advanced because very few people plough the land. However you get to that point it is going to be convulsive for the former farming class. But the market will force them off that land anyway. Take your pick.

    So, that’s not apolgetics for injustice. It’s just the way economics works. But to understand that, you have to understand economics, so the LibLeft can’t get started on that understanding thing. You’re all too busy trying to fight this war against “capitalism” in any form to ever stand back and understand markets, it’s as simple as that. You can stand there huffing about irreversible changes that happened 250 years ago, or you can contemplate liberty for the 21st century instead of the 18th. Up to you.

    • “Carson’s agrarian communism does not work which is the main point.”

      It’s also a tautology. Of course that which does not exist anywhere except in your imagination does not “work.”

  17. Well, I’m going to ignore the firestorm taking place around me, and answer David Webb. The Cicero quote is from a semi-decent historical novel published c1965. It has the virtue of being something that Cicero might have said. Everything ascribed to Benjamin Franklin, “Adolphe” Hitler, and all the others just screams crude forgery.

    By the way, the American lefties are also at it. There’s a famous Red Indian “quote” about living with nature that was taken from a 1970s television play.

  18. is a great novel

    send free message http://www.textme4free.com/

  19. Carson writes: “The free market = socialism”

    This may or may not appeal to the IWW, but it makes no sense to me.

    Tony

  20. Yes, it does look fake.

    Although I doubt that many people would plough all the way through “Capital” to prove it.

    However, the Marx2Mao website does provide a search facility for volume 2.

    http://www.marx2mao.com/M&E/C2/C2_Search.html