[Marxism] Two Marx myths

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 25 13:54:45 MST 2006


Two Marx Myths

In his racy popular biography of Marx, Francis 
Wheen demolishes the common belief that Marx 
wrote to Darwin expressing a desire to dedicate Das Kapital to him.

The claim was first popularised by Isaiah Berlin 
and has been repeated many times since. As Wheen 
demonstrates, Darwin’s letter declining the offer 
of a dedication was written not to Marx but to 
Edward B. Aveling, author of a simple guide to 
evolutionary theory, The Students’ Darwin.

In his blog 
Ken MacLeod addresses another myth, which is that

Karl Marx predicted that the first socialist 
revolution would be in advanced capitalist 
England, but instead it happened in backward feudal Russia.

Ken comments:

A glance at the Communist Manifesto shows that 
Marx and Engels expected, in 1847, that the first 
proletarian revolution would take place in 
Germany - the bourgeois revolution in Germany is 
imminent, and they expect a proletarian 
revolution to immediately follow it. Turning back 
a few pages, we find them proclaim in the 1882 
preface to the Russian edition that 'Russia is in 
the vanguard of revolutionary action in Europe' 
and conclude: 'If the Russian Revolution becomes 
the signal for a proletarian revolution in the 
West, so that both complement each other, the 
present Russian common ownership of land may 
serve as the starting point of a communist 
development.' Not quite how things worked out, of 
course, but a shrewd sentence for all that!

For another insight into Marx’s acuity we need 
only consider one of the more bizarre moments of 
his life – his three hour lunch with Sir 
Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff MP at the 
Devonshire Club, St James’s, in 1879. The MP had 
been sent on a mission to quiz the infamous 
revolutionary by Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter.

Duff discovered that Marx was not a bloodthirsty 
maniac but rather an agreeable sort of chap, and 
wrote to the Crown Princess “praising Marx’s 
immense learning and dry humor” (Frank E. Manuel, 
A Requiem for Karl Marx (1995), p. 222.

Marx told Duff that he expected “a great and not 
distant crash in Russia”. Marx forecast that the 
collapse of Tsarism would be followed by “a 
revolt against ‘the existing military system’ in 
Germany” (cited in Wheen [1999], p. 362)

Which is pretty much what happened 38 years 
later. Though this last aspect tends to be 
muffled in British historiography, which often 
obscures the real cause of the end of the First 
World War. As I’ve pointed out before

The sudden, wholly unexpected collapse of Germany 
had nothing at all to do with military defeat, 
because the German army was never defeated. 
Germany collapsed because a revolution broke out.

Marx also forecast that arms spending would go on 
increasing, telling Duff that as science advances

The improvements in the art of destruction will 
keep pace with its advance and every year more 
and more will have to be devoted to costly engines of war.

He wasn’t exactly wrong there, either, was he?

# posted by Ellis : 5:36 PM

More information about the Marxism mailing list