Karl Marx – Economist or Revolutionary?

Karl Marx was an unwitting world changer. Unlike his predecessor Adam Smith, Marx saw and believed in the inequality that capitalism could bring. This inequality would lead to a revolution of the oppressed workers leading to the formation of a Communist state.  However, like the rest of his economist kin, Marx loved to write, his principal works, Das Kapital could make claim to be one of the longest (and most boring) books ever written. However his ideas when teamed up with accomplished writers were haunting.

A leaflet called the ‘Communist Manifesto’, which was distributed to the masses in London contains several passages which to this day remain a part of the canon of political economy.

“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism”

“ The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

Despite the attractions of Marxism, it never really took hold in the US and Western Europe. Economists were just too enamored with the free market orthodoxy of classical economics. Just to remind you, these economists differed little from the original ideas postulated by Adam Smith.

However in the 1930s free market economics was to face an impossible challenge – The Great Depression. With it came mass unemployment, bankruptcies and falling output. Western democracy itself was threatened. The result of this was a new way of thinking about economic problems and the end of blind optimism that economists held that in the Long Run everything would be OK.

Thus it was in the middle of the great depression that J.M.Keynes rose to prominence retorting to orthodox economists that “In the Long Run we are all dead” Keynes saw no point in waiting a couple of decades for the depression to come to an end. Keynes argued for immediate intervention and by that he meant that in particular the government should spend, spend, spend.

We will look more at Keynes next week.

6 Responses to “Karl Marx – Economist or Revolutionary?”

  1. Vince Samios Says:

    Can a true revolutionary be anything less then an economist – be it social or financial?

    The imperfection of socialism, capitalism, communism, all fail on either social or financial grounds.

    The discussion of Keynes is especially interesting considering the recent intervention in financial crisis.

  2. Amrita Says:

    Karl Marx – The father of communism. He followed in his father’s footsteps and studied law. I have read this somewhere that Marx and his family got financial support from Friedrich Engels.

  3. rosy marshal Says:

    I don’t see much evidence that marxist stuff has gotten more popular in universities in the past decade. If anything it is far less, and we’re more often confronted with professors who have internalized Ayn Rand or Murray Rothbard or Ludwig Von Misus’s right-wing economic views, where total trust is placed in the hands of business people and their manufactured “Free market” (even Adam Smith warned people of the limits of the market, something the conservative economists want us to ignore or forget.)

  4. Lynne Says:

    Very interesting thoughts and response especially the bit about Keynes and the response to the ongoing international crisis.
    Whatever you think about Marx there is one thing for sure, he was right: The fundemental internal contradictions of Capitalism in its pure form will end up destroying it.

  5. Anthony Says:

    I always find any discussion about Karl Marx and Communism very interesting.

    Many people in their teen’s and early twenties seem very keen on communist ideology and practices. This is especially pronounced during their time at university I noticed.

    Then when people go and work for 40+ hours a week, have children and get a mortgage, they suddently become far less enthuiastic about communist ideals. Why?

    Because they have become a part of the establishment, that capitalist society that they so dispise and they now have alot more to lose. They’re not that keen for anything to change and lose enthusiasm for their unimpeachable ideals.

    I think Communism is a wonderful theory but it is ultimately worthless due to the imperfections of man.

  6. CG tutorial Says:

    Marxist theory is “hard to understand” because it is counter-intuitive within the context of capitalist ideology which we have all grown up with. It does not follow simple “common sense”, i.e., capitalist ideology.

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