Monday, 2 March 2009

Karl Marx, prophecy and the wonderful power of the urban legend

Today in my meagre e-mail I received not one but two 'urban legend' posts - you know, like the one about the Vanishing Hitchhiker who, just before he disappears, says "Jesus is coming soon."

One I won't bother with, but the other was this great quote "ascribed to Karl Marx":
“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 nationalized, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism.” — Karl Marx, 1867, Das Kapital
Bang on - except that it just didn't 'smell' right. So I Googled it, and came up with this comment on Faux Marx (via another website):
It's been fifteen years since I read Das Kapital, and I'm not sure how much I retained even when I was young and hale. But it immediately set off my fake alarms. First, because it doesn't sound remotely like anything I remember Marx saying--his core thesis was that falling wages would immiserate the working class, not that they'd be done in by their overdrafts. Second, because I do remember Marx spending huge chunks of Das Kapital grousing about the inadequacy of the housing supply for the working class, in very tedious detail. (I now appreciate, as I didn't then, how valuable this is as a historic record. But it's quite something to wade through.) And third, because no one in 1870 imagined the working class having access to bank credit.
Read the rest, and you'll see it's highly unlikely Marx said anything like what was "ascribed" to him.

It would be fascinating to know who makes these things up. But at least we know who passes them on. That would be the rest of us!

What Marx apparently did say, quoted chapter and verse in a comment on the other website, is this:
"The credit system, which has its focal point in the allegedly national banks and the big money-lenders and usurers that surround them, is one enormous centralization and gives this class of parasites a fabulous power not only to decimate the industrial capitalists periodically but also to interfere in actual production in the most dangerous manner - and this crew know nothing of production and have nothing at all to do with it." - Marx, Capital, vol. 3, chap. 33
Now that's more like it!

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