The BBC Does Karl Marx

Marr, MacDonnell and Marx

Andrew Marr, journalist and television presenter, recently interviewed the Labour Party’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell. Marr asked him about the influence of Karl Marx and DAS KAPITAL on his politics (The Andrew Marr Show, 6th May 2017). The Shadow Chancellor initially evaded the question and just stated that he was going to be the "first socialist in the tradition of the Labour Party". Marr pressed him again on being a “Marxist”, which MacDonnell denied, although he admitted that he had learnt a great deal from reading DAS KAPITAL.

This baiting by Marr was a political trap which when sprung allowed the media to attack MacDonnell as a “Marxist” and a “Marxist-Leninist”. The DAILY TELEGRAPH, for example, had a field day, doing a hatchet job on Marx and presenting him as a self-loathing Jew (7th May 2017). The following day, the reactionary historian, Andrew Roberts (heir to the British franchise of Kentucky Fried Chicken), attacked Marx under the banner: “Jeremy Corbyn’s dedication to a murderous ideology is exactly why Labour is doomed” (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 8th May 2017).

Roberts wrote:

When Communists openly stand they are massively rejected by the electorate: one was elected in 1924, one in 1935, two in 1945 and not a single one since. But now that Marxist-Leninists have effectively taken over the leadership of the Labour Party, the British people will have the sublime opportunity to show what they think of an ideology estimated to have killed 100 million people in the 20th century alone”.

You would never in a month of Sundays convince someone such as Andrew Roberts that there had never been any Communism in Russia, just as he would reject out-of-hand the fact that Mao’s China had nothing to do with Marx. Only a congenital idiot would really believe that the Labour Party had been taken over by “Marxist-Leninists”. Conservatism, apart from religion: the highest form of ignorance and the lowest form of thought.

The Bolshevik political dictatorship, which existed in Russia between 1917 and 1991, was characterised by large scale nationalisation or state capitalism not the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Yes, millions died in gulags, from mass starvation and from war, but how much genocide has capitalism inflicted on the world since it first came out of Feudalism in the 14th and 15th century? One tentative guestimate is 205,000,000 million!!

Clearly McDonnell is no socialist. He does not want to see the “abolition of the wages system” (VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT) or “the abolition of buying and selling” (“THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO”). His politics is about vague and woolly concepts like “fairness” and “social justice”, not socialism and production directly and solely for social use. And his economics is Keynesian not Marxist. And he told Marr, that Marx was just one influence among many; although, unlike Tony Benn, he did not add Jesus Christ to the list.

The BBC and Marx

However, the BBC followed up Marr’s interview with John MacDonnell with an on-line piece about Marx and DAS KAPITAL, written by the BBC’s political correspondent, Brian Wheeler.

No comments from the general public were allowed at the end of Wheeler’s take on Marx’s DAS KAPITAL. The public were denied a right of reply. It appears the BBC does not rate democratic debate very highly.

Wheeler asked the question: “What is Marx’s Das Kapital”? Here is Wheeler’s considered answer to the question:

Written in the middle of the 19th Century by German philosopher and economist Karl Marx, Das Kapital is essentially a description of how the capitalist system works and how, Marx claims, it will destroy itself

”. Marx, of course, did write extensively about capitalism, but he did not say it would destroy itself. Capitalism does nothing more than exploit, cause poverty, misery and war. The political agent of revolutionary change is the working class – a class forced to live off wages and salaries. Marx was not a fatalist, nor an economic and technological determinist. For Marx history does nothing; it only the actions of men and women that change history. It will be a socialist majority who will abolish capitalism and establish socialism.

In fact, Wheeler contradicts himself in the very next paragraph by making reference to the class struggle between the capitalist class and the working class, – a class struggle which Marx did not invent but explained in detail.

Wheeler then makes reference to the Harrovian satirist Francis Wheen (no Marxian scholar) who said that at times DAS KAPITAL reads like a Gothic novel: "whose heroes are enslaved and consumed by the monster they created". (Karl Marx: A Life, 2001. But, of course DAS KAPITAL is more than Gothic horror. Marx’s reference to the vampire in CAPITAL, for example, is a metaphor for the way the capitalist class sucks out what Marx called “surplus value” from the working class during the production process. Marx wrote:

Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks (Chapter X The Working Day, Volume 1, p. 342, Penguin ed., 1990).

Another powerful metaphor Marx used in his writings was the process of impregnation, gestation, birth and death. In the penultimate chapter he wrote:

The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production which has flourished alongside and under it. The centralization of the means of production and the socialization of labour reach a point at which they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated (Chapter 32, The Historical Tendency of Capital Accumulation, Volume 1, p 929 Pelican ed).

DAS KAPITAL is more than just the Gothic fiction of Bram Stoker and Edgar Allen Poe. DAS KAPITAL not only explains class exploitation. Six important themes also covered are:

* The cause of economic crises.
* Inflation.
* Money.
* The origin of capitalism as a historical social system with a beginning in blood, pillage and slavery.
* The consequences of capital accumulation for the working class, particularly the industrial reserve army of the unemployed.
* The tendency towards the concentration and centralization of capital.

For a very lucid and comprehensive overview of the perhaps the most difficult part of DAS KAPITAL see “The First Four Chapters on Capital

Reading Marx

In simple terms, capitalism is a social system based on profit and it is inherently anarchic and unstable. What Wheeler fails to explain is upon what basis the whole edifice of capitalism rests – that is, the generation of surplus value from the exploitation of the working class.

Surplus value is covered by Marx in Part 2 to Part 4 of DAS KAPITAL and takes up about half the book. Yet Wheeler says nothing at all about surplus value and where it comes from. Surplus value, for Marx, is simply the unpaid labour of the working class. Workers are forced to work not only a necessary labour time but also a surplus labour time. During the working day, workers produce value to cover their wages, but they also generate a surplus value which is taken by the capitalist. When the commodity is sold the congealed surplus value is realised as profit from which comes the unearned incomes of rent, interest and profit.

As Marx pointed out with respect to his analysis of surplus value:

Hence, in the history of capitalist production, the establishment of the norm for the working day presents itself as a struggle over the limits of that day, a struggle between collective capital, i.e. the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working class (Das Kapital, Chapter X, p. 344).

Wheeler either does not understand the mechanism for generating surplus value or he does not want to know. Wheeler states that “factory owners and other capitalists hold all the power” and as a consequence “amass vast fortunes”, but he does not say where these vast fortunes come from. He does not want to tell the truth about capitalism: that it is just as exploitive as previous social systems.

Again, Wheeler misinforms his readers by stating that Marx claimed that capitalism: “will eventually collapse under the weight of its own contradictions”. Marx said no such thing. So we can ask the really important question: has Brian Wheeler read and understood DAS KAPITAL at all? It is doubtful.

Of course, it is true, as Wheeler noted, that Marx did not predict when capitalism would be abolished by the working class or what socialism/communism (both words mean exactly the same thing) would look like. How could he? The establishment of socialism is dependent upon the working class and no-one today can give a blueprint of socialism any more than Adam Smith could give a projection of capitalism in his WEALTH OF NATIONS.

Marx: From Fiction to Fact

We now come to another piece of fake news. Wheeler contends:

The ideas contained in Das Kapital would go on to inspire revolutions in Russia, China and many other countries around the world in the 20th Century, as ruling elites were overthrown and private property seized on behalf of the workers. They would also exert a powerful influence over many in the Labour Party and the trade union movement, even if they did not always share his vision of a global workers' revolution”.

Should Darwin be held responsible for Social Darwinism and Hitler’s concentration camps? No, of course not. Neither should Marx be held responsible for how others distorted his ideas. In Marx’s case, Lenin and Mao who both claimed to be “Marxists” rejected Marx’s significant contention that socialism had to be established by the working class and no one else. Both Lenin and Mao repudiated this key Marxian principle. Capitalism was developed in Lenin’s Russia and Mao’s China, not socialism. Workers are exploited in both these two countries just as they are in countries like the US and Western Europe.

At least Wheeler is prepared to acknowledge that “Socialism/Communism” (both words mean the same thing) did not take place in Russia and China. He states:

Some argued that this was a perversion of Marx's ideas as set out in Das Kapital, and that the Soviet Union, for many the ultimate example of a Marxist state, was really just a form of state capitalism, where the factory owners had been replaced by government bureaucrats.

However the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s did not deal a major blow to the credibility of Marxist theory. Who cares if the ideas of Marx went out of fashion on university campuses? Just exactly what did this “Marxism” amount to in any case? The Socialist Party of Great Britain has rightly said that Marx and socialists have nothing to apologise for and as such the SPGB has just kept disseminating his ideas to all the working class. Socialists suggest all workers should read Marx’s works - not just university students and Professors of this or that academic discipline.

As for the Labour Party, its early founders like Keir Hardie claimed that they were influenced by Marx just as MacDonnell does today. However the Labour Party never was, or is, nor ever will be, a Marxist Party in the sense of accepting Marx’s interrelated theory of history (the materialist conception of history), the labour theory of value and his political concept of the class struggle.

What powerful influence did Marx exert on “many in the Labour Party”, as Wheeler claimed? If there was this “powerful influence” it was kept a big secret. Labour’s old Clause 4 was a policy towards state capitalism not socialism. Nor has the labour Party ever accepted Marx’s theory of exploitation or the class struggle. The truth of the matter is that the Labour Party does not exist for the purpose of establishing socialism. The Labour Party started off as a Trade Union pressure group and, when in government, just administers capitalism in the interest of the capitalist class. No different to the Tories.

Finally Wheeler claimed that Marxism:

...underwent something of a revival in the wake of the 2008 global financial crash, which some saw as a classic example of capitalism in crisis, just as Marx had predicted”.

Yet Wheeler neither gives an account of why Marx’s “prediction” on economic crises was correct nor the implication of the trade cycle for those like John McDonnell who naively want to administer capitalism. For understanding Marx there is nothing more rewarding than to read Marx in his own words.

Marx did not “predict” crises but gave a scientific explanation why they were necessary. For Marx, crises were the result of capitalism’s laws acting on commodity production and exchange for profit. Crises were an outcome of the anarchy of commodity production. Marx considered that crises provided a temporary resolution to problems inherent within capitalism but would not only be temporary resolution but at a great social cost, borne by the working class; unemployment, austerity programmes, cut in wages and salaries, social alienation, family break-up, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and so on.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.