“What do you think of Karl Marx?”, faced billionaire George Soros with Eric Hobsbawm. The famous financier and speculator for betting against the British pound in the 1990s and causing it to devalue knew that this British historianperhaps one of the most famous and cunning of all time, author of the best-selling history books, was by Marxist tradition.
Hobsbawm, aware that his thinking was very opposite to that of Soros, replied with an evasion that his interlocutor immediately cut short.
“Look, that man discovered something about capitalism and today, 150 years later, we have to take it into account. We don’t go around anymore.”
Hobsbawm and Soros had met in the context of the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto. It was 1998, the height of the financial crisis in emerging markets, hit by devaluations —Argentina will have its own a couple of years later with the 1-1 exit—, with which Soros continued to enrich himself.
Hobsbawm, more of a seasoned intellectual, did not see the globalized economy of the 1990s as an opportunity to invest, but rather as a kind of Already seen. “That moment mysteriously resembled the world anticipated by Marx in the Communist Manifesto”.
Last Tuesday marked a new anniversary, the 175th, of its publication. And two ideas from the Manifesto keep the text valid.
The first, that despite the phenomenal creation of material wealth that capitalism has produced, its mode of production does not seem permanent or stable and therefore there is no “End of the story”. The 2008 crisis confirmed this.
The second is that Marx recognized (correctly) the tendency that capitalism would have on the development of the economy — in the same tradition that the British economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo had previously elaborated —: the increase in production. It is that in 1850, two years after the Manifesto, the world had produced 38,000 kilometers of railways, two-thirds of which were in Great Britain and the United States alone. Twenty years later the train arrived at Rivadavia station in the Núñez neighborhood on the banks of the Río de la Plata in Buenos Aires. And 40 years later, Argentina’s rail system was not only a cog in the British empire, but also in the global economy.
However, in one of his last books before his death and in an interview with the BBC, Hobsbawm himself – a professor at Birkbeck College, University of London – acknowledged that just as shocking as Marx’s analyzes of capitalism had been, were the failures of his predictions. Because everything must be said.
“It is evident that the rich have not been the gravediggers of the workers, as the Manifesto underlined, nor has the fall and victory of the proletariat proved something inevitable.”
Capitalism has transformed the way people earn their income and resources for day to day living, Hobsbawm would say. But hardly many workers today can be called proletarians or live impoverished. More and more. “The high-tech and capital-intensive production that intensified with the development of capitalism was undoubtedly an aspect not considered in the Manifesto, even if much later, in other studies, Marx will leave the door open to a possible phase in which the economy run with fewer workers (NEITHER: a bit like Lord Keynes in ‘Chances for our Grandchildren’),” said Hobsbawm.
Marx argued in the Manifesto that the situation of the workers would be such that, once organized as a class movement and en masse, they would lead the dissatisfied remnant to power. But today the workers are shareholders (owners) of companies such as Apple, Amazon, Meta, passing through Wall Street, many of which are increasingly qualified and with high wages.
In his latest book Moving slowly towards utopiaAmerican economist Bradford De Long claims that the purchasing power of informal workers’ wages in 1914 was already 50% higher than in 1870.
The 23-page Communist Manifesto was printed in the offices of the Workers’ Educational Association at 46 Liverpool Street in nauseating London. Marx’s co-author was Friedrich Engels. According to experts, it was the most important written piece since the Declaration of Citizens’ Rights in the French Revolution. Its initial impact was in German and was lost sight of with the failure of the economic and social revolutions of 1848 (the Paris insurrection was two days after the publication of the Manifesto).
Hobsbawm pointed this out the available information with which Marx made his prediction of the proletarian revolution was “extremely deficient”. Finally, it must be admitted that pessimism about the possibilities of capitalism to increase social welfare was not unique to the Manifesto. Even from economists such as Thomas Malthus and John Stuart Mill. Keynes himself, after the first war, feared that the world would go back to the time before Marx. All predictions that, fortunately, have failed.
Charles Arterburn is a seasoned business journalist for News Rebeat, where he provides comprehensive coverage of the latest trends and developments in the world of finance and economics.