Karl Marx and Henry George
[Reprinted from the Single Tax Review,
THEY AGREE PERFECTLY ON ESSENTIALS:
THEY DISAGREE ONLY ON MATTERS OF SMALL PRACTICAL IMPORTANCE, AND
IN DEFINITION. KARL MARX WAS AN EARLIER AND AN EVEN MORE
CONSISTENT SINGLE TAXER THAN WAS HENRY GEORGE
Marx and George criticised each other. Each held the other to be
superficial and unsound.
The feud started with such vigor by the Prophets has been sedulously
kept alive by their disciples. Of late, however, circumstances have
been forcing more amicable relations between these two great divisions
of the "Army of To-morrow."
For a time Single Tax seemed in danger of degenerating from a
religion to a creed while Socialism had degenerated from a crusade to
a debating society. Single Taxers became too opportunist, calling
every slight reform "Single Tax," while many Socialists
seemed to care less about real progress than about academic
The sole object of this series of papers is to reestablish both
Single Tax and Socialism on the "Gospel according to St. Marx and
St. George" - for, as I will show, the philosophies of Marx and
of George agree as completely as though they had collaborated in the
Marx and George agreed in ideas: they disagreed only in the use of
I know that, at the outset, both Socialists and Single Taxers will
think me Quixotic; but I also know that in the end all will agree with
Marx and George each used common words in most uncommon senses: each
assumed that the other used words in his peculiar sense: hence each
had, as he thought, good reason for esteeming the other a near-fool.
Before we can intelligently compare the teachings of the two prophets
we must get the "patois" of each. To some this word-study
will be tedious and uninteresting, but it is absolutely necessary and
so we will get through with it at once.
Land - This is the only important word which Marx and George use in
the same sense-but both use it in a most uncommon sense.
By land men commonly mean the solid earth as distinguished from
water; or agricultural land; or farms as they now are ditched, fenced,
cleared, under irrigation, etc.
Far be it from our twin iconoclasts to bow to custom.
By land Marx and George mean air, water, wild horses, virgin forests,
fish swimming in far off oceans, coal, oil and iron!
Ordinary people would call all these things "natural resources;"
but Marx and George agree in defying common usage by calling them "land."
As a matter of fact, by land Marx and George do not commonly mean the
natural resources themselves, but rather "the community-made
values of natural resources." Hence, in order to be understood,
when I quote from Marx or George I will put natural resources or the
community-made value of natural resources in place of the misleading
Capital - By capital we commonly mean "wealth used in the
production of wealth."
Not so with our two prophets!
By capital George means only labor-made things as are used in the
production of wealth; excluding all natural resources and also
excluding men (slaves). With George capital means machinery, food,
clothing, semi-finished labor products, hand-made things used in the
production of wealth. Most men in speaking of the capital invested in
an enterprise would include the price of the land in the factory site
along with the money invested in the building, in raw material, etc.
To this Georgian idea of capital Marx applies the word "commodities"-
a fairly correct use of the word.
But if George's use of capital is confusing, Marx' use of the same
word fairly makes one dizzy.
III-948: "Capital signifies the means of production
monopolized by a part of society;" that is, capital means
1-840: "We know that the means of production and subsistence,
while they remain the property of the immediate producer are not
capital. They become capital only under circumstances in which they
serve at the same time as means of exploitation and subjection of
the laborer;" that is, they become capital only when they
become a private monopoly.
III-207: "Let us assume that the laborers themselves are in
possession of their respective means of production, and exchange
their commodities with one another. In that case these commodities
would not be products of capital; that is, as there was no "private
monopoly" so there would be no capital.
Time after time Marx defines capital as the "privately
monopolized means of production;" or for short, private monopoly.
Hence, in the Marxian sense, there can never be public capital for
those two words would mean public private monopoly.
When Marx proposes to "abolish all capital" he means simply
to abolish all private monopolies. "Capitalistic production"
means merely production under or controlled by private monopoly.
Capitalism means merely that condition of society where private
monopoly is in the saddle.
Marx' great work "Das Kapital" can be translated into
English only by the title private monopoly.
George limits capital to commodities (whether monopolized or not);
but Marx limits capital to private monopoly, whether of commodities or
of natural resources.
Marx' and George's ideas are as much alike as two peas from the same
pod-their words alone are confusion.
IT Is To LAUGH
Show George a fish, swimming in a lake and ask him whether the fish
is land or capital, and to save his life he could not answer until you
had first told him whether it was a "wild" fish or one "hand
Show Marx the same fish and ask him whether it is capital and to save
his life he cannot answer you until he has learned whether the fish
forms part of a private monopoly!
Marx' commodities means exactly the same as George's capital. But
capital in the Marxian sense means merely private monopoly.
George never had the faintest idea what Marxian socialism was. Using
words in a special sense himself, he assumed that Marx used words in
the same sense. So interpreted Marx' writings would be utterly
senseless. George therefore hastily concluded that Marx was a
I quote from "The Labor Question," an abridgement of "The
Condition of Labor," Will Atkinson, Seattle, Wash.
IV: "Socialists do not seek the abolition of all private
property... .What the Socialists seek is the State assumption of
capital" (George thought commodities but Marx' idea was private
monopoly in which they vaguely and erroneously include land."
This is a mere jumble of inaccuracies. Marx sought the abolition of
all private monopoly, but manifestly the State cannot have any
capital, that is the State cannot have a private monopoly; when the
State takes charge, it at once becomes a public monopoly. George
thought Marx vague in his use of land as capital; but Marx is most
explicit. Where land is free; where land has no community-made value
and so is not a private monopoly, it is not capital; as in a very new
farming community. Ordinarily land is a private monopoly, and
therefore is capital. As to its being erroneous for Marx to call land
capital - if we go by either the dictionary or by common usage land is
capital; George being erroneous and Marx right.
However, the essential thing is that in all these ideas Marx and
George agree perfectly, only in words do they disagree.
"But it seems to us the vice of Socialism in all its degrees is
its want of radicalism, of going to the root."
As I will soon show, Marx taught the full Georgian Single Tax a
generation before the publication of "Progress and Poverty;"
gave a definition of Single Tax that has never since been equalled for
accuracy and conciseness; and also, in some minor matters, Marx is
even more radical and consistent than is George himself.
"It (Socialism) assumes that the tendency of wages to a minimum
is the natural law;" whereas Marx says scores of times that only
under private monopoly (capital) are wages less than the full product
of the laborers' efforts.
"This superficiality and this tendency may be seen in all the
phases of Socialism. Take, for instance, Protectionism. (But every
Socialist is a free trader).... "Take Trades Unionism." (But
do not Socialists and Trades Unionists fight year in and year out)?
"Jumping to conclusions without effort to discover causes, it
(Socialism) fails to see that oppression does not come from capital
(by which Marx means private monopoly). But from the wrong that robs
labor of capital (that is, robs labor of private monopoly)! George
never understood Marx.
"It fails to see that it would be impossible for capital
(private monopoly) to oppress labor were labor free to the natural
material of production"-But Marx says again and again that where
land is free or very cheap there can be no oppression of the wage
worker; that the monopolization of land is the first step toward
monopolistic production; that wages are what they ought to be whenever
land is free or very cheap.
"We have no fear of capital," says George, attacking the
Socialists. But to attack anything except a man of straw, George would
have to say: - "We have no fear of private monopoly," for
that is what Marx means by capital.
"In its idea there devolves on the State the necessity of
intelligently organizing the industrial relations of men; the
construction, as it were, of a great machine whose complicated parts
shall properly work together under the direction of human
intelligence. This is the reason why Socialism tends to Atheism."
Fudge! What a pity George never took the pains to understand Marx -
who in the misuse of words transgressed only a shade more than did
Throughout IV George makes so many mistakes that out of sincere
respect for the great work he did and the great inspiration he has
been to me, I have been trying for some time to have IV expurgated
from the "The Labor Question." Personally it does not offend
me, for I see precisely how George came to make these tremendous
errors; attributing to Marx the same use (or misuse) of words that
characterized George's own writings: but a Marxian scholar, on reading
"The Labor Question," would naturally think George either
utterly dishonest or a near-fool.
As Marx and George agree perfectly in their attack on private
monopoly, special privilege and all related forms of graft; differing
only in the choice of words, there seems to be no good reason why we,
their disciples (and a rapidly increasing number of us gladly
recognizing ourselves as disciples of both Marx and George) there
seems to be no good reason why we, their disciples, should not stand
shoulder to shoulder in the battle for economic democracy. Hereafter
in these articles capital will be a word "taboo."
When I mean commodities I will say commodities. When I mean private
monopoly I will say private monopoly.
Marx' great work "Das Kapital" will be referred to as Marx'
work on private monopoly - the only English phrase that expresses
Sometime we will have a new translation of this same private monopoly
- a translation that the man in the street can understand.
"PROFIT," "VALUE," "SURPLUS VALUE"
AND "UNEARNED INCREMENT"
Value Marx defines as the average socially necessary labor time
required to produce an article. If it takes four hours average time to
produce a bushel of wheat, and the cost of a worker's time be 25 cts.
per hour, then the value of a bushel of wheat is $1.
Value and price fluctuate from time to time, but average the same
where there is no private monopoly. When price regularly exceeds
value, there must necessarily be a monopoly charge (which is what Marx
calls profit). Surplus value is the excess of price above wages paid;
while profit is the same thing viewed from the standpoint of the
employer. In other words, George's "Unearned Increment" is
one form of Marx' "Surplus Value."
Unearned increment is not caused merely by the presence of people:
but by the presence of people who have worked and so have the
wherewith to spend.
The ground value of a business block is created by labor just as
certainly as is the value of a bushel of wheat.
Many Socialists regard Marx' surplus value as his chief contribution
to economic science, yet it is identical with George's unearned
increment, save that Marx' applies it both to land and commodities,
whereas George applies it only to land.
THE LABOR LIEN
At bottom both Marx' surplus value and George's unearned increment
are based on the idea made effective in the labor lien.
Let us make this plain even to the school boy.
Suppose my good friend, Dr. Post, brings to my farm a colt, asking me
how much I will charge to care for it for three years till it becomes
a horse. We agree on $50 a year; $150 for the three years.
Just before the three years are up, Dr. Post brings Victor Berger to
the farm, shows him the colt, and sells it to Berger for $200 - never
mentioning my unpaid labor claim.
When the three years are expired, Berger comes out, puts a halter on
the colt and starts for the gate.
I put my back against the gate and tell Berger that he can't take the
horse away until I get my $150.
B.-But I have a bill of sale from Post.
K.-That makes no difference at all to me. I don't know where Post is.
I hold the colt until I get my $150.
B.-But you have no claim on me. I never made any contract with you.
It's my horse, isn't it?
K.-Sure, it's your horse.
B.-Well,' if it is my horse, can't I take my own horse home?
K.-When you've paid the bill. If you take a horse to be shod, it's
your horse all right; but you can't take it out of the shop until you
pay for the shoeing.
B.-But what am I to do about the $200 I paid for the horse?
K.-That is none of my business-I didn't advise you to pay it.
B.-Then you mean to confiscate my horse?
K.-Not at all. I am merely trying to keep you from confiscating my
Years ago Congress (that is the corporation attorneys in Congress)
gave to the Northern Pacific millions of acres of Washington timber
lands. That was the colt.
We, the people, have cared for that timber land until now it has
become a horse.
Whatever the Northern Pacific, Mr. Weyerhaeuser or other holders have
added to the value of that timber is fairly theirs. But the values
added by us constitute a valid labor lien, and there seems to be no
reason under heaven why, by initiative measure, we should not so
declare, and instruct our State attorney general to at once proceed to
collect our labor lien.
Practically the entire stumpage of the 294,600,000,000 feet of
privately owned timber in the State of Washington!
MARX AND GEORGE AGREE PERFECTLY IN EVERYTHING OP PRACTICAL
Marx was an economist. George was a prophet.
Marx is more exhaustively accurate: George more luminous and popular
At the bottom they agree.
Both make this robbery ("surplus value" or "unearned
increment") depend on privately monopolized natural resources!
Both agree that machinery (progress) enables men to create more
surplus value (unearned increment).
Both agree that this surplus value (unearned increment) is mainly
absorbed by land.
Marx tells with great glee of a Mr. Peel who took 3,000 people and
$250,000 in commodities to Swan river, West Australia, intending to
establish a manufacturing village similar to those of England. But the
unfortunate Mr. Peel did not have foresight enough to have the land
made a private monopoly and so on the morning following his landing,
every man, woman and child fled to take up homes on the free land, and
the owner of all the machinery, food and other supplies "had not
a servant to make his bed or to fetch his water from the river."
Has George anything better than that?
Marx, like George, directs the wage worker against the monopolist -
not against the non-monopolist employer. Between St. Marx and St.
George there is a far less divergence than between St. Matthew and St.
I challenge any Socialist to bring forward any quotations from Marx
concerning natural resources (land) that I cannot duplicate from
George: and I also challenge any Single Taxer to bring forward any
quotations concerning natural resources (land) from George that I
cannot duplicate from Marx.
In 1847, thirty-one years before the publication of "Progress
and Poverty," Marx and Engles were directed to draw up a
statement of principles and also a practical programme that would
express the attitude of the Internationals.
Of the sixteen distinct steps or planks therein enumerated the very
first one was:-
"1. Abolition of private ownership of natural resources:
application of all rents of natural resources to public purposes"-which
is an excellent statement of Single Tax."
MARX ON LAND MONOPOLY
As I will show, Marx makes land monopoly the chief cause of most of
our economic ills: such as Unemployment, Low Wages, Rural
Depopulation,. Congestion in City Slums and The High Cost of Living.
Marx took Single Tax to mean merely getting all taxes from land
owners (but not heavy enough to abolish speculation and private
monopoly) and so his criticisms of Single Tax are as superficial and
foolish as are George's criticisms of Socialism.
But if we define Single Tax as a means whereby every citizen is
assured an equal interest in all the community-made values of all
natural resources - as Marx himself states it, "The application
of all rents from all natural resources to public purposes" - Why
then Single Tax is the very heart of Marxian Socialism.
George says: - "We would simply take for the community what
belongs to the community, the value that attaches to land by the
growth of the community; leave sacredly to the individual all that
belongs to the individual; and treating necessary monopolies as
functions of the State...."
As a Marxian Socialist I readily subscribe to this statement by
George, but would add Marx' provision that a majority should be able,
at any time, to operate collectively even a non-monopolistic
enterprise - as, for instance, war munition manufacture; which
although not necessarily a monopoly is a very dangerous thing in
private hands; leading to agitation for preparedness.
To say that nothing but necessary monopolies are to be operated by
the people collectively -this assumes omniscience as to the future. A
city's milk supply may possibly be best distributed collectively.
I do not say that it must be best; merely that it may, sometimes, be
best; furnishing cheaper and purer milk.
Manifestly George erred in limiting public management to "necessary
Aside from this slip, George and Marx agree perfectly.
*See note under Publisher's Notes.