2 March 2008


Thomas Hobbes was born in England in 1588, died there in 1679, and lived through the years of the English “Civil War”, which was a revolution against autocracy and the remains of feudalism. The Civil War, the republic or “commonwealth” of 1653-59 led by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, and the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, finally put the king of the Netherlands, William of Orange, on the English throne, and thereby secured the position of the bourgeois class in Britain and Ireland.

In 1651 (the year before Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape) Thomas Hobbes published his famous “
Leviathan”. Today’s picture is from the frontispiece of the first edition of that book. In the book Hobbes proposes the state as a social contract to avoid a terrifying “war of all against all”. Hobbes held that the sovereign power was indivisible. There was no question in his mind of any “division of powers”.

Hobbes wrote that he preferred monarchy, but also described viable democracy and aristocracy. In all cases the leader (or collective leadership) “beareth the person of the people”, according to Hobbes, by agreement. He imagined the state as a giant made up of millions of individual people.

William Petty was briefly Hobbes’ secretary. Petty became a high government official and Member of Parliament. Nicholas Barbon was another Member of Parliament, as well as being the first modern property developer, and a bit of a crook. Petty’s “
Political Arithmetick” and Barbon’s “A Discourse of Trade” were both published in London in 1690. These were the first two books on capitalist political economy. Both of them are referred to very early in Karl Marx’s “Capital, Volume 1”.

Chapter 4 from Capital Volume 1, linked below, is one of the short chapters, only four pages long. It is called “
The General Formula for Capital”. It makes the distinction between selling an unwanted commodity to get money to buy another commodity for use (C-M-C); or on the other hand, purchasing a commodity for re-sale with the intention of getting back the money, plus a surplus (M-C-M’).

This distinction is made as a preparation for the definition of surplus value. Chapter 4 is not a general definition of capital. The “general formula” is an outline. The chapter does not explain how a surplus is obtained, or where it comes from. That explanation is reserved for later.

From the 17th to the 19th centuries, England and Scotland were the main sources of political economy studies. In 1798 Thomas Malthus published "An Essay on the Principle of Population”. In the second item linked below, Iain Boal notes that the ideas of Malthus are orthodox today. Then he kicks such ideas well and truly into touch. This interview with Boal is a great help with understanding the current South African “electricity crisis” and with sorting nonsense from fact in that affair.

There are going to be more arguments about the question of scarcity, in particular. James Heartfield has written a book about it and Frank Furedi has in turn attacked Heartfield’s book. We must hope that these two present-day British philosophers will now have a major public polemic.

The Sunday Times covers this week’s collapse of the Scorpions following the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) report on its page nine! How they must wish that they didn’t have to print it at all! As it happens, it is quite a good report (linked below), by Mpumelelo Mkhabela. The statement by portfolio committee chairperson Maggie Sotyu is remarkable.

The Sunday Independent covers the JSCI report on its page two, with the sensational news that Scorpions chief Leonard McCarthy is about to make a run for it. The experienced political journalists Angela Quintal and Karyn Maughan have been told that McCarthy has received “several good job offers from abroad”. All the more reason to charge him quickly, before he skips! But McCarthy has done us all at least one favour. He has come clean about the Scorpions’ bogus “success-rate”. See link.

Click on these links:

Capital Volume 1, C4, General Formula for Capital, Marx, 1867 (3204 words)

Malthus, Scarcity, Poverty, and Apocalypse, Martinez-Boal, Counterpunch (4381 words)

Top Scorpions could be charged for Zuma report, Mkhabela, Sunday Times (697 words)

Scorpions boss to quit before the bell tolls, Quintal and Maughan, Sindy (829 words)

Coming Events


  1. I did read Frank Furedi's review of my book on Spiked, and though he did raise some criticisms, I thought they had more to do with terms than questions of substance.

    James Heartfield

  2. Hello James. Thanks for commenting. Russell Grinker put Frank Furedi's review on our [DEBATE] forum and I took a view on it, which I will paste below. I then got heavily lambasted by Peter Waterman and by Azwell Banda, an EL person who knows Russell.

    This is what I posted to [DEBATE]:

    Heartfield is right and Furedi is wrong.

    Furedi believes in the power of the market!

    Who'd a thought it?

    But Furedi's main mistake comes right at the beginning of his review.

    He wants to tell us that Malthusianism is merely a "post-Second World War cultural development".

    Furedi has forgotten Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World", first published in 1932. It's a satire on Malthusianism gone to extremes, and consequently one of the most famous books of the 20th century.

    Furedi seems also to have forgotten Thomas Malthus himself.

    Malthus was an English parson and academic who was alive two hundred years ago, and who published his main book (on population) in 1798, in reaction to the French Revolution. Like his contemporary William Wilberforce, Malthus was a propagandist for the new absolutism of property relations.

    In fact these were among the principal inventors of the market theory in which Furedi now believes so fervently, as if it was a natural given.

    It took a Frederick Engels, with his eyes on the first fully industrial city, Manchester, a boom town that had sprouted up in the intervening half-century, to identify in the proletariat that lived in the squalor that the Reverend Malthus thought was best for them (so that they would die quicker), the potential anti-althusian class at last.

    Then comes "A critique of Political Economy", theories of over-production, and so on. This is not a fad. Marxism is an answer to Malthusianism. Furedi has forgotten that. Furedi has forgotten that the greatest successes against poverty have been achieved by planning (Soviet Union, China, India) against the dreaded "market".

    Furedi has also forgotten that capital is not a thing, but a relation, and that the ultimate ruling imperative of capitalism is not profit or accumulation, but the maintenance of capitalist class relations. That is why, in the 210 years since Thomas Malthus published "An Essay on the Principle of Population", capitalism has carefully kept most of the world's population in poverty, and it is why want and scarcity are constructed on a continuous basis. Mass poverty is a prerequisite for capitalism. It always has been and always will be.

    It is not a "hidden hand" that is raising the petrol price by 60 cents a litre this week. It is not a "hidden hand" that has rigged the
    electrical supply in South Africa so that it appears to be on the edge of collapse all the time. These things are not mistakes or accidents, or the results of forces beyond human control.

    Domza, VC


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