By |Published On: September 4th, 2020|Categories: Guns, Karl Marx, Marxism, Time Preference, Welfare|

The hallmark of a true scholar is the ability to analyze all sides of the debate and not just their own. The reason for this is self-evident. If an individual is certain that they’ve stumbled across an idea (or a set of ideas) that is true, then analyzing different viewpoints will no longer feel like an ipso facto threat to their worldview.[1] Still, even today, many libertarians fall into the trap of focusing only on the “what” and not the “how,” or in other words, many lose sight of the fact that knowledge is neither rooted nor disseminated in what an individual knows, but rather what an individual understands.

Karl Marx’s worldview should be treated no differently in this regard because it’s easy to denounce him without having read what he said, in the same that way many people denounce Mises (and can’t pronounce his name) for the same reason. Rest assured that in Marx’s case, it becomes easier to denounce him after assessing his works, so the question of whether Marx was right about anything does have an answer.[2] Though it is controversial, undoubtedly, I will argue that yes—regardless of the validity of his conclusions (or a lack thereof) on these issues—he got three things right: guns, welfare, and time preference (sort of).[3]


“The weapon of criticism,” wrote a young Karl Marx in 1844, “cannot, of course, replace criticism by weapons, material force must be overthrown by material force.”[4] Yes, believe it or not, Marx was an avid proponent of guns, though maybe not for the same reasons as you or me.[5] If you know nothing about the life of Marx, then you’ll only need to take away this to understand the big picture because it sums up the core idea that is also the most fundamental within the Marxist framework—historical materialism (also known as dialectic materialism)—which is the idea that history not only follows a pattern but that it follows a scientifically demonstrable pattern based on the “inexorable laws of history” as Marx put it. For example, the stone age was supplanted by the bronze age, which was eventually supplanted by the iron age, and then the age of feudalism, by which capitalism arose as the next stage of history. All of these stages, which were remnants of the history of class struggles, would eventually be supplanted by socialism (and eventually communism)—this would be the final stage of human enlightenment or the final form of humanity you could say, and this was not up for debate (laws are laws!). The Revolutions of 1848 in which the great monarchies of Western and Central Europe began to crumble were greatly influenced, and in many cases exacerbated by, The Communist Manifesto which Marx and his ally Friedrich Engels published in February 1848. Yet when Marx addressed the Communist League in March 1850, he clearly outlined his frustrations and reflected on what he thought went wrong:

We told you already in 1848, brothers, that the German liberal bourgeoisie would soon come to power and would immediately turn its newly won power against the workers. You have seen how this forecast came true. It was indeed the bourgeoisie which took possession of the state authority in the wake of the March movement of 1848 and used this power to drive the workers, its allies in the struggle, back into their former oppressed position.[6]

Marx’s idea of gun ownership was rooted in the idea of arming the proletariat in its continuous class struggle:

It does not lie within the power of the workers to prevent the petty-bourgeois democrats from doing this; but it does lie within their power to make it as difficult as possible for the petty bourgeoisie to use its power against the armed proletariat, and to dictate such conditions to them that the rule of the bourgeois democrats, from the very first, will carry within it the seeds of its own destruction, and its subsequent displacement by the proletariat will be made considerably easier.

Marx goes on to elucidate this idea in the second of his three main points while addressing the Communist League:

To be able forcefully and threateningly to oppose this party, whose betrayal of the workers will begin with the very first hour of victory, the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens’ militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed. Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers. Where the workers are employed by the state, they must arm and organize themselves into special corps with elected leaders, or as a part of the proletarian guard. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary. The destruction of the bourgeois democrats’ influence over the workers, and the enforcement of conditions which will compromise the rule of bourgeois democracy, which is for the moment inevitable, and make it as difficult as possible – these are the main points which the proletariat and therefore the League must keep in mind during and after the approaching uprising.

Marx’s take on this, aside from any sympathy you might grant him considering he was pro-gun, shouldn’t be confused nor mistaken by the fact that his ideas in practice have amounted to unfathomable terrors and the deaths of millions. The Luddites of the early 19th century who smashed factory machines out of fear that technology would destroy their jobs inspired Marx nonetheless to promote the same tactics while he was alive, many of which were indeed used during the revolutions in the mid to late 19th century.

Though this is a different story for a different time, Marx lived quite the lavish life between 1844 to 1848 where some estimates put him in the top 1% of wage earners (had his wages not come from the profits of Engels’s fathers’ factory), yet one story, in particular, happens to fit this topic. Marx’s father, who had died in 1838, had left behind his estate, though Karl himself wasn’t able to acquire the payout until 1848 which supposedly amounted to 6,000 francs (which was a massive sum of money at that time).[7] So what did Marx do with that money? If Robert Payne—the renowned biographer of Marx and many famous figures—was correct, then Marx spent at least 5,000 francs for the purpose of funding weaponry for Belgian workmen.[8]


If you were surprised by Marx’s sentiments towards guns, then the issue of welfare—specifically concerning money and benefits conferred onto the citizens often in exchange for votes—will likewise surprise you. Isabel Paterson, in her timeless book The God of the Machine (1943), had this to say about the humanitarian, which Marx no doubt saw himself as: “The humanitarian in theory is the terrorist in action.”[9] If the shoe fits, then it fits, and in fact, Marx had written this in 1835 when he was a teenager: “The main principle, however, which must guide us in the selection of a vocation is the welfare of humanity, our own deflection.”[10]

Marx thrived off the fact that humanity had reached a point where there appeared to be an immense amount of wealth that was for many people increasingly more unobtainable. The dishonesty of this notion was beside the point—if socialism was to be brought into existence, it could only occur as a result of an uprising which itself was rooted in class struggles. So what was welfare, the kind doled out by the state at least, to Marx, then? In essence, it was a means of keeping the proletariat comfortable in their misery, to make them just happy enough to forget about their problems for a split second, while keeping them just derelict enough to sell their labor at a great discount, again, for what Marx saw as nothing more than a few moments of peace in return. He made this notion clear in the same speech where he proclaimed the need for an armed proletariat:

However, the democratic petty bourgeois want better wages and security for the workers, and hope to achieve this by an extension of state employment and by welfare measures; in short, they hope to bribe the workers with a more or less disguised form of alms and to break their revolutionary strength by temporarily rendering their situation tolerable.

The zenith of irony is that Marx lived a majority of his life on welfare, at least in the sense that he lived off the backs of others. Despite spending decade after decade expressing his disdain for the toils of the common man, beyond working as an editor for several outlets throughout his life, he never, as far as the literature shows, held a labor-intensive job in his entire life, at least not for any extended period of time. Proof of this can be found in a letter Marx wrote to Dr. Ludwig Kugelmann in December 1862 where he noted that:

In 1861, I lost my chief source of income, the New-York Tribune, as a result of the American Civil War. My contributions to that paper have remained in abeyance up till the present. Thus, I have been, and still am, forced to undertake a large amount of hackwork to prevent myself and my family from actually being relegated to the streets. I had even decided to become a ‘practical man’ and had intended to enter a railway officer at the beginning of next year. Luckily — or perhaps I should say unluckily? — I did not get the post because of my bad handwriting.[11]

Time Preference

If you made it this far in the article, you’re probably wondering by now: “Hey, idiot, don’t you know that Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk specifically outlined that Marx didn’t understand the concept of time preference, hence why Marx’s theories, while leaving out methodological individualism and methodological subjectivism, reduced all other aspects and variables in his equations so that all that would be left over was labor? Why yes, I remember my first time reading Böhm-Bawerk too! But what I am hinting at is far more subtle and it relates to one passage I had read by Marx years ago in his book Wage-Labour and Capital & Value, Price and Profit (the first section was based on a series of lectures he gave in Brussels in 1847, while the second section is based on speeches given in 1865.) If you weren’t aware of Marx’s conception of value for instance (and maybe you aren’t privy to economics in general, and that’s okay!), then consider this: what Marx left out of his framework and what he failed to discover in his lifetime was the idea of a discounted wage, namely that it’s not the case that an employer pays a worker less than what the product sells for because of an evil desire to extract “surplus value” out of their workers. What is actually occurring is that employers and employees are making an intertemporal exchange or in other words an exchange across time. More specifically, employers are forgoing consumption in the present in hopes of consuming much more in the future, while the employee wants to consume as quickly as possible while forgoing as little as possible. Such is the reality of the plight of humans—we want the most we can attain for the least amount of effort. The idea of time preference concerning these ideas is that employers, less they are granted government privileges and benefits, must by default have a lower time preference than the people around them so they can save money, which constitutes the ability to invest, which further constitutes the ability to hire workers and grow a business. Employers, simply put, are willing to pay their employees prior to the sale of the finished products, and prior to the sale of the finished products that may never sell in the first place.

So in what sense would someone like Marx grasp this idea. Well, to your surprise (which was to my dismay years ago), Marx said this:

Let us take any worker; for example, a weaver. The capitalist supplies him with the loom and yarn. The weaver applies himself to work, and the yarn is turned into cloth. The capitalist takes possession of the cloth and sells it for 20 shillings, for example. Now are the wages of the weaver a share of the cloth, of the 20 shillings, of the product of the work? By no means. Long before the cloth is sold, perhaps long before it is fully woven, the weaver has received his wages. The capitalist, then, does not pay his wages out of the money which he will obtain from the cloth, but out of money already on hand.[12]

Regardless of whether you grasp this point, and even more so if you do, it’s worthwhile to really think about how profound this point was, in 1847 nonetheless. It’d be pointless to overemphasize how his conclusions ran amok even despite this conception of time preference which was again way ahead of his time. How he drifted away from such a common-sense idea probably has more to do with Marx coming to terms with his inner contradictions, the same contradictions that he passed the burden off to: capitalism and the capitalists.



[1] Right-wingers are hardly immune from this, but it’s very much evident on the left when—for example—conservative speakers are prevented from speaking at a college event, as if listening to an opposing viewpoint for an hour will instantly begin to unravel over a decade or more of left-wing propaganda.

[2] For an excellent overview of this topic, see TomWoodsTV, “Was Karl Marx Right About Anything?,” YouTube Video, 36:15, October 12, 2015,

[3] This isn’t to say that these are the only three topics he got right, but I chose three for the sake of brevity in this article.

[4] Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1970), 14-15.

[5] For a short summary of Marxism and its role in revolutions, whether peaceful or violent in nature, see Adam Schaff, “Marxist Theory on Revolution and Violence,” Journal of the History of Ideas 34, no. 2 (April – June 1973): 263-270.

[6] See Karl Marx and Friderich Engels, “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,” London, March 1850.

[7] An entire years expenses in Paris in 1845, for example, cost around 750 francs per year. See Donald Cope McKay, The National Workshops: A Study in the French Revolution of 1848 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933), xvi.

[8] Robert Payne, Marx (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968), 354.

[9] Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1943), 242.

[10] Loyd D. Easton and Kurt. H. Guddat, Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society (New York: Doubleday, 1967), 39.

[11] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Marx and Engels Collected Works: Letters 1860-1864, Volume 41, “Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann in Hanover,” London, December 28, 1862, 435-436. [Italics for emphasis]

[12] Karl Marx, Wage-Labour and Capital & Value, Price and Profit (New York: International Publishers, 2017), 18.

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