The following is a partial extract from the preface of ‘The National System of Political Economy’ just released by Imperium Press and syndicated with their permission.


“The nationality of the worker is neither French, nor English, nor German, it is labour, free slavery, self-huckstering. His government is neither French, nor English, nor German, it is capital.”

Karl Marx, Draft of an Article on Friedrich List’s book: Das Nationale System der Politischen Oekonomie

In his winter years, Friedrich List was the contemporary of a young Karl Marx. It’s worth juxtaposing both thinkers given that Friedrich List’s Na[1]tional System of Political Economy “has been more frequently translated than the works of any other German economist, except Karl Marx”.[1]

Of biographical note is that Friedrich List “turned down an offer to become editor of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, after which Karl Marx took the position”.[2]. This was as close as both economists came to crossing paths. We cannot be sure if List had heard of the young radical. Marx, in contrast, was certainly cognizant of the “man who saved Germany from falling prey to English economics.[3].

Although Marx had commented “on Friedrich List’s proposals for tariff protection for German industry”[4] in his text, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, the world would have to wait “until a Russian translation [of Marx’s critique of List] appeared in a Soviet historical journal” in 1971. In his Draft of an Article on Friedrich List’s book: Das Nationale System der Politischen Oekonomie, Marx, in a caustic style which would foreshadow his later treatment of fellow socialists, lambasted List—even going so far as to call him a “true German philistine”.[5]

When one looks past Marx’s petty jabs and insults, it becomes clear that his primary dispute with List concerns the latter’s emphasis on the importance of nationality, which Marx viewed as a veil for the aims “of the German bourgeois, as represented by List”.[6].

Marx elaborates on the bourgeois nature of nationalism:

“However much the individual bourgeois fights against the others, as a class the bourgeois have a common interest, and this community of interest, which is directed against the proletariat inside the country, is directed against the bourgeois of other nations outside the country. This the bourgeois calls his nationality.”[7]

However, in endeavoring to condemn nationalism as bourgeois, Marx runs the risk of subverting his emphasis on class interests. Szporluk is skeptical of Marx’s class-centric conception of nationality. He states:

“Marx did not specify how and why it should be possible for some bourgeois to agree on a common interest against other bourgeois, and why the basis for union and separation should be nationality.”[8].

Had Marx acknowledged that “there was more to the unity of the German nation than the selfish class interest of the German bourgeoisie”,[9], the inexorable result would have been the introduction of a factor alien to “selfish class interest”[10]—the common denominator between Marx and Smith’s systems.

In Plato’s ‘Republic’, Socrates contends that the human soul has three parts. “In addition to reason and desire, there is also a third part of the soul which Socrates calls thumos”.[11]. Greg Johnson defines thumos as the “capacity to passionately identify with particular things”.[12].

In attributing cynical motivations to German capitalists, Marx posits a simplistic view of man—an anthropology which ignores our attachment to family, nation, and race. It is inconceivable to him that one would place their “thumotic attachments to one’s own nation-state”[13] above Smith’s dictum: buy goods at their cheapest, irrespective of whether they are domestically produced.

The history of national development attests to the triumph of thumotic fidelity over short term gain. Szporluk asks:

“Surely some German bourgeois actually benefited from a free-trade relationship with foreign countries even if free trade hurt other (perhaps most) German capitalists? If the former sacrificed their economic advantage in the name of national interest, were they acting primarily out of class motivations?”[14]

For Marx, Capital and Labor are perennially bereft of a Fatherland. Ulick Fitzhugh states: “Marx believed that Capitalism was moving in a globalised direction and hence any restriction of capital along national or intermediate lines was contrary to the movement of history”[15]. Consequently, Marx dismissed “List’s analysis as irrelevant”.[16] Marx denied the “possibility of a national road to capitalism […] because capitalism and communism were worldwide systems and could be treated only in a supranational setting”.[17]

In order to assess the veracity of Marx’s dismissal of List’s contribution to economics, it is necessary to examine the economic odyssey of the two foremost “Marxist” nations of the Twentieth Century: Russia and China. Before doing so, we must examine certain pertinent aspects of Marxist theory.

Ulick Fitzhugh contends that “Marxism radically re-orientated the Socialist tradition”.[18] In place of the “normative arguments in favor of Communism”,[19] which predominated until the advent of Marx’s doctrine, Marx based his hope for an instantiation of socialism upon the trajectory of material forces in history.  Gregor explicates Marx’s view of the relationship between the material forces and other areas of the social order:

“The development of the material productive forces, together with their corresponding productive relations constitute the ‘economic base’ upon which the ‘superstructure’ of legal, political, and intellectual life is erected”.[20]

Put simply, economics is the prime causal factor in any given social order, according to Marx.

Ulick Fitzhugh outlines Marx’s materialist conceptualization of History:

“Marx believed in a linear history of the world—the telos of which was a stateless communist society. History was the negation of previous modes of production, and therefore superstructural class domination and cultural ephemera (family forms, religion, beliefs, etc.) which the mode of production underlaid, by newer modes of production.”[21]

This is known as Marxian historical materialism. It has important implications for political praxis—namely, that what constitutes appropriate political activity is depends upon the mode of production at that juncture in history; one cannot realistically hope to have a revolution with the aim of establishing ‘Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism’ if one finds themselves in a Feudal context.

What is the material stage that must be achieved as a pre-requisite to establishing genuine socialism? Gregor states:

“The classical Marxism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was specifically designed for application in industrially mature economies, environments inhabited by politically sophisticated proletarian majorities, and characterized by monopoly production, investment saturation, falling wages and an overall declining rate of profit”.[22]

It is ironic then, as many have noted, that the two foremost socialist nations of the last century, Communist China and the USSR, emerged from agrarian, rather than industrial, conditions. Due to his successful revolution in an agrarian context, “Lenin’s Marxist credentials have been questioned since his seizure of power in 1917”[23]—such an attempt is bound to fail according to Marxist historical materialism.

Lenin, like others of various ideological stripes, was concerned with the backward economy of Russia vis-à-vis the West. It is certainly true that the Bolsheviks “anticipated a worldwide proletarian upheaval that would culminate in a universal, egalitarian utopia”.[24]. However, the “failure of revolution in the advanced industrial nations”[25] had imbued Lenin with a pessimistic attitude regarding the possibility of an international revolution.

By 1918, Lenin was already describing the Bolshevik Revolution as a “Russian revolt against foreign imperialism”[26]. Moving away from the class-centrism of classical Marxism, the advent of Leninism brought “the conflict between backward and advanced nations as central”[27] to the fore of discourse.

If one objectively contemplates Lenin’s division of “existing societies into two types: the industrially advanced countries and those countries that were not advanced”,[28], it is transparent that his mature beliefs “were obviously Listian, not Marxist”.[29].

 Indeed, “Lenin’s dialectics of international relations were derived from Friedrich List and Alexander Hamilton”.[30]. It is true that Lenin considered “himself an orthodox Marxist”,[31], but doesn’t every heretic assert continuity with an establishing tradition? Was it not Locke who appealed to the ancient rights of the Anglo-Saxons?

Furthermore, Lenin’s views were increasingly alien to the Marxist notion of economic class as the subject of importance in world history. For Lenin, the proletariat was not destined to industrialize Russia. He attributed “the task of realizing this goal to the state”.[32]. Lenin mirrors List in this regard. List viewed government intervention as a fundamental pre-requisite to the development of nascent industrial nations.

Alfred George Meyer captures how Lenin’s endorsement of the state as the revolutionary subject of this period radically broke with the maxims of traditional Marxism:

“Here all the supposed laws of Marxist historical materialism are overthrown. Political action determines economic development; consciousness is stronger than social relations. Causes turn into effects, and effects into causes”.[33]

Popular misinterpretation of Lenin’s ideas as supplemental to, rather than a break from, Marxism have persisted for over a century.


[1] W. O. Henderson, Friedrich List: Economist and Visionary 1789-1846 (London: Routledge, 2004).

[2] Daastøl, Friedrich List’s Heart, Wit and Will.

[3] Griffith, The Resurrection of Hungary.

[4] Roman Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism: Karl Marx Versus Friedrich List (Oxford University Press, 1993).

[5] Karl Marx, “Draft of an Article on Friedrich List’s book: Das Nationale System der Politischen Oekonomie”, MECW Volume 4 (1845).

[6] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[7] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[8] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[9] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[10] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[11] Greg Johnson, “Fukuyama on Identity Politics,” Counter Currents, January 11, 2019, https://counter-currents.com/2019/01/fukuyama-on-identity-politics/

[12] Greg Johnson, “Fukuyama on Identity Politics”.

[13] Greg Johnson, “Fukuyama on Identity Politics”.

[14] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[15] Fitzhugh, “Arthur Griffith and the National System of Political Economy”.

[16] A. James Gregor, A Place in the Sun: Marxism and Fascism in China’s Long Revolution (London: Routledge, 2019).

[17] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[18] Ulick Fitzhugh, ‘A Meditation on the Sigma Male Revolution and its Meaning in the Modern World’

[19] Ulick Fitzhugh, ‘Aodh de Blácam: Ireland’s Answer to Oswald Spengler’

[20] Gregor, Faces of Janus.

[21] Ulick Fitzhugh, “Aodh de Blácam: Ireland’s Answer to Oswald Spengler,” The Burkean, January 28, 2021, https://www.theburkean.ie/ireland/2021/01/28/aodh-de-blacam-irelands-answer-to-oswald-spengler

[22] Gregor, A Place in the Sun.

[23] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[24] Gregor, A Place in the Sun.

[25] Gregor, A Place in the Sun.

[26] Mikhail Agursky, The Third Rome: National Bolshevism in the USSR (Portland State University, 2008).

[27] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[28] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[29] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[30] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[31] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[32] Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism.

[33] Alfred George Meyer, Leninism (Harvard University Press, 1957).

Posted by Francis O'Beirne

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