Marx’s misquotation was pointed out. Nonetheless, he reproduced it in Capital, along with other discrepancies, and when the falsification was again noticed and denounced, he let out a huge discharge of obfuscating ink; he, Engels and later his daughter Eleanor were involved in the row, attempting to defend the indefensible, for twenty years. None of them would ever admit the original, clear falsification and the result of the debate is that some readers are left with the impression, as Marx intended, that there are two sides to the controversy. There are not. Marx knew Gladstone never said any such thing and the cheat was deliberate. It was not unique. Marx similarly falsified quotations from Adam Smith.
Marx’s systematic misuse of sources attracted the attention of two Cambridge scholars in the 1880s. Using the revised French edition of Capital (1872-75), they produced a paper for the Cambridge Economic Club, ‘Comments on the use of the Blue Books by Karl Marx in Chapter XV of Le Capital’ (1885). They say they first checked Marx’s references ‘to derive fuller information on some points’, but being struck by the ‘accumulating discrepancies’ they decided to examine ‘the scope and importance of the errors so plainly existing’.
They discovered that the differences between the Blue Book texts and Marx’s quotations from them were not the result solely of inaccuracy but ‘showed signs of a distorting influence’. In one class of cases they found that quotations had often been ‘conveniently shortened by the omission of passages which would be likely to weigh against the conclusions which Marx was trying to establish’. Another category ‘consists in piecing together fictitious quotations out of isolated statements contained in different parts of a Report. These are then foisted upon the reader in inverted commas with all the authority of direct quotations from the Blue Books themselves.’ On one topic, the sewing machine, ‘he uses the Blue Books with a recklessness which is appalling…to prove just the contrary of what they really establish.’ They concluded that their evidence might not be ‘sufficient to sustain a charge of deliberate falsification’ but certainly showed ‘an almost criminal recklessness in the use of authorities’ and warranted treating any ‘other parts of Marx’s work with suspicion’.
The truth is, even the most superficial inquiry into Marx’s use of evidence forces one to treat with scepticism everything he wrote which relies on factual data. He can never be trusted. The whole of the key Chapter Eight of Capital is a deliberate and systematic falsification to prove a thesis which an objective examination of the facts showed was untenable.
His crimes against the truth fall under four heads. First, he uses out-of-date material because up-to-date material does not support his case. Second he selects certain industries, where conditions were particularly bad, as typical of capitalism. This cheat was particularly important to Marx because without it he would not really have had Chapter Eight at all. His thesis was that capitalism produces ever-worsening conditions; the more capital employed, the more badly the workers had to be treated to secure adequate returns. The evidence he quotes at length to justify it comes almost entirely from small, inefficient, under-capitalized firms in archaic industries which in most cases were pre-capitalist-pottery, dressmaking, blacksmiths, baking, matches, wallpaper, lace, for instance.