Letters of Marx and Engels, 1846

Engels To Marx [106]
In Brussels

Source: MECW Volume 38 p. 73;
Written: after 18 September 1846;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, 1913.

Paris, after 18 September 1846

7. they should change the §§ on the sharing of dividends into §§ on the sharing of losses, for, failing all this, they would go bankrupt already as a result of the celebrated principle of bearing the whole loss but sharing the profit. They would therefore have to do twice as much business as any other publisher in order to keep going — but the fact remains that hitherto all publishers dealing exclusively, or merely for preference, in banned works — Fröbel, Wigand, Leske — have, in the long run, been ruined: 1. by confiscation, 2. by being excluded from markets, which — always happens, 3. by sharp practice on the part of commission agents and retail dealers, 4. by police threats, prosecution, etc., 5. by competition from publishers who only occasionally print something objectionable, who are therefore less subject to police interference and who, moreover, also have a better chance of obtaining manuscripts that will appeal, whereas the abovementioned stereotypes are left holding the rubbish and books that do not appeal. The book trade’s struggle with the police can be waged with profit only if large numbers of publishers take part in it; it is essentiellement guerrilla warfare, and one can only make money if one seldom takes such a risk. The market is not large enough to make a spécialité of the article.

For the rest it makes no difference whether the company is ruined, for ruined it will be no matter what kind of start it makes; but where there’s a guarantee, it will be ruined too quickly, a high fever being induced with three crises, of which the third is certainly fatal. In view of the not over-copious supply of manuscripts to be expected, a mild consumption would be more appropriate. It’s only regrettable that too big a hole is made in its capital if it does its own printing. It ought to have sufficient to enable it to print for about 1 1/2 years; for supposing a capital of 3,000 talers expended in the first year, the Eastertide settlement would, given profitable trading, produce approx. 1/3, or a minimum of 2,000 talers. Hence for the second year it ought to have at least 1,000 talers over and above those 3,000 talers. Thus 1/3-1/4 of the capital is permanently tied up in remainders, bad payers, etc. It might be possible to raise this amount by inducing the shareholders to subscribe an additional loan repayable over a period. It is essential, by the way, to consult a publisher first, in order to find out exactly how much of the capital employed remains tied up at the end of the first year, or how much time it takes to turn the total capital over once. I am not sure about it myself, but I have reason to believe that in the above calculations I have underestimated rather than overestimated the capital permanently tied up.

With his 20 per cent of the profits the manager will grow rich. Even if 10 per cent of any losses are passed to the reserve fund, there will be a handsome deficit.

As for the consequences the guarantee would entail for the authors, the less said the better. In my opinion it should be refused if it is tendered in respect of longer works. Once the company has established itself on that basis, we could no longer offer other publishers anything without their believing that the company had turned it down. Quite apart from the fact that the same reasons for which we refused it to the Westphalians obtain here as well. Neither our honour nor our interest would incline us to accept.

To particularise: 7 in the general purposes committee [Tendenzkomitee] is excessive, three, at most 5, is enough Otherwise we shall get jackasses on it, if not intriguers. The general purposes committee must after all be +- resident in Brussels. In which case, with 7 members, how can there be any choice? No reason at all to have so many. In any case it’s we who will have to do the work, and I am ready to take on my share, so what do we want with all those members? Besides, if it is the same with the opinions of the general purposes committee as with those of the Provincial Diets, [107] what then? All those written opinions will make a devil of a lot of work, but there could be no question of our getting out of it. As I said, I am ready to take on my share.

QUERY: If the bourgeoisie nominates a truly socialist supervisory council, which passes outre [overrides] our opinions, what then?