Marx-Engels Correspondence 1851

Engels to Marx
In London

Source: MECW Volume 38, p. 326;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, 1913.

[Manchester,] 3 April [1851]

Dear Marx,

The business of my opened letter is strange indeed. It could only have been opened by our clerk in the office and I doubt whether he possesses the nerve; besides, he could only have done it in old Hill’s absence and I don’t believe the latter left the office for as much as a second. None of the Ermens was in town. It is, of course, impossible to get to the bottom of the matter as there would seem to be a strong possibility — vu [in view of] questions in Parliament concerning refugees — that it actually happened at the post office. I had already noticed that the clerk, who is more a servant of Ermen Brothers than of Ermen and Engels, had been regarding me with some suspicion of late, but from there to tampering with letters il y a loin encore [it’s still a far cry]. In any case I shall know how to forestall that sort of thing in future. Even if the fool actually read the letter, it would be of no great moment; for if the fellow ever tried to make use of the information, e.g. if my old man were to come here, it would so compromise him that he would at once get the sack. Anyhow, as I have said, I doubt whether he possesses the nerve.

As to the question raised in your last letter but one, it is not entirely clear. However, I think the following might suffice.

In commerce the merchant as a firm, as a producer of profits, and the same merchant as a consumer are two entirely different people who confront one another as antagonists. The merchant as a firm means capital account and/or profit and loss account. The merchant as a guzzler, toper, householder and procreator means household expense account. Hence the capital account debits the household expense account with every centime that makes its way from the commercial to the private purse and, since the household expense account shows only a debit but no credit and is thus one of the firm’s worst debtors, the total debit standing to the household expense account at the end of the year is pure loss and is written off the profit. In the balance sheet, however, and in calculating the percentage of profit, the sum expended for housekeeping is usually regarded as being still in hand, as part of the profit; e.g. if, on a capital of 100,000 talers, 10,000 talers are earned but 5,000 frittered away, it is calculated that a profit of 10 per cent has been made and, when everything has been correctly entered, the capital account in the following year figures with a debit of 105,000 talers. The actual procedure is rather more complicated than I have described here, in that the capital account and the household expense account seldom come in contact save at the end of the year, and the household expense account generally figures as a debtor to the cash account, which serves as broker; but in the end this is what it amounts to.

Where there are several partners, the matter is very simple. E.g. A has 50,000 talers in the business and B likewise 50,000; they make a profit of 10,000 talers and each spends 2,500 talers. So at the end of the year the accounts appear as follows — in single entry book-keeping and omitting the imaginary accounts:

A Credit with A & B —capital invested 50,000 talers
A   "   "   " —share of profit   5,000   "   "
55,000 talers
Debit with A & B —for cash   2,500   "   "
A Credit for the following year 52,500 talers

Similarly B. Yet the firm continues to calculate that it has made 10 per cent profit. In a word: the merchants, when calculating the percentage of profit, ignore the partners’ living expenses, whereas they allow for them in calculating the increase in capital resulting from the profit.

I'd be happy enough to write about the Hungarian campaign — or better still, if that were possible, about the campaigns of 1848/50 as a whole — if only all the sources were available. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung could only serve for comparison with the Austrian bulletins, and you know how much these leave to be desired. I should require at least 10-12 works on this campaign alone, and even then wouldn’t have what I needed most — Kossuth’s Közlöny (Moniteur). There’s no easier way to make an ass of oneself than by trying to argue about military history without having at one’s finger-tips all the facts concerning strength, provisioning, munitions, etc. That may be alright for a newspaper when all journals are equally ill-informed and reduced to drawing correct inferences from the few data at their disposal. But I don’t believe that as yet sufficient material on the Hungarian war is available to the public to enable one to say post festum of every crucial occasion: ‘Here such and such ought to have been done, and here what was done was right, even though the outcome might seem to belie it.’ Who, for instance, will provide me with data on the establishment of the Austrian and Hungarian armies and of the various corps on the eve of every battle and of every important movement? For that Kossuth’s and Görgey’s memoirs would have to be published first, and an authentic version of the battle and campaign plans submitted by Dembinski be available. However, even with the existing material, much could be elucidated and perhaps quite an interesting article produced. What is already clear is that, at the beginning of 1849, it was the winter alone which saved the Hungarian insurrection, as it did the Polish in 1830, and the Russian Empire in 1812. [during Napoleon’s invasion] Hungary, Poland and Russia are the only countries in Europe where invasion is impossible in winter. But it’s always fatal when an insurrection is saved merely by the bottomless mud which surrounds it. If the business between Austria and Hungary had come to a head in May instead of in December, a Hungarian army would never have been organised and the whole mess would have ended up like Baden, ni plus ni moins. [neither more nor less] The more I mug up on war, the greater my contempt for heroism — a fatuous expression, heroism, and never heard on the lips of a proper soldier. When Napoleon was not haranguing or making proclamations but speaking coolly he never spoke of glorieux courage indomptable [glorious and undaunted courage] etc., but would say at most, ‘il s'est bien battu[he fought well]

Incidentally, should a revolution break out in France next year, there can be no doubt that the Holy Alliance will advance at least as far as the gates of Paris. And, despite the remarkable attainments and rare energy of our French revolutionaries, it still remains highly questionable whether the forts and the enceinte of Paris are so much as armed and provisioned. But even if 2 forts are taken, e.g. St Denis and the next one to the east, it will be all to hell with Paris and the Revolution, jusqu'à nouvel ordre. [until further orders] Soon I shall explain this to you exactly in military terms, together with the only countermeasure that might at least temper the invasion: the occupation of the Belgian fortresses by the French, and of those on the Rhine by means of a highly problematic insurrectional coup de main.

I think you'll enjoy the following joke about the nature of your Prussian foot-sloggers which throws light on the later defeat at Jena, etc. So inspired was Prussian General Bülow, of the same school as old Fritz, father or uncle to the later Bülow of 1813, by the apparently reckless but au fond exceedingly sure blows struck by Napoleon at Marengo, that he arrived at the following insight: 1) To lay down a system of warfare based on the absurd for the purpose of ‘confounding’ the enemy with one folly after another and, 2) to provide the infantry, not with bayonets, but with lances as in the Thirty Years’ War! In order to beat Napoleon, one does away with gun-powder, qu'en dis-tu?

I'm delighted that, despite everything, you should be coming here at the end of the month. But you must make use of the opportunity to bring me the complete run of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, from which I shall compile dossiers on all the German democratic jackasses and the French ones likewise — a task that must in any case be done before we again find ourselves precipitated into some kind of mess. It would be good if for this purpose the worthy Liebknecht, qui est assez bon pour cela [who is good enough for that] could go to the Museum and look up details of the voting in the Berlin, Frankfurt and Vienna assemblies, which must be there (in stenographic records), and make extracts for the whole of the Left.

You know, I haven’t read Daniels’ conclusions. That the fellow should insist on ‘concepts’ as mediating between human beings, etc., is explicable; nor will you ever persuade one who writes about physiology that it is not. In the final count he can always argue that, every time an actual fact affects men, it provokes concepts in them, and hence that the reaction to this fact, though in the second instance a consequence of the fact, is, in the first instance, a consequence of the concept. Of course there is no objection to this formal logic, and it all really depends on the manner, which I do not know, of its presentation in the manuscript. I think it would be best to write and tell him that, knowing now to what misinterpretations certain sections are open, he should so alter them that his ‘true’ opinion plainly emerges. That is all you can do, unless you yourself rewrite the more questionable passages of the manuscript, which is not feasible either.

Let me know how your wife is, and give her my warm regards.

I'm glad that you've at long last finished with political economy. The thing has really been dragging on far too long, and so long as you have in front of you an unread book which you believe to be important, you won’t be able to settle down to writing.

What are the prospects of finding a publisher for the two volumes of 60 sheets you have in mind? If that turns out all right, we might be able to inveigle the fellow into getting the necessary material for the Hungarian article — I'd let him know about it — the cost to be deducted later, au besoin [if need be], from the fee. In that case I should also need a very good special map of Hungary and Transylvania, if possible battle-plans which, to the best of my knowledge, are not contained in existing works — and the map alone could cost some 15-20 talers. I would arrange for Weydemeyer to look for one. Apropos, do you know his address? I'd like to ask him about the military ABC books on organisation and tactics, since I can’t get that sort of stuff here. You might also see if you can get any books on Hungary out of the Beck woman, or else through her. I shall also need the Decker, which you still have.

F. E.