Marx-Engels Correspondence 1865
Source: MECW Volume 42, p 135;
First published: in Die Neue Zeit, 1909.
I must offer you my profound apologies for allowing your kind letter of the 2nd-4th inst. to remain unanswered for so long. I only hope you will not condemn me unheard. My excuse is that for the first few days I was greatly preoccupied in part with an accumulation of current business, but in part also with the large amount of urgent correspondence, which one always faces when one suddenly appears before the public again after long otium cum (vel sine) dignitate [honourable (or dishonourable) leisure] and at the same time has such merry adventures as we have had with the Social-Demokratchen. In addition to all that, I moved house, and that momentarily threw my papers into some disarray, in which your letter was mislaid; I only found it again the day before yesterday and I now hasten to reply to you.
I am most grateful to you for so kindly offering to send your Sphinx and other publications to Marx and myself. My bookseller here is Mr Franz Thimm, Manchester, through whom you may send everything to me. Sending things via the bookseller requires 3-4 weeks as a rule; if you would send me at least the first few Nos. in a simple open wrapper by post (it does not cost much), I should be obliged to you and will gladly reimburse you. Communications for Marx should be sent to me here, and he will receive them within 12 hours of arrival. As you yourself rightly realise, I could not commit myself at all at this stage regarding possible future contributions; let us leave the question open for the time being, although, in your case, we are at least not running the risk of incurring the suspicion of wishing to rule over any section of the proletariat in Germany from England.
Meanwhile, the involuntary delay in my reply has given me the opportunity to obtain your publication on the working-class question; I read it with great interest. I, too, was immediately struck on first reading Darwin by the remarkable similarity between his description of the vegetable and animal life and the Malthusian theory. Only my conclusion was different from yours, viz.: that it is to the everlasting disgrace of modern bourgeois development that it has not yet progressed beyond the economic forms of the animal kingdom. The so-called ‘economic laws’ are not eternal laws of nature but historical laws that appear and disappear, and the code of modern political economy, insofar as the economists have drawn it up correctly and objectively, is for us merely a summary of the laws and conditions in which modern bourgeois society can exist, in a word: its conditions of production and exchange expressed and summed up abstractly. For us, therefore, none of these laws, insofar as it is an expression of purely bourgeois relations, is older than modern bourgeois society; those which have been more or less valid for all previous history, are thus only an expression of such relations as are common to all forms of society based upon class rule and class exploitation. Amongst the former we may count the so-called Ricardian law, which is valid neither for serfdom nor for the slavery of antiquity; amongst the latter, whatever part of the so-called Malthusian theory can be sustained.
The parson Malthus filched this theory, like all his other ideas, directly from his predecessors; the only part of it which is truly his is the purely arbitrary application of the two progressions. The theory itself has long since been reduced by the economists in England to rational dimensions; the population exerts pressure on the means — not of subsistence, but of employment; mankind could multiply more rapidly than modern bourgeois society can stand. For us yet another reason to proclaim this bourgeois society to be a barrier to development which must fall.
You yourself raise the question of how the increase in the means of subsistence can be made to keep pace with the increase in population; but excepting one sentence in the preface, I find no attempt at an answer. We start from the premise that the same forces which have created modern bourgeois society — the steam engine, modern machinery, mass colonisation, railways and steamships, world trade — and which through the unending commercial crises are already now working towards its ruin and ultimate destruction — that these means of production and exchange will also be sufficient to reverse the relationship in a short while and to raise the productive power of every individual to such an extent that he will produce enough for the consumption of 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 persons, that enough people will become superfluous to urban industry to devote far more manpower than before to agriculture, that science will at last be applied to agriculture on a large scale as well and as systematically as in industry, that those areas of South Eastern Europe and Western America which have been inexhaustibly fertilised for us by nature itself will be exploited on a far mightier scale than before. Not until all these areas have been turned by the plough and there is then dearth, will it be time to say caveant consules.
Not enough is being produced, that is the root of the whole matter. But why is not enough being produced? Not because the limits of production have been reached — even for today and by present-day means. No, but because the limits of production are determined not by the number of hungry bellies, but rather by the number of purchasers with full purses. Bourgeois society has no desire, and can have no desire, to produce more. Those impecunious bellies, the labour which cannot be utilised with profit and is thus incapable of purchasing, fall prey to the mortality figures. Let us assume that there is a sudden boom in industry, such as is constantly occurring, to enable this labour to be employed with profit, then the labour will acquire the money with which to purchase, and the means of subsistence have as yet always been found. It is the endless circulus vitiosus in which the whole political economy revolves. One takes bourgeois conditions in their entirety as one’s premise, and then proves that each separate part is a necessary part thereof — ergo, an ‘eternal law’.
I was greatly amused by your description of the Schulzian co-operatives. We have been through all that here in a different form, although it is now more or less a thing of the past. People in Germany have yet to develop their proletarian pride.
There is a remark about old Hegel which I cannot let pass without comment: you deny him any deeper knowledge of the mathematical sciences. Hegel knew so much mathematics that none of his disciples was capable of editing the numerous mathematical manuscripts he left behind. The only man who, to my knowledge, has enough understanding of mathematics and philosophy to be able to do so is Marx. That the detail of the philosophy of nature is full of nonsense I will of course gladly grant you, but his real philosophy of nature is to be found in the second part of the Logic, in the theory of Essence, the true core of the whole doctrine. The modern scientific theory of the interaction of natural forces (Grove’s Correlation of Forces, which I think first appeared in 1838) is, however, only another expression or rather the positive proof of Hegel’s argument about cause, effect, interaction, force, etc. I am no longer a Hegelian, of course, but I still retain a deep feeling of piety and devotion for the titanic old fellow.
Yours very respectfully