Friday, April 19, 2024

A Letter From Marx To Engels In 1858 Outlining His Critique Of Political Economy

I have previously repeated some transcriptions from the correspondence Marx and Engels. I tried to concentrate on some formulations from Engels of ideas important in Marxism, Marx stating what is important and novel in Capital, or outlines of the project, particularly concentrating on the so-called transformation problem. This long letter certainly belongs in this collection.

Marx's ideas were fairly well-developed in 1858. Here he has promised Duncker, a publisher, to write what eventually became A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. After delay, he only delivered to the publisher the first part of what he was aiming for. I have always found this short book less inspiring, as compared with Capital. Capital does not contain anything on advocates of labor notes, though. The introduction is notable for a short statement of historical materialism, with various aphorism. It went through German (Prussian?) censorship, but I have never seen anybody comment on that. Marx thought his work was scientific, I guess, and thus the censors could not object.

Anyways, we see that Marx only published the first of six parts that he had planned, and only the first subpart of that. Volume 3 of Capital has something on land and rent. And one could argue that he incorporated some of his theory of wages into volume 1. But his developed publications do not contain anything explicit on the state, international trade, and the world market. I think, with his work habits, if Marx promised a few pages, you can expect a long chapter. If he promised a chapter, you can expect a book. Or maybe you will never get anything.

I include the start of this letter for completeness. I did not look up what the first two paragraphs are about, other than to see that the battle of Alma was part of the Crimean war.

2 April 1858

Dear Frederick

The Guardian stories highly AMUSING. A correspondent of the Daily Telegraph (DIRECTLY UNDER PAM'S AUSPICES) writes of the great danger of being 'DEAF' in Paris, and says that all 'DEAF ENGLISHMEN' were being hounded by the police as Allsops. Also that ENGLISHMEN were leaving Paris en masse, partly because of police chicanery, partly for fear of an outbreak. For if the latter were to happen and the Bonapartists be victorious, the John Bulls feared they might be massacred by the MADDENED SOLDIERS, whereat the correspondent himself naively comments that IN SUCH A CASE [HE] SHOULD LIKE TO BE ANYWHERE ELSE BUT IN PARIS. This DESERTION by the Bulls AT THIS MOMENT OF COMMERCIAL DEPRESSION is queering the pitch of the Parisian épicier and householdr, whores, etc. Have you seen that 300 million francs have AVOWEDLY 'DISAPPEARED' FROM THE BUDGET, AND NOBODY KNOWS WHAT HAS BECOME OF THEM? There will, BY AND BY, be further REVELATIONS about Bonapartist FINANCE, and then the asses on the Tribune will realise the wisdom of not having published the very ELABORATED ARTICLES I sent them on the subject six months ago.219 The fellows are asses and anything which is not, in the crudest sense, a 'question of the day' they tend to cast aside as UNINTERESTING, only to go and compile the most egregious rubbish about the selfsame subject as soon as it does become à l'ordre du jour.

Nota bene: in the military clubs here it is being rumoured that EVIDENCE has been discovered among the papers left by Raglan that, 1. at the battle of the Alma he rightly suggested to attack the Russians, not from the direction of the coast, but from the opposite flank, and drive them into the sea; 2. that he proposed to advance on Simferopol after the batde of the Alma; 3. that at Inkerman it was only by dint of the most urgent pleas and MENACES that he extorted from Canrobert the order for Bosquet to hasten to his [Raglan's] assistance. It is further said that, if the boasting on the other side of the Channel were to continue, these PAPERS would be published, providing proof that the French were ever ready TO BETRAY THEIR DEAR ALUES. Indeed, a few HINTS which de Lacy Evans dropped in the HOUSE OF COMMONS seem to indicate something of the kind.

I've been so ill with my bilious complaint this week that I am incapable of thinking, reading, writing or, indeed, of anything SAVE the ARTICLES for the Tribune. These, of course, cannot be allowed to lapse since I must draw on the curs as soon as possible. But my indisposition is disastrous, for I can't begin working on the thing for Duncker until I'm better and my fingers regain their VIGOUR and GRASP.

The following is a SHORT OUTLINE OF THE FIRST PART. The whole thing is to be divided into 6 books: 1. On Capital. 2. Landed Property. 3. Wage Labour. 4. State. 5. International Trade. 6. World Market.

1. Capital falls into 4 sections, a) Capital en général. (This is the substance of the first instalment.) b) Competition, or the interaction of many capitals, c) Credit, where capital, as against individual capitals, is shown to be a universal element, d) Share capital as the most perfected form (turning into communism) together with all its contradictions. The transition from capital to landed property is also historical, since landed property in its modern form is a product of the action of capital on feudal, etc., landed property. In the same way, the transition of landed property to wage labour is not only dialectical but historical, since the last product of modern landed property is the general introduction of wage labour, which then appears as the basis of the whole business.

WELL (IT IS DIFFICULT FOR ME TO-DAY TO WRITE), let us now come to the corpus delicti.

I. Capital. First section: Capital in general. (Throughout this section wages are invariably assumed to be at their minimum. Movements in wages themselves and the rise and fall of that minimum will be considered under wage labour. Further, landed property is assumed to be zero, i. e. landed property as a special economic relation is of no relevance as yet. Only by this procedure is it possible to discuss one relation without discussing all the rest.)

1. Value. Simply reduced to the quantity of labour; time as a measure of labour. Use-value—whether regarded subjectively as the USEFULNESS of labour, or objectively as the UTILITY of the product—is shown here simply as the material prerequisite of value, and one which for the present is entirely irrelevant to the formal economic definition. Value as such has no 'substance' other than actual labour. This definition of value, first outlined by Petty and neatly elaborated by Ricardo, is simply bourgeois wealth in its most abstract form. As such, it already presupposes 1. the transcending of indigenous communism (India, etc.), 2. of all undeveloped, pre-bourgeois modes of production which are not in every respect governed by exchange. Although an abstraction, it is an historical abstraction and hence feasible only when grounded on a specific economic development of society. All objections to this definition of value derive either from less developed relations of production or else are based on confused thinking, whereby the more concrete economic definitions from which value has been abstracted (and which may therefore also be seen, on the other hand, as a further development of the same) are upheld as against value in this its abstract, undeveloped form. In view of the uncertainty of messieurs les économistes themselves about the precise relation of this abstraction to later, more concrete forms of bourgeois wealth, these objections were plus ou moins justified.

The contradiction between the general characteristics of value and its material existence in a particular commodity, etc.—these general characteristics being the same as those later appearing in money—gives rise to the category of money.

2. Money.

Some discussion of precious metals as vehicles of the money relation.

a) Money as a measure. A few comments on the ideal measure in Steuart, Attwood, Urquhart; in more comprehensible form among the advocates of labour money (Gray, Bray, etc. An occasional swipe at the Proudhonists). The value of a commodity translated into money is its price. For the moment price appears only in this purely formal distinction between it and value. Thus, in accordance with the general law of value, a specific amount of money merely expresses a specific amount of objectified labour. In so far as money is a measure, the variability of its own value is of no importance.

b) Money as a means of exchange, or simple circulation.

Here we need only consider the simple form of circulation as such. All the other conditions by which it is determined are external to it, and hence will not be considered till later (presuppose more highly developed relations). If the commodity be C and money M then, although simple circulation evinces the two circuits or final points: C—M—M—C and M—C—C—M (this latter constituting the transition to c), the point of departure and the point of return in no way coincide, save by chance. Most of the so-called laws put forward by economists do not consider money circulation within its own confines, but as subsumed under, and determined by, higher movements. All this must be set aside. (Belongs in part to the theory of credit; but also calls for consideration where money appears again, but further defined.) Here, then, money as means of circulation (coin). But likewise as realisation (not simply evanescent) of price. From the simple statement that a commodity, in terms of price, has already been exchanged for money in theory before it is so exchanged in fact, there naturally follows the important economic law that the volume of the circulating medium is determined by prices, not vice versa. (Here, some historical stuff on the polemic concerning this point.) Again it follows that velocity may be a substitute for volume, but that a certain volume is essential to simultaneous acts of exchange in so far as the relation of these themselves is not that of + and —, an equalisation and consideration which will only be touched on at this juncture by way of anticipation. At this point I shall not go further into the development of this section and would only add that the lack of congruence of C—M and M—C is the most abstract and superficial form in which the possibility of crises is expressed. If the law concerning the determination of circulating volume by prices be developed, it will be found that the assumptions made here are by no means applicable to all states of society; hence the fatuity of comparing e.g. the influx of money from Asia into Rome and its effect on prices there tout bonnement with modern commercial relations. On closer examination, the most abstract definitions invariably point to a broader, definite, concrete, historical basis. (OF COURSE, since to the extent that they are definite they have been abstracted therefrom.)

c) Money qua money. This is a development of the formula M—C—C—M. Money, the independent existence of value as opposed to circulation; material existence of abstract wealth. Already manifested in circulation in so far as it appears, not only as a means of circulation, but as realising price. In this capacity c), in which a) and b) appear to be no more than functions, money is the universal commodity of contracts (here the variability of its value acquires importance: value being determined by labour time); it becomes an object of HOARDING. (This would still seem to be an important function in Asia, as formerly in the ancient world and in the Middle Ages GENERALLY. Now persists only in a subordinate capacity within the banking system. In times of crisis money in this form again acquires importance. In this form money considered along with the world-historical DELUSIONS which it engenders, etc. Destructive properties, etc.) As the realisation of all higher forms in which value will appear; definitive forms in which all relations of value are externally concluded. Money, however, once fixed in this form, ceases to be an economic relation which is lost in its material medium, gold and silver. On the other hand, in so far as money comes into circulation and is again exchanged for C, the final process, the consumption of the commodity, again falls outside the economic relation. The principle of self-reproduction is not intrinsic to simple money circulation, which therefore implies something extrinsic to itself. Implicit in money—as the elaboration of its definitions shows—is the postulate capital, i.e. value entering into and maintaining itself in circulation, of which it is at the same time the prerequisite. This transition also historical. The antediluvian form of capital is commercial capital, which always generates money. At the same time the emergence of real capital, either from money or merchant capital, which gains control of production

d) This simple circulation, considered as such—and it constitutes the surface of bourgeois society in which the underlying operations which gave rise to it are obliterated—evinces no distinction between the objects of exchange, save formal and evanescent ones. Here we have the realm of liberty, equality and of property based on 'labour'. Accumulation, as it appears here in the form of HOARDING, is merely greater thrift, etc. On the one hand then, the fatuity of the economic harmonists, modern free traders (Bastiat, Carey, etc.), in upholding this most superficial and most abstract relation of production as their truth, as against the more advanced relations and their antagonisms. Fatuity of the Proudhonists and suchlike socialists, in contrasting the ideas of equality, etc., corresponding to this exchange of equivalents (or presumed AS SUCH), to the inequalities, etc., to which this exchange reverts and from which it emanates. In this sphere, appropriation by labour, the exchange of equivalents, appears as the law of appropriation so that exchange simply returns the same value in another material form. In short, while everything may be 'lovely' here, it will soon come to a sticky end and this as a result of the law of equivalence. For now we come to

3. Capital.

This is really the most important part of the first instalment and one on which I particularly need your opinion. But today I can't go on writing. My bilious trouble makes it difficult for me to ply my pen, and keeping my head bent over the paper makes me dizzy. So FOR NEXT TIME.



K. M.

There is a lot in this letter. In much of Capital, Marx takes wages as at a given level, but not always. The given level does not have to be a physical subsistence. We see the order of exposition is value, money, capital. The simple circulation of commodities, with money as an intermediary, provides the possibility of crises. Marx asserts the theory of endogenous money. Much is given here about presenting his ideas as in opposition to the Ricardian socialists. Marx gestures that his account of exploitation is consistent with justice in exchange.

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