Marx-Engels Correspondence 1888
Source: MECW Volume 48, pp 228-230;
First published: in Russian, in Minuvshiye gody, No. 2, 1908.
I was prevented from replying to your kind letters of 8/20 January and 3/15 June – as also to a great many other letters – first by a weakness of my eyes which made it impossible for me to write at my desk for more than two hours a day, and thus necessitated an almost complete neglect of work and correspondence, and second by a journey to America during August and September from which I am only just returned. My eyes are better but as I now shall take in hand Volume III and finish it, I must still be careful not to overwork them, and consequently my friends must excuse me if my letters are not too long and not too frequent.
The disquisitions in your first letter on the relation between rate of surplus value and rate of profits are highly interesting and no doubt of great value for grouping statistics; but it is not in this way that our author attacks the problem. You suppose, in your formula, that every manufacturer keeps all the surplus value, which he, in the first hand, appropriates. Now upon that supposition, merchant’s capital and banker’s capital would be impossible, because they would not make any profit. The profit of a manufacturer therefore cannot represent all the surplus value he has extracted from his workmen.
On the other hand, your formula may serve to calculate, approximately, the composition of different capitals in different industries, under the rule of a common and equal rate of profit. I say may, because I have not at this moment materials at hand from which to verify the theoretical formula established by you.
You wonder why in England political economy is in such a pitiful state. It is the same everywhere; even classical economy, nay, even the most vulgar Free Trade Hausierburschen are looked upon with contempt by the still more vulgar ‘superior’ beings who fill the university chairs of economy. That is the fault of our author, to a great extent; he has taught people to see the dangerous consequences of classical economy; they find that no science at all, on this field at least, is the safe side of the question. And they have so well succeeded in blinding the ordinary philistine, that there are at the present moment four people in London, calling themselves ‘Socialist’ who claim to have refuted our author completely by opposing to his theory that of – Stanley Jevons!
Paris friends insist upon saying that Mr Mutual is not dead; I have no means of testing their information.
I have read with great interest your physiological observations upon exhaustion by prolonged labour time and the quantity of potential energy in the shape of food required to replace the exhaustion. To the statement of Ranke quoted by you I have to make a slight exception: if the 1,000,000 kgmetres in food merely replaced the amount of heat and mechanical work done, it will still be insufficient, for it does not then replace the wear and tear of muscle and nerve; for that not only heat-producing food is required but albumen and this cannot be measured in kgmetres alone, as the animal body is incapable of building it up from the elements.
I do not know the two books of Ed. Young and Phil. Bevan, but there must be some mistake in the statement that spinners and weavers in the Cotton Industry in America receive $90-120 a year. That represents $2 a week, – 8/- sterling, but in reality equals, in purchasing power, less than 5/- in England. From all I have heard, the wages of spinners and weavers in America are nominally higher but in reality only fully equal to those in England; that would make them about $5-6 a week, corresponding to 12/- to 16/- in England. Remember that spinners and weavers now are all women or boys of 15-18 years. As to Kautsky’s statement, he made the mistake of treating dollars as if they were pounds sterling; in order to reduce them to marks, he multiplied by 20 instead of by 5, thus obtaining fourfold the correct amount. The figures from the Census (Compendium of the 10th census of the United States, 1880, Washington, 1883;1 p. 1125, specific Cotton Manufacture) are:
Operatives and officers 174,659
Deduct clerks, managers etc. 2,115
(Men 59,685 (over 16 years)
boys 16,107 (under 16 years)
women 84,539 (over 15 years)
girls 13,213 (under 15 years))
172,544, total wages $42,040,510 or $243.06 per head per annum, which agrees with my estimate given above, as what the men get more will be made up by what girls and boys get less.
To prove to you to what depths of degradation economical science has fallen, Lujo Brentano has published a lecture on Die Klassische Nationalokonomie (Leipzig, 1888), in which he proclaims: general or theoretical economy is worth noting, but special or practical economy is everything. Like natural science (!), we must limit ourselves to the description of facts; such descriptions are of infinitely higher value than all a priori deductions. ‘Like natural science’! That is impayable in the century of Darwin, of Mayer, Joule and Clausius, of evolution and the transformation of energy!
Thanks for the No. of Russkiye Vedomosti with the interesting article on the interference with the statistical work of the Zemstvos. It is a great pity that this valuable work should be interrupted.
Very sincerely yours,
P. W Rosher