Reviews of Capital by Frederick Engels 1867
Written: between November 3 and 8, 1867;
First published: in the Dusseldorfer Zeitung, No. 316, November 17, 1867
This book will disappoint many a reader. In certain circles its appearance had been anticipated for years. Here the true secret socialist teaching and panacea was at last to be revealed, and many may have imagined, when at last they saw it announced, that they would now learn what the communist Millennium would actually be like. Anyone who had keenly awaited this pleasure made a great mistake. Indeed, he learns here how things should not be, and this he is told in detail with very outspoken bluntness on 784 pages, and he who has eyes to see will find here the demand for a social revolution clearly enough presented. Here it is not a question of workers' associations with state capital, as with Lassalle of old; here it is a question of abolishing capital altogether.
Marx is and remains the same revolutionary he has always been, and in a scientific work he would assuredly be the last to hide his views in this respect. But as for what is going to happen after the social revolution---on that he gives us only very dark hints. We learn that large-scale industry "matures the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of the production process and thereby at the same time the elements for the formation of a new society and the elements for exploding the old one"," and further that the abolition of the capitalist form of production "restores individual property but on the basis of the acquisitions of the capitalist era: i.e., of co-operation of freeworkers and the common ownership of the land and the means of production produced by labour itself".
With this we must rest content, and to judge by the present volume the promised second and third will also tell us little on this interesting point. For the present we must be contented with the "Critique of Political Economy", and there we get into a very wide field indeed. Here, of course, we cannot enter into the scientific consideration of the detailed conclusions presented in this voluminous book, we cannot even briefly repeat the main propositions put forward there. The more or less well-known principles of the socialist theory can all be reduced to the fact that in modern society the worker does not obtain the full value of the product of his labour. This proposition is also the red thread which runs through the present work, but it is made more acutely precise followed more consistently in all its implications, and knitted more closely into the main propositions of political economy or more directly placed in opposition to them than hitherto. This part of the work is distinguished to great advantage from all similar earlier writings we know by its attempt to be strictly scientific, and we see that the author takes seriously not only his own theory but science as a whole.
We found particularly striking in this book the author's conception of the propositions of political economy not, as is usual, as eternally valid truths but as the results of certain historical developments. While even the natural sciences are being transformed more and more into historical sciences--compare Laplace's astronomical theory, the whole of geology and the works of Darwin-- political economy has hitherto been just as abstract and universally valid a science as mathematics. Whatever may be the fate of the remaining propositions of this book, we regard it as a lasting merit of Marx to have put an end to this narrow-minded concept. After this work it will no longer be possible to treat slave labour, serf labour and free wage labour, for example, as economically alike, or to apply laws which are valid for modern large-scale industry, conditioned by free competition, without further ado to the conditions of antiquity or the guilds of the Middle Ages, or, when these modern laws do not fit ancient conditions, simply to declare the ancient conditions as heretical. The Germans of all nations have the greatest, nay, even a unique historical sense, and thus it is quite natural that it is again a German who traces the historical connections also in the sphere of political economy.