Reviews of Capital by Frederick Engels 1867
Written: October 12, 1867;
First published: in the supplement to Die Zunkunft, No. 254, October 30, 1867
For every German it is a saddening fact that we, the nation of thinkers, have so far achieved so little in the field of political economy. Our famous men in this line are at best compilers like Rau and Roscher and, where anything original is produced, we have protectionists like List (who, however, is said to have copied a Frenchman) or socialists like Rodbertus and Marx. Our standard political economy actually seems to have set itself the aim of driving into the arms of socialism all who treat the science of political economy seriously. Have we not seen the whole of official economics daring to oppose a Lassalle on the well-known and recognised law on the determination of wages, and leaving it to Lassalle to defend people like Ricardo against Schulze-Delitzsch and others! Alas, it is true that scientifically they could not even cope with Lassalle and, whatever recognition their practical endeavours may have won, had to endure the charge that their entire science consists in watering down a Bastiat's harmonies which gloss over all contradictions and difficulties. Bastiat as an authority and Ricardo disowned that is our official political economy in Germany today! But indeed, how could it be otherwise? Alas, with us political economy is a field in which nobody takes a scientific interest; it is either a breadwinning study for the examinations in cameralistics or an aid to political agitation for which the merest smattering is thought sufficient. Is that the fault of our political dismemberment, our unfortunately still so little developed industry, or our traditional dependence for this branch of science on foreign countries?
In these circumstances it is always a pleasure when a book like the above comes to hand, in which the author, indignantly referring the current watered down or, as he aptly terms it, "vulgar political economy" back to its classical models concluding with Ricardo and Sismondi, also takes a critical attitude to the classics, but always endeavours to retain the path of strictly scientific analysis. Marx's earlier writings, in particular the treatise on money published in 1859 by Duncker in Berlin, were already distinguished by a strictly scientific spirit as much as by ruthless criticism, and to our knowledge our entire official political economy has not produced anything to refute them. But if it could not cope with the treatise of those days, how will it fare with the 49 sheets about capital now? Understand us rightly: we do not say that no objections can be made to the conclusions of this book, that Marx has brought forward proofs that are complete; we merely say: We do not believe that among all our political economists one can be found capable of refuting them. The studies made in this book are of the greatest scientific subtlety. We refer in particular to the masterly, dialectical arrangement of the whole, to the manner in which the concept of the commodity is already presented as implying money existing in itself and how capital is developed out of money. We acknowledge that we regard the newly introduced category of surplus-value as an advance; that we do not see what can be objected to the statement that not labour but labour-power appears on the market as a commodity; that we regard as quite in order the correction to Ricardo's law of the rate of profit, that surplus-value must be substituted for profit. We must confess that we are much impressed by the sense of history which pervades the whole book and forbids the author to take the laws of economics for eternal truths, for anything but the formulations of the conditions of existence of certain transitory states of society; we would, alas, look in vain among our official economists for that scholarship and acumen with which the various historical states of society and their conditions of existence are here presented. Studies like that on the economic conditions and laws of slavery, the various forms of serfdom and bondage and the origin of free labour have hitherto remained quite alien to our economic specialists. We would also like to hear the opinion of these gentlemen on the expositions given here of co-operation, division of labour and manufacture, machinery and large-scale industry in their historical and economic connections and effects; at any rate, they could here learn much that is new. And what in particular will they say of the fact which runs counter to all traditional theories of free competition and which is here nevertheless substantiated from official material, namely that in England, the fatherland of free competition, there is almost no industry left in which the daily working hours are not strictly prescribed by government intervention and which is not supervised by factory inspectors? And that nevertheless, not only do the individual industries prosper, in line with the reduction in working hours, but the individual worker also produces more in the shorter hours than he did previously in the longer hours?
Alas, we cannot deny that the particularly bitter tone which the author uses against the official German economists is not without justification. They more or less all belong to the "vulgar economists"; they have prostituted their science for the sake of momentary popularity and denied its great classical exponents. They Speak of "harmonies" and wallow in the most banal contradictions. May the severe lesson given them in this book serve to awaken them from their lethargy, to recall to them that political economy is not merely a milchcow providing us with butter but a science demanding serious and zealous application.