Reviews of Capital by Frederick Engels 1867

Review of Volume One of Capital for the Beobachter
December 1867

Written: between December 12-13, 1867;
First published: in the Beobachter, No. 303, December 27, 1867

K. Marx. Capital. Critique of Political Economy.
Volume One. Hamburg, Meissner, 1867

Whatever one may think of the tendency of the book before us, we believe we may say that it is one of those achievements which do honour to the German spirit. It is indicative that while the author is a Prussian, he is one of the Rhenish Prussians, who until recently liked to describe themselves as "compulsory Prussians" and, moreover, a Prussian who has spent the last few decades far from Prussia, in exile. Prussia itself has long ceased to be a country of any scientific initiative whatsoever, and especially in historical, political or social subjects such an initiative would be impossible there. One could say of it that it represents the Russian rather than the German spirit.

As for the book itself, one must distinguish clearly between two very disparate aspects of it: between, firstly its solid, positive expositions and, secondly, the tendential conclusions the author draws from them. The first are to a great extent a direct enrichment of science. The author there treats economic relations with a quite new, materialistic, natural-historic method. In this way he represents money and very expertly traces in detail the various successive forms of industrial production: co-operation, the division of labour and with it manufacture in the narrower sense, and lastly machinery, large-scale industry and the corresponding social combinations and relations which naturally grow one from the other.

As for the author's tendencies, we can here, too, discern again a two-fold trend. In so far as he endeavours to show that present-day society, economically considered, is pregnant with another, higher form of society, he merely strives to present as law in the social sphere the same process which Darwin traced in natural history, a process of gradual evolution. Up to now such a gradual transformation has indeed taken place in social relations from antiquity through the Middle Ages to the present; and as far as we know it has never been seriously claimed from any scientific quarters that Adam Smith and Ricardo have said the last word on the future development of present-day society. On the contrary, liberal teaching on progress also includes progress in the social sphere, and it is one of the arrogant paradoxes of so-called socialists to pretend that they alone have a lien on social progress. By contrast to the run-of-the-mill socialists we must recognize it as a merit of Marx that he traces progress where the extremely one-sided development of present-day conditions is accompanied by directly abhorrent consequences, as everywhere in the presentation of the great extremes of wealth and poverty resulting from the factory system as a whole, etc. Just by this critical conception of the subject the author has brought forward--certainly against his will--the strongest arguments against all socialism by the book.

It is quite a different matter with the other tendency, the author's subjective conclusions, with the manner in which he represents to himself and others the ultimate result of the present course of social developments. These have nothing to do with what we have called the positive part of the book; nay space permitted we could perhaps show that his subjective whims are refuted by his own objective exposition.

If Lassalle's entire socialism consisted in abusing the capitalists and flattering the Prussian rural squires, here we find the diametrical opposite. Herr Marx explicitly proves the historical necessity of the capitalist mode of production, as he calls the present social phase, and equally the superfluous nature of the merely consuming land-holding squirearchy. If Lassalle had big ideas about Bismarck's fitness to introduce the socialist Millennium, Herr Marx refutes his wayward pupil loudly enough. He not only explicitly declares that he will have nothing to do with any "Royal Prussian government socialism", he says straight out on p. 762 ff that the system now prevailing in France and Prussia would shortly bring about the rule of the Russian knout over Europe if it were not stopped in time.

Finally, we remark that above we have only been able to consider the main features of this big volume; in detail there is still much that could be said about it, but here we must pass it by. For this purpose there exist enough specialist journals, which will doubtless enter into this most remarkable phenomenon.