Reviews of Capital by Frederick Engels 1867
Written: October 12, 1867;
First published: in the Marx-Engels Archives, Russian edition, Book II, Moscow, 1927
Universal suffrage has added to our present parliamentary parties a new one, the Social-Democratic Party. At the last elections to the North German imperial Diet it put up its own candidates in most big cities and in all factory districts, and succeeded in getting six or eight representatives elected. Compared with the last but one election it deployed much greater strength and we can therefore assume that, at least for the time being, it is still growing. It would be foolish to continue to treat the existence, activity and doctrines of such a party with genteel silence in a country where universal suffrage has placed the final decision into the hands of the most numerous and poorest classes.
However much the few social-democratic parliamentarians may be at loggerheads with each other, we can be sure that all factions of this party will welcome the present book as their theoretical bible, as the armoury from which they will take their most telling arguments. For this reason alone it deserves special attention. But it is also bound to cause a stir by its own content. If Lassalle's main argumentation--and in political economy Lassalle was only a pupil of Marx--was confined to repeating again and again the Ricardo so-called law of wages, we here have before us a work which with undeniably rare scholarship presents the whole relationship of capital and labour in its connection with economic science as a whole, and which makes it its final goal "to reveal the economic law of motion of modern society", and comes, after obviously sincere studies unmistakably conducted with expert knowledge, to the conclusion that the whole "capitalist mode of production" must be abolished. Moreover, we would like to draw particular attention to the fact that, in addition to the conclusions of the work, the author in its course represents a whole series of major points of political economy in quite a new light, and comes in purely scientific questions to results which markedly depart from hitherto current political economy, and which orthodox economists will have to criticise seriously and refute scientifically if they do not wish to see their hitherto current doctrines founder. In the interest of science it is desirable that the polemic on these particular points of political economy in quite a new light, and comes in purely scientific questions to results which markedly depart from hitherto current doctrines founder. In the interest of science it is desirable that the polemic on these particular points should develop very soon in the specialist literature.
Marx begins with the presentation of the relationship between commodity and money, the essence of which was already published some time ago in a special work. He then passes on to capital, and here we soon come to the crucial point of the whole work. What is capital? Money which changes into a commodity in order to change from a commodity into more money than the original amount. When I buy cotton for 100 talers and sell this for 110 talers, I establish my 100 talers as capital, self-expanding value. Now the question arises: whence do the ten talers come which I earn in this process, how does it happen that by two simple exchanges 100 talers become 110 talers? For political economy presupposes that in all exchanges equal value is exchanged for equal value. Marx now runs through all possible cases (variations in the price of commodities, etc.) to prove that under the presuppositions assumed by political economy the formation of 10 talers surplus-value from an original sum of 100 talers is impossible. Nevertheless, this process takes place daily, and the economists still owe us an explanation for this. Marx provides the explanation as follows: The riddle can only be solved if we find on the market a commodity of a very peculiar kind, a commodity the use-value of which consists in creating exchange-value. This commodity exists: it is labour-power. The capitalist buys labour-power on the market and makes it work for him so as to sell its product again. We must therefore in the first instance examine labour-power.
What is the value of labour-power? According to a well-known law it is the value of the means of subsistence necessary to maintain and reproduce the worker in the manner historically established in the given country and epoch. We assume that the worker's labour-power is paid for at its full value. We assume further that this value is represented in six hours' work a day, or half a working day. But the capitalist claims that he has bought the labour-power for a whole day and makes the worker work 12 hours or more. Hence with 12 hours of work he has acquired the product of six hours working-time without payment. Marx concludes: All surplus-value, whichever way it may be distributed, as capitalist gain, rent, tax, etc., is unpaid labour.
The struggle for the length of the working day arises from the interest of the factory owner to gain every day as much unpaid labour as possible and the opposite interest of the worker. Marx describes the course of this struggle in an illustration well worth reading, which fills about a hundred pages, taken from English large-scale industry; in spite of the protest of the factory owner, who was a champion of free trade, this struggle ended last spring in not only all factory industry, but all the small-scale and even domestic industry being brought under the restraints of the factory act which limits the daily work of women and children under 18 years of age--and therewith indirectly also that of men--in the most important industries to at most 10 1/2 hours. He also explains why English industry has not suffered, but on the contrary, gained thereby: since the work of every individual worker became more intense as its duration was shortened.
Surplus-value can, however, also be raised by another method than that of extending working-time beyond that needed to produce the necessary means of subsistence or their value. According to our previous assumption, a given working day of, say, 12 hours, contains six hours of necessary work and six hours of work used to produce surplus-value. If by some means we succeed in reducing the necessary working-time to five hours, there remain seven hours during which surplus-value is produced. This can be achieved by shortening the working-time needed to produce the necessary means of subsistence, in other words, by reducing their cost, and this again only by improvements in production. On this point Marx gives again a detailed illustration, examining and describing the three main levers by which these improvements are brought about: 1. co-operation, or the multiplication of the forces which results from the simultaneous and planned working together of many individuals; 2. the division of labour as it was developed in the period of manufacture properly so-called, i.e. up to about 1770; and, lastly, 3. machinery with the aid of which large-scale industry has developed since then. These descriptions are also of great interest, and reveal amazing expert knowledge, up to technical details...
We cannot go more deeply into the details of the studies on surplus-value and wages; to avoid misunderstandings we merely remark that wages are less than the total product of labour, as Marx proved by a number of quotations, and which is a fact not unknown to orthodox economics either. We must hope that this book will provide the opportunity for the gentlemen of the orthodox tradition to give us more enlightenment on this really strange point. It is most commendable that all factual examples given by Marx are taken from the best sources, mostly official parliamentary reports. We take this opportunity to support the author's plea made indirectly in the preface: that in Germany, too, working conditions in the various industries should be thoroughly investigated by government commissioners--who, however, should not be biased bureaucrats--and their reports submitted to the Imperial Diet and the public.
The first volume concludes with a discourse on the accumulation of capital. Much has already been written on this point, but we must confess that here too there is much given that is new, while the old is presented from new angles. Most original is the attempt to prove that the accumulation of a redundant population of workers goes hand in hand with the concentration and accumulation of capital, and that eventually both make a social revolution on the one hand necessary, on the other possible.
Whatever the reader may think of the author's socialist views, we believe to have shown above that he has here before him a work which stands way above the current social-democratic literature of the day. We add that except for the somewhat stark dialectical style on the first 40 pages and in spite of its scientific strictness, the work is very easy to follow and is made most interesting by the author's sarcastic manner of writing which spares no one.