Marx-Engels Correspondence 1868

Letter from Marx to Engels
In Manchester


Written: [London,] 25 March, 1868;
Published: Gesamtausgabe, International Publishers, 1942;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

With regard to Maurer. His books are exceptionally important. Not only primitive times but the whole later development of the free imperial cities, of the immunity of landowners, of public authority and of the struggle between free peasantry and serfdom is given an entirely new form.

Human history is like paleontology. Owing to a certain judicial blindness even the best intelligences absolutely fail to see the things which lie in front of their noses. Later, when the moment has arrived, we are surprised to find traces everywhere of what we failed to see. The first reaction against the French Revolution and the period of Enlightenment bound up with it was naturally to see everything as mediaeval and romantic, even people like Grimm are not free from this. The second reaction is to look beyond the Middle Ages into the primitive age of each nation, and that corresponds to the socialist tendency, although these learned men have no idea that the two have any connection. They are therefore surprised to find what is newest in what is oldest--even equalitarians, to a degree which would have made Proudhon shudder.

To show how much we are all implicated in this judicial blindness:--right in my own neighbourhood, on the Hunsrücken, the old Germanic system survived up till the last few years, I now remember my father talking to me about it from a lawyer's point of view. Another proof: Just as the geologists, even the best, like Cuvier, have expounded certain facts in a completely distorted way, so philologists of the force of a Grimm mistranslated the simplest Latin sentences because they were under the influence of Möser etc., (who, I remember, was enchanted that "liberty" never existed among the Germans but that "Luft macht eigen" [the air makes the serf]) and others. E.g., the well-known passage in Tacitus: "arva per annos mutant et superest ager," which means, "they exchange the fields, arva (by lot, hence also sortes [lot] in all the later law codes of the barbarians) and the common land remains over" (ager as public land contrasted with arva)--is translated by Grimm, etc. "they cultivate fresh fields every year and still there is always (uncultivated) land over!"

So too the passage: "Colunt discreti ac diversi" [their tillage is separate and scattered] is supposed to prove that from time immemorial the Germans carried on cultivation on individual farms like Westphalian junkers. But the same passage continues: "Vicos locant non in nostrum morem connexis et cohaerantibus aedificiis: suum quisque locum spatio circumdat;" [they do not lay out their villages with buildings connected and joined together after our fashion: each surrounds his dwelling with a strip of land]; and primitive Germanic villages still exist here and there in Denmark in the form described. Obviously Scandinavia must become as important for German jurisprudence and economics as for German mythology. And only by starting from there shall we: be able to decipher our past again. For the rest even Grimm, etc., find in Caesar that the Germans always settled as Geschlechtsgenossenschaften and not as individuals: "gentibus cognationibusque qui uno coiereant" [according to clans and kindreds, who settled together].

But what would old Hegel say in the next world if he heard that the general [Allgemeine] in German and Norse means nothing but the common land [Gemeinland], and the particular, Sundre, Besondere, nothing but the separate property divided off from the common land? Here are the logical categories coming damn well out of "our intercourse" after all.

Climate and the Vegetable World throughout the Ages, a History of Both, by Fraas (1847) is very interesting, especially as proving that climate and flora have changed in historic times. He is a Darwinist before Darwin and makes even the species arise in historic times. But he is also an agricultural expert. He maintains that as a result of cultivation and in proportion to its degree, the "damp" so much beloved by the peasant is lost (hence too plants emigrate from south to north) and eventually the formation of steppes begins. The first effects of cultivation are useful, later devastating owing to deforestation, etc. This man is both a thoroughly learned philologist (he has written books in Greek) and a chemist, agricultural expert, etc. The whole conclusion is that cultivation when it progresses in a primitive way and is not consciously controlled (as a bourgeois of course he does not arrive at this), leaves deserts behind it, Persia, Mesopotamia, etc., Greece. Here again another unconscious socialist tendency!

This Fraas is also interesting from a German point of view. First Dr. Med., then inspector and teacher of chemistry and technology. Now head of the Bavarian veterinary organisation, university professor, head of government experimental agriculture, etc. In his last things one notices his advanced age, but he is still a gay lad. Has knocked around a lot in Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt! His history of agriculture is important too. He calls Fourier "this pious and humanistic socialist." Of the Albanians, etc.: "every kind of abominable lewdness and rape."

It is necessary to look carefully at the new and newest things on agriculture. The physical school is opposed to the chemical school.