Marx Engels Correspondence 1881

Karl Marx to Vera Zasulich
In Geneva

Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

8 March 1881

Dear Citizen

A nervous disease that I have been suffering from periodically for the last ten years has prevented me from replying earlier to your letter of 16 February. [1] To my regret I am unable to give you a conclusive reply, intended for publication, to the question which you did me the honour to ask. Already several months ago I promised the St Petersburg Committee [2] to write a paper on the same subject. I hope however that a few lines will suffice to remove all doubt in your mind about the misunderstanding concerning my so-called theory.

In analysing the genesis of capitalist production I say:

The capitalist system is therefore based on the utmost separation of the producer from the means of production... The basis of this whole development is the expropriation of the agricultural producer. This has been accomplished in radical fashion only in England... But all other countries of Western Europe are going through the same process. (Capital, French edition, p 315) [3]

Hence the ‘historical inevitability’ of this process is expressly limited to the countries of Western Europe. The reason for this limitation is indicated in the following passage of Chapter XXXII:

Private property produced by the labour of the individual... is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on the exploitation of the labour of others, on wage labour. (Ibid, p 341) [4]

In this development in Western Europe it is a question of the transformation of one form of private property into another form of private property. In case of the Russian peasants one would on the contrary have to transform their common property into private property.

Thus the analysis given in Capital does not provide any arguments for or against the viability of the village community, but the special research into this subject which I conducted, and for which I obtained the material from original sources, has convinced me that this community is the fulcrum of Russia’s social revival, but in order that it might function in this way one would first have to eliminate the destructive influences which assail it from every quarter and then to ensure the conditions normal for spontaneous development.

I have the honour to remain, yours very sincerely

Karl Marx


1. On behalf of her comrades Vera Zasulich wrote to Marx asking him to elaborate his views on Russia’s future development and in particular on the prospects of the Russian village community – Progress Publishers.

2. The reference is to the Executive Committee of Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), the secret society of the Narodniks. – Progress Publishers

3. Karl Marx, Le Capital (Paris, 1875). [Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1977), p 668. – MIA.]

4. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1977), p 714 – MIA.