Marx-Engels Correspondence 1884

Engels to Karl Kautsky


Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Progress Publishers, 1976, Transcribed by Andy Blunden;
Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

September 20, 1884

Marx’s Robinson is the genuine, original Robinson of Daniel Defoe, from which secondary features are also taken — the debris rescued from the shipwreck, etc. Later, he also had his own Friday, and was a shipwrecked merchant, who, if I am not mistaken, traded in slaves at one time. In a word, a true “bourgeois.”


Herewith I am returning the manuscripts [1] registered.

As far as economics is concerned your article on Rodbertus [2] is very good. What I object to again is apodictic assertions in fields where you do not feel yourself sure and where you have exposed your weak spots to Schramm who has been skilled enough to nail them.

This refers particularly to the ‘abstraction’ which you have certainly run down much too much in general. In this case the difference is as follows:

Marx summarises the actual content common to things and relations and reduces it to its general logical expression. His abstraction therefore only reflects, in rational form, the content already existing in the things.

Rodbertus on the contrary invents a more or less imperfect logical expression and measures things by this conception to which the things must conform. He is seeking a true, eternal content of things and of social relations whose content however is essentially transient. Hence true capital. This is not present-day capital, which is only an imperfect manifestation of the concept. Instead of deducing the concept capital from the present, the only really existing capital, he has recourse to isolated man in order to arrive from present-day capital at true capital and asks what could function as capital in the productive process of such a man. Of course, simple means of production. Thus true capital is lumped together unceremoniously with the means of production, which depending on circumstances may or may not be capital. Thereby all bad properties, that is, all real properties of capital are eliminated from capital. Now he can demand that real capital should conform to this concept, that is, it should function only as simple social means of production, should discard everything that makes it capital and still remain capital and even just on that account become true capital...


1. Karl August Schramm, the German economist, had sent an article entitled ‘Karl Kautsky und Rodbertus’ to the Neue Zeit, which was edited by Kautsky. In this article Schramm strongly attacked Kautsky’s article ‘Das “Kapital” von Rodbertus’ published in an earlier issue of the Neue Zeit. After writing a reply to Schramm’s criticism Kautsky sent it together with Schramm’s article to Engels and asked for his comments on both. ‘Karl Kautsky und Rodbertus’ and Kautsky’s reply were printed in Die Neue Zeit, no 11, 1884. Karl August Schramm (1830-1905) – German Social-Democrat, reformist, criticised Marxism, in 1880s retired from the party – Progress Publishers.

2. Johann Karl Rodbertus (1805-1875) – German vulgar economist and politician, ideologist of bourgeoisified Prussian Junkers, advocated reactionary ideas of Prussian ‘state socialism’ – Progress Publishers.