Brentano vs Marx, Engels 1891


Third act. My Preface to the fourth edition of the first volume of Marx's Capital, reprinted as far as necessary in Documents, No. 12, explains why I was forced to return to the bygone polemics of Messrs Brentano and Sedley Taylor. This Preface forced Mr. Brentano to make a reply: this was the pamphlet Meine Polemik mit Karl Marx usw. by Lujo Brentano, Berlin, 1890. Here he has reprinted his anonymous and now finally legitimated Concordia articles, and Marx's answers in the Volksstaat, accompanied by an introduction and two appendices, with which, for better or worse, we are obliged to deal.

Above all we note that here too there is no longer any mention of the "lyingly added" sentence. The sentence from the Inaugural Address is quoted right on the first page, and it is then claimed that Gladstone had "stated in direct opposition to Karl Marx's claim" that these figures referred only to those paying income tax (which Marx had Gladstone say too, since he explicitly limits these figures to taxable income) but that the condition of the working class had at the same time improved in unexampled fashion (which Marx also has Gladstone say, only nine lines before the challenged quotation). I would request the reader to compare for himself the Inaugural Address (Documents, No. 1) with Mr. Brentano's claim (Documents, No. 13) in order to see how Mr. Brentano either "lyingly adds", or fabricates in another manner, a contradiction where there is none at all. But since the charge about the lyingly added sentence has broken down ignominiously, Mr. Brentano, contrary to his better knowledge, must attempt to take in his readers by telling them Marx tried to suppress the fact that Gladstone had spoken here only of "taxable income", or the income of classes which possess property. And here Mr. Brentano does not even notice that his first accusation is thus turned into the opposite, in that the second is a slap in the face of the first.

Having happily accomplished this "forgery", he is moved to draw the attention of the Concordia to the "forgery" allegedly committed by Marx, and the Concordia then asks him to send it an article against Marx. What now follows is too delicious not to be given verbatim:

"The article was not signed by me; this was done, on the one hand, at the request of the editors in the interests of the reputation of their paper, and, on the other hand, I had all the less objection, since following earlier literary controversies pursued by Marx it was to be expected that this time too he would heap personal insults on his adversary, and for this reason it could only be amusing to leave him in the dark as to the identity of his adversary."

So the editors of the Concordia wished "in the interests of the reputation of their paper" that Mr. Brentano should keep his name quiet! What a reputation this implies for Mr. Brentano amongst his colleagues in his own party. We can well believe that this actually happened to him, but that he himself shouts it from the rooftops is a really pyramidal achievement on his part. However, this is something which he has to settle with himself and with the editors of the Concordia.

Since "it was to be expected that Marx would heap personal insults on his adversary", it could naturally "only be amusing to leave him in the dark as to the identity of his adversary". It was hitherto a mystery as to how you can heap personal insults upon a person you do not know. You can only get personal if you know something of the person in question. But Mr. Brentano, made anonymous in the interests of the paper's reputation, relieved his adversary of this trouble. He himself waded in with "insults", first with the "lyingly added" printed in bold type, and then with "impudent mendacity", "simply nefarious", etc. Mr. Brentano, the non-anonymous, obviously made a slip of the pen here. Mr. Brentano "on the other hand, had all the less objection" to the anonymity imposed upon himself, not so that the well-known Marx could "heap personal insults" upon the unknown Brentano, but so that the concealed Brentano could do this to the well-known Marx.

And this is supposed to "be amusing"! That's what actually transpired, but not because Mr. Brentano wanted it. Marx, as later his daughter, and now myself, have all tried to see the amusing aspect of this polemic. Such success as we have had, be it great or small, has been at the expense of Mr. Brentano. His articles have been anything but "amusing". The only contributions to amusement are the rapier-thrusts aimed by Marx at the shady side of his "left-in-the-dark person", which the man at the receiving end now wishes to laugh off belatedly as the "loutishness of his scurrilous polemics". The Junkers, the priests, the lawyers and other right and proper opponents of the incisive polemics of Voltaire, Beaumarchais and Paul Louis Courier objected to the "loutishness of their scurrilous polemics", which has not prevented these examples of "loutishness" from being regarded as models and masterpieces today. And we have had so much pleasure from these and similar "scurrilous polemics" that a hundred Brentanos should not succeed in dragging us down to the level of German university polemics, where there is nothing but the impotent rage of green envy, and the most desolate boredom.

However, Mr. Brentano once again regards his readers as so duped that he can lay it on thick again with a brazen face:

"When it was shown that The Times too ... carried this" (Gladstone's) "speech in a sense according with the shorthand report, he" (Marx) "acted, as the editors of the Concordia wrote, like the cuttlefish, which dims the water with a dark fluid, in order to make pursuit by its enemy more difficult, i.e. he tried as hard as he could to hide the subject of controversy by clinging to completely inconsequential secondary matters."

If the Times report, which contains the "lyingly added" sentence word for word, accords in sense with the "shorthand" report -- should be with Hansard -- which suppresses it word for word, and if Mr. Brentano once again boasts that he had demonstrated this, this can mean nothing other than the charge concerning the "lyingly added" sentence has been completely dropped -- though shamefacedly and quietly -- and Mr. Brentano, forced from the offensive onto the defensive, is retreating to his second line of defence. We simply note this; we believe that in sections III and IV we have thoroughly broken through the centre of this second line, and turned both flanks.

But then the genuine university polemicist appears. When Brentano, emboldened by the scent of victory, has thus driven his enemy into the corner, the foe acts like the cuttlefish, darkening the water and hiding the subject of controversy by focusing attention on completely inconsequential secondary matters.

The Jesuits say: Si fecisti, nega. If you have perpetrated something, deny it. The German university polemicist goes further and Says: If you have perpetrated a shady lawyer's trick, then lay it at your opponent's door. Scarcely has Marx quoted The Theory of the Exchanges and Professor Beesly, and this simply because they had quoted the disputed passage like he had, than Brentano the cuttlefish "clings" to them with all the suckers of his ten feet, and spreads such a torrent of his "dark fluid" all around that you must look hard and grasp firmly if you do not wish to lose from eye and hand the real "subject of controversy", namely the allegedly "lyingly added" sentence. In his rejoinder, exactly the same method. First he starts another squabble with Marx about the meaning of the expression CLASSES IN EASY CIRCUMSTANCES, a squabble which under the best of circumstances could produce nothing but that very "obscuration" which Mr. Brentano desires. And then dark fluid is again squirted in the matter of that renowned relative clause which Marx had maliciously suppressed, and which, as we have shown, could perfectly well be omitted, since the fact to which it indirectly alluded had already been stated quite clearly in an earlier sentence of the speech which had been quoted by Marx. And thirdly, our cuttlefish has enough dark sauce left over to obscure once again the subject of controversy, by claiming that Marx has again suppressed some sentences from The Times -- sentences which had absolutely nothing to do with the single point at issue between them at that time, the allegedly lyingly added sentence.

And the same waste of sepia in the present self-apologia. First, naturally, The Theory of the Exchanges must be the whipping boy.

Then, all of a sudden, we are confronted with the Lassallean "iron law of wages" with which, as everyone knows, Marx was as little connected as Mr. Brentano with the invention of gunpowder; Mr. Brentano must know that in the first volume of Capital Marx specifically denied all and every responsibility for any conclusions drawn by Lassalle, and that in the same book Marx describes the law of wages as a function of differing variables and very elastic, thus anything but iron. But when the ink-squirting has started there is no stopping it: the Halle congress, Liebknecht and Bebel, Gladstone's budget speech of 1843, the English trade unions, all manner of far-fetched things are resorted to so as, faced with an opponent who has gone over to the offensive, to cover by self-apologia the defensive line of Mr. Brentano and his lofty philanthropic principles, treated so scornfully by the wicked socialists. One gets the impression that a round dozen cuttlefish were helping him do the "hushing up" here.

And all of this because Mr. Brentano himself knows that he has hopelessly run aground with his claim about the "lyingly added" sentence, and has not got the courage to withdraw this claim openly and honourably. To use his own words:

"Had he" Brentano "simply admitted that he had been misled by this book", Hansard, " might have been surprised that he had relied upon such a source" as absolutely reliable "but the mistake would at least have been rectified. But for him there was no question of this."

Instead the ink was squirted in gallons for obscuring purposes, and if I have to be so discursive here, this is only because I must first dispose of all these far-fetched marginal questions, and disperse the obscuring ink in order to keep eye and hand on the real subject of the controversy.

Meanwhile Mr. Brentano has another piece of information for us in petto [in store], which in fact "could only be amusing". He has, in fact, been so lamentably treated that he can find no peace and quiet until he has moaned to us about all his misfortune. First the Concordia suppresses his name in the interests of the reputation of the paper. Mr. Brentano is magnanimous enough to consent to this sacrifice in the interests of the good cause. Then Marx unleashes upon him the loutishness of his scurrilous polemics. This too he swallows. Only he wished to reply to this "with the verbatim publication of the entire polemic". But sadly

"editors often have their own judgement; the specialist journal which I regarded as suitable above all others refused to publish, on the grounds that the dispute lacked general interest".

Thus do the noble suffer in this sinful world; their best intentions founder on the baseness or indifference of man. And to compensate this unappreciated honest fellow for his undeserved misfortune, and since some time will probably pass before he rounds up an editor who has not "often his own judgement", we herewith present him the "the verbatim publication of the entire polemic".