Brentano vs Marx, Engels 1891


In my Preface to the fourth edition of the first volume of Marx's Capital found myself obliged to return to a polemic against Marx, initiated by Anonymous in the Berlin Concordia in 1872, and taken up again by Mr. Sedley Taylor of Cambridge in The Times in 1883. Anonymous, revealed by Mr. Taylor as Mr. Lujo Brentano, had accused Marx of falsifying a quotation. The short report on the affair which I gave in my Preface (it is printed amongst the attached Documents, No.12), certainly was not intended to be pleasant to Mr. Brentano; nothing was more natural than that he should answer me. And this took place in a pamphlet: Meine Polemik mit Karl Marx. Zugleich em Beitrag zur Frage des Fortschritts der Arbeiterkiasse und seiner Ursachen. Von Lujo Brentano, Berlin, Walther & Apolant, 1890.

This pamphlet gives us too much and too little. Too much, because it "also" gives us at length Mr. Brentano's views on "the advance of the working class and its causes". These views have absolutely nothing to do with the point at issue. I remark only this: Mr. Brentano's constantly repeated declaration that labour protection legislation and trade association organisations are fitted to improve the condition of the working class is by no means his own discovery. From the Condition of the Working Class in England and The Poverty of Philosophy to Capital and down to my most recent writings, Marx and I have said this a hundred times, though with very sharp reservations. Firstly, the favourable effects of the resisting trade associations are confined to periods of average and brisk business; in periods of stagnation and crisis they regularly fail; Mr. Brentano's claim that they "are capable of paralysing the fateful effects of the reserve army" is ridiculous boasting. And secondly — ignoring other less important reservations -- neither the protection legislation nor the resistance of the trade associations removes the main thing which needs abolishing: Capitalist relations, which constantly reproduce the contradiction between the Capitalist class and the class of wage labourers. The mass of wage labourers remain condemned to life-long wage labour; the gap between them and the Capitalists becomes ever deeper and wider the more modern large-scale industry takes over all branches of production. But since Mr. Brentano would gladly convert wage-slaves into contented wage-slaves, he must hugely exaggerate the advantageous effects of labour protection, the resistance of trade associations, social piecemeal legislation, etc.; and as we are able to confront these exaggerations with the simple facts -- hence his fury.

The pamphlet in question gives too little, since it gives, of the documents in the polemic, only the items exchanged between Mr. Brentano and Marx, and not those which have appeared since with regard to this question. So in order to place the reader in a position to form an overall judgement, I give, in the appendix: 1. the incriminated passages from the Inaugural Address of the General Council of the International and from Capital; 2. the polemic between Mr. Brentano and Marx; 3. that between Mr. Sedley Taylor and Eleanor Marx; 4. my Preface to the 4th edition of Capital and Mr. Brentano's reply to it; and 5. passages relevant to Gladstone's letters to Mr. Brentano. It goes without saying that I thereby omit all those passages of Brentano's argument which do not touch upon the question of falsification of quotation, but only constitute his "contribution to the advance", etc.