Marx-Engels Correspondence 1891

Engels to Nikolai Danielson


Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Progress Publishers, 1976;
Additional text from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

October 29-31, 1891

Dear Sir

When your letter of 21 September arrived I was travelling in Scotland and Ireland; only today I find time and leisure to reply to it.

Your letter of 20 January was indeed lost, which I regret doubly, first because the interesting information it contained was kept from me for so long, and second because it put you to the trouble of working it out again for me. Many thanks!

The ‘Züchtung von Millionären’, [1] as Bismarck puts it, seems indeed to go on in your country with giant steps. Such profits as your official statistics show are unheard-of nowadays in English, French or German textile manufactories. Ten, 15, at the outside 20 per cent, average profits, and 25–30 per cent in very very exceptional years of prosperity, are considered good. It was only in the childhood of modern industry that establishments with the very latest and best machinery, producing their goods with considerably less labour than was at the time socially necessary, were able to secure such rates of profit. At present, such profits are made only on lucky speculative undertakings with new inventions, that is to say on one undertaking out of a hundred, the rest mostly being dead failures.

The only country where similar, or approximately similar profits are nowadays possible in staple industries, is the United States, America. There the protective tariff after the civil war, and now the McKinley tariff, have had similar results, and the profits must be, and are, enormous. The fact that this state of things depends entirely on tariff legislation, which may be altered from one day to another, is sufficient to prevent any large investment of foreign capital (large in proportion to the quantity of domestic capital invested) in these industries, and thus to keep out the principal source of competition and lowering of profits.

Your description of the changes produced by this extension of modern industry in the life of the mass of the people, of the ruin of their home industry for the direct consumption of the producers, and by and by also of the home industry carried on for the capitalist purchaser, reminds me vividly of the chapter of our author [2] on the Herstellung des innern Markts, [3] and of what took place in most places of Central and Western Europe from 1820 to 1840. This change, of course, with you has different effects to some extent. The French and German peasant proprietor dies hard, he lingers for two or three generations in the hands of the usurer before he is perfectly ripe for being sold out of his land and house; at least in the districts where modern industry has not penetrated. In Germany the peasantry are kept above water by all sorts of domestic industries — pipes, toys, baskets, etc — carried on for account of capitalists, their spare time being of no value to them after they have tilled their little fields; they consider every kopek they receive for extra work as so much gain; hence the ruinously low wages and the inconceivable cheapness of such industrial products in Germany.

With you, there is the resistance of the obshchina to be overcome (although I should say that that must be giving way considerably in the constant struggle with modern capitalism), there is the resource of farming land from the large proprietors which you describe, in your letter of 1 May — a means of securing surplus value to the proprietor but also of continuing a lingering existence to the peasant as a peasant; and the kulaki, too, as far as I can see, on the whole prefer keeping the peasant in their clutches as a sujet à exploitation, to ruining him once for all and getting his land transferred to them. So that it strikes me, the Russian peasant, where he is not wanted as a workman for the factory or the town, will also die hard, will take a deal of killing before he does die.

The enormous profits secured by the youthful bourgeoisie in Russia, and the dependence of these profits on a good crop (harvest) so well exposed by you, explain many things otherwise obscure. Thus what should I make out of this morning’s statement in the Odessa correspondence of a London paper: the Russian commercial classes seem to be possessed of the one idea, that war is the only real panacea for the ever increasing depression and distrust from which all Russian industries are now suffering — what should I make of it and how explain it but for this complete dependence of a tariff-made industry on the home market and on the harvest of the agricultural districts on which depends the purchasing power of its only customers! And if this market fails, what seems more natural to naive people than its extension by a successful war?


Very interesting are your notes on the apparent contradiction that, with you, a good harvest does not necessarily mean a lowering of the price of corn. When we study the real economic relations in various countries and at various stages of civilisation, how singularly erroneous and deficient appear the rationalistic generalisations of the 18th century — good old Adam Smith who took the conditions of Edinburgh and the Lothians as the normal ones of the universe! Well, Pushkin already knew that:

“Of gold what has he
any use
Whose wealth consists
of nature’s produce?
His son the father failed to understand
And mortgaged every acre of his land.”


Notes provided by the Moscow Editor.

1. ‘Breeding of millionaires.’

2. Karl Marx.

3. Creation of a home market.