Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Nine: The Crimean War and the Crisis


1. European Politics

TOWARDS the end of 1853, just as Marx had concluded his fight against “democratic emigration illusions and amateur revolutionism” with his polemic against Willich, a new period in European politics was opened up by the Crimean War and it occupied his chief attention in the following few years.

His own views on the subject were given chiefly in his contributions to the New York Tribune. Although its editors did their best to force him down to the level of ordinary newspaper correspondence, he could say with truth that “only in exceptional cases” did they succeed. He remained loyal to his principles, and even that work which he was compelled to do in order to earn a living was ennobled in his hands and given a permanent value by being based on laborious studies.

Most of these treasures from his pen are still buried and it will cost a certain amount of trouble to bring them to the surface again. Owing to the fact that the New York Tribune treated his contributions more or less as raw material, flung them into the waste-paper basket at its discretion, published them under its own flag and often, as Marx complained bitterly, published “rubbish” under his name, it will never be possible to reconstruct the whole of his work for the paper, and very careful examination will be necessary to determine its limits with any degree of accuracy.

Indispensable assistance has been offered in this respect only recently with the publication of the Marx-Engels correspondence. For instance, it shows us that the series of articles on revolution and counter-revolution in Germany whose authorship was credited to Marx for many years, was in fact chiefly written by Engels, and that Engels wrote not only the contributions on military questions, a fact that had been known for a long time, but that he co-operated widely in other respects in Marx’s work for the paper. Apart from the series of articles on revolution and counter-revolution in Germany, the articles on the Eastern question which appeared in the New York Tribune have also been collected, though both with regard to what it contains and what it does not contain this latter collection is of much more doubtful authenticity than the former which was after all only credited to the wrong author.

But even this critical examination of Marx’s work for the New York Tribune would represent only a small part of the labours necessary because even Marx, although he certainly succeeded in raising the level of journalism tremendously, could not raise it completely above the circumstances in which it had to be written. The greatest brain in the world cannot make new discoveries or give birth to new ideas twice a week always just in time to catch the regular packet steamer on Tuesdays and Fridays. As Engels has pointed out, it is impossible under such circumstances altogether to avoid “pure improvisation on the spur of the moment and reliance on memory only.” Further, daily work is dependent on daily news and daily moods, and it cannot emancipate itself from them without running the danger of becoming dry and boring. How much, for instance, would the four big volumes of the Marx-Engels correspondence be worth without the hundred and one contradictions out of which the great general line of their ideas and struggles developed?

Even without the great mass of material which is still awaiting resurrection in the columns of the New York Tribune, the main lines of the European policy which Marx and Engels began to adopt with the Crimean War are quite clear to-day. To a certain extent the adoption of this policy may be said to have marked a turning point in their activities. The authors of The Communist Manifesto and the editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung concentrated their main attention on Germany. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung enthusiastically supported the struggle of the Poles, the Italians and the Hungarians for national independence, and in the upshot it demanded war against Russia as the strongest bulwark of European counter-revolution. But later this demand developed more and more into one for a world war against England because only after the breaking of England’s world. power would it be possible for the social revolution to emerge from the world of utopia into the world of reality.

This “Anglo-Russian slavery” was the basis on which Marx developed his European policy at the time of the Crimean War. He welcomed the war because it promised to break the European superiority which Tsarism had won as a result of the victory of the counter-revolution in Europe, but he was certainly not in agreement with the fashion in which the Western European powers waged the war. Engels adopted the same attitude and declared that the whole Crimean War was one colossal comedy of errors which made it almost impossible to say from one moment to the next who was the cheater and who the cheated. Despite the million lives and the millions of pounds which the war cost, both Marx and Engels regarded it as a pseudo-war as far as France and, in particular, England were concerned.

They were certainly right in so far as neither the false Bonaparte nor Lord Palmerston, the English Foreign Secretary, had any intention of wounding the Russian bear in any vital spot. As soon as they felt convinced that Austria could hold the main forces of the Russian army in check on the Western frontiers they shifted the scene of hostilities to the Crimea, where they battered their heads against the fortress of Sebastopol, succeeding in capturing only half of it after a long-drawn-out campaign. In the end they had to satisfy themselves with this one rather dilapidated laurel wreath of victory and beg “defeated Russia” for permission to evacuate their troops without further interference.

It was easy enough to see why the false Bonaparte was unwilling to challenge the Tsar to a life and death struggle, but Palmerston’s motives were less clear. The continental governments feared him as a revolutionary “firebrand,” whilst the continental Liberals admired him as a paragon of a constitutional-liberal Minister. Marx solved the riddle by laboriously examining the official blue books and the Hansard reports for the first half of the century and also a number of diplomatic reports which had been deposited in the British Museum. He sought to prove by his search that from the time of Peter the Great down to the opening of the Crimean War there had been secret co-operation between the Cabinets in London and St. Petersburg, and that Palmerston in particular was a venal instrument of Tsarist policy. Marx’s contentions did not pass without contradiction and they are disputed down to this very day, particularly with regard to the role of Palmerston. There is no doubt that he judged Palmerston’s unscrupulous business policy, with its half-measures and its contradictions, much more clearly than did either the European governments or the European Liberals, but it does not necessarily result from this that Palmerston had been bought by Russia. However, much more important than the question of whether Marx went too far in his statements or not is the fact that from this time onwards he considered it one of the most indispensable tasks of the working class to probe into the mysteries of international diplomacy in order to counter the diplomatic machinations of the governments or, where this proved impossible, to expose and denounce them.

Above all, he was interested in waging an irreconcilable struggle against the barbarous power which had its seat in St. Petersburg and its hand in every European Cabinet. He regarded Tsarism not merely as the most powerful bulwark of European reaction whose very passive existence was a permanent threat and danger, but also as the chief enemy whose constant intervention in the affairs of Western Europe hampered and disturbed the normal course of development and aimed at winning geographical footholds which would give it dominance over Europe, thus making the emancipation of the European proletariat impossible. The great stress which he laid on this standpoint greatly influenced his policy from the Crimean War onwards, even more so than during the years of the revolution.

With this he was merely developing an idea he had first expressed in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, but from now on both for him and for Engels the national struggles of those nations whose cause the paper had championed so enthusiastically began to recede very much into the background. Not that either of them ever ceased to demand the independence of Poland, Hungary and Italy as the right of these countries and the interest of Germany and Europe in general, but as early as 1851, Engels gave his old favourites marching orders: “The Italians, Poles and Hungarians must be told plainly that when modern questions are under discussion they must hold their tongues.” And a few months later he informed the Poles that they were done for as a nation and useful only as a means to an end until Russia itself had been drawn into the vortex of revolution. The Poles had never done anything in history but act with gallant and quarrelsome stupidity. Even against Russia they had never done anything of historical value, whilst Russia was at least progressive towards the East. With all its baseness and Slav filth, Russian dominance was a civilizing agency for the lands around the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, for Central Asia, Bashkir and Tartary, and Russia had absorbed far more cultural and, in particular, industrial elements than Poland, whose nature was essentially chevalieresque and slothful. These observations are certainly strongly coloured by the passion with which the struggles amongst the exiles were being fought, and in later years Engels’ verdict on Poland was much milder, whilst during the last years of his life he declared that Poland had saved European civilization on at least two occasions: by the rising in 1792-93 and by the revolution in 1830-31.

Referring to the belauded hero of the Italian Revolution, Marx declared: “Mazzini knows only the towns with their liberal aristocracy and their enlightened citizens. The material needs of the Italian agricultural population – as exploited and as systematically emasculated and held in stupidity as the Irish – are naturally too low for the phraseological heaven of his cosmopolitan, neo-Catholic, ideological manifestoes. It needs courage, however, to inform the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy that the first step towards the independence of Italy is the complete emancipation of the peasants and the transformation of their semi-tenant system into free bourgeois property.” And in an open letter to his friend Ernest Jones, the Chartist leader, Marx informed Kossuth, who was playing the lion in London, that the European revolutions were crusades of labour against capital and that they could not be depressed to the intellectual and social level of an obscure and semi-barbarous people like the Magyars, who were still stuck in the semi-civilization of the sixteenth century but actually imagined that they could command the enlightenment of Germany and France and wheedle a cheer from the gullible England.

However, Marx developed farthest from the traditions of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in that he no longer merely concentrated his chief attention on Germany, but actually put it almost completely out of the sphere of his political interests. It is true that at the time Germany played a very sorry role in European politics and could be regarded as little more than a Russian province, but although this more or less explains Marx’s attitude, nevertheless both he and Engels were to pay dearly later on for the fact that for a number of years they completely lost touch with developments in Germany. Unfortunately, the contempt which both of them had always felt as Rhinelanders and citizens of an annexed province for the Prussian State was intensified in the days of Manteuffel-Westphalen to such an extent that it fitted ill with their usual keen appreciation of a political situation.

The one exception in those days in which Marx did pay attention to conditions in Prussia offers eloquent proof of this. It was towards the end of 1856, when Prussia came into conflict with Switzerland over the Neufchatel affair. The incident caused Marx, as he wrote to Engels on the 2nd of December, 1856, to supplement his “very insufficient knowledge of Prussian history,” and he summed up the result of his studies by declaring that world history had never produced anything more lousy. The passages which then follow and an article which appeared a few days later in The People’s Paper, a Chartist organ, dealing with the same matter in still greater detail, reveal him as being very far from his usual high level in historical matters. Indeed, he sinks dangerously near to the low level of the scolding petty-bourgeois democracy, although it is one of his own particular services that he raised historical writing far above this level.

The Prussian State undoubtedly represented a disagreeable morsel for any human being to swallow, but for all that, it was not possible to make it palatable with the caustic mockery of the “Divine Right of the Hohenzollerns”; of the three repeatedly appearing “character masks”: the pietist, the drill sergeant and the buffoon; of Prussian history as “an unappetizing family chronicle,” compared with the “diabolical epic” of Austrian history and with similar observations which at the utmost explain the wherefore, but leave the why of the wherefore completely in the dark.



2. David Urquhart, G.J. Harney and Ernest Jones

Whilst he was contributing to the New York Tribune Marx also worked in the same way for the Urquhartist and Chartist papers.

David Urquhart was an English diplomat who, thanks to his detailed knowledge of the Russian plans for world dominance and to his ceaseless struggle against them, had rendered valuable services. Their value, however, he diminished by a fanatical hatred of Russia and an equally fanatical enthusiasm for everything Turkish. Marx was often dubbed an Urquhartite, but quite without justification, and in fact it would be truer to say that, like Engels, he was too much irritated by the foolish exaggerations of the man to appreciate fully his real services. The first mention of Urquhart in the Marx-Engels correspondence is in a letter written by Engels in March, 1853: “I am reading Urquhart’s book at the moment. He contends that Palmerston is in the pay of Russia. The explanation is very simple, the fellow is a Celtic Scot with a Saxon-Scottish training, by tendency a romanticist, by education a Free Trader. He went to Greece as a Philo-Hellenist and, after skirmishing around with the Turks for three years, he went to Turkey and was immediately seized with enthusiasm for the Turks. He is gushingly Islamitic and declares that if he were not a Calvinist he could be only a Mohammedan.” On the whole Engels found Urquhart’s book merely highly diverting.

The point of contact between Marx and Urquhart was their common struggle against Palmerston. An article written by Marx against Palmerston for the New York Tribune was reprinted in a Glasgow newspaper where it attracted the attention of Urquhart. In February, 1854, the two met and Urquhart received Marx with the compliment that a Turk might have written the article. However, Urquhart was very disappointed when Marx informed him that he was a “revolutionist,” because one of Urquhart’s crotchets was that the European revolutionaries were all conscious or unconscious tools of Tsarism used by the latter to embarrass the European governments. “The man is a complete monomaniac,” Marx wrote to Engels after this meeting, adding that he agreed with him in nothing except with regard to Palmerston and even then the man had been of no assistance to him.

Naturally, these confidential remarks to Engels must not be taken too seriously. Despite all his critical reservations, Marx publicly and repeatedly acknowledged Urquhart’s services, and he made no secret of the fact that although he had not been convinced by Urquhart he had nevertheless been stimulated by him. For this reason he did not hesitate to contribute occasionally to Urquhart’s papers and in particular to The Free Press in London, and he also gave Urquhart permission to reprint and distribute a number of his articles in the New York Tribune in leaflet form. These Palmerston leaflets were distributed in fairly large editions, from fifteen to thirty thousand at a time, and they created a great sensation, but for the rest, Marx gained no greater material advantage from the Scot Urquhart than from the Yankee Dana.

Any really close connection between the two was made quite impossible by the fact that Marx supported Chartism, a movement which Urquhart doubly hated as a Free Trader and as an enemy of Russia, because he thought he could detect the rolling rouble in every revolutionary movement. Chartism never recovered from the heavy defeat it had suffered on the 10th of April, 1848, but as long as its remnants struggled for life the movement was gallantly and loyally supported by both Marx and Engels, chiefly in the way of unpaid contributions to the papers published by George Julian Harney and Ernest Jones in the fifties. Harney published The Red Republican, The Friend of the People and The Democratic Review in rapid succession, whilst Jones published The Notes of the People and The People’s Paper. The People’s Paper enjoyed the longest life and was published regularly down to the year 1858.

Harney and Tones belonged to the revolutionary wing of the Chartist movement and amongst all the members of this group they were probably the least insular. They were also regarded as the leading spirits in the international association of the Fraternal Democrats. Harney was the son of a seaman and had grown up in proletarian surroundings. He had obtained his revolutionary knowledge on his own from the revolutionary literature of France, and Marat was his model. He was a year older than Marx, and whilst the latter was editing the Rheinische Zeitung, Harney was on the editorial board of The Northern Star, the chief organ of the Chartists. Engels visited him in 1843 and Harney described him as “a slim young fellow, so youthful that he seemed almost a boy, but even then he spoke, extraordinarily correct English.” In 1847, Harney made the acquaintance of Marx and joined his circle with enthusiasm.

He published an English translation of The Communist Manifesto in his Red Republican together with an editorial footnote to the effect that it was the most revolutionary document ever published, and in his Democratic Review, he published English translations of articles which had appeared in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung on the French Revolution, declaring that they represented “the real criticism” of French affairs. In the struggles of the emigration he returned to his old love and came into violent conflict with Ernest Jones and no less so with Marx and Engels. Soon afterwards he went to live on the isle of Jersey and after a short stay there he left for the United States where Engels visited him in 1888. Shortly after this visit Harney returned to England where he died at a ripe old age and perhaps as the last living witness of a great historical period.

Ernest Jones was of Norman descent, but he was born and educated in Germany where his father was military adviser to the Duke of Cumberland, the man who afterwards became King Ernst August of Hanover. This arch-reactionary rake, who was accused in the English press of every crime in the calendar except suicide, stood godfather to Ernest Jones at the font, but this patronage and the court connections of his parents made no impression on the lad. Even as a boy he showed a vigorous partisanship for the cause of liberty and as a man he steadfastly resisted all the temptations which were placed in his path and all the attempts which were made to fetter his free spirit with chains of gold. When his family returned to England he was about twenty years old and he began to study for the bar to which he was later admitted. He sacrificed all the brilliant prospects which his own high talents and the aristocratic connections of his family opened up to him in order to devote himself to the Chartist cause, which he championed with such fiery zeal that in 1848 he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. As an added indignity for his treachery to his own class, he was treated in prison as a common criminal, but he came out of prison in 1850 as an incorrigible revolutionary and from the summer of 1850 onwards he maintained close relations with Marx and Engels (he was about midway between their ages) for almost twenty years.

The friendship was certainly not completely cloudless, and troubles such as had arisen with Freiligrath, with whom Jones shared poetic talents, and with Lassalle, on whom Marx’s verdict was similar but incomparably more severe, occurred. In a letter written in 1855 Marx refers to him in these words: “With all the energy, persistence and activity for which one must give him credit, he spoils everything by his tub-thumping, his tactless snatching after pretexts for agitation and his constant impatience and desire to rush ahead of the times.” Later on there were even more serious differences between them, particularly when the Chartist agitation went more and more to seed and Ernest Jones began to flirt with bourgeois radicalism.

However, basically their friendship remained firm and loyal. During the last years of his life Ernest Jones lived in Manchester, where he died unexpectedly in 1869 whilst still in the prime of life. Engels hurriedly wrote the sad news to London: “Another one of the Old Guard gone home!” And Marx answered: “The news naturally caused a deep shock to us all, for he was one of our few old friends.” A few days later Engels reported that an enormous procession had followed the coffin to the cemetery where still another member of the Old Guard, Wilhelm Wolff, lay buried. It was a real loss, declared Engels. After all, his bourgeois phrases had been nothing but hypocrisy and he had been the only educated Englishman amongst the politicians who had, at bottom, really been on their side.



3. Family and Friends

During these years Marx remained aloof from all political circles and led practically no social life. He had withdrawn completely into his study and he left it only to be with his family, which had been augmented by the birth of a daughter, Eleanor, in 1855.

Marx, like Engels, was a great lover of children and when he left his studies for an hour or two, it was to play with his children, who idolized him, although, or perhaps just because, he never made any attempt to assert any paternal authority. They treated him as a playmate and called him “The Moor,” a nickname given to him on account of his jet-black hair and dark complexion. “Children must educate their parents,” he used to say, and his children certainly took him in hand, for they strictly forbade him to do any work on Sundays, on which day he had to belong to them completely, and the Sunday outings into the country, during which the family stopped at wayside inns to drink ginger-beer and eat bread and cheese, were the infrequent rays of sunshine which penetrated through the heavy clouds which invariably hung over the house.

Their favourite outings were to Hampstead Heath, and Liebknecht has given us very charming descriptions of them. Hampstead Heath to-day is not quite the same as it was then, but from Jack Straw’s Castle, at whose tables Marx often sat, there is still a magnificent view over the Heath with its picturesque panorama of hills and valleys and, on Sundays, its crowds of happy people. To the South lies the gigantic town with its vast mass of houses and its familiar landmarks, the dome of St. Paul’s and the towers of Westminster, and beyond that in a far-off haze the pleasant uplands of Surrey. To the North the countryside is now covered with houses and to the West is the sister hill of Highgate where Marx has found his last resting place.

And then, like a flash of lightning, tragedy struck suddenly into this modest domestic happiness. On Good Friday, 1855, Marx’s only son, the nine-year-old Edgar, or “Musch” as he was affectionately called, died. The boy, who had already shown great talent, was the family favourite. “Such a sad and terrible loss that I can hardly describe how deeply it has affected me,” wrote Freiligrath in a letter to Germany.

The letters in which Marx describes the sickness and death of his child to Engels are heart-rending. On the 30th of March he wrote: “My wife has been ill for a week from sheer anxiety, worse than she has ever been before. I am also terribly upset. My heart is heavy and my head is in a whirl, but of course I have to keep up a brave front. Even in his illness the boy is still the same good-natured and independent character.” And on the 6th of April he wrote again: “The poor little fellow is gone. He went to sleep (literally) in my arms to-day between five and six o’clock. I shall never forget how your friendship lightened our heavy burden in these terrible days. You can realize my sorrow at the death of my boy.” And on the 12th of April he wrote: “The house seems empty and deserted since the boy died. He was its life and soul. It is impossible to describe how much we miss him all the time. I have suffered all sorts of misfortune, but now I know what real misfortune is ... In all the terrible anxiety and suffering I have gone through, I have been sustained by the thought of you and your friendship, and by the hope that we have still something worthwhile to do together in the world.” It was a long time before the wound began to close. Answering a letter of sympathy from Lassalle on the 28th of July, Marx wrote: “Baco says that really great men have so many interests in nature and the world and so many things which occupy their attention that no loss can mean very much to them. I am afraid that I am not one of those great men. The death of my boy has shaken me deeply and I feel the loss as keenly as though it were still only yesterday. My poor wife has completely broken down under the blow.” On the 6th of October we find Freiligrath writing to Marx: “I am terribly sorry that your great loss still causes you such intense sorrow. Unfortunately there is nothing that a friend can do or advise. I understand and respect your sorrow, but you must try to master it in order to prevent it mastering you. That would be no treachery to the memory of your dear child.”

The death of Marx’s son Edgar was the culmination of a series of illnesses which had befallen the family during the preceding few years. In the previous spring Marx himself had also fallen ill and in fact he was never quite well again. His chief complaint was liver trouble, which he believed he had inherited from his father, but there is no doubt that it was aggravated by the miserable housing conditions and the unhealthy neighbourhood in which the family lived. In the summer of 1854 a cholera epidemic was particularly virulent in the district as the result, it was said, of the fact that newly-dug drains had been laid through the mass graves of the victims of the Great Plague in 1665. Marx’s doctor urged him to leave the neighbourhood of Soho Square, whose atmosphere he had now breathed uninterruptedly for years. A new fatality in the family made it possible for them to do so. In the summer of 1856 Frau Marx went together with her three daughters to Trier to visit her mother who was seriously ill. She arrived just in time to close her mother’s tired eyes after an illness lasting only eleven days.

The old lady did not leave very much, but a few hundred thaler fell to the share of Frau Marx and it would appear that at about the same time she inherited a small sum from her Scottish relatives. In any case, the money was sufficient to permit the family to move in the autumn of 1856 into a little house at 9, Grafton Terrace, Maitland Park, Haverstock Hill, near Marx’s beloved Hampstead Heath. The rent of this house was thirty-six pounds a year. “Compared with the holes we have previously had to live in, this is a really princely home,” wrote Frau Marx to a friend, “and although everything we possess cost little more than forty pounds (much of it second-hand rubbish) I felt quite grand in our new parlour in the beginning. All the linen and the other reminders of former glory were rescued from the hands of ‘uncle’ and once again I was able to count over my old Scottish damask napkins with delight. However, the idyll did not last very long for soon one piece after the other found its way back to the ‘pop-shop’ (as the children call the house at the sign of the mysterious three brass balls). Still, we were very happy for once in our agreeable bourgeois coziness.” Unfortunately it proved to be a very short breathing space.

Death reaped its harvest amongst the friends of the family also. Daniels died in the autumn of 1855, Weerth in January, 1856, in Haiti, and Konrad Schramm at the beginning of 1858 on the island of Jersey. Both Marx and Engels did their best to secure the publication of even short obituary notices in the press, but without success. They often complained that the ranks of the Old Guard were being rapidly thinned and that no new blood was forthcoming. Although in the beginning their “public isolation” had pleased them, and although their conviction of final victory was unshakable and sustained them in their political struggle, a struggle they conducted as confidently as though they represented a European power, they were both too passionately political not to feel in the long run the lack of a party. For their supporters, as Marx himself admitted, did not represent a party, and amongst them there was no one whose ideas rose even approximately to the level of their own, with the one exception of the man towards whom they were never completely able to overcome their mistrust.

Liebknecht was a daily visitor to the Marx household in London, at least as long as it was in Dean Street, but in his own little room up under the roof he had to contend vigorously with the material troubles of life, and the same was true of all the old companions of the Communist League days, of Lessner and of the joiner Lochner, of Eccarius and of “the penitent sinner” Schapper. The others were scattered: Dronke was a business man in Liverpool and later in Glasgow, Imandt was a Professor in Dundee, Schily was an advocate in Paris, where Reinhardt, Heine’s secretary during the last years of the poet’s life, was one of the inner circle.

However, even amongst the faithful, political activity began to decline. Wilhelm Wolff, who lived in Manchester, managed to keep his head above water fairly successfully by giving lessons, and he remained “just the same,” as Frau Marx wrote of him, “just the same gallant, capable, plebeian nature,” but with the years he began to develop the crotchets of an old bachelor and his “chief struggles” took place with his landlady about such matters as tea, sugar and coal, and intellectually he ceased to mean very much to his old friends in exile. Freiligrath also remained a loyal friend, and after he had been given the managership of the London agency of a Swiss bank in the summer of 1856, he was able to be of greater assistance to Marx than before and in particular he was able to prevent any delay in cashing the drafts sent by the New York Tribune, which added to its other shortcomings frequent dilatoriness in paying. Freiligrath also remained true to his revolutionary convictions, but he drifted farther and farther away from the party struggle. Although he declared with conviction that there was no place in the world where a revolutionary could be buried with greater honour than in exile, the poet himself was not happy in exile. The homesickness of his wife, whom he loved dearly, and the sight of his children lighting the candles of their Christmas tree again and again on foreign soil, caused the stream of his poetry to dry up. He suffered intensely from this and it was a great consolation to him when his country gradually began to remember its famous poet again.

And then there was the long list of “the living dead.” It happened occasionally that Marx met a number of the companions of his early philosophic days: Eduard Meyen, who proved to be the same poisonous old toad, Faucher, who had become Cobden’s secretary and thought himself cut out “to make history” in the Free Trade movement, and Edgar Bauer, who played the role of communist agitator, but to whom Marx invariably referred as “the clown.” Marx also met his old friend Bruno Bauer on numerous occasions when the latter came to London to visit his brother. As Bruno Bauer proved to be full of enthusiasm for “the primitive strength” of Russia, and regarded the proletariat as nothing but “a mob” to be held in check partly by violence, partly by cunning and partly by conceding it a few pence when unavoidable, there was naturally no basis for any agreement between them. Marx found that he had grown noticeably older, that his brow was larger and that he had developed the manner of a pedantic professor, but his conversations with the “cheerful old gentleman” were reported to Engels in detail.

However, even taking the more immediate past, the list of “the living dead” was a long one and it grew longer every year. For instance, there were old friends in the Rhineland: Georg Tung, Heinrich Burgers, Hermann Becker and others. Some of them, like Becker and later on the worthy Miquel, tried to justify their attitude “scientifically,” declaring that before the proletariat could even think of victory the bourgeoisie must be completely victorious over the feudal Junkers. Becker declared: “The material interests of the canaille will bore their way through and through the decaying structure of Junkerdom turning it into dust, so that at the first breath of the world spirit history will simply sweep the whole structure away and proceed nonchalantly to the next item on the agenda.” It was a very pretty theory and no doubt it is still doing good service to many artful dodgers to-day, but when Pecker became Lord Mayor of Cologne, and Miquel Prussian Minister of Finance, they found themselves so attached to “the material interests of the canaille” that they fought tooth and nail against any insolence on the part of the world spirit and against all attempts “to proceed nonchalantly to the next item on the agenda.”

For all that, however, it was a doubtful substitute for men like Pecker and Miquel when in the spring of 1856 a business man named Gustav Lewy came from Düsseldorf to London and offered Marx, so to speak, in apple-pie order, and all complete, an insurrection of the factory workers in Iserlohn, Solingen and one or two other places. Marx roundly condemned the dangerous and useless folly of the venture and told Lewy to inform the workers he represented, or pretended to represent, that they should get into touch with him again later and do nothing whatever without first having obtained his agreement. Unfortunately, Marx did not take up the same attitude to a second mission with which Lewy declared he had been entrusted by the workers of Düsseldorf, namely, to warn Marx against Lassalle. He was, Lewy declared, an unreliable fellow who, after the successful conclusion of the Hatzfeldt trial, lived under the shameful yoke of the Countess as her kept man and intended to go to Berlin with her to found a salon of intellectuals. He flung aside the workers like worn out gloves in order to go over to the bourgeoisie – and much more of the same sort. One may reasonably doubt that the workers in the Rhineland sent any such message to Marx for a few years later the same workers honoured Lassalle with a solemn address in which they declared enthusiastically that during the reign of white terror in the fifties his house had been “a steadfast bulwark of fearless and vigorous assistance to the party.” It is far more likely that Lewy invented the message to satisfy his bitterness against Lassalle because the latter had refused to grant him a loan of 2,000 thaler, being prepared to advance no more than 500 thaler.

If Marx had known this he would certainly have treated Lewy with the greatest reserve, but in itself the report was calculated to awaken the strongest suspicion against Lassalle. Marx had kept up a correspondence with him, though their letters were not very frequent, and he had always found him a reliable friend, both personally and politically, and a loyal party comrade. Marx had even opposed the mistrust which had arisen against Lassalle in the old Communist League days amongst the workers in the Rhineland owing to his share in the Hatzfeldt affair, and hardly a year before when Lassalle had written him a letter from Paris he had answered it in a very friendly fashion: “I am naturally surprised to hear that you are so near London and yet are not thinking of coming over even for a few days. I hope you will reconsider the matter and see how short and cheap the journey from Paris to London really is. Unfortunately France is closed to me or I would certainly come over and give you a surprise in Paris.”

It is therefore difficult to understand why Marx accepted Lewy’s loose talk at its face value and immediately reported it to Engels in a letter dated the 5th of March, 1856, adding: “This gives you only the sketchy details of the affair. The whole has made a definite impression on Freiligrath and myself, as much as I was in favour of Lassalle and as much as I dislike workers’ gossip. He had told Lewy that it was impossible to come to any definite conclusion on the basis of a report from one side only, but in any case, suspicion was useful. Lassalle should be watched, but for the moment any public scandal should be avoided. Engels agreed with this and added a number of observations which occasion less surprise coming from him, for he knew Lassalle less intimately than did Marx. It was a pity, declared Engels, because the fellow undoubtedly had great talent. He had always needed watching like the devil, but now he was going the pace a bit too fast. As a real Jew from the Slav frontier he had always been on the watch for a chance of exploiting anyone for his own private purposes under party pretexts.

Marx then broke off his correspondence with the man who wrote to him truthfully a few years later: “I am the only friend you have in Germany.”



4. The Crisis of 1857

When Marx and Engels withdrew from the public squabbles of the exiles in the autumn of 1850 they had declared: “A new revolution will be made possible only as the result of a new crisis, but it is just as certain as is the coming of the crisis itself.” Since then they had watched carefully for any sign of a new crisis and as the years passed they became more and more impatient. In his reminiscences Liebknecht tells us that on one or two occasions Marx wrongly prophesied the coming of the crisis and was chaffed by his friends in con sequence, and when the crisis finally came in 1857 Marx did in fact tell Wilhelm Wolff through Engels that he would prove that in the normal course of things the crisis should have arrived two years earlier.

The crisis began in the United States and it made a personal announcement of its arrival to Marx through the instrumentality of the New York Tribune which immediately put him on half-pay. This blow was a hard one because the old privations, even worse ones in fact, had since put in an appearance in the new home. In Grafton Terrace Marx was no longer able “to live from hand to mouth as in Dean Street.” He had no prospects, and his family expenditure was steadily increasing. On the 20th of January, 1857, he wrote to Engels: “I really don’t know what to do next, in fact my situation is more desperate than it was five years ago.” This letter came “like a bolt from the blue” for Engels, who immediately hurried to assist his friend, but complained that he had not been told about the situation earlier. He had, it appeared, just bought himself a horse for which his father had given him the money as a Christmas present: “I find it really too bad that I should be keeping a horse whilst you and your family are in such trouble in London.” A few months later Engels was overjoyed when Dana approached Marx with a proposal that he should co-operate in the preparation of an encyclopaedia. In particular, Dana wanted contributions on military subjects and Engels was “tremendously pleased” because it was “just the very thing” to release Marx from his eternal money troubles. Marx should undertake as many articles as they were prepared to give him and then gradually organize an office.

Nothing came of the suggestion that an office should be organized, chiefly because it proved impossible to obtain sufficient suitable cooperators, and apart from this, the prospects turned out to be far less brilliant than Engels had hoped, because the rate of payment did not amount even to a penny a line and although much of the work was really no more than padding, Engels was much too conscientious to churn it out easily. To judge from their correspondence about the work, the derogatory judgment which Engels later passed on the articles, some written by him and some by Marx, was not justified by any means: “Mere pot-boiling and nothing more. It doesn’t matter if they are never read again.” Gradually this work also came to an end and it would appear in fact that the regular co-operation of the two friends in the preparation of the encyclopaedia never got beyond the letter C.

From the very beginning their work was greatly hampered by the fact that in the summer of 1857 Engels developed glandular trouble and had to live at the seaside for a long time. Marx’s own situation was depressing enough. His liver trouble recurred so violently that he was able to do only the very minimum of the work which was necessary, and even that with tremendous difficulty. In July his wife was delivered of a still-born child under circumstances which left a terrible impression on Marx and made the memory of the misfortune very painful. “You must have been hard hit when you write like that,” the alarmed Engels wrote in reply, but Marx declared that it was better to postpone any discussion until they should meet, for he was unable to write about such things.

However, all personal troubles were forgotten when the crisis came to England in the autumn and then spread rapidly to the Continent. Writing to Engels on the 13th of November, Marx declared: “Although I am in serious financial difficulties myself, I have not felt so happy since 1849 as I do to-day in face of this eruption.” In his reply the next day Engels feared only that things might develop too quickly: “I think it would be better that the crisis ‘improve’ until it assumes a chronic character, before any second and decisive blow follows. Chronic pressure is necessary for a while in order to warm up the people. The proletariat would then fight better and with a better knowledge of the situation and more unison, just as a cavalry attack has greater elan if the horses must first trot 500 paces before coming within charging distance of the enemy. I shouldn’t like anything to happen too soon, before the whole of Europe is completely involved, for then the struggle afterwards would be more severe, more tedious and more fluctuating. May or June would be almost too early. The masses must have become damned lethargic after the long period of prosperity.... By the way, I feel just as you do. Once the swindle collapsed in New York, I no longer had any peace in Jersey and I now feel in splendid form in this general collapse. The bourgeois mud of the past few years had stuck to me to a certain extent after all, but now it will be washed off and I shall feel a new man. The crisis will do my health as much good as a seaside holiday, I can feel that already. In 1848 we thought our time was coming and in a certain sense it did, but this time it is really coming and everything is at stake.”

Engels was wrong, of course, for everything was by no means at stake. In its own way the crisis did have revolutionary effects, but they were not the ones expected by the two friends. They certainly did not spend their time spinning utopian and optimistic hopes, but in carefully studying the course of the crisis from day to day, and on the 18th of December Marx wrote: “I am doing a tremendous amount of work, mostly until four in the morning. My work is a double one: I. the drawing up of the fundamental principles of political economy (it is absolutely necessary for the general public to probe the matter to the bottom, and I must get the incubus off my chest) and 2. the present crisis. Apart from my articles for the Tribune I am doing no more than keeping a record, but that takes up a considerable amount of my time. I think that somewhere about next spring you and I should do a pamphlet together on the affair as a sort of reminder to the German public that we are still alive and still the same.” Nothing came of this proposal because the crisis did not in fact stir up the masses, but at least this gave Marx sufficient leisure to carry out the theoretical part of his plan.

Ten days previously Frau Marx had written to the dying Konrad Schramm in Jersey: “We feel the effects of the American crisis in our own pockets since Karl writes only one article a week instead of two for the Tribune, which has got rid of all its European correspondents except Bayard Taylor and Karl, but you can imagine how cheerful the Moor is. His working capacity and facility have returned together with a freshness and light-heartedness which he has not known for years, not since our great sorrow when we lost our little boy, a loss which will always make my heart sad. During the day Karl works for our daily bread and at night he works in order to finish his book on political economy. Now that such a book has become so necessary surely we shall be able to find some miserable publisher for it.” Thanks to the efforts of Lassalle, a publisher was indeed found.

In April, 1857, he had again written in the old friendly fashion, but expressing surprise that he had not heard from Marx for such a long time, though naturally, he did not know the reason. Although Engels advised him to do so, Marx did not answer this letter. In December of the same year Lassalle wrote again, this time in connection with a definite matter. His cousin, Max Friedländer, had asked him to approach Marx to persuade the latter to contribute to Die Presse in Vienna, of which Friedländer was an editor. This time Marx did answer, refusing Friedländer’s offer and declaring that although he was “anti-French” he was no less “anti-English” and certainly unwilling to write for Palmerston. Lassalle complained that although sentimentality was not one of his vices, he had been hurt by Marx’s failure to reply to his April letter. Marx then replied “briefly and coldly” that he had not done so for reasons it was difficult to set down on paper. Although the letter was a short one, he did inform Lassalle that he wanted to publish a work on political economy.

In January, 1858, a copy of Lassalle’s Heraclitus arrived in London together with a few comments on the enthusiastic reception the book had received in educated circles in Berlin. In his December letter Lassalle had announced his intention of sending the book. The postage alone, two shillings, “assured the book a bad reception,” but Marx’s judgment on the contents was also unfavourable. The “enormous display” of scholarship did not impress him, and he observed that it was easy enough to pile quotation on quotation if one had time and money enough and could have all the necessary books sent into the house from the Bonn University library. Lassalle gave himself airs in all this philosophical tinsel like a fellow wearing an elegant suit for the first time. Marx’s judgment was unfair to Lassalle’s real scholarship, but his attitude can be explained by the fact that he disliked the book for the same reason that the professorial luminaries liked it, namely, the display of so much old-fashioned wisdom in a young man who had the reputation of being a great revolutionary. In any case, the greater part of the book had been written more than ten years before it was published.

Lassalle had still not realized that something serious was wrong from Marx’s “brief and cold” reply to his complaining letter and he misunderstood – obviously honestly, though Marx suspected that it was deliberate – the indication that a personal discussion was necessary between them and assumed that Marx had one or two things of no immediate and urgent importance to tell him when opportunity arose. He wrote again in February, 1858, without revealing the least embarrassment and describing drastically the gushing ecstasy of the bourgeoisie in Berlin at the marriage of the Crown Prince of Prussia with an English princess. At the same time he offered Marx his services with a view to securing a publisher for the latter’s work on political economy. Marx accepted his offer of assistance and by the end of March Lassalle had already drawn up the contract with his own publisher, Franz Duncker, and had secured even better conditions than Marx had asked. The latter wanted the work to appear in parts and was quite willing to waive any question of payment for the first parts, but Lassalle secured a payment of three Friedrichsdor per printer’s sheet,” although the normal professorial honorarium was only two Friedrichsdor per printer’s sheet. However, the publisher reserved the right to discontinue publication should the first parts not sell satisfactorily.

It was a good nine months before Marx was finished with the first bundle of manuscript because recurring attacks of liver trouble and further domestic worries hindered the work. At Christmas, 1858, things looked “blacker and more hopeless than ever before” in the Marx household. On the 21st of January, 1859, “the unfortunate manuscript” was finished, but there was “not a farthing” in the: house to pay for postage and the registration fee. “I don’t suppose anyone has ever written about ‘money’ and suffered such a lack of it himself. Most of the authors who have written on the subject maintained the best of relations to the object of their investigations,” as Marx wrote to Engels requesting the latter to send him enough money for the postage.



5. The Critique Of Political Economy

The plan to write an exhaustive work on political economy, one which would delve into the fundamental principles of the capitalist mode of production, was about fifteen years old before Marx actually began to put it into execution. He had considered the idea even before the March Revolution and his reply to Proudhon was a sort of payment on account. When the struggles of the revolutionary years were past, he immediately took up the idea again and on April 2nd, 1851, he wrote to Engels: “I am now at a point where I have finished with all the drudgery of economics. After that I shall work on my book at home and pitch into some other science in the Museum. It is beginning to bore me. The science of political economy has made no fundamental progress since the days of Adam Smith and David Ricardo although very much has been done since in the way of individual investigation, some of it super-delicate.” Engels was delighted and answered: “I am glad that you are finally through with your political economy. The thing was really lasting too long,” but as a man of experience he added: “So long as there is still a book in front of you which you consider important and which you have not read, you won’t put pen to paper.” Engels was always inclined to believe that apart from all other difficulties, “the chief delay” was always to be found in his friend’s “own scruples.”

These “scruples” were certainly never superticial and Engels never suggested that they were. Instead of finishing off his work in 1851, Marx started all over again, and in his introduction to the first part he explains why: “The tremendous amount of material stored up in the British Museum suitable for a history of political economy, the favourable vantage point which London in particular offers for an examination of bourgeois society, and finally the new stage of development which appeared to have been opened up for bourgeois society by the discovery of the Australian and Californian gold fields.” He also points out that his eight years of work for the New York Tribune had caused continual interruptions in his studies, and he might also have added that this work led him back to some extent into the political struggle, which was always of first class importance for him. And finally, it was the prospect of a resuscitation of the revolutionary working-class movement which caused him to stick to his writing desk and put down in black and white the things which had been occupying his mind ceaselessly for many years.

His correspondence with Engels offers eloquent proof of this, for the discussion of economic problems never ceases and occasionally it develops into regular treatises which one might also describe as “super-delicate.” A few occasional passages show us how the exchange of ideas between the two friends took place. On one occasion Engels writes of his “well-known laziness en fait de theorie,” a laziness against which his better self growled protestingly, but not loudly enough to make him go to the bottom of things, and on another occasion Marx sighs: “If people only knew how little I know about all this business!” This was called forth by the remark of a manufacturer that Marx must have been a manufacturer himself at some time or the other.

If one deducts the humorous exaggeration, what remains indicates that Engels was better acquainted with the inner mechanism of capitalist society than was Marx, whilst the latter with his keen powers of deduction was better able to follow its laws of development. When Marx sketched the plan for the first part of his work to Engels, the latter replied: “Your sketch is really very abstract as I suppose was inevitable in view of its brevity. I had a deal of trouble in finding the dialectical transitions, for all abstract thought has become unfamiliar to me now.” On the other hand, Marx often found it difficult to understand the answers Engels gave him to his questions concerning the way in which manufacturers and merchants reckoned that part of their income which they used for themselves, or concerning depreciation of machinery, or the accounting methods for paid-in operating capital. Marx also complained that in the science of political economy, matters of practical interest and matters of theoretical necessity were far apart.

Marx did not really begin to give final form to his work until the years 1857-58 and this can be seen from the fact that the plan changed almost unnoticeably in his hands. In April, 1858, he still intended to deal with “capital in general” in the first part, but although this part grew twice and thrice as long as he had originally planned, it contained nothing about capital, only two chapters on commodities and money. The advantage of this would be that criticism would not be able to limit itself to mere tendentious abuse, thought Marx, but he overlooked the fact that he thereby offered it the effective weapon of remaining silent altogether.

In the introduction he sketches the course of his scientific development, and the famous passage in which he sums up the theory of historical materialism is worthy of quotation here: “My examination [of the Hegelian philosophy of law] brought me to the conclusion that neither legal relations nor State forms can be understood in themselves or from the so-called general development of the human intellect. They have their roots in the material conditions of life whose totality Hegel, following the example of the English and French scholars of the eighteenth century, summed up in the term ‘bourgeois society,’ and the anatomy of bourgeois society must be sought in political economy ... The general result which I achieved, and which, once achieved, formed the guiding line of my subsequent studies, can be summed up as follows: In social production human beings enter into definite and necessary relations to each other quite independent of their will, productive relations which are in accordance with a definite stage of the development of the material productive forces. The totality of these productive relations forms the economic structure of society, the material basis on which the legal and political superstructure rests, and to which definite forms of social consciousness correspond.

“The mode of production of material life determines the social, political and intellectual process of life in general. It is not the consciousness of human beings which determines their being, but on the contrary, it is their social being which determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development the material productive forces of society come into contradiction with the existing productive relations or with the existing property relations – which is only a legal expression for the same thing – within which they have previously moved. These relations then change from forms of development of the productive forces into fetters on these productive forces, and an epoch of social revolution begins. With this change in the economic basis of society, the whole enormous superstructure also changes more or less rapidly. When observing such changes one must always differentiate between the material changes in the economic conditions of production, which must be registered with scientific accuracy, and the legal, political, religious, artistic and philosophic forms, in short, the ideological forms in which human beings become aware of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one cannot judge the individual by what he thinks of himself, so also one cannot judge such an epoch of change from its own consciousness, but one must rather explain this consciousness from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the conditions of production. No form of society declines before it has developed all the forces of production in accordance with its own stage of development, and new and higher productive relations never take the place of the old before the material conditions for their existence have been developed within the shell of the old society itself. Therefore humanity never sets itself tasks but those it is in a position to perform, for if one examines the matter more closely one will invariably find that a task never presents itself for performance unless the material conditions for such performance are already developed or at least in process of development. Speaking generally, the Asiatic, the classic, the feudal and the modern bourgeois modes of production can be termed progressive epochs of the economic social forms. Bourgeois productive relations represent the final antagonistic form of the process of social production, not antagonistic in the sense of individual antagonism, but an antagonism which develops from the social conditions of life of the individuals. However, the productive forces developing within the framework of bourgeois society create at the same time the material conditions for the liquidation of this antagonism. With this form of society, therefore, the preliminary history of human society ends.”

It was in this work, which he entitled A Critique of Political Economy, that Marx took a decisive step beyond the limits of bourgeois political economy as it had been developed in particular by Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Bourgeois political economy culminated in the definition of the value of a commodity as the amount of labour-time necessary to produce it, but as it regarded the bourgeois mode of production as the eternal and natural form of social production, it assumed the creation of value to be a natural characteristic of human labour-power, represented by the individual and concrete labour-power of the individual, and on this assumption it involved itself in a series of contradictions which it was unable to solve. Marx, on the other hand, did not regard the bourgeois mode of production as the eternal and natural form of social production, but merely as a definite historical form of social production succeeding a whole series of previous forms. From this standpoint he subjected the value-producing characteristic of labour-power to a thorough examination. He examined what kind of labour-power produces value and why and how, and why value is nothing but embodied labour-power of this kind.

In this way he arrived at the “vital point” on which the understanding of political economy depends: the double character of labour-power in bourgeois society. Individual concrete labour-power creates use-value, whilst undifferentiated social labour-power creates exchange-value. In so far as labour-power creates use-value it is common to all social forms. As a useful activity for the appropriation of natural resources in one form or the other, the use of labour-power is a natural condition of human existence, a condition of the metabolism existing between man and nature quite independent of all social forms. Labour-power requires material on which it can work as the preliminary condition for working, and it is, therefore, not the only source of that which it produces, namely, material wealth. No matter what may be the relation between labour-power and its raw material in the various use-values produced, the use-value always contains a natural substratum.

Exchange-value is different. It contains no natural element, and labour-power is its only source and therefore the only source of all wealth which consists of exchange-value. Considered as an exchange-value, one use-value is worth exactly the same as any other, providing that it is present in the correct proportion. “The exchange-value of a palace can be expressed in terms of a certain number of tins of blacking. On the other hand, the London manufacturers of blacking have expressed the exchange-value of multiplied tins of blacking in palaces.” Because commodities exchange with each other irrespective of their natural conditions of existence and irrespective of the needs they are intended to satisfy, they represent the same unit, despite their varied appearance. They are the results of uniform, undifferentiated labour-power, “and it is as much a matter of indifference to this labour-power whether it appears in the form of gold, iron, wheat or silk as it is to oxygen whether it is present in iron rust, the atmosphere, the juice of the grape or the blood of a human being.” The variety of use-values results from the variety of the labour-power producing them, but labour-power producing exchange-values is indifferent to the particular material of the use-value produced and indifferent to the particular form of the labour-power itself. It is uniform, undifferentiated, abstract general labour, and it differs no longer in kind, but merely in quantity, merely in the various amounts which it incorporates in exchange-values of varying volume. The various quantities of abstract general labour find their measure only in time, which itself is measured by the ordinary, conventional periods of hours, days, weeks, etc. Labour-time is the living existence of labour irrespective of its form, its content or its individuality. As exchange-values, all commodities are nothing but definite quantities of incorporated labour-time. The labour-time incorporated in use-values is, therefore, the substance which makes them into exchange-values and commodities, and at the same time the measure of the particular volume of value contained in them.

This double character is a social form of labour which is peculiar to commodity production. Under primitive communism, a social form which can be found on the threshold of the history of all modern peoples, individual labour was directly embodied in the social organism. In the peonage and the payments in kind which prevailed in the middle ages, the particularity of labour and not its generality formed the social bond. In the rural-patriarchal family in which the women spun and the men weaved for the exclusive use of the family, yarn and linen were social products, and spinning and weaving represented social labour within the limits of the family. The family bond with its natural division of labour gave the product of labour-power its special character. Yarn and linen did not exchange as uniformly valid expressions of the same general labour-time. Only under commodity production does individual labour become social labour in that it takes on the form of its immediate antithesis, the form of abstract generality.

Now a commodity is the direct union of use-value and exchange-value, and at the same time it is a commodity only in relation to other commodities. The real relation of commodities to each other is in the process of exchange. In this process, into which individuals independent of each other enter, the commodity represents at the same time both use-value and exchange-value, particular labour which satisfies particular needs and general labour exchangeable against any other equal volume of general labour. The process of commodity exchange must unfold and liquidate the contradiction resulting from the fact that individual labour-power embodied in a particular commodity must have the direct general character.

As exchange-value each separate commodity becomes a measure of the value of all other commodities. On the other hand, each individual commodity, in which all other commodities measure their value, becomes the adequate existence of exchange-value, and thus exchange-value becomes a special and exclusive commodity which directly embodies the general labour-time of money by the transformation of all other commodities into it. Thus, in one commodity the contradiction which a commodity as such contains is resolved: though a particular use-value, yet to be a general equivalent, and thus to be use-value for all – general use-value. This one commodity is – money.

The exchange-value of commodities crystallizes itself in money as a particular commodity. This money crystallization is a necessary product of the process of exchange, in which varied products of labour-power are actually made uniform with each other and therefore actually turned into commodities. It developed by instinct and along historical lines. Simple exchange, the primitive form of the exchange process, represented the beginning development of use-values into commodities rather than the development of commodities into money. The more exchange-value develops, the more use-values develop into commodities, the more, that is to say, exchange-value develops an independent form and is no longer bound down to the particular use-value, the greater becomes the necessity for the development of money. At first one particular commodity plays the role of money or perhaps a number of commodities of general use-value such as cattle, grain and slaves. From time to time various more or less unsuitable commodities have performed the functions of money. In the end these functions went over to the precious metals because they possessed the necessary material qualities wanted in the particular commodity into which the money-nature of all commodities may be crystallized, in so far as such qualities spring directly from the nature of exchange-value itself, namely, durability of its use-value, its infinite divisibility, the uniform nature of its parts and the uniformity of all specimens of such a commodity.

Amongst the precious metals it was gold which became more and more the exclusive money-commodity. it serves as the measure of values and the measure of prices and as the means of circulation for all other commodities. Thanks to this somersault of the commodity into gold, the particular labour-power embodied in it is retained as abstract general, as social labour. Should the commodity fail to accomplish this trans-substantiation, then it would miss the aim of its existence not only as a commodity, but also as a product, for it is a commodity only because it has no use-value for its owner.

Thus Marx showed, by virtue of its inner value character, how and why the commodity and commodity exchange must necessarily produce the antithesis of commodity versus money. In money, which presents itself as a natural thing with particular characteristics, he recognized a social productive relation and he explained the confused explanations of money given by the modern bourgeois economists, by pointing out that what they thought they had just nailed down as a thing suddenly appeared to them as a social relation, and what they had hardly nailed down as a social relation suddenly mocked at them as a thing.

In the beginning, the flood of light generated by this critical examination dazzled even the friends of the author more than it enlightened them. Liebknecht declared that he had never been so much disappointed by a work before, and Miquel found “very little actually new” in it. Lassalle praised the form in which the work had been cast and placed it without envy above his own Heraclitus, but when Marx found that Lassalle’s “phrases” gave rise to the suspicion that the latter understood very little of economic matters, he was on the right track for once, for it was not long before Lassalle showed that he had not understood the “vital point” of the book, the difference between labour-power producing use-values and labour-power producing exchange-values.

If that was the reception Marx’s work had at the hands of those who might have been expected to understand it, what could be expected of others? In 1885, Engels declared that Marx had put forward the first embracing theory of money and that his theory had been silently adopted, but seven years later the Handwörterbuch der Staatswissenschaften (Encyclopedia of Political Economy), the standard work on bourgeois political economy, published a fifty-column dissertation on money reviving all the old exploded theories, failing even to mention Marx and concluding by declaring the money riddle insoluble.

Indeed, how should a world which had enthroned money as its God aspire to understand it?


Last updated on 27.2.2004