Book Review: Parvus. The World Market and the Agricultural Crisis

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Nachalo (The Beginning)—a monthly literary and political magazine that was published in St. Petersburg during the first months of 1899 by “legal Marxists”; its editors were P. B. Struve, M. I. Tugan-Baranovsky, and others. It published articles by G. V. Plekhanov, V. I. Zasulich, and others. The magazine was closed down by the tsarist authorities in June 1899

Parvus. The World Market and the Agricultural Crisis. Economic essays. Translated from the German by L. Y. St. Petersburg, 1898. Publ. 0. N. Popova (Educational Library, Series 2, No. 2). 142 pp. Price 40 kopeks.

This book, by the gifted German journalist who writes under the pseudonym of Parvus, consists of a number of essays describing some of the phenomena of modern world economy, with the greatest attention paid to Germany. Parvus’ central theme is the development of the world market and he describes mainly the recent stages of this development in the period of the decline of England’s industrial hegemony. Of the greatest interest are his remarks on the role being played by the old industrial countries that serve as a market for the younger capitalist countries: England, for example, swallows up an ever-growing amount of German manufactured goods and at the present time takes from one- fifth to a quarter of the total German export. Parvus employs the data of commercial and industrial statistics to describe the peculiar division of labour between the various capitalist countries, some of whom produce mainly for the colonial market and others for the European market. In the chapter headed “Towns and Railways” the author makes an extremely interesting attempt to describe the most important “forms of capitalist towns” and their significance in the general system of capitalist economy. The remaining and greater part of the book (pp. 33-142) is devoted to questions concerning the contradictions in present-day capitalist agriculture and the agrarian crisis. Parvus first explains the influence of industrial development on grain prices, on ground rent, etc. He then outlines the theory of ground rent developed by Marx in Volume III of Capital and explains the basic cause of capitalist agrarian crises from the stand point of this theory. Parvus adds data on Germany to the purely theoretical analysis of this question and comes to the conclusion that “the last and basic cause of the agrarian crisis is increased ground rent due exclusively to capitalist development and the consequent increased price of land.” “Eliminate these prices,” says Parvus, “and European agriculture will again be able to compete with the Russian and American.” “Its [private property’s] only weapon against the agrarian crisis is, with the exception of fortuitous favourable combinations on the world market, the auctioning of all capitalist landed properties” (141). The conclusion drawn by Parvus, therefore, coincides, by and large, with Engels’ opinion; in Volume III of Capital Engels pointed to the fact that the present-day agricultural crisis makes the ground rents formerly obtained by European landowners impossible.[1] We strongly recommend to all readers who are interested in the questions mentioned above to acquaint themselves with Parvus’ book. It is an excellent reply to the current Narodnik arguments on the present agricultural crisis which are constantly to be met with in the Narodnik press and which suffer from a most essential shortcoming: the fact of the crisis is examined in disconnection from the general development of world capitalism; it is examined, not from the stand point of definite social classes, but solely for the purpose of deducing the petty-bourgeois moral on the viability of small peasant farming.

The translation of Parvus’ book, can, on the whole, be considered satisfactory, although in places awkward and heavy turns of speech are to be met with.

  1. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, 1959, pp. 708-10.