Letter to Ferdinand Lassalle, February 22, 1858

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 22 February 1858


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 40, p. 268;
First published: abridged in F Lassalle. Nachgelassene Briefe und Schriften, Berlin, 1922.

To Ferdinand Lassalle in Düsseldorf

London, 22 February 1858 9 Grafton Terrace, Maitland Park, Haverstock Hill[edit source]

Dear Lassalle,

Nutt has now sent me Heraclitus [The Dark Philosopher, by Lassalle]. As soon as I have read it all I shall let you have my opinion. But you will have to wait a while since I have exceptionally little spare time just now. As regards the Stoics, I did not myself study their relationship to Heraclitus in the matter of natural philosophy, because of the novice-like earnestness of their approach to this discipline. Of Epicurus, on the other hand, it can be shown en détail that, although he bases himself on the natural philosophy of Democritus, he is for ever turning the argument inside out. Cicero and Plutarch can hardly be blamed for not having grasped this since it has eluded even men of intellect such as Bayle, not to speak of Hegel ipsissimus [his very self]. Nor, for that matter, could one expect Hegel, the first to comprehend the entire history of philosophy, not to commit errors of detail. -

From the papers you will have seen that Palmerston has fallen. Those best acquainted with the old rascal are generally inclined to suspect that his last blunders were deliberate, so that he could make his exit pro tempore. They affirm that le dernier but de toute sa vie was to engineer a war between England and France, that he now believes he has managed to do so, that at first other hands are to be concerned with the execution of his plan and that, when the imbroglio has become sufficiently involved and is far enough advanced, the nation will be forced to call again upon him. This latter opinion may be too recherché, but that Pam did not resign in any way against his will seems to me unquestionable.

Now, as to your cousin, there’s one thing I am willing to do, but the Presse, I assume, would not. All I could commit myself to would be one article a week on trade, finance, etc., in any one of the three countries, England, France and the United States of America, depending on which is interesting. This is also the most practicable form in which to attack Bonaparte. It is also a form which would permit me to have absolutely nothing to do with the Presse politically. It seems to me that just now there is widespread ignorance, especially about French financial affairs and French economic conditions in general. The question is whether the subject will be of sufficient interest to the Presse, or rather, to its readers. They, of course, must be the best judges of that. For a weekly article of this kind I would ask £1 sterling. Moreover, it would be necessary for me to have a few copies of the Presse beforehand so that I could see whether my principles would, at all permit me to work for the paper. However that may be, will you thank your cousin on my behalf for having remembered me in this connection.

Now let me tell you how my political economy is getting on. I have in fact been at work on the final stages for some months. But the thing is proceeding very slowly because no sooner does one set about finally disposing of subjects to which one has devoted years of study than they start revealing new aspects and demand to be thought out further. On top of which I am not master of my time but rather its slave. Only the nights are left for my own work, which in turn is often disrupted by bilious attacks or recurrences of liver trouble. All things considered it would be most convenient for me to bring out the whole work in instalments without any rigid datelines. This might also have the advantage of making it easier to find a publisher, since less working capital would be tied up in the venture. You would, of course, oblige me by trying to find someone in Berlin prepared to undertake this. By ‘instalments’, I mean fascicles similar to those in which Vischer’s Aesthetik came out.

The work I am presently concerned with is a Critique of Economic Categories or, if you like, a critical exposé of the system of the bourgeois economy. It is at once an exposé and, by the same token, a critique of the system. I have very little idea how many sheets the whole thing will amount to. Had I the means, the time and the leisure to finish the whole thing off completely prior to placing it before the public, I would condense it a great deal, a method for which I have always had a predilection. But printed thus, in successive instalments — easier for readers to understand perhaps but certainly detrimental to the form — it is bound to be rather more diffuse. Nota bene: As soon as you know definitely whether or not the thing can be done in Berlin, kindly write to me, since if it’s no go there I'll try Hamburg. A further point is that I must be paid by the publisher who takes the thing on — a stipulation over which it might come to grief in Berlin.

The presentation — the manner of it, I mean — is entirely scientific, hence unobjectionable to the police in the ordinary sense. The whole is divided into 6 books: 1. On Capital (contains a few introductory Chapters). 2. On Landed Property. 3. On Wage Labour. 4. On the State. 5. International Trade. 6. World Market. I cannot, of course, avoid all critical consideration of other economists, in particular a polemic against Ricardo in as much as even he, qua bourgeois, cannot but commit blunders even from a strictly economic viewpoint. But generally speaking the critique and history of political economy and socialism would form the subject of another work, and, finally, the short historical outline of the development of economic categories and relations yet a third. Now that I am at last ready to set to work after 15 years of study, I have an uncomfortable feeling that turbulent movements from without will probably interfere after all. Never mind. If I finish too late and thus find the world no longer attentive to such subjects, the fault is clearly my own.

I was greatly amused by your remarks about Rudolf Schramm. Sad to say, a worthier Schramm, Conrad, brother of the above and one of my best friends, died of consumption in Jersey some 4 weeks ago. The death within the past few years of Weerth, Schramm and Dr Daniels has been a blow to their friends, amongst whom I was happy enough to count myself.

There are turbulent times in the offing. If I were merely to consult my own private inclinations, I would wish for another few years of superficial calm. There could, at any rate, be no better time for scholarly undertakings and, after all, what has happened over the last ten years must have increased any rational being’s contempt for the masses as for individuals to such a degree that ‘odi profanum vulgar et arceo’ [I detest and repudiate the common people. Horace] has almost become an inescapable maxim. However all these are themselves philistine ruminations which will be swept away by the first storm.

Your
K. M.

The connection between the latest events in France and the commercial crisis is, perhaps, apparent only to a few. It becomes evident, however, if one considers 1. the real economical state produced in France by the last crisis; 2. asks oneself and consciencieusement answers, why the attempted assassination brought forth the effects it did, effects which apparently stood in no proportion whatever, and even in no necessary relation to the alleged cause.