Letter to Friedrich Engels, December 8, 1857

From Marxists-en
Jump to navigation Jump to search

To Engels in Manchester

[London,] 8 December 1857[edit source]

Dear Frederick,

While I was upstairs busy writing my last letter to you, my wife down below was besieged by hungry wolves all of whom used the pretext of the ‘heavy times’ to dun her for money which she had not got. (Luckily £15 arrived from Germany a few days afterwards, thus enabling us to shift off the evil day for a week or a fortnight.) Well, in the above-mentioned circumstances I may have been a rather confused correspondent, but not too confused to recall my confusion that self-same evening, after posting the letter, and remark to my wife what a wry face you would pull at my bit about debtors receiving money on bills payable by themselves, etc. Ever since I have been keeping up her spirits, which have been much depressed by this petite guerre, with sundry scoundrels, by reflecting on how you would break it to me in the most gracious possible way. But I could hardly go so far as to expect that you would tone down the ridiculous blunder to a ‘slight mistake’. My best thanks for this grace, Sir.

But to return to the matter in hand. According to The Economist it is true that the chaps in Mincing Lane and Mark Lane had again been receiving loans on their produce, but this move ceased last Wednesday or thereabouts. Corn, in particular, even showed an upward tendency for a day or two, but (flour actually) then dropped 3/- per 280 lbs as a result of the French decrees permitting the free export of corn and flour, and significantly so yesterday as a result of the downbreak of corn prices in the Baltic. (Nota bene: In France, Bonaparte’s measure had no more than a transient effect; though prices rose a little there, the rise immediately resulted in increased supplies, which have still to find their way on to the French market.) A few corn merchants have failed here, but as yet only insignificant houses and then only operators upon grain for distant delivery. The big American shipments arrive in the spring; the French will bombard England with corn at any price as soon as pressure over there grows more serious. In my opinion — and always supposing that, in accordance with the old adage, there are several good autumns in succession — only now will the effects of the repeal of the Corn Laws begin to tell on landlords and farmers in England and the antiquated agricultural distress recur in no mean fashion. The satisfactory state of the home trade resulting from industrial prosperity, and the succession of bad autumns have combined to make the experiment of 1847-57 inoperative and turn repeal to a dead letter.

I've had a gratifying experience with the Tribune. On 6 November I wrote an exposé for them of the 1844 Bank Act, in which I said that the next few days would see the farce of suspension, but that not too much should be made of this monetary panic, the real affaire being the impending industrial crash. The Tribune published this as a leader 3 days later. The New-York Times (which has entered into a feudal relationship with the London Times) replied to the Tribune to the effect that, firstly, the Bank Act would not be suspended, extolled the Act after the manner of the money-article writers of Printing House Square, and declared the talk of an ‘industrial crash’ in England to be ‘simply absurd’. This was on the 24th. The following day the N.Y.T. received a telegram from the Atlantic with the news that the Bank Act had been suspended, and likewise news of ‘industrial distress’. It’s nice, by the by, to see Loyd-Overstone coming out with the true reason for his fanatical advocacy of the 1844 legislation — because it permitted the ‘hard calculators’ to squeeze 20-30% out of the commercial world.

Nice, too, that the capitalists, who so vociferously opposed the ‘droit au travail’ [right to work], are now everywhere demanding ‘public support’ from their governments and hence advocating the ‘droit au profit’ at public expense in Hamburg, Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen and even England (in the form of suspension of the Acts). Also, that the philistines of Hamburg should have refused to hand out any more alms to the capitalists.

The astonishing thing about the whole business is the affaire in France and the attitude adopted towards it by most of the English press. Just as, after the American collapse, John Bull was represented as the calm, self-possessed merchant vis-à-vis his brother Jonathan, so now Jacques Bonhomme vis-à-vis John Bull. The Paris correspondent of the London Economist comments most ingenuously:

  • ’there has been not the slightest disposition to have a panic, though circumstances certainly appeared to justify one, and though the French have heretofore been extremely ready to rush into panics on the smallest pretexts.'*

The panic now felt by the French bourgeoisie, despite their sanguine temperament, at the very notion of panic, is surely the best indication of what panic means in France on this occasion. The virtuous disposition of the Parisian bourgeois will, however, prove no more effective than the Hamburg association for discounting the panic. Last Sunday’s Observer relates how the dissemination of horrible rumours about the Crédit mobilier sent everyone rushing to the Bourse to rid themselves à tout prix of their shares. French capital, despite, the cosmopolitan nature therein descried by Mr Péreire, is still timid, niggardly and cautious in actual commerce as it has always been. Crooked dealing (which, to be sure, has in its turn become the sine qua non of respectable trade and industry) actually exists only in branches in which the State is the real employer, whether directly or indirectly. But there is no doubt that even an inherently — or, as Hegel would say, ‘in himself’ — bankrupt capitalist of the magnitude of the French government can make shift for rather longer than a private capitalist. The police measures against bullion exports, now pretty well in full vigor in France, and to an even greater extent the export, at which prices whatever, of the products of the corn, silk and wine harvests, etc., have put off for a week or two the drain of bullion from the Bank of France. Nevertheless, the drain will set in and even if, as in 1856 (October), it gets no further than the gutter, the catastrophe will be complete. Meanwhile French manufacturers are treating their workers as ruthlessly as though there had never been a revolution. This will do good. On the other hand Mr Bonaparte is using the bank as an entrepreneur for the construction of railways, now at a standstill. Doubtless the next step will be the issue of assignats as soon as the drain begins. If the fellow has the courage, and always providing he can pay the army properly, we may yet witness a pretty prologue.

Your information about conditions in Manchester is of the greatest interest to me, the newspapers having chosen to draw a veil over them.

I am working like mad all night and every night collating my economic studies so that I at least get the outlines clear before the déluge.


K. M.

How is your health? It’s a long time since you supplied a bulletin.

Since Lupus keeps a regular record of our crisis forecasts, tell him that last Saturday’s Economist maintains that, during the final months of 1853, throughout 1854, the autumn of 1855 and ‘The sudden changes of 1856’, Europe has never had more than a hair-breadth escape from the impending crash.