Letter to Friedrich Engels, June 14, 1853

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To Engels in Manchester

London, 14 June 1853, 28 Dean Street, Soho[edit source]

Dear Frederic,

Having been prevented by all sorts of business and domestic affairs, I have only today got round to replying to your two letters and acknowledging receipt of the American money (handed over to Freiligrath), likewise the balance of the American Tribune money. If that’s the sort of business relationship you and Charles had with your ‘intermediary’, then you've been up to some trick for my sake. For since it was not that fellow, but you, who advanced the money against the bill, you and Charles could just as well have sent the bill to America without the fellow. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

I did not inform Pieper of your news for the following reasons: Pieper was becoming more and more of a wreck and some 8 or 10 days ago I took him to task about the state of his health. It then transpired that his illness was going de pis en pis [from bad to worse] at the hands of his English quack. I therefore suggested I should take him straight to Bartholomew’s Hospital — the London hospital at which the foremost and most renowned doctors treat the public for nothing. He came with me. An ancient Hippocrates, after examining the corpus delicti and questioning him about his former treatment, told him: ‘You have been a fool’, explaining at the same time that he would be ‘down’ within three months if he did not follow his instructions to the letter. The efficacy of the new treatment was immediately apparent and in 2 weeks the man will be sain et sauf. The case was too serious for the treatment to be interrupted, and anyhow Freiligrath has a post in view for Pieper. If nothing comes of it, I shall let you know.

Rumpf, our jolly tailor, is now shut up in a lunatic asylum. Some 5 months ago, in order to extricate himself from a social quandary, le malheureux married an elderly woman, became excessively respectable, foreswore all spirits and worked like a carthorse. About a week since he took to drinking again, sent for me a couple of days ago, revealed that he had discovered the means of making the whole world happy, that I was to be his minister, etc., etc. He has been in the asylum since yesterday. It’s a pity about the fellow.

In The Leader — which, by the by, has become a purely bourgeois sheet — Ruge has announced that he will be giving lectures on German philosophy in London. Needless to say he takes this opportunity to give himself a puff. E.g. ‘Where style is concerned, there is only one man whom the German people set alongside him — Lessing. In the same issue of The Leader, the Russian Herzen advertises his collected works adding that, together with the Polish Committee, he is to set up a Russo-Polish propaganda press here in London.

One of the enclosed letters from Cluss will reveal to you the nature of the main blow with which Willich is threatening me. He refers to the £20 borrowed by me from the Refugee Committee at a time when I myself was distrained because my Chelsea landlady, although I had paid her, had not paid her landlord, — a debt which I repaid down to the last farthing by the necessary instalments. You must now advise me what tactics to adopt. If that’s how the good Willich thinks he’s going to do me in, he must be a regular ‘bonhomme’.[simpleton]

Carey, the American political economist, has brought out a new book, Slavery at Home and Abroad Here ‘slavery’ covers all forms of servitude, wage-slavery , etc. He has sent me his book in which he quotes me repeatedly (from the Tribune) now as ‘a recent English writer’, now as ‘Correspondence of The New York Tribune’. As I have told you before, this man, in his earlier works, propounds the ‘harmony’ of the bourgeoisie’s economic foundations and attributes all mischief to unnecessary interference by the State. The State was his bête noire. He is now playing a different tune. All ills are blamed on the centralising effect of big industry. But this centralising effect is in turn blamed on England, who has made herself the workshop of the world and has forced all other countries to revert to brutish agriculture divorced from manufacturing. In its turn, responsibility for England’s sins is laid on the theory of Ricardo-Malthus, and specially Ricardo’s theory of rent. The necessary consequence both of Ricardo’s theory and of industrial centralisation would be communism. And to obviate all this, to counter centralisation with localisation and the union, — a union scattered throughout the land — of factory and farm, our ultra-free-trader finally recommends — protective tariffs. To obviate the effects of bourgeois industry, responsibility for which he lays on England, his recourse, as a genuine Yankee, is to speed up this process in America itself by artificial means. For the rest, his opposition to England drives him into Sismondian praise of the petty bourgeoisie in Switzerland, Germany, China, etc. And this is the chap who used to deride France for her resemblance to China. The only thing of definite interest in the book is the comparison between Negro slavery as formerly practised by the English in Jamaica and elsewhere, and Negro slavery in the United States. He demonstrates how the main stock of Negroes in Jamaica always consisted of freshly imported barbarians, since their treatment by the English meant not only that the Negro population was not maintained, but also that 2/3 of the yearly imports always went to waste, whereas the present generation of Negroes in America is a native product, more or less Yankeefied, English speaking, etc., and hence capable of being emancipated.

The Tribune, needless to say, is puffing Carey’s book for all it’s worth. Both, indeed, have this in common, that, in the guise of Sismondian-philanthropic-socialist anti-industrialism, they represent the protectionist, i.e. industrial, bourgeoisie of America. That is also the key to the mystery why the Tribune, despite all its ‘isms’ and socialist flourishes, manages to be the ‘leading journal’ in the United States.

Your article on Switzerland was, of course, a direct swipe at the Tribune’s ‘leaders’ (anti-centralisation, etc.) and their man Carey continued this clandestine campaign in my first article on India, in which England’s destruction of native industries is described as revolutionary. This they will find very shocking. Incidentally the whole administration of India by the British was detestable and still remains so today.

The stationary nature of this part of Asia, despite all the aimless activity on the political surface, can be completely explained by two mutually supporting circumstances: 1. The public works system of the central government and, 2. Alongside this, the entire Empire which, apart from a few large cities, is an agglomeration of villages, each with its own distinct organisation and each forming its own small world. A parliamentary report described these villages as follows:

  • ‘A village, geographically considered, is a tract of country comprising some 100 or 1000 acres of arable and waste lands: politically viewed, it resembles a corporation or township. Every village is, and appears always to have been, in fact, a separate community or republic. Officials: 1. the Potail, Goud, Mundil etc. as he is termed in different languages, is the head inhabitant, who has generally the superintendence of the affairs of the village, settles the disputes of the inhabitants, attends to the police, and performs the duty of collecting the revenue within the village... 2. The Curnum Shanboag, or Putwaree, is the register. 3. The Taliary or Sthulwar and. 4. the Totie, are severally the watchmen of the village and of the crops. 5. the Neerguntee distributes the water of the streams or reservoirs in just proportion to the several fields. 6. The Joshee, or astrologer, announces the operation of farming. 7. The smith and 8. the carpenter frame the rude instruments seed-times and harvests, and the lucky or unlucky days or hours for all the of husbandry, and the ruder dwellings of the farmer. 9. The potter fabricates the only utensils of the village. 10. The waterman keeps clean the few garments... 11. The barber, 12. the silversmith, who often combines the function of village poet and schoolmaster. Then the Brahmin for worship. Under this simple form of municipal government the inhabitants of the country have lived from time immemorial. The boundaries of the villages have been but seldom altered; and although the villages themselves have been sometimes injured, and even desolated by war, famine and disease; the same name, the same limits, the same interests, and even the same families, have continued for ages. The inhabitants give themselves no trouble about the breaking up and division of kingdoms, while the village remains entire, they care not to what power it is transferred, or to what sovereign it devolves. Its internal economy remains unchanged.'*

The post of Potail is mostly hereditary. In some of these communities the lands of the village cultivated in common, in most of them each occupant tills his own field. Within the same, slavery and the caste system. Waste lands for common pasture. Home-weaving and spinning by wives and daughters. These idyllic republics, of which only the village boundaries are jealously guarded against neighbouring villages, continue to exist in well-nigh perfect form in the North Western parts of India only recently occupied by the English. No more solid basis for Asiatic despotism and stagnation is, I think, conceivable. And however much the English may have Irelandised the country, the breaking up of the archetypal forms was the conditio sine qua non for Europeanisation. The Tax-gatherer alone could not have brought this about. Another essential factor was the destruction of the ancient industries, which robbed these villages of their self-supporting character.

In Bali, an island off the east coast of Java, this Hindu organisation still intact, alongside Hindu religion, its traces, like those of Hindu influence, discernible all over Java. So far as the property question is concerned, this is a great bone of contention among English writers on India. In the broken mountainous terrain south of the Kistna, however, there appears to have been property in land. In Java, on the other hand, as noted in the History of Java by a former English governor, Sir Stamford Raffles, the sovereign [was] absolute landlord throughout the country ‘Where rent to any considerable amount was attainable’. At all events, the Mohammedans seem to have been the first in the whole of Asia to have established the principle of ‘no property in land’.

Regarding the above-mentioned villages, I should note that they already feature in the Manu according to which the whole organisation rests on them. 10 are administered by a senior collector, then 100, then 1,000.

Write soon.

K. M.