Letter to Karl Marx, November 19, 1869

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To Marx in London

Manchester, 19 November 1869[edit source]

Dear Moor,

I hope Eccarius will force Potter to publish the report belatedly, particularly because of the Land and Labour League.

I think an addition on the amnesties in the rest of Europe would only weaken the resolution since, apart from Russia (which would be very good on its own), Russia would have to be excluded because of those sentenced in the Guelphic conspiracy. I would, however, polish up the language somewhat in: Alinéa 2 I would insert imprisoned or something of the sort before victims, to make it evident at first sight who is meant.

Alinéa 3, it is questionable whether one can speak of the teeth of a position, and instead of steps in I would say turns round.

Alinéa 4. With regard to appears to me more direct than with reference to.

Lizzie immediately passed a vote of thanks to you for the resolution, and is vexed that she will not be able to be there on Tuesday.

The business with Holyoake is vexatious. The fellow is simply a go-between for the radical bourgeoisie with the workers. The question is this: is the composition of the General Council such that a swamping by such rabble is to be feared or not? If you accept Holyoake, then others might follow, and they will do so as soon as the affair becomes more important. Moreover, if the times become more tempestuous, these gentlemen will certainly also visit the sessions, and try to grasp the leadership. And as far as I know, Mr Holyoake has never done the slightest thing for the working class as such. A priori, everything against his acceptance, but if his rejection would lead to splits in the Council, while his acceptance would, in practice, make little difference to the constitution of the General Council, eh bien. Despite this I cannot well envisage a workers’ Council with this fellow on it.

Before the receipt of yours of yesterday, I had sent Wilhelm £5 with a few frosty lines. The fellow really is too brazen-faced. First he insults me in every way, then I should give moral and material support, and send him articles for his sheet, which he has ceased sending me without saying a word. If you should write to him, you would be doing me a favour if you let him understand that, if he wants articles from me, he should pray write directly to me. To act as bootblack to Mr Wilhelm — that crowns it all! Enclosed, the letter returned.

Best thanks for the Irish pamphlets and reports, I shall deliver the two for Moore and Schorlemmer.

When was Reclus in London? And how is the French translation of your book going? Since I have been back here I haven’t heard a word about it.

And now for Carey.

The entire point at issue does not seem to me to be directly connected with political economy as such. Ricardo says that rent is the surplus yield of the more productive plots of land over that of the least productive. Carey says exactly the same.

Continuation by 2nd post.

F. E.

They are agreed upon what rent is. But, how and by what agency rent materialises, is a matter of dispute. Now, Ricardo’s description of the process by which rent originates (Carey, p. 104), is just as unhistorical as all such historical travesties by the economists, and Carey’s own great Robinson-Crusoe-story about Adam and Eve (p. 96 et seq.). With regard to the older economists, including Ricardo, this is still excusable to some extent; they do not wish for historical knowledge; they are just as unhistorical in their whole conception as the other apostles of the 18th-century Enlightenment, for whom such alleged historical digressions are always only a façon de parler, enabling them to represent the origin of this or that in a rational manner, and in which primitive men always think and behave as if they were 18th-century French philosophers. But when Carey, who wants to propound an historical theory of his own, proceeds to present Adam and Eve to us as Yankee backwoodsmen, then he cannot demand that we believe him, for he lacks the same excuse.

The entire point at issue would be nil, had not Ricardo, in his naivety, simply called the more productive land ‘fertile’. According to Ricardo, the most fertile and most favourably situated land is cultivated first, just the way a thoughtful bourgeois, on land cultivated for centuries, must picture things. Now Carey clings to the ‘fertile’ and foists upon Ricardo the assertion that the lands that are in themselves the most productive are those first cultivated, and states: No, on the contrary, the lands in themselves the most capable of production (the Amazon valley, the Ganges delta, tropical Africa, Borneo and New Guinea, etc.) are not cultivated even today; the first settlers, because they cannot do otherwise, always commence cultivation on self-draining land, that is to say, strips situated on hills and slopes, and these are by nature poorer. And when Ricardo says: fertile and the most favourably situated, he is saying the same thing, without noticing that he is expressing himself loosely and that a contradiction can be seen between these two qualifications connected by and. But when Carey gives a sketch on p. 138 and claims that Ricardo places his first settlers in the valley, while Carey puts them on the heights (in the sketch on bare crags and impracticable slopes of 45 degrees) he is simply falsely imputing this to Ricardo.

Carey’s historical examples, as far as they apply to America, are the only useful things in the book. As a Yankee, he himself lived through the process of settlements, could follow it from the beginning, and is well posted about it. Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly a lot of uncritical stuff mixed up in it, which would have to be sifted. When he speaks of Europe, however, the structures and the untenableness get under way. And that Carey is not unprejudiced with regard to America is shown by the eagerness with which he attempts to prove the worthlessness, indeed the negative value — quality of the uncultivated land (that the land is, so to speak, worth minus 10 dollars an acre) and praises the self-sacrifice of societies that, to their own certain ruin, make waste land serviceable for mankind. Related in the country of colossal land jobbery, this becomes ludicrous. Incidentally, he never mentions prairie land here, and elsewhere it is touched upon very lightly. The whole story of the negative value-quality of the waste land, and all his calculated proofs are best contradicted by America itself. If the story were true, America would not only be the poorest of countries, but would become relatively poorer every year, because more and more labour would be thrown away on this worthless land.

Now, as for his definition of rent, the amount received as rent is interest upon the value of labour expended, minus the difference between the productive power (the rent-paying land) and that of the newer soils which can be brought into activity by the application of the same labour that has been there given to the work (pp. 165, 166), this may have a certain amount of validity here and there, within certain limits, especially in America. But rent is, in any case, such a complicated thing, to which so many other circumstances contribute, that even in these cases it can apply only ceteris paribus, only when 2 pieces of land lie side by side. Ricardo knew as well as he that interest for the value of labour expended is also included in rent. If Carey declares land as such worse than worthless, then rent must naturally be interest upon the value of labour expended or theft, as it is called on p. 139. Carey still owes us an explanation of the transition from theft to interest.

It seems to me that the origin of rent in different countries, and even in one and the same country, is by no means such a simple process as both Ricardo and Carey imagine. In Ricardo, as I said, this is excusable; it is the history of the fishers and hunters in the sphere of agriculture. It is not, in fact, an economic dogma, but Carey wants, furthermore, to make a dogma out of his theory and prove it to the world as such, for which, indeed, historical studies of a very different sort from Mr Carey’s are necessary.

There may even have been localities where rent originated as Ricardo suggests, and others where it originated in Carey’s way, and yet others where it had quite different origins. To Carey one may also remark that, where fever has to be reckoned with, in particular tropical fever, economics more or less come to an end. Unless his theory of population can be thus interpreted: with the increase in population, the surplus people are forced to cultivate the most fertile, i.e., the most unhealthy stretches of land, in which they either succeed or perish; in this way he would successfully establish harmony between himself and Malthus.

In northern Europe, rent originated neither in Ricardo’s nor in Carey’s way, but simply from the feudal burdens, later brought by free competition to their correct economic level. In Italy it was different again, vide Rome. To calculate what part of the rent in the long civilised countries is really original rent and what part is interest on labour invested is impossible, since it differs in each case. Moreover, it is of no importance, once it has been shown that rent can also increase without labour being put into land. The grandfather of Sir Humphrey de Trafford at Old Trafford near Manchester had such a load of debts on his back that he had no idea what to do. His grandson, after paying off all the debts, has an income of £40,000 a year. If we subtract about £10,000, which comes from building sites, £30,000 remains as the yearly value of the agricultural estate, which 80 years ago brought in perhaps £2,000. Further, if £3,000 be taken as the interest on invested labour and capital, and that’s a lot, there remains an increase of £25,000, which is five times the former value, including improvements. And all this, not because labour is contained in it, but because labour was put into something else nearby, since the estate lies close to a city like Manchester, where good prices are paid for milk, butter and garden produce. The same happens on a big scale. From the moment when England became a corn- and cattle-importing country, and even before then, population density became a factor determining or increasing rent, quite independently of the labour invested generally in the land of England. Ricardo, with his most favourably situated lands, also considers the relation to the market, but Carey ignores this. And if he were then to say: the land itself has only a negative value, but the location has a positive value, he would thereby admit what he denies — that land, just because it can be monopolised, has, or can have, a value independent of the labour invested. But on this point Carey is as quiet as a mouse.

It is equally a matter of indifference whether the labour invested in land in civilised countries pays regularly or not. I asserted more than 20 years ago that in today’s society no instrument of production exists that could last 60-100 years — no factory, no building, etc. — that, by the end of its existence, has covered the cost of its production. All in all, I still believe this is perfectly true. And if Carey and I are both right, this proves nothing either about the rate of profit or the origin of rent, but simply that bourgeois production, even measured by its own standards, is rotten.

These random comments on Carey will no doubt be enough for you. They are very mixed, because I made no excerpts. As for the historic-materialist-scientific trimmings, their entire value = those two trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, which he has planted in his paradisiacal work, not indeed for his Adam and Eve who have to drudge in the backwoods, but for their descendants. His ignorance and slovenliness are only equalled by the impudence that allows him to present such nonsense publicly.

You will not expect me to read the other chapters. It is pure blather, and the grammatical errors are no longer strewn so closely. I'll send you the book as soon as I go up to town; out here no pillar-box is large enough to take it. Monday or Tuesday.

Wilhelm’s sheet is really disgraceful. I am not referring to the free-church-clerical babble, but all the news from their associations, etc., is always 8-14 days old before it is printed. Schweitzer holds a meeting on the 9th in Leipzig, and dispatches triumphal telegrams, which are printed on the 10th in Social-Demokrat. On the 12th the Social-Demokrat states that Liebknecht receives 1,000 thaler from Frankel the banker. Up to the 17th no reply!! And we are supposed to take the responsibility for such stupidity and sloppiness. Tussy will be getting a letter soon. With best greetings.

F. E.