Letter to Nikolai Danielson, February 19, 1881

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 19 February 1881

Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence; International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe;

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 46

To Nikolai Danielson in St. Petersburg

London, February 19, 1881[edit source]

My dear Sir,

In all haste these few lines in answer to your friendly letter. Since my return from Ramsgate my health was generally improving, but the detestable weather, lasting for months, we are passing through, has blessed me with a perpetual cold and coughing, interfering with sleep, etc. But the worst is that Mrs Marx’s state becomes daily more dangerous notwithstanding my resort to the most celebrated medical men of London, and I have besides a host of domestic troubles, which it would be tedious entering upon. On the other hand, I had and have to struggle through an immense lot of blue books8 9 sent to me from different countries, above all from the United States, so that my working time is hardly sufficient for the task, since all night labour has for many years absolutely been interdicted by my medical advisers. Hence an awful correspondence indebtedness starts me in the face. Just now my whole family is in a hubbub because of the removal of my eldest daughter, Madame Longuet, with her children[1], from London to Paris, where her husband[2]— (since the amnesty; he was in the interval Professor of King’s College, London) — has become one of the editors of the Justice (he inspired Clemenceau’s semi-socialistic speech at Marseilles[3]). You understand how painful — in the present state of Mrs Marx — this separation must be. For her and myself our grandchildren, three little boys, were inexhaustible sources of enjoyment, of life.

Now first as to the enclosed manuscript. Its author, Mr Lafargue, is the husband of my second daughter,[4] and one of my direct disciples. He has requested me to try whether through your interference he could become a contributor to a Petersburg Review, the Omeчecmвeннъιя 3anucκu or the Cлoвo. (I think they are the only ones where he might have a chance.) If so, you would be empowered to change or suppress anything not suitable to the St Petersburg Meridian. As to his ‘name’, the initials would do. At all events it will interest you to read the manuscript.

I have read with the greatest interest your article, which is in the best sense of the word “original.” Hence the boycotting – if you break through the webs of routine thought, you are always sure to be “boycotted” in the first instance; it is the only arm of defence which in their first perplexity the routiniers know how to wield. I have been “boycotted” in Germany for many, many years, and am still so in England, with that little variation that from time to time something so absurd and asinine is launched against me that I would blush to take any public notice of it. But try on! The next thing to do – in my opinion – is to take up the wonderfully increasing indebtedness of the landlords, the upper-class representatives of agriculture, and show them how they are “crystallised” in the retort under the control of the “new pillars of society.”

I am very anxious to see your polemics with the “Slovo.” As soon as I shall sail in more quiet waters I shall enter more fully upon your Esquisse [sketch]. For the present I cannot omit one observation. The soil being exhausted and getting not the elements – by artificial and vegetable and animal manure, etc. – to supply its wants, will, with the changing favour of the seasons, of circumstances independent of human influence – still continue to yield harvests of very different amounts, though, summing up a period of years, as for instance, from 1870-80, the stagnant character of the production presents itself in the most striking character. Under such circumstances the favourable climatic conditions pave the way to a famine year by quickly consuming and setting free the mineral fertilisers still potent on the soil, while vice-versa, a famine-year, and still more a series of bad years following it, allow the soil-inherent minerals to accumulate anew, and to work efficiently with returning favour of the climatic conditions. Such a process goes, of course, everywhere on, but elsewhere it is checked by the modifying intervention of the agriculturist himself. It becomes the only regulating factor where man has ceased to be a “power” – for want of means.

So we have 1870 as an excellent harvest in your country, but that year is a climax year, and as such immediately followed by a very bad one; the year 1871, the very bad harvest, must be considered as the starting point for a new little cycle, till we come to the new climax year 1874, which is immediately followed by the famine year 1875; then the upwards movement begins again, ending in the still worse famine year 1880. The summing up of the years during the whole period proves that the average annual production remained the same and that the mere natural factors have alone produced the changes, comparing the single years and the smaller cycles of years.

I wrote you some time ago, that if the great industrial and commercial crisis England has passed through, went over without the culminating financial crash at London, this exceptional phenomenon was only due to French money. This is now seen and acknowledged even by English routiniers. Thus the Statist (January 19, 1881) says: “The money market has only be[en] so easy as it has been during the past years through an accident. The Bank of France in the early autumn permitted its stock of gold bullion to fall from £30 millions to £22 millions .... Last autumn undoubtedly there was a very narrow escape.” (!)

The English railway system rolls on the same inclined plane as the European Public Debt system. The ruling magnates amongst the different railway-nets directors contract not only – progressively – new loans in order to enlarge their network, i.e., the ” territory,” where they rule as absolute monarchs, but they enlarge their respective networks in order to have new pretexts for engaging in new loans which enable them to pay the interest due to the holders of obligations, preferential shares, etc., and also from time to time to throw a sop to the much ill-used common shareholders in the shape of somewhat increased dividends. This pleasant method must one day or another terminate in an ugly catastrophe.

In the United States the railway kings have become the butt of attacks, not only, as before this, on the part of the farmers and other industrial “entrepreneurs” of the West, but also on the part of the grand representative of commerce – the New York Chamber of Commerce. The Octopodus railway king and financial swindler Gould has, on his side, told the New York commercial magnates: You now attack the railways, because you think them most vulnerable considering their present unpopularity; but take heed: after the railways every sort of corporation (means in the Yankee dialect joint stock company) will have its turn; then, later on, all forms of associated capital; finally all forms of capital; you are thus paving the way to – Communism whose tendencies are already more and more spreading among the people. M. Gould “a le flair bon.

In India serious complications, if not a general outbreak, is in store for the British government. What the English take from them annually in the form of rent, dividends for railways useless to the Hindus; pensions for military and civil service men, for Afghanistan and other wars, etc., etc. – what they take from them without any equivalent and quite apart from what they appropriate to themselves annually within India, speaking only of the value of the commodities the Indians have gratuitously and annually to send over to England – it amounts to more than the total sum of income of the sixty millions of agricultural and industrial labourers of India! This is a bleeding process, with a vengeance! The famine years are pressing each other and in dimensions till now not yet suspected in Europe! There is an actual conspiracy going on wherein Hindus and Mussulmans co-operate; the British government is aware that something is “brewing,” but this shallow people (I mean the governmental men), stultified by their own parliamentary ways of talking and thinking, do not even desire to see clear, to realise the whole extent of the imminent danger! To delude others and by deluding them to delude yourself – this is: parliamentary wisdom in a nutshell! Tant mieux!

Can you tell me whether Prof. Lankester’s ‘Chapter on Deterioration’ (I have seen it quoted in your article) is translated into Russian?

He is a friend of mine.

Last month we had here Russian visitors, amongst others Prof. Sieber (now settled at Zurich) and Mr KablukofT(Moscow). They were all day long studying at the British Museum.

No news of our ‘mutual’ friend[5]?

Apropos. Janson’s last statistical work[6] — comparing Russia with Europe — has made much sensation. I should be glad to see i t . 93

With best compliments

Yours very truly,

Karl Marx

Should Lafargue’s article find no ‘home’ in Petersburg, be so kind as to return it to me.

  1. Jean, Henri and Edgar
  2. Charles Longuet
  3. 'Discours de M. Clemenceau', La Justice, No. 291, 1 November 1880
  4. Laura
  5. Hermann Lopatin
  6. [Janson], 1878-1880.