Review of Volume One of Capital for the Neue Badische Landeszeitung

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written January 1868

Written: first half of January, 1868;
First published: in the Neue Badische Landeszeitung, No. 20, January 21, 1868

K. Marx. Capital. Critique of Political Economy. Volume One. Hamburg, Meissner, 1867[edit source]

We must leave it to others to deal with the theoretical and strictly scientific part of this work and criticise the new view the author gives of the origin of capital. But we cannot fail to draw attention to the great mass of most valuable historical and statistical material with which the author at the same time presents us and which almost without exception is taken from the official Commission Reports which have been put before the English Parliament. He is quite right to emphasise the importance of such commissions of inquiry for the study of the internal social conditions of a country. Provided the right people are found for them, they are the best means for a nation to learn to know itself; and Herr Marx is surely not wrong in saying that similar investigations conducted in Germany would lead to results which would definitely horrify us. Before they were introduced, there was not an Englishman either who knew how the poorer classes of his country lived!

It stands to reason, moreover, that without such investigations all social legislation will be made with only half the knowledge of facts available and often quite in the dark, as they now say in Bavaria. The so-called "inquiries" and "investigations" of German authorities have not remotely the same value. We know the bureaucratic routine only too well: forms are sent round, one is glad if they are returned filled in some way or another; the information thus supplied is all too often sought precisely among those who are interested in hushing up the truth. Compare with that the investigations of English commissions on working conditions in individual industries, for example. Not only the manufacturers and masters, but also the workers down to the little girls are interviewed, and not only these, but doctors, Justices of the Peace, clergymen, teachers, and moreover anyone who can give any kind of information on the matter. Every question and every answer is taken down in shorthand and printed word for word, and is attached to the whole material on which the commission report with its conclusions and proposals is based. The report and its material at the same time proves in detail whether and how the commissioners have fulfilled their duty and makes things very difficult for individual bias. The details as well as innumerable examples can be read in the above book itself. Here we want only to emphasise the one point, that in England the expansion of the freedom of trade and business has gone hand in hand with the expansion of the legal limitation of the working hours for women and children, and therewith the placing of almost all industries under the supervision of the government. Herr Marx gives us a detailed historical presentation of this development, showing how first, since 1833, spinning and weaving mills were in this way limited to a 12-hour working day; how after a long struggle between manufacturers and workers the working hours were at long last fixed at 10 1/2--6 1/2 for children--and then, beginning in 1850, one industry after another became subject to this factory law. First the cotton printers (already in 1845), then in 1860 the dying and bleaching works, in 1861 the lace and hosiery manufactures, in 1863 the potteries, wallpaper factories, etc., and eventually in 1867 almost all the remaining industries of any importance. One can form a picture of the significance of this last Act of 1867 when one learns that it places no fewer than a million and a half women and children under the protection and the control of the law. We emphasise this point particularly because in this respect things are, alas, bad indeed with us in Germany, and we must thank the author for having dealt with it in such detail and made the facts accessible to the German public for the first time. This will be the view of every friend of humanity, whatever he may think of the theoretical propositions of Herr Marx.

Space does not permit us to enter into other valuable materials from the history of industry and agriculture, but we are of the opinion that no one interested in political economy, industry, workers' condition, the history of culture and social legislation, whatever standpoint he may hold, should leave this book unread.