Marx-Engels Correspondence 1853
Source: MECW Volume 39, p. 378;
First published: in Marx and Engels, Works, 1981.
That I have writer’s itch, and this in the ‘loftier sense of the term’, you must needs conclude from the fact that I am writing to you today although — as so often nowadays — I have been working without a break for thirty hours on end.
D'abord, I want you, if it is at all possible, to get the German press to publish my Palmerston article.
On the 17th Jones will be setting forth on another tour of the manufacturing districts and tomorrow evening will call in here to get material for a campaign against that great humbug. It is comic that we are forced to teach the English their own history.
Willich’s journeymen’s association (the London one), already demoralised since our resignation, has now become too much of a good thing even for that hippopotamus Schapper, who has also withdrawn.
Quant à Carey and Ricardo’s theory of rent:
1) If we assume — as Carey would have it — that rent is simply another form of profit on capital or, still more precisely, of interest, this does not disprove but merely simplifies Ricardo’s theory. The economic antithesis, in the most general sense, would simply coincide with the antithesis of capital and wage labour, profit (and interest) on one side and wages on the other. The antithesis to capital within property would be eliminated (in so far as we disregard, d'abord, the antithesis between individual kinds of capital determined by the division of labour, and then, the antithesis between individual capitalists), but the antithesis to property would be all the more comprehensive.
2) I am of course aware that, in an attempt to complete his theory, the worthy Carey also reduces profit (interest included) to wages in a different form. D'abord, is not Protestantism, for example, merely a different form of religion from Catholicism? Does the antithesis, the contradiction, the struggle between them cease — and that is what you are dealing with — because they are both religions? Thus, even assuming that profit and wages are simply 2 different forms of the return on labour, the result is not to reconcile them but merely to reduce their difference to a simplified expression.
But how does he define their otherness? Profit is the wages for past labour. Wages are the profit on immediate present labour. Eh bien!’ How does this avail him? For it is precisely from its thraldom, from its slavery to past, materialised labour that present, i.e. actual labour seeks to emerge, and from its thraldom to the product of labour that labour seeks to be emancipated. The old feudal laws were also at one time the present expression of popular activity. Is that any reason why we should be subjugated by them now?
At best, therefore, he is merely changing the phrase ‘oppression of labour by capital’, into the phrase ‘oppression of present labour by past labour’.
There still remains the question, ‘How do I gain possession of past labour?’ By labour? No. By inheritance on the one hand and, on the other, by the fraudulent exchange of past for present labour. If past labour were exchanged for an equal quantity of present labour, the owner of past labour could continue to consume only so long as he had aliquot portions to exchange and, at a given moment, would himself have to start working again.
3) Carey has himself wholly failed to understand Ricardo’s theory of rent when he maintains that it is based on the successive deterioration of land. Ricardo — as I have proved in my book against Proudhon — falls into the common error of all other bourgeois economists, when he passes off the form of landed property as an ‘eternal natural law’ of history in general, whereas it is the product of purely industrial circumstances. His theory is true only of bourgeois society in a condition of full development. Rent, in its commercial form — the only one he mentions — does not otherwise exist at all. It therefore leaves him unaffected to maintain that at various historical epochs it was not the worse, but rather the better, lands that were successively cultivated. The historically better land of one period does not count as land at all for the other[s]. Moreover, Ricardo does not speak only of the natural properties of the soil, but also of its situation, a social product, a social attribute.
The fertility of the soil, as I have likewise already said in the Anti-Proudhon, is something purely relative. Changes in the soil’s fertility and its degree in relation to society, and that is the only aspect of fertility with which we are concerned, depend on changes in the science of chemistry and its application to agronomy.
4) Assuming a given condition of society, not any society, but one of full bourgeois development, with a populous countryside [... ] etc., even this part of Ricardo’s theory — unessential to his system — is correct.
Firstly. Types of land, with an equal infusion of capital and equally well situated for markets; how can their rents be differentiated? Merely by their natural fertility. This constitutes the level of rent.
On this assumption, when will a corn field of inferior quality be cultivated or a less productive coal-mine be exploited? When the price of corn or coal has risen so high as to enable the less productive ones to be cultivated or exploited. Hence the cost of production of the poorer land determines the rent of the richer. (This is Ricardo’s Law.)
Secondly. Does this exclude a constant increase in fertility? Hence, does it include Malthus? By no means.
If 1 is the best land, followed by 2, 3, 4, etc., and fertility is increased tenfold, the relation between 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., remains as before. Were fertility to become so great as a result of chemical discoveries that 1, 2 and 3 sufficed, land 4 would no longer be cultivated. The cost of production of land 3 (let it = 3) would then determine the rent. When land 4 (let its production costs = 4) still had to be brought under cultivation, the rent of land 1 (let its production costs =1) = 4-1 = 3. The rent of land 3 = 3-1 = 2. The rent of land 2 = 2-1 = 1. Now, however, the rent of 1 would =2, that of 2 would = 1 and that of 3 would =0. Should the fertility of the land so increase that only 1, the best land, had to be cultivated, rent would disappear completely.
5) Ricardo’s theory is based not on the doctrine of rent, but on the law that the price of a commodity is determined by its cost of production. That law, however, should not be understood as meaning that the price of individual commodities is determined by their cost of production. Rather, the commodity produced under the most unfavourable circumstances, and made necessary because of the demand for it, determines the price of all other commodities of the same kind. E.g. if demand is so great that flour, the production price of which is 20/- a quarter, can he placed on the market, then a qr. of flour costing 19, 18, 17, 15, etc., to produce is also sold at 20/-. The amount by which the market price, regulated by the cost of production of the dearest quarter to be placed on the market, exceeds the production costs of the less expensively produced flour, regulates the rent. What, then, gives rise to rent? Not the land, as supposed by Ricardo, but the market price and the laws by which it is regulated. If the quarter, which costs only 15/- (profit included) were sold, not at 20/-, but at 15, it could not carry a rent of 5. Why, then, does it do so? Because the market price is regulated by the flour the cost of production of which =20. In order that this may be placed on the market, 20 must be the general market price. Hence, if rent is to be overthrown, it must not be interpreted philanthropically; rather the laws of market price and thus of prices generally and thus the whole framework of the bourgeois economy must be overthrown.
So much for today on this subject.
On types of land having the same properties and an equally favourable situation, the rent will, however, be determined merely by the proportion of capital wedded to the land. Nor does Ricardo deny this. Rent is then merely interest on capital fixe. To say that, in cases in which rent does not exist in an actual, specific sense, its specific antithesis to capital and labour does not exist either, is no less true than to say that, where there is neither labour nor investment of capital, no antithesis between capital and wage labour exists. Instead there is, in the case under consideration, an antithesis between profit and interest, between rentiers (in the ordinary sense) and industrial capitalists. The less the tenant pays the man whose capital is wedded to the land, the greater will be his profit and vice versa. The tenant and his landlord (even though the latter simply draws interest on the capital employed on the land) would thus be as much at loggerheads as before.
The case most favourable to Carey is as follows:
Let the product of labour, the profit and interest = 2, rent =1, wages = 2. Now if, as a result of a rise in the productivity of labour, the product doubles and = 10, the rent might = 2, profit and interest =4, wages =4. To that extent it could be said that every kind of revenue may increase at no expense to labour and without landowner, capitalist and worker being mutually at loggerheads. But:
1) Assuming this most favourable instance to be real, all it means is that the antitheses — rent, profit, wages — all three, become more marked without losing any of their qualitative position relative to one another;
2) Relatively they can only rise or fall at each other’s expense. In the foregoing example, the proportion =1:2:2. Does not the ratio remain the same if it =2:4:4? A change in this relative income would occur if, for example, wages were to =5, profit =3, and rent =2. The profit would then have fallen relatively, although in absolute terms it would have risen.
3) It is par trop naive to suggest that, if the total product of labour rises, the three classes among whom it is to be shared will share equally in that growth. If profit were to rise by 20%, the workers would have to strike to obtain a 2% rise in wages.
4) The conditions that govern an increase in the total product preclude such relatively equal increase from the outset. If the increase is due to a better division of labour, or to a greater employment of machinery, the worker is, from the outset, placed at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the capitalist. If it be due to increased fertility of the soil, the landowner is worse off vis-à-vis the capitalist.