Marx-Engels Correspondence 1858

Engels To Marx
In London

Source: MECW Volume 40, p. 279;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Stuttgart, 1913.

Manchester, 4 March 1858

Dear Moor,

So once again the cabinet noir has well and truly honoured you with its attentions. I had expected something of the sort but it’s a bit steep to go and intercept letters. I think you would do better to have the address done in another hand, in which case they will only open the letters sent to you. I was expecting an acknowledgment from you and therefore took particular care to ask our messenger daily and in so many words whether there were any letters for me — each time the answer was in the negative. And yet we have the asinine Félix Pyat announcing to the world qu'il ny a pas de police politique properment dite, en Angleterre. Rarely have I come across a more bungled concoction, style and all. Still the same old faith in the Constitution of 1848; one might almost be face to face with our own jackasses of the Imperial Constitution. And what a ghastly style! Après tout, the idiots have achieved their aim and will, perhaps, earn themselves a cheap form of martyrdom. Cette bête de Derby, falling straight into the trap like that, and allowing the riff-raff to have their way.

As to the question of machinery, it’s difficult to say anything positive; at all events Babbage is quite wrong. The most reliable criterion is the percentage by which a manufacturer writes down his machinery each year for wear and tear and repairs, thus recovering the entire cost of his machines within a given period. This percentage is normally 7 1/2, in which case the machinery will be paid for over 13 1/3 years by an annual deduction from profits, i.e. will be replaceable without loss. E.g. I have £10,000 worth of machinery. At the end of the first year, when I draw up my balance-sheet, I enter

from which I deduct 7 1/2% for wear and tear£10,000   
" 750   
Expenditure on repairs£100   
Cost of machinery£9,350   
At the end of the 2nd year I deduct 7½% [of] £10,000, and 7½% [of] £100 " 757 10
 £8,593 10
Expenditure on repairs " 306 10
Present cost of entire machinery£8,900   

etc. Now, 13 1/3 years is admittedly a long time in the course of which numerous bankruptcies and changes occur; you may enter other branches, sell your old machinery, introduce new improvements, but if this calculation wasn’t more or less right, practice would have changed it long ago. Nor does the old machinery that has been sold promptly become old iron; it finds takers among the small spinners, etc., etc., who continue to use it. We ourselves have machines in operation that are certainly 20 years old and, when one occasionally takes a glance inside some of the more ancient and ramshackle concerns up here, one can see antiquated stuff that must be 30 years old at least. Moreover, in the case of most machines, only a few of the components wear out to the extent that they have to be replaced after 5 or 6 years. And even after 15 years, provided the basic principle of a machine has not been superseded by new inventions, there is relatively little difficulty in replacing worn out parts (I refer here to spinning and flyer frames), so that it is hard to set a definite term on the effective life of such machinery. Again, over the last 20 years improvements in spinning machinery have not been such as to preclude the incorporation of almost all of them in the existing structure of the machines, since nearly all are minor innovations. (Admittedly, in the case of carding, the enlargement of the carding cylinder was a major improvement which supplanted the old machines where good qualities were concerned, but for ordinary qualities the old machinery will be perfectly adequate for a long time yet.)

Babbage’s assertion is so absurd that were it true, England’s industrial capital must continually diminish and money simply be thrown away. A manufacturer who turns over his capital 5 times in 4 years, hence 6 1/4 times in 5 years, would, in addition to his average profit of 10%, have to earn annually a further 20% on approximately 3/4 of his capital (the machinery) if he was to recoup without loss his outlay on the old machinery — i.e. would have to make 25%. This would, of course, vastly increase the cost price of all articles — more, almost, than it would be increased by wages in which case where is the advantage of machinery? Annual wages amount to perhaps 1/3 the cost of the machinery — undoubtedly less in the case of the smaller spinners and weavers, and wear and tear is supposed to amount to 1/5 — the thing is ludicrous. There is certainly not a single establishment in England in the regular line of big industry which replaces its machinery in 5 years. Anyone foolish enough to do so would go to the wall at the first change; the old machines, even though much inferior, would certainly have the advantage over the modern ones and would be able to produce much more cheaply, for the market follows not the people who charge 15% for wear and tear on every pound of twist, but those who charge only 6% (approx. 4/5 of an annual depreciation of 7 1/2%) and hence sell at cheaper prices.

Ten to twelve years are enough to bring about changes in the character of the bulk of machinery, thereby necessitating its replacement to a greater or lesser extent. The period of 13 1/3 years will vary, of course, depending on bankruptcies, breakage of essential parts where a repair would prove too expensive, and similar contingencies, so one could make it a bit shorter. But certainly not less than 10 years.

I had finished ‘Burmah’ when I was compelled to make diverse necessary additions from another source. So I haven’t done with it yet and the thing will have to wait until Tuesday. It will run to nearly 3 pages. There are still a few details to be looked up for ‘Bomarsund’. On top of that I have to snatch whatever opportunity I can, since library hours are so similar to office hours that I can’t always get there. As soon as I've dealt with these wretched things — likewise ‘Bülow’ and ‘Beresford’, which suffer from the same snag — I shall again have a fair galloping country ahead of me and be able to clap on spurs with ‘Cavalry’, etc.

Many regards to your wife and children.

F. E.