Brentano vs Marx, Engels 1891


In conclusion, let us go briefly into the question of what Mr. Gladstone said in that -- thanks to Mr. Brentano, now "notorious" -- passage of his budget speech of 1863, and what Marx quoted of what he said, or else what he "lyingly added" or "suppressed". In order to oblige Mr. Brentano as far as possible, let us take as our basis the immaculate Hansard, and in his own translation.

"In ten years from 1842 to 1852 inclusive, the taxable income of the country, as nearly as we can make out, increased by 6 per cent; hut in eight years, from 1853 to 1861, the income of the country again increased upon the basis taken by 20 per cent. That is a fact so singular and striking as to seem almost incredible."

Mr. Brentano himself has nothing against Marx's quotation of this sentence, apart from the fact that it is allegedly taken from The Theory of the Exchanges. But of Brentano's quotation it must be said here that it too is far removed from giving "the real budget speech". He excises Mr. Gladstone's following excursus on the causes of this astonishing augmentation without even indicating the omission with dots. -- Further:

"Such, Sir, is the state of the case as regards the general progress of accumulation; but, for one, I must say that I should look with some degree of pain, and with much apprehension, upon this extraordinary and almost intoxicating growth, if it were my belief that it is confined to the class of persons who may be described as in easy circumstances. The figures which I have quoted take little or no cognizance of the condition of those who do not pay income tax; or, in other words, sufficiently accurate for general truth, they do not take cognizance of the property of the labouring population, or of the increase of its income."

There now follows the sentence which according to Mr. Brentano was "lyingly added" by Marx, but which on the testimony of all eight morning papers of April 17 was certainly uttered by Mr. Gladstone:

"The augmentation I have described, and which is founded, I think, upon accurate returns, is an augmentation entirely confined to classes of property." (The Times, The Manning Star, The Manning Advertiser, Daily Telegraph.) ".. is entirely confined to the augmentation of Capital". (Manning Herald, Standard, The Daily News, Manning Post)

After the word "income", Hansard immediately continues with the words:

"Indirectly, indeed, the mere augmentation of Capital is of the utmost advantage to the labouring class, because that augmentation cheapens the commodity which in the whole business of production comes into direct competition with labour."

Although Hansard omits the "notorious" sentence, it says in substance just what the other papers say: it would be very embarrassing for the speaker if this intoxicating augmentation were confined to CLASSES IN EASY CIRCUMSTANCES, but although it pains him, this augmentation he has described is confined to people who do not belong to the working class and who are rich enough to pay income tax; yes, it is indeed a "mere augmentation of Capital"!

And here, finally, the secret of Mr. Brentano's fury stands revealed. He reads the sentence in the Inaugural Address, finds in it an embarrassing admission, obtains the Hansard version, fails to find the embarrassing sentence in it, and hurries to publish to the world: Marx lyingly added the sentence in form and in content! -- Marx shows him the sentence in The Times, The Morning Star, The Morning Advertiser. Now finally, for appearance's sake at least, Mr. Brentano must make a "detailed comparison of texts" and discovers -- what? That The Times, The Morning Star, The Morning Advertiser "fully coincide materially" with Hansard! Unfortunately he overlooks the fact that the "lyingly added" sentence must then fully coincide materially with Hansard, and that then in the end it must turn out that Hansard coincides materially with the Inaugural Address.

The whole hullabaloo therefore because Mr. Brentano had neglected to undertake the detailed textual comparison ascribed to him by Mr. Sedley Taylor, and because, in fact, he had himself not understood what Mr. Gladstone had said according to Hansard. Of course, this was not that easy, for although Mr. Brentano claims that this speech

"aroused the interest and admiration of the entire educated world ... notably through ... its clarity",

readers have been able to see for themselves that in the Hansard version it is presented in a particularly stilted, complicated and involved language, tying itself up in its own repetitions. In particular the sentence stating that the increase in Capital is of extraordinary advantage to the worker, because it cheapens the commodity which in the business of production comes into direct competition with labour, is sheer nonsense. If a commodity comes into Competition with labour, and this commodity (for example, machinery) is cheapened, then the first and immediate result is a fall in wages, and according to Mr. Gladstone this should be "of great benefit to the workers"! How philanthropic it was of some London morning papers, i. e. The Morning Star, in their "necessarily bungling" reports, to replace the above incomprehensible sentence by what Mr. Gladstone probably wanted to say, namely that an increase in Capital is of benefit to the workers because it cheapens the main articles of consumption!

When Mr. Gladstone said that he should look with some degree of pain and much apprehension at this intoxicating growth if he believed that it was confined to classes in easy circumstances -- whether Mr. Gladstone thought thereby of another growth of wealth than that of which he spoke, namely, in his opinion, of the greatly improved situation of the entire nation; whether he forgot at that moment that he was speaking of the increase in income of the classes that pay income tax and of no others: this we cannot know. Marx has been charged with forgery, and what is at issue is the text and the grammatical meaning of what Mr. Gladstone said, and not what he possibly wanted to say. Mr. Brentano does not know the latter either, and on this point Mr. Gladstone, 27 years later, is no longer a competent authority. And in no way does this concern us.

The abundantly clear meaning of the words is: taxable income has undergone an intoxicating augmentation. I should be very sorry if this augmentation just described were confined to classes of property, but it is confined to them, since the workers have no income liable to tax, and it is thus purely an increase in Capital! But the latter, too, is of advantage to the workers, because they, etc.

And now Marx:

"This intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power ... is entirely confined to classes of property."

Thus runs the sentence in the Inaugural Address, where it provided the occasion for this whole jolly controversy. But since Mr. Brentano has no longer dared to claim that Marx lyingly added it, since then the Inaugural Address has no longer been mentioned at all, and all attacks have been directed against the quotation of this passage in Capital There Marx adds the following sentence:

"but... but it must be of indirect benefit to the labouring population, because it cheapens the commodities of general consumption."

The "arbitrarily thrown-together mosaic of sentences torn from their context" in Marx thus states "materially", "only formally more contracted", exactly what the immaculate Hansard has Gladstone say. The only reproach which can be levelled at Marx is that he utilised The Morning Star and not Hansard, and thus, in the final sentence, placed words of sense in Mr. Gladstone's mouth, although he had spoken nonsense. Further, according to Hansard:

"But, besides this, a more direct and a larger benefit has, it may safely be asserted, been conferred upon the mass of the people [of the country]. It is a matter of profound and inestimable consolation to reflect, that while the rich have been growing richer, the poor have become less poor. I will not presume to determine whether the wide interval which separates the extremes of wealth and poverty is less or more wide than it has been in former times."

In Marx:

"...while the rich have been growing richer, the poor have been growing less poor. At any rate, whether the extremes of poverty are less, I do not presume to say."

Marx gives only the two rare positive statements which, in Hansard, swim in a whole tureen of phrases as trivial as they are unctuous. It can be stated with certainty that they lose nothing thereby, but rather gain.

Finally the conclusion, according to Hansard:

"But if we look to the average condition of the British labourer, whether peasant, or miner, or operative, or artisan, we know from varied and indubitable evidence that during the last twenty years such an addition has been made to his means of subsistence as we may almost pronounce to be without example in the history of any country and of any age."

This sentence is quoted in the Inaugural Address a few lines above the "notorious" one just given. There we find:

"Such are the official statements published by order of Parliament in 1864, during the millennium of free trade, at a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House of Commons that:

'The average condition of the British labourer has improved in a degree we know to be extraordinary and unexampled in the history of any country or any age.'"

Thus everything essential is cited. But that this may be read in the Inaugural Address, original edition, p. 4, this fact is stubbornly concealed from his readers by Mr. Brentano; however, his readers cannot check upon him, for we cannot possibly present each of them with a copy of the Address, as we did Mr. Sedley Taylor.

Notabene: In his second reply (Documents, No. 6) Marx only had to defend the Inaugural Address, since up to then Mr. Brentano had not got the passage in Capital into his nagging range. And in his following rejoinder (Documents, No.7) Mr. Brentano's attack is still directed against the Inaugural Address and Marx's defence of this.

It is only after Marx's death that a new turn comes, and this not through Mr. Brentano but through his Cambridge shield-bearer. Only now is it discovered that in Capital Marx suppressed the resonant declarations made by Mr. Gladstone about the unexampled improvement in the condition of the British worker, and that this converted Mr. Gladstone's meaning into the contrary.

And here we have to say that Marx missed the opportunity for a brilliant burst of rhetoric. The whole section in the introduction to which this speech by Gladstone is quoted has the purpose of furnishing evidence that the condition of the great majority of the British working class was straitened and unworthy, just at the time of this intoxicating augmentation of wealth. What a magnificent contrast Gladstone's selfsame pompous words about the happy condition of the British working class, ~a condition] unexampled in the history of any country and any age, would have provided to this evidence of mass poverty, drawn from the official publications of Parliament itself!

But if Marx wished to refrain from such a rhetorical effect, he had no reason to quote these words of Gladstone's. Firstly, they are nothing hut the standard phrases which every British Chancellor of the Exchequer believes it to be his moral duty to repeat in good or even in tolerable business periods; they are thus meaningless. And secondly, Gladstone himself retracted them within a year; in his next budget speech of April 7, 1864, at a time of even greater industrial prosperity, he spoke of masses "on the border of pauperism", and of branches of business in which wages have not increased", and proclaimed -- according to Hansard:

"Again, and yet more at large, what is human life, but, in the great majority of cases, a struggle for existence?" *

* And here some more from this speech, according to Hansard: the number of paupers had fallen to 840,000. "That amount, however, does not include persons who are dependent upon charitable establishments; or who are relieved by private almsgiving.... But, besides all those whom it comprises, think of those who arc on the borders of that region, think how many of the labouring classes are struggling manfully but with difficulty to maintain themselves in a position above the place of paupers." In the congregation of a clergyman in the East End of London, 12,000 out of 13,000 souls were always on the verge of actual want; a well-known philanthropist had declared that there were whole districts in the East End of London in which you cannot find an omnibus or a cab, in which there ii no street music, nor even a street beggar... The means to wage the struggle for existence were, however, somewhat better than previously (!) ... In many places wages had increased, but in many others they had not, etc. And this jeremiad came just one year after the pompous announcement of the "unexampled" improvement!

But Marx quotes this other budget speech of Gladstone's immediately after that of 1863, and if Mr. Gladstone himself, on April 7, 1864, declared that the unexampled blessings were non-existent, those blessings for the existence of which he had possessed "varied and indubitable evidence", then for Marx there was no longer the slightest shadow of a reason to quote these vivacious protestations, which were unfortunately ephemeral, even for Mr. Gladstone. He could content himself with the speaker's admissions that while the incomes of 150 pounds sterling and over had augmented intoxicatingly, the poor had in any case become less poor, and that the interval between extreme wealth and extreme poverty had scarcely been reduced.

We shall not comment on the fact that it is the habit of the official German economists to quote Marx in sentences torn from context. If he had created a hullabaloo in every such case, as Mr. Brentano has done here, he would never have been finished.

But now let us examine more closely the unexampled augmentation of the means of subsistence enjoyed at that time by the British labourer, peasant or miner, artisan or operative.

The peasant is in England and the greater part of Scotland only an agricultural day labourer. In 1861 there were a total of 1,098,261 such peasants, of whom 204,962 lived as farmhands on tenant farms. * From 1849 to 1859 his money wage had increased by 1 shilling, in a few cases by 2 shillings a week, but in the final analysis this was mostly only a nominal increase. His position in 1863, the really abject housing conditions under which he lived, are described by Dr. Hunter (Public Health, VII Report, 1864):

"The costs occasioned by the agricultural labourer are fixed at the lowest figure at which he can live."

* The figures are taken partly from the census of 1861, partly from the report of the CHILDREN'S EMPLOYMENT COMMISSION. 1863-l867. [Census of England and Wales for the year 1861, London, 1863; Children's Employment Commission (1862), Report (I- VI) of the Commissioners, London, 1863. -- MECW Ed]

According to the same report, the food intake of a part of the day labourers' families (particularly in eight named counties) was below the absolute minimum necessary to avert starvation diseases. And Professor Thorold Rogers, a political supporter of Gladstone, declared in 1866 (A History of Agriculture and Prices) that the agricultural day labourer had once again become a serf, and, as he demonstrated at length, a poorly fed and poorly housed serf, much worse off than his ancestor at the time of Arthur Young (1770 to 1780), and incomparably worse than the day labourer in the 14th and 15th centuries. So Gladstone had no luck at all with the "peasants".

But how about the "miner"? On this we have the parliamentary report of 1866.a In 1861, 565,875 miners were working in the United Kingdom, 246,613 of them in coal mines. In the latter the wages of the men had risen slightly, and they mostly did an eight-hour shift, while the youngsters had to work 14 to 15 hours. Mine inspection was just a farce: there were 12 inspectors for 3,217 mines! The result was that the lives of the miners were sacrificed wholesale in largely avoidable explosions; the mine-owners compensated themselves in general for the small wage increases by wage deductions based on false weights and measures. In the ore mines, according to the report of the ROYAL COMMISSION of 1864, conditions were still worse.

But the "artisan"? Let us take the metalworkers, altogether 396,998. Of these, some 70,000 to 80,000 were machine fitters, and their situation was in fact good, thanks to the toughness of their old, strong and rich trade association. For the other metalworkers too, provided full physical strength and skill were called for, a certain improvement had taken place, as was natural with business having again become better since 1859 and 1860. In contrast, the situation of the women and children also employed (10,000 women and 30,000 under 18 in Birmingham and district alone) was miserable enough, and that of the nail makers (26,130) and chain makers miserable in the extreme.

In the textile industry, the 456,646 cotton Spinners and weavers, and with them 12,556 calico printers, are decisive. And they must have been very surprised to hear of this unexampled happiness-in April 1863, at the height of the cotton famine and the American Civil War, at the time (October 1862) when 60 per cent of the spindles and 58 per cent of the looms stood idle, and the remainder were only working 2-3 days a week; when over 50,000 cotton operatives, individually or with families, were supported by the Poor Law or the relief committee and (in March 1863) 135,625 were employed by the same committee at starvation wages on public works or in sewing schools! (Watts, The Facts of the Cotton Famine, 1866, p.21 1.) The other textile operatives, particularly in the wool and linen branches, were relatively prosperous; the lack of cotton increased their employment.

The reports of the CHILDREN'S EMPLOYMENT COMMISSION give us the best information on how things looked in a number of smaller branches of business: hosiery -- 120,000 workers, of whom only 4,000 were protected by the Factory Act, amongst the others many quite young children, colossally overworked; lace-making and dressing, mostly cottage industry -- of 150,000 workers only 10,000 protected by the Factory Act, colossal overworking of children and girls; straw-plaiting and straw-hat-making -- 40,000, almost all children, disgustingly slave-driven; finally the manufacture of clothing and shoes, employing 370,218 female workers for outerwear and millinery, 380,716 ditto for underwear and -- in England and Wales alone -- 573,380 male workers, including 273,223 shoemakers and 146,042 tailors, of whom between l/5 and 1/4 were under 20. Of these 1 1/4 million, a maximum of 30 per cent of the men were passably off, working for private customers. The rest were exposed, as in all the branches of business mentioned in this paragraph, to exploitation through middle men, factors, agents, SWEATERS as they are called in England, and this alone describes their lot: terrible overwork for a wretched wage.

Things were no better with the "unexampled" fortune of the workers in paper-making (100,000 workers, half women), pottery (29,000), hat-making (15,000 in England alone), the glass industry (15,000), book printing (35,000), artificial flower-making (11,000), etc., etc.

In short, the CHILDREN'S EMPLOYMENT COMMISSION demanded that no fewer than 1,400,000 women, young people and children should be placed under the protection of the Factory Act, in order to guard them from mostly ruinous overwork.

And finally the number of PAUPERS dependent upon poor relief from public funds in 1863: 1,079,382.

On this basis we may make an unofficial list of those workers unquestionably very badly off in 1863: agricultural day labourers in round figures 1,100,000; cotton operatives 469,000; seamstresses and milliners 751,000; tailors and shoemakers, after the deduction of 30%, 401,000; lace-makers 150,000; paper-makers 100,000; hosiery workers 120,000; smaller branches investigated by the CHILDRENS EMPLOYMENT COMMISSION 189,000; and finally PAUPERS 1,079,000. Together 4,549,000 workers, added to which, in some cases, their family members.

And 1863 was a good business year. The crisis of 1857 had been fully overcome, demand was rising rapidly, with the exception of the cotton industry nearly all branches of business were very busy. So where is the "unexampled" improvement to be found?

The factory legislation of the forties had decisively improved the lot of those workers subject to it. But in 1863 this benefited only the workers employed in wool, linen and silk, altogether about 270,000, while the cotton operatives were starving. For bleaching workers and dye workers, legal protection existed Only on paper. Further: in branches of work in which full male strength and sometimes dexterity are indispensable, the resistance of the workers, organised in trade associations, had forced through for themselves a share of the proceeds of the favourable business period, and it may be said that on the average for these branches of work, involving heavy male labour, the living standard of the workers had risen decisively, though it is still ridiculous to describe this improvement as "unexampled". But while the great mass of productive work has been transferred to machines operated by weaker men, by women and young workers, the politicians like to treat the strong men employed in heavy work as the only workers, and to judge the whole working class according to their standard.

Against the 4 1/2 million worse-off workers and PAUPERS detailed above, we have, as well-off, 270,000 textile workers in wool, linen and silk. Further we may assume that of the 376,000 metal workers one third were well-off, one third middling, and only the last third, including the workers under 18, the nail-makers, chain-smiths, and women, were badly off. We may classify the situation of the 566,000 miners as medium-good. The situation of the building craftsmen may be considered as good, apart from those in the cotton districts. Amongst the joiners, at most 1/3 were well-off, the great mass worked for blood-sucking SWEATERS. Amongst the railway employees there was already at that period colossal overworking, which has only brought about organised resistance in the last 20 years. In short, we may add together in total scarcely one million of whom we may say that their situation had improved in relation to the improvement in the business and the profits of the Capitalists; what remains over is in a middling situation, has a few, on the whole insignificant, benefits from the better business period, or consists of such a mixture of working people according to sex and age that the improvements for the men are offset by the overworking of the women and young workers.

And if this should not suffice, then one should consult the "Reports on PUBLIC HEALTH" which became necessary precisely because the "unexampled" improvement for the working class in the 20 years up to 1863 showed itself as typhus, cholera and other jolly epidemics, which finally spread from the working-class quarters to the genteel areas of the cities. Here the unexampled "augmentation of the means of subsistence" of the British worker is investigated with respect to housing and food, and it is found that in many cases his dwelling was simply a centre of infection, and his nourishment was on the borderline, or even beneath the border at which starvation diseases necessarily occur.

This was the real condition of the British working class at the beginning of 1863. This was the face of the "unexampled" improvement for the working class of which Mr. Gladstone boasted. And if Marx is to he blamed for anything, it is that he did Mr. Gladstone an unearned service by omitting his bragging statement.

Conclusion: Firstly, Marx "lyingly added" nothing.

Secondly, he "suppressed" nothing about which Mr. Gladstone might have a right to complain.

And thirdly, the octopus-like tenacity with which Mr. Brentano and his companions cling to this single quotation amongst the many thousands of quotations in Marx's writing proves that they know only too well "how Karl Marx quotes" -- namely correctly.