Letters: Marx-Engels Correspondence 1879

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Marx-Engels Correspondence 1879

Letter from Marx to Nikolai Danielson
In St. Petersburg


April 10, 1879

In regard to your most remarkable letter I shall confine myself to a few observations.

The railways sprang up first as the couronnement de l'oeuvre in those countries where modern industry was most developed, England, United States, Belgium, France, etc. I call them the "couronnement de l'oeuvre" not only in the sense that they were at last (together with steamships for oceanic intercourse and the telegraphs) the means of communication adequate to the modern means of production, but also in so far as they were the basis of immense joint stock companies, forming at the same time a new starting point for all other sorts of joint stock companies, to commence by banking companies. They gave in one word, an impetus never before suspected to the concentration of capital, and also to the accelerated and immensely enlarged cosmopolitan activity of loanable capital, thus embracing the whole world in a network of financial swindling and mutual indebtedness, the capitalist form of "international" brotherhood.

On the other hand, the appearance of the railway system in the leading countries of capitalism allowed, and even forced, states where capitalism was confined to a few summits of society, to suddenly create and enlarge their capitalistic superstructure in dimensions altogether disproportionate to the bulk of the social body, carrying on the great work of production in the traditional modes. There is, therefore, not the least doubt that in those states the railway creation has accelerated the social and political disintegration, as in the more advanced states it hastened the final development and therefore the final change, of capitalistic production. In all states except England, the governments enriched and fostered the railway companies at the expense of the Public Exchequer. In the United States, to their profit, great part of the public land they received as a present, not only the land necessary for the construction of the lines but many miles of land along both sides the lines, covered with forests, etc. They become so the greatest landlords, the small immigrating farmers preferring of course land so situated as to ensure their produce ready means of transport.

The system inaugurated in France by Louis Philippe, of handing over the railways to a small band of financial aristocrats, endowing them with long terms of possession, guaranteeing the interest out of the public pocket, etc., etc., was pushed to the utmost limit by Louis Bonaparte, whose regime, in fact, was essentially based upon the traffick in railway concessions, to some of which he was so kind as to make presents of canals, etc.

And in Austria and Italy above all, the railways were a new source of unbearable state indebtedness and grinding of the masses.

Generally the railways gave of course an immense impulse to the development of foreign commerce, but the commerce in countries which export principally raw produce increased the misery of the masses. Not only that the new indebtedness, contracted by the government on account of the railways, increased the bulk of imposts weighing upon them, but from the moment every local production could be converted into cosmopolitan gold, many articles formerly cheap, because invendible to a great degree, such as fruit, wine, fish, deer, etc., became dear and were withdrawn from the consumption of the people, while on the other hand, the production itself, I mean the special sort of produce, was changed according to its greater or minor suitableness for exportation, while formerly it was principally adapted to its consumption in loco. Thus, for instance, in Schleswig-Holstein agricultural land was converted into pasture, because the export of cattle was more profitable, but at the same time the agricultural population was driven away. All the changes very useful indeed for the great landed proprietor, the usurer, the merchant, the railways, the bankers and so forth, but very dismal for the real producer!

It is, to conclude by this my letter (since the time for putting it to post draws nearer and nearer), impossible to find real analogies between the United States and Russia. In the former the expenses of the government diminish daily and its public debt is quickly and yearly reduced; in the latter public bankruptcy is a goal more and more appearing to become unavoidable. The former has freed itself (although in a most infamous way, for the advantage of the creditors and at the expense of the menu peuple) of its paper money, the latter has no more flourishing fabric than that of paper money. In the former the concentration of capital and the gradual expropriation of the masses is not only the vehicle, but also the natural offspring (though artificially accelerated by the civil war) of an unprecedented rapid industrial development, agricultural progress, etc.; the latter reminds you rather of the time of Louis XIV and Louis XV, where the financial, commercial, industrial superstructure, or rather the facades of the social edifices, looked (although they had a much more solid foundation than in Russia) like a satyre upon the stagnant state of the bulk of production (the agricultural one) and the famine of the producers. The United States have at present overtaken England in the rapidity of economical progress, though they lag still behind in the extent of acquired wealth; but at the same time the masses are quicker, and have greater political means in their hands, to resent the form of a progress accomplished at their expense. I need not prolong antitheses.

A propos. Which do you consider the best Russian work on credit and banking?

Danielson (Nicolai-On) Nikolai Franzevich (1844-1918). Russian economist, Narodnik; translator of Capital; he completed the translation begun by G. A. Lopatin of the first volume, which was published in 1872. In this connection Danielson entered into correspondence with Marx. Danielson was one of the chief theoreticians of the Narodniki, who contested the necessity and possibility of the development of capitalism in Russia.