1901 Introduction to Marx’s ‘Value, Price and Profit’ [Sanial]
It will be observed that in the “Preliminary” to this work Marx only makes a passing allusion to the circumstances which prompted him to write it. As the work itself was in form and purpose, though not in substance, an address to the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association, those circumstances were well understood by the men for whom it was then more especially intended, and there was no occasion for a detailed statement of its author’s motive and object. Not so, however, with most of its present readers; and as the circumstances in question are not without some historic interest and educational value, a more intelligible reference to them will no doubt be deemed appropriate.
It was in 1862, at the London Universal Exhibition, that Karl Marx, availing himself of the friendly intercourse initiated there between the English and the French labor representatives, laid the corner-stone of the International Workingmen’s Association, which he had already conceived and attempted to establish in 1848. But it was not until the end of 1864, after he and his co-worker, Frederick Engels, had spent more than two years in extensive correspondence with prominent men in labor and revolutionary circles throughout Europe, that the association was finally constituted, with a General Council sitting in London.
In order to give it life, however; in order to make it in fact the great social revolutionary engine of which its name was only thus far an obvious suggestion, it was necessary to bring together in an international congress the representatives of its natural elements. In this way alone could the indispensable uniformity of principles and tactics be secured, and intelligent co-operation be promoted between the organizations of different nationalities.
It was, therefore, decided to hold such a congress in September, 1865. Moreover, a list of the questions which the General Council proposed as a part of the order of the day was issued in all the European languages, so that they could be debated in all the local sections already formed in various countries, with a double view to the mutual education of their members and the instruction of the delegates by their respective constituencies. Thus and suddenly, for the first time in the history of the world, an intense interest was awakened among the proletarian masses of Europe, concerning those very matters which alone had ever been of vital importance to them, but from which their cunning masters had always contrived to divert their attention.
For several reasons this great fact — immediate result of the action taken by the General Council of the International under the guidance of Marx — deserves special remembrance.
In the first place, too much stress cannot be laid upon a development, then so absolutely new in the inferior social strata, and so obviously pregnant with structural changes in the social organism. Here were the fundamental layers of the working class, similar in all countries, yet separated for centuries by race prejudices and language differences far more effectually than by geographical boundaries of any sort. Previously destitute, as it seemed, of independent motion, but ever ready for conflict when “patriotically” electrified against each other by their respective rulers, they now all at once presented a singular phenomenon, contrary to their “human nature” as until then inferred from their traditional behavior. In their midst, issued from their own inert substance, appeared certain stirring bodies, small as yet, but acting intellectually within and upon their surroundings the part that the restless nucleus acts physically in the otherwise motionless cell; and simultaneously, as by a sort of magic, in direct violation of the divine command at the Tower of Babel, all the languages and dialects in which the working classes of different countries had ever been taught to deride, hate, and curse each other, became, through those small but active bodies, the propagating media of working class solidarity, working class fraternity, working class unity, and working class motion against all the fleecing and oppressing classes, local, provincial, national, and international. In other words, the very differences of speech which despotism had used as a powerful dissolvent of class consciousness in the process of aggregating elements socially antagonistic into political “patriotic” bodies, were now found a still more powerful dissolvent of patriotism, highly useful in the process of class-conscious development.
In the second place, when it is considered that Marx not only discovered the evolutionary power of Internationalism, but devised the mode and machinery through which this power could be applied with the utmost possible effect in the environment of his time, his great figure receives additional lustre from the light in which it is viewed. For it is then seen that he was not only the foremost economist of his time, and a profound philosopher as well, but also a practical statesman of matchless ability. The greater part of his life was, in fact, devoted to political work of the highest complexity, along those lines of the class struggle which he had been the first investigator clearly to recognize and determine. Single-handed, as it were, he challenged upon those lines the organized powers of despotism at a time when the “Reaction” had long been in undisputed control of European affairs. And he, a poor exile, with no resources but his pen, and no ministers but a few humble friends, succeeded not only in resurrecting at that time the social-revolutionary movement, but in placing it for all time far above the reach of its would-be smotherers.
For the performance of that gigantic work we have just seen that he had first to construct a special instrument, namely, the International Workingmen’s Association. He had to construct it with such “intellectual materials,” so to speak, as were immediately available, and then to watch its every motion; for any appreciable deviation from scientific principles and correct tactics might have seriously compromised the great end in view. From the very beginning he had, therefore, to overcome difficulties that called for the exercise of qualities rarely found combined in the most successful statesman; a Bismarck, for instance, achieving his purpose by unscrupulous means, whereas honesty was the very fundament of Marx’s conduct and policy, as behooved an apostle of truth.
The first obstacle he met consisted in the scarcity of men mentally equipped for the building up of an organization that contemplated the triumph of science over force, of reason over brutality. Those were, indeed, days of intellectual darkness and confusion in economics, even among the students of social science. In France, and in the neighboring countries mentally influenced by her to a more or less extent, the Utopian schools of St. Simon and Fourier, once very active, had fallen into somnolence and “reverie,” while the revolutionary-sounding but intensely bourgeois sophisms of the Anarchist Proudhon had caught the ears of many workingmen. In England nothing remained of the Chartist agitation, which had for a time been promiseful of a great labor movement along the lines — the only safe lines — of class-consciousness; and the British trade-unions, apparently resigned to the wage-system as a finality, were more and more adapting themselves to capitalism by accepting its economic tenets, and consequently assuming the form now known in this country as “Pure-and-Simpledom.” In Germany alone, owing to the brilliant propagation by Ferdinand Lassalle of such parts of the doctrine of Marx as had already been published in his earlier works, there was a beginning of sound organization.
Of sympathizers who sufficiently understood him to be fully trusted in active co-operation the number was, therefore, very small. And it may be added that the co-operation of those who, knowing little, did not understand him, or, knowing wrongly, misunderstood him, was more dangerous than useful, as appears plainly from the case here under special consideration. London, as the seat of the General Council of the International, was naturally one of the chief centers of the general economic discussions preparatory to the Congress, and it was there, in the presence of the Council, that the English delegate, Weston, mentioned by Marx in his “Preliminary,” read a paper embodying his crude views and erroneous notions. At the same time the French Proudhonians were energetically propagating their own tenets in Paris and other great cities. Marx immediately realized the extent of the danger threatened by the economic ignorance of those very leaders to whom the working class was confidingly looking for education and guidance, and he wrote, in the form of an address to the General Council, the paper which is here published under the title, “Value, Price and Profit.” It was publicly read by the Council at the Congress, and the light it cast in the minds of unprejudiced delegates saved the movement from that premature collapse or instant paralysis which would inevitably have followed an irreducible disagreement on fundamental principles.
Under the circumstances which have just been related, Marx must of necessity have written this work in great haste; still, it is universally considered as the best epitome we have of the first volume of his “Capital,” and, as such, is invaluable to the beginner in economics. It places him squarely on his feet at the threshold of his inquiry; that is, in a position where his perceptive faculties cannot be deceived and his reasoning power consequently vitiated by the very use of his eyesight; whereas, by the very nature of his capitalist surroundings, he now stands on his head, and sees all things inverted.
Having with this paper accomplished his immediate object, Marx did not undertake to publish it, obviously because the great economic laws therein presented in popular form were soon to be expounded far more completely and scientifically in the crowning work of his life. But he preserved it as a historic memento. His gifted daughter, Eleanor Marx Aveling, found it among his papers after the death of Frederick Engels. She then edited it, and a London firm published the English edition of it, which has heretofore been sold in this country. In that edition, however, we found some errors; very few, we must say in justice to editor and publisher, yet quite important in some cases, where Marx is inadvertently made to say the very contrary of his meaning, as amply shown by the context. As the demand for this work is steadily growing in the United States, the Socialist Labor Party, through its own “Labor News” agency, has thought it eminently proper to issue the present American edition, free from all blemishes.
New York, January, 1901.