Karl Marx

Page 14 of 18

But now we unexpectedly reach a "dead point" in the biography of our thinker, for his mental life, otherwise so normal and so brilliant, here suddenly becomes obscured, and is tinged with mystery and enigma. For, on the one hand, Marx clearly affirmed, and showed by his actions, that he definitely wished to devote himself to the completion of his treatise, whereas, on the other hand, it is undeniable that after the publication of the first volume of Capital, he never wrote another line of the[Pg 127] book, and that all the posthumous additions to this volume were composed prior to 1867. I do not mean to imply that during subsequent years he gave himself up to inertia or repose, for it was during this period that he wrote all the economic section in Engels' booklet against Dühring; he learned Russian; he read the agricultural statistics of numerous countries and the reports on poverty in Ireland; he studied the matriarchal system; carried on ingenious discussions with Engels concerning Carey's theory of rent and Bastiat's theory of the cost of reproduction; threw light on the influence of fluctuations in the value of money upon the rate of profit; sketched a mathematical theory of commercial cycles—in a word, his thought-process remained so active that when a certain publisher asked for the right to issue his complete works, he replied, "My works, those which represent my present thought, are not yet written." But the essential work of his life, the work which had been[Pg 128] so much cherished and which he again and again turned over in his thoughts, seems, as far as palpable traces are concerned, to have been entirely dismissed from his mind. We thus look on, marvelling and grieved, at the sight of the enfeebled hero withdrawing from the field, what time his banner, whose staff is not yet firmly implanted in the ground, is left as a target for the easy assaults of his emboldened adversaries.

There certainly contributed to this intellectual shipwreck the illnesses and the misfortunes from which Marx suffered during the later years of his life. His health had been gravely undermined by overwork during the composition of the first volume of Capital and during the task of proletarian organisation; trouble from boils alternated with bronchitis, liver disorder, headache, and lumbago. In vain did he seek health in gentler climes, at Ramsgate, Ventnor, Neuenahr, Carlsbad, Algiers, Monte Carlo, Vevey, and other [Pg 129]fashionable health resorts. All attempts at cure proving inefficacious, he had at length to settle down once more in London.

In 1881 occurred the death of his wife; while the death of his beautiful daughter Jenny, Longuet's wife, in January, 1883, was, if possible, a yet more cruel blow. Marx never recovered from this last shock; henceforward he was a broken man, the mere shadow of his former self; he passed his time contemplating the portraits of his two dear ones which Engels was to bury with him, and he no longer took any interest in the world around him or in the social tumult of which he was the inspirer and the originator. He died suddenly at two in the afternoon of March 14, 1883, while seated in his study chair. The titanic brain, which had given a new world to humanity, which had broken once for all the spiritual and material bondage of mankind, had ceased to live and to vibrate.

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Most distressing of all, he had taken with him to the grave the solution of the formidable enigma which everyone, the vulgar and the thinkers alike, had expected his genius to solve, and which no one else could unravel. It is true that shortly before his death he showed his friend the bulky manuscripts dictated in earlier days relating to the Criticism of Political Economy, suggesting that something might be made of this collection. It is also true that Engels, faithful executor of his divinity's wishes, devoted himself with splendid zeal to the publication of the manuscripts. But alas what delusion was in store for the admirers of the master! What a Russian campaign of disaster organised by enthusiastic lieutenants to the hurt of this Napoleon of thought!

In 1885, two years after the death of Marx, there was published under Engels' supervision a so-called second volume of Capital. But the careless and pedestrian editorship, the long[Pg 131] theoretical disquisitions making no appeal to facts for their justification, disquisitions in which the argumentative thread is continually broken, suffice to show that what we have before us is not a book, hardly even a sketch for a book, but a series of casual writings composed for the purposes of study and for personal illumination. Moreover, the work is wholly devoted to uninspiring monetary discussions upon the circulation of capital, to dissertations concerning fixed and circulating capital, the formation of metallic reserves, the circulation of commodity-capital, etc.

Noteworthy, in any case, are the investigations which aim at throwing light on the process in virtue of which there is effected the formation of metallic reserves which remain out of circulation for a longer or shorter period. If, says Marx, a certain commodity requires for its production six months of labour, and cannot be sold until two months after its production has been completed, the capitalist,[Pg 132] if he is to continue the work of production during the period in which the commodity remains unsold, has need of additional capital which he could dispense with if the sale could be effected immediately after production. But when, at the close of the circulation period, the capitalist resumes possession of the capital first utilised and realises it in money, he has no immediate need of all this capital, but only of the quantity necessary to make good the additional capital which he has invested, that is to say, a quantity of capital equal to the difference between the primary capital and the supplementary capital; consequently the excess remains at liberty, and goes to constitute and to increase monetary reserves. These reserves are formed in addition, and by an analogous process, on account of the wear of machinery; for the portions of value transmitted by the machines to the product and correlative to the wear of these machines are pent up until the day of the complete destruction of the[Pg 133] machines or of their necessary replacement. Thus the difference between the period of production and the period of exchange of the commodities, and the difference between the period of economic redintegration and the period of technical redintegration of the productive machinery, give rise to the formation of monetary or capitalistic reserves, which become in their turn the source of intricate developments and interesting complications.

The book likewise contains a masterly, though wordy and disconnected, account of the circulation of capital. But absolutely nowhere does it touch on or even hint at the theoretical enigma left unsolved in the first volume. Solely in Engels' preface do we find an announcement that the definitive solution will be furnished in a subsequent volume, and a suggestion that in the interim economists engage in a sort of academic debate, and bring forward their respective solutions. There actually took part in this strange competition,[Pg 134] with varying success, Conrad Schmidt, Landé, Lexis, Skworzoff, Stiebeling, Julius Wolf, Fireman, Lafargue, Soldi, Coletti, Graziadei, and myself. At length, however, in 1894, appeared the third volume, which was to reveal to an impatient world the desired solution.

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