Marx as Humorist

The papers left by Karl Marx, which Engels had the intention to publish as fourth book of “Capital,” were, after Engels’ death, entrusted to Karl Kautsky, who is now about to commence their publication.

It has been recognised, however, that these notes could not be made a continuation of the unfinished “Capital.” They will be issued as a study on the Theories of Surplus-Value, in three volumes, the first of which has just appeared. *

We translate a passage there from, not, let it be understood, as being one of the most important, but to give our readers, as well as ourselves, the pleasure of again enjoying that caustic and cruelly paradoxical irony which is to be found in the notes to the first volume of “Capital.” There Marx answers in this humoristic fashion, by a reductio ad absurdum, the common-place vapourings of bourgeois economy about the “intellectual production” intended to extol the services rendered to the “national wealth” by the luxury and “intellectual labour” of the capitalist,

“A philosopher produces ideas, a poet verses, a preacher sermons, a professor text-books, etc. A criminal produces crimes. If we consider more in detail the relation which this last branch of production bears to Society as a whole, many prejudices will be removed.

“The criminal produces not alone crimes, but also criminal law, and thence the professor who gives lectures thereon, together with the inevitable text-books in which this very same professor throws his discourses in the quality of ‘goods,’ on the world market. Thus is an increase of the national wealth produced, without counting the individual joy which, according to a competent witness, Prof. Roscher, the manuscript of the text-book affords to the author himself.

“Moreover, the criminal produces all correctional and criminal justice, the police, judges, hangmen, juries, etc., as well as the various branches of industry, which form just as many categories of the division of social labour, develop different faculties of the human mind, create new wants, and new means of satisfying them. Torture more than anything else has given place to the most ingenious mechanical inventions, and employs in the production of its machines quite an army of honest artizans.

“The criminal produces an impression, good or bad, as the case may be, and thus renders a “service” to the movement of the moral and aesthetic sentiments of the public. He produces not only text-books on criminal law, not only the penal law and thereby the legislators of the penal law,
but also art, literature, novels, and even tragedies, as is proved by the Faute of Muliner, the Brigands of Schiller, and even by OEdipe and Richard III. The criminal breaks the monotony and daily security of bourgeois life, and thus guarantees it against stagnation and arouses that excitement and restlessness without which even the spur of competition would be blunted. In this manner he furnishes a stimulant to the productive forces. While crime withdraws from the labour market a part of the superfluous population, thus diminishing competition among the workers, and preventing to a certain degree the fall of wages below the minumum, the war against crime absorbs another part of the same population. Thus it is that criminal intervenes as a natural leveller, which restores a just equilibrium and opens up a new prospect of branches of ‘useful’ occupations.

“The influence of the criminal of the criminal on the development of the productive forces can be shown even in detail. Would the locksmiths have arrived at their perfection were there no burglars ? Would the making of bank-notes have reached its present perfection if there were no forgers ? Would the microscope have found its way in certain commercial spheres (see Babbage) without the existence of fraud in trade? Does not practical chemistry owe as much to the adulteration of goods, and to the efforts made for its detection, as to the noble zeal for production? Crime, by ever new means of attack against property, calls into being equally new means to defend it, and thus exercises an influence quite as productive as strikes on the invention of machines.

“And, if we leave aside consideration of individual crime, would the world market have existed without national crime, would even the national market have existed ? Is it not the tree of sin which is, at the same time, since Adam, the tree of science?

“Mandeville, in his “Fable of the Bees” (1708), had already demonstrated the productivity of all classes of trade in England, etc., and shows in general the tendency of all this reasoning: ‘What we call evil in this world, the moral evil as well as natural evil, is the grand principle which makes of us social beings, is the solid foundation, the life and support of all industries and professions, without exception; it is there we should search for the true origin of all the arts, and all the sciences; and the moment that evil ceases to be. then Society will necessarily become corrupt, and dissolve completely.’

“But Mandeville is far bolder, and more straight forward than the narrow-minded apologists of middle-class Society.”

* Theorien über den Mehrwert, aus dem nachgelassenen Manuskript Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie von Karl Marx herausgegeben von Karl Kautsky. Die Anfänge der Theorie vom Mehrwert bis Adam Smith – Stuttgart, J. W. H. Dietz Nachf, 1905.

(Socialist Standard, February 1905)