Works of Frederick Engels
Source: MECW Volume 4, p. 243;
Delivered in Elberfeld: on February 8 and 15, 1845;
Published: in Rheinische Jahrbücher zur gesellschaftlichen Reform, 1845, Bd. I
As you have just heard and as, moreover, I may assume it to be generally known, we live in a world of free competition. Let us then look a little closer at this free competition and at the world order to which it has given rise. In our present-day society, each man works on his own, each strives for his own enrichment and is not in the least concerned with what the rest are doing; rational organisation, or distribution of jobs, is out of the question; on the contrary, each seeks to get the better of the other, seeks to exploit any favourable opportunity for his own private advantage and has neither time nor inclination to think about the fact that, at bottom, his own interests coincide with those of all other people. The individual capitalist is involved in struggle with all the other capitalists; the individual worker with all the other workers; all capitalists fight against the workers just as the mass of workers in their turn have, of necessity, to fight against the mass of capitalists. In this war of all against all, in this general confusion and mutual exploitation, the essence of present-day bourgeois society is to be found. But, gentlemen, such an unregulated economic system must, in the long run, lead to the most disastrous results for society; the disorder which lies at its basis, the disregard for the real, general well-being must sooner or later make itself felt in the most striking fashion. The ruin of the small middle class, that estate which constituted the main foundation of states during the last century, is the first result of this struggle. Daily we see how this class in society is crushed by the power of capital, how, for example, the individual master tailors and cabinet-makers lose their best customers to shops selling ready-made clothes and furniture and from being small capitalists, members of the propertied class, are transformed into dependent proletarians working for others, into members of the propertyless class. The ruin of the middle class is a much deplored consequence of our much lauded freedom of occupation, it is a necessary result of the advantages which the big capitalist has over his less affluent competitors; it is the most vigorous living expression of capital’s tendency to become concentrated in a few hands. This tendency is likewise widely recognised; there is general lamentation about the fact that property is being accumulated daily in fewer hands and that on the contrary the great majority of the nation is becoming more and more impoverished. Thus there arises the glaring contradiction between a few rich people on the one hand, and many poor on the other; a contradiction which has already risen to a menacing point in England and France and is daily growing sharper in our country too. And as long as the present basis of society is retained, so long will it be impossible to halt the progressing enrichment of a few individuals and the impoverishment of the great majority: the contradiction will develop more and more sharply until finally necessity compels society to reorganise itself on more rational principles.
But these, gentlemen, are far from being all the consequences of free competition. Since each man produces and consumes on his own without concerning himself much about what others are producing and consuming, a crying disproportion between production and consumption must, of necessity, quickly develop. Since present-day society entrusts the distribution of the goods produced to merchants, speculators and shopkeepers, each one of whom has only his own advantage in mind, similarly in the distribution — even apart from the fact that it is impossible for the propertyless man to secure for himself a sufficient share — similarly in the distribution of the products the same disproportion will arise. How is the manufacturer to discover how much of. his products are needed in this or that market, and even if he could discover this, how could he get to know how much his competitors are sending to each of these markets? How can he — who in most cases does not even know where the goods he is just producing will go — possibly know how much his foreign competitors will send to each of the markets in question? He knows nothing about all this; like his competitors, he manufactures at haphazard and consoles himself with the thought that the others must do likewise. He has no other guide than the constantly fluctuating level of prices which, in the case of distant markets, is quite different at the moment when he dispatches his goods from what it was when the letter informing him about it was written, and which again is different at the time the goods arrive from what it was when they were dispatched. Where you have such irregularity of production it is also quite natural that at every moment there are interruptions to trade, which naturally must be all the more serious the more advanced the industry and trade of a given country is. In this regard England — the country with the most developed industry — provides us with the most striking examples. Due to the expansion of trade, to the many speculators and commission agents who have forced themselves in between the producing manufacturer and the actual consumers, it is becoming much more difficult for the English than for the German manufacturer to obtain even the remotest idea of the relationship between the stocks available and production on the one hand and consumption on the other; in addition he has to supply nearly all the markets in the world, but in hardly a single case does he know where his goods go and thus, with the gigantic productive power of British industry, it very frequently happens that all the markets are suddenly glutted. Trade comes to a standstill, factories work half-time or stop altogether; a series of bankruptcies begins, stocks must be sold off at ridiculously low prices and a great part of the capital, accumulated with great effort, is lost again as a result of this kind of trade crisis. We have had a whole series of such trade crises in England since the beginning of this century, and one every five or six years in the last twenty years.” The last two, gentlemen, those of 1837 and 1842, will still be vividly remembered by most of you. And if our industry were as big, our sales as extensive as the industry and trade of England, then we would experience the same results, whereas at present the effect of competition in industry and in trade is making itself felt here in a general, continuous depression in all branches of business, in a miserable half-way position between a definite boom and complete decline, in a situation of mild stagnation, i.e., of stability.
Gentlemen, what is the real reason of this deplorable state of affairs? What gives rise to the ruin of the middle class, to the glaring contradiction between rich and poor, to stagnation in trade and the waste of capital resulting therefrom? Nothing else than the divergence of interests. All of us work each for his own advantage, unconcerned about the welfare of others and, after all, it is an obvious, self-evident truth that the interest, the well-being, the happiness of every individual is inseparably bound up with that of his fellow-men. We must all acknowledge that we cannot do without our fellow-men, that our interests, if nothing else, bind us all to one another, and yet by our actions we fly in the face of this truth: and yet we arrange our society as if our interests were not identical but completely and utterly opposed. We have seen what the results of this fundamental mistake were; if we want to eliminate these unpleasant consequences then we must correct this fundamental mistake, and that is precisely the aim of communism.
In communist society, where the interests of individuals are not opposed to one another but, on the contrary, are united, competition is eliminated. As is self-evident, there can no longer be any question of the ruin of particular classes, nor of the very existence of classes such as the rich and the poor nowadays. As soon as private gain, the aim of the individual to enrich himself on his own, disappears from the production and distribution of the goods necessary to life, trade crises will also disappear of themselves. In communist society it will be easy to be informed about both production and consumption. Since we know how much, on the average, a person needs, it is easy to calculate how much is needed by a given number of individuals, and since production is no longer in the hands of private producers but in those of the community and its administrative bodies, it is a trifling matter to regulate production according to needs.
Thus we see how the main evils of the present social situation disappear under communist organisation. If, however, we go into a little more detail, we will find that the advantages of such a social organisation are not limited to this but also include the elimination of a host of other defects. I shall only touch today on a few of the economic drawbacks. From the economic point of view the present arrangement of society is surely the most irrational and unpractical we can possibly conceive. The opposition of interests results in a great amount of labour power being utilised in a way from which society gains nothing, and in a substantial amount of capital being unnecessarily lost without reproducing itself. We already see this in the commercial crises; we see how masses of goods, all of which men have produced with great effort, are thrown away at prices which cause loss to the sellers; we see how masses of capital, accumulated with great effort, disappear before the very eyes of their owners as a result of bankruptcies. Let us, however, discuss present-day trade in a little more detail. Consider through how many hands every product must go before it reaches the actual consumer. Consider, gentlemen, how many speculating, swindling superfluous middlemen have now forced themselves in between the producer and the consumer! Let us take, for example, a bale of cotton produced in North America. The bale passes from the hands of the planter into those of the agent on some station or other 6n the Mississippi and travels down the river to New Orleans. Here it is sold — for a second time, for the agent has already bought it from the planter — sold, it might well be, to the speculator, who sells it once again, to the exporter. The bale now travels to Liverpool where, once again, a greedy speculator stretches out his hands towards it and grabs it. This man then trades it to a commission agent who, let us assume, is a buyer for a German house. So the bale travels to Rotterdam, up the Rhine, through another dozen hands of forwarding agents, being unloaded and loaded a dozen times, and only then does it arrive in the hands, not of the consumer, but of the manufacturer, who first makes it into an article of consumption, and who perhaps sells his yarn to a weaver, who disposes of what he has woven to the textile printer, who then does business with the wholesaler, who then deals with the retailer, who finally sells the commodity to the consumer. And all these millions of intermediary swindlers, speculators, agents, exporters, commission agents, forwarding agents, wholesalers and retailers, who actually contribute nothing to the commodity itself — they all want to live and make a profit — and they do make it too, on the average, otherwise they could not subsist. Gentlemen, is there no simpler, cheaper way of bringing a bale of cotton from America to Germany and of getting the product manufactured from it into the hands of the real consumer than this complicated business of ten times selling and a hundred times loading, unloading and transporting it from one warehouse to another? Is this not a striking example of the manifold waste of labour power brought about by the divergence of interests? Such a complicated way of transport is out of the question in a rationally organised society. To keep to our example, just as one can easily know how much cotton or manufactured cotton goods an individual colony needs, it will be equally easy for the central authority to determine how much all the villages and townships in the country need. Once such statistics have been worked out — which can easily be done in a year or two — average. annual consumption will only change in proportion to the increasing population; it is therefore easy at the appropriate time to determine in advance what amount of each particular article the people will need — the entire great amount will be ordered direct from the source of supply; it will then be Possible to procure it directly, without middlemen, without more delay and unloading than is really required by the nature of the journey, that is, with a great saving of labour power; it will not be necessary to pay the speculators, the dealers large and small, their rake-off. But this is still not all — in this way these middlemen are not only made harmless to society, they are, in fact, made useful to it. Whereas they now perform to the disadvantage of everyone else a kind of work which is, at best, superfluous but which, nevertheless, provides them with a living, indeed, in many cases even with great riches, whereas they are thus at present directly prejudicial to the general good, they will then become free to engage. in useful labour and to take up an occupation in which they can prove themselves as actual members, not merely apparent, sham members, of human society, and as participants in its activity as a whole.
Present-day society, which breeds hostility between the individual man and everyone else, thus produces a social war of all against all which inevitably in individual cases, notably among uneducated people, assumes a brutal, barbarously violent form — that of crime. In order to protect itself against crime, against direct acts of violence, society requires an extensive, complicated system of administrative and judicial bodies which requires an immense labour force. In communist society this would likewise be vastly simplified, and precisely because — strange though it may sound — precisely because the administrative body in this society would have to manage not merely individual aspects of social life, but the whole of social life, in all its various activities, in all its aspects. We eliminate the contradiction between the individual man and all others, we counterpose social peace to social war, we put the axe to the root of crime — and thereby render the greatest, by far the greatest, part of the present activity of the administrative and judicial bodies superfluous. Even now crimes of passion are becoming fewer and fewer in comparison with calculated crimes, crimes of interest — crimes against persons are declining, crimes against property are on the increase. Advancing civilisation moderates violent outbreaks of passion even in our present-day society, which is on a war footing; how much more will this be the case in communist, peaceful society! Crimes against property cease of their own accord where everyone receives what he needs to satisfy his natural and his spiritual urges, where social gradations and distinctions cease to exist. justice concerned with criminal cases ceases of itself, that dealing with civil cases, which are almost all rooted in the property relations or at least in such relations as arise from the situation of social war, likewise disappears; conflicts can then be only rare exceptions, whereas they are now the natural result of general hostility, and will be easily settled by arbitrators. The activities of the administrative bodies at present have likewise their source in the continual social war — the police and the entire administration do nothing else but see to it that the war remains concealed and indirect and does not erupt into open violence, into crimes. But if it is infinitely easier to maintain peace than to keep war within certain limits, so it is vastly more easy to administer a communist community rather than a competitive one. And if civilisation has already taught men to seek their interest in the maintenance of public order, public security, and the public interest, and therefore to make the police, administration and justice as superfluous as possible, how much more will this be the case in a society in which community of interests has become the basic principle, bind in which the public interest is no longer distinct from that of each individual! What already exists now, in spite of the social organisation, how much more will it exist when it is no longer hindered, but supported by the social institutions! We may thus also in this regard count on a considerable increase in the labour force through that part of the labour force of which society is deprived by the present social condition.
One of the most expensive institutions which present-day society cannot dispense with are the standing armies, by which the nation is deprived of the most vigorous and useful section of the population and compelled to feed it since it thereby becomes unproductive. We know from our own budget what the standing army costs — twenty-four million a year and the withdrawal from production of twice one hundred thousand of the most muscular arms. In communist society it would not occur to anyone to have a standing army. What for, anyhow? To maintain peace in the country? As we saw above, it will not occur to anyone to disturb internal peace. Fear of revolutions is, of course, the consequence only of the opposition of interests; where the interests of all coincide, such fears are out of the question. — For aggressive wars? But how could a communist society conceive the idea of undertaking an aggressive war? — this society which is perfectly well aware that in war it will only lose men and capital while the most it could gain would be a couple of recalcitrant provinces, which would as a consequence be disruptive of social order. — For a war of defence? For that there is no need of a standing army, as it will be easy to train every fit member of society, in addition to his other occupations, in real, not barrack-square handling of arms to the degree necessary for the defence of the country. And, gentlemen, consider this, that in the event of a war, which anyway could only be waged against anti-communist nations, the member of such a society has a real Fatherland, a real hearth and home to defend, so that he will fight with an enthusiasm, endurance and bravery before which the mechanically trained soldiers of a modern army must be scattered like chaff. Consider what wonders were worked by the enthusiasm of the revolutionary armies from 1792 to 1799, which only fought for an illusion, for the semblance of a Fatherland, and you will be bound to realise how powerful an army must be which fights, not for an illusion, but for a tangible reality. Thus these immense masses of labour power of which the civilised nations are now deprived by the armies, would be returned to labour in a communist society; they would not only produce as much as they consume, but would be able to supply to the public storehouses a great many more products than those necessary for their own sustenance.
An even worse wastage of labour power is to be seen in our existing society in the way the rich exploit their social position. I will say nothing of all the useless and quite ridiculous luxury which arises only from the passion for display and occupies a great deal of labour power. But, gentlemen, just go into the house, the inmost sanctuary, of a rich man and tell me if it is not the most senseless waste of labour power when you have a number of people waiting on one single individual, spending their time in idleness or, at best, in work which results from the isolation of a single man inside his own four walls? This crowd of maids, cooks, lackeys, coachmen, domestic servants, gardeners and whatever they are called, what do they really do? For how few moments during the day they are occupied in making the lives of their masters really pleasant, in facilitating the free development and exercise of their human nature and inborn capacities — and how many hours during the day they are occupied in tasks which arise only from the bad arrangement of our social relations — standing at the back of the carriage, serving their employers’ every whim, carrying lap-dogs, and other absurdities. In a rationally organised society, where everyone will be in a position to live without pandering to the whims of the rich and without lapsing into any such whims himself — in such a society, the labour power now thus wasted on the provision of luxury can naturally be used to the advantage of all and to its own.
A further waste of labour power occurs in our present society quite directly as a result of competition, for this creates a large number of destitute workers who would gladly work, but cannot get any work. Since society is not by any means arranged so as to be able to pay attention to the real utilisation of the labour force, since it is left to every individual to look for a source of gain, it is quite natural that when really or apparently useful work is being distributed, a number of workers are left without any. This is all the more the case as the competitive struggle compels everyone to strain his power to the utmost, to utilise all available advantages, to replace clearer labour by cheaper for which advancing civilisation provides more and more means or, in other words, everyone has to work at making others destitute, at displacing other people’s labour by one means or another. Thus in every civilised society there are large numbers of unemployed people who would gladly work but cannot find work and their number is larger than is commonly believed. And so we find these people prostituting themselves in one way or another, begging, sweeping the streets, standing on corners, only barely keeping body and soul together by occasional small jobs, hawking and peddling all manner of petty wares or, as we saw a couple of poor girls doing this evening, going from place to place with a guitar, playing and singing for money, compelled to put up with all kinds of shameless talk, every insulting suggestion in order to earn a couple of groschen. How many finally fall victims to real prostitution! Gentlemen, the number of these destitute people who have no other course open but to prostitute themselves in one way or another is very large — our Poor Relief authorities can tell you all about this — and don’t forget that society nevertheless feeds these people in one way or another despite their uselessness. If, then, society has to bear the cost of their maintenance, it should also make it possible for these unemployed to earn their keep honourably. But the present competitive society cannot do this.
If you think about all this, gentlemen — and I could have given you many other examples of how our present society wastes its labour force — if you think about this, you will find that human society has an abundance of productive forces at its disposal which only await a rational organisation, regulated distribution, in order to go into operation to the greatest benefit for all. After this you will be able to judge how totally unfounded is the fear that, given a just distribution of social activity, individuals would have to bear such a load of labour as would make it impossible for them to engage in anything else. On the contrary, we can assume that given this kind of organisation, the present customary labour time of the individual will be reduced by half simply by making use of the labour which is either not used at all or used disadvantageously.
However, the benefits which communist organisation offers through the utilisation of wasted labour power are not yet the most significant. The greatest saving of labour power lies in the fusing of the individual powers into social collective power and in the kind of organisation which is based on this concentration of powers hitherto opposed to one another. Here I should like to subscribe to the proposals of Robert Owen, the English Socialist, since these are the most practical and most fully worked out. Owen proposes that instead of the present towns and villages with their separate individual houses standing in each other’s way, we should construct large palaces which, built in the form of a square some 1,650 feet in length and breadth, would enclose a large garden and comfortably accommodate from two to three thousand people. It is obvious that such a building, while providing its occupants with the amenities of the best contemporary housing, is far cheaper and easier to erect than the generally worse individual dwellings required under the present system for the same number of people. The many rooms which now remain empty in almost every decent house, or are only used once or twice a year, disappear without any inconvenience; the saving in space for store-rooms, cellars, etc., is also very great. — But it is only when we go into domestic economy in detail that we will really grasp the advantages of community housing. What an amount of labour and material is squandered under the present system of separate housing — in heating for example! Every room needs to have a separate stove, every stove has to be specially heated, kept alight, supervised, the fuel for heating has to be brought to all the different places, the ashes removed; how much simpler and cheaper it would be to install, instead of the present separate heating, large-scale central heating with, for example, steam pipes and a single, central heating unit, as is already done in big public buildings, factories, churches, etc. Gaslighting, again, is expensive at present because even the thinner pipes have to be laid underground and owing to the large areas to be illuminated in our towns the pipes have to be disproportionately long, whereas under the proposed arrangement everything would be concentrated in an area of a 1,650 foot square and the number of gas burners would nevertheless be as great, so that the result would be at least as beneficial as in a moderately-sized town. And then the preparation of meals — what a waste of space, ingredients, labour, is involved in the present, separate households, where every family cooks its little bit of food on its own, has its own supply of crockery, employs its own cook, must fetch its own supplies separately from the market, from the garden, from the butcher and the baker! One can safely assume that under a communal system of preparing and serving meals, two-thirds of the labour force now engaged in this work will be saved, and the remaining third will nevertheless be able to perform it better and more attentively than is the case at present. And finally, the housework itself! Will not such a building he infinitely easier to keep clean and in good condition when, as is possible, this kind of work also is organised and regularly shared out, than the two to three hundred separate houses which would be the equivalent under the present housing system?
These, gentlemen, are a few of the innumerable economic advantages which are bound to result from the communist organisation of human society. It is not possible for us in a couple of hours and in a few words to elucidate our principle and duly substantiate it from all points of view. Nor is this by any means our intention. All we can and want to do is to shed light on a few points and to induce those to whom the matter is still strange to study it. And we hope at least that we have made it clear this evening that communism is not contrary to human nature, reason, or the human heart, and that it is not a theory which, taking no account whatever of reality,. is rooted in pure fantasy.
People ask how this theory is to be translated into reality, what measures we propose to prepare its introduction. There are various ways to this end; the English will probably begin by setting up a number of colonies and leaving it to every individual whether to join or not; the French, on the other hand, will be likely to prepare and implement communism on a national basis. Not much can be said about how the Germans will start since the social movement in Germany is new. Meanwhile, among the many possible ways of preparing, I would like to mention only one which has recently been much discussed — the carrying through of three measures which are bound to result in practical communism.
The first would be the general education of all children without exception at the expense of the state — an education which is equal for all and continues until the individual is capable of emerging as an independent member of society. This measure would be only an act of justice to our destitute fellow creatures, for clearly, every man has the right to the full development of his abilities and society wrongs individuals twice over when it makes ignorance a necessary consequence of poverty. It is obvious that society gains more from educated than from ignorant, uncultured members, and while, as may be well expected, an educated proletariat will not be disposed to remain in the oppressed condition in which our present proletariat finds itself, the calm and composure necessary for the peaceful transformation of society can also be expected only from an educated working class. But that the uneducated proletariat likewise has no wish to remain in its present condition is proved also for Germany — not to speak of other peoples — by the disorders in Silesia and Bohemia.”
The second measure would be a complete reorganisation of the Poor Relief System, so that all destitute citizens would be housed in colonies where they would be employed in agriculture and industry and their work organised for the benefit of the whole colony. Poor Relief capital has, up to now, been lent out at interest, thus providing the rich with new means for exploiting the propertyless. Let this capital at last work for the benefit of the poor, let the whole yield of this capital, not simply its 3 per cent interest, be used for the poor, and thus give a splendid example of the association of capital and labour! In this way, the labour power of all destitute people would be utilised for the benefit of society and the destitute themselves transformed from demoralised, oppressed paupers into moral, independent, active people whose condition would very soon come to be regarded as enviable by isolated workers and would prepare a thoroughgoing reorganisation of society.
Both these measures require money. In order to raise it and at the same time replace all the present, unjustly distributed taxes, the present reform plan proposes a general, progressive tax on capital, at a rate increasing with the size of the capital. In this way, the burden of public administration would be shared by everyone according to his ability and would no longer fall mainly on the shoulders of those least able to bear it, as has hitherto been the case in all countries. For the principle of taxation is, after all, a purely communist one, since the right to levy taxes is derived in all countries from so-called national property. For either private property is sacrosanct, in which case there is no such thing as national property and the state has no right to levy taxes, or the state has this right, in which case private property is not sacrosanct, national property stands above private property, and the state is the true owner. This latter principle is the one generally accepted — well then, gentlemen; for the present we demand only that this principle be taken seriously, that the state proclaim itself the common owner and, as such, administer public property for the public good, and that as the first step, it introduce a system of taxation based solely on each individual’s ability to pay taxes and on the real public good.
So you see, gentlemen, that it is not intended to introduce common ownership [Gütergemeinschaft] overnight and against the will of the nation, but that it is only a matter of establishing the aim and the ways and means of advancing towards it. But that the communist principle will be that of the future is attested by the course of development of all civilised nations, it is attested by the swiftly advancing dissolution of all hitherto existing social institutions; it is attested by common sense and, above all, by the human heart.
At our last meeting I was accused of taking my examples and illustrations almost exclusively from foreign countries, namely from England. It was said that England and France were of no concern to us, we lived in Germany and it was our business to prove the necessity and advantages of communism for Germany. We were likewise accused of not having sufficiently demonstrated the historical necessity of communism in general. This is quite correct and it was not possible to do otherwise. A historical necessity cannot be demonstrated in as short a time as the congruence of two triangles. It can only be done by study and inquiry into all kinds of far-reaching presuppositions. I will, however, today do my best to answer these two accusations. I will try to show that communism is, if not a historical, at any rate an economic necessity for Germany.
Let us, first of all, consider the present social situation in Germany. It is known that a great deal of poverty exists among us. Silesia and Bohemia have spoken for themselves. The Rheinische Zeitung had much to tell us about the poverty existing in the Mosel [Karl Marx, “Justification of the Correspondent from the Mosel"] and Eifel areas. Large-scale and continuous poverty has prevailed in the Erzgebirge from time immemorial. It is no better in the Senne and in the Westphalian linen districts. There are complaints from all parts of Germany and nothing else is to be expected. Our proletariat is numerous and must be so, as we must realise from the most superficial examination of our social situation. It is in the nature of things that there should be a numerous proletariat in the industrial districts. Industry cannot exist without a large number of workers who are wholly at its disposal, work exclusively for it and renounce every other way of making a living. Under conditions of competition, industrial employment makes any other employment impossible. For this reason we find in all industrial districts a proletariat too numerous and too obvious for its existence to be denied. — But in the agricultural districts, on the other hand, many people assert, no proletariat exists. But how is this possible? In areas where big landownership prevails such a proletariat is necessary; the big farms need farm-hands and servant girls and cannot exist without proletarians. In areas where the land has been parcelled out the rise of a propertyless class cannot be avoided either; the estates are divided up to a certain point, then the division comes to an end; and as then only one member of the family can take over the farm the others must, of course, become proletarians, propertyless workers. This dividing up usually proceeds until the farm becomes too small to feed a family and so a class of people comes into existence which, like the small middle class in the towns, is in transition from the possessing to the non-possessing class, and which is prevented by its property from taking up any other occupation, and yet cannot live on it. In this class, too, great poverty prevails.
That this proletariat is bound steadily to increase in numbers is guaranteed by the increasing impoverishment of the middle classes of which I spoke in detail last week, and by the tendency of capital to become concentrated in a few hands. I do not need to return to these points today, and will only remark that these causes which continually produce and multiply the proletariat will remain the same and will have the same consequences as long as there is competition. The proletariat must under all circumstances not only continue to exist but also enlarge itself continually, become an ever more threatening power in our society as long as we continue to produce each on his own and in opposition to everyone else. But one day the proletariat will attain a level of power and of insight at which it will no longer tolerate the pressure of the entire social structure always bearing down on its shoulders, when it will demand a more even distribution of social burdens and rights; and then — unless human nature has changed by that time — a social revolution will be inevitable.
This is a question which our economists have not as yet gone into at all. They do not concern themselves with the distribution but only with the production of the national wealth. However, let us leave aside for the moment the fact that, as we have just demonstrated, a social revolution is the consequence of competition; let us consider the individual forms in which competition appears, the different economic possibilities for Germany, and see what the consequences of each must be.
Germany — or the German Customs Union, to be more precise — has a juste-milieu customs tariff at the moment. Our duties are too low to constitute a real protective tariff and too high for free trade. So three things are possible. Either we go over to free trade completely, or we protect our industry by adequate tariffs, or we retain the existing system. Let us examine each of these possibilities.
If we proclaim free trade and do away with our tariffs, then our whole industry with the exception of a few branches will be ruined. There can then be no question whatsoever of cotton spinning, of mechanised weaving, of most branches of the cotton and woollen industry, of important branches of the silk industry, of almost all production and processing of iron. The workers suddenly made destitute in all these branches would be hurled in masses into agriculture and the debris of industry, pauperism would grow out of the very ground everywhere, the centralisation of property in the hands of a few would be speeded up by such a crisis and, judging by the events in Silesia, the result of this crisis would of necessity be a social revolution.
Or we provide ourselves with protective tariffs. These have lately become the darlings of most of our industrialists and therefore deserve closer examination. Herr List has brought the wishes of our capitalists into a system [Friedrich List, Das nationals System der politischen Oekonomie analysed in Marx’s article following this work] and I should like to deal for a little while with this system, now almost generally adopted by them as a credo. Herr List proposes gradually increasing protective tariffs which are finally to become high enough to guarantee the home market for the manufacturers; they should then remain at that level for a time and then be gradually reduced again so that finally, after a number of years, all tariffs are abolished. Let us assume for a moment that this plan is adopted and increasing protective tariffs are decreed. Industry will expand, idle capital will rush into industrial undertakings, the demand for workers will increase and so will wages along with it, the poor-houses will empty, and to all appearances everything will be in a most flourishing state. This will continue until our industry has sufficiently expanded to supply the home market. It cannot expand any further, for since it cannot maintain its hold on the home market without protection it will be even less able to do anything against foreign competition in neutral markets. But, says Herr List, by then home industry will be strong enough to require less protection and the reduction of tariffs can commence. Let us agree with this for a moment. The tariffs are reduced. Protection is decreased to such an extent — if not by the first reduction then certainly by the second or third — that foreign, let us say right away, English, industry can compete with our own in the German market. Herr List himself wishes this. But what will be the result of all this? From then on, German industry will have to endure, along with the English, all the fluctuations, all the crises, of the latter. As soon as the overseas markets are glutted with English goods, the English will throw the whole of their surplus stocks on the German market, the nearest one available, just as they are doing now, and as Herr List reports with great emotion, and so transform the German Customs Union into their “second-hand shop” once more. Then English industry will soon rise again because it has the whole world for its market, because the whole world cannot do without it, while German industry is not indispensable even for its own market and has to fear English competition in its own house and is labouring under a profusion of English goods thrown to its customers during the crisis. Then our industry will have to taste to the dregs all the bad times experienced by the English industry while being able to have only a modest share in the latter’s boom periods — in short, we shall be in exactly the same position as we are now. And to come straightaway to the final result, there will then ensue the same depression in which our half-protected industries now find themselves, then one establishment after another will go under without new ones arising, then our machines will become obsolete without our being able to replace them with new and better ones, then the standstill will be transformed into retrogression and, according to Herr List’s own assertion, one industry after another will decay and finally collapse altogether. But then we shall have a numerous proletariat which will have been created by industry and will now have no food, no work; and then, gentlemen, this proletariat will confront the propertied class with the demand to be given work and to be fed.
This is what will happen if the protective tariffs are reduced. Let us now assume that they are not reduced but remain in operation and that it is proposed to wait until competition between the home manufacturers makes them illusory and then to reduce them. The result of this will be that as soon as German industry is in a position to supply the German market completely it will stand still. New establishments will not be needed since the existing ones suffice for the market and, as has been said above, new markets are out of the question so long as protection is needed at all. But an industry which does not expand cannot improve itself. It remains stationary both internally and externally. For it there is no such thing as improving the machinery. The old machines cannot just he scrapped, and there are no new establishments which could make use of new ones. Meanwhile other nations go forward, and the standstill in our industry again becomes retrogression. The English, as a result of their advance, will soon be in a position to produce so cheaply that they can compete with our backward industry in our own market despite the protective tariffs, and since in competition as in every other kind of struggle victory always goes to the strongest, our ultimate defeat is certain. The same situation then arises about which I have just been speaking: the artificially created proletariat will demand from the property-owners something which, so long as they wish to remain exclusive owners, they are unable to provide, and social revolution begins.
There is yet another possibility, namely, the very improbable one that we Germans will be able owing to protective tariffs to bring our industry to a point at which it can compete with the English without protection. Let us assume that this is so, what would be the result? As soon as we begin to compete with the English in foreign, neutral markets, a life-and-death struggle will arise between our industry and that of the English. They will muster all their strength to keep us out of the markets they have supplied hitherto; they will have to do so because now they will be attacked at their life’s source, at the most dangerous spot. And with all the means at their disposal, with all the advantages of a hundred-year-old industry, they will succeed in defeating us. They will keep our industry limited to our own market and thus make it stationary — and then the same situation will arise which has already been outlined; we shall remain stationary, the English will stride forward, and our industry, in view of its unavoidable decay, will not be in a position to feed the proletariat it will have artificially created — the social revolution begins.
But assuming that we could beat the English even in neutral markets, that we were to win from them one trade outlet after another — what would we have gained in this well-nigh impossible case? At best we should repeat the industrial development which England went through before us, and sooner or later we should arrive at the point which England has now reached — namely the eve of the social revolution. But in all probability it would not take as long as that. As a result of the continual victories of German industry that of the English would necessarily be ruined and this would only speed up the mass uprising of the proletariat against the propertied classes, which is imminent in England in any case. Rapidly spreading destitution would drive the English workers to revolution, and as things stand now, such a social revolution would have enormous repercussions in the continental countries, notably in France and Germany, which must be all the greater the more a proletariat is artificially produced by forcing the pace of industrial development in Germany. Such a revolution would immediately become a European one and would violently upset our manufacturers’ dreams of a German industrial monopoly. And that German and English industry should exist peacefully side by side is made impossible if only by competition. I repeat, every industry must advance in order not to lag behind and go under; it must expand, conquer new markets, become enlarged by the addition of new establishments in order to be able to advance. But as no new markets are being won since the opening up of China,  and only better exploitation of the existing markets is possible, and as the expansion of industry will therefore proceed more slowly in future than it has done up to now, England can tolerate a competitor even less now than it could in the past. It must hold down the industry of all other countries in order to protect its own industry from ruin. For England the maintenance of industrial monopoly is no longer merely a question of a greater or lesser profit, it has become a question of life or death. The competitive struggle between nations is, in any case, much fiercer, much more decisive than that between individuals, because it is a more concentrated struggle, a struggle between masses, which can only be ended by the decisive victory of one side and the decisive defeat of the other. And for this reason, such a struggle between us and the English, no matter what the outcome, would be of no benefit either to our or to the English industrialists but, as I have shown, would only bring a social revolution in its train.
We have thus seen, gentlemen, what Germany can expect in all possible cases both from free trade and from protection. We still have, however, one economic possibility open to us, namely, that we continue with the juste-milieu tariffs now in operation. But we have already seen what the results would be. One branch of our industry after another would collapse, the industrial workers would become destitute, and when the destitution reached a certain point they would explode into a revolution against the propertied classes.
So you see, gentlemen, substantiated also in detail what in the beginning, proceeding from competition in general, I set out in general terms — namely, that the unavoidable result of our existing social relations, under all circumstances, and in all cases, will be a social revolution. With the same certainty with which we can develop from given mathematical principles a new mathematical proposition, with the same certainty we can deduce from the existing economic relations and the principles of political economy the imminence of social revolution. Let us, however, look at this upheaval a little closer; what form will it take, what will be its results, in what ways will it differ from the previous violent upheavals? A social revolution, gentlemen, is something quite different from the political revolutions which have taken place so far. It is not directed, as these have been, against the property of monopoly, but against the monopoly of property; a social revolution, gentlemen, is the open war of the poor against the rich. And such a struggle, in which all the mainsprings and causes, which in previous historical conflicts lay dark and hidden at the bottom, operate openly and without concealment, such a struggle, to be sure, threatens to be far fiercer and bloodier than all those that preceded it. The result of this struggle can be twofold. Either the rebellious party only attacks the appearance, not the essence, only the form, not the thing itself, or it goes for the thing itself, grasps the evil itself by the root. In the first case private property will he allowed to continue and will only be distributed differently, so that the causes which have led to the present situation remain in operation and must sooner or later bring about a similar situation and another revolution. But, gentlemen, is this possible? Has there been a revolution which did not really carry out what it was out for? The English revolution realised both the religious and the political principles whose suppression by Charles I caused it to break out; the French bourgeoisie in its fight against the aristocracy and the old monarchy achieved everything that it aimed for, made an end to all the abuses which drove it to insurrection. And should the insurrection of the poor cease before poverty and its causes have been eliminated? it is not possible, gentlemen; it would be flying in the face of all historical experience to suppose such a thing. Furthermore, the level of education of the workers, especially in England and France, forbids us to consider this possible. There only remains, then, the other alternative, namely, that the future social revolution will deal with the real causes of want and poverty, of ignorance and crime, that it will therefore carry through a real social reform. And this can only happen by the proclamation of the principles of communism. just consider, gentlemen, the ideas which actuate the worker in those countries where the worker too thinks. Look at France, at the different sections of the labour movement, whether they are not all communistic; go to England and listen to the kind of proposals being made to the workers for the improvement of their position — are they not all based on the principle of common property; study the different systems of social reform and how many will you find that are not communistic? Of all the systems which are still of any importance today, the only one which is not communistic is that of Fourier, who devoted more attention to the social organisation of human activity than to the distribution of its products. All these facts justify the conclusion that a future social revolution will end with the implementation of the principles of communism and hardly permit any other possibility.
If, gentlemen, these conclusions are correct, if the social revolution and practical communism are the necessary result of our existing conditions — then we will have to concern ourselves above all with the measures by which we can avoid a violent and bloody overthrow of the social conditions. And there is only one means, namely, the peaceful introduction or at least preparation of communism. If we do not want the bloody solution of the social problem, if we do not want to permit the daily growing contradiction between the education and the condition of our proletarians to come to a head, which, according to all our experience of human nature, will mean that this contradiction will be solved by brute force, desperation and thirst for revenge, then, gentlemen, we must apply ourselves seriously and without prejudice to the social problem; then we must make it our business to contribute our share towards humanising the condition of the modern helots. And if it should perhaps appear to some of you that the raising of the hitherto abased classes will not be possible without an abasement of your own condition, then you ought to bear in mind that what is involved is to create for all people such a condition that everyone can freely develop his human nature and live in a human relationship with his neighbours, and has no need to fear any violent shattering of his condition; it must be borne in mind that what some individuals have to sacrifice is not their real human enjoyment of life, but only the semblance of this enjoyment produced by our bad conditions, something which conflicts with the reason and the heart of those who now enjoy these apparent advantages. Far from wishing to destroy real human life with all its requirements and needs, we wish on the contrary really to bring it into being. And if, even apart from this, you will only seriously consider for a moment what the consequences of our present situation are bound to be, into what labyrinths of contradictions and disorders it is leading us — then, gentlemen, you will certainly find it worth the trouble to study the social question seriously and thoroughly. And if I can induce you to do this, I shall have achieved the purpose of my talk.