Engels to Nikolai Danielson
In St Petersburg
Marx and Engels Correspondence;
September 22, 1892
So far, then, we agree upon this one point, that Russia, in 1892, could not exist as a purely agricultural country, that her agricultural population must be complemented by industrial production.
Now I maintain, that industrial production nowadays means grande industrie, steam, electricity, self-acting mules, powerlooms, finally machines that produce machinery. From the day Russia introduced railways, the introduction of these modern means of production was a foregone conclusion. You must be able to repair your own locomotives, waggons, railways, and that can only be done cheaply if you are able to construct those things at home, that you intend to repair. From the moment warfare became a branch of the grande industrie (ironclad ships, rifled artillery, quickfiring and repeating cannons, repeating rifles, steel covered bullets, smokeless powder, etc.), la grande industrie, without which all these things cannot be made, became a political necessity. All these things cannot be had without a highly developed metal manufacture. And that manufacture cannot be had without a corresponding development in all other branches of manufacture, especially textile.
I quite agree with you in fixing the beginning of the new industrial era of your country about 1861. It was the hopeless struggle of a nation with primitive forms of production, against nations with modern production, which characterised the American War. The Russian people understood this perfectly; hence their transition to modern forms, a transition rendered irrevocable by the emancipation act of 1861.
This necessity of the transition from the primitive methods of production that prevailed in 1854, to the modern methods that are now beginning to prevail – this necessity once conceded, it becomes a secondary question whether the hothouse process of fostering the industrial revolution by protective and prohibitive duties was advantageous or even necessary, or otherwise.
This industrial hothouse atmosphere renders the process acute, which otherwise might have retained a more chronic form. It crams into twenty years a development which otherwise might have taken sixty or more years. But it does not affect the nature of the process itself, which, as you say, dates from 1861.
One thing is certain: if Russia really required, and was determined to have, a grande industrie of her own, she could not have it at all except under some degree of protection, and this you admit. From this point of view, too, then, the question of protection is one of degree only, not of principle; the principle was unavoidable.
Another thing is certain: if Russia required after the Crimean War a grande industrie of her own, she could have it in one form only: the capitalistic form. And along with that form, she was obliged to take over all the consequences which accompany capitalistic grande industrie in all other countries.
Now I cannot see that the results of the industrial revolution which is taking place in Russia under our eyes, are in any way different from what they are, or have been, in England, Germany, America. In America the conditions of agriculture and landed property are different, and this does make some difference.
You complain of the slow increase of hands employed in textile industry, when compared with the increase of quantity of product. The same is taking place everywhere else. Otherwise, whence our redundant “industrial reserve”? (Capital, C. 23, Sect. 3 and 4.) [Kerr edition, Vol. I, Chap. 25.]
You prove the gradual replacing of men’s work by that of women and children – Capital, C. 13 (Sect. gal. [Ibid, Chap. 15.])
You complain that the machine-made goods supersede the products of domestic industry and thus destroy a supplementary production, without which the peasant cannot live. But we have here an absolutely necessary consequence of capitalistic grande industrie: the creation of the home market (Capital, C. 24, Sect. 5), which has taken place in Germany during my lifetime and under my eyes. Even what you say, that the introduction of cotton goods destroys not only the domestic spinning and weaving of the peasants, but also their flax culture, has been seen in Germany between 1820 and now. And as far as this side of the question: the destruction of home industry and the branches of agriculture subservient to it – as far as this is concerned, the real question for you seems to me this: that the Russians had to decide whether their own grande industrie was to destroy their domestic manufacture, or whether the import of English goods was to accomplish this. With protection, the Russians effected it, without protection, the English. That seems to me perfectly evident.
Your calculation that the sum of the textile products of grande industrie and of domestic industry does not increase, but remains the same and even diminishes, is not only quite correct, but would not be correct if it came to another result. So long as Russian manufacture is confined to the home market, its product can only cover home consumption. And that can only slowly increase, and, as it seems to me, ought even to decrease under present Russian conditions.
For it is one of the necessary corollaries of grande industrie that it destroys its own home market by the very process by which it creates it. It creates it by destroying the basis of the domestic industry of the peasantry. But without domestic industry the peasantry cannot live. They are ruined as peasants; their purchasing power is reduced to a minimum; and until they, as proletarians, have settled down into new conditions of existence, they will furnish a very poor market for the newly-arisen factories.
Capitalist production being a transitory economical phase, is full of internal contradictions which develop and become evident in proportion as it develops. This tendency to destroy its own market at the same time it creates it, is one of them. Another one is the insoluble situation to which it leads, and which is developed sooner in a country without a foreign market, like Russia, than in countries which are more or less capable of competing on the open world market. This situation without an apparent issue finds its issue, for the latter countries, in commercial revulsions, in the forcible opening of new markets. But even then the cul-de-sac stares one in the face. Look at England. The last new market which could bring on a temporary revival of prosperity by its being thrown open to English commerce is China. Therefore English capital insists upon constructing Chinese railways. But Chinese railways mean the destruction of the whole basis of Chinese small agriculture and domestic industry, and as there will not even be the counterpoise of a Chinese grande industrie, hundreds of millions of people will be placed in the impossibility of living. The consequence will be a wholesale emigration such as the world has not yet seen, a flooding of America, Asia and Europe by the hated Chinaman, a competition for work with the American, Australian and European workman on the basis of the Chinese standard of life, the lowest of all – and if the system of production has not been changed in Europe before that time, it will have to be changed then.
Capitalistic production works its own ruin, and you may be sure it will do so in Russia too. It may, and if it lasts long enough, it will surely produce a fundamental agrarian revolution – I mean a revolution in the condition of landed property, which will ruin both the pomeshchik and the muzhik [the landlord and the peasant], and replace them by a new class of large landed proprietors drawn from the kulaki [kulaks] of the villages and the bourgeois speculators of the towns. At all events, I am sure the conservative people who have introduced capitalism into Russia will be one day terribly astonished at the consequences of their own doings.