250 years of Modern Capitalism – A reconstruction of its dynamics

Introduction

In the hell of the workshop of the world, which is 19th. Century’s England, Marx and Engels developed their critique of capitalism and became involved in the first expressions of the workers movement. Engels began to do this in 1845 in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England, and later Marx analyzed all its aspects in Capital. But the latter’s concern is private” and has existed “for a long time”: to construct graphs illustrating the evolution of the main economic indicators he has developed, in order to mathematically determine the essential laws of the [economic] crises: “I submitted here to Moore (1) a story with which I have tussled around privately for a long time () you know the tables where prices, discount rates, etc., etc. are represented in their fluctuations during the year, etc. by zigzag curves that go up and down. I have tried several times – to analyze the crises – , to calculate these ups and downs as irregular curves, and I have believed it possible (I still believe it is possible, with sufficiently studied material) to determine the essential laws of the crises mathematically from there. Moore, as said, takes the case as not feasible until further notice, and I have decided to give it up for the time being.” (Letter from Marx to Engels of May 31, 1873) (2) The paucity of the statistical apparatus of his time and Marx’s poor health did not allow him to accomplish this final attempt and lifelong preoccupation, of which testify three examples among others: a) his urgent and recurrent demands to dispose of the accounting data of the family enterprise of his friend Engels (3); b) his work on the crisis of 1857, in which he collates statistical data in the form of Excel tables in order to validate his analyses (see the following illustration) (4), and c) his use of statistics to found the theoretical argument in his work Value, Price and Profit (5) Our own contribution attempts – at least in part – to pursue this preoccupation “with sufficiently studied material” with respect to, for a large part, the country that was the subject of his study: England. (6)

Marx Manuscript Crisis 1857-58
Marx, Manuscript on the crisis 1857-58

Notes

1 The translator of the Communist Manifesto in English.

2 Marx/Engels, Der Briefwechsel, Bd. 4 (1868 – 1883), p. 398 (DTV Reprint from MEGA, Berlin 1931).

3 Among many others, see notably his letters to Engels from March 2, 4 and 5, 1858.

4 The document is reproduced from the work by R. Hecker on Marx’ manuscripts: Text and Presentation.

5 Edition of the speech delivered by Marx to the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association in June 1865. See, from Value, Price and Profit, for instance: “I mention Mr. W. Newman, [W. Newmarch] (…) because he occupies an eminent position in economical science, as the contributor to, and editor of, Mr. Thomas Tooke’s History Of Prices, that magnificent work which traces the history of prices from 1793 to 1856.” [§II. Production, Wages, Profits] “If instead of considering only the daily fluctuations you analyze the movement of market prices for longer periods, as Mr. Tooke, for example, has done in his History of Prices, you will find that the fluctuations of market prices, their deviations from values, their ups and downs, paralyze and compensate each other; so that apart from the effect of monopolies and some other modifications I must now pass by, all descriptions of commodities are, on average, sold at their respective values or natural prices.” [§VI. Value and Labour]

6 The sources of the data on which we rely, and the necessary indications on how we present them, can be consulted at the Annex on the data and on methodology to this article series. As these data are easily accessible, anyone can consult them and check our calculations and graphs in order to complete, correct or contradict the analysis we propose.

 

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