Karl Marx to Maxim Kovalevsky, April 1879

Marx to Maxim Kovalevsky [576]
in Moscow

[London, April 1879]

Mr Kareyev’s work [577] is excellent. However, I do not quite share his view of the Physiocrats. [260] I take the theory of capital, i.e., of the contemporary structure of society. From Petty to Hume, this theory was developed only piecemeal—a bit here, a bit there—according to the requirements of the period when the author lived. Quesnay was the first to put political economy on its real, i.e., capitalist, basis, and the curious thing is that he did so apparently as a landowner’s tenant. Mr Kareyev is definitely wrong in saying that the Physiocrats opposed only one social occupation, namely agriculture, to others, i.e., industry and commerce, but never went, unlike Smith, so far as to oppose social classes to each other. If Mr Kareyev had recalled the main idea of Ricardo’s Preface to his famous creation, [a] in which he examines three classes of the state (landowners, capitalists, and workers, the latter tilling the soil by their labour), he would have seen that the first invention of the three classes in the economic sphere and their mutual relations could find a place only in the system of agriculture, where Quesnay put it. In addition, a writer should distinguish between what an author really gives and what he gives only in his own imagination. This is true even of philosophical systems; thus, what Spinoza considered the cornerstone of his system and what actually constitutes that cornerstone are two entirely different things. It is not surprising, therefore, that some of Quesnay’s adherents, such as Mercier de la Rivière, saw the essence of the whole system in its paraphernalia while the English Physiocrats writing in 1798 were the first to demonstrate—on the basis of Quesnay’s concepts and contrary to Adam Smith’s—the need to abolish private ownership of land. [578]

a D. Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation.

576 The present extract was written down by the Russian historian Nikolai Kareyev on the basis of Maxim Kovalevsky’s oral translation from English into Russian and published by Kareyev in the Byloye (The Past) magazine, No. 20, 1922 in the article ‘Karl Marx’s Letter to M. M. Kovalevsky on the Physiocrats’. The letter was published in English for the first time in The Letters of Karl Marx, selected and translated with explanatory notes and an introduction by Saul K. Padover, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood, Cliffs, New Jersey, 1979.

577 A reference to Nikolai Kareyev’s book The Peasants and the Peasant Question in France in the Last Quarter of the 18th Century, a copy of which was sent to Marx by Maxim Kovalevsky with the author’s permission. As follows from Kareyev’s article (see Note 576), Marx thanked Kovalevsky for the book in the opening (non-extant) part of the letter.

578 See K. Marx, The Economic Manuscript of 1861-63 [John Gray. Polemics against the Landed Aristocracy from the Physiocrats’ Viewpoint] (present edition, Vol. 34).

SOURCE: Marx, Karl. Letter: Marx to Maxim Kovalevsky in Moscow, April 1879; in Marx Engels Collected Works, Volume 45: Marx & Engels 1868-70: Letters: 1874-79  (London: Lawrence & Wishart, [1975?], 2010), p. 452; numbered notes p. 519. First published, in Russian, in the magazine Byloye, No. 20, Leningrad, 1922.

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