Letter from Engels to Bebel, London, 28th October 1885

[Marx and Engels: On Colonies, Industrial Monopoly and Working Class Movement, Futura, 1972, 57 p., p. 51-52]


... The chronic depression in all the decisive branches of industry also still continues unbroken here, in France and in America. Especially in iron and cotton. It is an unheard-of situation, though entirely the inevitable result of the capitalist system: such colossal over-production that it cannot even bring things to a crisis! The over-production of disposable capital seeking investment is so great that the rate of discount here actually fluctuates between 1 and 1 1/2 per cent per annum, and for money invested in short-term credits, which can be paid off or called in any day (money on call) one can hardly get 1/2 per cent per annum. But by choosing to invest his money in this way rather than in new industrial undertakings the money capitalist is admitting how rotten the whole business looks to him. And this fear of new investments and old-time speculation, which already manifested itself in the crisis of 1867, is the main reason why things are not brought to an acute crisis. But it will have to come in the end all the same, and then it will make an end of the old trade unions here, let us hope. These unions have nonchalantly retained the craft character which stuck to them from the first and which is becoming more unbearable every day. No doubt you suppose that the engineers, joiners, bricklayers, etc., will admit any worker into their trade without more ado? Not at all. Whoever wants admission must first have been attached as an apprentice for a period of years (usually seven) to some worker belonging to the union. This was intended to keep the number of workers limited, but had no point at all except that it brought in money to the apprentice's master, for which he actually did nothing in return. This was tolerable up to 1848. But since then the colossal growth of industry has produced a class of workers of whom there are as many or more as there are "skilled" workers in the trade unions and whose performance is as good as that of the "skilled" workers or better, but who can never become members. These people have been virtually brought up on the craft rules of the trade unions. But do you suppose the unions ever dreamt of doing away with this silly bunk? Not in the least. I cannot recall having read of a single proposal of the kind at a Trade Union Congress. The fools want to reform society to suit themselves but not to reform themselves to suit the development of society. They cling to their traditional superstition, which does them nothing but harm, instead of getting quit of the rubbish and thus doubling their numbers and their power and really becoming again what at present they daily become less – associations of all the workers in a trade against the capitalists. This I think will explain many things to you in the behaviour of these privileged workers. ...

MESC p. 386.

The complete text can be found online in Marxist Internet Archive, MIA: