Das Kapital: Marx Describes ‘Different’ Types of Bread (c.1867)

Fresh Bread

Author’s Note: Marx published his masterpiece ‘Das Kapital’ in Britain in 1867 – in its original (and his native) German language. Britain at this time, was allowing migrants from all over Europe to routinely settle – many of them fleeing an anti-Socialist persecution throughout Europe, (indeed, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels made England their permanent home in 1849 precisely because of this persecution). This pogrom was in the Establishment response to the widespread uprising of the workers across Europe in the years 1847-1848. As a Socialist (Communist) Revolution appeared at-hand – Marx and Engels were prompted to pen the ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ as a guide for all working-class groups, associations and unions, etc. Marx spent hundreds of hours studying in the ‘old’ British Library in London – which is now the immense and mostly empty space of the ‘Entrance’ Rotunda of the British Museum (as the ‘new’ British Library is now situated further down the road). As there were ample workers now living in the UK with Marx and Engels, much of their output was logically in the German language. Indeed, it was not until 1887, (Marx had passed away in 1883), that ‘Das Kapital’ (German: ‘The Capital’) was finally published in English translation as ‘Capital’. This monumental and vital task was achieved by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (and edited by Engels) from the Third German-language edition, and was published in London by ‘Swan Sonnenenscein – Lowrey & Co. – Paternoster Square) – in two volumes (meaning that what is now usually called ‘Volume I’ out of the full four published volumes in the series – was confusingly separated into ‘two’ distinct volumes – but this was at a time when the other three volumes had not yet been edited and published (with all this work usually carried-out by an ageing but dedicated Engels). Many of these old editions can often be located on the dusty shelves of the wonderful second-hand bookshops of Oxford and London! These translations can be added to those carefully arranged and produced by the USSR (in English), and those now produced (with equal care) within Communist China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea, etc. The capitalist West periodically produces cheap paperback editions – usually for a type of ‘fetish’ interest amongst the young and the more progressive universities. As the capitalist West sinks ever further into the normalisation of fascism within liberal democracies, there is the ever present ‘threat’ that ‘Das Kapital’ could be ‘banned’ as an example of left-wing subversive literature – even as leather-bound editions of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ (the ‘Bible of Fascism’) are produced in Germany, translated into English and exported to the US and Western Europe, without any sense of alarm or irony, etc. What follows is a brief extract of ‘Das Kapital’, within which Karl Marx describes the state of ‘bread’ in Britain. ACW (24.10.2020) 

‘In every country in which the capitalist mode of production reigns, it is the custom not to pay for labour-power before it has been exercised for the period fixed by the contract, as for example, the end of each week, In all cases, therefore, the use-value of the labour-power is advanced to the capitalist: the labourer allows the buyer to consume if before he receives payment of the price; he everywhere gives credit to the capitalist. That this credit is no mere fiction, is shown not only by the occasional loss of wages on the bankruptcy of the capitalist, (1) but also by a series of more enduring consequences (2). Nevertheless, whether money serves as a means of purchase or as a means of payment, this makes no alteration in the nature of the exchange of commodities.  

Footnote 2: In London there are two sorts of bakers, the “full priced,” who sell bread at its full value, and the “undersellers,” who sell it under its value. The latter class comprises more than three-fourths of the total numbers of bakers (p. xxxii in the Report of HS Tremenheere, commissioner to examine into “the grievances complained of by the journeymen bakers”, &, Lond. 1862). The undersellers, almost without exception, sell bread adulterated with alum, soap, pearl ashes, chalk, Derbyshire stone-dust, and such like agreeable nourishing and wholesale ingredients. (See the above cited Bluebook, as also the report of “the committee of 1855 on the adulteration of bread,” and Dr Hassall’s “Adulteration Detected,” 2nd Ed. Lond. 1861.) Sir John Gordon stated before the committee of 1855, that “in consequence of these adulterations, the poor man, who lives on two pounds of bread a day, does not now get one fourth part of nourishing matter, let alone the deleterious effects on his health.” Tremenheere states( I.c,p.xlviii), as the reason, why a very large part of the working-class, although well aware of the adulteration, nevertheless accept the alum, stone-dust, &., as part of their purchase: that it is for them “a matter of necessity to take from their baker of from the chandler’s shop, such bread as they choose to apply.” As they are not paid their wages before the end of the week, they in their turn are unable “to pay for the bread consumed by their families, during the week, before the end of the week”, and Tremenheere adds on the evidence of witnesses, “it is notorious that bread comprised of these mixtures, is made expressly for sale in this manner.” In many English and still more Scotch agricultural districts, wages are paid fortnightly and even monthly; with such long intervals between the payments, the agricultural labourer is obliged to buy on credit… He must pay higher prices, and it in fact tied to the shop which gives him credit. Thus at Horningham in Wilts, for example, where the wages are monthly, the same flour that he could buy elsewhere at Is 10d per stone, costs him 2s 4d per stone (“Sixth Report” on “Public Health” by “The Medical Officer of the Privy Council, &, 1864, “p.264.) “The block printers of Paisley and Kilmarnock enforced, by a strike, fortnightly, instead of monthly payment of wages.” (“Reports of the Inspectors of Factories for 31st Oct. 1853,” p. 34.) As a further pretty result of the credit given by the workmen to the capitalist, we may refer to the method current in many English coal mines, where the labourer is not paid till the end of the month, and in the meantime, receives sums on account from the capitalist, often in goods for which the miner is obliged to pay more than the market price (Truck-system). “It is a common practice with the coal masters to pay once a month, and advance cash to their workmen at the end of each intermediate work. The cash is given in the shop” (i.e. the Tommy shop which belongs to the master); “the men take it on one side and lay it out on the other.” (“Children’s Employment Commission, III. Report,” Lond. 1864, p.38, n. 192.) 

Karl Marx: Capital – A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, Lawrence & Wishart (London), (1974), Page 171 – Chapter VI – The Buying and Selling of Labour Power – Footnote 2.  

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