Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Twelve: Das Kapital


1. Birth Pangs

WHEN Marx refused to be present at the Geneva congress on the ground that the completion of his main work – up to the moment he had done only minor things, he thought – seemed more important for the cause of the workers than anything he could do at the congress, he was engaged in polishing and putting the final touches to the first volume. At first this final work, which began on the 1st of January, 1866, proceeded quickly for “naturally it gave me pleasure to lick the cub clean after so many birth pangs.

These birth pangs had lasted approximately twice as many years as nature needs months to produce a human being, and Marx was justified in saying that probably no work of the sort had ever been written under more difficult circumstances. Again and again he had fixed a time limit for its completion. In 1851 it was “five weeks,” and in 1859 it was “six weeks,” but always the time limit had been ignored owing to his merciless self-criticism and the tremendous conscientiousness which continually drove him to make new investigations, neither of which could be shaken by even the most impatient exhortations of his best friend.

At the end of 1865 the work was finished, but only in the form of an enormous manuscript which could have been prepared for publication by no one apart from himself, not even by Engels. From January, 1866, to March, 1867, Marx turned out the first volume of Capital in the classic form in which we have it to-day, as an “artistic whole” from this tremendous mass of material. It was a feat which bore eloquent witness to his magnificent working capacity, for the year and a quarter in which it was performed was troubled by chronic ill-health and even really dangerous illnesses, such as the one in February, 1866, by an accumulation of debts which threatened to overwhelm him, and not least by the wearisome preparations for the Geneva congress of the International.

In November, 1866, the first bundle of manuscript was sent off to Otto Meissner in Hamburg, a publisher of democratic literature who had previously issued a small work of Engels on the Prussian military question. In April, 1867, Marx himself took the rest of the manuscript to Hamburg and found Meissner “a decent fellow.” Short negotiations proved sufficient to settle all the arrangements. Marx was anxious to remain in Germany until the first proofs arrived from Leipzig, where the book was to be printed, and in the meantime he visited his friend Kugelmann in Hanover, where he was most hospitably received. He spent a number of pleasant weeks with Kugelmann and his family, and afterwards referred to this period as “one of the happiest and most agreeable eases in the desert of life.

His good spirits were certainly heightened to some extent by the fact that he was treated with respect and sympathy in educated circles in Hanover, treatment to which he was unaccustomed from such quarters, and on the 24th of April he wrote to Engels: “You know, we two have a much better reputation amongst the ‘educated bourgeoisie’ than we thought.” And on the 27th of April Engels answered: “I have always felt that the damned book on which you have worked so long was the real reason for all your misfortunes and that you would never be able to overcome them as long as you had not shaken it off. Its incompletion dragged you down physically, intellectually and financially, and I can well understand that you feel a different fellow altogether now that you have finally got rid of it, particularly as you will find when you come back into the world that it is no longer quite so depressing as it was.” And for himself Engels expressed the hope that he would soon be able to emancipate himself from “this damned business,” because so long as he was in it up to his eyes he would be unable to do anything worth while, and now that he had become a partner in the firm the situation had grown worse owing to his increased responsibility.

On the 7th of May Marx wrote: “I firmly hope and trust that by the end of the year I shall be a made man, at least in the sense that I hope to be able to reform my financial situation thoroughly and stand upon my own feet finally. Without you I could never have finished my work and I assure you that it has always been a weight on my conscience that you have had to waste your splendid abilities in commercial affairs and let them go rusty on my account, and that on top of that you have had to suffer all my miserable worries with me.” As a matter of fact, Marx did not become “a made man” by the end of the year or at any time, and Engels had to keep his nose to the grindstone for a few years more, but nevertheless the horizon did begin to clear up a little.

Whilst he was in Hanover, Marx finally paid a long-postponed debt in the shape of a letter to one of his supporters, a mining engineer named Siegfried Meyer, who had been living in Berlin but was about to emigrate to America. The way in which he did so offers us another striking example of his “heartlessness”: “You must think very badly of me, and still more so when I tell you that your letters were not only a great pleasure to me but a real consolation in the troubled period in which I received them. The knowledge that a capable man of high principles was securely won for our party compensated me for much. In addition, your letters were always couched in such warm terms of friendship for me personally, and you will realize that a man who is constantly engaged in a bitter struggle with the world (the official world) does not underestimate such a thing. Well then, you will ask, why didn’t I answer you? Because I was constantly hovering on the edge of the grave and was compelled to use every minute of the time in which I was fit to work to finish my book, to which I have sacrificed my health, my happiness and my family. I hope that this explanation requires no further enlargement. I have to laugh at the so-called ‘practical’ men and their wisdom. If one had a hide like an ox one could naturally turn one’s back on the sufferings of humanity and look after one’s own skin, but as it is I should have considered myself very unpractical if I had died without completing my book, at least in manuscript form.”

In the buoyant spirits of his Hanover days Marx took it quite seriously when an advocate named Warnebold, a man quite unknown to him, approached him with the alleged information that Bismarck wished to win him and his great talents for the German people. Not that Marx was in the least way tempted by the proposal, and he certainly agreed with Engels who wrote: “It is typical of the fellow’s intellectual horizon and of his way of thinking that he judges everybody by himself.” But in a sober everyday mood Marx would hardly have taken Warnebold’s message at its face value, for the North German League was hardly completed and war with France had been narrowly averted in connection with the Luxemburg affair. Bismarck could not possibly have risked offending the bourgeoisie by taking the author of The Communist Manifesto into his service, for the bourgeoisie had only just come over to his side and it looked askance even at such collaborators as Bucher and Wagener.

On his journey back to London Marx had an adventure, not with Bismarck, but with a relation of Bismarck, and he related the affair to Kugelmann with some gratification. On the boat a German girl, whom he had already noticed on account of her upright almost military carriage, asked him for information concerning the railway connections in London. It turned out that she had a few hours to wait before her train left and Marx gallantly assisted her to pass the time by taking her for a walk in Hyde Park: “It appeared that her name was Elizabeth von Puttkamer and that she was a niece of Bismarck, with whom she had been staying for a few weeks in Berlin. She had the whole Army List at her fingertips, for her family supplies our army liberally with gentlemen of honour and wasp-like waists. She was a cheerful and well-educated girl, but aristocratic and black-white to the marrow. She was not a little surprised when she learned that she had fallen into red hands.” However, the young lady did not lose her good spirits on that account, and in a neat little letter she expressed “girlish respect” and “heartfelt thanks” to her cavalier for all the trouble he had taken with “such an inexperienced creature,” and her parents also informed him how happy they had been to learn that one could still meet good men on a journey.

On his arrival in London Marx corrected the proof-sheets of his book, but even this time not without a certain amount of occasional abuse on account of the dilatoriness of the printer, and at two o’clock in the morning of the 16th of August, 1867, he wrote to Engels informing him that the last printer’s sheet had just been corrected: “So this volume is now finished. I must thank you alone that it was possible. Without your sacrifices for me I could never possibly have done the enormous amount of work for the three volumes. I embrace you with heartfelt thanks. Greetings, my dearly beloved friend.”



2. The First Volume

The first chapter of Marx’s book summed up once again what he had already written in 1859 in his Critique of Political Economy concerning the nature of commodities and money. This was done not merely for the sake of completeness, but because even intelligent readers had often failed to grasp his ideas thoroughly, so that he assumed that there must have been something wrong with his presentation of them and in particular with his analysis of the nature of a commodity.

The professorial luminaries of Germany could certainly not be counted amongst his intelligent readers and they execrated the first chapter in particular on account of its “involved mysticism.” “At first glance a commodity seems a trivial, easily understood thing. However, its analysis shows that it is a very eccentric thing, full of metaphysical subtleties and theological tricks. As far as it is a use-value there is nothing mysterious about it....The form of wood is changed when we make a table out of it. Nevertheless, the table remains wood, an ordinary perceptible thing. But as soon as it appears as a commodity it becomes transcendental as well as perceptible. It not only stands with its four feet firmly on the ground, but towards other commodities it stands upside down and its wooden head develops whimsicalities far stranger than if it began to dance without human agency.” This argument was taken amiss by all those blockheads who could produce metaphysical subtleties and theological quibbles ad lib., but not anything as material and ordinary as a simple wooden table.

Considered purely from the literary point of view, the first chapter of Capital is one of the finest things Marx ever wrote. After dealing with commodities he then proceeded to show how money is transformed into capital. If equal values exchange against equal values in commodity circulation how can the moneyed man buy commodities at their value and sell them at their value and nevertheless receive greater value than he gave? He can do this because under prevailing social relations he finds a commodity of such a peculiar nature on the commodity market that its consumption is a source of new value. That commodity is labour-power.

It exists in the shape of the living worker, who needs a certain quantity of foodstuffs for the maintenance of his life and that of his family, the latter guaranteeing the perpetuation of living labour-power after his death. The labour-time necessary to produce this quantity of foodstuffs, etc., represents the value of labour-power. However, this value, which is paid in the form of wages, is much less than the value which the purchaser of labour-power is able to extract from it. The surplus-labour of the worker over and above the labour-time necessary to replace the value represented by his wages is the source of surplus-value, the source of the ceaselessly growing accumulation of capital. This unpaid labour of the worker is distributed amongst all the non-labouring members of society, and the whole social system in which we live is based on it.

In itself unpaid labour is certainly not an exclusive characteristic of modern bourgeois society. As long as possessing and dispossessed classes have existed, the latter have always had to perform unpaid labour. As long as one section of society possesses a monopoly of the means of production then the worker, whether free or unfree, will have to work longer than the time necessary to maintain his own existence in order to provide foodstuffs, etc., for the owners of the means of production. Wage-labour is only a particular historical form of the system of unpaid labour, which has existed since the division of society into classes, and it must be examined as such if it is to be understood correctly.

In order to be able to transform his money into capital the moneyed man must find free workers on the market, free in the double sense that first of all they are free to dispose of their own labour-power as a commodity and free in the sense that they have no other commodities to dispose of, that they possess none of the means necessary to apply their labour-power independently. This relation has no basis in the laws of nature, for nature does not produce on the one hand the owners of commodities, of money, and on the other hand those who own nothing but their labour-power. It is further not a social relation common to all periods of history, but the result of a long period of historical development, the product of many economic changes and of the decline and disappearance of a whole series of earlier forms of social production.

Commodity production is the starting point of capital. Commodity production, commodity circulation and developed commodity circulation, trade, form the historical conditions under which capital develops. The history of modern capital dates from the creation of modern world trade and of the modern world market in the sixteenth century. The delusion of the popular economists that once upon a time there was an elite of industrious men who accumulated riches, and a mass of lazy good-for-nothings who finally had nothing left to sell but their own skins, is stuff and nonsense, and the semi-enlightened fashion in which bourgeois historians describe the dissolution of the feudal mode of production as the emancipation of the worker, but not at the same time as the development of the feudal into the capitalist mode of production, is no better. The worker ceased to belong to the category of the means of production as did the slave and the serf, but he also ceased to possess the means of production like the peasant or artisan working on his own account.

The great mass of the people was deprived of land, food and the means of production by a series of violent and brutal measures, which Marx describes in detail on the basis of English history in the chapter on primary accumulation. In this way the free worker needed by the capitalist mode of production was created. Capital came into the world oozing mud and blood from every pore, and as soon as it was able to stand on its own feet it not only maintained the separation of the worker from the means necessary to apply his labour-power, but it reproduced this separation on an ever-increasing scale.

Wage-labour differs from earlier forms of unpaid labour as a result of the fact that the movement of capital is boundless and its voracious appetite for surplus-labour insatiable. In societies in which the use-value of a commodity is more important than its exchange-value, surplus-labour is limited to a more or less wide circle of needs, but the nature of this form of production does not result in an unlimited demand for surplus labour. Where the exchange-value of a commodity is more important than its use-value the situation is different. As a producer with alien labour-power, as an extractor of surplus labour and exploiter of labour-power, capital, in point of energy, recklessness and effectiveness outdoes all previous modes of production based on direct forced labour. The main thing for capital is not the labour process, not the production of use-values, but the process of utilization, the production of exchange-values from which it can extract a greater value than it put in. The demand for surplus-value knows no satiety. The production of exchange-values knows no such limits as are drawn for the production of use-values by the satisfaction of immediate needs.

Just as a commodity is a combination of use and exchange-values, so the process of commodity production is a combination of the labour process and the value-creating process. The value-creating process lasts up to the point where the value of labour-power paid in wages is replaced by an equal amount of value, and beyond this point it develops into the process of producing surplus-value, the process of utilization. As a combination of the labour-process and the process of utilization it becomes the process of capitalist production, the capitalist form of commodity production. In the labour process labour-power and the means of production work together. In the process of utilization the same capital components appear as constant and variable capital. Constant capital is transformed in the process of production into means of production, raw materials, auxiliary materials and tools of production, and does not change its value. Variable capital is transformed in the process of production into labour-power and its value changes: it reproduces its own value and then produces a surplus over and above that value, a surplus-value which may vary in volume and be larger or smaller according to circumstances. Marx thus clears the way for an examination of surplus-value, which appears in two forms, relative and absolute surplus-value. These have played a different, but each a decisive role in the history of the capitalist mode of production.

Absolute surplus-value is produced when the capitalist causes the worker to work beyond the time necessary for the reproduction of his labour-power. If the capitalist had his way, the working day would comprise twenty-four hours, for the longer the working day the more surplus-value it produces. On the other hand, the worker has the justifiable feeling that every hour of labour-time which he is compelled to perform over and above that necessary to reproduce his wages is unfairly extracted from him and that he has to pay with his own health for excessive labour-time. The struggle between capitalist and worker concerning the length of the working day began with the first historical appearance of free workers on the market, and it has lasted down to the present day. The capitalist fights for profit, and, whether he is personally a good fellow or a blackguard, the competition of his fellow capitalists compels him to do everything possible to extend the working day to the limits of human endurance. The worker, on the other hand, fights to maintain his health and to secure a few free hours a day in which he can engage in other human activities apart from working, eating and sleeping. Marx describes powerfully the fifty years of civil war between the working class and the capitalist class in England, from the birth of large-scale industry, which drove the capitalists to break down every limit placed on the exploitation of the proletariat by nature and custom, age and sex, and day and night, up to the passing of the Ten Hour Bill, won by the working class in the struggle against capital as a powerful social obstacle preventing the workers selling themselves and their kind into death and slavery by free contract with capital.

Relative surplus-value is produced when the labour-time necessary for the reproduction of labour-power is reduced to the benefit of surplus-labour. The value of labour-power is reduced by an increase in the productivity of labour-power in those industries whose products determine the value of labour-power, and to this end a constant revolutionization of the mode of production, of the technical and social conditions of the labour process is necessary. The historical, economic, technological and socio-psychological observations which Marx then makes in a series of chapters dealing with co-operation, the division of labour and manufacture, and machinery and large-scale industry have been recognized, even by the representatives of the bourgeoisie, as a rich mine of scientific facts.

Marx not only shows that machinery and large-scale industry have created greater misery than any previous mode of production known to history, but also that in their ceaseless revolutionization of capitalist society they are preparing the way for a higher social form. Factory legislation was the first conscious and methodical reaction of society to the unnatural form of its own process of production. When society regulates labour in factories and workshops, it appears for the moment only as an interference with the exploiting rights of capital.

Nevertheless, the force of circumstances soon compels society to regulate household labour also and to interfere with parental authority, acknowledging that large-scale industry liquidates the old family relations together with the economic basis of the old family system and the family labour which corresponded to it. “However terrible and revolting the dissolution of the old family system within the capitalist system may appear, nevertheless, by granting a decisive role in the social process of production to women, young people and children beyond the sphere of the household, large-scale industry creates a new economic basis for a higher form of the family and for the relation of the sexes. Naturally, it is just as stupid to regard the Christian-Germanic form of the family as absolute, as it would have been to regard the classical Roman form, or the classical Greek form, or the Oriental form as absolute – forms which, by the way, represent together a historical series of development. It is equally clear that the combined labour personnel, composed out of individuals of both sexes and various ages, must, under suitable conditions, change into a source of humane progress, although in its untrammeled and brutal capitalist form (in which the workers exist for the process of production and not the process of production for the workers) it is the foul source of corruption and slavery.” The machine which degrades the worker to its mere appendage creates at the same time the possibility of increasing the productive forces of society to such an extent that all members of society without exception could enjoy the same possibilities of a development worthy of human beings, a consummation for which all former societies were too poor.

After examining the production of absolute and relative surplus-value, Marx then proceeds to develop the first rational theory of wages known to the history of political economy. The price of a commodity is its value expressed in money, and wages represent the price of labour-power. Not labour itself, but the living worker who offers his labour-power for sale, appears in the commodity market, and labour arises only from the consumption of the commodity labour-power. Labour is the substance and the immanent measure of values, but it has no value itself. However, labour appears to be paid for in wages because the worker receives his wages only after he has performed his labour. The form in which wages are paid effectively conceals every trace of the division of the working day into paid and unpaid labour-time. With slaves it is exactly the opposite. The slave appears to be working for his master all the time even when he is working to reproduce the value of his own foodstuffs, and all his labour appears to be unpaid labour. With wage-labour, however, all the labour, including even the unpaid labour, seems to be paid. In the one case the property relation conceals the fact that the slave is working part of the time for himself, whilst in the other case the money relation conceals the fact that the wage-worker is working part of the time for nothing. We realize therefore, points out Marx, the decisive importance of the transformation of the value and price of labour-power into the form of wages, or into the value and price of labour itself. All the legal conceptions of both the capitalists and the workers, all the mystifications of the capitalist mode of production, all its illusions of freedom and all the extenuating humbug of popular political economy are based on this appearance, which conceals the real state of affairs and suggests exactly the contrary.

The two chief forms of wages are time-wages and piece-wages. On the basis of the laws governing time-wages Marx demonstrates the emptiness of the contentions that the shortening of the working day must lower wages, as put forward by people with an axe to grind, and shows that exactly the contrary is true: a temporary shortening of the working day lowers wages, but a permanent shortening raises wages. The longer the working day the lower the wage.

Piece-wages are nothing but a changed form of time-wages, and they are the form of wages best suited to the capitalist mode of production. This form of wages spread widely during the actual manufacturing period, and in the storm and stress period of English large-scale industry it served as a lever to lengthen the working day and lower wages. Piece-wages are very advantageous for the capitalist because they render supervision of the workers almost unnecessary and at the same time offer many opportunities for making deductions from wages, and practising other forms of cheating. On the other hand, this form of wages possesses many big disadvantages for the worker: physical exhaustion as the result of excessive efforts to raise the level of wages, efforts which in fact tend rather to lower wages, increased competition amongst the workers with the resultant weakening of their solidarity, the appearance of parasitic elements between the capitalists and the workers, of middle-men who pocket a substantial part of the workers’ wages, and similar disagreeable phenomena.

The relation of surplus-value and wages causes the capitalist mode of production to reproduce constantly not only the capital of the capitalist, but also the poverty of the worker. On the one hand there is the capitalist class owning all the foodstuffs, all the raw materials and all the means of production, and on the other hand there is the working class, the great mass of human beings, who are compelled to sell their labour-power to the capitalists in return for that quantity of food which in the best case is sufficient to maintain them in working condition and permit the production of a new generation of working proletarians. But capital does not merely reproduce itself, it increases its volume constantly, and Marx devotes the final part of his first volume to examining this “Process of Accumulation.”

Not only does surplus-value result from capital, but capital results from surplus-value. A part of the annually produced surplus-value which is distributed amongst the possessing classes is consumed by them as income, but another part is accumulated as capital. The unpaid labour which has been extracted from the workers now serves as a means to extract still further unpaid labour from them. In the stream of production all the originally advanced capital becomes a vanishing quantity compared with the directly accumulated capital, that is, with that surplus-value or surplus-product which is changed back into capital, whether it is still functioning in the hands of him who originally accumulated it or in the hands of another. The law of private property, based on commodity production and commodity circulation, transforms itself into its direct opposite thanks to its own internal and inevitable dialectic. The laws of commodity production seem to justify a property right in individual labour. Commodity owners with equal rights face each other. The means to obtain the other commodity is only the sale of one’s own commodity, and one’s own commodity can be produced only by labour. Property, on the side of the capitalist, now appears as the right to appropriate the unpaid labour of others or its produce, and on the side of the worker as the impossibility of appropriating his own product.

When the modern proletariat began to grasp the meaning of this, when the urban proletariat in Lyons sounded the tocsin and the rural proletariat in England laid fire to the houses of their oppressors, the popular political economists invented the “abstinence theory,” according to which capital was accumulated by the voluntary abstinence of the capitalists, a theory which Marx scourged as mercilessly as Lassalle had done before him. An instance of “abstinence” really contributing to the accumulation of capital is the compulsory “abstinence” of the workers, the brutal depression of wages below the value of labour-power in order to turn the necessary consumption funds of the workers into the accumulation funds of the capitalists, at least in part. This is the real origin of all the lamentations about the “luxurious” life of the workers, the endless jeremiad about the grand pianos which some workers are alleged to have purchased at some time or other, all the cheap and nasty concoctions of the Christian social reformers, and all the other related tricks and frauds used by the intellectual hodcarriers of capitalism.

The general law of capitalist accumulation is as follows: The growth of capital includes the growth of its variable section, or that part which is changed into labour-power. If the composition of capital remains unchanged, if a certain quantity of the means of production demands always the same quantity of labour-power to set it into motion, then obviously the demand for labour-power will grow in proportion with the growth of capital, as will also the subsistence funds of the workers; the quicker capital grows the quicker they must grow also. As simple reproduction constantly reproduces the capital relation itself, so accumulation reproduces the capital relation on a larger scale: more capitalists or bigger capitalists on the one hand, and more wage-workers on the other. The accumulation of capital is therefore the increase of the proletariat also, and in the case supposed this increase takes place under the most favourable conditions for the workers. A larger part of their own increasing surplus-product, which increasingly changes into capital, returns to them in the form of means of payment so that they are able to increase their consumption and to equip themselves more generously with clothing, furniture, etc. However, their relation of dependency towards the capitalist does not change in any way, just as a slave does not cease to be a slave if he is well-fed and well-clothed. They must always provide a certain quantity of unpaid labour and although this may diminish, it can never do so to an extent seriously endangering the capitalist character of the process of production. If wages rise above this point then the profit incentive is blunted and the accumulation of capital slackens until wages sink again to a level corresponding to the needs of its utilization.

However, only when the accumulation of capital takes place without any change in the relation between its constant and variable components can the golden chain which the wage-worker himself forges grow lighter and less irksome. In reality the process of accumulation is accompanied by a great revolution in what Marx calls the organic composition of capital. Constant·capital grows at the expense of variable capital. The growing productivity of labour causes the mass of the means of production to increase more quickly than the mass of labour-power embodied in them. The demand for labour-power does not rise proportionately with the accumulation of capital, but sinks relatively. The same effect is produced in another form by the concentration of capital which takes place, quite apart from its accumulation, owing to the fact that the laws of capitalist competition lead to the swallowing up of the smaller capitalists by the larger ones. Whilst the supplementary capital formed in the process of accumulation demands fewer and fewer workers in comparison with its quantity, the old capital which is reproduced in a new composition disposes more and more of the workers formerly employed by it. In this way there develops a relative surplus mass of workers, relative that is to the needs of the utilization of capital, an industrial reserve army which is paid below the value of its labour-power in bad or middling business periods, which is employed irregularly and which at other times is dependent on public assistance, but which at all times serves to lower the resistance of the employed workers and to depress their wage standards.

This industrial reserve army is a necessary product of the process of accumulation, or of the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, and at the same time it develops into a lever of the capitalist mode of production. With accumulation and the accompanying development of the productivity of labour, capital’s power of sudden expansion also grows and demands large masses of workers who can be employed at a moment’s notice in new markets or in new branches of production without interrupting the work of production in other spheres. The characteristic course of modern industry, the form of a decennial cycle (broken only by minor vacillations) of periods of average activity, of production at high pressure, of crisis and stagnation is based on the continuous formation, the greater or lesser absorption, and reconstitution of the industrial reserve army. This industrial reserve army, or relative over-population, grows in proportion with the social wealth, the amount of capital at work, the extent and energy of its growth, and therefore with the absolute size of the working population and the productivity of its labour. The comparative size of the industrial reserve army increases with the increase of wealth. The larger the industrial reserve army in relation to the active industrial army, the larger are those sections of workers whose poverty is in inverse ratio to their labour torment. And finally, the larger the Lazarus section of the working class and the larger the industrial reserve army, the greater are the numbers of those who are officially acknowledged paupers. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation.

From this general law its historical tendencies may be derived. Along with the accumulation and concentration of capital develops the co-operative form of the labour process on a steadily growing scale, the conscious technological application of science to production, the organized and joint cultivation of the land, the transformation of the means of production into forms usable only jointly, and the economizing of the means of production by their use as joint means of production by combined social labour. With the steadily diminishing number of those capital magnates who usurp and monopolize all the advantages of this process of transformation, there is a corresponding increase in the volume of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation and exploitation, but at the same time also in the indignation of the working class, which steadily grows in size and is trained, united and organized by the mechanism of the capitalist process of production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter to the mode of production which has grown up with it and under it. The centralization of the means of production and the socialization of labour reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist shell. The knell of capitalist private property sounds and the expropriators are expropriated.

Individual property based on individual labour is restored, but on the basis of the achievements of the capitalist era, as the co-operation of free workers and as their common title to the land and means of production produced by labour. Naturally, the transformation of capitalist property, which in practice is already based on a social mode of production, into social property is by no means as wearisome and difficult as was the transformation of scattered property, based on individual labour, into capitalist property. In the one case it was the expropriation of the masses of the people by a few usurpers, and in the other case it will be the expropriation of a few usurpers by the masses of the people.



3. The Second and Third Volumes

The fate of the second and third volumes of Capital was similar to that of the first. Marx hoped to be able to publish them soon after the appearance of the first, but in fact many years passed and in the end he did not succeed in preparing them for the press.

Ever new and deeper studies, lingering illness and finally death prevented him from completing the whole work, and it was Engels who prepared the second and third volumes from the unfinished manuscripts his friend left behind. The wealth of material which he found consisted of drafts, jottings and the brief notes made by a scholar for his own eyes alone, with here and there long and connected passages. All in all it represented the results of tremendous intellectual labours extending, with considerable interruptions, from 1861 to 1878.

In these circumstances we must not look to the last two volumes of Capital to provide us with a final and completed solution of all economic problems. In some cases these problems are merely formulated, together with an indication here and there as to the direction in which one must work to arrive at a solution. In accordance with Marx’s whole attitude, his Capital is not a Bible containing final and unalterable truths, but rather an inexhaustible source of stimulation for further study, further scientific investigations and further struggles for truth.

The same circumstances also explain why the second and third volumes are not so finished in their form as the first volume, why they do not sparkle with quite the same intellectual brilliance. However, they give even greater pleasure to some readers just because they present sheer intellectual problems without bothering greatly about the form. The contents of the two volumes represent an essential supplement to and development of the first volume, and they are indispensable for an understanding of the Marxian system as a whole. Unfortunately, they have not been presented in popular form up to the present and they are therefore still unknown to the broad masses of even the enlightened workers.

In the first volume Marx deals with the cardinal question of political economy: what is the origin of wealth? What is the source of profit? Before his investigations this question was answered in two different ways.

The “scientific” defenders of the best of all worlds in which we live, some of them men like Schulze-Delitzsch, who enjoyed respect and confidence even amongst the workers, explained capitalist wealth by a series of more or less plausible vindications and cunning manipulations: as the result of systematically marking up the prices of commodities in order to “compensate” the employer for his generosity in giving” his capital for productive purposes, as compensation for the “risk” every employer runs, as a reward for the “intellectual management” of business, and so on in the same strain. These explanations have all one common aim, that of presenting the wealth of the one and therefore the poverty of the other as something “just” and in consequence unalterable.

On the other hand, the critics of bourgeois society, that is to say, all the socialist schools of thought which existed prior to Marx, declared capitalist wealth to be simply the result of swindling, theft from the workers made possible by the intervention of money or by deficiencies in the organization of the process of production. Proceeding from this standpoint, these socialists developed various utopian plans for abolishing exploitation by doing away with money, by “the organization of labour,” and similar plans.

The real source of capitalist wealth was revealed for the first time in the first volume of Capital, which wasted no time either in finding justifications for the capitalists or in reproaching them with their injustice. Marx showed for the first time how profit originated and how It flowed into the pockets of the capitalists. He did so on the basis of two decisive economic facts: first that the mass of the workers consists of proletarians who are compelled to sell their labour-power as a commodity in order to exist, and secondly that this commodity, labour-power, possesses such a high degree of productivity in our own day that it is able to produce in a certain time a much greater product than is necessary for its own maintenance in that time. These two purely economic facts, representing the result of objective historical development, cause the fruit of the labour-power of the proletarian to fall automatically into the lap of the capitalist, and to accumulate, with the continuance of the wage system, into ever-growing masses of capital.

Thus capitalist wealth is explained not as any compensation to the capitalists for imaginary sacrifices or benefits granted, or as the result of cheating or theft in the generally accepted sense of the words, but as an exchange between capitalist and worker, as a transaction of unimpeachable legal equity proceeding exactly according to those laws which govern the sale and purchase of all other commodities. In order to explain thoroughly this faultless transaction which gives the capitalist the golden fruits of labour, Marx had to develop to its logical conclusion and apply, to the commodity, labour-power, the law of value, i.e., the explanation of the inner laws of commodity exchange, discovered by the great English classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. The first volume deals chiefly with the law of value, and, resulting from it, wages and surplus-value, i.e., the explanation of how the product of wage-labour divides itself naturally and without any violence or cheating into a pittance for the wage-worker and effortless wealth for the capitalist. And here lies the great historical significance of the first volume of Capital. It demonstrated that exploitation can be abolished only by abolishing the sale of labour-power, that is by abolishing the wage system.

In the first volume we are all the time at the point of production, in a factory, in a mine or in a modern agricultural undertaking, and what is said applies equally to all capitalist undertakings. We are given an individual example as the type of the whole capitalist mode of production. When we close the volume we are thoroughly acquainted with the daily creation of profit and with the whole mechanism of exploitation in all its details. Before us, as they come from the factories, lie piles of commodities of all sorts still damp with the sweat of the workers, and in all of them we can clearly discern that part of their value which results from the unpaid labour of the workers and which belongs just as equitably to the capitalist as the whole commodity. The root of capitalist exploitation is laid bare before our eyes.

But at this stage the capitalist has his harvest by no means safely in the barn as yet. The fruit of exploitation is present, but it is still in a form unsuitable for appropriation. So long as the fruit of exploitation takes the form of piled up commodities, the capitalist can derive but little pleasure from the process. He is not the slave-owner of the classical Graeco-Roman world, or the feudal lord of the middle ages, who ground the faces of the working people merely to satisfy his own craving for luxury and to maintain an imposing retinue. In order to maintain himself and his family “in a manner befitting his social station” the capitalist must have his riches in hard cash, and this is also necessary if he is to increase his capital ceaselessly. To this end therefore he must sell the commodities produced by the wage-workers together with the surplus-value contained in them. The commodities must leave the factory and the warehouse and be thrown on the market. The capitalist follows his commodities from his warehouse and from his office into the stock exchange and into the shops, and in the second volume of Capital we follow the capitalist.

The second stage in the life of the capitalist is spent in the sphere of commodity exchange, and here he meets with a number of difficulties. In his own factory the capitalist is undisputed master, and strict organization and discipline prevail there, but on the commodity market complete anarchy prevails under the name of free competition. On the commodity market no one bothers about his neighbour and no one bothers about the whole, but for all that it is precisely here that the capitalist feels his dependence on the others and on society as a whole.

The capitalist must keep abreast of his competitors. Should he take more time than absolutely necessary in selling his commodities, should he fail to provide himself with sufficient money to purchase raw materials and all the other things he needs at the right moment in order to prevent his factory coming to a standstill for lack of supplies, should he fail to invest promptly and profitably the money he receives for the sale of his commodities, he is bound to fall behind in one way or the other. The devil takes the hindmost, and the individual capitalist who fails to ensure that his business is managed as effectively in the constant exchange between the factory and the commodity market as it is in the factory itself will not succeed in obtaining the normal rate of profit, no matter how zealously he may exploit his workers. A part of his “well-earned” profit will be lost somewhere on the way and will not find its way into his pocket.

However, this alone is not enough. The capitalist can accumulate riches only if he produces commodities, i.e., articles for use. Further, he must produce precisely those kinds and sorts of commodities which society needs, and he must produce them in just the quantities required, otherwise his commodities will remain unsold and the surplus-value contained in them will be lost. How can the individual capitalist control all these factors? There is no one-to tell him what commodities society needs and how many of them it needs, for the simple reason that no one knows. We are living in a planless, anarchic society, and each individual capitalist is in the same position. Nevertheless, out of this chaos, out of this confusion, a whole must result which will permit the individual business of the capitalist to prosper and at the same time satisfy the needs of society and permit its continued existence as a social organism.

To be more exact, out of the anarchic confusion of the commodity market must develop the possibility of the continual circulation movement of individual capital, the possibility of producing, selling, purchasing raw materials, etc., and producing again, whereby capital constantly changes from its money form into its commodity form and back again. These stages must dovetail accurately: money must be in reserve to utilize every favourable market opportunity for the purchase of raw materials, etc., and to meet the current expenses of production; and the money which comes flowing back as the commodities are sold must be given an opportunity of immediate utilization again. The individual capitalists, who are apparently quite independent of each other, now join together in fact and form a great brotherhood, and, thanks to the credit system and the banks, they continually advance each other the money they need and take up the available money, so that the uninterrupted progress of production and the sale of commodities is ensured both for the individual capitalist and for society as a whole.

Bourgeois economists have never found any explanation for the credit system beyond calling it an ingenious institution for “facilitating commodity exchange,” but in the second volume of Capital Marx demonstrates, quite incidentally, that the credit system is a necessary part of capitalist life, the connecting link between two phases of capital, in production and on the commodity market, and between the apparently arbitrary movements of individual capital.

And then, the permanent circulation of production and consumption in society as a whole must be kept in movement in the confusion of individual capitals, and this must be done in such a fashion that the necessary conditions of capitalist production are assured: the production of the means of production, the maintenance of the working class and the progressive enrichment of the capitalist class, i.e., the increasing accumulation and activity of all the capital of society. The second volume of Capital investigates how a whole is developed from the innumerable deviating movements of individual capital; how this movement of the whole vacillates between the surplus of the boom years and the collapse of the crisis years, but is wrenched back again and again into correct proportions only to swing out of them again immediately; and how out of all this there develops in ever more powerful dimensions that which is only a means for present-day society, its own maintenance and economic progress, and that which is its end, the progressive accumulation of capital. Marx offers us no final solution, but for the first time in a hundred years, since Adam Smith, the whole is presented on the firm foundations of definite laws.

But even with this the capitalist has not completely traversed the thorny path before him, for although profit has been turned and is being turned in increasing measure into money, the great problem now arises of how to distribute the booty. Many different groups of capitalists put forward their demands. Apart from the employer there is the merchant, the loan capitalist and the landowner. Each of these has done his share to make possible the exploitation of the wage-worker and the sale of the commodities produced by the latter, and each now demands his share of the profit. This distribution of profit is a much more complicated affair than it might appear to be on the surface, for even amongst the employers themselves big differences exist in the profits obtained, so to speak, fresh from the factory, according to the type of undertaking.

In one branch of production commodities are produced and sold quickly, and capital plus the normal addition returns to the undertaking in a short space of time. Under such circumstances business and profits are made rapidly. In other branches of production capital is held fast-in production for years and yields profit only after a long time. In some branches of production the employer must invest the greater part of his capital in lifeless means of production, in buildings, expensive machinery, etc., i.e., in things which yield no profit on their own account no matter how necessary they may be for profit-making. In other branches of production the employer need invest very little of his capital in such things and can use the greater part of it for the employment of workers, each of whom represents the industrious goose that lays the golden egg for the capitalist.

Thus in the process of profit-making big differences develop as between the individual capitalists, and in the eyes of bourgeois society these differences represent a much more urgent “injustice” than the peculiar “division” which takes place between the capitalist and the worker. The problem is to come to some arrangement which will ensure a “just” division of the spoils, whereby each capitalist gets “his share,” and what is more, it is a problem which has to be solved without any conscious and systematic plan, because distribution in present-day society is as anarchic as production. There is in fact no “distribution” at all in the sense of a social measure and what takes place is solely exchange, commodity circulation, buying and selling. How, therefore, does unregulated commodity exchange permit each individual exploiter and each category of exploiters to obtain that share of the wealth produced by the labour-power of the proletariat which is his or its “right” in the eyes of capitalist society?

Marx gives the answer to this question in the third volume of Capital. In the first volume he dealt with the production of capital and laid bare the secret of profit-making. In the second volume he described the movement of capital between the factory and the market, between the production and consumption of society. In the third volume he deals with the distribution of the profit amongst the capitalist class as a whole. And all the time he proceeds from the basis of the three fundamental principles of capitalist society: first, that everything happening in capitalist society is not the result of arbitrary forces, but the result of definite and regularly operating laws, although these laws are unknown to the capitalists themselves; second, that economic relations in capitalist society are not based on violence, robbery and cheating; and third, that no social reason is at work controlling the movements of society as a whole. He analyzes and systematically lays bare, one after the other, all the phenomena and all the relations of the capitalist economic system, exclusively on the basis of the exchange mechanism of capitalist society, i.e., the law of value and the surplus-value which results from it.

Taking his great work as a whole, we can say that the first volume, which develops the law of value, wages and surplus-value, lays bare the foundations of present-day society, whilst the second and third volumes show us the house which is based on these foundations. Or, to use a different comparison, we can say that the first volume shows us the heart of the social organism, which generates the living sap, whilst the second and third volumes show us the circulation of the blood and the nourishment of the body from the centre down to the cells of the skin.

The contents of the second and third volumes take us to a different plane. In the first volume we are in the factory, in the deep social pit of labour where we can trace the source of capitalist wealth. in the second and third volumes we are on the surface, on the official stage of society. Department stores, banks, stock exchanges, finance and the troubles of the “needy” agriculturalists take up the foreground. The worker has no role on this stage, and in fact he shows little interest in the things which happen behind his back after he has been skinned. We see the workers in the noisy mob of business people only when they troop off to the factories in the grey light of the early morning or hurry home again in the dusk as the factories eject them in droves after the day’s work.

At first glance, therefore, it may not be clear why the workers should concern themselves with the private worries of the capitalists and with the squabbles which take place over the division of the spoils. However, both the second and the third volumes are as necessary to a thorough understanding of present-day economic mechanism as is the first volume. It is true that they do not play the same decisive and fundamental historic role for the modern working-class movement as does the first volume, but nevertheless they offer a wealth of insight into the workings of capitalism which is invaluable to the intellectual equipment of the proletariat in the practical struggle for its emancipation. Two examples will suffice.

In the second volume, when dealing with the process by which the regular maintenance of society results from the chaotic movement of individual capitals, Marx naturally touches on the problem of crises. One must not expect any systematic and didactic dissertation on this phenomenon. There are in fact only a few incidental observations, but the utilization of these observations would be of the greatest value for all enlightened and thinking workers. For instance, it is one of the main planks in the agitation of the socialists, and above all of the trade union leaders, that economic crises take place chiefly as the result of the short-sightedness of the capitalists, who simply will not grasp the fact that the masses of the workers are their best customers and that all they need do is to pay these workers higher wages in order to ensure the existence of unfailing purchasing power for their goods and thus avoid all danger of crises.

This argument is a very popular one, but it is wholly fallacious and Marx refutes it in the following words: “It is sheer redundancy to say that crises are produced by the lack of paying consumption or paying consumers. The capitalist system recognizes only paying consumers, with the exception of those in receipt of poor law support or the ‘rogues.’ When commodities are unsalable, it means simply that there are no purchasers, or consumers, for them. When people attempt to give this redundancy an appearance of some deeper meaning by saying that the working class does not receive enough of its own product and that the evil would be dispelled immediately it received a greater share, i.e., if its wages were increased, all one can say is that crises are invariably preceded by periods in which wages in general rise and the working class receives a relatively greater share of the annual product intended for consumption. From the standpoint of these valiant upholders of ‘plain common sense,’ such periods should prevent the coming of crises. It would appear, therefore, that capitalist production includes conditions which are independent of good will or bad will and which permit such periods of relative prosperity for the working class only temporarily and always as the harbingers of the coming crises.”

The investigations which Marx pursues in the second and third volumes of Capital offer a thorough insight into the nature of crises. They are seen to be the inevitable result of the movement of capital, which, in its impetuous and insatiable urge to accumulate and grow, quickly plunges beyond the limits of consumption, no matter how wide these limits may be set as the result of increased purchasing power of one section of society or by the opening up of new markets. Thus the idea of a harmony of interests between capital and labour which lurks behind the popular agitation of the trade unions, harmony which is prevented only by the short-sightedness of the capitalists, is refuted and all hope of palliative measures to patch up the economic anarchy of capitalism must be abandoned. The struggle to improve the material conditions of life of the proletariat has a thousand brilliant arguments in its favour in the intellectual armoury of the modern working class and it certainly does not need the help of a theoretically untenable and practically ambiguous argument such as the one dealt with above. A second example: in the third volume of Capital Marx provides for the first time a scientific explanation of a phenomenon which has puzzled bourgeois economic science since its inception, namely that, although invested under varying conditions, capital in all branches of production yields as a general rule only the so-called “customary rate of profit.” At first glance this phenomenon would seem to contradict a statement which Marx himself makes, i.e., that capitalist wealth arises exclusively from the unpaid labour of the wage-workers. How can the capitalist who is compelled to invest comparatively large proportions of his capital in lifeless means of production secure the same profit as his colleague who need invest far less of his capital in such things and can therefore use proportionately larger quantities of living labour-power?

Marx solves this riddle with extraordinary simplicity by showing that with the sale of one sort of commodity above its value and other sorts of commodities below their value the differences in profit are levelled out and an average rate of profit” developed for all branches of production. Quite unconsciously and without any agreement amongst themselves the capitalists exchange their commodities in such a fashion that each capitalist contributes the surplus-value which he has extracted from his workers to a general pool, and the total result of their combined exploitation is then divided fraternally amongst the capitalists, each of whom receives a share in accordance with the size of his capital. The individual capitalist, therefore, does not enjoy the profit which he directly extracts from his workers, but only his share of that total profit which he and his capitalist colleagues together have extracted from the workers. “As far as profit is concerned, the various capitalists play the role of mere shareholders in a joint-stock company distributing its profits in equal percentages, so that the shares of the various capitalists differ only according to the amount of capital invested by each in the joint undertaking, according to the proportionate participation of each in the undertaking as a whole.”

What penetrating insight into the real and material basis of capitalist class solidarity we are offered by this apparently dry-as-dust law of the “average rate of profit”! We observe that although the capitalists are hostile brothers in their daily activities, nevertheless as far as the working class is concerned they represent a sort of Freemasonry interested intensely and personally in the total result of all the exploitation conducted by all its members. Although the capitalists naturally have not the least idea of these objective economic laws, their unfailing instinct as members of a ruling class shows itself in an appreciation of their own class interests and of the contrast of these interests to the proletariat. Unfortunately their class-consciousness has persisted far more firmly through the storms of history than has the class-consciousness of the workers, the scientific basis of which is revealed in the works of Marx and Engels.

These two short and arbitrarily chosen examples must suffice to give the reader some idea of what treasures still remain unmined in the second and third volumes of Capital and await a popularization, and what a wealth of intellectual stimulation and intellectual profundity they offer the enlightened workers. Incomplete as the two volumes are, they offer more than any final truth could: a stimulus to thought, to criticism and self-criticism, and this is the essence of the lessons which Marx gave the working class.



4. The Reception Of Capital

The hope expressed by Engels that after having completed the first volume and got rid of the “incubus” Marx would “feel a different fellow altogether” was fulfilled only in part.

The improvement in Marx’s health was unfortunately far from permanent whilst his pecuniary situation remained embarrassingly uncertain. At about this time he even considered moving to Geneva, where he would have been able to live much more cheaply, but circumstances bound him to London and the treasures of the British Museum. He hoped to find a publisher for an English translation of his work, and he was unable and unwilling to surrender the intellectual leadership of the International before he had seen it safely started along the correct path.

The marriage of his second daughter Laura to his “medical Creole,” Paul Lafargue, was a happy domestic event The young couple had become engaged in August, 1866, but it had been agreed that Lafargue should first complete his medical studies before they married. He had been struck off the rolls of the University of Paris for a period of two years owing to his participation in a students’ congress in Liege, and he then went to London in connection with the International. At first he was a follower of Proudhon and had no relations with Marx beyond visiting him as a matter of politeness to leave a card from Tolain, but fate took a hand in the usual fashion and not long afterwards Marx wrote to Engels: “At first the young fellow attached himself to me, but it was not long before he found the daughter more attractive than the father. He is the only child of a former planter’s family and his economic position is tolerably good. According to Marx’s description Lafargue was good-looking, intelligent, energetic, physically well-developed and good-hearted, but a little spoiled and nevertheless somewhat too unsophisticated. Lafargue was born in Santiago on the island of Cuba, but when he was nine his parents took him to France. His paternal grandmother was a Mulatto and through her he had Negro blood in his veins, a fact to which he referred willingly and which accounted for the subdued duskiness of his complexion and for the great whites of his eyes, though otherwise his features were very regular. It was probably this Negro strain in him which accounted for a certain obstinacy which occasionally caused Marx to reproach him, half in annoyance and half in amusement, for his “Nigger skull.” However, the tone of good-humoured banter which they used towards each other is sufficient proof of how well they got on together. For Marx Lafargue became not only a son-in-law who brought happiness to his daughter Laura, but also a capable and dexterous assistant who proved a loyal defender of his intellectual legacy.

Marx’s chief worry in this period was his anxiety about his book, and on the 2nd of November, 1867, he wrote to Engels: “The fate of my book makes me nervous. I hear and see nothing. The Germans are fine fellows! Their achievements on this field as the lackeys of the English and the French and even of the Italians no doubt give them the right to ignore my work. Our friends over there don’t know how to agitate. And in the meantime one must follow the Russian policy and wait. Patience is the secret of Russian diplomacy and success, but we poor creatures who live only once can starve the while.” The impatience these lines betray is understandable enough, but it was not quite justified.

The book had hardly been published two months and in such a short space of time it was impossible to write any really thorough criticism, but both Engels and Kugelmann had done everything possible to “make a noise about the book” and even Marx thought that this was most necessary for the moment in the hope of producing some effect in England also. It cannot be said that Engels and Kugelmann were over punctilious in their efforts, but they met with a certain amount of success. They secured the publication of advance notices of the book, and even a reprint of the introduction, in quite a number of papers, including bourgeois publications. And in addition they had even prepared a piece of advertisement which was quite sensational for those days, namely the publication of a biographical article in Die Gartenlaube, when Marx requested them to stop such “nonsense”: “I consider that sort of thing is likely to do more harm than good and, in any case, it is beneath the dignity of a man of science. For instance, long ago Meyer’s Encyclopaedia asked me for biographical notes, but I did not even answer their letter, much less give them the information they wanted. Every man to his taste.” The article which Engels had written for Die Gartenlaube, “a blurb written in great haste which would have done justice to Beta” as its author described it, was finally published in Die Zukunft, Johann Jacoby’s organ, which Guido Weiss had been publishing in Berlin since 1867, and then reprinted by Liebknecht in the Demokratisches Wochenblatt, but much shortened, a fact which caused Engels to observe disagreeably: “Wilhelm has now happily arrived at a stage where he dare not even say that Lassalle copied you and did it badly. He has completely emasculated the article, and why he thought it worth while printing at all after that only he can know. Liebknecht was, in fact, completely in agreement with the passages he cut out of the article, but he cut them out nevertheless in order to avoid giving offence to a number of Lassalleans who had just fallen away from Schweitzer and were helping to found the Eisenach faction.

Later on Marx’s work received some excellent criticisms, for instance, a review by Engels in the Demokratisches Wochenblatt, one by Schweitzer in the Sozialdemokrat, and a second review by Joseph Dietzgen in the former publication. Apart from Engels’ review, which naturally showed a thorough understanding of the points at issue, Marx was compelled to recognize that despite a number of errors Schweitzer had certainly studied the book and understood its importance. Marx heard of Dietzgen for the first time after the publication of Capital and he welcomed him as a capable philosophic brain, but without forming any excessively high opinion of him.

The first “expert” also took the floor in 1867. This was Eugen Dühring, who reviewed the book in one of the supplements to Meyer’s Encyclopaedia. Although Marx felt that Dühring had not grasped the fundamentally new elements in his work, he was on the whole not dissatisfied with the review, declaring it “quite decent,” though he suspected that Dühring’s attitude had been determined more by his hatred of Roscher and the other university luminaries than by any real interest for or understanding of the points at issue. Engels’ opinion of Dühring’s review was much less favourable and in fact his judgment was the keener, for it was not long before Dühring turned round completely and did his best to tear the book to pieces. Marx had no better luck at the hands of the other “experts,” and eight years later one of these worthies, who cautiously concealed his name, oracularly informed the world that Marx was an “Autodidact” who had overlooked a whole generation of scientific progress. After such and similar achievements on the part of the “experts” the bitterness which Marx invariably showed towards them was thoroughly justified, although he probably set down much to their malice which should have been set down to their ignorance, for they were utterly unable to grasp his dialectical method. This was also the case with men who lacked neither good-will nor economic knowledge, but who nevertheless found it difficult to understand the book, whilst on the other hand men who were by no means familiar with economic matters and who were more or less hostile to communism, but who had passed through the Hegelian school, spoke with the greatest enthusiasm of it.

For instance, Marx was unconscionably severe in his judgment on the second edition of F.A. Lange’s book on the labour question, in which the author dealt in detail with the first volume of Capital, declaring: “Herr Lange is loud in his praises, but only in order to make himself important.” This was certainly not true, for Lange’s honest interest in the labour question was beyond all doubt, though Marx was right enough when he observed that Lange knew nothing of the Hegelian method and even less of the critical way in which he, Marx, had applied it. In fact Lange turned the truth upside down when he declared that speculatively considered Lassalle was freer and more independent of Hegel than was Marx, whose speculative form adhered closely to the manner of its philosophic model and in certain sections of the book mastered its matter only with difficulties, for instance, with regard to the theory of value, to which, by the way, Lange credited no permanent worth.

Freiligrath’s verdict on the first volume, a copy of which Marx had presented him, was even more peculiar. Friendly relations had existed between the two men since the year 1859, although occasionally they had been overclouded through the fault of third persons, and Freiligrath was about to return to Germany where a collection on his behalf promised him a carefree old age after the closing down of the London branch of the bank for which he worked had deprived the almost sixty-year-old man of his livelihood. The last letter he wrote to his old friend – no further correspondence passed between them – contained hearty congratulations on the marriage of Marx’s daughter Laura to young Lafargue and no less hearty thanks for a copy of the first volume of Capital which Marx had sent him. The study of the book had enlightened him in many ways, he declared, and had been a source of great pleasure. The success of the book would probably not be sudden and sensational, but its effect would be all the deeper and more permanent. So far so good, but then he declared: “I know that many young merchants and manufacturers in the Rhineland are enthusiastic about the book, and in such circles it will fulfill its real aim, and besides it will prove an indispensable work of reference for the scholar. It is true that Freiligrath never claimed to be anything but an economist by instinct,” and all his life he hated “heckling and Hegeling,” as he put it, but after all, he had spent almost two decades in the pulsating life of the English metropolis, and it was therefore an extraordinary performance on his part when he regarded the first volume of Capital as a sort of guide book for young merchants and manufacturers, and at the utmost, “besides,” a reference work for scholars.

Ruge’s judgment, on the other hand, was quite different. Although he hated communism like poison and was not burdened with any knowledge of economics, he had once fought courageously as a Young Hegelian. “It is an epoch-making work and it sheds a brilliant, sometimes dazzling, light on the development, decline, birth pangs and the horribly painful maladies of social periods. The passages on the production of surplus-value by unpaid labour, the expropriation of the workers who once worked for themselves, and the approaching expropriation of the expropriators are classic. Marx’s knowledge is wide and scholarly, and he possesses splendid dialectical talent. The book is far above the intellectual horizon of many people and many newspaper writers, but it will certainly make its way despite the breadth of its plan, or perhaps it will exercise a powerful influence just for this reason.” Ludwig Feuerbach passed a similar judgment with the difference, in accordance with his own development, that he was less interested in the dialectics of the author than the fact that the book was “rich in undeniable facts of the most interesting, but at the same time most horrible nature,” which, he thought, went to prove the truth of his moral philosophy that where the necessities of life were absent moral compulsion was also absent.

The first translation of the first volume appeared in Russia. On the 12th of October, 1868, Marx reported to Kugelmann that a publisher in St. Petersburg had surprised him with the information that a translation was already in print, and with a request for a photo to be used as a frontispiece. He was unwilling to refuse his “good friends” the Russians this little favour and found it one of the ironies of fate that the Russians against whom he had fought in German, French and English for 25 years should always have been his “patrons.” His reply to Proudhon and his Critique of Political Economy had sold nowhere so well as in Russia. Still, he was not prepared to give them all too much credit for this and declared that it was pure Epicureanism, a desire for the extremist products that the Western world could offer.

However, this was not really true. The translation appeared only in 1872, but it proved to be a serious scientific undertaking and a great success, and Marx himself declared it “masterly.” The translator was Danielson, better known under his pen-name Nikolai-on, and he was assisted in the translation of a number of the most important chapters by Lopatin, a daring young revolutionary, “a very wide awake and critical brain, a cheerful character and as stoical as a Russian peasant, taking everything as he finds it,” as Marx described him after making his acquaintance in the summer of 1870.

Permission to publish the translation was given by the Russian censorship authorities with the following explanation: “Although the political convictions of the author are completely socialist and although the whole book is of a very definitely socialist character, the manner of its presentation is certainly not such as to make the book open to all and in addition it is written in a strictly scientific fashion so that the committee declares the book to be immune from prosecution.” The translation was published on the 27th of March and by the 25th of May a thousand copies, or one third of the total edition, had been sold.

At the same time a French translation began to appear and also a second edition of the German original, both in two parts. The French edition was prepared by J. Roy with considerable assistance from Marx himself, who had “the devil’s own job” with it and often complained that it cost him more time and trouble than if he had done the whole thing himself. However, as a consolation he was able to credit the French translation with a particular scientific value apart from the original. The first volume of Capital met with less success in England than in Germany, Russia and France. Apparently only one short review was published (in The Saturday Review) but this declared that Marx had the gift of lending even the driest economic questions a certain fascination. A longer review which Engels wrote for The Fortnightly Review, was rejected on the ground that it was “too dry,” although Professor Beesly, who was closely connected with the magazine, did his best to get it accepted. Marx set great hopes on an English translation, but none appeared during his lifetime.


Last updated on 27.2.2004