David Riazanov 1929

The New Translation of Marx.
A Letter from Professor Riazanov.

Written: 18 April 1929;
First Published: Labour Monthly, May 1929;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.

Capital. A new translation by Eden and Cedar Paul, based on the Fourth and Definitive Edition. Alien & Unwin, 927 pp., 12s. 6d.

Dear Comrade, – In your last letter you mentioned the new translation of “Capital” by E. and C. Paul. The book, peculiar as it may seem, has not been a pleasure to me. Of course, it is agreeable to find the demand for the works of Marx having become so great as to require a new edition of the “Capital,” and as a sign of this increased interest in Marx and his works I certainly welcome this edition. Only my pleasure has been marred by the circumstance that one has found it necessary to make an entirely new translation instead of revising the edition of Moore and Aveling, which had been thoroughly revised and completed by Engels.

Both translators of the first English edition were born Englishmen, both were quite conversant with economical matters and even if to them has to be denied an all-round competence in questions of economy, nothing of the kind can be said against Engels, who, as is to be seen from letters of that period, also from his introduction to the English edition, has spent an enormous deal of time and labour on this edition. This old edition contains a tremendous deal of Engels’ own work, and I do not consider it right to neglect this work; and what is more, to me it is not a neglect only, but equals almost to a contempt, to an adjudication of Engels, and with such a tendency I, of course, cannot at all sympathise.

I do not consider myself so competent as to declare decisively that the edition revised by Engels complies to all stylistical requirements, or that it contains no mistakes, no errors. Its containing mistakes is quite possible. But to justify the discarding of the text authorised by Engels, the least one ought to have done would have been to prove on hand of numerous instances the absolute uselessness of the old English edition, the impossibility of adapting it to the requirements of to-day and hence its inevitable fate of being thrown away in order to make room to a completely new translation. To such an authority as Engels this justification, to my idea, ought to have been made!

I have not gone through the Pauls’ translation very thoroughly, but the fact of this translation suffering from serious errors was brought home to me by the introduction of the Pauls, from which I learned that they have not used for their text the “Volksausgabe,” published by Kautsky (and to which I also contributed by adding a very complete register).

This Kautsky edition, though not a critical definite one, possesses great advantage over all other editions as far as the text is concerned, as Kautsky has used for this edition all the variations of the four different versions by Marx or Engels, further numerous corrections of Marx and Engels’ found in their own copies, and also the French edition, which to a great extent had been revised by Marx. From all this is to be seen that the Pauls have not made use of the best text hitherto known, therefore their translation is a step backwards.

A hasty perusal of their book resulted in my discovering the following errors :-

On page 866 instead of “hoffnungsvoll” (hopeful) they translated unhappy.

On page 282 instead of “Arbeitsvolk” (working people) they translated the French people.

On page 318 instead of “Arbeitszeit” (labour time) they translated labour power.

On page 552 instead of “Lehrfabrik” (factory for learning) they translated tannery.

On page 593 instead of “politische Oekonomie” (political economy) they translated English economics.

In conclusion, let me say that as long as E. and C. Paul do not convince me by a thorough criticism of the old translation that a revision (the necessity of I do not deny) has been absolutely impossible, I maintain and shall continue to maintain the standpoint of considering their new translation from a scientific point of view superfluous. The interest of the English speaking world in Marx’s “Capital” will grow to such an extent that I hope the day will not be far off when the opportunity arises of re-editing the old translation.

Fraternally yours.
Moscow, April 18,1929.
D. Riazanov.