Eden and Cedar Paul 1929

The New Translation of ‘Capital’

Source: Labour Monthly, February, July 1929, pp. 446-448, “The New Translation of ‘Capital’,” (Correspondence), Eden and Cedar Paul;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

To the Editor of the LABOUR MONTHLY.

DEAR COMRADE, – In his letter in your issue of May, 1929, dated Moscow, April 18, 1929, Comrade Riazanov writes:-

A hasty perusal of their (E. and C. Paul’s) book resulted in my discovering the following errors: (list follows).

We are sure that our Comrade does not intend any suggestio falsi, but most of those who read his letter will believe him to be charging us with certain mistranslations from the text we used, that of the fourth German edition. Actually Comrade Riazanov has scanned the list of alleged misprints or conjectural emendations in the German text given by Karl Kautsky on pp. xiii and xiv of his editorial preface to the Volksausgabe of Das Kapital (Vol. I, 1914). Naturally our translation from the fourth edition (1890), containing the last text revised by Engels, does not tally with. Kautsky’s revised text of 1914.

Apart from this, technical point, are all the five instances mentioned by Riazanov errors?

(1) He says that on p.282, instead of “Arbeitervolk” (working people) we have “French people.”

Now the word “French” is in the text anyhow. What Kautsky shows is that the word “Arbeiter” has been dropped from the compound word “Arbeitervolk” by the printer. The English text ought to read “the French workers” instead of “the French people,” and shall be corrected accordingly.

(2) He says that on p.318, instead of “Arbeitszeit” (labour time), we have “labour power.” The German fourth edition has Arbeitskraft, Kautsky says that this is a misprint for Arbeitszeit, as used in the second edition. We agree, and admit that we had not become fully conscious that there was a misprint. But in our translation, “the expenditure of the necessary labour power for eight hours daily,” the use of the word “labour power” is correct; and the translation conveys the meaning of Marx’s German quite as efficiently as would have a literal translation of Kautsky’s revised text.

(3) He says that on p. 552, instead of Lehrfabrik (factory for learning), we have “tannery.” Here, once more, we agree with Kautsky that Lederfabrik, in the fourth edition, should have been Lehrfabrik, as in the second. We had not detected the actual misprint, but had marked our German text in the margin, indicating our awareness of something wrong, It was, for translators from the fourth edition, a case for a conjectural emendation (a “wangle,” if you like), and ours was good enough to satisfy any one but a pedant. We did not translate so as to suggest that a school of that date was a tannery – though Marx was not incapable of the grim jest! (Compare the famous passage at the close of Part II.) But we are glad to have had the error pointed out, and are correcting it in the reprint now being made.

(4) He says that on p.593, instead of “politische Oekonomie” (political economy), we have “English economics.” The German fourth edition has “Englische Oekonomie,” but Moore and Aveling, translating from the third edition, have “political economy.” Here we differ from Kautsky, who regards “English” as a misprint, and wants to go back to the earlier text. We think that any well-informed English reader of the footnote in which the passage occurs will agree that the substitution of the less general term for the more general one in the fourth edition was probably a deliberate emendation made by Engels.

(5) He says that on p.866, instead of “hoffnungsvoll,” we have “unhappy.” The fourth German edition has “hoffnungslos”; Moore and Aveling, translating from the third, have “unhappy.” Kautsky says it is a misprint. We will spin a coin with him as to who is right, but we think “hoffnungsvoll” more likely to be a misprint than “hoffnungslos.” It seems more in keeping with Marx’s sardonic humour to write “a mishmash of knowledge through whose purgatorial fires the unhappy candidate for a post in the German bureaucracy has to pass,” than to write “the sanguine candidate.”

Having dealt with the specific charges of mistranslation, let us turn to generalities. Riazanov says that until we convince him by a thorough criticism of the old translation that a revision was absolutely impossible, he will continue to think our new translation superfluous. (He reminds us little of an old Scottish lady of our acquaintance, who, when in the mood for a battle royal, would say defiantly: “Conveence me, Ah’m only waiting to be conveenced!”). How can we convince him? Not, we fear, by splitting hairs as to what is a “literary” translation, and what a “scientific.” We must counter by a general statement. He admits that a revision of the old translation is necessary. Well, a revision would have been a devitalised botch. If the old translation was difficult to read (of that anon), a pedantically “accurate” revision would have been – will be, if ever made – hopelessly unreadable.

What is a good translation? The requisites of good medicine are said to be that it shall “cure quickly, safely, and pleasantly.” In like manner, the requisites of a good translation are that it shall convey the author’s meaning in a foreign tongue, and shall do so quickly, safely, and pleasantly. A publisher who considered that the Moore and Aveling translation did not fulfil these demands commissioned us to make a new one, and to use the fourth German edition, finally revised by Engels, as our text. Agreed that it might have been preferable to use Kautsky’s Volksausgabe, but that is still copyright, and the English publisher, wishing to produce the translation at as low a price as possible, did not want to burden his undertaking with royalty or outright payments to the Germans. Besides, many, perhaps most, of Kautsky’s modifications concern German readers, and have little bearing on the possibilities of an English translation. But some of the remarks he makes in his preface have so close a bearing on the canons that have guided us in our translation, that we venture to reproduce them here: –

He has incorporated certain passages from the French translation, “for my business was to make the German text more readily comprehensible, in so far as this could be done without impairing the profundity and character, of the work.”

“In the choice of these passages, I did not feel bound to be guided by the English translation revised by Engels, since my main concern was to produce a German text easy to understand.”

As regard the question whether there are any important differences between his text and earlier ones, he writes: “Of my own ‘editing’ of the text I need only say what Engels said of his in his preface to the fourth German edition, ‘that the laborious process of rectification has not modified any of the essential contents of the work.’ “

In questioning the expediency of a new translation, and in his doubts as to whether ours is a good one, Comrade Riazanov has two notable supporters, the Socialist Standard and The Times. The former says: “We are quite certain that the majority of readers will hold that the present translation ... is no way superior to, if as good as, the Sonnenschein edition.” The reviewer in the Thunderer writes more guardedly. He finds it “surprising” that there should be a new translation. There are only “small verbal alterations, sometimes to the advantage of the new, sometimes to that of the old.” Certainly the new volume is “easier to read than the other; but since there are no great differences, we wonder at the venture.”

Just as we have no intention of complying with Comrade Riazanov’s demand for detailed (and “convincing”) demonstration of the faults of the old translation, so we feel no call to sing the praises of our own. “We have done our level best,” and there it is. But, at the cost of undermining the Socialist Standard’s certainty as to the opinion of the majority of readers, we should like to wind up by quoting a few voices from what, with the exceptions named, has been a universal chorus of approval. Reviewers are “readers,” sometimes; and there is internal evidence to show that many of the reviewers of the new translation of Capital have undertaken a less “hasty perusal” than that on which Riazanov bases his criticism.

The Socialist and Labour Press has so far been chary of notice: but the Daily Herald says, “At last a great book has been worthily translated”; and from the Socialist Review we learn that “the translation which has hitherto passed current has been a rather bad one,” but “this new translation will go far to instruct the uninitiated in what Marx really thought and wrote.”[1]

Yours fraternally,

LONDON, June 2, 1929.

1. Comrades Eden and Cedar Paul append seven further approving notices from the bourgeois press, which we are compelled to omit from reasons of space. – ED