Vitaly Vygodsky

The Everlasting Signficance of Marx's Capital

Written: 1975
First Published: The Everlasting Significance of Marx's Capital, Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, Moscow, 1975
Translated: Unknown
Transcription/Markup: Steve Palmer
Copyleft: Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, 1975.

This book is written by a Soviet economist and author of many works on the history and theory of Marxism. Vygodsky's book The History of a Great Discovery by Karl Marx was published in the German Democratic Republic and Japan, and translated into English, French and Spanish.

Designed for the reader interested in the socio-economic processes taking place today, this study of Marx's Capital discusses the significance of Marx's theory and method in contemporary conditions. The author shows that this theory provides a key to an understanding of the contemporary world.

Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, 1975

Editing completed on February 21, 1975


To the Reader

PART I. How Karl Marx Worked

1. In Quest of a "Prime Mover" (1843-44)

2. The First Great Discovery (1845-46)

3. The Booklover

4. The Second Great Discovery (1857-58)

5. "I Administer Historical Justice ..."

PART II. "...Not a Doctrine but a Method"

1. Understanding Reality

2. "The Splitting of a Single Whole ..."

3. The Force of Abstraction

PART III. A Theory Projected into the Future

1. Analysis of Imperialism. Starting Points

2. Marx's Economic Theory and the Working Class

3. Forecasts of a Communist Economy

The Last Page




What did the author of Capital think of his work? Not so long ago, in 1963, an interesting letter, written by Karl Marx to his closest friend, Frederick Engels, was published. The letter was written on February 20, 1866, when Marx was finishing the first volume of his life's work, Capital. "You understand, my dear fellow," Marx wrote, "that in a work like mine shortcomings in details are inevitable. But the composition, the way it hangs together, is a triumph of German science an individual German can admit to, as the credit in no way goes to him, but rather to the nation."[1] More than a century has passed since Marx wrote this, and today we can state with confidence that Marx's judgement was correct - that his brilliant work has stood the most crucial test, the test of time. It does not surprise us that outstanding works of literature and art still retain their artistic value for hundreds and even thousands of years. But Capital is, after all, strictly a scientific work. Still, it is not only as contemporary as ever but its significance and popularity continue to grow.

Emile James, a well-known French economist of virtually no Marxist leanings, wrote: "Perhaps more attention is paid to works by Karl Marx in our age than ever before, and not only in Soviet Russia but in the West as well."[2]  Certainly, we can find many opponents of Marx's revolutionary conceptions among contemporary economists and philosophers. It is now over a hundred years since an uncompromising theoretical and ideological struggle has been going on around Capital. Nor can this be regarded as at all surprising, as Marx's ideas bear on the most vital issues concerning millions and millions of people: social strata, groups, classes, nations and the whole of mankind. The new thing about this struggle is that the more serious of the contemporary non-Marxist scholars do not reject Marxist theory wholesale, far from it. W. Leontief, a prominent American economist, writes, for instance: "The significance of Marx for modern economic theory is that of an inexhaustible source of direct observation. Much of the present-day theorising is purely derivative, secondhand theorising ... If before attempting any explanation one wants to learn what profits and wages and capitalist enterprises actually are, he can obtain in the three volumes of Capital more realistic and relevant firsthand information than he could possibly hope to find in ten successive issues of the United States Census . .."[3]

Why is it that the name of Karl Marx is familiar to every educated person and that Capital has become a handbook for millions? Why is there as much need for it today as there was a hundred years ago? The long life of Capital is, certainly, primarily due to the genius of its author.

Part I of this book deals with Marx's creative method, the style of his scientific work, his extraordinary thoroughness - in a word, it tells how Marx worked on Capital. The result of his work is stupendous. Not only does Capital supply answers to questions posed by history a century ago, but it explains many problems of concern to mankind today. And, most important and most valuable of all, Capital furnishes a method for finding solutions to these problems. Describing Marxist theory, Engels pointed out that Marx's " ... way of viewing things is not a doctrine but a method. It does not provide ready-made dogmas, but criteria for further research and the method for this research."[4]

Part II of this book shows that the reason why Marx's economic theory is able to meet present-day requirements is that it is consistently based on the materialist dialectical method. It is the creative application of this method, which enabled Marx to get to the essence of things, disclosing the key tendencies and pointing out the driving forces of social development. Some latent tendencies mentioned in Capital (discussed in Part III of this book) appeared to be so underlying that they have only recently become fully apparent.

Attentive observers now note a kind of "revival" of Marx's popularity among the younger generation in the West. The reactionaries even reproach them for following the "Marxist craze," as they have termed it. Young people - workers, students, intellectuals - are trying to find in Marx's works answers to the most vital issues of today. However, their way of understanding Capital is often emotional rather than dialectical. And Marx's ideas often reach them in a rather distorted form. The aim of this book is to bring the reader closer to Marx, to shed some light on the actual contents of Capital, to show the significance of Marx's economic theory in present-day circumstances, to show that this theory can be applied and developed to explain our contemporary world.

"To follow the thoughts of a great man is a most absorbing study," said Alexander Pushkin, * the Russian poet. And so, let us follow the thoughts of Marx.

* The works of Alexander Pushkin. Random House, N. Y., 1936, p. 758.

[1] K. Marx, F. Engels. Collected Works, Vol. 31, p. 154, Russ. Ed.

[2] Émile James. Histoire de la pensée économique au XXe siécle, Paris, 1955

[3] W. Leontief, Essays in Economics. Theories and Theorizing, New York, 1966, p.83.

[4] K. Marx, F. Engels. Selected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1969, Vol. 3, p. 506.