Vitaly Vygodsky

das Kapital

Written: Unknown
First Published: Unknown
Source: Great Soviet Encyclopedia
Translated: Unknown
Transcription/Markup: Steve Palmer
Copyleft: Internet Archive( 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons License.

Kapital, Das 

The most important work by K. Marx, in which, applying the dialectical materialist interpretation of the historical process to the analysis of capitalist socioeconomic formation, he discovered the economic law of development of bourgeois society and demonstrated the inevitability of the downfall of capitalism and the victory of communism. V. I. Lenin characterized Das Kapital as “the greatest work on political economy” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 2, p. 11). At the same time, Das Kapital is an outstanding philosophical and historical study. “If Marx did not leave behind us ‘Logic’ (with a capital letter L),” wrote Lenin, “he did leave the logic of Das Kapital. … in Das Kapital, Marx applied to one science logic, dialectics, and the theory of knowledge … of materialism” (ibid., vol. 29, p. 301). Lenin noted that the work provided the “history of capitalism and the analysis of the concepts summing it up” (ibid.). As F. Engels and Lenin stressed, Das Kapital is Marx’ main work in which scientific communism is expounded (see Marx and Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 19, p. 109, and Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 187). “As long as capitalists and workers have existed in the world,” wrote Engels, “no single book that could have had such importance for workers has appeared” (Marx and Engels, Sock, 2nd ed., vol. 16, p. 240).

Marx devoted 40 years of his life—from 1843 to 1883—to the writing of Das Kapital. In their works of the 1840’s (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of1844, The German Ideology, The Poverty of Philosophy, Wage Labor and Capital, and The Communist Manifesto), Marx and Engels formulated the basic propositions of the materialist interpretation of history and the theory of scientific communism that grew out of it. Thus, the indispensable methodological premises of the Marxist economic doctrine were created—the doctrine which is “the most profound, comprehensive, and detailed confirmation and application of Marx’ theory” (Lenin, Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 26, p. 60).

The bases of the theory of surplus value, which Lenin characterized as the “cornerstone” of Marx’ economic doctrine (ibid., vol. 23, p. 45), were set forth by Marx during the 1850’s, as he was working on the manuscript “A Critique of Political Economy” (1857–58), the initial version of Das Kapital. Marx revealed the mechanism of capitalist exploitation and showed that the capitalists’ appropriation of surplus value created by the working class takes place in complete accord with the internal laws of the capitalist mode of production—primarily the law of value. Marx reached the conclusion that the liberation of the working class from exploitation could not be achieved within the framework of capitalism. In this manuscript of 1857–58, the major propositions of the theory of scientific communism, that which concerns the ripening of the material preconditions of communism within the womb of bourgeois society, was developed to a considerable degree. Finally, Marx concluded that capitalism, in comparison to any preceding socioeconomic structure, had a deeper internal capacity to develop productive forces. In the Introduction to the manuscript “A Critique of Political Economy,” Marx characterized the scientific method of the ascent from the abstract to the concrete as the method of political economy. The ascent from the abstract to the concrete is the common method of building scientific theory. Many methodological principles of “systems analysis,” which later spread as a result of the generalization of the achievements of natural science, were provided by Marx in Das Kapital. The first installment of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, which contained the theory of value and the theory of money, was published in 1859. In the preface to this work, Marx gave the classic formulation of the materialist interpretation of history.

Marx conducted his economic investigations during the 1850’s within the framework of the “six-book plan” that he worked out from 1857 to 1859 (On Capital, Landed Property, Wage Labor, The State, Foreign Trade, and The World Market). Subsequently, Marx elaborated the most important part of this program in the four volumes of Das Kapital; this part formed the content of the section “Capital in General” the first section of the book On Capital. (The other sections of this book are “Competition of Capital,” “Credit,” and “Joint-Stock Capital.”)

Marx essentially completed the theory of surplus value in the 1860’s, in the process of working on the manuscript of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, the second draft of Das Kapital

Marx rewrote the first three volumes of Das Kapital (1863–65; the third draft of Das Kapital). A major part of this manuscript is the only draft of the third volume of Das Kapital. It was on the basis of this draft that Engels, using Marx’s later interpolations and additions, published the third volume in 1894. In addition, of the manuscripts of 1863–65, the first of eight drafts of the second volume remained intact, as did Chapter 6, which Marx wrote as the concluding chapter of the first volume; this chapter summed up the analysis of the process of the production of capital and served as a transition to the second volume. (It was published in the Archive of Marx and Engels, vol. 2 [7], Moscow, 1933.) The antagonistic contradictions of the capitalist mode of production are analyzed by Marx in their concrete manifestation on the surface of capitalist society in the manuscript of the third volume of Das Kapital. Profit is the goal of capitalist production and the fundamental stimulus to its development. But at the same time, this goal limits the development of the productive forces of bourgeois society. The increase in the organic composition of capital results in a tendency for the rate of profit to decline. In developing production, the capitalists strive to compensate for the falling rate of profit by increasing the total amount of profit. This leads to the further increase in the organic composition of capital and to a still greater decline in the rate of profit. This process results in a level of socialization of production for which the framework of capitalist society becomes ever more confining. “The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself …. The means—unconditional development of the productive forces of society—comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital” (Marx, op. cit, vol. 25, part 1, p. 274).

In 1866, Marx began immediate preparations for the publication of the first volume of Das Kapital, which appeared in September 1867. In it, on the basis of previous research, Marx examined the process of capitalist production, beginning with the analysis of the commodity as the elementary cell-form of capitalism and the analysis of the twofold character of the labor that creates a commodity.

Marx examined three stages in the increase of labor productivity and the development of relative surplus value: simple cooperation, the division of labor and the manufactory, and the development of machinery and large-scale industry. At the same time, the stages reflect the process of the socialization of labor occurring under the antagonistic conditions of private capitalist appropriation.

In the first volume of Das Kapital, Marx traced the history of the economic struggle of the working class, explained the role of factory legislation in this struggle, analyzed the capitalist application of machinery, and examined in depth the category of wages in its two forms. (The question of the use of machinery under capitalism was examined in detail for the first time by Marx in the second draft of Das Kapital.) Analyzing the tendency toward an increase in the organic composition of capital, Marx formulated the general law of capitalist accumulation while he explained at the same time the countervailing tendencies that modify the effect of this law. He formulated the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation thus: “The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production which has sprung up and flourished along with and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at least reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated” (ibid, p. 772–73).

After Marx’ death, Engels did a great deal of work to prepare the second and third volumes for publication. He prepared the second volume on the basis of Marx’ manuscripts of the 1870’s, and it appeared in 1885. Marx had formulated, on the basis of the examination of the processes of capital circulation and social reproduction (simple and extended), the law of the realization of the social product in capitalist society. As he had demonstrated, the normal functioning of these laws presupposes the proportional distribution of the social product among the branches of production. But under capitalism, the conditions of realization “change into so many conditions of abnormal movement, into so many possibilities of crises, since a balance is itself an accident owing to the spontaneous nature of this production” (ibid., vol. 24, p. 563).

In 1894, Engels published the third volume of Das Kapital on the basis of Marx’ manuscript of 1863–65. Studying capitalist relations in the form in which they emerge on the surface of bourgeois society (commodity-trade and money-trade capital, loan capital, credit, and land rent), Marx noted the further intensification of capitalist contradictions and evidence of the historically transient nature of capitalism.

Das Kapital not only contains the solution of the paramount theoretical problems of Marxist political economy but also poses new problems requiring further elaboration. Thus, in the third volume of Das Kapital, Marx calls attention to the fact that the real movement of market prices is related to the doctrine of competition, which falls outside the framework of Das Kapital (ibid., vol. 25, part 2, p. 324). Characterizing the analysis of credit and the money market in the third volume, Engels noted that it contained “much that is new and still more that is unresolved concerning this question; consequently, along with new solutions, there are new problems” (ibid, vol. 38, p. 108).

The supplements to the third volume, which Engels wrote in 1895, were aimed primarily at eliminating difficulties in understanding the problems of the third volume and secondarily at analyzing new phenomena that had been established in the economy of capitalism. Studying the development of capitalism, Engels was able during the last years of his life to note such new phenomena in the capitalist economy as the rapid development of joint-stock companies and of trusts and the growing role of the stock exchange and the banks in the development of industry, the export of capital, and the division of colonies—the phenomena that signal the transition to monopoly capitalism, or imperialism. The Leninist theory of imperialism was the direct continuation and development of Marx’ economic theory.

In 1883 and 1890, Engels published the third and fourth German editions of the first volume of Das Kapital and edited the translation of this volume into English. (The English edition appeared in 1886.) Engels also published a second German edition of the second volume of Das Kapital (1893). Lenin wrote of the second and third volumes: “Indeed these two volumes of Das Kapital are the work of two men: Marx and Engels…. Engels erected a majestic monument to the genius who had been his friend, a monument on which, without intending it, he indelibly carved his own name” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 2, p. 12). In his letters of 1883–95, Engels repeatedly mentioned his intention to prepare for publication, in the form of a fourth, concluding volume of Das Kapital, the manuscript of the Theories of Surplus Value from the second draft of Das Kapital. However, his death prevented him from doing this. The Theories of Surplus Value was first published in the years 1905–10 by K. Kautsky, who made arbitrary changes and substantial abridgments of the text. The first genuinely scientific edition of the Theories… was made by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the Central Committee of the CPSU in the years 1954–61 and made up a fourth volume of Das Kapital.

Das Kapital was published in nine languages while Marx and Engels were alive. The first translation of the three volumes of Das Kapital was the translation into Russian. (The volumes were published in 1872, 1885, and 1896 respectively.) By mid-1972, Das Kapital had been published in 40 languages outside the USSR. In the USSR, it has been published in 22 languages of the peoples of the USSR, with total editions of 6, 701,000 copies.

If bourgeois science of the 19th century made every attempt possible to hush up Das Kapital, the 20th century has been marked by countless attempts of “Marxologists” of all sorts to refute Marx’ economic doctrine or to distort its revolutionary content. According to the “Marxologists,” Das Kapital has “become obsolete.” Some bourgeois or revisionist theoreticians, who do not deny the importance of Das Kapital in gaining an understanding of modern capitalism, attempt to separate Marx the researcher from Marx the revolutionary. However, the revolutionary conclusions of Marx’ economic theory are inseparable from the theory itself. The course of the historical development of humanity completely confirms the worldwide historical role of the proletariat as the creator of communist society, a role discovered by Marx and Engels and scientifically substantiated in Das Kapital. The importance of Das Kapital for the practice of the international workers’ movement under contemporary conditions continues to grow.


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V.S. Vygodskii