Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. I. The Process of Capitalist Production
By Karl Marx
One of Econlib’s aims is to put online the most significant works in the history of economic thought, and there can be no doubting the significance of Marx’s influence on both economic theory in the late 19th century and on the creation of Marxist states in the 20th century. From the time of the emergence of modern socialism in the 1840s (especially in France and Germany), free market economists have criticised socialist theory and it is thus useful to place that criticism in its intellectual context, namely beside the main work of one of its leading theorists,
Karl Marx.In 1848, when Europe was wracked by a series of revolutions in which both liberals and socialists participated and which both lost out to the forces of conservative monarchism or Bonapartism,
John Stuart Mill published his
Principles of Political Economy. The chapter on Property shows how important Mill thought it was to confront the socialist challenge to classical liberal economic theory. In hindsight it might appear that Mill was too accommodating to socialist criticism, but I would argue that in fact he offered a reasonable framework for comparing the two systems of thought, which the events of the late 20th century have finally brought to a conclusion which was not possible in his lifetime. Mill states in
Book II Chapter I “Of Property” that a fair comparison of the free market and socialism would compare both the ideal of liberalism with that of socialism, as well as the practice of liberalism versus the practice of socialism. In 1848 the ideals of both were becoming better known (and there were some aspects of the ideal of socialism which Mill found intriguing) but the practice of each was still not conclusive. Mill correctly observed that in 1848 no European society had yet created a society fully based upon private property and free exchange and any future socialist experiment on a state-wide basis was many decades in the future. After the experiments in Marxist central planning with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Chinese Communists in 1949, and numerous other Marxist states in the post-1945 period, there can be no doubt that the reservations Mill had about the practicality of fully-functioning socialism were completely borne out by historical events. What Mill could never have imagined, the slaughter of tens of millions of people in an effort to make socialism work, has ended for good any argument concerning the Marxist form of socialism.Econlib now offers online two important defences of the socialist ideal, Karl Marx’s three volume work on
Capital and the
collection of essays on Fabian socialism edited by George Bernard Shaw. These can be read in the light of the criticism they provoked among defenders of individual liberty and the free market: Eugen Richter’s anti-Marxist
Pictures of the Socialistic Future, Thomas Mackay’s
2 volume collection of essays rebutting Fabian socialism,
Ludwig von Mises post-1917 critique of
Socialism. One should not forget that
Frederic Bastiat was active during the rise of socialism in France during the 1840s and that many of his essays are aimed at rebutting the socialists of his day. The same is true for Gustave de Molinari and the other authors of the
Dictionnaire d’economie politique (1852). Several key articles on communism and socialism from the
Dictionnaire are translated and reprinted in Lalor’s
Cyclopedia.For further reading on Marx’s
Capital see David L. Prychitko’s essay
“The Nature and Significance of Marx’s
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy“.For further readings on socialism see the following entries in the
Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:
Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834,
edited by Nassau W. Senior, et al.
March 1, 2004
Frederick Engels, Ernest Untermann, eds. Samuel Moore, Edward Aveling, trans.
First Pub. Date
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.
First published in German. Revised and Amplified According to the Fourth German Edition by Ernest Untermann Das Kapital, based on the 4th edition.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Marx courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Editors Note to the First American Edition, by Ernest Untermann
- Authors Prefaces to the First and Second Editions, by Karl Marx
- Editors Prefaces, by Frederick Engels
- Part I, Chapter 1
- Part I, Chapter 2
- Part I, Chapter 3
- Part II, Chapter 4
- Part II, Chapter 5
- Part II, Chapter 6
- Part III, Chapter 7
- Part III, Chapter 8
- Part III, Chapter 9
- Part III, Chapter 10
- Part III, Chapter 11
- Part IV, Chapter 12
- Part IV, Chapter 13
- Part IV, Chapter 14
- Part IV, Chapter 15
- Part V, Chapter 16
- Part V, Chapter 17
- Part V, Chapter 18
- Part VI, Chapter 19
- Part VI, Chapter 20
- Part VI, Chapter 21
- Part VI, Chapter 22
- Part VII, Introduction
- Part VII, Chapter 23
- Part VII, Chapter 24
- Part VII, Chapter 25
- Part VIII, Chapter 26
- Part VIII, Chapter 27
- Part VIII, Chapter 28
- Part VIII, Chapter 29
- Part VIII, Chapter 30
- Part VIII, Chapter 31
- Part VIII, Chapter 32
- Part VIII, Chapter 33
- Works and Authors
The original plan of Marx, as outlined in his preface to the first German edition of
Capital, in 1867, was to divide his work into three volumes. Volume I was to contain Book I, The Process of Capitalist Production. Volume II was scheduled to comprise both Book II, The Process of Capitalist Circulation, and Book III, The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole. The work was to close with volume III, containing Book IV, A History of Theories of Surplus-Value.
When Marx proceeded to elaborate his work for publication, he had the essential portions of all three volumes, with a few exceptions, worked out in their main analyses and conclusions, but in a very loose and unfinished form. Owing to ill health, he completed only volume I. He died on March 14, 1883, just when a third German edition of this volume was being prepared for the printer.
Frederick Engels, the intimate friend and co-operator of Marx, stepped into the place of his dead comrade and proceeded to complete the work. In the course of the elaboration of volume II it was found that it would be wholly taken up with Book II, The Process of Capitalist Circulation. Its first German edition did not appear until May, 1885, almost 18 years after the first volume.
The publication of the third volume was delayed still longer. When the second German edition of volume II appeared, in July, 1893, Engels was still working on volume
III. It was not until October, 1894, that the first German edition of volume III was published, in two separate parts, containing the subject matter of what had been originally planned as Book III of volume II, and treating of The Capitalist Process of Production as a whole.
The reasons for the delay in the publication of volumes II and III, and the difficulties encountered in solving the problem of elaborating the copious notes of Marx into a finished and connected presentation of his theories, have been fully explained by Engels in his various prefaces to these two volumes. His great modesty led him to belittle his own share in this fundamental work. As a matter of fact, a large portion of the contents of
Capital is as much a creation of Engels as though he had written it independently of Marx.
Engels intended to issue the contents of the manuscripts for Book IV, originally planned as volume III, in the form of a fourth volume of
Capital. But on the 6th of August, 1895, less than one year after the publication of volume III, he followed his co-worker into the grave, still leaving this work incompleted.
However, some years previous to his demise, and in anticipation of such a eventuality, he had appointed Karl Kautsky, the editor of
Die Neue Zeit, the scientific organ of the German Socialist Party, as his successor and familiarized him personally with the subject matter intended for volume IV of this work. The material proved to be so voluminous, that Kautsky, instead of making a fourth volume of
Capital out of it, abandoned the original plan and issued his elaboration as a separate work in three volumes under the title
Theories of Surplus-value.
The first English translation of the first volume of
Capital was edited by Engels and published in 1886. Marx had in the meantime made some changes in the text of the second
German edition and of the French translation, both of which appeared in 1873, and he had intended to superintend personally the edition of an English version. But the state of his health interfered with this plan. Engels utilised his notes and the text of the French edition of 1873 in the preparation of a third German edition, and this served as a basis for the first edition of the English translation.
Owing to the fact that the title page of this English translation (published by Swan Sonnenschein & Co.) did not distinctly specify that this was but volume I, it has often been mistaken for the complete work, in spite of the fact that the prefaces of Marx and Engels clearly pointed to the actual condition of the matter.
In 1890, four years after the publication of the first English edition, Engels edited the proofs for a fourth German edition of volume I and enlarged it still more after repeated comparison with the French edition and with manuscript notes of Marx. But the Swan Sonnenschein edition did not adopt this new version in its subsequent English issues.
This first American edition will be the first complete English edition of the entire Marxian theories of Capitalist Production. It will contain all three volumes of
Capital in full. The present volume, I, deals with The Process of Capitalist Production in the strict meaning of the term “production.” Volume II will treat of The Process of Capitalist Circulation in the strict meaning of the term “circulation.” Volume III will contain the final analysis of The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole, that is of Production and Circulation in their mutual interrelations.
This first American edition of volume I is based on the revised fourth German edition. The text of the English version of the Swan Sonnenschein edition has been compared page for page with this improved German edition, and about ten pages of new text hitherto not rendered in English are thus presented to American readers. All the footnotes have likewise been revised and brought up to date.
For all further information concerning the technical particulars of this work I refer the reader to the prefaces of Marx and Engels.
Orlando, Fla., July 18, 1906.
e.g., those on the historical character of capital, on the connection between the conditions of production and the mode of production, &c., &c., even to the terminology created by me, this may perhaps be due to purposes of propaganda. I am here, of course, not speaking of his detailed working out and application of these propositions, with which I have nothing to do.
Editor’s Preface To The First English Translation
Evening Standard, Nov. 1, 1886.
Part I, Chapter I.