Das Kapital

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Das Kapital
Zentralbibliothek Zürich Das Kapital Marx 1867.jpg
First edition title page of Volume I (1867)
Volume II and Volume III were published in 1885 and 1894, respectively
Author Karl Marx
Original titleDas Kapital. Kritik der politischen Oekonomie
CountryGermany ( North German Confederation)
Published1867 (1867)
PublisherVerlag von Otto Meisner

Das Kapital, also known as Capital: A Critique of Political Economy or sometimes simply Capital ( German: Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, pronounced [das kapiˈtaːl kʁɪˈtiːk deːɐ poˈliːtɪʃn̩ økonoˈmiː]; 1867–1883), is a foundational theoretical text in materialist philosophy, critique of political economy and politics by Karl Marx. [1] [2] [3] Marx aimed to reveal the economic patterns underpinning the capitalist mode of production in contrast to classical political economists such as Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. While Marx did not live to publish the planned second and third parts, they were both completed from his notes and published after his death by his colleague Friedrich Engels. Das Kapital is the most cited book in the social sciences published before 1950. [4]


In Das Kapital (1867), Marx proposes that the motivating force of capitalism is in the exploitation of labor, whose unpaid work is the ultimate source of surplus value. The owner of the means of production is able to claim the right to this surplus value because they are legally protected by the ruling regime through property rights and the legally established distribution of shares which are by law distributed only to company owners and their board members. The historical section shows how these rights were acquired in the first place chiefly through plunder and conquest and the activity of the merchant and "middle-man". In producing capital, the workers continually reproduce the economic conditions by which they labour. Das Kapital proposes an explanation of the "laws of motion" of the capitalist economic system from its origins to its future by describing the dynamics of the accumulation of capital, the growth of wage labour, the transformation of the workplace, the concentration of capital, commercial competition, the banking system, the decline of the profit rate, land-rents, et cetera. The critique of the political economy of capitalism proposes:

  • Wage-labour is the basic "cell-form" (trade unit) of a capitalist society. Moreover, because commerce as a human activity implied no morality beyond that required to buy and sell goods and services, the growth of the market system made discrete entities of the economic, the moral, and the legal spheres of human activity in society; hence, subjective moral value is separate from objective economic value. Subsequently, political economy (the just distribution of wealth) and "political arithmetic" (about taxes) were reorganized into three discrete fields of human activity, namely economics, law and ethics—politics and economics were divorced.[ citation needed]
  • "The economic formation of society [is] a process of natural history". Thus, it is possible for a political economist to objectively study the scientific laws of capitalism, given that its expansion of the market system of commerce had objectified human economic relations. The use of money (cash nexus) voided religious and political illusions about its economic value and replaced them with commodity fetishism, the belief that an object (commodity) has inherent economic value. Because societal economic formation is a historical process, no one person could control or direct it, thereby creating a global complex of social connections among capitalists. The economic formation (individual commerce) of a society thus precedes the human administration of an economy (organised commerce).
  • The structural contradictions of a capitalist economy (German: gegensätzliche Bewegung) describe the contradictory movement originating from the two-fold character of labour and so the class struggle between labour and capital, the wage labourer and the owner of the means of production. These capitalist economic contradictions operate "behind the backs" of the capitalists and the workers as a result of their activities and yet remain beyond their immediate perceptions as men and women and as social classes. [5]
  • The economic crises ( recession, depression, et cetera) that are rooted in the contradictory character of the economic value of the commodity (cell-unit) of a capitalist society are the conditions that propitiate proletarian revolution—which The Communist Manifesto (1848) collectively identified as a weapon forged by the capitalists which the working class "turned against the bourgeoisie itself".
  • In a capitalist economy, technological improvement and its consequent increased production augment the amount of material wealth ( use value) in society while simultaneously diminishing the economic value of the same wealth, thereby diminishing the rate of profit—a paradox characteristic of economic crisis in a capitalist economy. "Poverty in the midst of plenty" consequent to over-production and under-consumption.

After two decades of economic study and preparatory work (especially regarding the theory of surplus value), the first volume appeared in 1867 as The Production Process of Capital. After Marx's death in 1883, Engels introduced Volume II: The Circulation Process of Capital in 1885; and Volume III: The Overall Process of Capitalist Production in 1894 from manuscripts and the first volume. These three volumes are collectively known as Das Kapital.


Capital, Volume I

Capital, Volume I (1867) is a critical analysis of political economy, meant to reveal the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production, how it was the precursor of the socialist mode of production and of the class struggle rooted in the capitalist social relations of production. The first of three volumes of Das Kapital was published on 14 September 1867, dedicated to Wilhelm Wolff and was the sole volume published in Marx's lifetime.

Capital, Volume II

Capital, Volume II, subtitled The Process of Circulation of Capital, was prepared by Engels from notes left by Marx and published in 1885. It is divided into three parts:

  1. The Metamorphoses of Capital and Their Circuits
  2. The Turnover of Capital
  3. The Reproduction and Circulation of the Aggregate Social Capital.

In Volume II, the main ideas behind the marketplace are to be found, namely how value and surplus-value are realized. Its dramatis personae, not so much the worker and the industrialist (as in Volume I), but rather the money owner and money lender, the wholesale merchant, the trader and the entrepreneur or functioning capitalist. Moreover, workers appear in Volume II essentially as buyers of consumer goods and therefore as sellers of the commodity labour power, rather than producers of value and surplus-value, although this latter quality established in Volume I remains the solid foundation on which the whole of the unfolding analysis is based.

Marx wrote in a letter sent to Engels on 30 April 1868: "In Book 1 [...] we content ourselves with the assumption that if in the self-expansion process £100 becomes £110, the latter will find already in existence in the market the elements into which it will change once more. But now we investigate the conditions under which these elements are found at hand, namely the social intertwining of the different capitals, of the component parts of capital and of revenue (= s)". This intertwining, conceived as a movement of commodities and of money, enabled Marx to work out at least the essential elements, if not the definitive form of a coherent theory of the trade cycle, based upon the inevitability of periodic disequilibrium between supply and demand under the capitalist mode of production ( Ernest Mandel, Intro to Volume II of Capital, 1978). Part 3 is the point of departure for the topic of capital accumulation which was given its Marxist treatment later in detail by Rosa Luxemburg, among others.

Capital, Volume III

Capital, Volume III, subtitled The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole, was prepared by Engels from notes left by Marx and published in 1894. It is divided into seven parts:

  1. The conversion of Surplus Value into Profit and the rate of Surplus Value into the rate of Profit
  2. Conversion of Profit into Average Profit
  3. The Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall
  4. Conversion of Commodity Capital and Money Capital into Commercial Capital and Money-Dealing Capital (Merchant's Capital)
  5. Division of Profit Into Interest and Profit of Enterprise, Interest Bearing Capital.
  6. Transformation of Surplus-Profit into Ground Rent.
  7. Revenues and Their Sources

The work is best known today for Part 3 which in summary says that as the organic fixed capital requirements of production rise as a result of advancements in production generally, the rate of profit tends to fall. This result which orthodox Marxists believe is a principal contradictory characteristic leading to an inevitable collapse of the capitalist order was held by Marx and Engels to—as a result of various contradictions in the capitalist mode of production—result in crises whose resolution necessitates the emergence of an entirely new mode of production as the culmination of the same historical dialectic that led to the emergence of capitalism from prior forms.

Intellectual influences

The purpose of Das Kapital (1867) was a scientific foundation for the politics of the modern labour movement. The analyses were meant "to bring a science, by criticism, to the point where it can be dialectically represented" and so "reveal the law of motion of modern society"[ citation needed] to describe how the capitalist mode of production was the precursor of the socialist mode of production. The argument is a critique of the classical economics of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill and Benjamin Franklin, drawing on the dialectical method that G. W. F. Hegel developed in Science of Logic and The Phenomenology of Spirit. Other intellectual influences on Capital were the French socialists Charles Fourier, Henri de Saint-Simon, Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

At university, Marx wrote a dissertation comparing the philosophy of nature in the works of the philosophers Democritus (circa 460–370 BC) and Epicurus (341–270 BC). The logical architecture of Das Kapital is derived in part from the Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, including the fundamental distinction between use value and exchange value, [6] the syllogisms ( C-M-C' and M-C-M') for simple commodity circulation and the circulation of value as capital. [7] [8] Moreover, the description of machinery under capitalist relations of production as "self-acting automata" derives from Aristotle's speculations about inanimate instruments capable of obeying commands as the condition for the abolition of slavery. In the 19th century, Marx's research of the available politico-economic literature required twelve years, usually in the British Library in London. [9]

Capital, Volume IV

Karl Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert, 1956

At the time of his death (1883), Marx had prepared the manuscript for Das Kapital, Volume IV, a critical history of theories of surplus value of his time, the 19th century, based on the earlier manuscript Theories of Surplus Value (1862–63). The philosopher Karl Kautsky (1854–1938) published a partial edition of Marx's surplus-value critique and later published a full, three-volume edition as Theorien über den Mehrwert ( Theories of Surplus Value, 1905–1910). The first volume was published in English as A History of Economic Theories (1952). [10]


Capital, Volume I (1867) was published in Marx's lifetime. The marginal utility principle came out in 1870. By that time, Marx already had the other two volumes done, and he believed that in order to publish the other two volumes, he had to first debunk the marginal utility principle. Marx tried to debunk it, but he died in 1883 before he could do so to his satisfaction. [11] After his death, Friedrich Engels had possession of the remaining two volumes. Engels edited and published volume II (1885) and Capital, Volume III (1894) as the work of Marx.

In the wake of the Great Recession caused by the global economic collapse of 2008–2009, Das Kapital was reportedly in high demand in Germany. [12]


The first translated publication of Das Kapital was in the Russian Empire in March 1872. It was the first foreign publication and the English edition appeared in 1887. [13] Despite Russian censorship proscribing "the harmful doctrines of socialism and communism", the Russian censors considered Das Kapital as a "strictly scientific work" of political economy, the content of which did not apply to monarchic Russia, where "capitalist exploitation" had never occurred and was officially dismissed, given "that very few people in Russia will read it, and even fewer will understand it". Nonetheless, Marx acknowledged that Russia was the country where Das Kapital "was read and valued more than anywhere". For instance, the Russian edition was the fastest selling as 3,000 copies were sold in one year while the German edition took five years to sell 1,000, therefore the Russian translation sold fifteen times faster than the German original. [14]

The foreign editions of Capital. Critique of Political Economy (1867) by Karl Marx include a Russian translation by the revolutionary socialist Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876). Eventually, Marx's work was translated into all major languages. The English translation of volume 1 by Samuel Moore and Eleanor Marx's partner Edward Aveling, overseen by Engels, was published in 1887 as Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production by Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey, & Co. [15] This was reissued in the 1970s by Progress Publishers in Moscow, while a more recent English translation was made by Ben Fowkes and David Fernbach (the Penguin edition). The definitive critical edition of Marx's works, known as MEGA II ( Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe) , [16] includes Das Kapital in German (only the first volume is in French) and shows all the versions and alterations made to the text as well as a very extensive apparatus of footnotes and cross-references.

In 2012, Red Quill Books released Capital: In Manga!, [17] a comic book version of Volume I which is an expanded English translation of the successful 2008 Japanese pocket version Das Kapital known as Manga de Dokuha. [18]


In 2017, the historian Gareth Stedman Jones wrote in the Books and Arts section of the scientific journal Nature: [19]

What is extraordinary about Das Kapital is that it offers a still-unrivalled picture of the dynamism of capitalism and its transformation of societies on a global scale. It firmly embedded concepts such as commodity and capital in the lexicon. And it highlights some of the vulnerabilities of capitalism, including its unsettling disruption of states and political systems. [...] If Das Kapital has now emerged as one of the great landmarks of nineteenth-century thought, it is [because it connects] critical analysis of the economy of his time with its historical roots. In doing so, he inaugurated a debate about how best to reform or transform politics and social relations, which has gone on ever since.

Positive reception also cited the soundness of the methodology used in producing the book, which is called immanent critique. This approach, which starts from simple category and gradually unfolds into complex categories, employed "internal" criticism that finds contradiction within and between categories while discovering aspects of reality that the categories cannot explain. [20] This meant that Marx had to build his arguments on historical narratives and empirical evidence rather than the arbitrary application of his ideas in his evaluation of capitalism. [20]

On the other hand, Das Kapital has also received criticism. There are theorists who claimed that this text was unable to reconcile capitalist exploitation with prices dependent upon subjective wants in exchange relations. [21] Marxists generally reply that only socially necessary labor time, that is, labor which is spent on commodities for which there is market-demand, can be considered productive labour and therefore exploited on Marx's account. There are also those who argued that Marx's so-called immiseration thesis is presumed to mean that the proletariat is absolutely immiserated. [22] [23][ failed verification] The existing scholarly consensus tends towards the opposite view that Marx believed that only relative immiseration would occur, that is, a fall in labor's share of output. [24] Marx himself frequently polemicized against the view "that the amount of real wages ... is a fixed amount." [25]

See also


  1. ^ Marx, Karl (1867). Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Oekonomie. Volume 1: Der Produktionsprozess des Kapitals (1 ed.). Hamburg: Verlag von Otto Meissner. doi: 10.3931/e-rara-25773. |volume= has extra text ( help)
  2. ^ Marx, Karl (1885). Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Oekonomie; herausgegeben von Friedrich Engels. Volume 2: Der Zirkulationsprozess des Kapitals (1 ed.). Hamburg: Verlag von Otto Meissner. doi: 10.3931/e-rara-25620. |volume= has extra text ( help)
  3. ^ Marx, Karl (1894). Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Oekonomie; herausgegeben von Friedrich Engels. Volume 3: Der Gesamtprozess der kapitalistischen Produktion (1 ed.). Hamburg: Verlag von Otto Meissner. doi: 10.3931/e-rara-25739. |volume= has extra text ( help)
  4. ^ Green, Elliott (12 May 2016). "What are the most-cited publications in the social sciences (according to Google Scholar)?". LSE Impact Blog. London School of Economics. Archived from the original on 25 December 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  5. ^ Marx, Karl. Capital: The Process of Capitalist Production. 3d German edition (tr.). p. 53.
  6. ^ Marx, Karl; Fowkes, Ben, trans. (1977). Capital. Vol. 1. New York: Knopf Doubleday. p. 68, 253. f. 6. Marx credits Aristotle for being the "first to analyze [...] the form of value". In addition, he identifies the categories of use and exchange value with the Aristotlean distinction between the Oeconomic and the Chrematisitic. In the Politics, the former is defined as value in use while the latter is defined as a practice in which exchange value becomes an end unto itself.
  7. ^ Meikle, Scott (1997). Aristotle's Economic Thought. London: Clarendon Press.
  8. ^ McCarthy, George (1992). Marx and Aristotle: Nineteenth Century German Social Theory and Classical Antiquity. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.
  9. ^ Marx, Karl; Fowkes, Ben, trans. (1977). Capital. Vol. 1. New York: Knopf Doubleday. pp. 446.
  10. ^ Columbia Encyclopedia (1994). 5th Edition. p. 1707.
  11. ' ^ Science & Society 'Why Did Marx’s Capital Remain Unfinished? On Some Old and New Arguments (2020) page 31 footnote 21 'Science & Society 'Why Did Marx’s Capital Remain Unfinished? On Some Old and New Arguments'.
  12. ^ "Marx popular amid credit crunch". BBC News. 20 October 2008. Archived from the original on 25 December 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  13. ^ Ostler, Nicholas (2005). Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. HarperCollins: London and New York.
  14. ^ Figes, Orlando. A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (1996). London. p. 139.
  15. ^ "Marx, Karl (1818-1883). Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production. London: Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey, & Co., 1887". Archived from the original on 24 June 2018. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  16. ^ Bearbeitung des Bandes: Waltraud Falk (Leiter) Karl Marx. Capital a critical analysis of capitalist production. London 1887.
  17. ^ Yasko, Guy (2012). Capital: In Manga!. Red Quill Books. ISBN  978-1-926958-19-4. Archived from the original on 25 February 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  18. ^ "Marx's 'Das Kapital' comic finds new fans in Japan" Archived 6 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Japan Today. 23 December 2008. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  19. ^ Jones, Gareth Stedman Jones (27 July 2017). "In retrospect: Das Kapital" Archived 2 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Nature. Vol. 547. pp. 401–402. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  20. ^ a b Wayne, Michael (2012). Marx's 'Das Kapital' For Beginners. Danbury, Connecticut: Red Wheel/Weiser. ISBN  9781934389638.
  21. ^ Brown, Morgan (2017). A Rationalist Critique of Deconstruction: Demystifying Poststructuralism and Derrida's Science of the "Non". The Culture & Anarchy Press. p. 119. ISBN  9781365481901.
  22. ^ Boxill, Bernard (1992). Blacks and Social Justice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 277. ISBN  978-0847677573.
  23. ^ Sowell, Thomas (March 1960). "Marx's "Increasing Misery" Doctrine". The American Economic Review. 50: 111–120.
  24. ^ Lapides, Kenneth (December 2007). Marx's Wage Theory in Historical Perspective. ISBN  9781587369742. Archived from the original on 31 July 2020. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  25. ^ Marx, Karl (1865). Value, Price, and Profit. Archived from the original on 30 May 2019. Retrieved 31 May 2019.

Further reading

External links

Online editions