A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 1859


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Written in November 1858-January 1859

First Published: 1859 in Berlin under the name Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. Erstes Heft (Critique of Political Economy. First part). The other parts of his rough manuscript remained unpublished during his life, but served as a basis for the Capital.

Published as A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Lawrence & Wishart 1971 (translated from the German by S. W. Ryazanskaya)

Published as A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, with some notes by R. Rojas.

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 29 (1987)

Introductory note from Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 29[edit source]

In February 1858, Marx started seeking an opportunity to have his economic work based on the Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy published in Germany. He intended to do this with Lassalle’s help. The anticipated structure of this work was based on the plan he had formulated in the “Introduction” (see the end of The method of political economy). As Marx wrote to Lassalle on February 22, 1858, the plan envisaged a work consisting of six books: “ 1 . On Capital (contains a few introductory chapters). 2. On Landed Property. 3. On Wage Labour. 4. On the State. 5. International Trade. 6. World Market”. In March 1858, it became known that Duncker, a Berlin publisher, had undertaken to bring out this work. By arrangement with the publisher, from May 1858 onwards, at intervals of several months, Marx was to send him completed parts of his work to be printed in separate small instalments. However, for various reasons, among them his liver trouble, only at the end of May did Marx begin to prepare material for the first instalment, having interrupted his work on the rough manuscript, which remained unfinished. This first instalment was to consist of three chapters: “ 1 . Value, 2. Money, 3. Capital in General (the process of production of capital; process of its circulation; the unity of the two, or capital and profit; interest)” (see Marx’s letter to Lassalle of March 11, 1858). It took Marx a long time to examine and systematise the collected material. In the course of this work, he compiled two drafts of the “Index to the 7 Notebooks”. His work was greatly hindered by material hardships, which became especially acute in the summer of 1858, and by his wife’s illness. From August to October 1858, Marx prepared the preliminary text of the first two chapters of the first part: “The Commodity” (as he decided to entitle the first chapter, instead of the contemplated “Value”) and “Money”—and the beginning of the third chapter: “Capital”. Only a fragment of this original text, containing the end of the chapter on money and the beginning of that on capital, is extant (in this volume it is included in the section “From the Preparatory Materials”). In subsequent months, after greatly improving his manuscript, Marx prepared the final version of the first part. On January 26, 1859 the manuscript was sent to Berlin; the Preface to it followed in February 1859. The first part grew to 12 printer’s sheets instead of the five or six originally contemplated and consisted not of three chapters, as had been planned, but of two: “The Commodity” and “Money or Simple Circulation”.

Marx did not include here the material of the two sections of the original text of the chapter on money: “The Manifestation of the Law of Appropriation in the Simple Circulation” and “Transition to Capital”. He now intended to deal with all these issues, as well as the problem of capital as a whole, in the second part. In June 1859, A Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy came off the presses. The subtitles “Book One. On Capital” and “Section One. Capital in General” indicate that the author considered it as the beginning of the first of the six books planned.

By the publication of his economic work, as he wrote to Joseph Weydemeyer on February 1, 1859, Marx wanted “to win a scientific victory for our party”. Once the first part had appeared, Marx began to prepare the second pan for publication. Soon, however, other party work, such as editing the newspaper Das Volk and the polemics with Vogt, distracted him from the economic studies he considered necessary in order to clarify all aspects of the problem of capital. Only in 1861 was Marx able to resume his systematic studies of political economy. While preparing the second part, he drew up References to My Own Notebooks and Draft Plan of the Chapter on Capital (both works have been included in this volume, in the section “From the Preparatory Materials”). Subsequent work on this part substantially exceeded the set limits, however. Between 1861 and 1863, he wrote a voluminous manuscript representing the first more or less systematised version of the three theoretical volumes of Capital and containing the only version of its fourth, historical and critical volume: The Theories of Surplus Value. Marx’s plans regarding the structure and form of the publication of his economic work changed as he wrote this manuscript. The structure of the second part, devoted to “Capital in General”, with its division into three aspects (the process of the production of capital, the process of the circulation of capital and the unity of the two) now formed the basis of the whole work, which Marx correspondingly intended to publish in three books, supplemented by a fourth, historico-critical one. An important landmark in the realisation of this new plan was the publication, in September 1867, of Volume I of Capital, in which the main problems of the first part of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy were also presented more profoundly.

Official scientific circles met Marx’s book with a prolonged conspiracy of silence. Nevertheless, it attracted the attention of progressive scholars. For example, I. K. Babst, a professor at Moscow University, expounded its contents in detail in his lectures on political economy in the winter of 1860. Engels was the first to popularise Marx’s work among proletarian revolutionaries. In August 1859, he published two sections of his review of the book in the newspaper Das Volk. The third section was not published because the newspaper closed down.

A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy was not reprinted in Marx’s lifetime. Marx made unsuccessful attempts to have the book published in English in Britain or the USA. Only the Preface was published in the newspaper Das Volk on June 4, 1859, in a somewhat abridged form. An extract (from Chapter Two), devoted to the critique of Gray’s Utopian theory of “labour money”, was supplied by Engels for the German 1885 and 1892 editions of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy. Subsequently, the book was published several times, in many languages.

It was published in English for the first time in the USA, in 1904 (K. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, translated by N. I. Stone, Charles H. Kerr & Company, Chicago, 1904). Translated by Salo Ryazanskaya and edited by Maurice Dobb, it was published by Progress Publishers (Moscow), Lawrence & Wishart (London) and the International Publishers (New York) in 1970.

The present publication is based on the text of the first German edition of 1859, prepared for publication by the author himself. The amendments made by Marx in his own copy of the book are reproduced here in footnotes, with appropriate comments. The amendments and notes he made in the copy he presented to Wilhelm Wolff on August 19, 1859 are also taken into account. Engels used some of these amendments and notes in preparing Volume III of Capital for publication. Taking certain quotations from A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Engels cited them as amended and specified by Marx. Photocopies of the above-mentioned books, with Marx’s amendments and notes, are kept in the Archives of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the CPSU Central Committee. Some other misprints found in the original have also been corrected. In the 1859 edition, the quotations are, as a rule, given in the German translation, but in the author’s notes they are, with certain exceptions, in the language of the quoted source. In the present edition, all quotations are in English, with editorial notes indicating the language, unless it is German in the original.