Academic journal article World Review of Political Economy

A Brief History of the Dissemination and Reception of Karl Marx's Capital in the United States and Britain

Academic journal article World Review of Political Economy

A Brief History of the Dissemination and Reception of Karl Marx's Capital in the United States and Britain

Article excerpt

After years of theoretical excavation into the foundation of classical political economy, Karl Marx published the first volume of his magnum opus, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, in 1867. Since then, it has been translated into dozens of languages (the exact number is yet unknown) and led to the creation of a branch of political economy often referred to as Marxist Economics. The year 2017, which marks the 150th anniversary of its first publication, provides an occasion to reassess the role of this monumental book in the world's intellectual history. This article focuses on the ways Marx's Capital has been propagated and taken up in Britain, and the United States.

Capital is notoriously "incomplete" since the first volume was the only one that was published in Marx's life time in the original German in 1867. Marx also worked on the French translation of the first volume which came out in segments (1872-75), and the second German edition (1872) which incorporated some of the changes he made to the French edition. It was Engels who completed the third (1883) and fourth German edition (1890), prepared the second (1885) and third (1894) volumes of Capital for publication in German, and oversaw the English translation of the first volume (1887). The second and third volumes of Capital did not appear in English until after Engels's death (1895) in 1907 and 1909, respectively.

Accessibility and affordability of this voluminous book whose aim was never to become purely academic, read by a handful of high-minded intellectuals, but to inform the working class about the fundamental flaws of capitalist mode of production in the most theoretically rigorous way, has always been part of the preoccupation of Marxist activists and politically conscious publishers. This makes the inclusion of the partial and abridged versions of the book in the present discussion indispensable, especially important during the early periods before the first full translation of the book.

Setting the partial editions of Capital aside, the first volume has been translated into English by Edward B. Aveling1 and Samuel Moore2 (Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey & Co., 1887), Eden and Cedar Paul3 (Allen & Unwin, 1928), and Ben Fowkes4 (Penguin Books and New Left Review, 1981). The second and third volumes have been translated into English by Ernest Untermann5 (Charles H. Kerr, 1907 and 1909) and David Fernbach6 (Penguin Books and New Left Review, 1978 and 1981). In what follows, we review the history of the dissemination and reception of Capital in Britain and the United States from 1867 to 2017 in three separate periods, 1867-1914, 1915-1989, 1990-2017.

The Dissemination and Reception 1867-1914

Even though Marx lived in London from 1848 to the end of his life, as Kirk Willis outlines in his article on the reception of Marxist thoughts in Britain in the second half of the 19th century, the process of dissemination of Marx's ideas in Britain was "slow and difficult" (1977, 418).

Excerpts of Capital first appeared in Britain in April 1883 after the magazine Today: A Monthly Gathering of Bold Thoughts published segments of a chapter of the book from the French edition, followed by a second part published in June of that year (420). One year after Henry M. Hydnman, the founder of the Social Democratic Federation, took over the ownership of the magazine, the retitled To-Day: Monthly Magazine of Scientific Socialism began translating the first ten chapters of the first volume of Capital from the German edition7 and publishing them in a series of articles from October 1885 through May 1889 (420). The first complete translation of the first volume of Capital by Aveling and Moore was published, originally in two volumes, in England by Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey & Co. Even though the second and third volumes were not published until they were issued by a London publisher as soon as Charles H. Kerr publishing company released the books in 1907, the publication of the first complete edition caused a breakthrough in the reception of Marx in England. …

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