Das Kapital
First edition title page of Volume I (1867). Volume II and Volume III were published in 1885 and 1894, respectively.
AuthorKarl Marx
Original titleDas Kapital. Kritik der politischen Oekonomie
TranslatorSamuel Moore and Edward Aveling
PublisherVerlag von Otto Meisner
Publication placeGermany (North German Confederation)
Published in English
Media typePrint
TextDas Kapital at Wikisource

Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (German: Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie), also known as Capital and Das Kapital (German pronunciation: [das kapiˈtaːl]), is a foundational theoretical text in materialist philosophy and critique of political economy written by Karl Marx, published as three volumes in 1867, 1885, and 1894. The culmination of his life's work, the text contains Marx's analysis of capitalism, to which he sought to apply his theory of historical materialism "to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society", following from classical political economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo. The text's second and third volumes were completed from Marx's notes after his death and published by his colleague Friedrich Engels. Das Kapital is the most cited book in the social sciences published before 1950.[1]

Marx's theory of historical materialism posits that the economic structure of society – in particular, the forces and relations of production – are the crucial factors in shaping its nature. Rather than a simple description of capitalism as an economic model, Das Kapital instead examines capitalism as a historical epoch and a mode of production, and seeks to trace its origins, development, and decline. Marx argues that capitalism is a form of economic organization which has arisen and developed in a specific historical context, and which contains tendencies and contradictions which will inevitably lead to its decline and collapse. Marx considered Das Kapital a scientific work, and in it critiqued both the system and bourgeois political economists who argue that it is efficient and stable.


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:

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

Das Kapital, 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.[3]

Capital, Volume II

Das Kapital, 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 focuses aren't 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)".[citation needed] 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.[4]

Capital, Volume III

Das Kapital, 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[citation needed] 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.[5]

The third volume is highly controversial, peculiarly the tenth chapter, as some economists feel like Marx contradicted himself with the Marxian fundamental value theory while trying to tackle the transformation problem.[6]

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 an analysis 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,[7] the syllogisms (C-M-C' and M-C-M') for simple commodity circulation and the circulation of value as capital.[8][9] 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.[10]

Capital, Volume IV

Karl Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert, 1956
Karl Kautsky, editor of Theories of Surplus Value

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).[11] The Communist Party of the Soviet Union published its own edition of Volume IV in which it claimed that Kautsky's edition bastardized the original text, with their version containing more of the original, unedited material.[12]


The first translated publication of Das Kapital was in the Russian Empire in March 1872.[13] It was the first foreign publication with the French edition beginning publication in August 1872[14] and the English edition appearing 15 years later in 1887.[13] It was even published before the first modern Russian translation of the whole Bible in 1876.[15] 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.[13] This edition was in part worked on by revolutionary socialist Mikhail Bakunin, but "he quit after completing part of the first chapter" and it was completed by Nikolai Danielson and German Lopatin among others.[16]

Marx revised, rewrote, and monitored a French translation, published in 44 installments from August 1872 through May 1875, and then as a single work with a printing of ten thousand copies, the largest up until then.[14] Eventually, Marx's work was translated into all major languages. The definitive critical edition of Marx's works, known as MEGA II (Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe),[17] 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.

The first unabridged translation of Das Kapital to Bengali was done by professor Piyush Dasgupta. It was published in six volumes by Baniprakash, Kolkata, India between 1974 and 1983.[18][19]

In 2012, Red Quill Books released Capital: In Manga!,[20] 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.[21]

English Translations

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.[22] 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).


In 2017, the historian Gareth Stedman Jones wrote in the Books and Arts section of the scientific journal Nature:[23]

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.[24] 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.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26][27][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.[28] Marx himself frequently polemicized against the view "that the amount of real wages ... is a fixed amount."[29]

See also


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Marx, Karl. Capital: The Process of Capitalist Production. 3d German edition (tr.). p. 53.
  3. ^ Marx, Karl (1867). Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Oekonomie. Vol. 1: Der Produktionsprozess des Kapitals (1 ed.). Hamburg: Verlag von Otto Meissner. doi:10.3931/e-rara-25773.
  4. ^ Marx, Karl (1885). Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Oekonomie; herausgegeben von Friedrich Engels. Vol. 2: Der Zirkulationsprozess des Kapitals (1 ed.). Hamburg: Verlag von Otto Meissner. doi:10.3931/e-rara-25620.
  5. ^ Marx, Karl (1894). Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Oekonomie; herausgegeben von Friedrich Engels. Vol. 3: Der Gesamtprozess der kapitalistischen Produktion (1 ed.). Hamburg: Verlag von Otto Meissner. doi:10.3931/e-rara-25739.
  6. ^ Böhm-Bawerk, Eugen (1896). Karl Marx and the Close of his System. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 19. ISBN 978-1466347687. The value [of labour] was declared to be 'the common factor which appears in the exchange relation of commodities' (i. 13). We were told, in the form and with the emphasis of a stringent syllogistic conclusion, allowing of no exception, that to set down two commodities as equivalents in exchange implied that 'a common factor of the same magnitude' existed in both, to which each of the two 'must be reducible' (i. 11). (...) And now in the third volume (...) that individual commodities do and must exchange with each other in a proportion different from that of the labour incorporated in them, and this not accidentally and temporarily, but of necessity and permanently. I cannot help myself; I see here no explanation and reconciliation of a contradiction, but the bare contradiction itself. Marx's third volume contradicts the first. The theory of the average rate of profit and of the prices of production cannot be reconciled with the theory of value. This is the impression which must, I believe, be received by every logical thinker. And it seems to have been very generally accepted. Loria, in his lively and picturesque style, states that he feels himself forced to the 'harsh but just judgment' that Marx 'instead of a solution has presented a mystification.'
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Meikle, Scott (1997). Aristotle's Economic Thought. London: Clarendon Press.
  9. ^ McCarthy, George (1992). Marx and Aristotle: Nineteenth Century German Social Theory and Classical Antiquity. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.
  10. ^ Marx, Karl; Fowkes, Ben, trans. (1977). Capital. Vol. 1. New York: Knopf Doubleday. pp. 446.
  11. ^ Columbia Encyclopedia (1994). 5th Edition. p. 1707.
  12. ^ "Economic Manuscripts: Theories of Surplus-Value, Preface by Institute of Marxism-Leninism". www.marxists.org. Retrieved 15 May 2024.
  13. ^ a b c Figes, Orlando (1998). "1.4.ii: Marx Comes to Russia". A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891–1924. New York, N.Y: Penguin Books. p. 139. ISBN 9780140243642.
  14. ^ a b Rebello Pinho, Rodrigo Maiolini (3 September 2021). "The Originality of Marx's French Edition of Capital: An Historical Analysis". The International Marxist-Humanist. Translated by Naomi J. Sutcliffe de Moraes. IMHO. Retrieved 11 June 2024.
  15. ^ Hosking, Geoffrey (1997). Russia: People and Empire, 1552–1917. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press. p. 234. ISBN 0-674-78118-X.
  16. ^ Resis, Albert (June 1970). "Das Kapital Comes to Russia". Slavic Review. 29 (2): 219–237. doi:10.2307/2493377.
  17. ^ Bearbeitung des Bandes: Waltraud Falk (Leiter)Karl Marx. Capital a critical analysis of capitalist production. London 1887.
  18. ^ 'ডাস ক্যাপিটাল'
  19. ^ Chakraborty, Achin; Chakrabarty, Anjan; Dasgupta, Byasdeb; Sen, Samita, eds. (2019). 'Capital' in the East: Reflections on Marx. Singapore: Springer. p. 33. ISBN 9789813294677.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "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.
  22. ^ "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.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ a b Wayne, Michael (2012). Marx's 'Das Kapital' For Beginners. Danbury, Connecticut: Red Wheel/Weiser. ISBN 9781934389638.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Boxill, Bernard (1992). Blacks and Social Justice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 277. ISBN 978-0847677573.
  27. ^ Sowell, Thomas (March 1960). "Marx's "Increasing Misery" Doctrine". The American Economic Review. 50: 111–120.
  28. ^ Lapides, Kenneth (December 2007). Marx's Wage Theory in Historical Perspective. Author. ISBN 9781587369742. Archived from the original on 31 July 2020. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  29. ^ Marx, Karl (1865). Value, Price, and Profit. Archived from the original on 30 May 2019. Retrieved 31 May 2019.

Further reading

Online editions