Re: [OPE-L] The difficulties of translating Marx: report on an excursus in Marxology

From: Michael Perelman (michael@ECST.CSUCHICO.EDU)
Date: Thu Aug 02 2007 - 20:38:41 EDT

First of all, I appreciate Jurriaan's help.  I looked through the
English translation of the Collected Works -- the early volumes for the
period, 1843-5.

I wonder if it has been translated into English.  Any suggestions?

Jurriaan Bendien wrote:
> Prof. Perelman wondered about the source of a Marx quote given by Michio
> Morishima and George Catephores in their influential "Value, exploitation
> and growth: Marx in Light of Modern Economic Theory" (1978). The problem
> quote has Marx saying:
> "Political Economy, in order to give its laws greater constancy and
> determinacy, must present truth as accidental and the abstraction as true."
> Intrigued by this,  I thought I would investigate - if Prof. Perelman could
> "never find" the source for this, something is really going wrong.
> The source turns out to be: Karl Marx [und] Friedrich Engels, Die Heilige
> Familie und Schriften von Marx von Anfang 1844 bis anfang 1845. Marx-Engels
> Gesamtausgabe, Erste Abteilung Band 3. Berlin: Marx-Engels Verlag Gmbh,
> 1932. p. 502  (This first attempt at a Marx-Engels collected works
> edited by
> Riazanov/Adoratskii was reprinted in 1970, and Morishima/Catephores cited
> the reprint).
> With the kind cooperation of the staff at the IISH who trucked out the
> Gesamtausgabe, I could establish that specific quote occurs in an 1844 or
> 1845 conspectus (notes and excerpts) of  David Ricardo's Principles of
> Political Economy and Taxation, which Marx probably read for the first time
> in his Paris days, as he was beginning to study economics then (Marx used a
> 1835 French edition with annotations by Jean Baptiste Say).
> The literal German original of the quote reads as follows:
> "Die Nationaloekonomie, um ihren Gesetzen eine Grossere Konsistenz und
> Bestimmtheit zu geben, muss die Wirklichkeit als akzidentell und die
> Abstraktion als wirklich unterstellen"
> Morishima & Catephores's  English version is thus inaccurate. "Konsistenz"
> does not mean constancy, but consistency. "Wirklichkeit" does not mean
> truth, but reality. "Unterstellen" does not mean "present" but "assume" or
> "suppose".  "Akzidentell" in this case is Marx's German rendering of the
> French "accidentelle" used in Ricardo's translated text, but what is really
> meant is "incidental".
> The translation should thus be as follows:
> "To give its laws a greater consistency and determinacy, Political Economy
> must assume the reality as incidental, and the abstraction as real". Not
> altogether the same thing as that which Morishima/Catephores claim Marx
> said.
> To understand the significance of the quote, you really need the context of
> the whole paragraph, which is a comment on the distinction between natural
> prices and current prices. In my own translation:
> "On p. 111 Ricardo says, that when he speaks of exchange-value, he always
> means the natural price, disregarding the accidents of competition due to
> what he calls any momentary or incidental cause. To give its laws a greater
> consistency and determinacy, Political Economy must assume the reality as
> incidental, and the abstraction as real. Say remarks in this regard in note
> 1, p. 111-112 that "the natural price... would appear to be... chimerical.
> There are only current prices in political economy." This he proves by
> saying that labour, capital and land are not determined by any fixed
> rate of
> exchange [lit. festen Taxe, probably Marx germanified the French "taux" and
> did not mean "tax"], but according to the relationship between the quantity
> supplied and the quantity demanded. When Smith assumed the natural price,
> there existed at least the question "What role in production-costs do
> labour, capital and land have?". That is a question which, leaving aside
> private ownership, makes sense; the natural price consists in the
> production-costs. Thus e.g. in the community the question might be, will
> the
> land produce this or that product? Is the business worth the labour and
> capital invested? Through the fact that in Political Economy it becomes
> only
> more of an issue about the current price, matters are not considered
> anymore
> in relation to their production costs, and production-costs in relation to
> people, but as the total production in relation to the haggling over it."
> I did not think to consult the L&W MECW to see if it includes an English
> translation of these notes by Marx on Ricardo's Principles, I ran out of
> time.
> When you consider the relations of communication involved in all this, it's
> remarkable. First, the manuscripts were acquired from the estate and Marx's
> notoriously terrible handwriting mixing German and French terms had to be
> deciphered in the late 1920s. Then missing words had to be interpolated.
> Then the text was published, 88 years later, yet a scholar who read it 133
> years or so later, used it in another context while mistranslating it in
> English, and possibly did not adequately reference it. Then another scholar
> wonders 163 years later where the quote really came from, or if Marx really
> said it. Then through the cooperation of three people plus Internet
> facilities maintained by other people, we find the quote again in August
> 2007, but we have to retranslate it, so it makes sense in the context it
> was
> originally stated. If Marx had known all this would happen, he'd be amazed.
> Jurriaan


Michael Perelman
Economics Department
California State University
michael at
Chico, CA 95929
fax 530-898-5901

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