[OPE-L:141] RE: The Logic of the 6 Book Plan

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Mon, 25 Sep 1995 23:40:45 -0700

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In message Fri, 22 Sep 1995 01:20:20 -0700, glevy@acnet.pratt.edu writes:

> I don't recall Marx ever specifying the logic behind the 6 book plan. So,
> I'm going to engage in a little bit of speculation and ask what, if any,
> logic lies behind the divisions.

Jerry has raised the question of the 6 Book Plan. I'm going to respond with
an excerpt from the first chapter of my book (Beyond Capital) and then want
to make a few comments about those books:
IV. The Status of Capital

To understand Capital, it is necessary to grasp what it
is not. That Capital was never completed is, of course,
well-known. Both the critical discussion of the expanded
reproduction model of Volume II as well as all of Volume III
remained in an unfinished state at the time of Marx's
death.1 Nevertheless, we cannot blame the problems described
above upon the unfinished state of Capital. After all, the
basic contents of the latter two volumes were reasonably
clear in Marx's mind before he completed his final draft of
Volume I of Capital:

I cannot bring myself to send anything
off until I have the whole thing in
MAY HAVE, the advantage of my writings
is that they are an artistic whole, and
this can only be achieved through my
practice of never having things printed
until I have them before me in their
entirety. 2

So, was Capital indeed that "artistic whole"? And, did
it provide "a fully elaborated system" or was it merely a
fragment or torso of such a system?3 It is undisputed that
Marx originally intended Capital to be only one of six
books. As he indicated in letters to Ferdinand Lasalle and
Frederick Engels in 1858, his long-awaited "Economics" was
to be examined in the following books:

1. Capital
2. Landed Property
3. Wage Labour
1 Further, in the decade and a half following the
publication of Volume I, Marx had "begun to study Russia as
if it was a matter of life and death." In the process, he
scuttled any suggestion in Capital of the necessity of a
unilinear path of social development. Thus, those who wish
to explore Marx's thought on the possibilities for societies
characterised by peripheral and backward capitalism
definitely must go beyond Capital to consider his work in
the 1870s and 1880s. Teodor Shanin,ed., Late Marx and the
Russian Road: Marx and the 'Peripheries of Capitalism' (New
York: Monthly Review Press, 1983),p.7. See this volume for
an excellent discussion of the rethinking of the later Marx.
2 Marx to Engels, 31 July 1865, Marx and Engels, Collected
Works, op.cit., p.173.
3 The alternatives are those posed by Henryk Grossmann, as
cited by Maximilien Rubel in Joseph O'Malley and Keith
Algozin,eds, Rubel on Karl Marx: Five Essays (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1981).

4. State
5. International Trade
6. World Market 4

Nor were these isolated references. Rather, the
conception of the work as a six-book whole can be traced in
the pages of the Grundrisse, the notebooks upon which Marx
was working at the time. The first three books were to
establish the "inner totality" of circulation, setting out
the three classes which were the presupposition of economic
activity. Following this development of the internal
structure of production there was to be the "concentration
of the whole" in the State, the State externally in the
volume on International Trade and, finally, the World Market
(and crises). Only with the last of these books would the
subject of capitalism be adequately investigated:

the world market the conclusion, in
which production is posited as a
totality together with all its moments,
but within which at the same time, all
contradictions come into play. The world
market then, again, forms the
presupposition of the whole as well as
its substratum.5

But what happened to the six-book plan? It clearly
remained in place in 1859 when Marx published his
Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. In his
famous Preface to that volume, Marx began by indicating that
the first three of the books would examine "the conditions
of the economic existence of the three great classes, which
make up modern bourgeois society."6 Yet, The Critique itself
contained only a portion of the material intended for the
4 Marx to Lasalle, 2 February 1858; Marx to Engels, 2 April
1858. See also Marx-Joseph Weydemeyer, 1 February 1859.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 40
(New York: International Publishers, 1983),pp.268-71,296-
304, 374-8.
5 Grundrisse, pp.227-8,264. A useful guide to the
development of Marx's conception of his work may be found in
Allen Oakley, The Making of Marx's Critical Theory: A
Bibliographical Analysis (London: Routledge and Kegan
6 Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
(Chicago: Charles Kerr, 1904),p.9. That little was said
about the remaining three books (other than to note that
their connection was self-evident) may reflect Marx's view
(expressed to Lasalle) that "the actual nub of the economic
argument" was to be found in the first three and that only
broad outlines would be required for the last three. Marx to
Lasalle, 11 March 1858 in Marx and Engels, Collected Works,
Vol. 40, op.cit.,p.287.

book on capital--- the sections on Commodity and Money,
which were the opening of Marx's consideration of "Capital
in General" (itself only part of the book on capital). And,
as we know, all that came subsequently of the plan was
The near-unanimous answer to the problem of the missing
books has been simple: Marx changed his mind, and he
incorporated the relevant material in Capital. Among those
proposing this answer have been Karl Kautsky, Henryk
Grossmann, the Soviet editors of the Collected Works of Marx
and Engels, Ronald Meek and Ernest Mandel.7 Mandel, for
example, argues that Marx's original plan proved
increasingly to be an obstacle to a rigourous development of
the laws of motion of capitalism and therefore had to be
discarded in the end. In his argument, he follows the lead
of Roman Rosdolsky who proposed that, whereas the last three
books were set aside for an "eventual continuation" of the
work, the second and third were absorbed into Capital:

However, the basic themes of the books
on landed property and wage-labor were
incorporated in the manuscripts of
Volumes I and III of the final work,
which took shape between 1864 and 1866.
In this way the six books which were
originally planned were reduced to one -
the Book on Capital.8

Perhaps the strongest dissent to this widely-accepted
view (which has the merit of relieving any potential anxiety
over missing books) has come from Maximilien Rubel. Arguing
that Marx never ever betrayed "even the slightest intention
of changing the plan of the 'Economics'," Rubel proposes
that the problem was, rather, that the first book, Capital,
simply assumed "unforeseen dimensions."9 Thus, he concludes,
we have to recognise the "fragmentary state" of Marx's
'Economics' and acknowledge that "we do not have before us a
Marxist bible of eternally codified canons."10 For Rubel,
the conviction that Marx abandoned his original six-book
plan exempts Marxism's "true believers" from taking up the
problem "where Marx was forced to abandon it."11

7 O'Malley and Algozin, op.cit.,p.151-2; Allen Oakley,
op.cit., pp.107-8,130; Marx and Engels, Collected Works,
Vol. 28 (New York: International Publishers, 1986),xvi;
Ronald Meek, Studies in the Labour Theory of Value (London:
Lawrence & Wishart, 1973), viii-x; Ernest Mandel,
"Introduction" to Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, op.cit., p.29.
8 Roman Rosdolsky, The Making of Marx's 'Capital'
(London:Pluto Press, 1977),p.11.
9 O'Malley and Algozin, op.cit.,pp.163-4.
10 ibid.,p.181.
11 ibid.,pp.218-9.

Even the most sympathetic reader must conclude,
however, that Rubel has failed to prove his case. Although
there was no explicit disavowal of the six-book plan, there
is equally no unequivocal evidence that Marx did not view
Capital in itself as a "completely elaborated system."
Accordingly, after his review of the competing arguments,
Allen Oakley has recently proposed that the bibliographical
evidence necessary to determine either Marx's intentions or
whether there remained any books unwritten is simply
insufficient to support a judgement in either direction.12
Central to the argument in this book, nevertheless, is
the conclusion that Rubel is correct. There were missing
books. In particular, the intended book on wage-labour
remained unwritten. Its absence is at the root of the one-
sidedness in the system elaborated in Capital.13 To
demonstrate this point, however, requires more than
bibliographical evidence. It requires, as well, an
analytical consideration of Capital and other works of this
12 Oakley, op.cit.,p.114.
13 Based upon his spirited reading of the Grundrisse,
Antonio Negri also has recently argued that Capital is only
one part in the totality of the Marxian thematic, and he has
found the corrective to Capital's objectivism in the
Grundrisse (and, in particular, in the latter's elaboration
of the material for the book on wage-labour). Antonio Negri,
Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse (Massachusetts:
Bergin & Garvey Publishers,Inc., 1984), pp. 5, 18-9, 127-151
Some points to add:
(1) we know that Marx subsequently decided to incorporate much (but not
all) of the book on landed property in Capital.
(2) Marx never abandoned the idea of a book on wage-labour and indeed
refers to "the special study of wage labour" in Ch. 20 of Vol. I
(Vintage,683). The consistency of his position can be traced in my "The Book
on Wage-Labor and Marxist Scholarship", which appeared in Science and
Society a few years back and which is available on-line at csf.colorado in
the heterodox economics section.
(3) As I argue in the book (and the above article and a paper, "The
Silences of Capital," also available on-line at the same location), the
absence of the book on wage-labour means the side of the worker as subject
is ignored, that class struggle is displaced by inexorable deterministic
laws, that Marx lapses into naturalistic explanations, that what we get is a
one-sided view of capitalism (and indeed a one-sided view of capital)---
and, much, much more. To make my point concrete, the assumption that the
standard of necessity is given was to be removed in the book on wage-labour.
By assuming it given (as Marx does in Capital), then it is possible to argue
that productivity increases in the production of wage goods lead to a fall
in value of those commodities and a fall in the value of labour-power and
ergo we get relative surplus value. Once we remove that critical assumption,
however, then where's the case for relative surplus value? (There is
one--but the argument is different in a quite significant way.)
4. I propose in my book that, ultimately, the reason that Marx didn't write
the book on wage-labour and, indeed, kept revising Vol. I is that what was
essential for Marx was to reveal the nature of capital (as the result of
exploitation) to workers and that all that was needed for this was Vol. I---
or, as I put it there (in Ch 8 for those lucky few able to follow): he was
less interested in the completion of his epistemological project than in his
revolutionary project.
5. If the book on capital by itself yields a one-sided view and the book on
wage-labour is necessary to complete the inner totality and if the book on
the state involves the completion of the whole, the book on the state must
be informed by an understanding of what must be in the book on wage-labour.
I made an effort to explore this in an essay, "Situating the Capitalist
State", which appears in Marx in a Post-Modern Age (1994), edited by Steve
Cullenberg and Antonio Callari (and which came out of the Rethinking Marxism
conference a few years back).
I'll stop here--- just to underline the point that I believe that we do
need to focus on the 6 book plan and should recognise that the project is
complete only with the last of the books.
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 255-0382
Lasqueti Island (current location): (604) 333-8810
e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca