[OPE] The English sub-titling of 'Capital'?

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Wed May 27 2009 - 15:19:54 EDT

As a translator, I doubt that there were "accidents" in the choice of title
for different editions, there must have been a definite intention in the
choice of words. The difficulty is usually in proving in a scholarly
acceptable way what the intention really was.

The most reliable approach it to look at what he says about his own work. A
good place to start is the Prefaces, and Postfaces, of which there are four

- the first German edition,
- postface to the second German edition,
- the preface and postface to the French edition.

In addition there is the correspondence about the book. Interestingly, in
the French afterword Marx writes "whatever the literary defects of this
French edition may be, it possesses a scientific value independent of the
original and should be consulted even by readers familiar with German".


As an intellectual fighter, Marx could - as Boris Nicolaevsky described -
in reality be intensely competitive, arrogant/vain/proud and even jealous.
To understand his grandiose and ferocious intellectual ambitions you have to
consider the serious intellectual competitors in his own era which he aimed
to outshine: men such as:

- his own friend Engels (who initially stimulated him - trained in
philosophy, not economics - to pursue a materialist conception of history
and the criticism of political economy),
- Bauer (left-liberal German Hegelianism), Proudhon (an anarcho-socialist
philosophy coquetted with references to great thinkers),
- Lasalle (social-democratic reformism),
- the German leftist professoriat (such as represented e.g. by Prof.

At the time, David Ricardo had, as economist, approximately the same stature
as Paul Krugman does now.

All these people in turn tried to stand on the shoulders of the intellectual
giants of the preceding generations, or outdo them.

This means I think there is a need for "reading Marx in context" to
understand who he was responding to, in the kind of way that Hal Draper
often tries to do. He wasn't writing into a vacuum, but having a dialogue
with the great social commentators of his time.

I have always regarded Das Kapital very much as an unfinished
"Streitschrift" (literally, a fighting text, a critical intervention in an
ongoing discussion) which is just as critical of the flawed theories of the
socialistic Left, as it is of the political economist's rather apologetic
explanations of business civilization. It's a multi-layered story about the
relations and dynamics of capital, the bourgeois society and the social
classes it forms out of preceding traditions, as well as the intellectual
ideas it gives rise to in order to explain and justify the social order. It
does not fit neatly into any particular academic discipline because it was
very much an "interdisciplinary" work, as highlighted by Lenin's "three
components" interpretation

Marx clearly aimed to write a book so intellectually devastating, persuasive
and definitive that it would trounce all his critics and opponents, and
establish the hegemony of his own idea - overthrowing the intellectual
status quo of his epoch, and indeed with a suggestion of intellectual
immortality - he hoped wrily or caustically, and with a suggestion of a
revenge of history - that the bourgeoisie would "remember his haemorroids"
as he had pooped on their political economy.

When he discovered that he had become fodder for the schematizing French and
German philosophes and system-builders, and that, surprisingly, the first
volume only really became popular in Russia, I think he became somewhat more
cautious about his own intellectual achievement, and indeed tried to "talk
down" the enthusiasm with which people applied his ideas in all sorts of
ways that he didn't really intend. Overall he seems to have had very little
ability for understanding the overall effects his own writings would have,
and it is interesting how cautiously he operated in the IWMA.

When Marx dumped a mass of unfinished manuscripts on Engels to work them up
into books, as a sort of final "present" for leading him into the study of
political economy in the first place, Engels performed the heroic task of
editing it all into publishable material, but in fact, as Michael Heinrich
says, the overall effect was to make texts which were by no means free from
doubts, problems and uncertainties appear much more definite, systematic,
polished and final than they truly were. http://www.oekonomiekritik.de/

Obviously, by translating a text, it often becomes even more polished.
Effectively, most of us have read Vol. 2, 3, and TSV through the prism of
editors and translators. However, if, as Marx assumes, you are a reader
"willing to learn something new and therefore to think for himself", you can
read between the lines and grasp the content, whatever the deformities
introduced by others.


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