A Modern Voice for Marx

Capital, volume one, by Karl Marx translated by Ben Fowkes as part of New Left Review's "Marx Library", Vintage Books, 1979, $7.95.

Much has happened since Das Kapital was first translated into Capital. Some skeptics would say that events -- both in society and in our theoretical comprehension of reality -- have overtaken that book. But this would be too superficial a rejection for a work presenting such a fundamental analysis of the capitalist system. The relation of Marx's publication to subsequent history should be seen in its dialectical complexity.

Economic science, political theory and critical philosophy have been transformed by Marx's approach as by no other set of ideas. Revolutions and social movements on every continent have proclaimed their goals in terms of one or another interpretation of Marxism. Such pervasive historical influences necessarily react back upon the original text and its vocabulary Any reading of Capital today is bound to be filtered through the lenses of recent history.


This is not to bemoan the fact that we read Capital from the perspective of our own situation. Rather, it is a mark of the text's greatness that, like an important work of art, it responds with renewed meaning to the present context. What is unfortunate is that many of the terms which Marx innocently used have since been codified into a dogmatic jargon. They conjure up images and interconnections which limit their significance and distort their relevance to a non-violent democratic socialist movement within corporate America. Jargon muffles the text's ability to speak to us.

The recovery of Marx 's contributions from their orthodox fetishism is a political as well as intellectual act. For the transformation of critical thought into dogma serves the interests of established powers, not just well-intentioned popularizers. It has therefore been a priority of those who reject entrenched Party authority -- e.g., such outsiders as the American new left, the Frankfurt School, the Yugoslav philosophers -- to stress Marx's early works against economistic construals of Capital. More recently, rigorous academic studies have been carried out to combat the distortions of Marx's later theories. (Harrington' s Twilight of Capitalism rehearses much of this work.) The setting has thus been prepared for a modern appreciation of Marx's mature masterpiece.


Happily, we now have a truly fresh rendering into English of volume one of Capital a fitting. response to the theoretical needs and intellectual potentials of today. The clarity of the new translation allows anyone concerned with changing the present world to follow the argument of Marx's fully-developed theory, unencumbered by archaic formulations and cliched phrases. The original translation took certain liberties in adapting a work aimed at German intellectuals to the English proletarian movement; the recent one aims with great success at capturing literal accuracy in modern English usage.

To-the-point footnotes have been added to clarify Marx's now obscure historical, political and literary references, while the original German of philosophically controversial concepts are supplied parenthetically to permit fully informed interpretation. The traditional text of Marx's volume is preceded by a lucid introduction and overview by Ernest Mandel and followed by the never-before-translated chapter, "Results of the immediate process of production," which Marx once wrote as a concluding summary to volume one. Together, these additions aid the reader in discovering the work's contemporary significance.


Now the serious student of society needs only concentration and perseverance to follow Marx's presentations on such timely themes as:

bulletWhat is capitalism? Why its appeal? Whence its shortcomings?
bulletHow does capitalism engender materialistic values and obfuscatory conceptualizations?
bulletWhy must we work for wages from bosses?
bulletDoes capitalism require substantial unemployment?
bulletWhat are the structural implications of a shorter work week?
bulletIs modern technology molded by capitalist relations?
bulletCan investment policies respond to social needs?
bulletDo growth limitations in markets and resources pose a fatal threat to capitalism?

Questions like these may ultimately lead beyond Capital to theories of international relations, monopoly power, state intervention and political consciousness. The re-translation of Capital facilitates, at least, getting a handle on some keys to the answers. For, under favorable reading conditions, Das Kapital remains unsurpassed as a model of critical social theory and still provides the necessary basis for any attempt to go further. Having just read Capital in its modern English form, I am convinced more than ever of its importance to people working for socialist change.

Review prepared by Gerry Stahl in 1978, self-published for distribution at workshops of the Democaratic Scoialist Organizating Committee (DSOC) and the Philadelphia Marxist School

Go to top of this page

Return to Gerry Stahl's Home Page

Send email to Gerry.Stahl@drexel.edu

This page last modified on January 05, 2004