Capital. A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production. Translated from the third German edition, by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, and edited by Frederick Engels.

MARX Karl (1889)


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'Stereotyped Edition' (third edition in English overall, first UK one-volume edition). Large 8vo. xxxi, [1, blank], 816 pp. Original red cloth, blindstamped decorative border to covers, spine lettered in gilt within a single gilt rule border, top edge untrimmed. Some light wear to extremities, corners a trifle bumped, spine faded, hinges intact, covers slightly marked with small area of scuffing to front cover, notwithstanding an excellent example of a book that is prone to buckle under its own weight and usually encountered with broken hinges or rebacked entirely. London, Swan Sonnenschein and Co.

The first complete English translation of Das Kapital was the initiative of Engels himself, but to say that the project had been long in the making would be a gross understatement. Indeed, the idea of translating Kapital into English had been first expressed by Marx as far back as 1863 when he was still working hard on the manuscript of the book in the library of the British Museum and in 1868 the Leipzig newspaper Demokratisches Wochenblatt even carried an article announcing forthcoming translations of the book into Russian and English. Despite their best intentions, Marx and Engels were confronted with numerous obstacles and false starts, and agonising talks concerning suitable translators and willing publishers would continue for nearly two decades, over the course of which complete translations of Kapital appeared in Russian, French, Polish, and Italian. 

Marx and Engels were incredibly demanding when it came to assessing any prospective translator. These exacting standards were best expressed by Engels himself in an article titled ‘How Not to Translate Marx’ published in 1885: 

    “To translate such a book a fair knowledge of literary German is not enough. Marx uses freely expressions of every-day life and idioms of provincial dialects; he coins new words, he takes his illustrations from every branch of science, his allusions from the literatures of a dozen languages; to understand him, a man must be a master of German indeed, spoken as well as written, and must know something of German life too. … Marx is one of the most vigorous and concise writers of the age. To render him adequately, a man must be a master, not only of German, but of English too.” (The Commonweal, Vol. 1, No. 10, November 1885, p. 97). 

Various potential candidates for the English translation came and went over the years, and Marx even repeatedly attempted to persuade his own daughter Laura to undertake the enormous project. “When Marx was still alive, Engels suggested that the translation should be made by his friend Samuel Moore (1838-1912), an English lawyer, whom he first met in Manchester in 1863. Engels and Moore became fast friends. The latter was always a welcome guest at the Marxs’. During his visits to London he would accompany Marx on his Sunday walks and then spend the rest of the day with Marx and his family. He also had an outstanding gift for mathematics, and Marx sometimes consulted him when formulating the main laws of economic crises” (Uroyeva, p. 218). 

Samuel Moore had been an active member of the Manchester section of the International Workingmen’s Association (First International) and “performed various missions connected with the practical revolutionary activity of Marx and Engels. Once, in the summer of 1867, Engels discussed with Moore separate passages from Kapital and saw that the latter understood them correctly. In Engels’s opinion, Moore was a hardworking, reliable translator possessing adequate theoretical knowledge. That settled the question of who should translate Kapital into English” (Uroyeva, p. 218). Moore made several trips to Germany to improve his grasp of the language and eventually started work on the translation in the summer of 1883 – a matter of months after Marx’s death.

Moore made slow progress, however, largely due to being overloaded with legal work, and eventually broached the subject with Engels of recruiting the assistance of another translator. Edward Aveling (1851-1898) would join the project in the spring of 1884 – the same year that he began his relationship with Marx’s youngest daughter, Eleanor. Aveling, an atheist and Darwinist, had been prominent in the British working-class movement from the 1870s and, together with Eleanor Marx, did much to aid the development of Marxism in Britain during the last decades of the nineteenth century. 

The greater part of the translation was made by Moore. Engels always praised his work and admitted that Moore was invaluable in polishing the text. “Aveling translated only a sixth of the book, but his part was much more difficult to edit. In Engels’s opinion, he did not do such a thorough job as Moore, for both the economic theory and the author’s language were new to him” (Uroyeva, p. 225). For his part, Engels endured a hard time editing the text. The project came about at a time when Engels was hard at work editing the third and then fourth German editions of the first volume of Kapital alongside preparing Marx’s unfinished manuscripts of the second and third volumes for publication. He would later admit that overseeing the English translation was “terrible work” (quoted in Uroyeva, p. 224).

The translation was completed in March 1886 and Engels arranged a publishing deal with Swan Sonnenschein. In keeping with the protracted nature of the project, the printing process progressed slowly, with proofs being sent back and forth between both translators and Engels. “This confounded English translation”, Engels wrote to Sroge on September 16-17 1886, “has taken up the better part of a year. But it was absolutely essential and I don't regret it” (MECW, Vol. 47, p. 492).

The English translation was finally published, with Engels’s approval, in January 1887 in a two volume edition of 500 copies. The edition was sold within two months of publication, with almost half the copies being sold in the United States. Sonnenschein published a cheaper stereotyped reprint later in 1887, again issued in two volumes in a run of 500 copies, before issuing the present one-volume ‘Stereotyped Edition’ in 1889. It would be reprinted in this format repeatedly over the coming decades and all subsequent English editions were based on this “authorized edition”, remaining the standard English text up until the 1950s.

See: A. Uroyeva, For All Time and All Men.

Andréas, 245; Rubel 633n; Draper, M143n. Not in Stammhammer. 

Stock Code: 246549

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