|Engels' Edition of the Third Volume of Capital
and Marx's Original Manuscript
by Michael Heinrich
[published in: Science and Society vol. 60, no.4, Winter 1996/97, pp. 452-466]
Abstract: Since Engels published the third volume of Capital out of Marx's bequest, it was asked how strongly he had intervened into Marx's text. Marx's original manuscript, firstly published in 1993, shows that Engels made nearly on each page textual modifications, which he did not indicate. A considerable number of these modifications concerns not only stylistical aspects. Especially, the meaning of crisis theory and the theoretical status of credit theory were shifted. The text published by Engels is not a mere edition of Marx's manuscript, but a far-reaching adaptation, which can no longer be considered as volume III of Marx's Capital. Any future discussion will have to refer to Marx's original text.
In 1894, Engels published the third volume of Capital out of Marx's literary bequest. 27 years after the first volume's first publication, Marx's main oeuvre was complete; at least as far as its "theoretic" part was concerned, since Marx had planned a fourth, theory-historical volume in the 60s.1 The third volume has caused heavy controversies on Marx's economic theory ever since it was published. The problem of transformation of values into production prizes, the decline of the rate of profit, crisis theory or the analysis of the credit system - all these questions refer to parts of the third volume of Capital. Soon the question was raised as to how strongly Engels intervened into Marx's text during the editing of the manuscript (e.g. Gide/Rist 1913, p. 514).
The manuscript of 1864/65, which Engels mainly used for the publication, was firstly published in 1993 in the Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA)2, so that now for the first time in 100 years, two questions can be examined: (1) To which extent and with which implications in content did Engels intervene into Marx's original manuscript during editing and (2) how far did Marx actually get with the elaboration of the third volume of Capital?
1. What was known so far about Engels' editing activity
Two years after Marx's death, Engels already published the second volume of Capital from Marx's estate. In the preface to this volume, he wrote about book III, which was still to be published:
"The preparation of this Book for publication is proceeding rapidly. So far as I am able to judge up to now, it will present mainly technical difficulties, with the exception of a few but very important sections." (Capital, Vol. II, p.5)
Despite the expectations due to this statement that volume III would be published as fast as volume II, it was to take 9 more years until it was finally finished. In the meantime, Engels had repeatedly announced the publication, mainly in letters. In view of the long period until the date of publication (and even with consideration of the other obligations of Engels), it can be presumed that the publication of the manuscript caused him great effort and the question is, what task this effort was invested into.
In the preface of the finally published volume, Engels reported on his editing activity. He characterized Marx's manuscript as an extremely "incomplete first draft":
"The beginnings of the various parts were, as a rule, pretty carefully done and even stylistically polished. But the farther one went, the more sketchy and incomplete was the manuscript, the more excursions it contained into arising side-issues whose proper place in the argument was left for later decision, and the longer and more complex the sentences, in which thoughts were recorded in statu nascendi." (Capital, Vol. III, p.2).
On his own editing of Marx's text, Engels wrote:
"I limited this to the essential. I tried my best to preserve the character of the first draft wherever it was sufficiently clear. ... Wherever my alterations or additions exceeded the bounds of editing, or where I had to apply Marx's factual material to independent conclusions of my own, if even as faithful as possible to the spirit of Marx, I have enclosed the entire passage in brackets and affixed my initials." (Capital, Vol. III, p.3).
This statement suggests that Engels marked all his textual interventions (except for the ones not "exceeding the bounds of editing") as such. But in the following characterization of the individual paragraphs, he lists a large number of transpositions, additions, contractions and similar alterations, which he especially made in Part V, whereby he even dissolved a whole chapter and distributed its contents. But he thereby "succeeded in working into the text all the author's relevant statements." (Capital, Vol. III, p.6). Here he also says:
"This could not, of course, be done without considerable interpolations on my part for the sake of continuity. Unless they are merely formal in nature, the interpolations are expressly indicated as belonging to me." (Capital, Vol. III, p.6).
This statement unmistakeably says that Engels by no means indicated all the interpolations and alterations he made. The preface offers no clue towards the extent of these alterations. It is to be assumed, however, that these were by no means minor.
The supplement to Capital written by Engels also indicates considerable changes. In the supplement, Engels wrote that he had tried to "eliminate difficulties in understanding", and to "bring more to the fore important aspects whose significance is not strikingly enough evident in the text" (Capital III, p. 890). Therefore, Engels himself wanted to transmit what was important to the readers by correcting the original. A letter to Danielson on July 4th 1889 also shows the extent of the undertaken manipulations. Engels wrote:
"Aber da dieser abschliessende Band eine so grossartige und völlig unangreifbare Arbeit ist, halte ich es für meine Pflicht, ihn in einer Form herauszubringen, in der die Gesamtlinie der Beweisführung klar und plastisch herauskommt. Bei dem Zustand dieses Ms. - einer ersten, oft unterbrochenen und unvollständigen Skizze - ist das nicht so ganz leicht. [But since this final volume is such a great and completely incontestable work, I consider it to be my duty to publish it in a form which clearly shows the overall line of argumentation clearly and plastically. This is not quite so easy due to the state of this manuscript - a first, often interrupted and incomplete sketch.]" (MEW 37, p.244).
On the whole, Engels' own characterizations of his editing activity are contradictory. On the one hand, he claims to have only made minor alterations and that he wanted to let Marx speak "in Marx's own words" as far as possible (Capital III, p.889) and that he didn't want to eliminate the draft character. His editing indeed shows that this third volume was by no means "finished". Therefore a careful editing of Marx's manuscript can be expected. On the other hand, however, there is evidence that Engels must have made a large number of textual modifications which are not indicated to the readers to clarify the "overall line of argumentation", or what Engels presumed as such. Therefore, Engels cannot have exercised as much restraint in editing as he claimed.
This contradictory characterization of his editorial treatment of Marx's text is obviously an expression of his own contradicting intentions. On the one hand he wanted to preserve the unfinished character of Marx's manuscript and present an authentic text to the readers. On the other hand, however, he wanted to make the text more understandable (especially in view of the book's political importance); the most important points were to be evident not by a commentary but by the edition itself. But these two objectives exclude each other.
2. An overview of Engels' textual modifications
The comparison of the original manuscript with Engels' edition, which has only just become possible, shows that there are modifications to the original text on practically each page that have not been indicated. Hardly one paragraph remained as Marx had written it. Engels' modifications do not only comprise "stylistical" aspects. His modifications can be classfied as follows3:
1) Design of titles and headings, the structure of the manuscript
Even the title of the manuscript was altered by Engels: Engels turned "Gestaltungen des Gesammtprocesses" [Formations of the Process as a Whole] into "Der Gesamtprozess der kapitalistischen Produktion" [The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole]. Thus an analogy to the titles of Book I and II is created, but at the same time a certain vagueness connected to Marx's title is eliminated. Additionally, the question is whether the title should, if seeking connection to the earlier titles, mention "Reproduction" and not "Production".4
Engels also made a detailed segmentation of the text. The original manuscript was only divided into seven chapters with little or no subdivisions. Engels turned the seven chapters into seven parts with 52 chapters and a number of subparagraphs. Many of the structure incisions as well as most of the headings were created by Engels: Marx's text consists of 34 headings (and 5 construction points which are only numbered), Engels' edition contains 92 headings.
The arrangement of a text and the used headings obviously strongly influences the understanding of a text. Especially if the text is not finished but in vast parts sketchy and incomplete. By putting these just sketched parts together into chapters and inserting headings, not only this draft-character is concealed. Foremost, the readers can no longer tell at which points of the manuscript "presentation" turns into "inquiry". The difference between presentation and inquiry, however, is of central importance for Marx' own methodical understanding.5 To Marx, "presentation" does not just mean the more or less skillful assembly of final results. The factual correlation of the presented conditions should be expressed by the correct presentation of the categories, by "advancing from the abstract to the concrete". To Marx, the search for an adequate presentation is an essential part of his process of inquiry. But the difference between complete and incomplete presentation is concealed by the structure imposed by Engels. Additionally, Engels tried to strengthen the textual coherence through omissions and connecting phrases. The readers do not learn that a large part of Marx' manuscript is open and undecided. Engels gives them a possible solution of the problems without letting them know that there is a problem: the solution given by Engels appears to be more of a mostly complete elaboration by Marx.
2) Textual Transpositions
Engels transposed a large number of text pieces. The transposed text pieces consist of parts of a sentence, long paragraphs and the rearrangement of whole text complexes, as in the fifth chapter (Part V in Engels' edition).
At this stage, a serious error of Engels has to be mentioned. Marx wanted to begin his seventh chapter Revenues (Income) and their Sources with 1) The Trinity Formula. Engels believed he had found three independent fragments concerning this point, two smaller ones which he labelled I and II, and a longer one which was labelled III. This last fragment also had a gap which Engels pointed out to the readers. As Larissa Miskewitsch and Witali Wygodski (1985) managed to show after an exact analysis of the manuscript even before the MEGA-volume was published, these are not three independent fragments: The fragments labelled I and II by Engels form a continuous text which exactly fills the gap in fragment III.
3) Text Omissions
Engels made a number of deletions concerning single words or parts of sentences and whole paragraphs and longer text passages. Only some of these passages were repetitions, sometimes they were substantially important statements, as for example the reflections on the transition from chapter I to II (MEGA II.4.2, pp. 282-83).
4) Text Conversions
Engels changed the relevance of many text passages: footnotes were integrated into the main text, many brackets in the main text were omitted. Most of Marx's emphasizes were deleted, Engels introduced own emphasizes in some places. The omission of brackets is especially problematical. It is not always clear whether the text part in brackets is an addition to the current argumentation or a remark which should not at all be inserted at this point or whether it is a preliminary, incomplete reflection. But such differenciations disappear in Engels' presentation. For instance, the famous passage on the poverty of the masses as the "ultimate reason for all real crisis" (Capital, Vol. III, p.484), which is often quoted as a proof for the existence of an underconsumption-theory in Marx's work, happened to be inside such a bracket and was integrated into the main text by Engels. Furthermore, Engels changed the text linguistically, but merely "stylistical" transformations fluently change into important alterations in context, for example the replacement of "mode of production" by "production" (Capital, Vol. III, p.484; MEGA II.4.2, p.540).
5) Insertions and Textual Extensions
Engels made a large number of insertions other than the ones he indicated with his initials. They concern single words or parts of a sentence or connecting phrases or explanations to the text. Even relativizations and reservations to Marx's text can be found. The alteration of Marx's methodological remarks is especially critical to the understanding of the text, which will be analysed below.
6) Modifications of Minor Importance
- Textual Condensations (Engels summarized some passages expressed in a complicated way by Marx),
- Terminological Alterations
- Stylistical Textual Changes (in a narrow sense, e.g. replacement of anglicisms)
- Alteration, Replacement and Deletion of Mathematic Examples
- Corrections of References, Citations (and their Translation)
This overview already showed that the 1894 edition was an extensive adaptation of Marx's manuscript, and Engels did not inform the readers about the true extent of his adaptation. The fact that this adaptation affected the meaning of the original text was outlined above. This shall be shown in a more detailed manner in the following.
3. Interpretatory handicaps caused by Engels' edition
a) Crisis theory
Marx did not structure the third chapter of his manuscript which deals with the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall. Engels divided the corresponding part of his edition into three chapters (chapters XIII to XV), and the first two chapters follow Marx's argumentation which is adequately elaborated. Afterwards, Marx's chapter passes into a large amount of remarks, additions and argumentation approaches, which are not elaborated any further. At this point, it is no longer a systematic presentation. Due to Engels giving this material a problematic chapter heading ("Exposition of the Internal Contradictions of the Law"), making further substructures, inserting headings and increasing the coherence of the text by deleting paragraphs and omitting brackets, the material in the original manuscript is considerably upgraded. And indeed this chapter XV - composed by Engels - was often considered a vastly complete "Marx's Crisis Theory" based on the Law of the Tendecy of the Rate of Profit to Fall. Even though the text published by Engels still shows that Marx did not leave a complete Crisis Theory, the impression is given, however, that Marx left a vastly complete framework that only had to be filled out.
It is not even clear whether the material adapted by Engels was actually to constitute an independent paragraph. Several options could have been possible for a later elaboration: Marx could have tried to turn this material into an independent chapter in direct relation to the presentation of the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall, he could have tried to formulate an independent paragraph on capitalist crises, which could have integrated further material from the sphere of the credit system, for instance, he could have also distributed the presentation of the various mentioned crisis phenomena into different chapters and avoid an autonomous crisis theory or maybe he would not have wanted to use a large part of what he had written about crisis within the three volumes of Capital. For each of these options, reasons could be listed and with each option the Crisis Theory would obtain a different meaning.
Engels did not only avoid to show at this point that there is an interpretatory latitude, he also directly interfered with Marx's text as soon as it contradicted with the interpretation he himself favourised. For instance, Marx wrote on the over-production of capital (which Engels calls over-accumulation of capital at this point): "die nähere Untersuchung darüber gehört in die Betrachtung der erscheinenden Bewegung des Capitals, wo Zinscapital etc Credit etc entwickelt [the closer analysis of this issue belongs to the study of the appearing movement of capital, where interest-bearing capital etc credit etc will be presented]", and it is to be agreed with the editors of the MEGA-volume who argue in the annotations that "erscheinende Bewegung des Capitals" [appearing movement of capital] does not belong to the matters dealt with in Capital (MEGA II.4.2, p.1255). Engels, however, turned Marx's remark into the opposite. He omited Marx's text and wrote instead: "its closer analysis follows later" (Capital, Vol. III, p.251). In fact, some remarks on over-production resp. over-accumulation of capital actually do follow. The fact that Marx obviously did not apply a systematic relevance to them at this point, because he thought the subject cannot be negotiated on the achieved level of abstraction6, was turned into the opposite by Engels' textual alteration.
b) Credit Theory
A similar situation is the case with the fifth chapter of Marx' original manuscript. Here at least Engels gave an idea, in the preface, of the extent of transpositions he had made. In this chapter too, Marx's presentation soon changed into the protocol of a research process containing a large amount of not fully accomplished reflections. By Engels' editing, the impression is again given that the elementary problems have been solved to a vast extent and that it is merely a question of a not quite eliminated (not even by Engels) lack of presentation.
While the original structure of the chapter still remained visible during Engels' editing of the third chapter, his editing completely shifted the emphasis in the fifth chapter. As Marx's text shows, the topic of this chapter was to be the interest-bearing capital. Marx divided this chapter into 6 subchapters. The first four points correspond to the first four chapters of Part V in the Engels' edition (Chapters XXI to XXIV in Capital III). Marx titled point V with "Credit. Fictitious Capital" (MEGA II.4.2, p.469). Engels composed the chapters XXV to XXXV from this material. In doing this, he made a lot of textual rearrangements, put footnotes into the running text, distributed a whole chapter ("The Confusion"), introduced a lot of transitional remarks and thus obscured the passages where Marx's text was no longer a mature presentation but a "process of inquiry" or sometimes even just an excerpt. Marx's point VI ("Pre-Capitalist Relationships") corresponds to the last chapter of Part V in Engels' edition again.
The structure, which in Marx's writings also indicates the systematic importance of the treated topic, lists credit as the last (systematic) subpoint in the presentation of the interest-bearing capital. Engels designs 11 chapters from this fifth point. Not just because of the quantitive extent but also due to the structuring of the material, the impression arises that the presentation of the interest-bearing capital is just an introduction to the discussion of credit. This also prevails in the terminology, Part V is often called the "Part on credit", even though credit is not even mentioned in the title.
In this chapter, Engels also made textual changes as soon as the original text was in the way of his own interpretation. Marx introduced the point "5) Credit. Fictitious Capital" with the following sentence:
"An analysis of the credit system and of the instruments which it creates for its own use, like credit-money etc., lies beyond our plan." (MEGA II.4.2, p.469).
Engels introduced the word "exhaustive" here:
"An exhaustive analysis of the credit system and of the instruments which it creates for its own use (credit-money, etc.) lies beyond our plan." (Capital, Vol. III, p.400).
He had made a similar alteration earlier on. In the first chapter of Marx's manuscript, the following remark follows under the subtitle "Appreciation, Depreciation, Release and Tie-Up of Capital":
"The phenomena analysed in this require for their full development the credit system and competition on the world-market ... . These - more definitive forms of capitalist production can 1) only be presented, however, after the general nature of capital is understood, and 2) they do not come within the scope of this work and belong to its eventual continuation." (MEGA II.4.2, p.178)
Engels introduced the word "comprehensively" into the second sentence:
"These more definitive forms of capitalist production can only be comprehensively presented..." (Capital III, p.110)
Therefore, while Marx repeatedly clearly declares that the presentation of the credit system lies beyond his plan, this statement is crucially relativized in the mentioned passages.7 As a consequence of these insertions, the consequent qualitative distinction between what can be treated on the presentation level attained and what cannot, is obstructed and reduced to a mere quantitative problem: a "comprehensive", "exhaustive" presentation, which lies beyond the plan, is confronted with the available less comprehensive presentation. Thus Engels can include into the corpus of Capital all sorts of points mentioned by Marx - although they cannot yet be presented systematically on the level of abstraction attained. Seemingly to Engels this appeared to be an unproblematic completition. The dialectically structured presentation, which was Marx's aim, in which the right sequence of terms and categories is crucial for the understanding of its meaning, is shifted towards a mere encyclopaedical collection by Engels' edition.
These differentiations are not merely a question of hair-splitting, as can be shown with the credit-theory. For Marx's concept of presentation the central question is whether the inherent laws of the credit can actually be discussed on the highly abstract level of Capital, or whether they are linked to a number of historically specific institutional factors, like the constitution of the money and banking system, so that there cannot be a general credit theory. In Marx's manuscript this question remains open. Engels chooses a presentation of the research-material found in Marx's manuscript on the general level, which led to the reproach on Marx that he had unduely generalized specific historic conditions of the credit system in 19th century England.
c) Commodity-Production and Capitalist Production
A considerable influence on the interpretation of Capital was made by Engels with his chapter Law of Value and Rate of Profit in the Supplement to Volume III. There he claimed the existence of a simple commodity-production during several milleniums before the capitalist commodity-production, where the commodities were exchanged according to the necessary labour-time for their production. He cites an incidental remark made by Marx to prove that this was also Marx's opinion ("it is quite appropriate to regard the values of commodities as not only theoretically but also historically prius to the prices of production", Capital Vol. III, p.896). It may be a question for economic historians, whether such a "simple commodity-production" ever existed or not, but Engels' conclusion from this claim is meaningful for the interpretation of Capital: The first part of the first volume of Capital would present the laws of this (therefore pre-capitalist) commodity-production (Capital, Vol. III, p.899). In doing so, Engels fostered a historical reading of Capital which could already be found in Kautsky's (1887) wide-spread popularization of Capital. Commodity and money as they are presented at the beginning of the first volume of Capital are thus turned into categories of pre-capitalist conditions and the (theoretical) problem of the transformation of values into production prizes is turned into a historical succession. As the Introduction of 1857 shows with the example of the term "labour", Marx was, however, aware of the problem, that seemingly simple categories mean different things in different production relations.8
As Marx already clarifies in the first sentence of Capital, he is not analysing the commodity of a pre-capitalist, simple commodity-production, but he is analysing the commodity as an "elementary form" of the "wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails" (Capital, Vol. I, p.43).
Similarily clear, Marx states in reviewing his argumentation in the last chapter of his manuscript:
"In the case of the simplest categories of the capitalist mode of production, in the cases of commodities and money, we have already pointed out the mystifying character ..." (MEGA II.4.2, p.848f).
Engels, however, underlays this statement with his own understanding of what is presented at the beginning of Capital and turns this sentence into:
"In the case of the simplest categories of the capitalist mode of production, and even of commodity-production, in the cases of commodities and money, we have already pointed out the mystifying character ..." (Capital, Vol. III, p. 826)
Commodities and money are now no longer the simplest categories of the capitalist mode of production, but of commodity-production.
The book published by Engels in 1894 is not a mere edition of Marx's manuscript, but a far-reaching adaptation of the original manuscript. Only the smallest number of Engels' interventions is made visible. The largest extent of alterations remain obscured to the readers. The interventions themselves are not just of formal or stylistical nature, they deceive the readers about the actual extent of elaboration, they offer solutions for problems which the manuscript left open (without clarification that these are Engels' solutions!) and in some passages they even change the argumentation of the original text, if these obstruct Engels' interpretations. Therefore, Engels' edition can no longer be considered as volume III of Marx's Capital, it is not Marx's text "in the full genuineness of his own presentation", as Engels wrote in the supplement (Capital, Vol. III, p.889), but a strong editing of this presentation, a pre-interpreted textbook edtion of Marx's manuscript.
The fact that Engels did not undertake a textual editing fulfilling modern demands is quite understandable from the point of view of those times. Editions did not have to fulfill such high demands concerning textual loyalty as is necessary today. An editor was given much larger freedom than today, especially if he was spiritually close to the edited author. Furthermore, it was most important to Engels to publish a book which could serve as an intellectual weapon for the working-class in the class struggle, which therefore was understandable and topical. And with all criticism we must not forget that it was an incredible achievement to publish this manuscript, of which Marx had once said in a letter to Engels that nobody at all could publish it in a readable form except for he himself (letter on February 13th, 1866).
Even still, all understanding for Engels' motives and procedure cannot at all alter the assessment that the text he has presented is by no means the third volume of Capital. Each future discussion of Marx's economic theory will have to refer to Marx's original manuscript.
But this text also cannot simply be considered as the third volume of Capital, judging by the elaboration of the first volume. Therefore, it is indeed a "first, incomplete draft", as Engels mentioned in the Preface. But the gaps are not just of quantitative nature. It is not just the problem, that Marx didn't have enough time to fully accomplish an already completely sketched picture. In quite many places, it is not even clear what the sketches should look like on the given basis. Marx was nowhere near solving all the conceptual problems of his task. The already presented parts, his value and money theory of the first volume, include a number of ambivalences9, which make it seem questionable whether it could at all have been possible to complete Capital on the given basis.
Translated by Ann Stafford
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