Christopher J. Arthur

Marx wrote his Grundrisse over the period  August 1857 to May 1858. It remained virtually unknown for almost a century (with the exception of its Introduction). It was first translated into English only in 1973. This Note presents to the interested student an annotated survey of the existing translations.  The Bibliography at the end provides all the English editions (whole and partial) known to me.

There are two translations into English of the whole text of Marx’s Grundrisse. The first appeared in 1973, translated by Martin Nicolaus (See Bibliography: A1). His German source was the 1953 Dietz edition (Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Rohentwurf) 1857-58, Berlin 1953). The title is Grundrisse, and the subtitle: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). After the ‘Introduction’ and the main text he adds the essay ‘Bastiat and Carey’ (which in fact was written first).

The second translation appeared in the Marx-Engels Collected Works, in two volumes, Volume 28 in 1986 and Volume 29 in 1987 (A2). The German source was the new ‘MEGA’ edition of the text, but the editors cite it misleadingly. They give the sources of the matter presented in Collected Works 28–29 as ‘Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) II, 1;  II, 2, Berlin, 1976-1981.’ (CW 28: xxvi). In fact the Grundrisse was put out in two parts: MEGA II, Band 1, Teil 1 (1976);  Band 1, Teil 2 (1981).  MEGA II Band 2 (1980) is the post-Grundrisse volume containing the other texts translated in Collected Works Volume 29. Collected Works Volume 28 contains ‘Bastiat and Carey’, the ‘Introduction’, and the first instalment of the main text, titled ‘Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft of 1857-58)’. Volume 29 contains the second instalment of the main text; additionally it includes the following relevant material: ‘Index to the 7 Notebooks’ (June 1858), ‘References to my own Notebooks’ (1861), and ‘Draft Plan of the Chapter on Capital’ (1860). (Nicolaus does not give these indexes separately but makes use of them in his editorial apparatus.) In the same volume is A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy of 1859, together with its Urtext (the only English translation of the latter).

While Nicolaus deserves congratulations for his efforts, his translation is not without defects as the following examples show. a)  It was noticed almost immediately that his translation of ‘Verwertung’ as ‘realization’ is wrong. The Collected Works gives ‘valorisation’, which is now the general usage (despite its being somewhat ‘technical’), having appeared in the 1976 translation of Capital. Of course this was after Nicolaus’s Grundrisse appeared; the standard English translation then (the original edited by Engels) used terms like ‘creation of surplus value’ or ‘expansion’. The reason Nicolaus’s choice is so bad is that Marx uses the term ‘realisation’ in relation to circulation, whereas the process of valorisation is rooted in production. When, in the Grundrisse itself, Marx discusses realisation, the Nicolaus translation becomes hopelessly confusing, despite his attempt to remedy the situation by inserting some bracketed German (e.g. 401-2, 447-8, 450). b) Nicolaus translates ‘Aufhebung’ as ‘suspension’. This is an unusual choice which does not conform with any other translation of Hegel or Marx. (Collected Works uses ‘abolition’ or ‘transcendence’ according to context.) However, he offers textual support for it (32). (Compare MEGA, II, 1 Apparat: 924-5.) c) An error that occurs only once, but which is a real howler, is the rendering of ‘their “Rechtsstaat” ’ as ‘their “constitutional republic”  ’ instead of ‘constitutional state’. Marx was writing about the views of political economists most of whom were certainly not citizens of a republic. Nicolaus gives ‘The principle of might makes right … is also a legal relation, and the right of the stronger prevails in their “constitutional republic” as well.’  (88) I would prefer ‘Club law too is law, and the law of the stronger holds under their “rule of law” as well.’ d) On page 137, line 28, ‘value as such’ and ‘use value’ have been transposed. e) On page 225, line 14, for ‘revaluation’ read ‘revolution’. f) On p. 651, line 28 Nicolaus fails to spot Marx’s slip of the pen. He inserts ‘alone’ but  Collected Works  rightly inserts, before ‘through free competition’, ‘[other than]’ (CW 29: 39). The translations in the Marx-Engels Collected Works 28 and 29 appear to be generally good; but note the following. a) In  Collected Works 29, on pages 209-10, several times ‘vergegenständlichte’ is incorrectly rendered ‘reified’ when it should be ‘objectified’. (For a correct translation see Nicolaus: 831.) b)  In  Collected Works 28, on page 399 line 2, ‘trespassing subject’ is a strange translation of ‘übergreifende Subject’ (MEGA II 1.2: 378). Nicolaus has ‘predominant subject’ (471).

Here may be the appropriate place to treat the vexed question of the correct rendering of ‘bürgerliche Gesellschaft’, where two alternatives exist: ‘civil society’ or ‘bourgeois society’ must be chosen according to context. This is important for the 1857 ‘Introduction’. Here I prefer to the Collected Works translations the renderings of Nicolaus. To begin with let us note a strange fact: in the Index to Collected Works 28 the term ‘civil society’ has three entries: 17, 18, 45. However, on the first two pages cited the term does not appear! What does appear is the term ‘ “bourgeois society”  ’, in what are known colloquially as ‘scare quotes’ indicating the term is somewhat problematical. The term ‘civil society’ (without quotation marks) does occur on page 45. (Nicolaus, by contrast, translates the two in quotation marks as ‘civil society’; and the other as ‘bourgeois society’.) In their note justifying their choice of renderings the editors distinguish between a ‘broader’ ahistorical sense and a ‘narrower’ one denoting the material relations of bourgeois society.

However, this fails to take account of the changing meaning of the term ‘civil society’ itself. Originally this was contrasted with natural society, thus was hardly distinct from ‘political society’. Eventually it narrowed to a focus on socio-economic relations distinct from the State organisation that supported them. However, this analytical distinction comes into its own only where civil society distinguishes itself from the political order, and a man’s civilian status is distinct from his political status. Only with Hegel’s theory of the modern State is this distinction finally theorised in a rigorous way. Here ‘bürgerliche Gesellschaft’ is defined in terms of the free play of individual interest. Hegel notes the creation of civil society in this sense belongs to the modern world. He even identifies the ‘man’ enmeshed in its networks as the ‘bourgeois’. No doubt recalling this tip, Marx sums up (in The German Ideology) by observing that civil society as such develops only with the bourgeoisie. So now the object is the same but ‘civil society’ refers to relations based on private property and individual interest, while ‘bourgeois society’ refers to the class structure mediated through such relations. Now, returning to our text, Marx is discussing the views of Smith, Ricardo and their 18th century predecessors about a ‘society of free competition’ (CW 28: 17). They referred to this as ‘civil society’, not ‘bourgeois society’ of course, because they presented it ideologically as the creation of ‘free’ and ‘equal’ individuals having rights to their persons and possessions. Marx’s scare quotes indicate that with ‘bürgerliche Gesellschaft’ he follows the standard German translation of the English term ‘civil society’.  So, while in most contexts ‘bourgeois society’ is right, I think Collected Works makes the wrong choice on pages 17 and 18. For example, the sentence ‘It is not until the 18th century, in “bourgeois society”, that the various forms of the social nexus confront the individual as merely a means towards his private ends, as external necessity,’ would be better with ‘civil society’. However, when this translation does use the term ‘civil society’ it is also wrong. Marx notes how ‘certain economic conditions, e.g. wage labour, machinery, etc., were evolved earlier than within civil society’ (CW 28: 45). However, these economic conditions do not refer to presuppositions of free competition but to presuppositions of capitalist production. Here, therefore, ‘civil society’ should be replaced by ‘bourgeois society’.

Now to the partial translations. The book Marx’s Grundrisse (1971) put out by David McLellan (See Bibliography: B4) consists of short extracts from it, translated from the 1953 German edition.  It is neither a commentary (as the title suggests) nor a full translation. (He lists the pages he translates as follows: 5-31; 843-53; 63-7; 73-7; 80-2; 88-90; 175-6; 211-17; 230-2; 264-70; 313-4; 345-9; 360-2; 363-74; 438-40; 504-8; 542-5; 583-92; 592-4; 595-9; 599-60; 715-17.)

Beside the two in the full editions there are three other translations of the 1857 ‘Introduction’. The 1904 one by Stone (B1), translated from its  original publication in Kautsky’s Neue Zeit,  is poor. The Ryazanskaya one of 1970  (B3), translated from Marx/Engels Werke, Band 13, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1954 (615-642), is serviceable. Both these are published as supplements to Marx’s  A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Those with a special interest in the ‘Introduction’ should seek out the one by Terrell Carver (translated from the 1953 German edition: 4-31) in his Karl Marx: Texts on Method (1975) (B6). This is because he supplies extensive editorial matter: his own Introduction gives a detailed history of Marx’s changing plans and projects prior to the Grundrisse; he also provides substantial notes and commentary on the text itself; for example, he ably defends his choice of ‘individuated individual’ to translate ‘vereinzelter Einzelne’ instead of ‘isolated individual’ as is usual. (Unfortunately he gives ‘bourgeois society’ (48-9) where I indicated above I prefer ‘civil society’.)

Two other fragments of the Grundrisse were published before the full text appeared. Eric Hobsbawm edited and introduced Pre-capitalist Economic Formations in 1964 (B2); this is a translation of the section Formen die der Kapitalistichen Produktion vorhergehen (corresponding to the manuscript Notebooks IV: 50-53 – V: 1-15).  In 1972 the fragment ‘On Machines’ was translated and introduced by Ben Brewster in the British journal Economy and Society (B5) (from the 1953 German text: 582-94; corresponding to the manuscript Notebooks VI: 43-44 – VII: 1-3). As may be seen from the dates, as with the Nicolaus translation, none of the partial translations was based on the new MEGA edition.

To conclude: although many scholars habitually use the Nicolaus translation, in my opinion it has been superseded by the newer translation in Collected Works 28 and 29. The reasons for this judgement are: 1. The 1953 German text used by Nicolaus has been superseded by that in the new MEGA (1976-81) used for the Collected Works. All the advances in scholarship that make the later source superior to the earlier ipso facto apply to their translations (e.g. Nicolaus lacks the final page – VII: 64 – of excerpts on Gold-weighing machines). 2. Nicolaus mistranslates the central term ‘Verwertung’. Collected Works correctly renders this ‘valorisation’. Unless it can be shown that the Collected Works translation is definitely inferior in other respects this consideration is decisive. 3. The Nicolaus edition has no Index. The Collected Works edition has full notes and large Indexes.


A. Translations of the Whole  

1. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft) translated with a Foreword by Martin Nicolaus, Penguin Books (in association with New Left Review) Harmondsworth 1973, Vintage Books, New York 1973. Reissued as a Penguin Classic in 1993.

2. Economic Manuscripts of 1857-58 (First Version of Capital) in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Collected Works: First Instalment translated by Ernst Wangermann, Volume 28, Lawrence & Wishart, London, International Publishers, New York, 1986; Second Instalment translated by Victor Schnittke, Volume 29, Lawrence & Wishart, London, International Publishers, New York, 1987.

B.  Partial translations

1. ‘Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy’ translated by N. I. Stone, Appendix to Karl Marx A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Charles H. Kerr & Co., Chicago, 1904 (265-312). Lightly revised republications of this appear in: David Horowitz (ed.) Marx and Modern Economics MacGibbon & Kee, London 1968; Modern Reader Paperbacks, Monthly Review Press, New York 1968 (21-48; only the first 3 parts are given, the last is omitted); and in David McLellan Marx’s Grundrisse (see B4 below).

2. Karl Marx Pre-capitalist Economic Formations translated by Jack Cohen, edited with an Introduction by E. J. Hobsbawm, Lawrence & Wishart, London 1964; International Publishers, New York 1965 (67-120).

3. ‘Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy’ translated by S. W. Ryazanskaya in Karl Marx A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy Progress Publishers, Moscow 1970, Lawrence & Wishart, London 1971, International Publishers, New York 1971 (188-217). An early draft of this translation was published as a Supplement to Karl Marx and Frederick Engels The German Ideology, edited by C. J. Arthur, Lawrence & Wishart, London 1970, International Publishers, New York, 1972 (124-151).      A substantially modified version of this translation appeared in Karl Marx Preface and Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Foreign Languages Press, Peking 1976 (8-45).

4. David McLellan Marx’s Grundrisse, Macmillan, London 1971, Harper and Rowe, New York, 1971.

5. ‘Notes on Machines’, translated by Ben Brewster, in  Economy and Society Vol. 1 No. 3 1972 (244-254).  (An early draft of this was circulated at the University of  Leicester in 1966.)

6. ‘Marx’s Introduction (1857) to the Grundrisse’, translated by Terrell Carver, in Karl Marx: Texts on Method ed. Terrell Carver, Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1975, Barnes & Noble, New York 1975 (46-87). Reprinted in Marx: Later Political Writings ed. Terrell Carver, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1996  (128-157).


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