In an 1867 publication of a rare book entitled Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Capital: Critique of Political Economy), Karl Marx (1818-1883) declared that capitalism is the exploitation of labor by employers who own the capital assets, and ultimately profit from surplus value derived from uncompensated labor. The Prussian philosopher’s revolutionary, socio-economic ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement.
Today, almost 150 years after Marx, EU leadership is trying to prevent the economic crisis in the eurozone from developing into a political crisis. Just this month France elected a Socialist President, Francois Hollande, for the first time since 1995. At the same time, Greece held its first general election since the debt crisis hit the country in late 2009, voting against uniformity with the Socialists emerging as the big losers.
Das Kapital consists of three parts: The publication of Capital, Volume I, subtitled Critique of Political Economy, which was the result of 25 years of Marx’s economic studies, mostly in the Reading Room of the British Museum. It was the sole volume published during his lifetime. Capital, Volume II, subtitled The Process of Circulation of Capital, was prepared by Friedrich Engels from notes left by Karl Marx, and was published in 1885. Capital, Volume III, subtitled The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole, was prepared again by Friedrich Engels from notes left by Karl Marx, and was published in seven parts in 1894.
This third and final volume is considered by Marxists to be the most important work of all three. It describes Marx’s belief that the inefficiency of the capitalist order leads to an inevitable collapse. Even though more than 100 years earlier, Adam Smith’s book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations made no use of the term capitalism, it was the foundation of the capitalistic system. Both Marx and Engels believed that advancements in production lead to a rise in fixed capital requirements, which ultimately bring a decrease in the rate of profit. They suggested that this principal, contradiction of the capitalistic system, results in crises whose resolution necessitates the emergence of an entirely new mode of production.
The publication of the first volume of Das Kapital is the one most sought after by book collectors. First published in German in 1867 and, coincidentally, the first foreign publication to appear was in Imperial Russian, in March of 1872. The Russian edition was the fastest selling with 3,000 copies sold in 1 year, while the German edition took 5 years to sell only 1,000. After the success of the Russian edition, the printing of a second edition was forbidden in Russia. This particular edition is today selling for over $10,000. The first English edition appeared in 1887, translated from the 4th German edition by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, and was published by Frederick Engels, Ernest Untermann.
It is interesting to note that Marx’s Critique of Political Economy is worth only approximately one tenth the value of Smith’s Wealth of Nation. This obviously is not due to the differences in socio-economic aspects contained in the books but simply a matter of supply and demand. Both books are being traded in a free enterprise world, after all. The price difference is instead inherent to the factors of age (Smith’s book is 97 years older), language (it was first published in English), imprint (it consists of two volumes), and, more importantly, printing quantity (it was released in a much smaller quantity of only 500 copies). It is more interesting however, to point out that as far apart as these two books seem to be, the beliefs of the people currently living in the eurozone on a crisis resolution are also quite opposing, as proven by the recent elections in Greece and France.