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‘Engels’ Reviews of Capital Volume One’

LAMB, Peter (2016) ‘Engels’ Reviews of Capital Volume One’. In: Annual conference of the Political Studies Association, 21-23 March 2016, Brighton.

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Abstract or description

In 1867 and 1868 Engels made a concerted attempt to promote and publicize Marx’s newly-published Capital Volume One by means of a range of reviews, either anonymously or under other names. What is most significant about the reviews is not the limited impact they had at the time, but rather the waste of time they involved. This paper will suggest that Marx, as much as Engels, was ultimately responsible for both their content and the efforts that were invested in them—efforts that could instead have been expended on better means of promoting the book. This could have helped avoid the development of the unwarranted reputation that Capital came to have for being a work of scientific socialism, from which all but the most learned readers should steer clear. Engels gave the impression in some of his own later works that they and those of Marx were interchangeable, but that his own were more readable. Kautsky also did much to cultivate that view. Nevertheless, it was Marx who had inadvertently allowed this process to be set in train.
Engels’ portrayal of Marx’s theory was hugely influential but the reputation of Capital as a book which is too tedious for the uninitiated might have been avoided. Those readers of Capital who, influenced by Engels’ subsequent interpretation of Marx’s work, were wary of tackling Volume One as a complex scientific text would have been even more confused as they read through it carefully trying to find a theory of scientific socialism as extendable to the natural sciences. It is, indeed, a book with a particular social scientific method rather than a book about a method—the book uses such a method rather than presents one. As such it is, potentially, far more appealing to a relatively wide readership than is often portrayed. Indeed, a very different reputation might have been cultivated had Marx and Engels not focused so much time and energy on Engels’ reviews, written mostly from a detached bourgeois perspective. A focus, rather, on some very readable, stylistic and potentially influential arguments and features of the book could have helped make Capital Volume 1 a far more popular book. The unwarranted reputation of the book may well have been avoided.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: INCL
Faculty: Previous Faculty of Arts and Creative Technologies > Journalism, Humanities and Social Sciences
Event Title: Annual conference of the Political Studies Association
Event Location: Brighton
Event Dates: 21-23 March 2016
Depositing User: Peter LAMB
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2016 09:31
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2023 13:44

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