Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy

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Floor plans in the MEW edition, 1983

A manuscript that Karl Marx wrote in London from 1857 to 1858 is referred to as Grundrisse of the Critique of Political Economy in the broader sense, briefly Grundrisse . He had drafted a general introduction in the last week of August 1857. The manuscript that followed, between the end of September 1857 and November 1858, forms the outline of the critique of political economy in the narrower sense and, according to a letter from Marx to Engels, is also referred to as a rough draft . In the Grundrisse, Marx developed the foundations and details of his theory of value for the first time and, based on this, the theory of surplus value . The rough draft is part of the preparatory work for Marx's main work Das Kapital .


The introduction was discovered by Karl Kautsky in Marx's handwritten estate in 1902 and published in the journal Die Neue Zeit in March 1903 .

The rough draft of the manuscript, together with a more precise version of the introduction and some other writings by Marx, was first published in 1939–1941 by the Institute for Marxism-Leninism at the Central Committee of the CPSU by Pavel Veller in Moscow. A photomechanical reprint of this edition was published in 1953 by Dietz Verlag, Berlin.


After moving to London in 1850, Marx began to continue his economic studies, which had been interrupted during the revolution of 1848/49 . In addition, he read in the library of the British Museum, among other things, the works of the bourgeois economists William Petty , François Quesnay , and the representatives of classical English economics Adam Smith and David Ricardo . Due to the economic crisis of 1857, he and Friedrich Engels saw the possibility of a revolution coming. Therefore, Marx worked intensively on his economic theory. First he began a criticism of the theory of the American economist Henry Charles Carey and the work Harmonie économiques by the French economist Frédéric Bastiats , published in 1851, which remained fragmentary . In it, Marx traces the transition from classic bourgeois economy to vulgar economy . He broke off this work after 10 pages and wrote the introduction instead . Then the rough draft begins in the manuscripts with a criticism of Alfred Darimon , a follower of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon . He wrote to Engels about his work on December 8, 1857: "I work like crazy through the nights on the summary of my economic studies, so that I at least have the floor plans in mind before the déluge ."

At the end of March 1858 the sifting work was roughly completed; a publisher had already been found. For health reasons, however, Marx was unable to complete the manuscript and could not finish the work until autumn 1858. However, he was dissatisfied with the presentation, went through the texts one more time and drafted a new plan for the third part ( On the Critique of Political Economy ). The manuscript published in 1941 was not given a comprehensive title by Marx; The editors chose this “based on different letter passages”.

The introduction

As Marx mentioned in the foreword of the book On the Critique of Political Economy of January 1859, the introduction anticipates results in the form of theses.


Marx's starting point in describing material production is the individuals who produce in society , and therefore the socially determined production of individuals. The ideas of bourgeois economists from originally individually, z. For example, Marx describes individuals producing hunters and fishermen as " Robinsoniads ", imaginations by which the free competition individual of the bourgeois society that emerged between the 16th and 18th centuries is idealized. For him, however, the following applies: “Man is in the most literal sense a ζῷον πολιτικόν , not just a sociable animal, but an animal that can only isolate itself in society.” For Marx, the real historical conditions can be derived from the general, time-independent conditions of production Stage of production cannot be grasped. Real production is not “general” but either a particular branch of production, e.g. B. Agriculture, cattle breeding, manufacturing, etc., or it is the totality of an entire society. In particular, capital should not be understood abstractly as the accumulated labor used as an instrument of production, but rather determined by the specific conditions of modern bourgeois production. Hence capital is not a general, eternal relationship to nature.

Production, distribution, exchange, consumption

According to Marx, these four categories are the different members of a totality. Distribution is not only the distribution of the products, but also the instruments of production, as well as the individuals under certain forms of production. The exchange for private consumption is also only apparently independent of production, but rather determined by it on the basis of the division of labor, private production, as well as the development and structure of the relations of production, e.g. B. between town and country.

Production is thus determining, it “overlaps, both over itself in the opposing determination of production and over the other moments. From her the process begins again and again ”. On the other hand, production “ in its one-sided form ” is determined by the other elements.

The method of political economy

Marx examines the relationship between concrete and abstract categories in economics. He addresses the problem of the correct order in research and presentation . The path from the concrete population, via classes, wage labor and capital, to increasingly abstract concepts such as exchange, division of labor and price was taken by the economists of the 17th century. Conversely, the scientifically correct method increases from the simple, such as work , division of labor, need, exchange value , up to the state, exchange of nations and world market . In this way, however, the concrete is merely reproduced in thought. To understand concrete reality as the result of thinking, on the other hand, is an illusion, which Marx accuses Hegel : “Hegel begins the philosophy of law correctly with property, as the simplest legal relationship of the subject. But there is no property in front of the family or relationships of domination and servitude, which are much more concrete relationships. "

The abstraction of the category itself has historical premises. For example, work appears to be a very simple and, in its generality, age-old category, which, however, is only realized economically in the most modern civil society, the United States , in which individuals change work with ease, and their particular type of work happens by chance, and therefore be indifferent. Thus, the abstraction of the categories valid for all epochs is a product of historical relationships; the categories are only fully valid for and within them.

The categories for understanding bourgeois society at the same time afforded insight into those of the perished forms of society, with whose ruins and elements they were built up. In comparison with the previous societies, however, the categories in the current one are always developed, stunted or caricatured with substantial differences. Marx uses the metaphor: “The human anatomy is a key to the ape anatomy. The allusions to higher things in the subordinate animal species, on the other hand, can only be understood if the higher itself is already known (...) One can understand tribute , tithing, etc. if one knows the basic rent . But you don't have to identify them. "

A society is only able to criticize itself under very specific circumstances, otherwise it regards its predecessors one-sidedly as stages of a historical development towards itself: “The Christian religion was only able to help to an objective understanding of the earlier mythologies as soon as its self-criticism to a certain extent, so to speak δυνάμει was finished. The bourgeois economy came to understand the feudal, ancient, and oriental as soon as the self-criticism of bourgeois society began. "

Marx holds for every historical, social science “that, as in reality so in the head, the subject, here modern bourgeois society, is given and that the categories therefore forms of existence, determinations of existence, often only individual aspects of this particular society, this Express the subject and that it therefore in no way begins scientifically where it is now spoken of as such. "

Final chapter

In the last chapter of the introduction , Marx also expresses himself on the unequal relationship between the development of material production and artistic production. Certain art forms could no longer be produced as soon as a society enters into art production as such: “Is Achilles possible with powder and lead? Or even the ' Iliad ' with the printing press and even printing press? Doesn't the singing and saying and the muse with the press boy necessarily stop, so unnecessary conditions of epic poetry disappear ? "

The pleasure that Greek art offers in modern times is explained by Marx from the awareness of the irreversibility of social development: “A man cannot become a child again, or he becomes childish. But doesn't the child's naivety please him, and doesn't he have to strive again on a higher level to reproduce his truth? Doesn’t children's nature revive its own character in its natural truth in every epoch? Why should the historical childhood of mankind, where it unfolds most beautifully, as a never recurring stage, not exert an eternal charm? There are naughty children and precocious children. Many of the ancient peoples belong in this category. The Greeks were normal children. The appeal of her art to us does not contradict the undeveloped level of society on which she grew. Rather, it is its result and is inextricably linked with the fact that the immature social conditions under which it arose and could arise alone can never return. "


The Grundrisse were received primarily by Marxists who wanted to distance themselves from Marxism-Leninism . A great impact on the Western Marxism won Roman Rosdolsky presentation and interpretation to history of Marx's Kapital. The rough draft of the capital 1857–1858 .

The first complete translation of the floor plans appeared from 1953 to 1965 in five volumes in Japanese under the title Keizaigaku hihan yōkō ( 経 済 学 批判 要 綱 ). The edition reached a high circulation of more than 57,000 copies. In his interpretation Keizaigaku to rekishi ninshiki ("Political Economy and Recognition of History"), Kiyoaki Hirata uses the floor plans to analyze the spread of capitalism starting from the western advanced states through the introduction of commodity production in the despotic states of Asia.

Complete, two-volume translations by Enzo Grillo (1968 and 1970) and by Hans-Georg Backhaus (1976) are available in Italian . Lucio Colletti had already translated the introduction in 1954 and, following on from the logical school Galvano Della Volpes, emphasized the influence of Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel on Marx.

The ground plans of the operaism movement were understood as a complete and classical major work . Antonio Negri emphasizes the importance of the floor plans for understanding postmodern , postfordist capitalism. Marx's concept of the “ general intellect ” in the machine fragment for an analysis of immaterial labor , cognitive capitalism and the structure of abstract dominance , which through knowledge leads to a biopolitical command, gained great importance in the movement of postoperaism .

Also for the new reading of Marx who played floorplans an influential role. Interpreters such as Georg Backhaus, Helmut Reichelt and Gerhard Göhler state a process of reduction of the dialectic and the progressive popularization in the representation of the value form analysis from the floor plans to the first edition of capital to the second capital edition, whereby Marx promoted historicizing and substantive interpretations .


Individual evidence

  1. 2nd edition 1974.
  2. ^ Facsimile print of the 1953 edition from the Europäische Verlagsanstalt / Europa Verlag, Frankfurt / Vienna 1968.
  3. MEW , Vol. 42, VIII
  4. MEW Vol. 29, p. 225
  5. ^ Foreword to the 1953 or 1974 edition, p. XIV
  6. "I suppress a general introduction that I had thrown out because, on closer reflection, any anticipation of results that have to be proven seems to me disturbing and the reader who wants to follow me at all must decide to rise from the individual to the general." MEW Vol. 13, p. 7
  7. Hiroshi Ushida : Japan, in: Marcello Musto (Ed.): Karl Marx's Grundrisse , 2008, pp. 213-218
  8. "The development of the fixed capital indicates the extent to which general social knowledge, knowledge, has become the immediate productive force and therefore the conditions of the social life process themselves have come under the control of the general intellect and have been rearranged accordingly.", Grundrisse , MEW , Vol. 42, p. 602
  9. ^ Mario Tronti : Italy, in: Marcello Musto (Ed.): Karl Marx's Grundrisse , 2008, pages 229-235
  10. Ingo Elbe : Between Marx, Marxism and Marxisms - readings of the Marxian theory


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