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The difficult genesis of ‘Das Kapital’

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History. On Sept. 11, Karl Marx's work will turn 150. The writing of the book, begun in 1862, was devastated by the economic poverty of the author and his precarious health.

written by Marcello Musto

September 9, 2017

Perhaps the most influential work of all time, which has helped to shape the world over the last 150 years, had a long and difficult gestation. Marx began to write Das Kapital only a few years after starting his studies of political economy. Even though he had criticized private property and the alienated labor of capitalist society since 1844, it was only after the financial panic of 1857, which began in the United States and then spread to Europe, when he felt obliged to set aside his endless research and start drawing up what he called his “Economy.”

With the rise of the crisis, Marx anticipated the birth of a new season of social upheavals and felt that the most urgent thing to do was to provide the proletariat with the critique of the capitalist production model, as a prerequisite for overcoming it. So, the Grundrisse were created: eight massive notebooks in which, among other things, he examined the pre-capitalist economic formations and described some characteristics of communist society, underlining the importance of freedom and the development of the individual.

The revolutionary movement, which he believed would arise because of the crisis, remained an illusion, and Marx did not publish his manuscripts. He was aware of how far he was from mastering the subjects he faced. The only part that went to the printer’s, after a profound re-write of the “Chapter on Money,” was ”A Critique of Political Economy,” a text that came out in 1859 that was reviewed by only one person: Fredrick Engels.

Marx planned to divide his work into six books. They would have been devoted to capital, ownership of property, wage labor, the state, foreign trade and world market. However, when in 1862, as a result of the American........

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