Theories of Surplus Value

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Theories of Surplus Value (German: Theorien über den Mehrwert) is a draft manuscript written by Karl Marx between January 1862 and July 1863.[1] It is mainly concerned with the West European theorizing about Mehrwert (added value or surplus-value) from about 1750, critically examining the ideas of British, French and German political economists about wealth creation and the profitability of industries.[2] At issue are the source, forms and determinants of the magnitude of surplus-value,[3] and Marx tries to explain how, after failing to solve basic contradictions in its labour theories of value, the classical school of political economy eventually broke up, leaving only "vulgar political economy" which no longer tried to provide a consistent, integral theory of capitalism, but instead offered only an eclectic amalgam of theories which seemed pragmatically useful or which justified the rationality of the market economy.[4]


Theories of Surplus Value was part of the large manuscript of 1861–63, entitled by Marx A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and written as the immediate sequel to the first part of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy published in 1859. The total 1861–63 manuscript consists of 23 notebooks (the pages numbered consecutively from 1 to 1472) running to some 200 printed sheets in length: it is the first systematically worked out draft — though still only rough and incomplete — of all four volumes of Capital. Theories of Surplus Value forms the longest (about 110 printed sheets) and most fully elaborated part of this huge manuscript, and it is the first and only draft of the fourth, concluding volume of Capital. Marx called this volume, as distinguished from the three theoretical volumes of Das Kapital, the historical, historico-critical, or historico-literary part of his work.[5]

Marx wrote this manuscript while he was also writing journalistic articles to make money, especially on the American Civil War (for the New York Daily Tribune). In April 1862, he was in dire financial straits - he owed 20 pounds for rent which he could not pay, and he had no money to redeem pawned clothing of his children and of the maid, Helene Demuth.[6] In August 1862, he travelled to Zaltbommel in the Netherlands, to see his uncle Lion Philips for financial help. However, Philips was away on a trip himself, and Marx travelled on to Trier to see his mother, who, however, did not give him any money. In September, Marx applied for a job in an English railway office, with the help of his cousin August Philips, but failed to get it because of his illegible handwriting.[7] In October, Marx received 20 pounds from his cousin August Philips, and in November, when Marx was unable to pay for coal and groceries, Friedrich Engels also sent him money.[8]

Karl Marx as he appeared in the 1860s.

Marx began to write Theories of Surplus Value within the framework of the original plan of his Critique of Political Economy as he had projected in 1858–62. On the basis of what Marx says about the structure of his work in his introduction to the first part of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, in his letters of 1858–62 and in the 1861–63 manuscript itself, this plan can be presented in the following schematic form:

Plan for the Critique of Political Economy as projected by Marx in 1858–1862:

1. Capital:
1. [Introduction: Commodity and Money]
  2. Capital in general:
    1. The production process of capital:
        1. Transformation of money into capital
        2. Absolute surplus-value
        3. Relative surplus-value
        4. The combination of both
        5. Theories of surplus-value
    2. The circulation process of capital
    3. The unity of the two, or capital and profit
  3. The competition of capitals
  4. Credit
  5. Share capital
2. Landed property
3. Wage-labour
4. The state
5. Foreign trade
6. The world-market

Theories of Surplus Value was originally conceived by Marx only as a historical excursion in the section of his theoretical study of “capital in general”. This was to conclude the section on the process of production of capital. This ambitious plan proved to be more than Marx could undertake; he was effectively burned out before had completed the study of capital. Even the publication of Theories of surplus-value did not make all of Marx's writing on political economy available to the public; this task was only fulfilled decades later, with the publication of the Grundrisse, the Results of the Immediate Production Process and various other manuscripts.

Publication history[edit]

Theorien über den Mehrwert, 1956

In his preface (dated May 5, 1885) to his edition of Volume II of Das Kapital and in several letters during the following ten years, Friedrich Engels had indicated his intention to publish the manuscript of Theories of surplus-value. However, although he succeeded in publishing the second and third volume of ‘’Das Kapital’’, he was unable to publish the Theories before he died in 1895.

  • In 1905–10, Karl Kautsky published a first version of Marx’s manuscript in three volumes (1,754 pages), with Dietz publishers in Stuttgart. However, Kautsky rearranged the original sequence of topics discussed in the notebooks, and deleted or modified some text; for this reason, his edition is not regarded as a scientifically accurate rendering of Marx's thought (though it sheds light on how Kautsky understood Marx). Kautsky’s first volume of Marx’s notes dealt with the theories of surplus value up to Adam Smith, the second volume with Ricardo (in two parts), and the final one with the breakup of the Ricardian school and “vulgar economics”. This edition is out of print and rare. A full translation of Kautsky's German edition into French was made by Jules Molitor, and published in 1924-25 by A. Costes. A Spanish translation was made by Wenceslao Roces, and published in Mexico City in 1945, under the title Historia crítica de la teoría de la plusvalía. An Italian edition of Kautsky's version was published in 1954-1958, titled Storia delle teori economiche.
  • In 1951, G. A. Bonner and E. Burns published an English translation of excerpts from the German volumes published by Kautsky, with Lawrence & Wishart in London, and International Publishers in New York.[9] It is out of print.
  • A complete English translation by Terence McCarthy of the French edition of Kautsky's first volume was published by Langland Press (New York, 1952) under the title A history of economic theories: From the Physiocrats to Adam Smith, but translations of the subsequent volumes never appeared. It is out of print and rare. However, Literary Licensing LLC made available print-on-demand copies since 2011.
  • A complete, annotated three-volume edition was first published in German (1956, 1959, 1962) by the Institute of Marxism–Leninism of the Socialist Unity Party, in East Germany. The text was subsequently included in the Marx Engels Werke published by Dietz, in Volumes 26.1 (1965), 26.2 (1967), and 26.3 (1968). Like the Kautsky edition, which it imitates to an extent, the East German edition rearranged the original text under various topic headings. This version is regarded as more accurate and complete than Kautsky's, but still lacks the sequence of the original manuscripts, and is not a completely literal translation. It is now out of print.
  • A Russian edition was first published in Moscow as Marx-Engels, Collected Works, Volumes 26.1 (1962), 26.2 (1963), and 26.3 (1964).
  • Progress Publishers in Moscow together with the London publisher Lawrence & Wishart published an annotated English edition of the whole manuscript, based on the East German one; it came out in three volumes (1963, 1968, 1971), edited by S. Ryazanskaya, translated by Renate Simpson and others. This English version, just like the East German and Russian ones, rearranges the sequence of material in the original manuscripts under various new headings (often rendered in square brackets). This edition was also published in various other languages by Progress Publishers and others. It is now out of print.
  • The definitive German edition of Theories of surplus value is published in the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (“MEGA II”), section II, parts 3.2 (1977), 3.3 (1978) and 3.4 (1979). A literal, annotated rendering of the original manuscripts is provided, in the original sequence. This edition is still available.
  • The whole text appeared again also in the English Marx/Engels Collected Works, Volumes 30 (1989), 31 (1989), 32 (1990), 33 (1991) and 34 (1994). This English version is based on the 1977-1979 German MEGA II edition. It maintains the sequence of the text in the original manuscripts, and therefore differs substantially from the 1963 etc. Progress edition and earlier editions. This MECW version is the most complete edition available in English, but is now out of print (digital editions are sometimes made available online).
  • The Progress Publishers and Lawrence & Wishart edition was brought back into print by Prometheus Books in 2000 as a one 1,605 page volume. This edition is now also out of print.
  • In 2013, Pine Flag Books (Boston, USA) published a Kindle digital version of the three-volume Progress Publishers edition (edited by Gene Ogorodov).


  1. ^ Enrique Dussel, "The four drafts of Capital. Towards a new interpretation of the dialectical thought of Marx". ‘’Rethinking Marxism’’, Vol. 13, No. 1, Spring 2001, pp. 10-25.
  2. ^ Allen Oakley, Marx's critique of political economy. London: Routledge, 1985.
  3. ^ Ronald L. Meek, The development of the concept of surplus in economic thought from Mun to Mill. Phd dissertation, Cambridge University, 1949.
  4. ^ Karin Wetzig, Die theoriengeschichtlichen Lehren aus Karl Marx' "Theorien über den Mehrwert" für die Geschichte der Politischen Ökonomie. Phd dissertation in economics, University of Leipzig, 1980. Dietmar Scholz, Zum Platz der "Theorien über den Mehrwert", IV. vierter Band des "Kapital", im philosophischen Denken von Karl Marx. Phd dissertation in economic history, University of Jena, 1981.
  5. ^ Preface (1923). Theories of Surplus Value. Moscow: Progress Publishers. 
  6. ^ Hal Draper, The Marx-Engels Chronicle. A Day-by-Day Chronology of Marx and Engels's Life and Activity. New York: Schocken Books, 1985, p. 111.
  7. ^ Hal Draper, The Marx-Engels Chronicle. A Day-by-Day Chronology of Marx and Engels's Life and Activity. New York: Schocken Books, 1985, p. 113.
  8. ^ Hal Draper, The Marx-Engels Chronicle. A Day-by-Day Chronology of Marx and Engels's Life and Activity. New York: Schocken Books, 1985, p. 114.
  9. ^ T. W. Hutchison, "Theories of Surplus Value by Karl Marx; Karl Kautsky; G. A. Bonner; Emile Burns". Economica, New Series, Vol. 20, No. 77, Feb., 1953, pp. 81-83.

Further reading[edit]

  • A. Anikin, A science in its youth: pre-Marxian political economy. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975.
  • Simon Clarke, Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology: From Adam Smith to Max Weber. London: Macmillan, 1982.
  • John Eatwell, “Controversies in the theory of surplus value: old and new”. Science & Society, Vol. 38, No. 3, Fall 1974, pp. 281–303.
  • E.K. Hunt, Property and Prophets: The Evolution of Economic Institutions and Ideologies, 7th edition. M.E. Sharpe, 2002.
  • E.K. Hunt and Mark Lautzenheiser, History of Economic Thought. A Critical Perspective. 3rd edition. New York: ME. Sharpe, 2011.
  • Isaak Illich Rubin, A History of Economic Thought. London: Ink Links, 1979.