Historical story

First edition Das Kapital digitized

On September 14, 1867, exactly 150 years ago, the first volume of Karl Marx's Capital was published. Capital is one of the most influential books in world history. A unique copy of the first edition, in which Marx himself made corrections and notes in the margin, is now available fully digitized.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) was not only the most important theorist of socialism, but also a very (self-)critical scientist. As early as the mid-1840s, he undertook a thorough study of economic theory. In 1857 he started writing the first rough draft of what would become the first volume of Het Kapitaal ten years and several attempts later.


Even before Het Kapitaal came off the printing presses at the Hamburg publisher Meissner, he hinted in his letters that he was not satisfied with the way in which he had presented his arguments. Marx's doubts were reinforced by the criticism of his close friend Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). Three weeks before its publication, on August 23, 1867, he complimented Marx on the "famous" argumentation of his book. But he immediately exclaimed:“But how could you have left the outward arrangement of the book as it is!” Marx wrote to a French publisher who was considering a translation in November 1867 that he had copied the text on a number of pages. would like to adjust points.

Marx immediately began preparing his changes for the next edition. The first impact of this is formed by the corrections in his own copy, which is in the collection of the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam. Most of the pencil changes in this copy did indeed end up in the new German edition of 1872.


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In that second edition, Marx mainly adapted the tough first chapters, in which he introduces important concepts such as 'commodity', 'use value', 'exchange value' and his theory about the role of money in the capitalist economy. He also continued to rewrite for the French edition, which appeared in installments between 1872-1875, and the third German edition, which came out shortly after his death in 1883.

Marx was never able to complete the second and third parts of Capital before publication. Although he had written most of the manuscripts for this as early as the first half of the 1860s, he kept postponing publication for further research. After a lengthy editorial work by Friedrich Engels, part two (1885) and part three (1894) of Het Kapitaal were finally published.

Unreadable handwriting

The now digitized copy of Capital with Marx's own notes came into the possession of the IISH in the 1930s as part of the archives and library of the German social-democratic movement. The copy is interesting because it gives an insight into the thorough way in which Marx worked in formulating his theories.

Unfortunately, few people will actually be able to read the notes in this form, because Marx's handwriting is so illegible that only a handful of people in the world can decipher it today. A full transcription was previously published in the Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe 2, the major scholarly edition of the work of Marx and Engels.


The now digitized copy is a unique document for the history of the labor movement and the social sciences. It is part of the extensive collection of manuscripts by Marx and Engels in the IISH, which contains no less than two-thirds of all papers that Marx and Engels left behind in their lives.

In 2013, along with the only surviving handwritten page of the Communist Manifesto, it was added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. In the coming year, the original will be on display at major exhibitions in the Museum Karl-Marx-Haus in Trier and the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, on the occasion of the bicentenary of Karl Marx's birth.