1920s >> 1929 >> no-300-august-1929

The New Translation of Capital: A letter from the translator

To the Editor of the SOCIALIST STANDARD.

Dear Comrade,

 We want to thank Comrade Fitzgerald for a very useful list of misprints (see the opening article in your March issue). He complains of our translating geistig as “spiritual,” when Moore and Aveling’s translation (revised by Engels) has “intellectual.” There is a German word, intellektuell, and we think if Marx had meant what the English mean by “intellectual,” he would have used that word. He was referring to wants which belong to the sphere of feeling as well as to that of the intellect, and, therefore, used the more comprehensive term, geistig. But this word is often difficult to translate, and we agree that possibly “spiritual” may convey an un-Marxian impression, so in the reprint now being called for we are changing the word to “mental.” The misprints mentioned, and some others, are likewise being corrected.

As to the question whether the new translation is an improvement on the old, it is not for the translators to offer an opinion of their own. They were commissioned to make a new translation by publishers who thought that the old translation did not do justice to the book. They were instructed to use the fourth German edition as their text, the last one revised by Engels; and certainly no disrespect to Engels’ memory was intended or implied by holding that he could not be considered a final arbiter upon questions of English terminology and style.

As to what reviewers think of the new translation, Comrade Fitzgerald is in good company in doubting whether it is an improvement. The “Times” holds the same view, and is surprised that a new translation has been made. Comrade Ryazanoff, the learned chief of the Marx-Engels’ Institute in Moscow, takes the translators severely to task in a letter to the “Labour Monthly.” But with these notable exceptions, the new translation has been greeted with an almost universal chorus of approval. We quote a few voices at random :—

“A new translation . . . the work of such experienced translators … is to be welcomed. . . . Mr. and Mrs. Paul have done their work extremely well.”—”Nation and Athenaeum.”

“The work is exceedingly well done, and those who may have previously found Marx unreadable will do well to try again with this competent and well-written translation in their hands.”—


“This new translation … is much superior to the only other one this reviewer knows. . . It can be read without risk of mental collapse.”—”Bulletin” (Sydney, N.S.W.).

“Anyone who has ever wrestled with Marx knows how terribly bad and unreadable the old translation of Das Kapital was. In the skilful hands of Dr. and Mrs. Paul, Marx reads like a different man. . . Something of the real quality of his own style appears in the translation.”—”New Statesman.”

“The Moore and Aveling edition is so inelegantly rendered that,” etc., . . “The present rendering is so superlatively good that,” etc., …”The present smooth and delightful translation will introduce

Marx to a wider circle of English readers than he has ever had in the past.”— “Cherwell.”

“Those well-known translators, Eden and Cedar Paul, have added to their long list of personal triumphs a work for which posterity will have good cause to thank them.”—”Yorkshire Observer.”

“This excellent translation . . . will be doubly welcome . . . more readable than any previously published in this country.” —”Bookman.”

And so on ; and so on ; and so on.

“Bourgeois opinion,” we seem to hear the critics murmur—Comrades Fitzgerald and Ryazanoff, anyhow, though probably not the “Thunderer” of Printing House Square.

Yes, bourgeois opinion. But it is not a case of a Labour leader being praised for kow-towing to the Prince of Wales, and there are times when the old adage holds good, fas est ab hoste doceri—it is expedient to learn even from an enemy.

Yours fraternally,


(Socialist Standard, August 1929)

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