A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy is a book by Karl Marx, first published in 1859. The book is mainly an analysis of capitalism, achieved by critiquing the writings of the leading theoretical exponents of capitalism at that time: these were the political economists, nowadays often referred to as the classical economists; Adam Smith (1723-90) and David Ricardo (1772-1823) are the foremost representatives of the genre.

Much of the Critique was later incorporated by Marx into his magnum opus, Capital (Volume I), published in 1867; and the Critique is generally considered to be of secondary importance among Marx's writings. This does not apply, however, to the Preface of the Critique. It contains the first connected account of one of Marx's main theories: the economic interpretation of history. Briefly, this is the idea that economic factors – the way people produce the necessities of life – determine the kind of politics and ideology a society can have:

"The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life."[1][2]

In English, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy is available in an edition edited by Maurice Dobb, published in London in 1979; and from Progress Publishers, Moscow (translation by S.W. Ryazanskaya). Lawrence and Wishart (London), and International Publishers (New York) cooperate in the publication of the Progress Publishers edition. It is also available free online.[3]


  1. ^ Otto Ruhle says that the "Preface" contained:
    "the first connected account" of the economic interpretation of history. (Karl Marx: His Life and Works, "Achievement Part II", "The Materialist Interpretation of History")
  2. ^ Michael Evans (Karl Marx, p. 61) refers to the "Preface" as:
    "the classic account of his general conclusions" in history.
    Evans also pointed out that (p. 52):
    "Marx never published a general systematic treatise detailing his views as an ordered whole. The nearest he came to this is in the first volume of Capital, and in the "Preface" to the Critique of Political Economy."
  3. ^ On-line version available at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique-pol-economy/index.htm


Michael Evans, Karl Marx. London, 1975.

Otto Ruhle, Karl Marx: His Life and Works. New York, 1943. First published, New York, 1929. Retrieved from marxists.org.

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