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I'm finding contradictory accounts on this.

First, we need to differentiate between the words "capital", "capitalist", and "capitalism". According to "Civilization and Capitalism", by Fernand Braudel, the late Latin word Capitale in the sense of money or funds arose in the 12th or 13th century in Italy (p.232). Meanwhile, "capitalist" arose in the mid 17th century. The first account seem to be one by the Hollandische Mercurius on 1633 (p.234). Conversely, "capitalism" arose in the actual meaning in 1850, in a letter by Louis Blanc (p.237). Here is the quote in extenso (emphasis mine):

Capitalism: a very recent word

Capitalism, the most exciting of the three words for us … has been pursued relentlessly by historians and lexicologists. According to Dauzat, it is to be found in the Encyclopedie in 1753, but with a very particular meaning: 'The state of one who is rich'. Unfortunately, this statement seems to be inaccurate; the text quoted cannot be traced. In 1842, the word occurs in the Enrichissements de la langue française by J.-B. Richard. But it was probably Louis Blanc, in his polemic with Bastiat, who gave it its new meaning when in 1850 he wrote: ' … What I call "capitalism" [and he used quotation marks] that is to say the appropriation of capital by some to the exclusion of others.' But the word still occurred only rarely. Proudhon ocasionally uses it, correctly: 'Land is still the fortress of capitalism', he writes – and indeed this was one of his major theses. And he defines it very well: 'Economic and social regime in which capital, the source of income, does not generally belong to those who make it work through their labour.' Six years later however, in 1867,* the word was still unknown to Marx.

In fact, it was not until the beginning of this century that it fully burst upon political debate as the natural opposite of socialism. It was to be launched in academic circles by Werner Sombart's explosive book Der moderne Kapitalismus (1st edition 1902). Not unnaturally, this word which Marx never used was incorporated into the Marxist model, so much so that the terms slavery, feudal­ism and capitalism are commonly used to refer to the three major stages of development defined by the author of Capital.

*: when Das Kapital was released

Here we find the statement that Marx never used this word. And yet, if you look at the English versions of Marx's work the word "capitalism" does appear (e.g. search in Volume I of Capital here). Sure, these are recent translations. In fact, the word does not seem to appear in the original German version of 1867 (search for kapitalismus here).

I don't know how to search in Marx's original writings, as nowadays online you find mostly edited versions. Maybe someone can shed light on this?

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  • 1
    This article seems consistent with Braudel's assertions although it doesn't include a comprehensive review of Marx's work.
    – Brian Z
    Jun 12 '20 at 15:11
  • 2
    Distinguishing "capitalist" from "capitalism" is only meaningful if the two words don't have the usual English "-ist"/"-ism" relationship.
    – Mark
    Jun 13 '20 at 1:53
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It is quite absurd to claim that Marx did not know that word. Although, in his most important writings the exact letter sequence is indeed not recorded. For example: It is not in the German version of the first edition of the first volume of Das Kapital In lesser known works — it is present.

It was a prominent word used by economist David Ricardo which Marx studied extensively and also a prominent word to be found in German historian Theodor Mommsen's work, published prior to Marx Das Kapital.

What is true is that Marx clearly preferred to talk of "capitalists" and kapitalistische Produktionsweise:

Mit Hofmann hast Du ganz recht. Du wirst übrigens aus dem Schluß meines Kapitels III, wo die Verwandlung des Handwerksmeisters in Kapitalist – in Folge blos quantitativer Aenderungen – angedeutet wird, ersehn, daß ich dort im Text Hegels Entdeckung über das Gesetz des Umschlags der blos quantitativen Aenderung in qualitative citire als gleich bewährt in Geschichte u. Naturwissenschaft. Karl Marx: Das Kapital. Bd. 1. Buch 1. Hamburg 1867. S. 288 (MEGA² II/5. 246.42–44.).
Karl Marx an Friedrich Engels in Manchester. London, Samstag, 22. Juni 1867 IISG, Marx-Engels-Nachlass, L 4479/L VI 612 in MEGA

Or in Das Kapital:

Diese Voraussetzung ist gleich Voraussetzung der Nichtexistenz der kapitalistischen Produktion und daher der Nichtexistenz des industriellen Kapitalisten selbst. Denn der Kapitalismus ist schon in der Grundlage aufgehoben durch die Voraussetzung, daß der Genuß als treibendes Motiv wirkt, nicht die Bereicherung selbst.
MEW: 3. Kapitel. Der Kreislauf des Warenkapitals | Inhalt | 5. Kapitel. Die Umlaufszeit –– Seitenzahlen verweisen auf: Karl Marx - Friedrich Engels - Werke, Band 24, "Das Kapital", Bd. II, 1. Abschnitt, S. 104 - 123 Dietz Verlag, Berlin/DDR 1963 VIERTES KAPITEL Die drei Figuren des Kreislaufsprozesses

What is in part true is that "kapitalistische Produktionsweise" (capitalist mode of production) and "Kapitalismus" are not exactly the same, but in practice meaning as much, when Marx uses it, very frequently. Remember that Marx was himself not a Marxist.

The important sections from the 1867 edition of Das Kapital:

Der Reichthum der Gesellschaften, in welchen kapitalistische Produktionsweise herrscht, erscheint als eine „ungeheure Waarensammlung"*), die einzelne Waare als seine Elementarform, […]

Der Augenschein lehrt ferner, dass in unsrer kapitalistischen Gesellschaft…
— Karl Marx: Das Kapital", Erstes Buch. Der Produktionsprozess des Kapitals. Erstes Kapitel. Waare und Geld. p1&p2, Otto Meissner: Hamburg, 1867.

In the very sticklish approach one might argue that the quote above including the exact word "Kapitalismus" is from the second volume of Das Kapital, which was published in 1885, two years after Marx' death. (Volume 3 is regarded as Engels doing more than 'just compiling', Volume 2 is said to be from Marx's own words and manuscripts…) But it seems that the word already is in Marx' own manuscripts for the second volume:

Denn der Kapitalismus schon in der Grundlage aufgehoben durch die Voraussetzung, dass der Genuss als treibendes Motiv wirkt, nicht die Bereicherung selbst.
Karl Marx, MEGA, II/11: "Das Kapital", 2. Band, Manuskripte 1868–81, p682

In the better known original writings of Marx himself the exact letter sequence Kapitalismus is indeed absent. But since he had read authors using that word, described the underlying system as 'capitalist modes of production' its proponents and beneficiaries as 'capitalists', and differentiated between capitalis production modes and capitalist societies, it is obvious that he just preferred a in his view more exact descriptor for what he wanted to express.

Now, in his letter to Wera Sassulitsch from 1881 we find this:

Mit einem Wort, sie findet den Kapitalismus in einer Krise, die erst mit seiner Abschaffung, mit der Rückkehr der modernen Gesellschaften zum "archaischen" Typus des Gemeineigentums enden wird, oder, wie ein amerikanischer Autor |L. H. Morgan|, der keineswegs revolutionärer Tendenzen verdächtig ist und in seinen Arbeiten durch die Regierung in Washington unterstützt wird, es sagt - das neue System, zu dem die moderne Gesellschaft tendiert, "wird eine Wiedergeburt (a revival) des archaischen Gesellschaftstypus in einer höheren Form (in a superior form) sein". Man darf sich nur nicht allzusehr von dem Wort "archaisch" erschrecken lassen.

In a word, it finds capitalism in a crisis that will only end with its abolition, with the return of modern societies to the "archaic" type of common property, or, as one American author put it |L. H. Morgan|, who is by no means suspicious of revolutionary tendencies and who is supported in his work by the government in Washington, it says - the new system, to which modern society tends, "will be a rebirth (a revival) of the archaic type of society in a higher form (in a superior form)". One must not be too frightened by the word "archaic".
— Seitenzahlen verweisen auf: Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels - Werke. (Karl) Dietz Verlag, Berlin. Band 19, 4. Auflage 1973, unveränderter Nachdruck der 1. Auflage 1962, Berlin/DDR. S. 384-406. Korrektur: 1 – Erstellt :18.07.1999 – Karl Marx – [Entwürfe einer Antwort auf den Brief von V. I Sassulitsch] – Geschrieben Ende Februar/Anfang März 1881. – Nach der Handschrift. Aus dem Französischen.

Or here:

Welche Anwendung auf Rußland konnte nun mein Kritiker machen von dieser geschichtlichen Skizze? Einfach nur diese: Strebt Rußland dahin, eine kapitalistische Nation nach westeuropäischem Vorbild zu werden - und in den letzten Jahren hat es sich in dieser Richtung sehr viel Mühe kosten lassen -, so wird es dies nicht fertig bringen, ohne vorher einen guten Teil seiner Bauern in Proletarier verwandelt zu haben; und dann, einmal hineingerissen in den Wirbel der kapitalistischen Wirtschaft, wird es die unerbittlichen Gesetze dieses Systems zu ertragen haben, genauso wie die andern profanen Völker. Das ist alles. Aber das ist meinem Kritiker zu wenig. Er muß durchaus meine historische Skizze von der Entstehung des Kapitalismus in Westeuropa in eine geschichtsphilosophische Theorie des allgemeinen Entwicklungsganges verwandeln, der allen Völkern schicksalsmäßig vorgeschrieben ist, was immer die geschichtlichen Umstände sein mögen, in denen sie sich befinden, um schließlich zu jener ökonomischen Formation zu gelangen, die mit dem größten Aufschwung der Produktivkräfte der gesellschaftlichen Arbeit die allseitigste Entwicklung des Menschen sichert. Aber ich bitte ihn um Verzeihung. (Das heißt mir zugleich zu viel Ehre und zu viel Schimpf antun.)

What application to Russia could my critic make of this historical sketch? Just this one: If Russia aspires to become a capitalist nation on the Western European model - and in recent years it has made a great effort in this direction - it will not achieve this without first turning a good part of its peasants into proletarians; and then, once caught up in the whirl of the capitalist economy, it will have to endure the inexorable laws of this system, just as the other profane peoples did. That is all. But that is not enough for my critic. He must certainly transform my historical sketch of the emergence of capitalism in Western Europe into a historical-philosophical theory of the general course of development which is fatefully prescribed for all peoples, whatever the historical circumstances they find themselves in, in order to arrive at that economic formation which, with the greatest upsurge of the productive forces of social work, ensures the most all-round development of man. But I ask his forgiveness. (This means too much honor and too much scolding for me at the same time.)

Seitenzahlen verweisen auf: Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels - Werke. (Karl) Dietz Verlag, Berlin. Band 19, 4. Auflage 1973, unveränderter Nachdruck der 1. Auflage 1962, Berlin/DDR. S. 107-112. Korrektur: 1 Erstellt: 18.07.1999 Karl Marx: [Brief an die Redaktion der "Otetschestwennyje Sapiski"] – Geschrieben etwa November 1877. Nach der Handschrift. Aus dem Englischen.


A sidenote: the often found claim that it was only Werner Sombart who really introduced the word capitalism as late as in 1902 into the German language sphere is clearly false, as phrased, as not only the second edition of Das Kapital quoted above testfies to.

one isolated early attestation of German Kapitalismus, […] from Itzehoe’s Komische Romane (Göttingen: Dieterich 1787, vol. 4, p. 304)
— Franz Rainer: "Word formation and word history: The case of CAPITALIST and CAPITALISM", In: "The lexeme in descriptive and theoretical morphology.", Language Science Press, Berlin, pp. 43–65, 2018. (PDF)

Just look at this debate contribution by Albert Eberhard Friedrich Schäffle: "Kapitalismus und Socialismus", H Lauppsche Buchhandlung: Tübingen, 1870. A work directly cited by Marx himself, including the word capitalism.

Summary

Claim is largely false. It is true that the first volume of Das Kapital doesn't contain the string in German. But it does contain the concept and some editions also used it in translations. It is true that in his works published during his lifetime it is a very rare find. But it is also obvious that he himself 'knew' the word. Ignoring any oral usage, he had not only read it, but commented on it and thus used it himself in writing. Mainly in his letters, but for example also in the manuscripts for the second volume of Das Kapital, where it would still be 'rare' – Engels used it altogether much more often. The claim is further exaggerating greatly a delayed career of the word capitalism in the German language. The implication from the phrasing 'that to Marx the word was unknown and it only became known to the public after 1902' is certainly quite wrong.

On abbreviations used here for sources:

  • MEW is the collection of all writings Marx and Engels ever did, but the collection itself got criticised heavily because a socialist influence (that is East-German and Soviet party lines) trumped historical method.
  • MEGA is the historical-critical collection, still funded by 'capitalist' German state

Addendum

The passage causing the confusion is

Q I years later however, in 1867 [when Das Kapital was released], the word was still unknown to Marx.
— Translation from the French by Sian Reynolds for William Collins Sons & Co Ltd London and Harper & Row New York 1982, of Fernand Braudel: "Les Jeux de I'Echange", Librairie Armand Colin: Paris, 1979.

The easy way out is here to look at the French original:

Cependant, dix ans plus tard, en 1867, le mot est encore ignoré de Marx.
— Fernand Braudel: "Les jeux de l'échange. Volume 2 of Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme: XVe-XVIIIe siècle", A. Colin, 1979, (p206 gBooks)

Now, being ignorant of any French vocabulary, we consult a dictionary for dix and ignoré:

Verb ignoré m (feminine singular ignorée, masculine plural ignorés, feminine plural ignorées)
past participle of ignorer
ignorer to ignore
to be unaware of, to be ignorant of

Thus a better translation is obviously:

However, ten years later, in 1867, the word is still ignored by Marx.

To close the circle: to match the English version given, it would have to read in French approximately: "Cependant, six ans plus tard, en 1867, le mot était encore inconnu de Marx." (Improvement suggestions for style quite welcome)

Which is to say: 'he still did not use it prominently.'

Which seems to be entirely correct for that year.
(That passage is also properly footnoted, btw, significantly weakening and giving appropriate perspective to the strong assertion about Sombart introducing 'that word' only in 1902). Also note: the quote from Proudhon is rendered "capitalism" in the Braudel translation above, but " The land is the fortress of the modern capitalist,[…]" again in English… The original Proudhon reads: "La terre est encore la forteresse du capitalisme moderne , comme elle fut la citadelle de la féodalité et de l'antique patriciat. link, p223"

A letter switch from six/dix and all important: a suboptimal choice for ignorer. Problem evaporated. To exonerate the translator: the 6/10 is probably not just a translation error but a 'correction' that fell a bit short, it should not have changed 10 to 6 but to 16: the usage of capitalisme by Proudhoun is from his "Idée générale de la révolution au XIXe siècle, …", which was published in 1851.

Now the fun thing to do is tracking down how many English writers cited that passage blindly or even built a nice argument from it…

Braudel is innocent!

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  • 2
    So... he didn't use it in his writings? So far you haven't proved he did. He might have been aware of it, sure, but that is a different question (and not the statement being claimed by Braudel). I'm skeptic about Braudel's statement that Marx never used such word.
    – luchonacho
    Jun 12 '20 at 16:25
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    As I understand it, the 1885 text you quote is not the "second edition" of Das Kapital, but the first edition of the second volume, which was prepared by Engels from Marx's notes. Do we have any evidence as to whether this occurrence of the word "Kapitalismus" was in the original notes, or whether it was chosen by Engels or another editor? Jun 12 '20 at 17:44
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LаngLаngС found that:

  • "Kapitalismus" does not appear in the German version of Das Kapital Bd. I.
  • It does appear in Das Kapital Bd. II published from Marx's notes after Marx's death.
  • It does appear in Marx's other notes and letters after 1877.

Lunchonacho additionally found that:

  • It does appear in multiple places in the 1872 edition.
  • It appears in the essay Theories of Surplus Value circa 1862, first published by MEW in 1923.

I additionally note that it appears in the French edition of Le Capital which was published in 1872 based on Marx's own revisions. Although a translator assisted him, Marx used the occasion of a French edition to update and correct his ideas throughout, and this apparently involved twice employing the phrase capitalisme et salariat ("capitalism and wage-earners").

First, in chapter 25 a wordy phrase "the relation of capitalists on the one hand, and wage-workers on the other" becomes the much simpler capitalisme et salariat in the French.

De même que la reproduction simple ramène constamment le même rapport social — capitalisme et salariat — ainsi l’accumulation ne fait que reproduire ce rapport sur une échelle également progressive, avec plus de capitalistes (ou de plus gros capitalistes) d’un côté, plus de salariés de l’autre. 

Here is Engels' English translation from the unrevised German:

As simple reproduction constantly reproduces the capital-relation itself, i.e., the relation of capitalists on the one hand, and wage-workers on the other, so reproduction on a progressive scale, i.e., accumulation, reproduces the capital-relation on a progressive scale, more capitalists or larger capitalists at this pole, more wage-workers at that.

Wie die einfache Reproduktion fortwährend das Kapitalverhältniss selbst reproducirt, Kapitalisten auf der einen Seite, Lohnarbeiter auf der andern, so reproducirt die Reproduktion auf erweiterter Stufenleiter oder die Accumulation das Kapitalverhältniss auf erweiterter Stufenleiter, mehr Kapitalisten oder grössere Kapitalisten auf diesem Pol, mehr Lohnarbeiter auf jenem.

"Chapter 25: The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation"

Then, in the chapter on colonialism, "capital and wage-labor" once again becomes capitalisme et salariat.

Mais alors comment donc … le travailleur a-t-il été exproprié de ses moyens de travail dans l’ancien monde, de telle sorte que capitalisme et salariat aient pu s’y établir ? Grâce à un contrat social d’une espèce tout à fait originale.

The English and its source German:

How, then, in old Europe, was the expropriation of the laborer from his conditions of labor, i.e., the co-existence of capital and wage-labor, brought about? By a social contract of a quite original kind. 

Wie wurde nun im alten Europa die Expropriation des Arbeiters von seinen Arbeitsbedingungen, daher Kapital und Lohnarbeit, hergestellt? Durch einen contrat social ganz origineller Art.

"Chapter 33: The Modern Theory of Colonisation"

While this French edition is also not Marx's work alone, he used the opportunity to revise his own theories and had control over the translator's use of language.

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  • Nice. Although, for added precision: in Prefaces, eg of 3rd edition we read: "“Le Capital,” par Karl Marx. Traduction de M. J. Roy, entierement revisée par l'auteur. Paris. Lachâtre. This translation, especially in the latter part of the book, contains considerable alterations in and additions to the text of the second German edition."::: These French versions look like almost co-authorship to me… Jun 15 '20 at 22:02
  • @LаngLаngС - Are you saying they're in the toilet?? Jun 15 '20 at 22:04
  • @DanielRHicks That was a timely (s)potting ;) Jun 15 '20 at 22:05
  • @LаngLаngС I mostly wrote this answer because Marxologists put a lot of value on the French edition, see here for example. It is true that we might look closely at this co-authorship but I think it is interesting to compare regardless
    – Avery
    Jun 15 '20 at 22:14
  • In any case, yes. As the addendum in my A shows, I completely neglected this angle of a 'French connection' at first; and that despite it being also useful for a direct date as your A shows. (Although it's been quite a pain to compare & search through all those editions in three languages due to their differences in actual content.) Jun 15 '20 at 22:18
1

I had a look at the etymology of capitalism and, according to Wikipedia:

The initial usage of the term capitalism in its modern sense has been attributed to Louis Blanc in 1850 and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1861. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels referred to the capitalistic system (kapitalistisches System) and to the capitalist mode of production (kapitalistische Produktionsform) in Das Kapital (1867). The use of the word "capitalism" in reference to an economic system appears twice in Volume I of Das Kapital, p. 124 (German edition), and in Theories of Surplus Value, tome II, p. 493 (German edition). Marx did not extensively use the form capitalism, but instead those of capitalist and capitalist mode of production, which appear more than 2600 times in the trilogy Das Kapital.

As said in the question, the first German edition of Das Kapital (1867) and particularly page 124 does not have the word kapitalismus (check it here).

However, the second text mentioned above, in its original edition, does have the word. It can be checked here.

This single proof, plus the letters in the other answer, confirm that he did use the word somewhere. In effect, in most of his work he doesn't use kapitalismus but refer to the capitalist mode of production, a significantly more precise concept. Still, the claim by Braudel has so been proven false.

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  • If you compare the first German edition of vol1 1867 with the first English edition 1887(!), then we see indeed 2 occurrences of 'capitalism' in 1887, on p 414 and 421. Perhaps include that here comparing original and 'translation' (which at quick glance seems to be an English version, or 'enhanced' translation over all?) Jun 15 '20 at 11:36
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    @LаngLаngС The English version available on marxists.org (mentioned in the question) seems to be the first one, 1887. However, Marx was dead already, so we cannot be sure he approved it. In any case, there is already a direct use of the word in Theories of Surplus Value so the claim is evidently false.
    – luchonacho
    Jun 15 '20 at 14:40
  • Yep. Although he was 'in' on a lot of the revisions and reworkings. The foreword says explicitly that English version follows 3rd German edition. // Now, WP is bull here, but given that Braudel is usually first class, how did he arrive at that? ;) French original giving a different meaning/translation hell, or a limited sample for FB? Jun 15 '20 at 15:02

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