The Global History of Karl Marx’s Capital

Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)

Partnership Development Grant, 2021-24

Summary of project

Karl Marx’s Capital is one of the most influential scholarly books ever published and has inspired a significant body of literature, as well as social and political movements around the world. The proposed project will offer an innovative reading of this seminal text, and deepen our understanding of the intellectual and political history of the international labour movement. The main outcome of the partnership research – a collective book entitled the Handbook of Marx’s ‘Capital’: A Global History of Translation, Dissemination and Reception – will critically survey all the most important interpretations of Capital and trace the significant influence that this book has generated in academic disciplines, political parties, governments, trade unions, and social movements. The research will identify the key dynamics that have produced, sustained and eroded political and social movements inspired by Marx over time, and will explain how Capital’s key concepts changed and evolved in regional contexts. In so doing, it will challenge the prevalent Eurocentrism existing in labour history and address existing knowledge gaps. With its historical and theoretical insights, from all regions of the world, the project will promote academic and public reflections on the relation between economic systems and democracy, labour rights, inequality, social justice, and economic crisis.

The partnership has four objectives: 1) reconstruct the global diffusion of Capital in all languages in which it was translated; 2) critically analyze the most important theoretical debates engendered by Capital and its political impact; 3) produce a new English translation of Capital that will become the standard edition in this language; and 4) create a digital tool that will allow scholars and other readers to trace and better understand the evolution of Capital’s key concepts through the course of different versions and translations of this book. The project brings together a unique collaboration of four archives, six research-focused organizations, and two museums from ten countries. The partner organizations are some of the most reputable research institutions in social history and social sciences in their respective countries. The research team includes 6 co-applicants, eight collaborators, and more than 60 confirmed authors for the Handbook of Marx’s ‘Capital’. They are organized under five regional and three thematic working groups. The strength of the partnership lies in the diverse capacities and expertise of its partners and research team. A rich combination of disciplinary expertise, research skills, and local knowledge will result in one of the most comprehensive examinations of a scholarly book ever made.

Principal investigator

Marcello Musto (York University, Canada)


Paul North, Professor of German (Yale University – USA)
Elvira Concheiro Bórquez, Professor of Science and Humanities (UNAM – Mexico)
Jean-Numa Ducange, Professor of History (University of Rouen – France)
Patrick Bond, Professor of Sociology (University of Johannesburg – South Africa)
Kohei Saito, Associate Professor of Economics (University of Tokyo – Japan)

Research coordinator

Elisa Marcobelli, Postdoctoral Researcher
(Avignon University – France)


Paul Reitter, Professor of German Literature (Ohio State University – USA)
Ricardo Antunes, Professor of Sociology (University of Campinas – Brazil)
Chun Lin, Professor of Comparative Politics (London School of Economics – UK)
Pepijn Brandon, Assistant Professor of History (Vrije Universiteit – Netherlands)
Ljudmila Vasina, Senior Researcher (Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History – Russia)
Seongjin Jeong, Professor of Economics (Gyeongsang National University – Republic of Korea)
Himani Bannerji, Emeritus Professor of Sociology (York University – Canada)
Silvia Federici, Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy (Hofstra University – USA)


York University (Canada)
International Institute of Social History (Netherlands)
Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (Russia)
Departmental Archives Seine-Saint-Denis (France)
Museum of Living History (France)
Archive of Social Democracy of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Karl Marx
House Museum (Germany)
Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (Germany)
Latin American Council of Social Sciences (Argentina)
Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Sciences and Humanities
Alternative Information & Development Centre (South Africa)
Asian Development Research Institute (India)
The Ohara Institute for Social Research (Japan)
Japan Society of Political Economy (Japan)

Goals and Objectives

Karl Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy is one of the most translated, read and widely debated scholarly books ever written. Volume One, printed in 1867, and Volumes Two and Three, published posthumously by Friedrich Engels in 1885 and 1894, have few rivals in economic stature and political relevance during the modern age. Capital has profoundly shaped the disciplines of economics, politics, history and philosophy, offering a novel method for the investigation of capitalism and contemporary society. This book has also proved highly influential for economic and social justice movements over the last 150 years; indeed, in 2013, the United Nations added Marx’s personal annotated copy of Capital to the Memory of the World Register, noting its “tremendous impact [as] a main source of inspiration for liberation movements” around the world (UNESCO, 2013). 

The proposed partnership will conduct the largest-ever interdisciplinary and cross-national comparative research initiative on the history of the dissemination and reception of Marx’s Capital in the world. The research will result in an original and comprehensive examination of the political history of Capital’s translations and interpretations, a new English translation of Capital, Volume One, and an investigation of the development of its key concepts. The research partnership brings together four archives, six research institutes, two museums – from ten countries, as well as an extensive interdisciplinary team of 75 qualified world experts (including translators) of Capital to work collaboratively towards new understandings of this seminal text, including insights into the politics of global economic system. Many of the partner organizations will also offer specialized leadership related to knowledge mobilization and public engagement for the project’s outcomes. Collectively, with a structure of eight cross-regional and thematic working groups, the research will reveal how the insights offered in Capital have assumed new forms, evolving over time and across different regional contexts – sometimes extending, and sometimes deflecting, the original ideas of Marx. This unique research project will result in a rigorous analysis of the global reception of the ideas of the most influential philosopher of market-driven capitalist economic relations to date.

The central objectives of this project are:

1.To map the global dissemination of Capital in all the languages (72) and countries (85) in which the three volumes of this book were translated and published in full. The research team will reconstruct the global diffusion of Marx’s magnum opus – including reference note on every single edition and reprint, and, where possible, the number of copies reproduced – between its original German publication in 1867 and the present. The estimated circulation of Capital calculated so far by the research team is roughly 40 million copies

2. To analyze the reception of Capital and demonstrate how the numerous, multidisciplinary debates on this text have shaped our world intellectually and politically, producing diverse views on the key economic, social, and political issues of our times.

3. To produce a new English translation of Capital, Volume One, to be published by Princeton University Press in December 2022. That work will serve as an accessible text for general readers, and as a scholarly reference for a global audience in English. It will become the standard edition of Capital in English for the foreseeable future and a landmark edition guiding future translations into other languages.

4. To provide new and definitive insights into the evolution of Capital’s key concepts in light of its piecemeal publication and multilingual translations. This work will include the creation of a digital tool to help scholars, students, and general readers to trace the development of Marx’s main ideas from the preparatory manuscripts of Capital in the 1850s through its different published versions over three decades, during which the 1st and 2nd German editions, as well as the French translation, were prepared for publication by Marx; while the 3rd and 4th German edition, as well as the English translation, were overseen and edited by Engels.

Published Research Outputs

Marcello Musto, “Marx’s Theory on the Dialectical Function of Capitalism”, International Critical Thought, vol. 11 (2021), n. 3: 389-407.

Selected Forthcoming Research Outputs

Marcello Musto and Babak Amini (Editors), The Routledge Handbook of Marx’s ‘Capital’: A Global History of Translation, Dissemination and Reception, London-New York: Routledge, expected 2023 (390.000 words).

Marcello Musto (Editor), Marx and ‘Le Capital’: History, Evaluation, Reception, London-New York: Routledge, expected 2022 (100.000 words).