Poverty of Philosophy, The

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Poverty of Philosophy, The


(full title, The Poverty of Philosophy: Response to Proudhon’s “Philosophy of Poverty”), a book by K. Marx and one of the first works of mature Marxism. Marx subsequently noted that “in order to clear the path to critical and materialistic socialism … it was necessary to break sharply with that idealist political economy the last incarnation of which was … Proudhon” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 19, pp. 231–32). Marx’ and Engels’ break with P.-J. Proudhon occurred in the summer and fall of 1846, during the struggle to establish the scientific communist world-view and at the time of the propagation of communism among the workers who had joined the Paris communes of the League of the Just. In late October, Marx learned from Engels about the publication of Proudhon’s book, entitled System of Economic Contradictions, or the Philosophy of Poverty, in which Proudhon expounded his petit bourgeois reformist ideology. The basic ideas of The Poverty of Philosophy were formulated in late December, after Marx had read Proudhon’s work; they appear in Marx’ letter to P. V. Annenkov, dated Dec. 28, 1846. Marx’ book, written in French, was largely completed by early April. The Preface is dated June 15, 1847, and in early July the book was published by the Frank Publishing House in Paris and the Vogler Publishing House in Brussels.

The Poverty of Philosophy was the first published work in which Marx expounded—as a critique of Proudhon—the basic tenets of his economic doctrine and the principles of the materialist conception of history that he and Engels had evolved (ibid., vol. 13, p. 8 and vol. 20, p. 9; V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr.soch., 5th ed., vol. 33, pp. 22–23). The book consists of two chapters. The first chapter, “Scientific Discovery,” is primarily a critique of Proudhon’s economic views, and the second chapter, “Metaphysics of Political Economy,” criticizes the philosophical foundations of these views.

Proceeding from the materialist conception of history developed in The German Ideology, Marx establishes the essential prerequisites for his future theory of surplus value. Criticizing Proudhon’s idealism and metaphysics and his unsuccessful attempt to apply Hegelian idealist dialectics to policitcal economy, Marx develops a consistently dialectical conception of the law of the unity and struggle of opposites, the law of the negation of the negation, and the principle of historicism. For the first time he considers the problem of the relationship between the historical and the logical. It is the first publication in which Marx, developing the materialist conception of history, directly formulates the correlation between productive forces and production relations. He offers a materialist explanation of economic categories as theoretical expressions, as abstractions of the social relations of production.

In The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx is already conscious of the significance of the labor theory of value and is beginning to distinguish between classical and vulgar political economy. He also establishes the basic principles of his theory of value. By understanding the historical nature of labor as a commodity, he comes close to the idea that the commodity is not labor but labor power, thereby approaching the discovery of surplus value. Developing the theory of scientific communism, Marx explains the historical roots of utopianism. He analyzes the correlation between the economic and political struggle of the working class and touches upon certain problems relating to the theory of communist society. In contrast to Proudhon’s Utopian plans of reforming bourgeois society by eliminating its “bad” sides and retaining its “good” sides, Marx substantiates the necessity of the revolutionary transformation of bourgeois society. The working class will create a classless communist society, and only then “social evolutions will cease to be political revolutions” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4, p. 185). As Marx himself pointed out, “this book contains in embryo that which after twenty years’ labor was turned into the theory developed in Das Kapital” (ibid., vol. 19, p. 231).

The Poverty of Philosophy was not reissued during Marx’ lifetime. The first German edition, edited and with a preface and notes by Engels, was issued by the Dietz Publishing House in Stuttgart in 1885. In 1886 the Emancipation of Labor group in Geneva published the first Russian edition, translated by V. Zasulich. The first revised edition, translated by J. Mesa, appeared in Madrid in 1891. The second German edition, with a brief preface by Engels, came out in Stuttgart in 1892, and in 1896, after Engels’ death, the second French edition, prepared by L. Lafargue, appeared in Paris. The first Italian edition was published in Bologna in 1895; the first Bulgarian edition, in Varna in 1898 (translated by G. Bakalov); and the first English edition, in London in 1900 (translated by G. Quelch). Marx’ book has been translated into 30 or more languages and published in many countries. Excluding its publication as part of the collected works of Marx and Engels, The Poverty of Philosophy has been published 33 times in the USSR in 14 languages, including Armenian, Georgian, Latvian, Turkoman, Uighur, Ukrainian, and Estonian, as well as foreign languages. As of Jan. 1, 1973 a total of 683,000 copies had been issued in the USSR.


Marx, K. Nishcheta filosofii. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4.
Marx, K. P. V. Annenkovu, 28 dek. 1846 g. (Letter.) Ibid., vol. 27.
Marx, K. “O Prudone.” Ibid., vol. 16.
Marx, K. “O Nishchete filosofii.” Ibid., vol. 19.
Engels, F. V. I. Zasulich, 6 marta 1884 g. (Letter.) Ibid., vol. 36.
Engels, F. “Marks i Rodbertus: Predisl. k 1-mu nem. izd. raboty K. Marksa Nishcheta folosofii.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. (See index volume, part 2, p. 344.) Rozenberg, D. I. Ocherki razvitiia ekonomicheskogo ucheniia Marksa i Engel’sa v sorokovye gody XIX veka. Moscow, 1954. Pages 220–38.
Keshelava, V. V. “Ob osobennostiakh kritiki Marksom spekuliativnoi dialektiki Gegelia v Nishchete folosofii.” Filosofskie nauki (NDVSh), 1960, no. 2.
Oizerman, T. I. Formirovanie filosofii marksizma. Moscow, 1962. Pages 488–514.
Vygodskii, V. S. Istoriia odnogo velikogo otkrytiia Karla Marksa. Moscow, 1965. Pages 17–33.
Malysh, A. I. Formirovanie marksistskoi politicheskoi ekonomii. Moscow, 1966. Pages 168–92.
Karl Marks: Biografiia. Moscow, 1968. Pages 124–34.
Rossi, M. Marx e la dialettica hegeliana. Vol. 2 of La genesi del materialismo storico. Rome, 1963. Pages 837–951.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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