From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie (German, Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy) is a lengthy manuscript by the German philosopher Karl Marx, completed in 1858. However, as it existed primarily as a collection of unedited notes, the work remained unpublished until 1939. The work is very wide-ranging in subject matter and covers all six sections of Marx's economics (of which only one, the first volume of Das Kapital, ever reached a final form). The Grundrisse is often described as the rough draft of Das Kapital, although there is considerable disagreement about the exact relationship between the two texts, particularly around the issue of methodology.
The Grundrisse is one of the central works of Marx, due to its wide range of topics covered and its incorporation of themes from some of Marx's earlier works. The diverse subjects it covers include production, distribution, exchange, alienation, value, labor, capitalism, the rise of technology and automation, pre-capitalist forms of social organization, and the preconditions for a communist revolution.
As Martin Nicolaus and others have argued, the Grundrisse is a central text for understanding Marx’s mature analysis of capitalism, even though, historically, it has been far less influential in the development of the various strands of Marxist theory than earlier texts such as the Manifesto, the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, and The German Ideology. Towards the end of his life, Marx, according to Nicolaus, viewed the latter “with a scepticism bordering on rejection.” The Grundrisse, on the other hand, was one of the few texts which Marx spoke of “with a tone of achievement and a sense of accomplishment.” If this is true, possibly the main reason is that the more substantive first part of The German Ideology was largely written in the hand of Friedrich Engels while the subsequent parts satirizing the linguistic apostasies and word-mongering of Left-Hegelian philosophes were written by Marx himself.
Scholars have noted major differences between Marx's earlier writings, as The German Ideology and The Communist Manifesto, and the late ones, Das Kapital and Grundrisse. This suggests that Marx's views developed and evolved, although the main themes remained the same.
French philosopher Louis Althusser wrote that Marx's thought has been misunderstood and underestimated. He condemns various interpretations of Marx's works -such as historicism, idealism, economism- on the grounds that they fail to realise that with the "science of history", historical materialism, Marx has constructed a revolutionary view of social change. These errors, he believes, result from the notion that Marx's entire body of work can be understood as a coherent whole and, as Althusser holds, Marx's thought contains a radical "epistemological break" that can be seen comparing the unpublished Grundrisse and Das Kapital.