Das Kapital endured a turbulent journey before arriving safely at the International Institute of Social History in 1938. It all began in the British Museum, where Marx took the notes for his exhaustive treatment of the subject.
Marx repeatedly stated that the book he was working on was in its final stages, but this was not true. He always decried new developments in the world around him and wanted to think them over before he could finish his manuscript. By the end of 1865, Kapital was an undecipherable manuscript of 1200 pages. It took a year to develop a clean copy (in 1866).
In April 1867, almost two years too late and after having worked on it for 16 years, Marx took the manuscript of Kapital to the publishers in Hamburg. His loyal companion Engels, who was afraid that “the populus” would fail to understand the book, wrote anonymous reviews for at least seven journals. In spite of this effort, Kapital did not generate much enthusiasm initially. A year and a half after its release it had not yet sold enough to cover its production costs. Its success started in Russia, where the first translation appeared in 1872. Marx did not live to cash the first royalties – 12 British pounds after 16 years of circulation. After his death in 1883, Engels assembled Marx's notes and twined them together to Part II (1885) and III (1894). He was the only one who could find his way in the notes and read Marx's handwriting.
According to the Engels’ will, the Marx-Engels papers were given to a handful of relatives and concerned parties. The Parteiarchiv, a manuscript and library collection of the German social democrat party SPD, acquired most of these papers in 1901, after a series of complications. The famous socialist theoretician Karl Kautsky compared the eventful history of the Marx-Engels papers with Wagner’s Nibelungenlied. When Hitler came to power, the manuscripts were immediately hidden in wallpaper and somewhat later smuggled out of Germany. Departing from Berlin they were transported in backpacks and folding boats via Flensburg to a safe deposit box in the Arbeidernes Landbank in Copenhagen. The Board of the SPD in exile, who had found refuge in Paris, felt compelled to display the archive for sale. Tense negotiations followed, and the Institute of Marxism-Leninism from Moscow was the most likely new owner. But at the very last moment the Russian delegation was called back to Moscow. Its initial leader Nicolas Bukharin fell victim to Stalin and was executed in March 1938.
On May 19, 1938 the collection was finally bought by Nehemia de Lieme, director of the Dutch Workers Insurance Bank De Centrale, acting on behalf of the IISH, for 72,000 guilders (today, 643,000 euros). The IISH librarian travelled to Copenhagen to obtain the papers officially and reship them to Amsterdam. The Institute had already begun to bring its most important archives to England in the course of 1938. The Marx-Engels papers too survived the war in splendid isolation, at first in Harrogate, then in Oxford. In 1946 the archive again arrived in Amsterdam.
While the archive was resting safely in England, the original manuscript of Kapital I was destroyed by the British Royal Airforce. After printing the first edition, the manuscript had stayed with the publisher, Meissner, in Hamburg. In July 1943, heavy bombing by the RAF (operation Gomorrah) and the subsequent firestorm practically annihilated the city, with an estimated death toll of 42,000. Meissner’s offices and archives were also destroyed. The document that is closest to Marx’s masterpiece is his personal copy of the first edition, in which he added notes, remarks, corrections, and additions for a later edition (which appeared in 1872).
The Marx-Engels papers are now part of a digitization project carried out by the IISH from 2012-2015. High-quality digital master files will be kept in a digital repository. Derivatives will be made accessible through the IISH website, the Europeana Digital Library Europeana and other platforms. As of June 2013 Karl Marx's personal copy of Das Kapital and the only surviving draft page of the Communist Manifesto have been included in the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register. The Internationale Marx-Engels Stiftung (IMES) prepares the complete edition of the Marx-Engels papers.