This might suggest that the project of Capital was an unfinished one, perhaps even a failed one. Thus, later interpreters have often gravitated to Marx’s earlier, long-unpublished writings—ranging from the Paris manuscripts of 1844 to the so-called Grundrisse that he abandoned in 1858—hoping to recover core intuitions that were lost when Marx got bogged down in Capital. At the very least, the checkered history of Capital’s composition might cut against the notion that Volume I forms a coherent whole. Thus, influential interpreters like David Harvey and Michael Heinrich insist on the need to analyze all three volumes as a unit (however fragmentary the latter two might be). Other interpreters, confronted with the patchwork quality of Volume I, lop off those pieces that they find extraneous, whether it’s the abstract analysis of the commodity form at the beginning or the historical account of “primitive accumulation” at the end.
Roberts, by contrast, treats Volume I as the authoritative distillation of Marx’s political theory, his “premier act of political speech.” He justifies this partly by the very fact of its publication: To prioritize Marx’s unpublished manuscripts and discarded drafts over the book that he was willing to present to the world is to reverse Marx’s own judgments about what was valuable in his work. But Roberts’s larger and more ambitious argument is that Marx’s readers have missed the underlying structure and coherence of Volume I itself.