Karl Marx’s Capital: Reading and Discussion II – Antonymous – Dec 10

Hello, and welcome to the second Capital reading and discussion thread! I’d like us to start off at a relaxed pace as the first few chapters of capital are critical to understanding the rest of the book. Marx has very precise terminology covering a wide range of phenomena, much of which takes a very different perspective from modern economic considerations and understanding, which is why discussion groups are so useful when tackling this material. The book is some 1100 pages long, which chapters ranging from 2 to 200 pages, so each week I will try to post which readings to do and helpful insight from secondary sources to tackling those pages. Of course, if you’d like to read at your own pace feel free to do so and use this thread when you run into problems, no one will be mad that you’re reading ahead!

The subtitle of Capital describes it as a “critique of political economy”. This is perhaps a little misleading – it is rather more than that. Marx is intensely concerned with the social aspect of the economy, how hidden beneath the numerical veil of the market is a network of social relations that, when examined closely, reveal the internal contradictions of the capitalist system. Capital is a critique of political economy in the sense that it:

A) shows capitalism not to be the eternally present entity governed by laws of nature that political economy contemporary to both Marx and ourselves claims – it came into being through specific historical circumstances.

B) shows capitalism not to be a system of equilibrium, but a set of contradictions that can only resolve through its destruction.

C) shows the true social relations that lay beneath the market structure

Capital could be called a description of capitalism’s historical period – it delves into other historical periods only to emphasize what is specific to capitalism.

Capital is not a critique of capitalism per se – it simply shows capitalism for what it is. Capital is especially not a defense or description of communism – as a work it is entirely analytical. Capital is not a normative claim about how the world should be.

Capital is also not an easy read, and without help or an extensive background in the topics covered and methods used its not likely that you will properly grasp all of the topics on your first read through.

After the failed revolutions of 1848, for which he wrote the Communist Manifesto, Marx saw that revolution would not be coming for a long time, and so set himself to studying political economy. Over a long period of time he studied the works of all serious political economists of the day and a lot of history. In the period leading up to the writing of Capital, he wrote several works to organize his ideas, such as A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) and Wages, Price and Profit (1865). He also wrote Theories of Surplus Value, which deals in depth and in great technical detail with the different competing forms of surplus value – this was written about the same time as what is now Capital vol. III. Capital vol. I was published in 1867, but Marx died in 1883, leaving the final two volumes as drafts. Friedrich Engels, his longtime friend and collaborator, edited them and eventually published volume II in 1885, and volume III in 1894.

Capital (all three volumes) was intended by Marx to be the first in a six-part series – the remaining five parts were to be Landed Property, Wage Labour, The State, International Trade, and The World Market. After this, he intended to write a long review of Balzac.

Curiously, the first foreign publication of Capital appeared in Russia in 1872. Despite Russian censorship laws that prohibited ‘the harmful doctrines of socialism and communism’, Marx’s opus was considered by censors a ‘strictly scientific work’ and non-applicable to a country where ‘capitalist exploitation’ had never been experienced, with one censor going as far as saying ‘that very few people in Russia will read it, and even fewer will understand it.’ Capital’s first print run sold out within the year, with Marx acknowledging that it was in Russia that the book “was read and valued more than anywhere”.

It was the birth of the social sciences.

Unless there are any objections I think that we should give the next 3 week or so to reading chapter 1, and start chapter 2 on January 1st. I’ll generally give one week per chapter, but merge some of the smaller chapters and give 2 weeks for some of the more extensive ones.

I’ll make posts when we move on to the next chapter and highlight some of the points made by secondary readings.

http://davidharvey.org/reading-capital/ – a series of excellent lectures on volume I


http://www.marxists.org/archive/mar…guide/index.htm – study questions for vol. I with links to definitions of key terms

http://libcom.org/library/study-gui…capital-cleaver -Study guide

http://www.scribd.com/doc/29514670/…apital-Ben-Fine – Ben Fine & Alfredo Saad-Filho’s guide to Capital.
Comes McCaine recommended. If you can afford it get the paper version here

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ – online version of vol. I

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/01…=cm_rdp_product – this is the Penguin Classics edition, which is used for the page references in David Harvey’s lectures.