David Harvey - Reading Marx's Capital Vol 2

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Feb 26 2012 22:38
David Harvey - Reading Marx's Capital Vol 2

(Hope announcements is the right place, or is theory?)

http://davidharvey.org/2012/01/reading-marxs-capital-volume-ii-videos-to-debut-on-friday-january-27/

First three videos are up on YT as of now.

Have yet to start Vol 2 but I am glad it gets covered at all. Loved the video lectures on Vol 1 as he made some very good points that would have been lost on me in the original text (Harvey is to me like the modern Rubin).

So, just pointing this out and hope the rest follows soon.

Serge Forward's picture
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Feb 27 2012 00:36

Aye, his lectures are generally very helpful but just occasionally he comes out with some real tripe.

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Feb 27 2012 00:52

Such as? I haven't read anything by him yet but in the lectures he seems to be a real level-headed, non-dogmatic, very nuanced thinker who rejects the mechanical determinisms held by many Marxists, which immediately made me like him.

If I ever get around to reading him (I have a lot of basic marxist reading still to do), it'd be Limits to Capital.

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Feb 27 2012 01:24
revol68 wrote:
I can only imagine Serge is referring to residual social democratic sentiments can be sometimes glimpsed, but really that's not what I read (or watch) Harvey for.

Oh right, I heard something like that here and there, but then again I'm not really interested in most politics of "Marxists proper" in the first place. Can't beat their analyses though.

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Feb 27 2012 08:15

Fair dos Revol, I'll give Enigma a go as I've not read anything by him. I hear his Companion to Capital is actually a companion read to his lectures, yes? Anyone read it and is it any cop?

Yes, Railyon, I like Harvey's lectures a lot but he does occasionally let slip some leftist nonsense, occasionally mentions former 'communist countries', poo-poos any form of 'anti-statism', comes across as into social-democracy, etc. But his analysis of Capital is impressive and super helpful to a dumbell like me.

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Feb 27 2012 08:15

I generally like Harvey's lectures very much, but some of his comments on Marx's method and the "dialectic" (especially in the first few lectures on Vol 1) are more confusing than enlightening. He also makes a few outright textual mistakes in explaining the first three chapters, at least in my view.

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Feb 27 2012 08:16

A Companion to Marx's Capital is basically a transcript of the first series of lectures with some corrections and additions. I don't see it as very useful while the lectures are freely available.

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Feb 27 2012 08:18

Cheers Jura.

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Feb 27 2012 09:02
Railyon wrote:
(Hope announcements is the right place, or is theory?)

http://davidharvey.org/2012/01/reading-marxs-capital-volume-ii-videos-to-debut-on-friday-january-27/

First three videos are up on YT as of now.

Have yet to start Vol 2 but I am glad it gets covered at all. Loved the video lectures on Vol 1 as he made some very good points that would have been lost on me in the original text (Harvey is to me like the modern Rubin).

So, just pointing this out and hope the rest follows soon.

Thanks for this, I found the DH videos really helpful when I was reading Vol 1.

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Feb 27 2012 09:50
revol68 wrote:
You should give his The Enigma of Capital a read, it's a very concise look at the structural origins of the crisis and and various forms of crisis that capitalism encounters.

Seconded. The best recent treatment I've seen of that whole "Capital relies on compound growth of x%" thing -- something that's often stated as fact, but not often argued for in the way that Harvey does.

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Feb 27 2012 10:55
jura wrote:
I generally like Harvey's lectures very much, but some of his comments on Marx's method and the "dialectic" (especially in the first few lectures on Vol 1) are more confusing than enlightening. He also makes a few outright textual mistakes in explaining the first three chapters, at least in my view.

I don't know, he keeps banging on about fluidity, reproduction and social relations, explaining capitalism as a system constantly in motion and highly adaptive. To that extent I like his method, even if it may not be Marx's himself.

Watched the intro to Vol 2 and now I want to read the book lol. Another thing he's good at, he makes you see the text in a different light so you end up reading it again or start reading it.

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Feb 27 2012 18:10
revol68 wrote:
I think one of his strengths is his examination of Marx's method and the tension between theory and history, structure and contingency. If it's confusing I would suggest that's because of the inherent difficulty in trying to reconcile them into some neat and stable synthesis.

Yeah, it would probably even be too much to ask from a lecture. But some of his statements on the relationship between theory and history, for example, as expressed in the lectures and taken literally, suggest a very traditional "logico-historical" interpretation of Capital (and Marx's method) which I disagree with.

On a related note, when discussing the section of Chapter 1 on the form of value, Harvey sort of de-emphasizes the importance of it for the rest of Marx's analysis, suggesting that Marx was in his boring "bookkeeper" kind of mode when writing these parts. I can see the didactic reasons for that (i.e. Harvey not wanting to scare the audience off on the first or second lecture with a notoriously difficult piece of Marx's writing), but from a theoretical point of view I find it unacceptable (for reasons which were discussed elsewhere on libcom). Perhaps this is not a flaw per se, but more of a reminder that not everything Harvey says should be read as a definitive take on Marx, especially on questions of method.

As far as the textual stuff is concerned, I would have to dig up my notes to build a longer list, but I remember two things:

- There is a sentence somewhere in Ch3 (I think) where Marx says something like "We have seen that the process of exchange entails contradictions". In the lecture on Ch3, Harvey mistakenly relates this to the section on the form of value in Ch1, to the three peculiarities of the equivalent form. What Marx is really pointing back to in this particular place is the paradoxical situation analyzed at the beginning Ch2. In fact, the section on the form of value does not deal with exchange at all, but with imagined expressions of value. Only in Ch2 do economic agents come into play and exchange commodities.

- I don't think his discussion of the relation of value, use-value and exchange-value is very accurate. He suggests (in fact he draws a diagram that depicts this), that value is a unity of use-value and exchange-value. The reason why he does this is Marx's statement that for a commodity to have value, it must first and foremost be a use-value (for others, in the market). But the approach he takes to sort of reflect on this statement is irreconcilable, I think, with e.g. Marx's statement that "not an atom of use-value enters value" (quoting from memory). (The distinction between exchange-value and value as analogous to the distinction between appearance/manifestation and essence would be another reason why that is problematic). It is correct to say that the commodity is a unity of use-value and value (with exchange value being the form of appearance of value).

Generally I think most of the diagrams of sequences of categories that he draws on the whiteboard are inaccurate.

Paul Mattick Jr. pointed out some more problematic aspects in Harvey's interpretation of Marx (in Limits to Capital) in a review in Historical Materialism 16 (2008), p. 213–224. The most important being a "realistic" interpretation of abstract labor as mechanized, stereotypical, alienated labor (an interpretation which unfortunately is not rare in Western Marxism). If anyone's interested, I can upload it somewhere. He touches upon the role of housework too. (BTW, I generally agree with Mattick Jr.'s critique of Harvey, but disagree with some of his own views on Marx's method; Mattick Jr. basically says that the "dialectic" is a purely formal, stylistic matter.)

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Feb 27 2012 18:40
jura wrote:
A Companion to Marx's Capital is basically a transcript of the first series of lectures with some corrections and additions. I don't see it as very useful while the lectures are freely available.

I'd go further and say they are excellent lectures but make for a boring book. The reason is the level of difficulty is just right for listening but too basic for reading, so if you already know the book you'll snooze off on the text but enjoy the lectures.

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Feb 27 2012 20:05
bzfgt wrote:
I'd go further and say they are excellent lectures but make for a boring book. The reason is the level of difficulty is just right for listening but too basic for reading, so if you already know the book you'll snooze off on the text but enjoy the lectures.

I don't know, I like reading the book (Capital, that is) and hearing the lectures complementary.

I find it kinda hard to follow the lectures without knowing the source text, or at least knowing what he's talking about helps keeping up my attention... I'd say just one or the other, lectures or his book, is sufficient though.

bzfgt
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Feb 28 2012 03:10

I don't mean Capital is boring, I mean the book of Harvey's lectures.

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Feb 28 2012 14:49
revol68 wrote:
The second one does seem odd, it's not something I remember picking up on when watching his lectures on Vol 1 or for that matter when reading the Companion.

I think it's in the second lecture on Volume 1. He draws a diagram which depicts use-value and exchange-value as being united in the concept of value.

revol68 wrote:
If anything surely exchange value is the unity of use value and value ie necessary labour time, in that both only realise themselves in so such as the commodity is exchanged ie a commodity lying around a storeroom has neither use value or value, these things being relational rather than actually living in the materiality of the object.

I don't agree with the first part of the sentence. It's either that exchange value is the form of appearance of value, OR a unity of use-value and value. You can't have it both ways. Not an atom of use-value enters into value, so if exchange-value is just a form of appearance of the latter, it cannot "contain" a iota of the former, of use-value. Of course every value must be a use-value (and hence only commodities which are use-values to someone have exchange value, i.e. their value can be expressed by means of other commodities), but this does not mean that use-value is somehow "part of" either value or exchange-value. Use-value and value are two "factors" (Marx's expression) of a commodity (which is hence a "unity" of use-value and value), and yes, they are related (and the relationship is extremely important), but no, they do not "contaminate" each other. Otherwise the whole exercise in abstraction from all qualitative charateristics of a commodity at the beginning of Ch1, which leads to the introduction of the category "value", would be meaningless.

Basically, this is all just philology and nitpicking. It turns out to have more serious consequences when you think about some other categories related to use-value and value, namely concrete and abstract labor. What Mattick, for example, criticizes about Harvey's conception of abstract labor is that he presents abstract labor as monotonous, alienated, mechanized labor in capitalism, i.e. labor which is perceived by the worker as abstract, devoid of (human) content. Of course much, or perhaps all, of labor in capitalism is like that. But these characteristics have nothing to do with "abstract labor" per se. Those attributes are all attributes of concrete labor organized in a capitalist way. For Marx, the concept "abstract labor" expresses something altogether different – that all kinds of concrete labors, no matter how they are organized (e.g. in a more or less alienating way), are reduced in exchange to a "common denominator", to human labor as such. Even the most "enriched" (in a Toyotist kind of way) concrete labor, is reduced in exchange to this common denominator as long as it produces commodities for the market. It is put as equal in exchange to the most barbaric forms of child labor, for example. This has nothing to do with how the workers themselves perceive labor.

So as Mattick points out, Harvey does not properly distinguish between concrete and abstract labor (a mistake he shares with Habermas, for example, as his German critics have pointed out). And I think one could argue that this traces back to his lack of clarity in determining the relationship of use-value, exchange-value and value.

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Feb 28 2012 18:52

I agree the way "abstract labor" is used is often ambiguous but I think this is because the demand for abstract labor means concrete labor gets more abstract, in other words the demand for abstract labor in the strict sense actually leads to labor getting more abstract in its concrete manifestations (i.e. more interchangeable, deskilled, etc.) of course this isn't a universal or always irreversible trend...