better and worse things to do in a Capital reading group

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Nate
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Dec 15 2013 18:32
better and worse things to do in a Capital reading group

hey all, following some discussion on a blog post I wrote about Capital, I wondered about Capital reading groups. I was thinking it could be cool to write something for people setting up a Capital reading group for the first time, based on people’s experiences. From people who have been in one, in your experiences what are some ways a reading group (and especially a Capital reading group) can break down/start to suck? And what are some of the better things that can happen in a reading group that make it helpful? So basically like if someone is starting a Capital reading group what would you recommend they do, and what would you recommend they try to avoid?

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Dec 16 2013 04:12

Not really sure if this is relevant, as I haven't been in a capital reading group before, but something thats been floating around in the london ultra left is the idea of specifically not reading Marx with Harvey's guides. I wasn't able to attend the meeting unfortunately, so I don't know what their critique is.

I've had a few cracks at reading it over a number of years and only managed a very patchy reading, but I found the Harvey companion and lectures really useful at helping the parts I did manage to cover, but i'd be interested in finding out what their critique is, (maybe it might be more pro Cleaver's reading).

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Dec 16 2013 06:25

When I read it (and this was a very patchy reading, mind; I'm going back over it and taking notes this time) I was advised to skim Chapters 1-3 and then plow through it before going back to those earlier chapters. I thought that this was pretty alright, though it got a little mucky around the middle for various reasons. If I would re-read it for the first time again, I'd probably read Chapter 1 more thoroughly, skip 2 and 3 altogether until the end, read Part 8, then plow through from Chapter 4 on.

I found it very helpful to go through Value, Price, and Profit side-by-side the relevant parts of Capital. I also used prole.info's excellent The Housing Monster for a more basic explanation of certain concepts before going back to Marx.

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Dec 16 2013 08:40
leomarinus wrote:
Not really sure if this is relevant, as I haven't been in a capital reading group before, but something thats been floating around in the london ultra left is the idea of specifically not reading Marx with Harvey's guides. I wasn't able to attend the meeting unfortunately, so I don't know what their critique is.

I haven't been in a capital reading group. Jura, posts on here, runs one, and he is meant to be very good, so maybe he has something to say.

I did listen to the Harvey lectures a couple of years ago. I don't think he has very much to offer in terms of understanding, and he is also probably the most boring political speaker I have ever heard, which is really saying something. I dont understand why anyone would want to use his guides.

Devrim

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Dec 16 2013 11:13

Well, I've been in five or six Capital (Volume I and II) reading groups so far (more and less successful ones) and the experience is always very different. Much depends on the people involved – whether they're students or workers, what their motivations are, how much time everybody has.

Some of the bad things that can happen:

- one person speaks more than the others (this is bound to happen at least once in a while if there's someone who's already read the respective volume), which leads others to slack off. This, at least in my experience, is extremely difficult to prevent (unless everyone's reading for the first time) and should be discussed in the group regularly. There's a useful text by Chris Wright which touches on this.

- if the motivation of some of the people boils down to "being able to say they've read Capital", they won't engage with the text in a very detailed manner and soon they'll slack off or just leave. This is common with students and activisty types in my experience. I think one should make clear at the outset the "political" aspects of the reading group (if applicable) and stress how long the book actually is and how much time it's going to take.

- people leave before money is transformed into capital. Of course, the first three chapters are a drag, and it's better to make it clear from the outset that the beginning will be quite difficult. I don't recommend skipping and starting with other chapters, though; there's a reason why these chapters are the opening ones.

The useful things:

- making notes (duh!) and sharing them. For some reason, some people are very unwilling to make even their own notes, but then you can tell that by Chapter Ten they are lost. If people don't make notes of their own reading, there's nothing to discuss in the meeting, embarrasing silence ensues, and all the hard work of talking and explaining is left to the usual suspects.

- having short presentations on the parts being read or on tangential topics (we had some on American slavery, housework, primitive accumulation and crises), with people taking turns.

Generally, the reading groups I've been in met once every week for about 2 hours. We usually read 15 - 20 pages every week, unless it's the more historical, table-ridden stuff which is easier to read. The first chapter is usually split into 3 meetings.

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Dec 16 2013 11:30

As regards Harvey, I can't recommend the book, which is just a transcript of the free lectures that are on YouTube with some light editing. The lectures themselves are quite useful at some points; they certainly helped me some years ago when I was setting up the first group. On the other hand, there are some serious textual issues (mostly of the kind that matters to Marx nerds, but some, like the "value is the unity of use-value and exchange-value" bit in the first or second one, are actually harmful) and a lot of Leftist nonsense. I couldn't go to the Kittens presentation at the bookfaor but I can see why they'd take issue with Harvey's interpretation.

There's quite a lot of Capital reading guides around, from various periods, authors and interpretive angles. Each has its problems, but if you have the time, it's a good idea to look into them, if only as an exercise in identifying the mistakes. I don't recommend sticking to one guide only, though. But if you have to, I believe it should be the one by Heinrich (incomplete, sadly).

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Dec 16 2013 17:06

Thanks all. Jura, I hadn’t seen that piece by Chris, thanks for that. I disagree with parts of it but I like parts of it a lot.

I like your point about why people want to read Capital. I know I’ve been in reading groups where we talked about why we wanted to read it first. I think that’s good for helping people build relationships a bit. At the same time, I think it’s a little complicated in way. At least for me, Capital v1 was a really important book that changed how I thought. So like what I wanted to get out of it initially before I read it was different than what I would say afterward about why it was important that I read it. I definitely agree that people reading it just so they can say they’ve read it is a problem. People should definitely engage the book sincerely, to get the contents.

Can you say more about the presentations on tangential topics? How have you structured those, did those include additional readings?

Some things I’ve seen go wrong in Capital reading groups.
They become (or start out!) as a social thing that’s more interested in hanging out than actually reading the book. This is especially annoying when about half the group does this and half actually wants to read the book.

People change the subject to stuff that not everyone has read (“to really understand this chapter of Capital, you need to understand this other work that only I have read...” or “and because of this reading, this is the reason why seizure of state power is impossible/is required for true revolutionaries, as demonstrated by the following material that only I have read...” or “I know none of the rest of you are reading it but I’ve been reading Harvey’s/Cleaver’s/whoever’s study guide along with this, and the study guide says...”) If this happens occasionally it can be okay, if the idea is to equip everyone in the group with greater knowledge that they can make decisions with. Even then though it tends to increase the tendency toward some people being the talkers who others should shut up and listen to.

People can’t agree on the pace of the reading and how exhaustive the reading needs to be. Some people want to read it super closely and get at the nuances of every word, other people want to get the gist. Related, there can be problems if people don’t agree on what to do with questions - does every question have to be resolved or given detailed treatment before moving on (‘when Marx uses the word alienate, does that imply something about the 1844 manuscripts?’). And people can disagree on how much the group needs to agree in its interpretations of Marx - does everyone need to think the chapter is about the same stuff, or is it good enough to lay out multiple plausible interpretations (like is primitive accumulation strictly relevant to the pre-history of capitalism or does it recur, for instance), and does everyone need to agree if Marx is always right on everything. Personally I like to argue out disagreements until one position is agreed on, not everyone likes this. Sometimes it’s better to reach agreement (or continue arguing), other times it’s better to just lay out different plausible interpretations and arguments and move on, though personally I find that annoying. Often disagreements on all this stuff are more implicit than explicit which can make them hard to deal with.

People don't care about each other's interests but keep talking about them rather than sticking closer to the book. (Ive been in groups where some people are trying to connect the book to various theoretical work they've read while others are trying to connect it to the economy today and others are trying to connect it to their personal experiences and everyone’s only interested in one of those different things.)

Differences of expectations of social behavior and personality - talking over people, interrupting people, going on too long, etc. I tend to get excited talking about ideas and sometimes do those things - and I think out loud a lot, rather than having clear ideas before I start talking. Some people who are similar will jump in push back. I like conversations with people like that, they feel lively and fun to me. But some people feel crowded out by that. At the same time some people really do prefer listening more and talking less, so being asked if they want to talk is good but pushing them to talk sometimes annoys them.

On suff that's worsed, I’ve found this format has worked pretty well sometimes for meetings. One or two people agree ahead of time to present a summary of what they take to be the point of the reading. They lay that out for a while, sticking closely. Then the group responds, are there things in the presentation that were clarifying, are there things they disagree with. Then the presenters point out parts they want to talk about in detail, for positive reasons (insightful, exciting, good phrase, whatever) or for more negative reasons (unclear/confusing, they think it’s wrong, etc). Then the rest of the group says parts they want to go to in more detail. The group decides which parts to go to and we go through them until time runs out. I also like it if someone takes notes on the discussion and shares them with everyone afterward, because it helps remember questions and stuff for later, like stuff to come back to.

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Dec 16 2013 18:06

Thanks, Nate, that was really interesting. I think any reading group, whatever it's on, entails the general problems of group dynamics (related to gender, education, or even individual psychological factors) that are notoriously difficult to tackle. I haven't found a sure-fire way of involving everyone in the discussion so far, though I feel like I've gotten a bit better at doing this than when I started. Because I "organize" the reading groups, I'm in a perpetual conflict with myself over what exactly my role should be ("participant" vs. "teacher", "Marx fanboy" vs. "communist" etc.).

The presentations I mentioned did not involve additional readings, or at least not necessarily (of course, people could ask for the references and read the stuff themselves, but it wasn't "required"). So whenever we hit a difficult spot (like when Marx mentions American slavery, which us Eastern Europeans don't know that much about), someone would volunteer (more or less) to make a short presentation (say, 15 minutes) at the next meeting. At least the outline of the presentation would then be made available in written form to everyone else. The presentations usually turned out really well and sparked a lot of after-meeting discussion, but, frankly, the group with which we did this the most was by far the best in many ways and probably for many reasons. When I tried doing this in later groups it wasn't always a success. So maybe it's not such a good idea after all.

As regards the agreements and disagreements, I see what you mean. One of the problems with Capital is that because of the way the overall argument is structured, some things are totally unclear up until the third volume. Some questions, including some really crucial ones (value and price, how SNLT is established), just have to be postponed because the elements of the answers are simply not there yet. The natural tendency of the readers is to do exactly the opposite – to try to come up with their own interpretations of how things could work (given what Marx had already said). This can lead to very stimulating debate, but it can also steer the group away from actually reading the book.

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Dec 17 2013 09:54

I think the key is to related Marx's Capital to the world around us.

There are a few ways to do that. I would recommend starting Volume 1 with chapter 26, reading through chapter 33 and then going back to the start. Read the historical chapters of Rosa Luxemburg's "Accumulation of Capital" while reading these chapters of Vol. 1 of Capital, and some Zapatista materials, and sections of "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee". Kevin Anderson's "Marx at the Margins" is also a very useful read here.

When you get to chapter 10, on the working day, include some chapters of other books on the struggles to reduce working hours. When you discuss relative surplus value, some material on the assembly line, scientific management ("Taylorism") and related issues.

Volume 2 is notoriously dull to read if not related directly to the real world. But the "circulation of commodities" means: railroads (and railroad strikes in history), steam ships (including slave ships carrying the commodity labor power -see Marcus Redicker's recent works on the Slave Ship), Emma Bonacich's work on logistics "Getting the Goods", strikes at Amazon today, the No Tav movement in the Val di Susa in northern Italy, the UPS strike in 1997, and the struggles at Walmart, to name a few. Volume 2 of Fernand Braudel's great work "Capitalism and Civilization" - "The Wheels of Commerce" also comes in very handy to made the material in Vol.2 of Capital concrete historically.

Volume 3 - I would recommend two approaches: first, the whole work shows that there has to be an overall unified average rate of profit for the capitalist system to work, but if this, like other categories of Marx is seen as indicative, that is as a tendency that capital HAS to make happen in real life, then globalization and global governance, the EU, and before these the national state are seen as attempts to overcome the separation of different geographic and sectoral rates of profit as forms of ruling class division, but uniting elites from different regions, cultures, backgrounds - so "average rate of profit" becomes a political category of the highest importance. The second approach is to see that Marx here is concerned with the "Total Social Capital" - the best short summary is an old piece by Mario Tronti that I believe is available here at libcom.org "Workers and Capital" I THINK is the title (busy day today, don't hold me to that), and here we are talking about finance and the state - Braudel's vol. 3 - "The Perspective of the World" is a very good historical overview and was the basis of an even more useful work, Giovanni Arrighi's "The Long Twentieth Century".

There is much to criticize in any of these supplemental texts, but each touches on a key piece of the large puzzle Marx is putting together and a focus on struggles, historical and contemporary, keeps one's eyes on the prize while reading Capital. And so among the many useful guides to Capital, I still recommend Harry Cleaver's "Reading Capital Politically", if only because it sets the reader in the direction of struggles as the key to understanding what Marx is doing.

As a general guide to Marx's work, I like two works, of vastly different scale - the older - I think 5 volume work by Hal Draper "Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution" and the just published and quite brief but very good "Marx's Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism" by Peter Hudis, while mostly about the particular issue posed in the title, demonstrates an equally encyclopediac knowledge of Marx's thinking throughout his lifetime.

Hope someone finds this useful.

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Dec 17 2013 14:23

On a small addition, if one would like to go really deep into supplementary material, Beverly Silver's Forces of Labor and Harrry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital are pretty tops. Labor and Monopoly Capital is an excellent addition to Marx's discussion on machines in particular, but I'd be a little bit cautious because it sometimes sounds as if Braverman thinks profit is only made in the margins (cooking the auditbooks, etc.).

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Dec 17 2013 20:13

I was told the Heinrich is a reading guide that makes reading Capital superfluous. I have no reason to doubt that, partly cos it comes from a good source and partly because I still haven't read either of them...

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Dec 18 2013 00:35

I've been involved with two Capital v. 1 reading groups, and with one reading group on v. 2. All took roughly the same approach: to read the text in order to understand it as much as possible on its own terms, and only resorting to commentaries, eg Harvey, for particularly opaque or thorny sections. Harvey's schedule of readings was used (with slight modifications), and meetings were weekly (with the occasional week off). Each meeting lasted about one and half hours. In the groups I was in, the chapters were read in order. We took turns at presenting a summary of that week's reading and most of these summaries were either posted on a dedicated website or circulated via email.

In the first v. 1 group, I personally found the pace of reading huge chunks each week conflicted with my desire to dwell on the detail -- or on details different to those that other members of the group wanted to discuss. For unrelated reasons, I had to drop out of that first group when we were half-way through ch. 15. Several months later, I joined another v. 1 reading group, organised along the same lines, which had reached ch. 12. By that stage I'd come around to accepting the rhythm of weekly readings and occasionally preparing summaries, and I ended up staying with that group to the end of v. 1. The v. 2 reading group followed the same procedure.

Although I acknowledge that the approaches used in the Capital reading groups described above might not be suitable for everyone, I recommend them as a way of approaching Capital for the first time. There is no way anyone can grasp all the nuances and complexity of Capital on a first reading; but without a first reading which simply aims at following the argument and getting the gist of what Marx is doing, it is impossible to grasp the complexity of the whole, understand the nuances, or be in a position to critically assess Capital -- and to use it, where applicable, to help inform political practice.

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Dec 18 2013 08:17

Midnightseven, that's a very sophisticated, but also a very ambitious plan. Have you seen it work in practice? How long did it take to finish Vol. 1? I presume the people who did this were really motivated. Also, with so many additional readings, wouldn't it be required to have someone in the group who already knows the stuff and can help others make sense of it? (Many of the bigger works you mentioned have problems of their own which could perhaps turn a Capital reading group a Braudel reading group or a world systems theory reading group!)

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Dec 18 2013 08:41

BTW, on Heinrich: the book I meant above was the one that's only available in German (so far) and it's a reading guide in the strict sense which encompasses the first two chapters (it's called "How to read Marx's Capital"). Apparently a sequel covering the rest of the chapters of Volume I is forthcoming.

The book that's available in English is a more general introduction to the three volumes of Capital, and while I'm sure it can be used as a reading guide of sorts, it doesn't involve detailed interpretations of particular passages as reading guides usually would. I think it's more useful as a standalone book or for "revision and comprehension".

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Dec 19 2013 21:14

Hi,

I've been involved in various Capital reading groups; mostly on Volume 1 - some of which I facilitated - so I will only comment on that:

* my current reading group meets every week for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, with a small break in the middle. This seems to be about the attention span people have after a day at work at most.

* I highly recommend reading the book in the order it is written (Chapter 1, Chapter 2 ...). It's a very systematic book.

* I recommend taking your time: for chapters 1-6 I recommend to proceed as follows: someone reads out a paragraph, awkward silence where people think and re-read it, people ask questions if they don't know what something is supposed to mean (e.g. references etc.), then someone summarises the paragraph, then people discuss the validity of the argument presented. Most groups I've been involved in kind of followed this strategy for the first 6 chapters.

* Sometimes it might seem Marx is saying the same thing again. It is worth asking how the current paragraph is different from the previous. I noticed that people often don't notice the progress of the argument because they think stuff is just a repetition.

* It might also make sense to ask: why does he say this here? I'd claim it's a very systematic book and comments tend not to be made at random but are at their place for a reason.

* Chapter 1 took six months with this slow reading, Chapters 1-6 took one year overall in my current reading group.

* In Chapter 1 we often discussed paragraphs sentence by sentence, it's unfortunately very dense.

* Chapter 7 and following I suggest to do in the format that was suggested above: someone presents the argument from about 20 pages each meeting.

* I think the part on wages is sufficiently dense again to warrant to go back to the slow paragraph by paragraph reading.

* I strongly recommend not using the book as a jumping off point for talking about something else but try to restrict yourself to the argument presented itself. Many people will claim you'll have to read, say, Hegel to get this or that, but they are wrong. It was sometimes a bit of a struggle to remind people like that to stick to the text.

* Generally speaking the Penguin translation is okay, but there are some notable mistakes. If something seems off it might make sense to check Hans Ehrbar's translation http://content.csbs.utah.edu/~ehrbar/akmc.htm

* That said, don't fall into the "it's only intelligible if you speak German trap", I had way too many discussions about the German language at these reading groups. I'd say: everything there is to be learned from reading capital can be learned from the Penguin edition (i.e. the translation errors are annoying but not devastating), also there's Hans' translation which is really good

* For discussions that came in the reading group but didn't really fit into the stick-to-the-text strategy, we tended to reserve special meetings. So, for example, someone brought up Postone while reading the fetish, so we sat down in a separate meeting to read an essay by him. It's a good way to address such questions etc.

* I also second the recommendation to take notes. Ideally someone would volunteer for each meeting, these notes would be mailed round and would be discussed at the beginning of the next meeting. This way people who miss a meeting are not left out and it's a good way to jump back in at the beginning of a meeting. It is also very helpful for people going back and to see where people are struggling. This can be socially awkward in the beginning, but it's well worth it.

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Dec 20 2013 07:08

I really appreciate this thread and the variety of approaches to reading a text as difficult as Capital. Having read volume 1 a half dozen times, I also found Nate's "Scaling the wall" essay to contain many valuable insights.

For me, the best way to read Capital is to do it collectively, and to model the group so that it's compatible with the learning styles of participants (à la Gardner's Multiple Intelligences), as well as the purpose that brought someone to read Marx with others. The latter might vary just as much as the former, so there's no single model to accommodate either, let alone both -- far from it.

I was lucky because my mentors in reading Capital were extremely knowledgeable old timers who also had an excellent pedagogical sense -- meaning they knew when to shut up and let younger, less experienced readers grapple with the text by thinking out loud. Some of the best advice I got was from Marty Glaberman, who I used to exchange letters with in the dark ages before the internet, who I wrote to after reading of all his Capital study groups over the decades; his simple suggestion was to go slow and to be in tune with everyone in the group.

Another face-to-face mentor was a 90-year-old comrade who I was also reading Science of Logic together with, concurrently in another group. What I learned from him was to persist, even when you don't get it (which is invaluable in reading Hegel's impenetrable prose). Like Nate commented above, something will soak in and if you don't completely comprehend the first time, you'll pick up more the next. I don't really think I had a good grasp of chapter 1 until the third or fourth reading.

Still another mentor was a professor who had been in Harvey's first Capital study group in 1971 when he was a graduate student. This was the best group because he knew volume 1 inside-out. He was really knowledgeable about various industrial sectors, especially the extractive industries and their influence on the westward expansion of the U.S. He knew the book so well that he could suggest chapters for focusing more thoroughly on, and others to gloss over. He convinced me that mastering the critique of political economy was a life-long endeavor. Interestingly, some of the best debates on interpreting the text were with the 90-year old, who I usually found myself in agreement with.

I agree with all the disagreements with Harvey, but I still think he's excellent for people who've never read Marx before. Schools in developed societies (mis)educate students with a positivist approach to the social sciences; lots of that has to be unlearned to be able to comprehend Marx. I've been in Capital study groups more recently where participants seem to make quantum leaps in understanding, merely by watching Harvey's videos alongside reading the text. I wish his videos had been available when I first tried reading Marx.

For me, the seminal books to help me wrap my head around Marx were Karl Korsch's Marxism and Philosophy (especially the essay of the same name) and Roman Rosdolsky's The Making of Marx's 'Capital'. The former gave an excellent historical sweep of Marx's lifework and the conditions he had to work through; the latter is a brilliant account of the decade and a half period Marx grappled with his grand opus and how he was critiquing political economy from constantly renewed perspectives, hence the project was largely unfinished at his death.

For example, the 6 books initially envisioned (see Rosdolsky's diagram below) for his project of critiquing political economy. Even Marx found there was no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep path have a chance of gaining its luminous summits. It's the same challenge for those of us today who want to develop theoretical and practical tools to undo capitalism. I think each person needs to find their own best way to make use of what Marx offered us.

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Dec 20 2013 08:21

Coolest thread in a long time.

Klaus, how long did it take to finish Volume I? I'm worried that most people I've been in reading groups with wouldn't have that kind of patience.

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Dec 20 2013 09:49
Klaus wrote:
* Sometimes it might seem Marx is saying the same thing again. It is worth asking how the current paragraph is different from the previous. I noticed that people often don't notice the progress of the argument because they think stuff is just a repetition.

^^This. The first couple of times I read ch 1, I was like, "why does this guy keep saying the same thing in different ways?". It wasn't until the third or fourth reading (at a guess, I can't remember exactly) that I realised that each repetition is seeing the thing from a slightly different angle (a "many-sided" investigation) so as to tease out insights from how those slighltly different sides reveal different characters of the thing at issue (or indeed alters that character - e.g. passage from expanded or total form of value to the general form) . It was like suddenly having the 3D effect of one of those Magic Eye pictures jump out at you, like "Whoa!". Part 1 of volume 2 also doesn't make sense until you grasp this.

Klaus
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Dec 20 2013 14:33
Quote:
Klaus, how long did it take to finish Volume I? I'm worried that most people I've been in reading groups with wouldn't have that kind of patience.

About 2 years, so about 200 hours (2 hours per week, about 50 weeks per year, ignoring summer and Christmas breaks). I appreciate it's a lot of time investment, but it's well worth it.

PS: for those from London: it seems there will be another Capital reading group starting some time in the first half of the next year. I am sure it will be advertised on libcom, but you can also sign up to Critisticuffs announcement list if you want to make sure to get an e-mail about it when it starts.

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Dec 20 2013 16:48

I'm really enjoying this thread y'all, thanks very much.

About the 2 year reading group where people read the text super closely, that sounds awesome. I can say though that I wouldn't be able to hack that pace, both in that I can't do a weekly meeting right now what with my kids and all, and that I would not have the perseverance to hang in there for two years. I think the last Capital group I was in, we read v1 in about 6 months, meeting 1-2 times a month. That groups was definitely one where we didn't get every nuance by any means, but our approach was that people could return to stuff later. One thing we did do that I liked is we went back over some of the 1st 3 chapters after we read the rest of the book. On that second pass and in light of the whole book, everyone got more out of them.

One other thought, I think a lot of first time readers of Marx are like "I'll read this once and then I'll it at all," like with easier books. I think that's fine, and I think someone struggling to read the book for the first time might not want to hear the idea of reading it multiple times, but really I think most serious readers of Marx go back over stuff multiple times, his writing rewards multiple readings etc. Sometimes the idea that we'll get it all on one go can be an obstacle to people actually reading the book, at least it was for me.

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Dec 20 2013 17:46

We did something akin to what Klaus described with the very first group I was in. It took about 18 months, and the weekly meetings often lasted up to four hours. We recorded every session so that people who missed it could listen to it (they actually did!). Like I said, it was the best group ever, and in none of the later groups were people so much into it as to invest so much time. (But even in the first group there was someone – hello MT if you're reading this – who after a long day at work fell asleep from time to time and always bitched about Marx being repetitive tongue.)

Another thing I wanted to ask everyone is how much time (if at all) do you spend discussing the relation of Marx's critique to contemporary (neoclassical) economics, and how you do it. Of course, some or perhaps most of what Marx is saying can be thrown in their face verbatim (think "Senior's last hour" or the analysis of the exchange process in Ch2), but obviously a lot is left uncovered. I don't have any formal training in economics and my knowledge of it is patchy at best, but in the first group, there was an economics major, and it was very interesting to bring that up from time to time and look for traces of what Marx is criticizing in contemporary economic theory (especially as it is taught at the undergraduate level).

Klaus
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Dec 20 2013 19:37

I'd say it makes sense to take it on when Marx talks about bourgeois economics anyway or to highlight the differences. For example, I'd say it makes sense to contrast the first sentence "the wealth of societies ..." with the starting point of every bourgeois text book: scarcity. The former tries to understand what is actually going on - i.e. studies the actual wealth that exists - , the latter does not ask what the capitalist mode of production is but immediately moves on to justifying it: it serves a good function.

whileykitty
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Dec 22 2013 09:56

1. Play solitaire on your smartphone
2. Devise a drinking game based on the personality quirks of the people in the group (there's always a 'historian,' a Leninist, a post-lefty, an interrupter, and of course- the derailer)
3. Treat the pages like a wordfind
4. invent a BINGO game for your group, Bingo makes everything better. Instead of yelling BINGO yell The old guard is dead!
5. Every time bourgeois is said, throw salt over your left shoulder.

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jura
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Dec 23 2013 11:10

Has anyone tried doing "public" reading groups (anyone can come, people don't know each other at the beginning)? (All groups I've been in had people I had previously known in one way or another.)

Android
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Dec 23 2013 22:54
jura wrote:
Has anyone tried doing "public" reading groups (anyone can come, people don't know each other at the beginning)? (All groups I've been in had people I had previously known in one way or another.)

I have participated in a public reading group, not on Capital though. Which probably changes the nature of the group, softer reading material, more relaxed as a result (we met in a park too in summer time to please the hippies in the group!). Attendance varied between 5-12, with a core of 5 maintaining it throughout and the composition of the core attendees fluctated. An issue was that not everyone would have done the reading (which worked on basis of 'core' and 'additional' readings, and usually someone got it going which was either allocated at previous meeting or in more chaotic ones imposed at the meeting on those who did the reading). Not sure how to avoid this in softer reading groups as the line between reading and discussion group is easily blurred and lends itself probably more to the latter then the former.

Klaus
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Dec 24 2013 00:01
Quote:
Has anyone tried doing "public" reading groups (anyone can come, people don't know each other at the beginning)? (All groups I've been in had people I had previously known in one way or another.)

My current reading group is public and was widely advertised. There were 40-50 people at the first meeting, I hardly knew anyone, most people knew 1-2 other people tops. It quickly dropped to 10-15 and people got to know each other.

I you stick to the text it's not an issue at all that people don't know each other in the beginning. All the arguments you need are there ready to be discussed.

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jura
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Dec 27 2013 20:42

Klaus, I'm guessing from your other posts that it's the group done by Wine and Cheese in London. It could be interesting and encouraging to other people around the world if you and/or other people who are organizing it published some notes and reflections on how it goes (or went) – I mean, from the organizational point of view.

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Nate
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Dec 28 2013 00:57

I've done a semi-public one. It was open to whoever like you said. It ended up that most of the people there were people I encouraged to come, though. It went well, some people became friends and stuff. It was maybe 15 people at the start, I think 10 by the end. It was a bit hard to manage the differences in who knew who beforehand, that sometimes made things a bit cliquey, but it went well enough.

Angelus Novus
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Dec 28 2013 18:28

Did somebody say literature on Capital specifically created for reading groups?

Angelus Novus
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Dec 28 2013 18:29

BTW, the above is available for free online. You don't have to pay for the hardcopy.

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xslavearcx
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Jan 5 2014 14:57

i read volume 1 by myself and did volume 2 in a group. Volume 1, i had attempted several times on my own and didnt get beyond chapter one, what made the difference for me was doing it in conjunction with david harvey lectures. Also i would sometimes go for periods up to a couple of weeks where i would not read anything, and then there were periods where i would get through a fair bit. This 'change of pace' quality really worked for me.

In the volume 2 group though, i couldn't do the change of pace thing. There were set readings, decided amongst the group of course, but it was not something that suited my reading style. So often times i'd rush through parts without taking it in, with the end result that although i had 'finished' volume 2, i really didnt feel like i had read it at all.

Lessons for this for me is that, despite being aware of the problems of reading a text in conjunction with a guide (or set of lectures) that this can lead to problematic interpretations. But be that as it may, i think its worth it to aide comprehension for a first reading, but that its probably better to go back to it again reading it on its own, where comprehension would cease to be a barrier and/or alongwith other guides or guides on their own, to get a picture as to alternative ways of interpreting the text

In regards to groups, i guess it all comes down to ones reading style. For a first reading, the singular pace really doesn't suit me, but i could envisage that this would not be a problem for other people who are maybe better at organising their time, have more disposable time, have better concentration etc. (I should point out that as a parent with 2 young children, full time uni student, and having a sleep disorder i do probably have some barriers that other readers may not have). That being said, with a second reading, where initial comprehension has been overcome through a first reading, then i reckon a group would be a very valuable thing, and the pace of it would assist me to get through,, what is after all a very long and difficult text. So it is something that i intend to do again, maybe next year.

Anyways, this is obviously a mere personal account based on very limited experience with marx reading groups, but hope it is of some use...