Marx's Capital Vol. 1 - online reading group

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Sep 22 2008 23:20
Marx's Capital Vol. 1 - online reading group

This thread contains links to the chapter discussions of the online reading group For Karl Marx's Capital:

- reading group proposal
- Chapters 1-2

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Sep 25 2008 11:13

- capital general discussion / non-chapter specific

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Oct 6 2008 11:58

- Chapter 3

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Oct 25 2008 10:51

- Chapters 4 -6

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Nov 7 2008 17:55

(I'm a little behind on this I'm afraid, still on chapter 3. Will try to catch up!)

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Nov 10 2008 10:34

Chapter 7-9

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Nov 17 2008 11:45

Chapters 10-11

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Dec 16 2008 12:55

Chapters 12-14

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Feb 10 2009 12:55

Chapter 15

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Mar 6 2009 14:28

Chapters 16-24

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Mar 21 2009 03:03

Chapter 25

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Mar 27 2009 12:20

Chapters 26-33

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Dec 10 2010 17:48

Don't you think you're jumping the proverbial gun?

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May 15 2011 13:34

anybody up for doing another round of this book??

Dave B
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May 15 2011 17:38

I think it would be a good idea as well.

In the past I believe we have attempted to go it through it too quickly.

I am firmly of the opinion that an analysis of anything but chapter one is not necessary, as I think that that is where all the problems are and once that is understood everything else is easy.

And that it would be a better idea to just attempt chapter one even paragraph by paragraph.

The problem will be as has happened in the past, and I have been as guilty of that as anybody, is that people will go off scuttling around to the rest of the Marxist archive to justify and back up their interpretations and arguments etc and derail the process.

Although this would be permissible up to a point I think when Karl himself send us off in one of his footnotes.

And also it would be useful if people beforehand cleared out any political or party prejudices, loyalties and preconceptions as regards the interpretation.

As there has been clearly an acrimonious but interesting debate on another thread even about the opening sentence perhaps we could begin with that.

Maybe the historians and Germans could help us as to why apparently, or if, ‘the singular commodity’ and ‘the commodity’ changed to ‘a single commodity’ and ‘a commodity’.

Thus;

Marx 1867 (Capital) The Commodity

This is an English translation by Albert Dragstedt of the first chapter of the first German edition of Capital. Modern editions of Capital have a first chapter based on the second or subsequent editions.

Source: Albert Dragstedt, Value: Studies By Karl Marx, New Park Publications, London, 1976, pp. 7-40.

Transcribed: by Steve Palmer.

Quote:
The wealth of societies in which a capitalistic mode of production prevails, appears as a ‘gigantic collection of commodities’ and the singular commodity appears as the elementary form of wealth. Our investigation begins accordingly with the analysis of the commodity.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/commodity.htm

To;

SECTION 1
THE TWO FACTORS OF A COMMODITY: USE-VALUE AND VALUE
(THE SUBSTANCE OF VALUE AND THE MAGNITUDE OF VALUE)

Quote:
The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,”[1] its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S1

It might be a good idea I think to have a moderator for the thread to whip de-railers like myself back into line.

I think in anticipation it is going to be necessary to digress into discussions on the scientific method eg on the nature of ‘abstraction’ to ‘allegory’ to the reality of ‘sense perception’ etc.

To start off I would assume ‘a commodity’ to be non-specific and to include (all or other) categories of commodities whilst ‘the commodity’ refers to a previously specified (perhaps by inference) commodity.

mons
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May 15 2011 21:20

I definitely would want to do this.

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May 16 2011 00:10

OK, should we perhaps start a new thread to get things kickstarted??

I think a moderator would be a good idea for the above reasons.

As for myself, i am not very acquainted with marx beyond a basic sociology 101 of generic marxism. So im coming to this from a very basic point of view

as for political background, i do not really have a coherent framework of reference, once upon a time i was a liberation-theology-esque islamist but that was a very long time ago. One of the things thats kind of kept me at a distance from engaging in left discussions in my past life has been a worry that i might end up within a group of religious zealots that substitute marx chapter and verse for the bible, but this site doesn't seem to be like my preconceptions.

LBird
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May 16 2011 09:42
xslavearcx wrote:
OK, should we perhaps start a new thread to get things kickstarted??

Yeah, I'm up for this, too.

On two conditions, though:

1. The explanations are made in terms that people who haven't yet read and understood 'Capital' can at this point understand. There's no point in trying to explain "Marx's ideas and categories" in terms of "Marx's ideas and categories". Which brings me to the second point.

xslavearcx wrote:
...i might end up within a group of religious zealots that substitute marx chapter and verse for the bible...

2. There seems to be a tendency for some posters to want to show off their knowledge, rather than explain, in relatively simple terms, very complex ideas that other people are having great difficulty with.

So, will the 'religious zealots', who already know the revealed truth for themselves, please either be helpful to us learners, or keep your discussions of 'how many angels fit on a pinhead' for a separate discussion.

If only because we'd like to be able, one day, to participate in your 'angels/pinhead' debates.

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May 16 2011 10:59

agreed with all these points

yeah using the existing threads seems practical. Timeframes for chapters? How about a week per chapter for the first three and then review it afterwords?

LBird
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May 16 2011 11:56
xslavearcx wrote:
yeah using the existing threads seems practical. Timeframes for chapters? How about a week per chapter for the first three and then review it afterwords?

I'd rather see at least a new thread, perhaps even one per topic (however we define a 'topic'). This will keep it manageable, easy to refer back to, and allow it to act as a resource for the future for other learners (if it turns out to be a useful exercise...).

As a 'topic', rather than 'chapters', why not use the index from Capital to determine these?

So, first is 'Chapter 1, Section 1' (The Commodity: The Two Factors of... etc.). This is only (!) 7 pages, and to me seems better than a whole chapter.

And a week per chapter? Isn't that being a bit optimistic? Surely we should stay with each 'topic' until all participating are satisfied that they understand it? Y'know, a co-operative exercise, where the weaker don't just get left behind. Perhaps that sounds a bit too much like all that 'Commie' nonsense, for some, eh? Perhaps a competitive, individualist "Sir, I've already finished, Sir! Can't we leave the dunce LBird behind now, Sir?" approach is more suitable for some?

Perhaps a 'topic' could be a page or, as Dave B suggested, even a paragraph? I'm open to discussion.

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May 16 2011 13:05

haha yes, very good points embarrassed ironic i proposed that time frame considering that it would most likely be me that would not be able to keep up with such a scheduled approach laugh out loud

section by section approach will be best for definite

LBird
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May 16 2011 14:37
xslavearcx wrote:
...ironic i proposed that time frame considering that it would most likely be me that would not be able to keep up with such a scheduled approach...

Well, xslavearcx, it looks like we're going to be the slowcoaches sitting at the back of the class together, especially since I can't even use the correct term for what I suggested as a reading framework, ie. 'contents', rather than 'index'.

Can I just copy your answers off you, while I stare out of the window, when the clever bastards at the front start pushing the pace?

LBird
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May 16 2011 15:28
Jim Clark wrote:
The more you try and structure this, the more I'm losing interest. We should get going and then see what happens.

Spoken like a true Individualist Anarchist, mate!

Surely 'patience' and 'solidarity' helps the weaker ones? If you're already so far ahead in understanding, why not take time to think of ways of explaining to those not so fortunate? Even that nasty word 'discipline' might have some use here. And organisation requires 'structure', of some sort.

If 'we just get going', I think we all know already what we will 'see happen'. The turning of page one will see an exodus of those who are already lost amongst the verbiage of Marx's terrible writing.

Well, I'll go along with the flow of opinion.

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May 16 2011 15:48
Quote:
Well, I'll go along with the flow of opinion

me too!.

speaking for myself, tools at my disposal are: cleavers' reading capital politically', available here , harvey's capital course available here, and of course capital itself. Was planning on starting the book itself today, but due to staying up way too late last night on football forums i'm too knackered to delve into that text. So tonight, ill watch the first harvey lecture, and i've read the preface of the cleavers book.

Tommorrow, a portion of capital vol 1 will definately happen, so expect some inchoate thoughts presented here tommorrow!

LBird
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May 16 2011 19:41
xslavearcx wrote:
Tommorrow, a portion of capital vol 1 will definately happen, so expect some inchoate thoughts presented here tommorrow!

I'd first of all be inclined to discuss what method we should use, to try to understand Capital. It seems to be clear from many other threads that just reading it is a failed method. The problem is that the terms don't mean anything to most beginners, so that reading it might as well be reading a Russian language text.

I'd suggest that we identify, with the help of more experienced posters who actually already understand Capital, the main concepts in each section prior to reading that section, discuss those, come to some understanding of the concepts, and then read the section, ask questions, gain clarification, and check everyone is up to speed, before we move on to the next section using the same approach.

For the first section (ie. Chapter 1 Section 1), of which I have some knowledge, I suggest we follow that method with regard to (in this order):

1. concrete-labour.
2. use-value.
3. exchange-value.
4. abstract-labour.
5. socially necessary labour time.
6. value.
7. commodity.

How do others feel about this method, list of terms and priority order? I'm open to correction.

This might be slow initially, but we should pick up speed once we are confident in our understanding of the main concepts, and gain more confidence once we can actually read and understand portions of Capital.

Or should we just read chunks of varying size, to the taste and at the speed of individuals, and simply argue at cross-purposes, to no clear gain?

S. Artesian
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May 16 2011 20:40

At the risk of shameless self-promotion, below is about the best I can do at explaining what Marx is on to in his first chapter and his apparently abstract exploration of the commodity, which in reality is exactingly concrete and takes us directly to the cement in the concrete, the social organization of labor as a commodity, as value-producing.

Despite the fact that I use Marx's own terms to express an explanation at Marx, I hope that the thrust, direction, of the narrative is clear. If not.... well in the immortal words of Smokey Robinson: "I'll try something new."

1. In his preface to the first edition of Capital, Volume 1, Marx writes that this work is the continuation of his work in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, published 1859. Marx states:

Quote:
The substance of that earlier work is summarised in the first three chapters of this volume. This is done not merely for the sake of connexion and completeness. The presentation of the subject matter is improved. As far as circumstances in any way permit, many points only hinted at in the earlier book are here worked out more fully, whilst, conversely, points worked out fully there are only touched upon in this volume.

Of course, it is these three chapters on commodities, exchange, and money that constitute not the core, but the entry, the vector to the core of Marx's critique which is that capital is a historical relation of production, of property to labor; that value is the expropriation of the powers of labor.

Marx advises the reader that the exploration of value will present the greatest challenge, and then Marx proceeds to give the reader the key to meeting that challenge. He identifies the commodity as the commodity form of the product of labor. The value form of the commodity is labor in commodity form.

Marx assumes that the reader will be willing to struggle through the discussion of the value forms in order to learn something new. In this, Marx was displaying uncharacteristic optimism.

Quote:
"The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ―an immense accumulation of commodities,..."

The above, the opening sentence of chapter 1, might just be an understatement. It, the wealth of the capitalist mode of production is more than an immense accumulation of commodities. It is a universe of commodities. It is the commodity as the universe. Both product and its means of production are at one and the same time expressions of each other, each others relation to labor, and the expression of each others relations to all commodities. Both, all can be exchanged for the other, for an other, for all others. Exchange mediates the expression, the materialization, the realization, the accumulation, and the pocketing of value. Exchange then becomes the purpose of production.

Capital begins where value commands the labor of others. The commodity begins where its production is of no use, satisfies no direct need of the producer, but rather is produced for exchange. Capital begins where labor itself is not for the use of the laborer, satisfies no direct need of the producer, has no value for the laborer save its value in exchange for the means of its own sustenance or an equivalent thereof. Capital expands its reproduction, accumulates, as value commanding the labor of others.

Capitalist production, capitalist organization, ownership of the means of production is measured by its products, is the measure of the products. Production is, of, by, for value.

Social living labor, and the labor objectified, materialized in the private ownership, in the property of the means of production are each reproduced in the existence of the other. The value form of the means of production is the existence of labor as a commodity. This mutual reproduction is based on the historical separation, the opposition of the means of production in the conditions of labor to labor itself. Without that separation, that opposition, there is no organization of labor in commodity form. Value is itself the composed identity of this opposition, where the opposites are mediated.

The commodity in its specific form, as a shirt, a gallon of milk, a locomotive, is useless to the producer. It exists as a sink, a mule, a vehicle for carrying value to market. The capitalist purchases the use-value of labor, its ability to produce commodities, paying a wage which is calculated and distributed by the time of production. With this purchase, the capitalist obtains the power of labor to reproduce its social organization, its wage, its equivalent of subsistence [and even improvement] in less time than working time required by the capitalist. It is this power of labor to sustain more than its own existence, "more" than just its individual existence and "more" than just the immediate needs of both its individual and collective existence, in less than the total time of its existence, that is purchased by the capitalist. It is this power of labor when purchased that becomes the property of the capitalist, that becomes the basis of accumulation, that is converted into greater masses of the commodities that now command it to labor for the creation of greater masses of commodities that command it. It is this power that is inverted into value.

II. Marx continues his exploration of the commodity with an analysis of "The two poles of the expression of value: Relative form and Equivalent form." Here Marx states, "The whole mystery of the form of value lies hidden in this elementary form. Its analysis, therefore, is our real difficulty."

Using the well-worn example of the line and the coat, Marx begins his critique through the representation of the relation of equivalence, 20 yards of linen = 1 coat. The linen, for Marx, expresses its value in the coat. The linen has value relative to the coat. The coat represents value in the equivalent form.

Marx continues:

Quote:
The relative form and the equivalent form are two intimately connected, mutually dependent and inseparable elements of the expression of value; but, at the same time, are mutually exclusive, antagonistic extremes – i.e., poles of the same expression. They are allotted respectively to the two different commodities brought into relation by that expression. It is not possible to express the value of linen in linen. 20 yards of linen = 20 yards of linen is no expression of value. On the contrary, such an equation merely says that 20 yards of linen are nothing else than 20 yards of linen, a definite quantity of the use value linen. The value of the linen can therefore be expressed only relatively – i.e., in some other commodity. The relative form of the value of the linen presupposes, therefore, the presence of some other commodity – here the coat – under the form of an equivalent. On the other hand, the commodity that figures as the equivalent cannot at the same time assume the relative form. That second commodity is not the one whose value is expressed. Its function is merely to serve as the material in which the value of the first commodity is expressed.

Here is where we get some head scratching-- expressions of the value form that are inseparable, mutually dependent, and mutually exclusive? How can any things be mutually dependent, inseparable, and at the same time mutually exclusive? No things can exist simultaneously that are inseparable and mutually exclusive. But Marx is not discussion the physical quantities of being. He is exploring the expressions, the manifestations, the commerce of and in social relations. In that commerce, value has forms, moments of expression in commodities that, while dependent upon the existence of the commodity itself as a value, excludes the expression of that other moment in that particular commodity.

Is it really, can it really be, that simple? Yes, and as Marx explicitly remarks, the very simplicity is the source of such difficulty.

If we look back at a previous iteration of these value expressions in Marx's notebooks, we find what is in my opinion, a much cleaner expression, and resolution, of this apparent antagonism:

Quote:
Let us consider exchange between linen-producer A and coat-producer B. Before they come to terms,
A says: 20 yards of linen are worth 2 coats (20 yards of linen = 2 coats),
But B responds: 1 coat is worth 22 yards of linen (1 coat = 22 yards of linen).
Finally, after they have haggled for a long time they agree:
A says: 20 yards of linen are worth 1 coat,
and B says: 1 coat is worth 20 yards of linen.
Here both, linen and coat, are at the same time in relative value-form and in equivalent form. But, nota bene, for two different persons and in two different expressions of value, which simply occur (ins Leben treten) at the same time. For A his linen is in relative value-form – because for him the initiative proceeds from his commodity – and the commodity of the other person, the coat, is in equivalent form. Conversely from the standpoint of B. Thus one and the same commodity never possess, even in this case, the two forms at the same time in the same expression of value.
(c) Relative value and equivalent are only forms of values.
Relative value and equivalent are both only forms of commodity-value. Now whether a commodity is in one form or in the polar opposite depends exclusively on its position in the expression of value. This comes out strikingly in the simple value-form which we are here considering to begin with. As regards the content, the two expressions:
1. 20 yards of linen = 1 coat or 20 yards of linen are worth 1 coat,
2. 1 coat = 20 yards of linen or 1 coat is worth 20 yards of linen
are not at all different. As regards the form, they are not only different but opposed. In expression 1 the value of the linen is expressed relatively. Hence it is in the relative value-form whilst at the same time the value of the coat is expressed as equivalent. Hence it is in the equivalent form. Now if I turn the expression 1 round I obtain expression 2. The commodities change positions and right away the coat is in the relative value-form, the linen in equivalent form. Because they have changed their respective positions in the same expression of value, they have changed value-form (die Wertform gewechselt).

The forms are the moments of expression of the different facets composing the value relation. Marx makes it clear that regarding the content of the value relation itself, the expressions are not at all different. Regarding the forms, they exist only opposite to each other. A single commodity can never exist in the two forms at the same time. The forms are moments.

So.... so if it's that simple, can it really be that important? Again, the answer is "yes." In exploring the forms of expression of value, Marx is essentially rotating the commodity through the value relationship. Through this rotation, Marx establishes that the value in exchange of the commodity is not produced in the markets. Value is not a result of the relation of the commodity to all other commodities. Value is not the product of all commodities in relation to each other. Value is not the product of any or all commodities relative to the single commodity that exists as equivalent to all commodities but is itself no commodity, money.

The forms of the expression of value are important in the process of exchange in that these forms are moments in the calculus of the realization of the value aggrandized in production.

Further, because all commodities can be expressed in both relative and equivalent forms, all labors are equivalent, all labors are relative. All labors, no matter the advanced or rudimentary level of technique, can be expressed in any other labor. All labors can be expressed in relative and equivalent forms. All labors are equivalent, because they can be expressed, compared, quantified by and in a single measure, a single dimension, a single proportion. Labor is the source of value because labor itself has been transformed, clarified, reduced to a common social substrate, time. Time really is of the essence.

Marx puts it this way in The Poverty of Philosophy: 'Time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most time's carcass.' And he puts it this way in the Grundrisse: 'Economy of time - to this all economy ultimately reduces itself.' He wasn't kidding.

III. Because value has the relative and equivalent forms of expression, because all commodities are values, and because no commodity can simultaneously express its relative and equivalent forms, some representation of value which mediates these forms is required for exchange to proceed. The mediations of value require the services of an inter-mediation. The inter-mediation must embody the disembodied value from the commodity.

What is embedded in the commodity, value, exists in latency, as potential. The commodity's actual existence as both useful article and a value, given the social relations of production that give it life, the social relations that give the commodity the power over the human being, the social relations that give the commodity its existence as private property, is threatened by these exact relations, by its existence as private and not social production.

The commodity may not be useful, and the value goes unrealized. The commodity may be useful, but the market may discount its value based on the average time required for the reproduction of all such commodities. The value aggrandized in production is comes to the market on a wing and a prayer, as wing and a prayer, and money is the answer to all the prayers. It is the ascension of the commodity, its transubstantiation.

Without the inter-mediation, commerce cannot proceed. Accumulation cannot occur. Reproduction ceases. The individual commodities remain individual commodities, oscillating in value forms, but not realizing the value relationship. Barter can continue. Trade can grow. Capital, however, as the expanding universe of commodity production, as the accumulation of value as value is impossible.

And this is where Marx is taking us in this first chapter of volume, to the role of money as the mediator of the value forms; to money as the disembodied embodiment of all the substance of all commodities; toward the conflict between accumulation of value and the growth of the means of production.

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May 17 2011 13:15

Lbird,

thats how i was going to organise my thoughts on the chapter anyhow. i will be basiclly giving definitions of those concepts raised in the first chapter, with the hope of it precipitating discussions about whether they hit the mark or where they need to be ammended.

ill try and get some of my understandings of these definitions posted here later on. housework and picking up kids from school takes precedence now though haha.

ill check out artis post too before getting mine down..

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May 17 2011 13:12

-double post-

LBird
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May 17 2011 13:39
xslavearcx wrote:
...i will be basiclly giving definitions of those concepts raised in the first chapter, with the hope of it precipitating discussions about whether they hit the mark or where they need to be ammended.

ill try and get some of my understandings of these definitions posted here later on.

Right! Lead away!

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May 17 2011 20:19

looks as though my enthusiasm is nowhere near reality, Lbird. ill try tommorrow. not trying to take the lead just maybe a little overeager haha.

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May 18 2011 07:51
xslavearcx wrote:
Lbird,

thats how i was going to organise my thoughts on the chapter anyhow. i will be basiclly giving definitions of those concepts raised in the first chapter, with the hope of it precipitating discussions about whether they hit the mark or where they need to be ammended.
..

I think that would be a good way of doing it.

I was having a look at the chapter discussions from the 2008 reading group, and I think that using those old threads probably is the best idea. Apart from the first couple of chapters most of the threads are pretty empty, and already contain useful study notes written by a user.

I think that discussing a chapter at a time, under the headings suggested by l bird, sound sensible. Although I think it is likely that as previously, most of the discussion will be around the first three chapters, and after that it will probably tail off.

A week per chapter, especially for the first three, would not be sufficient. Probably something like three weeks would be better