How To Teach CAPITAL
It is possible to teach CAPITAL in fourteen lectures. A few elementary suggestions will facilitate the orientation of both teacher and pupil. For example, chalk and a blackboard do a lot to make visual complex formulae. It is easier to remember any formula when it is written white on black than when it is spoken. It also becomes a matter of course under these circumstances to initial oft-repeated Marxian categories. This is true not only of such expressions as constant capital (c.c.), variable capital (v.c.) and surplus value (s.v.) but even the lengthier and never-abbreviated one, socially-necessary labor time (s.n.l.t.).
With the exception of the introductory and concluding lectures, questions are appended at the end of each lecture. However, a word of caution is necessary. The question and answer method does not lend itself too well to the study of Part I. The questions, however, can be of help here too, provided the teacher is well aware that it is as essential to grasp Marx’s dialectic method as it is to comprehend the economic analysis. In fact, unless we get hold of this method of analysis, the analysis itself cannot be fully understood. It is necessary, therefore, to emphasize that if we were to answer “use-value and value” to the question: “What are the characteristics of a commodity?” we simply would not begin to cover the importance of the two-fold nature of commodities. This is so because the “and” in this case is not so much a conjunction as a counter-position, that is, it is a use-value on the one hand and a value on the other hand.
In the use-value and value of a commodity is contained, in germ the whole contradiction of the capitalist system; it is the reflection of the class struggle itself. It is important, therefore, that along with the questions, the teacher devise key sentences to this section to help the student comprehend not merely the answer to the question, but the method of answering. Here is an example: The teacher explains that the key sentence for section 1 of Chapter I is – the two factors of a commodity, use-value and value, are of polar contrast and yet are interdependent. Here, too, the blackboard does much to make the meaning stick. Written out on the blackboard, this key sentence, extended also to include exchange value, would look like this:
Chapter I is the most difficult section of all of CAPITAL. Hence, a lot of work should be put into it. In addition to the outline of the lecture, the questions, the key sentences, attention should be drawn to the examples of historical materialism contained in it. I have appended a partial listing of them at the end of the questions.
Cross references are important both because they include various aspects of the same question, and because they help keep the student interested since they give him a bird’s eye view of the sections of the book far ahead of the particular one being studied. Cross references are included both within the text of the outline and in some questions.
Three methods of teaching may be applied throughout the course:
I. A student is asked to be teacher for one session, or
II. The class is divided into four sections and each section is asked to read a particular chapter and submit, in written form, two types of questions; 1) the kind the pupil would like to have explained to him. or (2) the kind the pupil would ask if he were teacher, this method should be used toward the end of each part of the work covered. The questions should be read out to the class and. analyzed from two points of view: (l) whether the teacher had made himself understood by dealing with the questions the pupils had in mind, and (2) to compare the different reactions to the same material by the different students, which generally depend on that previous acquaintance with the subject each had.
III. The material that is to be dealt with in the given lecture is divided up and assigned to various students who are not asked to make a report. However, while the teacher is delivering the lecture, he stops and directs questions to the students regarding the special assignments each was to cover.
The first lecture is of primary importance because it does much to decide whether the students will remain through-out the course or whether they will drift away. This introductory lecture, entitled “The Aim, structure and Scope of CAPITAL” comprises the prefaces to CAPITAL, the Marx-Engels correspondence regarding the work and an explanation of the structure of the eight parts of CAPITAL.
The teacher should note the contents page where the fourteen lectures are listed under five divisions: (I) Introduction; (II) The Phenomena of Capitalism; the Buying and Selling of Commodities; (III) the Essence of Capitalism which is subdivided into (l) The Capitalist Labor Process or the Production of Surplus Value and (2) The Results of the Capitalist Labor Process or the Transformation of the Value of Labor Power into Wages; (IV) The Law of Motion of Capitalist Society; and (V) Conclusion. These divisions will help in giving the lectures a certain cohesiveness and direction, instead of letting each individual lecture hang by itself.
By the time the members of the class have reached the end of this course, they should be well aware of the fact that CAPITAL has not been studied as “theory for theory’s sake,” but as a guide to action. In the ensuing discussion the class should be encouraged to try to apply the main postulates of CAPITAL to the American economy. Stress should therefore be laid on Trotsky’s Living Thoughts of Karl Marx , where he does precisely that.
No method of teaching CAPITAL can be an adequate substitute for its serious study by each individual. It is hoped that this outline will lead the student to such study. In addition to CAPITAL, the following reading should be under taken:
Marx: Critique of Political Economy, The Critique of the Gotha Programme
Engels: Review of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy On Capital
Lenin: The Teachings of Karl Marx
Trotsky: Living Thoughts of Karl Marx
Blake: An American Looks at Karl Marx
Sweezy: The Theory of Capitalist Development, Part I
Lobb: Political Economy and Capitalism, Chapters 1-IV
Roll: A History of Economic Thought, Chapters V-VII
Robinson: An Essay on Marxian Economics
All references to CAPITAL, except where otherwise specified, are to the Kerr Edition.*
If possible the teacher should try to get a copy of the Dona Torr Edition (International Publishers 1939) as that includes Marx’s historic preface to the French edition of CAPITAL and other valuable notes.
*Transcriber's note: Libcom.org version uses the pages in the Vintage/Penguin edition of Capital Volume 1.