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Talk me down from the ledge...bout to give up on Capital

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yoda's walking stick
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May 14 2011 01:40
Talk me down from the ledge...bout to give up on Capital

I'm on Chapter 3 section 2 and kind of lost. I feel like I haven't really understood much of anything since Chapter 2. Should I keep on going? Is there light on the other end of the tunnel? If I don't get this should I totally just give up on radical politics?

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Nate
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May 14 2011 01:47

Take a break and go read chapter 26 and 27. They're a breeze, you don't need to read the rest to understand them and they will help you stay inspired to keep reading. The book mostly sucks until chapter 6 or so, and the earlier the worse it is. It's really important though and you should not give up, seriously.

radicalgraffiti
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May 14 2011 01:58

the first 3 chapters are notorious for being hard to read

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Tojiah
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May 14 2011 03:55

And in over a century a century nobody's come up with a better, easier to read text? Honestly, the level of scholarship in Marxism is appalling.

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xslavearcx
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May 14 2011 09:29

im not far behind you in capital. Are you reading it in conjunction with david harveys course, cause that really helps for me??

maybe an online reading group on capital could be done here, was done some time ago and seemed to work well.

anybody up for that??

edited to add: maybe you could go back to the start and consolidate what you've already learnt.

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Steven.
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May 14 2011 11:34

Yeah, look for the David Harvey lectures as well, and like Nate says jumping to chapter 26 is a good idea.

The first three chapters are really hard going - it took me over a year to get through them, but after that it gets really easy and everything else just falls into place, so do keep on you are nearly through the worst of it!

yoda's walking stick
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May 14 2011 12:03

I'm listening to the Libravox audiobook of Capital in conjunction with Harvey podcasts.

Harrison
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May 14 2011 12:27

Harvey lectures are good.
He explains that Marx wrote Capital in a kind of reverse fashion, ie. beginning with the micro, ending with the macro.

Sort of like computer code or mathematics - defining his parameters before proceeding to construct his theory on top of them. And because of this, all the boring abstract -but key to understanding the later chapters- stuff is found in the first three chapters.

Marx actually conceived it the other way round, ie. starting with the overall grand ideas, and working his way down to the little things that make the ideas viable.

Once you get past the third chapter, it gets interesting!

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Steven.
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May 14 2011 13:18

I must admit the section on machines I skipped a lot of in the end, as it was so long and didn't really seemed to be saying that much (by today's standards I mean now that full industrialisation has been with us for so long)

dave c
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May 14 2011 13:38

Chapter 3 was for me the most difficult chapter. The second most difficult for me was Chapter 1. As others have said, Part One is the most difficult, and it may be better to return to those ideas at some later time. I think it does get significantly less difficult as you move on to Part Two. I think everyone in my Capital reading group would be in agreement on that.

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May 14 2011 13:39

I also had difficulties with the first three chapters but I found the key to understanding them clearly in Marx himself, in the 1867 preface to the First German Edition:

Quote:
The work, the first volume of which I now submit to the public, forms the continuation of my Zur Kritik der Politischen Oekonomie (A Contribution to the Criticism of Political Economy) published in 1859. The long pause between the first part and the continuation is due to an illness of many years’ duration that again and again interrupted my work.

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. The sections on the history of the theories of value and of money are now, of course, left out altogether.

On the basis of the italicised section I decided that the first three chapters might become clearer to me if I read them alongisde 'A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy'. So that's exactly what I did. In addition to that I read the first chapter alongside the version of the first chapter of the original german edition, and the section on the 'value-form' alongside the appendix on the value-form to that first edition. When I had all the texts I just opened up an Open Office document on my computer and noted down everything I found and eventually it all sort of fell into place for me.

I realise that method of working may sound a bit much but I personally think it worked better than skipping ahead to the 'easier' chapters or reading second-hand commentary on Marx (The latter is generally something you should only do as a last resort since the majority of interpretations of Marx are utter shite).

S. Artesian
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May 14 2011 15:21

I strongly, strongly recommend reading Marx's Economic Manuscripts in vols 33 and 34 before reading Capital.

And if possible , try the "unpublished" chapter that is called "Results of the Immediate Process of Production"-- preferably the translation by Albert Dragstedt.

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May 14 2011 15:34

You should definitely fight through man. I been on that ledge a few times, and it doesn't pay in the end. You have to slog it out. Alongside Harvey if necessary. I finished it a couple of months ago and it was well worth it. It is also worth it because its a book that everyone talks about but not many people have read, once you have read it you realize a lot of the critiques of Capital are usually over stated or just plain wrong....!

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May 14 2011 15:51

Oh man. Seriously, if you're feeling like the early stuff is quicksand, don't read more stuff like that. The answer to quicksand is a rope to pull you out, not more quicksand. Skip ahead. Read other bits of the book. Read the quicksand bits later when the other bits will serve as your rope. Also your first time through v1 of Capital is not an all-or-nothing deal, and treating it like it is will make the result much more likely to be 'nothing' than 'all.' A lot of that book you're probably going to go back over and glance at and/or discuss repeatedly over the course of your life if you stay a lefty and one who cares about Marx. Those early bits also read a lot differently after you've read the rest of the book. The most important thing is to find some way to get yourself to read all the words in the book if you've not read it before. If going in order from start to finish isn't working for you then don't do that. And if the stuff like that in the first few chapters is making you want to stop reading then don't read more stuff like that or extend the time you spend reading those chapters.

Edit: I'd also recommend Harvey's Capital study guide/commentary -- online here http://fckvrso.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/david-harvey-a-companion-to-marxs-capital/ -- or Harry Cleaver's study guide, which I believe is on this web site. Whatever else there is to say about those study guides, they're helpful for the goal of actually managing to read all v1 of Capital, which is a good goal and one that more people should take up.

Edit again:
I think the real key to understanding the 1st three chapters is to read the rest of the book. The book is kind of like those movies where in the first scene you see some dramatic event and then at the end you realize the book set you up to misunderstand that event and now you see it all differently. The early bits take on a very different light after the later bits (and sometimes Marx qualifies claims he made earlier). The whole book is sort of built like that - later bits illuminate earlier bits in new and important ways. That's another reason why it's important to read the whole book, and again why in my opinion it's more important to do whatever you need to in order to finish the book than it is to read it all in order from page 1 to page 700 or whatever.

yoda's walking stick
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May 14 2011 17:02

Basically, I think I'm going to listen to it in unabridged audiobook form along with Harvey's lectures. I'm going to absorb as much as I can, and not sweat it if I don't comprehend/misunderstand some of the concepts. Like Nate said, it's something I hope to revist, albeit probably not for a while afterwards.

yoda's walking stick
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May 14 2011 17:27

How would you define 'wealth' in Marxist terms? Stored up human labor?

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Zanthorus
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May 14 2011 17:41
yoda's walking stick wrote:
How would you define 'wealth' in Marxist terms? Stored up human labor?

No, in fact Marx explicitly rejects this in 'A Contribution...':

Quote:
It would be wrong to say that labour which produces use-values is the only source of the wealth produced by it, that is of material wealth. Since labour is an activity which adapts material for some purpose or other, it needs material as a prerequisite. Different use-values contain very different proportions of labour and natural products, but use-value always comprises a natural element. As useful activity directed to the appropriation of natural factors in one form or another, labour is a natural condition of human existence, a condition of material interchange between man and nature, quite independent of the form of society.

To summarise, wealth as such, without regard to it's social form, is merely a mass of use-values, which are the product of human labour interacting with nature. The idea of wealth as 'stored up human labour' could make sense, but only when wealth is viewed in the social form which it acquires within bourgeois society.

syndicalist
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May 14 2011 17:53

I say jump from the ledge.

yoda's walking stick
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May 14 2011 18:18

But it would be potential use values then, right? Because having a wad of cash in my safe isn't particularly useful in immediately satisfying my physical or emotional needs.

yoda's walking stick
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May 14 2011 18:48
Zanthorus wrote:
yoda's walking stick wrote:
How would you define 'wealth' in Marxist terms? Stored up human labor?

No, in fact Marx explicitly rejects this in 'A Contribution...':

Quote:
It would be wrong to say that labour which produces use-values is the only source of the wealth produced by it, that is of material wealth. Since labour is an activity which adapts material for some purpose or other, it needs material as a prerequisite. Different use-values contain very different proportions of labour and natural products, but use-value always comprises a natural element. As useful activity directed to the appropriation of natural factors in one form or another, labour is a natural condition of human existence, a condition of material interchange between man and nature, quite independent of the form of society.

To summarise, wealth as such, without regard to it's social form, is merely a mass of use-values, which are the product of human labour interacting with nature. The idea of wealth as 'stored up human labour' could make sense, but only when wealth is viewed in the social form which it acquires within bourgeois society.

And no offense, but if you're trying to communicate with someone who's having trouble understanding Marxian language, why would you use Marxian language in your explanation?

S. Artesian
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May 14 2011 19:12

If you can, read the book, don't listen to it. Easier to sort it out, think about the last paragraph when you don't have to listen to the next one.

Re using Marx's language terms-- it's really impossible to not use terms referring to value, and to the social organization of value production when discussing Marx.

yoda's walking stick
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May 14 2011 19:53

I have pretty good listening comprehension when it comes to audiobooks. I grew up on the Library of Congress' "Talking Book" program that I had free access to due to my diagnosed dyslexia. I was fortunate enough to have the remediation necessary to eventually bump me into the 90th reading percentile, but I still have a fondness for audiobooks.

Though I know what you're saying. Mostly I just want to get through it now and come back to "actually" read it later for deeper comprehension. Due to my schedule, the only real free time I have these days seems to be the thirty minute or so commute I have to work each morning.

S. Artesian
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May 14 2011 22:04

OK. My problem with Capital is that I think it isn't Marx's best writing and by a long shot, which is why I think the Economic Manuscripts [generally the studies and drafts he did leading up to Vol 1] are a much better read, a much better introduction, and the "dual character" of labor under capitalism.

The writing just appears to be so much less self-conscious, and so much more expressive.

yoda's walking stick
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May 15 2011 01:54

Too bad Marx isn't around today. He'd sure make the bourgies remember his carbuncles. But no doubt everyone is a product of their time and place, so he wouldn't be the writer we know and love.

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With Sober Senses
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May 15 2011 02:48

Watch the videos here

RedHughs
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May 15 2011 06:15
Quote:
And in over a century a century nobody's come up with a better, easier to read text? Honestly, the level of scholarship in Marxism is appalling.

For summary of the principles of communism, I think Eclipse And Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement is great.

Quote:
My problem with Capital is that I think it isn't Marx's best writing and by a long shot, which is why I think the Economic Manuscripts [generally the studies and drafts he did leading up to Vol 1] are a much better read, a much better introduction, and the "dual character" of labor under capitalism.

I agree. In fact, I think that an understatement. I've always found Capital horribly turgid (part of the turgidness came from him aiming to make a definitive statement of a fundamentally new perspective but that doesn't aid readability). Among the essays you mention, I like the one on pre-capitalist relations.

The thing is, my impression is, that beginning communists a hundred years ago didn't start out with Capital and read through. My vague guess is that they read the Manifesto and whatever literature the organization they were joining offered them. That, is the big difference is there were large scale Marxist organizations rather than randomly associated individuals with a few tiny groups.

I didn't know exactly when the present tendency for anti-state communists to "gather round the ole' Capital Study Group" began but having seen a number of these groups, it seems to me that while they may or may not get "deep insights" through their reading, they definitely don't make the purpose of their reading clear as they proceed to those joining them and not to themselves. I have the impression that they're basically playing Marxist Protestants to Leninism's Catholics - the various recent German Marxist tendencies seem to carry this cartoonish extremes - a fellow from Ruthless Criticism gave a talk near me where his only call to action was "get them to read Capital!".

One way to understand this behavior is in terms "hobbies". The hobby could be defined as activity of the atomized individual under capitalism - these range from spectator and participatory sports through games of kinds to literature and politics (outlined this way, hopefully we all are well-aware of the phenomena). The hobby doesn't directly relate to a persons activity but is a substitute for the social activity of previous eras. Realistically, then, a large portion of folks today approach communism as one more hobby. And with this, reading Capital end-to-end is the kind of petty task that hobbyists do to demonstrate their importance.

I don't mean to be dismissive or belittle people with this comment. We all begin in this era of atomization and alienated relations. I don't think the "hobbyist dynamic" makes our activity bad or even irrelevant. The main problem is not being conscious of this tendencies in order to deflect it - pretending the tendencies of today are identical to the tendencies of a hundred years ago.

Angelus Novus
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May 15 2011 07:45
RedHughs wrote:
the various recent German Marxist tendencies seem to carry this cartoonish extremes - a fellow from Ruthless Criticism gave a talk near me where his only call to action was "get them to read Capital!".

Given that German was the language Marx wrote in, it's quite understandably the case that there is an extensive secondary literature on Capital in German, as well as quite a few excellent introductory works. Not to mention that researchers have had more immediate access to MEGA texts as they became available.

Your idiotic use of the term "German Marxist tendencies" implies there is some sort of deeper substantive connection between Gegenstandpunkt, the Nuremberg Krisis/Exit "Wertkritiker", the Freiburg and Berlin "anti-Germans", and the various academic representatives of the Neue Marx-Lektüre. In fact, the main commonalities between these groups and individuals is that they are 1. German (which is really a circumstance beyond their control) and 2. read Capital (which everyone should be doing anyway).

In a way, you just reproduce in a negative way the positive judgement of Principia Dialectica, who attested the London Wine and Cheese Society a "sophisticated understanding of Capital" on the basis of their German passports, despite the fact that the Gegenstandpunkt is about as traditional a Marxist group as exists.

RedHughs
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May 15 2011 08:16

Uh,

The main difference between me and PD on this is that all these tendencies together play a rather small part in my theoretical understanding. They're something I don't want to be but there are many things I don't want to be.

If I recall, you are terribly concerned with clarifying the minutia of Marx's positions but dismiss class struggle entirely - I'll admit to the opposite concern. I'm not seeing how this doesn't fit the outline I sketch above...

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Nate
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May 15 2011 18:54
RedHughs wrote:
beginning communists a hundred years ago didn't start out with Capital and read through. My vague guess is that they read the Manifesto and whatever literature the organization they were joining offered them. That, is the big difference is there were large scale Marxist organizations rather than randomly associated individuals with a few tiny groups.

Good point. That's totally what we should emulate. Those organizations were AWESOME. (e_e)

And seriously, reading Capital? Why bother. It's really boring. Plus it's long. You're all alienated, man. Read something shorter and easier and therefore less alienated.

S. Artesian
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May 15 2011 20:24

Well, I disagree... a century ago is 1911.. and yeah, they read, sooner or later, maybe sooner vol 1 of Capital and vol 2.

Anyway, all of that is irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have a comrade having a problem. I really would recommend reading something else along with volume 1-- Value Price and Profit Wage Labour and Capital the Economic Manuscripts Grundrisse,even A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and particularly the proposed 2nd volume of which Marx drafted in his economic manuscripts.

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Steven.
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May 15 2011 20:30

While we're on the subject, should I bother reading volumes 2 and three?