Sunday, 22 July 2012

Reading Marx's Capital

I first started reading Capital when I was 14 nearly 15. I doubt I understood much of it, and probably didn't finish it. I'd asked my Dad to get me a copy along with some other reading from one of the blokes he worked with who was a CP'er. My Dad had worked in pretty much every Midlands car factory before and at the start of the War. He was continually moved from one to another because although he was only 19 or 20, he was continually a thorn in the side of management, acting as a spokesmen for workers in the factory. In the end, having run out of factories to send him, he had his cards literally filled with black ink, so he could not work anywhere, and went into the army. He was never in the CP, he only joined the LP after I did, but he was always a militant Trades Unionist and socialist. Mirroring what Trotsky says about the way Bolsheviks should act, I was told by someone who worked with him, in later years, that the bosses only tolerated him, because he was also an exemplary engineer, and worker. Politically, I owe everything to him, and its to him I dedicate this project.

I remember, sitting on the front step of our terraced house in that Summer reading. The bloke who lived opposite, was also a lay Trade Union official at the Michelin factory in Stoke. Given that it was a mining village whose pit had closed many years before, he like many of the other men had previously been a miner. But, I will always remember the expression of surprise with which he announced to my Dad, as he came across to chat, “He's reading Karl Marx!”

Most people think that its difficult to understand Capital. It isn't. The main problems people face is that its written in a language of its time, the calculations are carried out in Imperial rather than Metric Units, and fractions rather than decimals. The other main problem that people who have studied orthodox economics face, is precisely that they have studied orthodox economics, and need to unlearn it, in order to think about things in a different way.

Marx wrote Capital not to be some complicated academic exercise, but in order to be read and understood by ordinary workers. Given the level of education at that time for the ordinary worker compared with today, the extent to which ordinary workers should be able to read it, and understand it can be gauged. Part of the problem here is that Marx's work has been poured over by the professional Marxologists, who have treated it in the same kind of way that Dan Browne uses various texts to uncover supposed hidden truths that only the initiated, or the ardent researcher can know. In this reading of capital, I will be doing the exact opposite. I will be reading Capital as Marx wrote it, and starting from the assumption that, as he wanted ordinary workers to be able to understand it easily, what he wrote is what he meant to say!

Having said that, it won't be just copying and pasting huge slabs of text. There is no point. Anyone who wants to read the original can do so, by picking up a book, or going to In fact, I am recommending that you do that, because no one should be so lazy as to just take what anyone else says without verifying it for themselves. Where I give quotes, it will be because Marx says something better than I could, or else what he is saying is so important that I want it to be in his words not mine. Apart from that, I will be attempting to simply summarise what he says, and where appropriate to try to clarify what is being said. Obviously, that means that this is my interpretation of what he is saying, which is again, why you should read his original text alongside my summary of it. I thought of highlighting in some way, where the text is me elaborating on what he says, rather than just summarising it. That would have been too onerous, and I could guarantee to have done it accurately throughout. Usually, it will be obvious which is which, and where not I will try to make it clear. But, again read the original alongside or after, and it will become clear.

Finally, Marx says that the hardest thing to understand is his initial analysis of the commodity. In line with that, I have spent more time on that trying to make it clear what Marx is saying. Already reading that Chapter again, I have discovered new insights that had escaped me in all the previous readings I have undertaken. Because I'm summarising the work – which will be all three volumes of Capital, and the three volumes of Theories Of Surplus Value – in separate blog posts, I will be dividing it up into chunks that are of a manageable length for a blog post. That means that Chapter 1 will be divided into at least 5 or 6 parts. Again, each of these parts will not necessarily correspond to a section within the Chapter. I will hyperlink each part to the others so that its easier for anyone who wants to read all of one chapter in one go. Each Chapter will be listed in an Index in the Sidebar, with the appropriate hyperlinks.

I am reading from the 1977, Lawrence & Wishart hardback edition of Capital.

Main Index               Capital Volume I


Stephen R. Diamond said...

You're indeed performing a service for students of Marx.

I don't know your view on the tendency of the rate of profit to decline, which seems of paramount practical import.

I have an skeletal analysis: "Capitalism and socialism express conflicting reciprocity norms: A reinterpretation of Marx’s theory of capitalist decline" —

Boffy said...

Thanks for your comment. I have written a considerable amount on the Tendency of the Falling Rate of Profit - including the following - The Tendency For The Rate of Profit To Rise.

It argues that changes in modern capitalism have created conditions, which emphasise the elements set out by Marx as countervailing factors affecting the Law. That means that in large, and increasingly important areas of the economy the tendency is for the Rate of Profit to Rise not Fall.

That does not contradict the General Law as a long-term tendency. I think that many economists over represent the importance of the Law in relation to Marx's theory of crisis. Marx sets out that there is no theoretical minimum for the Rate of Profit, though there is such a Minimum for Wages. In fact, in Vol.III, Marx sets out that the larger Capital becomes, what is important is not the Rate of profit, but the actual volume of profit i.e. a very large Capital with a low rate of profit can accumulate more than a small Capital with a high rate of profit.

There is a practical minimum for the rate of profit i.e. below a certain level Capitalists will divide the Surplus Value more towards Revenue than Accumulation. But, that is no reason for this to lead to a crisis. It simply means social labour-time moves more towards producing luxury goods than Capital Goods. In fact, as marx sets out in Vol. I, the fact that happens in itself acts to reduce wages where they have increased above the Value of Labour-Power.

Crises of overproduction are not caused by the LTRPTF, but by an overproduction of Capital. I've set out th basis of that elsewhere. In fact, as marx describes, it is that crisis which causes a dramatic fall in the Rate of Profit, not vice versa.

Boffy said...

I was having a quick look at your blogs, which have some pretty impressive looking entries. I haven't had time to read them yet. MY time is pretty tight at the moment.

I was interested in one post relating to "Free-Will". Some time ago I wrote an article which was a critique of David Hare's "Freedom and Reason". I posted it to a Philosophy Board, but I've never posted it here. Its quite long, and probably impenetrable for most people that have not studied Philosopy.

I may not it together if I can find it, and post it at some point. It uses a dialectical approach to questions of Morality, including an example relating to someone being shot in a restaurant. It may be of interest to you.