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One of the most notorious works of modern times, as well as one of the most influential, Capital is an incisive critique of private property and the social relations it generates. Living in exile in England, where this work was largely written, Marx drew on a wide-ranging knowledge of its society to support his analysis and generate fresh insights. Arguing that capitalism One of the most notorious works of modern times, as well as one of the most influential, Capital is an incisive critique of private property and the social relations it generates. Living in exile in England, where this work was largely written, Marx drew on a wide-ranging knowledge of its society to support his analysis and generate fresh insights. Arguing that capitalism would create an ever-increasing division in wealth and welfare, he predicted its abolition and replacement by a system with common ownership of the means of production. Capital rapidly acquired readership among the leaders of social democratic parties, particularly in Russia and Germany, and ultimately throughout the world, to become a work described by Marx's friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels as 'the Bible of the Working Class'


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One of the most notorious works of modern times, as well as one of the most influential, Capital is an incisive critique of private property and the social relations it generates. Living in exile in England, where this work was largely written, Marx drew on a wide-ranging knowledge of its society to support his analysis and generate fresh insights. Arguing that capitalism One of the most notorious works of modern times, as well as one of the most influential, Capital is an incisive critique of private property and the social relations it generates. Living in exile in England, where this work was largely written, Marx drew on a wide-ranging knowledge of its society to support his analysis and generate fresh insights. Arguing that capitalism would create an ever-increasing division in wealth and welfare, he predicted its abolition and replacement by a system with common ownership of the means of production. Capital rapidly acquired readership among the leaders of social democratic parties, particularly in Russia and Germany, and ultimately throughout the world, to become a work described by Marx's friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels as 'the Bible of the Working Class'

30 review for Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol 1

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Louis Althusser wrote a preface to a French translation of Capital and in it he gives lots of advice on how to read this book – I recommend you read this book according to that advice, even if I didn’t quite do that myself. A big part of that advice is to not read in the order that Marx wrote. You see, the first few chapters on the commodity are seriously hard going. Much harder going than just about anything else in the book. In fact, Althusser was pretty well just following Marx’s on advice th Louis Althusser wrote a preface to a French translation of Capital and in it he gives lots of advice on how to read this book – I recommend you read this book according to that advice, even if I didn’t quite do that myself. A big part of that advice is to not read in the order that Marx wrote. You see, the first few chapters on the commodity are seriously hard going. Much harder going than just about anything else in the book. In fact, Althusser was pretty well just following Marx’s on advice that the first few chapters could be skipped and then come back to later on. So, it wasn’t that he didn’t know the first bits were hard –he made them hard for a reason. And that reason, Althusser says, is Hegel. Be that as it may, I feel that Marx pretty well has to start by explaining what a commodity is, because capitalism, which he is trying to understand, explain and criticise in this book, can’t be understood without understanding commodities. Why is that? Well, a large part of the point of capitalism is turning into commodities of more and more things that have never been commodities before. So much so that today just about everything can be a commodity – but this certainly wasn’t always the case. In fact, as Marx shows, prior to capitalism very few things were commodities. Marx starts by stressing that a commodity needs to have a use value. This is really important, not least because often this is where people both start and end too. You know, why would you buy something if you had no use for it? But Marx makes the point that the use value of the commodity is actually the bit of the commodity that, by definition, the person selling the commodity is least interested in. If the person selling the commodity had a use for the commodity, why would they be selling it? A true commodity is something the person producing it has no use for at all. It has, instead, an exchange value for this person. And that exchange value can be expressed in money – money being a socially recognised store of value which allows for the trade of disparate things as if they were all the same thing. That is, if I make trousers I can sell those trousers for money and then use that money to buy any other kind of thing knowing that I am exchanging value for like value. Which then begs the question, where does that value actually come from? And how can I exchange things knowing they actually do have ‘a like value’? Often you will hear that value is created by supply and demand. If there isn’t very much of something and everyone wants it, then it will have a particularly high value, if there is hardly any of it and no one wants it, or if there is lots and lots of it and everyone wants it, it will have a lower or perhaps no value at all. Everyone wants air, but air mostly ‘just is’ – and so has no exchange value, despite how essential it is – try not breathing for a while if you doubt this. Marx argues this supply and demand idea isn’t where commodities really get their value from. In fact, he goes so far as to say that rare things (like gold and diamonds) often don’t get sold at their true value – so rather than their rarity increasing their value, it actually undermines their ‘true’ value. Instead he shows that it isn’t ‘how much of it’ that exists that decides something’s value, but rather how much ‘socially necessary labour time’ is incorporated into it that decides how expensive it is going to be. If it takes me six hours to make a pair of trousers and you two hours to catch a pound of fish, then I’m hardly going to exchange my trousers for your fish – it would make more sense for me to just spend two hours fishing myself if both have the same ‘value’. Marx says that in the end everything sells at its cost of production. That is, it sells for the price of the labour that is incorporated in it and for no more. Which then begs the question, where does profit come from. He spends quite a long time explaining that profit can’t come from ‘buying cheap and selling dear’ as that would mean the second capitalist would just be sending the first capitalist broke. Instead, Marx makes a really interesting move in showing that labour has an interesting property that makes it the essential commodity in commodity production, and therefore in capitalist production. That is, its ability to produce more than it costs to reproduce itself. This sounds like getting money for nothing, but it is anything but that. Let’s say you are a capitalist (and like in a game of cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers, being a capitalist is by far the better option). To be a capitalist you need to buy a worker’s (or in fact, lots of workers) labour power. That is, you buy from them the only thing they have available to sell, their ability to work. But, just like you with the commodities that you well sell once the worker has finished making them, the labourer sells their labour power at its cost of production (or reproduction in this case). That means it will cost you as the capitalist a certain amount to employ the labourer their wages and that is the amount of money that it takes for the labourer to feed, clothe, house and raise their family (you’re going to need more labourers one day – and the labourer is going to provide them for you by using the money you pay them in wages to literally reproduce themselves). This amount of money is the cost of the labourer’s labour power. But the thing is that that labour power can produce more than just what it takes for it to reproduce itself. If the work day is 8 hours, the labourer might be able to produce enough product to pay for the reproduction of their labour power in only 4 hours. But they still have to work for the whole 8 hours. That means that you, the capitalist that employed the labourer, pays the labourer wages the full price of the workers first four hours of work, but after that four hours is up, the capitalist gets to keep everything the labourer produces for the next four hours and doesn’t really have to pay the labourer at all for that final four hours. And this is what Marx called ‘surplus value’: the value over and above that which is necessary to reproduce the labour of the labourer. And that is where the capitalist’s profits come from. Sure, it isn’t all profit. The capitalist has to buy tools for the worker to work with, and raw materials for the worker to transform into commodities, but the capitalist receives whatever profit they are going to make out of the surplus labour time they get the worker to work. The other bit to this is that capitalism is driven by the need to increasingly socialise the means of production. For instance, if I go to market with the trousers I have made, I really do need to sell them, ‘a man cannot live by trousers alone’. I need bread, meat, wine, tea, books, shirts and so on. But the whole process only works on the basis that while I’ve been making trousers everyone else has been making everything else that I need. If everyone was making trousers, we wouldn’t really get very far. It is only when the whole of society is actively engaged in producing commodities that the society can operate at all. And this socialisation goes all the way down, not only is it true that I can’t live by making trousers alone, but often I don’t even make all of the trousers anymore. Without us living in a society we could achieve literally nothing alone. This is a huge change from Feudalism, where peasant farmers mostly made everything they needed for life. Today, most of us are so specialised we hardly know what it is we actually help to ‘make’ at all. Marx calls this the alienation of labour. Capitalism seeks to make everything as cheap as possible and it does this by finding ways to endlessly reduce the amount of labour that is needed to make any particular commodity. So, if it once took two weeks to produce a car, capitalism constantly seeks to find ways to speed up this process so that less and less actual labour will be incorporated in each car – and therefore each car will be cheaper. It does this by making each of the steps in the process of making the car isolated. This is the whole idea of a conveyor belt. One person doing one thing over and over again is more productive than that same person moving about doing many things. But doing the one thing over and over again is pretty well the definition of becoming ‘deskilled’ – and Marx stresses that if capitalism is good at anything, it is good at deskilling workers. Actually, that is exactly the point, as the less skill a labourer has the less you have to pay them. And it is worse that that, as it also means the easier it is to train someone to come in and replace them. A large part of this book looks at the horrors of 19th century workplaces, and a large part of those horrors involved the women and children that worked in those factories for very little wages. They could only do this because the processes had been made so simple literally a child could do them. Changing the laws may have taken kids out of the factories, but the same rule applied – the skill levels plummeted and with them the cost of labour continually dropped. But this was for two reasons, one was that the labour labourers were selling was completely deskilled and so therefore much cheaper to reproduce. The second was that that labour was producing many more commodities and so it was literally costing less to reproduce that labour in the first place. I mean, if I need a loaf of bread and a t-shirt and shorts to survive and yesterday those things took two hours to produce and today they only take one hour to produce – then effectively my wages have dropped and more of my ‘labour time’ can be donated directly as surplus value into the pocket of the capitalist. My productivity is the only thing the capitalist is interested in, but that interest is rapacious. Every means available to the capitalist to squeeze the last drop of value out of my labour will be tried. What is interesting is that once there appears to be no further ways of drawing surplus value out of me, and this is basically when my wages have been squeezed to the utmost and yet there is still not enough ‘value’ coming out of me, then the capitalist turns to machines. My understanding of this is that a machine is different from a tool in a very important respect. A tool is something a skilled worker uses in their work. A machine is something that transforms that work to do away with the skilled worker. That is, the very process of producing things is transformed by machines, not just to do what the worker and tool did previously, but to utterly transform how that process occurred. And machines then help to do away with more labour so that the cost of the commodities produced continually falls, especially the cost of that most important commodity, labour. The other thing that Marx was able to show was that the rate of exploitation of labour was always greatest in countries with the most developed productive forces – the most machines. So, the English worker in Marx’s day was the most exploited worker in the world. As I said, a large part of this book documents the utter horrors of lives of the working classes in Marx’s day. And it is gobsmacking. But there is a part of the modern reader that says while reading this things like, “well, things have certainly improved”. And this is definitely the case. However, like so many other things in life, it is only half of the story. As Marx points out, a large part of the reason why we are better off now than in his day is that commodities are so much cheaper to produce today. And this means that meeting the needs of large sections of the population is cheaper and easier than ever before. The problem is that so much of the wealth that is produced now gushes to the wealthiest sections of society as never before. For instance, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQ... Marx basically said that there are two great classes in society. We like to talk about there being a 1%, a middle class (virtually everyone else) and a working class – who I guess we pretty much think are like the middle class, just with less class. This is, of course, a confusion of categories. The opposite of ‘middle class’ isn’t ‘working class’ – the opposite of ‘working class’ would have to be something like ‘leisured class’ – as someone who likes to say they are middle class, I can’t really say I’m ‘leisured’. Marx is very clear – everyone who has nothing else to sell other than their labour power is working class. Those who own the means of production and buy your labour power from you are capitalist. The other classes are those who still exist as artisans or small shop owners or intellectuals. But, before you get too smug, the whole point of capitalism is to do away with these ‘skilled’ jobs. Controlling labour and deskilling it is how profits are made and maximised. Increasingly, then, the working class will grow and the capitalist class, and all other classes will shrink. Marx saw this as inevitably leading to a situation where a revolution would occur and the workers would take back what had been taken from them – the product of their surplus labour. But while Marx saw this as inevitable and of urgent necessity in his day, it is worth remembering that this book was written in 1867 – as close to 150 years ago as you might like – and that was a time before there was a motor car, before there were computers, moving pictures, MP3 players, flying machines, a world wide web of cat videos… I don’t need to go on, do I? The point is that capitalism has proven much more resilient than Marx envisaged. That said, a lot of what Marx had to say about capitalism still holds true today. If capitalism has become kinder, it is mostly due to it being forced kicking and screaming to do so. But even those reforms are proving anything but permanent. More and more is being clawed back by capital every day – a book I read recently suggested that perhaps 50% of Americans are at or below the poverty line, certainly America’s prison population goes some way to confirm Marx’s vision of the ‘reserve army’ and the redundant population that needs to be shifted ‘somewhere else’. And today capital, as Marx predicted, is truly international – so much so that we have seen the deindustrialisation of large parts of the ‘developed’ world with millions of jobs moved to low wage countries – low wage, low environmental controls, low health and safety regulations… Capital is just as unfriendly today as it was in the 1860s, it probably even employs just as many kids. I tried to read this book years ago and ever since have told people it is too turgid to read. This isn’t really true, and that was because I got stuck in the first few chapters. The advice of Althusser and of Marx himself, that is, skip the hard bits and come back to them later, is probably really good advice. This is one of the most influential books of all time. That doesn’t mean you have to read it, but to have never read it does put you at a bit of a disadvantage – in much the same way that saying you’ve never read The Interpretation of Dreams or On the Origin of the Species puts you at a disadvantage. Not the end of the world, but these books are famous for pretty good reasons.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Always Pouting

    I remember seeing a review on here for this book from a guy who said he bought two copies of this book, one for himself and one for his girlfriend and that he didn't have a girlfriend anymore. I'm bringing this up because actually my boyfriend got me this book, as one of my birthday gifts none the less, and I have to say for the first three hundred pages it felt like I could really empathize with the other man's girlfriend. This was really really annoying to read I'm going to be honest. I person I remember seeing a review on here for this book from a guy who said he bought two copies of this book, one for himself and one for his girlfriend and that he didn't have a girlfriend anymore. I'm bringing this up because actually my boyfriend got me this book, as one of my birthday gifts none the less, and I have to say for the first three hundred pages it felt like I could really empathize with the other man's girlfriend. This was really really annoying to read I'm going to be honest. I personally feel like a lot of my own politics align with the left and I think a lot of the ideas Marx brings up are important and good, especially surplus value. But like there's probably a reason people hate reading theory. I think that if I have been reading this in the 1860s I would've liked it a lot more because all of the things being discussed would be contemporaneous but now I know all this stuff about industrial UK in the late 1800s and I don't know what I would do with that information? I think the foreword was really useful and good once again though, and it did suggest not necessarily reading everything in order. It also gave some context that made things easier to understand. I do think some of the chapters were better than others and are much more useful for the context of understanding capitalism today. I also get why it was organized and structured the way it was originally to build up to the ideas Marx thought were important and wanted to juxtapose with the ideas of the economists of the day. I think I could've gotten more out of this if I knew more about economics honestly, like the whole thing about monetary theory probably went straight over my head. Honestly just glad I made it through it and I would just once again like to say that I still think reading source material is overrated and boring, I think we can usually get the best main ideas from older writing in better contemporary formats.

  3. 4 out of 5

    anique

    Do you know how many pages this is? 1152. And worth every leaf on the tree. A must read for anyone willing or wanting to wax grand about capitalism. Picture it: My first semester in graduate school. Day two. My professor goes over the syllabus, week one: Das Kapital (Marx)/ chps. 1 - 15, 22, 27 etc. I cry for three days lamenting the decision to pursue higher education. Then I read that shit and my little world changes.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    Marx was a man badly in need of an editor. For all of the financial, amiable, and intellectual support provided by Engels, one wishes that Engels had only he had been more ruthless is cutting the fat from his partner's work. This would have been easy enough at the time, but by now Marx’s writing has acquired a sacred aura. The main meat of this bloated tome is all in the first few hundred pages. Marx actually lays out his ideas in a very pleasing and pithy manner. I wish the rest of the book wa Marx was a man badly in need of an editor. For all of the financial, amiable, and intellectual support provided by Engels, one wishes that Engels had only he had been more ruthless is cutting the fat from his partner's work. This would have been easy enough at the time, but by now Marx’s writing has acquired a sacred aura. The main meat of this bloated tome is all in the first few hundred pages. Marx actually lays out his ideas in a very pleasing and pithy manner. I wish the rest of the book was like this. By chapter 3, Marx has descended fully into prolix pedantry. By the middle of the book, the reader is lost in a sea of irrelevant information. Part of this is due to a general lack of integration of Marx’s interests. Marx’s intellect was broad. He could write skillfully about philosophy, economics, history, and current events. He could write in an ultra-precise, actuarial style, or in beautiful literary prose. In short, Marx was a rare genius. But unlike other rare geniuses who possessed these sweeping talents, Marx seems incapable of making these interests fit under one roof. He dons different hats for different chapters, creating abrupt shifts in tone and substance. One moment, you are reading sublime, abstract philosophy; another moment, the tabloids. In some ways, this book is similar to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason . Like Kant, Marx is trying to overcome all of human knowledge in one grand sweep. Also like Kant, Marx is trying to integrate previously separate and antagonistic traditions. Most notably, Marx tries to wed German idealistic philosophy with English political-economy. But the marriage is strange and unhappy. An underlying tension that runs through Capital is between a metaphysical/rationalist way of viewing the world, and a materialist/empiricist one. Of course, Marx is now famous for being a materialist; and he did everything in his power to create this impression. But one finds traces of his German penchant for metaphysics in his love of theory, which involves examining problems at the highest possible level of abstraction. Another continental quality is Marx’s use of dialectical reasoning throughout the work. The result is that some chapters are just as far from observable fact as anything Hegel could have written. But then there’s the English side. All at once, Marx will set off on his charts and figures and statistics. He will include quote after quote from reports, newspapers, speeches, and addresses. He will examine specific historical and geographic cases in great detail. And when this happens, gone is the abstraction and ideation and dialectic. So the text is disorganized. But what of the ideas? I had high hopes for this book. Marx is treated like a religious figure in many circles, and this book is held to be his greatest. I was expecting some serious and profound reflections on capitalism. But Capital didn’t pay. This, in my opinion, is almost entirely due to his reliance on the “labour theory of value”. (For those who don’t know, Marx did not originate this idea; one can find the basic form as far back as John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government.) Let me explain. Roughly, the idea is that all the value in an economy is ultimately derived from labour. This is why cars are worth more than toy cars, and those fancy drinks at Starbucks are worth more than a cup of coffee. At first glance, this seems to hold. But the more I thought about it, the less it made sense. For one, the amount of labour involved in making a cup of coffee at Starbucks is standard. Yet, getting a cup in Manhattan is about twenty cents more expensive than getting a cup in Queens. Moreover, the price of a cup of coffee varies over time, yet the steps involved in making a cup of coffee have been standard for years. So clearly there must be more to it than labor. Marx responds that he is not interested in superficial fluctuations in price. The value he is interested in is the natural price to which fluctuations return. So to speak, the ‘signal’ behind the ‘noise’. Again, this seems to satisfy. But let’s think about it a little more. Take diamonds. Diamonds are now egregiously expensive. But the reason for this is not that producing a cut diamond requires an enormous amount of labour. It is because a single company controls the supply of diamonds, tightening it to make them artificially rare. And at the same time, advertising for diamond rings has substantially increased the demand. The price of diamonds has been high for years. So where is the ‘signal’ to the ‘noise’? The truth is, the labour theory of value is untenable as a theory. A commodity’s price is determined by (A) effective demand (i.e. people who want it that have the resources to get it); and (B) how rare it is. This is economics 101, but Marxists would disagree. Take this quote from Ernest Mandel’s introduction, where he defends the labour theory of value with orthodox vigor: Even when thousands of people are dying of hunger, and the ‘intensity of need’ for bread is certainly a thousand times greater than the ‘intensity of need’ for aeroplanes, the first commodity will remain immensely cheaper than the second, because much less socially necessary labour has been spent on its production. It is true. People are starving every day, yet the price of food shows no sign of approaching the price of jet planes. But when people are starving, this is not demand in the economic sense—it is not effective demand. If they had the resources to get food, then they wouldn’t be starving. So this defense is fallacious. I can sit in my room and profoundly hope for a supermodel to walk in the door. But this is not demand on the economic sense. Let’s take a more banal example. Say you have a horrendous, intolerable headache. You wander into the nearest drug store. You are in the touristy part of town, and everything is seriously overpriced. You look at the price tag of headache medicine and hesitate. But another second and your mind is made up—your head hurts so much, you’ll pay any price. Here’s another example. Let’s say I came into possession of the handwritten manuscript of Marx’s Capital. I sell it at auction for three million dollars. Is that manuscript worth so much because there is three million dollar’s worth of labour congealed in it? Or because (A) there’s only one, and (B) people really want it. Supply and demand. I know I’m belaboring this point. But I’m doing so because the entirety of Marx’s analysis rests on this faulty premise. Once you reject this theory of value, the entire edifice collapses and you’re left with nothing. Therefore, I feel confident in saying that I learned nothing about capitalism from this book. I would even go so far as to say that accepting this theory of value blinds you to actual problems with capitalism. Here’s a real contradiction. Competition between owners will lead them to competitively cut their worker’s pay, in order to maximize profits. But if every owner, system-wide, is cutting pay, then you have a problem—a lack of effective demand. And if nobody is buying anything, business will stagnate. This demand problem can be temporary circumvented by giving people credit, but then you eventually get yourself into a debt trap, which is what just happened to our economy. This is simple enough. But even this thought would have been impossible had I accepted the labour theory of value. There is another serious flaw in Marx’s thinking. True to his reputation, this book is about the exploitation of one class by another. And it should be said, this class dynamic is integral to capitalism. But concentrating exclusively on inter-class struggles blinds Marx to the equally important intra-class struggles. In fact, capitalism is driven by competition between equals. Workers compete with workers, bosses with bosses, owners with owners. Instead of the homogenized blocks of people that Marx imagines, the economy is heterogenous, filled with individuals who are all employing different strategies. So this makes Marx’s analysis simplistic. So I think there are systematic and serious problems with Marx’s thinking. He almost completely misses the ball. Yet whenever there’s an economic crisis in the future, the Marxists will all come out brandishing their copies of Capital and screaming that Marx predicted it. (By the way, isn’t there some sort of statute of limitations on predictions? At some point, we have to admit that Marx was wrong…). Yes, yes, and every time there’s a food shortage, we’ll have to go screaming back to Malthus. I’m being very hard on the guy. But that’s only because I fear some people still take him at his word. Please, for the love of Marx, don’t get your economic information solely from him and his followers. You will get an extraordinarily warped picture of things. But there is something charming about Marx’s writing. Maybe it’s his dorkiness. Reading through these pages often felt like hearing about the latest conspiracy theory about the Pixar movies. It is set forth in such an urgent tone, and such an elaborate argument is built up, that one cannot but help be dazzled. I also like Marx’s prose. It’s hard to put your finger on just what’s so good about it. At first glance it looks ordinary enough. But there’s always an unexpected turn, a satisfying cadence, or a captivating idea lurking around the corner. The man could write. I also believe it is valuable to work yourself through an intellectual system such as this. If he is mistaken, Marx is at least wonderfully consistent, and builds an impressive theoretical apparatus. You can spend hours wandering its recesses, and applying it to new materials. It’s satisfying intellectual play. This book is also a fascinating historical document. During its bloated middle section, Marx includes some mind-blowing information about the working class in England. Conditions were truly horrible, which makes you understand why the man was convinced that capitalism was evil. In regards to communism (hardly touched upon in this book), I have some frustrations with Marxists. I have yet to hear, in any substantial detail, how their perfect utopian system would work. All I am told is that it will be utopia. But the coup de grâce is that they use this imagined society, empty of suffering and full of brotherly love, to make our current society look bad. But this makes no sense. This is to compare an actual state of things with a phantasm of the imagination. Even if it is worked out in glorious detail in your mind, it still remains a thought. And no communist would point to its failed and horrifying manifestations in history as an example. This leaves them groundless. I have gone on for far too long. I am also a man badly in need of an editor. I’m both very glad I read this book, and very disappointed with it. I am glad because Marx is a charming writer and an original thinker, and because his analysis was so influential. But I am disappointed that is is so bankrupt of ideas, and seems to be just as “scientific” (to use a favorite word of his) as L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics.

  5. 4 out of 5

    William

    Capital, at least the first volume anyway, is not the most significant elucidation of a politico-economic critique of the past millennia. It is not because many governments have been supported by pillars of so-called Marxism, or because by some miracle this book has been actually adopted by the working class, or because it's the longest and clearest that anyone would make such a claim, because, in all those aspects, Capital cannot by objective measure be posited to be as such. Capital is not a b Capital, at least the first volume anyway, is not the most significant elucidation of a politico-economic critique of the past millennia. It is not because many governments have been supported by pillars of so-called Marxism, or because by some miracle this book has been actually adopted by the working class, or because it's the longest and clearest that anyone would make such a claim, because, in all those aspects, Capital cannot by objective measure be posited to be as such. Capital is not a book that appeals to insurgents, or better yet, doesn't appeal to anyone who plans on accelerating history in the here and now. In most nations Capital isn't a working-class bible, unfortunately. And although it is, as indicated by my own high rating, a phenomenal book, it isn't what the alienated would be pulled towards in search of a higher purpose, or even solace. But despite all of what I've said, it remains standing as one of the greatest works of all theoreticians. That is because it defies the previous establishment of work that hitherto existed, but it doesn't violently reject things altogether with the ill-conceived propagandizing that so many supposedly innovative works rely upon, it engages with premises of political philosophy that precede it while deftly addressing notions taken for granted and left unexamined. And because of that splendidly vigorous dedication to not simply adhering to a preconceived moral framework that determines economic evaluation, rather revealing form, then function, then consequences, and only then do we reach any discussion of ethics. Capital is cold and clear as ice but that is why it is so substantial, it is first and foremost borne out of unbounded critical capability, not the worship of an idol or a State, but reverence to the value of theoretical commentary.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    I had long avoided reading Das Kapital because I thought it would be too mathematically advanced for me. Taking courses with the Marxist philosopher and mathematician, David Schweickart, induced me to make the effort since his assignments and my own readings of Marx had already become pretty extensive and the avoidance of his most important text seemed silly. So, on my own now, I began carrying the tome about in my backpack, reading most of it at Jim's Deli across Sheridan Road from the Lake Sho I had long avoided reading Das Kapital because I thought it would be too mathematically advanced for me. Taking courses with the Marxist philosopher and mathematician, David Schweickart, induced me to make the effort since his assignments and my own readings of Marx had already become pretty extensive and the avoidance of his most important text seemed silly. So, on my own now, I began carrying the tome about in my backpack, reading most of it at Jim's Deli across Sheridan Road from the Lake Shore Campus of Loyola University Chicago. To my great surprise, the first volume of Capital was actually a rather quick and easy read, none of the formulations requiring more than the most elementary understanding of arithmetic. (I learned later that Marx himself only got as far as the calculus later in life.) Additionally, it made sense as an explanation of economic behavior, adding a dimension, that of class, not much appearing in Adam Smith, the only other classical economist I'd studied seriously previously. Indeed, the section on Primitive Accumulation was, for me, emotionally powerful stuff. Getting over Capital and finding it not only illuminating but fun helped me overcome my fear of economics. I went on to read quite a bit more in the field and began purchasing and reading the International Publishers fifty volume set of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels as they became available--ultimately finishing about half of it before becoming bogged down in his notes of the mid 1860s.

  7. 4 out of 5

    nick

    I have to say, this joint is bangin'. I find it useful when I'm in the club. P.S. Check out the total or expanded form of value. It's defective! I have to say, this joint is bangin'. I find it useful when I'm in the club. P.S. Check out the total or expanded form of value. It's defective!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Graham Latham

    READ THE SHIT OUT OF THIS FKN DOORSTOP. LONG LIVE SOCIALISM.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Oh boy, this review is dated. In the interest of encouraging people to share their thoughts about Capital, and put words to paper generally, I'll leave this review up. Once I've gotten through it a second time though, I'm tidying all this up. (view spoiler)[Marxism is one of those things where you think you know what it's all about as long as you read the Sparknotes and 'get' the key terms. Marx wrote the Capital to underline that his theory and vision isn't just a bunch of words, but a living, Oh boy, this review is dated. In the interest of encouraging people to share their thoughts about Capital, and put words to paper generally, I'll leave this review up. Once I've gotten through it a second time though, I'm tidying all this up. (view spoiler)[Marxism is one of those things where you think you know what it's all about as long as you read the Sparknotes and 'get' the key terms. Marx wrote the Capital to underline that his theory and vision isn't just a bunch of words, but a living, developing dialogue with a system that thrives when its benefactors close their eyes and which meets its victims disguised as random acts of failure and violence. Like a dog on acid, Marx bites down on the concept of 'value', which chase turns into a variegated and constantly revolving exploration of the nature of the 'commodity' as a historically and socially determined relation, the rise and fall of classes, accumulation and centralisation of capital, and most of all, exploitation of labour and the massive social upheaval, degradation, squalor and death that goes along with it. The Capital doesn't allow itself to be reduced to any single category: it's economics, but it only concerns itself with 'price' to the extent that it is a symptom of value as such; it's the description of the logic of capitalism, but doesn't stay within the boundaries of the formal and the abstract; it's history, but defies chronology. It swashbuckles into a different perspective and focus with every chapter, with the only constant being the concern for the exploited. Helpfully, many illustrations of capitalist logic at work (collateral famines, forced migration, imposition of starvation wages and generally senseless inhumane division of labour) are contained in footnotes and thus the reader is allowed to focus on the core of the system at their leisure; nevertheless, I sometimes found myself wanting to return to the most interesting of Capital's contributions, namely the production, accumulation and circulation of value. As with Freud, who in trying to describe the workings of the unconscious can only resort to descriptions distinctly tainted by conscious schemata, Marx seeks to penetrate prices, wages, credit, machines, infrastructure and resources to reach the value underlying the logic with which capitalism sets these facets in motion, but can never articulate it unless by mediating it through precisely these value-forms: it only becomes visible at the edges, peripherally emanating from a system not explainable by its overt symptoms. And yet, Marx constructs a water-tight set of pipes, valves and tubes around this shimmering fluid of value; after absorbing the first 150 or so pages, the reader starts piecing this infernal machine together themselves, almost intuitively. By page 300, the different pneumatic forces unveil themselves, the carrousel expanding and folding outwards. All of Capital’s disparate bits and pieces introduced earlier (and some to-be-introduced) get swept up and contribute to the totality of the analysis. Judging Capital by its wokeness seems like a false metric, but nevertheless it proves to be remarkably foresighted: even as he laments the ruinous effects on families and children wrought by women’s inclusion in the work force (which ruinous effects obviously also included their own health, women and children being used primarily in the most heavily mechanized sectors of industry), he notes the resulting unprecedented emancipation relative to men, and concludes that any just future society must necessarily break down all barriers between genders in matters of work and employment. Any moral outrage in the book over lewd, callous and ‘rude’ behaviour of these working women and children seems quoted from contemporaries, but never echoed. While less pronounced, and oftentimes eclipsed by an emphasis on resource and land productivity for the good of the people, roots of ecological thought can too be found in the book. In short, everyone must read it, everyone must read it and everyone must read it. Distorted beyond caricature in western popular discourse, frequently misunderstood even by adherents acting in good faith, its pertinence increasing with every day: there's no excuse for not getting to Capital, the source of it all. (hide spoiler)]

  10. 4 out of 5

    Luís

    How do you criticize a classic? Better than a classic, a pillar of modern capitalism. Because make no mistake, Marx is by turns a sociologist, historian, philosopher ... and a classical economist. It does not question the foundations of classical theories. He adds his vision, his critique of the workings of society and the exploitation of man by man, but we are at the very heart of the classical theory. Capital reads like Zola for the most part. Lifestyle and consumption habits are described with How do you criticize a classic? Better than a classic, a pillar of modern capitalism. Because make no mistake, Marx is by turns a sociologist, historian, philosopher ... and a classical economist. It does not question the foundations of classical theories. He adds his vision, his critique of the workings of society and the exploitation of man by man, but we are at the very heart of the classical theory. Capital reads like Zola for the most part. Lifestyle and consumption habits are described with realism. In particular, the descriptions of the habitats or the bread are highlights. Of course, the book has cost a wrinkle: one or a few. But the inequalities are still there, and some ideas are surprisingly modern (or desperate, it depends).

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Szendi

    Vampires, monsters, fetishes! Stick with Marx through the saga of the coat and the M-C-M' and the rewards are so rich. When he guides you from the realm of exchange into the realm of production, I dare you not to feel like you are involved in cracking an incredible mystery. Because you are. Vampires, monsters, fetishes! Stick with Marx through the saga of the coat and the M-C-M' and the rewards are so rich. When he guides you from the realm of exchange into the realm of production, I dare you not to feel like you are involved in cracking an incredible mystery. Because you are.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Fug o' Slavia

    "First you get the primitive accumulation then you get the Linen, Then you get the Coats, Then you get the Capital, Then you Get the Labour, Then you get The Surplus Value, then you get the mechanization, then you get more Surplus Value" - Tony Montana "First you get the primitive accumulation then you get the Linen, Then you get the Coats, Then you get the Capital, Then you Get the Labour, Then you get The Surplus Value, then you get the mechanization, then you get more Surplus Value" - Tony Montana

  13. 4 out of 5

    C

    This is the third time I've read this book, and I'm confident there will be a fourth, fifth, and even sixth reading. This is the quintessential text for explaining how capitalism is predicated upon the rapacious exploitation of the working class. Although the review written below contains many errors, and was written during a state of extreme inebriation, I feel no compulsion to edit it. ------------------------ Fair warning, I’m writing this hung over. The first time I read this, I gave the book 4 This is the third time I've read this book, and I'm confident there will be a fourth, fifth, and even sixth reading. This is the quintessential text for explaining how capitalism is predicated upon the rapacious exploitation of the working class. Although the review written below contains many errors, and was written during a state of extreme inebriation, I feel no compulsion to edit it. ------------------------ Fair warning, I’m writing this hung over. The first time I read this, I gave the book 4 stars, knowing it was a 5 star work, but with 4 star writing. I was wrong. Oh-so wrong. Marx’s writing merely reflects his dialectical and masterly way of contemplating, and few of us can dare to grow wings and fly up to such lofty heights of his genius and acumen! Read, reflect, and re-read. Wait, then read again! Perhaps every January, a fine way to start the new year! As Marx forewarns us: “There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.” In order to fully understand capitalism, critically, one must dive into the dialectical water of Herr Doctor Marx. All subsequent critiques of capitalism, since the publication of Das Kapital, stand atop his lofty and rounded shoulders. All apologetic attempts in favor of capitalism stand under his heel! In order to come to grips with the capitalist mode of production, Marx lets us in on a little secret; the secret of the holy trinity/commodity. What is at once, father, son and Holy Spirit, is in fact use vale, exchange value, and value! Value is the holy spirit of capitalism, where man’s social relations are reified into a congealed and objective measurement of human labor in the abstract! At heart in Marx’s ontology is man as a social being, but on an appearance level, a sensory level, it is one of perennial and staggering exchanges. Marx is no vulgar materialist as most presume, but heavily invested in the tensions between idealism and materialism, and there anti-matter/matter explosions. After the commodity is understand in all its mystical and metaphysical glory, Marx guides the reader by the hand – be careful his grip is very callused and bloody – and shows us where profit or surplus value comes from. He takes Say, Smith, and Ricardo to task, it is not from prudence, or spending abstinence, or merely some ripple in supply and demand, nor is it from labor in general, but a very rare and historically necessary commodity, unfathomed by all those who tread before Herr Marx! It is the commodity of labor power. Humankind’s ability to labor, and reproduce that labor, in an intertwined market, has its own value – initially a subsistence value, capable of being raised through moral struggle – the value of the reproduction of labor power itself. A good portion of the working day is spent merely meeting subsistence levels of nourishment and daily reproduction, but then there comes along that dastardly moment of working beyond the means of subsistence. This moment is no short period, it’s no ‘final hour’ as bourgeoisie economist frequently claim. No it’s in fact many hours, which is how the capitalist extracts absolute surplus value. This is where the capitalist definitively EXPLOITS the worker. The worker has no right to raise contention, he’s sold his labor power, to the highest (of low) bidders, and the law ensures he honor this social document. Maybe the worker can go on strike, lower the working day, and reduce some of that exploitation. But alas, relative surplus value – increased productivity in the means of production, lessening the time duration needed to provide for subsistence labor - would sneak up and clandestinely exploit the worker further, without the workers awareness. Labor theories of value, in Locke’s, and Smith’s time, believed and argued that the worker had a right to what he labored over and on. His product was his. This right was rational, it was divine, and it was human. Alas, what really ended up happening is the capitalist garnered the right to expropriate the labor of someone else, via the immaterial contract he generated, with the violence of the state enforcing it, in a manner that appropriates the value of the laborers product into the capitalist own coffers. One no longer has a right to their product; one is now ‘free’ and right-less, under capitalism! What is the capitalist to do with this surplus? Try as he might, he cannot spend it all on his own luxury without imploding the capitalist structure. No, he must reinvest: “Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets! … Reconvert the greatest possible portion of surplus-value, or surplus-product into capital! Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake: by this formula classical economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie.” Thus we are left, beholden to an irrational market order, where rational agents withdraw their rationality to the invisible hand of the market. Another abstract and reified notion that mask real material and social relations, contingent upon the exploitation of the many by the few! Now it’s time to read Volume II!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    I have been reading this book for way too long. However, it has been a worthwhile experience, revealing the provenance of many leftist values that I may have had sympathy for, but admittedly did not fully understand because I lacked an understanding of origin. Not saying I'm a doctrinaire Marxist now, but that is exactly the whole point of reading Marx at this juncture in the state of leftist social theory/politics... To read it from an non-dogmatic perspective. I think if you do this, Marx has I have been reading this book for way too long. However, it has been a worthwhile experience, revealing the provenance of many leftist values that I may have had sympathy for, but admittedly did not fully understand because I lacked an understanding of origin. Not saying I'm a doctrinaire Marxist now, but that is exactly the whole point of reading Marx at this juncture in the state of leftist social theory/politics... To read it from an non-dogmatic perspective. I think if you do this, Marx has a lot of compelling things to say about how a capitalist system works, but perhaps the way societies change is not fully understood. I agree with some, (e.g., David Harvey), that capitalism is at, or will reach very soon, an inflection point, caused mostly by an environmental limitation to economic growth... bascially, China can't keep growing at 8% annually without serious environmental and social consequences. But Capital offers I think only suggestions about how to go about changing society from something more exploitative and profligate to something more socially necessary, just, and progressive. Class struggle could mean violent revolution--a laughable concept, i think-- or it could mean non violent resistance and pragmatic negotiation for real power. Worth the read if you can commit the time to it. I would recommend David Harvey's free lectures on his website davidharvey.org. They definitely helped keep me interested.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Karlo Mikhail

    Best way to start the year is finally reading the full text of Capital Vol.1. Previously read only bits and pieces of Marx's magnus opus eclectically (notably the first chapter on commodities, the second part on the transformation of money into capital, the chapters on the labor process and the rate of surplus value, and the last part on primitive accumulation). A great work that not only lays bare the workings of capitalism but also presents a forceful argument for the overthrow of such an expl Best way to start the year is finally reading the full text of Capital Vol.1. Previously read only bits and pieces of Marx's magnus opus eclectically (notably the first chapter on commodities, the second part on the transformation of money into capital, the chapters on the labor process and the rate of surplus value, and the last part on primitive accumulation). A great work that not only lays bare the workings of capitalism but also presents a forceful argument for the overthrow of such an exploitative and destructive mode of organizing social life. A bit daunting, especially in the first three chapters but is fairly comprehensible once you get the hang of it. Features a wonderful variety of literary styles and means of exposition too from accounting-manner description to vampire metaphors to the statistical and the journalistic. It is a very rich text which I will be sure to read again and again in the future. A must-read for all wishing to build a better world!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    to be honest the only reason this book rates is because we have godfathers like David Harvey to illuminate it for us. remember the footnote where he makes fun of Malthus for being a virgin? real mature, KARL. also you'll have to look elsewhere if you're looking for evidence of his toxic friendship with Freddy E., fyi! to be honest the only reason this book rates is because we have godfathers like David Harvey to illuminate it for us. remember the footnote where he makes fun of Malthus for being a virgin? real mature, KARL. also you'll have to look elsewhere if you're looking for evidence of his toxic friendship with Freddy E., fyi!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    The conqueror will occupy your lands and then sell your resources back to you on credit and tell you all the time it’s a good deal for you. Marx said that multiple times in this book and that’s a metaphor he used to describe the fate of the working person (labor) when at the mercy of capital. Exploitation and alienation are features not bugs in the absence of a government for the people. The plight of the working class in Europe for the most part was pitiful and hopeless during the time of this The conqueror will occupy your lands and then sell your resources back to you on credit and tell you all the time it’s a good deal for you. Marx said that multiple times in this book and that’s a metaphor he used to describe the fate of the working person (labor) when at the mercy of capital. Exploitation and alienation are features not bugs in the absence of a government for the people. The plight of the working class in Europe for the most part was pitiful and hopeless during the time of this book and Marx does a yeoman job of documenting it. Just as burning cats might have been au currant in 1667 Paris and forcing children as young as 8 years old or forcing overtime upon workers or providing them below subsistence wages with dangerous work conditions was the norm in 1860 England, nobody sane accepts those norms today. The world has changed today but this book makes a case that we are only as good as the government that we have when they act in the interest for the people and not the oligarchs. The oligarchs and the powerful will always alienate and exploit to squeeze the other who is not them up to the limit that they can get away with. The status quo is the default given as ought, the naturalistic fallacy which assumes ‘is’ means ‘ought’. The status quo and the given during Marx’s time was that 16 hour day was in the best interest of the working person, and the factories and workhouses said they were doing the working class a favor, and Marx was forced to refute that and a whole host of other givens as ought. Today, those kinds of norms seem anachronistic and superfluous, but that’s only because society has changed. (Ultimately, nothing ever really changes, even somebody I’ve barely ever heard of before today, Kayne West, recently said that ‘slavery for the slaves was a choice’ in America since it lasted for 400 years. The ignorant will always be ignorant because they don’t know they don’t know and aren’t interested in learning). You ever notice how even the reality based journalism makes a statement such as ‘there is a shortage of fast food workers’ (the NYT did that on 5/4/2018 with reference to the 3.9% unemployment numbers that came out)? That statement really irritates me. What they really are saying is at the wages the fast food companies are willing to pay there aren’t enough workers who want to be exploited at those low wages. Marx will show even in his time period that kind of wrongheaded formulation was prevalent. The masters of suspicion: Freud, Nietzsche and Marx all had their take on truth. Freud thought truth existed but we are in denial about it, Nietzsche thought the greatest truth was that there was no knowable truth, and Marx thought truth was discoverable through class. Marx will try to develop his foundations through class and its exploitation and alienation with theory of money, currency, labor and capital, and through his story telling. And what a story Marx tells. He is incredibly gifted in weaving philosophy and religion into his narrative. I can say that most of what I read now days about Hegel has gone through a lens of Marx which is unfortunate because Hegel clearly could have another more relevant interpretation than what is commonly thought. Marx expects his readers to be cognizant of philosophy and will make statements such as ‘that would lead to the sophistry of Protagoras or the relativism of the Eleatics’. There is a reason why the ‘Great Books of the Western World’ included this book in the series. Not only is Marx an incredibly good writer (while not necessarily being a great economist), he has something to say that is relevant for our time period and definitely should be read today. This Ukemi production is a treasure and I would highly recommend it. (And no I’m not affiliated with Ukemi in any way even though I keep reviewing and raving about their products. They just seem to have the books I’ve been reading because I just love the old classics that they have recently made available).

  18. 5 out of 5

    Xander

    Somehow my review and rating have disappeared - which is pretty strange. I read this in (I believe) 2018 and decided afterwards to delve into the other two volumes (with the help of an online course). From what I remember I was impressed by the personal stories and details, apart from the first couple of theoretical chapters. I'm not a Marxist but I can appreciate Marx' economic and philosophical analyses of his time and I even feel some sympathy for his political ambitions. As a non-Marxist I ha Somehow my review and rating have disappeared - which is pretty strange. I read this in (I believe) 2018 and decided afterwards to delve into the other two volumes (with the help of an online course). From what I remember I was impressed by the personal stories and details, apart from the first couple of theoretical chapters. I'm not a Marxist but I can appreciate Marx' economic and philosophical analyses of his time and I even feel some sympathy for his political ambitions. As a non-Marxist I have to admit that his doctrines have been distorted and abused by later ideologues like Lenin and Stalin - there was nothing intellectual about their approach to revolution and socialism and I'm sure Marx would have disapproved their attempts.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Savuth4u

    This is the most important book for economist

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sean Sullivan

    I think one of the great misconceptions about Capital is that it is dry and difficult. Many people seem to think that reading it would be a chore. Not true. I think if you were to read it on your own or in a study group, you’d find it funny, engaging and not all that hard. It assumes perhaps a small amount of understanding of classical political economy (Malthus, Smith, Ricardo, etc) but not much. I’d say if you’re going to read it, read it in a group, because some of the ideas need to be worked I think one of the great misconceptions about Capital is that it is dry and difficult. Many people seem to think that reading it would be a chore. Not true. I think if you were to read it on your own or in a study group, you’d find it funny, engaging and not all that hard. It assumes perhaps a small amount of understanding of classical political economy (Malthus, Smith, Ricardo, etc) but not much. I’d say if you’re going to read it, read it in a group, because some of the ideas need to be worked out, but four friends of average intelligence can understand this book with a minimal level of effort. That said, is it worth it for you to take the time? I’d say so. While I may think a number of Marx’s ideas are just plain wrong* and the ideas of many of those who followed in his footsteps to be even more misguided, I still think this is worth the time. Besides being a book by the man who has influenced world events more than anyone else in the last two hundred years, it is also just really fucking well written and a goddamn good, and important, read. A friend of mine, wrote, in what is the best one liner about Capital ever, that – “this is literature”. It definitely is, with all the complications that come with that classification. This book does not explain the workings of a capitalist economy. It is not a science textbook. It is a brilliant work that is part flawed history, part political theory and part a discussion of classical political economy. Everyone should read it, but no one should take it all at face value.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cassandra Kay Silva

    I made the absolute horror of a mistake of listening to this on audio! Once I started I just couldn't put it down (due partly to the amazing nature of the book, and partly to my own neuroses). The reasons not to listen to this on audio: 1. Too many citations to juggle easily on the audio format! 2. Multiple readers is irritating (no thank you librovox) 3. You will hear the words cotton, capital, trade, exchange, sterling, and Loco Cito so many times on the audio book that you will be saying them I made the absolute horror of a mistake of listening to this on audio! Once I started I just couldn't put it down (due partly to the amazing nature of the book, and partly to my own neuroses). The reasons not to listen to this on audio: 1. Too many citations to juggle easily on the audio format! 2. Multiple readers is irritating (no thank you librovox) 3. You will hear the words cotton, capital, trade, exchange, sterling, and Loco Cito so many times on the audio book that you will be saying them in your dreams! The reasons I could not stop listening: 1. I wanted to understand exchange value from a qualitative aspect and I have never seen this better presented. 2. His personal vision of economics is very relateable and builds up the ideas of trade and value from the absolute (and somewhat unnecessary) ground level. 3. He gives so many amazing examples and figures that you cannot help but understand his views whether you agree or not. 4. He hits point after point squarely on the head over and over. Very well worth it! Although I highly recommend the actual book. This is not the kind of book that can easily be enjoyed in the audio format.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nandakishore Varma

    I have not read this book, but am familiar with the gist of it. Until recently, even though I share Marx's aversion of Big Capital in the hands of a Few Individuals, I had not appreciated the real impact. Every product has two values: the intrinsic value of the product, created by the poor labourer, and the exchange value, which the capitalist sells it for: usually much higher than the intrinsic value. The capitalist pockets the difference, and grows fat like a leech on the life-blood of the poor I have not read this book, but am familiar with the gist of it. Until recently, even though I share Marx's aversion of Big Capital in the hands of a Few Individuals, I had not appreciated the real impact. Every product has two values: the intrinsic value of the product, created by the poor labourer, and the exchange value, which the capitalist sells it for: usually much higher than the intrinsic value. The capitalist pockets the difference, and grows fat like a leech on the life-blood of the poor labourer, who lives and dies in penury. Amazon is the CAPITALIST. Big time. Grown fat and bloated. Now it has swallowed GoodReads, and is growing fat on the reviews of us poor book-slaves. THE TIME FOR THE BLOODY REVOLUTION IS AT HAND. Reviewers of the cyber-world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your GR account! FUCK AMAZON!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Saleem

    you will never see 20 yards of linen or one coat the same way again

  24. 4 out of 5

    C

    Just re-pasting my old review, which I wrote a long time ago, coming down off mushrooms and a case of beer.... ------------------------ Fair warning, I'm writing this hung over. The first time I read this, I gave the book 4 stars, knowing it was a 5 star work, but with 4 star writing. I was wrong. Oh-so wrong. Marx's writing merely reflects his dialectical and masterly way of contemplating, and few of us can dare to grow wings and fly up to such lofty heights of his genius and acumen! Read, reflect Just re-pasting my old review, which I wrote a long time ago, coming down off mushrooms and a case of beer.... ------------------------ Fair warning, I'm writing this hung over. The first time I read this, I gave the book 4 stars, knowing it was a 5 star work, but with 4 star writing. I was wrong. Oh-so wrong. Marx's writing merely reflects his dialectical and masterly way of contemplating, and few of us can dare to grow wings and fly up to such lofty heights of his genius and acumen! Read, reflect, and re-read. Wait, then read again! Perhaps every January, a fine way to start the new year! As Marx forewarns us: "There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits." In order to fully understand capitalism, critically, one must dive into the dialectical water of Herr Doctor Marx. All subsequent critiques of capitalism, since the publication of Das Kapital, stand atop his lofty and rounded shoulders. All apologetic attempts in favor of capitalism stand under his heel! In order to come to grips with the capitalist mode of production, Marx lets us in on a little secret; the secret of the holy trinity/commodity. What is at once, father, son and Holy Spirit, is in fact use vale, exchange value, and value! Value is the holy spirit of capitalism, where man's social relations are reified into a congealed and objective measurement of human labor in the abstract! At heart in Marx's ontology is man as a social being, but on an appearance level, a sensory level, it is one of perennial and staggering exchanges. Marx is no vulgar materialist as most presume, but heavily invested in the tensions between idealism and materialism, and there anti-matter/matter explosions. After the commodity is understand in all its mystical and metaphysical glory, Marx guides the reader by the hand - be careful his grip is very callused and bloody - and shows us where profit or surplus value comes from. He takes Say, Smith, and Ricardo to task, it is not from prudence, or spending abstinence, or merely some ripple in supply and demand, nor is it from labor in general, but a very rare and historically necessary commodity, unfathomed by all those who tread before Herr Marx! It is the commodity of labor power. Humankind's ability to labor, and reproduce that labor, in an intertwined market, has its own value - initially a subsistence value, capable of being raised through moral struggle - the value of the reproduction of labor power itself. A good portion of the working day is spent merely meeting subsistence levels of nourishment and daily reproduction, but then there comes along that dastardly moment of working beyond the means of subsistence. This moment is no short period, it's no `final hour' as bourgeoisie economist frequently claim. No it's in fact many hours, which is how the capitalist extracts absolute surplus value. This is where the capitalist definitively EXPLOITS the worker. The worker has no right to raise contention, he's sold his labor power, to the highest (of low) bidders, and the law ensures he honor this social document. Maybe the worker can go on strike, lower the working day, and reduce some of that exploitation. But alas, relative surplus value - increased productivity in the means of production, lessening the time duration needed to provide for subsistence labor - would sneak up and clandestinely exploit the worker further, without the workers awareness. Labor theories of value, in Locke's, and Smith's time, believed and argued that the worker had a right to what he labored over and on. His product was his. This right was rational, it was divine, and it was human. Alas, what really ended up happening is the capitalist garnered the right to expropriate the labor of someone else, via the immaterial contract he generated, with the violence of the state enforcing it, in a manner that appropriates the value of the laborers product into the capitalist own coffers. One no longer has a right to their product; one is now `free' and right-less, under capitalism! What is the capitalist to do with this surplus? Try as he might, he cannot spend it all on his own luxury without imploding the capitalist structure. No, he must reinvest: "Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets! ... Reconvert the greatest possible portion of surplus-value, or surplus-product into capital! Accumulation for accumulation's sake, production for production's sake: by this formula classical economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie." Thus we are left, beholden to an irrational market order, where rational agents withdraw their rationality to the invisible hand of the market. Another abstract and reified notion that mask real material and social relations, contingent upon the exploitation of the many by the few! Now it's time to read Volume II!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    In the beginning, God (the first commodity) created the heavens (exchange-value) and the earth (use-value). And so begins the materialist Bible, Das Kapital, which, if its abstract theoretical model is to be believed, and I think the case is much stronger for than against, it is the most important book of the industrial, i.e. our, epoch. The two greatest intellectual merits of this work are the discoveries of socially necessary labor-time and the precise nature of surplus value, that is, that it In the beginning, God (the first commodity) created the heavens (exchange-value) and the earth (use-value). And so begins the materialist Bible, Das Kapital, which, if its abstract theoretical model is to be believed, and I think the case is much stronger for than against, it is the most important book of the industrial, i.e. our, epoch. The two greatest intellectual merits of this work are the discoveries of socially necessary labor-time and the precise nature of surplus value, that is, that it is generated by one and only one commodity - labor power. Many people have their bourgeois economists convince them that the Marxist labor theory of value is untrue. It is instructive to note, then, Russell's take on it, since he himself claimed to be a socialist. Russell says in his essay, Charybdis and Scylla, that Marx took over wholesale Ricardo's theory that the value of a commodity is proportional to the labor embodied within it, which Russell points out is negated by Ricardo's own theory of rent. Russell apparently did not read Das Kapital, and simply repeated whatever Keynes told him to repeat, since within the first hundred pages it is immediately apparent that Marx synthesized the labor theory of value with the theory of rent to produce the concept of socially necessary labor time. It follows that, from the quasi-leftist bourgeoisie from Russell to Keynes all the way to the fascistic Friedman and Hayek, everyone has misunderstood this basic intellectual discovery, which, if properly estimated, I think, cannot be superseded. Next, surplus value was discovered before Marx as a derivative category of profit, which was only first understood in the eighteenth century. What Marx did was show that the upper class view, that surplus value results from a leisure class buying up luxury goods, apparently still currently held as a dogma amongst the neoliberal class, was preposterous (see chapters 7-9 of this volume). Then, by proceeding in a manner very similar to Kant's transcendental deduction of the elements, Marx points to labor-power, because labor is the only commodity that can produce value on top of its own use-value: this is why the capitalist mode of production, despite surplus value more or less existing since the beginning of petty commodity production, has been so revolutionary. If this analysis holds, and I think it does, Marx truly discovered the key behind the greatest economic mystery of all time. Marx, then, got right the concept of absolute surplus value (the lengthening of the working hour beyond the value of the means of subsistence), but it does not appear that the concept of relative surplus value, that revolutions in production increase the value of constant (dead labor) over variable (living labor) capital, can be as easily categorized or understood. Indeed, Marx spends the greatest portion of the book examining it. Marx seems to assume that the more technology, i.e. the more capital intensive, the greater the productivity. But a recent World Bank report on agriculture shows that in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador, small labor intensive farms are 3 to 14 times more productive than their capital intensive, and mostly U.S. financed, counterparts (hence the broad acceptance of Marx into the Western canon). And there is, of course, a lot more controversy swirling around the worth of machinery to the emancipation of humanity, as there is, of course, a lot more to this amazing book than can be gone into here. I have just reviewed the 3 most significant intellectual points of the book: 2 are as significant as ever, and one will perhaps always remain ambiguous from a scientific standpoint (I should also like to point out that, subsidiary to these points, Marx blows out of the water the Weberian analysis that Protestantism had something to do with capital accumulation: capitalists must reinvest or they are not capitalists! It has nothing to do with protestant abstinence, though everyone, from Russell to the extreme right, has parroted this view as somehow an insight). From this, one should realize that this book is not outdated, and should be read by all concerned citizens of the world.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    I don't remember when I started reading Capital with the assistance of David Harvey (www.davidharvey.org), but its been a greater education than I could have imagined. I cannot help but keeping many of Marx's theories in mind throughout my daily life. Fetishism of the commodity, production of surplus value, class struggle over the working day, division of labor, struggle between labor and technology, creation of a surplus labor army, process of capital accumulation, primitive accumulation (or ac I don't remember when I started reading Capital with the assistance of David Harvey (www.davidharvey.org), but its been a greater education than I could have imagined. I cannot help but keeping many of Marx's theories in mind throughout my daily life. Fetishism of the commodity, production of surplus value, class struggle over the working day, division of labor, struggle between labor and technology, creation of a surplus labor army, process of capital accumulation, primitive accumulation (or accumulation by dispossession), and many many more. Not only does Marx present a thorough critique of the capitalist mode of production, but he develops a living model through which we can expand the critique to our world today. I found his writing about capitalist crises as especially enlightened given our current economic situation. Though it was written 150 years ago, Marx's insights are no less accurate. If you are interested in understanding how capitalism works, but have trouble accepting the idealistic world of perfect competition and markets as god the way your Econ teacher presented it (and you have the time to spend digging into a 1000 page volume) I strongly recommend you get a copy of Capital Vol. 1 and go to www.davidharvey.org. Harvey has been teaching Capital for 30 something years and has released each of his lectures for his class on his website. Its a bit tedious, but the man's a genius, and you'll learn more about how capitalism works in the real world, not test tubes or theories. Its funny, people love to say "communism was a great idea but doesn't really work out" but we forget that we've never seen true capitalism either, and the closer we get to it the quicker a crisis occurs.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    After cogitating on Marxist theory for years, I finally read the entirety of Volume One of Capital. Yay. What surprises me (and apparently a lot of people) about it is how straightforwardly economic it is, more akin to the work of Adam Smith than it is to Adorno or any of the other cultural critics that followed in Marx's wake. But what I loved most about it wasn't the statistical exegeses, valuable though they were, but the glimpses of future writing in it. Hey, there's the starting point for F After cogitating on Marxist theory for years, I finally read the entirety of Volume One of Capital. Yay. What surprises me (and apparently a lot of people) about it is how straightforwardly economic it is, more akin to the work of Adam Smith than it is to Adorno or any of the other cultural critics that followed in Marx's wake. But what I loved most about it wasn't the statistical exegeses, valuable though they were, but the glimpses of future writing in it. Hey, there's the starting point for Foucault. For bell hooks. For Althusser. While I myself am not an orthodox Marxist, I still found the arguments just as valid and necessary. If you're looking for something a bit more explicitly revolutionary, try the Manifesto, but if you're looking for strong theoretical underpinnings, this is the way to go.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kamilla

    Karl!!!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Buck

    Capital deserves the re-reads you are considering giving it, all im gonna say.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    People don't tell you this, but reading Capital is an exhilarating and emotional experience. One moment you're trying to understand the value-form, the next moment you're laughing at an epic dunk on Marx’s contemporaries. A chapter might start with boring statistics on how much nitrogen was in 19th-century diets, and conclude with a harrowing story of 10-year olds dying from overwork. Come for the eye-opening analysis and the assurance of knowing what Marx actually said. Stay for the incredible People don't tell you this, but reading Capital is an exhilarating and emotional experience. One moment you're trying to understand the value-form, the next moment you're laughing at an epic dunk on Marx’s contemporaries. A chapter might start with boring statistics on how much nitrogen was in 19th-century diets, and conclude with a harrowing story of 10-year olds dying from overwork. Come for the eye-opening analysis and the assurance of knowing what Marx actually said. Stay for the incredible history, the tears, the outrage. Can't wait to read volumes 2 and 3. Some suggestions: 1. Join or form a reading group. You can find them at your local socialist or communist organization. My reading group met for 2 hours each weekend for 5 months. That's a lot of time, but it made a world of difference. 2. Use at least one reading guide, preferably two. I referenced five different guides at various points, just to figure out which I liked. These were: - Michael Heinrich's An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital: An extremely clear introduction that lays out all the important concepts in Capital and covers all three volumes. It's an opinionated guide, emphasizing value-form theory in contrast to more orthodox, worker-centric readings; but I am partial to this reading of Marx, especially in the first few chapters. I found it helpful to read Heinrich a few chapters ahead of Marx. But since it’s not a chapter-by-chapter guide, I recommend supplementing with another. - Anthony Brewer's A Guide to Marx's 'Capital': A very concise, unopinionated, chapter-by-chapter guide to all three volumes. Useful for reading right before diving into each chapter of Capital. - Joseph Choonara's A Reader's Guide to Marx's Capital: Chapter-by-chapter guide to volume 1. Somewhat longer than Brewer's guide, and includes some connections to contemporary issues. - Harry Cleaver's online study guide to Capital volume 1: Chapter-by-chapter guide that includes chapter outlines, summaries, and historical commentary. Not as concise and clearly organized as the above books, but provides a lot of interesting context. Many people use David Harvey's book guide or video lecture series. As some have noted, Harvey makes fundamental mistakes in his reading, especially of the all-important chapter 1, and on that basis I don't recommend his guides. 3. Read the footnotes. They’re hilarious.

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