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

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Nate's picture
Nate
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May 15 2011 20:52

No. They're long and turgid.

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May 15 2011 20:53

I've only read the 1st 100 or 200 pages of v2, I think it's quite good. It presents a lot of v1 in a clear and direct fashion without all the stuff that sounds metaphysical. I've not read further though so I can't say beyond that.

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May 16 2011 00:27

hey yoda, check out the marx discussion book thread. i put forward a question regarding if anybody would like to resurrect that online group, and i think with the replies thus far there may be people willing to participate in such a group. Maybe that would be of good for you? i know it will be good for me.

RedHughs, i know what you mean regarding the analogy you have given between lenin-catholicism and reading capital-protestantism. I don't think i would be making too crude a caricature of the left to state oftentimes it appears that x leftist group will criticise y leftist group on the basis of getting back to the sacred text and exposing the deficiencies in their exegesis. Its precisely that tendency that has made me somewhat reticent to engage with people who may be interested in reading marx in my locality due to the worry of having to deal with people who differ little from people that sell the watchtower.

The very thing makes me want to read capital is also the very thing that makes me wary of doing it. What i mean is that my sophisticated analyisis of the order of things as they stand is that things are shit. I want to know what precisely is shit about it, why it is, and how that can be changed beyond inchoate statements like x oppression is bad. So arises the desire to try and find an overarching framework to explain things, but as soon as that thought arises im aware of the fact that this is probably often what makes people turn to the bible and that scares me haha.

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May 16 2011 00:42

Hey All,
Volumes 2 and 3 are essential. Even if we understand that they are unfinished and Engels was a far too generous editor it’s in these works that you really get to see how capital functions, how it moves. Volume 2 is very very dry, however, – I feel it is like the second Godfather film…it’s just setting it all up for the third.
cheers
Dave

Harrison
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May 16 2011 07:32
Steven. wrote:
While we're on the subject, should I bother reading volumes 2 and three?

wait until Harvey does the video lectures for them (which he is in the process of doing for volume 2 now)

S. Artesian
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May 16 2011 12:20

Come on comrades. It's not that hard, or... if it is, it's worth the effort. Marx worked on what became vols 2 and 3 for a reason. Of course you should read them. There's nothing in those volumes that can't be worked out, comprehended.

And, IMO, there are important elaborations of capital's contradictions. And maybe even more important than that... there are things to question, disagree with.

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May 17 2011 08:49

I agree with that. It's also because it's not holy writ that it is worth working through as you can look at how it matches up with reality.
That was one of the reasons why I first read Marx 30 years ago, I didn't want to be just quoting stuff without having read it for myself.
I'm actually re-reading Vol. 1 at the moment.

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May 17 2011 10:43
yoda's walking stick wrote:
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?

You absolutely do not have to 'get' capital to be into radical politics.

It's actually quite a big problem IMO that many people think you need to be a book worm in order to 'qualify' as a 'proper' anarchist/communist.

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May 17 2011 11:22
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.

There's a somewhat less obvious point about wealth being a collection of use-values, independent of social form. Which is that capital, at least in it's financial form, is not strictly speaking wealth, in the Marxist sense. This is the complete opposite to conventional thinking which sees bucks in the bank as the pre-eminent form of wealth (but that's the fetishism of commodities for you). This seemingly semantic pedantry actually has real political-economic significance when we start talking about credit, debt, financial capitalism and all that jazz.

The number of self-described Marxists who subscribe, in practice, to the physicalist notion of capital as wealth is actually staggering. You'll hear notions of debt as somehow the negative of "real money", people will start to talk about the "real economy" being parasited by mountains of "fictitious capital" and other such nonsenses. All because they believe that capital is a thing, not a process.

Which, to link into a more recent question in the thread, is precisely the reason why you cannot understand Marx's Capital without reading, in addition to vol 1, at least the first part of Volume 2, where Capital is presented for the first time properly as prozessierenden Kapitalwerts- value in process/motion. It's the difference, to use biology as a metaphor, between cutting up dead frogs, to studying their life-cyle, relation to their ecological niche and evolution. Despite its daunting density, Volume 2 is that "Pull ze svitch, Igor!" moment when motion is infused into the static assemblage of analytical categories prepared painstakingly in Volume 1, and we start to look at the dynamics of how the monster moves, as it rises and shambles towards the dramatic fireworks of Volume 3, where the real arguments start...

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May 17 2011 12:46

I gave Volume 2 flick through recently. it was quite good, though the writing style is very different. less implicit references to other texts, bitchy foot-notes etc, etc. It's good to combat the rubbish critique of labour form of value that says 'what about unproductive labour', etc, etc.

As for a quick short text of Marx's to read, Wage Labour and Capital is a great small text. I actually read it straight after Capital and it helped immensely.

On the question of do you have to 'get Capital' to be into radical politics? Of course not! Although there are a lot of interpretations of Capital out there, not all of them I am a fan of. It is good to make your own mind up of what Marx is trying to say. What I think is important to take from Capital (but you can take it from somewhere else I am sure) is that there is not a certain group that deliberately 'pull the strings' so to speak.

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May 17 2011 13:24

I just read the abridged version of wage labour and capital on tuckers marx reader book. was really easy to follow in comparison to capital chapter 1, and i think it would assist any reader of capital in comprehension.

gypsy
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May 17 2011 16:53
yoda's walking stick wrote:
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?

Don't blame you if you give up. No don't give up. I'm sure you understand the main points marx makes.

JM
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May 20 2011 03:05
Angelus Novus wrote:
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.

Just for the record, London Wine and Cheese Society (i.e. Junge Linke) is not Gegenstandpunkt.

I'm not sure what you refer to with the statement that Gegenstandpunkt is a "traditional" marxist group, so I can't comment, but would be curious to know in what way you see them this way, and how you define a traditional marxist group at all (not even mentioning that Gegenstandpunkt is a journal, not an organization).

Angelus Novus
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May 20 2011 09:21
JM wrote:
Just for the record, London Wine and Cheese Society (i.e. Junge Linke) is not Gegenstandpunkt.

They're not formally the same, no, but Junge Linke and GSP are about as dinstinguished in terms of content as any two products of a split in a Trotskyist group. I realize the organizational lineage is different, but JL's writings on the state in particular are heavily borrowed from GSP, as is that whole stylistic conceit concerning the purity of argument.

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I'm not sure what you refer to with the statement that Gegenstandpunkt is a "traditional" marxist group

In the sense that Principia Dialectica falsely assume that anything coming from Germany somehow must have something to with value-form theory or the "neue Marx-Lektüre", whereas GSP's reading of Capital is fairly orthodox and the sort of thing you'd find in most traditional Marxist organizations, even outside of Germany.

Note that I'm not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, just that PD's assumptions that GSP or Junge Linke have a more "sophisticated" (PD's word) understanding of Marx's Capital on the basis of possessing German passports is embarassingly stupid.

In the PD universe, anyone who pronounces "th" as "z" is blazing daring new paths in Marx interpretation.

Quote:
so I can't comment, but would be curious to know in what way you see them this way, and how you define a traditional marxist group at all (not even mentioning that Gegenstandpunkt is a journal, not an organization).

I don't want to engage in fruitless and useless speculation about whether the MG continues to exist. Let's just say GSP is a journal with a lot of local support groups who promote something like a GSP "line" on most political questions. The journal functions as what Hal Draper would've called an "organizational center".

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May 21 2011 01:10
D wrote:
It's actually quite a big problem IMO that many people think you need to be a book worm in order to 'qualify' as a 'proper' anarchist/communist.

Yes. And folk being like "this is hard and boring so don't bother to read it" is the other side of the coin, helps make a nice divide like that between mental and manual labor, with each side (bookish true communists and true proleterians who don't need no fucking books) getting to feel smug and superior. In a way this is a form of communism, as it's an autonomous production of use values (the enjoyment of smugness).

JM
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May 21 2011 01:42
Angelus Novus wrote:
JM wrote:
Just for the record, London Wine and Cheese Society (i.e. Junge Linke) is not Gegenstandpunkt.

They're not formally the same, no, but Junge Linke and GSP are about as dinstinguished in terms of content as any two products of a split in a Trotskyist group. I realize the organizational lineage is different, but JL's writings on the state in particular are heavily borrowed from GSP, as is that whole stylistic conceit concerning the purity of argument.

I would certainly agree that Junge Linke's main influence would have to be Gegenstandpunkt, though as far as I can remember they draw influences from others as well (e.g. Heinrich, and perhaps even the anti-Deutsch...?). In any case not terribly important. Just wanted to clarify.

Quote:
In the sense that Principia Dialectica falsely assume that anything coming from Germany somehow must have something to with value-form theory or the "neue Marx-Lektüre", whereas GSP's reading of Capital is fairly orthodox and the sort of thing you'd find in most traditional Marxist organizations, even outside of Germany.

In the sense that Principia Dialectica falsely assume that anything coming from Germany somehow must have something to with value-form theory or the "neue Marx-Lektüre", whereas GSP's reading of Capital is fairly orthodox and the sort of thing you'd find in most traditional Marxist organizations, even outside of Germany.

Note that I'm not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, just that PD's assumptions that GSP or Junge Linke have a more "sophisticated" (PD's word) understanding of Marx's Capital on the basis of possessing German passports is embarassingly stupid.

I would probably say that it is different from both the "traditional" groups as well as some of the other interpretations coming out more recently (or going back to Rubin, etc.). Are you familiar with the articles on finance capital, and "real" value, for example? These arguments are quite different from what one reads typically in what is considered "orthodox Marxism."

Quote:
I don't want to engage in fruitless and useless speculation about whether the MG continues to exist. Let's just say GSP is a journal with a lot of local support groups who promote something like a GSP "line" on most political questions. The journal functions as what Hal Draper would've called an "organizational center".

I'd more or less agree with both sentiments. In any case thanks for your clarifications.

JM
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May 21 2011 15:31
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!".

Actually this talk was organized by Ruthless Criticism, but said fellow was from the Gegenstandpunkt journal (often confused here but not the same).

As far as his "call to action" goes, this particular talk was about "what one can learn from Marx about work and wealth in capitalism" -- using Marx's book about capitalism for this purpose should come as no surprise, one would think. That this is supposed to have been his "call to action" is pretty doubtful (sounds like you are carrying things to these "cartoonish extremes" you mentioned), unfortunately this lecture wasn't recorded as far as I know, though the basic contents can be found here:

http://www.ruthlesscriticism.com/Marxwealth.htm

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May 22 2011 23:39
Nate wrote:
D wrote:
It's actually quite a big problem IMO that many people think you need to be a book worm in order to 'qualify' as a 'proper' anarchist/communist.

Yes. And folk being like "this is hard and boring so don't bother to read it" is the other side of the coin, helps make a nice divide like that between mental and manual labor, with each side (bookish true communists and true proleterians who don't need no fucking books) getting to feel smug and superior. In a way this is a form of communism, as it's an autonomous production of use values (the enjoyment of smugness).

Just for the record, my problem with standard Capital reading group isn't that Capital is hard and boring as such but rather that the results don't seem to involve the readers questioning the text or being able to apply the text to contemporary situations.

To put it simplistically, a first-year college physics doesn't learn mechanics from Newton's Principia or Euler's Papers. They learn from a text book wherein the basic concepts in Newtonian Physics have been digested. Despite such a text being a derivative work, what they learn is not only correct but sufficient for them to be explain mechanics to another student correctly.

Certainly, political economy is a different beast than mechanics but I think the ability to explain a text in one's own words is still one fine gauge of how well one understands material.

I've seen a large variety of reading groups over the years (not just Capital and not just communist or anarchist). I found the "we are only to (literally) read the text, not discuss it" attitude a bit disheartening. It seems characteristic of our atomized times.

I suppose I'm proposing that whatever organized efforts doing reading groups actually offering people some clues as to what's going on, what the summary is, etc. That is, we make some kind of effort overcome this mental/manual division.

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May 23 2011 02:21

Red Hughs wrote

Quote:
Just for the record, my problem with standard Capital reading group isn't that Capital is hard and boring as such but rather that the results don't seem to involve the readers questioning the text or being able to apply the text to contemporary situations.

That is unfortunate, I am involved in two readings groups at the moment 'Red Thread' ( we have read a bunch of stuff on ideology) and the 'Reading Capital in Sydney' group. I can't see how you could stop a discussion about the texts bringing up questions about our lives and our times! I can only really 'get' Capital by trying to use it to critique the conditions I live in.
cheers
Dave

yourmum
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May 23 2011 10:17

their explanations in german helped me a lot, sadly there is no english audio available but how about this text:

http://www.ruthlesscriticism.com/Marxwealth.htm

oops i just saw someone posted this already.. how can i delete my posts? angry

Jared
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Aug 6 2011 09:01

Hey Harvey's lectures are mentioned in this thread quite a bit. Can someone link to the specific ones here? Would be nice to tie them into the thread (plus I wanna watch them!)

Edit: are these them? http://davidharvey.org/

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Aug 6 2011 21:48

Use your initiative here Stick, tell everyone you read and understood it, quote chapter 81 especially the bit about Marvel Comics - no one will doubt you - and join the rest of the crowd that either read it, half understood then forgot the half they got - OR picked it up, looked for the pictures and put it down again. For me, I take my hat off to those who just plain old lie and say they've read it: it shows a commitment to personal free-time. Better still, remember the "readers" of Capital who discuss it at lengths, a bit like Bob Dobbs with made up words, these are the true innovators in today's society - people who can make a scrounging piss head sound like he should be running a world economy. Walter Mitty's of the world, I salute you!!

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Aug 6 2011 22:39
Quote:
Hey Harvey's lectures are mentioned in this thread quite a bit. Can someone link to the specific ones here? Would be nice to tie them into the thread (plus I wanna watch them!)

Edit: are these them? http://davidharvey.org/

Yes.