Guide An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital

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It is a political must. But it is not just polemical value that makes that important. Without the understanding of capitalism that Capital presents, it is difficult to explain exploitation, it is difficult to understand how a society of individual ownership can lead to unfreedom, and it becomes hard to escape the idea of capitalism as a natural thing, just the way things are.

Without understanding the value relations that underpin capitalist accumulation, we do not know where to begin in getting rid of them. Marx also shows in this book where the weak points of capitalism are. For this reason, the chapters on the working day, on wage and piece work, and on co-operation are essential for understanding the labour process and resistance against it.

Similarly, the indignant analysis of the forced expropriation, murder, and repression of people in pre-capitalist social relations, and the discussions of ongoing legislation and violence against the working class, jointly help to comprehend the class nature of laws, governments, and their enforcers. In our present time, understanding the political significance of finance and credit systems is also indispensable: for this one has to turn to the two other volumes of Capital , in particular volume 3.

Finally, if nothing else, Capital is about understanding the way that technology and technological change affect the way society is organized and the division of labour, and the impact this has on every aspect of social life. It is hard to think of a topic more politically relevant as the age of automation, begun in the late 18th century, reaches its final historical stages.

It makes you rethink the nature of our society. A last but often overlooked point of Capital is to contextualize capitalist society in a wider historical perspective. In the course of his lifetime, Marx and Engels wrote many historical works besides the theoretical ones, and in each of these they tried to show how the societies of the past worked in such a way that the people who lived in them were unable to see that the source of their own oppression and misery was the way they had organized their own social relations.

We are so used to the phenomena of capitalism, to the way our relations to each other and to the goods that we produce and need for our existence are organized, that we fail to see just how strange they are. It is also meant to help the reader understand just how bizarre capitalist society actually is. Why should the way to get the best out of people, and to create the most liveable and fruitful society, be having everyone compete against each other to produce objects or services that exchange for the smallest amount of pieces of paper that have a value printed on them?

How come a few people own most things, in terms of the amount of work they can be exchanged for in the market, and most people only own their own ability to work? And most importantly, how come that technology that should make our lives easier never seems to make the workload less, or mean we can stop accumulating and competing? Rather, he shows that just like every previous society based on class division and exploitation, ours has come about in a particular historical way, and that it took — and still takes — an enormous amount of both ideological and real violence to make it seem natural.

An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital

Something that has a clearly identifiable origin is not something natural or inevitable: it is something that could be changed, if we wanted it to be. Capitalism is not just a bad type of society, it is also a very weird one. I hope these are some compelling reasons why, years after it first came out, Capital is still worth your time and attention, and worth also the effort of getting through the beginning. Fortunately, nowadays there are also a number of excellent guides and companions to help the reader with the complex, abstract discussions of value theory.

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Comments Spikymike Feb 25 Pennoid Sep 14 Uploading one now. No class today, no ruling class tomorrow. Student protests against cuts and fees photo gallery, November 24 To that extent, someone can belong to a particular social class without necessarily being aware of it.


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In Capital, Marx uses the concept of class predominantly in the structural sense. Conflicts concerning gender roles, racial oppression, and the handling of immigration are also of considerable importance for social development. Here Heinrich goes from the self-evidently true proposition that struggles around sex, race and sexuality are not reducible to class, to an assertion about Marxist history that does not hold. Only if one ignores Engels and Bebel on women, Marx on the US civil war, or Lenin on nationalism, or countless other subtle analyses of the relations between different forms of exploitation and oppression, would such a caveat apply.

Heinrich argues that in the history of Marxism, two false conclusions were often made concerning class and class struggle. Again the problem is that a valuable insight is jumbled with a straw argument that few Marxists today would have any truck with. The caricature does not raise the level of argument around the difficulties for workers developing class consciousness — the earlier discussion of political economy and of ideology especially fetishism is a much more useful insight.

But in doing so, they overlooked the fact that workers just like capitalists in their spontaneous consciousness are also subject to the delusions of the commodity fetish. The caricature is a long way from Marxist thinking. The argument about the privileged position of the working class does not primarily relate to the matter of special perception, although in order to break through the mask of fetishism, shared experience of collective struggle is necessary. However the argument relates the material interests of workers, arising from exploitation, that provide good reasons to engage in class struggle; and secondly the power of the working class conferred by its strategic position in the social relations of production, so brilliantly depicted by Marx in Capital and his other works.

This is an argument about how the social structure, far from being simply oppressive, also enables workers to break their chains and struggle as strategic agents for their own emancipation.


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These criticisms should not detract from the importance of this book. It is a foundation stone for the critique of the entire social science of bourgeois society, but it is also the basis for working class self-liberation as a viable and increasingly necessary alternative to the world as it is. What occurs during a crisis according to Heinrich and anyone else who has given the matter an iota of consideration? That is, why should raising the rate of profit be the specifically appropriate cure for the crisis if the falling rate of profit was not its underlying cause?

Over-accumulation of capital relative to what, if not profits? Buying power the market expands to the extent that capitalists add to their stock of means of production constant capital and hire additional workers variable capital. So when Marx speaks of the over-accumulation of commodities relative to purchasing power, he simply means that the motivation to accumulate has dissipated owing to dismal profit expectations.

Ordinarily, the crisis tendencies of the falling rate of profit can remain latent insofar as capital compensates for a fall in the rate of profit by increasing the mass of profits. When this is no longer seen as feasible because the expected rate of return is too feeble, capital fails to expand purchasing power accumulate sufficiently to clear the markets.

Inventories build up. Surplus value cannot be realized and the circuits of capital cannot be completed. The problem with Heinrich is that he cannot convince himself that the argument for a falling rate of profit is internally consistent and logically compelling. At the same time he does not or cannot situate a framework for crises that can be constructed in any other context. I think Heinrich makes many valuable ad worthwhile contributions and your review did the book real justice.

An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital

I published a piece on the transformation problem in Critique three years ago, with a similar theme and can send a reprint to any interested reader. Unfortunately the URL is hidden under a paywall. But Hodgson and Martin built their critical departures on the work of Pierro Sraffa, a school that, fairly or not, has been characterized as neo-Ricardian. The Heinrich critique does not critically engage with the neo-Ricardian influenced marxists, and circumvents or transcends, if one is to be generous the entire controversy that this entails.

That has to stand on its own merits. And that's the problem.

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I find his dismissal of the falling rate of profit all the more curious since it actually is little different from that which can be found in the decades old writings of Paul Sweezy or Joan Robinson and which in either case was hardly novel when Natalie Moszkowska questioned the theory back in But that type of criticism i. I do too. Again, the problem with Heinrich, as I tried to point out is that he formulates a framework for understanding crises which is most compatible with the very theory he distances himself from. It is also a framework that is incompatible with any other approach, considering the only approaches he is specific about are "underconsumptionism" or "disproportionality".

In reply to Are we talking past one another? I think there probably is a bit of talking past — but also perhaps some differences of assessment too. The possibility of crisis is implicit in the circuit of capital, so capitalism will always be crisis-prone.

ecm-ukraine.com.ua/includes/fedevusy/krim-sovetskiy-rayon-znakomstva-s-devushkami.php But perhaps a general theory of capitalist crises i. I think that is what Heinrich is getting at. If so, the job of Marxists is to understand the causes and forms of particular crises — especially the current one. I think you are labouring under a misapprehension here. I don't know where you got the idea that Martin Thomas has ever had a neo-Ricardian position, still less one inherited from Geoff Hodgson, who, as far as I know, never pronounced on questions of economics while he was a member of our tendency leaving before, at the time of, or shortly after we were expelled from IS in I fortuitously found today while tidying my study a Herculean task!

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Exchange cannot be completely independent of production but it has a relative independence This does not mean that value is a theoretical fiction. Crisis proves otherwise In that sense value is determined prior to exchange, although it is not socially recognised How does value act as the regulator of the capitalist system if there can be no measure other than price?

An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital

Let me sidestep your invitation to answer specific statements of Martin's, with some generalizations which, I think, offer a suggestive framework of why what you call the "monetary theory of value" is crucial. I hope you don't take this as an evasion. I offer this approach because Martin's points as they are listed are decontextualized. I can't tell whether I agree with them or not, devoid of the broader arguments they were meant to uphold. I would suggest that neo-Ricardianism is an approach that examines critical issues of political economy from conclusions that are thought to be derived from the physical structure of capitalist production.

And that is that they believe that a formal proof, if you will, of the labor theory of value can be established — and only established — by the examination of a predetermined set of material conditions of production and real wages. From these it can be mathematically demonstrated that the rate of profit is positive if and only if the rate of exploitation is positive. But this formal proof of the validity of the labor theory of value, a proof incidentally that Marx — in a familiar letter to Kugelmann — persuasively argued is unnecessary, comes at a theoretical cost.


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Money in this neo-Ricardian theoretical system is simply a means of exchange normalization: of transforming trading ratios into absolute magnitudes. Money in this system is a numeraire, but it is not a measure of abstract labor. Let me give you an example from the first prominent neo-Ricardian, Borkiewicz. Under these circumstances the output prices of department I and II are normalized in terms of the average concrete labor time embodied in the physical units of gold against which the products of the other departments are exchanged.

But there is no theoretical reason for gold production to conform to this and therefore Bortkiewicz was well within reason not to do so. So what we are left with is a monetary unit in the neo-Ricardian system that standardizes price, but which, in the general case, cannot perform the function of measuring value.

What is critical, at least for what you — Bruce — I think are asking of me, is this. In the neo-Ricardian system, price cannot be established as value in the form of money, because money is no longer a measure of abstract labor time. It is only a measure of the average labor time concretized in a particular use-value against which all other commodities are exchanged. Marx, on the other hand, sees any particular commodity as a given sum of values — and therefore of capital in the form of money — in any state of its continuous metamorphoses through the various phases of production, exchange and realization.

How so? An hour of simple, average labor — labor of average skill and intensity -- is the basic unit of measure of abstract labor in the Marxian system. He therefore establishes an implicit link between the monetary unit and its labor-time content. It is the capitalistically generated exchange process that necessarily forges this link. Through this identity any economic activity evaluated in price terms is theoretically convertible into labor-time units. It is the comparability of this simple, average — undifferentiated — labor in terms of the price form of value that permits qualitatively different use-values to be marketed in set proportions at any moment within an ever changing production-structure.