Capital, Vol. 1: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist

Capital, Vol. 1: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Capital, one of Marx s major and most influential works, was the product of thirty years close study of the capitalist mode of production in England, the most advanced industrial society of his day This new translation of Volume One, the only volume to be completed and edited by Marx himself, avoids some of the mistakes that have marred earlier versions and seeks to do justice to the literary qualities of the work The introduction is by Ernest Mandel, author of Late Capitalism, one of the only comprehensive attempts to develop the theoretical legacy of Capital 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 getSurplus Value Tony Montana 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 ofandthings 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 makesense 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 noWhich 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 producethan 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 needlabourers 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 producethan 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 any 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 isproductive 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 manycommodities 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 andof 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 withlabour 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, 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 muchresilient 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 andis 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 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 any 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 any 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 lotbecause 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 muchuseful 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 gottenout of this if I knewabout 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 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.

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