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Capital An Abridged Edition (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – Abridged, 17 Apr 2008
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About the Author
David McLellan is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Kent.
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To many people Marxism is a dirty word because of its association with the bureaucratic tyranny of the Stalinist regimes of Russia, Eastern Europe, China etc. But these regimes had/have nothing to do with genuine Marxism, as anyone who reads this book will see. The so-called "communist" states were actually state capitalist systems controlled by a ruling class of bureaucrats who betrayed the aims of the 1917 Russian Revolution and turned on its head Marx's aim of a democratic workers' state and classless society.
Marx's humanism and democratic instincts shine out throughout this book. There are marvellous indictments of the alienating, exploitive and undemocratic nature of the capitalist system, as well as some remarkably vivid historical sections. But Marx's main aim in this book is not to set out a blueprint for a future socialist society, it is to lay bare the "law of motion" of the capitalist society we live in.
Marx shows that there are two key features of the capitalist system. Firstly, there is the fact that the capitalists make their profits by exploiting the working class. (The working class today includes ordinary white collar workers as well as manual workers.) As Marx writes, "Capital...vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour..."
Secondly, there is the competition between rival capitalists which drives on the exploitation and which leads to the anarchy of the market system, with its booms, slumps and crises, as we are seeing today.
I particularly like how Marx shows that people are alienated under capitalism, in the sense of their work being turned into soulless degradation, and also in the sense of having lost control of their lives to something they themselves have created - capital. "As, in religion, man is governed by the products of his own brain, so in capitalist production, he is governed by the products of his own hand."
"Capital" is not an easy read, and it is best tackled after reading a modern introduction to Marxism. On Marxist economics, I would recommend either Joseph Choonara's "Unravelling Capitalism" or Chris Harman's "Zombie Capitalism". On Marxism as a whole, Alex Callinicos's "The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx" is a brilliant starting point.
Das Kapital deserves its reputation as the most unreadable of great books. Marx could easily have reduced his main hypotheses to a few simply formulae, but for some reason preferred lengthy explanations. His polemical analysis of current events reads like the best contemporary journalism.. When he describes economic theory, however, he takes unnecessary metaphysical leaps — for example in supposing that capital drives capitalists, rather than the other way around — which undermine the rigor of his analysis. For that reason, I can only recommend this book for its historical interest, though his insights may be relevant to some modern-day societies.
Though he never stepped into a factory, Marx fully understood how unregulated capitalism works. He failed as a prophet because he couldn't quite grasp the evolution of macroeconomies, how the thesis of unregulated capitalism and the antithesis of pure socialism would result in the synthesis of social democracy.
Still not easy going for a prol like me and should really be read when you are wide awake, not late at night in bed. Many book dicussion groups use Karl's classic as a study topic so that might be one avenue to explore if your economics and Marxism are not up to speed.
Second time around made a whole lot more sense, but in my case he is preaching to the already converted. In light of the recent/current capitalist financial crisis the bearded one does forecast and put many things into a new perspective, enlightening many would claim!
Read it, you might learn something and it might just change your life?
For readers buying a copy of Capital to read alongside David Harvey's "A Companion to Marx's Capital" or his phenomenal free lectures I would strongly recommend that you buy the Penguin (unabridged) edition - or both! This was the only version available in my local bookshop when I started and I was desperate to get going so I bit the bullet, with the result that I've spent several hours reading missing sections on a .pdf version of the full text.
In any format, Capital makes for fascinating and world-view affecting reading. Highly recommended.
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