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An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital Kindle Edition
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‘How contemporary capitalism functions is not an abstract, academic question’ (p.8) – but how do we answer it? Heinrich’s Introduction explains why Marx’s analyses provide the best framework for understanding how capitalism impacts our everyday lives. Before doing this, though, Heinrich must put some myths to bed. Firstly, and this is important, he rejects the notion of any single ‘“Marxism”’ (p.10). In fact, he states that we must disregard the factional struggles taking place over the ownership, or creation, of an orthodox Marxist doctrine. Once this concern is out of the way, Heinrich’s opening chapters ‘Capitalism and Marxism’ and ‘The Object of Critique in the Critique of Political Economy’ elucidate the symbiotic relationship between capital and labour. He then condemns the social-democratic Marxists’ predilections for determinism and economism while also taking a pop at the dialecticians, whose ‘grandiose rhetoric about dialectics is reducible to the simple fact that everything is dependent upon everything else’ (p.36). A touch dismissive, maybe, but once this broadside’s been dished out we can move on to the core of the book.
The book then proceeds to work through the three volumes of Capital in a strictly linear fashion. As such, we get succinct explanations of the labour theory of value, money, commodity fetishism, the rate of surplus value, the formal/real subsumption of capital, the important distinctions between the various compositions of capital, fixed and circulating capital, the reproduction schemas, the falling rate of profit, fictitious capital, and so on. Each idea is supplemented by good, clear examples to show Marx’s theories in action. Furthermore, Heinrich is keen to emphasis Marx’s insistence on the historical evolution of capitalism and the context of its peculiar fetishisms. All of this, then, is handled very well, and the content and delivery is excellent for the layperson coming to Marx for the first time.
However, there is an imbalance to the book as a whole. Like his predecessors, Heinrich tends to relegate the important findings of Volume II beneath the discoveries of Volume I and Volume III. Heinrich spends a hundred pages discussing Volume I, nine on Volume II, and twenty eight on Volume III. Admittedly, Volume I carries a lot of the exploratory work for what follows, but the tripartite structure of the three volumes of Capital we have (thanks to Engels) is crucial in understanding the nature of Marx’s work. For example, if Volume I dealt with the generation of surplus value in the factory (supply), and Volume II the distribution and consumption of those goods on the market (demand), then Volume III seeks to capture capitalist economy as a totality. Heinrich grasps this and ‘indicates the necessity of not restraining one’s reading of Capital to the first volume’ (p.124). Nevertheless, the brevity with which he deals with Volume II and III will not convince those pondering the worth of the second and third volume; after all, according to the treatment here, there doesn’t seem much point. And that’s an oversight, really, because Volumes II and III are essential if we are to understand the system Marx spent so long constructing.
But Heinrich should be applauded for reading Marx’s work in a critical fashion, although whether you agree with him or not is another matter entirely. It is important, though, that Marx’s work in Capital is not taken as scripture, or as something sacrosanct that cannot be modified or held up to honest appraisal. So Heinrich is happy to admit that even though the reproduction schemas ‘offer a broad overview of capitalist production and circulation, they are a long way from being an exact depiction of capitalist reproduction as it exists in empirical reality’ (p.140); he even criticises the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, which ‘cannot be substantiated’ (p.153). These are views that aren’t necessarily shared by all, and some will find his rejections anathema. But it provides a response to those who portray Marx as omniscient and infallible, and it encourages the reader to approach the work with a healthy scepticism, which is essential when studying any work of socio-political theory.
Overall, then, and barring the asymmetrical approach, Heinrich’s book is very good. Once the technical work is out of the way, he finishes off with a few chapters on crises, the relationship between the state and capital, and the place of communism in today’s world. Built within these potted surveys are intriguing arguments concerning the position of the working class in the modern capitalist state and the ongoing fetishisms permeating social relations. Again, all of these discussions are supported by the network of terms Marx used to delve beneath the shiny surfaces of capitalism, which is why, as Heinrich rightly concludes, ‘Capital still offers the best contribution to understanding the capitalist mode of production’ (p.198). Yet Heinrich’s own contribution to that field is noteworthy, although those looking for a far more in-depth exposition should seek out David Harvey’s Companions. Nevertheless, both writers fulfil their aims, which is to lucidly explain the complexity of Capital to an inquisitive and questioning audience. And that, really, should be the true measure of their success.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Marx tells us in Capital, 1:638, that "Capitalist production, therefore, only develops techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth -- the soil and the worker."
As I lean back in my chair and consider the state of the world, the diminished value of labor, global warming, and war after war, I believe books like Heinrich's do us all a favor by pointing to Marx's insightful comments. I'll now return to Capital's 3 volumes with the enthusiasm Heinrich's introduction inspired.
Marx did give us a critique of capitalism's economic categories, naturalized and reified, upside down by another perspective.
Prof. Luciano Vitacolonna
University of Chieti-Pescara (Italy)