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on 17 February 2009
Having never read Karl Marx but heard him quoted; usually in a derogative way I thought that I should find out what he said for myself.
The downside of Marx is that he over explains to the point of sometimes stupifying the reader and never uses one word when six will do!!
The up side more than makes up for it and if you can persevere, given the current climate his writings are almost prophetic in several major and aposite ways.
I was surprised to find that he was not particularly political in the way that he is usually portrayed and was writing very specifically about the future of industrial capitalism as it was practised in America and the uk. No wonder the "masters of the universe" both then and now sought to shut him up by demonising him; they may have been rumbled before they made a packet otherwise! I don't agree with everything Marx wrote, but I do believe that his ideas should be more widely debated than they are. This was an excellent book for adding to my world perspective and I can thoroughly recommend it.
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on 2 November 2017
This is not a great place to start. I am now on page 500 and, frankly, regretting it. 'Wages, Prices and Profit' is a much, much better start to the subject.
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on 26 March 2017
Very disappointed! Only 16 chapters out of 52 in the paperback format!! Can't believe there is no mention of this in description!!! (Wanted to give zero stars but one is as low as one can go)
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on 13 June 2015
Capital is Karl Marx's systematic exposition of the 'capitalist mode of production'. First published in 1867, the book has the dubious distinction of being often cited yet rarely read. That, however, has much to do with its heft, and the present Penguin Classics edition comes in at 1141 pages, although a large chunk of that is down to its scholarly bookends. Ernest Mandel, the renowned Marxist populariser, gives an illuminating yet incredibly partisan Introduction to Capital's revolutionary theories, while the book's Appendix contains Marx's 'Results of the Immediate Process of Production', an excision from Capital rediscovered in the 1930s. Both add to our understanding of Marx's work, and as Mandel has written the Penguin Classics Introductions to Volumes II and III - compiled and released by Friedrich Engels after Marx's death - there is a thankful element of continuity to the whole enterprise, albeit parti pris.

The book itself is commonly viewed as the culmination of Marx's thought, his cast-iron masterpiece. But why is it so little read? Why is it eclipsed by its slim and fiery sibling, the Communist Manifesto? Well, apart from issues of size, a lot of it has to do with the dialectical complexity of Marx's thought, which, in Capital, endlessly unpicks the tangled threads ever present in the generation of surplus-value. Where the Manifesto is quotable and concise, Capital is its ugly opposite - or so it seems. Some view the book as a sprawling and prolix expansion of the Manifesto, or at least of its main points, but it is far more patient and discerning, and less enamoured of its own rhetoric. Yet there are times when Capital cannot help but explode with angry and thunderous prose, its prophesying stance matching anything in Marx and Engels's seminal 1848 pamphlet - it just takes a while to get there.

For those of us who have read around Marx, or the works of his modern progeny (i.e. Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, Slavoj Zizek et al), all the ideas regularly attached to his name are addressed to the nth degree in Capital. As such, we learn about the commodity's use-value and exchange-value, the labour theory of value, the fetishism of the commodity, base/superstructure (in a footnote), the metamorphosis of the commodity (C-M-C), the general formula for capital (M-C-M'), constant capital and variable capital, the rate of surplus-value (s/v), the rate of profit (s/C (where C = c + v)), the industrial reserve army, primitive accumulation, etc, etc. To give even a brief overview of these theories would increase the size of this review tenfold. Rest assured, though, that while the formulae look alarming, Marx's painstaking analyses make them clear, and he gives numerous examples to substantiate his findings. Whether they are persuasive is for each reader to decide, but before they do so, they must patiently reapply Marx's ideas to the contemporary world, turning them this way and that, uncovering their relevance and teasing out their dialectical nuances. It is a revelatory experience, even if you don't wholeheartedly agree with the views being expounded.

The book, then, is a masterly synthesis of philosophy, politics, and economics. It is also a great work of literature. Marx has packed the book with quotes and allusions, their implementation qualifying the unfurling ideas, while his terrifying erudition dances in the footnotes. And, contrary to what most people think, Capital has its memorable sayings. For instance, when discussing commodity fetishism, Marx compares it to religion, as there, too, 'the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race'; capital is described - among many other things - as 'dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour'; and, when addressing primitive accumulation, Marx suggests that it plays 'approximately the same role in political economy as original sin does in theology'. Of course, these are only a handful of pertinent quotes, for the book is absolutely teeming with them, and each reader will find their own.

Despite the prevailing injustices depicted by Marx, the book still carries an air of optimism, which is a surprise. By 1867, the revolutionary fervour that swept Europe in 1848 - the year of the Manifesto - had been pegged back by a period of intense reaction. Marx, however, and this stems from his historical-materialist approach, still held faith in the proletariat, and in the 'inevitable conquest of political power by the working class'. Capitalism was a transient phase in man's history, and sure to be blown away by the rise of the workers, for didn't the bourgeoisie produce their own 'grave-diggers'? But Marx knew the adaptability of capitalism, and the ways in which its perpetual motion escaped the clutches of the working classes, who could only crumble as their nemesis came back bigger and stronger. Even so, Marx paints the working class as a 'class constantly increasing in numbers, and trained, united and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist process of production': they are a force that has 'become incompatible with their capitalist integument'. And this integument, Marx believes, is soon to 'burst asunder', therefore ringing 'The knell of capitalist private property'. Then, and only then, will the revolution spring forth, its feverish aftermath ensuring that 'The expropriators are expropriated'. So what we have here, on page 929, is a 'negation of the negation'.

This is obviously heady stuff, and miles away from the dry economics that most people feel Capital represents. But the book carries a rather large problem. In his 'Preface to the English Edition', Engels states that 'Capital is often called, on the Continent, 'the Bible of the working class''. Now when this English edition was first published in 1886, education and literacy rates were certainly on the rise among the labouring classes, but were they high enough to match the theoretical density of Marx's dialectical processes? I'm unsure. And so the book fell into the hands of his acolytes, who, as their master's exegetes, used the book to advance their own ends. And those same thinkers have spent years building an impenetrable citadel, forever surrounding themselves with academic texts the working classes (and most non-academic people) cannot understand. They rarely seek to engage with those they wish to emancipate, and waste far too much time driving down theoretical cul-de-sacs. It is an eternal and unforgivable conundrum, and one that further explains the newcomer's reliance on the Communist Manifesto, the book that continues to ensure Marx's popularity.

Capital takes time - in the present reviewer's case, about four months - but it repays the effort. All good philosophy should help you see the world in a different light, if only for a moment. Whether you subscribe to Marx's thought is a personal decision based on numerous different factors and ideological predilections. But he is still here, and he shows no sign of going away. And why should he, especially when the outrageous excesses of capitalism are again on the increase. For Marx, the methods of capitalism 'distort the worker into a fragment of a man, they degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, [and] they destroy the actual content of his labour by turning it into a torment; they alienate from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as an independent power; they deform the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labour process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness; [and] they transform his life-time into working-time, and drag his wife and child beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of capital'. In short, an 'accumulation of misery [is] a necessary condition, corresponding to the accumulation of wealth'.

If you feel this is a fair representation of the current situation, then there will be much for you to feast on here; if not, then the book is worth reading anyway, because it is a profound and humanitarian work. As Terry Eagleton has said elsewhere, Marxism is not a murderous ideology, and it doesn't decree death and destruction on an industrial scale, for 'what perished in the Soviet Union [and it is in its Russian and Chinese manifestations that most people condemn Marxism] was Marxist only in the sense that the Inquisition was Christian'. It is about trying to understand the inequalities and contradictions inherent in capitalism. But mostly, it is about creating an awareness of where the excessive wealth comes from, i.e. the exploitation of the workers, and questioning why it has to be this way. So the inevitable question arises: does it have to be this way? Whether you call for reform or revolt doesn't really matter, for it's the awareness that is of crucial importance. Marx merely wants the reader to open their eyes and see the world anew, to see where money and greed wheedles its way into every transaction, every thought, and every idea. Mostly, though, Marx wants to make us think, and think hard, about the capitalist mode of production.
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on 13 June 2015
The third volume of Karl Marx's Capital was first published in 1894. Under the editorship of Friedrich Engels, the book was assembled from a vast manuscript varying in quality. As Engels states in his Preface, the draft's 'ever longer and more intricate' (p.92-3) sentences made the work 'more and more difficult and eventually, at times, quite impossible' (p.93) to follow. So Engels decided to let the work sink or swim as it was, leaving himself with the tedious duty of tidying up the syntax and deciphering the digressions. But sometimes even this method was unworkable. And so, worrying about the mass of suggestive yet unfinished ideas in the text, and their possible misinterpretation, Engels dedicatedly filled in the blanks (and even wrote an entire chapter, Chapter 4, 'The Effect of the Turnover on the Rate of Profit'). Nevertheless, despite the best efforts of its midwife, Volume III is a hit-and-miss affair, although it's one frequently redeemed by Marx's breathtaking insights into the capitalist mode of production, insights that easily match any of the famous declarations ringing from the pages of Volume I.

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, in Ernest Mandel's words, seeks to elucidate 'capitalist economy in its totality' (p.10). So cue the inevitable question: can anyone really synthesise such a wild and shapeshifting system? Can Marx? In a word, no. But despite the ramshackle nature of Volume III, Marx goes further than most, and it's this revolutionary spirit that continues to cause controversy in the staid world of political economy, or, to use its modern moniker, economics. But just what was he trying to communicate? And why were (are) his findings so controversial, especially in Volume III?

To answer these questions we must delve into the text. To start with, Marx rebrands what has gone before. For instance, in Chapter 1, 'Cost Price and Profit', Marx changes our perception of commodity values. Whereas C (the commodity) used to equal c + v + s, it can now equal k + p, cost price plus profit, or C = k + p, where the cost price is an amalgamation of the values c + v. Basically, the cost price of a commodity is the absolute lower limit a commodity can be sold for, otherwise the capitalist will not recoup the capital needed to restart the production process. This idea feeds into Marx's interpretation of the rate of profit, for it's this rate, and not the rate of surplus-value (s/v), that worms its way into the dreams of the intrepid capitalist. To work out the profit rate, then, Marx uses the formula s/C (where C = c + v). Take note, however, that when working out the rate of profit and the rate of surplus-value, the mass of profit and surplus-value always stays the same; it's only the rate that changes. In short, the two are separate standards for measuring the same quantity (s). Yet Marx is right to differentiate between the two, because with s/v the relationship between the capitalist and the worker is laid bare, the exploitation exposed; yet with s/C, the profit assumes 'a form in which its origin and the secret of its existence are veiled and obliterated' (p.139), i.e. it obscures its creation in the worker's surplus/unnecessary labour. (Also, the rate of profit, unlike the mass of commodity values, is 'determined by the total value of the capital applied, irrespective of how much of this is consumed' (p.203) in the production process.)

To investigate the mutations of profit, Marx dusts off his abacus, and we are once again in the mathematical hellhole that is Marx's brain. Yet this pedantry is essential, if only to show the plenitude of factors that need to be taken into account when dealing with an erratic profit rate, things such as the value of money, changes in price, turnover times, the productivity of labour, the length of the working day, wages, etc. In Chapter 5, 'Economy in the Use of Constant Capital', Marx performs a fascinating survey of all the various ways capitalists can drive profit skywards (or downwards), but his most revealing point is the distinction made between universal labour and communal labour. Simply put, universal labour is a dialogue between the living and the dead, and it's a way of utilising all the 'scientific work...discovery and invention' (p.199) that marked the progress of industrialism, and usually at the expense of the 'pioneering entrepreneurs' (ibid) who went 'bankrupt' (ibid) in the process; communal labour, meanwhile, is 'the direct cooperation of individuals' (ibid) in implementing these profit-laden inventions for opportunistic capitalists – a typical Marxian sentiment.

Marx spends the next few chapters introducing one of his most controversial ideas: the transformation of commodity values into prices of production, or the so-called 'transformation problem'. Before doing so, he gives a précis of the differing compositions of capital, i.e. technical, value, and organic; he also shows how both the organic composition (c/v) of a particular capital and the turnover time of this particular capital have an important effect on profit. But this is all a mere taster for the main event – the formation of a general rate of profit. To work out the general rate of profit, Marx adds together the various capital compositions. So: Cap I = 80c + 20v, Cap II = 70c + 30v, Cap III 60c + 40v, Cap IV = 85c + 15v, and Cap 5 = 95c + 5v. If we then add all these together we get a total of 390c + 110v. To make this a percentage: 390(c) ÷ 500 (c + v) = 78c; 110(v) ÷ 500 (c + v) = 22v. So the average composition across the five spheres equals 78c + 22v. If the surplus-value is 100% then £22 must be added to each commodity, thus distributing the average profit of 22% across the five capitals. For Marx, the price of production is determined by the average profit being 'added to the cost prices of these different spheres of production' (p.257), and so 'the production price of a commodity equals its cost price [k = c + v] plus the percentage profit [p] added to it in accordance with the general rate of profit, its cost price plus the average profit [or k + p]' (ibid).

For example, take Cap I (and here we suppose that all the constant capital is consumed in the production of a commodity, which is very unlikely). 80c + 20v + 20s = 120, its value; now, however, and according to the new price of production, it is 80c + 20v + 22p, which equals 122. So, as you can see, this product now has a mark-up of £2, which means it is sold above its value. Now if we take Cap III (60c + 40v + 40s = 140) and transform this commodity into its new price of production, then 60c + 40v + 22p = 122, a drop of £18, and so on. This is a very simple example in which every commodity ends up at the same price. Marx, however, makes these calculations far more complex by including the wear and tear of the constant (fixed) capital; but, in essence, the theory is still the same.

This has caused a lot of controversy. For instance, how can values go in and prices of production come out? Aren't the constant capital and the variable capital, when going into the production process, also determined by prices of production? So surely nothing ever sells at its value, unless by happenstance it coincides with its price of production? Yet for Marx they all balance themselves out in the end, as the prices of production ensure that the capitalists' 'dividends are evenly distributed...according to the size of the capital that each of them has put into the common enterprise' (p.258). So where does this leave the labour theory of value in determining the value of commodities? Well, nothing's really changed. The 'basis for determining value is...removed from view' (p.268) but the 'law of value [still] regulates the prices of production' (p.281), and thus all 'changes in the price of production of a commodity can be ultimately reduced to a change in value' (p.308).

Next, in Part Three, Marx introduces 'The Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit', which, again, is still hotly disputed. To summarise the argument, we must use Marx's simplistic example. Using his ratio for the organic composition of capital, c/v, and the formula for the rate of profit, s/C, Marx shows how a drop in the rate of profit is created by an overinvestment in the constant capital at the expense of the variable. So, if s = 100 (and for all these examples we will assume that it stays at 100), and c = 50 and v = 100, then p' = 100 ÷ 150 = 66.66% (or p' = s/C); if c = 100 and v = 100, then p' = 100 ÷ 200 = 50%; if c = 200 and v = 100, then p' = 100 ÷ 300 = 33.33%, and so on. Taking the capitalist mode of production as a whole, Marx posits that its 'development does in fact involve a relative decline in the relation of variable capital to constant' (p.318), as the 'same number of workers operate with a constant capital of ever-growing size' (ibid). But this drop in the profit rate does not necessarily entail a drop in the mass of profit, because a 'fall in the price of commodities produced by capital is accompanied by a relative rise in the amount of profit contained in them and realized by their sale' (p.332), i.e. if the 'rate of absolute or relative surplus-value' (p.333) increases, the less necessary labour contained in the commodity ensures the unpaid portion, i.e. profit, goes up. But upping the rate of surplus-value is only a stopgap, as the variable capital/necessary labour can never be reduced to zero, otherwise the labour power will not be able to recreate itself or purchase the products they produce. On the other hand, the cheaper the product the more they can sell.

There are, however, numerous ways to control this drop in profits, and it's these that ensure Marx's 'law operates more as a tendency, i.e. as a law whose absolute realization is held up, delayed and weakened by counteracting factors' (p.341-2). These include an increased intensification of labour (thereby driving up the rate of surplus-value), knocking wages down below their value, cheapening the constant capital, exporting for foreign trade, etc, etc. Yet despite the capitalist's 'horror at the falling rate of profit' (p.350), they cannot, and will not, acknowledge that 'The true barrier to capitalist production is capital itself' (p.358). And so, instead of making the necessary admission, they will aim to counteract this fall in the rate of profit by cartwheeling down 'adventurous paths' (p.359), which unwittingly provoke paroxysms of 'speculation, credit swindles, share swindles, [and] crises' (ibid). Fundamentally, though, Marx believes that this drop in the rate of profit is the true harbinger of crises, because it entices the capitalists to behave in a grotesquely irrational manner. Nevertheless, due to the transitory nature of the crises, they are 'never more than momentary, violent solutions for the existing contradictions, violent eruptions that re-establish the disturbed balance for the time being' (p.357).

The following chapters introduce 'Part Four: The Transformation of Commodity Capital and Money Capital into Commercial Capital and Money-Dealing Capital (Merchant's Capital)'. Considering the density of the first three parts, this section is a rather enjoyable read, and one where Marx reiterates that in the circulation sphere, which is where commercial capital operates, 'no value is produced, and thus no surplus-value' (p.392). So why is commercial capital so important to the capitalist? Because it reduces circulation time and speeds up the realisation of surplus-value in the marketplace. But how do commercial capitalists make a profit? Well, because commercial capital 'contributes to the formation of the general rate of profit according to the proportion it forms in the total capital' (p.398), and because it peddles the numerous products on the market at its own expense, it now has an entitlement to a share of the profit. Whereas the price of production used to equal k + p, Marx now updates it to include the commercial capitalists' demands, so the price of production now equals 'k + p + m (where m is commercial profit)' (p.399). And due to the central role commercial capital plays in the realisation of value, the industrial capitalist is willing to sell their commodities at 'less than their value' (ibid). So, if the 'industrial capitalist's profit is equal to the excess of the production price of his commodity over its cost price' (ibid), then the 'commercial profit is equal to the excess of the sale price over the commodity's production price, which is its purchase price for the merchant' (ibid). But, ultimately, 'the real price of the commodity = its production price + the commercial profit' (ibid). The rest of Part Four deals with the turnover of commercial capital, money-dealing capital, and the historical development of merchant's capital.

[If, however, you're losing the will to live by this point in the book, Marx delivers some avuncular advice: 'As the reader will have recognized in dismay, the analysis of the real, inner connections of the capitalist production process is a very intricate thing and a work of great detail' (p.428). So, with this mind, on we go...]

'Part Five: The Division of Profit into Interest and Profit of Enterprise' is an incredibly important part of the book. In Chapter 21, 'Interest-Bearing Capital', Marx begins to investigate how 'money as capital becomes a commodity' (p.463). But 'what does the money capitalist give the borrower, the industrial capitalist?' (p.472). Put succinctly, he alienates his own capital as a commodity, and gives its use-value, i.e. its ability to produce a profit, to the industrial capitalist. Yet this also obscures the process of value production. For the moneylender, his lending will represent a return, M-M', or M + ΔM. But this hides the real process of production, which, with the industrial capitalist's input, equals M-M-C-M'-M'. The M' represents interest for the moneylender, i.e. 'the price that the lender is paid' (p.476) for alienating their use-value. But what is the average rate of interest? There isn't one, as 'the natural rate of interest simply means the rate established by free competition' (p.478). So, worryingly, Marx concludes that there are no '''natural'' limits to the interest rate' (ibid), thus rendering the repayment of interest as 'something inherently lawless and arbitrary' (ibid).

So if interest is simply a part of the profit (surplus-value) that the functioning capitalist pays to the lender of the capital, what happens to the rest of it? This, which Marx calls 'profit of enterprise' (p.496), goes to the capitalist as a reward for his valiant endeavours. But what is really important here is the establishment of a new class relationship, and it's one that consists of moneylender and capitalist rather than capitalist and worker. Yet, for Marx, the whole process of lending interest-bearing capital ensures that the 'capital relationship reaches its most superficial and fetishized form' (p.515), which, in M-M', embodies 'the irrational form of capital, [and] the misrepresentation and objectification of the relations of production' (p.516) – it is 'capital mystification in the most flagrant form' (ibid). After these important observations, though, Volume III descends into chaos. Marx begins, and in a very slipshod fashion, to look at the problem of credit, the system which allows capitalists to gamble with other people's money, thus risking 'social property, [which is] not his own' (p.570). It is a brave new world in which the 'little fishes are gobbled up by the sharks, and sheep by the stock-exchange wolves' (p.571). And it's this dystopian greed which permits the capitalists to overextend themselves, thus ensuring that any sensible barrier to production can be leapfrogged 'by the credit system' (p.572). This, however, leads to two contrary positions. Firstly, it enhances the concentration of capital in fewer hands, which is the end result of a 'most colossal system of gambling and swindling' (p.572); but secondly, and most crucially, it also holds some revolutionary potential, as the persistent crises, coupled with the concentration of wealth and means of production, lay the groundwork for a smooth 'transition towards a new mode of production' (ibid).

And the credit system, in all its many manifestations, leads to fictitious capital. Marx divides banking capital into '(1) cash, in the form of gold or notes; (2) securities' (p.594). He further splits securities into (a) commercial papers and current bills of exchange and (b) public securities, such as mortgages, 'government bonds, treasury bills and stocks of all kinds' (ibid). This involves a whole new creditor/debtor relationship. For instance, a creditor may not be able to recall their capital from their debtor but they can sell their claim, or the 'title of ownership' (p.595), to another person. And why can't they recall their money? Because the 'capital itself has been consumed, spent...It no longer exists' (ibid). Yet this claim enables the owner to accrue interest payments on a figure of money which has disappeared, and so the actual monetary value is 'illusory and fictitious' (ibid). And so here we see the emergence of things like shares, although a 'share is nothing but an ownership title...to the surplus-value' (p.597) which a capital is yet to realise. (With these arguments in mind, Marx pertinently observes that 'interest-bearing capital...[is] the mother of every insane form' (p.596) of money handling.) Anyhow, it is this spectral nature that constitutes the gambling aspect of stocks and shares, and it's this formation of fictitious capital that Marx labels 'capitalization' (p.597), as all 'these securities actually represent nothing but accumulated claims, legal titles, to future production' (p.599). Marx goes on to show how some capitals come 'to be duplicated, and at some points triplicated' (p.601) in 'various hands in different guises' (ibid). But these are, in reality, simply 'paper duplicates of annihilated capital' (p.608), 'nominal representatives of non-existent capitals' (p.608). They can be traded like commodities, but if the concern invested in goes bust, there is no surplus-value production and thus no growth or return – the money's gone.

After this brief exposition of fictitious capital, teasingly unfinished, Marx moves on to discussing the means of circulation under the credit system, the currency principle and 1844 Bank Act, exchange rates, precious metals, and so on. This part of the book is very confusing and it is hard to find a consistent line of thought. In his Preface, Engels admits defeat in trying to sort it all out, as the 'extracts from the parliamentary reports on the crises of 1848 and 1857' (p.95), featuring the pre-eminent bankers of the day, were jumbled together with the sporadic inclusion of Marx's 'humorous comments' (ibid). As such, there is absolutely no cohesion to these chapters, and Engels was further inhibited by Marx's penchant for 'digressions, [and] asides' (ibid). Yet there is, for those who persevere, a stunning chapter on 'Pre-Capitalist Formations'. In it, Marx discusses the historical roots of modern industrial capitalism and its gruesome twin, the banking system. He's scathing of capitalism's various myths, such as how a 'man without wealth but with energy, determination, ability and business acumen can transform himself into a capitalist' (p.735). This, for Marx, is pure bunkum, and he reaffirms how only the chosen few are handpicked to make the transition, because the 'more a dominant class is able to absorb the best people from the dominated classes, the more solid and dangerous is its rule' (p.736). The banking system, meanwhile, is 'the most artificial and elaborate product brought into existence by the capitalist mode of production' (p.742), and it is one that places too much money in the hands of the industrial capitalists, who, in smashing through any barriers of production, create orgies of 'crises and swindling' (ibid). Yet 'there can be no doubt that the credit system will serve as a powerful lever in the course of transition from the capitalist mode of production to the mode of production of associated labour' (p.743). So the banks will remain a feature in an emancipated society, but they will be heavily regulated and gradually phased out...

'Part Six: The Transformation of Surplus Profit into Ground-Rent' is a difficult and intricate section of the book. Essentially, Marx wants to explore why a 'portion of the surplus-value that capital produces falls to the share of the landowner' (p.751). In doing so, he stipulates that the 'monopoly of landed property is a historical precondition for the capitalist mode of production and remains its permanent foundation' (p.754). And so, in the eyes of the landowner, his land is a commodity like any other, endowed with a use-value and an exchange-value, and thus one that should bring a return when lent to a capitalist. And that return, paid at a contractually fixed date, is called ground-rent, and thus ground-rent is 'the form in which landed property is economically realized, [and] valorized' (p.756). This, as can be imagined, leads to a fractious relationship between capitalist and landowner, and one that reasserts the tripartite structure of society, for there are now three classes rather than two: 'wage-labourers, capitalists and landowners' (p.1025). And why the fractiousness? Because 'there develops in landed property the ability to capture a growing portion of...surplus-value by way of its monopoly of the earth and hence to raise the value of its rent and the price of the land itself' (p.776). And this, much to the annoyance of the capitalists, ensures that the landowner, despite playing no part in creating 'the portion of value that is transformed into surplus profit' (p.786), can 'entice this surplus profit out of the manufacturer's pocket and into his own' (ibid).

After this general introduction to ground-rent, there follows a complicated exposition of Differential Rent I and Differential Rent II. These pages are a mixture of tedium and illumination punctuated by tables galore. I will not go into this section in great detail, because I'm unsure of it myself – it is going to take repeated readings. There are, however, a few salient points. Marx, always in love with simple yet effective formulas, calculates the average rent per acre by dividing the total rent by the number of acres; and then, to determine the average rate of rent, he divides the total rent by the total capital invested (p.805). He also, and Engels makes a note of this in Preface, clearly lost his way, so there's a list of what he wished to cover on p.860. There is also, on p.861, a bite-sized explanation of Differential Rent I and II. In short, Differential Rent I is 'the investment of the total agricultural capital on an acreage consisting of types of land of differing fertility' (p.861), while Differential Rent II is driven by the 'varying differential productivity of successive capital investments on the same land' (ibid). If this all sounds confusing, then that's because it is, but the myriad tables do begin to make sense after a while, although they are at times akin to the levels of boredom associated with the reproduction schemas in Volume II. Marx concludes by tackling absolute rent, which arises from 'the excess value over and above the price of production' (p.898) or 'an excess monopoly price for the product above its value' (p.941).

But, regardless of all these different types of rent, the essential relationship to note is that of capitalist and landowner. The landowner acts a 'barrier to the investment of capital and its unrestricted valorization' (p.884) of the land, and so the capitalist 'comes up against an alien power' (p.896). Marx depicts such an arbitrary compartmentalising of the land, and the rise of private property in general, as meaningless. And he is sure that from 'the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men' (p.911). We are merely the earth's 'possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations' (ibid). Considering the ecological devastation modern capitalism has wrought on the world, Marx's sensible words have gone unheeded. Anyhow, Marx finishes Part Six with a chapter on the genesis of capitalist ground-rent, a chapter in which he covers labour rent, rent in kind, money rent, and share-cropping and small-scale peasant ownership. It is a brief and welcome respite after the theoretical density of the preceding chapters.

'Part Seven: The Revenue and Their Sources', and the conclusion of the book, kicks off with 'Chapter 48: The Trinity Formula'. Here, Marx connects capital-profit (profit of enterprise + interest), land-ground-rent, and labour-wages, and describes how this 'trinity form holds in itself all the mysteries of the social production process' (p.953). He also recaps and reiterates that 'capital is not a thing, it is a definite social relation of production pertaining to a particular historical social formation' (ibid). The next chapter, 'On the Analysis of the Production Process', revisits the reproduction schemas of Volume II, while Chapter 50, 'The Illusion Created by Competition', explores how the value created in production (v + s) is divided into wages, profit, and rent. And then, after a chapter on relations of production and relations of distribution, the seriously truncated finale, 'Chapter 52: Classes', which concludes with these words: '(At this point the manuscript breaks off. – F.E.)' (p.1026).

So there we have it, the end of Marx's magnum opus (although there is a fourth volume, Theories of Surplus-Value, compiled by Karl Kautsky after Engels's death and first published in 1905-10). Volume III is a confusing book, but an essential one all the same, although its unfinished nature ensures that there are more questions posed than answers given. Those looking for a single definition of why crises occur won't find it here. Instead, they will find their potentiality cropping up throughout Marx's numerous investigations. And Marx will openly contradict himself at various points, which is another foible we have to accept (after all, he was human). For instance, at one point Marx echoes Volume II in saying that the 'ultimate reason for all real crises...remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses' (p.615) who cannot afford to buy the products they make; at other times, though, Marx will say that the credit system prompts all crises. With this in mind, then, it's best to reject any single defining factor in the outbreak of crises – it's never that simple!

Despite the horrors Marx describes, a real sense of optimism runs through Volume III, most of which was written before the dry and technical explorations undertaken in Volume II. At various points in the book, Marx will highlight the transient nature of the capitalist mode of production, which corresponds to 'a specific and limited epoch in the development of the material conditions of production' (p.368), and one which 'is becoming [increasingly] senile' (p.371). Well, it's still here and going strong, despite its occasional wobbles. But the idea of revolution is only a secondary element in all three volumes of Capital, because the main thrust of Marx's argument is the destitution capitalism pushes on the proletariat. As Marx says in Volume III, 'for all its stinginess, capitalist production is thoroughly wasteful with human material' (p.180). And, contrary to what most people think, Marx recoiled from the senseless and wasteful violence advocated by some of his followers, which moved away from the humanitarian aims underpinning his work. Having seen the strife revolution caused, Marx began to move towards a reformist approach, as this was the only one he felt could deliver a society in which the 'free development of each is the condition for the free development of all' (to quote the Communist Manifesto). But regardless of where you stand in relation to Marx, or the arguments concerning reform or revolt, his work is an essential undertaking, because it is one which forever exposes the exploitation of the proletariat in the hunt for surplus-value. And that, whatever your ideological inclinations, is his enduring contribution to the world.
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on 10 October 2010
Fascinating and world-view affecting reading.

If you're buying a copy of Capital to go with David Harvey's book "A Companion to Capital" or his phenomenal free lectures go with this one, rather than the Oxford World's Classics abridgement.

True, this version is intimidatingly fat, and the OWC's version seems to be a more readable translation, but it (the OWC version) is missing lots of the detail (sometimes several paragraphs at a time), colour and footnotes to which Harvey refers.

Hope this review doesn't seem superfluous but I bought the other version because it was all I could get hold of at short notice and spent hours finding and reading missing sections in a .pdf version as a result!
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on 15 March 2010
Like Darwin's The Origin of Species, Marx's Capital is based on years of research and scientific analysis of economic, social, political lives of people. This is the book that changed history, present and future forever. Everyone with conscious mind MUST read the Capital.
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on 12 January 2000
In Marx' economic works and above all in "capital" we find the deepening of the classical economists' theory of value, an understanding of the origins of crises as the text develops throughout 3 volumes, a superior method in the way of treating economic problems, and an historical background to the theory generally. All the criticisms of Marx are well-known by now and have been effectively discussed by other marxist writers such as David Harvey in "The Limits to Capital" and Guglielmo Carchedi in "New Frontiers in Political Economy". If one looks throughout history violence is almost always committed when poltical/economic systems change. To blame Marx for a 100 million deaths is complete idiocy as one could likewise blame Nietzsche for WW2 or George Washington for the death of all the original inhabitants of the US plus all the deaths attributable to US meddling around the world. As someone with substantial knowledge of world history Marx was aware of the necessity of violence when society was split between irreconcilable forces and didn't shrink from pointing this out. Those who still advocate neo-liberalism and free markets are those in power who have benefited from their pre-existing superior strength and have little concern for the deteriorating environment and the awful labour conditions in most of the world. Marx is still relevant in these times (the neo-liberals still invoke Adam Smith, an 18 century political economist), so if all we have to look forward to is the "mutual ruination of the contending classes" I'll see you all on the barricades!
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on 17 May 2010
I've not got much more to add to the other reviews that praise 'Capital', other than to say that, although it is difficult to read and it does involve hard work, it is not beyond the averagely intelligent person to get to grips with.

Given that we are now well into another massive global crisis of capitalism, the book that explains the system the best deserves to be read again and again.

The Penguin edition is the best one to get because it's the edition which ties in with the best guide/companion to 'Capital' which is David Harvey's 'Companion to Marx's 'Capital''. The introductory essay by Ernest Mandel is also useful for discussion on some of the subsequent objections and criticisms of 'Capital' and whether such critiques are valid.

Only criticism? Cheap paper which yellows rather too soon.
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on 4 March 2012
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.

As for this particular edition of "Capital", well I actually prefer the Oxford World's Classics edition, which contains the original English translation of Volume One, a much better translation as far as I am concerned. But I'm still giving it five stars - for Marx, not for the edition!

Phil Webster.
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