Marx's Capital - Volume 1 - Part 1 - Commodities and Money 💵

This part of the book is the most difficult to read so we will be taking it slowly. See this thread for an explanation of what we’re doing here.

Until Friday 11 February 2022, we will read Chapter 1: Commodities

  • A version is available here. Economic Manuscripts: Capital Vol. I - Chapter One. You can also download the whole thing as a pdf, which might be useful for highlighting and annotating.

  • There is no requirement or expectation that you contribute to the thread by (or after) then.

  • Before reading, you may want to watch this introduction talk by David Harvey EDUCATION | Part 1 | Reading Marx's “Capital” with David Harvey - YouTube

  • If you are reading along, I strongly recommend keeping a notebook, or making your own annotations.

  • I will post a summary of the chapter and pose some questions by the 11th February.

  • Please do feel free to post in this thread in the meantime with questions, thoughts and resources about this part of the text.

  • This works out at three weeks to read about 35 pages

:spiral_calendar: Friday 11-18 February we will be reading chapter 2

:spiral_calendar: Friday 18 February-Friday 4 March we will be reading chapter 3

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I am going to be starting this and writing my notes here. Others can comment on it too I think.

Posting here so notifications remind me to get at it.

Does anyone know a good (ideally free) version I can download for Kindle? Will have a look myself now and share if I spot one.

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I’m just using the dodgy pdf of the first English translation from marxists.org https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Capital-Volume-I.pdf

don’t think that helps you though sorry

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This may also have some use value (although the typesetting is horrific)

No worries, libcom.org has a free Mobi version which should work fine, will check it out tomorrow

The banter begins

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The first half of the second 2019 David Harvey talk gives a very good summary of chapter 1

Thoughts so far:

This (like most academic texts) is very badly written.

The labor theory of value which Marx keeps referring to is so obviously flawed as to be a constant annoyance, although its validity is kind of beside the point that Marx is actually (very slowly) making

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Expand please.

I agree with the academic writing bit though.

Expand upon why LTV is obvs flawed or why it is beside the point?

(How) do you think it differs from previous political economists like Ricardo?

And how/why is it flawed?

What point is Marx (slowly) making?

I don’t think it does differ from those political economists, he is just referring to their existing theory. It’s flawed as the value of a commodity obviously doesn’t correlate reliably with the amount of labour taken to produce it. It doesn’t matter as I think all he is doing is showing how commodities and the way we perceive them mask the social structures that produce them.

It’s also quite jarring the way he equates political theory with scientific theory and refers to LTV as if it was an absolute truth rather than a theoretical model

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Yeah will find it tomorrow

What I meant is that the pre existing LTV was flawed, and Marx then refers to it a lot whilst outlining his own theory, which is quite different (examining the social element as you say) and not really dependent on LTV at all. I think this just acts to cloud the valid and profound point he is making

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Also interested in analysing / discussing the writing style. I feel that what it has in common with a lot of academic writing is that it becomes a vehicle for the author to bask in their own intellectual glory rather than produce something which is either aesthetically pleasing or easily understandable.

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Could that not be because it’s written in German in the 19th century?

(Should get onto reading this asap)

There is plenty of excellent writing from the 19th century in all sorts of different languages. Of course when texts are translated then the translator makes a lot of choices regarding style and different translations of the same text can feel substantially different - but it would take a major rewriting of this to make it an enjoyable and / or easy read. Also as I said, (some / most) academics continue writing in this unnecessarily dense and impenetrable way to this day.

In response to @Hostile_17 asking for examples of Marx comparing LTV as a political theory to other scientific theories (in the field of physics / chemistry):

“The recent scientific discovery, that the products of labour, so far as they are values, are but material expressions of the human labour spent in their production, marks, indeed, an epoch in the history of the development of the human race”

“…this fact appears to the producers, notwithstanding the discovery above referred to, to be just as real and final, as the fact, that, after the discovery by science of the component gases of air, the atmosphere itself remained unaltered” (that’s my comma key worn out then)

There was another bit where he talks analagously about the chemical composition of butyric acid and propyl formate. I also remember him mentioning the theory of gravity.

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This obviously comes down a lot to the translation, but there are ancient Greek writers who used (invented) the dialectical method but who are very readable. Anyway, I’m not going to spend the whole time bashing his writing style, but it is the first thing that hit me. If a text which serves the purpose of explaining some concept or idea is dense and impenetrable it is at least a partial failure of writing.

I accept your point that he is actually critiquing / modifying LTV (which I hadn’t fully appreciated before), and his introduction / emphasis on the social element is crucial - but it still comes across as him saying, these guys have recently discovered this essential truth (they hadn’t) but they’ve kind of missed the whole point of what it means (they had).

Clearly LTV is much more obviously flawed in the modern economy / modern society than it was back then, but the problem is that critics of Marx (rightfully) dismantle LTV and then (wrongfully) think that invalidates Marx.

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