07 June 2010

Series Intro to Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1

Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1

Capital, Volume 1
Karl Marx’s “Capital, Volume 1”, published in 1867, is the most outstanding part of a long project that Marx begun in the 1840s, when he was still a young man in his twenties.

Volume 2, edited by Marx’s lifelong comrade and intellectual collaborator Frederick Engels, was published two years after Marx’s death in 1885. Volume 3 was published in 1894, one year before Engels’ death.

The entire project is a quest for a full explanation of what Marx called, at the end of Chapter 18 of Volume 1: The secret of the self-expansion of capital.”

This secret is what Marx called Surplus-Value, gained by purchasing the commodity Labour-Power at its full value, and then putting it to work and expropriating the entire product of the actual Labour expended. This constantly-repeated process holds up the unstable thing called Capital, rather as a table-tennis ball may be kept in the air by a fountain.

In studying this book, it helps to be able to appreciate the story of Marx’s quest for “the secret of the self-expansion of capital”, as such. Karl Marx’s thought did not spring forth fully-elaborated in one moment. Especially in the early years, Marx had to work very hard. This is apparent from works produced prior to 1867.

Further challenges are presented by the uneven shape and the large size of the work itself.

The size of Capital, Volume 1
The Communist University’s method, strongly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, relies on certain simple principles and practices. Because of its size, its unevenness, and the nature of the project that it represents, Capital, Volume 1 posed much greater problems to the Communist University than any other work.

In other cases we have used selected extracts from books to create “Short Texts” that can be used as Freirean “codifications”. The point is not to learn the work, but to have a discussion. In the case of “Capital”, this principle of discussion is no less crucial; but the huge size of the project renders the search for a small number of adequate “Short Texts” practically impossible. [Please note that the source of all our texts for this series on Capital Volume 1 has been Marxists Internet Archive.]

The shape of Capital, Volume 1
Capital, Volume 1 contains 33 chapters. Most of them are short, but there are five long ones, starting with Chapter 1 (Commodities).  Chapter 3 (Money) is also long, as is Chapter 10 (The Working Day), Chapter 15 (Machinery and Modern Industry), and Chapter 25 (General Law of Capital Accumulation).

The structure of the book is deliberate, not accidental. Commodity is the right point of departure, and together with the subsequent two chapters on Exchange, and Money, it sets the scene for Chapters 4 and 5 which give the outline “General Formula for Capital”.

The remaining 28 chapters are, broadly, a carefully-paced rolling out of the idea of Surplus-Value, with all its implications, in short, easy, and sometimes repetitive steps. Exceptions are Chapters 10, 15 and 25, which are “books within the book”. Yet these inner books are not outside of the quest for “the secret of the self-expansion of capital”.

Consequent design of the series “Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1”
The above considerations led to the following decisions (which will be explained further in the introductions to the individual texts): 
  • The series would begin with Marx’s 1847 study-circle text called “Wage Labour and Capital”, and specifically with Engels’ 1891 Introduction to the first publication of that text, because it explains why Karl Marx worked for so many years on the question of Surplus-Value, a question not fully answered in 1847 by anyone, including Marx.
  • There will also be two other intermediate texts showing the development of Marx’s work in the two decades prior to 1867. These can help readers to form an overview of the work, and to get a grasp of Karl Marx’s overall intention. One of these is made up of parts of the 1848 “Communist Manifesto”. The other will be extracts from Marx’s 1865 talk to workers called “Value, Price and Profit”. 

Capital Volume 1 would be reduced, where necessary, in the following ways: 
  • A small proportion of the text would be left out (i.e. “redacted”). This has been done with the third section of Chapter 1, with six of the ten sections in Chapter 15, and with part of Chapter 25.
  • Some footnotes would be left out. This is regrettable! The footnotes to Capital are a treasury of great worth. For this reason, where there is spare space in terms of working to multiples of four pages for printing purposes, footnotes have been retained. 

Capital Volume 1 would be re-divided in the following ways: 
  • Short Chapters would be combined together.
  • Long Chapters would be divided.
  • In one situation, that of Chapters 2 and 3, one chapter is divided and part of it added to the previous chapter
  • The above to result a division of Capital Volume 1 into 20 parts.
  • The overall length of the series, including the 3 precursor texts, to be 23 parts, not including this general introduction. 

After completing Volume 1, we intend to follow on with a treatment of Volumes 2 and 3. There will be another general introduction at that point.

The source for all of the original texts has been the Marxists Internet Archive.

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