Capital, the best way to read it

51 posts / 0 new
Last post
Derek Lorenz
Capital, the best way to read it
Printer-friendly version

I've finally went and bought a copy of capital (the penguin edition), and while I've read through the work somewhat previously (when I was a teenager) I'm pretty sure I really didn't quite comprehend what I was reading nor did I get very far.

So, basically, I'm just wondering if anyone who posts here could offer some advice on reading Capital, if there are any useful videos, books, anything, that would help me along in reading the book itself. I've attempted to get a group together to read it locally where I live, but that was ultimately unsuccessful (I only found one person who was interested and they were far to busy with school for it too really work out). Should I attempt one online, or find one already ongoing?

I've been recommended David Harvey's Reading Capital youtube series of videos and while the first couple of videos I found somewhat helpful, I've also read that further along in the series the videos get much worse and that they aren't particularly helpful (the same goes with his book of the same name).

I've also watched Brendan Cooneys videos on youtube, and while they've been helpful in dealing with some of the same concepts from Capital I'm looking for something focused more on a reading of the book itself.

Anyway, sorry if something like this has been asked here before (I searched and didn't find anything). Thanks in advance.

 

jk1921
You could try Duncan Foley's

You could try Duncan Foley's "Understanding Capital" as a reading tool. As far as getting a discussion group going that depends on the dynamics of your area. You might try a local university and see if there is a reading group in progress in the economics or philosophy department you might be able to join or maybe even start?

LBird
Defining terms

Before trying to read Capital, I think that it's necessary to discuss many of the terms used by Marx, especially 'value'. I don't think that just plunging into the text helps at all. Everyone knows that the first three chapters are very difficult to understand, and this has put off generations of workers from reading the book.

Alf
welcome

hi Lbird, welcome to this forum. 

But Marx does explain a lot about value in the opening chapters - if you were going to recommend some reading about this, where would you start? Rubin's Essays on Marx's Theory of Value is very good, but not exactly a light read.

LBird
Our starting point

Hiya, Alf, thanks for the welcome.

Regarding Capital, I wouldn't recommend any reading, but would start with a discussion about what we think Marx means by his various terms, including 'value'.

I think asking questions, in terms that we understand, and attempting answers that make sense in terms other than Marx's often incomprehensible concepts, is a better way of initially trying to get to grips with Capital, than reading yet more academics who have always failed in the past to do this for a wider audience.

After all, this is a discussion board. Surely comrades can explain, rather than just recommend isolated reading as a method?

You know I've tried this appeal before, elsewhere, with little success. I often wonder why Communists seem to be unable to unlock the mysteries of Capital for most workers.

For my part, I don't fully understand, but I'm willing to try to discuss it. 

 

Alf
discussion...definitely

I agree that it would be OK to go for a discussion first....do you want to try to kick something off with something about value? Not something that needs to be rushed of course. 

Derek Lorenz
I agree with Lbird that

I agree with Lbird that perhaps a discussion of value or other key terms would be extremely helpful for newcomers to the book. I'd start up such a discussion if I knew exactly where to start, but again, I'm having trouble with the text, hence why I posted this.  I did find jks suggestion helpful as well. I had never heard of that book, so I'm going to give that a try as well. I really don't think getting a reading group together is an option, nor do I think there is one ongoing in my area, though I will keep it in mind.

I'm also going to look into Essays on Marx, light read or not. Thanks for the responses.

LBird
For discussion

Firstly, for the purposes of being open about my theoretical standpoint, I should mention that my suggestions about reading Capital are based upon my understanding of Lakatos, Bhaskar and Archer, especially research programmes, stratified reality, levels and emergence. If anyone is also interested in discussing these, please start another thread.

My ideas on this issue are not fully thought through by any means. My intention is to generate a comradely discussion, from which I can only learn myself. If others do too, then great.

I think that adopting a tripartite theory of ‘component, structure and emergent property’ can help the beginner to start to get to grips with Capital. I’ll also give some examples of what I mean, to help orientate comrades prior to them applying it to Marx’s concepts.

By ‘component’, I mean a physical thing that one can touch; by ‘structure’, I mean a collection of those physical things within a specific relationship with each other; by ‘emergent property’, I mean a property which does not exist at the level of the individual components, but which relates to the higher level of the specific structural relationship of the components.

To help make some sense of these unfamiliar terms for the uninitiated, here are three examples.

Bricks, wall, dog protection

Bricks can be building blocks for a wall, but they have to be put together with mortar by a trained bricklayer in a specific relationship of proximity, order, straightness and height to make a wall. Bricks just lumped together in a pile, or not combined skilfully, or built properly but only as a low wall, will not have the emergent property of dog protection. For that to emerge, so that one can stand safely within a metre of a rabid dog, the wall has to built to a specific standard and size so that one is protected from the dog. This property of dog protection does not exist at the level of the individual bricks: it is the emergent property of a structure.

 Auto parts, car, speed

If you have a running car, and you hand it to some enthusiastic teenagers to practice their budding interest in car mechanics, beware! When they strip it down into all of its component auto parts, and then try to put it back together, we can assume that our emergent property will have disappeared. For they will have not lost any components, but will struggle to combine them in the very particular combination which gives one a moving car. You’ll find nuts, bolts and various ‘surplus’ bits in the boot or under the back seat. Speed does not exist within the individual components, but is an emergent property of auto parts within a specific relationship. The mere presence of all of the components won’t guarantee speed.

Trees, wood, habitat

Trees growing within a few yards of each other are called a wood. The same number of trees spaced out in a plantation, each 50 metres from its neighbour, is not a wood. The close proximity of trees, providing cover from the sun for plants to grow, plants for insects to thrive, shelter for animals, allows a suitable habitat to develop and a new eco-system to emerge. The habitat is not a property of the individual component trees, but emerges from the specific internal relationship of the wood.

These examples have covered building structure, engineering structure, and natural structure, but can this method be applied to social structure?

I think that the same approach can be used to try to understand Marx’s concepts of use-value, the commodity and its exchange value, and value itself. Use value is the unavoidable basic component of economic structure; but the social structure can vary, and the use value is only a commodity within a certain specific set of social relationships, that is, capitalism. In a different structure, a use value is not a commodity. A potato in itself does not contain exchange value, no matter how hard one searches for it. Exchange value exists at the structural level, as it is a relationship, not a physical thing.

And value? Value is a destructive property which emerges, unbidden and unforeseen, from capitalist socio-economic relations. Value can’t be touched or measured, it’s not a quantitative phenomenon, but a qualitative one. A bit like its opposite, love.

And a final word in support, from Fred Engels, about the stronger emergent property of poor components, if organised within a better structure, as compared with better components, but are disorganised within a worse structure, producing a weaker emergent property:

‘In conclusion we shall call one more witness for the transformation of quantity into quality, namely — Napoleon. He describes the combat between the French cavalry, who were bad riders but disciplined, and the Mamelukes, who were undoubtedly the best horsemen of their time for single combat, but lacked discipline, as follows:

"Two Mamelukes were undoubtedly more than a match for three Frenchmen; 100 Mamelukes were equal to 100 Frenchmen; 300 Frenchmen could generally beat 300 Mamelukes, and 1,000 Frenchmen invariably defeated 1,500 Mamelukes."

Just as with Marx a definite, though varying, minimum sum of exchange-values was necessary to make possible its transformation into capital, so with Napoleon a detachment of cavalry had to be of a definite minimum number in order to make it possible for the force of discipline, embodied in closed order and planned utilisation, to manifest itself and rise superior even to greater numbers of irregular cavalry, in spite of the latter being better mounted, more dexterous horsemen and fighters, and at least as brave as the former.' (Anti-Dühring by Frederick Engels 1877)

I think that placing use value, the commodity and value within the outlined tripartite relationship gives the new reader a head start when trying to understand the first three chapters of Capital. There’s more to be said, of course, on these concepts and others like concrete and abstract labour, but I’d be especially pleased to hear the views of any comrades trying to read Capital, like Derek, for the first(-ish) time. But if any comrades have queries, clarifications, revisions, or just plain old criticism, I’m keen to hear.

Alf
Much to think about

 

Much to think about there. I hope others will weigh in. This seemed to me to be the core of it:

Use value is the unavoidable basic component of economic structure; but the social structure can vary, and the use value is only a commodity within a certain specific set of social relationships, that is, capitalism. In a different structure, a use value is not a commodity. A potato in itself does not contain exchange value, no matter how hard one searches for it. Exchange value exists at the structural level, as it is a relationship, not a physical thing.

 

And value? Use value is the unavoidable basic component of economic structure; but the social structure can vary, and the use value is only a commodity within a certain specific set of social relationships, that is, capitalism. In a different structure, a use value is not a commodity. A potato in itself does not contain exchange value, no matter how hard one searches for it. Exchange value exists at the structural level, as it is a relationship, not a physical thing.

 Value is a destructive property which emerges, unbidden and unforeseen, from capitalist socio-economic relations. Value can’t be touched or measured, it’s not a quantitative phenomenon, but a qualitative one. A bit like its opposite, love.  Value can’t be touched or measured, it’s not a quantitative phenomenon, but a qualitative one. A bit like its opposite, love

This is excellent: love against value. We could also say: human association against alienation. 

"the use value is only a commodity within specific set of social relatioinships, that is capitalism"

With you for the whole sentence, except perhaps right at the end: value relations, and the inevitable estrangement they entail, must precede capitalism, but certainly reach their culminating point through the capitalist social relation.  

"Value is a destructive property which emerges, unbidden and unforeseen, from capitalist socio-economic relation"

Can you explain what you mean by value being a destructive property? 

 

 

 

Link
Reading Das Kapital

 

I like this approach to this topic as expressed by Derek L and LBird as I felt for a while that the lack of association with the past of the workers movement has made it harder for workers to get to grips with understanding what capitalism is and how it works.  It seems to me the key issues are what is capitalism and how is value created.  These are not easy to understand from reading Das Kapital because as you are all saying it’s a hard read.  It was written along time ago in old language style and in a foreign language.  IT was written for a period what society was very different structured than today (capitalism was simpler maybe but society still included the left overs of feudal society

It therefore seems to me there is quite a bit in Capital which is unnecessary for us today and one of my first suggestions is not to worry about understanding everything but to look for the key or fundamental points he is making about capitalism.  For me, I found it easier  by reading 'wage labour and capital' or 'wages prices and profit' which are shorter and focused well on fundamental issues within capitalism

I cant help thinking that lbird you have complicated issues by talking of emergent properities etc.   Your examples work on their own, so why create new complex labels for them?

The wall you describe has a great deal of use value because it protects your life (and probably cant be calculated therefore). Its exchange value is however what it costs to build plus a profit for the building firm.   The cost of the raw materials  dumped in a pile, plus the mortar costs plus the cost of the labour hours for labourers to dig the foundations and move materials plus the skilled labour to build and strong upright wall. 

Arent these 3 ideas, the actual use,  use value and exchange value,  the 3 elements that you raise?

If you look at a loaf of  bread.  It is used to feed us, it’s a basic foodstuff in western society.  Its use value has probably never changed therefore but it exchange value (ie the cost to purchase) varies in different parts of the country today let alone over the historical period since it was first discovered as a foodstuff. 

The next step is to recognise that the raw materials used here eg the bricks and mortar or the wheat and the equipment used to prepare the wall and the bread also had to be found, grown built and delivered and this is what comprises their purchase cost.  So what lies behind this is the fact that other workers have processed raw materials and dug up materials from the ground to produce these goods so their purchase cost is really just an accumulation of labour costs to prepare the materials and equipment used by the bricklayer and the baker.  Marx called this dead labour, ie labour already done, and living labour is the work on the bread or the wall which is being done now.

None of this is not that complex or controversial and most bourgeois economists would agree.

What Marx introduces early on in Capital is the idea of how value is created in capitalism.

The basic idea here is just a development of the above though.  If all materials and equipment used in building that wall are manufactured or dug up by workers surely it can only be the process of working on the raw materials at each stage that creates the new, extra value that is called profit.   Bourgeois economists and business people will have you believe that it is (1) the investor or (2) the businessperson who manages the project or (3) the salesman that sells the product at a price higher than all the components combined that create value.  What Marx starts discovered and starts from in das Kapital is that these actions by the capitalists are exchanges and that in an exchange if one side makes a profit the other side is losing out.  An exchange does not create extra or new value

The only element in the process of purchase, manufacturing and distributing which can be the source of extra value is the element of work whereby the worker is paid for his or her labour time to turn components into a finished good that is worth more than the labour and components combined. 

Look at this from a social perspective. (1) the workers are paid enough to live on.  (2) The capitalist, who had money originally and invests it in manufacturing but pays others to do his or her work, gains a profit out of the process which belongs to him or her exclusively. 

Look at the world around you.  Everything you see from the pens and pencil, computers house cars building machines factories and so forth has been built by workers but workers own relatively little –  in general terms, just enough to live on.  It’s the capitalists who own all the land building equipment that workers have produced and who keeps on earning more profits as production keeps going.   The workers earn enough to live on and the capitalists keep getting richer.

So new value is created by the work process, by the manufacturing process.  Marx called this created value ‘Surplus Value’ ( or maybe his translator did as I don’t think it’s a good term – its not a surplus it is added value which is a better translation of the German term)

So Capital Equipment costs + raw materials/components costs + labour costs  + surplus value created = exchange value of the product.  The workers create all values in this process but only received the labour cost as pay and the capitalist owns the rest.

Obviously Ive simplified ideas and not covered everything that Marx explains but these it seems to me are the key ideas to help anyone get start with Marx’s explanations of capitalism. Im afraid the language you just have to gradually get used to when reading Marx but discussions today while help rephrase things in contemporary terms/language

I do agree with you that there needs to be more discussion and explanation of these basic ideas and including eg what is the working class,  and I hope what ive said is a relevant contribution in straightforward terms

LBird
Further tentative steps

I’d suggest that, before reading Capital, chapter one, ‘The Commodity’, the following seven terms should be discussed within the tripartite schema outlined earlier:

At the ‘component’ level: use-value, concrete-labour

At the ‘structure’ level: commodity, abstract-labour, exchange-value, socially necessary labour time

And as an ‘emergent property’: value

But if my suggestion is accepted, then it shows that Link has misunderstood my model:

Link wrote:
I cant help thinking that lbird you have complicated issues by talking of emergent properities etc. Your examples work on their own, so why create new complex labels for them?

The wall you describe has a great deal of use value because it protects your life…

No, I’m suggesting that ‘use-value’ is a component (like a ‘brick’, ‘auto part’, etc.), whereas ‘wall’ sits at the structural level, as it is composed of bricks, in a certain specific relationship. Remember, the purpose of this tripartite scheme is to try to help comrades unfamiliar with Marx’s concepts in Capital to come to those concepts through something that they are already familiar with, like the ‘components, structures and emergent properties’ schema that I outlined in my previous post.

I’m trying to abstract certain concepts from the examples that I’ve given, so that those concepts can then be used to understand Capital. So, if you want to start with ‘wall’ as a component (use-value), then you need to specify what structure it sits within (for example, a castle) and give some emergent property (for example, feudalism). This three-fold abstraction, based upon real-life examples which comrades will have already encountered, is a didactic method to hopefully provide a key to unlock the mysteries of Capital. Whether it will prove to be a fruitful method, we’re yet to learn. Perhaps either it can’t be done, or I’m just not the person who can explain it properly.

Anyhow, this allows us to characterise a ‘commodity’ as having a two-fold identity, just as Marx suggests.

In my schema, a brick within a wall has this two-fold identity: it is both an ‘individual physical component’ (which we can touch) and ‘a part of a wall’ which is dependent upon its relationship to other bricks (this ‘relationship’ can’t be touched). But if the relationship is removed, then the second part of its identity disappears, even if the brick remains before one’s eyes!

The purpose of this is to highlight the double meaning of ‘the commodity’. It is both a ‘use-value’ and an ‘exchange-value’.

As I said earlier, I’d like the discussion, for now, to revolve around the seven concepts above that I think one needs to understand first, before later actually coming to any understanding of Marx’s first chapter on ‘The Commodity’.

Link wrote:
Im afraid the language you just have to gradually get used to when reading Marx…

This, unfortunately, is precisely what I disagree with about the method of reading Capital which is most often suggested: that ‘just reading’ it allows one to become acclimatised to his ‘language’ and its meaning. I think that many workers, myself included, have ‘read’ it and have remained completely baffled afterwards, especially the first three chapters.

If I was to conceptualise these contrasting methods, I’d describe it as:

 A. Read Capital, then easy concepts become obvious, then understanding follows;

versus

B. Discuss difficult concepts, then read Capital, then understanding follows.

I don’t think method A works for most workers, so I suggest method B.

That’s why I’m making these posts, so that as part of a team, my attempt to understand Capital will succeed, and hopefully others will also benefit.

But I’m open to the conclusion that I’m wrong, and that I’m just complicating matters. It’s up to others, like Derek and now James, to make that judgement, perhaps after some more discussion, and much more clarification on my part.

Anyway, thanks for your contribution, Link, because amongst other things it shows that my explanations so far have not been clear enough!

LBird
Value as smack?

Alf wrote:
This is excellent: love against value. We could also say: human association against alienation... Can you explain what you mean by value being a destructive property?

Perhaps we can try to list some ‘emergent’ social properties and effects of value?

It Self-valourises (like a cancerous social form, once it emerges it destructively spreads like wild-fire);

It Brainwashes (it’s a numbing social narcotic which puts humans’ critical minds to sleep, and compels them to keep intoning ‘I’m an individual!’);

It is Addictive (once exposed to it, humans just must have more);

It is Hidden (it conceals itself under the respectable cloak of ‘profit’)

Can you suggest some more, Alf?

As an aside, this treatment of ‘value’ has the political effect of making one completely opposed to any talk of ‘market socialism’, or ‘lower level of Communism’ which would maintain the use of value as a distributive tool.

Or is it the case, that human supporters of capitalism, like heroin addicts, will have to be weaned off their addiction gently? By Parecon, IOPS, ID or somesuch? Or is the revolution going to involve cold-turkey for those who haven’t, like us Communists, already stopped taking the shit?

Link
Lbird's schema

 

The core problems with reading Capital are that it is old fashioned language dealing with a complex subject related to a world that is to some extend out of date.  Maybe suggesting that you have to get used to the language is flippant but I think the main needs are about discussing the concepts in contemporary language and a contemporary context -  which was my interpretation of where you wanted to go.   Also I don’t think reading Capital is the first step in understanding working class politics anyway.

So I do think your schema simply complicates things and is unnecessary.  I agree that Capital is difficult to read but I cant see how studying a new set of  philosophical (?) concepts is going to help.  Explain things in everyday terms as you do with your examples seem a much better basis.  I am not saying it is easy to read with but I think you underestimate the experience of  workers today if you believe they cannot understand the ideas of for example  (a) a finished good having greater use to people (ie use value) than its separate components (b) sales price = costs + profit margin (c) exchange value is created by the amount of labour going in to producing a product (d) selling does not create new wealth for society, work does.  I think workers have encountered these concepts already in daily life, putting it altogether is the problem and being told to read Capital is just offputting.

Surely this is a more concrete basis for getting to grips with Marx’s writings.  So no I do not think your explanation of the 3 concepts is clear and they seem to me to another hurdle to get over rather than an aid to understanding.  Indeed I think your 3 concepts are likely to provoke complex debate over meaning and interpretation anyway – eg you seem to equate  a component as a use value!!  That by itself is very confusing.  Were you asking for a more detailed critique of these concepts?

Im not trying to be negative here I hope but I do think the better approach is to develop the examples you use is simply to explain the concepts of exchange and use value,  I think  your explanations there much clearer.   I do agree that making things more accessible for those coming to Marxist ideas is a constructive thing and would love to see clear explanations here for all of us to refer to of Marx’s terms and ideas which explain what capitalism is 

Derek Lorenz
I've only quickly scanned

I've only quickly scanned through what's been said here. I'll come back later (hopefully tonight) and reread it before giving a full response. I like a lot of what LBird has had to say though, or as far as I've understood it (again, I wouldn't say I've read everything in the thread yet, just a quick scan). As far as I can tell Link also raises some valid points. I most definitely agree with LBird that more needs to be done when reading Capital than just getting use to the language Marx uses. That's what I did when I first gave a go at Capital, and though part of it could be that I was much younger then, I think this was a major issue as to why I didn't understand it and eventually gave up.

Overall, I'm optimistic that starting this thread will help me along in my reading. I'm sorry I haven't contributed more, and hope I will have the time tonight to contribute and discuss.

Oh, and James Hadfield, I think ultra-left is kind of an insult the Stalinists kind of throw around (I've seen it applied to Hoxhaists, Maoists, Trotskyists, Anarchists and so on). I could be wrong on this, and I'm sure Alf knows more about it than I do but thought I should chime in.

Anyway, thank you all for the help.

LBird
Extension to post 12

If my suggestion of discussing Marx’s seven concepts (listed earlier) is accepted, I think we should firstly address use-value and concrete-labour, and contrast them with exchange-value and abstract-labour.

In my schema, use-value and concrete-labour fit at the component level, whilst exchange-value and abstract-labour sit at the structure level. That is, use-value and concrete-labour are physical building blocks which any human individual can see and touch, but exchange-value and abstract-labour are social constructs, which must be thought about at the social level, not at the level of individual experience.

What then are the practical differences between the component level use-value and concrete-labour, as compared with the structure level exchange-value and abstract-labour? One answer is that the components, when fitted into a structure, must have a dual character. They have their physical character as a component, but also have a structural character determined by their place within the structure.

Let’s see an example of this, using a familiar example. A piece of lego has physical characteristics, which are obvious when looking at it as a simple thing. But if the piece of lego is joined together with other pieces into a structure, it also takes on a further structural characteristic. For example, if a model aeroplane is built, then the lego piece might also be a part of a wing, or of the fuselage. It now has a dual character: its physical character and its structural character. Breaking up this model destroys this structural characteristic of the lego piece. If the same piece of lego is then incorporated into a model tank, the piece then takes on a different structural characteristic, that of part of a turret, or of a barrel.

So, we can see that a component placed into a structure takes on a dual character. This is also true of social structures and their components.

To return to our component concepts from Capital, use-value and concrete-labour: use-value and concrete-labour are physical things humans use and do. Humans satisfy their needs with use-values (they are any useful things), and create new use-values with their work upon nature. This will be so eternally. But we also now know that when use-value and concrete-labour are placed within a social structure, they must develop a dual nature. Again, as we have seen, this second characteristic is a product of the structure within which they find themselves, not an inherent part of their component character as a use-value or as concrete-labour. A lego piece is not inherently part of a wing, fuselage, turret or barrel. To know the nature of the lego piece’s dual character, the changeable structure of which is forms a part must also be identified: aeroplane or tank?

This acceptance of dual character thus allows us to pair together our four concepts: use-value with exchange-value, and concrete-labour with abstract labour. Exchange-value is use-value within a particular social structure, and abstract-labour is concrete-labour within this same specific social structure: of course, this social structure is capitalism. Outside of capitalism, exchange-value and abstract-labour don’t exist.

For now, I’ll end on a short observation. The difference in a structure like a wall and a social structure is that the latter can’t be seen; a theory is necessary to observe it. If exchange-value is seen through the eyes of ‘an individual’ (obviously unavoidably employing liberal theory), it is only the use-value that can be seen; but if Communist theory is employed, then its dual, structural character can also be observed. This, it seems to me, is the role of Marx’s Capital: to provide Communist workers with a theory to help us to try to observe a reality which is not perceptible to those merely looking at individuals.

More to follow, when I’ve got my breath back!

LBird
Enough for now

Exchange-value and abstract-labour are structural relationships: that is, they are the relationships that determine the position of a use-value within the structure. This is similar to the relationships which determine the position of a brick within a wall: its height, and whether angled or level, horizontal or vertical

This gives us a commodity as a piece of a social structure: as a use-value, it is located/situated by the relationships of exchange-value and abstract-labour into the social structure of capitalism. Exchange-value and abstract-labour are the products of social processes, not inherent properties of a ‘commodity’. A commodity can’t exist outside of capitalist social relations.

As individuals, we can’t see or touch exchange-value or abstract-labour; we can only perceive them through the application of a theory to the position of use-values within the social structure. With this theory, we can perceive a commodity: a commodity is a use-value positioned by exchange-value and abstract-labour.

Marx spends the first chapter of Capital, in monotonous detail, explaining just ‘how’ this is done within capitalist social relations, but what we need to really understand prior to reading is a theory of ‘what’ is being done by Marx himself.

I’ll now await comments and criticisms of what I’ve written so far. Don’t forget, though, these posts have only been an initial attempt to explain the concepts used by Marx, to try to help beginners. There is clearly more that can be said, and said better. Has this been helpful? How can the explanation be improved, or should it just be completely rejected as overcomplicating Marx’s simple text?

Well, I now need some feedback, of any sort. The issues of value as an emergent property, and how I think Marx is best understood as an early critical realist, I will leave aside for now.

Marin Jensen
Marx's Capital is difficult because the subject is difficult

Here are just a few thoughts on some of the posts:

  1. I sympathise with Lbird's efforts, but I'm inclined to stick to "Method A" myself. After all, if Marx structured Capital the way he did, it was for a reason: he begins by introducing the most basic concepts which will be necessary to understand the rest.
  2. I'm inclined to agree with Link that introducing another (by no means simple) philosophical concept is not necessarily going to make things easier when you come to Marx. Though of course individuals are different, so what doesn't work for me might very well work for you. I think the concept of emergent properties is an important one, and actually does apply to Capital (and capitalism), but I'm not necessarily convinced that you should start there.
  3. It's difficult, well yes, but fundamentally it's not because of the language but because of the subject matter. There's an idea which is constantly cropping up (I'm not sure if it has or not in this discussion to be honest) which is that we should express ourselves in language the workers understand. Well, I'm all in favour of writing as simply as possible, but we have to accept that understanding and manipulating complex ideas is always going to be difficult, a struggle in fact.
  4. The most important thing (it seems to me) about the notion of value is that behind the object there is always a social relation, ie a relationship between human beings. Even a use value contains a social relationship, it is not just an object in itself: for example, an underarm deodorant only has a use value if you live in a society where the odour of armpits is considered offensive (or has been made to seem offensive...). And exchange value similarly (as someone says above) only exists where the idea of commercial exchange exists.
  5. I always had a lot of difficulty with "dialectics" (in fact I generally get suspicious every time I see the word because I get the impression that a person's understanding of dialectics is inversely proportional to the number of times they use the word), but one thing I did grasp, pretty much, is that things do not exist in themselves but only in movement, and in relation to other things.
LBird
Marx's Capital is difficult because he can't explain well.

Thanks, Lone Londoner, for your critical comments. Hopefully they’ll help me to focus my own thoughts a bit more.

Lone Londoner wrote:
… I'm inclined to stick to "Method A" myself. After all, if Marx structured Capital the way he did, it was for a reason: he begins by introducing the most basic concepts which will be necessary to understand the rest.

But one can agree with Marx’s reasoning for structuring Capital the way he did, that is, to introduce the necessary basic concepts, without accepting that he actually did the job well enough. My point is that it is his poor explanatory skills, which has put off generations of workers, which is the issue, not his perfectly acceptable method of starting with a theoretical introduction. So, Method A is not just ‘read Capital and understand’, but rather ‘read Capital and remain clueless’, in my opinion. That’s why I’m opposed to what I’ve dubbed Method A, not because I think that the first three chapters should be ignored. Marx’s method is correct; his execution of it isn’t. Again, my position isn’t that Method A can’t be employed (it obviously works for some, including you), but that I think we can improve on Marx’s poorly structured text, for the benefit of those who are mystified by Capital’s theoretical initial chapters. I only came to my, still as yet incomplete, understanding, through the help of other Communists’ explanations. I’m trying to extend that help to others.

Lone Londoner wrote:
I'm inclined to agree with Link that introducing another (by no means simple) philosophical concept is not necessarily going to make things easier when you come to Marx.

Given my ‘real world’ examples, which I consider to be pretty simple to understand, I’m inclined to disagree with you and Link on this issue. However, I’m prepared to accept that, as yet, no-one else has said that these ideas have actually helped to make Capital easier to enter. Your point might turn out to be entirely valid.

Lone Londoner wrote:
It's difficult, well yes, but fundamentally it's not because of the language but because of the subject matter. There's an idea which is constantly cropping up (I'm not sure if it has or not in this discussion to be honest) which is that we should express ourselves in language the workers understand. Well, I'm all in favour of writing as simply as possible, but we have to accept that understanding and manipulating complex ideas is always going to be difficult, a struggle in fact.

This is, I think, our key point of disagreement.

I think it is because of the language, not the subject matter. I think Marx was, when it came to his concepts, a terrible writer. I have this opinion about his historiographical theories, too, not just his texts on political economy. I don’t think that the basics are complex, and I do think “that we should express ourselves in language workers understand”. In fact, given my earlier posts, that is precisely what I’m attempting to do. Whether I’ve actually achieved that aim, is another issue entirely! But I’m confident that, even if I can’t do it, it can be done by fellow Communists.

On value, I think I agree with your comments, but regarding dialectics, I’ll leave that well alone for this thread!

Thanks again, LL, for your comradely input.

Marin Jensen
Can't agree on that... look at the "Manifesto"

I don't think the idea that Marx didn't know how to explain things holds water really: the Communist Manifesto is the clearest demonstration of this. It is brief, very easy to grasp (despite having being written in the 19th century) and incredibly profound (I go back to it regularly and am constantly finding new ideas).

So in fact we should perhaps be doing both: on the one hand simple straightforward articles to drive home some basic points (and sometimes we do manage to get that right, every now and then at least!), but also articles which wrestle with the difficult concepts that underlie the Manifesto - and which demand the depth of Capital.

As for Method A, perhaps I should explain better: I don't mean just "start at the beginning, work your way through the middle, and when you come to the end, stop"! In fact, I find it's the same as when I'm attacking a technical (IT) problem: you have to start by reading (Capital in this case), on the assumption that you won't understand everything, then try applying some of the ideas to a concrete problem, then go back to the reading again - maybe start at the beginning again. Little by little, things begin to become clearer. Also, it is often a good idea to sleep on it and let the unconscious mind go to work on the problem.

LBird
Capital can be as good an example as the Manifesto

Lone Londoner wrote:
I don't think the idea that Marx didn't know how to explain things holds water really: the Communist Manifesto is the clearest demonstration of this. It is brief, very easy to grasp…

Well, I don’t think you even have to go to another text to show that Marx could write well and understandably! Large sections of Capital itself will make your point for you! But… then you add “and incredibly profound”.

Lone Londoner wrote:
So in fact we should perhaps be doing both: on the one hand simple straightforward articles to drive home some basic points (and sometimes we do manage to get that right, every now and then at least!), but also articles which wrestle with the difficult concepts that underlie the Manifesto - and which demand the depth of Capital.

Yes, I agree with you about both methods – and I think Marx was good at the former. But, “the difficult concepts that underlie the Manifesto - and which demand the depth of Capital” brings us back to my central point about ‘profundity’: The Manifesto reads easily precisely because it avoids ‘depth’ and ‘difficult concepts’. Marx is good at descriptive writing, as in the Manifesto and in large parts of Capital too, but he’s hopeless at explaining ‘difficult concepts’ in any ‘depth’! The latter is our task.

Lone Londoner wrote:
As for Method A… you have to start by reading (Capital in this case), on the assumption that you won't understand everything…

I think the point most people make after wrestling with ‘The Commodity’ is that they don’t understand anything!

Anyway, you’ve made a good case for Method A, but I’m still of the opinion that it doesn’t work for most readers. I think we need some more input from others at this point. The $64,000 question is: ‘has Method B actually helped anyone?’.

LBird
Some detailed explanation

All page references are to Capital, Penguin Classics (1990), trans. Ben Fowkes

Just to get us started on Method B, I’ll make some suggestions based upon what I’ve already outlined, and see if anyone thinks it is helpful and aids their understanding.

Marx, p. 125 wrote:
Every useful thing… may be looked at from the two points of view of quality and quantity.

I suggest replacing the terms ‘quality and quantity’ with ‘structure and component’. Components can be counted and are ‘quantifiable’, but structures have a ‘qualitative’ dimension based upon their internal relationships, as we have seen in the examples I gave in earlier posts. If the components of a structure are arranged incorrectly, they do not produce a qualitative change, or new level. A pile of bricks is not a wall.

Marx says that a use-value is a physical, quantifiable component of a commodity. But he goes on to make it plain that the other aspect of a commodity is a social factor, of use-values within a social structure. This is a qualitative factor, dependent upon the social arrangement within which the use-value finds itself.

Marx, p. 126 wrote:
In the form of society considered here, they [the use-values] are also the material bearers of…exchange-value.

Thus, exchange value is not something an individual can touch or estimate (as for the neo-classical ‘psychological theory of value’, by which consumers are able to ‘judge a bargain’ for themselves), but is a product of society. Social relationships determine exchange-value, not individual minds and opinions.

This is a key point to make, to workers brainwashed by our society and reading Capital for the first time, who think that ‘exchange-value’ is something that can be touched or estimated by them as an individual. It can’t. Holding and scrutinising a use-value (a commodity like a car or a dress), by using one’s eyes and mind, won’t reveal its exchange-value. Exchange-value is a relationship, and is uncovered by examining a structure, not by studying a component.

The inscrutable commodity before your eyes reveals nothing: a theory of social structure is required to yield its exchange-value. Marx’s Capital provides this theory.

It’s a bit like trying to answer the question ‘How dog-proof is a wall’ by examining stacks of bricks in a factory yard. The only true answer is in the structural quality of the wall when built, not in quantitative counting of component bricks. Similarly, ‘What value does this commodity have?’ can only be answered by examining society, not by guessing the worth of a diamond in one’s hands.

That’s enough for now. Any questions?

Demogorgon
There's only one way to read Capital!

I have to say that I am personally unconvinced by LBird's approach. The introduction of modern terms like "emergent property" etc. may be of help to people already familiar with this kind of lexicon but will be of little help to people unfamiliar with those terms. If anything, I think they just substitute another barrier.

There are certainly elements of Capital that are hard-going. His interminable dissection of the circuits of Capital in the first parts of Vol 2 caused me physical pain the first time I read them, mainly because it seemed repetitious and I couldn't understand why he was doing it. It wasn't until I recently read Grossman's "Marx, Classical Political Economy and the Problem of Dynamics" that I finally got a glimpse of what he was getting it and how the interaction between the different circuits made overproduction inevitable.

But I digress! The real point is that you never stop reading Capital. It will probably take several tries (particularly over the hard bits) before you grasp the method but with hard work you can get there. Parts of it will remain opaque for long periods before a lightbulb goes off in your head - in that sense studying Capital is similar to any other intellectual endeavour.

Personally, I found reading Marx's shorter pieces (Value, Price, and Profit and Wage Labour & Capital) alongside the larger works when I wanted a bit of light relief but still relevant to the matter at hand. You might also want to have a look at this essay which gives some ideas about how to approach Capital, in particular: "[In the first few chapters] Marx presented the results of twenty years research. He might have kept that material until the end, so that by the time we reached its intricacies we would have been drawn towards his conclusions and become familiar with his terms and cast of mind. Instead, he gave us the results first. They also set forth his method of analysis."

In the end, however, you need to find the method that works for you. With apologies to the The Levellers, there's only one way to read Capital and that's your own ...

LBird
Replies

Fu lin-lin wrote:
Why substitute quantity and quality with content and structure?

Because I think these substitute terms have better didactic value. They allow the use of 'real world' examples which I think give a 'way-in' to Marx's ideas.

Fu lin-lin wrote:
Quantity and quality are explained by Marx understandably.

I disagree with your assertion. And obviously many workers who've tried to read him over the years would agree with me. But if Marx's chosen terms work for you (and others), that's fine by me.

Fu lin-lin wrote:
Marx did explain how the exchange value can be quantified by introducing the notion of money...

That's yet to be seen - we're still at the start of the chapter. I want to explain what Marx means by his words when he's using them, not by reference to later pages, chapters, volumes, editions, languages...

As I've said  already, if you don't find my suggestions helpful, because you already understand Capital, that's OK, too. But if they do help others, who can't understand...

LBird
Replies

Demogorgon wrote:
I have to say that I am personally unconvinced by LBird's approach. The introduction of modern terms like "emergent property" etc. may be of help to people already familiar with this kind of lexicon but will be of little help to people unfamiliar with those terms. If anything, I think they just substitute another barrier.

Well, I think I've given easy-to-understand examples of 'emergent properties', so I'm not sure what the problem is.

Demogorgon wrote:
It will probably take several tries (particularly over the hard bits) before you grasp the method but with hard work you can get there. Parts of it will remain opaque for long periods before a lightbulb goes off in your head - in that sense studying Capital is similar to any other intellectual endeavour.

But experience and feedback seems to show that 'hard work' in itself often doesn't get you there! The 'lightbulb' never 'goes off in the head' of many.

Demogorgon wrote:
In the end, however, you need to find the method that works for you.

I couldn't agree more! I'm simply trying to give those with an interest in trying to understand Capital another option. If no-one gives any positive feedback soon, I'll give up and admit defeat!

Link
  Im sorry LBird but I do not

 

Im sorry LBird but I do not think your schema is convincing people from what I can read above and a consensus seems to be suggested it is making things more complicated.

You say: ‘This is a key point to make, to workers brainwashed by our society and reading Capital for the first time, who think that ‘exchange-value’ is something that can be touched or estimated by them as an individual. It can’t. Holding and scrutinising a use-value (a commodity like a car or a dress), by using one’s eyes and mind, won’t reveal its exchange-value. Exchange-value is a relationship, and is uncovered by examining a structure, not by studying a component ‘

Can is say you are making a good contribution here to understanding marx’s analysis of capitalism economy – apart from last part of the last sentence where you get to your schema.  Whats wrong with explaining why exchange value is a relationship rather than translating it into a new language.  I do agree with anyone that is trying to make a clear explanation of value and suplus value for the benefit of workers – this is a positive task and I for one would like to see more of such basic clarifications and discussion in the left communist press and online (please note ICC) as LBird is quite right to say that workers don’t have a ready understanding of marx’s  critique of capitalist economics and structures.   I think therefore you should stick to contributing to that discussion rather than your schema. 

For me, I do not think the attempt to find new terms has been consistent either.  At one point components and structures are use values and exchange values and emergent properties are the quality of the end product.  Later on component and structure becomes quantity and quality and in the quote above a structure becomes an exchange value. 

May I return to Derek L’s questions at the start and ask if the guidance on reading marx has helped or was to the point.   I agree very much with how l-l and demogorgon has explained the problem of reading and understanding marx and I do think, Lbird,  where you have provided explanations of marx’s terms in using marx’s language you have done this well so I personally would much rather see you continuing to explain these things in this way.

I have worked with bricklayers who could quite easily cope with working out the current value of the bricks laid in a day and how much profit was being made out of their work.  I have worked with warehouseman who knew the value of goods in the warehouse and being loaded onto lorries.  I have seen bank employees who knew the cost to the bank of each task they performed and accounts workers who knew how much interest was gained from moving money from one account to another in a few seconds.   I have worked with teachers who clearly knew what rubbish management spouts when it talks about the cost of strikes to the employer.

This seems to me to be the basis to recognize and work on. It is the like of managers and bourgeois politicians that don’t and cant understand these concepts

LBird
Entering the murky depths of philosophy

Link wrote:
Im sorry LBird but I do not think your schema is convincing people from what I can read above and a consensus seems to be suggested it is making things more complicated.

Yeah, I’m rapidly coming to the same conclusion, Link!

Link wrote:
You say: ‘This is a key point to make, to workers brainwashed by our society and reading Capital for the first time, who think that ‘exchange-value’ is something that can be touched or estimated by them as an individual. It can’t. Holding and scrutinising a use-value (a commodity like a car or a dress), by using one’s eyes and mind, won’t reveal its exchange-value. Exchange-value is a relationship, and is uncovered by examining a structure, not by studying a component ‘

Can i say you are making a good contribution here to understanding marx’s analysis of capitalism economy – apart from last part of the last sentence where you get to your schema. Whats wrong with explaining why exchange value is a relationship rather than translating it into a new language.

But… the last part of the sentence explains why it’s a ‘relationship’: because it’s what forms the structure. Just saying “it’s a relationship” doesn’t explain ‘why’. It’s the fact that a structure is involved that makes the focus on ‘relationships’ make sense. The need to know the ‘form of the relationship’ becomes clear.

100 bricks in a pile are in a certain relationship – just not the form of relationship that gives a wall: the relationship here is random and disordered. What’s more, even if they are put in a planned and ordered relationship, it doesn’t follow that it’s necessarily a ‘wall’ in any meaningful sense: a crap bricklayer can plan and order a ‘wall’ that doesn’t fulfil its purpose, and it easily falls down (thus losing its emergent ‘dog protection’ property).

100 bricks, in a correct relationship, gives 101 entities: 100 bricks (still there, they don’t go away) and 1 wall.

Link wrote:
I do agree with anyone that is trying to make a clear explanation of value and suplus value for the benefit of workers – this is a positive task and I for one would like to see more of such basic clarifications and discussion in the left communist press and online (please note ICC) as LBird is quite right to say that workers don’t have a ready understanding of marx’s critique of capitalist economics and structures. I think therefore you should stick to contributing to that discussion rather than your schema.

Thanks for agreeing with me on this point, Link, about clarification and discussion. However, your last sentence rather takes the shine off it, because my schema is intended to do just that!

Link wrote:
For me, I do not think the attempt to find new terms has been consistent either. At one point components and structures are use values and exchange values and emergent properties are the quality of the end product. Later on component and structure becomes quantity and quality and in the quote above a structure becomes an exchange value.

No, ‘exchange value’ isn’t a ‘structure: it’s a ‘relationship’ that determines a structure. It’s the ‘positioning’ of the bricks, not the wall itself.

But it’s the following that gives me greatest cause for concern.

Link wrote:
I have worked with bricklayers who could quite easily cope with working out the current value of the bricks laid in a day and how much profit was being made out of their work. I have worked with warehouseman who knew the value of goods in the warehouse and being loaded onto lorries. I have seen bank employees who knew the cost to the bank of each task they performed and accounts workers who knew how much interest was gained from moving money from one account to another in a few seconds. I have worked with teachers who clearly knew what rubbish management spouts when it talks about the cost of strikes to the employer.

You seem to be using ‘value’ here in the bourgeois sense, of something that is inherent in things (bricks, goods, tasks, money) and can be estimated by individuals (whether bosses or employees). That is, something that can be counted.

I think that Marx’s notion of ‘value’ is very different from this common sense notion, the everyday one we have brainwashed into us throughout our lives. As I said in my answer to Alf, above, ‘value’ is an emergent property, a bit like ‘love’ (but its opposite, of course), which can’t be estimated or counted, but which ‘makes the world go round’ and is of greatest concern to humans.

As Einstein said, “Not everything that is measureable is worth measuring, and not everything that is worth measuring is measureable”.

Furthermore, if, as you suggest, workers can plainly do this, ‘measure value’, it makes one wonder what’s the point of struggling with Marx’s philosophy embodied in Capital.

‘Value’ is a relationship (qualitative and uncountable), not just ‘profit’ (quantitative and countable).

Link wrote:
This seems to me to be the basis to recognize and work on. It is the like of managers and bourgeois politicians that don’t and cant understand these concepts

No, what you suggest is not “the basis to recognize and work on”. Surely Marx’s Capital provides the theoretical basis for us to found our practice?

If I’m right, it seems that it’s not just “managers and bourgeois politicians” who “don’t and can’t understand [Marx’s] concepts”.

My apologies, Link, if this post comes across as rude – it’s not meant to be – but I’m following a train of thought, and you’re helping me with this process immensely. Perhaps I really don't understand.

Demogorgon
"‘Value’ is a relationship

"‘Value’ is a relationship (qualitative and uncountable), not just ‘profit’ (quantitative and countable)."

Umm, exchange value is quantifiable, that's the whole point of the labour theory of value. The fetishisation of value is that it is seen as being a quality of the commodity itself as opposed to being the result of a network of social relations built on independent exchange.

The fact that exchange value is the product of these relationships doesn't mean it cannot be quantified, far from it. The quantifiable aspect of exchange value is the socially necessary labour required to make the product.

Use value, on the other hand, is qualitative because one specific use cannot be equivalent to another - you can't use a Bible to turn a screw or a screwdriver to spread the enlightenment of Christ.

jk1921
Use Value

Demogorgon wrote:

Use value, on the other hand, is qualitative because one specific use cannot be equivalent to another - you can't use a Bible to turn a screw or a screwdriver to spread the enlightenment of Christ.

Well, you could use a Bible to hide the pick you use to dig your way out of Shawshank prison.

LBird
Queries

Demogorgon wrote:
Umm, exchange value is quantifiable, that's the whole point of the labour theory of value.

So, is 'exchange-value' the same as 'value'? If so, why isn't it called 'the labour theory of exchange-value'? Alternatively, if it really is 'the labour theory of value', why mention 'exchange-value'?

Like many reading Capital, I'm confused.

Demogorgon wrote:
The fetishisation of value is that it is seen as being a quality of the commodity itself as opposed to being the result of a network of social relations built on independent exchange.[my bold]

You seem to suggest that 'value' comes from 'exchange'. Is 'exchange' different from 'exchange value'?

Demogorgon wrote:
Use value, on the other hand, is qualitative because one specific use cannot be equivalent to another

Aren't you just using 'qualitative' to merely mean 'not the same'? Surely 'qualitatively' means 'a different level entirely'?

Digging a hole specifically with the left hand, by your estimation, is 'qualitatively' different from digging a hole specifically with the right hand. Well, it's different. But I would call digging a hole with a JCB 'qualitatively' different from digging with a hand (of either side).

Isn't this the problem with trying to understand Capital? Why doesn't someone define the terms being used on the first couple of pages? Like, define the seven concepts that I first outlined.

Link
the value of thought

Well i was going to reply to your post responding to my last one cos i dont think you being rude just arguing your points. Fair enough.  However your over-hasty response to Demogorgon  is rather more significant.  Please go think over Demogorgon's definition because he/she is spot on. You have tried to redefine basic words like exchange, value, quality and quantity.  It seems evident that you are now trying to make the world fit your schema instead of making a schema fit the world which is not a good approach

 

 

Demogorgon
"So, is 'exchange-value' the

"So, is 'exchange-value' the same as 'value'? If so, why isn't it called 'the labour theory of exchange-value'? Alternatively, if it really is 'the labour theory of value', why mention 'exchange-value'?"

The "Labour Theory of Value" probably would be better called the "Labour Theory of Exchange Value". But, in fact, Marx never used the term even if it is associated with him.

It actually derives from the classical economists like Smith and Ricardo. Marx's critique, as I understand it, was that the classical economists were unable to properly distinguish between use and exchange value and certainly that they largely ignored the question of use-value altogether.

"You seem to suggest that 'value' comes from 'exchange'. Is 'exchange' different from 'exchange value'?"

Assuming you mean exchange value, then it does by definition. If you mean use-value, then no, because use-value, unlike exchange-value, is largely inherent in the object itself (although not totally - use-value has a social and contextual element too in that coal has little use if a society hasn't learned that it burns).

Edit: On the second question, clearly exchange value and the act of exchange are different, but they also have a complex inter-relationship. Where there is no exchange, exchange-value has no meaning. But the act of exchange is based on the premise of equivalence between the items being exchanged and the "mystery" commodities is establishing exactly how this "equivalence" comes into being.

"Aren't you just using 'qualitative' to merely mean 'not the same'? Surely 'qualitatively' means 'a different level entirely'?"

To some extent, I suppose I am. But qualitative simply means a property that cannot be measured. Again, this distinction is layered. For example, coal has the property of burning. In a sense, this can be measured in that you can define the calorific output of the energy released and compare it to, say, oil. But it can't be compared with the data storage capacity of a hard-drive. The two properties are qualitatively different in that they cannot be measured against each other.

In the second sense you mention - related to the idea of emergent properties - what we're describing is differences that cannot be described solely in terms of volume. A wave at the beach cannot be explained solely at the level of the behaviour of a single water molecule simply by adding them together. Instead, it's the relations between the many that form in certain circumstances that create the wave.

"Digging a hole specifically with the left hand, by your estimation, is 'qualitatively' different from digging a hole specifically with the right hand. Well, it's different. But I would call digging a hole with a JCB 'qualitatively' different from digging with a hand (of either side)."

This is actually quite a good illustration for the contradiction inherent in exchange value. You can measure and compare quantitative elements in this example: for example, the volume of each cupped hand, the amount of dirt moved in an hour, etc. On the other hand , there is a qualititative difference in terms of the psychological comfort of the subject in doing this. There is thus a relationship between the quantitative elements (I would probably be less efficient with my right hand) and qualitative (I wouldn't feel "right" using my left). (One might also feel a qualitative feeling of discomfort related to the number (quantitative) of hand-related puns in this post!)

Labour and exchange-value has similar elements of contradiction. In fact, no two labourers are exactly the same: their work will tend to vary in efficiency, mistakes made, etc. Even the same labourer is incapable of working in exactly the same way throughout the working day - he will be alternately bored or interested (if he's lucky!) in his work, his concentration will wax and wane, etc.

Nonetheless, in order for exchange to be possible, all these variations are reduced to an average resulting in what Marx called "socially necessary labour time". This is one of the elements of alienation in that all the individual qualities of the human being are elided. As commodity-relations become the dominant element in economic life, this process becomes more and more refined. All the individual quirks, strengths and weaknesses, etc. of the individual worker become, in Lukacs' words, "mere sources of error" in the overall production process. As in the economic process itself, so in culture and in ideology generally, conformity and the annihilation of individuality become more and more dominant.

Labour also has qualitative differences in that different types of labour have different uses. The work of the typist in one sense cannot be equivalent to the work of a miner in that they have fundamentally different uses. And yet the qualitative aspects are practically exchanged every day through the network of relationships that constitute capitalist society. And all this is before we even begin to consider the problems of skilled labour or the difference in the exchange value of wage-labour and its use value for the capitalist!

"Isn't this the problem with trying to understand Capital? Why doesn't someone define the terms being used on the first couple of pages? Like, define the seven concepts that I first outlined."

I think that's exactly what Marx does. The problem is that, as we've seen even in my extremely crude excursion above, is that all these phenomena interpenetrate and condition each other, even though they are not identical. The material really is extremely complex in a way foreign to thought in this society.

I would end on speculative point in that I would imagine that we probably find Capital much more difficult to understand today than people in the 19th century would. The refinement of the labour process and the increasing domination of commodity relations over all aspects of social life is bound to have a reflection in our consciousness.

LBird
Defeated and bewildered

Thanks, Demogorgon, for the pains you have taken to answer my last post. You clearly have learnt about Capital by employing Method A, as has Link, Fu lin-lin and Lone Londoner.

However, for me, simply having Marx’s words repeated to me by well-meaning comrades doesn’t work, just like it doesn’t work when I read Capital itself. What’s more, I’m clearly not alone with my inability to make sense of his concepts by following his explanation, because many others (and I would guess it is the great majority) can’t fathom them out either. Generations have had this problem, which I think is a shame because I think Capital has much to offer workers like myself. I’m still not sure why it isn’t a priority within the Communist movement to explain (in terms familiar to workers), rather than merely repeat what appear as mysterious formulae.

I’m open about my difficulties (shortcomings, even), and I’d like to understand through terms that I (and, hopefully, others) can already make sense of. If this isn’t possible, for whatever reason, then Capital will remain a tantalising source of “might be’s” for me, at least.

To be truthful, I still don’t see the problem of equating, for example, a use-value to a component and a commodity to a part of a structure. Most people can soon grasp the ‘dual nature’ of the commodity if it’s likened to a ‘brick-within-a-wall’. A ‘brick’ is only a ‘brick-within-a-wall’ when it is in a specific relationship with other ‘bricks’. It doesn’t stop being a ‘brick’, but as part of a wall it also then takes on a structural quality of now being a ‘brick-within-a-wall’. This second nature it now has is not part of being a ‘brick’ in itself, this second nature it has acquired is a relational nature, not an intrinsic nature. And so it goes for auto parts and cars, trees and woods…

If someone is holding a coat in their hand and are asked, ‘is it a commodity?’, they can now see that the question can only be answered by relating the coat to their societal structure. The coat will always be a use-value, as it can be worn, but it only has the dual nature of a commodity within a society structured on market relations.

Obviously, I have chosen a very simple analogy, at the initial stage of reading Capital, but I think that the insights generated by understanding the reality of ‘dual natures’ all around us, helps to build a firm base of understanding at the start, and gives the reader confidence that Capital needn’t be mysterious or unfathomable.

I asked posters why someone doesn’t explain Marx’s terms. And you replied, and I think that the other posters I mentioned above would agree:

Demogorgon wrote:
I think that's exactly what Marx does. The problem is that, as we've seen even in my extremely crude excursion above, is that all these phenomena interpenetrate and condition each other, even though they are not identical. The material really is extremely complex in a way foreign to thought in this society.

I fundamentally disagree with you here, Demogorgon, that the ‘material really is extremely complex in a way foreign to thought in this society’. I think that Marx made the material complex because he’s very poor at explaining, and that our society not only is able to understand but that it should be the role of Communists to translate so that it is not foreign to us. Marx is the foreigner, not his material.

But, it seems to be a task that is beyond me, given that no-one has attempted to help in developing a method, or has even acknowledged that my efforts have helped them in the slightest.

My biggest worry, though, is that if you are correct, and that the basic analysis of our social structure is ‘extremely complex’ and ‘foreign’ to most workers, then direction of the future revolution will of necessity remain in the hands of the Method A cognoscenti, the minority who find Capital readily understandable.

Thanks again, Demogorgon, for your efforts – pearls before a Method B swine, though, I fear.

jk1921
Capital

LBird wrote:

I fundamentally disagree with you here, Demogorgon, that the ‘material really is extremely complex in a way foreign to thought in this society’. I think that Marx made the material complex because he’s very poor at explaining, and that our society not only is able to understand but that it should be the role of Communists to translate so that it is not foreign to us. Marx is the foreigner, not his material.

But, it seems to be a task that is beyond me, given that no-one has attempted to help in developing a method, or has even acknowledged that my efforts have helped them in the slightest.

My biggest worry, though, is that if you are correct, and that the basic analysis of our social structure is ‘extremely complex’ and ‘foreign’ to most workers, then direction of the future revolution will of necessity remain in the hands of the Method A cognoscenti, the minority who find Capital readily understandable.

Thanks again, Demogorgon, for your efforts – pearls before a Method B swine, though, I fear.

I agree with Demo, although he may not agree with what I am about to write: The reason why Capital may appear difficult is because it is attempting to explain (criticize really) social and political phenomenon that are hidden, or to use Marx's vocabulary "fetishized," in the everyday operations of captialist society. If they weren't, captialism could not function. Capitalism depends upon an ideological veneer that obscures the mode by which it functions. In some ways, the explanations Marx offers in Capital violate our common sense notions of the world that we learn from daily experience living under captialist conditions. The fact that it may not be easy to grasp what he is getting at immediately only testifies to the power of capitalist relations to colonize our very way of apprehending the world.

For me, it is questionable whether or not these concepts really can be made "comprehensible" to the "average worker" in a pedagogical way, by which the proletariat is educated to understand them in some kind of academic process. Perhaps it is the case that the working class only comes to really appreciate these ideas in the course of their struggles to defend their living and working conditions, when they find in them the language and conceptual arsenal to confront the concrete problems posed by the struggle?

As the ICC has written elsewhere Capital was a product of a period of great retreat in the class struggle following the defeats of the Revolutions of 1848, in which Marx devoted himself to explicating the inner functioning of the captialist mode of production--an endeavour that required countless hours of research in the British Museum's libraries. Capital was an expression of the development of Class Consciousness in its aspect of "depth," in a period when the conditions for expanding it in its aspect of "breadth" were largely absent. Of course, it doesn't help our efforts to understand it that Capital was the product of a 19th century Victorian writer, but was Marx's intent in writing the book to "popularize" basic communist positions or to push the development of a scientifc and critical understanding of the captialist mode of production beyond the limitations of previous utopian, reformist, etc. efforts?

 

LBird
Stimulating elites or masses?

jk1921 wrote:
The reason why Capital may appear difficult is because it is attempting to explain (criticize really) social and political phenomenon that are hidden...

But many phenomena are 'hidden', like the movements of the planets in the solar system, yet 'explanations' are not 'difficult'. No, I'm of the opinion that the difficulty is one of Marx's making, not one inherent in capitalist social relations.

jk1921 wrote:
The fact that it may not be easy to grasp what he is getting at immediately only testifies to the power of capitalist relations to colonize our very way of apprehending the world.

Once again, I think it's not 'the power of capitalist relations', but rather Marx's terrible writing, which jumps about between concepts, starts to explain one thing and then diverts to another with the first incomplete, has paragraphs which discuss a subject and in the last line makes an unwarranted jump to another concept, and adds the suffix '-value' to just about everything indiscriminately, which further murkies the water. No, Charlie's got a lot to answer for!

jk1921 wrote:
For me, it is questionable whether or not these concepts really can be made "comprehensible" to the "average worker" in a pedagogical way, by which the proletariat is educated to understand them in some kind of academic process.

This is probably the heart of our disagreement: in my opinion, if you're correct, then Communism, as the act of the conscious proletariat, is impossible.

jk1921 wrote:
...was Marx's intent in writing the book to "popularize" basic communist positions or to push the development of a scientifc and critical understanding of the captialist mode of production beyond the limitations of previous utopian, reformist, etc. efforts?

Surely Communism, and our development towards it, requires both of these to occur? That is, that 'scientific and critical understanding' develops along 'popular' lines. Why should 'critical science' be the preserve of an elite?

Anyway, thanks for your comments, jk1921: more to keep me thinking!

Alf
No, I'm of the opinion that

No, I'm of the opinion that the difficulty is one of Marx's making, not one inherent in capitalist social relations.

But Marx's theory was precisely that capitalist social relations do make it difficult to understand them, because they mystify us poor estranged beings with their magical fetishistic nature. I thought Marx wrote very poetically as well as scientifically about that. The problem simply can't be that Marx was a bad writer. You'd do better to argue that his whole theory of reification and commodity fetishism was wrong.

Fred
I disagree with LBird that

I disagree with LBird that "communism, as the act of the conscious proletariat, is impossible" if the working class generally doesn't grasp the concepts developed in Marx's Capital. It might be nice if they did, but it isn't essential. You don't have to know how capitalism works precisely to realize that you're being screwed and repressed by it, and by the people who run it and profit from it. You don't have to be a great thinker to grasp that society could be organized much better if we didn't have money and employment, and unemployment and poverty; but instead arranged for everyone to work to produce the food, housing, health care and education that we all need. Once we've got that, then everyone will be in a better position to appreciate Marx's poetry, plus his theories of reification and commodity fetishism. If they want to, of course.

jk1921
I think I agree to some

I think I agree to some extent with Fred here. Its not that every single working class person has to master the concepts in Capital for communism to be possible. What needs to happen is that the basic ideas for attacking wage labor and the law of value that are pregnant in Marx's work become the guiding principle of the broad social movement of the proletariat. It seems only natural that some individuals may understand certain aspects of this better than others, but it is the extent to which the movement as a whole--as the collective act of the proletariat as a class--enacts these principles that is important. Could it be that communsim is the conscious act of the proletariat as a whole, rather than the act of an aggregation of individual workers who have mastered Marx in study seminars (even if some have in fact mastered Marx in this way)?

Also, I am not sure the problem here is best addressed with the formulation "workers can't understand Marxism." Its probably true that some are better able to understand it than others in terms of following its internal logic, after all we are all different, with different attributes and abilities, but the real issue is that in the ordinary day to day functioning of capitalism most workers don't want anything to do with Marxism, because it doesn't find any practical, functional application in their daily attempts to survive captialism as atomized individuals. Its only when the proletariat is pushed to respond in a massive and collective manner to captialism's attacks that alternate organizational arrangements (Workers' councils, mass assemblies, a revolutionary party with a real weight in the class) will emerge through which the ideas of Marxism can spread and propagate finally (hopefully) breaking through the ideological machinery of modern capitalism.

LBird
Methodic axioms

Alf wrote:
The problem simply can't be that Marx was a bad writer.

One glance at the first pages of Capital establishes one's axiomatic position on the required reading method. I'd now schematise them as:

Method A: Marx good writer - read Capital - grasp easy concepts - understanding follows

Method B: Marx poor writer - discuss difficult concepts - read Capital - understanding follows

On my part, every time I read the first pages, I marvel at how opaque it all is!

So, we still differ, Alf. To me, the 'hidden' quality of capitalist social relations is merely reinforced by Marx's conceptual 'explanations' (sic). Perhaps he was a bourgeois mole all along!

Seriously though, this issue needs to be addressed: simply saying to workers that they have no need to worry their heads about Capital, when it is clear that most find it incomprehensible, is not a good strategy for the Communist movement.

LBird
Capital: a challenge for the gifted minority? Book and society

Fred wrote:
I disagree with LBird that "communism, as the act of the conscious proletariat, is impossible" if the working class generally doesn't grasp the concepts developed in Marx's Capital. It might be nice if they did, but it isn't essential.

So, the proletariat can remain 'unconscious' of the theories of the single most important anti-capitalist philosopher? I suppose as long as someone does, they can provide the necessary thinking, eh?

Fred wrote:
You don't have to know how capitalism works precisely to realize that you're being screwed and repressed by it, and by the people who run it and profit from it. You don't have to be a great thinker to grasp that society could be organized much better if we didn't have money and employment, and unemployment and poverty; but instead arranged for everyone to work to produce the food, housing, health care and education that we all need.

Yes, true, but without a clear philosophical basis, it's possible to agree with the above and identify 'the people who run and profit from it' as, for example, 'the Jews', and/or to think that a 'gifted minority' should do the 'organising and arranging'.

No, I think that democratic society requires an understandable version of Capital. Marx didn't provide us with that.

LBird
Fidelity or slavish adherence?

jk1921 wrote:
Its only when the proletariat is pushed to respond in a massive and collective manner to captialism's attacks that alternate organizational arrangements (Workers' councils, mass assemblies, a revolutionary party with a real weight in the class) will emerge through which the ideas of Marxism can spread and propagate finally (hopefully) breaking through the ideological machinery of modern capitalism.

I suppose that this is the key philosophical difference between us, I think.

In this formulation, action preceeds consciousness, whereas I'm of the opinion that consciousness must preceed action, if we argue that Communism is the act of the conscious proletariat.

Of course, we'd both agree that it's not as simple as one or the other, that action and consciousness are intermingled, but nevertheless I think that it is in the emphasis where our disagreement lies.

jk1921 wrote:
Could it be that communsim is the conscious act of the proletariat as a whole, rather than the act of an aggregation of individual workers who have mastered Marx in study seminars (even if some have in fact mastered Marx in this way)?

Well, I think that to have a 'conscious proletariat' come into being, that 'mastering Marx' would have been a part of that process. Though, as I keep stressing, to me 'mastering Marx' isn't simply reading Capital as an individual, but a collective act of discussion and criticism. It's his ideas that matter, not textual fidelity.

I want help to make a translation, mate!

[edit]

Karl Marx wrote:
I applaud your idea of publishing the translation of “Das Kapital” as a serial. In this form the book will be more accessible to the working class, a consideration which to me outweighs everything else.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p2.htm

Trust Charlie! He had a sense of humour, eh?

jk1921
New ideas require new social conditions?

LBird wrote:

Though, as I keep stressing, to me 'mastering Marx' isn't simply reading Capital as an individual, but a collective act of discussion and criticism. It's his ideas that matter, not textual fidelity.

I can't disagree with that. The question is what social, political conditions are necessary to bring about a situation in which this occurs? For me, I can really only see this happening in a period of revolutionary tensions, when it becomes a material necessity to engage in a process of clarification that can push the struggle forward. When the old ideas of reformism, trade unionism, trust in democracy, etc. no longer express the level the struggle has reached and the proletariat needs a new perspective and a new language to take it to the next level.

At some risk of sounding uninformed, I am tempted to draw a parallel to quantum physics. Most people can't understand it. It violates our common sense notions of material reality. It has limited practical application in a world that is still predominately based on Newtonian reality--yet, this does not make it untrue. Perhaps we need to await the social/historical transformations through which these ideas will find a more practical expression and it is at this point that they will stop being the province of a learned elite that speaks a language nobody else can grasp? (Too Utopian?)

LBird wrote:

Karl Marx wrote:
I applaud your idea of publishing the translation of “Das Kapital” as a serial. In this form the book will be more accessible to the working class, a consideration which to me outweighs everything else.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p2.htm

Trust Charlie! He had a sense of humour, eh?

I think the culture of the period of ascendance was different from that we face today. In another thread, I broached the issue that during this period there may have been "socialist culture" in which there was a kind of "alternate proletarian public sphere" within captialism associated with the institutional structures of Social Democracy and the unions, with their own newspapers, cultural associations, etc. In this context, Marx's desire to make Captial "more accessible to the working class" makes some sense. But today, in decadence those conditions no longer exist--the public sphere has been colonized by the captialist media and ideology. The communist perspective is thus necessarily driven underground, until it can emerge again as a result of the working class's concrete struggles to defend its condition of life.

Besides, Captial is widely accessible to workers--indeed anyone who wants it--today. All they have to do is walk into any major bookseller, click buy on Amazon or log onto Marxists.org. The issue would seem to be not so much that Capital (as a text) is not available, its that the working class has not yet been moved to take it up as an expression of their own struggles for a different world.

 

jk1921
Reinforcing Capital?

LBird wrote:

So, we still differ, Alf. To me, the 'hidden' quality of capitalist social relations is merely reinforced by Marx's conceptual 'explanations' (sic). Perhaps he was a bourgeois mole all along!

I think you might be joking, but the idea that Captial presents something like a productivist "mirror image" of captialist relations is not new. It has been suggested by Castoriadis, Baudrillard, Camatte and most recently by Zizek--who sees Marxist communism as an insufficiently radical break with captialism--as envisioning "captialism without capitalism," rather than something fundamentally new. Of course, he never illuminates what this might be.

It seems if you think that the concepts in Capital only reinforce bourgeois social relations, then the burden falls on you to suggest which alternate concepts might be truly transcendent and emancipatory.

LBird wrote:

Seriously though, this issue needs to be addressed: simply saying to workers that they have no need to worry their heads about Capital, when it is clear that most find it incomprehensible, is not a good strategy for the Communist movement.

What strategy do you propose then?

LBird
Re-cycling

jk1921 wrote:
I can't disagree with that. The question is what social, political conditions are necessary to bring about a situation in which this occurs? For me, I can really only see this happening in a period of revolutionary tensions, when it becomes a material necessity to engage in a process of clarification that can push the struggle forward.

I'm not sure that moving the discussion onto 'what social, political conditions are necessary' (for what I assume you mean is needed for much wider proletarian readership) is even needed at this point. Two conditions which already exist are: 1. a book containing a theory relevent to workers; and 2. workers willing, for whatever reason, to read the book.

The problem is, not that there are no workers willing, but that, more often than not, those workers who do attempt to read the book are confronted with a text which is incomprehensible to them. For those workers, now, there should be help available from the Communist movement. My position is that this doesn't currently exist, notwithstanding the academic introductions and videos which are widely available. I think it is a didactic issue, not a socio-economic or cultural issue.

The 'social and political conditions necessary' for that are here, right now. It might as yet be a very small minority of workers, which we would both agree would be necessary to build upon and reach a wider audience, but the reality is that interested workers are repelled by Marx's method, not his content. And by his 'method' I don't mean anything difficult like 'dialectics', but that his writing is crap.

jk1921 wrote:
Besides, Captial is widely accessible to workers--indeed anyone who wants it--today. All they have to do is walk into any major bookseller, click buy on Amazon or log onto Marxists.org. The issue would seem to be not so much that Capital (as a text) is not available, its that the working class has not yet been moved to take it up as an expression of their own struggles for a different world.

No, the issue is neither 'availability' nor 'lack of movement': the book's there and parts of the working class try to read it. The issue is an incomprehensible text.

jk1921 wrote:
It seems if you think that the concepts in Capital only reinforce bourgeois social relations, then the burden falls on you to suggest which alternate concepts might be truly transcendent and emancipatory.

Well, it was a joke. But the fact that you've taken it seriously shows that you're still not understanding my position. I'm not saying one shouldn't read Capital, or that we need new concepts. Marx will do just fine.

The issue remains the one identified by the opening poster: can we help to make Capital understandable?

Simply arguing, as do the Method A adherents, that it is understandable, misses the point.

jk1921 wrote:
What strategy do you propose then?

Are we going round in circles, or what, comrade?

How about Method B? Whatever that might involve, as I've stressed all along, is up for discussion.

Perhaps I should dub Method A 'the Osborne method', as it seems to share the main characteristic of our dear Chancellor's; that being, an obstinate refusal to consider any other policy.

Certainty doesn't become Communists.

slothjabber
Supporting LBird

I don't think what LBird calls 'Method A' is necessarily useful for everyone who approaches 'Capital'. But, on the other hand, I'm not certain the proposed 'Method B' is necessarily more comprehensible either. However, a recognition that not everyone can grasp 'Capital' through 'Method A' it seems is the minimum LBird is asking for. Anyone who is happy with Method A can use Method A. Anyone who is not can attempt Method B1, B2, B3...

 

I'm really not happy talking about components and emergent properties, and not entirely certain about the analogies proposed, but the general methodological line of trying to make Marx's terminology and systems of thought clear I think is perfectly sound.

LBird
Effusive thanks!

Thanks for your declaration of support, slothjabber.

slothjabber wrote:
However, a recognition that not everyone can grasp 'Capital' through 'Method A' it seems is the minimum LBird is asking for. Anyone who is happy with Method A can use Method A.

Yes, spot on. If reading alone works for someone, fine. It just doesn't for me, and apparently for many others. I, at least, need help.

slothjabber wrote:
Anyone who is not can attempt Method B1, B2, B3...

Sounds like the title for our attempt should be 'Capital: the vitamin supplements'.

slothjabber wrote:
I'm really not happy talking about components and emergent properties, and not entirely certain about the analogies proposed...

I've no problem with your comments - I don't pretend to understand much of it, and if my attempts don't help, they can be rejected and replaced by the ideas of comrades who do understand, and are also willing to help explain (as opposed to merely repeat the master's words).

slothjabber wrote:
...the general methodological line of trying to make Marx's terminology and systems of thought clear I think is perfectly sound.

Yes, isn't it strange that this has actually to be spelled out? Unless Communism is a sect, with a priesthood keeping esoteric knowledge safe from the masses.

jk1921
Lbird has his mind made up it

Lbird has his mind made up it seems. Marx's writing was "crap;" its incomprehensible to "workers," etc. And yet he seems to admit that some people are able to grasp Marx through what he calls "Method A." But are any of those people who are able to grasp it that way "workers"? If so, then it seems Marx's writing is not "incomprehisble to workers" after all. It seems to me that to assume that Marxism is "incomprehensible to workers" at the level of writing is a form of patronizing workerism--its the mirror image of what LBird is accusing the communist movement of doing--assuming that because someone is a worker they cannot grasp a text as dense and complicated as Capital. There is a lot of that going around this forum lately. I continue to think that the inaccessibility of Capital today has more to do with social, political and historical factors than any inherent inability of workers to grasp dense writing or difficult texts.

Of course, some people might require a different method to grasp the book than others, but this seems more like an issue of individual pedagaogy than anything to do with the book itself being inaccessible to an entire social class.

jk1921
Understand?

LBird wrote:

Well, it was a joke. But the fact that you've taken it seriously shows that you're still not understanding my position. I'm not saying one shouldn't read Capital, or that we need new concepts. Marx will do just fine.

How do you know that if you can't understand him?

Marin Jensen
I agree...

jk1921 wrote:

I continue to think that the apparant inaccessibility of Capital today has more to do with social, political and historical factors than any inherent inability of workers to grasp dense writing or difficult texts.

I couldn't agree more. And I would add that if it were easy to free oneself from capitalist ideology and to understand clearly and in depth where we are and where we need to go.... well, the revolution would have happened a long time ago and visibly it hasn't.

I'm all in favour of clarity, and of stating things as simply as possible. And I'm all in favour of comrades trying to "reprise" Marx in any way they like if it can contribute to understanding (if it works for you...). But I cannot accept that this should be "easy". It isn't and never will be, any more than quantum mechanics or making a communist revolution is going to be easy.

LBird
Subterranean issues?

jk1921 wrote:
Lbird has his mind made up it seems. Marx's writing was "crap;" its incomprehensible to "workers," etc. And yet he seems to admit that some people are able to grasp Marx through what he calls "Method A." But are any of those people who are able to grasp it that way "workers"? If so, then it seems Marx's writing is not "incomprehisble to workers" after all. It seems to me that to assume that Marxism is "incomprehensible to workers" at the level of writing is a form of patronizing workerism--its the mirror image of what LBird is accusing the communist movement of doing--assuming that because someone is a worker they cannot grasp a text as dense and complicated as Capital. There is a lot of that going around this forum lately. I continue to think that the inaccessibility of Capital today has more to do with social, political and historical factors than any inherent inability of workers to grasp dense writing or difficult texts.

Of course, some people might require a different method to grasp the book than others, but this seems more like an issue of individual pedagaogy than anything to do with the book itself being inaccessible to an entire social class.

Have I hit a raw nerve or something? I suspect there's a political assumption that I'm unknowingly challenging.

Your response seems entirely inappropriate given the polite exchange of views on this thread so far.

LBird
Humour too subtle for me

jk1921 wrote:

LBird wrote:

Well, it was a joke. But the fact that you've taken it seriously shows that you're still not understanding my position. I'm not saying one shouldn't read Capital, or that we need new concepts. Marx will do just fine.

How do you know that if you can't understand him?

Is this supposed to be funny?

OK, in the interests of comradely reciprocity, Ha, Ha.

LBird
Proletarian hard labour is good for their soul?

Lone Londoner wrote:
And I would add that if it were easy to free oneself from capitalist ideology and to understand clearly and in depth where we are and where we need to go.... well, the revolution would have happened a long time ago and visibly it hasn't.

But isn't it possible to draw a different conclusion, that Communists haven't made enough efforts to help other workers 'free themselves'?

And isn't the process a social one, rather the activity of 'oneself'? Isn't that part of the point I've been making on this thread?

Lone Londoner wrote:
But I cannot accept that this should be "easy".

This has me completely baffled. Why shouldn't Communists try to make it 'easier' to understand Capital?