on April 3, 2011
For more than twenty years David Harvey has taught a profoundly popular course on reading Marx's Capital, Volume I, at the City University of New York. This book is a published version of those lectures and the clearest possible introduction to the subject.
Marx's Capital is one of the classics of world literature, one of the "Great Books of the Western World." It is much discussed but seldom read, even among the ostensibly educated among us. The reason it is seldom read is not because it is particularly difficult, it isn't. It is just too long. 1000 pages of sometimes tedious, sometimes obscure, and often repetitive explication and analysis of the 19th century capitalist mode of production is more than most readers want to know about the subject, and so it remains unread.
It's too bad it isn't read because, as Harvey points out, global capitalism today is far closer to what Marx described than was the 19th century capitalism at the time his book was published in 1867. The events of the last 20 or 30 years have made Marx more relevant than he has ever been and understanding his project is the road to understand global capitalism today. This Companion to Marx's Capital makes the book accessible to anyone with a real interest in the subject.
I was attracted to the book from a review in the London Review of Books (3 Feb 2011), in which Harvey's CNY lecture series was mentioned along with the fact that the lectures are available free, on-line. I ordered the Companion, and a copy of Capital itself and listened to all thirteen of the lectures. I read the Companion along with the lecture series (although I admit I did not read all of the Chapters in Capital, only some of them). I came away from it all with an appreciation for Marx's genius and an understanding as to why Capital is among the hundred or so "Great Books of the Western World" (in the University of Chicago/Encyclopedia Britannica set, among other places). Marx was eminently prescient as to where capitalism was going -- it is now (2011) where he thought it was then (1867)! I recommend the Companion, with or without listening to the lecture series, and with or without reading Capital along with it. It will stand by itself.
on August 20, 2010
Although well into it, I have not yet finished my study of this wonderful exposition of and commentary on vol. 1 of Marx's CAPITAL, which have indeed motivated me to restudy the three volumes of Marx's great masterpiece. Among the many good things in Harvey's book are his various discussions of dialectic, especially in his chapter 7, "What Technology Reveals". In this chapter Harvey unpacks Marx's footnote 4 in chapter 15 of Cap., v. 1. I can do no better than quote Harvey. Harvey sees the second part of this footnote as constituting an important statement that requires elaboration--and here you will see how helpful Harvey can be in helping us to approach and gain the work of Marx. He cites Marx's statement: "Technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations." (It seems that one cannot gloss over anything in Marx: one must pay close attention to everything.) Here is part of Harvey's commentary on this quotation.
"Marx here links in one sentence six identifiable conceptual elements. There is, first of all, technology. There is the relation to nature. There is the actual process of production and then, in rather shadowy form, the production and reproduction of daily life. There are social relations and mental conceptions. These elements are plainly not static but in motion, linked through 'processes of production' that guide human evolution. The only element he doesn't explicitly describe in production terms is the relation to nature. Obviously, the relation to nature has been evolving over time. The idea that nature is also something continuously in the course of being produced in part through human action has also been long-standing; in its Marxist version (outlined in chapter 7), it is best represented in my colleague Neil Smith's book UNEVEN DEVELOPMENT, where capitalist processes of production of nature and of space are explicitly theorized.
"How, then, are we to construe the relationships between these six conceptual elements? Though his language is suggestive, Marx leaves the question open, which is unfortunate since it leaves lots of space for all manner of interpretations. Marx is often depicted, by both friends and foes alike, as a technological determinist, who thinks changes in the productive forces dictate the course of human history, including the evolution of social relations, mental conceptions, the relation to nature and the like....
"I do not share this interpretation. I find it inconsistent with Marx's dialectical method (dismissed by analytic philosophers such as Cohen as rubbish). Marx generally eschews causal language (I defy you to find much of it in CAPITAL). In this footnote, he does not say technology 'causes' or 'determines," but that technology 'reveals' or, in another translation, 'discloses' the relation to nature. To be sure, Marx pays a lot of attention to the study of technologies (including organizational forms), but this does not warrant treating them as leading agents in human evolution. What Marx is saying (and plenty of people will disagree with me on this) is that technologies and organizational forms INTERNALIZE a certain relation to nature as well as to mental conceptions and social relations, daily life and labor processes. By virtue of this internalization, the study of technologies and organizational forms is bound to 'reveal' or 'disclose' a great deal about all the other elements. Conversely, all these other elements internalize something of what technology is about. A detailed study of daily life under capitalism will, for example, 'reveal' a great deal about our relation to nature, technologies, social relations, mental conceptions and the labor processes of production. Similarly. the study of our contemporary relation to nature cannot go very far without examining the nature of our social relations, our production systems, our mental conceptions of the world, the technologies deployed and how daily life is conducted. All these elements constitute a totality, and we have to understand how the mutual interactions between them work."
Thus, Harvey. This is a rich book.
on July 9, 2014
If you want to understand the brilliance of Karl Marx beyond The Communist Manifesto, you must understand his theoretical masterpiece Das Kapital ("Capital: A Critique of Political Economy). And David Harvey breaks down Marx's work in spectacular fashion. Capital was first published in the 1860s but Harvey skillfully demonstrates how Marx laid out the necessary conditions, contingent circumstances, the myriad assumptions and inevitable contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. Want to know why employment opportunities are decreasing as the income gap increases? Want to know why WalMart is an inevitable feature of American society in the 21st century? Read Capital. And read Harvey's brilliant explication of Capital to help you better understand the genius of Karl Marx.
on June 26, 2014
I joined an adult group reading Marx's Capital. Marx's magnum opus is not a book you can read by yourself and fully understand alone. We are taught much about Karl Marx which is flat wrong. I supplemented that group with this book.
David Harvey is an excellent guide to Marx and his Capital. Harvey doesn't write from a polemical or ideological bent. (He gives something to everyone). Harvey is clear, concise and to the point.
Since being freed from the Soviet Gulag in 1991, Karl Marx has gradually ascended into the Classic Western Tradition where he rightfully belongs. You may love capitalism and want to save it, or you may want to reform it, or you might even want to overturn it. Or you may be trying to make your mind up about it. In any case you will want to read Marx's Capital and you will want David Harvey as a companion.