349 of 358 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2002
Marx's CAPITAL is frequently condemned by people who've never read it, and lauded by other people who don't fully understand it. I've read it and I don't think I fully understand it, but the main points of the text are pretty clear; Marx drills them into the reader as he unfolds his theory of the basis of capitalism.
First, a note on what CAPITAL is not. It is not a "communist" tract, though it is a foundation for communist thought. Marx follows two main trains of thought -- the first is observational, the second diagnostic. He explains how capitalism works, and why it works that way. Disagreeable as some of his ideas may be, they cannot be brushed away by citing the examples of Stalin and Pol Pot to discredit them. Unlike the typical Communist dictator, Marx was a hard-working scholar, a clear thinker, a fundamentally honest writer. His familiarity with the whole spectrum of economic and philosophical writings that preceded him is unquestionable, and CAPITAL is probably more impressive to a reader who's read THE WEALTH OF NATIONS (Adam Smith), if nothing else.
The capitalism of Marx's time (mid-19th century) had dismal effects on the "proletariat" or working-class, and CAPITAL cannot be fully appreciated without some knowledge of how England, the most industrialized nation in the world, looked at that period of history. Charles Dickens is one writer who "exposed" the condition of the poor, in a more acceptable (though no less wordy) fashion it seems.
CAPITAL is certainly an important book and it is not the unreadable monstrosity it's reputed to be. It is repetitious, but usually the repetition includes some new twist as Marx proceeds from one aspect of his theory to the next. The purpose of the book was to establish a scientific basis for his understanding of capitalism, so Marx employs numerous algebraic equations that might scare readers away at first. They are not complicated, however, nor are they really "mathematical" so much as illustrative of abstract economic processes. One quickly grows accustomed to them; I personally find them amusing.
Marx's book is also a polemical text, and he injects some bitter wit and just plain nastiness into his analysis. Either he couldn't restrain himself, or it's a rhetorical device, but whatever the case, CAPITAL contains some very interesting screeds and some very memorable caricatures of capitalists. Overall a powerful book and one that promotes greater understanding of the forces that shape our world even today.
163 of 170 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2005
Reading the "reviews" of Capital here on Amazon.com, a person who has read the book can see that most "reviewers" have not even troubled themselves read the book! Instead of taking the time and energy to plow through this work, many would rather get on a soap box and ramble on about their own views thereby "reviewing" the work.
I read the entire book from cover to cover. Not an easy task. It took me more than a year with persistence! But I did it.
Socialism is not mentioned once the the actual work itself. (Of course it is mentioned in the 87 page Introduction which some of the "reviewers" might have bothered to skim through!)
What is the name of the book? Capital! Not Communism or Socialism! One who has bothered to read this long book knows that the book has nothing to do with Communism. The book was supposed to form a scientific explanation of what the Capitalist mode of production was and how it formed and its' inner workings. Marx felt that after writing the pamphlet Manifesto of 1848, he owed it to the world tho explain what Capitalism was. It is a microscopic examination of the capitalist mode of production in mid-nineteenth century England. Granted that things have changed since 1850 England, the basic core of Capitalism hasn't changed.
The man was brilliant, he obviously spent a lot of time formulating an understanding of what Capitalism is. It was an eye opener for me into what Capitalism really is. It was stimulating to see how Marx in the work slowly but surely synthesizes his successive points one by one thereby building a model of the Capitalist mode of production for one to examine.
My only complaint was that it was too long. He could have said what he had to say in 200 pages rather than 800.
80 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2004
I was greatly surprised to find that the words "Communism" and "Socialism" are not even mentioned in Capital, volume 1. This leads me to believe that the most vehement criticisms of this book are by people who haven't read it. I am not by any means a communist, but I found this book to be an excellent description of capitalism. Since we are still living in a capitalist system, much of what Marx says is still relevant today, for example, his analysis on how capitalism exerts continuous pressure to lengthen the work day. I regularly read the Economist and found Marx's criticism of the magazine entertaining. It is worth knowing, for example, that the Economist opposed shortening the work day of children to 10 hours. In another fascinating section, Marx uses the depopulation of Ireland based on the Potato Famine and the resulting land grab by the rich to disprove Malthus' theory on population. He proved how, contrary to what Malthus predicted, despite losing half of its population to famine and emigration, poverty continued to rise, and the rich continued to get richer. He ends the chapter on this prophetic note: "The accumulation of the Irish in America keeps pace with the accumulation of rents in Ireland. The Irishman, banished by the sheep and the ox, reappears on the other side of the ocean as a Fenian. And there a young but gigantic republic rises, more and more threateningly, to face the old queen of the waves."
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2010
It is difficult to write a review for a book that is so widely known, which so much has been written about, and which inspires such extreme degrees of both love and hatred. I also freely admit that I am far from being an expert in Marxian economics or economics in general (when I have gained more confidence in my understanding of Marxian economics I intend to update my review).
There are two main criticisms of Marx that are very often leveled against Capital and against Marx's thought in general that I think are invalid and I would like to get them out of the way at the beginning of my review.
The first criticism often leveled against Marx is based on the idea that the failure of the various "socialist" states, the various economic difficulties those states faced while they existed, as well as the atrocities that were often committed in Marx's name, constitute irrefutable evidence of the falsity of Marx's main ideas. The point I would make in this regard is that the title of Marx's book is Capital and for good reason. Marx's book is about the functioning and the dynamics of an economy dominated by capital, or the private ownership of the means of production, and the social relations that are inherent to such a system. In other words, Marx's book is about capitalism not about socialism. His analysis of the dynamics of a capitalist society and economy has to be assessed on its own terms and should not be assessed based on the problems faced by, or the relative inefficiencies of, the socialist economies. In my opinion there is much in Marx's analysis of capitalism that is both valid, and often brilliant, and which does not in anyway rely for its validity on the possibility or desirability of a fully planned or state run economy. The fact that such state run economies were prone to serious economic problems, and ultimate failure, does not, therefore, invalidate Marx's analysis of capitalism.
The second major objection that is often raised against Marx is that he underestimated capitalisms ability and inherent tendency to raise everyone's standard of living including that of the laborers. People often argue that Marx's thought is largely a reaction against conditions that were prevalent at the time he was writing and during the early phases of the industrial revolution but were not inherent to capitalism per se. They point out that the standard of living for most laborers is much higher today than it was in Marx's time and that the conditions, therefore, for Marx's negative views of capitalism have largely disappeared. We can ignore, for the time being, the question as to whether these improving conditions are the result of an inherent tendency of capitalism or whether they are the result of direct political action in the form of labor laws, welfare programs, and forms of social security.
But there are a couple of points I would like to make about this criticism. First, I think Marx would disagree in principle with measuring the effects of capitalism purely in terms of the purchasing power of the lower classes. Marx believed that a social system based on the private ownership of the means of production was inherently exploitative and alienating (and it is possible for the rate of exploitation to rise even as real wages increase). The capital-labor relation in Marx's view is a social relation of dominance which is obscured under capitalism and by bourgeois economics which view the capital-labor relation as being based on free exchange in the labor market. It must always be remembered that Marx's book is not simply an economic treatise in the narrow sense, but is equally a book of sociology, and many of the problems that capitalism raises should be considered sociological as opposed to purely economic.
The second point I would make is that Marx believes there is a general tendency in the capitalist mode of production towards crisis and eventual breakdown. This tendency is obscured by certain counter-tendencies but it is still present. Marx does not believe that the periodic crises of capitalism are simply strange anomalies but are inherent within a system that is based on the production and expansion of surplus value, or exchange value, as opposed to use value (for more on this see Law of Accumulation and the Breakdown of the Capitalist system by Henryk Grossmann). Neither of these problems are solved simply by increasing the purchasing power of the lower classes.
I do not believe Marx should be immune to criticism. His works and ideas should be picked apart and criticized to exactly the same degree as anyone else's. But these two criticisms are not really criticisms, they are ultimately just excuses for dismissing Marx out of hand, and I do not believe Marx should be dismissed out of hand.
Capital is a difficult book. One cannot hope to fully understand it after a single reading. Part of this has to do with Marx's method. Marx attempts to move from the form that wealth takes in capitalist society (an immense mass of commodities) through the value form and the social relations that lie behind the value form in an effort to analyze the specific nature of capitalist society and its dynamics. The value form, for example, assumes that commodities are produced for exchange so one of the earliest sections in Capital is an analysis of the exchange relationship in which commodities are exchanged for money and then money is again exchanged for commodities (C-M-C) a process that mediates the exchange of use-values for consumption which Marx calls the circulation of commodities. The exchange relationship can also assume another form in which money is exchanged for commodities and then exchanged again for more money (M-C-M') a process that valorizes value (adds surplus value which requires the capital-labor relation) and which Marx calls the circulation of capital.
What is important in this movement is the way that Marx begins from a simple category (the commodity) analyzes its nature (the commodity divides up into use-value and exchange-value) deduces the social relations lying behind this form (exchange value assumes production by socially isolated units which then exchange their products) and is then able to deduce further social relations (the circulation of capital requires the capital-labor relation in order to valorize value). Marx's goal is fundamentally different from that of a modern Neoclassical economist. The modern Neoclassical economist, when analyzing the exchange relationship, is fundamentally interested in figuring out precisely what determines the quantitative exchange ratios between commodities and believes that the answer lies in supply and demand. Marx, on the other hand, is interested in determining the social relations that lie behind the commodity form in the first place and in determining the factors which determine supply and demand themselves and which give rise to the specific dynamic (or laws of motion for lack of a better term) of capitalist society (Marx would not necessarily deny that supply and demand determine exchange ratios but he would go onto ask: what determines supply? and would answer: the productive forces of society or socially necessary labor time (they are inversely related); and then again: what determines the productive forces of society and socially necessary labor time? answer: the competition between capitalists over the distribution of surplus-value which drives them to develop labor saving production techniques in order to undercut their competitors, etc.). Marx is interested in analyzing what he takes to be the deeper forces that underlie the surface phenomena of supply and demand and relative prices. Supply and demand curves as they are ordinarily presented in economics textbooks are point in time measurements which take a number of exogenous factors as given. Marx is less interested in determining what the point in time quantitative exchange ratios between commodities are and more interested in analyzing the movements which give rise to changes in the exogenous factors that are taken as given in supply and demand analysis (the factors which lead to shifts in the supply and demand schedules).
This is no doubt an inadequate sketch of Marx's method and goals in Capital. It is inadequate due to limitations in my own understanding and due to limitations of space. But I believe many criticisms of Marx are based on a failure to understand the distinctiveness of his method and his goals (at least when measured against the methods and goals of modern Neoclassical economics). So it is definitely worthwhile keeping all of this in mind when approaching Marx if your goal is to reach an honest assessment of the value (or lack thereof) of his contribution to economic thought.
49 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2007
- Your mum has taught you lots of valuable things (eat your vegetables, be nice to old people and little dogs, don't be late to school, keep a clean nose) but she was never really able to explain why you had to WORK for a living - instead of, you know, just living;
- Your teachers packed your head full with all kinds of useful knowledge (about prepositions and adverbs, mineralogy and astrophysics, the reproductive organs of plants, x+2-y=0) but they never told you how exactly PROFITS are made - and why anybody would want to make them anyway;
- Your friends and lovers can spend hours yakking about various interesting topics (the latest music machine, videogames, designer shoes, imitation leather sofas, blockbuster movies, pink underwear and cherry flavoured bubble-gum) but they call you a bore and a nitpick whenever you wonder why you're all surrounded by so many COMMODITIES and publicity ads promising you bigger, better and faster useless things.
- You often have the impression that some greater truth is lacking in your life (and you've tried all the legal/illegal drugs, exciting TV shows, gurus and psychoanalysts, help-yourself books and bestsellers about kid sorcerers)...
...Then the time may have come to have a long talk with good old Uncle Karl - the black sheep of the social sciences, the guy nobody likes to mention at social occasions (except in the form of a joke: "have you heard the one about Karl Marx in Las Vegas?"), the most misquoted and misinterpreted modern thinker.
In "Capital", he kindly invites you to break on through to the other side (that's how countercultural he was) and check out what's really happening behind the glitzy appearances of everyday life. You don't even have to be a genius to understand him (it will be enough if you can count to ten without choking). And you might be surprised about how obvious some things will seem after he explains to you about the cage you're sitting in.
Of course, mum will probably be broken-hearted and fear that you'll join the next anarcho-pinko-terrorist organization down the block. Your teachers might refer to a vast list of successful anti-Marx books and charity organizations. And your friends and lovers will find you an even greater bore than before.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2011
Capital Volume 1 is a masterpiece. However, this particular version is trash, it only includes HALF of capital volume one, AND the publishing quality is atrocious, all of the equations are jumbled up and illegible.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2008
The sheer depth of what Marx tries to tackle, regardless if one subscribes to it or not, is nothing short of amazing...and is reason alone to (attempt) to read Capital. It is not a bible, and those who treat it as such most likely have not read it. It is a stunningly accurate critique of political economy as it was then and as it has unfolded today. To conclude, for common misconceptions, Capital identifies the many inconsistencies and problems of political economy in the realm of the Capitalist mode of production. What it does not do is outline how to organize and make work a "socialist" or centrally planned economy. To say that the decline of the 'socialist' states make Marx and his work obsolete is pure madness.
Perhaps the main difficulty, and perhaps even the reason for such misunderstanding and misinterpretation, is that Marx did not build foundations of knowledge in the traditional way. His world is complex, as it should be, and everything relates to everything else. Nothing is viewed in isolation or analyzed individually. At the same time he takes the reader through layers of abstraction in an attempt to reconstruct the real world step by step from a single the concept of the dualism of labor and the contradictions it emanates (labor and labor-power). That Marx was able to deduce his entire theory from a single beginning remains one of the most fascinating features of his work. Another important aspect of his analysis is that it broke away from the classical dogma of political economy being confined to a relation of things and things which essentially concealed the complexities of the human element behind them (unfortunately even more characteristic of mainstream economic theory today). Marx was thus able to comprehend the 'laws' of motion of capitalist production, what the classicists failed to complete. while at the same time its limitations as socio-economic system in the continued development of the productive forces of society.
Unfortunately, there tends to be a large number of people that have never been exposed to Marx and listen to a small segment of the population that rallies against Marx due to either cold war ideological or dogmatic nonsense - Any serious reader of Capital will clearly see that this work lacks politicized bias infringing on objectivity that has infiltrated most writings today. Not only is it truly exceptional, but it is the most important contribution to economic thought ever. I can only write this general review - a concise overview would be, at my level, impossible.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2011
This book surprised me. I expected a dry, boring, difficult tome that would not interest me in the long run. I was (mostly) wrong. Although some of it is quite tedious, some a bit repetitive, and parts that are incomprehensible,there are long stretches -- especially of the historical parts -- that are fascinating and read very well.
I loved reading Chapter 10, On the Working Day. That's where we learn for sure that time is money, and the struggle for limits to the working day are the crux of the class struggle (still going on with hassles over vacation and sick leave, for example). It is the worker's time that gives value to the commodity, and the endless accumulation of commodities is what capitalism is about. I also liked Chapter 15, on Machinery and Large-Scale Industry (in large part because technological history is something that interests me anyhow). And all of Part 8, "So-Called Primitive Accumulation," was fascinating. That is where we see the ultimate contradiction of Capitalism, its dependence on perpetually accumulating more, compounded annually, forever. Such endless growth comes largely from dispossessing others of what they already had, and endless exploitation of the earth's resources, ad infinitum.
David Harvey, who has taught Capital Volume 1 at City University of New York for many years said that he has considered teaching the course backwards, beginning at the end with Part 8 so that the students would have the historical context before going into the technical parts. I think I could also recommend that anyone undertaking Capital to read Part 8 first. It will surprise you what a really good writer Marx was, when he wanted to be.
It takes a lot of guts to launch into a thousand page tome, written 150 years ago on one of the driest, most dismal of all subjects: political economy. It is for that reason that I used the free on-line lecture series by David Harvey from his course on Marx at City University of New York, and used it as my guide as I went through the book. Without such a guide, I probably wouldn't have tackled it but with the guide it is more than worth the effort. Buy the Penguin Classics edition of Capital and download the lectures, one at a time and when you are finished you will be far better educated than you are now!
33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2002
One thing often overlooked about Karl Marx is that he is an accomplished prose stylist and remarkable rhetorician. Many of his phrases and formulations are well known and frequently employed even now, and reading Marx continues to be a pleasurable experience. Philosophically, Marx remains one of the most original and arresting of nineteenth century thinkers. An assessment of Marx, however, should not focus on the content of particular pronouncements or "predictions" (there are in fact precious few of these last in his corpus) but should, rather, engage with the movement of his thought and with the conceptual revolution he initiated. If you want to make that engagement, then Capital is as good a place as any to start. But it entails commitment and risk.
It is a platitude, of course, that Marx's "vision" of how capitalism would develop has been refuted by history. Of course, this right wing mantra bears little scrutiny. Again, Marx is valuable not as a body of proposals and concrete prognoses. He provides us, rather, with an ever elastic and dynamic conceptual apparatus; a horizon of understanding that has scarcely been surpassed. In any case, the clichés used to discredit Marx's "predictions" are usually underwritten by a complete misunderstanding of how capitalism now works. Take for example the notion (it is scarcely even that) of the "disappearing working class". If one lives in a First World country the "working class" may indeed APPEAR to have diminished. Marx, however, would have us go beyond the (ideological) appearance. The pseudo-theorists in the West can afford to babble about the "disappearing working class" only because of the very "invisibility" of millions of anonymous workers sweating in Third World factories (take a look at your designer labels - the traces are readily discernible). The USA is turning into a country of managerial planning, banking, servicing and so on, while its "disappearing working class" is reappearing in places like China, where a large proportion of US products is manufactured in conditions that are ideal for capitalist exploitation. Marx would have understood only too well both this international division of labour AND its ideological masking. If you want to understand (really understand, not just pragmatically from the inside) the dominant economic and political system, then Marx's Capital is simply - and one does not use the word lightly - indispensable.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2013
The Kindle edition is garbled. Random chunks of text are just missing, so that half of one sentence gets joined with half of another sentence. The result is to make a difficult text impossible. Penguin should be ashamed to have their company name associated with such a shoddy product.