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Das Kapital, Gateway Edition (Skeptical Reader)

by Karl Marx

Other authors: Friedrich Engels (Editor), Serge L. Levitsky (Translator)

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275268,812 (3.53)2
Das Kapital, Karl Marx's seminal work, is the book that above all others formed the twentieth century. From Kapital sprung the economic and political systems that at one time dominated half the earth and for nearly a century kept the world on the brink of war. Even today, more than one billion Chinese citizens live under a regime that proclaims fealty to Marxist ideology. Yet this important tome has been passed over by many readers frustrated by Marx's difficult style and his preoccupation with nineteenth-century events of little relevance to today's reader. Here Serge Levitsky presents a revised version of Kapital, abridged to emphasize the political and philosophical core of Marx's work while trimming away much that is now unimportant. Pointing out Marx's many erroneous predictions about the development of capitalism, Levitsky's introduction nevertheless argues for Kapital's relevance as a prime example of a philosophy of economic determinism that "subordinates the problems of human freedom and human dignity to the issues of who should own the means of production and how wealth should be distributed." Here then is a fresh and highly readable version of a work whose ideas provided inspiration for communist regimes' ideological war against capitalism, a struggle that helped to shape the world today.… (more)



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Have read chapter extracts over the years but not all, so still listed as currently reading I guess.
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
How could one give a star-rating to Das Kapital? It stands, with Marx's canon, as one of the most influential books in history, perhaps rivaling only some religious texts. With three stars, I think I will have reached a compromise which will offend everyone.

Das Kapital is Marx's attempt to codify and transmit his collected observations on the state of capitalism. This is a far cry from the soaring rhetoric of the Manifesto - its aim is to be both a systematic critique of capitalism as well as an empirical description of its methods.

Marx's precepts are often transmitted and sloganized, if frequently misunderstood. His writing is imperious and droll, cluttered with arithmatic formulas, but there are many ideas to be squeezed out of it. Some have survived in modern discourse, and some are discredited. Here are a very few:

-Commodities are the 'cells' (in the biological sense) of a capitalist society. They have a 'use-value' and 'exchange-value', roughly analogous in purpose to 'value' and 'price' in neoclassicism. Labor is what gives a commodity/product 'value'.

-Politics and economics are the major factors in the development of human history. Capitalism can take root once people become objects, when traditional taboos against money and interest are broken, and a 'social capital' is formed - social communication among capitalists which creates a new social order.

-The structural contradictions of capitalist economies - bourgeoisie v. proletariat, means of production, and so forth.

-Economic crises (booms, busts) are rooted within the very nature of capitalist production.

He recognizes the astonishing power and productivity that capital and capitalism have created with new industrial productivity methods. But he also fears it. How destructive it can be to those people and perhaps now, resources which will be consumed to feed its system of eternal unending growth.

The first volume is an astonishing endeavor in this regard - it is systematic, almost lyrical for an economics textbook. Marx cites theology and classical poetry and philosophy. He writes vicious attacks on his predecessors - physiocrats, Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, John Say.

However, Marx died before his masterwork could be fully completed. It was left to his long-time companion, Friedrich Engels, to dredge up from the morass of notes a fitting conclusion to the text. Volume II is a complete slog, a disorganized rambling mess. I confess that I skipped over some sections and fell asleep multiple times while reading it.

Volume III, however, regains lost luster - it contains a bevy of thoughts on the usage of Interest Rates, on Mercantilism, on a Commercial Class, on Interest Rates (Capital Gains), and, as if Marx knew the end was coming, a final summary of his thoughts over the past thousands of pages.

What use are these to us in the 21st century?

No doubt some of these ideas are mitigated or altered by other theorists and economists. Some have been openly embraced by the orthodox order, some are outside of it. Keynesianism and Neoclassicism grapple squarely both with him as much as they do the old Smithian order and the Austrian school. It is fair to give him credit for asking a few questions which few others had the foresight to ask, although his answers are the most open to doubt.

The history of the 20th century is littered with the corpses of new social orders, reactions and counter-reactions to capital. Fascism, communism - even a forcible attempt to engineer a neo-liberal total-free-market state in Chile, starting on 9/11/1973. All of them have ended with brutish totalitarianism, a regression, a master-slave state which seems repugnant to us who live in the capitalist world now. Marx was deliberately vague in his non-propagandistic works, because of the uncertainty of the future forms of socialism - of what form his new world in the stage of human development would take. Perhaps he might not have recognized totalitarianism in any form as 'socialism'.

Perhaps now in this time of depression, it is easy to be anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist. I tend to lean that way myself. The endless cycle of growth is unappealing, dangerous, all-consuming. But what alternatives do we have on a global scale? A local one? A sort of watery social-democrat Keynesianism? A technocratic state? A green one? Post-scarcity? Trans-humanism? Full on-Corporatism? Market socialism? Authoritarian democracy? Some combination of all of these?

It is easy to cast him out as a historical failure. But with each occurrence of recession, he staggers out of the grave free-market advocates dig for him. Capitalism has been characterized as 'rotten' and 'on the verge of collapse' since the 16th century - and there were fiscal and monetary crises then, sometimes twice a decade. It is an unstable system, but somehow very good at what it does. It remains to Marx and others like him to formulate alternatives, although the process of experimentation and change remain unthinkable to many.

If one must read the thing itself, Volume I and the final section of Volume III are those most important - choose from the rest what you will. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Karl Marxprimary authorall editionscalculated
Engels, FriedrichEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Levitsky, Serge L.Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed

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