The original idea of this blog was to go through a reading of this book above, The Essential Marx, which is an abridgement of vol. 1 of Capital. It claims on the cover that it was edited by Leon Trotsky (who writes a good intro to it), but actually it was abridged by one Mr. Otto Ruhle “with profound understanding of his task”.
Because I didn’t have profound understanding of my task I got distracted by a shiny online translation of the complete chapter 1 of Capital and went at that over the 47 previous blog posts, so now I’m going back to the above text, starting from the beginning, including Chapter 1, so there’ll be a bit of recap.
There’s a few things I like to bear in mind when approaching Capital:
It’s a critique of both capitalist economics, the study of it and commentary on it, AND the capitalist mode of production itself.
Marx comes from a distinct philosophical background in approaching the subject, that is, from the perspective of his major influence the German philosopher Hegel. Marx’s historical materialist take on Hegelian dialectics is all over Marx’s critique. It seems handy to know the basics of that (as in the diagram at the bottom of this post).
Marx claims that his method is ‘scientific’ and ’empirical’, but it should be understood that what he means by this is different from what others mean by it. In The German Ideology, a book written before Capital wherein Marx and Engels lay out their philosophical/critical position, they say of their materialist method of enquiry:
“This method of approach is not devoid of premises. It starts out from the real premises [real material things and circumstances] and does not abandon them for a moment. Its premises are men, not in any fantastic isolation and rigidity, but in their actual, empirically perceptible process of development under definite conditions. As soon as this active life-process is described, history ceases to be a collection of dead facts as it is with the empiricists (themselves still abstract), or an imagined activity of imagined subjects, as with the idealists.”
So, Marx’s empiricism is not the remote, ‘objective’ statistics of conventional economists or scientists or academics who abstract such information from broader social reality: the guys who might still be producing favourable stats for government while their universities fall down around their ears. Nor is it the airy-fairy idealism of socialist promised lands. Marx, if he is a scientist, is therefore a social scientist (literally), or a social-view scientist, in this regard presenting materially based facts in the context of their social/class dynamics.
His study of capitalism spans the spectrum from empirical information about that mode of production, to how this manifests in social/class dynamics in society, to how all this gives rise to ideologies and subjective psychological states in those involved.
My reading of Marx’s ‘essentialised’ Capital vol. 1 will commence after I’ve had several cups of strong tea. 💪 💥