Understanding Marx's Capital, a critique of political economy. Course index

Submitted by martin on 15 September, 2008 - 6:50

This course covers Capital volume 1 in 11 weeks. The basic reading is either 'Capital' volume 1 itself, or Otto Ruhle's abridgement of 'Capital'. Copies of that abridgement are available, price £1.50, from the AWL, or you can read / download the document from this website.

Whenever we have run the course, some people have read the whole of 'Capital', some just the abridgement. Those who read the whole book get more out of it, but those who just read the abridgement can keep up.

The parts of Ruhle's abridgement correspond roughly, but not exactly, to Marx's chapters, so under each week below both the relevant parts of Ruhle and the relevant chapters from Marx are indicated.

Each of the ten sessions links to discussion points. A session will start with a brief introduction to the issues under study, and how they relate to previous and later sessions. Then time can be given for reading: in every session except week 8 the basic reading is short enough to be done then and there. The group is then divided into small clusters - of two, three, or four - to study the discussion points and write responses with felt-tip pens on large sheets of paper. Finally, the different responses are stuck up on the wall, and the whole groups comes together to discuss them.

Week 1: The value problem
What relations between people lie behind the relations between things in the marketplace?
Reading: Ruhle chapter 1 sections 1 and 2; Marx chapter 1 sections 1 and 2
Extra reading: "A dialogue with the future"

Week 2: The value form and money
What is money? How do prices represent labour-time?
Reading: Ruhle chapter 1 section 3 and chapters 2 and 3; Marx chapter 1 section3 and chapters 2 and 3
Extra reading: Marx on Aristotle on value

Week 3: Communism and commodity fetishism
Marx's critique of bourgeois ideology and bourgeois socialism
Reading: Ruhle chapter 1 section 4; Marx chapter 1 section 4

Week 4: The transformation of money into capital
Where do profits come from? How can workers be paid a 'fair wage' and yet be exploited? What is capital?
Reading: Ruhle chapter 4; Marx, chapters 4, 5 and 6
Extra reading: Marx on the 'abstinence theory'
Extra reading: Summary of weeks 1 to 4, chapters 1 to 6

Week 5: The production of absolute surplus value
Exploitation and the struggle over the length of the working day
Reading: Ruhle chapters 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9; Marx chapters 7 to 11

Week 6: The production of relative surplus value: cooperation and manufacture
How capital develops production into a socialised, cooperative process; how it makes 'abstract labour' a social reality.
Reading: Ruhle chapters 10 to 12; Marx chapters 12 to 14

Week 7: The production of relative surplus value: the capitalist factory
How capital makes science and technology a means for intensifying rather than lightening labour; and how it creates a many-faceted, diverse, and yet collective working class capable of transforming society into a free association of producers.
Reading: Ruhle chapter 13; Marx chapter 15

Week 8: Productive and unproductive labour. Wages. Accumulation of capital
Productive and unproductive labour for capital. The wages struggle. Why capitalism breeds unemployment. Concentration and centralisation of capital. The workers' struggle against capital.
Reading: Ruhle chapters 14 to 20, 21 to 23, and end of 24; Marx chapters 16 to 25, and 32.

Week 9: Interlude. Marx's 'Wages, Price and Profit'. (Marx discussed the general laws of wages and profits more fully here than in Capital).
Click here for notes.

Week 10: Primitive accumulation of capital
Capitalist production has not always existed; how did it come into being?
Reading: Ruhle chapter 24; Marx chapters 26 to 31.

Week 11: Marx's analysis vs. bourgeois alternatives and critiques
Essential reading: Stanley Jevons on value, wages and profit
Re-reading: summary of 'Capital' chapters 1 to 6; Extra reading: Marx on the 'Trinity Formula'
From each discussion point there is a link to a crib-sheet offering help to tutors. The comments offered in these crib-sheets are not 'the right' answers to the questions posed. Much more can be said on these questions, what is said can be said in different ways, and on some of them there is argument among Marxists. These are offered as some answers which may be useful.

Queries, corrections, criticisms, objections, or suggestions to Martin Thomas.