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Reading Karl Marx's Capital with Prof. David Harvey

category international | arts and media | news report author Tuesday June 17, 2008 14:11author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity) Report this post to the editors

David Harvey makes his long-running City University of New York course on Volume One of Karl Marx's Capital available for free online.

Capital is perhaps the most important text Karl Marx wrote. It is one of the most influential books ever written, particularly in terms of left wing theory and political economy. However it is more often talked about than actually read and it has an only partially justified reputation for being difficult to understand.

For nearly 40 years, Professor David Harvey, the eminent social geographer and urban theorist, has been teaching a course on the book to postgraduate students at universities including the City University of New York and John Hopkins University in Baltimore. This is a very well known course in academia and quite a few prominent Marxist and other left wing academics took it themselves. The course consists of 13 two hour lectures, an introductory lecture and then 12 more dealing with specific sections of the text, mostly two chapters at a time.

For the first time Prof. Harvey is putting all of these lectures online for free, under a creative commons license similar to the one used by Indymedia Ireland. Each lecture he gives in this course at CUNY is filmed and then placed on his website, including questions and discussion from his postgraduate students. The idea is that people who are interested in learning about Capital can follow the course online, first watching the introduction and then reading the assigned chapters of the book before watching the next lecture.

Prof. Harvey is himself an interesting thinker and he is an engaging speaker who knows Capital inside out. For anyone who is thinking about reading or re-reading Capital (Vol. 1) and grappling with the ideas contained in it, this is likely to prove an extremely useful resource.

The lectures are placed at http://www.davidharvey.org as they are completed.
The text of Capital can be found here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/inde...x.htm

author by hpublication date Tue Jun 17, 2008 14:36Report this post to the editors

There are a number of really useful sites with reading guides to capital.

Harry Cleavers Study Guide to Capital Volume I is one place to start...


author by tomeilepublication date Tue Jun 17, 2008 15:46Report this post to the editors

Excellent to see that this course is going online.It's a pity that there isn't an institute like New York's Brecht Institute in Ireland where such classes could be held in a real space. I think that Capital study group(s) in this period could help bring people on the left together on a practical basis .It's amazing to think that just a few years ago we were being told that capitalism had completely triumphed and that marxism was finished .
I'm not sure though if I agree with what the link you give says about beginining the study at chapter V111 because of it being "less abstract than chapter one " . It is certainly very difficult, but chapter one is the most important . Was it Rosa Luxemburg who said that if you were to give yourself a year to read the whole of Capital ,you should spend the first eleven months reading Chapter 1?
Ilyenkov argued that Capital is anything but an 'abstract' work in his 'Dialectics of the Concrete and Abstract in Marx's Capital' ,which can be read on the MIA:


author by tomeilepublication date Tue Jun 17, 2008 16:06Report this post to the editors

That link is down ,see:

author by hs - sppublication date Tue Jun 17, 2008 17:25Report this post to the editors

was just beginning it myself, this will be very useful. hs

author by mkpublication date Tue Jun 17, 2008 22:06Report this post to the editors

Thanks for that

author by Malachypublication date Tue Jun 17, 2008 23:00Report this post to the editors

I once dipped into the opening chapter and found it too dull, so gave up. Why study Das Kapital now? Wasn't state marxism tried and abandoned in the Soviet Union, and hasn't China turned towards market economics, today inviting foreign capitalists to invest along with 'joint ventures' and whatever state enterprises the China Govt has decided to hold on to? Granted western capitalism leaves an underclass in countries like the US, the UK and places like Limerick in Ireland.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Wed Jun 18, 2008 00:50Report this post to the editors

Capital doesn't contain within it any particular model of a future society. If you read it looking for Marx's description of what a socialist society would look like you will be sadly disappointed, and in fact Marx would probably have been surprised and horrified to see the former Soviet Union described as "Marxist".

Capital is an analysis of capitalism. And as we live under capitalism, there are many reasons to study one of the most perceptive analyses of that system ever written. You can agree or disagree with what Marx argues, but either way what he argues is important. This course is a very useful way to get at the nub of Marx's argument.

author by Nioclás - CYMpublication date Sat Aug 16, 2008 02:07Report this post to the editors

The CYM has a study group beginning this course. Further information is available here: http://connollyyouth.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/studying-...ital/

"Too dull" - I wouldn't consider it dull prose, but it is heavy!! This is the same with any 'academic' work, but once you get used to the style and language of the author it gets a lot easier, and in Capital's case quite fun - in a geeky way! Although, this may not float your boat... ...I recommend watching David Harvey's first lecture.

"redundant" - I'd read it first yourself before you draw those conclusions...

"State marxism" - what's that friend? Anyway, Capital has very little to do with the workings of any socialist state, save to provide an understanding of the social system, capitalism, it is born out of.

SP - Horror at the Soviet Union? Well, although I don't think this has any relevance to responding to the previous poster:

The Soviet Union was started by a socialist revolution, would you not agree? Does this not mean it was at least a new stage in human history? Even Trotsky agreed the USSR was a transitional state in the process of building socialism. The Soviet Union was a reality of socialist construction. It was theory meeting practice. We have to start at this stage before we can say anything else. Unless one is to accept the erroneous conception of the USSR as 'state capitalist', in which case one removes 1917 of it's content and easily excuses oneself from the reality of history and socialist construction - sounds rather utopian to me!

I don't think Marx would have excused himself from history, and whatever way you look at it, the USSR certainly made it, and in my opinion, for better.

Finally, Marx is and was not an infallible authority, and there is little point in second guessing history once it's been made!

Related Link: http://connollyyouth.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/studying-...ital/
author by Jolly Red Giant - SP/CWIpublication date Sat Aug 16, 2008 22:18Report this post to the editors


While the Russian Revolution may have started a process of created a new form of society within a few years of Stalin coming to power the USSR had ditched the gains of the Revolution and was developing in a reactionary fashion. Trotsky definitively outlined how Stalinism had dismantled the gains of the revolution in 'Revolution Betrayed' (and also debunks the 'state capitalism' theory). It is utter nonsense to suggest that the USSR was 'theory meeting practice'. One of the most fundemental tenets of socialism - worker's democracy - was smashed by the Stalinists in the USSR. It would have been physically impossible for Stalinism to remain in control if it had allowed worker's democracy to exist. The Soviet Union was so far removed from the 'reality of socialist construction' that even the someone with only a passing interest in politics would laugh at the suggestion. To equate the USSR with socialism, one is dancing to the tune of capitalist propaganda. The sole remenents of the October Revolution to exist in the USSR after 1935 were central planning and a state monopoly of foreign trade, both of which were bureaucratically mismanaged to the detriment of the working class.

As for Marx's attitude towards the suggestion of the 'USSR made it for the better' - he would have been abhorred at the brutality and repression wrought on the Russian people by Stalinism in the name of socialism. But even more he would have given a definitive statement on the need for the overthorw of Stalinism and it replacement with worker's democracy.

It really is quite surprising to find an old die-hard Stalinist still trying to defend Stalinism as socialism in action.

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