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"Capital" Is Significant Work
Even during the lifetimes of Karl Marks and Frederick Engels, Das Kapital ran through several printings. It is one of the most-read books in any language, and has seen a giant upsurge in popularity since the capitalist economic crisis of 2008 began. Just the introductions to the successive printings makes great reading.
Fortunately for us, there is no need for a synopsis of the introductory material to this magnificent three-volume work. Thomas Riggins, an Associate Editor of Political Affairs on-line magazine, published "Liner Notes to Das Kapital: Marx and Engels Comment" in June, 2009. His commentary includes ways that studying Capital can help us in understanding our world today.
Riggins interprets Marx, in the introductory material, as thinking that the capitalist class should help the working class develop itself. Riggins says, "So it is the capitalists who should be supporting Employee Free Choice Act along with the unions! Why is this so? Because a repressed and resentful working class with be a violent and brutal class when it seizes power from the capitalists and you will get Gulags. The capitalists are playing with dynamite when they try to repress the working people."
Marxist writers vary in the degree to which they believe that studying Marxism enables people to predict the future. Some would say that predictions of individual outcomes are completely impossible, while others would say that Marxist predictions are much more accurate than others. Writers are generally unanimous in cautioning against overemphasizing predictive powers.
Part of the problem, like many other problems, is semantics. Marx used the term "law," in some cases, to describe his broad general conclusions. Some Marxist writers throw the term around quite a lot. Brother Riggins takes a moderate stance:
"There may be some confusion between 'iron laws' and 'tendencies' so let me just say that in Marx's model of capitalism the 'iron laws' are really what we would call the logical consequences that result from the premises Marx derives for his model based on an empirical investigation of English capitalism. The real world is vastly more complicated than the model which serves as a guide to its understanding. The 'laws' of the model become 'tendencies' when they are applied to the understanding of actually existing capitalist systems."
Author Emile Burns is more enthusiastic about Marixm's predictive powers. He says, “And once we know these laws we can make use of them, just as we can make use of any specific law – we can not only foretell what is likely to happen, but can act in such as way as to make sure that it does happen.” (Burns, Emile, “Introduction to Marxism.” $1.45. International Publishers, 361 Park Av South, NYNY10016. 1966. Now out of print, but available through Abe Books and on line in original form as "What Is Marxism?")
It stands to reason that understanding the present and past helps predict the future, and Marxism certainly contributes to understanding; therefore it has predictive value. Capital, the ultimate work of Karl Marx, is well worth study. We can be grateful to Thomas Riggins for providing us an easy and meaningful way to begin the introductory material.
Further study: Professor David Harvey has a series on Youtube that takes readers through Marx's masterpiece, Capital. It's called "Class 01 Reading Marx's Capital with David Harvey," 2010. Of course he's British and most of his analogies come from England, but then so did Marx's. He uses the French words of classical Marxism, ("bourgeois" rather than "capitalist) rather than the modern English terms. And of course, he's actually a professor, not a worker activist. A lot of people read Capital by themselves, but they don't get nearly as much understanding as someone reading it in a class or in some kind of guided study. David Harvey claims to have taught this same book for umpteen years.
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