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Karl Marx: ten things to read if you want to understand him
Team or Enterprise. Premium FT. Pay based on use. They read Capital - which is both a scientific and revolutionary work and which explains the capitalist world. They read Lenin, who has continued Marx's work and who explains that capitalism has reached its highest and last stage - imperialism.
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This said, it should be added that it is not easy for everyone to read and to understand Capital. We should face the fact that reading it presents two great difficulties - 1 a political difficulty, the main one, and 2 a theoretical one, which is subsidiary. As stated, the first difficulty is the political one. To understand Capital it is necessary either to have direct first-hand experience of capitalist exploitation like the workers or like the revolutionary militants, whether they be workers or intellectuals to have made the necessary effort to arrive at 'the standpoint of the working class'.
Those who are neither workers nor revolutionary militants - no matter how learned they may be like the 'economists', 'historians' and 'philosophers' - have to understand that the price they have to pay for achieving such an understanding is a revolution in their outlook which is dominated enormously by bourgeois prejudices and pre-conceptions. The second difficulty is the theoretical one.
It is subsidiary to the first but it is nevertheless a real one. Those accustomed to theoretical work, above all in the field of theoretical science, less in the exact sciences the 'humanities' are 80 per cent falsifications of science, products of bourgeois ideology are able to overcome this difficulty due to the fact that Capital is a work of pure theory. Others, workers for example, who are unaccustomed to pure theory, must make a sustained effort, work patiently and consistently to make advances in theory.
We will help them. And we will soon see that they will be able to overcome this difficulty. All that they need to know for the present is: 1 That Capital is a work of pure theory, that it deals with the theory of "the capitalist mode of production, the conditions of production and exchange corresponding to that mode" Marx and that Capital therefore deals with something 'abstract' something that cannot be touched with one's hands , that it is therefore not a book which deals with concrete history or empirical economics, as the 'historians' and 'economists' imagine it ought to do.
Abstract concepts and vigorous systems are not idle fantasies but instruments for the production of scientific knowledge, just as tools, machines and their precision systems are instruments for the production of material products motor-cars, transistors, aeroplanes, etc.
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If this is borne in mind, the following elementary practical ideas for reading Volume I may be helpful. The greatest difficulties - theoretical and otherwise - standing in the way of reading Volume I easily are unfortunately or perhaps fortunately all to be found right at he beginning of Volume I, more precisely in Chapter I of Part I, which deals with 'commodities and money'.
It is not possible in my view to begin and only to begin to understand Part I without having read and re-read the whole of Volume I from Part II onwards. This is more than a piece of advice.
It is a recommendation, one which I regard as imperative. Everyone can confirm it by practical experience. If one begins to read Volume I from the beginning, that is, from Part I, one can get bogged down and tend to give up. Or, one can think one understands and this is even worse, for one can end up understanding something completely different from what one is trying to understand.
From Part II the transformation of money into capital onwards things are very clear. The reader is now able to get right to the heart and core of Volume I. This is the law of surplus value which workers are able to grasp without the slightest difficulty, because, quite simply, it is the scientific theory, the force of which they experience every day, namely class exploitation.
How to Read Marx
Parts III and IV, both very weighty but very clear, are of decisive importance to the class struggle today. They deal with the two fundamental forms of surplus value with which the capitalists can carry through the maximum possible exploitation of the working class - what Marx calls absolute and relative surplus value. Absolute surplus value see Part III is related to the length of the working day.
Marx explains that the capitalist class strives inexorably to extend the length of the working day as much as possible and that one of the aims of working class struggle for well over a century has been to secure a reduction in the working day.
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The historical stages of this fierce struggle are well known. They were for the 12 hour, then the 10 hour and then the 8 hour day and finally at the time of the Popular Front for the 40 hour week. Unfortunately, it is equally well known that the capitalist class uses all its power and every available means - legal and not quite so legal - to extend the length of the real working day hours actually worked even where they are obliged to limit the legal working day as a result of laws won by large-scale working class struggle e. In actual practice, the working week varies between hours and the employers have discovered the swindle of 'overtime'.
There is also so-called 'black work' beyond 'regular' hours. A word about 'overtime'. According to agreements it is paid for at 25 per cent, 50 per cent and even per cent above that of 'normal' rates. This would seem to mean that such work is very costly for the employers.
But in reality it is very advantageous to them. For it enables the capitalists to keep expensive machinery running 24 hours out of 24 so that it depreciates as quickly as possible before being made obsolete by the new, even more efficient machines which modern technology is ceaselessly producing. For the workers, overtime earnings are anything but free gifts presented to them by the employers. These earnings do of course mean something extra for the workers, which they can do with, but it ruins their health.