Teaser #3: Not Capital


May 15th, 2020

5 mins 36 secs

Your Host

About this Episode

Hi, my name is Lelyn R. Masters, and I agree with Aristotle who said that Democracy is the rule of the poor and Oligarchy is the rule of the wealthy.

This is a book report about all that is left out of Capital vol. 1. Very often the first impulse one has when they’ve decided to take Marxism or Communism or Socialism seriously is to read Capital vol. 1. In Capital, Marx uses the labor theory of value developed by Adam Smith and John Locke to explain how economic value is produced.

According to this theory workers are paid a part of the value they produce, and the Capitalist keeps the rest.

What’s really important in Capital is the idea of fetishism. The theory of fetishism tells us that when production is set up in this way there are set up objective relationships between people and subjective relationships between objects. For example your boss may be a very nice person, but if they are not making money off of you, you will lose your job. Meanwhile there is great social power stored up in the commodity: wealth brings with it social prestige and power, above all the power to decide what gets produced. So, production becomes something we as a society do in order to increase wealth, and with it social inequality, instead of production be undertaken to satisfy human needs. The people caught up in this system are forced to act towards each other in an inhumane, mechanical way. In Capital Marx intentionally leaves out much of importance. Some things he doesn’t talk about in Capital vol. 1:

How capitalism came about
What kind of relationships are at work between capitalists
Feminism and Gender
National rights and the rights of minorities
Feudal oppression
Climate Change
These were all things that Marx wrote about, just not in Capital. So, a version of Marx’s thought that relies solely on Capital will miss, for instance, the importance Marx saw in the abolition movement, his revolutionary ideas about gender relations, or the fact that he thought India could skip the development of capitalism because of the strong communal nature of Indian society.

What’s most lacking in Capital is a theory of political power. What is the state, and how should working people relate to it? Marx wrote prolifically on the topic. He was at heart a radical democrat: he believed that through education and the widest possible franchise that a socialist society could be created. After 1848, when the Bourgeoisie fought for a democratic revolution but then sabotaged the resulting democratic institutions by limiting democratic rights, say to vote about what happens in the factory and field, Marx realized that at a certain moment in an epoch of crisis the working class would have to assert itself in order to complete the democratic vision. None of this is in Capital. Ironically, because there is an over reliance on Capital, Marxists have tended to think of social change in objective terms: objectively the working class has an interest in overturning Capitalism, so if we just explain that to them then they will do so. In his political life Marx knew that the working class had to come to these understandings by their own active political work and thought. Marx’s point in capital is fetishism afterall, or rather his revolutionary goal there is to overturn the objective relationships between people so that they can relate to each other freely. So, very often poorly educated Marxists will imagine that once they have the economic situation understood then political victory is assured. But economic conditions alone do not produce working class movements, democratic institutions or revolutions: we have to do that. And, there is a very large literature about how that is done. What’s clear from Capital vol 1 is that we have to do that by engaging the working class as agents of their own liberation, and not as objects we imagine we can manipulate in the name of history.

Here is an example where certain Marxist completely get it wrong, just to give you an idea. World Socialist Website describes itself as “Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).” We’ll talk about what the 4th international was, but even at its height it was not an international. In October of 2017 they wrote an article entitled “Identity politics and the growth of inequality within racial minorities,” where they answer the question of just how bad of a line on race can a Marxist group have. In that article after some banal observations that some black people are wealthy and so on, they say, and its published on the internet out in public where everyone can read it, this nonsense: “American society is increasingly polarized—not between races, but between classes. In this context, the class basis of the upper-middle class’s obsession with racial and identity politics becomes clearer. This is the reactionary political essence of groups like Black Lives Matter, authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates, and academics like Keeyanga-Yamahtta Taylor, who push racial politics to better fleece the working class members of their “own” racial groups, and the working class overall.” Now, this is clearly complete bullshit, but I want to point out the underlying philosophical error. Here are people who only read Capital Volume 1, and didn’t read it correctly. We’re not supposed to treat human beings as though they are some known quantity that we just have to manipulate algebraically. People are agents, and if we treat them as such that is revolutionary in a system that profits from our collective dehumanization.

Further Readings:
Globalism, Internationalism, anti-Imperialism, anti-Racism
Anderson, Kevin B. Marx at the margins: on nationalism, ethnicity, and non-western societies. University of Chicago Press, 2016.
Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich. Imperialism Vanguard Press, 1927.
Riazanov, David. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: An introduction to their lives and work. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973.
Smith, John. Imperialism in the twenty-first century: Globalization, super-exploitation, and capitalism’s final crisis. NYU Press, 2016.
Feminism and Gender Studies
Bebel, August. Women under socialism. New York Labor News Company, 1904.
Engels, Friedrich. The origin of the family, private property, and the state. New York University Press, 2007.
Fortunati, Leopoldina. The arcane of reproduction: Housework, prostitution, labor and =======================================================78888888capital. Autonomedia, 1995.
Kollontai, Alexandra, Cathy Porter, and Sheila Rowbotham. Love of Worker Bees. Chicago Review Press, 2005.
Vogel, Lise. Marxism and the oppression of women: Toward a unitary theory. Brill, 2013.
Advent of Capitalism and Primitive Accumulation
Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch. Autonomedia, 2004.
Hill, Christopher. The century of revolution: 1603–1714. Routledge, 2014.
Thompson, Edward Palmer. The making of the English working class. Open Road Media, 2016.
Democracy and liberation

Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich. " Left-wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder. Resistance Books, 1999.Marik, Soma. Revolutionary Democracy: Emancipation in Classical Marxism. Haymarket Books, 2018.Rosenberg, Arthur. Democracy and socialism: a contribution to the political history of the past 150 years. Beacon Press, 1939.

Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. Black Reconstruction in America: Toward a history of the part which black folk played in the attempt to reconstruct democracy in America, 1860-1880. Routledge, 2017.
Climate Change and Environmentalism
Benton, Ted. "The greening of Marxism." (1998).
Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. "The german ideology." London, England (1965).