Book Reviews

Capital by Karl Marx – Book Review

So, reading Marx’ magnum opus was quite hard. While reading this I could feel my moustache grow big (it’s now a few hairs long). Suddenly when I wanted to cook some chicken, I took a hammer that was conveniently laying around in my kitchen and started smashing the chicken with it. When cooked I used my sickle to cut it so I could eat it. Am I a communist now?

            Jokes aside, I wanted to read Capital by Karl Marx to understand what all my communist friends were on about. They had never read Capital, so in a way to one up them, I first started reading some introductory literature about big boy Marx and when I felt ready I bought (yes, ironic isn’t it) me Capital and started consuming it like the consumerist I am.

            I got two things from this book: confusion and surprise. I was confused by the eternal long sentences and repetitions Marx makes. Some sentences are half a page long. And then I’m not talking about the footnotes, which can take up nearly a page of space sometimes. But I was also surprised that after reading the same sentences five times, the idea behind it wasn’t really that difficult. Obviously, I don’t understand the whole book, nobody could in one time reading it, but I do believe I have a better understanding in the theory of Marx.

            Extra capital (I read it in Dutch so if the translation doesn’t match, I’m sorry) is generated on the oppression of laborers, because the people who own the means of production make them work more than they have to for a low wage. This way they are able to invest the profits they make into their capitalist system and increase their profit more and are able to oppress the working class even more. Wages will be kept as low as possible while prices will be as high as possible as to maximize profit. Marx goes in depth into how this process is achieved.

            I won’t be giving commentary on his book and on his theories. I feel like I need to be a bit more grounded in Marx theories to do that. But I can give some thoughts I had while reading the book.

            Marx isn’t a scientist. I think this book makes this clear. He uses some rapports that have been conducted on the welfare of child-labors for example and uses them to prove his point. But these are rather anecdotes (mostly concerning one specific firm) and don’t contribute to a scientific analysis. I also believe that economically he was mostly wrong. Extra capital can be generated in other ways than oppressing the labor class. Wages aren’t always put as low as possible. There are other values in play.

            I do believe that Marx as a philosopher is and will always be an important figure. His theory on estrangement of the worker with himself and society is something we need to look out for. Marx is still an inspiration to many people and contemporary philosophers and knowing where they come from help to understand them better. Many postmodern theories are derived from Marxist theories. Marxism is also a bit on the rise. There are more people now claiming to be Marxist then two decades ago. So to understand their theory is key to giving well-grounded critiques.

            Capital by Karl Marx is a hard read. It took me two months to finish it. I was only able to read about ten pages a day before I had to leave it. It was difficult, definitely to try and understand it. He can be very abstract, and his sentences do him no good. They are incredibly long for the information that is included in them. A lot of difficult terminology is used in a very specific context which makes it hard to sometimes make sense of the theories themselves. But it’s manageable. If you take your time and give it the attention it deserves, you’ll understand at least most of it. The footnotes help sometimes, sometimes they confuse you even more.

            In the end, I would say that you have to read Capital with the necessary equipment. It’s like climbing a mountain, you don’t first climb the Mount Everest, you climb smaller mountains first. The same goes with this book. I would read introductions to Marx, maybe some of his shorter works and when you’re ready to tackle this goliath, proceed. Something I wished I had done was read the Companion for Capital before or after reading Capital. I will still read the Companion at some point, but I do believe that with some help I would understand Capital a bit more deeply.

            I haven’t changed into a communist, nor do I think I ever will. But with every communist book I read, I understand more and more where they are coming from and in the end it’s all about understanding one another. Now excuse me while I use my hammer and sickle to eat my chicken.

By elenchusphilosophy

Philosophy student from Ghent, Belgium. I write about what I find interesting which is about nearly anything. Though my guiding question in life is how to be a good person.

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