Friday, August 13, 2010

Reading Capital

I finished reading the first volume of Capital yesterday. However, as most of you know, finishing a book like Capital is really only the beginning. The next step is working up a short (but what counts as short when the book is 800+ pages?) draft of its essential-- relative to my research-- points, before reading through a few of the classic secondary sources.

On a more personal note, finishing Capital brings back a few personal memories from the first time I read excerpts during my the period of my Master's work with a Marx reading group of a few of Peter Linebaugh's students and one of their union friends. We started with 'Part Eight: So-called Primitive Accumulation' because we were interested in the 'prehistory' of capital. And this approach has probably colored my interpretation of the structure of the book to this day: Marx begins with commodity exchange and works through the consequences of the self-valorization of capital to show that, even constrained to the sphere of economics, capitalism is social organization designed to expropriate social wealth from the masses who create it. 'Part Eight' is added to show that so-called primitive accumulation was not an idyllic process of accumulation through labor that eventually became capital, but rather that accumulation was a method of dispossession on a global scale. In England (the link is here):
The spoliation of the church’s property, the fraudulent alienation of the State domains, the robbery of the common lands, the usurpation of feudal and clan property, and its transformation into modern private property under circumstances of reckless terrorism, were just so many idyllic methods of primitive accumulation. They conquered the field for capitalistic agriculture, made the soil part and parcel of capital, and created for the town industries the necessary supply of a “free” and outlawed proletariat.
And elsewhere (the link is here):
The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation.
Far from being a purely 'economic' system, capitalism requires violence to perpetuate its development: "Force [Gewalt, violence] is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power." 

You might be able to tell that I'm getting prepared for the Radical Philosophy Association's conference in November, which has the theme: "Violence: Systemic, Symbolic, and Foundational."

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