Monday, January 9, 2012

Reading Capital via Paulo Freire

from the SACP, posted on the CPUSA Political Affairs site:

Capital by a Freirean Method


Capital, Volume 1

Karl Marx's "Capital, Volume 1", first published in 1867, is the most prominent part of a project that Marx begun in the 1840s. Volumes 2, 3 and 4 were published after Marx's death in 1883.

The project is a quest for a full explanation of what Marx called, at the end of Chapter 18 of Volume 1, "The secret of the self-expansion of capital."

This secret is what Marx called Surplus-Value, gained by purchasing the commodity, Labour-Power, at its full value, and then putting it to work and expropriating the entire product of the actual Labour expended. This constantly-repeated process creates Capital.

In studying Capital, Volume 1, therefore, one is faced by two large challenges. The first is that the work, large as it is, cannot be fully appreciated in isolation from the history of Marx's long quest for the secret of the self-expansion of capital, and all the implications thereof.

The second challenge is the work itself, which has an uneven shape as well as a large size.

The Communist University's Freirean Method

The Communist University's method, strongly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, relies on certain simple principles and practices. Because of its size, its unevenness, and the nature of the project that it represents, Capital, Volume 1 posed much greater problems to the Communist University than any other work.

In other cases we have used extracts from books to create "Short Texts" that can be used as Freirean "codifications"1. The point is not to learn the work, but to have a discussion. In the case of "Capital", this principle of discussion is no less crucial; but the huge size of the project renders the search for one or two adequate "Short Texts" practically impossible.

Please note that the source of all our texts for this series has been Marxists Internet Archive.

At this point it is useful to consider the practical limitations, as the Communist University has found them to be, around pedagogy as practiced in study circles:

  • We meet weekly; the reading text or "codification" is given one week before we gather to discuss it. Therefore it must be sufficiently short to allow an ordinary person to be able to read it in a week. Or, which amounts to roughly the same, it should be short enough to be read out loud by one comrade to the others, in a preliminary sitting.
  • In the Communist University's practice, these short texts (codifications) have been printed in an A4-folded-to-A5 stapled booklet format. This means that pages are in multiples of 4 (e.g. 4,8,12, 16, 20). The reduction from A4 to A5 requires a certain minimum font size, which in Arial font is 11-point. These limitations taken together tend to create a standard "Communist University" ratio of text to printed length.

The shape of Capital, Volume 1

Capital, Volume 1 contains 33 chapters. Most of them are short, but there are five long ones, starting with Chapter 1 (Commodities).  Chapter 3 (Money) is also long, as is Chapter 10 (The Working Day), Chapter 15 (Machinery and Modern Industry), and Chapter 25 (General Law of Capital Accumulation).

The shape of the book is not random. Commodity is the right point of departure, and together with the subsequent two chapters, on Exchange, and Money, sets the scene for Chapters 4 and 5 which give the outline "General Formula for Capital".

The remaining 28 chapters are, broadly, a carefully-paced rolling out of the idea of Surplus-Value, with all its implications, in short easy, and sometimes repetitive steps; with the exception of Chapters 10, 15 and 25. Yet these "books within the book" are not outside of the quest for "secret of the self-expansion of capital".

Consequent design of the series "Capital by a Freirean Method"

The above considerations led to the following decisions:

  • The series would begin with Marx's 1848 study-circle text called "Wage Labour and Capital", and specifically with Engels' 1891 Introduction to the first publication of that text, because it explains why Karl Marx worked for so many years on the question of Surplus-Value – a question that had not been fully answered in 1848, by anyone.
  • There would also be four other intermediate texts showing the development of Marx's work between 1847 and 1867. These would tend to give an overview of the main work, and assist the reader/student to get a grasp of it in total.

Capital Volume 1 would be reduced, where necessary, in the following ways:

  • Text would be left out (i.e. "redacted"). This has been done with the third section of Chapter 1, with six of the ten sections in Chapter 15, and with all of Chapter 25.
  • Footnotes would be left out. This is regrettable! The footnotes to Capital are a treasury of great worth. For this reason, where there is spare space in terms of working to multiples of four pages for printing purposes (see above), footnotes have been left in.

Capital Volume 1 would be re-divided in the following ways:

  • Short Chapters would be combined together.
  • Long Chapters would be divided (or in the case of Chapter 25, left out).
  • In one case, (Chapters 2 and 3) one chapter is divided and part of it added to the previous chapter
  • The above to result a division of Capital Volume 1 into 20 parts.
  • The overall length of the series, including the 4 precursor texts, to be 24 parts, capable of being tackled in two 12-week parts.

The arrangement of Capital as published in the first English edition (1887) is given at the end of this Introduction, below.


The Communist University's practice is absolutely not to have a lecturer, but instead to have one of the participating comrades, who has read the text, to "open the discussion" in the tried and tested communist manner.

An opening need not be a summary of the text. It can be a "review" of the text in the manner of a book review. Or it can be a frank statement of points in the text or expressions that the comrade found impossible to understand.

But most of all it is to bring forward one or two points for discussion out of the text, and so to "break the ice" and begin the dialogue.

In this set, which is to be published in the first place on the Internet, short "Openings" are given to each of the 24 parts of the Capital Volume 1 series. These are based on the publication of many of these parts in the Communist University blog and e-mail circulation.

These "Openings" are given as examples and as possible assistance to the reader. One could even read them all at once to get another quick overview of the work. But if their quality is not high, you should not complain. They are not given as a substitute for the text, or for the dialogue that, according to Freirean theory, will be necessary before you can internalise the text in a socially-useful way.


Volume One
The Process of Production of Capital

Prefaces and Afterwords 

Part I: Commodities and Money 
Ch. 1: Commodities 
Ch. 2: Exchange 
Ch. 3: Money, or the Circulation of Commodities

Part II: The Transformation of Money in Capital 

Ch. 4: The General Formula for Capital 
Ch. 5: Contradictions in the General Formula of Capital 
Ch. 6: The Buying and Selling of Labour-Power

Part III: The Production of Absolute Surplus-Value 

Ch. 7: The Labour-Process and the Process of Producing Surplus-Value 
Ch. 8: Constant Capital and Variable Capital 
Ch. 9: The Rate of Surplus-Value 
Ch. 10: The Working-Day 
Ch. 11: Rate and Mass of Surplus-Value

Part IV: Production of Relative Surplus Value 

Ch. 12: The Concept of Relative Surplus-Value 
Ch. 13: Co-operation 
Ch. 14: Division of Labour and Manufacture 
Ch. 15: Machinery and Modern Industry

Part V: The Production of Absolute and of Relative Surplus-Value 

Ch. 16: Absolute and Relative Surplus-Value 
Ch. 17: Changes of Magnitude in the Price of Labour-Power and in Surplus-Value 
Ch. 18: Various Formula for the Rate of Surplus-Value

Part VI: Wages 

Ch. 19: The Transformation of the Value (and Respective Price) of Labour-Power into Wages 
Ch. 20: Time-Wages 
Ch. 21: Piece-Wages 
Ch. 22: National Differences of Wages

Part VII: The Accumulation of Capital 

Ch. 23: Simple Reproduction 
Ch. 24: Conversion of Surplus-Value into Capital 
Ch. 25: The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation

Part VIII: Primitive Accumulation 

Ch. 26: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation 
Ch. 27: Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land 
Ch. 28: Bloody Legislation against the Expropriated, from the End of the 15th Century. Forcing down of Wages by Acts of Parliament 
Ch. 29: Genesis of the Capitalist Farmer 
Ch. 30: Reaction of the Agricultural Revolution on Industry. Creation of the Home-Market for Industrial Capital 
Ch. 31: Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist 
Ch. 32: Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation 
Ch. 33: The Modern Theory of Colonisation

To read this and other Marxist texts in full, please go to

1. Codification: A codification is a representation of the learner's day-to-day situations. It can be a photograph, a drawing, or even a word. As a representation, the photograph or word is an abstraction which permits dialogue leading to an analysis of the concrete reality represented. Codifications mediate between reality and its theoretical context, as well as between educators and learners who together seek to unveil the meanings of their existence.

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