Ah, I see what you did there, Karl!

Almost 17 years now of radical politics, and I confess that I’ve never read more than a few excerpts from the writing of Karl Marx. I think my anarchist pride provided me a sturdy shield from the intellectual intimidation that I always felt when reading his stuff. Sure, I’ve read dozens of analyses and summaries, listened to a heap of lectures, but I’ve never actually read much of his work.

Well, what a start to my Guatemalan summer…I’m reading Capital. I’m about 1/3 of the way through and…man, Marx sure was a clever chap.

It’s like a suspense story. A slow, quiet build up with careful and calculated exposition, Marx introducing his characters: use-value, exchange value, commodities, money, labor. They dance around each other, doing all their routine things, everything looks so pleasant and serene, so stable, so status quo. Then…the twist. What’s this profit thing doing here? This surplus-value? This little apostrophe after the M? Something just doesn’t add up, something isn’t right. When we look again, look more closely, the status quo is…wait for it…the scene of a crime! Enter his analysis ripping capitalism to shreds. Seriously, when I got to that chapter about labour-power as the source of surplus-value I dropped the book and went, “Oh no you didn’t, Karl!” It’s a tough sell, I know, but after the first couple of chapters, Marx’s Capital becomes a page turner!

Not to say that I’m completely convinced. I’m not. There’s nothing so far that’s making me want to shout from the rooftops that I’m a Marxist and that I embrace the “Marxian method.” Still, intellectually, I’m impressed and engaged, and it’s making me think all sorts of things about movement building.

Capital is making me want to get back to my ideas about accumulation and dual-power that I’ve written about before. The way that Marx understands the congelation and accretion of labor–>into commodities–>into capital–>into power is so useful. I think it’s actually the most useful thing about Marxism, so far in my view. Of course, Marx’s ideas help us understand how the capitalist system works, and potentially what can destabilize it (although those predictions have not borne much fruit for long-term movement gains), but they can also help us understand how labor (human activity) could also be accumulated and transformed outside of market transactions…this interests me far more.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi