Reading Capital politically

by Harry Cleaver

Paper Book, 2000


As social movements waned in the late 70s, the study of Marx seemed to take on a life of its own. Structuralist, post-structuralist, deconstructed Marxes bloomed in journals and seminar rooms across the US and Europe. These Marxes and their interpreters struggled to interpret the world, and sometimes to interpret Marx himself, losing sight at times of his dictum that the challenge is not to interpret the world but to change it. In 1979, Harry Cleaver tossed an incendiary device calledReading Capital Politically into those seminar rooms. Through a close reading of the first chapter, he shows thatDas Kapital was written for the workers, not for academics, and that we need to expand our idea of workers to include housewives, students, the unemployed, and other non-waged workers.Reading Capital Politically provides a theoretical and historical bridge between struggles in Europe in the 60s and 70s and, particularly, the Autonomia of Italy to the Zapatistas of the 90s. His introduction provides a brilliant and succinct overview of working class struggles in the century since Capital was published. Cleaver adds a new preface to the AK Press/Anti-Thesis edition.… (more)



Call number



Edinburgh : Leeds : AK ; Anti/Theses, 2000.

User reviews

LibraryThing member McCaine
Harry Cleaver in this, by now classic, book analyzes the core of Capital's analysis of capitalism from the perspective of better understanding the class struggle. In so doing, he strongly agitates against the 'political economy reading' of Marx, which sees his analysis as mainly an abstract
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mechanistic one, ignoring the role of the class struggle in the position of capital. As reviewer Byars has pointed out, this criticism fails because it is not the political economy reading but Capital itself that is one-sided: Marx intended to focus only on capitalism from the perspective of capital itself in this book, and there are indications he wanted to deal with the rest later. As we all know, he unfortunately died before being able to do this. Cleaver further repeats the by now ancient meme about Marx having the full, 'humanist' etc. understanding of things but the evil Engels giving a false impression of his works, so creating Marxism and all its Party orthodoxies. This was ridiculous nonsense then and it remains so now, and there are far too many otherwise competent Marxist authors repeating this. It's disappointing to see Cleaver is one of them.

Cleaver's explanation of the meaning of value, abstract labor and the qualitative as well as quantitative aspects of commodities in capitalism is excellent. The general level of the book is hardly easier to read than Capital itself, but is far shorter, which alone makes it worthwhile. His exposition on the mediating role of money is also good, but a bit too short and vague. This also goes for Cleaver's handling of the relation between value and price, which ignores issues with the so-called 'transformation problem' entirely.

Because of this, I give the work an overall four stars. It's certainly recommended for a clear, sharp understanding of the role the class struggle plays in Capital itself, as well as for a reasonable, though at times too succinct explanation of some basic terms like value and abstract labor. However, Cleaver's introduction, in which he sets out the work's relation to other Marxist works, is pompous and wrong. So stick to reading his main argumentation and ignore the rest.
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LibraryThing member Fledgist
A contribution, but not necessarily an important one.


Original publication date



1902593294 / 9781902593296
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