Appropriating Marx’s Capital I


Two decades after 1989, when he was too hastily consigned to oblivion, Karl Marx has returned to the limelight. In the last few years Capital has not only received the attention of university professors, but has also been the focus of widespread interest prompted by the international financial crisis, as leading daily and weekly papers throughout the world have been discussing the contemporary relevance of its pages. Furthermore, the literature dealing with Marx, which all but dried up 20 years ago, is showing signs of revival in many countries; and there are now, once again, many international conferences and university courses dedicated to his analysis of capitalism. Though among the most important books of the last 150 years, Marx’s Capital nevertheless represents an incomplete project. Marx himself was only able to publish the first volume (1867) in his lifetime; volumes two (1885) and three (1894) were prepared for publication by Friedrich Engels. Moreover, after Engels’ death, many of Capital’s preparatory manuscripts were published by others still, some of which provided valuable further elucidations of Marx’s theoretical project, sometimes significantly changing previous interpretations (e.g., the Grundrisse, published by the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute of Moscow in 1939, and translated into English only in 1973).

The first part of this course aims to reconstruct all the stages of Marx’s critique of political economy (starting from Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844), and, particularly, the making of Capital, Volume I through its various preparatory drafts, like the Grundrisse (the interpretation of which will be emphasized), the Theories of Surplus Value and the ‘Results of the Immediate Process of Production’, better known as the ‘Unpublished Chapter VI’.

The second part of the seminar will be dedicated to a close reading of Capital, Volume I, with particular attention to the following topics: a) the transformation of money into capital; b) the analysis of absolute and relative surplus-value; c) the primitive accumulation of capital; and d) Marx’s conception of post-capitalistic society as it appears in the most political sections of his opus magnum.

The final class of the course will look critically at the readings of Capital elaborated by some of the main schools of Marxism of the Twentieth Century, and consider the most important works published in recent years on the continuing relevance of Marx’s Capital for an understanding of the contemporary world and its problems.


York University

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GS/POLS 6060 3.0 M (W) – GS/SPTH 6200 3.0