People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 07

February 13, 2011

Marx’s Capital

Republished by Leftword

Zico Dasgupta


LEFTWORD has recently republished the three volumes of Marx’s Capital, alongwith an Introductory Reader on Capital with contributions from Marxist authors like Prabhat Patnaik and others. The Capital volumes and the reader were released in a book release program held in JNU on 4 February. A panel discussion on ‘Reading Capital Today’ was jointly organized by the SFI and the Leftword on this occasion. The speakers in this discussion were Professor Jayati Ghosh (CESP, JNU), Siddharth Varadarajan (Chief-of-Bureau, The Hindu), Professor Utsa Patnaik (CESP, JNU) and Prakash Karat (CPI-M General Secretary). The discussion was chaired by Professor G P Deshpande. The discussion was preceded by JANAM’s classic play Machine. The programme attracted a large number of students and academics from JNU and outside and over 100 copies of Capital and 300 copies of the reader were sold on that day.


Speaking on the occasion, Jayati Ghosh noted that there has been a revival of interest in Capital after the global economic crisis. Though many simplistic interpretations of Capital described the economic crisis as a prophecy of Marx, she pointed out that the book is not just about the immanent tendencies for crisis within capitalism. “The work is important for the critical insights it offers into things which are otherwise seemingly incomprehensible”, she added. Speaking about the relevance of Capital today, she cited the phenomenon that Marx termed as ‘commodity fetishism’. She noted that such a phenomenon is witnessed in the newspaper front pages on a daily basis today, as well as in the pronouncement of the policy makers. She also pointed out the increased relevance of analyzing imperialism within the Marxian framework in the contemporary world. “Capital provides a framework to understand the world, and also to change it”, she noted.


Siddharth Varadarajan recollected that his first brush with Capital was when it was taught by Professor Michio Morishima in the London School of Economics. Varadarajan noted that the first lesson of the book is that inequality and poverty are not the products of bad policies; rather it follows from the process of capital accumulation itself. Though it does not imply that one should not fight for more humane policies, but such battles do not change the fundamental relations within a capitalist system, he added.  He noted that the so-called “humane policies” of the Manmohan Singh government are grossly inadequate. He argued that monopoly capital in India has greatly benefited from the ongoing phenomenon, of what Marx termed as the ‘primitive accumulation of capital’. He noted that while a revolution is required to eradicate the capitalist system, such a revolution is not inevitable and requires a revolutionary party to do so. He concluded by saying that more thought is required in devising a revolutionary strategy in a context like India’s, where the big bourgeoisie has developed considerably and is harbouring imperial ambitions. 


Utsa Patnaik said that the three volumes of Capital were products of great dedication and sacrifice made by Karl Marx during his lifetime in pursuit of the objective of laying bare the anatomy of capitalism and the process of capital accumulation. Thereby, Marx showed that such a process leads to wealth at one pole and misery at the other, she added. Utsa Patnaik highlighted four aspects of Capital: first the theory of surplus value, second, Marx’s theory of money, third the theory of rent and fourth, the existence of the reserve army of labour as a necessary condition for the existence of capitalism. She noted that unlike the phenomenon of exploitation in the process of pre-capitalist accumulation, which is largely transparent and visible, the process of exploitation in the capitalist system is much more complex and subtle. The theory of surplus value analyzed such a process and showed how exploitation originates within the capitalist system, she added. In sharp contrast to the monetarist theory of money, she argued that Marx’s theory of money depended on the labour theory of value and could explain the existence of involuntary unemployment in a capitalist system.


Utsa Patnaik pointed out that Marx’s theory of rent emphasised on the property relations unlike the theory of rent in Ricardo. The concept of ‘ground rent’ in Marx was a devastating critique of the notion of Ricardian rent, she noted. Finally, she touched upon the existence of the reserve army of labour as a necessary condition for the survival of capitalism. She argued that the separation of the peasantry from their lands was required to create propertyless workers and the smooth functioning of capitalism. She noted that the reserve army of labour is swelling up under the neoliberal regime in countries like ours in the absence of ‘open frontiers’ – unlike in the earlier phase of capitalist development, which saw large-scale migration to the continents of America, Australia, etc. which helped in keeping unemployment under check and wages to rise in the countries of Western Europe. Such ‘open frontiers’ are no longer available today and therefore, no escape from increasing unemployment and misery under capitalism.


Speaking about the relevance of Marx’s Capital in the contemporary world, Prakash Karat emphasised the necessity of the Marxian framework to understand phenomena like the global economic crisis and the large-scale corruption being witnessed in India today. He pointed out that the existence of corruption cannot be seen as an aberration to the capitalist system; rather, it has to be perceived as means for accumulating capital and hence as an intrinsic part of the capitalist system itself. He argued that corruption can be effectively fought only by fighting against the neoliberal regime.


Prakash Karat highlighted two aspects of Marx’s theory: first, the theory of surplus value which analysed the exploitation of the working class under capitalism and second, the concept of historical materialism which identified class struggle as a locomotive of history. The recent people’s upsurge in Egypt against the despotic regime of Hosni Mubarak, he said, has to be understood within this framework. He pointed out that recent developments in Egypt were not a sudden occurrence but a consequence of prolonged working class struggle against the onslaughts unleashed by the neoliberal regime headed by Mubarak. While the working class movements were severely repressed during 60s and the 70s, it again gained momentum in the last decade. The high point of these movements came during the general strike of the Egyptian workers, primarily the textile workers, on 6 April 2008 against low wages and rising food costs. Such protests have continued since then and have culminated in the recent uprising. “Thus it is the prolonged working class struggles which has strengthened the present movement and enabled it to withstand all odds”, he noted.


Concluding the discussion, G P Deshpande pointed out the tremendous influence of Marx’s ideas in the fields of literature, art and culture in the 20th century. He encouraged the audience, particularly youngsters to read Marx’s works, Capital in particular, in order to shape a better society in days to come.