Das Kapital for Beginners

Issue section: 

Michael Wayne

In this impressive book Michael Wayne attempts (and manages) the seemingly impossible. He compresses the many years of Marx's political, economic and philosophical studies that went into the three volumes of Capital into a slim documentary comic book of 137 pages as part of the For Beginners series.

The series reduces major theoretical works into more accessible and digestible works of graphic non-fiction. Other good books in the series include ones on Noam Chomsky and Malcolm X. Wayne begins by explaining why Marx's Capital still has relevance today.

A decade ago such an introduction might have seemed more needed. But in the midst of the economic crisis and with sales of Capital increasing by 1,000 percent in Germany in 2008 it hardly seems necessary.

Marx's critique of capitalism "continues to fashion tools for each new generation wanting to understand the world" and this book is a good starting point in understanding what is wrong at the heart of the system. The book has an abundance of useful quotes from Capital, and prefaces each one with thorough and well-executed explanations and examples that are consistent and easy to grasp.

The three volumes of Capital are notorious for being difficult to read. Michael Wayne manages to condense such a complex book by putting Marx's words into contemporary situations. For example, he provides clear and in-depth explanations of core theories such as the circuit of exchanges, the circuit of capital, value and commodity fetishism.

Wayne successfully simplifies Marx's argument surrounding the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. In order to accumulate more capital and increase profits, the capitalist will spend more money on constant capital (buildings, machinery, raw materials), especially new machinery, rather than variable capital (labour power). Short-term gains for individual capitalists transform into a downward pressure on the rate of profit. However, it then seems, strangely, that Wayne tries to delegitimise Marx's argument by saying that it is difficult to prove empirically on its own terms. He goes on to claim that Marx "merely used illustrative figures that bore no relationship to the real economy".

The accompanying illustrations by Sungyoon Choi, a comic book artist with regular cartoons in the New York Times, help to break up large blocks of text which could otherwise be seen as intimidating.

The publication of Capital was a historic event in that it provided the first thorough examination of why crises are inherent to capitalism. Wayne ends the book by giving a solution of sorts. He briefly explains that Marxist thinking is not just about the criticism of capitalism but how society can be different, and how socialism can provide a better world for all. Das Kapital for Beginners is a must read for all who are new to Marx, find Capital hard to digest, or simply want to brush up on some of Marx's major theoretical ideas.

Marx's Das Kapital for Beginners is published by Steerforth £11.99