Review of 'Marx's Capital', Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho, Pluto £9.99
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we were told that the end of history had arrived and that neoliberalism had triumphed. A decade later the boasts of our rulers look premature to say the least. Capitalism has shown itself unable to provide even the basic necessities of life for the majority of the world's population.
This has sparked the rise of the anti-capitalist movement and a revival of interest in the greatest anti-capitalist of them all. I was sitting on a bus reading this book one day, when a young woman sat down next to me and opened a copy of the Communist Manifesto. Karl Marx's ideas are finding a new audience, making the republishing of this book very timely.
Marxism is treated by some as a crystal ball that gives believers the powers of Mystic Meg. While that is not the case, the brilliant dissection of the inner workings of capitalism in Marx's greatest work, Capital, remains a stunningly accurate picture of how the system works. The chapters in Volume One on the struggles over the length of the working day and the descriptions of the conditions in the factories of Lancashire in the 1840s are uncannily reminiscent of the sweatshops of the developing world today.
Just as Marx saw in Victorian Britain, workers across the world today are under constant pressure to increase absolute surplus value through the extension of the working day. This is what lies behind the demands of governments and employers to make us work until the age of 70, to intimidate us into coming to work when we are ill, and the constant reorganisation of the labour process through new technology, call centres and superstores.
Marx's analysis of money capital in Volume Three lays the basis for a concrete explanation of the financial system today and how it reacts back on the productive sector of the economy. His theory of the historic tendency of the rate of profit to fall and cyclical crises of overproduction has been borne out exactly by the recessions that continue to hit the world every ten years or so.
In Capital, Marx approaches the key elements of the system first from one angle then another. He looks at the system at the abstract level then proceeds to progressively more concrete analyses, returning to ideas previously introduced at a greater level of complexity. He presents a wealth of empirical detail culled from the reports of parliamentary subcommittees.
Clearly a book of 200 pages cannot do justice to all that, but the authors brilliantly set out the key ideas of Capital in all their richness, yet concisely and without patronising the reader. On occasion I felt that they could have explained things a bit better. Marx's theory of crisis is dotted about Capital, never being set out clearly in one place. However, I felt the authors could have explained the tendency of the rate of profit to fall more clearly.
Nonetheless, this book is an excellent introduction to Capital and a great refresher course if you have already read it. It can also serve as a useful guide for anyone wanting to tackle Marx in the original. Buy and read this book, then try Capital Volume One. You will never regret making the effort.