I’m now on chapter 25 (class 11) of David Harvey’s hit video-cast CUNY lecture course, . Reading Marx’s Capital. As someone who’s both quite a fan of Marx and often fairly critical of Marxism, I really like the way Prof. Harvey lays out this course, and how he sums up Marx’s writings. For a brief view of communism, read the Communist Manifesto (it really isn’t long, or deep). But Capital lays out something different, and far more important: his critique of capitalism.

Marx’s arguments are often oversimplified or simply distorted to suit the needs of both his fans and enemies. But what’s written in Capital is very different from the stereotypes. It’s a thorough and dynamic understanding of capitalism, using traditional political economy (Smith, Ricardo etc) as a starting point. And it’s stunning how strongly these analyses and predictions still hold true today. His central argument – that workers are paid a small fraction of what their time is worth – is laid out in hundreds of pages of careful examination. And his findings turn a lot of orthadox economics on their head – which raises some questions about why capitalsit economic theory is still so firmly grounded in the 1820s.

What Harvey’s reading does is examine the book for what it’s worth, outside of a lot of the traditional Marxist dogma. It’s not at all simple, but it does the text some serious justice, as well as dispelling a lot of myths about what Marx actually wrote. Notions like the “labour theory of value”, the fatalistic historical determinism and the rigid, static view of the world aren’t actually backed up by the text. More often they’re taken out of context in what were clearly theoretical discussions based on mainstream nineteenth-century economists, or total oversimplifications. Marx saw the world as processes in motion, as forces and tendencies, rather than strict laws (he was a student of Hegel, after all). And the conclusions he reached and predictions he made still hold frighteningly true today, even long after the “fall of communism”. Things like Globalization, corporate consolidation, waves of layoffs due to high technology, crises of over-investment – it’s a little scary how much today’s business press mirrors exactly these same issues, over a century later. Did anything Adam Smith (or Alan Greenspan, for that matter) wrote come anywhere near as close to describing the economic world of 2010?

Again, I’m not only a fan of Marx. There are a lot of other important authors out there, from that era and since (though none more cited in academia). But for those who are neither communists nor anarchists, but want to learn, I’d highly suggest looking toward anarchism (and especially Anarcho-communism) for a good sense of which communist ideas, writings and authors are worth a serious look (because there are many), and which ones really aren’t.

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