Perhaps one of the most daunting challenges facing anyone interested in the progress of radical economic thinking over the last two centuries are the three considerable volumes of Das Kapital (or Capital). These volumes are based upon the extensive research by the 19th century Revolutionary-Humanist, Karl Marx. Perhaps the first hurdle to overcome by many people is a commonly-held, but mistaken assumption. It is that what Marx wrote was in some way responsible for the authoritarian practices and attendant atrocities carried out by those such as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao and their many sectarian followers. For, in the 20th century, in revolutionary Russia, China and elsewhere, these claimed to be acting in line with Marx’s thinking. However, Marx, as he once emphatically declared himself, (and from exhaustive research I can confirm) was definitely not a ‘Marxist’.
The second hurdle to overcome is the sheer length and complexity of Marx’’s detailed forensic work on Political Economy – Das Kapital! The three volumes of this particular research amount to 2,157 pages, the last two thirds of which (as with his previous Grundrisse notebooks) are mostly constructed from unfinished notes. In this particular case they were compiled by his loyal friend and collaborator Frederick Engels. As Marx noted about his economic researches, (in an 1872 preface to Volume 1); “only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits”.
Indeed, I suggest, having read it, that Das Kapital, should be an important intellectual foundation for any serious revolutionary anti-capitalist movement. So if any new, or existing, activists consider that they would like (or ought) to make the attempt to climb this particular anti-capitalist Everest of economic critique, I offer the following documents as a possible preparation for that task.
By entering the long Web links below into a search engine, compilations of my own notes and extracts taken from the three volumes of Capital, during my second reading of them some decades ago can be obtained. These notes reduce those steep paths from 774 pages down to 47 for volume 1; 523 pages down to 49 for volume 2; and 860 pages down to 63 for volume 3. Although this is a considerable reduction, (ie 2,157 pages to 159) I have tried to faithfully capture the dominant ‘essence’ of each chapter in each volume.
I have also made occasional comments (identified by the bracketed initials RR) linking 19th century events with contemporary examples. However, they (and the chosen illustrative quotations) remain my own individual perspective and selections. These much abbreviated inclines, may still involve passing through a number of complex twists and turns, but during the journey there are some spectacular Revolutionary-Humanist viewpoints and insights – as outlined by Marx.
Roy Ratcliffe (May 2021)
Link to notes on Volume 1. Capitalist Production:
Link to notes on Volume 2. The Process of Circulation of Capital:
Link to notes on Volume 3. The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole: