John Holloway: Reading Capital

John Holloway will be  presenting his latest work ‘Reading Capital: wealth in-against-and-beyond value’ at the University of Lincoln, England, on 16th of June, 1 – 4pm in Room MB1012.

John’s reading and writings on Marxist social theory are highly influential as a way of rethinking Marx in terms of ‘Change the World without Taking Power’ (2005)  and abolishing the social relations of capitalist production through acts of resistance, as ways to ‘Crack Capitalism’ (2010).

In this new work, ‘Reading Capital’, John points out that Capital does not start with the commodity, as Marx and probably all commentators since Marx have claimed. It actually starts with wealth: “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’ …” Seeing wealth and not the commodity as the starting point has enormous consequences, both theoretically and politically.

To start with the commodity leads into the analysis of capitalism as a system of domination, into an attempt to understand how capitalism works, its laws of motion. Class struggle remains external to this analysis. Capital is understood as explaining the structural framework within which struggle takes place. The analysis, in this view, shows the necessity for revolution, but does not indicate how it might take place. Essentially capitalism is understood as a closed system that can be broken only by an external force (the Party, what Party?) in the future.

To start with wealth takes us in a very different direction. The relation between wealth and commodity is not one of identity. Wealth “appears as” commodities, but, in order for us to say that, there must be a remainder: it must also be true that wealth does not appear as commodities. In other words, wealth exists in-against-and-beyond the commodity form. The starting point, the relation between wealth and the commodity, is an antagonism, a non-containment, and overflowing. Class struggle, far from being external to Capital, is posed in the opening words of the book. What follows is not the analysis of a closed system but the development of an antagonism between wealth and commodity, use value and value and, crucially, concrete and abstract labour.

To say that Capital starts not with the commodity but with wealth is both revolutionary and self-evident. The challenge is to trace this antagonism through the three volumes of Capital. This is the theme of the talk.


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