[OPE-L:3769] How to teach CAPITAL

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 3 Dec 1996 18:15:17 -0800 (PST)

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Recently, while engaging in one of my favorite pastimes and occupational
hazards (searching through used bookstores), I came across a rather
interesting pamphlet by Raya Dunayevskaya called _Outline of Marx's
Capital: Volume One_ (prepared in the mid-1940s under the pseudonym of
Freddie Forrest, later published in Detroit in 1979 by News
and Letters Committees). The "Preface" is titled "How to teach CAPITAL."
Excerpts and comments and questions follow:

(begin excerpt):

It is possible to teach CAPITAL in fourteen lectures. A few elementary
suggestions will facilitate the orientation of both teacher and pupil.
For example, chalk and a blackboard do a lot to make visual ,complex
formulae. It is easier to remember any formula when it is written white
on black than when it is spoken. It also becomes a matter of course under
these circumstances to initial oft-repeated Marxian categories. This is
true not only of such expressions as constant capital (c.c.), variable
capital (v.c.) and surplus value (s.v.), but even the lengthier and
never-abbreviated one, socially-necessary labor time (s.n.l.t.).

(end excerpt).

Comments and questions:

(1) The expression "Marxian categories" when written in the 1940's is
interesting. I wonder: when did this expression "Marxian" begin? Who
originated it?

(2) The abbreviations are curious. Why not the more conventional c, v,
and s instead of c.c. v.c. and s.v.?

(3) The advice about using the blackboard is, of course, one that we have
all heard before and when teaching (presumably) practice. I wonder,
though, with some of the newer audio-visual techniques and computer
programs that were unavailable to Dunayevskaya: what *additional*
pedagogical instruments have you used to teach _Capital_? Would anyone care
to talk about some of their experiences in this regard?

(4) Oddly, there is no mention in the "Preface" of Volumes 2 and 3 of
_Capital_ and _Theories of Surplus Value_. Perhaps this is because
Dunayevskaya planned other pamphlets on the remaining published parts of
_Capital_ (certainly she mentions them in some of her other writings).
However, what I find most curious is that at the end of the "Preface"
where she lists recommended readings (reproduced below), she doesn't list
these other parts of _Capital_. From an instructional standpoint,
wouldn't you recommend to students that after reading V1 they then go on
next to read V2 and V3?

(begin excerpt)

With the exception of the introductory and concluding lectures, questions
are appended at the end of each lecture. However, a word of caution is
necessary. The question and answer method does not lend itself too well
to the study of Part I. The questions, however, can be of help here too,
provided the teacher is well aware that it is as essential to grasp Marx's
dialectic method as it is to comprehend the economic analysis. In fact,
unless we get hold of this *method* of analysis, the analysis itself
cannot be fully understood. It is necessary, therefore, to emphasize that
if we were to answer "use-value and value" to the question: "What are
the characteristics of a commodity?" we simply would not begin to cover
the importance of the two-fold nature of commodities. This is so because
the "and" in this case is not so much a conjunction as a
counter-position, that is, it is a use-value *on the one hand* and a
value *on the other hand*.

In the use-value and value of a commodity is contained, in germ the whole
contradiction of the capitalist system; it is the reflection of the class
struggle itself. It is important, therefore, that along with the
questions, the teacher devise key sentences to this section to help the
student comprehend not merely the answer to the question, but the method
of answering. Here is an example: The teacher explains that the key
sentence for section 1 of Chapter I is - the two factors of a commodity,
use-value and value, are of polar contrast and yet are interdependent.
Here, too, the blackboard does much to make the meaning stick. Written on
the blackboard, this key sentence, extended also to include exchange
value, would look like this:

polar contrast
- - Manifestation
Use value - yet - Value ----------------> Exchange Value
- -

(End excerpt)

Comments and questions:

(1) In the diagram above, the "polar contrast/yet/interdependent" should
look more like a circle.

(2) I found the comment about "key sentences" most interesting in that it
is a teaching technique that is very contemporary. Perhaps Dunayevskaya
was ahead of her time in this regard. Does anyone else have any neat
diagrams like the above that work well in the classroom?

(3) Dunayevskaya lays great emphasis on the *teacher* understanding
Marx's method of analysis. Yet, most students are unfamiliar with that
method when first studying _Capital_. Does this suggest that some
preliminary readings on method should be assigned before asking the
students to begin reading _Capital_? If so, what (short) readings would
you recommend?

(4) What do others think about the sentence in the second paragraph that
begins: "In the use-value and value of a commodity is contained, in germ
the whole contradiction ...."?

(begin excerpt)

Chapter I is the most difficult section of all of CAPITAL. Hence, a lot
of work should be put into it. In addition to the outline of the lecture,
the questions, the key sentences, attention should be drawn to the
examples of historical materialism contained in it. <snip>

Cross references are important both because they include various aspects
of the same question, and because they help keep the student interested
since they give him a bird's eye view of the sections of the book far
ahead of the particular one being studied. Cross references are included
both within the text of the outline and in some questions.

(end excerpt)

Comments and questions:

(1) I think most people would agree with Dunayevskaya that Chapter I is
the most difficult section to grasp. How many classes and/or weeks should
be allocated for the study of Ch. I?

(2) Dunayevskaya clearly believes that it is important to *begin* the
reading of _Capital_ with the Prefaces and Ch. I. Others such as Sweezy
(who she recommends that students go on to study) disagree. What do you

(begin excerpt)

Three methods of teaching may be applied throughout the course:

I. A student is asked to be a teacher for one section, or
II. The class is divided into four sections and each section is asked
to read a particular chapter and submit, in written form, two types of
questions: (1) the kind the pupil would like to have explained to him, or
(2) the kind the pupil would ask if he were teacher. This method should
be used towards the end of each part of the work covered. The questions
should be read out to the class and analysed from two points of view: (1)
whether the teacher has made himself understood by dealing with the
questions the pupils had in mind, and (2) to compare the different
reactions to the same material by different students, which generally
depend on what previous acquaintance with the subject each had.
III. The material that is to be dealt with in the given lecture is
divided up and assigned to various students who are *not* asked to make a
report. However, while the teacher is delivering the lecture, he stops
and directs questions to the students regarding the special assignments
each was to cover.

(end excerpt)

Comments and questions:

(1) What experiences do others have with the three methods above? What
works well? What doesn't?

(2) What methods have you used successfully *other* than the 3 methods

(3) The second method sounds something like a "study group." This method
has been practised successfully at the New School and other locations.
What is the best size for a study group? What should be the relation
between the teacher and the study group(s)?

(begin excerpt)

The first lecture is of primary importance because it does much to decide
whether the students will remain through-out the course or whether they
will drift away. This introductory lecture, entitled "The Aim, structure,
and Scope od CAPITAL" comprises the prefaces to CAPITAL, the Marx-Engels
correspondence regarding the work and an explanation of the structure of
the eight parts of CAPITAL.

The teacher should note the contents page where the fourteen lectures are
listed under five divisions: (I) Introduction; (II) The Phenomena of
Capitalism; (III) the Essence of Capitalism which is subdivided into (1)
The Capitalist Labor Process or the Production of Surplus Value and (2)
The Results of the Capitalist Labor Process or the Transformation of the
Value of Labor Power into Wages; (IV) The Law of Motion of Capitalist
Society; and (V) Conclusion. These divisions will help in giving the
lectures a certain cohesiveness and direction, instead of letting each
individual lecture hang by itself.

(end excerpt)

Comments and questions:

(1) What is the topic of the first lecture when you teach _Capital_? Is
it the same, and does it cover the same materials, as that suggested by

(2) Do you agree with the five divisions above?

(3) Is the "essence of capitalism" observed through an examination of
III(1) and III(2)?

(4) What *is* the "Law of Motion of Capitalist Society"? Is the laying
bare of this "law of motion" an "ultimate" task that Marx set himself for
V1 or for *all* of _Capital_?

(begin excerpt)

By the time the members of the class have reached the end of this course,
they should be well aware of the fact that CAPITAL has not been studied
as "theory for theory's sake," but as a guide to action. In the ensuing
discussion the class should be encouraged to try to apply the main
postulates of CAPITAL to the American economy. Stress should therefore
be laid on Trotsky's _Living Thoughts of Karl Marx_ where he does
precisely that.

No method of teaching CAPITAL can be an adequate substitute for its
serious study by each individual. It is hoped that this outline will lead
the student to such study. In addition to CAPITAL, the following reading
should be undertaken:

Marx: Critique of Political Economy
The Critique of a Gotha Program

Engels: Review of Marx's Critique of Political Economy
On Capital

Marx-Engels: Correspondence

Lenin: The Teachings of Karl Marx

Trotsky: Living Thoughts of Karl Marx

Blake: An American Looks at Karl Marx

Sweezy: The Theory of Capitalist Development, Part I

Dobb Political Economy and Capitalism, Chapters I-IV

Roll A History of Economic Thought, Chapters V-VII

Robinson: An Essay on Marxian Economics

(end excerpt)

Comments and questions:

(1) Do you agree with Dunayevskaya's suggestion about how the course
should be *ended*? If so, would you still recommend Trotsky's book or
would you use another work? If so, what?

(2) Of the readings suggested by Dunayevskaya for future reading, which
ones would you *not* recommend? Why?

(3) What readings that were not recommended by Dunayevskaya, written either
before or after her pamphlet, *would* you recommend that students
finishing a course on _Capital_ go on to read?

In solidarity,