[OPE-L:3791] Re: How to teach CAPITAL

Steve Kee (s.keen@uws.edu.au)
Fri, 6 Dec 1996 17:09:16 -0800 (PST)

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A few interspersed comments on Jerry's interesting bookshop discovery.
I'd better add that these apply to *two* lectures I give on Marx in an
(compulsory) HET course. As you can imagine, it's rather a brief

Gerald Levy wrote:
> (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?

I've had some success with Powerpoint presentations, and the use of
computer simulation software (such as Vissim) to show off dynamic models
(such as Goodwin's model, which captures Marx's dynamic model at the
beginning of Chapter 25)

> 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
> - -
> --------------
> interdependent
> (End excerpt)
> Comments and questions:
> =======================
> (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?
> (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 ...."?

On (4), I agree completely, of course. I teach the whole of Marx's
analysis from that point--though as you know I use it to dismiss the
LTV. On (2), the diagram I use is something like

- -
- - - -
- exch- - use- -
ange value
- value - -
- - - -
- -
<-- dialectical tension -->

I.e., that the social unity of the commodity exists in society (which in
our case is a capitalist one, that society focuses upon the
exchange-value of the commodity, thus thrusting the use-value into the
background, but the use-value of a commodity is integral to it, hence
generating a dialectical tension. I use this as a starting point to
discuss the source of surplus value, etc. I also go "backwards in time"
to validate the idea that the use-value of a commodity does not
determine its exchange-value by arguing that in feudal society,
use-value would have been brought to the foreground, and (pretty much
the case in _Pre-capitalist..._) that use-value would have affected
exchange-value in the early days of exchange.

I finish up with a much more elaborate diagram which encapsulates
dialectics of labor, the realisation of surplus value, money, and newly
developed products. I'm not even going to try transcribing that ASCII

> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
> (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
> think?

I side with Dunayevskaya. Leaving out Ch.1 emasculates the dialectics
from Capital, and Sweezy did much damage there. But I prefer to start
with excerpts from the Grundrisse before Capital, since these state
Marx's commodity dialectics much more clearly.

> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
> (begin excerpt)
> Three methods of teaching may be applied throughout the course:
> (2) What methods have you used successfully *other* than the 3 methods
> above?

I've had great success with tutorials where there are 2 discussants for
every seminar presentation by the students. In addition, each (2 hour)
class begins with an hour of reading from original sources, so that even
the laziest student in the class have some appreciation of what is being
discussed. All have a chance to get marks from participation (most to
the presenter, of course), and there is a bias in the marking to
encourage presentations which engender good class discussion.