Reading Marx with Jakob Hanschu

PREFACE: Reading Marx with Jakob Hanschu is a Maurin Academy Reading Group focused on the works of Karl Marx. The name for the group is a play on the widely popular “Reading Capital with David Harvey” course/video series on Youtube. (Disclaimer: Jakob’s beard is not as rad as Dr. Harvey’s, nor does Jakob possess Harvey’s level of expertise). The purpose of the group is to learn from, question, struggle with, and appreciate Marx’s texts together. Part of the impetus for the group is that many of Marx’s works appear imposing—Capital, for example, is comprised of three books coming in at nearly 1,000 pages each—and are indeed difficult, at least at times. By reading Marx together, we can learn not only what he said, but how his thought applies (or doesn’t) to our own world.

DETAILS: The group will meet the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at 7pm CST. Sessions are expected to run 90 minutes, give or take a quarter hour. The first session will be February 8, from 7-8:30pm CST. The format for the group will be to literally read Marx together. We will start with Das Kapital. I’ll distribute PDF copies from Marxists.org (if you have your own copy, that’s fine too), and these will be read during the 90-minute session. We’ll work through Capital, Volume 1 sentence by sentence, stopping for discussion and questions as they arise and/or are necessary. Nobody is expected to do any reading outside of the group meetings (but everyone is of course welcome to!).

HOW TO JOIN: Join the group by subscribing at any level on Patreon (patreon.com/maurinacademy).

GOAL: To just read the text until we can think to ourselves “ok, this is what he means here.” The book is difficult to tie together, so our goal is to figure out what Marx means. It’s not about claiming mastery of this dense text that is overloaded with concepts, claims, references, and arguments, but to struggle together and piece together what Marx means. If we can figure out what the book means, piece it together, we can then also address what the text is doing, and judge its validity, utility, etc.

PLAN: I have no idea how long the reading will take, or how we will progress. The tentative plan is to get through the end of Chapter 1 and then re-evaluate with those that have been attending. Other texts for future consideration are The Eighteenth Brumaire, the Grundrisse, selections from Rosa Luxemburg’s Accumulation of Capital, and some of Trotsky’s essays on everyday life. But for now, and the foreseeable future, we set our sights on Das Kapital.

WHY MARX? Marx is a divisive figure, especially in contemporary American society. But this division isn’t limited to a left-right binary. Amongst supposedly ‘lefty’ academics Marx is disparaged for being a theorist of ‘grand narratives’ or for other sins against the PC gods. And even within so-called ‘Marxist circles’ Marx is a divisive figure, in this sense because he’s held up as a type of god to which one must pay homage correctly else be perceived as ‘vulgar marxist’ ilk. All this is to say that Marx’s influence is immense. It’s to the point that there are commentaries on commentaries. Yet, if we want to understand Marx’s thought, the best we can do is read is work. To do the difficult work of interpreting what he means, tracing out the implications of his ideas, and critiquing—or exalting—after the fact.

WHY NOW?: I’ll start with a quote from Japanese social theorist Mita Sekisuke, who writes that “I think I have learned from Marxist political economy, scientifically and concretely, how life is led under today’s society. Unlike modern – i.e., bourgous – economics, this is a study of the economy that also deals with our way of living.” What Marx produced is not an economic science so much as it is a critical social theory of modernity and the capitalist social form, wherein sociality itself is mediated via labor and individuals are dominated by abstract constraints and imperatives. Today’s world is not Marx’s world, yet the core or fundamental logic of contemporary capitalist society is not altogether different from what Marx describes. Capitalist social relations dominate people and the environment alike, leaving both the worse for wear. Moreover, as Laurie and I recently argued in a book chapter, capitalism has produced a crisis of meaning by obliterating traditional social mores and institutions, leading to increased psycho-spiritual distress, which, when not resulting in death leads to an existence that is all but.

CAPITAL…NOT THE MANIFESTO, REALLY? I am a major proponent of reading primary texts. If this were a weekly 3 hour seminar on Marx, we’d all read the Manifesto and much more besides. But it is not, and the choice to read Capital—and to read Capital first—was a conscious one. The Manifesto is OK and most of us have probably read it, or at least know its most colorful sayings: “all that is liquid melts into air” and the like. It’s the kind of text that one can readily read on one’s own in an afternoon. As a political pamphlet its rousing but its relevance for critical social thought is somewhat limited, and pales in comparison to what is offered in Capital. To understand the core of capitalist society and the very logic that governs sociality, Capital is an indispensable resource. It offers an analytically rigorous critical theory of the capitalist social formation, its inner workings, what is at stake in anti-capitalist struggle.

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