In Honor of Red Books Day – Reading Capital, Volume 1

In honor of Red Books Day, the University of the Poor Capital Volume 1 Study Group shared some of their reflections on the impact of studying Marx’s work together as comrades in an international revolutionary struggle led by the poor and dispossessed.

Part of growing as a leader is pushing ourselves to do things that are hard, and supporting other people that are doing this. In our study of Karl Marx’s Capital Volume 1 we are all doing different levels of this; one comrade has been reading this for decades, and another comrade knows all the volumes of Capital, and also there are people who are going through the text a first or a second time. It’s moving that everyone has something to bring to it, and also that we all have something to teach.  This is a Tool and a Weapon for us for the class war that we are all embedded in. Marx knew what he was doing in wanting to capture the understanding of how capital  really functions and he knew that the struggle was going to exist past his lifetime. This feels deep! Studying this text helps us understand the poor and dispossessed as the leading social force in a new way. Labor organizing is defensive organizing. We are going on the offense to the logic of the capitalist system by framing things in terms of human rights. It makes a ton of sense that the ruling class is leaving out a certain development of capital and the extension of the laws of motion of capital. But this text shows us where and what to be focusing our attention, who we should be organizing. The leading social force is showing what could and will be happening, and it shows other people who are focusing on their own rights that there is something greater. Capitalists have to constantly revolutionize technology to throw each other out of competition. That’s not going to stop. Capitalism can’t be reformed, have a nicer face, and it shows the need for clarity about revolution through the study of revolution. 

Political economy is half of strategy and so any kind of organization that we build to do our part in the United States as part of this worldwide revolutionary process we are in has to be based in reality and deepening our connection to that section of society that is objectively revolutionary, and we can’t understand that if we don’t have a firm grasp of this system, where it’s headed, the nature of the crisis, and the impact it is having.

Capital Volume 1 is a fundamental text all of our leaders need to read and master. This is my fifth time reading it and it’s the first time I am giving it the attention it deserves. I look forward to doing that more. The work of applying it comes through the continued processing. It’s not just something that happens as we are reading. We have to reflect on our notes, think about it consciously, taking responsibility.  We need to understand the mechanics of why and how this system functions.

Studying and teaching Marx‘s Capital  has had a profound impact on my life. It has made it clear that we’re not just dealing with a few greedy individuals who are making society go so badly. Understanding Capital means that we can and must build a revolutionary movement to transform the entire system based on the capitalist class withholding the abundance of the planet from the great majority of us.That has been one of the most freeing lessons of my life – that I can struggle for life and dignity alongside my siblings across the globe. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Studying Capital I was able to see that Marx was dialectical, and to describe how capital developed, I thought it was very enlightening to show the exploitation of the way the workers were exploited, the women, and the children. It is a blueprint to show how capitalism developed through today, and the crisis that is developing – a major crisis based on the fact that we have automation, and artificial intelligence, applied to production which is cheapening the cost of necessary labor time. But every technological advance today is at the detriment of the working class. At the same time capitalists are driven towards making more and more profit. Their margin of surplus value decreases the more they have to implement this new technology. Rather than make life easier for the workers, with less time at work and more time for cultural endeavors, it’s making people homeless on the streets. It’s a book that needs to be studied and studied.

I cried when I first read the Communist Manifesto. I remember thinking, “Someone sees my father.” This guy from a hundred some years ago was speaking truth to my father’s own struggle. My father blamed himself for not being the rich person capitalism told him he should be if he just worked hard enough. The truth is capitalism caused his death. If he was part of a global network like ours –  a growing international, revolutionary movement fighting for our freedom together –  I believe he would still be alive. Marx’s work is helping me understand more deeply how important it is that we as poor and working people continue to fight and come together across all lines of difference around the world. I feel more armed for battle with political study. It is important we are clear and un-manipulatable by the ruling class. With such clarity, strategy, and connection to each other, it is inevitable we will win.

Capital has fundamentally changed my life and developed me as an organizer. It has developed my understanding of the ruling class, and also really solidified my understanding of what we need to do as leaders, teachers, organizers in this moment. For a long time, I never understood what we meant when we said, “You only get what you are organized to take.” This slogan, which came out of the National Union of the Homeless, is repeated again and again in our network, but it wasn’t until a comrade of mine explained it further that I understood the gravity of this statement. We won’t win anything until we win everything; every victory that we may achieve can be taken away from us at any moment as long as we live under capitalism. The true task of us revolutionaries is to develop generals to be with us in this struggle, who are smart enough to know the ruling class better than the ruling class knows themselves, and to develop a strategy and plan not just to struggle, but to win! 

Below are the lyrics to a song created by one comrade, inspired by our collective study of Capital and our larger revolutionary struggle. You can listen to the audio recording here.

We need a revolution / in our hands 

The danger is we’re caught inside the net of myth 

Inside the net of fear

Inside the net of theft

It’s in everything we do

It’s in everything we think

It’s metals in the air

It’s metals in the sea

And I think I understand how hard it’s been 

We need a revolution 

I hope we understand the solutions in our hands 

We are the revolution 

So maybe we are not where we wish we were

But still we’re here on the earth 

Now we must recognize

It’s time to cross these lines

It’s time to unite and fight for our life.

I think we understand how hard it’s been 

We need a revolution 

I hope we understand the solutions in our hands 

We are the revolution 

Right here, the revolution 

When you lift from the bottom everybody rises

I think we understand how hard it’s been 

We need a revolution 

I hope we understand the solutions in our hands 

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