By Nick Webber
Like most spontaneous uprisings, our student-organised reading group on Marx’s Capital, Volume I succumbed eventually to the pressures of everyday life, and things like essay deadlines, conference abstracts and bourgeois insouciance saw our numbers steadily dwindle over the weeks until just a few hardy proles remained. (A different vision of ‘class struggle’, perhaps.) For those who lasted the distance, though, the complex, acausal world of surplus value, commodity fetishism and socially necessary labour time was the reward, every Monday morning at 10 a.m. (or thereabouts!).
Our reading was supplemented by a series of free online lectures given by Marx whiz David Harvey—a man with a pleasing array of jumpers, a rather natty beard and the title of Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York. As the lectures progressed we were soon deep into our (now satisfyingly) dog-eared and note-filled copies of Capital, and terms like ‘relative surplus value’ and ‘primitive accumulation’, previously bewildering and opaque, were starting to yield a little to discussion and context. Not that any of us would claim to be experts, of course; enthusiastic beginners is probably closer to the mark.
But then proficiency in the subject matter was always something of an incidental (if beneficial) factor in establishing the study group in the first place. More significant, I think, was the do-it-yourself atmosphere of the whole enterprise: the room-booking, the online discussion group, the scheduled lecture sessions. That a few of us now know a great deal more than we once did about someone very influential is a bonus, but I always saw it more as an excuse to get together with fellow postgraduates, outside of the normal pedagogic frameworks of university life, to discuss literature, drink coffee and eat lunch!
A further benefit of such a resource, though, is that it helps to highlight similar online courses which might otherwise have passed us by. David Harvey has just recently started uploading a series of companion lectures to Capital, Volume II, for example, and Yale University has, among other courses on Milton and the American novel, a frequently interesting ‘Introduction to Theory of Literature’ course available on both iTunesU and oyc.yale.edu/english. All of which leaves plenty of opportunity to unionize, organize and have a damn good go at overthrowing the capitalist mode of production. Or to discuss literature with friends, at any rate.