Reading Capital

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Reading Capital
Reading Capital, 1966 French edition.jpg
Cover of the 1966 edition
AuthorsLouis Althusser, Étienne Balibar, Roger Establet, Jacques Rancière, Pierre Macherey
Original titleLire le Capital
TranslatorsBen Brewster
David Fernbach
SubjectDas Kapital
PublisherFrançois Maspero, New Left Books
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages340 (abridged English translation)
565 (complete English translation)

Reading Capital (French: Lire le Capital) is a 1965 book about Karl Marx's Das Kapital by the philosophers Louis Althusser, Étienne Balibar, and Jacques Rancière, the sociologist Roger Establet, and the critic Pierre Macherey. An abridged English translation was published in 1970, and an unabridged translation in 2015. The book was influential among intellectuals.


The philosopher Louis Althusser and his co-authors — the philosopher Étienne Balibar, the sociologist Roger Establet, the philosopher Jacques Rancière, and the critic Pierre Macherey — discuss Karl Marx's Das Kapital (1867–1883) and subjects such as the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, and historical materialism. Rancière notes that his contribution builds on Althusser's For Marx (1965).[1]

Publication history[edit]

Reading Capital was first published in French by François Maspero in 1965. An abridged French François Maspero edition followed in 1968. An abridged Italian translation was also published. An abridged English translation by Ben Brewster was published in 1970 by New Left Books. An unabridged English translation by Ben Brewster and David Fernbach was published in 2015 by Verso Books.[2][3]


The philosopher Roger Scruton criticized Althusser for falsely claiming that Das Kapital had been ignored by bourgeois economists, ignoring criticism of the labor theory of value, and treating Marx's work as though it were beyond criticism, in Thinkers of the New Left (1985). He also described Reading Capital as pretentious and obscure.[4] Andrew Levine wrote in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (1999) that, together with For Marx, Reading Capital caused a sensation in French intellectual circles, attracted a large international readership, and helped shape the development of Marxist thought in the English-speaking world throughout the 1970s.[5]

The Marxian economist Harry Cleaver acknowledged in Reading Capital Politically (2000) that Althusser and his co-authors provided "one of the most politically important of the philosophical readings" of Das Kapital. However, he considered their influence regrettable, writing that in For Marx and Reading Capital, Althusser's aim was to revitalize dialectical materialism "as an ideology to mediate the widely discredited political practices of the French Communist Party." He accused Althusser of ignoring working class struggles in favor of an abstract "science of history", and noted that Althusser himself admitted that Reading Capital largely ignored the class struggle.[6]

In Louis Althusser and the Traditions of French Marxism (2005), William S. Lewis described Reading Capital as the culmination of the rereading of Marx that Althusser began in 1953. He considered it a theoretically sophisticated text and noted that it had an enthusiastic reception among intellectuals. However, he suggested that the difficulty of the work supported the charge that Althusser aspired to "Leninist vanguardism" and wanted "a small, theoretically sophisticated cadre" to "direct the revolution", and expressed agreement with the historian Eric Hobsbawm's view that the book showed that Althusser was an "extremely selective reader of Marx."[7]

The economist Alain Lipietz further pointed out that, while Reading Capital helped to disengage French Marxism from an oversimplification, determinism and mechanism inherited from the Stalinist period,[8] it also obscured and censored the first chapter of Das Kapital, in which Marx analyzed the relationship of commodity and money.[9]


  1. ^ Althusser et al., pp. 1–549.
  2. ^ Althusser & Balibar 1977, pp. iv–8.
  3. ^ Althusser et al., p. iv.
  4. ^ Scruton 1985, pp. 89–90.
  5. ^ Levine 1999, p. 23.
  6. ^ Cleaver 2000, pp. 47, 49–51.
  7. ^ Lewis 2005, pp. 158, 163, 189.
  8. ^ Lipietz, Kaplan & Sprinker 1993, pp. 99–138.
  9. ^ Kremers & Izuta 2017, p. 724.


  • Kremers, Daniel; Izuta, Shunsuke (2017). "Bedeutungswandel der Zivilgesellschaft oder das Elend der Ideengeschichte: Eine kommentierte Übersetzung von Hirata Kiyoakis Aufsatz zum Begriff shimin shakai bei Antonio Gramsci (Teil 1)". Asiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques. 71 (2). doi:10.1515/asia-2017-0044.

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