Reading Capital  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Reading Capital (Lire le Capital) is a 1965 work of Marxist philosophy by Louis Althusser, Étienne Balibar, Roger Establet, Jacques Rancière, and Pierre Macherey.

It is a work of Marxist philosophy and theory. The book collects essays developed by Louis Althusser and his students in a seminar on Karl Marx's Das Kapital which took place earlier in 1965. As of 2005 the only English-language edition, a partial translation by Ben Brewster, includes only the contributions of Althusser and Étienne Balibar, while the original French edition includes several additional essays by other students in the seminar, including Roger Establet, Jacques Rancière, and Pierre Macherey. This version and a similarly abridged Italian edition were released in 1970.

The book is widely considered an important contribution to Marxist philosophy and also marks a moment in the history of post-structuralism. Althusser considered the book's return to a detailed engagement with the work of Marx a strong parallel to the return to Freud initiated by Jacques Lacan in psychoanalysis. Among its tasks the book seeks to clarify differences between Marx's and Hegel's dialectics, and to more thoroughly demarcate the "break" which Althusser saw between Marx's later writings (Marxism proper) and his early, Hegelian work. And, furthermore, the book sought to re-establish Marxism as a viable position within philosophy, albeit in a manner influenced by structuralism, against its years of dilution from not only critiques (humanist and Sartrean ones, particularly) but also from the supposedly socialist philosophy of popular liberal-socialist democratic writing and politics.

In a 1970 preface Althusser repudiated some of the positions taken in the book, calling his earlier definition of philosophy as the "theory of theoretical practice" a theoreticist stance and hence "incorrect." The preface also noted that, although all the contributors to the book had taken efforts to distance themselves from the vocabulary and methods of structuralism, the book had often been called a structuralist Marxist work.

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