Karl Heinrich Marx (1818 – 1883) was a German philosopher, political economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, and communist revolutionary, whose ideas played a significant role in the development of modern communism and socialism. Marx summarized his approach in the first line of chapter one of The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." Marx argued that capitalism, like previous socioeconomic systems, would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its destruction. Just as capitalism replaced feudalism, he believed socialism would, in its turn, replace capitalism, and lead to a stateless, classless society called pure communism. This would emerge after a transitional period called the "dictatorship of the proletariat": a period sometimes referred to as the "workers state" or "workers' democracy". In section one of The Communist Manifesto Marx describes feudalism, capitalism, and the role internal social contradictions play in the historical process.
Marx argued for a systemic understanding of socio-economic change. He argued that the structural contradictions within capitalism necessitate its end, giving way to socialism. "The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable."
On the other hand, Marx argued that socio-economic change occurred through organized revolutionary action. He argued that capitalism will end through the organized actions of an international working class: "Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence."
While Marx remained a relatively obscure figure in his own lifetime, his ideas and the ideology of Marxism began to exert a major influence on workers' movements shortly after his death. This influence gained added impetus with the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Russian October Revolution in 1917, and few parts of the world remained significantly untouched by Marxian ideas in the course of the twentieth century. Marx is typically cited, with Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science. In 1999, a BBC poll revealed that Marx had been voted the "thinker of the millennium" by people from around the world.
Capital (Chapter 1: The Commodity) Edit
Capital exists as an attempt to document the objective scientific laws of the capitalist economy, rather than an ethical or humanist valuation of the subject in capitalism (although these propostions are clearly important to Marx). Marx attempts to devise its laws, and use these to propose its future; these orientation fits with Marx's believe that capitalism was a stage of economic development, rather than its endpoint.
The commodity, in Marx's estimation is the building block (the unit operation?) of capitalism. Commodities have two measures of value: use-value (how useful something is to another) and exchange-value (what a commodity can be exchanged for). Something's exchange value is no intrinsic to it; rather, it is defined only according to other commodities (x sheaves of wheet = y quantity of coats; this is also effected by the labor required to produce an item, for if the labor time ). Exchange-value cannot be essentialized, but rather only materializes through the movement of goods in commerce. In this sense, commodities mirror one another's value, and this value need not reflect use value (155). As one of Marx's many equations expresses, trading 20 yards of linen for 1 coat, 1 coat of 10 lb of tea, 40 lbs of coffee for 10 lbs of tea, etc. mean that all these quantities are then transferable in 20 yards of linen (making linen a universal equivalent form). Importantly, in capitalism, money takes the identity of a universal equivalent form, have no use or exchange value except to manage trade between other commodities.
When products of labor are exchange, they acquire a socially uniform objectivity as values. A factory worker is paid to produce items which are already understood as having value, and is paid for a fraction of the value of that object. At this moment, the worker's labor has a two-fold character: 1. this labor must satisfy a social need (produces objects of use and value) 2. this labor must be able to satisfy the needs of the worker by being able to be exchanged with other forms of useful private labor (i.e. factory worker A works all day and is paid, then goes out to buy soap with his money; he exchanges money, a symbol of his labor, for soap, the product of another man's labor who is also paid money). Thus, labor is being exchanged between two individuals who will never meet, but instead mediate their interaction through the objectified process of labor-->money, which operates as a universal equivalent form. Thus, social coexistance is expressed through market transaction. The worker has no control over where the product goes, or who trades their labor for it. Because of the symbolization of money, we misrecognize both our labor and the product of our labor, as well as what we purchase.
Marx's statement on his ideas of historical materialism (via Hegel's "upside down" understanding of the dialectic) from the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)
In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development, of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead, sooner or later, to the transformation of the whole, immense, superstructure.
In studying such transformations, it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic, or philosophic — in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production.
From Stanford Philosophical Encyclopedia:
Capital Volume 1 begins with an analysis of the idea of commodity production. A commodity is defined as a useful external object, produced for exchange on a market. Thus two necessary conditions for commodity production are the existence of a market, in which exchange can take place, and a social division of labour, in which different people produce different products, without which there would be no motivation for exchange. Marx suggests that commodities have both use-value — a use in other words — and an exchange-value — initially to be understood as their price. Use value can easily be understood, so Marx says, but he insists that exchange value is a puzzling phenomenon, and relative exchange values need to be explained. Why does a quantity of one commodity exchange for a given quantity of another commodity? His explanation is in terms of the labour input required to produce the commodity, or rather, the socially necessary labour, which is labour exerted at the average level of intensity and productivity for that branch of activity within the economy. Thus the labour theory of value asserts that the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of socially necessary labour time required to produce it. Marx provides a two stage argument for the labour theory of value. The first stage is to argue that if two objects can be compared in the sense of being put on either side of an equals sign, then there must be a ‘third thing of identical magnitude in both of them’ to which they are both reducible. As commodities can be exchanged against each other, there must, Marx argues, be a third thing that they have in common. This then motivates the second stage, which is a search for the appropriate ‘third thing’, which is labour in Marx's view, as the only plausible common element. Both steps of the argument are, of course, highly contestable.
Capitalism is distinctive, Marx argues, in that it involves not merely the exchange of commodities, but the advancement of capital, in the form of money, with the purpose of generating profit through the purchase of commodities and their transformation into other commodities which can command a higher price, and thus yield a profit. Marx claims that no previous theorist has been able adequately to explain how capitalism as a whole can make a profit. Marx's own solution relies on the idea of exploitation of the worker. In setting up conditions of production the capitalist purchases the worker's labour power — his ability to labour — for the day. The cost of this commodity is determined in the same way as the cost of every other; i.e. in terms of the amount of socially necessary labour power required to produce it. In this case the value of a day's labour power is the value of the commodities necessary to keep the worker alive for a day. Suppose that such commodities take four hours to produce. Thus the first four hours of the working day is spent on producing value equivalent to the value of the wages the worker will be paid. This is known as necessary labour. Any work the worker does above this is known as surplus labour, producing surplus value for the capitalist. Surplus value, according to Marx, is the source of all profit. In Marx's analysis labour power is the only commodity which can produce more value than it is worth, and for this reason it is known as variable capital. Other commodities simply pass their value on to the finished commodities, but do not create any extra value. They are known as constant capital. Profit, then, is the result of the labour performed by the worker beyond that necessary to create the value of his or her wages. This is the surplus value theory of profit.
"Marx’s analysis in Capital, then, focuses primarily on the structural contradictions, rather than the class antagonisms, that characterize capitalist society—the “contradictory movement [gegensätzliche Bewegung] [that] has its origin in the twofold character of labour,” rather than in the struggle between labor and capital, i.e. between the owning and the working classes. These contradictions, moreover, operate (as Marx describes using a phrase borrowed from Hegel) “behind the backs” of both the capitalists and workers, that is, as a result of their activities, and yet irreducible to their conscious awareness either as individuals or as classes.
As such, Capital, does not propose a theory of revolution (led by the working class and its representatives) but rather a theory of crises as the condition for a potential revolution, or what Marx refers to in the Communist Manifesto as a potential “weapon,” “forged” by the owners of capital, “turned against the bourgeoisie itself” by the working class. Such crises, according to Marx, are rooted in the contradictory character of the commodity, the most fundamental social form of capitalist society."