Das Kapital by Karl Marx (1818 - 1883)

Das Kapital
by Karl Marx (1818 -

1883)

Commentary

In the mid-nineteenth century, when Karl

Marx wrote Das Kapital - an exhaustive work of more than one thousand pages
- factory conditions were often intolerable, wages were at best barely
adequate, and there were few groups or governments who advocated reform.

Therefore, Marx took it upon himself to define "Capitalism,,, explain and
condemn Capitalist methods, predict the inevitable doom of the system,
and issue the rallying cry, "Workers of the world, unite!"

When Marx simply describes what he sees,
his analyses and criticisms appear most lucid. In contrast, his theories
become confusing as he attempts to prove even the vaguest point using mathematics.

He felt that these elaborate equations and proofs were necessary because
his book does not purport to be merely a moral prescription for society's
ills, but a scientific description of the unavoidable course of history.

It is, of course, actually not only a "prescription" but a passionate exhortation.

In any case, some of Marx's words still
ring true,- as a framework for analyzing the historical transformation
of human society, Das Kapital succeeds quite well.

Marx's work draws heavily on the dialectical
theories of Georg Hegel, an earlier 19th-century German idealist-philosopher.

Hegel had posited that the world was in a constant process of transformation
from lower to higher orders of existence. Each new order, he thought, emerged
as an embodied idea, or "thesis"; and each thesis carried within itself
the seeds of its own destruction its own opposing force or "antithesis"
(a "we-have-met-the-enemy-and-he-is-us" concept). But out of the inevitable
clash between thesis and antithesis, a new and more perfect order - the
synthesis was destined to emerge (as Christianity, for example, had risen
triumphant from the struggle between Greek and Hebrew thought). In its
turn, then, this synthesis would now function as a new thesis, engendering
another antithesis and advancing the conflict-resolution cycle, until finally
history fought its way forward to the ultimate synthesis - the "total realization
of the world spirit.,,

For religious disciples of Hegel, all this
was tantamount to the coming of God's kingdom on earth; but for Marx (who
admired Hegel's thought but despised religion as a tool of oppression and
dismissed idealism as "unscientific") it was a challenge to ground Hegelian
dialectic in the down-to-earth materialism of economics - which Marx saw
as the engine of history.

The inherent tension between social classes
under different economic orders has created both conflict and progress
through the ages, he pronounces. Most recently, the emerging merchant-capitalist
class that arose to service feudalism was broken down, as merchants overwhelmed
their masters; it is this merchant class that rules today. But now, says

Marx, is the hour for the "ultimate synthesis" - the Proletariat revolution
and the final achievement of a classless and stateless society.

Book Overview

To understand Marx, we must first establish
some basic definitions:
commodities - Things to be bought or sold.
use value - Capacity to satisfy wants (to
be used" or "useful").
exchange value - Price. (Distinguished
from "use value" in that a society may value an article, yet not be accustomed
to exchanging it.)
value - The "socially necessary" time needed
to produce a commodity.
surplus value - Profit or land-rent; the
sine qua non of Capitalism, created when the value of a day's labor exceeds
the exchange value of "labour-power."
capital - The surplus value that is invested
in labor power and means of production (machines, plants, raw materials,
etc.).
labor power - The capacity or opportunity
to work.
labor power (in Capitalism) - A human corn
modify; work sold by a laborer to his "owner"-boss at less than the exchange
value of labor produced.
money - A valuable, produced commodity
(gold, silver, etc.) employed as a universal equivalent for values of other
commodities.

Proletariat - Working class; propertyless
wage-earners (who must remain propertyless for Capitalism to work, says

Marx).

Bourgeoisie - The Capitalist class, who
- not acting with intentional evil, but as "capital personified" - serve
as puppets of the system, exploiting the Proletariat.

Marx points out that "the circulation or
exchange of commodities in itself creates no value." So, the trick the

Capitalist must perform, in order to exact his profit, is "[to obtain]
from his commodities a greater value than that invested by him in them...

Capitalist-Laborer Relationship

Capitalistic society provides three main
sources of "income": (1) Capital (which "profits" the Capitalist); (2)

Land (which provides landowners with rent); and (3) "Labour-power,, (which
earns the worker his wage).

A laborer is, in a sense, a merchant, who
sells his "labour-power" as a commodity. And "the value of labour-power
is the value of the necessaries required to sustain its proprietor." Thus,
the Capitalist purchases a laborer's work in exchange for a wage, which
the worker then