I just finished reading “Capital”, Karl Marx’s seminal work on political economy originally published in 1867 toward the end of the industrial revolution. The following is a summary of quotes from the book that I’ve been tweeting for the past few days along with my impressions and comments on each.
“The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.” #marx
Throughout the book Marx appears to me to be similar on tone to all the great development economists of his time. In taking an honest look at the status of England and it’s development up to this point he says that this process of development is inevitable.
“To appropriate labour during all the 24 hours of the day is, therefore, the inherent tendency of capitalist production.” #marx
Marx is clearly on the side of labour. His remarks on the role of the capitalist and the way in which labour is exploited are many and pointed. This is just one of many, this is another..
“The capitalist mode of production produces the premature exhaustion and death of the labour force itself.” #marx
Marx goes on to decry the lack of intellect and intiative required of the worker as mechanism increased and the division of labour continued to refine with comments like these;
“The workman’s repetition of the same act, teach him by experience how to attain the desired effect with the minimum of exertion.” #marx
“Manufacturers prosper most where the mind is least consulted, and where the workshop may be considered as an engine of men.” #marx
“In handicrafts and manufacture, the workman makes use of a tool, in the factory, the machine makes us of him.” #marx
What is lacking most in Marx’s critique of the industrial revolution is a clear understand of market forces. The way Marx explains it, it’s as if the entire economy is predicated on the relationship between the capitalist and the worker but the consumer is left completely out of the equation. Cost is measured in the amount of labour required for the worker to survive, profit a function of surplus labour that can be produced beyond that cost. The law of supply and demand and other market forces are completely absent from Marx’s theory of capital.
Finally at the end of the book Marx does pay lip service to the consumer when he states;
“That which comes directly face to face with the possessor of money on the market is in fact not labour, but the labourer.” #marx
Almost begrudgingly and without fan-fair Marx concludes that the surplus value of the labourer is, in the end spent on consumerism and without the consumer the entire system falls apart. But just who the consumer is and how much both the capitalist and the labourer depend on him is left un-explored.
It’s clear from this work that Marx is anti-capitalist in the sense that capitalists in his estimation were exploiting workers but the leap from there to traditional communism is far from direct. Labour advocate, yes, but that does not directly lead to communism. The Communist Manifesto notwithstanding, communism as a system of government was developed much later and much of the personal suffering and oppression associated with communist regimes of the 20th century has less to do with the economics of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels than they do with the politics of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.
Indeed toward the end of his life, after seeing what some groups where doing with his work, Marx himself famously stated was NOT a Marxist.