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Das Kapital Book Review

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Das Kapital

By Karl Marx

        Das Kapital is one of the major works of 19th century economist and philosopher Karl Marx. This piece examines Marx’s theory of the capitalist system, it’s dynamism, and its tendencies towards self-destruction during the 19th century. It is here that Marx argues against capitalism in a way to applaud communism for being the true common good. This essay is going to provide a summary of the book, review its topic and common themes, and discuss the principles that Marx is attempting to teach.

        Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a German economist and sociologist and has been considered a great philosopher of his time. As I began to read this work by Marx, I received some advice that it is important to understand the point-of-view that the author is deriving from to better understand their opinions. Marx’s theory on capitalism came from the hardships suffered by the 19th century workers in England, France, and Germany due to the Industrial Revolution. This revolution created a new, large class of people whom were permanent underclass workers that lived in poverty and faced terrible working conditions. Because Karl Marx was able to observe this current economic situation, and understand that it was a byproduct of capitalism, he was able to write this book based on his theories and describe why this type of structure wasn’t for the common good of everyone.

        This book can be read as a work of economics, sociology, and history. However, the general theme of the book is to provide a systematic account of the capitalist system, its nature, its development, and its future. Marx attempts to show the ways in which workers are exploited by the capitalist model of production and defends this theory with a history of past exploitations. In Marx’s outline of the Capitalist structure, he argues commodities have both a use-value and an exchange-value. There exchange value is rooted in how much labor went into producing them.  Typically people purchase commodities because they see a high use-value in them, but capitalists look at them more closely related to the exchange value. Their final goal is to make a profit so they pay workers a value that is barely enough to keep them happy, and encourage them to produce as much and as fast as possible, and in turn are able to sell the products for a large markup compared to what it cost to make them in labor. Marx argues that this is exploitation. On top of this, the workers’ character is negatively affected by the system because they are being treated equal to the average machine. “The very same bourgeois mentality which extols the manufacturing division of labour, the life-long annexation of the worker to a partial operation, and the unconditional subordination of the detail worker to capital, extols them as an organisation of labour which increases productivity - denounces just as loudly every kind of deliberate social control and regulation of the social process of production, denounces it as an invasion of the inviolable property rights, liberty and self-determining genius of the individual capitalist. It is characteristic that the inspired apologists of the factory system can find nothing worse to say of any proposal for the general organisation of social labour, than that it would transform the whole of society into a factory.” (pg. 6). Although the statement isn’t naturally stated, it is evident that Marx argues on behalf of these workers in the fact that they shouldn’t be treated like machines because they are people and their worth is not comparable to that of a product of manufacturing.

        The book then transitions into discussing the concept of money. He explains that money is an intangible thing, commonly represented by gold, and is a means of exchange. From this point we get to the notion of capital transactions. Because it is difficult to describe the concept in words, he chooses an example; If an artisan has a commodity and sells it for money to then use to  purchase other commodities, it is considered what Marx refers to as a ‘pre capitalist’ transaction. In contrast, the capitalist transaction process begins with the money which is used to buy the commodity, rather than creating it, and then selling it for a higher value of money. When looking at the process of production or manufacturing, there is an issue with where the transaction begins and it can be taken two different ways. Do we see the transaction as starting when the product is finished on the assembly thus discounting all of the hard-work and labor that was contributed to it or do we consider it starting before its assembled thus referring to labor workers as a commodity? A main point that Karl Marx is making throughout his text is whether or not it’s better to consider our workers as an object that we use to create a higher return or value them so little that themselves and their efforts are not part of the formula at all. “As, in religion, man is governed by the products of his own brain, so in capitalistic production, he is governed by the products of his own hand.” (pg. 10). His final opinion is that in the capitalist structure, mans value is determined by what he can produce rather than his knowledge or skills.

        Our next section dives into the notion of surplus value and looking at the value of a worker as what he puts into his work, like we had discussed further above. As soon as the value that the worker adds to the product is equal to the value required for the worker to live off, the scenario breaks even. Any additional after this is considered surplus. Marx believed that if a worker is paid $75 a day then they should only need to work as long as it takes them to produce the same amount in goods. However, if the worker completes this goal in 4 hours, but still has 4 more hours of a regularly scheduled shift, then the employer is doubling their money. A capitalist structure thrives on the idea that a labor worker has the ability to produce twice as much as they are paid resulting in the company gaining large sums of profit. This section was just yet another example of how manufacturing workers are being exploited for their labor and not getting an even return for the amount of work they contribute. This very quickly leads him into discussing working conditions. The last main subject that Marx analyses is where the capitalist structure start from. He argues, in both this book and in The Communist Manifesto, that capital only arose through violence and theft. Whether he has the facts to back this or not, it still shows that in his personal opinion capitalism was not derived with the intention to provide the best for everyone. Violence and theft are two of the most represented things when discussing laws because they are actions that only benefit those who perform it and take values from those they are enacted on.



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