- Capital by Marx


The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries in northern Europe created an underclass of workers, many of whom lived in poverty under terrible working conditions, as described in the 19th century novels of Dickens, and with little political representation. Marx's book was based on thirty years of studying capitalism in England, which was the most advanced industrial society in his time. He developed a complex theory about the structure and function of capitalism.

The industrial revolution brought many changes through technology: coal-powered steam engines enabled new transportation methods and powered machines for production in factories. Factories grew through new theories about the division of labour and the intensified production permitted by new technologies. Mass production began to lead to the creation of a mass consumer society. Along with the technical revolution came economic change: the rise of capitalism. The landed gentry were gradually replaced by industrial capitalists and liberal ideology promoted free trade and private property. Marx viewed capitalism as a transformation of all social relationships since traditional feudal relationships were eroded. What was left was the worker-employer relation in which the industrial working class had to sell their labour and the capitalist saw economic advantage as virtuous. (Capital's co-writer, Engels, was from a family of German mill owners in Barmen. In a study he found that the new industrial working classes had more miserable lives than their ancestors. He noted that disease was widespread, industrial accidents were common, and infant mortality was rising. Industrial capitalism was creating wealth for the few while the masses were worse off than before.)

Marx and Hegel

Hegel's theory presents history as a process of the world becoming conscious of itself as spirit, in an idealist philosophy. Marx took up this idea and instead argued that it was humanity that was alienated from itself in the material world. Escape from this alienation requires a revolution.

Marx accepts this process of evolution but the basic difference is that in his thought system there is no place for Idea. Matter is everything. Hegel emphasizes the concept of Idea, but Marx's analysis is based on matter, a materialist approach.

However both Marx and Hegel believed in the evolution of society, following a dialectic process. Hegel pointed out that history is always in movement, a traditional concept promoted since the Greek Heraclitus: "everything flows". Accoeding to Hegel its movement is dialectical, a gradual process of unfolding. Marx also thought that society progresses through a dialectical method. In the process of progress the latter stage is developed from the previous one. Both insisted that there reason was behind the dialectical process and it is not guided and motivated by any external force.

However Marx points out that their processes were different:

“My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel the life process of human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which under the name of idea he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurges of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of the idea. With me, on the contrary the idea is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind and translated into forms of thought.”

Marx agreed with the dialectics of Hegel but disagreed with the mystifying aspect.

The differences between Hegel and Marx are important. In Hegel’s opinion Idea is of first importance and matter is of secondary importance. Engels, who finished Capital after Marx died, says, “The Hegelian system is a colossal miscarriage.”

Marx also differed from Hegel on another standpoint. Hegel had simply interpreted history dialectically but he did not suggest how to change history and society. In Marx’s view, the function of philosophy was not to interpret the world, but to change it.

Regarding change Marx applied dialectics to lend support to the proletarian revolution and radicalism. Hegel idealized the State through his dialectical method and ultimately it culminated in fascism. Marx’s application of dialectics led to the proletarian revolution and establishment of communism. He had no interest in metaphysics.

As regards evolutionary theory the Marxist model can be sustained if we compare it with Darwinism where functionality guides evolution. Economic structures would flourish by adapting, as species have. However, the comparison is problematic: Marxist historical materialism is predictive and Darwinism is contingent and dependent on circumstances.

Marx and Feuerbach

Followers of Hegel adopted Feuerbach as a model to refashion him in a more radical light. Marx joined the young hegelians and was influenced by Feuerbach's materialist philosophy which taught that consciousness derived from the world of matter, eliminating spirit. At the same time Feuerbach argued that humanity had a universal essence and that God was an expression of this core. In short, humans had created God, not the inverse. He still considered religion  a healthy expression  of life, however, he considered that organised religion alienated humans from their real essence. He asserted that humanity was the origin of it's own morality and ethics.

Marx penned Theses on Feuerbach, eleven philosophical notes in 1845, as a basic outline for the first chapter of a book on German ideology. They were published postumously in 1888. They criticised the spiritual materialism of Feuerbach's young followers, arguing that economics and social relationships were the true context for philosophical analysis. In fact religious beliefs were created by the underlying economic structure. To eliminate the former it was necessary to do away with the latter.

Marx later distanced himself from Feuerbach and based his analysis rather on Adam Smith and David Ricardo who used sociological insights to enhance their economics. He criticised the idea of human essence and replaced it with the idea that humans were influenced by their material surroundings, particularly the existing mode of production.

Karl Marx and Adam Smith

Marx posited that the two classes in a society – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – will forever remain stuck in their respective classes because of the very nature of capitalism. The wealthy capital-owning bourgeoisie not only owns the factories but dominates the media, universities, government, bureaucracy, and, hence, their grip on an elevated social status is unchangeable. In contrast, the poor, working class, or the proletariat, lacks any effective means of having just recompense for their hard labour. The remedy for this trouble, in Karl Marx’s view, was for the proletariat to revolt and create a new social order where there would be no distinction between segments of society; there would be no classes as such. Collective ownership of all capital for production would ensure, Marx suggested an equitable distribution of wealth.

Adam Smith contended that the most ideal economic system is capitalism. Adam Smith also opposed the idea of revolution to restore justice for the masses because he valued order and stability over relief from oppression. Marx strongly adhered to the idea that capitalism leads to greed and inequality. Inherent to the idea of competition is greed and, according to Marx, this would cause inherent instability and injustice in a society. Communism offered the best model, both political and economic: collectivist ownership, production and central planning features intended to distribute wealth equitably and eliminate the distinctions between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat altogether.

Smith elaborated on how individuals could reap economic benefits commensurate to their efforts and thus add to an economy’s aggregate wealth. He believed that in a free market economy, an individual would be able to earn and spend in a market freely, and it would allow a worker to act as a consumer, too. When a worker purchased goods and services, it would then lead to profits for some other economic agent, a producer or a consumer of economic goods or services, and further boost economic activity. According to Smith, the benefits to an individual economic agent would be enjoyed by many other members of society through a “trickledown effect” as the original worker would spend money, which would be earned by some other producer of goods or services, which would allow the second economic agent to earn and then spend money. The cycle would continue which would help the economy multiple.

In contrast, Karl Marx theorized that capitalism is intrinsically linked to an inequitable society where the segmentation of society according to “class” would be permanent and rigid. Somebody born in the proletariat class would forever be stuck in this class, and somebody born in the bourgeoisie would always enjoy the benefits of the aristocracy, at the expense of the proletariat. He thought that the bourgeois would be looking to maximize their own profits, and, in turn, keep the wages of the working class as low as possible, thus trapping the working class members in a vicious cycle of abject poverty or destitution that they can never escape from.

One of the faults with capitalism that Marx underlined was the tendency for each economic agent to maximize their profits. He contended that the value added by a worker is more than the wages he earns; the difference being the profits enjoyed by the capitalist. By eliminating the capitalists altogether, his ideal economic system would be more equitable, just, and fair than unhindered capitalism without government intervention, private ownership of property, competition, and so on.

Adam Smith and Karl Marx differed on the method of production of goods and services and distribution of resources. Whereas Karl Marx went so far as suggesting revolution by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for a more just, equitable society, Adam Smith preferred stability and peace over revolution. While Adam Smith’s envisioned ideal society would not distribute resources equitably or eliminate gaping wealth levels between the different classes in a society, Marx’s ideal economy would produce following the directives from a central authority and distribute resources according to the needs of the public. In his ideal economy, Marx envisioned the elimination of class distinctions and an appropriate valuation of a worker’s effort, which is not possible in a capitalistic society in the presence of profit-seeking capitalists who deprive workers of their full share of earnings.

Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill

Both Marx and Mill lived in London at the same time, though Mill probably knew little of Marx´s work since he could not read German. Marx knew of Mill´s philosophy and tended to be very critical of it. He accused Mill of treating human beings as if they could be fully characterized by the social relations of production found in the bourgeois economy. 

However Mill´s view of human nature was similar to that of Marx. Mill explained the origins of differences in national character through the diverse material conditions found around the world. He also saw progress as moving human beings to a point where the great mass of people might be able to explore their capacities through self-defining activity. The achievement of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, Utilitarianism, was ultimately bound up with this self-generated process of search. Marx, like Mill, was convinced that almost all individuals are capable of defining their own goals. Indeed, it is precisely this conviction that motivates the struggle against alienation. Marx argued that the central element in the human species is an eagerness to productively struggle with nature.

Mill saw the long story of history as one of progress. He accepted Comte’s fundamental explanation for that progress as turning on periods of intellectual speculation: all other facets of progress must ultimately be traced to the expansion of knowledge. For Mill the most obvious case of this causal connection was the proposition that “the progress of industry must follow, and depend on, the progress of knowledge”. Marx was a materialist and was hostile to Hegelian notions of a general progress of the human mind, independent of material conditions. Marx along with Engels emphasized that the possibilities of material development were at first stimulated by and subsequently limited by the social relations to which a mode of production gave rise.

Mill and Marx both anticipated a social transition. The technological change achieved before the middle of the nineteenth century had not enabled workers to escape a life of drudgery, though they had increased the comforts of the middle classes. The new economy, according to Mill, will lead to a technological progress which will reduce labour as well as increase wealth. Mill saw this progress as occurring in a very different institutional context than did Marx, but both economists can be understood as predicting a creative explosion following on major changes in social relations. Both saw the laissez-faire capitalism of their day as transitional. They also saw it as laying the material basis for an economic system which would address the broader needs and aspirations of the whole population.

It had become clear by the middle of the nineteenth century that the new industrial economy was cyclical. Mill constructed a modern theory of the business cycle which he explained through optimistic financial speculation leading to a crash and a high increase in the demand for money and liquidity. He argued that such cycles actually helped to put off the decline in profits as they destroyed substantial amounts of savings and capital. Marx put forward several alternative explanations of business cycles, listing six compensatory factors. Mill listed four. However, Marx never put financial speculation at the center of the business cycle story but he famously described the financial panic that accompanied business cycles and the demand for money, not commodities. This is very similar to Mill's theory.

Mill was a radical utilitarian, committed to the greatest happiness of the greatest number. His goal was to apply Enlightenment principles in combination with the insights of political economy to the new industrial economy of the mid-nineteenth century. In particular Mills looked to cooperatives as a way to supercede capitalism. Marx was sharply critical of any form of cooperative movement which did not include some explicit system of centrally planned control. Mill emphasised voluntary cooperation and voluntarism proposed by various anarchist groups. Marx saw this sort of transition as utopian and wholly different from his own. Both agreed that capitalism was a transitional system but where Marx saw revolution and planning, Mill saw reform and cooperation. 


The first volume of Capital appeared in German in 1867 and analyses the process of the capitalist economy. By 1870 Marx already had other two volumes, but he put them aside to attack the utility principle. However, he died in 1883 before he could publish Vols 2 & 3. After his death, Friedrich Engels edited and published volume II (1885) and, volume III (1894) as the work of Marx.



Marx begins his work by examining the nature of goods: everything that can satisfy a human need and is produced in order to be exchanged or sold. The wealth of the capitalists appears as an “immense accumulation of commodities”. Using the terminology of the economist Adam Smith, Marx calls the utility of a commodity its “use value”. That compares with its “exchange value”, the amount of other goods with which it can be exchanged at a particular time.

Beneath its exchange value, every commodity has a value which is the measure of the cost of production for the entire society and is equal to the amount of socially necessary labour and time for its production. Then he suggests that the value of a commodity determines its exchange value, so that the exchange is somehow a reflection of its value. Marx calls the latter case the “law of value”.


A commodity is incomplete without its owners who are guardians of the commodity they possess. For owners commodities have no use–value, but they have use-value for non-owners. Every owner wishes to exchange his commodity with other commodities which have the same value and one which is different from their own. It is merely a social and private transaction. For the exchange of commodities, there has to be some universal criteria, because all commodities differ from each other in weight, value, etc. So, money acts as an intermediate form in exchange of commodities.

The Circulation of Commodities.

Money acts as a universal measure of value, as well as an intermediate exchange form. It has a value which can be compared qualitatively. Money has two different functions: first, it is a stable measure of value and it can convert the value of commodities into prices; second, it has a useful format and is fixed to a weight of gold.


The General Formula of Capital

Capital is generated by the circulation of commodities. The first form of capital is money. The transformation of money into capital works in two phases: first, money-commodity where money is needed to purchase a commodity; second commodity-money, where commodity is sold and money is acquired. In this second format the money which is acquired has surplus value which is Capital. They who acquire Capital are known as Capitalists. Circulation through the money-commodity-money cycle is the aim of capitalists to gain more and more profit. Capitalists buy a commodity in order to sell it and to acquire more profit and accumulate capital.

Contradictions in the General Formula of Capital

The general formula of capital is questionable as there are many buyers and sellers in the market, and the sale and purchase of the commodity will differ on various grounds. It is also impossible to produce capital on the basis of money-commodity-money circulation alone. There should be another law stating the circulation of capital.

Buying and Selling of Labour Power 

Labour power is a commodity when the owner of the labour sells his labour to the person who is purchasing. Labour power has value and is determined by labour time which is the time taken in the production process. In order to have skilled and hardworking labour, usually training or special education is given to the labour force. Some of the daily needs, items such as food and fuel are provided, others such as clothing and furniture are supplied in longer intervals of time and form part of income. Labour power gets its share later, after a fixed amount of work is extracted from the labourers.


The Labour Process and the Production of Surplus Value

Labour-power is an activity which is acted out by labourers. Labourers are under the control of capitalists and produce a commodity which is of use-value set by the capitalist. Thus labour-process includes: the activity required by labour in the production of a commodity, the kind of products, machines used etc... The subjects of labour are the raw materials, in most cases extracted from nature in order to produce a commodity. Productive consumption, is a consumption where labour uses its activity, raw material and instruments in order to produce a commodity. Productive consumption is different from individual consumption as the individual is a consumer and consumes the end product. It is the aim of the Capitalist to create a commodity through labour process, which has use-value and exchange-value, and also surplus-value. Surplus value is the continuation of the process of producing value.

Constant and Variable Capital

During the labour process, constant capital is in the form of money and comprises labour power, raw materials, means of production, subjects and instruments of labour which have the same value and will not change over a period of time. Variable capital goes through an alteration of value in the labour-process. It reproduces an equivalent and also a surplus–value.

The Rate of Surplus-Value

The rate of the surplus value is created when there is an increase in the amount of variable capital. The product which is produced and represents the surplus value is known as the surplus-produce. Surplus-produce is determined by the final product with includes necessary labour. So the main focus of the capitalist is to produce extra profit (surplus value). He does so by calculating the value of the surplus-produce. 

The Working Day

A working day includes the total of necessary labour, the surplus labour and the time taken to produce surplus value. A working day is not fixed for all and it varies as it includes time taken to produce surplus-value. The capitalist is different from the labourer in his perception and thought, which is only in creation of value and surplus-value. There is always an eagerness for the capitalists to produce more surplus-value, which ends up in a struggle between the capitalists and the labourers. 
There was a relay system created where two sets of workers laboured for a day and a night shift. There was a need to create this relay system because the process of production was stretched out to 24 hours and to a 7 day week. The groups of labourers included men, women, adults and children of all ages. This was mostly practised in Great Britain, in industries. So, a working day is full 24 hours working where only a few hours are given for personal activity. This system deteriorates the condition of labour physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. Later, several acts and laws were passed to improve the conditions and working hours of the labourers.

Rate and Mass of Surplus-value 

The rate of the surplus value is calculated by the labour power invested in the production of a commodity. Variable capital is directly related to the mass of value and surplus value: the greater the variable capital, the greater will be the mass of value and surplus-value.

The Concept of Relative Surplus-value

There are two kinds of surplus value: absolute surplus-value and relative surplus-value. When surplus-value is produced by the extension of the working day and when there is addition in the working hours of labour it is known as Absolute surplus-value. When surplus-value is produced by the subtraction of the labour time and working hours of labour in a working day it is known as Relative surplus labour. Relative surplus value is also directly proportional to the production.


When a labour force works together for the capitalist, whether employed for the same or different operation in the production process, this is known as co-operation. There are certain different functions of labourers working together under the control of a capitalist. The control by the capitalist also refers to the exploitation of labourers by extracting from them more working hours in order to reach a high level of surplus-value.

Division of labour and manufacture.

The co-operation of labours in a unity, known as division of labour, is regarded as a form of manufacture. Manufacture takes place in two ways:

1) when under the control of the capitalist, one craftsman is appointed and through him the complete article must pass.

2) when under the control of a single capitalist many craftsmen are appointed and each labourer has to report to a particular one in order to main the division of labour and co-operation at a work place.

There is a difference between division of labour in manufacture and division of labour in society. Division of labour in society deals with the economic aspect which brings together various commodity producers in a competition against each other.

Machinery and modern industry

Machinery increases the produce of surplus-value. It has three different parts: first, motor mechanism, which puts the entire thing in motion, for example the steam engine; second, the transmitting mechanism which includes wheels, ropes, pullies etc, which are responsible for dividing and splitting the power into several other machines; third, the working machine is a tool which is used by the work force in daily production. The concept of machinery came into being in 18th. century during the Industrial Revolution. Various machines were very characteristic of modern industry. Women and children were also employed in the industries by capitalists to run the machines, which led to the exploitation of the masses.

There was wear and tear of the machines, which first led to overuse and then to no use at all. When machines were first introduced, new methods of production were also invented to increase productivity and surplus-value.

The author describes the factory as a place where all the machines are situated. Exploitation of the workforce means machines using individuals, rather than individuals using them. He also describes how from childhood onwards workers are taught to work at machines, how the movements takes place etc. The special skill of each individual in the production of the commodity vanishes and everybody is required to do the same task which is more like an everyday mental and physical torture.

Part 5 Production of Absolute and Relative Surplus-value

Absolute and Relative Surplus-value

In the production process, there is a combination of collective labour and means of production in order to gain surplus-value. Collective labour is also a form of co-operation among the workers, where the work is shared. The ultimate goal of the capitalist is to produce surplus-value which is not possible without the labour force. The production of absolute surplus-value depends upon the length of the working day (necessary labour plus surplus labour) whereas, the production of relative surplus value depends upon the technical nature of labour and society. Absolute surplus-value and Relative surplus-value go hand in hand as the difference between them has a very thin imaginary line.

Changes of amount in the price of labour-power and surplus-value 

Labour power has a certain value which results in everyday average labour and is considered as a constant amount. There are changes in the value of the quantity. There are also two factors which are accountable for the value of labour-power: first, expenses of labour-power and second, natural diversity (the difference between men and women and children). The length of the working day and the normal intensity of labour are considered as a constant amount, whereas the productiveness of labour is considered as a variable magnitude and all three are considered as the circumstances of the relative magnitude of surplus-value and the price of labour-power.

Part 6 Wages

The Transformation into Wages of Value and the Respective Price of Labour-power

Wages are considered as a certain amount or quantity of money which is paid to labour in return for the quantity of labour-power which is produced by them. It is also known as the value of labour and natural price. When the prices move upwards or downwards it is considered as the market price. Prices are determined by the change in the relations between demand and supply.

Time wages 

The total amount of money which is paid accounts for the nominal wages, but labour often receives it in daily and weekly labour and it is calculated according to the length of the day. The daily and weekly wages remain the same, but the price of labour oscillates. 

Piece Wages

Piece wages are payments which are converted by time and quantity. In piece wages, the working time is calculated according to the quantity of products produced, thus every day’s wages vary for the individual labour.

National Differences of Labour 

Every country has its average intensity of labour, which varies. The average of different countries are taken together and a scale is formed, it is also known as the average unit of universal labour.

Part 7 Accumulation of Capital

Capital is accumulated by conversion of money into means of production, labour-power, surplus-value etc... When the final commodity is ready to be sold, the money acquired will thus be converted into capital, again and again. This circular movement forms the circulation of capital.

Simple Reproduction

In society, the production process is continuous. On the other hand, it is also a process of reproduction. The amount of wages received by the labourer is the product of his own labour. When labour converts the means of production into the final product, a portion of the labour is turned into money by the capitalist and the capitalist pays the labourer his labour. In capitalist production, the labourer is separated from the subjective labour-power which is incorporated into the product. The relationship between the capitalist and the labourer is that of buyer and seller where the capitalist purchases the labour-force and the labourers sell their hard work to the capitalist and produce the commodity which in turn reproduces the capitalist relationship.

Conversion of Surplus-vale into Capital 

The surplus-value is ultimately the commodity when sold and converted into money. Money in its ideal form is also capital. Thus, surplus-value is converted into capital and the cycle of conversion takes place again and again.

The General Law of Capital Accumulation

There are two compositions of labour: first value composition, which is value divided by constant and variable capital; second the technical composition consisting of material which is the relation between the means of production and the labour involved.

The Secret of Primitive Accumulation

Primitive accumulation is a process which separates the producer from the means of production. It is known as primitive because it is historical and it dates back to feudal exploitation. The agricultural producers, now labourers, were historically exploited.

The critique of political economy is addressed through the capitalist mode of production where the capitalist dominates the wage labourer. The working class labourer was also exploited by the feudal system which led to the exploitation of people by expropriation. As one stage leads to another, so the exploitation of agricultural land shifts to the exploitation of the wage-labourers, where the capitalists from the surplus-value gain more profit and get richer. Hence, the capitalists dominate the labourers just to acquire surplus-value, which is the ultimate goal

(Summary reference: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/)
(Commentary on Capital 1: https://www.the-philosophy.com/capital-by-karl-marx)


Dialectic materialism

The German philosopher Hegel, who exercised a huge influence on the young Marx, came up with the idea of successive dialectic triads. This worked through thesis, an opposing “antithesis” leading to a “synthesis”. But then the synthesis would become a new thesis to be overthrown. And so this would go on and on.

Marx´s decisive move was to reject the Hegelian method that viewed dialectical progress as a battle of ideas. Instead, Marx saw the dialectics in human history as a struggle between different social classes. There were ideas, but these were reflections of material realities.

He took key dialectical concepts and applied them in new ways. In dialectical thinking quantity can transform into quality. Marx explained how feudalism or capitalism could initially take humanity forward but would then be constrained by their own inner contradictions.

When the social structure of a society could no longer create productive forces, it was time to break with that society. The ruling class as the thesis would be confronted by an antithesis in the form of the exploited class. And the resulting clash would create a new synthesis, that in turn would be challenged at some point.


Developed by Karl Marx, the theory of Alienation asserts that capitalism has distorted the human relations that are not controlled by the participants themselves. This, in turn, leads to separation of things that belong to each other naturally, which then results in antagonism in things that are in order.

Entfremdung refers to the social alienation of people from their human nature due to the result of living in a stratified society. Its philosophical roots lie in by Feuerbach’s ‘The Essence of Christianity’ (1841) which argues that that the concept of ‘God’ has separated the human being from its natural characteristics. 

Within the capitalist mode of production, the individual loses his control over his work. He loses his ability to think, to determine his destiny, to define his relations with others and to own things of value. Ultimately workers lose the liberty to think for themselves and to make their own decisions since they have no control over their work. They do not own the goods that they produce nor do they have the freedom to produce what they want. Thus, the individual becomes animal-like in his thought as he loses his ability to think. His goals are directed towards activities that are owned and dictated by the bourgeoisie.

“The fact that labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself.”

Examples of alienation:

- Labour: The individual is alienated from the products that he manufactures because he does not own them. They are owned and disposed of by the bourgeoisie. Thus, he cannot own the things that he produces. He is paid minimum wages and the returns of his labour are significantly low. This leads to the exploitation of the worker.

- Producing: Workers do not have control over the process of production. The working conditions and organization is all determined by the bourgeoisie without taking into consideration the individual. The division of labour further aggravates this alienation.

- Producer: According to Marx, the ability to consciously shape things around us is what makes one human. However, capitalism takes away the essence of being human. The individual’s labour is forced and coerced. The kind of work that the individual is made to do has no correlation with his interests or passion. The wealth that is created by the worker is owned by the bourgeoisie, driven by profit maximization. This leads to the strengthening of classes in society.

- Cooperation: Under capitalism, the worker is seen as an entity which can be used and traded to maximize production and profits. Workers are entrenched in the world of competition to get the maximum wages possible from the bourgeoisie, who in turn try to get the maximum labour from the worker. This alienation also arises inevitably from the class structure and division in society.

Critics of Marx’s theory of Alienation argue that today’s free market allows people to hold shares in private institutions. This means that the profits belong to the shareholders, not just a single person. Entrepreneurship allows one to pursue private interests by providing opportunities. In terms of intellectual labour, many middle-men employ their skills in work that they like and participate in other extracurricular activities that they enjoy.


Marx combined the results of a generalised universal interpretation of human history with the description of the economic aspect of history in a particular place. His view of history is an abstraction from the universal experience. Coming after the first modern scientific explorations of the past, and its syntheses by modern philosophers, notably Hegel, Marx’s abstraction is very strongly based on factual information, and forms a framework for studying all history.

Marx regards the fulfilment of human material wants as the basic function of society, since production takes place in a social environment. According to Marx it is the mode of production that influences the general process of social life. In contradiction to idealist philosophers, like Hegel, who saw history as the unfolding of an Idea, a Divine Plan, Marx´s basic concept was historical materialism.

According to Marx, it was after the hunter-gatherer period, when agriculture was developed in the Neolithic Age, that humans produced a surplus. It was then that society divided into classes: producers and those who lived off the surplus. These latter established the State and private property, usually by force. Human slaves and land became the property of the few. This struggle to retain the surplus produced by the labourers evolved into exploitation. Ever since the history of society has been the story of class struggles.

Marx believed that constant change was a law of history. It comes about cumulatively and leads to great transformations so that change can be analysed as a series of separate social formations based on how production is organised and how the surplus is shared out. In European history Marx distinguished ancient social formations based on slavery, then feudal organisation founded on serfdom. Later came the capitalist mode of production based on wage-labour in the factory system. The author´s aim was to replace this exploitative system with socialism, free of class exploitation.

The changes in social formations throughout history came about notably through class struggle, according to Marx. This occurs through workers becoming conscious of their social existence. Consciousness of the situation is limited by the material possibilities of the time. However there are other limitations: failure to obtain a rational vision of contemporary society, as in peasants not realising that they are members of a class. Religion, according to Marx, acts as an "opium" to obscure rational perception. He cites the Indian caste system as the result of an irrational consciousness affecting the social structure and Protestant Christianity as part of the genesis of capitalism. 

In Marx´s thinking the material conditions of capitalism will effect the liberation of consciousness and humans will face up to the real conditions of life and social relationships.

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat."

The liberation of consciousness is related to the possibilities created by material factors, machinery, modern technology and economies of scale, for the overthrow of class-exploitation and the establishment of Socialism. Marxism forms the apex of the liberated consciousness, and the working class is, by its struggles, the harbinger of the coming new order. But the working class has to become conscious of itself, and of its historic role, before it can achieve what material circumstances have made possible for it. There can be no blind, spontaneous revolution.


The value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labour that went into producing it (and not, for instance, by the fluctuating relationship of supply and demand). Marx defines a commodity as an external object that satisfies wants or needs and distinguishes between two different kinds of value that can be attributed to it. Commodities have a use-value that consists of their capacity to satisfy such wants and needs. For the purposes of economic exchange, they have an exchange-value, their value in relation to other commodities on the market, which is measured in terms of money. Marx asserts that in order to determine the relative worth of extremely different commodities with different use-values, exchange-value, or monetary value, they must be measurable in terms of a property common to all such commodities. The only thing that all commodities have in common is that they are a product of labour. Therefore, the value of a commodity in a market represents the amount of labour that went into its production.

The labour theory is important in Marx’s work since it forms the foundation of Marx’s notion of exploitation. In the simplest form of exchange, people produce commodities and sell them so that they can buy other commodities to satisfy their own needs and wants. In such exchanges, money is only the common medium that allows transactions to take place. Capitalists, in contrast, are motivated not by a need for commodities but by a desire to accumulate money. Capitalists take advantage of their power to set wages and working hours to extract the greatest amount of labour from workers at the lowest possible cost, selling the products of the workers at a higher price than the capitalists paid for them. Rather than buy or sell products at their true exchange-value, as determined by the labour that went into making them, capitalists enrich themselves by extracting a “surplus-value” from their labourers, in other words, exploiting them. Marx pointed to the abject poverty of industrial workers in places like Manchester for proof of the destructive effects of this exploitative relationship.

Commodity Fetishism

A fetish refers to any object that people fixate on and that keeps them from seeing the truth. According to Marx, when people try to understand the world in which they live, they fixate on money—who has it, how is it acquired, how is it spent—or they fixate on commodities, trying to understand economics as a matter of what it costs to make or to buy a product, what the demand for a product is. Marx believed that commodities and money are fetishes that prevent people from seeing the truth about economics and society: that one class of people is exploiting another. In capitalism, the production of commodities is based on an exploitative economic relationship between owners of factories and the workers who produce the commodities. In everyday life, we think only of the market value of a commodity, its price. But this monetary value simultaneously depends on and masks the fact that someone was exploited to make that commodity.

The concept of commodity fetishism applies both to the perceptions of normal people in everyday life and to the formal study of economics. Economists, both then and now, study the economy in terms of the movements of money, goods, and prices, which is essentially the point of view of the corporation. From this point of view, the social dimension of economic life is considered unscientific and unworthy of discussion. Marx argues that this commodity fetishism allows capitalists to carry on with day-to-day affairs of a capitalist mode of production without having to confront the real implications of the system of exploitation on which they depend.

Theory of Revolution

Dialectical materialism, Marx argued, was a predictive formula for understanding the progression of economic and political history. Taking this formula and applying it to his age, Marx presents many claims regarding how human society’s future would develop. Central to this is the clash between the proletariat and the capitalist bourgeoisie, which Marx argues will result in the proletariat class overthrowing the capitalist institutions within society, and ultimately replacing them with a communist society free of hierarchical dominance. 

“The separation between the Man of Labour and the Instruments of Labour, once established, such a state of things will maintain itself and reproduce itself upon a constantly increasing scale, until a new and fundamental revolution in the mode of production should again overturn it, and restore the original union in a new historical form.”

Marx pioneered a political science discipline and inspired thinkers after him. In the opening remarks of the Communist Manifesto he explains:

 “In a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted… fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstruction of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” 

Marx argues that revolutions result from the social and economic structures present within a society, and structuralist thinkers after him understand this to be the primary cause of revolutionary situations and outcomes. For example, Marx acknowledges how the nature of bourgeois society constantly threatens the status of the petty bourgeoisie. For this reason, he argued it is natural to have “these intermediate classes… take up the cudgels for the working class”.

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