Marx's Capital — 1867-2017: 150 years of decoding capitalism. Workers' Liberty 3/59

“The Bible of the working class”

Published on: Thu, 05/10/2017 - 10:44

Martin Thomas

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Karl Marx’s book Capital was published 150 years ago, on 14 September 1867, the fruits of over fifteen years’ study.

Marx was then fairly well-known in the European and US workers’ movements, through his activity in the First International, founded in September 1864. His Communist Manifesto of 1848, which had become a rarity since revolutionary socialist activity receded in the early 1850s, had been republished and translated, and was circulating well.

Capital appeared first in a German edition. There was no “Marxist” group in Germany at the time

Where do profits come from?

Published on: Thu, 05/10/2017 - 10:37

Martin Thomas

How do capitalists make profits? An individual capitalist can profit by cheating, or by what orthodox economists call “technological rents” (the ability to charge a higher price for a distinctive product, or to command royalties). But that is no explanation for the whole capitalist class.

The simplest form of capitalist profit is the financial capitalist lending money at interest. But that cannot be the basic form. Capitalists cannot live by lending at interest to each other any more than an economy can be built on people taking in each other’s laundry. The question is, how does the value of

Grundrisse and wage-slavery

Published on: Thu, 05/10/2017 - 09:22

Martin Thomas

How can wage-labour reasonably be described as wage-slavery? If a worker makes a free contract, as an individual equal before the law, with an employer, isn’t that a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work? Shouldn’t the word “exploitation” be reserved for exceptional cases where workers are exceptionally at a disadvantage in the wage-bargain, rather being the word being used (as Marxists use it) for all wage-labour?

The Grundrisse, Marx’s “rough draft” of 1857-8, offers a faster-burning and more vivid first draft of the answers to these questions which Marx develops in Capital.

In Capital,

A dialogue with the future

Published on: Thu, 05/10/2017 - 09:13

Martin Thomas

Native Americans and Native Australians were flummoxed when they saw European settlers buying and selling land. When the Russian revolutionary Victor Serge came to the West in 1936, he found it hard to explain to his 16 year old son, born and brought up in the Soviet Union, how big factories could be privately owned.

“This big building then... does it belong to one man, who can do just what he likes with it? Does this shop, with enough shoes for the whole of Orenburg, belong to just one owner?” “Yes, son: his name is written there in lights. The gentleman probably owns a factory, a country

Wages, Price and Profit

Published on: Thu, 05/10/2017 - 09:02

Martin Thomas

At the same time as he was readying Capital volume 1 for publication, Marx gave an exposition of his view on workers’ struggles over wages in a report (in effect a lecture) delivered at two successive meetings of the General Council of the First International, on 20 and 27 June 1865. The exposition was not published at the time. It was found and published only in 1898, after Engels’ death, by Karl Marx’s daughter Eleanor, under the title Wages, Price, and Profit (or in some editions Value, Price, and Profit).

Some of the exposition is a summary of the arguments in Capital volume 1 (and useful

Capital in the 21st Century

Published on: Thu, 05/10/2017 - 08:55

Martin Thomas

Economic inequality has increased. It is on a solid trend to continue increasing. The USA, the most unequal of the richer countries, may set a new historical record for income inequality by 2030, and other countries are following similar though not identical trajectories.

So says Thomas Piketty in his book Capital in the 21st Century. It has been a best-seller in many countries, despite costing £30 and stretching to six or seven hundred pages. Politically, Piketty has been in the orbit of the French Socialist Party. He told an interviewer: “I never managed really to read [Marx]... Das Kapital

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