Das Kapital with its author Karl Marx
150th Anniversary of the Publication
of the First Volume of Das Kapital on September 14, 1867
The Three Sources and Three Component
Parts of Marxism
Throughout the civilised world the teachings of Marx evoke the utmost hostility and hatred of all bourgeois science (both official and liberal), which regards Marxism as a kind of “pernicious sect.” And no other attitude is to be expected, for there can be no “impartial” social science in a society based on class struggle. In one way or another, all official and liberal science defends wage-slavery, whereas Marxism has declared relentless war on that slavery. To expect science to be impartial in a wage-slave society is as foolishly naïve as to expect impartiality from manufacturers on the question of whether workers’ wages ought not to be increased by decreasing the profits of capital.
But this is not all. The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling “sectarianism” in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.
The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism.
It is these three sources of Marxism, which are also its component parts that we shall outline in brief.
The philosophy of Marxism is materialism. Throughout the modern history of Europe, and especially at the end of the eighteenth century in France, where a resolute struggle was conducted against every kind of medieval rubbish, against serfdom in institutions and ideas, materialism has proved to be the only philosophy that is consistent, true to all the teachings of natural science and hostile to superstition, cant and so forth. The enemies of democracy have, therefore, always exerted all their efforts to “refute,” undermine and defame materialism, and have advocated various forms of philosophical idealism, which always, in one way or another, amounts to the defence or support of religion.
Marx and Engels defended philosophical materialism in the most determined manner and repeatedly explained how profoundly erroneous is every deviation from this basis. Their views are most clearly and fully expounded in the works of Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy and Anti-Dühring, which, like the Communist Manifesto, are handbooks for every class-conscious worker.
But Marx did not stop at eighteenth-century materialism: he developed philosophy to a higher level; he enriched it with the achievements of German classical philosophy, especially of Hegel’s system, which in its turn had led to the materialism of Feuerbach. The main achievement was dialectics, i.e., the doctrine of development in its fullest, deepest and most comprehensive form, the doctrine of the relativity of the human knowledge that provides us with a reflection of eternally developing matter. The latest discoveries of natural science — radium, electrons, the transmutation of elements — have been a remarkable confirmation of Marx’s dialectical materialism despite the teachings of the bourgeois philosophers with their “new” reversions to old and decadent idealism.
Marx deepened and developed philosophical materialism to the full, and extended the cognition of nature to include the cognition of human society. His historical materialism was a great achievement in scientific thinking. The chaos and arbitrariness that had previously reigned in views on history and politics were replaced by a strikingly integral and harmonious scientific theory, which shows how, in consequence of the growth of productive forces, out of one system of social life another and higher system develops — how capitalism, for instance, grows out of feudalism.
Just as man’s knowledge reflects nature (i.e., developing matter), which exists independently of him, so man’s social knowledge (i.e., his various views and doctrines — philosophical, religious, political and so forth) reflects the economic system of society. Political institutions are a superstructure on the economic foundation. We see, for example, that the various political forms of the modern European states serve to strengthen the domination of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat.
Marx’s philosophy is a consummate philosophical materialism that has provided mankind, and especially the working class, with powerful instruments of knowledge.
Having recognised that the economic system is the foundation on which the political superstructure is erected, Marx devoted his greatest attention to the study of this economic system. Marx’s principal work, Capital, is devoted to a study of the economic system of modern, i.e., capitalist, society.
Classical political economy, before Marx, evolved in England, the most developed of the capitalist countries. Adam Smith and David Ricardo, by their investigations of the economic system, laid the foundations of the labour theory of value. Marx continued their work; he provided a proof of the theory and developed it consistently. He showed that the value of every commodity is determined by the quantity of socially necessary labour time spent on its production.
Where the bourgeois economists saw a relation between things (the exchange of one commodity for another) Marx revealed a relation between people. The exchange of commodities expresses the connection between individual producers through the market. Money signifies that the connection is becoming closer and closer, inseparably uniting the entire economic life of the individual producers into one whole. Capital signifies a further development of this connection: man’s labour-power becomes a commodity. The wage-worker sells his labour-power to the owner of land, factories and instruments of labour. The worker spends one part of the day covering the cost of maintaining himself and his family (wages), while the other part of the day he works without remuneration, creating for the capitalist surplus-value, the source of profit, the source of the wealth of the capitalist class.
The doctrine of surplus-value is the corner-stone of Marx’s economic theory.
Capital, created by the labour of the worker, crushes the worker, ruining small proprietors and creating an army of unemployed. In industry, the victory of large-scale production is immediately apparent, but the same phenomenon is also to be observed in agriculture, where the superiority of large-scale capitalist agriculture is enhanced, the use of machinery increases and the peasant economy, trapped by money-capital, declines and falls into ruin under the burden of its backward technique. The decline of small-scale production assumes different forms in agriculture, but the decline itself is an indisputable fact.
By destroying small-scale production, capital leads to an increase in productivity of labour and to the creation of a monopoly position for the associations of big capitalists. Production itself becomes more and more social — hundreds of thousands and millions of workers become bound together in a regular economic organism — but the product of this collective labour is appropriated by a handful of capitalists. Anarchy of production, crises, the furious chase after markets and the insecurity of existence of the mass of the population are intensified.
By increasing the dependence of the workers on capital, the capitalist system creates the great power of united labour.
Marx traced the development of capitalism from embryonic commodity economy, from simple exchange, to its highest forms, to large-scale production.
And the experience of all capitalist countries, old and new, year by year demonstrates clearly the truth of this Marxian doctrine to increasing numbers of workers.
Capitalism has triumphed all over the world, but this triumph is only the prelude to the triumph of labour over capital.
When feudalism was overthrown and “free” capitalist society appeared in the world, it at once became apparent that this freedom meant a new system of oppression and exploitation of the working people. Various socialist doctrines immediately emerged as a reflection of and protest against this oppression. Early socialism, however, was utopian socialism. It criticised capitalist society, it condemned and damned it, it dreamed of its destruction, it had visions of a better order and endeavoured to convince the rich of the immorality of exploitation.
But utopian socialism could not indicate the real solution. It could not explain the real nature of wage-slavery under capitalism, it could not reveal the laws of capitalist development, or show what social force is capable of becoming the creator of a new society.
Meanwhile, the stormy revolutions which everywhere in Europe, and especially in France, accompanied the fall of feudalism, of serfdom, more and more clearly revealed the struggle of classes as the basis and the driving force of all development.
Not a single victory of political freedom over the feudal class was won except against desperate resistance. Not a single capitalist country evolved on a more or less free and democratic basis except by a life-and-death struggle between the various classes of capitalist society.
The genius of Marx lies in his having been the first to deduce from this the lesson world history teaches and to apply that lesson consistently. The deduction he made is the doctrine of the class struggle.
People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics, and they always will be until they have learnt to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. Champions of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realise that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is kept going by the forces of certain ruling classes. And there is only one way of smashing the resistance of those classes, and that is to find, in the very society which surrounds us, the forces which can — and, owing to their social position, must — constitute the power capable of sweeping away the old and creating the new, and to enlighten and organise those forces for the struggle.
Marx’s philosophical materialism alone has shown the proletariat the way out of the spiritual slavery in which all oppressed classes have hitherto languished. Marx’s economic theory alone has explained the true position of the proletariat in the general system of capitalism.
Independent organisations of the proletariat are multiplying all over the world, from America to Japan and from Sweden to South Africa. The proletariat is becoming enlightened and educated by waging its class struggle; it is ridding itself of the prejudices of bourgeois society; it is rallying its ranks ever more closely and is learning to gauge the measure of its successes; it is steeling its forces and is growing irresistibly.
Marx’s Theory of Surplus-Value
Retains Its Full Validity Today
Marx discovered the economic law of motion of capitalist society, the law of surplus-value. He demonstrated that the motive of production under capitalism is profit, which represents the unpaid labour of the working class, the new value created by the workers in the capitalistic labour process, in excess of their wages. Marx was the first to discover the origin of capitalist profit in the exploitation of the working class. He showed that the development of production under capitalism takes place amidst crises and upheavals, and that this is due to the anarchy of production which stems from the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist mode of production, the contradiction between the social character of production and the private capitalist appropriation of the fruits of production. At a certain stage, the growth of the productive forces comes into conflict with the growth of profits, with the private capitalist appropriation, and crisis breaks out, characterized by a seemingly illogical phenomenon: there is an oversupply of goods, but the workers cannot afford to buy them and must live in want. All the features of capitalist society as it has developed were predicted by Marx on the basis of its economic law of motion. Starting from this law, Marx was able to formulate the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation, which holds that as capitalism develops, and as greater and greater wealth is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the lot of the working class necessarily deteriorates: the rich become richer, the poor become poorer.
“The greater the social wealth, the functioning capital, the extent and energy of its growth, and, therefore, also the absolute mass of the proletariat and the productiveness of its labour, the greater is the industrial reserve army. The same causes which develop the expansive power of capital, develop also the labour-power at its disposal. The relative mass of the industrial reserve army increases, therefore, with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve army in proportion to the active labour-army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus-population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to its torment of labour. The more extensive, finally, the lazarus-layers of the working class, and the industrial reserve army, the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation.”
Marx concluded that the capitalist system would be hit with recurring crises of increasing severity, and that this situation could be ended only by the violent revolution of the proletariat together with its allies against the capitalist mode of production. In this way, Marx reasoned, capitalist private property and the capitalist relations of production would be overthrown and replaced by the social ownership of the means of production, so that the contradiction between the social character of production and the existing property relations could be abolished.
With the law of surplus-value, Marx discovered the origin and growth of capitalist profit and laid bare the “economic law of motion of modern society.” This problem had puzzled all earlier political economists, who, however closely they had approached the labour theory of value, had been unable to explain the origin of profit in a scientific way. Engels explained:
“Marx also discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production and the bourgeois society that this mode of production has created. The discovery of surplus-value suddenly threw light on the problem, in trying to solve which all previous investigations, of both bourgeois economists and socialist critics, had been groping in the dark.”
After the first industrial crisis of 1825, and with the complete ascendency to political power of the bourgeoisie in France and England after 1830, the bourgeoisie, confronted by the development of the proletarian class struggle, was forced to abandon all scientific political economy. Marx explained in the Afterword to the Second German Edition of Capital:
“In France and in England the bourgeoisie had conquered political power. Thenceforth, the class-struggle, practically as well as theoretically, took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms. It sounded the knell of scientific bourgeois economy. It was thenceforth no longer a question, whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not. In place of disinterested inquirers, there were hired prize-fighters; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and evil intent of apologetic.”
From the 1840s onward, Marx developed his economic doctrine on the basis of the economic law of motion of modern society. Thenceforth, the scientific position in political economy was synonymous with Marxism. Scientific rigour became synonymous with proletarian partisanship, because Marxism showed that crises and the other ills of capitalism could be ended once and for all only by putting an end to the capitalist system, and that the condition of the working class under capitalism, the condition of wage-slavery, the chains which bound the worker hand and foot to capital, could be smashed only by the revolutionary overthrow of all existing conditions, of the bourgeois order.
With the growth of capitalism into monopoly capitalism and imperialism, all the contradictions of capitalism are aggravated to the extreme; the necessity for revolution to resolve these problems, far from becoming an increasingly remote prospect, becomes the issue of the day, the problem taken up for solution. Today, just as when Marx made his thoroughgoing analysis of commodity production under capitalism, the worker has nothing to sell but his labour power; he is a wage slave forced to sell himself in the market-place in order to gain his living. The development of large-scale production, the relentless concentration of production and capital in fewer hands, the growth of finance capital, the export of capital around the world, the division of the world amongst the imperialist powers — none of this has negated the basic economic laws of capitalism discovered by Marx. The present objective conditions only reconfirm the validity of Marx’s economic doctrine.
It is the compelling truth of Marx’s economic doctrine and the power of his teachings that force the apologists of the bourgeoisie, all its hired prize-fighters, onto the field against Marxism, to “invalidate” and “disprove” it. Today, as in the past, these apologists come forward with arguments to justify the exploitation of the workers and the profit system. In Marx’s day, they claimed that the capitalist was entitled to a “return” for his “abstinence,” for his “risk-taking,” for his “wages of superintendence.” But all these arguments fell before the scientific proof that no matter what justification was given for profits, interest, rent and other returns to the owners of bourgeois property, this return could be paid only out of what was produced by the living labour of the working class and other toilers in the course of material production. The bourgeoisie denied the labour theory of value altogether. It made “value” synonymous with “price” and maintained that prices were determined by the forces of “supply and demand,” and especially by the satisfaction of the subjective desires of the consumers, so that there was and could be no objective measure of the value of labour.
With this psychological explanation of value, the bourgeois economists hoped both to eliminate the labour theory of value and to justify the unequal division of the fruits of labour between the exploiters and exploited, between the rich and poor. One of the originators of the psychological theory of value based on the utilitarian philosophy, W.S. Jevons, also put forward the theory that the periodic crises of capitalism can be explained by sunspot activity! And this new version of the value theory appeared simultaneously in England, Austria and France in 1871, at a time of sharp class battles, at the time of the revolt of the Paris proletariat and establishment of the Paris Commune.
With the development of capitalism to the stage of monopoly capitalism, revisionist theoreticians sought to discredit the Marxist economic doctrine on the basis of “new data” of economic development. They insisted that the rate of concentration and destruction of small-scale production was proceeding only very slowly in industry, and in agriculture not at all; that crises had become rarer and of less force; that cartels and trusts would enable crises to be done away with altogether; that the theory of “collapse” was unsound because class antagonisms were becoming less acute. They argued that the development of capitalism into monopoly capitalism was easing and even eliminating the contradictions of capitalism.
Lenin came out in struggle against these revisionists who sought to alter the conclusions of Marx, to eliminate the recognition of the economic laws of motion of capitalism and to eliminate the class struggle. Lenin showed that in its development, capitalism had proceeded on the basis of the economic laws discovered by Marx. It had developed into monopoly capitalism with the concentration of capital and production on a large scale, and this had intensified the class antagonisms. He pointed out:
“Realities very soon made it clear to the revisionists that crises were not a thing of the past; prosperity was followed by a crisis. The forms, the sequence, the picture of a particular crisis changed, but crises remained an inevitable component of the capitalist system. While uniting production, the cartels and trusts at the same time, and in a way that was obvious to all, aggravated the anarchy of production, the insecurity of existence of the proletariat and the oppression of capital, thereby intensifying class antagonisms to an unprecedented degree.”
In his monumental work, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin described how capitalism had developed into the stage of monopoly capitalism, capitalist imperialism. He showed how the features of monopoly capitalism, its moribund and parasitic character, had developed on the basis of the economic laws discovered by Marx: the growth of concentration of capital and production and the emergence of monopolies; the development of finance capital through the merging of industrial capital and bank capital under the domination of the banks; the export of capital; and the division of the world among the capitalist monopolies and the imperialist powers. He described imperialism as the stage of capitalism when the revolution is the order of the day, the problem taken up for solution. In particular, Lenin analyzed the operation of the basic economic law of capitalism under modern conditions of monopoly capitalism and concluded that the capitalists seek maximum profits by exacting tribute from every cell of the society. Thus, he concluded:
“Finance capital, concentrated in a few hands and exercising a virtual monopoly, exacts enormous and ever-increasing profits from the floating of companies, issue of stock, state loans, etc., strengthens the domination of the financial oligarchy and levies tribute upon the whole of the society for the benefit of the monopolists.”
Stalin formulated this law precisely in his work, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR,showing that the basic economic law of capitalism remains the law of surplus-value, which explains the origin and growth of capitalist profit, and that although the operation of this law is modified under imperialism, its principles are unchanged. Stalin concluded that the main features and requirements of the basic economic law of modern capitalism might be formulated as:
“the securing of the maximum capitalist profit through the exploitation, ruin and impoverishment of the majority of the population of the given country, through the enslavement and systematic robbery of the peoples of other countries, especially backward countries, and, lastly, through wars and militarization of the national economy, which are utilized for the obtaining of the highest profits.”
Thus Stalin refuted the views of modern revisionists such as Browder and Tito who claimed that monopoly capitalism in the U.S. was “young capitalism,” that the socialist economy was compatible with the capital market and commodity circulation and with the operation of the law of value as the regulator of production and distribution. […]
Today the bourgeoisie is still as intent as ever to “refute” Marx’s theory of surplus-value, to mystify the origin and source of the growth of profit and to paint the system of wage slavery in a rosy hue. In 1983 the imperialists even awarded the Nobel Prize in economics to a “learned” professor, G. Debreu, whose life’s work has been the futile search for a credible alternative to Marx’s theory of surplus-value. The president of Gulf Canada claims that the big bourgeoisie, the monopolies and multinationals are the creators of wealth, while the workers merely consume the wealth! The constant refrain of the bourgeoisie is that corporate profits are the source of economic growth and of the well-being of the people, that the growth of profits is needed for economic expansion, and so on. It is claiming that the current crisis is due, in large part at least, to a decline in profits. According to this line of “reasoning,” what is required to cure the crisis is a rise in profits. This line is taken to the extreme by the bourgeois ideologues with their notorious refrain that profits are the key to “job creation” and that the workers’ interests are best served by sacrificing their wages, working conditions (even their jobs and job security!), in order that their employers’ profits might increase and jobs might subsequently be saved or “created.”
With these wild claims, the bourgeoisie is playing a cruel joke on the workers and the broad masses of the people. But the Marxist theory of surplus-value and the facts of life prove that what the bourgeoisie is saying about the so-called benefits to the workers from profits is utterly false. The profits of the monopolies and multinationals rose substantially in 1983, but this “recovery” did not create jobs for the unemployed workers. On the contrary, unemployment remains at historically high levels of about 11 per cent. But still the bourgeoisie and its publicists persist in dishing out this lying propaganda. The bourgeoisie has no concern for the well-being of the people, no interest in “creating jobs.” Its preoccupation is to secure maximum profits through the exploitation of the workers and the levying of tribute on the whole of society.
The law of surplus-value continues to operate today. The basic economic law of modern capitalism remains the law of surplus-value as it is modified in its operation under the contemporary conditions of imperialism. The law of surplus-value requires no “amendments” or “changes,” as revisionists and opportunists claim. On the contrary, current economic development, characterized by the outbreak of periodic crises and the constant deepening of the general crisis, cannot be understood without proceeding from this basic economic law of modern capitalism. […]
1. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1971), p. 603.
2. “One of the fundamental principles of Marxism is that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.” Karl Marx, “The Civil War in France,” in Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 2 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), p. 217.
3. Frederick Engels, “Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx,” Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970), p. 162.
4. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, op. cit., pp. 24-25.
5. V.I. Lenin, “Marxism and Revisionism,” Collected Works, Vol. 15 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), p. 35.
6. V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” Collected Works, Vol. 22 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964), p. 232.
7. J.V. Stalin, “Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R.,” Selected Works, p. 572.