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"Das Kapital"

Das Kapital or “Capital: Critique of Political Economy” was written by Karl Marx in 1867 and it is the masterwork of communist ideology, political theory, and economic critique.
Social Displacement
Social Displacement
Karl Marx was born in Germany to a very well off middle-class family. He actually started his writing career as a journalist and as a novelist and a poet at a time when the industrial revolution was off and running. Uh, it was a time in Europe where the capitalization of the economy and the creation of factories and factory labor had really taken over the production of wealth it was the new source of wage earning. 

People saw a great creation of wealth but they saw tremendous social displacement as well. The currency of wealth was no longer land or farm labor. The new currency of wealth was raw goods and manufacturing and factory labor. What did it mean for the populations that were moving from countryside to city to work in factories? What did it mean by farmers that were displaced?

Sustainability was in question for the first time and this was the environment I which Karl Marx began to think and began to write and began to publish. He was trying to be ahead of the curve. He was trying to interpret what he saw in society around him and to do it with a robust philosophical lens. Marx is most associated with proletarian rights, the political empowerment of laboring class. He was not radicalized by being a worker or by being exposed to factories. 

It is said that Marx never once visited a factory. He was radicalized by attending very prestigious universities where he was exposed to the ideas of some popular philosophers of his day. A group of people who were called the Young Hegelians or people who were fond of Hegel’s philosophy of dialecticism. This idea that history progressed in the world through clashes between one great social force and another and through those clashes you would get syntheses that drove history onward. 

Marx’s contribution to dialectical thought was to invent this idea of dialectical materialism. He said that the forces that shaped human history more than any other were forces associated with material things, economy.
Dialectical Materialism
Dialectical Materialism
Karl Marx’s most famous work is probably the short treaties that he titled Communist Manifesto. But his most complete statement of thinking is contained in his work Capital or Das Kapital as it is often referred to in the German. It was designed to be a three-volume set and Marx only completed the first volume. His good friend Friedrich Engels completed volumes two and three after Marx died.

Marx was really trying to get his head around the whole thing all of world history in his economic theory. It was Das Kapital that became the most influential work because it provided underpinnings for future communist thinkers to expand on Marx’s original thinking. Kapital argues for a materialistic dialectic. The idea that all world history can be understood in terms of materialism, material things it’s our material universe that determines who we are. It had to do with the way we organize to produce things, to produce food, to produce items, to produce wealth that determined your life. That determined world history according to Marx. 

Individuals don’t really matter. What matters is irresistible, impersonal social forces. We’re all just carried along by these waves. 
The most important economic, social phenomena of Marx’s day was of course capitalism. The amassing of great amounts of cash was empowering people launch huge economic enterprises in manufacturing and exporting and importing and it was changing the way that humans did economy. Marx, had this notion that capitalism, in a famous phrase, carried the seeds of its own destruction.

That there was something inherent in a capitalistic organization of society that was bound to fall apart. Capitalism relied on owners of the means of production exploiting the providers of the labor and inevitably, irresistibly for sure in the march of history, it was the underclass, it was the labor class that would triumph, uh, in this battle. It was like a natural law. Capitalism had inherent flaws. 

It would create an economy of crisis and repeated crises. He said that the owners of the means of production, the capitalists would arbitrarily assign value to the goods that were being produced. The price was produced from the value of the labor that went into it. You would charge as much as you could get if you were a capitalist. You wouldn’t charge the real value of that product. The cost of the raw materials plus the cost of the labor. You want to put a profit on top of it and profit was evil in Marx’s mind. Profit caused a great deal of trouble, because it was a fiction, it was arbitrary. And from time to time, this inefficient exploitative system would cause great crisis as people realized well, we overpaid for this and that and so you would see recessions or great depressions. From time to time capitalism would need tremendous and violent correction and these crises in Marx’s mind were opportunities for the revolution, opportunities for the underclass to take over. 

People still think a lot about Marx’s critique of capitalist recessions today. One of the reasons that Marx became so infamous that he was kicked out of more than one country is because his theory economic displacement, his call for proletarian revolution immediately found a sympathetic audience.

The fact was, that 19th century industrialism was immorally exploitative that the owners of the means of productions were paying incredibly low wages to people who were trapped. People, perhaps, are not free-market items. The laborer is not a product the laborer is a human with a life and a family and human needs. The system was brutal. People were dying in the factories and there was no control. Nobody knew what to do; there were no labor unions in those days. And Marx was the first one to really speak into that passionately and holistically. He had a plan. Or at least, he had a theory, here is what you should do, exploited workers, be violent yourself. You become the dictators in a new world. You meet fire with fire, violence with violence. That’s the only way you are going to get ahead. That struck a cord with people who are looking upon the suffering of the early industrial laborers and wondering what in the world could be done.
A Stateless Man
A Stateless Man
Karl Marx died a stateless man. He was kicked out of Germany, he wasn’t allowed in many countries in Europe. The only place he could live, ironically enough, was London, was in Britain. It was the center of the industrial revolution and the only country generous enough to host Karl Marx. Indications are that he was a little bit bitter about this. He lived almost his whole adult life in London where he did most of his work. Published the manifesto, wrote Kapital, he lived in poverty. He lived in near squalor. His family suffered probably. More than one of his children died because of their tough economic conditions. He was a man who lived in irony, who lived a certain amount of deprivation. There is an apocryphal story, he couldn’t afford shoes, so when he went to the library each day to write Kapital, he had to go in his slippers and people would despise him.

This was Karl Marx’s life experience he was not an exploited factory worker but he felt displaced and one can’t help but believe that that played a role in the development of his revolutionary ideas. At one point in world history, a billion and a half people were living under communist governments that owed their existence to the philosophical underpinnings of Karl Marx. And then beginning in the 1990s, communist systems around the world just fell apart. The prediction was that capitalism carried the seeds of it’s own destruction but it appeared that communist dictatorships carried the seeds of their own destruction. 

And I think if Karl Marx walked into today’s world, he would be aghast because the nations, the people that took him most seriously actually have suffered the most. It seems that he was very wrong. However, there are still people in today’s world that ascribe, at least to parts of his communist theory.

People are still trying to figure it out. People are still trying to manage the social displacements caused by the powerful capitalist economy. Really, how do we build a just society in which everyone gets taken care of and everybody is safe and well off? Maybe there is not a governmental answer. Maybe there is only an individual answer. Maybe that’s a spiritual question and not an economic one but Karl Marx would have something to say about it if he showed up.

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