It’s often said that without knowing Marx’s ideas, a student cannot become a good economist, political thinker or social philosopher. I believe that Marx was not a philosopher for a group of people who sought alternatives to capitalism; he was the philosopher for the people in general. Hence, Marx’s ideas are still relevant to some of the most troubling issues humanity is facing today. The rising economic inequality, deepening economic instability, and growing unsustainability of human-nature interactions signify a looming planetary crisis.
In the early 1990’s, after the breakdown of the Soviet Union, which was set up in 1917 by one of Marx’s revolutionary follower, Vladimir Lenin, Marxism as a political theory lost its significance. By celebrating the victory of liberalisation and fall of Soviet Union, Francis Fukuyama wrote in his work, “The End of the History and the Last Man” (1992) that there is no alternative to liberal democracy.
However, some critics saw the 2008 global financial crash, as a classic example of capitalism in crisis, which was just as Marx had predicted. After the breakdown of Soviet Russia, the world turned into a unipolar system, under the hegemony of the USA. A revolution is needed to compete with the US hegemony and liberal economic inequality. Therefore, Marxism is still relevant as an alternative ideology to capitalism and liberalism.
It is also important to acknowledge that the revolutionary potential of Marx still inspires the people around the world. The mechanism of rising expectations is being sought to be achieved through the methods devised by Marx. The Marxian ideology remains the only alternative to liberalisation. When liberalisation does not fulfil the needs of the people, they seek to interpret Marxism in their way to suit their local milieu.
Written in the middle of the 19th century by German philosopher and economist, Karl Marx, this book describes how the capitalist system works. In this revolutionary work, Marx claims that capitalism is a system that will litigate by itself. Before this book, Marx had already given brief ideas on class struggle in his “Communist Manifesto and other writings”, where he simplified how the workers of the world would seize power from the ruling elites. “Das Kapital” was just a stepping stone for Marx, who gave these ideas grounded in facts and proper scientific analysis. It is important to mention here that it is not an easy task to read and understand this book in the first attempt.
“Das Kapital” is the product of 30 years of work and experience by Marx. His study of the condition of workers in English factories at the height of the industrial revolution is a significant part of history, economics and sociology today. Marx published the first volume of “Das Kapital” in 1867 when he was in London with his family and was financially supported by his friend Friedrich Engels. It was the first successful document which marked a significant inflexion point in the history of politics, economic and social sciences.
Marx argued that commodities have both a use-value and an exchange value and that their exchange-value is dependent and rooted in how much labour-power went into their production. While traditionally people bought commodities to use them; the capitalists use commodities differently. Their final goal is to earn a profit. Therefore, they spend money to buy commodities, to sell those commodities according to the demand of the market for a profit. This is a cyclical process. The capitalists can make a profit because they only need to pay for the worker’s value, but the workers produce more than the worth amount they get paid in a day. This is how the workers are exploited.
The capitalists can do this easily because they have the power, and they control the means of production. As a result, the workers are negatively affected by the system. They don’t own the products of their labour, and the repetitive work they do makes them a little more than machines. But Marx’s idea of ‘planned economy’ will not make any place easy to live either. As consumers, we have nearly no control over the products we require. We will always receive poor quality goods because the government apparently won’t go out of business if it fails to please us.
Marx stated that workers’ wages should only be dictated by the number of hours that the worker puts in, rather than what the value of the products or services the labourer produces. So, if a neurosurgeon works for a period of time, the worker will be compensated for the amount of labour they put in, and not based on the value of doing a surgical operation. This questions his earlier idea of equality.
Marx and Engels rejected the liberal view that the state is a natural institution and it exists to promote the well being of all the people. Instead, they held that the state is a product of society at a certain stage of its development. It is a historical entity. It emerged out of the class division of the society and out of the need to hold the class antagonism in check. The state was not present in the primitive society where the institutions of law, government and politics were absent.
To conclude, Marx’s work ‘Das Kapital’ will remain significant as long as Capitalism exists. Yes, it was written one and a half century ago, but the political economy hasn’t changed much, the basic elements still exist. Capitalism is a system of wealth accumulation through the production of profit. Everything might not be relatable to the struggle between two social classes with the Marx’s view, and history does not seem to be deterministic in the sense of Marxian thought. Capitalists’ influence on policymaking and the common man’s fear of losing the democratic power, can be related as a struggle between the capitalists (bourgeoisie) and the workers (proletariat) in the present day context. This article is a tribute and expression of gratitude to Karl Marx for his socio-political philosophy from a non-Marxist.