Why Study Marx’s Capital?
By Phoenix Cloutier
In the following series we will explore the seminal and perhaps second most famous work of Karl Marx, Capital. A tome consisting of three volumes, Capital is Marx’s attempt to uncover the laws of the Capitalist mode of production. Questions, however, appear in the mind: “Why should we care about political economy or exchange-values or anything else described in this book?” and “Isn’t Marx’s theory of value widely discredited today?” Both questions are just and both deserve an answer.
We should care about political economy because the economy is the basis of social life. The mode of production, capitalism in our country, determines, firstly, the way that we consume, but also the structure of our government. As Marx and Engels say in The German Ideology, “The relations of different nations among themselves depend upon the extent to which each has its productive forces, the division of labour and internal intercourse. This proposition is generally recognized. But not only the relation of a nation to others, but also the internal structure of the nation itself depends on the stage of development reached.”(1) Not only is the structure of our government and politics the product of the economic base, but also the very way in which we interact with the world, our ideas, our laws, and our morality are too conditioned by our society and firstly by its mode of production. “Consciousness… can never be anything else than conscious being…, and the being of men is their actual life process,”-actual life process being mode of production and development of productive forces.(2) Beyond this, if Marx is correct, the understanding of the Capitalist economy as doomed to eventually fail must be immediately grasped by those who would not wish to see the extinction of mankind. If “[t]he 2020 economic crisis was a crisis of overproduction, which is a basic feature of capitalist production,”(3) then we must find ways to reorganize production so as to avoid such calamities in the future.
Onto the second question, we can respond in two ways. Firstly, Marx’s theory is discredited among some in the academic field of economics, but he is not totally discounted. To say as much would be inaccurate. Moreover, the question is raised specifically in response to the suggestion of studying Capital. Beyond discovering the laws of motion of the capitalist system, we can also take a look into Marx’s method—his philosophical world outlook. Many people understand Marxism to be a political movement or an idea of a utopian society. Beyond either of these things, Marxism is primarily a method and a philosophical world outlook. Its outlook of materialism should be understood as “nothing other than the scientific explanation of the universe.”(4) Regardless of his conclusions, his method can prove valuable to all those interested in understanding human society from a scientific perspective. Marx’s method “sees the isolated facts of social life as aspects of the historical process and integrates them in a totality, can knowledge of the facts hope to become knowledge of reality.”[Lukács’ Italics](5)
Marx’s Capital is worth the study because it could illuminate the how and why of Capitalist society. We will have to see in the course of study whether or not it lives up to this goal. If it does not fulfill this in its entirety, it would still demonstrate the wondrous philosophical approach innovated by Marx and Engels which would allow us to utilize it in understanding current events and the world around us.
Mode of Production:
- The way in which society produces, ie. slave production, feudal production, capitalist production, etc.
- Implements and methods that allow for production. Lower productive forces would mean more primitive tools and more primitive or a lack of machinery like the use of wooden ploughs. Higher productive forces would mean more mechanization and more complex methods of production like large-scale production and automated robotic assembly machines.
- “The German Ideology,” Marx and Engels, Prometheus Books, p.38.
- Ibid, p. 42.
- “The Ongoing Crisis in the Steel Industry and the Coming Capitalist Offensive,” S. Mazur.
- “Elementary Principles of Philosophy,” Georges Politzer, Foreign Languages Press, p. 3.
- “History and Class Consciousness,” Georg Lukács, Foreign Languages Press, p.17.