Karl Marx was born in the German town of Trier, in 1818. He worked as a journalist for much of his life, and he often wrote with great flair, wit and frequently sharp sarcasm. He wrote for several journals and papers, which the authorities in many countries disliked and even closed down. Marx wrote much of what later became “Capital”. He died in 1883 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery in London.
The main concepts in Marx’s work include:
• Species being and the social nature of labour that is the first one.
• Production, subsistence production and commodity production.
• Division of labour.
• Profit in capitalist society, the labour theory of value and the theory of surplus value.
• The falling rate of profit
• Ideology and commodity fetishism.
For Marx, we are a form of animate life; what makes us different as humans from animals is the character of human productive activity. The systems we establish and organize for production are referred to by Marx as modes of production, and his argument is that in human history, there have been two major ones:
• subsistence production,
• commodity production.
In subsistence production, we produce primarily to meet our needs, and if we have any surplus produce, we sell it, but only if we have a surplus, any kind of surplus.
In commodity production, we produce goods neither for subsistence nor to meet our own needs, but for exchange, that is, for sale. This drives technological innovation and that in turn enables us to produce far more than we can consume.
According to Marx, the parties who agree to the contract are not on an equal footing - the employer can find someone else. But the worker has to accept the job, or go without an income until they find another one, or starve to death.
Furthermore, even the worker’s wage is not freely set by the worker or the capitalist. The wage is the value of the worker’s labour power, that is the time it takes in that particular society at that time, to reproduce the workers labour power for the next day.
Machinery is a form of crystallized or dead labour because it is not itself a source of labour power or labour time. Machinery is constant capital and labour power variable capital. The ratio of the two is the rate of profit.
As more and more machinery increases productivity, it therefore reduces the amount of labour power needed. The ratio of variable capital to constant capital keeps falling because less and less labour power is used. Therefore, the ratio of surplus value or profit to investment also falls. In addition, the value of each item produced falls, because less and less, progressively less labour time, goes into producing it.
Marx pointed out that commodity production or capitalist production has an inherent internal imperative, which drives it towards higher productivity, but faces the contradiction of a falling rate of profit. The obvious result is that we produce far more than we can actually consume.
But unless people are prepared to consume the output, the system collapses from overproduction, and we get an aggregate crisis of demand. This has happened repeatedly, since Marx identified it as a cyclical and inherent process within capitalist production.
As reviewed by David Keys, Professor Jane Humphries highlighted that, in the early Industrial Revolution, child labour was very widespread, and it was essential to the Industrial Revolution.
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