Das Kapital, also called Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (German: Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Oekonomie, pronounced [das kapiˈtaːl kʁɪˈtiːk deːɐ poˈliːtɪʃən økonomˈiː]; 1867–1883), is a foundational theoretical text in materialist philosophy, economics and politics by Karl Marx. Marx aimed to reveal the economic patterns underpinning the capitalist mode of production in contrast to classical political economists such as Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. While Marx did not live to publish the planned second and third parts, they were both completed from his notes and published after his death by his colleague Friedrich Engels. Das Kapital is the most cited book in the social sciences published before 1950.
In Das Kapital (1867), Marx proposes that the motivating force of capitalism is in the exploitation of labor, whose unpaid work is the ultimate source of surplus value. The owner of the means of production is able to claim the right to this surplus value because he or she is legally protected by the ruling regime through property rights and the legally established distribution of shares which are by law only to be distributed to company owners and their board members. The historical section shows how these rights were acquired in the first place chiefly through plunder and conquest and the activity of the merchant and "middle-man". In producing capital (produced goods), the workers continually reproduce the economic conditions by which they labour. Das Kapital proposes an explanation of the "laws of motion" of the capitalist economic system from its origins to its future by describing the dynamics of the accumulation of capital, the growth of wage labour, the transformation of the workplace, the concentration of capital, commercial competition, the banking system, the decline of the profit rate, land-rents, et cetera. The critique of the political economy of capitalism proposes:
- Wage-labour is the basic "cell-form" (trade unit) of a capitalist society. Moreover, because commerce as a human activity implied no morality beyond that required to buy and sell goods and services, the growth of the market system made discrete entities of the economic, the moral and the legal spheres of human activity in society; hence, subjective moral value is separate from objective economic value. Subsequently, political economy—the just distribution of wealth and "political arithmetick" about taxes—became three discrete fields of human activity, namely economics, law and ethics, politics and economics divorced.
- "The economic formation of society [is] a process of natural history". Thus, it is possible for a political economist to objectively study the scientific laws of capitalism, given that its expansion of the market system of commerce had objectified human economic relations. The use of money (cash nexus) voided religious and political illusions about its economic value and replaced them with commodity fetishism, the belief that an object (commodity) has inherent economic value. Because societal economic formation is a historical process, no one person could control or direct it, thereby creating a global complex of social connections among capitalists. The economic formation (individual commerce) of a society thus precedes the human administration of an economy (organised commerce).
- The structural contradictions of a capitalist economy (German: gegensätzliche Bewegung) describe the contradictory movement originating from the two-fold character of labour and so the class struggle between labour and capital, the wage labourer and the owner of the means of production. These capitalist economic contradictions operate "behind the backs" of the capitalists and the workers as a result of their activities and yet remain beyond their immediate perceptions as men and women and as social classes.
- The economic crises (recession, depression, et cetera) that are rooted in the contradictory character of the economic value of the commodity (cell-unit) of a capitalist society are the conditions that propitiate proletarian revolution—which The Communist Manifesto (1848) collectively identified as a weapon forged by the capitalists which the working class "turned against the bourgeoisie itself".
- In a capitalist economy, technological improvement and its consequent increased production augment the amount of material wealth (use value) in society while simultaneously diminishing the economic value of the same wealth, thereby diminishing the rate of profit—a paradox characteristic of economic crisis in a capitalist economy. "Poverty in the midst of plenty" consequent to over-production and under-consumption.
After two decades of economic study and preparatory work (especially regarding the theory of surplus value), the first volume appeared in 1867 as The Production Process of Capital. After Marx's death in 1883, Engels introduced Volume II: The Circulation Process of Capital in 1885; and Volume III: The Overall Process of Capitalist Production in 1894 from manuscripts and the first volume. These three volumes are collectively known as Das Kapital.
Capital. Volume I
Capital, Volume I (1867) is a critical analysis of political economy, meant to reveal the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production, how it was the precursor of the socialist mode of production and of the class struggle rooted in the capitalist social relations of production. The first of three volumes of Das Kapital was published on 14 September 1867, dedicated to Wilhelm Wolff and was the sole volume published in Marx's lifetime.
Capital. Volume II
Capital, Volume II, subtitled The Process of Circulation of Capital, was prepared by Engels from notes left by Marx and published in 1885. It is divided into three parts:
- The Metamorphoses of Capital and Their Circuits
- The Turnover of Capital
- The Reproduction and Circulation of the Aggregate Social Capital.
In Volume II, the main ideas behind the marketplace are to be found, namely how value and surplus-value are realized. Its dramatis personae, not so much the worker and the industrialist (as in Volume I), but rather the money owner and money lender, the wholesale merchant, the trader and the entrepreneur or functioning capitalist. Moreover, workers appear in Volume II essentially as buyers of consumer goods and therefore as sellers of the commodity labour power, rather than producers of value and surplus-value, although this latter quality established in Volume I remains the solid foundation on which the whole of the unfolding analysis is based.
Marx wrote in a letter sent to Engels on 30 April 1868: "In Book 1 [...] we content ourselves with the assumption that if in the self-expansion process £100 becomes £110, the latter will find already in existence in the market the elements into which it will change once more. But now we investigate the conditions under which these elements are found at hand, namely the social intertwining of the different capitals, of the component parts of capital and of revenue (= s)". This intertwining, conceived as a movement of commodities and of money, enabled Marx to work out at least the essential elements, if not the definitive form of a coherent theory of the trade cycle, based upon the inevitability of periodic disequilibrium between supply and demand under the capitalist mode of production (Ernest Mandel, Intro to Volume II of Capital, 1978). Part 3 is the point of departure for the topic of capital accumulation which was given its Marxist treatment later in detail by Rosa Luxemburg, among others.
Capital. Volume III
Capital, Volume III, subtitled The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole, was prepared by Engels from notes left by Marx and published in 1894. It is divided into seven parts:
- The conversion of Surplus Value into Profit and the rate of Surplus Value into the rate of Profit
- Conversion of Profit into Average Profit
- The Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall
- Conversion of Commodity Capital and Money Capital into Commercial Capital and Money-Dealing Capital (Merchant's Capital)
- Division of Profit Into Interest and Profit of Enterprise, Interest Bearing Capital.
- Transformation of Surplus-Profit into Ground Rent.
- Revenues and Their Sources
The work is best known today for Part 3 which in summary says that as the organic fixed capital requirements of production rise as a result of advancements in production generally, the rate of profit tends to fall. This result which orthodox Marxists believe is a principal contradictory characteristic leading to an inevitable collapse of the capitalist order was held by Marx and Engels to—as a result of various contradictions in the capitalist mode of production—result in crises whose resolution necessitates the emergence of an entirely new mode of production as the culmination of the same historical dialectic that led to the emergence of capitalism from prior forms.
Capital- Volume II by Karl Marx
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