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Capital and Labor According to Karl Marx

Karl Marx’s comparison between capital and labor is another ideological dichotomy that is well known in the history of philosophy.

Capital and Labor According to Karl MarxIn the context of Marx’s socioeconomic theory, the proletariat is in constant tension with the bourgeoisie, due to the fact that the two groups do not have equal access to economic esources, or capital. Instead, the bourgeoisie has the sole ability to gain more capital, and this is through using the work of the proletariat, or labor. Because of this tension, capitalist society continues to cohere not because of voluntary cooperation, but because of the dependent relationship between the proletariat, who only own their own ability to labor, and the bourgeoisie, who own capital, and thus can purchase labor.  At the same time, without labor, capital cannot be accumulated, and without capital, labor cannot be a commodity.

According to Marx, the relationship between capital and labor in a bourgeois society inevitably leads to exploitation and alienation. In the capitalist production mode the following is true:

  1. The exchange of labor for wages supplants all previous relationships between social classes.
  2. The presence of bourgeois production in capitalism takes away the necessity for all of the cultural artifacts that previously obfuscated or ameliorated the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, such as caste systems or systems of religion.
  3. Both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are fully aware of the self-serving accumulation of profit that is at the very core of capitalist production.

In Das Kapital, Marx outlined three types of circulation in industrial society:

  1. Capital
  2. Commodity
  3. Money

But the true wealth of an industrial capitalist lies in surplus-value.  “The creation of surplus-value, and therefore the conversion of money into capital, can consequently be explained neither on the assumption that commodities are sold above their value, nor that they are bought below their value”.  The accumulation of surplus-value is not a function of simply charging more for goods than they are worth.  Marx believed that surplus-value could be found in production.

Circulation is simply the movement of capital between various capitalists.  The industrial bourgeoisie transfers excess capital between themselves.  Labor is transformed into a commodity, exchanged for other commodities, and then further transformed into money.  The “evil” in this system is the exploitation of labor and its transformation into money.  Labor is the ultimate source of value.  Capitalists exploit labor and divert the surplus-value that comes from it to themselves.  Labor is a commodity based on production.  When production is under paid, the excess value is kept and exchanged for money.

Production is a “hidden abode” because it is removed from the rest of the capitalist procedure.  Labor is segregated into factories and its value is tightly controlled within the confines of the factory.  Part of labor’s value is derived from the amount of time needed to create production.  Working days are divided into necessary labor and surplus labor.  The necessary portion is paid in full because the seller (the worker) demands it.  Surplus labor is exploited because capitalists extend the working day to its maximum extent.  “Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the laborer, free or not free, must add to the working time necessary for his own maintenance an extra working time necessary in order to produce the means of substance for the owners of the means of production”.  Thus, labor becomes forced to extend the amount of time spent on production in order to (unwillingly) create surplus-labor. The point of all this is that Marx was clearly, almost mathematically, showing how the proletariat is exploited at every turn.  There is a system behind the massive accumulation of wealth in a few hands.  It is not an accident that CEOs are millionaires, while the factory workers live in grinding poverty.  Marx was demonstrating that capitalists systematized greed into a means for turning production into wealth, and gathering the surplus of all forms of wealth into their own hands.  “The capitalist mode of production produces…with the extension of the working day, not only the deterioration of human labor-power by robbing it of its normal, moral and physical conditions of development and function”.  This was more than a simple outline of capitalist exploitation; this was moral outrage (buried beneath volumes of analysis) that the vast majority of human beings were exploited on a daily basis.  Das Kapital was an overlong and dry call for a restructuring of a society that exploited and used its people.

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