Marx’s Work and its Lessons. A Historical Survey

Political Economy Defined
In these days of strike fever the workers through their poverty and ignorance are so easily misled and betrayed by self-styled Labour “leaders,” whose object is to advertise themselves and their misleading “Labour” papers, it would be well, nay, it is essential, for the working class to study the important question of political economy. They would, by such a course of study, be enabled to think out for themselves the correct method of organisation that it is necessary for them to adopt in order to achieve their emancipation.

Political economy, or, as it is commonly called to-day, economics, deals with the methods of producing and distributing wealth. Although Aristotle, and some so-called French economists, are labelled economists, yet, to speak strictly, economics as a true science dates from the time of William Petty—even though some like to claim Adam Smith as the father of political eco­nomy. It is only when production on a compa­ratively large scale is in existence, and when, therefore, statistics are needed, that the science of economics can arise. That is the reason that political economy as a science took the lead in England, for it was there that capitalism first developed on a grand scale.

We find that from the time of Petty, Adam Smith, McCulloch, etc., down to Rieardo (these are the classic economists of England) there was an attempt made to discover the secret of the method of capitalist wealth production. These early economists were, however, hampered by the undeveloped state of capitalist production itself. At this period the capitalist was, generally speaking, a manager of his works, and had also a hand in production. No wonder, then, is it that the economists of the period could not discover the secret of capitalist accumulation, or, as it is better to say, of surplus value.

The basis of the value of an article, said these economists, was labour. And who was to say no to this ? Was not the capitalist himself a worker ? Was he not in the workshop all day long and even all through the night with his workmen, working himself and taking good care also that his employees did not shirk their work ? Surely, then, this theory of value was justified ?

Marx’s Great Task
But when the present system of wealth production developed, and the employer, by placing
a manager over his works, had no need to remain in the workshop or factory, then the theory that labour was the basis of value was no longer tenable. A new theory had to be conceived.

Since then we find the pseudo-economists springing up like mushrooms, notably Professors Jevons, and Marshall, who may be termed the utilitarian economists. They claim that the value of an article is determined by its utility, since the more useful it is the greater will be the demand for it. These so-called economists are merely apologists for capitalist society.

It will be seen, then, that political economy had fallen from the classical to the apologetic.

Clearly political economy was in a sorry plight. It could only be saved by looking at it, through proletarian instead of through bourgeois spectacles.

The man to accomplish this was Karl Marx. Already, by studying Hegel’s philosophy, he had realised that the world conditions were in a state of perpetual change. And by applying this idea to the social world he saw that history showed that prior to the present form of society there existed other forms. Consequently Marx was led to ask whether the system prevailing to-day would also give place to another system. To answer that question Marx found that it would be necessary to analyse the present sys­tem of society and see if there are any forces at work that will ultimately cause a change in the social system.

The Marxian Theory of Value
He found that society is based upon the me­thod of producing and distributing wealth, for which reason he proceeded to analyse capitalist wealth. This, of course, led him into the domain of economics.

By studying economic science Marx came to the conclusion that under the present method of wealth production all wealth is produced for exchange, hence the need of analysing a pecu­liar form of value, known as exchange-value. He mastered it, and gave the solution to the world in his famous “Das Kapital.”

Briefly put, it amounts to this. Say a piece of cloth is to be transformed into a coat. This is done by the associated labour of trained workmen called tailors. By the necessary labour of these tailors the cloth has had its value increased by being converted into a coat. It is the amount of expended energy that is on the average necessary to produce the coat that has determined the value of the garment.

So it is with all other commodities, i.e, arti­cles of exchange. It is the socially necessary labour power which would be needed to pro­duce similar articles at the time and place in which they are required that determines the value of the article.

But how, again, is this necessary labour determined ? To find out this Marx does what the schoolboy does when he wishes to find the common factor in an arithmetical sum. The boy brings down his numbers to a common denominator. Marx, in like manner, brings down the labour power of workmen, under the denomination of time, whether “skilled” or “un­skilled,” since the “skilled” can be reckoned as so many hours of “unskilled” labour time.

Having arrived thus far, Marx’s theory of value is that it is the socially necessary labour time which it would be needful to expend on the production of a given class of commodity at a given time that determines their value at that lime.

The Old Economists Refuted
It will be seen from this that the older economists’ theory that labour in the basis of value falls to the ground, since Karl Marx proves that value is not determined by the labour of this or that individual—for one man may take a longer or shorter period than another to produce a given commodity. No, the value of an article is determined by a social process. It is known that if a new machine is introduced on a large scale in the production say of boots, by means of which boots can be produced with a smaller expenditure of labour power, it will have the effect (other things remaining the same) of cheapening boots, because less time will be needed to produce a given quantity of boots.

Again the utilitarian theory fails also, for if supply and demand determine the value of commodities, what determines the value of commodities when supply and demand balance each other ? Only Marx’s theory of value answers that.

Now it will be seen by our illustration of the cloth being transformed into a coat, that value has been added to the cloth to make it appear in the form of a coat. In a word, value has been added to the cloth by the expenditure of the labour power of certain workers. Do these workers receive as wages an amount of value equivalent to the value they have produced ?

By no means. Since the worker hires himself out to a master because he has no other means of making his living, he receives from his master the value of his labour power only—that is, not the value that the labour power produces, but the amount which the labour power costs to produce.

Labour power, therefore, is a commodity, and like all other commodities, is bought and sold on the average at its value, that being, in the case of labour power, the amount the worker needs to reproduce his efficiency.

A Delusion shattered

So, if it takes three hours to produce a day’s labour-power, and the worker labours for his master ten hours, the worker is being robbed of the fruits of seven hours labour, or, what is the same thing, the master is appropriating surplus-value amounting to (reckoning on the basis of time) seven hours.

Thus was the secret of capitalist accumulation discovered. The worker when receiving a wage which is the price of his labour-power, generally thinks that he is receiving equivalent value for his work. Marx was the first economist to show that this is not so, but that the worker receives only the value of his labour-power—that which is needed for his upkeep.

Between the buyers and sellers of labour-power, i.e., between employers and employees, a continual struggle is waged. The first try to force wages down ; the second endeavour to raise them as high as possible. But the power of capital has always in the long ran been the mightier. With the spread of capitalism the wage-slaves have fallen more and more under the yoke of the capitalists, who are enabled to enforce their demands with the aid of the mili­tary and police forces.

As the present system developes the conditions that the workers are forced to submit to become almost unbearable. From these condi­tions the workers can free themselves only by overthrowing the present system of society and establishing a system based upon ownership by the whole of the people of the means of production and distribution.

This, then, is the lesson that Karl Marx, by his analysis of the present system of wealth production teaches. It is left for the working class to accept that teaching, and to organise to end the struggle by ending the system.

L. M.

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