IN 1844, in his first work devoted to providing a economic and philosophical basis for Communism, the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx had written, “man is the highest creature for man, and it is therefore necessary to overthrow all conditions in which man is a debased, an enslaved, an abandoned, disdained creature”. The precondition for this act of emancipation, how ever, was the tracking down, with the sharp weapon of scientific thought and to the last detail, of the reasons for the degraded position of the working person, of the exploitation of man by man, and the road to the abolition of this inhuman situation.
Marx had dedicated the best years of his life to this task. In his letter to an old friend of his, Siegfried Meyer, Marx wrote, “Now, why didn’t I answer you? Because I was constantly hovering on the edge of the grave. Therefore I had to utilize every possible moment to finish my book, to which I have sacrificed my health, the happiness of my life, my family.” It was Marx’s aspiration—at whatever cost—to enable the working class to free mankind from exploitation and oppression, from hunger and war. His major work, Capital, was also dedicated to this aim.
In Capital, Marx especially investigated the relation between capital and labour, between the bourgeoisie and the working class, and showed on the basis of economic laws that the class struggle in capitalism would inevitably lead to the victory of the working class over the bourgeoisie.
He described how capital had arisen and developed over the centuries, how it came into existence “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” But how did capital grow and spread itself, while the exploitation and the misery of the working masses remained unchanged, yes, even grew greater?
The secret which the apologists of the bourgeoisie industriously embellished with fairly tales of the eternal and god-inspired nature of capitalism, which even those scientists who honestly attempted it could not solve—this secret Marx unlocked with his theory of surplus value. He had already worked out its basic features in the 1850s, now he brought it before the public in systematic form in Capital.
No one has been able to explain the essence of this important scientific discovery of Marx in such precise and at the same time generally understandable manner as Engels. He wrote:
“Ever since political economy had put forward the proposition that labour is the source of all wealth and of all value, the question became inevitable: how is then this to be reconciled with the fact that the wage worker does not receive the whole sum of value created by his labour but has to surrender a part of its to the capitalist? Both the bourgeois economists and the Socialists exerted themselves to give a scientifically valid answer to this question, but in vain, until at last Marx came forward with the solution.
“This solution is as follows: the present-day capitalist mode of production presupposes the existence of two social classes—on one hand, that of the capitalists who are in possession of the means of production and subsistence, and on the other hand, that of the proletarians who, being excluded from this possession, have only a single commodity for sale—their labour power, and who therefore have to sell this labour power of theirs in order to obtain possession of means of subsistence.
“The value of a commodity is, however, determined by the socially necessary quantity of labour embodied in its production, and, therefore, also in its reproduction; the value of the labour power of an average human being during a day, month or year is determined, therefore, by the quantity of labour embodied in the quantity of means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of this labour power during a day, month or year. Let us assume that the means of subsistence of a worker for one day require six hours of labour for their production, or, what is the same thing, that the labour contained in them represents a quantity of labour of six hours; then the value of labour power for one day will be expressed in a sum of money which also embodies six hours of labour.
“Let us assume further that the capitalist who employs our workers pays him this sum in return, pays him, therefore, the full value of his labour power. If now the worker works six hours of the day for the capitalist, he has completely replaced the latter’s outlay—six hours’ labour for six hours’ labour. But then there would be nothing in its for the capitalist, and the latter therefore looks at the matter quite differently. He says: I have bought the labour power of this worker not for six hours but for a whole day, and accordingly he makes the worker work 8, 10, 12, 14 or more hours, according to circumstances, so that the product of the seventh, eighth and following hours is a product of unpaid labour and wanders, to begin with, into the pocket of the capitalist.
“Thus the worker in the service of the capitalist not only reproduces the value of his labour power, for which he receives pay, but over and above that he also produces a surplus value which, appropriated in the first place by the capitalist, is in its further course divided according to definite economic laws among the whole capitalist class and forms the basic stock from which arise ground rent, profit, accumulation of capital, in short, all the wealth consumed or accumulated by the non-labouring classes.
“But this proved that the acquisition of riches by the present-day capitalists consists just as much in the appropriation of he unpaid labour of others as that of the slave-owner or the feudal lord exploiting serf-labour, and that all these forms of exploitation are only to be distingulished by the difference in manner and method by which the unpaid labour is appropriated.
“This, however, also removed the last justification for all the hypocritical phrases of the possessing classes to the effect that in the present social order right and justice, equality of rights and duties and a general harmony of interests prevail, and present-day bourgeois society, no less than its predecessors, was exposed as a grandiose institution for the exploitation of the huge majority of the people by a small ever-diminishing minority.”
Naturally, the value of labour-power and the proportionate – wages the worker receives for it are not immutable, fixed quantities. A long as capitalism exists, the capitalists attempts with violence, corruption and a thousand different tricks to keep wages as low as possible, while the workers, in the interests of their living standard, fight for the highest possible wage. When Marx wrote Capital, the workers had to work about half of the working day to fill the pocket of the capitalists, and since then this unpaid portion of the working day has lengthened.
The outcome of the struggle between workers and capitalists over wage rates depends primarily on the fighting strength of the working class. That is why Capital teaches the working class to fight ceaselessly for the improvement of their living conditions and to unite their strength in powerful organizations.
On the basis of the law of surplus value, however, Marx showed with irrefutable logic that the proletariat could never change the essence of exploitation and abolish exploitation itself through economic struggle alone, no matter how great and useful the partial successes may be. Exploitation can only be abolished when its basis, capitalist ownership of the means of production, is abolished.
Marx did not stop with the discovery of the law of surplus value. With his masterful application of the dialectical method, he laid bare the basic contradiction in capitalist production: the contradiction between the social character of production and the increasing socializing of production processes, on the one side, and the private capitalist form of appropriation of the social product, on the other side. He showed how this basic contradiction determined all the other contradictions of capitalism, and tracked down the various manifestations of this fundamental contradiction on the basis of his enormously comprehensive factual material.
The most important expression of this fundamental economic contradiction is the division of society into the two main classes: the bourgeoisie as the builders of capitalist society and the proletariat as its grave-diggers. The relations between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are characterized by the expropriation of the social product of the working class by the non-working class of private capitalist owners. The inevitable consequence of this contradiction is the bitter class struggle between the exploiting bourgeoisie and the exploited working class, which has determined the history of bourgeois society.
In analyzing these objective contradictions, which cannot be solved in the framework of the capitalist social order, Marx based himself, and at the same time the working class, on what emerged from these contradictions as new and progressive. What was new, what pointed to the future, was the socialising of the processes of production and the enormous rise in the productive forces of society, which called for social guidance and direction of the processes or production.
What was new and progressive was above all the working class itself, the bearers of the new social production force with which modern large-scale production is associated. It was the only class whose material interests were identical with the interests of all other exploited and oppressed strata, the only class “whose vocation in history is the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production and the final abolition of all classes,” the implementing of the boldest dream of mankind.