Seek the Original: Capital, by Karl Marx (Communism, part 2)


( Part 1: The Communist Manifesto | Part 2: Capital, volume 1 | Part 3: Capital in the Twenty-First Century | Part 4: The Conquest of Bread )


Well, I never thought I'd do it. I finally read Capital, by Karl Marx. The Communist Manifesto was not enough for me. I always wanted go straight to the source, and yeah, now I understand what all the hype was about.

This is not the call to arms though. This is Marx's analysis of the factory system he saw in the 1800s. I read it so you don't have to.

[TL;DR: Marx’s Capital (Das Kapital) has nothing to do with people wanting free stuff. It’s about how our definition of Capitalism is wrong. Marx writes that the people once had their own land and were masters of their own professions, which allowed them to lead independent lives working for their own benefit. All of that has been taken away from them to force them to work in factories for someone else’s profit. Capitalism is not people starting their own businesses using their own skills and labor to earn money for themselves. That’s the system Europe and the UK had before. Capitalism, Marx writes, describes how people with financial means have taken entire communities’ professions and consolidated them under a factory-owner’s control, forcing thousands of people out of self-sufficient crafts and professions and converting them into unskilled labor for poverty wages. The factory itself has driven entire communities out of their independent livelihoods so they have no choice but to work for someone else now. Marx shows how this behavior is deliberate, and how it is increasing poverty worldwide, changing society itself from towns of skilled craftspeople who sold their talents at personal value into cities of unskilled workers who toil in poverty without ever seeing the fruits of their labor. Marx proposes this arrangement is not how society should function, and it is not sustainable.]

Capital (Das Kapital)

by Karl Marx

Previous writers of political economy (Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, etc.) described the benefits of the factory system of manufacture over the old system of master craftsmen and their apprentices: the factory will crank out lots and lots of products that can be sold on the international market. Karl Marx was perhaps the first person to point out that, yeah, that’s well and good, but look at what it’s doing to the people who have to work in such factories.


Marx published this book in 1867, and the factories Marx saw in Europe and the UK looked like this: Factory-owners pleading with parliament not to restrict the workday to 10 hours, as anything less than 12 hours a day would mean the business could never turn a profit; business-owners balking at the idea of not being allowed to hire children for 12 hours a day because grown men simply cost too much for such work; entire communities living in poverty while they toiled for 12—14 hours a day at machines that cranked out goods faster and faster; people exposed to toxic chemicals and too sick to work by age 30; generation after generation being raised in factory work, never having time to learn to read or write, never able to learn a skill apart from a single task on the assembly line; thousands of people thrown out of work on a factory-owner’s whim when the market for their product is saturated, only to be recalled to work when demand rises again; entire countrysides both colonial and domestic converted from self-sufficient farmers and master craftspeople into impoverished workers for this factory system in the never-ending quest to reduce costs and make more profit.

This was the world Marx saw. Society itself being converted seemingly by force through this juggernaut of a manufacturing system. He cites numerous government reports and newspaper articles, none of which would have been widely read at the time, to understand what was happening to the people. The mass poverty and crime in the UK and Europe did not simply happen on its own.

Under the previous economic system, Marx writes in the early chapters, each household produced some sort of good. Wool, wine, meat, bread, each household labored to produce something, and then they took those goods to market, and each party agreed what quantity of something was equal for this other quantity of something else. Households exchanged equal values of different goods, and thus society functioned with each person working for their own benefit.

People mastered a craft and sold their skills and talents on their own terms. Masters of professions had apprentices, but the size of these establishments was limited either by law or by the size of the town. Apprentices moved on to work for other places, or moved to other towns and cities to found their own workshops, hiring only enough people needed to produce enough to pay for the establishment itself, the master laboring alongside the apprentices.

And then, Marx writes, this model of production began to grow in scale. With enough employees, it was possible to produce enough to sell for profit great enough for the master to live off of without having to do any of the actual work himself.

Marx proposes that it is impossible to get rich simply by marking up goods and reselling them, as everyone else is doing the same thing so any profit gained in sale will be lost when making a purchase. True profit comes only at the production phase, by underpaying the people who produce those goods. The profit motive, Marx writes, is the underlying cause of problems in society, disrupting the concept of economy as fair treatment between persons.

Karl Marx could have made his point in less than half the pagecount. Still, his descriptions of the factory system he saw in his life are enough to take anyone’s breath away. Equally interesting is his description of how things worked before the factory system “took over.” Marx explains that the factory method of production did not simply happen, and its very method of organizing workers means it perpetuates itself on a societal level.

Little more than a master craftsman’s workshop scaled up, enough employees could now be employed so the shopmaster can live off his apprentices’ work. This couldn’t happen without machinery connected to a reliable power source nobody else had access to (meaning not a natural river, or wind). The steam engine made it possible to automate so many systems that had once been in the hands of individual craftspeople, and by collecting all these different skilled crafts together in one place (either deliberately or by necessity to meet demand for a particular product), it became possible for the tools to be held in common within the workshop. This streamlines the process and by default makes the good cheaper.

Marx writes that the method takes away from individual people their skilled crafts and converts them into mindless tasks on an assembly line. It strips entire professions of their worth and makes them cogs in a machine. When scaled up to the size of cities and even nations, it takes entire communities of skilled professions and converts them into ignorant wage-laborers who now depend on the factory-owner for their livelihoods.

Small workshops owned by masters of crafts cannot compete on the market with cheap factory goods. Those fall to the factory system, and in this manner the factory method of production strips entire regions of identity and skilled workers and changes them into beggars who now must work for the factory-owner 12 hours a day for a wage.

In every case, the factory-owner underpays the worker. It is the only way to produce these goods and have any profit at all, given the cost of the machines and the cost of materials. Marx even goes as far as to say the whole purpose of the machines is to force the laborer to toil longer and longer, because the longer a worker operates at the machine, the more he produces for the factory-owner rather than for his own benefit.

Marx does not mince words regarding what he sees the factory-owner doing, and some chapters are so direct it’s a wonder they didn’t make it into the Communist Manifesto verbatim. Marx argues that the whole point of economics is for people to exchange equal values of different goods. To do something for the sake of profit is to defy the very concept of economics.



Marx was very much a believer that value only comes from whatever effort a human laborer exerts to transform it from one thing into something else. More than that, value is conserved between elements of production; nothing is created or destroyed, merely transferred to the final product, each machine giving part of itself to the final product, the workers giving part of themselves. If workers were being paid a fair value for their efforts, there would be no profit. The whole point of machines is to have domination over laborers in order to extract more work out of them than they would otherwise give. Since those laborers depend on factory work, they have to accept the working day the factory-owner dictates for the wage offered.

Marx writes in chapter 23 that during the American Civil War cotton factories in Britain suffered, and the mass of unemployed people called out to be allowed to migrate to somewhere there was more work. The factory-owners pleaded with Parliament not to allow them to leave, for the factory-owners might need them; instead let the government support the unemployed until the market recovers. That is exactly what happened. Marx writes that the workers are not, in fact, free souls able to do as they please. They are still bound to their Lord if not by law, then by this very system of production that perpetuates dependence on one another. Factoryowner and worker are not equal parties meeting to trade equal commodities of labor for money. These factory-owners deliberately kept entire towns in poverty because they needed a cheap workforce to extract profit from. The businessman has power over the worker. Freedom is an illusion.

The people have little choice in the matter, as they own no land, and now the factory has become generational in the absence of the skilled crafts the factory has converted into assembly line work. Children grow up in the system, so this is what they learn, and they have no education beyond it because they do not have time to learn anything else. It has produced entire communities of uneducated, uncultured “savages.”

Marx writes this is the inevitable result of letting businessmen take away the tools that allowed a nation’s citizens to lead independent lives as masters of individual crafts, stick those tools on a machine, and then make these once skilled craftspeople use those tools in some repetitive task for a daily wage that is calculated to be barely adequate to afford food and shelter.

Sure, the State benefits by having mass quantities of goods to sell internationally, but this is what it’s doing to the people. Poverty is the result of this very system of production—the workers aren’t squandering their money; their bosses must underpay them for the products they produce to be profitable at all. This explains why every factory in Europe and in the UK operated this way—why there simply were no better places for employees to go—why factories didn’t seem to be raising wages in order to keep the best workers. Marx explains the quest for profit means employees must be kept poor and dependent on wage labor in order for the system to work.


In Marx’s day, the factories were barely regulated, and it resulted in a class of people who worked all day, and another class who received the fruits of that labor. Previous writers of economic theory actually wrote that any loss in wages an employee might suffer is earned as a return on investment by way of the vast quantities of goods produced which benefits society as a whole, but Marx writes that it is not progress when all the gains go to the top and the employees see only poverty as a result. (In a later chapter, he points out the price of bread and other basics has increased as consolidation of production takes place.) Marx draws many parallels between this relationship, codified by economics, and feudalism, codified by law: they have produced a population of serfs bound to the land and the people who own it.

One of many explosive conclusions the author draws: the expansion of profit means expansion of the business, and that means expansion of the laboring class. Because underpaying a large number of workers is the only way to make a profit, to get more profit one must use some of the money earned to buy more machines and hire more people, driving still more independent professionals out of work and into the factory system. This means poverty is a requirement of this system of production, and to let it expand is to increase poverty across the nation and the world.

Marx cites previous writers who acknowledged the class of men who live off the work of others and if not for these impoverished masses the rich man would have to work for himself, therefore poverty is not a problem to be solved, and the people should be kept poor and busy to keep them out of trouble and so the rich man can devote his time to other things. These aren’t Marx’s words; other people before Marx wrote these things.

Marx may have been the first to declare these observations are laws regarding how this system of production operates. It’s the same system seen the world over, but scaled up beyond its local limits. Indeed, Marx asserts the whole point of machines and factories is to drive more and more people into poverty so they become part of the factory system and dependent on a wage. The more people the factory pushes out of self-sufficient professions within local communities, the more profit the factory-owner can extract from them. Oh yeah, this ruffled feathers then, and it still does now.

Das Kapital is the scholarly condemnation of this system—the logic proof that the very system itself has to cause suffering and misery among the workers because if profit is the goal, it is the only way the businessowner can behave to achieve it. It does no good to try to regulate it because the owners have to work within this system so they will always default to squeezing the workers harder and harder. The results are all around you.

The Communist Manifesto is the digest intended for the non-academic. But it’s only by reading Capital that I come to appreciate exactly what Marx favored workers return to—what Marx was trying to inform people they had lost and needed to take back. I think Marx very much wanted production to return to the prior system, where masters of crafts hired apprentices at small workshops, and each person learned a craft or a trade and became a master in turn, a self-sufficient craftsperson who sold their skills at personal value rather than some value determined by the “market” between factory-owners vying for control of various markets overseas. An economy in which each person worked for their own benefit trading equal values instead of one person pushing hundreds of others into poverty for the sake of profit.

Failing that, then Marx wanted people to know this system of production need not be in the hands of greedy owners for the purpose of extracting profits; rather the machines could be used to shorten the working day, to reduce the labor each person needed to exert in order to make these products. Marx showed it was possible, and that only a certain portion of the working day need be required to produce the goods. Everything else was purely for the benefit of the owner’s luxurious lifestyle and the expansion of the factory system itself (read: the expansion of profit).

Even previous writers of political economy suggested it should be happening—that as technology got better, people should be working less and less. Marx showed that in the hands of these factory-owners, the exact opposite was happening because the machines were not intended to reduce the burden of labor on mankind, but to force people to labor harder and harder so the people at the top can make more and more money, and this quest for profit is the reason business expands and poverty follows in its wake. It is the only way the system can work so long as profit is the goal.

The final chapters close the loop by taking us back to the origins of this factory system, before the era of manufacturing, and its underlying goal: the deliberate creation of a mass of desperate people who need to work for a wage to survive. He touches on how peasants were legally entitled to live on feudal lands. People had enough land to grow their own food and produce some goods for sale on the market, and have enough money to buy what they themselves could not produce. Gradually Lords and landlords forced people off their land and consolidated it for their own purposes (usually to produce wool or some other cash crop), now hiring the people to work it for a wage and charging them rent to live there. Beginning in the 1500s, subsistence farmers were pushed off their land and forced to wander, now dependent on the Lord for a wage to buy meat and bread from a market.

Marx shows that the factory system of production cannot work if the people have their own tools, their own land, and their own crops to make their own goods for sale at the markets. Taking these things away from people was the first step to forcing them to work for a wage, and its history is one of bloodshed and theft, not to mention cooperation by the State.

Things certainly weren’t rosy and happy prior to the factory. Marx mentions this method of profiting off the work of others has been happening for thousands of years, and even when workshops were small, some masters treated their apprentices like slave labor. The difference is scale, and how this factory system has transformed what used to be Europe’s skilled, independent professionals into serfs.

Marx mentions a sentiment he heard in his lifetime but was old even when he wrote about it: that in primitive times, a group of people did all the work and got all the land, while another group was lazy and ended up with nothing but their own labor to sell, so the class divide is all but divine, and the rich are rich because they work hard, the poor are poor because they’re lazy. This is Ayn Rand! We haven’t moved on from this perception for at least two centuries!



Marx shows that even in the 1800s, the poor were working harder than ever, and the factory system itself was designed to push them into poverty as a result—the people once had land and were masters of their own professions, but all of that has been taken away from them to force them to work in factories for someone else’s profit. That’s Capital in a nutshell.

Marx presents this as more than just a consequence of the quest for profit. It’s also the cause. Without poverty, the people would have no incentive to work. If the people possessed their own land and tools, they would never work for someone else, and the economy would have very little to trade on the world market, since each person would only produce enough for their own needs. Self-sufficiency is the enemy not just of the factory, but of profit itself. Marx wasn’t the only one to say this. He cites multiple authors who recorded the same sentiment about the masses, as well as people who commented on so many being thrown off their land and had no choice but to wander. Even in the early Renaissance, the nobility dismissed the landless peasants as lazy beggars who refused to work, giving no thought to whether there was work for them in the first place, or why they were wandering.

Previous writers of political economy ignored the social cost of manufacture. Marx spends a lot of time refuting these writers by name, but he cites enough examples to give readers who may not be as familiar with them plenty of context to understand where they were coming from. Marx dared to declare that these things were not “natural laws” of the market, but the only way this factory system could exist, and the profit motive was the heart of it all. The only “innovation” it drove was new and better ways to squeeze more and more labor out of the workforce, pushing them further and further into poverty while enriching a smaller and smaller group of people at the top.

In chapter 25, section 5, Marx cites official statistics to show the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer as the factories operate and expand year after year; that the factories were not raising all boats but were in fact pushing more and more people deeper into poverty while lifting the rich up. Das Kapital connects the dots and dares to present evidence that this is deliberate.

Marx despised the idea that thousands of people should be forced to toil so one person did not have to. After reading his descriptions of the factory system in the 1800s and what it did to people, especially children (sooo much child labor described in the early chapters), I have a hard time imagining how anyone would be in favor of it, and yet it is still happening today. Nothing has changed except the factories are now out of sight and out of mind for those in Western nations. We get sneakers and cellphones without seeing what really goes into them. Even in so-called “developed” nations, apart from factories, we feel it: the people at the bottom get squeezed so the people at the top can make lots of money. So long as “Western” nations do not feel they are the ones at the bottom getting squeezed, there will never be true resistance to this method of production.

Maybe someday I’ll tackle the other two volumes, but this is the one Marx published in his lifetime, so for quite some time, this was Das Kapital, and it said all that needed to be said.

First supplementary thoughts on Capital, volume 1:

Consolidation: Marx writes that consolidation of production is the critical step of attaining profit. Consolidation means taking separate processes and gathering them together in one place. No more independent wheel-maker. No more independent goldsmith. No more master carpenter. The factory method gathers them all in one shop to make a carriage, and nothing else. The tools are now held in common, the workspace is held in common, and now various tools are connected to machines to make the process more efficient and cheaper.

What this entails is converting various independent crafts into wage labor dependent on the factoryowner. Therefore, the whole purpose of capitalism is to throw people out of their independent skilled professions.

Marx states that the purpose of capitalism itself is to consolidate disparate crafts, and then push more work onto fewer people. By design, the factory system converts entire communities from independent, self-sufficient craftspeople into laborers at the mercy of market whims.

The factory must operate at breakneck speed, and this inevitably saturates the market with goods, causing the factory owner to cut wages and jobs, only to bring them back when the market recovers. The factory itself is causing the fluctuations of the market. This means the harder a worker works, the deeper he puts himself into poverty.

Meanwhile, the only job the owner has is to expand the business, which means perpetuating the cycle of throwing more people out of their skilled professions and into the factory system. Expanding the business is the only way to get more profit, and the source of profit is the masses of people the factory owner draws into the system. The more people the factory strips of their independent professions, the more profit he can extract because now those people are no longer working for themselves, keeping the profits of their own labor, but for the factory owner, and now that he’s consolidated the steps of production into one workhouse, he owns the tools and the power source, so he can keep the profit of their labor for himself.

This is the chief grievance Marx has with the factory method of production. It takes away a person’s independence and forces them to be dependent on an employer.

Its effects on the individual person imply the effects on a grander scale. Because consolidation of individual producers is the primary source of profit, it follows that consolidation itself is the default state of capitalism. Businesses merging and growing larger and larger. It’s how the system works—independent producers and entire companies are swallowed up and consolidated. Once an industry is fully converted to capitalism, the only way to get more profit out of that industry is to consolidate the various competing companies. Companies will swallow one another until there is eventually only a couple left per industry.

Monopoly was once the end result of capitalism, but people fought back against that, so now companies realize it is more beneficial to have a tiny number of cooperating firms to give the illusion of competition and choice.

Competition is not necessary to achieve profit. There is no requirement for firms to compete in order to earn profit in a marketplace because profit happens at the production phase. Throwing as many people out of self-sufficient lives and into factory work (capitalism) is the goal of the system. If those companies combine into one mega-giant, so long as that single company employs a great number of people toiling away at machines, that’s all that’s required to achieve profit. Marx shows that this is the goal of a capitalist method of production.

Oligopoly is the new default state of the system, the obvious end result of it working normally as companies swallow each other up in the search to reduce costs and increase profit

Consolidation is the engine of profit.

What we’re living under now is the result of capitalism being allowed to function closer to normal. It’s not an interruption. Competition is alleged to keep companies in check so they won’t abuse their workers and will have to lower prices, but Marx shows this is not a required element of the system.

Competition does not happen on its own, not when consolidation is the key driving force of capitalism. If allowed to consolidate without limit, companies will simply swallow up their own competition until there are no competing forces. There will be profit so long as the people have to work for less than they would earn working for themselves. This kind of behavior is not an exception. It’s the only way capitalists can behave so long as profit is the goal.

Second supplementary thoughts on Capital, volume 1:

If the primary mechanism of accumulating profit is to throw people out of self-sufficient professions, then what about the sale of the goods the factory produces? Who is buying them? Marx addresses this as an extension of colonialism. One group of people to produce the goods. A separate group to purchase them. One society that can be thrown out of their independent lifestyles and converted into factory workers, and another to receive the benefit of those goods. The system works until the factory workers begin to demand they be allowed to purchase the goods they make, and then the capitalist must then find a new society to drive into poverty so the rich nation can benefit from the manufactured goods again.


All the uprisings we see happening around the world are not merely terrorists who hate America’s freedom. They are revolts against this systematic exploitation. Some people dismiss the “third world” as just being backwards, and the “West” is so much farther ahead because Western “values” are just that much better or something, but Marx shows that this is how capitalism works. When it can no longer drive the disposable people in its home country into poverty, it invades other countries and deliberately keeps entire societies in poverty for the sake of production. It does not allow these countries to rise up because their poverty is the source of these businesses’ profit. 


It’s easy to presume capitalism raises all boats, but Marx shows over and over this is not the case. Poverty is necessary for profit. The expansion of profit means invading entire societies and throwing them out of their independent lifestyles just so a company can have cheap goods for sale back home. This is why nothing ever seems to be done about the working conditions in factories around the world. People are making profit off those conditions; without them, there can be no profit. This is not unusual behavior. This is capitalism working normally. 


Third supplementary thoughts on Capital, volume 1:

On the issue of consolidation being the basic element of profit, there is nothing inherently wrong with a person purchasing someone else’s business. If the founder of a business wants to move on or retire, and another person is looking to get started in that same business, the founder can sell, and the new owner doesn’t have to start from scratch. Everyone wins.

What Marx shows is that there is a difference in scale going on, and our basic assumptions about how business works are based on what happens at an individual level, not a corporate level. In the beforedays, when the factory system (capitalism) was limited to small workshops owned by a master craftsperson who employed a number of apprentices or employees, the effects were limited to a few dozen or a few hundred people over the lifetime of the firm. The effects were basically the same, but too small to matter much to more than a few individuals. With the expansion of the factory model beyond its local limits, it can now affect millions of people in this way. Scale magnifies the consequences at the same time it magnifies the profits.

A giant problem in our era is that we still tend to think of business operating at local levels when discussing giant corporations. We still have an image of corner drugstore/local pizzeria as the model for capitalism: local businesses are operating on thin margins and need all the help they can get to stay afloat, so the same must apply to giant corporations. This is no accident—it comes from decades of advertising and image management. Large companies go out of their way to convince the general population that they value “community” and “family.” Marx shows the rules are different as a business scales up, and so are the effects on employees. The rules which define a small business cannot apply to a large firm. In an early chapter, Marx shows that no matter what rules government passes to try to curb abusive behavior, the factoryowners will always find a way to get around them, and the employees will end suffering more because it is the only way a businessman can behave when operating a factory on such a large scale.

Scale is the key factor in the abuses of capitalism. Marx seemed to favor returning to small businesses with independent owners operating at a local level, but if consolidation is the primary driving force of profit, then capitalism will always trend towards large corporations because scaled up is where profit can be made on the level which allows a businessowner to do none of the work himself.

The main catalyst for this jump in scale was the steam engine. For the first time in history, Marx writes, a power source came into existence which the common person did not have access to. Unlike wind or water power, easily accessible by all with few ways to restrict access to them, a steam engine is unavailable to all but a handful of people with enough money to  make the machines. With an engine firmly in control of an individual, that person can now withhold the tools of labor from a craftsperson in the context of a factory, thus gaining control of that person’s livelihood. Steam power made it possible for consolidation of crafts to happen without any upper limits, and the workshop could now grow in scale. The effects of this are, Marx writes, inevitable. They happen at a local level, once restricted to only a few dozen or few hundred people, but when magnified, those effects now encompass entire counties, countries, civilizations.

The effects of a private citizen buying another person’s business in order to run it themselves are far, far different from a corporation buying another person’s business. If we want to understand the realities of Capitalism, we must consider the size of the business and how many people it stands to affect. Rules which describe a small business owned by a single person and employing a dozen or so people do not describe a large company owned by shareholders affecting millions. The two ends of capitalism cannot be compared but are often conflated, and anyone defending the actions of a corporation by citing mom-and-pop stores as an example is either being deliberately deceptive or just ignorant.

Marx shows that scale makes the difference when talking about capitalism, and the major changes in society—the increasing poverty and crime and the boom/bust cycle which throws people out of work—began when the factory could grow beyond its local mom-and-pop drugstore limits. When it’s no longer individuals starting their own business, working for their own benefit, but factoryowners actively searching for ways to control the livelihoods of others so they themselves can reap the profits of their labor. Consolidation increases scale in order to increase profit, and it is causing so many of the woes society endures today.


Fourth supplementary thoughts on Capital, volume 1:
In one of the first chapters, Marx describes the process by which labor is converted into money. By considering commodity x as a dollar amount (or euro, or pound, or what have you), the price functions as a means of hiding the actual labor that went into it. Today, this means we only see the $300 pricetag on a cell phone, not the suicide nets strung up around the dorms of the workers who made the circuit boards inside the cell phone.

When we see all these good things for sale, we see all the wonderful things capitalism produces because everything seems to be affordable—all the luxuries once reserved only for the nobility. But the price disguises the labor abuses that went into making those products. In prior generations, when you actually had to face the person who made the product you’re buying, price represented the amount of effort that person had to exert to create the commodity you’re buying, but under capitalism—which is to say, when a factoryowner has control over another person’s livelihood—price serves to disguise the effort that went into it because now price reflects the profit someone else wants to make off someone else’s labor. Price under “normal” economic conditions means something entirely different from price under capitalism. It becomes a dishonest measure of value.

So, really, what is Marx guilty of?

Consider Victorian Literature. Your Jane Austin fiction and subsequent fanfiction. All of Victorian fiction consists of middle-upper-class well-to-dos navigating High Society regarding who gets to marry whom. Marx rolled that society over to show its underbelly: guess what people your easy lifestyle is built on slave labor and at the very bottom of society are the people who produce the goods you enjoy, and it is not a pretty process so you may be able to afford those goods, but here’s why they’re so cheap.

Marx dared to suggest that the value of labor is a zero-sum game: value is not created or destroyed, rather it is transferred from one form to another. Labor transfers value into the final product, so it follows that society itself is zero-sum: one person can’t advance without someone else being pushed down. Therefore the middle-class and the aristocracy only exist because they have taken away the livelihoods of the masses. Marx implies that everyone used to live self-sufficient lives in comfortable crafts and talented professions until the capitalist came along. It was the capitalist who took the tools away and stuck them on a steam engine to produce goods far cheaper and in quantities a typical master of crafts cannot compete with. Therefore, the goal of the factoryowner is to push people out of their self-sufficient lives so they have no choice but to work for a businessman for a poverty wage. They must be paid less than the value they transfer to the final product in order for profit to be extracted. Their poverty is the factoryowner’s prosperity.

This is the explosive assertion that has seen Marx demonized over the centuries. He called into question the foundation of the easy lifestyle Victorian England enjoyed, dared to propose it was built on the backs of slaves and the impoverished masses. Various members of the elite class welcomed this system because it put the people to work. The very title “The Wealth of Nations” refers to a nation’s mass population of farmers and self-sufficient workers: if only they could be organized into something for the benefit of the nation as a whole. Capitalism is the act of organizing the people for the benefit of some greater good, robbing them of the land and the self-sufficient professions they once enjoyed so a nation can have commodities to trade on a global market.

Marx writes of people being converted into tools within the factory system. That is exactly what has happened, and nations around the world are feeling it. As the system has expanded, humanity has become converted into numbers within a profit equation. It is zero sum. People themselves are now commodities to be used for someone else’s profit, and that is what Marx hated. Marx is guilty of calling out modern (Victorian) society for what it was: underneath its polished veneer was the blood and sweat of slaves and masses of disposable people at home being kept in poverty deliberately to serve someone else’s profit. You may be able to buy those wonderful luxury goods at cheap prices, but here is the process that makes them: slaves overseas combined with near-slaves right here in your own country.

The question Marx would later ask is: are we ok with this? Is this really how society should be organized? Shouldn’t everybody be free to live their own lives, in control of their own livelihoods, instead of being at the mercy of someone else’s profit whims? Should a person be free to do as they please rather than have no choice but to work for someone else?

If we consider ourselves forward-thinking, then we must devise an alternative. Marx (and Engels) never did. They presumed the working people of the world would revolt against this kind of exploitation and simply agree never to live this way again. That society should be made up of people working for their own benefit, and nobody should be allowed to profit off someone else’s labor—nobody should be allowed to take away someone else’s profession for their own profit.

But that communist revolution never happened. Though revolts have toppled nations, nobody has come up with a viable alternative to this factory system of organizing the population for a greater good. Instead, “communist” nations became dictatorships organizing the people to produce some good for the benefit of the nation, which is not what Marx wanted. All the “communist” revolutions around the world produced nothing but dictatorships. A true visionary will be the person who devises a good alternative that allows people to live the life they choose instead of being born to be a cog in a machine.


Fifth supplementary thoughts on Capital, volume 1:

Conservatives love to complain about the “breakdown of the family,” or the loss of “family values.” What exactly does that mean? Since when was the family so important to modern life?


Well, when Conservatives talk about this topic, they are always talking about 1950s (white) America, when only the husband had to work, when rent was cheap enough for a single person working at a grocery store to afford it plus utilities and groceries, when the planet was a “man’s world” and only the husband needed to work because of post-WWII prosperity.


Marx also talks about the breakdown of the family, but in a much more fundamental context. He writes that before the factory owner had a means to take people’s self-sufficient professions away from them and bring those professions under his own control, the family was the primary engine of the economy.


Father taught son his profession, and sons then went out and used those skills for their own benefit, working for themselves, this perpetuated skills and industries over generations. Mothers taught daughters useful skills, and this also preserved knowledge down through the ages. The family was the engine that drove society’s knowledge and craftsmanship. It also kept this wealth within families, with no room for outsiders to profit.


One of Marx’s central points is how the factory (the Capitalist) emerged and flooded the market with products so cheap independent craftspeople and family-run shops could no longer compete, so they went out of business and had no choice but to work for the Capitalist for a wage far, far less than what they would have made on their own.


The old model of fathers and mother passing their skills onto their children so they could start their own households baking, winemaking, weaving, or some other skill, has been broken. Now entire communities have fallen to the factory system, which means fathers and mothers have no skills to teach their children. Factory work is all they know, so this is all children learn, and they have no time to learn anything else. No culture. No profession. Only mindless wage work.


The factory has destroyed the family. Marx writes that Capitalism should be defined as the method by which a usurper has invaded society in order to gain control of other people’s livelihoods and take away their land and their skilled professions and bring them under his own control. This means the Capitalist gains control of other people’s survival and uses that leverage to force them to work for less than what they are worth so he can reap the profits. No longer do individuals work for their own benefit using the skills their parents passed on to them, but now they are forced to work for someone else’s benefit, and this has changed society itself.


When Conservatives bemoan the lack of family values, they blame everything except the Capitalist system which employs them.


Our definition of Capitalism has become distorted over the last two centuries. It does not mean “businessmen innovating and competing honorably for customers in a contest of who can satisfy wants and needs most efficiently.” It does not mean “people starting a business and working for themselves, using their own skills and knowledge and dedication.” It means “who can take the skills away and consolidate enough independent professions under his control to force the most people to work on his behalf and take their profits of their labor.”


Not to imply the Family System of skillsets and professions was perfect. If your father was a drunken bum, more than likely you would become a drunken bum because that was all you could learn. Marx is writing from the perspective of the nation as a whole, and he did not like what he saw. Whereas before unskilled fathers begat unskilled children, with a Capitalist in charge, skilled fathers became converted into unskilled fathers who then had unskilled children. Hence poverty increased under Capitalism.


The family unit seems quaint and outdated by today’s standards, and this is no accident. Marx shows this is built into the factory system, and this conversion of skilled labor into unskilled labor is the root of the destruction of society itself. Marx shows that Capitalism is not merely manufacturing. It is the deliberate seizing of a person’s livelihood and forcing them to work for someone else’s benefit. This method has been applied to every single profession the world over, and it has destroyed independence.


Paths out of it have emerged and been subsequently monetized. The University has been privatized by selling hope to the masses of escaping this pattern of unskilled parents begetting unskilled children, but the college education itself become predatory, merely a means for others to profit off getting kids into debt they cannot escape. All exits covered because Marx writes that having a mass population of people dependent on wage labor is required in order for a tiny minority to live in luxury, living off the labor of others. 


Marx was guilty of calling attention to this dynamic. If the world’s population ever became aware of this, the riots would never stop until each person agreed to work for their own benefit and nobody would be permitted to have control over someone else’s livelihood. Nobody would be forced to work for someone else’s benefit, and if someone ever did became lavishly rich, everyone would assume that person must have driven thousands of other people into poverty in order to achieve that kind of wealth.


Today, we have been taught that the rich person must have done something innovative and highly beneficial to society in order to earn such wealth and privilege, but Marx shows that this cannot be true; untold millions of people over the centuries worked hard for themselves and never became rich. Profit comes from consolidating large numbers of people’s skilled professions under one person’s control and forcing the masses of people to work for that one person’s benefit instead. An individual being innovative is not enough to become rich. The wealth only goes to whoever can consolidate the work of others under one roof, so to speak, and under one person’s control. That’s the definition of a Capitalist: a person who gains control of another person’s skilled labor and forces that person to work for his benefit instead of their own. Marx wanted the riots to continue until people took back their professions and their land and their independence and ousted the rich men who stole it from them.



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