Great Thinkers in 60 Minutes - Volume 2 - Walther Ziegler - ebook

Great Thinkers in 60 Minutes - Volume 2 ebook

Walther Ziegler

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"Great Thinkers in 60 Minutes Volume 2” comprises the five books “Marx in 60 Minutes”, “Freud in 60 Minutes”, “Sartre in 60 Minutes”, “Heidegger in 60 Minutes”, and “Camus in 60 Minutes”. Each short study sums up the key idea at the heart of each respective thinker and asks the question: “Of what use is this key idea to us today?” But above all the philosophers get to speak for themselves. Their most important statements are prominently presented, as direct quotations, in speech balloons with appropriate graphics, with exact indication of the source of each quote in the author’s works. This light-hearted but nonetheless scholarly precise rendering of the ideas of each thinker makes it easy for the reader to acquaint him- or herself with the great questions of our lives. Because every philosopher who has achieved global fame has posed the “question of meaning”: what is it that holds, at the most essential level, the world together? In Marx, it is the relations of production – that is to say, the conditions under which we labour and produce the goods we need – which ultimately determine our sense of our lives, our thinking, and our whole culture. In Freud, it is the libido and thus the energy of our drives, which we can either live out, repress, or sublimate. In Sartre it is the absolutely free human will which compels Man to make himself what he is. In Heidegger, what absorbs us is the struggle for the authenticity of ‘Dasein’ and the ‘care’ for the Being of the world. Camus is the only philosopher in this series who gives no answer at all to the “question of meaning”. There is no “meaning”, says Camus; life is absurd and depends merely upon a sequence of random chance events. In other words, the meaning of the world and thus of our own lives remains, among philosophers, a topic of great controversy. One thing, though, is sure: each of these five thinkers struck, from his own perspective, one brilliant spark out of that complex crystal that is the truth.

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My thanks go to Rudolf Aichner for his tireless critical editing; Silke Ruthenberg for the fine graphics; Lydia Pointvogl, Eva Amberger, Christiane Hüttner, and Dr. Martin Engler for their excellent work as manuscript readers and sub-editors; Prof. Guntram Knapp, who first inspired me with enthusiasm for philosophy; and Angela Schumitz, who handled in the most professional manner, as chief editorial reader, the production of both the German and the English editions of this series of books.

My special thanks go to my translator

Dr Alexander Reynolds.

Himself a philosopher, he not only translated the original German text into English with great care and precision but also, in passages where this was required in order to ensure clear understanding, supplemented this text with certain formulations adapted specifically to the needs of English-language readers.

Große Denker

in 60 Minutes

Marx in 60 Minutes

Freud in 60 Minutes

Sartre in 60 Minutes

Camus in 60 Minutes

Heidegger in 60 Minutes

Walther Ziegler

Marx

in 60 Minutes

Translated by

Alexander Reynolds

Contents

Marx’s Great Discovery

Marx’s Central Idea

Man’s Basic Material Needs

Work

Base and Superstructure

Religion as ‘the Opium of the People’

History as Class Struggle

The Theory of Surplus Value

Accumulation and Concentration

Immiseration and Revolution

The “Withering Away of the State”

Alienation

Ending Alienation

The Realm of Freedom

Of What Use Is Marx’s Discovery for Us Today?

Beware of the Sorceror – How Can Man Maintain Control?

Every Era Has Its Ideology, Even Our Own – The “Critique of Ideology” Today

Making the „Realm of Freedom“ a Reality – Work is Just a Staging Post

Egoism May Bring Success – But Man Finds Completion Only as a “Species-Being”

Bibliographical References

Marx’s Great Discovery

The philosophical effort undertaken by Marx (1818-1883) was an enormous one. He was the first to attempt to decipher the law of motion of the whole of human history. He wanted to draw from the course of history prior to his own day certain precise insights about future developments, so that this history could be guided in a more rational direction.

Such an enterprise appears at first sight impossible, even megalomaniac. How can a human being – even a philosopher, however wise and far-sighted – predict the future, let alone hope to exert an influence on future historical developments?

But Karl Marx did in fact succeed in drawing philosophical, economic and socio-political conclusions from past and present events which were, in later years, really borne out in many nations. Some hundred years after his death a third of the human race was living in states whose social systems bore Marx’s name. In the course of the last century, “Marxism” spread across the entire world. Never before or since has an individual philosopher had such a huge effect.

Social conditions in Marx’s own lifetime – particularly the working conditions in the newly-emerged factories – were catastrophic. Not just men, but women and children too, had to work twelve to fourteen hours a day and the living conditions and hygiene levels in the slums these workers lived in were an offence to human dignity. Marx considered it his duty to take the part of those who were suffering in this way and to bring about revolutionary change.

But Marx was of the view that it was not just his task but that of all philosophers to work toward the improvement of society. Philosophers, he argued, should no longer, as they had for two thousand years, be content with understanding and interpreting the world. Writing on the near-contemporary philosopher Feuerbach, Marx declared:

Thus, the young Marx observed, for several years, as a journalist and philosopher, the day-to-day politics, history, and economic development of Europe until he believed he had gained an understanding of the causes of all these processes. Humanity’s whole development, he concluded, from antiquity right up to the present day, consisted in a necessary sequence of great conflicts between different social groupings:

There occur, Marx argued, at regular intervals great revolutions which radically alter the way in which society is ruled and, with this, its economic foundations. Marx himself, along with his family, lived through just such a time of revolutions. He supported, in his newspaper articles, Germany’s revolution of 1848, composing in this year, together with his friend Engels, the famous Communist Manifesto.

This call to revolution earned him the bitter enmity of the Prussian king, then ruler of Marx’s native Rhineland. Deprived of his nationality and in danger of arrest, he was forced to flee across the border to France. But the Prussian king pursued him even there, demanding his extradition, so that he finally had no choice but to take his family into permanent exile in England. There too, however, he continued to work on his revolutionary writings.

However, the money that he earned from his newspaper articles and his books was not enough to feed his family of six. In a letter to his friend Engels (who helped him with sums of money sent from Germany) dated 8th of September 1852 he wrote:

Marx, then, had bitter personal experience of the poverty he denounced. He lived through the process of Europe’s industrialization and saw how, all around him, cities grew at an astonishing rate and how more and more people flooded from the country into the great metropolises to work day and night in the factories. He saw how children were made to produce, for starvation wages, huge masses of fabric at the machines of the textile factories. And he saw how railways rapidly joined up all the cities of Europe, how mines were dug in their thousands, and how steamships full of a million wares began to ply the ocean between Europe and America.

Marx analysed, with fascination, this rapidly progressing industrialization and came to the conclusion that the modern capitalist mode of production meant that incomparably more goods could now be produced than ever before in history – but also that the great majority of the human race remained excluded from the wealth and prosperity so created. He was also firmly convinced that the free play of supply and demand would, in the long term, collapse and lead to global crises. This was why he criticized the capitalist system and recommended the abolition of private property. In its place he proposed putting a new kind of collective mode of production: so-called “communism”.

The effects of these ideas were enormous. Communist revolutions occurred in countries as diverse as Russia, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Mozambique, as well as many others. For almost a whole century, communist and socialist regimes declared themselves adherents to the historical and social philosophy of Marx.

But the planned economies favoured by these states proved to be clumsy and, in many areas, inefficient. Around a hundred years after Marx’s death the communist world that he had called into existence had largely vanished again. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, communism is considered by most to be a failed project. After the fall of the Iron Curtain many were of the view that Marx had simply been wrong and that capitalism is in fact the only economic system apt to bring prosperity. It was hoped that a market economy could exist in harmony with democracy and a fair distribution of wealth. But this optimism did not last long.

The global economic and financial crises of the last few decades have deeply shaken this faith in capitalism’s ability to regulate itself. It is becoming ever clearer that capitalism too has its structural weaknesses. Some of Marx’s predictions – such as increasing monopolization and an ever greater global gap between rich and poor – have already come true, while others are taking form on the historical horizon. His insightful critique of capitalism, then, is more relevant than ever. Marx surely still has a lot to say to us.

Marx’s Central Idea

Man’s Basic Material Needs

Marx’s philosophical starting point is of appealing simplicity, and basically uncontestable. Every human being needs food and drink. To be without these for a long time is to die. Marx writes:

This is why every philosophy must take these basic material needs as its point of departure. It makes no sense, Marx argues, to begin a philosophical theory with thoughts about God, justice, or even human reason, since none of these things would be possible without the taking of nourishment, that is, direct material exchange with Nature. For Marx, therefore, there stands at the beginning of philosophy, and of human history, the simple fact that Man must work in order to satisfy his material needs:

This initial historical act of the production of the means of existence is one which we continue to perform even today. Because a caveman breaking open a nutshell with a stone to get at the nut, a farmer using a tractor to bring in his crop, or a molecular biologist using genetic engineering to increase future crop yields are all instances of Man acquiring something from Nature or, as Marx puts it, “appropriating Nature”:

Man, then, is not, primarily, anything spiritual or divine. His needs, Marx argues, are above all material. Just like an animal, Man appropriates the material things he needs. However, there is a decisive difference which sets human beings, at a certain point in their evolution, off from other animals:

An animal does not actually produce its means of subsistence. It finds its nourishment directly in Nature and can consume it directly without help of any sort. The buffalo simply eats the grass on the plain. And even predatory animals that hunt down their sources of food remain, in their life-activity, in harmony with inner and outer Nature:

In Man’s case the process of appropriating Nature is much more complex, ramified and comprehensive. The farmer produces the means of subsistence, but someone else the fertilizer, yet a third person the machines with which the harvest is brought in, a fourth the fuel for the farmer’s tractor and for the other machines. A fifth person builds the refinery which manufactures the diesel oil; a sixth runs the fleet of tankers which transport this oil; a seventh makes the headframes at the wells. And all this is only the beginning. In fact, a very long series of work-steps is required for the farmer to harvest his wheat and just as long a series before bread can be baked from it and be laid out, packed, on supermarket shelves.

In contrast to animals, then, Man survives only through the division and specialization of labour. Indeed, even once they are in the supermarket, people cannot simply take products off the shelves but must have earned the money to pay for them:

Here one might object that animals too must work for their food and shelter. Do beavers not build dams in order to regulate the water level in front of their lodges? But Marx had already asked himself this question:

Man’s universal production is indeed impressive. Today there are more than 14,000 different professions by which human beings earn their living. Ant and bee colonies have, indeed, their “workers”, “sentinels” and “queens”. But a division and specialization of labour as complex and ramified as that of human beings is found nowhere in the animal kingdom.

Work

Man, then, must work in order to satisfy his basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. Once we have firmly grasped this simple fact we have understood Marx’s central philosophical idea. Because the notion of work – and of the securing, through work, of basic needs – forms the foundation for Marx’s whole philosophy of dialectical materialism.

For Marx, then, Man proves and realizes his own being through the process of work, which means in turn that this being is essentially a species-being, that is to say, a being-in-community with others. For in fact it is only very exceptionally that a human being works alone. Mostly, work is done together with colleagues, be it in an office, on a building site, or in a factory. Even in seemingly one-man professions, one remains a species-being dependent on others: the artist may be alone in his studio, but he produces his works for others, sells them to them, and then himself buys food and clothes from the profits. Thus, everyone is bound into society right from the cradle on. Marx stresses how an individual is marked and formed in his deepest nature by his parents, his schooling, and above all by the work he does. For this reason, Marx goes so far as to call the individual human being the totality, or concrete co-presence, of the social relationships that make him up:

The way that a human being works within his society plays a decisive role in forming his self-awareness. A Tibetan monk, for example, who earns his livelihood tending vegetables in the monastery garden has a completely different awareness of himself than does a worker in a steel works, or someone caring for children in a kindergarten, a bank manager, a professional footballer, a musician, or a butcher. The work we do forms us:

Marx is really saying something very simple here, namely: we are what we do and how we do it. The way in which we earn our living plays such a decisive role because work directly determines human beings’ feeling and thinking:

By this Marx means not only how an individual produces but also how his whole society does. Thus, the warlike Vikings, for example, who earned their livelihood by daring raids and brutal assaults, had an entirely different sense of themselves than did, for example, nations composed of farmers who lived by the patient and careful cultivation of the fields. Marx, indeed, goes a step further and says that absolutely everything that occurs in people’s minds – their deepest convictions, their morality, and even their religion – are always only reflections of the material relations of production in which people live. In Marx’s own terminology, all ideas are nothing but a mental “superstructure” resting on their respective material “base”.

Base and Superstructure

This theory of base and superstructure is of central importance in Marx’s materialist philosophy. All that is “mental” – i.e. the apparently free thoughts of individuals and “consciousness” with its many plans and intentions – are, for Marx, only reflections of material circumstances. Here he directly contradicts the great German philosopher Hegel, who always emphasized the mental and spiritual development of Man. This, Marx argued, had been Hegel’s fundamental error. It is not consciousness and its decisions that determine our lives; on the contrary, it is material life that determines what takes place in our heads. This materialist reversal of Hegel’s view is the deeper meaning of the oft-cited Marxist dictum: ‘being determines consciousness’. Marx’s actual words in this passage are:

Thus, human societies have passed, in the course of history, through different forms of production which have, in their turn, given rise to different religious and artistic currents as “superstructures” to these material “bases”. The basis of everything, however, always remains the mode of production:

The example of the Vikings can help us to understand why, for Marx, even religion is just an after-effect of social production. So-called “predatory” nations like the Vikings gain the greater part of what they live on by attacks and raids; the god that they worship above all other gods is generally a brave and aggressive god of war. But nations whose livelihood is based on agriculture tend to celebrate harvest festivals and revere a god associated with the weather. The worship of a thunder god or a sun god who can be asked not to ruin the harvest but let it grow and ripen is, Marx claims, just the necessary superstructure to the material basis of a nation of farmers sustaining their lives through agriculture, whose very survival depends on what the harvest yields. Nations living by the sea, however, who live by fishing or maritime trade, tend to worship gods associated with the wind or the tides. Mining nations have worshipped Saint Barbara, patron saint of mining. Sedentary nations build temples on the hills above their fields, while nomadic peoples, driving their herds before them, may carry the temple of their god with them in something like the ancient Jewish “ark of the covenant”. Thus, in each case, the material base determines the specific ceremonies and substance of the religion.

Smaller nations can afford to worship many gods but great empires, like Rome, eventually require, if they are not to be split apart by a hundred different cults, a single god who will link and reconcile all the smaller deities. The Emperor Constantine’s abolition of polytheism and introduction of monotheistic Christianity was also a case of the necessary emergence of a superstructure appropriate to Rome’s vast material base. Marx’s best friend, Friedrich Engels, sums up the base / superstructure theory succinctly: “[...] we can only draw the one conclusion: that men, consciously or unconsciously, derive their ethical ideas in the last resort from the practical relations [...] in which they carry on production and exchange.” 18

This was why Marx and Engels developed their own “matter”-focussed philosophy specifically as a critique of the purely “idea”-focussed philosophy that dominated Germany in their youth:

The German philosophy referred to here (that of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel) set out, Marx held, from these men’s personal ideas of God. Marx’s materialist philosophy set out from an opposite starting point:

By ideological reflections and echoes Marx means not only the direct reflection of a society’s conditions of work in its religion. He also proposes the thesis that the mode of production of any class society will tend to create a consciousness in the minds of that society’s dominated class which excuses and justifies the domination it suffers. Thus, for example, under feudalism it was very important that serfs and landless peasants all believed that their feudal lords had “blue blood” and that God had appointed these lords to rule just as He had appointed the serfs and peasants to serve and be ruled. This worldview of “divine rights” absolved kings and noblemen of any need to explain or justify their living from the taxes and tributes of the peasants without doing any work themselves. What Marx called “ideology” is simply “false consciousness” inasmuch as the ideas and beliefs concerned do not serve the population as a whole but only a small part of it. The superstructure reflects always only the consciousness of the class that rules the society in question, never that of the ruled:

Religion as ‘the Opium of the People’

Of all the shared mental phenomena that make up what he calls the superstructure it is religion that Marx criticizes the most. For down the centuries religion has always possessed a special importance.

Religion, says Marx, has the function of consoling mankind inasmuch as it explains and justifies the many sufferings that must be borne in life. Religion promises Man an afterlife in Paradise as compensation for all the injustice and torment we undergo in the “here below”. Marx compares this pacifying effect of religion with the effect of a drug:

The prospect of a happy afterlife in the “world above” may indeed have the benefit of consolation. But this benefit is also religion’s great drawback: it dissuades from the attempt to improve the “here below”. This is why Marx demands religion’s abolition:

Religion must be critiqued at every possible turn because (so Marx hoped) if we succeed in abolishing it energies will be set free which can be applied to tackling and solving the real problems of Man’s life on earth:

As long as God continues to be thought of by Man as the Supreme Being, every injustice can be justified by calling it a “test from God”:

This passage expresses the core idea of Marx’s whole philosophy. All material conditions and relations must be overthrown under which Man remains an enslaved being.

History as Class Struggle

For Marx, history is nothing other than the succession of different phases of material production. At the dawn of history human beings produced their means of subsistence collectively. They lived together in hordes and tribes. Tribal – or, as Marx and Engels sometimes call it, “gentile” – society is concerned above all with the survival of the tribe: “Production at all previous stages of society was essentially common production, and likewise consumption took place by the direct distribution of the products within larger or smaller communistic communities.” 28

Thus, for example, North American Indians went as a tribe on their buffalo hunts and then divided the meat up among all the tribespeople. These early tribal societies were classless social structures in which there existed no private property, and thus no “haves” nor “have-nots”. Everything belonged to everyone. It would, indeed, have made no sense to amass private property. When an Indian tribe, for example, broke camp in order to follow the herd of buffalo, nothing could be taken along that could not be easily carried. It was pointless to accumulate “luxury” goods, beyond a few plates and bowls. There was also not yet any division of labour nor any money. Thus every Indian was able to manufacture all he needed – from his bow and arrow to the poles of his tent – himself. Engels describes the way such early tribal societies reproduced themselves as unselfish and healthy: “As long as production was carried on on this basis, it could not grow beyond the control of the producers and it could not conjure up any alien, phantom powers against them, as is the case regularly and inevitably under civilization.” 29

Marx and Engels do not describe this classless primitive state in much detail. But they do point out that this early tribal society did not need private property to materially sustain itself. Indeed, property relations were not a marked feature of early tribal cultures. We know from the descriptions of the Roman historian Tacitus that it was the custom of the ancient Germanic tribes to send half of their male members to war while the other half stayed to tend the fields with the womenfolk (the man who had stayed behind one year going to war the next).

It was only, Marx argued, as agriculture progressed and there occurred a general transition from nomadic to sedentary ways of life that the first societies characterized by private property - above all the “human property” of slaves- took shape. Marx and Engels make a distinction here between Asiatic and European slave-owning societies (i.e. the Persian and the Roman forms of despotism). It is from this point on that all further historical development is characterized by conflicts between ruling groups and ruled: so-called “classes”.

But this conflict between the classes is the motor that drives history on:

Upon slavery-based society there followed feudal society which was also marked by its characteristic conflict. Because all the nobility of this society, and even the king himself, lived, in the last analysis, entirely off of what was produced by the peasants, tradesmen, merchants and citizens who held their land and livelihoods only by feudal tenure. The nobility of this epoch looked on labour as an ignoble pursuit. They carried parasols so as to be distinguishable at a glance from the sunburnt field-labourers and also rejected all commercial activity as beneath the dignity of their class. But this inclination of the noble class to leave such activities as trade and banking entirely in the hands of others created a new class of special confidence and self-awareness: the town-dwelling “burghers”, or so-called “bourgeoisie”. While the nobles were satisfied just to govern their vast rural domains and live off the taxes and corvée labour extracted from their serfs, this bourgeoisie founded, in their towns and cities, tradesmen’s workshops and even rudimentary factories. Very soon, this new class was generating, on their tiny urban areas of land, much more wealth than the nobility could generate on all its vast rural domains. The noble class all over Europe became indebted to this new class of tradesmen, manufacturers and merchant bankers. And the poorer the nobles became through their debts to the urban bourgeoisie, the richer this new urban class grew. At a certain point they demanded a political power in keeping with their economic one until all Europe was shaken by “bourgeois revolutions” and feudalism, along with its whole cultural “superstructure”, collapsed.

But just as the feudal nobility had raised up its own successor, the bourgeoisie, by leaving to this latter all trade and commerce, this new bourgeois ruling class likewise created and raised up a successor of its own, or its “dialectical negation”, as Marx put it. In this context “dialectic” means simply that the ruling class brings forth an oppressed class, which leads to further class struggle out of which there emerges yet another new form of society.

The collapse of feudal society and the seizing of power by the bourgeoisie leads to an enormous increase in material production:

Already at this time, says Marx, there begins an unstoppable process of globalization:

In contrast to tribal, slave-based, and feudal societies which had been sustained almost solely by agricultural production, production is now primarily industrial. And this new mode of production dramatically alters the whole world:

But as Marx points out, the wealth which results from these enormous new achievements in the sphere of production is not shared in by all members of the new society. On the contrary, it is the bourgeoisie alone that owns all the means of production, from the machines down to the great wholesale warehouses from which the produced goods are sold. The workers, on the other hand, and all those who depend on wages, own nothing but their own ability to work (or “labour-power”, as Marx terms it). Here as well, then, two necessarily hostile classes confront each other: the bourgeoisie and the workers, or “proletariat”.

Since the bourgeoisie had already represented the historical antagonist – or, phrased in the more abstract philosophical terminology that Marx took over from Hegel, the “negation” – of the feudal nobility, the proletariat can logically be called the “negation of negation”. Because this new ruling class once again creates, in the form of the ever less adequately paid working class, its own antagonist. In one of the most famous passages of their Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels exhort this working class to seize power:

It is Marx’s contention that a proletarian revolution will mean a final dissolving of all class antagonisms, since the proletariat, once it has achieved common ownership of the means of production, will simply dissolve as a separate class.

This model of history developed by Marx is basically a very simple one. It starts with a kind of “primitive communism” because early tribal societies were classless and propertyless societies where everyone hunted and tended the fields together. But through the division of labour and the development of technology there arose – with the slave-based societies of antiquity, feudal societies, and then our own society dominated by the bourgeoisie – a series of societies wherein private property made people “alienated” from their own working lives. In the end, though, Marx sees private property being abolished again by the communist revolution and the original classless society being re-established.

The final goal of history, then, is the unity of individual and society and reconciliation of class with class. For Marx and Engels, achieving this is a task that falls specifically to the working class which, at the highest point of capitalist expansion, takes political power and establishes a just society in which no one is any longer the slave of anyone else. But this does not occur because the workers suddenly have the idea of making a revolution. To think this would be once again to practice a mere “philosophy of ideas”. For Marx, on the contrary, it is the material relations of production themselves that come into contradiction with one another and cause capitalism to collapse like a house of cards. It is in his legendary main work, Das Kapital, that Marx shows how these forces internal to capitalism come into contradiction with one another. The core of this work is formed by theories of surplus value, accumulation, concentration, and immiseration – all of them as relevant still today as when they were formulated.

The Theory of Surplus Value

The capitalist does not pay the worker all the value that the worker creates for him. He pays him a sum significantly smaller than this and keeps for himself the “surplus value” produced by the work performed. Marx gives examples here of factories in which workers are paid directly in the form of food, distributed in amounts that are just sufficient to sustain them and their families. All money in excess of this – acquired by the sale of the goods produced and thereby, ultimately, through the work of the workers – is retained by the capitalist:

Let us assume that a worker produces, during a 12-hour shift in a cotton mill, enough cotton to make shirts and trousers with a final sales value of 1000 pounds. But the factory-owner pays him, for the 12 hours of work performed, only 60 pounds. The owner’s other costs – in terms of paying off the loans used to buy the factory premises and the machines, the wages of the gateman, the book-keeper and the cleaners, and the price of raw cotton being worked – amount to 30 pounds per worker per day. There remains, then, for the capitalist, once the work-wages of 60 pounds have been paid out and these further costs covered, a “surplus value” of 910 pounds. The factory-owner’s capital will thus rapidly increase. This is why Marx poses the rhetorical question:

Because the worker sells not his specific acts of labour but rather his labour-power he loses all claim upon the product which his labour produces. Even if this product, in the end, proves to possess a very high use-value and is sold at a correspondingly high market price, the worker receives in exchange for his labour-power only its initially agreed value, as a mere expenditure of time, in the form of an hourly wagerate.

On the contrary, the worker’s hourly wage amounts as a rule to far less than the value that he actually produces within that hour. It is the factory-owner alone who gains from the high price brought by that product which is, in fact, a result of the worker’s labouring activity. The factory-owner, for a day or longer, “makes use” of the worker’s labour-power in order to incorporate this value-creating labour-power into a product that would otherwise be lifeless. The “surplus value” that is added to the product is thereby a value that the factory-owner retains for himself alone, thereby becoming ever wealthier.

Accumulation and Concentration

The surplus value so generated is invested again by the capitalist factory-owner and leads in turn to the production of still more surplus value. Capital thus automatically creates still greater capital.

Once this process has begun it cannot be halted. Each capitalist enterprise is obliged to continue to grow, to increase its production, and to open up new markets for its goods. If such an enterprise were to choose restraint and forego such constant expansion, it would be running the risk of being pushed out of the market by larger enterprises. Consequently, each enterprise is compelled always to increase its strength of capital by re-investing profits in order to generate still greater profits.

But once all potential areas for sales have been opened up, and the markets thus opened have been saturated, the only way left for a capitalist enterprise to expand is for it to take over – or to buy up, swallow, or otherwise destroy – the production facilities of other such enterprises. A capitalist enterprise that fails to do this risks being swallowed up itself; whoever does not expand is eliminated. Therefore, Marx contends, every capitalist must always be trying to defeat all his competitors and to drive them from the market. In this war of pitiless competition the capitalist tends to use above all one proven weapon:

A capitalist who hopes to monopolize the market for screwdrivers needs, in order to do so, only to offer his screwdrivers, for a period, at a significantly lower price than his competitors. If he succeeds in clearly undercutting the prices of another manufacturer for a long stretch of time, this other manufacturer will no longer be able to sell his comparatively expensive products on the market. Sooner or later he will either have to cease production or sell his enterprise to the larger capitalist. What is decisive, then, for survival under conditions of capitalist competition is price:

Thus, the process of capital accumulation and that of capital concentration are closely bound up with one another. The capitalist with the greater amount of capital, being able to achieve a higher rate of accumulation, can, in the long term, amass significantly more capital and use it to force his competitors to their knees by selling his goods at artificially low prices. He has, so to speak, a greater financial “stamina” and can afford to bear losses for a period of time if this allows him to ruin some competitor he wants out of the way:

Once, however, a company producing a product has succeeded in dominating the market and has become, for example, one of the few or even the sole provider of electrical power, this company can demand for this power whatever price it wishes, since it has no competitors. Millions of consumers are then dependent upon this sole surviving producer. The next step is for the monopolist to use his capital – which now accumulates still more rapidly – to open up new branches of business for himself and to move toward monopolizing still more markets. In this way capitalist production creates a new field of forces upon which the whole of society becomes henceforth entirely dependent, namely, the system of banking and credit institutions:

Due to the takeovers and mergers that ensue from capitalist competition more and more small capitalists come to be expropriated by larger ones. The few very large capitalist enterprises that survive mercilessly push on the process of monopoly-formation through their struggle to dominate the global market:

Immiseration and Revolution

The direct consequence, in turn, of capital accumulation and concentration is the immiseration of the mass of the people. As a small number of globally operating enterprises concentrate ever more capital within themselves – i.e. basically, become richer and richer – this money proves lacking in other areas of society. Eventually, a world arises in which massive amounts of wealth accumulate in the hands of the heads of these giant corporations while workers, normal citizens and consumers suffer greater and greater destitution: