Karl Marx was born 1818 in Western Germany. He would become one of the worlds most inspirational and non-conformist thinkers of his time. Although, he struggled throughout his adult life to survive and provide for his family, he was driven by his interest in human economics and life to correct what he saw to be the injustices of his time. Having been expelled from several countries for his outlandish and radical ideas and published work, he moved to Britain where he spent long hours in the library contemplating and continuously striving to improve his work and ideas. Marx lived during the Age of Revolutions, when many revolts arose throughout Europe. Capitalism had spread and taken full effect in many countries, and industrial technology was also increasing. He studied these events in great detail and many of these insights and influences are reflected in his work.
In order, to understand his many theories and ideas on capitalism, it is necessary to also interpret his style and methods.
As Marx examines society and its events, he takes a very scientific approach, first by setting a stable basis of historical events and then by showing similar and logical patterns in modern times. He incorporates the usage of many formulas to matters of economics and politics and even social behaviors. One of his main efforts was concentrated on the concept and truths of capitalism. Marx's analysis of capitalism is composed of the following ideas of alienation, exploitation, class struggle, and ideology. Most of his theories dealing with capitalism are centered on the labor theory of value and how it affects the laborer.
In his view of Germany Ideology, Marx takes this scientific approach, as he must detach himself from his own experiment. He, in other words, must be able to observe
and evaluate society without being a victim of his own subject. His first critisism is towards all the previous critical thinkers and philosophers, whom did not separate themselves from the influence and biases that their own society inflicted upon them. This is the early development of the "false-conscious". The false conscience is the mental block, which hinders us all by influence of politics, religion, family, cultural, national, and even life experiences. It is only when the false conscious is recognized can it be corrected which will ultimately increasing the truth revealed.
"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness," (Tucker ed. 1978, 4).
A large portion, of whom we are, according to Marx, is what we do for a living, and our living is shaped and molded by the environment and society's base mode of production.
"The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production," (Tucker ed. 1978, 150).
Marx outlines from the earliest of days to his present time, divisions of labor and forms of ownership. However the divisions of tribal, communal, and feudal are not as important for evaluating capitalism, as is understanding that different modes and societies will shape their individuals' labor and conscious. For example, the article, "Studs Terkel Working: The Mason" contains a story about Carl Bates, a stone mason whom all he does is sleep, drink, eat, and dream stones. His work has consumed him inside and out, his daily life revolves around his profession and thus has become a part of him, a part of
his being and this being shapes his consciousness. So much in fact, that he admits to dreaming of stones and awaking to write his ideas on paper.
During the age of Marx, one of the most common forms of labor was found in the factory. It was there that the deskilling of laborers was most noticeable. Men became unskilled as they were further divided upon the daily tasks, until ultimately they performed one simple task upon an object. In doing so, factories became a house and home to all Marx's most detested aspects of capitalism. Marx claims that workers lost not only their unique value but also, their unique ability to create and thus lost themselves. The objects that they had a small part in making were outside themselves, workers were alien to the object and themselves.
If, now, we reflect on the work of Phil Stallings, a Ford assembly line man, the presence of "alienation" becomes apparent. Phil Stallings pushes one button each day, which fuses together one single part of a vehicle. He describes the line in metaphor as a living serpent without a tail; it seems to go on endlessly. This imagery creates the perfect understanding of how large, powerful, and relentless his work must be. It is a huge machine that controls the movements and actions of its workers all day long. They stand in one spot and perform the same task countless number of times a day, moving when the belt moves, only stopping when the belt stops. A sea of men down along this belt, performing unskilled work, each detached from his work and detached from each other.
"When two men don't socialize, that means tow guys are gonna do more work, know what I mean?" (Terkel 1972,1974)
They become a machine, perhaps even less than a machine. Their work is automated, and almost always requires no thought at all, to the point that men daydream all day long on the belt. By allowing themselves to become a machine, perform unskilled labor, and sell their labor time they become a cheap commodity for the capitalist. Labor power is therefore, a commodity, the worker sells himself and his time in order to live. He only costs as much, if not less, than what is required to maintain himself as a worker.
"Thus capital presupposes wage labour; wage labour presupposes capital. They reciprocally condition the existence of each other; they reciprocally bring forth each other," (Tucker ed. 1978, 209-210).
In, "Harlan County, U.S.A." a documentary film of miners, workers were exploited until they gathered and rallied together to fight against the capitalists. They did not only fight against low wages but for medical coverage and health plans, benefits, and respect. Even then, it was a long and hard battle which did not bring all that was hoped for, simply because the capitalist was able to ignore these few workers and easily replace them with others.
Why would a capitalist want to alienate and exploit his workers? In a capitalist society, the necessary growth component and ability to merely survive relies upon the amount of surplus attained. In maximizing his profits, the capitalist attempts to produce more at cheaper costs, furthering the gap between exchange value and cost of production. It's a large vicious cycle of re-investing and spending surplus in order to maximize and
produce more of it. The actual value of an object or its cost of production is in great variation from its actual exchange value.
Class struggle has always been evolving along with the changes of society and their modes of production. It persists because inherited wealth, cultural hegemony, and cultural assimilation of values and standards have been carried on. So, those whom are in power and wealth remain there. Lower classes are suppressed by upper class and their creation of a false consciousness. They remain suppressed because they do not know any better and perhaps do not have the means to do anything about it, or do they? According to Marx, history is comprised of class struggles and their conflicts. These conflicts some of which cause revolutions, are the times when changes can occur and laborers are closer to the understanding of the false conscious. These ideas of class conflicts are the basis for his work and the importance of the "Communist Manifesto".
Marx demonstrates in all his theories and ideas of capitalism that appearance is not always actual essence. The mode of production is shaped by the forces of production and their relations and thus influence societies superstructure. Economics influences our culture, politics, society as a whole, and individuals alone. It is not that we do not posses a conscious of our own with free will, yet it is recognizable that our decisions are shaped by all the influences of our life. Life can become so entangled in profession, that we lose ourselves in our daily course. As, society changes so does the economy and all its laborers. Technology has become so advance, computers and machines take the place of humans, and skills are minimized and lost. By selling labor time, we sell ourselves as a
cheap commodity, worth no more than our means of subsistence. Capitalists become enthralled in maximizing surplus value and profits. Collectively and on an individual basis, humanity's creativity and the essence that separates us from all other beings diminishes as society advances. Such exploitation and alienation can only be corrected by the conscious and the ability to refuse the norm and stray from the restrictions which society places. Humans are a history of revolutions.
Terkel, Studs. "Working." 1972, 1974
Tucker, Robert C. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: 1978
Marx's Analysis of Capitalism