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150 years young Marx’s Capital

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Humphrey McQueen

The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) commissioned the renowned Australian Marxist historian Humphrey McQueen to write an outline of Marx’s Capital. The purpose of which is to invite job reps and community activists to appreciate and understand the relevance of Marx's research and analysis of capitalism to their lives.

It is no easy task to reduce three huge volumes of meticulously researched data down to an outline covering a few mere pages. We are indebted to Humphrey McQueen for making the essential features of Capital available in a form that is both a summary and an introduction.

Karl Marx wrote his huge three-volume study Capital a century and a half ago.  It remains the single most influential study of the economic laws of motion of capital, of how capital is deployed in an endless quest for continued accumulation, and of how the labour power of the working class is exploited to produce surplus value for the profit of the owners of the means of production.

Volume One of Karl Marx's, Das Kapital was first published in early September, 1867. To commemorate this anniversary the first two sections of Humphrey McQueen's "150 years young Marx's Capital" outline are posted here.

Soon this booklet will be posted on the Vanguard/CPA (M-L) website as a PDF file. The booklet will also be available as a hardcopy for $2.

Marx – our contemporary

… the educator must be educated.
                    Marx, 1845.

Karl Marx spent half of his adult life striving to understand the workings of capitalism. He spent much of the other half battling to replace it with socialism.

To change the world, he learnt why we must learn how to interpret it. To interpret our world, he learnt that we all have a part to play in changing it.

These struggles united the two parts of his public life.

Know our enemy
Every contest between capitalists and wage-slaves is decided by the relative strengths of the opposing classes.

Those strengths combine the political, the cultural, the industrial and the military with the intellectual.

Our class has to be armed to fight on each of those fronts. Capital is a short-, medium- and long-range weapon in the class war.

Few of us will have the opportunity to absorb all of Marx’s gifts to working people.

None of us can afford to ignore his key insights.

Capital explains why capitalists and their agents must behave as they do.

Our exploitation and oppression are not the result of nasty people like Abbott with bad ideas such as neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberalism has been a bad idea for workers but a great idea for most of the boss class. A Turnbull or a Shorten takes over where an Abbott left off.

Tactics and strategies
Capital remains the essential starting point for understanding capitalism.

That understanding is vital in our efforts to change the world towards socialism and thence communism.

To help us move there, this pamphlet takes up seven issues around which revolutionaries can build mass movements: the plunder of nature; the expansion of capital; wage-slavery; exploitation; the future of labour-time; ground-rent, and crises.

The way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Marx’s Capital in September 2017 is to forge his insights into weapons for our struggles today, and every hour of every day.

The wealth of nature

Capitalist production, therefore, only develops … by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker.
Marx, Capital, I, page 638.

Other animals
Our species is part of the natural world. We share 98 percent of our genes with the great apes. We are no special creation.

Yet, we are unique. Unlike other animals, we are forever remaking what it means to be human.

We created languages, writing and maths. Human nature is neither eternal nor universal.

Hence, capitalism is not in our genes. We alter our relationships with each other.

We change our relationships with the rest of nature. And we transform some of nature.  

We do all this through our labours. That is why half of this pamphlet explores wage-slavery, labour-time and exploitation.

Our capacity to work is one outcome of the physical world. If we don’t eat or drink, we can’t work. In short, we can’t add value to the wealth of nature.

‘Value’ is an overloaded term. For Marx, value is an economic category. Value is neither a moral judgement nor an aesthetic preference.

Only human labour can add value. Even a primary school textbook should spell out why labour cannot be the sole source of wealth. So said Marx.

For a start, our capacities can never create the raw materials to which we add value.

To accept that an old-growth forest has no economic value is to say no more than that no human labour has gone into its existence.

By contrast, a pine plantation has economic value because human labour played a part in its growth.

The timber from old-growth forests acquires economic value once it is harvested and dressed.

Marx explains why capitalists are slow to invest in forestry. The production times are too long. They cannot afford to wait forty or more years to take a profit.

Instead, they plunder the wealth of nature in old-growth areas. Or, their state supplies the long-term investment for plantations.

Nature’s gifts
Nature presents its treasures to us as free gifts. Sunlight, wind and water arrive without our having to lift a finger.

To benefit from those gifts we must build a sailing boat, and erect a wind or water mill.

Sunlight is a renewable source of energy only after the parts for solar panels are mined, processed and installed.

Property wrongs
How the gifts of nature are distributed depends on property relations.

Who gets what and how much is decided by how society is split between classes. Within classes, wealth is divided along gender lines.

Feudal lords smashed the hand-mills of their serfs to force them to pay to grind their corn at their Masters’ watermills.

In Capital, Marx mentions a mine-owner in the 1850s who exerted property rights over the shit of his wage-slaves.

Switching to 100 percent renewables will not make access to any resource more equal.

Injustice is built into the expansion of capital. Its relentless growth threatens barbarism.

Victory for working people in our class struggle is, therefore, the foundation for survival.

Fouling our nest
Capital pollutes the natural world that its agents plunder for raw materials. To ravage our natural environment is to commit chronic suicide.

We live through nature because nature exists inside us. Hence, we must take heed of Engels:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory, nature takes it revenge on us.

Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people … – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.

Today we should repeat: ‘and apply them correctly’, but also add ‘before it’s too late.’


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