This is a great book written by Gill Hands. Written below are some of the quotes extracted from the book. Please keep in mind, the book is over 200 pages long. These quotes are only a fraction of the information available within the text. In order to get a more comprehensive understanding of the ideas of Marxism, this book is highly recommended. The quotes provided are only a tiny of part of the interesting content available.
As always the text within the square brackets [ ] are not the words of the author of the book, they are added to make the quote make more sense. The text in red is also not the word of the author, but the interesting question raised about the topic. They are only included to assist in engaging with the ideas more critically.
Enjoy the read.
Hand, G. (2010). Marx – The Key Ideas. London: Hodder Education.
Marx saw that society has developed into a capitalist one, focused on the production of commodities and that human labour power had itself become a commodity. XI
A commodity is an object of use produced for sale.
Marx lived in poverty for a great deal of his time in London and was financially supported by Engels. XIV
[Historical Materialism] A ways of studying the relationship between the world of ideas and the real world. XIV
Marx realised it was money that alienated people from society. XV
Marx believed workers were exploited because factory owners could make a profit from their workers and then invest it to make further profit. This is what Marx called the theory of surplus value. XV
Marx believed that the drive to make profits would push wages lower and lower and this was one of the factors that would eventually lead to global economic crisis; high wages reduce the profit of the capitalist, but low wages means the worker is unable to buy enough goods and services to keep the economy viable. Because capitalist are in competition with each other and there is no system of regulations who produces what, there is the danger of overproduction; prices fall and the economy becomes stagnant and depressed… Marx saw these factors as inherent instabilities in the capitalist system and predicted a series of booms and periodic depression. XVI
Marx saw the rapid spread of capitalism around the world had led to colonialism, where one country exploited another for profit. Marx saw the globalisation of the world markets as inevitable, because as profits feel in home markets factory owners would try and exploit new markets overseas. XVI
The bourgeois were the class of capitalists, who owned the means of production and employed wage labourers. The proletariats were the workers, who had no means of production of their own and were reduced to selling their labour. XVII
[Marx} believed the capitalist system exploited and alienated those who lived under it, so that money came to rule the lives of both the rich and the poor. XX
Under the feudal system of government [the social/economic system before Capitalism] the peasants had the right to gather firewood in the forest. When the forest passed into private ownership the peasants had to pay for their wood and most of them could not afford to. 13
The Conditions of the Working Classes of England – Engels
[Marx] Three of his children died and one was stillborn. 24
At the time Marx and Engels were writing, the terms socialism and communism were interchangeable, meaning a society where there was collective ownership of goods and equality for all. For Marx, socialism was a stage before true communism.
Marx is buried in Highgate Cemetery. Only eleven mourners were at his grave, and a short paragraph in The Times obituary noted his passing. 41
[Marx wrote] ‘The Philosopher have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it’. 43
Idealist philosophers believe there is a divine force of some kind which is responsible for the development of ideas and beliefs among mankind. Materialism philosophers believe that all ideas beliefs come out of life and its conditions and not from any divine being or supernatural forces. 44
The conflict between organised religion and free thinkers went on for centuries. In Europe the dominance of the Christian Church did not encourage the development of philosophical thought. Anyone who did not agree with orthodox Christian doctrines was likely to be branded as a heretic and tortured to death. 45
The word ‘utopian’, pertaining to an imagined perfect place, came into English language in 1515 after the publication of Utopia, a book written by Thomas Moore, the English lawyer, author and statesman. Utopia was the name of the ideals state More envisaged, where private property had been abolished and where religious tolerance had been practised. More did not think that Utopia might actually come to exist… The Utopian Socialist on the other hand really believed that their ideal societies could be built. 49
[Charles Fourier a French social theorist believed] the factory system was dehumanising and unnatural and that if God had intended us to work in such a way we would have been made to enjoy industriousness like ants or bees appear to. 51
[Charles Fourier] was also a feminist (he invented the word), believing that women in nineteenth-century society were no better than slaves. 52
[Louis Auguste Blanqui] He was the person who invented the phrase ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ which Marx later used in a slightly different way than Blanqui. Blanqui believed that future revolutions would never occur unless professional revolutionaries took actions on behalf of the workers… [Marx] believed that the changes in society would come about as a result of the general will of the people and as a natural result of the decay of the capitalist system. 54
[Louis Blank] His best known saying, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ was another cry taken up by revolutionary communists and often wrongly attributed to Marx. 55
Hegel’s philosophical arguments have two main strands. The first is that human civilization comes about through intellectual and moral progress and that this is due to some of kind of rational spirit that exists in humanity (universal mind) and not through divine intervention. It is as if history was a book written by the universal mind and we are just character’s in the book that it has written. 57
In Hegel’s view, ideas develop through contradictions. The original idea, or thesis, is set up but is then contradicted and rejected by the antithesis. Eventually, the best part of the thesis and the antithesis can be combined: this is called the synthesis. 58
It cannot be stressed enough that one of the most important parts of the Marxist theory is the idea that the economy and society are inherently unstable because society is made synthesis of two opposing classes. 59
[Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach] proposed that religion is ‘the dream of the human mind’, in other words, man creates the illusory God based on human ideals and experiences. 60
Samuel Smiles’ book, Self Help, was published in 1859and was a Victorian best seller. It stresses the importance of hard work, thrift and perseverance an implies that poverty is the fault of the individual and not of society as a whole. 61
David Ricardo. saw the capitalist society as a natural thing but identified that there would be a class struggle over the division of profits in society. 62
There is no doubt that Engels was an important figure in the life of Karl Marx: ‘I owe it all to you, that this has been possible’, Marx wrote in a letter to his friend. As the son of a wealthy manufacturer, Engels was able to support the Marx family financially, allowing Marx to continue with his research and writing. 63
Marx himself used the phrase the ‘materialist conception of history’ to describe his theory and Engels shortened this to ‘historical materialism’. Marx saw capitalism not as the end of processes of the development of history as Hegel did, or as a natural result of the desire of people to ‘truck and barter’ in the way that Adam Smith did, but as a transitory phase in the progression of history. It would be transitory state of society because of the internal contradictions or dialectics that would bring about its downfall. 69
Marx Historical and materialist view of the world economy states that there had been four main stages in the development of the economy and society up to the and including capitalism.
- Primitive communism – Society of primitive hunter-gatherers where people had to work in a co-operative way to benefit from the food and raw materials provided by nature. Marx saw this as a form of society as a classless one.
- Slave society – This developed where some people gained power over others, usually as a result of warfare and so there was a lower class of those that worked and were not free and an upper class that exploited them.
- Feudalism – In feudalism the land was divided up between the nobles in return for support for the ruler of the country.
- Capitalism – This is a form of society that developed after the French revolution which comprised of two main classes: the bourgeois and the proletariat… It is also an economic system where the means of production are mostly privately owned and capital is invested in goods and services in order to make a profit. 70
Under the feudal system, workers were tied to their plots of land without rights. Their surplus product then became the property of an aristocratic landlord class. 71
Only under capitalism does human labour power become a commodity to be bought and sold. 71
Under capitalism all production is the production of commodities. 71
The classic economist Adam Smith defined commodities as products that are produced to be sold on the market. 71
C-M-C … The produced would sell his commodity for money and use the money to buy another commodity that he needed. 72
Under capitalism M-C-M… money is invested by the capitalist to produce commodities which are then exchanged for more money. In capitalism the final amount of money is greater than the initial amount that was invested and this is the profit or, as Marx called it, the ‘surplus value’. 72
Where does the surplus value come from?
Under the feudal system the landlord was allowed his workers to cultivate the land in return for unpaid work, or rent, or both. It was obvious to all concerned that the landlord acquired the surplus product. Under capitalism this fact is hidden. Workers appear to be free to sell their labour power to the person who will give them the highest wages… The exploitation is hidden as by wages which allow the capitalist to cash in on the surplus produced by the workers. 72
The Labour Theory of Value
All products in capitalism are commodities. According to Marx, commodities are values in two different ways:
- Use value: Usefulness of a commodity. For example, shoes protect your feet, sugar will sweeten your food. 73
[This can also be considered as the relative value of a commodity. Some people care more about shoes and sugar than others]
- Exchange value: One commodity is equal to another amount of any other commodity. For example, a barrel of wine may be worth ten barrels of fish, 50 kilos of sugar, or ten pairs of shoes. 73
[Exchange values are arguably fixed. The exchange value is derived from the average amount of labour put in for the production of that commodity for Marx. In capitalism exchange value is determined by supply and demand].
Use values are not dependent on markets or any other system of: sugar will always be useful for its sweetness. Exchange value are dependent on market forces. A barrel of wine may be worth only nice barrels of fish one week and 11 barrels of fish the following week… What is about ten pairs of shoes that makes them worth a barrel of wine? Marx believes it is the amount of labour that went into making the product that determined the exchange value. 73
Labour must be applied to any commodity to give it its use value: some would need t catch the fish, salt them and put them in a barrel; a cobbler would have to take leather and make it into shoes. This is what Marx called concrete labour. Each different commodity needs a different amount of concrete labour applied to it; shoes may take ten hours of to make or it may take five hours to catch and salt a barrel full of fish. 73
Because the commodities need to be exchanged, they must have some kind of value in common, a way of working out what they are worth against each other. Marx called what they have in common their ‘value’. The value is in the commodities because they are all product of human labour. Therefore, the exchange-value of the goods can be worked out from the amount of labour that has gone into making the finished product. 74
- What if someone labours for a long period and does not produce a commodity that anyone wants, is their labour and thereby their commodity still have an exchange-value? If the exchange-value of commodity is reduced to the demand for the commodity, does that not reduce the value of labour to supply and demand?
The labour theory of value depends on how much labour it takes to make a product on average or, as Marx called it, the ‘socially necessary labour time. 74
- Exchange value: Average labour to make Commodity A = Average labour to make commodity B
- Will labour be measured by time, intensity, expertise required to carry out the labour or some other metric?
- Does the intensity of the labour increase the value of the labour? For example, two good which take similar amount of time to produce, let say an hour, but one requires physically exhausting labour while the other does not. Does the commodity produced have the same exchange value.
- Would we have to invent a currency that is fixed to the value of labour, something similar to the gold standard?
Money existed in societies that existed before capitalism but not all money is capital. Capital is money that is taken into circulation in order to make more money. 75
- Investment [appreciation/depreciation]. Currency speculation.
What is the means by which the capitalism makes his profit? If labour is a commodity then, like other commodities, it should be exchanged for its value. The capitalist who employs a worker for a day should pay, on average, the value of a day’s labour, which will add to the cost of a day labour to the cost of producing the item. Following the exchange value of labour theory, the capitalist can only sell or exchange the commodity at a rate of exchange corresponding on the value of that was used to produce it. It would seem impossible for the capitalist to make a profit, so how does he do it?… The answer lies between labour and labour power. 75
- The worker is being exploited out of compensation he deserves for his labour, or the consumer is being charged more than the product is worth? Either way a theft of value is taking place according to this theory.
Labour is the actual work that is done – the activity that add value to raw material. 75
When a capitalist hires a worker his labour power is becomes labour which belongs to the capitalist. The worker is paid for his labour power at an hourly rate but what he is actually giving is his labour. There is a difference between the value of the wage which the worker receives for his labour power and the value created by his labour. This is surplus value that which belongs to the capitalist. 76
- The exchange value of the commodity should equal the labour power used to produce the commodity, according to labour theory of value. The worker therefore should get compensated for the value he created through his labour, but he only receives a fixed compensation known as wage. Wage given is not equal to the value a worker’s labour created. The surplus value is extracted by the capitalist as profit.
- The value produced in a commodity through labour, is that fixed to the amount of labour put into produce the commodity? Labour used = commodity value? Or Commodity value = labour value? If value is detached from demand, can we still logically determine the value of labour and commodities?
- This situation seems similar to the chicken and egg question. What comes first? The value of the commodity or the value of the labour?
Finally, we get to the explanation of Marx discovery: how the capitalist makes a profit from his workers. The capitalist pays the worker for a day’s labour power and gains wealth because the worker always gets a fixed amount for his labour power regardless of the profit the makes from his labour. 76
The worker is getting a wage where the value is less than the value actually created by his labour. This could only occur because the capitalist economic system was unique in history: by historical and social accident the ‘means of production’ had come to be owned by one class, the bourgeois capitalist. 76
In any society people have to do some kind of work in order to live, but it is only under capitalism that one class extracts surplus value in this way. 76
Marx saw the working day was divided into two:
- Necessary Labour – the time the worker spends actually earning the amount paid in wages… The amount of time this taken will vary according to the technology that is available to help him with his work.
- Surplus Labour – The time spend producing surplus value for the capitalist. 77
The capitalist can increase his surplus value by:
- Making the working day longer
- Increasing the efficiency in the workplace so the worker covers the cost of his wages in a shorter time leaving more of the rest of the day producing surplus value. 77
The chief driving force in capitalism is profit. Not all surplus value the capitalist gains from his workers is profit because he has had to pay for machinery, training, etc. The rate of profit the capitalist receives is variable and he is always looking for ways to improve it. 77
- [The division of labour means] One worker can do the work of several others. This will increase competition for jobs, so wages go down. 77
- It makes work simples and unskilled so there is no need for long apprenticeship or training. 78
- Small scale capitalist are put out of business because they cannot compete with the low prices of the large scale manufacturers. They then have to join the workers. 78
Once the capitalist more efficient and improved production method have spread to other manufacturers there will be an abundance of his product on the market. This is known as overproduction and competition in the marketplace will inevitably and is the price of his commodity.78
The capitalist can solve his problem in the short-term by:
- Exploiting all the market more efficiently, for example by advertising.
- Opening up new markets, for example by exporting to other countries. 78
Following Marx model it was generally believed that all modern economic crisis will be as the result of overproduction. 78
The main problem that marks predicted were:
- Workers wages will tend to fall to subsistence levels.
- Profit will tend to fall.
- Competition will lead to large companies swallowing up small ones; this would be opposed by a growing number of workers.
- More people will be forced into the working-class.
- The capitalist system will lead to greater divisions in society.
- There will be more and more severe economic crisis.
- Capitalism will reduce workers to degraded condition and these workers will eventually rise up in revolution and overthrow the system. 79
Marx was convinced that capitalism was in crisis. Underpinning this belief was his faith in his dialectical analysis of the economy…
- Hi wages for workers lead to High prices for commodities, therefore factory owners get low profits.
- Low wages for workers mean that they are unable to buy enough goods and services to keep the economy viable and this leads to unemployment. 79
The economist John Maynard Keynes made famous one of the internal paradoxes of capitalism that marks had already pointed out. Each capitalist wants his workers to have low wages so that he can increase his profits, but he wants the workers who work for someone else to have high wages, so that they can buy his products. There is no way that this can happen in the real-world and the contradictory desire of the capitalist are part of the dialectical paradox that makes the capitalist system unstable and can lead to recurring economic crisis. 80
Another problem affecting profits in a capitalist society is that nobody decides who’s going to make what. We saw that use value is an important part of Marx’s economic theory… in order for society to function we need all different kinds of commodities. If everyone decides to make shoes, for example, we will all go hungry. So, societies need to have some way of regulating who makes what to ensure that enough of the right kind of commodities are made. 80
Marx called this social production and he pointed out that the capitalist system was unlike slave all feudal society in this respect as there is no way of making sure this happens. To a great extent, in slave or feudal societies the slave owner or the landowner decided the distribution of labour. 80
In a feudal society, with rural industry, the families who made up the society further regulated the distribution of labour. 80
Manufacturers… because they are interdependent on each other and in competition at the same time this must lead to market fluctuations. 82
[in capitalism] there is a crisis of over production, which Marx’s said was unique to capitalism. Under the feudal system of economic crisis were usually the result of not enough being produced, leading to famine. 83
Because Marx saw the competition between rival capitalists as one of the main economic problems, he believed that the economy should be managed centrally:
- Important industry should be centralised, only useful goods and services should be produced, and overproduction should stop.
- Banks should be centralised. He Is only in this way that society can be sure there are high levels of investment in the right kind of industries.
- There should be controls on imports to help combat unemployment. 83
Marx’s view was in contrast to the views of Adam Smith who had a laissez-faire attitude to the economy… He thought he is better to leave the economy to its own devices then use any interventionist policies. Naturally, bourgeois society tended to agree with his views. 85
The gap between the rich and poor is being filled by larger and wealthier middle-class, but rich and poor still exist. 85
Imperialism: the generally understood term describes imperialism as a policy of extending authority over foreign countries by acquiring and maintaining empires. 90
Lenin: the highest stage of capitalism: once all underdeveloped countries have become colonies of more developed one there will be no new colonies available to be acquired by the major powers, unless they take them from each other. 90
Mercantile capitalism – this is the first stage of imperialism. It began in the 16th century when explorers discovered new continents and planted them. 91
Colonialism – this is the second stage of imperialism. Capitalist countries took over global governing power from the companies’ setup under mercantile capitalism. 91
East India Company… it had started as a company with a monopoly in India, by virtue of Royal Charter, but soon changed from being purely a trading company to ruling India with the help of a large private army. 92
India and other countries were turned into suppliers of cheap raw materials or British industry. 92
The revolutionary process would have two stages:
- Firstly, there would be a bourgeois revolution against imperialism.
- Secondly, there would be a revolution of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. 93
[Money fetishism] An illusion that deceives workers, making them think of money as the goal of their labours and thinking of their worth in terms of money. 95
[Commodity fetishism] A modern day example of this would be ‘designer labels’. Where goods that are produced cheaply in countries in the developing world sell at vastly inflated prices because of some false idea of their wealth. 96
And the people made the shoes and the women buying them are not aware of each other or of any social relationship between them. Marx believed that this caused alienation and society, because we are not in immediate relation to the products we buy. This then leads to a vicious cycle where people believe that they can relieve the alienation they feel by buying more consumer items. 96
- Is this an advocation for localism. Should global specialisation be ended to end specialisation.
Private property also alienates people because they believe that an object only has worth if they can possess or use it. 103
Private property, wage labour, surplus value, and market forces are structures that have been constructed by society. 103
[Marx] for that classes are made up of individuals who share a common relationship with the means of production… Those who owned the means of production were the bourgeoisie, those who owned no means of production by the proletariat. 107
[In hunter-gatherer society] there were no real classes as society was organised on the basis of common labour and mutual protection and there was no private property. [Marx’s saw this as] primitive communism. 107
Capitalism was necessary to allow the development of the factory system and mass production. People had to be legally free to move to whether work was, instead of being tied to the land. 109
According to Marx, no social system has appeared accidentally, but when it was historically necessary. 109
Marx Believe that the basic key to understanding the history of human society was exploitation… Classes were defined by how people stood in relation to the means of production. Those who produced food, clothing, shelter and so on have always been exploited. The surplus product they made were always controlled by class of non-producers, except in very primitive societies. 109
To Marx the history of the world was the history of class warfare. 110
He believed the course of history was economically determined and capitalism could only end in revolution. 110
Marx did acknowledge that other classes existed, they were becoming increasingly a part of the treatment classes.
- Petty bourgeois: the successful ones would rise to the ranks of the bourgeoisie, and the rest would be pushed down into the proletariat.
- Domestic servant
- Managerial workers
- Lumpenproletariat: the large mass of unemployables who do not really fit into society at all. Thieves, vagabonds etc. 112
[Marx understood] ‘political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another’. 112
Because the way that people actually think is influenced by the society around them and society that went before, people find it difficult to develop entirely new ideas. They can only think in the way that the language and the concepts handed down to them allow. 115
Many modern-day Marxists are very disparaging about trade unions, believing that they are part of the system, only negotiating for higher wages and not an instrument of change. [Marx] hoped that if they become educated they would concentrate on changing the system, by demanding the abolition of the wage system, and not just improving it. 119
International Working Men’s Association… The First International, as it became known, was the first attempt to bring international workers together to fight a common cause. 120
[Marx] at the conference of the Internationally addressed and these words to the government, ‘we will proceed against you by peaceful means where it is possible and with arms when it is necessary’. 124
Change will only come about when workers takeover factories, mines and banks by force: ‘material force must be overthrown by material force’. 125
Marx believed the state exists to protect the ruling class and suppress those that produce wealth for them. 125
In a capitalist society laws are passed which control the power of trade unions and the media is controlled by the rich, who can use it to attack anyone who upsets the status quo. 126
Socialism in the Marxist sense is just a descriptive word for the intermediate stage between capitalism and communism. 130
Engels said that ‘the proletariat seizes political power and turns of the means of production in the first instance into state property. But in doing this it abolishes itself as the proletariat’. 133
Marx and Engels believed that the revolution will be an international one. This would mean that the army would have purely internal peacekeeping functions and money would not need to be spent on defence. 134
Everyone who could work would have to work, but the surplus product would be set aside and divided between those who could not support themselves; those who ‘on account of age are not yet, on no longer able to take part in production’. He did not believe that anyone else should be supported by the state though, for he also wrote that, ‘all labour to support those who do not work with cease’. 135
Marx said, ‘religion is the opium of the people’. 137
In more developed societies, people become free from their dependence on nature by use of technology but they feel alienating from the society because they have little control over their daily lives. People then use religion as a means of expressing their frustration. 137
Adequate child care facilities would mean that women would no longer have to be financially dependent on their husband. 141
Marx believed that bringing all women into the workplace was the first step in and giving them equality. 141
At the time Marx was writing workers groups were fighting for the essential rights of freedom:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of assembly
- Freedom of the press
- Equality under the law
- Equal rights to vote. 144
[Marx believed] as longest economic base of society was still capitalist then people were not free, even if they had the right by law. For example, although in the eyes of the law everybody is equal, those who are better off can afford better representation in court; there may be freedom of the press but only the very rich can afford to own a major newspaper. It is when capitalism is overthrown by revolution that true freedom will occur. 144
Marks because upset by the many misinterpretation of his ideas that it is reported that he is, ‘All I know is that I am not a Marxist’. 147
Evolutionary communism – Communism will come about through the natural progress of society and the disintegration of the capitalist system, due to its internal flaws. 149
Revolutionary communism – Communism will come about only through the overthrow of the bourgeoisie by violent means, including terrorism. 149
Eleanor Marx… [Karl Marx daughter] her work in disseminating her father ideas was cut short as she committed suicide in 1898. 150
Fascism: an authoritarian and nationalist form of government, usually a one-party state, class conflict is seen as undesirable. 152
Although Lenin was a charismatic leader, it was not just his interpretation of Marx that lead to revolution. It was a war Marx’s could not have foreseen that became the catalyst for revolution and led to the first communist state. 153
Khrushchev wish to go back and ideals of Marx and Lenin and his heightened difference with the regime in Communist China leading to a split between the two countries. 157
When Japanese forces invaded China, in the Sino Japanese War of 1937, many people joined with the Communist in order to flee from the Japanese. 157
One of Mao’s most famous saying thing is that ‘political power come from the barrel of a gun’. 157
Stalin’s policies in the Soviet Union were expansionist and that as Marxist doctrine insisted on worldwide proletarian revolution, then a conflict between capitalism and communism was inevitable. 160
Many Marxists would be to say that the regime in the Soviet Union had very little to do with Marx except for the use of his name. They would describe it as a form of State capitalism, where bureaucrats acted as a form of bourgeoisie. 163
According to Gramsci, a consensus culture had developed, where the values of the bourgeois had become the values of the majority of people in society… it appears to be a natural and common-sense view of the world, but it is really the view of the dominant class. 169
In Gramsci’s view, the culture of a society is not a morally neutral system, but it is an expression of ideology, which is used to promote the views of the ruling class. 170
Jacques Derrida… all interpretations and narratives have equal validity. 176
Laclau and Mouffe saw that a working-class person is never just ‘working-class’ person. There may be a single-parent, from an ethnic minority, a woman and working class all at the same time… Class is not a unifying structure at all. Everybody has a subject in view of society that depends on their experience; class identity is only a small part of this, so a class-based revolution is bound to fail. 179
[Cash for honours scandal] It was alleged certain businessmen had given huge loans to the ruling Labour Party in return for been nominated as life appears by the Prime Minister. 183
Depression is one of the top three reasons for absence from work in the UK – could this be a sign of alienation? 184
According to surveys carried out by NOP in 2006 just 36% of British people now feel ‘very happy’; in 1957 the figure was 52%. People are less happy than they were 50 years ago, I despite an increase in material possessions. 184
At present in the UK, we are buying in many manufactured goods from China and Laos. This means that the proletariat exist outside our culture and society and become almost invisible. 185