The epoch-making masterpiece completes 150 years
Martand Jha | September 27, 2017
This month marks the 150th anniversary of Das Kapital. On September 14th, 1867, Karl Marx wrote this seminal text where he explained the theory of capitalist system, which still provides a framework to understand the modern capitalist system. Das Kapital is essentially a description of how the capitalist system works and how, Marx claims, it will destroy itself.
This book enjoys an iconic stature among the readers, and many consider it as Marx’s magnum opus. Since the publication of ‘Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I’, the book has been translated in almost all the major languages in the world. It went on to leave a deep impact on future communist leaders like Vladimir Lenin, who was himself a Marxist.
In the book, Marx criticises the capitalist system by arguing that an economic system based on private profit is inherently unstable. He also pointed out that the motivating force of capitalism is the ‘exploitation of labour’. Many labour movements across Europe and other parts of the world were deeply influenced by Marxist ideas, which were elaborated in Das Kapital. Not only labour movements, but politics of trade unions, formation of communist parties and communist movements were often ideologically driven by the Marxist ideals.
The Russian Revolution in 1917 (exactly 100 years ago), was highly driven by the communist ideology. This led to the formation of USSR which was primarily an ideology-driven state, the ideology being Marxist-Leninist. The reason why Marx and his works left such a deep impact on the masses was that Marx scientifically argued how a section of people were getting richer at the expense of a much larger poor population. What it means in a simple language is that someone is getting richer because many are getting poorer at the same time. Marx establishes a direct correlation between the two.
Marx questioned the concentration of ownership of the means of production in a few hands which essentially led to class divide and further led to class struggles. Coming back to Das Kapital, the book explains concepts like ‘Commodity’, ‘Exchange’, ‘Division of Labour’, ‘Wages’, Process of Accumulation of Capital etc at great length.
British historian Gareth Stedman Jones, in his essay titled “In Retrospect: Das Kapital” for the science journal Nature, wrote that “the book's impact on economics, politics and current affairs has been formidable, and aspects of Marx's thinking have permeated areas of scientific research as disparate as robotics and evolutionary theory. Industrial revolutions, as Marx realized, relegate workers to the status of machine minders, and open the way to production that does not depend on human labour”.
Marx and his ideology provided a ray of hope to the labour class who were treated worse than animals in many countries. In the nineteenth century Europe, when Marx wrote Das Kapital, the conditions for the working class were abysmal. They had no fixed working hours; conditions in factories were extremely hazardous, employers could set the wages as low as they wanted for the workers, living conditions were extremely poor etc.
The impact of Marx’s writing can be assessed by the fact that even the extremely capitalist countries in Europe later started providing a good working atmosphere, fixed wages, fixed working hours etc to their workers. Though Marx had argued that states in future would start providing better conditions to the working classes in order to dissuade them away from socialist ideals and bring a genuine structural change in the society.
This is exactly what we see today. Most of the capitalist countries including India have a concept of welfare state where the working class is provided with basic necessities so that masses could feel that they no longer require Marxist ideals or Marxist politics for the fulfillment of their basic necessities. This is very much evident today as communist parties are losing their grounds politically in most of the states in India as they are not able to explain their political relevance to the public.
Marx’s writings impressed people across the spectrum which included scholars, academicians, politicians, writers, novelists, journalists and people in cinema. For example, Charlie Chaplin’s movie, ‘Modern Times’ (1936), was an outright critique of the capitalist system during the industrial revolution in Europe.
Das Kapital, though written over one and a half century ago, is a timeless text, a classic in its own right. During the financial crisis in 2008, suddenly the demand for Das Kapital had risen rapidly and a lot of copies of this book were sold across the world. This shows that even today whenever the economy is in crisis, people refer to this great text.
An underground rapper who grew up on Mumbai streets, Divine spins his music around his environment and poverty. His breakout single, ‘Meri Gully Mein’, along with fellow rapper Naezy caught Bollywood’s attention. The Hindi film ‘Gully Boy’ is inspired by their lives and gr
Anil Swarup, an IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre who retired in 2018, is a model bureaucrat who retained his optimism right till the end of service and exemplified dedication and commitment. His excitement at the opportunities that a job in the IAS provided is evident on every page of his new book publis
The question of reform of the civil services has been debated extensively at all levels at least over the last five to six decades after independence. Indeed, it was soon perceived that the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) may not be well equipped to deal with the problems of an emerging developing coun
Shouting vengeance at all and sundry while wriggling out of holes of our own making seems to be our very special national characteristic. Some recent instances are illustrative of this attribute. A number of business tycoons with thousands of crores of unresolved debts have fled abroad with the government
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) came into existence, based on a Resolution of the home ministry, dated April 1, 1963 – a sheer coincidence that it also happens to be April Fool’s day. Over the past few months, we have seen the CBI live up to its founding day with great zeal, being i
Gujarat was passing through a turbulent phase in the 1980s. The decade began middle class agitations against new reservation policies, and the caste friction turned communal under the watch of chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, alienating majority of urban population on both counts. The ground was ripe for