William Morris and E. Belfort Bax

Socialism From The Root Up Chapter 15 - Scientific Socialism - Karl Marx

The foregoing chapters on modern Socialists may be regarded as leading up to the full development of the complete Socialist theory, or as it is sometimes called, 'scientific' Socialism. The great exponent of this theory, and the author of the most thorough criticism of the capitalistic system of production, is the late Dr Karl Marx.

He was born in 1818 at Treves, his father being a baptized Jew holding an official position in that city. He studied for the law in the University of Bonn, passing his examination with high honours in 1840. In 1843 he married Jenny von Westphalen, sister of the well-known Prussian statesman of that name. Philosophy and political economy, with especial reference to the great social problems of the age, were his special studies on leaving the university. These studies led him towards Socialism, the result of which was that he felt compelled to decline the offer of an important government post. About this time he left Treves for Paris, where he became co-editor with Arnold Rug‚ of the Deutsch-Franzüsischen Jahrbücher; and he also edited the Socialist journal Vorwärts; but in less than a twelvemonth he was compelled to leave France for Brussels. In March 1848 he was driven from Belgium and fled to Cologne, where the revolutionary ferment was at its height. He at once undertook the editorship of the Rheinische Zeitung, the leading revolutionary journal, which was suppressed on the collapse of the revolutionary movement in 1849.

We should mention that in 1847, in conjunction with his life-long friend, Frederic Engels, he put forward the celebrated 'Communist Manifesto', which subsequently served as the basis of the International Association.

After 1849 he went to Paris again, where he remained but a short time, and then left France for London, remaining there with brief intermissions till his death, which took place in the spring of 1883.

The principal part he took in political action during his sojourn in England was the organization of the International Association.

The most important among his works besides 'Das Kapital' are 'Die Heilige Familie', written in conjunction with Frederic Engels; the 'Misere de Ia Philosophie', the answer to Proudhon mentioned in our last article; '18 Brumaire', an anti-Napoleonic pamphlet; and 'Zur Kritik der Politischer Economic', which laid the foundation for his great work 'Das Kapital'.

The importance of this latter work makes it necessary for us to indicate the contents of the principal chapters, so as to form a brief sketch of the Socialist economy(1).

Part I deals with Commodities and Money. The first chapter defines a commodity. A commodity according to Marx is briefly expressed as a socially useful product of labour which stands in relation to other similar useful products of labour. The value of such a commodity is primarily the amount of necessary social labour contained in it: that is to say, the average amount of labour carried through a certain portion of time necessary to its production in a given state of society. The young student must take special note that when Marx uses the word value by itself it is always used in this sense; ie., to put it in a shorter form, as embodied average human labour. The term Use-value explains itself. Exchange-value means the relation of one commodity to another or to all others. The ultimate issue of the various expressions of Value is the money form: but in the words of Marx, the step to the money-form 'consists in this alone, that the character of direct and universal exchangeability -- in other words, that the universal equivalent form -- has now by social custom become identified with the substance gold'.

The second chapter deals with Exchange. Exchange, says Marx, presupposes guardians or owners of commodities, since these cannot go to market of themselves. A commodity possesses for the owner no use-value where he seeks to exchange it: if it did, he would not seek to exchange it. 'All commodities', says Marx, 'are non-use values for their owners and use values for their non-owners. Consequently they must all change hands. But this change of hands is what constitutes their exchange, and the latter puts them in relation with each other as values, and realizes them as values. Hence commodities must be realized as values before they can be realized as use-values.'

Commodities, then, find their universal value represented by one commodity from among them, which has in itself no use-value unless it be that of representing or of symbolizing the abstract quality of value.

Chapter III deals with the circulation of commodities under the money form. Here Marx very justly observes: 'It is because all commodities as values are realized human labour, and therefore commensurable, that their values can be measured by one and the same special commodity, and the latter be converted into the common measure of their value -- ie., into money. Money as a measure of value is the phenomenal form that must of necessity be assumed by that measure of value which is immanent in commodities, labour time.'

This long and important chapter proceeds to discuss the theory of circulating money or of currency at considerable length and in great detail. The subject is one of such importance and with respect to which so many fallacies are afloat, that we propose to devote our next article to an exposition of its leading features.

1.We must remind the reader that we do not profess to offer more than some hints to the student of Marx. Anything approaching to an abstract of 'Das Kapital' would take up space far beyond the limits of the present little workback.

Commonweal, Volume 3, Number 59, 26 February 1887, PP. 66 - 67