4.3) Part VII: The Accumulation of Capital: 4.3.1. The Bourgeoisie Is the Ruling Class: This is where the book starts to sing (to me, at least).
The first important thing I get out of Part VII is that, to quote from the Communist Manifesto, “the executive of the modern state is a committee for managing the affairs of the _business class”. Wealth speaks loudly, and influences the government to arrange things for the convenience of wealth—to keep wages low, and workers available.
Marx quotes a protest from The Times of London against the demands that capital made upon Britain in 1863. The editors of The Times wrote, bringing the snark:
Mr. Edmund Potter is so impressed with the exceptional and supreme importance of the cotton masters that, in order to preserve this class and perpetuate their profession, he would keep half a million of the labouring class confined in a great moral workhouse… ‘Is it worth while keeping the machinery in order?’ again asks Mr. Potter…. We must confess that we do not think it ‘worth while,’ or even possible, to keep the human machinery in order-that is to shut it up and keep it oiled till it is wanted. Human machinery will rust under inaction, oil and rub it as you may. Moreover, the human machinery will, as we have just seen, get the steam up of its own accord, and burst or run amuck…. The time is come when the great public opinion of these islands must operate to save this ‘working power’ from those who would deal with it as they would deal with iron, and coal, and cotton...
Marx claims that The Times was only joking:
The Times’ article was only a jeu d’esprit. The “great public opinion” was, in fact, of Mr. Potter’s opinion, that the factory operatives are part of the movable fittings of a factory. Their emigration was prevented. They were locked up in that “moral workhouse,” the cotton districts, and they form, as before, “the strength” of the cotton manufacturers of Lancashire...
(In fact, the Times was not joking: it was representing a conservative viewpoint, and attempting to construct an alliance in which the workers and the aristocracy would tax the business class to boost the living standards of the working class and the social power of the aristocracy.)
But the message is, I think, clear and correct. It is: the bourgeoisie will use it to control all of the state to keep wages low enough the profits are high, but it is these high profits that then flow back into the stock of capital and give the business class its dominance over society. This piece of chapter 23 is, in a nutshell, the argument of the book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, with which Thomas Piketty made a splash five years ago.
4.3.2) Alienation: What We Make Masters Us: Plus this section on accumulation makes the very important Marxist point. The point is that, under capitalism, things are inverted: rather than people riding the economy to achieve their purposes, the economy—things—are in the saddle, and riding humanity. Capital is made up of things the workers produce. It is what humans make. It is their creation. It is their work. But what the workers produce then does not advance their interests, or make them happy. Instead, what the workers have produced somehow escapes from human control. It then imposes itself on people, and bosses them around.
Note that it is not that the capitalists steal the freedom for themselves.The capitalists do not have any freedom either. They have to act like capitalists: push wages down, speed up the assembly line, and reinvest their profits; and if they do not, then they fall behind, become uncompetitive, go bankrupt, and vanish as they become proletarians as well. This is Marx's theory of alienation. Marx thinks that you ought to be a human being in control of your life. The things you make are things that help and assist you. But instead, somehow, under the rule of the bourgeoisie, the things you make become alien powers outside yourself and then control and dominate.
There is a joke category called the Russian reversal: “In America, everyone watches television; in Soviet Russia. television watches you.” This is, in a nutshell, Marx's concept of alienation. Capital is not just unfair and unequal, it is also inhuman. It robs people of the freedom that they ought to have by virtue of their productivity.
Here the full files are—unfinished: https://www.icloud.com/pages/0howtV7CndvjkSCCLmtjmq_SA
And the course slides:
#books #highlighted #history #historyofeconomicthought #moralphilosophy #politicaleconomy #2019-12-04