Inthis essay I will be critically analysing famed philosopher economist, politicaltheorist and revolutionary socialist Karl Marx and his main theoreticaltradition, his critique of political economy.
Firstly I will be introducingKarl Marx providing background to him and his tradition of the critique ofpolitical economy, than I will contextualise the research of Karl Marx andanalyse his ideas and how they contribute to a grand narrative. Finally, I willdraw a conclusion by summarising the significance of this tradition. Sonof a successful Jewish lawyer, Karl Heinrich Marx was born on the 5thof May 1818 in the city of Trier located in western German. As a young man KarlMarx studied law in Bonn and in Germany’s capital Berlin, he graduated with adegree in philosophy from the University of Jena. In the year 1843 Karl Marxmoved to Paris which at the time was a breeding ground for extreme and radicalpolitical view and theories, in Paris Marx became a revolutionary communist andmet German philosopher and social scientist Friedrich Engels who became notonly his friend but his lifelong collaborator as they co-authored ‘The Communist Manifesto’ in1848. Towards the end of his life Marx moved to London and produced his mostfamous and important piece of work ‘Das Kapital’ which is still being read tothis day and remains relevant, Karl Marx passed away in 1881 in London and Isstill one of the most famous critical minds in history even being called “the first great user of critical method in socialsciences” (Calhoun 2002 pg.120.
123).WhenMarx published his first serious economic work ‘Capital: A Critique ofPolitical Economy’ he expanded on the labour theory of value which wasadvocated by British political economist, his work was very enthusiasticallyreceived as the first edition sold out in quick fashion (Fedoseyev 1973 pg.318). From thesuccess of his first edition, this encouraged Karl Marx to complete ‘DasKapital’ and his Theory of Surplus Value where he discussed and criticisedother theorist of political economy, mostly Adam Smith and David Ricardo.
Marx’s book ‘Theories of Surplus Value’ is arguably thought of and referred toas one of the first clear examples of the history of economic thought (Rockmore2002 pg.128).KarlMarx like any other political theorist or author has an agenda which influencestheir main ideas and ultimately changes their work, Karl Marx’s main ideas wererelative to the social and economic issues of his time which includes the ideathat class struggle is the engine of history, he states this by stating ‘Thehistory of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ (Marx,Engels 2009). Marx’s quite cynical idea that class struggle is what driveshistory may be a product of his environment as although he was born into acomfortable middle class family he was still born in a time period which wasEurope in the 19th century which had extremely unideal working andliving standards for most people, he even saw the Spring of Nations in 1848which until today remains the most widespread revolution in the history ofEurope. These factors must have given him a very negative outlook on the humancondition, it could be argued that this cynical outlook on society and lifeduring this period is a trend seen throughout his life’s work as the livingconditions of the times he was living in was nowhere near the high levels it istoday.Inaddition to the concept of class struggle, Marx also had other main ideas sucha his view of history which is commonly known as historical materialism, Marxwanted to rewrite the idea of history to form around a materialist ideology, unlikeHegel (a famous German Philosopher) who thought the human spirit was thedriving force behind history, Marx however believed that material possession isthe driving force of history and that the material world hides us from reality,Marx also believed that the struggle to make end meet is what determines eachof our reality. This is another example of a cynical view Marx presents whichseems to fall into the grand narrative of negativity and cynicism, even thetype of language he uses in most of his work is in a gothic style, an exampleof this is in his book ‘Das Kapital’ where he states how capital is the ‘necromancy thatsurrounds the products of labour” (Marx 1867).Marx had very strongpersonal feelings and concepts about labour, Marx felt that social change wasonly obtained through opposing ideas which were being propelled throughbackground economic forces and that the accumulation of capital is what reallyshapes the social system (Clark 1998 pg.
57-59), these ideas were the main bodyfor Karl Marx’s Conflict Theory. Marx distinguished between differenthistorical eras in terms of means of production for example technology ornatural resources, Marx thought that the major source of conflict was due tothe mismatch of economic structure and social structure which goes to show howhe viewed the economy as an omnipresent power ruling and dictating societyrather than viewing it a social construct he saw the economy as something whichno individual or state can go up against (Clark 1998) once against showing whatI believe to be his deep mistrust of the system and a cynical view of humannature. Marx believed the idea ofCapitalism was seriously flawed despite it being an improvement from the feudalsystem, his view was quite double sided. On the one hand he Marx saw the mainaspects of capitalism to be alienation and depression leading to massunemployment. Marx saw the capitalist class as revolutionary as it wasconstantly seeking improvement which is accurate as when you look at capitaliststates one hundred years ago in comparison to today there is clear progress. Marx had a unique belieffor the time, he believed that capitalist take advantage of the labour marketand capitalist treat the labour market as if it were any other market notrecognising its uniqueness and value and taking advantage of it. Karl Marx sawthat input costs are lower than output costs, Marx coined the phrase betweenthe two surplus value and argued that its value was purely in surplus labourwhich was the difference of what it costs to maintain a worker living theabsolutely minimum value to stay alive and what they can produce. This view ofcapitalists follows the grand narrative of mistrust and cynicism which is seenthrough the work of Marx but shouldn’t be taken lightly as in Marx’s time thiswas what was happening as capitalist were taking advantage of workers with onlyenough money to live.
Marx describes capitalists to be vampires suckingworker’s blood (Calhoun 2002) and thought that the true problem lays within theissue of capital especially the relations between workers and owners which somewould argue is what the economic system is all about. Marx greatly emphasisedthat capitalism was an unstable system and was prone to periodic crises (Baird,Kauffman 2008) which is evident throughout history, during the 19thcentury when Marx was present there was many economic crises mostly caused bybank runs, stock market crashes, currency crises and financial bubbles. Thisassessment of capitalism follows his grand narrative of a flawed system whichevidently is accurate as during his lifetime there as many economic crises. Marxalso believed that the main focus of capitalist would soon turn from labourersto technology, this idea could have come from the new technological innovationsof the 19th century such as usable electricity and new forms oftransportation, this idea is still relevant today’s world is becoming more apparentwith emphasis placed on technology for convince rather than labourers. Marxbelieved that in the long term the constant cycle of the capitalist systemcollapsing and growing would empower the elite class to impoverish the membersof the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Karl Marx’s ideas havehad a massive impact on the world and his political tradition remainssignificant today not only in terms of world politics but intellectual thought.
From an academics points of view, Marx is one of the most figures whocontributed to the birth of what sociology is today and is put in the samecategory and Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes in terms of importance. Marxistsociological theory today is recognised as arguably the main classicalperspectives, Marx has a long lasting legacy and massive influence in manydifferent disciplines such as philosophy, literature and the arts.To conclude, it isobvious that the grand narrative of Marx’s work is clearly different fromanyone before him and arguably after him as he presents a distrust andsuspicious view to the system which dominates the world and wasn’t a conformistin the sense of believing capitalism was a completely flawless system and he foresawthe crisis prone nature of capitalism and predicts is collapse which has nearlyhappened many times the most recent time being the 2008 financial crises. Marxprovided a comprehensive and relevant critique of political economy as well asoffering many theories such as the theory of capital accumulation and thelabour theory of value.