Book Review: Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Capitalist Production

Karl Marx (1818-83) was a German philosopher whose work had contributed to various fields such as economics, politics, sociology and history. Affected by the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution, his main focus was on ‘Class Conflict,’ especially between bourgeois and proletarians in capitalistic societies. The main aim of his work was to denote how capitalism is a precursor to socialism. He popularized the idea of communism and socialism

Capital: A Critique of Political Economy

To critique capitalism, he also worked extensively on its mechanisms and methods. In this book, as specified in the subtitle ‘The process of capitalist production,’ he follows a general theme which is ‘the process of converting money into capital’ and provide us with his popular ideas such as Fetishism of Commodities, Absolute and Relative Surplus value and Accumulation of Capital. The book revolves around the process of manufacturing of goods and distribution of money and how value is generated in this process through exploitation of labour. He has done revolutionary work in creating an understanding of class struggle through contradictory relationships between capitalists and workers.

According to Alex Callinicos, author of The revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx, Marx was interested in understanding capitalism through critique of capitalist economy, where he not only criticized political economists such as David Ricardo and Adam Smith but also expanded their work. Here, it is important to keep in mind that criticism is about establishing the limits of a system of thought rather than refuting it completely. 

Marx inherited the idea of productive forces and expanded it. While political economists (due to their commitment to capitalist economy) could not reveal exploitative nature of capitalism and were of the view that History is expansion of productive power which is productive labour, sophisticated knowledge and technology. Marx commented that ‘productive power is also who controls the process of production and who benefits from it,’ and according to him, ‘relations of production are the economic power which govern any economic system.’ Taking this statement as a base, his work in this book can be understood as to illustrate the power relationship in the process of production. 

The relations of production is the base of his theories to highlight the antagonistic nature of classes and how the conflicts of interests give rise to various economical, political and social frameworks. Within these frameworks, an individual of a certain class behaves according to their respective class interests and the powerful dominates the system. 

There is no duality in the thought that the work of Marx is an important tool to understand not only the oppression in capitalist society but also the mechanism of capitalism. His theory provides an answer to the important questions, “How did Capitalism establish ?”  and most importantly, “How is Capitalism functioning?”

Marx views society and stratification from the perspective of conflict and antagonism. He provides a unique understanding of the evolution of history and contribution of class struggle in development of technology.  He expands the same idea in the concepts and theories included in this book and demonstrates the subordinated role of the working class in capitalist mode of production. The exploitation of labour power of workers by capitalists is the crux of his main argument.

Through his concept of fetishism of commodities, he demonstrated the change in subject-object relationship and how object dominates due to market forces and the value it generates not only in terms of money or capital but the use of commodities to establish or enhance economical and social status. 

He emphasized on the development of capitalistic markets where the object is the master of subject. 

Through this, Marx led the reader to the concept of alienation, where workers are alienated from the product they themselves produced because the owner is someone else and they have to work according to a pre designed production process. 

Through the theories of alienation and surplus value, the reader finds their way of understanding the exploitative base of the production system. While capitalists provide a fixed wage to workers, the goods produced are sold at a much higher price at the market and the workers are  paid less value than they actually produce. The profit is earned  from the surplus value of the product which comes from the labour of workers for which they are not paid. 

Marx explained the complicated mechanism of capitalism through the concept of relative surplus value and he accounts the effects of competition in capitalist economies in Law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. He explained the capitalists shifting towards the production of relative surplus-value, which involves raising the rate of exploitation through a higher productivity of labor achieved through the introduction of new, more advanced means of production (Callinicos, 2020). 

Marx’s main focus, here, is to demonstrate the cruel character of capital and to educate the reader about the unfair means in which capital is produced, invested and accumulated.  Following statement of Marx reflects his thoughts about capital and capitalism:

“Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”

(Capital, Vol. I, Chapter Ten)

Marx was, indeed, the most prominent critic of capitalism and his main aim was to illustrate that capitalism is a precursor to socialism and on the same basis, he had a strong political stand  in order to unite workers. Concluding with that, it is too important to understand about Marx and his work that unlike other scholars, Marx’s goal was not only to understand society but to bring change in it as he was distressed by the poor and inferior situation of workers in factories. 

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” ( Marx & Engles, 1845) ; these words are engraved upon his grave. 


Share on:

Tamanna Nandal, a passionate master's student in Sociology with a keen interest in human experiences, completed her graduation from UoD. She is currently enrolled at Ambedkar University. When not immersed in academic pursuits, she ventures into the artistic world through poems and photography. Tamanna finds solace in the pages of fiction, fantasy, and short stories, making literature an integral part of her life.