The Marxian Knot


The legacy of Marx is a puzzle of rhetoric, historical movements and drastic political changes that have shaped the lives and deaths of millions of people. Although Marx is most often the target of criticism from economists and politicians, to understand Marx we first need to understand the philosophical basis that led to his thoughts on economy and politics. Marx has also been greatly misunderstood, by both followers and opponents, and the fault lies both with the interpreters and with Marx. The problems stem from the ideological eye wear of commenters, myself included, by him contradicting himself, the large quantity of text he produced, his unpublished works and the complexity of the terminology and the subject matter. To understand Marx’s works and the events that followed in his wake, it is necessary to describe the context thoroughly. For this reason I’m going to present this text in roughly chronological order.

We will begin in Prussia with Marx’s studies of philosophy. Next we follow him to France and to his studies of economics, here I will try to explain his magnum opus, popularly known as Das Kapital. In the last section we will investigate his legacy as a man of international revolution. Although somewhat chronologically structured, thematically this leads us first through philosophy, then economics and lastly politics, interspersed with historical recapitulations when additional context is needed. If you’re only interested in Marx’s economic theories, just read the part entitled Critique of the Political Economy. I end it with a sort of conclusions that contrasts Marx’s focus and work with my own thoughts.

Table of Contents

Prussia (1713-1818)
Hegel (1818-1831)
The Young Hegelians (1831-1844)
Marx’s Dissertation (1841)
Journalism in Prussia (1842-1843)
The French Revolution (1754-1830)
Engels and Exile (1843)
Critique of Political Economy (1843-1867)
Socialism and the First International (1864-1876)
German Nationalism (1862-1890)
Modern Economics (1890)
The Scramble for Africa (1884-1914)
The Russian Revolutions (1905-1924)
National-Socialism (1918-1945)
The Free World (1945-2016)
The Future

Prussia (1713-1818)

Karl Heinrich Marx was born in 1818 in Prussia, a country that no longer exists. Prussia was situated in what is today northern Germany and Poland and had its origins in the Teutonic Order. The Teutonic Order was a Christian military order founded in the 12th century as part of the Crusades. They were originally sent to Christianize people in Poland and the Baltics but established a state of their own, adopting the denomination Prussian from a local tribe. Friedrich Wilhelm I, of the house of Hohenzollern, was king of Prussia 1713-1740. At this time the kingdom of Prussia was not one of the major powers in the world. His son, later known as Friedrich the Great, ruled from 1740-1786. During his reign Prussia became one of the great powers of Europe and its capital, Berlin, became an academic centre of Europe. Prussia posed a new challenge to the other great German power at the time, the Austrian Empire. They were both members of the Holy Roman Empire, which included many smaller, mostly German, states. This period in time, called the Enlightenment, paved the way for radical changes like the American Revolution and the French Revolution towards the end of the 1700s, as well as the Industrial Revolution.

Friedrich’s nephew, Friedrich Wilhelm II, ruled after him 1786-1797. His son, Friedrich Wilhelm III, in turn ruled Prussia from 1797-1840. The Holy Roman Empire came to an end in 1806 and was replaced by the German Confederation created in 1815. In addition to this, Friedrich Wilhelm III oversaw a long list of reforms during his 43 years as king.

“In Prussia the Hohenzollern rulers forged a centralized state. [Prussia was] grounded in the virtues of its established military aristocracy (the Junkers), stratified by rigid hierarchical lines. After 1815, Prussia’s defeats by Napoleonic France highlighted the need for administrative, economic, and social reforms to improve the efficiency of the bureaucracy and encourage practical merit-based education. Inspired by the Napoleonic organization of German and Italian principalities, the reforms of Karl August von Hardenberg and Count Stein were conservative, enacted to preserve aristocratic privilege while modernizing institutions. Outside Prussia, industrialization progressed slowly, and was held back because of political disunity, conflicts of interest between the nobility and merchants, and the continued existence of the guild system, which discouraged competition and innovation. While this kept the middle class at bay, affording the old order a measure of stability not seen in France, Prussia’s vulnerability to Napoleon’s military proved to many among the old order that a fragile, divided, and traditionalist Germany would be easy prey for its cohesive and industrializing neighbour.

The reforms laid the foundation for Prussia’s future military might by professionalizing the military and decreeing universal military conscription. In order to industrialize Prussia, working within the framework provided by the old aristocratic institutions, land reforms were enacted to break the monopoly of the Junkers on land ownership, thereby also abolishing, among other things, the feudal practice of serfdom.” – Wikipedia

In the midst of all this, in 1818, Karl Marx was born in Trier in Prussia, near the border with France. From 1794 to 1815, Trier had belonged to France but Marx grew up under peaceful conditions, being home-schooled until the age of 12. His father then sent him off to Trier High School and then on to study law at the University of Bonn in 1835 at the age of 17. Marx’s father was himself an attorney, but died in 1838 at the age of 60. Marx, however, became more interested in philosophy than in law and would eventually write his dissertation in philosophy at the University of Berlin in 1841 at the age of 23. But before we take a look at his disseration we must first make a few notes on the state of German philosophy at this time.

Hegel (1818-1831)

Arguably the most important philosopher of the 1700s was Immanuel Kant who was born in Königsberg (the former capital of Prussia, which since 1946 is called Kaliningrad). German Idealism developed partly as a reaction to Kant and was founded by Johan Gottlieb Fichte, developed by Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and finalized by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel taught at the University of Berlin as the chair of philosophy from 1818. He also became rector of the university in 1829, dying two years later.

Kant had examined the concepts of time and space and shown that the reasoning mind had limits by contrasting objects as we perceive them with objects as they exist in reality. Hegel followed this by re-analyzing the relationship between subjects and objects and time and space and offering a description of how our perception of reality has differed and changed over different historical periods.

“In his major work The Phenomenology of Spirit [Hegel] went on to trace the formation of self-consciousness through history and the importance of other people in the awakening of self-consciousness (see master-slave dialectic). Thus Hegel introduces two important ideas to metaphysics and philosophy: the integral importance of history and of the Other person. His work is theological in that it replaces the traditional concept of God with that of an Absolute Spirit. Spinoza, who changed the anthropomorphic concept of God into that of an abstract, vague, underlying Substance, was praised by Hegel whose concept of Absolute fulfilled a similar function. Hegel claimed that ‘You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all.’ Reality results from God’s thinking, according to Hegel. Objects that appear to a spectator originate in God’s mind.” – Wikipedia

I haven’t read enough of Hegel to understand him, but he was a very important figure in Europe throughout the 19th century. His view of time underscored a sense of progress and a chance, or risk, for radical changes in society. What I think I know is that his dialectical method of analysis is based on what he perceives as the reflective (binary/relative/self-negating) nature of thought (the world of appearances). “In response to Immanuel Kant’s challenge to the limits of pure reason, Hegel develops a radically new form of logic, which he called speculative. The difficulty in reading Hegel was perceived in Hegel’s own day, and persists into the 21st century.” – Wikipedia. This is of course a poor excuse for me not understanding Hegel, but hopefully things will get clearer after we take a look at his successors. I will just attempt to set the stage with an excerpt from his Philosophy of Right, which deals with the essence of humanity, freedom, rationality and society.

“The state is the realized ethical idea or ethical spirit. It is the will which manifests itself, makes itself clear and visible, substantiates itself. It is the will which thinks and knows itself, and carries out what it knows, and in so far as it knows. The state finds in ethical custom its direct and unreflected existence, and its indirect and reflected existence in the self-consciousness of the individual and in his knowledge and activity. Self-consciousness in the form of social disposition has its substantive freedom in the state, as the essence, purpose, and product of its activity…

The state, which is the realized substantive will, having its reality in the particular self-consciousness raised to the plane of the universal [God], is absolutely rational. This substantive unity is its own motive and absolute end. In this end freedom attains its highest right. This end has the highest right over the individual, whose highest duty in turn is to be a member of the state.

Note. – Were the state to be considered as exchangeable with the civic society, and were its decisive features to be regarded as the security and protection of property and personal freedom, the interest of the individual as such would be the ultimate purpose of the social union. It would then be at one’s option to be a member of the state. – But the state has a totally different relation to the individual. It is the objective spirit, and he has his truth, real existence, and ethical status only in being a member of it. Union, as such, is itself the true content and end, since the individual is intended to pass a universal life. His particular satisfactions, activities, and way of life have in this authenticated substantive principle their origin and result…

The state is the march of God in the world; its ground or cause is the power of reason realizing itself as will. When thinking of the idea of the state, we must not have in our mind any particular state, or particular institution, but must rather contemplate the idea, this actual God, by itself. Although a state may be declared to violate right principles and to be defective in various ways, it always contains the essential moments of its existence, if, that is to say, it belongs to the full formed states of our own time. But as it is more easy to detect short-comings than to grasp the positive meaning, one easily falls into the mistake of dwelling so much upon special aspects of the state as to overlook its inner organic being. The state is not a work of art. It is in the world, in the sphere of caprice, accident, and error. Evil behaviour can doubtless disfigure it in many ways, but the ugliest man, the criminal, the invalid, the cripple, are living men. The positive thing, the life, is present in spite of defects, and it is with this affirmative that we have here to deal…

The essence of the modern state binds together the universal and the full freedom of particularity, including the welfare of individuals…

The universal must be actively furthered, but, on the other side, subjectivity must be wholly and vitally developed. Only when both elements are present in force is the state to be regarded as articulate and truly organized…

Although the parts of an organism do not constitute an identity, yet it is of such a nature that, if one of its parts makes itself independent, all must be harmed. We cannot by means of predicates, propositions, etc., reach any right estimate of the state, which should be apprehended as an organism. It is much the same with the state as with the nature of God, who cannot be through predicates conceived, whose life rather is within itself and must be perceived.”

The Young Hegelians (1831-1845)

“As a result of the decades of compulsory school attendance in German states, mass literacy meant an excess of educated males which the establishment could not subsume. Thus in the 1830s, with the advantage of inexpensive printing presses, there was a rush of educated males into the so-called ‘free professions.’” – Wikipedia

Among the students of philosophy at the University of Berlin we find Karl Marx, Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach, Johann Kaspar Schmidt, Friedrich Engels and Mikhail Bakunin. Not all directly attended Hegel’s classes (since he died in 1831) and there were many others, but these are the most relevant ones to this text. They were all influenced by Hegel but ultimately disagreed with Hegel and have therefore been grouped under the umbrellas Left Hegelians or Young Hegelians. Another way of grouping them is as the students who would meet and debate at Hippel’s, a wine bar in Berlin, calling themselves Die Freien (the Free Ones). The exact personal relationships between these people is unclear to me. Instead, I will focus on their ideas.

“The Young Hegelians drew on [Hegel’s] idea that the purpose and promise of history was the total negation of everything conducive to restricting freedom and reason; and they proceeded to mount radical critiques, first of religion and then of the Prussian political system.” – Wikipedia

“Dudley Knowles argues that the Young Hegelians secularised Hegel’s idea of Geist (spirit), removing the religious link. The resulting philosophy ultimately replaces spirit as the subject of history with that of man.” – Wikipedia

In 1841, Feuerbach published The Essence of Christianity. This book became very popular and therefore signifies the sudden decline of Christianity in Europe. Engels would later write, in 1886, in Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy:

“Then came Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity. With one blow, it pulverized the contradiction, in that without circumlocutions it placed materialism on the throne again. Nature exists independently of all philosophy. It is the foundation upon which we human beings, ourselves products of nature, have grown up. Nothing exists outside nature and man, and the higher beings our religious fantasies have created are only the fantastic reflection of our own essence. The spell was broken; the ‘system’ was exploded and cast aside, and the contradiction, shown to exist only in our imagination, was dissolved. One must himself have experienced the liberating effect of this book to get an idea of it. Enthusiasm was general; we all became at once Feuerbachians.”

In 1844, Johann Kaspar Schmidt published The One and Its Ownership (my translation of Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum). In it, he criticizes the humanism of Feuerbach, together with several other ideologies. At the core, he criticizes any ideal as superficial, or as something outside of us, something we can’t reach. The true self is unique and mustn’t be deprived of any of its uniqueness by grouping it with others through ideals such as Christian, German or human. Schmidt argues that the self, an essentially unique self, exists prior to anything else. It exists prior to the thoughts of that self, prior to the ideals of that self’s mind, prior to its relation to the world. He contrasts this aboriginal self with the experience that belongs to, is held by, is consumed by the self as this experience is a combination of the original self and the sensations which it grabs from the universe by means of its senses. In other words, in order for my sensations to become my thoughts, I have to exist first, not just my senses. He argues this specifically in response to Feuerbach.

“It is well that Feuerbach brings sensuousness to honor, but the only thing he is able to do with it is to clothe the materialism of his ‘new philosophy’ with what had hitherto been the property of idealism, the ‘absolute philosophy’. As little as people let it be talked into them that one can live on the ‘spiritual’ alone without bread, so little will they believe this word that as a sensuous being one is already everything, and so spiritual, full of thoughts, etc.
Nothing at all is justified by being. What is thought of is as well as what is not thought of; the stone in the street is, and my notion of it is too. Both are only in different spaces, the latter in my head, in me; for I am space like the street.”

“Feuerbach, in the Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, is always harping upon being. In this he too, with all his antagonism to Hegel and the absolute philosophy, is stuck fast in abstraction; for ‘being’ is abstraction, as is even ‘the I’. Only I am not abstraction alone: I am all in all, consequently even abstraction or nothing; I am all and nothing; I am not a mere thought, but at the same time I am full of thoughts, a thought-world… Feuerbach wants to smite Hegel’s ‘absolute thinking’ with unconquered being. But in me being is as much conquered as thinking is. It is my being, as the other is my thinking.
With this, of course, Feuerbach does not get further than to the proof, trivial in itself, that I require the senses for everything… Certainly I cannot think if I do not exist sensuously. But for thinking as well as for feeling, and so for the abstract as well as for the sensuous, I need above all things myself, this quite particular myself, this unique myself.”

The debate between Feuerbach and Schmidt concerns the self and its relation to the world and its relation to others, whether this other-relation falls under the name of humanity, Christianity, society, the commune, the race, the class or something else. It further concerns sensuous activity and material activity. By extension this is about consciousness and labour and the question “What is property?” which happens to be the title of another influential book, published in 1840. This is however not exactly the way Marx chooses to approach these issues. Marx instead looks to the ancient Greek philosophers and the question of the nature of the atom, the then supposed fundamental substance of the universe. He focuses in particular on the subjects of time, change and activity in relation to the atom, in order, it seems, to better understand consciousness.

Marx’s Dissertation (1841)

The materialist problem leads us thematically to Marx’s Ph.D. written in 1841 entitled The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. I’m unable to offer a good analysis of it, but at the very least it demonstrates the point of departure for Marx’s thoughts. There’s quite a lot of technical terms in this, so read it at your own peril. Part II: On the Difference between Democritean and Epicurean Physics In Detail:

“For Democritus the atom means only stoicheion a material substrate. The distinction between the atom as arche and stoicheion as principle and foundation belongs to Epicurus. Its importance will be clear from what follows.

The contradiction between existence and essence, between matter and form, which is inherent in the concept of the atom, emerges in the individual atom itself once it is endowed with qualities. Through the quality the atom is alienated from its concept, but at the same time is perfected in its construction. It is from repulsion and the ensuing conglomerations of the qualified atoms that the world of appearance now emerges.

In this transition from the world of essence to the world of appearance, the contradiction in the concept of the atom clearly reaches its harshest realisation. For the atom is conceptually the absolute, essential form of nature. This absolute form has now been degraded to absolute matter, to the formless substrate of the world of appearance.

The atoms are, it is true, the substance of nature,(21) out of which everything emerges, into which everything dissolves(22); but the continuous annihilation of the world of appearance comes to no result. New appearances are formed; but the atom itself always remains at the bottom as the foundations(23) Thus insofar as the atom is considered as pure concept, its existence is empty space, annihilated nature. Insofar as it proceeds to reality, it sinks down to the material basis which, as the bearer of a world of manifold relations, never exists but in forms which are indifferent and external to it. This is a necessary consequence, since the atom, presupposed as abstractly individual and complete, cannot actualise itself as the idealising and pervading power of this manifold.

Abstract individuality is freedom from being, not freedom in being. It cannot shine in the light of being. This is an element in which this individuality loses its character and becomes material. For this reason the atom does not enter into the daylight of appearances(24) or it sinks down to the material basis when it does enter it. The atom as such only exists in the void. The death of nature has thus become its immortal substance; and Lucretius correctly exclaims:

‘When death immortal claims his mortal life’ (De verum nature III, 869).

But the fact that Epicurus grasps the contradiction at this its highest peak and objectives it, and therefore distinguishes the atom where it becomes the basis of appearance as stoicheion from the atom as it exists in the void as arche – this constitutes his philosophical difference from Democritus, who only objectives the one moment. This is the same distinction which in the world of essence, in the realm of the atoms and of the void, separates Epicurus from Democritus. However, since only the atom with qualities is the complete one, since the world of appearance can only emerge from the atom which is complete and alienated from its concept, Epicurus expresses this by stating that only the qualified atom becomes stoicheion or only the atomon stoicheion is endowed with qualities.” – Chapter 3: Atomoi archai and atoma stoicheia

“Since in the atom matter, as pure relationship to itself, is exempted from all relativity and changeability, it follows immediately that time has to be excluded from the concept of the atom, the world of essence. For matter is eternal and independent only insofar as in it abstraction is made of the time moment. On this Democritus and Epicurus agree. But they differ in regard to the manner in which time, removed from the world of atoms, is now determined, whither it is transferred.

For Democritus time has neither significance nor necessity for the system. He explains time in order to negate it {aufzuheben}. It is determined as eternal, in order that – as Aristotle(1) and Simplicius(2) state – the emergence and passing away, hence the temporal, is removed from the atoms. Time itself offers proof that not everything need have an origin, a moment of beginning.

There is something more profound to be recognised in this notion. The imagining intellect that does not grasp the independence of substance inquires into its becoming in time. It fails to grasp that by making substance temporal it also makes time substantial and thus negates its concept, because time made absolute is no longer temporal.

But this solution is unsatisfactory from another point of view. Time excluded from the world of essence is transferred into the self-consciousness of the philosophising subject but does not make any contact with the world itself.

Quite otherwise with Epicurus.  Time, excluded from the world of essence, becomes for him the absolute form of appearance. That is to say, time is determined as accidens of the accidens. The accidens is the change of substance in general. The accidens of the accidens is the change as reflecting in itself, the change as change. This pure form of the world of appearance is time.(3)

Composition is the merely passive form of concrete nature, time its active form. If I consider composition in terms of its being, then the atom exists beyond it, in the void, in the imagination. If I consider the atom in terms of its concept, then composition either does not exist at all or exists only in the subjective imagination. For composition is a relationship in which the atoms, independent, self-enclosed, as it were uninterested in one another, have likewise no relationship to one another. Time, in contrast, the change of the finite to the extent that change is posited as change, is just as much the real form which separates appearance from essence, and posits it as appearance, while leading it back into essence. Composition expresses merely the materiality of the atoms as well as of nature emerging from them. Time, in contrast, is in the world of appearance what the concept of the atom is in the world of essence, namely, the abstraction, destruction and reduction of all determined being into being-for-itself.

The following consequences can be drawn from these observations.  First, Epicurus makes the contradiction between matter and form the characteristic of the nature of appearance, which thus becomes the counter-image of the nature of essence, the atom. This is done by time being opposed to space, the active form of appearance to the passive form.  Second, Epicurus was the first to grasp appearance as appearance, that is, as alienation of the essence, activating itself in its reality as such an alienation. On the other hand, for Democritus, who considers composition as the only form of the nature of appearance, appearance does not by itself show that it is appearance, something different from essence. Thus when appearance is considered in terms of its existence, essence becomes totally blended {konfundiert} with it; when considered in terms of its concept, essence is totally separated from existence, so that it descends to the level of subjective semblance. The composition behaves indifferently and materially towards its essential foundations. Time, on the other hand, is the fire of essence, eternally consuming appearance, and stamping it with dependence and non-essence.  Finally, since according to Epicurus time is change as change, the reflection of appearance in itself, the nature of appearance is justly posited as objective, sensation is justly made the real criterion of concrete nature, although the atom, its foundation, is only perceived through reason.

Indeed, time being the abstract form of sensation, according to the atomism of Epicurean consciousness the necessity arises for it to be fixed as a nature having a separate existence within nature. The changeability of the sensuous world, its change as change, this reflection of appearance in itself which constitutes the concept of time, has its separate existence in conscious sensuousness.  Human sensuousness is therefore embodied time, the existing reflection of thesensuous world in itself.

Just as this follows immediately from the definition of the concept of time in Epicurus, so it can also be quite definitely demonstrated in detail. In the letter from Epicurus to Herodotus (4) time is so defined that it emerges when the accidentals of bodies, perceived by the senses, are thought of as accidentals. Sensuous perception reflected in itself is thus here the source of time and time itself. Hence time cannot be defined by analogy nor can anything else be said about it, but it is necessary to keep firmly to the Enargie itself; for sensuous perception reflected in itself is time itself, and there is no going beyond it.

On the other hand, in LucretiusSextus Empiricus and Stobaeus(5) the accidens of the accidens, change reflected in itself, is defined as time. The reflection of the accidentals in sensuous perception and their reflection in themselves are hence posited as one and the same.

Because of this interconnection between time and sensuousness, the eidola [images], equally found in Democritus, also acquire a more consistent status.

The eidola are the forms of natural bodies which, as surfaces, as it were detach themselves like skins and transfer these bodies into appearance. (6) These forms of the things stream constantly forth from them and penetrate into the senses and in precisely this-way allow the objects to appear. Thus in hearing nature hears itself, in smelling it smells itself, in seeing it sees itself. (7) Human sensuousness is therefore the medium in which natural processes are reflected as in a focus and ignited into the light of appearance.

In Democritus this is an inconsistency, since appearance is only subjective; in Epicurus it is a necessary consequence, since sensuousness is the reflection of the world of appearance in itself, its embodied time.

Finally, the interconnection between sensuousness and time is revealed in such a way that the temporal character of things and their appearance to the senses are posited as intrinsically One. For it is precisely because bodies appear to the senses that they pass away. (8) Indeed, the eidola, by constantly separating themselves from the bodies and flowing into the senses, by having their sensuous existence outside themselves as another nature, by not returning into themselves, that is, out of the diremption, dissolve and pass away.

Therefore: just as the atom is nothing hut the natural form of abstract, individual self-consciousness, so sensuous nature is only the objectified, empirical, individual self-consciousness, and this is the sensuous. Hence the senses are the only criteria in concrete nature, just as abstract reason is the only criterion in the world of the atoms.” – Chapter 4: Time

The difference between essence and form (and the role time plays in this) is central here. Both in the humanism of Feuerbach and in Marx’s later works, it becomes clear that humans have a unique essence. For Feuerbach this meant that all humans have equal value and equal rights, which is something that had already been seen in the Enlightenment and in the politics of the French Revolution, which I will return to shortly. Also, the theory of evolution had yet to be published (1859), but in it we also find this question of the form of humans, as a distinct species developed from previous forms, and the essence of the species. Marx called this species-essence (Gattungswesen). When we get to Das Kapital, it will become clear what Marx considers to be the species-essence of humans. Schmidt, who emphasized the uniqueness of the individual rather than what might be common to all humans, has been largely forgotten, with the exception of a few anarchists who know him by his pseudonym Max Stirner.

Journalism in Prussia (1842-1843)

After his dissertation, Marx moved to Cologne (a big city 135 km north of Trier) and wrote pieces for the Rheinische Zeitung in which he “criticized the failings of the Rhineland Diet, seated at Düsseldorf, charging it with implementing class-based legislation which negatively impacted the rights and prosperity of common citizens in favor of a privileged stratum of landowners. In long articles Marx was additionally critical of the Diet’s failings to advance the cause of freedom of the press, as well as its refusal to publish its own proceedings… Marx analyzed the debate of the Rhineland Diet dealing with the alleged theft of wood by the peasantry — a topic which Marx later recalled ‘provided the first occasion for occupying myself in the economic questions.’ Friedrich Engels, who first established a personal relations with Karl Marx in 1844 [although they had met before], later affirmed that it was Marx’s journalism at the Rheinische Zeitung which led him ‘from pure politics to economic relationships and so to socialism.'” – Wikipedia. We might view this as Marx becoming aware of the poor conditions of the masses and perhaps the incentive for his later work was his sympathy for them. Marx became editor of the newspaper but just six months later the Prussian censors shut it down and he moved to Paris.

"German political cartoon from the time of the 1843 closure of the Rheinische Zeitung, showing Karl Marx as Prometheus, bound to a printing press while the imperial eagle of Prussian censorship rips out his liver.” Quote and picture both from Wikipedia. Prometheus, in Greek mythology, stole fire from the gods to give to humanity so they too could wield the power of the gods. The gods' punishment was torture in the form of an eagle eating his liver for eternity.

“German political cartoon from the time of the 1843 closure of the Rheinische Zeitung, showing Karl Marx as Prometheus, bound to a printing press while the imperial eagle of Prussian censorship rips out his liver.” Quote and picture both from Wikipedia. Prometheus, in Greek mythology, stole fire from the gods to give to humanity so they too could wield the power of the gods. The gods’ punishment was torture in the form of an eagle eating his liver for eternity.

After his newspaper was shut down, Marx moved to Paris. He would continue to write in various formats and in various outlets for the rest of his life, but before we follow Marx on his departure from Prussia, we need to take a step back and behold the wider picture of the international events leading up to this moment in history.

The French Revolution (1754-1830)

In order to understand Marx’s context, it’s necessary to look in detail at the momentous event known as the French Revolution, as well as establish who the world powers were at this time, which requires a deep plunge into the imperial annals. The Roman Empire dominated European affairs 2000 years ago. In the year 380, Christianity became the official religion of the empire. In 410, Rome was invaded by Germanic tribes. The western half of the Roman Empire more or less survived until 1806 in the form of a Germanic, Christian, multinational organization. In 1453, the capital of the eastern half, Constantinople, was conquered by the Muslim Ottoman Empire. They changed the name of the city to Istanbul and made it their new capital. Until the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire remained a world power.

In the 1750s, in the middle of the Age of Enlightenment, the first global war, called the Seven Years’ War, broke out. The war was partly caused by the conflict of colonial interests between the British Empire and the French Empire. Britain won against France, resulting in France losing some colonial might for the time being and the British cementing their global domination. Prussia allied with Britain, Austria allied with France and Prussia gained power at the expense of Austria during the war.

By 1721, the Russian Empire had decisively defeated the Swedish Empire, taking over its role as one of the major European powers. In the Seven Years’ War, Sweden tried to defend its last overseas possessions against Prussia, but lost, and lost again several times against Russia until even Finland was ceded to Russia. The Russian Empire would continue to expand eastwards until it reached the American continent.

Between 1772 and 1795 the weakened Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was divided up by its neighbours Prussia, Russia and Austria and thereby ceased to exist. Meanwhile, the Ottomans, who had not participated in the Seven Years’ War, fought their neighbours Austria and Russia, resulting in few territorial changes except for the Russian annexation of Crimea. The growth of Russia before the continuously weakening Ottoman Empire was one of the main foreign policy concerns of Britain.

Meanwhile, the United States of America, with the aid of Spain and France, revolted against the British Empire. The result was independence in 1783 for the United States, territorial gains for Spain, an expensive military bill for France and the loss of territory, but gain of a new, powerful trading partner, for the Brits. George Washington was elected the first president of the new republic. At this time, the United States consisted of only a few colonies on the Atlantic coast of what is today the United States, but it soon conquered much more territory. In 1861, a number of states revolted against the newly-elected president Abraham Lincoln, but were subdued after four years of civil war, and we all know that the United States ended up as the most powerful country in the world today.

The economic problems in France, partly caused by the involvement in the wars in America, forced the king, Louis XVI of the House of Bourbon, to convene the Estates-General in the spring of 1789. The Estates-General consisted of elected representatives of three groups; the clergy, the nobility and the rest. This was not exactly like a parliament as they could only advise the king, not legislate on their own. The representatives of the third estate, the rest, comprising the vast majority of the population, demanded a greater slice of power. Louis XVI wanted them to deal with the economic issues, but they instead wanted to reform the system of representation. The king tried to handle it, but as a result of bad decisions and bad press, he soon faced a mob of armed insurgents in Paris who supported the third estate representatives who had announced the creation of a National Assembly. The assembly was intended to have legislative power and consist of representatives elected not by separate estates but by the people in general. By August, the assembly had produced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which is similar to the constitution of the United States as well as the United Nations Charter drafted in 1945.

In October of 1789, neighbouring insurgents declared a Belgian United States independent from the Austrian Empire. This lasted until they were defeated by Austrian-led forces about a year later. In late 1790, counter-revolutionary uprisings in France were suppressed by the new authorities. The National Assembly faced all kinds of turmoil while creating new legislation and working on a constitution. Meanwhile, Olympe de Gouges published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen. In August of 1791, partly inspired by the revolution, and partly made easier by the disorder, an uprising began in Haiti, then a French colony. This uprising eventually spread to other colonies in the Caribbean and contributed to the abolition of slavery world-wide.

In the same month, the rulers of Austria and Prussia, feeling that their crowns were also in jeopardy, declared their intent to go to war with France, but only if the other European powers also did so. The constitution was finished in September 1791 and in the spring of 1792 France preemptively declared war on Austria. Prussia, Britain, Spain and Italian states soon joined on the side of Austria. France spread nationalist propaganda in an attempt to rally every able-bodied man to wage this war. Before, European wars had been fought mainly by professional soldiers, often from the nobility. Now we see instead the first approximation of total war, although it was unable to reach that level because of dissent and civil war.

In August 1792, a second revolution took place in that the royal palace was stormed by a new mob, this time lead by the local Paris Commune, and the constitutional monarchy was replaced by the French Republic. In January 1793, the king was beheaded. However, continued military, economic and political failures led to yet another government being replaced. The period that followed, from September 1793 to July 1794, is known as the Reign of Terror. Tens of thousands of people were executed in an attempt to control the situation, including Olympe de Gouges. This period however also ended with the overthrow and execution of its leaders. The following government, known as the Directory, ruled for the next five years.

Meanwhile, the war went well on at least one front. Napoleon Bonaparte, at the age of 26, conquered Italy. After then taking Egypt, he made use of his popularity and took power in France in a bloodless coup d’état in 1799. Under Napoleon, who crowned himself emperor, France conquered most of Europe, continuing a series of conflicts of the same magnitude as the Seven Years’ War. Napoleon disbanded the Holy Roman Empire, although after the war its constituent states reformed into the German Federation. Napoleon introduced progressive reforms to many Europeans, although these were short-lived and his ideals didn’t necessarily reflect those of the heterogenous parties in the French Revolution.

Napoleon got the Poles to fight on his side and allied himself with the Ottoman Empire, but when Napoleon eventually was defeated, the Poles and the Ottomans found themselves on the losing side once more. Russia temporarily fought against Britain but in the end Russia, Prussia, Austria and Britain managed to push back France to roughly its size before the revolution, asserting the quartet’s dominance in Europe. The navy of the British Empire henceforth dominated the seas and in the following century they came to rule over a quarter of the planet. Meanwhile, the resulting chaos in Spain gradually led to its loss of control over its colonies after rebellions by e.g. Simón Bolivar, as well as civil war in Spain proper.

The end of the wars was marked by the Treaty of Vienna in 1815. In it, Switzerland was recognized as a neutral country, occupying the strategic mountain-passes on the intersection of France, the Italian states and the newly established German Confederation. Monarchy was restored in France. The brothers of Louis XVI took over the crown, first Louis XVIII ruling 1814-1824, then Charles X. However, in 1830, another revolution removed Charles X from the throne, establishing a new constitutional monarchy where the king had far less power. The newly elected king was the former’s cousin, Louis Philippe I. Again inspired by the French, Belgium gained independence, this time from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, after the Belgian Revolution in 1830, providing yet another buffer state between Germany and France.

I have deliberately avoided the situation in the Balkans, but later, after reaching the time of the death of Marx, I will eventually return to the Balkans as events there would prove to be among the causes of the next major war, known as World War 1.

Engels and Exile (1843)

So, this is the environment in which Marx lived, which he presumably was aware of when he arrived in Paris in 1843 after escaping Prussia. There he wrote two essays for a French-German paper. The aforementioned Mikhail Bakunin, in exile from Russia, also contributed to the paper. After this publication ceased, Marx wrote for the radical newspaper Vorwärts! (Forward!), which was written in German but based in Paris.

In 1844, he met Friedrich Engels, although they had encountered each other in Prussia briefly before, and forged the companionship that founded modern communism. Engels was born in Prussia in 1820. He was the son of a wealthy cotton textile merchant and worked periodically in his father’s business. Just before meeting Marx in Paris, Engels had spent time in Manchester, working at one of his father’s mills. Observing the plight of the workers there, Engels wrote a book called “The Condition of the Working Class in England” detailing, among others things, the increase in mortality as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution, which had created a vast population of people who worked close to 100 hours per week and lived in tiny boxes in the fast-growing, polluted industrial cities.

“This period of Industrial Revolution [in France] was characterized by the appearance of a new social phenomena, baptized pauperism. Related to industrialization and the rural exodus, the working poor became an increasingly common segment of the population. Furthermore, the former congregations of the Ancien Régime had disappeared. Workers had 14 hours’ work, daily wages of 20 centimes, and no possibility of organizing themselves in trade unions. 250,000 beggars were registered, and 3 million citizens registered in the charity offices. State assistance was nonexistent. The only social law of the July Monarchy was to outlaw, in 1841, labor of children under eight years of age, and night labor for those of less than 13 years. The law, however, was almost never implemented.” – Wikipedia

Engels asserted in his book that the “condition of the working class is the real basis and point of departure of all social movements of the present because it is the highest and most unconcealed pinnacle of the social misery existing in our day.” This became a central concept in Marx’s thought and the money Engels brought to the partnership also helped Marx in more practical matters. There were to spent the rest of their lives jumping from place to place like political refugees (or as international men, if you prefer) writing articles, giving speeches and participating in radical organizations. Although they did get back to Prussia a few times, from 1870 until the death of Marx in 1883, they would be living more permanently in London.

In 1845, France, at the request of Prussia, expelled Marx, who decided to move to Belgium. Maximilien Rubel wrote of this period in Marx’s life, in a text called Marx, theoretician of anarchism published in 1973:

“When in Paris in February 1845, on the eve of his departure for exile in Brussels, Marx signed a contract with a German publisher he committed himself to supplying in a few months a work in two volumes entitled ‘A Critique of Politics and Political Economy’ without suspecting that he had imposed on himself a task which would take up his whole life and of which he would be able to carry out only a largish fragment.

The choice of subject was no accident. Having given up all hope of a university career, Marx had carried over into his political journalism the results of his philosophical studies. His articles in the Rheinische Zeitung of Cologne led the fight for freedom of the press in Prussia in the name of a liberty which he conceived of as the essence of Man and as the attire of human nature; but also in the name of a State understood as the realisation of rational freedom, as ‘the great organism, in which legal, moral, and political freedom must be realised, and in which the individual citizen in obeying the laws of the state only obeys the natural laws of his own reason, of human reason.’[1] But the Prussian censorship soon silenced the philosopher-journalist. Marx, in the solicitude of a study retreat, did not take long to ask himself about the real nature of the State and about the rational and ethical validity of Hegel’s political philosophy. We know what was the fruit of this meditation enriched by the study of the history of the bourgeois revolutions in France, Great Britain and the United States: apart from an incomplete and unpublished work, The Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the State (1843), two polemical essays, Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and On the Jewish Question (Paris, 1844). These two writings in fact form a single manifesto in which Marx identifies once and for all and condemns unreservedly the social institutions – the State and Money – which he saw as at the origin of the evils and defects from which modern society suffered and would go on suffering until a new social revolution came to abolish them. At the same time Marx praised the force – the modern proletariat – which, after having been the main victim of these two institutions, was going to put an end to their reign as well as to every other form of class domination, political and economic. The self-emancipation of the proletariat would be the complete emancipation of humanity; after the total loss of humanity the total victory of the human.

In the intellectual development of Marx the rejection of the State and Money and the affirmation that the proletariat was a liberating class came before his studies of political economy; they preceded also his discovery of the materialist conception of history, the ‘guiding line’ which directed his later historical researches. His break with Hegel’s philosophy of law and politics on the one hand and his critical study of bourgeois revolutions on the other allowed him to establish clearly the ethical postulates of his future social theory for which the scientific basis was to be provided by the critique of political economy.”

In other words, Marx first praised the workers and criticized the state and money for moral reasons. It was only later that these ideas evolved into the theory that society must inevitably transition to a stateless, moneyless system, through the actions of the working class, which he then tried to prove scientifically. The revolution of the working class embodies the species-essence, which should be understood as some kind of freedom. As my story unfolds I’ll be more specific about what this freedom entails, but suffice it to say it involves the creative and productive powers in our bodies and minds, which we must somehow gain control over and use in accordance with our will. Rubel also argued that Marx only wrote half of what he had intended to. After he was done with the issue of money, he was supposed to have written about the issue of the state, but for various reasons that never materialized. This unresolved issue on its own led to a lot of internal conflicts among Marxists and a lot of decisions that presumably contradicted Marx’s intentions.

The German Ideology is a book, first published in 1932, but consisting of texts written by Marx and Engels around 1845. These texts introduce Marx’s view of history as a product of the material conditions.

“As we hear from German ideologists, Germany has in the last few years gone through an unparalleled revolution. The decomposition of the Hegelian philosophy, which began with Strauss, has developed into a universal ferment into which all the “powers of the past” are swept. In the general chaos mighty empires have arisen only to meet with immediate doom, heroes have emerged momentarily only to be hurled back into obscurity by bolder and stronger rivals… All this is supposed to have taken place in the realm of pure thought…

The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way…

The relations of different nations among themselves depend upon the extent to which each has developed its productive forces, the division of labour and internal intercourse. This statement is generally recognised. But not only the relation of one nation to others, but also the whole internal structure of the nation itself depends on the stage of development reached by its production and its internal and external intercourse. How far the productive forces of a nation are developed is shown most manifestly by the degree to which the division of labour has been carried. Each new productive force, insofar as it is not merely a quantitative extension of productive forces already known (for instance the bringing into cultivation of fresh land), causes a further development of the division of labour.

The various stages of development in the division of labour are just so many different forms of ownership, i.e. the existing stage in the division of labour determines also the relations of individuals to one another with reference to the material, instrument, and product of labour…

The first form of ownership is tribal…

The second form is the ancient communal and State ownership which proceeds especially from the union of several tribes into a city by agreement or by conquest, and which is still accompanied by slavery. Beside communal ownership we already find movable, and later also immovable, private property developing, but as an abnormal form subordinate to communal ownership. The citizens hold power over their labouring slaves only in their community, and on this account alone, therefore, they are bound to the form of communal ownership. It is the communal private property which compels the active citizens to remain in this spontaneously derived form of association over against their slaves. For this reason the whole structure of society is based on this communal ownership, and with it the power of the people, decays in the same measure as, in particular, immovable private property evolves.

The third form of ownership is feudal or estate property…

The fact is, therefore, that definite individuals who are productively active in a definite way enter into these definite social and political relations. Empirical observation must in each separate instance bring out empirically, and without any mystification and speculation, the connection of the social and political structure with production. The social structure and the State are continually evolving out of the life-process of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as they may appear in their own or other people’s imagination, but as they really are; i.e. as they operate, produce materially, and hence as they work under definite material limits, presuppositions and conditions independent of their will…

In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life…

In the case of the nations which grew out of the Middle Ages, tribal property evolved through various stages – feudal landed property, corporative movable property, capital invested in manufacture – to modern capital, determined by big industry and universal competition, i.e. pure private property, which has cast off all semblance of a communal institution and has shut out the State from any influence on the development of property. To this modern private property corresponds the modern State, which, purchased gradually by the owners of property by means of taxation, has fallen entirely into their hands through the national debt, and its existence has become wholly dependent on the commercial credit which the owners of property, the bourgeois, extend to it, as reflected in the rise and fall of State funds on the stock exchange. By the mere fact that it is a class and no longer an estate, the bourgeoisie is forced to organise itself no longer locally, but nationally, and to give a general form to its mean average interest. Through the emancipation of private property from the community, the State has become a separate entity, beside and outside civil society; but it is nothing more than the form of organisation which the bourgeois necessarily adopt both for internal and external purposes, for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests. The independence of the State is only found nowadays in those countries where the estates have not yet completely developed into classes, where the estates, done away with in more advanced countries, still have a part to play, and where there exists a mixture; countries, that is to say, in which no one section of the population can achieve dominance over the others. This is the case particularly in Germany. The most perfect example of the modern State is North America. The modern French, English and American writers all express the opinion that the State exists only for the sake of private property, so that this fact has penetrated into the consciousness of the normal man.

Since the State is the form in which the individuals of a ruling class assert their common interests, and in which the whole civil society of an epoch is epitomised, it follows that the State mediates in the formation of all common institutions and that the institutions receive a political form. Hence the illusion that law is based on the will, and indeed on the will divorced from its real basis – on free will.”

(For more information about property, you can also read this text I wrote which includes John Locke’s definition of private property from 1689.)

Marx view of the development of societies has been called dialectical materialism (and compared to Hegel’s dialectics), but Marx never used that term. Either way he argues that a human society consists of a material base (Basis) and a superstructure (Überbau). The level of the productive forces determines the mode of production and the mode of production determines the division of labour into classes. This class division is ideological and belongs to the superstructure of society and not to its material base. When the production in society changes, the ruling class and their ideology is replaced by a new class and ideology.

“Marx’s clearest formulation of his ‘materialist conception of history’ was in the 1859 Preface to his book A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, whose relevant passage is reproduced here:

‘In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production.'” – Wikipedia

Critique of Political Economy (1843-1867)

Marx studied the classical economists when in Paris. Adam Smith (1723-1790) was the most influential economist until the publication of John Stuart Mill’s major work in 1848. Mill is considered one of the most important liberal thinkers ever, though he did become a bit of a socialist over time. However, it seems David Ricardo (1772-1823) would prove the most influential to Marx. Ricardo, who incidentally was a friend of Mill’s father, was not only influential to Marx, but prior to the 20th century he was up there with Smith and Mill.

Whereas Smith had focused on e.g. trade relations between states, Ricardo was focused on the economic relations between what he described as the three classes of society. These are the capitalists, the land-owners and the labourers. The capitalists are the most important ones because they move capital to investments in fields which consequently develop. Their goal is however to get a profit and not development in itself. They play the part of balancing the economy and Ricardo believed the economy in total was in balance. The land-owners are simply parasites since all they do is collect rent. Balance for the workers would mean that their wages correspond exactly to their living costs, e.g. the proportion of workers should increase if wages are above the minimum cost of living in a given society.

Ricardo distinguishes between exchange value and actual value, where the actual value is determined by the amount and type of labour that has been put into a product, how much labour is embodied in it. He also concludes that there is a causal relationship between the amount of profit the capitalist gets and the wages that are being paid to the workers. The value of a commodity is determined by the cost of production. “The value of a commodity… depends on the relative quantity of labour which is necessary for its production, and not on the greater or less compensation which is paid for that labour… In his Theory of Profit, Ricardo stated that as real wages increase, real profits decrease because the revenue from the sale of manufactured goods is split between profits and wages. He said in his Essay on Profits, ‘Profits depend on high or low wages, wages on the price of necessaries, and the price of necessaries chiefly on the price of food.'” – Wikipedia

Real wages means wages, not in absolute numbers, but in relation to what things cost to purchase. How much labour is needed is also determined in relation to society, e.g. if people have been educated to program a computer and if their guild allows them to work, so these economic elements depend on the social relations and changes throughout history. The difference between the cost of production, or the actual value of a commodity, and the exchange value for which it is sold becomes the profit for the capitalist. One could here either consider wages to be part of the cost of production, or that the money from selling a commodity must be divided between wages and profits, i.e. higher wages means lower profit and vice versa. Ricardo clearly inspired Marx, but, instead of evaluating Ricardo, let’s see where Marx took this production theory of value.

Marx developed Ricardo’s notion of class competition into one of two opposing classes, the ruling class and the ruled-over class. In the modern capitalist economy, the two classes are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The proletariat are the workers and the bourgeoisie are the capitalists who own money which they can invest in or have already invested in the means of production, which includes natural resources, machinery and wage-workers. His view of the class struggle resembles that of natural selection in that one species may out-compete and replace the dominant species in an ecosystem. This also resembles Hegel’s dialects, in which two opposing phenomena, a thesis and an anti-thesis, rather than cancelling each other out, forms something new that transcends both its parts, resulting in a synthesis (although Hegel himself didn’t use these terms).

Here we finally get to Das Kapital. Having already spent a dozen years on a draft, which was abandoned in 1858, Marx finally published, in 1867, a book entitled Capital – Critique of Political Economy, Volume I: The Process of Production of Capital (Das Kapital – Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Buch I: Der Produktionsprocess des Kapitals). Volumes two and three consist of notes edited together by Engels according to Marx’s instructions and published shortly after Marx’s death. A fourth volume was finished by Karl Kautsky and even the original draft, today known as Grundrisse, was eventually published in 1939. You can read all of these and heaps more on Subsequent quotes are all from the first volume of Capital, unless I specify otherwise.

I’ll start off by noting that I have chosen to use the term abstract value where Marx uses just value, to avoid getting it mixed up with other types of value. Marx, as we will soon see, also uses the term abstract human labour and because this is related to what I call abstract (human) value, I think adding abstract for clarification can be doubly justified. Marx says that the bourgeois economists are so bedazzled by gold and silver that they do not understand the fundamental causes behind their ability to function as a universal equivalent to commodities. He explains the existence of a universal equivalent in four steps.

In the first step, we can list a number of commodity relations. 1 coat is traded for 20 yards of linen, 10 bananas are traded for a horse, 1 pencil is traded for a hat and so on. What this describes is how the abstract value of 1 coat is embodied in the material form of 20 yards of linen. He uses the terms relative and equivalent here: The relative value form of 1 coat is expressed in the equivalent value form of 20 yards of linen.

In the second step, we can express the abstract value of 1 coat in many different commodities. 1 coat = 20 yards of linen. 1 coat = 10 bananas. 1 coat = a hat and so on.

In the third step, the expression is reversed such that the abstract value of any commodity can be expressed in the bodily form of 1 coat. This is possible only because 1 coat has been expressed in all other commodities, making them all equivalent to each other. 1 coat has thus become a universal equivalent.

In the fourth step, the coat is simply replaced by gold as the universal equivalent. (The universal equivalent takes the form of gold by quantity of weight, then gold coins, IOUs, paper money and today digital money.)

“[S]ince the difference between magnitudes of value is purely quantitative, the money commodity must be susceptible of merely quantitative differences, must therefore be divisible at will, and equally capable of being re-united. Gold and silver possess these properties by nature.” Through these steps Marx has shown that money is just another commodity, although specifically the commodity that for the moment functions as the universal equivalent. “Hence the riddle presented by money is but the riddle presented by commodities.” Logically then, the next step is to solve the riddle of commodities.

Marx argues that the reason these equivalent expressions can exist is that they all have something in common. They all share the characteristic of having abstract value. If I’ve understood correctly, Ricardo said that all commodities consist of use-value and abstract value. Marx takes this to the next level, or skips a level, by stating that human labour also consists of use-value and abstract value.

“At first sight a commodity presented itself to us as a complex of two things – use-value and exchange value. Later on, we saw also that labour, too, possesses the same two-fold nature; for, so far as it finds expression in value, it does not possess the same characteristics that belong to it as a creator of use-value. I was the first to point out and to critically examine this two-fold nature of the labour contained in commodities.”

“The use-values, coat, linen, &c., i.e., the bodies of commodities, are combinations of two elements – matter and labour. If we take away the useful labour expended upon them, a material substratum is always left, which is furnished by Nature without the help of man. The latter can work only as Nature does, that is by changing the form of matter.”

“By making the coat the equivalent of the linen, we equate the labour embodied in the former to that in the latter. Now, it is true that the tailoring, which makes the coat, is concrete labour of a different sort from the weaving which makes the linen. But the act of equating it to the weaving, reduces the tailoring to that which is really equal in the two kinds of labour, to their common character of human labour.”

“On the one hand all labour is, speaking physiologically, an expenditure of human labour-power, and in its character of identical abstract human labour, it creates and forms the value of commodities. On the other hand, all labour is the expenditure of human labour-power in a special form and with a definite aim, and in this, its character of concrete useful labour, it produces use-values.”

Marx argues that abstract human value is socially relative and that it directly correlates to abstract human labour. He further states that the magnitude of abstract value correlates to the quantity of abstract labour, measured in a unit of time. He also finds the explanation for the appearance of profit in this formula. He introduces the term surplus value (Mehrwert). To make a profit, the capitalist pays the workers less than what their labour is worth. The profit, or surplus value, comes from unpaid labour. This can happen in various ways, e.g. if the factory owner lowers the wages of the employees or if they are forced to work harder or work longer hours for the same wage. The unpaid labour also includes all the efforts that go into keeping the working class alive and fit for work. This includes, although I’m not sure if Marx ever specified it, the work needed, mainly done by women, to give birth to new workers, raise them and provide them with the food, entertainment, comfort et cetera needed to keep them going. In other words, surplus value can only exist if the total amount of abstract labour in society as a whole does not match the amount of abstract value in the economy. As a note of explanation for the following quote, when Marx says the capitalist reproduces capital he means that the capital is used up in an investment and must be re-created in the process of production to become new capital when the product is sold.

“Whatever the form of the process of production in a society, it must be a continuous process, must continue to go periodically through the same phases. A society can no more cease to produce than it can cease to consume. When viewed, therefore, as a connected whole, and as flowing on with incessant renewal, every social process of production is, at the same time, a process of reproduction.

The conditions of production are also those of reproduction. No society can go on producing, in other words, no society can reproduce, unless it constantly reconverts a part of its products into means of production, or elements of fresh products. All other circumstances remaining the same, the only mode by which it can reproduce its wealth, and maintain it at one level, is by replacing the means of production – i.e., the instruments of labour, the raw material, and the auxiliary substances consumed in the course of the year – by an equal quantity of the same kind of articles; these must be separated from the mass of the yearly products, and thrown afresh into the process of production. Hence, a definite portion of each year’s product belongs to the domain of production…

The purchase of labour-power for a fixed period is the prelude to the process of production; and this prelude is constantly repeated when the stipulated term comes to an end, when a definite period of production, such as a week or a month, has elapsed. But the labourer is not paid until after he has expended his labour-power, and realised in commodities not only its value, but surplus-value. He has, therefore, produced not only surplus-value, which we for the present regard as a fund to meet the private consumption of the capitalist, but he has also produced, before it flows back to him in the shape of wages, the fund out of which he himself is paid, the variable capital; and his employment lasts only so long as he continues to reproduce this fund… What flows back to the labourer in the shape of wages is a portion of the product that is continuously reproduced by him. The capitalist, it is true, pays him in money, but this money is merely the transmuted form of the product of his labour. While he is converting a portion of the means of production into products, a portion of his former product is being turned into money. It is his labour of last week, or of last year, that pays for his labour-power this week or this year. The illusion begotten by the intervention of money vanishes immediately, if, instead of taking a single capitalist and a single labourer, we take the class of capitalists and the class of labourers as a whole. The capitalist class is constantly giving to the labouring class order-notes, in the form of money, on a portion of the commodities produced by the latter and appropriated by the former. The labourers give these order-notes back just as constantly to the capitalist class, and in this way get their share of their own product. The transaction is veiled by the commodity form of the product and the money form of the commodity.

Variable capital is therefore only a particular historical form of appearance of the fund for providing the necessaries of life, or the labour-fund which the labourer requires for the maintenance of himself and family, and which, whatever be the system of social production, he must himself produce and reproduce…

The separation of labour from its product, of subjective labour-power from the objective conditions of labour, was therefore the real foundation in fact, and the starting-point of capitalist production.

But that which at first was but a starting-point, becomes, by the mere continuity of the process, by simple reproduction, the peculiar result, constantly renewed and perpetuated, of capitalist production. On the one hand, the process of production incessantly converts material wealth into capital, into means of creating more wealth and means of enjoyment for the capitalist. On the other hand, the labourer, on quitting the process, is what he was on entering it, a source of wealth, but devoid of all means of making that wealth his own. Since, before entering on the process, his own labour has already been alienated from himself by the sale of his labour-power, has been appropriated by the capitalist and incorporated with capital, it must, during the process, be realised in a product that does not belong to him…

When treating of the working day, we saw that the labourer is often compelled to make his individual consumption a mere incident of production. In such a case, he supplies himself with necessaries in order to maintain his labour-power, just as coal and water are supplied to the steam-engine and oil to the wheel…

The matter takes quite another aspect, when we contemplate, not the single capitalist, and the single labourer, but the capitalist class and the labouring class, not an isolated process of production, but capitalist production in full swing, and on its actual social scale… The capital given in exchange for labour-power is converted into necessaries, by the consumption of which the muscles, nerves, bones, and brains of existing labourers are reproduced, and new labourers are begotten. Within the limits of what is strictly necessary, the individual consumption of the working class is, therefore, the reconversion of the means of subsistence given by capital in exchange for labour-power, into fresh labour-power at the disposal of capital for exploitation. It is the production and reproduction of that means of production so indispensable to the capitalist: the labourer himself. The individual consumption of the labourer, whether it proceed within the workshop or outside it, whether it be part of the process of production or not, forms therefore a factor of the production and reproduction of capital; just as cleaning machinery does, whether it be done while the machinery is working or while it is standing. The fact that the labourer consumes his means of subsistence for his own purposes, and not to please the capitalist, has no bearing on the matter. The consumption of food by a beast of burden is none the less a necessary factor in the process of production, because the beast enjoys what it eats. The maintenance and reproduction of the working class is, and must ever be, a necessary condition to the reproduction of capital. But the capitalist may safely leave its fulfilment to the labourer’s instincts of self-preservation and of propagation. All the capitalist cares for, is to reduce the labourer’s individual consumption as far as possible to what is strictly necessary.”

Louis Althusser (1918-1990) was a French Marxist philosopher. He focused on the estrangement (German: Entfremdung) which can be seen in the previous quote. Estrangement, or alienation, in this context means that the worker ceases to be a subject and becomes an object in the process of capitalist production. The worker does not choose the design of the product, the raw materials and who to buy them from, how to organize the division of labour, when, where and with whom to work or who the recipient of the product should be. Also worth mentioning, in reference to Marx’s superstructure, Althusser coined the term Ideological State Apparatus. In Althusser’s view, our values, desires, and preferences are inculcated in us by ideological practice, the sphere which has the defining property of constituting individuals as subjects. Ideological practice consists of an assortment of institutions called “Ideological State Apparatuses” (ISAs), which include the family, the media, religious organisations, and most importantly in capitalist societies, the education system, as well as the received ideas that they propagate.” – Wikipedia

To summarize the purpose of Capital, it is because of the correlation between abstract human value and abstract human labour that labourers must become aware of the social relations that control their lives, control how they spend the hours of the day, and develop a labour ideology to destroy that of the ruling class.

“What is a working day?… capital replies: the working day contains the full 24 hours, with the deduction of the few hours of repose without which labour-power absolutely refuses its services again. hence it is self-evident that the labourer is nothing else, his whole life through, than labour-power, that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and law labour-time, to be devoted to the self-expansion of capital…

The capitalistic mode of production… produces thus, with the extension of the working day, not only the deterioration of human labour-power by robbing it of its normal, moral and physical, conditions of development and function. It produces also the premature exhaustion and death of this labour-power itself.”

The workers must develop a class consciousness, become aware of the reigning societal ideology, join together under the same banner and seize control of the means of production. However, this does not mean that there would be a new ruling class because, since all humans have the power to labour, the capitalists would be converted into workers and everyone would become co-rulers in the new society. This would create a synthesis that transcends the conditions of either of the two previous classes and it can only be realized through the joint actions of every single human being.

Marx describes the ideology of the ruling class in a religious and metaphysical language, as they are part of the superstructure of society, and calls for a change in mentality. “The life-process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan. This, however, demands for society a certain material ground-work or set of conditions of existence which in their turn are the spontaneous product of a long and painful process of development.”

I’d like to add my own view on the origin of abstract value. I can accept that there is some kind of relationship between abstract human value and abstract human labour, since they are, by definition, both socially relative and appear in exchanges between two or more humans. And since we are born inside another human we are of course inescapably affected by a relationship to at least one other human. The materialist side to this is borrowed from Feuerbach in the conception of human sensuous activity. Already at birth our sensuous activity is related to other humans and this is supposed to include both what we do outwards and what we receive inwards. I am humble before the possibility that I simply haven’t understood this, but I believe there is yet another more fundamental cause behind abstract value, which offers an explanation without involving the things we do outwards. Jaques Derrida published a book in 1993 called Specters of Marx: The state of the debt, the work of mourning and the new international (Spectres de Marx: l’état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale). Derrida points out that Marx criticizes the bourgeois economists for being mystified by money and commodities, it appears to them that they suddenly have value for no apparent reason and proceed from there without being able to question it. However, Derrida criticizes Marx for a similar mystification, namely the embodiment of abstract value in an object.

“Marx declares that the thing in question, namely, the commodity, is not so simple… 

It is so disconcerting, this commodity-thing, that one has to approach it with ‘metaphysical’ subtlety and ‘theological’ niceties. Precisely in order to analyse the metaphysical and the theological that constructed the phenomenological good sense of the thing itself, of the immediately visible commodity, in flesh and blood: as what it is ‘at first sight’ (auf den ersten Blick). This phenomenological good sense may perhaps be valid for use-value. It is perhaps even meant to be valid only for use-value, as if the correlation of these concepts answered to this function: phenomenology as the discourse of use-value so as not to think the market or in view of making oneself blind to exchange-value. Perhaps. And it is for this reason that phenomenological good sense or phenomenology of perception (also at work in Marx when he believes he can speak of a pure and simple use-value) can claim to foster Enlightenment since use-value has nothing at all ‘mysterious’ about it (nicht Mysteriöses an ihr). If one keeps to use-value, the properties (Eigenschaften) of the thing (and it is going to be a question of property) are always very human, at bottom, reassuring for this very reason. They always relate to what is proper to man, to the properties of man: either they respond to men’s needs, and that is precisely their use-value, or else they are the product of a human activity that seems to intend them for those needs.

For example – and here is where the table comes on stage – the wood remains wooden when it is made into a table: it is then ‘an ordinary, sensuous thing {ein ordindäres, sinnliches Ding}’. It is quite different when it becomes a commodity, when the curtain goes up on the market and the table plays actor and character at the same time, when the commodity-table, says Marx, comes on stage (auftritt), begins to walk around and to put itself forward as a market value. Coup de theatre: the ordinary, sensuous thing is transfigured (verwandelt sich), it becomes someone, it assumes a figure. This woody and headstrong denseness is metamorphosed into a supernatural thing, a sensuous non-sensuous thing, sensuous but non-sensuous, sensuously supersensible (verwandelt er sich in ein sinnlich übersinnliches Ding). The ghostly schema now appears indispensable. The commodity is a ‘thing’ without phenomenon, a thing in flight that surpasses the senses (it is invisible, intangible, inaudible, and odourless); but this transcendence is not altogether spiritual, it retains that bodiless body which we have recognised as making the difference between spectre and spirit. What surpasses the senses still passes before us in the silhouette of the sensuous body that it nevertheless lacks or that remains inaccessible to us…

Marx, then, has just announced its entrance on stage and its transmutation into a sensuously supersensible thing, and now here it is standing up, not only holding itself up but rising, getting up and lifting itself, lifting its head, redressing itself and addressing itself. Facing the others, and first of all other commodities, yes, it lifts its head. Let us paraphrase a few lines as literally as possible before citing the translation. It is not enough for this wooden table to stand up (Er steht nick nur), its feet on the ground, it also stands (sondern er stellt sich – and Marx does not add ‘so to speak’ as certain French translators had made him concede, frightened as they were by the literal audacity of the description) – It also stands on its head, a wooden head, for it has become a kind of headstrong, big-headed, obstinate animal that, standing, faces other commodities (er stellt sich allen andren Waren gegenüber auf den Kopf). Facing up to the others, before the others, its fellows, here then is the apparition of a strange creature: at the same time Life, Thing, Beast, Object, Commodity, Automaton — in a word, spectre. This Thing, which is no longer altogether a thing, here it goes and unfolds (entwickelt), it unfolds itself, it develops what it engenders through a quasi-spontaneous generation (parthenogenesis and indeterminate sexuality: the animal Thing, the animated-inanimated Thing, the dead-living Thing is a Father-Mother), it gives birth through its head, it extracts from its wooden head a whole lineage of fantastic or prodigious creatures, whims, chimera (Grille), non-ligneous character parts, that is, the lineage of a progeniture that no longer resembles it, inventions far more bizarre or marvellous (viel wunderlicher) than if this mad, capricious, and untenable table, its head beginning to spin, started to dance on its own initiative (de son propre chef, aus freien Stucken). Whoever understands Greek and philosophy could say of this genealogy, which transfigures the ligneous into the non-ligneous, that it also gives a tableau of the becoming-immaterial of matter… And since this becoming-immaterial of matter seems to take no time and to operate its transmutation in the magic of an instant, in a single glance, through the omnipotence of a thought, we might also be tempted to describe it as the projection of an animism or a spiritism. The wood comes alive and is peopled with spirits: credulity, occultism, obscurantism, lack of maturity before Enlightenment, childish or primitive humanity. But what would Enlightenment be without the market? And who will ever make progress without exchange-value?”

Marx obviously finds the origin of abstract value in its social relation to abstract labour, and he vehemently professes that he is a materialist without need for metaphysics. However, at some point this abstraction must take form in the minds of people. Marx points out the secret of economic value, that capital is a metaphysical idea, just another ghost of the mind, and he connects it economically to the value of labour, but he doesn’t explain the origin of the idea, why this ghost is in our minds. On page three in Capital he states that if “we leave out of consideration the use-value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour.” But he doesn’t demonstrate the logical steps he took to reach this conclusion, which is a problem because the rest of the book relies on this statement. My suggestion for fixing this problem is the addition of two prior steps to the four Marx already added. The first step is the abstraction of personal use-value. We imagine the use-value of things by predicting a future in which we consume the thing; without actually eating the apple I can imagine what it would do to my taste buds and the rest of my nervous system. Like all predictions this one stems from extending forwards the causal chain of events we can observe in the past. In the second step we imagine that other people can experience similar use-value from the consumption of things, thus forming the social relation in which economic value appears.

I also think Marx was wrong about the social relationship that binds value to labour. Although he doesn’t explicitly state it, he seems to retain a left-over of his idealist predecessors that he hasn’t fully been able to shake off, despite some very clear statements about nature being the ultimate source of everything. This left-over is, in my opinion, a metaphysical free will in the form of willed labour, which, when combined with abstract value forms a sort of closed circuit which is independent and isolated from the rest of reality. The willed outgoing energy forms a loop with the incoming willed consumption of energy, making the subject a metaphysical node that the circle can form around and that is essential to the existence of the circle. Marx seems to misidentify this duality as a single phenomenon, our unique species-essence, which to him is labour. Marx appears to just assume the unique value of labour as a premise without offering any arguments for it other than what I’ve presented in this text. I might have missed something of course, however, I believe that this knot should be untied.

Marx indirectly said that all use-values are ultimately derived from nature, even the use values that humans produce since humans are themselves ultimately a product of nature, unless our labour is isolated from the natural chain of cause-and-effect and initiated by a metaphysical essence, such as free will. Regardless, as quoted above, he said that nature and humans have in common that they only change the form of matter. I’d like to add here that Albert Einstein came up with the formula E = mc2 which means that matter is just another form of energy and the first law of thermodynamics says that energy can’t be created or destroyed, only assume new forms.

“Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops his slumbering powers and compels them to act in obedience to his sway. We are not now dealing with those primitive instinctive forms of labour that remind us of the mere animal. An immeasurable interval of time separates the state of things in which a man brings his labour-power to market for sale as a commodity, from that state in which human labour was still in its first instinctive stage. We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be.”

And from The German Ideology:

“Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.

The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means of subsistence they find in existence and have to reproduce. This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the production of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production.”

“The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process.”

If we think of will, not as the willed energy directed out of the body of a human, but as wants in general, we remove the some of its mystery. What I enjoyed consuming is what I consider to be my will. Not just consumption though, but all experiences, including what I experience before, during and as a result of my work. When we speak of will it is only necessary to look at the energy directed towards the nervous system. To give an example, when I run through the rain my skin passively receives the rain drops and will continue to do so whether I stop running or not.

Additionally, as a materialist I don’t agree with the distinction between human free will and animal instincts. Animals have nervous systems, plan for the future and use tools. They experience things and evaluate their experiences in the same way humans do. It is true that there are no pelicans trading stocks on Wall Street, but all animals negotiate with their environments, evaluating different items of food or places to nest. And I would argue that many animals use their body language to negotiate with other animals, weighing the consequences of certain actions. A Marxist might argue that after the proletariat has seized the means of production, it is up to the other animals to develop a class consciousness and topple the human masters. They would fail to do so because they can’t organize well enough, but ironically that is true of the proletariat today as well. Regardless, if we view value as part of an inherently passive experience and don’t give a separate status to energy expelled outwards from the body, then there is no more loop, there is just one side to the equation. Value is a subjective experience, and remains essentially the same even when our actions and intentions are included in the total evaluation of experiences. It might be possible to quantify the value of outgoing energy from everyone with a nervous system, but we’d have to take into consideration all animals and figure out how to compare different types of labour and it’d probably just lead us back to how everyone subjectively evaluates the energy.

I find Marx’s theories compelling, but I struggle with the idea of a human species-essence, i.e. free-willed labour. Labour, generally speaking, is energy. Energy includes human physical labour, animal labour, mental labour and inanimate physical work. However, energy is too general. I’ve said nature and the universe is the same as energy, but I’ll use these words separately here. If the means of production are nature and labour is the energy of the universe, then everything we do; every relationship we have and how we organize in society; is a matter of predicting the effects of that energy and capital is a result of these predictions. However, the effect that is relevant is the effect on sentient beings, i.e. consumption in the general sense of everything we experience. Since predicting human labour is just one part of predicting all consumption, then capital corresponds more accurately to predicted consumption.

To Marx the willed labour of humans, the intentional extraction energy from humans, is essentially distinct from other things in the universe, i.e. metaphysical. Because it is essentially distinct, society, i.e. the inter-relations between humans, is also essentially distinct and internally dependent but externally independent of the rest of the universe. This is how there can be a definite correlation between socially necessary labour and capital and definite class distinctions. The exploitation (and possible failure) of capitalism is therefore already determined and not an independent force trying to impose itself on reality. However, if humans are just like other animals, then society includes all animals, and what is socially necessary includes the labour of all animals. It would be interesting to see a workerism that involved all sentient beings. But even then, we imagine the abstract value based on subjective use value in consumption, not in production, and production includes all energy in the universe, not just extrinsic animal energy. I don’t know in how many ways I can describe this, I guess I’ll just have to leave it there.

Marx was mainly focused on criticizing wage labour and did not specify what the ideal society would look like. Clearly he thought that by freeing labour we would be able to consume freely as well, but I can’t see how he connects the two theoretically. For Marx they seem automatically connected. He writes in the Theses on Feuerbach that “the essence of man [free-willed labour] is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations.”

In one of his last writings, the Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx does talk about the distribution of goods for consumption, but mostly to criticize the socialist party and suggests that rather than having a clear utopia, “socialist sectarians [have] the most varied notions of ‘free’ distribution.” He goes through the necessary steps that must be taken before any distribution of goods for consumption takes place.

“[T]he co-operative proceeds of labor are the total social product.

From this must now be deducted: First, cover for replacement of the means of production used up. Second, additional portion for expansion of production. Third, reserve or insurance funds to provide against accidents, dislocations caused by natural calamities, etc…

There remains the other part of the total product, intended to serve as means of consumption.

Before this is divided among the individuals, there has to be deducted again, from it: First, the general costs of administration not belonging to production. This part will, from the outset, be very considerably restricted in comparison with present-day society, and it diminishes in proportion as the new society develops. Second, that which is intended for the common satisfaction of needs, such as schools, health services, etc. From the outset, this part grows considerably in comparison with present-day society, and it grows in proportion as the new society develops. Third, funds for those unable to work, etc., in short, for what is included under so-called official poor relief today…

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society – after the deductions have been made – exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor…

He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.

Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption…

In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly stigmatized by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor.

But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only – for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal.

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

First, I’ll just point out that the slogan at the end was already in existence before Marx wrote this. I don’t really know how to interpret this. I’m not sure why the antithesis between mental and physical labour would disappear, but it’s probably to do with the distinction between management and worker. It’s also a bit weird that he criticizes the emergent stage, yet says it is necessary and then ends with a vague description that doesn’t really tell us much about how these defects would be fixed in the higher phase of communist society. That he doesn’t want the weak and the old to be left out is clear, but is this supposed to happen only as a result of increased production efficiency and technical advancement? Again, he seems to view labour in the general sense, covering all aspects of existence: “labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want.” I.e. if we control what we do, we control our lives, what we do is our life, including everything we consume and everything we do for pleasure. But as I’ve stated, I think he skips a step. I think we are what we experience, not what we do. What we do is relevant to what we experience, but it’s not the same thing. What we do may be what we are to others, but consumption is what we are to ourselves and what we do is just a step towards consumption. We can learn a lot from Marx about the evils of the current system, but, in my view, we still have ahead of us the task of figuring out how to organize production and distribution to achieve the desired experience of life.

Socialism and the First International (1864-1876)

Hopefully we now understand the economic theory of Marx, at least a little bit better. We will next take a look at what he did in practice, since he himself said, in reference to Feuerbach, that “philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” But to illuminate his actions we must first investigate the rise of socialism which began around the turn of the century. I’ve chosen this cut-off point because it suffices to explain Marxism, but elements of socialism can be found earlier, e.g. among the Diggers and Levellers in Britain, and the oldest approximations are probably older than recorded history.

As many Europeans emigrated to the United States and founded colonies, Robert Owen, a Welsh industrialist, decided to buy a settlement called New Harmony in 1825 and use it to implement his ideas for a new moral world. These ideas include the importance of the well-being of workers and child care. He also coined the slogan: “Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest”. His experiment lasted only a few years, but the general concept appealed to radicals who for various reasons (like religious persecution) had left Europe in search of something new. In France, Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) came up with ideas that would lead to the creation of both socialism and sociology (via his secretary August Comte). He envisioned a new society based on his Christian beliefs. In his book New Christianity (Nouveau Christianisme), published in 1825, he writes that the “whole of society ought to strive towards the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class; society ought to organize itself in the way best adapted for attaining this end.” Although he gained little recognition in his life-time, his followers popularized his works soon after his death.

Another Frenchman, Charles Fourier (1772-1837), was also concerned with poverty, which he saw as the source of the chaos of modern society. He argued that work should be attractive, talking about labour in almost sexual terms, that work should be based on cooperation and that children were naturally inclined to learn about the world, be creative and care for the weak. Fourier also coined the term feminism and founded a short-lived colony in the United States named Utopia. Marx would later deride these early socialists, calling them utopian socialists, in contrast to his matter-of-fact, scientific socialism.

After the French Revolution of 1830, France remained a constitutional monarchy under Louis Philippe I of the House of Bourbon. In the elected assembly, conservatives and royalists sat to the right and the more radical-minded politicians sat to the left. It is from this custom we derive the quite arbitrary political concepts of the left and the right. The best way to understand the meaning of left is perhaps as the political dissenters in any given society. Although the left-right rhetoric has evolved into something quite different by now, Marx identified with the left. According to the constitution, only land-owners were allowed to vote, which paved the way for a reform movement. The aforementioned book What is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government (Qu’est-ce que la propriété? Recherche sur le principe du droit et du gouvernement), written in 1840 by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, was widely read at this time. He was perhaps the first person to call himself an anarchist, although he also called himself a socialist and a federalist and his economic system is called mutualism. I don’t think there is a huge difference between Proudhon and Marx, but Proudhon’s ideas on anarchism and federalism greatly influenced later developments in e.g. Spain.

“[Proudhon] contrasts property with possession, the former being ‘the right to use {something} by his neighbour’s labour.’ Property results in the farmer toiling for a landlord or the worker producing for a capitalist. Possession is when those who use a resource control it: the worker in a co-operative or the self-employed artisan. Only the former creates ‘the exploitation of man by man’ and authoritarian social relationships.

This, he argues, is cause of capitalism’s inequality and crises, the contradictions (‘property is impossible’) inherent in a system in which workers are exploited by owners. Long before Marx, Proudhon argued for a ‘scientific socialism’ and that workers produced a surplus-value (aubaine, translated, as usual, as ‘increase’) which is appropriated by their boss:

‘Whoever labours becomes a proprietor . . . And when I say proprietor, I do not mean simply (as do our hypocritical economists) proprietor of his allowance, his salary, his wages, – I mean proprietor of the value he creates, and by which the master alone profits . . . The labourer retains, even after he has received his wages, a natural right in the thing he has produced.'” Source

In his vision, self-employed artisans, peasants, and cooperatives would trade their products on the market. – Wikipedia

Another influential figure was Louis Auguste Blanqui. He had participated in the 1830 revolt and in 1839 he inspired a failed revolt in Paris. Among the participants of the failed revolt were the League of the Just, a Christian socialist organization founded by German emigrants in France. In 1847 the League of the Just merged with Marx’s and Engels’ own organization, the Communist Corresponding Committee, thus forming the Communist League. At this time there was no significant distinction between socialism and communism.

“As a socialist, Blanqui favored what he described as a just redistribution of wealth. But Blanquism is distinguished in various ways from other socialist currents of the day. On one side, contrary to Karl Marx, Blanqui did not believe in the preponderant role of the working class, nor in popular movements: he thought, on the contrary, that the revolution should be carried out by a small group, who would establish a temporary dictatorship by force. This period of transitional tyranny would permit the implementation of the basis of a new order, after which power would be handed to the people. In another respect, Blanqui was more concerned with the revolution itself than with the future society that would result from it: if his thought was based on precise socialist principles, it rarely goes so far as to imagine a society purely and really socialist. In this he differs from the Utopian Socialists. For the Blanquists, the overturning of the bourgeois social order and the revolution are ends sufficient in themselves, at least for their immediate purposes.” – Wikipedia

Although the anti-royalist currents in society had a clear enemy, there was little consensus regarding what the next step should be. In Britain, the Reform Act of 1832 had extended the right to vote to anyone who paid £10, which inspired some of the French. “Christians imagined a ‘charitable economy’, while the ideas of Socialism, in particular Utopian Socialism (Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, etc.) diffused themselves. Blanqui theorized Socialist coups d’état, the socialist and anarchist thinker Proudhon theorized mutualism. On the other hand, Liberals, inspired by Adam Smith, imagined a solution in laissez-faire and the end of tariffs, which the United Kingdom, the dominant European power, had started in 1846 with the repeal of the Corn Laws.” – Wikipedia

In 1848 Parisians took to the streets and erected barricades, fighting local guardsmen and converging on the royal palace. After just a few days Louis Philippe I abdicated. This sparked revolts in almost all European countries, with varying results. During all this, the Communist League published the Communist Manifesto in London in 1848. Marx was the principal author of the manifesto.

“[T]he first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.

Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.

These measures will, of course, be different in different countries.

Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.”

The manifesto had no immediate impact. In France, disputes among the revolutionaries led to a general election which resulted in Louis-Napoléon Bonapartethe nephew of Napoleon I, being elected president. However, in 1851 he instigated a coup d’état and created the Second French Empire. He would continue to rule until the war with Germany in 1870. The revolutions seemed to have accomplished little.

“‘We have been beaten and humiliated … scattered, imprisoned, disarmed and gagged. The fate of European democracy has slipped from our hands.’

- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

There were multiple memories of the Revolutions. Democrats looked to 1848 as a democratic revolution, which in the long run ensured liberty, equality, and fraternity. Marxists denounced 1848 as a betrayal of working-class ideals by a bourgeoisie indifferent to the legitimate demands of the proletariat. For nationalists, 1848 was the springtime of hope, when newly emerging nationalities rejected the old multinational empires. They were all bitterly disappointed in the short run.

In the post-revolutionary decade after 1848, little had visibly changed, and most historians considered the revolutions a failure, given the seeming lack of permanent structural changes.

Nevertheless, there were a few immediate successes for some revolutionary movements, notably in the Habsburg lands. Austria and Prussia eliminated feudalism by 1850, improving the lot of the peasants. European middle classes made political and economic gains over the next 20 years; France retained universal male suffrage. Russia would later free the serfs on February 19, 1861. The Habsburgs finally had to give the Hungarians more self-determination in the Ausgleich of 1867. The revolutions inspired lasting reform in Denmark, as well as the Netherlands.

In Chile, the 1848 revolutions inspired the 1851 Chilean Revolution.

The Texas Hill Country was settled by German intellectuals fleeing the reactionary purges (German Texans). More widely, many disillusioned and persecuted revolutionaries, in particular (though not exclusively) those from Germany and the Austrian Empire, left their homelands for foreign exile in the New World or in the more liberal European nations: these emigrants were known as the Forty-Eighters.” – Wikipedia

Marx continued to write prolifically and spent much of his time in attempts to rally and organize revolutionaries. In 1864 the International Workingmen’s Association, also known as the First International, was created and Marx was elected to its General Council. From the start, mutualists, following Proudhon, expressed their disapproval of communism and statism and in 1868 two main factions crystallized, one following Marx and one following Mikhail Bakunin. I’ve already mentioned him twice, but without providing much detail.

Bakunin was born in Russia in 1814 and had participated in the failed Czech uprising against Austrian rule during the revolutions of 1848. He had been exiled to Siberia and fled Russia, at one point traveling all the way through Japan and the United States to get to Europe. He had met Marx and Proudhon and were influenced by both but had formed his own economic system called collectivism. One of the main points of contention between the two factions in the International was the role of political activity. Marx wanted to use the available political tools to take over the means of production while Bakunin and the other anarchists feared that this would create a new ruling class in the form of a small group of leaders emerging from the proletariat, as exemplified by Blanqui’s ideas. Bakunin argued that the state, inherently a tool of oppression, could not be used to liberate the working class. “If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself.”

Although Marx thought of the state not as an independent entity but as a function of the economic relations and probably envisioned the so called dictatorship of the proletariat as small groups of workers seizing power in their local communities, the split between the two factions gradually led to the dissolution of the First International in 1876. At its peak it had had several million members. The perhaps first Marxist political party, the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, SDAP), was founded in 1869.

German Nationalism (1862-1890)

Friedrich Wilhelm III had ruled Prussia from 1797-1840 and was succeeded by his son, Friedrich Wilhelm IV. In response to the revolutions of 1848, Friedrich Wilhelm IV established a Prussian parliament, although he gave himself the right to appoint all ministers of the government. His brother, Wilhelm I, ascended the throne upon his death in 1861 and appointed Otto von Bismarck as Minister President the following year. Bismarck would come to dictate Prussian domestic and foreign policies for the next three decades until his resignation in 1890.

Bismarck was a member of the Junker class, which owned great estates worked by peasants. At the age of 34, in 1849, he was elected to the newly established Prussian parliament. Initially an ultraconservative, he soon adopted a more pragmatic view of politics, connecting him with the then newly coined term realpolitik. Bismarck spent several years as ambassador to Russia and France. As Minister President, he declared his intentions to use military force to achieve Prussia’s goals and part of the reason he was appointed was because the parliament had refused the king’s proposal to increase the military budget.

“A few days later, Bismarck appeared before the Landtag’s Budget Committee and stressed the need for military preparedness. He concluded his speech with the following statement: ‘The position of Prussia in Germany will not be determined by its liberalism but by its power {…} Prussia must concentrate its strength and hold it for the favorable moment, which has already come and gone several times. Since the treaties of Vienna, our frontiers have been ill-designed for a healthy body politic. Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood (Eisen und Blut).’ This phrase was popularized as the more euphonous Blut und Eisen (‘Blood and Iron’), and became symbolic of Bismarckian Machtpolitik (‘Power politics’)… [Later] he became known as ‘the iron chancellor.'” – Wikipedia

When the King of Denmark died in 1863, the status of two duchies by the Danish-German border reignited a territorial dispute. Prussia and Austria settled the issue by seizing control over the territories. However, Prussia and Austria were already at odds since the German Confederation had been established after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. The confederation was considered weak and ineffective as a result of its two dominant members not being in agreement. The issue of who should manage the formerly Danish territories lead to open war between Prussia and Austria in 1866. The war ended in just seven weeks while the superior forces of Prussia were winning. The German Confederation was dissolved and Prussia forced other northern German states to join a new constellation, the North German Confederation with Bismarck as chancellor. The perhaps most significant part of the new constitution was the introduction of universal male suffrage, which pleased the nationalists and liberals, but which was accompanied by mandatory conscription for all men. This give-and-take has, in my view, set the tone for all modern nation-states.

The threat of the increasing power of Prussia to the rest of Europe and Bismarck’s desire to go to war in an attempt to unify the Germans, along with several other contemporary and historical issues, led to the Franco-German War in 1870. Southern German states joined the war against France and also joined the political union Prussia had initiated, which then resulted in the creation of the German Empire in 1871. Wilhelm I was made emperor and Bismarck became the imperial chancellor.

Meanwhile, France was once again in a state of turmoil. The Germans had laid siege to Paris for four months and its citizens were on the brink of starvation. The French government in Bordeaux announced the end of the Second French Empire, signed an armistice and held a national election which the conservatives won. In Paris, however, radical republicans and socialists won 37 of 42 seats. Paris had been mostly defended by the National Guard rather than the regular French army and tensions between them grew over the question of the governing of Paris. The National Guard organized a new election in Paris, in which half of the registered voters (only men) participated while rich Parisians mostly abstained. The new Commune set up a number of committees subject to its executive committee and did not elect any president or mayor and they replaced the republican tricolor with a socialist red flag. The Commune and the National Guard decided to attack the regular army at Versailles, but failed in doing so. In the end, the regular army took Paris and the two-month-long reign of the Communards was history. However, with the end of the empire, the French Third Republic had been established. It might be worth mentioning that Bakunin led a similar uprising in Lyon the year before, and that in both Lyon and in the Paris Commune most of the participating socialists were not Marxists.

Socialism was also on the increase in Germany, which in 1878 prompted Bismarck to institute the Anti-Socialist Laws (Gesetz gegen die gemeingefährlichen Bestrebungen der Sozialdemokratie). Max Hödel, a 31-year-old German plumber, attempted to assassinate the emperor. He had been kicked out of a social-democratic organization and become an anarchist. One month later, another assassination attempt failed, this time conducted by a 30-year-old man named Karl Nobiling, who had received his doctor’s degree from university two years earlier. Bismarck used these assassination attempts to gather support for the laws. Socialist newspapers were closed and had to relocate abroad and socialist meetings and propaganda were made illegal. However, socialists continued to meet in secret and to run for parliament as independent candidates. The laws caused debate in parliament which eventually led to Bismarck resigning in 1890. After the ban on socialist parties was lifted, the SDAP reformed as the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) and although its policies have altered a bit, today it is one of the major parties in Germany.

Marx was greatly inspired by the Paris Commune, which he saw as a model for the socialist revolution, while he viewed the preceeding French Revolution as a liberal, or bourgeois, revolution. He would stress the fact that workers in France and Germany had to join forces and not fight each other on the orders of their respective masters; that the struggle had to be international was crucial in his view. This includes opposition to all other divisive politics, like feminism and black liberation, although intersectional politics has potentially bridged that gap since then. In particular Marx disliked the self-identified middle-class, or the petite bourgeoisie, because they bought into the capitalist dream even though they themselves never accumulated enough capital to actually live off their capital. Among his economic predictions we also find the idea that a successful revolution had to include Germany because it had the most advanced industrialized economy and thus the necessary material conditions for communism. This became a major issue for the Russian revolutionaries, but before we look at the world politics that followed, we shall take a quick look at what happened to the economy. Marx died in 1883 at the age of 64. His theories do not seem to have developed after the publication of Capital. Probably he was busy with handling practical matters, like criticizing other factions in the socialist movement. Although Marxism has contributed to workers’ rights, for what it’s worth, the stateless, moneyless society he envisioned has never materialized.

Modern economics (1890)

”Neoclassical economics dominates microeconomics, and together with Keynesian economics forms the neoclassical synthesis which dominates mainstream economics today.” – Wikipedia. Neoclassical economics was brought into a coherent whole by Alfred Marshall in 1890. ”From 1890 to 1924 he was the respected father of the economic profession and to most economists for the half-century after his death, the venerable grandfather. He had shied away from controversy during his life in a way that previous leaders of the profession had not, although his even-handedness drew great respect and even reverence from fellow economists, and his home at Balliol Croft in Cambridge had no shortage of distinguished guests. His students at Cambridge became leading figures in economics, including John Maynard Keynes and Arthur Cecil Pigou. His most important legacy was creating a respected, academic, scientifically founded profession for economists in the future that set the tone of the field for the remainder of the 20th century.” – Wikipedia

”Marshall began his economic work, the Principles of Economics, in 1881, and spent much of the next decade at work on the treatise… The first volume was published in 1890 to worldwide acclaim, establishing him as one of the leading economists of his time. The second volume, which was to address foreign trade, money, trade fluctuations, taxation, and collectivism, was never published.

Principles of Economics established his worldwide reputation… It decisively shaped the teaching of economics in English-speaking countries. Its main technical contribution was a masterful analysis of the issues of elasticity, consumer surplus, increasing and diminishing returns, short and long terms, and marginal utility. Many of the ideas were original with Marshall; others were improved versions of the ideas by W. S. Jevons and others.

In a broader sense Marshall hoped to reconcile the classical and modern theories of value. John Stuart Mill had examined the relationship between the value of commodities and their production costs, on the theory that value depends on the effort expended in manufacture. Jevons and the Marginal Utility theorists had elaborated a theory of value based on the idea of maximising utility, holding that value depends on demand. Marshall’s work used both these approaches, but he focused more on costs. He noted that, in the short run, supply cannot be changed and market value depends mainly on demand. In an intermediate time period, production can be expanded by existing facilities, such as buildings and machinery, but, since these do not require renewal within this intermediate period, their costs (called fixed, overhead, or supplementary costs) have little influence on the sale price of the product. Marshall pointed out that it is the prime or variable costs, which constantly recur, that influence the sale price most in this period. In a still longer period, machines and buildings wear out and have to be replaced, so that the sale price of the product must be high enough to cover such replacement costs. This classification of costs into fixed and variable and the emphasis given to the element of time probably represent one of Marshall’s chief contributions to economic theory. He was committed to partial equilibrium models over general equilibrium on the grounds that the inherently dynamical nature of economics made the former more practically useful.

Much of the success of Marshall’s teaching and Principles book derived from his effective use of diagrams [including the iconic supply-and-demand graph], which were soon emulated by other teachers worldwide.” – Wikipedia

Rational choice theory, a key feature of neoclassical economics, assumes that people choose how to act in a market based on individual preferences. ”These preferences are assumed to be complete (the person can always say which of two alternatives they consider preferable or that neither is preferred to the other) and transitive (if option A is preferred over option B and option B is preferred over option C, then A is preferred over C). The rational agent is assumed to take account of available information, probabilities of events, and potential costs and benefits in determining preferences, and to act consistently in choosing the self-determined best choice of action. [Rational here means] goal-oriented, reflective (evaluative), and consistent (across time and different choice situations).” – Wikipedia

In theory the individual must however only act consistently regarding each specific goal, it is not necessary to keep the same goal all the time and so the theory allows for agents to be inconsistent in general. If we assume the existence of free will, we can say that people sometimes act by a supernatural impulse without using their brains to think about it and therefore act without a goal. In this case, because of a temporary lack of a goal, we can’t even be said to be consistent about having preferences in general or always wanting to satisfy a preference. If we assume that there is no supernatural free will, then our economic behaviour should actually be reduced to a materialistic, deterministic theory which has yet to be demonstrated. And indeed, modern economists state only that they are able to predict economic patterns, not that they have uncovered the fundamental causes of these patterns.

This means that there’s still room for the possibility that modern economics is partially compatible with Marx’s theories. Certainly Marxists would argue that Marx and Marshall both share the credit for emphasizing the element of time in economics and for employing a scientific method. Marx also requires that the producer is rational and goal-oriented in order to create something that is useful for consumption, much like the consumer is rational in rational choice theory. While the source of abstract value is abstract labour, any added use value in a commodity is created by specialized and goal-oriented labour. Raw materials have use value in themselves, but must be intentionally reshaped or at the very least harvested and transported to be used in consumption.

I’ll mention in passing Henry George (1839-1897). He had a significant following in the early 20th century, although today few Georgists remain. He believed that everyone could justly own whatever they contributed but that nature as such should be owned in common. The main difference between him and Marx was that he wanted to impose a tax, the only tax that would be needed, on those who chose to own a piece of nature without doing anything with it themselves. I believe this meant a higher tax the less one did and a lower tax the more one improved on nature. As an inversion of rent, instead of owners renting out their property to users, the owners would have to pay rent, tax, to the collective.

The Scramble for Africa (1870-1914)

By 1871 most of the territory of modern Italy had been united into the Kingdom of Italy. This had partly been facilitated by the Austria-Prussian War and the Franco-German War. In 1882, Italy, Germany and Austria-Hungary entered into an agreement called the Triple Alliance. If either of them were to be attacked by the French Republic, the other parties would come to their aid. If war broke out between Austria-Hungary and Russia, Italy would remain neutral. From 1873-1887, Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary were in a separate pact called the Three Emperor’s Agreement, which was a defense pact against France and included attempts to stabilize conflicts in eastern Europe.

“By the late 1870s, Austrian territorial ambitions in both the Italian peninsula and Central Europe had been thwarted by the rise of Italy and Germany as new national powers. With the decline and failed reforms of the Ottoman Empire, Slavic discontent in the occupied Balkans grew, and both Russia and Austria-Hungary saw an opportunity to expand in this region. In 1876, Russia offered to partition the Balkans, but Hungarian statesman Gyula Andrássy declined because Austria-Hungary was already a ‘saturated’ state and it could not cope with additional territories. The whole Empire was thus drawn into a new style of diplomatic brinkmanship, first conceived of by Andrássy, centering on the province of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a predominantly Slav area still under the control of the Ottoman Empire.” – Wikipedia

Russia, already controlling vast swaths of Asia and having sold Alaska to the United States, focused their imperial ambitions on Ottoman territories. The Serbian Revolution had begun already 1804 and over time the Ottomans ceded their hold of the Balkans. The general rise of nationalism, as well as Pan-Slavism, prompted Russia to form a coalition and go to war against the Ottomans. The peace talks, led by Bismarck, resulted in the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. The treaty granted increased autonomy for Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro. It also entailed that some Ottoman territory would be ceded to Russia, while the British Empire gained control over the strategically positioned island of Cyprus and Austria-Hungary got Bosnia-Hercegovina, supposedly to balance the European powers. However, this would not last. Russia would withdraw their support for Austria-Hungary’s rule over Bosnia while Serbia showed interest in annexing it instead. In 1908, Bulgaria declared complete independence from the Ottoman Empire and, the day after, Austria-Hungary announced that Bosnia would become an autonomous region under their rule. These two announcements forced the Treaty of Berlin to be renegotiated and Russia, unhappy with the outcome, left the Three Emperor’s Agreement.

As there was little elbow-room left in Europe for Germany and Italy, they turned their gaze towards Africa. However, the other European countries had the same idea. Africa is three times the size of Europe and in 1870 only ten percent of Africa was under European control. Spain held Morocco, France Algeria, Portugal Angola and Mozambique, Britain South Africa and the Ottoman Empire Libya, Egypt and Sudan. Italy decided to invade the Horn of Africa and would later take Libya from the Ottomans. France conquered most of western and northern Africa and the Brits went north from South Africa and also took most of eastern Africa, including Sudan, Egypt and the important Suez Canal, much to the dismay of the Ottomans. Belgium colonized Congo and Germany grabbed what was left. This meant Germany became the third largest power in Africa, after Britain and France.

In 1888, Wilhelm I died. His son, Friedrich III married Victoria, daughter of British Queen Victoria, but he died after just three months on the throne. In turn, his son was crowned Wilhelm II. After Bismarck resigned in 1890, Germany embarked on a new course. Apart from abusing Africa, this involved closer cooperation with Britain. However, the Brits were also considered the main competition and Wilhelm II desired a navy that could match that of the Brits.

“As he wrote in his autobiography:

‘I had a peculiar passion for the navy. It sprang to no small extent from my English blood. When I was a little boy…I admired the proud British ships. There awoke in me the will to build ships of my own like these some day, and when I was grown up to possess a fine navy as the English.’

- Kaiser Wilhelm II, My Early Life” – Wikipedia

Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz was made State Secretary of the German Imperial Naval Office. “On June 15, 1897, Tirpitz unveiled a memorandum that was to alter European history. In this document, he argued that in order to defeat the strongest naval power, a fleet of battleships was necessary. He then proceeded to reverse his argument: if battleships were necessary, Germany’s enemy must be the strongest naval power – Britain. Tirpitz’s plans were predicated on ‘risk theory’ – even if the German fleet was smaller than that of Britain, it had to be able to inflict damage on the Royal Navy that was severe enough to endanger British dominance of the seas. The losses would be so heavy that another power, perhaps a German ally or British foe, could then swoop in and destroy the remnants of the British fleet. To avoid such a costly naval confrontation with Germany, British diplomacy would become more accommodating towards German colonial and economic desires.” – Wikipedia

Britain and France entered into an agreement called the Entente Cordiale. Among the stipulations was that the French would not interfere with British interests in Egypt and the British would not interfere with French interests in Morocco. It’s worth mentioning that the British Empire controlled the strategic location of the Gibraltar Strait. In 1905, Germany showed support for the Sultan in Morocco. This led to France and Germany mobilizing their troops along their common border and negotiations were held. Germany was backed by Austria-Hungary, but France was backed by Britain, Russia, Italy, Spain and the United States and the Germans had to back down. France was already allied with Russia and when Russia and Britain decided to put a halt to their rivalry in Asia the three countries formed together in the military alliance called the Triple Entente. In 1911, a rebellion broke out in Morocco. Both France and Germany sent troops to Morocco to resolve the situation, which meant negotiations once again had to be conducted to de-escalate the situation. As a result, France tightened their grip on Morocco while Germany backed down and got a different slice of Africa from France as consolation. Apparently these crises also resulted in Britain switching from coal to oil as fuel for the navy. This made the Suez Canal an even more important possession as it was vital to the transportation of oil.

Tensions were high in Europe and Britain had abandoned its isolationist position in regards to mainland European politics. The stage was set for disaster and in 1914 a gunshot ignited The Great War. Franz Ferdinand, the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, had been sent to Sarajevo in Bosnia to parade before his subjects. He was killed by Gavrilo Princip, son of a mailman and member of both a Serbian nationalist organization and an anarchist organization. Austria-Hungary wanted to investigate anyone involved in the assassination, which would’ve included sending a detachment of the police force into Serbia. Serbia refused and Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Within a week, Germany and Austria-Hungary were at war with Britain, France and Russia. Two months later the Ottomans joined on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary. We’ll now look at events in Russia before looking at the consequences of the war in the rest of Europe.

The Russian Revolutions (1905-1924)

At the eastern end of Eurasia, the Japanese Empire was looking for more territory and the investment opportunities that would come with it. The nearest mainland offered only two targets: Russia and China. “After fighting two Opium Wars against the British in 1839 and 1856, and another war against the French in 1885, China was unable to resist the encroachment of Western powers… Japan saw the opportunity to take China’s place in the strategically vital Korea.” – Wikipedia. In 1895, Japan defeated China and gained some territory, but Korea was declared independent from both of them. Japan next defeated Russia in 1905, which, among other things, resulted in Korea coming under Japanese control and a part of China that Russia was leasing had to be handed back to China.

In Russia, the failed war against Japan was very unpopular, but it was just another problem among many others. Czar Nikolai II already faced repeated industrial strikes and peasant uprisings caused by economic depression, the spread of radical ideas and the attempted Russification of minorities. By the end of 1905, several million workers were on strike and sympathy strikes took place in other countries. Under such pressure, the Czar had to sign The Manifesto on the Improvement of the State Order, which granted “to the population the essential foundations of civil freedom, based on the principles of genuine inviolability of the person, freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association.” In 1906, the absolute monarchy became a constitutional monarchy, at least on paper, but in reality little changed.

The opposition to the Czar was heterogenous, but similar to the mix of movements in the rest of Europe. One exception was the Narodniks (Narod means people in Russian). Its founder was Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky, who wrote the popular book What Is to Be Done? Serfdom had been abolished in 1861 and Russia was lagging behind in the industrialization. The Narodniks saw serfs moving from the farms to the factories as just a change in who owned them. They thought that the rural population should revolt right away without going through the capitalist stage as per Marx’s recipe. Their organization and propaganda contributed to the Russian revolutions. However, most of them were from liberal cities like Saint Petersburg and not lower-class themselves and they were subsequently viewed with scepticism in the countryside. The Narodniks had also been responsible for the 1881 assassination of the Czar.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, was born in 1870. When Lenin was 16 years old, his brother was executed for plotting to kill the Czar. After this, Lenin read Chernyshevsky’s book and joined a socialist organization through which he discovered Marx’s theories. He studied the 1871 Paris Commune and travelled to meet with other Marxists in Europe. After then spending three years in exile in Siberia, he left Russia, writing texts that were smuggled back into Russia. Despite not living in Russia, his writings made him an important figure in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). His 1909 book Materialism and Empirio-criticism. Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy was directed against his main opposition in the party. He accuses them, and their philosophy of empirio-criticism, for distorting materialism in a way that makes them tools for the ruling class. The book is a political positioning more than a contribution to philosophy.

“[T]he theoretical foundations of this philosophy must be compared with those of dialectical materialism. Such a comparison, to which the first three chapters were devoted, reveals, along the whole line of epistemological problems, the thoroughly reactionary character of empirio-criticism, which uses new artifices, terms and subtleties to disguise the old errors of idealism and agnosticism. Only utter ignorance of the nature of philosophical materialism generally and of the nature of Marx’s and Engels’ dialectical method can lead one to speak of ‘combining’ empirio-criticism and Marxism…

[B]ehind the epistemological scholasticism of empirio-criticism one must not fail to see the struggle of parties in philosophy, a struggle which in the last analysis reflects the tendencies and ideology of the antagonistic classes in modern society. Recent philosophy is as partisan as was philosophy two thousand years ago. The contending parties are essentially, although it is concealed by a pseudo-erudite quackery of new terms or by a feeble-minded non-partisanship, materialism and idealism. The latter is merely a subtle, refined form of fideism, which stands fully armed, commands vast organisations and steadily continues to exercise influence on the masses, turning the slightest vacillation in philosophical thought to its own advantage. The objective, class role of empirio-criticism consists entirely in rendering faithful service to the fideists in their struggle against materialism in general and historical materialism in particular.”

In 1914, Russia and Germany engaged in battle. The SPD supported the German war effort. It had become more attached to the idea of gradual progress through political representation than to the idea of revolution. Since the 1912 election, the SPD was the largest party in parliament having received 35% of the vote. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht broke out of the SPD to form the anti-war faction called the Spartacus League. “Lenin was angry that the German Social-Democratic Party was supporting the German war effort – a direct contravention of the Second International’s Stuttgart resolution that socialist parties would oppose the conflict – and thus saw the Second International as defunct. He attended the Zimmerwald Conference in September 1915 and the Kienthal Conference in April 1916, urging socialists across the continent to convert the ‘imperialist war’ into a continent-wide ‘civil war’ with the proletariat pitted against the bourgeoisie and aristocracy.” – Wikipedia

The war went poorly for the Russians and, in 1915, Nikolai II took direct command over the armed forces. This is no way helped the situation and in addition to more peasant uprisings and strikes, soldiers also mutinied. In 1917, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Saint Petersburg (at the time named Petrograd). These included striking workers and women who marched for International Women’s Day and to protest food rationing. Soldiers were sent to quell the uprising but many of them switched sides. The Czar was forced to abdicate and was imprisoned. A Provisional Government was set up, but it was impotent and had to cede their power to the Petrograd Soviet set up by the socialists. The soviet was a local council led by Leon Trotsky and they created a military force which would soon become the Red Army. Trotsky had already been elected to the soviet in its brief two-month existence during the 1905 revolution. The RSDLP was split in two, with Trotsky and Lenin on either side, and Lenin rushed to Russia.

Lenin, and his Bolshevik faction, ultimately prevailed and he called for an end to the war. Trotsky accepted Lenin’s leadership and was chosen to negotiate a peace treaty. Russia withdrew from the war but the stipulations of the treaty would not hold for long. However, the Red Army would focus on consolidating its power in the Russian Civil War that followed. Part of the reason they succeeded was their very hierarchical organization. Lenin called this democratic centralism, describing it as “freedom of discussion, unity of action”. In practice this meant that representatives who had been elected to the local soviets could be replaced by a decree from the central authority for the united soviets.

The Red Army fought a multitude of enemies, including the White Army, the Black Army and the Green Armies. The White Army was a mix of monarchists and republicans united by their opposition to the socialists. The Green Armies were an even more eclectic bunch.

“In a broad sense, the Green armies were spontaneous manifestations of peasant discontent rather than of any specific ideology. By 1920 the Reds had secured victory over the Whites and the peasant soldiers of the Red army were outraged at the prospect of continuing to violently oppress their own class in the interest of the new government. Groups of deserters consolidated in the forests, eventually leading to their ‘Green’ designation. While these groups opposed the Bolsheviks, they often did so without a plan or alternative form of government in mind; rather, they simply wanted to rid the countryside of Red influence by any means necessary…

Green armies often cooperated with other oppositional groups – including anarchists and left SRs – in concerted efforts against the Reds, but generally for strategic reasons rather than ideological ones. While disillusioned Whites joined the Green cause and led some of the peasant bands, the Soviets overstated the extent to which the two elements were actually related. Prone to follow fiery rhetoric and promises of violent revenge, the peasants usually rejected leaders who announced a primarily political goal or who represented the more moderate interests of the Socialist Revolutionaries and other parties associated with the Provisional Government of 1917. ‘They preferred waging a desperate and lonely struggle on their own to helping the oppressors of the past {the Whites} achieve victory over the oppressors of the present {the Reds.}'” – Wikipedia

The Black Army, formally The Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, was one of the many groups of ethnic minorities who fought for independence from Russia. The Black Army was led by the anarchist Nestor Makhno.

“After the victories over the White Army, the Bolshevik government repudiated its alliance with Makhno and the Ukrainian anarchist movement, repeatedly attacking concentrations of Black Army troops, as well as ordering Chekist and Red Army reprisals against those believed sympathetic to the anarchists…

By 1920, Leon Trotsky (as War Commissar of the Red Army) had resorted to terror tactics, ordering the death of thousands of Ukrainian villagers and peasants loyal to Makhno’s Black Army…

The Bolshevik then sent 5 regular Armies numbering more than 350,000 with armoured cars, artillery,aircraft, and armoured trains, with the purpose of destroying the Makhnovist movement. The Makhnovist army barely numbered 10,000 men continued to fight on making raids all across Ukraine and Southern Russia fighting constant battles with much larger and better equipped Red army units. In August 1921 the Makhnovist army ceased to be an organised force, numbering only 1,200-2,000 men scattered across Ukraine. A badly wounded Makhno with 77 of his men crossed the Dniester river to Romania in August 28, 1921. The last Makhnovist forces where destroyed in late 1922, and an underground Makhnovist presence would persist into the 1940s.” – Wikipedia

In Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) strikes and protests were held against the Bolshevik government. On the island of Kotlin, just outside Petrograd in the Gulf of Finland, the Kronstadt rebellion broke out in 1921. The Red Army suppressed them in a few bloody days, but we can see from their demands what the causes of the rebellion were, although I’ve only included a few of them:

“On 26th February the Kronstadt sailors, naturally interested in all that was going on in Petrograd, sent delegates to find out about the strikes. The delegation visited a number factories. It returned to Kronstadt on the 28th. That same day, the crew of the battleship ‘Petropavlovsk,’ having discussed the situation, voted the following resolution: (2)

‘Having heard the reports of the representatives sent by the General Assembly of the Fleet to find out about the situation in Petrograd, the sailors demand:

1. Immediate new elections to the Soviets. The present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda.
2. Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties.
3. The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant organisations.
4. The organisation, at the latest on 10th March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, solders and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.
5. The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organisations.
6. The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.'”

The RSDLP changed its name to the Russian Communist Party. Lenin now defined communism as the transitional phase between capitalism and socialism. Richard Fleming wrote in 1989 a text called Lenin’s Conception of Socialism. In it he writes:

“At the time of the victory of the Russian Revolution in October 1917, Lenin’s views on socialism and how to build it were limited. He held that socialism was characterized by several principal features. These were public ownership of the means of production, an end to exploitation, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

As of October 1917, Lenin had not yet translated these general points into an actual plan for socialism in Russia. This reflected not a lack of preparation on Lenin’s part, but rather his approach to political problems. Lenin was an eminently practical person. During the long years of struggle before 1917, he devoted little attention to the question of socialism because it was not yet an immediate issue…

It was not until the revolution was nearing victory, and the problem of building the new society loomed as a practical matter, that Lenin devoted more attention to the question. He approached the issue of socialism not by looking primarily to Marx’s writings for answers, but to the actual situation in Russia. Marx offered no blueprint for socialism and had written little about Russia. And the world had changed considerably since Marx’s time, especially with the development of imperialism…

Lenin took Marx’s views and further developed them. Marx held that under socialism the government would be a dictatorship of the proletariat. The working class, the most politically advanced class, would rule society and lead the other laboring classes – the petty bourgeoisie and the peasants – in building socialism and stopping the bourgeoisie from regaining power.

But in formulating these views, Marx had Western Europe in mind. In Russia, the proletariat was small and 80% of the population were peasants. What role was this vast majority to play in the new government? Lenin held that in Russia the peasantry must be an integral part of the socialist government, because of their numbers and because the peasants, especially the poor peasants, overwhelmingly supported socialism. He explained that given Russia’s particular conditions, a dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasantry was needed.

Lenin’s conception of socialist government was an example of his creativity. Some ‘orthodox’ Marxists of the time opposed the peasants’ participation in government, claiming it violated Marxism and would corrupt the government with the peasants’ petty bourgeois ideology. But Lenin held that these critics failed to understand Russian reality and underestimated the revolutionary sentiments of the peasantry. Their approach would narrow the government’s base of support and ensure its eventual downfall. Lenin won most of the party to his view.

The new socialist government set up in Russia after the victory of the revolution was composed of mass organizations called Soviets, councils democratically elected by workers, peasants and soldiers. The Soviets arose spontaneously in 1905 during a democratic uprising, but were suppressed when that revolution failed. Soviets re-emerged in 1917 as the popular struggle intensified.

Lenin described the Soviets as the institutions developed by the Russian Revolution which best represented the interests of the oppressed. He identified some of the key features of the Soviets: they were an armed force of workers and peasants; they provided an intimate bond with the people; their personnel were elected and subject to recall at any time; and they helped train and educate the oppressed, among other features…

Russia was in deep economic trouble. Industrial production was one-seventh the 1917 level and few consumer goods were being produced. Agricultural production was half the 1917 level. The peasants had little incentive to increase output since any extra food was taken by the government. Their standard of living was falling, as was their enthusiasm for socialism. In several regions, unrest among the peasants began flaring in late 1920.

Lenin compared Russia to a man beaten within an inch of his life. The country had passed through seven years of almost continuous war. Lenin realized that ‘war communism’ must be dismantled and replaced by policies to stimulate agriculture and industry, yield more consumer goods, and revive the flagging trade between urban and rural areas.

Lenin was sharply criticized by some Marxists, both in Russia and abroad. From the ‘left’ came criticisms that Lenin was retreating into capitalism…

Lenin stated at the First Congress of the Communist International in June 1921:

‘The development of capitalism, controlled and regulated by the proletarian state i.e. ’state’ capitalism in this sense of the term), is advantageous and necessary in an extremely devastated and backward small-peasant country (within certain limits, of course), inasmuch as it is capable of hastening the immediate revival of peasant farming.'”

In 1939, Bruno Rizzi claimed that the communists had created an entirely new ruling class, the bureaucratic class, in his The Bureaucratization of the World.

“The Russian revolution faced the alternative of either living sparsely while waiting for the proletarian revolution in Western Europe or of coming to terms with the external world and consequently changing its internal policy. It was the second solution which was chosen…

Power should logically have passed from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat, but this has not occurred clearly because of the political immaturity of the proletariat. In fact, it has passed to a social control which is neither bourgeois nor proletarian. The person of the bourgeois capitalist has become superfluous in large-scale production and he is automatically pushed aside. The former official, the pen-pusher for the bourgeoisie, by allying himself with the trade union bureaucracy and that of the totalitarian State, acquires a status: a new class rises on the horizon.”

Lenin was waiting for socialism to bloom in Germany, as Marx had predicted would be necessary, but Lenin died in 1924 and a power struggle ensued from which Stalin emerged victorious. Stalin was born in 1878 as Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili in what is today Georgia. He was involved in activities like robbing banks and assassinating government officials and spent several years in exile in Siberia. After he rose to power he implemented a policy of national communism called “socialism in one country”, arguing that the Soviet Union should become a solid socialist base whence they would lead the conversion of the rest of the world to socialism. Trotsky opposed this in his theory of permanent revolution, reiterating Marx’s call for a simultaneous international revolution. Stalin would remain in power, by increasingly authoritarian means modelled on the Czar’s surveillance state which Stalin was intimately familiar with, until his death in 1953. Stalin’s version of socialism, which Stalin himself called Marxist-Leninism and which most people today call communism, spread and became the main form of communism, inspiring e.g. Mao in China.

National-Socialism (1918-1945)

After losing WW1, the German Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were dissolved and several other states emerged in their absence. These include Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Austria and Hungary. Germans living abroad often had to flee to avoid being murdered. Revolutionaries in the Ottoman Empire created modern Turkey. The Turks attempted to cleanse their nation-state of ethnic minorities while Turks outside Turkey were subjected to a similar cleansing. The rest of the empire’s territory was handed over to France and Britain. Britain also took possession of Germany’s African territories. The United States continued its industrialization while keeping the chaos in Europe at arm’s length and became the superpower it still is today. As the threat of the European colonial powers receded, Japan expanded its territories and strengthened its position as the dominant economic power in eastern and south-eastern Asia.

In Italy, a new movement called fascism developed. One of the inspirations for this movement was the French Marxist Georges Sorel.

“‘The syndicalist or militant trade union movement, which burst into prominence in France around 1900, inspired Sorel to write his Reflections on Violence. The turmoil engendered by strikes was universally condemned even by parliamentary socialists, who favored negotiation and conciliation. To justify the militancy and to give syndicalism an ideology, Sorel published the series of articles that became, as one of his biographers calls it, “a famous and infamous book.” Indeed, it was Sorel’s only successful book of about a dozen published.’ This book was published in Italian, Spanish, German, Japanese and English.

Two of its themes have become a part of social science literature: the concept of the social myth and the virtue of violence.{Citation needed} To Sorel the Syndicalist’s general strike, the Marxist’s catastrophic revolution, the Christian’s church militant, the legends of the French Revolution, and the remembrance of June Days are all myths that move men, quite independent of their historical reality. As one of Sorel’s disciples (Benito Mussolini) said, men do not move mountains; it is only necessary to create the illusion that mountains move. Social myths, says Sorel, are not descriptions of things, but ‘expressions of a determination to act.'” – Wikipedia

By the time of WW1, Benito Mussolini was a leading socialist in Italy. He originally opposed Italy’s imperialist ambitions in the war, but changed his mind, hoping the war would result in the fall of the Hohenzollern and Habsburg monarchies, which it did. He was kicked out of the Italian Socialist Party and in his writings he turned the concept of class struggle into one of national struggle, while borrowing the terminology and forms of organization from the socialists. Mussolini replaced the idea of unity among the working class with unity and total conformity within the nation-state: “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

“He fully demonstrated his transformation in a speech that acknowledged the nation as an entity, a notion he had rejected prior to the war, saying:

‘The nation has not disappeared. We used to believe that the concept was totally without substance. Instead we see the nation arise as a palpitating reality before us! … Class cannot destroy the nation. Class reveals itself as a collection of interests – but the nation is a history of sentiments, traditions, language, culture, and race. Class can become an integral part of the nation, but the one cannot eclipse the other.

The class struggle is a vain formula, without effect and consequence wherever one finds a people that has not integrated itself into its proper linguistic and racial confines – where the national problem has not been definitely resolved.'” – Wikipedia

“In the night between 27 and 28 October 1922, about 30,000 Fascist blackshirts gathered in Rome to demand the resignation of liberal Prime Minister Luigi Facta and the appointment of a new Fascist government. On the morning of 28 October, King Victor Emmanuel III who, according to the Albertine Statute held the supreme military power, refused the government request to declare martial law, which led to Facta’s resignation. The King then handed over power to Mussolini (who stayed in his headquarters in Milan during the talks) by asking him to form a new government. The King’s controversial decision has been explained by historians as a combination of delusions and fears; Mussolini enjoyed a wide support in the military and among the industrial and agrarian elites, while the King and the conservative establishment were afraid of a possible civil war and ultimately thought they could use Mussolini to restore law and order in the country, but failed to foresee the danger of a totalitarian evolution.” – Wikipedia

In Germany, WW1 led to the German Revolution, much like in Russia. However, while the Soviet Union would last for the next 73 years, the German Republic only survived for 15 years until the rise of Hitler. This makes it more similar to the French First Republic which lasted for 10 years before the rise of Napoleon. During the war, the anti-war socialist faction called the Spartacus League merged with other socialists into the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and initiated a series of strikes known as the Spartacus Uprising. However, its leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, were killed by the Freikorps (non-regular military) before the revolution was over. The majority of the new German Republic was comprised of the Free State of Prussia, which was led by a coalition government that included socialists. In the Kingdom of Bavaria, the revolution was led by the socialist Kurt Eisner. The Bavarian king was the first German monarch to be deposed in the revolution and Eisner was elected president and declared Bavaria a socialist state. However, in 1919, Eisner was assassinated in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, by a nationalist named Anton von Padua Alfred Emil Hubert Georg Graf von Arco auf Valley.

Adolf Hitler, born in 1889 in Austria, moved to Munich in 1913 to avoid being drafted into the Austrian army. At the outbreak of WW1 he did however join the German army. After the war, he returned to Munich and began spreading propaganda against the short-lived socialist government. He somehow became leader of a different socialist party in 1921, which then changed its name to the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP). In 1923, he led a revolt against the government in Munich, but it was unsuccessful and he spent the next year in prison. His book My Struggle (Mein Kampf) was published in 1925. He despised the multi-ethnic composition of Austria-Hungary, advocating German unification and expansion eastwards against the Slavs and the communists who he regarded as inferior humans.

In the November election of 1932, NSDAP got 33% of the vote, thus being the largest party in parliament. The other nationalist party, the DNVP, got 8% of the vote. The socialist parties, SPD and KPD, got 20% and 17% respectively. At the time, the president of Germany was Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg. Hindenburg, who had led the German army in WW1, was 84 years old by this time. The Germans were unhappy at the time and among the reasons for this was the defeat in the first world war and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Some of them wanted revenge on France. Among the conservatives in government was a man named Kurt Ferdinand Friedrich Hermann von Schleicher. He despised democracy and wanted Germany to become a militaristic state led by a strong man and he wanted to be that man. “After the presidential elections had ended, Schleicher held a series of secret meetings with Hitler in May 1932 and thought that he had obtained a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ in which Hitler had agreed to support the new ‘presidential government’ that Schleicher was building.” – Wikipedia. Schleicher then convinced Hindenburg to replace the current chancellor.

“The new chancellor, Papen, in return appointed Schleicher as minister of defence. The extent that Schleicher was responsible for the Papen government could be seen in that Schleicher had selected the entire cabinet himself before he even had approached Papen with the offer to be chancellor: after Papen had accepted the offer to serve as chancellor, Schleicher simply presented Papen with his list, and told him that this was to be his cabinet. The first act of the new government was to dissolve the Reichstag in accordance with Schleicher’s ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with Hitler on 4 June 1932…

In August 1932, Hitler reneged on the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ he made with Schleicher that May, and instead of supporting the Papen government demanded the chancellorship for himself. On 5 August 1932, Hitler and Schleicher held a secret meeting, in which Hitler demanded that he become chancellor and the Ministries of the Interior and Justice go to Nazis; Schleicher could remain as defence minister… Schleicher was willing to accept Hitler’s arrangement, but Hindenburg refused, preventing Hitler from receiving the chancellorship in August 1932.” – Wikipedia

“After all of Papen’s attempts to reach a coalition government had failed, federal elections were again held in November 1932, with the Nazis facing some losses but without any chance for Papen to form a government coalition. He finally resigned, and though twenty representatives of industry, finance, and agriculture had signed the Industrielleneingabe, a petition requesting that Hindenburg make Hitler chancellor, on 2 December the president appointed Minister Schleicher. The new chancellor tried to gain the support of an anti-democratic Third Position alliance of DNVP and Nazis led by Gregor Strasser, along with national conservative pressure groups like Der Stahlhelm... However these plans failed, and behind his back on 4 January 1933, Hitler met Papen, who agreed to join a Hitler Cabinet as vice-chancellor. Along with State Secretary Otto Meissner and Hindenburg’s son Oskar, Papen could finally persuade the reluctant president to appoint Hitler. Papen and DNVP chairman Alfred Hugenberg trusted Hindenburg, who was able to depose the chancellor if necessary, and they were reassured by the fact that only two ministers in Hitler’s cabinet, Hermann Göring and Wilhelm Frick, were Nazi Party members.” – Wikipedia

However, it turned out that Hitler would outmaneuver them all. A Dutch communist set the parliament on fire and an emergency law was decreed that ended e.g. freedom of the press and many communists were arrested. NSDAP got 44% of the vote in the parliamentary election of March 1933, but still relied on DNVP with 8% to get a majority, so they then presented the Enabling Act to the parliament. The KDP were kept out of parliament so they couldn’t vote and the Centre Party voted yes after deciding Hitler was potentially the lesser of two evils, the other evil being dictatorship under Papen (or continued political chaos). With the power of the Enabling Act, the Nazis banned all other parties, including DNVP and the Centre Party who’d enabled them, and in the election of November 1933 Hitler won 92% of the vote. When Hindenburg died the following year, Hitler declared himself Führer und Reichskanzler and the army was made to swear loyalty to Hitler personally instead of to the nation. Germany became an empire again.

In 1938, Germany took possession of Czechoslovakia, and France, Britain and Italy allowed this on condition that Hitler would stop there. However, in 1939, Germany colonized Poland and World War 2 began.

Fascist Italy had a lot in common with Nazi Germany and despite some ideological disagreements Mussolini allied with Hitler. Japan was still looking to enlarge the empire, because even with the European colonizers largely gone, the Japanese Empire was still surrounded by China, the Soviet Union and the United States. They attacked China in 1937 and when WW2 began, they allied with Germany.

Spain had lost its empire and developed in a similar way to what had happened in France, Germany and Russia. From 1936-1939, Spain was in civil war. The two main factions were the anarcho-syndicalists and the fascists under Fransisco Franco. Franco can be described as a pro-Christian, anti-Marxist, conservative, royalist fascist. Franco won and Spain remained neutral during the World War 2. Turkey also remained neutral while most countries joined the Allies against the Axis centered on Germany, Italy and Japan. The Russians initially sided with the Germans but switched sides.

I’ll just elaborate briefly on the anarcho-syndicalists. They were supported in the Spanish Civil War by the Soviet Union and Mexico. Anarcho-syndicalists want society to be centered around the workplace. There is no state and the leaders are democratically elected by the workers and their families. Anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism, the most common forms of anarchism, are difficult to distinguish. The relationship between anarchism and socialism had been complex since before the First International. Anarcho-communism was founded by the Russian geographer Prince Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (1842-1921). The earliest anarcho-communist was perhaps Joseph Déjacque (1821-1864). He has been given this label in retrospect and it’s debatable because he himself was the first person to adopt the label libertarian, but I think his ideas gives us a good indication at least. Among other things Déjacque criticized Proudhon’s conservative views on women, marriage and family and advocated for the abolition of slavery and for free love regardless of skin colour or gender. He also believed biological parents shouldn’t own their children in the way they do today. His thoughts on building a better society might be described as voluntary association. This was inspired by his experiences on the barricades during the Revolution of 1848 where people of their own volition joined in, began to co-operate and even formed life-long friendships.

Germany expanded under Hitler much like France had expanded under Napoleon. It might be wrong to call Hitler a fascist because the other fascists primarily wanted to protect what they already had, i.e. they were conservatives rather than progressives. However, Mussolini at one point dreamed of a Mediterranean empire like that of the Roman Empire and it could be argued that Hitler wanted to establish a conservative regime, only after he had finished the expansion supposedly begun to give the Germans enough living space (Lebensraum). Timothy Snyder explains that the Germans expanded eastwards, destroying everything to make way for something new, a space governed by Germans which was to be used and abused to secure the needs of the people in Germany.

Hitler’s revanchist and expansionist foreign policy was accompanied by an authoritarian and nationalist domestic policy. Jews, Romani (not to be confused with Romans or Romanians), Slavs, communists and many others were seen as inferior humans and a threat to German nationalism and German desires to assume global leadership to bring the rest of the world to a higher stage of civilization. As a result, millions were slaughtered in addition to all those who died fighting in the war. Snyder calls Hitler a racist anarchist because the destruction of the states to the east for the sake of Lebensraum enabled a genocide in the absence of the supposed civilization provided by state structures. I would argue that the destruction of society has little to do with anarchism as an ideology and that it is more or less identical to imperialism and colonialism. He also says Hitler wasn’t a nationalist, although that argument relies on separating race-nationalism from ethno-nationalism and civic nationalism (which Snyder seems to be in favour of.) Hitler represents a form of colonialism that involves both occupying Eastern Europe and creating Jewish colonies inside Germany. The socialist part of national-socialism is also questionable. Hitler’s economic policy ensured that private corporations thrived, but only as long as they served in the interests of the government. To conclude, I would call Hitler an authoritarian, racist imperialist.

I think the anti-socialist sentiment in Germany has been accounted for but I’ll expand on some of the other threats to German nationalism (both ethnic or racist nationalism). Those who deviated mentally or physically from the norm were also seen as subhumans. They stood in the way of the ideal society, a society consisting solely of perfect humans. The nazi version of idealism is brutally progressive but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Plato had envisioned a three-class society with philosophers at the top. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) also envisioned a future society led by enlightened men and his books were issued to German soldiers during WW1. However, the nazi idea of enlightened men was both atrocious and ignorant. Part of the nazi rhetoric relied on intentionally falsified information about the differences between so called races.

All ethnicities, including German ones, that deviated from the Nazi German norm were threats, but I’ll just mention two. Romani had been in Europe for about a thousand years, but remained a nuisance for many states because of their reluctance to settle down and abandon their culture. Just to illustrate the importance of settling down, I’ll use Sweden as an example. When the polar ice retreated from Sweden some 10,000 years ago, people immigrated from the south and the north-east. Those who settled in the north are called Sami and today they have official status as an ethnic minority, although genetically the total immigration to Sweden from 8,000-1,000 BC is far more complex than this would suggest. Either way, in central Sweden, a system developed in which farm owners were granted special privileges if they had inherited the property and land for six generations. By contrast, Sami had a different religion and were either semi-sedentary herders or nomadic hunters, and because of this they were compared to bands of outlaw thieves, or in modern terms, terrorists. Romani were dealt with in the same way.

Jews had been in Europe even longer than Romani, but their story is a bit different. In 135, the Roman Empire quelled a Jewish uprising, took Jews as slaves and banned them from living in Jerusalem. Jews, spread-out in the Roman Empire, had to pay a separate tax. On the one hand this meant that only those who could afford the tax could be open about being Jews, on the other hand it gave those who settled down a form of citizenship and the civil rights that followed. As an example, Jews in Germany were considered crown property belonging to the Holy Roman Emperor. They were his property as well as under his protection. This basically equated them with certain forests and wild animals. The origin of Christianity can also be traced to the Roman conquest. The first Christians were often poor and from a Jewish background. Whereas Jews believe a Messiah will come one day, these people believed he had already appeared. There is likely at least some amount of wishful thinking in that. In Muslim countries, all non-Muslims had to pay a special tax, much to the same effect. During his brief reign, Napoleon decreed that Jews would get equal rights, on condition that they abandoned their shops and became manual labourers.

Marx wrote a text in 1843, called On the Jewish Question, in response to The Jewish Question, written by the Young Hegelian Bruno Bauer. It deals with the relationship between the state and its subjects and Marx equates Judaism with capitalism and liberalism.

“Christianity sprang from Judaism. It has merged again in Judaism…

Christianity is the sublime thought of Judaism, Judaism is the common practical application of Christianity, but this application could only become general after Christianity as a developed religion had completed theoretically the estrangement of man from himself and from nature.

Only then could Judaism achieve universal dominance and make alienated man and alienated nature into alienable, vendible objects subjected to the slavery of egoistic need and to trading.

Selling {veräusserung} is the practical aspect of alienation {Entäusserung}. Just as man, as long as he is in the grip of religion, is able to objectify his essential nature only by turning it into something alien, something fantastic, so under the domination of egoistic need he can be active practically, and produce objects in practice, only by putting his products, and his activity, under the domination of an alien being, and bestowing the significance of an alien entity – money – on them…

Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence has been abolished.”

The Free World (1945-2016)

The Second World War ended with the U.S. dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Hitler shooting himself in 1945. Hitler had relied on his propaganda and according to himself he had been beaten because of the superior propaganda of the British Ministry of Information which was established during the war and which was satirized by George Orwell as the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

After the war, the Germans had been contained, as had the Japanese. Stalin realized leading the rest of the world to communism was not going to be easy and had to adopt a more pragmatic foreign policy, which is why he switched sides mid-war. Berlin, Germany and Europe were split in halves, with the communists controlling the eastern parts. Germans living outside Germany once again had to flee or were killed, deported or forced into labour camps. Königsberg, a former capital of Prussia, was renamed Kaliningrad and repopulated by the Soviet Union and the Kaliningrad Oblast is still a Russian exclave today.

Since 1945, about 120 of the world’s 200 sovereign states have emerged, and that’s not counting territorial changes, change of government or change of constitution. Franco died in 1977 and since 1979, Spain has been a constitutional monarchy. In Greece, WW2 led to the Greek Civil War 1946-1949 between communists (backed by the S.U.) and liberals (backed by the U.S.) The country was in ruins afterwards, which contributed to a coup d’état which resulted in Greece having a fascist government from 1967-1974.

The European colonies gradually gained their independence, with widely diverse results. Just to take one example, the British Indian Empire was split into India and Pakistan in 1947. “In the riots which preceded the partition in the Punjab Province, it is believed that between 200,000 and 2,000,000 people were killed in the retributive genocide between the religions. UNHCR estimates 14 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced during the partition; it was the largest mass migration in human history.” – Wikipedia. Bangladesh then gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, resulting in perhaps as many as three million more dead.

In China, “Mao’s regime consolidated its popularity among the peasants through the land reform with between 1 and 2 million landlords executed. Under its leadership, China developed an independent industrial system and its own nuclear weapons. The Chinese population almost doubled from around 550 million to over 900 million. However, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, a large-scale economic and social reform project, resulted in an estimated 45 million deaths between 1958 and 1961, mostly from starvation.” – Wikipedia

The UN was also created after the war. In a 1947 UN resolution, Jews were given the right to settle in Israel which the British Empire had controlled since the Ottoman Empire had been carved up. Britain and the U.S. rushed the issue, in part to gain a liberal and Western-friendly ally and a military presence in the Middle-East. The British have since moved all of their troops away from the Suez Canal, and most of their troops away from Cyprus. In the 70s, the oil price jumped as a result of decreased oil production in the U.S. in combination with the conflict between Middle-Eastern states and Israel, backed by the U.S.

At the opposite end of the Fertile Crescent, where the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers flow out into the ocean, Kuwait emerged as another liberal and Western-friendly state. Consequently, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the U.S. deemed it necessary to intervene. The conflicts in the Middle-East continue to this day.

Yugoslavia got a communist government after the war, but after a global economic crisis caused by the increased oil price, together with nationalist conflicts, the country was split apart and endured a decade of civil war in the 90s. The UN and NATO, led by the U.S., were involved.

While the Hanseatic League and the Holy Roman Empire have become artefacts of history, France and Germany established the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. This was an attempt to control the market for coal and steel in order to prevent another war as coal and steel were seen as paramount to any military operations. This developed into the political federation called the European Union which today encompasses almost all European countries. Immigration to Western Europe increased sharply after the war, but in 2015, the flow into the EU was reduced to a trickle, partly as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. In France and Germany, as well as in the rest of Europe and in the U.S., we see a common trend. This trend has nationalist, conservative, Pan-European, Pan-Western, pro-white and anti-Islam ingredients. Since the foundation of Islam in the 7th century, Muslims spread to Spain, Italy, the Balkans and Russia, but since WW2, immigration from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle-East and Central Asia has increased the Muslim population. The rhetoric surrounding Muslims shares some features with the rhetoric surrounding Jews.

The U.S. has assumed the role as the dominant global power after the decline of the British Empire, so let’s take a closer look at the so called leaders of the free world. About half of the U.S. population are descended from Germans or Brits. The previous inhabitants were often killed or enslaved in a genocidal conquest. After the thirteen east coast colonies gained independence, the U.S. expanded to the west coast over the next century and by the end of the 19th century, the so called Indians were isolated in small Indian Reservations. In 1901, William McKinley, then president of the United States, was assassinated. The assassin was a Polish-American man named Leon Czolgosz, seemingly inspired by anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman. In the following years, the United States drastically reduced the quotas for European immigrants. This period is known as the First Red Scare.

“The First Red Scare’s origins lie in the subversive actions (both real and imagined) of foreign and leftist elements in the United States, especially militant followers of Luigi Galleani, and in the attempts of the U.S. government to quell protest and gain favorable public views of America’s entering World War I. At the end of the 19th century and prior to the rise of the Galleanist anarchist movement, the Haymarket affair of 1886 had already heightened the American public’s fear of foreign anarchist and radical socialist elements within the budding American workers’ movement. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information to circulate and distribute anti-German and pro-Allied propaganda and other news. To add to the effectiveness of the Committee, the Bureau of Investigation (the name for the Federal Bureau of Investigation until 1935) disrupted the work of German-American, union, and leftist organizations through the use of raids, arrests, agents provocateurs, and legal prosecution.” – Wikipedia

The Second Red Scare, also called McCarthyism, was a continuation of this. The FBI targeted e.g. members of leftist and Civil Rights Movement organizations, including the Black Panthers who combined anti-capitalism and anti-racism. The FBI infiltrated these groups, spread false information in the media, made false arrests and assaulted and assassinated their members.

The U.S. abandoned its isolationist foreign policy during WW1. After WW2 ended, the Cold War between the U.S. and the S.U. ensued. They both installed puppet regimes in various countries and fought each other by proxy. These proxy wars can be seen as a result of the invention of nuclear weapons during WW2, as direct nuclear engagement is simply too dangerous. According to Noam Chomsky (another anarchist) Stalin offered a deal to the U.S. in 1952 concerning Germany. If free elections were held, Stalin would have allowed Germany to be united, on condition that they did not join a hostile military alliance, like NATO. However, the U.S. dismissed this invitation and the further possibility to negotiate the nuclear weapons issue and instead increased military spending. Since NATO was created in 1949, it has adopted a global mission program to maintain the capitalist structures, with an army paid for by taxing the workers. This has continued even after the dissolution of the S.U. in 1991. The intensification of drone war led by Barack Obama keeps people in the West even further away from conflict. At the same time, these wars devastate countries, providing fertile grounds for the emergence of radical movements.


The status of the fight between “capitalism” and “communism” in 1980.


U.S. military outposts, port facilities and other areas of access in Africa, 2002-2015 (Nick Turse/TomDispatch, 2015). Taken from

As another example of how the U.S. operates its global military dominance in practice, we can look at the Chagos Archipelago, located to the east of Africa, south of India. It currently has status as a marine reserve under British control and is used as a U.S. military base and as a CIA “black site”, although it is unknown whether there are nuclear weapons stored on the islands. If there are nuclear weapons there, it would be a violation of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty. The islands were inhabited by Chagossians “until the United Kingdom evicted them between 1967 and 1973 to allow the United States to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands. Since 1971, only the atoll of Diego Garcia is inhabited, and only by military and civilian contracted personnel… No monetary payment was made from the United States to the UK as part of this agreement or any subsequent amendment. Rather, the United Kingdom received a US$14-million discount from the United States on the acquisition of submarine-launched ballistic missile system Polaris missiles per a now-declassified addendum to the 1966 agreement… Litigation continues as of 2012 regarding the right of return for the displaced islanders and Mauritian sovereignty claims.” – Wikipedia

“According to Wikileaks CableGate documents (reference ID ’09LONDON1156′), in a calculated move planned in 2009, the UK proposed that the BIOT become a ‘marine reserve’ with the aim of preventing the former inhabitants from returning to their lands. A summary of the diplomatic cable is as follows:

‘HMG would like to establish a “marine park” or “reserve” providing comprehensive environmental protection to the reefs and waters of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official informed Polcouns on May 12. The official insisted that the establishment of a marine park – the world’s largest – would in no way impinge on USG use of the BIOT, including Diego Garcia, for military purposes. He agreed that the UK and United States should carefully negotiate the details of the marine reserve to assure that United States interests were safeguarded and the strategic value of BIOT was upheld. He said that the BIOT’s former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.’

Additionally, Diego Garcia was used as a storage section for US cluster bombs as a way of avoiding UK parliamentary oversight…

On 18 March 2015, the Permanent Court of Arbitration unanimously held that the marine protected area (MPA) which the UK declared around the Chagos Archipelago in April 2010 violates international law…

In November 2016, the United Kingdom restated it would not permit Chagossians to return to their homeland.” – Wikipedia

The Future

While these wars continue, there has not been another direct confrontation between the major powers for 70 years. The probability for World War 3 (or maybe we should call it World War 5) is difficult to appraise. Pan-Slavism is not a major factor right now and Russia risks losing territory populated by a majority of ethnically non-Russians. The ethnic composition of China is similar to that of Russia and the conflicts between China and Japan continue. About 35% of all people live in just two countries, India and China. India is projected to reach a population of three billion people by the end of the century. There have been pan-Christian movements in the past, both in response to socialism and the Ottoman Empire, but it doesn’t seem likely to increase a lot in Europe. Christianity and Islam are factors in Africa, a continent that is highly diverse in terms of technology, economy, politics, ethnicity and population growth.

There is potential for a Pan-Turkic movement although it is unlikely. Peoples speaking Turkic languages are spread out along Russia’s southern border all the way from the Balkans to East Turkestan in China. Turkey is currently mobilizing a bigger army while fighting Kurds inside and outside the Turkish border. The move into Syrian territories inhabited mainly by Turkmen is not entirely dissimilar to Hitler’s first Pan-German acquisitions of territory, except that it’s happening within the context of the already ongoing Syrian Civil War. What if the highly diversified African states found common ground and threatened to turn the global balance of power upside-down? I don’t know, it’s difficult to foresee the development of rhetoric and ideology and whoever becomes the next Napoleon or Hitler or Stalin is a matter of complex circumstances.

What is certain though is that we routinely experience economic failures, or more accurately, the economy is constantly a failure. Right now, the developing countries are projected to automate their industries at an unprecedented rate, replacing workers with robots, which further increases the competition within the working class. With the development of digital technology, the balance between state control and civil uprising is also unpredictable. As new technology appears, it takes a while before the status quo returns. In the case of the Internet, we see that there is a slowly widening gap between the clean, approved (and huge) corporate platforms and the digital equivalent of shady back-alleys where all the terrorists hide. We now also face the apocalyptic consequences of the burning of coal and oil that came out of the Industrialization. This includes water and food shortage, storms floods and tsunamis, resulting in more conflicts over resources and an increase in economic, environmental and war refugees. The U.S. has large reserves of oil that can be brought up through fracking, so their energy source is secured for now, but what happens when the energy systems develop? Will the U.S. be able to dominate e.g. solar power and silicon mining or whatever will be needed to sustain future technology, including military technology?

The growing population of humans and our improved transportation systems also increase the risk of epidemics. And we homogenize nature, e.g. by growing only a dozen types of crops and only one species of banana and breeding only cattle, pigs and chickens, not to mention the growing number of rats underneath our expanding cities. This all magnifies the speed at which a new bacteria or virus could spread. In other words, biological diversity increases the chances for epidemic resistance.

Still, this does not seem to be enough to stop people from going to war. To take another page from Nineteen Eighty-Four, war is not just waged to kill an enemy. As was evident e.g. when the Japanese aristocracy wanted more territory to invest in, war is important for those back home as well. In addition it fuels the military industry, increases employment, distracts people from their own government’s doings and nurtures conformity through the use of a we-versus-them rhetoric. Thus, while Nazi Germany and the Islamic State were clearly terrorist states, that is not the only reason why other states declared war on them.

I don’t know if or when WW3 (WW5) will begin, but I’ve noticed a pattern in history. In business, I’ve been told, one company dominates a market sector, a second breaks even and the rest are losing money. Whether true or not, it bears a similarity to politics. During the Dark Ages, Catholicism conquered Europe, but this hegemony was challenged by protesters like Jan Huus (burnt to death in 1415) and Martin Luther (outlawed in 1521). One of the reasons for the protests was the fact that rich people could buy salvation. Meanwhile, a lot of people were neither catholics nor protestants. During Colonialism, the British Empire dictated global affairs. The French Empire challenged the Brits, but after the American Civil War, the French economy was shot, which was a factor in the French Revolution. Meanwhile, most people wanted neither the Brits nor the French to rule the world. In Russia, the Czar had absolute power. The Czar’s main competitor turned out to be the Bolsheviks while the rest of the Russians were a highly diversified collection. This is  perhaps just a statistical necessity like the Bell-curve, but it shows how different factions of power interact.

According to Marx, history progresses as the top dog is usurped by the second tier dog. In the rhetoric of the masters, the second class becomes the enemy, creating a good-versus-evil binary that is easy to manage in political debate and it is the current ruling class defines the dominant ideological superstructure. If we turn this around we can even view the nazi rise to power as a reaction of the disgruntled against the global rulers. If we question the dominating definition of evil provided, we can also see that in fact both the first and the second dog are evil or at least hungry for power, and the heterogenous rest may be either good or evil as far as we know, they are outside the mainstream debate. What survives inside the mainstream debate has also been referred to as political correctness and the Overton window. As is to be expected, it is the prevailing ideology of the U.S. that is the dominant global ideology. The U.S. is the protagonist of contemporary history. Since the end of the Cold War, it is unclear who the antagonist is, but it seems to be the so called terrorist, which is a bit ironic considering the origin of the word. Maybe it’s China, maybe Russia, maybe Islam. The U.S. would lose if all other countries joined forces against them, so whatever keeps those countries divided works. But what if the EU stopped doing the bidding of the U.S., challenging them in the same way that the German Empire competed with the British Empire just before WW1?

Some argue that in the so called peaceful times after 1945 or with the end of the Soviet Union, we now live in a postmodern society without a clear idea of how to progress and without the unified force needed to make it happen. “The idea of the post-modern condition is sometimes characterised as a culture stripped of its capacity to function in any linear or autonomous state as opposed to the progressive mindstate of Modernism.” – Wikipedia. A Buddhist might argue that progress is an illusion, that ultimately happiness comes from within. At the same time, the material conditions are undeniable. Again, we must return to the ghost of Marx.

Stalin died while Mao positioned China as an independent, balancing power. The socialist movement remains mainly in the form of Social-Democratic parties molded on the SPD rather than the KPD. The difference between the two might be found in Rosa Luxemburg’s belief in spontaneous revolution. There are significant numbers of communists in the world, e.g. in India and there are a lot of social-democratic parties in parliaments in e.g. Europe, the Middle-East and South America. In Western Europe the social-democratic parties are currently in decline.



In Sweden the wealth of households “in the agrarian era was relatively small, but the onset of industrialization made it accumulate faster than incomes grew. In most of the 20th century, the situation was the opposite: income growth surpassed the rate of wealth accumulation, a process where the spread of human capital and the rise of a redistributional welfare state was surely important. Since the 1980s, wealth has once again outgrown income.” – Source. During the Industrialization, the West imported cheap raw materials from unskilled labourers, refined the materials into high-tech products using by high-tech labourers and sold it back for a huge margin of profit or just kept the high-tech infrastructure in the West. But the golden days are long-gone. For the past 50 years, wealth disparity has increased and Westerners now have relatively larger insurance costs and debts. Thus, despite socialism, the economy is getting worse for the majority.


There is today no common global proletarian class consciousness. A Marxist might say the masters have succeeded in their strategy of divide and conquer; politics is dominated by special interest groups. The prevailing culture defines what is ok to say and do, drawing a spurious line between good and evil. This ideological superstructure has not been upended by a revolution to realize the essence of humanity. But if Marx was wrong about the fundamental idea of free labour, then this is not the solution to the problem anyway. And in any case, the way Lenin and Stalin elevated Marx to the status of prophet and saviour spells danger even if Marx was right.

But then again, if Marx was wrong, why is the economy so important? Well, because capitalism tries to put an economic value on everything in society and currently this value is the dominant form of value in most people’s minds. Even when people say things like money can’t buy you happiness, overwhelmingly the attitude is that it can and if some source of happiness doesn’t yet have a price tag on it, someone will see this as an opportunity to make a short-term profit and put one on it. This could be called the imperialistic nature of capitalism. Examples of the confluence of political and economic imperialism can be found in the 1972 How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, written by Walter Rodney, a Marxist and Pan-Africanist born in British Guyana (South America). He was assassinated in 1980.

I believe the reason Marxism appealed to a lot of people was that it sides with the large number of humans that are workers (actual capitalists are far fewer than 1% of people), but if it is reduced to a working class consciousness without a solid foundation, then it is only another ideology, another example of identity politics and not the way forward. We see the same flaw in liberalism, feminism, black power et cetera. These have elevated one group to the same status as the mainstream group, but that also means that all the other groups are left behind and their situation is actually worsened if the mainstream now get an even larger portion of the cake as a result of an expanded mainstream demanding a larger piece to share. But this only holds true for the elements in these movements that seek equal political and legal rights. Historically these movements have been way more complex and nuanced than that and it is possible that they were reduced to seeking civil rights because that was the only form in which these movements could be accepted. We can compare this system to the protection racket of a mafia. It’s not easy to wrap your head around this though. While capitalism, caste, racism, sexism, homophobia et cetera are realized in the actions of someone towards another, that does not mean that there is a direct opposite force available. The response to war is not more war, but the absence of war. Similarly, the response to patriarchy is not matriarchy, but equality. But the patriarchy will use its platform to control the debate and portray the feminists as a reversal of current power relations rather than as the absence of them. Similarly, if the goal is to be a worker, then the gap between being employed and being unemployed widens.

In my opinion, social-democratic political parties reinforce the state-capitalist system by only fighting for the breadcrumbs falling from the rich man’s table. Marx likewise said that proletarian organizations must be independent from the bourgeois state. And more often than not, once they are in power they abandon their ideals. Just as the establishment use populism to appeal to certain groups, not for ideological reasons, but to stay in power, the socialists who use populism to get labour votes by the same token become the establishment. Party politics has a long history, both in the Catholic church and the European monarchies. On occasion, members of parliaments have been elected as individual, as in the French First Republic. However, today, being a politician is a career choice. Much like the kings of yore, the politicians are not pushed forth by a crowd of supporters, instead they are already in place and claim to listen to the people, which, if it were true, would’ve meant that they’re changing their ideology based on the population and could’ve been replaced by direct democracy. But they hold on to their power and new politicians and parties only stay in power if they adapt to this system.

And if you don’t become part of the establishment, the establishment will control the debate and turn their opposition’s arguments upside-down. As an example, the game Monopoly was invented in 1903 by a Georgist named Elizabeth Magie. It was designed to show how capitalism leaves one person with all the money and the rest without a penny. Yet, today people play it without even reacting to the immorality of the system while giving their money to the corporation that produces the game. Even the few anarchists that are thinly spread-out across the globe find that their tradition is being twisted, resulting e.g. in the increasingly popular ideology called anarcho-capitalism. Similarly, the meaning of liberal and libertarian have come to mean the opposites of what they once meant.

Earlier, I gave my answer to the question of the metaphysical origin of capital; that we each imagine a subjective value in consumption and further abstract this to a value for other subjects. But this is subjective and different for each individual. An ideology based on this would result in everyone fighting for their own desires. And that’s a dilemma. On the one hand the system oppresses individuals and needs to be done away with, on the other hand the different desires of these individuals keep them from joining together as a unified force strong enough to make that happen. But joining forces just for its own sake is a bad idea. People will join forces on shallow grounds when they feel threatened and simple solutions for protection become acceptable. One way of doing this is to simply focus on a strong leader espousing one of Sorel’s social myths, whichever best protects the haves from the have-nots. It is also unsurprising that people who reduce their world-view to a single leader or symbol will also attack individuals, symbols and minorities. It is well-known that politicians sometimes lie, but this can lead people to give up on the truth, assume that everyone lies all the time and follow whoever says what they want to hear, completely ignoring whether they might be lying or not.

Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (1903-1969) was a German philosopher associated with the Frankfurt School, which follows in the same philosophical tradition as Marx and developed the social theory called critical theory. The following excerpt is from Adorno’s The Stars Down to Earth – and other essays on the irrational in culture.

”The fascist leader types are frequently called hysterical. No matter how their attitude is arrived at, their hysterical behaviour fulfills a certain function. Though they actually resemble their listeners in most respects, they differ from them in an important one: they know no inhibitions in expressing themselves. They function vicariously for their inarticulate listeners by doing and saying what the latter would like to, but either cannot or dare not. They violate the taboos which middle-class society has put upon any expressive behaviour on the part of the normal, matter-of-fact citizen. One may say that some of the effect of fascist propaganda is achieved by this breakthrough. The fascist agitators are taken seriously because they risk making fools of themselves.

Educated people in general found it hard to understand the effect of Hitler’s speeches because they sounded so insincere, ungenuine, or, as the German word goes, verlogen. But it is a deceptive idea, that the so-called common people have an unfailing flair for the genuine and sincere, and disparage fake. Hitler was liked, not in spite of his cheap antics, but just because of them, because of his false tones and his clowning. They are observed as such, and appreciated.”

The arrangement of societies into nation-states and a capitalist market creates certain social dynamics. On the one hand, capital, property and services are global, on the other hand, income tax, wage laws and police enforcement of property are specific to state territory. Today’s free economic movement does not include free movement of people who want to live and work inside that territory in accordance with the laws of that state. Global problems, like that of the atmosphere, can not be solved by states acting in the self-interest of that state and its citizens. Western countries who have stolen and hoarded the wealth of the planet for centuries fail to redistribute its wealth globally and can’t even provide welfare and equality for their own citizens. We can compare how Western workers feel threatened by migrant workers to how the city-people (the literal meaning of citizens and bourgeoisie) felt threatened by workers moving from the countryside, what is called urbanization, as a result of the Industrialization. Obviously, the newcomers are not to happy about the result either. As the money accumulates in fewer and fewer hands, and people become aware of global threats, they call for closing the borders. This is just sweeping the problems under the rug, or rather, dumping them on the other side of the border, but the citizens of wealthy states find that the path of least resistance is increased nationalism since we are above all politically divided into nation-states. Because nationalism is a simplistic ideology, it can easily be combined with other beliefs.

But two wrongs don’t make a right. We can’t fight fire with fire and even if we can fight fire with a tsunami, we’d still have to deal with the tsunami. We can’t rely on simplistic we-versus-them politics and believing that the enemy of my enemy is my friend is more than likely going to backfire, as history has demonstrated. Neither more fascism nor more capitalism will solve the problems for the majority. According to Marx we can reduce politics to a binary; the state, society, everything is just a function or manifestation of the economy. I’d agree but only if economy means energy in the broadest sense and if we speak of energy in general then obviously we need a very detailed plan because energy comes in all shapes. But this makes it more complex and harder to grasp and people only live for a few years and need food almost daily and don’t have time to wait for complicated system changes, they want simple solutions right now.

I call myself an anarchist, but very rarely and I’m not entirely comfortable doing so. The reason for this is that it reduces all my thoughts to a single word and in its reduced state it becomes almost meaningless and is easily manipulated to mean something I don’t mean by it. Because many of my opinions are outside the Overton window, the narrow-minded mainstream lumps me together with other groups that are outside it, like Salafist suicide bombers and the KKK. As is to be expected, these small ideologies are misrepresented in the standard political spectrum and what’s outside is more heterogenous than what’s inside. The only solution to this is to go into detail. I’ve tried doing that also in this text about Marx’s influence on the world, separating what was actually said and done from how other people have described it. We mustn’t be afraid to listen to all sides in a conflict. If we only listen to the reduced labels used by those who disagree with the labels, then we get stuck in echo-chambers that comfort us by reassuring our previous belief. But as Aristotle said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I’d like to end this by talking a bit about the media which plays a crucial role in both maintaining the established order and in challenging it. Media in this broad sense extends to e.g. social media and schools. After the invention of the printing press in 1440, it was primarily used by the monarchies to inform their subjects. But then political dissidents started issuing their own newspapers and journals. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette became victims of the press, because it was new and the establishment had not yet learnt how to control it. But today they know and even middle management is being media-trained. Politicians mix truths, with half-truths and outright lies and retract whatever they’ve said when needed. And of course, in e.g. China and Turkey, dissent is simply illegal.

But what about the U.S.? How can the masters maintain their ideological hegemony if they have freedom of speech and freedom of press? First of all, there are a lot of things that are illegal to disclose. But more importantly, the Overton window is managed structurally rather than with brute force. Chomsky explained this to a BBC reporter who was interviewing him on the subject. It is not that it’s illegal for the reporter to say something, but rather that the reporter has been given the job because he won’t say it, because he believes in the reigning ideology, his political opinions already fit the Overton window. If you apply for a job and your previous employers say that you’ve got your own ideas, disagree with everyone at work and don’t get along, you simply won’t get the job in the first place. This filtering starts already in school. But how come Chomsky was allowed on BBC then, you might be asking. Well, I don’t know, but it’s not like you hear those opinions on a regular basis. What is considered politically correct is not static either. If the established powers can make use of a shift towards e.g. anti-Muslim rhetoric, they’re not going to combat it. Corruption is a fair topic since it threatens to destabilize the system. Focusing criticism on military blunders is also ok as it indirectly confirms the justification for the war as a whole or for waging war at all. Or as in a recent text by Foreign Policy, it’s important to criticize Facebook for wanting to hand over personal information to evil China, but without any trace of irony Facebook already censors their site and their capitalist greed and the fact that the U.S. already has access to that same personal information are glossed over.

The political debate is, as you can imagine, politically correct. What is presented as controversial is usually still within the limits of what the establishment accepts. Journalism is full of symbolic rhetoric and criminals, athletes and politicians and present statistics out of context as if they were news. Scientific reports are also presented as if something new had happened, the correlation often unquestioned and presented without comparison to other studies. Journalism is today more concerned with flooding our devices with things that are happening. A new tweet can be shared to others by hundreds of thousands of people within hours, but anything older than a few days is deemed irrelevant. The media is shaped to offer entertainment that people pay money for, often to escape reality. Information about history is popular, but it’s only broadcast if the narrative is acceptable or narrow enough to avoid a deeper understanding or the events are so far in the past that it doesn’t matter.

Social media is interesting because it is partly user-driven, but the majority of the content is still shallow and you have to seek out controversial information, it’s never going to fall into your lap. Let’s take Wikipedia as another example of media. As you’ve noticed I’ve used English Wikipedia a lot for this, and I think that’s fine as long as you read it with a sceptical mind. And again, it’s not that the information is illegal, it’s just that you have to already know what you’re looking for to find it. E.g. if you want to know what the FBI are doing you can’t just look at the FBI-page. You have to know the name of the operation or program and go to that page to read about it. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s not a secret, it’s just not given to you through the mainstream channels. Unlike advertisements which somehow manage to penetrate every conceivable physical, digital and mental barrier. And while developing countries are skipping the telephone-pole-phase and going straight to the Twitter-phase, only half of the planet’s 7,500,000,000 people have access to the Internet. I don’t know what will happen next, but I think history is a good indication of what might happen.


Capitalism was still in its infancy when WW1 broke out, but the feudal monarchs were defeated and capitalism became the new major power in the world. This conflict had been brewing for a while, it just needed a royal assassination to light the fuse. WW2 was a reaction, a reaction to a long list of things; the losses in the war itself, the economic chaos that followed, the socialist and women’s rights threats of further conflict and the continued expansion of capitalism. Hitler’s ideology targeted these concerns, added some vague ideals from the feudal monarchs and tradition, such as nationalism and casteism and whatever was useful in forging this blend into a totalitarian war machine, unironically including capitalism. There have been many short-lived revolutions before and since, but the trend is that capitalism is winning. The Soviet Union was basically from its inception totalitarian as this was necessary to keep the different social currents in line, but even this entity fell to capitalism in the Cold War. Capitalism used divide-and-conquer to achieve this, allowing turmoil to coalesce into these totalitarian ideologies to make for an easy target both militarily and in terms of propaganda. These factors also resonate with the positive effects on the economy of being at war. Hence, the dominating culture of capitalism has informed us that the Other is, in order, the nobility, the nazis, the communists and the islamists. How convenient that the islamists all gathered in one caliphate, making good target practice and technology testing for drones. And of course, the massive special forces operations in Africa is a furtherance of the same imperialism that also targets domestic terrorists. That we have forgotten that terrorism originally applied to activities conducted by states is indicate of the capitalist hegemony on media.

Capitalism, far from being close to collapse, is accelerating and there is no end in sight. We believe in capitalism, we manifest it through our actions and the manifestations in turn strengthen our belief. Communication is made faster, shorter and dumber. Consumption follows the same pattern. The propaganda makes the enemy (terrorists and migrants right now) stand out in the chaos of the diversified protests, keeping the nuanced critiques out of the mainstream.  And it’s getting worse. Cities have grown at a tremendous pace, but the bottom layer of society has no access to communication and Westerners are too comfortable to identify with their struggles. What was perhaps millions in 19th century Europe are now billions in Africa and Asia. Capitalism focuses on going to Mars and turning everything into an app that you must always carry with you, while ignoring the lead in the drinking water, the plastic in the oceans, the abandoned infrastructure in the slums and the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. If there is a catastrophe, it won’t be an economic problem, it will be the death of millions maybe billions of mostly poor, unimportant people who don’t even have Facebook profiles.

So, if Marx was wrong, then what is right and what should we do? I’ve explained that I believe capital is abstract value, an abstraction from the real, subjective value of consumption or more broadly of nervous experiences. It is not fundamentally a matter of energy output from the human body and therefore there is no closed loop connecting capital and labour and consequently the working class is descriptive and not proscriptive.

After I wrote this text, I came to the conclusion that capital is not abstract value in general, but a specific type of abstract value. Obviously, we make abstractions all the time without that resulting in capital. E.g. we might value duty. We can think of this as a religion. Ultimately, this religion wants us to assign an abstract value to everything, tangible or not. I think commodity value is a good term for describing the specific type of abstract value at work here. It is not property value, as that may have value to the owner even when it can’t be traded. Neither is it capital as capital is better understood as the numerical manifestation of commodity value. This manifestation dominates society at the moment, but it is the commodification that is the root cause of this evil. Alienation, even as Marx viewed it, is a further consequence of the capital manifestation, two steps separated from commodification. The relativity of capital’s magnitude is explained by the finite amount of manifested capital, i.e. how much commodity value (not property, not capital, not money) has so far (in time and space) been realized as capital (not abstract value, not money) either directly in transactions or indirectly as estimates and prognoses that have affected or will affect transactions.

What to do then? Well, we must be aware of the strategy of divide-and-conquer and develop a counter-strategy. Bookchin expresses this clearly in his emphasis on the need to unite theory and practice in formulating an ultimate goal for yourself and everyone else in combination with giving support of specific movements, otherwise these movements just become more failed revolutions or worse, empty spectacles that confirm the capitalist society. There are two obvious roads to revolution. The comfortable Westerners could formulate a coherent combination of goals and practice by identifying with the suffering of others or realizing the systemic failures of the culture that ensures their comfort. That is perhaps too much to hope for, although the other road is not much prettier. It would require that the bottom layer of the world joined forces. Given the lack of communication and literature etc, the huge discrepancy in foreknowledge relevant to tactics compared to the enemy, the fact that they are too occupied with merely surviving, have absolute no hi-tech weapons and can be easily manipulated into a totalitarian organization for easy pickings, this seems equally implausible despite their numerical superiority. Hopefully, this will happen in time for us to clean up the planet and before the nukes drop again.

I don’t know how to counter divide-and-conquer, but we could start by analyzing the strategy. Among its components are delegating authority to diverse actors, supporting the diversification in words and resources, while also encouraging negative attitudes about diversification among the enemy, delaying (which includes confusing, distracting and diverting resources), lying (includes decoys/scapegoats) and omitting/keeping secret the truth. When the enemy is divided, they can be overwhelmed one at a time, minimizing losses to the attackers. Superiority in strength is the best way to win but also to lower the ratio of casualties compared to the defender, leaving you stronger for the next engagement. If you don’t have total superiority, then micromanagement is your friend, e.g. mobility can give you temporary superiority, either in sheer numbers or e.g. by surrounding the enemy coming out in single file from a narrow pass, assuming you have the secrecy and intelligence required.

Clearly, there must be ways of countering this, but funneling diversity into a unity for the sake of strength is not the way to go. By formulating your own over-arching goal you can without inconsistency support others who you only partially agree with for as long as that part is the one that manifests itself. Communicating information is essential, both in terms of spying and in terms of accessing works of philosophy, economics, politics etc. Most people know they’re being lied to, but perhaps still buy many of the lies, but this seems like a good place to start.

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