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What Did Marx Mean By The Statement That 'capital Is Not A Thing, But A Social Relation Between Persons'?

2416 words - 10 pages

The idea of capital as a social relation can be seen to symbolize the relationship between those who own capital, and between those who must work in order to secure the income stream of capital - it is a relation of both property and power. Ideas of class conflict, alienation and exploitation are thus central to this approach. The aim of this essay is to explain the social relations of capital, and how these fit into the pattern of Marx's thought. I will conclude with an assessment of the relevance of these ideas today.Marx pointed out that 'capital is not a thing, but a social relation' in Capital (v1) and similarly argued in Labour and Capital that 'Capital is a social relation of ...view middle of the document...

As Marx points out, 'the means of production and subsistence, while they remain the property of the immediate producer, are not capital. They become capital only under circumstances in which they serve at the same time as means of exploitation and subjection of the laborer' (Capital V1).Thus we can see that the ownership of private property, and hence control of the means of production, that marks the nodal points in the series of relationships, which manifest the social relations of capital. The first condition of life for people who do not own capital is that they must sell their labour power in order to live. They must labour for the needs of the purchaser of their labour in order to secure the income stream for capital. Employers and workers are thus in one important sense dependent upon one another. The former need a labour force that will engage in economic production; the latter, since they are propyertyless, need the wages that employers pay them. But this dependence is strongly imbalanced in that workers have little or no formal control over type work they do while employers are able to generate profits which they appropriate for their own purposes.According to Marx, capitalism is intrinsically a class society; and the class relations upon which it is founded are intrinsically ones of conflict or struggle. Marx was not clear on what he meant by the term class, but it can be seen as a group of people who stand in a common relationship to the means of production. According to Marx 'The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles' (The Communist Manifesto 1848). Just as primitive agrarian society had yielded centuries before to feudal society, and in Europe feudalism given way to industrial capitalism, so too would capitalism be overthrown. In each of these kinds of societies, a minority of people own or control the means of production, such as land, raw materials, tools and machines, labour, and money. This minority constitutes the ruling class. The vast majority of people own and control very little. They mainly own their own capacity to work.Marx believed that class relations were becoming ever more simplified and held that 'Society as a whole is more and more splitting in to two great hostile caps, into two great classes directly facing each other: bourgeoisie and proletariat' (The Communist Manifesto 1848). The 'bourgeoisie' or capitalists thus controlled the means of production and is attached to private ownership of the means of production, and the 'proletariat', the working class, which arose from industrialization. Marx predicted that eventually the proletariat would overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish a classless society.The social relations can thus be seen to represent the struggle between the classes. The idea of class struggle was based on Hegel's dialectics. The term 'dialectics' often represents the view that conflict, antagonism or contradiction is a necessary condition for achieving...

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