The economic system we live under today is capitalism: based on competition, private ownership and the production for profit. Karl Marx revolutionised our understanding of the capitalist system. With his vast collection of economic writings – including the three volumes of Capital – Marx stripped away the mysticism surrounding capitalism, uncovering and explaining its inner processes, emergent laws, and intrinsic contradictions.
Marx built upon the work of his ‘classical’ predecessors – in particular the British economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo. These enlightenment thinkers had attempted to examine capitalism on a scientific basis. In doing so, they hit upon the idea that labour was the source of all new value within society.
By developing this ‘labour theory of value’, Marx was able to explain an enigma that had eluded the classical economists: that of profit. This, Marx demonstrated, arises from exploitation – that is, from the surplus value produced by the working class. Simply put, the capitalists’ profits are obtained from the unpaid labour of the workers.
But this fact, in turn, led Marx to an even more shattering conclusion: that the capitalist system is inherently prone to periodic crisis of overproduction – crises that break out and paralyse the entirely of society, as the forces of production crash up against the narrow limits of the market.
This is the picture we find ourselves in today, as workers and youth are forced to pay for the crisis of capitalism. Armed with the ideas of Marxism, we can see that there is no way out of this crisis within the confines of capitalism. The only solution is socialist revolution.
Learn the basics
Originally published in the 1970s, this article is a good, brief introduction to the basic method of Marxism and can serve as a first approach to the ideas developed by Marx and Engels.
For the bourgeois economists the labour theory of value presented a paradox as well as a blind alley. “The man who found the way out of this blind alley was Karl Marx,” explained Engels.
This article provides an overview of Marx's explanation for why capitalism goes into crisis, discussing the inherent contradictions within the capitalism system, and posing the only alternative: a socialist plan of production.
Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, has reached its limits. The monopoly board has little space left to buy and invest. The monopolists have indeed succeeded. They are no longer developing the productive forces. The game is at an end.
One of the basic ideas of Karl Marx that is constantly being denied by the bourgeois is his theory of value. In this article Mick Brooks shows how the Marxist Labour Theory of Value is still valid today.
Written as a discussion document in 1960, at the height of the boom, Will There Be a Slump? was a major contribution to the debate on economic perspectives. The Keynesians alleged that the capitalist state could smooth out the natural economic cycle and thus overcome crises.
Theories of “under-consumption” are often confused with Marx’s ideas. But these are not the same as Marx explained long ago. While under-consumption certainly exists for the masses, as any worker can testify, it is not the direct cause of capitalist crisis.
There is considerable confusion about the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, which arises from a one-sided undialectical view that isolates one element in Marx’s economic theory and exaggerates its significance far beyond Marx’s intention.
In this article, we compare and contrast the ideas of Keynes, Hayek, and Marx in the context of the current crisis of capitalism, to see if any of these figures and their writings really do have the answers to solve the problems facing society today.
What is money? Where does it come from? And what does it represent? A five-part series analysing the role of money within class society, associated with the rise of commodity production.
MMT has created a buzz on the left recently, with its supporters citing it as an answer to all our economic woes. Instead of trendy new ideas, however, we need the clear scientific analysis of capitalism that Marxism provides.
Kondratiev concluded that the capitalist system passes through "long waves", in which each downswing is followed by an upswing which can last for decades. However, this has no solid basis either in fact or in theory. In this article, Alan Woods explains why.
As more and more surplus value is siphoned off into unproductive activities, the issue of “productive” and “unproductive” labour has once again resurfaced as a factor contributing to, and a reflection of, the present terminal decline of world capitalism.
Marx and Engels together waged a relentless struggle against the confused ideas of petty-bourgeois socialism, striving to put the ideas of socialism on a scientific basis. Marx subjected the semi-anarchist ideas of Proudhon to a withering criticism in 1847 in the Poverty of Philosophy, backed up by facts, and substantial quotations from the writings of Proudhon himself.
While Marx did not manage to write a specific book on capitalist crisis, his theory of crisis is present throughout his economic writings, especially Theories of Surplus Value. Described by Engels as volume four of Capital, Marx here gives a clear outline of the fundamental contradictions facing capitalism.
Marx's Capital was a book that revolutionised political economy and for the first time opened our eyes to the real workings of capitalism. The anatomy of capitalism, as a specific stage in the economic development of society, was given by Marx in its finished form in his magnum opus, consisting of volume One, Two, and Three.
Capital reading guide
Marx's Capital was a book that revolutionised political economy and for the first time opened our eyes to the real workings of capitalism. It was, however, met with a wall of silence from the mainstream economists and the establishment. Despite this, Capital became regarded in the workers' movement as the Bible of the working class.
The aim of this book, written by authors from the International Marxist Tendency, is to help guide readers through the pages of volume one of Capital; to bring out the main themes and ideas contained within it; and to discuss the relevance of this great Marxist classic in terms of understanding the crisis-ridden world around us today – and, most importantly, how we can radically transform it.
Rob Sewell introduces a Socialist Appeal event "Capital in a Day", discussing the importance and relevance of Marx's Das Kapital and what lessons it has for revolutionaries today, 150 years after it was first written.
Capitalism is a system in which the production and exchange of commodities is generalised and universal. And it is the idea of the commodity that Marx began his analysis in Capital with, going on to explain where value comes from and why some commodities are more valuable than others. James Kilby provides an overview of Chapter 1 of Das Kapital, delving into the Labour Theory of Value, and providing the key concepts needed to understand the later sections of Marx's masterpiece.
Ben Gliniecki explains the historical origins and social basis of money, analysing its economic role within a system of commodity production and exchange. Applying Marx's method to this complex question, Ben explores concepts such as inflation and crypto-currencies (like Bitcoin), and shows how money will not simply be abolished under socialism, but will eventually "wither away".
Natasha Sorrell discusses where profits come from within capitalism: the unpaid labour of the working class. In order to understand how the capitalists make their profits, Natasha looks at how wages are determined, and uses real life examples to show how the bosses are increasing the exploitation of workers today.
Adam Booth looks at the ideas and concepts introduced in chapters 12-15 of Das Kapital, where Marx explains how the capitalists use machinery, organisation, and planning in order to reduce their costs and boost their profits. Adam, in turn, relates these questions to the zeitgeist issues of today: the monopolisation of industry under capitalism, and the concerns over automation, "technological unemployment" and the "race against the machine".
Ben Curry looks at the question of accumulation and inequality within capitalism. In order to explain these ideas, Ben examines the dynamics of capitalism – of competition and the drive for profit – which lead to (in the words of Marx) "profits accumulating at one pole; and misery accumulating at the other". In turn, Ben discusses how capitalism comes into being through the most violent means, "with blood dripping from every pore".
Audio & video
Rob Sewell discusses Marx's economic ideas and how these explain the deep global crisis of capitalism that we have been living through for the last 10 years.
Ben Gliniecki discusses the development of Marx's theories on capitalism, examining the classical economists preceding Marx who were influential in shaping his ideas on questions such as the Labour Theory of Value.
Adam Booth analyses the current crisis of capitalism and discusses Marx's theories about why capitalism enters into crisis.
Adam Booth discusses the question of technology, machinery, and innovation under capitalism, looking at how private property and production for profit have become an enormous barrier to society's development.
In this video, Adam Booth provides an overview of the history of money, using a Marxist economic analysis to strip away the veil of mystery that surrounds it.
Neither Keynesianism or MMT provide a genuine, scientific analysis of capitalism. In this talk, Adam Booth looks at these economic ideas and explains why only a Marxist perspective can offer a way out of capitalism's crisis for the left and the labour movement.
Adam Booth looks at the growing gap between the rich and poor in society today, contrasting the analysis of Thomas Piketty – the French "rock star" economist – and Karl Marx as to why capitalism creates inequality and a concentration of wealth.