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Context : KarlMarx

Quora Answer : Why did Marx think that capitalism exploits workers?

Jan 16, 2018

People get this wrong.

They think Marx sat down in the library of the British Museum in London, read about the (incorrect) Labour Theory of Value, contemplated it, and somehow deduced that workers were being exploited.

This is nonsense.

Marx lived in Victorian London. The largest most advanced capital of the most advanced industrial economy in the world. (Even if many of the factories were in Manchester.) Before that he'd lived in Paris, where he joined angry working class activists complaining about, and fighting for better, conditions. Paris was the other mega city in the world at the time.

Marx didn't believe that the working class lived in squalor and misery and appalling conditions because of some theory. He could see that the working class lived in misery and deprivation every day of the week, just by walking out of his front door.

And you don't have to take Marx's word for this. Read Dickens or Victor Hugo or any other contemporary novelist of the mid 19th century. The working class and poor lived in ghastly conditions.

Marx's problem was how to explain this.

Particularly how to explain it given the explosion of productivity and wealth that the industrial revolution had brought about in the preceding century.

How come Victorian England was ten times richer than it had been a century or so before (and, see comments, the population was only three times larger), but so many people seemed to be living so much harder and more impoverished lives?

This is a very modern question that still speaks to us. How come the GDP figures keep going up, productivity keeps going up, the economy keeps growing, automation is removing more and more of the drudgery of work. And yet ... so many people look around and see economic decline in their community? So many people feel poor. So many people seem to be working three jobs to make ends meet?

People are experiencing privation every day. Despite the fabulous wealth of our economy and society.

The question is "why"?

Marx's answer was that while there was fantastical new wealth being generated, one group was far more successful at capturing all that wealth than the other groups were.

"Exploitation" is just the label we give to that process whereby, a number of people generate more wealth via their collaboration, but only one, smallish, subset of that group, actually grabs most of the benefits.

But the fact that this process happens you can simply observe.

Related :

Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to Are the ideas of Karl Marx still relevant in the information age?

Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to Was Karl Marx a genius even if he was wrong on the big picture?

Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to Is Marxism any science?

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