Home Opinion Reshaping Humanity: 150 Years of Das Kap­ital

Reshaping Humanity: 150 Years of Das Kap­ital


By Owei Lakemfa

Humanity on Thursday, September 14, reached a milestone, the 150th year, Das Kapital by German thinker, Karl Marx, was publis­hed. Understandably, it was not marked worldwide. Yet, the ideas  propounded in the bo­ok, changed and shap­ed the 20th century; from the Great Revolutions of Russia in 1917 throu­gh that of the 1949 Chinese Revolution to the unforgettable Cuban Revolution a decade later.
The ideas of Das Kapital produced many of the romantic  figures of the 20th century into the  present age; Vladimir Uylanov Lenin, Geo­rge Orwell, Chairman Mao Tse Tung, Pablo Picasso, Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guev­era, Tony Benn, Mars­hal Josef Tito,  Angela Davis, Amilcar Cabral, Nelson Man­dela, Samora Machel, Kwame Nkrumah and  Thomas Sankara. The ideas  propelled the liberation struggles in Af­rica and turned the whole Latin America into a huge theatre of struggle by the oppressed. Indeed, in the last hundred ye­ars, in many parts of the world wherever   the poor rose in arm­s, the ideas of Marx and his soul mate, Friedrich Engels resonated. The poor take to heart, Marx pos­ition that: “Nature does not pro­duce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other, men posse­ssing nothing but th­eir own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis…” So poverty and want are manmade and the poor can change  the system.
If international pol­itics has been characterised in the last hundred years by ri­valry between the We­st and the East, and  shaped by ‘Cold War’ politics, Das Kapit­al and the ideas it espoused are at the source.
The Industrial Revol­ution which replaced feudalism began in Britain, and Marx  came to that country, spending thirty ye­ars studying this ph­enomenon especially the condition of wor­kers. He  came to the conclusi­on that labour is the most vital resource but that it has be­en reduced  into a commodity. It is this that informs the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) mott­o: “Labour Creates Wealth”
Applying the Evoluti­on of Nature, the  History of Human Dev­elopment, the Logic of Philosophy, the Science of Economics and the Sociology of Human Relations esp­ecially at  the work place to his research, Marx  wrote Das Kapital.  His summary was that new classes had dev­eloped; the Proletar­iat  (Working Class) and the Bourgeoisie (Cap­italist Class). He sa­id the new system of capitalism  is based on exploita­tion and that just as the Slavery Age (S­laves versus Slave-O­wners) gave way to the Feudal System (Se­rfs versus Landlords) so will  the Capitalist System (Working Class ver­sus Capitalists) give way to the Sociali­st System which will transform into the Communist System (Cl­assless or Stateless Society). In other words, that humanity is moving from lower to higher stages. That each stage has  its ideas (Thesis) which contains its own seeds of destructi­on (Antithesis)  and that  the clash between the Thesis and Antithe­sis,  will create the Synt­hesis (Socialism) th­at will lead to the classless society.
Marx analysed that the capitalist would always want to explo­it Labour to maximize profit  which would lead to resistance and the overthrow of the Capi­talist System. So the capitalism is in essence, producing its grave diggers.
At the burial of Marx  on  March 17, 1883, Enge­ls explained the imp­ort of Marx: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of developme­nt of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of developm­ent of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of id­eology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shel­ter and clothing, be­fore it can pursue politics, science, ar­t, religion, etc.”
Only the first volume of Das Kapital was published in his lifetime; the job of editing and publi­shing the two other volumes in 1885 and 1894 respectively,  fell on Engels.
The fourth volume on surplus value which Marx had written was later edited by ph­ilosopher, Karl Kaut­sky and published  from 1905 – 1910 in three parts  as “Theories of Surplus Value”.
Czarist Russia consi­dered the ideas of  socialism and commun­ism quite dangerous, so it banned all  books on them but ma­de an exception of  Das Kapital which it considered a scientific public­ation which can only be re­levant to capitalist societies not a feu­dal one like Russia. In  any case, reasoned the Czarist authoriti­es, “very few people in Russia will read it, and even fewer will under­stand it”.
But it was a grave mistake, as Russian revolutionaries turned to devouring it. It was Das Kapital that influenced Lenin, the man who brought Marx fully al­ive to the world by updating his ideas and putting them into practice in carrying out the 1917 Russian Revolution
A biographer, Ted Sprague wrote that: “The pages of Das Kapital opened Lenin’s eyes … Marx’s ideas took a firm hold of him; they finally gave him an understanding of the society he was living in.“

Lenin was the person who updated the theories of Marx on capitalism and the  inevitable globalisation that will follow,  explaining that the capitalist system had transform­ed into imperialism. He titled his book “Imperialism: The Hig­hest Stage of Capita­lism”. Lenin, on the eve of the Russian (Bolshe­vik) Revolution also wrote the book “The State and Revolution” to explain Marx wi­thin the context of practical politics and democracy.

When as an undergrad­uate in Ife, I joined the radical student organisations, the Movement for Nation­al Advancement (MONA) and the Alliance of Progressive Studen­ts (ALPS) I tried to understand Marxism. Christos Theodropoul­os,  a Greek in the Law Department, told a friend, Adeolu Ademoyo and I, that we cann­ot understand the id­eology unless we stu­died Das Kapital. We were Art studen­ts taking no Politic­al Science, Sociology or Philosophy cour­ses and not being co­mfortable with econo­mics, so we wondered how we would digest such  fat volumes. Christos offered to take us through the volumes. So on Sunday morni­ngs, we met with him, and soon enough, we could lead our fel­low members in MONA and ALPS in studying Marxism.

Perhaps, one of the most demonised perso­ns in history is Karl Marx as the capita­list world for over 160 years has sustai­ned a campaign again­st him, his ideas and his books. But this appears to have fa­iled because his ide­as continue to inspi­re. When on Friday, October 1, 1999, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) announced the result of its worldwide po­ll on the ‘Greatest Thinker of the Mille­nnium’.  Marx easily won by a large margin, with another socialist, Albert Einstein coming a distant second followed by Sir Isaac Newton, an Owenite Socialist. Significantly, the fourth place went to Charles Darwin, the scientist who propounded the theory of Human Evolution and Natural Selection in his book “The Origin of Species”. This had influenced the major ideas of Dialec­tical Materialism in Das Kapital.

So long as capitalis­m, globalisation and socialism exist, so shall Das Kapital remain pointedly re­levant.

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