Study Guide

Das Kapital

By Karl Marx

Das Kapital Introduction

Money woes got you down? Karl Marx has one solution to share: overthrow capitalism.

Yeah, that guy. Revolutions have shaken the world in his name and devout communists today still regard him as a nearly perfect prophet. Sounds important, right, but what did he actually say? You might have heard some of his brash slogans from the Communist Manifesto, yet this book, Das Kapital, is the weighty tome that provides the depth to back up the passionate proclamations of his better-known but far shorter text.

This book, this first volume of which was published in 1867, provides an economic analysis of capitalism that emphasizes the exploitation of workers. If you listen to Marx, you'll find out that capitalists have to pursue profit as doggedly as possible—otherwise their competitors will put them out of business. So in the quest for more moolah, they pay their employees less than the value the employees contribute, and pocket the difference. Not nice—so let's smash their factories, comrade. Right?

Marx wrote Das Kapital—or Capital, in English—while the Industrial Revolution allowed factory owners to subject their laborers to brutal working conditions and nonstop, all-day workdays. On top of that, Karl's rival economists were writing defenses of these factory owners' actions.

Karl took aim at his opponents and changed the ballgame forever. While no one at the time thought about giving the stocky, chronically broke Marx any awards for it, this text has lived on to influence economists from Rosa Luxemburg to Joseph Schumpeter and architects of political revolutions such as Vladimir Lenin.

Now, let's be real: Das Kapital is totally one of those books more people talk about than have actually read it. We mean, let's face it—the text isn't exactly exciting, and most normal people will probably fall asleep by page one million. But this baby is a landmark in the history of thought, and it inspired musical and a manga comic. But if you brave the original version of Das Kapital, you'll know what politicians are referring to when they accuse each other of being communists—even if they don't.

What is Das Kapital About and Why Should I Care?

We hate to break the news to you, but you're probably going to spend a huge portion of your life at work.

So what does all that time mean? What's the significance of your current or future job?

Economists and political thinkers debate that very question. Some say your employer—the CEO of the company, for instance—is probably a great hero you should thank for providing you with a job. If it weren't for your employer, they say, you'd be out on the streets begging for dimes.

Karl Marx, on the other hand, says that at work, you're getting ripped off. You put in all this effort, but you don't get paid the full value of your contribution. The capitalist is too busy pocketing the extra moolah to give any more to you than the bare minimum required to keep you showing up. This might be something you already feel on a gut level, but Marx bolsters it with pages (and pages and pages) of abstract theory that, if it convinces you, will give you a solid foundation for your attitude.

There are all sorts of questions surrounding your current or future daily grind, if you stop to think about it. What is money, anyway? Why's your boss always telling you to hurry up? Why do you have to show up at nine and only get to go home at five—why not four? That would give you a whole extra hour to watch YouTube—or, if you listen to Marx, to foment revolution.

We're not sure Marx has all the answers. But we are sure that if you read these chapters of Das Kapital, you'll never look at work the same way again. And since you're going to be doing a lot of that, you might as well make it more interesting, right?

Das Kapital Resources

WEBSITES

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Karl Marx
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is one of the most respected websites for philosophy info. Check out their Karl Marx page, comrade.

Marxists Internet Archive
Here you can find pretty much any major Marxist work that's in the public domain. The huge website is run by volunteers. Which would either make Marx happy or sad—we're not sure.

Professor Harry Cleaver on Das Kapital
Retired UT-Austin professor Harry Cleaver taught Das Kapital for more than two decades. Here's his book Reading Capital Politically online for free. This link's for his stuff on Chapter 1, but you can find material for all chapters on his site.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

"150 Years after Marx, 'Capital' Still Can't Shake Loose of 'Das Kapital'"
An interesting discussion of the title of the book.

Marx Was Right: Five Surprising Ways Karl Marx Predicted 2014
Rolling Stone rocks out on communism.

VIDEO

Reading Marx's Capital with Professor David Harvey
Professor David Harvey of the City University of New York has been teaching Das Kapital for more than 40 years. Here's a collection of his free lectures on it.

Professor David Harvey's Introductory Lecture
Get introduced to Das Kapital here. Keep going throughout the site for lectures on all the chapters.

IMAGES

Cover Art for the Das Kapital Manga
You read that right. What would Karl Marx have said?

Karl Marx Portrait
A famous portrait of Karl Marx. That is one major beard.