RECAP: As we approach the opening of the (iron?) curtain to Marx’s Capital, we will set the stage by touching upon the work of those that Marx refers to in his magnum opus. Not only should excerpts of related thinkers help show how Capital is expected to be a step up from these, but they should also give a clue as to the power of Capital in highlighting with awesome lucidity the problematic nature of today’s capitalist social relations.
Today, we get closer to the examination of Marx’s Capital because, until now, we’ve presented elements of decor which were rather static: beginning with the worker’s desire, we zoomed out from his psyche and considered the existence of his “human nature”, then zoomed out once again until we saw chains binding him to the figure of the capitalist. In this post, we consider the dynamism of the relation between these two actors, with the help of Johann Heinrich von Thünen (1783-1850):
If we now return to our first inquiry, where it was shown that capital itself is only the result of human labour, it seems quite incomprehensible that man can have fallen under the domination of capital, his own product;
can be subordinated to it;
and as in reality this is beyond dispute the case, involuntarily the question arises:
How has the labourer been able to pass from being master of capital — as its creator — to being its slave?
Common sense has it that we are the masters of our work, yet von Thünen (a Mecklenburg landowner, by the way) suggests that, in reality, the opposite is true. It is as if God had created humans, but had been enslaved by them; to take a more realistic example, it’s as if humans had created God, but had been enslaved by “him”.
Von Thünen’s points to a contradiction; but Marx will explain how this contradiction presupposes relations. Relations not between things, nor between people and things, but between people.
Quote is from Chapter 25 of Vol. 1; slightly modified and shortened for better readability.
The open-source reference to Marx’s Capital, Vol. 1: here.
Johann Heinrich von Thünen, Wiki page: here.
In case you didn’t yet know/notice, in Michelangelo’s painting, God looks like he’s in a brain… more info on the Wiki page: here.