By Chris Harman
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Extra resources for How Marxism Works
Since the time when skeletons of Homo sapiens first appear in the geological record ... man's bodily evolution has come virtually to a standstill, although his cultural progress was just beginning. The same point is made by another archaeologist, Leakey: The physical differences between men of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian cultures (25,000 years ago) on the one hand, and present day men on the other is negligible, while the cultural difference is immeasurable. By 'culture' the archaeologist means the things which men and women learn and teach one another (how to make clothes from furs or wool, how to make pots out of clay, how to make fire, how to build homes, and so forth) as opposed to those things that animals know instinctively.
The Australian Aborigines, for instance, had to learn to recognise literally thousands of plants and the habits of scores of different animals in order to survive. The anthropologist Professor Firth has described how: Australian tribes ... know the habits, markings, breeding grounds and seasonal fluctuations of all the edible animals, fish and birds of their hunting grounds. They know the external and some of the less obvious properties of rocks, stones, waxes, gums, plants, fibres and barks; they know how to make fire; they know how to apply heat to relieve pain, stop bleeding and delay the putrefaction of fresh food; and they also use fire and heat to harden some woods and soften others ...
When businessmen boast of the capital they possess, in reality they are boasting that they have gained control of a vast pool of the labour of previous generations -- and that does not mean the labour of their ancestors, who laboured no more than they do now. The notion that labour was the source of wealth -- usually referred to as the 'labour theory of value' -- was not an original discovery of Marx. All the great pro-capitalist economists until his time accepted it. Such men, like the Scottish economist Adam Smith or the English economist David Ricardo, were writing when the system of industrial capitalism was still fairly young -- in the years just before and just after the French Revolution.