In 1867, Karl Marx published the first volume of Das Kapital, his magnum opus on political economy. In it, Marx laid out his theory of “capitalism”—a system of economic production characterized by private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of labor power for profit.
For Marx, capitalism was a dynamic and contradictory system that was both the source of great wealth and poverty, innovation and exploitation.
Nearly 150 years later, a new form of capitalism is emerging: “cryptocapitalism.” Cryptocapitalism is an economic system in which the production, distribution, and exchange of goods and services are based on cryptographic protocols (such as blockchain technology) and facilitated by decentralized networks (such as Bitcoin).
Like traditional capitalism, cryptopapitalism is a dynamic and contradictory system. It is both the source of great wealth and poverty, innovation and exploitation.
And like traditional capitalism, cryptopapitalism will be shaped by class struggle.
So what would Marx make of Bitcoin?
On the one hand, Marx would likely be impressed by Bitcoin’s potential to disrupt the existing order. In Das Kapital, Marx argued that capitalism would eventually lead to its own downfall—as workers became increasingly exploited and alienated, they would rise up in revolution.
Similarly, Bitcoin could be seen as a tool that enables workers to overthrow the “exploitative” banking system.
On the other hand, Marx would also be critical of Bitcoin. He would argue that Bitcoin is just another way for capitalists to exploit workers.
For example, while Bitcoin may allow workers to avoid banks fees, they are still paid in a currency that has no value outside of the cryptocurrency market. In other words, workers are still being exploited—just in a different way.
Ultimately, it is impossible to say definitively what Marx would make of Bitcoin. But one thing is clear: he would be both impressed and critical of this new form of capitalism.