Capital & Capitalism

In every society, from ancient times to feudalism and modern capitalist society, it has been the labor of human beings that sustains the society and creates wealth. It is this basic fact, and the acknowledgment of the laborers as a class in bourgeois capitalist society, that has been hidden from so many in the U.S. The history of modern society is the history of struggle between two antagonistic sides: the exploited class – the workers, and the exploiting class – the bourgeoisie.

Some may characterize this current period in history as “capitalism gone wild.” But the system of capitalism hasn’t just gone off the track. Its objective reality is simply playing out in all its ruthlessness.

As Karl Marx said, capitalism came into the world “dripping from head to toe from every pore with blood and dirt.” It was the urban middle class, including shopkeepers and merchants, desiring free markets and democratic rights, religious freedom and other freedoms not granted under the absolute monarchies of Europe, who would become the new rulers under capitalist society.

Numerous European states had already engorged themselves by plundering Asia, Africa and the Americas through mass murder, genocide and the enslavement of the peoples of these lands. Marx called this “the primitive accumulation of capital.” It is described as such because of its savage brutality and utter disregard for humanity.

That period of history — where certain European states garnered great wealth, the likes of which had not previously been seen, and developed their societies from this wealth — was unprecedented at the time.

Never had humanity seen such brutality. The colonization of the Americas — done mostly through blunt force — and the enslavement of mostly African people on huge plantations in the Americas filled the coffers of these European states. And while the European states were in competition with one another for riches, they were united in the view of their superiority over the other people of the planet.

In class society, wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, while the majority of people are exploited for their labor. It is human labor that sustained pre-class human beings and, as previously mentioned, produces all wealth in class society.

All class society is characterized by exploitation — whether under feudalism, where serfs, working on land owned by lords, surrendered the fruit of their labor to the lords in exchange for living on the land and keeping enough to feed their families; or under semi-feudal chattel slave conditions in the U.S., where enslaved Africans had no rights and all they produced belonged to the master.

While bourgeois capitalist society may have done away with the feudal society that preceded it and has allowed for what seems to be more individual freedom and democracy, it is still based on exploitation.

The capitalist class owns all the means of production in society: the machinery, electronics, factories, and raw materials. It gets its wealth by the labor of the workers — who sustain themselves and survive by selling their labor to the owners.

This new wage system is nothing more than a different sort of enslavement. The rulers or owners gain huge profits off the backs of workers. The worker has no ownership over the fruit of labor and, like the other resources used to produce things, belongs to the owner for the amount of time the worker’s labor is purchased. The thing produced is then turned around and sold back to the worker at an inflated price.

Rulers in capitalist society may exploit in different ways, but the reason is the same: riches and profit. The interests and needs of the workers and capitalists are completely opposed.

  • Value, Price and Profit – by Karl Marx

    From 1865. The first five chapters answer the claim that “wage increases only cause prices to rise” is still a familiar viewpoint. From chapter six on, you could call it a condensed version of the first half of Marx’s Capital. Those chapters can be categorized as
    1. The value of a commodity (Chapter 6)
    2. The source of profit (Chapters 7 to 11)
    3. Wages and profits (Chapters 12 to 14)

  • In Value, Price and Profit, Marx asks, “How does this strange phenomenon arise, that we find on the market a set of buyers, possessed of land, machinery, raw material, and the means of subsistence, all of them, save land in its crude state, the products of labor, and on the other hand, a set of sellers who have nothing to sell except their laboring power, their working arms and brains?

    “That the one set buys continually in order to make a profit and enrich themselves, while the other set continually sells in order to earn their livelihood? The inquiry into this question would be an inquiry into what the economists call ‘previous or original accumulation,’ but which ought to be called original expropriation.”Marx answers these questions in Capital,  part 8 of volume 1. There he describes ‘original expropriation’ as “the revolution that laid the foundation of the capitalist mode of production,” a revolution in which “conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, briefly force, play the great part.” This process had three key parts: “the forcible creation of a class of outlawed proletarians, the bloody discipline that turned them into wage laborers, [and] the disgraceful action of the State which employed the police to accelerate the accumulation of capital by increasing the degree of exploitation of labor.”

    Read it here:
    Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1
    See Chapter 31: Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist

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