(L70) Capitalism Vs. Communism: Karl Marx

What are some of Marx’s criticisms of capitalism? How might you respond to these criticisms?

One of Marx’s criticisms of capitalism was that it’s inferior to communism because it exploits wage labor in the sense that workers are only paid enough to survive, rather than being paid in accordance with the value that they create. I would respond to this by saying that in reality, a capitalistic economy is based off of voluntary contract between worker and employer. If the worker is good, and they have high value as an employee, then they will be paid according to that (with the value of their work decided between themselves and the employer). If a good worker is not being paid as they should be, then they have the option to take their services elsewhere and the employer has to make the decision between paying a worse worker the same amount, or keeping his good worker at a higher wage. This is the freedom of competition.
Another criticism of capitalism that Marx made was that the division of labor is wrong, and should be removed from the economy. My response to this is that, in all honesty, it makes no sense. I mean, would you rather have a hundred good workers who are each specialized in a certain field, or a hundred okay workers who can do a hundred different things alright? I certainly would rather have a great doctor do surgery on me than someone who is only a doctor in their down time!

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6 thoughts on “(L70) Capitalism Vs. Communism: Karl Marx

  1. Marx looked at economies from what is called a ‘materialist’ perspective. What this means is that marxism looks at socio-economic from the realities people actually face rather than philosophical theories and inklings. (He once wrote a polemic criticising the philosopher Proudhon’s ‘the philosophy of poverty’ which Marx humorously called ‘the poverty of philosophy’.)

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  2. How does this relate to your post? Well, actually let’s take the average worker. I’m an average worker in Ireland, and we have broadly the same system as the usa albeit smaller. I create thousands of euro in profit for my employer on a daily basis, yet I am only paid the minimum legal wage – a wage of subsistence. Most employers pay this wage. Does a worker have the option of waiting for their dream job? Unfortunately not, they must take what they can in order to get by. Perhaps wealthier people through connections and inheritance etc can wait for that dream job, but not ordinary workers. Why do employers keep wages low which are unrepresentative of rhetoric wealth their employees create? Because of competition – driven by profit, all costs are driven down – businesses compete against one another, they can ill afford to raise costs. This is of course counter productive, as increased wages increases spending ability of the proletariat and therefore increases profits of businesses, and boosts the economy as a whole, but few employers will put themselves into a position of disadvantage by increasing their costs. Increasing wages doesn’t just cost employers financially, it also raises the economic and political power of workers, increasing their freedoms, so that they become less dependent and answerable to their employer for their income. Anyway, the problem with your critique of marxism is that you describe capitalism as how it likes to portray itself ostensibly, rather than how it actually is. There is no doubt that capitalism does provide great freedoms, but these are limited to a very few privileged groups of people who narx referred to as the bourgeoisie. Eventually the capitalistic interests of the bourgeois class come into conflict with the interests of the proletariat – working class – and the proletariat become ‘class conscious’ (such as through strikes, etc.) when this happens on a great scale nationally, and internationally, a revolutionary situation has developed.

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    • So, I’m slightly confused, you support socialism? I am part of the working class, and can vouch that capitalism, a system of competition will allow hard workers to thrive. It isn’t a philosophical portrayal, but a practical one. Those who work hard and do well will be rewarded, those who slack off and are lazy will suffer. It is simply a matter of making yourself a valuable asset in whichever field you work. Also, if there was no minimum wage, small businesses would be able to thrive as well, which would mean a higher rate of employment.

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      • Sorry, I was vague above, and thanks for getting back. My point is that capitalism doesn’t create a system which rewards hard work, but creates an illusion of reward and freedom and “upward mobility” etc. Eventually, the harsh reality of most working-class people comes into conflict with the illusion that capitalism makes reward based on merit etc. Regarding this and your original point on wage-labour, I could not write it better than Robert Tressel (one of George Orwell’s favourite novelists, Tressell wrote a book called The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which the quote below is from). In these paragraphs, Tressell describes, in a very simple analogy, the real nature and effect of wage labour on society, by portraying a worker (Owen) at lunchtime who is trying to explain to his fellow workers why they exist in virtually incessant poverty:

        ‘“Money is the real cause of poverty,” said Owen.

        “Prove it,” repeated Philpot.

        “Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour.”

        “Prove it,” said Philpot.

        Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it in his pocket.

        “All right,” he replied. “I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.”

        Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread, but as these were not sufficient, he requested that anyone who had some bread left should give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocket knives of Easton, Harlow and Philpot, he addressed them, as follows:

        “These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun.”

        “Now,” continued Owen, “I am a capitalist; or rather I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present argument how I obtained possession of them, the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the landlord and capitalist class. I am that class; all these raw materials belong to me.”

        “Now you three represent the working class. You have nothing, and, for my part, although I have these raw materials, they are of no use to me. What I need is the things that can be made out of these raw materials by work; but I am too lazy to work for me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins” – taking three half pennies from his pocket – “represent my money, capital.” “But before we go any further,” said Owen, interrupting himself, “it is important to remember that I am not supposed to be merely a capitalist. I represent the whole capitalist class. You are not supposed to be just three workers, you represent the whole working class.”

        Owen proceeded to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.

        “These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent a week’s work. We will suppose that a week’s work is worth one pound.”

        Owen now addressed himself to the working class as represented by Philpot, Harlow and Easton.

        “You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you plenty of work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week’s work is that you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each receive your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week’s work, you shall have your money.”

        The working classes accordingly set to work, and the capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.

        “These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can’t live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is, one pound each.”

        As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the capitalist’s terms. They each bought back, and at once consumed, one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week’s work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of things produced by the labour of others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound’s worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they had started work – they had nothing.

        This process was repeated several times; for each week’s work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pool of wealth continually increased. In a little while, reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each, he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended on it.

        After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound’s worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools, the machinery of production, the knives, away from them, and informed them that owing to over-production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.

        “Well, and wot the bloody ‘ell are we to do now?” demanded Philpot.

        “That’s not my business,” replied the kind-hearted capitalist. “I’ve paid your wages, and provided you with plenty of work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at the present. Come round again in a few months time and I’ll see what I can do.”

        “But what about the necessaries of life?” demanded Philpot. “we must have something to eat.”

        “Of course you must,” replied the capitalist, affably; “and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.”

        “But we ain’t got no bloody money!” said Philpot

        “Well, you can’t expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn’t work for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!”

        The unemployed looked blankly at each other, but the rest of the crowd only laughed; and then the three unemployed began to abuse the kind-hearted capitalist, demanding that he should give them some of the necessaries of life that he had piled up in his warehouses, or to be allowed to work and produce some more for their own needs; and even threatened to take some of the things by force if he did not comply with their demands. But the kind-hearted capitalist told them not to be insolent, and spoke to them about honesty, and said if they were not careful he would have their faces battered in for them by the police, or if necessary he would call out the military and have them shot down like dogs, the same as he had done before at Featherstone and Belfast.’

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      • This is not the case of capitalism however, because the entire class is not one man, and the entirety of costs and wages are not all the same. Multiple people are setting multiple wage rates and costs based on product value; product value is decided by the economy as a whole, not just by what one person wants. If someone were to hike up the prices of a specific product higher than consumers believe it should go, then consumers could take their business elsewhere. This would leave the seller with the option of either lowering prices, or going broke. People who sell inexpensive, affordable goods are those who thrive, and encourage a thriving economy as a whole. Everybody is better off in a capitalistic economy because it is a system of mutual benefit. Those who are not selling in a way to benefit both himself and the buyer will not sell at all; the greedy and the lazy suffer. The fair, hard working, and mutually beneficial deal-striking people will thrive, and live fruitfully.
        I do not believe in a system in which the market should be artificially manipulated to cause surpluses, nor shortages. I also do not believe that coercion is a necessary factor within a healthy society, or economy. The capitalistic market fluctuates in such a way to inform both consumers and producers of what is being done, and what needs to be done to keep up; it allows freedom of choice and self discernment.

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