Monday, August 07, 2006

Marxism 101: Introduction to Capitalism

Due to fifty-plus years of capitalistic propaganda and liberal disillusionment, the name Marx is strictly associated with sadistic tyrants and utopian societies. Because the philosophy of Marx has been demonized by our cultures love of profit and misused by those who adopted the name while in power, valuable insights into understanding capitalism- and thus enabling us to overcome it- have been lost. Hence, the 'movement' (if it can even be called that) is reduced to marches for peace, with no framework for understanding the larger social forces that create war; all of the 'losers' under capitalism (poor, disabled, minorities, women, environmentalist's, most human's, etc) lack the information needed to discover commonalities between themselves, and thus view their own separate plight to be unrelated to the other groups who experience oppression. It is in the interests of all who consider themselves an activist, liberal, or wage-earner to familiarize themselves with at least the founding principles of Marxism.

One of Marx's most important, and thus relevant discoveries, is what he coined 'surplus value'. On the surface, this term can be viewed simply as the profit your employer makes off you working for him; however, when one examines the historical context of the term, and in the process, defining it more accurately, a whole new world takes shape.

Surplus value first appeared when humans created large-scale agriculture, and with it, civilization. While they were hunter-gatherers, pre-historic man knew nothing of stockpiles of food, and because of this, lived in a state of what can be called 'primitive communism', or if you prefer, 'equality'. With agriculture and the large-scale domestication of animals, came inequality; this is because a minority of the population discovered that they could live labor-free, taking the extra food produced (the surplus value) for themselves. As society expanded, becoming more complex, this form of food production eventually evolved into the modern notion of slavery. In order for a slave to produce surplus value for his master, he must produce more food, or money, then it takes for him to survive; once this is accomplished during the course of a day, the slave-owner reaps all additional gains (the surplus value). Over time, the slave-state evolved (in many places with war and revolution) into a feudal state, where peasants worked the land, having to give any extra harvest or money (the surplus value) to the owner of the land in the form of rent.

Then came capitalism. While one reads the above two forms of production, it's easy for a modern person to disassociate themselves from what seems like 'barbaric pre-history', reveling in the fact that they live in an advanced society where things have progressed into relative comfort and freedom. Nothing could be less accurate; modern capitalism functions by the same laws of surplus value that it's two predecessors did; only the appearance has changed. In order for your employer(s) to remain accustomed to their life of leisure, you must work a set amount of time for your own livelihood, while working additional time solely for the owner of your labor (surplus value)- this system, by its very essence, is synonymous to the above mentioned system of slavery, though thinly disguised behind veils such as the 'hourly wage'.

Modern capitalism has different way's of legitimizing itself, giving the illusion of freedom; one way this is done is by allowing different scales of wages; the higher the wage, the more desirable the work. This is comparable to the lives of African slaves working in America, who, if they were complicit enough, lived a far more comfortable life working inside the master's house- remaining however, a slave. Also within capitalism is the limited freedom to choose to whom you will sell yourself to, although scarce mployment often restricts this 'luxury'. The third and most lucrative aspect of capitalism is the idea of becoming an owner yourself, so that you too will be able to have workers to exploit. Generally speaking, the system has evolved into one where those lucky enough to find employment work forty-plus hours a week, have two or three weeks vacation a year, and are paid enough to get them to their next paycheck. And that, is what we consider fortunate.

Also like the system of slavery is the fact that those living within the system are unable to really understand the chains they are bound by. In the period of slavery, it was commonly thought that such a world was 'just how it was'; these rationalizations were usually based on human-nature or the uncontrollability of immense, external forces. In fact, the great philosopher Aristotle, as well as his contemporaries, considered slavery to be the natural state of things, and those who were slaves, were slaves because of their inner essence. During feudal times, it was accepted that royalty deserved their lifestyles based on their lineage, while the serfs toiled in the fields. Once again, today is no different. It is taken for granted that a miniscule portion of society enjoys heaven on earth, while the rest of us work jobs we consciously divorce from the rest of our lives.

The concept of surplus value, however seemingly obvious once it is grasped,continues to be central to the political movement towards equality and peace; the vast importance of this concept is that it show's us, without hesitation, that one class is blatantly exploiting the other, creating a universal bond between those who earn a wage; from this we can say that no concessions, wage-increases, universal healthcare, or military peace (all of which are unlikely), will solve the problems of the majority of earth's people. As long as this modern system of slavery is in place, not only will the above mentioned problems persist, but a general discontent will remain with those living under a rationalized domination. Only an international revolution, based on socialist principles, has the necessary vision and practical application to abolish much of what is wrong with the world today.

2 Comments:

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Knucklehead,

Democracies do nor evolve into dictatorships, the DEvolve there.

 
At 11:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let he who is without any knucklehead moments cast the first knuckle...

 

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