A Marxian Critique of Capitalism; A Contemporary Approach

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

A Marxian Critique of Capitalism; A Contemporary Approach


Abstract


This project is intended to expose the nature as capitalism as well as its merits and demerits. An exposure of the Marxian critique of the capitalist system and how marx pressed for the replacement of the system with the inauguration of communism through socialism shall then be explicated. It should be noted that according to marx, the only was to attain this goal is through a mass revolt bloody revolution. Hence a critical evaluation of the Marxian critique of the capitalist system as well as his suggestion of a bloody revolution will be done to see how valid these suggestions are when applied to the contemporary era.

Thereafter, a workable alternative solution/recommendation shall then be done in place of Karl Marx’s own solution/suggestion.

Also, while many workers today are indeed better off, many others are met. They are occasional sweat shop conditions even in countries like the United States, and there are many countries where the majority of workers are as relentlessly exploited today as they were during the capitalist era in Karl Marx’s time. Hence the general trend on which Marx had his eyes still prevails: the rich still get richer and more powerful, while the majority of ordinary employees can count themselves lucky if they have steady employment and more or less adequate benefits. In Africa for example, the income gap between the rich and the rest of society has been wealth usually translates into an imbalance of political power and influence as well, many capitalist countries tend to be, for all practical purposes, oligarchies rather than genuine democracies. Although their democratic institutions may be intact and functioning, their policies tend to be determined by wealthy elites much more than by citizens at large.

It may have been time in the 19th century that workers had to work under sweatshop conditions, that the workday lasted twelve to fourteen hours, that sometimes children were literally chained to machines to work, that workplace safety did not exist, that workers were deprived of education, and most of all, that wages were so low that workers rarely could afford to buy the things they produced. But all these have since become very different. Capitalist in the 19th century may have been rather brutal, but the system has been reformed. Wages have increased, all sorts of benefits are provided by employers or social security system, and today’s industrial workers sometimes own and consume more material goods than even members of the old political cartoons that showed the capitalists with to[p hats, coat tails, and big guts, while depicting workers and their bedraggled families as emaciated, subdued wrecks, are surely outdated. Today’s workers are not as exported and miserable as marx describes them, and the relation of capital and labour is not so antagonistic and bad as to justify such old concepts as “class struggle” or “class war”.

It should be noted that the above objectives are not pointless due to the long and often ardius struggle of unions, as well as the vastly increased productivity of industrial labour, the economic position of many workers has significantly improved since the days of the Industrious revolution.


Chapter One


Introduction

1.1.Background To The Study

It has become increasingly common to hear that capitalism with its exploitative nature is dehumanizing and alienating – that is, alienating man from the product of his own labor, from his own self, from the society, as well as from nature. This kind of economic system, because of its exploitative nature of many people by few rich individuals, has led to the situation of man’s inhumanity to man. In this case, profits are made at all cost even at the expense of human life. In this type of economic system of government, few rich individuals amassed wealth at the expense of the majority and as such income is distributed inequitably to the detriment of the common man. Hence, Marx was dissatisfied with the system and called for its replacement with a better and humane one (communism).

Throughout Karl Marx’s life, the central theme of his writings and activities was centered on man and how to liberate him from the slavery that comes from man’s inhumanity to man. The subject of Karl Marx’s worry has been the isolated individual; an individual estranged from other people, from the fruit of his own labor, from nature, and even from his own deepest self and emotion. This doctrine of alienation in Marxism described the condition of the working class in the capitalist system in Karl Marx’s days whereby the workers (proletariats) were exploited and dehumanized by their employers (the capitalists/bourgeoisie). The product of their labor was taken from them. Hence, Marx called it “alienated labor”1 Thus the worker in the capitalist system is dehumanized and instrumentalized; he is no longer treated as a human being, but as an instrument of production in the hands of the bourgeois employers who use him to their own advantage. Hence, Marx proposed a remedy for this deplorable condition of the workers. His solution was the total destruction of the capitalist system with its concomitant evils and the establishment of communism through socialism. This solution, Marx says, can only be achieved through mass revolt/bloody revolution.

Influenced by the philosophy of Heraclitus and the dialectic of Hegel, Marx believed that “conflict is the universal law of progress”2. Both Heraclitus and Hegel considered war as good and necessary for progress. Heraclitus in particular, felt that perpetual peace would be undesirable since it would mean social stagnation and the end of progress. The universe, according to Heraclitus, is a universe of conflicts and clash of opposites, “we must know that war is common to all the strife is justice, and that all things come into being and pass away through strife”3. As for Hegel, harmony and progress are the results of conflicts. In his dialectic, progress or development is the result (the synthesis) of conflict or contradiction between two things (thesis and anti-thesis). The whole universe, according to Hegel, “is a self-projection of the absolute Spirit who develops itself through conflicts and contradictions, through thesis, antithesis and synthesis”4.

Marx therefore gave the philosophies of both Heraclitus and Hegel social interpretation and maintained that social progress can only come about through class conflicts. Hence he advocates for the total destruction of the capitalist system through mass revolt/bloody revolution.

However, the question that seems disturbing is the validity and tenability of Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism. The statement of problem is thus presented below.


1.2 Statement Of The Problem

Although we cannot but subscribe to the Marxist condemnation of exploitation of man by man, nevertheless, we cannot go along with his commitment to Machiavellianism. For we do not believe that any means employed to bring about a good end is morally justified. We hold on the contrary that the end does not and cannot justify the means.

Consequently, it is an evil in itself to employ a bad means to bring about a good end. We can therefore not go along with Marxism in encouraging class conflicts, class antagonism and violent revolutions. Nor do we subscribe to the Heraclitan-Hegelian-Marxist dogma that social change and progress can only come about through violent conflicts and bloody revolutions. Nobody wins a war these days; in the long run both sides are the losers. Worst of all, it is generally the poor and the innocent who are sacrificed as victims to the “gods of revolution”. This itself is evil, and an evil means should not be used to bring about a good end.

Moreover, although Marx’s intention was to safeguard the welfare of the people, but by calling for a violent revolution, the welfare of the people which he was trying to safeguard will no longer be safe. This is because the violence that goes along with a revolution is a threat to security of lives and property.

Furthermore, Marx seems not to be concerned with the method but with the ends of the struggle. This is prone to error because goals achieved by proper means are always more lasting and are of permanent duration than those achieved by improper means. Therefore, for a lasting peace and stability, it is not the end that matters but what matters is the method by which these ends are actually achieved.

To push it further, Marxian theory of state is not so sound as prima facie it may appear. His emphasis on armed revolution is rather too much and cannot be justified especially today when nations are thinking more in terms of peaceful co-operation rather than war. Who can deny that violence brings with it hatred and destruction of lives (especially the innocent ones) and property and counter-revolutionary forces will breed more destruction and instability in the society. Settlement of disputes by violent revolution is bound to retard political and social progress. It is therefore beyond all reasonable doubts that the changes brought about by an armed and violent revolution is less durable than the changes brought about by peaceful means and method on the one hand, and persuation on the other hand. As I put it, “persistent, unflinching and patient persuation can break even the strongest resistance”.

Going further, Marx’s method of over-throwing one economic system and its replacement with another is dangerous to the extent that it has never paved way for enduring stability. Instability which this revolution will bring with it, shall always remain alive in the minds of the capitalists who in turn are bound to over-throw the workers regime at the first available opportunity. This will be never-ending struggle which is unwanted both for nation’s economic progress, cultural advancement and political stability. This is not to say that an oppressive economic system should not be confronted and replaced but the confrontation should not be that drastic to the extent that stability would be elusive.

Also, Marx believes that the only way to bring about a change is through bloody revolution. But he forgets that there are peaceful methods also for bringing about changes. Gandhiji brought change in Indian political and social life without any bloody or violent revolution in the Marxian sense of the term but by non-violent means and method.

Arguing further, Marx has not realized that on the collapse of state many other factors and classes might emerge. It should be noted that break-down of capitalism might result not in communism but in anarchy from which there might emerge some dictatorship unrelated in principle to communism.

Finally, it should be noted that the baby should not be thrown away alongside with the bath water. But Marx fell prey into this problem. While pressing for the elimination of capitalism and the inauguration of communism through socialism, Marx inevitably threw away hardwork which leads to invention and innovation, which in turn encourages faster economic and societal development and progress. It is a known fact that capitalism which leads to faster economic growth and societal development is as a result of hardwork. Therefore, while pressing for the elimination of the capitalist system, Marx was inevitably eliminating progress and development from the society.

Having presented the statement of problem, I shall now proceed to the purpose of study.


1.3 Purpose Of The Study

The purpose of this research work is presented below:

Firstly, it is to critically analyze and evaluate capitalism with its exploitative nature as put forward by Karl Marx.

Secondly, it is to objectively weigh the suggestion of mass revolt/bloody revolution put forward by Karl Marx as a way of destroying the capitalist system to see how valid and tenable this suggestion would be when applied to the contemporary era.

Thirdly, an attempt shall be made to bring out the flaws in Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism as well as his suggestion of communism using the tool of mass revolt/bloody revolution. Thereafter a workable alternative solution/recommendation in place of Karl Marx’s own recommendation of bloody revolution as a way of alleviating the pitiable condition of the working class from the hands of their bourgeois employers shall be proffered.

Having presented the purpose of study, I shall now expose the significance of study.


1.4 Significance Of The Study

The significance of this research work is enormous. However few of them shall be exposed below:

Firstly, it will serve as an analytic-cum-critical review of the much esteemed doctrine of Karl Marx criticism of capitalism and his proposal of communism through socialism as an alternative to the capitalist system using the tool of mass revolt/bloody revolution.

Secondly, it will serve as a medium of courage to all those, especially the poor who are victims of the exploitative, alienating and dehumanizing condition in the society in which they find themselves, that there is a workable solution to their problems if only they can unite with one voice, but which must not necessarily result to a bloody revolution as recommended by Karl Marx.

Thirdly, it will serve as a clarion call for all workers of the world to unite, as unity is a basis for a successful protest against an unwanted system of government in the society. In other words, this research work will instill on the minds of the people (the working class) the spirit of unity and co-operation which is a necessary tool for the achievement of their freedom from exploitation and dehumanization in the hands of their employers by enlightening them on the way forward on how to carry out their struggle of freedom from the oppressive nature of the capitalist system. As Karl Marx puts it, “the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTLESS, UNITE!”5

Fourthly, this research work will also serve as a deterrent to the few rich individuals in the society who are agents of marginalization of the poor and less privileged. It will go a long way to tell them that when you so much push someone to the extent that he has gotten to the wall, he may have no other option than to turn and face you for a fight.

Finally, this research work will as well be of great importance to critically evaluate the position of those philosophers and thinkers who sought for solution to such kind of problems (like the ones posed by the capitalist) following the pattern/ideology of Karl Marx’s mass revolt/bloody revolution.

Having exposed the significance of the study, I will now proceed to the scope of study.


1.5 Scope Of The Study

This research work shall in scope be limited to the doctrine of capitalism as well as the Marxian notion of capitalism. An attempt shall be made to explain Karl Marx’s critique of the capitalist system and how he pressed for a communist society free from the exploitation of the working class posed by the capitalists. Thereafter a critical evaluation of Karl Marx’s critique of the capitalist system as well as his idea of replacing it with communism through socialism will be made to see how valid and tenable they are. Thereafter a conclusion as well as a recommendation will be made.

Having made known the scope of study, I shall now move to the methodology.


1.6 Methodology Of The Study

The method of this research work shall be analytic-cum-critical in nature. Analytic in the sense that the issue at stake will be examined in detail. It has to do with a thorough breakdown; a conceptual clarification, a detailed explanation of the issue at stake. And critical in that, it is not a negative appraisal, but rational, impartial, articulate and fair appraisal whether positive or negative. To be “critical” of received ideas is accordingly not the same thing as rejecting them: it consists rather in seriously asking oneself whether the ideas in question should be reformed, modified or conserved, and in applying one’s entire intellectual and imaginative intelligence to the search for an answer.

As a result of the above, materials to prosecute the research work will be gotten from the library as well as other relevant sources.


Last Chapter


Summary

From what has been said so far, it is clear that Marx’s message to his audience was a revolutionary call to the working class. “The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win; workers of the world unite”10It is a call for the wondering class to follow the leadership of the communist party, the vanguard of the proletariat. It is a call for the working class to adopt certain tackles, highly flexible in kind and changing circumstances, but consistent in their revolutionary purposes. “The things to do now”11,Marx wrote “is to instill poison where possible”.12 Marx appeared not to have interest in the reforms of the existing political system but a total change (revolution) from capitalist based political system to a socialist and then a communist based political system.

Marxism is, furthermore a call for the working-class to follow a certain strategy to stick home and rise in revolt only in revolutionary situations.

In essence, Marxist main concern (as a humanist), is the liberation of man from the exploitation, alienation and slavery to which the capitalist system has condemned him. This is the central theme behind his writings and activities. Marx does not simply want to contemplate or interprete the structure of the world but to change it. Philosophers, Marx says, have all been trying to interprete the world in various ways whereas, what is needed to be done is to change it and not interprete or contemplate like Hegel. It is only by action that the oppressed and exploited man can be liberated and his human dignity restored to him.

Finally, Marx held that the only road that leads to this earthy paradise is the road that passes through conflicts, contradictions, strife, violence and bloody revolutions. The Hegelian dialectics is also based in conflicts; progress or development according to Hegel’s dialectics is the result of conflict or contradiction. The absolute spirit is developing itself and progressing towards its goal through conflicts, thereby directing the course of history to its goal through conflict.

Marx however gave the dialectics of Hegel a social interpretation and maintain that the social progress can only come about through conflicts, violent struggles and bloody revolutions. This, Marx claims, is the course of history, a dialectical and revolutionary course and nobody can stop it from running its course. “Progress is certain, conflicts are inevitable because history is inexorably pursuing its dialectical course come what may”.13


Conclusion

Nobody can contest the fact that Karl Marx is one of the most popular socio-political theories to have ever walked on the surface of the earth. His major aim has been the fulfillment and development of man in his society.

The beauty of Marx’s work and his down to earth explication endeared Marxism to many economic and political organization. No wonder, in the mid-twentieth century, the followers of Marx was more than the total number of some religious faiths.

However, the flaws of Marxism lies in his suggestion of a bloody evolution as the only means to drive away the capitalist system. We all know that nobody wins a war these days. Worst of all, it is generally the poor and innocent ones who are sacrificed as victims to the “god of revolution”.

If communism cannot be achieved because man is by nature selfish and will not want to work for others to eat, hence an utopian and if a bloody revolution as Marx has proposed is not the best to tackle an unwanted system of government, what then is the way out?
I shall now offer a recommendation.


Recommendation

Having exposed Karl Marx’s critique of the capitalist system, it should be noted that the suggestion of Marx of a communist society in place of the capitalist system using the tool of bloody revolution should not be followed.
In all, I think a welfarist society will be better, to replace the concormittant evil of the capitalist system and the utopic communism of Marx.

Also, while Marx was going the line of a bloody revolution to replace the capitalist system, I am proposing a peaceful protest/negotiation. After all Ghandhiji brought change in Indian political and social life without any bloody or violent revolution in the Marxian sense of the term but by non-violent means and method. Hence, in my own words, “Persistent, unflinching and patient persuasion can break even the strongest resistance”.

What then is welfarism? Welfarism is like a “socialized capitalism”, a mitigation of the crudeness, the selfishness, the greediness and the callousness of capitalism. It is also a mitigation of the dictatorial control of all enterprises by the state in socialism. “It allows private enterprise but substantial part of the profit is taken by the state through taxation and used to provide basic amenities for the common good”.14 In this way the state provides for the welfare of every citizen and avoids the situation in which some citizens are extremely rich while others are extremely poor.

Thus, for example, the state provides free education, free health care services for all the citizens. “The state takes it upon itself to provide jobs for the jobless citizens or provide them with the means of living a decent life, until they get jobs”. Thus welfarism incorporates elements from both capitalist and socialism, though it seems to be more capitalist than socialist. It practices a kind of “humane capitalism” or “altruistic capitalism”.

Welfarism is being successfully practice in England and the Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Island, Norway and Sweden. These countries have a high standard of living and have avoided the evils of the capitalist system. They have so far remained models to other countries in terms of the welfare of citizens.

It should be noted that Welfarism has so far proved to be the most successful and the best of all the systems that have so far been experimented by states all over the world.


A Marxian Critique of Capitalism; A Contemporary Approach


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