What is wrong with capitalism? The question was posed to us in our feminism and movement class today. The difficulty in answering this question begins in identifying what it is, what it does and what it does not provide. This analysis considers both philosophical and politcal vantage points, and one way to understand that is through Marxist analysis. In my attempt to answer the question, I go back to where capitalism came from, that I may put my point forward. Anyway, history is a material basis for social analysis.
The fundamental constructs of labor, value and capitalism are embedded in human history. In the annals of the evolution of the human society, there exist these constructs, they might not be the exact terms in the language of our ancestors, but their basic concepts had always been there. Whatever exists in the society serves some functions for the good of the society or else it would have not existed at all. This might sound metaphysical, but that was, has been and is the order things. Just like how the modes of production have changed. For a system to persist, there must be something good in it, or maybe we have not really been conscious that there is something wrong with it. But in that timeline, where the problem lies has to be underpinned with historical material basis. What is wrong with capitalism is a social pathology that resides beneath our good social nature.
We associate the term capitalism to market, business, commerce and trade. Hence, it is economic by its nature. The origins of capitalism can be traced from since the earliest time that humans have learned to produce more than what they need and so they can barter their produce or the excesses for something else. So, the idea of capitalism must have existed even in the prehistoric times of human evolution. But, this argument can be refuted in the assumption that during those prehistoric times, humans do not think and desire for anything else beyond their biological needs.
To illustrate, lets consider a child whose needs are met by her parents. By the time this child engages into social interaction with others and sees something from others, it will be instinctive that a child will have a desire for that. Humans are social beings, while we also share our individual minds. Maybe, borne of curiousity, interest or want, this desire for that object can be to simply hold, play, possess or own it. The latter is only possible if the child already has a concept of ownership. This is similar to early communities who are by the way families. But given the context that was available then is the sufficiency of nature’s bounty to satisfy basic human needs such as food, laboring too much was not necessary. Humans in that communal period could have been just a little advance than apes, if we are to consider Darwinism.
The theory of evolution is by the way still a theory. The theory does not validate that humans in the primitive communal society are not capable of thinking and desiring for other things. Because humans feel and think, we are able to know what we need and so create the tools to satisfy those needs. The primitive communal state is the advent of human society, and this state of life must be way beyond how animals live or flock in communities. The tools that they may have for their time are crude and not so sophisticated as compared to what we have now. But those tools are the innovations of their own constructed world, and should not be regarded primitive at all. Such thinking is a discriminating thought.
My suspicion is that capitalism, in the sense of praxis that is acting based on material needs, has its beginning from prehistory. This has been brought perhaps by the increase of population while resources get scarce in specific territories. Thus, my point is that capitalism in its crudest form is embedded in every human mind and pushed further by the environmental situation. Then it evolved into a superstructure that operates in its own dynamics. Eearlier humans had capitalized on their strength to meet their needs, be that their peronal, family or community needs. The increase of the family members which brought the clans, gave way to the evolution of those communities.
On the case of meeting those needs for a growing population, the community members have to adapt to the situation by creating new means to produce what they need. From being nomadic, the commuinities have settled on particular lands. In this stage the community began farming, fishing, horticulture and domesticating animals. As they have created value, they would want to keep these secured for their family or community. Thinking beyond the here and now, they have increased these value, and traded the added value or those surplus value to others who might need them. This is described by Marx as an agricultural mode of production. The land where they settled became so familiar to them that they treated it as their territory. Humans are territorial, like other animals, as dictated by their needs.
Those communities that have produced more, have gained influence to those who have less produce. I argue that labor is embedded in human societies all along, the creation to suffice a need is labor. As there is value in labor, there is added value in producing more. Values are instinctive to human nature. The land that they tilled, the plants that they grew and the animals that they raise are all valuable to them, as they are means to meet the human needs. Then, they took ownership of those in which they have labored for and placed value unto. That’s property, and these were handed from one generation to another.
Those who owned the land, became landlords, and those who work to create land produce became either slaves or paid peasants working to meet their daily needs. They were not directly paid with money until money was invented, but they get to have a meager portion of what they produce and added security as tenants from their landlord. As the landlords took away the common property to become individual property, they obtained more of the values from the produce, which they no longer labor for. The gap between the landlords and the peasants widened as the landlord increased their property. From this point, the natural resources that used to be common had been redistributed to the very few while the communities have increased into towns and nations.
The numbers of landlords also increased as they thrived in influence with the established states. Eearlier landlords who who went to wars and had victories became royalties. They and other landlords emerged as the capitalists. As there was an increased in population there was also increase in the demand to meet basic needs. While the general public do not have the means of production, and symbolic money has replaced the barter exchange, the proletariat emerged as the working class. The invisible superstructure of capitalism was backed up with the liberal ideals of the state. The working class became the appendages of the machine that produce the goods which the class can only consume as they buy them.
Capitalism meets human needs to the point that we have more than sufficieny. Capitalism alienates the working force in several ways. Capitalism maintains a hierarchy of power, authority and control. Capitalism exploits the working force. Capitalism disregards the social dynamics. Capitalism exhausts the environment. Capitalism binds many to have no property. Capitalism by creating added value or surplus value profits at the expense of the labor force, the society, environment and human culture. Capitalism creates antagonism between classes. These are what many see as wrong in capitalism.
Capitalism to have existed in various forms across history has some function and value. Marxist will argue that this is true for the capitalist because they have the labor force at their whims and they benefit from its accumulation of wealth, but to the detriment of the labor force, the society and the environment. But where does the evil of capitalism come from. I suspect, that if it has been there all along in our history, what makes it wrong does not stem from our good human nature. That its evil or what makes it wrong is in the human mind that is blinded by the value of the accumulation and possession of material wealth.
If we examine where the evil comes from, Marxism will direct us to the surplus value that enables the capitalist to profit from labor, and consequently exploit and alienate the labor force. My point is that capitalism is an object that we can actually redefine and change. For Marx, change is innevitable. But to change the modes of production requires force and social action not just political theory. In history, change happened through a rise of social consciousness. The revolution that should take place first is that change of consciousness. This should direct our motivation and our energy to be more responsible for the society as we do it for ourselves.
Although Marx have provided a brilliant critique on capitalism, the system remains pervasive. From what I have emphasized, capitalism has been there all along, it is embedded in our social genome, our social memory. As we remain unconscious that there is evil in this system we allow it to persists with all its ills because we are satisfied in its fancy flavorful life-state even though we are aware that it is exploitative. The superstructure can not be easily changed, but changes can come in as we begin to reflect with a perspective for the good of the society, for every individual regardless of age, gender, sexuality, education, ethinicity. That is considering the consciousness of a socialist. This like the ingrained concepts of capitalism, I suspect is also ingrained in our good mind and conscience. Yet, we are not so conscious of this because capitalism has alienated us from our good social nature.