An Introduction to the Critique of Capitalism


Capitalism. It is the system under which we all live and which we are all most familiar with. It is the system under which the majority of people in the world have lived under since, variously, the 15th and 16th centuries, and which saw its full actualization in the industrial revolution in the 19th century. But I think the history of capitalism is of secondary importance to what we’re really here to discuss — capitalism itself; what it is, and why it should be opposed.

Capitalism encompasses all of modern society. It is everywhere. It is the world right now. To many people, it is thought to always have been and that it always will be. In order to upend it, to reverse that notion and expose capitalism as it really is to society at large, as is the goal of all socialists to do, we need to start with a systematic critique of it. The best tool for this in general can not be anything but Karl Marx’s Capital. However, Capital is notoriously dense reading and it might be helpful to have a brief introduction on hand to expose capitalism in a far more condensed form. How shall we begin?

To define it shortly, it is first and foremost characterized by private ownership over the means of production by individuals for profit. That means that individuals own privately the means by which society produces and reproduces its means of existence, but operate them not in the name of society, but in the name of profit for themselves. Fundamental to capitalism’s existence, then, are, for the most part, two classes: bourgeoisie and proletariat, or the capitalist class and the working class. The bourgeoisie are the private owners of the means of production. The proletariat are the workers that operate those means of production and create value in doing so which goes towards the private owners in exchange for a wage, or a portion of the value of the labour they just performed.

Capitalism is characterized also by a couple of key secondary facts resulting from the above qualifiers. Capital accumulation, or the drive of the bourgeoisie to accumulate more and more Capital (money which goes towards begetting more of itself; economic stock), inevitably arises from the desire to consolidate one’s position on the social ladder, and eventually to climb it. Competitive markets, or competition between the bourgeoisie, is another staple, which also arises from the desire to consolidate one’s position and elevate it by way of eliminating rivals. Competition is central to the internal relations between classes. We will come back to that in particular later.

So there you have it. A brief definition of capitalism. Now, to the purpose of this article. Why should capitalism be opposed? Why should it be attacked? Because it is inefficient. Because it breeds contempt among those whom might otherwise call each other brothers. Because, above all else, it is immoral. Call it mystical, but at the end of the day, I think the human element, the moral element, is the most important. And for the misdeeds it perpetuates interminably in that sphere, capitalism must always go opposed.

Capitalism inherently relies on the exploitation of workers on behalf of the bourgeoisie.

Fundamental to capitalism’s operation is the ownership of the means of production by individuals, or private property. Private property is to be opposed because it inherently relies on the exploitation and expropriation of others and the fruits of their labour. In the Marxist sense, private property refers to private ownership over the means of production. It is important to point out that a distinction is made here between private property, which I’ve just described, and personal property, which is what most people think of as private property in lieu of the Marxist conception. Personal property would be things like your own phone, your car, books you own, your house. None of those things have productive potential, so they are not taken to be private property, and thus I do not argue for their abolition. Nobody really does. But why is private property in particular bad?

Because the owner of, say, a factory, will need workers to operate that factory. And he owns a factory in the first place to make profit. That profit comes from the work those workers do, the commodities they produce; their labour is guaranteed in exchange for a wage. But in order to ensure he makes a profit, he necessarily must pay them a certain amount below what their labour is actually worth, i.e., what he’s selling the product of their labour for. That is where the “expropriation” part I mentioned comes in; he is expropriating their surplus value (the remainder of the value of their labour left after compensating some of it with wages) for himself. In this way, those workers are not entitled to all they produce; they do not receive the full fruits of their labour. Therein is “exploitation” found, too. For in these workers not being compensated for the full value of their labour, that which they are not being paid is, in essence, being stolen from them. I think you would agree, stealing is immoral. However, in this case, stealing is tolerated. It is expected. Does that make it right?*

It is not even that the capitalists are obliged to pay the workers most of the value of the labour they perform, either. They are most certainly not, and almost never do, especially in big business. A fast food worker may produce hundreds of dollars of food a day in exchange for a meager 9 dollars per hour wage. The bourgeoisie will expropriate however great a percentage of the value of their workers’ labour they can get away with. In many cases, it is the great majority of their workers’ labour value that they do away with.

Why should the expropriation of surplus value be tolerated? Why should we stand by while workers are exploited? Should they not be entitled to the full fruits of their labour? Should they not own, themselves, what they personally produce? Why does it instead go to those not even involved in the productive process? It should not.

*The Ethics of Private Property

Similarly, capitalism is about taking from those who do work and giving it to those who do not.

If the above makes it clear that capitalism relies implicitly on exploitation and expropriation, it goes without saying that when the workers are exploited, value goes from those who work to those that don’t. Indeed, why would big business owners spend any time working whatsoever, when they can just extract value from those who do? Unless, of course, by “work” you mean pushing papers around a desk, but even then they can hire people to do that for them!

Too often do liberals shout “But rich people worked hard for what they have!” No, they did not. What you are proposing here is that every millionaire worked for every cent they own. That is physically impossible, if the sum of their paycheck is seen as being constituted solely by work done personally by them; one man can never create billions of dollars of value by personal virtue, no matter how hard a worker. It can not be done. Thus you can’t say that billionaires “earned the money themselves” and leave it entirely at that.

You can, on the other hand, always say with complete certainty that the great majority of their money came from the expropriation of the value produced by others.

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” — Eugene V. Debs

Capitalism alienates the majority of society from itself.

Karl Marx wrote about the concept of “alienation”, or how humans forced into certain relations are separated from the product of working, the work itself, himself as a producer, and from other workers. An understanding of alienation is essential to understanding the moral angle from which Marxism can attack capitalism — and I think it’s foolish to suggest that Marxism doesn’t have a moral angle.

Marx described four forms of alienation: Alienation of the worker from the work — from the product of his labour, alienation of the worker from working — from the act of producing, alienation of the worker from himself, as a producer — from his Gattungswesen (species-essence), and alienation of the worker from other workers.

I. Separation of the worker from the product of his labour entails the division necessarily resulting from the separation of the decisions affecting the workers’ work from the worker. “The design of the product and how it is produced are determined, not by the producers who make it (the workers), nor by the consumers of the product (the buyers), but by the capitalist, who, besides appropriating the worker’s manual labour, also appropriate the intellectual labour of the engineer and the industrial designer who create the product, in order to shape the taste of the consumer to buy the goods and services at a price that yields a maximal profit.” They are not the masters of their own product; thus, they are alienated from it.*

II. The second type of alienation, the separation of the worker from the act of working, is described as follows: “In the capitalist Mode of Production, the generation of products (goods and services) is accomplished with an endless sequence of discrete, repetitive, motions that offer the worker little psychological satisfaction for ‘a job well done’. By means of commodification, the labour power of the worker is reduced to wages (an exchange value); the psychological estrangement (Entfremdung) of the worker results from the unmediated relation between his productive labour and the wages paid him for the labour. That division of labour, within the capitalist mode of production, further exploits the worker by limiting his or her Gattungswesen (species-essence) — the human being’s power to determine the purpose to which the product (goods and services) shall be applied; the human nature (species-essence) of the worker is fulfilled when he or she controls the ‘subject of labour’. Hence does capitalism remove from the worker the right to exercise control upon the value and the effects of his and her labour, which, in turn, robs the worker of the ability to either buy (consume) the goods and services, or to receive the full value from the sale of the product. The alienation of the worker from the act of producing renders the worker unable to specialize in a type of productive labour, which is a psychologically satisfying condition; within an industrial system of production, social alienation reduces the worker to an instrument, to an object, and thus cannot productively apply every aspect of his or her human nature.” Their work, all too often, is psychologically unfulfilling, their actions repetitive, their labour unspecialized. They are alienated from the very act of working.*

III. There is also the separation of the worker from himself, as a producer. Marx uses the term Gattungswesen (species-essence). This form describes how capitalism limits human potential both as a species and on an individual level by smothering the full expression of themselves that would otherwise be put into labour. If that sounds metaphysical, don’t worry. To make it sound more physical, it really just means that work under capitalism stays simply work in order to secure the means of existence, with no care taken to make it anything other than that, on both the part of the worker and the capitalist. Marx says that humans are distinct from other animals in that their labour can be done to objectify something other than immediate self-subsistence. That humans can labour for a future purpose, for an intent. But that intent is limited under capitalism, when labour is reduced to the same level as Max ascribes to animals; when people labour only for immediate self-subsistence. Under capitalism, most people are not free to pursue their full potential in labour.

IV. Finally, the worker is alienated with regard to other workers. One’s labour is “reduced to a commercial commodity that can be traded in the competitive labour-market, rather than as a constructive socio-economic activity that is part of the collective common effort performed for personal survival and the betterment of society. In a privatized economy, the businessmen who own the means of production establish a competitive labour-market meant to extract from the worker as much labour (value) as possible, in the form of capital. The privatized economy’s arrangement of the relations of production provokes social conflict by pitting worker against worker, in a competition for ‘higher wages’, thereby alienating them from their mutual economic interests; the effect is a false consciousness, which is a form of ideologic control exercised by the capitalist bourgeoisie.” The workers are convinced to not work together, to squabble among themselves, to compete unceasingly and unthinkingly; once again, alienated from each other. How much more could be achieved in a society characterized by the means of production held in common? When emphasis is placed on the betterment of society and yourself, as a worker not in contest with the others, but in collaboration; where one labours for the good of all and therefore oneself, too, and they for you and therefore themselves? … As Karl Marx wrote in his Critique of the Gotha Program, “after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”*

*The Ethics of Private Property

Capitalism is not the pinnacle of efficiency as an economic system.

Strangely enough, this is one of the arguments most often associated with supporting capitalism. It is said that capitalism as an economic system is actually more efficient than socialism. I’ve even heard other socialists “admit” this at the cost of having to attack capitalism from other angles. In truth, this is a perfectly justifiable position from which to launch an attack. No, capitalism is not more efficient. It is less, as it necessarily must be according to an historical materialist analysis, at least, and in reality that holds true as well. It creates material surplus, yes, but lacks the means to distribute it. It creates powerful industry, massive productive booms, but lacks the means to both operate them to their full potential and distribute the products on the most socially useful basis.

To take an example, let’s look at how food supply is managed under capitalism. It is a fact that capitalism produces more than enough food to feed everybody. The evidence is there. So if we produce so much, why is there hunger? Why isn’t that surplus put to use? Because past a certain point, past a certain percentage of that surplus being consumed, further effort not only ceases to make profit, but becomes lossful for the capitalist. Only so much of that surplus can be sold; to continue to bother with the rest would lose money, so no effort is put into maintaining it past that point. Hence is one third of the global food supply wasted.

On a related note, capitalism destroys the environment. Capitalism tends towards immediate profit, not towards long-term sustainability. The energy department in particular is quite an obvious example of this. It is a fact that the US could more than sustain itself on 100% green energy. The combined power of wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal energy could easily sustain the world. So why doesn’t it?

Because oil, coal and natural gas have real scarcity, so capitalists can profit off of it. Unless capitalists want to start claiming they own the sun (frighteningly, perhaps not an unlikely prospect), they make far less profit off of natural energy than they do with oil and coal, which they can claim ownership over via ownership of the land on which it’s found.

Here’s a comic on that.

So we’ve painted a picture of how scarcity is maintained under capitalism in two ways. We have food and we have energy, both of which maintain a false scarcity under capitalism to maximize profits. Food in that even though we have more than enough, and that’s for the entire world, it’s sold because businesses want the money, and a huge amount of it is wasted when it ceases to make profit. Energy in that capitalism sticks to whatever delivers the most profit, regardless of long-term implications or sustainability.

Socialism isn’t profit oriented and the workers actually have more incentive to work being that they’re entitled to a share of whatever they produce, and what others produce. Thus, resource management is more efficient in public hands as opposed to private hands, where collectivization and maximization of yield is the priority under socialism instead of privatization and maximization of profit. Socialism also promotes cooperation, in which goods are collectivized, where under capitalism competition is inevitable, with goods being lost to it or prices inflated, thus widening the scarcity divide in yet another way.

But it goes further than resource management once in the hands of industry; the choice of resources themselves would change under socialism. Capitalism chooses profitable resources like oil without taking into account the future effects and sustainability. Sure, when oil runs out capitalism will move on to the next resource, but the fact remains, capitalism always prioritizes profitability, not sustainability. Socialism doesn’t prioritize that and would choose sustainability from the start. Renewable resources, replanting of forests, alternatives to metals, etc., would characterize energy and manufacture under socialism.

Capitalism is the essence of scarcity begetting scarcity; as it necessitates class divides and unequal access to goods, it perpetuates scarcity. Anything else wouldn’t be capitalism. Any more efficient system, like socialism, would actually have the potential of ending scarcity.

Capitalism smothers, not propagates, class mobility.

There is a saying, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” There is a myth maintained by proponents of capitalism that anybody can become rich through hard work and honest labour. It is presupposed that everybody who is rich worked hard by getting there, and all the poor toiling Masses are such because they don’t work hard enough.

That’s a real spit in the face of the working Masses of society.

How many blue-collar workers work hard hours for low wages their entire life for little to no advancement? How many lowly farm boys become millionaires by their own personal virtue? If one out of a million does, which is probably a reasonable statistic, how many others does he have to shove out of his path along the way to get there? How many others stay lowly farm boys, regardless of work ethic?

No, workers do not “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, as the argument goes. It’s not so simple as that. Indeed, the fact of the matter is, the reason why they are, for the most part, entirely unable to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, is because there is a veiled double standard being applied by the bourgeoisie; on the one hand, they are very often the ones to propagate that argument, that notion of temporarily embarrassed millionaires. On the other, it is they themselves that prevent it from happening.

Consider that the bourgeoisie make extra sure to ensure their own positions’ safety, which entails making sure their positions aren’t threatened by those below them, that might otherwise rise up to their level. Instead, the bourgeoisie collectively make every effort to keep the vast majority of society below them, and smother attempts for the lower classes to climb the ladder, so to speak. Low wages, especially comparative to the actual value of the work performed, is the main organ by which this function is carried out. The lower the wages of a worker, the more analogous their situation to real wage slavery, the less likely it is that they will have the time and, more importantly, the Capital, to change their situation of their own will.

The other main organ through which class mobility is smothered is education, which itself is also dependent on large part on wages. Low wages don’t only affect the worker, they affect the degree of education that the worker’s children can afford. The children of rich capitalists regularly are sent off to well-funded, well-staffed private schools, while the proletarian children get the short end of the stick with public school, which has its fair share of problems. Higher education is even more classist, charging exorbitant amounts which put poorer students in debt for years, with little change in the amount charged between upper and lower classes, which means the wealthier students get off scot-free.

Here’s a comic on that.

There is no “purer” form of capitalism.

One argument propertarians (right “libertarians”), mostly of the anarcho-capitalist variety, will use time and time again is to refer to a “purer” form of capitalism. They make a distinction between what the predominant modern form of capitalism is, which is corporate and crony capitalism, and their idealized form of capitalism, usually with a focus on small business and individuality. In their arguments they usually call for opposition to the state under modern capitalism, but not capitalism itself, which they want to preserve. In this way they think that capitalism can be restored to it’s “pure” form. In fact, just this last weekend I observed a capitalist posting this on a forum,

When I say capitalism, I don’t mean cronyism or crony capitalism. I mean pure, laissez-faire capitalism, which by the way, is a brilliant system that is solely dependant on you to ensure your success.

What they fail to realize is that capitalism does not have a “purer” form, most certainly not with regard to the state. Capitalism, indeed, necessitates the state through its maintenance of class divide. In the Marxist view, “Government” and “state” are taken to be tools of class rule. They exist to protect property relations under capitalism, which is why they wither away in the progression to communism, where these property rights are actively done away with. Statelessness is not absence of authority, it’s absence of class oppression and property rights, as classes are done away with and all the things that go with that. Realizing that, capitalism can never be stateless or “true laissez-faire”, because capitalism always seeks to preserve stark class divide and property rights. What is a state but a body organized to protect property rights? What is a state comprised of if not, as a rule, the most privileged classes? And who are the most privileged classes under capitalism? Why, the capitalists. You see the problem. What they really mean when they say “smash the state” is “smash the current government, and put ourselves in its place!” They likely don’t even consciously realize that that’s what they’re saying, but nevertheless it is. They can remove one state apparatus, one particular form of state, but they can’t remove the existence of the state as a whole while maintaining capitalism.

On the other part of that, that it “is a brilliant system that is solely dependent on you to ensure your success”, we’ve addressed that argument earlier. To go over it briefly again, you can not make the case that success is wholly or even mostly dependent on personal virtue. It’s not the individual that makes the billionaire, it’s the collective work of others expropriated by the individual that makes the billionaire. Unless you want to claim that the methods by which exploitation is carried out is itself a form of “hard work” (Hey, exploitation is tiresome stuff!), success never did and never will be dependent solely on one man’s work.

Capitalism perpetuates competition.

I’ll be honest, I mostly include this one from a moral standpoint. Similar to alienation, I have moral qualms with man turning against man, worker turning against worker. I don’t like the notion of inter-class warfare. And that’s exactly what competition means. As was covered in the introduction a bit earlier, competition is central to capitalism. In the bourgeoisie, competition is over workers, wages, access to materials and goods, land, and foreign markets. Because of this, capitalism tends towards monopoly; the more powerful one capitalist gets, the less competition they can ensure they have. At the end of the day you’re left with mega conglomerates that control all or most economic activity in one sphere, or sometimes even more than one. If you think that’s not true in today’s world, that monopolies are a thing of the past, think again. Here’s a chart showing how 37 banks became 4 in just a few decades:

Here’s another one showing how almost all of the most familiar brands in multiple spheres, from food to personal hygiene, come down to just a few big names:

You can see how competition between capitalists is a staple of capitalism and eventually results in monopoly. But what of the other camp of society, the proletariat? With no means of production of their own and very little Capital to put to use, could they have any reason for inter-class competition among themselves?

Yes. Capitalism does not only propagate competition among just one class, but in all of society. The proletariat are driven, and indeed, encouraged to fight among themselves for whatever is not already claimed by the bourgeoisie; jobs, namely. The market is just as competitive at the wage labour level as it is on the inter-corporate level. Only so many jobs are available for the workers, and as the workers make up the largest portion of society, there are bound to be those left jobless. The workers are turned against one another, made as viciously competitive as possible. This serves a key purpose in favor of the bourgeoisie, for the more effort that goes into fighting each other, the less that goes towards fighting the bourgeoisie. Competition between workers serves to distract from criticism of capitalism as a whole. It deflects blame from those who really need it to those that don’t deserve it. It also is in the monetary interests of the capitalists to ensure worker competition. If you have 20 workers clamoring for a job, you likely have 20 different work ethics and 20 different wages they’d be willing to settle for. If one worker demands 30 dollars for 2 hours of work, the next in line will say $25! Then the next, $20. And so on and so forth. All the capitalist has to do is wait it out and pick the last one in line; the one who will settle for the lowest pay, because very often workers really are that desperate. This is exactly what we saw on the large scale during the Gilded Age; huge surges in immigration and industrialization paved the way for relative laissez-faire capitalism. It was not uncommon to see workers laboring for 50 cents an hour. And do you think they had a choice? It was either that or not working at all. Who do you think came out on top at the end of this, then? Certainly not the workers, for 50 cents is hardly better than no pay at all. As the capitalists profit off of competition among themselves, they profit off of competition among their workers.

Competition is propagated by capitalism, and that is no blessing.

Capitalism is not more conductive to innovation than socialism.

One argument I’ve heard time and time again from capitalists spiting any who doubt the system is something to do with how all technological advance and innovation ever can be pinned on capitalism. A particular staple they like to use are computers or smartphones. They say, “Don’t you realize that you’re typing this on something capitalism created?”

Because it needs to be addressed, that’s a seriously awful argument. It’s a post hoc fallacy; just because the technology was made available under capitalism doesn’t mean capitalism is responsible for it and it wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. Indeed, no technology can be said to only have come about because capitalism made it. Capitalism does not create things. Labor does. Capitalism is just the distribution method of resources and products. It’s an economic system, not a manufacturing technique. It’s like saying that without feudalism we wouldn’t have printed books.

On the larger topic as a whole, that capitalism isn’t any more conductive to innovation than other economic systems, there is quantifiable evidence to prove it so. Research (and common sense) has indicated that far from being solely money-driven creatures, humans draw on a lot of different spheres to innovate. Many people create because they like to, because they want to. That is the whole drive behind art, after all, isn’t it? What is art without passion behind it? Without a purpose in mind other than a paycheck? Why do people create at all when there is no guaranteed profit in doing so, and indeed, when oftentimes the act of creation itself will only cost money? It is this which is meant by Marx’s Gattungswesen, and which is lost to capitalism.

Here’s a helpful video outlining how innovation is driven by purpose, not monetary incentive. And one must bear in mind that this rings true under capitalist society, which conditions humans in general a certain way, and which generally emphasizes the profit-motive. You’ll have a hard time getting capitalists to admit it, but society could just as well operate entirely absent of the profit-motive, when all labour performed is performed as an expression of the Gattungswesen. There is a name for society like that. It is socialism.

But if it absolutely must be said that humans require some incentive to work, whatever is said to the contrary above, why is socialism less conductive to offering it than capitalism? That is, if capitalism offers the form of incentive in profit, socialism can just as well offer incentive in the form of the worker making the innovation being compensated for it in other ways; they surely receive the product of their labour, so they themselves get to enjoy whatever innovation they made, and, for those who desire it, there’s even a potential social recognition being offered for innovation, which might be seen as a currency in and of itself. If people enjoy their fame from innovation under capitalism, is it to be enjoyed less under socialism?

But the fact remains that innovation simply doesn’t require incentive. People already create without it under capitalism, which speaks to how it would be even more prevalent under socialism, where people would be consistently free to create what they want when they want. If it exists under capitalism, as it already does, it can only become more common under a less restrictive system; a system that not only tolerates it, but, in its own way, rewards it.

Capitalism perpetuates greed.

Marx and Engels laid the foundation of historical materialism, a way of analyzing history according to the mode of production in a given society. The mode of production refers to the collective productive system, including all the relations of production, development of productive technology, etc., of a given society. There have been, to this day, four (or variously five, counting the Asiatic) main modes of production: primitive communism, or tribal society in which there was not sufficient productive development to grant surplus product, so which was classless; the ancient, in which productive development, such as in agriculture and trade, has allowed for surplus product and which is characterized by property owned by individuals, so which creates definite social castes; feudalism, which is characterized by peasants and serfs bound by social contract to lords; and capitalism, that system which allows for free transaction of workers as a form of commodity themselves.

But historical materialism serves not only as an analysis of history, but as a response to the “human nature” question. It provides a rationale for every widespread behavior in a given society, based on what the mode of production is. This is because specific modes of production in specific societies will propagate specific tendencies among its populace, based on what the most advantageous tendencies are in those circumstances. In primitive communism, society was characterized by collective ownership because it would have been disadvantageous for an individual to not partake in it; if the other tribesmen notice you eating all of the fish that was meant for the whole tribe, it won’t go over so well. So under capitalism, what is most advantageous? Greed. Capitalism rewards exploitation, so it is to be expected that the greedy will most usually be the ones that get ahead.

Now, am I saying that greed never existed before capitalism and that it will never exist afterward? Of course not. Capitalism or not, greed is to persist. But in capitalism, it is emphasized, necessary, a key component of it. You would not have capitalists without greed. In socialism, it is frowned upon, harmful to those who partake in it, needless. And so the establishment of greed withers away into something so minuscule and non-influential that it might as well not exist at all. That is not in contradiction to neuroscience, it is not in contradiction to evolutionary biology, and it has always, always been confirmed by history. Whatever values are key to the establishment of a particular system will be propagated by that system, will become part of the day-to-day “nature” of those involved. When material conditions change, social conditions change accordingly. You want historical citation? See every revolution ever.

So we have greed on such a widespread scale because capitalism creates it, not because it’s part of an essential nature. We have greed because it is in this specific system in which it is the most advantageous. So, what to do if we want to get rid of greed? Get rid of capitalism. Treat the cause, not the symptom.

Perhaps at the end of this you can see why capitalism should be critiqued, and hopefully why it has to go. I can only hope, at least, by the end of this, that you’ve not only understood the arguments made in criticism of capitalism, but have cast a forward eye towards what we might do about replacing it. That you not only understand that capitalism needs to go, but that you also have an inkling of what it needs to be replaced with. Socialism.

We need socialism because capitalism is destroying the ecosystem, and if we don’t do something soon, the damage may be irreparable. Oil and coal drives the energy industry because it’s effective and profitable, not because it’s healthy or sustainable. We could have, probably a long time ago, made a full switch to sustainable energy, to wind and solar and hydro, and had more than enough for ourselves, the whole world over. We can do that when capitalism is gone. By that time, we’ll probably need to.

We need socialism because capitalism exploits by necessity, by its very nature. It wouldn’t be capitalism without exploitation, without the profit motive, and that keeps poor people poor, and makes them poorer. There is an eternal antithesis between the needs of the poor and the “needs” of the capitalist, and so long as they are in power, they will press down on the poor, subjugate them, suppress them as much as they can to extract maximum profit. This is evident in the rampant poverty going on in third world countries everywhere. Overseas companies can get away with near-free sweatshop labour in places like China, India, and South America. That’s the price we have to pay for our pristine luxuries in “developed” countries.

We need socialism because capitalism creates and maintains a false scarcity. Computer software, for instance, that could theoretically be replicated an infinite number of times for no cost other than the initial time spent creating it (the first copy, and only the first), is sold for obscene amounts. Or, for instance, food production. The US produces way more than enough food for themselves. So why do people go hungry? Why do we have more vacant homes than we do homeless people? Similarly, capitalism also creates a lot of socially useless jobs.

We need socialism because capitalism necessitates imperialism in order to fuel market expansion. Capital is placed in other places to beget itself, through exploited labour, allocation of natural resources, and the other key functions of capitalism in general. Capitalism will always look for more markets to expand in, which necessarily entails all previously listed aspects. The vicious cycle of Capital repeats itself.

This is why we need socialism. Because capitalism is a deeply flawed system.

I, of course, can’t say for certain, but I can only hope that capitalism’s historical epoch is coming to a close, and that a new one is soon to begin. I will hold on to that hope.

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.

Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.


Suggested Readings:

On exploitation and alienation: Estranged Labour, Karl Marx

On alienation: Comments on James Mill, Karl Marx, & Alienation,

On ecosocialism: a reading list,

On historical materialism: The German Ideology, Marx and Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels, Marx/Engels on Historical Materialism,


Capital, Karl Marx

Grundrisse, Karl Marx

A Contribution to the Critique of Political Capital, Karl Marx

Wage Labour and Capital, Karl Marx

About the Author

Bazyli Kronstadt
I write some things. I'm most interested in the Middle East, specifically the Kurds and Rojava.

3 Comments on "An Introduction to the Critique of Capitalism"

  1. I don’t see how you went from a description of private property, to this conclusion:

    “Fundamental to capitalism’s existence, then, are, for the most part, two classes: bourgeoisie and proletariat, or the capitalist class and the working class.”

    Why is there a need for people to be split across “class” lines?

    • Bazyli Kronstadt | February 15, 2016 at 11:18 am | Reply

      Class divide always follows from property divide. If you have private property, you have people who own that property and people who don’t. Those with Capital to reproduce, and those without. Those with social power, and those without. Oh, look, we’ve arrived at two separate classes. Capitalism does that by necessity.

      • So how do non-capitalist situations solve this problem? Don’t systems of personal property still have inequalities resulting from “natural” hierarchies of varying ability for use or need?

        If a worker is privvy to the fruits of his labor, is that not representative of a class above the non-worker, who is deprived both of this labor and of the productive property utilized in its social capacity?

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