This article is the final installment of a four-part series. Enjoy!
As touched upon previously, in the Communist Manifesto Marx spends far more time than do modern anti-capitalists praising the achievements of capitalism. The bourgeoisie, in Marx’s estimation, has progressed humanity far further than any other ruling class in history:
The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which Reactionists so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.
Yet despite these developments, “The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.” Capitalists are bound by the sole need to amass profits by extracting as much surplus value from their employees as possible. They limit their behavior in the economic sphere to the pursuit of the profitable and use their political influence to protect their status in the economic sector. When capitalists themselves attempt to defy the market they are assailed by the forces of capital and the market itself. Marx in Das Kapital speaks of a factory owner who says that he would double his employees’ wages and give them better working conditions, but he would be run out of business in two weeks, driven out by his less amiable competition, and his working-class toilers would become unemployed members of the underclass. As Marshall Berman writes, “These possessors [of the wealth of the society] don’t want to know how deeply they are possessed [by capital]. …If a good life is a life of action, why should the range of human activities be limited to those that are profitable?”
Capitalism thus wastes much human creative potential, and it is also the reason for much of the world’s suffering today. We have enough grain, not counting any of the other food sources, to feed every human being a diet of over 3,000 calories. In India alone 200 million-plus citizens go hungry while $625 million in wheat and flour and over $1.3 billion in rice are exported. Why? Because these goods yield more profit in other markets. When we factor in the material costs in resources like fuel and in human labor in exporting this rice to the developed world the system’s illogical nature becomes even more apparent. Even in the economically-developed world, millions are suffering,. There are over 3 million homeless in the United States. The billions of dollars and tens of thousands of labor hours wasted trying to convince us the difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi is a slap in the face to the tens of thousands in Washington, DC alone that will sleep on park benches tonight. The capitalist system has progressed humanity to the point where it is possible to meet human needs, but we cannot, because its not profitable to do so. By limiting their actions to merely the profitable even the members of the capitalist class are robbing themselves of their immense creative potential to enrich their own lives.
Advocates of capitalism will admit that this is far from a perfect world, but it is the best of all feasible options. But how can our great and accomplished species settle permanently for a system based upon exploitation, private profit and production for exchange rather than for use when when an alternative is conceivable? For many in the economically-developing world, capitalism and exploitation is the crime that sentences them to an unnecessarily short, hardship-filled existences. For those of us fortunate enough to be born in the developed world our lives are also tattered and our creative potential fettered by capitalism. For those in the privileged ruling class, their activities are geared towards only that which is profitable. And for the vast majority of us in the working class, we toil endlessly in order to survive, living stressful lives, leaving little time for leisure or family, all because we were forced to waste away the best years of our lives working so that others would maintain their market share. But thankfully there is an alternative we can work towards: the classless, socialist society. The resources exist today to eliminate all of the horrors of the modern age; starvation, homelessness, preventable disease, exploitation, oppression and war. By following Marx’s advice and acknowledging that “History does nothing; it does not possess immense riches, it does not fight battles. It is men, real, living, who do all this,” the working class can make history — we can revolutionize the means of production and pave the way for the first non-antagonistic, truly humanist society.