A look at the injustices and dangers of capitalism in the second installment of Earnest Mandel’s “From Class Society to Communism”.
As the first part of this review tried to introduce the human dilemma of “Socialism vs. Barbarism” and briefly discuss a few issues associated with socialism (mainly its relationship with religion and the effects of the failure of the Soviet experience), this section tries to emphasize the necessity of a social equality system, through the exposure of the inherited injustices and exploitations of the capitalistic system in two main areas: The appropriation of surplus value and Imperialism. Dire injustices that should not be tolerated by any unselfish self-respecting human being and that should eventually lead humanity to ditch this primitive jungle-themed system.
To understand the main exploit of the capitalist system, one has to be familiar with the concept of “surplus value”: the base of the whole capitalist industrialized economy. To spare the reader an essay in Marxist theory here is the most basic example on surplus value appropriation: You hire a skilled worker (carpenter) to make a chair. You buy the wood for 5 currency units, you pay the worker 5 units and spend another 5 units on expenses (tools, space,…). Now you sell the chair for 25 units. The wood value and expense are “constants”: they just cost that much. That means that the 10 units “profit” that you ended up making are the surplus value that belongs to the worker, but you appropriated it for the single reason that you owned the capital (that allowed for you to buy the raw material) and that you own the means of production. The worker deserved 15 units for his work (as evident by the final price of the chair), but you practically stole his money.
Now Notice the following facts associated with this issue:
-The early capital and early fortunes appeared as a result of parasitic exploiting of the revenues of other classes: The landlords and nobility who exploited peasants as an example, and the transfer of goods and commodities across the markets (which was practically based on deception and pillage), as an other main method. However it is still simply a result of transfer of value, and the global gain of the society is scarcely increased: Some lose what others gain. However the modern capitalistic approach no longer swallows surplus value by circulation, it made surplus value a part of the production process by buying the labor power other than paying a fair return for labor. Hence turning labor itself into a commodity. The main aim of production became solely the accumulation of more capital, which led to huge exploitation of the working class.
-The capitalist has no right to treat labor as a commodity and has no right to appropriate the surplus value. Capitalists prefers to define capital as any instrument of labor, or even vaguer, “any durable goods” (According to Ernest Mandel this definition implies that the first monkey to hit a banana tree with a stick is the first capitalist!). The Marxist definition of capital is: Any value that is increased by surplus value or which attempts to acquire surplus value. One can make the point that socialism does not fight against personal ownership as much as it fights against the ownership of means of productions, that allows one minor class in society to benefit from and capitalize on its inherited status (ownership of wealth, that is turned into capital) to continue to exploit the majority of the society and make their life miserable for the sole purpose of the accumulation of more wealth.
-One may be tempted to make the argument that these members of the exploited working class may have options to improve their situation, by:
a. Refusing to sell their labor power.
The working masses do not have the freedom of choice. The capitalist society is based on forcing people to sell their labor. Actually Mandel defines the proletariat as the class that is obliged by the economic constraints to sell their labor continuously in order to survive. The proletariat is obliged to accept the price dictated by the normal capitalist conditions of the “labor market” as the price for its labor power. A price that is usually just sufficient to buy commodities satisfying those “basic needs” which are recognized socially.
[As a follow up to the last statement, notice how the capitalist system prefers its working class to have some purchasing power (after all who is going to buy all the consumer-goods?). Hence, it is constantly trying to change the proletariat definition of socially-demanded “basic needs” through constant advertisement and popular culture. However during the time of crisis (from the capitalist standpoint) like a crisis of overproduction (which ironically enough is the result of the excessive work done for minimal wages), these working classes are left to face unemployment (and even starvation) in those times of depression, economic recovery, or any other times where the capitalists feels that their return is not being maximized].
b. Seeking self-employment, entrepreneurial opportunities and small businesses.
The capitalist society is based on the centralization of capital. They may want to lead people to believe that anyone can mange to be “capitalists” but the chances are minimal, and the system is constructed over “the big fish devouring the little fish” strategy. Large enterprises defeat smaller ones, hence the big enterprises and firms expand incessantly while small businesses continue to have a very low success rates (especially outside the services sector) even in a country like the
The rare feel-good success story of the self-employed who benefited from a situation as improbable as winning the lottery keeps the working class under the illusion that this is a “fair” system where equal opportunities (to exploit people) are offered to everybody, while in reality, the this cannot be farther than the truth.
Another dangerous characteristic of capitalism is the phenomenon of surplus capital (abundant capital resulting from monopolies) that will lead to capitalist countries to seek new fields of investments and hence imperialism. As long as capitalism operated in the world market merely to sell its good and buy raw materials there was no major interest in the conquest of new territories by military force. But since the capital invested in a country is usually recovered after many years, the imperialist countries needs to establish permanent control over the countries they have invested capital in.
Now, Notice that:
-Young imperialist powers try to use the change in the balance of forces to modify the distribution of the world investment fields in their favor by means of wars. These are wars for new fields, sources of raw materials, control of the markets, and not wars for political ideas (and to quote Mandel “not for against democracy, or against autocracy or fascism). This is a major step towards barbarism.
-Imperialism is one of the principal sources of the under-development in two-thirds of the world. The colonial and semi-colonial (formally an independent state but under a foreign thumb) countries are vastly exploited by the imperialists. Every part of these countries’ economies is subordinated to the interest and dictates of foreign capital. The penetration of foreign capital may appear to provide some development of productive forces, maybe create a few small industrial towns and may develop a proletarian embryo, but it has been historically proven that the standard of living in such countries has stagnated or even fallen as a result of this penetration. Notice that this chronic under-development in these dependant countries is not due to lack of local capital or resources. On the contrary, these resources are exploited by the imperialists and the underdevelopment is sustained by constantly discouraging productive investments and industrialization, which leads to immense under employment (both quantitative and qualitative) of these countries populations.
-There has been a recent move from direct to indirect imperialist domination as a result of the national liberation movements all over the world. This change has created a new social layer in the dependant countries: the state bureaucracy. This bureaucracy sets itself up as a defendant and representative of national interests while in fact profiting from its imperialist-supported leadership to indulge in large scale private accumulation. These bureaucracies and autocratic governments that are allied with the foreign monopolies, the national merchants and usurers and the army are a burden on their populations and are another layer of servers to the imperialist capital, under a national cover. The rejection of capitalism (even in its deformed version being enforced on these countries) is a first step towards liberation from the imperialist influence and from the state-in-service-of-foreign- capital agents and representatives.
(Dear three readers: If you have managed to read through this one, you deserve the Abu Shreek Distinguished Individual Award (very prestigious by the way, and recognized in three countries and two