By Mobeen chughtai - Look around you today and what do you see?
Confusion? Disorder? Apathy and distrust?
Is this the gist of the world? Is this the promised culmination of thousands of years of human progress? Have we been reduced to this? And perhaps the most important question of all: in this era of corporate prosperity why are we so empty?
In order to understand the world around us today we must accept that we, as human beings, have entered the era of capitalism. But even that doesn’t answer everything. What indeed is capitalism?
Let us begin at the beginning.
Capitalism, loosely defined, is the era in history where industrialisation and mass production of commodities make it possible for commodity production and disbursement to reach a new zenith. It is because of such disciplined production and disbursement of commodity that corporations come into existence, entities with only one agenda: the accumulation of maximised profit. This agenda is fulfilled by a highly organised and managed system of commodity production and sale. As we can see, corporations – the main driving force behind capitalist ventures – are stuck in a vicious circle; the vicious circle of having been formed due to mass commodity production and for the purpose of the same. If left alone, this system is self-perpetuating, at least as far as the realm of production alone is concerned. However, there are other factors which come into play as well.
These factors include the masses, the people who consume the commodities produced under a capitalistic production schema, and the working class, the people who sell their labour power at a fraction of its true cost. In doing so they fill up the coffers of the capitalists along with actually producing the commodity. It is interesting to note that under an advanced capitalist society, it is seen that the masses and the working class tend to superimpose, i.e. more and more of the masses turn into working class individuals who earn their pay by daily wage labour. This is the first absurdity of capitalism. As capitalism (and by extension the capitalist) strengthens its grip upon society, it cleaves it into only two segments: those who are the owners of the means of production (the factories, mills, farms, mines, etc.) and those who sell the only commodity they own (their labour power) on the ‘free’-market and, in turn, earn money to sustain themselves.
The labourer receives means of subsistence in exchange for his labour-power; the capitalist receives, in exchange for his means of subsistence, labour, the productive activity of the labourer, the creative force by which the worker not only replaces what he consumes, but also gives to the accumulated labour a greater value than it previously possessed. The labourer gets from the capitalist a portion of the existing means of subsistence. For what purpose do these means of subsistence serve him? For immediate consumption. But as soon as I consume means of subsistence, they are irrevocably lost to me, unless I employ the time during which these means sustain my life in producing new means of subsistence, in creating by my labour new values in place of the values lost in consumption. But it is just this noble reproductive power that the labourer surrenders to the capitalist in exchange for means of subsistence received. Consequently, he has lost it for himself.
(Karl Marx, Wage Labour and Capital)
However, as mentioned above, the relationship between the Capitalist and the worker is one of pure and simple exploitation. The capitalist, in effect, does not even earn his profit (remember Profit is the sole motivation for the capitalist) from the buying and selling of the commodity as most Bourgeois Economists would have us believe. The Capitalists earn their profit even before the commodity hits the market for sale. In this way, we can see, the real wages fall while commodity prices continue to increase. This creates an ever-widening gulf between how much a person earns and how much he can afford – with the common man being the loser in every scenario.
An interesting facet of Capitalism is also that, much like the rule of the Jungle, only the most ruthless in their pursuit for profit survive. Given the fact that the only measure that one can employ to test the success of a capitalist is to hold him up to the cardinal rule of Capitalism, i.e. how good he Is at maximising profit, it leaves the field wide open as to how he goes about his business. History is testament that profit can easily be maximised by resorting to morally reprehensible or illegal activities such as polluting, coercing etc. It is not unheard of for Capitalists to maintain gangs of thugs to ‘smooth over’ business transactions. In this way even the capitalists maintain high competition between themselves and any capitalist that is not up to the mark – so to speak – fails and falls into the category of the working class eventually. It is for this reason that the Bourgeoisie, as a class, is defined by its continuing shrinkage and the working class by its ever increasing numbers.
“The working class is also recruited from the higher strata of society; a mass of small business men and of people living upon the interest of their capitals is precipitated into the ranks of the working class, and they will have nothing else to do than to stretch out their arms alongside of the arms of the workers. Thus the forest of outstretched arms, begging for work, grows ever thicker, while the arms themselves grow every leaner.
It is evident that the small manufacturer cannot survive in a struggle in which the first condition of success is production upon an ever greater scale. It is evident that the small manufacturers and thereby increasing the number of candidates for the proletariat – all this requires no further elucidation.”
(Karl Marx, Wage-Labour and Capital)
In this manner an ever decreasing number of people (the Bourgeoisie) gain coercive control over an ever increasing army of people (the working class) and property rights over an exceedingly high amount of planetary resources – resources that actually belong to every human being. Due to such increasing control and resolution of intra-competition, between the bourgeoisie class, monopoly formation takes place and the concept of the free market, itself, is thrown out the window. In a monopoly it is the producer, rather than free-market mechanisms, that dictate and ascertain commodity prices.
It was V. I. Lenin, revolutionary Russian philosopher and the primary intellectual engine behind the creation of the USSR in 1917, who first identified the destiny of capitalism i.e. monopoly formation. This stage of capitalism is also referred to as Imperialism in popular discourse. He identified five characteristics of Imperialism. They are,
The concentration of production and capital develops to such a high stage that it creates monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life.
The merging of bank capital with industrial capital and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy.
The export of capital, which has become extremely important, as distinguished from the export of commodities
The formation of international capitalist monopolies, which share the world among themselves.
The completion of the territorial division of the whole world among the greatest capitalist powers.
(V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: the highest stage of Capitalism).
Imperialism is a stage of development in which imperial powers (such as USA, Britain, Germany etc.) have exhausted the potential for the generation of maximised profits in their native markets and launch military ventures for the capture of the world’s hitherto virgin markets and resources. We can see examples of this in Iraq, Afghanistan in the context of the post-9/11 world order.
Human beings are reduced further and further into nothing more than servile automatons who are identified with their function in an increasingly corporatised world. Even concepts such as love, fairplay, justice, freedom and empathy loose meaning since the world is driven by two motives for the only two classes – the Bourgeoisie looking for newer markets and larger profits and the working class working hard for its next meal. It is in this concept that Karl Marx writes on the nature of love in a world which does not have these base and sub-human drives. He says:
“Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over other people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return — that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a beloved one, then your love is impotent — a misfortune.”
(Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)
In a world where famine wreaks havoc on entire continents, where draught kills human beings by the hundreds – corporate food giants waste food rather than feeding those unfortunate souls in the name of corporate policy. In such a world if one really wishes to see the greatest then all one needs to do is glance in the nearest mirror.