a critique of marx's view of capitalism

October, 1996
Capitalism, according to Marx, is an inevitable stage of history, on the way to socialism.  He views capitalism as one of the worst stages because it exploits the laborers, who constitute the majority of society.  This exploitation is inevitable, according to Marx, because the goal of capitalism is to produce the maximum amount of a product at the lowest cost.  This practice encourages large factories, which are owned by corporations and not the workers.  Because the natural tendency of the capitalistic economy is to concentrate the capital in the hands of the elite, the laws of supply and demand dictate that there will be a large number of poor laborers for a large amount of work output.  As output increases, automation takes over, and the workers, who are now displaced by the automation, can no longer afford to buy the products which they produced.  Marx sees this economic system as a disastrous one which continues to spiral downward out of control until the laborers are tired of being exploited, at which point they revolt and take control of the means of production: the capitol.  I strongly disagree with Marx�s views that capitalism leads to the exploitation of labor.  In a true capitalistic economy, without the tariffs and subsidies of the government, the marketplace of labor would regulate the economy.
Marx�s theory of the �fetishism of commodities� states that in a capitalistic society, people by things for which they have no useful purpose, but only for their societal value.  Marx would not understand why a person buys an electric toothbrush, when studies show that a much less expensive manual toothbrush is just as effective.  The electric toothbrush is purchased because society places a value on having such an object, and it makes the owner look wealthier and of a higher class than a person with a manual toothbrush.  Marx feels that capitalistic societies are run on this type of fetishism, to the point where it resembles a religion.  In explaining why people impose a fetishism on their commodities, Marx says, �In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world�the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.�
In practicing this economy of fetishism religion, we forget the value of labor which goes into producing an object, and substitute the society�s price tag, which Marx called the �exchange value,� for the true value of the cost of labor put into the object.  The difference between the exchange value and the true value is the profit, which fuels the capitalistic economy  and directly contributes to the exploitation of laborers.  In explaining how the profit can exploit laborers, Marx says, �The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces�With the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion in the devaluation of the world of men.  Labour produces not only commodities, it produces itself and the worker as a commodity.�
The profit which the large companies make from the production of an object is used to build capital.  Marx believes that this profit should either go to the laborer, or not to be added to the price of an item at all.  When the profit goes to the company, it further alienates the laborer from the capitol by driving wages down, which adds to the exploitation of the masses.  This exploitation, along with the labor surplus, allows the elite owners of capital to view the laborers as objects, or more specifically, commodities.  This is perhaps the cruelest form of exploitation, because it dehumanizes the people, turning them into numbers instead of faces.  Because it is easier to exploit a number than a face, the cycle continues.  The dehumanization of the worker occurs when the owners of the capitol, the elite, view the laborers as commodities because the elites� only goal is to produce more profits and more capitol, and not to benefit the laborers.  This change of laborers from humans into commodities is the dehumanization of the working class, which will eventually lead to revolt.  An example of this is the sweat shop labor used to make clothing and other products for the United States.  Many people dislike this use of labor, which does not conform to our labor laws, but we do little to stop it.  The reason is that all we know are statistics, such as the adage that one-hundred-million Chinese get paid one dollar a day.  We don�t see the faces of these people who are being exploited.  We cannot see the poverty that they live in and the lack of food they have to eat.  All we hear are abstract numbers, which do not motivate us into action.
These third-world workers who produce many of the products which we in America use every day are perhaps the most exploited laborers in the capitalistic system, despite the fact that some live in a communist society.  The products they produce cost companies very little in terms of labor.  For a soccer ball which we pay $50 for, one dollar, at most, is the cost of labor.  Supplies account for a few dollars, and the remainder goes to feed the capitalistic greed of the corporations, allowing them to exploit increasing numbers of workers.
I strongly disagree with Marx�s views that capitalism leads to the exploitation of labor.  In a true capitalistic economy, without the tariffs and subsidies of the government, the marketplace of labor would regulate the economy.  Marx�s theory that this very marketplace is the source of the exploitation is incorrect.  The source of the exploitation is the workers, not the capitalists.  In a true marketplace, the workers would be free to refuse to work for pennies a day.  By forming unions, workers could boycott companies, both in terms of working for them and buying their goods, until the companies agreed to respond to their desires.  If a sweat shop laborer doesn�t want to make soccer balls all day for one dollar, the laborer can refuse to, and band together with other laborers to stand up to the big capitalistic company.  The argument is made that the laborers have no choice but to work for the capitalists in the horrendous conditions, for that is the only way tot feed themselves and their children.  Nonetheless, I assert that if the people organized themselves, they would have the power to shut down the shops, just as they did in Billy Budd, when the coal miners organized into a union, and as a group, refused to work.  Unions would be guaranteed to function if all the laborers choose to join them.  Those who did not join the union would be stick working in poor conditions.  But in order for real change to take place, all of the workers must unionize and refuse to work until the conditions improve.  This is very similar to Marx�s view that the workers would overthrow the elite, but I advocate for a more peaceful, democratic means to the same end.
In terms of fetishism, exploitation of labor is not encouraged by fetishism any more than any other factor.  People pay more for a MW than it is worth because they want to.  No one forces them to, and there are certainly other cars available for less money than a BMW, so there is no monopoly.  The people who are in the financial position to fetishly purchase goods which society has placed a high value upon are the elite, and by Marx�s definition, a minority of the population.  Therefore, if the laborers feel they are being exploited, they can simply refuse to work. T his, of course, is exactly what Marx predicted, but I do not believe that the laborers are being exploited nearly as much as Marx does, and I certainly do not believe that the cause of the exploitation is the fetishism of commodities.
Marx�s other theory on the exploitation of capitalistic labor, which I hinted at earlier, is the theory of value.  The theory of value states that the price we pay for an object, say $50 for a soccer ball, consists of two parts:  The true value, which includes the labor and supplies to produce the item, and the surplus value, which is the manufacturer�s profit.  The true value is a price which is set by a concrete, rational factor which is easily measured:  Labor.  The surplus value, or profit, is arbitrary, and fluctuates with the social value we place on an object due to fetishism.  The obsession that a capitalist economy has with things such as cars, diamonds and houses is reflected in the surplus value of an object.  This surplus value means that a laborer producing an object is working not only for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the capitalist.  In the case of the Chinese made soccer ball, 80-90% of the labor performed on the ball is for the benefit of the capitalist, not the laborer.  This, Marx says, is exploiting labor, and equivalent to slavery.
As before, I strongly disagree with Marx�s assertion that the surplus value of an object is the cause of the exploitation of the labor.  There is no one forcing these supposedly exploited laborers to make the soccer balls.  If the laborers are unhappy about their working conditions, they can simply refuse to work, or form a union in order to improve their conditions.  An example of this was the early twentieth century in America.  Working conditions were horrible, and workers were clearly being exploited.  They held a revolt, organized into unions, and laws protecting children and working hours, as well as a minimum wage, were instituted.
Marx and I agree upon many things, one of which is that the goal of society should e to do away with government to allow people maximum freedom in their enjoyment of life.  I disagree with Marx, however, on how that end will be accomplished, and the reasons for each of the stages along the way.  Marx�s theories on fetishism�s of commodities and on value are consistent with his other key aspects of social theory.  He believes that these two theories are the key components of the exploitation and alienation of labor, and the estrangement of labor from nature and society.  I do not agree with him, however, that the capitalistic elite are the ones at fault.  I fault the laborers just as much as the capitalists, because they are, to some degree, making a choice to be exploited.

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