We are surrounded by commodities. But as Marx explained, capitalism is not about commodities, nor about the “brand” of commodities; it is more about how products are produced and distributed. Capitalism is a mode of production, which basically means “the way of producing”.
The mode of production in simplistic terms includes two things: a) the social organization of production or the relations of production and b) the type of technologies, tools and methods used for production or the forces of production.
Different modes of production have existed in history based on the specific combination of the two. Thus, besides the capitalist mode of production that emerged at the end of medieval Europe and dominates the contemporary world, in the past we had primitive communism, the old mode of production and the feudal model of production, all based on distinct combinations of forces of production and relations of production.
Production relations essentially refer to the relationship between those who own means of production such as land, factory and capital, and those who do not. It’s about how work is extracted from people.
At various points in history, there have been such relationships as master-slave and patrician-plebeians (old / slave mode of production) and lord-serf and guild-companion (feudal mode of production).
The dominant relationship in capitalism is that of the bourgeoisie or the capitalist and the worker.
In the slave mode of production, the population was divided into free men and slaves. The free had all civil and political rights, while the slaves were deprived of all rights. In this mode, not only the means of production were the private property of free men, but also human slaves.
After the demolition of this system following several slave revolts, the feudal mode of production was born in which the previous category of “slave” was demolished and a new economic class of “serf” was born. In this, the feudal lords held complete property rights over the means of production, but incomplete property rights over the peasant serf.
Thus, the serfs were supposed to provide a range of services, taxes and levies to the feudal lords and in return they received a small portion of the proceeds. It can best be described as a forced labor system.
In the later stages of feudalism and with the development of towns and commerce, several other new classes such as wealthy merchants and master craftsmen on the one hand and a large mass of journeymen and apprentices emerged. From these classes later emerged the modern bourgeoisie or the capitalist class.
The feudal mode of production was then overthrown in a series of peasant and bourgeois revolts during the 16th to 18th centuries and led to the establishment of the capitalist mode of production.
The capitalist mode of production is by far the most advanced mode of production in human history. Like the previous modes of production, the capitalist mode is also based on private ownership of the means of production, but on an unprecedented scale.
Likewise, unlike the previous modes, workers are free to sell their labor in the capitalist mode of production; workers are not bound by any duty or law to work for a capitalist.
Capitalism is based on the system of wage relations and free trade. This is why Marx and Engels called the capitalist mode the most advanced class and the most revolutionary bourgeois class to date, because it “ended all feudal, patriarchal and idyllic relations. It ruthlessly tore the motley feudal ties which bound man to his “natural superiors”.
Writing in the middle of the 19th century, Marx and Engels stressing the enormous progress of the capitalist system wrote; “During his reign of barely a hundred years, [capitalism] has created productive forces more massive and colossal than all the previous generations put together ”.
Capitalism is a system driven by profit; in search of profit, capitalism is constantly revolutionizing production methods through technological developments and converting all social or common properties such as forests, rivers, mountains, etc. in private ownership.
Precisely because capitalism is the most advanced and productive system in all of history producing immense wealth, it is characterized by enormous exploitation and misery of a large part of the population because the source of wealth is not the economy of the capitalist but the labor of the workers. classify.
Although the working class is theoretically free in a capitalist society, it is nothing more than a commodity which must sell its labor power in exchange for a salary to the capitalist or to the employer.
Marx showed that the source of profit in the modern capitalist mode of production is the exploitation of the working class.
In a simple economic equation, a capitalist cannot profit from his fixed cost (raw material, rent, bills and taxes, etc.) but only from the variable cost, which is nothing more than the wage provided in exchange. of work. The lower the wages paid to a worker, the higher the profit.
This is the reason why governments systematically attack the rights of the working class.
Marx and Engels described the modern state as “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. The role of the state in the capitalist mode of production is to facilitate the interest of the capitalist or the ruling class, which is achieved either by the legislative method or by direct brutal compulsion.
If we try to understand the recent events in India like the labor code bills, the three agricultural laws, the suspension of labor rights as a result of the ongoing pandemic, the privatization campaign, the new policy education and the proposed environmental impact assessment project, etc. ., we can see that even after 150 years since Marx theorized the workings of capitalism in the economic and political spheres, his analysis remains true and accurate.
The most significant point that made Karl Marx arguably the most hated figure of the capitalism-religion-liberalism triumvirate was not only his scathing critique of capitalism and religion, but also his theory of working class revolution. who was on the verge of eliminating the economic and religious elite from their privileged position.
Unlike supporters of liberalism-capitalism who like to think of capitalism as the end of history, Marx and Engels conceptualized a more advanced and egalitarian mode of production, namely the socialist mode to denote a higher stage of human society.
A common criticism of Marxism is that it is a theory of poverty; that Marxism wants everyone to be poor. But this is far from the truth. Marxism is a tool of the working class to end misery and poverty and create a society of plenty. Marxism is not about making everyone poor, but about giving everyone the means to live a life of dignity and fulfillment. It is about equality with social justice.
The operating principle of Marxism is “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”.
Marx produced the most acute and compressive analysis of capitalism. He not only exposed the economics and politics of capitalism, but also how capitalism dehumanizes humans and creates alienation; how capitalism turns everything from basic necessities like education, health and home into something as basic as air and water to human emotions and relationships into a commodity.
Marxism, as theorist and literary critic Terry Eagleton puts it: “is a critique of capitalism – the most profound, rigorous, and comprehensive critique of its kind ever launched. As long as capitalism is still in business, so must Marxism. It is only by over-canceling his opponent that he can over-cancel himself ”.
Marx and Engels and their philosophy of scientific socialism, popularly known as Marxism, will remain relevant until capitalism and private property are abolished.