This article provides information about the major features of capitalism on the basis of Karl Marx:
Modern industry has established the world market that has given immense scope of development to commerce, navigation and communication by land. These developments again have paved the way for the extension of industries and free trade. The bourgeoisie class constantly maximises its profit through the expansion of new markets, introduction of new technology, extraction of surplus value and exploitation of the proletariat.
However, along with these developments there emerge new forces of contradiction within the capitalist system. Notwithstanding the emergence of new forces of contradiction, the bourgeoisie was very revolutionary in their outlook and action. According to Marx,
“The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.”
Through the exploitation of the world market the bourgeoisie has given a cosmopolitan character to the production and consumption process. The old industries got destroyed. The old national industries got dislodged. Industry in the capitalist system no longer worked only on indigenous raw materials but raw materials drawn from the remotest zones, whose products are consumed in every quarter of the globe.
In place of old wants satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production, the intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature.
The capitalists according to Marx also subjected the nature to the force of man and machinery through the application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, and modern technologies such as steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraph, canalisation of rivers, etc. All these facilitated the scope of free commodification of the economy at world scales. There also emerged free competition accompanied by social and political institutions to adopt to it. The modern capitalist however, according to Marx, has inherited and nurtured the seeds of its destruction in its own womb.
In proportion to the growth of the bourgeoisie there has emerged the modern working class the proletariat, “These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.” For Marx the essence of the captor is to maximise profit through commoditisation of the production process. As long as capitalism is based on private ownership of the means of production, it maximises profits of the private producers. This profit is again maximised by exchange proceeding from money to money by way of commodity.
Gradually, the proceed from money to money by way of commodity ends up with more money than one had at the outset. To explain the sources of profit, Marx talked about the theory of value, wage and surplus value. To him, the value of any commodity is roughly proportional to the quality of human labour contained in it. The wage capitalists pay to the workers, as the compensation for the labour power the worker rent to the capitalist, is equal to the amount necessary for the existence of the workers and their family to produce the merchandise for the capitalist.
Under the capitalist system, workers receive the wage which is less than the actual duration of the work; that is less than the value of the commodity he or she produces. Here comes the notion of “surplus value” which refers to “the quality of value produced by the workers beyond the necessary labour time”. Under the capitalist system the workers do not get the wage for the quality of the value produced beyond the necessary labour time.
In return the wage received by a workman is restricted only to the means of his subsistence and survival. Marx calculated that the price of a commodity and therefore “also of labour is equal to its cost of production”. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of work increases the wage decreases. With the increase in the proportion of the use of machinery and division of labour the burden of toil of the labour also increases in terms of increase in the working hours, and increase in the quantum of work.
The proletariat is without property. His relation to his children and wife has no longer anything in common with the bourgeoisie family relations; modem industrial labour, modern subjugation to capital, the same in England, as in France, in America and Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character. Law, morality, religion are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interest.
Gradually, the number the proletariat also increases to gain more strength and awareness. The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, artisans, peasants also join the army of the proletariat in their fight against the bourgeoisie. To Marx “All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority.”
And again Marx writes; in depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.