Critique of Capitalism

Prosperity for all

There has never been prosperity for all in the history of capitalism. Even the proponents of capitalism would not claim this. They see it this way: Inequality is part of capitalism, misery is the companion of progress. But in the long run, capitalism has brought more prosperity to everyone. Nothing has changed the world in the past 200 years like the triumph of capitalism. Today the poorest people are much richer than the poor 200 years ago. Over the decades, prosperity for a few would become prosperity for the most.

Prosperity not for all, but for most compared to times when the steam engine had not yet been invented. For this notion to become the praise of capitalism, one must want to believe that technical progress is not the achievement of the social division of labor and the human mind, but solely the result of private ownership. Without capitalism, no technical progress is the false thought which transfigures the capitalist form, in which technical progress is ruthlessly advanced against the worker and nature for the private enrichment of the owners of the means of production, into the reason of technical progress. From this point of view, any improvement left over for the working population thanks to technological progress is celebrated as the success of the dynamism and efficiency of the competition for private enrichment, for which the sacrifices have been and will be worthwhile for generations. This is, incidentally, an extremely cynical praise of capitalism, which transfigures the victims of the majority of the population for generations to the benefit of all.

Fair enough, but do you want Socialism?

As soon as someone has put forward a few arguments against capitalism, the question arises as to whether one wants socialism. Without it having to be explicitly stated, the reference to so-called "real socialism" is a natural counter-argument. But why should this be an argument against a planned supply based on common means of production?

What is there to argue against setting up the health system according to the needs of the population instead of leaving the content and scope of medical care to private enrichment interests? Or why should the education system suffer if the necessary resources are organized according to plan for the purpose of providing high-quality education for the entire population? Yes, and why should it make no sense, for example, to provide transport, housing, electricity, and water supplies in accordance with the needs of the population, instead of making the scope and quality dependent on whether and where investment in infrastructure is worthwhile for individual private entrepreneurs. Food can also be produced and distributed according to plan, as the major food companies demonstrate every day worldwide. The purpose of supplying all members of society is by no means more costly or complicated in terms of planning and production than the purpose of supplying only the solvent people with food, water, electricity, education, medicine, and other consumer goods.

Centralized versus decentralized is also a completely wrong characterization of the difference between an economic order based on private enrichment and an economic order oriented towards the planned satisfaction of social needs. The nonsensical idea that someone wants to plan the worldwide demand for bread rolls, clothing, or furniture centrally in one place only comes to mind for someone who wants to discredit socialist ideas instead of impartially examining the practical feasibility of socialism.

Well, but hasn't the market economy ultimately proved to be the more efficient economic system?


It is efficient to achieve the highest return with a certain amount of time or resources or, conversely, to obtain a certain return with the least amount of effort. However, efficiency as an economic principle is not in itself worth striving for. It depends very much on the purpose that someone is pursuing. A soldier can be very efficient in killing the enemies of his nation. A burglar can also be very efficient. In contrast, the use of a nurse to care for people who cannot pay is not efficient in a market economy.

If private enrichment becomes the purpose of production, then increasing productivity aims at realizing as much money as possible in sales for the same quantity of goods by reducing production costs - i.e. at the expense of product quality and working conditions - or by increasing the number of goods at unchanged costs by extending and/or intensifying working time. Then the ratio of expenditure to income does not refer to the purpose of satisfying the needs of the population, but to private enrichment in the form of money. Here, the functionality and quality of the commodities as well as the environmental and living conditions are only means to the end of private enrichment in the form of money. What wealth costs people, their labor input, and efforts, can never be great enough on the scale of money multiplication.

Rather than celebrating capitalism's efficiency in a meaningless way, it would be better to ask: what does the highly praised efficiency of the market economy refer to? What is the purpose that is raised to the yardstick of production? For the purpose of multiplying money, capitalism is indeed unbeatably efficient: in the exploitation that is ruthless against the worker and nature.

But is the right to property not a human right?

The privatization of land and means of production is tantamount to expropriation of the community. If one person declares a factory his property, the others cannot use it. The right to build a fence around fertile land means that for the majority of the landless, the only way they can gain access is as workers to increase other people's s wealth. The destitution of the majority is thus the necessary consequence of the freedom of the few to declare the means of production their property.

Property is not a natural object. No property is attached to a piece of fertile land. Nor to a machine or a complete factory. Property is a relationship between people. If someone says that this thing belongs to me, he is not expressing his relationship to this object, but his relationship to other people in relation to this object. But property is not a natural relationship as a result of individual work either, because otherwise the factory owners and big landowners would stop being owners as soon as they let their workers work for them. Property implies violence. With the objects declared to be property, the owner claims the exclusive power of disposal over the objects and thus at the same time the exclusion of their disposal for the non-owner.

However, ownership should not be confused with a mutually exclusive relationship of use: eating an apple, riding a bicycle. In other words, a relationship in which the other members of the society have no competing interest in parallel use and the user does not insist on exclusive use of the object after use. In contrast to use, ownership is an exclusionary relationship in which people exclude themselves in principle from access to economically relevant objects. With the exclusive disposal of the means of production and the products made with them, property contains the power to deny existence to others. For the owner, however, his property is not exclusionary power for its own sake, but a means to an end, to use the work of others. Property is a social relationship of blackmail. The needs of the other members of society are only recognized by the owner if a service is rendered to him for the use of "his" object. Property thus becomes a power over other people's work.

Capital - a contribution to the social division of labor?

In the market economy, everyone carries their social power in their pocket. Not as revolvers, but in the form of money. Whoever has money, for whatever reason, has access to the wealth of capitalist society. Whoever does not possess it, is impoverished alongside the riches of society. With the money that someone has at his disposal, the power of access and command is not limited to the material wealth of society in the form of goods. Money is also the power of access and command over the services of other members of society. Those who have money can have their shoes polished by those who need it for their livelihood, buy love affairs, or simply let others work for them and thus increase their monetary power. Money as capital, as the power of disposal over the means of production of society, thus becomes a power over other people' s labor.

The "one percent" or more precisely, the ten percent who have declared the majority of the world's wealth their property, increase their wealth by making the destitution of the majority their means. How do they do this? By making others work for them. Why does the majority work for the increase of other people' s wealth and thus for the enrichment of a minority? Because they are excluded from all means of production and the goods produced with them by the right to property, and therefore only one means remains for them to acquire the necessary food: the sale of their labor power.

Money becomes capital, the means to make more money out of money when labor becomes a commodity. The money-owner thus becomes a capitalist accordingly when he buys other people' s labor, and through this makes the worker work for the increase of his wealth. The owner of the means of production simply uses the difference between the value of the labor power he buys on the labor market and the value of the products produced through it, which he sells as commodities. In the liberal system of property ownership, therefore, the production process inevitably makes the rich richer in relation to the wealth created by society and the poor poorer accordingly.

What was solved in slavery or feudal serfdom by direct coercion - to use other people's labor for one's enrichment - now happens in the market economy in a more factual and thus veiled form: through the state-secured right to private ownership of the means of production and thus the private power of disposal over the entire world of commodities, the labor of the destitute population itself is bought as a commodity. Thus the exploiter becomes the employer, the slave or serf becomes the worker, the whip becomes money and the coercion becomes the possibility in which hope dies last.

Freedom instead of socialism?

Freedom is a double-edged sword. The slave demands freedom from his master, who takes the liberty of enslaving him. Women fight for emancipation from the freedom of men to patriarchal oppress women. Believers use their freedom of religion for moral rules over the individual freedom of unbelievers. Where opposing interests claim their freedom, violence decides.

In the economic relationship between people, freedom is nothing other than individual enrichment in the context of social work. This means that the necessary work is not organized together based on common means of production for the purpose of social provision, but each person tries to make the others the means of his interests utilizing what he has at his disposal. For the majority of the population, economic freedom is synonymous with subordination to the "constraints" that result from the power of disposal or exclusion of money. They carry their powerlessness with the empty wallet in their pockets. The call for freedom is therefore anything but suitable for the fight against exploitation and oppression. With the call for freedom, which in the economic relationship of people to each other is synonymous with the freedom of ownership of the means of production, the reason for the violent exclusion relationship is not abolished but conversely transfigured into a means against violent exclusion. Instead of arguing for freedom without any content, it would be more reasonable to stand up for the abolition of economic power, which blossoms in capitalism precisely based on the "human rights" of freedom and equality.

Self-determination does not require the enforcement of freedom under the rule of law, but rather the elimination of the economic dependence of the majority of the destitute members of society, which is based on the economic freedom of ownership of the means of production. The end to enrich oneself at the expense of others and its means, the ownership of land and means of production, cannot be criticized by demanding freedom and equality for the destitute population in general. With an ideal of freedom in mind that abstracts from all concrete circumstances, even critics of capitalism would otherwise inevitably be irritated by the slogan "freedom instead of socialism" instead of criticizing and rejecting the slogan and thus the content of its freedom.

... and the alternative to capitalism?

If the overwhelming majority of the working population has understood that age and child poverty are not market failures but the necessary consequence of the market economy and its free property regime, who should seriously prevent them from taking the organization of production into their own hands? Who should prevent them from replacing the purpose of increasing money with the purpose of satisfying general needs? "Let us never forget that no system of domination is based solely on brute force, as is so often thoughtlessly claimed and repeatedly asserted. Every authority is based primarily on the belief of the broad masses in its necessity and immutability. Only when this belief is undermined does an epoch of revolutionary events begin." (1)

The problem, therefore, is primarily not the so-called "one percent" of the beneficiaries of the property system, but the 99% who want to see their destitution as a missed opportunity, instead of grasping the simple idea that ownership of means of production is synonymous with the destitution of the majority. As long as 99% demand social justice - that is, capitalism in its idealized version - the existing dissatisfaction remains in a subservient declaration of loyalty to the recognized basic principles of the liberal property system. As long as the necessary consequences of the market economy are misunderstood as the result of a violation of the basic principles of the "social market economy", the "one percent" can sleep well for the next 200 years.

When more and more people understand that ownership of means of production means nothing more than the exploitation of the majority by a minority and that trade in commodities and money are not natural forms of the " economy ", but only the factual form of the contradiction that comes into the world with this ownership, then the status symbols of the beneficiaries of this production relationship will quickly lose their shine. Then, instead of envy and admiration, their expensive luxury cars, their million-dollar yachts and villas will more and more often evoke rotten eggs as an answer. Then it will become less and less obvious to office employees and workers in factories that the "practical constraints of competition" are the reason why they cannot participate in the progress of productivity, that a low wage is better for them than no job, that free access to education and medical care in the 21st century is less and less affordable and therefore not possible. If the destitute population increasingly understands that low wages, unemployment, and poverty in old age are not a deserved fate, but that for a better world they only have to enforce their own working hours as a yardstick for their share of the social product, then they will also understand that this is only possible if they manage their production conditions themselves, beyond property and the market. "As simple as the basis for the domination of the working class is, as simple is the formulation for the abolition of wage slavery (even if the practical implementation is not so simple!) This abolition can only consist in the abolition of the separation of work and the work product, that the right of disposal over the work product and therefore also over the means of production is again given to the workers." (2) As soon as the active majority of the population, in all areas of their professional and social life, resists the production relationship established to their lasting disadvantage and begins to reorganize production based on the free and equal association of people, capitalism, together with its ruling state power, will be transferred to where both will then belong, "to the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze ax." (3)

(1) Rudolf Rocker, Organisation und Freiheit, in: Fanal Bd. 2, S. 104

(2) Group of International Communist, Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution, Red & Black Books 2020, p. 23

(3) Friedrich Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, p. 94