The Evils of Capitalism
Marx was hardly the first thinker to denounce the evils of capitalism.
Indeed, anti-capitalism is at least implicit in much of the Judeo-Christian
tradition, with its attacks on greed, materialism, and selfishness.
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy,
And would bring the poor of the land to an end,
Saying, When will the new moon pass
That we may sell grain,
And the Sabbath that we may offer wheat for sale,
Making the ephah small and the price great,
And falsifying the scales;
Buying the poor for silver,
And the needy in exchange for a pair of sandals,
And selling the refuse of the grain.
...reads the book of Amos, pre-dating Marx by over 2000
In medieval Christian thought, hatred of capitalism was closely
mixed with anti-Semitism, due to Jews' involvement in banking,
money-lending, and trade. The famous Protestant reformer Martin
Luther, for example, wrote that: "[T]here is on earth no
greater enemy of man, after the Devil, than a gripe-money and
usurer, for he wants to be God over all men... Usury is a great,
huge monster, like a werewolf... And since we break on the wheel
and behead highwaymen, murderers, and housebreakers, how much
more ought we to break on the wheel and kill... hunt down, curse,
and behead all usurers!"
What Marx did was to update and reinvigorate the slumbering
anti-capitalist impulse, combining it with Hegelian philosophy
and a smattering of Classical economics. To an important and often
overlooked extent, Marx merely repeatedly medieval Christian accusations:
What is the profane basis of Judaism? Practical need,
What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering What is
his worldly god? Money.
Very well: then in emancipating itself from huckstering
and money, and thus from real and practical Judaism, our
age would emancipate itself...
The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the
god of this world. The bill of exchange is the real god of the
Jews. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange.
On the Jewish Question
Aside from invective laced with anti-Semitic undertones, Marx
made several specific claims about the evils of capitalism.
- Capitalism drives workers' wages down to the subsistence
level. "The average price of wage-labour is the minimum
wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence, which is
absolutely requisite to keep the labourer in bare existence as
a labourer." (Manifesto of the Communist Party) While
Marx lived and wrote during a era when the standard of living
of workers was rising at unprecedented rates in the world's capitalist
centers in Britain, the United States, France, and Germany. Instead
of noting these remarkable advances and trying to figure out how
to magnify them as much as possible, Marx simply denied that improvement
was occurring. He was not so blind as to deny that capitalism
brought vast economic progress; rather, he repeatedly denied that
any of this economic progress improved the lot of anyone but a
small minority of exploiting bourgeoisie.
- While capitalism brings enormous economic progress, it
is fundamentally unstable. Marx thought that wealth would
become constantly more concentrated in the hands of a small number
of capitalists, which would make the antagonism between workers
and bourgeoisie ever clearer and sharper. At the same time, he
argued that depressions would inevitably grow more intense so
long as capitalism endured. As Marx puts it, "Centralisation
of the means of production and socialisation of labor at last
reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist
integument... The knell of capitalist private property sounds.
The expropriators are expropriated." (Capital, Vol. 2)
- A society's economic system determines it culture, art,
religion, philosophy, and so on. In consequence, almost all of
the evils of capitalist civilization can be blamed upon the existence
of the capitalist system. This is the of elastic clause in
the Marxian system, which allows almost any patent evil - even
evils which have existed in nearly every human society - to be
blamed upon capitalism. After all, "What else does the history
of ideas prove, than that intellectual production changes its
character in proportion as material production is changed? The
ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling
class." Does religion delude the masses? It is due to capitalism.
Prostitution? Due to capitalism. Envy, alienation, war... all
due to capitalism. Indeed, every unforeseen social evil has an
obvious scapegoat upon which it can be blamed.