Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

What is capitalism?

In his article "To prevent climate collapse make extreme wealth extinct" (GUARDIAN 10 November 2021), the environmental journalist, George Monbiot stated that one of the problems with global warming is an understanding of capitalism. He wrote:

'There is an oft-quoted axiom, whose authorship is obscure: it is easier to image the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Part of the reason is that capitalism itself is difficult to image. Most people struggle to define it, and its champions have generally disguised its true nature'

Socialists have had no difficulty in giving a definition of capitalism.

Capitalism is a social system set within human history. That is a good place to start. Capitalism has a beginning, it exists globally and it has a potential end in human history. No social system lasts forever.

Capitalism is also based upon the class ownership of the means of production and distribution. This includes the fossil industry and the green renewable industry. Capitalism can be state, corporate or individual in its ownership. Nationalisation is state capitalism and has nothing to do with socialism.

The private ownership to the means of life is protected by the machinery of government, including the armed forces. Government is controlled by Parliament and politicians. Politicians exist to serve the general and sectional interests of the capitalist class. Some politicians are in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry and some represent the interests of the renewable industry.

This brings us onto the capitalist class who form a minority within society. Capitalists invest capital into buying labour power for wages, natural materials, property, communication systems, transport buildings, distribution centres and so on to produce commodities for exchange on the market for profit.

Profit is the motive which informs capital investment. Capital is invested to produce more capital as an anti-social objective in its own right.

Under capitalism there is an imperative to accumulate capital under pain of competition. The function of the capitalist is to accumulate capital.

"Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!...Accumulation for accumulation's sake, production for production's sake" (Marx, CAPITALl VOLUME 1, Ch. XXIV).

Capitalism is a class society with a privileged few living off the labour power of the exploited working class.

And the working class form a majority in capitalism. It is the workers who produce more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries. This surplus wealth or, as Marx called it, 'surplus value', is the basis of the unearned income going to the capitalist class in the form of rent, interest and profit and the taxation to support the capitalist state. And it is the machinery of government protecting the private ownership of the means of life that prevents workers directly producing what they need, taking what they and their families need and to solve environmental problems like global warming.

However, within world capitalism there is a class struggle. It is a class struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation and the inability of workers to control and direct society to directly meet human need. It is primary a struggle over the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution.

The class struggle is not only the motor force of history it signals that capitalism has a potential end in history.

The working class majority have the power to change society in a revolutionary way. They can organise into socialist parties to abolish capitalism globally and replace the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

Socialism will be an association of individual working together under the socialist principle: "from each according to ability to each according to their needs".

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