And exploitation, as an economic concept, had to be strictly defined as distinct from other forms of oppression. Marx defined exploitation as the product of a generalized social process, called class. Since capitalism is the prevalence of a specific type of class process, i. In other words, we want to be able to answer the question of what is a class process before answering the more specific question of what is the capitalist class process.
In order to understand class, we will use the conceptual language that has been developed by Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff , two noted economists from the University of Massachusetts and the founders of the journal Rethinking Marxism. Resnick and Wolff's reading of Marx leads them to avoid defining class as a noun , as is common practice. For Resnick and Wolff, the issue that Marx focused upon in his major theoretical works Capital , Theories of Surplus Value , and Grundrisse was not a struggle between classes but a struggle over class as a social process the term process implies a continually changing phenomenon a phenomenon that only exists in motion a verb.
For this and other reasons they use the term class process in describing the unique type of social interaction that Marx was concerned about in his social scientific work. What is class process? Firstly, Marx understood that society depended, among other processes, upon human beings physically transforming raw materials and other material inputs machinery and other products of past labor into new and useful products. Food has to be grown and prepared.
- The Rise of Communism in Russia!
- athesist life vs religion.
- websites that pay for writing articles.
Cloth has to be created and clothing made. Construction materials and housing have to be made. And so on. All human beings do not, however, engage in activities resulting in such useful products. And even for those who are so engaged, they may, under certain conditions, consume such products in excess of the value of what they produce. Thus, under certain social conditions it is necessary for some workers to produce output in excess of the output they take as compensation for their efforts. This extra work has been defined by Marx and others as surplus labor. The extra product created by surplus labor was defined as surplus product.
And the social value of the surplus product as typically determined in market exchange relationships was defined as surplus value. Now we have all of the ingredients necessary to a relatively strict definition of class process.
Class process is the social process that results in i human beings performing surplus labor, ii the surplus products of this labor being appropriated and iii the distribution of the surplus value in surplus product form or in monetary form to other human beings. What distinguishes one class process from another? In other words, how can we distinguish capitalism from feudalism or feudalism from communism? All these are class processes in so far as they involve the production, appropriation and distribution of surplus products. The difference between the various class processes is the particular social arrangement that results in the worker performing the surplus labor and the appropriator taking possession of the fruits the product or value of that surplus labor.
And these social arrangements have been variable over time and place. Marx spent a great many pages attempting to specify the historical process that brought into being the social arrangement that is peculiar to capitalism. It was the primary purpose behind the writing of the three volumes of Capital , his best known social scientific work although less well known than his shorter more polemical Communist Manifesto.
This definition tells us that capitalism, if it is to exist and be reproduced over time, requires a particular type of market, a free market in the buying and selling of labor power, and a particular type of ownership, the ownership of the fruits of the labor of an employed wage laborer by someone other than that employed wage laborer. However, capitalism is not reducible to either markets or ownership.
There must be a free market in labor power, meaning that potential laborers must have the freedom to seek employment for a wage in an environment where, under normal conditions, there are choices about possible employers. There must be a political and cultural environment within which it is possible for someone other than the worker who created a product to take ownership of that product.
The worker is paid a wage, embodying a certain amount of economic value, in exchange for her giving up the right to own the fruits of her labor. She accepts this contract willingly and retains the right the freedom to quit her employment and seek employment elsewhere.
Communism in Russia
That's it. That is capitalism.
This simple but powerful definition provides all that is necessary to determine if the capitalist class process exists under concrete social conditions. We do not need to know who rules the state or whether voting plays a role in determining the composition of an existing legislative body. We do not need to know if there are flexible exchange rates.
We do not need to know if there are gun laws. We do not need to know whether people in the country speak Putonghua or English. Of course all of these topics might be useful in any attempt to tell the story of how capitalism came to exist or not or the particular context within which it exists. If the capitalist class process is the appropriation of the surplus value of free wage laborers laborers who seek employment for a wage in a free market in labor power by human beings other than the free laborers themselves, then we can easily see where some of the confusion has originated.
Instead of seeing free markets in labor power as a condition of existence of capitalism, it has become a commonplace to think that free markets in general are a condition of existence of capitalism. This is very misleading, of course, since it is possible to have free markets in everything except labor power and not have capitalism. Indeed, the presence of free markets in labor power is a necessary but not sufficient condition to define a society as capitalist. Simply because the capitalist class process may exist in a society does not imply that this type of class process prevails over all others, in terms of numbers of workers involved, total output generated, or any number of other possible criteria.
Similarly, the existence of instances of slavery would not define an entire society as a slave society, if this economic arrangement were not typical. China has been the site of numerous debates over and experiments with free markets, dating as far back as the Han Dynasty B. In the ante-bellum South of the United States, where there was even a free market in the buying and selling of human beings, the market in the buying and selling of human labor power was relatively underdeveloped.
Most direct producers in the ante-bellum South were either slaves or self-employed producers, not capitalist wage laborers. Under the system of slavery, a large number of productive laborers in the southern states of the United States existed in a condition of servitude, living out their lives in work camps as the owned property of other human beings, despite the presence of free markets in most goods and services. Indeed, most of the products created by these slave laborers were sold in markets, where buyers and sellers were relatively free to interact and engage in exchange.
And the ideology of free markets was also very strong in the ante-bellum South. For slavery based entrepreneurs the freedom to engage in the buying and selling of human chattel and the concomitant freedom to put those human beings to productive use was no minor matter. Indeed, it was the pro-slavery forces in the U. Congress who led the fight for free trade and other policies that presage "neo-liberalism. Nevertheless, the predominant class process of the South, typically assumed to have been the slave class process whereby the performance of surplus labor depended upon the existence of a human chattel arrangement was clearly distinct from the capitalist class process which is understood to have prevailed in the northeastern states of the United States , whereby workers could seek and quit employment according to their own volition.
We can also see why it might have been possible to expand the role of ownership as a condition of existence of capitalism beyond the simple condition whereby it must be possible for someone other than the free wage laborer to take ownership of the surplus value created by that laborer and then to distribute this surplus value so as to secure the conditions for further appropriations in the future. It is commonplace to believe that private ownership in general is a defining characteristic of capitalism. But again, slavery provided wide scale private ownership and yet is an economic arrangement profoundly different from capitalism.
Similarly, feudalism and self-employment the ancient class process often exist in the presence of wide scale private ownership. Thus, neither private ownership nor the existence of free markets in commodities other than labor power is, in these general terms, a sufficient condition for the existence of the capitalist class process. It is also the case that the absence of wide scale free markets and private property are not sufficient to determine that a society is not capitalist.
As for the more ambiguous term, socialism, the intellectual and political leader of the Bolsheviks in Russia recognized that capitalism and socialism were not incompatible. On the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution of , Vladimir Lenin wrote that "Socialism is nothing but a state-capitalist monopoly used for the benefit of the entire nation and thus ceasing to be a capitalist monopoly.
In support of Lenin's argument, the existence of a command economy, wherein the allocation of goods and services is largely controlled by agencies of the government, does not preclude the presence of a free market in labor power per se and, therefore, does not preclude the continued prevalence of capitalist relations in the economy. But was this the case in practice? Were Chinese workers free to choose their place of employment or, at least, to choose where they would seek employment?
In thinking about these questions, you should give some thought to the definition of capitalism developed in this brief essay. In particular, you might want to think about how a command economy could also be capitalist.
Capitalism, Socialism, and the Chinese Revolution
In other words, as an exercise in deploying this strict definition of capitalism, you might define a capitalist command economy as one variant form of capitalism. On the other hand, what if workers, like generations of peasant farmers and artisans during the various dynastic periods in Chinese history, were not free to choose where they would seek employment? If workers were assigned by the government to a particular work site danwei or commune and did not have the freedom to quit, then what sort of economic system, in class terms, would have prevailed in China?
This question is of no minor importance to our investigation of the ongoing transformation of the Chinese economy and the implications of that transformation. Finally, you may ask why any of this matters. It's been asked before.
Related essays on communism in russia
Copyright 2019 - All Right Reserved