Monday, July 02, 2007

The Development of Capitalism

I take Marx's picture about how economics structures society as being axiomatic. You can disbelieve in it, you can think that it's an interesting theory but you don't know if it's quite the whole truth, but in my opinion, all that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you're poor, rich, a worker or a capitalist, a minority or part of a majority, capitalism still divides up society based on those who have to make their living by work and those who possess the benefits of capital, whcih enables them to get an income that would normally be impossible.

That's why I sometimes laugh at the notion of "rich socialists". The implication is that these people are in such a weird world detached from reality that they have all these notions that people really in touch with things would view as being farcial. It doesn't matter. You can prove that capitalism works the way that it works and that most of our society, how it is today, has been determined by capitalism modified by the historical process of colonialism, which lead to the development of racism. You can also figure in sexism to this, but this is sort of complicated and I'll leave it for another day.

Capitalism works by those who control access to a resource, whether that be a physical resource, land, or a factory or equipment, which other people can be compelled to work at, for a wage, for an amount of money much less than that which is extracted in total from their labor. Part of that extracted money goes to perpetuate the system, another part is straight out appropriated by those who control the capital as their salary or "wage". Capital is a machine for the transfer of value from that produced by the action of labor to those who control the capital. Those who control the capital are the bougeois, or the capitalists, the people that labor are of course workers, and this is, in a sketch, is a picture of how the class struggle manifests at its broadest level.

Capitalism developed from a system that's been called feudalism. What's important is that during this time there was a strong division between merchants, on the one hand, and artisans, craftspeople, and farmers, on the other. The merchants had their associations, the artisans had their guilds, and even the farmers, serf or not, had informal collective organizing among themselves to regulate the rate of labor and the method of labor.

Eventually the merchants started to co-opt the guilds and associations, and agriculture became more of a capitalist enterprise. Now the artisans worked for the merchants, making their crafts based on the needs of the merchant, eventually losing more and more power until they became regular employees.

This co-optation was the beginning of capitalism proper. The access to markets and the control of the workers through owning the means of production allowed merchants to have more and more control over the workers, leading to a system that evolved during the industrial revolution where the amount of capital, the amount of power in equipment and money, that the people, formerly, merchants, now capitalists, had accumulated to the point where capital started to have decisive control over the workers. Then the division of labor in society, the breaking up of jobs according to specialization among workers, started and the process of breaking up production into deskilled, meaningless jobs started. Maybe not meaningless to the people who worked them but certainly affording less opportunity for the application of skill and control of the working process than was formerly avaiable to them.

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