Thursday, February 14, 2019

Some Contradictions Of Capitalism

I tend to be doubtful, albeit sometimes amused, by comments drawing on Hegel. But I thought I would adopt some of that sort of language for a post.

Capitalism constantly revolutionizes production, leading to a fantastic increase in productivity. An ever more diverse set of commodities is produced, including for consumption. Machines for making, controlling, and communicating with other machines, are constantly being introduced, reducing the labor time needed to produce any commodity.

For the diversity in commodities to be sold, workers, who constitute the most part of consumers, must develop their abilities to appreciate as much as possible. Likewise, they must developers their capabilities to be able to change the industry in which they work:

But if, on the one hand, variation of work at present imposes itself after the manner of an overpowering natural law, ... modern industry, on the other hand, through its catastrophes imposes the necessity of recognising ... variation of work, consequently fitness of the labourer for varied work, consequently the greatest possible development of his varied aptitudes... Modern Industry, indeed, compels society ... to replace the detail-worker of to-day, grappled by life-long repetition of one and the same trivial operation, ... by the fully developed individual, fit for a variety of labours, ready to face any change of production, and to whom the different social functions he performs, are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural and acquired powers. -- Karl Marx, Capital, Chapter 15, Section 9.

In this chapter, Marx also quotes from the Communist Manifesto, "All that is solid melts into air..."

But, yet, the time in which the worker is enjoying himself is time that he is not generating surplus value for the capitalist. And it is an accidental distinction that some goods can be marketed and some cannot. Furthermore, higher wages is a threat to maintaining the rate of profits. So the evolution of capitalism puts some constraints on what and how the workers can develop their selves. Furthermore, the development of flexibility in production capabilities is accompanied with anxiety at being made redundant in one's job, of recurrent unemployment, and the continual recreation of the army of the unemployed.

(Fans of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon might be interested that, around where the above passage appears, Marx talks about the "good side" and the "bad side" of these contradictions in the development of capitalism, in quite a different tone than in The Poverty of Philosophy.)

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