Why does Marx believe that capitalism will inevitably give way to socialism? Why did Karl Marx remain steadfast in his opinion regarding capitalism? He believed that socialism would be an inescapable consequence of the structure he was so critical of. What were the reasons for this belief? This essay sets out to answer this question. The topics of capitalism and socialism will be looked at in detail, as well as the explanation of why Marx is so influential in these areas. This essay will also discuss whether Marx's utopian vision has come to fruit as he envisaged, or has it remained to be just a theory.
Karl Marx (1818- 83), a German economic critic, political activist and philosopher, is viewed as one of the founding fathers of sociology. His writings and theories have influenced many and he remains to be a much talked about figure in academia, sociological circles and beyond. A theoretical school of sociology has its roots in Marx's philosophies. It is believed that until recently, one -third of the world's population lived under governmental regimes inspired by Marx's ideas (Marshall, 1998, p393), the Soviet Union being an example.
The essence of Marx's work was on the formation and the nature of modern society, and how capitalism and the class struggle played its part in this. His most famous work, Das Kapital (1867 – 95) contained his hope for the social revolution, which would eventually overthrow capitalism, as the essay question refers to. Marx began his theories by drawing from the basic knowledge, that in order to survive, humans have to produce the food and material objects, which will aid their subsistence. How this subsistence is achieved and the system, which is adopted to do it, affects the entire structure and organisation of society.
He outlined 5 chronological consequential systems which society passed through to accomplish the production essential for its subsistence: Primitive Communist, Ancient, Feudal, Capitalist and Communist modes. 'Each of these constitutes a distinctive socio-economic system with its own laws of motion' (Callinicos, 2000, p84). Society (19th Century Europe) was experiencing the capitalist mode at the time of Marx's theorising, this coloured his writings. He argued that there were two essential components in these aforementioned societies: the substructure and the superstructure.
The substructure is the economic base, which provides the material needs of life while the superstructure makes up the remainder of society (political, legal, educational institutions and belief and value systems), it also acts as a reflection of the base structure by supporting the values of the economic structure. Without the economic basis, the superstructure would not be possible, as it is shaped and determined by the substructure. It is at this point, at which the terms of forces of production and relations of production enter the theory.
The forces of production are a part of the substructure and include the factories, machinery, technology and raw materials, which are used in the production process. The relations of production refer to the social relationships, which occur in the process of production i. e. the relations between owners/employers and their staff (Marsh et. al. 1996, pp51-53). These explanations are important as they provide a necessary background to the points I will make, in regard to Marx's critique of capitalism.
Conflict and contradiction arises according to Marx, in all but two of the historical societies he outlined, and it is these conflicts and contradictions, which sees the movement from one mode of production to the next i. e. from ancient to feudal, as no society can remain static in the presence of such problems. The contradictions involve the divide between two social groups in the various epochs – the exploiters and the exploited or the propertied and the labouring classes.
As Callinicos states, the conflict, which arises between the classes, only occurs when a minority (propertied) controls the productive forces (Callinicos, 2000, p86). This also links to the exploitation argument, class conflict 'occurs wherever a group has consolidated a sufficient degree of control over the productive forces to compel the direct producers to labour not simply to meet their own needs, and those of their dependants, but also to support this dominant group' (Callinicos, 2000, p86).
The exploited social group provides surplus labour, which benefits the minority controlling the productive forces that are also acting in its own interests. It is this conflict, which sees the formation of class division. Marx saw history as being littered with conflicts between classes. The Communist Manifesto (1848) states: 'the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in contrast opposition to each' (Seidman, 1998, pp38-39).
The struggle between the two led to the moving to the sequential economic system – capitalism. Capitalism emerged from feudalism partly due to the conflict discussed above. Feudal society consisted mainly of peasants tilling small plots of land in order to provide for themselves and to make a livelihood. The relations of production between the peasants and the feudal lords/masters were hierarchical and reciprocal. Hierarchical, as the peasants owed their allegiance to the lords in order to stay on the land, showing their allegiance meant handing over their surplus produce.
Reciprocal, as the lords were obliged to look after the peasants' interests in return for adherence. Marx argued that the capitalistic economic enterprise, which would follow feudalism, required two elements; firstly the presence of capital was needed. The accumulation of capital had already begun in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe.
Capital is taken to mean 'any assets that can be invested so as to secure further assets' (Giddens, 1986, p34) such as money, workshops tools, factories and machines i. e. the means of production. Secondly, wage-labour had to be involved for capitalism to evolve. This is the mental and physical ability to labour. Wage labour also involves workers being 'expropriated from their means of production' (Giddens, 1986, p35) thus losing ownership of their means of their livelihood and having to seek employment by the owners of capital. This began to take place as the industrial revolution began to garner steam. Coercion and inducement forced peasants to move from their land into the newly developed towns and cities.