Karl Marx: On the Rise of Capitalism

Karl Marx: On the Rise of Capitalism


The
forces or means of production are, strictly
speaking, the technology and work patterns that men and women use to exploit their environment
to meet their needs. These forces of production are expressed in
relationships between men, which are independent of any particular individual and not subject
to individual will and purposes. While industrialism would be a particular
“force of production,” capitalism would be a particular “relation of production.” By
relations of production, Marx means the social relationships people enter into by participation
in economic life. The relations of production are the relations
men (and women) establish with each other when they utilize existing raw materials and
technologies in the pursuit of their production goals. While Marx begins with the forces or means
of production, he quickly moves to the relations of production that are based on these forces.
For Marx, the relations of production are the key to understanding the whole cultural
superstructure of society. The relations of production (economic organization)
constitute the foundation upon which the whole cultural superstructure of society comes to
be erected. Marx gives the relations of production the
primary focus in his analysis of social evolution. The forces of production basically set the
stage for these relations, and other than this are given little independent treatment
by Marx. Problems of modern society are therefore all
ascribed to capitalism by Marx and his followers, rather than ascribing some of them to industrialism—a
problem we will return to shortly. According to Marx, men and women are born
into societies in which property relations have already been determined. These property
relations, in turn, give rise to different social classes. Just as a man cannot choose
who is to be his father, so he has not choice as to his class. [Social mobility, though
recognized by Marx, plays no role in his analysis.] Once a man is ascribed to a specific class
by virtue of his birth, once he has become a feudal lord or a serf, an industrial worker
or a capitalist, his behavior is proscribed for him. His attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors
are all “determined.” The class role largely defines the man. In
the preface to Capital Marx writes: “Here individuals are dealt with only as fact as
they are personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations
and class interests.” Different locations in the class structure lead to different class
interests. Such differing interests flow from objective positions in relation to the forces
of production. In saying this Marx does not deny the operation
of other variables in human behavior; but he concentrates on class roles as primary
determinants of that behavior. These class roles influence men whether they are conscious
of their class interests or not. Men may well be unaware of their class interests and yet
be moved by them, as it were, behind their backs. The division of labor gives rise to different
classes, which leads to differing interests and gives rise to different:
Political Views Ethical Views
Philosophical Views Religious Views
Ideological Views These differing views express existing class
relations and tend either to consolidate or undermine the power and authority of the dominant
class. For example, the business of America is business.
We think naturally in these categories. The goal of the economic system is to grow; our
goal is to make more money to buy nice things. The point of the educational system is to
provide education and training so that young adults can eventually assume their role in
the workforce. “The class which has the means of material
production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production.”
This is done through control over the media, educational curricula, grants and such. This
is not the result of a conspiracy, rather, it is the dominant viewpoint that pervades
the culture. Because the dominant class owns and controls
the forces of production, the social class in power uses the non-economic institutions
to uphold its authority and position. Marx believed that religion, the government,
educational systems, and even sports are used by the powerful to maintain the status quo. Although they are hampered by the ideological
dominance of the elite, the oppressed classes can, under certain conditions, generate counter
ideologies to combat the ruling classes. The social order is often marked by continuous
change in the forces of production, that is, technology. Marx argued that every economic
system except socialism produces forces that eventually lead to a new economic form. These conditions are moments when the existing
mode of production is played out; Marx terms these moments “revolutionary.” The process
begins with the forces of production. At times, the change in technology is so great that
it is able to harness “new” forces of nature to satisfy man’s needs. New classes (and interests)
based on control of these new forces of production begin to rise. At a certain point, this new class comes into
conflict with the old ownership class based on the old forces of production. As a consequence,
it sometimes happens that “…the social relations of production are altered, transformed, with
the change and development of the forces of production.” In the feudal system, for example, the market
and factory emerged but were incompatible with the feudal way of life. The market created
a professional merchant class, and the factory created a new proletariat (or class of workers). Thus, new inventions and the harnessing of
new technologies created tensions within the old institutional arrangements, and new social
classes threatened to displace the old ones based on manoral farming. Conflict resulted,
and eventually revolution that established a new ruling class based on the new forces
of production. A new class structure emerged and an alteration
in the division of wealth and power based on new economic forms. Feudalism was replaced
by capitalism; land ownership as the dominant form of capital was replaced by factories
and the ownership of capital. Those classes that expect to gain the ascendancy
by a change in property relations become revolutionary. When this is the case, representatives of
the ascending classes come to perceive existing property relations as a “fetter” upon further
development. New social relationships (based upon the new
mode of production) begin to develop within older social structures, exacerbating tensions
within that structure. New forces of production—based on manufacture
and trade—emerged within late European feudal society and allowed the bourgeoisie, which
controlled this new mode of production, to challenge the hold of the classes that had
dominated the feudal order. As this new force of production gained sufficient
weight (through technological development and the resulting accumulation of wealth of
the ownership class), the bourgeoisie “burst asunder the feudal relations of production”
in which this new mode of production first made its appearance. Like feudalism, Marx maintained, capitalism
also carries the seeds of its own destruction. It brings into being a class of workers (the
proletariat) who have a fundamental antagonism to the capitalist class, and who will eventually
band together to overthrow the regime to which they owe their existence. We will get into the coming revolution in
a future lecture. If you are interested in the big picture you
should take a look at Macro Social Theory, a book that reviews the theories of classical
macro social theorists such as Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim as well as the
work of many who extended their theories to better reflect modern times such as Immanuel
Wallerstein, Gerhard Lenski, and George Ritzer. Also see Sociocultural Systems: Principles
of Structure and Change to learn how these insights contribute to a fuller understanding
of modern societies. These books can be purchased at most online
bookstores or at Athabasca University Press. If you are short of funds Athabasca also offers
a free pdf version of the work. A significant portion of the royalties I receive
for these books go to the Rogers State University Foundation in support of students in the Liberal
Arts. I thank you for your support and interest.

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