Culture Essay Example - Socialist Critiques of Capitalism
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Socialist critiques of capitalism
Prior to embarking upon a detailed analysis of the socialist critique of capitalism it is imperative to understand and appreciate the conflicting ideologies of these schools of thought and how they have evolved throughout history. Capitalism and socialism are vastly different systems, both politically and economically, that emerged as responses to an altering world order after the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Prior to the tremendous changes wrought by the rapid technological advances, the world’s economies were not complex and social order was determined by the ruling aristocracy or the Church. The Industrial Revolution and its circumstances paved the way for capitalism and socialism to come to the forefront. While each theory or system is certainly not without its flaws, this paper will endeavour to define and explain capitalism and socialism, then explain capitalism from a socialist perspective.
Capitalism-Ideology, growth and current situation
Capitalism refers to a system that values private ownership over the means and system of production while being driven by profit motives. As it is commonly understood, capitalism primarily refers to the private ownership of the means of production rather community ownership, which identifies socialism. The economic aspect of the free market economy falls within the purview of the term capitalism and various ideologies like liberalism, neo-liberalism, market liberalism are the offshoots of capitalism that evolved over the course of the last three centuries. Various thinkers like Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and David Ricardo laid the ground work for capitalism through their classical economic theories. Heywood (42) points outs the economic theories that assume the classic status were developed over the course of the 18th and the 19th century by Admin Smith and David Ricardo, who were well known political economists. Heywood further points out that The Wealth of Nations written by Adam Smith is the first economic work of its kind regarding capitalism. He is often referred to as “Father of Economics.” His work drew inspiration from Enlightenment ideas about the liberal nature of human beings and commenced a debate on government intervention and its role in civil society as well as in a free market economy. (Heywood 42) Heywood also shows that Smith considered an economy as a series of market that are interconnected. Smith strongly believed that the market operation is a direct function of the free will of individuals. He further propounded the importance of freedom of choice in every aspect of market, including, buyers and sellers and also the freedom of employees to choose their employers and freedom of employers to determine wages. (Heywood 42) Heywood (43) states the idea of free economy and consequently capitalism took root in western countries like UK and USA. The concept of free market reached its zenith with the development of the idea of laissez-faire. This doctrine propounds that the state should not interfere in any market economy and should merely allow the market forces to function independently in accordance with the market variables (Heywood 43). Therefore, a laissez faire approach is against any kind of legislation that regulates the condition of factories, including, but not limited to legislations setting out specifications as regards working condition, regulations preventing child labour etc. This philosophy is based on the understanding that profit driven market will eventually lead to overall wellbeing of society. This theory was strongly rooted in the UK for the most part of the 19th century and it did not meet any opposition in USA as well until around 1930 (Heywood 43). This theory was again revived in the many western countries in the later part of the 20th century on account of the advent of the theory of neo-liberalism and the stringent attack on the interference by the government. (Heywood 43)
Socialism-Ideology, growth and current situation
Socialism broadly refers to the community ownership of property and systems of production and social management of the property. The characteristic feature of socialism is state ownership or cooperative ownership. Socialism is against the principle of profit and the core philosophy is firmly rooted in production vis-à-vis utility and every means of production is gauged in terms of its utility and not the profit that it may entail. Heywood (85) explains that the etymological root of the world “socialism” can be traced to the Latin world “sociare” the meaning of which is “to share.” The term “socialism” was used formally for the first time in a British publication known as the “Cooperative Magazine” in the year 1827. Thereafter, certain followers of thinkers like Robert Owen and Saint Simon referred to their beliefs as “socialism.” Around 1840; the term became popular and well-known in many industrial nations such as Germany, France and Belgium. (Heywood 85). Heywood states that even though socialist thinkers would like to assume that the origins of this school of thought lay in the classical works of Plato’s Republic, socialism, like liberalism, properly developed in the 19th and the 20th century. The development of the ideology of socialism was in reaction to the socio-economic conditions in Europe on account of the advent of industrial capitalism. Heywood (85) argues that the advent of industrialization led to a tremendous growth in the strata of industrial worker and the ideology of socialism took stronger roots among the working class. This is also because one of the repercussions of early socialism was the increased rate of poverty and exploitation of the working class and hence the economic theory of socialism found support in the working class in the earlier part of the 19th and the 20th century (Heywood 85). Heywood (85) further argues that even though the origins of socialism and capitalism can be traced to the Enlightenment movement, the parallel development of socialism can be considered as a critique of capitalism.
Heywood (85) contends the reason for the speedy development of socialism was the inhuman condition prevalent in the working class on account of the lasses-faire policies of the 19th and the 20th century. He also feels that the laisses-faire policies were effectively manipulated by the industrialist class and they laid down exploitative policies for their workers. This is reflected from the fact that wages were barely beyond the acceptable level of subsistence.
Furthermore, there were no policies for child labour and women and children were also exploited (Heywood 85). Heywood (85) further explains that a normal working day many times extended beyond 12 hours and the hiring and firing policies were rampant, consequently making unemployment threats very apparent. The factory workers were often confused as they were not entirely familiar with life in an industrial setting and the challenges of urban life in the absence of any social institutions to support them (Heywood 85). On account of this, the labour class were forthcoming with their support to any revolutionary movement that provided them with promises of better conditions of living by proposing an alternative to free market economy (Heywood 85). In Britain, utopian communities, the foundation of which would be love and cooperation and not unending greed, was proposed by Robert Owen. Subsequently, Karl Marx and Friedrich proposed theories that were more complex and made claims to unveil the true historical laws. These thinkers proposed that overthrow of capitalism in a revolutionary movement were nothing but a forgone and inevitable conclusion (Heywood 85). Heywood (85) further explains that with the advent of the 19th century, the nature of socialism as was previously understood, changed considerably on account of marked improvement in the condition of the working class and also on account of the advent and development of democracy.
Heywood further argues that socialism became more sophisticated in its form and tenor and this was reflected in non-violent means like formation of socialist political parties, trade unions and the adoption of constitutional and legal methods by socialist parties. Thus, in the late 19th century, in most of Europe revolutionary class was typically not present. This is also because the socialist political movement secured a lot for political rights for the workers, including, but not limited to the right to vote (Heywood 86). Heywood (86) states that by the time of commencement of the World War-I, the socialist group was divided into two group, one being those who sought the socialist principles through peaceful mode like trade unions, enforcement of constitutional rights and the other being those who continued propagating revolutionary modes like the those in certain backward countries like Russia. An apt example of this is the Russian Revolution of 1917 that divided the Russian socialist party into two groups namely the Bolsheviks and the reformist socialist (Heywood 86). Heywood argues that the 20th century saw socialism spread to many countries in Africa and Latin America. However, in Latin America, socialism was a natural consequence of colonial repression and not class divide (Heywood 86). Also, Bolshevik communism became apparent in many East European countries. Furthermore, different version of socialism developed in various Arab and African countries (Heywood 86). Socialism suffered a reversal of fortune in the late 20th century. This is because communism collapsed in many eastern European countries around 1990. A lot of socialist parties around the world are adopting the principles of liberalism.
In light of this backdrop, it is very apparent that socialism and capitalism are diametrically opposite philosophies. Socialism evolved as a natural reaction to the excesses of capitalism.
Rationale why Capitalism is better than Socialism.
Hawkins (web) states that one of the primary reasons why capitalism is better than socialism is because the rate of in a capitalist economy is much faster in capitalism as against socialism. As is observed in various world economies that adopted capitalism, the per capita income of the poorest members of society was much higher as against their counterparts in the socialist countries. Various former socialist and communist countries like China and India are opening their doors to capitalist culture to promote greater progress. Hawkins (web) further point out that the principle of socialism is against human nature as the principle of Karl Marx that compels a person to work as per his ability, but would remunerate him only as per his need would not be well received. This is for the simple reason that nobody would want to work hard and not enjoy the fruits of one’s hard work. Hawkins (web) further points out that capitalism is reward based and it promotes merit, whereas socialism leads to mediocrity.
Socialist Critique of Capitalism
Socialism and capitalism assumed contradictory position vis-à-vis the concept of control over property and economy. Wright (16) argues that socialists firmly believe the central control of the means of production and common ownership is the starting point for achieving the objectives of equality and welfare of the community. This is also the starting point of the critique of any economic order that is characterised by capitalism, liberalism and free market economy (Wright 16). Wright (16) states that socialists contemptuously referred to the terms individualism or capitalism as those sections of society that were self-seeking, competing individuals that form the fundamental unit of this economic structure. He also contends that as per socialists, in this kind of economic structure all traditional ties are severed and there is no place for social interest or social objectives, as the only principle that is valued is the blind and unrelenting satisfaction of self-interest. In light of this, society is divorced from ethical constraints and there is no place for any kind of equality and community welfare (Wright 16). Wright (16) further argues that the philosophy of socialism is proposed as and by way of opposition to the principle of individualism that promotes competitiveness. To this end, capitalism/individualism was criticized because it resulted in wealth creation only for a miniscule percentage of the population and resulted in widespread misery for the major section of the working class (Wright 16). Also, it can thus be seen that negative judgment on individualism is the result of two principle socialist standpoints, namely (a) strict socialistic adherence to certain values like equality and community welfare; and (b) the fact that it is not possible to adhere to these values in case the means of production and property are privately owned (Wright 17). In light of this, socialist principles have been carved out of the attack on capitalism and the root philosophy of capitalism, namely individualism (Wright 17). The most common ground of critique of individualism is that of the principles “free” capitalism. To this end, Wright (17) explains that socialists opine the ideology of free capitalism is nothing but a façade and a cover-up to conceal the true nature and character of capitalistic exploitation.
Socialists assert that capitalism has the effect of effectively negating the growth potential of individualistic personality as the encouragement to the principles of self-serving values and unbridled competition has the effect of completing uprooting the principles of cooperation, brotherhood and fraternity. Any possibility of the feeling of community welfare is completely eliminated (Wright 17). Wright explains that socialists are of the view that capitalists completely ignore the needs of the public by incessantly promoting private greed. Wright (17) explains that the socialist literature is replete with illustrations of negative indictment of individualism and capitalistic thought process, even though the degree of criticism may differ to a criticism may differ to a certain extent. The majority of socialist literature will define socialism in terms of what it is not (i.e., it is not capitalism) rather than what it is. However, this kind of negative self-identification does not clearly reveal the different forms in which the socialistic thought process has developed even though all these divergent socialistic thought processes are very much on the same page in terms of its opposition to capitalism in some sense or the other. Nevertheless, the reason why they are opposed to capitalism may differ on account of the different stand that they have adopted during the course of its development (Wright 17). Wright (18) also says that while criticizing capitalism, some socialists go a step further and start condemning the process of modernization per se. On the other hand, there are other factions of socialists who do not condemn capitalis. On the contrary, they enthusiastically support it. However, they still attack capitalism on account of the in-built inefficiency of capitalism. To this end, Wright (19) argues that there were some socialists, for example, Fourier who ceaselessly criticised capitalism on account of the fact that they firmly believed that capitalism contained the seed of corruption. On the other hand there were socialists such as Saint-Simon who were encouraged by the concept of new form of industrialism in order to realize the true potential of development and overcome individual limitations. Wright (19) contends that while developing arguments against capitalism, socialists have tread all possible paths in terms of trying to restore the order that existed by proposing what existed before was better and, at times, by supporting the new world order through common controlled industrialization (Wright 19). This kind of critique of capitalism expressed the inbuilt ambiguity in socialism in context of the age it tried to confront. This is because socialism has its origin in Enlightenment ideas that expressed the age of new revolutionary thought processes in the realm of art, science, commerce and philosophy. On the other hand, it stood against and vehemently protested against anything that stood for new and modern (Wright 19) Wright (19) explains that this ambiguity is apparent in Marxism who’s earlier thought process as regards to the whole man simultaneously co-existed with the continuous encouragement for modernization. He also discusses that the philosophy advanced by Marx, Bakunin and other socialist thinkers was developed as a reaction to the age they lived in and continued to develop in diverse directions (Wright 19). Wright (19) further argues that on the one hand, socialists present a strong resistance to ‘logic’ of anything that stands for modernity whereas on the other hand they act as if they are agents of logical modern development.
There is an inbuilt contradiction in socialism and it is reflected in its critique of liberalism and/or capitalism. To this end, socialists were at conflict with respect to accepting or rejecting liberalism. To this end, there was no clarity as regards the idea of rejecting liberalism on account of the fact that it was an offshoot of capitalism or whether accepting it on account of the fact that it was an offshoot of the liberal/enlightened thought process and hence required to be built in within the larger parameters of socialism. (Page 19) Wright argues that these questions were dominated and influenced by another set of questions. To this end, it was a debatable question whether socialism suggested a breakaway from the society as it existed and also further development of the society? As socialism was more often than not at loggerheads with capitalism, these questions were never really answered and were swept under the carpet. For socialism to survive and flourish, it was deemed enough for the socialist to merely assert upon the true character of individualism and liberalism and make claims concerning the class centric nature of capitalism (Wright 19).
Wright (20) further argues that socialism attempted to confront capitalism through its low wage governed slavery and consequently the shallow claims of liberalism in the area of its achievement through emancipation. Nevertheless, the ambiguity as regards the relationship of socialism with respect to the liberal tradition did not cease to exist. To this end, Wright (19) points out that on one hand socialists claimed that they represented the society as a whole, and that they had its own set of self-sufficient proletarian thought process and culture that was sufficiently armed and equipped with the science of proletariat that was nothing but a preparation in anticipation of the time during which the current order would be done away with and a new society based on the principle of equity and welfare would be established. This was certainly against the principle of any kind of continuity with the existing society. On the other hand, certain sets of socialists propounded that the main principle of socialism was to ensure that liberalism in its true spirit and form is realized by setting out certain universal terms by fulfilling claims from all the classes (Wright 20). To this end, the views expressed earlier became the bedrock of communism that was revolutionary in nature whereas the latter view became the central aspect of the democratic socialistic principles.
In my view, this socialist critique of capitalism is not justified for the simple reason that it adopts a reactionary approach and propagates the set of values that is contradictory to human nature. The excesses of capitalism are curtailed with the various safeguards that have been developed over the course of centuries in liberalist and neo-liberalist counties. The right to minimum wages, working condition of labours, corporate social responsibilities of the multinational corporation, propagation of democratic values that safeguards and protects the right of the masses are just several examples of the success story of capitalism in its refined version of liberalism. Socialism is against individualism. Hence, it is against the very basic tenets of human needs and psychology. Every individual would like to work hard to better the lot of himself and his family. The Marxian value of working as per one’s ability and receiving as per one’s need is unjust and impractical as need is a very subjective term. Hence, in my view, the socialist critiques of capitalism hold no merit.
Conclusion: Over the course of last century socialism has assumed many shades and variations. Nevertheless, the staunch criticism of capitalism forms the bedrock of the socialistic thought process. From the contradictions highlighted above, it can be reasonably inferred that although some of the inherent contradictions inbuilt in the socialist philosophy are not yet resolved, an attempt has been made from the earlier stages of development of socialism to not settle these contradictions under the presumption that an attack on capitalism/individualism would suffice to answer these questions. Although socialism has suffered a reversal of fortune in the later part of the 21st century, the various forms of socialism that have developed still retain the antagonistic stance towards capitalism on account of its contradictory thought process. This is also because the development of socialism primarily resulted as a reaction to capitalism and this reaction still continues, in varied degrees and form. The reason why these critiques are not sufficient to dislodge the efficacy of capitalism is because the socialist structure and principles of community ownership has failed miserably in various parts of the world. Socialism developed more so on the line of reaction to capitalism. The various pitfalls that were entailed in the practical working of the capitalist theory has been diluted on account of the refined version of capitalism, i.e., liberalism that combines the core value of capitalism and puts various safeguards in place to curtail the excesses of capitalism. Socialism, on the other hand, is a system that is left without any checks and balances and in the name of community ownership; the individual rights are considerably curtailed.
Heywood, Andrew. Political Ideology-An Introduction 3rd Edition. Palgrave. n.d. Print.
Wright, Tony. Socialism-Old and New. Routledge: New York and London. 1996. Print.
Hawkins, John. “5 reasons why socialism is inferior to capitalism” Town Hall. Web. March 20, 2012.
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