Contradiction in Capitalism: Origin, Nature, Evaluation and Criticism

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Origin and Nature of Contradiction:

In the Afterword to the Second German Edition of Capital Marx wrote (January 24, 1873):

“The contradictions, inherent in the movement of the capitalist’s society, impress themselves upon the practical bourgeois most strikingly in the changes of the periodic cycle, through which modern industry runs and whose crowning point is the universal crisis.”

The central point is that, according to Marx, capitalism carries with its gradual progress all the potentialities of contradiction. So contradic­tions are inherent in every capitalist system. The capitalists leave no stone unturned to get rid of the contradictions, but there is no way out.

It has been maintained by Marx that the contradictions of capitalism have not come from outside, rather their seeds were within capitalism and the system is itself responsible. He has explained the capitalist system in the outlook of materialistic conception of history and has noted that, in the feudal system, property relations were incompatible with already developed productive forces.

The existing relations of production and property were converted into so many fetters and they had to burst asunder. Into their place stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political constitution adapted to it, and by the economical and political sway of the bourgeois class.

The development of capitalism under the guidance of the bourgeoisie has surpassed all past records of social progress. In all fields such as transport, communication, commerce, and, finally, productive system and production relations, the development of capitalism is really miraculous. But this is the source of crisis and contradiction.

The development of capitalism is followed by the epidemic of over-production. Why? The capitalists, in order to earn more and more profit, produce more and more. On the contrary, the society is not well-equipped for the consumption.

The contradiction in capitalism is class contradiction. In every contradiction opposites co-exist and because of this opposition the contradiction becomes inevitable. Capitalism creates two basic classes’ bourgeoisie and proletariat.

The capitalists and workers exist side by side. Both of them are indispensable to each other. Capitalism exploits the workers and it is forced to do it for its own survival.

On the other hand, workers are exploited by the capitalists. They cannot get rid of it. They are not the owners of the sources of production and in order to earn livelihood they are forced to sell their labour at a rate much below their expectation and requirement.

Marx points out another contradiction of capitalism. He wrote, “But if Modern Industry, by its very nature, therefore, necessitates variations of labour, fluency of function, universal mobility of labourer, on the other hand, in its capitalistic form, it reproduces the old division of labour with its ossified particularisations. This contradiction between the technical necessities of Modern Industry and the social character inherent in its capitalistic form dispels all fixity and security in the situation of the labourer.”

What Marx emphasizes here is that the industrialisation recognizes, as a fundamental law, the variation of work and consequently the fitness of the labourer for varied work. But capitalism creates manifold fetters for the workers, particularly the fetter of division of labour. Because of this fetter the labourers do not get adequate opportunities to develop their aptitude.

The workers have no scope to come out of it. The capitalist system has created the division of labour for its own sake. We can rather say it is associated with capitalism’s question of life and death. But the contradictions or antagonisms do not stay at a particular point, that is, they are not immobile.

Contradiction between Social Production and Private Ownership:

Marx points out the contradiction between social production and private ownership. There is a contradiction between the social character of production or social production and private ownership of the means of production. At the very rudimentary stage of capitalism the capitalist was just an organizer.

With the development of capitalism various other agents came to be involved and became integral part of capitalism’s development. To put it in other words, when capitalism assumes a social character, capitalist production also becomes a social production.

What is known as the product of a particular capitalist is, in actual practice, product of several forces or agents.

This is social production. On the other hand, the ownership of the means of production remains in the hand of the capitalists. To sum up, production is social and ownership of the sources of production is individual.

“As production becomes more and more social in char­acter, the private appropriation of fruits of labour is seen to be more and more anachronistic.”

“The growing accumulation of capital implies its growing concentration. Thus grows the power of capital, the alienation of conditions of social production personified in the capitalist from the real producers, capital comes more and to the fore as a social power, whose agent is the capitalist. This social power no longer stands in any possible relation to that which the labour of a single individual can create. It becomes an alienated, independent, social power, which stands exposed to the society as an object, and as an object, that is, capitalists source of power. The contradiction between the general social power into which capital develops, on the one hand, and private power of the individual capitalists over these social condi­tions of production, on the other, becomes ever more irreconcilable”.

By virtue of the ownership of capital the capitalists control the social production and the whole economic system. But the contradiction between social production of capital and private ownership remains.

It is beyond the power of the capitalists to come out of the contradiction or remove it for good. The capitalists fail to realize that they can control the ownership of capital, but cannot control the nature of social production.

So the development of capitalism creates its own real barrier. It is the capital and its self-expansion appears as the starting and the closing point, the motive and purpose of production.

Maturity of Contradictions:

According to Marx the appearance of contradiction in capitalism does not mean that capitalism will face crisis or critical situation. For the collapse of capitalism it is necessary that contradictions must arrive at the stage of maturity which requires sufficient time and other favourable situation.

In Capital Marx says, “By maturing the material conditions, and the combination on a social scale of the processes of production, it matures the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of production and thereby provides, along with the elements for the formation of a new society, the forces for exploding the old one.”

Marx has studied the different stages of the development of capitalism and has observed how it is faced with contradiction as well as its maturity. The capitalist cannot exist without constantly developing his mode of production, intensifying domination and exploiting the workers. When all these reach an apex stage the contradictions get maturity.

The capitalists and proletarians stand face to face. The contradictions become irreconcilable. Marx has said “Within the capitalist system all means for the development of production transform themselves into a means of domination over the producers. They mutilate the labourer into a fragment of man; degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine. It follows that in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.”

With the process of further accumulation or development of capital new forces and new passions spring up in the bosom of society. The old social organization fetters and keeps them down. The contradiction between old and new forces surfaces.

The conflict between the old and the new becomes prominent. Marx has said that when the old society becomes sufficiently decomposed from top to bottom, as soon as the labourers are turned into proletarian, their means of labour into capital the contradictions reach the point of explosion. The contradictions must explode.

“The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder—. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated”.

The maturity of contradictions is, therefore, essential for hastening the dissolution of capitalism. The working class cannot create contradictions or impose them upon the society or the capitalist mode of production.

The important task the proletarians have to perform is to organize themselves in a dominant force so as to fight the capitalists.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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