Marx saw capitalism as progressive a progressive system but would eventually stagnate due to internal contradictions. His measures and theories such as abolition of the distinction between town and country; disappearance of family; wage system; private ownership of industry; et cetera are completely opposite to the capitalist system of society. (Hoffman, p. 223)
Analyzing Marx’s critique of capitalism.
1) Exploitation: according to Marx in a class-divided society there are incompatible social interests that lead to exploitation. This is why class is both an economic and a political reality, since between the classes there is war. (Hoffman, p.223) Today, private corporations and businesses concentrate on profit-making and not on people or social welfare. Hence their main objective is profit maximization which includes cost cutting. This cost cutting comes at the cost of job layoffs. For example, in automobile industry all parts are now assembled by robots and other such sophisticated machinery. This reduces the production cost but at the same time leads to mass unemployment and impoverishment of mass unemployment as it reduces the need for labour force.
2) Commodification: In capitalism, individuals are reduced to simply an ‘input’ in the production process and more and more things are measured only by monetary value. Everything and everybody in a capitalist society has a price and is offered for sale. Marx in his ‘communist manifesto’ speaks of the constant ‘revolutionizing of production’ under capitalism. (Hoffman, p. 234). This also includes commodity fetishism, i.e., replacing a product’s intrinsic value for symbolic value. Let us take the example of box of chocolates in modern day. They are nicely wrapped and sold in heart-shaped boxes which represent not an eating commodity but symbolize one’s love for the one they gift it to.
3) Alienation: Capitalism is characterized by heavy competition amongst private companies, which in turn results in majority of people being denied of meaningful and fulfilling employment (class notes). As explained earlier this raises the need for highly skilled and technologically advanced labour for jobs. Alienation works on two levels- firstly, from oneself when one’s major life is devoted to unfulfilling work and secondly, alienation from fellow workers. Marx suggests that a classless society will eliminate alienation for all and bourgeoisies are the ‘enemy’ who must be overthrown. (Hoffman, p. 235).
4) Monopolization: this refers to the centralization of power in hands of a single company. Economic recessions and depressions are a common feature which lead to monopolization (class notes). Bernstein though disagreed on this and followed that the theory of value or surplus value in Marxist theory was unnecessary. Depressions are becoming milder. Modern banking and the internationalisation of trade create adjustment and flexibility in capitalism and not breakdown. (Hoffman, p. 230). Such a system is highly unstable and might lead to economic crisis as all the economy lies in hands of one ‘profit-motivated-company’ and not the government. Capitalism (globalization) generates huge extremities in wealth and power limiting options for the majority. For this reason, Marx is right to argue that if we want to dispense with the need for an institution claiming a monopoly of legitimate force, we must dispense with classes. (Hoffman, p. 236). Marxists might argue that with divisiveness in the world increasing through a kind of globalisation that increases inequality, the notion of a proletariat must be viewed internationally rather than simply nationally. However the danger still remains that such perspective will take a narrow view of class and underplay the problem of cementing common interests across the globe. (Hoffman, p. 237)
In modern capitalist societies, corporations are consolidating which ultimately might end up in monopolistic scenario. 90% of the media is now controlled by just six companies, down from 50 in 1983, according to a Frugal Dad info graphic from last year. Similar is with commodities, ten mega corporations control the output of almost everything we buy; from household products to pet food to jeans. High degree of competition is what drives the small industries out of the market while the big industries take over them raising their standards higher, In Marx’s words creating a class of haves and haves not.
Hence we see that to an extent Marx’s criticism are not outrageous and when applied in modern world, are still valid and solve many modern day problems.