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For Marx, what are the evils of capitalism, and how are they to be resolved in the


An evil can be defined as that which is - from a moral standpoint - wrong, or more succinctly,
that which is unethical. In order to best identify what Marx thought was wrong about
capitalism, it is necessary to first identify what he supposed was right - in particular, the right
which Capitalism violated. Once the problematic aspects of Capitalism have been shown,
the solution - as proposed by Marx - will be illustrated, with a special emphasis placed upon
highlighting how it conforms to Marxs aforementioned concept of right. Gasper (2012)
describes Marxs notion of morality as being closely tied to human nature, and concerned
with human flourishing and development; in other words, the realisation of human potential.
It can then be said that for Marx, any aspect of capitalism which prevents human flourishing
can thus be identified as an evil.
It is perhaps expedient to move chronologically, or at least, to begin with earlier works of
Marx, wherein he defines what it means to be human. Marx first argues that human nature
can only be understood through a historical analysis of human-beings relationship with
nature. In the German Ideology, it is argued that before the creation of ideas, physical
structures or culture - the various components of history - human beings first had to satisfy
the immediate need to live by using their labour to produce their means of subsistence
(Marx and Engels, 1846). Labour then became the key to human survival (Allen, 2011).
Through their labour, humans transformed their surroundings and worked collaboratively,
forging social relationships which were based chiefly upon the way in which they produced;
that is, upon their relation to nature. But quite apart from producing solely to subsist, Marx
postulated that human beings were species-beings; creatures which unlike animals,
continued to produce outside of exigency (Marx, 1844). This form of activity Marx labelled
free and spontaneous - the products of which were a physical expression or an
objectification of the human essence; mans species-life (Singer, 2000). Because the
development of the history of mankind had been determined by this intimate relationship
with nature, it was through this very relationship that human potential could be fulfilled. For
man to develop and continue the path towards greater realization, he had to interact with
nature. Capitalism was problematic for Marx because it distorted this relationship: it
demanded that a worker be free from any independent means of production in order to
perform work over which he or she had no control (Allen, 2011). Worse still, the product of
this labour did not belong to the worker. The result of this was a major evil of Capitalism for
Marx; Alienation.

Alienation forms a significant part of this essays interpretation of Marxs objection to

capitalism. It is a complex fourfold process, the first of which results from the appropriation of
the workers product of labour. Marxs ideal conception of labour is as an expression of
mans species life. Under capitalism, workers do not dictate either what they do or what
they create. Because this work does not arise from their own needs - be they physical or
spiritual - they are alienated from it. Workers lack the liberty to choose both the type of work
they perform and the manner in which they perform it, which amounts to coercion. Work is
detested, and Marx observes that it is shunned like the plague whenever the need for it is
absent. More succinctly, as Marx put it, the labour process was now a means to an end, or

performed for the satisfaction of other needs not directly serviceable by it. This was seen to
be regressive and degrading; Marx famously declared that the alienated worker only feels
himself freely active in his animal functions of eating, drinking and procreating, at most also
in his dwelling and dress, and feels himself an animal in his human functions (Marx, 1844).
In addition, a prominent feature of the capitalist labour process was the division of labour
which simplified and intensified the labour process in a quest for ever greater efficiency. This
made work ever-more monotonous, and the noble virtue of skill was cheapened as tasks
were made ever simpler. Inevitably, the species-specific human need for spiritual satisfaction
through labour was taken away from the act of production. Likewise, given their minute
contribution to a complex labour process, workers were unable to identify with the end
product which they had helped create. This was tantamount to a stultification of human
faculties, which directly contradicts Marxs humanist principles and can thus be labelled an
In describing mans relationship with nature, implicit in Marxs writings - especially in the
1844 Manuscripts - is the central idea of identification. The productive satisfaction so central
to mans species-being was derived from identifying with the product of that labour. In
essence, the fruits of mans labour were a physical expression of his being. Under
capitalism, not only is the worker estranged from the active labour process, he is also
estranged from his product. Under capitalism, the worker can lay no claim to the fruits of his
labour, and the irony is, the worker may spend inordinate amounts of time in the process of
creating a commodity which he cannot have for himself. Allen (2011) provides a
contemporary example to better illustrate this; that a worker may work in a toy factory and
still be unable to provide toys to her own children. Marx equated this - a second form of
alienation - to theft, or less moralistically, appropriation. Not only were these products
alienated from the workers, they also began to exercise power over them. By stultifying
human faculties through simplifying and dividing the labour process, humans were made
ever more dependent upon the sale of their labour as the skills which allowed them to
express their human essence through a direct interaction with nature were eroded. It created
a dynamic process whereupon this ever more divided labour fuelled the growth of capitalism,
which further necessitated division of labour (and erosion of skill by manner of consequence)
and made workers even more dependent. This lay in contradistinction to Marxs conception
of human flourishing. Certainly, a necessary precondition for flourishing would be the
fundamental virtue of freedom in its many facets. It includes - but is not limited to - the
freedom to choose the direction (what) and manner (how) of production; the freedom to
develop the means of production (productive skill) in a process of self-discovery; and the
freedom to dispose of the product in whatever manner the worker chose. As earlier shown,
this is not possible under capitalism.
Marx argued that the way in which production was conducted dictated how human beings
were organised, and consequently, how they related to each other. Production had an
inherently social quality (Allen, 2011). Acknowledging this, it is pertinent to ask where the
product of alienated labour goes, or better yet, to whom it belongs if the one who created it
can lay no claim to it. For Marx, this was clear; under capitalism, the products went to those
who owned the means of production but at the same time did not participate in the activity of
producing. Like the product, they too were alien, external beings exercising coercive power
over the worker (Cox, 1998). But furthering this alienation, human beings now related to
each other only through the production of goods or commodities. This distorts how humans

should ideally relate to each other. Rather than see each other as equal individuals, humans
under capitalism view each other as a means to an end and as competitors whom they
evaluate as being above or below them in correspondence with their relations of production
(footnote to elaborate). Pivoting slightly, Marx identified a related evil - that of exploitation.
Capitalisms drive for greater process incentivized the reduction of wages for the worker. The
worker was compensated only for the cost of his production - just enough to live on in order
that he may keep working. This wage did was totally unrelated to value created by the
labour. Therefore, presupposing that labour was the source of value, it followed that the
workers labour needed to produce a greater value than the cost of his wages for profit to be
made. Marx called this surplus value, and it was not paid to the worker. Capitalists sought to
extract greater surplus value from workers by either further dividing labour, thus cheapening
it and driving down wages; or extending working hours so more time was spent creating the
surplus. Marx saw this as a form of exploitation as the worker was driven into greater poverty
purely for the accumulation of profit (Lowy, 2007).
In the final form of alienation, Marx felt that human beings under capitalism were alienated
from their true nature - their species-being. Since human nature is inextricably tied to a free,
conscious and direct interaction with the external world, under capitalism, this relationship
diverges from personal desires and interests and devolves to what is simply a means to
existence. That unique and distinguishing aspect of human nature - the need to engage in
productive activity beyond immediate need - is neglected, thus impeding upon human
flourishing. With the problems of Capitalism laid out, Marx went on to devise a solution.
A summary diagnosis of Capitalism reveals its two major evils; alienation and exploitation,
from which other dependent or related evils arise. The solution to this was Communism.
With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that history has not been kind to various
interpretations of Marxs revolutionary ideas. However, as Allen (2011) argues, Marx cannot
be held responsible for how other people chose to implement his ideas long after he had
died. In discussing Communism, two salient points need to be raised and expanded upon;
first, how Communism would be brought about, and second, why Communism was the
solution to capitalist evils. The former necessitates addressing some misconceptions
regarding the rise of communism and the latter necessitates a brief description of what
human life under communism looked like for Marx.
Marx thought Communism was inevitable. This stemmed from his materialist conception of
history and what he saw as its dialectical nature. Social change, for Marx, came about as a
result of the resolution of tensions in society. These were necessarily material, because
human development was a result of the relationships forged by mans interaction with the
external world. The tension in capitalism arose when the forces of production were in conflict
with the relations of production. Marx had charted the evolution of history through its major
forms of societal organisation, from tribal societies to feudalism, and deduced that shifts
from one form of organisation, or relation of production, to another were driven by a need for
society to accommodate for ever developing forces of production. When these forces of
production were restricted by the relations of production, social tension grew and revolutions
occurred. The aftermath or resolution of this conflict was a new societal organisation which
could accommodate the further development of the productive forces (UCSD, 2015). For
Marx, capitalisms productive force was now being fettered by the bourgeois-proletariat
relational organisation, and a revolution was nigh. This is important to highlight because for

Marx, a communist revolution would not be successful if this crucial precondition was not
met. In fact, dependent upon the full development of capitalism was the necessary shift in
human consciousness - particularly values - upon which communism depended upon to
work. Also implicit is the argument that Marx did not advocate for the establishment of
communist Utopia with an overwhelmingly capitalist society, but rather, sought to awake the
proletariat to his impending role in history in order that a revolution may be sparked at the
appropriate time in history, and if successful, lead to the universal establishment of
Communism (Allen, 2011).
Communism for Marx involves a complete overthrow of capitalism. This meant a complete
abolition of private property as this form of social discourse made exploitation possible. This
is because the interests of the propertied classes always dominated. An overthrow or
revolution would allow workers to make explicit their own interests, and grant them the
significant political purchase necessary to advocate for a re-structuring of society. In the
wake of the revolution, society would gradually go through a number of economic stages
before the final destination of communism was reached.
How this appropriation came to take place was attributed to the fact of private property.
According to Marx, a constant of history was the dominance of one class by another, of
which three things were salient; who provided the labour, who owned the means of
production or private property, and the organisational structure which then determined how
these two classes related to each other. In a capitalist economy, workers did not own the
means of production. Instead, they sold their labour in order for them to subsist. However,
what they produced during the process of work did not belong to them. This loss of their
labours product was what Marx called the first stage of alienation. (the greater the workers
product is, the less he is himself).
The second stage of alienation for Marx was the workers alienation from the actual labour
process. Marx had logically deduced that if the product of work is alienated from a worker,
then the process of creating it is alienating in and of itself. More clearly, Marx argued that
since workers had to work in order to live, the process of work was not free and voluntary,
but coerced - it was done only out of necessity, and was avoided like the plague (pg 80)
whenever it was not necessary. By sacrificing free and spontaneous activity to work as a
means of survival, the labour process became external and not for the purpose of satisfying
a need.
In the third stage of alienation, man is estranged from his species-being. Here Marxs
humanist presuppositions are put forward and it is shown how for Marx, Capitalism
contradicted them. Marx felt that for human beings, shaping or transforming nature in free
spontaneous (creative) activity; that is interacting with nature and turning it into practical, or
aesthetic objects lay at the heart of what it meant to be human and was closely tied to
purpose. Under capitalism and divided labour, it was not possible for the worker to fulfil or
realize this purpose through the act of performing work because (i) the activity is always
performed from necessity and is neither free nor spontaneous and (ii) the very organisation
of alienated labour means the worker is unable to see the results of labour nor lay any claim
to it.
In the fourth and final stage of alienation, men become estranged from each other. For Marx,
the alienated nature of the labour process presupposes the existence of another; that is, an

entity, or human that is receiving this labour, without engaging in the labour process. The
more the worker creates, the more is accumulated by this external being, and the greater the
level of disparity extant between the worker and the non-worker. This for Marx, creates
inequality and antagonism between these two classes of people. It forms the basis for
Marxs theory of class struggle, and an inbuilt contradiction in Capitalism whereupon the
working classes grow increasingly poor, the more they produce, and grow resentful amidst
the increasingly greater amounts of wealth they see around them, which contradict their
comparative want.
The final evil that Marx identified in Capitalism follows on from the final stage of alienation.
Essentially, the worker sells his alienated labour to the capitalist and becomes a mere
commodity. This alienation works both ways, as Marx argues that the relationship that the
worker has to the means and process of production influences the relationship the nonworker has to the means and process of production. In this alienation, the capitalist does not
see a human being in the labourer - they are alienated from each other; but a mere
commodity; just as easily dispensable. Therefore, the capitalist, driven by competition and
the desire for greater profits finds it advantageous to exploit the worker by keeping wages
low - or so that they just, and only just match the cost of production; in this case, the cost of
keeping the worker alive - and increasing working hours. What is produced is then sold for a
price far greater than the cost of production, with the surplus value serving as profit. So
rather than get paid for the true value of work, workers are paid for the cost of maintaining
their physical sustenance. Marx notes a strange contradiction in this capitalist evil; the
worker creates ever increasing value as he becomes comparatively poor - this is made
manifest in situations where a worker cannot afford the end product he spends cruelly long
hours making. In fact, as it shall soon be shown, for Marx, antagonisms will rise out of
extreme inequality, which will eventually lead to the end of Capitalism. This end for Marx, will
also signal the resolution of Capitalisms evils. But this doesnt mean Marx felt that it would
all happen naturally; there was a prescriptive element to the resolution.
For Marx, the end of Capitalism is brought about by the abolition of private property. The
process bringing about the abolition of private property is complex, and necessarily so. Marx
was being prudent so as not to come across as Utopian - indeed he attacked French
Utopian Socialists for trying to create a special kind of social science of engineering an
ideal societal organisation; something Marx thought absurd because it was unscientific, or
more specifically, it was not derived from a thorough, scientific analysis of history. For Marx,
(Communism and History) the course of history had moved towards the increased
enslavement of individuals by powers alien to them. The solution was a communist
revolution and the abolition of private property that came with it. For Marx, this meant
signalled freedom for the individual from this alien power.
Yet there appears to be a contradiction within Marx, for his teleological conception of history
suggested an inevitable march towards communism. On the other hand, Marx argued that
philosophy need concern itself not just with the conceptual world, but also with the corporeal
world; he wished for revolution. Marx actually argued that for communism to follow, the
productive forces of the capitalist realm had to be developed enough to make the activity of
sustenance unnecessary, so that humans could devote their energies to expressing their
species-being. Once the conditions for the upheaval of capitalism had been met, it was
necessary to make workers conscious of their plight - this would transcend boundaries and

other forms of division amongst humans on earth. Once aware of their plight, a revolution
would occur to free the worker from alienating servitude. Marx suggested redistributive
measures such as a heavy-graduated income tax, and the abolition of inheritance. He also
felt that private property should be abolished and banking monopolies elimnated by putting
the Banks under state control. Everyone wuld be eqally liable to labour; education would be
free and manufacturing and griculture would be combined

Tha very need to subsist, and the act of meeting this need because Marx makes . Herein, a
humanist Marx presupposes what it means to be human, and what entails a human beings
fulfilment. This is best explained by a section on the Materialist Method in his later work, The
German Ideology. Within it, Marx sets out his Materialist conception of history - what he
dubbed a scientific study which showed all of history as moving inevitably toward a particular
direction. However, more relevant is the premise he bases this teleological aspect upon; that
humans exist, and are distinguished from animals by consciousness. This distinction, for
Marx, is showcased when they begin to produce their means of sustenance. More
importantly, the manner in which they go about this production produces their material life,
which is in turn an expression of their human life. To make this clearer, Marx felt that human
beings were species-beings (pg. 81) who unlike animals, continued to produce outside of
exigency. In this free, spontaneous activity - activity distinguishing humans from animals what is produced is an expression of the human essence, or mans species-life (Singer, ).
Capitalism was problematic for Marx because its demands forced working individuals to
trade in free spontaneous activity for labour, which they sold in exchange for wages. The
things they created did not belong to them. The result of this was an estrangement of people
from the fruits of their labour. Thus it can be said that a major problem with Capitalism, for
Marx, was its alienating nature.
In his documentary on Marx, cultural theorist Stuart Hall perceives Marxs body of work as
not so much a moral protest at the evils of capitalism, but a clinical analysis of capitalisms
inner workings, its origins, and how it can be changed (Hall, 1983). However, Lowy (2007)
acknowledges that though there appears to be a discontinuity between Marxs earlier and
later works in that the former is more ethical and the latter more scientific, a constant is the
anti-capitalist sentiment extant in all of them. This objection implies that certain values were