Capitalism and inequality
Many of today’s journalists and social commentators suggest we are living through the ‘high-age of capitalism’, epitomised in companies like Uber – an app that has been forced this week to provide workers with more rights. At the same time, recent studies have shown that there is increasing income and wealth inequality in the USA, arguably arising from this so-called ‘high-age’. In fact, in many US states, globalisation (a distinctive feature of capitalism) is being blamed for the disparity between the super-rich and the poor. Large numbers of Americans seem to be turning to trade protectionism and anti-trade policies to protect their wages, perhaps explaining Trump’s consistent success throughout the presidential election. However, the socialist sees inequality as a side-effect of the relationship between employer and employee – or, to use the Marxist terms, the bourgeois and proletariat.
Marxism – a religion?
Unlike many theories and intellectual creations, Marxism has been subject to revival throughout the duration of the 19th and 20th centuries, meaning that it is an established part of our culture. Marx’s writing has given rise to revolutions in Russia and China, and still holds an incredibly wide influence over contemporary politics and economics.
From an ideological perspective, Marxism represents a system of ultimate ends, that when in place provides a method of absolute judgement between right and wrong. In other words, it provides a sense of certainty that neither religion nor capitalism itself can match. Since its inception, the Marxist vision of absolute equality in a classless society has prompted action from labourers, especially during times such as the Industrial Revolution.
In his Communist Manifesto, Marx describes all hitherto existing society as the “history of class struggles”. Logically, for these classes to exist, there must have been a moment in time where they came into existence. Before the age of capitalism, classes had already emerged in the form of a feudal system, based on a steep social order. If we accept that this social order is already established, then an economic divide between classes will undoubtedly arise. What Marx fails to outline is how a non-monetary class divide materialised in the first place, and merely accepted it as a fact.
A classless utopia?
Therefore, if class struggle is the subject matter of history, the relationship between bourgeois and proletariat must always be antagonistic. There must always exist a ‘class war’ between the worker and the employer, because of the nature of a capitalist market.
It follows that since this social structure already exists, a revolution into a classless utopia would be near impossible, since any successful uprising against the bourgeois would hand power to the proletariat. The oppressed class becomes equal to the oppressor – reversing the relationship between them and breeding contempt among those who had previously been in charge. Therefore, there can never truly be a harmonious relationship between them, as even socialism would be a constant fight for the capitalists to regain power.
We can therefore conceive that the socialist revolution that Marx envisaged is not possible in the current climate, since a capitalist social structure already exists. However, a divide between rich and poor is morally and philosophically wrong. Therefore, the role of the state as a provider of welfare is vital to keeping levels of inequality relatively low in the future.
Contributed by Greg Tucker, Economics Editor