Capitalism is an economic environment in which factors of production and trade are privately controlled to maximize profits. Capitalism is characterized by such factors such as capital accumulation and competition in markets and wages. A lot of theories have been postulated in a bid to explain the origin of modern capitalism. This paper focuses on two theories on the origin of capitalism by Karl Marz and Max Weber. Special Focus is given to the alienation theory by Karl Marx and the origin of capitalism as explained in by two theories.
KARL MARX THEORY OF ALIENATION
In the theory of alienation, Karl Marx explains and discusses how capitalism alienates an individual from self. He brings out the negative effects of capitalism on the social life of human beings. Capitalism, according to Marx impacts negatively on the mental and physical states of those under its rule. Capitalism alters the course of a social being and rather turns him to a production minded machine. Its subjects become alienated and estranged from their human nature. Marx uses alienation to describe the removal of humans from their human-like ways to robotic production machines (Caravale 27).
Capitalism stratifies society into social classes. These classes play a big role in shaping the character of an individual. Social classes such as the rich, middle class, and the poor all affect the natural character of humans. Society mechanically places an individual into a category based on their standing in the society and they have no alternative but to conform to the dictations of their respective category.
Inherently, humans are autonomous self-conscious beings with different goals and aspirations. If left to decide for themselves, every human would choose a different way of life that fulfills their ambitions and interests. But humans are denied the luxury of choice and determining their own destiny by their economic standing. The economic status of an individual denies him or her the chance to determine the course of their lives and make important life decisions, such as determining their relations with other people, own property of choice or consume certain kinds of products.
A worker under a capitalist regime is an independent economic entity. But the course of their actions in determining their output is dictated and directed by the bourgeoisie, the owner of the production resources. The bourgeoisie’s aim is to push the limits of the worker’s output and maximize all the energy in him or her in the spirit of industrial competition.
Marx postulated that a worker alienation in the production process is made possible by the fact that his or her input into the production process is only labor. Production being privately owned aims at maximizing profits and labor is one of its essential inputs. The bourgeoisie as such will fail to perceive labor and the laborer as two different entities. The result of this process is that the worker is viewed as an inanimate object for use in production. The worker is thus alienated from his or her human entity.
Marx described four types of worker alienation. According to Marx, a worker in a capitalist economy endures being alienated from the work, a concept he referred to as “worker from the work” alienation. Under this type of alienation, the capitalist determines the worker’s output in several ways. One of them is assigning manual labor to a worker. Secondly, the capitalist will influence the final product of the production process by manipulating the intellectual labor of the design and production engineers who create the actual product. Under “worker from work” type of alienation, the capitalist grabs control of the production process and controls it to ensure an end product that satisfies consumers’ taste and rakes in maximum profits.
Marx also describes alienation of the worker from the process of working. Under this type of alienation, the worker is denied the right to derive joy from their work. The worker’s input is commoditized and input is directly proportional to wages. In this case, the worker is exchanging labor for wages. The worker loses control to determine the purpose of their labor, “species-essence”. The situation is exacerbated by division of labor that makes the work a discrete repetitive process. This process robs the worker the right to determine the purpose or value of their labor.
A worker is also alienated from self, “species-essence”. This type of alienation refers to the inability of an individual to fail to influence the final product through personal tastes and preferences. In this case, the producer is detached from his Gattungswesen. Species-essence represents all the dynamic human attributes and interests that define an individual. The worker under capitalism does not identify with the final product as it is not a manifestation of his or her ideas or input. As such, the worker will feel alienated from the production process because the products do not represent who he or she really is (Giddens 53).
A capitalist economy defines labor as a commodity in the production process whose input and value is to be exploited to the maximum in pursuit of profits. This creates a competitive environment for the workers who are in a race to sell their services. This pits the workers against each other as each wants to earn more than the other. This creates hostilities between coworkers competing for the same positions that alienate them from each other and from ther mutual economic interests. Such competition fosters some consciousness among workers that Marx described as some form of ideological control enforced by capitalists (Marx, Friedrich, and E J 45).
Alienation cannot be overcome. Alienation as described by Karl Marx is as a result of competition in a capitalist economy. The worker, who suffers the effects of alienation, is a mere cog in the wheel of production and a profit driven capitalist only aims at maximizing profits. As such, the capitalist has no interest in deviating from his course which is satisfying the customers in order to factor in the worker’s interest. A capitalist’s only interest in the worker is the labor provided. In a competitive labor market, the worker who offers the highest quality services and at the lowest price the gets job. The capital bourgeoisie aims at producing a product that will satisfy the market and outdo the competition in terms of pricing and appeal. A competitive product under such mechanism demands modest production cost and reduced worker input. This further translates to low wages and other factors that fuel worker alienation.
COMPARISON BETWEEN KARL MARX AND MAX WEBER THEORIES ON CAPITALISM
Karl Marx and Max Weber differed on the source and nature of capitalism. According to Marx, capitalism emanated from personal drive and the greed for profits and fueled by competition. Max on the other hand postulates that capitalism was sired by religion. According to Max, religious calling morphed and attained a wider meaning that was applied even in entrepreneurial undertakings. Favorable results such as high production rates and profits were viewed as favor from God. Marx viewed capitalism as undesirable and proposed that it should be done away with through violent revolutions because of its negative effects on society. Max on the other hand views capitalism as a necessity that helps further the cause of humans.
Max studied the relationship between ascetic Protestantism and its effect on modern capitalism. Max cites early religions such as Calvinists as key players that spawned the spirit of capitalism. His initial interest in capitalism was sparked by the correlation that he observed between Protestants. Modern capitalists perceived seeking profits as a virtuous undertaking and desirable. He then set forth to study this spirit and turned to religion for answers.
The first main religion sect that Max studied was protestants. This group, he observed espoused the phenomenon of “calling” and viewed most worldly undertakings from a religious angle. This explanation did not satisfy him so he singled out a section of protestants, Calvinists. Calvinists believe that one’s life is pre-determined. God already has determined who is saved or damned. This led early Calvinists to seek worldly indicators to determine whether they are saved. As such, they regarded material success and profits as a sign of God’s favor. Other protestant groups such as Methodists, Pietists, and Baptists had similar believes, but to a lesser extent. This convinced max of an existence of a correlation between Calvinism and capitalism. He argued that these beliefs disintegrated the traditional economic environment and led to the birth of a new economic system, modern capitalism. Once modern capitalism took root, the old Calvinist values were done away with (Weber and Stanislav 66).
The two theories of Karl Marx and Max Weber give different origins of capitalism and also the driving force behind capitalism. According to Marx, profits were the main motivation while Weber quotes the main reasoning as a yearning to ascertain one’s standing with God. Max noted religious people harbored guilt on accumulation of profits and wealth, its enjoyment and the temptations it brought to the bearer. Constant work was viewed as a distraction from such temptations which made it holy. This spawned the era of early capitalists who dedicated most of their time to the business and as a result were very successful. Their fortunes increased even more given the fact that it was regarded unholy to enjoy wealth and lead a luxurious living. This encouraged savings which led to even more fortunes.
Karl Marx and Max Weber differ on their definition and perceptions of work. Marx viewed work as a necessary undertaking that every individual must perform for self actualization and fulfillment. Work helps one to support self and survive. Success in one’s work according to Marx mean beating competition from fellow workers and learning to take orders from the superiors, the capitalist. A successful worker in a capitalist economy has learnt to disregards his or her own feelings and ideas and work according to set guidelines. The worker’ behavior and actions in the workplace are controlled by the capitalist who is guided by the market situation. Max Weber’s definition of work is far removed from Marx’s ideas. Guided by protestant religious values, work even of the most mundane type , he observed, was perceived as adding value to the common good and thus stood in God’s favor. Working under such beliefs was equivalent to praising God.
Under Karl Marx’s capitalism theory, a workers’ main driving force is economic gain. A worker’s success is measured by the size of remuneration that they get. The higher the wages, the more motivated the worker will be and so will be the quality of the job done. Also, the treatment the worker receives from the management will influence the level of contentment that the worker will derive from the job. In his alienation theory, Karl Marx paints a picture of a worker who has been exploited by the modern capitalist system. The capitalist’s interests are paramount and his or her affinity for profits will determine the worker’s working conditions. On the other hand, workers under Max Weber’s capitalism system view work as a sacred undertaking or as a calling. This affected they way they performed their jobs. A capitalist who raised wages per hour in order to encourage workers to remain on the job got the opposite of the expected results. Workers viewed this as an opportunity to earn the same and spend less on the job rather than capitalize on the opportunity to make more money. A worker in Marx’s capitalism theory is driven solely by personal interests and the job is supposed to make the worker’s life more fulfilling. Under Max’s theory, work is correlated to a higher purpose of praising God and a common good.
Observing some modern professional practices such as technical occupations, he noted that workers were very devoted to their work and spent many hours perfecting their craft. Dedicated practitioners viewed their practice as the end itself, which he likened to the “calling” (Weber and Stanislav 74). The interests of the worker were not a concern in such situation but the quality of the work done. This showed the dedication of the worker to his art. Max compared the early Protestants such as Pietists who had profound respect for the calling one had in this life. In contrast, Marx argued that in an economy, the workers' interests are paramount and the quality of work done is supposed to fulfill his psychological well being. A worker by Marx’s definition is the most important asset in the production process and without him production cannot take place.
Capitalism, according to Karl Marx originated from yearning for riches driven by sheer greed. The capitalists maximize exploitation of factors of production the laborers being one of them. The capitalist’s main interest is to avail a competitive product to the consumer and at a reasonable cost. In a bid to meet the market demand, Marx postulates that the capitalist will “sweat” the worker through low wages and unfavorable working conditions that alienate him or her. Max Weber on the other hand attributes capitalism to early religion specifically Calvinism. Calvinism associated success in one’s undertaking as a favor from God and an indication that one has been saved. Their belief also glorified hard work as praise to God and preached frugality which led to proliferation of trade. The two theories make cogent arguments on what sparked modern capitalism, but Karl Marl presents a more plausible scenario of modern capitalism.
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Giddens, Anthony. Capitalism and Modern Social Theory: An Analysis of the Writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber. Cambridge [U.K.: University Press, 1971. Print.
Marx, Karl, Friedrich Engels, and E J. Hobsbawm. The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition. London: Verso, 1998. Print.
Weber, Max, and Stanislav Andreski. Max Weber on Capitalism, Bureaucracy, and Religion: A Selection of Texts. London: Allen & Unwin, 1983. Print.