A Consequence of Capitalism

Comte de Saint-Simon disparaged laissez-faire industry in “The Incoherence and Disorder of Industry”, saying that capitalists are not concerned with the well being of society and are solely individuals looking to profit. This leads to men emphasizing their cunning and shrewdness and leading them to be “lost to humanity”.1 Marx took an equally negative stance on capitalism in “Estranged Labor” although he chose to focus on the worker and not the capitalist. Marx argued that every step of the production process estranges the worker from the product they are creating, as the more the worker produces, the less he is able to possess. The worker is also estranged from the process of production, as Marx writes, “labor produces for the rich wonderful things – but for the worker it produces privation”.2 Workers are estranged through the process of production as they are not affirmed by their work and they do not enjoy it. Marx wrote that as men are alienated from their work their labor becomes forced labor, therefore workers only feel completely free when performing animal functions, such as eating, drinking and procreating.

Marx and Saint-Simon highlight similar issues with how capitalism impacts interpersonal relationships. Saint-Simon points out that men are inherently competitive and that this leads them to enter a potentially lucrative industry, creating a few successful men and many who are completely ruined. In a similar vein, Marx discusses the estrangement between men as those who produce are under the dominion of those who own the means of production. This creates a dichotomy between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in terms of who wields the most influence in society and has the most opportunity.

Marx and Saint-Simon were both writing near the nineteenth century when the Industrial Revolution was impacting many different areas. Many of the problems they identified with capitalism are still present in society today, is there any way to correct for these issues or reduce their impact? Is today’s society reducing the divisions between workers and owners or are the divisions growing?

  1. Comte de Saint-Simon, The Incoherence and Disorder of Industry []
  2. Karl Marx, Estranged Labor 1844. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/labour.htm []

2 thoughts on “A Consequence of Capitalism

  1. Thank you for your explanation of Estranged Labor. I found the text quite confusing in some areas and your summary clarified some fuzzy areas for me, so thank you for that.
    Both philosophers recognized the impact that capitalism was having on man, making people greedy and arrogant. You posed the question whether the problems of society back then still exist today and whether or not people are moving away from or towards their work. I think today’s society is interesting because of our access to social media. This has changed so much compared to society during Marx and Saint Simons time. Back then, it was philosophers such as Marx and Simon who shed light on these issues and directly criticized capitalism. They recognized its ability to dehumanize the workers and turn them into slaves for the few wealthy industry owners. Social media has changed society vastly because it allows people to openly share and express their opinions to a large audience. Today, social media is a tool that is used often to bring together and organize groups such as Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street is a movement that began with social media where people shed light on the inequality that exist on a global scale partially caused by capitalism. I believe the division between workers and owners is increasing rapidly but this time because of social media, the workers are beginning to come together to create change. In Marx’s time, the workers did not have a lot of power or voice to express the injustice they were experiencing. Modern technology has given the people the tools to come together and fight against capitalism, just as Robert Owen urged people to do.

  2. I would agree that the world today still faces many of the problems identified with capitalism and that it is a major problem in America today. Bernie Sanders’ main slogan lately is how the 99 percent of Americans are being run by the 1 percent of Americans. Although there are still problems with capitalism today, there have been major improvements with the creation of unions and antitrust laws since the start of industrialization. The division between the workers and owners does not seem to be reducing but rather increasing at this point of time, as workers are still treated as commodities rather than humans.

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