Defining Capitalism

This might seem like a dumb, obvious question especially on a leftist board: What even is capitalism, anyway?

I personally believe how someone defines capitalism says more about their politics than whatever ideology they might describe themselves as. I mean, we all agree here that capitalism is a problem — but what if we don't even mean the same thing by "capitalism"…?

So, what do you think capitalism should be defined as? Please try to be as thorough and comprehensive as possible and to avoid unexplained or ambiguous jargon.

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private ownership of the means of production and wage labor

seems pretty clear cut to me

Capitalism is mostly characterized by wage labour and the private ownership of the means of production.

It doesn't get any more specific than this, OP

How do you defined wage labor?

an arrangement in which labor is a commodity to be bought and sold, so workers sell it to the propertied

Doesn't that mean we also have to compute the commodity-form into the definition of capitalism as well?

An economic system of production defined by private ownership of property, wage labor, and the commodity form.
Most commonly paired with a market system for distribution.

Is a market system really just a mean of distribution? What would non-market capitalism look like?

Capitalism is both a economic system where productive enterprise is controlled by private hands to generate a profit, and a social system that divides people into classes based upon their relation to production and ownership.


Even under fascism you had markets.


honestly this should be answered in the FAQ so we can stop having these threads

generalized wage labor and commodity production

honestly this should be answered in the FAQ so we can stop having these threads
Ooooor we could have a discussion about it instead of turning to thought-terminating, dogmatic FAQ answers that do not even accurately represent the variety of opinions found on Holla Forums.

Uh? Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany used a market system. It was just regulated, just like in any other so-called mixed economy.

A monopoly doesn't mean there is no market, it means a segment of the market is dominated by a single entity with no direct competition.


Markets existed under slave societies, feudalism, and in Market Socialist Yugoslavia- proof there are systems of production and systems of distribution, that are paired together to form a complete economic system. Capitalism without markets for distribution would be just be some technocracy shit that hasn’t caught on yet; but some (read: leftcoms) would argue China and the USSR fit the definition.

Trotsky would have had you shot.

Markets as they exist under slave societies and feudalism are very different from what markets refers to under capitalism. In the former, they are possibilities; in the latter, they are imperatives.

the question doesn't make sense. all systems are market systems. communism and socialism are, among other things, market systems i.e. means of distribution. but capitalism, feudalism and similar systems don't work without private property. communism doesn't need private property at all, socialism does have both private and public property, while the means of production and natural resources are public property under socialism.

Private ownership of the means of production, wage labor, generalized commodity production and social division of labor and its product.

Proto-capitalist modes of production existed during mercantilism and were fully fledged out in the beginning of the 19th century.

No, they aren't. This claim is just bizarre.

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There is no difference between socialism and communism. Neither features private property.

yes, they are. your objection is just bizarre.

Absolutely fucking not, markets per definition rely on the labor product not becoming social right away, which is the definition of socialism. Otherwise you could say that the Agora in Athenes was socialist if it had no slavery, which it wouldn't be at all.

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socialism does have private property, with the limitations i outlined abouve. if there wasn't a difference between communism and socialism one of the two terms would be redundant. but they are not, since socialism is a transition stage from capitalism/fascism/feudalism (everything is more or less private property) to communism (nothing is private property at all).

Socialism has cooperative property in some areas, particularly in the distribution of consumer items, and in the production of some agricultural produce.

Communism has no cooperative property.

Differnce between socialism and communism is implied by Engel's in Principles of Communism and Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program. In any case, it's a semantic difference, because nobody would disagree that there would be a transitional stage between capitalism and socialism, the same way it was the case between feudalism and capitalism (16th till 18th century was neither clear-cut capitalism, nor clear-cut feudalism - one can distinguish between proto-capitalist modes of production in those times coexisting with a feudalist society).

nope. a market is just a place were commodities are exchanged. that is all. even a simple trade between 2 people or a gift given from 1 person to another people is already a market.

Socialism still has private property in that sense that cooperatives are not fully communalized and merely regulated by price controls, but they have no private ownership either (Albania was the only country that fully abolished cooperative property, DPRK put a 100% quota on cooperatives until 1991). If you want to go full Leftcom, you might consider the sheer fact that access to production is inhibited and regulated constitutes an abstract form of private property.

However, private ownership as such is abolished under socialism.

Wrong. This is arguably what markets were before the development of capitalism, but this simply isn't true today. A market system is a framework of social relations relying on specific imperatives, it is not simply a trans-historical way to circulate goods.

Wrong. Pre-capitalist modes of production were not market systems, most of property was politically-constituted and most people simply didn't rely on markets for their livelihood.

Wrong. Socialism or communism (they're the same thing) seek an alternative to the market system imposed by capitalism. Just because goods are obviously allocated in some ways has nothing to do with a market systems.

Wrong. Both socialism or communism (again, they're the same thing) imply the abolition of private property.

Gifts are not commodities. Barter is very primitive commodity exchange.

Discard that post, barter is not even primitive commodity exchange

It is most definitely not, as I've described above. Where did you get that idea? I don't know how you can subscribe to such an obviously superficial and naive definition of what a market system is. Read Ellen Meiksins Wood.

But markets were an integral part in antiquity and feudalism (the former more than the latter), by 1250 it was rather rare even for a peasant to be completely independent from a market, the same way commoditiy production existed throughout human civilization. Marx talks about merchant capital in Capital Vol. 3.

All property is politically constituted.

Lefties are really bad at defining capitalism

My definition is the correct one:

Most leftoids simply havn't read anything.

i don''t think so. why differentiate between socialism and communism then?

yes, i never claimed otherwise.
ridiculous claim. humans are social animals and any social group is already a market. read engels ffs.
no, they're not.
yes. but not an alternative to a market itself, since a market is simply a means of distribution goods and commodities among a group of people. you are trapped inside capitalist/liberturd thinking. they equate "capitalism" with "market" in order to render their inherently unjust, fraudulent way of distribution "natural" and "without alternative". but in reality, capitalist markets are a perversion.
again, no.

you described history, not how economics work.
i thought it's obvious to every lefty who can break down economics to it's essentials, but as it turns out itt i should write a book about it and claim copyright on the idea.

Because property relations are usually the first thing that changes per decree, such as the freeing of labor in Prussia in 1807 and 1811, or in Russia in 1861. Aristocrats are still in ownership of their manors and estates, but as capitalist owners, not as feudal ones. As such, they retain quasi-feudal relations with the workers, such as rent-seeking, leaseholds and rights of usufruct.

A typical example of this transitional ruling class were the East Prussian Junkers, like Bismarck, Moltke and von Papen.

The same way cooperatives under socialism, if they exist, still retain an element of private property (such as their dislocation from the publicly owned production process), but are not private owners.

This definition is shit because all of these concepts were well established long before mercantilism in multiple stratified advanced societies and only in one place did it lead to industrial capitalism.

what's the difference, they are still owners.

nothing was "transitional" about them, infact they were the worst of the reactionaries in germany. even the kaiser himself was more "transitional" than them, since he sided with striking workers against worst porkies now and then. junkers where opposed to democracy and looked down on the new-rich capitalist bourgeoisie.
no they don't. means of production are 100% public property, that's why they are called cooperatives ("volkseigentum" in the ddr, literally "people's property")
under socialism workers may own private property that is commodities such as cars, tvs, paintings, clothes. stuff like that.

Generalized commidity production is exclusive to capitalism. Private ownership of means of production is exclusive to capitalism. Wage labor is exclusive to capitalism. Most labor product was communal before capitalism.

And the market system as it exists today is qualitatively different from the network of markets as they existed before the development of capitalism.

What the hell are you talking about? Where did Engels make such a claim?

Marx made no distinction between socialism and communism. Where do you derive that distinction from?

But again, that's wrong. This is dictionary definition-tier levels of delusion.

That would actually be the opposite: essentializing the market system as a given of human existence is the typical trans-historical worldview defended by champions of capitalism.

What even is a "perversion"…? Is that how you explain away historical developments you don't understand?

Hear this: those are not unrelated. Mind-blowing, I know!

Maybe if you actually cared to substantiate your claims, then we'd be able to bask in the glory of your supreme dialectics.

Again, read Ellen Wood:

Way to prove

Feudal owners relied mostly on politically-constituted property, capitalists rely mostly on market-constituted property. This implies different mechanics governing social relations.

This is not private property.

That's true, but these systems were nowhere near generalized.

I disagree. Feudal lords derived their wealth from direct extraction (most notably taxes or allegiances). Capitalists derive their wealth from the workings of market imperatives.

Nope, a feudal lord owns the land, not the means of production, and he allows subsistence farming for the peasents, provides them protection, in exchange for a duty to follow him into war. A feudal social relation is not reificated, the feudal state is a state of direct social dependencies. Legalist private relations, such as the right of usufruct are also hereditary in feudalism.

nothing was "transitional" about them, infact they were the worst of the reactionaries in germany. even the kaiser himself was more "transitional" than them, since he sided with striking workers against worst porkies now and then. junkers where opposed to democracy and looked down on the new-rich capitalist bourgeoisie.
You are talking about the cultural values that they held dear, this has nothing to do with their economic social relations.

Volkseigentum wasn't cooperative property. Cooperative property were, for example, retailers:

That's personal property, Marxists define private property as property on means of production. Commodity is a good that is produced simply to be sold, regulated by the law of value.

But the Enclosure Movement in England was a politically constitued privatization, not even talking about the massive market interventions modern capitalist states commit to keep the market afloat. The sheer existence of a state creates politically constituted property relations.

How so, dimwit?

Industrial capital is arguably the crowning moment of capitalism, but not its birthplace. Capitalism emerged in the countryside, 16th-century rural England to be precise — when profit-maximization imperatives were introduced to land tenure.

i was VERY clear. read again and think about what i wrote. you may read engels beforehand. his entire oevre. it may help.
what does that even mean besides a cheap insult.
look it up.
apparently i understand more than a lot of posters itt.
can't you differ between history and economics?
yeah that's what capitalists, liberturds, feudalists and all who hold private property dear tell when you ask them what a market is supposed to be. you fucking idiot. i'm done with you.

How did this lead not to capitalism in the entirety of Western and Middle Europe and North America?

Asians had a different mode of production:

The enclosure itself was, that's true. But it precisely ushered in the era of market imperatives, which gradually dismantled the old ways of accumulating wealth (though some remnants of that always survive).

I wouldn't call that politically-constituted capital, just political regulation of market-constituted capital. But I agree that government intervention is essential for capitalism to prosper or even simply go on.

You've showed ignorance about cooperative property in the GDR, you don't know the definition of a commodity, you are not familiar with the Marxist distinction of personal property and private property, should I go on?

please read a book, you are suffering from Dunning-Kruger-Syndrome. Reading the Wikipedia article about Marxism would help in your case.

Nice trips and Wikipedia article.

The point is, Marxism really just studies the historical materialist development in the West, but it doesn't matter, because Western capitalism now embraces the whole world.

I know it's disputed but I can see where they come from

What do you mean, "so"…? This debunks the basis for pretty much all of your claims, which derive from the silly idea that a market system is just giving something to someone.

If you're so familiar with Engels and his understanding of markets, surely you would have no issue pointing me towards where he makes the claims you relay?

No, just answer my goddamn question. What is a perversion? Again, you seem to know, so you should have no problem explaining it to me.

You're a very smart boy.

I understand the difference between these disciplines. I also understand that they do not exist in a vacuum and deal with tightly intertwined issues. Marx was both an historian and an economist, you know? He often compared pre-capitalist and capitalist modes of production to make a point.

I have never heard a champion of capitalism approve such a definition, and if he did he would shoot himself in the foot. Capitalists wouldn't be caught dead explaining market mechanisms as "imperatives", their worldview rely on the idea those are opportunities through which the wage-worker is fit to choose as he pleases.

You might want to apply pain-relieving ointment to your sore buttocks. :^)

My point is the 19th century thinkers were operating with a very narrow worldview that didn't necessarily reflect the development of ancient civilizations nor the true proliferation of wage labor.

But you havn't actually made any arguments to solidify your point.

all true, however the relationship between the peasant class and the feudal lords (who became junkers later) was defined by wealth i.e. private property. even while the lord's source of power was sheer violence (knights and the right to bear arms) he would have to pay the court, army etc.
what's more, in medieval free cities workers and bourgeoisie already existed long before renaissance.

you are right. cooperatives such as konsum were private property indeed. but all big industrial plants and natural resources were volkseigentum.
however i still stand with my claim: socialism has (limited) private property. communism doesn't have private property at all.

well i guess i'm not a marxist there. i only differ between private property and public property. i'm not opposed to the idea of personal property though, i does make sense, but i think it's redundant.

Well, that is the Marxist position? Private property over the means of production has nothing to do with your ownership of a personal computer, a toothbrush or a bed.

It was a critique of your point, which you haven't fielded arguments to consolidate in turn (beyond linking Wikipedia and telling me to read Das Kapital).

here's how i see it: under capitalism there is no difference between a privately owned production plant and a privately owned toothbrush. under socialism however production plants are owned by the people, which is completely different from the former. meanwhile assorted goods or commodities (i'm german, to me the english term "commodity" equals the german term "ware") produced become private property under socialism.
under communism all of this would be redundant anyway.

Wealth can be both personal and private property. Are you deliberately trying to obsfucate things here?

100% bullshit. He or the church were the court, and feudal armies don't get paid. Again, he gathers his army by recruiting the peasents who have sworn an oath of feality.

Absolutely not, labor in cities was organized in guilds. Apprentices would sleep and be fed in the foremens workshop, and when they graduate, they'd join the guild, a position which is very likely to be hereditary as well.

Capitalism was born on the countryside.

Depends whether or not you define cooperatives as private property. In any case, it's not generalized.

You aren't at all, stop pretending.

My point was that capitalism has spread all over Europe, North America and has now covered the whole world. No matter what you think about the theory about the Asiatic mode of production, it's obvious that the social relations there are differently constituted than the ones Marx described.

But there is. A toothbrush is a simple consumer good you use for personal reasons of dental hygiene. A plant isn't actually "used" by its owners, it is merely a vessel for them to extract surplus from those who actually work in there.

If you own something and have someone work it for you to generate profit, it's a mean of production — private property.

Not only did you not go into arguments to defend you merely restated my own point.

Why did the specific form in capitalism in the West go on to dominate numerous other societies that already demonstrated significant social stratification and competitive wage labor and generalized commodity production (yes, you're wrong on both points, go study recent thinkers)?

Because capitalism is stronger than pre-capitalist modes of productions, also the material reasons for Europe to engage into colonialism by the 15th century, etc.

Name one.

Name one. You havn't mentioned any name in this entire thread.

Now, >>>Holla Forums

under capitalism production plants have a value assigned to them and can be sold like any other commodity. you can also extract profit from your personal used toothbrush if you trick some poor soul into buying it from you on a capitalist market.

what's the difference then?
stop with bullshit like this.
even if he was the judge, he did not make up the whole court alone. do you at least agree that feudal lords were much more wealthier than knights, peasants and so on? do you agree that feudal lords had costs to meet in order to finance court life, servants, clerks, court culture, diplomacy and such? who do you think had more power to project in medieval times: a wealthy feudal lord on a big castle with a big court or a lesser knight on a small castle commanding just a couple servants?
they got paid from pillaging "benefits" and more, mercenaries received regular pay.
so? it is still organized, although obfuscated, in guilds in my country. how exactly do you think craftsmen (masters, journeymen, apprentices) made a living out of their craft in medieval times, let's say in the 12th century? maybe they sold commodities or their labor to a master craftsman or on a market to random customers? how do you think trade worked in medieval times? how did banks, loans and bonds work (all of that existed already)?
i disagree. i think the countryside was sort of a bulwark against it, mostly because of the stiff feudal peasant-lord relationships, but also because remnants of ancient communism still existed, namely public land (allmende) on the countryside. capitalism lurked in the cities at all times, it just accelerated at one point in time thanks to progress in science and engineering and created a new powerful class (the bourgeoisie).
i don't need to define anything there, it is already defined. cooperatives such as konsum in the gdr and edeka now are infact private property, production plants under volkseigentum and other public property was not.
it is. otherwise there would be no difference between socialism and communism and one of the two terms would be redundant.
i never claimed that i see myself as a marxist itt. i do agree A LOT with marx and engels though - and not just in terms of economics. however i'm not the kind of dogmatic faggot who just reiterates over and over their work.

Private ownership of the means of production combined with markets for labour and capital.

No, you can have commodities without capitalism. Wage labour and ownership of the MOP are the core, the rest is leftcom obfuscation.

That is correct, but I'm not sure how that relates with the point I'm making.

No, you can't. If you could, it would qualify as mean of production — so if you owned a silly tooth-brushing business, the toothbrushes used by your employees would be means of production (with the commodity produced here being a service).

You're just selling dear here, there is no surplus extraction. The consumer might have been conned, but he was not exploited.

Of course, that's why capitalism is defined (among other factors) as generalized commodity production, as an economic system in which most of production is geared towards creating exchange-value. If your "socialist" society still produces commodities, there's something fishy going on.

I guess Engels was being infantile when he said that "the value form of products already contains in germ the whole capitalist form of production, the antagonism between capitalists and wage workers, the industrial reserve army, crises", then?
How is it "obfuscation" if it simply seeks to further refine the definition to make sure it does not limit its scope to the most obvious, "phenomenal" manifestation of capitalist social relations? It's not like leftcoms deny the importance of private property and wage labor as cornerstones of the capitalist mode of production, they simply believe that is not thorough enough.

Could it be possible to have wage labor without private property, or vice versa?

You can have private property without wage labor, but not wage labor without private property.

How so? Isn't private property predicated upon wage labor? I mean, the point of privately owning the means of production is that can you can force people into a situation where they have to sell their commodified labor power to you so they don't starve?

What about a market system made entirely of co-ops? Wouldn't that effectively result in the abolition of private property while leaving the edifice of wage labor intact?

Well wage labor is predicated on private property not the other way around. Slave societies are an example of private ownership without wage labor.
This system would still include private property, just with the employees as the property owners. The employees of these co-ops still own their means of production and exchange products(again necessitating property)

I see. But then, is it really all that important for a definition of capitalism to include private property then? I mean, if other modes of production featured it as well, it doesn't really help to know the same goes for capitalism. In a sense, couldn't you basically say "capitalism is wage labor" period? Of course this would beg clarification but still, it would be correct.

Well, I'd say it's pretty important because it's one of the defining features of capitalism. The private property norm is ingrained in our society on a level way higher than any other mode of production before us. Essentially capitalism is the most 'pure' or boiled down form of propertied society.