What is capitalism?

Let’s begin with the premise that labor is a fundamental human activity. By working, we use our brains and/or our muscles to transform nature into useful products. So, for instance, the process of work transforms a pile of wood into a table and chairs.

The survival of every society hinges upon two factors. The first is a means of production –which simply refers to the land, raw materials, resources, and factories that are necessary for the productive process. The second is a group of workers who can perform the laborious and strenuous tasks of production.

The most important question is: who owns the means of production? Keep in mind – there are 7 billion people on this planet. But the means of production are owned privately by a small group of elites. This means that the vast majority of the wealth that is necessary for the survival of all human beings is concentrated into the hands and bank accounts of a minute segment of the population that sits at the top of the pyramid.

This leaves the masses of people in a desperate position, because they have nothing but their hands to work with. The structure of society is determined by whether or not you own those means of production. If you own the means of production, you are part of the “bourgeoisie” or “the ruling class” which survives simply by owning. But if you do not own means of production, you are part of the “proletariat” or “the working class” which survives by working for the bourgeoisie. Almost the entire planet must beckon to the needs of a few people in seats of power in the ruling class. The bourgeoisie is greedy for money and power, at the expense of the proletariat; while the proletariat is simply trying to survive. This means that society is composed of two groups or “classes” that will never see eye to eye. The differences between these two groups are irreconcilable. Society is structured by these class antagonisms.

Any thought and/or plan that seeks to perpetuate the antagonistic relationship between these classes is reformism. Any thought and/or plan that seeks to destroy the antagonistic relationship between these classes is revolutionary. 

To change the world, it is important that workers develop class consciousness. This simply means that workers develop an understanding of their wretched position and unite with other workers across international lines. In the spirit of class consciousness, it is important that you, the reader, are able to answer this question: what class do you belong to? The ruling class or the working class? If you own means of production, you are part of the ruling class. But if you are an employee of a company or corporation who works in exchange for a paycheck to pay your bills – you are part of the working class. Even if you are unemployed or disabled, you are still part of the working class.

Whenever workers produce, the goal is to produce more than what is necessary – the goal is to produce a surplus  – because we are not in scarcity anymore. We have to produce enough to feed, clothe, and shelter those who cannot work – such as children, the disabled, and the elderly – and to provide security during emergency situations.

Once again: the question becomes: who gets to control that surplus value? Under capitalism, the surplus is appropriated and distributed by the ruling class for expenses that do not benefit the working class (i.e. to pay for CEO bonuses, luxury cars, etc). Workers produce a massive amount of wealth, but receive only a fraction of it in return – that which we call a “wage” or a “salary“. A person who is earning a wage or a salary produced much more in value than they were given – but it was siphoned away by their boss. The ruling class will not hire you unless they can steal that surplus value from you to make a “profit”. Bosses are like vampires who become wealthy by sucking the blood of workers. When the group of people who produces the surplus (workers) is different than the group of people that appropriates and distributes the surplus (bosses) it is exploitation.

The goal is to build a society where there is no exploitation. In other words, the same group of people that produces the surplus (workers) should also appropriate and distribute it. The goal is to build a society where workers are in control of the means of production and the surplus that is generated. Such a society is defined as communism – which simply means all the resources necessary for human survival are owned in common, not by a few.

One of the ways the ruling class stays in power is by owning and controlling the media: the journals, the television stations, the radio, etc. By doing this, they can pick and choose which narratives are disseminated and always make sure that what “counts” as knowledge and truth is pro-capitalist, and whatever is anti-capitalist is depicted as crazy and stupid. We always hear about workers being “lazy” and refusing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We hear about welfare queens who lounge around all day eating fried chicken and watermelon. But in reality, this entire narrative is a projection … the ruling class is lazy. They are like parasites whose livelihood depends upon feeding off our labor.

The other, more important way the ruling class stays in power is through pure unadulterated violence. Historically speaking: the ruling class was able to accumulate possessions by dispossessing entire groups of people. Africa is the most resourceful continent on the planet, but African people are the poorest, sickest people with the lowest life expectancies – thanks to centuries of slavery, colonization, and neo-colonialism. Capitalism was kick-started by the rape of Africa, the colonization of the West, and the blood of serfs during the feudal era. Women were the first form of property and are still commodified under capitalism today as sex objects and recipients of lower wages. People of color, and especially black folks, are subject to all forms of rapacious State violence today. Capitalism works in tandem with white supremacy, anti-blackness, heteropatriarchy, and ableism to advance its goals.

The ruling class uses the State to maintain class antagonisms. This means that the two-party system via the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are two sides of the same coin. They are both financed and controlled by the bourgeoisie and will lead to nowhere but hell as the working class continues to have faith in them. Each party is dedicated to fighting for a set of reforms that will preserve the system of capitalist exploitation instead of eradicating class antagonisms altogether.

The police exist to preserve domination. The genealogical root of the police in the Western Hemisphere were the slave patrols … because the Africans that were enslaved in Hispaniola (modern day Haiti) in 1503 were teaching disobedience to the Natives. The rulers make the rules. They make the laws. The police are just there to enforce those laws; it doesn’t matter whether they are moral, ethical, or not. The police exist to make sure that the system of exploitation can flow more smoothly. The criminal justice system exists to surveillance segments of the population that the ruling class deems superfluous to the process of production, while simultaneously making a profit. This is what is known as the prison-industrial-complex. This is why, when we look at the prison population – we find that it is mostly poor people behind bars. We find that it is mostly black and brown people behind bars. We find that the fastest rising prison denomination is black women. This is the work the police do. Sure, the police do not own the means of production – so they are not technically the ruling class – but they are hired hitmen. They are a legitimized gang of brutes. And for that reason, they are nothing more than professional class traitors.

The same goes for the military. Whereas the police dominate locally, the military dominates globally. The same way there is a prison industrial complex that makes it profitable to throw people in prison, there is a military-industrial-complex that makes it profitable to send people off into war. It doesn’t matter that people die. It doesn’t matter that people are displaced. It doesn’t matter that the planet and infrastructures are destroyed. All that matters is that there are billion dollar weapons contracts, and foreign lands with resources are conquered.

Capitalism is not freedom. Capitalism is not compatible with democracy. Capitalism is not efficient for anyone except the ruling class. We need to organize against capitalism and build a more humane world. 

Recommended Reading for a Deeper Introduction to Capitalism: 

The ABCs of Communism by Nikolai Bukharin:

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney:

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn:

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels:

The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 by Karl Marx:

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