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The "Pyramid of Capitalist System" cartoon made by the Industrial Workers of the World (1911) is an example of a socialist critique of capitalism and of social stratification. Pyramid of Capitalist System.jpg
The "Pyramid of Capitalist System" cartoon made by the Industrial Workers of the World (1911) is an example of a socialist critique of capitalism and of social stratification.

Anti-capitalism is a political ideology and movement encompassing a variety of attitudes and ideas that oppose capitalism. In this sense, anti-capitalists are those who wish to replace capitalism with another type of economic system, such as socialism or communism.



Karl Marx, considered by many as one of the founding fathers of anti-capitalist thought Karl Marx 001.jpg
Karl Marx, considered by many as one of the founding fathers of anti-capitalist thought

Socialism advocates public or direct worker ownership and administration of the means of production and allocation of resources, and a society characterized by equal access to resources for all individuals, with an egalitarian method of compensation. [1] [2]

  1. A theory or policy of social organisation which aims at or advocates the ownership and democratic control of the means of production, by workers or the community as a whole, and their administration or distribution in the interests of all.
  2. Socialists argue for a worker cooperative/community economy, or the commanding heights of the economy, [3] with democratic control by the people over the state, although there have been some undemocratic philosophies. "State" or "worker cooperative" ownership is in fundamental opposition to "private" ownership of means of production, which is a defining feature of capitalism. Most socialists argue that capitalism unfairly concentrates power, wealth and profit, among a small segment of society that controls capital and derives its wealth through exploitation.

Socialists argue that the accumulation of capital generates waste through externalities that require costly corrective regulatory measures. They also point out that this process generates wasteful industries and practices that exist only to generate sufficient demand for products to be sold at a profit (such as high-pressure advertisement); thereby creating rather than satisfying economic demand. [4] [5]

Socialists argue that capitalism consists of irrational activity, such as the purchasing of commodities only to sell at a later time when their price appreciates, rather than for consumption, even if the commodity cannot be sold at a profit to individuals in need; they argue that making money, or accumulation of capital, does not correspond to the satisfaction of demand. [4]

Private ownership imposes constraints on planning, leading to inaccessible economic decisions that result in immoral production, unemployment and a tremendous waste of material resources during crisis of overproduction. According to socialists, private property in the means of production becomes obsolete when it concentrates into centralized, socialized institutions based on private appropriation of revenue (but based on cooperative work and internal planning in allocation of inputs) until the role of the capitalist becomes redundant. [6] With no need for capital accumulation and a class of owners, private property in the means of production is perceived as being an outdated form of economic organization that should be replaced by a free association of individuals based on public or common ownership of these socialized assets. [7] Socialists view private property relations as limiting the potential of productive forces in the economy. [8]

Early socialists (Utopian socialists and Ricardian socialists) criticized capitalism for concentrating power and wealth within a small segment of society, [9] and for not utilising available technology and resources to their maximum potential in the interests of the public. [8]

Anarchism and libertarian socialism

Emma Goldman famously denounced wage slavery by saying: "The only difference is that you are hired slaves instead of block slaves." Portrait Emma Goldman.jpg
Emma Goldman famously denounced wage slavery by saying: "The only difference is that you are hired slaves instead of block slaves."

For the influential German individualist anarchist philosopher Max Stirner, "private property is a spook" which "lives by the grace of law" and it "becomes 'mine' only by effect of the law". In other words, private property exists purely "through the protection of the State, through the State's grace." Recognising its need for state protection, Stirner argued that "[i]t need not make any difference to the 'good citizens' who protects them and their principles, whether an absolute King or a constitutional one, a republic, if only they are protected. And what is their principle, whose protector they always 'love'? Not that of labour", rather it is "interest-bearing possession ... labouring capital, therefore ... labour certainly, yet little or none at all of one's own, but labour of capital and of the—subject labourers." [11] French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon opposed government privilege that protects capitalist, banking and land interests, and the accumulation or acquisition of property (and any form of coercion that led to it) which he believed hampers competition and keeps wealth in the hands of the few. The Spanish individualist anarchist Miguel Giménez Igualada saw: [12]

capitalism [as] an effect of government; the disappearance of government means capitalism falls from its pedestal vertiginously...That which we call capitalism is not something else but a product of the State, within which the only thing that is being pushed forward is profit, good or badly acquired. And so to fight against capitalism is a pointless task, since be it State capitalism or Enterprise capitalism, as long as Government exists, exploiting capital will exist. The fight, but of consciousness, is against the State.

Within anarchism there emerged a critique of wage slavery, which refers to a situation perceived as quasi-voluntary slavery, [13] where a person's livelihood depends on wages, especially when the dependence is total and immediate. [14] [15] It is a negatively connoted term used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor by focusing on similarities between owning and renting a person. The term wage slavery has been used to criticize economic exploitation and social stratification, with the former seen primarily as unequal bargaining power between labor and capital (particularly when workers are paid comparatively low wages, e.g. in sweatshops), [16] and the latter as a lack of workers' self-management, fulfilling job choices and leisure in an economy. [17] [18] [19] Libertarian socialists believe if freedom is valued, then society must work towards a system in which individuals have the power to decide economic issues along with political issues. Libertarian socialists seek to replace unjustified authority with direct democracy, voluntary federation, and popular autonomy in all aspects of life, [20] including physical communities and economic enterprises. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, thinkers such as Proudhon and Marx elaborated the comparison between wage labor and slavery in the context of a critique of societal property not intended for active personal use, [21] [22] Luddites emphasized the dehumanization brought about by machines, while later American anarchist Emma Goldman famously denounced wage slavery by saying: "The only difference is that you are hired slaves instead of block slaves." [10] Goldman believed that the economic system of capitalism was incompatible with human liberty. "The only demand that property recognizes," she wrote in Anarchism and Other Essays, "is its own gluttonous appetite for greater wealth, because wealth means power; the power to subdue, to crush, to exploit, the power to enslave, to outrage, to degrade." [23] She also argued that capitalism dehumanized workers, "turning the producer into a mere particle of a machine, with less will and decision than his master of steel and iron." [23]

Noam Chomsky contends that there is little moral difference between chattel slavery and renting one's self to an owner or "wage slavery". He feels that it is an attack on personal integrity that undermines individual freedom. He holds that workers should own and control their workplace. [24] Many libertarian socialists argue that large-scale voluntary associations should manage industrial manufacture, while workers retain rights to the individual products of their labor. [25] As such, they see a distinction between the concepts of "private property" and "personal possession". Whereas "private property" grants an individual exclusive control over a thing whether it is in use or not, and regardless of its productive capacity, "possession" grants no rights to things that are not in use. [26]

In addition to individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker's "big four" monopolies (land, money, tariffs, and patents), Kevin Carson argues that the state has also transferred wealth to the wealthy by subsidizing organizational centralization, in the form of transportation and communication subsidies. He believes that Tucker overlooked this issue due to Tucker's focus on individual market transactions, whereas Carson also focuses on organizational issues. Carson holds that "capitalism, arising as a new class society directly from the old class society of the Middle Ages, was founded on an act of robbery as massive as the earlier feudal conquest of the land. It has been sustained to the present by continual state intervention to protect its system of privilege without which its survival is unimaginable." [27] Carson coined the pejorative term "vulgar libertarianism", a phrase that describes the use of a free market rhetoric in defense of corporate capitalism and economic inequality. According to Carson, the term is derived from the phrase "vulgar political economy", which Karl Marx described as an economic order that "deliberately becomes increasingly apologetic and makes strenuous attempts to talk out of existence the ideas which contain the contradictions [existing in economic life]." [28]


Capital: Critique of Political Economy, by Karl Marx, is a critical analysis of political economy, meant to reveal the economic laws of the capitalist mode of production. Zentralbibliothek Zurich Das Kapital Marx 1867.jpg
Capital: Critique of Political Economy , by Karl Marx, is a critical analysis of political economy, meant to reveal the economic laws of the capitalist mode of production.

Karl Marx saw capitalism as a historical stage, once progressive but which would eventually stagnate due to internal contradictions and would eventually be followed by socialism. Marx claimed that capitalism was nothing more than a necessary stepping stone for the progression of man, which would then face a political revolution before embracing the classless society. [29]

Contemporary anti-capitalism

Inspired by Marxist thought, the Frankfurt School in Germany was established in 1923, with the purpose of analyzing the superstructure. Marx defined the superstructure as the social stratification and mores reflecting the economic base of capitalism. Through the 1930s, the Frankfurt School, led by thinkers such as Herbert Marcuse and Max Horkheimer created the philosophical movement of Critical Theory. Later, Critical theorist Jürgen Habermas noted that the universality of modern worldviews posed a threat to marginalized perspectives outside of western rationality. While Critical Theory emphasized the social issues stemming from capitalism with intention towards liberating humanity, it did not directly offer an alternative economic model. Instead its analysis shifted attention to the reinforcement of existing power dynamics through statecraft and a complicit citizenry.

In turn, Critical Theory inspired postmodern philosophers such as Michel Foucault to conceptualize how we form identities through social interaction. [30] During the 1960s and 1970s the global political movement called the New Left explored what liberation entailed through social activism on behalf of these identities. Therefore, socialist identifying movements critical of capitalism extended their reach beyond purely economic considerations and became involved in anti-war and civil rights movements. Later this postmodern activism centered around identities regarding ethnicity, gender, orientation, and race would influence more direct anti-capitalist movements. [31]

New critiques of capitalism also developed in accordance with modern concerns. Anti-globalization and alter-globalization oppose what they view as the sweeping neoliberal and pro-corporate capitalism that spread internationally in the wake of the Soviet Union’s fall. They are particularly critical of international financial institutions and regulations such as the IMF, WTO, and free trade agreements. In response they promote the autonomy of sovereign people and the importance of environmental concerns as priorities over international market participation. Notable examples of contemporary anti-globalist movements include Mexico’s EZLN. The World Social Forum, began in 2002, is an annual international event dedicated to countering capitalist globalization through networking of attending organizations. [32]

According to historian Gary Gerstle, the ideological space for anti-capitalism in the United States shrank significantly with the end of the Cold War and the globalization of capitalism, forcing the left to "redefine their radicalism in alternative terms" by heavily focusing on multiculturalism and partisan culture war issues, which "turned out to be those that the capitalist system could more, rather than less, easily manage." [33] Late philosopher Mark Fisher referred to this phenomenon as capitalist realism: "the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it." [34]

See also

Related Research Articles

Individualist anarchism is the branch of anarchism that emphasizes the individual and their will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions and ideological systems. Although usually contrasted to social anarchism, both individualist and social anarchism have influenced each other. Mutualism, an economic theory particularly influential within individualist anarchism whose pursued liberty has been called the synthesis of communism and property, has been considered sometimes part of individualist anarchism and other times part of social anarchism. Many anarcho-communists regard themselves as radical individualists, seeing anarcho-communism as the best social system for the realization of individual freedom. Economically, while European individualist anarchists are pluralists who advocate anarchism without adjectives and synthesis anarchism, ranging from anarcho-communist to mutualist economic types, most American individualist anarchists advocate mutualism, a libertarian socialist form of market socialism, or a free-market socialist form of classical economics. Individualist anarchists are opposed to property that gives privilege and is exploitative, seeking to "destroy the tyranny of capital – that is, of property" by mutual credit.

Libertarian socialism, also known by various other names, is a left-wing, anti-authoritarian, anti-statist and libertarian political philosophy within the socialist movement which rejects the state's control of the economy under state socialism. Overlapping with anarchism and libertarianism, libertarian socialists criticize wage slavery relationships within the workplace, emphasizing workers' self-management and decentralized structures of political organization. As a broad socialist tradition and movement, libertarian socialism includes anarchist, Marxist, and anarchist- or Marxist-inspired thought and other left-libertarian tendencies.

Socialism is a left-wing economic philosophy and movement encompassing a range of economic systems characterized by the dominance of social ownership of the means of production as opposed to private ownership. As a term, it describes the economic, political and social theories and movements associated with the implementation of such systems. Social ownership can be state/public, community, collective, cooperative, or employee. While no single definition encapsulates the many types of socialism, social ownership is the one common element. Different types of socialism vary based on the role of markets and planning in resource allocation, on the structure of management in organizations, and from below or from above approaches, with some socialists favouring a party, state, or technocratic-driven approach. Socialists disagree on whether government, particularly existing government, is the correct vehicle for change.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Free-market anarchism</span> Branch of anarchism advocating free-market systems

Free-market anarchism, or market anarchism, also known as free-market anti-capitalism and free-market socialism, is the branch of anarchism that advocates a free-market economic system based on voluntary interactions without the involvement of the state. A form of individualist anarchism, and market socialism, it is based on the economic theories of mutualism and individualist anarchism in the United States.

Self-ownership, also known as sovereignty of the individual or individual sovereignty, is the concept of property in one's own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity and be the exclusive controller of one's own body and life. Self-ownership is a central idea in several political philosophies that emphasize individualism, such as libertarianism, liberalism, and anarchism.

Anarchist economics is the set of theories and practices of economic activity within the political philosophy of anarchism. Many anarchists are anti-authoritarian anti-capitalists, with anarchism usually referred to as a form of libertarian socialism, i.e. a stateless system of socialism. Anarchists support personal property and oppose capital concentration, interest, monopoly, private ownership of productive property such as the means of production, profit, rent, usury and wage slavery which are viewed as inherent to capitalism.

The nature of capitalism is criticized by left-wing anarchists, who reject hierarchy and advocate stateless societies based on non-hierarchical voluntary associations. Anarchism is generally defined as the libertarian philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful as well as opposing authoritarianism, illegitimate authority and hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations. Capitalism is generally considered by scholars to be an economic system that includes private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods or services for profit or income, the accumulation of capital, competitive markets, voluntary exchange and wage labor which has generally been opposed by anarchists historically. Since capitalism is variously defined by sources and there is no general consensus among scholars on the definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category, the designation is applied to a variety of historical cases, varying in time, geography, politics and culture.

Mutualism is an anarchist school of thought and economic theory that advocates a socialist society based on free markets and usufructs, i.e. occupation and use property norms. One implementation of this system involves the establishment of a mutual-credit bank that would lend to producers at a minimal interest rate, just high enough to cover administration. Mutualism is based on a version of the labor theory of value that it uses as its basis for determining economic value. According to mutualist theory, when a worker sells the product of their labor, they ought to receive money, goods, or services in exchange that are equal in economic value, embodying "the amount of labor necessary to produce an article of exactly similar and equal utility". The product of the worker's labour factors the amount of both mental and physical labour into the price of their product.

Left-libertarianism, also known as egalitarian libertarianism, left-wing libertarianism, or social libertarianism, is a political philosophy and type of libertarianism that stresses both individual freedom and social equality. Left-libertarianism represents several related yet distinct approaches to political and social theory. Its classical usage refers to anti-authoritarian varieties of left-wing politics such as anarchism, especially social anarchism, whose adherents call it libertarianism, communalism, and libertarian Marxism, collectively termed libertarian socialism. A portion of the left wing of the green movement, including adherents of Murray Bookchin's social ecology, are also generally considered left-libertarian.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Criticism of capitalism</span> Arguments against the economic system of capitalism

Criticism of capitalism ranges from expressing disagreement with the principles of capitalism in its entirety to expressing disagreement with particular outcomes of capitalism.

Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful as well as opposing authority and hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations. Proponents of anarchism, known as anarchists, advocate stateless societies based on non-hierarchical voluntary associations. While anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful, opposition to the state is not its central or sole definition. Anarchism can entail opposing authority or hierarchy in the conduct of all human relations.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to anarchism, generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority and hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations. Proponents of anarchism, known as anarchists, advocate stateless societies or non-hierarchical voluntary associations.

State socialism is a political and economic ideology theorised by Ferdinand Lassalle within the socialist movement that is against private ownership and advocates state ownership of the means of production, either as a temporary measure or as a characteristic of socialism in the transition from the capitalist to the socialist mode of production or communist society. It refers to the theory, doctrine and movement that advocates a planned economy controlled by the state in which all industries and natural resources are state-owned.

Types of socialism include a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production and organizational self-management of enterprises as well as the political theories and movements associated with socialism. Social ownership may refer to forms of public, collective or cooperative ownership, or to citizen ownership of equity in which surplus value goes to the working class and hence society as a whole. There are many varieties of socialism and no single definition encapsulates all of them, but social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms. Socialists disagree about the degree to which social control or regulation of the economy is necessary, how far society should intervene, and whether government, particularly existing government, is the correct vehicle for change.

Social anarchism is the branch of anarchism that sees individual freedom as interrelated with mutual aid. Social anarchist thought emphasizes community and social equality as complementary to autonomy and personal freedom. It attempts to accomplish this balance through freedom of speech, which is maintained in a decentralized federalism, with freedom of interaction in thought and subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is best defined as "that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry" and that "[f]or every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them", or the slogan "Do not take tools out of people's hands".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Benjamin Tucker</span> American individualist anarchist (1854–1939)

Benjamin Ricketson Tucker was an American individualist anarchist and libertarian socialist. Tucker was the editor and publisher of the American individualist anarchist periodical Liberty (1881–1908). Tucker was a member of the First International, while describing his form of anarchism as "consistent Manchesterism" and stated that "the Anarchists are simply unterrified Jeffersonian Democrats."

Liberal socialism is a political philosophy that incorporates liberal principles to socialism. This synthesis sees liberalism as the political theory that takes the inner freedom of the human spirit as a given and adopts liberty as the goal, means and rule of shared human life. Socialism is seen as the method to realize this recognition of liberty through political and economic autonomy and emancipation from the grip of pressing material necessity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pierre-Joseph Proudhon</span> French politician, philosopher, anarchist and socialist (1809–1865)

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a French socialist, politician, philosopher, economist and the founder of mutualist philosophy. He was the first person to declare himself an anarchist, using that term, and is widely regarded as one of anarchism's most influential theorists. Proudhon is considered by many to be the "father of anarchism". Proudhon became a member of the French Parliament after the Revolution of 1848, whereafter he referred to himself as a federalist. Proudhon described the liberty he pursued as "the synthesis of communism and property". Some consider his mutualism to be part of individualist anarchism while others regard it to be part of social anarchism.

Market socialism is a type of economic system involving the public, cooperative, or social ownership of the means of production in the framework of a market economy, or one that contains a mix of worker-owned, nationalized, and privately owned enterprises. The central idea is that, as in capitalism, businesses compete for profits, however they will be "owned, or at least governed," by those who work in them. Market socialism differs from non-market socialism in that the market mechanism is utilized for the allocation of capital goods and the means of production. Depending on the specific model of market socialism, profits generated by socially owned firms may variously be used to directly remunerate employees, accrue to society at large as the source of public finance, or be distributed amongst the population in a social dividend.

Socialist economics comprises the economic theories, practices and norms of hypothetical and existing socialist economic systems. A socialist economic system is characterized by social ownership and operation of the means of production that may take the form of autonomous cooperatives or direct public ownership wherein production is carried out directly for use rather than for profit. Socialist systems that utilize markets for allocating capital goods and factors of production among economic units are designated market socialism. When planning is utilized, the economic system is designated as a socialist planned economy. Non-market forms of socialism usually include a system of accounting based on calculation-in-kind to value resources and goods.


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Further reading