Marx and Weber: Critics of Capitalism
“In spite of their undeniable differences., Marx and Weber have much in common in their understanding of modern capitalism: they both perceive it as a system where”the individuals are ruled by abstractions, where the impersonal and “Thing-like” relations replace the personal relations of dependence, and where the accumulation of capital becomes an end in itself, largely irrational. Their analysis of capitalism cannot be separated from a critical position, explicit in Marx, more ambivalent in Weber. Above all, while Marx wagers on the possibility of overcoming capitalism thanks to a socialist revolution, Weber is rather a fatalist and resigned observer, studying a mode of production and administration that seems to him inevitable. As Lucien Goldmann wrote, Marx does not “Mix” value and fact judgements, but develops a dialectical analysis where explanation, comprehension and evaluation are rigorously inseparable. The existence of these values does not mean that Marx holds a Kantian perspective, opposing a transcendental ideal to the existing reality: his critique is immanent, in so far as it is developed in the name of a real social force opposed to capitalism – the working class – and in the name of the contradiction between the potentialities created by the rise of productive forces and the limitations imposed by the bourgeois productive relations. “At the heart of Marx’s analysis of alienation is the idea that capitalism is a sort of disenchanted”religion,” where commodities replace divinity: “The more the workers estranges himself in his labour, the more the estranged, objective world he has created becomes powerful, while he becomes impoverished … The same happens in religion. Having replaces Being, and only subsists the monetary payment – the cash nexus according to the famous expression of Carlyle which Marx takes up – and the ” icy waters of egoistic calculation”. At the same time, it is also a force of social regression, in so far as it “Makes of each economic progress a public calamity.” Considering some of the most sinister manifestations of capitalism such as the poor laws or the workhouses – those “Workers Bastilles” – Marx wrote in 1847 the following surprising and prophetic passage, which seems to announce the Frankfurt School: “Barbarism re-appears, but this time it is created inside civilization itself and is an integral part of it. This is the leprous barbarism, barbarism as the leper of civilization.” All these criticisms are intimately linked: they refer to each other, they presuppose each other, and they are combined in a global anti-capitalist vision, which is one of the distinctive features of Marx as a communist thinker. These “Horrifying barbarisms and atrocities” – which according to Marx, quoting M.W. Howitt, “Have no parallel in any other era of universal history, in any other race, however savage, brutal, pitiless and shameless” – are not simply presented as the cost of historical progress, but clearly denounced as an “Infamy.” According to the sociologist Derek Sayer, “To a certain extent his critique of capitalism, as a life negating force, is sharper than Marx’s.” This is an exaggerated assessment, but it is true that some of Weber’s arguments touch at the foundations of the modern industrial/capitalist civilization. Obviously, the issues raised by Weber are quite different from those of Marx. Weber himself declared that here lies the real problem of culture – rationalization towards the irrational – and that he and Marx agreed in the definition of this problem but differed in its evaluation. What Weber, unlike Marx, did not grasp, is the domination, over human activities, of exchange value. For Marx, the origin of capitalism does not relate to any religious ethics, but to a brutal process of plundering, murder and exploitation, which he describes with the term “The primitive accumulation of capital.” The reference to religion plays a significant rôle in explaining the logic of capitalism as “Reversal.” It is not a causal relationship, as in Weber, but rather a structural affinity: irrationality is an intrinsic, immanent and essential feature of the capitalist mode of production as an alienated process, and as such it has a structural resemblance with religious alienation: in both cases, the human beings are dominated by their own products – respectively Capital and God.
With the kind of leadership the U.S. has suffered under for several decades, capitalism becomes a tyranny in which the moneyed class loots the nation, while the working class suffers lower wages, higher prices, decreased constitutional liberties, and chronic unemployment. The U.S. is a “Consumer society” in which workers must buy and sell to live. In 2001, Argentina was the last in a long list of nations which have fallen prey to the ravages of vulture capitalism: currency-manipulation, asset-stripping, and factories and products sold at pennies on the dollar. Multinational corporations moving their manufacturing plants to wherever the labor market is cheapest, where they can get the largest tax break from the host country, and where they can be assured that the host country will adopt a currency that can be traded without danger of political interferencethe Wall Street-Treasury Complex during the 1990s allowing its economic client-states to make profits by selling their goods on the American market. Vulture capitalists selling U.S. client-states military weaponry manufactured by their own corporations and peddled through the Pentagon and U.S. embassies world-widethe Wall Street-Treasury Complex forcing its client-states to open their economies so U.S. vulture capitalists can carve out huge profits through currency manipulation and asset-strippingthe vulture capitalists buying assets at pennies on the dollar, when the client-state begins to go under, because the American market is saturated. Throughout the world, workers are being systematically beaten down by vulture capitalism: unequal taxes “Rent-a-judge” justice systems sky-rocketing unemploymentrising pricessold-to-the-highest- bidder- congresspersonscorporations such as Enron left to their own dog-eat-dog profit-making tactics which receive U.S. tax monies when they make bad foreign investments. If you are an American multinational corporation, such as GE, Chrysler, or Boeing, or if you are a savings & loan, bank, or financial institution, then the federal government will see that your losses are covered with American taxpayers’ money. Immigration into the U.S. reached its peak in 1991, with 1,827,167 immigrants allowed in and has been steadily decreasing as the American economy has fallen into recession. Not only did the federal government allow a flood of immigrant workers into the U.S. so the corporations would have low-wage workers, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service did not keep track of them-resulting in legal and illegal immigrants bombing the World Trade Center. The Immigration Act of 1990 exclusively assisted American multinational corporations, providing them an abundant supply of foreign workers willing to work for the lowest possible wages. The Act had been sold to the American public as being necessary because there was said to be a shortage of skilled workers in the science professions. As Donald Bartlett and James Steele show in their informative book, America: Who Stole the Dream?, “Two new engineers were graduated from American universities for every job that opened up. And the unemployment rate for engineers doubled, rising from 2.1 percent to 4.1 percent. Yet during this period, the United States admitted nearly 190,000 engineers as immigrants or temporary workers.” Vulture capitalism has taken many high-paying manufacturing jobs out of the United States, resulting in an eroded infrastructure, massive unemployment, high crime rates, and homelessness never before seen. Where did all the extra profits go – certainly not to the workers? The average American’s income decreases rapidly while the rich get richer. Between 1980 and 1992, the top 1% in terms of share of the nation’s income increased their share from 8% to 14%. The next 9% only increased their share of the nation’s income from 24% to 25%. The bottom 90% saw their share of the nation’s income decrease from 68% to 61%. The U.S. government, the “American” multinational corporations, and the American banks told the hapless U.S. voters that passing the North American Free Trade Agreement would result in fabulous increases in our exports to Mexico.