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  • Shreya Tiwari


Shreya Tiwari,

O. P. Jindal Global University

Karl Marx, a name that some consider a sociologist, others a supporter of socialism, and the remaining a critique of capitalism. However, he was a thinker and sociologist different from any of his time. He believed that all problems that arose in modern lives were connected to material sources and thereby their solutions lay in the overturning of these sources/structures by masses. Marx stated, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”. He was more interested in changing the present world rather than interpreting it. Marx in his capitalist theory did not want to criticise capitalism instead he wanted to understand and analyse the reasons for its demise. He further delved into what type of society will emerge once Capitalism has run its due course.[i]

The Marxian theory of capitalism is structured according to the basic nature of human beings. In a capitalist economic system, there is a large working class who own little but produce goods for the resource owning class who are a minority. The working-class who sell their labour in exchange for wages are called Proletariat while the property-owning class was known as the capitalists or bourgeoisie. At the core of this system are commodities which according to me are fruits of labour and skill as well as carry an exchange value.

The system would have worked well had it not been for the human desire for profit surplus, ultimately leading to capitalist accumulation. Profit surplus was the concept of bringing in a positive difference between the value of the product sold and the elements it consumed.[ii]

How could these profit surpluses be maximized? The answer lies in exploiting the labour class, which is also where the contradictions of capitalism start arising. The proletariat depends on the capitalists for wages and work. In order to earn more profit, the bourgeoisie starts exploiting the working class by putting in longer working hours and low wages. Capitalism also demands specialization of labour, which constructed barriers between the proletariat and the production process, stretching to the extent of alienation. Mechanised and channelised means of production broke the interconnection between labourers and what they produced.

Capitalism thus reduced the working classes to poverty-stricken conditions thereby creating those who would ultimately overthrow it. The decline of capitalism was further speeded up by its own need for centralization, which led to shared suffering and organized resistance under one roof. Increasing competition forced capitalists to exploit more and more proletariats who were the very people who would put an end to capitalism by uprooting the very system that produced them. Marx and Engels had also quoted “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, is, above all, its own gravediggers”.[iii]

Contradictions inherent in the capitalist system would lead to its ultimate fall. The disaffected proletariat class after a period of time would have an awakening i.e. develop class consciousness or become aware of their exploited condition. The contradictory behaviour of the capitalist system is evident in how workers and capitalists have entirely different areas of interest. The exploitative relationship would result in a revolt that would disrupt capitalism to the core and produce a humane, sophisticated form of communism. Thus, the contradictions of capitalism are evidently clear in the above synopsis.[iv]

Has capitalism disappeared from the present-day world or has sneaked into our everyday lives and has so intertwined with our lives that we fail to notice its existence? Capitalism indeed continues to advance and prevail in the present-day world thereby also keeping Marx alive. It might have taken less severe forms due to developmental reasons, but it dominates all economic spheres and a majority of our social decisions.

An example of this capitalist setup is seen in the hill state of Uttarakhand. The mining industry which is the lifeline of the state economy is governed in a capitalistic manner. The state government has granted these contracts to mining mafias who pose as respectable business houses, their main aim is to maximize profits. These contractors are the capitalists who own machinery, equipment’s as well as legal mining rights. The workers who carry on the mining activity are poor and downtrodden labourers who exchange their labour for a few hundred. In order to accumulate profits, the contractors hire these proletariats at low rates with increased working hours, which not only results in huge profits but timely completion of the work as well. Continuous exploitation and harsh working condition compell these labours to revolt against these unjust practices. Since then, the government has taken note of the issue and has tried to formulate just mining laws and put in place a labour union. This is an example that reflects how contradictions in capitalism continue to exist.

Walmart, an American multinational retail giant is another working example highlighting how deep the roots of capitalism are. The company is an ideal example of producing products and profits collectively with the proletariat but appropriating them inappropriately. The company has long been in the limelight for paying less than average wages to its labourers and further cost-cutting, not allowing medical leaves, and zero adherence to prescribed labour laws. This extreme exploitation has led the workers to come together to raise their demands against the existing malpractices. In response, Walmart has rolled out the Great Workplace program (2019) which includes mandated layoffs, sick leaves, and increased hourly wages.

Another epic example of contradictions of capitalism lies in the 2011 Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest movement in Zuccotti Park, Manhattan against the stark economic inequalities in the U.S financial system.[v] The protest was what Marx had termed as class conflict among the super-wealthy 1% and the remaining 99% of the American populace. The exploited majority population has finally raised their voices against the economic exploitation they had faced at the hands of the capitalist resource owning class. This movement is a reminder of Marx’s theory that capitalism would destroy itself at its own behest. Another fact that I find interesting is how capitalist functioned Pizza stores have used this to their own advantage. They have added dishes named as OccuPie, showcasing that capitalism continues to breathe and evolve.

It is right to note that the contradictions of capitalism continue to emerge and create obstacles in the way of the system itself. The world in its materialistic endeavour has given capitalism a further push. Yet the inherent contradictions continue to maintain their pace. With its emphasis on profit, competition, and the free market, capitalism has experienced tremendous worldwide expansion and progress. However, fundamental contradictions endure alongside its development, posing challenges to the same system that nurtures them. One such conflict is the allocation of wealth and resources. While capitalism promotes meritocracy and equal opportunity, it frequently results in massive economic discrepancies. Profiteering can concentrate wealth in the hands of a few, aggravating social inequality. This disparity, in which a small percentage enjoys enormous riches while many struggle for basic necessities, feeds social dissatisfaction and weakens the system's survival. Capitalism has enjoyed significant global development and progress due to its emphasis on profit, competition, and the free market. Fundamental contradictions, however, persist alongside its progress, posing challenges to the same system that nourishes them.

The allotment of money and resources is one such struggle. While capitalism encourages meritocracy and equal opportunity, it frequently leads to significant economic disparities. Profiteering has the potential to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few, exacerbating social inequality. This imbalance, in which a small proportion of the population enjoys immense wealth while many struggle for basic necessities, generates societal discontent and undermines the system's sustainability.

Capitalism's contradictions serve as stinging reminders of the intricacies inside its framework in the fabric of economic systems. The underlying contradictions between economic increase and inequality, growth and sustainability, competitiveness and ethics, and so on continue to be strong obstacles. While capitalism has driven tremendous progress, its flaws threaten the fundamental fabric of human peace and environmental balance. However, chances for transformation can be found amid these inconsistencies. Capitalism may grow into a more robust, humane, and sustainable system by recognising and fixing its fundamental weaknesses. This transformation demands a rebalancing of values, policies, and objectives in order to establish a paradigm in which economic success is compatible with social fairness and environmental care. Only by consciously navigating contradictions can capitalism overcome its constraints and pave the path for a more inclusive, balanced, and affluent future for future generations.


[i] 8th Edition, George Ritzer, Sociological Theory, 22 (Mc Graw Hill 2011).

[ii] 8th Edition, George Ritzer, Sociological Theory, 72 (Mc Graw Hill 2011).

[iii] 8th Edition, George Ritzer, Sociological Theory, 64 (Mc Graw Hill 2011).

[iv] 6th Edition, Anthony Giddens, Sociology, 18 (Polity Press 2009).

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