Part I. The Capitalist World System

Since human society advanced beyond the primitive communal possession of the land and the products of human labour — as a result of the creation of a permanent surplus over and above the producers' means of subsistence — struggles between exploiting and exploited classes over the disposition of the social surplus product have been the motive force of human history. These struggles have either led to the mutual ruin of the contending classes and social regression, or to social revolutions in which new social orders based on qualitative advances in the productivity of human labour displaced outlived social systems.

The capitalist social order first arose in Western Europe as a result of an extended process of revolutionary struggles against the previous feudal order beginning with the Dutch revolution in the 16th century and culminating with the American and French revolutions at the end of the 18th.

As the capitalist class gained ascendancy in one country after another it proceeded to reorganise social and political institutions according to its needs. In its quest for constantly expanding markets the capitalist class began to export its cheap, mass-produced goods to every corner of the planet, using the superior military force that its machine-based industries gave it to break down any resistance by pre-capitalist societies. As a result, the entire world was drawn into the orbit of capitalist trade and exploitation.

Section 1. The capitalist system, its contradictions and development

The capitalist social order is based upon generalised commodity production, under which the labour power of the producers and the means of production become commodities (products for sale).

Under capitalism the main producing class, the working class (or proletariat), is deprived of ownership and control over the means of production. In order to live, workers are forced to sell their labour power to private owners of the means of production, to the capitalists (or bourgeoisie). The capitalists' control of the means of production enables them to dominate all other social classes, but within their own class the individual capitalists also operate in competition with each other.

Capitalist relations of production therefore involve the following processes:

  • The workers, having no other means of sustaining themselves, sell their labour power to the capitalists in return for wages, with which they purchase from the capitalists their means of subsistence.
  • By appropriating and selling the goods produced by the workers, the capitalists obtain money for the quantities of value created by the workers. This value includes additional value over and above the value of the labour power sold by the workers to the capitalists. This additional value is known as surplus value (the monetary form of the social surplus product).
  • Due to their appropriation of the surplus value created by the workers, and its realisation through the sale of the commodities in which it is incorporated, the capitalists are able to maintain and expand production.

  • By these means, additional value accumulates in separate units (firms) in a process determined by the constraints of competition for private profit.
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