Collectivists often claim that capitalism is a necessarily exploitive economic system. In their eyes they view capitalists, those who own the means of production, as exploiters who are not giving workers the full value of their labor and demand that the capitalists be overthrown and employees be granted equal ownership in the means of production. The goal of collectivists is the elimination of hierarchy, a goal that is mutually exclusive from eliminating force and coercion from society. Many collectivists never stop to consider that the only alternative to capitalism is the threat of a gun.
First let’s cover what capitalism really is. A good definition of capitalism is, “a state of affairs where two private parties are free to enter into a contract where one acts and the other remunerates.” In other words two individuals can come together and voluntarily agree to exchange goods or services with one another. Voluntary exchange necessarily requires one person being able to agree to work for another person for an agreed upon rate. Two other major components of capitalism that collectivists oppose is the private ownership of the means of production and wealth disparity. In this essay I simply plan to explain how the only alternative to capitalism is force.
Since I like examples I’m going to use one. Let’s assume we have to individuals; Murray the capitalist and Fred the worker. Murray recently spent a large portion of his wealth building a factory to produce widgets. As it currently stands the factory is unstaffed and thus unable to make any widgets so Murray needs to find somebody to run the machinery. Enter Fred, a man who is exceptionally knowledgable in the construction of widgets and currently seeking employment. Upon seeing an ad in the local newspaper Fred seeks out Murray and asks him for a job, a request Murray happily accepts. Fred and Murray make an agreement; Fred will run the widget producing machines for Murray at an hourly rate of $20.00. In exchange for $20.00 every hour Murray is receiving finished widgets that he can sell for $25.00 an hour. For the sake of easy computation we’ll assume it takes Fred one hour to produce each widget leaving Murray with $5.00 of profit for each widget sold.
The key to the agreement between Fred and Murray is the fact it was made voluntarily. Nobody put a gun to Fred’s head and said he will work for Murray nor did anybody put a gun to Murray’s head and say he will hire Fred. As this is a voluntary agreement either party can choose to terminate the agreement whenever he desires. Were a competing widget producer to offer Fred $22.00 an hour Murray would either need to increase Fred’s wage or risk losing him as an employee. Likewise if Fred becomes less productive for some reason and starts taking two hours to produce a single widget Murray has the right to fire him and find a more competent employee. What I have just described is the concept of voluntary association.
Continuing with our example we will say Murray has been extremely successful and the widget business is booming. In fact Murray is selling widgets faster than he can make them so he now believes it is time to expand his operation. Hoping to increase his output Murray hires two new employees; Alan and Karl. Both employees are paid $20.00 and hour and can each produce an additional widget for the factory every hour. Now Murray has three newly assembled widgets produced every hour that can be sold for $25.00 each. Every hour nets Murray $75.00 of which $60.00 is paid to his employees leaving him with $15.00 of profit.
Unfortunately Murray didn’t realize that Karl was a communist agitator. Karl believes that he is being exploited because the total value of his labor comes to $25.00 and hour but he only receives $20.00 an hour. Instead of terminating the voluntary agreement he made with Murray and seeking more gainful employment elsewhere Karl has decided to seize the factory from Murray.
In order to eliminate capitalism the means of production, Murray’s factory in our example, must be seized by the workers, Fred, Alan, and Karl in our example. Karl talks to Fred and Alan and tells them that he feels they are all being exploited. Fred doesn’t agree and refuses to be part of Karl’s scheme but Alan likes the idea of possibly making more money so joins Karl in his crusade. One Monday morning Karl and Alan show up to the factory before Murray and Fred to setup their picket line. Fred arrives only to be blocked from entering the factory by Alan and Karl. Finally Murray shows up and is also prevented from entering his own factory. Karl exclaims, “We have seized this factory in the name of the workers!” Murray being a sensible individuals shakes his head and says, “Karl you’re fired, please leave my property. Alan you can either go with Karl or continue working for me.”
At this point Karl and Alan have a decision to make; either they can leave the factory and let Murray find new employees or they can use physical violence to keep Murray and Fred from entering the factory. As this is a good communist takeover of the factory Karl and Alan decide to go with the latter and continue to prevent Murray and Fred from entering the factory. After some time Murray finally gets sick of the situation and tries to go around Karl and Alan’s picket line only to be physically assaulted.
From here and until the end of time Karl and Alan must use physical force to prevent Murray and Fred from once again entering the factory. Seizing the means of production from the capitalists necessarily requires the use of violence.
What other option would Karl and Alan have though? Neither one of them have the money to build their own factory so are they stuck being “exploited” by capitalists like Murray? Not at all. Instead of using physical violence to seize Murray’s factory Karl and Alan could have left, pools their money together, and build a co-op where every employee received an equal share of the profits. Under capitalism voluntary association is recognized meaning those wanting to work at a business where each employee gets an equal share of the profits is free to do so.
Now that we know how seizing the means of production from capitalists requires the use of force let’s look at another aspect of capitalism, hierarchy. Hierarchy in this case deals exclusively with wealth; some people have more wealth than others. In our example Murray, the capitalist, has more wealth than Fred, Alan, and Karl. His additional wealth is what allowed Murray to build the factory in the first place. Instead of building a factory let’s assume Murray decided to sit on his vast wealth instead.
Fred, Alan, and Karl are without work because Murray never build his factory and nobody else is currently hiring so they’re all nervous about where they will get money to feed their families. Fred and Alan were both looking at some unused land to homestead and start small farms but Karl had another idea. Karl isn’t one for doing much manual labor preferring to write long manifestos about the evils of wealth disparity. People like Murray have more money then Karl and that really pisses him off. Not getting anywhere with writing his manifestos Karl decides to take his message to the streets where he meets Fred and Alan.
Karl exclaims that it is unfair that Murray has so much wealthier while Fred, Alan, and himself go without. “All should be equal!” Karl screams. He then raises his fist into the air and says, “Let us rise up and take what is rightfully ours!” Fred, recognizing the situation for what it is, decides to have none of it and heads off to start his farm. Alan, not liking the idea of farming, decides to join Karl’s crusade.
Karl and Alan arrive at Murray’s house and inform him that all his wealth will be equally distributed amongst the three of them. Murray simply laughs at the two and slams the door in their face. At this point Karl and Alan are left with two decisions; leave and find another means of obtaining wealth or break down Murray’s door and seize his property. Once again eliminating capitalism requires the use of physical force.
In order to achieve the communist utopia described by the likes of Engels and Marx all currently held property must be seized and redistributed. Since everybody who holds property is unlikely to voluntarily surrender it the use of force is necessary. Not only is force necessary to tear down capitalism but more force is necessary to maintain it.
Capitalism is free trade amongst individuals. In other words if Murray were to exchange $50.00 for Fred’s recliner the two have entered into a free market exchange. A voluntary exchange only happens if both parties feel as though they came out better in the end. In other words Fred is trading his recliner because he values the $50.00 more while Murray values the recliner more. This phenomenon arrises from the fact value is entirely subjective. What happens if Fred continues trading his goods for money? Eventually Fred is going to have a great deal of money that can be used to buy other things. Preventing Fred from obtaining wealth will require price fixing.
If Fred purchased his recliner for $25.00 some mechanism will need to be put into place to prevent him from selling the recliner for more than $25.00 down the road. How do we prevent Murray from offering Fred $50.00 for the recliner? Once again the only option is physical force. To ensure a continuing society free of hierarchy some deal of policing will be necessary. First prices will need to be set for goods and then those prices will need to be enforced. This is where collectivist entirely falls apart.
A system of fixed prices and enforcement was established in the Soviet Union. Since goods were incorrectly valued (a problem that can never be overcome by central planning) shortages of some goods develop. In the Soviet Union food was often in short supply so black markets developed where people could trade goods they had for food they needed. The appearance of black markets occurs whenever a prohibition against a desired good is established. Prohibitions can come in many forms including government bans, artificial increase in the price of a good through central planning, and making a good appear undesirable by artificially increasing its cost through taxation.
Some people are surprised to learn that black markets for cigarettes exist in the United States. These black markets don’t exist solely because underage kids who want cigarettes aren’t legally allowed to purchase them, they also exist because the high tax on tobacco products artificially increases the cost of cigarettes. To avoid paying this artificially high prices many people stock up on cheaper cigarettes when traveling abroad or purchase cigarettes at a reduced cost from those who travel abroad. The only way to stop this black market is to monitor every package and piece of luggage entering the country for illegal cigarettes (something the United States tries to do but is unsuccessful at most of the time). When contraband is discovered it must be seized, an action that requires the use of force or the threat thereof.
Free trade, the crux of capitalism, can only be prevented by the use of force. When I say free trade I don’t merely mean the voluntary exchange of goods but also preventing the trade of a “lesser” value good for a “greater” value good (as value is subjective a “lesser” value and a “greater” value is actually impossible to quantify). Therefore it is not merely enough to stop Murray from trading Fred for his recliner but some mechanism of fixing the price of the recliner for all time is needed as well. In other words if Fred paid $25.00 for his recliner Murray must be prevented from giving anything besides $25.00 for it.
The elimination of capitalism; that is the private ownership of the means of production, wealth inequality, and free trade; can only be accomplished by the use of force. In this way collectivism is a necessarily violence philosophy unless everybody in the collectivist society voluntarily agrees to the economic system being used to replace capitalism. Proponents of collectivism such as Engels and Marx realized this last fact, which is why they argued a socialist society must first be established to “educate” the people until they believed in communism. Truthfully the word “educate” meant the same as brainwash. Reeducation camps established by many socialist nations were so named because they were used to make those being held within understand the greatness of the communist ideal. That understanding was developed by using enough force that those being held in the camps eventually broke and went along with the communist ideal just to escape the horrible conditions of the camps (of course those running the camps knew this and thus never released most prisoners).