Analytical Paper More’s Utopia and Marx’s Capitalism
Thomas More in Utopia and Karl Marx in Capital created two different pictures of the social and economic life in the developed world. This paper is a detailed analysis of the similarities and differences in how Mores Utopia and Marxs Capitalism are organized. The paper reviews the concept of commodities and their relevance in the capitalist world. Profits, surplus, and the principles of production in both societies are analyzed. The paper reconsiders the importance of the social division of labor, class structures, and the problem of exploitation. Implications for the modern world are included.
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The term utopia is often associated with an imaginary place that offers a perfect atmosphere for life, being ruled by perfect authorities and laws. Yet, the word has many negative connotations. It is often mentioned in relation to the countries, regimes, and systems that are doomed to failure or self-destruction. Not surprisingly, one of the most popular meanings of this word is that of communism and socialism. In his Utopia, Thomas More describes an ideal society, in which all people are equal, and all social processes and activities are standardized. The picture of Mores Utopia contrasts sharply the vision of capitalism, created by Karl Marx in his Capital. The latter criticizes capitalism for its strong commitment to commercial production, exploitation, and profits. Where Mores Utopia relies on universal labor, it is labor power that dominates the system in Marxs Capitalism; nevertheless, both systems have a clear division of labor that allows the greater efficiency of all production processes.
Sir Thomas Mores Utopia is often regarded as the central source of knowledge about utopias and a foundation for the development of similar ideas in modern fiction and political literature. Utopia was first published in 1516, as a detailed description of an imaginary republic, its social organization, economics and politics. In Mores book, Utopia is presented as the best solution to the economic and social ills facing the society of the 16th century. This is one of the first things that make Utopia different from Karl Marxs Capital. The latter was developed as a critique of the capitalist order, which is marked by stark inequalities and a strong tendency towards labor exploitation for profit. Certainly, More and Marx are very close in their support of equality, standardization, labor for the production of the basic goods, and the absence of classes. Still, nothing is perfect, and Mores Utopia is no exception to this rule. Even an ideal republic cannot be totally secured from the risks of developing a class structure, whereas the social division of labor remains a foundational pillar of both social systems.
One of the distinguishing features of Karl Marxs capitalism is a commodity which, according to Marx (1993), is the central object of production and accumulation in the capitalist world. He writes, that a commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wishes of some sort or another. In Marxs view, every commodity in the capitalist world has its use value, which is limited by the physical properties of such commodity and does not exist separately from it (Marx, 1993).
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At the same time, a commodity has an inherent value measured by the amount of labor invested in the production (Marx, 1993). Marx (1993) criticizes the capitalist world for its immense focus on commodities as means of accumulating wealth. Even money does not reflect the real value of things in the capitalist world.
This is one of the primary factors that make Marxs capitalist system different from Mores Utopia. The latter is based on the principles of self-production, meaning that Utopians consume everything they produce, without any profit motives. Utopia does not have any private property, nor is it familiar with the notion of money. While the money is the standard for all other things, I cannot think that a nation can be governed either justly or happily; not justly, because the best things will fall to the share of the worst men; nor happily, because all things will be divided among a few (More, 1993). In Utopia, these risks are successfully eliminated, because the community produces the amount of goods needed for its survival, without any surplus. In Utopia, where everythings under public ownership, no one has any fear of going short, as long as the public storehouses are full. Everyone gets a fair share, so there are never any poor men or beggars (More, 1993). Simply stated, collective labor and the absence of private property in Utopia eliminate the risks of class inequality one of the central objects of criticism in Karl Marxs Capital.
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Both Mores Utopia and Marxs Capital confirm the essential direct relationship between labor and production the latter is impossible without the former. In both systems, commodities or public goods emerge as a result of a series of transformations, which turn labor into an object of use. However, the nature of this labor-production relationship in Utopia is not the same as it is in Marxs Capital. According to More (1993), every resident of Utopia must work in order to maintain the public storehouses full. All Utopians share and use the products of their work with the community and, at the same time, have an obligation to invest their talents and skills into the production of the communal good (More, 1993). As a result, unlike Marx (1993), More (1993) presents work not as an individual means of survival but as a way of life, a method of sustaining social cohesion and control, as well as maintaining a classless order in the Utopian community. Wherever you are, you always have to work. Theres never any excuse for idleness (More, 1993). In Utopia, work is a sort of pleasure: Utopians spend only six hours at work daily, which is quite enough to satisfy their simple life needs (More, 1993). Everything is different with Marx, whose capitalism treats labor as merely the means of producing surplus value. Moreover, only labor that results into surplus can be regarded as productive (Marx, 1993). Not surprisingly, residents of the capitalist world have to spend hours and days at work, until they manage to create economic surplus. In capitalism, labor is subordinate to capital; unlike Utopia, it does not bring any pleasure to the worker. Workers in the capitalist system are treated as its slaves and the exploitation for the sake of another surplus dollar is a norm (Marx, 1993).
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Still, Mores Utopia and Marxs Capitalism have several features in common these include the social division of labor and the class structure. First, the division of labor remains the foundational pillar of both the capitalist and the utopian societies. Marx (1993) claims, that the division of labor is a necessary condition for the production of commodities, but it does not follow that the production of commodities is a necessary condition for the division of labor. The division of labor is a process, by which individuals are assigned to a particular form of work/labor within a specific industry domain. The social division of labor is believed to bring greater efficiency to the process of commodity production. The Utopian society does not produce commodities, but its system of labor is also well-organized. Beyond agriculture that remains everyones obligation in Utopia, every man specializes in a peculiar trade, be it wool manufacturing, carpentry, or smiths work (More, 1993). Every family teaches its members the skills and peculiarities of the trade, in which they are engaged (More, 1993). Most women are engaged in flax and wool manufacturing, as they are usually claimed to be weaker than men (More, 1993). This labor specialization is usually passed down from father to son, although the magistrate allows to choose a different trade and acquire a different specialization (More, 1993). When a Utopian decides to specialize in more than one trade, he is allowed to choose what best suits him, unless the economic and social circumstances of life dictate otherwise (More, 1993).
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Utopia can hardly be called a classless society, which makes it quite similar to Marxs capitalism. Even in the absence of commodities and private property, certain individuals and groups in Utopia are allowed to use the social privileges that are not available to the rest of the Utopian community. The so-called syphogrants assume a responsibility to monitor that every Utopian is engaged in work and does not lead an idle life (More, 1993). More (1993) suggests that this position grants few, if any, privileges, but it is clear that the mere fact of being a syphogrant makes this category of Utopians quite distinct from the other members of their community. More (1993) also claims that, according to the Utopian law, certain categories of people as exempt from the common obligation to work. The like exemption is allowed to those, who, being recommended to the people by the priests, are by the secret suffrages off the syphogrants privileged from labor, that they may apply themselves wholly to study (More, 1993). Still, the class distinctions in Mores Utopia are not as rigid and pronounced as they are in Marxs Capitalism. Moreover, the class structure in the Utopian community is not as exploitative as it is in the world of capitalism created by Marx. Where the Utopian society allows few of its members to devote their lives to something else beyond labor, the capitalist society of Marx is a world, where thousands work in the interests of a few. A surprising fact is that, despite the abundant criticism of wealth accumulation and exploitation, it is capitalism, not the socialist utopia presented by More, that has managed to survive the decades of economic development in the 20th century.
In conclusion, Sir Thomas More and Karl Marx created two different pictures of how the modern world could be organized. Mores (1993) Utopia is an ideal society without private property and commodities, which does not produce any surplus value but simply seeks to satisfy its basic life needs. By contrast, Marxs (1993) Capitalism is a world heavily criticized for its blind commitment to profits, exploitation, and accumulation of wealth. The main commonalities between the two worlds are the social division of labor and social classes, although the social structure of Utopia is not as pronounced as it is in Karl Marx's Capitalism. Still, it is capitalism that has managed to survive despite its abundant criticisms.