The Capitalist System

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by Michael Bakunin

This pamphlet is an excerpt from The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution and included in The Complete Works of Michael Bakunin under the title “Fragment.” Parts of the text were originally translated into English by G.P. Maximoff for his anthology of Bakunin’s writings, with missing paragraphs translated by Jeff Stein from the Spanish edition, Diego Abad de Santillan, trans. (Buenos Aires 1926) vol. III, pp. 181-196.

Is it necessary to repeat here the irrefutable arguments of Socialism which no bourgeois economist has yet succeeded in disproving? What is property, what is capital in their present form? For the capitalist and the property owner they mean the power and the right, guaranteed by the State, to live without working. And since neither property nor capital produces anything when not fertilized by labour – that means the power and the right to live by exploiting the work of someone else, the right to exploit the work of those who possess neither property nor capital and who thus are forced to sell their productive power to the lucky owners of both. Note that I have left out of account altogether the following question: In what way did property and capital ever fall into the hands of their present owners? This is a question which, when envisaged from the points of view of history, logic, and justice, cannot be answered in any other way but one which would serve as an indictment against the present owners. I shall therefore confine myself here to the statement that property owners and capitalists, inasmuch as they live not by their own productive labour but by getting land rent, house rent, interest upon their capital, or by speculation on land, buildings, and capital, or by the commercial and industrial exploitation of the manual labour of the proletariat, all live at the expense of the proletariat. (Speculation and exploitation no doubt also constitute a sort of labour, but altogether non-productive labour.)

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