All capitalist societies are marked by a sharp separation between the few who own and the many who must gain access to what the former have, namely society’s productive property: land, resources, tools, equipment, machinery. Failure to do so means misery and even death. To get such access, people must sell the one thing they do own, their capacity to work. The advantage here obviously lies with the owners, that is, with the capitalists. This fundamental inequality gives capital the power to compel (exploit) workers to labor for an amount of time that is greater than that which would be required to produce the necessities of life. Employees are therefore paid a wage that will buy enough for them to live and to reproduce, to purchase their subsistence. However, their day’s work produces far more output than what workers need, and this surplus, when sold, is the enterprise’s profits. These are used to buy more means of production, and the process repeats itself indefinitely, allowing for ever greater accumulations of capital. Businesses become larger and more concentrated, and they expand geographically until they encompass the world. Power grows from the points of production to every element within the larger society, from media, schools, and cultural institutions to each level of government. And as capital augments itself, it comes to infiltrate all the nooks and crannies of our lives, including our minds.
The historical trend has been for the working class, those who are exploited, to comprise an increasing fraction of all those who directly produce goods and services.
Capitalism’s second foundation is expropriation, which means the taking of something without payment. This occurs prior to and coincident with exploitation. For example, the private ownership of property in the means of production that distinguishes capitalism from earlier economic systems, came into being largely through theft of peasant lands, either by capitalists themselves or in league with governments (the state). Rural farmers, who typically engaged in cooperative labor on lands that were considered common and available to all for grazing animals, gathering firewood and plants, hunting, and fishing, even for cultivation, now found that the common parcels had become private property and what had once been a right to use them was now a crime. The early history of the European incursion in the Americas is one of rampant, relentless, and brutal land robbery.