Table of Contents
Concepts and Vocabulary
Over the last two classes we talked about the early Marx and the late Marx, idealism vs. materialism, "the dialectic," and historical materialism and then we stopped last class in the middle of talking about alienation.
We start today by recalling the several types of alienation Marx laid out in the 1844 manuscripts:
- 6-13 Alienation I - workers, products, objectification, commodification
- 14-21 Alienation II - human vs. nature (nature as life to nature as raw material)
- 22-35 Alienation III - human from self/species/essence (individual from human — human animal interchange)
- 36-40 Alienation IV - social human from human (compete against fellows)
That excerpt then concluded on a political note: this alienation stuff is not abstract…it's about real social relations.
Today's readings pick up on that theme.
Manifesto as conceptual outline
In the "Communist Manifesto" Marx lays out the Marxist theory of history and change, its assessment of contemporary affairs, and later, in a section we did not read, an analysis of the relationship between the communists and other political parties and, in a sense, "how the revolution will proceed."
Two quotes to remember here: "The history of … class struggle." and "The proletarians … their chains…"
Key concept here is Class Conflict — fundamental clash of interest between those who own the means of production (Bourgeoisie or capitalists) and those who do not (workers or proletariat) — but given Marx's emphasis on the material basis of class, it's any social conflict that is rooted in competing material interests. What would be a contrast? Symbolic conflict. In contemporary theory we readily separate these out as distinct and real dimensions — Marx would probably hold that there is only material conflict and that symbolic is derivative. From Weber onward these will be seen as distinct.
For Marx, the conflict of material interest between workers and owners is fundamental. It is built into the capitalist relations of production. The passages we read from Kapital are a part of his argument about how it is rooted in the very nature of the system. (more on that later, perhaps)
Consciousness, Critical and False
If it is so, why doesn't the revolution happen right now? Why hasn't it already happened?
The answer is that the workers don't get it, at least not yet. They do have in common a class interest when you look from the outside — objectively speaking, their interests are aligned. But they still see themselves as competing with one another. Remember our actors and our cashiers — the employers succeed in making them think in terms of their individual welfare, not their collective welfare.
Marx is interested in how people are or are not aware of their class position. To what degree do they have "class consciousness"? At first, the workers form what Marx called a "class in itself" (an sich) — OBJECTIVELY their interests are aligned, but they don't see it that way.
If they get over the hump they can form a class "for itself" (für sich).
This distinction is important — both here and as a general theoretical move: contrasting objective and subjective "reality" — keep an eye out for it.
The Manifesto — and the attendant organizing and rabble rousing by communist and socialist activists and labor organizers — is meant to encourage a shift in worker consciousness. The communists, Marx says in the Manifesto, are a vanguard within the proletariat. They are the ones who can see clearly what is going on and their job is to bring others to the same realization.
Ideology and False Consciousness
We pause here to note Marx's contributions to what later became known as "the sociology of knowledge."
First, there is the basic idea of "ideology" — interest bound world views. Since ideas FOLLOW FROM material arrangements and since changes in material arrangements are what drive history, ideas are rooted in material relations.
And, in any given era, one groups' material interests dominate — the ruling class. As a result, their ideas dominate and become "the ideas of the time."
In his so-called Dominant Ideology Thesis Marx's says the ideas of an era are those of the ruling class of that era — in other words, the facts, knowledge, style of thinking, what counts as valid science, and so on, in any given time period will be ideas that serve the interests of those who are in charge. This opens up the possibility for a historicizing sociology of knowledge, on the one hand (explaining the relation of ideas to who was in charge at different times) and to a general relativizing of knowledge.
Hegel's Zeitgeist — literally, "time spirit" — is turned on its head.
Under capitalism, workers are socialized by an ideology which prevents them from recognizing their common class interest. Ideological notions such as "individualism," "personal responsibility," "achievement," "meritocracy," "family first," "take care of your own," "keeping up with the Jones," "you are what you own," "shopping makes you happy," and so on can serve the bourgeoisie by contributing to the lack of class consciousness in the proletariat.
Marx calls it false Consciousness when members of a class hold values and beliefs that serve the interests of other classes rather than their own. Another way to say this is that individuals fail to recognize their objective class interests — as when workers don't understand why it would be advantageous to unionize.
It might also be false consciousness if you manage to be more focused on grades than on learning (though one can imagine the opposite argument too). And it is said by some to be false consciousness when women are convinced that being "feminine" is the best way to get ahead in the world, or when men are convinced that being "macho" and wanting to be a soldier is an optimal path to self-fulfillment.
False consciousness allows one to participate in her or his own oppression.
That is, false consciousness prevents class an sich from turning into class für sich. False consciousness prevents critical class consciousness.
Starting in roughly the 1960s various "new social movements" adopted this logic and we saw the emergence of "consciousness raising groups" and such. To this day, a lot of what we do in sociology, women's studies, ethnic studies, and related fields is strongly informed by this line of thinking.
Predictions : win some, lose some
But back to Marx.
Remember that it all comes back to economic relations. Marx's last 30 years were spent making the case that capitalist means of production was by its nature exploitative, alienating, and self contradictory.
Starting in the Manifesto we get the argument that capitalism will constantly be subject to periodic crises, that it generates a widening gap between rich and poor, that it depends on constant expansion of markets, and that it pits worker against worker.
That much seems to work.
But he also suggested that because capitalism concentrates workers together, even as it exploits them, workers will connect, see what's really going on, and overthrow the system.
That has not happened. And, in fact, the overthrown systems have themselves toppled.
And, in one form or another, most social theory ever since has been a meditation on why and why not. But we don't need to go there right now.
What's the basic problem? For Marx there are two problems : the humanistic problem — alienation — and the
Marx's commentary on alienation bequeaths to us a concern with fundamental value of human existence.
What do we walk away from Marx with?
CLASS as economic situation.
Social structures as real and primary.
Radical sociology of knowledge
Humanistic concern with proper existence
Implicit recognition that power and control are key variables
Questioning of taken for granted notion that exploitation is OK
Sensitivity to contradictions within systems
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1848. "The Manifesto of Class Struggle" (39-43) FULL TEXT
Recall that this is a revolutionary pamphlet. It is not written as theory, per se, but as a manifesto (= a public declaration of principles and intentions, especially political). There is a preface not reproduced in some excerpts:
A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
Two things result from this fact:
I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power.
II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself.
To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London and sketched the following manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages.
- POINT 1
- History is about a progressive series of class struggles that culminates in that between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
- POINT 2
- The communists are the political avant garde (here it means more "cutting edge" or "front" (as in popular front for the liberation of …) rather than "most up to date") of the proletariat. They understand what is going on and what must happen.
- POINT 3
- Given that there are lots of different schools of "socialism" it is important to distinguish where they sit vis a vis communism.
- POINT 4
- To make the revolution happen, the communists will need to collaborate with other opposition parties.
- "A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies."
- "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."
- "The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at the Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win."
- "WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!"
All history is class struggle
In the past there's been complex class hierarchies but now just two: bourgeoisie and proletariat.
The bourgeoisie arose from feudalism with industrialization.
The cultural changes wrought by the bourgeoisie are stunning.
- setting aside hundreds of years of feudal practice,
- overcoming religious superstition,
- opening way for exchange value and trade to dominate life
- to replace exploitation veiled in illusions with simple, shameless exploitation
Two features of the bourgeois revolution are particularly important:
- it has a constant need to revolutionize ("all that is solid melts into air," and
- it needs a constantly expanding market. It has given a "cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country" (476.6).
NOTE: NEXT time we will see this same logic in Weber.
Next Marx describes steps in the historical dialectic
- The means of production and exchange that are characteristic of Bourgeois society started under feudalism, but
- eventually feudal property relations became incompatible with the move toward industry.
- And so the feudal relations were replaced by free competition and a whole set of political values and institutions to go along with it.
KEY IDEA. Economic relations (arrangements, structures) change and ideas, values, institutions, world views change too
Contemporary world is seeing a similar change
NEWSFLASH: Bourgeois capitalism is occasionally rocked by crises (depressions, etc.) that threaten its very existence.
Marx claims the system contains the seeds of its own demise.
IMPORTANT: The system has also created a class who will wield the weapons of its destruction — the proletariat.
- The work of the proletarian has lost all its charm (alienation). He becomes mere appendage of the machine.
- Workers move from a "patriarchal" workshop to a factory organized along military lines.
- And after he collects his wages, the worker is still a slave to other members of the bourgeoisie (landlord, shopkeeper, etc.).
Struggle of the proletariat builds up from that of individual worker to all in factory to all in a trade, etc.
- They are first united as a force when the bourgeoisie bands them together in armies and such.
- But gradually, the members of the proletariat are more and more in the same boat.
- The encounters between individual workers and bosses begin more and more to look like encounters between two classes.
- They begin to form associations and unions. The occasional riot breaks out. (480.5ff)
- Over time, local struggles communicate and connect to form national struggles.
- The means of travel and communication permit the transformation into a class and a political party in no time at all. (481.5).
- Much of the "training" for becoming a political force comes about because proletariat is dragged into the political arena by the bourgeoisie's conflicts with other classes of the old society and other bourgeoisies.
- Late in the process some members of the bourgeoisie go over to the side of the revolutionary class of the proletariat. (481.8)
Other classes (small manufacturer, shopkeepers, etc.) may now and then fight the bourgeoisie
- but they are basically just trying to save their own skin and so end up being more conservative than revolutionary.
- Similarly, "social scum" [LUMPEN PROLETARIAT] may join the fray, but they are ill prepared and often as not are exploited by conservative ideologues.
Only the proletariat can be the revolutionary class.
- They don't have vested interest in status quo caused by owning property.
- They don't participate in bourgeois family relations.
- They are not subject to national character allegiance because they've become anonymous citizen workers.
- Proletariat can't take power like previous upwardly mobile classes (which amounted to "turning the tables") because it is the very condition of their existence which they need to change: they need to abolish individual property (which is the source of their problems). (482.6)
Why do we say that this will happen?
- In previous epochs the exploited and oppressed classes were at least given an accommodation that made it possible to survive as slaves or serfs or what have you.
- The worker, by contrast, is more and more reduced to pauperism.
- The bourgeoisie is unfit to be a ruling class because it cannot insure its "slave class" even a decent subsistence.
- Bourgeois class <== augmentation of capital <== wage labour <== competition between workers
- Advance of industry ==> concentration and organization of workers ==> revolutionary organization.
- "What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers" (483).
Marx, K. 1867. "Capital and the Fetishism of Commodities," from Capital, Vol. I. (60-62) FULL TEXT
This short excerpt introduces the idea of "commodity fetishism" which, while important in Marx, will also show up much later as a concept used by contemporary social theorists talking about commodification and modern society. The basic idea of "fetishism" (which comes originally from anthropology, not psychology as we are wont to suppose) is important too. In a word it means to imbue an object with magical powers. There is a direct connection here to Durkheim's concept of "the sacred" in connection with primitive religion.
Main Points (tweets)
1 Commodity seems simple, but it is not.
2 Magic not from use value, nor from …
3 Labor goes into object. Object can be exchanged for money which can be exchanged for object which was made by labor. Thus relation between individuals is manifest in social relation between products.
4 My humanity/labor relates to yours through the objects of our labor. Marx is getting at the very idea of a "social construction" here:
[With commodities], the existence of the things qua commodities, and the value-relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connexion with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.
5 Root of this is in the social character of production.
6 Social character of production by individuals only shows up when objects are exchanged (61.5)
Marx, K. 1867. “Labour-Power and Capital," from Capital, Vol. I. (62-67)
"labour-power" capabilities exercised to produce use-value