Blog 1: Trying to Get Marx

While reading The German Ideology I was reminded of a book I read in one of my anthropology classes. Marx talks a lot about the relationship between the worker and the product they produce (or the work they do, in simpler terms). He says in the German Ideaology, “As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce…it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part…” I read a book called “Vita” by Joao Biehl. It focuses on a Catarina, a woman in Brazil who lives in Vita, which we here might call an old home. But Vita is more serious than that. It’s a zone of social abandonment where the old and sick go to live out the rest of their days. Brazil, at this time, came under capitalistic rule and many changes took place. A person’s value is determined by how much they can contribute to the economic society. If someone is unable to work, then they have no value and are cast aside to places like Vita. Working and producing does indeed become a person’s life.

There are, of course, other details in the book that I can’t remember, but this situation alone reminds me very much of what Marx is talking about. Although, he says that the more a person produces the less valuable he is. Perhaps as a human being he loses value, because he becomes more and more of a machine. But in terms of an actual worker and producer the more he can produce the better. In Brazil, if a family member got sick and was unable to work, the rest of the family didn’t hesitate to send them away, because this person had no value. Instead of contributing to the society, they drained it. God forbid anyone but the rich get any benefits.

Marx also discussed how the ruling class conquer political power by making their interestes seem like the general interests, that is the interest of us little people. But under these general interests are always ulterior motives which favor the ruling class and take advantage of the working class. This part reminded me somewhat of my job. The company recently went public and it’s now a corporation. I was recently reading our new worker’s manual and I had a very good laugh. They talk a lot about enchancing the customer experience and how important it is that they leave happy,etc. They talked about how they want to give us employees a good and comfortable environment. THEY WANT US ALL TO BE SO HAPPY. But behind all of this, they just want to make money. They want us to be happy and nice so we’re nice to the customers who will be satisified and come back and spend more money on the product. If we’re mean and grouchy to the customers, they’ll never want to come back and corporate will lose money (the agony!). In reality, they have overworked their employees, force fake smiles on their faces and lowered their wages. But it’s all ok, because they’re still making the big bucks! Obviously you can assume corporate is bourgeoisie and the employees are the proletariat.

I understand a lot of what Marx is saying, but the language he uses can get a bit tricky sometimes, and I suppose the best way to understand him is to try and apply him to real world situations.

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7 responses to “Blog 1: Trying to Get Marx

  1. By reading this comment, you really helped me understand Marx a little bit more. The wording is still confusing, but now I have better understanding of Marx. Thanks!

  2. Hi Kinga,
    I must say that I couldn’t agree more with how Marx’s wording is. I must of re-read each paragraph two-three times. However I feel that many people can relate to the fact that working and producing does become a person’s life. If a person is unable to work then what value do they have in the economic society? As the years are passing the prices are only growing higher, I mean take a look at the gas prices. As for the more a person works, he loses his value. That is very true because when people keep working, working, working, they become so consumed in their “work-life” they lose control what is going on around them.
    Haha! You made me laugh with the comment about your job. Most companies just care about getting money, take my job for example. Its a day camp and they advertise online. They actually ask the parents “so how did you find out about us?” Because if they parents search online, the camp gets money.

  3. I’d say you’re “getting” Marx, Kinga — brava! Your new workers’ manual sounds like a fascinating ethnographic document of work under contemporary capitalism. I’d say your experience of working at a company as it “goes corporate” provides special insights into how capitalism works at the “base” and “superstructural” (ideological) levels.

    Your comments about Brazil remind me of the work of another anthropologist who’s done fieldwork there, Nancy Scheper-Hughes. She gets into the same kinds of questions of value and survival in a capitalist economy and looks at how material conditions actually forced mothers to make unthinkable decisions about which of her children had the best chances of survival and then distributing meager resources accordingly.

    Interestingly, both of your examples concern periods of transition when the nature and the dynamics of the system are thought to be clearer to see.

  4. Im sorry but something is going on with the blog because I can not seem to find the word blog and then go to the page and write down my blog. All it says is “random blog” and it doesn’t let me go to the blog page, so I am leaving my Blog #1 here…
    Blog #1: Marx: Class consciousness.
    In the text book according to Marx he thought class consciousness is “an awareness on the part of the working class of its common relationship to the means of production. Marx believed that this awareness was a vital key for sparking a revolution that would create a “dictatorship of the proletariat,”… this one would be fought in the interests of the vast majority of the population and not for the benefit of a few as the particular class interests of the proletariat had come to represent the universal interests of humanity.”
    This was a long quote but I feel that Marx was a fighter for the underdog, and in the society where he grew up in that was the working class. To be conscious of the massive class separation of the time was important and the working class who were not reaping the benefits of their work but the rich and upper class were of the majority of the population. If they were to up rise and start a revolution they probably could because of the numbers they possessed. If everyone went on a workers strike and the would be in today’s society 1% had to fend for themselves they would cave in because they have no idea what the workingman does. They might be the CEO’s of companies but the day-to-day people are the ones really running the company. The proletariats were “the business owners who are unable to compete successfully for a share of the market and find themselves joining the swelling ranks of property less wage earners.” The Bourgeoisie was the rich and wealthy who were the factory owners. These were the classes on the time period and I think that society is relatively the same today because you still have the rich and wealthy as the smallest part of the class pyramid and then you have middle class workers who hold a much larger chunk of the pyramid along with the poor. If there were to be a revolution I think the working class could definitely win but in order to do that you need to make a stand.

    • Anjie, to Add a New Post, once you’re logged in to WordPress and on the 331 blog page, go to the top left of the toolbar where it says “SOC 331: Foundations…” If you hover over that, scroll down to “New” on the drop-down menu and then click “Post” from the drop-down menu that appears on the right.

  5. Miss anjiedavi28,
    I agree with you that if the working class made a stand, they’d probably have a good chance at making some changes, but this whole “stand” buisness is easier said than done. Capitalism is all about competition and the minute someone goes on strike or someone leaves their job, there are tons of people ready to fill that void. This, coupled with the unemployment rates, means that there’s tons of people who will take a job for even less pay than the previous worker just to have something in their pockets. It’s hard to convince people to take a stand and make changes when their tummies are growling. Also, I feel that since the United States is all about individualism, people care more about themselves and their immediate needs rather than the greater good and the changes that will benefit the next generations to come. Plus, the buisness tycoons can always go to other countries or hire the illegal immigrants to get the work done since they probably don’t know any better because of language barriers and poor education. This combination of factors is probably what holds us back from said “stand”. This has probably been the case since forever or else we would’ve gotten rid of such terrible systems long ago.

  6. TO Kinga22: I completely agree with what you are saying. I think my “taking a stand” blog was wishful thinking on my part. I do know that through history even if men and women were to go on strike in this economy now people would be lining up to get those jobs because they need the money, so taking a stand would not really help anyone and the elite would still win out. I just hope that soon the wealthy will not have that type of control anymore and there will be a fair fight.

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