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.