Monday, November 27, 2006

Marx Still Matters and the Question of Privilege

Why Marx Still Matters by Paul D'Amato

"A uniquely fluid class system [exists in America] that allows for significant upward mobility is “the promise that lies at the heart of the American dream,' according to a New York Times study on class in the United States. The ability of the poor and the working class to climb the social ladder has always been exaggerated. But in the early phases of industrial development it had a certain amount of validity. The abundance of cheap land in the West for a time offered workers the opportunity to 'retire' from wage labor and become farmers. Each new wave of immigrants would start at the bottom, but might dream of improving their lot by moving up and out of the working class. This provided a safety valve preventing the formation of what Engels called a 'permanent proletariat.' Once westward expansion had completed its course by the end of the 1890s, however, the safety valve was closed.

But the 'dream' never disappeared. Being your own boss-starting up a small business where there aren't any foremen or managers bossing you around-continues to be seen as a way out of the working class. The dream is a backhanded acknowledgement of the alienating, tedious, and unrewarding quality of wage labor. But the dream also has an ideological purpose-to promote the idea that individuals can make something of themselves, not through collective struggle, but by dint of individual spunk and hard work. Conversely, it reinforces the idea that those who are stuck in the working class or in poverty deserve it because they haven't tried hard enough to get out.”

Good points. That last one reminds me of a Rush Limbaugh riff (remember those “homeless updates”). I was chatting with a Russian anarchist and disgruntled ex-CP member recently and she said she thought that: “Everything Lenin told us about the state [withering away] was a lie, and everything Marx said a about [state] capitalism was true.”

I am not a Marxist or a communist. But it’s hard to deny many of the points Marx made about state-capitalism and the ability of the ruling class to dominate, consolidate, and maintain their hold on the political apparatus of the state, still holds true.

Privilege: Its Role in Oppression by Punkerslut

“What is the alternative to privilege? If a citizen in this society does not wish to obey the orders of the masters of the system, they will lose their privilege. They would still enjoy some of the fruits of society, but they would be among the class of the majority with little privilege. That is the only punishment given to those who do not accept the offers of the system to become more productive members. The offer of privilege reads as follows: ‘Adhere to these special orders and you will be rewarded.’ On the other end, there is a threat: ‘Violate our laws, or the orders to the many, and you will be punished with imprisonment -- the complete inability to gain or enjoy any privilege.’ The use of privilege is two-fold, in that it is used as a method of reward as well as a method of punishment. The social system in place then has interests, desires, wants, goals. Its natural role is to force people to comply with orders. The privileged classes enjoy a higher quality of living, because the framers of the social system gave them more consideration. By having these privileged classes, the ruling class gains a tighter and firmer control of the majority. For instance, kings in Europe would assign nobles who in turn controlled knights, the class honored with the duty of force. Today, privilege is granted to all members of society that produce more, because the fruit of their produce is taxed to feed runaway military and police budgets. By granting a small amount of privilege to doctors, the whole of society can produce more wealth to feed more troops. In that respect, the system gains more protective strength, in order to maintain the present order. The citizen possesses the option to reject the offers of privilege for special duties, such as enrolling in the military or becoming a more productive member of society. One might even theoretically say that he possesses the option to reject even the law, only if they are willing to accept the penalty of losing all privilege. And though it is not difficult for us to use the phrase ‘losing all privilege,’ we cannot forget that waking everyday in a prison cell is a very stark and brutal reality for many.”

You can go your own way in American society, says punkerslut, but only if you’re willing to suffer a decline in your privilege level. And even that option has its limits.

No comments: