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Marx’s theory of historical materialism, inspired by Hegel’s phenomenology, stated that both human societies and cultural institutions resulted from economic activity. Unlike Hegel who stated that abstract ideas were the cause of change, however, Marx proposed that material, economic forces, and their relationship with the natural, biological and physical world, were the determining proponents of dialectical change. History rests in the internal contradictions in the system of material production (producing what people need for survival), and other factors that have influenced society, such as geographical movement and growth of population, were not as determinant as the mode of production. Any changes in the material and economic conditions of a society also imply changes in its social relations. Social change, then, resulted from internal conflicts in a society’s economy. The social reality determines human consciousness.
The mode of production is composed of two aspects: the productive forces and men’s relations of production. The productive forces include the instruments of production wherewith material values needed for survival, such as food, clothing, shelter, fuel, etc., are produced and the people who use these instruments in the production of material values through their production experience and labor skill. Men’s relations of productions, on the other hand, refer to the relations the people make with each other during production. These may come in the form of cooperation and mutual help, and in domination and subordination.
Marx regarded revolutions not as political accidents, but manifestations of the historical progress of societies. Revolutions occur when modes of production “mature”, or contradict themselves to the point that they eventually collapse. Marx recounts human history in terms of four modes of production.
The first mode of production, named asiatic, was considered as primitive communism, It was characterized by a communal ownership of land and essential economic resources. This mode of production was phased out when physically stronger people instituted the concept of private property. The ancient mode of production gave authority to people with physical, political and material strength – the masters – while the non-owning class were slaves. Slaves were treated as commodities and made to engage in torturous menial and physical labor. This started a revolution of the slaves against their masters. The feudal mode of production was characterized, again, by two classes: feudal lords and serfs. Lords owned the land, and their job was to lease land and employ agricultural labor in their lands. The serfs worked in the lands and paid taxes in exchange for the lords’ protection. Like in the ancient mode of production, the serfs revolted against the lords. Industrialism grew because of the revolution. Finally, the capitalistic mode of production, and the one Marx was most bothered with, caused the migration from rural to urban areas. There were two working classes as well: the bourgeoisie, who owned most of society’s wealth and means of production, and the proletariats, who rendered service for survival.
Marx wanted that the exploitation present since the ancient mode of production would dispel, and so proposed socialism and communism. Socialism is the beginning stage wherein society is classless, while communism is the final stage wherein equality has been thoroughly implemented and private property and ownership are absent.
The Marxist definition of alienation means that man does not experience himself as the acting agent in his grasp of the world, but that the world remains alien to him. The process of alienation is expressed in work and the division of labor, especially due to the emergence of capitalism and private property. Eventually, labor rules over the man and becomes a power independent of its producer. Man’s identity and consciousness of himself and his world becomes marred.
“The object produced by labor, its product, now stands opposed to it as an alien being, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labor is labor which has been embodied in an object and turned into a physical thing; this product is an objectification of labor”
Marx seeks the liberation of man from labor that destroys his individuality through his criticism of capitalism. Capitalist production, according to him, transforms the relations of individuals into qualities of things, and exploits its producers like machines through aliented labor. He differentiates proper work and alienated labor as thus:
“Man no longer reproduces himself merely intellectually, as in consciousness, but actively and in a real sense, and he sees his own reflection in a world which he has constructed. While, therefore, alienated labor takes away the object of production from man, it also takes away his species life, his real objectivity as a species-being, and changes his advantage over animals into a disadvantage in so far as his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him. Just as alienated labor transforms free and self-directed activity into a means, so it transforms the species life of man into a means of physical existence. Consciousness, which man has from his species, is transformed through alienation so that species life becomes only a means for him.”
Alienation also leads to the perversion of moral values, as man is too conscious of economy’s values – gain, work, thrift and sobriety – to develop virtues. Due to the rising importance of commodities and money, for every new product, the potential for deceit and robbery grows. The alienated man only knows one way of relating himself to the world: through having and consuming it. He becomes more needy for money and possessions, and watches for signs of weaknesses in which he can maximize his gain.
Class consciousness is recognizing that the different interests and conditions of living between the two classes (bourgeois and proletariat) define their relationship with each other. This occurs when there is awareness from the working class that the conditions of labor and living of their class was created by the upper class. Once this happens, the working class becomes the enemy of the upper class.
There are six features of class consciousness, although it was not Marx, but Bertell Ollman, who came up with them. The first feature pertains to the subjective and objective identity and interests of membership in a class. “Subjective” refers to what people think about their class situation, while “objective” refers to how the classes actually worked as seen in historical development,
The second feature is that people must be knowledgeable about how capitalism works, either to benefit or deter them. The third feature pertains to the “broad outlines of class struggle and where one fits into it”. The fourth feature pertains to the solidarity with other members of the same class, which are exemplified by worker unions and revolts. The fifth feature is a “rational hostility” towards the opposing class. The last feature pertains to having a “vision of a more democratic and egalitarian society that is not only possible but is a condition individuals can help bring about.”
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