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Labor conflicts (old social movements) at the heart of social movements : The analysis of Karl Marx (1818-1883)

For Marxists, there is fundamental conflict between different groups in society. This conflict is on going and persistent and not temporary.

How is Society Constructed?

Marx noted that in order to survive we enter relationships in order to ensure production. The forces of production and the social relationship to this form the economic basis or infrastructure of society. The other aspects of society, known as the superstructure is shaped by the infrastructure. So for example, The Education system is shaped by economic factors according to Marx. Any change in the infrastructure will thus lead to changes in the superstructure.

Marx claims that all societies today contain contradictions. Another exploits what he means by this is that one social group. This creates conflict of interests, as one social group, the owners of the factors of production benefits on the back of the others (the workers). He believed that such a position could not continue.

According to Marx, society is constructed from classes. In all societies, except the simplest, there are two major classes. It is people’s relationship to the means of production that determines which class they belong to. The most powerful class is that which owns the means of production, (land, labour, factories) and the least powerful is that which has to sell its labour to make a living.

 

How does society operate or function? Explaining the Contradictions

In Marx’s view, society operates mainly through class conflict. In particular he argues that capitalistic society the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are fundamentally opposed. Marx believes that real wealth was only created by the labour power of the workers. Yet the wages that are paid to them is well below that taken in profit by the people who own the factors of production. This is a major contradiction.

In capitalism large numbers of workers, acting collectively achieves production. In contrast, just one individual owns the factors of production and the profits do not flow to the workers who have organized themselves collectively.

 

What Causes Social Change?

Major changes according to Marx are a result of new forces of production. He used the change from Feudal society run by the noblemen, clergy, and commoners and based upon heredity. So there was little movement within the system. Feudalism was based upon ownership of the land. The commoners who worked the land have to give part of their produce to the landowners; in return, the landowners protected them to rival noblemen. Therefore, the change between this system and capitalism resulted in contradictions. For example, capitalism is based upon wage labour, whereas feudalism was based upon mutual

obligations. The new order, capitalism took over, it swept out the old social relationships of feudalism and replaced them with the new. Marx called this a new Epoch.

Eventually Marx believed there would be a final Epoch where a communistic or socialist society would take over from capitalism. This will not be the result of a new force of production, but will get rid of the contradictions that so far characterized change between Epochs. Collective production would remain but ownership would change dramatically. Instead of the Bourgeoisie, owning the factors of production ownership will be by all. Members would share wealth that their labour produces. This new infrastructure would not be based upon exploitation and contradictions, instead a new final epoch would be born, one, which would have no need to change. It would thus result in the end of history.

 

Why has Capitalism Survived given These Massive Contradictions?

Capitalism has remained durable, in the West it has survived for 200 years. Marx claimed this is the result of the role of the superstructure, which is shaped by the infrastructure. So for example, the ruling elite has monopolized political power, laws, and other institutions to maintain their control. They have thus managed to legitimate their power and hide from the people the true nature of their exploitation. Propagating the ideas of equality and freedom has done this. For example, the relationship between the worker and the owner of the factors of production is seen as equal exchange. However, in reality it is not, although there is a degree of choice of who to work for, in reality we must work to survive. In Marx’s words, all we can do is exchange one form of wage slavery for another.

More importantly, the ruling elite is able to dominate the ideology of the time. They are able to produce a false picture of the world as it is. Moreover, to stop us seeing the contradictions. We see our exploitation as just, natural, and proper. Marx calls this a false consciousness of reality. Marx believes this false consciousness will only work so long. Eventually people will see behind it.

 

Extracts of the Manifesto :

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other -- bourgeoisie and proletariat.

(...)

Modern Industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army, they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois state; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, in the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

(...)

with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalized, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labor, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon, the workers begin to form combinations (trade unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots.

(...)

Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lie not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by Modern Industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralize the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. But every class struggle is a political struggle. And that union, to attain which the burghers of the Middle Ages, with their miserable highways, required centuries, the modern proletarian, thanks to railways, achieve in a few years.

This organization of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently, into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself. Thus, the Ten-Hours Bill in England was carried.

(...)

Proletarians of all countries, unite!

 

 

What about classes struggle?

Less ans less strikes over time in America

Source : http://uk.businessinsider.com/how-far-labor-unions-have-fallen-2016-2?r=US&IR=T

 

Match the following statements to the appropriate notion ….

A/Capitalism

B/Bourgeoisie

C/Factors or Means of Production.

D/Surplus Value

E/Class Consciousness

F/The Final Epoch

G/Proletariat

 

  1. The difference between what the worker is paid in wages and its selling price.

  2. Where a communistic or socialist society would take over from capitalism. The end result is communism where all the people own the means of production equally.

  3. The wage slaves that have to work for the bourgeoisie in order to survive. They own nothing.

  4. The ruling class who own the factors of production and employ the workers.

  5. The situation in which workers become aware of their exploited position. They then develop this.

  6. It is the economic system, which produces goods, and services, which satisfy the wants and needs.

  7. Land, Labour and Capital.

 

 

A:

B:

C:

D:

E:

F:

G:

 

Look at the following phrases, are they strengths of Marx’s argument or weaknesses of Marxism ?

A) While the great inequalities in wealth and income continue to exist, the working class has not got poorer as Marx suggested. Living standards have improved vastly since Marx’s day, and the welfare state and compulsory state education have given the working class a better lifestyle than Marx predicted B) The means of production remain mostly privately owned in the hands of a small minority of the population. There are still great inequalities of wealth and income in modern Britain, and widespread poverty. 10 % of the population owns more than 50% of the wealth C) Compulsory education has given the working class more changes of upward social mobility and the welfare state provides a safety net guaranteeing a minimum income for all. Housing standards, health and education are much improved compared with the 19th century D) Unemployment benefits help to reduce the severe hardships, which were associated with unemployment in Marx’s day. E) The concentration of ownership has not occurred; indeed, there has been some limited diffusion of wealth. F) Marx ignores women and fails to analyze their particular positions in society G) There remains much evidence of major social class inequalities in life chances, such as in health, housing and the level of educational achievement and job security H) Voting rights and the formation of trade unions have given the working class more power and influence in society than when Marx was writing I) Unemployment is an on-going problem, and affects most severely those in working class occupations. J) It is felt that Marx’s concept of economic determinism places too much stress on the economy as determining all social life, K) The owners of the means of production still have much more power and influence than the majority. For example, the privileged rich who have attended public schools hold the major positions in the state, industry and banking, and they own the mass media L) It is unable to explain the degree of stability in society other than by recourse to some notion of power and domination. M) The polarization of people into the proletariat and capitalists has not occurred. N) The laws are passed by a democratically elected parliament, chosen in free elections. The laws therefore may be said to represent the will of the majority. O) The laws still favour the bourgeoisie, such as those who try to weaken trade unions and make it difficult to take legal strike action. In a Guardian ICM survey, 67% of the population agreed that there was ‘one law for the rich and one for the poor’ P) There is still much evidence of opposing class interests and class conflict, such as strikes and industrial sabotage in the workplace. Q) Marx suggested that only the two opposing classes would emerge. In fact, the past century has seen the emergence of a middle class of professionals and managers, and office workers between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. While these groups do not own the means of production, they benefit from exercising authority on behalf of the bourgeoisie and have higher status and better income and life chances than the working class. They generally have no interest in overthrowing the bourgeoisie. Trade unions are basically concerned with improving pay within the system rather than promoting revolution.

 

Put only letters in the following table :

 

Pro-marxist arguments

Anti-marxist arguments

 

 

 

 

Document.

( … ) A September study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington noted that the median annual earnings of a full-time, male worker in the U.S. in 2011, at $48,202, were smaller than in 1973. Between 1983 and 2010, 74% of the gains in wealth in the U.S. went to the richest 5%, while the bottom 60% suffered a decline, the EPI calculated. (…) What would Marx say today? “Some variation of: ‘I told you so,’” says Richard Wolff, a Marxist economist at the New School in New York. “The income gap is producing a level of tension that I have not seen in my lifetime.” Tensions between economic classes in the U.S. are clearly on the rise. Society has been perceived as split between the “99%” (the regular folk, struggling to get by) and the “1%” (the connected and privileged superrich getting richer every day). In a Pew Research Center poll released last year, two-thirds of the respondents believed the U.S. suffered from “strong” or “very strong” conflict between rich and poor, a significant 19-percentage-point increase from 2009, ranking it as the No. 1 division in society (…) Trickle-down economics, which insists that the success of the 1% will benefit the 99%, has come under heavy scrutiny (…) The rich-poor divide is perhaps most volatile in China (...) “People from the outside see our lives as very bountiful, but the real life in the factory is very different,” says factory worker Peng Ming in the southern industrial enclave of Shenzhen. Facing long hours, rising costs, indifferent managers and often late pay, workers are beginning to sound like true proletariat. “The way the rich get money is through exploiting the workers,” says Guan Guohau, another Shenzhen factory employee. “Communism is what we are looking forward to.” Unless the government takes greater action to improve their welfare, they say, the laborers will become more and more willing to take action themselves. “Workers will organize more,” Peng predicts. “All the workers should be united.” That may already be happening. Tracking the level of labor unrest in China is difficult, but experts believe it has been on the rise. A new generation of factory workers — better informed than their parents, thanks to the Internet — has become more outspoken in its demands for better wages and working conditions. So far, the government’s response has been mixed. Policymakers have raised minimum wages to boost incomes, toughened up labor laws to give workers more protection, and in some cases, allowed them to strike. But the government still discourages independent worker activism, often with force. Such tactics have left China’s proletariat distrustful of their proletarian dictatorship. “The government thinks more about the companies than us,” says Guan. If Xi doesn’t reform the economy so the ordinary Chinese benefit more from the nation’s growth, he runs the risk of fueling social unrest. Marx would have predicted just such an outcome. As the proletariat woke to their common class interests, they’d overthrow the unjust capitalist system and replace it with a new, socialist wonderland. Communists “openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions,” Marx wrote. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” Workers may have common problems, but they aren’t banding together to resolve them. Union membership in the U.S., for example, has continued to decline through the economic crisis, while the Occupy Wall Street movement fizzled. Protesters, says Jacques Rancière, an expert in Marxism at the University of Paris, aren’t aiming to replace capitalism, as Marx had forecast, but merely to reform it. “We’re not seeing protesting classes call for an overthrow or destruction of socioeconomic systems in place,” he explains. “What class conflict is producing today are calls to fix systems so they become more viable and sustainable for the long run by redistributing the wealth created.”

“Marx’s Revenge: How Class Struggle Is Shaping the World”, Michael Schuman, Time, March 25, 2013

 

Should we give up the marxian point of view concerning social movements ?

L'article complet (ou presque) :

Marx theorized that the capitalist system would inevitably impoverish the masses as the world’s wealth became concentrated in the hands of a greedy few, causing economic crises and heightened conflict between the rich and working classes. “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole,” Marx wrote. A growing dossier of evidence suggests that he may have been right. It is sadly all too easy to find statistics that show the rich are getting richer while the middle class and poor are not. A September study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington noted that the median annual earnings of a full-time, male worker in the U.S. in 2011, at $48,202, were smaller than in 1973. Between 1983 and 2010, 74% of the gains in wealth in the U.S. went to the richest 5%, while the bottom 60% suffered a decline, the EPI calculated. No wonder some have given the 19th century German philosopher a second look. In China, the Marxist country that turned its back on Marx, Yu Rongjun was inspired by world events to pen a musical based on Marx’s classic Das Kapital. “You can find reality matches what is described in the book,” says the playwright. That’s not to say Marx was entirely correct. His “dictatorship of the proletariat” didn’t quite work out as planned. But the consequence of this widening inequality is just what Marx had predicted: class struggle is back. Workers of the world are growing angrier and demanding their fair share of the global economy. From the floor of the U.S. Congress to the streets of Athens to the assembly lines of southern China, political and economic events are being shaped by escalating tensions between capital and labor to a degree unseen since the communist revolutions of the 20th century. How this struggle plays out will influence the direction of global economic policy, the future of the welfare state, political stability in China, and who governs from Washington to Rome. What would Marx say today? “Some variation of: ‘I told you so,’” says Richard Wolff, a Marxist economist at the New School in New York. “The income gap is producing a level of tension that I have not seen in my lifetime.” Tensions between economic classes in the U.S. are clearly on the rise. Society has been perceived as split between the “99%” (the regular folk, struggling to get by) and the “1%” (the connected and privileged superrich getting richer every day). In a Pew Research Center poll released last year, two-thirds of the respondents believed the U.S. suffered from “strong” or “very strong” conflict between rich and poor, a significant 19-percentage-point increase from 2009, ranking it as the No. 1 division in society (…) Trickle-down economics, which insists that the success of the 1% will benefit the 99%, has come under heavy scrutiny (…) The rich-poor divide is perhaps most volatile in China (...) “People from the outside see our lives as very bountiful, but the real life in the factory is very different,” says factory worker Peng Ming in the southern industrial enclave of Shenzhen. Facing long hours, rising costs, indifferent managers and often late pay, workers are beginning to sound like true proletariat. “The way the rich get money is through exploiting the workers,” says Guan Guohau, another Shenzhen factory employee. “Communism is what we are looking forward to.” Unless the government takes greater action to improve their welfare, they say, the laborers will become more and more willing to take action themselves. “Workers will organize more,” Peng predicts. “All the workers should be united.” That may already be happening. Tracking the level of labor unrest in China is difficult, but experts believe it has been on the rise. A new generation of factory workers — better informed than their parents, thanks to the Internet — has become more outspoken in its demands for better wages and working conditions. So far, the government’s response has been mixed. Policymakers have raised minimum wages to boost incomes, toughened up labor laws to give workers more protection, and in some cases, allowed them to strike. But the government still discourages independent worker activism, often with force. Such tactics have left China’s proletariat distrustful of their proletarian dictatorship. “The government thinks more about the companies than us,” says Guan. If Xi doesn’t reform the economy so the ordinary Chinese benefit more from the nation’s growth, he runs the risk of fueling social unrest. Marx would have predicted just such an outcome. As the proletariat woke to their common class interests, they’d overthrow the unjust capitalist system and replace it with a new, socialist wonderland. Communists “openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions,” Marx wrote. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” Workers may have common problems, but they aren’t banding together to resolve them. Union membership in the U.S., for example, has continued to decline through the economic crisis, while the Occupy Wall Street movement fizzled. Protesters, says Jacques Rancière, an expert in Marxism at the University of Paris, aren’t aiming to replace capitalism, as Marx had forecast, but merely to reform it. “We’re not seeing protesting classes call for an overthrow or destruction of socioeconomic systems in place,” he explains. “What class conflict is producing today are calls to fix systems so they become more viable and sustainable for the long run by redistributing the wealth created.” Despite such calls, however, current economic policy continues to fuel class tensions. In China, senior officials have paid lip service to narrowing the income gap but in practice have dodged the reforms (fighting corruption, liberalizing the finance sector) that could make that happen. Debt-burdened governments in Europe have slashed welfare programs even as joblessness has risen and growth sagged. In most cases, the solution chosen to repair capitalism has been more capitalism. Policymakers in Rome, Madrid and Athens are being pressured by bondholders to dismantle protection for workers and further deregulate domestic markets. Owen Jones, the British author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, calls this “a class war from above.” There are few to stand in the way. The emergence of a global labor market has defanged unions throughout the developed world. The political left, dragged rightward since the free-market onslaught of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, has not devised a credible alternative course. “Virtually all progressive or leftist parties contributed at some point to the rise and reach of financial markets, and rolling back of welfare systems in order to prove they were capable of reform,” Rancière notes. “I’d say the prospects of Labor or Socialists parties or governments anywhere significantly reconfiguring — much less turning over — current economic systems to be pretty faint.” That leaves open a scary possibility: that Marx not only diagnosed capitalism’s flaws but also the outcome of those flaws. If policymakers don’t discover new methods of ensuring fair economic opportunity, the workers of the world may just unite. Marx may yet have his revenge.

“Marx’s Revenge: How Class Struggle Is Shaping the World”, Michael Schuman, Time, March 25, 2013

 

 

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