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THE STATE, CLASS AND FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS WITHIN THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASS

Jeremy Cloward, Ph.D.

Diablo Valley College

 

Abstract

The main issue that the United States needs to confront in order to move from a liberal capitalist society which is organized around the interests of the wealthy to a socialist political and economic system that is run by and for working people is the problem of false consciousness among the American working class.  Through a discussion of the US military budget, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and current health care policy in the United States I examine the root causes and prevalence of false consciousness and provide a resolution to the problem.

“…change is impossible so long as power is left in the hands

of a privileged minority of the population.”[1]

Introduction

In the United States the American working class has seen itself become increasingly involved in fighting imperialistic wars abroad, financing a growing military budget, and losing its social safety net at home yet at the same time regularly acting politically inconsistent with their own class interests.  This has been to the gain of US-based multinational corporations and to the detriment of working people.  Until the working class in the United States realizes that the predominantly corporate-controlled state does not serve their personal and class interests they will not see any significant improvement in their lives.   On the contrary, as long as working people continue to support the two major parties they can expect to see many more years of corporate dominance of the United States political, economic and social system.  The primary issue that working people must address to resolve this problem is the question of false consciousness.

False Consciousness                         

False consciousness is a term derived from the Marxist tradition which identifies a state of mind of an individual or a group of people who neither understand their class interests nor act politically consistent with those concerns.  Karl Marx, himself, did not use the term false consciousness.  However, many who are intellectually aligned with the Marxist tradition trace the concepts’ origin back to a theory first developed by Marx known as commodity fetishism.  Commodity fetishism is the idea that people place a value on commodities apart from the ones which they intrinsically possess.  For example, a diamond, once it becomes a commodity, is not simply a rock with the properties of a rock but instead an object that people value and admire as if the rock possessed some built-in power which makes it different and more valuable than any other rock.

False consciousness as a concept was first used by Marx’s friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels in July of 1893 in a letter to Franz Mehring.  While writing about the concept of historical materialism he claimed that “ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all.”[2]  Thus Engels, in two brief sentences coins the term and argues that false consciousness and ideology (i.e., worldview) are intellectual constructs.

The first notable person to discuss the idea of false consciousness after its introduction by Engels was the leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, V.I. Lenin.  In State and Revolution, Lenin argued that a false consciousness had been imposed on working people in Russia through the state and bourgeoisie.[3] The state  was used by the landowning elite and Czar to hold up its political and economic value-system as the only legitimate worldview for the Russian people; the intent being to force the whole of Russian society to embrace capital ownership and class division as natural.  With little protection from the owning class, Lenin surmised, that a “dictatorship of the proletariat” was needed to lead the Russian working class in revolution, teach them a proletarian ideology, and govern over the Russian working class during the initial stage of a newly established socialist state.

herbert 300x208 THE STATE, CLASS AND FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS  WITHIN THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASSSubsequent to Lenin, a group of scholars known as the “Frankfurt School,” further developed the concept of false consciousness.[4]  One member, Herbert Marcuse wrote in One-Dimensional Man that “men must come to…find their way from false to true consciousness, from their immediate interests to their real interest.”[5]   Marcuse believed that many people were not aware of their true concerns but instead needed to develop a consciousness that is consistent with their class position.  Similarly, Frankfurt scholar Erich Fromm argued that “only if false consciousness is transformed into true consciousness, that is, only if we are aware of reality can we also become aware of our real and true human needs.”[6]  Like Marcuse, Fromm argues that there is a need for human beings to develop a true understanding of their class location if their individual and class interests are to be realized.

Apart from the Frankfurt School scholars, a number of Marxist thinkers have written about false consciousness since the 1920s.  For example, in the 1930s Karl Mannheim argued that the class position of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat distorts their view of reality.  From this perspective reality is subject to one’s class membership and not imposed upon individuals by a separate class or the state.  In the same decade, Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci made a unique contribution in the development of the concept of false consciousness.  He contended that the working class is not simply subject to the political and economic ideology of the bourgeoisie that is imposed on them by that class but instead can help shape its own conscious mind through its own institutions (e.g., labor unions, workers literature, etc.).  Implicit in Gramsci’s argument is that genuine power rests within the working class to shape and control the political, economic and social dimensions of their lives.  Later, in the early 1970s French philosopher Louis Althusser argued that ideology and consciousness are not one in the same thing and that state institutions impose ideology and knowledge on each class.[7]   Finally, in the mid-1990s Michael Parenti concluded that to deny false consciousness is to “assume there has been no indoctrination, no socialization to conservative values, no control of information and commentary, no limitation of the topics to be considered in the national debate…and that a whole array of powers have not helped prestructure how we see and define our own interests and options.”[8]

Others have made similar or slightly different contributions to the false consciousness literature.  However, the fine point of their scholarship is this – some men and women can and do fail to understand their class position and in doing so fail to grasp their correct corresponding political ideology.  The failure to understand one’s class position and its corresponding ideology is the essence of false consciousness and can have a dramatic impact on the political, economic and social lives of working people.

To better understand the political and economic situation of working people our discussion will benefit first from an assessment of the state and class in the United States.

The State and Class in the United States

From a traditional Marxist analysis we can separate US society into five economic classes: the US-based international bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, the proletariat, and the lumpen proletariat. However, if we want to understand who has real power in the United States and thus who can shape ideology (or consciousness) then we must understand not only each class’ position in a hierarchical structure but also each class’ relationship to the state. This is important because the state more than any other institution in US society sanctions (i.e., approves or makes valid) political and economic thinking for the whole of society.  So, whichever class controls the state will also play a significant role in shaping state opinion.  As we shall see, the US-based international bourgeoisie, more than any other class controls the state.  While some may argue that the corporate-owned media in the United States shapes public opinion, more often than not the media simply serve as an uncritical voice for the state narrative; in general, merely relaying state opinion on the political and economic issues of the day.

Even if the media is to differ with the state, the media is controlled by the US-based international bourgeoisie so its differences will be necessarily limited in scope and never critical of state opinion in a genuinely radical sense as the institution that it is at odds with, i.e., the state, is serving the interests of the class which it is a member of.[9]  Accordingly, through an understanding of who controls the state (and consequently sets national policy) we can also understand who is most influential in shaping opinion (or ideology) for the whole of US society.  In addition, we can understand why the Democratic and Republican Party cannot and will not ever serve the interests of working people in the United States as these two parties are presently constituted.

If we view class in the United States from a top-down hierarchy, we see at the top of the class structure the most powerful political and economic class in the country – the US-based international bourgeoisie (also known as the US-based cosmopolitan bourgeoisie or US-based international capital).  In understanding the relationship of this class to the state (Washington D.C) we, in turn, become aware of why the state regularly works inconsistently with most peoples concerns but nevertheless consistent with the interests of a specific group of individuals and economic forces.   It is not that the state is not serving anyone’s interests but in fact is serving the class interests of those who control the state – the US-based international bourgeoisie.[10]  The US-based international bourgeoisie is the owners of the means (or major means) of production whose workings and capital ownership is literally international.  In fact, if we are to look at the upper-strata of this class we will see that the wealthiest 1% of the US-based international bourgeoisie owns 40% of the wealth in the United States. (Notably, the liberal economist Paul Krugman has shown just how rich these individuals are by calculating that the wealthiest quarter of this 1% has incomes greater than the other 99% of us combined).  This class’ major source of income is inheritance, corporate ownership, property ownership, and stock and bond holdings.

The US-based cosmopolitan bourgeoisie actively participates in politics either directly by serving in government or indirectly by financing office holders in government.  Examples of members in this class include Bill Gates, the Bush Family, Warren Buffet, US Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, John Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz, former vice-president Dick Cheney, Senator Diane Feinstein and her husband Richard Blum, the board of directors and major share holders of corporations such as Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, Bechtel Corporation, Nike Corporation, Kaiser Inc., A.I.G., Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola Inc., GE and Halliburton, to name a few.  This class, as we will see, has for all practical purposes seized control of the state and has made the state work or act on its behalf to the detriment of the proletariat, the petty bourgeoisie, the lumpen proletariat, and even the bourgeoisie.

The second economic class in the United States is the bourgeoisie. In the US, the bourgeoisie is most notably characterized as the owners of the means of production.  We segregate this class from US-based international capital through its capital ownership (property and money).  The bourgeoisie’s capital, unlike the US-based international bourgeoisie, is confined to the nation’s borders.  For example, they are owners of relatively small businesses such as grocery stores, car dealerships, construction companies and real estate companies.  This class overwhelmingly votes Democratic or Republican and supports the economic system which has allowed it to prosper financially.  Members of this class tend to believe that “the system works” as they are beneficiaries of the existing political and economic order.  In the United States we see an increasing amount of criticism coming from this class about the reach of the state into people’s lives and fear that government is becoming “too big.”  In fact, whether accurate or not, this is a common complaint that crosses nearly all class boundaries.

The third class in the United States and in our hierarchy is the petty bourgeoisie. The petty bourgeoisie might be described as an “in-between class.”  It is literally in-between the bourgeoisie and the class below it, the proletariat.   The petty bourgeoisie sees itself as upwardly mobile.  The class consists of independent but minor businessmen or tradesman, e.g., a plumber, a liquor store owner, an accountant, or electrician who is in business for himself and either has no employees or one or two employees which he or she works alongside.  In addition, professional people such as bankers, lawyers, doctors, or college professors who do not own their own banks, firms, practices or schools fit into this class.  The petty bourgeoisie generally possesses little or no capital in terms of property ownership with the exception being a house or even a vacation house for its more well to do members. Often, for the more wealthy members of this class their concerns are literally “petty,” i.e., “do I buy a boat or do we vacation in Europe this summer?”  Members of the petty bourgeoisie tend to vote Democrat or Republican with some consideration of 3rd parties, such as the Libertarians, Greens, etc. which is indicative of this class producing some educated and semi-educated people who try to participate politically in a “socially conscious” way.

For the Marxist, the most significant tier in this hierarchy is the fourth class – the proletariat.  This historical class, who the majority of the American people are members of, includes blue collar and white collar workers who are owners of little or no property or capital other than possibly a family home. However, many members of this class are simply rent payers.  The proletariat (or working class or working people) makes its money from selling its labor to the bourgeoisie and the international bourgeoisie.  The vocations represented in the American proletariat range widely from low-paid office workers and waitresses to construction workers and teachers.  Politically, the proletariat in the US, much like the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie before them, almost wholly vote Democrat or Republican with a very small but more educated number voting for the Green Party or Socialist Party USA, when possible.   Of course, some of the more confused members of this class cast their votes for the right leaning Libertarian Party or American Independent Party or support the contradictory labeled “populist”-Tea Party movement.

The proletariat is the class that Marx believed had the historical role of taking control of the means of production from the owning class(es) and bringing into existence a socialist state and society.  His belief, as is the belief of Marxist thinkers in general, was that the socialist state created by workers would figuratively and literally act as an intermediate stage between liberal capitalist society and the establishment of a communal society with no state.  The creation of a communist world, according to Marx, was inevitable.  Critically important to this process is recognition by the proletariat of its membership in this class which requires overcoming its false consciousness (which in the case of the United States manifests itself through working people’s support of the two major parties) and replacing it with a proletarian ideology.

The last class in the Marxist class-hierarchy is the lumpen proletariat.  The lumpen proletariat in the United States (and in any society for that matter) is made up by, among others, the poor, the homeless, the drug and alcohol addicted living on the street, the uncared for mentally ill and people in prison.  They are possessors of no property and little or no monetary capital.  To be sure, members of the lumpen proletariat are often too caught up in their own troubles to participate in politics at all.  The state, itself, pays little attention to this class with the exception of excessive funding for the overcrowded prison systems and minimal funding for rehabilitation programs and half-way houses.

These five classes then, compose the class structure and hierarchy of the politico-economic and social system in the United States. The four bottom tier classes regularly give their hard earned tax dollars to the state only to see the state turn around and give that money to the international bourgeoisie for large war contracts, funding for research and development to the lucrative pharmaceutical industry, and hefty state subsidies for agri-business.  These bottom four classes have largely been responsible for financing the 2008-2009 $2.5 trillion dollar “bailouts” of the automotive and banking industries as well as the expected $3 trillion dollar price tag for the ongoing war in Iraq.[11]   And, if the state giving public funds in 2008-2009 to insolvent US-based multinational corporations wasn’t bad enough, in 2010 working people had to watch as the federal government allowed many US-based global corporations pay less than their fair share in taxes.  To cite just a few examples, in 2010 Exxon-Mobil and Citigroup paid no taxes while GE and Bank of America received tax refunds in excess of $1 billion dollars each.  Thus, without state privileging of the US-based international bourgeoisie at the expense of the other four classes, the richest among us would not be able to accumulate the same degree of wealth that they have and in doing so, maintain the near hegemonic control over the state which they do.

To fully understand the state-class dynamic and false consciousness within the American working class we now turn to three major issues impacting working people’s lives and assess this class’ response to each concern.

The United States Military Budget 

Known as the base defense budget, during fiscal year (FY) 2010 the United States government spent some $680 billion dollars on the military, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its more than 750 military bases in 130 countries around the world.  When funds allocated for nuclear weapons, space defense, military aid, supplementary war spending, Homeland Security, interest on past military spending, as well as benefits and care for our veterans were included, the actual military budget exceeded $1.2 trillion dollars (or just over half of our $2.38 trillion federal tax revenues for 2010) and was more than all other 194 countries combined.  Globally, China was second in defense spending for FY 2010 with a published military budget of $100 billion dollars.   In other words, the United States could have reduced its FY 2010 actual defense budget by 9/10ths and still outspent second place China by $20 billion dollars.

Has the American working class shown concern for the massive sized military budget which has cut into social services which are essential to this class’ survival?  If we answer this question in relationship to presidential voting the answer would have to be no. The American proletariat as much as any class was responsible for electing President Obama who went on record during his presidential campaign as wanting to increase the size of the Pentagon’s budget (to $721 billion dollars) which, in fact, was accomplished by the United States Congress in 2011.  Today, after first refusing to open the military budget up for spending cuts as he did with the rest of the federal budget, President Obama has now accepted a reduction of $300 million dollars a year in defense spending for the next 12 years; a reduction that is equal to about 1/30th of the actual annual military budget.

Moreover, half-way through his first term when President Obama proved not conservative enough for working people they turned on him and helped hand over the House of Representatives to the Republican Party and increase the number of Senate Republicans during the midterm elections of 2010.   There, we saw a manifestation of a common problem that is repeated time and again in American politics.  When one party is perceived as not representing the interests of the people, working people simply change which party they vote for.  The thinking being that whichever party is not in power will somehow serve working people’s needs better than the other one.

However in the case of defense spending, the military budget was supported by both the Democratic and Republican parties in congress and our Democratic president.  While the defense budget does provide jobs for working people it also funds costly wars and expensive weapons programs.  And besides, the jobs that are created have been financed, at least in part, by working class tax dollars.  By and large, defense budgets serve the financial interests of armaments firms and military contractors not the needs of working people.  By voting for either party the American proletariat shows its acceptance of a party system and ideology that serves the interests not of its own class but that of the US-based international bourgeoisie.  Indeed, the Republican and Democratic parties have been able to convince enough members of the American working class that they are either legislating on their behalf or that voting for a more progressive third party is a wasted vote because third parties don’t have a chance to win.  The reality is that once the relationship between the US-based cosmopolitan bourgeoisie and the state becomes clear we will conclude that the only wasted vote is the one which is cast for the Democratic or Republican parties.

The Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

It has been argued that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are but two fronts in the global “war on terror.”  The reality is something different.  The United States, under the direction of the Bush administration and supported by both houses of Congress invaded Iraq and Afghanistan for the sole purpose of gaining access to each country’s energy reserves. Afghanistan was invaded under the pretext of retribution toward the Taliban government for “harboring” Osama bin Laden for his role in the attacks on the US in September of 2001.  What had not been said was that as recently as 1999 every member of the Taliban government had been on the payroll of the United States government.[12]  Having recently discovered large natural gas reserves in the Caspian Sea, the US supported the Taliban government in hopes of building a pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea for transportation of those reserves to international markets.   After the Taliban government proved incapable of stabilizing the country and the United States was attacked on September 11, the Bush administration had the justification it needed to remove the Taliban from power and install a former Unocal executive as president, Hamid Karzai.  The result, the pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Arabian Sea was completed.

Iraq was invaded two years later with the intention of controlling that country’s oil reserves which rank second in volume to only those controlled by the Saudi Arabian government.  In the case of Iraq, the United States under the urging of the Bush administration invaded a sovereign country that had not been responsible for the death of one US citizen prior to the start of the war in March of 2003.  Yet, the war itself has been quite costly to the American people and the Iraqi people, alike.  More than 4,500 US soldiers have lost their lives during the war in Iraq.  Of those soldiers that have returned home, some one third has returned with a loss of their sense of emotional and psychological well-being (commonly known as Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD).  The Iraqi people, on the other hand, have seen the destruction of many of their homes, businesses, and places of worship as a result of the war.  More troubling still, according to the ORB (Opinion Research Business) polling agency, the US war on Iraq has led to the deaths of more than one million Iraqi citizens.  Nevertheless, the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan continue[13] with a price tag for Iraq alone, as previously mentioned, now estimated at some $3 trillion dollars;[14] a number that was nearly equal to our entire federal budget for fiscal year 2009 and more than our total national tax revenues for that same year.[15]

So, if neither the American nor Iraqi people have benefited from these wars, then who has?  The answer is clear – US-based international capital.   In fact, the opening of Iraqi oil fields to foreign investment as mandated by the Iraqi constitution has not led to a decrease but an increase in the price of oil in the United States.  In 2003, before the war in Iraq had begun, oil sold for $23 dollars a barrel on the world market yet by the summer of 2008 a barrel of oil had inflated to some $150 dollars – an increase of about 600%.  This does not mean that US firms are making large profits by exporting Iraqi oil; they are not in spite of US oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil being awarded “oil development” deals from the US-backed Iraqi government.  However, this has not prevented US oil firms from increasing the price of a gallon of gasoline, for a variety of reasons, in the United States which has resulted in record profits.  In fact, the largest annual profit by any company in the history of the United States was set by Exxon in 2008 when its end of the year profits totaled some $45 billion dollars.

Of course, contributing to the rising cost of oil are those investors who have moved their dollars from the failed housing market into the oil futures market.  Interestingly enough, some of the very corporations that drove the United States into economic recession have been some of the main oil speculators that have kept gasoline prices unnecessarily high, including Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase Bank and Citigroup, to name a few.  Even today with the US still in the middle of the “Great Recession” and struggling with more than 9% unemployment (and 18% underemployment), oil has remained expensive, selling at some $100 dollars per barrel – an increase of more than 300% from 2003.  Increased oil prices only benefit those who own the oil and not those dependent on the commodity who can least afford to weather its inflated price.

This is not to say that oil firms and speculators are the only multinational corporations that have benefited during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Far from it; the list would have to include private military firms such as TITAN, CACI and XE (formerly Blackwater USA) which have directly benefited from the wars.  To be sure, each company has signed contracts of more than a billion dollars for the provision of military services in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In addition, a number of firms such as Dick Cheney’s Halliburton Company and the engineering partnership Perini Corporation, which is led by Richard Blum who is the husband of California Senator Diane Feinstein, have “earned” billions of dollars in contracts which have been financed with public funds.  Of course no list would be complete without noting the major armament providers such as Boeing Corporation, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumann whose profit margins have all increased since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet, how did the American working class react to the state’s argument for war against each country?  In both cases the majority of the American people supported the Bush administration and congressional calls for war.  Now that does not mean that we did not witness worldwide demonstrations against the war in Iraq whose numbers were unprecedented in human history.  The fact is we did.  However, when polled during the first 18 months of the US war in Iraq, the majority of the American people supported the invasion.[16]  Once the reasons for invading Iraq were shown to be false and public opinion had turned against the war it was already too late.  Besides, the state helped to neutralize any real resistance to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan by not instituting a draft but instead utilizing costly private contractors in each war and occupation.  In the case of Iraq, there were almost as many and possibly more private contractors – between 120,000 and 180,000 – than there were regular US military personnel during the height of the US invasion and occupation whose numbers did not exceed 150,000 troops.  Notably in terms of cost, private contractors make as much as $1000 dollars a day or nearly four times more than the average long-term or career soldier which has further added to the cost of each war.

As these wars consume more and more of our federal tax dollars and we see social spending reduced one would expect to see working people in the streets demanding that the wars come to an end as well as at least some threat from the American proletariat to distance itself from the two major parties if things don’t change.  However, we do not see people in the street working to end the wars nor any real movement away from the Democratic and Republican parties by the American working class.  Instead, the only thing that we have consistently witnessed from working people is their willingness to fight and die in Afghanistan and Iraq; a disturbing willingness that clearly demonstrates the existence of false consciousness within the American proletariat.

Importantly, we are currently witnessing the most significant class upheaval in the history of the United States coming from the so-called “Occupy Wall Street” movement.  Those members of the working class whom are apart of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are correctly focusing their class frustrations on the appropriate entity for their discontent – namely, the rich, and to some degree, the state which serves their interests.  However, if the movement does not become strategically violent or produce large numbers of people willing to vote for a progressive third party in the 2012 elections then the best that the American proletariat can expect to gain from the current demonstrations is moderate reforms from Washington D.C.  Indeed, if we look to a popular example from the “Arab Spring” then it may be possible to foresee what might be in store for the United States.   One of the most prominent nations to struggle for political and economic democracy in 2011 and 2012 has been Egypt.  Yet, what have peaceful demonstrations brought to that country?  Historically significant, the demonstrations in Egypt forced a much-disliked US-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak, to step down.  However, his government has not been replaced by an equity-minded, pro-democratic administration.  Instead, after Mubarak was forced from power the Egyptian people were strapped with a government that is potentially less democratic and more brutal then the Mubarak regime – the Egyptian military.

Health Care Policy in the United States

Most people in the US support a single payer health care system. Yet, President Obama signed into law a mere revision of privatized health care coverage known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Nevertheless, today more than 45 million US citizens are still without health care coverage of any kind.  In fact, as is becoming widely known, the United States remains the only country in the western industrialized world that does not have universal health care coverage.  Yet notably, even a poor third world nation such as Cuba has universal health care for its citizens as well as any citizen which visits that country.  In addition, in the US we spent more money on health care, some $8,000 dollars per person in 2009 dollars, than any other country in the world.   Roughly half of which was paid for by the state (our tax dollars) and half of which was paid for by the private sector (individuals and corporations). Canada, which unlike the United States does have universal health coverage, spent only $4,500 dollars per person in 2009 dollars for universal health care coverage. Thus, almost all the money that is needed for universal health care coverage in the United States is already in our federal, state and local budgets.   With even slight cost-reductions for prescription medications, hospital stays, and doctor visits the US would have enough money in its public coffers to implement a universal health care system and eliminate needless private insurance companies, altogether.

However, if we think that universal health care coverage is coming to the United States anytime soon, we might want to think again.  With even a cursory look at the money that has been spent by the health care sector of the US-based international bourgeoisie to “influence” Washington D.C. we can expect, if current spending trends continue, to see many more years of privatized health care.  To be sure, in 2009 the health care industry paid out some $545 million dollars lobbying Congress and the president while American labor groups spent a mere $44 million dollars lobbying the same two branches of government; a ratio of more than 10 to 1.[17]  With that kind of money being spent by the US-based cosmopolitan bourgeoisie to lobby the federal government it is unlikely that the health care needs of the American proletariat will be met any time soon.

Yet, more troubling is the way in which the American working class has chosen to disburse its Political Action Committee (PAC) dollars.  To monetarily demonstrate the existence of false consciousness at the core of the American working class we find that labor PACs actually outspent health care industry PACs in their support of Democratic and Republican candidates.  Indeed, during the 2008 election cycle US labor groups donated some $66 million dollars through their PACs to all federal Democratic and Republican candidates[18] while the health care industry contributed only $49 million dollars.[19]  These are the same Democratic and Republican candidates who, on the whole, will not even consider proposing universal health care coverage to the United States Congress for deliberation.  In other words, the American proletariat is financially supporting national candidates who are openly working on behalf of the US-based international bourgeoisie’s interests and not on behalf of working people.

The political spending habits of the American working class and their reaction to President Obama’s health care bill have been largely consistent with acting inconsistent with their own class interests. In general, we have witnessed the American working class either support President Obama’s non-universal health care bill or blame him for getting the government too involved with the provision of health care services.  Some have unbelievably called President Obama a “socialist” or claimed that he is turning the United States into a European-stylized welfare state; not realizing that if either were true it would be a step in the right direction for working people.

With the issue of health care, as was the case with the military budget and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we see the American proletariat largely supporting the political and economic ideology that is valued by the US-based international bourgeoisie which controls the state.  When this worldview is held-up by the state as a virtue and supported by the corporate-controlled media then it becomes difficult for competing viewpoints to influence with the same force the ideological perspective of the American proletariat.  Through its strong-hold on the state, the US-based cosmopolitan bourgeoisie can project its values onto the rest of US society with almost no serious contenders.  In the case of health care, the ideological position of the US-based international bourgeoisie is clear – privatized medicine, which benefits the rich and not working people, is best for everyone.

However, identifying the problem also leads to the provision of a solution.

Overcoming False Consciousness

If the US working class is to ever see genuine improvements in their lives then they must begin to act consistently with their own class interests.  To do so requires the American proletariat to overcome its false consciousness. Overcoming false consciousness for working people involves a multifaceted approach rooted in education.  First, it necessitates that those members of the American proletariat who have developed a working class consciousness actively participate in politics, unions, the media, and education.  This group must write about and discuss the political and economic value of socialist-democracy and the pitfalls of liberal-capitalism.  The attempts at spreading this working class ideology would invariably include an emphasis on the need to take control of the means of production as well as the political system in order for the American working class to fully control, shape and enhance their own lives.  If done so through professional journals, newspaper articles, television appearances, classrooms, unions and political campaigns then the overcoming of false consciousness will have begun.

However, intellectual activity is not enough to overcome false consciousness or to transition from a liberal capitalist society to that of a socialist state run by and for working people.  Working people must begin to run their own factories, farms, and places of business.  Indeed, those individuals who have already developed a working class consciousness must become a vital force in the economic system and a counter balance to private capital while providing a place to work for working people.  The worker-owned farm, factory, and work place must become a center of support for the American working class by providing child-care, warm meals, health care, educational materials, a reasonable amount of paid vacation, democratic control of the workplace itself and a modicum of social life if so desired.

This will not be possible merely through working class conscious individuals opening their own grocery store co-ops.  The American proletariat needs to control all of the means of production and the political system.  Doing so will require either the collapse of the capitalist economic system or the outright seizing by force of the political and economic system of the United States by the working class.  Failing to realize this basic fact will only result in failure.

Finally, the last aim of the American working class is not only to develop and participate from a newly aroused proletarian consciousness but to link its struggle with all working people through out the world.  For the American proletariat to completely overcome its false consciousness it needs to become fully aware of the international scope of its class position.  With out a doubt, if basic pieces of information became known to working people such as the fact that half of the world’s seven billion people live on $2 dollars or less a day then the actual size of its own class will become clear.  To be certain, when the American proletariat arrives at the final goal of its working class consciousness – international proletarianism – it will see both the mass of people standing beside it and the immense power of its own class.

Bibliography

Chomsky, Noam.  “Globalization Marches On: Growing popular outrage has not    threatened       corporate power.” Common Dreams.org, 26 March 2010.           http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/03/26-14  (28 March 2010).

Erich Fromm Archive.  Marx’s Concept of Man.  New York, NY: Frederick Ungar            Publishing, 1961. pp. 1-85.            http://www.marxists.org/archive/fromm/works/1961/man/index.htm  (29 December 2010).

Gallup: Politics and Government. “Iraq: Gallup’s Pulse of Democracy: The War in             Iraq.” Gallup, 2008.  http://www.gallup.com/poll/1633/Iraq.aspx  (17 July 2008).

Lenin, V.I.  The State and Revolution.  Beijing, China: Foreign Languages Press, 1996.

Little, David. “False Consciousness.” Understanding Society, 2011. http://www-        personal.umd.umich.edu/~delittle/iess%20false%20consciousness%20V2.htm.  (26 July 2011).

Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man.  Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1964.

Marx and Engels Internet Archive. “Engels to Franz Mehring.” (2000).                                           http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1893/letters/93_07_14.htm  (30 December        2010).

Nkrumah, Kwame.  Axioms of Kwame Nkrumah.  London, UK: Thomas Nelson and Sons            LTD., 1967.

OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics. “Health: PAC contributions to Federal   Candidates – 2008.” OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, 2009.        http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/sector.php?cycle=2008&txt=H01 (26 March 2010).

OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics. “Labor: PAC contributions to Federal     Candidates – 2008.” OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, 2009.                    http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/sector.php?cycle=2008&txt=P01 (26 March 2010).

OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics. “Ranked Sectors: 2009.”             OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, 2009.      http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?showYear=2009&indexType=c (14             January 2011).

Parenti, Michael. “Afghanistan, Another Untold Story.” Michael Parenti Political Archive, 2009. http://www.michaelparenti.org/afghanistan%20story%20untold.html  (16       February 2010).

Parenti, Michael.  Dirty Truths: Reflections on Politics, Media, Ideology, Conspiracy,         Ethnic Life and Class Power.  San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 1996.

Stiglitz, Joseph and Linda J. Blimes.  The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of       the Iraq Conflict.  New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.


[1] Kwame Nkrumah, Axioms of Kwame Nkrumah (London, UK: Thomas Nelson and Sons LTD., 1967), 79.

[2] Marx and Engels Internet Archive, “Engels to Franz Mehring,” (2000), http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1893/letters/93_07_14.htm  (30 December 2010).

[3] V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (Beijing, China: Foreign Languages Press, 1996).

[4] The “Frankfurt School” (also known as the Institute for Social Research and affiliated with the University of Frankfurt) was founded in 1923 by a group of Marxist scholars who played a central role in the development of Marxist theory from the school’s inception.

[5] Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1964), xlv.

[6] Erich Fromm Archive, Marx’s Concept of Man, (New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1961), 1-85, http://www.marxists.org/archive/fromm/works/1961/man/index.htm  (29 December 2010).

[7] Manheim, Gramsci and Althusser are summarized from the writing of Daniel Little, “False Consciousness,” Understanding Society, (2011), http://www-personal.umd.umich.edu/~delittle/iess%20false%20consciousness%20V2.htm.  (26 July 2011).

[8] Michael Parenti, Dirty Truths: Reflections on Politics, Media, Ideology, Conspiracy, Ethnic Life and Class Power (San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 1996), 210.

[9] For most people in the United States, the media is decidedly more visible than the government.  However, the state is the arena where a multiplicity of US-based international bourgeoisie interests come together to shape policy, determine the “national interest” and, consequently, establish the parameters of our national political discussion.  The media, in turn, “reports” on that process but the determining of what is “good” or “bad” in terms of policy, political and economic philosophy and national direction begins with the state.  In the US, the media easily goes along with state opinion as those who control the media reside in the same socio-political and economic class as those who control the state.

[10] Noam Chomsky, using the economist Adam Smith’s words, calls this group the “‘principal architects’ of policy.”  See his article, “Globalization Marches On: Growing popular outrage has not threatened corporate power” Common Dreams.org, 26 March 2010, http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/03/26-14  (28 March 2010).

[11] Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Blimes, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008).

[12] As noted by Michael Parenti in his article, “Afghanistan, Another Untold Story,” Michael Parenti Political Archive, 2009, http://www.michaelparenti.org/afghanistan%20story%20untold.html  (16 February 2010).

[13] Even though the Obama administration declared that the war in Iraq had come to an end in December of 2011, as of spring of 2012 there are still some 2,000-5,000 US military troops, 4,000-5,000 State Department employees, and 16,000 private military contractors stationed in Iraq.  In addition, an estimated 15,000 US soldiers are posted on the Iraqi border in neighboring Kuwait.  These numbers indicate that minimally the occupation of Iraq continues.

[14] The cost of the wars has also contributed to our national debt which now stands at more than $15 trillion dollars or some $49,000 dollars for every man, woman, and child in the United States.  To be certain, when George Bush took office in 2000 the national debt was just over $5 trillion dollars.  By the time he left office eight years later the national debt had almost doubled to just under $10 trillion dollars.  Other contributing factors to the national debt have been the Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy, the 2008 recession and subsequent “bailouts” of the auto and banking industries and the rising cost of health care coverage paid through Medicare and Medicaid.

[15] Federal tax revenues for FY 2009 were $2.7 trillion.

[16] Gallup: Politics and Government, “Iraq: Gallup’s Pulse of Democracy: The War in Iraq,” Gallup, 2008, http://www.gallup.com/poll/1633/Iraq.aspx  (17 July 2008).

[17] OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, “Ranked Sectors: 2009,” OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, 2009, http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?showYear=2009&indexType=c  (14 January 2011).

[18] OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, “Labor: PAC contributions to Federal Candidates – 2008,” OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, 2009, http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/sector.php?cycle=2008&txt=P01 (26 March 2010).  The $66 million dollars is aggregated from the more than $16.1 million dollars spent by Building Trade Unions, $12.4 million spent by Industrial Unions, $7.1 million spent by Misc. Unions, $16.4 million spent by Public Sector Unions, and the $14.2 million spent by Transportation Unions.

[19] OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, “Health: PAC contributions to Federal Candidates – 2008,” OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, 2009, http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/sector.php?cycle=2008&txt=H01 (26 March 2010).  The $49 million total is aggregated from the more than $24.5 million dollars spent by Health Professionals, $4.2 million spent by Health Services and HMOs, $6.8 million spent by Hospitals and Nursing Homes, and spent by $13.5 million Pharmaceuticals and Health Products.

  • Guest reader April 21, 2012

    I give you an A+ on writing a Marxist paper that is academically solid and applies to current issues. 

    However, when it comes to reality, Marxism overgeneralizes and makes assumptions that aren’t realistic.  For example:  1) the “working class” is a large number of people living in different regions with different cultures and circumstances that don’t really have the same interests that you assume in the paper.   More people identify with language, region, religion and other things that “class.”  2) the media being controlled by the elite is true to some extent but there are many other international sources especially with the internet.  Most of project censored stories do end up on major news outlets eventually.  3)  assumptions about US involvement in Afghanistan are questionable.  The goals are to create a stable country that won’t be run by Taliban like leaders.  It’s not America’s fault that Afghanistan is a mess and nobody else will do anything about it.  Same with other countries.

    These are just a few critiques.  Marxism boils down complex issues to simplistic terms that don’t reflect reality.  Health care, wars, energy, elections and poverty are huge problems that require time  and political will to solve.  If everyone did vote (only 40% of eligible voters do) we could have better representatives.  Unfortunately people just don’t care and most of those people are the “working class” who let others rule them.  Stupid people get what they deserve and that’s what most of the American public are.  Sorry to disappoint anyone who reads this.

    Bravo on a good research paper.

    • ArekExcelsior March 9, 2014

      Isn’t the remarkable fact that a theory that is 150 years old has so much relevance to today’s events, not so much that the theory is imperfect or incomplete?

  • Guest reader April 21, 2012

    I give you an A+ on writing a Marxist paper that is academically solid and applies to current issues. 

    However, when it comes to reality, Marxism overgeneralizes and makes assumptions that aren’t realistic.  For example:  1) the “working class” is a large number of people living in different regions with different cultures and circumstances that don’t really have the same interests that you assume in the paper.   More people identify with language, region, religion and other things that “class.”  2) the media being controlled by the elite is true to some extent but there are many other international sources especially with the internet.  Most of project censored stories do end up on major news outlets eventually.  3)  assumptions about US involvement in Afghanistan are questionable.  The goals are to create a stable country that won’t be run by Taliban like leaders.  It’s not America’s fault that Afghanistan is a mess and nobody else will do anything about it.  Same with other countries.

    These are just a few critiques.  Marxism boils down complex issues to simplistic terms that don’t reflect reality.  Health care, wars, energy, elections and poverty are huge problems that require time  and political will to solve.  If everyone did vote (only 40% of eligible voters do) we could have better representatives.  Unfortunately people just don’t care and most of those people are the “working class” who let others rule them.  Stupid people get what they deserve and that’s what most of the American public are.  Sorry to disappoint anyone who reads this.

    Bravo on a good research paper.

  • Pcrawley08 June 25, 2012

    Guess I’ll just open my own contracting firm, get into the petty class, eat healthy exercise, invest in the future(oil, blue chippers, etc.), and stay out of the way, b/c Americans are stupid and tired and lazy and brainwashed..It’s worthless man

  • Pcrawley08 June 25, 2012

    Guess I’ll just open my own contracting firm, get into the petty class, eat healthy exercise, invest in the future(oil, blue chippers, etc.), and stay out of the way, b/c Americans are stupid and tired and lazy and brainwashed..It’s worthless man

  • totskie October 15, 2013

    sorry for being stupid, but i’d really like to know how to cite this document for my paper.
    i can’t seem to find the date of when this was published.

  • workinprogress66@wordpress.com November 24, 2013

    Awesome

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