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Jana Tombu
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Marx and Marcuse
The development of human civilization is primarily based on an individual’s development. Throughout the centuries, an individual has been playing a crucial role in the formation of a progressive society. However, in the epoch of capitalism, a social order has turned into mechanism, where an individual has become a gear of industrial machine by taking away his individuality and liberty of consciousness, and replacing them with enforced social values. A transformation of an individual into a subject has given a birth to several doctrines such as Marxism and neo-Marxism. The founder of Marxism - Karl Marx has been seeing the bourgeoisie (the ruling class of capitalist society) as a parasite irresponsibly misappropriating the goods which he has not created. In Marx’s point of view, a social order of capitalist society had similar features with feudalism. Both are resulting in the individual’s alienation from the products of his labor, even his nature and essence. While the exploitation in feudalism has been exercised by feudal lords’ non-repayable misappropriation of peasants’ labor, the capitalism was based on the bourgeoisie’s misappropriation of the proletariat’s products of labor. The proletariat is a sub-kind of working class, which has only one single source of subsidence – the sale of their own labor force. There is not much of a difference between the principles of feudalism and capitalism. At birth, the vassals instantly became liable to give away products of their labor for free. The proletariat is condemned to be exploited by selling their labor for the price that is significantly lower than the actual cost of their labor’s products because this is their only way to survive. Marx has reflected this in his theory of surplus value. “The capitalist buys labor-power in order to use it; and labor-power in use is labor itself. The purchaser of labor-power consumes it by setting the seller of it to work” . According to this theory, the value of products of labor is always higher than the rate of labor paid to a worker. Marx’s criticism of capitalism is based on his belief that it is labor what creates a human out of an individual. Consequently, an alienation of labor is antagonistic to the very essence of a human. He believed the only way of releasing the essence of humanity in recovering unalienated labor, was by releasing society from parasites represented by bourgeoisie and creating a society that sees a human as the main value, instead of goods produced by human labor. Neo-Marxism, emerged as a product of a later society, which has changed and gained more liberty but according to Herbert Marcuse, has not become more just since the people forming this society have not become free. Marcuse believed that alienation kept chaining society and people were enforced to follow a dictated lifestyle. The only difference is that during Marcuse’s times, alienation became an integral part of society, and people started to see an imposed lifestyle as the way of their own development and happiness. Marcuse created the concept of a “One-Dimensional Man” , which describes a typical man who has given away all his individuality to techniques, accepted the values dictated by mass media and lost his ability to think critically, form an independent point of view or have his own opinion. According to the “One-Dimensional Man ”, although people received a theoretical freedom of choice, they in fact became chained more than they have ever been before. They see their only aim in ability to consume. They have stopped to think, aspire to understanding and exercise their right to choose. However, they do not mind this since they can live in comfortable conditions, which became their only concern. “Independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society which seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs of the individuals through the way in which it is organized.” Marcuse believes that the vast majority of people have become “One-Dimensional”, which means they have given up their freedom of thought, became nothing but the instruments of labor and downgraded themselves to objects. Although both Karl Marx and Herbert Marcuse were seeing the main problem of social order in an alienation of labor, they lived in different time periods and have witnessed different forms of alienation, so their views on possible solutions are substantially different. Marx believed that the way of society’s release is an emancipation of human essence by getting rid of alienation – through the social transformation. He believed that the origin of alienation is capitalism itself, and the way to give a human back his humanity is through socialism, which can be achieved with proletarian revolution. Marcuse believed that the whole modern civilization has been built on alienation. It became such an integral part of society that there is no way to erase alienation without destroying civilization itself. Marcuse sees the main problem in the fact that it is not a social order which is a paramount source of consumerism’s growth, but a human himself – the “One-Dimensional Man” - whose only motivation is consumption. According to Engels, humans are no longer slaves of other humans, but are rather slaves to material items. The fight against the regime becomes knowingly impossible, since the vast majority does not feel a need to fight. According to Marcuse, the only hope for society’s emancipation and evolution is through the arts, which is the only power that is strong enough to resist the alienation and degradation of humanity. In conclusion, I believe that the criticism of both capitalism and consumerism is fair enough. Capitalism takes away human liberty and the ability to develop. However consumerism, in my opinion, is much more dangerous for society, since a human voluntarily agrees to be treated as an object- to give up his freedom of thought and independent opinion, which is much worse. Furthermore, capitalism has already gone and the consumerism is still in progress.
Bibliography: 1) Karl Heinrich Marx, “Capital. A Critique of Political Economy”, Volume I, 1887, 1st ed. 2) Herbert Marcuse, “One-Dimensional Man”, 1964, 1st ed. 3) Friedrich Engels, “The Condition of Working Class in England”, 1845, 1st ed.
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