Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Class Struggle vs. Social Mobility

A major concept in Marxism is what is known as “class struggles.” According to Marx and his followers, the “propertied class” - financiers and entrepreneurs – exploit the “working class.” Marx's solution to that is for the working class to overthrow the propertied class and take the means of production into its own hands.

I do not believe for one moment that the class struggle is a universally applicable concept. Class struggle is something that happens in rigidly segregated societies with no social mobility. Thus, Marxism was far more believable under Tsarist Russia, which was extremely segregated, or Confucian China, where the son had to do what the father did, than it was under American democracy; and we saw Marxism take root in Russia and China while being detested in America.

The class struggles are not solved by revolutions; they are solved by social mobility. When a person from a humble background can become a billionaire or the President of the United States of America, the idea of class struggles is not nearly as believable as it is in a place where the son has to do what his father did, or where the wealth belongs to the nobles and the peasants remain peasants for life. So then why are we seeing a resurgence of interest in the Marxist ideology?

Probably because, for many people in America, social mobility has become a vanishing dream. Because of the gutting of the educational system under Reagan and the flight of manual jobs abroad, it has become much harder for a person from a poorer background to rise into the middle class or the upper class. Denied social mobility, these people are then attracted to the concept of class struggles. And that is where we find ourselves today.

This is an externally caused problem. But there are also things that these people themselves are doing wrong. In the inner city, a person who takes school seriously is seen as “acting white” or “thinking they're better than everyone else.” And a popular bumper sticker in the “rednecky” parts of America said, “My son beat up your honor student.” For as long as these attitudes persist, it will be that much harder for people from such backgrounds to rise in society, and social mobility will be unavailable to people raised in such places.

The genius of America has been its willingness to listen to criticism and to adapt to it. In early 20th century, when Communism was spreading, America took the union movement and addressed its legitimate concerns by giving workers benefits and better treatment while retaining the market system and democracy. This not only helped America to avoid going Communist; it also created the great American middle class. The legitimate anger about social mobility being denied to many American citizens is addressed through better educational practices and a better attitude on the part of the people. In this manner America can avoid a lot of heartbreak and address the legitimate concerns of these people without having a bloody revolution or labor camps.


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