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marxist notes

descriptions of marxist criticism

Kevin Diehl

on 27 February 2011

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Transcript of marxist notes

Marxist Criticism
What is it?
A way of looking at literature and the world
Getting and keeping economic power is the motive behind all social and political activities, including education, philosophy, religion, government, the arts, science, technology, the media, inter-personal relationships
Base - socioeconomic power

Superstructure - realities built with on the base

Material Circumstances - economic situation

Historical Situation - atmosphere created by material circumstances

Bourgeoisie - the haves (few people who control the world’s natural, economic, and human resources)

Proletariat = have-nots (majority of the world who perform labor)
Class System
owners of large, well-established corporations, money is not an issue
Upper Class
can afford two or more homes, several cars and luxury items
Middle Class
financially established, own nice homes and cars and can usually afford to send their children to college somewhat comfortably
Lower Class
Limited educational and career opportunities keep them struggling to support their families and living in fear of becoming homeless
homeless or do have ownership of home, limited means of improvement
Differences in proletariat’s race, religion, and gender separate them into warring factions, not enabling them to act as a group and change the power structure
What keeps the class system what way it is?
Those struggling to make ends meet do not have time to become politically active/aware, government agencies who mistreat them, popular ideologies

What ideologies?
Ideology = belief system (examples: capitalism, patriotism, religion, environmentalism, karate)
an ideology is any belief system
Repressive Ideologies
Promote repressive agendas, and to ensure their acceptance, are passed off as natural ways of seeing the world
Sexist Ideology
It's natural for men to hold leadership positions because their biological superiority renders them more physically, intellectually, and emotionally capable than women
Capitalist Ideology
Every family wants to own its own home on its own land
How is this oppressive?
By constantly working toward owning land that is currently controlled by the upper class, the lower class becomes subservient to the upper class and works only after what is already owned by the class above them
Marxism works to make us constantly aware of all the ways in which we are products of material/historical circumstances and of the repressive ideologies that serve to blind us to this fact in order to keep us subservient to the ruling class
Why doesn't the middle class align with the poor, to create a more equitable society?
The middle class typically aligns politically with the upper class

The middle class typically resent the poor because so much of their money goes toward government programs to help the poor

But, the wealthy, in positions of power, make the policies that determine that the middle class' money goes to the poor

Most of that money is taken back by the rich, those who control the social service systems, and the middle class, who work for the system
Why does the middle class typically align with the upper class?
Middle class is blinded by the idea of the "American Dream"

The American Dream promotes the idea that success is simply a product of hard work

If this is true, then poor people must be lazy and not working hard enough

If everyone wants to "get ahead" materialistically, that means better than what I previously had, and also better than the people that surround me

The thinking that this ideology is a natural way of thinking blinds us to its failures:
Native American genocide, enslavement of Africans, sufferings of immigrant populations, and socioeconomic barriers that today prevent equal rights
The success of the American dream, the acquisition of a wealthy lifestyle for a few, rests of the misery of many, and it’s our belief in the naturalness and fairness of this ideology that has blinded us to the harsh realities it masks.
Marxist Interpretation of the American Dream
A Marxist critic may ask: “How does the American dream enlist the support of all Americans, even of those who fail to achieve it, in promoting the interests of those in power?”

Answer: the American Dream, like a lottery or sweepstakes, opens the possibility that anyone can win, and we cling to that possibility. The less financial security we have, the more we need something to hope for. The American dream tells us what we want to hear, that we are all “as good as” the wealthiest among us. Meaning that even though I don’t’ get any of the wealthy’s advantages and can barely eke out a living, I am assured by the idea that if I work hard enough I can change my life’s path and amass some type of fortune.
This is an ideal which functions to mask its own failure, a false consciousness, whose real purpose it to promote the interests of those in power.
More Examples
Classism – the idea that the higher one’s social class, the better one is assumed to be because the quality is “in the blood” or inborn
Patriotism – an ideology that keeps poor people fighting wars against poor people from other countries, while the rich on both sides rake in the profits of war-time economy. Leads the poor to believe they are equal members of a nation, rather than members of a world-wide socioeconomically underprivileged class
Religion – Karl Marx’s “opiate of the masses” an ideology that helps to keep the faithful poor satisfied with their lot in life, or at least tolerant of it. This speaks of organized religion. For instance, many Christian groups work to feed, clothe, house, and educate the world’s poor, and with that, a message that if the poor are non-violent and remain satisfied with their position in life, they will find their reward in heaven.
Marxist concerns:

Capitalist economy has overcome the barter economy, and this has affected human values

This ideology permeates and operates in our emotional lives

Exchange value – the money or other commodities for which it can be traded

Sign-exchange value – the social status it confers on its owner

Use value – what the object can do on its own accord
Book – read it, use it to prop a table leg (use) sell the book or trade (exchange) use it to impress a date or colleague (sign-exchange)

Art – commodified when bought as a financial investment, or buy it to impress other people

People – commodified when relations are structured to promote my own advancement financially or socially. Choosing dates on how much money they will spend on me (exchange value) or how much they will impress my friends (sign-exchange value).
Marxist Questions:
1. Does the work reinforce (intentionally or unintentionally) capitalist or classist values?

2. How might the work be seen as a critique of capitalism or classism? How does the text reveal, and invite us to condemn, oppressive socioeconomic forces and repressive ideologies?

3. Does the work in some ways support a Marxist agenda but in other ways support a capitalist or classist agenda? Is the work ideologically conflicted?

4. How does the work reflect the socioeconomic conditions of the time in which it was written and/or the time in which it is set, and what do those conditions reveal about the class’s struggle?

5. How might the work be seen as a critique of organized religion? That is, how does religion function, in the text, to keep a character or characters from realizing and resisting socioeconomic oppression?
Does this work unintentionally promote classist values?
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