Marx Shrugged: One for the Common Man

By Zia Ahmad

 

Ridges of conformity demand a certain amount of harmlessness from a common man. A common man that doesn’t give much trouble to anyone but himself and is encouraged to keep on a meek disposition in front of every social, political and economic adversity that falls his way.

A servile existence is expected from him and in all bearings the common man in some parts of the world today is scarcely a notch or two above the peasant like existence of the pre industrial age society. This is of course discounting the presence of actual peasants in feudal societies in contemporary times.

When a common man is referred to, more often than not the reference is made in an urban context. Rural communities are mostly buffered by autonomous, in cases self-governing, hierarchies. These are aided by the sheer geographical and social distance from urban centers and consequently have less than an immediate influence by governmental authorities. So in a way the common man falls in the front line of the effects of measures authorities take to govern the society and nation at large.

A popular notion of the common man is to think of him as a blue collared working man whose existence revolves around providing basic necessities for his family and a stand in for the outer circles of Maslow’s hierarchy. However, the dictates of orthodoxy would suggest that the fate of the common man is resultant of his social class.

Most people equate the idea of coming from a particular class with the amount of wealth one has but we all know how misguided that notion is.

It is a concept used often to ridicule or patronize people associative of it. Sadly our collective human society is structured as eternally bound to class association. Marx viewed a social class along factory lines, i.e. in relation to the mode of production. He offered a popular dichotomy of society into two classes that has greatly influenced modern thought.

Meet the Proletariats:

Since Marxism asks us to sympathize with the common man it is only natural for the keen Marxist disciple to start his introduction to Marx’s idea of class with the proletariat. Despite popular assumption, Karl Marx didn’t coin the term but only helped popularize it. Originally, as a word, proletariat had less than romantic notions attached to it, used as a degratory term for people who happened to be at the bottom rung of the society. Marx identified the working class who unwittingly became mass targets for capitalist exploitation as the proletariat.

As a social term for the working class, proletariat denoted the lack of proprietorship by a certain majority of the people in a society. The only way they could have made a living was by selling their labor force. 

The above mentioned is just a rudimentary definition of proletariat that Marx has offered. In the real living world there are variations where the working man may not meet the exact criteria given above but may well be as hard pressed and exploited by the capitalist. According to Marx the conflict between the proletariat and his arch-nemesis; the bourgeoisie, is eternal. The proletariat wants his wages to be as high as possible where the bourgeoisie would want to and successfully does keep the wage rate at a minimum possible level.

The Contending Bourgeois: 

On the other corner of the ring, weighing considerable pounds, defending his title for the ruler of the free world is the bourgeois. Bourgeois is the opulent moniker for the previously seedy sounding capitalist (sarmayadar) class. In an obvious contrast to the proletariat class that defines itself with having no claim for possession of any means of production, the bourgeois lays claim to owning means of production and purchases labour power for their material gains. It is the oppressor to the plaintiff proletariat in Marxist fiction. 

The origins of the bourgeois class are traced to the merchant classes in the feudal times, who gained their relative position of power through education, employment and some modicum of wealth. They positioned themselves in the middle of the feudal social class division, with the aristocracy above them forming the upper or ruling class and the downtrodden poor filling in the lower class.

As has been demonstrated again and again previously, those with means of production (read capitalist/bourgeois) influence a society’s politics and structure (read political economy), it is the bourgeois politics that Marx and his army of keen disciples have so ferociously attacked over time. Marxism argues the ascent of the bourgeois as the new ruling class in the age of capitalism which seeks to transform the society after its own image. It is arguable if Marx really did say this since capitalism thrives on exploitation of the proletariat and if the bourgeois do indeed seek to transform the society in its own image by erecting monuments as testaments of capitalistic glory and inculcating a sense of the virtues of capitalism there would be no proletariats to exploit. But then again, if Marx did indeed perceive such bourgeois designs, such were to be prophetic in the age of immigrant workers and migrants to developed capitalist nations of today, where migrant workers live as exploited as the workers in the age of the industrial revolution. 

In between the two extremes lie other hosts of social classes that retain measures of both working and capitalist classes. For instance there are those who do posses means of production but rather on a limited scale. They may employ proletarians but work along or closely with their workers. A good example is of small factory units or your local corner shop. Such proprietors don’t easily fall in the ranks of the ruling/bourgeois classes neither do they belong to the proletariats since they do own some sort of mean of production. These are the Petite Bourgeois form the middle class who can lay a claim on being one of the common people. 

 

Getting back to the common man, socialism and union talk has made him look reactionary and according to bourgeois perspective, even self pitying to a degree. The narrative of a free world establishment would suggest the empowerment of the common man will continue to be a myth.  Things do indeed get more challenging for the common man and he has to struggle more than before. The powers that be have a way with always sympathizing with him. This sympathy is most evident at times of introducing the latest budget or hiking prices for basic utilities and staple products assuring ghosts of cats and dogs that the result will have no effects on the common man.

The common man out of sheer resilience or through a built-in evolutionary survival mechanism carries on regardless with his life. At the same time, he broadens the profile of his “class” that increasingly includes circles of society that were previously thought of as affluent or close to affluent. The common man is on the rise and will continue to prevail. An alternate conclusion to Marx’s landmark gospel, Das Kapital could have been: resistance is futile.

7 Comments

Filed under Economy, Labour, Left, poverty, Society, urban

7 responses to “Marx Shrugged: One for the Common Man

  1. Shahbaz

    Can you please list a few books one may read to understand the basics of Marxist philosophy? and a few that may go into a more nuanced debate about the finer points of his theory.
    Loving the series though…keep up the good work

  2. Zia Ahmad

    Shahbaz,
    There are numerous books from which a more appreciative understanding of Marxism can be gained. Das Kapital is an obvious place to start from. Since I dont claim to be an expert in Marxist matters, I won’t be able to suggest anything without consuting google, wikipedia or amazon. Try going to the Red Diary website, the link is on the blogroll. People there would give a more informed pointer. Thanks for the compliments though.

  3. bonobashi

    @Shahbaz

    A very good place to start is Bertrand Russell’sHistory of Western Philosophy.

    Please don’t be surprised. On starting at this point, you will get a sense of Marx the philosopher, and the understanding that what he had to say was in the mainstream of Western philosophy. It explains why Marxist and Marxian scholars need to loosen their collars when discussing Kant and Hegel in the context of Marx. Much will be clear if there is a perspective that he was not a mere politician or (terrible thought!!) an economist, but had a very strong foundation in philosophy.

    And who knows? If you are lucky, you might leaf through some pages before and after, and get a glimpse into Western philosophy in general.

    Finally, Russell’s writing is a treat in itself, apart from Marx and philosophy, and makes a dry subject vibrant and full of life.

  4. Nowsherwan

    Thanks zia for such a knowledgeable article, which for me as a beginner was quite lucrative.
    i would like know the differnce between communism and marxism

  5. khawerkhan

    @Shahbaz

    Wage Labor Capital by Karl Marx, and the Communist Manifesto are great places to start.

    Das Kapital is not an easy (or short!) read.

  6. Shahbaz

    Thanks for the pointers everyone 🙂
    cheers

  7. @ Zia Sahab

    A brilliant piece.
    I’d appreciate if you include the essence of Leninism in the upcoming articles. Without understanding Lenin’s practical approach and contributions to the ideology, one cannot understand the political and economic developments that are associated merely with Marxism.
    Most of the western analysts have propagated a lot against the USSR by falsifying history in Stalin’s era…
    We need to analyze Soviet Union in a pure scientific and fact-based manner in order to the understand Marxism properly.