The Ruling Ideas: Marxist Analysis of American Popular Culture
German Ideology is a collection of manuscripts comprising of polemics written by communist philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It is based on the argument of what distinguishes humans from animals. It provides an in-depth analysis of the relation between the concepts of human independence and production. Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels deconstruct the politico-economic superstructure of capitalism by analyzing how the means of production affect the independence of individuals in society. In the book, Marx argues that the ruling ideas prevalent in any society are the ideas of the ruling class. In the politico-economic superstructure of capitalism, the dictates of the ruling class regulate every sphere of society as the ruling class aims to exploit all other societal classes for their benefit.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels argue that the only distinction between man and animals lies in the fact that man can control means of production. The ability of man to exploit nature through the use of various means of production such as labor is what differentiates humans from animals (Marx et al.88). The difference between humans and animals lies in the fact that humans can achieve independence status. In the capitalist world, real independence can only be achieved by the control or possession of a means of production as through the possession of a means of production one can be deemed to be economically independent. Therefore, there is a huge connection between the ownership of the means of production and personal autonomy. Marx and Engels, argue that the connection between the ownership of means of production and autonomy is what is exploited by the ruling class in a capitalist politico-economic setting (Marx et al. 92). The ruling class understands that to continue with the societal dominance they have to subjugate and economically exploit the working class and peasantry in society. Therefore, the ruling class comes up with regulations that limit every essential sphere of society more so the critical aspect of ownership of means of production. Thus the ruling ideas of every age in society are the ideas of the ruling class.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels further explore the dynamics of capitalism. They critique the capitalistic mechanisms of the concept of division of labor, historical materialism, and wage labor that influence the relationship between the working class and the capitalist class. According to Adam Smith, credited with producing Wealth of Nations, division of labor is a key element that buttresses the concept of capitalism (Marx et al. 94). Division of labor is concerned with the breaking down of economic tasks into smaller units to allow for work specialization. Smith argues that the division of labor benefits both the individual and society under the capitalist system as it would lead to universal opulence (Marx et al. 94). However, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels argue that division of labor is only a mechanism used by the capitalist to ensure that they remain in control of the means of production (Marx et al. 95). Marx argues that the essence of the division of labor is to divide those who provide labor (95). Thus, sweat for societal advance and those who provide intellectual work largely focused on directing those who provide material labor in society. The concept of division of labor is an oppressive tool used by the capitalist to guarantee their dominance in society.
Historical materialism is about historical changes in the material conditions of society. Marx and Engels argue that the contemporary politico-economic superstructure of capitalism is influenced by the historical materialism of ancient society (Marx et al. 102). Marx argues that the structure of society is connected to humans’ relations of production and the relevant forces of production that support the relations of production (102). The struggle over control of factors of production can be traced throughout history. Society has evolved from a communal politico-economic superstructure where factors of production were shared equally between members of society to a feudal politico-economic superstructure. Under feudalism, modes of production were owned by the feudal lords and nobility who subjugated the peasantry by making them work for them. Feudalism evolved to capitalism where the factors of production are owned by the bourgeoisie who employ the proletariat and pay them a minimum wage to maximize profits. Marx argues that history is shaped by the succession of different modes of production and that history is inundated by the struggle over control of the mode of production. Most of the significant conflicts in society such as the French Revolution and American Revolution were largely influenced by the class struggles over ownership of factors of production (Marx et al. 105). The politico-economic superstructure of capitalism is based on a classless society thus lacks the incessant class struggle for control of factors of production that characterizes capitalism.
Wage labor is the basis of the capitalist superstructure as the working class has to be maintained by a minimum wage so that the capitalist class can maximize the profits of their labor. Wage labor promotes the alienation of the worker from humanity (Marx et al. 110). Marx defines labor as the work or output produced by a person to ensure and guarantee a productive life (112). That under capitalism human labor is given minimum wage only helps to alienate the worker from humanity. Thus, Marx and Engels argue that labor under the capitalist model does not help to satisfy the human needs and desires of the worker. Rather, the worker is exploited by the capitalist. Marx argues that increasing wages cannot adequately fix the problem of alienation among the workers that are brought to the fore by capitalism (Marx et al. 115). An increase in wage can mean better payment for slavery. The only solution to the issue of alienation lies in the abolition of the concept of private property.
Undercover Boss is about a company CEO going undercover in his or her own company. The program is based on the fact that most company executives are detached from the actual operations of their companies and do not care about their worker’s welfare. The program gives every CEO a firsthand experience of working in his or her own company. It enables the company executives to understand firsthand the challenges the average worker faces in the company. Moreover, it provides the executive with the opportunity to know areas in the operation of a company that requires upgrading and reformation. To develop a deeper analysis of the relevance of Karl Marx’s theory on ruling ideas in contemporary American popular culture, I watched Session One of the Undercover Boss series episode nine titled “1-800-flowers.”
In the episode, the general holding by Karl Marx that the ruling ideas of every age are the ideas of the ruling class is quite obvious in the business operation of the 1-800- flower company. The operations of the 1-800-flower company are directed by the two capitalists who own the company brothers Paul and Chris McCann. The two capitalists who own the company and therefore own the means of production used by the company are the ones who set and determine the company’s policies and rules that limit the operations of the company’s workers. In the episode, Nicole, a line operator in one of the company’s chocolate manufacturing lines makes the point that the operational timelines and production objectives are set by the company executives without any liaison with the workers (“Undercover Boss”). Therefore, both Marx and Engels were right in their assertion that the ruling class under the capitalist model are the ones who set rules for the working class.
In the episode, the issue of wages and labor is raised. Nicole, a line operator in the company’s chocolate manufacturing line, complains to a disguised Chris McCann that most workers including her feel frustrated by the company’s wage allocation system as workers are not given incentives even when production objectives are met (“Undercover Boss”). When the above views by Nicole are analyzed with regard to Marx’s argument on wage labor the issue of alienation among workers is easily established. Wage labor whether based on minimum pay or equal pay only serves to alienate the worker from his or her humanity, therefore, leading to cases of frustration as stated by Nichole. Regarding the division of labor, only the work that is divided into the 1-800-flowers company is that involving the provision of material labor such as cutting and pruning of flowers. The management and intellectual labor required in the management and directing of the company’s activities is rather not divided as that responsibility is solely borne by the two brothers Paul and Chris McCann. This proves the assertion by Marx and Engels that division of labor is a capitalist tool used to maximize the labor of the working class for the maximum benefit of the capitalists.
“Undercover Boss”. YouTube, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaePFkSeGr0
Marx, Karl, et al. Communist Manifesto; Wages, Price, and Profit; Capital (Selections); Socialism, Utopian, and Scientific. Barnes & Noble Books, 2004.