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History - Essay Example

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This was a time when he saw the excesses of capitalist exploitation of the masses of poor workers and his theory of communism was to offer a better alternative. His…
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& Number: Marxist Critique Society (Political Science) 14 November (Estimated word count Introduction Karl Marx had changed the world of political economics with his serious critique of the failings of capitalism. This was a time when he saw the excesses of capitalist exploitation of the masses of poor workers and his theory of communism was to offer a better alternative. His works were indeed a criticism of the new system of capitalism which was fairly recent in the history of mankind, as it was born out of the Industrial Revolution during the nineteenth century. Previously, mankind had been under a feudal system in which wealth came from the ownership of land and its produce. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels produced the Manifesto to announce their policy document; “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps . . .” and committed to the aim of “the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the ending of the old society . . .” (Marx and Engels 34).
The concepts of capital, labor and excess profits were all remarkably new at that time and Marx thought the modern bourgeoisie had established new conditions of oppression. His theory therefore advocated for the workers to own the means of production so that they will reap and benefit from the profits it produced. It is not very surprising that he had anticipated a future that is post-capitalist in which the workers live in Utopian society; where everybody is equal without artificial divisions in the way rich and poor people lead their lives. “The feudal relations of property . . . had been replaced by free competition” of the industrial society such that there is an absurdity – an epidemic of over-production.” He further stated all history is the history of class struggles (between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat) but he predicted that in the end, the proletarians (modern working class) will win, it is “as equally inevitable.” (ibid.).
Discussion
The Eisenhower administration covered two presidential terms (1953-1961) and was a period marked by relative global peace (except the Korean War) and also by a continuous expansion of the United States economy. In other words, it was a period of prosperity in that most Americans had secure high-paying jobs and were able to attain the “American Dream” of reaching the middle class in terms of owning their homes and having cars in the garages. This period has also seen the rise of the so-called military-industrial complex in which Big Business and the military establishment had joined forces to ask for big-budget ticket items in arsenals. President Eisenhower had tried to curb the rise of this military-industrial complex by cutting back on the budget despite record economic growth. He warned against the advocacy of this complex that sought to keep diplomatic crises arising in order to justify a huge military expense that keeps the share of the military in the nations budget artificially high (Pavelec 95). He had believed such unholy alliance will divert crucial financial resources.
He believed that high military expenditures will tend to lead to high taxes as sources of revenue for those expenditures. If it went unchallenged and unchecked, it would also erode the political, social and economic foundations of the country. Although a former soldier and a high-ranking general, he warned the military-industrial complex will eventually impinge on a nations civil and constitutional liberties later on, leading to a garrison-state mentality. To this effect, he said that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” (Eisenhower 7). The military-industrial complex had a fascination with fighting regional wars because it was lobbying in behalf of defense-related industries but Eisenhower saw it as a necessity to counter a growing communist influence.
The decades of the 1950s and the 1960s were a period of great ferment and change in America. It saw the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in which black Americans agitated forcefully for equal rights in their fight against racial, political and economic discrimination. So although this period was one of relative economic prosperity, a new younger generation of Americans felt a sense of drift in their lives where crass consumerism was a given. The times and moods caused these young Americans to seek some deeper meaning in their lives and so some of them produced the so-called SDS Huron Statement. This was a political manifesto to express the feelings and beliefs of the students activist movement in their organization named as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Port Huron is a little community in the park near Lakeport, Michigan. This was the period of the so-called Flower Movement in which the students advocated for peace (their famous slogan was “Make Love, not War”) and against an American involvement in the Vietnam War, a very unpopular war back then and even now. It was not a justifiable war and many evaded the military draft or burned their draft cards.
Beyond an easy life, theAmericans in this period experienced feelings of emptiness or is called as ennui. There is a certain drift in their lives that in a way lacked deeper meaning or any purposeful commitment. The prosperity lead to endless parties with youngsters having the time of their lives but too much idle time can be unproductive too. In a word, Americans at this period in their history were bored; there was listlessness. It was a dissatisfaction with the state of things that it gave rise to the Flower Movement and anti-Vietnam war protests. Americans were critical of their society despite admitting that “then too, we are a materially improved society, and by our own improvements we seem to have weakened the case for further change.” These people sought a role in the new world, that “some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst prosperity. . .” (Hayden 43).

In relation to this culture of consumption (or as some will say, an over-consumption), Juliet Schor wrote a series of articles criticizing this American culture predicated on the type of mentality of having what one wants now. It also becomes a question of wanting things and not needing those things. Americans are in effect over-spending themselves on unnecessary items, using as a convenient excuse or alibi the culture of credit cards, advertisements, sales on bargains, garage sales and anything that will promote purchasing and consumerism. It had also created a feeling of unease among Americans in which they feel they lost touch with their more important values in life. People felt they had been dumbed-down, so to speak, by buying and focusing their energies on what to buy next time. They worry about their finances and on how they are going to pay for all of those purchases (Schor 1).
In order to counter this trend in consumerism, Ms. Schor proposed several ways. Her alternatives include, among others, is to acquire a right sense of proportion in living. It means that people should not aspire to anything beyond living a comfortable life. This means a more or less decent standard of living, in order to distinguish between wants and needs. The idea is to prevent people from buying more than what is necessary, that is restrain their wants. This is also closely related to what she termed as “quality of life” in conjunction with rising incomes. People have more money but they seem more unhappy than ever because they keep aspiring. In other words, people should not confuse and equate consumption with wellbeing. Another way of saying it or looking at the state of things is to veer away from a materialistic outlook in life and shift it towards more enduring values such as family ties, religion, social justice and a firm commitment to improving the community. These alternatives also present a new way to help preserve the environment by getting only what one needs. At present, over-consumption had dwindled the planets natural resources and degraded the environment.
On the other hand, what Prof. Herbert Marcuse advocated is that people should try to not go along with the mass consumerism so prevalent in capitalist societies, or even in some of the communist states. His theory came to be known as the “Great Refusal” as people do not need to conform. This view of his is more radical than that of Schor because what it advocates is a sort of consumer revolt against the powers of the capitalist world and that of corporations. What he wants is more or less another sort of revolution that is one way to liberate oneself in a certain way from the affluent society during the time of 1950s and the 1960s. Great Refusal is some sort of a political activism by acts of repression that find form in conformity. His view can be applied to a number of topics and subjects in which individuality is lost to conformism. He views liberation from an affluent society, as what the modern world had become, to be the liberation from consumerist manipulation and indoctrination (Marcuse 177).
But he has gone beyond this; his idea of liberation is to reject all forms of the modern society and all conventions and accomplishment in the history of man. He wanted to overturn or overthrow all the forms of servitude that exists from capitalist to communist societies. This is a radical viewpoint as he did not merely advocate a simple revolution but qualitative change in the real sense of the phrase, because he saw most revolutions as merely replacing one form of repression with another form (or the same dog with a different collar, so to speak).
Marcuse wants to go back to pre-industrial society when life was much simpler. The present society, as he saw it, was far too complicated such that people who are relatively well off still end up being unhappy. This was evidenced by the general feeling of ennui among the younger generations who do not see any deeper meaning in life despite having life that is easy for them in terms of material comforts. The feelings of boredom and listlessness were results of a materialistic society and he argued for a counter-culture (Marcuse & Kellner 19).
Conclusion
Juliet Schor offered a milder alternative to the feelings of alienation that people felt during the great material progress attained in the 1960s. She preferred that people reduce their consumerist attitudes by opting for only the things they need and not what they want. In this manner, people would feel contented because they had lowered their expectations in life. The feeling of alienation, boredom, ennui and listlessness were the result of a materialistic society in which people tried to “keep up with the Joneses” in buying a larger house, a luxurious car, more expensive college education, going on vacations and cruises and having more leisure. A simpler life is what Juliet Schor had in mind when she offered her alternatives in life. She in effect wants a return to Nature, sort of going back to the basics. She saw no need to overturn the existing order in modern industrialized society in contrast to that of Marcuse.
Herbert Marcuse went beyond mere refusal to participate in a conformism society. He instead wanted a complete repudiation of what modern society can offer to any individual. He attacked the modern version of advertising which had effectively created false hope and an expectation syndrome that cannot be realistically fulfilled. He saw advertising as creating new but false and distorted expectations no different from the idea of alienation cited by Karl Marx in his writings on communism and socialism. Marcuse not only attacked capitalism but also in his series of books and articles did not spare socialism which is no different in terms of needs of society but that each and every citizen is likewise expected to conform to the norms. These various consumer needs are seen not as genuine needs for the sustenance of life but merely as manifestations of fleeting feelings of pleasure, gratification and possession (Kellner 447). The two writers differ in this respect as to what needs to be done to solve the feeling of alienation. Schor is much milder while Marcuse is the more radical between these two thinkers.
Works Cited
Eisenhower, Dwight D. The Military-Industrial Complex: The Farewell Address of President Eisenhower. Lacey, WA, USA: Basementia Publications, 2006. Print. (Note: Originally broadcast live by Pres. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961).
Hayden, Tom. The Port Huron Statement: The Visionary Call of the 1960s Revolution. New York, NY, USA: Avalon Publishing Group, 2005. Print. (Note: First published by the Students for a Democratic Society in June 1962).
Marcuse, Herbert. “Liberation from the Affluent Society.” The Dialectics of Liberation. Ed. David Cooper. New York, NY, USA: Penguin Books, 1968. 175-192. Print.
Marcuse, Herbert and Douglas Kellner. The New Left and the 1960s. Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2005. Print.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition. New York, NY, USA: Verso, 1998. Print. (Note: Manifesto of the Communist Party first published in English in 1848).
Pavelec, Sterling Michael. The Military-Industrial Complex and American Society. Santa Barbara, CA, USA: ABC-CLIO, 2010. Print.
Schor, Juliet. “The New Politics of Consumption: Why Americans want so much more than they need.” Boston Review. 1999. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. Read More
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