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On Social Class, Power, Property, Reification, and Poverty

November 30th 2005

On Social Class, Power, Property, Reification, and Poverty

Karl Marx

The ideas of social class, power, property, reification and poverty are inextricably linked by the factor of oppression. All of these things are seen or attained through the oppression and exploitation of one class by another. Social class is a socially constructed idea, usually defined by the strata of income in which one is a part of. Power is gained usually by being in the upper social classes, and also exhibits the exploitationist traits through the method of keeping power.

Property is another social construction made to prevent certain individuals from becoming equally as powerful as another by way of preventing them from having the most valuable non-essential commodity. Reification is that which makes the individual part of the collective whole and denies them the ability to be one amongst many rather than one as a part of many. Poverty is the result of the oppressive ruling classes using the other traits in a combination of sorts and then finally ruling the proletariat.

 
 
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Karl Marx said: “Society does not consist of individuals but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand” and those inter-relations are what we call class structure. The upper classes usually make more money, have more power, and own the means of production (which are the machines by which the proletariat produces things).

The lower class work for the capitalists who own the manufacturing technology. These classes are the engines for social progression and development. The class system does not need to exist, however, it cannot be rejected over-night either. To quote Ira B. Cross, a professor at Stanford University, “[…] the change from capitalism to socialism must come as a result of evolution rather than revolution.” Social class spurs many other inequalities as will be further expounded upon here in this essay.

Power is the use of a social position in order to rule over another person or thing. Power can be exercised through the use of wage labour, freedom restriction, through the restriction of the proletarian ability to own property, or through the taking of one’s life. Power is not always in the hands of one particular group or person, it is a changing pendulum, something which may change at a whim, and yet may also hold fast for many ages. Such as the Catholic church controlled the goings on in Europe for hundreds of years, so too does the power change very quickly in the poor regions of Africa in the modern age. Lenin states that power “[…] consists of special bodies of armed men who have at their disposal prisons, etc.”.

This argument is true even in the modern day United States of America. The government has at it’s disposal, military personnel, as well as a prison system which has the largest number of people in it, per capita in the entire world. Power and social class are related due to the fact that the people in power are mostly from the upper echelons of society.

Property is one of the many exploitive means by which the ruling class exercises their power. Property ownership is also one of the main means of class stratification. The modern usage goes back to the feudal ages when the lords of regions would fence off certain parts of land in order to make sure the peasant classes couldn’t use it for their own means. Property has been used as a means for acquisition and the retaining of power for many, many ages. Since the beginnings of human society it can be traced as a method of power and keeping the status quo therein.

Private property in and of itself is a social construction used only for the exploitation of an underclass by the class who owns the land, or in the most basic of terms, the mean of production. The only way to eliminate this disparity is by the collectivization of all land, and the consolidation of it for the use of the general whole in an equal amount for a purpose of united benefit. Capitalism is the furthered by the concept of privatization, and the privatization is being manifested in the form of land, and he who owns it. It is not something which has natural and visible boarders, but it is something which ownership must be accepted.

 

It is an idea, just as the concept of social class is an idea, furthered by the use of constructed facts and appliance of numbers who’s significance if granted only by the acceptance of the general populace as a rite of power and prestige. Property, the land we live on, has value placed on it in the form of price for the purposes of selling to the wage labourers for the use of building something atop it. The value placed on the parcel is only something which is determined by surrounding area, inasmuch as property adjacent, or in proximity to the plot of interest. The collective values of those parcels are, in turn, just as artificial as that of the first, and therefore, they are circularly valuable. This concept is the very one which has so furthered the possibility of oppression and usury in the name of land acquisition.

The only way which these three things can be kept in the hands of a select few are through the use of reification. Reification is something which de-humanises the individual and makes them not one among the many, but one as a part of the many. As Marx said: “Society does not consist of individuals but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.” Some ways by which the ruling classes attain these ends are though the use of wage labour, uniforms for work, the use of military can also be put forth for such a purpose.

The wages equalize the working people in order to make them not one above another, so as to keep a false sense of peace amongst them.  Uniformed jobs, which come about in even such places as automobile manufacturing will take away someone’s outward individuality, and make them of the many, therefore taking away any visible quality which may make them more apt to rise against the ruling class, through the use of some sort of clothing symbol or otherwise. The military is meant to create the perfect soldier. The use of mental de-construction is to make someone no longer have the same concept of death, murder, right, wrong, etc. There is a new definition given to each.

The loss of individuality is a trait which many attribute to the socialist idea, however, in the capitalist ideal if fits more snugly. In the idea of capitalist production, individuality may well incite a revolt, wherefore conformity will make labourers more adept to staying within the accepted confines of enslavement. In the socialist society, individuality is commonly seen as counter-intuitive as it may make one exploit the many, whereas in reality, individuality is not discouraged. Marx himself made mention to the policy of the capitalist system taking an individual’s sense of self: “All social rules and all relations between individuals are eroded by a cash economy; avarice drags Pluto himself out of the bowels of the earth.”

Poverty is forced upon the usually unwilling by the elite ruling capitalist classes who wish to create personal wealth and spare the expense of no-one in their personal attainment of that wealth. The way it comes about it through the use of the tools given to the capitalist through their means of production, which they own on the whole. Poverty is defined by the United States government as of 2002 for a non-married, working age person as having an annual income of $9,183 or less.

Anyone who lives day to day life knows that this number is far below the required income to live in a dwelling of any sort, let alone pay for food. This shows that very idea of poverty is constructed, not by reality as is hunger, but by the accepted social view of the idea such as attractiveness is. The people who make this decision are not you and I, as most socially constructed things are, but rather the ruling elite which tend to be capitalistic in nature, and why would they post a figure which would require change on their part? If someone makes a meager $800 per month, then they are not considered to be in poverty, and therefore cannot qualify for many government programs which are aimed at helping the downtrodden and distressed.

The way in which all these topics relate to my life are in that I have experienced various aspects of all these things. Social class, I have been a part of the welfare system, as well as “working class” family, and even most recently, part of the capitalist class in that my step-Mom owns a business and employs some people. I have not ever had true political power, however, I have been a part of it. I worked for the County Supervisor of San Bernardino County and I saw the inter-workings of local government. The immense power of on individual to deny a business license can make or break a person’s dreams.

 

In one inspection, the supervisor can say a building is unsanitary, or does not meet a building code without any evidence at all. Property has been a part of my family for many years. Since 1917, when my great-grandparents came from Poland, my Dad’s side of the family has had multiple farms in the mid-western USA. On my Mom’s side of the family, they own over 1,500 acres of land in the Carolinas. This was used as a source of power in the pre-civil war days, as they owned more than 200 slaves at one point. Reification was experienced during the days that my Mom and I were a part of the welfare system, we were treated as a part of the system which needed correction. There was no individual help given to us in the form of education, land-cost adjustment (being that we live in Southern California, prices can be quite high), nor any other way. Poverty has never been something I have had to truly experience, as I have never been homeless or been below the required poverty income level. While on welfare however, the money which was granted to us by the State of California was in fact less than the poverty line, however, my grand-father helped my Mom and I, and that made us able to get by.

The system of wage-labor and exploitation is not a new phenomenon, and as long as the capitalist ruling class has power to ostracize the individual from what they hope to attain, this problem of the huge gap between rich and poor will never be closed. Change is obviously something which needs to happen, however, without the force of the working people, this cannot be effected.

 

By Tony Kaminski  
I am a Political Science AND International Studies major at the University of Oregon, and am currently living on campus. I am originally from southern California, in the city of Victorville.

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