Uncovering the Causes of Oppression
A common misconception that arises when discussing the duties of the government in discussing what exactly oppression by a government looks like. I would argue that is largely the case because people tend not to consider the capitalist manner in which production is executed as the main cause of social friction between classes and the individuals that make up a class. This is not so surprising in a political climate in which political issues and political oppression are framed such that they can only emanate from the government, rather than a particular population of citizens. In reality, it is the dominant class in any given society that, by employing the sum total of its resources, influences the decisions of people who are directly affected by capital which circulates within a capitalist economy—industry, wages, salaries, media, lobbyists, and the like.
Instead of a cultural orientation focused upon the people who are employed by resources that are responsible for much of our socialization, bourgeois culture permeates both “sides” of reformist politics while also glorifying and justifying the position of the ruling class. Reformism as an ideology bases itself upon the supposition that the existing socio-economic system is not necessarily at fault for the social misgivings people of various political backgrounds have. Rather, the blame falls upon the government’s faulty methods of implementing the socio-economic system such that all political currents are content. Simply put, reformism believes capitalism is the best path towards liberation (or perhaps is the only option worth considering) and as such it deserves the people’s faith in capitalist governments. This is reinforced through voting rights that are afforded to people who truly believe that the political government represents a citizen’s most effective tool in effecting political change. Regulation or deregulation, privatization or socialization, these are common poles in this political environment. Such is the substance of the restriction of spontaneous and autonomous development in our political landscape.
Hierarchy, Class, and the Fight For Workers Democracy
Class-reductionists who maintain that all expressions of oppression are the direct cause of class, instead of critically evaluating how class generates oppression in addition to other negative social variables that manifest in societal constructions such as race and gender, create an extreme where the struggle between classes is the only relevant struggle in achieving humanizing liberation. This is not a proper orientation.
Despite the negligence and obsession of others around the issue of capitalist exploitation, it nevertheless remains integral to understanding, the causes of economic oppression. If we are to accept the premise that the economic climate of a given society inherently has social consequences, be they positive or negative, we must also accept the responsibility of critically evaluating our own economic system in order to effectively create a social environment driven by a morality which is truly humanizing. This includes how people acquire their wages, how productive industry is run, how commodities are produced, and how profit is accumulated. Posed generally, wherever capital is involved, class exploitation is involved.
If we are to evaluate the inner-workings of capitalism, at once we must consider the division of labor and the consequences of its hierarchical manifestation. In a society where we are continually compelled towards acquiring a wage under capitalism, we are only left with options for employment that simultaneously aid the ruling class in accumulating more capital. In order for profit to be extracted from both labor and the sale of commodities (which have been produced at a cost less than its price on the marketplace) there must be a population of people who are lacking in a plethora of resources; the industrial resources to produce one’s own commodities, wages which are used to purchase commodities, and commodities which enable a comfortable lifestyle. These conditions necessitate a division represented by the existence of classes as well as a division within the classes represented by the plethora of occupations that earn capital in the form of income. If we are to identify the interests of both classes, at once it becomes apparent that they are irreconcilable. One class requires the exploitation of another, and the other class continually struggles for better conditions despite the fact that these demands inherently reduce the rate of profit. It is this fundamental contradiction between interests that necessitates the existence of a state which sees to it that one class’ interests are given priority over the other, thus allowing it to rule. If it were not for the existence of the state, how many labor disputes would go un-repressed? How many protests would succeed in achieving their demands? How many people would remain in their homes in the face of their landlord’s eviction notices? There is much fear mongering that is infused in capitalist culture that frames the state as neutral, protecting both parties. Despite this, the state is far more effective at ruling a population implicitly through the threat of violence rather than the actual use. Much of the social decisions we make daily are almost entirely constructed by our implicit understanding of social consequences rather than being reflections of our own individual morality, free will, and ability to problem solve.
The mere division of labor by location, occupation, and income in both small and large scales impedes the working people’s ability to dialogue with each other effectively regarding their rights, their work, and their desire for liberation. Rather, it necessitates exchanges in which workers share their hardships locally and globally. The digital mediums of our technological epoch provide some catharsis around these sentiments in which people can display their sympathy. At the same time, workers are given few if any tools with which they can utilize their agency and power in order to sculpt their workplace to their liking. As a substitute there are merely public forums and organizations to which workers may file their grievances to little or no avail.
Work should be a thoroughly communal and democratic process rather than a system of authority and command. Workers should be able to choose the manner in which they are organized. Who better to decide on how work should be executed than those who work? As part of this working people’s democracy, a humanizing income should be one that is voted upon. By this I do not mean that a handful of options are preselected and presented before the working class to select and accept, I mean that workers should be able to itemize each of their wants and needs so that they may pool them together as a community and see to it that these resources are provided by communicating with all workers who have a direct influence on their communities. This is not a one-way street where workers demand and are sated; it is a constant process of communication and feedback with all workers. In laboring, workers provide for other workers based upon the resources of their working institutions. In a true democracy workers can truly work for themselves, rather than for an employer who directly or indirectly expropriates the product of their labor. Unity between workers means unity between all spheres of production, creating a global social system of horizontal socialism where workers control what is produced. The viability of universal healthcare, free housing, free food, and a free educational system becomes more apparent in this societal context steeped in solidarity and hands-on democracy.
The Consequences of Hierarchy and Competition
The alternative to such a humanizing movement is the explicit or implicit decision to compete with one’s fellow workers within the rungs of capitalistic class division. It is the decision to accept no-strike clauses without question. It is the decision to “outperform” your coworkers for a chance to become promoted. It is the decision to accept your wage as it is. Embedded in this orientation is the expectation that assimilation will be rewarded with privilege.
Working hours and pay set as they have been under capitalism robs workers of their free time. This is so deep in capitalist working discipline that those who somehow find free time away from their paid and unpaid work, curiously feel “lazy.” This is so internalized that workers find themselves condemning and criticizing people in their communities with the same label, originally prescribed by slave drivers. This social dynamic is the consequence of a society that fails to create structures that allow workers to freely utilize their creativity and intellect for purposes they chose for themselves. As a result, people shy away from their dreams and vocations because they do not yield capital. For many people, these uses of time are considered to be ‘unproductive.’ The ruling class through the implementation of the workweek has effectively occupied time itself. Workers find that their time no longer belongs to them. Whether this time would be spent with family, engaged in the arts, or obtaining knowledge is uncertain because of this very fact. Less idealistically speaking, this occupation of time in the context of a working class divided amongst itself working for wages, it very effectively reduces the time that workers could reasonably spend organizing as a class, conquering their prescribed division in the name of solidarity. It impedes the possibility of communal efforts that aid and assist other workers as they tackle the capitalist workweek. Such are the obstacles to worker’s democracy.
The very structure of hierarchy is such that workers’ agency is removed. The decisions they are allowed to make exist only in choosing between existing jobs. After employment, however, obedience to the hierarchical system of authority is all that is expected of an employed worker. Under capitalist hierarchy, managers and bosses are absolved from creating forums in which they can be held accountable by the employed. They do not feel any responsibility for investigating and bringing to fruition the interests of anyone but their own superiors. In addition, their position in the workplace is entirely undemocratic. In many ways these middle men and women in the workplace represent a modern version of overseers from the previous historical form of slavery, seeing to it that the appropriate amount of work is done in order that his or her superior may expropriate a sufficient amount of value from the workers. The only concession workers receive in this hierarchical system of exploitation is perhaps an occasional “meeting” where workers are lectured to by their manager and may ask questions about what has already been decided.
These conditions, having become normal in capitalist culture, bar the possibility of effective dialogue and democracy within the workplace. Work meetings aside, transparency for the public and for workers is completely abandoned. The state protects the right of capitalists not to share their information with anyone outside of the people who share a common interest in the “success” of their companies. As the pyramid grows taller and taller workers turn their eyes upward noting all of the “opportunities” to climb the business ladder. The illusion of ascending into the ruling class becomes more real by the very fact that they have submitted to their employer, coming to envy their bosses and managers as a result. Such is the kindle that allows competition in the workplace to ignite.
As a result of this extensive social system of labor exploitation a cultural assumption emerges which projects an intrinsic superiority to the people who are “higher up” in the hierarchical chain of command. Granted, different skills are expected of people in these particular positions, but this does not grant one person the right to command another human being without accountability. By justifying a persons privilege and authority over other people, we ignore the circumstances that come to create a scarcity in skills and knowledge that are oftentimes glorified and rewarded with higher pay than duties of “unskilled labor.” Embodied in this negative social dynamic is the separation of “intellectual” labor from physical labor, which aims to justify the socially constructed inequity between the two. This separation makes able the devaluation of physical labor in favor of intellectual labor, all the while ignoring the necessity of both. Here another type of privilege is created wherein intellectual laborers are absolved entirely of the taxing nature of physical labor and awarded higher pay than the latter. This economic condition of employment makes the division of labor more extreme. It fosters yet more insensitivity towards a population of people that makes up the majority of the human population on this earth in order to justify privilege and the exploitation of “unskilled” laborers. A workers democracy in this case would aim to evenly distribute people’s abilities, of which they would be more apparent and plentiful in a society where the educational system is fully accessible at no cost to its students.
Outside the workplace we find social expressions, reproduced by the cultural environment created by capitalism, which embody authority, status, and privilege. Curious that these expressions do not make explicit the sources of power from which they draw, rather they simply exalt themselves as being inherently worthy of their positions in society. The other side of this orientation, of course, is that people who do not share in their economic and social wealth deserve the conditions of their current position in society. Here is a feat of human creativity where the narrative functions of the mind, ignoring the vast amount of social machinations that make lifestyles of privilege and wealth plausible, instead decides that they must be a demi-god, as a recipient of authority, status, and privilege.
The Role of Privilege in Establishing Complacency
Considering the historical momentum of societies based upon male supremacy over women, it is not surprising that capitalism, developing directly from this history, has inherited male chauvinism. A major consequence of this fact is the prescription of unpaid social labor to women. The ruling class, in the interests of keeping up the rate of profit, has deliberately failed in establishing a community based system in which workers may receive compensation for all forms of labor and they have failed in creating public spaces where necessary human services are organized and provided for free. The consequence of this in a society ruled by patriarchy is that women are expected to take up this work. This expectation is reproduced culturally because it “protects” the bourgeoisie from the financial problem of funding and building an infrastructure that might accomplish the same communal purpose that women do by patriarchal prescription: the upbringing of new generations of socially competent workers. It is precisely in placing this social burden of responsibility upon women that the bourgeoisie (as an emergent property of a hierarchically organized system of profit-making and appropriations of wealth rather than a few malicious individuals) neglects the social development of exploited workers, thus allowing the promulgation of male chauvinism within the minds of the oppressed.
The cultural product of these social factors is the capitalistic conception of the “family,” functioning as the productive unit of capitalism. Each unit is individually responsible for raising a member of the next generation of laborers in addition to producing wealth for those higher up in the capitalist hierarchy. In a society that rests upon patriarchy, it stands to reason that patriarchy finds its way into the sexual behaviors of its citizens. As a direct result of the capitalistic family model, men and women project implicit agreements about sexual relations. Both parties involved in consenting sex find themselves wondering, “who belongs to who?” wrestling for power and domination over the other’s sexual behavior by agreeing to socially acceptable sexual contracts in which one’s sexual freedom is sacrificed as a safeguard against insecurity around individual feelings of self worth and economic security. It is for this reason that individual social agreements about sexuality that challenge the standard capitalistic/patriarchal conception of family—queer, trans, bi-sexual, non-gender binary—are repressed and shunned by dominant bourgeois culture. The same holds true for women’s reproductive rights. Threatened here is the patriarchal relationship between men and women wherein men hold the final say regarding the family as a unit and the woman’s body. Women having the right and means to exercise sexual freedom and the final say about their own reproductive organs stands in direct contradiction to patriarchal conceptions of the family unit. The ownership of property forms is directly challenged by the obscured paternity that is the feared result of women’s reproductive and sexual freedom.
The patriarchal conception of sexual interaction between genders creates a situation in which any person willing to assimilate to their particular culture’s manifestation of gender is rewarded with social capital, i.e. male-privilege. This male privilege is expressed through access to institutions and resources dominated and controlled by men. However, in the sphere of genuine social interaction, there remains an unspoken social contradiction that generates conflicts between genders. You find men, expecting male privilege, resentful of anyone who challenges this “right”. In fact, most men are threatened by the idea of true gender equality if it means women obtaining supreme authority and autonomy over their own bodies. Men feel they have a right to possess their sexual counterpart when it comes to sex. The incentive for women to adhere to this male chauvinist conception is social asylum from “slut shaming.”
The fact that behaviors that reinforce privilege are supported by the structures of society means that patriarchal/hierarchical behavior is rewarded with yet more privilege in addition to economic privilege. This also means that those who belong to the “counter culture” consisting of those individuals who are discontent with the social norms as prescribed by the oppressors of a given society are discouraged, alienated, and dehumanized by the culture of privilege.
In addition to class and gender based exploitation, there exists racial oppression/exploitation based upon false categories/stereotypes which aim to justify insensitivity towards very real socioeconomic conditions which are a direct historical property of the existence of Capitalism. Racism itself, being a product of these conditions, compounds the issue making insensitivity towards racist oppression all the more dangerous. Race based privilege is given to groups of people who do not belong to a particular race that is oppressed institutionally, economically, culturally, and socially. There is much controversy about whether or not people of color can be “racist” against white persons of privilege. This misunderstanding proves convenient for privileged people who have not lived through racism expressed through its institutional, economic, cultural, and social manifestations. It represents a willingness to reduce oppression by race to a matter of becoming “offended” or made “uncomfortable.” This however, proves to be irrelevant when one considers life experience. Indeed, if a person lives a life within a society that rewards them with privilege, any social stimulus that challenges or threatens an otherwise consistent source of reward would indeed make an individual “uncomfortable.” However, hearing an offensive statement does not necessarily make one a victim of racism, although it does perhaps reflect the existence of racism on a much larger scale. Rather, these individual instances of offense are evidence of the power of racism to permeate social interaction. Unfortunately, racist beliefs are internalized by oppressed groups and then expressed to the dismay of other oppressed races. At the same time it must be noted that white privilege, as it is supported and reinforced by capitalistic institutions that are thoroughly steeped in colonialist culture, is the product of these social conditions. It cannot be said that oppressed people of color are rewarded privilege over white people in a society dominated by racism. Historical efforts to undercut institutional racism such as affirmative action have been cited as instances of “reverse racism,” however this is an irrelevant perception because it was an attempt to address the major segregation established by capitalist institutions. However, it is important to note that no reform to capitalist institutions can adequately and wholly address the many sources of oppression that stem from capitalism itself. Perhaps more importantly, any effort that aims to undercut the oppressive nature of racism and discrimination should be supported. Rather, through solidarity, people should fight for more extensions of right.
Because of the idealistic nature of capitalist aspirations, we find cultural/institutional rewards for those who harbor oppressive justifications of racist attitudes and behaviors, manifesting itself in yet another form of privilege. This perhaps may be referred to as political or reactionary privilege. The attractive nature of capitalistic reward overpowers commonsense sympathy for the oppressed—apathy for workers who strike for better conditions, egotistical rationalizations of wage based discrimination, alleged political neutrality where victims of racism or sexism ask for allies and assistance against white male supremacy, social affirmation of racist attitudes contained in dominant bourgeois culture as expressed through the media, and security in the illusion of immunity from racial discrimination.
This apathy towards oppression is fermented by racist and sexist stereotypes and is actively reinforced in the media, which serves to divide oppressed people with an otherwise common interest in working class empowerment in an environment in which there is an absence of a group which truly champions the rights of the oppressed in the face of racial, gender, economic, institutional, and colonial oppression. Here we find that fear is utilized against those with or without white male privilege where people with white privilege are afraid of losing it, and those without white male privilege fear racist backlashes against their humanizing causes.
National chauvinism and patriotism are immediate threats to internationalism as praxis. Narrowly focusing on the conditions of the nation, persons searching for privilege identify the conditions under which they will become unsympathetic towards the conditions of workers and oppressed people worldwide. This attitude is inappropriate especially in the context of global imperialism because it necessitates even poorer conditions of labor that make possible a globalist economy based upon capitalist exploitation for profit. It is not enough to have “decent” conditions within the borders of one country. Indeed, the existence of national borders requires a state that will “defend” its borders against “illegal” persons. Such a mentality is incongruous with an internationalist orientation towards oppressed people.
It is idealism, the belief in the immaterial, as a worldview and orientation towards reality, which is unchecked by society at large precisely because it does not affect nor describe the true state of affairs that exists among the classes and other forces of oppression under capitalism. The bourgeoisie, particularly those who most closely represent the interests of the privatized media, expend a great portion of its resources on the creation of false perspectives and reactionary ideologies that are incongruous with the existence of class struggle and exploitation. Thus we also find ideologies of submission and misinformation that make working class empowerment through education and communal organization inaccessible to those who have not obtained the institutional privilege of a quality education under capitalism, nor access to humanizing communities which preserve and share empowering knowledge for the oppressed. These false orientations are of the utmost importance due to the fact that they impair the ability of the working masses to isolate oppressive variables in the environment which may reveal to them the causes of inequality in addition to false narratives/perceptions which also serve to dehumanize those people who have not been afforded privilege in an oppressive system.
Because oppression is neurologically observable, it is imperative that a movement emerges that is primarily concerned with elucidating the reality of inequality by isolating the causes of our oppression and their effects on the human mind so that we may submit truths we gather for the creation of a world without exploitation. This begins by creating horizontally based organizations that are focused upon collecting, creating, and distributing critical analyses of oppressive institutions and society. In addition to this task, it must also synthesize and share strategies of empowerment, harboring a profound willingness to assist any oppressed population with all of its resources and abilities.