Marx's notion of class begins with the assumption that there was a stage not too long ago when there were no classes, i.e. there were no privileges and no exploitation. He contends that in the primitive tribes everyone was equal because everyone more or less did the same thing, everyone consumed the same and at the end of the day there was nothing left. There was no accumulation of things and therefore no basis for privilege and therefore no "classes".
For Marx exploitation was only possible through things and the "labor value" that is inseparably deposited in it. Since by the end of the day all the things were consumed and finished, then there was no "labor value" left over to be accumulated or for exploitation to happen. These are all the result of a crude materialist view of history that Marx had developed. In its essence he had developed this abstract view of economic and social relationships by walking backward in history, simplifying it by stepping through his "stages" of human development.
For one thing there was never a society where everything was consumed and nothing was left, but as far as Marx was concerned that effect was small and could be ignored. I have already dealt with the absurdity of Marx's notion of "surplus value" and its relation to the "labor" of the workers. But does his notion of "class" have any basis? Was there ever a period in human history when privilege did not exist and there was no exploitation? This is where Marx's concept of the essence of man originates and that he wants us to return to through the "dictatorship of the proletariat". Marx is wrong on this account also.
I have already mentioned that the anthropological evidence shows that the social structures of the primitive societies were not flat and were a lot more complicated and hierarchical than what Marx believed or most likely he merely simplified to fit his schema. We know of the structures such as secret societies, shamans, healers and visionaries in those primitive tribes. In addition what anthropologists have uncovered is that the daily life of all these societies is infused with all kinds of customs and practices, rituals, each of them with a storyline. Lots of energy and resources are allocated to preparation and conduct of these rituals.
The origin of these rituals are not quite understood, many anthropologists relate the tribal myths, the foundation of these rituals, to the innate curiosity of humans. These myths change through many events that the tribe experiences and transform by the dreams and imaginations of the myth keepers, the shamans, the healers and the secret societies. These are the leaders of the tribe and they are the main repository of these myths.
These myths are or more accurately were the defining boundaries of the tribe. It was the means that a tribe traced its origins and distinguished itself from other tribes. It was through these myths that members of a tribe defined themselves as human and others more or less subhuman or non-human. It also reinforced and persisted the tribe's hierarchical structures and preserved the privileges associated with the position or the "office". Consumption of certain products, hallucinogens, other materials related to the preparation of certain rituals were restricted to the position. Could this extend to other material necessities of life? It is not farfetched, certain cuts of meat, like liver and other intestine parts which are highly loaded with vitamins and other nutrients were consumed separately by men primarily.
These privileges could extend and must have extended at times of crisis, such as war, shortages and famine which were frequent. In these circumstances the question of who gets the first cut of some goods and services is a question of survival of not the "individual" alone but pivotally the tribe and its identity. As in war the tribal leaders and the elders would receive the most protection. It is not too much assumption to think that they would also receive the first portion of material subsistence.
As I said this is not the question of the survival of the individual alone but of the tribe itself. The tribe was defined by these rituals and customs which were embodied in these privileged social hierarchies. Since everything was oral, the loss of the leaders of these tribes in war or other calamities meant the loss of the tribe's identity. This only could entail a profoundly difficult situation that at least made the tribe's survival very precarious.
Considering the meager resources of a primitive tribe the resources spent on practicing their rituals were substantial. The vigorous practice of these rituals were to maintain these myths and ultimately the privileges. As a ratio probably these are enormous parts of the resources that were allocated to all these privileges.
Were there any protest to these privileges? There were almost none. These myths and practices did not come to existence overnight, they were the result of years of gradual changes which spanned generations. Therefore each generation was borne into it and that is all the “individual” knew. This existential fact tended to fade the individual. There was no individual identity other than the tribe. That was the norm and deviation was abnormal. Privilege and hierarchy was interwoven into the fabric of the society. It was subtle and in the most part amusing to an independent eye; it was part of the tribal color and thus hidden from the outside observer. An outside observer would at best detect a colorful natural "innocence".
Those tribal structures were protective and liberating from outside forces which continuously were threatening it. But in terms of our lives and our perception, those tribal relationships are nevertheless suffocating and oppressive, it is equivalent to life among a cult – there is a hint here about the prevalence of cults among the leftist and Marxist organizations. The perception of the existence of an egalitarian society is merely a superficiality, a perceived simplicity that has triggered many imaginations about an innocent past. An innocent past that never existed.
There were privileges in the primitive societies and therefore exploitation was part and parcel of those societies. With the rejection of an egalitarian past Marxian concept of class becomes meaningless. Can under certain conditions specific interests coalesce into classes? Yes but they are not a social fixture that are fed with a Marxian notion of irreconcilable interests. Each stable social order has its own story and its members are born into that story, the same way that a tribal member is born into the myth of his tribe, each with his own social position. The arrow of history has been in the direction of loosening those immutable social positions. With the advent of capitalism we are at a juncture which individual members of the society are the most aware of their individual interest, with the possibility, as slim as it might seem, to move beyond the position he/she has been born into.
It is mostly the exterior forces which upends the balance of the social order and forces the society to confront the calamities, re-order its storyline and re-align the new social forces. Wars, natural disasters have been more of determining factor than the "class" interest, more accurately the unfulfilled obligations of the privileged that have made the old myths useless and pushed the society in a new direction.
Marxian theory was an outdated myth as soon as it arrived, a true myth of an old order, which is incompatible with the dynamics of the modern society. Now, with the rejection of Marxism does that mean that we have to adopt the rightist ideology, that our fate is irrevocably tied with the existing order, or what we see in the western democracy is the optimum that we should expect? I do not think so, but more on this later. Before tackling challenges ahead we need to air out some other Marxian notions that have cluttered our perceptions.
The above piece is part of a book that I am developing. If you would like to follow, please read the blogs titled "Perspective..." and then read all the blogs which the title name ends with " -- Book". As you might have guessed, you have to read from the earlier posts moving to the present.