The trouble was that the workers were not aware of their plight. Rather than recognizing how badly they were being exploited, they tended to identify with their employers. Many actually accepted pay to serve in militaries and police forces dedicated to defending the very people who were misusing them.
This had to stop. The workers had to become conscious of their own interests. They needed to realize that they constituted a social class to which they owed allegiance. Accordingly, someone was required to help them pierce their false consciousness. Someone, such as Marx, with an objective perspective, had to educate the masses.
Fast-forward to today and liberals continue to regard themselves as a social vanguard dedicated to waking the working classes from their political slumber. In their view, workers must understand that the “1 percenters” are not their friends and hence that wealth must be transferred from the top to the bottom of society.
Contemporary liberals are not as militant as Marx, but they, too, intend to remake society. Obama called this “hope and change,” and its cat’s paw is Obamacare.
The difficulty with this strategy is that today’s exploitation is primarily lodged in the public, rather than the private, domain. It is now the government that is controlling workers and limiting their options. It is a bloated governmental bureaucracy that is standing in the way of prosperity and freedom.
Who now sets society’s rules? Washington. Who collects the confiscatory taxes? Washington. And who calls the tune in Washington? The liberals. Consequently if there is today a false consciousness, it is a lack of awareness of who is exploiting whom.
Once capitalists sought to convince their employees that they were on their side. Among other things, these bosses used religion to pacify the proletarians and convince them they would get their just deserts after they died and went to heaven.
Nowadays, it is the liberals who are trying to convince voters they are on their side. Just you wait, they tell them, and Obamacare will provide everyone with quality medical care at lower costs. Just be patient and raising the minimum wage will pull everyone out of poverty.
But don’t look behind the curtain to see how much money we are wasting. And don’t notice that we are funneling your tax dollars into the pockets of our political cronies. And for goodness sake, don’t realize that the rules we are instituting to protect you from yourselves are actually intended to enhance our power.
The radical feminists, who were gender Marxists, sought to arouse women to overthrow their male oppressors by making women aware of how badly they were abused. One vehicle for doing so was “consciousness raising” sessions in which the sins of men were enumerated in gory detail.
Political liberals, however, favor use of the media and educational systems. These routinely publicize the alleged transgressions of business leaders, while whitewashing the deceits and power grabs of Democratic politicians.
The object is to divert attention away from the real oppressors. We are thus to believe liberals when they tell us they care about our welfare. We are instead to aim our indignation at the Koch brothers for funding conservative causes. Who is actually helped and hurt does not matter.
And so the poor continue to be hurt. They are driven into a hopeless dependency from which they may never emerge. And the middle classes are hurt. They are tied down with bureaucratic shackles that limit their entrepreneurial aspirations.
As for the rich: they are doing just fine — especially if they donate to liberal causes and are allowed to feed at the federal trough.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.