"A socialist is just someone who is unable to get over his or her astonishment that most people who have lived and died have spent lives of wretched, fruitless, unremitting toil."
By that description, I'm a socialist. For this has been true for the slaves from the Roman Empire, the serfs of Feudalism the slaves under colonialism, and the vast majority of workers under capitalism. And that's astonishing to me, as it should be to anyone who realizes that we've come to a point where we produce way more than we all need to live decent, even luxurious lifes. Karl Marx was a materialist, meaning that he saw humanity's cultural evolution, consisting of all its institutions like religion, education, family, politics and (mass) media, through a materialistic lens. His thesis was that ultimately all of the human relations that make up society, are shaped by the way society produces its material goods from the materials given to it by Mother Earth.
To understand how human societies have evolved through the ages, he divided the structure of society into a base structure and a superstructure; the base consists of the relations of production, how the different classes relate to each other, and the means of production, the things needed to produce, like machines, factories, land, materials and labor. The relationship between the classes is shaped by who owns what; the capitalists own the means of production, which gives them power over them, including labor. The quote I used in the introduction of this post is from Terry Eagleton's "Ideology: An Introduction", and here's another quote from the same writer that illustrates perfectly the problem with the way the capitalist base structure has perverted its superstructure, from his book "Why Marx Was Right": "Capitalism will behave antisocially if it is profitable for it to do so, and that can now mean human devastation on an unimaginable scale. What used to be apocalyptic fantasy is today no more than sober realism."
In Marxist theory, society's base structure shapes its superstructure in such a way that it maintains and legitimizes the base. During feudalism in Europe, Catholicism was the main Christian religion; is it a coincidence that capitalism's rise coincides with the rise of Protestantism? Protestants believe that faith in God alone is needed to get into heaven, it emphasizes a personal relation to God and it centers around "good work ethics," where Catholics believe that both good deeds and faith in God are needed to go to heaven in the afterlife. Watch mass media, and you'll soon notice that everything's discussed with capitalism as some sort of natural background, as a force of nature that's as obvious and inescapable as gravity. At school, socialism and Marxism are discussed as failed experiments, if they're discussed at all. The family has transformed for capitalism's needs as well, with every capable member engaging in the labor market; first the women, now the students as well. The below linked video also gives a great example of a 1940's film about a struggling working class and the rise of labor unions that won academy awards, something that's unthinkable nowadays...
The vast majority of people around the world live a life of hard work with nothing to show for it at the end, for they all work for the handful of people who own and control the means of production. The exploitation of both workers and the planet have reached critical levels of capitalism's competition-based chase after increasing profits and growth. The only way we can make a real change in this downward spiral is to change society's base structure, that is the way we relate to the production of the things we need, and the ownership of the means of production. Only that way we can change society's superstructure, the things we do in everyday life. A materialist revolution is what we need...
Base and Superstructure, Explained (Finally)
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