Modes Of Production And Consciousness For Karl Marx

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Karl Marx was born in 1818 in Germany, however, he lived most of his life in exile in London, England. Marx worked as a journalist and was a strong supporter of the communist ideology. At the center of Karl Marx’s writing were his critiques of capitalism. Marx believed that under the capitalist system modern work is alienated and a disconnect between the worker and the work is created. Within Marx’s diagnosis of the “species being”, workers, in order to be satisfied, need to feel and see their contributions to society, and the capitalist structure does not allow this. Upon further analysis of the “species being”, Marx would argue that all humans are materialists and all life and history is developed under this theory. Breaking down the principle of materialism further, Marx’s claim that “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” demonstrates that similar modes of production are necessary for obtaining peace throughout the global community, which in turn creates satisfaction for all individuals (Marx et al., 1972, p. 155).

One of Marx’s core principles was the notion that humans are different from other animals in that they are free from immediate dependency on nature and have free conscious productive activity. In fact, what humans produce is the basis of their whole existence. Marx was very much a materialist. Humans have material needs, and they satisfy those needs strictly off of materials produced by nature. In every case, material circumstances come before conscious thoughts or ideas in humans. His claim that “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” is reinforcing this idea (Marx et al., 1972, p. 155). Every thought or idea in humans is the byproduct of the means by which they satisfy their needs. All humans inherently know is the modes in which they produce, and their thoughts and ideas are born from those modes. In his German Ideology, Marx expresses that “The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production” (Marx et al., 1972, p. 150). Humans are the way they are and have the beliefs and values that they do because of their modes of production. The materials that humans are exposed to determines their production techniques, which in turn shapes their thoughts, beliefs and ideals.

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Naturally, humans located in different geographical location throughout the world will have different means of production. Location determines what materials are readily available, and those materials regulate the type of production and the specific products and commodities being produced. People living in the jungles of South America will produce their food, shelter, and clothing in ways that people living in Northern Europe would have never considered. Under Marx’s theory of materialism, production, and consciousness, humans located in diverse areas will have different thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. Their specific means of production will not produce the same type of consciousness, and their thoughts and ideas will be tailored to the materials and modes of production that surround them. Predictably, every community of humans that are not geographically close are going to have different ways of thinking about government, politics, society, religion, educations and other constructs under which humans live. The structure of government of a community is going to be constructed to serve the mode of production that suits the area that that community is in. Similarly, the variety of religion and education is going to be based off of what makes sense for production and the service of basic human needs. Every community throughout the world is structured very differently in terms of government and other societal structures simply because the modes of production vary due to the materials available in a certain area.

History alone tells us that different countries, communities, and tribes have an extensive record of violent and nonviolent conflict. These conflicts often have to do with ideological differences. Countless wars have been fought over fundamental religious, governmental, and societal incongruities. When one state operates under principles that another state deems unproductive or often times dangerous, it is hard to respect them as a peer and not see them as a threat to their own ideals. Communities struggle to coexist peacefully when their thoughts and values differ. With all of this considered, it can be generally assumed that the unlike modes of production, due to varying materials used in the production processes and the different commodities produced, is a key cause of conflict in different nations and communities.

Knowing what Marx teaches us about the nature of human ideologies being born from the modes of production that that human is accustomed to, it is only logical to assume that if all humans used similar modes of production, they would all have similar values and beliefs. Later in his chapter on the German Ideology Marx says that “The multitude of productive forces accessible to men determines the nature of society” (Marx et al., 1972, p. 157). Marx clearly believes that the modes of production are the determining factor in how humans behave, the ideas and thoughts that they have, and what they believe in. This notion is significant because if all communities around the world all had the same or similar means of production, then they would all likely behave and think in the same way. Similar modes of production would encourage the same type of conscious thinking. These different communities would be likely to have compatible structures of government, politics, religion, education, and other societal ideas.

If all organized communities across the world used the same or similar modes of production then peace will be inevitable. Conflict and wars are caused by competing ideologies of government, politics, religion, education, and other societal ideas. Similar means of production would essentially eliminate any rivaling philosophies in these areas, thus creating peaceful coexistence. It is unrealistic to imagine a world where every community is able to use the exact same modes of production as the materials used and the commodities produced vary, however, if all modes of production operated under the same basic structure, then the same conscious ideas would be formed. For Marx, this structure of production would start with the elimination of the upper class. Marx believes that “as soon as class rule in general ceases to be the form in which society is organized, that is to say, as soon as it is no longer necessary to represent a particular interest as the general or the “general interest” as ruling” (Marx et al., 1972, p. 174). For Marx, the ruling class, which controls the modes of production and the structure of society in a capitalistic system, do not have the same interests as the working class. Upper-class rule harms the lower class, and this system is detrimental to society and human satisfaction overall. With all communities across the world would having the same general make-up of government, politics, education, and religion because of similar means of production, peace would be reached as the same conscious thinking removes any need for competition that causes inter-state conflicts.

Peaceful co-existence would be ideal for Marx. On Marx’s critique of capitalism, Thomas Wartenberg writes “Since the worker is forced by the capitalist to labor for an entire day in order to earn enough money to meet his/her basic animal needs, the human capacity for freedom becomes a slave to our basic animal natures” (Wartenberg, 1982, p. 87). Many modes of production across the world operate in a capitalist market, and for Marx this system will never produce satisfaction for all people. The lower class will always be a slave to the system. All communities across the world must operate under a mode of production that allows all humans to feel equal and important to the overall production system. If all communities adopted this system, then similar conscious thought would be formed, eliminating the competition that created conflict. If every human was satisfied with their existence, most importantly from being free from upper-class rule and estranged labor, then they could spend more time engaging in activities that give them joy. For Marx, humans make themselves free by virtue of conscious life activity, and conscious life activity is only possible when humans feel free from the means of production that they are surrounded by and free from global conflict that limits human satisfaction.

To conclude, Marx’s claim that “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” demonstrates that similar modes of production are necessary for obtaining peace throughout the global community, which in turn creates satisfaction for all individuals (Marx et al., 1972, p. 155). In humans, thoughts and ideas are the byproduct of the means by which they satisfy their needs. The mode of production that an individual or community is used to will determine the structure of government, politics, education, religion and other constructs that aid in the operation of society. These ideals are a significant cause of inter-state conflict and war. If every community throughout the world operated under similar modes of production that created similar thoughts, then peace would be inevitable as like conscious thinking would eliminate competition over ideologies. Peace is a necessity in Marx’s ideal world. If no human felt undermined or unimportant to the system in which they lived, then they could spend more time engaging in the virtues of free conscious life activity which is the optimal way of life for all individuals for Marx.

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