Complicity in Working Class Life

Why Working Class People Accept their Submission

By saying workers are complicit in their oppression, we deny that workers are victims of circumstance. But neither do we say workers create their own reality. Capitalists limit and control the life of workers with the Deep State’s first line of terrorism: police departments. They control workers through wages and laws that are stacked against them. But workers are still responsible as collective creative beings to fight against this oppression. There are many, many working class people – 40% of the population. There are very few ruling class and upper class – 5-6%. So we have to explain how so many can be controlled by so few.

The field of psychology has not been friendly to the working class between the later part of the 19th century until the 1930s. Psychologists like Wundt were only interested in the neurological aspects of psychology such as sensation, perception or elementary thinking. Psychologists like Freud who were much more interested in the deeper realms of consciousness were only interested in individuals and their struggles. In the field of crowd psychology, Gustav Le Bon, a conservative French doctor wrote at the turn of the 20th century speculative books arguing that the highest aspects of psychology were within individuals. Crowd behavior represented the worst in humanity. Since most people in crowds were working class, Le Bon described them as irrational, spontaneous, suggestible, ignorant and animal-like.

Meanwhile socialists and communists were either not interested in psychology or looked at it with suspicion. Some even called it a bourgeois science. Nevertheless, in the 1920s Lev Vygotsky set out to create what he called a communist psychology. He studied the social nature of intelligence and many other subjects including cooperative learning and the impact of industrialization on perception, cognition and personality. He and his colleagues Luria and Leontiev certainly assisted working-class people with their problems but they did not explicitly develop a working-class psychology. For all socialists the working-class psychology was pretty straight-forward. They were beaten down victims who were potentially heroic when and if they overthrew capitalism.

The problem for all socialist psychology is that no one carried forward Marx and Engels conflicted nature of the working-class psychology.  On one hand workers were a class-in-itself. This is when workers have no class consciousness and only dream of becoming capitalists themselves. They are interested in immediate gratification and are vulnerable to capitalist diversions such as religion, patriotism and sports, all which create non-socialist communities. On the other hand, Marx said workers have a class-for-itself consciousness. Here workers identify as a members of the working class with their own separate interests, distinct from all other social classes. They become less involved in sports, religion and patriotism. At best they became socialists and identify their future by overthrowing capitalism and creating a socialist society.

The first attempt we are aware of to show the conflicted nature of the working class psychologically was in the work of Wilhelm Reich. Most famously in the Mass Psychology of Fascism and the Function of the Orgasm, Reich argued that the repressive nature of religion along with the authoritarian family and sexual repression combined to make the working class submissive. His later books like Listen Little Man and the Murder of Christ continued to point out the complicity and the inability of working-class people to rebel. In the Murder of Christ Reich wrote, Hitler would never have been possible if there wasn’t a little bit of Hitler in a whole lot of people.

The reason why people are complicit in their own subordination does not rise or fall with the reasons Reich brought up about why they accept subordination. It is because he raised the question as a socialist. Many of our articles under “Perspectives and Analysis” deal with the question of working-class complicity. These articles include the topics of propaganda, the manipulative nature of language, the nature of dogmatism, cults, nationalism, patriotism, sports and the use of psychotherapy to force, cohere or mystify working-class people to accept their submission.

About Bruce Lerro

Bruce Lerro has taught for 25 years as an adjunct college professor of psychology at Golden Gate University, Dominican University and Diablo Valley College. He has applied a Vygotskian socio-historical perspective to his four books: From Earth-Spirits to Sky-Gods: the Socio-ecological Origins of Monotheism, Individualism and Hyper-Abstract Reasoning Power in Eden: The Emergence of Gender Hierarchies in the Ancient World Co-Authored with Christopher Chase-Dunn Social Change: Globalization from the Stone Age to the Present and Lucifer's Labyrinth: Individualism, Hyper-Abstract Thinking and the Process of Becoming Civilized He is also a representational artist specializing in pen-and-ink drawings. Bruce is a libertarian communist and lives in Olympia WA.

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