The State, Class, and False Consciousness

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MEDIA ROOTS — In order to move from a liberal capitalist society, organised around elite interests, to a socialist political and economic system run by and for working people, the problem of false consciousness among the USA’s working-class must be confronted, argues Dr. Jeremy Cloward of Diablo Valley College in his paper entitled “The State, Class And False Consciousness Within the American Working Class.”



PROJECT CENSORED — In the United States the American working class has seen itself become increasingly involved in fighting imperialistic wars abroad, financing a growing military budget, and losing its social safety net at home yet at the same time regularly acting politically inconsistent with their own class interests.  This has been to the gain of US-based multinational corporations and to the detriment of working people.  Until the working class in the United States realizes that the predominantly corporate-controlled state does not serve their personal and class interests they will not see any significant improvement in their lives.   On the contrary, as long as working people continue to support the two major parties they can expect to see many more years of corporate dominance of the United States political, economic and social system.  The primary issue that working people must address to resolve this problem is the question of false consciousness.

False Consciousness                         

False consciousness is a term derived from the Marxist tradition which identifies a state of mind of an individual or a group of people who neither understand their class interests nor act politically consistent with those concerns.  Karl Marx, himself, did not use the term false consciousness.  However, many who are intellectually aligned with the Marxist tradition trace the concepts’ origin back to a theory first developed by Marx known as commodity fetishism.  Commodity fetishism is the idea that people place a value on commodities apart from the ones which they intrinsically possess.  For example, a diamond, once it becomes a commodity, is not simply a rock with the properties of a rock but instead an object that people value and admire as if the rock possessed some built-in power which makes it different and more valuable than any other rock.

False consciousness as a concept was first used by Marx’s friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels in July of 1893 in a letter to Franz Mehring.  While writing about the concept of historical materialism he claimed that “ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all.”[2]  Thus Engels, in two brief sentences coins the term and argues that false consciousness and ideology (i.e., worldview) are intellectual constructs.

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