I was a sworn Marxist in college, so much so that I once told my professor I wanted to be an activist. I could hardly imagine a life outside of actively fighting, and I didn’t know how else I could live— because rampant typecasting mandated that I view the world as holding itself from spilling over the edges through watertight compartments. With this pretext, fighting becomes confined to people within academia, journalism and practitioners of other social sciences, while people working within corporate jobs and holding other kinds of employment are excluded from this realm.
A large part of this perception is shaped by the idea of political complacency first proposed as a phenomenon by Marx, where he lays out that people get so preoccupied with commodity fetishism that they allow themselves to be subjugated by a system—because the subjugation is in itself seen as adding value to their lives or adding value to their perceived lives. This is the reason members of the middle class write themselves out of mass political movements and seem to hold up the status quo as being desirable.
This is where my worldview divulges from his. The problem is not that the (Millennial) middle class (working class not engaged in manual labour) is politically complacent for the sake of complacency, but that they have allowed themselves to be lulled into this sleep as a defence mechanism, and the additional factor of motivation is an important variable to this reading.
Traditional ideas of Marxism—where work is seen as undesirable and cultivation of all aspects of one’s personality is ideal—could not catch on with me post-college, despite my positive predisposition towards Marx and leisure. These aren’t the lifestyle choices my society is capable of supporting. Far from fully-automated luxury communism, we fight tooth and nail for the simplest of assignments to make money in an attempt to not drown in a community of equally qualified skill holders. I agree this is not a critique of Marxism as much as a critique of capitalism, but it is a critique of Marxism propagated in a way that doesn’t embrace intersectionality and demonises people, who do not commit full time to the noble pursuits of information and ideas.
Reading Marx from a postcolonial perspective, especially in the Indian subcontinent, requires the reading in of class, caste, gender and sexuality subtext in addition to post-colonialism—since the Indian subject is a mish-mash of all these influences and cannot be viewed through the single hued lens of Marxism. In fact, dealing in ideas itself is a mark of economic privilege in this economy.
As has been well established, there is a fixed quantity of resources to go around—be it natural or economic, by virtue of which, overconsumption of these resources by the developed world—in spite of its lower population—implies lower quantities available for consumption by the developing world despite its considerably larger population. When people are forced to stand in line for their ration or are subjected to the daily reality of job scarcity, not feeling emotionally fulfilled by their occupation falls towards the bottom of their list of concerns making them vulnerable to exploitation by current or potential employers.
The Indian middle class is trapped between fear and aspiration and is stuck in an endless loop of an intra-class war for much-coveted upward mobility. Though their educational qualifications place them above non-university-skilled labour pay, they are sustained at minimal pay to maintain this insecurity, producing workers seeking jobs over careers, and deepening the sense of alienation from meaning. Money is seen as a demarcator where the ability to identify the rich by name bestows the state of wealthiness with a perception of reinvestment of meaning, a decrease in alienation, and shorter working hours allowing time to pursue leisure adding to its aspirational quality.
And everybody begins to run the rat race, which is a neat trick of Capitalism exploiting sociology.
In this attempt at escaping their circumstances, not only does the middle class grow willing to step on others, but also begins to gravitate towards neoliberalism instead of reading the problem right. However, as you might have gotten the hint through all that text above, the uni-fold of Marxism is not the solution. If anything, it adds to the stressors of a generation already grappling with the immorality of a situation they found themselves in, asking them to be moral through it, while also imposing upon them anxiety they ought to feel, should they be acting in self-interest.
The rejection of this anxiety is not a rejection of empathy—a quality we all need if we are to survive the pan, but a rejection of ill-conceived morality with regard to the situation. Additionally, economic mobility of a marginalised group within the middle class only allows them to better negotiate their terms with the forces of the Brahminical Patriarchy, but not if they see spaces of discourse and activism closed off to them for the sole reason that they chose to participate in a system with a profit-making motive.
Capitalism ought to be critiqued for how suppressive it is towards the marginalised more than any other section of society. However, toxic enforcement of not partaking in personal wealth accumulation is counter-intuitive to sustenance and scarcely helpful towards any revolutionary cause.