Marx’s Theory and the Chrysler Plant Shutdown in Kenosha County

Karl Marx was an extremist in his views on the connections between political systems and culture. He was a man that grew up during industrialization and felt its unfair treatment towards capitalist workers. His reaction to this was his Communist Manifesto published in 1848 which analyses class struggle and the problems that arise under capitalist rule. Arguments used by Marxs against capitalism included surplus value, competition, and his theory of alienation. His final conclusions stated the modes of production within a society determine that societies culture and behavior and capitalism would ultimately destroy a culture. Even though capitalism has never destroyed our culture, Marx’s theory can be applied well to the the epidemic of factories shutting down in America in the late twentieth century. The effects of this on American culture is described nicely in Kathryn Dudley’s ethnography  The End of the Line: Lost Jobs, New Lives in Post Industrial America which specifically analyzes the Chrysler plant shutdown in Kenosha County, 1988.

Kenosha was booming in the first half of the 1900s. Factory work had become a way of life for many families and gave them hope towards achieving the american dream. Auto plants, Nash Motors and AMC, were a main source of employment due to their popularity in the market. This gave thousands of jobs to Kenosha’s citizens resulting in a community that had hope for a bright future. Wages began to rise and upward mobility for individuals became easier because one did not have to attend college to make enough to support a family. In the 1980s, AMC began to cut wages,holiday pay, and union representation. Strikes and negotiations were held ultimately leading to Chrysler’s chairman Lee Iacocca announcing his plan to buy out AMC in 1987. By June 1988, over five thousand were without jobs due to Chrysler’s discontinuation of production. As a result of this change in the community’s means of production the culture was threatened. Once Chrysler shut down many were without a source of income and no way to support their families. Women had to work outside the home more, decisions of college educations appeared at the dinner table more frequently, upward mobility decreased, and some families had to move either for a job offer or to receive help from family. Social roles were threatened in and out of the household which has ultimately led to the kind of culture and capitalist society that we have now in Kenosha.

Even though Marx’s theory comes from a time where industrialization was increasing and Kathryn Dudley writes about a post industrial time in Kenosha, his theory still can be applied well to the effects of the Chrysler plant shutdown. Once Kenosha became a town of businesses and favored retail and college education the culture and behavior of the people changed as well. Individuals had to change to adapt to the world around them. Lower wages, no unions, more jobs available for only college educated individuals, and more separation between the community affected their everyday decisions and routines. The public’s reaction once the auto factory closed gives a post industrial example of Marx’s conclusion about the modes of production. He believed that once mode of production changes in a culture so does the culture itself. Kenosha’s way of production shifting led to a culture where women work out of the home more, both parents work, daycare is used more, children are pushed to go to college, and factory work is looked down upon. This example in history applies Marx’s theory well to situations in modern day capitalism.

   Not all of Marx’s ideas held true in the Chrysler shut down incident though. He stated in his theory that capitalism causes alienation. Before the shutdown, the factory became a way of life and a type of unity for the people who lived and worked in Kenosha at this time. It brought them a promise of prosperity; therefore they developed a connection with the work. This indicates that alienation did not take place within the workers in Kathryn Dudley’s ethnography during industrial capitalism. Marx also states that capitalism would destroy a culture. Once Kenosha switched it’s means of production the culture made a significant change, but was not destroyed in the way that Marx envisioned. Marx’s predicted conflict and a revolution ultimately ending in no state. There was conflict (the plant negotiations, shutdown, and strikes) which led to a post industrial Kenosha, but no revolution occured that tried to overthrow capitalism.

   Even though Marx’s ideas about alienation did not apply to the workers in their industrial environment does not mean his conclusion about modes of production and society is discredited in Kenosha’s post industrial environment. The factory shutdown was a huge devastation for the town of Kenosha and it led families to change their dynamics, uproot their lives, and find a new way of surviving in a world that was far from their comfort zone. This cultural change impacted by a switch from industrial to postindustrial means of production shows the process of Marx’s theory about modes of production take place. His views and predictions were more extreme than what actually happened in Kenosha, 1988, but it still shows how influential the way we produce our goods is to our fragile culture.


Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory: a Social and Political History. Routledge, 2013


Dudley, Kathryn. The End of the Line: Lost Jobs, New Lives in Post Industrial AmericaThe University of Chicago, 1994


Marx and Conflict in Maycomb County

In high school, when reading To Kill a Mockingbird was a requirement, I had paid no attention to one of the most prominent inhabitants of Maycomb County. In my defense, the name Karl Marx was never eluded to nor included as an actual character in the novel. Nonetheless, he had been there the whole time. And so, with Marx in mind, I thought I would examine Maycomb with a true Marxist fashion and take interest in class conflict.

In analyzing Maycomb County from a conflict perspective, it is important to take note of its aspects. In short, the conflict perspective is the idea that there is a conflict over limited resources, the control of those resources, and the power held by those that have control over the resources. The most obvious example of Marx’s theory pertains to the economic distribution within Maycomb County. In this situation, the people who hold the power are those like Scout’s Aunt Alexandra, Scout’s father Atticus Finch, and Lync Deas. Aunt Alexandra and Lync Deas hold power in this society because they own plantations and in turn, the means of production. Atticus also holds power and means of production, though on a smaller scale, since he employs Calpurnia as a live in maid. These people that have the means to do so, provide jobs for people in the working classes and then the work done is turned into the resources which the employers hold. This may represent the economic distribution in Maycomb in relation to Marx’s conflict theory, but there are other ways power is held.

There are a couple examples of other groups coming to possess and use power over others and how power is maintained in To Kill a Mockingbird. These examples are in reference to race and gender socialization. In the novel, Atticus keeps watch over an African American man, Tom Robinson, who is in jail prior to his trial, when a group from the working class come to harm Mr. Robinson. They tell Atticus to step aside and in the meanwhile Dill, Scout, and their friend Dill come to their father’s aid. At first the power held is from a concept of race. The social structure in the community of Maycomb is in part determined by the social construct of race. Since everyone in the group that show up to harm Tom are white, they hold power over him. In this instance, the conflict perspective would recognize those lacking a higher concentration of melanin in their skin as people in power, as well as the people in control of the resources seeing that the resource is the color of one’s skin. However, when Scout steps up and Atticus assists her, the people in power change. Now the power held is social rank in terms of class and persuasion abilities. Scout is able to empathize with Walter Sr. and strip away his power because the resource is no longer the color of one’s skin. Instead, the resource is economic class rank and an ability to persuade others with good speaking skills and a heightened vocabulary (in terms of Atticus).

An additional example is power in terms of gender socialization. In much of the novel, we see how Scout is more of a tomboy and enjoys participating in activities socially acceptable for boys to do. This power is neither economical nor racial, but rather in terms of gender. The times when Scout is able to wear the overalls she likes to adorn and participate in the same activities as boys, she holds more power. However, we see a change in Scout’s hold of power when Alexandra forces more socially acceptable gender roles onto Scout. For example, Aunt Alexandra encourages Scout to act like a lady which, in their society and many others, means she should wear dresses and not ‘play in the mud’. This act of encouraging Scout to act in a more socially acceptable way takes away the power Scout held at times when she wore her overalls and played with the boys as just ‘one of the boys’. And although she has more power when she dresses how she likes, I do recognize that even by being a girl she will not have the same power as either her brother or friend Dill at many times, she still has a significant amount more power when she breaks social norms and, in turn is not as hindered by gender socialization.

One last connection I want to address with Maycomb County and its most prominent inhabitant is that of dialectical materialism. After making the connection between Maycomb County’s economic system and the conflict perspective, I was then able to make another connection of their economy and how it fits into Marx’s idea that a person’s social existence determines his consciousness. Like previously discussed, people like Aunt Alexandra and Lync Deas hold a great deal of power in this society because they hold the means of production. They own the plantations where resources like cotton and tobacco are produced. The mode of production in Maycomb gives rise to the political arrangements and even then the ideology of the society. The social relationships in Maycomb as well as their ideology, in my opinion, revolve heavily on race and your ranking in social class.

In closings, after reflecting back on my latest reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, I was able to identify not only a new, unmentioned, character in a book written fifty-six years ago, but also see the roles in which the conflict perspective and dialectical materialism play within Maycomb County.


-Madeline Baumeister

Durkheim, Marx

El Chapo: A Social Order of His Own

In the last week of February, Mexican marines captured Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, international drug lord and, apparently, a local hero. Over 1000 people have protested his imprisonment with signs that read ‘We love Chapo’, ‘We want Chapo free’, and other such slogans. Investigators have deduced, from the testimony of many protesters, that Guzman’s friends and family are almost certainly paying people to take part in this uproar. However, I think it is worth pending your belief of that fact, as it would be in the best interest of these investigators to downplay any actual sympathy for Guzman that exists in the community. They’ve claimed that sums of 700 pesos are being offered to potential protesters, amounting to approximately 50-55 U.S. Dollars. Over 200 of these ‘activists’ have been detained, so it is not a bounty that comes without considerable risk. Perhaps Marx would look directly at poverty and desperation in the community as an explanation for why people were willing to accept these risks, but I feel like Durkheim might have looked less at the reward and more at the social function of the movement, the feeling that people are getting by participating in this event that flies in the face of the Mexican government. Why might people feel a compulsion to support Guzman, beyond the guarantee of cash?

El Chapo grew up poor in a rural community in La Tuna, Badiraguato, Sinaloa, Mexico. He reportedly dropped out of school in 3rd grade to work with his father and was known to be abused at home. As he got older, he was an accessory to his father’s petty crimes and watched him spend most of their earnings on liquor and women. At age 15, he cultivated his own marijuana plants with his distant cousins and at 20, he left his home town and aligned with organized criminals through his uncle’s connections. After unprecedented acceleration in his drug dealing syndicate, he was imprisoned in 1993, to escape in 2001 with the aid of prison guards he had paid off. His ability to rise above the law on countless others occasions has been credited to bribery aimed at government officials in Mexico. 69% of Mexicans believe this billionaire has been propped up by corrupt members of the Mexican government.

A Boston-based company called Jana conducted a survey that said that 44% of Mexicans believe El Chapo should be extradited to America for trial, as he would face drug trafficking charges that would almost certainly stick. So, it can be said that many people in Mexico are fully aware of the fact that a man who is responsible for countless drug-related murders needs to face justice. But there is still an enormous mistrust of the government among the Mexican people because of the effectiveness of Guzman’s bribery. For people to have enough faith in the social order to support the prosecution of criminals, they need to believe that the government is not itself guilty of failing to apprehend individuals simply because they are wealthy and powerful. I think we can agree, too, that this is not only an issue in Mexico.

In this country, many subcultures exist in defiance of the law. This is not simply because of disagreement with the laws that are put forward by the government, but it is often a recognition of the contradictions that exist between the rules that the common rabble are forced to follow and the rules that the ruling class follow, which seem to constantly shift to support their whims. I believe these protests to release El Chaps are as much motivated by money as they are by a dissatisfaction with the current administration.

Marx, Time

All the time.

One of the things that has really stuck out to me is the chapter in Sears and Cairns about time.  I think about time a lot, in particular the way our perception of time affects other aspects of society and the world around us.  Sears and Cairns are not wrong; time seems to be speeding up around us and it has profound implications in the way we interact with others.One example of this is fast food.  In theory, you get in, you order, you get out, you gobble down your food and you go on your merry way.  The problem comes when we start to generalize this concept of fast, cheap, and easy to every other aspect of our world.  I work in a retail pharmacy and I have noticed that people have a tendency to apply this concept to their healthcare.  The industry standard wait time to have a prescription filled is 15 to 20 minutes on average.  This covers the time it takes for a person to talk to you and review your file, type your prescription, have a pharmacist check that the typed information is correct, submit the prescription to your insurance, fill the prescription, check that the medication is correct, and counsel you on the medication.  When you spell it all out, it is a lot.  But, when people hear that the wait time is 15 to 20 minutes, they lose their minds.  “Why is it going to take so long? All you have to do is count a couple pills out of a bottle and label them!”  It takes this long to complete a prescription for a simple reason: if we don’t get it right, you could become more seriously ill or even die.So, if one’s personal health is at stake, why are patients so intent on this fast food type service?  I’m sure there are many reasons, but the most obvious one to me is that retail corporations are fostering the image of pharmacy as fast food in consumers.  Starting with the $4 dollar prescription “value meal” and ending with the convenient drive-thru service, corporations have realized that they can make an enormous amount of money just by being the fastest and along the way, quality is misplaced.

This is not only applicable to pharmacies, but also to hospitals.  A few months ago, I read an article talking about changes made in hospital operations based off changes made by the ObamaCare programs.  The main point of the article was that in the past, doctors were pressured to get people in and out fast in order to keep making money.  If there were complications due to rushing, that was fine, bring them back in and make more money off of another visit.  Now, insurance companies are trying to cut back on how many times a person visits a doctor, it is in their financial best interest to do things right the first time because they will not receive more money for subsequent visits.  So, hospitals have started forcing personnel to slow down and use check lists to make sure things are done right the first time.  Slowing down is not always a bad thing.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that what is the point in all this rush that people engage in?  All they are doing is rushing towards mistakes and time “wasted” fixing mistakes they made in that rush.