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


Karl Marx believed that the product of human labor was separate from and hostile toward its maker. The same might be said of the product of our commercial activities on the Internet. You might not believe that your institutional doppelgänger works against you, but it does not seem like a stretch to argue that the sum of your activity as a consumer—your social-media posts, credit history, the freakishly accurate profile advertisers have of you—is its own creature, and can move about independently of you. You can also assign any number of automated tasks to your doppelgänger, which it will perform tirelessly.

Think about this – ways in which Marx’s theory of the alienation of labor can now be extended to consumption.

The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf,” The New Yorker, March 27, 2014


Karl Marx belie…


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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.