Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Graded blog entry # 1 - Twain vs. Marx

After reading the quote by Marx and after watching Modern Times, it is clear that under capitalism in the factory setting machines really do control the workers. The workers literally work for the machines; whatever the machine cannot do, the worker picks up. The workers are there to work as appendages to some machines. As of today, some machines really do have human-like appendages.

As I was reading Twain’s, A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court, I came across a paragraph that reminded me in a way of the Marx quote. Twain said,

“The most of King Arthur's British nation were slaves, pure and simple, and bore that name, and wore the iron collar on their necks; and the rest were slaves in fact, but without the name; they imagined themselves men and freemen, and called themselves so. The truth was, the nation as a body was in the world for one object, and one only: to grovel before king and Church and noble; to slave for them, sweat blood for them, starve that they might be fed, work that they might play, drink misery to the dregs that they might be happy, go naked that they might wear silks and jewels, pay taxes that they might be spared from paying them, be familiar all their lives with the degrading language and postures of adulation that they might walk in pride and think themselves the gods of this world. And for all this, the thanks they got were cuffs and contempt; and so poor-spirited were they that they took even this sort of attention as an honor.” (Twain, 88)

I know this does not really have much to do with industry and factories but I found ways in which I believe it relates to Marx’s quote. From my perspective, the king, Church, and noble all represent the machine as it would be in a factory. The slaves and “freemen” represent the workers in the factory that act as appendages to the machine.

Just as the machine pretty much calls the shots in the factory setting, the king calls all of the shots in his kingdom. The kingdom can be related to a factory. The workers in a factory are there to help out the machine, while the slaves and freemen do all of the work for the king. Marx states, “here it is the movements of the machine that he must follow” (Marx, Capital 548). In relation to the kingdom I would change the sentence to say, “In the kingdom it is the movements of the king that his workers must follow.”

As the Twain quote explains, people of that time work for the king because they have to. All of the order and power goes through the king so there is no work that they can do without orders from the king either directly or indirectly. In the time of industry under capitalism people are forced to work with the machines because there are no other jobs. They work these jobs in hope that their lives will someday be better, that they will have money to pay for food, shelter, and other necessities. The only thanks that they ever got were low wages and bad lives.

In my opinion, the only real difference between Twain’s book and Marx’s quote is that the kingdom is before the time of industrialism. Since there were no such technological advances in that time, there were no machines for the people to have to work with. Marx’s language would need some altering to fit into the time of kings and kingdoms. The change would have to go from people working for machines, to people working for people (the king in this instance). If Twain and Marx were of the same time I believe they would have a similar outlook on labor. Industrial labor or not, the two still have some similarities.

Twain, Mark. A CONNECTICUT YANKEE AT KING ARTHUR'S COURT. London: Penguin Books, 1971.


erika mcclintock said...

Marx wrote "The Communist Manifesto" in the late 1840's (wikipedia) and, as noted in the book, Twain was born in 1835. So they were contemporaries (of a sort).

Just a thought...

Kevin said...

I think you drew some great connections with you posts. Especially how in Modern Times the only people that had any kind of voice were the people in authority. And in Twain's book everyone below the nobility in class is essentially just a faceless slave.

Adam Johns said...

First off, I obviously told you that you could take this approach. What I'm going to say next is basically imagining how you could have pushed yourself a little bit farther (partially following Erika's comment) to prove the legitimacy of that approach.

You effectively point out that Twain's idea of oppression and Marx's idea of oppression aren't that far apart from one another (Kevin makes the further connection to Modern Times). Erika helpfully points out the fact that Twain & Marx, while not exactly contemporaries, were near contemporaries -- it's worth noting here that Twain, while no Marxist, certainly had socialist sympathies.

What you're bumping up against is the central issue: Twain isn't _just_ describing the people of medieval Britain: he's using them as a metaphor. You make the connections between the texts well, but it would have been nice if you had made the additional leap to recognize and expound on the fact that Twain isn't just, or even principally, interested in medieval Britain.