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A specter looms over the Music Industry—threatening the present social order of proletariat artist and the bourgeoisie record executive. Like many of the products we buy, music is something that we enjoy every day, but are completely oblivious to the exploitative systems by which it is created. The glimmering facade of wealth, power, and happiness displayed in music videos is in stark contrast to the reality of the industry. This blog post will draw analogies from modern Industry to the Music Industry in order to provide you with a better understanding of Marx’s philosophies.

The history of all musical production is that of class struggles. From the ancient times of the simple African drum circle, to feudal aristocratic patronage, to modern day auto-tuned international pop, the methods of producing music, and the organizational social structures surrounding it, have been in constant flux and revolution. “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebein, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman… (Marx 798)”—record executive and artist. By definition bourgeoisie is “…the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage-labour.” And proletariant is “…the class of modern wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour-power in order to live. (Marx 798)” As you can see, there are distinct similarities that can be drawn between that of the record executive and the bourgeoisie and that of the musical artist and the proletariat. The present system of oppression, maintained by the record companies and bourgeoisie executives, began to form in the late 20th century(1).

The driving force behind the modern system is that of musical recordings, which, through various methods, can be recorded, stored, and distributed—all without the artist stepping foot outside of a recording studio. In the past, the social unit of music, much like the family, was the band. Most musical interactions took place between members of the band, and their audience. The members of the band were insuperable form their natural capital of musical talent and the name they acquired for themselves through the use of that talent. This was all changed with the advent of the first phonograph in the United States in 1877(2). “Unlike modern capital which can be appraised monetarily and invested in this thing or that, this natural capital was directly tied up with the particular work of the owner, was insuperable from it…(Marx 790)” The technological advance of being able to separate the artists from their music—natural capital—was the critical step in the creation of the modern Music Industry.

This separation of the artist from their works, both intellectually and physically, lead to the immediate and rapid development of division of labor regarding the production of modern music. No longer is the artist solely responsible for imagining, creating, and playing his or her music. This responsibility is divided amongst an army of professional musical composers, lyricists, audio producers, sound engineers, recording studio staff, and marketeers all play a specialized role in the production of today’s mass-market music. “Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labor, the work of proletarians has lost all individual character, and , consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine… (Marx 802)” <queue Pink Floyd’s smash-hit…>.  Thus music no longer becomes a pleasure for those working on it, it becomes merely toil and chore.

The added artistic value created by these workers is kept by the record company as profits. Often times artists are forced by companies to adopt stage name in order for the record company to maintain legal rights over both the artist’s music and their name. Take, for example, “The artist formerly known as Prince”. In 1993, a legal battle erupted surrounding the ownership of Prince’s name and musical works. Prince states:

The first step I have taken towards the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to the Love Symbol. Prince is the name that my mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros…”

Prince’s statements eerily mirror the feelings and goals of proletariats and communists alike. To free themselves from their enslavement by bourgeoisie, to reclaim what is naturally theirs, and to put a stop to the bourgeoisie’s exploitation of the artist.

ARTISTS OF ALL COMPANIES, UNITE!

Sources:

Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Wooton, 2008.

Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, Wooton, 2008

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_sound_recording
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonograph
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_(musician)
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music
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Who leads Marx’s communist state?

From the limited Marx and Engels readings that we have covered in our class, I have come to understand Marx’s idea of the communist state as, if not naïve, at least an incomplete one.  I base this analysis particularly on pages 808 and 809, in the “Communist Manifesto” section of our textbook.  The proletariat is to assume the position of the ruling class collectively as the State.  The revolution is one of an organized group, and so, surely, there must be a leader of the revolution?  And furthermore, there must be a head of the State?  Granted, Marx and Engels’ “The German Ideology” and “The Communist Manifesto” are critiques of capitalism and a call for revolution by the Proletariat, and not detailed blueprints for a constitution.  However, the fact that they lay out ten general guidelines for the communist state (seen on page 809 of the textbook version of “The Communist Manifesto”), and not one of these mentions leadership of the State, it appears that Marx believes that the communist state will function without a leader.  The collective interest is supposedly so strong that every one of the proletariat knows his or her role and function and will carry it out in the association.  This idea of communism has unrealistic expectations for the knowledge and willingness of man to cooperate.

According to Freud (1959), reiterating Le Bon’s work, there is no such thing as a leaderless group (p. 17).  The group is a malleable, “obedient herd” waiting to be commanded by a master, in which “no personal interest, not even that of self-preservation, can make itself felt” (p.13).  There is no individuality in the group.  Freud later does go on to state that the group can be led by an idea rather than a person (p. 40). However, who is to make the decisions for the State, and how will they be made?  A democratic vote of the vast population?  This isn’t feasible; ultimately, someone will decide which issues are on the voting agenda, and is this person not a leader?  Who is to decide which actions do or do not support the Communist doctrine, the leading idea?  There is no individuality in the group, and no prescribed leader of the State.  How can the State function?  An idea cannot be a master, but is rather a guideline for action.  Particularly in a Communist nation with no leader, there will be a problem of collective action; by not ascribing roles to each person in the “association” and instead letting each person “freely develop him or herself”, people will have incentives to free ride and simply live off the work of others.  One may counter this statement with Marx and Engels’ eighth measure listed on page 809: the State necessitates “equal liability of all to labour”.  This may be an ideal of the “vast association of the whole nation”, but simply in this statement, it is evident that without some institution of government, some leader, enforcement of labor is simply impossible in the vast nation without a leader.  Some sort of institution is necessary – the Marx and Engels communist state is too heavily dependent on the sense of duty and responsibility of the individual.  It is too idealistic.

References

Modern Political Thought, Wootton.

Freud, S. (1959). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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