“Working Class Hero”
John Lennon, in this song, certainly expresses similar critiques of capitalism to Marx’s and Engels’ critiques of capitalism. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a few of the lyrics in the song and to bring up connections to those lyrics and Marx’s and Engels’ “The German Ideology.”
As soon as you’re born, they make you feel small.
Marx and Engels say that the “family, initially the only social relationship, becomes later a subordinate relationship” (Wootton 781*). They also say that the “latent slavery in the family, though still very crude, is the first property” (Wootton 783). According to Lennon, Marx, and Engels, not only does the government treat people as slaves, the family you are born into treats you as a slave as well (with varying degrees of deliberation).
Keep your dope with religion and sex in TV,
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free,
But you’re still f#%*ing peasants as far as I can see.
As Marx says, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” (Wikipedia**). To Marx, religion is completely fictional and is used by the elites of the world to control the weak. It also, apparently, offers false consolation, just like “opium” offers false consolation to the opium addict.
‘There’s room at the top,’ they are telling you still,
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill,
If you want to be like the folks on the hill.
Marx and Engels say that “[c]onnected with [the development of productive forces] is a class which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages” (Wootton 786). According to Lennon, Marx, and Engels, people who are successful in a capitalistic system are guilty of oppressing those who are not so lucky; thus, in order to be “at the top” of a capitalistic society, one must learn how to “smile as you kill.”
After examining these critiques of capitalism by Lennon, Marx, and Engels, what do you think of them?
*Wootton, David, ed. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2008.