The Effect of Class Consciousness on Political Preferences

Political preferences are often discussed through a one-size-fits-all middle-class lens. But empirical data shows that class significantly influences voting patterns, with growing class consciousness driving dissatisfaction with established parties.

Karl Marx’s most profound insight was recognizing how commodity fetishism — the fixation on simple commodities themselves — obscures the ways that workers’ labor shapes most commodities and generates the profits, or surplus value, that capitalists obsessively compete for. This competition is the essential driving force of the capitalist mode of production.

In advanced capitalist states, most mainstream political parties engage in a form of political fetishism. These parties portray themselves as constituted by and representing the general citizenry, with policies and candidates addressing the social demands of the majority. But it is now well documented from a range of critical political perspectives that ruling mainstream parties in many countries continually legislate policies and allocate resources that largely serve the interests of political elites, with minimal response to the needs of the majority. The strategic political relations that shape many policies and resource allocations are largely hidden from view and obscured from most voters.

Marx’s early view that the modern state was merely the executive arm of the bourgeoisie was later developed into a more complex understanding of class relations within and against the state. With the advent of mass production, the industrial working class attained a critical mass sufficient to form its own organizations, including the Chartists in England and the first labor party in the world, founded in the United States in 1828. These parties directly pursued working-class agendas. Many leftists then and since have acted in the hope that democratic class struggle would lead to political transformation toward socialism.

For nearly two centuries, the capitalist state, established to protect private property rights, has made concessions to social rights demanded by hired workers, especially in places with highly organized labor movements and social democratic political parties. Nevertheless, massive resources continue to be devoted primarily to advertising and promoting fetishized capitalist economic and political interests. In the few cases where transformative movements have posed a political threat, they have been diverted or undermined through the ideological and coercive force of corporate capitalists and their allies.

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