Although “false consciousness” is closely associated with Marxism, the term was never actually used by Karl Marx. The first usage of the theoretical concept was in “History and Class Consciousness”, written in 1923 by György Lukács, a Hungarian literary critic and philosopher. Later on, the concept was further advanced and developed by Marxist scholars such as Henri Lefebvre (a french sociologist) and Herbert Marcuse (a german/american philosopher) in the 20th century. Starting in the late 20th century, the term has since been used principally by Marxists who further theorize the concept through multiple studies regarding oppression on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.
Really, there are two different ways in which the term “false consciousness” is used within Marxist tradition. The first being how the oppressed classes, known as the proletariat, internalize their oppression. People in these social classes are under the impression that the system is helping them and working in their favor when in reality it is working against them and their interests and in fact actually working in favor of the bourgeoisie, also known as the ruling class. In this case, people who are a part of the working class are being tricked and deceived. False consciousness also the idea that the vast majority of people living in a capitalistic system are mistakenly under the impression that capitalism is the most superior and efficient mode of human interaction and production. They are wrong in that they believe that capitalism is the best and only option to a viable life. Essentially, most of us are being taken advantage of. Here’s an example: the ruling class tells society that in order to be successful you must spend thousands of dollars to get a college degree. Naturally, many of those who cannot afford an education will not even try to compete with those in the elite society who can afford to go to a top college. Then for instance, the C.E.O. of a company such as Apple may tell you that you must purchase their products in order to be able to live a better life and be one step closer to being a part of the ruling class. This then becomes a vicious cycle in which proletariat consumers are taken advantage of by the ruling class. This even applies to me personally. Although I am not a part of the working class, I am still a victim of false consciousness. For instance, in the past I have purchased celebrity-endorsed products subconsciously thinking that having that product will make me one step closer to being like them.
Ultimately, we are all victims of false consciousness but Marxists argue that people in the proletariat need to work on developing greater class consciousness. Essentially this means defining how we view our class or rank in society. If people in the proletariat realize that they have the ability to improve things for themselves, they could start coordinating with other people in their social class in order to revolutionize and change the economic system as well as resist and confront the status quo. Collective efforts such as legislations that emphasize social welfare, unions, and so on, could completely reconstruct our economy. Due to false consciousness however, workers end up being fooled by the upper class in a way that puts them at a disadvantage economically and socially, making the system even more unjust.
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