Dreams: Bourgeois and Proletarian
“Towers of gold are still too little,
These hands could hold the world but it’ll,
Never be enough, never be enough, fuh meeeeeee,
Neh-vuh, neh-vuh, fuh meeeee, FUH MEEEEEEEEEEE”
what happened to our dreams?
“Follow your dreams” is more than just a common adage in our society; it has functionally become the premier, singular moral lesson of our media presentations — both fictional and those presented to us in real life (or as real life). The glamourized, glorified lumps of plastic surgery and human growth hormone at the movie awards and sporting championships reiterate this lesson endlessly through the hegemony, and enormous swaths of the masses take it to heart. Hundreds of thousands quit their job or leave their small town to become movie stars (read: dishwashers and waitresses) in Hollywood — this is not a lesson being ignored or denied, save by the most cynical. But the question needs to be asked, what are our dreams? Or more precisely, what the fuck has happened to our dreams?
When you watch one of these fictional movies or television shows, sports competitions or glorified human interest story from what passes for ‘the news’ these days, it becomes very clear that the ultimate human victory of your material existence is to achieve your dreams. A wonderful notion that satisfies everyone from the Nietzschians to the modern radical-liberals and a myriad of others in between and outside. Set your fanciful life-goals for your material existence and achieve them. But in this presentation, shaped and molded by the hegemony (the dominant liberal ideology of our era, as tailored and pruned by the final bourgeois producers and editors and owners of these presentations) the achievement, the dream, is one of a singular, small scale personal victory — usually one of amassing immense wealth through some singular outstanding achievement. This provides an image of comfort for the audience (but it is just that, the image, the illusion), as we see the successful individual, learn their story and struggles, understand and empathize with the overcoming of obstacles in their life, and now, seeing that their future is secure, as well as securing the well being and care of their loved ones — specifically their immediate family and maybe a few close compatriots — we can revel and rejoice in celebration for them, providing a momentary escape from our own, lesser, existences. But this achievement is a very localized, isolated, personal dream. A victory for a few dozen (at most) individuals, watched and absorbed and consumed by millions.
Long gone from the hegemonic films and stories of late-stage capitalism are the radical, transformative, collective dreams of a larger society — of the masses. The happy ending of the story is now about the hero getting the girl, succeeding financially, and finding a place within the status quo, but rarely ever overturning said status quo. The end of our movies has individuals escape with the bag of money, or finally succeed to a large audience who then love them, accept them, embrace them, and elevate them — but what you don’t see any longer (indeed, you rarely did in the first place, but even less so today, as hegemonic media tailoring and refinement reaches its all time peak) are “happy endings” about transforming the world or society, on a grand and collective scale. In the few cases where you do see this in modern media, it is usually and exclusively to undo some horrible world transformation that has already taken place (as liberal media presents world-change as a singularly negative phenomenon in the first place) into some form of dystopia, and the societal-transformative victory in overcoming this is to simply undo it, suggesting some sort of return to the existing capitalist status quo as being the best to come. The modern problem is that we already live in a dystopia (indeed, many of our dreams are, in fact, unending real world nightmares to others), so the restoration of the present status quo can only be made appealing with end of the world extinction/apocalypse/dystopian cartoon regime scenarios. More on this in a moment, but first a word from Zig Ziglar.
the less exciting kind of MLM
Once upon a time, many years ago, I had been invited (conned) into attending a “job interview” that quickly made itself apparent as being nothing more than an MLM. No, this was not the fun sort that involved any Protracted People’s Wars or Cultural Revolutions, bur rather was a multi-level marketing scheme (don’t laugh!). Hosting this multi-level marketing scheme was none but the man himself; the world (dystopia that it is) famous Zig Ziglar (ok, laugh a little). Yes that is (or, rather, thankfully, was) a real human being, long since passed into death and irrelevance (save for the real life Willy Lomans of middle America, who still recite his quotes for sad inspiration). The Ziglar gave a grand speech, talking nothing at all of the product or service (or lack thereof) that we, the fools (myself included) that had been conned into this ‘job’ “‘opportunity,’” would be peddling — instead, the Ziglar spoke only of motivation and dreams and goals and wealth and dedication and perseverance and other qualities and rewards, all in the abstract. It was clear that this speech could be transplanted to virtually any number of similar opportunities, used over and over again, and that some lump sum of money had been deposited into Zig’s bank account for him to make one of these generic speeches here. Before long (and still before we, fools, had learned what we would supposedly be selling) we broke into isolated break rooms, where some upliner-lieutenants of the MLM would sit down with us in isolation for a one-on-one.
For whatever reason I had not fled by this point (I recall that there was a free brunch involved, and I was desperately hoping for a big buffet with little sausages), and so I had to endure the motivational pitch of this upliner-lieutenant who had unknowingly drawn the short straw to sit with the secretly-Marxist salesman. They say down beside me, and began showing me pictures of the most fantastical cars and homes and garages of the super-rich. “This could all be yours — with this system,” referring to the MLM, “there is no limit to your success. What are your dreams?” Obviously the goal here was to appeal to my dreams of wealth and avarice to motivate me to want to sell for whatever scheme the Ziglar was hawking, but sadly for them, this fanciful junk was of little interest to me, and none of my dreams were lining up with their intent.
“I’d like to see a restructuring of the world’s political systems,” I said, covertly.
“No, but what are your dreams.” Clearly I was answering the question wrong. “What do you want?”
“I’d like to live in a world without hunger or homelessness,” I responded, getting less discreet about my Marxist leanings.
“YES! And you can be the person that ends that with all your wealth!” they replied, thinking they had found a hook.
“Well that’s not correct. It cannot be my gift,” I responded, ignoring the whole line that the mathematics of working on the downline from Zig Ziglar would mean that my wealth never could exceed his, and that even the Ziglar’s entire liquidation would but be a drop in the bucket towards the end of world hunger and homelessness, the argument I put forward was that, “rather it would be their right, not to be given by me but theirs to demand and take through their own organization.”
By this point, they had a concerned look on their face, and clearly they had never seen Citizen Kane. My cover was blown. It was becoming clear I wouldn’t be a part of their downline, and that their time was being wasted as much as mine had been thus far, and before long I was told that I was not a good fit for the program and asked to leave. I never got my little sausages.
The problem that occurred here was that the MLMers were attempting to press the right motivational buttons to get the salespeople to eagerly throw themselves into the act of selling — uh, to this day I dont think I ever learned what, exactly, but I’m certain that whatever it was, it is as dead as Zig Ziglar by this point) in service of the MLM. The problem was that I was not (and never have been) motivated by individualistic dreams. I do not want things to the exclusions of others. I have never wanted a personal vast mansion (how long and tedious to move from room to room, and how much more use-value could be recognized if it would be housing for a large family or as a college dorm), or a science-fiction garage full of personal-private cars (cars that are personal-private to me, but in reality propertied, protected, denied, and off-limits to the rest of humanity, who could make far better use of them while they waste away in a basement). My dreams are, and always have been, collective dreams — dreams for, and of, the masses — dreams that can be shared in the aggregate.
a million dreams
I will never put this forward as any sort of justification for allowing poverty, but there is an inverse correlation between dreams and wealth. As your private wealth increases, your dreams diminish, both in quantity and in variety. A poor or destitute person has a great many dreams — a dream for a hot meal, a dream for the medicine they need, a dream for a job, a dream for a life with dignity, a dream not to be beaten by the police tonight, a dream for shelter, for safe haven, for a quiet place to go an wait out the rain, and so on. The poor and destitute have dreams for any and all of the material things that they need, and want, and have little to no access to. And the sad reality of life under capitalism is that almost all of these ever increasing number of dreams (for an increasing number of destitute dreamers) will never come true.
However, as material conditions are met, and as standing wealth of an individual increases, so too do the dreams of these individuals narrow and focus and hone in upon the furtherance of the increase of their own wealth. No longer dreaming of meals or shelter, with these things now secure, they are even taken as a given by the most solidified wealth-owning-agents of society (often forming the reactionary shit-layer of civilization known as the middle class). Sure some will want to shit out some gormless shit-kids, a hollow shit-dream and non-achievement that most animals accomplish regularly. There may be a bucket list with some random experiences — almost all of them lame tourist shit — and almost all of these can be achieved easily by having more wealth. And here, it becomes increasingly apparent that the solution to dreams is the increase and accumulation of wealth, and that the fastest, easiest, and most concrete way to further gains on wealth is to have a passive income — something that is necessarily impossible for all of humanity — there exists no condition under which we all sit around as wealth magically materializes around us with no labour done. Indeed, the wealth claimed by the expansion of ownership emerging from passive income must be done and performed by someone else, somewhere else in the world. And it is here that we begin to see that the expansion of these “passive” wealth claims are, in fact, imposing additional labour on others — those dreams of additional wealth accumulating on their own are manifest as material labour to be performed and handed over to the ownership claim holder in the future.
It is at this point, the development of some form of passive income, of accumulation emerging from the ownership claim, that the individual has entered into the class of the petty-bourgeoisie. Those who likely still have to perform some labour, or do some work, but whose primary income comes from ownership rather than wage or salary. And it is here that the number of dreams (unvisited tourist attractions and shit-kids notwithstanding) has been reduced to one, singular dream. We can identify and call this dream by its regional-specific branding, as the United States is a society with a larger petty-bourgeois class than any ever before, and likely ever to come.
the American dream
The American dream exists in opposition to other dreams (it is not called the universal world dream) and it is necessarily a petty bourgeois aspiration — it is not, and cannot be one of the proletariat. There is no situation in which all human being are owners, sitting around accumulating wealth and income, watching out material piles grow, without others to perform the actual labour that is required to produce and provide the things being accumulated. Proles may aspire to be bourgeois, but that is largely a combination of factors, including cultural hegemony (commercials, media, television glamourizing and promoting excesses an decadences of wealth), the desire to be alleviated from the burden of capitalism (having enough money to not worry about rent or food bills or medicine, etc.), and the general desire for a more leisurely life, free from the pressures, domination, and control of the bourgeoisie. But of course, to free oneself from the bourgeoisie, the avenue out under capitalism often requires becoming bourgeoisie, and while it is an avenue that, theoretically anyone can take, it most certainly is not an avenue wide enough for everyone to take.
The idea behind the American dream is that anyone can achieve their dreams —but that choice of words does not transpose with the proletarian concept that ‘everyone can achieve their dreams’ and a such, it is necessarily a false claim when taken in the aggregate. At a bridal shower, any of the brides maids can catch the bouquet, but there exists no reality in which all of the bridesmaids catch the singular bouquet, and indeed, once the bouquet has been caught, the bouquet-catching avenue is closed off until the next wedding, by which time the number of brides maids will have multiplied. Anyone can win the lottery, but that comes with it an implicit and tacit understanding that only a finite number of lottery winners will ever exist, and that quantity will be exponentially exceeded by the number of lottery players. Most will lose, and lose badly. Everyone wont win the lottery, and the existence of a winner propagates the existence of a great many more losers.
The capitalist systems implied doctrine is that only they, the lottery winners and the bouquet catchers, can be the adequate decision makers of our society and of our world. After all, they caught the bouquet or won the lottery, therefore they must know what they are doing. It’s flattering, and if you are among the bourgeois, you can ensure this message is the one that gets presented over and above whatever complaint the brides maids and lottery-losers might make. The important thing is to keep them fixed on trying to be the next bouquet-catcher or lottery-winner, so that the games can keep being played, careful not to allow the losers to examine the game or why it exists. Such is the hamster-wheel of petty-bourgeois existence. Dreams need no longer be pluralized for these eager and all-in hamsters, so close to reaching their ultimate goal with just a few more laps on the wheel.
The petty bourgeois, as ‘entry-level’ capitalists can have only this one singular aspiration — one singular dream — the aforementioned (and mostly illusory) “American Dream,” in which their petty bourgeois ventures can be made prosperous enough to finally elevate them to the status of the bourgeoisie-proper. To achieve this, the fortunes coming from the ownership claims, small at first, must be expanded and grown. But those fortunes do not come from nowhere. Nor do they materially pop into existence from their bourgeois ingenuity. There is no such thing as a ‘passive income,’ as if the labour done to provide the goods and services for the bourgeois/petty bourgeois ownership claim holders is done passively! But as any Marxist knows, there is no such thing as passive income — they are simply extending their claims on ownership over the labours of others around the world (including their future labour — this is what debt is in classical political economy), who will no doubt have to toil and labour that much more to satisfy and maintain the targeted quarterly growth of the stock, so that those ‘passive’ incomes can be realized in three months time. Bourgeois dreams not only perpetuate this system, but they functionally suppress the proletariat in order to be achieved, and in doing so, crush the proletarian dreams.
As Karl Marx explained:
How then does a sum of commodities, of exchange values, become capital?
Thereby, that as an independent social power — i.e., as the power of a part of society — it preserves itself and multiplies by exchange with direct, living labour-power.
The existence of a class which possesses nothing but the ability to work is a necessary presupposition of capital.
It is only the dominion of past, accumulated, materialized labour over immediate living labour that stamps the accumulated labour with the character of capital.
Capital does not consist in the fact that accumulated labour serves living labour as a means for new production. It consists in the fact that living labour serves accumulated labour as the means of preserving and multiplying its exchange value…
Let us take an example. For one shilling a labourer works all day long in the fields of a farmer, to whom he thus secures a return of two shillings. The farmer not only receives the replaced value which he has given to the day labourer, he has doubled it. Therefore, he has consumed the one shilling that he gave to the day labourer in a fruitful, productive manner. For the one shilling he has bought the labour-power of the day-labourer, which creates products of the soil of twice the value, and out of one shilling makes two. The day-labourer, on the contrary, receives in the place of his productive force, whose results he has just surrendered to the farmer, one shilling, which he exchanges for means of subsistence, which he consumes more or less quickly. The one shilling has therefore been consumed in a double manner — reproductively for the capitalist, for it has been exchanged for labour-power, which brought forth two shillings; unproductively for the worker, for it has been exchanged for means of subsistence which are lost for ever, and whose value he can obtain again only by repeating the same exchange with the farmer. Capital therefore presupposes wage-labour; wage-labour presupposes capital. They condition each other; each brings the other into existence.
-Karl Marx, Wage Labour and Capital
when you Run out of dreams
So, the only real dream of the petty-bourgeoisie is to see their passive income — their claims on ownership — grow and expand (and diversify, sure) to the point that they are no longer petty bourgeoisie (where they still have to do some work, some labour to make ends meet), but rather where they can finally enter into the elite strata of the bourgeoisie-proper . Where whatever little work is done is solely done for the management and optimization and furtherance of these ownership claims, and money continues to grow and accumulate even if all your time is spent on leisure. The labour is to be done by someone else (likely a great many someone elses by this point). Thus, they are finally freed from having to do some of the labour of their enterprise, to having professional managers and executives deal will nearly all but the most pressing decisions, and to have all ones time available for leisure activities, or even better yet, managing, optimizing, maximizing, and accumulating even more ownership claims, to compete in the never ending race to own more of existence, competing against all of the other bourgeoisie — who can get the most?! All of them, endlessly accumulating vast fortunes, whose ultimate purpose remains unknown and undecided, even to the owners of those fortunes.
It is here, at the lofty peaks of the bourgeoisie-proper that the number of dreams decreases again to zero. Dreams no longer exist, and are no longer relevant for the bourgeoisie-proper, they have grown beyond the need for dreams — dreams have merely been reduced to “things to do.” Want to experience this or that, or do this or that? It doesn’t really matter what it is, a large enough sack of money will make it happen. Want to accumulate more wealth? Pick something profitable to buy and now you own it and can wait and watch as the return on investment comes in. Having more wealth is no longer a dream, but rather a competition now — which billionaire can top the high score board — like it’s fucking Frogger for the entire planet? Whatever human experience that another human has ever had is all something you can replicate with enough money, and have for yourself. Even better, commodify the whole experience and sell it to others for a profit!
Want to go to outer space? Just hand Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos several million dollars and hop on their Disney World funzo dildo rocket which still somehow manages to be inferior to the decades old Soviet Soyuz spacecraft in pretty much every way. Hell, why not make your own rocket and rocket company? You can go and claim asteroids for yourself and promise to violate international law on Mars. Whatever elaborate fantasy you have can be made real, or at least into as close an approximation as to look and feel real to your senses by this point, and if you need the human dimension, money can find and program attractive marketing neoliberals to do or say whatever lame shit you want them to. “Oh, yes, Mr. Musk, you are actually very intelligent.” Truth is no obstacle. With computer programmers, virtual reality goggles, and robotic-sex-dolls, you can even concoct and create any number of impossible or borderline unimaginable experiences and present them to yourself as a reasonable facsimile. But billionaires aren’t creative enough to do anything interesting here anyway.
don’t you want to be Rich?
When you ask most ordinary humans why they want to be rich, almost none of them will respond “to endlessly accumulate material wealth and deprive others from accessing it.” Rather, they will probably talk about some sort of financial freedom; an escape from obligations and upkeeps costs, included mobility and (often relatively minor) luxuries. Capitalism sets you up for this. The goal is to have the individual seek not any sort of class or mass emancipation — ending the system that forces us to have various upkeeps where we will lose our access to food or housing should we fail our capitalist overseers. Instead, the goal presented by the capitalist system to the individual is exclusively their own individual liberation by achieving financial independence through the joining of the petty bourgeois or even the bourgeoisie-proper classes. To escape from the system of oppression not by shattering or transforming the system, but by squeezing into one of the limited number of operator-commanders seats of the very machine that the non-operators/non-commanders should be raging against.
Individual financial freedom makes sense as long as you only think about it, and the world, narrowly enough. You have to centre everything on yourself, and keep a relatively limited inner circle of people you will care about and bring with you. Enough money to take care of their immediate family and maybe a few close companions but not a transformation to resolve world scale problems or contradictions. You need to block those problems out. You aren’t trying to resolve them or combat them; you are only trying to help yourself. You’re playing to win the Squid Games, not fighting to end them. This is what is so frustrating about capitalist realism — the idea that there cannot be anything but capitalism, more or less as it exists today. Any alternative future society imagined is either much the same, albeit with cooler technology, or worse in every way, a nightmare dystopia from which the modern world would be a utopian escape. The unspoken message is clear: a better world than this is not possible.
You have this idea reproduced for you ad infinitium for you in the Ideological State Apparatuses of capitalism. When the sports athlete wins the big game he talks about going to Disney World and buying his mom a house. In movies, it’s rarer and rarer to see any movie about societal change — instead when we see a capitalist dystopia in a film, the “happy ending” merely involves the protagonist becoming rich and escaping it himself (with the girl and his family). The world remains the same and he, being special, being elite, being “of bourgeois nature” rises above it and the other mediocre humans. These same heroes will then tell you to follow your dreams — meaning the individual dreams. They, now, with their victory, are firmly entrenched in the bourgeois class and all of its class interests, have no desire to see the masses embrace collective, proletarian dreams. Dreams for the masses that might overturn their private dreams of the individual. This is why the MLMers couldn’t find a way to appeal to me — they needed me to centre my dreams on a narrow world around myself for their sales pitch to have any appeal. When my dreams didn’t take that form, they had nothing to work with. What good is a private luxury garage to a person who wants to replace cars with trains.
and Proletarian dreams
This is what is missing. There is an alternative to a world in which we are all trapped in the Squid Games and the only hope is to be one of the small minority of contestants that win the game at the expense of the other contestants. The alternative is that the contestants together can rise up, biting the hands that put them in the game in the first place, and create their own society over the corpses of the oppressors and game-masters. This is what the Proletariat needs to have and needs to envision and needs to want. It’s not enough to just dislike capitalism, the masses need to believe that a better world is possible. The bourgeoise will not provide this dream for the proletariat, they will not produce it, they will not provide them with a meaningful or accurate representation of it — this needs to be something that the masses create for themselves, because they will be the ones building that world over top of the ashes of the bourgeois one.
Proletarian dreams are different, because they are universal and expansive. The dream I have for the world is a dream that you can have too, and so can anyone else, anywhere else, and it becomes a dream that we share. Bourgeois dreams are those that are achievable to not only the exclusion of others, but the dialectical denial of the dreams of others. When you envision a dream, ask yourself what it would be like if everyone else had this dream as well and achieved it. And by everyone I don’t mean a few dozen people, I mean every last person on the earth. What are the dreams that everyone can have?
Proletarian dreams are, as Marx correctly pointed out —are about material, but not material in the vapid liberal sense about the accumulation of objects and personal wealth, but their material needs. Billions dream of having adequate, secure food supplies, clean water, guaranteed housing, medicine, worthwhile and dignified occupations, etc — these are dreams that not just anyone, but literally just-about everyone can achieve, collectively and together, and the bourgeois hegemony is doing all it can to deny and shatter this collective dream into self-centered-shards at every opportunity from you. We can all have these things: food and water, we can all have shelter. We can all have education and worthwhile, contributive work, we can all have medical care and social protection. These are powerful dreams and dreaming to see every human have these things, is a much better and more meaningful dream than whatever quantity of private luxuries you wish to stockpile and accumulate, to almost never use, and deny the rest of humanity any access to.
It’s long time to abolish these bourgeois dreams from the twisted broken imaginations of liberals. If the only way to dispel them is to shatter them with the peoples stick, then this is these are the windows of imagination that should be smashed to pieces, so that we might find and open the doors beyond them. Doors that can open wide enough for the masses to pour through. Instead of dreaming of an individual change, where the world remains the same, instead dream of a change to the world — its systems and society, and with that change all of the humans within it, too, transform and grow and change. Next time some bourgeois shit tells you to dream big, dare to show them how big your dreams can be. How big our dreams can be.