The ‘Black Orpheus’ figure has been a recurring theme in Afro-Brazilian culture, being a South American depiction of the Greek myth of the Orpheus character. The Black Orpheus entered Brazil in the 1950s, when playwright Vinícius de Moraes released his play, Orfeu da Conceição, on the Brazilian stage (Dos Santos, 49). Later on, de Moraes’s work was adapted into a film by French director Marcel Camus (49). Present in both works was a dismissal of the reality of the lives of Afro-Brazilians, including their living conditions and their culture; the lack of context and preoccupation with artistic ideals in the work of de Moraes specifically informed the romanticization of Afro-Brazilians within the film by Camus (Naglib). The result is a sense of neocolonial occupation of Afro-Brazilian culture within both the play and the film, as they are both established on the idea of Black Orpheus. The European elements of the creation of the film and the false depiction of its Black actors enhance this idea of neocolonialism. Black Orpheus has been used as a subject for neocolonialism against the Black population of Brazil.
The beginning of the idea of Black Orpheus in Brazil can be found in de Moraes’s creation of the character for his 1956 script (Dos Santos, 49). In his work, which formed the basis for the later neocolonial film, de Moraes held the intention of creating a play specifically for Black actors in Brazil; however, the play was later denounced by Afro-Brazilian actor and director Abdias do Nascimento, who said the work’s contribution to social and racial struggles was minimal, as it presented a rosy view of the hardships of Black life in Brazil (Perrone). There is a continuous disconnect between de Moraes’s intentions and the actual reality of Orfeu da Conceição. De Moraes had also attempted to “universalize black music, breaking the limits of its popular realm, connected with carnival orgies and Afro-Brazilian religious trances, to raise it to the status of a sublime instrument of absolute love” (Naglib). But while he tried to universalize Black music, he effectively reduced it to a stereotype of what might be called ‘tribal music’ (Naglib). Though, according to Charles A. Perrone, de Moraes intended to call attention to questions of race in Brazil, he also created a narrative in which race was dismissed, as the characters “explicitly transcend their social determinations.
Through love and music, the black inhabitants of [Brazil] overcome poverty and isolation caused mainly by their colour. The intention was to transcend reality through the universality of the myth” (Naglib). De Moraes entirely reduces the actuality of the hardships of Black life in Brazil to a spectacle used in his play; the colonial notion is present in both this reductionism of Afro-Brazilian life, and in the attributing of the European idea of Orpheus to Afro-Brazilians as an emancipatory idea. Ultimately, while Afro-Brazilian culture is utilized within the narrative, it is not represented properly, and frequently lacks context.
De Moraes's failed attempt to portray Afro-Brazilian culture may not necessarily constitute a form of neocolonialism on its own, but his characterization of the Black personalities being liberated by their music, rather than them simply playing their music, is a form of reductionism which constitutes a sort of neocolonialism: the effective occupation of a cultural tradition of Afro-Brazilian culture by the former colonialists. However, this is only the case due to the lack of greater cultural context within the play; de Moraes wrote the play with the intention of showing the Black Orpheus character "transcend[ing] his condition and equal[ing] the gods" (Naglib). This is to say that de Moraes was at least trying to write a diverse and culturally analytical piece, but its shortcomings in that respect were the groundwork for the wholly neocolonialist piece that was the Camus adaptation (Naglib).
De Moraes's work is postcolonial only in that it superficially analyzes a tenant of a culture formerly colonized; he does not actual analyze the (post)colonial dimensions or effects on Afro-Brazilian music, which reduces it to a factor of his art, resulting in his own neocolonial occupation of that culture. The lack of greater cultural context in the original play then resulted in the caricature-like presentation of the Camus film adaptation, which is even more reductionist; where de Moraes reduced Afro-Brazilians to their music due to his lack of context, Camus profits off that lack of context by reducing the Black characters to an aesthetic of exoticism, thus continuing that neocolonialist feature of the postcolonial examination. In the failure to present the culture de Moraes was writing about properly, his work amounts to a colonial rendition of the culture in itself, which only further inspired Black Orpheus to be a neocolonial figure in the future. Essentially, de Moraes, despite any good intentions he had, failed to properly contextualize the culture he was presenting in the play, which led to backlash from that culture in Brazil, and a neocolonialist adaptation in the film that followed.
In 1959, the film Black Orpheus, directed by Frenchman Marcel Camus was released (Dos Santos, 49). The film was based upon de Moraes’s original play, and took great inspiration not only from its narrative, but also from its colonial intricacies: “Profiting from the absence, in the original drama, of contextualization, Camus’s film reduced the play to a caricature, turning the black presence in Rio de Janeiro into pure exoticism: a population who are poor but happy, sensual but naïve, who do not seem to worry about their social exclusion and dance samba all day long, even when they have to climb up the hill with a can of water on their heads.” (Naglib)
It is precisely this lack of context within the original play that informs the further misrepresentation of Afro-Brazilian culture within the film. When de Moraes saw the film, he denounced it as a drastic departure from his own work, and accused the film of presenting Brazil as merely exotic (Perrone). What is ironic about this denunciation from de Moraes is that he fails to recognize the romantic and exotic depiction which was present in his own work. It was his own miseducation on or misrepresentation of Afro-Brazilian culture as a “symbolic blackness not translated into any de-privileging of whiteness” that allowed the colonial artistry of Camus’s film to proceed (Perrone).
The film itself is entirely accurate to what de Moraes called it: a presentation of Brazil as merely exotic (Perrone). Indeed, in the same way that racial and social issues were erased within the play’s narrative, so too were they glossed over in the film adaptation: “poverty and social conflicts are enveloped in a romantic aura created by the narrative” (Dos Santos, 50). The lack of context in the play was used by Marcel Camus, as the film is merely a narrative which takes place in Brazil and exploits the ideas of Afro-Brazilians, without explaining or properly depicting their culture (Naglib). The film addresses the dispossession of the Black population of Brazil in an idealistic manner (Perrone). This is seen through the focus on music and romance which infiltrates the narrative and sedates any sense the audience may have about the poor living conditions of the characters.
The neocolonial reading of the film can be first informed by these misrepresentations of Afro-Brazilian people and culture, which reduce the reality of the situation to a surreal, or an ideal circumstance. Secondly, the film bears a neocolonial nature in its actual direction and production, which were almost entirely European; the French director and the Italian production amount to a European depiction of a supposedly Afro-Brazilian story which was originally written by a man of Portuguese descent (Naglib). The exploitative elements of production are present because of the fact that Brazil and its subculture were not accurately portrayed; because the film is Euro-based, the Euro-centricities are highly questionable due to the history of colonialism between Europe and South America (Perrone). The film is a neocolonialist work through its exploitation of Brazil for European gain: extracting raw materials of Brazilian imagery and culture for European consumption and profit.
Many Brazilians recognized, upon the film’s release, that it was neither a proper depiction of Afro-Brazilian culture, nor was it anything short of a neocolonial venture (Dos Santos, 52). “The issue of power in representations of nations is not a new question, and it has been a major issue in the postcolonial debate. Veloso has accurately called attention to the fact that, in contrast with the huge fascination that Camus’ Black Orpheus exerted over foreign audiences, the film was not received with enthusiasm in Brazil” (52). The distaste which Brazilians held for the film, and the positive reception of the film in foreign and colonial nations is demonstrative of the film’s neocolonial features, which include the extraction of raw materials in Brazil for consumption in the colonial countries. The wrongful view of Brazil which was shown in Black Orpheus was celebrated by European and North American audiences, which was a dramatic foreboding of the neocolonial nature of the film’s narrative being translated into actual neocolonial practice.
Placing the film into the context of other Brazilian movie ventures of the time, Black Orpheus was considerably out of place. In that the period from the mid-1950s through to the 1970s was a time where Brazilian films were enriched with Black themes (Naglib). While “Black Orpheus had an all-black cast…the film shows neither racial conflicts nor racial discrimination” (Dos Santos, 54). Therefore, it is out of place in the context of other Brazilian films of the time, which were inspired by the Left until its decline in the 1980s, which saw a depoliticizing of art (Naglib). Because of the film’s improper delineation of the culture, its European ties and profits, and its lack of positive reception consistent with other Brazil films, it is decidedly a neocolonialist film.
Black Orpheus is a work of neocolonialism in the sense that it continues the imperialist tradition of the world's Great Powers entering a poorer nation and extracting the raw materials for their own benefit. In this case, the raw materials were Black actors and actresses, Afro-Brazilian culture, and the land which was used for the film. Afro-Brazilian life was depicted through rose-coloured glasses, so that actual issues about race and poverty were not dealt with (Dos Santos, 50). By only showing romantic aspects of this culture, the filmmakers were playing to the interests of Westerners who would watch the film. The exploitation occurred in the false depiction of Afro-Brazilian culture by the European filmmakers, who were demonstrably ambivalent towards their art, and preoccupied with their neocolonial project.
It should also be considered that the depiction of Afro-Brazilian culture, romantic as it might have been, was demeaning in the sense that it made them out to be less than whites. As much as scenes of Carnival and music and the beautiful landscape may have been captivating to the film's white audiences, the depiction of characters as entirely hedonistic placed them relatively below the societal norms of whites in the West, thus opening the door for further neocolonial projects within Brazil, specifically in its Black population.
The role of the Black Orpheus character, through its renditions from de Moraes’s play to Camus’s film, has been to characterize Afro-Brazilian culture in false or absent contexts, and to delegitimize the Black population of Brazil by reducing them to objects of spectacle, who can be subjected to neocolonialism by other nations. The use of Black Orpheus in the country of Brazil has been to justify exploitation over a marginalized identity.
Nolan Long is a Canadian undergraduate student in political studies, with a specific interest in Marxist political theory and history.
During World War II, many North American women were put in the workforce for the first time. Middle-class housewives felt financial independence from their husbands and saw the opportunity of renegotiating the distribution of unfulfilling housework. After the war, the women who took up these jobs were expected to return to their previous lives as housewives; however, dissatisfaction with this change generated the second-wave feminist call for a return to the workplace. Since then, the number of paid working women has risen, but how did this movement of North American women into the workforce affect their part in domestic labour? The results were far from ideal. The movement ignored the conditions of racialized women which were fundamentally different from the white middle-class framing of the movement (Rio), and women are still left with the majority of unpaid labour alongside new forms of exploitation in the economy (Bianchi et al.). The second wave of feminism brought more women into the paid economy to alleviate household exploitation but failed due to the movement’s lack of intersectionality and a failure to foresee how the growing workforce would allow neoliberal capitalism to further exploitation.
The ideal outcomes of receiving a paid job failed in part due to many second-wave feminists treating the conditions of unpaid labour for white middle-class women as universal for all North American women (Rio). Many African American women were not burdened by unpaid labour; rather, they longed for the ability to do it. Black women were often paid domestic labourers who would have wished to act as caregivers for their own children and work in their own homes instead of being paid to work in the houses of predominately white families, but their economic position made this impossible (Rio). Framing unpaid labour as the locus of exploitation excludes the many women who have only known labour oppression within paid work. North American Black women often never faced a husband who would unfairly divide household labour, since economic opportunities meant many Black women could not get married (Rio). This trend continues today; in 2018, only 26% of Black women from the United States were married, while 46% of all women were married (“Black Women Statistics”). Having an income independent of a man is not used as a tool of independence from husbands for many Black women who could never be married or chose not to be. The large number of women gaining paid work had no effect on Black women’s part in unpaid labour, who were already working low-paying jobs (Rio). Examining the effects of “women’s movement into the workforce” is dishonest to a certain extent to the working-class women who were always exploited in the economy, and the only meaningful change of women’s work was for middle-class citizens. Not only was the movement built upon a universalization of white women’s experience, but the goal to equalize unpaid labour was not met for most women.
The middle-class women who moved away from housewife positions did see a more equitable distribution of unpaid labour in the household, but the results were underwhelming. When women’s paid labour participation increased, to some extent, men increased their part in household work in a nuclear family model (Bianchi et al.). A more equitable division of household labour is predicted to occur with women in the workforce due to the bargaining power narrative (Rio). This narrative predicts that paid work increases women’s economic power, ending the reliance on men’s earnings, which would give women the ability to bargain with husbands for a fairer share of unpaid work around the house (Rio). This model excludes the lower-class women and unmarried who are burdened with both housework and paid labour (Rio). Despite the exclusiveness of the model, overall trends point to less household labour for women and more for men. In 1965, it is estimated that American women performed 6.1 times the weekly hours of housework compared to men, and in 2009-2010, American women did approximately 1.6 times that of men, while married women do 1.7 times more than their husbands (Bianchi et al.). Married mothers from the United States are worse off, estimated to work nearly twice as much on housework when compared to married fathers in 2009-2010 (Bianchi et al.). Without a doubt the change is substantial, but considering the added labour of a paid job, there is a double burden of labour for the women who maintain the majority of unpaid work. For the middle-class women who moved into the labour force, the sizeable changes in unpaid labour distribution did not live up to the intended outcomes of the movement, and further still, many of these middle-class families would find themselves in worse conditions resembling that of the lower classes.
North American middle-class families now usually require two working parents to support a family, meaning that women have no choice but to work paid labour, and they often lack the time to do household work, similar to the overburdened conditions of racialized women since before the second wave of feminism (Rio). There has been falling average household incomes since 2000, meaning more paid work is required of both parents in a nuclear family, leaving little time for household unpaid work, even with an equitable distribution of labour (Craig). Rather than a source of liberation, women in the workforce turned into a necessary site of additional exploitation for many women who would wish to have more time to do the unpaid work around the house. The larger labour force has only increased exploitation as women fought to be exploited alongside men rather than fight against the system itself. (Azmanova). Women working paid jobs as a method to fight exploitation does not address the deeper problems of the capitalist market, and because of this, only serves to solve the gendered distribution of labour, thus ignoring the alienating and unfulfilling work itself. (Azmanova). Nuclear families with two working adults often now rely on cheap commodities and hired labourers to assist in the household work, but this requires money, further entrenching the need for more paid working hours to cover the costs, causing a cycle where the “needs of the time-poor households are met through the labour of the money-poor” (Huws). The distribution of household labour has thus changed form with parts of it opened to the market for people, usually racialized minorities, to perform tasks that households no longer have the time to do. (Huws). Unpaid work is still very gendered and unequal (Bianchi et al.), and when the labour is done by the market as in the case of paid labourers, they are usually underpaid (Huws). The movement of women into work did not bring about a fair distribution of unpaid work and failed to change the nature of the labour itself.
Universalizing the conditions of white middle-class families and failing to reach into the deeper problems associated with capitalist labour meant the issues of household work were not solved, only partly improving the gendered aspect of unpaid work. Lower-class women, largely composed of marginalized minority groups, have had to work throughout history in overburdened households (Rio), and for the middle-class women who acted as housewives, moving to paid labour brought a lower portion of housework, but still left them with an overburden of work overall (Bianchi et al.). The methods of second-wave feminism dealt solely with the distribution of flawed labour, failing to address the problems with the labour itself (Huws). A new approach is needed to assist the overworked modern individual and consider the different conditions of women with an intersectional lens.
Families should continue to work towards a fair distribution of unpaid labour, but this alone cannot help the time-poor families who cannot do the much-needed housework after a full-time shift, nor can an ungendered distribution help single-parent families and unmarried individuals who must look after the work themselves. Bargaining out of housework made some important gains in unpaid work distribution, but the nuclear family model has increasingly shrunk, making distributive tactics more irrelevant than ever. A new organization of unpaid labour itself must be proposed to go beyond the temporary respite given with equitable work distribution, and the solution must be applicable to all low-class citizens, racialized groups, and adults outside the nuclear family model.
Many economically stable people seek market alternatives to perform household labour for them since they lack the time (Huws), but this option is not affordable for most households. Market alternatives could successfully lessen labour burdens if they are made affordable, and the labourers working in other households are not performing exploitative labour themselves. This may be achieved with a public-sector labour force that could perform unpaid labour in a short amount of time using specialized skills and modern technology. This transformation of household work must meet two conditions for it to improve upon current conditions: labourers in the field must be paid well, and it must be readily available to all households. Activist Angela Y. Davis believes such an institution would be difficult to form under the conditions of capitalism, as industrialized housework implies expensive subsidies to make it affordable, and it is overall an unprofitable enterprise (Davis 223). Government subsidies would reflect a recognition of the importance of unpaid labour, which it undoubtedly is since it makes up over half of Gross Domestic Product (Craig). Unfortunately, all that is not profitable is often disregarded in a capitalist economy; for a subsidized non-profit labour force to succeed, there also must be an ideological change in what constitutes valuable labour.
A productive change in economic thinking must entail an equal appreciation of all work, but this contradicts the profit motive of capitalism which presupposes a workforce of individuals raised with unpaid labour and sustained with free household work. Raising children takes massive amounts of time and money, and it is extremely valuable to the economy since it creates labourers who will later work in markets. The value of childcare must also be reaffirmed and acted upon with childcare supports, or even socialized childcare. These programs require a large public sector without a profit motive which is opposed to neoliberalist goals of privatizing labour wherever possible, implying a larger struggle is needed against neoliberal ideology. A new focus on meeting collective needs rather than fulfilling profit goals would alleviate the overburdened workers of today.
With public institutions performing unpaid labour efficiently, the problems of overworked women can be solved. Renegotiating housework brought only minimal gains for middle-class women whose unpaid workload was somewhat lessened, but with falling household incomes, both parents in nuclear families were forced to work outside the house and now lack the time for unpaid work. These conditions are mirrored by the working-class individuals throughout history who felt the overburden of work. Equitable distribution of housework applies only to a select family model and does not propose a solution for the overwhelming labour burden of modern times. Socialized assistance would provide an end to inefficient individual housework with the recognition of unpaid labour’s value, and it would bring a non-exploitative institution to increase leisure time without excluding racialized groups and lower-class people.
Azmanova, Albena. “Empowerment as Surrender: How Women Lost the Battle for Emancipation as They Won Equality and Inclusion.” ProQuest, vol. 83, no. 3, 2016, pp. 749–776., https://www.proquest.com/docview/1848814138?accountid=14739&forcedol =true&pq-origsite=primo&forcedol=true.
Bianchi, S. M., et al. “Housework: Who Did, Does or Will Do It, and How Much Does It Matter?” Social Forces, vol. 91, no. 1, 13 Sept. 2012, pp. 55–63., https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/sos120.
“Black Women Statistics.” BlackDemographics.com, 3 Sept. 2021, https://blackdemographics.com/population/black-women-statistics/.
Craig, Lyn. “Coronavirus, Domestic Labour and Care: Gendered Roles Locked Down.” Journal of Sociology, vol. 56, no. 4, 24 July 2020, pp. 684–692., https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783320942413.
Davis, Angela Yvonne. Women, Race and Class. Vintage Books, 1983.
Huws, Ursula. “The Hassle of Housework: Digitalisation and the Commodification of Domestic Labour.” Feminist Review, vol. 123, no. 1, 10 Dec. 2019, pp. 8–23., https://doi.org/10.1177/0141778919879725.
Rio, Cecilia. “Whiteness in Feminist Economics: The Situation of Race in Bargaining Models of the Household.” Critical Sociology, vol. 38, no. 5, 7 Dec. 2011, pp. 669–685., https://doi.org/10.1177/0896920511423724.
Aidan Ulrich has been interested in marxist thought from a young age and is currently attending the University of Saskatchewan. Aidan is majoring in political studies.
In any capitalist society, a disconnect between an individual’s selfhood and her labor will arise. Ask any college student and you’ll hear about the never-ending questions that go something like… What career do you want with your degree? What field are you looking into? Where do you want to work once you graduate? Inevitably accompanying that question comes intense anxiety for the student themselves. Yet, this isn’t an issue only experienced by college students— questions concerning one’s career never cease to end. They usually present in different forms, most often as self-reflecting questions the working-class subconsciously ask themselves every day… Man, what am I doing with my life? I just have to get to the weekend! I hate my job but my kids need food on the table. According to Che Guevara, capitalism moves people away from expressing their interests without even knowing it. And even beyond alienating people from their interests, the interrelation between a person’s ability to produce, save, and organize, which are vital elements of a revolution, are also damaged under capitalistic systems. People are disconnected from their labor because even if they are working in a field they are interested in, capitalism separates the individual from the products of their labor and likewise, disconnects them from their sense of self and purpose. Martizen-Sanez writes,
“The distinction that people experience between communal interests and individual interests arose because in capitalist society, human beings lacked the control of the distribution of the products of their labor and were treated as a means to an end rather than an end; their relations were reduced to purely economic relations, and the difference between an animal and a human existence had become unintelligible” (Martinez-Saenz, 24).
This alienation under a capitalist system is something Marx and Guevara shared in concern. If the individual is alienated because of oppressive external conditions under capitalism, then the individual will inevitably lose touch with self. So, not only are workers frustrated with the inability to reap the fruits of their labor but they are forcibly stripped of any identity of selfhood.
Marx talks of this exact same issue in his manuscript Alienated Labor. Petrović writes of this when considering Marx, stating,
“The alienation of the results of man's productive activity is rooted in the alienation of production itself. Man alienates the products of his labor because he alienates his labor activity, because his own activity becomes for him an alien activity, an activity in which he does not affirm but denies himself, an activity which does not free but subjugates him. He is home when he is outside this activity, and he is out when he is in it” (Petrović, 241).
Labor becomes alien to the worker who is completely disconnected from their work. Yet perhaps even worse than Marx could have predicted, “home,” where “he is outside this activity” is arguably no longer even a space where his selfhood can be reconnected in the United States. Labor has not only alienated the worker from his work but has created such extreme conditions that almost all spaces are now alienating in this country.
Marx and Guevara weren't the only ones to recognize the divide capitalism causes between labor and passion, capital and self. W.E.B. Du Bois, Huey Newton, and Paul Robeson all observed not only the social differences in the Soviet Union and Mao’s People’s Republic of China, particularly related to race, but also the differences in how the working people of these places viewed and digested their labor. While we can obviously recognize the differences in their ability to reap the fruits of their labor compared to US workers (or any workers under capitalism or neoliberalism), less often do we examine the psychological relationship a Marxist revolution enables. The psychological relationship being the connection one has between his labor and his selfhood.
Du Bois immediately recognized the safety and welcome he felt when he visited the Soviet Union. Yet, even beyond those social changes, he was also able to observe a new dynamic among the working people. “Du Bois applauded the Soviet program, which had made of the working people of the world ‘a sort of religion,’ a form of scientific idealism he posited as being indispensable to progress” (Carew, 54). The Soviets were dedicatedly connected to their work— producing historically groundbreaking results (we mainly consider the scientific ones), but they also psychologically pushed an entire population onwards with the same unifying intensity exhibited in religion. Du Bois’ idea that work can create a motivating spirit in the people is something he also observed in China: “Du Bois saw ‘a fable of disciplined bees working in revolutionary unison. Cataloging the public places, restaurants, homes of officials, factories, and schools visited,’ he saw only ‘happy people with faith that needs no church or priest’” (Carew, 61). Once again we have this reference to a sense of drive, pride, and motivation so unifying that it is comparable to the togetherness brought on by religion. Workers had faith in their labor and therefore did not struggle with the questions that I examined earlier in this piece. Work in Marxist societies erases the disconnect that laborers otherwise have between their selfhood and work-life in capitalist systems.
Huey Newton also observes the connection between selfhood and labor that America lacks when he visited The People’s Republic of China:
“While there, I achieved a psychological liberation I had never experienced before. It was not simply that I felt at home in China; the reaction was deeper than that. What I experienced was the sensation of freedom as if a great weight had been lifted from my soul and I was able to be myself, without defense or pretense or the need for explanation. I felt absolutely free for the first time in my life-completely free among my fellow men. This experience of freedom had a profound effect on me, because it confirmed my belief that an oppressed people can be liberated if their leaders persevere in raising their consciousness and in struggling relentlessly against the oppressor… To see a classless society in operation is unforgettable. Here, Marx’s dictum— from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs— is in operation” (Newton, 348, 352).
Again, Newton mentions this psychological liberation that is almost spiritual or religious in nature. The societies that America paints as those in which people are forced to work for “hours without reward,” in reality actually provide a sense of freedom and liberation for one's selfhood through Marxist labor structures, the antithesis to everything we’re told in school. Yet it cannot be a coincidence that all of these African-American revolutionaries observed such similar feelings of liberation. Undoubtedly, the widespread feeling of disconnect that I described earlier in America’s working culture, is the exact opposite in cultures that have experienced Marxist revolutions. In places where Marxist revolutions have occurred, a feeling of intense connection to one’s labor arises.
Du Bois and Newton do not speak of the mysticality of an un-alienated society randomly.
Petrović also accounts for the same role the rejection of alienated labor has in a spiritual setting: “In this sense, Marx… speaks about communism as a society which means ‘the positive supersession of all alienation and the return of man from religion, the family, the state, etc., to his human, i.e., social life (existence)’” (Petrović, 424-425). If alienation between a worker and his work is ended, he will be able to return to his truest human condition and existence. In the same sense that Du Bois and Newton observed, ending alienation in labor, returns the man to his truest self.
Paul Robeson, a local hero for my fellow Princeton, New Jersey residents, found this connection so powerful (that along for obvious social reasons) he moved his family to the Soviet Union for a period of time. This reinforces the notion that Marxist revolutions create spaces for marginalized people to not only experience less racial prejudice than in the States, but also a complete liberation of selfhood. A liberation that can remove the constraints of not only racial oppression, but of the realities that all working class people experience in the United States: the inevitable disconnect between selfhood and work, or labor-alienation, that is inevitable in capitalist-based systems.
Che Guevara’s idea of the “new man,” is the alternative that American workers need. In America’s capitalist hellscape, not only are adult workers disconnected from the fruits of their labor and individual sense of belonging and purpose, but the youth population is as well. We tell our youth they have to work to survive, but when they produce the tools of their survival they are completely stripped of the fruits themselves. Instead, the products of their labor go to the bourgeoisie so that this system can continue. And not only are people physically disconnected from the products of their labor, but they are psychologically disconnected from their labor as well. This makes it nearly impossible to love or find meaning in one’s job, regardless of one’s theoretical interest. Instead, American workers work only to put food on their families’ “tables” (arguably the vicious cycle doesn’t even allow that). It's a twofold issue that creates a never-ending cycle that is intentionally impossible for the working-class American to escape. Make the working-class person work a job that only gives him enough to keep him in an endless cycle of crises until he no longer love his work and can no longer love himself.
Yet if we have a revolution in this country, if our workers are able to embody Guevara’s vision of the “new man,” the connection between laborer and labor can be reformed. Martinez-Saenz quotes Guevara who said,
“The relation of economic controls to moral incentives is more subtle than indicated. Moral incentives, if they are truly the individual’s incentives, cannot be directed from above. That is why the many Cubans ask, ‘How can you plan voluntary work? Is this not a contradiction in terms?’ What types of economic controls are compatible with a system of moral incentives? Recognition of this issue has emerged in two forms. First, an understanding that moral incentives are directly related to the level of education and the nature of one’s employment, and this is reflected in Cuba’s intensive educational effort, particularly in technical training. Second, experimentation with a new worker organization and system of emulation whose aim in part is to stimulate greater participation and eliminate bureaucratic controls” (Martinez-Saenz, 22).
Guevara clearly lays out these two steps that are important to understand in order to truly alleviate the disease of worker alienation. America, however, is nowhere close to adopting the steps Guevara saw for the people of Cuba: a revolution must take place first. This issue, therefore, is actually deeper than just a singular failure of capitalism. We know that it will be the working-class that unites to create a revolution in this country. Here we see the perfect connection: it is a working-class issue that can only be alleviated by the working-class themselves. It will take a revolution led by the working class to instate a positive relationship between workers and work. The myth of the “American Labor Shortage” shows the dissatisfaction the working class has with the exploitation of their labor. Now, more than ever, the working class must band together to revolutionize a system that does not work for them. To not only create a place where they can reap the fruits of their labor, but where workers can love their work and reject alienation.
 Martinez-Saenz, Miguel. “Che Guevara’s New Man: Embodying a Communitarian Attitude.” Latin American Perspectives 31, no. 6 (November 1, 2004): 15–30. https://doi.org/10.1177/0094582X04270639. (pg 21).
 Martizen-Saenz, 21
 Carew, Joy Gleason. Blacks, Reds, and Russians: Sojourners in Search of the Soviet Promise. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008. muse.jhu.edu/book/6044.
Carew, Joy Gleason. Blacks, Reds, and Russians: Sojourners in Search of the Soviet Promise. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008. muse.jhu.edu/book/6044.
Martinez-Saenz, Miguel. “Che Guevara’s New Man: Embodying a Communitarian Attitude.” Latin American Perspectives 31, no. 6 (November 1, 2004): 15–30. https://doi.org/10.1177/0094582X04270639.
Newton, Huey P., and Fredrika Newton. Revolutionary Suicide: Reprint edition. New York: Penguin Classics, 2009.
Petrović, Gajo. “Marx’s Theory of Alienation.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 23, no. 3 (1963): 419–26. https://doi.org/10.2307/2105083.
Ella Kotsen is an undergraduate student at Bryn Mawr College. She is majoring in English and double minoring in History and Growth & Structure of Cities. She plays Division III women’s basketball and has received Centennial Conference Academic Honors. Her main subject of interest is in geopolitics and understanding the historical implications of colonization in Latin American countries. She is interested in Marxist literary theory and enjoys the work of Fanon, Eagleton, and Althusser. Ella also writes for her own independent blog where she produces opinion pieces, book reviews, and audio-based interviews.
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About the Midwestern Marx Youth League
The Midwestern Marx Youth League (MMYL) was created to allow comrades in undergraduate or below to publish their work as they continue to develop both writing skills and knowledge of socialist and communist studies. Due to our unexpected popularity on Tik Tok, many young authors have approached us hoping to publish their work. We believe the most productive way to use this platform in a youth inclusive manner would be to form the youth league. This will give our young writers a platform to develop their writing and to discuss theory, history, and campus organizational affairs. The youth league will also be working with the editorial board to ensure theoretical development. If you are interested in joining the youth league please visit the submissions section for more information on how to contact us!