Authored by Sarah Smarsh, the book Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth sheds light on the working-class poverty experienced in the American West. The author describes her turbulent childhood while staying with her parents in Kansas between the 1980s and the 1990s. Smarsh explains the various forces of contemptuous poverty and the changing economic policies in the United States that cemented her family and the working poor. Through her life on a farm in Wichita, Smarsh provides the readers with a unique overview of the lives of the poor working class Americans within the region. While growing up in the Kansas area, Smarsh enjoyed the freedom provided by country childhood protectionists. However, her memoir records a number of challenges she was subjected to, resulting from poverty in the area. In addition to the argument of the working poor in the American society, Smarsh also focuses on the class divide in the country. Through her book, she states that a society can only exist in social classes, thus the majority of people in the United States fall under the lower and working poor category. This is, however, not true, since theories such as the classless society model state that the contemporary democratic society strives for equality of all individuals, and hence, a democratic society is classless.
Smarsh describes the lower level, the working classes, the middle class, and the upper class in her book. She states that "The clearest evidence of America's contempt toward the struggling might be in its approach to welfare programs, framed by public policy and commentary as something so detestable that my family refused to apply when they qualified" (92). The lower class within a society is comprised of the unemployed, homeless, and individuals living in epitomized poverty. The working class is made up of individuals who have minimum levels of education, as well as those involved in manual labor. Similarly, the class includes unskilled workers such as waitresses, maids, and cashiers, among others. The next category as described by Smarsh is the middle class. In this category comprises of white-collar workers and individuals who typically make more money compared to those below them in the social hierarchy. The lower middle class comprises of individuals with meagre earning, and who are less educated such as the teachers, and small business owners, among others. The upper middle class consists of the highly educated individual, such as lawyers, company CEOs, and doctors, among others. Smarsh states that "After the Homestead Act, it was only a matter of decades until the American industrial revolution made cities into hotbeds of economic potential" (65). This statement shows the differences between the people living in rural areas and those in urban areas. This is, however, not true since a democratic government strives to ensure equal distribution of resources across its states and cities.
A number of sentences supports the primary argument when she states "Probabilities and statistics predicted a different outcome for me-a poor rural kid born the year her country began a sharp turn toward greater economic inequality" (8). However, different models contradict the primary argument of Smarsh. According to Beynon, a society can exist without classes. A classless society refers to a society whose ranks have not developed (Beynon 46). In other words, it is a society where all the members have equal economic statuses and play similar economic roles. Therefore, the term classless can also be used in describing a state where each member shares an equal status. Similarly, the term can be used in describing a hierarchical society whose classes has been abolished, such as an Israeli kibbutz and a commune (Beynon 49). In the Marxist theory, the notion of a classless society plays a crucial role in describing the social condition that is achieved when communism has been successfully implemented. The Marxist theory holds that social classes result from the growth in agriculture as well as a surplus in the production of food. Nonetheless, this condition allowed a particular group of individuals to dominate the rest of the society. Contrary to a Smarsh's argument, it is possible to argue that the contemporary democratic society can be considered a classless society because the economic and social mobility of people has eliminated the supremacy of a single group.
In collaboration with Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx drew from Hegel's theory that claims that conflict in history results from states and nations continually seeking more power. Using the same line of thought, Marx and Engels proposed the classless society theory, which was built on the notion that conflict within the society emerges from socioeconomic classes. The theory sought to explore the political and social disorders that resulted from the industrial revolution and offered a solution that would see the establishment of a communist society that would ensure that each member has equal opportunities and share similar statuses. Giddens (1975), cites the take of authors such as Dahrendorf, who states that "The existence of classes and, correspondingly, the disappearance of classes in socialist society, in Marx's formulations, are tied to social conditions in which legal title to property ownership is in the hands of a minority of individuals. In a society in which legal ownership of property by private individuals is abolished, there can-by definition-be no classes" (54). Therefore, as the state fades and private ownership of resources is eliminated, individuals attain the full human attribute while living in a classless society.
Smarsh contradicts Marx's approach to a classless society through her statements. She states that "He eventually owned about 160 acres, which is a quarter of a square mile, and farmed another quarter he didn't own" (10). This is an illustration of private ownership in the society. The theory of classless society proposed by Marx holds that primitive and tribal societies were classless since all individuals held equal wealth, and performed similar tasks. According to Beynon (38), an ideal classless society is an agreement between producers, who would be both workers and owners of the production means. Therefore, there is no such thing as private ownership within the means of production. Preferably, it would be the property of the entire society. In such as society, the decisions are made in a democratic way and the position of the state as an instrument of class authority fades. As a result of such a revolution, the society is no longer faced with challenges about competition and rivalry, and issues such as economic crises would be eliminated.
In her book, Smarsh argues that social classes result from unequal distribution of resources. She states that "Some states chose to withhold monies from the poor to instead fund, say, marriage workshops attended by middle-class people, in the interest of promoting family values that were surely the cure for poverty" (92). Perhaps, the most democratic nation must be in line with Smarsh's arguments. Nonetheless, Smarsh fails to acknowledge that the conventional social classes are no longer present in the contemporary democratic society. According to Smarsh, a democratic society is as a form of society that favors freedom and equal rights. To achieve such, a society requires efforts and mutual understanding from all the members. However, there is a need for active members who bear great value for the government system to strive towards achieving a shared vision in civil life.
The characteristics of a democratic society prove that this type of organization can achieve a classless structure. Smarsh states that "I thus knew my existence to be resented on some level by both the young woman who gave birth to me and the society that was shaping me" (97). This statement shows the level of resentment directed to individuals of a lower class in the society. However, it is apparent that a democratic society provides members with a variety of benefits. Notably, the members are also equipped with the freedom of making individual choices, as well as developing their prospects as human beings. As such, individuals are free from discrimination, and harassment, as well as fear. Individuals are also protected by the law and have a right elect or remove their representatives. Such a society ensures there is independence, and strives to achieve equality for all members. A democratic society encourages individuals to voice their own opinions and challenge the government on various issues. This means that the members of such a community are provided with an abundance of opportunities for public life participation.
Keeping with the characteristics of a democratic society can easily be translated into a classless society. Therefore, contemporary scholars argue that in the modern democracy, there exist no conventional social classes. These scholars draw their arguments about the meaning of the term class, which describes the particular measures of class identity. Some of these measures include the ethnic and demographic similarities between members as well as the degree to which the members share a mutual cultural alignment. The criteria might also include the level which the members of the society share a joint political affiliation and the level at which the members share life experiences. When describing her mother's childhood, Smarsh states that "She'd finally gotten into a social groove after changing schools twice a year for most of her life" (12). This is an illustration of the struggle for education, some individuals had to undergo during this period. The social class of individuals is determined by the extent to which they have access to opportunity and education, and as such, the self-perpetuating lower, middle, and upper class do not exist in a democratic society.
Throughout the book, an underlying theme is the issue of the class divide in the American society. In her book, Smarsh explains the various forces of contemptuous poverty, as well as the changing economic policies in the United States that cemented a place for her family among the working poor. She states that "I had no idea why my life looked the way it did, why my parents' young bodies ached, why some opportunities were closed off to me" (8). The concept of the working poor is included in the social class division argument presented by Sarah Smarsh in her book. Therefore, Smarsh's primary argument is that the society only exists in social classes that are determined by the position of power of the individuals. However, a counter argument for this stance can be derived from the Marxist theory of a classless society. In his opinion, Marx holds that primitive and tribal societies were classless because all individuals were equally wealthy and poor, and all performed similar tasks.
In conclusion, Smarsh and Karl Marx provide various views with regard to the social divide. According to Marxism theorists, an ideal classless society is a mutual agreement between producers, who would be both workers and owners of the production means. In other words, there is no such thing as private ownership within the means of production, and instead, it would be the property of the entire society. Thus, in such a society the decisions are made in a democratic system, and the position of the state as an instrument of class authority fades. A classless society has the hierarchies that are not fully developed, or a society where all the members have equal economic statuses and play similar economic roles. Democracy serves to provide individuals with equality in all aspects of life, ranging from equal rights to equal opportunities and access to resources.
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