To continue my conversation with Catherine in my head:
I think Marx didn't have it quite right--he was to eager to get to the industrialized proletariat. He was a man of the times, watching Europe, and England in particular, rush toward a love affair with machinery. Somewhere in there he forgot that all the serfs weren't bound for the factory, that some of them had to stay on the land. I know the Soviets collapsed the agricultural laborers and the kulaki into the proletariat category, but it doesn't quite seem to work for me.
A hundred and fifty some years removed from Marx, we still have some sort of laboring classes, but there is a huge division between unionized labor in Detroit and destitute farmers in rural locations. Displaced agricultural workers (and/or bankrupted former owners) don't exactly fit in the contemporary notion of "working class," but neither do they clearly fit into the middle class. Take my relatives--my parents--for example. Financially, there is no way they could locate themselves in even the lower middle class, living on a fixed income and whatever hourly work my dad can pull in. They're not railroaders anymore, they're not factory workers, they're just not laborers, not working class, but then again, they're definitely not "poor white trash" (photo evidence to the contrary).
Okay, we were poor when I was in junior high and high school, especially, but I don't ever remember being hungry. I have no idea how my parents fed and clothed four kids all that time. We weren't dressed like everyone else, but we were clean! And more importantly, our last names weren't Raschka, Hehner, or Wallace, so even if we looked a little odd, we didn't get beat up on sight, just out of town tradition. I desperately wanted to be middle class--like Kendra, whose dad owned Roy's Rexall. All that money! All those clothes! All those friends!
I think my parents aspired to the middle class, too. Not just the money part of being middle class, but the social structure (living in a subdivision, driving a family car, commuting to work, mom at home taking care of domestic chores). Certainly, during my first three years of college, financially they had every right to expect to be living a life of wanton American consumerism. But the middle class kept them out. My dad had the money, he had a city (Seattle) job that was fairly high-up in the corporate ladder (controller of a major bank), but the big boys didn't exactly give him the respect he thought he deserved. They would work with him, but they sure wouldn't nominate him for a membership in the country club, and I think that is one reason why my dad is bitter today. He did the "right thing," he moved to the city, made the money, but it didn't take him anywhere good.
So, back to the farm, back to poverty, back to not being able to keep the farm, looking forward to social security because at least that is *some* income even if it isn't enough to pull them above the poverty line. I don't know, even if gov't cheese was still available--I have no idea--my parents wouldn't take the hand out. My mom would take it when she had four kids to feed, but now when it's just them and my brother, I doubt she'd consider using the foodbank or something.
Hmmm...if I continue thinking about this, it is just going to turn into a diatribe against my siblings for not helping my parents out financially (or in any other way. Geez, Carl, could you get up out of your recliner and walk to the post office for your parents every once in awhile?) and Catherine has heard it over and over for the past week, so I guess I'll give it a rest. Too close to bedtime to get worked up!
In all my life, I have never seen anyone so pleased with a dust mop.