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Poverty among the Aboriginals is a capitalist class variability that was socially constructed. From the out look, it looks like an inevitable consequence of laws of nature, but it is a socially constructed problem that can be solved.
This paper has explored Marxian conceptions on Historical materialism, exploitation and class system in Australia. It has explored news paper and research analyses of the problem.
Historical Materialism, Exploitation and Class System
Karl Marx, in his masterpiece – Das Kapital published in 1867, conceptualized a superstructure model of society. According to him, the real engine of a capitalist society was the mode of production concerned with providing material needs. He described the various aspects of the ownership of the means of production in the form of factories, machines and technology and emerging system of relations of production as an important determinants of classes.
A social structure organized around class system emerged. The two classes divided into owners and workers or the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (Marx 1961, p.36-67).
In the historical materialism theory, Marx argues that the materialism process lays out an account of historical dynamics that make varying transformations possible and more deterministic. Societal classes should be explained in terms of social relations that link people to the central resources that are economically relevant to production. According to him, such relations have a systematic impact on the well being of people both exploitatively or provision of life chances (Ritzer 2003, p.2-4).
Conversely, exploitation points to conflicts within production. In his labor theory of value, Marx identified three criteria of exploitation. He discusses a case of material exploiters depending on the material deprivations of the exploited. Similarly, the inverse interdependence of welfare exploiters and exploited depends may depend on exclusion of the exploited from access to certain productive resources.
The last criterion is one where exploitation generates material advantage to exploiters because it enables them to appropriate the labor of the exploited. In this process of exploitation, inequalities based on rights and powers over the means of production are generated (Ritzer 2003p, 7-10). The three criteria can be applied to Australia’s situation.
According to National Indigenous Times, indigenous people worldwide have fallen victim to colonialism, have been disposed from their land and subsequently are among the poorest and most disadvantaged (Sydney Morning Herald 4th August 2011, p.3-4). Their land rights were legally taken away displacing them from their own means of production, a condition that forces them to the labor market (Marx 1973, p. 463).
The modern Australian industrial society is replete with instruments of oppression envisaged by Marx. The Sydney Morning Herald notes that alienation of Aboriginals from their land causes high levels of unemployment, poor housing, overcrowding, poor health and domestic violence (Sydney Morning Herald 4th August 2011, p.4).
Poverty among the Aboriginals in Australia
The Aboriginal communities are the poorest in Australia. Borrowing from Marxist views of primitive accumulation of capital, the Aboriginals are a classical example. The first step by the colonialists was to deny the community legal land rights. This has had a causal connection to their historical poverty.
According to Ritzer the introduction of capitalism eventually swept away the feudal class relations that gave rise to capitalism in Australia (Ritzer 2003 p. 7-10). The access to land as the only means of production to Aboriginals was stopped, and as a result amassed capitalist wealth introduced establishment of capitalist relations (Sydney Morning Herald 4th August 2011, p.5-6). The ancestral land was taken over by production processes (factories) pushing them out to the urban centers (without skills) but as laborers.
The pre-capitalist forms of social organization eventually collapsed into one system – capitalism (Frank 1971, p.56; Laclau 1971, p.387). In the BBC News, the capitalist colonial powers became overriding, treating and displacing all the indigenous communities from their land (Sydney Morning Herald 4th August 2011).
According to the National Indigenous Times, comparing similar colonized countries like the U.S, Canada and New Zea land, Australia’s indigenous category are the poorest world wide. The Aboriginal poverty is attributed to the discriminatory Queensland Government policies pursued during the colonial era (Sydney Morning Herald 4th August 2011, p. 4-5).
The Aboriginal community relied on land for hunting, gathering and fishing grounds. However, colonial forces vetoed any legal rights that they had over land. According to BBC News, in The Aboriginal Protection Act of 1897, the Queensland government was allowed to seize and hold Aboriginal wages in trust (Sydney Morning Herald 4th August 2011, P.6-7).
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Up to date, the capitalist forces – the Queensland Government, still possesses over $A500 million that they held in trust for the Aboriginal community. The level of powerlessness exhibited among the Aboriginals is noticeable in the levels of poverty. The indigenous land rights are a connection to the center of the poverty problem (Sydney Morning Herald 4th August 2011, P 6-7).
A further analysis of the origins of capitalism in Australia reveals how it ‘broke up feudal class relations’ giving rise to a capitalist class, which took over the ownership of the means of production from indigenous communities. The indigenous Aboriginal community was left with nothing but labor (Katz 1993 p.366). According to BBC News, the Aboriginal community have been alienated from the land, resources and disenfranchised.
According to the National Aboriginal Indigenous Times, Aboriginal infants are three times likely to die than non-indigenous ones. This is attributable to lack of access to the means of production that they once owned. A significant proportion of them are unemployed. Furthermore, in the rural areas, Aboriginal communities experience limited job-related opportunities (Sydney Morning Herald 4th August 2011, p.7).
This paper concludes that, the conditions of Aborigines can be improved.
Frank, G, 1971, Capitalism and Under-Development in Latin America, London
Katz, C 1993, Karl Marx, On the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, Theory of Society, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands
Laclau, E, 1971, Feudalism and Capitalism in Latin America, New Left Review Vol. 14, 3, pp, 345-348
Marx, K, 1973, Grundrisse, Penguine, New York
Marx, K, 1961, Capital, Penguine, New York.
Ritzer, G, 2003, Forthcoming in Encyclopedia of Social Theory, Sage Publications
Sydney Morning Herald 4th August 2011, Australia’s Indigenous People Worst than any 3rd or 4th World, Sydney, Australia.