Coincidentally, I've been reading Karl Gaspar's "The Masses are Messiah: Contemplating the Filipino Soul." The book written by a Filipino theologian, whose background is obviously Marxist, explores the spirituality of the Filipinos. He expounds on the concept of "masa" (common people) and "misa" (religious rite) as he explains Filipino spirituality and poverty in the Philippines. I'm still halfway in my reading, but I found Midgley's views from class struggle to selfish gene very relevant in the Filipino's mythologizing of the "mass" as a people and a rite. In Filipino consciousness, all modern myths mentioned by Midgley are lumped together in the concept of "the masses." "Masses" understood as common people is a myth like "masses" as catholic rites displaying the passion of the Christ and the "pasyon" of the Filipinos.
After finishing the first chapter, I could not help but google well-known historical figures. I had no problem with the catholic rite called mass or misa, but I could not say the same about the masses being constituted by the common people as a modern myth. I checked the history of the Philippines. All recognized Filipino revolutionaries and heroes were not really of working class. Most of them were educated in Europe in the 1800's. Their families were landowners. Jim Richardson, a British historian, examined the backgrounds of the Filipino revolutionary leaders and found them not as poor laborers but enlightened individuals belonging to intelligentsia. Even the Philippines' fiercest revolutionary known as "the hero of the masses" belonged to the elite. He was not a poor bolo-wielding laborer, the contemporary image of him. He wrote poetry and spoke Spanish, the language of the elite during the Spanish colonial period. He also worked as a warehouse manager (bodeguero), a white-collar job, for a German-owned company in the Philippines.
I also check other revolutionaries in world history. Even Pol Pot, who wanted the Cambodian masses to rise, belonged to a rich family that could afford to send him to Paris to study. Mao Zedong, Chou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping were of landlord class. Fidel Castro was born in a sugar plantation to a moneyed father who invested in the sugar industry. Jose Marti, Simon Bolivar, and Che Guevara were also from well-off families. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were not of working class. Nelson Mandela's lineage can be traced back to an African King. The woman who toppled the Marcoses in the Philippines was from a rich family of "hacienderos" (sugar plantation owners). There's a clear pattern in world history: revolutions were not planned and led by the masses, the class for laborers and proletarians.
French and Russian revolutions were also the workings of the intellectuals. It was not really the masses that revolted. It seems to me the so-called masses joined in the struggle as mobs with selfish goals. Street thieves stole the jewels of the French monarchs. Hope Diamond was proven to be a re-cut French Blue of Louis XVI. In the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period, mobs were called "tulisanes" or bandits. Looting and thievery were part of their uprising. When the Marcoses abruptly left for exile in the mid-80's, the poor who joined the revolt ransacked and looted the palace left by the dictator and his family. "Selfish or selfishness gene," I think, can explain the mobs' behavior. Self-preservation is, indeed, a survival instinct. The idea of the masses benefiting from the ideological plan and political struggle of the elite is not bad either.
In the US, the masses are expressed as those in the Main Street (as opposed to Wall Street). Are they really the masses? I don't think so. The real masses in America today are contented with their food stamps and welfare checks. They have nothing to revolt for. Some of them live on the streets and have no addresses. Others are too high or drunk to even think of political reform and ideological uprising. There are those who are too busy surviving in their communities infested with roaches, gang-bangers, and diseases that entertaining issues beyond their locales is too much a bother. As I see it, "the masses" is also a myth in America. The people in the Main Street are those in the middle class who have properties and wealth threatened by the economic crisis.
If there's a revolution led by the middle class or intellectuals, the poor will join in by accident or because of their selfish goals or through self-preservation. Circumstances will also force them to act so they can benefit from the event they do not plan. The LA riot happened because the Rodney King issue gave the mobs a chance to loot and cause trouble in the name of racism. They did not really care for King and his bruises and the issue his case represented. Only the likes of Jesse Jackson, black intellectuals, and ghetto elites did care. Even the famous marches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. do not appear to me as political exercises of the masses. His supporters were mostly educated Blacks and some Whites. Rosa Parks, a laborer, was an accidental civil rights activist/leader. Her refusal to occupy a backseat was also a matter of self-preservation not of a political ideology.
If "the masses" is a myth, their rise also is.