ICC discussion on why the proletariat is the revolutionary class.
I thought the discussion was a good one; there were lots of key points made and a good level of focus in the discussion. We are all in agreement with the basic premise of the discussion i.e. the need to defend the position that the proletariat is and remains the only hope of humanity in this epoch.
I made some comments which might have come across as overly pessimistic. I was, in my mind simply posing questions that I feel have not often been adequately dealt with.
While the working class remains the only revolutionary class and the only hope for human survival/progress it is in a period of deep retreat and has been for a long period of time. This needs to be fully analysed and this was the intention of me stressing what I see as a weakness of the proletariat as a class in general; a lack of independence.
Peasants and tribal societies (even slaves) were perfectly capable of living without their masters; the proletariat is not. This is especially true the more proletarianised the class is; I.e the more they have been robbed of the land and the skills and knowledge needed to survive outside of capitalism. This means that the working class must not simply escape their masters as previous classes could but must destroy those masters and the position of master/servant itself. This revolutionary ‘strength’ comes with a lot of draw backs and barriers to the proletariat playing its historic,revolutionary role. I think the fact that the only succesful revolution in our history came from a ‘new’ proletariat is also more significant than it is often seen to be.
This inherent weakness of the proletariat has become more and more acute during decadence and especially decomposition but has always been there to a certain extent. In the ascendant phase it mainly expressed itself as a tendency to try to build up its organisations within capitalism. These organisation were more ‘independent’ than they would become in decadence but they always contained strong bourgeois tendencies and could never actually escape capitalism or its logic entirely.
I have since then seen how a lot of what I was getting at is connected to the Frankfurt school and its legacy. The Frankfurt school was a product of despair in many ways and while it contained within its ranks many thinkers with insights worth incorporating and acknowledging; they ultimately played and continue to play a counter-revolutionary role. This role also needs acknowledging and a deeper analysis than it often gets. The bourgeois state after all showed itself capable of assimilating and using Marxism against the working class; not only in the so called ‘communist’ countries but also in the ‘democratic’ ones.
The reasons they are important in this discussion:
1. they did draw on real tendencies in ‘late’ capitalism; in particular the totalitarian nature of post WW2 capitalism and the fact that the working class in the ‘west’ had been to a large extent become pacified by the Welfare state and consumerism. While these did not stop the working class being the revolutionary class under capitalism, they did increase the degree to which the working class was drawn into ‘civil society’ and was a further step in the totalitarian development of capitalism.
2. Their work with the CIA and their acceptance within academia generally show that the bourgeoisie have been able to co-opt their insights and use these against the working class. (the degree to which the development of capitalism since then has been consciously aimed at making class consciousness more difficult to come by). This also effects how we look at the process of decomposition. While decomposition is partly a ‘natural’ result of capitalism reaching its logical conclusion (the complete commodification and atomisation of all aspects of life and society) it is also partly a process being purposefully encouraged in certain ways i.e. separating the class from itslef and making it harder and harder for the very ideas of solidarity and class consciousness from emerging.
The Frankfurt school have made a return of sorts in recent years; mostly in their use by conspiracy theorists using them (often as a code/stepping stone towards ‘the Jews’) as a scapegoat for the modern ‘identity politics’ and the undermining of traditional morality. This is partly a typical example of the conspiracy theorists mindset blaming individuals for historic tendencies but it also reflects a certain reality which I have alluded to already; namely the way I which the bourgeoisie have used their knowledge of Marxism and its analysis of capitalism to further manipulate the masses.
The point I’m making boils down to this: the weakness of the working class since WW2 (including the resurgence which was quickly co-opted and controlled in 68) should not be underestimated. The idea of the European working class holding the key to the class struggle to me seems more and more outdated and has less ans less basis in reality. Europe is less and less central to capitalism as a whole and the experience of struggle in Europe is in danger of becoming a myth.
The proletariat needs to rediscover itself but I think this will come hand in hand with a rediscovery of our pre-proletarian past as well, and this will mean a closer identification with the workers in what was and in some cases still is, the ‘periphery’ of capitalism. As these areas develop and the living standards in the West more and more fall to the level of their class brothers and sisters around the globe this identification will become easier; however it will also be accompanied by increasingly vigorous attempts at stoking national division and ‘identity’. The experience of the revolutionary minority will certainly be central but should not be overstated. Only the class as a whole can save itself and humanity.