Magazine article Monthly Review

What Makes the Working Class a Revolutionary Subject?

Magazine article Monthly Review

What Makes the Working Class a Revolutionary Subject?

Article excerpt

What makes the working class a revolutionary subject? Not Hegelian mysticism - that it is the universal class or the vulgar copy of the Absolute Spirit. Nor is the working class a revolutionary subject because of its physical location - that it is strategically placed to stop the wheels of industry.

From the sublime to the crude - there can be little surprise that these explanations convince few. Of course, there are some who had better explanations as to why the working class was revolutionary but who now say that the working class's time has come and gone. For instance, some suggest that once upon a time, capital concentrated workers, allowed them to come together and to organize and struggle; today, though, capital has decentralized workers and turns them against each other in a way that prevents them from struggling together. Once upon a time, the working class had nothing to lose but its chains but now it has been absorbed within capitalism, is a prisoner of consumerism and its articles of consumption own and consume it.

Those who conclude that the working class is not a revolutionary subject because capitalism has changed the working class reveal that they do not understand the ABCs of Marxism. The workingclass makes itself a revolutionary subject through its struggles - it transforms itself. That was always the position of Marx - his concept of "revolutionary practice," which is the simultaneous changing of circumstances and self-change. The working class changes itself through its struggles. It makes itself fit to create the new world.

But why do workers struggle? Underlying all the struggles of workers is what Marx called the "worker's own need for development." We know that Marx understood that wage struggles in themselves were inadequate. But not to engage in them, he recognized, would leave workers "apathetic, thoughtless, more or less well fed instruments of production." In the absence of struggle, Marx argued that the workers would be "a heartbroken, a weak minded, a worn-out, unresisting mass." Struggles are a process of production: they produce a different kind of worker, a worker who produces herself or himself as someone whose capacity has grown, whose confidence develops, whose ability to organize and unite expands. But why should we think this is limited to wage struggles? Every struggle in which people assert themselves, every struggle in which they push for social justice, every struggle to realize their own potential and their need for self-development, builds the capacities of the actors.

And, those struggles bring us up against capital. Why? Because capital is the barrier that stands between us and our own development. And it is so because capital has captured the fruits of all civilization, is the owner of all the products of the social brain and the social hand, and it turns our products and the products of workers before us against us - for one sole purpose, which is its own gain, profit. If we are to satisfy our needs, if we are to be able to develop our potential, we must struggle against capital and, in doing so, we working people create ourselves as revolutionary subjects. …

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