The Marxian Emancipatory Vision and the Problem of Revolutionary Agency
As the bourgeoisie has the intellectual, organisational and every other advantage, the superiority of the proletariat must lie exclusively in its ability to see society from the centre, as a coherent whole. This means that it is able to act in such a way as to change reality, in the class consciousness of the proletariat theory and practice coincide and so it can consciously throw the weight of its action onto the scales of history--and this is the deciding factor.
Georg Lukács History and Class Consciousness, 69
The revolutionary agency of the proletariat has been an article of faith among Marxists and is the cornerstone of the Marxian emancipatory vision. Through reference to Marx's own work, the debates within the Second International, and Lukács History and Class Consciousness, I will identify and discuss the contours and ambiguities of this vision. We will find that as Marx's theoretical formulations became matters of practical political concern, the proletariat's role became increasingly problematic and subject to debate. In contrast to those who downplayed the significance of the proletariat in these debates, Lukács will insist on the proletariat's role as the "identical subject-object" of history. At the same time his analysis almost completely precludes the proletariat's ability to become conscious of its role. In effect, Lukács both deifies and debilitates the proletariat as revolutionary subject. It is this problematic that will carry us forward into the work of the critical theorists.
Marx's project is just one of many attempts to make sense of history. The