A new/old definition of ‘working class’…Napoleon Between War and Revolution 


To avoid losing its power to the royalists or the Jacobins, France’s well-to-do bourgeoisie turned its power over to Napoleon, a military dictator who was both reliable and popular. The Corsican was expected to put the French state at the disposal of the haute bourgeoisie, and that is exactly what he did. His primordial task was the elimination of the twin threat that had bedeviled the bourgeoisie. More

Source: Napoleon Between War and Revolution – CounterPunch.org

A very good short summary of the class issues of the French Revolution and an equally useful preface to the socialist/Marxist attempts to correct the tragicomedy that ends with the bourgoisie top dogs/fat cats. It is somehow obvious that the proletarian aspect of the whole mega-event required a new analysis. And the work of Marx/Engels performed that analysis and outperformed the parallel semi-socialists of the same era. The point is that while the analysis of Marx/Engels became a kind of standard as it took the lead their analysis was, it seems itself flawed. The overall study of class we might note is the real contribution of Marx, his theories of history a form of theory junk now. And this muddles the thinking that is the really important part. Consider as an example the issue of the working class, a brilliant response to the outcome of the French Revolution, etc… It is clear that a new and future revolution must address that. And that’s what Marx/Engels did. But the outcome despite the brilliant surge in the era of the first and second internationals succeeded brilliantly and then petered out. What happened? The answer lies in part in the particulars of that history. But the other result is the obsessive rubbing the rabbit’s foot of working class ‘hurrah’ to redo the whole game again. But that has permanently stalled. We can’t resolve the complexity of this history in the form the left tends to use.

Let us note our critique of histories (consider our text Decoding World History). Every time Marx depicts class issues, ideology and economic facts, he seems to succeed. The moment he attempts historical theory he fails. We have critiqued Stages of Production theory on that basis and suggested against attempting a science of history.
And here is a good example. The place of the proletariat is crucial to the creation a new activist platform. But then in a mix of theory and ideology of the kind Marx exposed in bourgeois economics he calls class struggle the motor of history and the proletariat the key to historical transformation. Still another theory of history, doomed to fail.
And we can see the outcome in our own times: an immense surge of working-class action produces a new formation in the industrial age, then peters out, and becomes almost inert.
This would not surprise us. The action of the proletariat is not the dynamic of history, as such. The success of the labor movements and in part the Russian revolution is the result of intervention by individuals and has no macro-historical causality as such.
A quibble? Maybe, but the left can’t take Marx’s theories for granted anymore. History has shifted (US, internationally not yet perhaps) and all the components have recombined in a new way.
It is hard to conclude anything here, at first. The analysis of classes and economies in motion is a hypercomplex system and it is hard to second guess their unexpected futures. But it would seem that while the focus on the working is the brilliant innovation of Marx/Engels a new social complex requires a new analysis from scratch. In the US. Globally, not yet and the completely right thinking has already arrived in the completion of the analysis with the idea of the International. That said, the US case I(matched with many similar conditions in advanced capitalist systems) needs a new analysis. The working class is almost (almost!) defunct as a borderline middle-class formation. Proletarian consciousness barely exists anymore. In many ways the issue of the working class needs to be reanalyzed. The concept pointed to factory workers while in reality the working class is the overset of all those who are 1. wage earners, and 2. those who are exploited or passive entities in the capitalist dynamic.
There is the clue: the concept of the working class was never consistent but can just as well work with a new mix of what was always true: all classes tend to be mixed entities. The working class in this new format is in part the middle class.
In the nonce we see that the era of Trump and the rightist counterrevolution has captured the ‘working class’ in part for the right. That’s a typical example of what we have said that class analysis in a hypercomplex system produces unexpected results.
In any case the left can both move on from a prior legacy and yet remain true to that legacy by looking at the larger ‘working class’ by this new definition. In some ways it is a better analysis and can in any embrace the old at the same time.
The future beyond capitalism cannot really hope that a working class revolution of the old style will overcome global capitalism. But in this extended definition of the working class is suddenly a vast and equally ‘working class’ composite of all classes. Note that working class is not really revolutionary but that middle class ‘working class’ wage earners tend to be the core activists. We have redubbed them working class and quadrupled membership dues. The new working class should match the revolutionary path but at the same time consider the way the old working class lost its revolutionary aspect. The approach must consider both options

The subject then requires a new analysis and a new kind of formation, mindful of the fallacies about historical dynamics that befuddled the old marxism. The activist must provide that dynamism himself as a free agent. History may or may not give an assist. But the older tide of working class revolution can thrive as well in a new enlarged working class which in fact was really the right one from the start.
To be continued

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