Why the proletariat?

Bruce McQuain mcquain at ix.netcom.com
Fri Dec 1 18:04:16 MST 1995

>>>        Why should or will the proletariat play the role that Marxists
>>>have claimed?

>>"But property, ideology, and force alone can produce nothing.  It upon
>>productive labor that the whole social edifice rests.  The productive
>>laboerrs thus have more latent power at their disposal than any other
>>social group, or all social groups combined.  To turn this latent into
>>actual power demands no more than the producers' recognition of social
>>realities and the application of this knowledge to their own ends.

  While it's true that "property, ideology, and force alone produce
nothing", it's equally useful to remember that factories don't appear out of
the mist. With automation becoming increasingly sophisticated, it would
appear that the latent power (for the whole of labor) at labor's disposal is
finite and diminishing in any advanced economy ("1st world").  On the other
hand, I would acknowledge the premise as having some credibility if we're
talking about a third-world type economy. Labor there remains the muscle and
blood of productivity and it's power much less diminished.
>>"To deny this fact is the main job of bourgeois ideology, as is evidenced
>>by its economic theories and by the general disparagement of productive
>>labor.  <cut>
>>Epilogue to Paul Mattick's *Marx and Keynes: the limits of the mixed
>>economy*. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1969, p..339-40.

  Isn't it rather presumptive of Mattick to state that "the main job" of
"bourgeois ideology" is the denial of the importance of productive labor?
To me it is an appalling statement of ignorance.  Hayek, von Mises and any
number of other "bourgeois ideologues" of the capitalist persuasion
certainly acknowledge the absolute necessity of productive labor in a
capitalist system. How could they do otherwise?  How would it work otherwise?

  Tibor Machan, a avowed capitalist and individualist states: "If there is
an Achilles heel of capitalism, many believe it is its labor market..."
("Capitalism and Individualism: Reframing the Argument fo the Free Society".
New York, St. Martin's Press, 1990, p. 85).  His basic premise is that
capitalism doesn't do a good job of accomodating the changes inevitable in a
market driven economy as they pertain to productive labor.  I don't believe
any knowledgeable capitalist, for instance, could or would deny the absolute
necessity for and of productive labor OR it's accomodation.  I also don't
believe any would deny the fact that the capitalist system needs to do a
better job in that area than it presently does ("Achilles heel" speaks
volumes in that regard).  The question to be answered is CAN it do a better job?
  It would seem, in light of Mattick's statement, that only a different
focus is in evidence between the competing ideologies instead of one being a
basis for denial of the importance of productive labor, i.e. a collective
focus on labor versus an individual focus and the accomodation of those
different focuses in these differing ideologies.

  Help me, what am I missing here?

>We shouldn't forget that this function can be fulfilled by any number of
>theoretical ideologies - from marginalist economics to futurology to
>postmodernism to Weberian sociology - and all of the forms of accomodations
>that 'Marxists' have made to these ideologies over the last century ...

  I'd submit that with Machan's statement in evidence, perhaps all the
accomodations haven't been (or aren't being) made only on the Marxist side.


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