Also read my article, “The Iraqi Model: As Good As It Gets”
Ironically, those opposing the current hegemonic ideas and political forces in the United States and Europe must develop a Marxist-style analysis of what has happened. To call the current dominant ideas and political currents socialist, Marxist, Communist, leftist, progressive, or liberal is not meaningful and conceals more than it reveals. The movement must be understood on its own terms in order to understand it and see how it differs from its predecessors.
The problem of revolutionary movements has been to find a group to be the motive force in fundamentally transforming society. Next, they must analyze which groups can be made into allies and which must be defeated.
The Marxist Analysis of the Social Battle
Marx and his followers identified the industrial working class as that revolutionary force. Here’s how the idea appears in the 1848 Communist Manifesto:
Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.
Marxists posited that the workers’ condition would worsen and that no reform could improve their situation, forcing them to become revolutionaries. Their main ally would be the lower middle class, wiped out by big business and new technology:
The lower strata of the middle class — the small tradespeople, shopkeepers and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants — all these sink gradually into the proletariat …
In contrast, who are the revolution’s enemies? Capitalists, clergy, and those elements that benefit from capitalism. And along with them:
The “dangerous class,” [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.
Note that in many ways the post-Marxist left reverses this analysis. The lumpenproletariat becomes its ally along with those — many of them prosperous — who benefit from the government’s management of capitalism. In contrast, Marx’s description of the revolutionary forces sounds more like a description of Tea Party members.
Why Marxism Failed
This is a complex subject, but given limited time here are some key points:
– Capitalism didn’t decline but advanced, raising living standards across the board. So Marx was wrong about capitalism. Rather than a generalized misery (think of London during the second half of the nineteenth century), the “victims” today are a small minority, 10 to 20 percent, who have been left behind. And even these people receive welfare and other benefits beyond the wildest dreams of the poor in every other country and every historical era in the world.
– The working class prospered, preferring material betterment rather than a transformation of society. So Marx was wrong about the proletariat, especially in the United States. What’s important to remember is not that this group struggled to improve its life and working conditions but that it succeeded.
– This adjustment of society to solve these problems was due to many forces. One was improved technology and methods of organization, created by the capitalist system. Another was reforms, usually brought by liberal and social democratic parties and the institution of trade unions.
– The workers were responsive — at the time more than the elites — to the appeals of religion, patriotism, and traditional culture.