The Proletariat

As I prepare to guide my advanced courses through a discussion on race, class, and gender, I often without effort think about the important contribution of Marx and Marxist’s literature. I will admit that at times, even for me, it is difficult to determine who truly belongs to the proletariat or with the bourgeoisie. W.E.B. Du Bois called for a vanguard of black intellectuals to serve as the talented tenth; it was his hope that this academic elite group would educate the masses and transform the racial plight of society. However, when I think I am confused about the importance of looking at historical forces that have shaped modern day conflicts, I am reminded by conservative economist Thomas Sowell that the true bourgeois elite, not the academic elite fighting and teaching for and about social justice, are still exploiting an existing proletariat. Regardless of education and income, I will always be a proletarian. Note what Sowell said about class below:
The almost universal disdain toward the middle class — the bourgeoisie — by those with cosmic visions can be more readily understood in light of the role of such visions as personal gratification and personal license. The middle classes have been classically people of rules, traditions, and self-discipline, to a far greater extent than the underclass below them or the wealthy and aristocratic classes above them. While the underclass pay the price of not having the self-discipline of the bourgeoisie — in many ways, ranging from poverty to imprisonment — the truly wealthy and powerful can often disregard the rules, including laws, without paying the consequences. Those with cosmic visions that seek escape from social constraints regarded as arbitrary, rather than inherent, tend to romanticize the unruliness of the underclass and the sense of being above the rules found among the elite.
Thomas Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice [The Free Press, 1999], pp. 139-140
As an intellectual construct, Capital was a masterpiece; but, like some other intellectual masterpieces, it was an elaborately sophisticated structure erected on the foundation of a primitive misconception. …In the realm of ideas in general, the Marxian vision — including his theory of history — has not only dominated various fields at various times, it has survived both the continuing prosperity of capitalism and the economic debacles of socialism. It has become axiomatic among sections of the intelligentsia, impervious to the corrosive effects of evidence or logic. But what did Marx contribute to economics? Contributions depend not only on what was offered but also on what was accepted, and there is no major premise, doctrine, or tool of analysis in economics today that derived from the writings of Karl Marx. There is no need to deny that Marx was in many ways a major historic figure of the nineteenth century, whose long shadow still falls across the world of the twenty-first century. Yet, jarring as the phrase may be, from the standpoint of the economics profession Marx was, as Professor Paul Samuelson called him, “a minor post-Ricardian.”
Thomas Sowell, On Classical Economics [Yale, 2006] p.184-186

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12 thoughts on “The Proletariat

  1. Thanks for the thoughts. In your estimation, what are 3 or 4 of the major contrubutions of Marx and Marxist literature you speak about above? Perhaps you can direct to previous posts where you’ve discussed this.

    I’m also intrigued to discuss for lack of a better phrase a “Marxist-inspired pedagogy.” Perhaps that would be a teaching style or posture in the tradition of Freire’s _Pedagogy of the Oppressed_? What would a liberative classroom look like?

    Speaking as a Christian in the prophetic tradition, I like how Cornel West described himself: “a non-Marxist socialist.”

  2. As for contributions, I often wonder about the evolution of critical analysis without the unfolding of sub fields that use Marx’s analysis for explorative purposes. This did not dawn on me until I first wrote a paper as a graduate student addressing the historical impact of historiography on the social sciences. This was a very different direction for me, but the most interesting.

    It was the first time that I looked at journals in the field of sociology, education (serious ones), and psychology that used the writings of Marxist scholars to explain the condition of race, from a comparative look (nature v. nurture). I recall an article from Harvard’s Educational Review that explored racism from a resource perspective by focusing its attention on Maslow; however, in this case, the author examined the problems of social stratification via educational failures.

    More than anything, the notion of conflict in sociology outside of critical race theory is massive. For example, what about the condition of sub groups such as gays and lesbians? I did not know about Queer Theory and its use of Marxism; of course, the above fields and scholars are not writing about revolutions; I believe Marx gave us a model to look at the problems of wealth and poverty in hopes of drawing a conclusion. I do agree with Samuelson (the uncle of former Harvard pres. Larry Summers) that David Ricardo and John Mill were already moving us forward. But, their contributions have not had the same impact.

    As for teaching, I have found it easy to use Marxism as a framework for looking at class and race. I have a few good charts that show students an illustration of wealth and labor as factors of governmental shifts during the 19th century. MLK Jr.’s hope of poor urban whites and blacks in Birmingham, Alabama forming a solidarity movement to change their oppression is a great example. I like to compare this example to that of the 19th cent. farmers alliances that failed due to race. I also like to show students that one does not have to be a Marxist in order to see its impact in understanding mass culture. I introduce people like Hegel, but do not spend much time on him.

    English is another topic. A wealth of discussion found here, too.

    What do you think Wesat means by this: “a non-Marxist socialist.”

    I have a few thoughts. West did play a major role with DSA in 1984.

  3. Marxist literature is confusing to the common man and is easily perverted by the ruling class. Do you think Marx meant for the common man to not understand his writings or did he just write on an advanced level.

  4. Marx was some what of an academic. He was clearly writing for elites. But, that is usually the case as we will see throughout my APUSH course. I think his stuff is tough because some of his ideas were incomplete. There is far more written about Marx that he actually wrote.

  5. Which is a shame, because I must say that the Communist Manifesto has some fascinating ideals, while the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte brings up some interesting points; the one striking my interest the most being the fact of he repetition of history “first as tragedy, then as farce”.
    Sadly we do not have a philosophy class at school, or the opportunity to study and comprehend such works.

  6. ITS TIME PEOPLE STOP WANTING SOMETHING FOR NOTHING,GET OFF YOUR LAZY BUTTS WORK FOR WHAT YOU WANT AND THEN PERHAPES YOU MIGHT APREIATE WHAT YOU HAVE. I’VE STRUGGLED MY WHOLE LIFE AND I DON’T WANT NOTHING FROM YOU OR ANY ONE ELSE.THAT DOES NOT MAKE ME A RACIST,I THINK YOU JUDGE BY WHATS IN A PERSON’S HEART NOT THIER SKIN COLOR. I’AM JUST A HARD WORKER WHO LOVES MY FAMILY AND I DON’T THINK I’AM ANY BETTER OR ANY LESS THAN THE NEXT GUY. THANK GOD FOR YOUR HEALTH, FAMILY AND FRIENDS. I’AM GLAD THIER ARE RICH PEOPLE OUT THERE,I’VE NEVER GOT A PAYCHECK FROM A POOR PERSON

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