proletariat as category of capital

jones/bhandari djones at
Sat Oct 7 13:19:53 MDT 1995

In a very provocative post, Alex writes: 

>After almost two centuries, there is reason to doubt that the working 
>class can be anything but reformist because it is, in its 
>materiality, a category of capital. The class is supposed to become 
>revolutionary when it is a class-for-itself (i.e., conscious) and not 
>simply the class-in-itself. Marxists have thus had to define the 
>proletariat in terms of consciousness. But "class consciousness" seems to 
>help perpetuate the condition of the proletariat. 

Some (see William Leiss, The Limits to Satisfaction. McGill-Queens) have
argued that as the proletariat has itself fought to relax restrictions on
environmental damage in order to encourage accumulation and the demand for
proletarian labor, detached, presumably middle class observers must now
fight for endangered species act and the like in the courts to prevent both
major categories of the system (proletariat and capital) from fighting for
the expansion of the sphere of material production, the consequent
destruction of nature and the ulimately counterproductive attempt at the
satisfaction of needs via the consumption of an ever immenser collection of

I am skeptical of such arguments.  For example, it leads Leiss into a
strange and untenable form of a (literally) natural rights argument: "Under
the law of guardianship a natural entity (a lving thing, group of things or
part of terrain) could be represented in a regular legal proceeding, where
the present or projected human impact on that entity would have to be
explicitly defended and assessed.  The right of human agents to appropriate
individually or collectively the environment an dits resources would then
have to be balanced against the right of natural entities to enjoy a
certain degree of protection against the pressures of human demands." (12)

To this, I think we must remember that capital's run-away growth is
ultimately the result of its boundless thirst for surplus labor.  If class
consciousness is reduced to inequities in distribution or unemployment, the
material level of the proletariat stands of course to be increased by the
expansion of capital and thus proletarian labor.   But if class
consciousness is of the Promethean suffering required of the productive
laborer at the point of production, class consciousness means strikes,
slow-downs, sabotage, general strikes, etc.  I don't see how such activity
helps to perpetuate the condition of the proletariat, as Alex has


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