File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1996/96-11-13.154, message 65

Date: Mon, 11 Nov 1996 17:12:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: M-I: The Search for a Western Proletariat: Lukacs, Korsch, Gramsci & Modernity

Thanks to Louis G for a well-written, clear and helpful discussion of
Lukacs, Korsch and Gramsci.

I have a few cavils, one of which is quite important. This is Louis'
identification of the proletariat in Marx and some of these other thinkers
with the specifically industrial working class. For Marx, anyway, I think
a better reading is that the proletariat is the group of workers who (a)
work for wages and (b) produce surplus value, i.e., the "productive" wage
workers, whether or not they are factory workers. (I further think that
the productive-unproductive distinction is useless and incoherent on
Marx's own terms--I argued this, I think on the pre m1 Marxism list--and
so the proletariat shoukd be identified simply as the group of wage workers.)

I am not sure I grasp Louis' distinction between the proletariat and "the
class": what class? Is his idea that the proletariat as he conceives it is
only part of the working class? Or that without consciousness it is not
yet the working class?

Louis gets Lukacs dead to rights, Hegelian abstraction and unsolved
central problem both. Though I would say that coming down to earth from
the "Hegelian" abstraction involves looking, as Gramsci dis, at culutral
as well as economic factors. Also I think that Lukacs' abstraction is more
Weberian than Hegelian. Weber was a friend and strong influence, and his
idea of the ideal type is crucial for Lukacs' early work. That may heklp
account for why Lukacs' abstract proletariat is _so_ abstract.

I am less happy with Louis' treatment of Gramsci. On one hand I learned
something from Louis' discussion of a market socialist Gramsci. I had
never looked at G in that light, but as a amrket socialist I am happy to
have Gramsci in the club.

On the other hand, Louis does not address the central role in Gramsci's
thought of the concept of hegemony and of the role of hegemony in the
formation of the proletariat. G views hegemony, crudely, as rule by
consent as opposed to coercion and locates it, most oif the time, in
"civil society" as opposed to the state. The strength of civil society is
key in understanding the prospects for revolution: weak civil society,
good prospects, strong civil society (lots of bourgeouis hegemony), poor
prospects. Hence the famous distinction between the "war of maneover": and
the "war of position" appropriate for aech. The latter, which G regards as
necesasry in the West, is due to thestrength of hegemony over the
proletariat. The task is to form an alternative hegemony, and this is the
task of the "organic intellectuals," whom G seems to have identified,
rather implausibly, with engineers.

There are certain analogies between Lukacs and Gramsci as regards the role
of the party and the intellectuals. Both of them seem to have converged on
Lenin's 19054 position that the workers could not come to a revolutionary
class consciousness on their own and that this was the task of a party.
Moreover, G was fairly blunt about the need to "lead" by mere rhetoric and
emotional appeal and was even more skeptical than Lenin or Lukacs about
the ability of ordinary workers to grasp their situation accurately

Finally, I wonder whether Louis' treatment of the proletarit in G is
accurate. For Louis, G's proletarian is a Turino factory worker, sober,
serious, devoted to self management. That's one of the types taht G deals
with, but G's nalaysis is remarkable for the fine detail and
differentiation between lots of groups and for locating them in their
histirical context. Reading G after reading Lukacs makes one feel as if
one has come down from the icy uninhabited Alps (there's the Ideal Type of
the Proletarit, looming over the Berghorn) to a valley full of people from
two or ten dozen different ethnic groups, engaged in innumerable pursuits,
with specific hgistories and problems. So, there's alot more to G's
proletarit than Louis lets on.

--Justin Schwartz

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