This article aims to bring some argument regarding the absence of a revolution among the proletarian class. Although such argument could be viewed and concluded in many ways, the selection produced in this essay aims to broadly bring awareness of some of the major Marxist theorists related to the topic. Rather than diving deep into a smaller section of theories and profoundly analyze those choices, this essay will present a larger selection of Marxist theorists and their views regarding the subject. Due to the word count limitations in this essay, I personally believe that presenting a variety of views instead of focusing on a specific view would have a better result in the final work.
Before going through the possible reasons for such a revolution not to happen, it is crucial to understand Marx’s view of the society itself that led him to produce such a theory.
During his time, Marx witnessed a great inequality between people who own the land and those who work on it. Marx simply defined those classes into two groups, the proletarians who had a few rights and the bourgeois who obtain most of the power. According to him, the situation only worsened as power began to concentrate among even fewer within bourgeois. As a consequence, the working conditions deteriorated greatly and Marx saw no other option than a revolution happening imminently. ‘The large workshop will enrich prodigiously one or two entrepreneurs, but the labourers will only be journeymen, paid more or less, and will not have any share in the success of the undertaking’(Marx, 1954, pg698).
Marx also predicted that workers would at some stage become aware of this exploitation, therefore, they would develop a class consciousness and as a consequence, they would unify and overthrow the landlords and those who control the means of production once such exploitation becomes unbearable and conditions would reach the edge of despair.
In order to be able to analyse and perhaps reach a more realistic conclusion for the possible main reasons for the proletarian revolution predicted by Marx not taking place, one must mention the creation of The Frankfurt School. The institution was visited and created by some of the most influential theorists of the 20th and 21st century, including Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Friedrich Pollock, Erich Fromm, Otto Kirchheimer, Leo Löwenthal, Franz Leopold Neumann and Henryk Grossman among many others. The institution also hosted the formation of a number of critical theories and Marxist ideas which are still heavily analysed in our current society. Moreover, its members, especially Adorno and Horkheimer were able to critically understand Marx’s ideas and reasons for the absence of the proletarian revolution. Originally established as the Institute of Social Research, it is important to mention that The Frankfurt School became a rather complex set of ideas and by no means, this essay will aim to simplify such phenomenon. Moreover, it is equally important to highlight that the institution itself was the target of criticism during its existence due to its elitism (Bottomore, 1984).
In addition to that, at the end of 1930’s European society was facing one of its most difficult periods of modern years. The choices available in order to rescue the continent politically and economically were extremely dangerous and controversial. On one side there was the uprising fascism and the other was the communism, such situation brought, even more, the debate for theorists of The Frankfurt School to form critical theories during this period of deep political struggle. Moreover, during this period, Horkheimer focused his studies of theory of culture to … where it became more evident his conclusions regarding Marx’s original theories (Connerton, 1980, p60-p62).
Steven Miles highlights in his studies a critique made by Adorno and Horkheimer specifically about the lack of depth in Marx’s prediction of the revolution based primarily on class struggle and the assumption that the mass would inevitably revolt against its leaders. An opinion that simply underestimates the existence and power of the capitalist system and how it can lead any class to feel integrated into the society (Miles, 2001).
Furthermore, the introduction of cheap and easily accessible mass technology helped as a tool to standardize the mass control. Although some groups might believe in the possibility of decentralization of power in modern society, such control has many other ways of being expressed such as in the media and technology itself. In other words, an individual might feel the freedom of choosing different ways of living as long as those choices are made within the options given by who is at the core of the superstructure. Such power of choice leads the individual to a feeling of inclusion within the society. Adorno and Horkheimer interpreted this feeling as illusionary however rather convincing hence it enables the individual to develop a realist class consciousness, therefore, the lack of need to revolt against the system (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1994).
Another aspect which must be highlighted is the social norms and responsibility which an individual play within the society. One could challenge Marx’s view based on the individual’s self-questioning regarding whether or not agreeing with the rules presented to oneself. Although some or perhaps even the majority might not be satisfied with the current situation of the society, it is import to mention that making progress within their own social group make one rather satisfied therefore they are unable to or simply not willing to take part in any revolution. As mentioned before, capitalism is a system more complicated than perhaps Marx would have concluded. Georg Lukacs brings up another argument which supports the failure of the revolution. According to his argument, people, in general, have a different approach to class and class consciousness, the way each of us understands and defines class may vary which essentially affects how each of us might react. On top of that, the meaning of class has a different shape depending on each class an individual belongs or meant to belong to. Lukasc also believes that Marx’s works have not been completed, hence a large part of it was left for interpretation which had a massive impact on Marx’s final theory (Lukacs, 1971).
Lukacs himself worked greatly throughout his career organizing manuscripts and interpreting a large number of Marx's works. Some of his works were written during Marx’s young age, however, never published until after his death. It is important to mention that such works were never known by Marx therefore never amended as his ideas could have had changed as the political, social and financial scenario have gone through massive changes during this period.
In addition to that, Lukacs also possess a rather different view regarding social totality and the relationship between parts and the whole. Although Marx believed that classes are clearly divided and therefore individuals in each class would behave and act completely different from one another and from a different class. Lakasc however, believed that such division between classes could be clear however the behaviour of each individual in each class would be rather similar.
Lukacs saw Marx as essentially teaching that the true identity of things is provided by their relationship to a whole. For example, the individual characteristics of a person do not make that person a slave, and nothing in the constitution if a particular machine makes it an item of capital. Those items acquire those identities only as part of a system, as part of an arrangement of slaveholding, or of capitalist production; i.e. they have their identity only in relation to the social whole (Cuff et al., 2016, pg 172).
Such argument emphasizes the simplicity of Marx’s theory or perhaps brings up a slight sense of disconnection between Marx and the working class. However, once again as Lukacs strongly underlines that assumptions are the only assumptions as those views were interpreted during a different period and the world had changed quite drastically since those theories were first written.
And perhaps one of the views which I personally agree the most is, the Weberian view on Marx’s revolution. Weber takes a less romantic approach regarding the revolution, according to his views there was no particular reason for the revolution to take place. It could, however, occur in a different scenario or era. However, expecting a whole class to unify and get itself organised politically would be extremely difficult especially within the working class where political awareness was somewhat rare. Furthermore, Weber believed that controlling the working class through different channels such as media and oppressive force was a relatively easy task which would eventually continue keeping the society in order. If the revolution was to take place, it would most probably be the exception rather than the rule. Moreover, when the World War I took place classes clashed and the main goal became to win the war as a country rather than focusing on unifying the working class. The aftermath played a massive role in Marx’s theory and a lot of his work was misinterpreted in order to deal with the current scenario, especially at the end of the war. It is also crucial to highlight the discrepancy between reality from the point of view of those who live in it and those who take a Marxist perspective. One might say that Marx focused perhaps too much on the economic side of the classes neglecting the social part of it. Although it might take this essay away from its main focus, the social life within classes was massively important to analyse the absence of revolution (Cuff, 1979)
Analysing such complex theme in such short essay did not prove to be easy. However, I must admit that the theories presented were based on different periods of time in different parts of the world governed by different leaders. Most importantly, the theorists mentioned in this essay also experienced different events throughout their lives which must have had an impact on their views. Although I must agree with the view that Marx might have been rather simplistic on his theory of assurance of the revolution. It is crucial to take Marx’s view very seriously; the fact that society did not experience the revolution predicted by Marx does not mean it would not take place in the future. Furthermore, it would be irresponsible to ignore his views even or especially in the current society. In addition to that, although I personally might not agree with some of Marx’s views I also believe that Marx was a theorist who was ahead of his time and the great majority of his work is still adequately relevant and still considered modern. However, the very same reason that made Marx a great theorist could have been the very same reason for his theory of revolution to fail or simply not take place. I believe that as he was ahead of his time it has enabled the society to fully understand his theories.
Adorno, T. and Horkheimer, M. (1994). Dialectic of enlightenment. New York: Verso.
Bottomore, T. (1984). The Frankfurt school. Chichester: Ellis Horwood Limited.
Connerton, P. (1980). The tragedy of enlightenment, an essay on the Frankfurt school. London: Cambridge university press.
Cuff, E.C. et al. (2016). Perspectives in sociology. New York: Routledge.
Cuff, E.C. et al. (2006). Perspectives in sociology. New York: Routledge.
Lukacs, G. (1971). History and class consciousness. London: Merlin Press.
Marx, K. (1954). Capital. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Miles, S. (2001). Social theory in the real world. London: Sage.