Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist, has a piece on Hugo Chavez, inquiring if Chavez actually said something that was attributed to him. Here’s what Chavez may or may not have said (roughly translated from Spanish).
The PSUV [Chavez’s party] doesnâ€™t call itself “marxist-leninist” because it is a dogmatic thesis that has passed and doesnâ€™t accord with the reality of todayâ€¦the thesis of the working class as the motor of socialism and the revolution is obsoleteâ€¦the worker of today is another thing, is distinct, is involved with information and telecommunications technology and Karl Marx could not have dreamed of these things.
Rather than take this idea and explore it, Proyect instead questions the motives of various socialist groups for spreading this thought, apparently because it’s not properly socialist and disrespects Marx. What is it with the socialist Left that they spend inordinate amounts of time having such theological, oops sorry, political arguments? The Gospel According to Karl. Thou Shalt Not Deviate or Question.
When Marx did his writings, the line between working class and bourgeoisie was clear and defined. Workers worked in the factories and the owners exploited them. The class boundaries were completely obvious to everyone.
In 2007, especially in the U.S., the boundaries aren’t clear at all, and Marxists do themselves and those they wish to organize a disservice by trying to make the class structure of today fit that of 150 years ago in England. Let’s take an M.D. who works for Kaiser, he makes $150,000 a year, has a nice house and drives a Mercedes. But he doesn’t own the means of production so therefore under Marxist theory, he is a member of the proletariat, of the working class. But I doubt he or anyone else views him as working class. Nor would approaching him as such be an effective organizing technique.
Also, especially in the U.S., most do not identify themselves as members of the working class, but as middle class, even if they aren’t. To organize, you need to reach people where they are now (or where they think they are), not where your theory tells you they should be. Also, most jobs here are service-oriented and involve some, maybe a lot of technology, and that tends to blur class boundaries even more.
Marxist theory needs some updating to bring it into the 21st century technological service-oriented world. And after 150 years, why wouldn’t it?