Nature and its Discontents


Where do we stand today? Gerald A. Cohen enumerated the four features of the classic Marxist notion of the working class: (1) it constitutes the majority of society; (2) it produces the wealth of society; (3) it consists of the exploited members of society; (4) its members are the needy people in society. When these four features are combined, they generate two further features: (5) the working class has nothing to lose from revolution; (6) it can and will engage in a revolutionary transformation of society (Cohen, 2001). None of the first four features applies to today’s working class, which is why features (5) and (6) cannot be generated. (Even if some of the features continue to apply to parts of today’s society, they are no longer united in a single agent: the needy people in society are no longer the workers. Correct as it is, this enumeration should be supplemented by a systematic theoretical deduction: for Marx, they all follow from the basic position of a worker who has nothing but his labor power to sell. As such, workers are by definition exploited; with the progressive expansion of capitalism, they constitute the majority that also produces the wealth, and so on. How, then, are we to redefine a revolutionary perspective in today’s conditions? Is the way out of this predicament the combinatoire of multiple antagonisms, their potential overlappings?

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