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On Ocean’s 13 and the Ambition of the Proletariat

December 8, 2010

One thing I don’t agree with Marx in our previous reading about is the claim he stakes that the proletariat will one day be the cause of a revolution against the bourgeoisie.  On page 801 of our textbooks he writes:

“But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons -the modern working class- the proletarians.”

It doesn’t take a lot of work to figure out what Marx meant by that, he means that eventually the proletarians will become so fed up with their situation that they will rise up against the bourgeoisie and end capitalism, a communist revolution.  We also discussed this in lecture.

I disagree with this assertion, for one simple reason; the working class (proletarians) would never become so fed up that their unrest would be unable to be settled by some agreement with the bourgeoisie.  Let’s take a moment to think about this, the closest thing to a ‘revolution’ by the working class in today’s society would be a strike, and even now strikes do not really resemble revolutions they hardly ever get violent enough to cause fear in people.  There was a time of major labor unrest in the history of the United States, where strikes often led to major rioting, but that time has long past.  These days, strikes are often resolved peacefully by an agreement between the working class and those in charge of them (the bourgeoisie), or the bourgeoisie forcing the workers back to work by threatening to move on with new workers and lay off all the striking employees.

When the working class negotiates and comes to an agreement with the companies, it is often not very ambitious, these agreements often include a minimal raise in wages, and some extra vacation time.  I think we all can agree these fall short of the ambition it would take to start a communist revolution.  A good example of this is in the movie Ocean’s 13, during the course of the movie a couple members of the main protagonist party lead a strike at a factory in Mexico, when the main protagonist, Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney), learns of the strike he does what he can to resolve said strike, even offering to pay for the factory to give its workers a raise, when he asks how much that would cost he is given a number in the low hundred-thousands, and at first he assumes that this number is per worker, and would amount to a large total of money, but then he is told that it is total, and it amounts to a minimal amount per worker, he readily agrees to get the factory back up and running.  (Unfortunately I was unable to find this clip on Youtube so you’re stuck with my bad retelling of it).  I understand this is a Hollywood rendition of a strike, but it does a good job of reinforcing my point, the proletariat is not ambitious enough to start a revolution.

So, in short Marx believes that eventually the proletariat will band together and cause a revolution against the bourgeoisie, but I would argue that such a feat is impossible.  The proletarians are nowhere nearly ambitious enough to start a revolution, and even when they do the next best thing, striking, they are often satisfied by their bosses waving a few extra dollars in front of their face.

2 Comments
  1. yequan permalink
    December 8, 2010 10:50 PM

    I agree with your conclusion that the proletarians can hardly repel, and most of the times, I just see working fighting against inequality through strike. Marx believes that the downfall of Capitalism is inevitable because the proletarians will eventually repel and take control of power, however, workers who refuse to continue working have no source of income. Then, probably they may engage in some illegal activities. There are not enough man wish lose their jobs and start a revolution.

  2. December 9, 2010 3:52 PM

    Wow, one of the first sensible arguments I’ve read in a while. I 100% agree with your statements. We (U.S.) live in a society that is constantly becoming more capitalistic and more involved in the progression of globalization. I believe we have reached a point that is essentially irreversible. We are in no condition to simply un-do the changes we have made throughout history. The United States is not simply a symbol of global power, instead, it is also a symbol of a flourishing economy, and a unstoppable force. Capitalism has its certainly has its draw-backs but it also has its intrinsic success. It may not be fair. It may not promote total equality. However, we are the super power of the world and we can credit that to our economic system. Moreover, like you said, if we ever reached a point of immense tension between the bourgeois and the proletariat, and the reality of a revolution was present, the bourgeois would go to considerable lengths to preserve a capitalist society. So, even in the worst possible scenario, The proletariat would have their demands met. Also, people today, like u stated, do not have the ambition or time to be a part of a revolution. People are far too concerned with making ends meet and providing basic essentials for their families. A communist revolution is simply unrealistic–simple as that.

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