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Monday, 13 February 2012

The proletariat is the working class but the working class are not the proletariat

The significance of all this for my current argument is simply that the individual proletarian is an assemblage and an event, a life, that is composed of, and with, the society, the economic structure and the collectives of which he or she is a part. He or she is a part of them; they are a part of him or her. She is her membership of the proletariat; the proletariat is what it is in part because of her membership of it. There is no opposition between the individual and the collective. The proletariat is itself an individuation as an event that becomes through the individuals that compose it who are themselves, along every trajectory, events and collective assemblages. 
However, it also needs to be understood that the event that is the proletariat is not a ‘people’, which is a bourgeois concept that suggests a definable collective identity and culture. This is why, at this point in my argument, I am deliberately not using the term ‘working class’; it is perfectly possible to project a working class identity or a working class culture, and I would argue that this is a reactionary project, an argument that is somewhat supported by the (limited) success of the fascist BNP in doing precisely that. It is reactionary because it suggests that workers have a collective identity that is discrete and separable from the wider society and the economic system within which it exists. It is the collective correlative of the individual bourgeois subject. The proletariat, on the other hand, is purely an event composed of the common interests of individual workers within capitalism – their ultimate common interest, as I have already stated, being a surpassing and dissolution of capitalism that would also and simultaneously be the surpassing and dissolution of the proletariat. 
No communist future can be based in the proletariat as such; no communist practice in the present can be based in notions of proletarian identity in the present. The proletariat is immanent to capitalism and will disappear along with it: there will be, there can be, no proletariat in a communist society.
This suggests that the proletariat is the only necessarily revolutionary group in relation to capitalism. Other minoritarian collectives – women, ethnic minorities etc. – can conceivably win full ‘equality’ with men, with white people, with heterosexuals, which is to say that they can be accepted into the majoritarian, within capitalism and without disturbing its fundamental structures. These collectives may have been, and may continue to be, exploited by capitalism but they are not immanent to it. It is, however, utterly inconceivable that the proletariat can gain equality with the bourgeoisie; the idea is absolutely oxymoronic. This is perhaps why Deleuze and Guattari state that ‘The power of minority, of particularity, finds its figure or its universal consciousness in the proletariat.’ The only two courses of action open to the proletariat as such are either amelioration – which might make some workers more comfortable but will leave them in the same subaltern and precarious class position – or the surpassing of capitalism and of the proletariat itself.

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