Once upon a time, in the days of the struggle for civil rights and war against the war, in the late 1960s, I had a friend, a colleague (who will remain unnamed), a professor who taught in the humanities. At about my age--that is, my age today--he fell in love with one of his students, a twenty year-old radical hippy who, unlike most other flower children, was politically motivated. To impress the object of his devotion, he studied the technology of explosives, and planted some bombs--maybe no more than a single one--in front of an army recruiting station.
The device did not explode, but it was found and traced to my colleague, who was arrested, tried and sentenced to many years in jail. I don't know what happened to his beloved. Probably nothing, this was before the days of Viagra.
Far be for me to poke fun at my former colleague, the love story is perfectly understandable, albeit inexcusable; rather, I mention him to refer to his theory, namely the class struggle on a global scale, and to place this theory in its historical and psychological context. Indeed, the theory is vulnerable, and I will point out my perception of its weaknesses, because it behooves the student of history, the student of the social sciences (which is how I identify my calling in life), to argue against himself.
According to a vulgar interpretation of Marx and Engels, based in part on their Manifesto, world history is an amphitheater in time and space where contending social classes struggle for domination--the have-nots against the haves, the haves against the have-nots. More precisely, the "history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles." (1) In contemporary times, or at least in the days of Marx and Engels, around 1848, the classes confronting each other were mainly the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
Nowadays Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and V. 1. Lenin are out of favor with academics, whereas the working class appears to lack even the rudiments of class consciousness in many places. Hence it seems okay to mention their names and their theories without running the risk of being blacklisted or white-listed, since their theories are considered innocuous enough. Even in the 1960s and 1970s--during the Civil Rights movement and the war in Vietnam, when they were taken more seriously--and viewed as dangerous by the establishment, the simplification was already apparent. After all, Marx and Engels reduced the history of the world--a course I teach regularly over two entire semesters, and my own reductions are already absurd enough--to a single paragraph of less than seven lines. (2) As Isaiah Berlin noted, the victory of the proletariat would in any case be secured by history, "but human courage, determination and ingenuity could bring it nearer and make the transition less painful, accompanied by less friction and less waste of human substance." (3)
It did not take long before the proletariat, more a social product of the industrial revolution than the bourgeoisie, was itself overtaken by the white collar the service or tertiary sector, which outnumbered the blue-collar industrial workers by far, at least in the United States. (4) The lines separating the strata of managers, employers, bosses, compradores were no longer clearly visible, if they ever had been. Moreover, the ruling class was intelligent enough to read Marx and Lenin, or at least acquired sufficient awareness of Marxist generalizations, and adopted preventive measures, even when it was not convinced of the validity of these generalizations.
There was a line that was more...