Terry Eagleton · Indomitable
In 1976, a good many people in the West thought that Marxism had a reasonable case to argue. By 1986, most of them no longer felt that way. What had happened in the meanwhile? Were these people now buried under a pile of toddlers? Had Marxism been unmasked as bogus by some world-shaking new research? Had someone stumbled on a lost manuscript by Marx confessing that it was all a joke?
We are speaking, note, about 1986, a few years before the Soviet bloc crumbled. As Eric Hobsbawm points out in this collection of essays, that wasn’t what caused so many erstwhile believers to bin their Guevara posters. Marxism was already in dire straits some years before the Berlin Wall came down. One reason given was that the traditional agent of Marxist revolution, the working class, had been wiped out by changes to the capitalist system – or at least was no longer in a majority. It is true that the industrial proletariat had dwindled, but Marx himself did not think that the working class was confined to this group. In Capital, he ranks commercial workers on the same level as industrial ones. He was also well aware that by far the largest group of wage labourers in his own day was not the industrial working class but domestic servants, most of whom were women. Marx and his disciples didn’t imagine that the working class could go it alone, without forging alliances with other oppressed groups. And though the industrial proletariat would have a leading role, Marx does not seem to have thought that it had to constitute the social majority in order to play it.