100% Prole

Von Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo Quarto Stato

Some radical leftist theorists have suggested that to fully understand the plight of the proletariat (if we grant that there is such a thing, but this is the first sentence: let's not get too tangled just yet!) it is necessary to be among their number. Some have plainly stated that it is impossible for any other person (i.e. the bourgeoisie) to attain true knowledge of the state of proletarians.

Here are two examples of such an assertion; one in the realm of grand theory, the other applied to the sport of boxing. The first is from Georg Lukács and the second is more recently from sports sociologists Ingham & Hardy.
"The knowledge yielded by the standpoint of the proletariat stands on a higher plane objectively: it does after all apply a method that makes possible the solution of problems which the greatest thinkers of the bourgeois era have vainly struggled to find and, in its substance, it provides the adequate historical analysis of capitalism, which must remain beyond the grasp of bourgeois thinkers." (Lukács 1979, italics mine) 
"In boxing too, gambling and brute force retained links to traditional forms of male status that the bourgeois critics could never understand" (Ingham & Hardy 1993, italics mine)
It was in fact this second quote, which I read a few months back that first jumped out at me. How strangely it is worded. There is nothing concealed or nuanced in the sentence: if you're a part of the bourgeoisie you are incapable, no matter your efforts, of ever understanding the status of the proletarian. I stored it away and moved on, until I encountered the first quote from Lukács in a recent book by English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton.

A Bourgeois Blindness?

What strikes me as being rather peculiar is that such arguments have been built on the philosophies of men such as those following.

In selecting these individuals I run a historical line from German rational philosophy through the advent of Marxism up to the writers of the highly influential Frankfurt School. I do so without suggesting that they were all in agreement on all matters, but rather that there is a clear lineage.

I'm bringing Feuerbach.
Ludwig Feuerbach, writer of The Essence of Christianity, high priest (so to speak) of materialism, and major influence on Marx and Engels, was the son of a distinguished jurist (who was knighted for his part in modernising the Bavarian penal code). His brother was a classical archaeologist and his nephew a neo-classical painter [1]. Ludwig Feuerbach matriculated from the University of Heidelberg in 1823.

Karl Marx, was born into a middle-class Jewish family. His father was a lawyer, and both sides of the family had rabbinical ancestry. The family owned several vineyards. Marx married into the Prussian ruling class when he married baroness Jenny von Westphalen in 1843. The Westphalens helped bankroll Marx's early career, while Friedrich Engels picked up the tab later on.

Friedrich Engels was the firstborn son of a successful Protestant textile manufacturer. Engels worked, at various periods through his life for the family firm eventually becoming partner. He sold up in 1869, with enough to retire comfortably (as well as fund Marx's work). [2]

The Frankfurt School, or officially the Institute for Social Research, was founded in 1923 (unsurprisingly in Frankfurt, Germany) with the aid of money from Felix Weil's wealthy father, who had made his fortune through exporting grain from Argentina to Europe [3] Several key leftist theorists of the 20th century have been a part of - or at least closely linked with - the Institute.

Lukacs: the other Red Baron?
Max Horkheimer was the Director of the Frankfurt School from 1930. He was the son of a millionaire father who owned several textile factories and a 'traditional bourgeois housewife' mother from a 'very well-to-do' family. He attended dance classes as a teenager; a key part of his socialisation into a rigid German social structure, and would write plays and novellas in his spare time. (see Abromeit 2011).

Baron (yep, Baron) Georg Lukács was a Hungarian philosopher from the Frankfurt School who produced the foundations for 'Western Marxism'. He was the son of an investment banker, who wrote theatre reviews for the local press as a high school student. [4]

Theodor Adorno, who, in 1955, succeeded Horkheimer as Director of the Institute, was a classically trained pianist and son of 'relatively affluent' parents: his mother was a singer and his father, a successful wine-exporter. [5]

What, then?

Where does this veritable pantheon of decidedly bourgeois individuals leave us? We mustn't forget that, in Lukács' own words...
"the adequate historical analysis of capitalism...must remain beyond the grasp of bourgeois thinkers."


Lukács, G. (1979 [1923]) History and Class Consciousness. 

Abromeit, J. (2011) Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge

Ingham, A. G. & Hardy, S. (1993) Introduction: Sports Studies Through the Lens of Raymond Williams. In Ingham & Loy (eds) Sport in Social Development. Human Kinetics, Champaign.

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