Labor aristocracy

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Workers aristocracy is a term that refers to a sector of the working class that enjoys a better position than the rest of the workers.

The concept of labor aristocracy has been treated by different authors, the most relevant are Lenin, Bakunin and Marcuse. In general terms, it refers to those workers who, for one reason or another, are at the top of the proletariat, thus enjoying a situation of superiority and privilege.

This theory was developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is a concept linked to Marxism. With this, we cannot speak of a working class aristocracy prior to the 19th century, which was when Marx developed one of the most influential ideologies, which would endure to this day.

As we have mentioned, there are several authors who develop and contribute their vision on this concept, with which, we are going to see what each of them says about it.

The labor aristocracy for Mikhail Bakunin

We are going to develop this tour in chronological order, since it seems the most accurate criterion when we talk about concepts that are linked to history. Even more so when they are linked to politics or the world of ideas.

Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th century Russian revolutionary philosopher, was the greatest theorist of anarchism. He is also well known for the great rivalry he had with Marx, a product of differences about the revolution, its forms and how the supposed post-revolutionary state should be.

For Bakunin, the labor aristocracy designated a collective negatively. He was referring to those workers who made up the vanguard of the proletariat. Those who, by being more prepared, acquired positions of advantage over the rest. For Marx and his followers of the time, the workers had to organize and be led by those most prepared. The anarchist author criticizes this idea, since anarchism is an ideology that does not recognize any type of power structure.

The labor aristocracy for Lenin

For Lenin, a Russian revolutionary and theorist, instigator of the Russian Revolution and founder of the USSR, the term "labor aristocracy" had a different meaning from that previously criticized by Bakunin.

Lenin did believe that the workers' state had to be headed by the most prepared and qualified proletarians, since in some way the state apparatus had to be organized and this seemed to him the most just way. He called it the vanguard of the proletariat.

But it is in his work The imperialism, the highest phase of capitalism, where he mentions the concept that concerns us here. He uses it in relation to colonialism and imperialism.

For Lenin, the labor aristocracy is made up of workers who enjoy privileges over the rest, but how does this happen? Through the exploitation of the country that owns the colony of the inhabitants and the resources of the colony itself. In other words, the parent country affects the surplus value generated in the colonies on the nation's workers. Thus, these workers enjoy better conditions, dissuading themselves from carrying out revolutionary practices. And, worse still, in the permanent conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, these workers are in favor of the former, since they allow them to have a better position.

Lenin calls this practice the corruption of the labor aristocracy.

The labor aristocracy for Marcuse

Herbert Marcuse was a German sociologist and teacher with American nationality, part of the first generation of the Frankfurt school.

This was composed of a group of Marxist thinkers, very critical of many more contemporary ideologies and problems. Since the advances of the twentieth century with respect to the nineteenth were very remarkable, even more so after the Second World War.

Marcuse, in Industrial society and Marxism, collects the criticism he makes of the Leninist theory that this labor aristocracy is made up of a small number of people. For the author, a connoisseur of North American society, the advances of capitalism have extended this position of privilege and accommodation to most of the organized workers. Furthermore, this situation deters them from becoming class conscious and carrying out the revolution.

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