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New Left Review I/179, January-February 1990

Giovanni Arrighi

Marxist Century, American Century: The Making and Remaking of the World Labour Movement

In the closing paragraphs of the first section of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels advance two distinct arguments why the rule of the bourgeoisie will come to an end. [*] This article will be published as chapter two of S. Amin, G. Arrighi, A.G. Frank and I. Wallerstein, Transforming the Revolution: Social Movements and the World System, Monthly Review Press, New York 199o. I am indebted to Terence K. Hopkins and Beverly J. Silver for comments and criticisms on earlier drafts of this chapter. On the one hand, the bourgeoisie ‘is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within its slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society cannot live under this bourgeoisie; in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.’ On the other hand: ‘The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.’ [1] Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Harmondsworth 1967, pp. 93–94. It will be my thesis here that these two predictions represent both the strength and the weakness of the Marxian legacy. They represent its strength because they have been validated in many crucial respects by fundamental trends of the capitalist world-economy in the subsequent 140 years. And they represent its weakness because the two scenarios are in partial contradiction with each other and—what is more—the contradiction has lived on unresolved in the theories and practices of Marx’s followers.

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Giovanni Arrighi, ‘Marxist Century, American Century: The Making and Remaking of the World Labour Movement’, NLR I/179: £3

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