B. The working class? The "proletariat"? Ha! That is the best example of the falseness and foolishness running through your pretended "objectivity" and the allegedly "scientific" character of your Marxist socialism! Your view of the working class is absurd.
A. Someone, John Maynard Keynes, I think it was, once asked why he should look to the social equivalent of mud, the working class, as saviour against the educated ruling classes. Why should he look for social salvation to the most ignorant, the least accomplished, the least able class in the society - to its human beasts of burden? To its "vocal tools" (as the ancient Romans described their slaves)?
B. Why indeed? You want a solution to what you call the economic and social contradictions of capitalism - and you make it a precondition of that solution that your proles should first, within this society, rise above it, above the best educated in the society. It is absurd. It is rank sentimentality - or transmuted Christianity, with its cult of the humble - on the part of middle-class socialists. In working-class socialists like you it is ridiculous narcissism. Socialists from working-class backgrounds, above all, should know better. Working-class quiescence now shows that most workers know it too.
A. Yes, the unreadiness of the working class to do in history what it alone can do is one of the basic contradictions in advanced - not to say senile! - capitalist society. We have to overcome it if society is to go forward. Other solutions, reactionary, regressive, ruinous solutions, are possible too. The Thatcherite solution was possible from the 1980s because of the political failure of the powerful working class movement of the 1970s to settle accounts, properly and finally, with the ruling class.
B. Looking to the working class is whimsical and arbitrary. It shows up the hopelessness of the socialism you espouse. That is your version of what in others you call utopian socialism. It is deeply senseless and foolish. Look at the history of the 20th century, for Christ's sake!
A. A lot less absurd than looking to the ruling class, as you do, like the snob Keynes, if you should want to change anything. To those who as a social group are tied, hand, foot, mind, and morality, to the existing system? Those who have in the 20th century resorted to Hitler, Mussolini, Peron, Chiang Kai Shek, Pinochet, and all their many similars, to stop the workers reorganising society? That strikes me as the ultimate foolishness. That is the real equivalent of the utopian romantic socialists of the early 19th century, such as the immensely great Robert Owen in Britain, appealing to the upper classes and the rich to rescue the wage slaves of capitalism and create a fair society. That is, by expropriating their class and themselves - collectively cutting their own throats. Or of the confused post-Trotsky neo-Trotskyists who in "open letters" appealed at various times in the 20th century to Stalinist dictators like Mao and Tito to abolish Stalinist rule, or to "democratise" it, which, for them, would mean the same thing as abolishing it.
B. Exactly! That is why socialism is an impossibility, an ever-shifting mirage.
A. The ruling class as a class - or its majority, or even a sizeable minority of it - will never want, initiate, or peacefully agree to an egalitarian reorganisation of society. There is an impassable barrier to that: deep-rooted self-interest. There is no such barrier to the working class wanting it. And eventually winning it, by defeating the ruling class. Not only is there no objective barrier. There is a strong incentive for working-class people to want socialism. Leaving aside maybe sections of society that have been pauperised and pushed into long-term unemployment, the working class finds no class in society lower than itself. It can exploit no-one. It must own the means of production in order to emancipate itself from the position of a class forced to sell its labour-power in order to exist. It can only own the means of production collectively - and, therefore, only democratically - because it has no way to own and administer except to do it collectively. The barriers to the working class achieving this are many. It must first come to understand the need for it and think it possible to win - that is, it must break through the domination in its minds of the ideas of the ruling class and the habit of seeing capitalist society as normal and the only possible system. It must organise and educate itself, and defeat the ruling class - a ruling class armed as it always is with every sort of weapon, from propaganda and brainwashing to the regular armies of the bourgeois state and, in acute crises, its auxiliary shock troops such as fascist thugs.
B. A tall order! An impossibility, in fact.
A. A tall order indeed! But it is not an impossibility, like the idea of the capitalist class transforming capitalism into a system without its chronic contradictions is. It can be done. That isn't just blind faith or socialist wish-thinking. We know for sure that it can be done because it has been done, most importantly in Russia in 1917.
The fundamental fact of capitalism is that it exploits the workers. The workers, in the process of working for a wage, create new value greater than the cost of their wage. This so-named "surplus value" becomes the property of the capitalist who controls the enterprise. That happens whether the worker receives high or low wages. The worker is robbed.
In turn, the capitalists are forced to compete with each other to squeeze and grind as much surplus as possible out of the workers. The most successful can grow, re-equip, and make themselves more profitable. Those who fall behind in competition are gobbled up by their successful competitors.
B. That's too fatalistic and too cynical. Even the worst people, and I don't say that they are, can be reformed. Bad systems can be reformed. The Britain we have was shaped by many reforms.
A. Reforms forced through by the revolt or pressure of the working people - for instance the revolt that created the Labour landslide in 1945, from which came the modern welfare state. That didn't come from the pure good will of the capitalist rulers, though a lot of bourgeois people had had their opposition to radical reform undermined by experience in the two World Wars (and thus you got pre-Thatcher "One Nation Toryism"). No matter how good-willed or good-intentioned a capitalist may be, or would like to be, he or she is locked into this competitive system. The rule is: exploit, accumulate wealth, expand - or die. Be predator or prey. The profit drive is therefore the all-controlling mainspring, regulator, and determinant in the system. That will remain so until conscious, democratic, overall planning replaces profit and competition as the mainspring - until the workers who are now the basic exploited class take collective ownership and substitute free cooperation for "wage slavery". Capitalist exploitation also, by its very nature, integrates workers into large collective workforces; generates constant conflicts between workers and capitalists over working hours, pay, and conditions; and pushes workers towards organising for those conflicts. We educate ourselves about politics and society in the process.
B. That credo of unreconstructed socialists and Marxists like you - the stupid fetish of the working class - is a self-stupefying, brain-pickling dogma! I repeat: it is simply absurd.
A. And what is your unwillingness to see the working class as it really is in history? It is a great history of day-to-day struggle, heroic drives to build trade unions, general strikes, insurrections. Of course, there are also periods, sometimes long periods, of working-class passivity in the aftermath of defeats and pyrrhic victories - that is, seeming, but unreal and empty, victories like the one we won over the Tories in the mid-70s, only to have the Labour government we put into office demobilise the working-class movement and thus clear the way for Thatcher and her demolition-squad Toryism.
B. Defeated, or part-defeated, always. Always. Yes! For ever and ever, amen. Good!
A. Yes. Defeats go with the territory. Rosa Luxemburg spoke the truth when she summed it up. The socialist revolution "is the only form of 'war'... in which the ultimate victory can be prepared only by a series of 'defeats'. What does the entire history of socialism and of all modern revolutions show us? The first spark of class struggle in Europe, the revolt of the silk weavers in Lyon in 1831, ended with a heavy defeat; the Chartist movement in Britain ended in defeat; the uprising of the Parisian proletariat in the June days of 1848 ended with a crushing defeat; and the Paris Commune ended with a terrible defeat.
"The whole road of socialism - so far as revolutionary struggles are concerned - is paved with nothing but thunderous defeats. Yet, at the same time, history marches inexorably, step by step, toward final victory! Where would we be today without those 'defeats', from which we draw historical experience, understanding, power and idealism?... We stand on the foundation of those very defeats; and we can not do without any of them, because each one contributes to our strength and understanding".
B. She should know, with her poor silly head smashed in!
A. She knew it from the history of the workers' movement. We know it from history, including the defeat of the German communists in 1919 and the murder of Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Jogiches, and thousands of others. We know it from the defeat of the Bolsheviks and the working class in Russia by the Stalinist counter-revolution. Class-struggle socialists, who try to be the memory of the working class, know it all too well. There is no denying that the working class and its political movements have to operate under very unfavourable conditions.
B. Against an insuperable enemy!
A. Not an insuperable enemy. A formidable, strong, tenacious, resourceful, unscrupulous enemy, which has enormous built-in advantages, great political guile, and immense reserves of strength. That enemy has all the wealth. It has control of the propaganda and education machines in society. It has the power and wealth to buy over some of our people. I think it was the Liberal Imperialist Joseph Chamberlain who sneered to the Fabian Beatrice Webb, about working-class trade-union and political leaders: "You train them, and we'll buy them".
B. Exactly! Your whole project is hopeless and ridiculous. You are hypnotising yourself! Look around you! All around you is the evidence of working-class defeat and indifference - sensible indifference! - to your message and your cause. You believe far more preposterous things than the Christians, Muslims, Jews and other such self-hypnotising addicts of religious fairy stories for grown-ups, whom you mock and deride. You believe that a too-often defeated class can be victorious at some unknown future time. That is a tall tale for immature adults who can't come to terms with social reality. The future belongs to the working class? Yes, and the dead will get up and walk the streets on an appointed day! And the trumpet will sound to announce the imminence of the kingdom of God on earth! You believe in miracles.
A. Not quite. There is a rational basis for our "miracles". Dead men and women don't get up and walk. In society, defeated classes do rise again.
In all societies and in all history, the basic exploited class revolts. Revolts again and again. In our history, the working class has risen from defeat again and again and again. That is the other side of the defeats. Every victory of the bourgeoisie is incomplete. It can't win outright, because it needs to preserve the working class to do the work. Even while British capitalism was defeating the British working class in the 1980s, capitalism was vastly increasing the number of workers in other areas of the world. Capitalism creates its own legions of gravediggers - the proletariat.
B. It is its own grave that the "proletariat" digs! Again and again and again. And a good thing too!
A. Don't let that wish father foolish thoughts on you! The long history of the working class, of its defeats, its declines, and its revivals, shows us what will happen in the future, though not of course in exact detail. It is sure and certain that working-class struggle will revive and rise much higher than it is now. The working-class socialist movement will revive. Everything in history shows us that it will. Why? Because capitalism can live only by exploiting the "labour force", and workers fight back, if only on a trade-union level at first. There are many working-class struggles around the world now. We, the working-class socialists, will build new working-class political parties, on the foundations of working-class struggle and of the lessons of our history.
B. Yeah, and Atlantis will rise again! And you will get sense...
A. The Atlantis of legend never existed. But even the legends offer us good advice... Atlantis was where the Minoan civilisation of Crete and Homeric Greece was supposed to have come from, borne by survivors - as socialists now bear socialist culture and historical awareness for the future.
B. Minoan socialism! Not "scientific" socialism, but myth-mounted socialism! A socialist Theseus lost in the capitalist maze! I like it.
A. The history of working-class mobilisation, struggle, sustained effort, prolonged resistance, outright revolt - that is neither myth nor merely legend! It could be argued, on the basis of the numerous working-class revolts in history, back to the seizure of the city of Lyons in 1831 and beyond, that the working class has a will to power, albeit a fluctuating one.
B. There may have been big, threatening, socialist movements in the past, but you can't win now.
A. We'll see. Naturally I have no guarantees to offer to you, or to those attracted to socialism, about exactly when the working class will revive, or when or where it will next be victorious.
And I am not saying that we should wait for the working class to revive on a world scale before we can do anything. I do say that the full solution - the creation of a world-wide democratically-planned economy controlled by those who work it - can only be achieved by the working class. Humankind will not sink into passive acceptance of injustice, inequality, and rampant rule-by-the-rich. Beyond that, it is a fight; right now, a battle on what someone called "the ideological front" (as distinct from the political and economic fronts of the class struggle).
The one thing that is certain is that the working-class struggle on its lower or higher levels will go on, as it is going on now - and that serious socialists will work to help those fighting in that struggle to find their way through the political and ideological mazes of capitalism.
B. The fact that you admit that you can offer no guarantees shows how confident you really are in your expectations and predictions.
A. It shows that I know the limits of my own or anyone else's power to predict in detail, to know in advance the strength of our enemies, the obstacles we must overcome, the complexities and intractabilities of history. And, therefore, that I am not a charlatan or a megalomaniac.
B. Are you sure? But, really, look at the historical record. When you demand, as you do, miraculous changes in attitudes and moralities - and first of all from the wretched "proletariat" - is it any wonder that socialists have not succeeded?
A. It is not a matter of miracles. We build on what already exists in society and in the working class. Inside capitalism, the labour movement has always been and is now a repository of values other than those of the surrounding society - of the values of class and human solidarity. Characteristically we have argued, for example, for changing environments that produce crime rather than severely punishing criminals. Trade unions fight the capitalists for a better share of what the workers produce, or to stop the workers' share being diminished. They fight on bread-and-butter questions to benefit the workers. But in the trade unions you will also find tremendous stores of benevolence, altruism, fellow-feeling, selfless devotion to the common good. Workers sacrifice wages to their spirit of solidarity with other workers. The drive to change things for the better triggered by the elemental "trade union" struggle over the effects of capitalism tends to nourish the manifold values of solidarity. Not perfectly and instantly; but the contrast between the labour movement and the society around it is always one between greater civilisation, greater humanity, greater solidarity, and a more predatory culture. We build on that, just as we build our perspective on the inner logic of capitalism's own development.
B. You want it to be so, that I understand. What you want is impossible. Foolishness! Dreaming! Dangerous dreaming that might again damage what we have now.
A. Only those who actively and perseveringly want such changes can bring them about. But the fact that such things have happened before is a proof that they can be made to happen again. Because mass socialist labour movements have been built before, they can be built again. Or, putting it at its weakest, there is no absolute reason why such movements can't be built again, in conditions which have changed in many ways but are the same in fundamentals - capitalist exploitation; working-class resistance to it; the socialising drives, tendencies, and needs of capital itself, and the educational work of socialists.
Labour movements can be, and, I say, will be again converted to socialism, which is the natural expression of what the working class is, and the necessary negation of the capitalist class and its system.
B. Those mass socialist labour movements were crushed and defeated. You know that. They have gone the way that other such would-be benevolent schemes have gone. All in all, I say that is a good thing.
A. What hasn't "gone" is capitalism, its modes of operating, and the effects it produces in working-class people. It is capitalism that breeds socialism! In the socialist seeding time is the class struggle. The wolves running wild in society evoke class and human solidarity in self-protection and in revolt and revulsion against them and their wolvish system.
B. It is easy to say all that. It has no purchase on reality.
A. No? Take the experience of the Labour Party. At its best it was a reform-socialist party. The Blair-Brown coup of 1994, backed by some union leaders, made the Labour Party a neo-Thatcherite party. It ruled as a neo-Thatcherite party from 1997 to 2010. Since 2015 it has revived as a party of the working class and of reform socialism. British politics is being transformed. We have a long way to go yet. We may experience setbacks. But Labour could change, "miraculously", because vast numbers of people felt the need for it. Revolutionary socialism will revive, too.
A. People have motivations for action other than crude direct self-interest, certainly motivations other than monetary self-interest. Motives of class, social, and human solidarity, of doing good to other people, of benign sharing and being shared with, of being part of a benign collective, and simply of being a decent human being.
In Britain before Thatcher you used to see that a lot in industrial disputes. Workers would lose wages rather than cross a picket line, that is, rather than sabotage other workers in their efforts to better themselves. More than once, other workers, coal-miners for instance, struck on behalf of hospital workers who were inhibited in taking action by the dependence on them of sick people.
You see that spirit in people responding to accidents and to the needs of accident victims. In war, people often sacrifice themselves for their comrades. You still see that spirit in industrial disputes now.
B. These are all atypical, extreme, freakish cases. The norm is what you denounce as the epitome of capitalism: enlightened self-interest.
A. In the most thoroughly capitalist-minded society in the world, the USA, between 25% and 30% of all people over 16 do organised voluntary work, a total of eight billion hours a year, and over 75% of them do informal voluntary work to help neighbours or friends.
B. God, what a stupid sentimentalist you are!
A. Am I? Isn't it that you are a stupid misanthrope? That you have a perversely one-sided idea of the nature of human beings and of our possibilities? Here it is a question of the way real people behave, as distinct from your malign model of all-consuming selfishness. What you are saying is a libel on humankind. Your attitude to humankind is bred in you by the worst aspects of present-day human society. You are psychologically maimed, though you'd be the last to know it.
B. Bred in me by the realities of the world as it is, always has been, and always will be. And your attitudes and ideals? Bred in you, most likely, by over-indulgent parents!
A. And you? I bet you were beaten, sent to bed without your supper, and locked in dark cupboards! Your parents probably gave you stingy pocket money and then made you pay for the meals you ate in their internal-market family economy! Probably charged you separately for the use of a corner of their table and the chair you sat on. And for the use of cutlery and condiments!
B. At least I didn't grow up wet with sticky, false sentimentality.
A. Certainly the culture we live in, and the ideals and heroes held up to society, are nearly all now of the predator-or-prey, the be-the-hammer-or-be-the-anvil type you describe. That can change. In fact it can change quickly. Take an example from working-class history: the port workers, dockers.
B. Must we?
A. Ships come, discharge their cargo, load another cargo, and go. There is no continuity of work in such conditions. For a long time, thousands of years, I guess, gangs of dock workers would be sent when needed to hump cargo on and off ships. Entry into the work was unregulated. Anyone could turn up for a job on the docks. It was a buyer's market in labour. Workers would compete with each other to get hired for half a day's work. They would crowd around the hiring foreman, and sometimes fight each other for preference. The big and burly men could push the weaker men aside. The foremen would pay wages in pubs - getting a cut from the landlords for it - so men would drink there. It was the social Darwinist's dream, or nightmare - a world of dog-eat-dog individualism and the survival of the strongest. The weakest went down and were trampled, sometimes literally trampled, underfoot. The men were wolves fighting wolves, dogs fighting dogs, for scraps. Then at the end of the 1880s the British dockers formed a union, with the help of socialists like Tom Mann and John Burns, who were not dockers but skilled engineers, and Eleanor Marx. Dockers still competed with dockers for jobs, but the docks were radically transformed, from a system and an ethos of every-man-for-himself to an all-shaping culture of working-class solidarity. The dockers learned the power they had when they stood together, and how much better it was when each docker looked out for himself by looking out for the others too.
B. Holding the country to ransom! In fact, being pig-selfish.
A. You, who lauded capitalist greed a moment ago, think you can now denounce "pig-selfishness" in workers fighting for a living wage!
B. I detest your sentimentalism, your idealisation of the lower depths of society.
A. And I detest your snobbery! Your ridiculous self-blinding snobbery. A Royal Commission of inquiry on the ports in 1965 reported that dockers' solidarity was such that it only needed one docker running down a quay on which a line of ships were being worked, shouting the news that men on one ship, or in one warehouse, had a grievance and had stopped work, and all the others would come out in solidarity. That was the truth.
A generation or so after the 1889 docks strike and the start of unionisation, the old culture had been turned upside down and inside out. Dockers used solidarity as a weapon in the never-ending strife with the bosses, and learned to hold up social solidarity as a socialist ideal to work for in politics.
As a dockworker in the 1960s, I saw and took part in things that have sustained my belief in the working class, and what it can and will do, through decades of working-class defeat and retreat.
B. Shhh… Don't boast about your own stupidity! Your point in the here and now is what? That culture, if it really was as you say, has vanished. It doesn't exist any more. It didn't have much vitality then, did it?
A. It had great vitality. We were defeated, after big and prolonged conflicts.
B. Good! In any case, that culture proved unviable, again and again.
A. Or take the town labourers in my home town, Ennis, in the west of Ireland. In this farmers' market town which was also the administrative centre of County Clare, a place with schools and colleges and many teachers, priests and nuns, the town labourers were dirt. We lived in what were officially and routinely, in County Medical Officers' reports, called "hovels". Many were illiterate. They were semi-outcasts to be hired as needed and then jettisoned to their regular condition of being half-starved. They relied for survival on big extended families that cared and shared for each other. And then, learning I guess from the example of the tenant farmers' "trade union", the Land League, they organised a trade union, a one-town union five or six hundred strong. Soon the labourers, banded together, showed that solidarism can replace dog-eat-dog-ism. They stood by each other - walked off jobs they sorely needed to act in support of their fellow trade unionists. It was very like the culture on the docks. It was magnificent.
B. Mugs! At best a small footnote to history.
A. It was like that in other, similar, towns, such as Kilrush, for example. That sort of working-class solidarity had tremendous vitality, and, in many places and over spans of many decades.
B. What happened to it?
A. In Ennis, World War 2 pulled the labourers to migrate. In the ports, there was a radical technological revolution. Giant containers were loaded away from the docks and delivered there ready to be moved by cranes from the trucks or railway wagons to the ships. Incoming containers were lifted off ships by cranes to lorries or railway wagons. That was the precondition for everything. The tremendously militant dockers were defeated by bosses' governments, Labour as well as Conservative. So was the whole working class defeated in the 1980s. The class struggle sometimes boils up, sometimes subsides from exhaustion, or after working-class defeat. But the class struggle is a fundamental fact of social life. It always exists, at a higher level or at a lower. It always revives after defeats. The impulse to working-class solidarity is there still. It will make itself felt again.
B. They were beaten - and what makes you think they won't always be beaten? I've heard and read about the way things were in Britain before Margaret Thatcher came to power - the so-named "Winter of Discontent". Striking dust-cart workers and striking gravediggers left rubbish piled in the streets and dead bodies unburied. Those workers deserved what they got from Thatcher! She saved Britain from the wreckers.
A. Yes. She and her government had to wreck Britain in order to save it from the trade-unionist "wreckers"! A real heroine, that one. By the way, the "unburied bodies" is Tory spin-liar stuff, with a slim basis of fact.
B. In any case, your cherished working class is diminishing. It is now too weak to revolutionise society or anything else.
A. The opposite is true. Now is probably the first time in history that the wage-workers and their immediate families are the largest class in the population of the world.
According to the International Labour Organisation, the world's waged workforce increased from 0.9 billion in 1991 to 1.7 billion in 2014. Even though a large number of those, in the poorer countries, are "semi-proletarians", who scrape a living by varying combinations of petty trade, self-employment, theft, begging, domestic work, and straightforward wage-work, the actual number of wage-workers has increased sharply.
B. But that's not the real working class, manual workers in factories.
A. Your idea of "working class" is far too narrow. The working class is not only manual workers. It never has been. What defines workers is their relation to capital. This is how Marx put it: "With the development of... the specifically capitalist mode of production, the real lever of the overall labour process is increasingly not the individual worker. Instead, labour-power socially combined and the various competing labour-powers which together form the entire production machine participate in very different ways... one as a manager [Marx means a low-level administrator or organiser], engineer, technologist, etc., the other as overseer, the third as manual labourer or even drudge... It is quite immaterial whether the job of a particular worker, who is merely a limb of this aggregate worker, is at a greater or smaller distance from the actual manual labour".
B. Teachers, technicians, and so on - they're middle class.
A. No, they are part of the working class.
B. Most of them would say you are wrong.
A. Most manual workers in the USA call themselves "middle class". Such labels don't change their place in the economy, or the way they relate to the hirer of their labour-power, the capitalist. Whatever they choose to call themselves, they are what Marx called the proletariat. They are working-class.
B. A "class" as diverse as the working class now is can never unite. Inequalities in wages and living standards have increased since the early 1980s within the working class as well as between the working class and the capitalist class.
A. That diversity is not new either, though of course you'll believe what you want to believe. Inequalities within the working class were large in Marx's day too. The central divide remains the one between the working class and the capitalist class. That is not diminishing!
B. Better-off workers share more with what you call the petty bourgeoisie than with the working class. The worse-off workers are a minority in society. Any politics which appeals only to them cannot succeed. And in any case your socialist ideas have little support even among them.
A. We don't confine our appeal to the worst-off sections of the working class. Or even only to the working class. A mass socialist labour movement would have a wider appeal, even beyond the working class properly defined. You are also mistaken in your sociology of the working class. There is a fundamental difference between better-off workers and the "petty bourgeoisie". You can see it in the fact that the small business owner or the "middle manager" votes much more right-wing than the teacher or nurse well up on their pay scale.
B. You are flamming to yourself, fooling yourself, using political voting allegiances instead of the proper economic and social criteria.
A. The social and economic difference between better-off workers and the petty bourgeoisie remains enormous. For instance, in times of higher class struggle, the well-off workers are drawn into (and quite often they lead) the general workers' struggle; the petty bourgeois are still petty bourgeois.
B. The relative decline of factory labour cuts away what you see as the revolutionary potential of the working class.
A. It does not cut it away, though it may relocate it to a certain extent. Certain sections of the working class have greater strategic weight than others: those who directly produce the bulk of socially-useful products, those who can hit capital hardest, those who are concentrated in big workplaces and large cities, those most bitterly hurt by capitalist exploitation. Shop-floor workers in factories and in extractive industry are central - but also warehouse workers, goods-transport workers, and those in such sectors as post and telecom, and maybe even bank workers or teachers. The factory working class is still much larger than in Marx's or Lenin's day. It has expanded fast on a world scale in recent decades, even though it shrank a bit in the older industrial countries, and has now begun to shrink in new industrial countries too.
B. It is not what Marx expected to happen, is it?
A. Isn't it? Your Marx is a "Marx" for the superficial and shoddy polemicist. You are simply wrong to think that Marx saw a population almost all made up of factory workers. Marx's own analysis of the English census of 1861 showed only 1.7 million workers in factories, mines, gasworks, and railways, out of a population of 20 million.
B. Yes, but Marx saw the numbers of industrial workers as increasing, and they did up to, say, World War One. Not now.
A. In Germany, the country Marxists cited as the epitome of high capitalist development around World War One, 34% of the labour force were self-employed or working for their families. Capitalist society is more "proletarianised" now than then in the fundamental sense of the proportion of people drawn into the capital-labour nexus, who live by selling their labour-power.
B. But students are middle-class!
A. Even here you are wrong. It is no longer accurate to call students, as a social category, "middle class". Many of them come from working-class families (usually better-off), and will go into (usually better-paid) wage-labour on finishing their studies. Students are a fluid social group without clear class anchoring. They can be a vital leaven for democratic struggles and even sometimes for socialist struggles.