The Extinction of the External Proletariat
22 May 2011
A few days ago in Rebalancing: Globalization’s Game of Musical Chairs I suggested that the gradually global unfolding of the Industrial Revolution could eventually culminate in industrialization achieving global totality. In that post I wrote:
“With each stage in the development of industrialization, industries will have renewed incentive to move their production facilities, and so the game of global musical chairs will continue until the entire world is industrialized… when globalization and industrialization have reached a point of totality on the earth, and the industrial revolution is nearly a half millennium old, that there will be forces at work in the global economy that no one can predict today, and therefore nothing will happen as Marx (or anyone else) predicted, and therefore Marxism will never really be faced with its experimentum crusis in its pure form.”
This implies that there is a kind of natural teleology involved in industrialization, or, at very least, that industrialization is an iterable process that can be repeated in any and all regions of the world. This in turn implies that industrialization is a very different kind of historical process than, for example, a culture or a civilization. As we have see over the last hundred years, any civilization can pursue industrialization, and while there is a homogenizing effect, these civilizations remain distinct. The first east Asian civilization to fully industrialize was Japan, and it should be noted that the Japanese never experienced colonialism (and therefore a kind of imposed Westernization) as happened throughout most of the rest of east Asia. Japan today remains profoundly Japanese, despite being one of the most industrialized landscapes in the world today.
I assume that industrialization can be indefinitely iterated. I also assume that a catastrophic event could bring the end of industrialization, and even turn societies back to agriculturalism or nomadism, but that in the absence of some kind global disaster (e.g., a comet or asteroid impact, a plague, massive vulcanism, solar flares so powerful that they destroy the electrical networks crucial to industrialized civilization, etc.) industrialization will continue its relentless transformation both of human societies and of the landscapes in which human societies are to be found. Furthermore, given the continued (although contingent) process of industrialization to the fulfillment of is natural teleology in totality, I assume that industrialized society will continue in existence unless or until it is supplanted by another social paradigm of similarly broad reach.
All of the above-delineated assumptions could be separately treated as theses and given independent exposition in some other context. In fact, I find all of these theses interesting and will probably return to them at some time in the future, fate willing. For the moment, however, I will simply leave them as unexplicated theses in order to turn to other matters.
Given the assumptions stated above, I just realized yesterday that the totality of industrialization would mean the possibility of the external proletariat (as that figure appears in the work of Toynbee) would either be changed beyond recognition or eliminated from history entirely. In other words, once the entire world is industrialized, there will be no more barbarians at the gate.
When Toynbee studied civilizations, all the civilizations he studied with the exception of the latest iteration of Western civilization were civilizations of the agricultural paradigm. And Western civilization, too, in its earlier iterations, was of course an agricultural civilization. Agricultural civlization exist under naturally-imposed constraints dictated by the climatological conditions of the region in which the civilization appears. Many of these civilizations ultimately disappeared due to local natural disasters. I wrote about one case of this in Civilization: a Rope or a Broom?
The civilizations that Toynbee studied, in addition to being agricultural civilizations, were also non-global civilizations. They all date from a period of time before which humanity knew itself to consist of one fabric. I previously wrote about this in Humanity as One, where I quoted Stratfor’s George Friedman on this point. Before humanity knew itself as one, civilizations grew from a particular spatial point of origin, and only occasionally grew so large as to come into contact with other civilizations. In this environment, and given the intrinsic limitations imposed by the conditions of agricultural civilization — conditions removed by the technological advanced of industrialized civilization — a civilization might emerge, grow, reach maturity, decay, and die without ever coming into contact with a rival civilization of comparable scope.
By the time of the late middle ages or the early modern period, the civilizations of the Old World knew of each other’s existence, but it took another five hundred years or so for the Old World’s knowledge to expand to a global extent and to make the others peoples and civilizations of the world aware of its presence. This knowledge, once acquired, is now too widely dispersed to disappear from history. Every human civilization knows about the existence of all other civilizations. This global network of civilization was only consolidated by the time of the first appearance of industrialization, and it would be industrialization that would (and will) squeeze out the last pockets of nomadism and barbarism, ultimately eliminating the external proletariat.
What of the internal proletariat under global industrialization? The Marxist answer would be that the internal proletariat will make global common cause and expropriate the expropriators. However, I see that Toynbee makes this observation:
“While the external proletariats have a gamutwhich is narrower than that of the dominant minorities, the gamut of the internal proletariats is very much wider.”
In other words, the internal proletariat is even more diverse than the dominant minority that would be expropirated under the Marxist scenario. With the elimination of the external proletariat by the eventual totality of industrialization, civilization is left with a small and focused dominant minority and a large and highly diverse internal proletariat. The likelihood of a global internal proletariat being able to take concerted and universal action strikes me as just about negligible. In fact, I will predict that the internal proletariat will experience significant adaptive radiation in the process of globalization. It is this nascent adaptive radiation of the internal proletariat that both drives and is driven my nationalism, and which keeps national and ethic proletariats fighting on behalf of dominant minorities when these dominant minorities foment war with other dominant minorities.
Given global industrial totality, we can speculate on the possibility of local, regional breakdowns in civilization that render that region lawless and chaotic for a time. Given the right conditions, such a local breakdown could spread, proving the beginning of the end for worldwide industrial society, just as in Blitzkrieg a local penetration is exploited to its fullest extent in order to bring about the catastrophic collapse of enemy forces. But there is no reason to suppose that this would occur in the case of global industrialism unless there were a purposeful effort (say, by an anarchist cadre, for example) to exploit the breakdown and facilitate a cascading failure.
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