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Opinion
Adrian Wooldridge

Knowledge Workers of the World, Unite!

“Workers by brain” are a bigger threat to the survival of capitalism than “workers by hand” ever were.

Swiping left on capitalism.

Swiping left on capitalism.

Photographer: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

Corrected

We all know that Karl Marx’s prediction that the proletariat would become the “gravediggers” of capitalism has proved to be spectacularly wrong. But what if Marx was wrong not about the grave-digging as such but about the identity of the gravediggers? What if capitalism’s eventual terminators are not “workers by hand” but “workers by brain?” For pessimists like me, every day — and certainly every copy of the New York Times or the Guardian — brings evidence that capitalism may have survived the proletarian revolution only to succumb to the knowledge-worker revolution.

Peter Drucker invented the term “knowledge worker” in his 1959 book “Landmarks of Tomorrow” to describe an emerging group of people who didn’t fit into the old Marxist categories (owners of the means of production versus dispossessed laborers) but instead lived off their intellectual capital. Since then their numbers have exploded. In many advanced countries 40-50% of school-leavers go to university.