working-class subjectivity -Reply

Bryan A. Alexander bnalexan at
Wed Feb 14 21:10:42 MST 1996

Sorry, can't find the Gramsci.  But don't let that stop me:

Bryan Alexander					Department of English
email: bnalexan at			University of Michigan
phone: (313) 764-0418				Ann Arbor, MI  USA    48103
fax: (313) 763-3128

On Wed, 14 Feb 1996, Adam Rose wrote:

> Marx:
> "The emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class".
> "The ruling ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class".
> Gramsci ( paraphrased - I'd be grateful if someone can find the original ) :
> "Workers have two consciousnesses, or rather, one contradictory consciousness.
> One represents the future communist society, the other the present"
> Lisa :
> "It seems contradictory yet true [dialectical?] that the processes of capitalism
> simultaneously obscure the true nature of class relations, <cut>, while that
> same exploitation presses down so insistently that workers cannot
> avoid becoming aware of the lies and the theft of their lives,
> generating resistance and organization."

Great quotes!
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On the surface, there is a direct contradiction between Marx's assertions that the
> emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class, and that
> the ruling ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class. How can the
> working class act in its own interests if its ideas are those of the ruling class ?
> The working class is after all in a different position to previous revolutionary
> classes, precisely because workers are completely separated from the means of
> production. Where the bourgeoisie could set up universities, "Royal Societies", the
> Freemasons etc under feudalism in order to work out its alternative vision for society,
> the working class has no such opportunity.

Two answers come to mind:
1. The ideal, or consciousness.  The working class comes to an awareness
of the workings of capital in the most intimate way possible.  The
awareness of a thing opens up the possibility of other things, as Adorno
lets us know without relying on identity; or, in the words of Detroit's
own Freddy Perlman: "Wherever there is people, there is negation."
2. Some more praxis - Lisa brought up Kropotkin, and this thread can be
yoked to that one: the working classes have always been the ones to
practice the classic anarchist work of mutual aid, and have historically
often done so.  Mutual aid is usually based on use, not exchange value; without
surplus value; on potlach or gift, not money.  This is of course a
glimpse at the future society, and one with roots in the present.

> >
> However, precisely how Gramsci's two contradictory consciousnesses work out, which
> one tends to dominate in individuals and classes, cannot of course be deduced from
> abstract principles. This depends on previous struggles between classes, tendencies,
> parties, and the precise location of the individual in that context. Without Lenin,
> there would have been no revolution. Nevertheless, Lenin was also a product of
> the Russian Revolution. Also, it is possible that without Plekhanov, Lenin would
> have been an alchoholic.

Again, mutual aid is clearly a part of previous struggles between classes
- and let me expand my above two points, to 1b) consciousness of the
past, as well as the present.

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