[Marxism] The problem of the US working class

Waistline2 at aol.com Waistline2 at aol.com
Thu Jun 10 08:43:29 MDT 2004

In a message dated 6/9/2004 11:47:30 PM Central Standard Time, 
juliohuato at hotmail.com writes:

>There are concrete (not abstract) intellectual debates raging in the U.S. 
society right now: foreign policy, economic policy, regulation of corporate 
behavior, the future of Social Security, health care, education.  And we 
need to engage in them with the best tools we have -- those inherited from 
the Marxist tradition and those we need to forge either by creating them 
anew or by critically appropriating them from the bourgeoisie.  We need to 
engage in the debates and win them.<


One could add the pension battle and several other important issues . . . and 
here we hit the hard rock that is the reality of our working class. Two years 
ago I reported to Marxmail one of the damnist things I have witnessed in my 
life. A group of retired General Motors Executives were demonstrating at the 
Detroit Auto Show - picket signs and all, against their health benefit package 
being reduced. The lowest stratum of the working class is outside the system of 
health care benefits in the main. 

There has been some material blocks to the formation of class consciousness 
amongst our workers and I believe that the most fundamental of them have been 
the regional differences expressed as wage differentials. Yes, the color factor 
has been overwhelming, but the wage differential undermines even the striving 
for trade union unity. Now, in real history it is impossible to separate the 
color factor from wage differential and the profound regional differences both 

When the sugar workers (Louisiana) were going through a series of strikes in 
the 1980s, the workers in the North could not go out on strike to support 
them. These workers "could not" as opposed to "would not" go out on strike and 
generally passed resolutions and sent a couple hundred bucks to the sugarworkers 
union. Their "consciousness" informed them and their union leaders that, "We 
are asked to go out on strike and we are not going to get a wage increase out 
of this strike. We are not going to get better working conditions. The only 
thing we are going to get is fired and lose our jobs." 

In the mid-1990s our Local Union (loacl 51) engaged Chrysler Motors in the 
longest strike since the 1950s and I did not feel good speaking before the 
membership against the faction that wanted to vote down the agreement and stay on 
strike. Eaton was Chairman of Chrysler at the time and stated specifically he 
was going to "kick our fucking ass and show who was the boss" and he did. 

My ideology would sustain me and the historical attitude of the militant 
anarcho-syndicalist against the bosses was enough for the blood sacrifice. My 
attitude is not how 1700 members - mostly females with their children in the 
meeting, viewed the question. 

What has been the communist movement for the past 150 years? It is a movement 
that declared itself for communism but has led militant struggle for reform. 
Many of us fought this struggle out on the basis of ideological Leninism, 
which views these reform movements as the "revolutionary struggle for reform."  
Our view was justified on the basis of the Communist Manifesto, "Victory of the 
Workers in their current struggle." 

There has been objective revolutionary movement and partial movements like 
the Pullman Strike and objective reform movements like the African American 
Peoples Movement, whose goal was desegregation, but never an objective communist 
movement. The point is that the objective spontaneous mass movement has not 
moved in the direction of communism and the profound inequality within the 
working class in the past century  . . . combined with the objective expansion of 
the industrial system blocked the formation of class consciousness, not matter 
how we define "class consciousness." 

In the past century the lowest stratum of the proletariat more or less 
gravitated - moved into, the industrial working class as its most unskilled sector. 
During the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s, all of us called this the "Last Hired, 
First Fired," intractable social position of the African American masses. 

When one speaks of a new era (without quotes) one is describing a material 
quality of the working class and the direction of the proletariat - the lowest 
stratum of the working class. When one speaks of the objective communist 
movement - not the ideological movement for communism, one is talking about roughly 
three billion people on earth, and in America a section of the working class 
that can no longer move into the lowest stratum of the industrial classes 
because the revolution in the mode of production has and is eliminating this 
industrial configuration from history. 

The space - another world I hate, has been and is being abolished as a 
historical category in the same manner as the "space" - production relations, that 
was the sharecropper was abolished. The lowest stratum of the working class is 
moving in the direction open to it - jail, janitors, the absolute lowest paid 
workers and the streets. 

This movement is just beginning but this New American proletariat, has to 
demand housing, food and education even if they do not have money to pay for 
these things. This proletariats "line of march" is the only one open to it: to 
take over the automated equipment of society and run things from the standpoint 
of its objective needs. 

Class consciousness for us have to be redefined somewhat different from in 
the time of Lenin. At this point this infant movement has no real ideology other 
than "I need." There is no reason to not believe that the class ideology and 
consciousness of the proletariat will evolve somewhat different from that of 
the working class as a whole because of the materiality of its social position. 

The social logic of the New American proletariat is by definition not a 
reform movement or a movement to reformulation the boundary of the industrial 
system and its "political superstructure." This is not like the last great social 
movement in the form of the African American peoples movement. Nor, are we 
faced with a repeat of the great industrial upsurge. Old formula is useless. One 
must fortify themselves and be willing to leap from the edge of the earth into 
the relative unknown. 

This issue of class consciousness is infinitely more complex as a reflex 
within a superstructure under the pressure of change. Everything is involved 
including alienation as it evolved - not on the basis of bourgeois property, but 
the first great division of labor. "Reification" - which was thrown our of my 
window years ago and left to those interested in such matters. I actually gave 
away my Gramsci in the early 1980s. When one talks about the history of class 
consciousness in America - or the lack of it, we are first of all talking about 
history or people, which is properly the domain of the historian. I am not 
historian. I am an insurgent and everything for me proceeds from a description 
of the alignment of social forces.

What has baffled me for the past decade is why the historians within our 
Marxist movement have failed - collectively, to identify the proletariat - not 
simply the working class.

We are in for a different ride than that of the previous generation of 
ideological communists. Our first great battle in the new era - as the Marxists 
detachment of the communist movement, is to teach the working class the meaning of 
taking a class stand in favor of the proletariat, based on the experience it 
is in the process of acquiring. Taking a class stance means I am for this and 
against this. This is not the meaning of communist class consciousness. That 
is a different stage in the unfolding of the social process that presupposes 
the first stage of learning how to take a class stance. 

We are only at the beginning or rather the beginning of the beginning.  

"Right here is where the end gonna start at.
Contact, conflict, call back. 
Fight the sin where the land is marked at
Settle the dispute over who the livest.
Free world says who ever survives this." 

"I Against I" - Mos Def. 

Melvin P. 

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