[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.
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