[Marxism] Forwarded from Anthony (class consciousness)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jun 10 12:16:27 MDT 2004

I liked Lou's post on 21st century class consciousness
among UPS workers, for many reasons, but especially
because it shows the 'subterranean' processes' that
are at work - invisible to all but those who are on
the scene.

Working class consciousness, in the sense of a social
class fully aware of itself as a class, and with
organizations expressing its consciousness - has been
more often than not, partially or almost completely
absent from the scene in the USA throughout history.

At certain moments large portions of the US working
class have made great leaps forward - to arrive at
trade union consciousness, and important minorities
have acheived some kind of socialist or communist
consciousness, like Eugene Debs million votes.

The last 'great leap forward' happened in the 1930's -
its products were the CIO, the Communist Party USA (I
know it was founded right after 1917, and grew in the
20's, but the 1930's were in my opinion its high point
and also key formative period.) And the SWP. (The AFL,
The Socialist Party, Socialist Labor Party, and IWW
were all products of earlier 'great leaps'.)

In my opinion, although it remains a very important
moment, the 1960's did not produce a great leap
forward in terms of class consciousnes- despite its
great historic importance and despite all of its
tumult, upheaval, confusion and militancy.

The great US working class upsurge of the 1930's was
halted by the Second World War. The AFL, and the
Communist Party in the CIO (a key part, but probably
not the majority, or its leadership) supported the war
to the point of enforcing no-strike pledges among the
workers they led. Part of the CIO leadership - that
led by John L. Lewis of the UMW, with the support of
the SWP and others, opposed the no strike pledge.

The great majority of 'conscious workers' - in the
sense of a militant trade union and socialist
consciousness, supported US imperialism in the Second
World War because they believed it was a war against
fascism, a war to defend the Soviet Union, a war for
democracy, etc. Beneath it all, was a sense that it
was a war to defend 'the American way of life' that
these workers wanted for themselves and their families
- a house with electricity, running hot and cold
water, a car, a radio (later a TV, and now a
computer), an education for the kids, a pension, and
decent medical insurance. This mix constituted the
patriotism of these working class Americans.

When the leaders of the SWP were put in jail for
violating the Smith Act, most workers in the trade
union movement did nothing to defend them. Many -
including the patriotic AFL leaders and the Communist
Party USA - cheered the repression. This prosecution
was the first act of the post war anti-communist
witchhunts, which turned out to be directed mostly
against the CP-USA.

When the war ended, there was a brief moment of sharp
class conflict - which ended with the hisoric cold war
social compact that lasted until the end of the 1980's
- and in some ways survives today.

The organized workers got the American dream - the
house, the car, the TV, the works. In return they
supported US imperialism - 'democracy' they called it'
against Communism, and incidentally against social
revolutions - around the world. And they turned their
backs when Communist Party members were jailed, or
lost their jobs. In fact, they often stopped talking
to the CPers next door, for fear that they might loose
their own jobs, and their little piece of the American

In broad strokes that was the least common denominator
conscious of the most important part of the working
class in the USA until the Soviet Union collapsed
around 1990. The 60's, especially the movement against
the war in Viet Nam and the ghetto rebellions of black
people in the USA, shook, cracked, and damaged that
cold war consciousness, but did not destroy or replace

Now the US ruling class is trying to morph that old
social consciousnesses into a new more openly
imperalist one. Both Bush and Kerry are part of the
effort in different ways. However, their efforts will
fail, because the cold war social compact upon which
that consciousness was grounded, started to unravel
long before the end of the cold war.

The working class of the USA is an almost completely
different social organism than it was in 1941. The
Southern European and Eastern European immigrants who
formed the heart of the CIO have moved out of the
industrial working class and into the service sector
and the petty bourgeoisie. Black workers have been
divided by the won by the civil rights movement. The
new working class in the USA is composed of the
remnants of the old working class who didn't move on,
up and out, plus the new immigrants.

Their social weight is less important than the old
working class's social weight because the industrial
heart of the United States is no longer in the USA -
it is in Mexico and Asia. The majority of the new
working class, is not even in the USA - they are in
Mexico, Korea, Thailand, and especially China.

More later, Anthony


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