[Marxism] "Building class consciousness" (was: RE: SocialistVoice (Canad...

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Wed Jun 16 20:40:28 MDT 2004

Melvin P. wrote:

>I have gotten to old to pretend that we can lead people where they are not 
>going. The first rule of class politics is that you can only lead people 
>where they are already going. Our working class is stratified and going - 
>moving, in different directions.
>It is not enough to speak of the working class in general and the workers 
>movement in general We desperately need a class outlook on the part of 
>communist based on that section of the working class in more or less 
>consistent combat with the state, with a critical eye to winning over the 
>working class proper to a militant class stance on behalf of the 
>proletariat - the lowest section of society.

This is well put.  And here are my dissonant views:

IMO, the challenge is to *unify* the working class, unify the organizations 
that represent it, and help those who are disorganized to organize.  To 
unify them as they are, not as we would like them to be.

The hinge of this *unification* has got to be the relentless defense of the 
interests of the poorest, most dispossessed, most disenfranchised workers, 
those who suffer unemployment the most, those who lack even formal rights, 
those who are jailed and doubly the victims of crime, those who suffer 
ferocious persecution and prosecution on the basis of their legal status in 
this country, those who have not even a minimal level of economic security 
(e.g., lack health insurance for them and their families).  Black and Latino 
workers, young workers, and people living in the Southwest have a larger 
chance than other workers in the U.S. to fall in this category, but an 
overwhelming majority of these workers are actually white.

IMO, the defense of their interests is MAINLY the defense of their economic 
interests.  We cannot unite this profoundly divided working class -- divided 
along income, occupational, industrial, ethnic and racial, cultural, 
urban/rural, regional, and even gender lines -- without understanding this.  
And this understanding leads to a lot of compromises.  A compromise doesn't 
mean that we change our minds, our beliefs, our long-term goals.  A 
compromise means that we cannot always do things our way in we are serious 
about advancing together.

While each of us needs to struggle wherever she/he can make the biggest 
difference, the first compromise is to focus single-mindedly on the set of 
economic needs that objectively put workers on a common political platform, 
even if it is at the expense of other differences that mean A LOT to smaller 
segments of the class.  Dispersed light doesn't even itch.  A laser beam can 
cut steel.  All workers in the U.S. are under the threat of unemployment and 
suffer from intolerable insecurity.  IMO, the common ground is 
full-employment policies, a generalized safety net beginning with the 
workers' children, universal health insurance, and effective and 
equitably-funded public education.  The U.S. working class is the majority 
in this country, and anything that goes against the common interests of the 
U.S. working class is anti-national, anti-U.S.A.  That's what nation means 
-- or should mean -- in the U.S. nowadays.

We should take part in a vast campaign for Jobs, Economic Security, and 
Economic Fairness in the U.S.  I'm absolutely sure that once the U.S. 
working class begins to taste the fruits of their unity, their determination 
to unite will only increase.  Then fighting prejudice, jealousy, and 
pettiness will become easier.  The political system and the very foundations 
of capitalism in this country will begin to shake.  Demoralized, defeated, 
disunited, divided people are easy prey to corruption, political 
manipulation, and further fragmentation.  People who struggle and see their 
interests clear and their political efforts pay off cannot be bought off by 
crumbs.  On the contrary, they will want it all.

IMO, the problem with Marxists, socialists, Communists, progressives, 
Trotskyists, Leninists, Maoists, etc. (i.e., leftists) in the U.S. is that 
we tend to look for demands that are "radical," that is, demands that divide 
the working class.  We want to make sure we remain the sharpest 
ideologically, even if at the cost of insignificance.  Judging them by their 
deeds, some people in the left view political irrelevance as their badge of 
honor.  As a condition for unity, we want to impose demands that are above 
and beyond what MOST "actually-existing" workers (to use Marx's formula in 
the German Ideology) are ready and able to take to heart.  That's why we 
fail -- not even our relatives follow us on the "radical" path.

For example, a condition to join the campaign for Jobs, Economic Security, 
and Economic Fairness in the U.S. is NOT that workers support the rights of 
undocumented workers to freely cross the border and have full rights on both 
sides of the border, or that they join a struggle against racism and police 
brutality.  As much as we'd like that to be the case, if we were to demand 
such support as a condition for unity, we'd be (objectively) "dividing, not 
uniting" -- to paraphrase the Great Incommunicator.  We'd sound very 
radical, but we would be practically superficial.

According to a study made public today by Families USA based on census data, 
1/3 of U.S.ers younger than 65 are uninsured.  This figure is based on those 
who where uninsured for at least a 2-year spell -- which means that there's 
a large chance they'll stay uninsured for a long time if nothing dramatic 
happens.  This figure would be considerably bigger if the measure were based 
on people who were uninsured for at least 6-months prior, which makes it 
likely that this condition will persist for a while.  This is very 
terrifying in a country where health care is so expensive.  Most of the 
uninsured are white, but Black, Hispanic, and younger people (0-45) are 
disproportionally represented.  I'm sure the uninsured intersect largely (if 
not almost coincide) with the U.S. proletariat.

It is clearly in the interest of the whole U.S. working class to support 
these people.  That is what we need to argue, convincingly, not only on 
ethical grounds, but with stark economic reasoning.  Mark L. suggested in a 
recent posting that sound arguments are not sufficient to help people 
acquire class consciousness.  That's true, but above all for those who have 
other means to influence people, like wealth, coercive power, and media.  On 
the other hand, sound arguments are one of the very few weapons Marxists 
have in their arsenal.  When ideas grip the masses, they become a material 
power.  Ideas grip the masses not only because they reflect people's needs 
and interests, but also because they make sense.  When needs, interests, and 
sound argument are all aligned, there's no cheap form of power (wealth, 
coercion, or psychological manipulation) able to withstand them.


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