[Marxism] Classes for themselves

Anthony Boynton northbogota at yahoo.com
Sun Nov 5 09:21:50 MST 2006

On Class in itself, and Class for itself

Joaquin Bustelo has raised some interesting and
important points about Marxist theory, which I would
like to address. The first is the notion of a the
working class as a class-for-itself, (and by
implication, its historic basis as a class in itself.)
The other issues Joaquin addressed involve his
explanation of why the working class in the United
States has never become a "class for itself". I want
to address the concepts themselves in this post, and
hopefully Joaquin's explanation about this historic
issue in a second post.  

Joaquin wrote,

"My article wasn't about "many failures," it was about
the non-existence of
the working class in the United States as a
class-for-itself, a coherent or
cohering social/political actor or protagonist.

"This is not a "lull" or "temporary downturn" but
rather a stable feature of
U.S. society on a time scale of decades, in other
words, a lifetime of human
political activity. This is not something that can be
explained away by
referring to how bad the union leadership is or to the
strength of the
Democratic Party. It requires a deeper, more *organic*

I think Joaquin is right, but that he should lift his
head up out of the reality of the United States and
look at the whole world. Most working classes have
never become classes for themselves, and those that
have achieved that consciousness and lost it, or are
losing it now.

I think it would be useful to define terms before
talking making trying to analyses concrete history.

So, let's start with working class.

I think the best, most "Marxist" definition, but more
importantly the definition which best reflects social
class lines and economic reality for "working class"
would be

"The working class is the social class of wage earners
and their families." This is what I would call the
"class in itself".

How can we define "class for itself"?

"A class for itself is one which the majority of the
members of this social class are aware that they form
a distinct social class from other social classes,
that their interests as a class are distinct from the
social, economic, and political interests of other
classes, and that they demonstrate this consciousness
by organizing themselves into a class based, or
several classed based, political parties with an array
of other associated organizations."

In the case of a "working class for itself" (as
opposed to other social classes for themselves) the
associated organizations would include, but not be
limited to trade unions." In the case of self
conscious land owning and capitalist classes, the
associated organizations, or even the leading
organizations, have often been churches. 

You could add to this definition,

"When the working class becomes a class for itself, it
becomes conscious of its need to organize and lead a
socialist revolution."

If you stick to the definition without requiring the
achievement of revolutionary consciousness, very few
countries in the world, mostly in Europe have ever had
working classes which had become "classes for
themselves". The rise and fall of the European Social
Democratic/Communist Parties and their associated
trade unions from the late 19th century to the last
decades of the 20th century marks the time and the
place of this achievement in history.

If you limit the definition so that it includes the
achievement of revolutionary consciousness, classes
for themselves have only appeared for brief moments,
in revolutionary situations, in a few cities or
countries,. The best example would be the proletariat
of St. Petersburg in 1917.

Can the working classes of the world gain, or regain
consciousness of themselves as self interested social
classes? social classes with a historic mission to
reorganize human society? self organized social
classes with a clear class conscious social,
political, economic, and environmental program, and a
strategy for gaining state power?

And if they can, will today's Marxists have any
relation to that process?

I think the answers are all yes, and that Joaquin's
attempt to address the issues as they touch on the
United States go in the right direction.

More in my next post.


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