[Marxism] Waiting for Gobama

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Thu Apr 2 14:07:45 MDT 2009

Michael Smith replied to my post pointing out that the conditions that gave
rise to the Black Panther Party no longer exist by saying, "Indeed, the
conditions aren't so propitious. But does that really mean that all we're
left with is Waiting For Gobama? God, I hope not."

What's involved as I see it are not more or less favorable or easy or
whatever circumstances or conditions. Not a matter of degree, not a question
of a continuum, but rather a qualitative thing: there is no working class
movement worthy of the name in the United States, no class-for-itself
movement, no social movement of workers as such. Nor has there been one for
many decades, since the immediate post-WWII years at least. And my
impression is that the same *tendency* seems to be at work in the other
major imperialist countries. 

Such a long standing phenomenon that contradicts a core expectation of
Marxism, and, in a sense, the very basis of Marxism, cries out for a mature,
Marxist materialist explanation. 

The explanation most often given by organized socialist groups, and
ESPECIALLY self-styled Leninists and MOST OF ALL Trotskyists, is that at the
heart of the problem is the issue of working class leadership. 

That MAY have been true at the end of the 1930s --although the
intractability of the problem showed, I believe, that MORE was involved even
then. But for today's world, the explanation is absurd. There is no crisis
of leadership of the working class in the U.S. simply BECAUSE there is no
working class to be led. 

In all the possible ways you could use the term "working class" to designate
an existing social reality that has any use AT ALL for a leadership, NONE of
those manifest in the United States. The working class in the United States
exists as an *objective* reality but it has, in recent decades, failed to
cohere into what Marx called a "class for itself," worse, there hasn't even
been the beginnings of a class-for-itself movement among even a SLIVER of
the masses seen in this part of the universe since BEFORE I was born -- and
I was born a long, long time ago.

This problem is, I think, quite deep. The radicalization of the 1960's
caused such a breakdown in bourgeois political-ideological domination that
it smashed Jim, Crow, caused the US army in Vietnam to fall apart, and led
to the emergence of social and protest movements even among those previously
condemned as "queers" and those condescendingly dismissed as "disabled."

And that's led to a debate about "identity politics" and so on. But notice,
the ONE group never accused of identity politics are the workers. That's
because, even in the midst of that powerful and profound radicalization that
swept the entire world four decades ago, and despite it, the working class
*as a class* never cohered, never developed a group identity or social
movement. That DESPITE there being already pre-existing organizations with
tens of millions of members ideally suited to serve as a vehicle for that
new social movement AND despite there having been MANY examples of this kind
of movement in the past, including in the United States only 25-30 years

I think the keys to understanding this situation are in the writings of Marx
and Engels, and admirably summed up in Lenin's 1916 article, "Imperialism
and the split in socialism," and further developed in the supplementary
theses on that national and colonial question adopted by the Second Congress
of the Comintern.

Basically the explanation is the tremendously privileged position of the
U.S. working class and population generally in relation to that of working
people in the Third World. 

If effective work is to be done, it needs to be illuminated by an
understanding of real conditions.


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