The working class in revolution: Assumptions & expectations

 Farm workers in the U.S.: exploited, often illegal, and truly people with nothing to lose but their chains. What is their role within a revolutionary process? How do their potential actions and ideas differ from other sections of the working class? What is their relationship with those, from among the middle classes, who often break first into political life and often formulate the initial ideas of revolutionary movements?

"I think that you can't have a radical movement of revolutionary change without a solid partisan base among broad strata among the oppressed. "Those with nothing to lose but their chains" are indispensable for a movement that "pushes all the way through" -- both because of their social power and because of their inclination toward non-compromise and radicalism.

"This raises the relationship between

1) a particular class of people ("the working class" including very different diverse currents within that class)

2) a particular set of movements (a broadly popular revolutionary movement emerging with a self-consciously communist movement within it), and

3) a particular possible event (the socialist revolution -- inevitably existing in unique and unprecedented forms of presentation).

"I am arguing for not mechanically or sloppily confusing these three things."

* * * * * * * * *


We have had a discussion which (in part) explores whether it is possible to dismiss successful artists in the superstructure precisely because they are successful there (and therefore presumably corrupted, wealthy, or members of an alien class). Or because they express views that we disagree with.

Nat Winn calls recognizing that there is radical and revolutionary art (and artists) contending with the overall bourgeois hegemony in the society's cultural superstructure. And he calls for an approach of "unity and struggle" with the artists engaged in that work. 

The accompanying discussion inevitably has touched on matters of class and politics that are highly controversial among revolutionaries today. Here are some quick notes that I wrote in that thread -- and which deal with how we view class and identity (not mainly how we view art).

by Mike Ely

One thing I would like to see is more precision in the distinction between communist, socialist and working class. I have written about this before, but previously in connection with peasant countries.

In some discussions communist, socialist and working class seem to be treated as virtually the same thing.

In our lifetimes, the communist movements have been quite distant from literally working class movements (with a very few exceptions).

And yet, in some ways, working class is used as a kind of "marker" for communist -- as if they are the same thing.

For example, some people equate "the working class movement" with the communist movement (which, if you think about it, requires a disregard for reality). Some call themselves "the party of the working class" when they still have virtually no stable base or even ties to that class. Some announce their particular ideas are "proletarian ideology" even if they have little relationship with workers or the actual ideas of workers.

Such habits  mean that we often don't have a common language among revolutionaries. And it also often means that some isolated communists sound delusional when they claim to speak "for" whole classes and people.

For example: "Proletarian leadership" actually means communist leadership to some who use it. Meanwhile, even sometimes in the same discussion, there are other people who literally mean that workers must lead non-workers when they use "proletarian leadership" (and don't necessarily mean political criteria, or communists leading, at all). So confusion can be built in.

I'm going to break down some comments by my friend Nat Winn (because I know he won't misunderstand the nitpicking and because he knows that we have general agreement on the main issues discussed here).

Socialist revolution and assumptions of class

thegoddlessutopian writes above:

How do working people act politically? Do they arrive with a single unified set of interests? How do we (as a modern revolutionary movement) view the previous idealized conceptions of "the working class"?

Thegodlessutopian said communist revolution)? Are either of those assumptions valid?

Also don't lots of people play a progressive role (overall and in specific ways) while "giving credence to reactionary views" in other places? Isn't that something inherent in still-religious people who become revolutionaries or radicals?

Some of the most militant antiwar forces (anti-nuclear people who went to prison, the Berrigan brothers, Eighth Day Center in Chicago, Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker followers) did so under the "seamless garment" doctrine (which opposed abortion and war on the same basis).

Are such people not possible allies of a revolution because in one area they "give credence to reactionary views"?

And what does a revolution look like if it only accepts "friends" from people who never give any credence to any "reactionary views"?

And (dare I ask) who decides exactly what views are reactionary and which ones are not? (Look at our revealing discussion of sexuality: Is support for pornography a reactionary view, or is opposition to pornography reactionary? And where will that be settled? Is anyone who votes for Obama reactionary? Or, to go even farther, are farmers (who generally vote republican!) not capable of becoming allies of a radical movement?

Daniel Berrigan heading for jail again. How do we deal with the fact that he, and his radical Catholic comrades, have starkly different views from us on abortion and even birth control?

Nat Winn gives an answer to some of this. And he makes his main point: that we can't treat people like enemies simply because at this-or-that moment they disagree with us. And we shouldn't.

But I'd like to break this down a bit.... in the interest of an argument for more precision, and for not accepting uncritically some inherited views.

Is it really an assumption of communist theory that "middle class forces" only oscillate between support for the bourgeoisie and support for the oppressed? Really? Are they like a microchip that can only register a "0" or a "1."

After China's May Fourth Movement (of young radical students and intellectuals) nothing was ever quite the same.

For example: Aren't there times when some middle class forces initiate struggles against the system, and help catapult more oppressed strata into motion? Aren't students and sometimes academic intellectuals sometimes in the lead? (Think of Sartre in the Algerian war, or SDS in the anti-war movement, or SNCC entering Mississippi, or the wonderful heaven-storming May 4th movement in 1919 that triggered the great (and ultimately successful) wave of the Chinese revolution.

Are the middle classes only wobbling between two other poles -- or can they at times generate something distinctive for themselves (in ways that are not particularly wobbly)?

Further, while I'm breaking it down: Do middle class forces only support the "interests of the oppressed" (as Nat writes) when "these interests interconnect with their own middle class interests."

Is that how materialist analysis works -- by a theory of intersectionality -- radical alliances become possible where (and presumably ONLY when) interests somehow overlap?

This seems to assume that people act in ways very tightly connected to their "own class interests" (and, somewhat separate, on their perception of their own class interests). Is that really true?

That implies a politics where our work can only focus on training people in their own interests, and then possible winning them (from that basis) to broader alliances because of moments of overlap with their own interests.

Is that how our revolutionary alliance will work? Like some urban city council coalition of mutual self-interest ("You scratch my back, I scratch yours"). By aggregated self-interests of otherwise disparate identity groups? Are there no existing political movements that sweep people along? No explodingly charismatic ideas that convert and transform people from old ways? Are there no universal ideas that grip people in revolutionary times? Only "interests" that diverge or overlap?

Is this communist theory? Or some other theory?

Did the growing and soon widespread white middle class support for the civil rights movement (say after the 1955 Birmingham bus boycott) of African American people happen because somehow the "interests of the oppressed" literally "intersected with peoples own middle class interest"?

And if so, how did that intersection suddenly happen? Did the interests of the oppressed change to cause the growing intersection? Or did the interests of the middle classes move in the mid-fifties? Or was something else going on not narrowly related to the interests of each?

Can't people support things that are not in their own interests? Or (as identity politics insists) are the ideas, politics, and minute-by-minute actions of whole strata and nationalities chained (by ankle and wrist) to the pettiest of privilege and short term interest?

Or are there universal interests for humanity and the communist cause (and are people capable of grasping them as universals)? Don't people (even in large numbers) have the ability of supporting things that are not in their immediate interests?

Isn't it the right-wing that says "taxes and the payment of social benefits aren't in your immediate interests" -- while progressive forces answer with "we should help our brothers and sisters, and not only think of narrow self, we should have community and sharing, not approach things from the petty self-interests posed under dog-eat-dog capitalism"?

I'm saying that I don't agree with this view of the middle classes and their nature (and their potential).

And separately I do not agree with the view implied here of how interests and alliances operate. Some of this mechanical view of class appears occasionally in various orthodox forms of Marxism -- but I think it is against the revolutionary spirit and practice of communist revolution (and the more sophisticated Marxist thinking of, say, Marx and Mao).


I assume by "friends of the working class" the godlessutopian is implying possible allies within some workerist vision of social change (where some "workers movement" is assumed to be the core of socialist change).

But really are the allies we want really only people who (in some mechanical and direct way) support "the working class" and some (currently nonexistent) "working class movement"? Do we assume some automatic identity between socialism and "working class interests" (as they express themselves in real politics)? Do we assume automatic identity between working class interests and the working class movements of any moment?

Are we seeking allies of the working class (and its characteristic movements), or of the communist revolution and the future socialist society -- supporters of egalitarianism, internationalism, sustainable socialist economics, destruction of the state and the abolition of classes? Is there a difference?

For example can you (in the U.S.) be a strong supporter of socialist revolution because you want an end to the empire, or borders, or because you hope for the independence of Puerto Rico, or because you want a different kind of culture? Or because you think that capitalism imposes a particularly repressive framework for sexuality and intimacy?

Why would "friends of the working class" be the generic name we give allies in the cause of socialist revolution? Why wouldn't we call them "supporters of socialist revolution"?

And while we are talking: are working class people the only revolutionaries, and are all middle class people inherently resigned to being "allies"? Aren't some among middle class people likely to be firm and reliable revolutionaries, while some working class people more vacillatory, and more on-again-off-again "allies" of the revolution? Why would the categories of core/cadre and ally be so rigidly operate by class? How likely is that?

There were times, like Germany in 1930, where revolutionary politics was really anchored in the working class (and bohemia), and where extreme reactionary politics dominated whole spheres of the middle classes (rural farmers, students, lawyers, etc.) But aren't there times when it is not as clear cut -- where sometimes sudden and powerful radical movements among students precede revolutionary influences on the working class (May 1968 France)?

Also Revolution in the U.S. will not be the act of some metaphysically united working class. Almost certainly the emergence of a revolutionary people in the U.S. will cause new and sharper splits within the working class (as emerging radical ideas and organization were finally able to challenge the conservative or reformist views that basically have hegemony today).

I assume that in the U.S. (as was true in Russia) that some sections of working people will support a socialist revolution, but also that (in any specific moment) quite a few working class people will oppose such a socialist revolution. (One of the first acts of the October Revolution was to break a strike of railroad workers who, under anti-Bolshevik trade union leadership, tried to cut off revolutionary Petrograd from Moscow.)

And while we are talking: I don't assume that some magical numerical majority is a prerequisite for a successful revolution. I think revolutions often happen without ever being able to literally win a formal, stable voting majority before their victory. Sometimes revolutions win because their extreme core have a powerful minority force of millions, while everyone else is discredited or weak in the midst of crisis.

I think that you can't have a radical movement of revolutionary change without a solid partisan base among broad strata of the oppressed. "Those with nothing to lose but their chains" are indispensable for a movement that "pushes all the way through" -- both because of their social power and because of their inclination toward non-compromise and radicalism.

This consciously raises the question of the relationship between

1) a particular class of people ("the working class") and 2) a particular set of movements (a broadly popular revolutionary movement emerging with a self-consciously communist movement within it), and 3) a particular possible event (the socialist revolution -- inevitably existing in unique and unprecedented forms of presentation).

I am arguing for not mechanically or sloppily confusing these three things.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Maju

    Many questions and IMO not easy to produce all-encompasing answers but IMO a key element for me is that <i>the working class</i> and <i>the people</i>, as understood in modern democratic concepts (i.e. all the people and not just a small elite, as was the case in the past), are not substantially different by definition. Of course <i>the people</i> can and does include sectors that are not working class but these are necessarily minorities. In this sense I take the concept of "the 99%" (sometimes "the 90%", maybe more accurately) as being a class war concept, even if a bit blurry in the details.

    In advanced/central capitalist societies (and the USA is archetypal), large sectors of the working class have been "bourgeoisified" by means of improved living conditions/purchasing power (a process already observed by Marx 150 years ago in some specific areas of Britain and France). But they are working class no matter what: they do not own any means of production or, if they do, it is in such subservient way to a higher power that it's anecdotal and not class-defining.

    A more difficult issue is where most of the non-workers, the small bourgeoisie and liberal professions, stand, this is probably a matter of personal choice because their objective interests are not served best with either extreme but possibly in an equilibrium point like the Bersteinian-Keynesian "social peace", which is not anymore a realistic option, it seems. Naturally the working class, when in class war formation (or revolutionary stand), generally tries to circumvent this petty bourgeoisie (or even get their support) while the Big Capital tries to rally them and sectors of the working class to defend them. The intellectuals you mention are mostly in this grey zone of the true middle class (the petty bourgeoisie) and is a personal choice to side with ones or the others. Intellectuals, a bit like bureaucrats, do not have clearly defined class interests because they are not any class but more like pseudo-classes or subgroups. So in the end it's a matter of personal preferences and life choices.

    Whatever the case with the process of bourgeoisification in the advanced/central Capitalist zones, the working class has also acquired rather high levels of education and access to information (and even nowadays production and distribution of information) and have become intellectuals themselves in many cases, while still being workers. This is a most interesting, key, development that defines the new working class of the "Toyotist" era, of the late Capitalism that Marx described in the posthumous manuscripts as the era of "the real subsumption of Work into Capital" and Negri defines as "social worker".

    The factory worker of the "Fordist" or "formal subsumption" era, the "mass worker", is still a conceptual reference when we talk of the "working class" but surely not anymore as central at all as it used to be. That's something we need to understand because, if there has to be a "handbook revolution" in the central Capitalist countries like the USA or Western Europe, as predicted by early Marxists, it will not be a "mass worker", "blue collar", one, as we probably tend to imagine, but a "social worker" one much in the line we have seen with the plazas movement spanning from Athens to Seattle and beyond.

    That's why the students are taking intermittently the lead since 1968 (a year that Negri claims is the milestone between Fordist and Toyotist eras), because they are also part of the working class as it exists now. But not just students, all kinds of people with, as they say, the heart at the left and the blood of red color.

  • Guest - Keith

    This is excellent, Mike. You raise crucial questions and point out some very prevalent sloppy thinking.

    Here is where I would drill down. Mike writes,

    "Do we assume that we can’t have a revolution in the U.S. unless workers have some strong explicit self-identification as workers… or is the key identification needed from oppressed people with the goals of revolutionary change — equality, end of poverty, sustainable ecology, end to empire and war, overthrow of this society’s prison/police aparatus, and more?"

    Although, Mike writes "and more" he left out the most central issue. The exploitation of labour. The exploitation of labour is what this game is about. It is the essence of the system and it explains: war, poverty, inequality etc.

    So when we ask, in effect, what role does the working class play (or more fundamentally who is the working class) we have to keep in mind that the goal of the struggle is the end of labour exploitation. It is not some nebulous "better world" it is a world where human labour is not exploited.

    It is like asking what role did chattel slaves play in the U.S. Civil War. And what was that war about?

    Sometimes, I think, when we say that the "Civil war was about slavery" we forget what that correct answer means. The civil war was about ending a form of labour exploitation.

    I think Mike raises very important issues but he didn't bring forth the central thread -- the exploitation of labour-- which can make sense of the questions and issues he raised.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    The core value of Marxism is the self-emancipation of the working class.There can be other kinds of revolutionaries, but this is what is usually meant as proletarian revolutionaries. Not all of them are communists; those who hold to the strategic aim of the abolition of classes, including the working class itself, would come under what Marx meant by that term. Even so, there are also other kinds of communists, too--various religious and utopian views--by this is not what Marx had in mind.

    Class is about one's relation to production. The working class sells it labor time to those who own the productive forces. At any given time, they will think all sorts of things, running the entire gamut of political views from left to center to right. but the are all exploited, even though they may suffer varying degrees of oppression, and in some cases, actively take part in the unfortunate practice of oppressing others. Generally, they will have a 'conflicted consciousness' rotted in the hegemonic grip of old ideas and social arrangements. A key part of the task of communists is to carry out actions and eduction that develops conflicted consciousness into revolutionary class consciousness, wherein workers see not only themselves as a class-for-itself, but also their inter-relation with are other classes, strata and trends

    What is key to grasp is that they are a class bound with 'radical chains,' ie, by freeing themselves they set in motion a process of freeing all humankind. This was one of Marx's great insights.

    The communists will always be in a minority, even under socialism and beyond. That's why we need the united front as well as parties and armed forces. History is made by masses in their millions, and only a minority of them will be communists, but the communists have to find the forms of organization and struggle to unite with them, and develop a line of march.

    Even in conditions where revolutionaries are a small minority within the working class, it is still often the case that the class generally, still holds more democratic and progressive views, in proportion, when compared to other classes in the same time, place and circumstance. This can shift with the ebb and flow of class struggle and other social developments, but it remains a positive factor to build upon.

    I don't know if this adequately answers all of Mike's questions, but it's a fair summary of my views on some of them. Finally, I don't think Marx had the last word on anything--but we do very well to study and learn from him, if we want to stand on his shoulders to see ever farther. And if you want to know how capitalism works and why it will end, he is indispensable.

  • Guest - Gary

    I generally unite with this, and the value of universality. We should not fetishize "the working class." When Lenin said revolutionary thought needed to be brought to the working class "from without" or when Mao acknowledged (something to the effect of) "I myself am a bourgeois intellectual" they were saying that people born into privilege can become allies and leaders of the oppressed. In fact, they'd have to.

    In any case, in talking about class, isn't it crucial to define terms?

    Is a "worker" someone paid wages by the hour? Or by a mix of minimum wage and tips? Does "middle class" mean people earning salaries or retirement benefits from salaried employment, or living off royalties, commissions, or modest investments? Is the "middle class" expanding or contracting with the decline in industry? Where do we begin to talk about rich people and what does their wealth have to do with their politics?

    How drastically have "globalization," "outsourcing," the surge in growth in China and India affected the U.S. working class (however defined)?

    Mike you say, "I think revolutions often happen without ever being able to literally win a formal, stable voting majority before their victory."

    By this you must be referring to bourgeois revolutions such as the English in the 1640s and French in 1789 as well as the few communist-led ones.

    I agree. Who was it who said revolutions are made by determined minorities? I recall reading in the 1970s that about one-third of the North American English colonists in the 1770s supported the cause of independence. About the same percentage of the population of South Vietnam actively supported the National Liberation Front. There wasn't, that is to say, a "voting majority" in either.

    The main point here, i think, is to distinguish between political ideology, stance and behavior on the one hand and position within the system of production and property on the other. The history of the communist movement provides ample examples of people unfairly attacked and treated because of the amount or nature of property they held.

    It wasn't a question even of ascertaining specifics but the application of a cold bureaucratic numeric. If you owned so much, you were treated thus. What happened in the Ukraine in the 1930s was wrong. The concept of the "kulak" was mis-applied. I just raise this as an instance in which the clear delineation of class categories and relationships is crucial.

  • Guest - jp

    i don't think it was 1/3 of the colonists in support of the revolt - i think it was 1/3 of the population, meaning to include slaves and native americans. as i remember it.

    i agree on not fetishizing the working class. human mind's ability to categorize is a great boon and curse at the same time

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    Don't know what class you're in? Here's a 'down and dirty' way to get it right most of the time.

    Who signs your paycheck?

    1. You sign you own, and you work alone. You're in the small producer class

    2. You sign the paychecks of others from accounts you control, or have someone do it for you. You don't have to work yourself, even if you do. You're part of the capitalist class

    3. Someone else that you work for, or their agent, signs your paycheck, and this is your main source of income, You're part of the working class.

    It doesn't matter what your income level is, or if you're a foreman or even a manager, so long as your payment for this work is your main source of income. As Marx put it, 'be his payment high or low...' It's the relation to production that matters.

    Naturally, this means the working class is diverse and often highly stratified, but so what else is new?

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    I think Keith gets to the heart of the issue when he writes, "[W]e have to keep in mind that the goal of the struggle is the end of labour exploitation. It is not some nebulous “better world” it is a world where human labour is not exploited."

    Brother Ely raises some great questions, and I think he makes important points about not fetishizing the working class, nor assuming a mechanical "workerist" viewpoint of communist politics. But ultimately, it comes back to capitalism. What type of society is capitalism?

    I often see within Maoism, and from Brother Ely, an over-emphasis on oppression. This society is oppressive, without a doubt. But the society does not exist to oppress. It exists to exploit. Oppression is the means by which that oppression is maintained, because few people would willingly allow themselves to be exploited without the stick, no matter how much the ruling class indoctrinates us.

    Capitalism is a system to extract surplus labor for the accumulation of capital. It is the most efficient form of exploitation we've yet seen. In its particulars, it may be more or less brutal and oppressive than systems which have come before, but for the generation of wealth, nothing existing yet can even touch it.

    And this is why Marxism focuses on the working class. This is the class that generates that wealth. If Native Americans on the reservation (probably the most oppressed group in America, and possibly on Earth by some standards) were to rise up today, what could they possibly hope to accomplish? I've no doubt they'd be very brave and heroic, but communists of the future would be raising toasts to yet another glorious defeat.

    If people in the projects in the U.S. rose up, what could they do? Undoubtedly cause quite a bit of havoc and disruption, but the process of extraction of surplus value and the accumulation of capital would continue.

    But if the working class simply sat down, this society would come to a screeching halt. The Empire would be immobilized within days. This is why the IWW, not incorrectly says, the workers of the world have more power in with their hands in their pockets than do all the hired thugs of the capitalists with all their guns.

    The working class isn't just some other oppressed group. It is the indispensable class in capitalism. While particular workers, even whole nations of workers may be dispensable, the class itself is not, cannot be disposed of. Fascism in America might decide that a white America is the only way to save the nation, and proceed to slaughter off one out of every four people. Capitalism would survive. But they could not, and would never, eradicate the entire working class. Society would collapse.

    Which is not to say that oppression can be ignored, or that the working class is monolithic. The working class <i>will</i> be split. And we will win over many members of other classes, maybe even whole sections of classes. Nor will we win without directly confronting, not merely exploitation, but the various forms of oppression which crush all the peoples.

    But the workers are not just one more "special interest group." The working class, male and female, straight and queer, religious and atheist, white, Black, brown and yellow, it is the central force in the revolution, and the only one capable of taking out capitalism.

  • "And this is why Marxism focuses on the working class. This is the class that generates that wealth. If Native Americans on the reservation (probably the most oppressed group in America, and possibly on Earth by some standards) were to rise up today, what could they possibly hope to accomplish? I’ve no doubt they’d be very brave and heroic, but communists of the future would be raising toasts to yet another glorious defeat."

    This reasoning is faulty.

    By this logic the Chinese and Vietnam revolutions would have been doomed from the start because the main social force behind it were not working class. As it is, one could argue that the Chinese revolution provided communists with the richest experience in our history in its overthrow of the ruling classes and it attempt to transform society along throroughly communist lines.

    "But if the working class simply sat down, this society would come to a screeching halt. The Empire would be immobilized within days. This is why the IWW, not incorrectly says, the workers of the world have more power in with their hands in their pockets than do all the hired thugs of the capitalists with all their guns."

    I think this is also false.

    Communist revolutions have generally involved the forging of alliances between different classes and struggle with the ruling classes and consolidation of revolutionary gains through civil wars. Communists have had to build the organization that can actually take responsibility for running society, including building revolutionary armies. I don't think there is an instance of revolution ever being made "the working class simply sitting down."

    Also in regards to exploitation, Mike is correct in (correcting my formulation) that people don't necessarily become radicalized due to the fact they are exploited (for their interests). And appeal to people on that basis goes against the principles of the communist idea (morality). We are not winning people over to fight for their "interests", we're battling together to liberate humanity.

    And it is correct to remind us of this and for communists to be able to express this vision.

    I don't think there is an argument here by Mike to neglect class or that there is not a burning need for communists to have a sharp understanding of the social dynamics of the country (and world) we are trying to transform. The argument as I understand it is not muddle this understanding of social and class compositions with politics (the emergence of a society wide revolutionary movement with a broad communist pole within it) or with the event (socialist revolution); but to understand both the particularity and the interconnectedness of these three things.

    I think that ideas that talk about the working class power to halt society (implying that this leads to revolution) reflect precisely a muddling of these three things.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    The Chinese and Vietnamese Revolutions were clearly not doomed from the start, since they were principally anti-feudal and anti-colonial revolutions. Neither was the English Revolution doomed from the start. Or the French Revolution. They were just very different revolutions from the tasks which the 21st century is faced with.

  • Guest - Ka Bakaw

    Right Patrick! Not to mention that (Marxist) communism is ABSOLUTELY not about "morals." That's for the utopians like Moore. Have you even read the Manifesto of the movement you claim to belong to? I have to wonder comrade.

    And Maoism is simply utopian version of peasant socialism. With the peasantry disappearing from the stage of history, it becomes more and more stale in this century. "Serve the people" is a missionary ethos, not a revolutionary one. If you wanna serve people, go volunteer somewhere. Many soup kitchens need your help.

    If it was a universal or moral question you wouldn't need revolution. You would just have to make really good arguments and convince everyone what a great idea this all is! As it is, you have a ruling class, you have its enforcers, and you have the ruled. You have a system based on the rulers exploiting the ruled to enrich themselves. Exploited and alienated labor are the basis of all of this. The rulers won't simply give up control of society because of "good moral arguments". That's why there is class struggle.

    Also find it coincidental that I never see any worker talking about this thing. It's always petite-bourgeois elements and students arguing for their own position in the movement. It's all "what about me"!

    - KB from Philippines

  • Guest - carldavidson

    @KB I wouldn't downplay the moral dimension. It runs all though Marx, and outrage against injustice motivates entire generations of fighters. Our civil rights movement of the 1960s, and resistance to the Vietnam war, were cases in point. Moreover, without staking out the moral high ground, there's no counter-hegemony to become hegemonic.

  • Guest - Ka Bakaw

    Morals are religious in nature. Ideology that reflects and justifies a dominant or upcoming form of society. Morals are completely and totally relative and have nothing to do with class interests and class struggle. What's "right" for us is what's right for human liberation, it won't be "right" for the people who currently rule over and exploit us. Social change isn't a good idea put into practice, it's compelled by material conditions and necessities. When the rulers can't rule in the old way, and when the ruled can no longer go on! Not when someone concocts the right pamphlet!

    Are ye revolutionaries or Jehovah's Witness missionaires?

  • Guest - carldavidson

    Morals are religious in nature? No. It's the other way around. Religion, and politics as well, stems from the moral nature of our species being. Morals are part of what makes us human going back to our very beginnings, just as is language and a regard for ritual and natural human right. They vary and evolve through time, and with regard to place and circumstance. But without the altruism of our nature, it's unlikely we would have survived and thrived as a species.

    Your argument was best put by Trotsky, in 'Their Morals and Ours,' ie, whatever serves our immediate quest for power is moral, whatever doesn't, is not. That has been the justification of any number of crimes, including the one against Trotsky himself. For a socialism of the 21st century, we do better to take a different approach.

    Ideology, in my view as well as Marx's, represents the ossified ideas of the old order, not the new. The ideas of the new order are best expanded by science and artistic expression.

    As for 'missionaries,' we would do well to learn a thing or two from them. We are in dire need of teams of organizers to build socialist and working class organizations, especially as Gramsci's 'organic intellectuals' developing the 'Modern Prince,' which is impossible to motivate the young to build without a deep moral dimension.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    It has always been the case that people draw upon morals when rallying for a fight. The men who died at Bunker Hill fighting against the British did not do it for the kind of vulgar motives which J. Sakai might imply. People make such sacrifices because they have persuaded themselves that something better is being fought for. That doesn't negate Howard Zinn's descriptions of how the United States continued for the next century to be heavily based on slavery But it's a vulgarization of history for someone analyzing what drove people to sacrifice themselves in the Revolutionary War of Independence to project all of the later developments back onto the participants of the time.

    Yet if the USA had not produced a burgeoning economy after 1783, and if instead what had emerged had been simply a failed economy made up of utopian collectives, then today the American Revolution would be just an obscure incidental event forgotten by history. It was certainly understood by Marx &amp; Engels that economic development plays a central role in how such events are figured in history. That does not mean that all of those won over to fighting for a cause are just money-chasers. Often it is the opposite, and that was true in 1775 as much as at any other time. But in the long run a revolution has to offer something more than idealism or else it will be ignored by most of those who have finished their college years already.

  • Guest - carldavidson

    Yes, there are other factors than morality, very important ones. But keep in mind that revolutions are made largely by the young, of various classes and strata. Lenin was 29 when he wrote 'One Step Forward..', the Chinese PLA had an average age of 19, Mao was 36, only Chu Dhe was 'the old man' over 50. On taking power the average age of the Cuban leadership was 26, with Fidel the old dude at 35. If you want to make revolution, it helps to know where your hard and courageous fighters will be found, and what motivates them. For a modern speculative look at how morals and religion first formed in our species, I recommend Barbara Ehrenreich's book, 'Blood Rites.' It's quite fascinating.

  • Guest - Keith

    Just a quick response to Nat. I think the point has been made, but for emphasis, the communist revolutions of the 20th century never confronted a capitalist system nor did they overthrow a capitalist system. They were revolutions against feudalism and colonialism, so the role of the working class will necessarily be constricted in such conditions and the role of the peasants expanded. The civil rights movement was not a direct confrontation with capital either but more likely a confrontation with remnant pre-capitalist social forces. That is why Nixon was able to embraced the slogan "black power" and make it adequate for capital.

    On the question of ethics

    The revolutions of the 21st century will directly confront capitalism for the first time in human history. So, our ethics will need the backbone of science or else Ka Bakaw is right, we might as well be Christians preaching "give your goods to the poor," "the meek will inherit the earth" and we can do this while serving the people in soup kitchens.

    I think that some of the above discussion on morality misses the point. The point is that morals or ethics is not the central guide of practice. Value theory which is Marxian science is the guide to practice. We can have a communist ethic and it may tells us what to do in some circumstances but ethics can't determine allies and friends. Ethics can't tell us where the system is weakest and we are strongest. Ethics can't explain an economic crisis and its solution. Our ethics should, I think, rule out torture, and harming innocents, but that doesn't take us very far in terms of what to do. Most of the time when we hear about "ethical Marxism" or "ethical socialism" we are getting a re-packaged Christianity.

  • [moderator note: this comment was moved <a href="/" rel="nofollow">to its own post</a>.]

  • Guest - carldavidson


    The 'Four Alls' are fine, part of a classless society. But we will never get there without a first step, as you put it, 'negating capitalism via socialism, which is an immediate transitional society that is also a class society, but with a different class and its interest in doing away with its 'radical chains' in the lead. Negating socialism with communism come later.

    While keeping the final classless society aims in mind and as a lodestar, I'm much more interested in figuring out how to get from the current order to a new socialist one. These are the tasks at hand. When we have a socialist order, we will shift our priorities, but we have to get there first.

    In any case, I think think we differ on how this second transition happens. (Perhaps I'm wrong, if so correct me.) I don't think our modern classes are 'abolished' by fiat or declarations or even mass mobilizations, although the latter can be helpful. I think they instead 'wither away' via the development of the productive forces to the point where the amount of living labor in any commodity approaches zero, and the working day shrinks toward zero, ie, fully automated, fully cybernated production in futuristic economies of abundance and ecological harmony. That is the only way I know of to have the working class itself fade from history, along with all other classes. And obviously, this takes some time, especially on a world scale. And not only by advances in the economic sphere, but also in the political and the cultural. All the other forms of oppression, while they have a life and dynamics of their own, are anchored in these exploitative structure of the old orders. We can curb them and fight them, and win victories small and large, but to eradicate them, the ground they grow from must be replaced.

    I've argued with your notion of 'economism' before. I prefer Lenin's narrower view of it, opposition to trying to suck everything out of the trade union struggles and playing down or disparaging the wider political struggle, especially the battles for democracy.. Lars Lih'ss new book, 'Lenin Rediscovered,' is fairly good and insightful on the matter.

    Your points on the Civil War are a muddle. Are you trying to claim it wasn't mainly about slavery and the need to get rid of it? Marx's brilliant insight on the matter was showing how the initial arguments and views on either side were delusions, and not all that widely held, even at the time.

    A key part of developing revolutionary class consciousness is all the wider matters you mention. But these must be combined with educating workers as to exactly who they are, as a class in history and in this mode of production. That's Keith's point. It's a good one, and we do well to resist all efforts to avoid it.

  • Guest - El Chango

    Ok Mike, I agree with a lot you say here, but I still think you draw false distinctions between the economic and political which deny the way both are connected in a fluid, dialectical manner.

    California is a major producer and exporter of agricultural products and largely relies on an undocumented immigrant proletariat, truly a class with nothing to lose but its chains. Wouldn't one of the first steps in their struggle be witholding their labor-power, realizing their power and agency as proletarians, and hitting the capitalist system where it hurts most? And, how would communists both support their demands and raise broader questions around imperialism, racism, state power, etc., to develop the politically advanced workers into communists?

    In a hypothetical socialist California, this sector of industry would play a key role in transforming social relations. Immigrants would not longer be undocumented or hunted like criminals. Agricultural work would be reorganized to meet the needs of a new society and would no longer be restricted to the cheap labor of latino immigrants. Latino workers would play a key role in training other people (maybe formally unemployed?) into doing agricultural work, overcoming the capitalist division of labor, developing all-around individuals, thus moving towards communist social relations. This work will by necessity be socialized to broader parts of the population with real stakes and power in the production and distribution of its product (within a socialist planned economy), thus ending the alienation of labor that characterizes capitalism.

    I've enjoyed reading the debate. This is my 2 cents and how I relate to this.

  • Just to start with Carl's historical disagreement:

    <blockquote>"Your points on the Civil War are a muddle. Are you trying to claim it wasn’t mainly about slavery and the need to get rid of it? Marx’s brilliant insight on the matter was showing how the initial arguments and views on either side were delusions, and not all that widely held, even at the time."</blockquote>

    Obviously the Civil War was "about" slavery in several senses (in my mind and to the slaves, the abolitionists, and to those who wanted to preserve or modify slavery).

    The U.S. was rooted in genocide and slavery (and increasingly the extreme exploitation of immigrant workers) -- and (from our perspective obviously) these things cry out for overthrow and liberation.

    (I had to go read in depth about what "Unionist" politics was about -- because, from my vantage point today, I could not imagine or grok what a pro-Northern war mood was animated by, if it was simultaneously disinterested in abolition. Key figures like Sherman and McClellan were hostile to abolition, yet led the creation of the armies that carried it out.)

    Clearly for the African slaves, for the "freedmen," for the runaways, for the contrabands, for the growing numbers of Black soldiers, and for their abolitionist white co-fighters (like John Brown and many others), the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery was the paramount political and moral issue of the age.

    But I am arguing about the reductionist notion that everything has <em>one</em> essence. that everything is about <em>one</em> thing (or "mainly" about it).

    And, in fact, major sweeping historical events are "about" many things. "What was the French revolution "about"? What was World War 2 "about"? Things have causes (multiple entwined complex causes). They have a framework. they have particular (often bizarre) coinciding and colliding forces.

    But major sweeping historical events are not simply "about" one thing.

    And the example I gave is the amazing paradox that an army of mainly-white soldiers (in their millions) enforced the emancipation of African slaves -- even though (at the beginning of the war) both those soldiers and their Republican government <em>generally</em> and <em>vehemently</em> were against emancipation (and went to war for <em>other</em> stated reasons).

    This was a complex entwining of contradictions.

    There is another controversy in this thread: Where there is a debate over what the Chinese revolution was "about." Was it really "about" the overthrow of imperialism, feudalism and capitalism, and about moving through socialism toward communism?

    Or was it just "about" overthrowing feudalism?

    Was it part of the new and arising world-historic struggle against class society? Or was it just the tail-end of the antifeudal revolution started in Europe?

    think about how the assumptions of "about" are bandied about in various discussion? (I see it all the time.) In simplistic and reductionist ways. "This is this, that is that" -- as if sweeping avalanches of human change have some hardened objective kernel essence (in some billiardball view of events).

    I am against a simplistic current within Marxist thinking that seeks to find a single defining (and easily discernable) "essence" to every complex process --- and then (worse yet) proceeds as if so-called "secondary" aspects are all truly secondary.

    It denies the existence of contradiction (and the unity of opposites) in the very heart of things. It denies the fluidity with which things change (surely World War 2 was "about" different things in 1939, than it was in 1944, and it was "about" very different things at the gates of Moscow, or in Yenan, or on the beaches of Iwo Jima.)

    In my view, complex processes don't just "have contradictions" -- they are rife with contradictions. Raging thickets of contradictions are unruly, odd, often unpredictable, and sometimes inherently discordant.

    The casual hoisting of simple "essence" and the accompanying claim of what complex real-world events are "about" is a pretense of dialectics in the service of a "two into one" metaphysics.

  • Guest - carldavidson

    Fine, I'm opposed 'to having everything having one essence,' too. But the main cause of the Civil War was slavery, and the need to expand it, contain it or get rid of it entirely, at once or step-by-step, depending on your class or sector viewpoint.

    Any complex event is full of contradictions. Why wouldn't McClellan fight? Because he was against the abolitionists and for returning escaped slave to their Confederate masters, even as he opposed their secession. He was terribly conflicted, which is why Lincoln had to replace him.

    But all that doesn't stop us from saying that the Civil War was not mainly about tariffs, or state's rights, or other secondary matters.

    In any case, that's a side issue. I considered the other point I made of more import to the matter at hand.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    The query of what not only the Chinese but also the Russian Revolution was about is rather well addressed by Leon Trotsky in his Theory of Permanent Revolution. One great advantage for us today is that we are truly passed the questions which someone like Trotsky was plagued with. We can frame it in its proper historical context today and prepare to move on.

    A century ago the signs were that there was a potential for crisis to break out within advanced First World capitalism, and such crisis might have the potential to unleash a socialist revolution that would sweep away capitalism for good. At the same time, it was also clear that the tendency towards revolutionary crisis was much further developed in places like Russia or China. From a strictly orthodox Marxist perspective, the revolutions in such nations should have been bourgeois revolutions and no more. Yet Trotsky noted that the spread of global capitalism had effectively changed the equation in these local regions so that a traditional bourgeois revolution was less likely to occur. Instead the orthodox forms of bourgeoisie in these areas were more likely to be drawn towards seeking collaboration with foreign capital, the same way that many Arab liberals today gravitate towards the influence of the West. So they were less likely to breed an Oliver Cromwell than an Ahmed Chalabi.

    From that perspective, Trotsky diagnosed that the revolution in Russia (and in similar areas like China) would have to be made with a formally socialist program and that the success of such a program would in the end be linked with the spread of socialist revolution to the First World. It was a logical attempt to grapple with the specific challenges of that age. But the argument is void in today's world.

    More than anything else what is plain today is that there will not be any major world-shaking socialist revolutions until the USA itself explodes from within. If anyone wants to have an idea of what the rest of the world plans to do before then, just look up the BRIC-bloc. The point of BRIC is that Brazil &amp; India seek to establish trade relations with Russia &amp; China that may, they hope, achieve something similar to the way that Taiwan &amp; South Korea gained some economic successes from favorable trade relations with the USA. The Four Tigers of Asia are more widely regarded across the developing world as a model to follow, rather than the Viet Minh. That's just the way things are today.

    So in that context we really don't need to be assessing the types of questions which Trotsky was faced with a century ago. Either capitalism will collapse belly-up in the very heartland of the traditionally developed world at the latest by the year 2100 (which is my expectation) or else there simply won't be any socialist revolutions. Socialist revolution will not begin in the underdeveloped world and then spread beyond as Trotsky had rationally hypothesized. Either it begins in the belly of the beast and then spreads beyond, or else it simply won't happen.

    Now if the Russian &amp; Chinese Revolutions had succeeded in triggering a wave of socialist revolution reaching into the advanced developed world, then they would today be recalled by historians as the first socialist revolutions. Since this did not happen, the framework has long since settled in whereby they will a century from now be viewed by history as the last wave of the bourgeois revolution. It wasn't predetermined that this would be history's verdict. Trotsky's analysis might have been reflected in a spread of the revolution from Russia to Germany to France to Britain to the USA, and then everything would have looked different. But there's no point in wishing things had turned out differently today.

  • Guest - Keith

    In general, I like the practice of moving important comments to their posts but sometimes it makes it difficult to maintain the organic conversation. Indeed, I don't know where to post this comment! I will just post it in both places.

    Mike criticized my essentialism. But dialectics is essentialism.

    The best book on this is Scott Meikle's "Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx." Meikle's book is convincing and compelling. I think that it is hands down the most important text in the secondary literature on dialectics.

    A friend wrote a good introduction to dialectics here:
    Marx was an essentialist, Hegel was an essentialist, and Aristotle was an essentialist. If you don't understand that then Marx's mature project Das Kapital is very difficult to understand.

    You may not care that Marx was an essentialist. That is fine. But, I am an unashamed student of Karl Marx.

    As far as the nature of the Chinese revolution, I agree with Patrick's explanation in #22.

    I think that Mike is attacking: dialectics, historical materialism, and value theory -- what Lenin called the three component parts of Marxism.

    Human history is about all sorts of things. But, it also has an essence. Marx called pre-communist history : "pre-history." Because, the essence of human history, since the neolithic revolution, is the exploitation of human labour and the different forms that exploitation takes.

    The neolithic revolution introduced not only agriculture but the possibility of sustained surplus production. This gave rise to social classes based on the production, appropriation, and distribution of that surplus production. The development of human labour productivity makes different modes of production and different class relations possible. This is basic insight of the "materialist conception of history." That is the essence of the historical process. If you know this you do not know everything, but if you don't know this then you know nothing.

    Capitalism is a much more complicated system for the extraction of surplus labour. The essence of capitalism is the extraction of surplus labour from the direct producer. Again, if you know this you don't know everything but if you don't know this then you know nothing about the system.

    Mike suggests that this is a form of "economism."

    But, recognizing that the the exploitation of human labour is the essence of the system and that the system cannot be ended until labour exploited is ended does not in any way compel us to focus the struggle on gaining higher wages or a more equitable distribution -- quite the contrary! It provides the basis from which to critique a programme focused exclusively on wages and benefits. The point is not a higher wage and more benefits -- the point is not a longer chain. The point is to abolish the system of wage slavery.

    Further, what does equality between nations matter if labour is still exploited? And how can inequality between nations persist if labour exploitation has ended?

    What is the material basis of racism? A slave is a member of a class. Racism cannot exist without the exploitation of labour, but the exploitation of labour can exist without racism.

    Engels argued, based on the evidence of anthropologists, that the oppression of women is rooted in the neolithic revolution; in the ability to produce a consistent surplus product. The oppression of women is based in the exploitation of labour. But labour can be exploited without the oppression of women.

    The problem with Mike's position is that you can wage years, decades, and centuries of struggle over all sorts of oppression and injustice without ever striking at the root -- the essence. Nothing will really change if labour exploitation is not ended.

    Is that not the real difference between reformism and revolution. The reformist rushes around with a fire hose attacking this injustice and that oppression, like a never ending game of whack a mole while the revolutionary attacks this thing at the root.

  • Thanks for responding to my comments, Keith.

    I may respond more later, in depth, but for now, I'm curious to hear what others think.

    Let me just say that we don't agree on the key points you make

    First, I don't agree with your characterization of Marx or of what is essential in Marx. That's a larger discussion which I won't open here.

    Second, i think your arguments about essence are rather extreme. It is true that we can characterize different societies by the nature of their production relations and (in large strokes) there are differences between hunter-gather societies and slave societies, or differences between slave societies and those where laborers work for wages (and can quit their job).

    But to say "the essence of human history, since the neolithic revolution, is the exploitation of human labour and the different forms that exploitation takes" -- well that is reductionist in the extreme (imho). Sure the forms that production takes (and that exploitation takes) put an important (even defining) mark on many things about each society. But how does exploitation become the "essence of human history"? Is that what human history is, a history of exploitation? Not invention? Not revolt? Not of war? Or religion? Or law?

    Is the history of class society <em>simply</em> or <em>essentially</em> a history of exploitation, not of production, harvesting, gathering, etc.?

    Second, i am not a fundamentalist. It matters to me (obviously) what Marx said and taught. but that hardly settles a specific theoretical question for me. I think we have to compare ideas <em>to reality</em> in an ongoing and critical way, not mechanically to early texts in a dogmatic way. And (as with all human theory) there will be things we uphold and things we discard from even the best earlier thinkers and theories.

    Third: we should attack the root. But it is mechanical in the extreme to think that one can attack the exploitation of labor (in the U.S.) without having a movement that is forcefully arrayed against racism and the oppression of African American people (and other nationally oppressed people). Going to the root doesn't mean sidelining or ignoring the concrete manifestations of capitalist oppression -- on the contrary, we target capitalism in order to end those oppressions (and we help people mobilized against their oppression to see that a common struggle against capitalism is key to resolution and progress).

    Fourth: I'm not against all claims of essence. (Even to say that something is progressive or reactionary, the kinds of statements we all make everyday, is to posit a kind of essential quality.)

    But i think your approach (your use of "essense) is deeply non-dialectical, reductionist and non-materialist (in the sense that it doesn't see dynamic complexity and interplay, and in that the "essence" you posit is metaphysical in ways that don't correspond to reality).

  • Guest - exval

    [note: For the purpose of this post, I will refer to "Exploitation" as the exploitation of human labor for surplus value in the economic base and "Oppression" as the various forms of force, social exclusion and control that take place in the superstructure]

    There are many issues raised here and in the thread that I think are very important.

    1. On morality:

    The argument that the communist movement is not (or should not) be driven by moralism is flatly wrong and it stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of Marx's method and intent. In the preface to the first edition of Capital, Marx states:

    "To prevent possible misunderstanding, a word. I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose [i.e., seen through rose-tinted glasses]. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them... The peculiar nature of the materials it [political economy] deals with, summons as foes into the field of battle the most violent, mean and malignant passions of the human breast, the Furies of private interest. "

    For the purpose of his analysis, individuals are treated with regards to the economic categories they operate within. While Marx makes clear that he is not judging individuals on the basis of morality, he is strongly condemning the totality of capitalist relations for the alienation, exploitation and oppression they produce. He does not merely say "capital exploits labor for surplus value" and leaves it at that- on the contrary, he reinforces this point with a LENGTHY exposition on the horrendous conditions of labor faced by child workers in the factory system at the time. From the Manifesto, to other political writings and even in Capital itself, Marx is clearly motivated by an outrage at the present conditions and is driven to change them.

    What separates his writing from others is his ability to merge the clarity of his materialist analysis with the force of his moral outrage and desire for fundamental transformation. Each informs the other. So to say that we communists should not be making moralizing arguments is wrong if not merely for the effect this would have on our political practice. Vulgar economism does not move people. High flying moral condemnation makes for a brief flash of outrage but not a directed movement. Yet a strong analysis of the "system" coupled with a humanistic critique creates a lasting impression and is the main reason I consider myself a Marxist and a communist.

    2. On the base-superstructure, or, how we should approach revolution:

    This is sort of a timeless debate but I'll make a brief argument. I find both Mike and Keith "right" about many points. Mike is correct to highlight the importance of the oppression that is maintained through the superstructure. This can take forms of direct military or police force or more subtle social exclusion and control through the mechanisms of racism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc.

    Keith is also correct to point out that these forms of oppression that exist in the superstructure more often than not serve to ensure the continuing exploitation of labor in the base.

    However, we should be careful here. When we're painting with broad strokes it is easy to lose sight of the historical realities of these systems. Racism, patriarchy and imperialism are forms of oppression that have no clear ESSENTIAL foundation in the base of capitalist production, as they are historically antecedent to that mode of production. Hence, if our goal as communists is to end ALL forms of oppression and exploitation we need to think clearly about how they arise and are perpetuated. There can be no doubt that these antecedent systems have been adapted to the cause of capital, but there is no guarantee that the end of capital means the end of racism or patriarchy.

    I agree that our call to revolution should be founded in a call to end ALL exploitation and oppression. That necessarily means revolutionizing society from the bottom-up, to unroot the basis of a system that is destroying lives and the environment and sapping our humanity. But we also must revolutionize from the top-down, meaning to shake off the dead weight of habits perpetuated by the capitalist system that infect our behavior and attitudes and are expressed in our institutions.

    Words are of course easier than action. One of the benefits of focusing on labor exploitation is that the battle-lines can be easier to draw. Capital versus Labor is a relatively easy struggle to grasp, especially in economic crisis, despite the stratification of the working class. Oppression more generally is a harder struggle as it takes place largely in the realm of ideas, attitudes and individual behavior (although again, it takes shape in the institutions these individuals make up). That is not to say that we SHOULD be focusing on economic class over other issues- it actually means quite the opposite. But it is easy to see how many organizations fall back on what they are familiar with. There are many strategic or tactical reasons why a communist would chose to focus on one over the other, particularly since political time and energy is a limited resource. Those can be legitimate reasons. There are others that are not legitimate. A white person that refuses to consider minority voices in his organization is not a communist in my book or any. Thus, even in our own attempts at targeting a particular facet of the System, we are all too easily blind to the behaviors we perpetuate [in our own organizations!] that do not stem from a particular level of "class consciousness" or our particular relation to the system of production.

    So to sum this up, I think we need to be thinking about how to tackle both exploitation and oppression very carefully and take into consideration the root causes of both and where they intersect. We shouldn't be merely looking for points of overlap. Sometimes there might not be any clear overlap. In those situations we need to draw on our sense of universal human interest and common good. Communism should not be narrowly economic but totally transforming. In terms of practice, our energy should be focused in areas that we are most familiar with and can have the greatest impact. The end of the exploitation of labor should be a chief goal but not the only one. It will serve as the basis for ending forms of oppression that are and are not immediately linked to capital. The important thing is that we don't stop at the base but continue the transformation into the superstructure, to the institutional level and back down to the individual.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    "There can be no doubt ..."

    Actually there's more than a little bit of doubt on those claims. In fact, a more objective assessment of capitalism over the last half-century confirms that raciism, sexism, homophobia and the like are being broken down and dissipated by capitalism, through capitalism, as part of the development of capital. Now you can reasonably argue that the pace of such is unsatisfactory. I mentioned above my general forecast that a socialist revolution will sweep away capitalism in the First World by the year 2100 at the latest. But I'd also add that if capitalism should survive as late as 2100 then by that time any notion of "straight white male privilege" will sound like an outdated anachronism.

    One can see this already in the way that the prison system has vastly expanded since 1980. Now it's true that statistics show that the highest numbers and percentages of people herded into prison have been among the non-white population. But they also show that the increase in prison rates has been much more general than merely targeting non-whites. How long that can be carried on and still be identified as "white privilege" in any meaningful sense? At some point either the expansion of the prison system has to ease up and slow down, or else it will unavoidably end up eradicating any meaningful benefit which white people still may seem to have. But all of the social indicators are that things are not going to slow down in any such way. Carry that on consistently to the year 2100 and it's not hard to see where things are going.

    The issue is even clearer in many other issues. For example, there are certainly regions around Hollywood where having a gay resume could be an advantage for someone. One can still point to legal discrimination in the way that marriage and some other things are treated. But the clear trend is for a breaking apart of all such barriers. That trend is determined not in spite of capitalism but fully in line with capitalism.

    It is also capitalism which has brought about the current trend whereby the percentage of people seeking higher education has shifted towards a female majority. This is clearly documented for anyone who bothers to examine the relevant statistics. Capitalism has done more to release women from traditional roles than any other system to date, and that includes the attempts made at building socialism of the last century.

    In the 1960s there was a tendency which formed on the Left at a time when economic prosperity was running high and workers were clearly not about to demand socialism. It tried to latch onto issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia and the like and to assert that "This will not be ended under capitalism!" That then was invoked as a reason for ending capitalism at a time when most workers were happy with it. But in reality capitalism has proven that it has a far greater capacity for making such radical changes than much of the Left has wished to admit. All evidence of the last 5 decades shows that capitalism is rocketing ahead with changes that will leave such claims lying in the dust.

    That will not solve the problem of the exploitation of labor. But it will have the virtue of clarifying the issue. Maybe it really will take all the way until the year 2100 before this issue is clarified to the point that a proletarian revolution becomes possible. But in any event, that is the direction from which revolution will come when it does come.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    'Rocketing ahead?' Certainly not the white-skin privilege and its attendant conflicted consciousness as it exists around here in Western PA. It's still a tough nut to crack, and the not-so-hidden secret to the political dominance of our adversaries. Expect racism and chauvinism to be fully engaged for the 2012 election. The GOP is already trying to purge Black voters from the registered voter lists. And I fail to see how the growth in the absolute number of white prisoners, when Black and Latino numbers are growing even faster, shows that the white supremacist nature of prisons is lightening up.

  • Guest - Ka Bakaw

    " Not invention? Not revolt? Not of war? Or religion? Or law?"

    Those are all things that come from, reflect, defend, legitimize the mode of production--the essence. Come on, this is basic Marxism. I thought we were having a higher level of discussion on this site.

  • Guest - Red Fly

    Mike wrote:

    <blockquote>Do we assume that we can’t have a revolution in the U.S. unless workers have some strong explicit self-identification as workers… or is the key identification needed from oppressed people with the goals of revolutionary change — equality, end of poverty, sustainable ecology, end to empire and war, overthrow of this society’s prison/police apparatus, and more?</blockquote>

    I don't know what explicit self-identification(s) will be claimed by a revolutionary people. Maybe "worker" won't be part of that. Or maybe it will.

    Five years ago in this country and around much of world the idea of an explicitly class-based politics was seen by most everyone, save for a few lonely, looney end-of-history deniers/left-wing cultists, as utterly anachronistic. Communism, socialism, Marx, Lenin, the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, workers, capitalists, class struggle, revolution, historical materialism, dialectics, ...all the old signs and signals, dead and buried. Of interest perhaps to the historian, but hardly anything worthy of serious consideration in our enlightened, post-ideological, post-political, post-modern, global village. After all, we were told, in a couple of short decades, the "power of markets" combined with the cleverness and compassion of our zillionaire elites will have lifted the entire world out of the muck of poverty. Soon, it was said, we will all be feasting on the fruits procured by our wise and benevolent corporate stewards. The neoliberal singularity was near.

    Today, a profound systemic crisis, trillions in bailouts and numerous revolts both big and small later, class is once again weighing on the brains of the living like a nightmare. Marx's name is once again echoing in respectable circles. Old Comrade Lenin is getting a fresh hearing on the left. Inequality is at the forefront of the debate in both elite policy circles and around the kitchen table. Anger at banksters and other assorted corporate crooks is palpable. More and more people are figuring out that, no matter what country you're in, mainstream electoral politics is a total sham and all the old parties are populated by almost nothing but corrupt, parasitic asshats. Trust in virtually all institutions is dropping like a rock. People expect only bad and worse from the criminals that run things.

    The class war is back. And whether the case is titled bourgeois v. proletarians or 1% v. 99%, the fundamental contradiction today, not only in the advanced countries where a global criminal plot has been hatched to erase history and re-pauperize the center through coordinated austerity, but also on the periphery, where rising food prices were an essential part of a vital mix helping to bring down U.S.-backed dictators, is the contradiction between those who own and control the means of production, the capitalists, and those who own nothing but their ability to labor, the workers.

    So yeah, in these world-historic times, under this world-historic confluence, I'm raising the banner of the Workers' Movement, promoting communism and communists as the vanguard of the Workers' Movement, promoting awareness of the centrality of workers to the everyday functioning of society, trying to rekindle pride in the appellation "worker".

    Whither the workers' movement? Fine. But then, whither the black nationalist movement? Whither the student movement? Whither the Chicano movement? Wither the women's movement?

    I used to hear derision when I talked about the working class with liberals. And now those same people are radicalizing, dropping the disinfo term "middle class" and spreading the message about the plight of the workers. Criticism of capitalism amongst these same liberals was verboten, now it's starting to become standard, a new common sense.

    And so yeah, I do believe in spooks, specters, ghosts...history. I do believe that old terms can take on new vibrant life. Though it often does, shockingly radical doesn't always mean new. Sometimes it means rediscovering a certain heritage that has been systematically covered up, whitewashed, erased, "written out of history by the corrupted and rotten." The left liberal discovering for the first time that what he's seeing in the world he's living in today in the 21st century USA was described and analyzed in detail over 150 years ago by a bushy bearded German dude can be a shockingly radical experience, an experience that makes them realize, "hey, if they lied to me about this guy, what else are they lying to me about? Maybe there's really something to what these Marxists are saying."

    I think innovation is wonderful. We absolutely do need it. But we also need a certain stubbornness. From the very beginning, Marxist communism was based on the idea of an international sister and brotherhood of workers and their representatives liberating humanity from the shackles of class society. And that's where I'm planting my flag. Not because of nostalgia. But because it is the essence, quiddity, quintessence, nucleus, kernel, marrow, core, soul and spirit of our movement. Not its mere trace.

  • Guest - Zen Eigentum

    If I may ask Ka why are you still a Marxist? Your post morality views are nice and all but sooner or later you have to begin critiquing alienating power as such, your wasting your time in a place like this, people who are internally consistent with the trajectory you are on eventually move on to Stirner and Nietzsche.

  • Guest - Red Fly

    Mike wrote:

    <blockquote>I think the main question around radical artists is whether their art undermines the system, and helps generate ideas that undermine the system, and helps gather forces (and audiences) that undermine this system. Whether they support currently existing movements is rather secondary in most cases. And whether their support focuses on “working class movements” is even more secondary (especially when there are none.) I am very in favor of actors and artists using their pubic access to promote radical causes. It is wonderful. But I think we (meaning we communists) should not focus on that (in a narrow way) — to the exclusion of appreciating the impact of radical art (including radical art that appears in the main arenas — rock concerts, movie theaters, top TV shows, etc.)</blockquote>

    I actually think how radical artists relate to workers and working class movements (whether or not there are currently any is beside the point -- currently there's not a whole lot of anything, though I would argue Occupy is/was, fundamentally, a workers movement in that it represented quite explicitly the interests of the workers, who make up the majority of the 99% (and representing these interests is far from a bad thing!)) is very important.

    I think one of the things that made communism a strong force was the positive depictions of workers by radical artists. I'm thinking here of the good stuff: films like Strike, Modern Times and Salt of the Earth, literature like Germinal, Joe Hill's and Woody Guthrie's ballads, paintings by Diego Rivera.

    On the other hand, there's a lot of really bad "proletarian" art out there. The aesthetic aspect has to be the primary concern of the artist because not even the best politics will save a Thomas Kinkade aesthetic sensibility.

    One of the barriers to forming any lasting movement right now has been the way that this sickening culture depicts oppressed people (including, but not limited to, workers.) Rarely ever do you see poor people, for example, portrayed as anything other than stupid hooligans and loafers. All the positive depictions are saved for the ruling class and its allies. A lot of it is unconscious, but a lot of it is also quite explicitly designed this way for maximum hegemony. Here I'm thinking of fascist garbage like <em>24</em> and <em>300</em>.

  • Guest - Ka Bakaw

    "If I may ask Ka why are you still a Marxist?"

    Self interest. Why are you?

  • Guest - ish

    Patrick I strongly recommend Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" if you really believe racism has been broken down by capitalism. In fact racism has been deeply strengthened and institutionalized, at least in the United States, even though this has happened in ways that are not described in racialized language. For example in a city like New York black and latin teens can now routinely expect to be stopped and frisked for no reason at all with complete government impunity. This is new, and worse than before. As capitalism is literally no longer able to provide the jobs it once was, new and completely racist ways of solving its crises like mass incarceration and the mass disenfranchisement of black people that accompanies it in fact bring racism to the forefront of the struggle.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    Ish, I had a thought yesterday, but I haven't had time to really think about it, but I'll share it anyway. It seems as though, even as individuals themselves act in a less and less racist fashion, as notions of racial superiority and inferiority fade, as more and more interracial couples exist (1 in 6 or 7 marriages now), that the state has stepped into the breach. Where once, it was red lining and hiring practices and gangs of angry white men, now it is cops and prisons and rules against hiring anyone with a record.


  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    “To” (I prefer “to” rather than @ ) Red Fly, in your Comment #31: You raise some interesting points, coming off of what Mike laid out, more specifically about “radical” artists.

    I think some of the difficulty in determining who constitutes a “radical artist” whether for instance, the artist’s art “undermines the system” or not—if that is your yardstick—is to take the artist’s work out of context – be it historical or more current. And different currents are more radical at different points in time.

    (You mentioned “Germinal” by Zola—which was very radical for its time, but in today’s world, might be seen as a complete downer, or a false stereotype, in its portrayal of the working class (and the bourgeoisie)—in this case French coal miners.)

    What I see as a dilemma for the more burgeoning socially conscious artist is, what is interpreted (by both the artist and their audience) as some individual expression, or do artists themselves, or does their work, more represent being a part of a greater whole? a bigger picture? And maybe it is just a matter of semantics, but I prefer to think in terms of a growing social consciousness, rather than just what is radical art, or who’s a radical artist, because I think that can be very limiting. Without meaning to, it could short-circuit new ways of looking at things, or some exploration outside the box. Perhaps not that dissimilar to the political exploration taking place on the Left in general.

    Is their art evocative, without necessarily speaking to every contradiction, or being all-inclusive? Is their work more partisan without being overly or blatantly so? Does their art often raise more questions for the people to deal with, rather than giving pat answers?

    The Ashcan Artists come to mind here—with their exposure and depiction for the world to see, of the plight of the immigrants to the U.S., the tenement dwellers, at the turn of the 20th century. Artists like Soyer and Bellows having a profound impact on the wider consciousness, without necessarily undermining the system itself.

    Then there’s a writer like Maxim Gorky—who not only was contradictory himself, but judged at different points differently—a revolutionary writer for his time?—overall Lenin thought so of his good friend—but then he was taken down by the more literal critics after Lenin’s death.

    BTW, Gorky’s “Lower Depths” had such impact, that it was later re-interpreted and rejuvenated by the likes of Jean Renoir and Kurosawa, speaking to their own cultural-political-social objective situations and circumstances.

    Art can be very subjective. And many artists view both their work and their role strictly on a subjective basis—and that outlook is reinforced all the time by the powers that be.

    But in the process of radicalization—amongst the many, not just artists per se—a transformation can take place where individual artists begin to think of themselves, or their art, as part of the objective—and they struggle with just what kind of role they (and their work) can play within that larger framework.

    And as the world changes, new contradictions arise, etc.; artists are not divorced from that. Instead as they too are in motion, often times their forms of or weapons for expression are honed, or the utilization of the tools in their arsenal go through big changes—even if those artistic changes are not necessarily obvious or visible to the naked eye.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    <i>"In our lifetimes, the communist movements have been quite distant from literally working class movements (with a very few exceptions)."</i>

    That's very true - and that's the number one problem of the communist movement.

    We need to get back to fighting for the working class to come to power, to establish freedom for all, destroy the class system and replace capitalism with a society of free producers.

    Unfortunately, our movement got derailed in the early 1920s and spent the next seven decades as cheerleaders for police states. Some folks who consider themselves communist still do that (see all the leftists who supported Gaddafi and opposed the Libyan revolution last year - or those who currently oppose the Syrian revolution and support al-Assad).

    We need to get back to our roots - in the working class,specifically workers in industry. We're at the core of society and we are the key to any real revolution worthy of the name.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    Also, when you speak of "artists" being a base for revolution, which "artists" are you talking about?

    Are you talking about millionaires like Kostabi or Cai Guo-Qiang, who don't even do their own artwork (they hire "assistants" who do all the actual artwork for them - they just supervise)?

    Or are you talking about the sculptor with a day job at Starbucks, or the painter who works as a restaurant manager, or the graphic artist who's illustrator job at MTV supports her art work?

    The second group are part of our class and will definitely be on our side.

    As for the first group, expect to see them on the opposite side of the barricades, with the gallery owners and the people who own Sotheby's.

  • Guest - thegodlessutopian

    @Mike's Original Post: I think I understand what you mean. You are saying that there is a fundamental difference between working class interests and communists interests and that this separation, while related in common goals, often has varying levels of conflicting ideals.

    It is true that in my original piece I was using the terms "working class movement" and "communist movement" as one in the same.I would agree with your analysis in regards to this and to a communist party being unable to call themselves a working class part is they lack direct support from that class.

    In regards to allies by "friends of the working class" I am referring to artists such as Seth and company who like to bellow phrases about how they "support working Americans" (American liberal slang for working class) through their medium. Anyone who watches their programs will realize that these militant bourgeois supporting reactionaries believe they are earnest "friends of the working class" by an sole effort to direct support towards the Democratic Party; the party, which is important to remember, many establishment based liberals truly believe is the "party of the poor."

    Building on what we established a little bit ago we can now say that working class and communist interests are not fundamentally one in the same. Yet this still does not mean that the working class is going to be "taken care of" if they place their trust in the bourgeois mechanisms of reformism (the Democratic Party). Which is, I think, a major theme in my original essay that the Working Class needs opinions which do not serve the ruling capitalist class but rather they need opinions which offer a genuine alternative.

  • Guest - thegodlessutopian

    Reblogged this on <a href="/" rel="nofollow">The Queer Gathering</a> and commented:
    Thought provoking piece which is in relation towards my essay on Queer Equality and the Media.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    Question to Gregory: When you quote “Also, when you speak of “artists” being a base for revolution, which “artists” are you talking about?

    And my question to you is—who has said that artists were going to be a base for revolution?

    But I wanted to add something about the tugs and pulls (and co-options) on artists (from different classes)—not just in terms of the more obvious, as in economically, notoriety or fame or by bourgeois standards, but also the influences from communist/radical political lines, organizations, parties—be they revisionist or considered more revolutionary.

    A good example might be the difference between two of the most famous “Fab 4” (Rivera, Orozco, Siquieros, Tamayo), Mexican muralists i.e., Diego Rivera as compared to José Clemente Orozco.

    (And BTW, Diego Rivera more often than not, in executing his humongous-sized murals, used a team of apprentices to actually do the painting while he supervised.)

    When Octavio Paz, the Mexican essayist and poet, was still very progressive (in his later years he became quite conservative/reactionary) he wrote a series of essays about Mexican art with much about the muralists. I very much agree with his observations and assessments.

    Rivera became a member of the Communist Party, and their revisionist (and economist) line helped determine much of what he portrayed and how he portrayed the people and their struggle, including the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

    His paintings became fairly benign, and stilted, some stereotypical versions of the masses, Soviet (socialist realism) and/or CPUSA style, even if he inserted a cameo of either Marx or Lenin. Many of the national bourgeoisie are portrayed simply as Calaveras, or skeletons/cadavers, dressed in top hats and tuxes. His murals and paintings during this period pretty much reflected the CP line on art (even though before Trotsky was assassinated while in exile in Mexico, Rivera and Trotsky were “buds.”).

    In comparison, José Clemente Orozco, who never considered himself a communist (and was somewhat spiritual), made murals that depicted a wrenching view, concentrating heavily on the indigenous people, the alienation that came with the industrial revolution, anti-fascism, organized religion, Mexico’s history, in both support of and also with criticisms of the Mexican Revolution, the revolution for Mexican Independence, social relations, etc.

    To this day, Orozco knocks your socks off. Through his art, it is clear that Orozco’s allegiance was always with the downtrodden, exploited and oppressed workers, indigenas and peasants, and he seemed fearless when portraying the myriad of contradictions in society and within the human condition.

    (Interestingly, David Alfaro Siquieros was more of a dichotomy—he was a die-hard Stalinist—literally, as he was part of an assassination attempt on Trotsky-- but his powerful—and I think captivating-- art was more similar to Orozco’s. On the other hand, think Siquieros was hard pressed to reveal any human frailities since the majority of his figures looked like Atlas or all-powerful. Tamayo is in a whole other category—but if I had to “judge” would have to say he seemed the most sexually liberated of the 4.)

  • Guest - Red Fly

    Here's what I want to know: Why can't we recognize the moment of truth in "workerism"? Why do we have to reproduce its vulgar reductionism by writing it off wholesale? Why can't we work to re-instill a pride in being a worker, why can't we learn to understand and respect working class culture, while at the same time recognizing that it ultimately falls short of "maximum consciousness"? Maybe elements of workerism (if certainly not the whole package) are the necessary prerequisite for maximum consciousness.

    From an essay I'm reading on Chris Marker's late 60's experiments in revolutionary filmmaking:

    <blockquote>“In an interview regarding the Vertov Group, Godard argues, “We took Vertov's name not in order to apply his program, but to take him as a flag-bearer in relation to Eisentstein who is already a revisionist filmmaker.....The only films that the proletarians truly accept today are still Potemkin or The Salt of the Earth: these are the only films that touch them profoundly, the film of a bourgeois carried along by the revolution and that of a liberal American...Even if this boosts the proletarian's morale, it gives him no indication of the political forces at play where his is struggling.” Godard, “Le Groupe 'Dziga Vertov,” pp. 82, 85.</blockquote>

    I don't think it's true that these films "give him no indication of the political forces at play where he is struggling." In fact they set up the basic antagonisms quite well. And in a culture that never seems to run out of ways of insulting oppressed and exploited people, these kinds of morale boosters are quite necessary. (Though these particular films are a bit creeky by today's standards.)

    I'm not advocating that we tail currently existing working class consciousness.

    But I think part of a vanguard effort at forging a revolutionary people should not be to simply accept currently existing divisions either, but to work towards the production of a collective workers' consciousness marked by rebelliousness, self-confidence/self-respect and generosity. That would involve the elimination of a condescending, false vanguard-ism whereby the basic verdict of bourgeois society that workers are lugheads who need to be told what to do is reproduced in a slightly different register. A true vanguard, through a compelling application of the Mass Line and the nurturing of organic intellectuals -- the two best communist methods found so far for mediating the leadership/led and proletarian/petty bourgeois divisions -- will strive to bring to life an autonomous force capable of focusing its heterogenous elements towards the fulfillment of an imagined concrete totality.

    To reiterate, this requires not merely an abstract sharing of common values, but I believe also the development of a common identity. One which doesn't liquidate difference but does transcend it.

    I suppose you could make a case for another common identity -- perhaps communist or human being or revolutionary or 99%-er -- but I suspect these all come off a bit abstract to most people. "Worker" has proven in the past to be a common concrete identity capable of arousing fierce pride and loyalty and determination and discipline. Is it still capable of arousing the numbers we've seen in the past? I don't know for sure. But I suspect it holds more juice than any other option.

    The other best option would probably that of an oppressed nationality. But while I think these can have a lot juice in the context of a wider revolutionary struggle, I think the days of the national liberation struggles <em>sensu stricto</em> are largely over. This form of the struggle contributed greatly to the emergence of a truly international world, and though obviously local conditions and national conditions are key factors, the terrain this time appears to me to be truly global.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    This may sound flippant, Red Flag, but I think the answer to your question is that dealing with workers and their concerns is simply considered either 'too hard' or 'too boring' by some of our radicalizing youth--and some older folks, too.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Red Fly - I really have to applaud your comments, especially this:

    <i>" That would involve the elimination of a condescending, false vanguard-ism whereby the basic verdict of bourgeois society that workers are lugheads who need to be told what to do is reproduced in a slightly different register."</i>

    Far too many middle class leftists have an almost stockbroker-like contempt for workers.

    That's kind of a big deal, especially if they have pretenses of wanting to lead us.

    As far as common identities are concerned, the big difference between <i>worker</I> as opposed to <i>communist</i> or <i>human being</i> or <i>99 percenter</i> or member of an oppressed nationality is that worker is a <b>class identity</b>.

    That's kind of a big deal, since <b>the fundamental contradiction under capitalism is <i>the conflict between worker and capitalist</i></b>

    Every other conflict flows from that big one and is subordinate to it.

    @ Carl - Hell must be freezing over today because, for once, I find that I agree with you.

    I suspect strongly that a lot of middle class leftists find dealing with workers and our concerns either "too hard", "too boring" or just plain not important.

    That's kind of a problem for those leftists, because that fundamental class conflict between us workers and the capitalists is the very reason that a communist revolution is necessary in the first place!

    You can't have a communist revolution without the concerns of the working class (even the "boring" ones) as front and center demands of any communist movement worthy of the name.

  • Gregory writes:

    <blockquote>"As far as common identities are concerned, the big difference between worker as opposed to communist or human being or 99 percenter or member of an oppressed nationality is that worker is a class identity. That’s kind of a big deal, since the fundamental contradiction under capitalism is the conflict between worker and capitalist Every other conflict flows from that big one and is subordinate to it."</blockquote>

    Gregory expresses a rather consistent argument of workerism (working class identity politics, with its hostility toward the middle classes, and the assumption that identity is the determinent feature of people, leaders, organizations etc.) I don't want to ignore that completely, but want to address the above statement in particular.

    This view (that the worker/bourgeois class contradiction is "the fundamental contradiction" of capitalism) is not unusual, it has been expressed by quite a few different people over quite some time. I would like to present a different analysis (which I think is better expressive of reality and communist theory).

    Contrary to Greg's formulation, Marxism holds that the fundamental contradiction of capitalism is the ongoing, underlying and developing contradiction between socialized production and privatized appropriation.

    It is a contradiction that has intensified over time, as the nature and forms of production have gotten more and more socialized, and as (by contrast) the ownership of the means of production has moved into fewer and fewer hands.

    The "underlying" and "fundamental" words are important here: because its not as if this contradiction shows up (in its own name, in its own right) in the news and determines things. It is at the "fundament" (i.e. foundation) of events, underlying them.

    And it appears, at a higher level of operation, through mediation, in two main forms of motion (as it was originally described in a formulation by Fredrick Engels):

    a) the class struggle (i.e. the class contradiction of the working class with the capitalist owning class) — This is not merely or mainly the skirmishes of struggle between those classes (in this or that economic struggle). This form of motion also gives rise to the world historic class struggle to replace capitalism as a mode of production.

    b) the anarchy-organization contradiction of capitalism — i.e. that it is (inherently as a system) both organized in a vast and intertwined web of human production, but is simultaneously divided into rival centers of appropriations (what is called “many capitals”). This second “form of motion of the fundamental contradiction” is the one that gives rise to capitalist crisis, war, and economic competition.

    Both of these forms of motion are quite dynamic -- and their manifestation <em>do</em> show up in the news. The rivalry of blocks of capital, the competition of capitalist corporations and capitalist countries for capital and markets, the eruption of wars between reactionary states, the "race for the bottom" in wages and working conditions all are manifestations of the anarchy-organization contradiction of capitalism.

    It is also by understanding the <em>two</em> forms of motion of the fundamental contradiction that we get a sense of the conjunctural nature of revolutionary opportunities.... because (as we all probably see) And as we can see, the class struggle (of working people against their oppressors) interpenetrates with those manifestations (since, of course, class struggle is affected by crisis, wars, layoffs, give-backs, etc.) And the radicalization of other strata (and their alliance in a revolutionary movement with working people) also are effected by these "anarchy-organization" eruptions of the fundamental contradictions (defeat in war, economic devastation of a financial meltdown, etc0&gt;

    And in fact the current crisis is itself an expression of the fundamental contradicition of capitalism — and contradiction that needs to be resolved through socialism (which can only take place in the arena defined by the struggle of opposing classes over the future of humanity.)

    This is a rather different understanding of the fundamental contradiciton -- which gives a more nuanced sense of how <em>underlying</em> and growing conflict at the very <em>heart</em> of capitalism as a mode of production give rise to <em>both</em> crisis and revolt, and it gives a sense of mediation (i.e. that the class struggle is not the only outcome of capitalism's contradiction but one of several).

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    Mike - Obviously, we practice very different types of Marxism.

    The Marxism I practice - which, I daresay is the more <i>orthodox</i> version, for what it's worth - holds that the fundamental contradiction in all class societies is between the two productive classes. In our case, under capitalism, that would be the working class and the capitalist class.

    Your version - influenced by all the post 1921 Zinovievist-Stalinist political gyrations the Third International had to make to justify a Communist Party running a state capitalist dictatorship - denies that principle. Based on your comments, it seems that the priority for your form of Marxism is contradictions between different groups of capitalists, and a vision of a revolution led by anybody but the working class.

    Honestly, we've tried your version of Marxism and, on the whole, it's worked out badly, for our movement, the countries that had the misfortune of being ruled by folks who follow your politics and for the working class of the world.

    Perhaps we should dump Zinovievism-Staliinism (the more accurate name for your variety of Marxism) into the dustbin of history and go back to Orthodox Marxism - the ideology that brought us the two highest points of working class power and democracy in world history, the Paris Commune and the Petrograd Soviet.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    Jerry White &amp; Phyllis Scherrer take a good stance:

    Since the killing of Diaz, several groups have intervened quickly to insist that the police attack is about enforcing racial segregation, and that the response must be to build a movement against the "New Jim Crow." The attempt to focus popular anger on the question of race is aimed at promoting a section of the Democratic Party political establishment involved in Hispanic organizations, such as and a community group called Los Amigos. It serves to block the only means of fighting against police brutality and the attack on democratic rights--a united political movement of the entire working class.

    In fact, police brutality affects all sections of the working class, white, black, Hispanic, Asian and immigrant. There was widespread revulsion last year to the murder of Kelly Thomas, a homeless white working class man who was beaten to death by police in Fullerton, next door to Anaheim, despite outraged protests from bystanders.

    Only a week before the killings of Diaz and Acevedo, Los Angeles police unleashed a brutal assault on a small group of Occupy LA participants at the annual chalk art festival in downtown Los Angeles, firing rubber bullets and beating and arresting people, most of whom were white.

    The great dividing line in the United States--and, indeed, around the world--is between a small layer of the super-rich, on the one hand, and the vast majority of working people on the other. The beefing up of the powers of the state and the unleashing of police violence is the response of the ruling class to the growth of social tensions. America is ripe for a social explosion, as the immense popular outrage over the killing in Anaheim demonstrates.

    The use of the phrase "New Jim Crow" by some Left of Center liberals is a terrible bastadization of language. The fundamental essence of Jim Crow was that someone like Condoleezza Rice could never act as a plantation overseer of white and black workers. If someone like Clarence Thomas had walked into a town of the Old South and announced that he was legally trained to be a judge then very likely some white high school dropout would have strung him up from a lamppost and the local cops would have testified that it was an act of self-defense. That was what the real Jim Crow was about, and that is indeed long since over and buried.

    What began in 1980 was not a race war but a broad class war for which the harshest effects were most immediately visible among the poorest communities, which in the USA in the 20th century usually meant black neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the willingness to promote someone like Colin Powell to a high position is every bit as much a part of this program of class war as anything else. The class character of this long-running offensive can be expected to become clearer as the decades move on. Terms like "New Jim Crow" are a liberal to throw obfuscation into the air.

  • Guest - carldavidson

    Where do you get these ideas, Patrick? I know where they are to be found, in the long-stand liquidation of the national question, both from the right as reformism and from the ;left' as your 'class vs class' stuff here. But do you really go out and investigate the reality of segregated communities and the prison system, and talk to people to come up with these ideas? In my reality, I'm arguing almost daily with stressed out Tea Party types in the working class and small producers who are for stripping Blacks of voting rights and worse. They actually think the only racism still prevalent is Black racism against whites, and who want to dump Obama because he's a 'Kenyan Muslim'. They don't really believe that crap. It's just their way of saying 'n#gger' in mixed company.

  • Guest - ish

    Patrick I urge you again to actually read The New Jim Crow. And then look around you at the real world.

    Nothing is exactly as it was before, history is dynamic. As our response as revolutionaries must be.

    Calling for a "united political movement of the entire working class" is a context-free platitude, not a real line of march.

  • Guest - Red Fly

    The scary and frustrating thing is, Carl, I think many of them really do believe it. I've talked to lots of these types and many them come off as very sincere. On the other hand, it's pretty rare that you'll hear a wholesale endorsement of the full right-wing program.

    They take the bits and pieces that they can fit within a very narrow personal narrative. So for some it's about kicking poor people off food stamps, even if they themselves are just barely above the income cutoff scale. At same time they'll be very strong in their opposition to cuts that currently directly effect them: like the child tax credit or the EIC. This system has trained them to think only in terms of their immediate self-interests. The most difficult thing is to make them see beyond this very limited horizon.

    Another example: I was talking to a guy a couple of weeks ago and he was going on about welfare this and lazy bastards that. I explained to him that anybody can fall on hard times, even himself. He refused to countenance that. I then chose a different angle. I explained that "welfare" was, on the grand scale of things, a drop in the bucket. I talked about how we've spent trillions bailing out criminals who destroyed the world economy, I talked about the hundreds of billions we spend every year through the tax code providing welfare to giant corporations and the people that run them, I talked about how we spend billions bombing poor people all over the world and enriching defense contractors. And then I asked why he was so concerned about the relative drop-in-the-bucket spent on poor people and yet was so unconcerned about the trillions being robbed from working people by the rich. His response said a lot: He said that he doesn't personally know any of these rich people but he knows a lot of "welfare mooches." What I took from this is a couple of things: 1) the rich are an abstraction for him and 2) it's much easier to attack the poor and politically powerless. So my question: how do we make actions of the rich much more real for the average person when most people don't actually know or deal with these people in real life?

    With respect to this idea of the New Jim Crow, look, whatever label we want to use, is there really any doubt that black and brown people are singled out for "special treatment" from the criminal injustice system? Of course poor whites also have to deal with police brutality and unjust incarceration, but in this country people of color have always been the target of the most vicious repressive efforts. I don't see why this is a controversial position.

    The intensification of the class war under neoliberalism, its application to the working class across the board on a global scale, doesn't negate the fact that people of color are targeted in an especially intense way that is not merely a byproduct of their class standing.

  • Guest - Red Fly

    To Miles Ahead:

    <blockquote>What I see as a dilemma for the more burgeoning socially conscious artist is, what is interpreted (by both the artist and their audience) as some individual expression, or do artists themselves, or does their work, more represent being a part of a greater whole? a bigger picture? And maybe it is just a matter of semantics, but I prefer to think in terms of a growing social consciousness, rather than just what is radical art, or who’s a radical artist, because I think that can be very limiting. Without meaning to, it could short-circuit new ways of looking at things, or some exploration outside the box. Perhaps not that dissimilar to the political exploration taking place on the Left in general.

    Is their art evocative, without necessarily speaking to every contradiction, or being all-inclusive? Is their work more partisan without being overly or blatantly so? Does their art often raise more questions for the people to deal with, rather than giving pat answers?</blockquote>

    These are good questions.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think part what you're asking is, does art have to have some overt political message to affect the world in a socially progressive way? And I don't think it necessarily does have to have an overt political message. I think sometimes art that is merely intended to be subjective can create new ways of looking at the world that move things in a socially progressive direction even if that's not the explicit aim. Things like <em>Les Demoiselles d'Avignon</em> or <em>Le sacre du printemps</em> or a number of other works arising out of the early modernist ferment, though obviously reflective of bourgeois society in many ways, contributed I think to an opening not only of aesthetic boundaries, but in a way that's hard to pinpoint exactly, an opening of social boundaries more generally.

    One problem I see is that the injunction to make it new has for some time been at a point of exhaustion. It's possible that we've reached not only the limits of representation, but also the limits of non-representation. And if that's the case it's hard to see how the truly new emerges. Of course it always has, and usually in times of great social upheaval. So maybe it's just a matter of time.

    Don't get wrong: there's still good art being made. In cinema, the form I know the most about, masterpieces are being made every year. But, in large part due to the economic situation, the sort of highly personal/idiosyncratic stuff that is usually lumped together under the label "art house cinema" is having a very difficult time. Many even say it's dying. While there's a vibrant sub-culture online and based around home viewing, the art house theater proper is going the way of the dinosaur, it appears.

    Alas, "Everything that is solid..."

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    "people of color are targeted in an especially intense way that is not a product of their class standing."

    All of that is indeed changing. Just give it until the end of the century and see how much further things have changed by then. I can guarantee that the changes which will occur simply through the natural development of capitalism will be even more dramatic than the changes which we've already seen since 1924 (2100 - 2012 = 2012 - 1924, same length of time). Capitalism is itself a system that is very much in motion and changing a lot of these things constantly, except the exploitation of labor. That's a big reason why more people of color have not come rushing to either join or form a communist party. They have lots of valid complaints to make, but they see the relevant process of change as a continuation of what has already been in motion. A revolutionary overthrow of capitalism will not arise principally from that.

  • Guest - carldavidson

    Good grief, Patrick, open your eyes. First on all, no sector of the US population has been flocking to the communist movement in decades. That's no measure of significance. However, in most of the insurgent movements and battles in the country, the participation of people of color is disproportionally higher than others. Look at the MayDay rally in NYC this year--or the one in Chicago a few years back that drew 500,000, mostly people of color. Why do you think that might be? We just had a large rally in Harrisburg defending voter rights, about half of whom were Black in a state with a much smaller percentage of Blacks overall. Why do you think that was the case? And that's in a context where a majority of white workers are voting Republican. Get rid of that white blindspot.

  • Guest - Jan Makandal

    Again, societal alternatives have always been class alternatives, making this a relative absolute “truth” in any class divided society. The proletarian (dialectical/historical materialist) philosophical principle confirms that the history of humanity is the history of class struggle and the struggle for production. This is a relative absolute truth in any class divided society. In a social formation dominated by capitalism, the only class capable of offering an alternative is the working class. Any conception, any re-composition outside of that relative absolute truth is objectively a deviation and a revision of a principle core of revolutionary theory -- making it non-communist. Proletarian theory is still unfinished and still is in a constant mode of rectification and consolidation, but any rectification, any questioning should be from the starting point of this relative absolute truth.

    Within the dialectical relation of class struggle and the struggle for production, class struggle determines that relation and defines the dynamic of production. I agree that Gaddafi was not a dictator, nor was Somoza, nor is Assad nowadays. All are/were repressive anti-popular governments, leading the State Apparatus, representing the interest of their fractions of the power bloc (and of the power bloc as a whole) for the permanent reproduction of the dictatorship of their respective dominant classes.

    The contributions to proletarian theory from all previous proletarian revolutionaries have been based on the struggle against capitalism and all forms of opportunism/populism, but fundamentally this struggle and the study of capitalism were (and are) from the objective interest of the working class. Again: deviating form this line of thought is anti-communism for the promulgation of petit-bourgeois illusions of democracy and bourgeois democraticism.

    Most social formations are either capitalist or dominated by capitalism. Capital must be studied as a permanent unrolling in the social formation, fundamentally at the economic level, and also at the level of the superstructure (the principal aspect is production). It is in production that simultaneously the transformation of raw material and the extraction of surplus value are carried out. The struggle against capital is not and should not be simply a struggle against external forms of expression of capital (for example, at the economic level: exploitation, inequities, dispossession; at the political level: repression; and at the ideological level: racism and patriarchy) but should most importantly target what produces these external expressions: surplus value. When the struggle against exploitation is detached from the extraction of surplus value, it will objectively lead to economism, and when the struggle against racism and oppression is detached from the extraction of surplus value it will lead to reformism.

    The petit bourgeois does not produce surplus value, but exchanges services for revenue. They can be dominated and be a source of profit for the capitalist, but this is a result of the unequal economic power between them rather than from the production of surplus value. This leads the petit bourgeoisie, in its attempt to reproduce itself, to struggle for “equality,” absent any class content. This class tends to universalize its own struggle for equal exchange in the capitalist marketplace. The call for an egalitarian society, even if the word “communism” is used, is not at all communist if it is not connected to, and determined by, the proletarian struggle to liberate itself from the production of surplus value.

    It is impossible to understand any struggle in any social formation outside the understanding and appropriation of classes, class interest and their struggles. The history of any social formation, until our days, is the history of class struggle. It is not a simple struggle of sectors or camps. It is not like a competition between two teams and the pragmatic need to take side. For example, some argue that to side with Assad in Syria is anti-imperialist, but Assad is heavily supported by Russian imperialism and Chinese social imperialism so others argue that to side with the movement against Assad is anti-imperialist. The notion of taking sides is a simplistic approach of left pragmatism versus right pragmatism, and has nothing to do with a dialectical analysis in which all internal contradictions of class struggle are being weighed. All historical phenomena such as Occupy, Arab Spring, and previous ones such as the liberalization movements in Russia and Haiti are all complex, diverse forms of class struggle. Classes all struggle for their reproduction, dominance and historical transformation.

    Talking about the oppressed (or any other sociological concept) is not a proletarian approach to an analysis of social classes. The concept of classes is fundamental to proletarian theory, which has Marxism at its core. Class existence and class struggle are determined historical phases of the development of production. The Arab Spring and Occupy are expressions of class struggle -- for particular forms of production, and for the reorganization and re-structuring of classes for the reproduction of production and simultaneously for the extraction of surplus value. Many previous experiences manifested before the Arab Spring, and all resulted in the reorganization of bourgeois democracy. So far, historically, most of these struggles were waged against the bureaucratic bourgeoisie for the liberalization of capital and capitalism (of course reorganization is detectable by the law of contradictions and class struggle itself is a contradictory phenomenon).

    In my post in Kasama, “Initial Thoughts on Egypt,” I insisted on the role of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, the struggle of other classes and fractions of the bourgeoisie against the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, and the role of the army functioning (in most social formations) as the political party of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. The Egyptian army quickly moved to strip most power from the executive branch now controlled by the Muslims Brotherhood (who represent feudalism). So far, the Egyptian version of the Arab Spring (contrary to the view of our radical petit bourgeois social democrats) is for the restructuring of bourgeois democracy. This is an historical phase determined by capital’s need for a more open and competitive form of extraction of surplus value, in contrast to the super-centralized form of extraction imposed by the bureaucratic bourgeoisie (along with its ideological form, corruption, which guarantees that primitive form of capital accumulation) and in Egypt the struggle of the dominant classes will continue for hegemony and re-organization of the power bloc with one class or fraction erecting as hegemonic.

    Social classes, as per proletarian theory, are not a collection of individuals such as the oppressed, the rich, and the 99%, based on some vague criteria. In reality this approach toward a class definition is simply a tendency of bourgeois ideology, practiced by the radical petit bourgeoisie. Therefore it expresses a utopian definition of classes, and in the worst case scenario it denies the role of classes as fundamental elements of the development of society, which leads to denying the fact that only class struggle can lead to proletarian dictatorship, and that this dictatorship represents a transition to the abolition of classes and to a classless society. Basically, in the name of communism, it expresses anti-communism. Social classes are determined by their economic role, and by their struggle to maintain and reproduce that role or to abolish it. So, any class analysis is the analysis of their struggle and the effect of this struggle at the level of production and at the level of the social formation.

    The theory of the bourgeoisie as a class is not possible from the point of view of the bourgeoisie; it is only possible from the point of view of the proletariat. Again, this is still today one of the biggest contributions of Marxism, making it the core of proletarian theory. Marxism validity is the appropriation of capital from the interest of the working class. Any alternative in our time can only come from these two classes: bourgeoisie or the proletariat. No other classes have, so far, shown any possibility to erect a viable alternative for change. The bourgeois alternative is for the reproduction of surplus value, and the proletarian alternative is for scientific socialism and for the abolition of classes.

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