- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Monday, 30 July 2012 14:40
- Written by Mike Ely
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?
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."
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.