Consciousness of Society’s Ills Fuels U.S. Upsurges
Over the last couple of years, numerous objective factors have combined to effect a quantitative change in the struggle. These factors include the developing economic depression, the intervention by the state in the economy on behalf of the corporations, the state and federal budget cuts and the growing assault on democracy and human rights. They include the impact of the crisis on the so-called “middle class,” which has resulted in the social response developing in the Rust Belt and elsewhere. The Presidential election campaign and the developing third-party motion will further define the struggle. All kinds of propagandists have been actively influencing the struggle. The objective necessity for both the working class and the capitalist class of nationalizing areas of the economy automatically politicizes economic questions and makes nationalization a battlefield on which the working class forms politically.
The Social Struggle
There are impulses within the social struggle today to raise demands that can only be fought out in the political arena since there is nowhere else to address these demands with the economy falling apart. The government will be forced to act to solve the crisis, and the people will be forced to try and influence the government’s actions in some way.
The Occupy Wall Street movement and the response to it – by the ruling class and the rest of society – embodies what is going on right now. OWS is both an expression of a stage of struggle and consciousness, and a catalyst that is pushing things forward. The OWS movement has a populist, a-class character derived from the historically evolved populist movement. It is in the main a movement for a more equitable distribution of wealth and a more regulated capitalism. Although most of its adherents are opposed to the corporations, but not to the capitalist system, the OWS does contain a discernible anti-capitalist thread.
OWS marks the beginning of a process of pulling the disparate currents of struggle together into a mass movement. This sets the basis for revolutionaries to raise fundamental questions about the system itself and what kind of society we are going to have. In this sense it represents a quantitative step forward in the American people’s awareness of the real problems in society, and helps set the stage for the development of future stages of consciousness. The violent attacks on OWS by the ruling class indicate their fear of any motion that challenges the system.
We are at the early stage of an epoch of social revolution. Social revolution draws in every sector of society. There are all kinds of motions, ideas, and forces at play. Frederick Engels’ description of the immense battle in the superstructure fits today: “History is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life.”
The OWS is of huge importance because it draws its strength from being part of an overall motion that is striving to solve problems that are irresolvable within the capitalist system. This larger movement will develop in stages but it will not be able to solve the problems it faces without overturning the system and reconstructing society on a new foundation.
Revolutionaries engage with every significant occurrence or upsurge by clarifying the meaning and direction of these battles and disseminating a vision and strategy for their resolution.
Stages of Consciousness
As the struggle develops, new history-making ideas can be gripped by the masses. Vladimir Lenin, in his path-breaking work What Is To Be Done? describes the level of consciousness of the Russian working class at the time. Despite the widespread nature of the spontaneous movement, and despite the “flashes of consciousness” and the formation of definite demands, the revolts then under way were simply the resistance of the oppressed; simply trade union struggles. They marked the awakening of the workers, but consciousness of the contradiction between their interests and the whole of the political and social system was not yet there. Lenin concluded that class consciousness had to be brought from the outside to the workers. This lesson holds true despite the epochal differences and the limitations of that moment.
The consciousness that the working class has to go through develops in stages – social awareness, social consciousness, and class consciousness. The first two stages develop more or less objectively or spontaneously. The latter stage develops subjectively or consciously, from the introduction of new ideas by the thinkers and conscious revolutionaries.
Generally, the level of consciousness today is social awareness — the becoming aware of what society is as it really is. The next stage is social consciousness, where the workers understand that they are members of a class and that they need class solidarity. They understand their class is exploited and that they must fight that exploitation. This stage is generally expressed in the formation of some kind of political party of the workers.
It is important to note that the American mass has never achieved even the stage of social consciousness. There was a moment following the Civil War when people came close to it. A certain level of unity existed around the abolition of slavery and for integrating the Freedmen into society. With the murder of Abraham Lincoln and the assumption of power by Andrew Johnson, a counterrevolution was launched and the moment was lost.
Class consciousness is where the workers grasp the necessity of taking political power in order to expropriate the expropriators and bring the class struggle to an end.
These stages should not be viewed categorically. The development of consciousness is a process, which reflects the stages of development and interaction of the economy and the social response of the masses. Ideas are constantly in formation, and the stages of development of consciousness interpenetrate one another.
Pointing the Way Forward
We are entering a new stage in America’s political development. Revolutionaries need to function like generals. The role of the general is to figure out how to destroy the enemy’s strategy. The strategy of the ruling class is to preserve and strengthen the political and ideological “middle” that binds the workers to the ruling class. The strategy that will defeat this is to smash the middle. Labor-less production is in antagonism to private property. Robotics is destroying the economic foundation for the middle. This creates the opportunity to cut the political and ideological ties binding the workers to their enemy.
Revolutionaries summarize the people’s demands and present them back to them in the form of programmatic agitation and propaganda that points them along the line of march toward achieving state power. The workers need to take political power and create a communist society in order to solve their practical problems.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011