Revolutionary Work Must Address Political Nature of Struggle
Multi-billionaire Warren Buffet’s frank statement that there’s class war going on and that “it’s my class … that’s making war, and we’re winning,” reflects his more charitable approach to protecting his billions. As the industrial system grew in the United States, the class struggle between workers and industry owners was bloody and heroic. This relationship created a social contract that allowed workers to reap many of the gains of that growth, laying the basis for broader sections of society to win inclusion and a place (albeit still often a second-class seat) at what was a rich table.
Recently developments in Wisconsin and especially Michigan tell us that there’s something new happening in the struggle today. The dramatic public response to attacks on public employees in Wisconsin and the institution of direct corporate political control in several Michigan cities point clearly to how times have changed. The nature of the attacks as well as people’s understanding of and response to them hold lessons for the content of revolutionary work.
Wisconsin Attack Evokes Response
Attacks in Wisconsin captured the attention of the whole world, the even more significant Michigan events, less so. Why?
Wisconsin and the state university campus in its capitol have a history of struggle. The direct attack on collective bargaining, the legal basis for the activity of the broadest of working class institutions, drew the union movement into the fray. It is in the DNA of unions to fight for collective bargaining and to support or pressure Democrats. Thus interpretations of Wisconsin as “an attack on unions,” or an attack on the “middle class,” leads naturally to an analysis that harks back to a past century’s economic struggle. Calls for protest directed energy back into the Democratic Party and into pursuing partnerships and negotiations to “preserve the middle class.”
This isn’t just the back-and-forth of “politics and union-busting as usual.” Nor is it just a little more greed and cruelty than we’re used to, or the plan of one political party. Using historical rhetoric to describe what is really happening takes it out of the context of the revolutionary changes going on in society. The ruling class is struggling not just to make the working class pay for its crises, but to institute the political changes that will enable it to manage in a fundamentally changed economy.
Michigan Shines Light on Political Struggle
The Emergency Financial Management (EFM) law in Michigan reflects the political nature of the attack. Changes in State structure there fly in the face of democracy: governmental entities – turned over to corporate managers; the right to vote for one’s elected leaders – completely abrogated; bargaining rights of public employees – history at the stroke of a corporate pen. Yet there has been much less public reaction than to the struggles in Wisconsin.
Certainly, the ruling class has sought to use the question of race to scapegoat and isolate the small one-industry towns, of poor, working class, predominantly African-American population such as Benton Harbor, Michigan. But there is also something more. The institutions and forms of struggle from the industrial era are not equipped to take up the challenge of a struggle that has moved beyond the negotiation of an economic contract to the workers facing the State directly in political struggle.
Leaders who understand the nature of the struggle are emerging. Their voices are at the center of the struggle to develop an independent class voice. Michigan raises the banner that survival is going to require taking on the political system itself.
Political Direction Today
The owners of productive wealth have shaped the laws, force, and violence that protected their wealth since the 1700’s. Today the old productive relationships can no longer contain and distribute what can be produced with the wildly productive instruments of increasingly robotic production. The capitalists must keep the means of production (which could feed, clothe, house and educate everyone) in private hands, but robotic laborless production creates instability and threatens their control. They are acting accordingly. Two classes, locked in an economic struggle for centuries, face one another outside their economic relation – that is, politically.
In politics as in personal matters, recognizing when a long-term relationship is fundamentally broken allows one to take the steps to move forward and out of it. The economic relationship between the two classes in our capitalist system has changed, so society and politics are changing. We are no longer just wrangling over “how much” in an economic struggle. As society polarizes, its two classes face each other in a political struggle over who will have the power to decide the future. With that, the character, the quality of the struggle changes. Those who hope to lead it forward must think, act, and plan accordingly.
Cyclical crises of capitalism have been occurring for more than 200 years. Workers have always been told just to hold on until the tough times are over. But fundamental changes in the economy in the last 40 years mean the face and future of “recovery” from the current crisis is one that will benefit only the financiers and their class.
The outlook is for further, deeper financial instability as the housing crisis grows. A third of the working population is unemployed or underemployed or can’t live on what they are earning. No one is predicting a recovery of employment. The top 1% grows wealthier as speculative and corporate profits boom. The new jobs being created are for robots and those who design, make and run them.
This is the context for understanding recent attacks on labor in Wisconsin, Ohio and dozens of other states: the institution of Emergency Financial Managers in Michigan, the mass firings in the Detroit Public Schools, growing anti-immigrant legislation, and “austerity” cuts responding to a so-called debt crisis created by the financial system.
The all-out political assault on a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” is the fascist face of a fundamental and revolutionary change in how society is governed. These efforts go beyond government plans to gut the safety net and soak the poor. Corporations today are no longer distinguishable from the government itself. They are transforming its role, implementing plans to loot the public treasury, and reconstructing the State apparatus to meet the needs of a capitalist class in crisis. Their mantra: protect private property and maintain social control.
The Role of Revolutionaries
Revolutionaries participating in the struggle as it develops are confronted with the challenge of bringing to it a vision of the way forward – not to divert it in the interest of one or another ideological or institutional trend, but to keep it on track toward real solutions and social transformation. This moment is pregnant with the opportunity to propagandize about the nature of the struggle ahead and awaken the American people as the struggle moves from the economic to political realm.
To do that, revolutionaries have to know what they are up against. It’s not enough for fighters on scattered fronts to support each other, to build a bigger movement. Revolutionaries need to understand and educate about the common political struggle in which we are all now engaged, whatever its particular face on each front. Within the struggle against the ravages of an economic revolution, the corporate reorganization of society must be confronted with the common demand to reorganize society in the interest of humanity.
We are fighting not to go back to something (which is impossible anyway), but to move forward to reshape the world. Introducing that understanding can’t be done just by calling for mobilizations or talking about how people should be thinking. Classes, and the parties they form to represent their demands, aren’t just called into existence. They develop as a class becomes conscious of its real interests through broad political struggle.
The art of revolutionary agitation and propaganda, of building political understanding and revolutionary leaders, is applied only in the long, hard organizing and fighting on the fronts where the class is in battle. Integral to the struggle, revolutionaries can use the understanding developed by propaganda to shape agitation that expresses the next steps to its ultimate goals. Guided by a strategy attuned to the times, revolutionaries can – and must – build an organization and a press able to spread the understanding of the nature of the struggle.
What people think and do makes a difference. As the work of thinking revolutionary fighters bears fruit in the broader political struggle and the American people begin to see what they really face, they will reject those who keep them tied to leaders and a system that holds no hope for them. Our aim is to arm those who are socially and politically active with the understanding and the revolutionary organization needed to fight for our future.
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