Revolutionaries Must Teach Class Politics
The reality of polarization and efforts of the rich, the capitalist class, to hold onto their grip in a collapsing economy are the current face of struggle in our country. But American political history and its repudiation of politics means most Americans view such conditions as only the corruption of an ideal. This leaves the majority of Americans fighting with strategies from a past period for goals that cannot be achieved under the current system.
The revolutionary leader knows that the economic system has reached a point of no return, and that those dispossessed by the system have no choice but to fight for the power to shape society in their interest. Those who are already superfluous or are becoming superfluous to a system built around the exploitation of human labor are not aware of themselves as a class and of their interests in contrast to the interests of the ruling class. However, the question of how to fight for such an awareness is anything but simple. One thing we do know is that revolutionaries have to engage in the fights before them, playing midwife to that awareness as it struggles to be born.
There’s nothing simple about that process. An awareness of political possibility is not born easily. On some level, most Americans know about the gap between the world’s wealthiest hundreds and the billions of people under their control. Many people know that the wealth gap in the United States is the largest since the Great Depression. Everyone acknowledges the disappearing American “middle class,” a long-cherished ideal for the American worker. Americans fear the future and see little possibility for hope.
They certainly don’t have faith in the current government’s solutions. To solve our many economic problems, our government has spent somewhere between Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s lowball estimate of $163 billion and the government Inspector General’s projection of $23 trillion dollars (Newsweek reported a year ago that the government had already spent between $3.2 trillion and $12.8 trillion) to bail out big banks, giant insurance companies, and auto companies. Of course, it’s no secret that none of these industries are looking out for the average American. Foreclosure filings remain at all-time highs and are growing again; health-care coverage, that people will soon be forced to buy, guarantees that hundreds of millions of Americans will remain underinsured; and first-time jobless claims are on their way back to the record-breaking heights of the first few months of 2009, as real unemployment numbers push close to one in four Americans.
But objective economic polarization does not inevitably translate into a subjective understanding and political polarization. The job of a revolutionary is to participate in the movement in a way that will help the combatants become aware of their own class interests. Old ideas will not disappear overnight, but conditions are opening a window to possibilities for political activity that have not existed before.
American Dream AND Class Politics
Capitalism has long preached that individual dreams could only be realized through the “free market” system. The possibility of achieving “The American Dream” has been a linchpin that maintained the system. This belief has not only obstructed any clear vision of class politics; it has made the concept of class politics seem all but un-American. If the generations before us could improve their situation, and, today, if one in a million can “make it,” then (we have been taught) there are no classes in America.
Of course, the reality of classes in America is inescapable. According to the National Board of Economic Research, the probability of someone rising out of poverty today is as low as it was during the Great Depression. Despite a tumble after 9/11, CEO pay is up 298% since 1990. One percent of the population has 34% of all wealth and 51% of stocks and bonds; the top 10 percent has 71% and 90% respectively. The gap between the rich and poor has widened continuously through four decades of Democratic and Republican Congresses and Presidential Administrations. Still, the false promise of the capitalist American dream is so strong that a purely electoral concept of politics serves mainly to turn American workers against each other precisely when they should be coming together.
Despite the fact that some see Republicans as hawks and Democrats as doves, both parties have strongly supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many health-care advocates and workers supported Democrats despite the party’s rejection of a single payer health-care plan. Teachers supported the Democrats as a way of rejecting the failures of the No Child Left Behind law even after the President appointed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who is the poster child for the privatization of schools, merit pay, and a more competitive classroom environment.
The Democrats’ manipulation of the progressive dreams of many of their supporters has made it easy for the most reactionary forces in America to attack the ideals that fueled Obama’s support. Though the collapse of today’s economy began decades ago with the introduction of electronics into the workplace – forcing workers to compete with labor that doesn’t demand a paycheck – today’s loudest rhetoric blames Obama’s so-called “socialist” agenda and “weak defense” for failures in foreign wars. Mandated purchases of shoddy health insurance will add to public resentment and the further undermining of allegiance of what once was the Democratic working-class base.
Americans see the alliance between big money and the major parties. As a result, though they are rejecting “politics as usual,” their activity is still confined to the electoral arena. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in January, 41% of Americans like the idea of the Tea Party movement, more than those who have a favorable reaction to the Democratic or Republican Party. Still, as the November 2010 mid-term election have shown, the Republicans, with their anti-incumbent strategies, are managing to manipulate this political frustration in their favor, especially at the state and local level.
Myths breaking down
The situation is anything but clear to people. The Republicans have managed to co-opt America’s distrust of a big government Republicans built to support their corporate buddies and defunded to ignore peoples’ needs. The Democrats have worked hard to co-opt distrust of the big business they, in fact, represent. But this co-opting of the struggles is only a stop-gap measure, and the positive side of all of this change is that old party myths are breaking down. As Americans begin to recognize the need to fight this growing alliance of government and big business, opportunities arise for pointing the struggle toward real solutions. But learning how to fight, developing a strategy, is anything but easy. This is especially true as the powers-that-be raise the volume on the kind of racial and ethnic issues that have always diverted workers from their class interests, as well as populist rhetoric that panders to the fear and anger of large numbers of Americans in dangerous and divisive ways.
Revolutionary leaders on all fronts of struggle face the challenge of fighting for clarity and strategy against the death throes of capitalist propaganda. This propaganda – funded in significant part by oil billionaires with roots deep in the fascist movement – is popularizing calls for “states’ rights,” attacks on the legacy of the civil rights movement, and on ethnic and religious minorities, working to divide us precisely at the moment when the needs and demands of those discarded by the system present the solution for all working people.
Learning class politics
These capitalist ideas do not address the needs of growing numbers of angry Americans who can’t feed and shelter their loved ones. Demagogues are tapping into something real. Frightened Americans travel to the Washington Mall and echo a populism that says, as one protester did, “This isn’t about politics. This is about us,” They don’t recognize that this populism is, in itself, a political vision and can only turn against Americans facing the same struggles as they do.
The revolutionary leader, then, has to fight for the future only possible through political unity by fighting for the demands of those the capitalist system no longer needs. And that political unity will not grow as an idea separate from the fight; it will grow out of the fight. We fight alongside those experiencing what the capitalist propagandists can’t explain, struggling to solve the problems faced by those Americans being forced out of the system.
Unlike the capitalists, revolutionaries have no desire to manipulate people’s fears and we have nothing to fear from truth. We aim for real solutions. We work on our different fronts with a sense of the larger context that is necessary to win the war for our future. Within each individual struggle, we seek to identify the next step that will help move that fight to a broader political discussion and awareness of our class interests. As our struggles are thrown against the roadblocks of the State, we search for opportunities to work with others aligned in the same battle. Our political understanding will grow as we work through the complexities of the struggles, engaged in the specific dialogue that comes out of that work. And we will build on that understanding.
With that increased understanding among those fighting together, each front of struggle can then work to define next steps that will help broaden the discussion of our interests as that of a class. In so doing, we will find specific opportunities to awaken the struggle to the deep structure of its reality. We have to seek every opportunity to build a working dialogue that has never before been possible on a broad scale in American society. We have to help clarify what “politics” has to do with “us.”
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