Edging Toward a New Stage of Consciousness
The sole role of revolutionaries is propaganda – the raising of the political consciousness of the working class. Revolutionaries shape propaganda using a scientific understanding of the situation on the one hand, and a thorough knowledge of the thinking of the people on the other. To produce effective propaganda and develop the proper tactics, revolutionaries have to answer: What is the situation? What are the intellectual blocks that, cleared away, will help the workers advance to the next stage of consciousness? And finally, what are we going to do? These questions can only be answered by an organization of revolutionaries that is organically connected to the spontaneous movement.
“Flashes of Consciousness”
In the course of the political struggle there comes an event that crystalizes people’s thinking. It becomes a beacon of light that shines the way for others to follow. At these moments, revolutionaries must reassess the thinking of the people to insure that propaganda and tactics are in tandem with the revolutionary side of the spontaneous movement.
The process of development of political consciousness is triggered and fueled by what V. Lenin in What is to be Done? called “flashes of consciousness”. These flashes of consciousness or flashes of insight are events or situations that shake up the workers’ thinking, causing them to respond and opening their minds to new ideas.
Revolutionary propaganda plays a crucial role at these political junctures. It adds the clarity needed to solidify these “flashes of consciousness” into permanent nodal points in the development of people’s thinking. As the class begins to move, revolutionaries must move with it. They must use the “flashes of consciousness” among the true fighters and leaders of the movement to teach. By articulating what people are really fighting for and by putting forth a vision of a new world and how to get there, revolutionary propaganda can permanently secure the understanding of the true significance of an event. In this way revolutionary propaganda advances the political consciousness of the workers to the next quantitative stage of development.
“Flashes of Consciousness” in the American People
Generally, the level of political consciousness today is the stage of social awareness. At this stage workers are grouping themselves together, not as a class against a class enemy, but as a mass against “racist cops,” “corporations,” “the government,” etc. Yet the importance of this should not be underestimated. The workers are beginning to recognize more clearly the contours of the enemy – the government, police, its laws and institutions.
An overview of key events – flashes of consciousness – in the last few years gives us an indication of the quantitative stages of development of social awareness in the American people.
Hurricane Katrina, 2005: As people screamed from rooftops for help, the world witnessed the inhumanity of a government that was more preoccupied with the interests of the corporations than in saving and securing human lives. Official estimates put the death toll at 1,833. In the face of the government’s disregard for human life revolutionaries could teach who the enemy really is – the capitalist class and its economic system, where profit and private property are more precious than life itself.
Immigrant Rights Mega Marches, 2006: With these marches the spontaneous movement took a historic turn, going from the defensive to the offensive on the immigration issue. Close to four million people, the great majority of whom were U.S. citizens, shielded the undocumented as these workers took to the streets and drew a line in the sand with their chant, “We won’t go and if you deport us we’ll come back!” This inspirational counterattack from one of the most vulnerable sections of society provided revolutionaries with the opportunity to teach that the immigrant worker is part and parcel of the American working class.
The Rust Belt, 2010-2013: The response of millions of workers to the economic crisis of 2008 began to play itself out in the cities of this country following the 2010 elections. The results of these elections opened the way for stepped-up attacks on the working class with policies that furthered the shift of wealth to the corporations and the rich. The struggle against these attacks moved from the occupation of state houses to various petition campaigns for repeals or recalls, to elections to recall elected officials or overturn legislation. The Rust Belt workers’ “flash of consciousness” was the recognition of their betrayal by the Democratic Party, and has translated into a growing interest in third party alternatives. The workers of the Rust Belt are still reeling from the economic devastation of the region, bankruptcies and the anti-democratic imposition of Emergency Financial Managers.
Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWS), 2011: The OWS movement is both an expression of a stage of struggle and consciousness and a catalyst that pushed consciousness forward. The coining of the phrase “the 99% vs. the 1%” became part of the popular discourse. Although most of its adherents are opposed to the corporations, but not necessarily to the capitalist system, the OWS does contain a discernible anti-capitalist thread. As such this anti-capitalist thread is a “flash of consciousness” that has helped set the stage for the development of future stages of consciousness.
Moral Monday & Trayvon Martin, 2012-2013: Shocked by the Zimmerman verdict, people were moved to spontaneously march, to rally and to hold vigils against such a blatant injustice. It was another step in the loss of faith in the legal system. It created an opening for revolutionaries to teach the meaning of the ongoing ruling class attacks against our class – that the attack is not against Blacks because they’re Black or Latino or white or Asian, but rather the attack is class-based and is an attack of one class against another class.
The Moral Monday protests in North Carolina this summer also have shown us that consciousness has leapt to a new quantitative stage of social awareness. The movement battled not on scattered fronts, but it directly confronted the State. They were not just fighting back. The Moral Monday movement opposed the Southern program, that the State seeks to impose, with a program of its own. The Moral Monday movement spoke in defense of the bottom of society.
Though the quality is still social awareness, the spontaneous response to Trayvon Martin’s murder and the Zimmerman verdict and to the Moral Monday movement is edging the consciousness of the workers closer to where they can learn social consciousness. With social consciousness the workers come to understand that they are members of a class and that they need class solidarity. They come to understand that their class is exploited and that they must fight that exploitation as a class. The times call for revolutionaries to produce and disseminate propaganda that hammers out the idea of class and of class unity.
The workers’ thinking has not yet progressed to the stage of social consciousness. But direction is more important than velocity. It is clear that workers are beginning to discern the different class interests. Simply fighting back is no longer enough, and the workers are beginning to put forward programs in their interests. This means something fundamentally new for the revolution in America. These developments are of the utmost importance and they will define the League’s role as an organization of revolutionaries.
It is the economic crisis that is pushing people into the streets to right what they perceive as wrong. But it is revolutionary propaganda that points out class interests, that unmasks the enemy, and that points the way forward with a vision of a new society. Revolutionary propaganda will be decisive in securing those flashes of consciousness as nodal points in the thinking of the American people.
Political Report of the LRNA Resident Standing Committee November 2013
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