Revolutionary Work in 21st Century Elections
The United States and the entire world are in an epoch of social revolution. The worldwide transition from industrial production based on human labor to laborless production based on digital technology is already well advanced. This economic revolution has caused an irreconcilable antagonism between the new, automated means of production and the old, capitalist system of buying and selling labor power. Workers displaced from production now have no income with which to buy the necessities of life. These workers are forced to enter into social struggle simply to secure their most fundamental human needs. The antagonism in the economy becomes reflected as an antagonism in the social, political, and intellectual life of society.
The antagonism in the economy is the foundation of the revolutionary process. It makes revolution both possible and an absolute necessity. But revolution cannot proceed to its conclusion without the introduction of consciousness among its participants by conscious revolutionaries. And consciousness cannot be introduced by decree, or in a single burst of propaganda. Revolutionary history shows that consciousness develops in stages, according to the level of experience and organization of the revolutionary class.
The role of revolutionaries is to identify the stages of the revolutionary process and work within changing conditions to develop the consciousness of the revolutionary class during the ebb and flow of the spontaneous movement.
Stages of Consciousness
The various stages through which class consciousness develops may very generally be defined as social awareness, social consciousness, and class consciousness. These stages should not be viewed categorically. They reflect the relationship between ideas, the economy and the social struggle. Ideas are constantly in motion, and these stages of development interpenetrate and influence each other.
In the stage of social consciousness, where workers understand that they are members of a working class, and that they are exploited by a ruling class that is alien to them and does not have their interests at heart. They understand that they need class solidarity and class organization to win their demands. This stage of consciousness is generally expressed politically in the formation of some kind of working class political party. For a host of economic and historical reasons, the American working class has never reached this stage of social consciousness. However, today a growing number within the class are moving toward a socially conscious position.
Class consciousness is where the workers grasp the necessity of a political revolution that will take political power and use it to transfer the socially necessary means of production to public ownership, and distribute the social product according to need.
Role of Revolutionaries in Elections
The transition from one stage of consciousness to the next cannot happen through propaganda alone. It takes place when revolutionary propaganda is artfully interwoven and coordinated with the political experience of the masses themselves. It is the task of revolutionaries at each stage to connect with the workers at the level where they are at, and to use agitation and propaganda to make them aware of their situation and align their thinking with what is objectively possible.
Connecting with the workers where they are at means uniting with their demands for the necessities of life whenever, wherever, and however they fight. Serious revolutionaries participate in all forms of social activity. Given America’s long history of electoral struggles, connecting with the workers necessarily includes connecting with them as they fight for their demands in the electoral arena. Revolutionaries understand that in a class society, the real issues of class power are not and cannot generally be resolved by elections. But they also understand that bourgeois elections offer one of the broadest available arenas for worker participation in political struggle. As such they offer a key opportunity for the propaganda necessary to help move the workers to the next stage.
The ruling class understands that elections are an indispensable battleground for ideas. Even though it will never allow itself to be simply voted out of power, it nevertheless invests tens of billions of dollars to use the elections to propagandize the masses and to gauge their thinking. It tirelessly promotes its message of racism, division, class hatred and war in elections at every level of government. Revolutionaries need to concentrate intensely in the electoral arena with a propaganda of class unity, class political organization, and the vision of a peaceful and cooperative society.
The social awareness that is growing today is different from that of previous eras. It is driven by the underlying economic and social antagonism that is polarizing and destroying society. The needs of the people cannot be met without social struggle. As their living conditions deteriorate and politicians repeatedly betray them, the workers are losing their faith in the government and beginning the process of separating from the political system. Tens of thousands of teachers have taken to the streets to fight for education. Millions of students have marched against gun violence. They are putting forward their own independent programs for meeting people’s needs, and they are demanding that the government carry them out. For the first time in the history of America, a section of the working class is being compelled to break free from the ideological grip of the capitalist class. They are beginning to think for themselves. This is an advanced stage of social awareness.
Social awareness is frequently reflected in the beginnings of independent political activity, either within one of the major parties or in one of the developing third parties. The Bernie Sanders campaign was probably the broadest and most far-reaching political expression of social awareness in recent years. Along with this motion among the workers, the economic revolution causes the polarization and destruction of the ruling class institutions and parties of the past period, including the Republican and Democrat parties. This convergence of an intensified social movement and the splitting of old parties causes the emergence of third parties, including those that already exist, but also new ones or combinations of new and old. Third parties are essentially efforts by the ruling class to maintain its hold of political power by politically reorganizing in an effort to control the growing social polarization.
However, the development of a third party, even one created by the ruling class is an indispensable stage in the revolutionary process for the development of the consciousness of the working class. On the one hand, it accelerates the political polarization in society by breaking apart the old alliances of workers with sections of the old ruling class parties. On the other hand, it’s a vehicle to advance the process of pulling together the scattered economic struggles into united political struggles.
Revolutionaries today stand at this dangerous turning point. Social awareness does not yet fully grasp the concept of economic classes. Workers in the stage of social awareness do not yet understand the need for a worker’s political party. Many can be diverted into populist or even fascist political movements. It is imperative for revolutionaries to work within every current of the social motion to plant the seeds of social consciousness, class awareness and class unity.
The workers movement today is based on the fundamental demands of the new class for housing, food, health care, and necessities of life. This is the driving force of the broad social motion that is generating the movement toward a third party. It is the objective foundation for people to unite. It is undermining all the old ideologies that have been used to divide the class. It is also the foundation for revolutionary propaganda that points out the need for a class party – a workers party.
The movement for a third party is a necessary and inevitable step in the development of social consciousness that a workers party represents. Their participation and experience in third party motion is one of the ways that workers develop social consciousness, as they learn to distinguish the different class interests of the various tendencies in social and political movements. Class interests are clarified, when the workers use the electoral process to help carry out their fight to force the government to guarantee their basic needs are met.
Social consciousness itself is also a necessary stage where revolutionaries can teach the workers to rid themselves of old ideas and move forward to class consciousness. With social consciousness, the workers come to understand that they are members of a class, not just members of one or another social group, and that they need solidarity as a class. They become aware of the ruling class and that it has class interests contrary to their own. The role of revolutionaries in this process is to continue to introduce new ideas, including a strategy and ideology that reflects the content of the times in which we live.
Through their experience in the electoral arena, the workers can come to see that the corporate government refuses to meet their demands, even when the workers win elections. Armed with a deeper understanding of the class content of the struggle they face, the workers at this stage can move to a class conscious position. Here they understand that they will only experience true democracy when they gain the political power necessary to build a cooperative society, where the social product is distributed according to need.
July/August 2018 Vol28.Ed4
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