OT: We were trying to think that if we had to describe Occupy Wall Street and the protests of the last year in a very succinct kind of way, it would probably be based on the idea that for generations prior there was a sense of working class solidarity and the idea of having collective power.
The OWS was not a working class formation, and its sudden, if brief success, came from its appeal to the 99%, that is, to the general ‘proletariat’, that is, the superset of working class comprising the majority exploited by the system of capitalism. The working class, which is in the process of disappearing (and resurfacing overseas), is an increasingly marginal concept at this point, and its radicalism is a fiction of the left’s imagination. There could be every chance of dissolving the false consciousness created by neo-liberalism that has paralyzed the working class, but the larger issue is simply the status of the general population as a post-marxist formation open to increasing activism.
The puzzle remains: why has the labor left been so unable to defend itself? Whatever the case, the focal point of action has to have a slightly different focus.
As noted here before, the marxist focus on the proletariat is a nineteenth century formulation. But the proletariat is fading away leaving millions that older formulation ignored, those dismissed so unreasonably as the lumpenproletariat.
I have often wondered at the way marxism replaced conceptual activism with class activism: the strategy was brilliant, has made many gains, but has not really served the issues fully. The reason is not hard to understand: it divides class against class, and wishes the victory of one class. But what we need is the victory of a whole spectrum of class, the 99%.
The left, aiming toward a two level activism, e.g. the second coming of a Progressive movement, inside a more radical postcapitalist-communist movement, should focus, not on the proletariat, which can remain in a place of honor as the symbolic centre of gravity of a movement, on principles rather than classes. The issue is then, equality, not the destruction of one class by another.
I was always puzzled by marxist formulations in practice: there I was, down and out, often working next to labor types too stuck up to communicate with those who did their second-tier labor dirty work, and I had no place in the system. I wasn’t a proletarian, because I was lucky to get a week’s work every once in a while, hence was a labor non-entity. ??? come again. This system is a minority of labor prima donnas, and a majority of those with no basis in the system. The fulcrum must move to include these tens of millions plus who have no society position at all.
Lumpenproles of the world unite!