History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Did Marx mis-analyze the place of the ‘working class’?

March 5th, 2016 · No Comments

Idiot Alan Woods sect channels Gus Hall: http://www.marxist.com/usa-revolution-on-the-horizon.htm

Source: [Marxism] Fwd: USA: Revolution on the Horizon

This article is very spit-and-polish, but something doesn’t add up. We see the working class being pied-pipered by the likes of Donald Trump, with zero prospect of any kind of ‘working class’ party or revolution, at a time when the right is creating an actual constitutional crisis, a point of entry for a communist movement, if it had its act together. But in reality marxist groups are dysfunctional. They are living in the nineteenth century plying the fine points of a canon now out of date. Marx made the assumption based on the experience of 1848 that the true radicals were the working class. But history hasn’t born that out. The Second Internationale had everything in place and then the ‘working class’ voted war credits at the onset of WWI. The result threw a monkey wrench into the marxist canon, a disaster from which the left has never recovered: the long overdue reconsideration of first principles never happened. And, to be sure, the vital emphasis on the proletariat bore fruit in the rise of labor unionism and its great but temporary success before the onset of neoliberalism. What was the problem here? it was easy to miscalculate the working class. It is an abstraction whose dynamics can’t be computed with standard leftist slogans. And the whole emphasis on the working class created division where before there was none. The democratic revolutions operated on majoritarian principles irregardless of class. The working class focus leaves out the whole complex structure of classes and social groupings that constitute the subsets of a universal class. Any social or revolutionary ideology should appeal rather to this Universal Class, one of whose major subsets is the working class.
We have a new situation now, in any case, with need to consider postcapitalism as the first abstraction on the way to a definable neo-communism or basic socialism. In a terminal crisis a subset of the Universal Class will lead the system irregardless of the action of the working class. That means a desperate preliminary study of the action of a ‘Universal Class’ is needed: it must have something the Bolsheviks could not consider: democratic structure in the midst of a revolutionary structure, and the creation of a revolutionary party that can’t simply take over totalitarian control of the result of revolution. Talk of the working class ended up just that, talk. In the end the working class couldn’t even go on strike in the result. The checks on an elite have to be prefigured and the result is likely to be a question of an elite trying to lay the foundations of a neo-communism: the point is clear, the result was up to Lenin. In fact the American revolution outplayed this from the start: the oligarchy set the pace was at once challenged by a populist tide at the time of the constitutional settlement. The elite is going to settle the result, the working class is welcome to join it, so we must ask how to make an elite do it right.
In any case, such issues can be mediated, but the basic issue that must be confronted is that the ‘working class’ isn’t a revolutionary class at the present time. This approach courts the domination of an elite revolutionary class. But that was the result of the emphasis on the working class. A new attempt based on the Universal Class could start with all those who share a vision of the postcapitalist future, and move to energize its working class subsets. There are very definite working class proletariats globally, but they are more a globalization phenomenon far beyond the shores of the US. That means the original internationalism of the communist/marxist movements was entirely correct.

The question of postcapitalism is an issue of all classes, and needs a formulation that creates a place for a whole spectrum of ‘joiners’. These comrades will probably be better activists than the working class, to start. They have sufficient money, education, and opportunity to become activists. By and large the working class can’t be induced to attend any activist assemblies. If they have a union they focus on that. And at a time of climate crisis, the prime union of the working class is solidly behind the rising tide, still rising, of automobile production at the wages set by their union’s activity. Beyond that nothing. This isn’t surprising. It was the mistake of Marx’s thinking in abstractions that confused the issue. Who can compute what the working class is and does? it makes no sense. A more general emphasis on the Universal Class would at a stroke energize those working class individuals who can respond to a left message. The remainder will remain passive. How else could it be? Waiting for the whole working class to become revolutionary is a pipe dream and an excuse to do nothing. That situation came close to happening in the period ca. 1858 when working class demonstrations flooded the streets of major capitals. But that spectacle perhaps misled Marx. Why deny all those who are not ‘working class’ a place in the revolution? The snobbish ridicule of the lumpenproletariat. But who can say if this ‘class’ couldn’t do as well as the ‘working class’? I’ve met lumpenproles who can pandhandle better than minimum wage. When I was in school there was adolescent joke about the ‘little old ladies in tennis shoes’, referring ultimately to the twin distant cousins of the headmaster who were souls of devotion absorbed on social good deeds. So add a subset of two old ladies in tennis shoes to the subjects of the Universal Class, along with the working class, if it can be located: there is one contingent in the Eastern Congo, the Coltan miners, and umpteen in China, e.g. the proletariat creating the iPhones, and so on.
This was the starting point of democratic politics: the majoritarian members of a Universal Class. Perhaps the formulation of Marx was a miscalculation, and in any case a notion for its time. As the working class mobs at Trump rallies cheer a crypto-fascist we need to bring some compassion to the realization that working class individuals have not reached the level of reading Counterpunch, poor fellows, all that prime stuff from the members of the Universal Class, with college educations. The working class has no defenses against populist demagogues, so we are back to subsets of the Universal Class, e.g. the class melee of activists n the field ‘as of now’.
All this risks elitist rule via the Iron Law of Oligarchy. But as we pointed out re: the link to the article by E. Mandel: the bottom line was that Lenin had a choice and chose wrong. He should have taken the road toward democracy after the Civil War, and he didn’t, as the bureaucracy mushroomed almost overnight to a first 15000 from a few hundred. In the end it was the budding oligarchy that made the decision.
We have discussed this issue here many times in the discussion of the remorphing of the American Revolution. There are two stages, as the discussion of Lenin makes clear once again: the first is the revolutionary phase. This phase is not democratic because the State is up in the air. The revolutionary party is not a democracy because it is not a government. Once the revolution is achieved the revolutionary subset of the Universal Class, as with the American Revolution, must be the one to set the axioms. But in the American case there was a popular tide that influenced the oligarchic creation of a (rigged) democracy. So the account of Mandel is archetypal: it corresponds to the dynamic of revolutionary vanguards.
These sound like heresies and some kind of rejection of the working class. They are not. The proletariat is a part of the Universal Class and could self-energize to be its center of gravity. Otherwise the future of the revolution is in the hands of those who show up for the action…

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