We embark on a some dangerous insights, dangerous for a brief scuffle, but after that the contradictions can be reconciled. We move to a new formulation based on the ‘universal class’.
The focus on the working class has failed in the legacy of marxism. The idea was revolutionary in the period of 1848 in the swarming of proletarian revolution, and up through the early twentieth century. But the concept has failed to reckon the sociology of the neo-liberal age. We simply don’t see a revolutionary working class. Globally that might not be so true, but the working class in the US at this point is a useless format for revolution. We adopt the idea of the universal class to mean anyone in the universe of all classes and who might hopefully have revolutionary perspective. Look at the OWS crowds: I recall a union rep denouncing them as not the working class. They were to restrict their efforts to helping the working class, etc…Clearly the OWS were by definition working class, and yet the terms have produced different meanings.
Looking at the Trump crowd (their working class status however has been challenged) we see the dismal end of the working class militancy. Or do we? What is the case here?
We may be suffering the need for a system reset around a larger concept.
And the cliche version of the working class is very conservative. Will the UAW working class go on strike to slow down car production due to climate change? Obviously not. They are part of the whole system of capitalist exploitation and ecocide. And they think middle class activists should free of charge sacrifice all efforts to help there fat cats get raises.
That’s a cheap shot, some might think. But the working class in the US is not a progressive force, with important exceptions. It was always inevitable this would happen. It happened very early when the working class parties voted the war credits for the first world war. This is the scandal rarely spoken of on the left, but it should have raised the issue of dealing with abstractions like the working class. And in fact it did so with Lenin who tactfully responded to the failure of the working class formation concept.
Almost the whole left is turned out of participation because they aren’t the cliche ‘working class’. In fact a mix of class types are always the core of any activist movement. It has to be that way because the agency of history has to be individuals and not ‘classes’ which are abstractions.
Why should the working class be preferred over others? It is still class bias, upside down. The idea of the universal class is convenient because it is almost identical with the working class (wage laborers, or all those not capitalist bourgeoisie) and yet includes all possible subsets of class and most of all speaks to individuals who instead of championing one class to victory over the others instead work as individuals in ‘party allegiance’ to a cause based on equality. Remarkably the working class concept sacrificed the idea of equality for an inequality in favor of the working class. It was a revolutionary idea at the start, but the world of the fifties onward of the last century shows the idea devolving from its prime starting point.
We can have our cake and eat it too: we can work with the idea of the universal class, and expect the members thereto trying to awaken ‘working class’ subsets from the rapidly increasing means of mind control that have neutralized almost all classes. And we can shift gears without much trouble back to a working class formation as the universal class when dealing with the obvious global reality of an outstanding working class, from China to Bangaladesh to the Congo.