If I believed socialists needed to win debates and cash in at the marketplace of ideas as our main tactic to win a socialist future, I would be deeply pessimistic that such a political future would emerge. As an aside though, participating in debate is still important, but should not be the top priority for socialists.
What then do I envision as the route towards a strong working class movement with a socialist political content? The answer is in building a strong workers movement through direct action. For socialism to become an actual threat to the existing order and a force among working people, the daily lives of working people has to come into confrontation with the system. In many ways this happens to people all of the time on an individual scale. However, my notion of class consciousness emerging goes like so: working people begin to take collective action and make demand to meet their needs (there doesn’t have to be an underlying socialist politics here). As working people continue building power and making demands upon the various institutions that make up the capitalist political and economic system, the demands of the working people collide with the functioning of the capitalist political/economic system. No longer can capitalism meet the needs of the working class movement. Then as a collective movement, not individuals, the workers movement must transcend capitalism.
Liberals and a lot of political radical activist focus on individual opinions and believe this is the main locus of politics. I think this is not a revolutionary politics, but counterrevolutionary. Class consciousness is not the consciousness of an individual, but the consciousness of a collectivity of workers in a movement of their own. I care much more about how people’s collective actions shape their relation to the capitalist system and how a movements trajectory relates to such a system than I do about individuals political out look. Socialism will never come from socialists, socialism will come when a wide array of workers (with diverse and non-cohesive ideologies) collide with the system and transcend it.
I think this conception of class consciousness works with the libertarian socialist conception of a militant minority within a workers movement, that work to more consciously organize workers into movements that could lead to a trajectory of colliding with the capitalist political/economic system.
Today people think of political engagement in all sorts of way. Many think of their political engagement as a way to fulfill the truth or a grand political vision separate from themselves. This can lead to soft and hard dogmatism, an almost religious fanaticism with certain political ends. I have had this orientation at certain times in political activity.
However, I think we should avoid dogmatism and fanaticism and as I have described before, we should steer clear from symbolic activism that is rooted in media spectacles (which seems to be a very alienating and vanguardist form of “resistance”).
We should think of political engagement in a more self-centered way. So much activism is rooted in supposed altruism, and moral righteousness, this is epitomized by white liberal/radical guilt and their reliance on interpersonal privilege politics (which I think anyone that wants to build working class power should stay far from). People should figure out what their own personal problems and personal desires are, then seek to understand how these problems/desires relate to other people, especially those they are surrounded by. Further, figure out how these problems/desires relate to the economic, cultural and political status quo. Is there a way to fight these problems and achieve these desires in a collective way? Most times the answer is resounding yes. For instance, I desire more free time to do things I want to do outside of school and work. I would like more financial stability for my future. I would like the freedom to engage in diverse activites, instead of specializing.
The many working people that are labeled apathetic and many who are labeled “conservative” (I added quotations because most people don’t have stable or cohesive ideology, unlike a lot of dogmatic activists) really are just people turned off by the moral “altruism” (self-righteousness) of anything associated with “the left” and don’t see how anything “left” is related to their life. However, most these people usually want a better life for themselves and their family, something I want for myself. Our society (and the political right) has perpetuated the idea that individualistic social mobility is the solution to all our problems and way to achieve desires: “just work hard, be better than others and you will make it”. At the same time, the contemporary left has done little to align itself with this very common desire and has further done little to point out the ways the economy, the state, and other forces harm the achievement of this desire for most people.
I know I would easily be drawn into the pragmatic individualist conservative political vision if I didn’t have certain assumptions about how this political and economic system operate (e.g. its tendency for economic crisis, the existing class system/command system, profit as the dominant consideration in political-economy). So with these assumptions, I don’t think individual social mobility is a desirable or long-term possibility for achieving my self-interest. An alternative to the individualist mobility strategy is a strategy of working-class unity and direct action. This type of political action is what I believe will achieve many of my immediate needs and those of others. Further, this political action will help create a future world that can meet my needs and desires more easily. My vision of solidarity doesn’t emerge in selfless ally politics, but (to put it bluntly) a selfish understanding of mutual aid. An understanding that my life will be better if others lives are made better. My wage will be higher if more people don’t accept lower wages and the working class uses their leverage to fight the ruling political and economic class. Further, racism and sexism, beyond being merely wrong, inhibit the achievement of working class unity and should be fought on this basis, as well on a principled basis that these practices are wrong. I could go on. This fact is what anarchist theorist and revolutionary Peter Kropotkin was pointing to in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution: survival and prosperity of an individual is often contingent on the cooperation and mutual aid with other members, this is a reciprocal relationship, not a one-way relation of charity.
This should futher shape the way we view organization and goals. Organizations are not ends in the self, they are tools for achieving goals. Even in a revolutionary society, they should be thought of this way. Radical democratic institutions, anarchistic institutions, or any institution, are not an end in themselves, but a tool for achieving various ends for individuals and groups. Unions, political parties, and social groups are all tools for various social/political ends. They all have different uses and achieve different things. We should engage with them as such and be guided by these questions: What do I and what will I get out of engaging with this organization? What does this type of organization achieve?
To wrap it up, much of the contemporary left intentionally or unintentionally perpetuates guilt and tries to frame their political project as the correct moral position. The contemporary left seems adamant about obfuscating the realization of any group or individual person doing slightly better than another that they may also have interests contradictory to the mandates of the system (this is something we should foster, not inhibit). Let’s build solidarity and mutual aid based on common self-interests. Let’s engage a broader part of the working class, because that is how we can make the world an easier place to survive and in the future thrive in.
As a little PS:
I think all of this puts debates about individualism and collectivism in a much more complicated space.
Over the weekend, I was able to attend a good friend’s belated birthday party! It was a fun time! It was great being able to converse with friends and catch up, always interesting things being shared. Beyond the good company, my favorite part of the party and my weekend was jamming with some of the good people there. At the party we whipped out guitars, I played the bass and we just jammed out. It has been awhile since I had really jammed out with other people. I had forgotten how much I missed playing music, especially playing with others. Right now, I am typing this with two blistered fingers from jamming’ on those thick bass strings (totally worth it).
Music is great! I have recently been getting back in touch with it. Right now, I am listening through the “Best of Buffalo Springfield” album. Playing music and listening to music causes such a wave of emotions. Music can completely change my mood, from apathy to rage, from sadness to happiness, from neutral to touched.
The previous weekend I had the privilege of reconnecting with another friend who was hosting an awesome Open Mic and then all out bash with his band that played a rap/jazz/psychedelic fusion. Music has come storming back into my life.
The entire point being. I need to keep music as a major part of my life. I need to return to actively listening to music, allow myself to be captivated. I missed music.
Also, I have been listening to Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” album, which is their best album in my opinion. Much more disco than their earlier electronic stuff.
Further, I have been trying to make it through the Rush discography, starting with their self-titled album, with one of my favorite tracks:
When I say I think we should abolish bosses, the response I get is mostly blank stares, followed by a rant about how I am mistaken and just a naive idealist. Those that defend the boss will often have canned responses: “bosses worked hard to get where they are,” “bosses are essential and perform a necessary duty for business,” “we need leaders and we need followers” or ” worker ownership and a democratic economy sound nice, but require theft of the bosses property to be instituted”. There are more responses, but let me take the few I have outlined first.
For this post when I talk about bosses, I am referring to owners of businesses and those that are given the legitimacy by business and law to command and control workers.
“Bosses worked hard to get where they are!”
This is most likely true, I think that there are very few instances where people in the position of boss don’t put in a tremendous amount of effort to build and maintain a successful business. But likewise, migrant farm workers, union bricklayers, Chinese peasants and many other types of laboring people have all worked extremely hard to receive a pittance in comparison to most bosses. Hard work doesn’t seem like a legitimate enough license in our current economy to garner a decent living.
But let’s further break down the hard work that bosses engage in. Now a boss may have started his life as a mere worker employed under some other boss (though this is less the case these days, but it is important to realize that there are still boss-worker hybrids with small contract labor schemes). Most often today, for the large corporations, there are many distinct bosses trained in the business departments of University’s and ideologically melded by neoliberal economics. But, back to the point. Over time, the boss was able (through perseverance and hard work), maneuver into a position of authority where they employ others and use the employee’s physical and mental faculties to make money. After all the bosses’ have the machinery, the buildings and other materials necessary for producing goods (these are all products of labor, most likely not that of the bosses’). The boss’s work no longer creates a value for people (unless they are the boss-worker hybrid), but rather organizes other people to engage in labor and with then extracts profit from the value workers create.
“But bosses are essential and perform a necessary duty for business, that should be compensated!”
Often times the role of boss is infused with other tasks beyond merely taking the product of other people’s work. The useful things the boss does is organize the labor process and maintain the business. But why should the boss be designated this task? Society is dominated by one form of economic organization- business with bosses. I didn’t have a say in this. The boss holds no legitimacy for the role in my estimation. The useful role the boss engages in could easily be taken over by the workers. If it was necessary to have one person devoted to the role of maintaining aspects of business or organizing production, well, the workers could easily elect a delegate mandated to fulfill this task. We spend most of our time under the authority of business and we should at the very least have a democratic say in how things are run.
“We Need Leaders and We Need Followers!”
This is such a strange idea to me. Sure, we should split up tasks to be more efficient. However, this division of labor and this division into different roles should be done in the most legitimate way. Liberal social contract doctrine assumes that people are okay with how things are and that the limited channels of voicing concern are legitimate. I disagree completely. So many points of authority in society are taken for granted and given to people that were mostly lucky, winning the birth lottery. The economy is one of the least democratic arenas. Sure, we can have leaders, but we should not have tyrants, the leaders should garner legitimacy by the masses of workers.
“You give the boss legitimacy by working for them if you don’t like them work for someone else!”
But do you not see the major contradiction of that statement. It assumes that there is always an option to move from one boss to the next, which is often not the case. Secondly, it assumes that this is a sufficient and desirable option. I don’t decry the individual boss. I decry the social role of boss. I decry the dominant relationship of boss over worker. Shifting from tyrannical boss to tyrannical boss doesn’t change this reality, it maintains it.
“Worker ownership and democratic economy sound nice, but require theft of the bosses property to be instituted”.
As I outlined above, there is a distinction between the hard work of the worker and the hard work of the boss. The hard work of the worker is using their mental and physical skills to create a product or perform a service, satisfying a human need and/or desire. On the flipside, the hard work of the boss (in the capacity as boss) is about employing and organizing workers to create products and services, it is to take the product, sell it for a profit and use that money to enrich themselves, while continuing the process. The job of the boss is to maintain legal, systemic and professionalized theft of workers. The machinery, the buildings, and the money that the boss owns and uses for business are one hundred percent the result of the workers past labor.
In summation: Let’s cut out the middleman and get rid of the boss. Let us workers decide our lives and our conditions of work. Lastly, let’s have wealth end up where it belongs, in the hands of us workers.
In these times of rising economic nationalism, our real concerns are being “remedied” with the political equivalent of snake oil. We see dying rustbelt towns, deserted mining communities in Appalachia and we feel the general stress of trying to reach or maintain financial stability with the limited options we have for work and an unpredictable economy with all sorts of schemes and traps we often fall into (debt schemes). Anti-globalism and closed borders have been touted as the solution. At the very best it is a band-aid, at the very worst it is complete BS that will come back to kick us in the ass.
The problem isn’t open borders for immigrants (fellow workers), but a globalizing capitalist economy constantly searching for the cheapest labor to increase profit margins. The economic elites will find the cheapest labor possible, and us workers (immigrant or not), will look for a source to make a livelihood any way we can. Most immigrants are of our same class, motivated by similar aspirations, they are our comrades. With this being the case, then what is the solution? The solution is this, building an international workers movement, supporting workers in the fields of California, in their struggles in Mexico, in Germany, in China, and worldwide. The better the lives of workers around the world, the better our lives here at home.
However, there is a new complicating factor. All around the world and especially in the US, mechanization and automation are making workers more productive (great for producing things we need, bad for distributing work to many people). Every sector from manufacturing to fast-food service is making this shift. Again our solution needs to be a strong workers movement, we need to be able to make demands upon the international economic elites, that we need more money for our time, be able to distribute the hours more evenly so our fellow workers and community members can thrive as well. Lastly, we should demand that highly productive industries move toward decommodification, certain things that are super productive should no longer be totally about profit or require work to access, but provided to all to meet their everyday needs. I can think of a bright future where many luxuries are provided to many, but we must fight for this collective economic mobilization.
So, the first-world working class, like it or not, your lot it tied to the lot of the working class in Mexico, China, Africa and worldwide.
Now, enjoy this cover of a Woody Guthrie classic by The Highwaymen, a song for our times:
I was nervous about dropping out of a liberal arts college and entering into a trade school. I thought the difference would be too stark and I would crash and burn (get zapped and fry may be more apt for a sparky in training like myself). But surprisingly I have a knack for both the electrical theory (math and scientific concepts) and the applied knowledge of wiring up circuits. I surprised myself and was elated to find out that I really enjoyed this stuff. I had made the right move.
This might sound odd, but it is true. Reading Capital Vol. 1 by Karl Marx helped me think like an electrician. Capital Vol. 1 is technical writing and systemic in its analysis of capitalism. Capital, if read with great interest and intent to learn and understand the concepts will train the reader how to break down large concepts into small bits of the totality and further Capital trains the reader to understand how things are related. For instance, Marx outlines how constant capital and variable capital are related to each other, and then how they are related to the rate of exploitation and profit. As an electrician, you must know how resistance in a parallel circuit is reciprocally related to total resistance. I could go on with different relations in Marx’s analysis of capitalism or in basic electrical theory. But my point has been made.
The development of post-modernism and more specifically post-structuralism has had a detrimental impact on the Western left. Post-structuralism has pushed rational materialist politics careening off a cliff and dying somewhere near the political aspirations of a class-conscious working class. What we are left with are a politics, that seem to share a lot of the fundamental premises of modernist left politics that was forged in the battles of 19th century class struggle, but with closer inspection we find a politics completely removed from such a tradition, masquerading as a new left politics for a postmodern era.
Before I get into why I think everyone and anyone should leave the poststructuralist politics behind, I will first briefly outline what these poststructuralist contend. The fundamentals of poststructuralist politics are rooted in a theory about the world and reality. For the poststructuralists, all reality is a conglomerate of social concepts, phrases, and symbols, dubbed broadly as discourse. Reality exists because we collectively decide it does and everything is up for interpretation and contestation -put in the common undergrad lingo and repeated ad nausem- everything is socially constructed. This philosophy has led to strange and absurd theoretical realms where definitions of agency have been distorted to include inanimate objects as on par with humans in constructing a discursive reality (ie just reality). There is an anything goes mentality for explanations of everything. The influence of poststructuralism does not end here. Poststructuralism moves beyond the pure philosophical realm into political philosophy. For poststructuralist politics, power is key, as with most realistic politics, however, they are not interested in any normative definition of political power (i.e. wielding the state or using a political subject’s structural position to make change). Rather, they take the feminist mantra of “the personal is political” to a new extreme. For the poststructuralists, every relationship, every word, and every symbol are a rooted in an unceasing power struggle. Thus, the most inconsequential small talk is really a political tango of two warring factions trying to win in some interpersonal political game. Social reality and all social hierarchies are always under contestation. The political struggle is everywhere, all the time, and most fundamentally in our words and writings. Might I add that poststructuralism seems like the perfect politics for academics that engage in writing and debate for a living.
THE LEFT’S POSTSTRUCTURALIST PROBLEM
I have a hard time substantiating a lot of my hypotheses about the history of the left, but I think if I took the time to do substantial research, my hypotheses would be proven correct. Throughout the 20th century, the left built large factions within the academy. Where before leftism had been a movement of the popular classes and a small collection of eccentric intellectuals and those of noble/bourgeois heritage. The 1960s and 70s led to a spike in the left wing army being assembled in the academy. This spike in the 1960s and 70s was a result of the vast array of social movements that rocked society the Women’s Liberation movement, Civil Rights, Black Power, and particularly student movements (think Berkley). Now it just so happens to be the case, that the last be hurrah for anything resembling a powerful left was the 1960s, major shifts in society led to a progressive direction with Civil Rights Legislation, the Great Society and so on. Now, most of that left has been decimated, except for those clinging on in the academy. But throughout the new neoliberal era and the decimation of the left, new political and theoretical trends infiltrated the academy and took all of the New Left academics with it. Poststructuralism is the infiltrator the has infected the academic left and by association all the various existing forms of left political organizations, the largest base being the NGO Industrial Complex, staffed by professionally oriented liberals which are the former political disciples of the poststructuralist academy. I feel confident in saying this because the humanities and social sciences have all be deeply infiltrated by the likes of Foucault and Derrida, just look at citations. This faction has become politically dominant over the Democratic Party (good riddance, that is fine by me) and most of the activist movements of today.
Now what types of political content did poststructuralism insert into the left? One obvious political discourse (I said it), that has emerged has been the religious focus on what is popularly dubbed political correctness, a focus personal attitudes, and personal relationships. If you believed, as do the poststructuralists’, that power is in every relationship and every symbolic form of communication, then it would be no wonder why there is a religious observance of words people say. In the eyes of the most fundamental poststructuralists, these words construct the world. Words, words, words. The most common political expression influenced by poststructuralism seems to be a poststructuralism melded with the traditional identity politics of the New Left (women’s, black, Lesbian/Gay and new political categories of people). Ironically much of the early poststructuralism, like the work of Foucault, was a reaction against identitarianism and any quasi-essentializing discourse. Out of the melding of identity politics and a firm belief that the totality of the world is constituted by the power game of discourse, we see a religious fundamentalism that emerges, which the right calls Social Justice Warriors (there are hours of cringe-inducing videos of these political types online). My assumption is that most of these SJWs don’t realize how the type of politics they spout has emerged from a hybrid of the identity politics of the New Left and poststructuralism of “left” academics, as a leftism rooted in rationality and materialism has died.
So, this is what poststructuralism has brought to the left. It has brought a totalizing focus on words and political performance that- might be why there is such liberal outrage over President Trump’s xenophobic campaign speeches and not a peep from liberals about the President Obama’s vast deportation machine, or Middle Eastern interventions, including assassinations by drones. But with a totalizing focus on words, it is no doubt that the class character or subject character of the left has shifted since the 1970s- I will add that this trend coincides with the gutting of the left by neoliberalism. The left today is not fundamentally rooted in fighting for your material interests (for workers rights, economic justice, better education in your community, and so on). Today the left starting point is discourse, how people talk, how commentators discuss events, how this marginalizes, certain groups, making sure that the most marginalized are given a voice and discursive leadership over movements, over safe spaces and so on. The political leaders are no longer those most adept at organizing their fellow neighbors or workers, but those most attuned and adept a regurgitating the correct social justice discourse. It is unsurprising that students, academics, and professional activist dominate this role.
Further, the identitarian/poststructural fusion puts great focus and creates a large space privileged in their type of politics. The privileged are the ones with dominance and for some reason, their voice magically shrinks other (I assure this stance isn’t about population prominence, it is about cultural dominance that the most vulgar SJWs believe engulf everything). There are great pieces that reveal privileged guilt and guilty performances as the key political move for the privileged subject. Self-criticism, creating discourses, and engaging in symbolic protests that point out and aim to undermine the privileged group’s dominance is the fundamental political practice of the social justice clique. I can assure you that these performances do little if anything to shift actual material power, because at the end of the day, as the left is focused on safe spaces, the rightwing and corporate interests still wield massive political power and material resources to ensure their plans are fulfilled.
Here is the list of major problems with the “social justice” poststructural/identitarian politics: 1. It alienates most people with an emphasis on a particular expert academic/activist lingo. 2. It engages people not as individuals with collective interests, but as a representative of a privileged or non-privileged receptacle for power 3. Words are prioritized over material events and interests. If the left ever wants to be relevant again, which they haven’t been since the 1970’s, they need to drop the type of politics I outlined above. Real egalitarian, anti-oppressive politics, is about building
If the left ever wants to be relevant again, which they haven’t been since the 1970’s, they need to drop the type of politics I outlined above. Real egalitarian, anti-oppressive politics, is about building organizations and institutions of the popular classes to fight for common interests and engage diverse or non-totalizing interests in the context of that solidarity. This isn’t to reduce the important of non-dominant or majority interest, but it is a realistic assessment of how politics works. This can be hard, and conflict will exist, but hiding in safe spaces and symbolic action will kill all movement for a progressive future and the left will die in absurdity (if it hasn’t already).PS: There is a possible Part Two, that will engage decry poststructuralism and defend science and a reality outside of discourse.
PS: There is a possible Part Two, that will engage decry poststructuralism and defend science and a reality outside of discourse.