class consciousness

the other day i got into a conversation (debate, whatever) with @Damn_Jehu (therealmovement on wordpress) which actually started out as an objection to what he had to say about Marx and Engel’s views on the supposed interests that the ruling class and working class(es) share. some further thought on this reveal a synthesis of two of my own posts that i’ve been trying to connect in roundabout ways.

it may seem pretty obvious to some, but i think that currently among the left, and i do not mean simply the celebrity left, there is theory being used and geopolitical currents being read that don’t always amount to admitting what class consciousness looks like in the struggle we see now in our immediate context(s). to be completely clear, i think that academic theorizing is pointing in a lot of different directions (and i don’t mean this in a purely pejorative manner, there’s a lot of great stuff being generated right now outside the platform institutional lib-left) with the absence of a larger media presence that Occupy …once occupied. that being said, it can be a confusing time for many people newly coming into left and radical thought who see a number of intriguing and useful ideas online but who find difficulties applying them in practice.

i don’t propose to answer that necessarily, but to ask more questions and explore my own ideas. i don’t think i qualify as anyone to guide those considered “uninitiated”. i’m in that same boat, and i was newer to such thought not so long ago while trying to (and i feel successfully so in some instances) implement theory in my daily practice. if i had a thesis to name for this post in particular and the push for my other thought and study at the moment it would be this: there is a class consciousness among the working classes even if it’s the one we don’t want to see, and it’s important to not be apathetic toward it.

for the sake of sparing any readers with a Storify to click through, i am going to attempt to give some context to the conversation i mentioned via tweets and then some from yesterday that helped clarify my earlier line of thought.

please note: if you want to see Jehu’s longer line of thought, search his tweets for 6 April. not all of them are needed here for me to set up context for this post, however.

@ChuckieKautsky replies with a string of tweets: chuckie4_6 then he and Jehu exchange a few more: chuckiejehu4_6see this tweet in particular from the above screenshot:

that’s where i jump in:

and that’s where we parted ways a bit as far how to come to conclusions in how to determine class struggle (as far as i thought at that moment), even if going from the text: graphjehu4_6 now my entire point for mentioning this phantom of “false consciousness” that sometimes gets thrown around was because i was trying to articulate that there is a class consciousness as well as struggle even if not explicitly realized by lefts because of ideas of what it should be. i maintain a few more points to my reading of the text throughout this exchange. 2graphjehu4_6 3graphjehu4_6 Chuckie brings up some points on The German Ideology:

 

there was more to this exchange, but i find these two fairly integral to what i’m driving at. struggling under an ideology that warps individuality toward shaping armies of labor doesn’t mean the individuals collectively don’t have a class consciousness that encompasses similar concerns and ambitions. how that manifests itself is the job of lefts, i feel, to suss out and struggle within (which is partly to my point of mentioning working classes). though i’m not entirely convinced of Jehu’s method for getting there, his argument can be intuited from Capital itself before the text states it explicitly: labor is mediated by capital, therefore the interests between the two are shared ones. but that is hardly where the idea of class struggle ends. as @RedMaistre chimed in:

as clearly as Marx documented the miserable conditions of the working classes in his time we can gather that the workers and the capitalists do not ultimately share the same interests. if that was the case, i doubt the ruling class would so diligently work toward maintaining power as i briefly mentioned in this piece:

i think it is appropriate to note here very quickly what think tanks actually serve to accomplish under what has been theorized as the singular-elite system by which the US is governed: to put forward competing ideas from individuals or groups of individuals in the top ranks that still allow the ruling class to retain power. it should not be assumed that these individuals always share a set of strictly cohesive ideas, but rather that they are very “class conscious” in how they strategize to stay in power. 

because the working classes can’t seem to “get it together” to wield their own power this doesn’t mean they are stupid or are simply finding it easier now to fall in line with the demands of the state. now Jehu might scoff at presumed naivete on my part, but the struggle that has taken place throughout the last century in even the states is proof of this class acting on its consciousness. it has been cut off, co-opted, and ridiculed relentlessly, but i attribute it to working with machinery that hasn’t taken off my arms at certain jobs i’ve had and my partner having the ability to set his own hours fairly comfortably without fear of retribution while this struggle continues. 

and make no mistake, the ruling class has developed apparatuses stretching well back into the last century to curtail labor. we are really now just seeing this regularly discussed on the internet as more and more information makes it into the discourse about the ways in which intelligence agencies have co-opted and tried to create movements that serve to benefit the state. to get a feel for the scope of the information bubbling up to the fore about USAID, NSA, and CIA, you may find this reading valuable.

this fervent work to undo employee protections, etc, that still only work for some can bring us to some varying conclusions. the state still relies on our labor power, therefore they had to make compromises. sure, this is true no doubt. to stretch to the point that workers and capitalists have the same interests is (agreeing with Jehu in this singular respect) something that should be given closer examination even though i do not think this is something worthwhile to singularly extract from Marx and Engels’s work — but it is still a question, and one that is largely glossed over by the academics now filling the vacuum with theory, both scattershot in circles on Twitter or outright ignored by the platform, professional lib-left who are busy apologizing for empire or twisting cultural observations to the point of irrelevance.

at any rate, the recognition of class consciousness in struggle is imperative not only to further agitation in meaningful directions but also because of the very fact that struggle has gained material advantages for members of differing classes within the proletariat. and regardless of a labor history riddled with co-option, infiltration, and fascist corporatism, we simply cannot excuse all the even marginal gains that allow for further struggle to continue as “impure” and not a true expression of working class consciousness. if the Great Men really don’t make history, then we have to be willing to acknowledge where class consciousness has taken us as proletarians to the point we are at now and what our part, collectively, is at the present. as @DonnyDiggins spectacularly connects in this piece, imperialism works at home, too:

I take Detroit as an example for its prominence, but just as the type of hit job performed on Detroit will not end with Detroit, it did not start with Detroit, either. The anatomy for the Detroit hit job was first implemented against Benton Harbor, a rural Michigan town that shares with Detroit the traits of being overwhelmingly poor and overwhelmingly black. Any casual drive through Benton Harbor would be self-explanatory, although it finds resemblance in Detroit on a larger scale: collapsed buildings doubling as health hazards, overgrown grasses, non-existent public transportation. To repeat these facts is to overdo it–the descriptions, and for god’s sake the photographs, have been pumped out relentlessly by media over the past years. NPR was among the outlets reporting on the obvious devastation: ‘The city can’t keep up with the blight. Some 40 percent of the streetlights are broken. Only about one-third of the city’s ambulances run.’ In that vein, and to get an even clearer idea of the wreckage, take a look at another Michigan city, Highland Park. Like Detroit and Benton Harbor (and Flint), Highland Park is, again, overwhelmingly poor and overwhelmingly black. It is one of two cities, along with Hamtramck, completely surrounded by Detroit, marooned on all borders by the Motor City; it is, for most intents and purposes, part of Detroit. Now watch as the bulbs of its street lamps are plucked from their posts, because the city was unable to ‘pay its bills’ to the corporation, DTE Energy, doing the plucking. When a corporation gets permission from the state to go into a neighborhood and steal its fucking lights, what exactly is the proper word for that? I’ll let you think about it for a moment before I answer. For now, please reflect on that pattern that is emerging within the State of Michigan alone. […]

As I detailed in my earlier post, using the theories of Hobson and Lenin, money-money markets are the reason for imperialism. If we understand the destruction of Libya, accelerated dramatically by a NATO bombing, to be an act of imperialism, then it becomes clear that the destruction of Detroit was an act of imperialism, despite the fact that it exists within U.S. borders. In fact, the city of Sirte, Muammar Qhadhafi’s hometown, pummeled by NATO bombs, aesthetically resembles large swathes of Detroit, a city that has been on the receiving end of zero bombs. While neglect and general rot has been at the heart of many of Detroit physical woes, so has proactive dismantling, as seen in DTE’s efforts to steal city lights. So what does one call it when the Hazmat men steal things used communally by a neighborhood on behalf of a corporation with state permission? Imperialism. It is called imperialism, especially because it is administered by the state and done for the benefit of corporate power as well as an increase in the fictitious coffers of fictitious finance capital.

(i recommend reading his entire series!)

this ties in with my post on mainstream pornified, militarized society. all of the information that is mercilessly fed to us in fragmented form about the destruction of reproductive rights is only one element of the ruling class’s push for a working class society that more closely resembles that of the turn of the 20th century rather than what fash utopian ideas the Tunneys and Whites of the world are trying to lure sections of the left with. between all the flotsam and jetsam that gets tossed our way via the various outlets, it’s important to look for the details about how this pushback to a “simpler time” is occurring in context with all the movements (grassroots or not) around the world as they either stave off or succumb to imperial destabilization efforts. “reforms” of child labor laws are one insidious example that doesn’t get enough reportage and the devaluing of tech labor at Google and Apple are two of the more recent ones getting play still on social networking sites, between the lists and cute animal photographs.

don’t get me wrong — i like to look at cute animals as much as anyone. i don’t think it’s the job of anyone in independent media or of the left to ridicule working people for how they spend whatever time away from working unless it’s actively harming others, and then it better be more than ridicule! to that point:

in reality, do they really have to try that hard? Facebook, for example, is rife with images and memes about how heroic, still, the troops are despite all we see crumbling due to the imperialism they are hired to carry out. we cannot simply attribute this to the NSA or CIA dropping from above and deploying small units of operatives to get people to really, really support them, nor can we simply tie this to the often fantasized ideology at a strictly cultural level, outside of material underpinnings. more likely those types of projects are being unleashed by establishment left outlets as they have been for the last 30-40 years or so, at least, to turn any tide of nosy lefts in larger numbers digging deeper to discover how these operations have been used at the seat of empire itself let alone around the globe to enrich the imperialists.

as i touched on in my militarized society piece, livelihoods of the families of soldiers are no doubt built from defense contracting in some way. this can be very mundane without the alleged “woowoo conspiracy” aspect applied — as Michael Parenti has made abundantly clear throughout the years, conspiracy without class analysis is no theory at all. more over, it dictates the lives of americans not directly tied to soldiers in direct and indirect ways, whether through cultural/ideological messages or those tied to immediate material conditions in any given region speaking in terms of the US.

as an example of capital’s expansion to money-money markets in steadily devastated and bankrupted cities such as Detroit, we can see that this has been a cycle that has been wrathfully fought out in smaller cities dotting across the midwest. cities that boomed with munition production and all its related industry not to mention the simple fact of drawing employees in to house, feed, clothe, and medically administer to, have fallen to disarray over the years as competition for capital has reshaped the landscape. around the time Detroit’s narrative started making it into more and more headlines, the small city i lived near to whose armory employed thousands at one time had houses regularly selling for $1000 – $2000. another example is how quickly the Cessna plants in Wichita laid off nearly 5000 people overnight in 2009 as Obama boasted in headlines that appealed to progressives: no new aircraft for the evil, right-wing CEOs just bailed out. it is no wonder that the state would recognize this opportunity and capitalize on the desperation of people whose lives have been built around selling their labor to those who sell war. pointing out that they are doing so at a “discounted rate” through the legislative branches in regard to employee protections and more working class members extorted through the destruction of anything resembling reproductive rights that were once in place isn’t alarmism, it’s pattern recognition.

my examples above are very crude in the sense that they are “surface level” and fairly simple to intuit. however what i don’t see in the larger little-l left presence online is the connection to military-worship within the working classes who are obviously, materially shaped by its existence. doing so is not an acceptance that the classes’ all have the same interests; it is a recognition of where to struggle in relation to the larger class conscious. some Leninists may claim that these people are not of “the masses” because they haven’t recognized their oppression or exploitation and are therefore not doing something about it, even if they do so through populist platforms be they left or right (and are then rejected from a revolutionary mass line if that is the case). however under the prevailing consciousness and therefore mode of production, showing this support is doing something. these are masses in a broad sense who can’t be ignored because of ideological difference still struggling within a working class consciousness. they are not worth ignoring because lefts should aim for casting a broad net in an imagined party, but because building radical thought as a means to alter the mode of production means being honest about the prevailing consciousness society is affected by.

graphkevin4_8

truly, i had just seen a photograph of soldiers bowed as if in prayer on Facebook with their bald heads in full view of the camera. they had done this in honor of a family member getting cancer. this was their tribute. i don’t feel it is that ridiculous or even mocking in tone to note how this belief in the troops works with their connection to the “higher power” (the ruling class) in our society whether this is truly understood or not by the people whose consciousness relies on believing this sort of show works, or is at least honorary.

if we use atheism or agnosticism as metaphor here for dissenting lefts, consider the implications of rejecting those powers simply in name. to go even further, consider a system that has vast surveillance abilities that uses these to co-opt belief itself and market it as a lifestyle. what are lefts then rejecting without this in mind, or allowing themselves to participate in that ideologically caters to faux dissent? i have a couple of examples here, one from my ideological non-belief post and then a few of my own tweets reiterating this gist of this post, that of recognition of class consciousness at the present:

to be sure, atheism and agnosticism do have their place in a politics that wants to move beyond an ideological narrative that has been built on the biblical understanding of an all-knowing god. i do not wish to seat this on an overly simplistic counter to this structural juggernaut that operates in a manner similar to god asking Abraham to kill his only son in the name of belief — meaning, i’m thinking through writing this out in an attempt to look past surface-deep rejections and realizations to how empty those rejections can be.

in any case, i think one way in which to do that is to understand that this conscious realization of rejection cannot only be in word or even deed — ie, fuck church, praying is a futile exercise, etc. it requires more of an acceptance that those who own the airwaves, one of many connections to the higher power (the state, the ruling class, the corporate monster, however you refer to this as) isn’t attempting to model a patched together assumption that they are all-knowing, it functions in the assumption it has this right.

2graphkevi4_8now i have some objections here to a simple welcoming of “forces of freedom”, but i catch Kevin’s drift here: these, too, are expressions of consciousness within a class structure where the workers’ interests are clearly at odds with those who exploit them. i feel these are to be, firstly, recognized as such and struggled within. this points to how lefts should be vigilant of how identity politics are deployed in environments such as twitter where they are easily co-opted and used for capitalist gain. working to end racism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia are not things that need to happen to necessarily end capitalism and they can be easily absorbed into the current mode of production. realizing the dialectic process of struggle and how these are necessary to radical politics is imperative.

3graphkevin4_8

4graphkevin4_8

to hear Michael Parenti elaborate on the functions of fascism briefly mentioned, go here. to see a very gross, blatant example of what Kevin alludes to, go here.

to tie back in with my militarized society piece in regard to how we decide to think through the flood of progressive information filtered through outlets not actually interested in concerted societal change, i want to bring up one last example in closing. this report has been making rounds as released through various outlets. without going into full detail of all the information it encompasses, the message that more often than not that is observed by lefts and then discarded as media forces our attention on the next topic “well fuck. again? what is wrong with these people? they can’t spot it on a map and then make useful judgments?”

a few questions arise: are “we” using a too universal of a “we” here, conflating too much of the working classes with the ruling class? and if “the masses” are truly as influential on the decisions of elites by geographical location, how much are they relying on the narrative of more visible intervention to cloak the covert operations? how does this shape our reactions to what makes it into headlines and our own study of what is being unleashed in closer quarters than those most americans can’t name on a map? why would proletarian supporters want to be in favor of this as far where their material standing is?

i apologize for any repetition this post includes, but i find these subjects of great importance if lefts are to be of use to agitation that is independent from the forms of media we have to work with for the time being. i still hold it’s not a matter of the present state of things simply dying away — individuals in the classes we form in greater numbers are too included in shaping this epoch. perhaps the best way to sum this up is noting the need to be conscious of consciousness if radicals are serious and not simply another subculture subsumed due to the fact of just living in these times.

 

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