The Third International after Lenin

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Class analysis should not be a gimmick for dismissal. It is a guide to action."

Occupy: Revolution fuses many different contributions!

 kasama on October 5, 2011

thanks to Vanissa W. Chan

"The eruption of radical forces among middle classes (especially radical youth and  students) has three potentials:

    1. It is an important force in its own right — often taking on the government and oppression, lighting the sky, contending in the realm of ideas and in the streets.
    2. It is often important as an initiating force — i.e. encouraging others to come onto the political stage. (Including particularly the poor who often can't friggin' breathe without triggering police repression, and who can respond with great excitement when an opening seems to appear.)
    3. It is often a source of new communist and revolutionary cadre… who develop a largeness of mind and deep revolutionary consciousness and can learn to play a role beyond their initial campus scope of activities.

"Now all of that is only a potential for contributi0ns, not inevitable. We have to actually help make those three things happen. And help mobilize the more oppressed to seize this opening, come onto the stage and into the spotlight. And help train communists from those who are breaking into struggle with great energy and excitement."

"Think about it: It seems very odd to look at Occupy Wall Street and evaluate it in terms of whether its initiators could lead an actual revolution and lead the creation of a new society. Obviously they can't. But why is that the issue (or our basis for evaluating their initiative and actions so far).

"No one is expecting Ad-busters (!) to lead a seizure of power.

"And criticizing them for not being able to is kind of silly –  a false issue, a red herring. Many positive outcomes are possible from this occupation movement (shaking up the political air, putting radicalism back on the stage, awakening a new generation to political life, rippling and influencing people far from the occupations including in ghetto highschools and immigrant factories."

* * * * * * * * *

by Mike Ely

Jay Rothermel posted a comment here that featured a  snippet from the Speed of Dreams Blog — it consists of Enaemaehkiw Túpac Keshena introducing a quote by Omali Yeshitela.

Keshena writes:

"Revolution? Some prophetic food for thought on the primarily white petty bourgeois "Occupy Location X" Movement from Chairman Omali Yeshitela. The following comes from Social Revolution vs. Political Revolution, a talk given on June 30, 1984 in the course of a political education conference held at the Uhuru House during the Oakland Summer Project."

Then comes the quote from the long-time activist Omali Yeshitela:

'The petty bourgeoisie is often radicalized – not withstanding what its complexion is. To see a petty bourgeois force in motion demanding revolution is not necessarily the same thing as seeing a revolutionary force in motion. The petty bourgeoisie is radicalized precisely because of the contradictions of imperialism. Precisely because of the contradictions of capitalism. Precisely because as a class force it is a dying force, and often the contradictions of imperialism accelerate its disintegration. Its impending death is something that comes to its notice and it is then thrust into motion.'

My initial thought on reading this:

First: To say that something is not yet a revolution — or is not itself The Revolution — doesn't not prove that it can't contribute to a future revolution and a possible emergence of a new revolutionary movement.

Second: The assertion that there is an "impending death" for middle class is (I believe) not correct.

There are very complex and contradictory trends involved. Yes, the middle classes are pushed down. But they are also expanding in many ways — do to changes in production, technology etc. There was a view that the small owners would be forced "into the working class mass." And that trend exists. But there is also the development of a new technical middle class, and managerial strata, and those who manipulate information. There has been a major shrinking of middle class hopes because of the recession but also the global competition that has intensified — but i don't think we can see any "impending death" and the trends or actual outcome of class differentiation is (and the relative size of the working classes) is not yet clear.

Third: To say that the people radicalized in the Occupy XXX movement are drawn into motion by "the contradictions of capitalism and imperialism" is (forgive me) a rather banal and obvious point — Its true, surely, but hardly that challenging or controversial.

And what's wrong with being drawn into motion by the contradictions of capitalism? Isn't that true for us all?

Main issue: What is the role of the middle classes in revolution?

Let's get to  the main subtext — we've all seen this:

There is a trend of commentary that starts by announcing that the Occupy movement is "white petty bourgeois." Meaning that many of its participants and organizers are (a) white and (b) middle class (students etc).

And on some level that appears to be true so far. Of course, that may not remain its character…. such things are not written yet. On that point, i think that the future is unwritten.

If high schools walk out on Wednesday in NYC… it might suddenly not be so "petty bourgeois" in composition. Let's give wings to the thought. Bring on New York's high school students!

TNL writes:

"What Yeshitela says there is, IMHO, basically correct. The question is what you you conclude from that. Is that the end of the analysis or the beginning."

After all this introduces the questions:

  • How do we evaluate radical outbreaks that are initiated by middle class forces?
  • Is it a good thing or a bad things?
  • What is the connection (actual and potential) between such events and the ferment of the more oppressed.

What is often implied is that if it is petty bourgeois and white it is flawed, inauthentic, suspect and (somehow) not part of the solution.

That seems extremely one-sided and negative.

Omali is ambivalent at best:

"petty bourgeois force in motion demanding revolution is not necessarily the same thing as seeing a revolutionary force in motion."

But isn't that a bit one-sided? Certainly if middle class forces are demanding a revolution, and have deep grievances, and are targeting institutions of capitalism — it suggests those forces (and even the larger strata they are part of) can be part (even an important part) of "a revolutionary force in motion."

And (more) such outbreaks (first among youth and students) can be part of helping to trigger a larger revolutionary force (including among the more oppressed.)

Would anyone dismiss these historic sit-ins in Greensboro as just a "middle class" thing? And doesn't that ignore their "clarion call" impact?

The civil rights movement started as a student movement (sit-ins, freedom rides, voter registration) along with thousands of undocumented acts by non-students….. but the organized student component (SNCC, CORE etc.) helped trigger something much larger, among the people — and the emerging Black Liberation struggle developed powerful working class components (reaching deep into the ghettos and the poor).

And more: in the broad alliance that creates any profound revolution, there will be sections of the middle classes militantly and actively involved. (And if not, the revolution is unlikely to succeed and stay.) They may be more vacillatory than the most oppressed. They may at times be more susceptible to stopping half way, or compromising, or going for a less radical vision than those with "nothing to lose." But the fact is that the radicalized middle classes are a potential force for revolution — even if they are often not the most radical or consistent. And so, if you want a radical, socialist, far-reaching  revolution of deep change, you don't want the middle classes as the all-defining force in that process.

So we can say that middle class forces demanding revolution is both a force in its own right, and also can play an initiating role. And also gives rise to revolutionary cadre.

TNL points out (correctly):

"On its own the radicalized petty bourgeoisie (or racially privileged sections of the working class) is not a revolutionary force in the sense that they can not lead a successful social revolutionary process to a revolutionary conclusion. But that doesn't mean they can't play a role in a revolutionary process, even a very important one."

Yes, there is a difference between leading an actual revolution — and being part of  creating a new revolutionary mood and movement.

Think about it: It seems very odd to look at Occupy Wall Street and evaluate it in terms of whether its initiators could lead an actual revolution and lead the creation of a new society. Obviously they can't. But why is that the issue (or our basis for evaluating their initiative and actions so far).

No one is expecting Ad-busters to lead a seizure of power. And criticizing them for not being able to is kind of silly –  a false issue, a red herring. Many positive outcomes are possible from this occupation movement (shaking up the political air, putting radicalism back on the stage, awakening a new generation to political life, rippling and influencing people far from the occupations including in ghetto highschools and immigrant factories.

Yes, middle class politics often have some built in illusions. "Take America Back" is a statement coming from a stratum that thinks there were "good old days" — and think their social compact is being broken. It is a statement of those who are "the recently wounded" — and who see their dreams slipping away. Among the more oppressed, the mood is generally different. For Black people, the 1930s or 1950s were hardly "the good old days"! And the American Dream has always looked more like a lie and a nightmare.

So yes, there are middle class expressions of outlook and experience… that are not the most radical orientation toward the system and the problems of society. They often reflect illusions, and a history of relative privilege.

TNL writes:

"One of the consequences of the petty bourgeoisie's privileges is that they often believe the promises this system makes in terms of their right to speak out and protest and this causes them to act in ways that open political space that other forces can seize on… while the petty bourgeoisie may be a "dying force" it is by no means a dead one and in fact brings critical resources, skills and organization to any alliances it enters with other classes."

We can uphold the value (and even importance) of such a struggle — without embracing the illusions of some in its ranks. Right? And we can even help them transform their illusions (as life itself batters the illusions). And when (if) more oppressed join in the struggle — the mix of people can challenge the illusions as well. You want to say there are "good old days" in America in a roomful of Black youth? The blindspots inherent in that are glaring. Do you want to claim we are "taking America back" in a room where many people understand they never had it? When the bitterly exploited and persecuted undocumented brothers and sisters show up, "take america back" suddenly looks like a strange idea — they obviously never had it (except as a bitter oppressor in their home countries) — and "taking America back" to Mexican people has a very different means (as does the very word "occupation")!

But what is wrong with such cross-fertilization? Can't even middle class people learn while in motion?

And T NL points out:

"This revolt represent a very serious crisis of legitimacy for this system, not just in the eyes of the petty bourgeoisie but in the eyes of the vast swathes of the working class…."

If middle class students are announcing "the dream is dead" — and pointing out that they have been made into "debt slaves" and are a "lost generation" — isn't this a powerful mood-creating event for the whole society, including (as TNL says) for those much more poor, and much more  lost, and much more trapped into wage slavery? This is how the death of deep illusions starts — including among the working people.

The 3 ways middle class radical outbreaks can contribute to revolution:

The eruption of radical forces among middle classes (especially youth, i.e. radical students) has those three potentials:

    1. It is an important force in its own right — often taking on the government and oppression, lighting the sky, contending in the realm of ideas and in the streets.
    2. It is often important as an initiating force — i.e. encouraging others to come onto the political stage. (Including particularly the poor who often can't friggin breathe without triggering police repression, and who can respond with great excitement when an opening seems to appear.)
    3. It is often a source of new communist and revolutionary cadre… who develop a largeness of mind and deep revolutionary consciousness and can learn to play a role beyond their initial campus scope of activities.

Now all of that is only a potential for contributions, not inevitable. We have to actually help make those three things happen. And help mobilize the more oppressed to seize this opening, come onto the stage and into the spotlight. And help train communists from those who are breaking into struggle with great energy and excitement.

But a look at history does suggest the importance and positive character of such outbreaks. Middle classes aren't the leadership or main engine of the world's most radical revolutions — but outbreaks in the middle classes can play an important role in bringing a revolutionary opening into being, and drawing forward forces who can take it further.

And we (communists and revolutionaries) have a role to play — taking this opening to the oppressed, helping to introduce the most advanced to communist strategies and plans and organizations, helping to weaken the hold illusions within the existing movement.

Class analysis should not be a gimmick for dismissal. It is a guide to action.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments