Monday, July 07, 2014


It's theoretical Monday and, guess what, I am the one theorizing for a change.  I wrote this a couple of years ago following a brush up concerning the concept of class and class composition on Facebook.  I chanced a glance the other day and figured what the heck.  This was basically an attempt by me to clear up some concepts concerning class, and most especially class status.  Let me know what you think...or not.


May 19, 2012 
by randy gould
Since my remarks yesterday concerning class analysis set off a firestorm of nonsense, I have decided to try something else. 

The first thing I want to say, that many of you seemed not to grasp, is that the class status of some individual is of little concern to me, and of little consequence in general.  It is the class, the working class, as a whole that has the ability to change history, that has the ability to oust capital and all its relations of production, has the ability to establish communism.  Only the working class can emancipate and liberate the working class and thereby abolish capitalism and class relations once and for all.  I won’t elaborate further here, you get the drift.

Second, and I thought obviously, individuals fall into and out of the working class and other classes all the time.  Some, not many, but some workers one way or another move out of the class and up into the petit bourgeoisie and sometimes the bourgeoisie.  Sometimes, in fact not even so seldom, members of petit bourgeois slip into the working class.  This can even happen to the bourgeois as well.  The class you are born into may not be the class you die out of, as it were.  Some people will go back and forth several times in the course of their lifetime.  However, these are individuals and not the rule.  What happens to individuals certainly matters to them (and should in a human sense matter to us as well), but historically again it is of little to no importance.  It is only the class as a whole that matters in that way.

I will attempt to use myself as an example of how I view someone’s class status.  I have seen to comment on anyone else here, unless you acknowledge that they or their friends or their heroes are members of the working class sends them into a rage.

My father was born in Canada into an extremely poor working class family.  The family was so poor they also tried raising chickens on the side.  During the depression he slipped across the border on the lumbar car of a train looking for work.  Once in the USA he worked for decades, usually in someone’s small business and usually as sales person.  My understanding of class TODAY would put him at that point squarely in the working class.  In 1959, he had saved up enough money and with benefits also from his service in WWII, he was able to become a part owner of a small shoe store.  He worked there for another two decades, somewhere along the lines buying out his partner.  He had entered the petit bourgeois as a small businessman.  My dad never made much money in this little store and he worked, ten to twelve hours per day, six days a week.  At times, he was able to employ a few part time workers, and sometimes a full time worker.  My mother also worked there (as did I off and on over the years).  He hung on through the 1970s but was eventually forced to admit that he could no longer compete with shoe chains and shopping centers and he went out of business. None of that meant he was a member of the working class.  People in other classes can work hard, have a hard time, etc.

 Amazingly, because my folks were incredibly frugal they had saved up enough money, that along with social security, and aided by the fact that my dad did not really retire, but started working part time for others they were able to maintain their  middle class life style.  I was ten when my dad bought the store in 1959.

I grew up in the lower middle class, the petit bourgeois.  With the aid of my folks, and by working myself I was able to attend the University of Kansas, where my life as a political radical really began in earnest (I will note I stole a copy of a book that contained the Communist Manifesto, the Critique of the Gotha Program, and something else when I was probably 12 or 13).

My folks were very liberal and raised me with principles that, in my view, led me to my belief system.  My grandfather on my mother’s side, also working class, was a communist and used to take me as a child to his meetings, well, some of them.  My grandparents had a large picture of Karl Marx hanging above their dining room table.

Radicalism, Marxism and communism thus came easy to me, almost natural.

However, I was not, in my opinion, working class.

The first half of my work history consisted of a series of jobs ranging from a bean cannery to a parts warehouse, from a bookstore worker to a print shop worker, from a yard worker to a handyman for some guy who owned a bunch of run down property and on and on.  The second half of my work history was basically in one way or another in public health.  I worked at a free clinic, making $600 per month, hired under a government program (CETA), then worked as an outreach worker on the streets of Philadelphia and in that cities drug treatment programs providing HIV education and working with drug users and the homeless primarily.  Then I worked in a large community health center servicing the inner city of Kansas City in the HIV program doing education and the like and eventually the last few years as the Director of the program (which didn’t really change what I did).  Under Negri’s definition of the working class I was always working in a working class job, be it industrial, trade, or service.  Sometimes direct labor, sometimes immaterial labor, but always a wage worker for someone else, never in control of the means of production.

I have to add here that in 1971 I was indicted by a federal grand jury in Kansas City Missouri, on bombing conspiracy charges and faced seven further felony counts in state courts in two counties in Kansas on bombing charges as well.  Eventually, I was convicted in Federal Court and served time in Federal prison.  Having a felony record most definitely limits job opportunities and being a convicted bomber/terrorist doesn’t help either.

All this time, of course, I was very politically active, that never stopped and in fact I always defined my political activities as my work, and the other stuff as just jobs.  That also limited my working opportunities.

Yet, as I said yesterday, I consider myself to be a member of the petit bourgeois.  Why?  The reason why is that all along the way I could have made other choices.  I could have gone on to some professional school, say law, as many I knew did.  I could have moved into the business world.  I could have become a University professor.  Well, I should say the opportunity at least was available if I made different choices.  The sons and daughters of coal miners, of unemployed auto workers, of kitchen help, of migrant workers, etc., don’t generally have that choice to make.  More often then not they are stuck.  They can’t wake up one day and say to hell with this, I think I’ll get a graduate degree and maybe work in business administration.  They can’t generally wake up one day and decide to start a successful business.  They can’t draw on Mom and Dad.  They are stuck! And if they happen to be African American, Latino, American Indian, people of color, well, forget about it.

I could have back in, say, 1971, said, I’m tired of politics, I’m tired of being poor, I think I will try to use a college degree to get somewhere.  I’m white.   I could have given it a shot.

So because I grew up after I was ten in a petit bourgeois life, because I for years had other options, because the possibility was always there, I was not stuck.  It didn’t matter that there was a time when I was homeless.  It didn’t matter that I was politically active, it didn’t matter that I worked as a worker, it didn’t matter that I was always poor, none of that mattered.   Hell, Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, and many others today find themselves comfortably set in the world of academics, settled down in Obama’s old neighborhood in a nice little section of Chicago.  I suppose I could have done that.

Mario Gonzalez, the yard worker, couldn’t have done that.  Alonzo Robinson, having grown  up in the ghetto and unemployed forever, couldn’t have done that, Linda Yellowbird raised on the reservation at Pine Ridge didn’t have that opportunity, Jane Smith, brought up by a single mom who spent her life working in a coca cola bottling plant until it closed down, couldn’t make that choice.  They are all stuck.

Do you get what I am saying?

Further, if you are not a real resident of the working class, you simply cannot have real working class consciousness.  Working class consciousness comes from your life, from you work experience, from survival, from struggle, from your world. I don’t care how hard you try to live the lifestyle (and leftists have been doing that for decades, trying to blend it, trying to get it), you are not really a working class human being with a working class consciousness.  Could you fall into the class with few to no options to get out?  Yes.  If you stayed stuck there would you in time develop a working class consciousness? Yes.  But that is different then making a political decision to sign on to the working class, or to go work in a factory or a giant office or a hospital.  You will definitely be surrounded by workers and you will definitely gain insight and learn a lot from them and from you place in production, but you will not, in my opinion, have become working class.  This brings to mind the successes and failures of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, and the fact, that in China today party members and others are required to spend a certain amount of time working as workers.  It helps, but it doesn’t transform your class status.

However, again, not being a member of the working class does not mean you have no role to play in the class struggle, in the fight to destroy capital, in the creation of a new world.  Of course, you can.  Personally, my ideology says you can’t declare yourself the vanguard, you can’t declare you are acting on behalf of the class; you can’t establish anything beyond state capitalism on your own and with others like you.  You cannot do that.  Only the working class can do that.  The working class as a whole, allied with all the other autonomous movements, movements of women, youth, of African Americans, of etc. etc.  Further only, in my opinion, can African Americans, for example, lead their own struggle.  They don’t need white leftists to explain how to do it.  Women don’t need men to tell them how to become liberated. However, in the end, again, only the working class can achieve complete emancipation and liberation, while destroying capitalism and the state and abolishing class society.  I personally believe the working class cannot do that in this country until they confront and reject their white skin privilege and thus give up the material advantages they get by identifying as white.  White leftists must play a role in confronting other whites, most especially white workers on this.  Simply shouting "unite and fight" or similar slogans doesn’t do it.  These slogans are totally wrong, as we aren’t all in it together at the moment fighting the same fight from the same place.  Again, to me, just announcing that if we all just fight to abolish capitalism, then racism and white supremacy will be eliminated is BS.  It is telling Blacks and others, hey, we will get to you later. Heard that for far too long. Every time push comes to shove in this country, white people, white workers have suddenly said, oh yeah, we’re white and left people of color behind to fend for themselves. Too often, almost always, white leftists, including Marxists and communists have told people of color they just need to listen their particular brand of ideology and all will be well.  BS, I say.  But I have strayed off course.

Now you may have a totally different definition of what makes up the working class then I do.  Maybe you think it is only industrial workers or some such thing.  I think you are wrong, but, I am not god.  I will fight for what I believe, but that is all.  Further, I turn to CLR James and later autonomist Marxists for advice on the role of a Marxist organization.  I truly believe that the vanguard party concept is a disaster.  I further believe that since most of theorists and leaders of the communist movement over the years, have not been members of the working class they have had no chance of producing communism.  They can’t help but act somewhat in their own class interests, no matter how hard they try and no matter how loudly they proclaim they are acting on behalf of the class.  History, I believe, has proven this....

Note 1: I should add that the composition of the working class always is in a state of change.  The hegemony of certain elements of the class within the class changes.  The class today is much different then the class in 1848, 1917, 1935, 1971, etc.   This and how one views that composition is also an important element of autonomist Marxism, to which I subscribe.  That, however, is also, a whole other discussion.

Note 2:  Obviously I only dealt with class here.  Class, however, is not the only factor which contributes to all this.  Race and gender, for example, contribute mightily to where you end up in the scheme of things.  However, that, is also, a whole other discussion.

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