Building Class Consciousness

Solidarity and class consciousness are not merely ideological, if they have are to have any meaning at all they must be material realities. They are a recognition, carried over into practice, that all our seemingly disparate struggles are in fact inexorably linked. Solidarity means standing shoulder to shoulder with our fellow workers as comrades in the shared war on capitalism.

The most elementary solidarity is the collectivization of our individual struggles, at work we all have our individual grievances with the boss. Solidarity comes when we see our individual issues as shared and we fight back to change our conditions. This is solidarity as a material force, not as an ideological commitment. This unity can then be extended to include other workers, not just because it feels nice but because it allows us to win. 

An example; I was involved in supporting the Verizon strike. A comrade who was on strike talked about  how workers could do real damage to the company by occupying the Central Offices and shutting down all telecom communication in the northeast. However, doing this would get the parties involved arrested for terrorism and likely kill the strike (branding the entire union as terrorists). This is because of the low level of solidarity within the American working class, most people would just be angry that they lost internet or not care. This is the result of most American workers not even having a basic experience of class struggle. Because workers have no experience of fighting back they see no reason to stand together.

Most workers have never been on strike or even stood up collectively to their bosses or landlords. This lack of class experience translates into a lack of class consciousness. If the level of struggle was higher then the occupation of the Central Offices would be on the table, because the workers could count on the support of the class when they were arrested. By organizing and winning in their daily lives the workers would have seen the efficacy of solidarity, and could then expand that solidarity to the entire class. This visceral reality of solidarity can only be produced by struggle, and struggle waged by the greatest possible number of workers.

Given this the task of communists is twofold, 1) We must find ways to link together groups of workers in struggle 2) we collectivize individual struggles.

Unifying struggles means unifying them materially, not just verbally. That means looking for ways that disparate struggles share the same enemies. For example, striking oil workers and their allies in Texas found that the company providing scabs during a strike was also providing security forces to help crush the Ferguson uprising. This opened up a way for the oil workers to unify with the anti pig movement on a material basis. These disparate struggles had a shared enemy.

Unifying seemingly disparate struggles is important, but unity must be based on solidarity rather than paternalism. Paternalism in this case refers to any support based on a sense that one group of workers possesses some superiority to another group and must help them out of a sense of guilt and/or pity. This is common in the relationship between students and other sections of the class, and it must be combated. Students often view themselves as being superior by way of our education and relative privilege. This leads to support for workers taking the form of paternalistic morality, rather than real solidarity. This hurts both workers, for obvious reasons, but it also hurts students. By viewing ourselves as better than workers we often fail to see ways we can fight for ourselves. Student guilt politics leads to a refusal to organize against our own bosses, because we do not see ourselves as workers.

As hinted earlier in this essay, the task of communists is not to organize struggles but to collectivize them. Most working people are waging private class struggles, trying keep their heads above water in the neo liberal torrent. We can only win by finding those who uniting with our brothers and sisters in exploitation and fighting back. As individuals we struggle to pay ever increasing rents, but if we stood together we could win lower rents. We complain about the boss at the bar after work or on Facebook, never thinking of fighting back on the job. The task of communists is to find these individual struggles and turn them into collective ones.

Anton Pannekoek once said “the working class is not weak because it is divided; on the contrary, it is divided because it is weak”, when we are not fighting back it is easy to see our brothers and sisters as enemies. Or worse, to see our suffering as inevitable. The ruling class wants us to think of this as the natural order of things, as the only way to live. We must stand up and say NO, everything is inevitable until it is resisted.

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