Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
So, I wanna talk about 3rd generation class consciousness. I feel like the 1st generation harnessed a lot of unrest coming out of the 18th century. When that generalized but violent irritation with royalty, aristocracy, and capitalism met class analysis, you had rebellions all over Europe by the middle of the 19th century, the kindling that ignited the Decembrists and finally Lenin and Trotsky.
I would include Mao, Tito, Ho Chi Minh, the Communist Party in Kerala – and add to it the anti- colonialist reds in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. So, this is to say that we have still with us a lot of 1st generation attempts to address class inequality, albeit their primary instigators are no longer.
I’m lumping a lot into this 1st wave category. The three waves explanation is a taxonomy of convenience. No one will agree that there are three waves, or that they contain the phenomena I have crammed into them, but that’s fine. I have trimmed historical and conceptual clusters with Occam’s Razor and smashed them with Bozo’s Mallet to make of them an object capable of a certain brutish examination. But that’s okay. Quantum physicists do this to subatomic particles all the time, and everybody thinks they’re, like, super-geniuses.
The socialism in Western and Northern Europe has been hybridized with capitalism to various degrees, and with various degrees of success. In many ways it has led to improved lives for its working and middle classes, but its successes have diluted the urge for economic equality, and that dilution has allowed those societies to participate in contemporary global capitalism by claiming a lion’s share of the resources supposed to be held in common by the countries of the world, and those of the former colonies, who in turn suffer in attempting to appease the global market and finance, because that’s where the money is. In general, this hybrid socialism also allows abuses of various populations according to the interests of capital.
The 2nd wave of class consciousness was very much a product of the two World Wars, with growing workers’ power at the fore in capitalist countries. Unions, collectives, experiments with worker ownership were reactions to the underclasses’ refusal be among those made to live in desperation, especially when it had become so clear how much starvation and senseless violence the governments of the owning class were willing to dole out to their own people.
The anger against the constant threat of state violence and neglect led to the surge in identity movements using the labor rebellion model as one starting place to demand lives free from molestation by the authorities and authority-aligned populations. Martin, Malcolm, and the Panthers, La Raza and the LA Thirteen, the American Indian Movement, the Stonewall Uprising, and the Palestinian Liberation movement were all part of the 2nd wave, too. Up until Reagan and Thatcher, Keynesianism was capitalism’s favored means of trying to adapt to these challenges to its authority. The 80s began the all-out blunt assault on all such challenges, especially that of labor.
Meanwhile, in each of the communist nations, attempts of various textures were made to modify the power relationships, relationships usually manifested as a division between the party elite at the top, a party and non-party professional and managerial class, and the rest of the population, from workers to the lumpenproletariat. The Cultural Revolution in China was an attempt from within the elite to correct the course of Maoist communism, an attempt engineered from the outset to avoid the question of why there even was an arrogant, oppressive elite and a personality cult at all and what to do about it. Rather than make an actual change in the unjust hierarchy of the society, Mao and others in power instead opted, for over 20 years, to exert ostensibly corrective cultural force against a variety of people of what in the West we would call the middle class. And Deng, after that, began to “open up” China, a kind of “opening up” that involved making Chinese resources available for connection with global capitalism.
The USSR went in the same direction. Khrushchev and Gorbachev tried their own methods of correcting communism in order to save it, but Khrushchev also elided examination of the privilege stratification solidified in the system, somehow never electing to give way to that Dictatorship of the Proletariat they’d always talked about, and by the time it came Gorby’s turn, he felt he truly had no option but to be more open to global market capitalism. Solidarność in Poland saw the workers rise up against communism itself, only for them to settle for letting the state ease itself into the NATO and World Bank spheres rather than, again, allow the workers to allow themselves to take power.
Now we’ve come to the 3rd wave of class consciousness, or the New New Left or whatever we end up calling what we’re in the middle of, which we won’t know until we’re deeper into it, most likely. Think of it, we’re barely two conceptual generations, albeit contrived, separated from Marx and the First International. Some of us are worried about the last of the Holocaust generation disappearing, meanwhile the last of the 1st Wavers died with Fidel in 2016. Who remains of that stage of the left? Cuba, I assume, is trying some reforms, but not the actual rule by the workers.
Rule by the workers. That’s what Dictatorship of the Proletariat means, yes? What else could it mean? Unbending Marxists act like the communist vanguard parties in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China and the other extant communist states are working on it behind the scenes, they’ll show it to us when it’s finished. If a vanguard party with as much control as China’s has now, Xi Jinping able to shut the whole nation down and willing to rent his people to Apple or any external corporation to treat as they wish, why aren’t they ready to cede power?
Or: why isn’t Xi Jinping working for Foxconn in Shenzhen? He’s part of the dictatorship, why’s he not a proletarian? Is he too good for it? Or is he some kind of representative, like an elector in the Electoral College? Or is the time just not right to give workers the power? I mean, clearly the time isn’t right, because capitalism’s hegemony puts constant deprivatory and military pressures on the few nominally socialist states left. But still the question lingers: the Soviet Union was viable, productive, scientifically advanced, culturally vibrant (when it allowed itself to be), and self-sufficient by at least capitalist standards. Why couldn’t they have just brought about workers’ rule?
Or am I being naïve, and there’s a special, arcane, theoretical way Xi Jinping is actually a proletarian, or I’m taking “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” too literally? That’s just rubbish. You should be ashamed of yourself if you’re positing such mealy-mouthed nonsense. Slavoj Žižek would call your obfuscation “a signifier without a signified.” And he’d be right. It’s a way of avoiding confronting your goal by making it an abstract fetish.
We look back at the living legacy of the 1st wave. We see that every attempt to replace capitalism has led to its own privilege stratification issues for some reason, and we say it’s the nature of power, or the nature of humans, or else we deny the problem exists or ever existed. I hear young Marxists deny or elide the cruelty and mangling of the truth under Stalin, the spying on the population under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the totalitarianism and state violence under the East German government, the Ceausescu dictatorship (“oh, that wasn’t communism.” Yeah, no kidding! So maybe come up with a way for insane dictators not to hijack the state apparatus, which shouldn’t exist without the workers in charge in the first place. It’s bad for the brand.), the arbitrary anti-Semitism and persecution of indigenous peoples in Nicaragua under Ortega, who’s been a total jerk even before the period he was put out of power by US clandestine and overt violence and manipulation; brutal paranoid revenge at the beginning of post-Indochina War Vietnam, anti-homosexual policies and shortcuts around due process in Cuba.
It’s necessary to look at these offenses, as much as they pale beside the destructive and murderous achievements of capitalism. Sometimes a revolution is actually fighting its internal enemies, and sometimes it’s just marginalizing a group because of some arbitrary trait or designation or expression – hey, that’s supposed to be capitalism’s gig. And sometimes its elites are syphoning off resources, or competing in the international armaments game, and that too is capitalism’s gig.
Then what is it we’re in the middle of? Well, on the one hand we have fragmented, tenuously allied forces trying to see a way to maintain their principles, trying to discuss the issues before us via Twitter and YouTube and Tic Toc and Bric-a-Bric and Instapot, or whatnot, with, I believe, the end goal of coming together as a united, massive revolutionary force; and arrayed against us, we have the economic elite, the oppressing authorities protecting the elite and their privileges, and the members of the rent-paying class and part of the bourgeoisie who see themselves as somehow on the same team as the elite and their institutions of enforcement.
Our public policy serves arms makers and dealers; banks that love the way war, internal and external, generates money; and a network of industries stuck at a wasteful, outmoded stage of development, barely responsive, and often irrationally resistant, to those in the society trying to bring them into a renewable, sustainable future.
What do we call the emerging movement we are in the midst of, with what do we want to replace our destructive public policies? It’s like AAA for the broken-down civilization, languishing by the side of the road with toxic smoke billowing out from under the hood and toxic fluids leaking out the bottom and seeping into the soil. Next week, part two of this two- part historical survey. In the meantime, please give a bit of thought to branding. All the cool kids are doing it.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!