“Justin Jones made an excellent point on one of his recent posts. He said that people must become radicalized on their own and that they really don’t start to become conscious of their class position until they feel the pain of austerity. I have to agree with this 100% unfortunately. The vast majority of people don’t care until they put their hand on the stove and get burned. So the best thing to do rather than try to radicalise people is let the system and time radicalize them.”
This line of reasoning is a common one, but its also one that I do not believe. This is essentially the concentration camp argument, that if the workers are thrown into concentration camps and prisons, then they will become revolutionary. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work out that way. The primary influence of class consciousness comes from a section of the bourgeois intelligentsia who are in a material position to learn about society and classes. The workers are generally speaking bogged down with work and the day to day living. If you look at the early figures of the first international, they were almost all apart of the intelligentsia, but they have decided more or less to struggle against capital and many decided to struggle for the class rule of the working class. The workers on their own are capable of developing trade union consciousness—the understanding and unquenching motivation to organize themselves so that their lot in life can be better. This is why the workers within the trade unions are often the most class conscious—not just because trade unionism gives them a primitive understanding of class, but because the trade unions have been targeted by the agitation and exposure of revolutionaries for 150 years. Revolutionaries raise the consciousness of the workers and masses, not punishments and austerity by themselves. Revolutionaries do this by producing effective exposure and agitation so that the workers can better understand not only what is happening but why it is happening. It is up to revolutionaries to explain to the workers the different class forces involved in austerity and suppression. Workers will not spontaneously understand these things on their own during struggle. They can only learn these things from books, pamphlets, leaflets, blogs, newspapers, speeches, etc.
So Mr. Jones is wrong to suggest that class consciousness comes from pain. Pain can only be used as a tool to spur class consciousness, but in the end it is only an objective factor. There is pain and austerity all around us—ample enough to use for agitation and exposure. There isn’t a need to have extra excitement, extra pain, extra austerity to make the workers understand. You cannot beat knowledge into a person. You cannot starve them into understanding.
The lack of class consciousness of American workers in particular is due to the primitiveness and child- like consciousness of the subjective forces: revolutionaries. The very fact that there are so many who proclaim to have revolutionary politics, who at the same time blame the workers for their backwardness is a proof. Revolutionaries in the US need greater consciousness and organization—they cannot even meet on a regular basis or sign a statement! They cannot even agree that the bourgeoisie is the class enemy and that the working class will emancipate humanity. They cannot even understand the simple differences between fighting for victory and masturbation.
Presently the organized workers are in general, more conscious than revolutionaries. They are struggling against both the bosses and the union leadership. They are organizing themselves for the coming battles. Primitive revolutionaries have a long way to go. Ask Mr. Justin Jones what he is doing to raise the consciousness of workers where he lives. Ask him if he is working with the trade unions. Ask him if he is working with other revolutionaries to raise the consciousness of the masses. It is always important to self-evaluate before we point fingers at who is to blame—it may be ourselves.
No one said that the struggle was easy. No one said that convincing the workers to fight for their interests, raising their consciousness, writing exposure and agitation that they are willing to read will be easy. But the workers are not only intelligent but they are quite active—and they will be suspicious of any know-it-all narcissist who talks to them like they are cannon fodder or children. If you cannot give respect to the working class—then the workers are correct to be suspicious of you.
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