"Which way were they going? How many were they? I must find them, I’m their leader!”
That many are happily surprised by Biden turning out to be more radical than expected given his former record, is quickly matched by those who hasten to point out the shortcomings of his policies, in order to conclude he’s no radical. I confess to having grown weary of the Monday–morning-quarterbacking/litmus-testing of the Left in the absence of zeitgeist analysis, as though such blather is a substitute for organizing, as though it’s better to be a sanctimonious member of the opposition than to actually hold power. If there is anything we should learn from Stacy Abrams in Georgia, and from the predictable Republican voter suppression reaction in that and other states, it should be that there is no substitute for organizing to challenge inferior ideological perspectives.
To that end, I believe it is essential we explore what I’ll call the physics of social transformation, which others might refer to as class struggle. The problem I have with the term ‘class struggle’ is that while it seems accurate in the aggregate, the aggregate is made up of individuals, each of which with a different perspective, and the term is not an accurate representation of this. In only using the aggregate term (alike ‘proletariat’), there is the sense it does violence to the latter, hence unwittingly creating strong opposition against itself. For as long as there has been organizing under the banner of ‘class struggle,’ there has been counter-organizing against it as well by those who feel their current or future prospects are not well served by such identification.
One can argue “they only call it class warfare when we fight back.” Recognition of the lack of justification for extreme income inequality and the vices that arise therefrom necessitates identification of classes, but this does not remove one from meeting the challenge, that for change to be successful it must be carried forward by a majority that find common cause across disparate identities, who find within it their self-interest. ‘Class struggle’ becomes an awkward banner for organizing as it reinforces identification with differences of wealth, instead of reinforcing the commonality of human experience regardless of wealth, which would allow for change that is more permanent. ‘Class struggle’ has been marginally successful at uniting some around economic strata, while alienating others for the same reason, and leaving disparities of race and gender unaddressed.
The myth of equal justice before the law has always been in a competitive foot race with the reality.
It would seem the way one might organize society to successfully keep the elites from sucking so much out of the system that they kill the host, in the manner of a cancer in the body, would be democracy: that is, that individuals forming the collective each have the ability to choose and decide based on their own self interest. However, as the present political landscape (both at home and abroad) reminds us, democracy is not invulnerable.
Sources of information can be co-opted, and more draconian measures (such as voter suppression) employed. In Senator Joe Manchin’s home state of West Virginia for example, the vast majority are only exposed to Sinclair Broadcasting and Fox News. Hence, the majority of voters there whole-heartedly believe the Big Lie, and are led to decide matters against their own interest, based on lies. In a state that Trump carried by 38 points, Manchin is the last Democrat standing (the governor having switched parties to become a Republican). He sees it as his job (correctly, or incorrectly if he really wants to be a leader at the cost of his political career), to represent their views. His is not the only state in this condition.
The US of course has never been a democracy but a republic, designed in such a way to protect the interests of wealthy landowners. The myth of equal justice before the law has always been in a competitive foot race with the reality. We should not be surprised by any of this, or spend one moment whining about it. Class analyses that don’t take into account the realities in rural states like Joe Manchin’s are best reserved for urban Left academics circle jerking to one another, and will have about as much effect.
I say this not so much to say such analyses are incorrect as incomprehensive, and ineffective as a model for outreach. Try talking class struggle to Indians, that is Native Americans, and see if they find themselves in that picture. Yet, they, and the black vote, put Biden over the top.
I have chipped ice off the roof to put shake shingles on in Maine; rolled paint under the desert sun in Tucson; swung a framing hammer in North Carolina, Florida, and at five in the morning in Texas. While running trusses in Breckinridge, Colorado, I watched a man on the roof next fall three stories. I’ve also worked as an aircraft mechanic, machinist, and composites technician. This is all to say, I guess you could consider me a member of the proletariat.
It’s a safe bet that with the ineffective response to the predictable downturn of 2008, automation, and the advent of the information economy, people like those I’ve worked with feel themselves an endangered species. Whether this is justifiable in comparison to others by the numbers or not, the feeling is that it is true, or soon will be.
The men I’ve worked with would bristle at being lumped into the aggregate of ‘class struggle,’ but would listen to anyone who they felt addressed their self-interest. Such people have fallen prey to the politics of Donald Trump because, smooth huckster that he is, they believe he does. In that, the true believers who follow Trump are not far afield from those who follow Marx, which explains Trump’s (ironic, to me) appeal to some Leftists, who actually think he is some kind of prophet bringing promised revolution. This manipulation has been an ongoing media project of far-right corporatists long before Trump burst on the scene to become their standard bearer.
Marx formed his theories while witnessing the excesses of urban industrialization of the nineteenth century. The vulnerabilities of democracy form the justification for the violence of class struggle, but that does not make class struggle the most comprehensive lens through which to view our current difficulties.
Physics tells us it takes more energy to get a body at rest to move in any direction than it does to redirect a body of similar mass already in motion. The latter way, a much smaller force is necessary to redirect the object and set it going back 180° in the opposite direction than it takes to stop the same mass, and get it going at the same velocity back the other way. The key, however, is the angular force needs to be consistently applied, until the desired direction is achieved.
Those of us who’ve recognized our ship of state is headed for a giant iceberg (perhaps inappropriate analogy considering the iceberg represents climate change, in addition to civil war) might be breathing a collective sigh of relief at the moment, but our slim marginal victory has not delivered power sufficient to steer it far enough afield to avert disaster, when we consider the reactionary forces busy organizing, trying to regain their momentum.
In most revolutions I can recall (Cuba and Algeria for example), the rebels started in the rural areas, where they grow in strength until they toppled control in the central metropolises. Right now, this tendency is working against us. Take a look at any map charting the demographics of the 2020 election and a pattern emerges. Trump won the most rural states, and the rural areas within states, including the blue ones that Biden won. It is true the Republican Party has a problem, having surrendered to the Big Lie, but this is not their problem alone. However we choose to define ourselves— communists, socialists, democratic socialists, progressives or Democrats—our agenda will not be successful as long as the Democratic party remains the party of urban centers only and allows Republicans to retain control of rural areas, hence the majority of the Senate (or nearly).
Our efforts should be applied where they can have the greatest lateral effect: identify the potential vulnerabilities of the un-democratic control of our republican form of government. Target the soft Trump win states: Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, and Alaska. Expand our edge in the soft Biden wins: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
How? Organize, but not just in the urban centers. Offer the carrot. Biden understands this. When he says jobs, jobs, jobs, we should be thinking pork, pork, pork, without a word of dissent. Support those policies that serve rural communities, such as expanding broadband access to the entire nation. Change FCC media ownership rules to ensure multiple sources of information are available everywhere. Our nation’s rail system is among the most antiquated in the industrialized world. It takes nine times more money to build a highway in West Virginia as in other states due to the mountains.
However we choose to define ourselves—communists, socialists, democratic socialists, progressives or Democrats—our agenda will not be successful as long as the Democratic party remains the party of urban centers only and allows Republicans to retain control of rural areas
If we want to see progress on urban policing, recognize this is tied to jobs in the hinterland. The wealthier coastal states have always provided more than their share of support for the rural states, but this largesse goes unnoticed and unacknowledged, perhaps with some justification, as policies set in the central metripolises (of Washington DC and the state capitals) continue to encourage the fleecing of those in the hinterland to benefit a few corporate players. Dedicate some portion of our efforts to change this.
Bezos, Soros, Yang, Steyer, Bloomberg, Gates: if you’re listening, if you recognize what we’re up against with climate change, start a media conglomerate, in competition with Sinclair Broadcasting for rural America. Since 1971, the Lewis Powell memorandum to the US Chamber Of Commerce, titled “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System,” has successfully acted as a blueprint to set the agenda for domestic politics. It is time we recognize the ‘free enterprise system’ as understood at the time will soon be the death of all of us, without significant reform. Many more people watch Fox News and listen to the propaganda going out over the airwaves of Sinclair Broadcasting’s radio and TV stations, than read the “The Washington Post”.
Lastly, priorities: The US can and should be willing to accomplish more with less of a military footprint on the global stage. Our retreat from empire will be easier to accept if it is paired with a better functioning democracy that meets the needs of all our citizens. Then perhaps the public will accept it is better to be part of a functional player in a world that recognizes we must all cooperate to meet our challenges, than part of a minority population that seeks to dominate and dictate the nature of others’ participation.