[Featured image: Russell Brand, someone you should not listen to for anything. Ever.]
The Left has a general issue with its holy subject, the working class. It refuses to treat the subject which is to move history forward as a mature subject, instead it treats it as a child. The working class, that holy aggregate being which is the spirit of freedom awaiting its moment to burst from its chains, when given a situation where movement forward is possible, and fails to act to make change, is always excused by the Left.
‘The working class is tired and disappointed. They are burnt out after the failure of their struggles 50 years ago. They are unaware of their power because of capitalist ideology. They are just holding on to what little they have, they are afraid of losing everything.’
And so on, and so on. The people, according to the Left, are a bunch of cowed animals, made docile by the history of capitalist triumph in every sphere. Where then, is the spirit which is to make revolution? The capitalists control education, they control the media, they control the means of production. Things get bad, they get worse, and still the “people” refuse to move. They are afraid, stupefied by the blinding fire that is the burning house of everyday life, always at the brink of crumbling in on them and ending it all.’
Now, let’s be clear. These claims are not unfounded, for empirically we see these things actually happen. One would be a fool to deny that external conditions of social and material environment affect people and their attitudes, so what’s my problem with people who use these seemingly acceptable excuses? Well, my problem is that it often goes beyond being simply an observation, but becomes a defeatist attitude when it becomes the horizon of Leftist interpretations and attitudes to the working class. How?
When your view is limited within a horizon of interpretation which makes the so-called subject of revolution in your own conception passive, what exactly are you going to find yourself doing? You’re going to be a vanguardist; you’re going to consider yourself the active mind of the people which will engage action for and through them; you’re going to find yourself infantilizing the entirety of the revolutionary subject, making it a child that needs your theory to explain to them their own uselessness and hopelessness so that they may bear their failure. Furthermore, the infantilization of the revolutionary subject shall make them appear to you as hopelessly tied to the need of you, for without you they are—unfortunately—doomed to blind action without theory.
Add to that the deterministic notion which many standard socialists succumb to with the misunderstanding of the relation of materiality to ideality, often understood in the metaphor of material base and ideological superstructure. This reduces not just the worker, but the vanguard itself, as a mere outgrowth from the material conditions which enacts the invisible yet immanent causal chain of the material base. Everything and everyone is truly passive, and there can be nothing done to engage in revolutionary action outside of the unknown yet already determined moment of revolutionary upheaval.
Now, it may indeed be the case that the masses of the working class are uneducated, highly mired in capitalist ideology, see themselves as powerless, and that at a given historical point revolutionary action is indeed impossible. BUT… you don’t know what actually will engage the revolutionary spark either in individuals or in groups.
As the law of numbers goes, people are on overwhelming average passive and conservative (relative to their status quo) in outlooks and action. Individually, most people just don’t want to be responsible—it’s a hassle. What most don’t understand, however, is that to be responsible is also to be powerful. Those who are responsible are the ones with power, but of course, with responsibility and power comes the weight of results falling on you. You can’t get away from responsibility when you are the source of action which engages an effect, but when one does have hand as a source and denies it out of ignorance that one indeed has power, one gets into a spiral of often negative effects due to this ignorance and its resulting inactivity.
What I mean to say with all this is that the narrative which reduces the revolutionary subject, for socialists and communists this is supposedly the working class, to this childlike passive object incapable of rising above its immediate material conditions is part of what may perpetuate this passivity. If it is the case that the working class is indeed unaware of its power, we need to make them aware. One way to do this is to bring up to them, bitter as it is, just how responsible they are for their own position. This is not to blame an individual in the usual bourgeois ideological sense, to place an absolute guilt on them as if they as an individual are single-handedly responsible for everything. There is in the awakening of group consciousness some similarity with the awakening an individual undergoes when faced with the bitter truth that their own individual position is something that they are responsible for in part concerning something or other which they complain or are depressed about. In ignorance they prefer to blame something or someone else and make excuses for themselves rather than face up to their responsibility, and it may continue after first being awakened to the opposite. It is not that giving someone the “hard talk” and shoving in their face the ‘facts’ of their being complicit to their own position is any guarantee that any such person will accept this and begin to engage their power to change it, but that facing responsibility is empowering for individuals and groups alike in what it implies. In facing our responsibility we are forced to accept our power, and insofar as we care we become ashamed and are more compelled to act to change by our own disgust at our responsibility for our state of being.
This is controversial, but it has to be said and I’m going to say it: the ‘people’—particularly and especially in the first world—need a good reminder these days that they are responsible for the current downward spiral of their state of affairs. A lot of people want to make excuses for themselves and for the working class as a whole. We made gains in the past when things were far more brutal, we got educated in the past when we were far less literate, and we have a far more seemingly open democracy today than we ever had in the past. I say seemingly, for it is an appearance that when engaged by the masses often shall show itself for a sham, but this sham must be revealed in action.
Yes, I’m well aware you’re going to blame the bourgeoisie, and no, you’re wrong. You’re buying into the myth the bourgs themselves want you to buy into: the myth that they have absolute power and control and you have none, so short of society going to full shit you’re going to accomplish nothing without a revolution. They want you to not engage in the political process, not because they’ve already won, but because if you did you would legitimately overcome them by showing their sham. When people engage the state, and succeed only to fail, and they make no excuses for themselves anymore, for they have done all they can, then they have a clear other that they can identify with certainty as having by force and deceit overcome them thanks to the state apparatus. Now, even then you are not yet at the door of revolution—and that’s not even specifically socialist revolution. A revolution has both material and subjective conditions; in empirical history the immiseration thesis is wrong, things cannot simply get worse to spark a revolution; there is likewise a need for a sense of power and purpose for the revolutionary subject. It is, above all, the subjective condition with which all revolutionary praxis must deal with, yet is also at the whim of.
We must make the revolutionary subject awaken to its own power, and for that we must awaken it to accept its responsibility insofar as it has one. A lot of Leftists speak of capitalist democracy as if in the first world they live in some third world dictatorship—they don’t. They deny their responsibility, as if they had no power to effect, despite their having near full access to the levers of power through the ballot and elections. They complain about corrupt political parties, but do not enter into the political process. They complain about fake news, but they do not actively engage in criticism and seek to be informed. They complain about injustice, but do not actively engage in making it possible. They see corruption come to light and do nothing about it. They sit back and expect their elected politicians, whose corruption they decry, to somehow carry out the necessary purge of corruption. The most they are willing to do is to complain in group once a while, they do not maintain their engagement even when they can. Not even the so-called “middle class” cares, it is much worse for the poor.
Yes, the ‘people’ do not tend to think; they have been schooled against such, but let’s not be fools: there are people like me and the rest of you who come right out of these same people. If we can feel the weight of failure and responsibility—many of us worry about what it is that we can do to engage in any amount of movement—then the ‘people’ can feel it as well. It should be one our highest duties to bring the people to awaken to their complacence and responsibility for the governments they have allowed to exist. Yes, allowed. Do not for a second think that structural racism can exist without the allowance of it by the silent majority. Do not think that the dismantling of the state structures and institutions which benefit the ‘people’ have occurred without the allowance of the masses who foolishly think that their abstaining from the ballot box, and maintaining an active ignorance of politics, is the wise thing to do. Do not think that buying into the narrative that capitalists have all the avenues of state power, a narrative Leftists are also complicit in spreading and maintaining, has not played into the very hands of the bourgeoisie who show a false face of democracy. The rich get away with taking up state power by daring the people to vote against them, yet the people do not even try and instead give up without believing neither in ballot nor bullet.
The Left does not raise champions capable of inspiring, and instead preaches to the few of the ‘people’ who listen that it is an unfortunate matter of ‘bad material conditions’ which maintains the spirit of the working class low, and that we should not blame them or hold them responsible because of this. I say no to this. We must do all we can to make the people aware of their responsibility, for so long as we coddle them they will not become aware of their power and feel the weight of consciousness as impetus to change things. It is not that they will do anything once they are aware of their responsibility, but the acceptance of responsibility and the awareness of power that comes with it is a necessary condition for their action. Before they act to change things, they must first feel the responsibility to do so.