Friday, May 27, 2016

Thomas Wells on "The New Politics of Class"

The presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders has given voice to a new class politics in the United States. What do I mean by this? By using the term “class politics,” I am referring to the self-identification by working people of all races and genders that their economic interests are in conflict with those who own and control concentrations of wealth and power in our society (Bernie’s billionaire class). This is often expressed by working people as class antagonisms against, or alienation from the corporate and political elite in society, and it can take many forms. To be sure, working people in the U.S. have always given expression to this economic politics of class, whether consciously or unconsciously. Any authentic socialist analysis should understand how deeply rooted these class antagonisms are in the capitalist system.

Most of us know for example, that in the 1930’s during the depression when there was widespread unemployment and poverty, mass movements of working people spontaneously formed to demand relief. In 1932 veterans of WWI marched en masse on Washington D.C. demanding bonus payments. Unemployment Councils were organized by the Communist Party, which led to mass demonstrations. We also know that the during this time, millions of workers organized labor unions to help secure their jobs, improve working conditions, provide benefits and increase wages. This was not only a protest against deplorable conditions, it must be understood as part of a class struggle for human dignity and equality. Marx might have described this as an example of the dialectic within capitalism.

Of course conditions are nothing like the depression era now. But working people are still faced with severe hardships. Roughly 46 million Americans live in poverty and many of these are employed. College students are deeply in debt even before they graduate. Many working adults in their 50s face the prospect of retirement in poverty. The growth of job openings masks the reality that most of the jobs are low wage, part time and devoid of benefits. This is the reality now faced by millions of working people of all races and genders.

But adding to this stew is the hard reality that the distress is not equally distributed among all working people. Racism, sexism and homophobia are both overt and covert in the structure and culture of U.S. society. Needless to say, this means there is a great deal of injustice and inequality.

However, what we are witnessing now thanks to Sanders, is a spontaneous, emerging mass movement of working people which has much in common with what occurred during the 1930s. Like then, people now are angry at the system. They feel betrayed and antagonistic toward the corporate power elite. This movement has drawn upon the political momentum created in part by the Occupy movement as well as the 15 Now movement. Sanders is also drawing in people who have felt so alienated that many have never been politically involved before. While this isn’t easy to diagnose, we can say that it is possible for alienation to run so deep that people will often experience a sense of powerlessness that results in them giving up. It is very exciting that the Sanders Campaign has caused many of these disillusioned to become engaged.

Read the entire article here

This article was taken from the Democratic Socialists of America website.

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