Thinking Aloud on the “World Communist Movement” / by Kemal Okuyan

Posted by MLToday | Feb 20, 2023

Out of habit, we often tend to use the expression “world communist movement.” However, today we cannot speak of a phenomenon that deserves to be labeled as the world communist movement.

There are communists in almost every country in the world; parties or formations bearing the name of communists are active in many countries. Some of them are quite influential in their countries, some are in power. We can even say that the communist parties are much more wide-reaching today than they had been in 1919, when the Communist International was founded, and in the few years that followed.

But we still cannot speak of a movement.

Because a movement, despite all its internal contradictions, does have a trajectory. It is clear that the communist parties today do not have a common trajectory that we would expect from a movement.

Then we need to answer the question: Is it possible for communists today to be transformed to an international movement?

The “Communist Party” can be defined by its will and determination to lead humanity to a society free from classes and exploitation. While preserving the originality and richness of its components, a sum that is not characterized by this will and determination in its entire fabric cannot turn into a “world communist movement”.

This should not be taken as a criticism or a polemic, but as an objective assessment of the situation.

The struggle for democracy or peace, and being at the forefront of such a struggle, cannot replace the historical mission of communist parties. Similarly, while the struggle against US imperialism is an indispensable task for communist parties, it is not a distinctive feature for them.

We can benefit from the testimony of history to better understand what we mean.

We know that between 1933 and 1945, the world communist movement focused predominantly on the struggle against fascism, while other missions and goals were relegated to the background. But we still use the term “world communist movement” for that period. While explaining this with the existence of the USSR, what we should not forget is the fact that even during this period, the USSR maintained the central perspective of “a struggle for a world free from classes and exploitation”, and despite some mistakes, they kept their efforts in the name of seizing the opportunities that arose for a forward leap of the world revolutionary process.

If the Communist International could be reduced exclusively to the Popular Front politics, we could very well say that in the historical context the world communist movement was in decline starting from the 1930s.

It should be clear that this approach has nothing to do with denigrating the struggle against fascism or other similar tasks. It is only to remind us that the definition of the “world communist movement” requires a common trajectory in line with the historical mission of communism.

In fact, what we need to focus on is how to reach a moment in which this historical mission comes to the fore again, becoming a center of gravity that influences and shapes each of the communist parties with different paths and agendas.

It is obvious that for communism to reach such a level of influence and gravity in the international arena, there certainly is the matter of objective conditions. However, it would be a grave mistake to attribute the leap of the communist movement to some favorable conjuncture that will show up at some unknown moment, especially at our times when capitalism is facing an insurmountable economic, political and ideological deadlock in each and every country. Under the conditions where the rule of capital is tumbling from crisis to crisis and is unable to offer any hopes to humanity, even false hopes, it should be self-evident that communists need to prioritize the analysis of the subjective factor instead of complaining about those conditions.

We need to make bold debates.

The world revolutionary process had begun to have the necessary theoretical and political references for the difficult struggles ahead, following the few decades after the Manifesto of the Communist Party was penned with an unparalleled phrasing. Divergence and convergence always demand references. By the turn of the 20th century, Marxism had become the main reference for the working class movement, prevailing over its rival, anarchism. However, it did not take long for the Marxist movement to disintegrate. It was a split that even those who argued that “unity” was in any case something good considered as inevitable and necessary. Marxists had roughly taken two different courses, revolutionaries and reformists.

Over time it became clear that there could be no reformist interpretation of Marxism. Social democracy abandoned the revolutionary ranks, inflicting on the working class the worst betrayal in its history.

This also meant the launch of a period in which revolutionaries in the world, who now preferred the name “communist”, renewed and strengthened their references. The 21 conditions for joining the 1919-founded Communist International, could well be seen as the sharpest expression of these references.

As of 1924, when the revolutionary wave in the world retreated, a certain erosion in these theoretical and political references was inevitable. German fascism, and later on the Second World War accelerated this erosion.

In fact, the period between 1924 and 1945, contrary to the founding philosophy of the Comintern, confronted each of the young communist parties with their own realities and, in addition to that, imposed different responsibilities on each of them in terms of the general interests of the world revolutionary process.

Despite all these, the existence of the October Revolution and its most precious outcome, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as well as the will to establish socialism in those years, strengthened by the transition to a planned economy, industrialization and collectivization in agriculture, provided an immensely valuable historical framework for communist parties. Such will not only prevented deviations, but also served as the necessary ground for leaps forward. The defeat of fascism and the strengthening of socialism following the Second World War reinforced this.

However, the world communist movement was facing very serious internal problems that undermined the integrity it was able to preserve thanks to the prestige of the Soviet Union.

References waned, and “reformist Marxism”, which in some respects was assumed to have been abandoned, made itself vocal again.

The speech of Khrushchev, the then General Secretary of the CPSU, at the closing of the 20th Congress in 1956, cut the last strands anchoring the world communist movement in the safe harbors and, even more importantly, smashed down the optimism that prevailed since 1917.

What is interesting is that Khrushchev’s speech, full of distortions, did not lead to a sound debate and an accordingly split in the world communist movement.

However, the communist movement was expected to preserve and update the principles of 1919 and tie itself to more consolidated theoretical and political references. Instead, what has emerged is a disarray in which a large number of parties with no common ground had their individual relationship in their own way with the Soviet Union, which remained as the most important achievement of the world revolution.

The conflict between the People’s Republic of China and the USSR, which ended up in a violent split, also did not give way to a healthy partition. In the period that followed this split, the gap between the parties that maintained close relations with the CPSU continued to widen. As some of the ruling parties in the People’s Republics in Eastern and Central Europe tried to overcome their shortcomings during the period between 1944 and 1949 by ideological hybridization, the internal correlation of forces within the world communist movement became even more complicated. But the problem was much greater. For example, friendship with the Soviet Union was almost the only commonality between the Communist Party of Cuba -which in the 1960s brought a new dynamism to the communist movement not only on the small island where it came to power, but also throughout the Latin America and the world-, and some other parties that turned their faces to Euro-Communism. In the end, until the dissolution of the Soviet Union, no debate or split was realized that would push the world communist movement forward.

After 1991, neither the CPSU which held many, if not all, parties close to itself existed, nor was there an axis according to which the communist parties could adjust themselves.

By the very meaningful efforts by some parties, notably the Communist Party of Greece, it became a priority task to gather together whatever was left in the name of communism. The Communist and Workers’ Parties convened 22 times. This in itself has been extremely important. However, this period did not serve for the communist movement to rebuild its own references in the way it needed to.

And eventually, the view that the communist parties don’t actually need theoretical and political references, began to consolidate.

Today, we do not have a functional mechanism to examine the fundamental differences that can be observed when we look at not only the Solidnet member parties that participate in the International Meetings of Communist and Workers’ Parties, but all the parties that identify themselves as communist.

It would be a big mistake to rationalize this lack of communication by hiding behind the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, despite being a principle we think must strictly be preserved in the period ahead.

In the final analysis, the world revolutionary process is a whole, and how each party identifying itself as communist relates to that process does concern all the other actors that are part of that process.

This article can be regarded as a modest way of thinking aloud on the different forms the relationships between communist parties should take under the given circumstances.

It is worth emphasizing at this moment what we can say at the end. Despite the undeniable and wide divergences among the communist parties today, there is no ground for a healthy partition or split.

We need to organize a debate, a really bold debate.

This should not be understood as an appeal for the communist parties to engage in an ideological showdown within and between themselves. The extent of the decay of capitalism confronts the communist parties with the task of channeling a real alternative as soon as possible. At this moment, we cannot limit ourselves with an academic, theoretical debate. [emphasis added].

What we need is the following: Establishing a clarification of the theoretical and political points of references from which each communist party acts. There is no sense in considering this as an internal problem of each party. Interaction is one of the most important privileges of a universal movement like Marxism.

Unfortunately, we are not passing through a healthy period for communist parties to listen to and understand each other.

What we need is for everyone to contribute to creating real grounds for discussion without labeling any other party.

Even if there are enough facts to label a party, the need to refrain from doing so is not a matter of political courtesy but is totally related to the particular conditions of today.

The process in which communist parties lost their points of reference has spanned almost over 70 years. The problem is too deep to be surpassed by premature attempts at splits or separations.

Undoubtedly, parties that have similar positions or those that consider forming strategic partnerships can and should establish bilateral, multiple, regional or international platforms to reinforce this. But the reality is that their contribution to the formation of these points references will be limited.

The organization of a healthy debate requires staying away from resorting to epithets such as reformist, sectarian, adventurist, or opportunist. As said above, political courtesy is not the decisive factor here. Indeed, in the past, much harsher and hurtful epithets have been used by Marxists. But each of these former conflicts matured over the points of references that were thought to exist and shared among them.

I suppose the point where we need to clarify what we understand by the word “reference”, is now reached.

We are talking about historical, theoretical and moral points of departure that have flourished in the bosom of Marxism and have been internationally endorsed.

For example, before the Second International was stained with the shame of 1914, categorically opposing imperialist war was a principled position that was unanimously endorsed. This principle was the outcome of Marxism acting upon common references, despite the differences on the issue were not yet fully crystallized by then.

Another well-known principle, not participating in bourgeois governments, was also stemming from the same references.

Such examples can be multiplied. What we need to keep in mind is that, what lies at the root of the conflicts and partitions among Marxists in the first quarter of the 20th century are these former common references.

This commonality was the reason behind Lenin blaming Kautsky and others as “renegades”.

As I have underlined above, the Third International developed codes that turned into new sources of reference for the communist movement after the deepening differences in 1914 that led to a split. While some parties were not brave enough to openly declare their distance to these references, some other parties sincerely advocated for and followed them. In any case, the world communist movement has moved within a theoretical and political framework.

I mentioned above that these references already began to lose their influence long before 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved, and besides, it is impossible today to establish a new framework that would be endorsed by all.

However, it is obvious that there will be grave consequences for the communist parties to act on a ground whose historical, theoretical and political boundaries are completely lost.

Debate and communication here should serve to establish a clarity on the set of principles that are binding for communist parties, without conceding to this lack of references.

Divergence (if it is inevitable) will serve for advancement only when it is the outcome of such a process.

It is of course possible and necessary in this process, despite all differences, to develop common positions and actions on international issues, such as war and peace, or the fight against racism, fascism and anti-communism. If we do not ignore and trivialize the differences, the positions taken can become more real and the joint actions more powerful.

The aim is certainly not division. The aim should be to help the communist movement, which claims to be the vanguard of the uneven and combined world revolutionary process, transform into a joint movement above and beyond the single elements.

What we mean by a joint movement is not of course to form a template not taking into account the particularities of struggles going on in different countries. On the other hand, we would all need to be preoccupied with the reason why the dichotomy of “internal issues” and “international relations” has turned into a comfort zone as never before in our 170-year-long history.

Debate, interaction and communication are important because of all these.

But how, and on what shall we debate?
At this point, there should be no room for “taboos” or untouched areas.

Of course, we will need to start from our own histories. TKP courageously made efforts to analyze a very critical turning point for itself, which is the complicated problem that arose right after its foundation, and included the murder of almost all of its founding leaders.

Relations with the Kemalist movement, which had an alliance with Soviet Russia yielding very important, albeit temporary outcomes, and the approach to the bourgeois revolution that led to the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, were among fundamental problems for TKP, which also had an impact in the following years. Our study on the history of the Party, whose first two volumes were published on the centenary of our foundation, proved that we can address such problems with a revolutionary responsibility.

We are trying to express the same courageous attitude in the face of breaks, splits, and liquidations in the history of TKP, and we are bearing the costs of an honest analysis of the party’s political and ideological preferences.

The issues we are discussing do not only concern Turkey. TKP’s struggle was never in an isolated country since its foundation in 1920. When we examine our entire history, we can see that the ground on which our party struggled interacted with Russia, Greece, Iran, India (and Pakistan), Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bulgaria, Germany, Cyprus, Iraq, Syria and many other countries.

Beyond this, we cannot speak of the international influence of the class struggle in Turkey as if it is concerning only TKP. In this sense, TKP will never resort to the simplistic approach of “We are the owners of our problems” and take seriously any criticism, suggestion or evaluation that is elaborate and respectful.

TKP also conducts debates and studies within itself on the not-widely-discussed issues pertaining to the history of the communist movement, yet without jumping to conclusions or attaching labels. It is not favorable for communist parties to remain silent on many issues, including the 7th Congress of the Comintern, the Popular Front policies, the Spanish Civil War, or Euro- communism, and to leave the field open to anti-communists and the “new left”.

There is no issue to be brushed aside for those who witnessed the tragic collapse of the Soviet Union. For us, the idea that discussing certain issues would threaten the values that link us to our own past, is unfounded. What really threatens our values is today’s lack of reference. If we can prevent some issues from turning into a taboo, we will clearly see that the common history of the communist movement is much richer than assumed. [emphasis added].

The best example of what kind of adversities can arise when we move away from a healthy process of debate and evaluation, is the Stalin era, which after 1956, was turned into an obscured theme and eventually a taboo, and then into an object of either slander or glorification. It should not be forgotten that the years under Stalin’s leadership can turn into the most illustrative and honorable chapter of the world communist movement, when the fanaticism is left behind.

Communists should have no reservations about discussing any theme pertaining to the history of class struggles. However, more sophisticated mechanisms of debate are necessary if we are not to allow our discussions to be inhibited by our respect for the preferences of the communist parties struggling in each country.

It is worth elaborating a little more on the idea that the debates should not involve stigmatization. It is obvious that a communist party can label another, either explicitly or implicitly. Of course, we cannot consider all these as groundless. Today, it is no secret that there are some communist parties acquiring social democratic character. Identifying some parties that are practically and politically non-existent as “sloganist” or “sectarian” can also be taken as justified. However, we can observe that these labels do not serve the interaction and debate that we need most at the moment.

We already mentioned that common references in the international arena are lacking. Yet, another truth is that many parties bear within themselves the potential to change. We can characterize this change as positive or negative in each case. Nevertheless, we can also see that the aftershocks of the great earthquake which hit all communist parties in the second half of the 1980s still continue, and that many parties have not stabilized ideologically and politically.

It would be wrong to attribute a negative meaning to these pains of change, which sometimes lead to breaks and splits. What is wrong is actually that these internal conflicts often do not coincide with a tangible and perceivable process of debate or partition. The lack of “debate” among communist parties does play a role in this viciousness.

In this sense, we can argue that problems are caused by devaluation or denigration attempts disguised by politeness, rather than open accusations.

It is inevitable that relations will become unhealthier in the lack of a real platform of debate.

Until now, we elaborated on the consequences of the lack of theoretical and political references. Another problem arises in the criteria for evaluating communist parties. While evaluating a communist party, we pay attention to its program, ideology, organizational status, actions, its influence in the society, electoral performance, publications, and cadre standards. Some of these are purely qualitative, yet others can be measured quantitatively. However, leaving aside its ideological preferences, and not taking into account easy-put labels such as “reformist”, “sectarian”, “adventurous”, etc., we can judge a political party only by questioning if it is influential or not.

In this context, it is clear that the distinction of “big party-small party” is not a “revolutionary” criterion. In particular, there is no point in evaluating the magnitude of a party based primarily on electoral results.

There is no need to remind that we are making this emphasis not on behalf of a party lacking a parliamentary victory so far, but on the basis of the tradition that has been shaped since the beginning of the 20th century.

Since equality among communist parties is one of the most important and universally advocated principles, it is worth putting more emphasis on it.

The classification of “big party-small party” does not serve to encourage parties for advancement. But a real debate is absolutely beneficial. Today, any communist living in any country has the right, and the duty, to wonder how another communist party is reacting to the developments in that country, to ask questions, and to express opinions about it.

Whatever conditions it operates under, whatever opportunities it has, it is always possible for a communist party to act more, better and more revolutionary than before. So, the principles of mutual respect and non- interference in internal issues should not nullify critical approaches, and communist parties should not remain in a comfort zone where they are on their own.

Communist parties are not to grade each other, but they follow each other, discuss and look for ways of collaboration. The grounds for this can be created by evaluating communist parties with sound criteria.

Right at this moment it is worth addressing the situation of the communist parties in power today. All these parties are the bearers of immense historical legitimacy. Insofar as “revolution” and “political power” are of
central importance for the communist parties, there is no point in arguing about these parties having a weighted role in the world revolutionary process.

Today, we know that there is a wide range of assessments of the domestic policies of these parties, their ideological and class characters, and the role they play in the international arena. Of course, the historical legitimacy I just mentioned does not automatically create any impunity for criticism. All parties can freely make their own evaluations, given that a certain level of maturity and respect is preserved. It is also inevitable that part of these evaluations could be a bit hurtful. The ruling communist parties, to this or that extent, are also international actors that have influence on the class struggle in other countries.

Is it necessary for these parties to have a particular place among world communist parties, based on the above mentioned extent? We know that some parties struggling in capitalist countries are of this opinion. In some international meetings or bilaterals, we come across some proposals favoring the ruling communist parties to be at the forefront and to have a decisive, or at least a regulatory role.

Much can be said about the role of the CPSU within the international communist movement in the past, positive and negative. But today, the situation is widely different. The Soviet Union, at least until a certain point, tried to relate its own existence and its foreign policy with the world revolutionary process, even in the most difficult moments. The communist parties in power today clearly do not have such a positioning.

The reasons for this shall be the topic of another debate. In addition, the possibilities and conditions of each of the countries where communist parties are in power are quite different from each other. A totalist judgement has never been appreciated by TKP. Those who are responsible for the socialist struggle not being at an advanced position in capitalist countries are us, and our inadequacies as the communist parties in the capitalist countries.

Moreover, in today’s complex correlation of forces, it is obvious that for the agenda of the communist parties in power, other communist parties do not constitute a priority.

This alone puts the proposals that the ruling communist parties should play a more special role in question.

The outcome of the ruling communist parties today stepping forward in international meetings and in relations between communist parties would be that communist parties would start to analyze class struggles from a geostrategic perspective. Once again, this is not based on our “subjective” opinions about the foreign policy priorities of the ruling communist parties.

Even though we don’t stress it as much, the geostrategic approach would be the most dangerous choice if communist parties are to position themselves within the world revolutionary process. Communist parties shall approach the international arena by trying to harmonize the interests of the revolutionary struggle in their own countries with the general interests of the world revolutionary process.

This harmony might be difficult or even impossible at times. Yet, for communist parties, it is a must to acknowledge the costs of alienation from the goal of revolution in their own countries and create this harmony as sound as possible.

Geostrategy could at best be a complementary analytical element for Marxism. It is not sound to replace the perspective in which concepts such as imperialism, state, revolution and class struggle play a central role, with power struggles that can anytime trivialize these concepts.

And here, another problem needs to be brought forward.

Soviet Russia and later the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics exerted a serious ideological and psychological influence “in favor of socialism” on the working people and oppressed nations in the capitalist countries. And this was achieved even during the most challenging moments for the Soviet Union. This was achieved because hundreds of millions of people in the rest of the world felt that in the USSR the struggle for the “construction of an egalitarian society” continued.

Over time this influence waned. The Soviet Union disintegrated. This article is composed of reflections expressed aloud and pays attention to not highlighting negative examples. But I feel the need to move on with a positive example. We need to think about why Cuba, despite all the extraordinarily difficult circumstances in which the country finds itself, can still be a center of attraction for people in search of “another world”. This is possible because the Cuban Revolution, despite a series of setbacks, continues to defend a strong value system. [emphasis added].

The boundlessly implemented realpolitik, which is the inevitable result of geostrategic thinking, may excite some strategists, intellectuals and politicians, but it does not serve as a center of attraction for the working masses.

Communist parties are obliged to turn both the ideal of an egalitarian society and a value system compatible with this ideal into their banner. Even today’s indisputable and pervasive task of defeating or pushing back the U.S. imperialism, should not become a pretext to overshadow this ideal and value system.

The ruling communist parties should maintain their important roles within the family of communist parties with their historical legitimacy and prestige, but calls to give them a decisive role should not be insisted upon. Such insistence, should be kept in mind, could lead to a very harsh break within the communist parties.

After all, the principle of equality and non-interference, which is perhaps the most commonly recognized principle among communist parties today, does not allow for such an internal hierarchy.

Right at this moment, we can be more specific about what we mean by a “real debate”. What is behind the need of not leaving a single point in our own history unilluminated or not honestly assessed is certainly not academic rigor. When we examine carefully, we see that the “identification of the priority tasks” had been at the center of all debates, starting from the 1st International to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It is this simple question that determines the debates and divisions within Marxism.

The priority tasks were once defined as the overthrow of monarchy and feudalism, at other times the expansion of the working class’s right to organize and engage in politics, and in some other cases, the neutralization of the threat of fascism or war.

Now too, communist parties have different views on what is the priority task of the world revolutionary process, of which they constitute elements themselves.

The needs of the world revolutionary process are determining.

Naturally, each communist party evaluates these needs from the point of view of their own country and the interests of the struggle in their own country. The distance between the general needs of the world revolutionary process and the interests within one country is one of the most serious problems that communists have to solve or manage. Sometimes this distance can turn into a conflict. Here, too, the communist parties have a major role to play.

We must admit that today, the differences among the communist parties are yielded by the different responses to the question of what is the priority task of the world revolution.

A very widespread and long-standing approach states that expanding the space for democracy and freedoms is the priority task for the world revolutionary process.

Again, we are more and more hearing descriptions of tasks such as “pushing back the US imperialism” and “repelling the danger of fascism and war”.

It is obvious that these tasks cannot be neglected. However, such definitions of tasks can eventually turn into defending the foreign policy initiatives and moves of this or that country.

It is also a choice to define the urgent task with regards to the interests of the world revolution today as rendering socialism an timely option. This approach, which we also adopt, should be seen as the product of the determination to reject and put an end to the status in which socialism, the only alternative to capitalism, is going through its least influential and assertive moment over a period of 170 years.

Determining the main task on the basis of the timeliness of socialism, and therefore of the revolution, also means eliminating the adversities that can be caused by other approaches that limit or pacify the working class.

Realistically speaking, it is impossible for the working class in its present form to be the main force capable of pushing back US imperialism or neutralizing the threat of fascism and war. For communists to exert weight in these historical tasks, they need to have the will to fulfill their main mission.

The communist movement will have no future by imitating other forces, by fitting into a broader definition of the left. This is not even a kamikaze dive because it will not do any harm to the enemy. It is also not a harakiri because it will not lead to an “honorable” end.

As a growth strategy, the above mentioned priorities will not help the communist movement to flourish and develop.

Of course, we cannot speak of a sincerity test here. History is the fairest judge. But we all know that communism has red lines.

If these lines have become ambiguous, this can be a starting point for us. Without falling into repetition, without exhausting each other with slogans, quotations or parroting.

The great work of Marx and Lenin is in the totality of their thoughts and action. If what defines Marx’s life was his infinite hatred of capitalism, it is revolution and seizing the political power for Lenin.

In the previous years, at every moment when the communist parties forgot about their own raison d’être, they went through some troubles which today can be judged as “mistakes”.

For this reason, if instead of chaotic and unfruitful quarrels, communist parties can contribute to the debates by giving clear responses to how they relate to the world revolutionary process and by demonstrating appropriate ideological and political references, a collectively meaningful outcome will emerge for each of the communist parties. In this way, common positions, joint actions or separations will take place on a much more solid ground.

TKP will make its modest contributions to the international arena with this perspective.

    Kemal Okuyan is the General Secretary, Turkish Communist Party (TKP)

    Why and How Class Still Matters / by Nick French

    A custodian working on a stairway at the Zakrzewska Building in Boston, Massachusetts, October 5, 2022. (David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

    Originally published in Jacobin on January 21, 2023

    Review of The Class Matrix: Social Theory After the Cultural Turn by Vivek Chibber (Harvard University Press, 2022)

    It’s fashionable to declare that Marxism doesn’t have much to say about complex, modern societies. But class and the material interests it generates are still the central features of capitalism.

    Though Occupy Wall Street, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns, and other developments have brought the themes of class and economic inequality back into public consciousness in recent years, this resurgence has been accompanied by denunciations of Marxism as an outdated framework for social and political analysis. Pundits and politicians warn us of the dangers of focusing too much on class or treating it as in any way “more important” than other social identities or forms of hierarchy.

    These popular refrains echo claims that have become dominant in academic social theory for decades. Where Karl Marx and his followers saw economic forces as central to understanding social stability and conflict, proponents of “the cultural turn” in social theory give pride of place to noneconomic factors. If class is a matter of a person’s location in an economic structure — whether, say, they own means of production or must sell their labor for a living — then class has little predictive power in explaining why people do what they do, culturalists argue. We should look instead to contingent cultural factors: social norms, values, and religious practices.

    It’s easy to see the attraction of these arguments. Despite renewed concern with economic inequality represented by Sanders and related phenomena elsewhere (Corbynism in Britain, Podemos in Spain, La France Insoumise), class-based critiques have failed to capture the support of the working classes on a large scale. The old parties of the Left are in decline, with ever more workers gravitating to the Right. Global politics continues to undergo class dealignment: compared to the early and mid-twentieth century, class is becoming a less and less salient category of political identity and conflict. Partisan divisions are hardening, but no side credibly claims to represent the interests — or can win the loyalty — of workers.

    If class is so important, why do so few people think so? Why, as the chasm of economic inequality widens, aren’t workers rallying around the red flag and trying to overthrow the system?

    In his recent book, The Class Matrix: Social Theory After the Cultural Turn, sociologist Vivek Chibber argues that dismissing the importance of class analysis is a grave error. A proper Marxist understanding of class, he argues, can rise to the challenge of culturalist arguments in social theory. But more than that, Marxism can give us a framework to understand why workers under capitalism will be more likely to acquiesce to the capitalist system than to revolt against it — and can shed light on how to make revolutionary change a reality.

    Economic Structure and Culture

    At the core of Chibber’s argument is an elegant explanation of the relation between the class structure of capitalism and culture. Culturalists argue that all intentional human behavior is mediated by the “interpretive work of human actors,” as social theorist William Sewell puts it. For a social structure — like, say, the capital–wage labor relation — to become effective in motivating behavior, the agents participating in that structure must learn and internalize the appropriate cultural scripts.

    This argument, Chibber writes, suggests that “the very existence of the structure seems to depend on the vagaries of cultural mediation.” If I am a worker, I must learn and internalize the fact that I have to find and keep a job in order to sustain myself, and I must learn and internalize the norms and habits required to do so (norms of speech and dress, certain skills, a “work ethic,” and so on). If I’m a capitalist, I need to learn and internalize the fact that success means maximizing profits, and I must learn and internalize the norms and habits that allow me to do that (a single-minded focus on expanding market share and cutting costs, for instance, which requires a ruthlessness in dealing with my employees.)

    So, it may seem that human motivation is explained by culture “all the way down.” But this isn’t so. Though culturalists are right that people must adapt to certain cultural scripts to participate in social structures, Chibber admits, it doesn’t follow that these cultural scripts have causal primacy in explaining the structure. Instead, the economic structure itself explains why people need to learn and internalize the relevant scripts in the first place.

    Consider what happens if a worker fails to internalize the cultural script appropriate to their role. That means they will fail to secure a job; or, if they do manage that, they won’t be able to keep it for very long. The outcome will be destitution, hunger, and worse. Likewise, a capitalist who fails to internalize the script relevant to their role will soon find their firms going under — and if they don’t get their act together, they’ll eventually find themselves in the desperate situation of a propertyless proletarian.

    For capitalists and workers alike, the economic structure generates powerful material interests that compel them to internalize the cultural scripts corresponding to their class positions. The fundamentals of their individual well-being are on the line if they fail to do so.

    None of this is to deny the importance of culture. But it is to say that, if we want to understand why people in capitalist societies act as they do, economic structure must be given a primary explanatory role. This claim is borne out, Chibber argues, by the global spread of capitalism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Far from particular cultural understandings being either prerequisites or insurmountable obstacles to the development of capitalist class structures, the imposition of capitalism has transformed cultures around the world — including those once thought to be inimical to capitalist relations — to suit its purposes.

    The False Explanation of False Consciousness

    Marxists argue that capitalism essentially involves the exploitation and domination of the working class by the capitalist class. Because they don’t have access to “means of production,” workers must sell their labor power to those who do: the capitalists. Once a worker secures a job, they are subject to the tyranny of the boss, who will attempt to get as much work out of them for as little pay as possible. Though workers are the ones who produce the goods and services that the capitalist sells, the capitalist gets to keep the lion’s share of the social surplus produced by their employees in the form of profits, while workers receive a pittance in the form of wages.

    This antagonism of interests involved in the capitalist–wage labor relationship, and the harms it imposes on workers, leads to conflict. Marx, observing the nascent labor organizations and political movements of his day, thought that this conflict would take on an increasingly collective and revolutionary form: workers would band together to resist their exploitation and eventually “expropriate the expropriators,” abolishing private property and doing away with capitalism entirely.

    This didn’t happen. There were, of course, socialist revolutions in countries where capitalism was just starting to develop, beginning with Russia in 1917, but these societies soon degenerated into authoritarian regimes and by the end of the century were evolving in a capitalist direction. In the West, socialist parties gradually accommodated themselves to the capitalist system and eventually moved away from even promoting significant reforms to the system and representing their traditional working-class bases. Even labor unions have now been on the decline globally for decades.

    Why didn’t Marxism’s revolutionary prophecies come true? According to thinkers of the New Left, the answer lies in culture. Workers do have an interest in organizing collectively to defend their well-being and, ultimately, in overthrowing the capitalist system. But they have been thoroughly indoctrinated by bourgeois ideology to accept the system as morally legitimate, and anesthetized by the shallow consolations of “the culture industry,” the promise of consumer goodies, and the like. If only workers could pierce the veil of illusion and recognize their true interests, the thought goes, they would revolt.

    Chibber deploys his materialist understanding of class to dismantle this argument. The problem with this explanation is that, as a result of their class position, workers daily experience pervasive harms and loss of autonomy at work, anxiety over finding or keeping a job, and the struggle to maintain a comfortable standard of living. To say that the working class in general has fallen prey to ideological indoctrination is to say that ideology has overwhelmed these prominent features of workers’ lived experience — that the influence of “bourgeois culture” is so strong as to induce systematic “cognitive breakdown” — in other words, false consciousness. Worse still, this explanation bizarrely positions the theorist as having more insight into the workers’ experience than the workers themselves.

    And, in fact, workers do often resist their exploitation. They shirk when they’re on the job; they call in sick when they’re not; they occasionally engage in acts of petty theft and sabotage against their employer. These widespread forms of individualized resistance show that working people aren’t simply dupes of pro-capitalist myths.

    Why Workers (Only Sometimes) Revolt

    So, why don’t workers revolt? The answer lies in the costs and risks associated with collective action. Workers depend on their jobs to sustain themselves and their families. It is not the case that workers “have nothing to lose but their chains”: in organizing or taking action with their coworkers, they could very well lose their livelihood. “The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all,” the economist Joan Robinson quipped.

    Besides the vulnerability to unemployment, there are plenty of other obstacles to a strategy of collective resistance. Workers have diverse interests that sometimes push against collective action. For instance, while the vast majority of workers would benefit from building powerful labor unions and political organizations in the long run, in the short term, lucky or very skilled workers may be able to secure a better deal for themselves through individual bargaining with employers.

    Then, there is the problem of free riding: while everyone benefits from the fruit of collective effort, no individual worker will be worse off if they don’t contribute. That creates a strong incentive for workers to shirk their responsibilities to collective organizing efforts — but, if enough individuals shirk, the efforts will of course fail.

    Chibber’s conclusion is that Marx was wrong to think that capitalism would naturally produce its own “gravediggers.” Instead, the material interests generated by the class structure usually militate against collective action and instead push workers to advance their interests by working hard and “keeping their heads down,” while engaging in occasional acts of individualized resistance. New Left theorists who say workers don’t revolt because they’re under the sway of bourgeois ideology make the same mistaken assumption as Marx — they think the reasons for workers’ acquiescence must come from outside the economic structure. In fact, in most times and places, the class structure provides strong-enough reasons of its own to eschew collective resistance, let alone revolutionary activity.

    But workers can and do sometimes organize together to fight their exploiters. Under what conditions does collective action become feasible? A crucial ingredient, Chibber argues, is the creation of a culture of solidarity:

    [Workers] have to make their valuation of possible outcomes at least partly on how it will affect their peers; this stems from a sense of obligation and what they owe to the collective good. . . . In directing every worker to see the welfare of her peers as of direct concern to herself, a solidaristic ethos counteracts the individuating effects normally generated by capitalism. In so doing, it enables the creation of the collective identity that, in turn, is the cultural accompaniment to class struggle.

    When workers come to see their own well-being as bound up with that of others, the normal obstacles to collective action become smaller. They become more willing to take individual risks, and they become averse to free riding on the efforts of their comrades.

    Again, culture is constrained by material interests here. A solidaristic ethos is not the same as an altruistic ethos, in the sense of a selfless concern for the welfare of others. Solidarity is rather about forming a sense of reciprocal obligation around shared interests. Knowing that, in the long term, they all stand to benefit from strong workers’ organizations, workers internalize norms that change how they weigh the costs and risks associated with collective action. My sense of obligation to my coworkers may allow me to overcome my fear of the boss’s retaliation; it may encourage me to see an individual wage increase here and now as less important than the security offered by a union contract; it will make me see free riding as a shameful betrayal of my comrades.

    Where workers build cultures of solidarity, they are more likely to pursue, and succeed in, strategies of collective resistance. But we should emphasize that class-based organization is not the only way that workers under capitalism might pursue their interests collectively. They also of course belong to formal and informal organizations based on race, ethnicity, religion, kinship, and other social identities. Workers may use such networks to navigate the vicissitudes of labor market competition by hoarding resources and job opportunities; the usefulness of these strategies gives rise to justifying ideologies of racism, ethnocentrism, and the like.

    Such collective identities, then — like class — have a basis in the economic structure of capitalism. Yet over time, workers’ prioritizing their identification with (say) members of their race or coreligionists makes it less likely they will forge large, durable coalitions to advance their interests and makes it easier for capitalists to pit workers against each other. (If a union refuses to admit nonwhite workers, for instance, it will sooner or later find the bosses employing those excluded workers as scabs.)

    So, the reason to treat cultures of class solidarity as particularly central is not because we chauvinistically regard class oppression as more morally significant than other social hierarchies, as some ill-tempered critics charge. It’s because organizing along class lines is the only feasible long-term strategy for resisting and eventually overcoming capitalist domination and thereby undermining the material basis of racial and other forms of oppression.

    Class, Politics, and Class Politics in the Twenty-First Century

    It follows that class formation — the transformation of workers from a “class in itself” to a conscious, organized “class for itself,” in Marx’s terms — is an extremely fraught proposition. The material incentives generated by capitalism’s economic structure discourage collective class organization and instead push workers to seek individualized means of pursuing their interests or otherwise to fall back on networks of kinship, race, and so on that pit them against their potential comrades in arms.

    Thanks to the heroic efforts of ideologically committed left-wing organizers to build cultures of solidarity, the workers’ movement was born and grew by leaps and bounds in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These organizers were aided by propitious circumstances. Rapid industrialization brought ever-greater numbers of workers into large factories and dense urban centers and decreased workers’ fear of long-term unemployment. In most of the capitalist world, workers were politically disenfranchised, strengthening their sense that they were unjustly treated and making clear the need to organize along class lines to demand political well as economic rights. Workers lived close to each other in city slums, segregated from other elements of society, facilitating an awareness of their shared interests and the forging of a collective identity.

    These structural and institutional facts were fertile ground for the growth of powerful labor movements and socialist parties. Those organizations fought for a partial “humanization” of capitalism, redistributing wealth and income toward the poor and working classes. For a while, especially in the postwar era, rapid economic growth meant that employers could (reluctantly) absorb unions’ and left parties’ redistributive demands. Yet a decline in profit rates starting in the 1960s forced employers to be less tolerant, and capitalists began to fight back, successfully crushing unions and rolling back the welfare state across much of the developed world.

    This story brings us to the neoliberal period, which workers haven’t yet been able to fight their way out of. For decades, they have suffered from stagnant wages and the erosion of public goods. At first, Chibber notes, workers responded by retreating from political activity and civic life. But recent years have seen active expressions of discontent, in the form of an uptick in strike action (though still at historically low levels) as well as explosions of anger at the ballot box in the form of support for populist, antiestablishment parties and candidates of both the Left and Right.

    This pattern of working-class disaffection and anger is understandable in materialist terms — as are the obstacles to a renewal of the organized labor movement and mass working-class political parties. The structural and institutional factors underlying the birth and expansion of the Old Left are no longer in place. Globally, capitalist economies are now deindustrializing, which has meant slower employment growth; the dispersion of workers into smaller firms; and less job security. Workers in most capitalist democracies now have full political rights, and they are no longer geographically isolated in their own densely populated communities but spread out in the suburbs among other classes.

    These facts mean the project of organizing workers has a totally different character than it did in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. “Workers’ electoral status and social conditions once worked in tandem with the class structure to push workers toward a common identity,” Chibber writes, “but this is no longer the case.” Their electoral status and social conditions today pull workers apart, exacerbating the tendency to adopt individualized or parochial modes of resistance.

    Back to Class

    The Class Matrix is not without its flaws. Nowhere does Chibber explicitly offer or defend a definition of material interests, a notion fundamental to his account of human motivation under capitalism and to his distinction between materialist and culturalist explanations of social structure. Nor does he discuss the connections between interests, preferences, and motivations — a topic that has long bedeviled philosophers as well as social scientists, and one on which Chibber makes some controversial assumptions that he does not entirely bring to the surface. (Very briefly: he seems to be working with a definition of material interests as universal components of well-being, rooted in human biological needs and capacities, that systematically regulate people’s preferences and motivations across cultural contexts. That is certainly a plausible and defensible conception of interests, but not, I think, a self-evident one.)

    Finally, many of the book’s formulations suggest a dichotomy between individualistic forms of resistance to domination and class-based collective action. But as discussed above, and as Chibber himself acknowledges at points, collective strategies of interest advancement can also take the form of reliance on racial, ethnic, and other nonclass collectivities. There is, of course, an important similarity between individualistic forms of resistance and reliance on parochial networks to hoard advantage: they mean failing to unite workers to challenge capitalism at the root and are, for that reason, ultimately self-defeating.

    However, these are complaints about presentation rather than substance. Overall, The Class Matrix is a clear, compelling, and systematic statement of the view that class is an objective reality that predictably and rationally shapes human thought and action, one we need to grapple with seriously if we’re to comprehend contemporary society and its morbid symptoms.

    Socialists today face the difficult task of building cultures of solidarity on different, and less favorable, terrain than our predecessors. Whether and how exactly we can do so are questions Chibber leaves to his readers. But his contribution to understanding what class is, and why it matters, will likely be indispensable to finding the answers.

    Nick French is an assistant editor at Jacobin.

    Rumors of the Death of the Working Class Are Highly Exaggerated / An Interview with Marcel Van Der Linden

    Workers walking on Sulphide Leach in Escondida, Chile. (Oliver Llaneza Hesse / Construction Photography / Avalon / Getty)

    Originally published in Jacobin, November 5, 2022

    There is no “end of the working class.”

    According to the latest International Labour Organization (ILO) report on “World Employment and Social Outlook,” global unemployment is expected to remain above pre-COVID levels until at least 2023. Already a downgrade from their originally rosier 2022 forecast, the agency hastened to add in a recent “Monitor on the World of Work” that the war in Ukraine and inflation has further decreased labor’s share of income and swelled the ranks of the unemployed.

    The report also confirms that recovery has invariably relied on job sectors where low productivity and poor labor standards are rampant — without taking into account that improved employment statistics in some parts of the Global North have nothing to say about unprecedented numbers of workers dropping out of the job market or being pushed into the informal sector.

    Of course, the latest ILO figures confirm what we already know: there is a long-standing downward trend in global working-class power. As David Broder wrote recently in Jacobin, this decline in labor — on the shop floor through automation and precarity, and in politics through the slow demise of labor and social democratic parties — has long been the source of forecasts proclaiming the “end of the working class.”

    However, as labor historian Marcel van der Linden explains it, the current decline in working-class power is neither inevitable nor irreversible. And it would be foolhardy to equate waning structural influence with the end of the working class as such.

    Van der Linden has in fact been making one version of this argument for the better part of his career. By expanding the scope of labor history in all directions — in time, to encompass working populations in the sixteenth century, and in space, to the colonial plantations where forced labor predominated — van der Linden’s work argues that we need to expand the definition of the working class itself, even if it means rethinking the history of capitalism.

    The political payoff of an expanded definition of the working class, which would include care work, forced labor, informal self-employment, and more, is that it shows the many “farewells to the working class” for what they really are: overly reliant on a narrow image of the working class as male, white, Fordist factory labor.

    The fact is, van der Linden explains to Jacobin commissioning editor Nicolas Allen, the working class is not going anywhere. Better still, the working class is undergoing transformations that make it possible to discover new forms of structural leverage and international solidarity.


    George Orwell wrote that the most important part of the working class is also its most invisible. You seem to follow a similar intuition in your work: to try and grasp what is specific about the working class without bracketing those forms of labor considered outliers in some Marxist accounts of history — be it because those forms of labor are unfree, only partially commodified, and so on.


    In capitalism, there has always existed, and probably will continue to exist, several forms of commodified labor power side by side. In its long development, capitalism used many kinds of work relationships, some based on economic compulsion, others with a noneconomic component. Millions of slaves were brought by force from Africa to the Caribbean, Brazil, and the southern states of the US. Contract workers from India and China were shipped off to toil in South Africa, Malaysia, or South America. “Free” migrant workers left Europe for the Americas, Australia, or other colonies.

    These and other work relationships are synchronous, even if there seems to be a secular trend toward “free wage labor.” Slavery still exists; sharecropping is enjoying a comeback in some regions. Capitalism could and can choose whatever form of commodified labor power it thinks fit in a given historical context: one variant seems most profitable today, another tomorrow.

    If this argument is correct, then we should conceptualize the wage-earning working class as one important kind of commodified labor power among others. Consequently, “free” labor cannot be seen as the only form of exploitation suitable for modern capitalism but as one alternative among several. We therefore need to form concepts which take account of more dimensions.

    The history of capitalist labor must encompass all forms of physically or economically coerced commodification of labor power: wage laborers, the enslaved, sharecroppers, convict laborers, and so on — plus all labor which creates such commoditized labor or regenerates it; that is, parental labor, household labor, care labor, and subsistence labor. And if we try and take all these different forms of labor into account, then we should use households as the basic unit of analysis rather than individuals, because this permits keeping in focus at all times the lives of both men and women, young and old, and the variety of paid and unpaid work.


    What would that mean for the leading accounts of how capitalism arose? The generally accepted version is that the transformation of artisans and peasants into free wage laborers (i.e., depriving them of their means of production) is what laid the foundations for capitalism.


    If these observations I’m making are correct, then our picture of history must change drastically, beginning with our concept of capitalism. If capitalism does not have any structural preference for free wage labor, then capitalism can also have occurred in situations where hardly any wage labor was done, [for example] where chattel slavery prevailed. If we no longer define capitalism in terms of a contradiction between wage labor and capital, but in terms of the commodity form of labor power and other elements of the production process, then it makes sense to define capitalism as a circuit of transactions and work processes in which “production of commodities by means of commodities” occurs (borrowing Piero Sraffa’s expression).

    This ever-widening circuit of commodity production and distribution, where not just labor products but also means of production and labor power itself acquire the status of commodities, is what I would call capitalism. This definition deviates somewhat from [Karl] Marx’s, but it is also consistent with Marx, in that he regarded the capitalist mode of production as “generalized” or “universalized” commodity production. It differs however from definitions which regard capitalism simply as “production for the market” and disregard the specific labor relations involved in production — it differs from the description we encounter in the writings of Immanuel Wallerstein and his school.

    On the basis of a revised definition of capitalism, we might conclude that the first fully capitalist society was not eighteenth-century England, but Barbados, the small Caribbean island (430 km2) that was probably the most prosperous slaveholding society in the seventeenth century. Colonization was started there in the 1620s, and by 1680, the sugar industry covered 80 percent of the island’s arable land, employed 90 percent of its labor force, and accounted for about 90 percent of its export earnings. This was the beginning of the “Sugar Revolution” which dominated agricultural development in the English West Indies for several centuries.

    The production and consumption process in Barbados was almost totally commodified: the workers (chattel slaves) were commodities, their food was mainly purchased from other islands, their means of production (like sugar mills) were manufactured commercially, and their labor product (cane sugar) was sold on the world market. Few countries have ever existed since that time where every aspect of economic life was so strongly commodified. It was in that sense a true capitalist country, albeit a very small one. And it could, of course, only exist thanks to its integration in a wider colonial empire.

    Thus, it is no longer so certain that England was the birthplace of modern capitalism. If we adopt a non-Eurocentric perspective, we gain three insights: important developments in the history of capitalist employment began much earlier than previously thought; they began with unfree workers and not with free workers; and they began not in the US or in Europe, but in the Global South.


    It seems like those insights apply not only to the past but to our present: an expanded notion of the working class not only gives us a new perspective on the origins of capitalism but is also a rebuke to those who would claim that the we are witnessing the “end of the working class.” That hypothesis is only sustainable if you keep to an exceedingly narrow view of who counts as the working class.


    That’s right, there is no “end of the working class.” According to the International Labour Organization, the percentage of pure wage dependents (“employees”) rose between 1991 and 2019 from 44 to 53 per cent. In that sense, we see an ongoing proletarianization that has progressed the most in advanced capitalist countries. It is estimated that in developed economies, wage earners represent around 90 percent of total employment. In developing and emerging economies, employees may, however, represent as little as 30 percent or less of total employment.

    The actual world working class is, of course, considerably more numerous than the number of employees; in any case, contributing family members and most of the unemployed should be added to this figure, as well as an unknown share of the workers who are formally self-employed but in fact have only one or two main clients and are therefore directly dependent on them. Those performing domestic subsistence labor (largely women) and thereby enabling employees and others to offer their labor capacity on the labor market are also part of the working class.

    Within the wage-earning class, we see shifts in composition. During the last three decades, the number of workers in services has more than doubled, the number of industrial workers increased with about 50 percent, while the number of workers in agriculture decreased with a bit more than 10 percent. We observe also geographical shifts. There is a partial de-industrialization in Europe and North America and growing industrial employment elsewhere, especially in Asia. Most of the people who speak about the “end of the working class” hail from the advanced capitalist countries where we can observe the gradual disintegration of what used to be called (wrongly, of course) the standard employment relationship.

    This is a form of wage labor defined by continuity and stability of employment, a full-time position with one employer, only at the employer’s place of business, a good wage, legally stipulated rights, and social security benefits. It is very often ignored that standard employment has been a relatively recent phenomenon, even in the advanced capitalist countries, and that at most, 15 or 20 percent of the world’s wage earners ever enjoyed it.


    In part, the phrase “end of the working class” caught on as it did because it was superficially reflected in the declining power of organized labor and the labor movement.


    Yes, although the world’s wage-earning class is larger than ever, most of the world’s traditional labor movements are in crisis. They have been severely enfeebled by the political and economic changes of the last forty years. Their core consists of three forms of social movement organizations: cooperatives, trade unions, and workers’ parties. All three organizational types are currently in decline, though this is an uneven development with vast differences between countries and regions.

    The political wing (social democracy, labor parties, communist parties) is in trouble in almost all countries. Many trade unions are in decline as well. Independent trade unions organize only a small percentage of their target group worldwide, and the majority of them live in the relatively wealthy North Atlantic region. The global umbrella organization, the Confederación Sindical Internacional, estimated in 2014 that no more than 7 percent of the total global workforce belongs to trade unions. This has become 6 percent in the meantime.

    This weakness of the international labor movement is a huge paradox, because ever greater numbers of workers worldwide maintain direct economic contacts with one another, even though many are probably unaware of this. Goods manufactured in one country are increasingly assembled from components produced in other countries, which in turn contain subcomponents made in still other countries. As a result, at least one-quarter of all wage earners have jobs related to a global supply chain.

    And migration is intensifying economic connections between workers from different parts of the world as well. The proportion of international migrants in the world population increased from 2.8 percent to 3.5 percent between 2000 and 2020. The proportion of world migration attributable to South–North migration has more than doubled since 1960 and is now close to 40 percent. But all this has not yet resulted in a revival of organized labor.

    There is however ground for some optimism. During the last ten to fifteen years, we have witnessed an intensification of social struggles. In India, for example, on January 8 and 9, 2019, a hundred fifty million workers across the country struck for a list of demands including a national minimum wage, universal food security, and equal pay for equal work. Social protests have grown in all regions of the world, including of course Latin America. And at last, but not at least, there are also explicit signs of organizational renewal. Organizing drives for previously unorganized workers in hospitals and the care sector in general have been increasing over the past few years.

    The rise of the International Domestic Workers Federation since 2009, and their campaign resulting in the ILO’s “Convenio 189 sobre las trabajadoras y los trabajadores domésticos” has been an inspiration for many. Strikes of incarcerated workers in the United States reveal that new segments of the working class have begun to be mobilized. In many countries, trade unions are trying to open up to “informal” and “illegal” workers. Quite spectacular is India’s New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), founded in 2006, which recognizes the importance of both paid and unpaid women’s work, attempting to organize not only the “formal” sector, but also contract workers, casual workers, household workers, the self-employed, and the urban and rural poor.


    In another sense, couldn’t the “end of the working class” refer to a feeling that the traditional labor movement failed to envision the full scope of society’s contemporary problems? What does the labor movement need to do to regain that sense — so strong in the nineteenth and twentieth century — that the interests of labor are also those of society at large?


    As I said, it’s a paradox: the economic and political power of the working class has decreased since the 1980s — as the global crisis of the labor movements indicates — but I still do not see another social force that could replace the working class as a central actor. The only solution I can think of is the strengthening of that very same working class, but in new ways. A reborn labor movement requires a new orientation. Here I have to suffice with a few brief hints, and much more discussion is needed on this.

    First, there is a whole range of substantive issues that have not been taken seriously enough by the old labor movements. Most unions, parties, and other organizations are still dominated by a masculine culture, racial prejudices, localism, and little awareness of environmental and climate issues. Changes are visible, but there is still very much to be done. Second, social equality and rights should be part of this new labor approach. We should distance ourselves from the narrow economism of the past, while at the same time we should keep in mind that bread-and-butter issues remain of huge importance. Labor movements have to become class movements, in the broad sense.

    Third, the largest part of the world labor movement is internally undemocratic and does not consistently give a voice to the rank and file. This predominant, somewhat autocratic, approach will need to be replaced by a radical-democratic approach. Fourth, it is imperative that labor organizations orientate themselves much more toward global connections and cross-border activities. Many important challenges, such as unemployment, climate, pandemics, or the economic conjuncture, cannot be solved nationally.

    Finally, all these elements have to be incorporated in a consistent radical strategy. Much harm has been done in the past by movements that did not primarily rely on their own strength and were too eager to be part of the ruling institutions. This is true for trade unions who have been integrated into all kinds of corporatist decision-making, and it has been true for workers’ parties who wanted to join governments in the absence of supportive mass movements and electoral majorities. Under the present conditions, we should probably not think of an alternative government — we should try to build an alternative opposition, an opposition that commits itself to the self-emancipation of the broad working class through grassroots democracy.


    Maybe we could talk more specifically about labor in different parts of the world. It seems odd that people use concepts like the “precariat” in speaking of the Global South when, arguably, what that word describes is a situation that for much of the world is not only not novel — more like structural — but also tends to universalize things like the welfare state that, from a global perspective, are fairly provincial experiences. What do you make of this term, the precariat?


    The idea that the “precariat” is the new “dangerous class” is fundamentally wrong. On the one hand, this thought seems to imply that the rest of the working class can be written off as an agent of social change. And on the other hand it implies that precarious workers are on their own capable of fundamentally destabilizing capitalism.

    We have seen this kind of thinking before, the kind that privileges one segment of the working class over all others: for example, in the Italian “workerism” (operaismo) of Sergio Bologna, Antonio Negri, and others of the 1970s. They believed that the skilled workers belonged to the establishment and that the unskilled “mass workers” were the vanguard. We should oppose this kind of sectionalism. There are good reasons to emphasize as much as possible the unity of the working class. We can leave the attempts to split the ranks to our opponents.

    But we should acknowledge as well that focusing our attention on precaritization is right. Precaritization is a global trend and on the rise almost everywhere. The fierce, increasingly global competition between capitals now has a clear downward “equalizing” effect on the quality of life and work in the more developed parts of global capitalism. The labor relations of rich countries are beginning to look much more like those of poor countries.

    Directly connected with this problem is another hot issue: unemployment and underemployment. In the course of the twentieth century, and especially since the 1940s, the number of unemployed and underemployed in the Global South has grown by leaps and bounds. In the late 1990s, Paul Bairoch estimated that in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, “total inactivity” was on the order of 30-40 percent of potential working hours — a situation without historical precedent, “except perhaps in the case of ancient Rome.”

    In Europe, North America, and Japan, the average level of unemployment has always been significantly lower. Moreover, it was determined mainly by the economic conjuncture, and it was therefore cyclical, while “overunemployment” in the Global South has a structural character. Scholars who early on drew attention to this huge problem, such as José Nun from Argentina and Aníbal Quijano from Peru, argued that the tens of millions of permanently “marginalized” workers in the Global South could no longer be regarded as a “reserve army of labor” in the Marxian sense, because their social condition was not temporary, and because they formed no mass of human material always ready for exploitation, since their abilities were simply not compatible at all with the requirements of capitalist industry.

    Precaritization expresses an important change in contemporary capitalism. Although productive capital (manufacturing, mining) is still expanding, the power of other sections of the bourgeoisie is becoming more and more dominant. Increasingly, productive capital is subordinated to merchant capital and financial capital — what Marx called money-trading and interest-bearing capital. We are witnessing not only the explosive growth of trading companies (Amazon, Ikea, Walmart, etc.) and the surge of banks and insurance companies, but also the burgeoning of subcontracting and outsourcing. The power of the trade unions is weakened by this development, as they are often much stronger in the productive sector than in the trade and financial sectors.


    You say that labor relations in the Global North are beginning to resemble those in the Global South, but also that chronic under- and unemployment are exploding in the Global South in ways unimaginable in the Global North. I wonder if this is what you mean when you speak of “relational inequality” — that the working class of the Global North is still a kind of weak “labor aristocracy” that derives some kind of compensatory benefits from the exploitation of the Global South.


    I believe that the concept of the “Imperial Mode of Living” as developed by Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen is extremely useful in this respect. Their central idea is that wage earners in the advanced capitalist countries benefit from the ecological and economical exploitation in the poorer parts of the world. This is what I call relational inequality: wage earners in the [Global] North are partly better off because others in the [Global] South are socioeconomically and ecologically worse off.

    This is not only true for the consumptive sphere (cheap T-shirts from Bangladesh increase the real income of wage-earners in the [Global] North), but also from an ecological point of view — advanced capitalist countries possess the economic and political power to import resources and export waste generated by the [Global] North to less developed countries. In that sense, the wage earners in the [Global] North benefit from the unequal economic and ecological exchange between advanced and less developed capitalist countries.

    The collapse of “socialism” in the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere, and the adaptation of India to liberal market thinking — all in the 1980s and early 1990s — have resulted in the emergence of relatively well-earning segments of the wage-earning classes in those countries that are usually included in the vague category of the “middle classes.” Due to this new development, the Imperial Mode of Living is now also present in the former USSR, East and South Asia, and elsewhere.

    The implication of all this is that the world working class has internalized contradictions that make global solidarity more difficult. This poses an issue of enormous urgency and importance: we not only need global social and economic, but also ecological equality.

    The total amount of raw materials available worldwide is limited. As Arghiri Emmanuel argued in the 1960s, the people of the rich countries can consume all those articles to which they are so attached only because other people consume very few or even none of them. How is equalization possible? If it cannot be achieved downward — by lowering the living standards of the developed countries — nor upward, for technical and ecological reasons, does the solution lie in a global change in the very pattern of living and consumption, and the very concept of well-being?


    But tackling those very contradictions also requires some source of working-class power. If we start from the idea that those challenges take place at the site of production, aren’t we back at square one where, say, industrial action at an auto plant in Germany is better able to affect accumulation patterns than a waste picker in Brazil? How do we bring together and unite such different labor struggles?


    We should think less in terms of national classes, and more in terms of positional power. In the 1970s, Luca Perrone, a brilliant sociologist who died at a young age, argued that different sections of the working class have varying positions within the system of economic interdependencies. Therefore, their disruptive potential can diverge enormously.

    Take the Chicago stockyards in the nineteenth century. They were organized in a kind of assembly line. The first department was the “killing floor” where the animals were slaughtered, so that they then could be processed in the other departments. If the killing floor downed tools, all the rest of the meat industry was paralyzed.

    Such positional power can become very political. The Iranian Shah could not have been overthrown without the strikes of the oil workers in 1978–79.

    I don’t think that the nation-state to which workers belong has much to do with their positional power. Much more decisive are the workflows. Let me give an example: commodities result from the combined labor input of workers and farmers across the world. Take the jeans that I am wearing. The cotton for the denim is grown by small farmers in Benin, West Africa. The soft cotton for the pockets is grown in Pakistan. The synthetic indigo is made in a chemical factory in Frankfurt, Germany. The rivets and buttons contain zinc dug up by Australian miners. The thread is polyester, manufactured from petroleum products by chemical workers in Japan. All parts are assembled in Tunisia. The final product is sold in Amsterdam.

    My jeans are, therefore, the result of a global combination of labor processes. Which group of the workers involved has more and which group has less power? This is an empirical question that can only be answered if we know more about the competitive positions of the separate groups, among other factors.

    Now that a growing segment of the world working class is becoming part of transcontinental commodity chains, the potential disruptive power of workers in the Global South has probably increased a lot. Their situation is somewhat similar to that of the butchers on the Chicago killing floors. If they don’t deliver the cobalt, coltan, and copper, then Samsung and Apple cannot produce their mobile phones. But this is potential power. Before this can become actual power, workers have to become aware of their strategic location and have to organize.

    There is another difficulty here, though: the closer workers are to the finished product on a commodity chain, the greater their interest in a low remuneration for workers in earlier stages of production — at least from the point of view of their short-term interests. As in your example, workers in a car factory profit in the short run if steelworkers receive low wages, because this will increase the profit margin on the cars and results in job security and, perhaps, higher wages. This obstacle can only be overcome through politicization so that all workers become conscious of the larger picture. And this awareness will usually only grow through self-activity and autonomous learning.


    You don’t seem particularly optimistic about that happening, though.


    I feel less optimistic than twenty or thirty years ago. The obstacles to renewal have grown, while the urgency of the global challenges (especially the environmental problem) have increased. The crisis we are currently observing could well signal the end of an almost two-centuries-long “great cycle” in the development of labor movements.

    Organized labor (and its ally, socialism) is now about two centuries old, and during its history has taken many forms. Building on egalitarian traditions, it began in the 1820s–40s with “utopian” experiments. Influenced by the rapid emergence of capitalism and the changing nature of states, the movement gradually bifurcated after the revolutions of 1848, with one wing striving to build an alternative society without separate states in the here and now, the other striving rather to transform the state so that it could be used to build that alternative society.

    The first movement — anarchism and the revolutionary syndicalism associated with it — peaked in the final decades before World War II; by about 1940, it largely was a spent force. The second movement — initially embodied in social democracy but later taking other forms, too (including communist parties) — saw its heyday in the first few decades after World War II. Neither movement succeeded in achieving the original goal of replacing capitalism with a socially just and democratic society.

    A second “great cycle” is by no means inconceivable — in fact, it already seems to cautiously announce itself. Class conflicts will not diminish, and workers all over the world will continue to feel the ever-present need for effective organizations and forms of struggle. A new labor movement can partly find its foundations in the old labor movements, but these will have to change considerably. Real internationalism which goes beyond symbolic solidarity will be essential. Not only on humanistic grounds, but also because there are no national solutions to the world’s problems.

    Should there be a revival, the new movements will probably look different from the more traditional ones. It seems safe to say that success will be possible only if the major challenges (global economy, ecology, gender equality, social security, climate change, etc.) are substantively combined and tackled transnationally.

    And if there is a reconsideration of the bifurcation of anarchism and party socialism. Anarchism has tended to emphasize “socialism from below,” through the self-emancipation of activated masses in motion. Party socialists, on the other hand, have usually emphasized “socialism from above,” the view that socialism must be “handed down” to the masses — a tendency that has been reinforced in recent decades owing to political parties having few roots in society. Although they might try to listen to citizens, especially at election time, they have become mainly a means whereby the state communicates with society, instead of the reverse.

    I hope that during the second “great cycle,” we may see a combination of “from-below” and “from-above” approaches by strategically uniting government policy, self-organization, and large-scale mobilization. Such change will take a great deal of time. According to Max Weber, the spirit of capitalism has been “the product of a long and arduous process of education,” a development continuing over centuries. Likewise, a socialist society is probably conceivable only as the outcome of a comprehensive process of education, a process in which social change is accompanied by self-change. Autonomous organizations and concrete steps toward self-emancipation in all spheres of life (not only in the economic sphere) are essential for such a learning process.

    Marcel van der Linden is the research director of the International Institute of Social History, a professor of social movement history at the University of Amsterdam, and a member of the editorial board of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA).

    Nicolas Allen is a Jacobin contributing editor and the managing editor at Jacobin América Latina.

    How the ruling class does it: 7 strategies to stay in power / by Anita Waters

    The following is adapted from a talk given at the Marxist School in New York City in 2022.

    As we see the erosion of the rights that working people have won by a Supreme Court that wants to roll people’s rights back to 1787 and that cavalierly disregards the will of the majority, it is a good time to put ruling-class strategies in the spotlight. In this article I will describe briefly what we mean by the ruling class, arguing that the class as a whole is a social actor more than a characteristic that adheres to individuals one at a time. Next, the nature of the democratic struggle in the current day is addressed. Finally, I will outline seven strategies that the ruling class has used over time and in contemporary politics to curtail the voice of the workers in government and damage the opportunities to make policies that serve actual human needs.

    A caveat: this article barely scratches the surface in its examination of the ruling-class agenda. I hope here to just offer a starting point and an approach that notices patterns over time so we can better plan the fight-back.

    What is the ruling class and who comprises it?

    A ruling class is a collective social actor. It consists of those who control the means by which a society produces and distributes its goods and services, and who in turn control the rest of the population though coercion, violence, exploitation, and cultural domination. In feudal societies, the ruling class consists of those who control productive land and who extract the value of people’s labor in the form of rents and tributes. In industrial societies, the ruling class consists of banks and other financial institutions, industrial corporations, large agribusiness, and distribution networks like Amazon. The ruling class has used its wealth and military might to nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere (paraphrasing Marx and Engels), exploiting the people they encounter around the world and stealing their resources.

    The Program of the CPUSA characterizes the ruling class in the United States as “one of the most controlling, entrenched capitalist ruling classes ever, concentrating enormous political, economic, and military power in the hands of a few transnational corporations, led by global finance banks and the politicians who do their bidding.”

    While the ruling class has common interests and a social agenda, it is not always unified, and some segments are more dangerous than others. As Georgi Dimitrov pointed out in 1936, fascism is defined as the rule by “the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” It is segmented, and it also attempts to divide the working class to more effectively exploit it. For this purpose, the ruling class uses racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.

    The global ruling class and its U.S. counterpart suffered some setbacks in the 1960s and ’70s but came roaring back in the 1980s during the administration of the union-busting, “small government” president, Ronald Reagan. Taking the lead from their president, corporations continued a process of gutting labor rights, eventually whittling union membership down to 10% from a high of 35% in 1954. The newly invigorated ruling class used government power to bust unions, and at every chance undermined the role of government to make workers’ lives better. Ruling-class interests invested in right-wing think tanks and eventually endowed conservative institutes at major universities. They brought in religious fundamentalists, who fomented a moral panic over abortion that deflected attention from the profits the ruling class was amassing.

    We need to be sure to think about the ruling class as an agent of social change. In our party, we analyze society from a structural point of view, instead of looking at individual members of the class. In bourgeois social science, “class” is sometimes conceived as an individual-level characteristic and used to explain individual-level behaviors and attitudes. But the dynamics of social change as understood and explained by Marxist-Leninist analysis are such that we aren’t concerned with whether one person or another “is” working class or ruling class, but how their actions contribute to the movement of the working class or to the repression and exploitation of the working class. We focus on the broader class struggle in society.

    What is the democratic struggle?

    Democracy, from the Greek words for “government or authority of the people,” is a form of government in which the voice of the people shapes the affairs of government, all citizens have equal rights before the law, and the will of the majority prevails. Democracy is seen as a social, political, and economic system. But we recognize that economic relations change first, and political forms change in response. As Lenin argued, “any democracy as a form of political organization of society, ultimately serves production and is ultimately determined by the production relations of the given society.”

    Our goal as Communists is to unite the working class, to increase its autonomy and independence. A revolutionary majority is our goal, one based on mass organizations and political parties, that will “make it politically impossible for the ruling class to use political or military means to return to power.” We are working toward the establishment of a socialist democracy, described as one in which “citizens’ rights are not just proclaimed, but are consolidated by law and secured by the fact that exploitation by private employers is ended and the crises of capitalism have passed” (Road to Socialism).

    Our country’s revolutionary history is characterized by massive struggles to protect and expand democracy, from adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, to the referendum in the past few years to restore voting rights to felons in Florida.

    It stands to reason, if the working class is the vast majority of people, how could it be defeated? In a country that purports to be not just a democracy, but the “most democratic country on earth,” how is the voice of the working class silenced and its power undercut? The ruling class has its methods, and that’s what we’re going to talk about here. I want to focus on some of the specific ways that the ruling class has shaped the United States as a state, as a nation, and as an imperialist power, both historically and in the current day. Specifically, how has it worked against the struggle for greater power for the working class? How has it managed to put into place the maneuverings and manipulations that divide us? The ruling class is in a constant struggle to contract the electorate, curtail civil liberties, and give the rich every opportunity to dominate elections. Democratic rights in capitalist society are under constant attack.

    If democracy is said to mean people actually having power in government, how can we measure it? For bourgeois political science, simply having elections is interpreted as being a democracy. In graduate school I studied elections in Jamaica in the post-colonial period, during a time when the U.S. praised Jamaica for its “steadfast commitment to democratic traditions,” but it was clear to see that the will of the people was almost never expressed in those contests. Institutions that were set up by the ruling class and approved by the colonial powers chose the candidates and arranged for their victories, and for the most part carried on policies that served the imperialists and their local henchmen. Still, when the masses were mobilized and activated in the 1970s, and politicians felt compelled to listen, significant advancements were made in the conditions of the working classes (before those efforts were stymied by the decade’s end with the help of the CIA and U.S. Department of State).

    Seven ruling-class strategies

    1. Overturning elections

    If democracy means majority rule, what does the ruling class do when elections are used to challenge the economic and social status quo? Thinking about this reminded me of Eddie Carthan, who in 1976 was the first Black person elected mayor of Tchula, Mississippi, since the days of Reconstruction. After his election, the white remnants of the local plantocracy stepped in immediately and were determined that Carthan would not be mayor. They locked him out of city hall, hounded him, brought him up on trumped-up charges, and sent him to prison.

    Years later, in 2015, Carthan was again elected, this time as Holmes County supervisor. After four years of public service, the state auditor of Mississippi said his election was fraudulent because he filed a paper wrong, and he was to repay all his salary and benefits he received since he was elected to the position.

    Carthan’s case involves local politics, but as we saw in January 2021, an outright overturning of the will of the majority of the voters is a threat even at the level of the highest elected office.

    2. Limits on the franchise

    For those who want to attack democratic rights, limiting the franchise is an obvious strategy, something that the ruling class has used to limit the power of the working class since the colonial origins of this country. In Boston in the early 1700s, wealth was consolidated in the top 1% of the population (which owned 44% of the wealth), and voting rights were limited to white men who owned property.

    In the South, fear of a Black-white alliance led the Virginia Assembly to pass the “slave codes,” laws that involved discipline and punishment applicable only to the enslaved. The assembly also gave indentured servants specific advantages when their terms of indenture were over, including free land grants and provisions.

    When the constitution was drawn up in 1776, it consolidated and institutionalized a set of power dynamics that included, in Howard Zinn’s words, “the inferior position of blacks, the exclusion of Indians . . . [and] the establishment of supremacy for the rich and powerful in the new nation.” Most of the men who wrote the constitution were “men of wealth, in land, slaves, manufacturing, or shipping.” They constructed a federal government structure that protected their specific interests: protective tariffs for the manufacturers, protection for land speculators against Indians, security against slave revolts for the plantation owners, etc. Women, the enslaved, and people without property were, of course, excluded from the process.

    During the brief period after the Civil War when African Americans in the South voted, democracy flowered and policies addressing equity and inclusion flourished. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, and the Fourteenth declared that all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. are citizens. The Fifteenth Amendment declared the “right of citizens of the U.S. to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the U.S. or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The first Civil Rights Act that outlawed the exclusion of African Americans from public accommodations was in 1866.

    But soon after Lincoln’s death, President Andrew Johnson led the ruling class in rolling back the gains of Reconstruction. By 1940only 3% of eligible African Americans in the South were registered to vote. Jim Crow laws like literacy tests, poll taxes, violence, and intimidation kept African Americans from voting (ACLU Timeline).

    Those limits on the franchise had lasting effects. For example, why did labor parties develop across the industrial world, but never in the United States? Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward voice one widely accepted reason. “Partial disfranchisement of working people” in the early part of the twentieth century, while socialist parties were in development in Europe, “helps explain why no comparable labor-based political party here.”

    Legislative attempts to limit the franchise are alive and well today. Despite Florida voters’ overwhelmingly supporting a referendum that allowed ex-felons the right to vote, the DeSantis administration and its sycophant legislature passed a rule that ex-felons could not vote until all fines and fees are paid. People leave Florida prisons owing thousands of dollars to the state. In one recent case, Kelvin Bolton, an ex-felon with a history of mental illness and cognitive challenges, who was persuaded to register to vote as he left prison, voted, then was charged with voter fraud and fined thousands of dollars more. Bolton is only one of many people singled out for prosecution. It’s a war on voting in the state of Florida, and elsewhere.

    3. Violence and intimidation

    The ruling class doesn’t usually do its own dirty work, but ruling-class minions are brought in to do their bidding, including both vigilante violence and state-sponsored police brutality. In the post–Civil War era, the ruling class of white economic elites organized the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups, recounts Howard Zinn. Between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,743 lynchings in the U.S., that is, extrajudicial killings. Bloody Sunday, when police beat voting rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, was a signal incident in the fight for voting rights.

    Mobs and police are not the only forces employed to break working-class power. In the late 19th century, corporations formed private armies to use force to break unions. Most famously, the Pinkerton Detective Agency had more men than the U.S. Army. Corporations wielded power without interference from the state. When murders were committed or injuries inflicted in busting unions, judges viewed unionization efforts as violations of the property rights of corporate owners, therefore corporate violence against workers was ruled defensive.

    In the early part of the twentieth century, anti-union and “red scare” repression by government reached a fever pitch. As the authors of Labor’s Untold Story write, “The red scare was the heart of the open-shop drive of the National Association of Manufacturers,” whose president said in 1913 that the trade union movement was “an un-American, illegal and infamous conspiracy.” U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer put his Department of Justice at the service of the strike breakers, and on January 2, 1920, arrested 10,000 trade unionists across seven cities, many of whom suffered torture and humiliation at the hands of local law enforcement empowered by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Palmer Raids, as the evening came to be known, were widely condemned as lawless but effectively “frightened people and dampened militancy” (Boyer and Morais).

    4. Representations and propaganda

    In sociology’s version of critical race theory, specifically racial formation theory, structures are separated analytically from representations. Structures are laws, practices, and institutions that may either reinforce the racial hierarchy in society or undermine it. Structures have actual material consequences for people’s life chances. They may extend or shorten people’s lives or provide higher or lower wages. In contrast, representations are the ideas, myths, and meanings that attach to categories. While representations do not have direct material consequences, they still may either reinforce or undermine the hierarchy by mobilizing support for the structures that do make a difference to the distribution of resources. The ruling class uses symbols, narratives, myths, and images to limit the participation and power of the working class in government.

    For example, during Reconstruction, when African Americans were being elected to legislatures and taking part in the political life of towns and states, Howard Zinn writes, a “great propaganda campaign was undertaken North and South” that claimed “that blacks were inept, lazy, corrupt, and ruinous to the governments of the South when they were in office.” The ruling class floated myths of a European “class” and brought poor white farmers “into the new alliance against blacks.”

    The “ruling intellectual force,” as Marx and Engels called them, continued throughout the post-Reconstruction period to spread its ruling-class ideas, which are “nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships.” Some of these ideas were wedges invented to segment the working class into whites versus Blacks, men versus women, and old versus young. Other ideas, such as anti-union propaganda and “red scare” fear mongering, were aimed at the entire working class.

    Representations are also important because they include myths of moral superiority and other justifications for their power that enable the ruling class to oppress the masses with impunity and an apparently clean conscience. In the realm of representation and symbolic politics, think about the question, are members of the ruling class “evil”? “Evil” is a metaphysical term. Certainly, lots of corporate power holders are completely heartless people (e.g., big pharma who raise the price of insulin, or the oil company that withholds data about the effect of fossil fuels), and they go about committing heinous acts against humanity seemingly without a care.

    The point is, narratives and other representations of the industrial ruling class convince its members that they are entitled to their wealth: They worked hard, they have the best ideas, they paid their dues in their internships and residencies, their dads worked hard, they’ve made the best decisions, etc. A profound myth in American political culture is the Puritan concept that wealth is a sign of “blessing,” the opposite of “evil.” The wealthy see their wealth as an indication that one is among the saved and that God is hearing one’s prayers and bestowing His benevolence on one personally. The so-called prosperity gospel movement is one of the current iterations of this deeply rooted myth of the ruling class.

    Of course, representations and propaganda are used by the ruling class to limit the franchise. We saw in 2016 especially how media are used to spread falsehoods that are aimed at contracting the electorate. A more insidious ruling-class idea that bourgeois political scientists tell people is that their vote doesn’t matter. This has the effect of contracting democracy and silencing the voice of the people. Between 35% and 60% of eligible voters don’t cast a ballot, and about 25% never vote. Many are simply convinced their vote doesn’t count, while others are daunted by the barriers to voting, which gets us to structures.

    5. Structures

    As described above, structures are laws, norms, bureaucratic practices, and institutions that have real material consequences. Some structural barriers that serve ruling-class interests masquerade as egalitarian but have outcomes that disproportionately affect the working class and its ability to use its franchise.

    A study of nonvoters showed that factors included not being able to get off work in time or to physically access their polling place or failing to jump through the hoops of early registration or reregistration for “purged” voters. Bureaucratic structures that administer elections may make decisions that make voting more difficult in areas where working people live. This happened in Ohio in 2004, when the notorious Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell introduced all manner of limits. He rejected voter registration forms if they were on an incorrect stock of paper. He limited resources in cities and places where more people vote for the Democratic Party. Voters in the little college town of Oberlin, Ohio, waited eight or nine hours in line. The outcry from the masses of the electorate following the 2004 election led to the fairly generous early voting and mail voting options that the state has now.

    Another set of structures that have deleterious effects on the voice of the working class in government is redistricting. After the 2010 round of redistricting, maps were engineered so that a vast majority of the Ohio’s congressional delegation goes to the Republicans, though almost half of Ohio voters choose the Democratic party. Three-quarters of Ohio voters subsequently passed a law establishing a redistricting commission that was meant to remedy the extreme gerrymandering. But there were many loopholes in the law, and the GOP-dominated commission has passed three maps that the Ohio Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional. The Republicans on the commission just waited it out, and now the 2022 midterms will proceed with an unconstitutional map.

    Ohio of course is just one of many GOP-dominated states where voter restrictions are proliferating. In Florida the governor outdid his own lock-step legislature and drew his own electoral map, eliminating two African American–dominated districts. Voters’ rights groups challenge the most egregious limits on voting in the courts. That’s why it’s important that when we vote, we pay attention to what judges are running, in states where judges are elected.

    Besides rules and regulations governing voting, a broader trend is feeding voter apathy and disillusion. The 1970s saw the full embrace of neoliberalism, and with it the decline in union density, the decline in corporate tax obligations, and the deregulation of industry. These have resulted in a working class that is often working more than one job to make ends meet, and that may mean four or five jobs held per household, for wages that can buy far less in the marketplace than they used to. People are impoverished by the process of getting a higher education, and young people are delaying beginning families because of their student loan debt and the high cost of health care and day care. Innovation and creativity are stifled by having a young generation beholden to work for corporate America just to pay off loans and maintain their health insurance.

    6. Judiciary

    The indifference to the idea of majority rule that we talked about earlier was reaffirmed in the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Most people in this country do not want to see Roe overturned. But their will has been thwarted by a court dominated by jurists who were nominated by a president who didn’t win a majority of the votes, and who were ratified by senators who also represent a minority of the electorate. Experts in law say that even if a law was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president establishing women’s bodily autonomy, the Supreme Court could overturn it on the same grounds that they are using to justify this decision. It’s one of the first times in Supreme Court history that a precedent has been overturned in a way that takes rights away.

    The Supreme Court as it is currently comprised was stolen from the working people of the United States by the reactionary ruling-class forces that want an end to government regulation of industry. It is a uniquely undemocratic branch of government, and each member has extraordinary powers. Two-thirds of the court were nominated by presidents who had failed to win a majority of votes across the country. One of the proposed efforts to redress the imbalance is the Judiciary Act of 2021, which would add three seats.  Others would go add 10 or more new members. The people’s movement needs to incorporate these demands going forward.

    Also in the category of judicial restrictions on the voice of working people in government, through elections or otherwise, is the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC. This is the famous “corporations are people” case. Citizens United is a right-wing media company which produces right-wing media content. The company made a very negative and dubious “documentary” about Hillary Clinton, and the Federal Election Commission forbid it being aired too close to the primary election day. In its ruling, the Supreme Court overturned election restrictions that dated back more than a century. Corporations are now allowed to spend unlimited resources on election campaigns. It allowed for the establishment of super-PACs, political action committees that serve the wealth­i­est donors and that spend secret money through nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors.

    As a result of the Citizens United ruling, the GOP in particular has benefited. A study in 2020 of election results by Abdul-Razzak, Prato, and Wolton found “strong evidence that these regulatory changes increase the electoral success of Republican candidates, thereby leading to more ideologically conservative legislatures.” They found the most evidence of pro-Republican effects of Citizens United where labor interests were weak and where corporate interest were closely aligned with the Republican Party.

    In his minority opinion dissenting in the Citizens United case, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens declared that the court’s ruling represented “a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government.”

    7. Imperialism

    “Despite the trappings of democracy, the U.S. government, like those of other imperialist countries, implements foreign policy as a direct instrument of monopoly capital, enabling the accumulation of capital for the monopolies” (Road to Socialism).

    Of course, the ways that the U.S. ruling class reigns in the emerging power of the working class at home are numerous, two-faced, and often effective, and they are reinforced by an even more heavy-handed repression of democracy abroad. The U.S. undermines democratic outcomes in other countries by choosing to support certain candidates, by propaganda and misinformation, by violence and assassination. There’s abundant evidence of transnational corporate influence and CIA activity in the defeat of the Jamaican socialist prime minister, Michael Manley in 1980, and the installation of Reagan’s man Eddie Seaga. Recent reporting by the New York Times reveals the role of the banking industry in the centuries-long repression and impoverishment of the working class in Haiti. There are sadly innumerable examples.


    The democratic struggle is a key one for the Communist Party and for the people’s movement more generally. While electing one over another candidate in a bourgeois democratic election may not bring on a miraculous socialist transformation, elections offer opportunities to build people’s coalitions to demand the voice of the majority in government, to enact policies that serve human needs and restore basic human rights. It is a truism that if voting in these elections didn’t matter, Republicans would not work so hard to take voting rights away. As we have seen in this review, they have an array of strategies that they have employed in the past and that we can continue to expect to see this year, in 2024, and beyond. We must organize to meet that challenge. There are several ways we can mobilize effectively: working with independent trade union and community-based political action organizations fighting for voting rights, for regulations that make it easier to vote, for fair district maps, and for greater numbers of registered voters.

    Going beyond the election struggles of capitalist “democracy,” we need to keep our eyes on the prize of reversing the neoliberal slide downward, and attaining ever greater unity, autonomy, and political power of the working class. We need to struggle for labor rights, for livable wages, for bodily autonomy, and for rational climate policy.


    Nour Abdul-Razzak, Carlo Prato, and Stephane Wolton, “After Citizens United: How Outside Spending Shapes American Democracy.” Electoral Studies 67, August 2020.

    Richard Boyer and Herbert Morais, Labor’s Untold Story, 3rd ed. (UE, 1979).

    CPUSA, The Road to Socialism Party Program, 2019.

    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology.

    Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2015).

    Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, “Does Voting Matter?” in Power: A Critical Reader, edited by Daniel Egan and Levon A. Chorbajian, 68–78, 2005.

    Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Perennial, 2015 [1980]).

    Images: We the people, Move To Amend (Facebook); Reagan announcing he will fire PATCO air traffic controllers, White House, Wikipedia (public domain); Seattle teachers striker, Seattle Education Association (Facebook); Freedmen voting in New Orleans, 1867, Wikipedia (public domain); Pinkerton’s detectives escorting scabs during mining strike in Ohio, 1884, Wikipedia (public domain); Anti-union propaganda, Wikipedia (public domain); Gerrymandering protest, Stephen Melkisethian (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Anti-corporate-personhood bumpersticker, Move To Amend (Facebook).

    Anita Waters is Professor Emerita of sociology at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and an organizer for the CPUSA in Ohio.

    Pledging “pain,” Federal Reserve declares war on the working class / by Marcus Day

    “Working Class Day of Action” Call for better living and working conditions (Photo: Elitsha)

    Originally published: World Socialist Web Site on August 27, 2022

    In his speech Friday at the Federal Reserve’s annual summit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell made one thing clear: America’s financial oligarchy is determined to make the working class bear the cost of the deepening economic crisis.

    Speaking more bluntly than he has previously, Powell pledged that the U.S. central bank would sustain higher interest rates in the name of fighting inflation, with increased unemployment and economic “pain” to be expected as the consequences. The Fed is widely anticipated to again raise rates by 0.5 to 0.75 percentage points in September.

    “Reducing inflation is likely to require a sustained period of below-trend growth,” Powell said.

    Moreover, there will very likely be some softening of labor market conditions. While higher interest rates, slower growth, and softer labor market conditions will bring down inflation, they will also bring some pain to households and businesses.

    Behind the Fed chair’s grey-hued euphemisms stands a ruthless class policy. With “softening of labor market conditions,” Powell is describing a deliberate jobs bloodbath, in which higher rates will encourage mass layoffs and the inevitable calamity this entails for workers and their families. It will mean staggering rises in poverty, hunger, substance abuse, foreclosures, homelessness and suicides, under conditions of an already acute social crisis.

    There can be no doubt that the target of the “pain” Powell is referring to is the working class.

    Powell bemoaned a so-called “out of balance” labor market and outsized demand for workers, saying,

    The labor market is particularly strong, but it is clearly out of balance, with demand for workers substantially exceeding the supply of available workers.

    This cynical argument—that a labor shortage and overly large wage increases are the primary drivers of inflation—defies the most basic economic logic. If the cause of high inflation in the United States were wage increases, then workers’ wages would be rising at a level comparable to, or higher than, the level of inflation.

    Workers’ pay has risen in nominal terms far below the rate of inflation, resulting in a 3 percent decline in real wages over the course of the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, falling as much as 5 percent in some states.

    The labor shortage itself is in large part the consequence of the ruling class’ catastrophic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which mass infection has been ever more deliberately enforced in the short-term pursuit of profit. As many as 4.1 million Americans have left the labor force and are unable to work due to the debilitating impact of Long COVID, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution released this week. The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that as many as 16 million people in the U.S. are suffering from Long COVID.

    In reality, corporate price gouging, not wage growth, has been the primary factor driving inflation, an April study by the Economic Policy Institute found. Meanwhile, corporate profits continue to set record after record.

    Profit margins at non-financial corporations have hit a 72-year high, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Commerce Department, reaching 15.5 percent for the first time since 1950. Profits increased 8.1 percent over the past year, even after accounting for higher capital stock replacement costs from inflation.

    The oil and gas giants have been in the forefront of this bonanza, with the five largest companies taking in $55 billion in profits during the second quarter of 2022 alone, as they profiteer from the U.S.-instigated proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. The intent of U.S. imperialism and its allies is to make the working class pay for their predatory wars abroad. In the UK, energy prices are set to rise 80 percent this fall, to £3,549 a year, roughly $4,200, and to as high as £6,600 in the spring, with catastrophic implications for working families.

    The pro-corporate trade unions, for their part, have been working around the clock to impose the demands of the companies for below-inflation raises, higher health care costs and longer hours. Earlier this year, United Steelworkers President Thomas Conway boasted of a “responsible” contract the union coerced oil and gas workers into accepting, lauding it for not adding to “inflationary pressures,” parroting the lying claim that wage increases are driving higher prices.

    Already, the Fed’s rate increases are beginning to have their intended effect, triggering a wave of mass layoffs, including 38,000 in the technology sector through mid-August. Job cuts are now spreading more widely throughout the economy. Hospitals and health care systems are increasingly slashing positions and reducing services, Kaiser Health News reported Friday, despite the health care chains receiving massive bailouts to the tune of billions of dollars during the pandemic.

    Layoffs are beginning to accelerate even as many sections of the economy are already threatened with disaster and virtual collapse due to understaffing and brutally long hours, as in the health care industry and the railroads.

    In his speech, Powell alluded repeatedly to former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, whom he has previously presented as his intellectual North Star. Appointed by Democratic President Jimmy Carter and retained by Republican President Ronald Reagan, Volcker oversaw a program of economic “shock therapy” in the late 1970s and early 1980s, raising interest rates to double-digit levels in order to induce mass unemployment and break the back of the militant workers’ struggles that had dominated the preceding decade. “The standard of living of the average American worker has to decline,” Volcker declared in 1982.

    In the present, workers are being told by the Biden administration, the political establishment and the corporate and financial elite that they must sacrifice—and accept a lower standard of living—in the name of the “national interest” and the struggle against supposed “Russian aggression.”

    But history shows again and again that the demand for “shared sacrifice” by the ruling class and its representatives is nothing but a swindle, aimed at enriching the financial oligarchy at the expense of the working class and increasing its exploitation.

    The response to the ruling class policy of austerity and war must be a conscious political program representing the interests of the working class, unifying the struggles of workers in every section of industry and across national boundaries. This year has already seen an eruption of class struggle internationally, drawing in ever-larger layers, from manufacturing workers to dockworkers and truckers, pilots and flight attendants, nurses and educators, among others.

    The broad support for the campaign of Will Lehman for international president of the United Auto Workers shows the enormous potential for this developing movement in the working class to find a progressive outlet. Lehman, a Mack Trucks worker and socialist, has explained that he is running in the UAW elections in order to organize a rank-and-file movement from below and take power back from the union bureaucracy.

    The emerging struggles of workers against the soaring cost of living and the impact of the capitalist crisis must take up the socialist and internationalist perspective Lehman is advocating so that the needs and interests of workers—not the financial oligarchy—determine how society’s resources are organized.

    World Socialist Web Site, August 27, 2022,

    Opinion: How to Stop the GOP From Killing Medicare, Social Security, and Us / by Thom Hartmann

    Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) in the Visitors Center Auditorium at the U.S. Capitol on July 20, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Jabin Botsford – Pool/Getty Images)

    The Republican Party is quite literally taking aim at the lives of low-income and working-class people of this country.

    It’s The Ronald Reagan Memorial Competition: which Republican can make the rich richer and the poor poorer the fastest?

    This week, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin wants to one-up Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida in this perpetual GOP contest over who can most effectively screw working people.

    Johnson wants Congress to vote every year whether or not to continue funding both Social Security and Medicare, while Scott says it should only be every five years.

    On top of that, in a true tribute to Saint Ronny, they’re competing for how to most aggressively raise income taxes on working-class people, and how quickly.

    (You may remember Rick Scott as the guy who ran the company convicted of the largest Medicare fraud in the history of America, who then took his money and ran for Governor of Florida, where he prevented the state from expanding Medicaid for low-income Floridians.)

    Scott is the second-richest guy in the Senate and, true to form, he’s now echoing the sentiments of the richest guy in the Senate, Mitt Romney.

    “There are 47 percent who are with him,” Romney said of Obama voters back in 2012, “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. These are people who pay no income tax.”

    Most low-income working people in America actually pay a higher percentage of their income as taxes than do many billionaires and multi-multi-millionaires. 

    Working people pay Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes in the form of fees for everything from a driver’s license to road tolls to annual car inspections.

    Billionaires, on the other hand, have bought politicians to write so many loopholes into the tax code that most — like Donald Trump — will go decades without paying a single penny in income taxes.

    But that level of inequality isn’t enough for Senator Scott, who’s committed to out-neoliberaling Ronnie himself. He wants everybody in Romney’s “47 percent,” even people making $7.25 an hour or less, to subsidize billionaires by paying income taxes on their meager wages.

    His logic is nuts. The simple reality is, if you want more Americans to pay income taxes, all you have to do is raise working people’s pay. This isn’t rocket science.

    We saw it work out in a big way between 1933 and 1980, before Reagan’s war on labor, when unions helped wages — and income tax payments — steadily rise for working people. Those rising wages literally built the middle class, which peaked in 1980 and then began its long slide under Reaganomics.

    In the early years of the Reagan administration, before his neoliberal “trickle down” and “supply side” policies started to really bite Americans, only 18 percent of Americans were so poor that their income didn’t qualify to be taxed. 

    As “Right to Work for Less” laws spread across America and Republicans on the Supreme Court made it harder for unions to function, however, more and more working people fell below the tax threshold. When Romney ran for president in 2012, it was 47 percent of working people who had fallen out of the middle class and were then so poor that they lived below the income tax threshold.

    Today, just a decade later (and after the $2 trillion Trump tax cut), it takes two working adults to maintain the same lifestyle that one worker could provide in 1980. That’s why an estimated 61 percent of working Americans this year will make so little money that they’ll struggle to pay the rent and buy food, and their income won’t be subject to taxation.

    But Rick Scott’s solution to this situation isn’t to raise the income of working-class people so they make enough to pay for food, rent, and qualify to pay income taxes. 

    Quite to the contrary, he’s suggesting that low-income people should be hit with their very own special income tax — in addition to the dozens of other taxes they’re already paying — so multimillionaires and billionaires like him and his friends can see their own taxes go down a tiny bit.

    “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game,” Scott says in his 11-point plan, “even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”

    But for Ron Johnson, even that’s not quite enough of a club to beat working-class Americans over the head, particularly those who are retired and no longer working. He’s targeting the older folks, in fact, for his punishment this week.

    He wants to open the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to an annual vote by Congress by moving those programs from the “mandatory spending” category to the easily changed or deleted “discretionary spending.”  

    “Defense spending has always been discretionary,” Johnson said on a recent radio show. “VA spending is discretionary. What’s mandatory are things like Social Security and Medicare. If you qualify for the entitlement you just get it no matter what the cost.”

    While Scott’s plan would have Congress both impose an income tax on the lowest-wage workers in America and require Congress to vote every 5 years on whether Social Security and Medicare should even continue to exist, Johnson is in more of a hurry and wants to move that vote up to every single year.

    “What we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending so that it’s all evaluated so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken that are going to be going bankrupt,” Johnson said, echoing a Republican refrain dating back to the 1930s that “any day now” Social Security is going down the drain so we should just hand it over to Wall Street now.

    Democrats should flip the script — essentially, pull a Reagan on the GOP — with a plan of their own, only this one with some real middle-class tax cuts.

    For example, Democrats could propose ending the income taxes on Social Security, unemployment benefits, and income from tips.

    Before Reagan, the first two were totally tax-free and the IRS had never pursued tips until he directed the agency to do so in 1988.

    After all, the money you receive when you retire or become disabled and begin to draw Social Security is money that you already paid in, in large part, throughout your working life.

    Therefore, when Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935, the money people got from Social Security was not taxable and not even tracked by the IRS.

    When Congress passed legislation in the 1930s enacting unemployment insurance, they established a trust funded by employees, using money their employers could have paid them in other benefits.

    Most workers never use this fund, but those who do are simply receiving what they already, indirectly, have paid into a system to create a safety net that will catch people so they don’t fall too hard or too far when they lose their jobs.

    Because this money was usually deducted from people’s income before wages were calculated, unemployment benefits were also not taxable and not even reported to the IRS from 1935 until Reagan began taxing them.

    Finally, people who work in jobs where they receive tips rarely have their own accounting system to daily keep track of those tips and report them to the IRS, and, besides that, tips are actually gratuities rather than income and are wildly variable.

    They shouldn’t be subject to income tax. And weren’t from the beginning of the income tax in 1918 until just after the election of 1980.

    Back in 1981, however, Reagan passed the biggest tax cut for billionaires and giant corporations in the then-history of the world, lowering the top rate from around 74% to around 28% and shoveling, in today’s money, over fifty trillion dollars from working class people up to the top 1% in the years since. 

    The result was an explosion in the budget deficit the following year, so Reagan used that excuse to enact the largest tax increase since World War II. Being a Republican, he put it almost entirely on the shoulders of working people, unemployed people, and those receiving Social Security.

    Reagan and his Republicans made Social Security income taxable for the first time in American history. It still is taxed, crippling people trying to live on that meager fare.  

    Tips, Reagan and his GOP buddies figured, were actually part of wages so they changed IRS rules to force employers to count and report tips. As The New York Times reported in 1988:

    “According to the Reagan Administration, which proposed the change, the expanded [tips] tax would raise $200 million this year and $1.6 billion over five years.”

    And people on unemployment, Reagan decided, should also pay income tax on the money they received out of the unemployment trust funds that they, themselves, had paid into throughout their working lives via their employers.

    He also raised taxes substantially on working-class people who still had regular jobs, and ended the ability of working-class people to deduct credit card, car loan, school loan, and most other interest payments from their taxes.

    When Reagan arrived at the White House there was a 0% tax bracket for Americans making under the equivalent, in today’s dollars, of around $8,500 a year. Those folks paid absolutely nothing in income taxes.

    Reagan did away with that altogether, so pretty much everybody making more than $0 and less than $29,750 in today’s money would pay up to a 15% tax rate, and anybody making over $29,750 would be taxed at 28%.

    Finally, instead of indexing Social Security payments to one of the cost of living indexes like CPI-E that reflects the actual costs of older or disabled people, Reagan stuck seniors with a COLA irrelevant to retired people.

    As an added slap in the face, he increased the Social Security tax paid by working people making under $147,000. (The morbidly rich, to this day, don’t pay a penny after the FICA tax on their first $147k in income.)

    To add insult to injury, Reagan also raised the retirement age from 65 to 67, although to avoid political blow-back back in the 1980s he made sure it only applied to people born after 1960. Ironically, it phases into full effect this decade.

    Reagan is gone, but his attacks on working class people roll on. Now they’re being carried on by Rick Scott, Ron Johnson, and all the rest of the multimillionaire Republican senators.

    Let’s take the first step toward rolling back Reagan’s neoliberal legacy by making “income” from Social Security, unemployment benefits, and tips — money that exclusively benefits low-income and working-class people — free of taxation once again!

    Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

    Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of “The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream” (2020); “The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America” (2019); and more than 25 other books in print.

    Common Dreams, August 4, 2022,

    Imperialism and socialism will not mix / by John Case

    The popularity of socialism has skyrocketed since Bernie Sanders’ historic campaigns for president gave voice to the outrage, desolation, and pain caused by the dramatic and unrelieved rise in U.S. inequality over the past half century. This trend now spans three generations. It has been accompanied, with few exceptions, by rising political dysfunction, volatility, and corruption as corporate interests virtually consume allegedly democratic institutions: the departments of state, defense, health, commerce, treasury, the Supreme Court, and more. These institutions cannot be trusted to protect the public interest, say majorities of the American people. The process has profoundly undermined, indeed baked in, the declining confidence of working-class families in their government, which is the face of “democracy.” Even worse, the long train of lost or winless wars and the damage to our soldiers sent abroad to bear the burdens of failed imperial adventures has damaged the basic unity of this nation.

    However, Bernie’s popularity has spawned wide discussion and disputations on what is meant by “socialism” and how it would differently approach the many challenges in U.S. society, a society irrevocably linked to the fate of the world. What is a socialist program in an “advanced economy”? What is the social foundation of a socialist-oriented political party’s agenda, and its capacity to govern, especially in adverse, crisis-driven conditions?

    Bernie and others of his generation have witnessed and can date the births of this looming catastrophe in our lifetimes.

    The Vietnam legacy

    First, the tragic conduct and legacy of the Vietnam War — a war that signaled the ultimate doom of “domination” and imperial policies, but especially defenses of colonialism under the cover of anti-communism. The U.S.-led war was morally, politically, and militarily defeated, by both popular Vietnamese forces and the resistance of the American people as the character of the war became exposed. In the meantime, U.S. corps launched the long era of job outsourcing to low-wage countries and extraction of cheap resources around the world under the protection of a dominant military power. The damage done to national unity by this imperial policy, alongside the assassinations of the Kennedys and Dr. King appears now to be irrevocable. If they were not directly or materially linked — a still unresolved question — they were, for me, glued together.

    Colonialism has two forms: direct (the more traditional form) and indirect. Vietnam is an example of both: it was a French colony before World War II and later became technically independent, but its government was funded and protected militarily by a foreign power.

    It is a sad reflection that the U.S., along with former imperial and colonial powers, remain unmoved by the repeated failures of “domination”-based policies. Domination, contrasted with “peaceful coexistence” approaches, is still favored by ruling interests in both U.S. political parties. Examples abound: In Latin America, the bloody suppressions of movements with Bernie Sanders–style politics, the nightmare of proxy wars in the Middle East and Africa, assassinations, coups, Iraq, Syria, Yemen. The interventions must number over 100.

    It is impossible to gauge the moral, political, and now economic harm done to our people by permitting worldwide exploitation by, chiefly, global corporate and other wealth interests in the name of “defense” of our country. Nonetheless, we witnessed this strikingly, again, as Biden abandoned the fight for the (heavily Sanders and Civil Rights influenced) economic program that got him elected in favor of a worldwide economic war against China and Russia, a warfare that has weaponized global currencies and banking systems, that shows no end in sight — no doubt one of the enticements if you are a defense contractor — and has sharply aggravated global inflation and risks of depression. Russia’s intervention into the already ongoing civil war in the Donbas region of Ukraine provided a perfect cover for this pivot, or so some think. The Pope concludes that Russia “was provoked” — meaning the “color revolutions” and hostile NATO moves against Russia in the preceding decade. The origin of the post-Soviet “neoliberal” posture towards Russia was the Clinton administration, under whose administration NATO expanded by three countries. The prophetic stand-up artist George Carlin once ridiculed this posture when he quipped, “You know, it would be great to make every country in the world have a Democratic and Republican party.” Seven additional countries joined NATO under George W.’s administration.

    The fruits of corruption

    The fruits of the corruptions of the vicious and repressive Nixon administration are visible everywhere. Nixon’s victory in ’68 felt like assassins coming to power. The astounding reorganization of the Republican Party, their seizure of the former Dixiecrat South and the fascist churches, and their farsighted campaign to destroy the New Deal, Civil Rights, women’s rights, and labor rights have come to pass. The junta Republicans have installed extreme-right Supreme Court justices, a real coup d’état of which Trump’s January 6 is but a shadow.

    Reginald Jones, legendary CEO of “Generous” Electric — when it was “the most profitable corporation in the world” and he dominated the top business roundtables and think tanks — predicted the economic foundation of the right-wing assaults in a report on the “governability of democracies” to the 1975 Trilateral Commission. That report reached the desk of Jim Matles, founder and Secretary Treasurer of the UE, who revealed its significance in his final address before a UE convention. The document pronounced that a staggering accumulation of capital would be required “to reproduce the system,” along with serious “political reform.” Translation: Wipe out the New Deal and the Great Society, releasing public capital to private markets. Simultaneously, GE helped propel its former employee, Ronald Reagan, into the national arena. The Democrats tacked further away from Roosevelt and social democracy every decade after Johnson.

    Crossroads for socialism

    The socialist alternative popularized by Bernie Sanders now stands in a new light. As does Joe Biden’s liberalism (or neoliberalism, if you prefer). Sanders’ program is a good, widely supported social democratic program of reform, endorsed in part by the elected president but swept from his agenda by imperial prerogatives. Biden gave a hat tip to the Sanders program but tacked to an economic and proxy war against Russia and Chinese socialism in a whoosh! — like Superman doing his costume changes in telephone booths. In truth Biden’s commitment to the Sanders program was always just skin deep.

    We are thus reminded of some principles that seem to be established, criticized, and then re-established over the entire history of the socialist and communist movements. Both movements profess comparable political and economic programs, and they are permanently tied to each other in many ways, despite being at tactical odds much of the time. Bernie’s agenda is somewhat to the left (think toward Marx) on “social democratic” socialism in that it supports a broad expansion of public goods, greater social equality, and greater public control and influence over “the commanding heights” of the economy, including taxation of wealth. His “socialism” nonetheless remains a largely market, capitalist-oriented economy, but better regulated in the public interest. At critical times (before and during the world wars and colonial wars) “social democratic socialists” have joined nationalist movements — and have been recruited into their own nation’s imperial ambitions on the promise of big rewards.

    The truth is that socialism makes no sense as a “nationalist” ideology. If attempted it would be a fraud, a pawn in the hands of a special interest. Hitler demonstrated that for all succeeding time. An important premise of socialism reflecting universal, working-class values is that the workers of different countries have more interests, and problems, in common with each other than they do with their employers.

    (Interestingly, if the nation is a victim instead of a benefactor of an imperial or colonial relationship, the nationalism becomes heroic, e.g., Nathan Hale, but otherwise tragic and reactionary, e.g., Robert E. Lee.) Bernie’s socialism is to the left of much of the European social democratic tradition, and closer to the Latin American popular socialist rebellions. He has been a consistent critic of military-dominated budgets and solutions.

    The “social democratic socialism” trend also typically renounces revolution, believing that capitalism’s defects will, or should, be overcome “naturally.” Bernie does not renounce the revolutionary path. On the other hand, he has never challenged the rights of bourgeois forces — no matter how reactionary — to political franchise. An actual revolutionary period, beyond rhetoric and phrases, will test that stance. As it did for Lincoln and the Union confronted with the revolutionary nature of the struggle to abolish slavery in the defiant South, where its infamous economy and traditions were long established.

    Which brings us to the task of identifying the essential economic and political questions upon which the paths to socialism — and there may be many — depend, with particular interest in the U.S. where naked imperial impulses and global capital domination are impossible to ignore.

    Piketty socialism

    Of great assistance in this effort are the writings of French economist and socialist Thomas Piketty. There was a time when one would have to reach all the way back to Karl Marx to make some straightforward observations about capitalism unwrapped from cold war ideological nonsense. No more. Professor Piketty and his colleagues have reestablished both analytically and computationally (with large data) that capitalism itself is the source of antagonistic social tendencies. Further, they have spawned numerous data collection programs across the world that continue to enrich, refine, and sustain their formulation of the laws of capital accumulation. The exposure of true patterns and measures of inequality has placed the issue of inequality on global agendas as never before.

    I am a great admirer of Thomas Piketty. His research on inequality has arguably had the biggest ideological impact on economic analysis of any economist since Paul Samuelson, or maybe John Maynard Keynes. And in a positive direction. Since the publication of Capital in the 21st Century, every gathering of the American Economic Association has had between five and ten panels on inequality. In recent years, he has produced numerous insightful blogs on the European Union, as well as a book on ideology, Capital and Ideology.

    His work since his masterpiece, however, demonstrates that Piketty is indeed not a Marxist. The data series on income, for example, are not easily transformed into a Marxist concept of class — as a relation to production — and Piketty does not appear to have tried. Mike Roberts, on the other hand — a gifted macroeconomist and Marxist — has shown that this is both possible and illuminating. For example, a salesperson and a mechanic may make comparable incomes. But their work, and their relationship to production, are not the same. Their roles and relationships to a firm will reflect as many contrasts as comparisons in consciousness, arising from the different roles. Thus, a political poll that tracks “class” based solely on income will miss much.

    Lately Piketty has been blogging more on politics. His “social democracy socialism” is straightforward, and he is very progressive and astute in evaluating economic reforms. But in several respects, it retreads previous social history and is not so new.

    It differs little, for example, from Karl Kautsky, the German socialist, and renegade from Communism. Kautsky fell victim to patriotic German socialism in WWI. To my knowledge, Piketty never mentions imperialism. Like many previous social democrats, he rejects the revolutionary path to socialism.

    Mostly, I suspect these sentiments are closely linked to patriotic or nationalistic influences contending with “class” points of view — that together fuel hopes of “benefits” from one’s own country’s imperial ambitions. The Buy America campaigns in various industries, for example, have captured more than a few union endorsements as ransom to slow the erosion of U.S. manufacturing jobs under union agreements. But they seldom, if ever, turned into the “Employ America” reality. More often they were and are accompanied with the “accept concessions” campaigns in exchange for vaporous pledges, and the undertow of diverse U.S. diplomatic, so-called “foreign aid” and military foreign investment/defense department campaigns, and disasters, like Afghanistan. The point being: the question of an “imperialist” agenda is an existential issue in the advance toward socialism, especially in nations with a long and dominant imperial history. For the U.S., this likely means a hard landing, the opposite of Piketty’s speculation.

    Further, the racial and ethnic sharp edges that imbue the military cultures of imperialism carry an immense social and cultural price tag, a time bomb, that is not easy to see in advance, in the soft sells of the “Buy America” campaigns, or the hard sell of military direct and indirect interventions that have numbered in the hundreds since the Second World War. That bad karma returns home. Piketty, like Kautsky, seriously understates the significant corrupting power of corporate imperial interests on political power.

    Piketty rejects the socialism of every country I can think of that actually calls itself socialist, all of whom came into existence via revolutions and revolutionary movements.

    In contrast, Piketty’s own very thoughtful and profound, evidence-based reform recommendations, which include an “incremental” but aggressive expansion of the “welfare state” into the realms of wealth, are exactly the reforms that ruling classes have repeatedly drowned in blood. Indeed, they are exactly the reforms that revolutions need in order to implement socialism.

    For an example in a different era, consider the goal of an incremental end to the British Empire’s taxes on Boston tea founded on pleas to a colonial regime. Foolish. I submit that Piketty’s reforms unrealistically presume a comparable measure of respect for democracy on the part of the billionaires and trillionaires, a “respect” that would permit them to accede to the voters voting away most of their private wealth — without resort to violence or destruction of (to them) “illegitimate” democracy. Absent such capture of wealth, Piketty’s own math and analysis show that capitalist wealth will continue to concentrate and accumulate, along with the vast political corruption of the public interest such concentration incentivizes.

    I do not disagree in principle that there can be peaceful paths to socialism — which does not actually wipe out capitalism, because only relative and advancing abundance can truly accomplish that. But the revolutionary path does permit the establishment of a different ruling-class coalition in which bourgeois interests are not dominant. Most likely, however, only increasing the strength of both a) existing socialism and b) internationalist-minded forces in imperial nations can effect a global balance of forces where progressive and peaceful transitions are possible, within an overall framework of peaceful coexistence and increasing cooperation over dominion in policy.

    The history of the long 20th-century imperialist wars, global commercial and structural integration, and massive immigrations and intermarriages between races and nationalities across the world set the stage for global and international multilateral governance. Globalization is not inherently imperialistic, even though imperialism — capitalism expanding beyond national borders — gave birth to it.

    Missing in most of the social-democratic socialisms is outright internationalism, cooperation, and honest relations with the countries that practice socialism (and call it that too), with the Chinese system proving to be highly resilient and adaptive as well as massive. Missing is the organization of the revolutionary detachment. Reforms will inevitably fail when a social system becomes unable to reform itself and collapses, either in stages or catastrophically. What happens at the base, in towns and counties, and workplaces, especially key and frontline first responder services, in dysfunctional circumstances, will ultimately determine the outcome.

    Survival will largely depend on those forces that rise to political leadership. Electoral races for  offices are not prohibitively expensive. The legendary Wyndham Mortimer, a founder of the UAW, once noted that 25 skilled organizers should be able to capture the working-class vote in any local contest.  A good place for the Communist Party to flourish and serve.

    The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the positions of the CPUSA.

    Images:  Poor People’s march, 6-18-22, photo courtesy Dylan Manshack; North Vietnam soldier, Wikipedia (public domain); Bernie Sanders, Wikipedia (public domain); Car mechanic, Chris Yarzab (CC BY 2.0); Buy American poster, New York State AFL-CIO (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

    John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC “Winners and Losers” radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC “Winners and Losers” radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

    Communist Party USA, August 2, 2022,

    The (American) Exception to the Rule? / by Richard Rhames

    Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

    I pruned some tomatoes. I reviewed some stuff from a local planning board meeting last night (where nearly 200 manufactured houses were proposed for planting in farm fields across town). I checked the weather forecast. Then, as I sometimes do, I checked the UK Guardian newspaper on-line.

    I’ve seldom found big US media terribly useful in understanding how the world works. Coming of age during the Vietnam “conflict” encouraged a certain skepticism of the dominant media “narrative.” There was a history if one looked and, perhaps more impressive to we —-the impressionable— were the stories told by vets returning from “The Nam.” Guys we knew.

    There was something else going on.

    So, yeah, I look at the foreign press and other underfunded domestic sources. It’s just another reflection of my notoriously “bad attitude”—— an affliction which has rendered me largely unemployable over the years. We subsist on modest income from small-scale farming and (pre-Covid) some ad hoc bar-band earnings.

    The Guardian has offered better coverage of the ongoing global heating issue than most. But lately, like US media, it’s gone full-tilt-State Department-berserker on the Ukraine matter. So I check less often.

    Today’s (5/19) US edition headlined: “…..Starbucks fired over 20 union leaders in recent months.” That’s just business being business really. Perhaps that’s why, according to a quick search, no US publication was on the story so far. Still, just recently the baristas at the local Biddeford Starbucks coffee “store” announced an attempt at unionization. Their push even made the papers here.

    According to the Guardian, “The news comes as Starbucks workers have filed petitions for union elections at more than 250 stores, spanning 35 states in the US. Starbucks’ chief executive, Howard Schultz, has led a campaign against the union movement calling it ‘some outside force that’s going to dictate or disrupt who we are and what we do.’ ”

    Howie, Howie, Howie: Go easy, man.

    One of the recently fired pro-unionists, Missourian Ashlee Feldman,  filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the NLRB.  She told the Guardian, “I’m shocked at this firing and all I can think about is my eight-year-old autistic son who needs therapy and care that costs money…. These higher-ups don’t care about us. They aren’t in the stores busting ass like we are.”

    In Starbucks’ Corp-Speak, waged workers like the terminated Ms. Feldman are referred to as “Partners.”  Take that for what it’s worth. “According to the NLRB, as of 13 May, 69 Starbucks stores have voted to form unions, nine have voted against, and six …. are pending…” (Guardian)

    On May 15th, the Guardian headlined, “US Covid deaths hit 1 million, a death toll higher than any other country;  Virus has laid bare America’s fragmented healthcare system and corrosive racial and socioeconomic inequality.”

    Stateside, the flags were lowered to half-staff but otherwise  it was business-as-usual. Typically, the US death rate —— higher per 100,000 residents than in any other country except Brazil—— didn’t seem worth analysis or discussion. America, we’re told, is meant to lead the world. We kinda do.

    “While the sheer number of deaths from the coronavirus sets the US apart, the country’s large population of 332.5  million people does not explain the staggering mortality rate, which is among the highest in the world,” the Guardian emphasized. “Staggering?” For US media “consumers,” not so much apparently. Nothing to see here.

    The deaths are of course primarily among those at the bottom of the wealth pyramid: The “intended or unintended consequences of policy decisions,” wrote the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    Further; “Concepts fundamental to US governance also proved problematic in the pandemic. In just one example, the US Constitution makes public health the responsibility of the individual states, creating a patchwork of different pandemic responses.” Of course, some see the “Originalist”  patchwork’s proven lethality as Freedom. But I digress.

    Thanks to the union movement, Farmer/Labor political parties, and a working class unwilling to be bullied, the middle years of the 20th century featured a general rise in living standards with decreased wealth inequality. Corporate CEOs generally made about 20 times more than their average workers (“partners”??) in 1965 (20-to-1). By 1985, as federal policy turned against organized (and disorganized) labor,  the ratio had risen to 58-to-1. By the year 2000 the ratio was 368 to one. It’s only gotten worse.

    A 2020 Pew Research Center report notes that: “Not only is income inequality rising in the US, it is higher than in other advanced economies….. and inching closer to the level of inequality observed in India.”

    India of course is known for its 2,000-year-old Hindu caste system of social hierarchy where one’s position in society is fixed at birth and where destitute farmers commit suicide by drinking pesticide. Farmers here crawl into their balers and combines. So there are still differences.

    But don’t blink.

    Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at:

    Counterpunch, May 23, 2022,

    Amazon Labor Union and the awakening of the American working class / by Julien Arseneau

    Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle… this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle.

    – Karl Marx, 1847

    A wave of unionization in the United States is enthusing and inspiring workers all around the world. The first Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, is now represented by the independent Amazon Labor Union. Every week, dozens of Starbucks coffee shops are filling to join Starbucks Workers United. A first group of workers at an Apple Store signed their cards to join the Communication Workers of America. There have been 589 union applications to the National Labor Relations Board so far in 2022, double the number compared to the first four months of 2021.

    These struggles to get organized are all part of the same process. The crisis of capitalism is crushing workers, and they are beginning to fight back. They increasingly understand that they can rely only on their own means.

    The United States is the most powerful capitalist nation in the world. Socialism cannot ultimately achieve victory without the success of the American working class. The struggles we are seeing now are just the beginning of the awakening of this colossus that will change the course of history.

    Not out of nowhere

    American workers have suffered constant setbacks for decades. While productivity grew by 70 per cent between 1979 and 2019, wages only grew by 12 per cent during the same period. Not surprisingly, this coincides with a decline of the union movement. Union membership has fallen from 20.1 per cent in 1983 to a meager 10.5 per cent in 2018. Workers are more and more exploited, all the while the main organizations through which they defend themselves have declined.

    The youth is bearing the brunt of the crisis. “Millennials” and “Gen Z” have known nothing of the golden age of capitalism. Precarious jobs are the norm. Houses are impossible to buy and rents are rising. The rate of unionization is lowest among young people: 9.4 per cent among 25-34 year-olds, and a meager 4.2 per cent among 16-24 year-olds.

    COVID-19 struck a working class already squeezed like a lemon. Online sales exploded with the pandemic, putting Amazon workers under enormous pressure–employees having to urinate in bottles to keep up. Service workers suddenly became “heroes,” “essential workers”– but stayed at starvation wages and in worsening conditions. American workers are among the most stressed in the world: 57 per cent report being stressed on a daily basis, compared to a global average of 43 per cent.

    Add to that the current inflation rate, which reached a whopping 8.5 per cent in the U.S., an all-time high in decades. Anyone who doesn’t get an 8.5 per cent pay raise is therefore experiencing a pay cut. And all the while, CEOs received record bonuses of $14.2 million in 2021!

    This cocktail of declining wages, worsening conditions, inflation and rising inequality was bound to result in an explosion sooner or later.

    Shift in consciousness

    A shift in the consciousness of workers and young people in the United States has been apparent for some time. We have commented many times in recent years on the numerous polls showing the growing interest in socialism and communism in the U.S..

    But a related phenomenon is the rise in unions’ popularity. Despite low union density, union approval is at 68 per cent, the highest level since the mid-1960s. Among 18-34 year-olds, the figure is 77 per cent.

    Not surprisingly, the enthusiasm for recent unionization drives is also high. In the case of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), an immense 75 per cent of Americans agree that Amazon workers need a union. That number rises to 83 per cent among 18-34 year-olds, and even reaches 71 per cent among Donald Trump supporters! The enthusiasm reaches across all strata of the working class, beyond the usual partisan divide of American politics. It also shows that many Trump supporters could be drawn to class-based policies, if a real workers’ party existed in the U.S. to defend such policies.

    The recent organizing drives demonstrate what Marxists have been saying for a long time. How many times have we heard that class-based politics is dead because “the working class has changed”, or worse, that it no longer exists? That yes, in Marx’s time there were factory workers, miners, but that today “it’s different”? Of course, it doesn’t take much insight to realize that the working class has changed a lot in 150 years. The service sector, retail and entertainment, in particular, has swelled in the last few decades.

    But the same old dynamic of class struggle has been making its way into these sectors as well. Restaurant workers, retail workers, warehouse workers, tech workers, all sell their labor power for a wage, surplus value is made off their backs, and they begin to realize the need to defend themselves against their bosses’ greed. This is what we are seeing now. To quote Karl Marx, this is how workers move from a class “in itself” to a class “for itself”.

    What is happening in the U.S. belies all the cynics who had abandoned the working class. Some people said that jobs in the fast food industry were impossible to unionize, for example. The statistics seem to prove the pessimists right, as the unionization rate in food services is only 1.2 per cent. As well, the major union federations seem to have abandoned these workers, seeking to organize mostly large workplaces—and in so doing, bring in large amounts of union dues.

    And yet, the Starbucks Workers United campaign has the wind in its sails. More than 200 locations are in the process of a union vote since the first victory in Buffalo. All it took was one good example to get the ball rolling!

    The struggle at Amazon is particularly emblematic of the 21st century version of class warfare. Here we have Jeff Bezos, the second richest man in human history, facing an independent union drive led by Chris Smalls, an ex-Amazon employee fired in 2020 for staging a walkout to protest the lack of protections against COVID-19. It had even been revealed that Amazon executives wanted Chris Smalls to become the face of Amazon’s unionization effort because they thought he was “not smart or articulate.” Their contempt backfired spectacularly.

    Here, too, we were led to believe that unionizing Amazon was not possible. The Washington Post said last year, following the failed unionization drive at the warehouse in Bessemer:

    Today’s workers might come by car from an hour away and aren’t so easy to reach. The very productivity that makes Amazon financially attractive to organize leaves little time for workers to pause and make friends with their co-workers, building social networks unions can leverage.

    Those are structural disadvantages the union is apt to face at whichever Amazon facility it targets. So while the name of the town might be different in future organizing drives, the result might be much the same.

    The Amazon Labor Union has proven all the pessimists and skeptics wrong. As a result, more than 50 warehouses have contacted the ALU since the Staten Island victory!

    These great events are having repercussions beyond the borders of the United States. A Calgary Starbucks is currently trying to join the United Steelworkers. Members of Unifor have distributed leaflets to organize Amazon warehouses in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, explicitly referencing the Staten Island victory. Canada is currently lagging behind the radicalization to the left of the American working class. But make no mistake: inflation and wage erosion, rising rents and inequality are making their way here too. And the working class will get on the move here also, sooner or later.


    It is not just the very fact of unionization at Amazon, Starbucks and the like that is of interest to Marxists. More than that, it is the manner in which these results are achieved that should be assimilated by labor activists.

    Amazon workers suffered defeat last year in Bessemer, Alabama. But the organizing drive did not include any concrete demands. Under these conditions, it’s not surprising that hundreds of workers were skeptical.

    The same dynamic seems to have been replicated in the Amazon organizing drive in Alberta last year by Teamsters Local 362. Workers reported that union organizers were hard to find to answer their questions, and the local’s vice-president even said, “We’re not here to get your $30. We’re here to help improve the workplace, see if we can negotiate higher wage increases… We can’t guarantee them anything.” In terms of inspiration, we’ve seen better!

    The Staten Island campaign contrasted drastically with this approach. The ALU openly put forward bold demands: a wage of, precisely, $30 an hour, and two paid 30-minute breaks and a paid lunch hour. So the campaign offered the promise of tangible results, rather than simply focusing on getting a union. Contrary to a common misconception, demanding small, “reasonable” changes is not more realistic. On the contrary: workers will not take the risk and spend time and effort on a fight for small, meaningless changes. But they’ll fight for bold demands that are worth their while.

    What also sets the ALU campaign apart is its grassroots nature. Union president Chris Smalls, the former worker fired for previous attempts to organize, camped out near Staten Island’s JFK8 warehouse for 10 months. He and Derrick Palmer, a warehouse employee, gave all their time to talk to workers, got them involved and answered their questions. The campaign was funded via a GoFundme that raised $120,000, compared to the $4 million Amazon put towards fighting the ALU. An article from The City does a good job of explaining how the two leaders built the movement:

    While Smalls spends the bulk of his days outside of JFK8 or at the bus stop, Palmer continues to work inside the four-story building, talking to workers and stationing himself in the breakroom during his free time to gauge support when he’s not working in the packing department…

    Both men, and a handful of other organizers, have spent recent weeks hitting the phones, making calls to every JFK8 worker who is eligible to vote in the upcoming union election–roughly 8,300 employees.

    Some of the workers reached by phone have asked to meet the organizers in person to discuss the unionization effort. For those workers who have questions, they typically center around union dues and how they work, Smalls said.

    “Once we answer their questions, they’re easy to flip because they understand that Amazon is giving them false information.”

    Workers did not simply accept Amazon’s anti-union tactics. At mandatory anti-union meetings, workers interrupted consultants to debunk their lying arguments. Workers even collected information about the consultants, and distributed flyers that identified them with photos so that workers would not talk to them! The workers refused to be pushed around, and countered each blow with creative methods that caught the employer and its highly paid anti-union agents off guard.

    Smalls himself says their campaign was very different from the usual union campaigns:

    They [the traditional unions] like to organize differently than what we’re doing. We’re more out there. You’re not going to find another union president that camps out for 10 months.

    Too often, union drives are conducted in a bureaucratic manner, without involving the rank-and-file and without confronting the employer’s dirty tactics head on. It almost makes it seem as if union leaders don’t trust workers. And as we have seen, they often focus on just the unionization in itself, without linking it to actual demands that can inspire the workers.

    What the ALU campaign shows is that the labor movement desperately needs to revive the methods of workers’ democracy. In strikes, in pickets, in campaigns within the labor movement, there needs to be maximum space for workers to take things in their own hands. The ALU drive shows what can be accomplished when you involve the rank-and-file and let workers bring their creativity to bear, and when you aren’t scared of making bold demands.

    “The revolution is here”

    Such were the words of Chris Smalls following the ALU victory. We fully share the enthusiasm of these activists who have accomplished what many people thought was impossible. The leaders of the major unions have much to learn from the methods of struggle used in this first victory at Amazon.

    With the teachers’ strikes in 2018 and 2019, the largest mass movement in U.S. history in May-June 2020, and the rise of strikes last fall (“Striketober”), the impressive wave of unionization is a continuation of the return of the American working class. Similar events will occur in Quebec and Canada as well.

    It will not be a straight line, but the very experience of the capitalist system will push workers into struggle. Inflation, which is not about to go away, will make it ever more difficult for hundreds of thousands of workers to pay their bills.

    Needless to say, the bosses won’t just let workers organize and fight without resistance. Class struggles of epic proportions are brewing. We are only at the beginning of a process that will lead more and more people to the conclusion that capitalism itself must go, and give way to a socialist society where workers are in charge, instead of a minority of the rich.

    We’ll leave the last word to an article in the American magazine Newsweek, which comes to the same conclusion as the Marxists:

    Wages, the price of buying a house or rent, food costs and the battle for leverage between employers and the fate of smaller businesses against oligopolies will be the defining issues. The class politics that have long dominated Europe are now here with a vengeance, and they will stick around until they are addressed.

    Under his headstone in Hampstead Heath, Karl Marx should be smiling.

    Originally published in Fightback on April 26, 2022

    MR Online, April 29, 2022,