In a critical view re: Marx’s theories (not the same as his overall range of thought, viz. empirical or descriptive study or praxis), we have threatened to abandon marxism altogether, being certain we would quietly re-adopt a number of its perspectives.
But one thing we haven’t (quite) done is abandon marxism’s focus on the working class: instead we have sublated it into a larger unity, our idea of the universal class. This is a useful way to refocus on the totality of classes and to consider adopting multiple initiatives with different sectors of society. The left has been forced to do this, viz. with identity politics with its collisions between identity groups and the working class. With the framework of the universal class this problem disappears because all these groups are equally classes in the universal class (note our use of set theory with its universal, singleton, subset class/classes) and the universal class is the focal point of activism in a multiple factor social movement with many coordinated yet distinct groups. This has the advantage also of not polarizing the larger domain of ‘classes’ with the working class. Moving toward a classless society contradicts, it seems, the class basis of the working class itself. And this creates conflict with many who reject socialism because socialism seems to reject them
Let us note a few things: the working class is no doubt the largest subclass in the universal class, depending on how we define it. So we lose nothing and can adopt a double aspect approach that sees the working class as the focal class of the universal one. Then again, ‘working class’ seems to include only factory or industrial labor clicheed classes, but the issue of ‘paid work’ vastly expands the range of the working class to include almost every category, indeed even the managerial class in corporate enterprises where the identification with the bourgeoisie is strong but not necessarily total. What then of capitalists themselves? They are of course pretty much as analyzed by classic class studies as the bourgeoisie, but we merely note that this also is subset of the universal class, but are not wage laborers. So what of such subsets of the universal class? The working class concept carries ominous overtones of liquidationist tactics given the prime status given the working class. That won’t work, as the era of bolshevism makes clear. With a strategy based on the universal class we can point to a social unification of classes inside the universal class with different protocols for each with a majoritarian basis that allows all members of all classes to unite inside the universal class on the basis of socialist assumptions, a better tactic in reality given the way that working class often had no socialist assumptions beyond reformism at all. It is important to see that we can adopt both approaches and working class movements in relation to the universal class in motion in many directions can be a useful driver of the overall diversity if the facts of the case are clear. We can envision all classes moving into a newly defined version of the universal class as the unified class in a field of socialist equality. Leftists spend too much time analyzing working class fictions: in the end diverse persons from all classes will unite as one to create a new society as one universal ‘socialist’ class.
The idea of the working class creating a worker’s democracy is an abstraction in the void. Can it happen? All sorts of ideas have been proposed, viz. cooperatives, but with respect to a whole social solution we need something entirely new. A government will resolve to a vanguard declared the representatives of such and such, the key danger point. Instead of fantasies we need and explicit socialism with checks and balances and much else. We need therefore to consider the status of the vanguard and how to ensure that this is oriented toward democracy. In Lenin’s era the bolsheviks lost this battle.
Note that all this jargon simply points to the obvious, to the way we take democracy (electoral type) in practice: we don’t give special status to the working class, instead we consider the universal class where each singleton class (??) i.e. the individual, votes on the basis of a given set of tenets in a platform (not necessarily with parties, the issue of faction, warned against by the founders has overtaken democracy). Different members from different classes might all vote the same way. Given this simple and intuitive solution to the puzzle one might well ask what Marx was thinking of with his great but ambiguous and contradictory theme/meme of the ‘working class’.
Mike Davis punctures many myths about Marx and shows how important the history of working-class struggle remains for today, finds Dominic Alexander