Who/what is the working class?

This piece was first published by the late Louis Proyect in September 2018.

About 10 years ago, two young radicals showed up on Marxmail and soon found themselves clashing with old fogies on the list.One of them was X who unsubbed from the list to get away from all the nasty digs against Barack Obama: I’ll be in the DSA, in the cesspool of the Democratic Party, in the mainstream unions, where the working people are, until you comrades can prove me wrong and build a viable alternative for working people and then I’ll apologize and happily join you.

Source: Jacobin, Air-Conditioning, and Productivist Nonsense – CounterPunch.org

I omitted the names from this snippet which usefully without taking sides raises a key question, who/what is the working class and will defer a longer discussion to another day.The Left has been beating each other over the head about the working class for over century. What is anyone talking about?
One of the strangest things about the Left, and the Marxmail or Marxist left is failure to grasp its own core meme. In part this is because times have changed and the issue of class has shifted, let us discuss the US where the so-called ‘working class’ is ambiguous and not the revolutionary cadre Marx attempted to analyze. Look at the classic painting of Delecroix, Liberty Leading the People. It a snapshot in some sense of the original meaning of the term with a revolutionary proletariat in a revolutionary snapshot. In an era of globalization, the original meaning is clear enough, but in the US the working class is really a part of the middle class, perhaps, who know? The text of the Last Revolution discusses this and tries different definitions: all those who labor for a wage, all those subject as passive objects, as it were, of the capitalist dynamic. Or the Industrial working class, or…

I have travelled back and forth across the Western US many times on freight trains and met many types of the working class but I never met any who were revolutionary, people exploited at the level of bare existence, and mostly unemployed, ‘on the way’ somewhere looking for work’ many discarded by Marxists as ‘lumpenproletariat’, not a nice aspect of Marxism and Marx the middle class snob, who deigned to represent the better sort of working class bloke. South of the Rio Grande, things might be different. And I was never clear about the Unionized working class snobs who you don’t meet riding the rails. Marx wishes a revolutionary proletariat to take power, but the only real instance seems to have been the Leninist moment, which almost immediately ditched the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ for the dictatorship of the Marxist bougeoisie. Hal Draper has a book on that dismal term, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, a term that should be shelved as worse that useless/misleading… Still the issue of class struggle should be clear enough. But can a proletariat create socialism?

Here is an idea: socialism needs to arrive via all classes, with some strategy for the capitalists beyond the million capitalists murdered by the Chinese Bolsheviks, the number by the Russian Bolsheviks unknown. The class struggle divides all classes, yes, but says that only the working class can deserve that. etc, etc… That can be very vague and very deadly. And really, no one in the middle class can rate socialism?
Let’s challenge these confusions, but acknowledge that Marx beynd his failed theories go this right the first time, now long ago. Now the current era of socialist hopes needs to review its terminal case of bad jargon. In any case, if the working class is t he set of all wage laborers then that includes almost everyone. Start from there?

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