A mulatto is asked why he considers himself black rather than white. "Because," he says, "when the white man walks down the street, he's like a stick, moving his arms up and down. When a black man walks down the street, he puts out his arms and says `HEY.'" We aim for that "Hey" that says we're alive, we're dangerous and we're coming down your street.
If it is not yet obvious, this magazine is about class struggle - but not the hackneyed version you see in left wing "worker's" rags. We're not here to glorify the poor but to talk about what's happening now. Most Americans aren't yet near the miserable conditions of 19th century mill workers, but the rulers of this society now are pushing us close enough to imagine them. Paraphrasing one Eastern Airlines striker, "I can see it will come down to a fight between us and them. I'm not ready for it yet but I can see that has to happen." Certain groups will have to fight it out in the end; not when everyone is starving, but when enough people can see where this society leads.
So who are we? Not Joe Worker. The slap-happy steel workers in Miller commercials and the glorious mechanics from socialist realism are really the same: dull louts who still respect work and have a certain sexual relation to their tools. But how many people want to be workers? No one joins a union to get closer to the "common people" except a lefty politico. And most of us aren't in unions. Even though a few jobs, like nursing or construction, might still seem macho or caring, almost everyone works for money. Even if they hate working, people need their wages to survive.
Class is not just a condition of dirty elbows and collars. Those who must work; we exist today despite all the propaganda. There might be great differences between an educated secretary and a suburban auto worker. One might be a bohemian who is still proud to wordprocess in the financial district while the other probably only still assembles cars because they need money for their family. - Or vice versa. Despite these differences they are both dispossessed because they must sell their time simply to survive.
The dull routine of normal life - shopping, working, or going to bars - appears to be nothing but a fair exchange of money and goods. This routine really only exists when the vast majority must sell their time merely to buy back their survival. At best, the wealth we yearn for is a vast layer of packaging and bright paint.
Working today it is hard to even get beyond bare survival. However the system's "rewards" are still only survival on a social level; everyone now must consume or lose the appearance that they need to either work or survive. When you are routinely treated as a child by a boss, lover, policeman or store clerk, resentment builds up. A good appearance or a flashy car seems needed simply to prove that you are a human being. On a more direct level, a good percentage of middle rank employees must pay much of their above-average salary simply to keep up their "professional appearance." With the economic crisis wealth is only a higher level of poverty. The leather jackets or $100 Nike hiking boots that adorn starving ghetto children are the most logical result of this system of poverty.
The "best" jobs that we might get are also about nothing but extending survival. The privilege of "responsibility," always promised at the lowest level, is merely a chance to grease the wheels of the human machine. Again, this is not a moral judgement. Many, many people make a living from victimizing others. From the security guard to the mugger to the salesclerk to the teacher, a vast number of jobs involve policing people, brainwashing people, separating people from their money (either firmly or gently), or keeping people from getting money or things they want but aren't entitled to. There are enough gradations of small and larger, psychological and physical, and real or threatened harm, that no one can separate out a good and a bad. We make no attempt. We don't talk about people's goodness but their condition. We neither excuse nor apologize for any actions.
(Note: Although we believe that people will change, we will not fall for the last trap of morality; putting up with people's stupidities with the hope that they will change in the future. For their good and ours, we be ruthlessly critical; any change will have to come from people acting for themselves. If we cultivate any dependence on us, this will never happen. )
Those who must work to live are the final products of this system and the fundamental supports of the system. Today's vast industrial/consumer machinery can only function if it has millions of interchangeable human cogs. Those who now must to pay for everything on a monthly or yearly basis are now crucial for continuing the system; from factory workers to drivers to secretaries, everything would halt without our labor.
We are not here to prove the existence of class struggle - that you can see all around you. Mostly it is a permanent war of the rich against the poor; the corporate/government complex periodically conspires to lower the standard of living of some or all workers. The latest plan to raise taxes is just the latest in a long, almost boring series of fuck-overs. (A weakness of those who are used as objects is that they become bored with the way they are used. Work is a huge chunk of our lives but no one likes to think about work.)
This magazine has some ideas about what can be done. A few are on how to win and what to do afterwards. But most of the writing is on how things are done now and how to lose if you keep doing them. This sure is that dread negative thinking. We think negatively to let people act positively. Once they escape the traps of the old world, people themselves must create the world they desire.
We are not a party or a group in the usual sense. As the activity of a small minority, this magazine can have its strongest effect when nothing yet is happening. We don't give people blueprints but just give people a push to think for themselves. After that, a dialogue that is stronger and more dangerous must start.
But even going this is more difficult than might be imagined. As a group, the working class has the strength to take hold of the world immediately if we wish. Thus the biggest barrier to a better world has been a lack of awareness of our total condition. We'll look at some of these systems of unconsciousness in other articles in this magazine.
The working class will not magically make revolution one day - although it may revolt and shake the world in a day. Before it can act decisively, the working class will have to become a united force. By acting together in riots, factory occupations and small revolts, workers become aware of themselves as a group. We use the word proletarian for workers who are aware that they have nothing to lose from the end of this society. This group collectively moves to end their servitude. (Since who the proletariat is will be obvious at the time, we have no real need for the leftists' religious debates about who is or isn't a real worker. They will be answered in practice.)
Class war is not limited to factories or offices but takes place in the entire social arena (including the factories, of course). The Vietnam War era is our most recent model for its development and failure. For lack of space and information, we will only give a brief, simplified outline of this vast but mostly invisible struggle - which naturally does not fit into the stereotype of "the sixties."
The American rulers faced similar battles at home and in Vietnam. The condition of modern capitalism is that it can hold any piece of territory but it can exercise complete control over none of it. It must rule in waves of terror and manipulation. In Vietnam, capital focused massive resources on an absurd war with an under-developed Stalinist regime. Its only strategy was massively bombing a population that only became more opposed to America.
The war effort collapsed with the massive incompetence of the American war machine, fueled by a breed of American youth that had not been taught to die quietly. The returning soldiers of Vietnam were a flash point of class struggle. Often helped out by these returning veterans, the rebellions in various ghettos across the nation were not "race riots" but rebellions against the status and the powers that be. In Detroit, the 1965 rebellion spread beyond the black ghettos and had black and white auto workers shooting helicopters from their rooftops. Later, the Ford wildcat strike and many others were spearheaded by Vietnam aged youths, who learned to smoke dope and disobey orders in the military. Pot and revolution were on the agenda everywhere, but nowhere was there much of an understanding why.
America used the same strategy to stop revolution at home as in Vietnam and it worked better here. Agents were parachuted into all sorts of revolts. From J. Edgar Hoover's harassment of overt politicos to Woodstock and Altamont Pass's commercializing of "people's music," revolution was prevented by a moving war of terrorist recuperation.
Conscious FBI agents stumbled after confused but conscious leftists while unconscious commercializing agents carved up the hippy revolution. From rock and roll to the sexual revolution to TV to self-help, the social arena reflected this massive conflict while serving as a means of bring it under control. From Creedence Clearwater Rival to Take This Job and Shove It, the system surrounded the consciousness of proletarians. It gave first the impression that "alternative culture" had won and then the impression that nothing at all was happening. It soothed those who were radical and whipped up the more suburban, backwards sectors who could now see communists behind every fencepost.
A key force underlying the fading away of social rebellion after the early seventies was the lack of a proletarian consciousness. This was the lack of a collective self-awareness of the group that had nothing to lose from the end of this society.
Today, the defeats of the past are sold back to us as an image of radicalism only existing "in the sixties" (the early seventies were at least as critical a period). At world capitalism strips more and more resources away, we already cannot afford these illusions.
The brutal attacks of world capital have generated slightly more of us and made us far more aware of our bare conditions, at the same time shattering much of the remaining pride and unity of the old working class.
The poverty of the American working class has grown steadily since 1970. Whether they were demanding nothing but higher wages or suppressing all demands, unions were a powerful force stopping a proletarian consciousness. (And proletarian consciousness was the only real weapon for preventing the assault on our living standard started in the 70's.) Against capitalism, in the long run, the only defense is a good offense.
Unions are not mere villains. They cultivate the simplistic consciousness of "I want more" while suppressing any view of the world. Labor Unions were and are critical in separating economic and social issues. The importance of unified action could never be seen when unions seemed to already do the job of demanding higher wages. Certainly any thought of changing life vanishes if we leave things to the professionals and eventually when things are left to labor unions, even wages suffer. As they lull us to sleep, they use greed to betray the working class, eventually betraying even the greed of the working class.
The 1970's saw the great inflation shell game; prices would increase faster than all but the wages of the most militant groups in labor. Naturally, unions did not admit inflation was a manipulation of the ruling class. By demanding higher wages for one group on narrow grounds, unions served to break the unity of the working class. Without and understanding of the economic manipulations, the non-union majority of the working class was ideologically disarmed. Steel workers and auto workers were left open to the jeers of the media for taking more than "their share." While their wages were still only a pittance (24,00-30,000/year with over-time is not a lot to raise family with), their position allowed them to appear as spoilers both to lower paid workers and to lower professionals.
Since 1980, unions have openly worked to put a lid on wages; auto and steel workers have lost the "middle class" wage levels that previously bought them off and allowed commentators to talk about the end of the working class.
Although unions today talk about "the mistake of not backing the air traffic controllers," They now only back strikes when they see the conflict has gotten too dangerous not to have a strike. Looking at this, we still wait to see what kind of explosion will come out of these conditions. When will people catch on to this game?
Today, working-class people are responding to the many attacks made on them but many collective responses come slowly and most react to each attack separately. A critical and open question today is just how and how much is our class struggling. The media, the union bureaucrats and the organization of society make it hard for us to know how much real solidarity exists in our struggles and how effectively it can spread.
This ignorance is a force in itself; we can't be fighting together without knowing what is going on. We still have a distorted collective self-consciousness that sees unions and legal struggle as the only possible escape from our condition.