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Superstructure

Recorded session from 4/11/2021
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LRNA's Secretariat Political Report for 2021

 

Excerpt:

GEORGE FLOYD REBELLION

The economic revolution that is replacing labor and throwing people into economic despair undermines the ideas and institutions used to hold society together. Society is polarizing economically and now, ideologically.

 

Slavery in this country was part of its productive relations from the beginning — its economic base. The political structure, laws, and organs of force — the political superstructure — supported, protected, and promoted that base. The enslavement, brutal control, and killing of Black people is historically ingrained and integral to the political superstructure. Slavery’s stamp on capitalism and society as a whole is strong to this day: police terror, prisons, voter suppression, disproportionate COVID deaths and other health conditions, under-funded schools and outsized homelessness — an imperiled democracy and precarious economic conditions for all.

 

People cannot directly fight capitalism, the economic base of society. Struggle takes place within and against the political superstructure supporting and protecting that base. The 2020 rebellion against police terror was aimed objectively at the political superstructure that protects capitalism. It is part of the revolutionary struggle. Amid climate crisis, pandemic, and the abdication of our rulers of any responsibility for people’s lives or the nature we are part of, the rebellion is a response to changes at society’s economic foundation.

 

After the Civil War, the formerly enslaved worked in slave-like conditions as sharecroppers, enforced by Black Codes, Jim Crow, and the violence of the Ku Klux Klan. The introduction of the mechanical cotton picker after WWII reduced the need for sharecroppers, sparking a mass migration of southern agricultural workers to southern, northern and western industrial centers that spanned most of the 20th Century. Six million African Americans migrated out of the rural Southern United States between 1916 and 1970. Between 1910-1930, the number of African Americans employed in industrial jobs nearly doubled.

 

As automation was introduced, starting in the 1960s, industrial jobs that paid decent wages began to be replaced by revolutionary labor-replacing technology. The African American migrants from the South tended to be among the most recently hired and in the most easily automated jobs. Therefore, they were among the first fired as the electronic revolution progressed. In this way, history put the descendants of African American slaves at the core of a new class of workers of all colors being created by labor-replacing technology. The new economy forced people in this class into part-time, temporary, and minimum wage jobs. Poverty, housing insecurity, and health problems have been the results.

 

Yet, this class’s position outside of the economy is its power. It is forced to fight politically for its right to survive. Its political program is the abolition of the system of private property and the distribution of goods according to need. In this sense, the new class is an abolitionist class. It must abolish private property to survive.

 

The growth of this class threatens the ruling class’s hold on private property. They cannot allow it to have a say in society’s direction, instead resorting to increasingly violent social control. A militarized police force beats and murders the new class, tears families apart, deports, imprisons, and moves against the protestors. Central to the historical fight, Black workers are targeted by these developments and are leaders in the response.

 

Police shot and killed 5000 people between 2013-2019, the American Public Health Association declaring it a “public health crisis.” As with the coronavirus and other health problems, Black people are disproportionately harmed—killed by police at three times the rate of whites. Uniting behind the demand that Black Lives Matter is part of the defense of the new class and a fight for a new world.

 

The 2020 George Floyd rebellion unleashed a massive growth in the movement to defund or abolish the police and the entire prison industrial complex, calling on the government to invest their funding in human needs (e.g., housing, food, health and mental health care, public transportation, education, etc.). This abolition movement, together with the movements to cancel rent and student debt and provide healthcare to all, show why the new class is an abolitionist class. Fighting against police violence, they fight a State force that prioritizes the private property system over human lives. Winning will require the abolition of this system.

The new class is best positioned to lead us to a cooperative society, where the collective wealth is shared, and all of humanity and the earth can thrive. From those who once were themselves private property, to those of all colors whose lives have been destroyed by the private property system, today’s abolitionist class is fighting to transform society.

 

We are witnessing this new class acting as a social force driving an objective revolutionary movement. Outcries and protests from all regions of the country led to the firing and arrest of all four Minneapolis officers involved in George Floyd’s murder, as well as arrests of criminal police officers all across the country. Several police chiefs have resigned or been fired, including in Portland, Atlanta, Louisville, and Richmond, VA, and dozens of new laws restraining police were passed. Proposals to defund police were advanced in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Austin, New York, and San Francisco. And numerous public school districts voted to remove police from school campuses.

 

As a core of the current movement against outright murder of our brothers and sisters by police, and for the containment of the pandemic, the new class is forming itself up as a social force that can lead the fight for a cooperative society. In the daily battles, this social force is broad, working-class, multiracial, and learning to unite around its own interests.

 

FIGHTING FORWARD

As we speak, the Democratic Party is calculating whether or not, or how, to move against the filibuster, an “exceptional” American parliamentary tactic used repeatedly throughout history to defend slavery and Jim Crow against the democratic aspirations of the people. If not removed, the filibuster will effectively block any legislation in the immediate future to defend voting rights, reform immigration, expand health care access, protect the environment, or any of the other visionary demands raised by the millions of people who voted to defeat Trump, as well as by others. What the Democrats decide will in part depend on what the working class does, as the ruling class desperately struggles to maintain political control over the exploding social revolution. Although always conditioned by the development of the material forces of production, and by historical circumstances, it is the people themselves who make history, especially in times like these.

 

From this time onward, everything depends upon the subjective. Revolutionaries are often asked why we advocate fighting for reforms, when we know perfectly well that the system cannot and will not allow them to be won. Why do we demand defunding and abolition from a system that will never deliver equality and justice? The answer is fairly simple.

 

Revolutionaries cannot make a revolution by themselves. Revolution can only be made by the working class, and conscious revolutionaries today still make up only a small part of the working class.

 

Revolution can only be made by the workers when they become class conscious. Class consciousness means understanding not only that they constitute a separate class, but that they have the power to win the battle of democracy, to become society’s ruling class, and ultimately abolish classes and private property in the course of building a cooperative economy, where wealth is distributed to everyone based on need.

 

In America in particular – because of its history of slavery and genocide - white supremacy is part of how the ruling class maintains its power. It does this in at least two ways. One, it is carved into the economy. The resulting super-exploitation, subordination and brutalization of workers of color expands profit for the ruling class and misery for the entire working class. Two, the ideology of white supremacy is used to divide the working class, hide our common class interests and prevent political class unity. Recognizing that an injury to African Americans is an injury to all in our class is part of achieving class unity and disarming the ruling class. The fight for racial justice and equality in America and the class struggle are not in opposition to one another, but are part of the same process. The defeat of white supremacy is part of class struggle, and understanding and opposing white supremacy is part of class consciousness.

 

The role of revolutionaries is to introduce this kind of class consciousness. It cannot be done with proclamations or propaganda alone. It requires a combination of daily practical battles and intellectual struggle. First of all, it requires workers who are stepping up and resisting the escalating attacks on their livelihood and their dignity – as the past year has shown they are already doing.

 

Then it requires revolutionaries to organize into committees on fronts of struggle and artfully weave together propaganda with real life political experience. These committees are needed on fronts of struggle that present locally, regionally, or nationally. What matters is that centers of political clarity, education and struggle are dispersed far and wide, organically connected into the actual struggle. Such committees can grow and multiply. Like cells in the biological sense, they interact with and grow from their environment.

 

The role of revolutionaries also depends on strategy and tactics, campaigns, alliances, and maneuvers, including with forces that are not class conscious and often even with class enemies. It means fighting for reforms we cannot win in the short run. It means utilizing the electoral arena, even though we know the ruling class will never ultimately allow itself to be voted out of power. Sometimes it means voting for bourgeois politicians like Biden even though we know he has no intention of meeting the people’s needs. It is from political education combined with the experience they gain in these tactical battles that workers learn to recognize their class enemy, and learn that the system is broken and needs to be replaced.

Revolutionaries use these battles not only to improve the lives of the workers, but to improve their own ability to disseminate their propaganda. They fight for strategic positions, for platforms, for media positions, for academic posts, for elected office, for non-profit or union leadership positions - not because these positions are meaningful in themselves, or because they can transform society, but because they are invaluable posts for influencing the workers and opening the door for class consciousness.

 

The spread of social and class consciousness among the workers also actually affects their ability to win reforms or concessions, because it dramatically alters the political calculations and tactics of the ruling class. The Soviet revolution for example – and the existence of the CPUSA - directly and deeply impacted the social movement in the United States, completely transforming the ruling class response toward women’s right to vote, the trade union movement, and the civil rights movement.

 

The old trade union slogan, “When we fight, we win” is true – and not true – on many different levels. It is ultimately historically and philosophically true, because the final victory of the working class is inevitable, based on our understanding of the science of society. In the more immediate sense, it may or may not be true, based on the circumstances of the struggle. It can be seriously misleading if people understand it to mean that all we have to do to win is to fight. And it is certainly true that if we do not fight, we cannot win. This slogan is most true when it refers to combining fighting with class conscious education. When revolutionaries do that, workers cannot lose. Every tactical victory of the working class becomes a new opportunity to expand the social struggle, expand social consciousness, and expand class consciousness.

 

REVOLUTIONARY IDEAS

Introducing revolutionary ideas into the movement today means something very different from what it meant fifty or a hundred years ago.

 

On the one hand, the underlying movement is different. The technological revolution in the economy has created a new class that is in the process of being separated from the formal economy. It cannot meet its needs or even survive without social and political revolution. It is compelled to enter the social struggle. Because of this economic revolution, many old forms of struggle simply do not work. The bourgeois trade unionism that underpinned 19th and 20th century reformism is no longer a viable vehicle for millions of workers. Twentieth century revolutionaries necessarily tried to literally wrestle workers away from bourgeois trade unionist reformism. Most of them failed, because at that time of capitalist expansion, for most US workers, reformism was much more effective than revolution.

 

The scattered economic struggles of the 20th century are to a great extent no longer even possible. As one gig worker said, how can you fight an algorithm? The needs and demands of the new class bring something special to the broader social struggle. The program of the new class is the only program that can solve the urgent problems of society — and, equally urgently, of society’s relation to nature. It politicizes and provides direction to the broader social struggle.   

 

The demands of the new class are not defined by (or restricted to) their relation to the means of production (because so many of them have been expelled from production). They are political and on a collision course with the State. As a class whose interests are opposed to private property, it is a class that ultimately represents the interests of all of society and leads them in the battle for public health and clean water and air.
 

At the same time as the working class movement was transformed, the intelligentsia in the US was transformed as well. The intelligentsia – what Marxists used to call the bourgeois intelligentsia – is the repository of the social, scientific, and historical knowledge of society. It is where revolutionary ideas ultimately came from. What is different today is that the intelligentsia has expanded far beyond the bourgeoisie, and huge sectors of the working class itself are now members of the intelligentsia, as the percentage of college-educated workers in the US and the world has exploded.


Although the universities remain firmly controlled by the ruling class, and revolutionary ideas there are marginalized, the problem of training future economic and political leaders still requires teaching at least a modicum of accurate scientific knowledge and method (despite the recent war on science). The result has been the spread of scientific ideas throughout society and the working class in a way that never happened in the early 20th century.
 

The percentage of college-educated Americans has risen from 5% in 1940 to about 25.6% in 2000, and 35% in 2018 – a total of some 48 million Americans with a four-year college degree. This fact cannot help but change the outlook of America’s intelligentsia as a whole, especially when its poor job prospects and future ecological destruction are taken into account. A section of the intelligentsia is actually an important part of the recently dispossessed section of the working class that is key to influencing the working class as a whole.


This, along with the rise of digital media, has to be a major factor in the dramatic rise in social consciousness in recent years in Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Sanders campaign, and the George Floyd rebellion.
 

A hundred or even fifty years ago, explicitly revolutionary organizations and publications were the only place where workers could access revolutionary ideas. Now new revolutionary organizations are arising everywhere.
 

Revolutionary ideas are all over social media. Their clarity, their scientific grounding, and their vision are uneven in quality but massive in scale. Vast numbers of socially conscious people are declaring themselves revolutionaries in opposition to the degenerating social and economic conditions. The scale of this motion requires an entirely new approach by revolutionaries. On the one hand, it means reaching out and establishing relationships with and between the new revolutionaries and new organizations that are arising. It means
abandoning sectarian differences. It means explaining the concept of and need for a united revolutionary organization in this situation. It means spreading the idea that the battle we are fighting is a class struggle, that we can win, and that abolishing private property and transitioning to a cooperative economy is the solution. The League has an enormous advantage in this situation because its program explicitly rejects any preconditions for
unity other than the practical demands of the new class. The League also has a responsibility to reach out to the movement with a broad call for unity of action of the broadest range of organizations possible around a general line of holding government accountable for meeting the basic needs of the people.

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