On the possibility of a class coalition

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

This diary hopes to explore the possibility of a class coalition, in anticipation of the class battle which can be expected around “entitlement reform.”  First I introduce the topic, then I define “social class,” and lastly I discuss what sort of class coalition we need in this era.

(now up at Orange!)

This is inspired by Deoliver47’s inspired diary of Wednesday over on Orange, “What Is A Progressive Coalition?”  Now, I’m mostly interested in Deoliver47’s diary for its citation of inspirational texts to form its argument.  First Deoliver47 cites Amazing Grace’s discussion of Fred Hampton:

Fred Hampton realized that the struggle of poor people could be most effectively addressed by coalition building among the disaffected and disenfranchised of all colors. The result was his “Rainbow Coalition”. Yes, that term was coined by Chairman Fred Hampton not Jesse Jackson.  With a reputation as a uniting force, he formed an alliance with the Black Panther Party, the former street gang turned activists the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the Young Patriots, a white, “Redneck” organization from Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, the anti-war group Students for a Democratic Society and the Chicano nationalist group the Brown Berets.

Then Deoliver47 turns to a discussion of César Chávez:

When César Chávez. and Dolores Huerta, formed the United Farm Workers and issued the rallying cry of ¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!

the “pueblo” (people) they were uniting were not those who oppressed them.

This is good stuff, and I wish to build upon it a discussion, then, of the possibility of a class coalition.  Hampton and Chávez attempted to form class coalitions, and their inspiration moves Deoliver47.  

I do recognize that this discussion also has something to do with other stuff, but I’m not going to go there right now.  If you want a close estimate of who is the real oppressor of American society, I’d recommend (for starters) a reading of the recent Alternet article, “10 Greediest People of 2009.”  Both Hampton and Chávez recognized the class nature of oppression: they knew of the great mass of people who spend their lives in struggle to meet basic needs while working every day — and of those who would like to work every day but can’t: those are in a group which is called the contingent working class.

OPOL’s diary of Wednesday night over at Orange, “It’s Not Even Good Kabuki,” also brings with it a note of class difference.  Here is his reflection upon the last decade:

It was class war, and they won. Plain and simple. Of course they had to burn down the house to do it. The ownership class managed to steal all the marbles, leaving the economy a hollow husk that no longer has the capacity to provide jobs to the masses. I know there are people saying otherwise, I hope I’m wrong and they’re right but I expect job losses to continue to increase. I credit statistics but only so much. You know the old saying, figures can’t lie but liar’s can figure. I think ‘normal’ is never coming back. I think the rich people knew it too. That’s what made them go all whacky and just hold us up for all the money that was left. All in one last grab.

What we can say, concretely, is that in this era class differences are even worse than they were in the Roaring Twenties.  The destruction of the American middle class is only number 10 on Juan Cole’s Ten Worst Nightmares Bush Inflicted On America; yet nevertheless it’s one of the most painful of these nightmares.  The mall Santas report that kids are asking for socks this year; 49 million Americans did not have sufficient access to food last year, and the figure for this year isn’t likely to have been much better.

As for the actual economic prognosis, what we can read in the news is a combination of good news and bad news.  gjohnsit seems to have the most balanced take on this: his diary “Green Shooters v. Doom-and-Gloomers” explains that while the short term may look good, the long term doesn’t.  Our current Great Recession is characterized by high rates of long-term unemployment — all of which is to say that our unemployment rate is not only broader but deeper than it’s been since the ’30s.

Things suck, globally, and on top of that they’re going to get worse: the analysis of Shamus Cooke is apropos:


First Iceland, then Ireland, now Greece.  Much of Europe is mired in inescapable debt and bankrupt nations, the result of crashing banks, bank bailouts, and soaring unemployment.  The U.S. and U.K. watch from a distance, knowing their turn is next.

And, as Cooke points out, next on Obama’s wish list is “entitlement reform,” as he’s promised all along.  From the Cooke essay again:

The issue of the day is clear:  somebody must be made to pay for the economic crisis.  The corporate-elite is planning to push this burden on to the working class.   The working class must push back.

This burden-putting, then, will be the point of “entitlement reform.”  The question I am asking in this essay is: can the working class push back in such a context?  At all?

*****

Now, as I pointed out in the abovecited diary, the Democratic Party is not a class coalition.  The Democratic Party is a coalition of disparate groups.  And some of these groups are in fact fractions of capital.  “Capital,” here, refers to the owners of the means of production: as Edward Wolff points out, the wealthiest 1% of Americans owns half of all non-home capital assets.  They, then, form a social class.

The Obama administration, then, is also not the product of a class coalition.  The Obama administration attempts to work through class compromises, which is a lot better than the aristocratic bullying of Reagan and the Bushes.  The problem with these class compromises, as they are made today, is that the existing calculus of class power is marked mainly by the quietism of the working class.  This was evident in the machinations which led up to the current health care bill.

(A note of explanation — I’m not saying that the Democratic Party and/or the Obama administration are irrelevant — but I am saying that they aren’t class coalitions.)

Now, people throughout the world come in rich and poor.  There are 793 billionaires, about 10 million millionaires, and a bottom half of humanity living on less than $2.50 per day.  The global economy has a pyramid shape, with a few on the top and the many at the bottom.  But this is not coincidence, nor is it a byproduct of the grace of God or of the superiority of the genetic stock of the wealthy.  It’s a matter of CLASS.

There are indeed a number of different social classes; the marxist criterion distinguishes them best:


A class shares a common relationship to the means of production. That is, all people in one class make their living in a common way in terms of ownership of the things that produce social goods. A class may own things, own land, own people, be owned, own nothing but their labour. A class will extract tax, produce agriculture, enslave and work others, be enslaved and work, or work for a wage.

You can make a living in one of two ways: you can profit off of investments, or you can work for a living.  Sure, some people live off of handouts; they aren’t a significant statistical portion of the total.  But if you are an investor, you get 1) control over the means of production, and 2) control over the surplus, which usually means you can obtain the best quality stuff for yourself.  In short, there are at bottom these two basic classes, owners and workers, and the inequality of power between them is the fundamental source of the class structure.

There are also subcategories of class.  Some investors own stock, or whole businesses; others are landlords charging rents.  Some workers earn wages, others earn salaries or charge fees for services.  Some workers own their homes; others rent.  And then there are attempts to redefine the concept of class which bring the role of government into account.  Probably the sharpest among these is that of Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, whose idea of “class” (in Class Theory and History) revolves around control of the economic surplus.  Here’s what they say:

In simplest terms, one part of the population does necessary and surplus labor and receives back the fruits of the necessary labor for their own reproduction.  These laborers deliver the fruits of their surplus labor — the “surplus” — to another part of the population, that then distributes it to still another part. (p. 8)

Thus “class” can mean control over the surplus, i.e. membership in the second and third classes, as opposed to mere participation in its making, in the working class.  With “Communism” as with “capitalism,” the most fundamental class difference is one of whether you’re a bigshot, or a mere worker.

*****

So there’s a real need for some push-back in this era, from the poor, from the disenfranchised, from that portion of the working classes who don’t have it so great.  In short, we need a class coalition.  And the Democratic Party isn’t a class coalition.  So what is a class coalition?  We are not going to figure this out, unfortunately, by class analysis.  Here are some preliminary thoughts on what a class coalition might entail.

  • A class coalition would have to be by, of, and for the disenfranchised (see Fred Hampton’s example, above).
  • A class coalition would have to give the disenfranchised the opportunity and the right to “make a living” without being dependent on for-profit business.  It would, in short, have to work to give its members the right to live off of the land.  This is different from obliging them to live off of the land — but what it means is some degree, even limited, of independence from the corporate machine now devouring the world’s wealth.

    The point of this is that, in present-day corporate America, the corporations are “taking off.”  Having spent the last two decades enriching themselves while the rest of the country broke even, their owners are cutting their ties.  The working class needs a real, unmovable line of defense against this.  We want to be empowering people to develop “living off the land” skills — give them fish and they live for a day, teach them how to fish and, well, you know the rest.

  • A class coalition would make education its first priority — not career education of the sort promoted by Arne Duncan and not NCLB test prep education of the Margaret Spellings vintage, but education for collective empowerment.  Oh, there would be “content,” all right, and “skills” taught aplenty — the difference would be that the teachers would be empowering the students to make decisions rather than teaching them how to follow orders.  Such education would follow the outlines put forth in the major texts of critical pedagogy: Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope, for instance.

A class coalition would, then, be in the business of empowering people to live harmoniously on the Earth, in a way which emphasized decentralization, democracy, consensus.  The only way you can have a genuine class coalition is if this goal is not compromised away.  

NB: one of the ways in which we know that the Democratic Party is not a class coalition, in this light, is in the nature of the pie fights that take place over at the ever-popular Orange, land of “Better and More Democrats,” and which have been going on throughout the week of Mithramas.  “Your political-class elites suck; my political-class elites rock!”  That’s not how class coalitions are formed.

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  1. I’ve been saying right down the line that all that has happened has been a deliberate effort to marginalize the so-called “middle-class” people — and they’ve done a helluva’ job so far.

    I’ve been commenting, etc. for a long time about this “entitlement reform,” which is basically again an effort to rob the American people of all that they’ve worked for all their lives — their money and that of their employer(s) — Social Security!

    Here was the latest comment of mine on the subject!

    Unless we can find a way to push back, such as getting up our own community businesses, doing everything to shirk the corporatists, or some such, we are heading rapidly to a third world status.  So much should be evident, the dumbing down of America, the slanted media, and on and on!  I’m sure I don’t need to reiterate that of which, I’m sure, you are already aware!

     

    • geomoo on December 26, 2009 at 7:15 am

    I’ve had this on my mind a lot, especially since recently watching an Elizabeth Warren lecture detailing the “hollowing out” of the middle class.  Our cultural memory has forgotten the power a true tyranny can come to exercise over people, and the extreme difficulty of breaking a tyranny, once it is established.  Economic power, of course, translates to political power.  Has anyone noticed that the popular will is increasingly ignored, the pretense of democratic behavior increasingly half-hearted?

    I now reference every policy question to this issue.  Does the recent HCR bill continue the transfer of wealth upward or stem it?  This is the crucial question.  We can no longer afford to accept crumbs in exchange for losing further control of our wealth.  It’s a protection racket, and it won’t end well for us if we play along fearfully.

    If you want to be attacked at dailykos, try suggesting that poor progressives and teabaggers actually have a common enemy.  I find it depressing how thoroughly even intelligent liberals play some iteration of the liberal vs. conservative game while the uber-wealthy rob both blind.  I would love to see the plutocracy perk up and pay attention at rw populism joining forces with lw populism, turning together to finally point at the forces which are behind the deterioration in life for both.  This would entail, of course, mutually accepted identification of the biggest enemy of the common good.  The prospect is not a hopeful one:  as difficult as it is to stop liberals from demonizing the extreme rw, selling liberals to teabaggers would be even more challenging.

    One little pet annoyance that really gets under my skin these days–arrogant sneering by liberals is damaging our country, contributing mightily to the extreme polarization which threatens to erupt into some kind of civil war.

    I’m rambling.  There is a lot to say about this.  Here’s my misgiving with this diary, whose theoretical notions I embrace.  It seems almost impossible to get from here to there.  Does anyone have a practical vision, ideas that seem as though they have a chance? I don’t mean a grand blueprint necessarily, just little practical ideas which could push things toward a class coalition.

    • pfiore8 on December 26, 2009 at 11:31 am

    i’m as angry as anybody, but i’m tired of the litany of what we’ve lost and who stole it and how bad things are.

    we need to come up with strategies for going forward. time to step out of wanting life to go to August 2001. it’s gone.

    maybe we can forge a better world. this could be an opportunity to do it.

    my only comment is on the word “empowerment”… i would like to jettison the idea that we need others to give us power. we have it already… we need to find ways to ignite our power.

    thanks for your essay, cass.

    • dkmich on December 26, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    If by off the land you mean farming or buying ammo and stock piling food and water, it ain’t gonna happen – not me anyway.  There is a huge difference between people who work for a living, the people of the Rainbow coalition and farm workers union, and people who live off their investments.  The first two must join together to take on the last.  The Great Society did not do that, and it is what gave birth to Clinton and the DLC.  

    Orange is another whole study is the stupidity of man and whether or not humans ought to survive.  That, too, is another diary.  

    Michigan has turned its whole gd school system over to Arnie Duncan for a crappy few million in federal aid.  

    • Xanthe on December 26, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Because he served during a term defined by a tribe outside of classic Roman history?  After the heyday, in common parlance?  Did I get that right?  And his recordkeeping?      

  2. with forming a effective class coalition is both cultural(tribal?)and structural. Most of the structures in our society are set up by design to funnel labor and money to the top. The ‘American Dream’ they project is all about upward mobility, you too can be a millionaire if not you your children of grandchildren. The ‘educated’ middle class loves this myth and see’s itself as separate and above the working class, when in reality they are in the same boat. The one that Clinton said would lift all of us and instead set us all adrift.  

    Instead of politically working for economic equality or common good they cling to a reality that does not include them any more then the people they consider beneath them. They buy and work for the too bigs that create the bubbles. They have cast their lot with the ‘wealth creators’, believing that this is the natural order and it will include them. If the order falls what ever comes next will be worse and disastrous. My sister in law an artist who makes her meager living selling to the uber rich is a good example. She always says if you divided up all the money the same people would end up with it. The it’s inevitable myth.

    Both the cultural and structural reality is disintegrating. The Democratic party has assumed the mantle of ‘fixing’ the broken system. As long as the middle class believes that the ruling elites can and will recreate a myth that never was they will not form coalitions out side the structures they know and believe in. It is mind boggling to me that they fight so hard to keep the centralized structural oppression in power and seem culturally unable to find consensus with the class they define as the ignorant enemy. Both sides are delusional and will remain so until ?????

    I think no solutions will be found until gravity takes down the too bigs. When things fall apart people have to deal with the reality they are living in. Decentralization is essential.  As for back to the land being the solution I think that will occur naturally. My state already has blossoming smaller sustainable agriculture going. It also has green manufacturing starting up to replace the large corporate employers who in the past our state government allowed to suck our tax money and our resources with nothing given back but pollution and unemployment.

    Part of me wants the whole damn construct to fall totally apart and part of me wants something to unite with for common good via the system in place. As for violent revolution it may occur but there are other less destructive ways to take it down. I think the people of all classes have to get to a ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ point and the way things are going that will come pretty soon. Meanwhile they will spin their wheels railing at teabaggers and other phantoms instead of using their power to actually affect any political change. The fear on both sides of the political divide is misplaced, neither side is rational or logical. They are both stuck in the mythical divides and cannot admit that they share the same fate and suffer from the same bamboozle.                

    • jeffroby on December 26, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Okay, it doesn’t rhyme very well.  We can work on it.  Anyway, recall 1965, opposing the War in Vietnam.  Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?

    No one asked them:

    “Would you rather elect a Republican?”

    “Aren’t you supporting the John Birch Society?”

    There was no question which side they were on.  There was Johnson’s War, and they were agin it.

    Now let me be clear.  I do not think the Republicans are better than the Democrats, even though Obama has given them openings you could drive a truck through.

    I do not advocate not voting for President in 2012.  If there is a progressive primary challenger, I will vote for her or him.  If the final race is Obama vs. Palin or Huckabee or whatever scum the Republicans throw up, I will vote for Obama.

    However, the Obama administration has become my foe.  By trying to mandate me to buy health insurance I cannot afford, they put me and mine in jeopardy.  (Incredible Hulk:  “All I know is that you try to kill me, and for that you must pay!”) Just as Wall Street is.  At every turn, I will oppose any policy that profits Wall Street at the expense of poor and working people.

    I oppose the healthcare bill.  But won’t that help the Republicans?  I don’t care.

    U.S. must get out of Afghanistan now.  But won’t that help the Republicans?  I don’t care.

    We have to tax the blood Wall Street has sucked out of us for decades.  But won’t that help the Republicans?  I don’t care.

    Do you detect a pattern here?

    The point is that I am opposed to a government and a system that oppresses us.  That doesn’t mean I can’t make tactical electoral maneuvers (Full Court Press).

    Phil Ochs (Is There Anybody Here?):

    “Is there anybody here who thinks that following the orders takes away the blame

    Is there anybody here who wouldn’t mind a murder by another name

    Is there anybody here whose pride is on the line

    with the honor of the brave and the courage of the blind

    I wanna see him

    I wanna wish him luck

    I wanna shake his hand, ganna call his name

    Put a medal on the man”

    • banger on December 26, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    those who make up the “lower” class. A poor people’s alliance was possible back in the day, though unlikely because of the ruling class’ ability to create racial antipathy. Remember, it was chiefly the Civil Rights Movement that created the Conservative backlash that has lasted to this day.

    My sense is that any kind of class solidarity is impossible today after several decades of refinement in mind-control techniques in the MSM. I don’t just mean Fox News or even news shows but, rather, the whole spectrum of “entertainment” which is, in my view, created specifically to maintain the false narratives that maintain the current status quo. In short, I don’t believe that most of the poor people in this country are intellectually capable of grasping what we are talking about. They will always bolt to the right and never the left because they perceive people like us as intellectuals. Intellectuals remind them of school where they were miserable largely because our public school system is engineered to demoralize and disable people by showing them that the world consists of fragmented and unrelated “facts” that mean nothing. For more on this analysis see the work of John Taylor Gatto (see his book Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.

    We have a population, particularly among the least well-off that is getting stupider by the year. The Tea Bag movement is a case an point — these are people who should be allies but due to racial and cultural politics place themselves at the service of the ruling class thinking that they are opposing the ruling class.

    In order to make an alliance progressives have to make and alliance very much on a case by case basis as Jane Hamsher has attempted to do.

    The direction is correct it’s just important to understand that for tribal reasons progressives are hated as well-off people that do not have their (the populists) interest at heart. Personally, I see little chance of progress at the moment but that could change once progressives get themselves educated on how politics actually works and are willing to modify the culture war aspects of their agenda.  

  3. Chris Hedges

    also please rec up Andiamo’s diary: http://www.dailykos.com/story/… — it’s a bit inflammatory but it doesn’t deserve this.

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