Class consciousness and the fight for unity

BY:Beth Edelman| October 6, 2016
Class consciousness and the fight for unity

A recent article on this site discusses class consciousness and this 2016 election and got into ideas that need to be examined.  My thought as I was reading was – which came first – the idea widely promoted by capitalism that the system serves all or the experience of workers that tends to mitigate that idea, ideas that the boss will get as much out of you with as little pay as he/she can. The author makes note that class consciousness is growing in the working class, I would add in the organized sector in particular. The primary concern of the article is with the numbers and  support some workers are giving to the demagogic,  right winger Donald Trump.  I and others share this concern.

The Tea Party phenomenon emerged after the the passage of health care reform, making a big splash with the idea that the government controls our lives through this health care law. Never mind that the Tea Party was a hatched by professional right wingers seizing an opportunity to play on racism and hatred of Barack Obama.

The Tea Party emerged after the the passage of health care reform.

In 2016 Donald Trump appealed to nativist thinking, again seizing an opportunity feeding it, blaming immigrant workers for the poor economic opportunity faced by many workers, shop owners and rural workers who view their chances through the lens of the new guy on the block.  Plant closings and economic uncertainty. has been around for decades punctuated notably by the crisis of ’08 -09, a seminal event.

In this case newer workers and families  speak Spanish, not English, their culture and traditions are different and there are those who may work for less and for many more hours because they are hungry for work and have little if any choice.  Anti-immigrant and in particular anti Mexican and Central American workers is not a new idea.  Racist, and xenophobic  ideas are built into our system by reason of history, culture and often in law and have regular occurrence and reoccurrence.  They are stoked at an auspicious moment by skillful elites.  What is new, in the last few years, is the organized labor movement recognizing and moving to activate itself to gain immigration reform, legalization of those without documents and worker protection. What’s new is the organized labor movement challenging racism and setting itself the task to organize in support of African American workers in its ranks and in the communities.

Like the creators of the Tea Party, the Trump organization took every opportunity to insult, degrade, inflame and nurture hatred of Mexican and Central American workers.  When the Trump campaign got around to it they showed their full hand hiring the crowd that brought the web Breitbart –  all the racist and xenophobic news that will fit and the initiatives to disrupt that go with it.  You may remember Acorn.

More recently Trump and company have appealed to the African American community.  Under the slogan “What have you got to lose”  Trump revealed his contempt and ignorance for/of  African Americans.  Mr. Trump’s appeal is not one that will pile up votes from the black community but a smoke screen to try to quell the fears of a some whites, especially elites who may express concern that the Republicans are a party of racist folks.

So what has this got to do with class consciousness?   To be class conscious  requires knowing who the enemy is. It literally means consciousness of the class essence of capitalism.  Who owns, who works, selling their labor power    It also requires knowing who your brothers and sisters are, what Abraham Lincoln  called the most important bond for humans second only to the family: class.

The working class in the U.S. is about 150 million according to the 2010 census  and is composed of black, brown, white, Asian  Pacific Island workers, Native American workers;   there are women and men as well as  LGBTQ.  The struggle for equality in the workplace, in the community, and before the law continues to rise and is the central concern as any struggle unfolds.  So the struggle and the ideas that support the struggle are the key elements to building unity and class consciousness.  Can the working-class movement be successful without unity without the fight for full rights for all?

Equality and ideas that support this struggle are the key elements to building unity and class consciousness.

Class consciousness develops over time.  Like other social phenomenon it develops unevenly, sometimes in fits and starts.  And it develops with the history it grew out of. We humans leave nothing behind.  Widely passed around is the idea James Baldwin said,  “History is not just the story of the past, because we carry it with us as we go.”  The essence of this was also said by Lenin and probable a few others.

Is it important what is said about capitalism especially by its proponents. Selling the system, is always on the agenda.  Since 2009 it’s a bit harder.  Everybody who can and even a few who can’t want to control their work. But the reality of going into business has become a bit more complex, a bit of an increase in risk.  Can I make it? Is this still part of the dream?  It remains an influence.  Still I question that this idea figures as a top drawer influence in the struggles that we see unfolding.

I think what holds class consciousness back is racism, not the only idea, but a central idea. The sentiment that festered in a sector of white people was apparent in the aftermath of the 2008 election.  It manifested in open resentment toward Barack Obama.  It was present in the organization of the Tea Party opposition to Obamacare  Obama clearly deprived them of their slogan when he embraced the name. It was palpable.  In particular the need to support the demands of workers who face additional struggles because they are black or brown is a major need of our time.

What holds class consciousness back is racism, not the only idea, but a central idea.

I think that we are at a point where more white people, white workers are being drawn into the struggle – evident in the demonstrations following many police murders and the voting patterns particularly in 2008 and 2012.  Still there is a way to go, especially in the churches, unions made up of mainly white workers and reaching deeper into the heart of yet-to-be-organized-in-unions America. The moral and political value of white workers speaking out and acting to support others in struggle is crucial.   I think that translating this into the 2016 election rhetoric before and after November 8th is the key – should Trump be defeated the job will have a more favorable circumstance to advance.  The actions taken help to build class unity, working-class unity.   And those actions support a new and  understanding of racism as immoral and divisive.  Take this election, we are weeks aways from the vote (actually voting has already begun in some states).  Only the words high alert come to mind.  he final push to defeat the right as it  appears in this election is the only thing on the mind of democrats every where.   The outcome will impact the whole nation.  It will also impact the development of class consciousness;  it will impact the course of history.

There more, much more to the complex of ideas that are part of class consciousness. I know these pages will get into it.


Related Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer