By Sam Gindin
Capitalism has, by and large, been successful in “making” the kind of working class it needs: one that is fragmented, particularist, employer-dependent, pressured by its circumstances to be oriented to the short term, and too overwhelmed to seriously contemplate another world.
The challenge confronting the Left is whether it can take advantage of the spaces capitalism has not completely conquered and the contradictions of life under capitalism that have blocked the full integration of working people, to remake the working class into one that has the interest, will, confidence, and capacity to lead a challenge to capitalism.
This is primarily an organizational task. Policies matter of course — there is no organizing without fighting for reforms — but the choice of policies to focus on and the forms the struggle for those reforms must be especially attuned to their potentials for organizational advance.
The above emphasis on a wealth tax, for example, is based on keeping inequality in the forefront, and so creating fertile ground for mobilizing anger and raising more fundamental questions. The emphasis on conversion points to the necessity of radical economic and state transformations if we are to address our most critical needs. As well, it emphasizes the centrality of engaging workers in ways that can develop their understandings and capacities.
The emphasis on unionization is closest to a policy directly addressing working-class power, but it also locates policy primarily in terms of serving as a catalyst for transforming unions, not just “growing” them, and so leads to expanding future strategic options.
For the socialist left, with the only seemingly viable option for the time being to operate within existing political parties, the foremost task is figuring out how to maneuver through the institutional morass these parties inhabit and use the openings to: support the most promising workplace and community struggles; restore a degree of historical memory to the working class; and contribute, through campaigns and discussions of lessons learned, to developing the individual and collective class capacities to analyze, organize, and act.
Out of this comes the most difficult undertaking: the project — cultural as much as organizational and political — of creating a new politics that, as Andrew Murray so clearly put it, is not only “class-focussed” but “class rooted.” That is, the invention of a left that is not just engaged in periodic working-class struggles but is genuinely embedded in workers’ daily lives and whose prime commitment is to nurturing the best of the working class’ historic potentials.