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Jiang Hui: Whether the working class is still the principle force of socialist movement?
Study on the relations between western working class and the socialist movement
  

  In Marxist thoughts, the working class (proletariat) is the leading subject in socialist movement. Decided by the objective historical position, this historical subject position of the working class cannot be replaced by other social classes and groups. However, in contemporary western society, with the development of capitalism, not only the historical position of the working class has been questioned and challenged, even the existence of the working class itself was also doubted and negated. This is known as the “crisis of the working class subjectivity”. So, is there still working class in the West under the condition of the current rapid development of economic globalization? If the working class does not exist anymore, who would bear the principle position to promote social change and socialist movement? If there is still working class, what kind of the working class it is? Is it just a passive class at the bottom of the society, or does it still bear the important historical mission? If the historical mission is still in existence, how the western working class overcomes the “subjectivity crisis”? How will it take on the historical role of the principle force to promote socialism in the new era and under the new social conditions?

  The challenge of the “subjectivity crisis” of the working class

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  In western countries, the “subjectivity crisis” of the working class is not fresh viewpoints and theories. It began to appear and gradually formed in the early 1960s, and manifested in different forms in different periods. There are two representative viewpoints regarding the so-called the “subjectivity crisis” of the working class: one is that with the development of the era and society and the change of the western social structure and class structure, the working class gradually loses its revolutionary nature. Assimilated gradually in the capitalist institutions and system, the working class transfers from the subject of changing capitalism, constructing the new world and bearing the historical mission of the emancipation of all mankind to a general social group who identifies with and fuses in the existing institutions and system, only aiming at maintaining and striving for its own interests without class consciousness and historical initiative. The other is that the historical position, historical mission and subject role of the working-class do not exist from the very beginning. They were “fabricated and designed” by classic theorists of socialism such as Marx in order to achieve their own theoretical aim. These two kinds of representative viewpoints, in essence, is the manifestation of the thoughts that “Marxism is outdated” for the former, and “Marxism is wrong” for the latter. Specifically, in western society, there are three following kinds of typical views about the “subjectivity crisis” of the working class.

  1.The disappearance of the working class 

  The ground of this view is that the working class is defined as the traditional manual working class which has been reducing in number with the development of capitalism and the change of industrial structure and class structure. While other working groups classified as “middle class”, “new class”, “new petty bourgeoisie” and “white-collar”, etc., have been excluded from the scope of the working class. According to such division, it is easy to think that “working class naturally disappears”.

  2.The assimilation of the working class

  Working-class assimilation theory is closely connected with the disappearing theory, but they are different in terms of their focus on the way of change of the working class. Working-class disappearing theory emphasizes the loss of the working class’s political function and social status as a political group; while working-class assimilation theory not only emphasizes the loss of the revolutionary power of the working class to negate and fight against capitalism, but also emphasizes the disappearing of the revolutionary passion and goal. With the improvement of living standards, the working class has identified with capitalist social institutions and system, and gradually transfers from the protesters outside the system to the conformist of the system, i.e., it integrated with the capitalist society.

  3.The substitution of the principle position of the working class by others

  If the working class has disappeared, then who would bear the principle position to promote social and historical change? Some scholars abroad and left-wing political parties have put forward various points of view. These views generally think that the subject for social change is diversified; Marx’s point that the working class is the only subject of socialist revolution is completely wrong or outdated. There are now two left-wings with different social basis. The traditional left based on blue-collar workers emphasizes on issues related to the class; the other left appeared in western society (sometimes called the new political, new left) emphasizes more and more on social problems, instead of the traditional political issues. The problems the new left focuses on are no longer questions relating to the private ownership and who would control the production material, supporters of the new problems are replacing the old. This kind of new social movement is a variety of social protest movement gradually developed after the Second World War in the West. Differing from the traditional workers’ movement, this new social movement includes anti-war peace movement, the public rights movement, the feminist movement, ecological protection and so on.

  The reformation of the principle position of the working class: From “class-in-itself” to “class-for-itself”

  

  If the world socialist movement shall have greater development in the 21st century, the principal position of the working class must be reinvented. What this means for western working class itself is to transform from the current “class-in-itself” into the real “class-for-itself”, from the potential objective historical subject to the foreground of the times and history, and once again becomes the living and real power to change the society and promote the revolution of history. This is a long-term and complicated process, which can only be achieved through long-term and unremitting efforts of the socialist party, socialists and working-class itself.

  To re-establish the class consciousness of the working class and reinvent the principal position of the working class is a very complex and difficult undertaking in the current western society. However, there is fact shows the possibility, necessity and some realistic conditions to realize this goal in actual life. For instance, the economic crisis of capitalism at the beginning of the 21st century is a heavy blow on the standard of living and living conditions of the working class. The greater social disparity between the rich and the poor will certainly contribute to strengthening the class consciousness of the working class. However, the emergence of a new class consciousness will be a very long and complex process, yet the class consciousness and the organizational level of the working class is developing slowly anyway. In order to truly become a “class-for-itself”, the working class can’t just fight for the current benefit, but should fight for long-term historic goals. Socialism is only possible if the working class keeps on developing and strengthening class consciousness and improving the organizational level. Therefore, it must become core work of the current strategy and tactics of socialists.

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  The reinvention of the principal position of the working class and the socialist movement

  The reinvention of the principal position of the working class is the primary precondition for greater development of the world socialist movement in the 21st century. What this means for the western working class is to transfer itself from the current “class-in-itself” to “class-for-itself”. With this transfer, the western working class is supposed to step forward to the foreground of the times and the history from the potential objective historical subject, and once again becomes the real living power to change the society and promote the reform of history. As a long-term and complicated process, this goal can only be achieved through long-term unremitting efforts of the socialist party, socialists and the working-class itself. The historical status and task of the working class is not subjectively “conferred”, but is decided by the economic and social structure in a capitalist society and the situation and status of the working class in production relations. According to Marx, the working class (proletariat) is the only radical revolutionary force that can transform the old capitalist world in capitalist society, and therefore is the only historical subject to transform the old society. The socialism and communism movement clarified by Marxists are, in essence, the liberation course of the working class and its historical movement, the two are the same movement process.

  There are several important aspects regarding the reinvention of the principal position of the working class and the socialist movement.

  Firstly, the reformation of the working class is the absolutely necessary condition for any new development of the 21st century world socialism. The subject of socialist revolution has to be the working class, otherwise the revitalization and development of socialism is bound to face “subject vacancy”, and there would be no truly socialist movement. For a long time, some western left-wing parties and people have been trying hard to find other revolutionary forces and alternative principal subjects outside of the working class in their research on the “socialist subject crisis”. Among these alternative principal subjects, those of all sorts of “new social movement” are most favored. Some think that the subject is “all the people who are suffering from capitalist alienation”, while others think that the subject is “all the national people”, and still others think that the subject is the “intellectual class”, and so on. We do not deny this kind of attempts and efforts to overcome the subject crisis, nor do we deny the role the above various forces play in the process of changing capitalism, but they can’t replace the subject status of the working class. For instance, although the “new social movements” in the west such as ecological movement, peace movement, anti-war movement, the democratic movement, etc., have a positive effect in the protest against the rule of capitalism and in promoting social transformation and change, they cannot become the major revolutionary force against capitalism, and neither can they accomplish the fundamental transformation of capitalism due to the following factors: single and narrow target, subject pluralism, the lack of unified guiding ideology, separated from capitalist mode of production and economic relations, and the fundamental antagonist class relations between capital and wage-labor in the pursuit of social change.

  The Marxist principle that the masses are the creator and the final decisive power of history and that the development of socialism must rely on the broad masses of the people, does not mean that the development of socialism does not require a leadership class and the dominant subject of change. The principal position of the working class in social change is not self-conferred, nor is it imposed, but is decided by the law of historical development. The working class must take on the historical mission to liberate all mankind then to liberate themselves. Historically, united under the leadership of their party to change and transform the capitalist society, workers seized power and constructed the socialist society in some countries. This historical fact fully demonstrates the principle position of the working class in terms of revolution and construction. In the West, the change and adjustment of capitalism and the “peaceful development” period for more than 30 years after the Second World War (that is, the so-called “golden age”) had huge effects on the class consciousness, the revolutionary character and the collective action ability of the working class. The effects are mainly negative, i.e., the so-called “the disappearance of working-class”, “the lack of subject of socialism”, “the whole society turns into middle class”, etc. However, this temporary historical phenomenon and appearance cannot change the nature of the capitalist social class structure, the fundamental social structure of the labor-capital opposition and the basic contradiction of capitalism, the inevitability of the working class’s undertaking of the historical mission. As capitalist crisis occurs and develops on a massive scale at the beginning of the 21st century, as the basic contradiction of capitalism is getting more intense, the working-class struggle also shows a trend of radicalization, all of which are conducive to the reshaping and establishment of the principal position of the working class.

  Secondly, the reformation and reshaping of the class consciousness of the working class is the indispensible premise to re-establish the principal position of the working class, this is the inevitable link from “class-in-itself” to “class-for-itself”. The working class is the subject of socialist revolution, but the subject status and revolution power is not formed spontaneously, The working class “for-itself” objectively existing is just the potential power to change the society, only the working class “for-itself” who subjectively fully realize their own class interests, take class action in reality and have a clear goal of class struggle, can truly play the role of the subject for social change. Thus, the formation and shaping of class consciousness is the key link for the working class to shift from “class-in-itself” to “class-for-itself”. The formation and development of the class consciousness of working class is directly related to the condition and level of the labor movement and the class struggle. 

  At present, with the development of the capitalist economic crisis, the protest movements of western workers and the masses break out frequently. After the 1990s, as the rule of Neoliberalism strengthened, protest movements of western workers were on the rise, for instance, workers in postal service and express delivery industry in the United States went on strike in 1997; New York’s transport workers went on strike at the end of 2005; The Occupying Wall Street movement broke out in the autumn of 2011; French transportation, postal and telecommunications workers went on strike in 1995; French masses protested on the street at the end of 2005; French young students protested in the early 2006; Millions of British municipal workers went on strike in March 2006; More than two million British civil servants went on strike in November 2011; In countries suffering most from the debt crisis such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, the broad masses of workers and the masses went on street protests and demonstrations in waves against the government’s “austerity policy” and other measures supporting the large capital and depriving the broad masses of lower-middle-class. These movements are of course the board workers’ movement and the mass movement. After the mass protest movements in the late 1960s, western capitalism had entered into a period of decades of “peaceful development”, yet the protest movements of workers and the masses in western countries at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century signify the end of peaceful development period of western capitalism, and the revival of western proletariat and the masses movement. But on the whole, this new round of movement of workers and the masses is basically a struggle within the capitalist system and limited in the economic struggle, which is difficult to form a close relationship with the world socialist movement. Thus it is difficult to form the main forces to promote the development of western socialist movement. The key reason for this is that the working class has not yet set up a clear class consciousness. Without class consciousness, the working class is still in a state of “class-in-itself”, the labor movement can only be the reformist movement within the capitalist system.

  The class consciousness of the working class is not a simple collection of each worker’s awareness, nor is it a general collective consciousness, nor is it the discontent and anger of workers against capitalism, instead it is the fully awareness of their class interests and class position of the working class, the clear class goal formed accordingly, and the class struggle to change capitalism conducted consciously under the leadership of the proletariat political party. The Hungary Marxist Lukacs deeply aware of the importance of the mature class consciousness of the working class with respect to the socialist cause during the capitalist crisis period, “when the last economic crisis hit capitalism, the fate of the revolution (and associated to this is the fate of the human beings) depends on the maturity of the proletariat ideologically, i.e., the class consciousness of the proletariat”. As long as the class consciousness of the working class has not been truly established, the capitalist crisis will not necessarily promote socialist movement. Lukacs’s thought is still of significance for our understanding of capitalism crisis today and the relationship between the workers’ movement and the socialist movement. The current crisis of capitalism objectively forms the situation conducive to the development of the world socialist movement, but whether the objective social conditions can be converted into favorable conditions to promote the development of socialism, so as to promote the new development of socialism, lies in whether the working class can form a clear class consciousness, depends on whether the working class can rise the economic struggle to the political struggle, i.e., the working class does not only oppose to capital exploitation and plunder, but turn the resentment and anger toward the capitalist class into class consciousness which will consciously reform the system of capitalism with organized class struggle. Only in this way, the working class will really becomes “class-for-itself” and therefore become the realistic subject of socialist movement.

  Thirdly, the formation and unity of the working class around the world is the necessary foundation and prerequisite of the socialist development under the condition of globalization. According to the principle of Marxism, socialism and communism movement is national in terms of its form and is international in terms of its content. The working class, as the subject of socialist reform “can only exist in the sense of world history”, namely “it is only possible to realize as a ‘world historical existence’.” “Ignoring the brother solidarity should exist among workers in all countries around the world, or ignoring the brother solidarity should be encouraged in the liberation struggle to fight alongside, will make workers get punished and suffer from common failures of their efforts”. Under the condition of globalization, in the face of the unified wanton attack from strong international monopoly bourgeoisie, it is absolutely necessary to emphasize the solidarity and cooperation among global working-class and the formation of the real whole of the working class. At present, dispersion and differentiation among the working class in different countries, is the biggest obstacle to the formation of integrated fighting force of the working class. There is intense competition and conflict among workers within western developed countries, between domestic workers and migrant workers, between workers in the developed countries and those in developing countries. The contradictions and differences among the members of the working class will weaken the global working class objectively formed in the globalization era; weaken the possibility of its response to of the global capitalist class.

  In the era of globalization, the reshaping of the principal position of the working class depends on the joint efforts and operations among the working class of all countries and regions to form a global class consciousness of the working class. The formation of global working class contains two aspects: objective and subjective. When the working class only serves as a passive factor of the capitalist globalization, it is just a kind of objective existence. At this stage, since the working class has yet to fully realize their class consciousness and class interests subjectively, it is impossible for the working class to become the principle forces to confront the global capitalist class, and therefore impossible meet the historical mission entrusted on it. Socialism in the 21st century cannot develop without the solidarity and unification among the global working class. In this sense, “United, the world proletarians” proposed by Marx and Engels in more than 160 years ago has new connotation and value today.

  

  
发布时间:2014-09-30 16:44:53