Only Social Justice Can Build Class Consciousness
1/03/2017 by Dylan James Harper
The general thinking among those that would like to see a radical shift in the political, social, and economic systems of the United States is that class consciousness is the first step. Achieving class consciousness, which would mean making members of a class based society aware of their role in said society, is of course a lot easier said than done. This isn’t because people aren’t capable critical thinkers with access to the necessary information, but because the major systems the United States is built around are constructed in a way that make class consciousness exceedingly difficult. A plethora of misinformation, political infrastructure that makes change virtually impossible, and of course the lack of basic supports that give individuals the time necessary to learn more about the systems they populate are all contributing factors to almost a total lack of class consciousness in the United States. It’s easy to be pessimistic.
Many on the far left, however, found optimism in 2016’s presidential election. It’s not hard to see why: two candidates ran on platforms of radical change to the system. Bernie Sanders and President-Elect Donald Trump both used the term “revolution” repeatedly, and promised to fix a broken system of governance. While many Trump supporters might be experiencing buyer’s remorse based on Trump’s cabinet picks revealing that he’ll act as, what is essentially, a mainstream Republican with fascist rhetoric, many on the left believe that the large number of voters to reject a system is a positive, and what follows should be the admittedly tall task of convincing these voters that the way to fix the broken system isn’t through someone like Trump. These optimistic leftists, however, are not only dangerously wrong, but they’re actively making raising class consciousness far more difficult.
Sanders and Trump both courted the white working class with similar promises: consisted jobs, a better government, and more economic freedom than the current liberal-capitalist system could possibly allow. In theory, these voters already recognize their place in a class based system, and the next step is to simply explain to them how to radically change that system. This isn’t the case, however, as the white working class have a bastardized, contextless view on their place in the system. Both Sanders and Trump supporters are populated with individuals that feel that they are the primary victims of liberal capitalism simply by virtue of being in a different fiscal situation (on a personal level) than they would prefer. Students with huge amounts of debt, and unemployed mid-Westerners that used to work in manufacturing alike feel that they’ve been let down. The problem is they aren’t wrong, in the broad nebulous sense that the system has let everyone down. Unfortunately, these people do not view the marginalization of various communities based around personal identities (people of color, members of the LGBT community, etc.) as being failed by the same system because of those identities.
What the broad left has failed to do is communicate, first and foremost, what class even means, and all the factors that comprise the term and determine what class one falls into. Yes, one’s personal economic situation plays a major factor, but so do one’s identity. A person of color living in a gerrymandered district that disenfranchises them, ignores lead in their water, and allows their employer to pay them a wage that isn’t livable is being failed by the ruling class for multiple reasons. The left hasn’t communicated this, overly focusing on economic justice while almost willfully ignoring social justice.
This has resulted in many not only not understanding why someone’s identity might make them a part of a certain class, but that even talking about these marginalized identities is a distraction from the real economic problems facing them. Trump capitalized on this on his way to victory, dog-whistling to his supporters that he too views focusing on marginalization as a waste of time. Even more troubling, is that Bernie Sanders, who is poised to take on a cultural leadership position in the broader left, seems to echo Trump’s view, declaring “identity politics” to be a hindrance.
There’s already been a hefty amount of writing done about what the left needs to do to win elections. The radical left, however, has a different goal: build class consciousness. The first step right now is to realize that this process has barely begun, and the last election is evidence of very little. Until identity based marginalization is factored into class consciousness, it won’t occur. The only way forward for the radical left is to focus primarily, possibly even exclusively, on social justice issues, and make as many people possible aware of how certain identities are marginalized, and why that’s something worth changing.
Dylan James Harper is the Chief Political Editor for CSuiteMusic
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