It has been demonstrated at Anti-Imperialism.com and elsewhere how a majority workers in the First World are not simply an upper stratum of proletarians, i.e. a classically defined ‘labor aristocracy.’ Instead, a majority of First World workers receive wages (or other compensation) that include surplus value necessarily originating in the super-exploited labor of others in the world-economy. Insofar as the incomes of the First World workers include both the full monetary rate of labor value plus surplus drawn from others’ labor, it is entirely appropriate to describe such workers as petty-bourgeois in a literal sense.
Given this understanding, the question then becomes, how should communists in the First World approach organizing the First World petty-bourgeois masses in service to proletarian revolution?
In a rarely quoted portion of the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels offer some elemental hints:
They [the petty bourgeois “middle class”- NB] are… not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.
Marx and Engels believed the petty bourgeoisie was gradually dissolving into the proletariat. Thus, in their view, members of the petty-bourgeoisie were only revolutionary insofar as they developed a consciousness in line with their future proletarian class interests.
Consider this another way.
Capitalism is a mode of production based on the exploitation of labor by capital. Yet capitalism creates many other derivative contradictions.
Some contradictions are obvious and woven into the historical development of capitalism, such as the primary contradiction between monopoly capital and super-exploited Third World labor.
Other contradictions inherent to capitalism are broader and of longer-term consequence. Examples of lesser yet real long-term contradictions of capitalism (in addition to national oppression and patriarchy) include rabid militarism, the anarchy of production (which becomes accentuated to a qualitatively higher level under imperialism), and the inherent contradiction between the drive for unlimited accumulation and the Earth’s finite natural resources.
All of these contradictions (like patriarchy and national oppression) pose problems for a wider scope of people than only members of the proletariat. In this manner these contradictions are wedge issues with which to approach organizing and agitating the First World petty-bourgeoisie within a revolutionary class alliance for proletarian revolution.
For each of its contradictions, capitalist-imperialism offers false solutions (often in the form of sub-reformism and organizing via imperialist-sponsored NGOs). Yet, these false solutions represent imperialism’s attempt to assuage and divert concern over these long-term contradictions.
In contrast the imperialism’s false promises regarding peace, equity, and sustainability, an important task of revolutionaries in the First World is develop a program of proletarian humanism which appeals above the class interest of the petty bourgeois. The distinguishing feature of proletarian humanism is that it aims to programmatically unite the long-term interests of a large proportion of humanity with the immediate interest of the proletariat. Proletarian humanism serves to unite legitimate long-term concerns with the immediate necessities of a broad united front against imperialism, people’s wars, global new democratic revolution, socialism, and communism.
Imperialism tells ‘its’ workers that the best way to stave off is contradictions is to, for example, reuse their shopping bags and plant a garden. Proletarian humanism tells First Worlders that their best bet against environmental disaster it to organize in support of things like people’s wars, a broad united front against imperialism, national liberation for oppressed nations, and global new democracy on route to socialism and communism.
Proletarian humanism programatically points out the necessity of class suicide for the First World petty-bourgeoisie. Such a petty-bourgeois class suicide can come about through actual revolutionary struggle against extant class relations.
Revolutionary struggle is not waged in the same ways in all times and places.
The organization of people’s wars against imperialist-sponsored states may be the preliminary task of proletarian revolution throughout much of the Third World.
If this is the case, the defining task in the First World may be one of dividing unity and disrupting social peace within the First World. This should be accomplished to the effect of impeding imperialism’s ability to effectively intervene against Third World-centered revolution. These divisor strategies should also be implemented with a variety of tactical orientations.
Regardless of how we choose to strategically and tactically handle the fact that a majority of First World workers are net-exploiters, we cannot deny the basic significance of class structures.
A clear and coherent understanding of class structure is not simply an academic knowledge of modern political economy. Rather, the questions “who are our enemies?” and “who are our friends?” have long-term importance in the struggle for socialism and communism.
Communism is the total eradication of contradictions inherent in capitalism. Thus, the eradication of the contradiction between the imperialist First World and exploited Third World is a necessary condition for the development of communism.
The present system, capitalist-imperialism, is a far distance from communism. Additionally, the development of communism in not assured. Revolutionaries need conscious strategies, including the development of revolutionary class alliances, to carry out revolutions and to resolve various contradictions en route to communism.
The need to develop strategies based on revolutionary coalitions between exploited and non-exploited classes does not excuse or justify obscuring the actuality of global class structures under the cover of ‘Marxism.’ First World revolutionaries must be clear on the basic distinctions between classes while nonetheless seeking to win over progressive sections of the First World petty-bourgeoisie.
World revolution foremost hinges on the development of a broad united front against imperialism and the victory of global new democracy. This arc of revolutionary struggle is focused primarily on the struggle of oppressed nations for self determination as a prerequisite for the struggle of workers for a democratic mode of production. Within this revolutionary struggle lies the potential to undermine a variety of contradiction bound into the capitalist system. From this perspective, it is possible and important to develop praxes to “unite all those who can be united” (without obscuring actual class relations!) so as to defeat imperialism and secure the initial victories for socialism and communism.