What anarchists think #3 – Class consciousness

Workers of the world uniteThe aim of anarchism is to obtain a free and equal society. For anarchists now the biggest problem is how to achieve the transformation from the present capitalist world to an anarchist one. Anarchists are a tiny minority throughout the globe but we believe that an anarchist society will be to the benefit of all humanity. Since we think that anarchism is objectively in the interest of all, many people question the emphasis on class struggle to achieve a revolution. Here we will try to explain the anarchist-communist analysis of class and the need for class consciousness amongst the working class if anarchist ideas are to triumph.

Much confusion is caused by the concept of class. This is not the place to examine the myriad economic, sociological and psychological definitions, all of which have important insights to offer in the analysis of present society. Instead we will concentrate on the anarchist-communist political definition which holds that the working class, for want of a better term, includes the vast majority of the world’s population who are oppressed and exploited by a tiny minority of rulers, the boss class, who order them about and live off the produce of their labour. These are not precise terms and it is not to label individuals as belonging to one class or the other, nor should it be. Class is a collective entity and can only exist in the context of a social whole.

We identify the working class as the prime agent in changing society because of its numerical and productive collective strength and the obvious fact that those poorer and more oppressed have more to gain and less to lose in overthrowing capitalism and are therefore more likely to do so. However to gain that result what we describe as the working class must recognise themselves for what they are and how they stand in relation to the bosses.

 

Consciousness and the individual

For anarchists the implication of this is that the revolution cannot be carried out on behalf of the working class by an ‘enlightened’ minority acting in its name. This does not imply, as many well meaning anarchist ‘educationalists’ proclaim, that the vast majority of individuals must become convinced of anarchist politics before we can act to implement anarchism. Class consciousness is not a product of individual commitment but an ideological transformation effecting every aspect of social interaction.

To bring this sense of class consciousness into being, anarchists must simultaneously work to break down the ideological domination of capitalist ideas, and struggle as part of our class against capitalism in practice. The first of these we do by spreading anarchist ideas and by exposing the false values of liberalism, democracy, labourism etc. for what they are, excuses to justify the rule and privilege of a small elite.

Anarchism in turn gains from this by learning from the experience of the working class from which all anarchist theory ultimately derives – the concept of anarchists advocating workers’ councils is a good example of this. Participation in the class struggle comes naturally to anarchists as we are not only struggling against our own oppression but recognise that as one aspect of a whole oppressive system, which generates solidarity with others in the same position.

This natural desire to fight back has the added good of showing the rest of our class what anarchism is really about rather than the lies and myths spread by the media.  These two strands of anarchist activity are entwined as better ideas make us more effective in action and involvement in struggle leads to better ideas.

The class consciousness we wish to create must be such that it not only stands opposed to the present system but must be capable of controlling those who will use the class struggle to achieve power for themselves. To this end an emerging class consciousness must manifest itself as more than an vague feeling amongst our class but express itself in organisation on libertarian principles not least in a coherent and united anarchist movement.

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