Working Smart in the Class Struggle
By Maria Svart
When billionaires claim, as investor Sam Zell has, that “The 1% work harder,” I can only respond, “Why yes, you are working harder than the rest of us in the class struggle. Of course we are envious of your wealth—you stole it from us!”
Make no mistake: over the last 40 years, a small group of people has gained much at the expense of almost everyone else. The right wing governs “top to bottom” in almost half of the states and seems poised to extend that dominance at the federal level. They have rigged the game, and the only way for our side to win is to organize.
But understanding economic injustice isn’t enough. Conditions for protest have changed. There is no such thing as “work-life balance.” Most people are perpetually anxious about meeting their boss’s demands to work longer and faster. They wonder how they will make the rent, whether they should pay down their debt or start a family, whether one illness will wipe them out. Folks know they are getting the short end of the stick, but it seems that action is useless.
There are two main reasons for this. The first was articulated by Margaret Thatcher, who claimed that “there is no alternative.” We cannot underestimate the sense of futility, particularly among young people, that is created when popular mobilizations (most recently, Occupy Wall Street) fail to create immediately visible changes in public policy around finance capital. When collective action seems to have no effect, people retreat to individualistic explanations and solutions. This makes movement building difficult.
Second, now that the effects of de-unionization and declining real wages are being felt by more (white, “middle class”) people, the right wing has ramped up racial scapegoating to fan fears of a black or brown parasitic “other” sucking the hard-earned cash away from virtuous (white) “middle class” people. This divisiveness, which has a long and dishonorable history, also makes movement building difficult.
Yes, there is a class struggle. And, at the moment, we are not winning it. We understand the systemic nature of our economic problems, and history shows us that in this country movements arise when people can feel some hope. We know that racism has been used since colonial times to keep us from uniting against a common opponent, and it is being used blatantly again. This does not mean that we will retreat to our couches and order an escapist movie. It means that we will redouble our efforts, but do so more thoughtfully.
And that’s what our chapters are doing. Atlanta DSAers helped build the Georgia Moral Mondays movement. Several members were arrested in the state capitol while demanding that the governor expand Medicaid. At the same time, the chapter organizes “socialist education circles” for political discussion and engages in solidarity work around a staggering list of issues. Sacramento, Seattle, and other DSA chapters joined the “Fight for 15” minimum wage campaign with other socialists and labor activists, and Philadelphia DSA assisted Temple University YDS in a campaign against the politically motivated firing of a prominent African American studies professor and activist. Local chapters across the country participated in the National Network of Abortion Funds bowl-a-thons in April, raising money to help low-income women gain access to safe abortions. Putting the “social” into socialist, many chapters organize happy hours to build community and welcome new members. We combine organizing and education to build the kind of community we want to see everywhere—and the kind of cooperation it will take to win.
One-percenters like Sam Zell work hard in their offensive against the 99%. We have to work harder and smarter.
Maria Svart is national director of DSA.
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