When life hands you lemons you make…a revolution?Posted: January 23, 2011
A few days ago I had to have two of my back molars pulled, because I do not have health care and cannot afford the services (root canal and crown) to save them and prevent infection. This came after waiting nine hours at Highland Hospital just to be seen. I got there at 5:30am in order to get on the new client emergency services list, and I was still number 22 (they only take the first 45). Some people got there as early as 4:30am in order to get seen. This incident occurred two days after my wallet got stolen (with my new EBT card inside) making it the newest incident in a long line of irritating and problematic events that keep popping up in my life and testing my spirit and drive.
When I was sitting in the Highland Hospital dental clinic in the early morning waiting with all the other working-class sick people for some rushed and inadequate care, I noticed a beautiful little girl sitting with her mother. It reminded me of my own adolescence sitting in over-crowded health clinics with my mother, who was determined to keep her four children healthy despite the lack of health insurance at her exploitative restaurant job; despite the lack of help from her dead-beat ex-husband; despite the lack of help from a capitalist system that relies on profit extracted by people’s labor at the expense of their health.
I look at these working-class mothers and their children, who are up before the sun rises in order to get 15 minutes with a doctor (if they’re lucky), and I am reminded that the economic crisis is settled on their backs. It is their commitment to the survival of themselves, their children and their communities that sustains them all; certainly not this barbaric, teeth yanking system. When prices rise despite high unemployment and wage cuts, it is often the women who must find ways to feed their families. When schools, daycare centers, and after school programs close, it is the mothers who must find education and safe places for their children to be at when they are at work. When health clinics close and affordable healthcare isn’t an option it is the women who keep their children warm while they sit in emergency room clinics hoping to be seen.
This is why I am offended by these complacent, bourgeois phrases that attempt to blame the working-class for the lower standard of living they must endure at the hands of capital. Phrases like ‘lift yourself up from your boot straps’ and ‘when life hands you lemons you make lemonade’ fail to see the contradictions within a system that is organized around a division of labor that has built in unequal social relations. These phrases instill in the working-class this incorrect idea that they are the ones to blame for their lack of upward mobility and comfort, and that if they just work hard enough they can achieve it. People are working hard everyday, and they aren’t going nowhere and this is exactly how it is suppose to be. Capitalist society is organized around a class of paid and unpaid workers, who are exploited through the wage; and it is the unwaged worker, such as the unemployed, and the unpaid labor, such as gendered domestic work, that supports the exploitation of the waged worker. We must all participate in this system in some capacity in order to get a paycheck/money to survive. The only way we will achieve any kind of liberation and relief from such an oppressive organization of society is not by working harder, but by smashing such a system of forced labor that steals our life away and keeps us sick. We must re-create the system, the productive forces, and the concept of labor to embody the creativity and the collective survival of the people. This is the historical task of the oppressed.
As the capitalist economy continues to descend into crisis the working class, who are already socialized in the workplace and in unemployment lines, must become organized and armed with revolutionary theory and political clarity on the system, and how reforming it will not lead to our liberation. The working-class must understand their historical task through understanding the system and their role in it and their role in changing it. In Georg Lukacs’s brilliant book, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics he speaks to the practical and revolutionary functions of theory and consciousness within the class. He writes,
“Only when a historical situation has arisen in which a class must understand society if it is to assert itself; only when the fact that a class understands itself means that it understands society as a whole and when, in consequence, the class becomes both the subject and the object of knowledge; in short, only when these conditions are all satisfied will the unity of theory and practice, the precondition of the revolutionary function of the theory, become possible.” (3)
The working-class is a class in and of itself that is a part of the society we live in; they are one part (a huge part) of the objective conditions. When the working-class begins to study capital and understand the way society functions they begin to see themselves as this class of people with a particular function in the system that was created through a historical process. When the class begins to want to change these objective conditions as a subjective force, thus seeing itself as the subject and object of history, is when they can begin to make history through revolutionary means. This is when the class, the oppressed, becomes a fighting class for itself. In order for this to happen we need an organization of revolutionaries dedicated to developing other worker militants, who can spread such ideas among the class to reproduce revolutionary theorists and militants within the class. This is where Lenin’s system of reproducing professional revolutionaries that he theorizes about in What is To Be Done is incredibly useful and still relevant today; especially when most Leninist/Trotskyist organizations fail to do so. Lenin asserted that the working-class has embryonic consciousness of the inequality of the system through their lived experiences, but this doesn’t automatically result in all of the oppressed becoming dedicated revolutionaries committing their lives to overthrowing the ruling class, and emancipating humanity. This class consciousness must be supported and advanced by revolutionaries trained in such ideas, as well as the historical situations that inspire the masses to move. He illustrates this point well here, and when he refers to social-democrats he is referring to socialists. The way I would use that term today would be to describe liberals not socialists.
““We have become convinced that the fundamental error committed by the ‘new trend’ in Russian Social-Democracy is it’s bowing to spontaneity and its failure to understand that spontaneity of the masses demands a high degree of consciousness from us Social-democrats. The greater the spontaneous upsurge of the masses and the more wide-spread the movement, the more rapid, incomparably so, the demand for greater consciousness in the theoretical, political, and organizational work of social democracy.”(53).
This is true to me based off of my own class experience. I grew up poor as a woman of color. I watched my father get harassed by the police and my mother work several minimum wage jobs to support us, while dealing with my fathers emotional and physical abuse. I believed that the system was racist, and sexist and allowed serious class divides to exist between the rich and the poor. I also believed in the righteous struggle by the oppressed and considered myself a socialist by high school. But my socialism wasn’t theoretically informed by revolutionary theory and history enough to stop me from supporting John Kerry in 2004 and Obama early in 2006. I repped the Black Panthers, but saw potential in reformist and bourgeois politicians. These contradictions were based on a combination of my own contradictory consciousness and lived experience. When I begin to get exposed to Marxist thinkers, and read Marx and other revolutionary theories, histories and biographies, the fuzzy line between revolutionary and reformist politics begin to sharpen. I saw the contradictions within the system that would only be resolved through the revolutionary change in that system and the destruction of capital. It is this transformation within myself that reaffirms Lenin’s thesis to me and makes me committed to such a project. The people need political clarity; clarity that they will not receive from bourgeois education or their workplace. This clarity comes from the conditions we live in; the theory we study; and the determination and movement of the working masses and their organizations.
Ive grown tired of lemonade; give me my freedom!