Struggle editorials, vol. 16, #4, Winter 2000-01:


(1) "Now that the
Election Farce Is Over . . . "


. Now that the election farce is over and it has been decided which of the two representatives of the billionaires will rule and rob the working class for the next four years, it will be interesting to look back at how the poetic statements made by Struggle and its poets (in our Summer-Fall 2000 issue) reflected the process of the election. We featured Timothy Carter's lines: "My vote rode the weight of a penny at a thousand-plate dinner." Well, the Florida circus, where Bush stole the election with the help of the Supreme Court, showed the truth of Carter's lines with a vengeance. "Don't count the votes!" became the signboard under which the shrub got planted in the White House lawn. But what happened to our Tennessee patrician, Gore, who shouted in his campaign: "I will fight for you!" He fought for himself but not for the thousands of disfranchised blacks or for the people whose votes never got their legally mandated recount. The Democrats didn't give a damn about the masses; they expected to count a few dimpled chads and win the election and the Devil take black folks who died for the right to vote. The Democrats wanted to get into the White House without dealing with any of the troubling questions the black masses are raising, such as the police murder of innocent citizens, the legitimacy of the death penalty and the War on Drugs, and they almost made it. Now the Dems are free to resume their rhetoric against racism without being expected to do anything about it. And as for Nader, his reforms are merely idle dreams since he does not call for the mass struggles, like strikes, marches, sit-ins, needed to win them. And he has been quiet as a mouse in face of the criminal, monstrous disfranchisement of blacks and theft of a presidential election.

. The two major candidates were chosen for the masses by big capitalist money. American democracy = which rich guy? And in this choice the electoral system only recognizes the right to vote in theory; in practice it frequently excludes minorities and makes it difficult for working people in general to participate. Look at the temper tantrums thrown by the Republicans when AFL-CIO [UAW] workers got the day off to vote. The Florida Farce is merely a pimple bursting to show the pus underneath.

. The Republicans are the unconcealed party of the rich, the naked attackers of the workers. With his air raids on Iraq Bush is openly promising war and exploitation. The Democrats, on the other hand, claim to be for the masses. But they collaborated with Reaganism and with Daddy Bush's Operation Desert Scam. Under Clinton they abolished "welfare as we know it," failed to fight for universal health care and continued the imperialist military bullying abroad. They have dropped most of the liberal-labor demands of their past and have cozied up closer to their wealthy backers; this is called neo-liberalism, the second big enemy of the workers.

. The working masses need an end to police brutality, the death penalty and the War on Drugs; a national health care system; the right to abortion and the protection of women against male violence; continuation of affirmative action; a restoration of the safety net of welfare and unemployment compensation; radically increased taxes on the rich and lowered taxes on the working class; opposition to aggressive military adventures abroad; elimination of repressive anti-union laws such as Taft-Hartley and the [law forbidding strikes by federal employees]; an end to sweatshop conditions here and abroad; a radical improvement in the public schools and subsidization of the costs of college for working-class children; stronger laws against the destruction of the environment; and other reforms as well. The capitalists will not give up a single one of these reforms without a very serious mass fight. The Dems occasionally address these issues but will they organize the fight? Ha! They never moved on any of the reforms that were achieved in the 30's and the 60's until after the working masses were tearing up the streets. And Nader? He is Clark Kent without Superman, demanding reforms without the class struggle needed to win them. When the Dems or Nader do call for action, they put organizing it in the hands of the labor bureaucrats and minority misleaders like Jesse Jackson, Clinton's moral advisor, who try to tone down the struggle and make it harmless to the capitalists. Only when the rank-and-file workers of all backgrounds break loose from these misleaders and fight militantly on their own will any of these demands be achieved.

. Some say that if you don't vote you are throwing away the ballot that blacks fought so hard for in the 60's and before. Well, voting for or against this or that proposition may have meaning, but voting for one of the big shot candidates is what really amounts to throwing your vote away. Only when there is a party that fights for the serious needs of the working class will our votes have the meaning that the 60's martyrs died for. And even then, such a battle will depend mainly on mobilization in the streets and workplaces. At best, it will bring a few welcome reforms to the capitalist system and prepare the working class for further struggle. To be relieved of the exploitation of the workers, of racism, male supremacy, aggressive wars -- this will require a proletarian (working class) revolution to replace capitalism with a system of genuine socialism, a society truly run by the working class.

(2) Why "Proletarian" Literature?


. Given this situation, what role does creative literature have to play? What should dissatisfied writers do? Some, hostile to the horrors of western civilization, pursue an political art for its own sake. For example, some follow the tradition of the distilled, precise poetry of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, John Crowe Ransom, etc. According to these "high modernists", "A poem should not mean but be." (Archibald MacLeish) This literary position, established by the New Critics in the 1950's in reaction against the angry proletarian literature of the 1930's, is still very influential. Other dissatisfied writers pursue individualism to its extreme and produce absurdist works which show anger but embody no way forward for the masses. Examples of this tradition are the Beat writers Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac, or international figures such as Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco. Their works have great influence but offer little direction. In a third category fall the many discontented writers who press for serious changes in ethnic, racial or gender relations. One thinks of the works of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Mar-garet Atwood, James Baldwin. Similarly, structures of authority and militarism have been challenged by such writers as Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut.

. The above examples illustrate paths that many discontented writers take today. All these currents of literature offer insights and techniques that are useful and sometimes provide rich and enlightening reading experiences.

. But this magazine exists because we are pressing for something deeper. It is called "proletarian" literature. The above writers show their discontent with present society either by retreating from it, or by mocking it bitterly, or by urging major reforms or changes in people's attitudes. None of them indict the bourgeois system itself. We support their mocking anger and many of their reforms. But we want a literature that comes from the working masses (and from intellectuals connected to them) and not just from established major figures. And we urge these proletarian writers to deepen their protests to attack the basic relationship of this society, the relationship which makes it what it is, which gives rise to all the other problems and oppressions. This is the relationship between labor and capital, between the creative energy of the vast masses of wage workers (you and me) and the handful of capitalists who buy (or refuse to buy) that power as a commodity and use it for their own benefit. The result is that everything becomes a commodity, everything is for sale, the market and the dollar are God. My labor as a worker of one type is only related to your labor through the commodities we produce and buy anonymously through the impersonal market; we laborers are not directly associated. Hence we have no control over the economy or the political system which rests upon it. Isolated, we are slaves, not of individuals, but of the capitalist class. What associations we have are created by ourselves and wield little influence. We, the actual producers, are dependent on the parasites for our lifeblood. Everything is upside down.

. Proletarian literature -- like the proletarian communist movement -- attacks this relation. Proletarian literature in the fullest sense calls upon all working people and discontented intellectuals to associate directly -- to organize against capitalism itself, to attack the problem of social class at its roots. Marxism provides the scientific theoretical guide for this effort. There can be no great literature without a great idea content. The deeper a talented writer thinks, the more their work will offer the reader. The problem of social class is the deepest of all; by attacking it, writers will strengthen their portrayals and critiques of every form of oppression. Struggle magazine mobilizes all the currents of discontented literature and urges their analyses and techniques to become deeper and more sophisticated. Struggle is a literary tribune of the working people. We take proletarian literature directly to the workers. Our immediate aim is a literature of protest and battle. This literature can either be topical and immediate, such as a poem about Bush's election theft, or it can deal with the more general problems that underlie day-to-day events. Our longer-term goal is to encourage the working class to create a society of directly associated labor, that is, a genuine socialism, where the working masses actively participate in and control the economic, political and cultural life. This society would not resemble the state-capitalist bureaucracies of the former Soviet Union, present-day China or Cuba, nor would it look like the anarchist plan of separate communes fending for themselves. Instead, it would bring material security and comfort to the masses for the first time in world history. It would raise moral and cultural life to an infinitely higher level than capitalism. It would achieve the age-old dream of working people: freedom from the parasites. But a society of directly associated labor can only be created through a proletarian revolution. Hence, proletarian literature must move toward a revolutionary stand.

. A literary movement of this kind has existed and does now exist, even though it is relatively weak. In class-dominated societies rebel art and literature existed before capitalism. With the rise of industrial capitalism in England, Germany, France and the U.S. in the early 1800's, rebel literature began to attack capitalism explicitly. Proletarians possess no means of production. We were long denied any education and political and social rights. And we are still ground down by unremitting toil, racist and sexist brutality, deaths from accidents, toxins, disease and wars. Yet, despite all this, by the 1930's, in the midst of a mass workers' upsurge, our class had managed to create a flourishing trend of proletarian literature. Little magazines and theater groups connected to the workers' movement abounded. There were many novels published and plays performed about strikes, the black freedom struggle, revolutionary organizing, etc. Most of this work was done by people who were not big names in established literature. This vigorous movement was temporarily destroyed by the degeneration of the communist parties into Stalinist revisionism (and it didn't help that Trotsky reviled proletarian literature), by World War II and by the Cold War McCarthyite repression that followed it. Proletarian literature was so thoroughly suppressed by the bourgeois New Critics in the universities that 1960's student radicals (I was one) didn't even know about it. The anti-racist and anti-war upsurges of the 1960's brought a revival in committed political literature, but the revival of Marxism and the working-class movement was weak; little creative writing took a proletarian standpoint. Only recently have many of the proletarian writings of the 20's and 30's begun to get re-published.

. Struggle seeks to revive the proletarian standpoint in creative literature. We began in 1985, in association with the then-existing Marxist-Leninist Party. Throughout our existence Struggle has remained in close contact with the everyday struggles of auto workers, postal workers, cab drivers, black activists and discontented prisoners. We have published and corresponded with hundreds of rebel writers. We have given a wide variety of rebel writers a home and a small working-class audience. Our participation with the Communist Voice Organization in reviving Marxism on an anti-revisionist basis has guided our literary efforts with relevant theory. Now, in our 16th year of publication, we see mass anger rising against the bourgeois political system, against the prison system, against racist brutality, against the world financial system and the robbery of the masses by the utility monopolies. Study these events, writers, and analyze what they mean about the deepest relations of our society. And go forth and fight for your beliefs!

By Tim Hall


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Last modified: October 15, 2001.