Struggle editorial, vol. 18, #1, Spring 2002:

The Current World Crisis and
Working-class Fiction


. The events of September 11 and of the ongoing Palestine crisis show that we still live in a world of great clashes and conflicts, a world of imperialism dominated by great powers and their bloodthirsty war cliques of billionaires out for the blood of the working people. Dreams of a peaceful life under capitalism should be forgotten. The only road forward for the working class and oppressed people of all countries is the road of rebellion and struggle. The great powers, led by the U. S. rulers, are not against terrorism; they only want a monopoly of it, to enforce their rapacious exploitation of those who labor. Struggle hails the heroic Palestinian fighters of Jenin, Nablus and the West Bank and condemns their brutal suppression by the U. S. -financed Israeli military.

. Most of the present issue of Struggle is devoted to fiction dealing with the problems of the working class. Is this justified at the present moment? Yes, entirely so. The working class (the proletariat) is the vast majority of all modern industrial societies. It faces insecurity, overwork, unemployment, a constant struggle to make ends meet. The American working class is attacked and disrupted by the racism instigated by the rulers and is sent worldwide to do the fighting and dying for its own worst enemy, the American capitalists. The oppressed, exploited proletarians comprise the only force or class with sufficient strength and desire to defeat the bloodthirsty capitalist governments. Therefore, strengthening the political understanding, courage and organization of the working class is of great importance.

. In the stories in the present issue, important problems of the workers are addressed: racism, post-colonial exploitation, racial manipulation of job and pay differentials, sell-out union leaderships, violence between workers frustrated by class oppression, where to turn in rebellion. Believable proletarian characters face these problems in well-sketched working-class settings. But in a certain sense, good as they are, these stories do not go far enough.

. The writers are skillful, honest and knowledgeable. Important dilemmas are posed, but greater political analysis, deeper political knowledge is needed. This means a class-consciousness that can only be acquired from close observation of and participation in political events and a close study of the theories of Marx, Engels, Lenin and their inheritors. Liberalism, nationalism, anarchism, post-modernism, the Soviet/Chinese/Cuban revisions of Marxism -- none of these world views provide the precise analysis of events and guide to action of revitalized classical Marxism.

. For example, let's take Gillian Katz's story "Weeding Girl. " Her character, Sannie, a Black South African woman of Sotho origin, finds that the fall of apartheid and the rise of Mandela and the ANC to power have not greatly changed her lot. She still lives in poverty, surviving by weeding the lawns of the rich whites. Around her younger Blacks have hopes that Mandela will make them rich, too. Sannie does not believe in these hopes but lives in despair. Can fiction present a way forward? Yes, but only by analyzing the situation in terms of classes and the struggle between them. Mandela actually represents the rising Black bourgeoisie, not the workers. This is why the African National Congress is not trying to uproot the rich white capitalists, but has joined them in administering the country. (Today the ANC is arresting Black housing activists from Soweto. ) Therefore, the workers were not economically emancipated but need to struggle against the joint Black-white bourgeoisie. Only such a struggle would help Sannie. Nevertheless, the anti-apartheid struggle was far from fruitless; many great barriers to the participation of people of color in the life of the country were destroyed. Now it is easier for workers like Sannie to become politically active and begin to see that the ultimate source of their misery lies in the capitalist system.

. A writer could portray these relationships using a variety of creative methods. In the factories, mines and communities there are people engaged in the post-apartheid class struggle; characters based on them could illustrate both these dilemmas and potential paths forward. But without understanding the class relationships themselves, writers are restricted to attacking the most obvious injustices.

. In the case of Mr. Fleetwood's "Uncle Sam's Curse," we have a story reflecting a considerable knowledge of the capitalist workplace and union sell-out-ism. But the protagonist, Yusef, is frustrated and cannot find a way to fight his oppression. Marxism would teach him that in our present imperialist society, the union apparatus and leadership are controlled by the employers; only by arousing the rank-and-file workers can a real opposition to the bosses be built. Even though the workers' movement is at a low level today, it is possible to find events and characters who illustrate such possibilities. In fact, Yusef sees the discontent among both African American and white workers but he cannot see any way of organizing it.

. As the story's union meeting ends, the narrative shifts briefly to Joe, a Black union steward, who is trying to cover his own ass and hides knowledge about the real situation from the workers. Joe's perspective is nationalist -- that of the Black stewards protecting themselves. Scattered complaints from Black and white workers challenge the union-company hegemony. Yusef is very dissatisfied, but remains trapped in a concept of guarding himself like that of Joe. But unlike Joe, he rages against the impotence of his position and curses the whole structure of U. S. society. If Yusef or the author had a Marxist perspective, a way forward could somehow be shown. Marxism holds that the white workers cannot be emancipated unless they join the anti-racist fight alongside the Black workers. Here it would mean a joint attack on the racial favoritism in job assignments. In this very perceptive story Mr. Fleetwood observes all the elements for such a struggle -- workers of both races dissatisfied with management and the union's sell-out -- but he cannot yet conceive of it. Proletarian fiction needs that vision.

. This is not a new question; Black and white worker activists have faced it repeatedly. In the 1920's, when U. S. many Black workers had come to the cities and were working in the factories and mills, the Communist Party, then still militant and revolutionary, dealt with this very question well. It fought vigorously not only for the working class as a whole but specifically for the Black masses, for example, by spearheading the fight against lynchings and for the Scottsboro defendants. Consequently, hundreds of the Yusefs of the time became class-conscious revolutionaries. Richard Wright's powerful short story "Bright and Morning Star" (in Uncle Tom's Children) portrays such heroes.

. The same is possible, in life and fiction, today.

By Tim Hall


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Last modified: July 1, 2002.