The historic Gastonia textile mill strikes are not forgotten
ROME—When in the early part of this millennium I was writing a rather surrealistic novel, ASHEVILLE, about the town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina where I started out my life, I ran into the story of the Asheville-based self-professed Communist writer, Olive Tilford Dargan, of whom I had never heard before. Visiting then her gravesite in the little known Green Hills Cemetery in West Asheville and researching her and her activities I fell into a gossamer review of early 19th century labor struggles in the good old U.S. South … //
… Though those masses once personified by the term proletariat constitute a class, they themselves are seldom aware of it. To become a class of action the proletariat, i.e., wage earners, require leadership, something those furious, hungry, striking textile workers did not have.
The proletariat however is complex. The term is confusing. Who makes up the proletariat? For it comprises much more than the elusive industrial proletariat of the Russian Revolution. Today it comprises any wage earner, the property-less class, which sells its labor to the class of property, money and power. Capitalism too is complex though the exploitation by one class of the other remains. Of course, enterprise needs capital and it needs employees. One asks, therefore, if anyone who employs someone else a capitalist? In the long run, yes. Inevitably, history shows, they will clash. For the simple reason that greed is inherent in man.
Thus those two classes—those who work and those who exploit the wage earner—stand face to face on the stage of life, interdependent, but forever at war with each other. The capitalist understands instinctively this eternal dichotomy dividing men since the Persians, Mesopotamians and the Greeks.
But the super-indoctrinated American working class dulled by the “American dream” does not get it. Moreover, the middle class in America and Europe has not even grasped that they, too, are now part of the proletariat. In that respect, I find that old and criticized word quite adequate.
Dargan claimed the sequel to her first novel—A Stone Came Rolling, same publisher, same pseudonym—was even more proletarian. She claimed that she strove not to write propaganda while she fought with conflicting feelings about writing poetry and her social responsibility. Can one combine the two? Or are fiction and social reality destined to take separate paths?
Having a mortgaged home, a car and a TV does not change the proletarian’s status because his very lifestyle depends on wages determined by the capitalist class which controls property, power and money. The wage earner depends on money lent him by the capitalist bank to buy his home, his car and his TV. The subprime crisis demonstrates eloquently that those loans make the wage earner a prisoner of his employer, be it industry or banks or the state bureaucracy.
Though the man who works for wages, blue collar or middle class, is a member of the working class, his wage earner status does not make him automatically a class-conscious revolutionary. He can be anything, from a priest to the blackest reactionary, which unfortunately is often the case in the USA.
Modern history shows that the American wage earner—the potential proletarian—is in reality the staunchest flag-waving defender of the same capitalist system that exploits him, does nothing for him except pay him unfair wages, sends him to war to defend capitalist interests, and throws him aside at will. American wage earners are so amorphous, so blunted in their ballyhooed ignorance, so unstructured and ill-organized that they do not even constitute a class in the political sense of the word. Their ignorance and their acceptance of their situation represent one of the great victories of capitalism.
The arrangement doesn’t make any sense at all.
In contrast, many Europeans workers are still class-conscious. Divided but class conscious, though now a shrinking minority. But not the reactionary American worker. The absence of class-consciousness of the American worker exemplifies Marx’s statement that “the working class is either revolutionary or it is nothing.”
A forewarning: The day a group of young and dynamic leaders capable of inculcating a sense of class consciousness in the entire wage earner class and organizing it for nationwide coordinated action steps forward and takes the reins of guidance in its hands, then Capitalism should tremble and run for shelter for the movement will be unstoppable. Such a movement in North America can stop capitalism as we know it in its tracks. (read the full long text).
(Greenville Post Senior Editor Gaither Stewart, veteran journalist and novelist who serves as European correspondent, is based in Rome. His latest book is The Trojan Spy, Callio. All his books on amazon).