Austin Democratic Socialists of America

Class and Class Struggle

Introductory Texts

Vivek Chibber – Why Do Socialists Talk About the Working Class? (estimated reading time: 12 minutes) – This, from Jacobin magazine, provides a basic overview of what socialists mean when they talk about class, and why its at the center of socialist politics.

Ellen Meiksins Wood – Why Class Struggle is Central (estimated reading time: 12 minutes) – This short piece from Ellen Meiksins Wood, from the late 1980’s, talks about why class is at the center of socialist practice, even if class oppression is only one of many oppressions (and not necessarily the one most oppressive to its victims).

Eric Blanc – Betting on the Working Class – (estimated reading time: 9 minutes) – Eric Blanc uses the example of the recent teacher strikes to discuss the way class struggle can play out in the current political moment.

Intermediate Texts

Peter Camejo – Liberalism, Ultraleftism, or Mass Action – (estimated reading time: 40 minutes) – In this speech from 1970, Peter Camejo illustrates, through the example of the anti-war movement, how much power that the working class already has in society. He argues that there can be no substitute for organized mass working class action, either through finding responsive politicians or acts of symbolic protest.

Barbara and John Ehrenreich – Death of a Yuppie Dream – (estimated reading time: 20 minutes) – What about the Middle Class? DSA founding member Barbara Ehrenreich, who coined the term “Professional-Managerial Class,” considers the question of the class that comes in between the working class and the capitalist class. Her and frequent collaborator John Ehrenreich provide a history of a Professional-Managerial Class in decline and considers the legacy of this short-lived class.

Further Reading

Nancy Fraser – From Redistribution to Recognition – (estimated reading time: 1 hour) – Marxist Feminist Nancy Fraser, in the mid-nineties, evaluates movements of the “post-socialist” left. She considers how movements that demand the recognition of difference can coexist with socialism, a movement that demands the abolition of class society (and class difference alongside it). She also puts forward a distinction between “affirmative” and “transformative” solutions for injustice.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do socialists mean specifically when they talk about class? How is different from how most people in America talk about class?
  2. What is it about class oppression that causes socialists to put it at the forefront of their political vision? In what way is class oppression different than other types of oppression?
  3. In what ways, if any, might this approach to class fall short of a truly transformative political vision? What could DSA do to make up for those shortcomings?
  4. Many of the authors make reference to a special structural power possessed by the working class. What accounts for that structural power, and how could a group like DSA leverage that power?
  5. DSA is often criticized for being a “middle-class” organization. Do you think that’s a fair criticism? If so, what could DSA do to address that criticism?
  6. What does Camejo mean when he talks about “liberalism” and “ultra-leftism?” How does that relate to the vision of class put forward in the other articles?