The Organic Intellectual

If our greatest task is to liberate humanity, as Paulo Freire asserts, then it is absolutely essential that we create a culture of resistance from below that is able not only to counter, but transcend the limitations of the ruling culture imposed by above. Hopefully, The Organic Intellectual will help serve this purpose.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How Do We Define Class Consciousness?

School is in full swing, won't have time to update as I hoped. However, I am in the midst of discovering the importance of Lukács and his History and Class Consciousness as I progress through the work. We on the left often talk of class consciousness, mixed consciousness, etc. and, to be honest, I've never fully understood the concept as it is normally posited. I understood the simple demarcations between, say, a worker who was actively involved in various struggles (anti-racism, labor conditions, LGBT rights, etc.) to further gains for working class people and a worker who voted for McCain and made homophobic comments to articulate things he disliked. The line there is very simple, clear, clean-cut. One appears to be furthering the goals associated with socialism, one does not. The examples themselves seemed fairly obvious, sometimes anyway. However, I still could not fully grasp my head around the concept. For instance, often cited is the idea of "mixed consciousness" where a worker may understand some of the exploitation and around him or her and articulate particular class interests, yet still maintain the "muck of the ages" (racism, homophobia, etc.). Does not, then, a "mixed consciousness" imply a pure consciousness, a full consciousness, or a perfect class consciousness untainted by bourgeois forms of thought. Was this some sort of Platonic ideal form, unattainable, or an objectively defined phenomenon that could be articulated and qualified? Was it some sort of Kantian ethical duty of the working class, or the fulfillment of some historical vocation given the peculiar development of humanity? If either Platonic or Kantian, does this not nullify their usefulness within a dialectical materialist approach and, if the objective historical vocation, how do we come to define what this class consciousness really is? These questions still ruminate around in my head.

Today I don't plan on writing anything. Instead, I'd love to hear what other people would put forth as potential answers, partial or complete, to the following questions he begins his essay "Class Consciousness" with. I plan, in the near future and once I've read more thoroughly through Lukács and his answers, to formulate my own responses as well. How should we address these vital questions?

"In Marxism the division of society into classes is determined by position within the process of production. But what, then, is the meaning of class consciousness? The question at once branches out into a series of closely interrelated problems.

First of all, how are we to understand class consciousness (in theory)?

Second, what is the (practical) function of class consciousness, so understood, in the context of the class struggle?

This leads to the further question: is the problem of class consciousness a ‘general’ sociological problem or does it mean one thing for the proletariat and another for every other class to have emerged hitherto?

And lastly, is class consciousness homogeneous in nature and function or can we discern different gradations and levels in it? And if so, what are their practical implications for the class struggle of the proletariat?"
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