On The Theory Of “The Most Oppressed Are The Most Revolutionary”- A Short Note
As Bob Mandel pointed out in the article posted today, February 23, 2011, Lessons Of The Anti-War Movement: A Trade-Union Militant Speaks On The New Left, youth vanguardism was rampant in the New Left as the student movement began to swing dramatically leftward. I was fully in tune with that sentiment, at least for a while. What I was not tuned into, and as he also mentioned, was the other strong current coming out of the New Left, especially from those elements reacting to those of us who were starting, gropingly, to reach out to the working class was the notion that the “most oppressed were the most revolutionary.”
And the reason for my skepticism was not some esoteric theory but pure fact. I came from a segment of that milieu as it came to be in post World War II America- the working poor, the chronically unemployed, the unskilled day workers, and those drifters, grifters and midnight sifters, as my school days friend Frankie used to say, who fed off their misery. In short, the lumpen proletariat. These segments need a revolution; desperately need a revolution but their life circumstances almost preclude political action unless some bigger turmoils are occurring in society. A lot of the New Left glorification stemmed, frankly, from ignorance of the ways of life down at the very edges of society. And "Third-World-ist" book romance with Franz Fanon’s Wretched Of The Earth and a movie like Battle Of Algiers. I have written previously on the latter and will do a review in the future on Fanon’s work.
No question down at the edges of society that the substance of Hobbes’ observation of life being “short, nasty and brutish,” holds true, as a matter of pure survival if nothing else. The “war” of all against all takes concrete form there either by fear of the takers, or fear of the consequences of not being a taker. Either way the bonds of social solidarity are indeed very tenuous. I will give a very concrete example from my own life so that we can dispense with any prettification of this theory. I, in my very early teens, hung around with a bunch of guys, guys a few years older, from “the projects” where I lived who were into “jack-rolling.” For those not in the know about this activity it is very simple. Take one dark alley, or other isolated place, stand in the shadows or some other out of the way place with a Billy club–like stick (or other blunt instrument) and wait on some likely (usually an old or otherwise helpless person) and when your “target” comes by either threaten or actually use that club to subdue the victim, taking their money or whatever valuables with you. Nice, right? I was, given my youth, the look-out, or set-up guy. I didn’t do it for long, the lure of the library made more sense at some point. As for those other guys, some went to jail for other more serious offenses, some were killed down in Mexico in a drug deal that went wrong, and at least one died in a police shoot out. Needless to say no Bolsheviks came out of that crew. And this, my friends, from other stories that I have heard later, was not all that different when you changed the faces to black or brown.