The working class is in danger
The physical and armed attacks on protests, LGBTQIA+ folks, Black Americans, educators, and others make it urgent to discuss concretely the need for revolutionary change. This becomes even more urgent when we remind ourselves that there has already a coup attempt: January 6, 2021. ‘Civil war’ seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. Most whisper it with dread, while others recklessly seek to invoke such a catastrophic event, one that will open a Pandora’s Box of violence no one can slam shut. Our situation is dire. It is nothing short of an emergency. There has been—and will be—an increase in violent physical attacks on sections of the working class.
Houseless individuals and the urban poor draw the ire of the liberal middle class. Their support for policies that fuel gentrification and mass incarceration have pushed these marginalized social groups to the edges of urban society. There they can be murdered, exploited, and incarcerated with impunity. A coup regime here in DC would ramp this violence up to eleven.
Drag Queen Story Hours and Brunches are fixed in the crosshairs, too. Politicians and business owners are exploiting homophobic societal attitudes. The increased prominence and activism of transgender folks can be silenced this way. Their crusade has escalated to the point that fascists are knocking out the power to tens of thousands to cancel community events uplifting and empowering transgender and all LGBTQIA+ people. Florida’s Ron DeSantis threw down the gauntlet with bills that banned teaching or discussing sexuality in classrooms.
Masses of immigrants from Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and beyond are still being held in concentration camps near the borders. Deportations continue unabated. Their positions are among the most vulnerable.
We are at the threshold of active genocide. Likely beyond it.
Everything possible must be done to defend people from these attacks. We must seek the maximum possible unity of working people in the face of both the right-wing militias and the state forces. Only revolutionary struggle by and for ourselves as regular people, can save us. But the idea, held by some, that this growing ‘war’ on the streets can somehow lead to revolutionary change is a dangerous fantasy.
It’s only necessary to look at recent history in Syria to understand. There was a mass mobilization of the working class. They acted against the corruption of the elite, against the lack of democracy, against poverty and unemployment. However, when those protests came under armed attack by the state’s thugs, the protest movement was not prepared. It couldn’t control the armed fight back, organizationally or politically. The people who were ready to exploit the gun battles were gangsters, sectarian religious groups, foreign states, and above all: the Syrian state itself.
In these circumstances all avenues for the working class to pursue its own discussions, its own initiatives, were shut down. The man with the gun now ruled. And no revolutionary working-class movement yet existed, outside of Rojava in northern Syria. Such a movement cannot be built overnight. Hundreds of thousands of dead and displaced working class people and the stabilization of capitalism were the only outcomes.
Rojava remains as a beacon of hope for many in and outside Syria. Their example is truly inspiring. Organized by the Kurdish communities of northern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was critical in retaking many cities from the Islamic State (ISIL). All the while, they run their communities communally through direct democratic decision making at the local level. But it was the product of robust, decades-long organizing under repressive conditions. And the threat of it being violently snuffed out by the Turkish army is a daily possibility.
Take it further back, in Sierra Leone during the 1990s. Thousands of gold miners organized with the revolutionary, rank-and-file led union the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). But a bloody coup dashed their organizing efforts to pieces. All contact was lost with the lead organizer—Bright Chikezi—for years. How can we prevent our current labor upsurge here from being violently scattered to the wind if shit goes sideways in 2024?
Thinking locally, the D.C. Area (locally known as the DMV) will be directly affected. The power of the federal government in the District is woven into the fabric of the entire region. It will be a site of intense, likely armed, struggle between political factions. Trump’s coup attempt happened right in D.C. At the time, the entire population of the city was paralyzed. No mass response came even close to materializing. Part of that was an attitude of ‘well, they can get themselves killed down there.’ Which is understandable. But it underestimated the rapport between the various police formations and the fascist mob. Regardless, we were still completely unprepared. This was mere months after the masses of the DMV shook the gates of the White House during the George Floyd Uprising.
There are 35+ separate law enforcement agencies operating inside the District. Ten police agencies in Maryland on the state level alone. Sixteen in Virginia. That doesn’t include all the county and municipal level cops. Or the National Guard. Or the thousands of troops garrisoned on bases dispersed around the region. Bolling Air Force Base, for example, which sits right next to some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. We are confronted with an astonishing array of state forces. Investigation of the specific local layout and strength of these forces is a good idea.
For those of us inside the District, we often forget that we are surrounded by out-of-uniform fascists, too. Virginia is right across the river with its mobs of parents attacking school board meetings and confederate flags hanging everywhere. And of course, remember there are lots of vulnerable, marginalized people throughout the state, too.
Meanwhile, in far West and East Maryland, white supremacist ideology is pervasive, and the Klan is active. The counties of the Eastern Shore of Maryland were the last places in the state to formally desegregate. Many of the Proud Boys and other fascist gang members that have harassed Drag Queen Story Hours and (unsuccessfully) tried to take the streets of the city are from Maryland. In a situation where a coup, civil war, revolution, or all three break out, we will have to contend with a whole constellation of enemies who are armed and dangerous. We’ll have to take advantage of every division between them that we can find. Establishing contacts with extremism researchers and journalists is an excellent first step. Know your enemy.
Now in the broader US, the benefits to the ruling class from stoking their ‘culture wars’ are all too clear. Teachers and other education workers are often prime targets in civil war and coup scenarios. Recent ‘anti-CRT’ laws have passed in dozens of states. Deployments of hostile mobs of middle class white people at school board meetings only erode our safety even more. Teachers, for example, were already twice as likely to get fired compared to other workers according to education journalist Dana Goldstein. Even before all this.
The militias and mobs are useful for a US government that has drifted so far to the right since the Nixon presidency and the advent of the “Southern” Strategy. White supremacists and other fascists have been successfully infiltrating the army and police for decades. They have the backing of the mainstream Republican Party apparatus. This isn’t exactly unique in US history, but the scale is unprecedented. It’s a ready made army.
At this point, the major tendencies of the political left have us going nowhere fast. There are two we will address directly:
- The Democratic Socialists, best exemplified by politicians like Bernie Sanders and mass organizations like Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
- Insurrectionism, often embodied by the Black Bloc at protests or by riots.
The electoral road of democratic socialism has failed at the first hurdle. Bernie and ‘the Squad’ have failed to push the state to the left. In the 1930s, the corporate ruling class was willing to tolerate an FDR. It seems that those times are no more.
On the other hand, obsession with insurrectionism leads us into a suicidal attack against the repressive arm of the state. If anyone on the left tried what the fascists did on January 6, they would have all been murdered. We grasped that Black Bloc tactics cannot capture the means of production. And so, in these dangerous times, how and in what ways do worker-organizers in education orient ourselves?
We must focus on our productive power as workers.
We are at the peak of the unification of our class. Our unity is currently structured by our employers through global supply-chains, communication and transportation infrastructure, and migration. Capitalism’s crisis and the attempts of the ruling class to manage it since 2008 and 2020 are increasingly leading to a process of disintegration of this unification. Disintegration through civil war, botched pandemic responses, economic crashes, and climate catastrophes has begun. Yet in the midst of this historical social crisis, the working class around the world is going into its battles without a program. We are at the point in time when steps towards a program and a pragmatic vision of revolutionary rupture becomes a necessary propelling force for the movements of our class. The alternative easily turns into the nihilistic violence seen in Syria. Or to a paralyzing despair like in the DMV.
We will likely have to somehow build a revolution inside a civil war.
At this point we need to relate a pragmatic program for taking over the means of production. We do not mean nationalization. Though nationalization is superior to private ownership. What we mean is taking over our workplaces and running them democratically with our communities—socialization. For us this is the schools, libraries, museums, and archives. We have to make clear that only this collective step by workers is a radical break with ‘the elite’.
The question of a program is simple. During the Covid Crisis, society has realized what work is essential:
- The energy, communication and transport sectors
- The manufacturing of useful goods
- Care and health work
Work here makes up about 30% of current social activity. That includes the intellectual labor in research units and labs. Much of the rest is useless, harmful, parasitic or purely market-related activity. We have seen that this relatively small section of the working class was able to keep us alive.
We base our program on this fact.
The take-over and defense of the means of (re)production will mean the re-employment of everyone within the essential sector. That could allow an immediate reduction of the working day to three hours per day per person. If you’re an education worker, take a second to imagine a fully staffed building. This would be even better. It represents the transformation of your, your coworkers, and your students/patrons’ entire lives.
We can take over the productive functions of the state and the market while charting the horizons for their abolition. Modern communication networks make this possible. Issues that concern whole regions can be discussed and decided upon by grass roots structures. Resources and consumer goods can be allocated rationally without worrying about money. Look at how things have gone since 2008 with Wall Street fuckers running everything. Don’t you think we could do better?
The radical reduction of working time is necessary to develop the social capacity to tackle the big problems. We pose some questions we must answer in times that are way less than ideal:
- How do we transform the organizations of struggle (strike and neighborhood assemblies, liberated zones, and so on) into organizations of social decision-making?
- How do we (re)build war-torn areas? What gets rebuilt first?
- How do we deal with representatives of the old order of things who end up in the areas we control?
- How do we isolate the areas of the region that remain under government or militia control?
- How can we change the harmful ways we (re)produce our lives?
- How to undo the strict division between intellectual and manual labor?
- How to reconstruct rural communities devastated by factory closures and drug addiction?
- How do we abolish the imperialism that produces global unevenness of development?
This is a necessary transition period towards a society where we can transcend capitalism altogether. We will all engage in socially necessary work so that we can all work less. The core working class, which we as education workers are a part of, will have to enforce this. We will come up against the socially atomized workers with moderate politics, against the lefty commentors and NGO poverty pimps, against the small business owners, and of course against the bankers, lawyers, and politicians.
The class subject
There is no class program without a class subject. There are three main segments of the working class who will have to be the main driving force in a revolutionary transition:
- Tech and other intellectual workers, who embody necessary (re)productive knowledge.
- The essential ‘mass workers’ in the factories, warehouses, farms, mines, trucks, slaughterhouses, refineries, grocery stores, and other similar facilities, who embody (re)productive power.
- The ‘marginalized working class’, who prove that they can turn desperation into collective liberatory violence. Gang members, for example, often play constructive roles in revolutionary situations historically.
Education workers sit at the crossroads of all three segments. We transmit the (re)productive knowledge of intellectual workers through specific acts of labor that embodies the (re)productive power of mass workers. And everyday, we interact with students, patrons, and others from the marginalized segments of society.
The recent struggles of these three segments show their capacity and limitations. We saw Google and Amazon programmers going on strike largely for ‘political’ reasons. They struck against the impact of their companies on the climate, the military use of their software products, and the treatment of workers in the companies’ warehouses. We saw doctors coming forward and speaking out against the government’s Covid-19 regime. However, as long as these intellectual workers remain isolated from the realities and struggles of manual workers, they will remain in their philanthropic bubble. There they can only produce abstract ‘technological fixes’ for deeper social problems.
Teachers across the US have shown a potential path forward by striking for ‘the common good’ before and during the Covid Crisis. Their organizing, both inside and outside official union structures, has been growing more inclusive of support staff, students, and wider communities. Education workers within the schools should do all they can to build or strengthen this sort of unity. Talk to your coworkers about solving your collective problems with collective action. Bond with your students, encourage their righteous anger. Get involved in the community and get to know the families you work with. Relationships between education workers, students, and families are rife with tensions. We must address them head on.
During the start of the Covid Crisis we saw 400 strikes in the US alone, primarily of education workers and mass workers of the essential industries. Things have accelerated in 2021 and 2022. These workers demonstrated collective power in strategic workplaces, but also ran up against the tendency towards narrowly focused self-management that leads to isolation from other workers. Teachers can get caught up in their professional identity over their status as workers. Their struggles weaken without deeper connections to tech workers who can help (re)build and (re)orient our communications infrastructure. Or without the pressure of marginalized workers to demand the end of arbitrary hierarchies between “skilled” and “unskilled” workers. The trade unions will function to broker sectoral ‘bail out’ deals with the state. Deals that try to separate the working class from the more marginalized and precarious lower strata—who are often excluded from the formal economy altogether.
The George Floyd Uprising was carried by a mass of working class people who didn’t act as a collective workforce. It was a mixture of students, informal workers, precariously employed, and socially atomized segments of the class. There was a similar composition during the Arab Spring and the square occupations after the 2008 crisis. We see a readiness to confront the state and inventiveness in the streets.
We also see that these protesters are fragmented in class terms. The professional elements tend to promote themselves as speakers. Meanwhile the marginalized workers depend on the middle-class infrastructure (churches, mosques, NGOs) for survival. Without the tangible (re)productive power of the essential workers, the violence turns in on itself. It will be a hard political struggle to unite all of these social groups around a revolutionary program.
The need for organization
What does all this mean for us as worker-organizers in education? We have to advance a program that theorizes in pragmatic terms what the take-over of the means of production entails. Teachers and port workers in Oakland offer an instructive experience. In 2022, their separate union locals allied to defeat a massive handoff to real estate developers that would fuel gentrification and school privatization. Eventually, they occupied an elementary school. It had been closed and slated for conversion to a charter school. From May to August, they operated the school as a community center, engaging in food distribution and neighborhood organizing. All while still offering classes to students.
In August, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) hired private security to force the teachers, port workers, students, and community members out of the building. Video footage shows security agents hitting, shoving, and grappling with the occupiers. We can expect the level of repression in a coup or civil war scenario to be far higher. Education workers who consider themselves an organizer or revolutionary should be making contacts with leftist groups engaged in training for armed community and self-defense.
The (incomplete) list below offer examples of principled and disciplined community defense organizations that protect protesters and LGBTQ+ events. We need to at least be competent with handling firearms and other weapons collectively.
- The John Brown Gun Club
- Huey P. Newton Gun Club
- Socialist Rifle Association
- Yellow Peril Tactical
That does not mean we should support fascist fuckery like arming teachers inside school buildings. But creating a force of armed, militant workers will require bridging the gap between revolutionaries and rank and file workers. The National Confederation of Workers (CNT) in Spain, united with anarchist militants, did exactly what we are advocating for in this zine. Through armed community defense and robust labor organizing spanning decades, workers and peasants defeated Francisco Franco’s fascist coup across much of Spain. It’s unlikely the Spanish Republic would have lived at all, otherwise. These same workers and peasants then, temporarily, built a new society based on radical egalitarian principles.
We probably have a lot less time to get ready. Better work hard and fast.
We must drive a wedge between public sector workers who engage in productive labor and the repressive state apparatus. And we have to make the difference clear.
Public sector workers include:
- Public school workers
- Sanitation workers
- NLRB workers
- Public defenders
- Public library workers
Enforcers employed in the repressive state apparatus include:
- Prison guards and workers
- Court workers
- Military personnel
- National guard members
The take-over requires the dismantling of the repressive state force. Especially the prisons. Public sector workers are in a unique position to take actions that would wreck the machine of government repression. For example, if sanitation workers began burying all the police department buildings in a city’s garbage. Or workers in government departments launching work stoppages that can jam up the flow of money and other resources to the military and police. A coup regime will want to kill and lock up all its opponents. We have to act in solidarity with public sector workers to make that impossible. Collective actions by incarcerated workers will be key. Armed defense of the means of production, too. It requires the expansion of the take-over along the international supply-chain, through the spread of political hope for emancipation.
This is directly relevant to our situation locally. Two major airports connect the DMV with the entire nation and world. The non-profit and media industries are welded to the political apparatus of the US federal government. They are in large part extremely highly developed communications machines. Education workers could help package messages that could be transmitted globally by communication workers. We could teach countless invaluable skills learned in our own struggles to others far away—or nearby but cut off from us by enemy forces.
Within the DMV, education workers could (re)mobilize to provide political and academic education. Our efforts could help end the division between manual and intellectual labor. We already occupy a blurred space between intellectual and manual labor as educators. Unleashed from servitude to administrators, school boards, and charter management organizations, we can reach our full potential. Every worker can learn any skill they want to learn from an excellent collective of education workers.
The closure of unnecessary industries and radical reduction of labor time will also be in the foreground. A program of insurgent take-over of the means of production will have to point out their specific functions to each of the three main segments of the working class.
‘Everyone works, everyone works less’ could be our slogan. We want to work less at full pay, according to the level that social productivity has reached. We want full staffing levels in our industries to end burnout culture forever. Let the bosses and the state worry about the pay.
This can be a line of intervention. We have to start a worker led inquiry that poses political questions to our co-workers:
- Do we need administrators, school boards, and superintendents?
- What would it take to keep our workplaces running if we took them over for ourselves and our students?
- What knowledge do we lack? What other workers here and abroad do we depend on?
- How would the state react?
These questions have to be combined with concrete ideas about how we can fight back against the current crisis attack of the employers and the state. This will only be possible if there are independent, rank and file structures or organizations within workplaces.
All this needs organization(s)—communist parties, anarcho-syndicalist union confederations, workers councils, or whatever else—in the sense of a living strategy for the self-emancipation of the working class. An organization that is rooted among the tech workers without pandering to their intellectual loftiness. Among the (re)productive mass workers without fostering their trade unionist sectoralism. Among the poor without fanning insurrectionism.
We have to point out that social power doesn’t lie in the besieged government building, but in the productive fabric of society. We need to analyze the concrete struggles. We must find where the divisions between the three segments of workers are called into question. We have to break the weakest links. We have to research how uneven the productive knowledge and resources are distributed. Then counteract this through political strategy. We have to be rooted in the day-to-day struggles without losing sight of the program. We need to judge every proposal and activity of the political left that says it wants to “represent” us, the workers. Do they prepare and unify the working class for the take-over of production? Or do they deepen the belief in individual solutions and state representation?
In the current moment the fascist forces want to draw us into a culture war and armed confrontations—a type of struggle in which the working class can only lose. We have to re-group and re-root our work. We want to work towards a pragmatic revolutionary program in close connection to the concrete local working-class lives and struggles. If you feel similarly, get in touch.