Where the Proletari-at? Introduction to Uprising Volume 7 by Comrade Amil K.

We cannot maintain a pretense of being revolutionary without defining a revolutionary subject. We cannot objectively be revolutionary unless we have: (1) located those sections of the masses with the latent potential for taking up a revolutionary initiative; and on that basis, (2) begun to conduct our work with strategic clarity. To do this we must answer questions like: What are the classes, the social groupings, the strata within Canada whose historical experience as well as present circumstances and future trajectory appear to be one of inescapable consignment to the miseries, depredations, humiliations, and deprivations of capitalism (i.e. the objective conditions of the masses)? And upon this objective basis, we must also be able to identify what sections of the masses have the sharpest consciousness of their place in history, and organize this section to play a leading role in a revolutionary united front (i.e. the subjective conditions of the masses)? In short, where the prolerati-at?

This issue of Uprising contains three essays that attempt to begin answering these questions at the level of the general (within the imperialist world system as a whole) as well as at the level of the particular (within colonial Canada), as well as offering ways to view the proletariat in terms of its motion and location.

Our first essay from Kenny Lake — “What it is, What it Ain’t,” the first in a four-part series entitled The Specter that Still Hauntsattempts to locate a revolutionary subject in the world today through an analysis of the transformations that the imperialist world system has undergone in recent decades. Kenny Lake returns to some of the core theses of Marx and Engels’ analysis of the process of proletarianization in order to provoke a reconsideration of where a revolutionary class can be located in the world today. In examining the ever-growing tides of humanity being pushed from the countryside into urban slums, export processing zones, refugee camps, and across borders and seas a few steps closer to the imperialist centers, Lake narrows in on sites where humanity is in the process of, or has recently been, dispossessed. Lake challenges revolutionaries to look beyond struggles around the remuneration of surplus-value and to consider how ongoing processes of dispossession and marginalization may be critical sites of organizing for revolutionary communist forces and the emergence of new waves of communist consciousness in history. As Lake writes,

In returning to Marx and Engels, we find that the fundamental contradiction of capitalism [– between socialized production and private appropriation –] dons a variety of forms and the accumulation of capital moves through several different processes… Engels privileged the ‘separation of the producer from the means of production’ rather than exploitation, and treats the latter as flowing from the former… Thus dispossession is the defining act that constitutes the proletariat as a class and is crucial for understanding who is a part of this class at any given historical moment.[1]

The central thesis in Lake’s Specter series is that:

It is in the process of dispossession, including the casting off of people into the reserve army of labour, and through the volatile effects of the social anarchy of capitalist production that masses of people most receptive to the aims of and immediate need for communist revolution can be found.[2]

Lake substantiates this thesis in Part II of his series by examining how the unpredictably brutal fluctuations of financialized global capitalism wreak havoc on whole countries and peoples; and in Part III, he looks at how the major people’s wars of the past three decades (Peru, Philippines, India) have advanced in large part through the organization and mobilization of those recently dispossessed or those facing dispossession within the imperialist world system.  The subsequent two parts of this essay will appear in Volumes 8 and 9 of Uprising, respectively.

If it can be said that Kenny Lake’s analysis narrows in on the motional aspect of proletarian existence, those moments of violent dislocation that make the proletarian “free” to sell her labour for a pittance or free to starve and die, the framework of a class analysis offered in Stella B.’s article “Class Analysis and Class Structure in Canada” offers a long-overdue snapshot that is a first attempt to understand the locational features of the proletariat, and other classes, in Canada. If we are going to develop a revolutionary strategy that can contend with Canadian imperialism we must be able to first describe correctly the positions and relations of the various classes and strata in relation to one another (locational), as well as the past and future fate of these classes and strata (motional). This document has developed over the course of months of discussion throughout 2015 in our organization, it reflects a number of changes of position within our organization,[3] and it has significantly contributed to a process of beginning to theorize revolutionary strategy (the details of which are being debated internally and will be published in forthcoming issues of Uprising) .

Specifically concerning how different strata or sections of the proletariat are subordinated or marginalized to the lowest positions in society, our organization’s theorizing on patriarchy has made major advances over the positions held a few years ago by identifying how the historical and present patriarchal processes faced by many women, especially those of oppressed nations, facilitate their entry into the proletariat and the super-exploitation they experience therein.  In continuing to chip away at this theoretical work, Comrade Stella B brought forward “Revolutionary Feminism: Economic Transformation and Women’s Liberation” in the second half of 2014 as a discussion document that is the second installment in a series that began with her article “Super-exploitation of Women….”[4]   There’s much to be said about the article “Revolutionary Feminism” that is beyond the theme of this introduction. But on the question of super-exploitation in particular Comrade Stella advances on her previous theorizing by zeroing in on how the lack of formal “freedom” characteristic of the rest of the working class (labour mobility), made possible by patriarchal and national oppressions, place and maintain super-exploited proletarians in their stratum of the working class. In other words, patriarchal and national forms of oppression must be looked at for how they both produce the proletariat and facilitate its exploitation We can see this point captured in this particular passage from “Revolutionary Feminism”:

Becoming proletarian is a two-fold occurrence. On the one hand, to be proletarianized people must be cut off from independent means of subsistence, which historically has meant being pushed off the land or dispossessed of independent means of survival. To be “freed” from the means of production in the Marxist sense meant free to be exploited, which is the second condition of being proletarian. In order to be a proletarian one needs to be free to sell labour power to the capitalists in exchange for a wage. But some people are less “free” than others. This is the importance of understanding how patriarchy and national oppression work to exert certain downward pressures or limitations on the freedom of wage labourers in order to extract maximum surplus.[5]

The complimentarity of the theses of Comrades Stella B. and Kenny Lake are found in the common political position that struggles against the processes that dispossess or redispossess the masses as part and parcel of ruling class strategy for maintaining and reproducing the proletariat are key struggles for revolutionary communists to take up and may be ripe sites for the cultivation of communist consciousness. And the specific ways in which patriarchal and national oppressions facilitate super-exploitation are illuminated by narrowing in on how these oppressions deny or restrict the formal freedoms available to much of the rest of the working class.

The concept of super-exploitation is sharpened further in “Class Analysis and Class Structure in Canada,” which was published in the first quarter of 2015:

The dividing line between the exploited proletariat and the super-exploited proletariat rests not only on economic rates of exploitation over and above costs of reproduction, but also on a) very real constraints on the ability of workers to “freely” sell their labour power (varying forms of bondage on the continuum of freedom), and b) how much unpaid labour one is providing to capitalism. I personally believe a deeper examination of the role of this continuum of unfreedom -> freedom has far greater potential for explanatory power than any simple financial or functional demarcation. We must also understand the economics and dynamics of national oppression and patriarchy in this analysis.[6]

The explanatory power in the unfreedom/freedom continuum is in its directing of our attention onto the mechanisms of class domination that facilitate super-exploitation, which in the case of Canada have taken on very formalized and expanding systems of indentured labour that include (but are not limited to) the Live-In Caregiver Program, the Temporary Foreign Worker Prgoram, and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

In order to understand how these proletarians have found themselves situated in these programs, we must trace the processes in the imperialist world system that have dispossessed peoples and hurled them into proletarian existence onto other sides of the world. The locational and motional approaches to viewing the proletariat must go hand in hand, especially when in the life of a given proletarian, or his/her family history, all these moments make up the basic consciousness of the proletarian.

How many of the millions of migrants on the move today, squeezed between reactionary political Islam and new imperialist conquests, from Mali to Iraq and Syria, will, at best, end up as fresh supplies of super-exploited labour for the globalized monopoly capitalism? And those remaining in the limbo of permanent marginalization in new slums and permanent refugee camps: What will become of them? Will they be added to the ranks of surplus humanity, the ever swelling reserve army of labour? Blanketing asylum and labour rights for these millions are a chimera. If revolutionary communists do not take root in the swelling ranks of dispossessed humanity, then the historical dead-end of religious fundamentalism will, as it evidently is already doing.

This picture from Jan 2014 shows Palestinian Refugees of the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp queuing to receive food supplies in Damascus, Syria.
This picture from Jan 2014 shows Palestinian Refugees of the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp queuing to receive food supplies in Damascus, Syria.

A fundamental law of dialectics is that all matter is in motion. All things change. Stasis is relative, but it is nonetheless the opposing aspect to motion, making up a unity of opposites with it. The articles in this volume of Uprising, I believe, hang together in way that demonstrates the explanatory power of a dialectical and historical materialist analysis of the proletariat. We can’t know how the super-exploited end up in their structural locations without knowing the processes that placed them there. Arguably, we can have no success in revolutionary struggle unless communists unite with the masses in organizing revolutionary struggle on the basis of resisting those processes of national oppression, patriarchy, imperialist wars of aggression and economic dislocation.

In our own context in Canada, one of the most urgent tasks of Revolutionary Initiative is to apply these concepts to the overwhelmingly evident oppression and super-exploitation we see faced by Indigenous peoples, the Afrikan population, and the rest of the multinational proletariat. These are core questions our organization is tackling internally at this moment; hence, the theme of Volume 8 of Uprising will likely be focused on the question of national oppression.

As always, we welcome critical feedback on our theoretical works, either by way of email at revintcan@gmail.com or in the comments section of our website, at ri-ir.org.



[1] Kenny Lake, “What it is, what it ain’t,” in Uprising, Vol.7 (Fall 2015), 10-11.

[2] Ibid, 14.

[3] Among the changes of internal positions that this document publicizes include: our concept of the labour aristocracy has been modified by and is now differentiated from the concept of the worker elite; we have scrapped the concept of the lumpenproletariat; we are using the concept of the semi-proletariat to analyze many Indigenous people’s continued productive/living connection to their land base; and our thoughts on the concepts of buffer class and swing class have shifted dramatically.

[4] Stella B., Uprising , Vol. 5 (Summer 2014), 5-21.

[5] Stella B., “Revolutionary Feminism: Economic Transformation and Women’s Liberation,” Uprising, Vol. 7 (Fall 2015), 45.

[6] Stella B., “Class Analysis and Class Structure in Canada,” Uprising, Vol. 7 (Fall 2015), 26.

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