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Q. Why is it only the working class which can develop a collective, socialist consciousness?
A. It is precisely the social nature of capitalist production, the collective nature of production, that brings workers together in a common struggle. The working class, unlike the petty bourgeoisie (small business people, small land holders, intellectuals isolated form the masses), develops a collective consciousness and that is precisely why Marxists base themselves on the working class. It is the only class that can develop such a consciousness, precisely because of its position in production. Of course, without organization, as Marx explains, the working class is only raw material for exploitation. That is why the bourgeois constantly attacks the trade unions and labor organizations, hoping to reduce the proletariat to an atomized state. But the whole experience of the class struggle invariably compels the workers to get organized. By contrast, the individualism of the petty bourgeoisie is the result of its role as a class of small producers, small business people, professionals and the like, who are indeed isolated from each other and compete against each other. Even before going into business, as students, they compete against each other in exams. While the working class must certainly draw broad layers of the petty-bourgeoisie behind it by linking their troubles with the fight against capitalism, the petty-bourgeoisie simply cannot play an independent role in the struggle for socialism.
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