"The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win."
- Marx and Engels, "The Communist Manifesto"
In the last article, we identified the main features that lead capitalism into constant crisis and pointed out the grim future unchecked capitalism will lead us to. Now, we need to look at how we get rid of the problem.
The term revolution is thrown around a lot these days. Every day marketing firms tell us of new products the will "revolutionize" every aspect of our lives; they paint us as revolutionaries in order to get us to buy these new products, as though buying a product were a great act of rebellion.
Populist politicians cheapen the term in much the same way, trying to get us to buy their agendas of reform with slogans of "political revolution." With these slogans, they imply that their policies will somehow destroy existing power structures.
The term revolution, however, has a specific meaning in politics. It is. very plainly, the forcible overthrow of a government or social order for a new way of doing things. It isn't pretty, it isn't a dinner party, it isn't just a fashion statement or a bought product, it isn't anti-authoritarian, nor can it be achieved or defended after the fact without authority. Engels put it this way:
"A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?"
That's a pretty strong statement, and it is likely one the average liberal would most certainly cringe away from in horror! After all, can't great social progress be achieved by nonviolent means? What about Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
Well, what about them? Gandhi could be said to be revolutionary in some sense, as there was at least a change in hands of power in the Indian government, but to what degree was he or his movement responsible for that? The main reason the British left India was World War 2 and the cost of maintaining and defending a sprawling empire. Even when the British left, in reality, they did so on their own terms. They also continued to maintain large business interests in the nation and made certain the new Indian government wasn't going to be a danger to those interests. That doesn't sound all that revolutionary, now does it?
Gandhi was a darling of the British press, who loved to trot him out as a good example for how the Indian people should push for positive change. Why? Because his policy of nonviolent resistance made British rule easier and kept the Indian people from uniting under more revolutionary minded Indians, such as Bhagat Singh. To this day, liberals trot out the Gandhian "revolution" as an example to shame modern social activists and keep them in line with literally no knowledge of the actual situation.
To much the same extent, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. picked up Gandhi's pacifist torch, and thereby, hindered much of the Civil Rights Movement's progress. I say to some extent, because although Dr. King admired Gandhi, he was far from a total pacifist. He was fully in sympathy with rioters, fully supported self defense, and was a strong supporter of gun rights for the African American community. Dr. King, like Gandhi before him, is now trotted out as a liberal example, this time to African Americans, to show them the pre-approved way to make social change, that is, incrementally and without any real threat to the established way of doing things. It should be pointed out that most of Dr. King's goals were never actually achieved. Racial discrimination remains strong, police brutality remains high, much of the US is actually more segregated than in Dr. King's time, and the pay gap and unemployment differences that he fought against remain. The only great achievements of that era appear to be the right to vote and abolition of legalized segregation. These are big achievements, to be sure, but even these appear to be more like concessions made by the US government to pacify the African American community that was becoming ever increasingly militant. Rioting was on the rise, and people and organizations like the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and the Deacons for Defense were formed to engage the government in a more aggressive manner. In other words, most of the credit for the progress of the Civil Rights Movement belongs to the militants not to the pacifists.
Similarly, we can dismiss most other pacifist movements for change on the grounds that they too are not actually revolutions, in the first place. No government or social order is actually being forcibly overthrown; for example, if the same class remains in control, the only thing that may change is which faction of that class is now in power.
This is not to say that nonviolence can't bring about any positive change, nor is it to say we shouldn't use nonviolent means whenever it would be most effective. We definitely should, but there are very specific conditions which have to be met for such means to be effective:
a. The change being pushed for doesn't threaten anything fundamental to the society to any real degree.
b. The public must sympathize with the protesters in question.
c. It must be disruptive of the status quo, or else it will be ignored.
This leaves us to consider some other forms of resistance, namely adventurism and rioting.
Both of these forms of pushing for social change are violent, so they have that in common with revolution, however, neither is revolutionary. Adventurism is a small scale organized attack, typically on some perceived part of the system, insurrectionist anarchists defend this type of thing, calling it "propaganda of the deed." It is intended to inspire others to join in, and thereby, create a revolution. What typically happens is the masses condemn what they see as terrorism, the group is caught and made examples of by the state. Essentially, nothing changes. Hence adventurism must be condemned as counter productive in the strongest terms.
Rioting, while it is violent, and even sometimes proportionally massive, it also is not revolutionary. It is typically a spontaneous outpouring of grief or rage by a community, "the language of the unheard" according to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As such, it is disorganized, and so is unable to effectively replace an existing system with another. It can achieve positive concessions from those in power, just generally, nothing truly significant. For this reason the correct perspective of Marxists towards rioting is sympathy for the rioters, while pushing attention to the causes of the rioting. In addition, we recognize that most mass movements start out with rioting before becoming organized, over time. So, we always view such things within their larger historical context.
When Marxists talk revolution they mean something quite specific, an organized mass movement, typically led by a mass based party engaging in a fundamental reordering of society. As Marxists we understand that mass movements, and correspondingly, revolutions require specific material conditions to exist and succeed. In places like first world countries, such as the US, at the time of this writing, revolutionary conditions do not exist, and it would be the height of stupidity to push for revolution when there are no revolutionary conditions and no mass movement to carry them out.
In the first world nations revolution is not possible due to a few major reasons:
a. A good chunk of the workers are bribed with super profits extracted from third world countries, thus pacifying them
b. Workers are divided against themselves within the nation on the basis, mainly of race. White workers identify with the mainly white ruling class, rather than with their nonwhite fellow workers.
c. Workers are divided against themselves globally on the basis of nationalism with first world workers willingly accepting the ruling class bribes and bettering themselves at the expense of third world workers.
d. Linked to all these problems is the lack of a Leftist mass party that could meaningfully challenge the status quo
This leaves first world Marxists in a predicament, on the one hand revolution is necessary, but also for the time being, it is impossible. So what are first world Marxists to do?
Well, the capitalists are already countering the first problem for us: as capitalism continues to fail, those bribes from the ruling class are being cut back in the name of "austerity," pushing workers and even petty bourgeois types away from the ruling class. Unfortunately, this process is pushing many white workers straight into the hands of racist reactionary populist movements like those of Donald Trump or David Duke.
As first world Marxists, there are a few key strategies that should be at the center of all that we do.
1. Winning white workers to the Leftist cause rather than the right wing cause is critical. Getting white workers to join with nonwhite workers, to own and challenge their privilege, rather than either denying it or feeling guilty about it. Working class whites need to realize the necessity of allying themselves with nonwhites. Currently, nonwhites are among the most oppressed, and thus, also the most potentially revolutionary groups in the first world. There is a danger here as well, namely that rather than fighting against the ruling class, many African Americans, for example, are attempting to join it in the name of equality. The, "if you can't beat 'em join policy," will not work. Joining the ruling class, as though it will actually ultimately change their condition, is not the solution to their predicament. This is the dangerous narrative of Beyonce and Michael Jordan. They call for equality, while their products are built by sweatshop labor, and they vote for Democrats. It is the narrative of President Obama. He stands up as an example of African American achievement, while bombing nonwhites, and presiding over one of the most racist nations on Earth.
2. We need to counter oppressive forms of nationalism that favor first world workers over their global counterparts. We need to push for "proletarian internationalism." We need to adopt the strategy of all workers uniting and rising in global solidarity, and we need to promote the struggles for freedom and revolutions in other nations, as they occur. The idea here is to replace a single national identity with a global proletarian identity.
3. We need to encourage the organizing of all leftists into a single mass party organization. Existing parties, if they share the same positions on major issues, need to hash out differences. We also need to come together with regards to dealing with non-Leftists. We need to defend actual socialism. We need to convince who we can, through debate and healthy discussion, to come to our side, and we need to isolate ourselves from those groups with whom their is no hope of cooperation.
The other main objection to revolution in the first world is that it is impossible because those in power are too well armed and too advanced for revolution to be possible. This defeatist attitude is very revealing, since so many of those arguing for it are the same people who argue for the disarming of the general populace via gun control. Supporting such a policy, it is quite clear who's side they are really on. It is also very ignorant to educate fellow leftists of the historical reality that poorly armed forces have overcome technologically superior forces. They have to know that wars are won by people, not fancy technology.
So, in summary, revolution ain't a dinner party. It is a necessity but currently an impossibility in the first world nations. However, that doesn't mean we don't still have lots of work to do as first world Marxists. The work ahead of us is extensive, but it must be done. Next, we will look at what comes after a revolution. Workers must form a socialist state.