What is the timing of the revolution? How do we avoid replacing one ruling class with another? How do we not end up in a gulag after the revolution? How do we actually make this socialism thing happen?
Questions like these are the reason we can’t half-ass anti-capitalist education.
Do we really need to read anything? Like, books? We can just like, surf our friends’ Facebook posts, right?
Eh. Reading some of the radical classics or at least some introductory literature might help answer some of these really important fundamental questions.
Understanding the pace of social change to avoid demoralization: balancing urgency and temperance
Activists are often horrifically unrooted in time. We rapidly vacillate and alternate between wild utopian hopes that everything feels like it’s happening right now, to thinking that because everything’s not changing right this second, there’s no hope, no point, nothing is really happening, and we might as well give up.
It’s really hard to keep perspective.
There’s this thing called a revolutionary process, which is the idea that all the movements that happen over decades contribute to an eventual series of insurrection attempts culminating in a working-class seizure of the means of production. The best example I can give you is the classic Russian revolutionary one, and it would be Tony Cliff’s series on Lenin’s life, starting with Building the Party and then All Power to the Soviets.
This revolutionary process involves the development, over time, of organizations whose purpose and beliefs are that the working class should take over the means of production, that socialism should be established, and these organizations can be small for most of their existence and then bloom into mass organizations in very short spans of time.
This is especially assisted by the fact that capitalism itself undergoes repeated, cyclic crises of boom and bust, unavoidable and inherent to its own nature.
An accounting of the revolutionary process in the USA, for example, would have to discuss a history of:
- The history of the organized Left in the USA, and its ups and downs, including the rise of the organized Left in the 1910s, 1930s, and 1960s, including the growth, repression and collapse, say in the 1950s
- The lull periods where movements and organizations existed, but they were not especially huge or noteworthy, especially in recent times, such as the 1970s through 1990s
- but also exceptional noteworthy events like the anti-globalization movement
- A good place to start is something like A People’s History of the United States
All of this is also tied to how capitalism begins as a revolutionary progressive force when it emerges in history, but eventually breaks all its own promises and becomes regressive, betraying the humanitarian ideals it initially professed and oppressing the groups it claimed to liberate.
This, more than anywhere, would be where intersectionality comes into play. This is why Marxist sociology, socialist history, economics, and the full gamut of theory are required, because they actually manage to coherently tie together all manner of sociological issues with the fabric of capitalism itself, its cyclic crises, and the emergence of the working class as a revolutionary subject to overthrow capitalism, rather than collapsing into a hopeless incoherent mess. And you bet that Marxism or other radical ideologies has a lot of theory on all these topics that is far superior to whatever liberal crap they teach you in college. So yes, we must go into depth.
We need a political project of systemic change, not just issue activism
Lots of people are involved in advocating or organizing around a certain movement, a cause, an organization, a local problem or community.
What political project is it part of? Is there an over-arching goal that it connects to? What type of society do you want to see?
It’s entirely possible that capitalism has us on an endlessly revolving treadmill or hamster wheel of band-aiding charity cases and reforming legislative problems, while just continuously churning out new personal and political disasters faster than we can keep up with them.
This seems like a bad model. We need to be building towards a different political system.
Our activist or organizing or community projects can definitely be connected to that, no doubt.
If I had to be blunt I’d say most people are really strong on the involvement and weak on knowing the goal. On the flipside you have people who are all theory and who don’t really connect to anybody. Obviously we blend these two populations, but we need a heavy dose of knowing what the heck we’re working toward.
So yes, we must go into depth.
Left unity has its place, but ideology matters: we must avoid trading one set of rulers for another
- Not just an election to switch parties
- Not just an election to switch presidents
- Now new factions of the Democratic Party
- Not just trading one ruling class for another
- Not just a revolution to trade one regime for another
- Not just trading a capitalist oligarchy for a bureaucratic oligarchy, nor a bureaucratic oligarchy for a capitalist oligarchy, nor any mixture of these
- Not just trading one race or gender of a ruling figure for another race or gender of ruling figure, not supporting Obama because he’s black, or Clinton because she’s a woman, not supporting Donald Trump because he’s a white man, in a mistaken belief that these people will look out for your own group
Meanwhile, while we’re worried about Out With the Old Boss/In With the New Boss, on the flip side there is the serious issue of stability and security. A purist 100% spontaneist anarcho-communism runs the risk of becoming little more than civil and infrastructural breakdown with the failure to cohere a sufficiently functional new economy, leading to the rise of new warlord ruling classes exploiting the security vacuum, or simply the retrenchment of the old order in the absence of effective revolutionary coordination.
Libertarian communism is the only thing that coheres.
Politico-economic collective democracy resolves both the need for stability and equality.
It is neither impossible utopian pure spontaneity, nor one of the various mere configurations of class society and oligarchy (neither the private oligarchies of capitalism, not the statist oligarchies of feudalism, corporate or gang-based warlordism, or tyrannical bureaucracy).
So yeah, it’s a good idea to learn history of socialist and anarchist movements, and all their sub-tendencies and splinters, all the debates within them. All the –ism: Marxism, Leninism, syndicalism, anarcho-communism, platformism, specifism, insurrectionism, horizontalism, Trotskyism and Maoism and their sub-groupings, DeLeonism, all the splinter isms within them. Because it’s the history of people trying to figure out what to do with planet Earth. It may seem microscopic, it may seem nerdy, it may seem like masturbation, but back up a second.
We only have one planet. Focusing on what to do with it is an important concern, even if that has not crossed the majority’s mind, right?
Sometimes a few must be right against many. Sometimes a few must stand firm in their opinion and prevail and grow. That has always been the story of movements for justice. Get used to it. Study something obscure, be in the minority, get used to feeling a little silly and ridiculous, and help it expand. That’s life.
For example, I don’t really support the USSR for most of its history, but I still found this Economic History of the USSR a helpful read for possible facets of how a socialist economy could function. Similar idea for Mao’s China and After – not really a fan of the People’s Republic of China, but reading a detailed history (and this was a really good one) gave me an idea of exactly where I would feel comfortable borrowing from that government and where I would lay my criticism or condemnation.
Hegel argued that the history of the world was the history of consciousness – the more sophisticated the ideas, the further history has gotten. History became complete, he believed, with the conception of his own, very sophisticated ideas. Gotta respect the audacity.
Marx turned that on its head and said the history of the world was a progression of class struggle, and also seemed to imply that technological development was a thing, too, very closely interrelated with it.
In History and Class Consciousness, Lukacs took it all a step further, narrowing Marx’s concept down, almost applying Hegel’s concept to Marx:
The history of the world is the history of the progression of consciousness in the minds of the working class. Unlike in Hegel’s conception, where the ideas could appear in a single philosopher, for Lukacs history progresses as advanced ideas spread through the many individuals of the working class broadly, perhaps unevenly.
In other words, the real plot of planet Earth is the story of the global working class radicalizing.
Both you and I, reader and writer, should just take a moment and stop and appreciate how fucking awesome a concept that is. I’m doing it now. You do it when you get here.
So what’s the point of ideology? The progress of history itself is the progress of the working class’ ideological political maturity. The progress of history is the progress of the working class getting wise, by path of least resistance and process of elimination ruling out all the various options of ruling-class oligarchy and impossible utopia, finally settling for the final realistic-and-liberatory option of working class self-government.
So yes, we must go into depth.
If we’re ever going to be free, we need detailed specifics on the strategy and tactics of building radical organization, and to dwell on and refine this continuously
But the development of the consciousness of the working class does not stop simply with getting wise to which regimes to reject, realizing it must take responsibility upon itself, and it must be a bit realistic about how it does it.
We must go really, really, into depth.
In Towards a Methodology of the Problem of Organisation, the final chapter of History and Class Consciousness, Lukacs goes the full distance, and asserts something completely mind-blowing.
The history of the world is not just the history of the working class waking up.
The history of the world is literally, the history of the working class learning how to organize itself.
He even gets more specific.
The history of the world is the history of the working class deciding to, and learning how to, form a revolutionary organization so it can overturn capitalism and establish socialism.
And furthermore –
The history of the world is the nuts-and-bolts details of how to get these organizations, movements, and parties to work, and succeed, and grow, and everything else they need to do.
Most amazing to me is the close living interlinkage that Lukacs draws between individuals, personalities, and the organization itself. They do not repress or oppose each other, but are living, breathing, interwoven, symbiotic combinations.
First critiquing traditional parties and organizations:
Corresponding to this is the necessary appearance simultaneously of two complementary but equally false views of the course of history: the voluntaristic overestimation of the active importance of the individual (the leader) and the fatalistic underestimation of the importance of the class (the masses). The party is divided into an active and a passive group in which the latter is only occasionally brought into play and then only at the behest of the former. The ‘freedom’ possessed by the members of such parties is therefore nothing more than the freedom of more or less peripheral and never fully engaged observers to pass judgement on the fatalistically accepted course of events or the errors of individuals. Such organisations never succeed in encompassing the total personality of their members, they cannot even attempt to do so. Like all the social forms of civilisation these organisations are based on the exact mechanised division of labour, on bureaucratization…
Then describing radical organizations:
The inner life of the party is one unceasing struggle against this, its capitalist inheritance. The only decisive weapon it possesses is its ability to draw together all the party members and to involve them in activity on behalf of the party with the whole of their personality. A man’s function in the party must not be seen as an office whose duties can be performed conscientiously and devotedly but only as official duties; on the contrary, the activity of every member must extend to every possible kind of party work. Moreover this activity must be varied in accordance with what work is available so that party members enter with their whole personalities into a living relationship with the whole of the life of the party and of the revolution so that they cease to be mere specialists necessarily exposed to the danger of ossification.
So the question is begged – how do we organize? How do we
There is endless literature out there about how to build movements, organizations, parties. I’ll write another article about that next and link it back here. But it’s out there, and you should begin to make this a part of your life, too. The classic liberal one (ironically named) is Rules for Radicals. Building the Party is more of a radical concept. These are just a start.
Ultimately, why does the working class have to know how to organize? Just to overthrow capitalism?
Also because only then is it capable of running society itself.
So yes, we must go into depth.