In Uprisings and Revolutions – 1, I attempted to condense my own research on the development of uprisings and revolutionary processes along with the general stages they pass through on their way to either defeat or success. That research was prompted by a growing realisation that, despite our frequent use of the word, many of us on the revolutionary anti-capitalist left, had no clear understanding of the processes or stages involved in such epoch-making socio-economic changes. It now appears that there is also only a vague understanding of the socio-economic content of such changes. Hence this second article.
The above noted encounters also convinced me that the majority of those classifying themselves as revolutionary anti-capitalists were, to a greater or lesser extent, also sectarian dogmatists. Their lack of understanding of ‘revolution’ was therefore only one of the characteristics of their sectarianism. Namely the characteristic of operating by means of idealised abstractions and being satisfied by logical deductions – irrespective of whether these deductions corresponded to the actual events considered – or not. A characteristic which continues in the 21st century. [See Sectarianism Parts, 1, 2, and 3.]
The sectarian view of unfolding reality is always adjusted to make sure – as far as possible – that their dogma (often misrepresented as principles) prestige and self-esteem remains untarnished. Since reality is always complex it is possible for sectarians to select from it so as to confirm their pre-existing views. Rarely are their views seriously questioned or checked to establish whether they still correspond to reality as it unfolds. In other words an ideological method of reasoning is adopted. This involves separating ideas from the material foundations upon which they arise and then transforming them into superior ideas that the sectarian considers are the most ‘advanced’.
Reading recent articles and statements by some revolutionary anti-capitalists of the situation in Egypt and Syria, it has become obvious that this mode of operations still characterises much of the left. Since real ‘revolutionary transformations are infrequent events and there have been none since the early 20th century, it has become too easy to operate using such abstractions derived from previous ones. Some on the left have witnessed the mass uprisings in the ‘Arab Spring’ countries and based primarily upon the large numbers involved, have drawn the conclusion that actual revolutions have taken place.
This then becomes a serious problem. Having classified them as such everything else they describe about the situation in these countries flows logically from that primary (and as we shall see mistaken) assertion. Any serious or temporary fluctuations in the struggle between the contending political formations in these countries of uprising must then be dualistically interpreted as ‘revolutionary’ or ‘counter-revolutionary’ without any regard to their specific content – or even lack of it. Their reliance on second-hand abstract formulations allow them to mistake the ‘form’ – initial mass uprisings – as being sufficient ‘content’ in itself to make it a revolution.
Distinguishing form from content.
Yet a study of historical cases, suggests there is a marked difference between an uprising which is predominantly motivated by being against something and one which is also clearly motivated for something. If it is only against something, then an uprising is unlikely to attract and sustain sufficient numbers to support it. Any absent, undeveloped or counter-productive content of an uprising does not bode well for its future success. Even if the uprising obtains popular support and succeeds in temporarily defeating the object against which it is directed, without a some kind of positive alternative and future focussing and unifying perspective, it can immediately begin to flounder and become, aimless, bogged down, or subverted.
All three of these possible effects have been clearly demonstrated by the 21st century uprisings in the Middle East and the Nagreb. In Tunisia the massively popular uprising against Ben Ali, became bogged down and subverted into sectarian electoral politics. In Egypt, the protests against the Mubarak regime, also became deflected (or subverted) into sectarian political channels and is now almost back to before (Tahir) square one with arbitrary military rule dominating Egyptian society. In Libya the popular uprising against Gaddafi, was also subverted and after the sadistic bombing by Europe and the USA, has become bogged down in sectarian, internal and regional conflict.
In Syria, the initial uprising against Assad has also become subverted and bogged down in what amounts to a tri-party civil war between government, secularists and Islamists for control of the state – or at least a break-away slice of it. And in this case again – as with Libya – with the neo-liberal west once more poised to dump its surplus weapons production on innocent and guilty alike. In Bahrain protest was brutally crushed and elsewhere in the region protests were bought off with force and huge tranches of accumulated petrochemical super-profits.
In each of these cases there was little or no systematic development of a positive content to the popularity of the uprisings even though the potential for this content was visible from the outset. The young graduate, who set fire to himself in Tunisia, which provided the spark to set the Arab Spring ablaze, epitomised the growing regional dissatisfaction in the economic and social conditions of the bulk of their respective populations. In Egypt it was the slogan ‘peace, bread and justice’ which summed up – albeit in an abstract form – the real potential revolutionary content of the uprising there and elsewhere.
Yet in these two countries this positive and potential revolutionary content does not appear to have been developed into a consistent, wide-spread and high-profile message with practical measures and suggestions attached to it. Nor does such a perspective appear to have materialised in any other of the countries involved in the Arab Spring Uprisings. This initial unifying ember among the tinder of resentment and anger seems to have been neglected, rather than being fanned into a roaring blaze. There has been no modern widespread unifying slogan transcending differences of class, politics, religion and region, such as – ‘Peace, Bread and Land’ – that emerged in 20th century Russia. Nor is there any positive vision of a future post-capitalist form of economic and social reconstruction.
A revolutionary content is essential.
Yet a positive content is required for all successful revolutions. It is true that the English revolution of 1641 – 50, was highly motivated by anger against the king continually exercising his dictatorial prerogative. However, anger with the king was not what sustained participants through the years and harsh winters of the English civil war. The Parliamentary leaders and their followers were also motivated by their desire to pursue freedom to sustain and develop bourgeois economic relations as well as religious alternatives to the existing dominant ones. Another socio-economic form had been proven to be possible and worth fighting for. The same (or very similar) can be said of the motivations behind the French Revolution and the American Revolution of the 18th century. That is to say economic reasons underpinned all the religious, moral, legalistic and political rhetoric the contending parties articulated.
It is also true, to some extent of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the 1930’s Maoist Revolution in China – before both became fatally transformed into totalitarian forms of state-capitalism. What sustains an uprising beyond its initial flash-point and the consequent short-lived momentum of being against this or that ’system’, is an evolving idea (its growing revolutionary content) of what life should be – and could now be – and what is needed to transcend the underlying cause of the popular unrest. Indeed, both types of motivation (for and against) can coexist, but if an angry uprising is to be transformed into a determined revolutionary movement then sooner or later, there needs to be a clear and popular understanding of what the positive aspects of the protests are and what they are aimed at achieving.
It is clear that in the growing systemic crisis of the capitalist mode of production, there is a rising tide of anger and frustration against capitalism. Every country in the world is dominated by the neo-liberal phase of capitalism and consequently in every country there is visible large-scale, structural unemployment, insitutionalised poverty alongside obscene levels of wealth and plenty. At the same time there is awareness of wide-spread corruption at every level of government and civil society institutions – including the financial sectors. Paralleled with these obscenities are catastrophic levels of atmospheric, land and ocean pollution. Yet the machinery, technology and scientific know-how exists for sustainable production which could ensure a satisfactory level of well-being for everyone on the planet.
Finally, there is increasing oppression by the elite controllers of capitalist states against their own citizens as well as those of other countries. The world is awash with capitalist produced armaments being used to fight over the capitalist produced conditions of poverty, exploitation and oppression. In the 21st century, there are multiple reasons to be against the capitalist mode of production and potentially astronomical numbers of people wanting something different from the current unsustainable corruption and chaos from the domination of capital. The potential for revolution is therefore global. But here is the rub. There is also a huge crisis on the left and not just in terms of its extraordinarily low numbers. There is now a dearth of unified, inclusive anti-capitalist ideas and associated economic system vision to replace the present out-dated and self-destructive one. There is no positive example of a large-scale alternative. This possibility was negated by the vanguard elitism of a previous generation of anti-capitalists.
So it cannot be surprising that – as yet in the 21st century – there is no positive and clear content to the existing and any future uprisings against the system. Given the outcomes of previous attempts by anti-capitalists to transcend the capitalist mode of production, the anti-capitalist project has been rejected by all but a few. On the one hand, the numerous examples of reformist ‘socialist’ experiments in Britain and Europe, have only succeeded in maintaining the capitalist mode of production with a few patronising charitable ‘benefit systems’ for capitalisms human rejects – now after several decades to be taken away. During that period of Social Democracy the rich got richer, the poor got poorer and the capitalists successfully corrupted the so-called ‘representatives’ of the working and oppressed classes. Labour and Democratic Socialist reformism, metaphorically and literally has proved a dead end – particularly in their support for wars.
On the other hand, the ‘communist’ examples of Russia, China, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, North Korea etc., stand as massive negative examples of what can become of the lives and welfare of those who followed the 20th century ideas and practices of those who classed themselves as ‘communists’. This has proved itself yet another tragic and brutal cul-de-sac rather than a positive way forward. Truly revolutions – betrayed. These two generic examples of what a post-capitalist society would look like – epitomised by 1945 Britain on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other – offer no convincing or appealing potential ‘content’ to any present or future uprisings in the middle east, Europe, North America or elsewhere. To pretend otherwise or ignore this glaringly obvious fact is to emulate an ostrich.
We now have a capitalist system again in world-wide terminal melt-down and, as noted, not even a partial vision of what could positively transcend it to enthuse the majority of earths humanity – who sooner or later will be compelled to rise up against it! But for what?. Indeed, there is not even an attempt to come up with an accepted version of what form a post-capitalist mode of production might take among those few remaining elements within the Leninist and Trotskyist anti-capitalist tradition. Split into competing sects and bogged down in sterile polemics over whom has the ‘correct’ understanding of Leninism or Trotskyism, there is nothing but confusion and dogmatic pettiness among much of this section of the anti-capitalist left.
Worse still, having classified the uprising of 2011 in Egypt as a revolution, many such self-certified revolutionaries have now had to classify the recent military coup as a ‘counter-revolution’, when in fact it is just a re-imposition of a naked military rule. The military had never left the economic, political or financial seats of power in business or the state. They had merely assumed a posture of tolerance, donned a form of democratic camouflage and retreated slightly into the background. The reality is that despite the sacrifices made in Egypt, there has never been a revolution. And any potential revolutionary content has been sidelined by a focus on politics and political outcomes. Have some on the left contributed to this focus on political solutions? You bet.
A 21st century content-less and vision-less ‘left‘?
Indeed, there has never been a full development of the uprisings, based upon their original socio-economic motives, which started in 2011. There was no general recognition among those who assembled in Tahir square to protest, that changes in who governs the system would be insufficient to solve the problems of food, housing and justice, facing the population now or in the future. If there where any voices which articulated this aspiration and warned of the danger of illusions in bourgeois democracy, they were drowned out by those who thought differently. Otherwise, the masses would not have been deflected for so long into the sterile cul-de-sac of bourgeois electoral politics or into internecine, self-defeating sectarian violence .
Does this lack of understanding and consequent mistaken classification really matter or is it just being unnecessarily pedantic to point out this dismal fact? I suggest it does matter. I further suggest careful analysis and accurate classification is a pre-requisite for those active in relationship to large-scale uprisings and civil-disorders. If those who count themselves as revolutionaries do not understand revolutionary processes and make such fundamental mistakes it is likely that they will misunderstand many other things – and worse still – pass these misunderstandings onto others. This is exactly what many are currently doing.
A similar confusion arises over the difference between a civil-war and a revolution. The fact that in both cases (civil-war and revolution) citizens of the same state are struggling violently against each other for some particular outcome, does not exhaust the question for revolutionary anti-capitalists. A civil war can be a contest between one party or faction and another – over control of the state – under the existing mode of production. In this case the contest is over who has power to govern. The form may be a militarised civil-war but the content is political. These are not revolutions in the sense revolutionary-humanists and other anti-capitalists define them.
The necessary content of anti-capitalist revolutions.
Since the time of Marx and other anti-capitalists, a revolution requires a different purpose and content for the struggle against the ruling capitalist and pro-capitalist elite. Uprisings, demonstrations, petitions and changes in government personnel will not solve the basic problems for the bulk of humanity. Due to the degenerate nature of the capitalist system, modern revolutions are required to be epoch changing and radically alter the present mode of production. The task is not to replace one entrenched ruling elite with another by means of an uprising or even a civil-war, but to change the entire mode of economic production and along with it the mode of social relationships. The means of struggle for this end may initially take the form of a civil uprising and possible/probable civil war between the states elites, their supporters and the majority of the population, but the content – and even the form – is indisputably different.
In other words the ‘form’ and ‘content’ of an anti-capitalist revolution is a protracted struggle to overcome the existing dominant ideas and economic practices along with the ruling class who control these ideas and practices and transform the entire mode of production. This includes eliminating the class structure and transforming the form of governance of populations into self-governing communities, jointly controlling the means of production and producing for ecologically sustainable human needs. The ‘form’ of a revolutionary movement to achieve this as a consequence needs also to match the content. The revolutionary form needs to be fully participative, truly democratic and inclusive, non-sectarian, and inspired by revolutionary-humanist values.
In contrast the ‘content’ of a non-revolutionary civil war has a more politically limited purpose and a more political form. To achieve its purpose ‘civil-war’ only requires charismatic leaders and an obedient and energetic led in both the political and military arena’s. There are of course other, more nuanced, differences also between a civil-war and a revolution but the above is an important and fundamental difference. It is interesting in this regard, that the pro-capitalist elite in Europe and North America have colluded in the description of the Arab Spring uprisings as revolutions.
Knowing that revolutions are legitimate – their predecessors having come to power by these means – the pro-capitalist elites in the west and elsewhere can then adopt a somewhat positive attitude toward these. Effectively saying; ‘you’ve had your revolution so now get back to work and we will help you to re-construct your politics, infrastructures and economies to get them back on their feet’. Colludion with this terminological confusion, by the left therefore, serves the neo-liberal capitalist elite well. However, elite and media false characterisations of reality and potential are not the only problem. So too is the sloppy thinking by some on the left, for it means there is no serious voice to contradict this naive or deliberately engineered neo-liberal misperception.
How to avoid being part of the problem.
Those on the left who automatically classify large-scale uprisings and vicious civil-wars as revolutions also sow confusion amongst themselves and the working class. To avoid this they should seriously study past revolutions and uprisings. If they do not the workers and oppressed can be ‘led’ by them into thinking that they have done enough if they have massed in uprisings and offered themselves as martyrs for an imagined revolution, which has brought them nothing. Disillusionment can then set in when their misdirected efforts and huge sacrifices produce little or no positive results.
Alternatively, they can be sucked into the ranks of those who are engaged in a civil-war struggle thinking it a revolution and become naive shock troops drawn behind one or other competing faction in a struggle for control of an existing country or state. For example, thousands of working people who thought themselves ‘socialists’ in the 20th century, fell for this and joined the Bolsheviks in Russia and the National Socialists in Germany. Look where it got them! They became the exploited wage slaves of totalitarian states. Others calling themselves ‘communists’ stood aside in the struggles against the Nazis – thinking their time would come. It did in Hitlers concentration camps. There are countless other examples of the left being part of the problem and not part of the solution.
In the complex, shifting, confusing events which swirl around any large-scale civil unrest, it is important that those engaged in support of the anti-capitalist perspective are clear about what ‘content’ is present, absent or what pseudo-content is being projected into those struggles to deflect them into dead ends. In the context of an uprising or potential civil-war, the anti-capitalist ‘content’ of any struggle – if it does not dominate spontaneously – needs to be introduced by the revolutionary anti-capitalists. Even huge events are not potentially revolutionary if they do not gain such a content or produce one in the developing process.
Even if any ‘revolutionary’ content is drowned out by more powerful voices then it still needs to be persistently promoted and become a pole of attraction for those engaged in the struggle at whatever level they entered it. And who is to do this if not the revolutionary anti-capitalists, if they are not to become part of the problem? It is clear that in the case of the Arab Spring uprisings and those demonstrations now occurring in Europe, the real revolutionary content is socio-economic and not political. The focus should be on this socio-economic content, together with the non-sectarian self-activity of the workers and oppressed. It should not be on the construction and conduct of formal politics involving political parties and bourgeois elections.
Attempts to obscure, deflect or subvert that socio-economic content in favour of a political content, can only aid the cause of the ruling elites and those reactionary forces which have an elitist agenda. Any failure by the anti-capitalist left to leave out the full implications of the capitalist mode of production and its current five-fold crisis, is to assist the reactionary elements within society and to misdirect the efforts of those struggling against this or that aspect of oppression or exploitation. Any clinging onto dogma, any failure to admit mistakes, any continued use of outmoded and discredited organisational forms and any defence of half understood abstractions by the left will be a barrier which workers and the oppressed will need – sooner or later – to pass round or dismantle and climb over.
Roy Ratcliffe (September 2013)
Revolutions always “fail”, even when successful. It’d be naive to think otherwise: every single revolution has “failed”, yet all them have succeeded in the long run and they have been decisive forces in driving change farther and faster than it could be thought at first. If you want to see the cup half-empty you will see it that way.
What we can’t do is to deny the revolutionary processes their nature just because they fail (apparently). Some get bogged since early on others “succeed” and are betrayed, sure but together they drive change. Was maybe the late 19th century Europe the same as before the French Revolution? No way. Is Europe today the same as before the Russian Revolution? Not at all. All these revolutionary processes have driven the dialectic ahead one or several twists. And there is no way back. Exactly the same that there is no way back in Egypt (or in general all the Arab World), no matter what Al-Sissi or Morsi may think: once the gates of Hell, so to say, are opened there’s no way to put the demons back inside. Society changes and politics change. These are points of no return.
Also, while I can only agree on the need of a communist revolutionary movement to be throughtly democratic and participative, we’d be naive if we think that it can take power without either armed struggle or, in the best (and unlikely case), the use of bourgeois institutional political mechanisms (assuming total demoralization of the bourgeois forces, otherwise they will throw in all their violent might, which must be countered effectively). The actual revolutionary successes of those who raised the banner of revolution, be it bourgeois or proletarian, were invariably achieved by means of armed takeover, be it France or Russia, the USA or China, Switzerland or Albania, the Netherlands or Vietnam… When the revolutionary forces failed to organize themselves in armed form, as happened in Italy in the 1920s, for example, they were defeated and smashed (sure: the “demons” were still lurking around, as Mussolini would notice in person in 1945, but not quite the same).
I must say that of the two ways of defeat I prefer betrayal, internal failure. At least it’s then us against ourselves and not anymore against the old regime. Even the worst of ourselves (say Stalin) can push changes ahead much more effectively and dramatically than the best of the class enemy. In the preterite context of the bourgeois revolutions as well, Napoleon was a much more progressive force than the most benevolent form of Restoration. Sure: they are disappointing and frustrating but still a lesser evil.
Now we are surely entering a new era of revolutions, for which the Arab springs are just an appetizer. It’s about time. I truly hope and expect that things will be done better (a mature working class disliking autocracy, a planet in desperate need for radical change) but even in the best case the results will be frustrating no doubt: we are after all just brainiac apes and getting together the stand of seven billion people is a titanic task, even in the Age of Internet. I’m sure that each of those seven million will be frustrated to some extent by even the best of achievements.
I feel that you fall in exactly the same trap from which you try to discourage others: certain dogmatism about what to expect and how to do it. Instead we should learn from history: how real revolutionary processes work, and they do so by opening the gates of Hell (of Pandora’s box if you prefer). Those “demons” can’t be pushed back inside the cage, at least not in any efficient way, and change unavoidably happens and impregnates every sphere. The same is valid for “softer” revolutions like 1968 or Punk. And the same is valid for the Arab Spring indeed. Just wait and see.
Of course ‘failure’ or success needs to be judged against the criteria one considers appropriate – a far larger discussion than covered here.
You are right to challenge whether I am being dogmatic myself. I don’t feel I am at all and as I have said elsewhere ‘whenever I am sure of something I maintain it with doubt’ nevertheless I will re-read the article to see if I am or what inclusions appear to be being dogmatic. Regards, Roy
As for “dogmatic” I mean when you say the movement has to be this and that and must achieve…
Also when you put everything in the same bag (Russia, Yugoslavia, China… or elsewhere Tunisia, Egypt, Syria…) without any apparent ability to show critical discernment on the various cases.
What really gets me angry about this kind of discourse is that in the end it’s purist and says nothing. You know what: I think it’s a zillion time better to be like the Tunisians who initiated a revolution and got at least for a day to run after the cops in anger and not, as always, before them scared, than waiting for some “perfect”, almost messianic, redemption since the times of Oliver Cromwell like the English, getting kettled without reacting and yelling at a guy who dared to confront the cops. It’s not just the English, don’t get me wrong, it’s Latin Americans, Spaniards, Basques, almost every other “Mr. perfect lefty” does that: “you people from Tunisia don’t have the slightest idea of what a revolution is, we the experts from the petty commitee know better”.
I think that the people of Tunisia has much better idea of what a revolution is than most Europeans and certainly than most of those European lefties who seem to advocate inaction and resignation till the Messiah comes (or whatever). It’s like that song of Bizardunak (a local band from around here): “In the End of Times an angel will come, his name is Lenin, to save the world from revisionists…”
That’s not revolution. Revolution is getting to run after the cops, for example, and then, when they have surrendered, be faced with the uncertainty of what to do next. That’s the day after revolution and of course you can fail strenuously, especially if you don’t have a plan, an organization and/or enough accumulated power to impose your (class) terms.
The people of Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, etc. are still fighting. They don’t need your contempt nor your erudite patronizing – what they need your solidarity and sincere interest. In Tunisia particularly there are important red forces, in Egypt they seem to be coalescing now, in Bahrain it’s nothing but brutal repression… Even in the best case these countries are not going to jump to socialism overnight, before 1917 there was 1905 and before 1905, as I believe you (or was someone at The Commune?) explained there were decades of growing class struggle.
However, like 1905, what these revolutions outline is the dire need for change and solutions for and by the people. These solutions can only be socialist, the case of Egypt is very clear but is not the only one, but the populace is not yet set for that, they first need to develop a consciousness and that doesn’t happen overnight.
Clearly you do not agree with at least some of my opinions on recent events – in this article – which is your right. However, when you do so I would ask you to not be so disrespectful. Disrespectful characterisations such as ‘Mr Perfect Lefty’, ‘Messiah’, ‘Lenin’ and being ‘patronising’ are all assertions well wide of what I stand for and what I consistently represent. But how would you know – you don’t really know me. You seem to have also missed the frequent references to the revolutionary left and jumped to the conclusion that the article is aimed at the ‘people’ of Tunisia and elsewhere. Not so! As well as being disrespectful, is this something of a polemical distortion? Most of my articles are severely critical of all those ‘left’ characterisations you unjustly level at me. In addition the majority of my articles consistently argue for the self-activity of the working and oppressed sufferers under the capitalist mode of production.
The blog as it presently stands comprises of personal opinions and reflections, mainly my own, on the current situation and the history as understood by the authors of the articles. There is no pretence that I or any other contributor know everything or see everything. Indeed there is a recognition that knowledge is a collective product and an evolving process. However, in pursuing that knowledge, the principles adhered to in this blog are indicated in the ‘about’ section. They are as follows.
1. Opposition to capitalism in all its economic, social and political forms.
2. Opposition to sectarianism and dogmatism.
3. Opposition to polemical distortion in disagreements.
4. Opposition to disrespect, sarcasm and intimidation.
5. For, sharing of information and understanding, including joint tactical discussions.
6. A refusal to allow theoretical differences to impede or prevent joint action.
I will leave readers to decide for themselves from the many articles, as well as this one whether the inferences you lay at my door are valid or not. Also I will leave to readers to decide whether your above comment adheres to or ignores the suggested principles.
My apologies if you thought I was being disrespectful to you. If I follow this blog is because, in general terms I quite like it, Roy. I was just training to explain myself.
Anyhow one thing is to have some principles and another being coherent with them all the time, what is probably just impossible even if you try hard. I don’t mean that you’re any sort of hypocrite but just that in this particular entry I feel that there are certain inconherences, and a fall into the typical sectarian vices of “knowing” how a revolution “should be”, etc.
My criticism is not against you personally, not at all, but I have read these kind of opinions a lot as of late and I could well say that they are very typical of certain kind of people who consider themselves red, communist, lefty and what-not but with whom I find myself compelled to disagree very radically.
They say the Arab Revolutions are not revolutions. Then what are they? Sure: they are not socialist revolutions (yet) but when the people rises as they did in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain I find extremely hard to deny these uprisings the label “revolution”. They conflate Syria with Tunisia, Libya with Egypt and totally forget about Bahrain. They imagine that just because The Empire is trying to redirect the turmoil into their interests, it is The Empire who has been somehow manipulating the masses from the shadows since the beginning, even against its own puppet dictators. They disdain the new means of communication as if they would still dream with mimeographs. I’ve even read some who went as far as claiming the Muslim Brotherhood as “a classic Leninist party with wooden benches and offices” (when they are an extremely obscure and hierarchical cult-like organization and of course a reactionary one).
I must say that most of those opinions I have read in Spanish language, rather than English. It’s like they find difficult to fit these bourgeoise-like revolutionary processes in their mindset. They also did not like the Indignados nor OWS… too undetermined for them: unless the masses suddenly get illuminated by the God of Revolutions, so to say, and march with red banners singing the International from day one, it’s not even half-good for them.
Of course I don’t mean you said all that, not at all, but a few of those elements are indeed embedded in your discourse.
Full respect. I sincerely mean it from the (partial) disagreement.
I am pleased that that you were not trying to disrespect me for I normally value your opinion – even if it doesn’t coincide with my own. I don’t always get it right and its good when people point this out. Too few people do – so I wouldn’t want you to stop. But I do prefer the tone between anti-capitalists to be collaborative rather than combative – hence the principles.
However, in this case to me there is a difference between denying something is a revolution because it does not follow the pre-prescribed path of some vanguard’s dogmatic and mythical vision of them in the leadership and calling all the shots – and what I am attempting in the two articles ‘Uprisings and Revolutions -1 and 2.
Here (and there) I am pointing out the general stages of past actual uprisings and revolutionary transformations that I have studied to draw out what ‘appear’ to be some general (not absolute) stages through which they passed. Again I have no intention to be dogmatic about this and if something new comes about then my view is – lets evaluate it. But so far, despite many differences, the present what I term Uprisings, have to my mind only a revolutionary potential.
This is where we come to the definition of ‘revolution’ which for me is the transformation of the dominant mode of production, not the capturing of governmental power by yet another elite – who more often than not describe such transformations as revolutions. Nor do I mean ‘revolutionary transformations’ of consciousness or ‘palace revolutions’. In some contexts I would not question or challenge the use of the word, it does have a wider usage. However, from the pens of the ‘vanguardists’ and bourgeois commentators when masses of people are losing their lives in pursuit of something I do. And it is these I am taking a tilt at – as usual.
From my working life as an engineering shop steward and later as a youth and community worker I have confirmed the contradictory nature of working and oppressed people – but at bottom their essential humanity. From that experience I fully endorse Marx’s position that the liberation of the working class must be by their own efforts and that a revolution is necessary not only to overthrow the mode of production but in order that those overthrowing it be rid of what he termed ‘the muck of ages‘. Maybe my view was not expressed clearly enough. In the last chapter of my book among other things I wrote;
“Revolution….involves rapid and sudden changes which are themselves unpredictable and are the result of unpredictable and often unforseen causes. The day to day pre-revolutionary and post revolutionary work of anti-capitalists and revolutionary-humanists will be developmental in the sense that much of it hasn’t been done before so many new things will occur which themselves will cause constant reappraisal and modification. So no detailed theory or polished programme – no matter what self-styled genius produces it – will guide us ……This will be particularly the case when the accelerated tempo of a revolutionary situation begins and throws many – if not all – assumptions , on which detailed programmes are based, out through the window. “ (Conclusion page 494.)
From my studies I still adhere to the essence of this extract until convinced by evidence that I am wrong. Finally when I lump things together it is only for reasons of space and convenience. It is not that I do not have an understanding of the many differences and nuances involved – or need to be uncovered – when one gets to examine each issue in detail. But if a particular issue is not the focus, but needs a mention in passing it will always be an inadequate and incomplete appraisal.
I don’t think there is very much disagreement between us on most things and disagreements as well as collaboration are essential to avoid complacency and inadequacy.
Well, I don’t think that I can accept the narrow definition of “revolution” you make. In all human history (incl. Prehistory) it would only apply to two or so radical socio-economic changes: the Neolithic Revolution (maybe followed later on by a feudalist and/or statist secondary revolution) and the Industrial Revolution, which can to some extent be equated to the bourgeois revolution but is in practice different from it in the details. These are indeed dramatic revolutions in the mode of production but they are different from the socio-political changes that happen in at best oblique relation with them.
Normally the term “revolution” refers to a change of regime preceded or caused by a popular uprising and, by extension, to the uprising itself. The connection of these to the wider changes in mode of production or the economy are not always apparent but they are clearly different from peaceful transitions orchestrated from above.
Other concepts of revolution may even refer to fundamental cultural changes that take place through a longer period of time. For example is hardly deniable that the late 60s (and also to some extent the 70s and early 80s) were revolutionary in this sense. But this is a more subtle form of “revolution” if it can be considered such at all. Maybe better to talk of accelerated socio-cultural change.
But the basic concept of political revolution as sudden regime change promoted or directly caused by popular uprising is I think impossible to deny without challenging all the history of the word since antiquity (or even just in modern times).
Obviously in Marxist theory and praxis there is an interconnection between the economic and political aspects because it seems difficult if not totally impossible to conceive a proletarian takeover of the economy without a simultaneous political takeover. This is quite unlike to bourgeois revolutionary developments, which took place first in the interstices of the feudal regime and only later adopted political form in order to consolidate an already advanced position. At least that was the general pattern.
However I don’t think that we can appropriate a word just like that in order to give it an artificially “precise” meaning that we wish against the general understanding and deeply rooted tradition surrounding such word. That only induces to confusion (and definitely sounds dogmatic and sectarian). It’s much better to use an adjective such as “socialist revolution”, “major revolution” or whatever you deem fit.
This would be different as in the case of the confusion induced around the word “communism”, for example, because communism is a term with much more clear roots and before recent bourgeois and Brezhnevite manipulation a term clearly referring to the sharing within the community (or commune) and not to state socialism, at least not directly.
Again just my opinion, nothing else.