The fact that a single person, surrounded by a few obedient acolytes can order the invasion of a country such as Ukraine and ready Nuclear weapons for use there, says a lot about the danger of social hierarchies and the elites in control of them. Putin is not uniquely authoritarian in this regard. Wars and invasions are invariably started by a few ruling class individuals with hierarchical control of countries as the Putin-less 20th century ones of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and the continuing Israeli ones in Palestine exemplify. This latest act of military aggression is also an indicator that the existing socio-economic system is in profound crisis – everywhere! It is to be expected, therefore, that the ideological and political expressions that have arisen within the capitalist system over the last 80 plus years are also thrown into question and confusion.
That net result of profound crisis (confusion, political turmoil and further invasions) was true in the past and it is every bit as true in the present. For example, the last two severe economic crises in the 20th century created not only two invasion-triggered world wars (1914-18 and 1939-45), but also for the first time introduced and linguistically entrenched two abstract and poorly understood political categories. The first political category was ‘Communism’ and the second was ‘Fascism’. These problematic political categorisations are still being used in the 21st century as if they can somehow help bring clarity to social and political issues, rather than continue to spread confusion.
An additional problem attached to the use of these categories – then and now – stems from their continued use within the dominant system of bourgeois dualistic thinking. The two 20th century socio-economic realities, represented by the abstract political terms ‘Communism’ and ‘Fascism’ were placed politically and ideologically at the opposite ends of a dualistic spectrum. By ignoring the social and economic content of the two systems, they were incorrectly and confusingly asserted to be socio-economic opposites. By the dualism, ‘you are either for us or again us’ many people were commanded to take sides on that basis. In fact as we shall see in the next few paragraphs, socio-economically these systems were essentially the same.
1: Soviet and Chinese Communist systems (etc). These were economic systems of mass production, based upon wage-labour with the direction and control of the means of production in the hands of a male- dominated political elite who used authoritarian means of legal and illegal force to dictate to workers their terms of work and remuneration. They killed and/or physically suppressed any opposition to their political rule, including any opposition among their own party members. They conscripted workers to fight wars and forced them to kill other workers designated by the political class (ie in this case the Bolsheviks etc) as enemies of the nation.
2: German and Italian Fascist systems (etc). These were also economic systems of mass production, based upon wage-labour with the direction and control of the means of production in the hands of a male dominated political elite who used authoritarian means of legal and illegal force to dictate to workers their terms of work and remuneration. They killed and/or physically suppressed any opposition to their political rule – including opposition from their own party members. They conscripted workers to fight wars and forced them to kill other workers designated by the political class (ie in this case the Fascists) as enemies of the nation.
In other words, both these systems were not alternatives to capitalism, but ultra-authoritarian developments of the existing capitalist, wage-labour based mode of production. They were developments in which the capital accumulated nationally (ie the ‘means of production’) and national infrastructure were controlled by ruthless middle-class authoritarians. Their leading representatives merely differed politically with each other, we’re aggressive rivals for power and consequently hated each other.
Only those among the middle classes who emotionally chose to identify with the one political expression of ultra-authoritarianism over the other could convince themselves that state-organised and enforced industrial exploitation were not variant forms of capitalism. Since the middle classes dominate education, government and media many such class-derived false definitions have prevailed as commonly accepted ones.
However, the alternative experience of workers under these two versions of ultra-authoritarian capitalism was completely different to that of the middle class.
Based upon their own direct experience in fascist or communist led factories, mines, offices, fields, or war trenches, no rational worker under the punitive control of either system, would think the lives they lived were any better than those in the other mutated version or better than under ‘normal’ capitalism. In a Fascist concentration camp or Stalinist gulag the incarcerated knowledgeable worker, being punished for whatever infraction, would hardly wish to exchange it for the experience of his or her counterpart.
The fact that these two 20th century socio-economic systems have not been fully understood by most working people – as being almost identical in essence – has led to considerable confusion among them and among the middle classes. Few professors of economics or history have seriously attempted to fully analyse these systems or enlighten working people about their overwhelming similarity. Consequently, some people now think communism was bad, others that – on balance – it was worth having. Some think that Fascism was bad, others that – on balance – it was worth having. Continuing to use these confused and confusing political terms and applying them to whatever idea or action is disliked is what the right wing and left wing liberal elites are doing. Elites the world over benefit enormously from a poorly informed, confused and disorientated working class.
However, adding to this confusion, rather than clearing it up is not what the radical, non-sectarian anti-capitalist left should be doing. If the radical and revolutionary trend wishes to assist working people to resist the exploitation and oppression of all capitalist and authoritarian modes of production, particularly when this one is in existential crisis again, then radicals have to be educators at the same time (if not at the same moment) as being defenders of our working class communities. Workers along with the rest of us, do not automatically emerge from the experience of capitalist alienation, exploitation, oppression – and ruthless invasions – as fully fledged anti-sexist, anti-racist or anti-capitalist humanitarians. The reality is that everyone arriving at these oppositional understandings has needed considerable help to get there.
Therefore, the radical lefts revolutionary function is not to stand to one side and pejoratively categorise working people – as they appear now – and castigate them for any shortcomings. Our function is to help convince them whilst humanely challenging them to be otherwise. Our task is not only to accurately describe the world – but to intervene to change it. For example, genuinely anti – authoritarian workers or other citizens, may need time to be convinced to be both anti-fascist and anti-communist, for it may not be immediately obvious to them why they should be. People should be helped to realise the need to be against fascist totalitarian ideas and practices as well communist totalitarian ones and any others that exist .
Class wars perpetrated by elites nationally, as well as military wars internationally, are vicious struggles against ordinary humanity orchestrated primarily by male oligarchs of whatever political persuasion. In the long term humanity must find a way to dispense with elite control of societies or elites will continue to dispense with those among humanity who get in their way. In the short term we need to campaign and organise to support those under attack from any form of authoritarian oppression and exploitation such as those in the Ukraine.
In order to attract and unify class conscious workers, whether manually or intellectually trained, it will be important amid all the present confusion, miss information and disinformation, to discuss any false dualistic opposites both in practice and theory. And importantly that includes any false opposites that remain within our own ranks – and they do! For this reason it is important that the radical, activist, non-sectarian left also educate themselves at every opportunity because the necessary self-critical, self-education process in many places has been woefully neglected for many decades.
For more than a century, sectarianism has been rife among the whole spectrum of the radical anti-capitalist left and this has hindered as well as compartmentalised anti-capitalist knowledge and understanding. Many among the few remaining 21st century anti-capitalists have often become protectors of fiercely defended traditions and stubbornly regurgitated dogmas. Any radical ‘left’ tradition of conserving practically everything they received from their past heroes needs to be criticised and its usefulness re-evaluated.
For it is a fact that over its 200 year of domination the capitalist economic system has radically altered it’s internal and external dynamic. Capital now needs less living labour and far more of earths organic and inorganic raw materials to produce its volumes of stuff. Its elites and their supporters are still prepared to invade and go to war to preserve and enhance their control of countries – against their own citizens wishes. Instead of just working citizens to death in factories and mines, capitalist inventive genius now also kills them with chemical and biological waste materials and weapons of mass destruction; instead of just using and abusing targeted planetary biota on land, sea and air, capitalist production now destroys it everywhere – wholesale.
Consequently many inherited ideas and practices based upon the reality of a century ago need to be openly evaluated and updated to reflect this new capitalist reality. Any shared solidarity experience of workers crammed by the hundreds and thousands in numerous factories, offices, mines, fields, shops and docks, has more often than not disappeared and replaced by computer programmed robots and millions of self-employed truckers, warehouse gatherers, Uber type economy workers and the unemployed.
This new reality is why I agree with the Anarchists of Ukraine and elsewhere, (see link below) who are currently opposing authoritarian tendencies there – that alternative perspectives such as the Kurdish and Zapatista initiatives need to be examined. I would further add that so too should the 20th century Revolutionary-Humanist understandings. Such alternative understandings and practices need to be circulated widely and used to inform and supplement any updated appraisal of what we are against and just as importantly – what we are for! For without such clarity we are in danger of becoming (or remaining) just another confused part of the problem.
Roy Ratcliffe. (www.critical-mass.net)
My thanks again to Randy Gould for links to an alternative anarchist view of the situation in Ukraine and the struggle against authoritarian trends. See,
See also; ‘Beginners Guide to Revolutionary-Humanism’ Download free from; [https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vTgiCGN-50rGR9uOFKxOmWztx8_4v88kKMy3dHtlTGjZcC5wBQYKu3CXRlmUZcvtQegx-lzvWl83peo/pub ]
And Revolutionary-Humanism and the Anti-Capitalist Struggle. Volume 2 [ https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vTIV1TanSiwdV9RWt1OwnWd5WcF32ed_6dd_fn2bCP1fA8Kc83V41znCMvjI7NQaWG34VDW2ZFTT8GY/pub ]
Volume 1 from; [ ]https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vTw_bORxqh8Hhk9jmXWWZRzNdkRpLbLnrlo618g_04A9ssG8hhDken3LHQ4fxbiE2kwWfBoKHwdxtU1/pub