Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Problem of Revolutionary Change

Revolutionaries face a virtually insurmountable problem. Only a minority of the population has ever favoured revolutionary social change. This did not matter in earlier times when revolutions were armed insurrections – the revolutionary minority would seize power, and as long as a significant number of people were not overtly hostile, they could impose their program. However, the combination of constitutional governments and a fear of mutually destructive civil wars due to the rapid advances in weaponry, have made the old fashioned insurrection unlikely. (Does anyone really want to turn Canada into a snow-bound version of Syria?) Furthermore, few people today wish to be dictated to by a minority, they have enough of that already. 

So other means have been sought; the general strike, the ballot box, building an alternative society, a mass non-violent uprising, or electoralism backed by direct action. In all cases there is a similar problem – the revolutionaries are in a minority. A significant minority support most of their program, and in many circumstances, a majority of the population support at least SOME of their ideas. Note that any one of the suggested means of social change would probably work if enthusiastically supported by the overwhelming majority – the problem is, the lack of that majority.

What can revolutionaries do? They can pretend that it doesn't matter and beat their heads against the wall in futility. Or they can do what usually happens, and bow their heads to the reality principle, opting for reform within the existing system. They will be roundly cursed by the remaining true-blue revolutionaries. This is all very well, but the true blues don't have an answer to this conundrum either. Hence you get splits within the movement for social change, causing divisions, which in their mutual animosity last for decades, and prevent any unified action. 

Revolutionaries like to pride themselves in being philosophical materialists and indeed some are, but I suspect most are not. While they may talk about economic forces and the contradictions of capitalism, most are really philosophical idealists and moralists. They seek an ideal version of socialism for society, albeit imposed democratically by the workers themselves, and those who question their idealism are criticized in moralistic terms as sell-outs and weak-kneed reformists. The workers however, are faced with a variety of immediate pressing problems, and are also conditioned by the limited life span of the human being. Essentially they want "jam today" and not jam 50 years from now. The workers are the real materialists, even though the vulgar kind. 

The working population is thus divided in three groups – the revolutionary minority, a majority who want some level of reform and a reactionary minority, ready and eager to suppress the other two tendencies at the behest of their masters. Do not interpret this condition as agreement with the Kautsky-Lenin view that workers are incapable of socialist consciousness and hence need an elite to bring them The Word from on high. We have seen from those rare revolutionary moments during the Mexican, Russian and Spanish revolutions, of great masses of working people expropriating the land and work-places and instituting forms of direct-democratic governance. The rub is, these mass uprisings had little to do with most of the revolutionaries, who were often as suprised by these events as the bourgeoisie. Revolutions it seems, are not really made by revolutionaries. 

So what is the answer? Wish I had one, but I don't. Sitting around and waiting for a "spontaneous" revolution is obviously not an option. A population that is more empowered, that has more experience of direct action and direct democracy is much more likely to opt for revolutionary social change than one that is completely dis-empowered. All actions and reforms in this direction ought to be supported. We also face the system's ultimate contradiction – climate change, and this may well be the force that pushes people over the edge into radically changing the system.


Blogger EUGENE PLAWIUK said...

As we get older comrade we reflect on our youthful idealism, not so young, our idealism remains if honed and tempered by time. Well said I have been thinking the same lately.

9:01 PM  

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