Tuesday, September 29, 2020


A revolutionary is not a self-righteous moralist, a dogmatist or a hair-splitter. Nor is a revolutionary someone who always spouts ultra-militant or violent rhetoric. What then, is a revolutionary?
First and foremost, a revolutionary is a materialist. By this I mean philosophical materialism - basing one's decisions on an examination of the real, empirically existing world, rather than attempting to force fit that world into the confines of some set of ideas like a dogma or ideology. If the real world conflicts with the dogma, out goes the dogma and in comes a new set of ideas that conform more closely with reality. [I know that some of you may object to the term, materialism, we could also call it “realism” except this would create confusion with the 18th Century Scottish Realist Philosophers, with which it bears little resemblance.]
We see the application of a materialist analysis with both Marx and Lenin. Marx did not talk much about the political organization of the future society, but along came the Paris Commune and he saw that this was the method and adopted it. Lenin realized that introducing a broad-based open social democratic party was impossible in a totalitarian state like Tsarist Russia, and borrowing from the earlier Narodniks, came up with the vanguard party concept. It does not matter that Marx was an opportunist and the Paris Commune was largely the work of Proudhonist anarchists or that Lenin's vanguard party had a serious downside, the point is, they took account of material reality.
When the Magon brothers first attempted to overthrow the Diaz regime in Mexico, they did so under the guise of the Liberal Party of Mexico. Liberalism was about as radical as was allowed under that brutal dictatorship. Moralists and ideologues would have overtly declared themselves anarchist communists – and found themselves dead within a week. The Magons took account of the material conditions. They were also cognizant of the other philosophical aspect that true revolutionaries possess – an awareness of the dialectic of struggle.
Just to speed up the process, they inserted a clause within the program of the Liberal Party that would help transform the movement in the direction of anarchist communism. Among the regular list of democratic and human rights they included land to the peasants. The Magons knew it did not matter if their movement started out moderate, the struggle against the regime would radicalize the movement, transitioning it from liberal to anarchist. When conditions changed some years later with the revolution in full swing, the Liberal Party program was changed to include anarchist communism.
Why do you think that Marx practically jumped up and down with joy when the 10 Hours Bill was passed or Rosa Luxemberg wrote glowingly of mass strikes? Because they understood the dialectic of struggle. The 10 Hours Bill marked the first time the working class had imposed itself politically on the capitalists and Marx realized it represented the beginning of a long process of political class struggle. Luxemberg saw the mass strikes as a prelude to revolutionary change. Pseudo-revolutionaries see a “moderate” mass movement and sneer because it does not measure up to their ideals. They do not understand such movements soon radicalize in the conflict with the authorities. It also shows a contempt for the people, as though they would be fooled by the moderates and would not be intelligent enough to realize the limitations of a movement.
It is important to know the difference between the People and the enemies of the struggle. It should be obvious that white supremacists, anti-Semites, Nazis, misogynists, climate-crisis deniers and those who promote all variety of hateful conspiracy theories are beyond the pale. While the People clearly reject such reactionary views, we also cannot expect them to be saints. If we wait for the mantle of sainthood to descend upon the masses we will wait an eternity. Essentially, we must take the People as they are, contradictions and all, at the same time encouraging education and through the process of the struggle overcoming any residual prejudice and ignorance they might have. This is the difference between the materialist and the moralist, the revolutionary and the pseudo-revolutionary.
The true revolutionary is an opportunist par excellence. Not in the pejorative sense, a synonym for sell-out, but taking advantage of any given situation, jumping on it and using it to further the struggle. Dogmas, ideologies, puritanical moralizing – into the garbage heap with them! The motto should be the revolution first and foremost. Within reason, everything must be sacrificed for that end. In a limited sense, the “ends do justify the means” This does not mean discarding the ethical core from which stems the revolutionary impulse – a revolution based upon planned atrocities will become a new tyranny - but simply ignoring the dogmas and posturings that get in the way of making effective social change.
A true revolutionary understands their limitations – they are sparks, not the bonfire. The masses in motion make the revolution, not the individual, not the revolutionary organization. The task of the revolutionary is to bring together as broad a coalition of the oppressed as possible based on key transformative issues. 
Sometimes these transformative issues can be reduced to slogans -”Land and Liberty”, “Peace, Land and Bread”, “Land to the tiller, the workshop to the workers”. They are all “common sense” to the people and point in the direction of revolutionary change. If acted upon, they ARE the revolution.
Groups who try to force-fit the workers into some narrow purist program, may think they are revolutionary, but they are irrelevant poseurs. At the same time such groups suffer from programatic diarrhea – every aspect of existence must be covered with their shit. It is better to focus on key issues and save the rest for the mission statement. By narrowly defining everything, they cannot help but create division, whereas a focused program, based upon the fundamental needs of the populace, brings unity.
The transformative issues change with time and with the situation. What might seem revolutionary in the past may seem moderate today, and what now appears moderate may in fact, be revolutionary. It all depends upon the stage of capitalist development. The revolutionary must understand the epoch in which she lives. Applying yesterdays concepts to today's situation, is a good recipe for failure. An example of what I mean - during capital's heady post-war prosperity, the system could allow significant social reforms. Capitalism in crisis cannot do this – it will fight to the bitter end to prevent reform, hence today the process of seeking reform can create a revolutionary situation.
An example? The greatest challenge we face today is the climate crisis. Any genuine attempt to combat the crisis means imposing limits on capitalism. Since capitalism requires eternal growth or it goes into crisis, this means the super-cession of capitalism. Thus reformist demands for a “steady state economy”, “degrowth” or “Green New Deals”, are revolutionary, if sincerely acted upon.
There is the question of violence. Some militants talk about the need for violence and what enemies of the struggle the promoters of non-violence are. “One size fits all” is the problem here. Once again, the nature of the struggle depends upon material conditions. The Magon's rhetoric, once the Mexican people rose up in arms, that is, was to encourage revolutionary violence. Malatesta, who had actually taken part in insurrections and maintained the need for such all his life, did not off-handly dismiss those who disagreed with insurrection. They were part of the movement too. Marx and Engels were moderate in speech, befitting the tolerant and non-revolutionary situation in England. During the Revolution of 1848, however, they were on the barricades.
The revolutionary seeks the least violent social change possible, if not from ethics, from practicality. Who wants to inherit mountains of corpses and smouldering ruins? The October Revolution had ONE fatality – it was the following civil war that was bloody, not the revolution. Workers do not need to be told to be violent – they know what violence is, having experienced it practically from birth. And if violence is needed, they will be far more effective at it, than many a self-styled revolutionary.
Like it or not there is a “vanguard” - some people are just more experienced, better educated (formally and informally) than others. The mistake has been to turn this vanguard into bosses of the movement, rather than just exemplary figures and resource people. “True leadership is obedience”, say the Zapatistas and I concur. It is not up to us to tell the people what to do.
 Need I point out those “key transformative issues” I wrote about earlier, do not spring from the heads of the revolutionary minority, but are a distillation of the popular consciousness. They are there already. Peasants always want their land back from the “noble” robbers. Most workers think most managers are incompetent boobs and they could do better without them. Millions of people are deeply concerned about the climate crisis. Most First Nations people are concerned about the crimes perpetuated upon them which continue with the pipeline imposition and millions of non-First Nations people support them. And so on.
See, it exists already. In a sense the revolution is now, because it is encapsulated in those material, ie, really existing, key issues. The revolution, in the sense of transformation of the system, is merely the generalization of those issues. The true task of revolutionaries is foster that generalization.


Anonymous StephenH said...

Hey, Larry, I just finished reading this
series on revolution today. I'm glad to
see you are still out there writing this
stuff. Good clear thinking and elucidation
like yours is hard to come by. Thank you
- keep it up!


3:23 PM  

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