- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Wednesday, 01 August 2012 10:45
- Written by Mike Ely
Why and how are these working people central to a communist revolution? Is it because they are able to stop production? Or because they have nothing to lose, and therefore the potential to be the driving force in history's most radical act? (Photo by Sebastião Salgado)
When Karl Marx thinks about 'the game" he is thinking about ground-shaking global upheavals:
"But if the final goal of the League is the overthrowing of the social order, the method by which this is to be achieved is necessarily that of political revolution and this entails the overthrow of the Prussian state, just as an earthquake entails the overthrow of a chicken-house. ... "
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"Is the exploitation of labor really 'what this game is about' as Keith says? In the U.S., clearly a socialist revolution (here as everywhere) involves the emancipation of wage labor through the creation of new socialist economic relations... But from the beginning of the U.S., “the game” has also been about the liberation of African American people from vicious oppression as a people. Throughout the world, “the game” is also about ending (forever! finally!) the ancient subordination of the female sex to men, and to state and church enforcing patriarchy."
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" To put our goals (or our view of the game) in one place, the Four Alls are:
1) the abolition of class distinctions generally, 2) the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, 3) the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, and 4) the revolutionising of all the ideas that result from these social relations.
"This is quite a sweeping (even breath taking) vision of what we communists are seeking to accomplish globally in this epoch."
by Mike Ely
Many issues have been raised in our discussion "The working class in revolution: Assumptions & expectations."
Let me start with just one: what is the relationship between class and the goals of the communist movement. What is the revolution for, what is it about? What are our goals?
Keither writes: So the core of our work (in this view) is to make workers aware of their own exploitation and status as workers (i.e. that they produce far more than they receive, and the surplus goes to the owner of the factory, they are therefore ripped off individually and collectively) so that in their fight over that surplus they become conscious of the need for socialism (taking the whole of the surplus).
By contrast, i think we should view the communist movement as the historic struggle to overthrow and end all oppression -- including the very existence of classes and class distinctions generally, the brutalization and impoverishment of the poor and propertyless, the human-eating horrors of the state with repressions and wars, the universal oppression of women as a sex, the domination of nations by empires and corporations, and all the ways humanity suffers (not just from capitalism but from class society generally).
And our key political work as communists is to raise the consciousness of a core revolutionary people to those sweeping concerns (as a "tribune of the people") to develop a material force that (in a partisan way) takes up the task of ruling society -- in ways that rupture with the all social relations, ideas and class relations of the past (not just get itself a larger share of the wealth, or free itself from the insulting abuses of mindless bosses and ruthless corporations).
The oppression of women or the liberation of dominated peoples is not somehow secondary to the concern of employed workers with their direct exploitation.
The argument that we should somehow focus politically on "exploitation" (especially in the workplaces) rather than diverse society-wide "oppressions" has been at the very core of the political arguments that communists have called "economism."
It is the idea that the ongoing working class struggle for a larger share of the wealth and over the conditions of its productive work is the arena most fruitful for the development of political consciousness. Further, economism involves a view of socialism which seems to assume that our struggle boils down to "share the wealth" (or take back the wealth) -- at its core. And it involves a view of the self-presentation of the revolutionary movement that is captured by the term "workerism" (i.e. the identity politics of workers).
It is also (to use previous communist terminology) a process that sees revolution as an event in the base, not a sweeping remaking of both superstructure and base (which is fundamentally fought out in the superstructure of ideas, political power and military affairs, and then carried into the base after key victories).
The Communist Revolution: A sweeping historic conflict over the very existence of class & oppression
Let me restart at another different place to describe what I think "the game" is:
Human beings have fought against class society and its horrors from the moment slaves, women and conquered tribes were dominated by early kings and patriarchs.
Socialism is (in one sense) be the negation of capitalism, but communism is (in its largest sense) the negation of class society itself.
What is key to the modern working class (or at least to those sections of the working class that are not bourgeoisified)?
It is that it can only emancipate itself by emancipating all of humanity. It can only end its state of suffering by taking up and pushing through the world-historic fight against all oppressions.
Yes, the communist revolution means the end of wage slavery and exploitation. Yes, it means an end to poverty at one pole in society, and the accumulation of wealth at another.
But in our world, the revolution is entwined with the overthrow of many forms of oppression (that torment and mobilize the people) -- some quite ancient, others more recently invented, all now bound up with capitalism by a thousand connections.
Lets be drill into this:
People often emphasize that "the working class can only emancipate itself" -- which is an important point (and is the basis for the Maoist mass line). (It is also a popular point among radicals who haven't gotten very far out of bourgeois democratic frameworks.)
It is true: Things can't be mainly done by a small minority acting 'in the name of the people" -- because the process of liberation actually involves more than some popular or demagogic coup.
The multi-dimensional changes involved in communist revolution require active people (a "subject") who are conscious and engaged in all aspects of society (revolutionizing them there and engaged with cardinal affairs of state). Meaning that they both wield power in specific, and hold power in general.
Being able to play this role is a condition Marx calls "becoming fit to rule" -- and the broad masses of people are far from generally fit to rule at most points in history. this requires a historically specific and concrete process of "forging a revolutionary people" -- where an organized section of oppressed people in a country actually become partisan, self-aware, conscious advocates of revolutionary change.
Here is Marx's own phrase:
This formulation is drawn from a statement by Marx, but (again to avoid quote worship), its value is not somehow its lineage to Marx, but that it emerged as a powerful way of describing our endgoals in the course of the fight against capitalist restoration in China. (And after all, in these storms of fighting the capitalist road, a sharp and powerful expression of "what is the game, after all?" stands center stage.)
In one of the most important essays to emerge from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, (“On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship Over the Bourgeoisie.” Peking Review, April 4, 1975), Zhang Chunqiao writes:
First, we are fighting for a better world -- in which oppression has been ended globally, in profound, historic and very radical ways.
Second, there is nothing "nebulous" about that (and, in fact, it is not more nebulous that the term "end of labor exploitation," which can and does mean different things to different people).
Third, the working people are not important because they are the ones most closely affected by "labor exploitation" -- but because those most outlaw and alienated by this capitalist society can (for the first time in history) take on the task of ending all class distinctions, and the ending of all oppression (not just their own).
And what is most historically distinctive about the working class is not mainly that it is somehow strategic to production, but that it is without property and interests in the dominant order and yet (unlike peasants) it can be imagined as the spearhead and core of a new social order.
What will become most important about working people in the revolution is their ability to seize power (not stop production -- which is a very passive and easily defeated view of class struggle). And what will become most important about working people after the revolution is that (as a class) we believe they have no historic interest in stopping half-way, in establishing a new oppressive order, but that they have the potential of pushing the communist revolution through to the abolition of the 4 alls.
[A sidenote on morality: The dominant ideas of each epoch flow from the nature of the dominant social relations, and from the articulations of its ruling classes. Our movement will, of necessity, be part of the organic emergence of a new culture, and with it new views of morality. It is not possible to create socialist or communist society without a radically new view of morality and behavior. I doubt anyone can doubt that there is feudal morality, or bourgeois morality -- and that we reject them. Reject them based on what? Based on what is coming into being. And I don't think such a new social morality is something we invent in our closet whispering to ourselves about "which form of sex is ok?" It is something that emerges through general social struggle and creativity -- in how lives are lived and viewed under new conditions involving both the struggle for liberation and then liberatoin itself.]
Someone asked earlier on this site what is the difference between calling yourself a socialist or a communist? In my view, it is really what we put forward as our goals. (Are we about creating a nanny state of welfare bennies, or abolishing the state? An "extension of democracy" to economics within a structural nip-tuck in current society, or seizing a historic opportunity to end the whole chain of relations and ideas that have enslaved humanity for thousands of years.)
The transition from hunter-gatherer to class society was a massive (unprecedented) leap for humanity (with brought with it the invention of armies, the patriarch dominated family, taxes, aristorcrisy, money, wealth, etc.)
We are envisioning a comparable, unprecedented leap -- and when we express what we are against (i.e. the 4 alls), we can start to envision and describe what we are for.