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Rock Beats Scissors
Some (underdeveloped) thoughts on strategy, crisis and communist organization inspired by some of my recent reading on Carl von Clausewitz's On War, Daniel Bensaid's An Impatient Life, and Richard Seymour's Against Austerity.
When the crisis of 2008 happened, I think many on the US far left had a feeling that 'now our time has come because everything we've been saying about capitalism has come to pass.' There seemed to be this unspoken assumption that an economic crisis would lead to a repetition of class struggles from earlier eras (ex. Great Depression/CIO union organizing) or even lead to revolutionary breaks. Yet there is no simple one to one relation between economic crises and the development of class (or revolutionary) consciousness. For one thing, the ruling class is better organized than we are and is able to adapt much more quickly to a capitalist crisis (reshaping class alliances, restoring profitability, and their narrative naturally has a lot wider reach). In fact, the first organized force to the crisis, I would argue, was the Tea Party (a rightwing populist movement) which although identified with the dominant ideology and section of the ruling class did mobilize a slightly larger social force than the Fortune 500. It took several years before the left, in the shape of occupy was able to respond (arguably one could say Wisconsin).
So what does this tell us? For one, that economic crises are opportunities for capital to use the scissors of austerity to restructure, slash social services, and discipline labor in the interests of profit. Economic crises do produce a response among the oppressed, delayed perhaps. Yet occupy for instance did not erupt among the immigrant masses, but had a large student contingent (various contradictions were concentrated there and overdetermined) which no doubt surprised many on the left. That said, while economic crises do not lead automatically to full-blown revolutionary or class consciousness, after all people come into the struggle with all kinds of prejudices and backward ideas along with advanced ones, but a crisis does change the terrain, it gives us an opening to explain ideas to a more receptive audience and to build a base. This of course, means the left can not take a passive response, but needs to be actively involved, organizing and open to the possibilities of the conjuncture.
Yet the passive fatalism of expecting some kind of one to one relation of crisis to the revolutionary consciousness inhibits strategic thinking. If you are only expecting things to just develop in the desired direction automatically, you are not taking an active role in the development of the class struggle and neglecting strategy. The key role of a Marxist analysis and strategy is not only to understand the role of the class struggle and the inner laws of motion of capital, but to develop the means, organizations and strategies necessary to challenge and topple the rule of capital. This means an active position for marxists. We need to have our ears and eyes to the ground, looking for the unexpected eruptions of class struggle that the crisis opens up. That is probably all we can really plan strategically in advance since we cannot see clearly beyond the initial engagement. Yet we can, via our ability to critically analyze, see some of the line of march, intervene in a situation and develop roads and strategies which the crisis opens up to us which lead to a challenge to capitalist rule.