Future Forward: A Vision For Revolution
[Speech by Fred Ho, April 9, 2009,
When Eric and I were first conversing about how this event would be constructed, I stressed to him my opinion that it should focus on the future. While I believe it is necessary to learn from the past (both mistakes and accomplishments)—what we Marxists called "summation"—I'm enough of a materialist to have the belief that we cannot go back to the past and affect it in any way.
The past is done. The past does explain the present, particularly how various class struggles have played out, the choices that were made, the battles that were lost or won, to account for the present. However, the degree to which we remain effected by the past is the degree to which we are prevented from advancing to the future.
Even the present continually confronts the future. We make choices and fight battles, hopefully, guided by a vision for a future, what we want to come into being, to transcend the past and present, meaning to go beyond this system of exploitation and oppression and create a new society, and eventually, a new social world for humanity that will no longer impact upon the biosphere, our planet. (Note: I will later explain my premise that all human impact since the advent of class society has had both toxic effects both upon humans and upon the biosphere.)
The future cannot be the total accumulation of what we have learned, that is what we don't want and presumably, what we want. But what we want, if the Earth is to remain habitable for humans, must far exceed all of the proposals made thus far in the entirety of socialist struggle and experiences.
For me, that vision of the future is communism. A humanity that has rid itself of classes, of all artificial divisions (mental vs. manual labor; of gender; of race and nationality; of rural vs. urban); where any form of a state (a class-controlled government with repressive mechanisms) no longer exists; where the premise of "from each according to their work to each according their need" would actually mean a humanity that would be matriarchal and luddite (I'll explain these two premises in further detail soon); and a humanity for which social justice and ecological sustainability reign supreme. Communism is the process of human society fundamentally transforming the conception humanity and society in which the concept of work as activity that must be performed in order to "make a living" is irrelevant and rejected; and that the concept of "need" is not based upon either poverty (i.e., sustenance) or covetousness (i.e., material accumulation). Rather than making a living, one works to define one's life. Rather than need any THING, we give our labor freely to benefit humanity and the planet, of which neither should be a contradiction. Our work for betterment is neither a right nor a responsibility, as politically constructed activity, but part of the essence of a new humanity.
To bring about a communist humanity requires revolution because it means that nothing that has transpired so far is permanent or unchangeable. In the past two hundred years, we have had people who are communists, movements, organizations and parties that are communist (albeit of problematic character as I will explain soon), but never a communist society, which is impossible as communism is not a government or social order, but a new humanity, indeed the end of human history as a journey of struggle between humans who own and control versus humans who labor and produce but who do not own and control; and the end to a journey of struggle between humans and the non-human planet for which humans, for the past 8,000 years, have sought to own and control. That journey to a new humanity requires revolutionaries, revolutionary movements and organizations. In my essay in my new book, "Matriarchy: The First and Final Communism," I argue that communism was the state of humanity prior to the overthrow of womyn and the beginning of class division and the rise of the patriarchal state. The only communist societies we have had in the modern era were probably the nomadic and tribal peoples of south-central Africa, but who themselves have been unable to avoid global capitalism, and the few societies in the Amazonian rainforest who have chosen not to have contact with the rest of the human world, and who militantly guard their up to now secret existence.
Let me tell you what I think we need to keep and discard from the past revolutionary movements, and I am in particular referring to the New Left of which I came of age from the late-1960s to what's left of that New Left today.
We need to keep the importance of struggling for revolutionary ideology and creative revolutionary theory. We need to discard the Stalinian formulation of dialectics which sees most struggle as antagonistic in nature (everything as a two-line struggle between the correct position and the enemy). We need to deepen Mao's concept of dialectics that sees contradictions in everything, but to distinguish between what is primary and secondary in the context of the actual conditions, meaning that what is primary can become secondary, what is secondary can become primary, etc. Academics like to argue for "complexity" and "nuance". We revolutionary Marxists are not intellectual competitors playing games of refinement and endless description, but rather, are committed activists who want solutions. However, as dialectical materialists, we hold self-criticism as primary, meaning our constant struggle to understand our own mistakes and responsibilities to make change in our ideas and actions. We do not accept anything on faith, even our own beliefs.
Concomitantly, when we say something is "correct" we should not mean it is a declaration of truth, but rather, that "it conforms to our present understanding of reality." There are no unchanging, permanent, fixed or absolute Truths; only the struggle to understand and affect the world. The basic materialist proposition is that humans cannot live without the natural world, therefore what we do and how we organize our existence as humans should not destroy that world. By poisoning and exploiting the planet, we kill humanity. The degradation and exploitation of humanity (often promoted as "progress" and "civilization") hastens the destruction of the planet. This is why dialectical materialism is a truly revolutionary philosophy and science. Historical materialism is the dialectical relationships of all existence historically, meaning as a process of ever-continuing struggles.
The need for revolutionary theory, that is dialectical and historical materialism, should embrace studying all forms of philosophy and thought, to test everything, to expand the creativity of how we struggle. Revolutionary theory relies upon the imagination and creative struggle. It cannot be taught by book-worship, memorization of dogma or formulas, pithy slogans or phraseology, but like all forms of creativity, it must combine experience and study (which can be more than reading); discipline and fun; organization and individuality; the familiar with the experimental; but ultimately theory must be avant-garde, ie., transcendent, seeking to go beyond the beyond, never complacent or smug. I speak of theory as a personality because it is ultimately dynamic, expressive, useful and practical and must take us forward and make the new future. That doesn't mean our methods, mode of thinking, etc. are simply linear or mostly concrete. Revolutionary leaps are the synthesis of wild and bold imagination with concrete day to day struggles.
We need to keep the primary importance of mass organizing, building mass movements with revolutionary leadership, as Mao put it, "rely upon the masses" or carrying out "the mass line". Reformists and non-revolutionary leftists believe in great individuals as the makers of history. They romanticize the great revolutionary heroes such as Che (or name your own) and believe a small, fervently dedicated and capable group of individuals can bring down the system. While rarely can a small group bring down an entire social order, it is impossible for a small group to build a new society, as it will require the masses of people, proletarians, artists and artisans, skilled professionals, and a host of others working in coordination and collective rational planning to construct a new system, and for it to be better.
Revolutionary sacrifice, commitment and dedication is also something that must continue and intensify. I often get frustrated and disappointed with the young activists today as I see many who want to be radicals often times getting jobs at non-profits, unwilling to organize and lead their own revolutionary collectives, unwilling to manufacture their own propaganda and go out and sell it and not seek funding and grants, but be guerilla entrepreneurs who are self-reliant. They want staff jobs. Few are willing to be assigned to work in proletarian jobs. They want to take classes in Marxism. Few are willing to actually build and run Marxist study groups, collectives and presses. They want a salary for that staff job. Few are willing to sell a sheroes calendar, a Left journal or newspaper, and make that their source of financing.
But in recent years, I've tempered my harsh opinion of younger activists. Even if they were willing to make the sacrifices and give the dedication, we of the older generation are now mostly unwilling to make those same sacrifices and give that same dedication we did when we were youth, much less support those who are willing to do that. In a myriad of subtle to blatant ways, we are the obstacles. Many of us are too liberal now, we don't struggle with the youth much less with each other or ourselves, to make greater sacrifices or commitments. Or we are simply nostalgic or romanticize our own pasts. We are too negligent or lazy to do the hard summations, to take responsibility for our errors, to boldly share with the youth those lessons. We act as patronizing parents or feeble grandparents, unwilling to kick the young peoples' asses, unwilling to kick our own asses, and therefore have become impotent. When we glorify ourselves by talking about the past without really revealing how we lived and struggled as revolutionaries, and tell the truth about our dirty laundry, we are obstacles to real political advancement. The past is done, as I asserted earlier. I have learned that I cannot see myself or today's revolutionaries as measured by the past.
Today's revolutionaries will face unprecedented contradictions and crises that we couldn't even fathom 30 years ago, including a toxic planet, electronic dependency and surveillance and repression, global economic collapse, new plagues and pandemics, more frequently devastating droughts, flooding, forest fires, shortages of potable drinking water...a key fundamental contradiction of capitalism is that it is the only system made by humans in which it creates more problems that it solves. New medical technologies, for example, cannot keep up with the new cancers, the new diseases. Only 200 years ago, diabetes and heart disease and most cancers did not exist. Attention Deficit Disorder, obesity, stress were not even diagnoses that existed half a century ago.
We must keep the revolution, i.e., our support for armed resistance and struggle. One thing the anarchists are mired in, as seen in the debates waged by the militants such as Ward Churchill and Derrick Jensen, is the problem of what Churchill labels, the "pathology" of pacifism. The Marxist revolutionary Left always considered any "peace" or "détente" with imperialism to be a watershed for opportunism or betrayal of revolution.
The organizational concept of democratic-centralism (
A movement of any kind that does not value, respect and uphold its own security is a movement rife for infiltration and easy destruction. Therefore, I am of the belief that
Here is what we need to discard. They are both endemic causes and effects, and hence I describe as syndromes.
1. The cult of personality syndrome. The el caudillo or el caudilla, the strong man or strong man-identifying woman, the high almighty theoretician-leader, to be revered and accepted as "clearest" on all matters. I remember in the declining days of the LRS (when ironically it was growing in membership but declining in Marxism), how local leadership tried to shut me up from questioning the great leader Carmen by hammering away at me, "Are you clearer than Carmen? Do you think you're clearer than Carmen?" If I publically stated, "Yes, I think on matters of cultural work that I am clearer than Carmen because she has never done this work," I'd be accused of arrogance. That is how "internal democracy" functioned. The great Gordons, Carmens and Maes, eventually as I got to experience them, were simply arrogant, bossy egomaniacs, undeserved of leadership position (whose main qualification was that they so coveted those positions). They did no mass work, led no mass struggles, contributed very little to fundraising. What made them the best leaders? Not theoretical brilliance, tho one or two had perhaps read more classic Marxist texts than most. What I have been able to discern is that they were the best intimidators. Both intimidating the internal ranks and standing up to the same type of leaders in other organizations. The very top national leadership was at its core, made up of arrogant egomaniacal bullies, though, to their credit, did surround themselves with capable and great mass organizers and theoreticians. They met with on the ground organizers and helped them get "clear" by figuring out political strategy and tactics, as would mainstream bourgeois electoral politics would figure out deals, alliances and maneuvering. Those who defied or opposed them were either browbeaten into submission or isolation, ostracized or expelled.
2. You can't have cult of personality without its attendant Lemming Syndrome among the cadre. Lemming Syndrome begins when a membership is more and more summoned to rubberstamp its leadership and its line by exhortations to faith, like most cults, than by reasoning and analysis. This "fire the base" ploy is used by all hierarchal organizations, from corporations to the military to bourgeois electoral political campaigns. The cadre join or are recruited because they truly want to devote their lives to the revolution. They truly want to be part of the vanguard, and are willing to do whatever is necessary for that vanguard, even suspend and jettison dialectical and historical materialism, or the supreme commitment to the truth. How does this happen, that once brilliant and committed fighters become lemmings? Through what I call "substitutionism." The vanguard, the working class, the revolution all become equated with and reduced to the organization or party, and that group is even furthered reduced to its leadership.
Let me make one thing crystal clear: the problem is not the concept or existence of a vanguard or what the anarchists have criticized as "vanguardism" (or when the revolution seizes state power, "statism"), but what I want to attack more precisely as "substitutionism." Substitutionism is declaring oneself to be acting "in the name of" the proletariat, the revolution, the cause of socialism or communism. In essence, it is simply posturing or grandstanding. When it is declared that Carmen is the top leader because she is clearest, it is in essence saying that Carmen's clarity is her ability to posture or speak for all of us, the organization, and yes, even the working class. The arrogance and egomania are self-evident that anyone can individually or any one organization can speak for the entire
I do not reject the concept of the vanguard or vanguard party. I believe, however, we must, like Marxism itself, creatively develop beyond the initial and foundational experiences of the Russian and Chinese revolutions. One thing the LRS did get correct was that it never declared itself a party and did not recognize any of the other declared parties to be the actual party for the primary reason that the criteria expressed by such groups actually lowered the requirements and conditions for the vanguard party.
There must be a vanguard just in any creative activity there is an avant garde, an experimental wing, undeniably small at first, that pushes and pushes for transcendence, to surpass and exceed that which has come before it. That vanguard is the new leadership, small in size at first, and perhaps remaining relatively small, as it includes the most capable, imaginative and self-sacrificing and humble fighters. The vanguard must reject all the petty-bourgeois criteria of the past Left of privileging intellectuals (ie., people who primarily think about stuff and not those who primarily create or bring about the new), privileging those who are best at bullying, intimidating and browbeating, those with the biggest egos. Indeed, the greatest single struggle in the journey towards communism, the creation of the new human, is the journey to eliminate ego. But just as upholding the vanguard is not the same as upholding hierarchy and privilege, the ingeniousness of individuality must be distinguished from the iniquity of individualism. The vanguard must have at its core persons who are immensely humble, in addition to being confident, strong, convicted and with great integrity. They must be people, who my friend Magdalena Gomez describes, as "those who are willing to forego power in order to generate it." A vanguard leadership, thus, in her words, is "a helm with no helm because the power is circular, like a perfect current running through it." Or as my friend Peggy Choy has termed, "the gateless gate," a vanguard predicated upon excellence and commitment without gate-keeping, a process by which the insiders privilege themselves.1
The vanguard is not the most effective administrators, not the most popular or great agitators, but a circle of the most imaginative and effective people in realizing a transcendent socialism, the ultimate purveyors of "the negation of the negation." More on what I mean in a minute.
3. We cannot make what has been called "international line"—that is a position on who we would support or not with regard to movements in other countries, or for that matter, governments of other countries which espouse to be socialist—decisive. It is not possible for us, by reading reports of other countries, or even from visiting them, to really know what is going on, much less interfere in the internal struggles of other countries. We cannot relinquish our independent view point no matter how prestigious or heavy another country, party, movement or organization outside of our country may seem. We may study the situation, try to understand what is going on, but we cannot take sides of any kind. We can support the peoples' struggles but not choose any one particular force over the others. Just as there can be no Gurus for our domestic movement, we cannot worship foreign Gurus either.
Finally, we must reject as unacceptable patriarchal socialism, which has been what all socialist states and most socialist movements have been.
My comment on the present situation is very simple: while past socialist movements and 20th century socialist states have made accomplishments in the liberation of humanity, including womyn's liberation, they are primarily embodiments of unacceptable patriarchal socialism.
The failure of national liberation and socialist movements after they have seized state power or gained state independence is marked by the fundamental problem and mistake of what Vijay Prashad describes in his castigating but important book, THE DARKER NATIONS, as the demobilization of the masses, specifically, their disarming, the return of womyn to the kitchen, increasing authoritarianism, instead of the state withering away, the opposite with the state increasingly repressive, militaristic and anti-democratic and exclusionary towards popular forces, the failure to carry out broad and intensive education campaigns to generate indigenous expertise and the consequent dependency upon foreigners or former upper classes, increasing dependency that erodes and prevents self-reliance, etc.
As Immanuel Wallerstein has so sharply pointed out, the revolutionary government quickly mimics the overthrown regime and other imperialist-dependent states. While socialist policies and programs may be instituted, overall, control and power remains patriarchal; predicated upon male military authority. Marx's fundamental description of socialism as the "dictatorship of the proletariat" has in all socialist projects become substitutionism, with the state, controlled perhaps by the victorious communist party, purporting to act on behalf of the proletariat. In reality, a class of professional party and government bureaucrats infest the revolution.
I will now propose my vision of socialism and the premises for a revolutionary socialist movement in the U.S.
I proceed from the position that we don't have to have a complete and total summation of 20th century socialism. The accumulation of understanding and experience of this effort doesn't necessary lead to a revolutionary, qualitative leap and transformation in both theory and practice. An arithmetical approach of summing up (meaning finding the sum of the pluses and minuses) cannot solve problems that are exponential in growth, meaning that the problems themselves are undergoing qualitative transformation.
Here are what I consider the fundamental and most important problems we and one or two future generations ahead of us will confront:
Even the bourgeois National Academy of Science acknowledges that environmental devastation from climate change, species extinction, expanded and extensive environmental toxicity and degradation may reach a tipping point in the next eight to ten years. The tipping point is the point of irreversibility, when the rate of destruction cannot be halted or reversed. Some examples: of the 10 billion species of life forms that have inhabited the Earth, half, or 5 billion, are permanently gone, mostly from deforestation. The U.S. has 1023 cars per 1000 people of driving age. If India, which has about 110 cars per 1000 people of driving age, or China, which has about 90 cars per 1000 people of driving age, if those two countries had the same per capita rate of cars to people of driving age as the U.S., the earth would collapse. If everyone on this planet enjoyed the same standard of living as the U.S. and produced as much garbage as Americans, we would need four planet Earths to hold this waste.
Revolutionary socialism, if it is to be effective and put the planet and people (who are dependent upon the health of the planet) as primary, cannot be anything else but matriarchal and luddite.
Let me explain without getting too lengthy and leave the details to our group discussion.
Matriarchy, the supremacy and rule of women, is simply proletarian justice and dictatorship: the rightful return to the producer the fruits of their labor. If womyn bear 100% of the world's children, grow 70% of the world's food, do 60% of the world's work, but earn only 10% of the world's income and own less than 1% of the world's property, then the opposite of this condition, which is the result of patriarchy (and reproduced and perpetuated by the patriarchal state), is matriarchy. Social power returned to the producers. The main function of a matriarchal state would be the prevention of the restoration of patriarchy. With all the imaginative possibilities that would be unleashed in a world historic change. In my new book, my essay on Matriarchy elaborates in much greater depth and detail why socialism must be matriarchy, and how it can achieve this.
Tomorrow is now! The new socialist movement must be matriarchal, and thus it would be overwhelmingly proletarian. The mainstream feminist movement (which is limited to electoral politics and the inclusion of some women into patriarchy, not its overthrow) is overwhelmingly bourgeois and petty-bourgeois by the logic of it being composed of women acceptable to patriarchy. Those are the women who have the 10% of world's income and perhaps own less than 1% of the world's property. 90 to 99% of women are not petty-bourgeois or bourgeois, they earn very little money and own a fraction of property, and hence are proletarians. They do most of the work and grow most of the food, most of their productivity severely underpaid or not paid at all, and often not even recognized as legitimate work by patriarchal society. An armed matriarchal socialist movement, committed to preventing any restoration of patriarchy, would be a world revolutionary force unlike any that has been organized before in human history. Ridiculous notions of "won't women carrying guns just become like their male counterparts?" should get humorous retorts like, "Women don't have the balls to commit genocide or global exploitation and oppression the way men have done." Or, "Try it, maybe you'll like it!"
The revolutionary matriarchal socialist movement must also be Luddite. Ludditism was a militant and radical movement by 19th century industrial workers in western Europe that has been mischaracterized as anti-technology. Rather, it is opposed to technology that is harmful to the "commonality" or to people and the planet. The 19th century movement opposed the machine as an inexorable degrading force upon workers and the earth.
For a revolutionary luddite socialist position, we begin with the premise of asking: For all the wealth generated by capitalism, how much is enough? What is the median that the entire world should have to live with dignity and yet also be ecological sustainable? The world cannot have fossil fuel burning automobiles at the same per capita as Americans. The U,S. is 5 to 6% of the world's population but consumes over 50% of the world's resources and pollutes and waste at even a greater rate. Reformist economic proposals to stimulate spending and consumption are not a solution, but only increase the problem of First World overconsumption, which is hastening the demise of our biosphere.
Technology, even in the hands of the matriarchal proletariat, is not a solution of any kind. To quote Mitchell Cohen:
Leftists have long thought that we could just take over Science and Technology as though they were "neutral" and run them communistically for the good of all. But we cannot, anymore than we can take over the State, which itself a form of "technology," as though it were an empty shell, an impartial mechanism. Technology is an ensemble of social relations, and as such every product, and every means for making it (whether it be an assembly line, State, or genetically engineered crop) is a crystallization of the history of the exploitation, organization of production, and destruction of the Commons that went into making it. But, like the state, the factory form has become a model that official Marxism seeks to emulate, take over and administer, not smash. Big mistake! So, stop treating science and technology as the answer to our problems. Let's try to imagine a different kind of future, one that is not based on factories, assembly lines, industrial farming, and factory-type health care.2
The Luddites call for BOTH Smashing the State and Smashing the Machine!
Consumption and waste at the rate of modern industrial society, be it the U.S., western Europe, Japan, is unsustainable. If you think matriarchy as a concept is hard to wrap your mind around, try to imagine a society or world without factory farms, factory fisheries, most processed foods, industrialism, unlimited energy consumption to fuel unlimited mass production and obesity-level consumption and obscene levels of waste. The exponential increase in environmental toxicity and degradation, according to the capitalist approach of trying to "manage" these problems better (via so-called green technologies, the capitalist catechism and catch-all cure) doesn't solve or cure anything without the ending of first world overconsumption. More temporary fix-its and band aids will be invented, sold and bought while humans and the entire biosphere get sicker.
The extinction of humanity as a species has very little consequence for the biosphere, indeed, it may actually regenerate ecological processes. However, the extinction of insects would have immediate and dire consequences for our biosphere. The only distinction between our species and all other life forms on this planet is that we have the dual capacity to create and transform the world, and destroy it as easily. Whatever distinguishing attributes we have: intelligence, the opposable thumb, social organization, imagination, the ability to create technology; must be politically directed to eliminate all social and environmental toxicity.
All previous constructions of socialism have failed and are ineffective and incapable of solving the fundamental social and ecological contradictions. I propose that we imagine and embody a revolutionary socialism that must be matriarchal and luddite. Anything that doesn't begin with these two essential premises will not be able to transcend the mistakes of the past, and worse, unable to hasten the actual demise of patriarchal civilization. As a consequence, the human species, who regrettably, couldn't construct the opposite of patriarchal civilization, communism, will perish.
Thus, communism is the complete negation of the negation, it is the end of human society as we have known and constructed it, and the process of becoming a new humanity. Just as in socialism, Marx and Engels asserted with "the negation of the negation" that after the socialist revolution, property becomes transformed and is simultaneously private and social, communism is the process of "the negation of the negation" in which humanity both is and is not social, no longer in contradiction with the natural world. Its social efforts make for no human impact upon the Earth, and thus negating human society.
1. May 15, 2006 Magdalena Gomez email to author. Peggy Choy's concept of the "gateless gate" shared with the author in 2007 based upon a performance work she created.