You say you want a revolution . . .
Last year I reviewedTed Rall’s book The Anti-American Manifesto where I criticized it on two main grounds: (1) it was too quick to advocate mindless violence against our ruling classes (i.e. the capitalist and coordinatorist classes):
What would a hundred thousand angry New Yorkers armed with bricks (or guns) be able to accomplish? Quite a lot. (45p.)
And (2) it rejected vision, or pre-figurative politics:
[S]trategy of planning what comes next before getting rid of what’s old is a wasted effort. (55p.)
In his book Ted even went as far as to say that if our mindless, visionless uprising produced something worse than what we currently endure that’s okay:
There is the risk that what comes next could be worse. The terror that followed the French Revolution. Stalin’s purges followed the Russian Revolution. Mass famine and the Cultural Revolution followed Mao’s Chinese Revolution. We must take that chance. (219p.)
In one of Rall’s most recent syndicated columns, The New Face of Revolution: After Tunisia and Egypt, the World, he quotes me on saying that we still should be doing more to build a popular revolutionary movement to build a new society that is not exploitative and oppressive. Ted dismisses this call for movement building by pointing to our existing social climate and saying it’s not possible.
He says this is the thinking of “traditional Marxists.”
(Before I go on I want to clarify that I am not a traditional or orthodox Marxist. In fact, I wouldn’t consider myself to be a Marxist at all. I am not anti-Marxist but I do have too many ideological differences to consider myself a Marxist. For example, I think traditional or orthodox Marxism is too economistic. It puts too much emphasis on the role of class in social affairs, even calling it the base, while categorizing other important social factors like gender, sexuality, race, culture, authoritarianism, etc as superstructure. Also, Marxism is blind to the coordinator class! There is not just one ruling class, the capitalists. There are two: the capitalist and the coordinator class—the latter consists of those who don’t own the means of production but have a monopoly on empowering skills that provide them wealth and power over the rest of us grunts in the working class. I consider myself to be somewhat of an anarchist of the libertarian socialist stripe, or a pareconista—see participatory economics. I happen to feel socialism has three requirements: social ownership of productive assets; workers and consumer planning of the economy via a participatory democratic process; and the egalitarian distribution of wealth based on effort and sacrifice. To achieve this will require a balanced division of labor that not only empowers all workers to be able to qualitatively manage their own affairs but abolishes the coordinator class. I find recognizing this class and the need for balanced divisions of labor to be essential for any working class ideology that seeks liberation.)
Ted and I both agree that our existing political and economic systems are unsustainable and that the various economic, political and ecological crises we face provide us an opportunity and responsibility to act in order to change the world we live in. But for the same reason that Ted dismisses the need for movement building—that the existing social climate makes it “impossible to create such an organization”—is precisely why I feel it is necessary. Part of the process of movement building is changing the social climate; liberating consciousnesses; making what is impossible possible.
Here again, I pretty much agree with Ted that:
[T]he Official Left as it exists today--the MoveOns, Michael Moores, Green Party, etc.--is inherently discredited in the current, rapidly radicalizing political environment. Old-fashioned liberals can't really help, they can't really fight, not if they want to maintain their pathetic positions--so they don't really try. America's future revolutionaries--the newly homeless, the illegally dispossessed, people bankrupted by the healthcare industry--can only view the impotent Official Left with contempt.
In our social climate of widespread apathy and acceptance of our sexist, racist, authoritarian and class-based social systems, and our atomization of ourselves from our communities, and the extent to which we are a jingoist society (I saw the folks in Arlington, TX—where I am from—applaud former President George W Bush and the occupiers of Afghanistan as they appeared on the big screen at Cowboys Stadium during Super Bowl XLV), there just isn’t much of anything that leads me to think that if I or a small group of like-minded folks started hurling Molotov cocktails and bricks at police, or shooting CEOs and politicians that we would be warmly embraced by society or that they would join our struggle in solidarity to overthrow the government.
If I walked out in to downtown Fort Worth and, like Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia, performed self-immolation as a form of social commentary I don’t realistically think the country would rise up and ignite a popular rebellion that would spontaneously create a post-sexist, post-racist, post-authoritarian and post-capitalist society. Joe Stack flew a plane into an IRS building last year in protest of political and economic corruption. Did America rebel? Do most Americans look at what he did with approval? Even though opinion polls show a good majority of the American population distrusts government and business leaders they don't look too kindly on violence unless the perpetrator is in a uniform sporting Old Glory (and even here it takes a considerable amount of propaganda and fearmongering to achieve the desired result: war).
I don’t think I am being naïve here.
I know with almost absolute certainty that if I did those things I would embolden our political and economic leaders and probably cause more harm to our struggles than anything. I can hear Obama and Clinton now dismissing violence and calling for peaceful protests just like they are in Egypt and elsewhere around the world. (Was it an angry, violent mob with no programtic vision of the future that brought Mubarak down? The movement that ended the dictator's resignation yesterday was largely peaceful; a wonderful testament to the power of revolutionary non-violence. What comes next is still very much up in the air. Because it's not clear that the working class of Egypt have adopted a radical program to actually gain power there still is a strong possibility that while the social, political and economic climate may improve, the capitalist and coordinator classes may still have control of the country with the working class still a subjugated class.) And of course I get the irony of the leaders of the most violent and armed state the world has ever had the unfortunate luck to witness, and who casually drop bombs and sends Predator drones all over the globe to fire Hellfire missiles, act as if they really prefer peace over violence. Violent hypocrites wielding power can easily use our violent actions against others to drive a wedge between us and the rest of the population.
Ted and I both admire Noam Chomsky for his contribution to helping others understand the power dynamics and injustices of the world, and this talk of armed resistance reminds me of something he said not too long ago:
We have to face the reality that our actions have consequences, and they have to be adapted to real-world circumstances, difficult as it may be to stay calm in the face of shameful crimes in which we are directly and crucially implicated.
We have to struggle. This is no longer up to discussion. As much as we can do this peacefully and nonviolently we should. But I don’t have any problems with the use of violence for self-defense. And I am confident that Ted and I agree on this. However, we are simply not in a time or place where we need to use violence to defend ourselves. Most of the public simply does not feel under attack by our government and economic leaders, or at least not enough to warrant violent mobs. Many people I encounter don’t feel the systems themselves need to be replaced. Many still feel the problem is just some bad apples.
The prospects for any struggle will depend greatly on popular support. And while it is not likely that such a movement will immediately be embraced by a great majority of Americans we should be cognizant of our activities so that we nurture growth and gain support.
And we should learn from past mistakes. Do we want a movement led by a revolutionary vanguard? Is it helpful to have a class consciousness that recognizes the coordinator class? Should we prioritize the economy over other social problems like race, authoritarianism, gender, and so on? How should our groups, organizations, networks and coalitions be structured? Are there certain values or ideological aims we want to have and how much can we configure them into our movements? We know the world is in a mess. We know we need to do something about it. But how do we do it so as we are actually building something new and not just replacing one oppressive system with another? These questions are important and will inevitably be asked by those who are not already in our camp.
And I have my own ideas on how to answer those questions, and reasons for them.
No, we don’t want a revolutionary vanguard to lead our movements. We need to lead our own. Revolutionary vanguards are simply the tools used to co-opt or subvert a working class movement into a coordinator class revolution. The remedy for our movements to prevent them from being taken over by coordinatorists is to equitably distribute the internal tasks and power amongst all members and participants to the degree possible. In other words, we need a self-organized and self-managed popular revolutionary movement directly controlled by its members. As soon as we turn our struggles over to a cadre of leaders we have performed a death kneel.
Being aware that there are three classes, and not just two, holds extreme significance for our struggles. If we desire working class liberation then recognizing the existence and threat of the coordinator class offers us the option to address it.
And no, we shouldn’t prioritize the economy over other social injustices, nor should we view issues of gender, race and authoritarianism as a byproduct of class warfare. Fighting sexism certainly involves addressing economic issues that advance men over women, but so does addressing gender inequalities at home and in culture and throughout our communities. If women are the primary caregivers and whose gender roles largely mean serving men, then they simply don’t have the time or energy to play Revolutionary.
We need a movement that has a balanced social view and that aims for the totality of social liberation. Creating such a tremendous shift in popular consciousness won’t happen over night nor will it come about without careful planning.
We don’t need to wait to have such a movement to exist before we begin taking direct action and performing acts of civil disobedience, but these actions should be part of building such a classless, self-organized and self-managed movement; the means must complement the end. The prospects of success between not having such a movement and having one shouldn’t be too difficult to ascertain which is preferable. The difference is: knowing what we want and having an idea of how we want to get there, and not. The only real questions I see if we can agree that this is the kind of a world we want is: What are we doing to build such a movement?