Posts Tagged ‘Historical Materialism

04
Aug
09

You Say You Want a Revolution…

The word “revolution” can bring a number of images to mind- everything from riot police, gas masks, Molotov cocktails, and screaming protestors to “revolutionary” advances in technology, medicine, and political theory. The word “revolution” is also one of the most commonly used terms in Communist literature- so what exactly does revolution mean in this context?

According to Marx, the “revolution” is one of the final stages of historical materialism. Historical materialism (described more fully in a previous post), is essentially the theory that human history has been primarily affected by resource distribution, politico-economics, and class struggle. Marx predicted that as time progressed, revolutions would take place that would wipe-out Capitalism and end historical materialism (in that history would no longer be controlled by politico-economic factors). The “revolution” is, Marx states, the penultimate step in the establishment of a Communist society.

So what could be drastic enough to lead to a complete overhaul of society as we know it? The answer is simple: society.

Some groups might attempt various band-aid techniques to treat the issues of class warfare, the ever-widening social divide, and poverty related crime. In reality, however, the techniques these groups use are incompatible with the fundamentals of Capitalism. How can poverty be combated with minimum wage legislation when Capitalism denies government interference? How can people be protected from exploitation when Capitalism uses the working man as a mere means of production, paying him the lowest possible wage to generate the highest possible profit? We can treat Capitalism’s ills, but we can’t cure them without killing Capitalism. Imagine a pot of boiling water with the lid clamped down on top of it, trapping the steam inside. We can treat the steam build-up by making pin-holes in the sides of the pot, but these merely delay the inevitable explosion.

That’s the basic principle behind the Communist revolutionary concept. Capitalism’s ills, while capable of being delayed, are ultimately unstoppable. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer until, like a rubber-band stretched beyond its elasticity, something snaps. The poor, no matter how impoverished, starving, and powerless, outnumber the wealthy a thousand to one. Even if the wealthy class controls the army, the government, and the economy, there is nothing that can stop the angry, starving masses from rising up (as Marx said, “they have nothing to lose but their chains!”). Even if the wealthy somehow managed to put down the uprising, they would have had to kill off a massive percentage of the working class, crippling the economy which would result in the collapse of society. Either way, the proletariat win. In short, Capitalism, no matter what you do to it, will collapse in on itself.

So what happens during the revolution? Property, which the public has been robbed of for years, will be redistributed equally among the people. With this redistribution of property, there will no longer be any wealthy or poor , and with the end of the wealth/poverty system, the class system can no longer exist. Instead, there will come to exist a new form of proletariat, where the working class exists (for no country can exist without a working class) but exploitation is no longer an issue (since profit is no longer the end goal, there is no reason to take advantage of one’s fellow man). With the end of a society where the majority of power rests with the wealthy, true democracy can finally exist: in short, Communism is established.

So what is this Communist revolution? The Communist revolution is a massive, unstoppable uprising of the working man who- having nothing to lose- overthrow the established class system, the established Capitalist economic system, and the very concept of private property.

Now one must keep in mind that this outline is merely the basic frame for the Communist revolution. Like almost every concept of Communism, there are variations in the beliefs of how the revolution will (or at least, should) happen. Take the theory of “democratic revolution”, for example.

The basic concept of Democratic Revolution, is that the revolution will not be (physically) violent but merely “violent” in that it will bring about an abrupt and gargantuan change in society. Democratic revolutionists believe that the poor will, once pushed to the very limit, will elect representation and political leaders that will act according to the will of the (extremely poor, exploited, and enraged) public. With the government controlled by the disenfranchised proletariat majority, the wealthy and bourgeoisie minorities will have no choice other than to comply with the changes in the economic/social/political system or leave the country. While this concept is popular, it is often criticized for not taking into account that a Fascist or non-democratic political system will have been implemented, or that the wealthy will have control of the police and/or armed forces.

The concept of the Permanent Revolution (sometimes called the Trotskyist Revolution) takes a less optimistic “come-hell-or-high-water” philosophy that holds that the proletariat will rise up against the infrastructure (many Trotskyists believe that for the proletariat to be forced into revolting, democracy will have probably been replaced by Fascism or some form of pseudo-democracy). While the Permanent Revolution does not technically call for violence, it is widely accepted that violence will probably occur.

Indeed, while the concept of Democratic Revolution hold a strict “no-violence” philosophy, and Trotskyism holds a “whatever needed” philosophy, the only Communist revolutionary theory to explicitly call for violence is the concept of the Maoist Revolution. Holding the belief that the wealthy will never give up their power and control willingly, Maoism calls for violent attacks upon the Capitalist infrastructure. The actions of the Colombian Maoist Revolutionary group FARC (or the Peruvian “Shining Path”) serve as a prime example. FARC conducts various attacks on the Peruvian political infrastructure, carrying out attacks on government buildings, Peruvian police and military, and the Peruvian railway system. While sometimes commended for being the most expedient theory, Maoist Revolutionary theory is often criticized for the collateral damage it causes as well as the controversy it creates concerning what is and is not an acceptable target.

Lastly, there is the concept of Circular Revolution. Circular Revolution is a concept based on an ancient Chinese political philosophy which states that when a government has become corrupt, it is both the right and the obligation to revolt and instate a new government. Sometimes called the “post-revolution revolution”, advocates of the Circular Revolution believe that after the Communist government has been established, corrupt will eventually infiltrate the system, requiring a new (though still-Communist) revolution.

Despite these differences, Communists are united on the belief that no matter what the revolution looks like, no matter what theory is utilized, the revolution will happen. You might want a revolution, you might not- either way, the revolution is brewing. The only question we are left with is how long it is before the dam bursts, and which side you’ll be on when it happens.

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07
Jul
09

Marx and History

If one were to read the works of Marx, or indeed, any major Communist writer, one would find that large portions of the publications are dedicated to criticizing (or often, lambasting) Capitalism and Capitalists. Even this blog has almost as many anti-Capitalist arguments as it does pro-Communist. This of course leads to issues with the Communist image- Marxists are often perceived as self-righteous, angry, and destructive malcontents bent on ripping apart the fabric of society. Perhaps on some level this is true, however, there is a simple and often overlooked factor that contributes to all this: Marx’s theory of history.

In his works, Marx describes his theory as “Historical Materialism”. Now the term “materialism” is often misinterpreted (particularly by members of the religious community) to mean atheistic, worldly, and Darwinist. As I’ve said, this is a misinterpretation. In this case, “materialism” merely means “pertaining to resources” including capital (money), land, and most importantly, people. While Marx’s description of his theory is more than slightly complex and long winded, it can be broken down and simplified.

According to Marx’s theory, the history of the world is shaped by economics and politics, the pair of which are- as Marx claims- inseparably linked. Humanity once lived in a state where the elite- the aristocracy, nobility, and royalty- controlled their nations and the wealth of their nations. The middle class is almost nonexistent and the remainder of society not fortunate enough to be born to the elite are slaves or feudal serfs and peasants. Eventually, as kingdoms become less warlike and more permanently established, merchants, bankers, etc. will be created, resulting in the middle-class or as Marx called it, the “Bourgeoisie”.

As time progresses, the public will become increasingly dissatisfied with the system of monarchy and aristocracy and revolt, creating a democracy. While the elite class will still exist, due to the fewness of their numbers, the political power they once wielded will be limited, and the wealthy and numerous Bourgeoisie will dominate society. In this new society it is not claims to divine heritage or noble blood that count as power but money. The Bourgeoisie will compete viciously with each other in the attempt to gain as much money as possible, and in the process the proletariat (working class) will be used and exploited by the upper-classes. The proletariat themselves living in a state of “wage-slavery”, bound to work for whatever pay is available in order to survive.

After so long, the proletariat will be unable to take any more exploitation and violently revolt- toppling the class system and establishing a single-class society where all wealth and resources are shared equally: Socialism. The state- which controls the public- will wither away and be replaced with a system of government where the public controls the state. Marx defines this state of egalitarianism, public property, and democracy as “Communism”. Marx states that when Communism is achieved Historical Materialism ends (at least for those living in the Communist system).

So what’s that have to do with anything? How is any of this relevant to why Communists always rant against Capitalism? As we can see from Marx’s view of history, Communism is meant to be the correction of Capitalism. Communism isn’t meant to be a form of government more comfortable or efficient than Capitalism- it’s the replacement of Capitalism. According to Marx and his view of history, Communism is the completion of Historical materialism- as inevitable as the change of the tides or the rotation of the earth. The reason Capitalism is constantly railed against by Communists is because, according to Marxist philosophy, Capitalism is a wall that needs to be knocked down before a door can be put in. Capitalism must be removed in order to be replaced with Communism.

“But what about the flaws in Marx’s reasoning?” one might ask, “The Chinese and Cuban people revolted and yet neither of these Communist countries have had the governments wither away or the class systems disappear.” In answer to that, one must remember that neither of these countries are Communist but rather semi-Socialist dictatorships. “If they’re Socialist, then shouldn’t they be on the brink of Communism?” Not at all. One must also remember that the definition of “Socialism” has changed since Marx’s time. Marx used the word to describe the abolition of private property in favor of public property- today the word “Socialism” refers to an economic system where property is largely controlled by the state, rather than individuals or the public. One might also argue that Marx’s theory of history is flawed due to the existence of various tribal societies that have shared property and no class system. Now this is undeniable- across the globe there are people groups that live without private property or the class system however one must keep in mind that these are societies are not democracies. Granted, many are ruled by general consensus however without a voting system, consensus does not equate democracy. A neighborhood might generally agree to regularly cut their lawns, but this doesn’t make that neighborhood a democracy. “That’s all well and good,” one might state, “but Marx’s predictions still haven’t come true. Capitalism has been in the US for well over two centuries now and there hasn’t been any revolt, any collapse in society!”. This is absolutely correct, though by no fault of Marx. In Marx’s time, each country had it’s own social strata- there was the French elite class, the French Bourgeoisie, and the French Proletariat, the English elite class, the English Bourgeoisie, and so on. Marx predicted that the Proletariat would rise up and overthrow the classes above. The reason this hasn’t happened is because of a sudden shift in the class system. Due to globalization, countries and their economies are no longer independent of each other. What affects the middle-class in France will affect the middle-class in England, Germany, Russia and so on (to varying degrees, according to what the event is and how related the countries are economically, culturally, and politically). With this sudden merge of the nations of the world, classes have merged as well, creating the same three-class system only on an international level. Yes, each country has a working class, but in general the majority of actual mining, fishing, forestry, agriculture, and manufacturing is done by workers in the third world. France no longer looks to the French Proletariat for utensils but to China. England doesn’t hire English miners to gather coltan but to Congolese workers. When an American buys a t-shirt, chances are that the cotton it’s made of was grown in Syria and manufactured in Taiwan. In short, as a result of internationalization, there is an international proletariat (primarily the third world), an international Bourgeoisie (such countries as Bulgaria, Mexico, Estonia, Ireland, etc.), and an international elite-class (Japan, Switzerland, Monaco, Kuwait, etc.). Yes, the “Proletariat” of the US aren’t likely to revolt, but that is because on a global level, the American proletariat are wealthy. Even the poorest person in America, England, or Denmark is well-off compared to the average Sudanese person. Does the class system still exist as Marx knew it? No. Does that make Marx incorrect? Not at all. Marx stated that the proletariat would, once conditions became poor enough, revolt against upper classes. This statement works whether you apply it to 1840s England or the contemporary third world. Does this mean that the third world will eventually invade the Bourgeoisie and elite countries? No, but if the publics of these countries were to seize control of their governments, declare their national debts nil, null, and void, and throw out all foreign industry (as Castro did to the US owned sugar companies in Cuba) then the rest of the world would be thrown into chaos. With the formerly indigent countries no longer willing to work in the fields, mines, or the sweatshops, the rest of the world would have to look to the Bourgeoisie countries to become the new proletariat, started the revolutionary cycle all over again until the global class system disappears and Communism encompasses the globe.

Does this mark the end of history? The beginnings of a global, one-government society where crime, hunger, and war have been eliminated? The answer is a resounding no. Marx claims that this will be the end of Historical Materialism– history as affected by wealth and the class system. History- the unbroken chain of events from the beginning of time to the end of it- marches inexorably on.