Posts Tagged ‘Revolution

11
Feb
12

A Communist’s Criticisms of Communism (Part II): Academia

Vladimir Lenin, in his What Is To Be Done? states that “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”.

I’m not going to argue with that. Despite the piteous cry many self-proclaimed “anarchists” might make, the simple fact of the matter is that the world will not suddenly transform if enough “there’s no government like no government!” slogans get spray-painted on walls. If you’re going to change the hearts and minds of the people, and fight for the freedoms and rights of the poor and oppressed, there ought to be some basic strategy involved. I’d liken it to driving to another city. You can’t just hop in the car and hit the gas- you’re going to need to get some directions on how to get from here to there.

But this is not about “anarchists”. No, this is a post directed at the many Communists who, in trying to figure out how best to get from Point A to Point B, seem to have forgotten that we need to actually start moving.

This is one of the greatest problems with Communism today- this line of thought that holds theorizing about Communism on par with actually trying to advance Communism. Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- there’s nothing wrong with theorizing; but there’s such a thing as taking it to far.


And things have been taken way too far.

See, ask a Communist what he believes with regards to the revolution, class warfare, economic development, or the like, and he’ll talk for hours. Ask a Communist what he does, and chances are he’ll blank on an answer. I’m not trying to say that I’m better- I’m not. And I’m not saying that action is as easy as flicking a switch, activism is tough even when the cause is generally accepted, and there are plenty of Communists out there who face personal danger as a result of taking action. Nevertheless, there is a clear problem with “intellectualizing” Communism, and it is a problem that we need to address.

Intellectual Elitism:

I’d like to start off with a quick few points about the Communist “Intellectuals”, who, even if they’re not responsible for this trend, certainly do perpetuate it.

There seems to be an assumption among these Communists that because of their great knowledge of Communist theory and history, when the revolution comes they’ll be leading it, or somehow catapulted into power when Capitalism is defeated. After all, they’ve been Communists longer, understand dialectics, and have read extensively on labor theory in 1840s Prussia- why shouldn’t they be in charge? The masses will obviously recognize their superior and extensive understand of socio-politico-economic theory and patiently await the command of these intellectuals.

Yeah, right.

Now I don’t know where this attitude originated from- I don’t even think that most people who have it are aware of it. Nevertheless, there’s a palpable sense of elitism among Communists who, for whatever reason, don’t see the poor and the oppressed as equals but as (at best) brute force to be harnessed or (at worst) ignorant masses to be ruled.

Perhaps it stems from a reaction against the “Kill them gawdless commis!” response that you can sometimes find among the very people who would benefit most from Communism.

“They took our jobs!”

Or maybe it arises out of some misplaced sense of revenge. I got kicked around by life, so now it’s my- I mean, our– turn on the throne.

Sound familiar?

Again, I don’t know what the cause of this anti-Communist perspective is- and make no mistake, this attitude is the very antithesis of fundamentals of Communism. How do we combat it? In all honesty, I’m not sure. Maybe we just need to remind ourselves of the words of Che Guevara- “I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”

And while we’re bringing up, could someone explain to me exactly how having an intimate understanding of petty Communist feuds and some old Russian’s idea of how literature should be interpreted makes one an ideal candidate for leadership? Since when did knowledge of the theory of surplus value become criteria for fighting on behalf of the enslaved and exploited?

So he’s a good orator, but does he agree with Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”?

Communists need to wake up to the fact that, while there’s nothing wrong with knowing the ins and outs of our own theories, knowledge alone does not make you an effective leader, and it certainly does not somehow entitle you.

The One True Way:

Too many Marxists seem to be of the opinion that their theory is the only correct one. Now I’m not going to say that there aren’t some tendencies which are better than others, or that every style of Communism advocated is equally effective. What I am going to say, however, is that chances are your tendency isn’t absolutely and without a doubt the best technique that ever has or ever will exist.

Yeah, I’m talking to you!

You see it in the academic world, and you see it in Communism- people are convinced that theirs is the one, true way and that all other theories are hopelessly flawed. And maybe they are. Maybe. But am I the only one here who thinks that the struggle to perfect revolutionary theory has gone too far? Am I the only one who thinks that the details of how the masses liberate themselves and attain a free, equal, and just society isn’t exactly as important as, oh I don’t know, actually liberating themselves and attaining a free, equal, and just society?

“Look, if we can’t have the popular front, we’re just not going to rise up…”

It just doesn’t make sense. If you want to advocate your own perspective on how the revolution should be undertaken, good. If you want to put a lot of effort into figuring out what’s needed in the undertaking of the revolution, great. But at the end of the day, work still needs to be done to get things moving. The kid slaving away for ten cents an hour probably isn’t too picky about how efficiently the revolution is done. Take Che Guevara, for example. Guevara was a Maoist, and yet most every Communist from every tendency hails Che as a hero. Is this because they agree with Che’s theories? No, it’s because Che accomplished things.

Misplaced Priorities:

One last time I’ll say it; there’s nothing wrong with studying Marxism. However, we have to understand that as of this moment, our priorities are terribly misplaced. Now I’ve mentioned in a previous post a podcast I listen to- the various lectures of the annual Socialism Conference, held in Chicago and in Oakland. Don’t get me wrong- I enjoy these lectures, but as much as I appreciate them, I’m always left wishing that just for once, they’d cover something actually relevant to me.

A step-by-step discussion of Rosa Luxemburg’s childhood isn’t the most helpful information out there…

Too often the most “relevant” information offered to young Communists such as myself is either discussion of past events (which we can only do so much with) or the rehashing of the basic “Capitalism is evil! The state is oppressive!” slogans we’ve been fed ad nasuem. Am I the only one here who wants to hear how to effectively protest from a veteran protestor? Am I the only one who wants to know about community organization from an old Black Panther? Does anyone else want to know when a cop is just trying to take advantage of your ignorance, and when they actually have a real threat? Farming? Direct action? Use of local politics and reforms? Can we at least be talking about these things? I am not, I repeat, am not ok with letting Communism turn into nothing more than a mental exercise, and a pointless one at that.

Yes, Lenin said “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”, but I want to add this caveat.

Revolutionary theory is only as good as the revolution is produces.

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24
Dec
11

The Revolution is Now

A while ago, a family friend and I were having a debate on the application of Marxism, primarily, the redistribution of wealth after a Communist revolution. This friend argued that he simply didn’t see how it was possible, asserting that the only way that wealth could possibly be redistributed was through a gargantuan, all-powerful government that not only redistributed the wealth, but ensured that the balance was continually kept after the revolution.

The problem with his understanding was that, to him, the “revolution” exists solely as a military venture. The “revolution” is simply an armed uprising of Communists who seize control. But of course, that is not what the revolution is. Anyone can oust a regime or forcibly take control of the government, but this is simply a rebellion, or even merely a coup. A revolution is something different entirely- so what exactly is it?

 

It the struggle for radical change, originating in new values and perspectives of the masses and affecting every aspect of life.

See, the revolution is not merely a physical struggle, born out of weapons and strategy. On the contrary, even if every Communist in the world at this very moment seized control of every government seat and position in the world, nothing world change. Ultimately, change- true change- occurs not among the powerful few but among the powerless masses. It was here that the crux of our debate rested, the problem of the will of the people. To my family friend, the revolution is merely an armed insurrection, and social change was meant to be enacted from the top down- rather from the bottom up.

In short, the revolution begins in the mind, and from there, affects everything else. Take a collection of slaves, break their chains, and they remain slaves, having known nothing else and being able to comprehend nothing else. But convince slaves that no man has the right to own another, and they will not only break their own chains, but will never be enslaved again. Again, the revolution is not (simply) a physical struggle, but first and foremost an constant battle in culture, education, social values, philosophy, religion, music, and economics. Too many Communists seem to be, like my family friend, under the impression that the revolution is solely about militancy, rather than about mentality. Go to nearly any leftist forum and I guarantee that you’ll find Marxists debating about “when is the right time to strike?”, oblivious to the fact that the struggle is ongoing. We are not waiting on the revolution, the revolution is now!

As the great revolutionary hero Che Guevara once said “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it drop.”. Our role as revolutionaries engaged in this battle against the evils of capitalism, oppression, exploitation, and enslavement is to combat them on every front. We spend altogether too much trying to interpret the world, and not enough time trying to actually change it.

Sound familiar?

So how do we do this? Well, we contribute our individual talents to the struggle; advocating, supporting, and implementing freedom, justice, and equality wherever and however possible. Be it anything from the resistance of neocolonialism and neoliberalism, as with the Zapatistas, or standing up for the rights of immigrants and refugees, or protesting against imperialist wars, or bringing down unethical companies, or working through agitation and the spreading of awareness, there are no shortage of opportunities available to champion the cause.

Now to this some may say, “But we are Marxists! We are working to establish Communism- we’re all for creating class consciousness and educating the people, but why should we work with non-revolutionaries?”. This is a problem I see far too often. The idea that we, as Communists, should only be working with other Communists stems from a terrible error in perspective- that is, some believe that we advance justice and equality to establish Marxism, rather than advancing Marxism to establish justice and equality. Perhaps this particular error is a result of our isolation as radical leftists- we develop a baseless “us-them” mentality that actually leads some of us to imagine that we’re doing is getting our “team” to win. Again, I defer to the eloquence of Che, who asserted “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”.

My comrade is not the person who agrees with me, but the person who takes a stand with me. A revolutionary is not measured in his or her ability to recite the minutiae of Marxist theory or in his or her capacity to demonstrate historical precedent for their opinions- a revolutionary is measured in his or her ability to embody his or her values and act upon them.

And none of this is to relegate the revolution to some kind of zeitgeist that will allow us to sit back and wait for the revolution to simply appear. As said above, the revolution, while ultimately a change within people, can still be advanced through our actions and words. I know that I wouldn’t be (trying to be) a revolutionary if not for the words and actions of my peers and those before me- in spite of this common misconception that culture and society simply “are”, they can be changed.

And none of this either is to suggest that the new world will simply “evolve” without physical confrontation. Some belief the revolution can be peaceful- even Marx himself was of this opinion. I however have difficulty believing that the individuals and organizations who have, without any qualms, profited from child labor, prison labor, slave labor, sweatshop labor, exploitation, environmental degradation, bribery and political manipulation, murder and war will simply allow us to walk away from the plantation. I am not opposed to self-defense- after all, everyone has the right to fight for his or her basic human rights and defend those rights once secured. However, we must be perfectly clear, militancy is not a substitute for social change- you cannot simply “break stuff” and expect the new world to simply fall into place. Returning to the debate mentioned above, guns don’t make the revolution- the revolution makes the revolution.

This is the revolution- the ongoing struggle to establish justice, egalitarianism, and freedom from poverty, exploitation, and tyranny by any and all forces. What else can I end on except this phrase?

Viva la revolucion.

26
Feb
11

A Very Brief Post

At long last I’ve got my computer fixed and have the time to do some writing. Now as the past couple weeks have been bursting with developments in the democracy movement in the Middle East and North Africa, union protests in Wisconsin, and a couple of my own adventures, it’s going to be tough to comment on everything. So for now, here’s a very brief summary of what has been going on my own reactions to it.

 

Egypt (and elsewhere…)

While I’ve written about Egypt before, I still feel obliged to point out that what has happened- and indeed, what continues to happen- is truly amazing. The Egyptian people have managed to topple a long-standing dictator, with almost no bloodshed, and started on a path to self-determination within the space of a few weeks- something the combined forces of the US, UK, and a host of other countries haven’t been able to do in Iraq in the past eight years. It all just goes to show that there’s no substitute for the power of the people, and that sustainable change can only occur from the bottom up- not the top down. Likewise, the uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern and North African countries are very promising.

 

Wisconsin

Recently elected Republican governor Scott Walker, attempting to balance the state budget, has called for major cuts to benefits of state employees and the abolition of the right of state employees to use collective bargaining. While unions have conceded to Walker’s budget cuts, they have of course refused to accept calls to end collective bargaining (which would effectively remove the union’s ability to unionize). Really what we have here is an attempt to obliterate a union and prevent state workers from ever having the ability to call for better wages, benefits, or working conditions. Regardless of what you feel about the current condition of Wisconsin state employees income, we all have to accept that workers, regardless of income, have the right to fight for equitable conditions of employment.

 

Italy

Media tycoon, 74th richest man on the planet, and prime minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi is currently on trial for an affair with an underage prostitute, corruption charges, and bribing lawyers. Of course, this is nothing surprising, considering Berlusconi’s long history of frauds charges, conflicts of interest, corruption, ties to organized crime, and a series of racist comments and sex scandals that could fill a library (though through vast perversion of the political and legal system, it is doubtful Berlusconi will ever be found guilty). Suffice it to say that Burlesconi might be more at home in the court of Caligula or Nero than in modern Italy- in short, he is both incompetent and corrupt, and as a member of the G8, not only an enemy of the Italian public but the world at large.

02
Feb
11

A Bit More on Egypt

That last post was a little short, so I thought I might do a Q&A style post to give the basics of my and (in general) the Marxist position.

 

Firstly, there’s the question of revolution. This is a popular uprising, but no one is waving red flags, calling for the redistribution of land, and the adoption of the Communist system of government. Why do Marxists (and the rest of the left) support what’s going on in Egypt?

Well, perhaps it’s best encapsulated in the official statement of the Socialist Party USA on the events in Tunisia, stating “The International Commission of the Socialist Party USA salutes the people of Tunisia in this important step toward liberation.”. While it’s a comment about Tunisia, not Egypt, (you can read the full statement here) the key word is “Step”. While an overnight revolution in which the state, private property, and the class system are destroyed would be great, any step in the right direction isn’t something to be dismissed. The Egyptian public are taking their destinies into their own hands and actively obliterating a regime that has oppressed them for the past three decades.

 

Secondly, there’s the issue of what happens after the uprisings have been completed. After Mubarak, what then?

We’re hoping that the Egyptian public will not let this opportunity for democracy (as much as democracy as anyone can have with Capitalism alongside it) be stolen by another dictator (as Stalin did with the Russian revolution) or have it sabotaged by outside forces (as the US has done on numerous occasions in South and Central America). We hope that Egyptian people will realize that dictators are not the only form of oppression, and take the battle to the evils of neo-colonialism, Capitalism, classism, globalization, and exploitation.

 

Thirdly, there’s the issue of revolution not simply in politics but also in culture and social structure. What should we be looking for?

These revolts have demonstrated just how much power the public wields when united. Hopefully, an aftereffect of the events in Egypt will create an even stronger sense of community and public duty. In addition, the end of the regime’s power may also bring about an end to the state-censorship of media and the arts, allowing for a greater, more free dialogue in politics, music and the arts, and social issues.

 

In short, I join with the Socialist Party in saluting the Egyptian people’s struggle and hope for their continued success.

 

Viva la revolucion.

02
Feb
11

On Egypt (and a little bit about Tunisia)

There are those who’ve asserted that, after over a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East is incapable of democracy. They’ve claimed that tribal divisions run too deep, and that the ideals of Islam and democratic, representative government are diametrically opposed.

 

In the past days, Tunisia and Egypt have proven to be shining examples that those claims just aren’t true.

 

Not that it was ever true to begin with. Hamas was, despite it’s vilification by Western powers, democratically elected in Gaza. Indeed, the majority of areas where this “always-has-been-dictatorship-always-will-be” stereotype have had democratically elected leaders- just not pro-American democratically elected leaders. And if without the West’s blessing, democracy in third-world countries tends to be tragically short lived. Just look at the US sponsored coup that ended the life of Salvador Allende, or the US attacks on the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, or the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala.

 

And here’s the rub. While it cannot be denied that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are a great victory for the peoples of those countries, I can’t help but wonder how long it will last. The Tunisians and Egyptians have shown that, without the West and indeed, depsite the West, they are, and always have been, capable of autonomy. They can forge their own destiny- but what if that destiny isn’t to the approval of America, Britain, and other world powers? Let us keep in mind that the Mubarak regime was emphatically supported by the US (despite recent, less than elegant attempts to flip-flop on their position). Indeed, the issue isn’t so much “what if the people in the region begin to act in their own interests?” but “when the people in the region to act in their own interests- how will the West react?”. The entire reason US diplomats and politicians are tripping over each other to voice support for the Egyptian public is because of a desperate need to keep the country as an ally. However, with the US having invested so heavily in the 30-year Mubarak regime, it’s difficult to imagine the Egyptian people particularly fond of America, the West, and the ever expanding power of globalization.

 

So it brings us back to the original problem- it’s wonderful that the Tunisians and Egyptians have freed themselves, but how long will they be free?

19
Dec
10

Films For Communists

In a world where the bearded-Russian “Communist” stereotype is the antagonist in every film made before 1990, I thought it might be time to list a few films where Marxists are (for once) portrayed in good light. Below is a list of mainstream films that deserve to be seen by any Communist:

 

Shadowlands (1993): Despite having only a fleeting reference to Communism near the beginning of the film, it’s refreshing to see a Marxist portrayed with being in the process of torturing some American soldiers or preparing to launch nuclear warheads.

The Edukators/ Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei: While I don’t recall Communism ever being directly addressed in this German film, the movie deals with the various issues and struggles of fighting Capitalism in this era. The film opens with the main characters handing out tracts on sweatshop labor, and follows them as they escalate their responses to social injustice (breaking up the “action” sequences with lively discussions on activism and sequences depicting some of the ills they’re trying to fight against). Again, while Marxism is never directly discussed, it is evident that this is a far-left film.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): While I don’t believe there are any explicit uses of the terms “Communist” or “Marxist”, the film takes place during the last years of the Spanish Civil War, in a remote part of the country where a Fascist captain is attempting to destroy the “Red” resistance hiding in the nearby mountains. The film is a fairy-tale and never becomes especially political, however the Communist rebels are shown in a very sympathetic light.

Battle in Seattle (2007): Though the film doesn’t deal with Marxism, it does (excellently) show different perspectives on social activism, from a black bloc Anarchist (embracing violence as a means of protest) to a group of non-violent protesters, to a riot policeman, to a simple bystander, to a news crew, to the mayor of Seattle. If nothing else, it’s a discussion starter not merely for Communists, but for anyone.

Defiance (2008): Set during the holocaust, this film follows the story of the Bielski brothers and their followers, a group of Belorussian Jews who formed a resistance to the Nazi occupation of their country. Throughout the film, the Bielski partisans interact with the Soviet resistance, and while the Soviets are portrayed as being generally arrogant and unhelpful, the film does show them (1) fighting the Nazis (a part of Communist history too often forgotten) and (2) makes reference the official Communist policy of ending antisemitism. In addition to this, it is suggested that one of the members of the Bielski group is an active Socialist, and the partisans adopt a communal form of a living.

Quantum of Solace (2008): Now you’d probably think the last place you’d find Communist-sympathies would be in a James Bond film- after all, the man spent a good 80% of his career foiling Soviet plots (the other 20% being unbelievably picky about his drinks- seriously, how will he even know if it’s been shaken or stirred?). Despite this, Quantum of Solace actually is about as left-wing as Bond’s ever been, as the film deals with politics used by the West to dominate third-world countries. In Haiti, there’s a brief discussion between the two villains about how raising the minimum wage angered foreign corporations, and the Quantum’s plot (the “quantum” being the cabal of tuxedoed bad-guys) is to control the majority of drinking water in Bolivia (a clear reference to the attempt to privatize drinking water in Bolivia back in 1999).

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008): I’m a bit at a loss to describe this two-and-a-half hour film detailing the roots, rise, and fall of the RAF (Red Army Faction). While certainly sympathetic to the causes of the characters in the films, the story does not shy away from showing the faults of the RAF- honesty that I believe only serves to strengthen the film’s credibility, even with the left-wing slant. While the previous film’s I’ve mentioned have tended to shy away from explicitly dealing with Marxism, this is made up for (and then some) by The Baader-Meinhof Complex, which constantly brings up the issues of politics, economics, revolution, and culture. While it’s an exhausting film to watch (again, nearly three-hours packed with conflict, history, and so on.), it’s well worth seeing.

Che (2008): In all honesty I was slightly disappointed by Che. For being nearly five-hours long (divided into two episodes), the film really didn’t say much about the justification for the actions of perhaps the most iconic Communist of all time. While the film did artfully chronicle Che’s role in the Cuban Revolution, and his expedition to Bolivia, the film leaves out Che’s actions in Cuba after the revolution (baring a sequence of Che’s trip to the United Nations) and his time in Africa. While the film definitely is sympathetic to Guevara, the film really only deals with Guevara- and not the ideals he fought for. It almost feels like I watched the beginning and the end of a documentary on the man. Even so, it’s still a decent film.

The Trotsky (2009): While the film technically doesn’t deal with Communism, considering the main character believes himself to be the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, themes of revolution, unionization, and rebellion are hard to get away from. Again, while the film centers on the issue of youth rebellion (apathy vs boredom), the movie is inundated in Marxist slogans, philosophy, and art. Leon Bronstein (the protagonist), constantly quotes Trotsky and other prominent Marxists. Throughout the film, pictures of Che Guevara, Einstein (yes, he was a Socialist), Lenin, and other revolutionaries can be seen on posters and paintings and t-shirts. Now while I am tempted to go on, I’ll save this film for a more in-depth review later- suffice it say for now that The Trotsky is a great movie for Marxists.

 

Please note that this list is by no means complete- any suggestions are welcomed and I hope to have full reviews of these films out soon.

19
Oct
10

A More Perfect Union

We have a complicated relationship with labor unions in the West. We have the timeless image of decent, simple, blue-collar men (and women) who work hard to put food on their family’s tables, until the company they work for decides to cut wages, leaving the worker’s no choice other than to form a union, strike, and eventually victor over the soulless corporate fat-cats in a heartwarming, straight-to-television kind of way. Balancing this image is that of the corrupt, surly, indolent teamsters, siphoning off cash from both the company and the workers, and bullying any opposition into submission.

 

Now there’s a bit of truth to both sides. On the one hand, unions were once (and in many parts of the world, still are) violently persecuted and harassed by companies and corporations who had men, women, and children working long hours for low pay in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Unions were, for the working class, their sole means of getting a fair wage or better conditions. On the other hand, it’s undeniable that there is corruption within many unions- just look at the news stories of unions hiring non-union workers to picket for them (linked here).

 

Now as you can probably guess, Communists side unilaterally with unions. Indeed, Communists were among the first to push for worker’s rights and unionization, and continue to do so to this day. However, what is the Marxist response to the problem of unions becoming parasitic organizations that exploit both employees and employers?

 

The problem of union corruption arises from an attempt to fight for worker rights within the Capitalist system, rather than recognizing Capitalism as the source of exploitation. Imagine that you lead a union of textile workers. You’ve just got the company you work for to agree to good wages, safe working conditions, good benefits (healthcare and whatnot)- where do you go from there? If you dissolve the union, there’s the high likelihood that the company will simply begin to exploit the workers again. If you continue to fight for higher wages and more benefits, then you might damage the company by draining it of its profits (demanding $100 hourly-wages in a lemonade stand that has a weekly profit of $5- extreme example, but you get the idea). And since we live in a society based entirely on acquiring the most cash possible, the best option for you is to line your pockets with money from both sides- higher wages from the company and union dues from the workers. This is the problem- if nothing is done about the Capitalist system that caused the exploitation in the first place, unions can be just as bad as the company.

 

So what’s the solution?

A change of priorities.

 

Communists, both in this country and around the world are working both with and in unions to fight for worker’s rights, but in a very different way than their Capitalist counterparts. Instead of working towards the end goal of more money, the Communist solution is for unions to work towards more control. Instead of continuing to work for the corporations, unions are to work for greater control over their places of work, be it a textile factory, a automobile assembly line, or a fast-food chain. Ultimately, all workers would have a fair and equal wage, and an equal share in the company. Essentially, the textile factory would be owned and run by those working there. With an equal share of the company, profit becomes secondary to the well-being of the workers and the quality and quantity of theĀ  product being made. Exploitation would be impossible, and there would be no dichotomy between the will of the workers and the will of the company. This is the kind of union worth fighting for.