I know what you’re thinking: Capitalism’s a hot mess. Obama’s selling the people out. War on the Middle East wages on. We’re still a small Left, so how will things ever change? It will not be an easy road but understanding the period that we are in, summing up lessons from previous socialist projects, and having a vehicle for change will lead us in the right direction.
If under your watch you were responsible for record levels of unemployment, massive numbers of people losing their homes, polluting the earth and depleting its resources, causing irreversible damage and possibly ending the world as we know it for humankind, people would probably start asking, “Dude, what the f*&%k are you doin’?”
If you were the employer of said person you might say, “Yeah man, it’s just not working out. Uhhh, think we’re gonna have to let you go… Yeah it sucks, but could you just pack all your stuff and be out of here in like, the next ten minutes before we call security on your ass?”
Wouldn’t it feel good to just give capitalism the pink-slip? Unfortunately capitalism isn’t going out like that. The state is hard at work finding ways to maintain capitalism as it grasps for new bubbles to float on.
At the same time, there is an emerging new spark of excitement for alternatives to capitalism. Economic and ecological crisis are sparking new debates and people are looking for answers and opportunities to end capitalism. As capitalism’s legitimacy is called into question, and ecological disaster looms, there is growing attraction among some advanced masses toward new economically and ecologically sustainable ways of organizing society that are less prone to inequality and perpetual crisis. Our world is at a fork in the road; it will either go down a path of transformative sustainability or barbarism–fueled by right wing populism, ecological destruction and a survivalist mentality.
The Period We Are In: War of Position, Build up of Political Power and Popular Support
Capitalist ideology, though called into question, still remains the dominant ideology of the day. In this period, the strategies we take on should be in a “war of position” fashion. “War of position,” a phrase coined by Antonio Gramsci, says that during times where Capitalism remains the dominant ideology, our central tasks are to position ourselves through education, to build broad-based mass organizations, and to push capitalism to its limits. We must continually challenge capitalist hegemony, or what makes this system seem like “common sense” to the people. We are still in a period of tearing down capitalist hegemony. We must work to become the dominant voice within civil society. While we continue to struggle in the streets, we also must wage struggle within the media, schools and through cultural work. The task is to build up the political power and popular support necessary in order to move into a “war of maneuver” to overtake capitalism.
The understanding of what the economic crisis and ecological crisis mean for our tasks seems to be a main point of strategic difference among revolutionaries. In my book, the road to transformation at this time cannot be a romanticized process of simply storming the castle and―voila!―socialism! While it would be fun for us to be a “rebel alliance,” there is real work to be done before we get to that point.
Misunderstanding of what is called for in this period leads to two tendencies. One tendency is to believe that people will spontaneously rise up and defeat capitalism. This negates the problem of hegemony that Gramsci raises; people often do not work in their class interest to rise up against capitalism because capitalism is the common sense ideology. History has also shown that no system is ever overthrown without education and some form of revolutionary organization, usually a party. While people may rise up in short and spontaneous ways, they do not have the fuel to last towards transformation. This kind of uprising could tear something down but without education, organization, analysis and strategy, it cannot build up an alternative model (more on this later). The second tendency is the belief that if we ignite actions, the actions will create a spark that will erupt in a movement. This tendency does not recognize the ground work that must be done in the war of position―of education and mass base organizing needed to build the kind of power we will require to end capitalism.
The Work of a Revolutionary Does Not End With a Battle
The process of revolution will not be like that of a butterfly escaping from a hard weave of a capitalist cocoon. Socialism, unfortunately, will not simply emerge boldly, beautifully and fly on its merry way. Though there may be significant struggles that mark revolutionary change, there will be no particular day that we can point to and say, “That was the day our freedom was won.”
After the battle of Santa Clara in Cuba in 1959, the fall of Saigon 1975, Nelson Mandela (ANC) being elected in South Africa in 1994, experiments began toward transformation and significant gains were made, but a new battle was waged of collectively working to experiment and build new alternatives to capitalism. The process was one of both piecing together a bombed out land, nations left in the aftermath of huge violence and trauma, as well as working to tear down the old models that had institutionalized inequality. These countries in recovery from huge military efforts, with little infrastructure after they “won the revolution,” were faced with a whole new battle: the battle of transformation. The task, though lead with a necessary hopeful vision of a better world, was no less daunting and difficult, often resulting in internal strife, mistakes, and continued struggle for the people and the leaders alike.
These countries are still experiments. Many revolutionaries in these countries will say, “We are working toward socialism be we cannot say that we have reached socialism yet.” It is important to understand the lessons learned in their process, what the process of transformation will entail, and how it may impact the work we choose to do now.
Revolutionary Organization is the Laboratory and Vehicle for Transformation
Our work as revolutionaries is to analyze and assess the conditions, to develop strategies, to test out these strategies, sum them up, learn from them and continue moving forward with lessons under our belt. Kind of like the process of dating (if you didn’t end up with your high school sweetheart). With each relationship, hopefully you grow and become a better person, a better lover. The mistakes and pain ultimately make you a stronger person. We’re all going through the dating process together to build a loving society.
Revolutionary organizations are the places to learn the lessons of the past experiments and create a new socialism for the 21st century that corrects the mistakes of the past. We will work to build up a practice of working together that is not competitive, that builds each other up collectively instead of tearing each other down. It is a place to experiment with building a true form of democracy and equality. There will be mistakes. There will be stops and starts but as long as we collectively learn from it, this will all be part of our process of building and transforming society.
Transformation will be a protracted struggle, requiring a high level of coordination. How we work towards revolution matters just as much as the change itself. The socialist left, united towards common goals, must work in coordination, leading with their hearts, to build this pathway towards revolution.