Last week I attended a fantastic meeting at the Glasgow Coalition of Resistance, with speakers from various national and local campaigns and live international link ups with an activist from Occupy Wall Street and another from Syria as well as a French Trade Unionist. The talks were inspirational and the contrast between going immediately from a Syrian activist fighting in a murderous regime to a local anti-poverty campaigner seeking to cut deaths in the elderly and low paid injected a level of bathos into the proceedings.
Each death, whether an eleven year old shot in the head by security services or a pensioner dying of hypothermia as they could not afford the rising fuel bills a testimony to how broken the capitalist system is, and why the “Occupy…” movement is so important.
What we are seeing around the world today is a revolutionary wave in response to a classic Marxian Crisis. An overexpansion of credit coupled with the tendency of the rate of profit to fall has led to a situation where workers can no longer purchase the essentials they produce while huge amounts of resources are squandered on competitive actions by capitalists which have no productive value – sometimes these actions are relatively benign, such as advertising; sometimes less so, such as wars conducted by their host states to protect their domestic markets and supply chain.
The informal discussion following the meeting was enlightening. there was a real sense among all who had attended that we are part of a global movement, a surge that demands the transformation of society into one which prioritises the needs of people over the greed of the bankers and other capitalists. And so the talk turned to revolution… While only five years ago to talk of world revolution would seem a flight of fancy, the global movement is gathering pace. As Paul Mason points out on his excellent analysis of the state of global state of play, it’s kicking off everywhere.
Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other.
Marx, Critique of Gotha Programme
The traditional view of transition, first expounded by Marx in the very next sentence, and built upon by Lenin is that of the ” dictatorship of the proletariat”. Whereby the most class conscious lead the revolution and establish a vanguard party which seizes the assets of the state and property in the name of the workers. Phil Dickens has written an enlightening but devastating critique of the Marxist-Leninist notion of the transitional state
I wont rehash the substance of Phil’s article. Suffice to say if the aim of a transitional society is to diffuse power and establish a society based on meeting the needs of the people, it is unlikely that any such dictatorship will achieve such ends in the long term. Although the current rulers may be displaced and others may take their place which have progressive intentions. The longer it goes on, the risk of deformation – as the powerful gravitate towards power – approaches a certainty. The traditional Leninist model of transformation has had its day.
From being involved with various anarchist-flavoured initiatives, I can see the concept of building the new society in the shell of the old, and in a small scale it can work well, as a tactic for establishing a post-capitalist society in a national or international context however it has its limitations. From being involved in the Dissent camp associated with the G8, and the Hetherington occupation, as well as watching Occupy Wall Street from afar, I can see people building a small society based around the needs and abilities of its members. These initiatives are laudable – certainly the Dissent Camp gave me a vision of what a post-capitalist society could look like and that another world was possible. As a vision for large scale transformation, it is idealistic.
Such small scale societies only maintain themselves through the hard work and dedication of committed activists amongst a sea of capitalism. Were capitalism to break down tomorrow, as indeed the English Riots showed when an embryonic insurrection emerged, it will not lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat, but it will lead to the dictatorship of the mob, as existing power structures emerge and seize.
Syndicalism has re-emerged recently, possibly in response to the growing activism and discontent among rank and file trade unionists, as an alternative approach to either political or community seizure of power. The power of a general strike – a critical component in revolutionary syndicalism, cannot be underestimated as a tactic of instigating revolution, and the concept of workers’ ownership and management of the means of production is an unquestioned endgoal. As with both Leninist and Anarchist visions however, consideration must be given to the structures of power which are already in place and how these may be replicated.
Workers in many industries already have considerable power over the consumers, to some extent this power is backed by the state and capitalism, but anyone who has ever been frustrated by the plumber who is unappreciative of the crisis that a burst pipe has thrown them into can understand the need for needs to form the basis of work. And it is the most powerless and dependent, the weakest members of society who are most reliant. In a case of an syndicalist transformation, where production was taken over by the workers in each industry, each industry would be run to the benefits of the workers within it, rather than the holistic good.
The most feasible blueprint for a revolutionary transition that I have seen in contemporary times comes from Murray Bookchin. An anarchist, he unusually advocates for the necessity of political leadership and engagement with existing state structures of governance, with a view of gathering industries into state control and then using the control of the political institutions to “outsource” to local collectivised and established communes or soviets, managing the interdependence in the short term and in the longer term aiming for the state to wither away through planned necessity.
Revolution is not an event, but a process, or more correctly many processes. With the October 15th global day of occupations approaching and disquiet expressed about the purpose and likely benefit of the Occupy movement as opposed to putting effort into political pressure on the government or upping the activism within trade unions, it is worth remembering that there are many routes to one point, that each must find their own way. The political, the industrial and the communal are all key to the revolution and we must respect them all.
Much as the Occupy movement is exciting and inspirational, it is not the answer. But it is not the wrong answer either, rather it is part of the solution to a puzzle which the need to crack becomes more urgent by the day. A Marxian Crisis comes once in a lifetime …we would do well to have a transitional plan.