Posted by Mike E on February 27, 2011
By Mike Ely
The job of revolutionaries is to make revolution. It is not something else. It is to overthrow governments, social orders, oppressors, and the smothering quiet of ordinary times.
After the rise and fall of socialist revolution in the 20th century, we now live (unfortunately) in a world where the capitalist system is (for the moment at least) hegemonic — and rarely challenged.
In other words, all the governments that people face are oppressive, outdated, corrupt, encrusted obstructions to people’s aspirations.
There are contradictions between the various ruling classes that play a role in opening revolutionary possibilities — and we should take advantage of those contradictions (meaning those openings), whenever appropriate and helpful.
But our task and orientation is to overthrow these oppressive governments and the imperialist system that they all, to one degree or another, serve and reflect. And we should support the oppressed who rise up against such governments.
This should be a simple and obvious point, I suppose. But it is a controversial one — and that fact that it is controversial says a lot about how much dreams have dimmed among walled-off silos of exhausted left politics.
Some people on the left have stepped away from revolutionary goals, and away from the potential to rely on people to fight their way to consciousness and power. They spend their time prettifying some of the world’s governments. There are far too many who prettify Obama — the now-bloodsoaked head of the U.S. empire and military. And there are others who prettify the rather ugly regimes of Iran, Libya, China, North Korea and even (believe it or not) Belarus.
We have experienced (here on this site) the fury of those who believe that anyone who does not share their fantasy must be helping imperialism or “cheering local CIA mercenaries” or supporting imperialist intervention, or whatever — even when it is obviously not true.
Liberal Imperialism: The Main Illusion at Work
There is, of course, a major problem of liberals who (at moments like this) reveal their basic unity with imperialism. (I was watching Rachel Maddow last night talking about finding ways to have the U.S. military intervene in Libya). And in many ways, our world is far more marked by illusions about U.S. imperialism (and Obama) than by these threadbare and marginalized fantasies about progressive aspects to Qaddafi or the Chinese government.
But the struggle against U.S. intervention and against dismal liberal schemes for a democratizing U.S. foreign policy is not helped by attempts to romanticize oppressive regimes — in ways that are without credibility or facts.
The job of revolutionaries is to make revolution — not to support reactionary governments.
Our job is to prepare for revolution, to support struggle of the people when it breaks through the cracks of ruling classes and their hegemony, to oppose oppressive governments when they murder their people, and to actually make revolution when that becomes possible (form alliance, define alternative visions, seize power, defeat governments, create radical new social changes) and to continue making revolution all the way to a new world.
It is not our job to support the U.S. government (its empire, its interventions, its justifications). In fact, undermining these things are (certainly) our main responsibility.
And it is also not our job to support a scattered archipelago of governments who have various episodes of conflict with the U.S. (while also having a long history of working with other imperialisms and oppressing their own people.)
And the bankruptcy of this becomes particularly stark when some people actively support oppressive governments against broad, powerful uprisings of the people (in Tienanmen, in Gdansk, in Iran last year, in Libya this year). Any (nominally, temporarily) anti-American despot is (apparently) more impressive than the unsure, tumultuous, complex, opaque, open-ended struggle of the people themselves.
And those who see something radical or “anti-imperialist” about a Gaddafi have (however sincere they might be) sadly lowered sights and heightened powers of self-deception.
A reminder: Mao argued it is right to rebel against reactionaries. And like so much he wrote, it is a deceptively simple assertion with a profoundly controversial point. He didn’t say it is only right if the reactionaries are pro-U.S., or if the rebellion is led by people who share our views, or if there is a short term prospect of socialist victory. He said it is right to rebel against reactionaries — this is a statement of communist morality (of our view of what is right and wrong), it is a statement of worldview, it is a statement of class stand (where we stand with those who dare to rise up). And such things need to be said (then and now) because there are many people who don’t think that way — and DON’T think it is right to rebel, if they consider the particular reactionaries to be some kind of favored lesser evil.
When people break into struggle — after long periods of fear and passivity — they don’t always leap for the most radical social programs. They don’t automatically understand what they need, or who their allies are. They often move in a herky-jerky way through the unexplored terrain of uprising and new politics. In Gdansk, the great uprising of Polish workers sadly ended up under the spell of the Catholic Church. In Iran, it is not yet clear whether radical currents will be able to contend with oppositional leaders from within the ruling elite. In China, the thousands of popular outbreaks are not yet a coherent political movement with a vision or a program. In Egypt, the startling, exhilarating uprising of the people has (for the moment) ended with yet another military government (after decades of such military governments) — and it is not clear if events will move beyond that, or what radical currents among the people will produce to challenge this status quo.
But it is clear that without such uprisings and outbreaks, the emergence of new and radical alternatives are impossible — because people learn and embrace new ideas in the course of struggle. None of this is automatic or easy. Sometimes uprisings are inherited, or subverted, or coopted by reactionary forces. Sometimes rebels succumb to sugar bullets after braving steel-jacketed ones.
But without uprisings of the people against governments of reactionaries the ice does not break, the thinking does not race, the networks are not forged, the possibilities do not emerge. Clearly, seizing such possibilities requires preparation of solid organization and serious programs for achieving socialism. But where will such things emerge but among new generations drawn into hope and political life by great uprisings.
If anything, it is to often we revolutionaries and communists who are lagging… often behind our responsibilities to the people within such upsurges — to often the work of preparation has not been done well, or creatively, or with tenacious cunning.
The liberals and pro-Gaddafi left have sharp disagreements (obviously) but they have this in common: An automatic knee-jerk logic of lesser evilism that really sees little hope of the people making revolution and wants them tamped down and channeled by those in authority.
The job of revolutionaries is to make revolution. It is right to rebel against reactionaries.