Who is Really Revolutionary? This is a question we must ask ourselves in the course of developing a strategy for revolution. Who is willing to fight, who is more incline towards reform? This means the difference between who has the potential for building revolution and who does not. A lot of people claim they are revolutionary, but how many actually are? How many actually engage in real struggle, not liberal college activism or blogging? Their numbers in the First World are virtually non-existent . Almost no one actually fights against capitalism in any meaningful way, in any way that actually brings revolution. First Worldists have a terrible habit of exaggerating their conditions and the work they do.
Who is Oppressed?
Communists in the First World consider themselves to be an oppressed group. They proclaim that the police are on them all the time. Organizations like the RCP Canada and the New York Maoists claim that they suffer oppression from the police. They compare their “struggles” to those who suffer under boot heel of fascism like the New People’s Army, or the Naxals. Can we really make this comparison?
In the Third World you get shot for being a communist. If the police or government know you’re a communist you can bet you’re going to be locked up accused of crimes you didn’t commit. Your life is in danger if the government knows you’re a communist. In the First World you can walk up to a police officer and say you’re a communist and he won’t care. In my own experience, I’ve had police walk right into the room where I record videos, covered with communist paraphernalia, and merely comment that it was interesting. I’ve stood in the Ontario provincial offenses court explaining dialectical materialism to a cop. You cannot claim communists are oppressed.
I do know where these groups get this idea from. When they go out and take protest actions they might get arrested. When the RCP Canada threw bricks at police during the G-20 Summit probably a few of them got arrested. The RSCC in New York had several of their members arrested for yelling at former U.S. military general and Director of the C.I.A. David Petraeus. This is not the same as being persecuted for being a communist. These arrests were for individual protest actions. They were not for being communists. Communists here experience no more harassment from police than any other protester . In the First World, Blacks suffer from police repression. Black people collectively are targeted by police for being Black. That is what police oppression looks like and how it is made manifest. By placing these two groups side by side we can see who is really oppressed in the First World.
If you got arrested as a communist in America or Canada no one would care. People have more sympathy for someone who goes to a bakery and is refused a cake because it’s for a same-sex wedding. The general public won’t care if a communist is arrested for a protest action. In fact many politicians and media talking heads already think communists run the United States.
It is simply ridiculous to claim that communists are persecuted in the First World. You would suffer a hundred times more police persecution for being Black. There’s a reason why you can go to a protest in a Che Guevara shirt and wave a hammer and sickle flag and have nothing happening to you. If you did this in many Third World countries you would be risking being killed. There is a reason why First World communist’s headquarters are liberal collage activist groups, and in the Third they are guerillas hiding in the jungle. Communists in the First World are not oppressed. The government doesn’t care about communist groups. They’re much more concerned about radical environmentalists, Muslims, and right wing militias. The government doesn’t even consider us a threat.
Who Fights for Reform or Revolution?
The biggest obstacle that Marxist revolution faces is reforms. It has almost always been reforms that have put an end to revolutionary struggles. In the First World reforms have stopped every revolutionary movement. The death of the communist struggle in the United States was brought about by the New Deal put forward by Franklin Roosevelt. This made promises of serious reforms to the public that put an end to radical action in America. Even if we look towards the 1960s and the entire Civil Rights movement we see the same. People were taking qusai-radical action for equality that ended in reforms. Has equality for women and Blacks been achieved? No. But the serious action and revolutionary spirit behind it died out with reforms. Even the upheaval of the 1960s was not going to go towards revolution. People still believed in the system and wanted reforms, not revolution. People who truly despised the system went out and formed unscientific utopian communes. Despite the fact they almost universally failed, it spoke to what they were really wanted. These radicals want out of the system, not to destroy it and build a new one. They didn’t want to fight it, they just wanted to get away from it in a minimal way which didn’t challenge anything. Third World people don’t get to build a nice safe space away from the horrors of Third World poverty.
When capitalism went into a great crisis in 2008, a moment when capitalism could have collapsed completely, people still refused revolution. People went one of two ways. Either they blindly believed that the U.S. government was socialist and caused the problem, or they turned to Barack Obama. Obama came onto the scene promising change, not revolution. He denounced the “greed” that caused the problem.[i] He promised a more “fair” capitalism, to return the privileged middle class to where it was. He offered reforms not revolution. The American public jumped on it. The rest thought he was a communist and denounced even reforms. Clearly neither side had any revolutionary potential. Each side wanted reforms in opposite directions. A majority of people in America still believe in the system.
But what of those who don’t? What about those who have lost faith in liberal Western democracy? 54.9% of the population voted in the last federal election. Many of those remaining 45% have no faith in the electoral system. But what are the main reasons for not voting? The top four main causes for not voting are: Too busy (15.5%), illness or disability (14.9%), not interested (13.4%), Don’t like the option (12.9%). Additionally: inconvenient place (2.7%), and forgot to vote (2.6%). Discounting those with disability and illness issues 47.1% didn’t vote because it just wasn’t important enough to them or they didn’t care. We should also add that 18.3% of those who didn’t vote gave other reasons or didn’t know why. The most common reason is people believing their vote doesn’t have an impact. These numbers are only for registered voters that didn’t show up to vote. For those who didn’t register to vote 51.6% said they were not interested or refused to vote. Those who don’t believe in the system are completely apathetic about it. It doesn’t even matter to them.
Where are we supposed to find people for revolution? Even those who have a vague belief that the system is a fraud are ambivalent towards it. Are we supposed to count this as possible revolutionary potential? If they truly opposed the system and thought it was wrong they would be fighting against it. These people don’t participate in the system so where is their protest against it? Nowhere, because those disenfranchised voters lives are materially high enough that they don’t feel a need to do anything about it. They’re well off enough that the effects of not voting are not serious enough to motivate them into action. These people don’t have a revolutionary potential. They are not willing to rebel because they’re comfortable enough in their own ambivalence.
We as Marxists should not be fighting for reforms in the First World. I think there are two primary reasons for this:
- Already we face a “working class” that is not revolutionary.
- Any concessions increases harm to the Third World.
The “working class” here is already unwilling to fight. First Worldists like to deny it but living conditions have a significant impact on a class’ revolutionary potential. An increase in those conditions would decrease the potential further. What draws people to Marxism is the recognition that capitalism cannot help them, and that capitalism is the problem. Every liberal reform is designed to prove otherwise to the worker. When Marx wrote about the working class he was writing about the 1850s industrial England and Germany where reforms didn’t exist. Every time a reform goes through it is further evidence to non-communists that capitalism works. We cannot win them over to our side so long as they still believe in capitalism, until they see that revolution is the only answer.
Look at it this way, if you fight for an increase in the minimum wage in the Third World you’re risking your life. When Jean-Bertrand Aristide tired to raise the minimum wage for textile workers in Haiti he was over thrown by a U.S. coup.  Many people were killed in the resulting violence. All this for just a bare minimum by which to survive. Contrast this with the U.S. where if you want to increase the minimum wage all you have to do is vote for the Democrats, a bourgeois party. Barack Obama has already called for the minimum wage to be increased and has said all members of congress should support it. What does this tell us? It tells us that the First World bourgeois isn’t concerned about an increase the minimum wage. However they are willing to kill and overthrow Third World countries for increasing it. Sure some bourgeoisie don’t want it to be increased here, but a majority do because they see it as a benefit for them. This alone is very telling about the struggle for reforms.
Raising the minimum wage in the First World not only doesn’t increase worker’s revolutionary potential, it also isn’t even perceived as a threat to the capitalist system.
How can communists in the First World talk about using the minimum wage as a rallying point to build class consciousness when the Democratic Party is already doing it? Any attempt to organize “workers” around the goal of increasing the minimum wage will be stolen away by liberals. Anytime you try to organize a program along a liberal line the mainstream liberal party is going to win those “workers” away from you. If you push for minimum wage asking for people to engage in guerrilla war against the U.S. government, while the Democrats push for the same thing only asking that you vote for them, who do you think “workers” are going to support? Communist in the U.S. (let alone the rest of the First World) have never been able to reach and become attached to the working class. They have systematically failed all throughout history. There is a very clear reason for this. They have almost always followed the Democrat line. No socialist country has been built through reforms. (No matter how hard Venezuela tries.)
Frederic Engels had already seen the problem that we see today as far back as 1879.
“… For a number of years past (and at the present time) the English working-class movement has been hopelessly describing a narrow circle of strikes for higher wages and shorter hours, not, however, as an expedient or means of propaganda and organisation but as the ultimate aim. The Trade Unions even bar all political action on principle and in their charters, and thereby also ban participation in any general activity of the working-class as a class. The workers are divided politically into Conservatives and Liberal Radicals, into supporters of the Disraeli (Beaconsfield) ministry and supporters of the Gladstone ministry. One can speak here of a labour movement (proper) only in so far as strikes take place here which, whether they are won or not, do not get the movement one step further. To inflate such strikes — which often enough have been brought about purposely during the last few years of bad business by the capitalists to have a pretext for closing down their factories and mills, strikes in which the working-class movement does not make the slightest headway — into struggles of world importance, as is done, for instance, in the London Freiheit, can, in my opinion, only do harm. No attempt should be made to conceal the fact that at present no real labour movement in the continental sense exists here, and I therefore believe you will not lose much if for the time being you do not receive any reports on the doings of the Trade Unions here.”
When First Worldists try to organize for reforms they are really just handing people over to liberals. When they argue for reforms they are allying in the same cause with the Democrats. If they do this the “working class” is just going leave them for the Democratic Party.
For the second point, these reforms come at the expense of Third World people. When the “working class” in the First World increases their share of the imperialist plunder the bourgeois simply increase the size of the pie in order to keep up the rate of profit. In a system where the wages and living standards of First World “workers” are already subsidized by super-exploitation, all further increases come directly from an increase that exploitation. First World people already live off of the blood of the Third World. Any further benefits can only come from squeezing the Third World even harder.
In the Third World when you fight for a reform you’re fighting for something that will barely keep you alive. A slight increase in the minimum wage in a place like the Philippines means the difference between two and three meals a day. In the First World it means the difference between a few more luxury items or not. When Third World workers and peasants strike for more social spending, they’re asking for indoor plumbing, running water. They often end up getting killed for it.
Exactly how is fighting for reforms going to make First World “workers” more revolutionary? We can clearly see that they’d rather ally with the Democrats for the same reforms. If they already don’t want to take radical action there is no reason why we should believe pushing for reforms is supposed to accomplish that. If the reforms are obtained, how is that supposed to increase class consciousness when they’ve just been shown they can make things better by not fighting?
Who are Our Friends? Who are Our Enemies?
The main question Mao asked when trying to determine a path for revolution is, “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?”
“Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution. The basic reason why all previous revolutionary struggles in China achieved so little was their failure to unite with real friends in order to attack real enemies. A revolutionary party is the guide of the masses, and no revolution ever succeeds when the revolutionary party leads them astray. To ensure that we will definitely achieve success in our revolution and will not lead the masses astray, we must pay attention to uniting with our real friends in order to attack our real enemies. To distinguish real friends from real enemies, we must make a general analysis of the economic status of the various classes in Chinese society and of their respective attitudes towards the revolution.”
What we see today is something that most Marxists don’t want to acknowledge. The “working class” in the First World is not out for revolution. They do not want to overthrow the system and replace it with a new one. They don’t want to use communism as a hammer. Instead of having a revolutionary aim of greater equality they are only seeking more for themselves. When we look at the global distribution of wealth we already see that the First World has too much. If we were to equitably distribute the world’s wealth, which as Marxists we’re supposed to, we can see that the First World would drop significantly. At a 72:1 wealth gap between the two worlds we can get an idea of how big it is going to be. Even if revolution was achieved in the First World, value would still have to be distributed back to the Third World where it came from. We’re not talking about reparations, were talking about a reorientation of where the wealth that is generated by the Third World is going too.
As utopian as First Worldists see the “working class”, they are still going to reject the reversal of the global value transfer. Any communist can claim they would be in support of it, but would the First World “masses” who have been promised more go along with it? I sincerely doubt that they will support the revolutionary party when they’re told they can’t have two cars in their drive ways, or a new television every year. Or being told that apartment buildings will be constructed instead of detached homes with their own backyards. Closing the wealth gap would make these things a relic of the past global economic order. First World people would demand that these things be returned and revolt against the revolutionary party. People would demand that the old ways be returned. They will demand that their privilege be returned to them.
The First World “working class” cannot be seen as being capable of revolution so long as it is a privileged class. We cannot expect the capitalist class to simply give up their excess in favour of revolution. Nor can we expect First World people to give up their 72:1 wealth gap. We cannot expect those who have to give to those that don’t have. First Worldists argue that consciousness will change during the revolution. This outlook is entirely wrong. We are talking about the real material world here where there is not some instant transformation of consciousness. This is the utopian notion that anarchists argue for the elimination of the state as a means to transform society. They assume that all people will just support them against capitalism and the state. This is false. Transforming consciousness takes time, planning, and effort to change. This is a reality that is confirmed by every Marxist revolution there has been.
First World people cannot be considered the class allies of the global proletariat. First World people will not accept less just as the bourgeoisie will not accept less. First Worldists argue for a greater exploitation of the Third World to give more to the “working class” of the First World. We cannot see the average person in the First World as having something in common class-wise with a Third World worker or peasant. First Worlders do not want to give up their share of the imperialist spoils, nor can they really be forced two. Revolution must come from the truly oppressed, the truly exploited. Once this happens the First World will begin to build its own class consciousness once they are no longer the beneficiaries of imperialism. Once they have nothing to lose but their chains.
* * *
 In actuality what he called “greed” is the very functioning of capitalism itself. No amount of regulation or appeal to conscience would ever stop it. Capital must accumulate on a larger and larger scale regardless of the consequences.
 Bipartisan Research Center, “2012 Voter Turnout,” November 8, 2012. http://bipartisanpolicy.org/library/report/2012-voter-turnout
 Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2008
 Why 40% of Americans Won’t Vote for President, Live Science
 Why 50 million Americans won’t vote Tuesday, in two charts, Washington Post
 Operation Zero in Haiti, New Left Review
 “Rep. Maxine Waters: Aristide Says ‘I Was Kidnapped'”. Democracy Now. Retrieved Apr 19, 2015.
 Obama’s claim that raising the minimum wage helps low-wage workers ‘make ends meet’, The Washington Post
 Marx-Engels Correspondence 1879, Engels To Eduard Bernstein, London, June 17, 1879
 Mao Zedong, The Analysis of Classes in the Chinese Countryside
 How Was Life? Global Well-being since 1820, Income inequality since 1820, OECD iLibrary
4 thoughts on “Who is Really Revolutionary?”
The person who starts revolution, that’s who
No, that would be a revolutionary. We’re taking about a section of the population with revolutionary potential.
So MTW calls for right-wing politics? And you really don’t get why people call it counter-revolutionary? You are falling for the oldest trick in the book: dividing the working class, making them see each other not as allies but as enemies. Your expectations of instant revolution are pretty absurd, it’s ultra-leftism. Class consciousness must be built, and that doesn’t happen by allowing capitalists to make shit worse and worse. In fact, people in Nazi Germany didn’t become more left-wing, they became more RIGHT-WING.
Alternatively, worker movements achieving reforms in conditions/wages/etc will build class consciousness and make them more leftist. Did FDR’s new deal kill a US Socialist revolution? Yes, but only because the largest communist organizations made the mistake of agreeing to accepting reform RATHER than revolution in a period where revolution was appropriate. When revolution is appropriate, reforms should NEVER be accepted. When revolution is NOT appropriate, reforms should be DEMANDED, but ONLY if you always bear in mind that the goal is not reform ,but REVOLUTION.
Well you’ve completely failed read the post so I’ll help you out. “You are falling for the oldest trick in the book: dividing the working class”, the argument is that First World people are not the working class so you’re beginning from a false premise. You should be trying to prove how they are not merely asserting that I’m wrong. A worker is someone who only has their labour power to sell which does not describe 1st world people. In actually 1st wrodl people are the enemy of 3rd world people becuase they are bought off with their exploitation to a point of no longer being revolution but defending the system in general. This is our stance and you fail to address it. You simply assert that you’re right and provide not argument. “Class consciousness must be built”, and in over 100 years Americans have failed to do so. Should you also ignore both Engels and Lenin saying that the English working class was no longer revolutionary? “Class consciousness must be built, and that doesn’t happen by allowing capitalists to make shit worse and worse. In fact, people in Nazi Germany didn’t become more left-wing, they became more RIGHT-WING.” By this logic having nothing to lose but your chains makes automatically right wing. Congratulations you just called the 3rd World Nazis.
“Alternatively, worker movements achieving reforms in conditions/wages/etc will build class consciousness and make them more leftist. Did FDR’s new deal kill a US Socialist revolution? Yes, but only because the largest communist organizations made the mistake of agreeing to accepting reform RATHER than revolution in a period where revolution was appropriate.” Here you’ve just completely contradicted yourself. “worker movements achieving reforms in conditions/wages/etc will build class consciousness and make them more leftist.” but, “the largest communist organizations made the mistake of agreeing to accepting reform RATHER than revolution in a period where revolution was appropriate.” So yes fighting for reforms, not revolution is a problem. When you fight for liberal reforms you get taken over by liberals. BTW you did notice how it killed their “revolutionary potential”, but then you advocate for more of it.
“When revolution is appropriate, reforms should NEVER be accepted. When revolution is NOT appropriate, reforms should be DEMANDED, but ONLY if you always bear in mind that the goal is not reform, but REVOLUTION.”
Have you noticed yet that everything has been a reform in the First World? It’s a real nice way of arguing for reform because revolution isn’t coming.
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