… and it’s Not in the First World.
Revolution is no easy task. It involves a massive upheaval that nearly, or does bring the county to a standstill. The ruling class must have its collective backs entirely against the wall with nowhere to go but down in a bloody rage. First Worldists don’t seem to think this is necessary, they don’t seem to know what a revolution is. One doesn’t have to look far beyond the hype behind Bernie Sanders to get my point. Too many First Worldists think that revolution is right around the corner because of Black Lives Matter riots over police killings. Too many jumped up during the Great Recession claiming that a revolutionary situation was upon us. At any moment we were about to be bombarded by spontaneous class consciousness. Of course that turned out not to be the case, the ruling class was able to pull the economy out of a nose dive and bail themselves out.
So what does it really take to have a revolution according to someone who has already done it? Let us turn to V.I. Lenin.
“To the Marxist it is indisputable that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms:
“(1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way;
“(2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual;
“(3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.”[i]
In the history of America there has never been a class revolutionary situation. Some First Worldists have pointed to the American Revolution which was in fact a bourgeois revolution. We’re talking about a time when the social antagonisms between the classes in society have reached an acute point where they threaten to break into a destruction of the existing order. This is far removed from what many First Worldists have claimed. In one semi-historical instance some First Worldists claimed the L.A. Riots were a potentially a revolutionary situation. Such a claim is rather bold to make as the riots were a response to police brutality against African-Americans. It should go without saying that the vast majority of White people in America were supportive and defensive of the police brutality carried out against Rodney King and other Black people. That riot was an expression of an antagonism between the White and Black population exploding into violence. If you think this is a moment of possible class revolution or even consciousness, I question what you think a revolution is.
These symptoms that Lenin notes speak volumes about what a revolutionary situation is and what makes revolution possible. I believe firmly that these words by Lenin have been forgotten by Marxists in the last few decades, seemingly out of convenience. So how do we apply his words to the situation in the First World America of today?
With regards to symptom number 1; the ruling class in America has a great deal in the way of concessions to make to the “working class”. In fact we’re seeing some of it right now. The supreme court has just legalized same-sex marriage. After the Great Recession of 2008 the public was given ObamaCare. Essentially it was a concession, a compromise between the ruling class and the public. The people wanted a government guarantee of health care[ii] but the insurance companies and financial capitalists still wanted private appropriation of money spent on medical needs. As a result of this act a great deal of the popular anger towards the system for the crisis was abated. Once having done so the trend has reversed.[iii] In America there is a great deal of room for concessions, and certainly the wealth is available for them. The immense popularity of Bernie Sanders and his campaign promises alone indicate that the people are willing to compromise with the ruling class. The U.S. is nowhere near a position where it cannot make concessions to the public.
Despite protestations to the contrary there are a vast majority of Americans who are willing to live “the old way”. Sure there are people who want things to be better, but they’re quite happy not to take any radical action. The most radical of action is coming from reactionary forces who are pushing in the opposite direction. People of the regular American public are fighting against a progressive system. As an example, take the recent destruction of Black churches.[iv] There has been no corresponding violence in support of progressivism which would suggest a radicalized population along class lines. An unknown number of militias are gearing up to fight the government to demand a reactionary society, even a totally white supremacist society.
It should also be noted that the ruling class is quite capable of holding itself together. There is no threat to their rule at all. There is no threat either internally nor externally. The bourgeoisie still maintain a strong grip of both the state and the population. Again we return to the reactionary support for Bernie Sanders as an example of the public still believing in the system which shouldn’t. The bourgeoisie still have a monopoly control over the productive forces which allows them to continue to extract profits and “to live in the old way”. They certainly do not have their “backs against the wall,” nor are they in danger of losing their way of life. To suggest otherwise is to spit in the face of reality.
With regards to symptom number 2; “the suffering and want of the oppressed classes” has not “grown more acute than usual.” As we can see from available data (figure 1) the rate of poverty in the U.S. has remained between 10% and 15% since about 1965. The poverty rate was higher than that, but we must also consider the concessions that were made to the public during the 1960s. The “suffering” of the U.S. public is not “more acute than usual.” Social antagonisms were much more acute during the Great Recession than they are now. If ever there was ever a time in which the U.S. public could be considered as having suffered in a more acute than usual way would be during the Great Depression. During that time the poverty rate was around 40%[v] and millions of people died.[vi] Even at this most acute time in U.S. history, the people still did not act in a way that would threaten the capitalist class.
With regards to symptom number 3; the previous two symptoms have shown why we haven’t seen the third.
First Worldists have forgotten their own history, let alone learn anything from it. The whole point of Third Worldism is to acknowledge the current material conditions that the world faces today, and to produce a theory according to those lines. We do not see the conditions necessary for the beginnings of a revolutionary struggle. The objectively revolutionary situation does not exist. With the previous investigation we see why it doesn’t, and why it won’t any time soon. First Worldists have made all kinds of justifications for ignoring reality. Some have said that, “conditions are not everything”. Yes, that is true, they’re not. However the point of that phrase is to remind us that we also need a revolutionary leadership and organization. It is not (as First Worldists use it) a phrase meant to ignore the material conditions.
Not until there is a full acceptance of the prevailing material conditions can the true potential for revolution be achieved. Not until First Worldists end living in denial.
* * *
[i] V.I. Lenin, The Collapse of the Second International
[ii] Poll: Most Back Public Health Care Option, CBS News
[iii] Number Of Americans Who Want Universal Government Health Care Has Plunged, The Daily Caller
[iv] Who or what is burning black churches in the U.S.? Arsonists or accidents?, CBC News
[v] It’s Getting Better All the Time, by Stephen Moore and Julian L. Simon (2000)
[vi] Where did America’s missing millions go? Holodomor Lessons, RT