Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to make a revolution (notes)

I have been chewing on this matter for the last days and I do not pretend to have any sort of finished method, theory or plan. But I believe it can only be good to think about it. 

I have been inspired, oddly enough, by the quite destructive (yet necessary) criticism by F. Álvarez[es] against the unorganized and quite aimless (yet rightfully upset) demonstrations in Spain these days.

In a sense I know she is right. But I also know that destructive criticism is not as much the way to go as pedagogy. Because what these "aimless" demos do is to break the corset of passivity and the other corset of political fragmentation of the true left, scattered in many tiny and powerless organizations, each one with its own prejudices and priorities and its own lack of revolutionary power. 

That's why we invented Autonomy, so we could ignore all those sectarisms and get to the monumental task of making the Revolution of the Working Class - for real this time. And that's why you should not go against or even feel indifferent about a revolutionary pulse as this one, regardless of its relative vacuity. May 1st demos are also (often) vacuous parades and lack of action is even more vacuous...

And vacuous and aimless have often been the trigger events of so many revolutions. I bet that someone like Álvarez would criticize, and rightfully so, to the masses that, led by priests, marched in 1905 on the royal palace demanding the Tsar to give them an audience and redress their grievances. Foolish indeed, as history demonstrated, yet trigger of a failed revolution (immortalized by the genial Eisenstein) which in turn would feed another much more successful revolution 12 years later.

If the people marches against the system, even if confused, we must always support them or we do not deserve the name of revolutionaries.

We may also want to increase the level of consciousness and self-organization but without imposing our preconceptions, which may not be understood when the timing is too early (or even ever: our preconceptions may be wrong).

But regardless.

Learning from history: successful revolutions

Soviet Union, Lenin (55)
My aim in these open notes-to-self is to discuss how a revolution is made. And I must say that there is a problem: too few working class revolution have succeeded and all have been concentrated in two pulses: the Russian (and European) Revolution of 1917 and the anti-imperialist revolutions between the 1940s and the 1970s. 

Other attempts did not succeed or succeeded only for a too brief period to judge properly. Later the model of more or less radical socialdemocracies using the bourgeois parliamentarian system, specially in Latin America, has provided some interesting insights but can hardly be called revolutionary processes, because, even in Venezuela, the bourgeois system remains mostly intact, even if under a strongly worded and sometimes also strongly acting reformist rule.

Successful proletarian (or rather peasant quite often) revolutions are then of two types: the Russian Revolution was built on the self-organization of the working classes in the network of soviets (direct democracy councils, led and eventually kidnapped by the single revolutionary party), instead the Chinese and the successive anti-imperialist revolutions were built on guerrilla war, being the revolutionary army which led the institution of any kind of communist institutions (councils, cooperatives, etc.)

We have then one revolution of the councils, that only succeeded in Russia but was attempted in other places, notably Germany, where the revolutionary army appears as a byproduct of the grassroots revolutionary organization only. And we have then another model of revolution in which the revolutionary army is built first and leads the organization of a socialist system of some sort. 

The first model approaches best what Marx had in mind when he coined the term communism: the Paris Commune of 1871, and what libertarian communists (anarchists) also had in mind (even if Makhno and Lenin never really managed to get along). 

The second model is sui generis and is actually born in most cases of the anti-colonial struggle in one way or another. It is the model of China, Vietnam, Cuba, Angola... While the intellectual avant-guard leading these struggles was no doubt compromised with genuine socialism and this ideology fed in that time of intense Cold War the hopes of so many peoples, it is clear that the method of guerrilla war reached its limits (no successes of the revolutionary kind since the 1970s and one clear disappointment in Eritrea). 

A reason may be that states can now muster massive technological resources for war and essentially render powerless any guerrilla or almost. There are some active guerrillas however but either they are challenging less consolidated states (India) or they are of the reactionary sockpuppet kind (Talibans), which are surely left to exist for mere show and imperialist pretext. 

Whatever the case, the prospect of a military success, much less of a revolutionary one, via guerrilla wars seems at least limited. I do not mean to question the legitimacy of any such guerrillas but it's clear that not a single real revolutionary success has stemmed from them since the defeat of the late Portuguese Empire and of the USA in Vietnam in 1975. 

That is 35 years now. 

True that the other model, the Soviet one, has not reappeared either, at least that I can recall. 

But it does offer, I understand, a more realistic approach on how to make a revolution. Why? Because it does not require (initially at least) of a standing army, with all the limitations it imposes. And because it allows for a grassroots organization of the working class (that is: the people) that should become itself a constituent process even before the revolutionary tipping point happens. 

An army cannot do that: it can inspire and it can defend or attack but it cannot organize the people except in a most undemocratic manner. An army or guerrilla also increases the opportunities for criminalization by a status quo that takes good care of its "democratic" image (regardless that we know that it cannot be true democracy while the control of the economy is in the private hands of a tiny oligarchy - not everybody knows or remembers all the time, and we must be extremely pedagogic, not dogmatic).

So an army or guerrilla is often counter-producing, none the less because it leaves much of the struggle to a small insider avant-guard instead than to the self-organization of the masses. 

We need to encourage this self-organization: our aim should be that a council, assembly or similar kind of grassroots democratic unit is created in each village, town and neighborhood, and also in each company and even bureaucratic department - and then structured in flexible and also democratic networks. If we can organize that way, I think that 90% of the revolutionary effort, of the constituent process of the workers' society, is done. 

Then only the revolutionary tipping point is required. 

Of course, I am aware that this self-organizing effort will be sabotaged by the bourgeois state but that is part of the dialectics and we are into constituting the antithesis and into building the new total democratic thesis out of it.

So in the end Álvarez may be somewhat wrong, because total democracy is what we really need. It is correct that such total democracy will not come from mere protests (as A. Maestro explains in another article[es] today) but we cannot ignore that this more or less spontaneous movement is there for a reason and we can't just attack it: we must defend it and, if anything, improve it, make it truly revolutionary. 

It won't happen in a day but compared with the lack of protests of the immediate past in Spain, it is a really refreshing wave that we can't but welcome. Better that than nothing: dogmatism will get us nowhere.

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