A revolutionary career
A revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief.
- Max Horkheimer
Whenever I'm discussing the world with friends/peers, a few arguments always pop up. Firstly, they'll generally accept my complaints about the world. War, poverty and racism etc are bad things, we can all agree.
Then, in most cases, they agree that we have to do 'something' about it. Their proposals usually range from boycotts to 'voting Labour out'.
However, my protestations about the intrinsic revolutionary power of the working class never go down well, for a couple of reasons:
1) What do you mean by the working class? Most people are 'middle class', aren't they? You're only working class if you do 'manual labour' etc.
2) The working class, insofar as it exists, is, in the West at least, 'bought off'. People are too busy living their happy lives to worry about radical change.
To the first point, Harman's excellent article from a years ago in the ISJ, called 'The Workers of the World', destroys the popular sociological notion of a disappearing 'working class'. Readers interested should seek it, it's available on the web.
As to the second point - it's an oldie but not a goldie. As far back as the 50's and Crossland's 'The Future of Socialism', people on the left even have argued that capitalism is now stable, it's future was secure. The only thing socialists could do now was fight 'culture wars', and wage Gramscian struggles to change the terms of popular discourse.
In May 1968, the theories of a 'bought off' working class were exceedingly popular in academia. Then, something happened. Motivated by a radicalized student base, the French proletariat awoke, bringing down the nationalist leader De Gaulle in a massive general strike, and almost overturning the French state. The movement, through a complicated process of betrayal and conciliation, was eventually defeated and French capital, once again, managed to stabilize itself.
This movement was part of a massive worldwide strike against capital and oppression. The Prague Spring, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement were a part of this internationalist struggle. Whole sections of society across the world were radicalized. Intellectual ferment brought forth a 'New Left' committed to opposing both Stalinist tyranny and the degradations of the American empire. Figures like Tariq Ali, Christopher Hitchens, Perry Anderson all coalesced around this broad approach.
As the decades proceeded, and the Fire Last Time became an even hazier memory, some people lurched back into the shadows of cynicism. Whole sections renounced their previous radicalism, and were welcomed back into the fold by the Guards of Capital. Some, such as David Horowitz and the editor of the risible 'Black Book Of Communism' , Stephane Courtois, became 'outspoken critics' of the Left. Others, like Tariq Ali, remain an inspirational example of the courage and revolutionary spirit which exemplified the days of '68 - from the Veitcong in the trenches, to the Czechs resisting Stalinist oppression.
The politics of '68 were certainly not perfect, which is reflected in some of their numbers later apostasy. They did valorize Chairman Mao to an unhealthy extent, which led many of them to take the weird position that though the Soviet Union was bad, Enver Hoxha's Albania was the workers' paradise. Trotsky was certainly a revered figure for many of them. However, it was not the Trotksy of the Bolshevik revolution, it was the Trotsky of Duetscher. Trotsky as glorious failure, idealist, the 'unreasonable' opposition to the inevitability of Stalin.
They could, as much as they tried, never make a total break with the Soviet Union. Seduced by the rhetoric and the red flags, it was always maintained that, however distasteful, the Soviet Union must be, kind of, better than Western Capitalism.
And then comes '91 - and tears rain down their blushing cheeks.
Anyway, hopefully you'll forgive my discursiveness.
The point is that I am a proletarian revolutionist!
I was motivated to say that because of comments on unnamed websites. You know the type, 'you'll grow out of it'.
Maybe one day I will, but I take immense heart from the people I know and the people I've read about who haven't. Those who refused to succumb to the overbearing hopelessness of the world.
I leave you with a quote from the old man:
Life is not an easy matter... You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.
- Leon Trotsky
Lenin next to the Red Flag