It’s time to prepare.
The essential problem with the left-social-democratic approach is that it fails to confront the altogether obvious fact that the struggle to abolish capitalism is no easy task and that any serious struggle will encounter the determined resistance of the capitalist class.
One doesn’t need to defend each and every action taken by Lenin’s Bolsheviks following the Russian revolution in order to see that the fundamental tenets of Lenin’s strategy – the need for a cohesive “democratic-centralist” party, a commitment to the political independence of the working class and a perspective of “smashing” the existing capitalist state and replacing it with organs of working-class power – are entirely indispensable to any determined effort to uproot the capitalist order and achieve socialism.
No doubt this claim will be denounced by many as an example of “dinosaur Marxism.” But the stubborn fact remains that the radical left has yet to articulate any serious, much less convincing, alternative.
Unfortunately, instead of paying heed to the lessons of the Russian October Revolution or the hard-won lessons of other important working-class revolts, contemporary radicals are much more likely to agree with political scientist Susan George’s dismissive suggestion that a “twenty-first century ”revolution’ might, perhaps occur in several ways, but the storming of the Winter Palace isn’t one of them.” Of course, George doesn’t acknowledge that the conquest of the seat of state power by insurrectionary forces (whether that seat is the Winter Palace, Westminster or the White House) is a necessary, if not entirely sufficient, condition for the victory of any revolution worthy of the name. The real purpose of George’s argument against an “all-consuming one-off revolutionary transformation” is not to urge the formulation of a better, more “up to date” revolutionary strategy, but rather to reject the very idea of preparing for a decisive confrontation between a mass anticapitalist movement and the repressive agencies of the capitalist order.
In Another World Is Possible If…, she writes: “I can barely visualize what such gigantic one-off event might look or feel like, but history suggests it could only come about after a series of wrenching crises in which millions would suffer and thousands die … Frankly, I hope such traumatic events can be avoided.”
In this single passage, George distills much of the confused thinking that prevails in the “global justice movement” (of which she is a prominent spokesperson). To be a revolutionary socialist – a Leninist or Trotskyist – is not to hope for “traumatic events;” it is to expect them and to prepare for them. Indeed, it’s to recognize that humanity will live with social catastrophe as long as the rule of capital continues. Furthermore, to be a revolutionary socialist is to recognize that, periodically, mass struggles of workers and other popular forces must come face to face with the question of state power, and that bloody showdowns will occur irrespective of whether a revolutionary vanguard is present.
To make such an argument is not to indulge in sectarianism or to build castles in the sky. It is to emphasize what Susan George herself tells us “history suggests” – that wrenching crises can indeed give birth to revolutionary events. What distinguishes George and other left-reformists from revolutionary Marxists is not realism or their pious hopes that traumatic events can be avoided. Rather it’s their determination to turn a blind eye to the elementary responsibility of those who would lead the charge for “global social justice” – to learn the lessons of history and to build the political instruments needed to win real victories.
In what way is it realistic to reject the need for a revolutionary socialist party with a clear strategic orientation and tested tactical capacities, while urging on a rising movement of workers, peasants and social-justice activists to confront a well-organized and violent counter-revolution? Hasn’t this scenario played out far too many times over the past century (in Spain, in Indonesia, in Chile, etc.), and haven’t these defeats led precisely to the demoralization and defeatism that now make it so very hard for Susan George, and even many socialists to her left, to “visualize” another October revolution? No, such a perspective is not realism. It is not even simple naivety. A better name for it would be political irresponsibility.
Murray E.G. Smith is a professor of Sociology and Labor Studies at Brock University in Canada. He has been active on the socialist left since the 1970s. This abridged excerpt is from Global Capitalism in Crisis: Karl Marx & the Decay of the Profit System published by Fernwood Publishing.
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