We are facing wars, poverty, plutocracy, racism, sexism, mass shootings, mass incarceration, ecocide, and many other torments, all unnecessary. (And ecocide, if continued, will soon kill us all.) Most people do not see how these problems are all connected and can be solved through one revolution.
Reform will not suffice. By “reform” I mean
gradual modifications, a cleaning up of corruption, a restoration of time-honored fundamental principles.
In contrast, by “revolution” I mean
abrupt drastic change, rejecting and replacing the old principles.
A simple example is that an increase in wages can be gradual, but changing from a boss-controlled workplace to co-op can only be done all at once. Some common analogies: Lighting a candle or getting pregnant cannot be done gradually.
Here is a more relevant example: The ruling class uses its grip on power to retain and strengthen its grip on power; that’s a feedback loop. Some people believe the rulers’ grip can be broken gradually by steps within the system — e.g., a constitutional amendment to “get the money out of politics.” I don’t think so. Laws are only as good as the culture standing behind them. Look at how the 14th Amendment, written to protect freed blacks, instead ended up protecting corporate personhood.
In any case, the first step toward breaking the grip of the ruling class is to recognize that there is a ruling class, and to see how that feedback loop works. In 2014 Gilens and Page proved statistically that, regardless of elections, the rich get the public policies they want and the rest of us don’t [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tu32CCA_Ig].
VIOLENT OR NONVIOLENT
Some people assume that by “revolution” I mean guns. Not necessarily.
There are moral reasons on both sides of the violence question. On the one hand, people have a right to defend themselves. On the other hand, ends do not justify means, because we rarely get the ends we seek; more often we just get a continuation of the means.
But we can put aside moral questions, and just consider whether violence is practical and effective.
I should clarify that I am talking about revolution here in the USA, in the present and immediate future. Revolution here in the belly of the beast is pivotal, for this empire stops other nations from freeing themselves. I don’t have as clear a picture of other times and places. And my arguments against violence are directed to white, middle-class people — i.e., people who are not in direct immediate danger.
Mao said “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” But our oppressors currently have far more guns than we do, so violence is not a practical or effective tactic at this time. No revolution succeeds until the military join the people. (Maybe not the officers of the military, but the lower ranks.)
Changes through violence are only temporary. Look at the French revolution — they beheaded the aristocracy, but within a couple of decades they had a new aristocracy. Lasting change happens when you change the minds of the people — that is, when ideas spread and take root.
On the other hand, mere rallies and nonviolent direct action don’t seem to be working very well either; the atrocity at Standing Rock is a recent major example of that. With or without violence, we need more people. And if we had a lot more people, we probably wouldn’t need violence anyway. (The 1917 revolutions involved almost no violence, and most of it consisted of aggression by the oligarchy and self-defense by the revolutionaries.) And at least in these initial stages, using violence works against our recruitment efforts, both because it alienates anyone who is not yet awakened, and because it gives our oppressors an excuse to return the violence a thousandfold.
HOW BIG A CHANGE
What are the goals of our revolution? Opinions about this vary greatly.
At one end of the spectrum, reformists envision a rather narrow “revolution.” They merely want better jobs, better rulers, a fairer distribution of wealth, and affordable education and healthcare. They generally believe that it’s just a few bad politicians who need to be overthrown, not the entire system. They believe the market and the constitution are a sound basis for a way of life; they may not realize that those two institutions have perpetuated plutocracy for 230 years.
At the other end of the spectrum, radicals like me call for a much broader revolution, because we see that all the problems (war, racism, ecocide, etc.) are connected. For reasons I have discussed elsewhere (http://LeftyMathProf.org/ending-capitalism/), those problems will continue unless we replace hierarchy and property with horizontalism and sharing, respectively. I want no rulers, not “better” rulers. And I believe that, since money IS influence, the only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not HAVE a wealthy class. That requires an entirely different economic system, a different way of life. “Imagine no possessions — I wonder if you can,” John Lennon sang.
Between reformist and radical are assorted intermediate views. But many people call for “revolution” without even realizing that we are not agreed on what kind of revolution. We should discuss it.
BATTLE OF IDEAS
How will we recruit more people? With movies, books, petitions, signs, leaflets, and conversations both in person and online. (My own leaflets and videos are at http://LeftyMathProf.org.) We are in a contest of awareness, ideas, understanding, awakening.
Many people think Occupy Wall Street and the 2016 Sanders campaign were failures. But really those campaigns were both very successful. They raised consciousness, changed the national conversation, and brought us a step closer to revolution.
Remember the Hans Christian Andersen story, in which people whispered to one another that the emperor was naked. Eventually everyone realized it was so. In Andersen’s ending, the widespread realization changed nothing; but in reality, it would change everything. So I’m whispering that “capitalism has no clothes.”
Our rulers use brute force, but far more they rely on propaganda. They don’t have the consent of the governed, but they have our acquiescence. When they lose that — when everyone sees that the empire is unfair and based on lies — then the empire will fall. It could fall when the airplane pilots go on strike, or the truck drivers, or the army. We just need to wake them up.
The ingredient we need most in revolution is awakening: We need people to see what they haven’t seen. Many people now have seen past one or two lies of the plutocracy, and think they have seen it all; they call themselves “woke.” Those who know better describe themselves as “in a process of awakening.”
Join the conversation, and invite others to join.
2019 March 11, version 2.24. (Original 2019 Feb 15.) Here are direct links to the section headers after the first: How Big A Change, Violent Or Nonviolent, Battle Of Ideas.