Yes, I stole the title from Lenin’s 1902 essay, but I have read little of Lenin’s essay, and understood less. Most old Marxist writing is too long and abstract for me, and too full of arcane historical references.
Some big things have changed since the times of Marx and Lenin. I doubt that they foresaw nuclear weapons or the destruction of the ecosystem. They might or might not have foreseen the internet or the Orwellian legacy of Bernays. We are engaged in a great war of information and awareness. Vanguard parties are no longer the only way to spread ideas.
The title “What Is To Be Done” suggests two subtopics:
What needs to be done? i.e., what problems are we facing? We still face the traditional torments of poverty, exploitation, and war. More recently we face imminent apocalypse and extinction, due to either abrupt nuclear war or the gradual but accelerating breakdown of the ecosystem; this makes the need for change that much more urgent. All these torments, extinction-level or not, are caused by capitalism, as I’ll explain in a moment. Thus, we need to end capitalism. And to accomplish that, first we must spread understanding of the need to end capitalism.
What are we capable of doing? That is limited by human nature, which we might not see accurately. It is also limited by our culture and our rulers, both of which we must change, but it’s not obvious how we will change them.
I’ll start with a simplified history. For 200,000 years we lived in small tribes and shared as equals. The only way anyone could “get ahead” was by bringing the whole community ahead. Perhaps we lived that way out of necessity. But that’s how we evolved, and that is still our nature genetically: We are social animals; we excel at cooperating with each other. Even today, in a different culture, sharing is still what we teach our kids and still where we turn in crisis.
But 12,000 years ago, when the ice age ended, it became not necessary but possible for us to replace sharing with hoarding, and we did, and that was our big mistake. Our culture turned away from our nature, and that has been making us all crazy ever since. Separate property creates separate lives and selfishness. It erases our awareness of our shared responsibility for the well being of the community and the ecosystem. Trade concentrates wealth, and power corrupts, resulting in lies, theft, war, ecocide, etc.
What Marx called “false consciousness” is what Neo called “the matrix” – a seamless web of lies. We are taught to see the world differently than how it really is. How will we overcome that web of lies? How will we come to see that the emperor really is naked?
One myth that has become popular among Marxists is that workers will learn the truth through their participation in the class struggle. I disagree with that myth. Different people, observing the same phenomenon, may analyze it differently. For instance, is poverty caused by injustice, or by laziness? Our society seems to be split almost evenly between those two analyses. Which analysis we choose depends not just on what we have seen, but also on what theory we have heard. And don’t bother capitalizing “Theory” – it doesn’t have to be long and complicated.
[This is an early draft; I may add more later.]
2023 Jan 3, version 1.03.