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Why is a scenario important?
Many people, including militant activists, have a difficult time in trying to get even a rough picture of the kinds of events that will lead to the overthrow of bourgeois rule in a country such as the US. And yet some kind of rough picture is necessary for two reasons:
1 • Clearing up misconceptions
The first reason is that it is necessary to clear up many of the misconceptions that are the product both of world history and of the decay and theoretical bankruptcy of the left. Common misconceptions of how the working class will come to power include:
(a) democracy • we only need to modify our existing "democracy". This view holds that we simply need to use the existing tools (elections, etc) that our "democracy" provides in order to make any changes that are necessary. This view holds that bourgeois rule is not really the rule of the bourgeoisie as a class--but actually represents the highest form of human economic and political development and we simply need to either:
(i) modify this system to eliminate the corruption, ignorance and incompetence which somehow seem to always have the upper hand in this otherwise most perfect of all systems, or
(ii) educate people so they don't vote such stupid and corrupt politicians into office but will instead vote for more enlightened representatives
(b) reformism • bourgeois rule will be reformed away as a result of:
(i) a series of political reforms (such as campaign finance reforms) or
(ii) economic reforms (such as more progressive taxation) or
(iii) the development of alternative economic models that eventually mature and take over the economy or
(iv) a third party (or a fourth or fifth party, etc) will finally emerge that will really represent the interests of the workers and oppressed and become a mass party on the magic day when "people finally wake up"
(c) adventurism • conceptions in which a relatively small group of people try to shoot their way to power and either succeed directly or somehow are so inspiring that they win the support of millions to become a successful mass uprising.
(d) catastrophism • the idea that bourgeois rule
will be overthrown as a result of:
(i) massive civil war in which millions are killed (ie: similar to the 1918-20 civil war in Russia or the 1927-49 civil war in China)
(ii) world war or nuclear war
(iii) economic depression and collapse
(iv) massive ecological catastrophe and famine
(v) other forms of Armageddon or
(vi) all of the above
2 • illustrate linkages between politics,
economics, culture and technology
The second reason it is necessary and useful to clear away these misconceptions is that it is important to illustrate the interrelationship between the various political, economic and technological factors that are interwoven into and inseparable from this question. These interwoven factors include:
(a) the struggles for reforms and against imperialist war,
(b) the development of revolutionary organization, and the struggle against the diseases of sectarianism and reformism
(c) the creation (making use of the emerging revolution in digital communications) of media channels to the masses,
(d) the skillful use of bourgeois legality and
(e) revolutionary (and counter-revolutionary) violence.
It goes without saying that any attempt by a lone, isolated theoretician like me to sketch out a scenario by which the working class will come to power in a country like the U.S. will be crude, oversimplified, unrealistic and downright pathetic in comparison to the rich and complex events which will unfold in the material world. The truth is that the class struggle is indescribably complex and there are hundreds and thousands of different scenarios that could be written down that would be less crude, less oversimplified, less unrealistic and less pathetic than what follows. However it is not my aim to come up with a perfect scenario or even a scenario that is realistic. I will leave such a task to my critics who undoubtedly could do a better job.
What I insist however, is that we need some kind of scenario that improves on existing democratic, reformist, adventurist or catastrophist misconceptions. Otherwise it becomes difficult to even think about our tasks and what lies ahead. So the scenario that follows will not be perfect and it may not even be good. But it is hopefully better than the existing blank space that comes up when anyone tries to gain a picture of something that no trend on the left wants to seriously discuss.
It is time that we made a commitment to developing a serious understanding of some of the likely ways in which the working class will again emerge as the master of its own fate. The world is a dangerous place. While I oppose the view that the working class can only come to power in the wake of terrible catastrophe, we must also understand that various forms of catastrophe cannot be ruled out. It is very much in the interest of the working class to come to power in conditions of minimum disruption to the economy, of minimum unnecessary loss of life and so on. But to a very large extent it is the bourgeoisie that will determine the scale of disruption and destruction that will take place as it is removed from the stage of history. What we can say is that the key to a relatively non-disruptive transition, with the minimum probability of nuclear wars, civil war, economic collapse and so forth--lies in the earliest possible revival of a genuine left that has mass support, that has overcome its theoretical crisis, and is capable of leading millions in a conscious struggle to end the system of bourgeois rule.
I have made a number of assumptions in developing the scenario below that I should acknowledge and outline. First, I am drastically minimizing the international factors. In a world where all national economies are interlocked, the class struggle in a country like the U.S. impacts and is impacted by events in all other nations. International politics are imperialist politics. Imperialist nations go to war, sometimes against smaller nations and sometimes against other major imperialist powers. And these wars and threats of wars impact everything. But I will leave all of that out of the scenario below for one simple reason: to make everything simpler and easier to understand (both for readers and for myself). We must understand arithmetic before we master calculus.
I also use the phrases, in the scenario below, like the workers' alliance or movement and treat this alliance or movement as if it were an organization. No one can predict the organizational form in which the workers' movement will emerge. Many on the left believe that it will emerge in the form of one or a few political parties. Other conceptions of federations or coalitions also exist. I am agnostic on many of these questions but I describe the workers' alliance as if were capable of:
(a) acting in a united way when necessary (ie: striking with a single fist) and
(b) exposing and opposing those "progressive" political trends which act as vehicles of bourgeois influence, which work to undermine the revolutionary movement via the kinds of compromise that, at critical moments, work against the leftward motion of the masses and the enthusiasm of the masses for creating a world that is not run by the bourgeoisie.
Other than this I will add what should be obvious to all serious activists: such an workers' alliance/coalition/federation/party/whatever would contain within itself a very large number of trends and views which would openly compete against one another for the attention and mindshare of the masses.
Here is the scenario
Congratulations, dear reader, for reading this far! Now here is the scenario you have been waiting for:
1 • The digital fire •
•The first third of the 21st century--the left learns how to use the digital fire to build channels to the masses and overcome the diseases of sectarianism and reformism
Over the next several decades the left in all countries learns to make effective use of the emerging revolution in communications to wage information war (defined as an open struggle for ideas on a mass scale). As the internet merges with the mass media the left creates revolutionary media channels that attract a mass audience. Part of the inspiration for this are victories on the software front (ie: of Linux against Microsoft's Windows and of the youth who want free access to music and movies against the Hollywood copyright police) which give an entire generation of activists confidence that a similar success can be achieved by an open source news service (ie: an aggregation of the news reporting/analysis abilities of all left groups--that allows the masses to use collaborative filtering to determine the top stories) that can win the attention of a mass audience in competition against the mainstream bourgeois news sources.
The revolutionary media channels are based on news and entertainment revolving around a core message: bourgeois rule is the fundamental obstacle to the forward progress of humankind and must be eliminated (one way or the other). The revolutionary channels have a big impact on daily struggles of all kinds, helping to build solidarity and to catalyze the flow of practical information and tactical debate that makes it far more difficult for the bourgeoisie to isolate, disorient and outmanuever progressive struggles. Over time these revolutionary channels begin to function as a digital nervous system of the working class and oppressed.
The development of mass revolutionary channels connecting revolutionaries to the masses (and with one another) has two big impacts:
(a) it allows the left to overcome its theoretical crisis and develop confidence that the working class can do a better job running a modern society than the bourgeoisie. This makes possible a clear focus on eliminating bourgeois rule.
(b) it creates a condition of transparency which allows the masses to intervene in disputes between trends on the left and expose, discredit, humiliate and effectively render extinct those left trends which refuse to cooperate with others for sectarian reasons.
All left trends based on sectarianism find themselves, at this point, in the position of a goldfish in a blender. Their constituent elements (ie: revolutionary minded activists) are absorbed into the larger revolutionary project. This effectively eradicates sectarianism as a disease debilitating the left.
Following this, the influence of reformism (a bigger and far more deeply rooted disease) is punctured within the left as the cunning manuevers of the bourgeoisie's flunkies within the progressive movement are repeatedly exposed and ridiculed in real time before an audience of tens of millions.
2 • Electoral victory •
•Sometime in the middle of the 21st century--electoral victory
A political party or alliance representing the interests of the working class wins a majority of elected positions within the bourgeois governmental apparatus (presidency, congress, etc) and makes use of these legally-won positions to (a) begin the systematic liquidation of bourgeois levers of power within the media, political, economic and military spheres and (b) begin the slow and gradual expropriation of bourgeois property. From this point on things develop quite rapidly ...
3 • Economic retaliation •
•Bourgeois reaction -- part 1 -- Capital flight and economic retaliation
The bourgeoisie engineers massive capital flight and other forms of economic sabotage. There is done for two reasons:
(a) spontaneous -- capital does like to stick around waiting to be expropriated--it will flee to where it can continue to expand and maintain its existence as capital
(b) as a conscious effort to destabilize the workers' government. The bourgeoisie hopes that economic paralysis will cause millions to go hungry and eventually conclude that it is better to allow the bourgeoisie to rule.
4 • Workers stand firm •
•Workers refuse to capitulate
The workers' movement has prepared for this showdown. Food and other emergency supplies have been stockpiled. Hospitals and essential services keep running. More importantly, the mass of the population has been prepared for this politically and does not back down in the face of hardship. The confrontation escalates ...
5 • Attempted decapitation •
•Bourgeois reaction -- part 2 -- Bourgeois legality tossed aside--attempt to decapitate workers' movement
The bourgeoisie, with its back to the wall and realizing it has nothing to lose launches a military coup (ie: like Franco in Spain, Pinochet in Chile, Suharto in Indonesia, etc) to decapitate the workers' movement: all militant leaders that they can get their hands on are imprisoned or assassinated. Bourgeois-sponsered death squads have a free hand to round up and execute troublemakers.
6 • Workers' movement resilient •
•The workers movement is initially suppressed but, because it was prepared, over time proves itself resilient in the face of repression.
Militant leaders of the workers movement are distributed internationally, making suppression difficult, and the revolutionary media channels prove difficult to suppress. The workers' movement continues to use its channels to communicate directly with hundreds of millions. News and information cannot be suppressed and the fire grows hotter. Many tens of millions who have supported the workers movement in a somewhat passive way become more active as they come to the conclusion that humanity can never know peace until bourgeois rule is decisively broken. Massive strikes and mass actions in the streets break out in defiance of martial law. These actions are initially suppressed but soldiers in the national guard and army eventually begin to mutiny and support the strikers and join the demonstrations. The military government in desperation shuts down the internet but finds that this throws more gasoline on the fire and spirals the economy further into paralysis.
7 • Bourgeoisie paralyzed •
•In the face of the militant mass resistance by many millions the military government eventually proves to be unstable and disintegrates. The bourgeoisie itself becomes split and paralyzed.
Attempts by the bourgeoisie to install as figureheads their subservient social-democratic misleaders turn into fiasco because these puppets have already been exposed in the course of many previous struggles.
8 • Workers' victorious •
•Bourgeoisie defeated, workers' movement victorious
The conscious actions of untold millions, united thru the actions of their own organizations and the modern communications infrastructure, eventually wins over the paraylzed bourgeoisie. Bourgeois resistance is crushed.
At this point the real dismantling of the bourgeois state can begin. Every institution in the bourgeois state (ie: government and military institutions, informal institutions, etc) is taken apart and replaced by new institutions capable of serving the working class and the majority of society.
9 • Stable workers' state •
•Workers state allows stability for economic experimentation with self-organized moneyless gift economy
After several decades of this, methods of creating the good and services that people need have been developed, tested and proven. These new methods (which do not rely on either the market or a central administrative apparatus that tells everybody what to do) have grown to make up the overwhelming bulk of the economy. With the basis for a privileged class now vanished--it becomes possible, for the first time, for society to "run itself" without the need for a state.
The most powerful idea of the present epoch
Some will argue that (a) we must live with bourgeois rule forever because the bourgeoisie has the ability to destroy most of civilization.
And others will argue that (b) if we are careful we can ease the bourgeoisie off the stage of history in such a way that it will go quietly and peacefully and in accord with its own laws that it has created.
But these two different arguments are essentially identical. Both arguments oppose, in practice, our talking about (or even thinking about) eliminating bourgeois rule. Both arguments oppose developing a realistic understanding of how society functions under bourgeois rule. Both arguments oppose building a mass movement around the clear goal of eliminating bourgeois rule.
The people who argue so confidently against the development of a mass movement aimed at eliminating bourgeois rule need to be told to go to hell. These people are really no different than those who, in the ancient world, preached to the slaves that a world without slavery was not realistic because it went against the laws of nature.
The most powerful idea of the present epoch is that a world without bourgeois rule is possible, practical and achievable--and must be the central aim around which we organize all other progressive struggles.
This single, simple idea, once grasped by the masses, will unleash the full potential of the anti-war movement, and all other progressive movements in society which are at present crippled by the debilitating infighting and unprincipled behavior of sectarian groups and the disorienting appeals by the reformists to get on our knees and beg for peace from the gods of imperialist war.
But we cannot bring this simple, powerful idea to the masses until the left overcomes the theoretical crisis that has left the overwhelming majority of progressive activists unable to think in a realistic way about how the working class can create its own state machine to suppress the resistance of the bourgeoisie.
Two examples of how such a machine would suppress the resistance of the bourgeoisie are:
(1) efforce measures to control capital and restrict capital flight
(2) enforce the separation of speech and property so that workers and the oppressed will be able to make their voices heard without fear of state censorship but bourgeois apologists and propagandists will not be allowed to buy public opinion or dominate the mass media.
These kinds of basic defensive measures will be necessary in order to create the kind of stable economy and stable society that will allow for the lengthy period of experimentation necessary to discover practical methods by which humanity can create a genuinely classless society with no need for a state or for armed bodies of men (army, police, etc) to push anybody around. Such a classless society will be based on a self-organizing moneyless gift economy. It will need no central authority that makes the rules for everybody else.
If we want to see this happen; if we want to work to make this happen--then we must be committed to understanding these questions in a realistic way so that we can create a mass movement guided by a central strategic vision. And this will require that we think about and talk about, in a realistic way, how we will get from here to there.
My third question for Daniel
What kind of a scenario can you advance for how humanity can arrive at a classless society with no state (no armed bodies of men, no central authority to push anyone around) that does not involve a transition period during which the working class creates it own state machine to maintain basic economic stability and suppress the resistance of the bourgeoisie?