About the impossibility of carrying out the revolution proposed in Social Capitalism
Marx was a socialist. To distinguish his party from all kinds of other socialist movements, he called himself a communist, as is clearly stated in the introduction to the Communist Manifesto. The manifest is a socialist manifest, not a communist one. His insights and political ideas did not change. Lenin too was a socialist, and remained so. He too renamed the party communist to distinguish it from the socialist parties that participated in the First World War. This was in 1918, after the October revolution. Unlike Marx, communism as an idea appealed to him, or at least seemed to be a useful means of propaganda. This resulted in communist parties worldwide using ever more communist jargon.
Marx said very little about what communism was. What little he suggested was not in the Communist Manifesto, but in the Critique of the Gotha Program: “each [works] according to his ability, each [receives] according to his need.” Somehow the world society has become self-managing, in which everyone participates in his own way:
For as soon as the distribution of labor comes into being, each man has a particular exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic and must remain so if he does not wish to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning , to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.
It is clear that capitalism no longer exists under communism. But also no markets and no state. “Hunter, shepherd and fisherman” goes back to self-employed professions that were already marginal in Marx’s time and nowadays only exist as a hobby. The question is what meaningful choices a factory worker, conductor, agricultural worker or administrative employee gets if at the same time the capitalist division of labor must be continued in some socialist way. Marx praised the way in which the Paris Commune was governed. But the communards certainly still paid for the necessities of life, they needed an income and there was a government. There was little choice to do anything else. From the outset the Commune was in civil war with the overthrown and evacuated government.
This idea contradicts the foundation of modern society – division of labor – and therefore of any possible successor to it. As Marx himself described in Capital, the optimization of labor and the division of labor is the merit of capital, which must be continued in the subsequent socialist form of society. And division of labor requires organization, discipline and concentration of power. It is inconceivable that eight billion people (or the 1.2 billion in Marx’s time) could “organize themselves” without hierarchy in division of labor. Certainly, everyone doesn’t have to do exactly one thing, but there is not much free choice.
Apart from the factual impossibility, this self-government and free choice also includes the idea that all people have the capacity for this, i.e. that each individual can have such an insight into the total that he knows exactly what he must, wants and can do at a given time and what he “needs” to consume. Not even a genius will be able to do that and it is quite certain that the world will never consist of geniuses alone. This is quite apart from the fact that society has to invest heavily in education in order to shape the talent of a genius into something useful. A non-existent and never realizable equality between people is presupposed.
This maneuver has done unprecedented damage to socialist movements. Not yet in Marx’s time; it was then still a side path that Marx himself did not actively follow. The 1917 revolution by Lenin’s communist party changed this perspective. Now communism was set apart from socialism as a goal. Admittedly in an indeterminate future after socialism had first been realized, but that only made it more of a doctrine of salvation with believers. On the one hand this made it an easy target for opponents, on the other hand the idea of equality, which is enclosed in a completely different way in liberal humanism, remained attractive, as becomes clear in these postmodern times. Everyone with a desire for serious change in society has to say goodbye to communist ideals. As an aside, it should be noted that no communist state ever existed or called itself that. If only because the communist ideal excludes the existence of the state.
The proletariat does not exist
The vocabulary of communists and socialists contain even more obsolete terms: “proletariat”, “bourgeoisie”, “class”, “class struggle”. In Marx’s time these concepts certainly had meaning and they remained useful until the early twentieth century, although there were problems from the start. The main problem was the designation of the proletariat as the bearer of the revolution. That problem was exacerbated by the fact that it had to be the international proletariat. After all, the proletariat had no homeland! The proletariat consisted of the workers in industry, construction and industrial infrastructure, especially the railways, including the foremen, the lowest management. They were (and in a sense still are) the primary producers of capitalist profit. Other important classes and groups, such as farmers and the middle class, were thus placed in a subordinate position, with which a common struggle could be waged. Under the leadership of that proletariat, or rather the vanguard of that proletariat (Lenin). This vanguard was not recruited from the proletariat, but largely from the intellectually developed middle class. A problematic topic.
The reason for the primacy of the proletariat was that they would be more aware of capitalism because of their position; and also had the power to bring capitalism to its knees through an (international) strike and the occupation of factories. However, awareness, organization and solidarity always fell short, and the countermeasures – including violence – were hugely underestimated. Under certain circumstances, something could be achieved nationally in terms of employment and restrictive legislation. Due to the continued increase in productivity, the proletariat decreased in (relative) size and what remained was better educated and better paid. This made the options for opposition evr smaller.
“Class” is primarily an indication of a group’s place in the economic system. In the nineteenth century the number of classes was limited to the proletariat, the lumpen proletariat, peasants and fishermen, a few middle classes, the bourgeoisie, and the aristocracy. This was manageable and, moreover, these classes showed a certain internal cohesion, they often formed locally independent islands within the social whole. In time, a much more shadowy and extensive system of economic positions has emerged and the interconnections within the lower classes are significantly less. The consciousness of one’s own position within the whole in all “classes” – the so-called class consciousness – is even weaker than it already was, especially among the intellectual middle classes from which leadership must emerge.
This process has been reinforced over the last fifty years by identity politics and environmental actionism, with an even greater emphasis on the individual. As a result, class struggle has become virtually impossible and everything has been fragmented into a multitude of conflicts of interest. The actions of the farmers in the Netherlands, the Yellow Vests in France and the Truckers in Canada are the latest class struggle and it is telling that they have hardly experienced any real solidarity from other “classes”. It was sympathy. By the way, farmers are small entrepreneurs, as are many truck drivers and fishermen. Insofar as there is any resistance, it does not come from the proletariat. When trade unions call a strike, this just concerns working conditions and pay.
At first glance, “revolution” would also belong on the ash heap of history. Revolutions have never delivered what was expected of them, so long as they succeeded and were not bloodily suppressed. The fact that they did not succeed is certainly due not only to the ideas about the new situation to be achieved, but above all to the lasting opposition they aroused from the power they overthrew. The Russian Revolution is a good example of this.
When Marx speaks of revolution, he is primarily concerned with fundamental changes in property relations and the functioning of the state. You can read that in… the Communist Manifesto. Marx was also clear on the fact that violence was not always necessary to achieve those goals and that it was preferable to bring about revolution without violence. After the Paris Commune he was more pessimistic about the chances of a violent revolution, later the chances of a non-violent revolution also turned out to be smaller and smaller. He no longer ruled out the possibility that there would be no revolution and that capitalism would perish without a socialist successor.
If we look at the Russian October Revolution of 1917, it has the character of a coup, not a broad violent revolution. The Bolsheviks did not have a parliamentary majority, but they did have serious support. It was only in the following period that a lot of violence developed in a civil war, this in turn brought Stalin into power ending all illusions about the success of the revolution. More interesting is the Italian Revolution of 1921 by Mussolini. Lenin chose socialism as the name of communism, Mussolini chose fascism. Socialism, however, remained the starting point.
Relatively low-violent revolutions are no longer possible. Non-violent resistance never existed doesn’t exist. Occupations, blockades, strikes disrupt social interaction; this has other consequences than violence that is exerted directly on the human body, but ultimately this violence also has physical consequences for people.
Violence should not be 1rejected by definition. If the state is oppressive enough, violent resistance is legitimate, as World War II made clear. Violence, however, requires broad and serious support and organization and there is none, as described above.
March through the institutions
The only remaining possibility to create chances for serious change in the fabric of society is a “march through the institutions”. An idea that goes back to Gramsci and was practically put forward by Rudi Dutchke in “68”. It is clear that any revolution, even a violent one, must have some support within the existing order. There must be some influence for revolution in the police, army and intelligence services, but also within the elite of power itself. Gramsci only came up with this in prison. He wouldn’t have had to sit there if he had cooperated with Mussolini, who had successfully practiced this march in some socialist way.
The march propagated by Dutchke has completely failed and turned into it’s opposite. Indeed, the “insurgents” of 68 have penetrated the institutions, but instead of being revolutionary, they have been encapsulated by power and thus rendered harmless. They already had insufficient insight into “What to do” at the beginning of the march and because they also participated in a disorganized manner, it led to nothing. The few loners who really tried to bring about serious changes within the institutions were sooner or later parked on the sidelines or completely removed. A march through the institutions is unlikely to succeed if there is no serious threat of revolutionary violence, forcing the elite to admit reasonable alternatives to the discussion.
The chances for such a march further decrease to virtually zero. The end of the human with any agency is near. It is quite possible that a collection of humanoid zombies are kept alive by capital, but that has nothing to do with humans as independent, thinking beings. Dostoevsky (19th century):
What is someone without wishes, without will and without lusts but a valve in an organ pipe?
When (class) struggle ends, history.has ended.