Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What do we mean by Revolution?


    One Solution, Revolution!

    Socialist Aotearoa is a revolutionary, socialist, anti capitalist group. We fight for socialism from below, system change not climate change, and Rosa Luxemburg's battle cry that "Revolutionaries are those who fight the hardest for reforms in the here and now!".
    Workers of the World, Unite.
    Socialist Aotearoa is an international socialist group. We oppose all imperialist wars and occupations, and support all genuine national liberation struggles for independence. We demand the immediate withdrawal of New Zealand colonial troops from Afghanistan and the Pacific. We support the struggle for Tino Rangatiratanga and self determination for Maori in Aotearoa, fully aware of the bloody history of the New Zealand state's past and the dispossession of Maori today. We welcome refugees and immigrants to Aotearoa, and fight against racism wherever we find it.

    Equality for all.

    We oppose all oppressions based on race, gender, sexuality and religion.

    United Fronts

    Socialist Aotearoa will co-operate with other left wing parties, unions and movements, but maintain its organisational independence and state it's politics honestly and openly. We will work in United Fronts, but reserve the right to publish and contribute our own socialist ideas within them.

    For a Rank and File network within the Trade Union movement.

    The working class movement is the force we believe will change the world. As demonstrated by general strikes and revolutions throughout the decades, it has the power to shut down the system and replace it with a better world based on sharing and direct democracy. As such, Socialist Aotearoa members are active in our unions as volunteers, members, delegates and organisers.

    We are with the Union leaders when they fight, but believe that union bureaucracy acts as a negotiating layer between the workers and the bosses. In order to counteract the influence of the Labour Party's union bosses , rank and file union members and delegates must organise a cross-union, cross-industry network of solidarity and struggle.
These principles are what for me define why I joined and continue to stay with Socialist Aotearoa. They cover the important ideas of what a revolutionary should fight for and strive to use as their guiding principles.
    People are constantly seeking new political answers and ideas to those offered by existing system. In the 90's we were told we had reached end of history and promised a new world order. That Capitalism was the only option, and we saw the emergence of third way politics and TINA (There Is No Alternative).
    In the USA 90% of people have not seen an improvement in their living standards for 30 years. People are worse, they may have more things, but that's part of the consumer economy that we find ourselves in.
    People are spending an increasing amount of time at work for wages that are lower than they were in real terms 30 years ago. Around the world 100s of millions of people struggle to obtain enough food each day and die from preventable diseases and malnutrition at a time when we are producing more food than at any other moment in our history.
    These issues are made worse by climate change. Unlike last century, revolutionary movements were not faced with this massive environmental threat. With the potential to change ocean currents, weather patterns, raise sea levels, increasingly devastating storms as we have witnessed recently and turning previously fertile soil into desert. The people most affected will be those with the least ability to respond or adapt.
    The 19th and 20th centuries gave us the ideas of socialism and communism and the birth of resistance movements. We face similar and different issues in the 21st century and new movements are appearing all the time. At the beginning of last century 85% of the worlds population lived in the countryside, by 2000, half the worlds population are concentrated in towns or cities. This has transformed the way people interact and live their lives, and has created new issues and crises. We need to learn from history to avoid making similar mistakes and help build revolutionary socialism.
Revolution is not some mythical event that only happens in far away lands. It is a characteristic of modern capitalism. Most non-western countries in the UN would not have a seat without the revolutionary movements that ended colonial domination.
In the west almost every European country except Britain had some form of uprising or revolution last century.
Turkey 1908, Russia 1905 and 1917, Ireland 1916-21, Germany and Austria 1918-19, Spain 1931 and 36, the uprisings that freed Paris, northern Italy and Athens from Nazi occupation in 1944, east Germany 1953, Hungary 1956, the tumultuous events of 68 beginning in France, Portugal 1974-75, Poland 1980-81, and the eastern European countries in 1989-90.
That revolution is so prevalent should not be a surprise to anyone, the modern world is shaped by the most rapidly changing economic system ever known. Capitalism continually reshapes agriculture and industry transforming the conditions under which people make a living and in doing so, the way in which we live.
Capitalism was once a revolutionary idea, it challenged the old feudal system and tore that apart. Societies were turned upside down, the Industrial, French and the American revolutions were all capitalist revolutions that challenged the old landowning class economically, ideologically and politically. But it in turn embraced a conservative ideology of its own, imprisoning peoples minds once again with the notion that society is fixed and unchangeable. We hear the argument all the time that capitalist values are part of human nature, that we are inherently greedy and naturally seek competition. These are the mental shackles the system puts on us, and teaches us to compromise, that this is the way forward.
These ideas keep workers from actively fighting against the system even though it is workers who keep society going. Who produce all the wealth, grow all the food, make all the products. But periods of calm never last long, the rapidity of economic change that is inherent in capitalism ensures recurrent social dislocation and crises that force ideas to change.
Marx and Engels wrote
'Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and renewable prejudices and opinions are swept away, all new formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into the air'.
I think this applies more now than ever to the present phase of capitalism, or globalisation. Free markets and neo liberalism mean unleashing capitalism from every constraint including social institutions and attitudes that have served it well in the past. The Polar ice caps melting is the perfect visual analogy for this unrestrained capitalism that is literally melting the world.
But with each crisis and downturn, renewed opposition to the capitalist system emerges.
The 21st century has already given us new forms of resistance and near revolutions
  Ecuador2000- uprising forcing president to flee
Argentina 2001- uprising forcing out the president
Venezuela 2002-coup, spontaneous uprising to counter coup.
Bolivia 2003 and 2005, uprisings ousting president paving the way for Evo Morales.
Nepal 2006- mass movement that overthrew government.
Greece 2008- Anti Austerity demonstrations and general strikes
USA 2011-Occupy
Middle east 2011-uprisings ousting dictators
Quebec 2012- massive student uprising
    and more.
    People often talk as if revolutions are made solely by a group of revolutionaries. Che Guevara once said 'if you're a revolutionary, make a revolution'. But it doesn't work like that. If it did successful revolutions would be the norm and we would probably not be having this discussion now living in revolutionary Aotearoa. Revolution doesn't occur just through the behaviour of a particular group, no matter how big or small. It happens because masses of people demand change and put themselves at the centre of political events. And sorry to burst bubbles here, but after the revolution we wont be resting. There will be more work than ever, we will need to defend it constantly from counter revolution and corruption. Being engaged politically is just that, being engaged.
    There is nothing predetermined in a world of turmoil, and revolutions are not linear processes. And just as quickly as the conditions appear for revolutionary upheavals, they can revert and we can slide back into the old system or something worse such as after WW1 with the rise of fascism and renewed war.
    One of the biggest issues facing revolutionaries is apathy. But this is not as it seems. Apathy is a symptom of cynicism of politicians and electoral institutions that do not provide a real voice for the vast majority of people. In the past 2 decades, in almost every major country we have seen a fall in the number of people voting in elections. People see that the political system we're currently in has little to offer the mass of people in the form of real political representation and political power. Apathy results from a feeling of of impotence in the face of overwhelming pressures and a bewildering world. Yet it can switch, to a commitment to change the world when individuals become aware that their concerns are shared by others. This helps explain the growth of anticapitalist and antiwar movements as well as the near revolutions that have already taken place in the 21st century.

    Revolutionary events occur spontaneously when vast numbers of working people feel they can only get what they need by taking things into their own hands. Usually, those who have campaigned for revolutionary change are as surprised as anyone by the turn of events. Guillaume Legault, a student leader within CLASSE in Montreal gave a talk earlier in the year as part of a speaking tour around the country. The most common question was how did you get hundreds of thousands of people into the street, and they were as surprised as everyone. They didn't know where all these people had come from. From Apathy, can come determination, and this can happen in a fairly short space of time.
Lenin wrote that there are two elements necessary for revolutionary transformation in behaviour to occur.
First, the lower classes must reach a point where they feel the conditions of life are increasingly intolerable. But in and of itself, this is rarely enough to bring about rebellion. People can react to living standards worsening by becoming demoralised and turning against one another. The amount of grumbling may increase, but not the amount of action.
The second element is that the ruling class gets itself into such a mess that it cannot easily find a way out. Great economic or political crises do not simply cause increased bitterness at the base of society, they can also provoke the most powerful capitalists to panic-as can a protracted war that cannot easily be settled. Members of the ruling class start blaming each other for what is happening and each capitalist tries to escape the crisis at the expense of rivals.
Fighting within a ruling class can make the mass of people feel they no longer face a wall of resistance to their demands. People who were apathetic suddenly discover they can act.
A revolutionary situation opens up with these splits inside a ruling class combine with rising discontent among the mass of people. To put it simply
When the lower classes do not want to live in the old ways and the upper classes cannot carry on in the old ways.
Revolution involves not just a change in government, but the turning upside down of social hierarchies so that a class previously excluded from power takes over at the top. A true socialist revolution does not just involve taking over the state. Socialism involves the complete transformation of society, both economic relations and political relations that previously shaped peoples lives. You cannot just have a political revolution, you also need to have an economic and ideological revolution. We cannot achieve this through voting in elections, we do not get to vote on who holds economic power. We just rearrange the deck chairs on the same sinking ship.
However, what happens in parliament is often influenced by what happens in the streets and workplaces. This is best demonstrated in Venezuela in 2006. A coup by a group of generals kidnapped Hugo Chavez and installed the head of the employers federation in his place. Within days, millions of people poured into the streets of Caracas and surrounded the Miraflores palace demanding Chavez be reinstated. A section of the army turned against the generals and restored Chavez. This could not have happened without a mass movement. If it had been left to parliament, then Chavez would be dead and the revolutionary situation in Venezuela would not have progressed.
Every great revolution has depended upon people exercising power through institutions much more genuinely democratic than elected parliaments and presidents. People have tried to create forms of organisation subject to their continual control, knowing that they could not simply rely on voting for a representative to act on their behalf in the face of the powerful forces trying to preserve the old order.
The first attempt by workers to take power, the Paris commune of 1871, produced a much greater extension of revolutionary democracy. Following a war with Germany that saw the french army crushed and Paris besieged, the workers of the city took control and established a commune. They elected delegates from each district to represent them making them subject to recall at any time and paid no more than the wage of a skilled worker. They implemented decisions themselves rather than turn to an unelected hierarchy of bureaucrats and relied not upon professional or conscript army, but on the armed workers, organised as a national guard.
This model has been replicated in different ways many times since, and workers have always played the key role in each of these movements. But the momentum drew in a much wider layer of society. Other examples are Russia 1917, Germany 1918-19, Spain 1936, Hungary 1956, and Poland 1980. Similar forms of democratic organisation spread to encompass all sorts of groups-soldiers, peasants, teachers, intellectuals, sections of the lower middle class and oppressed minorities. Once one section of the exploited and oppressed show it has the power to fight back and reshape its existence, it draws all sorts of other sections behind it and unites all of society. When this occurs, and has been shown previously, that society can be rebuilt on a new basis. People can then consider how to make a different world.
We are told that the working class is finished as a political force. It has changed, but just because some workers wear suits, that match their employers that they are equal, or bridges the gap between them. Workers are compelled to accept voluntary wage slavery five days a week, 48 weeks a year. The restructuring of capitalism and industry changes the working class and confuses observers, but it cannot do away with the central fixtures of capitalism that lead to recurrent waves of class struggle. Workers who were previously well organised have become decimated, but new groups of workers have taken over. In New Zealand it was the nurses union in the early 2000s that kick started strike action and help reinvigorate the union movement. It was fast food workers in the mid 2000s through strike action and street mobilisation that helped bring an end to youth wages. While these aren't revolutionary examples, it shows the power that the working class has, and the diversity that exist within it.
The working class comprises the majority in society, yet at the moment does not control the power. The working class has the power to shake the system, but this doesn't mean that all the working class has the consciousness that can bring about change. Being brought up in a capitalist society leads most people to accept the ideas of the system. People have varying levels of consciousness and this can ebb and flow.
Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Socialist explained that most workers have a contradictory consciousness. On the one hand, they are brought up in capitalist society and take many of its notions for granted. On the other hand, they have experiences of collective struggle in which they stand together and change the world a little to their advantage. Some of these experiences are direct ones that they have had personally. Others conveyed from one generation to the next within workplaces, communities and organisations such as trade unions.
The mind of the average worker contains elements that look to the future and the values of collective struggle and organisation, as well as elements that pull back to the past, towards class society and its prejudices.
The number of people open to the idea of changing society grows massively during great struggles. Mass strikes and spontaneous uprisings lead to an unprecedented level of discussion about what to do next. For the first time, people feel their capacity to change things. Occupy is a really good example. Emerging from the economic crisis we are still going through, it brought radical anticapitalist ideas to the fore of public discussion. It's ability in and of itself to change the system is debatable, but what it showed was that people all over the world were looking for new ideas and to break with the current system.
Revolutionary socialist ideas are not the only ones on offer. And the mass media constantly use divide and rule tactics to prevent change and maintain the status quo. While revolutionary socialist ideas can grow in times of crisis, they have to be fought for. There is always a battle for ideas.
Even as millions of people discuss how to change society, the influence of ideas and institutions that argue for only limited reforms persist. While whole groups of workers with past experience of struggle move beyond notions of reform to see the need to confront the system, other groups making their first moves towards class consciousness tend to follow the trade unions and reformist parties which tell their supporters to hold back from a revolutionary approach. This reformist approach-sometimes coated in radical, even revolutionary language-always finds a mass audience.
The battle is both one of ideas and practical struggle. The ruling class relies for its supremacy on the working class being fragmented and lacking in confidence. Workers can only overcome such impediments through the experience of struggling for control in the workplace and on the streets. The momentum of struggle at such times can give even the most unpolitical workers a sense that they are part of a movement that can create a new society.
As My Quebec student activist friends have pointed out. The school of the strike is the best school you never went to.
Revolutions invariably reach a point at which it must either move forward, or begin to slip back. Going back can mean a return of the old order in a worse form than before. The only way to prevent this is for revolutionaries to be organised to present their ideas and suggest a different way forward. A revolutionary party is not necessary to start a revolution, but it is essential to ensure victory when the choice is between socialism and barbarism.
George Monbiot wrote in 2000, If advanced capitalism is the most violent of all political systems, then violent conflict with that system is bound to fail. Such arguments are usually combined with claims about the success of non-violent direct action movements in the past like Martin Luther King and Gandhi.
But teasing out the Indian example out a little, Gandhi only represented one element in the broad liberation movement, most of which was prepared to use violence if it seemed necessary. The highest point of the struggle the quit India movement of 1942, included strikes armed attacks on police barracks, derailing of trains, bombings and riots. The final action that persuaded the British to abandon the country was an Indian naval mutiny in Bombay in 1946 that was denounced by Gandhi.
Faced with a serious threat, the state will use horrific violence even when their opponents insist on a commitment to peaceful methods, as Chile in 73 demonstrated. Any movement that stands for revolutionary change but rules out the use of force when necessary condemns itself to destruction and its supporters to unnecessary suffering.
The position of any ruling class rests on it economic power and ideological dominance as well as its monopoly of physical force. Revolutionary situations arise when mass movements involving millions of people lead to the near paralysis of the state. They involve mass strikes factory occupations, mutinies, the formation of workers and soldiers councils, huge demonstrations and deep splits in the ruling class. Revolution is possible at such points if the mass movement is prepared to used armed force to disarm those military and police units still commited to the old order.
When the most active sections of the masses and the minority among the rank and file of the armed forces are organised to act decisively, the level of real violence, such as deaths or injuries, is invariably small. By contrast, when the advanced sections are disorganised or pacifist feelings prevail, the level of violence from the other side will be very great.
So will the revolution by violent? It might be, but it depends on your perspective. What we can be sure of though is the ruling classes will throw their entire weight behind stopping a revolution from being successful. We have everything to gain, and they have everything to lose.
So next time someone tells you it's not worth fighting for just remember, If you don't fight you lose. If you do fight, you might win! 
 - Nico, founding member of Socialist Aotearoa.

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