Sunday, January 28, 2007

I have already quoted the usual definition of "revolution" as a more or less sudden change in the political and socio-economic structure of a society. Until the year 1989 I was under the impression that no revolution was possible in any industrial country, that fundamental change would come either as a result of a slow and gradual process or by political agreements between warring political factions, as it did indeed come in South Africa. The collapse of the Soviet Empire proved me wrong in the narrow sense. revolutions are indeed possible in industrial societies providing 1)that the change involved is small enough so that most of society can "carry on as usual" while the process unfolds and 2)that one of the classical requirements for a revolution is fulfilled, that the ruling class is both demoralized and divided.
The end of Communist tyranny in eastern Europe fulfilled both these requirements. In most cases the initial change was one of political form which only later led to the end of one form of managerial rule and its replacement by another as the former managers looted the national stock of productive forces. Lights will still work, subways will run and water taps will deliver water while parliaments are dissolved and reformed. The political dream is basically irrelevant to the day to day running of a society. Yes, these events were revolutions, but ones that were more !!!! than slightly limited in what they proposed compared to one envisioning libertarian goals. The basic class structure of eastern Europe remained intact, and the second requirement was overfulfilled as many of the bureaucrats helped in the revolutionary process- or helped themselves which amounted to the same thing.
Even in those countries such as Romania,Serbia or Albania where parts of the old ruling class put up an armed resistance they were opposed by more forward looking parts of the same class. The violence was restricted in scope because of this division in the ruling class, and society did not have to endure a protracted civil war with all that that would entail. Usually history records that such civil wars result in a era of at least temporary tyranny. Eastern Europe mostly escaped this fate.
All this is, of course, irrelevant to the sort of social change that anarchists might envision. This change would leave little scope for the old ruling class to find new positions in the new order, almost by definition. This means simply that the prospect of a divided ruling class would be much !!!! less likely if such a revolution had libertarian goals. One of the essential conditions of almost all past revolutions would not be fulfilled. The canard that "no ruling class ever gives up its power voluntarily" can be thrown back in the face of the believers in "revolution". Yes, they do indeed do so because a portion of them see new possibilities for power in the new revolutionary society. A libertarian revolution faces an uphill battle that few other revolutions have in the past. Its very nature makes the division of the ruling class essential for success much less likely than in ordinary cases. Hence "revolution" is a far less attractive strategy for anarchists than it is for other political ideologies.
The chances of a revolutionary situation developing in an atmosphere of overwhelming libertarian sentiment anywhere today are quite remote. The best that anarchists can hope for is to participate as one of the forces amongst a plurality of revolutionary forces. This leads to the question of "corruption from below" in contrast to the "corruption from above" when members of the old ruling class come to power in the sort of "class suicide" that advocates of revolution claim, in the face of all the historical evidence, is "impossible. Both of the now almost "ancient" revolutions that anarchists point to as at least partially embodying their ideas, the Russian and the Spanish, ended up far from anarchism. Both had elements of both corruption from above and corruption from below that pushed them in a statist and tyrannical direction. They are special cases and have to be dealt with even if they are far in the past. In the Russian case many of the former rulers did indeed find place in the new order and supported its development, but the greatest fault was corruption from below. In the Spanish case the real revolution was long since defeated by the time Franco's troops moved in. The Communist Party provided a revolutionary refuge for all those non-fascist elements in Spanish life who could not accept Franco, and eventually they overwhelmed the CNT-FAI and their allies amongst the socialists. This was indeed a case of a division in the old ruling class which, just as in the Russian case, was no less revolutionary despite the fact that it turned on its anarchist allies.
But that is the subject of another post. For now lets note that the usual canard about ruling classes not relinquishing their power is obviously false as actual history proves. They do indeed relinquish it in order to regain it under a new form, and this act is actually a prerequisite of almost all revolutions. The chances of avoided this sort of end depend upon having not just a very large minority, as in the Spanish case, of the population influenced by anarchist ideas but actually having the vast majority influenced by same. If the Spaniards couldn't do it way back them what persuades people that it can be done now ?
More later,


Larry Gambone said...

Up till recently I would agree with you 100%. I have NO IDEA what the future holds in this regard! Probably not revolution, but certainly one great shit load of upheaval. We are facing 1. Peak Oil 2. Global Warming 3. the decline of the US Empire 4. possible collapse of the US (and therefore the world's financial system.) Any one of these would be enough to deal with, but all of them at once is a possibility. This situation is exacerbated by the following possibilities 1. the implosion or revolution in China 2. revolution/chaos in Mexico 3. revolution in Iran. 4. and how will the populist revolt in Latin America play out? Canada and the US could disintegrate and various groups and factions take over, some peacefully, some not. You mention two forms of revolution, one libertarian (very unlikely and I agree) and the other which is just a shift in the ruling class. But there is a third form which sort of straddles the two. This is populist revolution. In this situation, and I am basing this on S. American examples, genuine social and political improvements are made. The old ruling class leaves and/or keeps quiet. Very gradually the populist movement becomes institutionalized and a new ruling elite made up largely of the professional classes arises. Its politics is social democratic, but overtime it becomes corrupt and is overthrown-tossed out of office. A new cycle of populist revolt ensues... The stronger the anarchist movement the more radical the populism. Populist revolution might be a possibility in some parts of North America as a result of the aforementioned upheavals. (Admittedly not all of this revolt would be our kind of populism, as right-wingers could take over parts of the States.)

Larry Gambone said...

Er, I meant to say in point 4 "possible collapse of the US financial system"

mollymew said...

Well, I hope that I can answer some of your questions as Molly goes on and on(and on and on and on and on- as some might say) in her exposition of her view of anarchism. I don't think we disagree that much, though I fail to share the sense of urgency that you seem to have about many of the items you mention. Some of them are cogent such as the Latin American situation. Some of them are, in my opinion, unlikely in the foreseeable future, such as "revolution" in either Iran or China.
I'll try and deal with the SA situation in the future, but for now I will stick to the slow and steady plan of laying out what I believe about "anarchism" bit by bit as I speak about other things on this blog. For now...criticism of the idea of "revolution" held by the radical left in "developed" societies is the matter that I will speak about for the next little while.
Til then,