Sunday, June 15, 2008



A comment on a previous entry on this blog asked how the "gradualism" that I hold to differs from "reformism", a presumably "bad thing". The snip answer to such a question would be "not in the tiniest bit" if we lived in an ideal world, but we don't live in such a world. There is actually quite a bit of a difference, given the goals of most reformists-goals that often differ little from so-called "revolutionists"- and I hope I can elucidate the matter further here. To begin I reproduce a piece from the Quebec anarchist paper 'Cause Commune' in which "revolution" is defined as a primary strategic orientation for anarchists. The French original follows below, and my own English translation follows that. I will use this text found at the NEFAC site as a jumping off point for my discussion.


L'anarchie de A à Z, «R» comme Révolution
Notre projet politique, l’égalité et la liberté intégrale pour toutes et tous dans toutes les sphère de la vie, est impossible à réaliser dans le cadre social et politique que nous connaissons.

D’abord, certaines profitent de l’injustice institutionalisée et ne céderont pas librement leurs privilèges. Ensuite, la logique interne des systèmes d’oppression et d’exploitation –capitalisme, État, patriarcat—rend toute réforme en profondeur impossible.

Un capitalisme qui n’exploite plus les salariéEs pour accumuler du capital, ce n’est plus le capitalisme. Un État qui ne détient plus le monopole de la violence et qui n’est plus une autorité séparée à laquelle la société doit se soumettre, ce n’est plus l’État. Un patriarcat qui ne hiérarchise plus les genres et qui n’exploite plus les femmes, ce n’est plus le patriarcat. On peut certes faire des gains et arracher des victoires qui rendent le monde un peu plus supportable, mais on ne peut pas éradiquer l’injustice sans changer en profondeur la société. L’émancipation complète exige rien de moins qu’une révolution.

On entend généralement par révolution un changement brusque et radical d’un ordre social et politique. Historiquement, et encore aujourd’hui, la plupart des révolutions ont d’abord été des révolutions politiques et se sont plus ou moins limitées à des changements au niveau de l’État. Comme le changement proposé par les anarchistes va beaucoup plus loin, on parle de révolution sociale.

Nous ne croyons pas au « lendemain du Grand Soir » et nous sommes conscientEs que le changement social est un processus long qui prend racine dans les luttes au jour le jour, ici et maintenant. Ceci dit, cela n’évacue pas la question de la révolution qui est un aboutissement possible des luttes sociales. La révolution, c’est quand le rapport de force bascule dans le camp du peuple et permet le renversement des anciennes structures de domination et leur remplacement par l’autogestion généralisée.

Il y a un fossé entre la situation actuelle et une situation révolutionnaire. Un fossé tellement grand que plusieurs croient qu’une révolution est impossible. Il est évident qu’elle n’est pas à l’ordre du jour dans l’immédiat et qu’elle ne semble pas prète à le devenir dans un avenir prévisible. Là n’est pas la question.

L’enjeu est de savoir comment augmenter notre rapport de force et faire le pont entre le présent et une situation révolutionnaire. Pour notre part, nous proposons une stratégie de radicalisation des luttes et la création de contre-pouvoirs. Il s’agit de favoriser le développement de la conscience et de l’autonomie des mouvements sociaux. Construire les rapports de force pour pouvoir éventuellement passer à l’offensive. Développer l’autogestion et la démocratie directe dans les luttes. Favoriser les alternatives sociales sans se faire d’illusion.

La révolution est une option stratégique, c’est notre horizon politique. Il ne s’agit ni d’un acte de pure volonté, ni d’une formule incantatoire. C’est une perspective politique. Personne ne contrôle le climat social. Souvent, par le passé, alors que la situation semblait irrémédiablement bloquée, le temps s’est accéléré et la révolution est apparue là où personne ne l’attendait. Si ça cela reproduit, serons-nous prêtes?
==Extrait du numéro 19 du journal Cause commune

Anarchy A to Z, "R" as in Revolution

Our political project, equality and full freedom for all in every sphere of life, is impossible to achieve in the social and political framework that we know.

First, certain people profit from institutionalized injustice and they will not freely give up their privileges. Then, the internal logic of systems of oppression and exploitation-capitalism, state patriarchy-render any reform profoundly impossible.

A capitalism which no longer exploits workers accumulate capital, this is not capitalism. A State which no longer holds a monopoly on violence and that is no longer a separate authority to which society must submit, is no longer the State. A patriarchy which no longer prioritizes one gender over another and no longer exploits more women, this is no longer patriarchy. One can certainly make gains and snatch victories that make the world a little more bearable, but we can not eradicate injustice in depth without changing society. The full emancipation requires nothing less than a revolution.

It is generally understood that a revolution is a sudden radical change in the social and political order. Historically, and even today, most revolutions were first political revolutions and were more or less limited to changes at the state level. As the change proposed by anarchists
goes much further, we speak of social revolution.

We do not believe in the "day after the Grand Soir" and we are aware that social change is a long process which is rooted in the day to day struggles , here and now. That said, this does not exhaust with the revolution that is a possible outcome of social struggles. The revolution is when the balance of power switches to the camp of the people and allows the overthrow of the old structures of domination and their replacement by gerneralized self management.

There is a gap between the current situation and a revolutionary situation. A gap so great that many believe that a revolution is impossible. Obviously, it is not on the agenda in the immediate future and it does not seem ready to become so in the foreseeable future. That is not the issue.

The challenge is how to increase our relative strengths and to bridge the gap between the present and a revolutionary situation. For our part, we propose a strategy of radicalization of struggles and the creation of counter-powers. It is encouraging the development of consciousness and the autonomy of social movements. Building the power to possibly go on the offensive. Developing self-management and direct democracy in the struggle. Promoting social alternatives without creating illusions.

The revolution is a strategic option, it is our political horizon. It is neither an act of pure will, nor an incantory formula . It is a political perspective. Nobody controls the social climate. Often in the past, when the situation seemed hopelessly blocked, the times have accelerated and the revolution has arisen where nobody expected it.

If it reoccurs, will we ready ?

== Excerpt from number 19 of the journal Common Cause



Molly found the above piece, with which she disagrees, a good starting point for this subject which she has discussed before on this blog. It's a good starting point because it is neither stupid, vicious nor insane. A good portion of the justifications for "revolution" are one of the three. Sometimes all three at once, as in the case of the quasi-anarchists called "primitivists". Often the "vicious" and "insane" parts could rightly be described as a variant of stupidity- "emotional stupidity" ie an emotional and ethical immaturity in otherwise intellectually competant people.

But the vast majority of people throughout history who have thought that a revolution is both possible and desirable have not been idiots in any way. I could have cherry picked something from the segment of anarchism that I detest to give such examples of idiocy, but I chose a piece from an anarchist who holds to the traditional revolutionism that has characterized anarchism through most of its history. This traditional view lacks the obvious flakiness of the sort of cults that the USA is so good at producing. It is, however, still very much wrong in modern conditions.

What is the problem with this "revolutionist" view ? First of all let's dispose of the "ruling class will not give up their power willingly" argument. This is brought out in pretty well every single discussion where the speaker/writer is in favour of revolution. It's supposed to be a clinching argument, but it is very far from being so. First of all a gradualist approach assumes no such good will on the part of those who have power. Gradualism, and even many forms of pacifism for that matter, are not synonymous with the non-violent mode of action advocated by people such Ghandi, Tolstoy or Martin Luther King. Such tactics derive from a basic conviction in the goodness of one's opponents, and they fail miserably when such a thing is lacking. They do, however, succeed at times when attempts at violent revolution would be quite ineffective. A gradualist may be just as much convinced of the wickedness of the opposition as the most uncontrollable enragé, but they differ with the revolutionists as to what they see as effective as opposed to ineffective.

That's the whole key to this discussion- effectiveness. Most revolutionists who have contact with reality recognize very well that certain times and places (such as our own) give little prospect of revolution. They say that offering the theory of revolution and organizing as if this theory is correct is more effective than an agnostic view that sees such a theory as useless at best and detrimental at worst.

I personally once believed that revolutions were impossible in modern industrialized countries. The fall of communism in the Eastern Bloc proved me wrong. What happened there was indeed revolution ie a swift change in both the political regime and the economic system. Aside from Romania this revolution was relatively non-violent. The fall of communism, however, illustrates the necessary preconditions for revolution, none of which were the previous planning or organization of the "revolutionaries", and it is useful to review these to show just how difficult revolution in the modern world is.

It has often been stated by those who have examined history close enough that revolutions are very much like natural disasters. The cannot be predicted with any exactitude. They occur only when conditions are right, and despite the protestations of Leninist parties, these conditions do not include some military planning on the part of revolutionists. Revolutions first of all occur when both the rulers and the ruled can no longer go on living in the old way. On the part of the rulers this means that they have encountered a crisis or an impasse where they "lose their nerve", where they become disorganized, divided and ineffective. The old way cannot continue. On the part of the ruled this means that the old conditions of life have become intolerable, and outright rebellion seems like the only solution. The old way cannot continue for them as well. Rebellions that may occur in such circumstances become a revolution when the ruled are infused with a "hope" that says that they can indeed change the conditions of life by rebellion. At this point rebellion becomes revolution. These have often been referred to as the "objective" and the "subjective" conditions of revolution. If either one is missing the revolution fails; it becomes a mere revolt. Both anarchist and Marxist (in its Leninist forms) traditions have often held to the delusion that they can kick-start such revolutions,substituting their own "subjectivity" for that of the majority of the population, either by exemplary actions on the part of the anarchists or by conspiratorial parties on the part of the Marxists. Both are sorely deluded. Revolutions cannot be created. They may be taken advantage of, and it is here that the central point lies.

Most revolutionists who have some common sense agree with the author of the above article in Cause Commune, that the present struggle is absolutely necessary in order to "work towards the revolution". There are those, however, who are much more "purist" than this and who reject every struggle that doesn't have "maximum demands", and who see their only role in such struggles as advocating the overthrow of present society. In the real life world sensible revolutionists and gradualists will generally be in 100% agreement on what to do in the here and now. Revolutionists, however, say that the advocacy of "revolution" in non-revolutionary times and places will somehow "prepare" the people and the militants for the time when a revolution is actually imminant. This opinion ignores what is actually one of the few strong points of the belief in revolution. During revolutionary times old attitudes, practices, habits,deferences, etc. are rudely shattered, and new ways of acting are rapidly built up. Being as revolutionists have had basically no role in the initiation of revolution, and they have generally been as "unprepared" as anyone else for the sudden succession of events during revolutionary times it is no surprise that they are often "outflanked on the left" by the ways in which popular struggle manifests itself at such times. I think that the historical record will show that those who were previously gardualists and those who were previously revolutionists hardly differed at all in previous revolutions as to their willingness and ability to seize the moment. The rapid change of revolution includes an equally rapid adaption of gradualists to the new situation- often a more rapid change because gradualists are not burdened with the sort of rigid ideological timetables that revolutionists are.

One also has to note that sensible revolutionists admit that victories can be won even under present conditions. Their statements that such victories leave the present systems of power intact is correct, but it fails to note that each victory shifts the balance of power such that a given social system may be said to be "more or less" one thing or another. They presume some ideal system of classification whereby a social system is automatically either a or b. Human history doesn't conform to this Manichean dicotomy. Each social system contains remnants of previous social systems and prefigurations of future ones. It is these prefigurations that gradualists hope to build and expand. While not recognizing the rapidly changing attitudes during revolutionary periods that argue against their concept of "preparation" revolutionists also generally refuse to acknowledge the vast number of ways in which the old ways of doing things are preserved once the revolutionary party turns into a hangover. They also generally disparage the new societal forms because they see them as incomplete, even though they are the very basis of the new society.

Here comes the crunch. If one is "revolutionary" enough to believe that new societal forms cannot be gradually built up under present conditions then one has three options. One is the "purist" option, to refuse to support and participate in everyday struggles-except as they are occasions for propaganda for the ultimate goal. Another is to ignore one's theory and lend a helping hand while keeping one's beliefs in "revolution" in a seperate compartment of the mind where they have no influence on one's political actions, sort of the political equivalent of "cafeteria Christianity". The third, and perhaps the most pernicious, is to mistake struggles that can actually gradually lead to the sort of society that the revolutionist wants with each and every struggle that seems to be opposed to the present society. The problem with "reformism" and how it differs from "gradualism" is that it says that there have to be no fundamental changes in the way that society operates, merely technical adjustments, usually carried out by a cadre of "technical adjusters" that divy up some mythical pie more equitably. Gradualism aims to release the power of ordinary people,and each reform that it proposes is aimed at shifting power relations- not at moving power from one ruling class to another. Revolutionists, even unfortunately anarchist ones, often mistake conflicts within a ruling class or between a ruling class and an aspiring new one as something that demands that they take sides. They become reformists because they mistake the "revolution" for the real change proposed by anarchism. Revolution and anarchism are not the same thing,and some of the most disgraceful episodes in anarchist history happened because of this confusion.

This blog has gone on too long, and drawn me away from the things I usually write about here at Molly's Blog. I'll continue the argument in later posts.


Nicolas said...

Thanks for the translation. I'll comment later.

Larry Gambone said...

To me "revolution" has always only meant "qualitative change", thus a gradual revolution is not a contradiction. If pressure has been continuously applied by the people and the power of the state and capital weakened over time, at some point popular power becomes stronger than either the state or capital and the new system becomes virtually irreversible. At this point there has been a revolution. I don't know how likely such a scenario is, but it is within the range of possibility. Thus for me there need not be any difference between gradualism and revolution. Nor need there be any difference between reform and revolution, if the reforms are of a qualitative, empowering nature. Any reforms that weakening the statist capitalist system are in and of themselves revolutionary. The quarrel in 19th Century socialism between reform and revolution was mostly about palliative reforms - those that kept the structure intact, rather than the sort of reforms that weaken it.

As for revolution in the more general "quick overturning" sense, while we are a long ways off from revolution in Canada or the US, such is not far fetched in Latin America. But one should not rule out this in the long term either. By closing the doors on reform through privatization, NAFTA, TILMA and a host of other laws, regulations and just plain gangsterism, the rulers have sought to make the return of old fashioned social democracy an impossibility. By making such reforms well neigh impossible, they leave the people with only one option, other than giving up - to go in a revolutionary direction if they want to improve their lives. And as well, if the entire population has to be mobilized and general strikes called to rescind a so-called privatization, a lot of people are going to think, "why not go for the whole hog instead of only the chitlins?"

Larry Gambone said...

As a further thought. If this was 1995 I would agree completely - and indeed that is exactly what I thought at the time. But now there is a whole new ball game out there, especially when you move away from North America. We - the world that is - are facing the most unbelievable conjuncture of crises - economic, environmental, political and social the world has ever seen. I would not rule anything out, which is of course not the same as saying revolution WILL happen.