No Victory Without New Ideas
The escalating destruction and polarization of our society is generating a heightened level of spontaneous resistance. Mass social struggles in Wisconsin, Michigan, in immigrant communities, Occupy Wall Street, North Carolina, and others are drawing more and more Americans into activity. There is one immediate burning question for all of them, and for the revolutionaries who fight alongside them: what will it take to win?
This is a complicated problem, but the short answer is that it will take the introduction and dissemination of entirely new ideas into these struggles. These new ideas in part consist of a clear moral vision that insists on the intrinsic value of human life. They also include a scientific understanding of our economic and political system, why it is turning against us, and how we can transition to one that will uphold and reaffirm the preciousness of human life and the planet.
Ideas assume such outsized importance today because the incredible technology and wealth in our society has brought us to the brink of a new era, one that the prophets of old could only dream about. Humankind has the realistic ability to arise and abolish the private property economies that have enslaved and impoverished the world. We have the power to establish cooperative systems that will at last allow us to become fully human, to end our domination by alien economic laws, to heal the earth, and determine our own destiny.
The Law of Value
The private property system itself has created the means, opportunity, and necessity of abolishing it. Capitalism has driven the development of technology to such an unheard of level that automation is already effectively replacing human labor. Laborless production makes it impossible for a system based on the buying and selling of labor power to exist. When jobs disappear, workers no longer have money, commodities can no longer circulate, wealth drastically polarizes, and poverty spreads so rapidly that people are forced to fight just to survive.
This economic oppression is enforced by an entire private property superstructure that mobilizes to try to convince us “there is no alternative,” that our lives have no value or meaning, and we should submit to the desolation the system is preparing for us. Revolutionaries are called to stand in the gap and confront these lies head on, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Our people not only have value, their lives are sacred. There is no moral or scientific reason why we should submit to poverty and exploitation in an era of such spectacular potential abundance. We have a choice.
However, we cannot make this choice without a clear understanding of how to transition beyond the private property economy. It is the role of revolutionaries to study, understand, and explain this transition. It cannot take place spontaneously. Today’s polarization of wealth is driven by capitalism’s law of value. It can only be ended by a political movement that consciously sets out to attain political power, and use that power to organize a cooperative economy. In today’s high technology economy, only a cooperative system is capable of distributing the social product in a manner that can effectively meet human needs.
Previous revolutions were able to develop and achieve victory more or less spontaneously because they responded to economic developments that had already taken place. Feudalism reflected the small scale agricultural production that emerged spontaneously from the destruction of the slave system built by Rome. These were stages in the development of private property. But a cooperative society cannot emerge by itself out of a capitalist economy. The domination of the competitive market makes it impossible. A cooperative economy can only emerge when a conscious, class-based political movement acquires the power to consciously organize it.
An Organization of Propagandists
Such a revolutionary political movement can only be developed by an organization that understands that our current economy is broken, that a cooperative system is possible and necessary, and that the workers cast out by capitalism have to organize themselves independently as a class. The only way to build such a movement is through systematic introduction of these ideas. The League of Revolutionaries for a New America was founded on this understanding. That is why the League describes itself above all as an organization of propagandists. The dictionary defines propaganda as the “spread of ideas and information to promote a cause.”
Marx famously stated that, “Theory becomes a material force once it has gripped the masses.” How to make this come about is the historic task of revolutionaries. Ideas can never grip the masses unless they are first disseminated and taught. They do not arise spontaneously out of the movement itself. Today’s spontaneous resistance is in fact growing in a situation that is subjectively extremely unfavorable. Americans have been raised and educated to eat, drink, and breathe the twin fascist ideologies of anti-communism and white supremacy. They are bombarded daily with Fox news, negative religious messages, and countless commercials for capitalism. Their organizations endlessly promote identity politics, reformism, and incrementalism as the answer.
The situation may be subjectively daunting, but the objective situation is favorable. Every day there are fresh proofs that the system is failing. Every day the bankruptcy of petty reformist tactics in the face of massive austerity is exposed. Every day the revolutionaries can effectively pose the question, “How is that working for you?” We can point out how tirelessly and incredibly hard the system has to work to create poverty amid the potential material paradise that our technology is creating daily.
Since these ideas originate in scientific study outside the spontaneous movement, it is up to the revolutionaries to find the means to then introduce them inside it. We have to position ourselves where we can gain an audience and where we can understand the thinking of the workers and address the questions on their mind. But when we work in and recruit people from the spontaneous movement, the tendency toward spontaneity continually enters into our ranks. There is a continual pull to think that if we simply fight harder we can win. All our study of philosophy, social science, and history teaches us otherwise.
Our class cannot win even the most basic demands today without entirely overturning the private property corporate dictatorship, and building a cooperative society. We cannot create such an entirely new social system without introducing these new ideas and new ways of thinking into the movement. These ideas can only be communicated by the most widespread writing, speaking, getting out newspapers, pamphlets, organizing schools and study circles, raising funds, etc. All our wonderful strikes, marches, and rallies will never lead us to victory unless and until we can persuade the people around us that a new society is necessary and possible. This requires that we move to the next level of economic and political education and propaganda. We have only begun to fight.
Building Block articles help explain a basic concept of the revolutionary process, challenging readers to explore its meaning for political work in today’s environment. This is the second in a series on “Why the League.”
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011