Break with the Past, Prepare for the Future
Editors’ Note: The following opening remarks, written by Nelson Peery, were prepared for a national LRNA meeting held in September 2015.
First of all, comrades, what is a revolution? It is the process of reconstructing a social and political superstructure that is compatible with the new means of production. Revolutionaries don’t make revolutions. Revolutions make revolutionaries. Of course, it is a back and forth process. But most of the revolutionaries in the world today think that if you just try hard enough, if you just fight back enough, if you are consistent enough, if you are just brave enough, if you are ideologically firm enough, you can make a revolution. No. A revolution comes from an antagonism between the development of the means of production and a static social and political superstructure that becomes more and more antagonistic to it. Where are we in history in this respect?
Recently, a team of engineers stated that in 20 years, 50 percent of labor will be done by robotics. We live in a country where our existence is based upon the exchange of money. Money is the universal equivalent of all labor. If our daily bread is based on money, and money comes from the sale of our labor power in production, and the robots are doing the production, it is obvious this system cannot continue. We are heading into revolution. The objective side of the revolution is way advanced and the subjective side is way behind. The role of a revolutionary organization is to arouse and develop that subjective side. Is this the outlook of the average revolutionary? No, not at all. Most revolutionaries still hold onto the idea that the revolutionary “marches at the head of the column.”
From One Quality to Another
Revolution begins with the development of new means of production that becomes antagonistic to the existing social superstructure. All social activity proceeds from this antagonism. A good example is the African American Freedom Movement. It was clear that no matter how hard the African Americans fought for their freedom and equality they could not get it so long as they were hooked to the land. Freedom depended upon them getting free from the sharecropping system. They couldn’t do it simply because they wanted to. They could only do it when Southern agriculture was mechanized, which was followed by the political repercussions and the movement. I remember listening to some of the older guys back in the forties talking about International Harvester coming out with a cotton-picking machine. One of them said, “That is the liberator.” As long as the African Americans had to work with that hoe and mule, they were not going to get anywhere.
Revolutionaries have to differentiate between two processes. One is the process of the quantitative development of the means of production, and the quantitative changes that take place in society to reflect that. The other process is the qualitative change that takes place with the introduction of the qualitative new means of production that replaces the old. Today that qualitative change is the change from industrial production to robotic production. These two processes are different.
Revolutionaries today are caught up in a dilemma. We developed within a revolutionary process based upon the quantitative aspects of industrial production within capitalism. Now we are suddenly faced with a qualitative change – electronic production. If we work with that qualitative change, using the political and organizational weapons developed within the quantitative aspects of the previous process, we will fail. We can resolve this dilemma if we understand that we can no longer deal with a qualitative change in society with the organizational forms and ideological and political aspects of the previous quantitative stages of development.
Every problem we revolutionaries face today is based upon the struggle to transform our activity based on quantitative stages within a process to qualitative stages between processes, that is, from one quality to another. This is expressed in the struggle to let go of the organizational structures and thinking that used to work in a quantitative stage of development within one quality, and create the new organizational structures and thinking needed for a leap between between two different qualities.
You can’t use the same weapons, the same methods. You can’t use the same organizational structure. You have to come up with something new, something that reflects the objective reality we are facing today. Revolutionaries have to change our tactics to reflect the objective reality, and stop trying to make reality conform to what we want or what we think.
We Can Only Win as a Class
The revolutionary organization must understand that there is an objective line of march from one quality to another. By line of march we mean dealing with the stages of development of a process. We have to look at it, it seems to me, as a series of quantitative stages of the leap that is taking place. We have to deal with each one of these stages. When we look at this question of the line of march we can see that our first stage of development is the question of a new class. It is a stage of development that we have to concentrate on.
This concept of the line of march tells us that there is this objective process that is going on and that you have to deal with every stage of the development of that objective process or you are not going to win. Where is that objective process today? It is that a new class is being created by the robot, by the computer, by electronics. I don’t care who you are, where you live, or no matter what you call yourself, it affects you. You are getting laid off, and a new class is forming.
One thing that hasn’t been dealt with properly in relationship to this is that no revolution has ever been successful by a class that is inside the existing society. A class has to be outside of the existing society in order to overthrow it. For example, the bourgeoisie was outside of feudal relations. The peasants couldn’t overthrow a feudal structure. They were a part of it. They could only gain more for themselves within that structure. The bourgeoisie was free to revolt because they were outside of that structure. It is the same thing that we are talking about today. This idea that the working class could overthrow capital has never happened. Every socialist revolution that we’ve had has been a social upheaval by a class at least partially outside of that society followed by a military coup in order to seize power. I think the ruling class understands the danger of having a class outside of society that has no loyalty whatsoever to the wage labor system because they don’t participate in it.
When I was a kid we talked in school about the American melting pot even if we realized that the Native Americans, the Blacks and others were outside of the melting pot. Nobody even talks about the melting pot today. America has been divided up with their hyphens; they are Irish-American, they are Norwegian-American, they are African-Americans. There aren’t any Americans I guess. This thing has been set up now where people are demanding that this nationality leads the class struggle, or that nationality does. This just won’t work with this new class.
The new class is not a conglomeration of hyphenated groups. They are one class. The color of their skin is no more important than the color of their eyeballs. Unless we understand this, we are not going to be able to win this fight. Again, it has to be done quantitatively. It can’t be done all at once and we can’t do it by fiat. We have to do it in practice.
I was reading this article by this lady from West Virginia. It could have been sent in by a Black, or Latino or Native American, by anybody. She was talking about the cancer that is destroying her family; the poisoned water that they have to bathe in. This is different than trying to use a grouping as a base in order to get a bigger cut of the pie – because that is what this hyphen was all about, getting a bigger cut of the pie. Today, there isn’t any pie. If we are going to get anything at all, it is going to have to be done on the basis of our relations to the means of production, that is to say, as a class.
It is clear that the first point on this line of march is that there has to be some form of unity of that section of the class that can be united. The basis of their unity is their common economic condition. They cannot proceed forward as a “bag of marbles.” How do revolutionaries go about the process of uniting this section of the class that no longer gets anything out of the disunity? This is the line of march that we are dealing with.
A Revolutionary Organization for Today
When the quantitative development comes to an end, and the leap from one quality to another begins, the revolutionary organization has to reorganize itself to reflect the new conditions. Changing organization means qualitatively changing ourselves and our thinking. This is very difficult to do.
Somehow we have to get across the idea that the communist movement today is not a group of communists. It is a group of disoriented workers that cannot exist under the existing conditions. There is a huge difference between an ideological and political outlook that says the communist movement is the sum total of communists, and one that the communist movement is a growing mass of people outside of the capitalist relations.
If we understand these things – the qualitative changes in content of our time, the emergence of a revolutionary new class, and the need to develop new strategies, tactics and organization – and can plan based upon this kind of reality, we can do something in history, we can truly contribute to the history of humankind.
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