Know Your Enemy, Know Yourself
“Therefore I say: Know your enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.”
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War
This well-known advice from Sun Tzu’s Art of War holds many lessons for revolutionaries. Knowing one’s enemy begins with an accurate assessment of the real processes underway that both determine what the adversary must do, what he can do, the forces at his disposal, as well as the areas where he is weak. Knowing oneself – oneself being the revolutionary forces in this country – is to understand how those same processes shape what can be done, what must be done, the forces at our disposal, as well as the areas where we are weak. By basing political conclusions on the accurate estimate of the processes underway – from both sides of the table – revolutionaries can begin to develop the strategy and tactics that can most effectively teach our class its true interests and move the process toward the conclusion that benefits our class.
This accurate assessment begins with the understanding that the economy and society are undergoing a leap. This leap is the transformation from a system of production and distribution based on the exploitation of labor power as a commodity – and the productive relations that arose on that basis – to one where production without labor, and therefore value, is emerging. Yet, new productive relations do not arise spontaneously. They must be fought for.
As the crisis advances, and political polarization deepens, both the ruling class and the workers will be forced to fight for a political solution that is dictated by the objective character of the changes underway. If the ruling class wants to survive as a ruling class and preserve private property under their control, it will have to fight for a fascist political solution. If the workers want to survive at all, they will have to fight for a communist political solution.
In the period of the leap the battle shifts to the subjective. All of society is dragged into a fight to align thinking with the actual changing conditions, and into the struggle to enforce their interests. Without a unity of the subjective understanding of what is objectively possible nothing can move forward. This is as true for the fascists as it is for the communists.
Today, we see the objective impulses toward fascism developing from within the actual process far ahead of, and without a cohesive or unified, subjective side. The fascist forces are scattered and divided. The task of the ruling class is to create the subjective unity necessary for the process to move forward.
State transformed in capitalists’ interest
While universal laws inform its motion, the development of fascism today is not unfolding in the same way as it did in the past. The main distinctive difference is the existence of the actual, objective basis for political revolution.
In the past period, fascism was not objectively necessary to protect capitalism as a system. In the Nazi period, for example, fascism protected the national interests of a section of the larger section of finance capitalists under very specific historical conditions. These conditions were the worsening economic crisis, the weakening of social democratic influence and the rising strength of revolutionary forces in Germany, Italy and Austria, as well as the influence of the newly formed Soviet Union. If these forces had taken power, certainly they would have attempted to put an end to capitalist property relations. It was in this sense only that a threat to capitalism existed, not because of the introduction of qualitatively new technology as today. In this sense, fascism arose first as a subjective movement. The fascists seized power first, then created the conditions for changes in the economy and society.
Today, this process has been stood on its head. The foundation for fascism is emerging from the actual processes of destruction, polarization and the battle to determine how society will be reconstructed. Objectively, the ruling class cannot solve the problems it faces within the existing order.
History teaches us that a ruling class is capable of changing economic foundations to remain a ruling class. The feudal class in Europe transformed itself into the land-owning section of the bourgeoisie. In Japan, they transformed themselves from feudal lords to the industrial section of the bourgeoisie. Their content was to remain a ruling class.
We do not know what today’s ruling class will become, but they have to endorse change – and unite around that change – in order to remain as a ruling class.
They cannot allow the interests of individual corporations, or even industries, or sections of the economy, to interfere with this overarching, and what is for them life or death, long term goal. All of their efforts are towards stabilizing the economy and bringing the vast capitalist economic and political order under control. Only the state can intercede to impose this kind of stability. The transformation that is taking place in the state is itself becoming the vehicle to reconstruct society around the interests of the ruling class in the new epoch.
This is no more apparent than in the 180 degree turnaround in ruling class actions over the past year. From fighting for decentralization, the free market and unregulated commerce they have mobilized the power of the state to dominate and lead the restructuring of the economy. The virtual nationalization of the banks, to the nationalization of Chrysler and General Motors, express steps in the transformation of the state from the mere facilitator of corporate will to its taking a direct role as the guardian of private property.
A huge social motion will arise on these changes. Auto is the harbinger of things to come. As nationalization proceeds in the interests of the capitalists, the workers are objectively thrown up against the state. The workers who keep their jobs can only protect that toehold against disaster by inevitably moving closer to the ruling class, while a larger section will be cast adrift. This growing polarization will create greater motion, instability and provide fertile ground for fascist propaganda.
The growing economic crisis is bound to bring on political crisis – the clash of two antagonistic processes, with one forced to destroy the other to survive. The developing crisis is the impossibility of maintaining the bourgeois democratic superstructure with the qualitatively new economic foundation that is being created.
Battle to control state emerging
This is not a matter of forces from the right against which the “left” must fight. Any dictionary, any book on politics will state that politics expresses economics – it clears the way for the economy or a section of the economy to develop. Thus, prior to the Civil War, the Democratic Party was the political expression of the agrarian bourgeoisie, and the rising industrial class had to create a new party, the Republican Party, to represent its interests. In later times, the Roosevelt coalition, which dominated the Democratic party, was the political expression of international finance capital, and it stood against the Republicans, which were the expression of national finance capital. Political right and left expressed definite sections of the capitalist class. Today, there is no objective foundation for a split in the ruling class today, as there was in the past epoch.
Of course, there is an ideological right and left, and people drift in and out as they choose. There are all kinds of ideas out there – pro-slavery, anti-black, anti-immigrant, neo-confederates, religious dominionists and reconstructionists to name a few – and they are beginning to get into scattered, and sometimes violent (if still isolated) motion. They are dangerous and have to be fought.
The key thing is revolutionaries have different tactics to fight a right that is based in the economy and a right based in abstract ideology.
Today, our starting point has to be the qualitatively new conditions – a leap in the economy, and the dissolution of that economic system and its relations. The struggle has moved from a struggle between two groups within the ruling class to a struggle between two hostile classes. The process of nationalization is underway – the question is in whose interests. The battle that is emerging today is who will control the state. The ruling class has to control the state if they are going to protect private property. The workers have to control the state if they are going to gain control of their lives. That struggle is not “fight the right”. It is the beginning of revolution.
Fascists’ next step: unite scattered forces
Without the unity of the subjective and the objective, the process cannot move forward. New ideas have to be introduced – and have to be broadly accepted – to facilitate the objective changes taking place. Today, the radical changes on the objective side are outrunning the subjective side. There is talk about anti-communism and anti-socialism. But at the moment, fascism has not been put forward openly as the political solution to facilitate the objective changes that are already taking place.
We can see how the unity of the objective and the subjective pushed forward events in our own history. The defeat of Reconstruction, for example, was only possible with the unity of the southern plantation owners and a section of white workers and small producers united ideologically to stop the blacks and re-enslave them by the millions. This would not have been possible without the unity of the objective and subjective. That kind of unity does not exist today.
There is motion, social upheaval and developing polarization, flux, contradiction. The fascist movement is scattered and divided. At its core are serious, conscious fascists. All kinds of people and groups with all kinds of ideas gravitate toward this fascist core as a means of accomplishing their own goals. For this disparate movement to unite around a fascist solution and into cohesive political force will require some kind of general line that pulls them all together, regardless of their individual programs.
Future is up to us
Although the objective side of the process is quite advanced, fascist political revolution is not inevitable. The fascists must fight to impose it. Conversely, it can be, it must be, defeated. How can this be done? What is the first step, and the next one after that? These are the questions which every revolutionary is grappling with today.
The revolutionary process is moving into uncharted territory. We must leave behind the preconceptions of the past period and begin to grapple with the new conditions. Our starting point as revolutionaries is to describe as accurately as possible the situation faced by our class, where it is in its development, and use that information to constantly examine and reexamine our political conclusions, and the strategy and tactics that flow from those conclusions. The answers to the questions revolutionaries face are not the purview of this or that person, or this or that organization. They are questions of the revolution, and as such involve all who seek to end the destruction around us and build a new world.
Political Report of the Standing Committee of League of Revolutionaries for a New America, June 2009.
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