Being a Revolutionary Today
Those of us in the fight for the basic needs of survival – food, clean water, housing, health care, education and peaceful communities – battle every day. We need to be aware of the most important things on the battlefield (the terrain) in which we must fight. We need to fight with a clearly defined vision. Can we answer such questions as where are we going? Who or what are we up against? What must be overcome? What is the “enemy’s” strategy and what is it they are trying to win – what is their vision?
Too often our battles are confined to the smallest possible goals, and we accept the smallest momentary concessions as “victories.” Every day we get up with our sword and go fight windmills. We can never secure the basic necessities of life without clarity – therefore the role of conscious leaders means everything. To be conscious means to understand the big picture, to have a clear vision of where the movement is heading, and to understand the moment we are in right now.
The Big Picture
The central issue for us to understand is that we are in the midst of a huge transformation in our economy, from the industrial age to something really new – the age of electronics. The electronic revolution is unlike every other economic system humans have ever lived under, because this one is actually getting rid of human labor. It may not be complete yet, as there are still jobs for humans, but to understand this moment in history, we need to understand the significance of this process going on before our eyes.
Our main concern about this transformation in the economy is the fact that millions of people are being made redundant each day. The jobs that are disappearing are not coming back, and there will not be “replacement” jobs created. Each day robotics is being perfected to the point where they can perform the most delicate tasks (like surgery) and dangerous jobs (like rescue operations during disasters). We must face the facts that “lights out” factories are our future – where raw materials enter and finished products leave with little or no human intervention.
The working class understands that their jobs are under threat, and they may know computers are replacing them, but they may not understand that this is the main contradiction in the society today. When people don’t understand their problem, they can be easily misled. This is one explanation of why economically devastated workers are vulnerable to politicians like Trump, who blame immigrants for their job loss.
The truth is that as people become unnecessary to production, a new class of people is being created. Without resources, this new class must fight just to survive. But because they are being forced to fight, this so-called “useless class” becomes the hope of the future.
Most of the growing numbers of this new class are not yet aware of the historic and revolutionary role they are playing. They are not yet aware that who controls the technology will determine life and death for millions of people. That’s why leaders who are conscious of this big picture are truly the midwives to a society that is pregnant with revolution.
Why Yesterday’s Tactics Won’t Work Today
What is the difference between today and yesterday in fighting for reforms? Why can’t we fight in the same way, and why can’t we win anything with yesterday’s tactics? Before the electronic revolution had gained momentum, when capitalism was still mainly industrial and labor intensive, the economy would go through busts and booms. During the booms there were lots of jobs, during the recessions and depressions large numbers of workers were unable to get work. This idle workforce was kept alive by such things as welfare, public housing, food stamps, and county hospitals. The unemployed were granted such reforms because when the economy went into an upward swing, some of them would be returned to work, until the next downturn pushed them out of the economy again.
During the Civil Rights era and before, reforms were granted. Different sections of the population were able to organize successfully and win some demands. Because of this, a notion was formed that what was necessary to wrench reforms from the capitalist system was to gather your troops around a militant stand and persist until victory. The belief that capitalism would grant us victories, and the slogan, “when we fight, we will win,” made sense at that time.
But today, things are different. People organize, take a stand, make demands, petition, protest, march, and go to jail. But no matter what we do, life for the working class continues to deteriorate. Good jobs continue to evaporate, public housing keeps disappearing, public services and benefits keep shrinking, community resources dry up, schools close, police terror increases. We are not failing to get the reforms we need because we don’t fight well enough. It’s because our rulers will not grant reforms to people they don’t need. Booms and busts still happen, but now a reserve labor force is no longer needed, because computers and robotics step in to provide the skill and energy that humans once provided.
So the old ways of gathering our forces and “fighting back,” are not working anymore, and they are not going to work. Faced with this situation, some people advocate for aiming small. Their strategy is to win a little tiny bit at a time, piling up mini “victories” until we get relief. Defeats are often twisted around and labeled as victories. Even though these tactics are proven to lead nowhere, there are those who persist in steering the movement for reforms in this head-butting fashion. Unfortunately there are no short cuts for winning the battle for survival today.
The Central Task of Revolutionaries
The central task of revolutionaries is to figure out how to bring consciousness to the movement. The workers who are fighting for their survival need to unite around a central idea. That idea is that, in a society where machines do the work, the distribution of what these machines produce will have to be based on need. If it’s based on money in the pocket, then the workers will not survive. People who are fighting for their survival are already fighting for a new way of distributing the necessities of life, whether they know it or not. If the present system cannot provide the basics of life to the people, then the present system must be replaced. How can the new class thrive, or even survive, without a cooperative society?
The job of the revolutionary is to be more than just a part of the movement for survival. We get in there in order to explain the “big picture” and the need for unity around the survival issues. For example, if you are homeless, you must struggle to get shelter. If you can’t pay your rent without sacrificing food or medicine, or you are on the verge of losing your home to foreclosure from taxes, you face a survival issue of shelter. All of these sections of the new class have a primary need that they can unite around – that housing is a human right and must be guaranteed to all regardless of their ability to pay.
A winning strategy can only be built on what unites us, not what divides us. The role of a leader is to fight consistently for a unity based on the fight for the basic necessities of life. From petty differences to ideological disparities – a revolutionary must navigate around the potholes and roadblocks of potential division, to steer a course towards the larger goals that are only obtainable through class unity. This requires thinking outside the moment and putting forth a vision that all can unite around. Do we want and need shelter to survive? We can have it if we keep our focus on the destination, if we can all agree that the only kind of government we can live with is one that guarantees shelter to all.
A revolutionary has to understand, explain and provide answers to people about how to accomplish the enormous tasks before us. While it’s important to bring clarity to those we have day-to-day contact with, we need to consider how we can reach the millions of potential revolutionaries that are scattered throughout our society. Lately, everyone is talking about the role of the media, and it’s clear that ideas are circulated throughout society by the media, and opinions are shaped for good and evil. This is a truth no revolutionary can ignore. Widespread distribution of revolutionary ideas and struggles through our own presses, leaflets, pamphlets, speech making, artistic creations etc. stretches out and strengthens our reach beyond the narrow limits of our locale.
Revolutionaries should not miss any chances they get to put forward their understanding at public events and meetings. But it is also vital for us to create our own platforms, to engage with the leaders of the survival movement. We have to create our own opportunities, to get away from the constant interference and blocking tactics of misleaders and paid agents of the ruling class. When so-called leaders attempt to stifle the voices of revolutionaries, then they must be gotten around. Revolutionaries boldly and creatively make a way to be heard.
Being a revolutionary today is about more than being involved in the daily battle for survival. It’s about more than having a good understanding of what’s going on in society. It’s about embodying both. Being active, teaching and learning, keeping the big picture in mind and the vision of where you are leading in your minds eye at all times.
May/June 2017 Vol27.Ed3
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