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Re: <nettime> A Movement Without Demands?
Keith Hart on Fri, 13 Jan 2012 17:31:39 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> A Movement Without Demands?

Ed's intervention, acting as a sort of chorus, links this thread to an
earlier one in December, Debt Campaign Launch:
http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-1112/msg00008.html. I for
one am grateful for this further reflection on important themes. It matters
if calling the US today "capitalism" obscures more than it illuminates; if
we need a political economy that distinguishes clearly between profit,
tent, interest, tax and credit/debt (are you using tax farming as a
metaphor, Ed, or is tax collection too now privatised?); and if calamity,
dispossession and uncertainty lead to demoralization and moral outrage. But
my first question is how all this relates to the present thread.

At the core of the present discussion is how to identify and express an
effective political response to the mass discontent that OWS apparently
acted as a catalyst for. This in turn hinges on the proper use of
accessible or analytical language here or out there, notably raised by
Michael Goldhaber's post. Although not sharply expressed, my initial beef
with Snafu's and Jodi's paper and to some extent with Brian's response was
that they were more local than global and seemed to rest on an outmoded
political sociology and metaphysics which are intrinsically static and
therefore not capable of relating to, never mind shaping the movement. What
I sense in your reflection, Ed, is an even greater detachment from the
political movement which finds expression in quite powerful economic
stories and analyses, but no message concerning what is to be done and by

It is hardly surprising that most of us lack an education in revolutionary
practice nor that I would turn to the usual suspects in search of one. I
want to introduce a lecture by CLR James on 'Walter Rodney and the question
of power' given to UC students in 1981.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/james-clr/works/1981/01/rodney.htm He draws
extensively on letter written by Lenin in September 1917 and published as
'Marxism and insurrection'
http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/sep/13.htm. Whether or not
their analysis of revolutionary situations is relevant to the US is 2012 is
probably unfathomable at any time, but as professional revolutionaries,
they made it their business to study these things and my bet is that sooner
or later we will find a use for what they have to say.

Lenin's letter explains why the Marxists saw fit to push for revolution in
September, but had not done so in July. To take a step back, Lenin gave a
speech to Swiss socialists in January 1917 when he said he didn't expect a
revolution in his lifetime, but hoped that his young colleagues would
succeed in fighting for one. The Russian revolution started for real in
March and was done deal by October. For those who have been fed an idea of
Lenin as an advocate of the vanguard party (which he was before the soviets
took the streets and he then quickly dismissed all that as just bourgeois
politics), it is worth noting that he identifies three components of any
revolution and the party has nothing to do with any of them. james lists
these as "Firstly, there must be a clash, a revolutionary upsurge of the
people. Then, secondly, there must be a turning point, when the activity of
the advanced ranks is at its height; and thirdly, the enemy must be

Lenin explains that none of these conditions held in July, but they did in
September, which is why the Marxists moved when they did. A lot of the
dynamic relates to the war and Russian reactions to it. A lot went on in
mid-1917, leading to the sudden appearance of the idea of a separate peace
for Russia. A key element is the behaviour of the "advanced classes", in
this case the workers' and soldiers' soviets in St Petersburg and Moscow.
The Marxists had no relationship to them in July, but did in September. Who
is "the enemy"? For Lenin it was not just the Russian ruling classes, but
"Allied imperialism". They had shown no significant divisions or
ambivalence before, but were now in disarray. And so it goes. James uses
this analysis and story to show the California students what they (and
Rodney who paid for it with his life) were missing -- a revolutionary
education and perspective of the sort that he and Lenin had.

At the end of his speech, James recalls a conversation with Trotsky in
Mexico in 1938: ?But how come, time and again, the revolutionary party ?
this is the party, not the mass movement -- was wrong in its analysis of
the situation and Lenin turns out to be right and set it the correct way?
How did that happen?? And I expected him to tell me how Lenin knew
philosophy, how he knew political analysis, how he knew psychology, or how
he knew the revolution. He did not. He said, ?Lenin always had his eyes
upon the mass of the population, and when he saw the way they were going,
he knew that tomorrow this was what was going to happen.?

And Lenin says insurrection is an *art*, i.e. not a social science (which
ought to please Brian if he can wean himself from Frankfurtish sociology).

James always came back to Marx's line that "the revolution comes like a
thief in the night" (when no-one is expecting it). He would tell me that
the number of professional political activists in a country at one time
numbers in the few thousands. They live for radical change, it is their
lifeblood. The vast majority just what to hold onto whatever they have. And
this conservatism is a good thing, adds James. Society would be impossible
if everyone wanted significant change all the time. But sometimes, ordinary
people realise that I have already lost most of what they had and then they
are up for revolution without any inhibitions. The political activists have
a role then in passing on what they have prepared for. "You have seen this
guy at the bus stop every morning going to work. He has a rolled umbrella
and doesn't look at or talk to anyone else. Come the revolution, he is out
there in his shirt sleeves helping to organize the street committee."

I once had a recurrent dream. I open my front door to a large
thirtysomething matron in a kaftan. She says, "They are closing down the
nursery at St. Luke's church and we are trying to stop them. We have put up
a barricade on Hertford Street to slow down the trucks that come through
too fast. Oh, and we are starting a campaign to withhold local taxes until
we get better health, education and transport services. Are you with us?"
And I say, "Yes! And if you like, I can help with the email."

So it is less a question of demands or no demands, but how, when and by
whom they are made. One interesting issue raised by the old Marxists is
what constitutes an "advanced class" and who are they today, in the US or
anywhere else? I am convinced by Ed that the current economic system is on
its last legs, but from where will the social energy and focus come to push
general public discontent to a revolutionary outcome? And what are the
phases of such a revolution?

I have no problem with seeing the events of 1989-90 as a revolution not
with the obvious parallels in the Arab Spring. James used to claim in the
70s that there are only two world revolutions left -- the second Russian
revolution and the second American revolution. We can debate whether the
collapse of Stalinism was a revolution and how long it lasted. But what
social forces toppled the most powerful bureaucracy ever erected on this
planet? I have my own answers, mainly with the lives people built up
informally to make good the hollowed out bureaucracies deficiencies:
kinship, religion, the black market, the fallout of the Afghan war. But we
need to ask similar questions of the US and the Middle East today. Ed
mentions the demoralisation of US capitalism, but we mustn't forget the
wars or election year or the shift from gold to oil as the world's most
valuable commodity.

I was watching Tiananmen Square on TV with James in April 1989. He was 88
years old and died a few weeks later. If you recall, the students were
protesting because of an international meeting there to which Gorbachev was
invited. The whole world was gripped by the spectacle. He said that the
Chinese CP would would put down this rebellion easily, but "The Russians
will find it hard to hold onto Eastern Europe after this". The Berlin Wall
came down six months later.

Clearly the national and international rules that made the Keynesian
revolution so effective in reviving the economy after World War 2 have been
abandoned by the current crop of capitalists and the class compromise that
saw economic growth distributed equally within countries has long gone. It
has become commonplace to identify the insurgents of 2011 as young people
with an education and no prospects. Moreover, they have grown up with the
digital revolution and we now have universal communications adequate to the
expression of universal ideas as never before. So does the forced marriage
of the informal economy and the internet produce classes or interests that
the Marixists would once have considered "advanced"? That's what I would
like to know about OWS and analogpous movements worldwide. At present the
popular insurrection is fitful and, as always, not very directed. Are there
cadres poised like Lenin's to seize their chance? How demoralized and
divided are the enemy? Who and what are they? Relying on anti-capitalist or
anti-statist slogans won't do.

To return to the former conversation with Ed, I have been toying with the
notion that capitalism may have reverted to the ld regime that it once
overthrew and that world society today may be likened to the arbitrary and
lawless inequality of pre-revolutionary France. That could mean that the
end of the American empire would be a world revolution and the main events
need not take place in Manhattan. More likely, a major war would generate
revolutionary conditions afterwards. Many people still have a lot to
lose... But what is the antidote to an Old Regime? Liberal revolution. And
in all the main liberal revolutions of the 17-19th centuries, fractions of
capital played a major part on the anti-establishment side. Thinking
through this today, however, would be a whole other story.

On Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 12:05 AM, Ed Phillips <ed {AT} cronos.net> wrote:

> I'm sitting here reading yet another interesting thread on nettime,
> reflecting on the fact that this little watercooler on the nets is a
> more enduring institution than many large ones of Internet era
> discourse and finance. We can all print money as Minsky says,
> but to find a place where freshly minted thoughts or coins are accepted and
> used is something. I am thankful for that.

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