Unlike many reading this, I was raised in an actual Revolutionary Movement. My father and his comrades were Black Diasporist Radicals of the ’60/ ’70s who genuinely believed that an armed overthrow of the US government was feasible and inevitable. I attended various Revolutionary Meetings (as a bored observer) as a schoolboy; I attended Revolutionary Street Theater events and spent time, with my father, at the community Arts collective that was one of the hubs of Revolutionary Activity in the city.
I met three famous activists in my father’s presence (including Muhammad Ali, whose hand I deigned to shake). My father and his comrades were passionate in their dream of a Better World but what my father came to understand much later, in life, was that in the struggle between passionate amateur Revolutionaries and professional (mercenary) anti-Revolutionaries, the latter (having access to serious funding, training, equipment, legal support and a total willingness, plus permission, to kill), will always win. The Movement was fatally infiltrated with moles/informers/ honey traps from the very beginning and became a tool of the Nixon Regime and even more powerful forces: what the Government wanted, basically, was to scare The Pyjama-Wearing Electorate away from any even slightly-radical thinking, as well as throwing a monkey-wrench in the process of desegregation (quite a few of the counter-revolutionary forces were literal Nazis, many imported after WW2). My father and his comrades were unwitting scarecrows and not much more, in the end.
People my father considered friends (eg Fred Hampton) were executed by counter-revolutionary professionals. When MLK was assassinated for stepping outside the limits of his remit (by speaking against Vietnam), and J. Jackson tried to inherit MLK’S mantle, my father told me interesting things about Jackson that I remember to this day. Jackson… Sharpton… BHO…. it’s all the same trick. (Interestingly enough, my father also told me the Apollo Program was a hoax; I didn’t believe him on that one until c. 2004, when I casually investigated the matter, aiming to debunk an Apollo Skeptic. I came away from that realizing that I’d been duped as a 10-year-old).
I learned a huge amount from my father’s nobly-doomed struggles and have been studying the problem of Revolution/ Resistance for more than forty years. I’ve been studying the deeper problem… of What We Think We Know About The World (and Why We Think We Know It)… for only the last 20 or so. My father, whatever his other failings, gave me a great gift: he taught me to be a skeptic at a very early age, mocking the propaganda I brought home from school (about Messrs Lincoln and Washington) in no uncertain terms.
Having Radical Beliefs myself, and having gone to college, I’ve known many self-proclaimed middle class Communists. Many have been my friends and I have learned to humor their beliefs and ignore the many jarring disconnects (like the “Communist” friend who spent more than one Xmas in his Banker-Sister’s Manhattan penthouse, or the “Communist” friend who was literally terrified of poor people, or the “Collectivist” who always raged about the diktats of the renters’ association in his apartment building, or the “Communist” artist who makes his money doing public art for late-capitalist multinationals and has been angling desperately for some of that juicy “Global Warming” cash). I think we just don’t appreciate how powerful and romantic the Communist creation myth, as it’s disseminated by Western Media/Education, is; it’s clearly designed to seduce a certain well-educated segment of disaffected Youth (a kind of proto-Punk Rock ‘movement’) who might otherwise concentrate their efforts on genuinely disruptive activities (like, eg, bringing War Criminals to justice). Communism, in the Anglophone Sphere, is semi-subliminally sold as the kind of Beautiful Failure that can both frighten the Burghers and enchant their angry children. As Slavoj Zizek says: a book is all the more powerful if you haven’t read it (The Bible, Das Kapital, Moby Dick) and very few Communists have actually read more than a page of Das Kapital… or anything Karl wrote.
Only one of my “Communist” friends was ever well-read in Marx; I remember offending another one of them by casually referencing, during a lunchtime chat, Karl’s letter about a mutual acquaintance whom Karl jokingly accused of looking like a ‘nigger’ (the English word, not the German cognate)… you may not know that Karl was quite sensitive about his own physical similarity to former slave Frederick Douglas. Marx was a conservative member of the crypto-One Percent, after all; related by blood to an emerging Industrial power base that was challenging the old blood of Aristocracy for control.
No, I don’t take most wide-eyed Consumer-Communists seriously, whether or not their hearts are in the right place. The ones who have done their homework and situated Marx’s 19th century academic papers within 21st century late-Capitalist Realities: I salute them, hoping we can agree to disagree.
But anyone who thinks a Marx-oid “Revolution” is not only desirable but possible, now, need only look at OWS as a neat little model for what is possible along those lines. The Serfs haven’t been self-sufficient, self-motivated and armed-to-parity levels, enough, since quite a few years before the co-opted French “Revolution” (haven’t you figured it out yet? Max Robespierre was a “useful idiot”) to pull it off. Armed Resistance is Futile: if they can invade and level Iraq, they can invade and level your fucking neighborhood.
Even if The Serfs somehow managed to fight Gov to a standstill, how can anyone, in her/his wildest dreams, naively imagine that the Replacement System wouldn’t immediately default to localized, Warlord-Governed Feudalism? “Communism” is largely for middle class college kids who haven’t been exposed to enough romantic alternatives (or the bristly edges of The Real World) and there will be no cossetted, naive middle class to draw from during hypothetical post-Revolutionary reconstruction… there would only be madly savage scrambles for power… leading to the eventual recapitulation of the Reactionary Control Mechanism that was deposed, with none of the former amenities (which take much, much longer to accrue: amenities like Human Rights, clean water on demand, public libraries, et al). THAT is the nature of YEAR ZERO politics. And that is the problem when zealously idealistic “revolutionary” types dream of tearing and burning the House of Cards down and starting from “scratch”: doomed not only to fail but to fail specifically in a way that regenerates the problem. That’s why a little mature circumspection is required here. Oppressive Hierarchies are self-regeneratingly robust in a way that Post-Enlightenment walks, hand-in-hand, with one’s Beloved, along a well-lit riverbank in a safe City at night can never be. “Burn it to the ground” at your (and our) own peril, you (not you, them: the disaffected White Boy would-be Communist) Dumb Motherfuckers.
History’s lesson is clear: “Revolutions” are extremely expensive (something they don’t really go into while they’re busy romanticizing the Communist Saints for you at Uni) and only another Gov (masquerading as a grassroots “uprising”) can overthrow a Gov in the modern age. The “Bolshevik Revolution” was as much a “grassroots uprising” as the coup in Ukraine, or Egypt, was. All three were “color revolutions”. The Enemy is clever and it is probably more clever than You. It’s more about psychology than sheer brainpower (after all, there are brilliant astrophysicists who are also Christian, for example… it doesn’t mean they’re stupid, it means they’re emotionally vulnerable to the tailored-to-their-fears-and-insecurities-Bullshit).
Now, the big story no one talks about was Iceland, right? Not a “Revolution”…. a Renovation. They jailed the Bankers. The first era of such a Good Thing can’t stick, totally, but what a beginning, eh? They circumvented the inevitable traps of YEAR ZERO politics. No need to reinvent the square wheel, they merely actually enforced existing Laws/ Principles without deferring, first, to entrenched Institutional Psychopathy. Well, of course, the jailed Bankers’ banking buddies came to their rescue, eventually, and got them out by re-wording the laws that jailed them… but it was a start… a model… a much more satisfying model than the YEAR ZERO pastiche of OWS.
Anyway: you may disagree. That’s fine, obviously. I just want to make my position absolutely clear. I was raised in a “Revolution” and I have some observations to share.