Recent activity on the left especially online has lead to several questions which need to be answered before we can proceed with any form of constructive theory. Among these questions include those which interrogate the very meaning behind our collective action as leftists and what we are really “after” so to speak.
The most principal question to be asked remains: what is a revolution, or what do we mean by revolution? Beyond the general answer allow us to refer to Althusser’s recently translated ‘On Reproduction’ for a concise significance behind the word ‘revolution’:
In the strong sense, consequently, a social revolution consists of dispossessing the dominant class of state power – that is, of control over the state apparatuses that ensure the reproduction of the prevailing relations of production – and establishing new relations of production, the reproduction of which is ensured by the destruction of the old state apparatuses and the (long and difficult) construction of new ones.
Althusser goes onto note the bourgeois French Revolution of 1789 and the Bolshevik October Revolution of 1917 as historical examples of such social revolutions (keeping in mind the social context of ‘progressive’ relative to the domination of feudalism prior to the French Revolution).
To make revolution means to carry out a great rupture within any given social formation. To fundamentally challenge the prevailing social order and establish a means by which such an order can be done away with and eventually replaced. Wrestling state power away from the ruling class and in doing so destroying the specific apparatuses of said class. The point of such is to firmly transform the material relationships which compose a social formation, in specific, the relations of production which determine the mode of production and therefore the great summation of practical instances that is often referred to as ‘society’.
To destroy the old, and to build anew; the quintessential transformation of a social formation and all existing conditions. This is our revolution.
The question then becomes: how do we ‘make’ this revolution?
Clearly, if any given individual or collective had the perfect answer there would be no need for critical pursuits of revolutionary knowledge online such as this site and many others.
However, we do have a basic understanding of this question and therefore we might develop a general thesis towards an answer adequate enough to suffice curiosity. We start by discerning this process of ‘making revolution’ as an actual ‘science of revolution’ one in which there has been spent countless hours and literally decades of practice and theory developing what we understand as ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ (relative to the realm of revolution). At Anti-imperialism.com we try to equip contemporary revolutionaries and organizers with a correct understanding of the world so they might proceed with a correct practice which advances the cause of social revolution; a process that I examined in my piece specific to the idea of ‘social investigation’ in regard to the ‘science of revolution’.
To organize a successful revolutionary campaign or even formulate a correct revolutionary line requires that one put ‘politics-in-command’. Not in the dogmatic sense of a stale or tailing politics but one in which the interests of social revolution are placed above any lesser interest which might draw strength away from the initial effort.
This is the general ‘idea’ by which we proceed in revolutionary activity. So then what is the real contention here among the left? Why address this point in the first place?
There seems to be a growing, if only, perhaps marginal interest in twisting the idea of ‘revolution’ and fundamentally misunderstanding the guiding principles and goals of any social revolution (we speak specifically of those carried out or agitated on behalf of socialism, in the contemporary). This measure of ‘deviation’ if it might be referred to as such poses a significant threat to the long-term viability and success of current revolutionary movements especially those which exist in conditions that are very well and intensely complicated. These deviationists would have us mistake the true and valid conception of revolution for a sloppy articulation of rather crude ‘retribution’ based on some politics of difference.
For example, let us review the question of the oppressed Afrikan Nation in what today we understand as the United States. The current, principal, and accepted line by those of us at Anti-imperialism.com and other Marxist-Leninist/Maoists articulates the necessity for the national liberation of the aforementioned as well as the self-determination of the Afrikan peoples as a prerequisite for socialism; specifically as socialism would manifest in North America. This would necessarily include some form of ‘reparations’ so that the centuries of national oppression and racial chauvinism might be overcome; however, we pose no definite specifications here as such a process must be, primarily, delineated by the self-determined New Afrikan people as well as to avoid mechanically articulating a resolution which must be intimately organic.
However, there are those who would propose lines such as ‘all whites are enemies’ or ‘all whites are active oppressors of the New Afrikan nation’. Before I make any criticisms of such a line allow me to necessarily divorce this specific methodology with any essential component of the national question. In fact, such a method can be observed in almost any line not simply reserved to that of the national question. Similar lines can be found on the ‘gender question’, or questions regarding the reproduction of patriarchy in a social formation. Those who would propose lines misappropriating the struggle against patriarchy as a struggle against ‘all men’ are simply misunderstanding the importance of nuance in regard to contradiction.
This methodology which gives birth to such a line can be considered that of retribution as opposed to revolution.
Retribution in the sense of appropriating a struggle for the sake of ‘morality’ before putting ‘politics-in-command’; effectively this means to do quite the opposite by installing ‘morality-in-command’.
Now, let us make a few points quite clear for the reader or any possible critic. The above analysis does not require we reduce the summation of human experience and desire for some sense of justice to a merely ‘wrong line’. Rather, we hope to understand how such a line is generated through a misconception of how a contradiction functions and how correcting such a line allows real revolutionary activity to occur which is a crucial point of any radical praxis. In addition, we posit no animosity towards those who would advance a line of retribution given the terrible reproduction of our capital social formation but instead we criticize this line as being not only formally incorrect but politically paralyzing.
As stated earlier, those who advance retribution over revolution have necessarily placed ‘morals-in-command’ instead of ‘politics-in-command’. What precisely does this mean? Well, it would be entirely incorrect to say a revolutionary politic should not incorporate some form of ‘ethics’. In fact, a revolutionary party must advance a proletarian ethics which can combat the dominant ideology of a bourgeois ethics and in doing so form the nucleus of an eventually proletarian superstructure. Thus, the point being that politics does not exclude the possibility of some moral orientation especially that which compounds the development of a revolutionary subject. Rather, it is putting ‘morals-in-command’ which excludes the participation of a genuine politics. Politics demands a rational and scientific determination regarding revolutionary action with specific goals in mind (this is a heinous underestimation, for brevity’s sake). ‘Morality’ or the determination by some prevailing ‘moral’ has already drawn a conclusion and is self-aggrandized by its very premise; that there is no need for rational determination or scientific application, what is ‘right’ is right because I observe its rightness and therefore must make it ‘right’.
This principle is incompatible with a (proletarian) social revolution as it effectively limits the range of action, theory, etc. by means of an unsubstantiated assertion. This is not dialectical materialism, this is not historical materialism, and this is not a form of thought which empowers the revolutionary subject. Abstracting indefinitely upon what is moral will leave us only within in our chains. We must resolve to actually transform the world and doing so requires a scientific and dialectical investigation which cannot be co-opted by any given abject moralism.
Furthermore, such a method of formulation and indeed such lines can leave an organization politically paralyzed and forego the development of subjective forces. Precisely so because such retributionary lines alienate potential allies of the proletariat and oppressed peoples but also begin to alienate the subject from its historical role. Upholding a line such as ‘all whites are enemies’ or ‘all men are enemies’ functionally excludes white allies from the struggle against national oppression, racism, and whiteness and respectively men from the struggle against patriarchy, heteronormativity, sexism etc. Hence why so many organizations who adopt these flawed lines toward retribution fail to achieve any political momentum among the masses. Their line is effectively paralyzing.
This is something Mao addresses in his On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People. He highlights the failures of both Right deviation and Left deviation in conceptualizing contradictions within the masses:
Those with a Right deviation in their thinking make no distinction between ourselves and the enemy and take the enemy for our own people. They regard as friends the very persons whom the masses regard as enemies. Those with a “Left” deviation in their thinking magnify contradictions between ourselves and the enemy to such an extent that they take certain contradictions among the people for contradictions with the enemy and regard as counter-revolutionaries persons who are actually not. Both these views are wrong.
I hesitate to refer to such retribution rhetoric as an ultra-leftist line however it would seem as though many ultra-leftists have found a home for this line in their own rhetoric. The attempt to paint potential allies as definitive enemies in the overall ‘struggle’ is a terrible mistake and may sap the vitality of a revolutionary organization. And while it is true certain groups fall into contradiction given certain conditions or points of contention, this does not necessitate the contradiction become antagonistic. In fact, the non-antagonistic contradictions between different groups found in the capitalist social formation are contradictions which can only be resolved through a socialist revolution; this is something Mao made very clear in the same essay above.
Even if we were to concede that there is nothing moralistic about the line of retribution, it is still false. False in the absolute sense of an inability to successfully apply dialectics. For example, if one claims ‘all whites are enemies’ or perhaps more acutely ‘all whites are active oppressors’ we then have to make a series of rational categorizations. First, oppression is a material relationship which is entirely observable and equally intelligible in revolutionary theory. We can observe that there are specific agents of oppression as understood in their ‘identity’ within the contradiction between oppressors and the oppressed. And while oppression cannot be relegated to a few ‘bad apples’ in a greater population this reproduction of power relations tends to become materialized in the conscious efforts of some select oppressors. Furthermore, if we cannot distinguish between the oppressors and non-oppressors then we fall into some postmodern conception of oppression as existing existentially with no actual process of reproduction or internal ‘logic’. This is the real danger of the retribution line and ultra-leftism in certain valves, perhaps.
So what are our goals? We want revolution. We want a real tangible radical and wholly social transformation of the capitalist social formation in progression towards communism. This is what we desire from revolution.
Now, this necessarily entails some ‘morality’ or what ideological foundation would there be for this movement except the technocracy and science fetishism of a few? However we differentiate this on the basis of ‘politics-in-command’ and in specific the science of revolution.
What are their goals? To exact retribution. To make ‘right’ the ‘wrongs’ of the past and present social order by means of some grand and widespread project of justice. This is putting ‘morals-in-command’. Not only is it based on the arbitrary subject of a ‘moral actor’ but it is also politically ineffective, unscientific, undialectical, and often crudely divisive or dogmatic.
So then, which road shall we travel? Shall we travel down the road of revolutionary organization or the subject of ultra-leftism? Revolution requires a real interrogation of our material conditions and the contradictions which compose our contemporary social order. A proper social investigation that can only be undertaken in the guise of a proletarian political hegemony with the goal of social revolution always at the helm. Until we acknowledge this, until we pursue this unrelenting principle of organization, we will never see a revolution materialize and we will always hollowly pontificate on the matter of ‘retribution’.