Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why I'm a revolutionary communist

I'm a revolutionary communist, but not because I have some burning desire to change the world or any real grievance, personal or social, against the capitalist system. At heart, I'm very conservative: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And if a system can creep along, grinding down only two thirds of the population, I have some sympathy with the argument that the system ain't broke enough to replace it entirely. Not because I'm indifferent to the suffering of billions, but because any student of history knows the terrible costs of revolution to those selfsame billions, even when revolution is inevitable or obviously justified.

I'm a revolutionary communist because I see the portents of catastrophic failure of liberal capitalism. If liberal capitalists were to say with truth that they were actually improving the lives and well-being of all humanity, however slowly, my innate conservatism would side with them. And indeed for most of my life I really did side with them. I've always been a "progressive", wanting to ameliorate the conditions of all humanity, but I accepted — not entirely blindly — the foundations of capitalist society, especially the private ownership of capital and the small-r republican style of government.

But for most of my life, from the mid-1970s to the present, the well-being has declined for most humanity, including all but the highest levels of the capitalist class and the professional-managerial middle class. It's more apparent in hindsight than it was at the time, especially since personally I had found a niche where my own well-being and standard of living almost effortlessly rose over two decades.

I'm of course irritated and displeased that I personally have been unceremoniously ejected (twice!) from the professional-managerial middle class, and my change in status has led me to question a lot of assumptions about liberal capitalism, but I don't nurse much of a grievance. I'm a resourceful and clever guy, with a good personal support system. I know I'll do reasonably well; I won't face homelessness and starvation. And I'm enjoying my life more, much more, on $25,000 a year than I did only a few years ago on $180,000. If the liberal capitalist system as a whole were working, I wouldn't be at all aggrieved by the changes in my personal fortunes, even though these changes were thrust upon me, since even in a time of crisis I'm still doing quite well by my own standards.

But the system as a whole isn't working. What's happened to me is happening in one way or another to a hundred million people in the United States, and a billion around the world, and most of them have neither my enormous social privilege nor the "philosophical" resources I happen to have developed. And there are only a very few slots to avoid a personal catastrophe for someone such as myself to find as much by luck as by cleverness, diligence and talent. I'm selfish enough to keep my privileged slot, but I'm observant enough not to assume that because I personally (at least presently) found a slot that a slot exists for everyone, if only they choose to take it.

I'm a revolutionary communist in no small part because a revolution is already underway. I'm not really fighting against liberal capitalism; I'm fighting against the Randian reactionary revolution that's overwhelming liberal capitalism. It's been a "slow" revolution, because it was a revolution against a political-economic system that — while very far from perfect — was working fairly efficiently and making real gains for a hundred million people. The first thirty years of the Randian revolution was spent in an effort to undermine liberal capitalism. And the last bastion of liberal capitalism in the capitalist ruling class — the liberal billionaires and their representatives in the "progressive" wing of the Democratic party — show no sign of even understanding, much less resisting, this revolutionary tide.

My major "conservative" objection to revolution — even a "good" revolution — is no longer operative: whether I like it or not, a revolution is underway. And it's a bad revolution, a revolution that is explicitly intent on making life worse for all but the handful of people at the very top, a revolution in which I can see the portents of intentional genocide and mass-murder on a Hitlerian scale. The Randians will find that people are more resilient than they think — the mediocre in large numbers have surprising resources — and will not implode in self-destruction as quickly as they think. There will be, I think, increasing motivation and will to accelerate that destruction, and actively perpetrate it to achieve the purity of values that is the heart of the Randian reactionary revolution.

The Randian revolution too is doing all of the morally questionable work of any mass movement, especially destroying the social institutions — e.g. church*, family, neighborhood, labor union — that give individuals a sense of "belonging" and solidarity, and forcing those individuals into one mass movement or another to find that solidarity. Indeed this morally questionable work might prevent me from supporting any mass movement de nuovo; but given that a bad revolution has already destroyed these institutions, and only a competing mass movement can resist and finally overthrow the Randians, these moral issues are eased, in exactly the same sense that a physician has more moral license to experiment on a patient — with her consent — who is suffering and moribund: the first canon is "do no harm", but what more harm can be done?

*The role of churches in providing belonging and solidarity for frustrated individuals within a system and the changes necessary to for churches to organize frustrated individuals into a mass movement to implement a new system are complicated. That the role of churches can be so easily co-opted lies at the heart of my specifically atheist contempt of religion in general.

A revolution is already happening. I am not so much to foment revolution but to foment a counter-revolution.

1 comment:

  1. Scott Mange9/25/10, 7:51 PM

    Thanks Larry for posting this. I've not been back to your blog in a little while (arguing for communism at my local newspaper's blog and reading Das Capital and going to a socialist party meeting Sunday) but always, always, always, look forward to what you write.

    I came across a new author I'd like to turn you on to if you've not yet heard of him; Joe Bageant ( ). I'm about finished with his book DEER HUNTING WITH JESUS and it's heart breaking. I wish everyone in power could read it.

    As long as I'm sending you stuff, I found a great essay here:

    Best wishes to you and yours from me and mine.


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