The idea of revolution belongs to the early modern, the period in which the phenomenon first appeared. To conservatives we should note that the first revolutions were the Reformation. The English Civil War shows the core birth period, followed by the reactionary phasing that ended in the comprised British liberalism, and this influenced the American Revolutionary War. The French Revolution reset the genre and then the failed revolutions of 1848 cast the issue into the future, one future being the Russian Revolution. The exceptional character of the latter has influenced all subsequent thinking on revolution. But the reality is that revolutionary action cannot be sidelined in favor of limited activist forms. We need not reject the latter: we need a continuum of efforts, and most of all a revolution to postcapitalism that springs from the core revolutionary legacy of the early modern, but with a difference: the system in question gyrates around the core reality of freedom. The bourgeois revolutions were really a capitalist revolution. The communist revolutions ended up anti-democratic. So the ‘end of history’ gyration rejecting the first is now moving to reject the second, the neoliberal tyranny of the end of the twentieth century. So tip your hat to Fukuyama: the system is on the move again trying to reach the ‘end of history’ beyond capitalist neoliberalism. And not a moment too soon given the sheer nullity of the capitalist elites confronting climate calamity. We are not obliged to submit to Exxon’s profit line at the expense of a planet. It is hard to believe the degree of monomaniacal focus on the economic by the corporate juggernaut.
But the issue is more than the question of climate. The primordial issue is the status of the Commons and the the two century privatization of the Commons that capitalism has spawned. The oil in the ground out there does NOT belong to corporations. It belongs to Commons, thence to humanity. So our responsibility is to expropriate the Commons. It is not negotiable. The longer we wait the worse will be the fight for the future of man with the alternative of permanent oligarchic domination, or worse.
Many wish to coopt the term ‘revolution’ for non-revolutionary action. It is an understandable impulse and we can hardly prevent shifting semantics, but let us stand back as witnesses ready to see if these efforts end up compromised failures.
The issue of revolution is defined by its exemplars, as such. We should recall the onset of the French Revolution: a few weeks of street demonstrations brought down the whole legacy of Frency monarchy. The Russian Revolution was thus similar. Systems at their endstate simply collapsed to groups of street demonstrators. The later Bolshevik phase is and remains controversial. It generated immense opposition, and fought a harsh civil war. That, to me, at least in part, is due to the failure to properly define what was to come out of the liberal revolution of the 1917 February phase.
In our current situation we have no excuse to fail again. We need a clear postmarxist (since the marxist canon was ultimately responsible for the bolshevik failure) canon that grows out of the original but which is entirely a fresh statement, and one that grows out of democracy, albeit failed democracy. The burden of the task has grown to something hard to reckon, because now it includes the issues of national security states, wars on terror, covert agencies and their conspiracies, and the whole global imperialistic degeneration of the American state.
A neo-communism, or in a variant market neo-communism, must get it right, and it must be able to free itself from the older legacy.
It is not true that ‘revolution’ has to be some utoptian fantasy or a bloody revolution. As the crisis deepens a million man march in Washington could properly derail the whole system. So the counsel of despair is really a sign the system ideology has once again bewitched activists.