Kjersti Ericsson:
The polyphonus revolution

The two models

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I am going to set two models or clear-cut pictures of the struggle for socialism against each other. The first picture represents the classic, socialistic model. It could, perhaps, be compared to a mighty, united wave which rolls forward sweeping along everything in its path (A). The other picture is concerned more with multitudinousness and contradictions. There is not one wave here, instead, there are many currents which cause the capitalist ship to wreck (B).

These two models have different views on:

These are the two models' views on how socialism's foundation is formed:

A: Capitalism develops the means of production, production becomes more social, more concentrated. Capitalism penetrates everywhere, bursting the old, pre-capitalistic conditions of production and forming large industrial production. This process will gradually take place all over the world. In this way the economic foundation is formed so that socialistic conditions of production can be introduced after a revolution.

B: Capitalism and imperialism as a system will unavoidably lead to polarization in capitalistic centers and capitalistic periphery. The periphery can never become "economically ripe for socialism" in the classical sense within the framework of capitalism. Liberation from capitalism and imperialism, and the building of a new society, must therefore spring from many, radically different, starting-points. Nor is everything re-made into large industry and production of goods. The unpaid work outside of capitalistic production makes up a large part of the total work done in society. In the capitalistic centers, too, the new society will have to take as its starting-point an economy where non-capitalistic production in small units within the framework of the family is an important characteristic .

This is how the two models view revolutionary force:

A: Capitalism produces its own slayers, the modern industrial proletariat. Capitalism brings up, disciplines and educates this class in the role they are to play in the new society. This class has, in the main, united interests. The foundation for the liberation of women is that women take part in "social production" and thereby become part of this class, become more like the men of this class. In the poor countries, too, it is necessary that an industrialization take place which can form the foundation for a modern proletariat. Until this has happened these countries are not ripe for a socialistic revolution.

B: The force which will carry through the revolution and building of the new society, is not united, neither on a world basis, nor within each society. The working class and working people in the capitalistic centers and periphery have different material and social situations, partially different interests and different consciousness. The same thing applies to black and white, women and men. A common struggle cannot build on everyone being the same. It must build on an alliance where different starting-points are respected, where contradictions and oppressive conditions are brought out into the open and worked on.

This is how the models view the task the revolutionary force must perform:

A: The task of the revolutionary working class is to "pluck" the economy which capitalism has ripened for socialism, take the power away from the bourgeoisie, eradicate the anarchy of capitalistic competition and steer the social, concentrated, large industry economy according to a whole plan.

B: The task of the revolutionary force is to shape an economic development which serves the majority and takes care of nature. Also the task is to create as much equality as possible through necessary differentiation in treatment. And it is to give people more power and control over their own living conditions. The plan must be built up from below, taking people's daily life as a starting point.

And this is how they view the shaping of future society:

A: A planned economy steered by the working class will be the foundation for an even faster development of the means of production, which will gradually reduce the time spent on material production. A society of plenty will set in, people can receive according to needs and render according to ability, the only form of equality which does no violence to the indisputable fact that people are made differently. Further, there will no longer be a material foundation on which to differentiate a special class or special stratum to govern society. The classless, communistic society will set in.

B: The new society can not, in the main, be built from a starting-point where the production of the necessities of life takes a minimum of time. Therefore there is a foundation for developing a new governing stratum. To keep the people in power, those forces that are against this type of development must be organized. That means, among other things, building up power from below, by taking the common people's interests, experiences and everyday reality as the starting point in the production of knowledge, production of technology and in the economic strategy. This is impossible if all important planning and production of knowledge goes on in a center at the top, instead of in many centers at the grass roots level.

The first picture I have sketched (in a simplified form with no nuances), and which I have called the classical model of socialism, is a grand system of ideas with an integral, inner logic. And it is built on real features developing in history and society, observed and summed up by central, socialistic theoreticians, such as Marx and Engels. Marx and Engels wanted to grasp the important aspects in the developmental history of society, and show how a new form of society, socialism and communism, were necessary consequences of the development of capitalism. In the main, this is the model which has been called "scientific socialism". The use of the term "scientific socialism" is meant to convey a strategy for socialism which does not build on pretty wishes and ideal ideas constructed in the heads of people who dream of a better world, but on real historical and social processes. These processes can be gruesome and lead to enormous suffering. Marx' views on this are illustrated clearly in his writings on India. As is usual with him, he does no beautifying when describing capitalism's and colonialism's terrible brutality. And yet (Marx, "The British rule in India", p. 172, from K. Marx and F. Engels, Articles on Britain, Moscow, 1971):

"England, it is true, in causing a social revolution (destroyed the traditional social conditions, author's comment.) in Hindustan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfill its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution."

The mighty wave must roll on, literally over dead bodies. It is impossible to make the wheels of history run backwards. But the struggle of the working class can make them roll on more quickly. Beyond the suffering and horrors the new society may be glimpsed, a society where capitalism's inherent contradictions are solved through a socialistic revolution, and the enormous forces of production may be used in a planned way for the good of the majority.

This model also has a political/organizational aspect, which we usually think of in connection with Lenin. The class struggle must be led by a party which expresses the interests of the "slayers of capitalism", the modern industrial proletariat. Since it is the task of the class struggle to make the wheels of history turn more quickly, the party must be a "conscious element" with insight into the laws for the development of society. The party must supply the struggling working class with this consciousness, so that the class can fight with, and not against, history. Comintern, too, which in practice was a world party for co-ordinating the struggle in many different countries, arose within this tradition. It is not surprising that the model with the mighty, united wave also led to the idea of a mighty, united world party.

The classical socialistic model has been emptied of its revolutionary contents in two rounds. The result of the first round became social democratic reformism, which in our times appears as common capitalistic growth philosophy and developmental optimism. The results of the second round became the centralized, oppressing bureaucratic regimes in Eastern Europe which are now falling apart or being swept away.

So what are those of us who think that the world never had a greater need of revolutionary change supposed to do now? Shall we hunt our way to the original revolutionary socialistic model, dust it off and use it again? Or is something more than revolutionary fundamentalism needed?

I think the last possibility is the right one. Because the picture of the mighty wave went awry at a pretty early stage in socialism's history. Lenin, and even more clearly Mao, made the point that the appearance of imperialism had created a new situation. The old form of bourgeois revolution, which cleared away feudal social features and created the basis for a national capitalism (which in its turn could ripen society for socialism) was no longer possible. It was clear to Mao that the poor countries had to carry through a new type of revolution which he called "new democratic": a broad alliance, from the working class and poor peasants to the national bourgeoisie, tore itself away from imperialism and rid itself of feudal remnants. But instead of building a national capitalism, new democracy was just a first step in a socialistic development of society. Attempts to build a national capitalism would of necessity end in a new colonial and imperialistic oppression. World developments since the victory of the Chinese revolution in 1949 have proved clearly that Mao was right in his view.

This meant that the mighty wave was broken, with widespread and unclear consequences for socialist theory and practice. Since then more has been added: the women's movement has uncovered the enormous mass of unpaid work outside of capitalistic production which is done by women all over the world. Capitalism does not look the way bourgeois economy and traditional Marxism have described it in their common, one-eyed concentration on the things that are produced for the market. Also, the huge destruction of the environment has made the idea that the conditions for socialism must mature through continued uncontrolled capitalistic development, absurd. In that case the mighty wave doesn't only have to roll over dead bodies, it must roll, in time, over an earth which has become uninhabitable.

These are conditions which socialist theory cannot ignore. It is "the mighty wave" which appears utopic now, if we, by utopic, mean remote from reality. Many of the premises for socialistic theory and political practice have changed. Perhaps the other model I have sketched, could capture some important aspects of today's world, and aid us when we must act. I wish to try out this perspective in this book.

But it is not only the many changes in the real world since the times of the "classical Marxists", which make it necessary to try out new perspectives. Everyone, even the greatest revolutionary thinkers and leaders, are prisoners of their society and times. They carry an inheritance "under their skin" which colors their thought and actions, and the movements of which they are a part. This inheritance can be enlarged and coarsened in time as it passes to new generations.

The problem with the "classical" tradition is not that it is too revolutionary. The problem, instead, is that it is not revolutionary enough. Parts of the old society's value system have hibernated with the new, the revolutionary. The view that the oppressed, despised classes, the working class, poor peasants in the Third World, are heroes and history's motor, is a viewpoint so utterly in conflict with accepted and ingrained values that it is a struggle to take it seriously, even for those who have this view as their political raison d'être.

That those whose position is even lower, the women of these classes, should have any other role than to wait modestly in the background until the men of the revolution hand them liberation as a gift, and that they even have their own ideas as to what liberation is, not just for themselves, but for mankind - is unbelievably difficult to grasp. And that mankind is not nature's master, with an inevitable right to use, control and rule, is a question which has lain outside of the political field of vision.

There is a need to make a more thorough settlement with the capitalistic and patriarchic tradition than that which revolutionaries have accomplished as yet. It will be a settlement with elements which far and away are common ground both for the tradition in which revolutionaries have placed themselves and that against which they have fought.


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