The possibility of reformation of the economic system to a degree where citizens may enjoy a standard of living similar to the 'middle classes' in the 20th century may not exist (as implied in the previous article). This article will make the argument that even if reformation was possible, doing so is not desirable. But, that is debatable.
Reformation aims to maintain the existing institutions, tweaking them to suit our needs. Revolution on the other hand, aims to take control of the institutions that dominate our lives. It aims to place control of them into the hands of those that have made them work in the first place. It aims to remove control from those that have a goal in mind and one goal only. To serve themselves to the detriment of everybody else. Instead, the aim should be to abolish or change institutions that do not serve the public good.
Fundamentally, the plight of the general population is the same now as it was for hundreds of years under feudalism. Under feudalism, wealth was created on the ground and made its way, forcibly, to the lords and monarchs. The serfs, slaves, of yesterday and wages slaves today have little control of the whims of power that control our lives. Under feudalism, power was exercised through violent repression. Whatever arbitrary whim His majesty may entertain, at His pleasure, would be adhered to. Under capitalism, it is not a matter of arbitrary decisions made by some personality with power but rather, the fluctuations of global capital dictate life on the ground.
These fluctuations and processes affect us and our response is far from homogeneous. On the one hand citizens swallow the notion that we have but two choices; free market capitalism (so called) or, communist totalitarianism. They will naturally gravitate toward reform (if they can muster any tolerance of change at all). The second strain will see a myriad of choices about how we can produce and distribute goods and services. Unfortunately for the former group, there has never been any system and probably never will be as radical and shape shifting as capitalism. Especially now. Instability and insecurity are two features the system will never shake. Just when we get used to certain ways of doing things, more efficient and innovative means are invented. The results can be both good and bad.
In times of great upset and insecurity, as are occurring now, more radical overall changes are demanded by citizens, many of whom are now out of work and without income. They become less reform minded and demand revolutionary change. We are entering these times. The days of relative stability and security are behind us.
The Current Context
Over the past three decades the so-called 1% have declared, through institutions like the World Bank, the IMF, and their runners (politicians), that government is the enemy and particularly, wealth redistribution. They have called for alarming reductions in government influence and control of financial and non financial matters. And as we have seen, they have ensured that government programs and institutions that serve the 99% are reduced or abolished but have made sure that the 1% is protected through bailouts and vast sums spent on their collective bodyguard, the military. As has been observed, it is a system of socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor.
The upper classes, the 1%, are fast becoming explicit controllers of states. They are tossing political baggage such as Berlusconi and Papandreaou out into the street. Governments have been put into the hands of economists in the service of his majesty's pleasure. They demand, through the IMF and other sock puppets that governments follow the neo liberal line to the letter. This always means; privatize and control everything that can be bought and sold and to slash and burn anything and everything that looks like wealth distribution. The infrastructure that large portions of the population relied upon can't be scrapped quick enough for them. We are entering a bizarre and frightening twilight zone.
In response to all this, citizens are voicing outrage and disaffection with the capitalist system itself. Mainstream media and wealthy capital gamblers repeat endlessly the lie that the protesters do not articulate their anger. And in the meantime, the protesters repeat, over and over and over again that the top 1% have everything and are taking more and they (we), the general population, have little and are getting less. Implicit in this complaint is a call to end the capitalist system altogether. Perhaps the ruling class can't hear it out of disbelief; they may be in a state of shock and awe.
Protests like this are not altogether new. Prior to the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre, anti-capitalist protests were large and angry. The most memorable occurred in Seattle and in Quebec City. They were spreading and becoming a force to be reckoned with. After 9 11, the protests disappeared, the mood changed.
Anti capitalist protests had been absent in the heart of the hegemony prior the Seattle/Quebec City uprisings. Protests themselves however, are nothing new. We have become accustomed to single issue protests that are implicitly reformist in nature. There were civil rights protests, women's rights, gay rights, environmental protests, and protests for many various issues. They all had in common the underlying desire to tweak the system, to make the plight of a certain segment of the population better.
Protests against capitalism itself are a direct result of the excesses of modern monopoly capitalism. This is a result of neo liberal policies that have been shoved down our collective throats. This is a result of the policies of governments that have been at the beck and call of the ruling class. These statements would be viewed as excessively radical and unrealistic only a few short years ago. Now, they are hardly controversial.
Organizing A Substantial Movement
The breadth and depth of this organic movement is truly revolutionary. This movement is both radical and widespread. These are the conditions that make capitalist monarchs shudder, and with good reason. These are conditions that are revolutionary. The capitalist world is pregnant with revolution.
Thus far however, the comfortable minority have little to fear. So far, it is a protest movement and that's all it is. This movement is simply a reaction to excessive money hoarding and Imperial brutality. To take it a step farther would require organization.
Taking that step requires vision. An alternative to the status quo needs to be articulated. What would that society look like? How do we get there?
For the most part, much of our collective mentality is mired in traditional reformist mode. Reformation is all about redistributing wealth and tinkering and modifying the current system. At this point, there isn't much stomach for it either in the halls of parliament or on the ground. There certainly is not any ideas about redistribution of wealth amongst the rulers of us all. It's not that they don't want to. They couldn't, even if they did want to. The reasons for that are discussed in the previous article (Reform or Revolution: Facing Into the Abyss).
We are collectively in a bit of a pickle, so to speak. Do nothing and we are going to lose jobs, homes, and many of our vital needs. We need to do something but we are utterly unorganized. We can continue to protest. We can complain and make noise. But so what?
Our first step is to bring the debate out into the open. We need to reach some consensus as to where we go from here and we need consensus on broad goals. Will we aim to reform the crippled capitalist system? Can we? These questions need debate. If we can, and if we want to, let's get at it. Let's work together and make sure it happens. If we agree that we cannot, we have a lot of work to do.
At this point we need to sustain the protest movement. And as it develops, we will need to build solidarity and alliances. We need to develop broad goals and specific tactics. Secondly, we need to formalize alliances between individual organizers, writers, news outlets, and organizations. We need to call on past reformist groups; women's rights, gay rights, unions, anti-poverty activists, greens, and reds. We also need socialists, communists, social democratic parties, anarchists and we need to communicate in a genuine way. We need to accommodate and compromise within this movement and we need to develop a vision; a grand goal.
There will be distrust and conflict within the movement but that cannot deter us. There will be great efforts to fracture and splinter the movement. There will be fights among broad sections and there will be groups aimed at controlling and commandeering it. In response, we accept nothing less than democracy. If the majority want reform, we reform. If the majority want revolutionary changes, we aim for that. If the majority want to live off the avails of crass capitalism, so be it. It is vital to listen to others and to be willing to change our minds.
Let the best, and hopefully the most democratic and rational arguments carry the day. Now is no time to be rigid. The time for energetic, honest, and fearless debate has arrived.
One thing is clear. Reform occurs only when the threat of revolution is real.