Lessons of the English revolution (part 3): The revolutionary movement of the exploited (1647-49)

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Lazarus
Lessons of the English revolution (part 3): The revolutionary movement of the exploited (1647-49)
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Lessons of the English revolution (part 3): The revolutionary movement of the exploited (1647-49). The discussion was initiated by Lazarus.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Lazarus
Just read through the three

Just read through the three articles.

 

At one point, in the opinion of the ICC,was the victory of the working class possible? 

 

Is it possible to say that it has never been possible until the present, that all the failures were a necessity.  I don't subscribe to that opinion, but  think some do.

 

Communism seems to have two meanings, one, the post capitalist society, and two the movement within class society which eventually topples that society. Obviously the two are the same process, but perhaps it is useful to distinguish between them.

 

For example, one could say communism was present before even this period, in the shape of slave revolts etc, but  had no chance of successfully  replacing the regimes of the time. 

 

 

LoneLondoner
When was the revolution possible?

Lazarus wrote:

Is it possible to say that it has never been possible until the present, that all the failures were a necessity.  I don't subscribe to that opinion, but  think some do.

A brief reply to your question, though the reply may raise yet more questions of course!

First of all, two basic points:

1) For Marx, a revolutionary overthrow of the existing order is only possible once that order has reached a certain stage of development, where the existing relations of production enter into conflict with the forces of production. That's a rather obscure phrase, just said like that, but if we think of capitalist society then (in our view) what it means is that the proletarian revolution against capitalism is only possible once capitalism has created the world market, and the private, national property relations that characterise capitalism enter into conflict with the forces of production which capitalism itself has called into being: a way of producing, in other words, based on the international association of labour. 

2) This point, we think, was reached in 1914 (obviously it wasn't like flipping a light switch, but the date gives you a reference point). In saying this, we are following the 3rd International which spoke of a new "epoch of war and revolution". At this point, proletarian revolution became a possibility.

That said, the proletariat (which is the only revolutionary class - we can come back to that if you like) must also have the consciousness which renders it capable of carrying out the revolution. And because the communist revolution can only be world wide, then we are talking about an international consciousness.

So, there are objective and subjective conditions which determine the possibility of revolution. The objective conditions have been ripe since 1914, but the subjective conditions have only been present during the "revolutionary wave" which ran from - roughly - Petrograd 1917 to Shanghai 1927. The key moment in this period was the German revolution, which was actually a very close-run thing, much more so than is generally thought. You might be interested in this series of articles on the German revolution.

Lazarus wrote:

Communism seems to have two meanings, one, the post capitalist society, and two the movement within class society which eventually topples that society. Obviously the two are the same process, but perhaps it is useful to distinguish between them.

Quite so, absolutely. Marx was always against trying to draw blueprints for the future (as the utopians did), but we can try to see the seeds of the future communist society within the present.

Lazarus wrote:

For example, one could say communism was present before even this period, in the shape of slave revolts etc, but  had no chance of successfully  replacing the regimes of the time. 

Again, I agree. In fact this is one of the themes explored in our book on "Communism: not just a nice idea but a material necessity".

PS: I don't want to seem neurotically tidy, but there is no need to leave blanks between the lines! The site itself takes care of that.

red flag
Whilst the communist

Whilst the communist revolution the end of the exploitation, poverty, wars human suffering, as an idea existed in peoples minds for centuries it was not until the development of capitalism that such an idea could be realised in practice.  I think it was Engels who pointed out to the utopian socialists that before the advent of capitalism as a global system that if there had been a communist revolution then all that would have entailed would have been generalised poverty simply because the previous form of the mode of production would be incapable of meeting all human needs.

 

jk1921
There has actually been some

There has actually been some reconsideration of the idea that communism requires industrial capitalism. This idea has been developed primarily around the idea of the "commons" and the notion that there could have been a non-captialist transition to modernity, predicated upon the commons. Linebaugh and Rediker seem to argue something similar in their book Many Headed Hydra with the idea that the emergence of wage labor was far from a foregone conclusion in the early modern "Atlantic Economy." The pirates, maroon communities, etc. offered another possibility for an associated humanity. It took the use of massive violence by the state, in particular the use of captial punishment, to eradicate this alternative and assure the victory of wage labor.

Lazarus
May be a bit academic but I'm

May be a bit academic but I'm fairly sure the ICT would say the possibility of successful revolution presented well before 1914. Can't immediately locate the document,, but will post if I do.

MH (not verified)
Just to add to what people

Just to add to what people have said so far on this, part 3 ends with the failure of the Diggers because, fundamentally, capitalism itself had not yet reached the stage where there was a working class capable of challenging it; the limitation and the tragedy of Winstanley's vision of communism was ultimately that it was agrarian, based on common ownership of land, rather than on an industrial proletariat, but it could hardly have been otherwise given the period, and the Diggers' defeat was followed by the capitalist agricultural and industrial revolutions and the unprecedented expansion of English capital. I seem to remember in the debates between EP Thompson and Perry Anderson about the English revolution there is a brief discussion of 'what if' the Levellers had managed to seize political power in 1649; the conclusion being that, given the level of productive forces, they would have found themselves presiding over a progressive nationalist capitalist regime.  This isn't to be indifferent to the question; maybe such a development would have helped accelerate the emergence of the proletariat, and the condition of the proletariat may have been better, it's hard to speculate, but hopefully it underlines the basic point that, despite the undoubted radicalism of the revolution, the conditions for overthrowing capitalism did not yet exist in England, let alone the rest of the world. Interesting discussion though... 

Lazarus
The proletariat coming to

The proletariat coming to power means a transitional period opens.
That would involve a fairly strict system of reward accoding to input (though money could vanish immediately) and a gradual move to free goods and services according to need). The higher the development of capitalism, the shorter the transitional period, but I think this supports the idea of the workking class being able to come to piwer at a relatively early stage of capitalist development.

Water under the bridge but maybe it gives an overview of what the opening shots of post capitalist society could be like, a gradual move towards free provision and away from a strict relationship between work performed and reward.

MH (not verified)
Just to be clear, yes, in the

Just to be clear, yes, in the context of a communist revolution, once the proletariat seizes power a transitional period opens, but in the original context of this discussion (ie the English bourgeois revolution), IF the Levellers had come to power they would have represented the interests not of the proletariat but of the petty bourgeoisie and small producers; the majority of the English radicals vigorously defended the right to property for that reason and they would quite naturally have defended 'their' capitalist property. So I don't think this particular example supports the idea of an early transition to communism. 

LoneLondoner
When does the transitional period begin?

One thing that is sometimes ambiguous is when the transitional period begin? To be precise, the communist revolution can only be a world revolution, because capitalism is a world system. The transitional period proper therefore begins, not with the seizure of power in one country but with the world wide seizure of power. 

This means that the possibility of proletarian revolution is dependent on the existence of capitalism on a world basis, ie on the existence of the world market. In the 17th century, capitalism was still very far from being a world system. The creation of the world market, as Marx called it, is only really in place by the time we get to the end of the 19th century.

Lazarus
As soon as the proletariat

As soon as the proletariat seizes power anywhere it begins in my opinion.

I think money would immediately go, it would not be accepted by the capitalist powers.

Economic measures (though it is probably futile to separate the economic/social/political) would be immediately implemented of a non capitalist nature.

A little example, soup ktchens during strikes. Voluntary labour as occured in the Russian Saturdays. An attempt to get the unemployed into work, decisions about eliminating whole sectors like advertising.

For sure it would be messy and TRANSITIONAL, but I can't see a successful insurrection not making inroads on every front from day 1.

The formulation of the question seems a bit idealist, as if theory trumped reality.

I think an isolated bastion could hold out, but I wouldn't put a time scale on it.

LoneLondoner
Take another look at history...

Lazarus wrote:
As soon as the proletariat seizes power anywhere it begins in my opinion. I think money would immediately go, it would not be accepted by the capitalist powers. Economic measures (though it is probably futile to separate the economic/social/political) would be immediately implemented of a non capitalist nature.

This is not what happened in Russia, which is the only example we have to go on. The Russian state had to start trading with the capitalists very quickly, exchanging raw materials for machinery. Whether this was done using money or by barter in the first instance is immaterial: in general terms, the capitalists were of course out to make a profit, which means that the working class was still being exploited. In the end of course, the Russians were forced to pay in hard (foreign) currency, which meant exploiting their own workers in order to get goods to sell for hard currency, to buy the equipment they needed.

I agree that non capitalist (or rather, anti-capitalist) measures would be adopted straight away, but as long as exchange continues to exist (rather than production/distribution for need) then we cannot properly talk about a "transition period".

And the situation will be much more difficult if ever the working class seized power in just one country now: if the workers seized power in the UK only, where would the oil come from? or the food? or any of the immense number of imported products which are a vital part of day-to-day life.

In my view, this way of formulating the question is not idealist in the least, but intensely practical: theory must explain and anticipate reality...

Fred
Can theory really anticipate

Can theory really anticipate reality, LoneLondoner? I thought that communist theory derived from the practice of the working class, rather than being concocted in somebody's head, and it is that which makes it so reliable. We draw our lessons (our theory) after the event, not before. It's a small point. But relevant.

With regard to the excellent article about the English revolution; in many ways class consciousness, specially among the soldiers, seemed to be much better then than it is now, 360 years later! Where have we gone wrong? Has population size got anything to do with it; huge populations being more open to mass confusion and bewilderment at tbe hands of bourgeois ideology, than the much smaller one of 17th century England?

Another striking point is: " the programme of the Diggers demanded a level of organisation of the landless wage labourers that did not yet exist..." Nothing much has changed! The programme of the communist left still demands a level of organization of wage laborers that doesn't as yet exist, only now we have the unions to contend with as well. Apart from the over-ripe conditions for tbe overthrow of world capitalism, we hardly seem to be any better off at all. Though we have learned a number of vital lessons from past mistakes, and have a greater theoretical grasp of what not to do!

Lazarus
Yep, looks like we are back

Yep, looks like we are back to the same old same old.

1968 hooray, 1980s years of truth, historic course...decomposition, parasitism, doom and gloom, the prole is watching X factor and Xbox 360...

Manic depression, bipolar swing, Father why hast thou forsaken me....

The bourgeoisie has a vast arsenal of methods to keep the proletariat in a state of non revolutionary consciousness which have become ever stronger. School, media, politics, unions etc etc, ever more powerfully present, plus the tremendous upswing in consumption and living standards at least in certain areas and certain times.

The fact is the working class will not automatically and naturally acquire revolutionary consciousness .

The small segment of the class, and those who come from outside but have arrived at the revolutionary perspective are relatively powerless in the face of this edifice of ideology but for the one decisive factor of the capitalist crisis which breaks down the opiate of bourgeois fairy tales and creates the fertile soil for generalisation of revolutionary consciousness . The crisis has to deepen, the memory of stable post war times fade, the negative factors multiply, and even then the energy of the revolutionary minority may or may not prevail as the alternative''solution'' to crisis may transpire- war.
The criis is a process of irreversible (outside of generalised destruction on the scale of imperialist war) mounting intensity, breaching the successive schemes to contain it, finally naked and open, which I think both the ICC and the ICT agree is now, despite differences in analysis as to how it arose and developped.

LoneLondoner
Communist theory

Fred wrote:
Can theory really anticipate reality, LoneLondoner? I thought that communist theory derived from the practice of the working class, rather than being concocted in somebody's head, and it is that which makes it so reliable

Perhaps one should distinguish between "communism", which Marx described as "the real movement going on under our eyes" as opposed to blueprints concocted in somebody's head, and marxism which Marx I think would have called historical materialism, and which is a much vaster view of social development throughout history.

If we think about what communist society would be like, then we are talking about projecting into the future the germs of communism that we can see in the present; in this sense we are anticipating reality. But in fact there is a constant to and fro between theory and practice (or there should be) so that theory constantly corrects itself on the basis of practice. And theory should always be open to doubt, ie the possibility that we may not fully appreciate reality.

Fred wrote:
The criis is a process of irreversible (outside of generalised destruction on the scale of imperialist war) mounting intensity, breaching the successive schemes to contain it, finally naked and open

Well, I would agree with this I think. There are those who argue (I know I have often heard people say, when they despair of the present, "we need a good war to start it all over") that a generalised war would allow the system to start off again on a "healthy" basis, like after 1945. But in our view the post-1945 reconstruction was a "one-off" which cannot be repeated.

jk1921
Generalized Imperialist War?

LoneLondoner wrote:

There are those who argue (I know I have often heard people say, when they despair of the present, "we need a good war to start it all over") that a generalised war would allow the system to start off again on a "healthy" basis, like after 1945. But in our view the post-1945 reconstruction was a "one-off" which cannot be repeated.

It can't be repeated because the conditions for a generalized imperialist war do not exist and it is difficult to see them developing anytime in the near future. Moreover, the existence of nuclear weapons capable of wiping out human civilization altogether would make a generalized imperialist war today something from which it would probably be impossible to recover from.

What is possible is the proliferation of numerous localized small wars that over time contribute to the overall decomposition of the system--and that appears to be exactly what we are witnessing today. But these localized wars simply don't have the "creative destructive" punch necessary to revive the flailing economy.