Anarchism / Marxism debates

Chris Burford cburford at
Wed Aug 18 23:07:54 PDT 1999

At 10:51 18/08/99 -0400, Doug wrote:

>What in god's name would a "revolution" in the U.S. look like? The
>masses storming the White House and the floor of the NYSE? My
>scenario involves fairly classic political work by parties, unions,
>and other organizations. I really don't know what yours does. Please

Have we forgotten that the City of London was stormed on June 18th? Why do we forget this?

Let me explain. I too think that revolutionaries make the best reformers. Often during the long slog of reform work a good revolutionary is indistinguisable from any other conscientious selfless democrat - humanist, christian, or whatever. The art comes in how to combine the long process of struggling to accumulate strength, with an ability to think flexibly, in fact to think dialectically, when sparks of real, qualitative change flare up.

Marx, Engels, and Lenin are all clear that revolution is from one point of view a sudden event but from a more meaningful point of view is a fairly long turbulent period. This period is punctuated by events that have great symbolic significance, like the throwing of tea into Boston harbour, the storming of the Bastille, (even if there were hardly any prisoners to be released), and perhaps we shall look back in years to come, to June 18th 1999 when the City of London was invaded, among others, by anarchists, who did not always behave perfectly correctly.

You may say that June 18th was not a revolution. It may not turn out to be the start of a revolution. BUT it just MIGHT. Certainly it is one of those sparks that spatter across a revolutionary period.

What was unprecedented in world history - literally, not to be pompous - was that it combined rapid world wide integration of knowledge by means of internet technology for the use of radicals, with street action in one city coordinated with an event in another - London - Frankfurt. The power of mass collective action has not been lost through new technology, rather the possibilities have been enhanced.

June 18 had a very high level of reforming planning behind it with sophisticated tactics about street publicity, theatre, protest actions. The "excesses" which happen unsurprisingly in any revolutionary period, were the result of the presence of anarchists (who cannot always be excluded even though there is a fine line between them, genuine revolutionaries, and agent provocateurs), some alcohol, and an incident in which a woman was run over by a police vehicle when the police, significantly, had lost control of the situation.

One cannot predict when such events will occur in Wall Street, but there is no genetic reason why Americans are not capable of as much courage, determination, impulsivity. What is needed is an extensive campaign for reforms in which genuine revolutionaries play a part.

That is why we must not lose sight of the core features of marxism, not just despite their excessively abstract nature, but because of it: dialectics, the law of value, materialism.

Philosophically it is necessary always to be able to grasp the interconnection between the abstract and the concrete. It is necessary always to think in terms of contradictions. It is necessary to have an *immanent* analysis of everything that is happening around us.

Do not let us under-estimate the speed of change. In England individuals with no doubt anarchist weaknesses are working alongside more dedicated reformers in sympathy with a very wide stratum of public opinion against the capitalist pressure to revolutionise the forces of agricultural production through genetic engineering. On the surface it is literally reactionary, petty bourgeois nonsense, as Jim Heartfield will penetratingly critique. Underneath the surface, where marxists should always look, it has the momentum to ensure that more GM crops are destroyed in Britain, and mass demonstrations occur. Much more it has the potential for a vaste swathe of US goods being barred from access to European markets and a massive trade war between US and Europe. At stake will be the very issue of the relations of production, whether they are under the control of society, or under the private control of the owners of capital. It will be a fight on a world scale.

Highly complex.

Much as we desire the simplicity of apparently simple emotions, such revolutionary periods are complex. Many difficult questions about the interrelationship of different peoples, groups, forces, tendencies. Everything will depend on whether a broadly democratic front can hold together a consensus and deal with internal contradictions non-antagonistically, better than the forces of capitalism can fragment and dissipate the movement.

That is why the best reformers work on a daily basis on the interrelationship between the most abstract and the most concrete. For this we need the marxist concepts of dialectical materialism, and the law of value.

Perhaps we should say successful revolution is 80% slog, 20% dialectics. Except that we need dialectics 100% of the time to make the best use of the slog for when the openings for rapid qualitative advance occur.

Chris Burford


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list