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Objective Conditions July 28, 2005 by RedStar2000


Here are three short posts discussing one of the major weaknesses of revolutionary theory: how do we know when objective conditions are genuinely favorable for revolution?

My suggestion may, in all fairness, strike the reader as "fantastic".

But, in some fashion, we must learn to grasp reality much better than we have in the past...or waste both effort and blood attempting the impossible.

That's already been done.


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I share your frustration. Many people on this board still accept, consciously or not, Lenin's idea that "revolutionary will" could be freely substituted for favorable material conditions.

If you try hard enough, you can do anything.

This is, in the last analysis, 19th century bourgeois idealism...and not Marxism at all.

The weakness of Marxist theory in explicitly defining what the necessary material conditions really are just strengthens this old bourgeois conceit.

You can see what is needed here. Someone (or some group) of academic Marxists need to examine the "parameters" of a large sample of revolutions over the last century. They need to distinguish variables and how to weigh them in a consistent way.

Imagine how much better we could do if we could accurately say: this is a pre-revolutionary situation -- the favorable index stands at 97 and is still rising.

Or, this is not a revolutionary situation -- the favorable index stands at 17 and will probably decline further before it starts to rise again.

We could even prepare tables...

Nepal...85 and rising (peasant)

Venezuela...68 and rising (left bourgeois/nationalist)

Colombia...57 and rising (peasant)

Bolivia...42 and stationary (peasant/nationalist)

Argentina...36 and falling (proletarian)

France...23 and rising (proletarian)

Germany...16 and rising (proletarian)

United States...6 and falling (proletarian)

These numbers are all imaginary...but suppose they were real?
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First posted at RevLeft on July 23, 2005
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Actually measuring things is the most difficult aspect of "social science"...the more I read of such matters, the more it seems to me that everyone is mostly "groping in the dark".

Lately, I've been reading an economic history of the USSR...and realized while I was reading it that central planners in the USSR did not know how to measure what they were doing. They had "units" and tried to "add them up"...but the units were misleading or worse!

For example, a given plan might call for "X tons" of sheet steel...and this was duly produced or even more. But, in order to meet that quota, steel factories made "extra-thick, extra-heavy" steel sheets...because it was easier to meet the quota by producing fewer but heavier sheets.

And the Russians were actually counting real, material objects. (!)

So you can imagine the problems with constructing an accurate "revolutionary situation index" -- the product of a whole series of sub-indexes.

General level of technological development/general condition of infrastructure

Population of different classes/growth or shrinkage/age distribution

Class mobility/stratification

Specific type of class rule/well-entrenched or unstable

Demonstrated organizational capacity of exploited class(es)

Previous revolutionary history

War likely or in progress/defeat likely or imminent

Quality/class basis/size of existing revolutionary movements

Influence of religion/racism/sexism/nationalism, etc.

And probably many other factors that I've overlooked.

You can see this would be a massive undertaking; only a sizable group would be able to do this. And I suggested "academic Marxists" because they would have the time and access to the resources to pull something like this off.

And, of course, the indexes would all have to be updated with considerable frequency...at least every couple of years or so. It would almost require a well-funded "Institute of Revolutionary Studies" to manage the task on an ongoing basis.

I'm thinking something along the lines of the U.S. National Hurricane Center...that would issue "bulletins" when political "storms" emerge and give promise of growing into "revolutionary hurricanes". The NHC has, I think, 8 or 9 computer models of how hurricanes develop and move under different conditions...and their models usually cluster around a certain forecast -- they are very accurate.

So that we might one day get an "IRS" email; re: Special Bulletin #1 on the current political crisis in France.

In light of the recent events in France, we have raised the RSI to 62 from last year's 48 -- and there is a good chance of further increases in the next few months.

Or, a more prosaic example: The RSI for the United States is raised to 12...the first time for a U.S. double-digit rating since the index began.
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First posted at RevLeft on July 23, 2005
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The RSI of a given country could certainly be strongly influenced by the situation in a neighboring country...a high RSI for Germany would boost the index for Austria, Switzerland, Holland, and Denmark, for example.

However, this idea doesn't really have too much to do with "socialism in one country"...which is a separate issue. Rather, it addresses the profound weakness of revolutionary theory: we cannot tell why a revolution happens in this place and not some other place, or why it happens at this time and not some other time.

We are like coastal dwellers before 1950 -- a hurricane (revolution) comes as a complete surprise for which we are totally unprepared.

Consider May 1968 in France -- which was just such an unexpected storm. How much better would the revolutionary forces in France had done if they had had a few months warning to prepare? To address the French working class on the need to go beyond the passive occupations and begin to establish "soviets" before the occupations even began, etc.

We know from history that even the most politically advanced elements are still "not revolutionary enough" in situations where even more could be attempted with an excellent chance of success.

Or, in really reactionary situations, how much better would the revolutionaries fare if they "knew what was coming" and set up an underground apparatus to protect their people while the period of reaction lasted?

What happens now is that people offer unsupported opinions -- often dignified with the title of "analysis" -- about what is going to happen next. I do it, you do it, we all do it. Whoever "guesses right" looks like a "great theoretician", the "next Lenin", blah, blah, blah. Until, of course, their next guess turns out to be crap.

If Marxism is to become a thoroughly scientific discipline, then we have to do better than that.
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First posted at RevLeft on July 24, 2005
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