Taking the balance of the passing decade, the Communist Caucus of the DSA lays out some basics for the coming one.
Our generation of revolutionaries has the great fortune (or misfortune) of living in interesting times. We bear witness not only to the death of the liberal-democratic political consensus, but to the attempted birth of whatever comes next. Some attempts, albeit in very different ways, look backward in order to move forward.
One horrific example comes from the far right. Authoritarian and nationalist politics have found electoral mandates all over the world, deepening the looting of social wealth and the planet wrought by capital. In most cases, these dark marches to the right are made in the name of a return to some past that never existed. Bolsonaro longs for the idyllic years of Brazilian dictatorship, Modi for a lost India unified under Hinduism, Trump for an America that was once great—great at what, no one is sure. The new, right political project is a historical death drive that combines environmental destruction with an accelerated misery for refugees, “criminals,” and non-citizens. It attempts to conjure in the present a distorted past which is past only in their minds. This project can only be quashed by a militant working-class movement that knows its history.
Thankfully, after fifty years of dormancy, that very militant working-class movement reasserts itself on the historical scene. A swarm of direct confrontations with capital have manifested as strikes, riots, and street demonstrations. To pick one example, Chile has shown us how a movement against transit fare increases can spring into a generalized revolt against inequality. We’ve also seen an exponential growth in the ambition of demands for concessions from capital.
“Our fight against capitalism will only progress when we rebuild the bases of class power through which mass movements can take shape.”
These demands, often played out in the electoral sphere, take up the language of the past. A massive environmental program is described as 2020’s version of the 1933 New Deal. Proposals for universal health care are made under the banner of Medicare, a program that began in 1965. To say nothing of their boldness, these demands are articulated using the language of the political compromises of twentieth century liberal consensus we get farther away from every day.
It is dangerous to forget that the reforms of the postwar era were concessions given against a backdrop of intense revolutionary struggle. They were not simply born in the minds of political subjects, articulated to those in power, and written into law. In fact, these reforms were the product of a political and capitalist class scared of its own decapitation at the hands of the working class.
Finding inspiration in the policies capital allowed to take effect, or even used to restore order, erases the daring fights that forced the hands of those in power. The anonymous struggle of millions of working-class militants brought us the massive concessions of the New Deal and other social provisions throughout the postwar period. But these concessions were precisely that—concessions—given in lieu of fulfilling the actual aims of the mass movement.
This all leads us to the question: what is to be done with the past?
Clearly we must not leave it to the distorting eyes of the new fascism. We are obliged by history to negate the fantasies of the right and recover the futures that past revolutionaries were prevented from realizing. The tradition of struggle of our class predecessors is with us today in the fight for an equal society. We must take inspiration from the spirit of their struggle, not only from the concessions allowed to them by our enemies.
Confusing the power of past struggles with the concessions it secured blocks the potential for revolution and, anyone on the hunt for reforms should note, is also a strategic error. Asking for reforms through the usual channels of elections works with, not against, the agents of capital. This reformist vision leaves intact the fundamental elements of capitalism: the market, wage labor, and the state. Even Bernie Sanders appears to be aware of these limits. The slogan of the Sanders campaign–not me, us–is instructive. If what we want is Medicare for All, a Green New Deal—much less the abolition of capitalism—it will never come to pass simply by electing someone who says they want these things too. The imposition of these reforms will not themselves lessen the power of capital; our class’s organizational strength and capacity to fight is the only force that can weaken capital and move its agents to make concessions. Our fight against capitalism will only progress when we rebuild the bases of class power through which mass movements can take shape.
We formed the communist caucus because the historical winds shift in our favor: we think it is possible to rebuild our class, the proletariat, into a revolutionary force. Our job is to help further this process, to build the institutions and infrastructure necessary for proletarians to organize, educate, and fight. We all have the potential to become organizers, leaders, and militants. Until our class dominates and suppresses capital, democracy remains a distorted dream.
The last half-century of capitalist rule balanced itself on the obliteration of the very idea of communism. If capitalism once called itself the best possible system, it now pronounces itself the only system possible. The demolition of the idea of transcending capitalism explains why proletarian forces became out of joint with the historical situation. Why struggle if new forms of social life are not possible? By the end of the 1970s, proletarian vehicles of class war were left hollowed out and burned away. Today, the neoliberal foreclosure of the future is shattered and these ruins stir anew.
The crisis of liberalism opens a window from which we can exit capitalism forever. We are presented with a unique political opportunity, but as with all opportunity it has an expiration date. A mass communist movement can take root. The option to begin a new and beautiful history has arrived, possibly for the last time. We intend to take it.