The past century saw the ruling classes, as Marx would put it, “tremble at a communistic revolution”. It seemed that socialism was proving itself to be overtaking capitalism, as an economic and social order.
Alas, it was not to be. Like the revolutions that brought about the end of feudalism, the road was fraught with danger, difficulties and failures, with many of them failing. Ultimately it would be the fall of the USSR that made capitalists eagerly declare “the end of history”.
In the years since, however, we have seen global capitalism cracking under the pressure of its own weight. The 2008 crisis was a critical point. Many countries have either seen their economic growth stagnate or mired in what seems to be a never-ending economic slump. The resurgence of neoliberalism has, and still is, tearing apart societies and economies at the seams.
Marx opens the Communist Manifesto with:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
At the end of the 20th century, class struggle seemed to be dying down. But this struggle will always exist until the contradiction between increasingly socialized production and private appropriation of it is resolved.
This much has been true throughout history, and it remains so today: Revolution is the only way that societies change deeply, profoundly and meaningfully. Reform is only temporary, it blunts the spirit of working people, and, in time, can even fuel reaction. One needs only to look at the rise of right-wing populism, neo-Nazism, and reactionary movements of all stripes in general for proof of that. This is the direct result of a system in dire straits that fails the majority of the people, making them desperate for change.
The revolutionary left will have to take upon it, once again, the task of rallying the masses of working people behind it, to bring about progressive social change and disempower the reactionaries.
Modern revolutionaries will have the incredibly important and rich experience of the 20th century to draw upon. We need to be inspired from the successes, and learn from the failures, so that they are not repeated.
And the past has already shown us what can be achieved, even under the most unfavorable conditions.
In the summer of 1917, Lenin feared he will not live long enough to see the socialist revolution. He also faced far more unfavorable material and political conditions than we have today. Yet his country was transformed from a backwards, agrarian and semi-feudal nation to a world superpower, leading the world in scientific innovation and becoming the most socially progressive country of its time in just a few decades.
But the revolutionary socialist movement was also riddled with sectarianism, a good part of it unnecessary. Criticism is of vital importance if we are to face challenges in the best way possible, but dogmatism ossifies us, restricts the ability to self-reflect, breeds corruption and stagnation in the status quo, but most importantly, it alienates us from fellow revolutionary movements.
One needs only to look at Albania, North Korea, the Sino-Soviet split, the suppression of the CNT-FAI movement in Catalonia, the SPD-KPD split in the German elections of 1933, among others, to appreciate the true dangers of dogmatism.
It is important to remember that it is counter-productive, and one could argue, counter-revolutionary, to make enemies of fellow revolutionary socialists. The reason being that we all agree that:
- Capitalism increasingly finds itself at a dead end, and cannot solve the problems it causes
- Private property must be abolished and the workers should control the means of production
- The ultimate goal is the establishment of a stateless, classless, and moneyless society
Where we differ is our thoughts and theories on the optimal path to achieve that. Therefore, we should work together towards that common goal, and recognize in each other the right to establish and build up socialism in different ways in different countries and societies, as material, political, and historical conditions develop and change.
In the same vein, it is equally important to move away from the 20th century and quit stifling left unity. The material, historical and political conditions of that time are completely divorced from those of the present. Debates on politics of days past are counter-productive and only serve to fracture the movement even more.
So show solidarity with your fellow comrades, and help raise class consciousness in any way you can.