By Lenny Brody
July 13, 2014
Those of us who consider ourselves revolutionaries and are fighting for fundamental social change need to have discussions about the strategy for the working class winning political power. However, for these discussions to take place in a proper context, they must be placed within the framework of an understanding of how and why societies change.
Historical materialism has always been one of the foundations of Marxism. Yet in recent years this approach to historical transformation has either been ignored or dismissed as “economic determinism.”
Historical materialism is the application of Marxist philosophy, dialectical materialism, to the evolution of human societies. It states that just as there are objective laws of nature, so also are there objective laws of history, and therefore a science of history is possible. For revolutionaries, especially today, it is necessary to understand the laws that govern historical development and see how they operate in today’s world.
Marx summed up historical materialism, how and why societies change in the following quote: “At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution.”
Capitalism, like any other historical process, comes into existence under certain conditions, goes through stages of development, eventually reaches the limits of its development, and under specific historical condition, it must come to an end. Revolutionaries need to examine the dynamics of a capitalism rooted in production based on electronic computerization and robotics. We can see that the productive forces, the technology of production, is able to produce massive amounts of goods with a very limited labor force. Under these conditions, people without jobs have no access to the basic necessities of life. The circulation of goods breaks down. Thus we see capitalism has reached the limits of its ability to sustain society and historically is now obsolete.
But capitalism will not collapse of its own accord. What then is the role of revolutionaries? Here we need to be clear that there are two aspects to the revolutionary process: the objective and the subjective factors. The historical development of capitalism; the coming into conflict of the static relations of private property and the constantly developing technology of how goods are produce, are part of the objective process. The fact that capitalism has reached the limits of its development is the situation we confront. Objectively, the revolutionary replacement of capitalism is the immediate task at hand. However, it is clear that subjectively, neither the revolutionaries nor the masses of Americans are prepared and ready for the objective tasks at hand.
Revolutionaries cannot affect the objective factors in the development of society. The realm of activity of revolutionaries is the subjective. The subjective factor in the revolutionary process is the conscious understanding of both revolutionaries and the masses of people of the conditions they face. Today the central task of revolutionaries is to come together and discuss what can and should be done under these circumstances. Without understanding of both the objective and subjective conditions we face, no discussion of the strategy to win political power is possible, let alone any discussion of tactics.
Historical materialism teaches us that the masses of people, sooner or later, begin to organize themselves to fight against the conditions of their existence. This is part of the objective factors in the revolutionary process. While people might not have a clear understanding of why these conditions exist, or how to change them, those who are hungry, exploited, etc. will try to change the situation.
Thus, we must understand that it is social conditions lead to mass movements. It is not the role, nor is it possible, for revolutionaries to “create” mass movements. Discussions on “how to build the movement” often miss the role of the objective factors which lead to the emergence of movements. This is not to deny the important role revolutionaries can play in keeping a movement on track and not letting our enemies lead the movements down blind alleys.
However, the role of revolutionaries is to develop an in depth understanding of both the objective and subjective conditions we face. This can only be done through serious study and participation in the struggles of our people. Only in this process can we bring to the combatants within the movements an understanding of these conditions, the strategy and tactics in the fight for political power and the real solutions to the problems of capitalism – the establishing of a cooperative economic system and the elimination of private ownership of production and financing. It is this private ownership that is the cause of the poverty and environmental destruction spreading throughout the world.
The situation in the U.S. today demands that revolutionaries come together to discuss the strategy for the working class to take political power based on an understanding of historical materialism and most importantly, an in depth grasp of the current conditions we face. Without the grouping together of revolutionaries our class struggles will only have limited success. It is the organization of the revolutionaries that is the key task we face. Without an organization of revolutionaries, no serious progress can be made toward the goal of working class political power.