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The Masses are Not Ready?

That the most revolutionary faction of the Canadian masses, what some of us call the "hard core of the proletariat", is not ready for revolution is an ideology perpetuated by those leftists who have no interest in strategizing the overthrow of Canadian capitalism.  Assuming that such an overthrow will happen at some unknown point in the future, due to spontaneous factors beyond our control, the typical and unimaginative assumption is that we must embark on a protracted legal struggle that will lead, through nebulous and pacifist propaganda activities, to some apocalyptic moment of insurrection.

"The storming of our 'winter palace' will happen magically."

Hence we are supposed to accept a constellation of tactics based on this general strategy, lifted from an uncritical understanding of the "October Road", that are then applied, unconsciously or dogmatically, upon our social context.  Unconsciously because many of those who advocate this stand-offish approach are often ignorant of the historical strategy that is speaking through their often incoherent practice; they are usually quite unaware of the historical origins of their political line, that they are simply going through the motions of the strategy of insurrection without reflection.  Dogmatically because some of those who push the insurrectionary line really do believe that they have no reason to critically examine the historical basis of this strategy and whether or not it is universally applicable.  In both cases, the default strategy of insurrection follows from a lack of social investigation, the application of received but inarticulate wisdom.  The result is a refusal to actually think through the problematic of making revolution, of figuring out what revolutionary strategy can and should be, as well as a refusal to embrace the kind of mass-line that would lead to the founding of such a strategy in the first place.

But I've discussed this before, so I'm not going to repeat myself.

What I am concerned with here is the argument that is often used to justify the theory of a future insurrectionary horizon––that is, the theory that there will be a revolutionary insurrection at some distant future point when "the masses are ready to arise" thanks to x years of legal agitation.  That is, the assumption that the "masses are not ready for revolution" is often used to justify a refusal to make revolution now… or, more accurately, justify the assumption that a refusal to make revolution now is, in itself, a revolutionary strategy.  And this assumption is a priori because it often precedes practice as an unquestioned axiom.

Interestingly enough, such an axiom is endorsed by the bourgeoisie: the masses do not want revolution, they want bourgeois democracy, they are perfectly integrated in the order of bourgeois democracy.  The bourgeoisie have been making this argument for the entire capitalist epoch; anyone who denies a proletariat, regardless of its level of exploitation in whatever region it persists, is simply repeating bourgeois ideology.  The masses are passive, they are resistant to radical organization, they will reject communism, and there is no such thing as a proletarian class anyhow, especially not here––indeed, these are all capitalist assumptions and thus a capitalist ideology that has been absorbed by every anti-capitalist who makes the same claims.

Those leftists who take this position, though, end up acting as guardians of bourgeois order because they are forced to explain away the revolutionary action of the masses when it emerges.  Most often, this explaining away takes the form of rejecting, disparaging, and belittling those moments that threaten bourgeois legality.  Eruptions of spontaneous anger that undermine the state of affairs are treated as aberrant––even worse, treated as suspect.  Take, for example, the recent Mi'kmaq uprising in New Brunswick where six RCMP vehicles were torched by indigenous insurgents: immediately more than one respectable leftist site was arguing that the violence done to pig property was suspicious and must be a conspiracy on the part of the RCMP!  So much for respecting revolutionary action, however mild: it is far easy to endorse a resistance that is cleansed of these troublesome actions which can be explained away as state interference.

In any case, more than one supposed marxist organization has openly opposed the spontaneous violence of the masses, arguing that it actually hurts the masses as a whole and sometimes going so far as to advocate the interior policing of demonstrations––if the cops don't arrest you, we will prevent the militancy that we imagine is harming the people as a whole.  Again, these are arguments that are ultimately pacifistic, respectable, and thoroughly bourgeois insofar as they say precisely (in essence if not in form) what the bourgeoisie says about the rabble that threaten the order of capital.

"Oh wait.. maybe the storming of the Winter Palace will hurt the masses!"

So here we have a significant campaign, though not consciously organized, aimed at teaching the masses to be counter-revolutionary.  Under the auspices of communism––or at the very least, anti-capitalism––the spontaneous rebellion of the proletarian is being pacified, and these are only those elements of the proletarian who bother to show up at rallies and demonstrations… There is a larger population that is under-organized, that is angrier, and that is ignored by the same left that claims to know what they think.  If this state of things did not exist, as the cliche goes, the bourgeois would have to invent it.

None of this is to say that revolutionary inaction is not a problem, that we don't need to cut through the apathy of the masses, but there is a difference between recognizing the fact of this inaction so as to solve it and accepting this fact as eternally normative so as to repeat it, ad infinitum, so as to discourage those moments of rebellion that call it into question.  In other words, while it is true that there is a default opportunism that needs to be challenged, those who act in such a way to make this default opportunism an insurmountable obstacle are encouraging its persistence.  The masses are not ready because they will never be ready (until, perhaps, the unknown and future event horizon of x that will happen spontaneously) is is an assumption made by every leftist who discourages revolutionary strategy, who discovers clever and marxian sounding ways to disparage militant action and thus cloak bourgeois respectability in pseudo-revolutionary jargon.

Such an assumption is itself part of the problem it claims only to be describing.  That is, it is an ideological position, premised on the complete hegemony of capitalism, demonstrating the very same apathy it pretends to critique.  Those who discourage militancy, who repeat that the masses aren't ready for even the beginning of revolutionary organization, are only seeing what they have been socialized into accepting as reality in the world around them; they themselves are the very masses that are not ready for revolution and, in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy, are precisely that section of the masses who might never be ready.


  1. A question I don't claim to have an answer for: The Los Angeles uprising after the emergence of the Rodney King video was morally right. The problem is that it turned out to be a catastrophe for the African American community. The Baltimore uprising made a sharp statement in the language of the unheard without creating a situation where the City becomes unlivable for African American people. You know that the African American population of LA is half of what it was on the first day of the uprising. I'd like to see some comment about that. I wouldn't be the one to condemn righteous rebellion, but in this day and age, what is it's result? What becomes the next step?

    1. I am in general agreement with your points here. One of the positions I have tried to promote, along with the one you've read above, is that spontaneous uprisings (or even the insurrectionist model that attempts to step in at the crucial moment of a large uprising and lead a civil war) are not enough in and of themselves for reasons you've outlined. This is why also, on this site (and in my book), I have condemned the "movementist" approach that just assumes that these spontaneous uprisings are enough in and of themselves and will magically lead to a tipping point. An organizational structure needs to be built, one that is united in theory and practice, to intervene in these rebellions and build something more than just a rebellion that meets the organized might of the state. It's why I'm a communist of the MLM type and not an anarchist.


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