cj#1002> Capitalism, revolution, and the need for an appropriate analysis

1999-10-27

Richard Moore


Dear cj and rn,

I am now undertaking the task of writing an extended article for inclusion
in an upcoming issue of Socialist Review - "Globalization and the
Revolutionary Imperative".  The article will be organized slightly
differently than my planned book, but it covers the same scope, and it can
be considered the initial published version of the book.

The following Introduction sets the stage for the article.  A model is
developed of the dynamics of revolutions, and two important examples are
introduced which will be further developed in the rest of the article.  The
case is made that the 'time is ripe' for the overthrow of capitalism, and
the problems facing a revolutionary movement are outlined. The need is
identified for an appropriate 'revolutionary analysis' - in order to
precipitate revolutionary activity out of the turbulence of the decaying
capitalist system.

The remainder of the article will be my own humble attempt to provide such
a revolutionary analysis.

as usual,
comments invited,
rkm


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Introduction:

     Capitalism, revolution, and the need for an appropriate analysis
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The dynamics of revolution and the role of analysis
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Societies evolve continually. Sometimes they evolve through imperceptible
minor changes - whose effects are only gradually noticed. In other cases,
evolution occurs in the form of more dramatic and visible transformations.
When such a transformation is especially dramatic, and when it brings
fundamental shifts in societal dynamics, then it can be described as a
'revolution.' This article is about two particular revolutions - one that is
unfolding before our eyes, and another - a counter revolution - which is
lying latent in the circumstances of the modern world.

The first revolution is generally referred to as 'globalization.' Although
the globalization process is widely recognized as bringing revolutionary
changes on a global scale, this article will endeavor to show that the
profound revolutionary significance of globalization has been only partially
understood. The first three sections of this article investigate the origins
and the consequences of globalization from three different perspectives,
leading to an overall picture which is both surprising and alarming. The
basic evidence we will consider is readily available - most of it can be
found in our daily newspapers or in standard history books. What has been
lacking is the application of a sufficiently broad historical perspective -
the bringing together of enough cross-disciplinary considerations to enable
an accurate characterization of globalization to emerge.

The second revolution - the latent counter-revolution - is a bit more
difficult for me to introduce into discussion. While the transformative
power of globalization is readily apparent to everyone, there are very few
people who seriously expect that a counter-revolution - of any description -
is either likely or possible. Before this topic can be addressed, we need to
develop a working model of revolutionary dynamics.

In trying to explain how revolutions happen, historians have identified two
general kinds of causes - those arising out of 'conditions' ('structure'),
and those due to the creative activity of 'agents' ('players'). Sometimes
'conditions' are such that revolutionary changes seem to arise almost
inevitably, and even the actions of the various historical 'players' seem to
arise predictably out of their situations. In other cases, unique and
creative 'agents' - thinkers or leaders - dramatically accelerate change, or
shape the course of change, in ways that could not have been predicted. In
general, every revolutionary scenario involves both favorable conditions and
particular agents of change. The extent to which either is 'causative' in
each scenario is a topic of controversial historical interpretation.

As an example of a revolution which can readily be interpreted in
'structuralist' terms, let us examine the 'capitalist revolution,' as it
occurred in late eighteenth-century Britain. Three causative 'conditions'
can be easily identified: (1) the structure of the 'national economy,' (2)
the availability of the steam engine and other 'new technologies,' and (3)
Britain's 'rigidly class-oriented social structure.' One can persuasively
argue that these conditions fully account for how capitalism developed in
Britain. Such an argument might proceed along these lines:

     (1) The British 'economy' was organized around specialized
     production in different localities, aimed at serving the London
     market and colonial markets. A domestic canal network and an
     ocean-going fleet enabled efficient transport of goods throughout
     Britain and the Empire.

     (2) In that context, 'new technologies' made industrialization
     'inevitable.' A market was available for the increased goods which
     more efficient methods could produce, and the means were available
     to economically deliver those goods.

     (3) Britain's 'class-oriented society' made it 'inevitable' that
     industrial production would be dominated by one social class or
     another. In fact a 'new' social class arose - referred to as
     'wealthy industrialists' or the 'capitalist elite.' This can be
     explained by the 'rigidity' of the previous British classes - they
     could not respond adequately to the changing 'conditions.'

As an example of a revolution frequently interpreted in terms of 'agency,'
let us consider the American Revolution. Historical emphasis in this
scenario is typically placed on Enlightenment thinkers, Founding-Father
activists, and the specifically objectionable policies of a unique and
unbalanced King George. There were identifiable 'hotbeds' of revolution in
places like Boston and Philadelphia, and a creative 'revolutionary movement'
arose which guided the revolution to a conclusion that cannot be readily
explained by structural considerations. Thomas Paine's 'Common Sense' -
using remarkably innovative arguments in an unprecedented popular style -
almost by itself managed to spread the flames of rebellion from a minority
movement to the general colonial population. A clearer example of 'agent
causation' can hardly be imagined.

And yet behind the American scenario were overwhelmingly favorable
'conditions' - conditions whose significance has been perhaps unduly
eclipsed by the obvious role of the colorful revolutionary movement. In
fact, a reasonably persuasive 'structuralist' explanation can be offered for
much of what happened, based on the colonial conditions of the late
eighteenth century. Such an argument could be presented along these lines:

     (1) Britain had set up the colonies on a self-regulating basis. So
     long as they abided by the dictates of the Crown and Parliament -
     and the Crown got its taxes and British industry its profits - the
     colonies were left largely to manage their own affairs. Out of
     this 'condition,' colonists naturally developed an identity as
     'Americans' - for the most part loyal to the Crown, but without
     quite being 'British.'

     (2) A prospering colonial economy developed, despite the fact that
     it wasn't permitted to industrialize. American shipbuilders,
     merchants, and traders proved to be very competent, and Boston
     became the third-busiest port in the British Empire. The economic
     benefits of subjection to the Crown were declining, and the
     advantages of 'economic' independence for the colonies - enabling
     industrialization - was becoming plain for anyone to see.

     (3) A local political infrastructure had developed, including a
     representative assembly in each of the thirteen colonies. British
     intervention occurred mostly at the top of the structure, where a
     Royal Governor had the power to overrule or supersede assembly
     decisions. The viability of 'political' independence was readily
     apparent - the colonies were clearly capable of governing
     themselves through their existing representative assemblies.

     (4) It was only natural that various elements of colonial society
     would begin to notice these conditions, to see the advantages of
     independence, and begin collaborating toward that end. As it
     turned out, the new American republic, with all its novel
     revolutionary rhetoric, amounted largely to a continuation of the
     preexisting colonial assemblies, operating under a legalistic
     contract-like document known as The American Constitution.

There is little point in debating which of these explanations of the
American Revolution is 'more correct.' Such an exercise in reductionism
leads to confusion, not understanding. As Einstein said: "Make it as simple
as possible, but no simpler." More value can be obtained by taking the two
analyses as being two 'lenses,' each revealing part of the picture. Taken
together, they provide an enhanced understanding - a multi-dimensional
stereo image if you will - of the revolutionary dynamics at work in this
case.

In the case of the capitalist revolution in Britain, which we looked at
through a structural lens, there is also an 'agency lens' that provides a
useful additional perspective on the rise of capitalism. Economically-minded
historians generally point to the central importance of Adam Smith's 'Wealth
of Nations,' whose impact on British economic thinking was profound, and
whose considerable originality cannot be denied. Smith persuasively argued
that free markets could be expected to benefit society generally, and that
unbridled capitalism would lead to a maximization of the 'wealth' of the
British 'nation.' The unique brilliance of Smith's presentation was directly
instrumental in creating a constituency for capitalism among the British
ruling classes. This constituency - functioning as a de-facto 'revolutionary
movement' - managed to bring about radical changes in economic policy which
led directly the triumph of capitalism in Britain. Even today, Smith's
analysis continues to wield its awesome influence. The doctrine of 'market
forces' - employed to justify every aspect of modern globalization - is
nothing more than the latest terminology for Smith's beneficent 'invisible
hand.'

The dynamic interplay of 'structural conditions' and 'conscious agency' can,
I suggest, be captured by a simple metaphor - a kind of 'provisional working
model' of revolutionary dynamics. Revolution is like getting a bonfire going
- there must be sufficient fuel, an adequate spark, and effective kindling.
If any of the three are missing, the fire will not occur. The 'fuel' of
revolution are the historical conditions - the structural forces favoring
some general direction of change. The 'spark' of revolution is a
'revolutionary movement' - some consciously collaborating group, with a
reasonable sensitivity to the prevailing forces, and who are pushing an
agenda of change which is in alignment with those forces. The 'kindling' of
revolution is some 'propagation vehicle' which manages to recruit a
sufficiently potent constituency to the movement so that actual change can
be carried through. Such a vehicle might be an appropriately articulated
analysis, such as that of Thomas Paine, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, or Milton
Friedman. Such a vehicle might also occur in the form of a charismatic
leader, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Fidel Castro, Ronald
Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, or Mikhail Gorbachev.

In the case of the British capitalist revolution, there was sufficient fuel
in the historical conditions described previously. There was a sparking
movement, in the form of entrepreneurs and others who were building fortunes
through exploitation of new technologies - and who openly advocated
unregulated free markets. Smith's analysis was the kindling vehicle,
propagating the revolutionary viewpoint to a sufficiently influential
constituency. After that, the the capitalist transformation of Britain
followed for some time as a sequence of incremental, evolutionary
developments.

Evolutionary development created the conditions leading up to the
revolution, the three elements of our model interacted dynamically in the
central revolutionary scenario, and once again evolution followed. Our
provisional model has enabled us to incorporate both structural and agency
viewpoints on the revolutionary scenario, and gives us a perspective from
which to analyze their interactions and evaluate the significance their
relative roles.

In the American Revolution there was again plenty of favorable structural
fuel, as was outlined previously. There was an energetic and innovative
revolutionary-movement spark, well in tune with its historical conditions,
and coherent enough to plant a unique stylistic stamp on the revolution and
its outcome. There were many important revolutionary apologists, but Paine's
analysis served as the primary 'propagation vehicle.' Indeed independence
was declared to popular acclaim only six months after the publication of
'Common Sense,' while just prior to its publication public sentiment was
generally considered to be strongly against independence. Paine's particular
analysis represented the populist, democratic wing of the revolutionary
movement. The immense popularity of 'Common Sense' - which sold more copies
than any previous publication in history - was of singular importance in
balancing the influence of the Hamiltonian-Madisonian wing of the movement,
which favored a more centralized and elite-dominated governmental emphasis.

In this American scenario, our model assists us in unraveling the dynamic
interplay between 'structural conditions' and the various significant
'players' involved. It helps us to see how a revolutionary outcome is
constrained to a large extent by conditions, but that a particular movement
can impart a somewhat arbitrary character to the outcome, within the bound
of those constraints. The model also helps us see that the character of the
outcome can be further modified by whichever propagation vehicle succeeds in
kindling a critical mass of support for the movement's basic agenda.

As we have seen, an appropriate 'revolutionary analysis' frequently has a
very significant role to play in the outcome of a revolution. The spin
imposed by such an analysis, if it succeeds in becoming the successful
propagation vehicle, may fundamentally effect the character of the
revolutionary outcome. In addition, the rhetorical effectiveness of such a
propagation analysis is centrally important to the very success of the
revolutionary movement. If the analysis fails to enlist a sufficient
constituency, then the movement is unlikely to succeed - unless another
vehicle can be found. Even the timing of such an analysis can be of critical
importance. Until a suitable propagation vehicle is available, the situation
continues to fester in an unpredictable and chaotic manner, as societal
turbulence mounts under the pressure of evolving 'conditions.' Nineteen
thirties' Germany had a strong socialist movement as well as a fascist one -
but Hitler turned out to be a masterful propagation vehicle, and his
movement prevailed.



Replacing the capitalist regime -
    'revolutionary prospects and the role of analysis'
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
What is the likelihood that a revolution will come about soon to replace the
capitalist system? If likely, can we anticipate in any sense the nature of
such a revolution? Can anyone even dare to seriously address questions like
these? With the help of our model of revolutionary dynamics, I suggest we
can make a useful start. Let us now apply the model to the modern world. We
must consider in turn 'structural conditions,' the 'revolutionary movement,'
and the 'propagation vehicle.'

It is not difficult to show that the 'time is ripe' for the overthrow of
capitalism. The 'structural stresses' are so great, indeed, that the whole
system may well collapse of its own accord. A thorough structural analysis
of the capitalist regime is the topic of this article's first three
sections. For the purpose of our current discussion, let me simply outline a
prima facie structural analysis, as I did above for the capitalist and
American revolutions.

     (1) According to official figures, the global economy is growing -
     but those calculations include the paper value of speculative
     markets, the value of uncollectable debts, and the profits of
     giant TNC's. On the ground, where people live and work, economies
     are nearly everywhere in serious decline. Many non-Western
     industrialized economies, such as Russia and Korea, are spiraling
     downward toward third-world status. Conditions are worst in the
     third world, where glutted global markets and IMF dictates combine
     to squeeze many of these countries (such as Rwanada) below even
     the point of bare survival. The West is the best off, but real
     wages, social services, and the general quality of life are
     declining steadily. One of the primary forces that has maintained
     support for the capitalist system over the years has been its
     ability to 'deliver the goods' - 'socialism might have the
     attractive theories, but capitalism works!' As capitalism falters
     in its ability to deliver the goods - even in the West - it is
     losing one of its most fundamental bases of popular support.

     (2) Civil societies and political structures are undergoing
     destabilization under globalization. Again the third-world is the
     worst off, where civil wars and cycles of genocide are becoming
     increasingly the norm. In the West, party politics have become a
     sham, as all platforms have converged to a narrow agenda of
     serving corporate interests. Politicians are in universal
     disrepute, and the institutions of democracy are generally viewed
     more with contempt than respect. Civil society generally is
     falling apart while crime increases and the police are evolving
     into paramilitary occupation forces. The West has traditionally
     served as the bastion of capitalism, and civil order in the West
     has been typically based on the 'consent of the governed' - people
     followed the law because they 'believe in the system.' As civil
     and political life decline, the accustomed basis of Western civil
     order is disappearing - threatening the stability of capitalism's
     home base. In the West, it may be no exaggeration to say that we
     are only one charismatic leader away from the crystallization of
     widespread and radical discontent.

     (3) Increasingly the West is turning to sophisticated propaganda
     as its primary basis of political support. Discontent is
     suppressed by blaming everything besides capitalism for the myriad
     problems capitalism and its globalization project are causing.
     Most of what goes on in the world is never reported to Western
     audiences, and that which is reported is filtered through a
     corporate PR lens which distorts every event into an advert for
     capitalism. The contradictions between the world as-people-know-it
     and the world as-the-media-tells-it are becoming increasingly
     dramatic. The Wizard, one might say, who formerly provided for his
     Emerald City, has now retired behind the curtain from where he
     projects images of prosperity on a screen. No matter how seemingly
     successful, over-dependence on propaganda represents a weakness in
     the capitalist regime. If by some means people begin to avert
     their gaze from the propaganda screen, and glance behind the
     curtain at what capitalism is really about, our Wizard could
     become a very unpopular fellow in a very short time.

     (4) As environmental resources are being stressed to the breaking
     point, and the finiteness of the Earth becomes glaringly obvious
     to everyone, capitalism nonetheless drives ahead full steam
     seeking more and more growth. The growth paradigm itself - the
     developmental model of economic prosperity - has simply passed its
     sell-by date, it has outgrown its host world. Capitalism has
     reached a final and irreconcilable contradiction. In its very
     attempt to deny this contradiction, by squeezing out the last
     drops of growth, it only accelerates the other destabilizing
     trends described above.

The capitalist system is suffering from terminal stress. These are the very
circumstances out of which revolutionary movements typically arise, and the
very circumstance in which they are most needed. If revolution is not only
'favored' by the circumstances of society, but is in fact 'required' by
those circumstances, then sooner or later people are going to begin
realizing that they must act. Indeed there are literally thousands of
activist organizations worldwide whose agendas are in response to one or
another symptom of the globalization process. However none of these
movements shows any promise of becoming an embryonic revolutionary movement
- nor do all of them together.

In order to serve as the spark of revolution, a movement must have an agenda
for moving from the dysfunctional old regime to a functional new regime.
Only in this way can the structural stresses be relieved. Without such an
agenda, a movement may be successful in its objectives, but it won't be
revolutionary - it can at best shift stresses from one place to another.
Based on the stresses identified above, a revolutionary agenda must
articulate a regime of sustainable economics, a restored civil society, and
a renewed democratic process. The agenda must be practical and credible, and
it must include a strategy for orderly transition from the old regime to the
new. Capitalism is rotten right down to its growth-seeking roots, and the
required reconstruction project will be awesome. A revolutionary movement
must, in essence, envision an entirely new world, develop a practical
blueprint for it, and then demonstrate that it is achievable and that it can
remain stable over time. The agenda must make sense not only to activists,
but to people in all walks of life.

One can easily see why no embryonic revolutionary movement yet exists. No
one has done the necessary homework, no one has seriously figured out how to
replace the current regime with a functional one. There are those who
envision self-sufficient rural communities, but there are also cities to be
fed and transport systems that must be dealt with. Socialist theory has much
to offer, but it only addresses some of the stresses, and socialist
experiments have had problems of their own. Moving from a world based on
maximizing consumption, to a world based on sustainability, will be one of
the most challenging projects ever undertaken by humanity. Activists cannot
be faulted for failing to launch a movement of these monumental proportions.
The formulation of a suitable revolutionary agenda is simply too difficult.
The latent revolution is blocked by a technical problem - the lack of an
adequate 'analysis.'

In our investigation so far we have looked at analysis in its important role
as a 'propagation vehicle' for the agenda of an embryonic revolutionary
movement. In our current scenario, an analysis is required earlier in the
revolutionary process. An analysis is needed which articulates an adequate
revolutionary agenda and which can help crystallize a revolutionary movement
out of the turbulent energy of the deteriorating capitalist regime.

Who should such an analysis be addressed to? What constituency shows the
most promise of birthing an effective revolutionary movement? Are there
existing movements, for example, which might be ready to move on to a
revolutionary agenda?

Permit me to suggest, to anyone contemplating such an analysis, that it be
directed to as general an audience as possible. In this way all potentially
fruitful constituencies could be reached. Furthermore such an analysis could
also serve as the propagation vehicle for the movement, thus saving a step
and accelerating the revolutionary process.

The importance of an appropriate analysis, at this particular point in
history, can simply not be overstated. Permit me to emphasize this point in
the form of a familiar ditty:

     For want of analysis, the movement was lost.
     For want of a movement, the revolution was lost.
     For want of more growth, the world was lost.

The remainder of this article is my own humble attempt to articulate an
analysis appropriate to this historic revolutionary moment. The first three
sections analyze the capitalist regime and the structural crisis brought
about by globalization. Informed by that analysis, the article goes on to
identify the structural requirements of a successor regime, and to
synthesize from that a suitable revolutionary agenda. Those considerations
then lead us to a radical excursion into the meaning of democracy, and an
inquiry into the nature of an appropriate revolutionary movement. From there
we look at the problems of regime transition, consider how the
crystallization of the movement might be consciously accelerated, and ask
what role existing movements can be expected to play in that process. This
analysis could be described as an attempt to answer the following question:
'What is everything we need to know in order to begin the revolution?'

Most assuredly, this article is unlikely to function as the 'defining
analysis' that precipitates the overthrow of capitalism. At best, it may
serve as a first draft, to be expanded and better articulated by those who
are more qualified than myself. Failing that, it may serve as a goad to
others to develop an analysis of their own from perhaps a quite different
perspective. At the very least, I hope that it inspires others to be bold,
and to apply their talents to the revolutionary project that circumstances
require.

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