For as long as I can remember I’ve felt strongly about inequality and injustice, neither of which my parents tried to hide from me, and as a result I take seriously the repercussions of capitalist society and especially of climate change. It’s not enough just to recognise the problem – it’s necessary to act. So, early in my political development, I spent my time solely engaged in anti-capitalist, grassroots activism.
Today, I see things differently. I haven’t lost heart, nor have I decided that direct action is not worthy of my full support; I think it can make a big difference to individuals’ lives. What has changed however, is my perception of how best to use my time.
Ultimately the aim of anyone fighting for a better world must be to change the way things work in a fundamental way, because no campaigner would deny that they are constantly swimming against the stream. We might make individual steps forward, but unless we turn the tide, this is an unsustainable way to try to achieve or maintain equality and justice in the long run.
I’ve always been full of admiration for activists. They are the living example of the power of ordinary people. But I always felt something was missing during my early political activist efforts. A mass movement is what is necessary to achieve change; an uprising on a scale that can smash the current structure of politics, and not only demand huge changes to economic ownership, management and democratic representation, but to implement these changes ourselves, without relying on bureaucrats or politicians. I couldn’t see how our work as activists could go from resistance to revolution. And if it did, how on earth could it be successful? I suppose I just hoped we would cross that bridge when we came to it. But as I’ve realised since studying history with Marxists, that attitude is precisely what has led to the failures of past revolutions.
Mass movements are the product of big events, where people’s livelihoods are pushed to the brink and the masses are forced to draw revolutionary conclusions. These moments of open class struggle must be harnessed quickly, and all the energy they generate used to fundamentally change society before it can dissipate. Even mass strikes break eventually, without the right organisation or leadership, as people are starved back to work.
The key problem for Marxists is not to start a mass movement – such movements have happened whether there are Marxists around or not and will continue to do so as long as class struggle exists – it is to make such a movement successful in really solving the problems that we face.
Because how can you carry out a liberating revolution without understanding what your prison is or how it works? How can you level the playing field when you don’t understand what makes in uneven?
This is the role of Marxists – to educate ourselves and others about the history and theory of capitalism, socialism and the class struggle so that we can intervene in the great events of the future, and help to resolve the struggle in favour of the working class.
One such Marxist is my brother, who had the good fortune of coming into contact with the International Marxist Tendency (www.marxist.com), through the Marxist Student Federation. Over the course of a couple of years, and many passionate conversations, I realised I agreed with just about everything he had to say on questions of politics. I joined the International Marxist Tendency around a year ago and have since spent a lot of time reading, debating and thinking about political ideas, with the result that I’m full of an optimism for the struggle to change the world.
I support all the struggles of the oppressed. And I’m in favour of all activism against the forces of capitalism and injustice. I support them for the awareness they raise and the lives they do change.
But for the revolution, to free everyone from the injustices we campaign against, we need to make sure that our action isn’t blind – it must be guided by theory and the lessons from history. We therefore need patient education and preparation for the big events to come. This is why I’m spending my time helping to build a sufficiently well organised, well educated and well placed revolutionary Marxist organisation that can influence the transition to a classless, communistic society.
Thus, I’m part of the International Marxist Tendency, through which I give as much support and solidarity as I can to all my comrades in all forms of activism, who share my vision of a society free from exploitation.
by Joe Russell, South London