2020 will go down in the history books as a turning point. The Tories have played dice with our lives and livelihoods. Boris Johnson has presided over nothing short of catastrophe as a result of confusion, callousness and incompetence.
We are all living in a tinderbox. The fault does not lie with not this or that politician or party alone, but the crooked capitalist system that inescapably prioritises profit before our safety. All the injustices of class society have simply been magnified tenfold. The calls for ‘national unity’ by big business politicians ring hollow, and the ‘Blitz spirit’ has lost its shine. Though the virus may not discriminate, capitalism certainly does.
As the world collapses…
The ruling class are out of ideas. With demagogues and madmen asleep at the wheel, the capitalists can be filled with little but dread as their system toboggans toward greater disaster. The dead end of capitalism finds expression in the pessimism penned in the serious bourgeois journals.
The Financial Times have already made a warning call for governments to consider the social implications of further austerity. The Bank of England noted that the nearest comparison to this recession would take us back to the Great Frost of 1709. It’s no surprise then why they are so pale faced; the economy is in complete freefall.
At the same time, we have seen countless examples of the energy, initiative and creativity of the working class and young people. From the Black Lives Matter protests that have spread like wildfire to every corner of the world, to the mass eruptions in Lebanon, as well as the rage over the cataclysmic handling of the climate crisis, the class struggle is reaching a fever pitch. As the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci once put it “The old world is dying and the new world is struggling to be born.”
Simply put, the capitalist system has outlived its historic purpose: to develop science, technology and industry. Instead, it has become a fetter on our ability to control this deadly virus – it is throwing us back into barbarity.
The question of overthrowing capitalism is no longer an interesting discussion point or something to worry about in the distant future. It is the burning question of our times – and the question turns concretely to how we can succeed.
What’s theory got to do with it?
The capitalist state is a formidable force; the most refined tool in the arsenal of the ruling class. But it would be nothing without the power of ideas. From cradle to grave, we are taught that capitalism is the only possible system, or that class no longer exists! What’s more, we are artificially atomised, encouraged to fight amongst ourselves; we are told that if we do not succeed in a system stacked against us, we have only ourselves to blame.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, after various failed mass movements and an overwhelming mood of defeatism in academic circles, postmodernism found its way into the universities. Though a very amorphous trend in thought, its proponents reject that we can understand history and scoff at ideas of ‘progress’. Some thinkers even dismiss Marxism and class struggle as ‘Eurocentric’.
All of this guff serves to divide and confuse the working class – it has nothing to do with clarifying the real relations of exploitation, and passes over in silence how they can be overcome. That is why we need a scientific understanding of the world around us.
This is precisely what the powerful ideas of Marxism do. It is not for nothing that we understand Marxism to be the generalised historical memory of the working class and its theoretical expression.
Marxism is, first and foremost, a theory that strives to grasp the world as it is so that we can collectively change it and increase our power over nature, including that of society. We do not concern ourselves with theory out of mere academic intrigue or reverie, but in order to fight against capitalism and in its place build a better world. As Karl Marx famously said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”
Revolutionary ideas are our sharpest weapon against the whirlwind of violence, bloody thread of repression and misery for the majority that constitutes class rule.
Marxism explains how we are not passive agents within the world. Though we do not choose the material conditions we are born into, we are capable of making our own history.
As Marx commented in The Poverty of Philosophy, “history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature”. There is nothing absolutely fixed, static or absolutely predetermined in the present situation.
The fact is that something has fundamentally changed. The hammer blows of events have shaken mass consciousness, and all of the old habits and illusions are beginning to melt away. But more than this, the brutality against those protesting for change is subject to the law of diminishing returns.
With the working class and youth not cowering to the state’s monopoly on violence, the stability of the existing order wears thin, and begins to crumble. The growing interest in socialist ideas has alarm bells ringing in the ears of the ruling class.
With sharp twists and turns in the political situation, immense possibilities open up for revolutionary Marxist ideas. Calls for the abolition of the police, alongside demands for workers’ control and nationalisation, have organically arisen. The energy and enthusiasm of the youth is plain as day everywhere we look.
People that did not think much of politics before have developed a palpable hatred of the government, and a scepticism towards each bumbling announcement. In highly politicised times like these, how could we not be filled with revolutionary optimism?
Lenin wrote in What is to Be Done?:
“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity.”
These words ring just as true today. In the wake of Corbyn’s and Sanders’ defeat, there has been no shortage of ex-left renegades and petit-bourgeois Guardian columnists taking the stand. The working class are to blame, we are told, since they are all knuckle-dragging racists and die-hard patriots.
There are many esteemed academics on the ‘left’ that claim that we should ‘vote blue no matter who’, singing for the sorry hymn sheet of lesser evilism. Some have even suggested that capitalism is too big to bust, and we must jettison any naive ideas of revolution. Once the masses move however, they won’t stop to seek approval from these charlatans. History will march over the heads of these naysayers, and they won’t even realise it.
There are even those that argue America is a fascist state, whereas China is the final vindication of communism. Reactionary neo-Malthusian ideas have emerged in the climate movement, and muddled ideas of ‘whiteness’ and privilege theory have been used to discourage socialist ideas in the black liberation struggle.
That is why Socialist Appeal is hosting Revolution 2020 – a three day festival of Marxist ideas, covering all of these key questions and many more. Fittingly, the theme of this year’s event is A World on Fire.
In a convulsive period like our own, only the most resolute ideas will do. We must cut through this confusion with an absolute clarity in our own perspectives and a Marxist response to these is essential. We cannot afford to give an inch to ideas that serve to divide and split the international working class and youth.
by Marxist Student Federation