The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, June 28, 2004

Surveying Information Age Warfare

Socialism in an Age of Waiting is back, and very much welcome, not least for linking to a deeply depressing paper on the future of warfare (text download) by the late Paul Hirst. The good news in Hirst's paper is that there is unlikely to be a war between the major powers. The bad news is that in every other respect the 21st century is likely to be worse than (e.g.) the one I imagined in the Fall Revolution books. It's likely to be worse than John Brunner imagined. Hirst concludes:
This is not a pleasant prospect. It could be that this analysis is too pessimistic and the forces outlined here will be less powerful, that climatic change will not be so dramatic, that the R[evolution in]M[ilitary]A[ffairs] will prove more limited in scope, and that the developed countries will shift resources dramatically to tackle poverty on a world scale. For that to happen the attitudes of ordinary citizens in the developed countries would have to change radically: accepting the massive reduction of emissions (and the changes in lifestyle that would have to accompany such moves) to check climate change, paying for more for aid, welcoming migrants, and seeking to eliminate the sources of conflict rather than repress those who take up arms. It would be a remarkable reversal and it will have to happen soon.
It is not, of course, likely to happen at all. The comrades at SIAW would no doubt see the considerations adduced by Hirst as an argument for the democratic socialist world revolution for which they are waiting. But if the economic calculation argument is valid, we must accept that (Marxian, non-market) socialism, however democratic (etc, etc), would result in industry grinding to a halt and people dying like flies, as indeed it has done whenever it has been seriously attempted. (Fortunately it has not been seriously attempted in most socialist countries, hence the otherwise inexplicable prevalence of state capitalism, and the inevitable reversion from state to private capitalism.) If so, it's time for responsible Marxists to follow Hirst's excellent example and stop blathering on about socialism, in the sense of some post-market order about whose actual economic mechanism that is supposed to replace the market they (like the rest of us) have (when you part the thickets of wearisomely familiar verbiage) no fucking clue, and which won't arrive no matter how long we wait.

There is, however, hope, and it does lie in the proles. For if socialism has been the crushing disappointment of the twentieth century, proletarian revolution has been its smashing success. Marx was absolutely on the money about the revolutionary potential of the urban working class. He was just wrong about its liability to establish a socialist order. Proletarian revolutions have been frequent and are increasingly prevalent, but socialism in Marx's sense is still news from nowhere.

(A perhaps avoidable digression: There was one proletarian socialist revolution, and it went to the devil as swiftly as any medieval millennarian commune, due in large measure to the unexpected and (in 1918) quite novel and inexplicable phenomenon of industry grinding to a halt and people dying like flies. ('If you don't mind me saying so, that's a very Soviety bridge,' remarked an old women to Lenin and Krupskaya as they picked their way across some rickety deathtrap over a freezing torrent. Lenin, to his undying credit, promptly added 'Soviety' to his already extensive thesaurus of pejoratives. But to his dying day he never did understand why a Soviety bridge was a rickety bridge - he thought it had something to do with bureaucracy, and put Stalin in charge of sorting the matter out, a decision he lived just long enough to regret but not, alas, long enough to rescind.) 1917 aside, the proletarian revolutions have not been socialist, and the socialist revolutions have not been proletarian.
For lack of even the most essential data, also excluded from this study is the People's Socialist Republic of Nambuangongo, established around February 1961 in the Dembos forests in north-western Nambuangongo (between the rivers Loge and Dang) in the immediate wake of the 1961 rising in Luanda. The republic will probably remain the most distant and curious echo of the Bolshevik revolution. Therefore, in spite of the fact that it has not proved possible to unearth any data on this example, it does seem important that its existence should be put on record.
Bogdan Szajkowski, The Establishment of Marxist Regimes, Butterworths, 1982.

(The book painstakingly and almost tediously documents the non-proletarian social basis of every single establishment of a self-styled Marxist regime, other than the one established by the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet in October 1917 (Old Style).) Some of the most impressive proletarian revolutions have been anti-socialist: Hungary 1956, Poland 1981, Rumania 1989, China 1989. Not all were victorious but, as Perry Anderson said of the 19th-century English workers, even when they won no victories, their defeats were astonishing. What The Economist said of 1981 can stand for them all: Marx's irresistible force met Lenin's immovable object. Sometimes the irresistible force was stopped, and sometimes the immovable object ... moved.)

Not long ago the commonest form of unconstitutional governmental or regime change was through military coup, with guerilla war running a distant but respectable second. These days it's through proletarian revolution: mass, urban, working-class insurrections have toppled governments across the globe. The wage and salary earners are now the largest class on the planet, and by far the most decisive one. They've been throwing their social weight around to good effect. The unappeasable crowd in Republic Square, the converging columns of the rural poor, the snowstorm of secret police files from the broken windows of the gutted Ministry of the Interior, the armed workers and students reading the news in the national television studio - such formerly once-in-a-generation epochal events have become so common in the years since 1989 that they sometimes fail to make the front pages of even serious bourgeois newspapers. The governments they put in have so far not been outstanding at advancing the interests of the working class, but no doubt we'll get the hang of it eventually.


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