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Marx's theory of revolution

By Brian Becker

From a presentation at an Oct. 23 public forum on "The World Economic Crisis and the Future of Marxism" in New Paltz, N.Y.

We have taken on a dangerous assignment in commemorating Karl Marx and Frederick Engels on the 150th anniversary of the publication of "The Communist Manifesto." Why? Because history has a tendency to render great historical figures-especially revolutionary fighters who were despised, ridiculed, and repressed by their ruling classes while they lived-into harmless icons after their death.

Karl Marx was hated and demonized by the ruling classes of Europe because he was above all else a revolutionary. He dedicated his life to revolution. A genius from the ranks of the bourgeoisie, Marx and his family led a life of great poverty and destitution so that he could devote all of his energies to the movement for the liberation of the working class.

Marx brought forth a new theory of revolution. That's why he was hated. And because so many workers from China to Russia to Cuba to South Africa have upheld the banner of Marxism as they overthrew oppressing classes, Marx and his theory of revolution continue to be the focus of great hatred by the bosses, bankers, landlords and land owners everywhere.

It's not easy to talk about revolution in the United States because there is so little understanding of the concept. The only historical event in the United States that is characterized as a revolution was in fact not a revolution: the American Revolution.

The U.S. Revolution was not a social revolution because it did not change the existing property forms. The slave owners were still the slave owners after the revolution. In fact, they led the revolution. And the slaves were still the slaves.

It was a political revolution in the sense that a new form of government was created. The British colonial government was replaced by a new coalition government of slave-owners and a new merchant class or bourgeoisie.

In fact, Thomas Jefferson-the author of the Declaration of Independence, the great spokesperson for liberty and equality-owned 200 human beings as slave laborers. In addition, between 1802 and 1803 he assisted Napoleon on the naval blockade, sanctions and later invasion of Haiti in an attempt to crush the great slave revolution that had abolished slavery in the Western Hemisphere for the first time.

There has only been one real revolution in United States history-what we know as the Civil War.

The Civil War was a genuine social revolution. The economic power of the old slave-owning class-including its legal property rights to own slaves-was crushed. Chattel slavery was replaced with capitalist wage slavery.

The reason the Civil War was so bloody was that it was a real revolution. It took a struggle of that magnitude to dispossess the slave-owning classes of their property.

This was not simply a political revolution-a change in the form of government. It was a social revolution because it ushered in a profound readjustment in class rule.

The character of this momentous struggle should not obscure the fact that the property-owning capitalists in the North betrayed Black freedom within a decade. The Northern industrialists restored the old slave owners to power-but as partners in capitalist rule. And the former slave owners, in turn, introduced the apartheid police state that dominated the Southern part of this country for the following 100 years.

But chattel slavery had been ended for good.

Theory of revolution

What was Marx's theory of revolution?

In a letter he wrote to his friend and comrade Joseph Wedemeyer on March 5, 1882, Marx described his contribution in the most succinct possible way:

"No credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society, nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle of the classes, and bourgeois economists had discovered the economic anatomy of those classes. What I did that was new was to prove:

1) that the existence of the classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production;

2) that the class struggle leads necessarily to the dictatorship of the proletariat;

3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society."

"The dictatorship of the proletariat." Those sound like scary words. But Marx was not using the word dictatorship as a pejorative. He used the word in a scientific sense.

Marx considered all class societies to be the dictatorship of its dominant class. This is at the heart of Marx's analysis of the state.

If Marx were alive today he would not conclude that the United States is one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. He would characterize it as a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. And his solution to the suffering brought about by capitalism in the United States would be to replace the iron-fisted rule of the bankers and bosses with the dictatorship of the proletariat-the working class.

Liberals and conservatives alike will howl: There is no dictatorship in the United States. This is a democratic form of government.

Marx would agree. It's a democratic form of government-a very limited form of democracy-resting on top of a state apparatus that functions as the dictatorship of the rich, of the capitalist ruling class.

For example, IBM made $5 billion in profits in 1995 and then laid off more than 50,000 employees in order to use the profit to replace those human jobs with new technologies.

Was this decision made by voting? Yes. The board of directors of IBM voted to lay the workers off. The masses of workers got to vote for the president of the United States. But the bosses exercised a dictatorship over "their property, their company."

A one-sided use of force

How many poor people are in Congress? None.

How many poor people are judges? None.

How many rich people are on death row? None.

How many acts of police brutality are there against millionaires and billionaires? None.

How many tenants are evicted from their homes because they can no longer afford rent? Tens of thousands each week. How many landlords are evicted from their homes because they rob and cheat their tenants or refuse to make repairs? Again, none.

How many times in U.S. history have striking workers been able to call the police and say, "Please come down here right away, there are scabs crossing the picket line and stealing my job. Please arrest them." That'll never happen.

The bosses, though, always call the police to protect the strike breakers and the boss' "property."

This one-sided use of force, coercion and repression is wielded only to satisfy the interests and needs of the bourgeoisie. This is the law of the land.

Police, courts and prisons evict tenants, arrest strikers and act as an occupation force against rebelling Black and Latino communities in order to make sure that poor people don't expropriate rich people.

This is all an exercise of dictatorship.

And this use of force in the interest of one class for its domination and its profit extends to the realm of foreign policy.

The people of the United States weren't asked to vote on whether or not they wanted a Pentagon war against Vietnam or Korea. They didn't vote for the 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic, 1983 bombing of Lebanon, 1983 invasion of Grenada, 1986 bombing of Libya's capital city, 1989 invasion of Panama or 1991 slaughter in Iraq.

The people didn't vote on the 1993 "humanitarian" invasion of Somalia in which the Pentagon estimates that it killed 10,000.

The masses don't get to vote on invasions, or embargoes, blockades, and sanctions.

The population of this country doesn't get to vote on whether the United States should kill more than 1.5 million Iraqis, a majority children and elderly, through hunger and disease as the result of sanctions.

The decisions to use these levels of force and coercion are reserved for the state apparatus that pursues a policy to defend the global interests of U.S. capitalist corporations. The policy in the Middle East is designed exclusively to serve the interests of Exxon, Mobil, Texaco, not the workers in the United States.

Power to the people!

Marx believed that this dictatorship of the bourgeoisie takes a myriad of political forms: a democratic republican form, military junta or fascist police state. In some cases even a monarchy.

But beneath the form of government rests a system of coercion and repression that serves and protects the interests of the bourgeoisie.

Marx wanted to get rid of this dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. He saw the need to replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat. And he saw this form of state as a necessary transition to the abolition of all classes into a classless society.

Like the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the dictatorship of the proletariat could assume a myriad of political forms. It could be very democratic. That's the way the Soviet Union was during Lenin's lifetime, and Cuba is today. Or it could be less democratic-the way the Soviet Union became during the Stalin period.

But the dictatorship of the proletariat is in its essence the use of state power to defend the interests of the working class, the poor, the formerly oppressed.

It defends collective ownership of property as a right. It defends the right to a job, the right to universal health care.

The dictatorship of workers and oppressed peoples is required to make racism illegal and to use the state apparatus to decisively eradicate racism. And to abolish anti-woman violence, gay bashing and all other reactionary forms of violence perpetrated against oppressed people.

The dictatorship of the proletariat will ensure that no landlord will ever evict a tenant again. That no group of capitalists can own all the property created by the collective labor of the working class. And no boss can ever again exercise the authority to lay off the workers.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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