Betting on politics

BODE, Carmela Gross, series BANDO, 2016


There are moments in history when the masses, exasperated by decades of exploitation and persecution, lose their fear. And then they lean towards the “last alternative”. It is there that the revolution appears in the eyes of millions not only as necessary, but as possible.

There is no doubt that, driven by revolutionary passion and an exaggerated appreciation of objective evidence, Marx made the proposition of a historical necessity, which was detached from the empirical and discursive foundation. In this way, he prepared the most difficult impasse that the doctrine he founded faces today. Explanations about the strength of reformism within the working class, while illuminating, did not, in my opinion, go to the bottom of the question. The influence of bourgeois ideology and material concessions lavished by the bourgeoisie of countries such as England in the 1th century, privileged by obtaining extraordinary gains, is undeniable. However, deeper we are going to find something that the revolutionary theorists of Marxism avoided admitting and yet, under present circumstances, it is already impossible to deny. That is, that the working class is ontologically reformist. The entire world-historical experience demonstrates that, day by day, in the everyday course of its existence, the working class does not go beyond the frontiers of the ideology of reformism. Outside of everyday life, it sometimes wages bloody struggles, of high intensity with regard to the means employed, but it does so for the purposes of reform, not revolution. The more developed and powerful the working class, the more reformist its political conduct, the greater its preference for the benefits that can be obtained within the capitalist regime and the more strict its rejection of revolutionary initiatives. That is, the reformist ontological condition of the working class does not weaken, but strengthens with its development [XNUMX].

On the theoretical level, the method that intends to draw definitive conclusions about the political protagonism of the proletariat is very doubtful, considering that the interval of the last hundred years, the epoch of modern imperialism, would have been enough to demonstrate the terminal inability of the working class to lead a social bloc , strong enough to defeat Capital on an international scale. Would a hundred years be enough? Why? After all, one hundred years is an interval, historically, brief, short, insufficient for such a categorical (and skeptical) conclusion.

Of course, the subject of the one hundred year historical gap deserves some thought. Because it may seem reasonable, if the scale of our lives is much smaller, and that is where we place the bets of political struggle. Even more, if we consider that the last hundred years, due to their qualitative intensity, are worth two or three centuries. History measures are not linear like those of calendars and clocks, where every hour has sixty minutes.

But this thesis is hasty, therefore, wrong. Both methodologically and historically. From the point of view of method, the philosophical figure of a proletariat, ontologically reformist, as Gorender concluded, closes an analysis that cannot be, theoretically, conclusive, at least, as long as the social subject exists and fights.

If capitalism were to evolve, hypothetically, towards a new mode of production, whatever it might be, and whatever the new social relations of production, in such a way as to dispense with the proletariat and, therefore, to extinguish work employee, retrospectively, a balance of this nature would be possible. As long as there is a struggle, a social subject cannot renounce the struggle to defend himself or surrender. He has to move in defense of his interests. In this sense, the last word has not yet been given, and the proletariat could again act, revolutionary, as it has done many times in the past.

It is not important to examine whether defeats or victories in future fights are more likely, but to consider whether it is possible, if not likely, that they will occur. The fight is always a bet on the future. Decisive struggles, the opening of revolutionary situations may take time, but they are unavoidable; the political solution, the conquest of power, the victory, would be possible, but uncertain.

The vacillations and insecurities of the proletariat in the face of decisive confrontations remain the final argument that sustains dismay and hopelessness in the prospects of triumph of a revolutionary strategy: the working class would have missed the meeting with History. The argument is strong, but it is not new.

These positions are not surprising in periods of prolonged ebb, or after very serious defeats. Impressionism is, however, dangerous in politics and fatal in theory. The anxieties faced with the challenges of the class struggle feed on the inertial force, which acts powerfully towards maintaining order. The forces of historical inertia, in turn, are supported by many factors (material and cultural). They are not to be underestimated. It is because they are great that historical transformations have always been slow and painful.

The socialist transition, the passage of power from a privileged class to a dispossessed majority, something very different from the passage from one owning class to another owning class, promised to be a very difficult and unprecedented process. After all, the struggle for power of an economically exploited, socially oppressed, and politically dominated class is the greatest historical challenge of our time.

Long intervals are needed for the working class to be able to recover from the experience of defeats, and manage to generate a new vanguard, regain confidence in its own forces, and find willingness to risk again through collective organization, class solidarity, and from mass mobilization a political gamble in the struggle for power.

What is meant, however, by a bet on politics? This meant, for classical Marxism, that capitalism pushed the proletariat, despite its hesitations, through the material experience of life, through crises and cyclical catastrophes, in the direction of class struggle. History is full of episodes of political surrender of forces, movements, factions, parties, leaders and chiefs. But the struggling classes “do not surrender”. They retreat, break off hostilities, lessen the intensity of combat, doubt their own strength, but while they exist, they accumulate new experiences, reorganize themselves in new forms and return to the fight.

Classes may act, for a longer or shorter period, against their own interests. But they cannot definitively renounce the defense of their interests: classes do not do “harakiri” or “seppuku”. The battles, the combats, each fight, are on this scale, in a historical perspective, always partial and transitory battles, momentary victories or defeats. Power relations change, and can be more or less unfavorable, defeats and victories can be political or historical, with more lasting or more superficial consequences.

However, there is no historical possibility of political suicide for a social class. A social class can be “materially destroyed”, to use a brutal expression, due to a process of development or profound historical regression, and cease to exist as a social subject. This has also happened several times in history. But, always, involuntarily: as long as it exists, that is, as long as it is economically and socially necessary, it will resist and fight.

Whether he will do so with a revolutionary disposition or not is another question. This is the proper focus for discussing Marxist predictions about the role of the proletariat. A bet on politics, for Marxism, means that the proletariat, even with all the objective and subjective limitations that condition it, sooner or later, will be faced with the last alternative, the path of revolution. It may take a long period of union-parliamentary learning to exhaust and overcome expectations on the possibilities of reforming capitalism.

But it can also dispense with or abbreviate the decades of experience in class collaboration: because the lessons are transmitted in different ways and, more intensely, as the international dynamics of the class struggle is accentuated. The proletariats learn from each other's class struggle processes, in different countries, and they would not necessarily have to repeat the same paths over and over again. Even in the same country, the “advantages of backwardness” allow detachments of the working classes to learn from the experience of the sectors that launched themselves to the front in a pioneering way.

There are moments in history when the masses, exasperated by decades of exploitation and persecution, lose their fear. And then they lean towards the “last alternative”. It is there that the revolution appears in the eyes of millions not only as necessary, but as possible. When and under what circumstances is one of the most difficult topics.

But these moments are more frequent than you think. And when the proletariat loses its ancestral fear of rebelling, even loses its fear of dying, society as a whole plunges into a turmoil and vertigo from which it cannot emerge without great upheavals and changes. And if that feeling is shared by millions, then that social force becomes a terrible material force, bigger than armies, than police, than media, churches, bigger than anything, almost unbeatable. These moments are the revolutionary crises.

That most of the revolutions of the XNUMXth century were defeated does not demonstrate that new revolutionary waves will not occur in the future. This is the Marxist bet on the ability of the working class to inspire all the oppressed in the fight against capitalism.

*Valerio Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman)


[1] Jacob Gorender. Marxism without Utopia, São Paulo, Attica, 1999, p. 37-38.

See this link for all articles