Revolution or systemic process?

Image: Inga Seliverstova
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By FERNANDO NOGUEIRA DA COSTA*

Economists always argue about the determination of a starting line of processes

ChatGPT responds. “A revolution is an abrupt and usually violent event. It leads to sudden radical changes in a society, often with the aim of replacing one existing system with another”. Many left-wing militants imagine themselves to be revolutionaries and quickly replace the capitalist system with the socialist one.

Revolutions usually involve armed conflict between groups with antagonistic interests or ideologies. They can be accompanied by political, social and economic instability, because the armed leadership or vanguard usually militarizes the State, adopts a totalitarian regime and imposes a general standardization.

In turn, a systemic process is a gradual and continuous change in a way of production and/or life, often without a specific event or conflict capable of voluntarily triggering it. This systemic re-evolution is influenced more by endogenous factors (tendential or gradual variations) rather than exogenous ones (shocks). Technological, political, social and economic changes ultimately lead to significant and lasting changes in society.

While revolutions are often seen as radical solutions to social and political problems, if not economic backwardness, systemic processes usually involve more permanent evolutionary changes. Social activists take this more pragmatic and sustainable approach to social change.

The so-called “industrial revolution” was actually an evolutionary process. Its designation is imprecise, because revolutions are characterized by sudden and rapid variations like a shock – and not a tendential process.

There is even debate about whether it actually began in the second half of the XNUMXth century in the United Kingdom. Historians, such as Lewis Mumford and Ademar Romeiro, argue that it has been a phenomenon dependent on civilizational trajectory since the European Middle Ages. If the changes occurred gradually, the term revolution is a misnomer.

Treating it as a “capitalist revolution” is a metaphor, as if it were an economic counterpart to bourgeois revolutions – the English one completed in 1688, the American one in 1776 and the French one in 1789. This “revolution” is symbolized by its disruptive innovation: the use of machines in industry, including the invention of the steam engine.

Economists always argue about determining a starting line for processes. When they agree on what the initial conditions would be, the chaotic trajectory would represent their departure. Hence, many times they do not know when it started or where it arrived…

Within this criterion, they designate the change caused by the introduction of electricity, oil and combustion engines as the Second Industrial Revolution. The Third Industrial Revolution is related to the electronic processing of data and the use of information technology and robotics in industrial processes.

All these technological changes, when they occurred, involved political, social and economic imbalances. Is this why they deserve to be treated as if they were a revolution?

Usually, history is used as a guide to the uncertain or unpredictable future. But it is becoming common to use the present as a guide to the unknown past.

Many economic historians predict the past! They adopt retrospective – not prospective – predictability They depart from the present towards an unknown journey with only one certainty: they will find the antecedent historical roots of the seen ahead as consequent. They tell the story from the finish line, that is, from front to back!

One of the main characteristics of historicism is the rejection of universalism or systemic holism, originating from the Enlightenment. It is replaced by a vision where each nation, region or continent is considered as an organic whole, with its own laws and logic of evolution.

Deirdre McCloskey, for example, ironizes all the facts against her liberal ideas as "a misguided leftist tale of economic history." After reading your book Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values ​​Create a Freer, Equal, and More Prosperous World for All (2019), the author plummets in the reader’s opinion from a stiff liberal to a lowly anticommunist…

Its ideological historicism only reaffirms that life has greatly improved compared to pre-capitalism. Everything would be the result of the capitalist industrial revolution – and not achievements of social struggles over the last centuries. For example, in England, in 1787, Anglicans created the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

Deirdre McCloskey does not see history as belonging to a complex system, emerging from the interactions of all its components, but only as a capitalist scene. In it, only the diversity of “free” (sic) individual human wills would be expressed.

In reality, the political-ideological forces of social movements such as humanism or enlightened rationalism, conservatism, religious fundamentalism, fascist nationalism, and utopian ideologies such as socialism and environmentalism, among others, have clashed with each other over the centuries. . This is without considering the psychological components of warmongers: dominance, revenge, insensitivity, tribalism, groupthink, self-deception, etc.

It is possible to demarcate different political Eras, from the beginnings of capitalism, in this case, commercial. In the Era of Dynasties, in the 1400th-1559th centuries (1559-1648), the struggle for rural property prevailed, even among family descendants of the nobles. In the Age of Religions, in the 1648th-1789th centuries (1789-1917), people fought to the death for their faith. In the Era of Sovereignty, in the 1917th-1989th centuries (XNUMX-XNUMX), struggles for civil rights predominated. In the Age of Nationalism, in the XNUMXth century (XNUMX-XNUMX), the claims were political rights. In the Age of Ideology, in the XNUMXth century (XNUMX-XNUMX), social rights were sought. Finally, in the XNUMXst century, the identity agenda against gender inequality, racism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, old phobia or ageism, etc., has predominated, characterizing this Age of Identity.

However, liberal historians usually highlight only the presumed causes of Western supremacy over Asia. Niall Ferguson, for example, highlights six “applications”.

Competition, that is, the decentralization of political and economic life, created the conditions for the emergence of nation-states and capitalism. Science, a way of studying, understanding and ultimately transforming the natural world, gave the West, among other benefits, an important military advantage over the rest. Medicine, a branch of science, made possible a major improvement in health and life expectancy, initially in Western societies, but also in its colonies.

Property law was part of the rule of law as a means of protecting private property owners and peacefully resolving disputes between them, laying the foundation for the most stable form of representative government. The Consumer Society installed a materialistic way of life in which the large-scale production and purchase of consumer goods played a central economic role, and without which the Industrial Revolution would have been unsustainable. Ultimately, the Work Ethic was a moral system and mode of activity, derived from Protestant Christianity, capable of providing cohesion to the dynamic and potentially unstable society created by it all.

However, Ferguson could not deny the alternations of Civilizations, in which Empires rise and fall in cycles around ½ or a millennium. Then he subdivided them into four great ones. Western Civilization 1.0 encompassed the Roman Republic (550BC-44BC) and the Western Roman Empire (44BC-476AD). Eastern Civilization 1.0 involved both the Byzantine East Roman Empire (476-1453) and the Chinese Empire I (Ming Dynasty 1368 to the Anglo-Chinese Opium Wars: 1839-1842 and 1856-1860). Western Civilization 2.0 (1492-2050) combined the Anglo-Saxon, Euro-American and Soviet Empires (1917-1991). Now, Eastern Civilization 2.0 (1979-.…) will replace it with Chinese Empire II.

If you don't believe this, check out the division of world production (1700-2012) presented in Thomas Piketty's book, Capital in the XNUMXst century. Asia had 60% of it in 1700. After the Industrial Revolution, it declined until it had only 20%, when the Chinese Communist Revolution took place in 1949.

European GDP was just over 30% of world GDP in 1820, during the English Industrial Revolution. It rose to 47% in 1913, before World War I, and then declined to 25% at the end of this time series in 2012. America's share of 35% of the total has remained the same since 1950, after World War II. World War. Asia, in 2012, had already surpassed it with about 40% of world GDP.

In general, the struggle of Western workers has been for the democracy of home ownership and for access to the consumer society. Marxists preach the revolution with the abolition of private property and state ownership of all means of production, the extinction of inheritance and the nationalization of credit. Social democratic demands are a constitutional government for national self-determination, freedom of expression, press and association for parliamentary representation of a labor party resulting from the alliance between the caste of unionized workers and the caste of intellectual savants in defense of the welfare state -being social. They advocate a systemic process over revolution.

*Fernando Nogueira da Costa He is a full professor at the Institute of Economics at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Support and enrichment network (Available here).


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