When You See What Political Revolution Is, Will You Still Want It?
A political revolution, which only exists really in Trotskyist theory, is an upheaval in which the government is replaced, or the form of government altered, but in which property relations are predominantly left intact. As a liberal progressive, i understand the implications of this and welcome them. I wonder if political revolution, as we know it, is what people really want?
It’s a theory of Marxism advocated by Leon Trotsky. The Trotskyist movement advocates political revolution in countries with deformed workers states. Such political revolutions are envisioned to overthrow undemocratic governments of bureaucratic privilege, replacing them with governments based on workers’ democracy while maintaining state owned property relations. That sounds good but will it work for us?
Is the United States A Deformed Workers’ State?
These are states where the bourgeoisie (we’ll get to them later) has been overthrown through social revolution, the industrial means of production have been largely nationalized bringing benefits to the working class, but where the working class has never held political power. These workers’ states are deformed because their political and economic structures have been imposed from the top and because revolutionary working class organizations are crushed. a deformed workers’ state cannot be said to be a state that is transitioning to socialism.
We’re not a deformed workers’ state for, while the working class has never held political power, the bourgeoisie has not been overthrown through social revolution, and the industrial means of production have not been largely nationalized bringing benefits to the working class. Perhaps we can’t have our political revolution in a Trotskyite fashion, but perhaps we can find it amongst Marxism at large? Afterall, where else are you going to look for your revolution to overthrow the entrenched political class in a democratic capitalist state pinko?
Karl Marx relentlessly criticized capitalism while promising an inevitable, harmonious socialist future. David L. Prychitko outlines some general characteristics of his philosophy.
Labor Theory of Value
In The Capital (1867), Marx claims the value of a commodity can be objectively measured by the average number of labor hours required to produce that commodity. If a pair of shoes usually takes twice as long to produce as a pair of pants, for example, then shoes are twice as valuable as pants. In the long run, the competitive price of shoes will be twice the price of pants, regardless of the value of the physical inputs.
This theory could explain the value of all commodities, including the commodity that workers sell to capitalists for a wage which he called “Labor Power” and defined as the worker’s capacity to produce goods and services. The value of labor power must depend on the number of labor hours it takes society, on average, to feed, clothe, and shelter a worker so that he or she has the capacity to work. If five hours of labor are needed to feed, clothe, and protect a worker each day so that the worker is fit for work the following morning, and one labor hour equaled one dollar, the correct wage would be five dollars per day.
If all goods and services in a capitalist society tend to be sold at prices (and wages) that reflect their true value (measured by labor hours), how can it be that capitalists enjoy profits? Capitalists, Marx answered, must enjoy a privileged and powerful position as owners of the means of production and are therefore able to ruthlessly exploit workers. Capitalists extract “surplus value” from the workers and enjoy monetary profits by paying less for what workers produce.
This sounds right. It may even make us feel good by confirming what we already think, but it’s now been accepted that entrepreneurial capitalists earn profits by forgoing current consumption, taking risks, and organizing production.
It wasn’t just profit seeking that bothered Marx about capitalism, in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Marx speaks of alienation or the belief that people, by nature, are free, creative beings who have the potential to totally transform the world, but the modern, technologically developed world is apparently beyond our full control. Combine this with the spontaneous purchase and sale of private property dictated by the laws of supply and demand (the free market) blocks our ability to take control of our individual and collective destinies.
Although workers produce things for the market, market forces, not workers, control things. People are required to work for capitalists who have full control over the means of production and maintain power in the workplace. Work becomes degrading, monotonous, and suitable for machines rather than for free, creative people. People themselves will become objects, robotlike mechanisms that have lost touch with human nature, that make decisions based on cold profit-and-loss considerations with little concern for human worth and need. Capitalism blocks our capacity to create our own humane society.
This doesn’t sound crazy, but the question remains: Can we successfully abolish an advanced, market-based society and replace it with a democratic, comprehensively planned society? The answer is no. We cannot create a comprehensively planned system that puts an end to scarcity and uncertainty. Nonetheless, Marx felt the source of our alienation is that we have not yet designed a society that is fully planned and controlled without competition, profits and losses, money, private property, etc.
The combination of Marx’s philosophical, economic and political theories believing that throughout the course of human history, a profound struggle has developed between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Capitalism has ruptured into a war between two classes: the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class that owns the means of production) and the proletariat (the working class, which is at the mercy of the capitalists).
Competition among capitalists will grow so fierce that, eventually, most capitalists would go bankrupt, leaving only a handful of monopolists controlling nearly all production. Instead of creating better products at lower prices for consumers, in the long run, capitalism creates monopoly which exploits workers and consumers alike. Former capitalists fall into the ranks of the proletariat, creating a greater supply of labor, a fall in wages, and a growing reserve army of the unemployed.
The anarchic, unplanned nature of a complex market economy is prone to economic crises as supplies and demands become mismatched, causing huge swings in business activity and, ultimately, severe economic depressions. The more advanced the capitalist economy becomes, the greater these contradictions and conflicts. The more capitalism creates wealth, the more it sows the seeds of its own destruction. Ultimately, the proletariat will realize that it has the collective power to overthrow the few remaining capitalists and, with them, the whole system.
The Political Revolution
Yeah. None of that is happening with the candidates currently running except for maybe Bernie who is even softening his stance to become more palatable to the electorate when it comes to economics. Today’s candidates run in two very predictable lanes. Either the system is fine, but we have “very stupid people” running it, or you can run on an explicitly restoration platform, appealing to romantic notions of a bygone era.
They’re emotional appeals that allude to aspects of a political revolution. “Remember the good old days before these corrupt pols ruined everything?” There are no plans to roll anything back nor move anything forward. Just think of the good old days when you think of the candidate. Most are, deliberately, extremely vague on policy as to not get picked apart; and, with no real record of accomplishment in gridlocked government, are just blank slates for effective marketing to project affirmation of people’s beliefs and values. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it. It’s just marketing.
Can anyone remember what presidential candidate actually listed what he would do, and if he won, actually did it? We see feel good campaigns without specifics because that’s what we want. I think that’s intentional on both sides, for obvious reasons chiefly among those is to prevent a political revolution.
I believe we are in the late stages of a mass media democracy. No one, except for maybe Hillary and Bernie, really has any idea why they should be president. Instead, they care only about winning. The point of running, the only point, the end in itself, is to win. Romanticism and populism are just marketing efforts with no more of a social meaning than a campaign to sell breakfast cereal or Buicks. Political Revolution? Not in 2016.