Monday 9 August 2010

The red mole of history

Browsing on the 'Net at the weekend, I stumbled across this little gem of distilled political wisdom from North East-based historian Raymond Challinor, which I dimly recall reading when it was first published in 2001.

'The anger and alienation existing within society, any modern society, results in strife. This manifests itself in a variety of ways - multitudinous murmuring, protest meetings, demonstrations, strikes and, even, occasionally, revolutions.

The problem is that socialists, involved in anti-capitalist activities, often expect a successful revolutionary culmination, an ending that rarely occurs. It reminds me of Shakespeare's Henry IV, where Owen Glendower brags, 'I can call the sprits from the vasty deep.' To which Hotspur retorts, 'Why, so can I, or so can any man, but will they come when you call them?'

But revolutionary socialists should not be disheartened. In circumstances of capitalist normality they can have a negligible impact on the course of events. The political temperature depends upon two things that remain virtually outside their control.

First, there is the objective situation, the actual conditions under which people live. And second, there are the conditions under which they consider they are entitled to expect to live.

If these two remain roughly the same there will be no mass protest movements. But once people make the links between the gap that exists between what life is and what it could be, then they move into action, show themselves able and willing to fight for a better world, and socialist ideas swing into their own.

Not only are the organisation and ideas the distillation of centuries of working class struggle- they also acquire still greater power through the passage of time.

Let me illustrate this by taking as an example The Communist Manifesto. To the overwhelming majority of humanity living in 1848 it would seem quite meaningless. When Marx and Engels wrote, large parts of the world remained unknown, unexplored and economically undeveloped.

Where in their writings was, for instance, any talk of Korea or Latin America? Their collected works never mention them. Even if they had, a modern, free enterprise economy did not then exist there. There was no industrial society, no division between capitalist and worker, hence no class struggle as we know it today. Workers of the world could not have united.

Yet nevertheless Marx and Engels were still correct. They were thinking dialectically, not formally, in terms of not merely being but becoming. Korea and Latin America may well have been, in 1848 terms, located in the dream clouds, but today they are enmeshed in the world capitalist system and the domination of giant multinational corporations.

As a consequence we find our struggle intertwined with theirs in a way that could never have been envisaged in 1848. We are both equally victims of international capitalism. Workers of the world must unite.'

Image: a young Karl Marx


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