Revolutionary Agency: In Whose Interests?

Who will struggle for revolutionary change? Many answers have been given in the past. Marxists identify the working class as that sector of society with a vested interest in overthrowing capitalism. Black Power advocates identify people of color as the sector with a vested interest in overturning White Supremacy. Radical Feminism identifies women as bearing a vested interest in ending male domination.

Each of these approaches have part of the truth. To get a clearer sense of what the whole truth is, it is helpful to consider the meaning of democracy. In its simplest form, democracy means that the interests of the majority should determine the ends sought by our political institutions. If we apply this logic to the matter of race or class struggle, it is clear that if the interests of the majority were the guiding force of politics, then people of color and the working masses would have an inherent right to rule the world. In the case of gender, the issue is almost an even split.

So, the obvious question here is, why is a minority – namely, rich white men – running the world? The general answer is power, exercised through a set of specific institutions that enable the dominance of the wealthy white ruling class. Among these institutions are the military, the police, the state, the economy, the family, and religion.

So, are the Marxists right that the most important social struggle is that of the workers against capitalists? Certainly, wealth accounts for a great deal of the power of the ruling class. Using the wage system, capitalism essentially ensnares nearly every person in a competitive struggle to rise above poverty by renting their bodies and labor to the capitalists. The capitalists are primarily interested in profit and greater wealth, not the overall welfare of humanity.

However, there is reason to believe that a purely working-class politics is inadequate. The ruling class is not only wealthy, they are also white. An entire history of racial domination is bound up with the rise of capitalism. The ruling class is also male, and the subordination of women is still a critical part of even the most modern of societies.

Does this suggest that the Anarchist philosophy is the answer? Perhaps the struggle of the majority of humanity against domination is a matter of fighting to dismantle all concentrations of power? There is certainly some truth in that view.

However, as Noam Chomsky, who is sympathetic to anarchism, has said, “abolishing the state is not a political strategy.” If we conceive of a social revolution as the overthrowing of the ruling class in favor of rule by the majority of society, then a merger of the interests of people of color, working-classes, and women holds the most promise. Rather than simply abolishing the State or centralizing economic power in the State, a revolutionary movement will reshape both the government and the economy, as well as the family, the military & police, and religion in the interests of the human majority.

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4 thoughts on “Revolutionary Agency: In Whose Interests?

  1. In general, I look to the lowest rungs of society for revolutionary leadership, if you can call it that. I suppose that would be the third-world rural poor. Within the bloated United States, it would be the chronic unemployed; starting with the homeless, and people on welfare. The trouble with workerism is the uncomfortable fact that “unemployed worker” is an oxymoron. A historical antecedent for the revolutionary class that makes sense to me is the sans culottes, which I think means something like “people without a pot to piss in.” I understand it to mean people without enough things going for them to have “buy-in.” Or put another way, people who have nothing (say a “career”) to lose if, say, the world were to go up in flames. I would say that unemployment is a special case of a larger problem I call “nichelessness.” I use this term as a way of anticipating and defusing possible objections following those oh-so-inspirational (retch, retch) news stories about people who, gaining no traction in the J.O.B. market, become entreprenoors and found businesses selling hand-baked cupcakes or some other luxury delicacy. I’m skeptical of the idea that 100% self-employment is even remotely realistic, although I’m trying to be open to the idea. I’ve heard it said at least some places that the demographic force behind much of the mass protest in the Middle East and Europe is unemployed and underemployed young college graduates. Being college graduates, perhaps they’re too privileged, or at leaset coddled, to be a revolutionary class. But their existence in large numbers worldwide gives lie to the propaganda we were raised on about education being an unlocker of doors of opportunity. More to the point, it serves as a reminder that capitalism is like musical chairs—the fact that there are more people than chairs is by design; is one of the defining features. Perhaps people can take ownership of the pejorative loser and organize a “losers’ march,” which I think would be the logical present-day analogue of a “poor people’s march.”

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