Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda for the 21st century?

Charles Posa McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden, January 2018

What about 20th century claims of revolutionary advance?

We were participants in the student, labor, civil rights and peace movements of the decades following World War II. We believed then that a revolutionary transformation was already in progress in a large part of the world. The leaders of an increasing number of countries at that time claimed that their countries had achieved or were on their way to building a socialist alternative to capitalism. We believed them, fueled in part by the strength of our own aspirations to live in a society free from the inequality, injustice, commercialism, war profiteering and cultural impoverishment of the capitalist countries in which we lived, and in part by a seemingly shared world view, one based on the 19th century revolution in philosophy, political economy and socialist theory to which Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were the principal contributors.

We were mistaken. What we mistook for socialist beginnings were countries whose revolutionary peoples were insufficiently prepared by prior experience and knowledge to withstand the combined forces of opposition to socialism, which included not only the military and economic power of the ruling classes of the core capitalist countries, but also hundreds of years of their own and their ancestors’ habituation and subordination to hierarchical rule and, in most cases, a relative absence of extended direct experience with developed capitalism.

Moreover, the democratic upsurge of the 1960s which shaped our generation occurred during the golden age of capitalism, the post-World War II economic boom when millions of working people and their families, especially in the core capitalist countries, were lifted above subsistence living, including sufficient incomes to purchase a wide array of new consumer goods and services, and more significantly, to experience a dramatic expansion of educational opportunity.

The advent of the neoliberal era

While the working class was enjoying the fruits of its prior political and economic struggles, the capitalist class continued in the post-World War II Golden Era and beyond to whittle away at the democratic foundations of working peoples’ success, beginning in the late forties with the initiation by the government of the United States and its capitalist allies of the Cold War and by the early 1950s of the accompanying McCarthy period witch hunts, in particular those conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee of the US Congress. These actions of the ruling class were in turn accompanied by their legislative action in the US and throughout much of the capitalist world to undermine the working class. By century’s end, with the collapse of the USSR, capitalism was left relatively free to transform itself into a transnational system, creating a race to the bottom in labor and environmental laws and conditions, but also paving the way for a new global system that could replace it. It is the global system in the form created by capitalism that is now in crisis, undermined by the same internal contradictions which have haunted capitalism since its inception. Where else can capitalism seek further growth but to double down on the exploitation of labor and nature?

And yes, we believe revolutionary transformation is on the agenda in this 21st century, this time, necessarily, a global revolution

The existential crisis humanity now faces puts revolutionary transformation on the peoples’ agenda. The dimension of the current crisis is the now global dimension of capitalism. There is literally no place left to hide from the crisis and no place to which the crisis can be exported and contained by capitalism, although the transnational capitalist class will continue to search for such a place, focussing on the weakest of those states – also capitalist - that dare to express a modicum of independence from the financial and military citadels of the system. Like a hurricane, capitalism knows no other future than the path of destruction of nature and people.

The revolutionary transformation to a system beyond capitalism, if it is to occur in time to allow humanity a continued existence, will have to be a global one if it is to end the existential threat from mutually reinforcing environmental destruction and protracted warfare, including the continuing threat of nuclear war. The current rate of destruction of nature and society precludes any further postponement of revolutionary struggle.

Those generations which have the longest horizon are in process of taking the lead

It will not be the authors’ generation that will carry through such a revolutionary transformation, although a growing proportion of what remains of our generation will likely continue to join the fray while they still can. The challenge of successfully finding a way to take humanity beyond capitalism inevitably belongs to the younger generations.

The evidence increases with each day that a revolutionary force within the younger generations is taking shape. The first indication of this has been the growth in the numbers engaged in the varied and diverse peoples’ movements and the concurrent growth of interest in the history of these movements and in the critical analysis of capitalism. Equally significant – and a more recent development - has been the growth in recognition of the common interests of seemingly diverse movements, in particular recognition that they face common obstacles to the realization of their diverse humanitarian aims.

The path to revolutionary transformation begins with resistance and continues with the struggle for reforms

For most people, revolutionary struggle begins with and is motivated by resistance to exploitation and oppression in its various forms. This resistance is exemplified in the United States and Canada by Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, events like the Women’s March on Washington, the LGBTQ2 pride parades, marches in defense of science, struggles for the right to a living income, the defense of people’s right to a healthy, sustaining natural environment, the struggles for the human rights of immigrants and environmental refugees, and the many other forms of resistance to exploitation and oppression.

To resistance struggles can be added the struggles for a radical democracy, including struggles for a fair and democratic electoral system, free of corporate influence and control, and for the right of working people to an equal say in their workplaces in all decisions that concern human health and welfare. Without such pro-democracy and resistance struggles, the remaining window of opportunity for revolutionary transformation would be narrowed and the neo-fascist tendencies of contemporary corporate capitalism correspondingly strengthened.

But recognition of the limitations of disconnected, single-issue struggles also needs to be recognized, including, for example, struggles for:

  • wage increases, which can be (and are routinely) negated by price increases that employing monopolistic corporations have the power to impose or by flat taxes that their government representatives can (and do) enact;
  • financial reforms that leave the most powerful capitalist financial institutions and their executives intact and in-charge; and
  • any other reforms that do not shift the balance of economic and political power away from the capitalist class and towards democratically functioning instruments of people-power.

Although paved by resistance and reforms, social transformation will require more

Resistance to oppression and the struggle for single issue reforms will not be enough. The experience of the past century makes it clear that the capitalist system itself will work to undermine any change that runs counter to its inherent drive towards capital accumulation. To secure any such change, a revolutionary transition out of capitalism to a more just, sustainable form of society is essential. And need we emphasize again that this must occur before the capacity of Earth to support human existence is much further eroded?

Still needed is the emergence and growth within the people’s movements of a revolutionary consciousness. This will occur, we believe, as those participating in these movements conclude that their humanitarian aims can only be securely achieved through the transformation of the present global system dominated by a capitalist economy and culture into a global system in which the dominant economic activity is democratically managed and the corresponding culture freely determined by the people themselves (radically democratic eco-socialism).

This consciousness will need to include recognition and study of the contemporary stage of capitalism, including its global character, the formation within it of a highly networked transnational capitalist class (TCC) and a corresponding transnational working class, and the global institutions, like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization, which serve as the TCC’s executive branch.

The millions, and ultimately billions, of people who acquire such a revolutionary consciousness through study and participation in the peoples’ democratic movements will determine from their own continuing participation, in a struggle that will further unfold, the most effective tactics and strategies for achieving such a revolution.

This revolution will not be an event. The path towards the revolution needed now was paved by many generations before us and will likely need to be continued by many generations after us. But there will be a revolutionary turning point, one marking the threshold between this period of increasing probability of humanity’s premature extinction and the start of a democratic eco-socialist future.

Non-violence is part of an appropriate strategy for revolutionaries

We believe that a revolutionary strategy in today’s circumstances includes a commitment to non-violent civil disobedience when and where this is necessary, with participation in it completely voluntary. The circumstances that determine the need and effectiveness of this strategy include the social nature of humanity, the fragility of the natural environment, the existence of weapons of mass destruction, and the will of humanity for continued life.

Non-violent civil disobedience, however, does not mean absence of force, notably the force of public opinion, organization and action. Nor does it mean absence of risk. Only when at first thousands and eventually millions of people are willing to put themselves at personal risk is revolutionary change possible. The violence of capitalism, including its collective power to impoverish those who dare to challenge its otherwise unfettered control of politics, the use of police and military force against those engaged in non-violent civil disobedience, the employment by the deep state of agents provocateurs to initiate violence as a pretext for state violence against the people, none of these or similar forms of violence can be precluded. But the level of such violence can be mitigated by the force of numbers and organization of those engaged in the struggle for a more just, democratic and sustainable society. The goal of this struggle, after all, is the end of all those forms of violence which today threaten humanity’s continued existence.

For a fuller elaboration of our viewpoint, including our attempt to give further voice to humanity’s revolutionary aspirations, see our work, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism on www.greensocialdemocracy.org.

Welcome!

This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New

NEW & REVISED

Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them

OPINION

Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

REVIEWS

Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

US CORNER

William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

HISTORY

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems

LABOR

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.