A Brief Definition of Proletarian Revolution




By Jan Makandal

October 12, 2014

 We can define revolution in a few simple words: the conquest of political power, the conquest of democracy, the repressive violation of all rights of property, and the violent destruction of the bourgeois mode of production. All these concepts confirm the state apparatus as the means and, by the same token, the first objective of the revolution. The destruction of the capitalist state apparatus to disorganize the capitalist class is a necessity manifested by the fundamental contradiction between capital and labor.

This is the political aspect of revolution, its principal task. A complete concept encompasses the qualitative transformation of a social formation from one mode of production to another, the overturning of the entire ensemble of social relations comprising all fields of that social formation: economic, political and ideological. In this text, we will focus on the political field. The political field is principal because the conquest of political power is the indispensable prerequisite for and gateway to total social transformation.

Proletarian political revolution encompasses democracy and dictatorship, two phenomena that exist both in contradictory unity and in identity. In the hands of the proletariat, power achieves the conquest of democracy for the masses and dictatorship over the bourgeoisie.

Their relationship is not a formula to satisfy moral demands for justice, rights, and progress while at the same time taking political efficacy into account. Instead, the proletarian definition of revolution is a rupture from an inveterate ideological problematic: the bourgeois and petit bourgeois approach of whining about a problem instead of resolving it. It is a clear-cut demarcation from idealism, which refuses to acknowledge the relation between democracy and dictatorship, right and fact, justice and violence, the relation of forces and correspondent power, domination and submission, equality and antagonism.

This definition of revolution represents the politic of the proletariat, recognizing the moment of the political conquest of political power as the nodal point. In addition, it is also a political definition. Any definition of revolution that does not include the political conquest of power, the smashing of the existing state apparatus and the emergence of a new political power by another class, is not a proletarian definition of revolution.

The proletarian political definition of revolution is, in principle, the definition of a specific form of revolution. Each specific mode of production determines the forms of its political and ideological superstructures, even if these function in relative autonomy with the economic base. The material condition for the superstructure is the base. Democracy and dictatorship are specific forms and types of a political system that would not exist, except insofar as they are necessary for the base.

Revolution is not simply an act or action, even if the revolutionary process incorporates acts. It is not an act of rebellion, like many petit bourgeois charlatans seem to believe. The recent uprisings in Egypt and Greece are not revolution. The act of standing in a public place expressing discontent is not equal to revolution.

Proletarian revolution is a specific set of acts comprising the autonomous movement of the proletariat realizing its own project. It is the objective process in which the proletariat and its party are engaged, while leading the popular masses toward the accomplishment of its goal. The fact that it is the project of the proletariat is what makes it revolutionary.

 Though the measures and points constituting a program are integral elements of a revolutionary process, they can’t end class domination in themselves. Class antagonism cannot be abolished by decree. This error has been made by many, such as anarchists who assert that class divisions will disappear through expropriation or self-management, Stalin who believed it could be done through repression, or Trotsky by introducing “Saturday communism” (working an extra day without pay for the good of society). Such measures and programs can be very bureaucratic, and lead to capitalist restoration. (This is the case even if, in the course of the revolutionary process, some of them may be necessary to create the material conditions for class abolition). The tendency to attempt to resolve problems through measures and programs is a trademark of the democratism of the petit bourgeoisie, trapped in the framework of bourgeois democracy.

Measures and programs are self-exceeding, a characteristic residing in their insufficiency. In other words, they are constantly surpassed by the material results which they produce. It is a constant reality in dialectics that the more we do, the more doors will open.

The essence of the proletarian revolutionary process resides in the capacity of the proletariat to construct organic relations with all the popular sectors of a social formation, especially the fundamental masses. That whole process is proletarian politics. It is the strength of those relations that determines the power of that movement—not taking measures or coming up with programs.

The ultimate objective of proletarian revolution is the abolition of the material condition of capital: wage labor. This struggle cannot be limited to measures and programs, which are insufficient and unsupportable as the means of transforming the social relations among agents of production.

This has been proven by all previous experiences of the construction of socialism (a significant phase of the revolutionary process).

The proletariat aims to centralize production in the hands of its own state apparatus. It has its own conception of the development of the productive forces, based on the theory of counting on our own strength. While these are necessary components of the struggle to abolish classes, they can take us only part of the way along that path. As long we are talking about class struggle, forces, tendencies, and the revolutionary process as a whole, it is also important to appropriate the notion that we are dealing with antagonism.

No programs, no measures, nor even the most advanced form of development of the productive forces can lead to the abolition of classes, unless the necessary material conditions exist. It is especially crucial to have a clear understanding of the social relations under which the abolition of classes is being achieved.

At this time, it is important to demarcate from the evolutionist, quantitative conception of capitalism as a simple system of production (as distinct from a mode of production, which includes an understanding of its historical development). Notions of systems are merely technical, and thus could be somewhat reformed by measures, programs and decrees. But the capitalist mode of production is not merely an economic system; it is an ensemble of social relations with a history, one that has been shaped and determined in all aspects by class antagonism.

 Thus we can insist emphatically that the principal aspect of the proletarian revolutionary process is class struggle, succeeding to the abolition of classes. The revolutionary process is internal to this specific social formation; while it is important to learn general lessons from others, it will not resemble them. Each social formation is unique, and must be dealt with in its specificity, on its own terms.

Under capitalism, the fundamental antagonism is between two classes: the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class), and the proletariat (the working class). These are not correspondent opposites, but are qualitatively different. Thus their struggle for dominance is for two completely divergent aims. The domination of bourgeoisie is for the reproduction of capital, while the domination of the proletariat is for the dissolution of classes (including itself). Therefore, class antagonism can only be resolved by the proletariat.

In general, proletarian class struggle takes two innovative forms:

A] Struggle for the constitution of another form of class domination, the organization of the proletariat as the “dominant” class.

B] Struggle for the ultimate abolition of all classes, through the destruction of the two fundamentally antagonistic classes.

The conquest of political power is only an initial moment. But it is a decisive one, because it constitutes the initial condition for the new form of domination, which is a necessary step toward the ultimate abolition of classes. This is the reason that it is the principal task under capitalism and in social formations under imperialist domination. This is why we insist that proletarian revolution is the order of the day. This is not a theoretical question. As Mao might have put it, this is a problem to confront and to resolve.

The conquest of political power requires and commands the autonomous role of the proletariat. This fact confirms and consolidates many of the fundamental theories and theses elaborated in the Communist Manifesto. For example, “The history of all social formations is the history of class struggle”—to this rule there are no exceptions, even during the transition from socialism to communism, and even in the utopian world of equality that is imagined by the petite bourgeoisie.

History can advance positively or negatively. These two tendencies are in constant struggle. History doesn’t chase fantasies of a radiant and pacific tomorrow, but can only advance based on present struggles. Only the contradictions of these struggles can give us any hint of the future, of their own result.

For example, if today’s struggles (or any struggle in any social formation) remain led by the petit bourgeoisie, or under the domination of the capitalist class or dominant classes, then the future is not bright. Likewise, as long the working class doesn’t enter the political arena as an autonomous class (in any social formation), then the tendency is for the social formation to degenerate, in the interests of the dominant classes. This is currently the strongest possibility, even if in committing some acts or actions the petite bourgeoisie makes a lot of noise, like in various moments of the 1960s, or more recently in Egypt, Greece and Turkey.

Here we must demarcate from another erroneous conception: that when the proletariat defeats its class enemy, class struggle will cease to exist due to a lack of opposing combatants. This would reduce the concept of struggle to a formal concept, with two symmetrical adversaries.

But historical materialism is more advanced than simply a theory of struggle or of contradiction in general. It is a theory of constant dialectical relation. It is a theory of particular struggles, materially determined. Thus historical materialism allowed the construction of a clear concept: the theory of surplus value. The terms of the revolutionary process are not about individual or even class protagonists outside of the theory of surplus value. Individuals and classes are merely effects of the antagonistic conditions of social production. The goals of the revolutionary process are to transform the antagonistic conditions, the relations of exploitation, with all their effects.

To even think about the end of exploitation is to conceptualize the constitution of a proletarian state. Those who oppose all forms of capitalistic property, and violently destroy them, must replace that form of appropriation by another form. In addressing this, we are dealing with a difficult point: the call for a proletarian state is also the call to construct a form a societal organization of production that is inherently opposed to a form that did produce, historically, the state apparatus as a means of class domination.

So we need to understand the modality of a transformation that allows groups of individuals to transition to a status of a state, to a group of individuals that is no longer a state. This is a difficulty that flashes back on the whole revolutionary process, because it concerns its decisive point: its final objective is a classless society. This objective determines the forms and methods by which the present embryonic struggle is concentrated and waged from this point forward.

The revolutionary process of the proletariat is dealing with two opposites in contradictory unity: the consolidation of the proletarian state and the dissolution of that proletarian state. In that dialectical relation, its dissolution is determinant. Since knowledge is concrete, the concrete reality of each moment in the revolutionary process will define the political forms to address that contradictory unity of the consolidation of the proletarian state and its simultaneous dissolution.