Jan Makandal interviewed on Resistance Radio (prn.fm) by Derrick Jensen. Topics: what is a revolution, contemporary classes under capitalism, class struggle, what revolutionary militants need to be doing now.
Listen below or at the Progressive Radio Network.
Jan Makandal interviewed by Derrick Jensen (05/11/14)
DJ: Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen, this is Resistance radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Jan Makandal. He’s a long-time revolutionary proletarian militant. He organised with the workers’ committee of Rockland County in the 1970s in upstate New York, as well as with a group of Haitian revolutionaries building a mass movement based among workers and peasants during the fall of Duvalier, plus other organisations within the US and Haiti. So thank you so much for being on the program today, Jan.
JM: Oh, thank you, Derrick, for giving me the opportunity to speak to your listeners and to you as well.
DJ: Thank you. OK, so for my first question—I like to dive right in. You know, you talk about the need for revolution but frankly, you know, we hear of revolution all the time: we hear it in, in commercials for cars, you know, “revolutionary car, this is a revolution,” we hear it in advertisements for cereal, we hear it in among, you know, mainstream organizations. For crying out loud, politicians talk about the need for revolution, so, and then, you know, recycling your paper is revolutionary, we hear. Um, so what do you mean by revolution?
JM: What do I mean by revolution? Revolution, to me, is the radical transformation of a society. It is a political struggle waged by a class to impose its own form of social organisation of that society. And so, as you asked the question, we could see that many classes in society have their own definition of revolution. The capitalist class will have its own definition of revolution and, if we take the petite bourgeoisie—that is also a class—they will carry their own definition of revolution. And for example the petite bourgeoisie, the revolution, for them, is for equality. In a sense, this is the form of relation the petite bourgeoisie will have with production. So, they want reform, they want some sort of equality. So you could see people involved in lifestyle [politics] will say that their action is a revolutionary action.
[However], the revolution in the interests of the working class is—or any dominated class in that sense—is for the total radical transformation of that society. It means the transition from one mode of production, one form of social organisation, to another form of social organisation. And historically we have seen [that ‘revolution’] is not a word that was created, it is a concept that has been constructed in practice. We have seen so far many revolutions.
As myself from Haiti, there was the slave revolution in Haiti, where there was a form of social organisation that we call slavery, where the slaves served their [master/owner]. The slave master bought the slave and the slave worked for the slave master. And basically the slaves organised themselves, and for a long time, they struggled, they resisted. There were different tendencies among the slaves and then at the end of the seventeen hundreds and the beginning of the eighteen hundreds, the slaves developed a revolutionary line and totally destroyed slavery. And we—Haiti—then was under a new form of social organisation that now we call feudalism.
And we [can] consider the Russian experience in the nineteen hundreds where the working class in Russia organised themselves and organised a revolution and took power. Now, it is not only the working class that did it, that capitalist class also did. In the United States, the capitalist class actually organised a revolution against…, that revolution was mostly against occupation, the domination of British colonialism over them. And, when the American capitalist class saw themselves as capable of leading this country that now they call the United States, they organised themselves, they rallied the masses under their leadership, and they did a revolution. And they took power. So then we have the United States.
In England and Germany, the capitalist class did the same. Now, in England and Germany, because of the heavy presence of feudalism, around the Catholic church at the time, the capitalist class needed to develop their own ideology and [part] of the content of that ideology was Protestantism which went face to face with the ideology of feudalism that was being led by the Roman Catholic church. So really, revolution is a social process, it’s a total transformation of that society, and where the new class is taking power and is organising society in its best interests.
So, I’ve given the definition of “revolution” in general, but the main principle, the core content of a revolution is a class that is coming to term, coming to maturity, and recognizing that the way that society is organised is not in its best interests, and that class organises itself and other classes under its leadership, in order to take power. So, so far we had some experiences where—I just [spoke of] Haiti, where we had the slaves and the free slaves that organised themselves in unity and took power. And in the United States, the capitalist class did. And in Russia the working class did, even if it was for maybe a fifty year span—the working class in Russia lost power—but even if it was for fifty years, they took power.
So this is what we call revolution, this is from a proletarian [perspective]: the concept of revolution in the interests of the masses is when a class comes to maturity and wants radical change in that society. So one of the reasons those happened is because inside the society, there is class struggle, there is resistance. We could well imagine that a slave that is being whipped and worked every day relentlessly, and, you know, and every little disagreement they have they will be whipped—will organise themselves and take power. And so, one of the basic concepts of a revolution is class struggle. And the ultimate goal of class struggle is for power. And the content of that class struggle, the result of that class struggle, that political power, is revolution, is the radical overthrowing of a class for the political power over another class.
And this is what we call the revolutionary process. But, it is not simply a physical act, a revolution is not simply a physical act. It is a physical act because there is armed struggle, there are people fighting on the street, there are people in the mountains, going down to the mountains, but it is a total reorganisation of society.
It is, as well, an ideological struggle. If we all remember, for example, when the capitalist class was organising against feudalism in European countries, they had to fight the ideology of feudalism. In France for example, the Renaissance was a struggle against feudalist ideology in all spheres of the society: cultural, writing… because feudalism is a pretty strict concept. There is a form of democracy that they do not agree with and they have a control, a very autocratic control of that society. So, the European bourgeoisie at the time, in order to fight, in order to take power, had to in that society come up with their own ideology, put it on the table. And the Renaissance was one of those experiences that we had in most European countries. So, in Haiti, the concept of freedom for the slaves, the concept that this was not the way to live, not the way to accept the relationship between humans, the slave had to—in that society overall—had to put those conceptions on the table for a radical transformation.
So one cannot just expect to one day wake up and organise a revolution, it’s got to be a process. It’s got to be a process at all levels; especially it’s got to be a process where the ideology and the politics are being transformed, what we call the superstructure.
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JM: They don’t produce it. They don’t produce surplus value. A lot of people would disagree with that concept, but this is our way of interpretation. I know there is a lot of struggle, there is a lot of discussion around what is the role of the petit bourgeoisie.
People from some tendencies think as long as you work, you are a worker. For us, the working class is the one that solely produces surplus value. Then, the surplus value means that there is a product. That’s why we call it productive, that’s why we call it a productive aspect.
There is a product being made and that product is being sold for a profit. So it is not simply the circulation of goods or the circulation of knowledge, such as a teacher would do or a doctor—it’s about the relationship to production. So it’s not a group of people, but it’s really about a relationship to production. So that’s a class in itself. That’s a rough definition of what a class is.
DJ: To back up a second, when you were talking earlier on about revolutions, and you talked about revolutions in Haiti and you talked about revolutions that brought capitalists to power—and just so we’re clear, the American Civil War, even though it officially abolished slavery, would not have been a revolution because that was actually a conflict between two factions within capitalism, is that correct?
JM: I totally agree with you, yes. I was talking about the Independence War, that’s why I took the example of England… the [US] capitalist class came to maturity and saw that actually whatever England was doing, they could have done it themselves.
DJ: If there is a fight between the bankers, even if this fight becomes physical, if there is fight between the banking faction and, I’m just making this up, and the, I don’t know, the mining faction, and one side wins, that is in no way a revolution because that is merely one capitalist class gaining over another capitalist class.
JM: Yeah, I do agree with you. If fact, we call it the struggle over opposing interests. It is not a class, it’s not an antagonistic struggle of classes, but it is a struggle of opposing interests. And in fact this is what the failure of Occupy was. Occupy did not understand the failure, the difference between opposing interests and antagonistic interests.
DJ: Tell me more about that…
JM: Well Occupy started as a movement where people were protesting against the declining mode of capitalism, and they were blaming the bankers, they were blaming different fractions and forms of concentration of capital.
But among the capitalist class itself, there are opposing interests. In fact, competition is an opposing interest of capitalism, and it also transfers to the political aspect. The competition you see between two capitalist institutions, let’s say Sears, for example, and Walmart—it is the same competition we see between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. So it is a competition based on opposing interests. It is not a class antagonism. It is totally secondary.
So Occupy was based, the movement itself was based on the very secondary opposition of interests among the capitalist class itself. And the danger of that, is that if they don’t articulate it correctly, is that it may create a social base for fascism. Because fascism usually enters the political field, it is a conjuncture of capitalism, and it usually enters the political field to resolve those opposite interests of capitalism. For example, in Germany fascism under Hitler was an exceptional conjuncture of capitalism to address the secondary opposing interests of capitalism. It didn’t touch capitalism—BMW, VW, Boeing, Lufthansa, all those capitalist institutions benefited from Hitler’s fascism.
Many people were sent and worked free labor. The Jews were sent as free labor, and the extra ones were gassed, because if they did not gas them, they had to feed them. That means that the surplus value produced at that moment, some of it would have gone back to feed them.
So it is the opposing interests, so in fact I just used an example, that banking is a form of concentration of capital, always in struggle with industrial capital. The tendency for them to fusion is there, but they also do share opposing interests. On the start of industrial capitalism, credit was a no-no. They did not want to give credit because credit for Ford, it affected his cash flow. He needed you to come and buy the car for cash. And Ford, even though he was a capitalist guy, was fighting to raise the minimum wage, because he wanted people to come and buy his cars. But he wanted cash, because that was the only way he could rebuy all the equipment; he could restart the cycling back up again.
So in the beginning of it, it was fighting over industrial capital. The crisis we have now, the reason they had to bail out the companies, and either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party had to split [the money], give some to industrial capital, they gave some to GM, they gave some to Ford, and then they had to give some to banking—because it is a struggle, it is a struggle of two opposing interests of capitalism.
And for us and for the masses, they are secondary contradictions, because both of them are our enemies. Both of them, when they face us, they are our enemies. But if we don’t do that, if we ally with one against the other one, at the end of the day they will restructure themselves and eat us alive.
So there are opposing interests inside the capitalist class itself. There are struggles, there are struggles between the small businesses and the big ones, but all of them have the same objective. All of them, as soon as you get into their store, want to juice you alive, take everything out of your pocket.
And there is no such thing…for example now Whole Foods, who started out as “good conscious” capitalism—is actually buying fish in prison, they are doing that because capital has to teach them, will teach them, this is what to do, this is what you got to do, because my job is not to save people’s life. My job is to make money. More, more, more! So this is not about people’s life; who gives a damn if they have cancer? In fact some of the capitalists will make money on them if they have cancer. There is another value. Our job is to make more. So this is that constant struggle that exists.
So, therefore there are opposing interests among the capitalist class, and there are contradictions between us and them. For example the Civil War you just mentioned was a struggle of opposing interests. They were from the same class; one found out that buying the labour power was cheaper than slavery. Because the slave owner had to take care of the slave when he was sick, house the slave, feed him (even he feed them badly) but he still had to feed them.
But under the industrial capitalist conception of the North, you come to work for eight hours, and you go home. We don’t care if you don’t have money to feed your kids. We will not share that surplus with you. The capitalists of the South was, we have to share the surplus, a portion of the surplus had to go back to slaves, because they had to put clothes, feed, house them, and take care of them—even if it was a veterinarian coming there to take care of them—but somebody had to take care of them.
DJ: And the return on capital for slaves was not actually that high. It was about five percent.
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