On Revolutions

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A short while ago I was doing some light reading of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto after a brief sprint through Left-tube. The main reason: ideas from that mercifully brief work have been thrown around for almost 200 years now. These ideas are getting repackaged and a fresh coat of populist paint (some examples on Left-tube here and here). But the ideas are not new, and I was wondering if I was misremembering them from when I last looked at them.

Marxism is heavy stuff.

If you’re not familiar with the Manifesto, the even quicker and dirtier version is that it’s about how communists want to be the political force to enact socialism around the world. The idea is that communists will enter the halls of power through election or force (read: revolution) and liberate workers from exploitation. Who wouldn’t want this? Nobody likes being on the receiving end of exploitation.

Turns out, the pandemic has only highlighted how people are getting exploited in their jobs. During the past two years, people have worked in the face of a real danger of death or permanent harm. Getting yelled at by a customer who just wants a captive punching bag was bad enough; that customer now could be carrying a virus that can wipe out your family. So I get it. People see the kinder, gentler Marx and think that this guy knows what everyone’s going through. Let’s do it. Tax the rich, create an economy based on equality and fairness, and establish some public social programs so it doesn’t suck to be unemployed.

Here’s the point in the nonversation where someone mentions how communism didn’t work. Social programs are wasteful. Or how Ronald Ray-gun used his muscles to fight the Soviets while bringing freedom to the world. That last part was only partly satire (sadly).

Socialism is not, in fact, a party.

Canned arguments for and against socialism (and communism, or Marxism-Leninism, or Maoism, etc.) aside, the reason all this matters is that it involves a different way of viewing how the world works. Because (or in spite of) that fact, people can’t really talk about this here in the US of A outside of relatively niche corners of the Internet. Socialism is either a dirty thing used to steal food from the poor and children from their parents, or it’s a beacon of light and hope to the downtrodden. It will either liberate the masses or chain them.

The tragedy is that there is a growing portion of society that wants to see a better life for themselves and their posterity. One irony is that I’m in a country that declares itself to be the winner of freedom and liberty (actual metrics be damned) – except I don’t have the freedom or liberty to elect someone who represents my views. Worse, I live in a state where I’m represented by people who actively work against my interests. And they’re re-elected. Without much thought.

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1865: Karl Marx (1818-1883), philosopher and German politician. (Photo by Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images)

What about the revolution?

The word “revolution” gets thrown around a lot in various political circles. The difficulty is that it’s illegal to talk about it in the literal sense of the word. So leftists and rightists and centrists all have this way of sounding like they’re edgy without having to be edgy. It’s why Q’s can storm the capitol building and get denounced as antifa shills. It’s why people asking how communism will be different this time will get outed as corporate shills. Go too far, you’re a shill. Not far enough? You’re a sheeple.

Meanwhile, there are kids who go to school hungry, mocked for free lunches, who need school not for the learning but for the calories they can’t get at home. Their parents are villains and/or victims depending on the political glasses one wears. It’s like these people exist only to make a point. After that point is made, they can be forgotten again.

I say all this not because I want some workers’ uprising to take over the world on behalf of these people. I say this because I want to vote for representation that will make the world a better place for them. But I can’t.