I’ve been rereading Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. I do that every now and then, because it makes me think, and because, like all good narrative history, it feels like an adventure story. A few random thoughts have popped up that I want to jot down here.
One thing that hit me is that the February Revolution began on International Women’s Day. This is something I’d been aware of, but never thought about. In fact, there was nothing random about it. Hungry, tired of the war, appalled by the brutality of the Czar’s police, and doubly oppressed, the women textile workers of Petrograd called a protest strike to mark the day. They sent to the metal workers for support, which support was promptly given. This led to additional repression by the police, and the strike grew into mass strikes, demonstrations, and, ultimately, the end of the monarchy. I wish I’d remembered this a few days ago, on International Women’s Day.
In any revolution, the key question is: will the army side with the people, or the ruling class? There are many factors that decide this question: the determination of the revolutionary class probably being the most significant. But what struck me in this reading is that the biggest factor to bring the St. Petersburg working class and the army together was a shared hatred of the police—even, at critical moments, the Cossacks, the most reactionary section of the army, attacked the police on behalf of the workers. And then I remembered this video clip.
The ruling class is caught in an impossible position. As income disparity grows, so will opposition from the oppressed. As opposition grows, the police are required to more and more reveal their true nature as the iron fist of capital. And the more this is revealed, the more the army will come to hate the police, and to side with the masses. This is why sections of the ruling class are openly talking about income disparity as the biggest problem. But that problem too, is systemic; the very forces of the market economy, that was at one time so progressive, are now operating like a juggernaut. “Progressive” capitalist politicians want to find ways to slow the beast down and postpone the confrontation, or else are operating under the illusion that it can be avoided—somehow. Reactionary politicians are aware that the confrontation is coming, and want to have it now, the way a bad poker player makes what he knows is a bad decision because he just wants to get it over with. Progressives and reactionaries will continue to make bad decisions, because no good decisions are left to them (and, yes, various people on both sides will come up with all sorts of brilliant ideas on how to solve the problem, ideas whose only problem is that they cannot be implemented; but we can ignore them.)
So repression increases, the hatred of the police by the masses increases, and this works its way into all facets of our society—the army most definitely not excepted.
I make no pretense of knowing when this confrontation will come, or what form it will take. Indeed, the one thing I can guarantee is that I’ll be as taken by surprise as everyone else. But it can’t be avoided.
17 thoughts on “Revolution: A few disjointed thoughts”
One reason for separating police from the army is that the police have as their primary function – keeping the public order (you know, with the ruling class at the top, and everybody in their place).
We (the USA) have not done a good job of separating the military and the police. The military has been used as a police function. The police look exactly like military with their military vehicles, weapons and clothes. So this will cause confusion in the scenario you describe, skzb.
The military seem to be mostly right wing, so they are unlikely to side with union people. The police have unions, but consider themselves separate and above other worker’s unions. So if a revolution comes, expect a huge cluster-fuck.
David: First of all, every army of every country is, sooner or later, turned on its own population, so I don’t think that is a difference. And I don’t think the militarization of the police will cause confusion; I think it’ll cause more outrage among the soldier. The video I linked to is only the first symptom. “The military seems to be mostly right wing” I don’t see how it is possible to speak of “the military” as if it were a monolith any more than “the USA.” Society is divided, and these divisions are inevitably reflected in the army. As the class struggle deepens, these divisions will become sharper. Every army in history–including the army of the Czar in WWI, was “right wing” and loyal, at one time. Things change fast.
Glad to see that I am not the only one going a bit pink in these strange times. I am more for socially inclusive anarchy, but hey if you read your Marx well enough then you know we are talking about the same thing.
“Progressives and reactionaries will continue to make bad decisions, because no good decisions are left to them (and, yes, various people on both sides will come up with all sorts of brilliant ideas on how to solve the problem, ideas whose only problem is that they cannot be implemented; but we can ignore them.)”
Ouch. I want to hope that you’re wrong, but I don’t see any evidence to support that hope.
“I make no pretense of knowing when this confrontation will come, or what form it will take.”
That’s a tiny ray of hope. When something is inevitable but nobody can begin to predict when it will happen, maybe it will take ten thousand years and is functionally not inevitable after all. Maybe things will change a lot, maybe the system will fail some other way before it comes to this.
“In any revolution, the key question is: will the army side with the people, or the ruling class?”
Yes. Again, we’d be in new territory here. What would small numbers of drone pilots do? Would they obey orders to bomb slums or mass protests? Would they instead bomb police headquarters etc? It probably makes a difference that they are not personally in danger from insurgents until the government has collapsed, but if they do the wrong thing their consoles will be shut down and their doors automatically locked. A drone pilot has exactly zero chance of escaping with his weapon.
There could still be a tipping-point where whole units switch sides. I’d expect it to come later than in previous revolutions.
After a successful revolution the country would be up for grabs. People who had been leaders during the revolution would have some importance, but likely most who used electronic communications would be dead. The main revolutionary groups I hear about are libertarians/survivalists, but maybe they would be so disorganized that a secret well-coordinated communist group could take over. That doesn’t seem very plausible to me. They have been demonized here for over 60 years, it would be like the Nationalists on Taiwan taking over the mainland after a revolution there. But if they were well-organized and ruthless enough, they might be able to. Particularly after 10% to 80% of the population starved the first winter. The survivors might accept anybody who could kill off the survivalists and get things organized again. They might even accept a capitalist who wanted to be king of a feudal system, if that looked like the best bet for getting the crops planted.
I really hope there’s a better alternative. But I don’t even have a brilliant idea to solve the problem, that would be ignored.
Minor disagreement: I think reactionaries want the confrontation sooner rather than later in the expectation that the working class will be less determined and less well-organized if pushed to move too soon.
Maybe reactionaries do – but most of the wealthy class appear to have short term values. Hold off change for a bit, and let the future worry about the consequences.
One thing we have not discussed is the role of the Tea Party, Oath keeper and similar types of right wing AstroTurf organizations. These are generated by the .1% as maybe brainless troops to be sent against any working class uprising. I expect they are under heavy surveillance.
I’m not sure if there is a historical precedence in other revolutions for a factor like this. Is this a wild card?
There are some similarities to the 80/30 years war. Use religion as your excuse.
I don’t see the oppressed rising as they are distracted by things like same sex marriage, abortion, and other things that don’t really impinge on them.
And the South will rise again.
Emma: You may well be right. More likely, as among the working class, there are different levels of consciousness. The Koch brothers, for example, seem to know exactly what they’re doing; whereas the higher levels of Wall Street bankers appear to be more or less making it up as they go. It was sloppy of me to forget that, even among the right wing of the ruling class, there are divisions and conflicts and uncertainties.
The faces on the police officers in the linked video! At the start you could see the internal conflict, moments of shame or self doubt, and then the longer the soldier yelled the more you could see them writing him off as crazy and rationalizing their next move. I admit, I stopped watching halfway through because I became fearful of what they would do next.
The recent conflicts with the police certainly seem to be escalating, though I’m younger and am not aware of activity in the past decades. I do feel that attention to the issue has been side-swiped over the issue of race. Instead of being about police brutality against an entire nation we hear again and again about one group being targeted. I feel for this group, they are absolutely affected worse than the rest of the population and have every right to raise attention about racism. However, instead of major publicized inquiries into police militarization, the media is pushing news about racist america. With the guilt therefore turned onto every individual we are now scrutinizing ourselves for real or imagined racism and not digging deeper into general police brutality against everyone.
I think that the heavily affected african-american population should use this as a rallying cry for every single person to stand up against police violence. This is an opportunity to overcome both prejudice and the iron fist in one move if we as a nation can come together as a people.
Cait, I agree. It’s a two part problem: Cops shooting people is a cop problem. Many of the cops are racists. But if they didn’t shoot blacks, it would be a much less severe problem. So first focus on the cops before trying to solve an impossible race problem. The cop problem theoretically could be handled fairly quickly (fire all cops with racist behavior patterns and don’t re-hire them elsewhere). Racism will never be solved in our lifetimes.
I see the media focusing too much on race and White People Guilt as deliberately driving a wedge between blacks and whites so that no effective corrective action will ever happen. Also, some blacks might then see this as a White problem, not a police or wealth driven problem. This defuses the anger and energy of people in a way to make it ineffective. Namely, if Cops shooting blacks is a White Problem (rather than a Cop problem), you lose the support of whites who would otherwise be your partner in correcting the problem. Then the cops are not held responsible for their actions. And nothing changes. I see that as deliberate misdirection.
Many Cops seem to think it is their job to “keep blacks in their place.” That is an attitude that needs to be attacked as it is unacceptable.
Cait: I agree with every word.
In my experience, a lot of military people who have been at it a while are free of illusion about what the system is and how it works. My father was a military officer, but has at heart always been the son of a printer who had his head clubbed a few times while organizing a labor union. He always said they try recruit 18 and 19-year olds because it’s too hard to propagandize people with any experience in life–and he always said that he felt that he was serving to keep stock values high.
Our recent wars have polarized a lot of people, but a lot of vets get radicalized when they realize that Capital has used them and then spit them out. They will be our cadre for smashing capitalism.