Thursday, November 04, 2010

Paul D'Amato: Revolutionary Upheaval and Social Change

Our schoolbooks would like us to believe that social change must always be gradual and peaceful. Sudden abrupt changes are seen as disruptions of a "normal" functioning society. "Respectable" society looks upon mass protest, civil disobedience, strikes, disruption and revolution with horror. But fundamental social change rarely comes gradually. Industrial unions didn’t come to this country by the gradual addition, year after year, of a few new unions. On the contrary, mass industrial unionism came in an explosion of organizing and mass strikes over a period of about five years, from 1934 to 1938. The gains of the civil rights movement were achieved through heroic civil disobedience and mass protest in the face of systematic racist terror.

While governments caution the governed to act peacefully and to refrain from drastic action, they themselves reserve the right to use overwhelming force. There was nothing gradual about the invasion of Iraq.

Revolution is the ultimate social leap – a period when the gradual accumulation of mass bitterness and anger of the exploited and oppressed coalesces and bursts forth into a mass movement to overturn existing social relations and replace them with new ones. A few days of revolutionary upheaval bring more change than decades of “normal” development. Rulers and systems that seemed invincible and immovable are suddenly unceremoniously toppled. Revolution is not an aberration in an otherwise smoothly functioning society.

The last three centuries have been filled not only with wars, but also with revolutions and near-revolutions. A list of only some of these gives us an idea of the scope of revolutionary upheaval since the dawn of modern capitalism: the American Revolution (1776-87), the French Revolution (1789-94), the US Civil War (1861-65), the European revolutions of 1848, the Russian Revolutions (1905 and 1917), the German Revolution (1918-23), China (1925-27), the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), the Hungarian Revolution (1956), Chile (1973), Portugal (1974-75), Iran (1979), Poland’s Solidarnosc uprising (1980-81). This partial list is enough to put to rest the notion that revolutions are rare or unusual occurrences.

Paul D’Amato, The Meaning of Marxism

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