Reply to the article: Must a Social Revolution be Violent?


Editor's reply to the letter from the
Committee for a Workers' Scientific-Socialist Party,
from the New Unionist, July 1993, page 2

There is no question that ruling classes have used violence and are using it and will use it to remain in power, and this includes the U.S. ruling class. But merely stating that the ruling class will be willing to use violence against a revolutionary workers movement does not prove anything about what tactics will be effective in countering and defeating it. Because violent force is an effective weapon for the capitalist class under certain circumstances (including making its own revolutions, as in the examples cited by the Committee), doesn/t mean the working class has the means to create its own military force, or, even if does, whether it would be effective or needed against the military force of the ruling class.

The Committee distinguishes between a social revolution that changes the economic system and a mere political revolution that changes the form of government without basically changing the economic foundation. While this is an important distinction that needs to be kept in mind to guide the workers movement to the proper goal, it is not directly relevant to the question of what are the proper means to achieve the goal.

The Committee itself points out that the Soviet and Eastern Europe "Communist" ruling classes-as well as the Shah in Iran, and we could add Marcos in the Philippines, et. al.-used all means of suppression and violence to maintain their political system, and many people were killed as a result.

But this is the very point: all those violent measures could not prevent their overthrow in the face of the overwhelming nonviolent political mobilization of the population. The rulers did not voluntarily relinquish power because they knew the economic system would remain the same; in fact, losing political power meant for many losing their economic privileges, and for some their freedom or their lives. They were forced to give up when they realized it was impossible to jail or kill an entire population that no longer obeyed them.

Revolutions of the more distant past did require violence to succeed because the social, economic and political conditions were very different from the modern industrial/urban conditions that prevail today.

In predominantly agrarian societies, the working population is scattered throughout the country, working individually or in small groups. Political dissent can be easily isolated and suppressed by the central power of the State before it can develop into a national political challenge to the ruling class.

However, these same conditions which limit the the potential for nonviolent political organizing allow for the possibility of armed insurrections against the State. The insurrectionists can hide in the countryside among the people, drill and acquire arms, and avoid direct confrontations with the army until they developed their forces sufficiently, as Mao did in China and Castro in Cuba.

This is not possible in modern industrial societies, with the population concentrated in cities constantly policed by the State. Yet this concentration does make possible mass political organizing, on short notice if need be, as the recent revolutions in East Europe demonstrated. In addition, people work together in industry, which enables them to organize their economic power to take control of production and deny the ruling class the means of life.

Contrary to the Committee's assertion, Engels -- an expert on military affairs -- said later in his career that industrial and urban development had made barricade revolutions a thing of the past in Europe. Moreover, it was now the ruling class which wanted the workers to take up arms so it could set back their political progress by smashing them militarily.

Even if the same ruling class the Committee believes wouldn't surrender in the face of united political opposition would nevertheless allow the workers to stockpile arms, drill and organize an insurrection under its nose, modern military technology has decided the outcome in advance. Any big-city police force-not to mention the combined armed forces of the United States-has the sophisticated firepower to wipe out in a single afternoon all the weaponry a workers' militia would be able to acquire. "Mass-democratic force and violence" is a meaningless phrase because it is weapons, not numbers, that decide modern combat.

The weapons of the State are available to the capitalist class because that class controls the State. The way to defeat the violence of the ruling class is to take away its means of violence by bringing down the State through mass-democratic political and industrial action.

The capitalists themselves never fight; they send workers out to fight for them. The Committee acknowledges the military can be won over and/or neutralized through political agitation. Given the hopelessness of a direct armed confrontation with the military, it is clear where our emphasis must lie.

The possibility of fascist violence against the workers movement must be anticipated, as the Committee states. But this is a separate question, of how the workers movement protects its freedom to agitate and organize against nongovernmental violence, and not what kind offeree is necessary to overthrow the State and carry out a social revolution. Of course, We will defend ourselves against street-thug violence with the means best suited to do it, which may include physical force as well as legal means.

But fascist violence succeeds in intimidating the workers movement only when the fascists are also politically successful, winning votes and a mass following. So the fight against fascism is also fundamentally a political one, of exposing it as a plot to enslave all workers, whatever their color or nationality.