Recently I went to the pub. Not for a drink, but a political meeting. A Marxist group was convening locally, and I decided to go and discover their views.*
The reason for their gathering was to discuss the significance, for the Capitalist system, of Donald Trump’s election.
According to their analysis, after “27 years of stalemate” in the class struggle, neither main class, bourgeoisie or proletariat, has been able to impose its will.
The global capitalist class has been unable to solve its economic and ideological problems since the 2008 recession, and the working class has lacked class consciousness,
Consequently, Populism, of which Trump and Brexit are symptoms, has arisen as a (false) solution to the crisis.
But the interesting part of the discussion revolved around the participants’ longer term perspective, and their attempt to come to terms with their own failure as revolutionaries.
The comrades present wanted to be “lucid” about the situation. One said, “We underestimated our deficiencies.”
“It took us a long time to realise that things are not as optimistic as we thought they were. When we started off, we thought it was close; we didn’t think we’d still be doing this at 65.”
“We were optimistic because we were young, but also the struggle was breaking out all the time.” But now they realised their earlier analysis was only “vulgar materialism”.
They had believed that in the economic crisis, the working class would “inevitably produce strikes”, even the “mass strike”.
Now they acknowledged reality is “more complicated”: that the proletariat had been “drawn into the degradation of society”, and it is difficult to know how to respond.
Most became politicised after 1968, when revolution seemed possible; only now they had grey hair on their hoary heads.
Many contributions were rambling reminiscences – opportunities to sound off, giving vent to the voices inside their heads, and externalise their internal dialogue.
For hope, some looked to the proletarianization of millions in China, and the growth of Trade Union struggles, for example in South Africa.
But, although they identified hopeful signs on the “periphery”, in the central metropolitan countries, they saw a lack of any class struggle to which revolutionaries could link.
But, they asserted, they were “not hopeless”; “because we have an analysis and perspective”. Not only is capitalism decomposing, but the working class is “at the heart of the capitalist process”.
Furthermore, they perceived a role for revolutionaries, besides participating in class struggle; and that is, to analyse the current situation.
In effect, they are resigned to becoming a tiny talking shop. It reminded me of interminable student debates from the 1970s.
Ironically however, they are disappointed by the one force which they had believed could bring about revolution, the proletariat.
Ground down by atomisation, gangsterisation & demoralisation, the working class is simply “not demonstrating its class nature” at the moment.
Facing defeat, their stance sounds like a religious faith: avowing the need to “stay true” to Marxist-Leninist analysis, and “affirm” the potentiality of the working class.
*Note: I have not given the name of the group, because I am not an undercover reporter, although I did take notes. I went simply as an observer, and did not ask for their permission to report their views. No doubt, they would have expressed themselves differently, if they had known I would be commenting on their ideology.