It’s rare that answering a question on a Marxism course could double up a as website blog. The topic was around revolution, consciousness and the role of a vanguard party. As I wrote, I thought I’ve got the perfect tshirt for that.
For everything to stay the same, everything must change
Since Marx and Engles’ day so much has changed….and so much has stayed the same. The contradictions of capitalism have not caused its downfall. Capital is now more global, as are our habits and lifestyles, though class, surplus value, alienation and the concentration of wealth and the disparity between those with it and the working class is still so obvious.
Yet technology has improved. Living standards and aspirations have gone up and the power of the media and advertising operates as a brake on class and revolutionary consciousness. In the Murdoch’s and Steve Bannon’s of this neo-liberal system, the capitalists’ have been sharpening their weapons. We are all Thatcher and Regan’s children now. Rampant individualism and growing inequality are the staple diet. Greed is good as Boris explained how Britain did well with the covid vaccine. Revolution isn’t on the menu…but rebellion, as we saw in Bristol this week, show opposition is not dead.
Corbyn’s co-ordinated assassination
During the 2019 UK election, I saw the lengths the ruling elite would go to prevent the pendulum swinging beyond centre. The socialist Labour Party leader, Corbyn (eventually revealed to be betrayed by his own party staff) was the bogey man.
I personally watched it unfold – aghast but not astounded. As someone who had worked in both government and the media and followed politics, I was taken aback at the savage, co-ordinated and continuous attack on the man. It was no wonder there was so much kick back on the doorstep. In 40 years of following politics I had never witnessed such a single-minded vicious character assassination.
Yet – to see the huge crowds and warm reception to his policies when the media filter was removed – reminded that the battle for socialism or even a different politics is still massively popular.
It was soul-destroying to see so many middle-class careerist Labour MPs line up to betray their leader, their party and their my class. For me the name Tristram Hunt (probably rhyming slang) sums up the treachery with shadow ministers resigning on live TV and joining with Tories to start the spoiler, Independent Party. Meanwhile in the US, Bernie Sanders – despite similar grass-root support – a mirror smearing drive was taking place.
While there might not be revolutionary consciousness at its base, in both campaigns it was clear that there is role for mass membership parties through community and activist politics: Popular participation for real and fundamental change which revolutionaries can and must tap into.
So yes, there is a role for participation in a parliamentary party and vanguard party. I have been a member and voted for the Greens, the Labour Party, independent socialist and candidates and a supporter of Momentum in a tactical approach for radical change.
Groups like Momentum for me offer a great example of how to galvanise and execute an agile and popular approach within a beast like the UK Labour Party. Its youth, its reach, its exuberance, it organisation and its campaigning for me really hit new heights under the Corbyn leadership and should be a model for a vanguard party.
Globalism has been seen a wider concerted attempt to consolidate the current economic system and political hegemony. But the Occupy Wall Street protests, G8 protests, the Black Lives Matter, Me Too campaign all demonstrate the opportunity to rebel on a global basis along with environmental issues such as deforestation and climate crisis.
So vanguard parties should also be open to a mix of potential competing and diluting activism which can be moulded from protest and rebellion to build a revolutionary movement, pointing out the very obvious contradictions of capitalism; still reliant on imperial wars to evolve.
Social media and tech platforms give vanguard parties the opportunity for instant campaigning for an international reach….and through slogans and viral campaigns to build activism and consciousness on an international basis.
Revolution – One Rib at a Time
I read about one guy working for a chicken shop who was giving people 21 rather than 20 pieces in the bargain bucket. Destroying capitalism one chicken drumstick at a time! My area of niche interest is in slogans which Lenin highlighted as a crucial means to capturing a moment and build consciousness.
There were lots of us who clapped for key workers and were appalled that so many reactionaries were out doing the same while denying the very same people safety in PPE or in their pay packets, sheer hypocrisy.
How often in popular mass culture does an image, a slogan, parody, humour or word play just sum up how you feel about the world or in my case capitalism.
So the humble tshirt (or a viral meme) could be a vital example that captures comradeship and consciousness and can be subverted as a mass produced means of campaigning and revolution.
Not to forget that the Soviet Union from its early days was hot on propaganda and slogans. The communist pioneered posters with shapes as visual messaging for an illiterate peasantry and followed this up with a unique design and style that is still mimicked today.
Contradiction and satire were a stock in trade as the USSR took aim at western and bourgeoisie targets such as religion, racism and war.
Today the style is copied and used as parody in a range of anti-consumerist and post industrial messages, illustratrated in the gallery.
My closing point is that the media is such an influentional part of hegemony that the left must focus more of its efforts on countering its caustic reach. No easy feat. The Mirror is consciousness-lite and the Morning Star is my preferred medium. But a radical change and revolution needs a much more global reach in intent by the left. We are nowhere near that yet.
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