"Revolution or Death"

['Farooque Choudhury interviewed John Ballamy Foster, editor of Monthly Review on 5 August, 2019, on the current burning issue of right-wing political surge across the world. What is more ordinary people, poor people, being misled by right-wing ideologues who are out and out pro-corporate champions are supporting the right-wing political tendencies in electoral politics in a big way as it happened recently in India where Modi's second coming with brute majority is simply ominous.]

Farooque Chowdhury : As Editor of Monthly Review, what's your proposal to act in this political scene?

John Ballamy Foster : Monthly Review, now seventy years old, is a product of those who edit and write for it, as well as its readers and supporters, all of whom are drawn to the critical tradition MR has developed over the years but who differ in various respects. Consequently, my own views don't necessarily correspond with all those involved in the magazine, even if we share a broad, working agreement, which also extends to Monthly Review Press.

In my view, and think that of MR generally, it is crucial to recognise that capitalism is inherently imperialist, ecologically destruction, racial (in the sense of being the historical point of origin and main force behind racism as an institutional reality of contemporary society), and rooted in the patriarchal family as the economic unit through which private property is organised and the reproduction of the labour force is accomplished. Beginning at the very end of the nineteenth century, capitalism entered the monopoly stage, distinguishing it from the freely competitive capitalism of the nineteenth century and earlier, which was the focus of Karl Marx's critique of political economy. In the twentieth century the giant monopolistic (or oligopolistic) firm came to dominate over the economy first at the national and then at the international level. Technology is currently structured in such a way as to maintain monopoly-capitalist power structures and thus is far from being neutral in its development and effects. An evermore concentrated communication system spews forth a monochromatic Ideology. The state is more and more the creature of capital seldom operating except to expand market relations, even when this means circumscribing the role of the state itself. The main enemy of this hierarchal system is the movement toward socialism, demanding substantive equality and ecological sustainability.

Revolution in the late twentieth century was mainly a phenomenon of the periphery. In the twenty-first century, objective forces are, however, pointing to a planetary movement toward socialism, emanating primarily from the periphery, but flaring up out of necessity in the centre as well. The precursor of this can be (fl seen as the world explosion associated with 1968-but with a whole new emergent reality now looming before us in the form of climate change and the planetary ecological crisis as a whole, and new movements like Extinction Rebellion. As with all revolutions, this will be a long process in which die starting points and ending points are blurred. Still, it is reasonable to argue that the global movement toward socialism has long since begun in response to the structural crisis of capitalism and that we are currently in an interregnum of reaction, in which movements of the fascist genre appear suddenly ascendant.

The main political issue before us at present is the question of unity on the revolutionary left. The universal threats facing us are clear for those with their eyes wide open, and increasingly intertwined: (1) neo-liberalism (threatening universal exploitation/expropriation), (2) neo-fascism (threatening state terrorism), (3) fossil capital (threatening planetary omnicide), and (4) permanent Imperialism, militarism, and war (threatening the demolition of societies and nuclear oblivion).

In the circumstances before us, there cannot be any compromising with capitalism or neo-liberalism. A popular front with neo-liberalism against the rise of neo-fascism would network, given the close relation of these two reactionary capitalist political movements. Rather, we are facing today the prospect of what David Harvey has called a "neo-liberal - neo-fascist alliance." Nor is there a basis for any compromise on the issue of fossil capital as demanded by the system. The only answer then is to turn to the popular bases of revolutionary action which, despite everything, have been warrening themselves through society, a kind of labyrinth beneath capitalism. All the struggles against imperialism, racial capitalism, global patriarchy, and ecocide, and for LGBTQ rights, indigenous rights, eco-socialism, and equality of condition, are really struggles against the logic of capitalist valorisation.

The struggle to coalesce these anti-capitalist world movements under the pressure of historical circumstances in a fully mobilised, thorough going socialism for the twenty-first century—one that recognises that not only capital, but also its Leviathan state, must be dismantled—will determine whether capitalism will be eclipsed. Given the speed with which the planet as a place of human habitation is being destroyed, such a movement against the logic of capital—or the movement toward socialism—must grow by leaps and bounds to ensure certain human safeguards, even if the entire process of fundamental social change will necessarily constitute a long revolution with many stops and starts, forward and backward motions. Unless there is a considerable shift in power relations, particularly with respect to the environment, the disastrous effects of the continuation of business as usual are unimaginable. This means that the change must occur with the historical conditions with which we are currently presented, requiring a revolution in the sphere of absolute, where the logic of capitalism must be suspended, in a  process of a much longer transition.

None of this, of course, can be considered apart from a global revolt against imperialism. Today there has to be a global mutiny against imperialism, or the flows of money, power, and oppression that constitute world capitalism. This means that there has to emerge a new International of Workers and Peoples (as Samir Amin called it) emanating from the Global South, but also with the struggle occurring within the very centre of empire in the North—in accordance with the principle that labour in the Global North cannot be free when labour in the Global South is unfree. Most of all, we need to see the rise of a global environmental proletariat, of which there are already signs, capable of addressing the material devastation of both economies and the environment.

Is all of this too much to expect? Perhaps. The foregoing comments might be dismissed by some as mere idealism, where the prospects for revolution are concerned. Yet the truth is that if we take Thompson's concept of warrening (and similar notions) seriously, it is clear that the left, despite everything, has been advancing politically and culturally, and in some ways institutionally, over the last half century or more, fighting innumerable small battles that have added up over many years. There is a dialectic at work here. The left correcting past mistakes, has been focusing for decades on identity-in-difference, while now it has to shift to difference-in-identity, that is, to a wider unity, rooted in the recognition of difference. The problem is not the objective weakness of the working class, but the cultural divisions that constantly disunite it and reduce its effective numbers—and the elimination, in this process, under the influence of liberalism, of working-class struggle itself. Nevertheless, there is a basis today, arising out of past historical struggles and current necessity, for a broader, co-revolutionary movement one that can respond to our unprecedented age of peril.

Without such revolutionary action unleashing a whole new age of creativity, the future of the world is grim. Writing in 1968 in The Explosion, French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre emphasised that the totality of events can produce changed situations altering the field of action rapidly in ways that make the impossible possible, constituting a whole new historical moment. Such thinking might once have been described as Utopian, but today it is simply a question of survival : the impossible, the creation of a new ensemble of social relations, is not only possible but absolutely necessary. Or as Lefebvre himself was later to say, with the planetary ecological crisis in mind, it is a matter of "revolution or death".

FC : Thank you for dissecting the burning issue in many countries.

JBF : Thank you, Farooque.

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Vol. 52, No. 12, Sep 22 - 28, 2019