I'm not in favour of revolutions. Or of the left's romanticism about them.

Quora Answer : Do the socialists of Quora believe the revolution will happen within their lifetimes?

Nov 24, 2017

I hope not.

I'm not a fan of revolutions at all. In fact I think that what I call "revolutionary romanticism" is a catastrophic flaw that ruins far too much left-wing thinking.

Left wingers end up saying "oh dear, we can't come up with left-wing institutions which are strong enough to function and compete within a capitalist economy, so let's destroy all institutions and hope that in the ensuing chaos and vacuum of authority, we can all figure something out before the food runs out and everyone dies"

Yeah! Genius!

And then they act all surprised because some power-hungry, "strong man", probably from a military background or veteran of guerilla warfare, steps up to take over and the post-revolution country is remade into a hellish concoction of paranoia ("anyone who disagrees with me is a counter-revolutionary saboteur, off to the guillotine!") and hierarchical control (modelled on the army from which the strong-man arose).

This is what always happens, post revolution. Whether its France, Russia, Cuba etc.

"Revolutionism" is a terrible idea.

It's a sign of intellectual weakness and lack of self-confidence : "our ideas aren't strong enough to convince people who have the leisure to contemplate them calmly. They must be forced on people in desperation." Or "Our ideas aren't strong enough to remake any institution they come into contact with, all institutions and their competing ideologies must be cleared away first".

It's a sign of intellectual laziness : "Don't worry. We don't need to figure out all the difficult issues, I'm sure it will all become clear after the revolution."


It makes the left squander their moral authority trying to defend violent actions that do nothing to build a progressive society. Or people go all misty eyed and hopeful over any breakdown in order.

Look. There will always be disruptions and catastrophes and break-downs in order. Many of them will be due to economic crises that are caused by Capitalism.

And it is good, no essential, to have a plan. For how to take advantage of that. That's what NaomiKlein shows in TheShockDoctrine : Capital has a plan. Capital always has a plan. And if you have a plan ready, when a crisis comes, you can certainly take advantage of it to push your agenda forward.

And that's a good way to think.

But the left's "revolutionary romanticism" is the opposite of this. It's a cargo-cult of the crisis itself, while deliberately avoiding having any plan for how to gain useful ground when a crisis actually comes.

In 2008, capital blew up the world economy. Centre-left "third-way" social democrats stepped in and saved global capital with government support. And capital immediately, opportunistically, shamelessly, started blaming those same third-way governments for economic mismanagement. It won control based on that argument. And then imposed austerity which caused further misery. And managed to redirect blame for the misery against foreigners and immigrants that has brought us a resurgence of far-right nationalism, racism and xenophobia. Riding that wave, the right has further established itself in governments around the world and is busy creating further economic chaos - Trump's mega tax-cuts, the UK's Brexit - which it will again take as justification for further forward movement. Trump's tax cuts will leave the US with an unbelievably high deficit which will be used to argue for further destruction of government services. And the UK looks increasingly likely to fall into hard-Brexit and US-style decimation of welfare provision.

Every crisis Capital creates becomes an excuse for further advances.

Capital doesn't call for revolutions. Capital is opportunistic. It works incrementally. Destroying the accommodations of the social democratic order, slice by slice.

And Capital is winning.

I would like to see the left expunge the word "revolution" from its vocabulary. And expunge the concept of the revolution from its thinking.

And start thinking opportunistically. And incrementally.

We don't want a revolution. We don't want to see every incidence of social unrest and unhappiness as the herald of the coming revolution. And then get disappointed when it fizzles out. (Hello? Occupy?)

What we want is to have a plan for how the next crisis can be turned to our advantage. We want to have a message ready. An explanation. A proposed solution which can be sold to the public and acted on.

And then a plan for the one after that. And the one after that.

That is what is going to take us to socialism. Continuous, incremental, forward motion, that's strong enough to make progress in the real world in which we live by out-competing the other arguments and institutions of capitalism, within the vestiges of capitalism.

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