I’ve got some good news. The revolution is coming. Maybe not tomorrow, or the day after. Or next week, next month, or even next year. But it is coming.

And here’s the really good news for all those on the left with a sense of despair. The revolution will come regardless of how many people call themselves lefties, regardless of how many new video channels dedicated to exposing the truth come into being, regardless of how people vote at the next election, and regardless of how we feel. The revolution is not dependent on any of those things.

Neither is it dependent on a strong political party with socialist principles, or a wave of strikes, or of direct action. It is coming regardless of whether those things happen or not; or whether they happen in any particular nation state or not.

This is not to say that winning people to the idea of socialism is not a good thing, or that video channels or other alternative media are not good things in and of themselves. I’m also not saying that, in the here-and-now, voting for a party with at least some semblance of moral turpitude, or joining a trade union is a bad thing. They are helpful — but none of these things will determine the likelihood or the outcome of the revolution. They simply occupy us whilst we wait for the inevitable.

But, you might say, if it’s inevitable why do we need to do anything? I’ll come to that, but first to your previous question: how do you know the revolution is coming?

Revolutions are not, as some people might like to think, simply the changing of one political party for another. They are not the difference between, let’s say, a state-run railway system and a privately-run one. Revolutions are social events larger than most of us will ever have seen in our lifetime. They occur when the ruling class loses the ability to rule and is replaced by a class that is in a position to take over. This is what happened around 1750 when the aristocracy were forced to cede their autocratic power to the upcoming bourgeoisie – and, in case you think that is a bit too much like Marxist jargon for your liking, during the eighteenth century, a new class emerged of mercantilists and factory owners who were not part of the landed gentry (although some members of the landed gentry saw the wind of change and joined with the new upcoming class). When the nobility could no longer rule with any authority, it was the upcoming capitalist class that stepped into the breach.

Capitalism has been a successful social system for those who promoted it. Capitalists (not all of them, admittedly) have done very well, thank you very much, out of a system which was founded upon the slave toil of those they kidnapped from the African continent and made to work by the exploitation of the working classes of Europe. Capitalism, unlike previous social systems, has extended itself globally, making the nation state more or less obsolete and a hindrance rather than a help to human progress. Sadly, capitalists are not as clever as they try to convince us. They are and have remained psychologically attached to ideas that pre-dated their own system. Some of those ideas are part of the reason why their downfall is inevitable. Some are just a damned nuisance. Racism, for example, plays no particularly positive role in the extraction of surplus value, but it continues because people at the top like to think of themselves as an elite. They think they are where they are through their superior intellects, but they also hold to the notion that superior intellects are a corollary of being white. As a useful side effect, racism is useful for dividing a working class that the ruling class understands could be dangerous (to them) if united.

Capitalism is founded upon a contradiction. In order to expand it has to exploit the labour power of ordinary men and women; but, in doing so, it gives those ordinary women and men the opportunity to come together and organise. Hence, trade unions. As capitalism has developed, its needs have changed. An illiterate, semi-starved workforce was no longer appropriate, and thus ordinary working folk had to receive enough wages to keep them alive, but also an education that enabled them to carry out the tasks that their capitalist employers required. This, as a side product, meant that it was possible for them to read and write, not simply what they needed for work, but pursuits previously reserved for the very rich — reading for pleasure and to educate themselves.

Now, you might think here that most ordinary people (not you, of course) read the Daily Mail or watch YouTube videos made by conspiracy theorists, and this is what is preventing the revolution from occurring. Their heads are full of nonsense, and the media — now a mass globalised media — are very good at keeping us distracted. This is, to some extent, true. Most people (not you, of course) do not spend their waking hours imagining what the revolution will look like. They do, however, dream of what their life might look like ‘if only’. If only what? Well, usually not very much actually; a job, a better job; a wage, a better wage; a home, a better home. The fact that, in order to get these things, society needs to change is not outside their frame of reference, but how it changes is (not yours, of course).

But regardless of all of this: the revolution is coming — not because workers can read, though that might be useful; or because life is really hard and people can’t get what they want — but because of something fundamental to the social system: boom and bust.

Economists, who tend to serve capitalism, have recognised boom and bust since 1860 when French economist Clément Juglar found cycles of 7-11 years. Karl Marx also analysed the tendency of cycles of over-production leading to recession and mass unemployment, which he published in 1867, though he had written the notes in 1844. Marx noted that the cycles were resulting in longer periods of bust and shorter periods of boom. Whilst it has not been uniform, that pattern has repeated itself, interrupted only because of world wars which have acted to reset the foundations of the economic system.

It is unlikely that capitalists actually desire a bust period, particularly those who literally go bust as a result, but it is inherent within the social system they defend and nurture. This is one of the inherent contradictions to be found in capitalism. It is accompanied by a tendency, which was outlined by Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and David Ricardo, and most famously by Karl Marx, of the rate of profit to fall. The effect of this is to encourage investors to withdraw their funds and hoard them at precisely the time the economy more generally is going into recession. 

Again, it is unlikely that capitalists want to crash the economy, but, like boom and bust, that tendency is hard-wired into the very fabric of their social system. Whilst government intervention can, to some extent, hold off the worst effects of recession, they are powerless to prevent it — even more so as the economy is now so globalised that nobody, even America, can prevent it going into decline — and the usual means to prevent it (World War and total destruction) was made less appealing once Robert Oppenheimer’s little experiment had been weaponised.

So the revolution is coming — and, there is nothing we can do to stop it — but, sadly, the revolution will not, of necessity, be a socialist revolution. That is where organisation on the left does come to the fore.

It is important to recognise that those who believe that a revolution will occur and those prepared to work to make it a socialist revolution are a small minority — but that can change very quickly. Not every trade union action is revolutionary, but every trade union action which pushes back, every direct action which brings to people’s attention the dire state capitalism has taken us into and every publication which puts truth above propaganda are preparing for the inevitability of the collapse of capitalism and for the chaos that ensues to result in something better, something more democratic, something more equal, and something more just.

So, to repeat. The revolution is coming. We don’t know when – but when it comes let’s be ready: let’s be armed with theories and strategies to ensure that what we revolve into is a better state than we leave, not a more authoritarian one.

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