In 1857, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech on “West India Emancipation.” In it, he noted something that is widely misunderstood. He said, “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”
I think people imagine this in the context of the Civil Rights Movement — that one can’t expect social progress by waiting around for the power elite to realize that they ought to grant you the same rights they have. But I don’t think this is right. The word is “demand” not “request.” A demand implies consequence. Although the first consequence may not be violence (as Douglass notes), ignored demands ultimately lead to it.
In his book Intellectuals, Paul Johnson argues that leftist intellectuals eventually get around to accepting violence. He’s right. He didn’t need to write yet another cherry-picked conservative rant to prove it.
But what Johnson doesn’t admit is that violence is the basis of right-wing belief. It’s just that the right-wing is defending the status quo. So they define their violence as justified because they have enacted laws.
But laws are not correlated with morality. Imagine that you were in a flooded area and all the store owners were gone. If your child would die without some medication, you would be morally right to break into a pharmacy — even if you personally accepted the morality of property rights.
Take it one step further: why should you accept the morality of property rights? They are simply the result of historical theft from the commons. In other words, they are just a facile justification for historical violence.
I’ve reached the point where I think that major social advancement will require violence. This is not because leftists are violent. Rather it is because the existing power structure will do anything it can to stop the degradation of its power. What I hope is that there are enough working people behind the cause to make resistance clearly futile. But looking at North Korea, I’m not encouraged.
In the United States, there are lots of what I call Cosplay Socialists. And as much as I like Bernie Sanders, I’d have to say that he is one. Still, a better example is Jimmy Dore. Don’t get me wrong: I do appreciate a lot of what Dore says. But he clearly sees himself as a revolutionary. And he isn’t.
What I think defines Cosplay Socialists is the belief that they can get revolution at the ballot box. And this isn’t going to happen. Wouldn’t it be nice if the billionaire class said, “You know, you’re right! Private property is theft! We don’t deserve all this money!”
You Say You Want a Revolution?
Let me lay it out. Suppose that leftists got control of Washington. They increased the number of seats on the Supreme Court to 100 and outlawed private property. Does anyone question that the military would side with Trump (or someone similar) and declare martial law? And every policing agency in the nation would side with this? And given that, how would the people fight back?
No. If the revolution comes, it will be in some small scale action. And it will grow from there. Most Cosplay Socialists I know are relatively well off. Would they — Would Jimmy Dore! — risk their comfortable lives to give revolution a chance?
Are they willing to risk death for a 10 percent shot at a better nation? What about a 1 percent shot? To be honest, I don’t think they would do it for a 50 percent chance — and there’s no way we are going to get odds like that.
Cosplay Socialist John Lennon: “Don’t you know that you can count me out (in).”
If people are not seriously willing to risk it all, then they don’t deserve the right to call themselves socialists. Because here’s the thing: Denmark isn’t socialist. And don’t start talking to me about “democratic socialism” because that is simply a pretentious term for “liberal.”
So given that all the Democratic Socialists don’t actually support what would be required for revolution, they should get used to what our current system allows for: marginal improvements. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m keen to limit the damage done by our system until we can change it in a categorical way.
Of course, I’m a pessimist. Even if a workers’ revolution succeeded, history shows that all the other capitalist nations would sanction the new government. The BBC would report that the American People were against the revolution. The only advantage we would have is that the United States wouldn’t be trying to destroy our new government — but only because we managed to defeat it first.
The question then comes: do you support revolution in a meaningful way? Or do you just think that after workers have a majority in Congress the power elite will go along? If the latter, you need to stop pretending and start appreciating marginal advances like Obamacare and same-sex marriage, because those are the only things you are actually willing to fight for.
Neal Meyer at Jacobin wrote, What Is Democratic Socialism? The article is typical of the happy horseshit of the power of sustained democratic pressure — even as he notes how Scandinavian countries have failed to attain socialism. But even he seems to understand the problems that socialism faces against entrenched capitalism, “At that moment, it will be the job of democratic socialists in movements and in government to do everything necessary to defend the democratic mandate they won” (emphasis mine).
I understand that one can’t call for violent revolution in this country; it is illegal — which is the same as outlawing radical change. (This alone proves that there is absolutely nothing “natural” about capitalism given that it only survives via edict.) The question is not what one’s public position is but rather whether if we are willing to do everything necessary to assure that a state by, for, and of workers will replace the capitalist system.