David Harvey has written about a “co-revolutionary theory” of change. In this theory Harvey argues that anti-capitalist movements today must address “mental conceptions;” uses and abuses of nature; how to build real communities; workers relations to bosses; exploitation, oppression, and racism; and the relations between capital and the state. While a tall order, the co-revolutionary theory suggests the breadth of struggles that need to be embraced to bring about real revolution.
Harvey’s work mirrors many analysts who address the deepening crises of capitalism and the spread of human misery everywhere. It is increasingly clear to vast majorities of people, despite media mystification, that the primary engine of destruction is global finance capitalism and political institutions that have increasingly become its instrumentality. Harvey’s work parallels the insights of Naomi Klein, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Noam Chomsky, and a broad array of economists, historians, trade unionists, peace and justice activists and thousands of bloggers and Facebook commentators.
Of course, these theorists could not have known the ways in which the connections between the co-revolutionary theory and practice would unfold. Most agreed that we are living through a global economic crisis in which wealth and power is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands (creating a global ruling class). Human misery, from joblessness, to hunger, to disease, to environmental devastation, to state violence, is spreading. And as events since Ferguson have pointed out, the links between class exploitation, structural racism, and patriarchy are inseparable.
But history has shown that such misery can survive for long periods of time with little active resistance. Even though activists in labor, in communities of color, in anti-colonial/anti-neo-colonial settings are always organizing, their campaigns usually create little traction. Not so since 2011. Tunisians rose up against their oppressive government. Larger mobilizations occurred in Egypt. Protests spread to Yemen, Algeria, Oman, Bahrain, and Libya.
Assuming that working people, youth, women, and various professional groups would remain quiescent in the United States, right-wing politicians saw the opportunity to radically transform American society by destroying public institutions and thereby shifting qualitatively more wealth from the majority to the minority. In North Carolina, Wisconsin, and later in Ohio, Indiana, and around the country a broad array of people began to publicly say “no, enough is enough.” Even those with criticisms of President Obama continued their mobilization to secure his reelection and the defeat of the right-wing. Youth, particularly African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans, have risen up angry all across the United States, increasingly deepening their understanding of and demands for fundamental institutional changes.
The resistance in the Middle East launched in 2011 was about jobs, redistribution of wealth, limiting foreign financial penetration, and democracy. In the United States the issues have been even more varied: the right of workers to collectively bargain, Right-To-Work laws, defending public education, free access to health care including the defense of reproductive rights, and greater, not less, provision of jobs, livable wages, and secure retirement benefits. Police accountability, mass incarceration, and an end of the “schools to prison pipeline” have been increasingly prioritized in mass movements.
Where do progressives go from here? I think “co-revolutionary theory” would answer “everywhere”. Marxists are right to see the lives of people as anchored in their ability to produce and reproduce themselves, their families, and their communities. The right to a job at a living wage remains central to all the ferment. But in the twenty-first century this basic motivator for consciousness and action is more comprehensively and intimately connected to rebuilding trade unions, opposition to racism and sexism, and support for education, health care, sustainable environments, and peace. All these motivations are part of the same struggle.
It is fascinating to observe that the reaction to the efforts of the economic ruling class and political elite to turn back the clock on reforms gained over the last 75 years have sparked resistance and mobilization from across an array of movements and campaigns. And activists are beginning to make the connections between the struggles.
It is too early to tell whether this round of ferment will lead to victories for the people, even reformist ones. But as Harvey suggests, “An anti-capitalist political movement can start anywhere…The trick is to keep the political movement moving from one moment to another in mutually reinforcing ways.”