Sunday, March 6, 2011


Harry Targ

A while ago I wrote about David Harvey’s “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 (perhaps a global ruling class), and human misery, from joblessness, to hunger, to disease, to environmental devastation is spreading.

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 in 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 Wisconsin, and later in Ohio, Indiana, and around the country a broad array of people began to publicly say “no,” “enough is enough.”

The resistance in the Middle East has been about jobs, redistribution of wealth, limiting foreign financial penetration, and democracy. In the United States the issues are even more varied: the right of workers to collectively bargain, opposition to so-called Right-To-Work laws, beating back challenges to public education, raising demands for free access to health care including the defense of reproductive health care, and greater, not less, provision of jobs, livable wages, and retirement benefits.

Where do we 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 trade unions, education, health care, sustainable environments, opposition to racism and sexism, and peace. So all these motivations are part of the same struggle.

It is fascinating to observe that the reaction to economic ruling class and political elite efforts to turn back the clock on reforms gained over the last 75 years have sparked resistance and mobilization from across a whole array of movements and campaigns. And activists are beginning to make the connections between the struggles.

It is way too early to tell whether this round of ferment will lead to some 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.”