Saturday, July 14, 2012
Notes on passive revolution posted by Richard Seymour
1. that no social formation disappears as long as the productive forces which have developed within it still find room for further forward movement;2. that a society does not set itself tasks for whose solution the necessary conditions have not already been incubated etc.
V. 'Passive revolution' is thus, in both its main senses, a particular relationship between political leadership and social transformation; political leadership becomes identical with state domination, through which transformation is achieved. The tendency in 'passive revolution' is for the bourgeoisie to be unable to rule directly, or alone. Partly for this reason, 'passive revolution' is internally related to the concept of 'Caesarism' which, despite being initially posited as an explicitly polemical formulation, is clearly drawn from Marx's discussion of 'Bonapartism', and which is also a tendency immanent to capitalist modernity. According to Gramsci, 'Caesarism' occurs where the two opposing fundamental classes are deadlocked, both sides evenly matched, potentially threatening mutual ruin: in such a catastrophic stalemate, a 'Caesar' can either play a progressive or reactionary role. It is in its reactionary sense that it is tied to 'passive revolution', as it is often the role of a 'Caesar' to carry through such a transformation. A 'Caesar' is not necessarily a great personality. The decisive thing is that 'Caesarism', whether it is personated in the form of a despot, or party, or faction, or alliance, represents some form of compromise between the classes, whether its general thrust is toward progress or reaction. That is why, as Gramsci says, ""every coalition government is a first stage of Caesarism". And, because of the enhanced role of the state in 'Caesarism', it can be an ideal type of regime to achieve 'revolution-restoration'. It is significant in this sense that Bismarck is given as an example of regressive 'Ceasarism'.
Yet at the same time, 'passive revolution' is, as I have said, a process in which some compromise between the contending classes is struck. In some form, however partial and mitigated, popular demands have to be addressed; a material substratum for acquiescence if not active assent must be created. Moreover, although 'passive revolution' is often a repressive form of modernisation, it is worth recalling that consent is often as not produced through coercion and terror - that is, through the demonstration with physical force that 'there is no alternative, and the only people talking of an alternative are criminals and misfits who get beaten up and arrested'. (Cf. Poulantzas: "State monopolized physical violence permanently underlies the techniques of power and mechanisms of consent".) There is a sense in which 'passive revolution' must simulate elements of bourgeois hegemony in a context of weakness, stasis or underdevelopment. This is why some authors refer to a 'limited hegemony' in the context of 'passive revolution', despite the fact that the dominant tendency is toward domination without consent.
VIII. The question, then, is how can the tendencies toward 'passive revolution', immanent to capitalist modernity, be interpreted today? The neoliberal transformation sharpened the tendencies toward 'passive revolution'. First of all, in the sense that it was a modernisation project, and that it rationalised the productive and demographic forces to an extent, even if it introduced all sorts of new pathologies and 'contradictions' in doing so. Second, in the sense that it involved some partial, limited concessions to popular interests - differentiation in the proletariat allowed this to be accomplished, even while the rate of exploitation was being driven up. Thirdly, in the sense that there were tendencies toward hegemony-building, an effort to shift the common sense, even though the main form in which transformation was achieved was through struggle. Fourth, in the emphasis on repression as a factor in building consent. Neoliberal reform did not merely rely on repression to enable its passage, but rather implemented a fundamental shift in the continuum toward repression: from welfare and material concessions to the carceral/punitive state. Finally in the transformist tendencies particularly evident in the latter phase of neoliberal transformation: following the open assault on low wage earners, union militants, the oppressed, the social movements and the left, there ensues the incorporation of the leaders of defeated or at least chastened social movements, unions and left parties into a new neoliberal social democracy.
IX. The global crisis has demonstrated the need, purely on capitalist terms, for fundamental, structural reform of the capitalist system. In fact, the only viable solution on capitalist terms would be simultaneously the most irrational solution - the destruction of masses of capital, through profound economic contraction or through war. But this is not politically viable. Not even Rick Santorum could win on that slogan, and the bourgeoisie wouldn't tolerate it if he did. For that reason, the debate is between a set of mediating, compromise solutions with the emphasis shifting between Keynesian demand management and neoliberal regulation. In Europe, the most punitive neoliberalism is consistent with a programme of re-regulating financial markets up to and including a continent-wide Tobin tax. Even in Greece, the EU's austerity project is bound up with rationalising tendencies - building a better tax-collecting apparatus, etc. So, the tendencies toward 'passive revolution' are, I would say, sharpened further. Coterminous with this, the 'Caesarist' tendencies are sharpening as well. If the coalition government is the beginning of Caesarism in a parliamentary age, then the emergence of cross-party coalitions around a 'technocratic' agenda of fundamental institutional and social restructuring represents the beginnings of a Caesarist legion. One thing that Buci-Glucksmann was certainly right about was that the historic bloc, in its 'expansive unity', is the antithesis of the 'passive revolution' based on cynical, bureaucratic power bloc manouevering. The question is whether a new historical bloc can be forged in the popular struggles, with its strategic axis the hegemony of the working class and its forms of democracy.