Thousands turn out to debate revolution

Submitted by martin on 27 April, 2010 - 7:11 Author: Martin Thomas

Not only the scheduled lecture theatre, but also an overflow theatre connected by video link, were crammed full when David Harvey spoke at the London School of Economics on 26 April about his latest book, The Enigma of Capital, a book which analyses the current crisis and concludes with a call for "revolution" to "dispossess" the capitalist class.

And that was only one of four meetings which Harvey was doing about the book on his visit to London.
Harvey has been an eminent academic figure in geography since the late 1960s. In the early 1970s he became a Marxist, and started writing a series of books on Marxist theory, of which the most famous is the highly-readable The Condition of Postmodernity (1990).

As far as I know, Harvey has never been involved with any activist Marxist organisation. His current political involvement is with "Right to the City" in New York, a campaign against evictions and displacements resulting from "gentrification". But he has consistently been an unashamed, forthright Marxist, and by his own lights a revolutionary Marxist.

The big turnout for Harvey's lecture gives the lie to the tired people on the left who say that "no-one is interested" in revolutionary Marxism and all we can do for now is potter along doing low-level trade-union and campaign activity.

However, the lecture also showed how much work we have to do to redefine Marxism as a coherent revolutionary project after the disarray caused by Stalinism and by the collapse of Stalinism.
Harvey redefined revolution as "co-revolution" (the term is his own invention), a "slow movement" of change across several different "spheres" of society. He saw no real hope of the labour movement being transformed and rearmed so as to become a revolutionary force capable of rallying around it other groups which fight for liberation. Instead he looked to an ill-defined alliance of the "alienated and discontented" (academics and others such as himself) and the "deprived and dispossessed" (the victims of eviction, displacement, clearance).

After the setbacks of recent decades, it is not surprising that would-be radicals find it hard to see the working-class movement as a world-changing force,. But to resort to puffing a variety of battles which do exist, unifying them in your head (only), and calling the result "co-revolution", is to console yourself rather than change things.

To one questioner, Harvey responded with a call simply to practise "subversion" wherever she found herself. It was like a slogan briefly popular in the late 1960s: "In fighting anywhere we are fighting everywhere". As was pointed out then: maybe, but not necessarily effectively... or even on the right side.

In the earlier parts of his new book, Harvey explains that populist revolt, even when sincerely aimed against the bankers and business elite, can be reactionary. Unlike those who see political Islam as a progressive anti-imperialist force, he brackets "religious fundamentalism" with fascism.

The lucidity fades as Harvey approaches the end of the book. On the last page he writes: "Perhaps we should just define the movement, our movement, as anti-capitalist or call ourselves the Party of Indignation, ready to fight and defeat the Party of Wall Street and its acolytes and apologists everywhere, and leave it at that". But indignation is not enough. Least of all from those who write books and give lectures.

More: The Sydney Workers' Liberty group will soon be starting a study-circle around The Enigma of Capital.