HOW WE CAN REMOVE THE RICH FROM POWER
by John Spritzler
This article is about why it is possible to remove the rich from power DESPITE THE 82nd AIRBORNE DIVISION.
If you want to read a very short version of this article go here.
[Click here to read "Violent Repression is a Fact; What Should We Do?"]
[Click here to read "Revolutionary Community Organizing"]
Most Americans want an egalitarian revolution [see unedited "on the street" videos that demonstrate this fact here and here and here and here], which is why most sign "This I Believe" when asked to do so. What prevents Americans from making such a revolution? What prevents us from thoroughly shaping our society by our values of equality (no rich and no poor) and mutual aid?
Most people know that the billionaires with the real power were never elected and thus cannot be un-elected. Even if we get a wonderful person elected president, so what? As anybody who seriously studies power in the United States knows, the real power is not in the Oval Office, and the real power always has the option of killing the person in the Oval Office if and when that is necessary to carry out the policies desired by the billionaires, as the assassination of JFK by the CIA demonstrates. (For more discussion about why it is not possible to remove the rich from power by voting, please see "Voting for President in America: History Is Trying to Tell Us Something" and (the satirical, but very serious) "Do Your Civic Duty and VOTE!")
Everybody knows that the obstacle to making an egalitarian revolution is the fact that the rich in power have military forces--including the proverbial 82nd Airborne Division--that are overwhelmingly more powerful than we are in terms of raw violence, even when we have militias with rifles.
But what is not as well known is that under the right circumstances military forces go over to the other side and refuse to obey orders to attack the people they are ordered to attack. American GIs did this in Vietnam. Soldiers in Iran did this in 1979*, forcing the Shah of Iran to flee the country even though he thought--up to the last moment--that his military force, which he knew was the strongest in the Middle East, would keep him in power.
Similarly, the Czar of Russia was forced to abdicate in February of 1917 when his soldiers decided to defend, instead of follow orders to attack, the workers demonstrating and going on strike against the Czar. Read a non-Marxist account of this here and Leon Trotsky's account here. Also, as these two Marxist accounts, here and here, discuss, the Czarist soldiers were more willing to disobey orders than soldiers generally are because it was the middle of World War I and they had good reason to believe that if they didn't refuse the Czar's orders to attack the working class demonstrations, then the Czar would remain in power and they would be ordered to the front where they would almost certainly be killed, as huge numbers already had been killed for no good reason!. (Note that American G.I.s who refused orders to fight in Vietnam were in a similar situation: obeying the orders made it more likely they'd be killed--for no good reason--by the Viet Cong in battle.)
In the French Revolution, the King's power was defeated when people in the streets successfully took over the famous Bastille prison on July 14, 1789. This decisive battle "could not have been won without the support of the troops in the capital, or at least their benign neutrality. Within the French Guards, the mutinies at the company level in early June were soon followed by the outright participation of entire regiments in the popular uprising." (The Third Revolution, vol. 1, pg. 278, by Murray Bookchin)
Far more important than the size and power of an army's weapons is the direction that soldiers decide to aim those weapons--at the people opposed to the ruling regime, or at those using violence against foes of the ruling regime!
Professor of history at Harvard University, Crane Brinton, who from 1942 to 1945 was Special Assistant to the Office of Strategic Services in the European Theater of Operations, wrote in his 1965 book, The Anatomy of Revolution (pg. 88),
"[T]he nowadays common view that modern weapons have for the future made street-risings impossible is probably wrong. Modern weapons have to be used by police or soldiers, who may still be subverted, even in the atomic age."
Hannah Arendt, one of the most insightful intellectuals of the 20th century, wrote in her book, On Violence (pg. 48-9):
"In a contest of violence against violence the superiority of the government has always been absolute; but this superiority lasts only as long as the power structure of the government is intact--that is, as long as commands are obeyed and the army or police forces are prepared to use their weapons. When this is no longer the case, the situation changes abruptly. Not only is the rebellion not put down, but the arms themselves change hands--sometimes, as in the Hungarian revolution, within a few hours...Where commands are no longer obeyed, the means of violence are of no use; and the question of this obedience is not decided by the command-obedience relation [the formal establishment hierarchy--J.S.] but by opinion, and, of course, by the number of those who share it."
The RAND Corporation, one of the top research organizations serving the interests of the American ruling class, writes:
"Arguably, will to fight is the single most important factor in war. Will to fight is the disposition and decision to fight, to keep fighting, and to win. The best technology in the world is useless without the force of will to use it and to keep using it even as casualties mount and unexpected calamities arise. Will to fight represents the indelibly human nature of warfare." [Also see the Rand Corp. discuss here why the lack of a will to fight on the part of Syrian troops enabled ISIS, with far fewer soldiers, to defeat them on one occasion.]
Remember, whatever reason a typical person enlisted in the United States military (and the "poverty draft" is one of the main reasons), keeping the rich in power was not one of them. Most members of the military forces want an egalitarian society with real, not fake, democracy and no rich and no poor, just as much as the vast majority of civilians do.
The way we can remove the rich from power is to create the circumstances that will cause a critical mass of soldiers to a) refuse any orders they may get to attack people who want to remove the rich from power and b) use their weapons to help the egalitarian revolutionary movement defend itself against anybody who may attack it violently**. This is how the rich lose power!
The egalitarian revolutionary movement has means of defending itself from oppressive violence, including the use of violence in self defense, past examples of which I discuss in my article "Guns and the Working Class." Such means of self-defense can, however, only win reforms, not revolution, if a critical mass of members of the military forces fail to refuse to obey orders to attack the movement. But when a critical mass of members of the military forces do refuse to obey such orders, then the revolutionary movement can indeed remove the rich from power and clear the way to creating an egalitarian society.
In order to persuade substantial numbers of soldiers--a critical mass--to refuse to obey orders to attack the revolutionary movement we will need to persuade them that the egalitarian revolutionary movement is so large and determined that, if soldiers support it, it can actually win. If soldiers are not convinced of this then they will not refuse orders to attack the movement, even though most of them support the goal of the movement for the same reasons their civilian friends and neighbors and relatives support it. Why not? Because when a soldier refuses an order to attack "the enemy" he or she risks being severely punished--perhaps even executed--for mutiny or even treason. For substantial numbers of soldiers to take this risk they must be persuaded that the risk is relatively low because, with their support, the revolutionary movement has a good chance of winning, in which case soldiers who refuse to attack it won't be punished.
The key to removing the rich from power is, thus, to build a movement of hundreds of millions of Americans (and of people in other countries as well***) that can persuade lots of soldiers to support it because a) it aims not merely for some reform that leaves the rich in power and class inequality intact but for removing the rich from power and ending class inequality******; and b) it is large enough and determined enough to actually WIN. This is very possible, because it is already the case that most people would LOVE an egalitarian revolution, even if they presently think it can never happen.
The movement needs to be one that explicitly declares its goal to be egalitarian revolution (for the additional important reasons given below****). It needs to involve people in every walk of life in challenging the unequal and undemocratic status quo on the grounds that it violates the values of egalitarianism. And it needs to promote people standing in solidarity with each other for these values and in defense***** against those who attack them. Only this kind of movement--very large and very determined--will be able to gain the support of soldiers that is required to remove the rich from power.
The first step towards building this egalitarian revolutionary movement is for people to discover that the vast majority of people want an egalitarian revolution. Click here to see how you, personally, can do this. Click here to see how to persuade others to join you in this effort.
One important way to build such a movement is by people forming local assemblies of egalitarians in their communities, as discussed here. These local assemblies at first, when they have only a small number of participants, can inform others in the community about egalitarianism, what it is and why it is both very practical and much better than our status quo. These early assemblies can also explain that local assemblies of egalitarians open to all egalitarians in the community are the only bodies that ought to make laws people in the community must obey. (Click here to read why only local assemblies and click here to read why only egalitarians make the laws.) These assemblies can provide a place where people meet to figure out how to involve more and more people in advocating for egalitarianism, challenging the power of the rich, and creating relations of solidarity with other egalitarians near and far.
When lots of people are participating in their local assembly of egalitarians, and the assemblies are coordinating with each other by sending delegates to non-local assemblies to craft proposals for the local assemblies to implement if they agree, and when this voluntary federation of local assemblies involves tens or hundreds of millions of Americans, and when similar local and non-local assemblies of egalitarians are formed in workplaces, then something extremely important happens. Then, for the first time, there is an egalitarian government in place, with which egalitarians have ALMOST everything they need to shape all of society by egalitarian values. This egalitarian government can begin doing some things to start making society egalitarian.
The crucial thing this egalitarian government lacks is the power to prevail against the violence of soldiers and police obeying anti-egalitarian orders. This is when a critical mass of soldiers, however, can realistically be expected to side with the revolutionary movement. This is how the rich lose power. Like the Czar. Like the Shah. But unlike in those previous revolutions, when the leaders of the revolution advocated anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian goals (read about the anti-democratic essence of Marxism here), this time it will be egalitarianism that replaces the dictatorship of the rich.
The main obstacle today in the United States that prevents people from acting together on a large scale to build an egalitarian revolutionary movement is that people feel it is hopeless to even try. Hopelessness comes, for most people, from believing that there is no better alternative to our current society based on class inequality. Even when people discover that there IS a much better alternative--egalitarianism--hopelessness continues to come from feeling virtually alone in having the revolutionary aspirations for an egalitarian society that are expressed in "This I Believe."
THE OBSTACLE TO EGALITARIAN REVOLUTION IS NOT THAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T WANT IT (THEY'D LOVE IT!); THE OBSTACLE IS THAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T KNOW THAT MOST PEOPLE WANT IT.
But when most Americans know that most Americans agree with "This I Believe" and know that they are in the majority in wanting an egalitarian revolution, and also know (from seeing assemblies of egalitarians and other organizations explicitly advocating egalitarian revolution) that they are not alone in being determined to DO what it takes to make it happen, THEN they will have the confidence to start acting like the majority they actually are, by taking concrete steps to build a revolutionary movement with revolutionary organizations. And as we have seen, such a movement can indeed remove the rich from power.
Please read here Hannah Arendt's fascinating account of how revolutionary federation spread rapidly (in days or weeks!) in Europe and Russia in the 20th century.
*In this case, however, the Iranian soldiers stood down because President Jimmy Carter told them to.
**Soldiers are more likely than police to refuse orders to attack the revolutionary movement. This is because soldiers see themselves as defenders of Americans against foreign enemies, and it violates their sense of legitimate purpose to attack their fellow Americans, especially if they are ordered to attack a very large movement clearly representative of the majority of Americans. In contrast police are trained to use violent force against their fellow Americans for the purpose of protecting "law and order" (i.e., the wealth, property and privilege of the rich) and routinely do so. It is not unlikely that soldiers will use their weapons to stop the police from attacking us. This is what happened in Russia in February 1917.
*** Rich people in different nations help each other to stay in power and defeat egalitarian revolutionary movements. This is why we need a world-wide egalitarian revolutionary movement. Otherwise the American rich, when they see American soldiers refusing to obey their orders, could rely for help on an invasion of soldiers from another nation. But if there is an egalitarian revolutionary movement in that other country as well, then there is a good chance those soldiers would refuse to attack egalitarians in the United States, much as American GIs by 1975 were refusing to obey orders to attack Vietnamese peasants fighting foreign occupation.
**** The need for explicitly aiming for an egalitarian revolution is twofold:
#1) Movements against a ruling class often win what they explicitly aim for, but they never win more than that. For example, the Civil Rights Movement explicitly aimed to abolish the Jim Crow laws, but it did not explicitly aim to abolish class inequality (even though practically all who joined the Civil Rights Movement wanted to end class inequality.) As a result, the Jim Crow laws were indeed abolished, but class inequality remained and this enabled the ruling plutocracy to institute the New Jim Crow of racist prison incarceration. Likewise, the South African anti-apartheid movement explicitly aimed to abolish apartheid, but it did not explicitly aim to abolish class inequality. As a result, apartheid was indeed abolished, but class inequality remained and the ruling corporate elite have made life for ordinary black South Africans worse in many ways than even under apartheid.
#2) People don't get on a bus if they don't know where it's going; likewise people don't join and passionately support a movement unless they know explicitly what it is aiming for and are inspired by that goal. Egalitarianism--abolishing class inequality to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor--is the goal that IN FACT inspires the vast majority of Americans when they believe it is possible.
***** It is the personal opinion of the editor of this website--John Spritzler--that the egalitarian revolutionary movement should use violence in self-defense when the circumstances make that appropriate. This is discussed further here and here and here.
******If the movement doesn't aim to remove the ruling class from power then soldiers would be afraid to support it because they would be severely punished by the ruling class that remains in power no matter what happens.
There is another reason, however, why it is crucial that the revolutionary movement be one in which the vast majority of the people have the explicit goal of removing the rich from power and ending class inequality. If only a minority of the people in the revolutionary movement have this egalitarian goal then the movement will be defeated the way that the king (fourteen year old Richard II) defeated the 1381 Peasant Revolt in England, as shown in the last of the two connected videos about this extraordinary revolt, the first one of which is online here. The peasant rebel army was larger than the King's army and could have defeated it when it entered London and confronted the king. But this is what happened.
The majority of the rebels made reform demands (huge reforms that even would have ended serfdom) that nonetheless left class inequality intact. The king responded with a divide-and-rule strategy. The king said, OK to the demands, and even signed formal documents agreeing to accept the demands. Most of the rebels then returned home thinking they had won. A minority of the rebels who demanded much more remained in confrontation with the king, but they were now overpowered by the king's army.
The king's army then attacked and defeated this minority of the rebels and thereby demoralized the majority of the rebels in the countryside so severely that the king's army was able to hunt them down and murder very many of them, destroy the revolution and prevent even the promised reforms from being implemented. The revolution was thus defeated by persuading a majority of the rebels a) to trust that the king (and the upper class he led) would keep a promise to enact reforms and b) to naively believe that it was not necessary to abolish class inequality entirely.
Note that in 1381, in contrast to today, weapons possessed by ordinary people (peasants) were pretty much the same as those possessed by the ruling class's military force, with the exception that some members of the military had armor plating (although, crucially, their horses did not.) Back then it was possible for ordinary people to form an army that had a chance of defeating the ruling class army, because ordinary people had large numbers on their side and the support of people in many walks of life. But today the only way to defeat the ruling class army is to win over a critical mass of its members to the side of the revolution.