Kill Your Idols II: Power to Which People? Research Time, 08/08/2017

Does the world run like a clockwork, with simple, easily predictable events and processes? Reality is really much more complicated than that.

We may be able to understand the underlying mathematics behind how the world changes, but the relationships of all those actual, ongoing processes cause so many dynamic effects that it becomes computationally impossible to account for them all.

Predictions only occur in laboratory conditions – pristine environments where all relevant processes are controlled. The world is no laboratory. Too much is beyond our control once all the world’s ongoing processes start interacting with each other.

A representation of Ananke, the Greek Pagan name for the necessity
of reality itself, the determination of fate.
Okay, now let’s scale back a bit from the abstract. Step down from this web of time analysis and look at some real historical situations here. That way, we can see how tripped-out abstract thinking is directly and practically relevant to material matters of politics and life.

Let’s go back to Italy in the 1920s. My grandparents are children growing up on farms in the middle of nowhere in Calabria. They know nothing of this, even though this political instability will lead to the wars that determined their coming of age.

Antonio Gramsci is arrested by Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship, as one of the leaders of the Italian Communist Party. He’d eventually die in fascist custody, thanks to the failure of his health in their wretched prison conditions. While dying slowly over ten years, he writes a masterpiece of political philosophy.

He’s wondering where he went wrong. If the time of successful revolutions to build communist societies had begun, why were all the ones in western Europe shut down?

Marxist orthodoxy in early 20th century Europe was that the factory-based proletarian labourer class would gain consciousness of themselves as a class, including their raw deal under capitalism, and that the Communist Party vanguard would lead them into a whole new economic system.

The first I ever learned about the Russian revolution was the story
of Doctor Zhivago, which was one of this movie nerd's favourite
films, even when I was a young kid. The film had an intense hold
on me, sucking me into every scene even though it was nearly
three hours long and I saw it for the first time when I was nine.
That sounds awesome! It never happened. Not even in Russia, where you had an actual Communist Party’s revolution actually being successful.* There was no factory-based economy there to speak of. Most of the country was agrarian and pretty much feudal.

* Sort of. Heavily crippled by a massive civil war in which every major western European power sent armed battalions to help put down Lenin’s government. Causing Lenin so much stress that he died of a stroke shortly after the civil war, and was never able to build institutions around community workers’ councils. Josef Stalin just built a huge secret police state with a bunch of massive collectivized farms. Fuck.

The Russian Revolution itself broke from the doctrinaire marxist script, the script that said human economics and society had a life cycle as natural as an oak tree.

The end of capitalism would come from the industrialization of society and its breakup into a 1% of oligarchs and a 99% of slave-wage factory labourers. The labourers realize their raw deal and the force of their numbers, overthrow the oligarchs, and govern society equally through workers’ councils. The ever-more abundant production of industry would lift everyone out of poverty and we’d live as equals.

Yet the first successful revolution was in a feudal economy, because Czarist Russia had a social division of oligarchs and slaves even more stark than the England whose industry was Marx’s own model for Capital.

To understand time, you mustn't think of it as a necessity, as clockwork,
but as the collision of processes, where even the smallest change
alters the entire system.
European industrialization had taken a turn away from the extremes of the 19th century. Their societies stayed complex, or developed new complexities as the old loyalties and identities fell away. Politics never reduced all the way to economic classes anyway.

Gramsci was stuck in prison trying to figure out why the world wouldn’t go according to the script. Why the conditions of a successful revolution were so different from what he encountered.

Gramsci wrote the template to reintroduce contingency into the marxist tradition of thought. He did more than just do that, though. Because you couldn’t just deny necessity. That becomes a shouting match.

No, Gramsci had to reveal to everyone who philosophized about politics and society the source of contingency in the human realm. That source was the mind of humanity itself, when we all think and talk together. That source is our ethics, values, and morality. It was philosophy in action in the thoughts of every member of a community.

So yeah, no big thing to figure out there. . . . To Be Continued

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