In the last century, radicals liked to talk about permanent revolution, a term popularized by Karl Marx in the 19th century. The concept involves a revolutionary class continuing to push for its interests despite the political dominance of the bourgeoisie. The working class has to maintain a militant outsider approach to politics, even after the revolution that brings down the capitalist system. Revolution was a process, rather than an event, which operated outside of conventional politics.
In practice, permanent revolution resulted in a death spiral for radicals, as it provided a reason to attack any attempt to maintain stability. The first wave radicals gained power and began to impose order, only to be met by a second wave demanding more radical changes and accusing the first wave of lacking authenticity. Since there is no limiting principle, no such thing as good enough, in radical politics, there is always someone ready with a more radical program than the most radical.
The funny thing about this concept is radicals have never grasped what it means about their program. Karl Marx may have grasped what he was saying, it is hard to know, but he came up with the idea by observing Napoleon’s rise to power. Marx saw that permanent war was what gave Napoleon legitimacy. France was in a permanent state of war with Europe. The alternative to granting him absolute authority to fight the war was the possibility of defeat or even the conquest of France by her enemies.
Therefore, what would give the proletariat legitimacy was a permanent revolution, by which he meant a permanent crisis. If a crisis of capitalism allowed the middle class to seize power, then fostering crisis would provide opportunities for the working class to press their interests. In a way, permanent revolution, at least initially, is permanent instability. Eventually, however, permanent instability is the only justification for radicalism. The crisis must never end or the revolution ends.
Of course, Orwell understood this. In Animal Farm and 1984 we see how the permanent crisis, the ever-present threat of annihilation, was the true source of power for the people in charge. Because of that threat, everything in society must be organized, without question, in defense against the threat. Therefore, questioning these efforts is anti-revolutionary and can never be tolerated. In fact, the hunt for enemies of the revolution becomes a part of the permanent crisis.
What this means is that socialism, at least revolutionary socialism, cannot function outside of a crisis. It is a last resort position a desperate people will tolerate in times of extreme duress. That’s the odd thing about the concept. It is an admission that the radical program cannot exist in easy times. It can only thrive when the people, or at least a large swath of them, are sure their existence is on the knife edge. It also means the revolution can never achieve its stated goals.
This contradiction within radicalism is important to keep in mind when looking at modern politics, broadly inclusive of current events. In America, we have been in some form of crisis since the turn of the century. Under Bush the Minor, it was Islamic terrorism that put us on permanent war footing. The ruling class stripped away most of our remaining rights in the name of fighting this existential threat. America now has political prisoners and a security state that spies on citizens.
In the Obama years, the permanent crisis over Islamic terrorism slowly gave way to a laundry list of left-wing bogeymen. Racism, antisemitism, various imaginary crimes against imaginary identity groups. The rape hoax on campus was a classic example of trying to maintain the permanent crisis. Coeds were supposed to act as if Chad and Biff were lurking around every corner, ready to rape them. Of course, this warranted preemptive strikes against Chad and Biff in self-defense.
The Trump years have been an exhausting series of crises that have formed into a miasma that hangs over society. First it was the Russians “attacking our democracy” then the various show trials and performances related to it. The nomination of a judge turned into a bizarre rape fantasy for the nation’s old hens. Now, of course, we are gripped by the invisible bogeyman called the Covid-19. No doubt, this insidious plague was dreamed up by Snowball and Goldstein.
What the last two decades have been, really starting after the Cold War, is the bourgeois version of permanent revolution. The managerial elite maintain a militant and independent approach to politics, seeing themselves outside of society. They are the revolutionary class that is driving progress by driving the revolution. When they shriek about threats to the democracy, they really mean a threat to the revolution, their revolution, the managerial revolution.
You see one way this is playing out in the inner party primary. The threat of Trump and his Russian allies requires extraordinary measures by the inner party. In such a crisis, the Sanders people cannot be tolerated. All that talk about practical policy and addressing public needs must wait until after the revolution is achieved. In the means time, the party must rally around a dementia patient, who often forgets his own name and shouts at people for no reason.
The old radicals understood something about the class war they promoted. Marxist intellectuals understood they lacked the stones to fight for their cause. These were soft men who lived soft lives. The working class, on the other hand, had lots of tough guys comfortable with violence. The bourgeois class was also full of soft men, comfortable living the liberal lifestyle. In a genuine class struggle, they would not stand a chance against the working class. They would not fight.
The managerial revolution, on the other hand, is led by radials, who make many of the same assumptions. The difference is there is no working class. They destroyed it by auctioning off the industrial base. Instead they will use their power over institutions, like the police, the security apparatus, finance and so on, to intimidate the middle-class into going along with the program. The permanent crisis legitimizes endless intrusions into daily life by the managerial state,
There are two problems facing the permanent managerial revolution. One is the people running it are increasingly incompetent. The fact that the inner party is reduced to using a husk of man as a shield against Trump, a guy detested by the outer party, speaks to the lack of competence in politics. Within living memory, Trump would not have won a single primary, because the party would not have allowed it. Biden would never have been allowed to run, much less be installed as the nominee.
The other problem faced by the managerial class is something all revolutions face at some point in their evolutionary cycle. That is, crisis is exhausting. For the radicals, part of the appeal is the endless interpersonal shenanigans. For normal people, the endless drama of politics is tiresome. The permanent crisis required to sustain radical politics, to keep the revolution going, is exhausting. Oddly, the reason Biden became the nominee is black people got tired of white people drama.
The thing is, the permanent crisis has another flaw. It channels the natural energies of a people away from industry and community. The permanent revolution becomes a bonfire onto which is thrown the social capital of a people. For the revolutionary, society is the sum of men, exclusive of their inner connections. They place no value on the social capital they burn for revolutionary fuel, because they see no purpose in it. To the managerial class, society is just kindling.
We are getting a glimpse of this with the Chinese Flu. The federal state is paralyzed by the growing incompetence of the managerial class. State and local responses have been incoherent, because the normal social capital that would animate such a response has been largely destroyed. You cannot have a community response when there are no natural communities of people. Clusters of strangers in temporary developments named after what was knocked down to build them are not communities.
This is something the paleocon theorists could not see. They understood the birth and development of the managerial class, but could not imagine its demise. It turns out that the end point of the managerial revolution is the same as all radical projects. It consumes what it needs to exist and is eventually overtaken by incompetence. Late empire America is now ruled by self-absorbed stupid people, incapable of performing the basic duties of their office. The end is inevitable.
For sites like this to exist, it requires people like you chipping in a few bucks a month to keep the lights on and the people fed. It turns out that you can’t live on clicks and compliments. Five bucks a month is not a lot to ask. If you don’t want to commit to a subscription, make a one time donation. Or, you can send money to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. You can also use PayPal to send a few bucks, rather than have that latte at Starbucks. Thank you for your support!