Communist Memes and Storming Heaven

Mike Treen writing on The Daily Blog asks the question “Reform or Revolution in the 2020’s” accompanied by a graphic of Marx (above) complaining that Communist memes are not “funny” if people don’t understand them. Yet memes are only made funny by simplifying and reducing concepts to bolster a popular caricature which plays to people’s shared ignorance. Understanding Marx on Communism is about meaning not memes. 

On the question of Marx’s complaint, memes were a problem in his day. In the Communist Manifesto Marx lists one of the popular memes about communism as the common ownership of women by the state. Meaning? Don’t be a communist or your wife (as your private property) will be socialised.

But such superficial understanding of his Manifesto was not funny.  Towards the end of his life Marx denied he was a ‘Marxist’ (reducing his name an “ism”) if it meant limiting class struggle to reforms, as was the popular meme, of making a ‘peaceful’ and ‘harmonious’ capitalism work for workers as well as bosses. 

Marx had a good sense of humour but on the question of communism he was serious.  His scientific theory of revolution was no joke. Nor were reforms funny because they were, and remain, a necessary part of the class struggle for workers to discover the necessity of revolution. Unions in which workers collective power was mobilised had an important role in advancing the struggle from reforms towards revolution.

Nevertheless everything Marx wrote was premised on the view that reforms while possible fall well short in overcoming the basic problem of capitalism. Free speech is not the same as controlling the media. Wage rises will always be insufficient while the wage system survives. Capitalism can only survive by making workers pay the costs of its never-ending crises to the point of destroying the working class and the rest of nature itself. 

So even the most elementary grasp of Marxism means that workers have to overthrow the capitalist order and build a communist society to survive. Today the world situation is giving us daily practical lessons that we have reached the limits of capitalism’s ability to exist without destroying society and nature. 

We can see what fighting for reforms means today. The French workers and poor self-employed rose up in Yellow Vests last year against an unjust fuel tax and before long faced deaths from cops on the streets. Macron offered various sops to workers, but the protests have continued and merged with a national strike of the unions that has the potential to become a general strike to bring down the government. 

Elsewhere, from Syria, Iraq, Iran Sudan, to Hong Kong, Southern Africa, Brazil and Chile, we see those fighting for the most elemental reform, actual democracy, face live ammunition from state forces and paramilitaries, and growing numbers of deaths. Syria has fought an 8 year long civil war against its ruthless dictator Bashar Assad who only survives because he is backed by Russia and Iran. In Sudan, workers, students and street vendors have brought down the other dictator Bashar and do not lack the capacity and will to continue the fight. 

In the US and Aotearoa, which have a long history of bourgeois democracy, we are learning the lessons the German workers learnt in 1919 of the treachery of bourgeois democracy under its Social Democratic form. When they mutinied against the imperialist war and built armed councils in most cities, Social Democracy betrayed them by forming a government with the bosses, and in the name of ‘democracy’ conspired to kill the leaders of the Communist Party.

Today the US has a would-be fascist as President, willing to risk world war to keep the dying US economy alive. Both Republicans and Democrats have no answers and go along with Trump’s expansion of Presidential powers. Bernie Sanders can offer no answers other than shepherding idealist young people into the Democrats selling false hopes of a peaceful, democratic face to US imperialism. 

The Green New Deal will serve the same purpose as the original Roosevelt New Deal of the 1930s, of sowing illusions in reforms that capitalism can stop climate change, when what is needed is an independent workers party backed by organised workers formed into councils and defence militias to make a revolution.

Aotearoa has a Labour Party in a coalition with centre Greens and and centre-right populist NZ First parties reneging on its promises to workers. Parliament offers no hopes to workers who urgently need to organise independently in forming workers councils and defence militias, with a revolutionary program that offers practical solutions to the big issues of climate change, the threat of wars between the US and China including their client states, and puts forward a workers plan for socialism.

Inevitably all over the world, workers and the poor will keep rising up, fighting for the most basic rights to life, speech and assembly, without which there can be no end to capitalism’s terminal crisis and wholesale destruction by the lethal state and paramilitary repression.  

That means reforms can only be won by revolutionary means. By workers mobilising against the bosses’ state machines, in workers councils and popular militias with a clear program for revolution to overthrow the capitalist states and create workers states based on a new form of democracy – workers democracy.

This new workers’ democracy will allow the working class to advance all of its economic and social struggles, to take control of society from the capitalists and plan the the global economy to solve the problem of climate change, and plan production in a way that respects and meets the needs of nature and of humanity.

There is no separation in life between reforms and revolution. Without the fight for reforms workers will never see the need to overthrow capitalism. And without overthrowing capitalism there will be no human existence let alone reforms. But there is no automatic process of reforms leading to revolution. An international revolutionary Marxist party and program leading the transition from capitalism to communist is the vital missing link.  

The meaning (not the Meme-ing) of communism can only be understood to be that type of society Marx envisaged where humanity “storms heaven” to complete the historic task of bringing back nature from the brink of destruction and restoring its unity with humanity in which all work to the best of their ability and get what they need in return.