Date: Tue, 4 Nov 97 16:26 GMT
From: (Jim Davis)
Subject: 11-97 RC Program of the dispossessed is key to victory

Program of the dispossessed is key to victory of revolution

From the Leage of Revolutionaries for a New America, Rally, Comrades!, Vol. 15 no. 4, November 1997

We should spend a little time talking about this question of the line of march because we have been using the term over and over again, and after a while in the revolutionary movement terms begin taking the place of concepts. But this phrase is so fundamental, we keep going back to it to try and understand what is meant.

The term line of march originated in the military. It looks at conceptually how do we get to our target, how strategically do we achieve what we are trying to achieve.

I want to make a distinction between what we mean by line of march in the military sense and what we mean by line of march in the political sense. When revolutionaries talk about line of march, we mean the general progression of revolutionary development and transformation, something that is entirely objective.

The term was first used in the political sense by Marx and Engels when they stated in The Manifesto: The communists therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

We were thinking that perhaps it would be worthwhile if we grappled with something in history to illuminate this question of line of march, rather than just talking abstractly about it. It was suggested that we use the lessons of the Civil War and Reconstruction. We keep going back to this period in our history because it is still determining what kind of nation we are and how we relate to the rest of the world.


The first thing we have to say when we talk about the general line of march is that politically, slavery disfigured the country. There was nothing that was united, nothing that was cohesive about the United States because of slavery. The working class wasn't cohesive, the bourgeoisie wasn't cohesive, nothing was cohesive as long as slavery existed. The revolutionaries—and there were Marxist revolutionaries at that time—could not even discuss the idea of how the American worker could achieve political supremacy. To talk about the worker, the free worker, achieving political supremacy in a country that had slavery is nonsense. The line of march was the destruction of slavery, the growth of an industrial proletariat, the politicization of that proletariat, the expansion of industry to its limits, irresolvable crisis and the seizure of power by the workers. The first task, then, was to do away with slavery.

Despite the fact that the Civil War was a war between two contradictory wings of the bourgeoisie, that is between the industrial bourgeoisie and the agrarian bourgeoisie, it was one of the truly great revolutions in history. When that war ended, it ended with the greatest expropriation of property the world had ever known, the greatest redistribution of wealth that had ever taken place up until that time. It expropriated $4 billion in slave property and returned it to the slaves themselves.

The general conditions of the working class and the possibilities they faced were decisively and materially changed by the Civil War. However, they weren't changed ideologically. The concept of races—superior and inferior races—was not destroyed with slavery. The second class citizenship of the Freedmen was accepted by the militant workers and it spelled the doom of the movement.

All kinds of social elements are drawn into the revolutionary process. One of the contradictions of revolution is that the most consistently revolutionary class is always the least prepared to carry out the revolutionary work. They are uneducated, they are disorganized, they are fighting one another. Therefore, it is almost impossible for elements of the revolutionary class to act to seize actual control of that revolution. Who seizes control of that revolution are groupings that are articulate, that have the ability to publish books, that can speak and write. This social element takes partial, compromised positions. They take partial positions because whereas they were opposed to the existing conditions, they only wanted partial resolutions to these existing conditions. They did not want to do away with the totality of the existing conditions. They wanted to reform these existing conditions within the revolution.

This period of our history proves that if the revolutionary mass does not take the program of the most oppressed and exploited section of society as the program of the revolution it cannot succeed. The only consistently revolutionary class in the 1865 to 1872-73 period was comprised of the Freedman and those landless whites that happened to gravitate around them. This revolutionary class could not live without the breakup of the plantation system and the seizure of power of at least the workers and the petty bourgeoisie, (petty bourgeoisie being the tradesmen, small farmers and small producers). Despite the tremendous revolutionary history they had in Austria, and in Germany, and in France, to some degree in England, the workers in the United States never understood or they rejected the idea that they had to take the program of the Freedman as the program of the revolution.

Now let's look at the second lesson of this period. If the revolutionary classes do not reject the social ideology of the their enemy they cannot win.

I want to restate that the line of march is the dialectic of change in objective conditions and the subjective response of the masses and, conversely, how the results of the mass response immobilizes or frees up the objective conditions for further motion. There is no separation between the objective and the subjective process. One absolutely influences the other. The objective process is definitely impacted by what people do.

During the period the objective situation was moving rapidly towards a democratization of the country. It was stopped and once it stopped, the reaction took over. Despite the tremendous upheavals, the workers never gave up the social or political ideology of the capitalists and they never took the program of the Freedman as their program. The result was the concentration of the wealth in the hands of the few. The Robber Barons did not rise from nowhere. They arose from the inability of the mass of the American people to democratize this country and redistribute its wealth at the end of the Civil War. Here, we see how the objective process can be turned, terminated, or accelerated by the subjective.


It is said so often, but I think it is true and it should be said: L.A. was the shot heard round the world. It notified the entire world that in America there is a large and growing group of people so alienated from a society based on private property that they could do $1 billion dollars of damage in the matter of 27 hours— a billion dollars of damage and walk away laughing.

That is something new in the United States. The L.A. Rebellion signaled the beginning of a struggle between an increasingly alienated society on the one hand, and a political superstructure on the other that was attempting to stabilize itself with the only weapon it has, fascism. As the base of that superstructure, that is, the productive relations, disintegrates, the superstructure has a less and less stable foundation to stand upon. The base of American society is the sale and use of labor power. As Jeremy Rifkin points out in his book, The End of Work, of 126 million jobs in the United States, 90 million of them are going to be automated in the next ten years. We are talking about the destruction of the base. We are not talking about someone losing a job. We are talking about the base of society, the base of the police department, the base of the army, the base of the court system, the base of the legal structure in the United States.

We are talking about the progression of the revolutionary process. We see that the rise of fascism today is not the same as it was in Germany or Spain. It is rather the struggle of the superstructure to stabilize itself as its base, the ground it stands upon, becomes narrower and more unstable. The more unstable the superstructure becomes the more it has to turn to violence in order to stabilize itself.


It has been correctly pointed out that the line of march is, essentially, the quantitative stages of development of a revolution. The first stage comprises the objective changes, that is changes in the economy. The second stage is the spontaneous social response to that. The third stage is the superstructure responds to the mass uprising. The fourth stage is the further development of the objective process (the economic forces that are undercutting society) and then crisis. All of these stages are interlocked. You cannot categorize them and say there's this stage here and that stage there. You only say that in the sense of polarity we are, in the main, in this or that stage.

It is clear that the productive forces are finishing this stage of their expansion and development. The next inevitable stage is crisis. The question is, will the next social response again be spontaneous uprising or will it be guided by the first stage of political and social consciousness?

Uprisings and rioting that everybody says are so horrible, are the indispensable beginning of any revolution. Uprisings, whether in Watts or Chicago, are the way the mass responds to change when that mass does not have organization, does not have theory and does not have ideology. This first round is indispensable and welcome because it tells us something important is happening. The same thing will happen over and over and over again, however, unless the ideological, theoretical and political conditions of the masses change.

I can assure you that if the response is simply a spontaneous uprising, that is all the state will need to consolidate a clamp down on the American people making it extremely difficult for them to move.

So just to sum up: the conception of line of march is a very dialectical thing. History creates the objective conditions as does new machinery, conquest, and revolution. But the subjective response to the conditions depend entirely on the thinking of the people. If they do not respond correctly the cause is lost. The line of march is not mechanical or guaranteed in any sense of the word.