The media – the press, the Internet, radio and television — is full of statistics and commentary concerning the fragile condition of the economy. For example the weekly paper Stateline writes that “More than 15 million Americans are unemployed, homelessness has increased by 50 percent in some cities, and 38 million people are receiving food stamps, more than at any time in the program’s almost 50-year history.”
There is a new emphasis on the growing probability of a new downturn in the Great Recession. Times are bad and the threat of them becoming worse is forcing a growing number of people to take the step from grumbling to activity.
This is a crucial and dangerous moment in the revolutionary process. Why? Because the people, guided by ideas of a past period, are beginning to stir, to grapple within an entirely new situation. Consequently their every spontaneous motion moves them to the right instead of to the left. This is expressed in the explosive growth of the Tea Party movement. This contradiction has been the mass basis for every fascist movement. There is no easy resolution to the contradiction. Simply “fanning the flames” will not resolve an intellectual question. We revolutionaries face the daunting task of changing the thinking of literally millions of people.
This is not the first time that crisis has demanded that people change in order to move history forward. As our revolution for independence developed, the old idea that people had to have a king to lead them clashed with their activity in the objective movement. A worker, a former corset maker, Thomas Paine, raised the simple question, “Why do we need a King?” The answer resolved the contradiction and moved the colonialists onward to revolution.
During the first stages of the Civil War, the majority of Northerners were prepared to fight the dictatorship of the slave owners. However, they were unwilling to fight for the abolition of slavery which was the source of slaveholder power. Their actual activity was in contradiction to their old ideas. The ceaseless propaganda of the abolitionists culminating with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address changed their minds. With their thinking and their activity united, the North went on to win the war and preserved the United States.
What do we learn from such revolutionary history? First, that old ideas hang on after their economic and social base has been destroyed. Change can only come if new ideas are introduced, Secondly, that without the intervention of new ideas that correspond to the actual situation, the possibility of creating a new society that reflects the new means of production is lost. Finally, we learn that it doesn’t take “special” people, nor does it take a large number of people to carry out this task. It does demand clarity, courage and dedication.
The deepening economic crisis is giving the revolutionaries a window of opportunity. We have the favorable situation where an entire nation is asking for vision and clarity. As we have in the past, we will meet this challenge. Time is short and at stake is the future of humanity.