Magazine article Monthly Review

The Stakes in South Africa

Magazine article Monthly Review

The Stakes in South Africa

Article excerpt


This historical period in which we live is, to a quite unprecedented degree, dominated by a profound global conflict universally recognized to contain the danger of a third world war that could put an end to human life on the planet. Dating the beginning of this period would be arbitrary, but certainly it stretches back at least to August 6, 1945. Looking ahead, we can only say that no end is in sight.

The conflict in question has been variously described--freedom vs. tyranny, capitalism vs. socialism (or communism), democracy vs. dictatorship: each of these labels, and others that could be added to the list, no doubt contains an element of truth. But the terms are too abstract and too loaded with connotations to help in coming to grips with the actual forms the conflict takes in historical practice. For that purpose it is preferable, indeed essential, to see the conflict as one between revolution and counter-revolution.

Revolutionary is anything and everything that threatens to overturn and replace basic power relations that have evolved in the course of the last four hundred years or so of world capitalist expansion and domination. Revolutions in this sense have actually taken place--all in the present century--in countries containing something like a third of the world's population and territory; and, as was stressed in this space in last month's MR, conditions favoring additional revolutions are maturing, very rapidly by relevant historical standards, in much of the rest of the world. Counter-revolutionary is the defense of the status quo (again with respect to basic power relations) where no revolutions have taken place, and the effort to restore the status quo ante where revolutions have occurred.

Most of the revolutions to date have been carried out under the banner of Marxism and/or socialism and/or communism, and most have described the new social systems they have given birth to as socialist. Whether, or to what extent, this is justified is an important question in its own right, but it does not affect the character of the conflict with which we are concerned.

The counter-revolution, at least at this stage of the conflict, is adamantly opposed to any change in basic power relations; and it is this fact, together with the growing need for basic changes in most of the world, that gives to the conflict its universal scope.

For well-understood historical reasons, the United States of America has occupied an overwhelmingly hegemonic position in the capitalist world since World War II. It has therefore preempted--with the more or less willing acquiescence of its allies and dependents--the leadership role in the global counter-revolution struggle. There is, however, no comparable unity, no generally accepted leader, on the revolutionary side. The world is not divided into two systems, capitalist and "socialist" (or, if you prefer, some other label). It is divided into capitalist on the one side and a number of countries that have succeeded in achieving a real, if limited and tenuous, independence of the capitalist system on the other. Some of these countries are banded together under Soviet leadership in a defensive politico-military bloc, but not even these constitute a coherent economic system, and this is of course even more so of all the noncapitalist countries taken together. They all do have a common interest in defending their respective revolutions, and this fact leads to a not insignificant, and perhaps growing, amount of cooperation and mutual aid. But it would be a fundamental misunderstanding of the global conflict to picture the revolutionary side as the mirror image of the counter-revolutionary side, i.e., as an integrated system constrained by "laws" comparable to those that characterize the regime of capital. The revolutions of our time are, after all, precisely revolutions against these laws of capital, and they have no inherent tendency to create an alternative system similarly structured and constrained. …

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