'You say you want a revolution...Don'cha know you can count me OUT.'
---Lennon, a rich young man dissing the Paris students and workers, 1968.
Is it possible to introduce socialism into a capitalist country peacefully?
Socialists certainly would want a peaceful transition from capitalist society to socialist society. After all, the capitalists not only manufacture all the instruments of death and destruction but, owning the apparatus of the military, they command them as well. This---as Engels circumspectly observed his introduction to Marx's Class Struggles in France---places the proletariat at a great disadvantage in its attempt to overthrow the bourgeois social relations.
Nothing would be better for the proletariat than socialist transformation through the legal apparatus presently existing in bourgeois society (i.e. parliament, elections, etc.).
Unfortunately, this is not possible.
As Rosa Luxemburg sagely observed, reforms occur progressively at the beginning of each new social order---such as the beginning of the bourgeoisie's ascent over the landed nobility---once the actual fighting has ceased. First revolution puts a class in power, then that class introduces reforms to consolidate its power. It would be a mistake to reverse the historical order, expecting reforms to take the place of revolution:
He who pronounces himself in favor of the method of legal reforms in place of and as opposed to the conquest of political power and social revolution does not really choose a more tranquil, surer and slower road to the same goal. He chooses a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new social order, he takes a stand for surface modifications of the old order.(1)
Reforms exist only within the social relations of the ascendant class.
To expect a class to voluntarily relinquish its political supremacy---not to mention its income-producing private property!---is to expect a hungry carnivore to choose starvation instead of feeding upon another animal.
Marx was most unsentimental on this point when he analyzed the fall of the Paris Commune. Indeed, his sternest rebuke for the Commune was leveled at its leaders for their 'conscientious scruples' in failing to instigate a civil war, i.e. to crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie completely and mercilessly while they had a chance.(2) The inability of the Commune's leaders to mobilize their troops against the bourgeois forces, to match force with force, resulted in the bloody extermination of the proletarian movement.(3)
And what sort of socialist society did Marx envision? Was it a 'democracy' in which the proletariat matched votes with the bourgeois? No, it was a government of the proletariat, a government 'against the appropriating class [the bourgeois].'(4)
Let us not mince words. Engels certainly did not when he broached the topic of revolution:
A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is an act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other by means of rifles, bayonets and canon---all of which are highly authoritarian means. And the victorious party must maintain its rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries. Would the Paris Commune have lasted more than a day if it had not used the authority of the armed people against the bourgeoisie?(5)
In legendary parlance---a dictatorship of the proletariat.*
Is such a harsh transfer of power necessary?
No class will ever surrender its income-producing property (the means of production). No class will ever concede defeat in any sort of parliamentary election should the outcome of such an election result in the legal expropriation of their income-producing property. Not as long as they possess weapons and dependent soldiers to fight for them, that is! In short, a legally expropriated ruling class would contest the legality of its expropriation---with as much force and terror as it could muster; it would annul the election, declare martial law, suspend the constitution---and attempt to annihilate its opposition.
History has never suggested otherwise.
So! Can there be such a thing as a candy-coated, flower-scented, hand-holding revolution? Can 'the people' vote Exxon into retirement? Can anyone expect a leader elected through the machinery of the ruling class to do anything other than satisfy the requirements of the ruling class?
Can pigs fly?
* Let us acknowledge Marx's 1875 statement regarding the possibility of peaceful revolution occurring in England and the U.S.---and let us refer to Lenin for a valid interpretation: '[W]as there in the seventies anything which made England and America exceptional in regard to what we are now discussing [revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat]?... And, the question having been put, there can be no doubt as to the reply: the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is violence against the bourgeoisie; and the necessity of such violence is particularly called for, as Marx and Engels have repeatedly explained in detail (especially in The Civil War in France and in the preface to it), by the existence of militarism and bureaucracy. But it is precisely these institutions that were non-existent in Britain and America in the seventies, when Marx made his observations (they do exist in Britain and America now)!' Lenin, 'The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky' , Selected Works volume 3, International 1975, p. 25, emphasis in original. (The passage continues with the assertion that both Britain and the U.S. at the time of Marx's statement were competitive capitalist economies---not the monopoly capitalist economies of Lenin's (and our) time.
1. Luxemburg, 'Social Reform or Revolution' , Selected Political Writings, Monthly Review Press 1971, pp. 115-6.
2. Marx, Letter to Kugelmann 12 April 1871, Selected Correspondence, International 1936, p. 309.
3. 'After the decree of the Commune of the 7th April ordering reprisals and declaring it to be its duty "to protect Paris against the cannibal exploits of the Versailles banditti, and to demand an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," Theirs [the bourgeois forces' commanding officer] did not stop the barbarous treatment of prisoners... Still the shooting of prisoners was suspended for a time. Hardly, however, had Theirs and his Decembrist generals become aware that the Communal decree was but an empty threat...[then] the wholesale shooting of prisoners was resumed and carried on uninterruptedly to the end.' Marx, The Civil War in France, International 1940, pp. 52-3.
4. Ibid., p. 60, emphasis added.
5. Engels, 'On Authority,' Marx & Engels Selected Works volume 2, Progress Publishers 1973, p. 379.