Emma Goldman knew it. Mikhail Bakunin warned everyone about it half a century before the Russian Revolution. Veterans of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army Ashanti Alston and Kuwasi Balagoon drew the same conclusion. There’s no such thing as revolutionary government. You can’t use the instruments of government to abolish oppression.
Since the mid-19th century, anarchists have maintained that the key to liberation is not to seize the state but to abolish it. Yet from Paris to St. Petersburg, from Barcelona to Beijing, one generation of revolutionaries after another has had to learn this lesson the hard way. Shuffling politicians in and out of power changes little. What matters are the instruments of rule—the police, the military, the courts, the prison system, the bureaucracy. Whether it is a king, a dictator, or a Congress that directs these instruments, the experience on the receiving end remains roughly the same.
This explains why the outcome of the Egyptian revolution of 2011-2013 resembles the outcome of the Russian Revolution of 1917-1921, which resembles the outcome of the French Revolution of 1848-1851. In each case, as soon as the people who made the revolution stopped attempting to carry out social change directly and shifted to investing their hopes in political representatives, power consolidated in the hands of a new autocracy. Whether the new tyrants hailed from the military, the aristocracy, or the working class, whether they promised to restore order or to personify the power of the proletariat, the end result was roughly the same.
Government itself is a class relation. You can’t abolish class society without abolishing the asymmetry between ruler and ruled. Economics is only one of many spheres in which codified power differentials are imposed by means of social constructs; politics is another. Private ownership of capital is to economics what state power is to politics.
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