Talk with a handful of politically conscious young people and many of them will claim 'We need a revolution.' It is a vague term. What kind of revolution? The view they have in mind is that a throng of peasants will march to parliament with their pitchforks, oust the slimey politicians and we will have an egalitarian society overnight. There is a whole industry surrounding this platonic idea. Che Guevara shirts are sold, as are Lenin posters and students pamphlets. Anti-capitalist sentiment is turned by the capitalist system into a profitable exploit.
Recently the political magazine I am subscribed to, the New Statesman, had the insufferable prig Russell Brand as a guest editor. The theme of the issue was 'Revolution'. Therein he elaborated on his churlish, asinine views. The political system is 'unfair,' we are governed by a privileged elite, politicians are out of touch etc. etc. Whilst this is true, he claims that one must 'disengage' more from the political process. How does further disengagement result in any tangible change? (I remember the sense of relief when the further issues of New Statesman arrived through my letterbox with Russell Brand's childish babbling featuring less and less.)
The silly view that these pseudo-Marxists have (because surely hardly any of them have ever read Marx) is that, once the hegemony is deposed, we will redistribute wealth and devolve powers to the people. A glance at history will tell you that revolutions never are a seamless transition. The French revolution was followed by bloody Napoleonic wars. The more recent example of the Arab Spring is also a good illustration. There has not been a swift transition into democracy in any of these Arab countries. In the case of Egypt, the military has reclaimed power. Syria is in the throes of a long and brutal civil war.
The French revolution and the Arab Spring are still are the best examples of revolution. Both had coercive systems of power. The French had slavery and were subordinated to the monarchic elite. Most of the arab countries were ruled by demagogic despots. The populace felt exploited, deposed their leaders and claimed democracy. It might not had led to accord overnight, but it was the first in the series of steps to attain democracy and equality.
Yet the most cited example of revolution is the Soviet Union. Those kids who don the Che Guevara shirts love Lenin and Trotsky. Stalin, they claimed, debased what would have otherwise been a brilliant project. This system had actually already been cemented by Lenin, Trotsky and others. Stalin simply followed it through to its logical conclusion. The ascendancy of the Bolsheviks shouldn't even be thought of as a revolution. It was a coup. They were a party with low approval ratings who bombed and deposed the democratically elected Mensheviks. It was not a revolution because it was not remotely democratic. It was not that dissimilar from the several military coups which have been enacted over the years in South America and Africa.
To even contemplate revolution right now in Europe is absurd. If leftists want to improve the system, the solution is to enter into parliament. The best method is reformist socialism. You take the core principles of Marx and infuse them into capitalist democracy. I am not a radical or a utopian. I believe in a mixed economy. You nationalise sectors which need to be nationalised (education, health, gas companies, etc). You let sectors which should be private remain private. You regulate businesses which are liable to exploit others. People still have freedoms. Those countries which have followed the welfare model are actually closer to Marx than the Soviet Union in that they are more equal. The United Kingdom and Germany were presided by social democratic parties after the war and all through into the 70s. They now have invaluable institutions like free health care. The Scandinavian countries are the wealthiest and most equal. After the economic crisis, this system should have been vindicated. The deregulation and privatisation (otherwise known as 'neo-liberalism') which was introduced after the seventies led to the crash. What we are seeing now is austerity measures and a continuation of lightly regulated markets. If we care about equality, we shouldn't childishly call for revolution, we should try to reinstate the welfare state.
A revolution we do need is a cultural one. Silly trends dominate everything. People are disengaged with politics. Vacuous technological websites dominate people's lives. Cultural revolutions are exciting. They lead to the acceptance of diversity (as the 60s did for racial tolerance and civil liberties for example). They lead to awareness, interest and experimentation. Mainstream art seems to get more and more horrendous by the day. I have had the misfortune to walk into clubs and I can attest that mainstream music has hit rock bottom. New musical and literary movements could really reinvigorate things. At the same time, it could lead to more political engagement.