Revolutionary strategy in the 21st century – Pierre Rousset

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Outline of last year's lecture

Revolutionary strategy : a renewed perspective

To which question a revolutionary strategy wants to answer?
During the last century, we had intense debates on strategy, this is not the case today. Why?
Why is it at the same time so important but also so difficult to restart these debates on strategy?

1. Looking back on the 20th Century experience

A. Avoiding two pitfalls:

To believe that a strategy can simply been deduced from an analysis of the social formation (sociologic determinism)

To believe that a strategy can be simply deduced from the fundamental program (programmatic determinism)

A short case study: Vietnam

One country, a succession of strategies

Surprise (for my generation of activists): the definition of a strategy there is “concrete”, variable: the concrete notion of strategy, combined and evolving

The objective is not in the first place to define the “good” strategy as such, but to develop a “strategic thinking”, an understanding of the question which allows to make the appropriate choices in each “cycle of struggles”

We can start this from today

B. The ingredients of a strategy

Linking the actual facts to the objectives pursued = on the crossroads between theory and program, taking into account the social forces, the analysis of the period, the articulation of different forms of struggles, the relationships of forces, the organisation. Not simple.

Some 20th century examples:

Constant elements: importance of the State in the class struggles – and hence the building of class independence (the electoral domain included)

A novelty that became constant: the centrality of the question of bureaucracy – which means that questions such as popular/social democracy, self emancipation and self organisation are very important

Variables: the articulation between different sectors and forms of struggle. Go beyond clichés. The Russian experience: cliché and reality. The Chinese experience: cliché and reality

Underestimated: for instance, the role of the feminist struggles of emancipation . The two first important laws voted in the People’s Republic of China!

Think history to reflect on the present.

2. The beginning of the 21st century

The lessons of the 20th century remain valid

Some important novelties:

A. The global ecological crisis
Affects everything. From the current struggles to the road to build a new society (the transition). Consequences: the strategy must be ecosocialist, and not only the program

B. The peasants
From the so called “superfluous” class to a temporal ally, to a long term ally, to a strategic component of the ecosocialist strategy

C. Globalisation
In favour of re-localisation of many productions, not in favour of a retreat into the fortress of the nation-state. Renewed thinking about popular sovereignty

D. The North in the South, the South in the North
China in the South and Greece in the North … Imperialism is a reality but Europe is in the heart of the capitalist crisis and the class war which has been unleashed by the bourgeoisies

A crisis of social decomposition, a crisis of legitimacy ( end to bourgeois democracy), emergence of the “urban poor” … The meaning of the movement of the Indignad@s and the Occupy

E. Divide and rule
An old recipe, more than ever in action. The meaning of the attacks against the “social welfare state”: to destroy solidarities … Fragmentation of the proletariat … The role of sexism, of racism, of xenophobia …

The resistance and above all, the revolution must be majority movements. The reconstruction of solidarities is vital.

Our traditional answers: united front and class alliances policies remain valid

The question of identities: an ideology of tolerance is not enough. The struggle against all oppressions, recognize the ‘other’ and create the conditions for a common struggle against a common enemy: return to the social question and class consciousness

3. How to restart?

The link with the past is broken. The implications of the defeat of my militant generation

Inventiveness and limits of spontaneous resistance. How will the confluence of the struggles become a reality?

The consequences of the change of the period ( often seen as more direct in the North than in Asia today)

Continue to learn from the new movements but also put forward questions:

  • the division of labour between party (elections)/unions and social movements ( the social flied) – which refers to a past; pre-Leninist
  • the necessity of a permanent organisation ( unions, movements, parties…) without which there can be no progressive accumulation of forces and collectivisation of experiences
  • the social embeddedness. Without it, the electorate remains volatile and the struggles transient …
  • the difficulties to overcome – for instance in France, embeddedness in precarious sectors (territories) and amongst precarious youth …
  • the concept of organisations adapted to the task of tomorrow ( and not only to those from the past). A difficult question
  • Militant ethics and boldness of an organisation. The “being” of an organisation cannot been reduced to its program or its political orientation
  • These type of questions are very much present in certain countries (see our comrades in Mindanao…). This was not possible in the previous period in Europe. But with the capitalist and ecological crisis, they become potentially pertinent everywhere …



1. In your country, which social forces must be involved in the struggle in order to have a revolution by a majority? On which main objectives?

2. What divides the popular forces in your country and how can we fight against it ? How to build the unity of the popular forces?

3. Which forms of struggle seem to be most appropriated in the coming period? Which other forms can be envisioned in the future?

4. Against which weaknesses must we arm our movements? What is the role of democracy inside the organisation and in the struggles?

5. Is the concept of strategy clear for you? If not, why not?

Reading material