Why be a revolutionary? – Philosophical Underpinnings

Ultimately, to be a revolutionary means to be fundamentally opposed to the status quo. By being fundamentally opposed one is of the belief that the ‘system’ – and this feeds into the second fundamental question of what one is opposing, and, in brief, refers in this question to the combined economic-political-ideological complex – one is of the conviction that this status quo cannot be merely ‘reformed’ but must be fundamentally replaced.

To reach this perspective one must be convinced that the status quo is contradictory to ones philosophical concept of, ultimately, the meaning of life. This is, obviously, a tricky and complex subject and I am only able to briefly touch on it here, and am going to restrict its subject matter somewhat.

For the purposes of this post and general theme of the fundamental questions, I am restricting its focus to the issue of one feeling that the status quo system is contrary to ones personal belief of what the system should be. And so, one needs to ask what the system should be, at least in relation to how the contradiction between what one believes the system should be and what the system is.

I am not a student of philosophy, at least in the formal sense. I have had the luxury to read some formal philosophical texts, and, through interactions with others more learned than myself, am somewhat acquainted with certain formal philosophical terms.

What I will try and do below though is start of with my own starting point and then note how I’ve since incorporated various formal philosophical teachings into my understanding. As noted in the previous post, on praxis, my personal philosophical positions have evolved, and continue to evolve, through my own personal experience of praxis.

My Starting Points

In a ‘spin-off’ series of posts that I expect to write resulting from this particular endeavor in reflecting on the Three Fundamental Questions, I will provide a more detailed, almost auto-biographical, account of my own development. Here I can only provide a mere sketch of my fundamental philosophical opposition to the status quo.

I believe that the ultimate purpose of the socio-economic system should be to help the individual realise their full potential, both intellectually and physically. From that point I believe that the capitalist mode of production, and its related political and ideological aspects, fundamentally prevent the realisation of that goal. While under capitalism a minority of individuals may indeed be able to realise their potential more than others, I fundamentally believe that the system does this by preventing the vast majority of individuals from realising their potential, actively prevents and retards their individual development, and that realising ones own potential cannot be achieved through retarding others personal development.

I think my initial philosophical positions stem from the Ancient idea of ‘a sound mind in a sound body’ combined with the essentially Judeo-Christian emphasis on the equality of all humanity, along with the – what I came to see as essentially a myth – the idea that our system is essentially meritocratic – hard work is rewarded.

As I increasingly came to realise, the system itself is fundamentally exploitative, in both economic (the exploitation of labour) and other realms (exploitation of nature). The system is inherently unequal, partly as a result of inherited inequalities (from fuedalism, colonialism, slavery, etc.), and due to the very nature of its economic dynamo.

I think this is inherent to the system. Thus my fundamental opposition to it. I don’t think that the system can be reformed, be made more ‘human’.

That is the fundamental difference between the reformist and the revolutionary. The reformist believes the system can be reformed, the revolutionary believes it cannot and needs fundamentally changed. The revolutionary does not oppose attempts to reform, but does not believe that these reforms alone can succeed.

Formal Philosophical Borrowings…

I originally came to those above initial positions through a combination of Christian teachings, literature (particularly Dickens, Orwell and Huxley) and an interest in what we generally call ‘the Classics’ – Ancient Greece, Rome, Persia, Judea and Mesopotamia. It was only later, through a reading of certain formal philosophical texts, and interaction with other religious and philosophical perspectives, as well as a commitment to Marxist studies, that I was able to build on my initial realisation of the contradiction between capitalist myth (equality, realisation of individual potential, and reward of hard work) and capitalist reality.

I don’t think I’ve really changed from my initial realisation – and thus revolutionary opposition – of the contradiction between capitalist myth and reality. At best I’ve found some formal philosophical terms to bolster my positions, as well as gone from an initially reformist to a revolutionary perspective.

By ‘formal philosophical texts’ I mean those works by what the general public consider as being written by ‘philosophers’. By this I refer to such texts as Aristotle, Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Nietsche, Hegel, etc. As stressed, I am by no means a formal student of philosophy, in that I have never properly studied philosophy; I just happen to have read a few formal philosophical texts and had various philosophical discussions with others.

Of these, the most influential to me have been those of Aristotle, Epicurus and, of course, Marx. Indirectly I have also been influenced by the works of Sartre, Camus and Foucalt. I say indirectly because I don’t think I have ever read any of their works, but have interacted with them by proxy, through those who have read them, or by second-hand accounts of their philosophies.

From Aristotle I was particularly influenced by his writings on ‘eudomonia’, which I understand as ‘the good life’. This was, as I understand it, central to Aristotle’s philosophy, in that he sought to evaluate all things on the basis of how they should serve to realise the good life. Key aspects from this is his discussion on ethics and politics, as well as his distinction between ‘oekonomie’ and ‘krematistiks’. Oekonomie referred to how resources should be used to realise the individual (and by extension, the collective) full potential – eudomonia. Krematistiks instead was the use of resources for the sole purpose of creating wealth. It is from the word oekonomie that our word ‘economy’ (and thus economics) derives, although what we understand as ‘economics’ within the capitalist system is actually krematistiks (this word itself does exist in English as ‘chrematistics’), the use of resources solely for profit.

This was later informed by my readings of Epikuros’ works, notably his conception of eudomonia, in the sense of ataraxia (freedom from fear) and aponia (freedom from pain), and his views relating to God/s and self-determination.

Marx provided me with an economic, political and ideological critique of the status quo and, in my reading of Marx, is a synthesis of Aristolean, Epicurean, Christian and Hegelian philosophy applied to the present. This is, essentially, a fundamental aspect of my philosophy and it would take far too much to discuss in this post alone. It suffuses and informs all my writing.

From Sartre and Camus, especially Camus. I understand that Camus developed the argument that existence itself is generally meaningless, but that we can make our own meaning for it – and one must either do this or surrender ones individual essence and instead just withdraw from active interaction (in the sense of making meaning or influencing existence) with existence. I stress though that I have never personally reviewed the works of Sartre or Camus.

Other key elements in my philosophical opposition to the status quo come from my understandings of Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and the psychoanalyst work of Erich Fromm.


Ultimately, ones being as a revolutionary stems from a fundamental conviction that the status quo is contrary to ones perception of what the ‘good life’ – eudomonia – that is, the objective of life, should be, ALONG with the conviction that the system in question cannot be reformed but must be fundamentally replaced.

Obviously I am not the most articulate, but I hope the above at least helps inform and serve as an initial attempt to answer the first fundamental question of why be a revolutionary. I hope to next address the related question of ‘who’ is (or ‘what counts as’) a revolutionary.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s