This is the first fundamental question alluded to in my previous post, ‘Three Fundamental Questions‘. In itself it is actually a bundle of questions, such as ‘what is a revolutionary’, ‘what is one being a revolutionary against’ and so forth. In many ways one cannot answer this/these questions without also addressing the other two fundamental questions (what is the problem and what is the solution), which deal more with what the revolutionary is opposed to and the strategies and tactics used to realise the revolution. So, dealing with this question, and its related issues, cannot really be addressed separately, although it can be useful to attempt this provided one keeps in mind its relationship with the other two fundamental questions.
This question, as noted, leads to a number of issues, and it is inherently complex. For the sake of ease of reading I don’t think I can fully address it in one piece. Even though I am necessarily summarising – only providing an outline – I will break this discussion into at least two, a discussion of praxis and a discussion of philosophical underpinnings (which lead one to becoming a revolutionary). The two posts should be read together.
Also included as a related issue to this question is how does one become a revolutionary. I will only touch on this particular aspect here, but will provide my own personal account in a later post.
Ultimately to be a revolutionary means to be be fundamentally opposed to the status quo, as well as being committed to both critiquing the status quo (and in the process understanding it) AND being actively involved in actions to both oppose the status quo and work towards developing a fundamentally new socio-economic system. That is, there must be a unity of both theory and action; in Marxist terminology this union is known as ‘praxis’.
Although it is possible to be purely theoretical or purely active, and often one is lives these two in separate moments. And the one informs and influences the other. Ones theoretical positions informs what actions one takes, and the experience one has in these actions feed back into ones theoretical positions. I don’t think it is possible to really work out which one comes first, as in the chicken and egg question. Sometimes ones lived experiences (action) leads to reflection and the beginning of theoretical understanding, and sometimes ones theoretical understanding leads to action, and so on. This unity of the two, as two separate moments of a single reality, and the interaction between the two, could be called dialectical, which is used here to express the unity and interaction of the two.
There is always the risk of becoming one-sided in ones personal development. Some people become overly theoretical – armchair revolutionaries; while others become overly active – which ultimately means becoming reactive (as in the sense of knee-jerk reactions) and leading to a number of possible strategic and tactical errors. As noted above, at times one is more theoretical than active, and this somewhat relates to what the Italian Marxist referred to as the ‘war of position’ and the ‘war of manoeouvre’. In the war of position the role of the revolutionary can be seen as more theoretical, in the war of manoeuvre the role of the revolutionary is more one of action. There is always the tension between these two, and the revolutionary must constantly evaluate their actual praxis in order to prevent such an imbalance.
Of course, the nature of praxis available to the revolutionary is determined by the revolutionary’s understanding of the problem and the strategies and tactics best applied to the particular nature. The revolutionary praxis is thus relative; it changes depending on the circumstances the revolutionary is confronted. The revolutionary praxis under an exceptional state, as in a military or fascist dictatorship (for example) will be of an entirely different nature to that under (for example) liberal democracy, as in the Western parliamentary context; this also is influenced by an understanding of imperialist relations (is the revolutionary in an imperialist or colonial situation, as in the relation between the USA and, say, Guatemala). As such one sees that the definition of the revolutionary, in terms of an understanding of praxis, is very much determined by the other two fundamental questions that the revolutionary must confront.
The next question to be covered under this question is that of ones philosphical groundings, in as much as these inform, greatly, why one is fundamentally opposed to the status quo.