Lenin, State and Revolution, the One Percent, and Me

Lenin, State and Revolution, the One Percent, and Me April 18, 2015

In June of 1963, I wrote my first Goddess ritual, for the wedding of my dear friends Larry and Catherine Shaw. I had been planning to graduate from San Francisco State that month, but the administration ruled that my having only 27 transfer credits from UC Berkeley, not 30, meant that I had to take the 18 units of General Education courses that I had thought I could skip. That was too heavy a load for just one semester, I thought; so, since I could still get the National Defense loan, I decided to take another full year. Fateful decision.

Eighteen units of lower-division courses was actually not a heavy load. I had plenty of time for other activities. With the other four courses, I completed a second major, in cultural anthropology. I was elected Editor-in-chief of Transfer, the college lit mag. I was a founder and on the steering committee of the Liberal Student League, the first political party on the SFSC campus; we got Jay Folberg elected as student body president and Ben Fong-Torres elected as the newspaper editor.

I also fell in love with Sarah, just before my 23rd birthday. On many afternoons we lolled about on her quilt, talking about mythology and poetry and especially witchcraft, speculating about whether it might be possible to create a “Witches’ Sabbath,” whatever that might be like. Four years later, Sarah became the catalyst for the creation of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn. I think Gerald Gardner’s “reformed witchcraft” began the same way, inspired by his romance with Edith Woodford-Grimes.

Given my being raised by a career military intelligence officer , my political views were very conservative when I arrived at Tamalpais High in Mill Valley in 1955, but my consciousness was soon raised by my socialist friends there, especially by my oldest friend, Alan Rein, who is now one of the world’s leading experts on retroviruses. I had read The Communist Manifesto then, but in 1963, given my political activity, I wanted to know more, so I took the course on Marxism from Professor Louis Wasserman, whose daughter Abby had been in my class at Tam High. The outstandingly important document we read was by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, his longish essay, State and Revolution. In it Lenin proposed a theory, based not on Marxist philosophy, but on common sense, about the driving force behind political change.

Lenin pointed out that a government always has only two choices: reform or revolution. That is, because things always change, a government must always be carrying out small reforms in order to continue meeting the needs of the people. If a government refuses to change, usually because the ruling class believes that it is a Chosen People whose way of doing things is based on Divine Law, it will gradually become more and more dysfunctional, until the populace, in desperation, tries to take the bare necessities of life away from the Haves. At that point, it is the Haves who begin shooting. The Have-Nots, in desperation, begin shooting back, thus beginning a civil war that may end in complete revolution—unless the rulers realize they are doomed if they do not compromise.

This pattern has repeated many times in history. For example, after the Black Death wiped out a quarter of Europe’s population about 1350, the governments tried to collect the same amount in taxes as before the plague. The people rebelled, setting off the Hundred Years’ War. When that was over, the old power of the nobility had been broken, and the stage was set for the Reformation. The example Lenin used was the French Revolution, set off because the French nobility thought God was on their side. When the people were desperate enough, they tore down the Bastille with their “bare hands” and proceeded to behead most of the nobility and most of the clergy, since the church had taken the side of the rich, not that of the people.

In about 1955, the Marxist sociologist C. Wright Mills published his The Power Elite, describing for the first time the subculture of the upper-upper class in America, who are the hereditarily wealthy. He had had to ferret the basic data out of sources such as Fortune magazine, which served for decades as an in-house journal for the ultra-rich, which he defined as those who physically could not spend all their wealth. They had always kept themselves invisible; the general population might vaguely suspect they existed, but knew nothing about them. They also operated with a sense of noblesse oblige: they knew their wealth derived from the labor of the rest of the population and therefore repaid the people by public service.

For example, I think that about 1930, after the Crash and the beginning of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, born into that class, went to the rest of the wealthy, explained the equivalent of Lenin’s theory, and pointed out that if they did not use some of their wealth to pull the country back from disaster, they would lose everything. I think that was how he got his campaign financed. The fact that we got to the very edge of total mutiny is glossed over in all the official histories.

I’m not sure what exactly changed during the last sixty years, but the Power Elite no longer bother to keep themselves secret. They treat the public not with a sense of responsibility, but with contempt. Their ethics have become morally corrupt. Many have adopted a perverted version of Ayn Rand’s Universal Ethical Egoism as a justification, in their own minds, for unadulterated greed and selfishness. One wonders if they understand what happened to cause the French Revolution, but I think they do. They are not collectively stupid, merely greedy. Collectively they constitute an Evil Genius. I think they believe they would win a civil war. That is probably why they are militarizing our police forces, why police officers are murdering unarmed civilians. They are being made morally insensitive against the day when they would have to fire upon civilian mobs—who would be armed. Americans seem to have a collective memory that the British tried to disarm the people before our revolution broke out. I have no idea how this trajectory can be changed. If just one conservative justice of the SCOTUS were to die and be replaced by a liberal—but that can’t happen right now. The Republican Senate would never confirm such an appointment.

And why has the One Percent allied with the batshit teabaggers, Biblical literalists, and Creationists? Well, because believing that unregulated free-market capitalism can work is just as unrealistic. Worse yet, many fundamentalists believe that a civil war would lead to the Battle of Armageddon and the final return of Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead. The millions of people who would die because of such insanity would be comparable to the Nazi Holocaust.

In the fall of 1967, beginning the last year of my MA program at SFSC, I and my friends Joe and Glenn Turner were precinct workers for the newly formed Peace and Freedom Party. Glenn, partly because of her family credentials, was elected as a delegate to the party’s first national convention, which nominated Eldridge Cleaver for POTUS. When the local chapter meetings of the PFP began to gear down, freeing up our Friday nights, Joe, Glenn, I, and nine others began getting together with Sarah to begin working on her project of creating a ritual for her graduate art seminar. On October 31, 1967, we drew up and signed a charter creating the NROOGD.

By this time I had realized that the fundamental values of a society cannot be changed by politics, but only at the deeper level of religious beliefs. I intended from the start that the NROOGD be subversive, especially toward the toxic pathology about sex that has crippled civilization for at least the last two millennia. I think the Craft movement overall is continuing to gradually do that. It was hardly a coincidence that in 1964, in the section on marriage and family in its Pastoral Constitution for the church, Vatican II threw out all that ancient pathology and replaced it with genuinely humane teachings. The American Catholic Church has lost a third of the membership it would have had by now (according to Pew Research) because of Rome’s refusal to carry out that mandate, but I suspect Pope Francis (Blessed be his name) intends to finally carry it out.

I cannot offer a panacea for our situation; I can only describe it. I am reminded of Blake’s line, “Wisdom is sold in the desolate marketplace where none come to buy.” And I do not expect more than a handful of people to pay any attention to what I have written here. All I can do is tell the truth, as far as I can figure it out, and some good comes of it.


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  • Well, I paid attention. I have commented elsewhere why I thought Marxism would fail (that being the basic nature of Man, rooted and instinct to survive and propagate) makes us greedy and selfish – traits which will not change, even with massive efforts toward re-education. Marx did not recognize this and so his economic system is doomed to failure. ANY effort to exclude our basic instincts are doomed to failure. Jefferson had it more correct – that being “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is it’s natural manure.” I fear that revolution will be how our society is reset. One needs to look past just a revolution though. The storming of the Bastile set off a series of bloody events ending at Waterloo. The Russia revolution set off a series of bloody events ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall (although some may argue the echoes of that conflict have not yet faded. The Maoist Revolution ultimately led to a curious mixture of planned economy and capitalism with a lot of lives lost along the way. Peaceful revolutions are rare.

    The part of your essay I find myself in total agreement is “that the fundamental values of a society cannot be changed by politics, but only at the deeper level of religious beliefs.” First, politics is about power and power corrupts. Fighting politics involves negativity. How many demonstrations have you seen with positive protest signs? Damn few. They are all “Stop ____” or “No more _____”. Always protesting against something. Negativity breeds negativity, which breeds anger. Not a good way for Pagans to go, IMO.

    So the real question is how to bring about this change in beliefs and what role Paganism can play in that change, while avoiding political involvement. At our core, we do not proselytize. We are more like Taoist or Gnostics: we are more interested in our own spiritual growth while allowing other people to pursue their own beliefs. Should we proselytize? I have yet to see a Pagan manifesto that I could support. Can such a manifesto be written? Because we are all about defining our own belief system, I believe the answer is no.

    Like you, I see a problem with no human solution. However the Earth has one – so much of the wealth you see in the hands of the 1% is not physical wealth, but wealth on paper. The Austrian School of Economics advocates going back to a monetary standard built on physical wealth (the gold standard). It cannot happen, because there is not enough gold in the world to cover the value of all the money printed. What happens when people lose faith in the ability of a government to back its currency? What will happen when the US goes the way of the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain)? It will happen; it will be ugly, and all that paper wealth will evaporate, just like derivative wealth did during the last financial crisis. So the physical wealth – that which exists as material goods, products of the earth such as precious metal and land. The Earth limits how much real wealth there is. The rest is fantasy.

    The Earth has another limiting factor: sometime in the coming 150 years we will be out of fossil fuels. I am less worried about runaway global climate change (climate will change, but the doomsday scenarios are unlikely), but more concerned about what will happen to our civilization. I doubt we will turn to Marxism – more likely some kind of despotism, possibly a return to a feudal society. That too, will be a time for revolution – and it will be bloody.

  • Like Woods Wizard I read every word, and found both statements challenging. While I try my best to find hope in people and movements, I agree that – as long as the current world economic model is followed to it’s illogical end – chaos will rein. Pagans often say we believe in Magick: the power to transform within and without in accordance with Will/Intent. Many of the reasons I am attracted to this Path is because it offers a road away from the ‘domination’ model of social interactions to a ‘partnership’ model. Starhawk, Riane Eisler and many, many others have offered concrete suggestions and historical examples of how this can be achieved. Can this be done without the bloody cycle of violent revolution? I believe it is possible because to believe and act with any less intent is to resign humanity as a species to the scrapheap of failed lifeforms on Gaea.

    • The issue I have is that trying to force a system on the world that replaces the current one has resulted in despots seizing control, misery and death. The system has to evolve, whatever that system is. Capitalism wasn’t invented by Adam Smith; it evolved (in fact it started evolving after another great disaster called the Bubonic Plague). To influence how a new system evolves means creating and influencing a groundswell of reawakened spirituality. That is the only way I see to counter greed and selfishness inherent in all species, be it us or the cockroach.

      I would also say that Aleister Crowley in Thelema. defines magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”, including both “mundane” acts of Will as well as ritual magic. But Crowley also wrote that “it is theoretically possible to cause in any object any change of which that object is capable by nature.” I think that caveat is an important limitation not only on our ability to do magick, but how we should do magick to effect the change desired. We also have to be careful of violation of Free Will.

      Maybe our contribution will be to become more public in expressing our core values. We can do that coven by coven, for we all won’t agree. The ethic of an Asatruar, as expressed in the Nine Noble Virtues is far different from the ethics of Wicca, as expressed in the Rede.

  • KateGladstone

    Re: “Many have adopted a perverted version of Ayn Rand’s Universal Ethical Egoism” — I wonder what an _un_perverted version would look like, when practiced.