This is what all the video games are about: R(A)GE, Red Faction: Guerilla, Fallout to an extent, etc. Maybe The Hunger Games too but I haven’t read it. So this article is inspired by those, as well as the book Disrupted Cities.
This scenario would have the USA in a post-consumerist situation, where instead of the nation being one giant mass welded together by solid, saturated lines of production, distribution, and communication, the US would return to being more of a network of semi-self-reliant communities.
The strength of marxist revolution is typically in that it does not fight a war against the infrastructure, but attempts to galvanize the working class to fight over the infrastructure, against the infrastructure’s current owners. In a situation where the infrastructure has been badly damaged, these assumptions might go out the window.
Rather than being a base-line assumption, advanced infrastructure might become the domain of the privileged. In that scenario, attacks on the infrastructure could seem much more justified.
It is really impossible to know what any of us would do in a scenario of infrastructural collapse, much like the tough guys who say they’d fight to the death in the Holocaust. However I think I would still counsel pro-infrastructure views. I think I’d attempt to find ways of achieving political change which avoid damaging the remaining infrastructure, or even utilize the independent construction of infrastructure as a subversive force.
In this scenario we would have to understand both facets – both infrastructural development itself as progressive, and also the role of infrastructure in acting as a neo-feudalist Capitol City that uses its relative technological advancement as a launching pad for a physically-enforced domestic imperialism over the other communities. What had once been simply the police and military, in a scenario of infrastructural fragmentation, become much more literally/obviously the Capitol’s occupation force. The character of the managing force in both the Capitol(s) and the other communities would truly be a contemporary return to feudalism, with that managing force being alternately formed out of the old military/police, gangs (old and new), a community-generated military caste, or revolutionist guerrillas (who may not differ in practice very much from the rest, because of the low level of economics – good intentions can’t make food).
A technocratic element may occur as well, with certain practical specialists such as doctors, electricians, agricultural specialists or mechanics becoming all-important. This is critical for marxists. I think one of the primary tasks of marxists in a post-collapse scenario is to assist the process of infrastructural development. That means find a mentor, or look for old-world information sources and become a specialist yourself. It also means assisting the specialists as much as possible — become their errand-runner, find them materials they need, etc. But of course there is also a political question: infrastructure for whom? Obviously marxists must insist that the infrastructure be used to benefit all, though in survival situations, this may either be a non-argument (of course save everyone!) or impossible (we don’t even have enough to do that!). More politically, I believe that the mere construction of infrastructure off the Capitol’s grid creates a pole of opposition.
Furthermore, any effort to fairly distribute resources – even a dearth of resources – will probably be far superior to what the Capitol is doing. The Capitol will typically only attempt to maintain “order” in a military/policing sense without providing aid in any serious way, if US disaster response in Katrina and Haiti are any future indication. So rather than just trying to get electricity back online, radicals should be part of post-collapse efforts to salvage supplies and distribute relief, as well – perhaps even initiating these networks. The “Followers of the Apocalypse” from Fallout: New Vegas were a network of doctors and medical staff influenced by anarchism whose activities created a civil pole of opposition to the brutes of New Vegas, the Legion, the raiders, and the New California Republic. However we don’t have to resort to fiction here. The Black Panther Party got the entire federal government to start feeding children breakfast by doing it themselves first and causing embarrassment. A food distribution network which Philly Socialists was part of caused such a ruckus that the Philly city government attempted to ban open-air food distribution! And then of course there is Occupy Sandy, the hurricane response team which de-legitimized the state by providing more immediate relief.
So should we simply fight the Capitol with guerrilla warfare, until it keeps to itself and the rest of the land is left to a sort of anarchy? Or should we fight for revolution and re-organization within the Capitol, recasting it from an oppressive center to a gem and hub of economic, cultural, and technological progress?
This would really depend on what exactly the Capitol was like. If the Capitol was little more than a glorified military base, serving only a repressive role, then it really ought to be destroyed entirely, with the hope of future progress falling to the rest of the communities. If a Capitol merely becomes an economic center and doesn’t oppress anyone, then it’s a completely different story; rather than oppose it, marxists should then join it, operate politically within it, and become part of the next Renaissance. Another possibility is that the Capitol be a confused hybrid of both military and infrastructural power. The critical point here would be the forging of personal, organizational, and military links between the Capitol and non-Capitol resistance. Internal sabotage would be an extension of countryside guerrilla warfare. The brave resistance of the guerrillas would inspire the truly more critical Capitol resistance. Because people in low levels of infrastructure and emergency-mode often forego democracy, let alone socialism, the political resistance inside the Capitol will often take the form of a pro-democracy rebellion against martial law (though the authorities may be careful to pretend that the martial law is democracy). In fact, resistance in the center is so vitally important that post-collapse marxists should strongly consider relocating to the Capitol. Whether resistance in the Capitol becomes a matter of urban guerrilla insurrectionism, or organizing and civil mass-protest, depends largely on what kind of Capitol you’re up against; the civil route gains importance in proportion to the more developed the Capitol is, and the larger the number of civilians living there. Of course one strategy may bleed into the other (literally), but it’s important to build legitimacy by attempting civil methods first. The closer the Capitol is to re-attaining modernity, the more we should use modern (civil) methods. If we are dealing with not simply a Capitol but an entire developed region (New California Republic), then it makes sense to pursue classic civilian-only organizing, just on a more microcosmic scale, and possibly even opposing the imperialism of your own region with the post-collapse version of a domestic antiwar movement. The Maoist idea of Protracted People’s War, with guerrillas and protesters being all part of one resistance, makes sense in post-collapse, in a way that it does not make sense in the contemporary USA.
The USA would be plunged into the dilemmas faced by third-world revolutionaries such as Maoists or even to an extent the Russian Revolution. Can you build socialism without an already-existing strong/industrialized economic foundation? Can you have a political faction who believes in socialism take over the state, be as humane and democratic as possible for now, while leading that society toward infrastructural development which would make a country more properly socialist, in the classic Marxist sense? It would certainly be more progressive than leaving the old state in place, but ultimately the revolutionary political faction would face the problem of itself becoming a new ruling class (orthodox Trotskyist dogmatism aside, as if bureaucrats cannot be rulers, what idiocy). Ultimately that new ruling class would probably have to be overthrown later down the line, like the Chinese Communist Party. But was the Chinese (or Cuban) revolution progressive, despite the troubling trajectory of attempting socialism in a country that isn’t even capitalist? Despite my libertarian tendencies, I think it was at least progressive, if not properly socialist.
What all of this really underscores is that we should be thankful we live in times of rampant development, where more and more of the third world is brought online into capitalist commodity production rather than pre-capitalist family agriculture, and many of the first-world countries are not only super-productive but are even “over-productive” to the point that they have more output than they can sell. We should not entertain stupid ideas of a “revocalypse.” Of course the revolution will feel apocalyptic; it will feel like an All-Overthrowing Reckoning. But it’s important to attack the power structure, not the infrastructure.