Lessons from exits foreclosed: An exilic interpretation of the Mexican and Russian Revolutions, 1910-1924.

Author:Smolski, Andrew R.


Entering into 2017, it became apparent that the capitalist system is in a structural crisis. At the same time, a century has passed since the Russian Revolution and the Mexican Revolution, both epochal struggles for justice that terminated largely in failure for the great majority of people who participated. We are left with a more totalizing capitalist system in structural crisis, failed attempts at challenging its hegemony, and therefore a real need to think out new theoretical avenues for what went wrong and what conditions could bring about a positive, structural transition. This article takes seriously this current crisis and the need to build an off-ramp from the capitalist world-system while not repeating the failed strategies of the past that placed detours in front of the exit.

Current debates concerning systemic exit from capitalism and state administration have focused on alternatives and their possibility, the form they can take, their construction and maintenance, and their relation to long historical processes of world-systemic accumulation, expansion, incorporation, and social reorganization (Gray 2004; Grubacic 2014; Grubacic & O'Hearn 2016; O'Hearn & Grubacic 2016; Scott 2009; Zibechi 2012). Recently, a novel contribution to this debate was made by Andrej Grubacic and Denis O'Hearn in Living at the Edges of Capitalism: Adventures in Exile and Mutual Aid. There, Grubacic and O'Hearn develop the theory of exile to describe how concrete social groups contemporarily resist capitalist world-system incorporation in territorial and structural ways to achieve normatively anarchist goals. In effect, their theoretical contribution elaborates on the dialectic of resistance and incorporation over the longue duree of the capitalist world-system.

We apply their theory of exile typologically, based upon group characteristics during social revolution, events when systemic characteristics are in flux. Our analysis demonstrates how groups voice exit as revolutionary demands, which are then negotiated with the factions of incorporation with whom exilic factions are in alliance and conflict. Therefore, we are not seeking, as Grubacic and O'Hearn do, to situate exile in relation to the longue duree of the capitalist world-system. Instead, utilizing a typology of exile, we situate exile in relation to rupture and its resolution--a phase transition brought about by a millenarian break as both reaction to the asymptotic build-up of contradictions and affirmation of an alternate reality (Shirley & Stafford 2015).

In this study, we employ a historical case method, analyzing the social revolutions of Mexico and Russia, the alliances and conflicts that made them up, and how factions of incorporation negotiated with and ultimately neutralized exilic factions in both cases. We consider this historical exercise crucial to our interpretations of how competing factions lead to the functioning of the resultant incorporated space. We take seriously Grubacic and O'Hearn's (2016) proposition that to understand the State, we must understand the role of exile in processes of State (de)formation. By doing so, we argue that state (re)formation post-revolution is the result of exilic resistance and then incorporative removal of that resistance. That is, exile is a determinant of the capacity for a revolution to implement a structural transition away from state administration that incorporates a social system into the world-system's cycles of accumulation.

Study of state (de) formation has been largely restricted to understanding how coalitions take control of the state missing the conceptual distinction of incorporation-exile. As such, anti-systemic options (i.e. those involving exit from the capitalist world-system) have been largely ignored, with focus more on the role of revolution in altering a state's competition within itself and the world-system. For example, in the Mexico case applying a Gramscian theory of passive revolution, Morton (2010b) and Hesketh (2010) argue an ascendant bourgeoisie takes the reigns of the state to navigate the development of capitalist relations within a concrete (inter)national context. This theory of state (de) formation and revolution does provide a deep understanding of outcomes. Our analysis supports this Gramscian interpretation of the post-Revolutionary Mexican State while adding that this possibility is the result of reducing to nil the power of exilic factions.

Our interpretation describes the political alliances between peasantry and proletariat constituting serious exilic threats against the hegemony of capital and state, and we show how incorporative factions seek actively to cleave these two classes from each other to stabilize their own dominance. Thus, we do not argue for substituting exile for class but to add exile to class in analyzing revolutions, as well as strategizing future political activity. The rebellions in Mexico and Russia make for clear case studies in this regard because of the multitude of emancipatory-exilic and reactive-incorporative factions that participated in them. It is during exile-in-rupture that these divisions become most salient, that the actual political-economic and ideological divisions become most apparent. Flux makes the invisible visible.

While these factions and classes at times shared ideological goals and political-economic interests, they also harbored a geographically, culturally, and politically influenced distrust of each other based on conflicting normative ideals, sanctions, and practices. Within Mexican and Russian revolutionary history, the great potential for exit has been constantly undermined by the inability of exilic factions to form long-term, permanent alliances. Yet, what we also show is that without coalitional support, exilic goals would have remained isolated and, at times, even amount to only words. It is the loyalty bargain that is both treacherous and necessary, and how it is navigated dictates the terms of struggle during exile-in-rupture and the outcome of the state (de)formation process.

In the end, it is the constellation of exilic and incorporative factions that represent the possibilities of state (de)formation, hence the descriptive utility of the exilic typology for those concerned with normatively anarchist goals. To some degree, revolutionaries and toiling people employed their voices to oppose the counter-revolutionary course of the processes in both countries. Autonomy against the state is developed through the loyalty bargains made during struggle, as in the case of the Ejercito Libertador del Sur (ELS), urban anarchists, and Makhnovists of the Mexican and Russian Revolutions. Yet, their desire for autonomous exit was more effectively served by direct action, decentralization, and expropriation, as we demonstrate with our cases. However, to reiterate, the set of loyalty bargains opened up the space for exile-in-rupture while also ultimately leading to its closure. Post-foreclosure of exile-in-rupture, whether the passive revolution in Mexico or the still poorly labeled outcome of the Russian Revolution, is then a matter of the always precarious state of play for those challengers to the hegemonic order.

In brief, through our application of an exilic typology, we describe how revolutionary exilic factions in Mexico and Russian organized for self-emancipation, while repressive incorporative factions mobilized to counter such liberatory impulses, thus perpetuating domination by capital and the State. By doing so, we build on Grubacic and O'Hearn's (2016) novel theory of exile that presents real possibilities for effective strategizing resistance in a time of structural crisis.

Exilic factions during exile-in-rupture

The theory of exilic spaces is developed from work done by an assortment of social theorists, for example, Albert Hirschmann (1970), whose work on voice, loyalty, and exit offers theoretical actions; Peter Kropotkin (2012 [1902]), whose work on mutual aid and cooperation are bedrock principles guiding anarchist research; James C. Scott (2009), whose work on non-State spaces produced case evidence for pursuing exile as a really existing social phenomena; and Raul Zibechi (2012), whose work has recognized the minor forms of resistance, among many more.

In this section, we outline the role of world-system analysis in the conception of states and exile. Then, we reproduce the theory of exile as found in Grubacic and O'Hearn (2016), highlighting theoretical issues and key concepts, for example, incorporation, exit, autonomy, and substantive reproduction. This grounds our research by elucidating exile as a systematic theoretical enterprise useful for understanding and explaining state (de)formation during rupture (i.e. social revolution). After, we connect exile to scholarship on revolutions and the state, demonstrating how exile has a principal role in the outcomes of state (de)formation and why exile-in-rupture is important for understanding incorporation.

The world-system, state (de)formation, and exile

A capitalist world-economy dominates the modern world-system, continuously expanding and incorporating more and more of the globe since the 16th century (Wallerstein 2004). To be incorporated, a nation-state is reorganized and situated within the longue duree of world-systemic processes, specifically the world-time fluctuations in capital accumulation, economic expansion, hierarchy of production processes, international division of labor, and inter-state administration (Braudel 1979; Wallerstein 1974). Yet, this does not mean that all states are the same, only that the world-system is 'a historically negotiated and structurally heterogeneous whole', in which '[the capitalist world-economy] links all forms oflabor control with capital at its central axis' (Grubacic & O'Hearn 2016: 22-23). The capitalist world-economy is reliant on the inter-state system to be the hegemonic regime...

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