Military Coups and Revolutionary Tactics: 4) One is Lost without an Understanding of Dialectics




As the polemics in the above mentioned RCIT documents on the coups in the past years demonstrate, there has always been a lot of confusion among socialists on how to assess such coups and which tactics should be applied. As the purpose of this essay is not a detailed discussion of these past coups but rather arriving at a generalization of the different types of coups, we limit ourselves to some observations which seem to us useful in order to better understand the dialectical nature of our approach.


While we have elaborated the different essence of the three types of military coup, it would be wrong to mechanistically imagine that there would exist a “Chinese Wall” between them. It can be the case, and actually it has happened repeatedly, that a concrete coup of one type contains also certain elements of another type. A reactionary coup against a bourgeois government based on popular support can also have some support among the backward middle class. For example, the coup of General Pinochet in September 1973 could count on the support of Chile’s right-wing middle class which increasingly held large demonstrations on the streets at that time. Likewise, the Egypt army command was able to mobilize mass demonstrations for their support in 2013.


The same could be said about the institutional coup against the Rousseff government in Brazil as it became visible in the repeated reactionary mass demonstrations in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. The recent coup in Zimbabwe led by General Chiwenga and Emmerson Mnangagwa also had some support among sectors of the population who were fed up of the Mugabe regime.


The German philosopher Hegel liked to say – and the Marxist classics referred to this insight many times – that “the truth is always concrete”. Marx himself once remarked in Volume III of Capital: „But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.“ [1] Hence, the task of Marxist is to analyze concretely a given phenomenon and to understand its essence. This includes also the necessity to recognize the “concrete totality as a unity of universal and particular” as Abram Deborin, the leading Soviet philosopher of the 1920s before Stalin’s clamp down, splendidly worded it. [2] Hence, Marxists have to analyze which elements of a given totality are dominating and which are rather subordinated. As Lenin once remarked in his Philosophical Notebooks, one of the fundamental requirements of the materialist dialectic is to “the deepening of man’s knowledge of the thing, of phenomena, processes, etc., from appearance to essence and from less profound to more profound essence.[3]


[1] Karl Marx: Capital, Vol. III, in: Marx Engels Collected Works Vol. 37, p. 804

[2] Abram Deborin: Materialistische Dialektik und Naturwissenschaft (1925); in: Unter dem Banner des Marxismus 1. Jahrgang 1925/26, Verlag für Literatur und Politik, Wien, p. 452 (our translation). Unfortunately while there exist numerous works of this great Marxist philosopher in Russian language and also a considerable amount in German language, the weakness of Marxism in the Anglo-Saxon world in the 1920s has resulted in the situation that hardly anything of his works of the 1920s has been translated into English language. Some useful quotes and summaries of Deborin’s views in English language can be found in the following books: David Joravsky: Soviet Marxism and Natural Science 1917-1932, Routledge, New York 1961/2009; David Bakhurst: Consciousness and Revolution in Soviet philosophy: From the Bolsheviks to Evald Ilyenkov, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1991; Helena Sheehan: Marxism and the Philosophy of Science, Humanities Press International, New Jersey 1985.

[3] V. I. Lenin: Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic (1914); in: LCW Vol. 38, p. 221