What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been hitherto in the political order? Nothing. What does it desire? To become something.
That bourgeois revolutionary Sieyes wrote those three questions and those three answers shortly before that event which shook the world. They heralded the coming of the Third Estate’s bourgeois and proletarian hordes that would pillage the Ancien Régime for everything it had, destroying altogether that which they could not subsume into themselves.
Flash forward to Nivôse 21 CXXIX, or in reactionary Gregorian terms, January 11th, 2021 A.D., and liberalism has achieved its final victory over all else. No matter how much success a political movement might enjoy, and no matter how much it professes to oppose liberalism from its left OR its right, its success will come only through the assent of a section of the bourgeois class, making all opposition mere spectacle. Things are as Sieyes said: The Third Estate is everything, and everything is the Third Estate. Everything, from the most radical of left-wing populists to self-proclaimed illiberal reactionaries, is liberal. They too shall pass, and those radical liberalisms will temporarily recede in favor of that bland, colorless equilibrium once economic instability subsides.
Sieyes did not understand how correct he was. The Third Estate, formed out of the bourgeoisie and proletariat alike, collectively encompassed real economic relations, and was everything. It knew this. It knew of its real autonomy and humanity despite its lack thereof in its political relationship to real economic relations. Through this, it developed liberalism, the ideology of the bourgeoisie, interpellating itself with subjecthood through the principle that all humans (a new, radical concept in and of itself) are created equal, be they nobles, capitalists, workers, or peasants. It made out of itself Everything, because in reality, it was. Its role in the hitherto existing political order, up to this point based around titles and divine ordainment, had been nothing. The Third Estate knew this as well, experiencing all to acutely the discrepancy between the imaginary subjecthood liberal ideology had granted it, and the symbolic language and institutions of nobility and divine right which governed society. And when an entity encompasses everything in reality and nothing in the imaginary relations imposed upon reality, it naturally follows that it would seek to become something, to make the imaginary relations governing them finally reflect the objective truth. The Third Estate demonstrated this inclination upon its Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. It controlled everything in the Real, and desired to become something in its Imaginary, since it had until then been nothing in the Symbolic.
The bourgeoisie and its armies of workers, also inundated with the liberalism of the Third Estate, battled the aristocrats and clerics and their armies of peasants, themselves inundated with the reactionary, feudal ideology of THEIR economic system. But the victors were set to win the moment the lines were drawn. Capitalism had already begun to subsume feudalism, the conditions prerequisite to liberalism in the first place, a trend that continued as food production began to necessitate fewer and fewer bodies. The working population grew and the farming population shrunk. The real economic role of the aristocrat waned, as did their ideology, as did their state power. Heavy taxation by the bourgeoisie combined with the devastation of World War I only served to hasten the aristocracy’s slow death as a relevant independent entity. Modern aristocrats serve one of two roles: souvenirs of bourgeois nation states (see the United Kingdom), or, if they do have political power, managers of what are basically special economic zones within world capitalism (see Saudi Arabia).
And in spite of what we see in our lives, the endless waves of death and violence brought about by contradiction, capitalism is stable, and has always been stable. The bourgeoisie exited the Gaea’s womb squabbling amongst itself. It spent its strange childhood and awkward coming-of-age squabbling amongst itself. And it even spent its final victory over those forces opposing it squabbling amongst itself. Its economic character consists of free competition, with sections of the bourgeoisie competing against one another for real, material gain. Its ideological and political character reflect this in the free marketplace of ideas and democratic republicanism. The bourgeoisie views capital and power as children in a schoolyard view toys in a sandbox. When there exist enough toys to go around, they play together peacefully. Because each wants more toys than he has, they all engage in competition for them, but as the children play, their toys, so dutifully provided by their weary, proletarian teacher’s labor, break, the poor teacher eventually rendered unable to satiate every child’s desire for toys. At the beginning of the school year, the children all enjoy an abundance of toys provided by the teacher. Because they will want more toys no matter how many they have, they will compete with one another for them. However, because of the cornucopia of toys, the loser can accept loss with relative grace; he still has a plethora of toys, no need to become upset over just ONE. But as their toys break, and the teacher’s capacity to meet this demand runs out, the competing children’s games become a bit more… consequential, with the steps they might take to win growing more and more drastic; one toy might now be worth fighting over now given their short supply. Their competitions become scraps, their scraps fights. They usually don’t fight to the end themselves though; how could they?! It is best, they agree implicitly, to tattle to the teacher, enlist her to take a particular side in the squabble to face the other side’s wrath. This crisis continues until a large enough number of children faces enough brutalization to leave the school entirely, leaving but a few children left relatively content with the now satisfactory number of toys and the teacher with ample time to purchase more toys until the next school year begins. The cycle does not seem to have a conclusion in sight.
Though one can look at the children’s battles against one another and see instability, a bird’s-eye view reveals this not to be the case. Capital’s fluctuating scarcity, the proletariat’s inability to sustain it indefinitely, and the bourgeoisie’s constant and endless competition exist within the real, tangible economic relations, and thus are necessarily accounted for by liberal ideology. Crisis is not a flaw of Capital. Crisis is a feature. The Ancien Regime was smashed and destroyed by the new real economic relation outside of itself, and the ideology based on those: capitalism and liberalism respectively. Crises that occur WITHIN a closed system cannot have the effect of bringing it to its knees, because the system is necessarily based upon the real conditions which create those crises. We often say and find hope in the sentiment that capitalism is doomed to fail. However, I think we often forget that capitalism has failed time after time after time. It integrates such facts as endless competition for increasingly scarce resources into itself, and uses crisis as a correcting mechanism, re-vitalizing of the economy through first de-vitalizing it. Yes, capitalism accounts even for the deprivation of the proletariat, imbuing his tortured and weakened mind with nationalism, syndicalism, conservatism, fascism, centrism, or whatever liberalism bourgeois squabbling happens to churn out that day, keeping him well within line (?) before, during, and after the crisis.
By this understanding, liberalism is not in fact the ideology of the bourgeoisie in and of themselves, but the ideology of capital. In a vacuum, one can see liberalism having emerged from that upstart class, but when he zooms out, he will find that the upstart class which produced liberalism itself had a producer: the proletariat, with whom the bourgeoisie shares a relationship both symbiotic and parasitic at once. In a vacuum, one can see liberal intellectuals and industrialists leading the French Revolution to victory, but if he again zooms out, he will see armies of workers, both necessary to the development of liberalism AND inundated with its principles, as much so as their bourgeois counterparts. The French revolution did not reflect the will of the bourgeois class alone, but the will of le Tiers Etat, the Third Estate: all the untitled masses, increasing in their level of participation in capitalism, their level of interpellation by liberalism, leaving their ascension to political power the only thing left to achieve.
The Third Estate, in reality everything, once treated as nothing, desiring to become something, has become everything. The bourgeoisie has subsumed the corpse of the aristocracy, the proletariat that of the peasantry. The new system, having emerged within a crack in the old, battled that which bore it and it won. Its stable periods do nothing more than generate the conditions for unstable periods, which generate the conditions for new stable periods. The death and destruction brought about during a crisis amount to nothing more than a clever way for the straining system to rid itself of dead weight (by killing it first), and then reproducing a more streamlined version of itself from the remains. What, then, we must understand, is that class struggle’s position as the motor of history does not simply mean an oppressed class will by its very nature rise up against its oppressor and bring forth a new system. One need only examine feudal Europe or Asia to understand this. Not one of China’s many peasant revolts against the contradictions within its feudalism heralded a change in its economic base (not even the successful ones!). Europe’s rarely enjoyed the same degree of success, and did not alter or even signal the alteration of economic conditions in any way. The insurrectionary component of revolution functions solely politically, despite (or perhaps BECAUSE of) their spectacular nature. When Kings fall, and men die, we first think that these somehow represent turning points. But there has not been a time throughout all history wherein Kings did not fall, or men did not die. Successful violence does not a Revolution make. The ideological change, the development of liberalism, preceded the political regime change, and the economic change, the development of capitalism, preceded that ideological change. Nowadays, following the final stand of true, aristocratic illiberalism in Philippe Petain’s French State, would-be reactionaries embody nothing more than liberalism with reactionary spectacle. Yes, having subsumed all things which exist into itself, capitalist liberalism even encompasses attempts to escape it, its radical left and reactionary right alike embracing democratic and humanist principles in their futile quests to defeat it. Capitalism is everywhere. To where could one possibly escape if he seeks to flee from Everywhere?
Such a place does not exist. We must create it.
Capitalism did not grow from within the feudal system. It arose out of changing real conditions that in turn let individuals transform their imaginary relations to them. The Black Death brought the people of Europe to the cities, creating the real conditions for wage labor. The Peace of Westphalia, a direct result of the 30 Years’ War’s devastation, brought into being our modern conception of national sovereignty, creating the stability and the set of players needed for systems of international trade. Industrial technology made farming require fewer and fewer individual people, further still encouraging proletarianization. The birth of a new order necessitated the spiraling of real conditions beyond the control of the once all-encompassing old regime. Capitalism encompasses all economics, its internal crises a mere regulated process, without any unique potential to bring the Third Estate — now all of modern class society — to its knees. Only real conditions, which exist beyond politics, beyond ideology, and even beyond our imaginary economic relations, create the conditions for new systems. Unlike our friends in the Third Estate, we can, thanks to the scientific advances in dialectical materialism, foresee this process before it has even begun. We will remain vigilant, and spur forward the conditions for a new system of our own volition. And when it comes time to bring the new world forth from the seeds of the real, we will decide whether to end history. No matter what form a closed system takes, its very nature as a closed system makes it inherently unable to withstand changing real conditions rendering it obsolete. Just as the plow brought forth the conditions for agricultural society, literally sowing the destruction of paleolithic society, natural devastation of the agricultural world spurred on the conditions for wage labor, capital, and industry. If we conquer Earth’s forces of nature, we will face havoc at the hands of the sun’s. If we envelop those, surely galactic catastrophe will do in whatever system we come up with. And even if we survive such an event, our new system accounting for everything else on its scale, we can count on the universe, definitionally the sum total of all that exists, to bring forth a final reckoning.
Nothing transcends reality, because only reality exists. Where capitalism encompasses the reality of human existence, reality as a whole encompasses capitalism. As much as it may try, capitalism cannot escape its uncaring existential hurricanes. We have three options. First, the present state of affairs may end when a meteor hits earth tomorrow or some other natural cataclysm causes our extinction. Second, it may end with real conditions leading to the recession of capitalism and the birth of something new. Third, it may end once humanity finally gets a grip over its inflated ego and decides to cease building systems entirely, without the fear and trauma of the self. The beauty of it all: reality sees all of these as natural processes, so we get to choose between them. They all lead to finality.
What is the Third Estate? In its day of ascension, it was everything. Now, having actualized that reality completely in economics, ideology, and politics, it reigns supreme as the old regime did a thousand years ago the world over. Only when a real crisis, not in politics, not in ideology, and not in economics, but in reality itself, arises from the ocean of the cosmos, bringing with it a new world to do battle with the declining, floundering old. It falls to us, armed with the knowledge of the nature of things, to take this reality and ensure, if through force of will alone, that it forms the real movement to abolish the present state of things, that it forms the end of that dreary, endless process of history, that it forms communism.
What is communism? Nothing. What has it been hitherto in the political order? Nothing. What does it desire? To become nothing.