by Bob Avakian
Editors Note: The following is drawn from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005. It has been edited for publication here, and subheads and footnotes have been added.
To get right into things, and to touch on a most essential question: Why did I begin "Reaching For the Heights, Flying Without a Safety Net"1 talking about state power? Why did I emphasize that we want state power?
Let's start with the simple and basic answer: It is right to want state power. It is necessary to want state power. State power is a good thing – state power is a great thing – in the hands of the right people, the right class, in the service of the right things: bringing about an end to exploitation, oppression, and social inequality and bringing into being a world, a communist world, in which human beings can flourish in new and greater ways than ever before.
All you have to do, in order to get a clear view on this, is to think about all the things that the masses of people are subjected to. I'm going to talk about this a little bit now and return to it as I go along. Think about all the things the masses are subjected to, and what could be done to uproot those things with revolutionary state power, and what cannot be done about them because we don't have that state power. Think about the way in which people in the inner cities, for example, are continually subjected to humiliation, abuse, outright brutality, and even repeated murder at the hands of the present state power, in particular the police. And think what it would mean if state power were in the hands of the masses of people, and the state apparatus backed them up in doing away with every remnant of that, and in approaching problems among the people in a completely different way, with state power backing that up in a different way.
Think about the problem of rape in society, a massive problem, which is deeply rooted in the fundamental relations of this society. Think about what can be done about that, even in a very short time, once capitalism has been overthrown and the socialist state has been established – greatly reducing the incidence of rape and changing it from a major phenomenon to one that occurs infrequently, and moving in decisive ways toward eliminating it altogether – by wielding state power, in a revolutionary way, on a communist basis (on the basis of communist leadership and with communist objectives).
You can go down the list of everything that's happening to masses of people all over the world because they do not have state power in their hands – all the things to which they're repeatedly subjected, the conditions of disease and malnutrition, what Marx captured so powerfully in the term "agony of toil" and the crippling poverty and brutality that accompanies and reinforces this for literally billions of people in all parts of the world, and a thousand other abuses and unnecessary suffering, essentially because state power is in the hands of their exploiters and oppressors instead of in their hands.
No one should call herself or himself a communist who at this stage of history does not want state power and is not anxious to get state power – and doesn't know what to do with it if they do get it. There are a lot of complexities bound up with this, but it's time, and way past time, to get rid of absolutely any apologies about wanting state power, or doubts and existential agonizing over whether proletarian states are a good thing. They're a very good thing. You can, and should, study the presentation that is being given by Raymond Lotta, beginning on a number of university campuses, "Setting the Record Straight" on the history of the exercise of state power by the proletariat,2 and see what was able to be done, even with real shortcomings, on the basis of proletarians exercising state power, led by their communist vanguards. If you are at all scientific, you can see that none of those positive and truly world-historic things could have been done without that state power. And you can look at all the things that need to be done in the world today – in terms of getting rid of all the horrors the masses are subjected to, and in terms of advancing to a stage of society where these things no longer exist or can have a basis – and you can see very clearly why state power is a very good thing and very necessary.
Of course, there are the fundamental questions of orientation: For whom and for what do we want this state power? But, with the correct orientation, wanting state power and the willingness, as well as ability, to lead people toward that objective are tremendously important, and indeed precious, things, precisely for the masses of people, for their emancipation and ultimately the emancipation of humanity as a whole.
There is, today more than ever perhaps, a tremendous amount of slander and distortion in terms of what the history of socialist society and proletarian state power has been about. And without an honest and scientific approach to this, it is not possible to correctly understand either the great achievements or the significant shortcomings in this experience and to grasp the new synthesis3 that is required in order to, as I have put it, "do better" in the next round of proletarian revolutions and the socialist states they bring into being.
First of all, let's put things on the scales and get a balance sheet. Let's weigh what we know about that historical experience in the Soviet Union and in China when they were actually socialist countries (and by that I mean in the years 1917-56 in the Soviet Union, and 1949-76 in China). Let's look at the ways in which the problems and the needs and the interests of the masses were addressed on the one hand, and put that on the scale, and let's put the shortcomings on the other side of the scale. Which one weighs far more heavily? Let's put on the scale the things that were done in terms of overcoming the exploitation and oppression of the masses of people in those countries, creating new social relations, new culture, new ways of thinking, new international relations. Put all that on the scale and weigh that against the alleged, or even real, ways in which, in the course of all this, some problems were not handled as well as they should have been, and some people, including among the artists and intellectuals, suffered as a result.
Does it matter that masses of people were not starving by 1970 in China, that for the first time in centuries and millennia, China had solved its food problem in basic terms, in the socialist society that had existed for just 20 years? Does it matter that for the first time, tens and hundreds of millions of peasants had health care? Do these things matter to anybody? Does it matter that masses of people could get up in the morning and walk down the street and not fear the police – or even each other, for that matter – because a new state power was making possible the creation of new social relations? Does it matter that, for the first time in the history of China – and, on the scale it happened, really this was something new in the history of the world – the masses of people were encouraged and led to take up affairs of state and to involve themselves in wrangling with the direction of society and the situation and struggles of the people in the world? Does that matter?
So, if you want to make a balance sheet – yes, it's bad that there were errors and, yes, even some real excesses, in the Cultural Revolution, and they do have to be taken account of and analyzed scientifically, along with everything else, but let's not lose perspective and a sense of what was really going on there, on the larger scale. A number of artists who lived in China in that period raised that, "We weren't allowed to put on certain artistic works during the Cultural Revolution." Yes, there were some real problems in that regard, and they do need to be summed up deeply and all-sidedly – and, again, we need a new synthesis that will enable us to do better with all this the next time around. But, once again, as a matter of fundamental orientation, let's put that in the balance scale, weighing it against the fact that, for the first time in the history of China – and in contrast to what goes on in every society throughout the world where the proletariat does not hold state power, including the United States – masses of people were not being worked like slaves in the factories, with one-man management, piecework, speed-up and all the rest of it, and were in fact increasingly becoming masters of society. Does that matter? How should we evaluate that in relation to the fact that, for example, you couldn't put on certain dance productions during the Cultural Revolution in China?
I remember hearing Baryshnikov talk about his experience coming from the Soviet Union to the U.S. – and this was when both of them were capitalist: one was revisionist (socialist in name, but capitalist in deed and in essence) at the time and one was, of course, openly capitalist. And at least Baryshnikov had a certain amount of honesty, he said that he left the Soviet Union because they wouldn't let people dance Balanchine, but on the other hand, in the Soviet Union from an early age if you were inclined to go into ballet, and you showed some talent for it, you got the real backing of the state, you got all the resources, you could learn how to do ballet. He was at least a little bit honest about how he availed himself of that until he got good enough to dance Balanchine and then he left to go to the U.S., where they'd let him dance Balanchine, and so on. And he was also honest about the fact that many, even most, of the dancers he knew in the U.S. were having a very hard time just making it – many of them working in restaurants waiting tables and similar jobs, just to be able to live – and were not able to devote themselves anything like full time to their art. Now, there we are talking about revisionism in the Soviet Union, not socialism. But let's say they wouldn't let you dance Balanchine in a real socialist country. Do we have more work to do to get a better synthesis on that? Yes. But, by the way, as part of accurately and scientifically evaluating things, it is very important not to overlook or downgrade the tremendous achievements and breakthroughs that were made, not only politically but artistically, through the Cultural Revolution in China, including in the arena of ballet and dance.
Among other things, we hear a lot of distortions these days about how, during the Cultural Revolution, many intellectuals were sent to the countryside. As I have pointed out a number of times, nobody asked the hundreds of millions of peasants in China if they wanted to go to the countryside. Now, is that the complete answer to how intellectuals were dealt with in the Cultural Revolution? No. We do need another leap, we do need a further and new synthesis. But if we have to weigh these things, where do we start from in seeking to achieve a new synthesis? What's our starting point? Where are our feet planted, so to speak? What is our basic orientation? Is it with the masses of people and their needs and interests and the goal of revolutionizing all of society and the world and ultimately emancipating all of humanity, including the intellectuals and other strata, from the shackles of class-divided society and all the consequences of that? Not in some crude way of pitting the masses versus the intellectuals in some economist sense – and in a sense of seeking revenge against the intellectuals and other strata among the people who have historically occupied a more privileged place but are not the rulers of the system and the exploiters and oppressors of the masses of people – but instead looking at the needs and fundamental interests of the masses of people and revolutionizing all of the world and emancipating all of humanity.
Where do we start from? Do we start from the individual and individualistic concerns? Or do we start from fundamental questions, concerning the masses of people and the essential economic, social, and political relations in society, and the world, and then move forward from there, synthesizing on that basis? As a fundamental point of orientation and approach, we have to proceed from the right place. As I have emphasized a number of times, we must not have an approach of trampling on the rights of individuals and individuality, but instead must strive to make this flower more fully among the great majority of people in society, and ultimately among humanity in the world as a whole; yet, at the same time, we cannot make the concerns of particular individuals weigh more heavily than the larger questions of how to uproot all exploitation and oppression and advance to the emancipation of all of humanity. As I'll come back to, there is a lot more work to be done, and we cannot and must not be narrow and philistine in our orientation and approach; we must not promote philistinism, economism, and a "revenge-line" among the masses of people, if we are going to do what we need to do; if we are really aiming, as we must, for the emancipation of all humanity, we have to rupture thoroughly with all that, but not on the basis of springing backward to bourgeois democracy and bourgeois individualism, but springing forward to what is, in fact, a new and higher synthesis on this, which is grounded in and aims for the goal of a communist world, where exploitative and oppressive relations among the people, of all kinds, will have been overcome and buried in the past forever.
Now I want to speak to how do you correctly understand and correctly apply the statement, by a comrade in the international communist movement, with which I have expressed strong agreement: "I uphold very firmly the experience of the socialist revolution so far, but I wouldn't want to live in those countries."4 This is a statement whose meaning can be, and has been, misunderstood and misconstrued. Some people who should know better, who are partisan to the cause of communism but who themselves have been influenced and even somewhat disoriented by the seemingly endless and ever more deafening crescendo of attacks on communism, have even fallen into seizing on the orientation in this statement to say: "Oh, finally, we can unload all that Stalin stuff – we don't have to talk about that anymore. We can even shake Mao off our shoulders and say, ‘no, no, that's not us, we have a new synthesis, we don't want to live there, so we're not held accountable for that.’" That is a total perversion of what's being said with "firmly uphold but wouldn't want to live there."
To begin with, what is the meaning, after all, of "firmly uphold"? And what is the principal aspect here? The principal aspect, looking at this with historical perspective, is firmly uphold. These were positive, very positive, unprecedented breakthroughs that were achieved in the historical experience of socialism; and, at the same time, there were real and in some cases very serious shortcomings that we don't want to repeat, and should not have to repeat, even with all the necessity we're going to be up against. We ought to be able, at least in crucial spheres, to make leaps and ruptures beyond this. But, here comes that old question from the song back in the day – when you say "firmly uphold, but wouldn't want to live there," here comes that punchline from that song: compared to what? This statement has been distorted. If "wouldn't want to live there" is interpreted to mean, compared to bourgeois society – NO. Once again, put things on the scale: If I have to live in bourgeois society or those countries where the proletariat held state power, I don't even have to take time to pack my suitcase, I'm heading for where the proletariat held state power. [laughter] That's not the comparison. That's a complete perversion and distortion. "Wouldn't want to live there," compared to what? Compared to what we can and must achieve the next time around. That's the point here. Building on, but leaping further – and yes, making ruptures, and yes, doing better. So the standard is: compared to what we need to and can achieve the next time around. That's the meaning of the deliberately provocative statement, which it obviously is: "firmly uphold, but wouldn't want to live there."
So, again we have to be clear on what is principal here. Boldly uphold is what's principal – not because we'd like it to be – let's "accentuate the positive." No, it's because this is true, it conforms to objective reality. If the first round of socialist states and proletarian revolutions were in fact mainly negative, we would have to say so. We'd have to confront it, we'd have analyze deeply why that was so, and we'd have to share that assessment and that analysis with people. But when that is not so, to go around acting as if it is so because it's easier to tail spontaneous bourgeois prejudice and systematic anti-communist propagandizing, is a betrayal of what we're about. It is not true that this historical experience has been mainly negative. That's not real. And simply trying to tail the spontaneity of what people have been propagandized and conditioned to think – that's going to land you, as Lenin pointed out, firmly in the swamp. You won't be able to stand on anything, if you try to bend and twist what you say to fit the prejudice of people who are being pounded – that's not too strong a characterization, bombarded and pounded – with anti-communist propaganda, distortion, lies, slander. It's like a cottage industry, this anti-communism these days. Or to refer to another phenomenon in popular culture these days, it's like betting in poker: "Mao killed 10 million," someone says. "I'll see you those 10 million and raise you another 10 million." [laughter] This is what's going on with the intellectual camp followers of imperialism, and it is being swallowed uncritically by way too many people who should know better, and would know better if they hadn't suspended their critical thinking when it comes to the assault on communism. Many good people – including many people in the arts, intellectuals, people in the academic world – are being taken in by this.
I pointed this out about Jared Diamond. He writes a book that has some unscientific aspects and some mechanical aspects, but Guns, Germs and Steel is a very good book overall, and in the middle of that and then when he's at a bookstore talking about the book, he says the most ridiculous, ignorant things about China and the Cultural Revolution. I saw a tape of a C-Span thing he did on Book TV, where he says, "and then in the middle of all this, in the Cultural Revolution in China, some idiots decided to close down the educational system." And I felt like reaching into the TV and pulling him off of that tape and saying to him: "Jared, what happened to you? Here you are trying to apply all this science, really thoroughly, about why there's all this inequality in the world, and then you got to this and you just dropped all your science altogether, and just picked up the latest attack, pandered to or accepted yourself the latest prejudice. Come on, Jared, be systematic, be scientific all the way. And, while we're at it, let's talk about some Marxism, too, so you can really be systematically scientific." I think he knows some Marxism, by the way. I doubt that he has not read Engels on The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, for example. He is out of the '60s period himself. But that's what goes on, this anti-communism is the currency now, so many people have forgotten what they know, or become convinced – on frankly the shoddiest of bases – that they were wrong in knowing what they knew before.
Someone was explaining to me – I kept asking, "how can these people do this, how can they go along like this, being pretty systematically scientific, then all of a sudden, BLAM, it's just like they went into a different universe?" And the person, the comrade I was talking to, said, "Well, first of all, you have to understand, these people are not like you. They don't think the same way you think. Yes, they apply science, but they've been taken in by the idea that to say these things, these anti-communist things, is no more controversial than to talk about the Holocaust. They don't think anybody who's a reasonable person who should be listened to would ever conceivably disagree with these things" – referring to the slanders against communism. These things have become "common sense" – in other words, they've become things that are deeply embedded in the culture, so deeply that people accept them without questioning them. That's why one of the big aims of "Setting the Record Straight" is to bust these questions open to being questions again. That's one of the aims, is to make people think about these things: no, that is not a settled verdict – and in fact it is not true.
What we want to do, in terms of orientation in "Setting the Record Straight," in taking all this slander on in a big and bold way, is to say: "Here are the lies you're told, here's the truth – and we can prove it." But people don't know this. People, broadly in the intellectual, artistic, academic circles, assume these are settled verdicts – socialism and communism is a failure, it is a disaster, a catastrophe, it leads to a form of tyranny, to totalitarianism. And they suspend critical thinking when they get to this, because they accept certain assumptions. Now, it is a fact that you can't engage your critical mind about everything thoroughly, all the time; so you put in your mind those things where you think: "that's pretty much settled." Nowadays, we're finding settled things are becoming unsettled all over the place. For example, evolution. Who knows what's next, the Copernican system? I'll have more to say about that later.
But people in these various fields think this negative verdict on communism is a settled question. For most of them, it's not their particular sphere to sum up the experience of socialist countries, but it's been done by others and "everybody knows what the truth and the verdict is." So we have to shock them: "Wait a minute, you didn't investigate this. You're making pronouncements, but you don't have any foundation underneath these pronouncements. If someone came into your classroom and did the equivalent with the subject matter that you're teaching, you would tell them to go back to the drawing board and start studying before they come in and make pronouncements. But here you are, doing exactly the same thing." So these are the objective conditions we're faced with, in general and specifically in "Setting the Record Straight." And if we're going to pander to that, we're going to be in a world of trouble; and, even more fundamentally than that, we're not going to be doing what we're supposed to be doing – which is knowing the world as it actually is (and knowing history as it has actually been), in order to change the world, in line with the way in which it's tending and in line with the way it needs to go in the interests of the masses of people all over the world.
So, yes, we should boldly uphold and boldly criticize the experience of socialist revolution and socialist society so far, but boldly uphold is the principal aspect – not because, proceeding a priori, and from the point of view of idealism, we have gone around in a circle and tautologically declared it to be so, but because, proceeding as materialists and applying dialectics, this actually is the truth – the positive aspect of this experience is the principal aspect. As Mao taught us, the principal aspect at any given time determines the essence of a thing, while the secondary aspect does not. The secondary aspect may be very real, may be very important, may be very necessary to thoroughly investigate and study, dissect and synthesize, but it is not the decisive and determining aspect of things. So, when I say these things, "firmly uphold" or "boldly uphold" the experience of socialist society and the communist revolution so far – when I say the positive aspect of this experience is the principal aspect – it's because it's true. And because, in order to know and change the world the way it needs to be understood and changed, we should proceed on a scientific basis. Yes, there are truths that make us cringe, and we shouldn't shrink from them, or shirk our responsibility to dig into them deeply. But it is not a truth – whether it makes us cringe or not, it is not a truth – that the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist society so far has been a catastrophe, a disaster, one endless reign of tyranny, a totalitarian nightmare, or even, principally, or anywhere close to principally, a negative thing. Exactly the opposite. And as materialists, as people who are scientific, we should grasp this and we should apply it, and we should do so boldly, in both aspects: boldly uphold, as the principal aspect; and boldly criticize the secondary but very real and significant shortcomings.
So, returning to the question with which I began: Why do we want state power? Because it's absolutely necessary to get to the next stage of human history, because it's essential for the liberation of the overwhelming majority of the people on the earth and ultimately for humanity as a whole. It's absolutely essential. And, if you want to really deeply understand this, just think about everything that frustrates you, that you can't do anything about right now. Whether it's what happens to people crossing the border into the U.S., what happens to people in the inner cities, what happens to people in the sweatshops, what happens to children working in Pakistan or Haiti, what happens to people in Africa, starving or being mutually slaughtered for the interests of exploiters and oppressors, whether it's women being brutalized and raped and abused and degraded. Go down the line and think about everything that you're frustrated about and why you became convinced of the need for radical change in the first place, and then you'll know what state power is good for and why we should want it – and, yes, in the correct sense, with a correct understanding of what and whom this is all for, why we should crave greatness in this respect too.
To paraphrase Marx: The fundamental question is not what the proletarians, and broadly the masses of people, may be thinking or doing any given time but what they will be compelled to do by the contradictions and dynamics of the system. It is the underlying and driving contradictions in society, and the world, that will continue to confront the masses of people, and those who seek to lead them at any point, with necessity – not static but dynamic and changing objective necessity – that will compel them to respond to it, in one way or another. And how they respond can be greatly influenced by those who more consciously grasp material reality and its actual motion and development. This is true in an overall sense and especially when contradictions are more acutely posed. This underscores why it is so important to have a scientific, materialist and dialectical, as opposed to what amounts to a religious, or some other form of idealist (and metaphysical) outlook, method, and approach.
Why have I, in my writings and talks, repeatedly emphasized that communism represents the most consistently, thoroughly, systematically, and comprehensively scientific outlook and method? Well, to introduce a formulation and refrain that you'll hear repeatedly through this talk, the main reason I do it is because it is true! And it is important. But let's go further: What does this mean – why is it true? It is true because communism, as a world outlook and method, is both thoroughly and consistently materialist and thoroughly and consistently dialectical, and that is true of no other world outlook and method. Communism reflects, in its outlook and method, the fundamental truth that all of reality consists of matter in motion and nothing else: It grasps each of these aspects – that all reality consists of matter and nothing else; and that, as Engels put it, the mode of existence of matter is motion, that all of matter is constantly moving and changing, and that this leads to qualitative leaps and ruptures – and communism grasps the dialectical relation between these things.
A dialectical materialist outlook and method, and its application to human society and its development, historical materialism, reveals that the defining contradictions of any society, and the motive force of change in society, is the contradiction between the forces and relations of production, along with the contradiction between the economic base (or the mode of production) and the superstructure (of politics, ideology, and culture). Engaging with this, in its more sweeping dimension, will establish a stronger foundation for grasping more clearly and deeply the essential reality that, in this era, and in the world right now, it is the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, and other decisive contradictions which this continually gives rise to – it is this, and the motion and development this gives rise to, more than anything else – that is setting the overall framework of things and is compelling and driving change in the world, even as we, the conscious and organized vanguard forces, are striving to transform this motion and development from what it is to a course leading to the realization of communism – a possibility which itself lies within the fundamental and defining contradictions of capitalism and can be achieved through the revolutionary resolution of these contradictions, throughout the world. Let's explore and dig into this more fully and deeply.
In Phony Communism Is Dead, Long Live Real Communism I examine the development of these contradictions between the forces and relations of production and between the economic base and the superstructure. One of the important points I brought out – which is often obscured, overlooked, denied, buried, and so on, and yet might seem almost like a truism, but is a profound truth and is very important to grasp, and to unearth in a certain way – is this: there is no such thing as production or an economy in the abstract. On the one hand, the basic economic activity of producing and distributing the material requirements of life, and reproducing the basis for life, is the most fundamental thing about the life and society of human beings. This is something that Marx very powerfully pointed to and raised to a central role in the understanding of human society and its historical development. But, at the same time, there is no such thing as carrying out production, or no such thing as an economy, which exists in the abstract, or exists without certain very definite production relations – and, in class society, class relations – that people enter into in the process of carrying out this production and distribution of the requirements of life. It's very common to hear, the "such and such economy" ("the French economy," "the U.S. economy," and so on), but very rarely do you hear someone on CNN say: "Today there was a dip in the performance of the U.S. economy, which we should understand is a complex network of production relations, which is also in turn embedded in the deeper international network of production relations." Very rarely do you hear that on CNN, let alone Fox News. [laughter] Because this is covered up all the time. Yet, at the same time, it is fundamental to an understanding of society at any given time and in its motion and development, and in its potential for and the actuality of transformation.
At any particular time, given, relatively speaking, the character and level of the productive forces – the technology, whatever the scientific understanding is, whatever the understanding about nature is, to put it more generally, and the people, with their knowledge about these things and their abilities – whatever the general character and level of that is, we can say, without being vulgar materialists, that generally speaking there will be a corresponding set of social production relations. And I emphasize the word social production relations, because this is a matter of how society is organized. Everyone is not necessarily conscious of this. An artisan in feudal society making household items, for example, is not conscious of the way in which that fits into the overall division of labor of that society (and trade relations and other relations beyond that society as well), but it does nonetheless. This is true in a society characterized by more or less developed commodity production, such as capitalism, and even within feudal society – in fact, in all societies.
So these are social production relations and yet, especially with capitalism, where this is more highly developed, it is at the same time hidden that these are social production relations. You hear this all the time – especially in America, land of Individualism with a capital I – "I" developed this, "I" came up with this idea, this is "my" thing. And I'll be talking more about commodities and commodity fetishism, which this is an expression of. But this is hidden, the fact that this thing of "yours" is actually embedded in – and, in fact, is even the product of – a whole societal and, especially these days, more and more an international, process, which is marked by and defined by definite production relations. And you find a certain place in those production relations. People do not consciously choose, or get to choose, the production relations that they would like. You don't have people coming together and then saying, "Hmm, I wonder if we should all go off and gather food and other necessities for the whole week, and then go hunt for a month," because that's very inefficient – even if you're in an early communal society, it doesn't work. In such a society, if you try to go off and hunt for a whole month, you will come back with very little and the whole society will be falling apart and people will be starving, because you can't get enough meat and protein that way to sustain people.
So, first of all, the relations of production have to correspond to the material conditions at hand that you're confronted with, to the level of productive forces at a given time, which includes "what nature provides" – the raw materials at hand – as well as what tools, instruments, and ways of thinking and ways of utilizing these tools that people have at a given time. So that's one sense in which you don't get to just choose whatever you want for production relations.
The people at the beginning of capitalist society, a couple of centuries ago, didn't get to sit down and say: "let's have a vote, let's have different people come forward with different ideas of what production relations they'd like to have and what corresponding superstructure, and then we'll have elections with competing parties, representing different ideas about this, and we can decide which one we want." No. You don't get to do that because, again without being mechanical and determinist, there is a basic correspondence between these production relations and what the level of productive forces is, in the way I've been speaking of that.
But there is another sense in which you don't get to "make this choice" just any way you might like. These are historically evolved production relations. That goes back to the point about the coherence in history that Marx spoke to, which I have referred to in a number of works, including the book Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?5 With all the upheavals and dislocation and destruction – and even sometimes a collapse or in some other way the ending of a whole society – with all that, there's still a certain coherence in human historical development because the productive forces do continue to develop and do tend to be handed down from one generation to another. And yet these productive forces confront each generation as an external force, especially in a society in which people do not have the basis and the understanding to approach them in a conscious and planned way. Even in a situation where they can do that, in a socialist and still more in a communist society, there is always necessity that confronts people – I'll come back to exploring that more fully later. But especially when it's the case that people do not have the basis and understanding to approach the utilization of the productive forces in a conscious and planned way, these productive forces present themselves as an external force to people. You get up in the morning in this society, and if you want to live you don't say, "I wonder, let me see, I think today what I'll do is try to figure out how I can reconfigure the production relations of society." No, you say, "where the fuck can I find a job or some other way to live today." And the way you do that is established by the necessity that exists because of the production relations that are already confronting you, and everyone else in society – even the bourgeoisie, in a real sense – as an external force, as some necessity that has to be dealt with.
So, whenever people enter into any kind of production, they enter into definite production relations which are not determined by their will, but are historically evolved and generally correspond to the character of the productive forces, even though this goes through revolutionary leaps, and has gone through revolutionary leaps throughout history. And just as there is the economic base of society, just as there is the mode of production and the corresponding production relations, again without being determinist and mechanical materialist, there is a superstructure which more or less corresponds to – which arises on the basis of and more or less corresponds to – this economic base, even while this superstructure of politics, ideology, and culture has relative autonomy, and a lot of initiative, and a lot of struggle goes on in the realm of the superstructure.
For example, in early communal society, given the level and character of the productive forces and the corresponding way that people organized their way of life, to put it simply, if someone were to jump up and say, "everybody has to be organized into a hunting party to go out and hunt for me" – well, that wouldn't work. People would just say: "Fuck you! You can go off and starve if you want, but we are organized a different way here." So you can't just have any old superstructure, and you couldn't have the laws and customs that would reinforce such an idea. You couldn't have those production relations nor could you have the laws and customs and culture that would correspond to and reinforce that idea of one person making everyone else work (in this case hunt) for the benefit of that one person.
But when things do change and when it does correspond to the character of the productive forces for society to be divided into classes – for there to be a great gap between physical and intellectual labor, and between the masses of people in society and a small part of society that monopolizes not only economic life but cultural and intellectual life – then you do get a superstructure that expresses that, and which reinforces it. With this kind of society we are all too familiar. Slave society, for example in the southern United States before the Civil War, had this kind of superstructure, with the slave-owners sitting on the veranda, drinking mint juleps and all the rest of that shit. And they had a corresponding organization of the society overall. I was watching a program about slave chasers on the History Channel. You know, there are all these white people in the South, backward white people, who say about the Confederate flag, "I don't uphold that because it stands for slavery, it's just a way of life and a culture that I'm upholding." Well, what was the way of life and culture there?! As this program on the History Channel pointed to, it was a way of life and culture founded on slavery and then, after slavery was abolished, that way of life was still grounded in serf-like oppression of millions of sharecroppers; it was a way of life, and of oppression, deeply rooted in and suffused with white supremacy. And this was reflected in the superstructure of politics, ideology, and culture. This program on slave chasers brought out that not only did they have slave overseers during the period of slavery in the South, but they organized the entire white population to reinforce the slave system. People who always say, "well, my family never owned slaves" – yes, but your family went chasing them down! See, that's the thing, they organized people to be slave chasers who didn't own slaves. They organized them into militias, the whole (white) society, even with the class differentiation within it, was organized around the pivotal thing of the whole economy and the whole production relations – which was slavery. The rest of the production relations found their place in relation to that, even though there were contradictions. And the superstructure – of politics, ideology, and culture – did too. This was a very different superstructure than in early communal societies where, before there was a basis, even economically, for slavery to be profitable, you couldn't have had a corresponding superstructure, a politics, and culture and ideology that served, defended, and reinforced slavery. It wouldn't have been able to be sustained.
So this is the way we have to understand and apply a materialist understanding, a dialectical materialist understanding of history that actually corresponds to and embraces all the contradictoriness and complexity of it, and at the same time brings to the fore the essential dynamic forces, or contradictions, that are actually moving and compelling things. This is why Mao said that dogmatists are lazybones. And reformists – or, more specifically, so-called "communists" or "socialists" who degenerate and settle into reformism – are lazybones, too. And often the two are very closely intertwined, reformism and dogmatism. Because you have to do work, you have to keep digging to find out what actually are the underlying contradictions that are driving and shaping the character and the motion and development of things.
Now, Marx did a lot of the work for us, but things keep moving and changing. Marx generally studied and wrote before the period of imperialism – before the capitalist system made a leap to its imperialist stage and became much more fully monopolized and internationalized – although there were some features moving in that way in Marx's time. Marx did a lot of work for us, and that is very important. I remember people in the early period of our Party who were mired in economism – completely caught up in tailing the "practical struggle" of the workers for improvement in their conditions within the capitalist-imperialist system – used to say, "well, you know, Lenin, he couldn't have been all that great because he spent all that time writing What Is To Be Done?,6 instead of organizing the workers." [laughter] If you want to talk about Lenin that way, what about Marx? He spent something like 11 years in the library of the British Museum studying history and economics in order to give us this great gift that he gave us, which is the basic materialist understanding of history as well as of capitalism in particular. So, a lot of the work has been done for us, but the need for continuing this work is ongoing; there is a lot of work for us today to do. We have to keep digging down to see even what Marx taught us – even what Marx gave us as a foundation, you have to keep digging down to grasp that and see how it applies today – to understand what is actually at the base of things in society and its ongoing historical development – you have to keep digging down to see how this is actually working itself out at any given time. What are the actual dynamics of the contradictions we are confronted with and seeking to transform, and how are these different contradictions interrelated? This is why it takes continual work. This is hard, it is hard work. Yet it's about something that's worth it – and more than just "worth it," it's about the emancipation of all humanity from relations of inequality, oppression, and exploitation.
But this won't be done by lazybones, and it won't be done with philosophical idealism – thinking that ideas in people's heads (or in the mind of some non-existent god or other supernatural beings) are what determine the character of reality. It won't be done by revenge, it won't be done by saying "oh, it's easy to tell, some people are rich and some people are poor, what else do you need to know." That leads to disaster, and where it's been applied it has led to disaster – I'm going to talk a little bit later about Cambodia and Pol Pot, for example.7 It leads to disaster – you can't differentiate things that way. You can't correctly understand the motive forces and you can't correctly distinguish friends from enemies on that basis. There's a whole phenomenon of right-wing populism in society today, organized by the most openly reactionary sections of the ruling class, to whip up the lower petty bourgeoisie, and labor aristocratic and other sections of the working class, broadly defined, into resentment against people who are actually taking important progressive stands – so-called "limousine liberals" in Hollywood, New York "snotty intellectuals," and so on. It takes work to dig down and understand what are the actual dynamics and what are the actual forces at play, how are things tending, on the basis of the contradictions driving things, and how can we wage this struggle to get them where they need to go – not in some narrow pragmatic sense, but in a sweeping world-historical sense.
Really grasping the underlying and driving character of these contradictions – between the forces and relations of production, and between the economic base and the superstructure – and how they continually interrelate and interpenetrate, and what actual expressions this takes at a given time in the world: this is fundamental, it's indispensable, for being able to actually lead a revolution in the way it needs to be led. And this is all the more urgently and acutely posed now. We can't do this without science. And you can't do it with just a little bit of science. Yes, we don't have to know everything before we can act. There is a relationship between theory and practice – that's the value also of having all this theory that's been developed over a historical period of more than a hundred years now, beginning with the breakthroughs that Marx brought forward. That's the value of having a collectivity of a party and an international communist movement. Each individual doesn't have to do all the work by himself or herself, starting back at zero every time. But you do have to ground yourself in this science as you are going into practice. And we do have to correctly handle that theory and practice dialectic as we go forward. And not be lazybones, which will land you in disaster, sooner or later – and, these days especially, not that much later.
So these contradictions between the forces and relations of production and between the economic base and the superstructure are the decisive and determining contradictions in all societies – including early and basic communal societies, on through various forms of class society – and they will be decisive and determining in communist society as well, although in a radically different context and radically different way. Mao, as part of his whole "Mao-esque" approach to things, made these comments that are captured in things like Chairman Mao Talks to the People, where at one point he says: You don't believe that in communist society there will still be the contradiction between the forces and relations, and between the economic base and the superstructure? I do. Ten thousand years from now, what's outmoded will still have to give way to what's new. He was talking about these driving forces. There's never a time – there never was a time, there never will be a time – in which people do not have to come together, in one form or another, to reproduce the material requirements of life, however that is done, with whatever the level of technology. And there will never be a time – this is something I'm going to keep coming back to – there will never be a time when people, not only individually, but above all, societally, will not face necessity.
It is the essence of an idealist and utopian view of what we're all about, and of communism, that somehow communism will mean that there will no longer be necessity. It is true that, in communist society, in a communist world, the character of necessity and the interrelation between necessity and how people deal with necessity will be radically different than it is now, but there will still be necessity and the need to transform it. There will still be the character of the productive forces and the production relations that generally correspond to that. There will still be an economic base, there will still be relations of production, and – again, not being mechanical, but understanding this in a dialectical sense, understanding that, yes, there is relative autonomy and initiative in the superstructure – there will be, at any given time, a superstructure that more or less corresponds to the relations of production. And there will still be all the dynamism involved in all this. Productive forces will continue to develop, and this will continue to transform the production relations from relatively appropriate forms for the development of the productive forces into fetters on the productive forces – to more having the character and the effect of being fetters than of being the appropriate forms for the development of those productive forces. That's how it works.
And once again the superstructure will come into conflict with the new production relations that are being developed, and there will be struggle to transform the superstructure further, in line with the changes in the production relations – changes which, in turn, are being called forth by the development of the productive forces. Even in communist society, this will be true. As Mao said, even 10,000 years from now – assuming that humanity makes it that far, and we have something to say about that, in case we've forgotten – but assuming humanity makes it that far, 10,000 years from now these will still be the underlying and driving contradictions of society (between the forces and relations of production and between the economic base and the political and ideological superstructure), even with all the complexity this gives rise to and even with all the ways in which the various things it gives rise to react back upon these underlying and driving contradictions.
This has to do, once again, with a materialist understanding of necessity, and of the dialectical relation between necessity and freedom – that freedom doesn't lie in seeking to evade, seeking to wish away, seeking to do "an end run around," or simply seeking to vault in one bound over, necessity, but lies in confronting and transforming necessity on the basis of the actual contradictions that reside within that necessity, because all of reality consists of matter in motion and consists of contradiction. This is a fundamental dividing line between idealism and metaphysics, on the one hand, and Marxist materialism and dialectics on the other hand – whether you understand the relationship between freedom and necessity and where freedom is situated in relation to necessity, and how freedom is wrenched out of necessity.
Of course, all this has to be understood in all its complexity, and not in a crude and linear way. But keeping that in mind, it is crucial to understand that this is what the advance of society will continually be constituted of: confronting and transforming necessity, above all on the societal level and with the roles of individuals finding their place within that, and not in some framework divorced from that, or standing outside of it, or somehow flying above it like a heavenly horse flying free (as they used to say in China), somehow seeking to, in some individual sphere, transcend necessity: "That stuff doesn't affect me, I don't care what they do over there in Iraq, that's got nothing to do with me." Yes, it does, and if you don't recognize it now, you'll be forced to recognize it sooner or later, because this is all interwoven and interknit. And if you think you can just get around that, reality will assert itself anyway and demonstrate, sometimes quite dramatically, that you cannot just do that.
To take an example I have cited a number of times, you cannot just define words any way you want to, because they have a social context, and a social meaning, an historically evolved meaning at a given time. This goes back to epistemological questions (questions of the theory of knowledge, of what is truth and how human beings can come to know what is true). I've pointed this out before, for example in discussing how Huey Newton's definition of power is an instrumentalist definition of power: "power is the ability to define phenomena and cause them to act in the desired manner." No. Defining a phenomenon any way you want does not give you the ability to cause it to act in a desired manner. Somebody pulls out a gun and shoots it at you – and if, somehow in the time before it hit you, you were able to say, "This is not really a bullet coming at me, it's a pillow, I choose to define it as a pillow" – that won't work. [laughter] It's still a bullet. [laughter] Necessity is still confronting you, and you have to deal with that necessity (if you have time). You better get behind something, if you can. [laughter] You better have some kind of armor, if you can. You're not going to deal with that bullet by defining it as a pillow or a marshmallow. [laughter] So this is fundamentally wrong.
Power actually resides in the ability to correctly understand objective phenomena and necessity and to transform them, transform this in the way it can actually be transformed – which is full of contradiction, so there's not one way, always, or even most of the time, or in general. Things can be transformed in different ways according to the contradictions that are driving them, but they can't be transformed in some way that bears no relationship to the defining and driving contradictions. That's why I say, you cannot turn a bullet into a marshmallow or a pillow simply by defining it as such.
Or take another example that is a big phenomenon, and big point of contention, in the culture and more generally these days. Some people, and in particular some Black people, say "I will define the word ‘nigger’ so that now it means ‘my friend, my partner.’" No. It means something else. You don't have the ability to define it that way because, just like a bullet, this has been historically and socially defined in a certain way and you can't change that meaning by a mere act of your will or desire to have it mean something else. Many years from now, when humanity has long since moved beyond the kind of society where oppression of whole peoples exists, along with other forms of oppression and exploitation, maybe then that word ("nigger") will have absolutely no meaning, or might mean something entirely different. But right now, at this stage of history we're in, with the world the way it is, its meaning has been and is still defined by the historically established oppressive social relations of which the word "nigger" is an expression. And if you're going to deal with what it means and everything that's behind that word, you have to confront it as it actually is, according to that historically and socially established meaning – until we have radically transformed those social relations of which it is an expression.
Now here also enters in the relation between necessity and accident, or between causality and contingency. There have been, and there are, no predetermined pathways in the historical development of human beings and of human society (in its interaction with the rest of nature). But once again, through this process, this continual interaction, of necessity and freedom – and, yes, causality and contingency (or necessity and accident) and their dialectical inter-relation – there has developed a certain "coherence" to history. And it has brought us to the threshold where it is possible – not inevitable but possible – to make the leap to communism.
One of the points I have made before is that, as with all things, causality and contingency, or necessity and accident, are a unity of opposites. And as Mao said about the universal and particular, what is causality in one context is accident in another, or contingency in another (and vice versa). I've used this example before: Why did Columbus end up in the Americas, thinking he was going somewhere else? In one context – in the framework, for example, of the peoples who were unfortunate enough to have Columbus land among them, with the subsequent unfolding of events after that – this was an accident, because he intended to go somewhere else, and his arrival in the Americas did not come from within the internal dynamics of the societies in the Americas at that time. So, to the peoples there it came as an accident. And on another level it was an accident because Columbus was trying to get somewhere else. But was it entirely an accident? No. There were obviously causes and reasons why he ended up where he did – for example, things having to do with the winds, having to do with lack of knowledge of certain things on his part, and so on and so forth. And you can divide each of those things, in turn, into necessity on the one hand, and accident on the other (or causality and contingency). Each thing can be divided into its contradictory aspects in that sense as well.
But, at any given time, there is a principal aspect to things, and that principal aspect gives relative identity to that thing, even while it is moving and changing. So that capitalist society, for example, holds within it the future of socialist society – particularly as represented politically, and in terms of the class struggle, by the proletariat, and in terms of production by the socialization of production. But capitalist society is still defined by the fact that the production relations and the superstructure on top of that are capitalist. So it's contradictory, but the principal aspect gives it its defining quality and essence, relatively – relatively in the sense that it exists in a larger framework of other contradictions in the world, and relatively in the sense that it is full of contradiction and motion and development itself, and those aspects of the future are also asserting themselves within all that, in contradiction to the essential capitalist character.
So we have to understand things in terms of the motion and development of contradictions, and not in static terms. We have to get away from metaphysical and ultimately religious or virtually religious views of phenomena in the world, including human society and its historical development. There have been, as I said, no predetermined pathways in the historical development of human beings and human society. There could have been things which in one aspect were accidents that could have wiped out human beings before they really got a foothold, or even after they did – and there still could be. However, that has not happened up to this point. In the same way, human society was not predestined to head toward communism, but it has, through all of its contradictory and complex development, gotten to the threshold of that, where the contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation – this contradiction characteristic of, and fundamentally defining of, capitalism – is more and more acutely asserting itself.
There is, then, as Marx pointed out, a certain coherence in human history. Each generation does inherit the material conditions and corresponding social relations and ideological and political superstructure from previous generations – from the previous development of society – both that brought about through the accumulation of partial changes and that brought about through revolutionary leaps, leading to radical changes. It is not just a matter of changes through gradual accumulation, but also change brought about through revolutionary leaps leading to radical changes. It is, at any given time, on the foundation of the existing material conditions, and in particular the existing productive forces, that further changes, both quantitative and qualitative, both partial and revolutionary, are brought about; but even revolutionary changes, and what they bring forth, are conditioned by what they arise out of. This is also a very important point.
This has been spoken to in an important paper written by a leading comrade in our Party, where it talks about the relation between constraint and transformation: that in the natural history of evolution over billions of years – and in social evolution and the historical evolution of human society – things arise out of the constraints, and the transformation of the constraints, which exist at a given time. This is bound up with the point that, in human society, at every point each generation confronts the character of the society – grounded in the productive forces and the production relations that more or less correspond to those productive forces – confronts this as something external to it, as necessity. And there is the related question of where that necessity, those existing material conditions, came from – how they have developed (and in fact are continuing to develop) through a very complex and contradictory process, and not some straight-line march which is predetermined and predestined. This is the way it works.
This is why Marx spoke about the "birthmarks of capitalism" that exist in the early stages of the advance toward communism – in other words, in socialist society under the dictatorship of the proletariat. These "birthmarks of capitalism" exist in socialist society because (continuing the metaphor) it emerges, and in fact can only emerge, out of the womb of capitalism. In contrast to what the anarchists and utopians might think, or wish, in reality you don't get to say, "Let's draw up the ideal society and work back from that. Why do you want to have leaders? Why do you want to have a state? That's just creating the problems we're trying to get rid of. Why don't we just envision a society that doesn't have that?" Well, anybody can envision it. That's easy. Smoke a little ganja, or whatever, [laughter] and you can envision all kinds of shit [laughter], even good shit. But that doesn't get you where you need to go. You have to proceed from where you are toward what's actually possible on the basis of transforming the necessity you continually face and the new necessity that gets brought into being, the new constraints that get formed, by transforming the old necessity, the old constraints. You don't get to go a priori (in advance of, and in actuality divorced from, engaging reality) and think about what you'd like society to be, then superimpose that over reality, and try to bring the ideal into being in that way. That's complete idealism, philosophically (again: thinking that ideas are the determining thing in relation to material reality, that material reality is merely an extension of ideas, or in any case that ideas can in and of themselves create or change reality, as in the expression "thinking makes it so"). That has nothing to do with actually changing reality, and in particular transforming society and advancing toward where society, yes, can go – not is bound to go, but can go – to communism.
So you have these "birthmarks" of capitalism when socialist society is brought into being through revolution. Lenin said: we don't get to make revolution with people as we would like them to be; we make revolution with people as they are. Now, yes, in making revolution even, in the first leap, getting over the first hump, waging the struggle for the seizure of power and seizing power, people do undergo radical change. But they're still not "ideal" people. And, as I will talk about later in discussing the "parachute" point,8 people don't undergo change once and for all and "irrevocably," so that they can't possibly go back – things can't ever go back, people can't ever go back to the way they were before the revolution – well, we've learned from bitter lessons of history, if we didn't know it before, that this is just not true. You make revolution with people as they are in a given time – and there, too, you transform necessity into freedom.
So there is no "stately and ordered process" that has led from one stage of society to another (from early communal to slave, to feudal, to capitalist and then socialist society – and then on to communism). There is no "grand waltz of history" (one, two, three; one, two, three) or no "feudal minuet," nice and dainty and orderly, which has unfolded as society has gone forward somehow inevitably toward communism. There is no "grand process" leading inevitably to communism. We must combat tendencies to that kind of thinking (this was marked in Stalin, for example) which borders on a religious viewpoint (if, in fact, it does not "violate the law" and "cross over that border"!). But human historical development, with all its complexity and diversity, throughout the world and through thousands of years, has in fact – though not "by design" – laid the foundation for and made possible – not inevitable but possible – the world-historic leap to communism. It has brought the world to a situation where it is bound together more tightly than ever, and where capitalism and its fundamental contradiction is the defining and determining aspect of human society, in the world in its entirety, and in all parts of the world – and where this contradiction is finding ever more pronounced and extreme expression; where the conflict between the forces and relations of production, and between the base and superstructure, characteristic of capitalism is becoming ever more intensified; where the need for the resolution of this fundamental contradiction, through the proletarian revolution, in particular countries and ultimately on a world scale, is asserting itself ever more powerfully. But then, once again, to achieve that revolutionary transformation requires the subjective factor, the conscious revolutionary forces, to lead masses of people to bring reality in line with that need, through wrenching and resolute struggle.
What then is the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, what is the particular way in which, in the era of capitalism, the basic contradictions of all human society – between the forces and relations of production, and between the economic base and the political and ideological superstructure – find expression? It is the contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation. This is the fundamental, defining, and driving contradiction of capitalism and of the era in which capitalism is still dominating in the world. And if you want to look at an extreme and grotesque phenomenon – at the way in which the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, between socialized production and private appropriation, is assuming an extreme, perverse, and grotesque form today – you can look at who is the president of the United States right now [laughter]. Someone who insists on pronouncing the word "nuclear" as "nuke-u-lur" (even though he himself went to prestigious prep schools and universities and could very well pronounce the word correctly). Now, why do I say this is an extreme and grotesque expression of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism? Because this is the man who has his finger on the "nuke-u-lur" trigger. And what is this but an expression in the superstructure of the contradiction between (to use more everyday terms) the vast technology that has been produced, collectively, by millions and millions of people, and the fact that, at the same time, this is all under the domination and control of, and in fact is suffocated in significant ways by, a tiny handful of people in a small number of countries, ruled over by a political power structure which has brought forward this monstrosity as its chief executive. You couldn't ask for a more grotesque expression in today's world of the contradiction fundamental to capitalism, between socialized production and private appropriation.
Now, if you go to the masses of people and say, "The fundamental contradiction we're dealing with today is socialized production versus private appropriation" they will likely, and very understandably, respond: "What the fuck are you talking about?!" Well, you can simply say: "‘W’ – that's what the fuck I'm talking about." [laughter] Then, of course, you have to explain the larger meaning of all this. Again, this takes work. But this is reality – although, again, you don't see it that way spontaneously – even we communists don't all spontaneously see it that way. Yet, in reality, this is nothing other than an extreme, perverse, and grotesque expression – just one, but an extremely grotesque, perverse expression of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism – that in the superstructure, on the basis of this private appropriation of socialized production, this is what gets brought forward as the political leader of the "free world."
And, again, if you want a more generalized way to look at it – one that's maddening in an even more general sense, that is a howling and maddening contradiction – look at the fact that this guy "W" is the one who has his finger on the "nuke-u-lur" button, and more generally the fact that this ruling class in the United States, more than any other ruling class, has amassed tremendous military power to reinforce its system. This is nothing other than an expression of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism and of the motion and development in today's world of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production and between the base and the superstructure. To break this down, we need to focus on the question: how do they do this, where does this military power come from? Through the historical development of capitalism in the U.S. And we know what that's been all about: wars were waged, people were exterminated, slaves were kidnapped and employed – again, back and forth between the superstructure and the base – they conquered a territory in North America, amassed tremendous wealth, and spread their tentacles throughout the world, in waves and ever more deeply. And on the basis of, quite literally, sucking the life-blood out of people all over the world, they have amassed tremendous wealth and are able to assign a significant portion of that wealth to employ scientists and others to develop weapons, to devote production, in turn, to produce weapons, and to train and develop an army to deploy those weapons. It is nothing other than a grotesque and maddening and howling expression of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, that they are able to do that and on that basis they are able to reinforce their rule over the very people whose life-blood has provided the material foundation out of which they have built this in the first place. It is an extreme, howling, and maddening expression of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism – and, more generally, of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production and between the economic base and the superstructure.
Now, of course, people don't see it this way spontaneously [laughs]. And, as I said, we, who have a basic understanding of the nature of capitalism and what it really does and what it really means for people throughout the world, also don't fully understand spontaneously how all this is rooted in the fundamental contradiction of capitalism – it takes work. And in order to translate it to the masses so they can understand it, you can't put it in the terms I just did. But there are ways to translate this into popular terms so that people can learn about the world and how it actually is, and how it actually moves and changes – and what their role is in relation to that. And through our newspaper, Revolution, as well more generally, that's what we have to do. That's one of the most essential things we have to do: bring this to the masses of people so that when they struggle, and as they struggle, and even as we organize them to struggle, they are more and more consciously understanding where this struggle needs to go, what the problem is and what the solution is, what it's rooted in and where it's tending, and why we have to struggle in a certain way to take it where it needs to go, in order to move beyond all this.
Now if we go further in examining the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, between socialized production and private appropriation, then we come to the question of the two forms of motion of this contradiction, or the two expressions of this contradiction. Twenty-five years ago, when we made the analysis that the principal contradiction in the world was between the two imperialist camps (one headed by the U.S. and one headed by the Soviet Union, which was then still masquerading as a "socialist" country but was in reality a state-capitalist-imperialist power), this was a very contentious thing within the international communist movement; and for that reason, but for the more fundamental reason that we need to really understand the world in its actual dynamics and motion and development, we dug into this question of not just what is the fundamental contradiction of this era and what was the principal contradiction in that period, but how do you understand that whole question and how do you arrive at the correct determination of what is the fundamental and what is the principal contradiction in the world. And this was, as I say, controversial in the international communist movement, because a lot of people were stuck in a formulation that came out in the mid-1960s from China, that the principal contradiction in the world was essentially between the Third World and imperialism (or between the oppressed nations and imperialism). This is another one of those things where people didn't think there was anything to discuss or wrangle with: "What's the question? The principal contradiction in the world is oppressed nations versus imperialism – that's it, let's move on to the next question."
But the world doesn't stand still, the world moves and changes. Even when we don't consciously act on it, it still moves and changes – in fact, more maddeningly when we don't act on it and consciously seek to change it. So, in taking up the question of what actually was the principal contradiction in the world at that time (the beginning of the 1980s), we had to dig into this: how do you get down to the material foundation of this, how do you understand this in a materialist way and not in a metaphysical way, as if "it is this way, that's always the way it was and forever shall be, amen" (like the Christian "doxology" or some other religious incantation). Or, in more "communist" terms: "this is the way it was when I became a revolutionary, that's the way it is, so what's the discussion?" No. The world is moving and changing.
So we had to dig down deeply, and we discovered this analysis by Engels discussing essentially the fundamental contradiction of capitalism and its development; and Engels identified these two expressions, or two forms of motion, of this fundamental contradiction: One, the contradiction, in terms of the class struggle, between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie; but the other is the contradiction between (as we can say it for shorthand) organization and anarchy – organization and planning in a particular enterprise, or a particular branch of the economy, versus the overall anarchy that flows out of the basic nature of commodity production and exchange, which is generalized under capitalist society, even to include labor power as a commodity (selling your work for wages, for shorthand, but more essentially selling your ability to work for wages).
So we saw how Engels identified these two forms of motion. And then, proceeding from that basic analysis, we came out with something that really became controversial. We said, overall at this stage of history, out of these two forms of motion or two expressions of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, the anarchy/organization aspect (or form of motion or expression of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism) is the principal one. Wham!!! Then many people in the international communist movement said: "How could that be? If you say that, you are taking all the initiative out of the hands of the people. What could the people do about the anarchy/organization contradiction? The people could wage the class struggle, but how could they wage the anarchy/organization contradiction?"
Again, this gets back to the point I've been hammering at up until now. What does it mean to wage struggle? It means to transform necessity. The class struggle consists of transforming necessity. The struggle for production consists of transforming material reality or necessity. Gaining knowledge means transforming necessity into freedom or into knowledge. Everything consists of transforming necessity into freedom, and then confronting (and needing to transform) new necessity in so doing. So, in order to wage the class struggle in the deepest, most all-around and most powerful way, you have to understand what the necessity is that you are up against. What is the material reality that is confronting you, and where is that material reality coming from? – to put it simply.
And we could determine that, given the character of capitalism, as a generalized system of commodity production, the anarchy/organization contradiction is the principal form of motion, or principal expression, of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, between socialized production and private appropriation. Yes, we are dealing with capitalism in its imperialist stage when there is more monopolization, and there's more planning on a larger scale; but, as Lenin pointed out, this only takes the contradiction between the forces and relations of production, between socialized production and private appropriation, and specifically between planning and anarchy (or organization/anarchy), and raises it to an even higher and more acute expression, and spreads it throughout the world in a fuller way. So it is, as we have put it, the driving force of anarchy – a driving force inherent in the very motion of commodity production and exchange – which plays the main role in terms of how the fundamental contradiction of capitalism plays itself out in the world. Now, as we have stressed, this is a very dialectical thing, something in motion and in interconnection and interpenetration with other things in the world, and more specifically with the other form of expression (or form of motion) of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, that is, the class struggle. The class struggle, most essentially between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, obviously is very important and reacts back on the motion of the anarchy/organization contradiction. In the Set the Record Straight presentation by Raymond Lotta, it is pointed out that when one-sixth of the territory of the globe was wrenched out of the hands of the imperialists through the Russian Revolution, this brought new necessity to the imperialists. And this affected the overall motion of the anarchy/organization contradiction and of the working out of the whole fundamental contradiction in the world in a very significant way. So, obviously, with that major change in the world, things in the superstructure, and in particular the class struggle for the seizure of political power in the realm of the superstructure, in turn reacted in a profound way back on the contradictions, the underlying contradictions of capitalism, including the driving force of anarchy, or the anarchy/organization contradiction and how it played itself out. And in general there is a dialectical back and forth – mutual interaction and mutual influence – between the development of the class struggle (as one form of motion of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism and of the era in which capitalism is still dominant in the world) and the motion of the anarchy/organization contradiction (the other form of motion of that fundamental contradiction of capitalism).
But our analysis was, and is, and correctly and very importantly so, that out of all this complexity, the main driving force in the working out of this fundamental contradiction is the compelling and driving force of anarchy. Now if, for example, three-quarters of the world were socialist, this would probably change at that point (the point is not to set a particular "quantitative marker," a certain specific point at which the balance of things would change, but to indicate once again that this is not static but changes, and will change, with major changes in the world, and in particular those brought about through the revolutionary struggle – or, understanding this in broad and not narrow terms, the class struggle). But, assuming things do go forward to communism, at some point the conscious planning and approach to the economy that will increasingly characterize human social organization, will on a world scale have a much more profound effect than the remaining anarchy of capitalist production – even though socialism, by the way, folks, won't totally eliminate anarchy in another sense. There will still be, even in socialist (and, for that matter, even in communist) society, some forms of what we could call anarchy. Not the anarchy that comes from commodity production and exchange, but the "anarchy" of, once again, necessity asserting itself. Of course, this will be in a qualitatively different framework and have a qualitatively different meaning and content. But today in the world it is the compelling force of anarchy that is mainly setting the stage, the objective conditions for things, including for the revolutionary struggle in various forms.
Look at what globalization has done, and is doing. Now, yes, globalization has been able to go forward because of political events, too: the class struggle in China going in a negative way, leading to the restoration of capitalism there; the political changes – not a change in the nature of the class rule in the Soviet Union, but the change in the nature of the form of the class rule, bourgeois class rule, in what was the Soviet Union and its empire – which has, in turn, reacted back upon globalization. But in this overall back and forth, it is globalization, and everything that this expresses and is bound up with, that is more shaping and determining what happens in the world. Why are so may peasants being driven from the countryside to the city? Why have millions of peasants in Brazil and Mexico, and generally throughout the Third World, been driven off their land in the past few decades? Not principally because of the class struggle – although, where there have been revolutionary wars, this may have intensified that – but essentially because of the workings of capitalism, because of the driving and compelling force of anarchy. Why are so many people leaving one part of the world and going as immigrants to whole other parts of the world? Why are people from the Philippines working in Saudi Arabia or in Kuwait? Why are people from El Salvador working in the United States? Why are people from South Asia finding themselves in Canada? It is principally the driving and compelling force of anarchy which is picking up and hurling people all these different places and driving tens of millions of people, indeed hundreds of millions, from the countryside to the cities.
So because of its basic contradictions and "inherent nature," the motion of capital, in the ways I've discussed it, gives rise, at one and the same time, to tendencies for capital to be concentrated and centralized – the tendencies for capital to be drawn together in ever larger combinations and aggregations of capital, to be more and more monopolized, if you will – and, on the other hand, the tendency for capital to break apart and to take shape (to "re-form") as different aggregations of capital. Constantly this contradiction is asserting itself: the tendency for capital to more and more combine and centralize and, on the other hand, the tendency for capital to break apart and re-form, often in larger aggregations of capital. And if we look at this monopolization and centralization phenomenon vs. its opposite – vs. this breaking apart and re-forming – another way to put this is that there is a contradiction between centralization and monopolization within capital vs. the fact that capital always exists as many capitals. And it's worth it to get into this a bit.
We have seen in recent decades, for example, that major airlines have gone out of business – international airlines and major airlines in the U.S. And other airlines have been reorganized. "External" capital has come in and taken over and reorganized these airlines, for example. And some of the capital that was invested in these airlines was taken out of them and invested in far-flung ways, not only in other parts of the U.S. economy, but all over the world. So if you could actually put little "post-it" things on this capital, you'd see that this capital would be all over different places, all over the world. If you wrote "airline" on it and then followed it, you'd see that capital which used to be invested in an airline is now all over the place in the U.S. economy and the world economy. So the capital that was aggregated together in that form broke apart and then reassembled, so to speak, with other capital into new formations, because it was more profitable to do that. Here again, what this is an expression of is the compelling and driving force of anarchy: essentially because of this compelling and driving force of anarchy, the capital that was invested in airlines goes other places.
Or you can look at another everyday thing: TV and cable TV. You had the networks, the three big networks, owned by big aggregations of capital – GE and others. And then all of a sudden this guy over here, Murdoch, is building up all this capital and this empire, a media empire, he has based in Australia – and boom, he comes into the U.S. media, and here comes Fox: Fox Network News challenging CNN, the Fox Network challenging the major three networks for prime time shows. And then, besides that, you've got cable TV: HBO brings us The Sopranos and Deadwood and all these other things, and they have a certain selling point: you can say "fuck" on those cable networks. [laughter] Look at Deadwood – you couldn't have Deadwood on prime time networks. [laughter] Right? I mean, every other word, it's "cocksucker" and whatever. But capitalists are coming in there, in the sphere of cable, to "fill a certain void," if you will. And part of this is an expression of how new technology is developed which makes possible and facilitates the reconfiguration of capital. Now cable TV is challenging network TV in every sphere.
And you have companies in the U.S. that used to be major companies that are out of business, or have shut down a whole line of production. When I was a kid, Kaiser, for example, not only had its health care systems, so called, but they had an automobile, the Kaiser. (I'm not talking about the German ruler, from an earlier period, when I refer to the Kaiser – I'm talking about an American automobile.) But it went out of business and that capital went somewhere else. And the auto companies narrowed down to an even smaller number. There used to be American Motors, which was in Milwaukee and some other places – it made the Nash Rambler at one point. That's nowhere to be found. The automobile companies in the U.S. got narrowed down and the capital in auto got consolidated. But then other international amalgamations of capital joined in – for example, with Chrysler now. And in Italy and Japan and other places you have these massive aggregations of capital in automobile production that are competing with the U.S. auto corporations. The international dimension, and the international competition, in all this has been heightened, at the same time as much of the capital based in different countries is increasingly interconnected and interwoven. And some of these corporations that have gone out of business had millions and millions (or billions) of dollars of capital. It didn't all disappear – it went to other places. Some of it went bankrupt, but some of it was withdrawn and went to other places.
Meanwhile, think of one of the symbols or paradigms or emblems of powerful capital these days: Microsoft. It didn't exist a few decades ago. But capital went into that area when new technology made it possible, and now you have this massive aggregation of capital in Microsoft.
As we have pointed out – and this is important to recognize and to emphasize – capitalism is a dynamic system. Capitalism is always tending to aggregate together, concentrate and centralize, more and more monopolize, as well as breaking apart and re-forming, often in even larger aggregations of capital. And it is the dynamic of the compelling force of anarchy that, essentially, is driving this.
We even saw this when we went to analyze the Soviet Union. Before they did us a favor and came out openly and proclaimed that they were bourgeois – before they got "Gorbachev-ed" – there was a big debate about what was the character of the Soviet Union, and was it socialist? We took part in a major debate, in the early '80s, focused on the question: The Soviet Union, socialist or social imperialist? And in the history of our Party (and the forerunner of our Party, the Revolutionary Union [RU]), we had generally taken up the position of the Chinese Communist Party in identifying the Soviet Union as social imperialist (socialist in words but imperialist in deeds and in essence). But then we did what, frankly, all too many people don't do, these days especially – we said, "Well, since we're putting this forward, we better actually analyze it more deeply and see if it's true." [laughs] So we set about to analyze it: The RU came out with Red Papers 7, which made a beginning analysis; and the Party, after it was formed in 1975, went on from there and further developed that analysis in the context of that debate around socialism or social imperialism. And there was this grouping, the Communist Labor Party, and one of their people, Jonathan Arthur, wrote an article back in the '70s which argued: There cannot be a reversal from socialism back to capitalism – you cannot stuff the baby back into the womb after it's born. [laughter] Which proves, again (harking back to the disagreement with Huey Newton's formulation) that you can define phenomena in a certain way but that does not necessarily cause them to act in the desired manner if it doesn't correspond to what they really are. The Soviet Union really was social imperialism, and that asserted itself. So, inept and inaccurate analogies notwithstanding, a country that had been socialist actually did go back to capitalism.
But in analyzing this at the time, before this became openly and irrefutably the case (before Gorbachev and what Gorbachev set in motion), we had to dig down and we had to analyze: what is the nature of Soviet society, is it really a capitalist society, and if so, how does it work? And what we discovered was the phenomenon where in fact you had state capitalism, with a very high degree of monopolization of capital, yet it was continually breaking down into many capitals. Different aggregations of political associations, in ministries and leadership bodies and regional councils, and so on, were turning themselves into capitalists and turning the finances and resources they were responsible for into capital, competing with other centers of capital that were forming in different ministries, in different regions, in different divisions of the economy. So, proceeding from a materialist (and dialectical) analysis of reality, and specifically of what had happened in the Soviet Union, we came to grasp more deeply how, once the law of value and "profit in command" were made the driving and organizing principles of the economy in that society, with the first crucial leap, backward, in the mid-1950s (with the rise to power of Khrushchev) and further leaps taken in the mid-1960s (under Kosygin and Brezhnev), then, even in the form of state capitalism, the compelling force of anarchy asserted itself once again as the essential driving and determining force in the economy and in the society overall and its role in the world.
So what is at work, what is driving things, is the compelling force of anarchy. This is a basic reason why Kautsky's theory of "ultra-imperialism"9 is wrong – the notion that all the different imperialists can get together and make an agreement to divide the world among themselves peacefully, and just keep it going that way forever. Now, it is true, especially with the destructive forces these imperialists have now – on the basis of the productive forces under their domination (the resources and technology and the masses of people, with their knowledge and abilities) – with the military power they have built up on that basis, and in particular with nuclear weapons (I almost said "nuke-u-lur" but it's nuclear weapons) [laughter] – it's true that, in these circumstances, the rivalry among the imperialists, when it's taken the form of wars, has taken place in the last several decades essentially as proxy wars (with states or other forces that are the "proxies," or essentially the instruments, of various imperialists fighting it out, in place of the rival imperialists themselves). But it nevertheless has repeatedly taken the form of military struggle. And in the superstructure as well as the economic base, it has not been possible to maintain, even to the degree that this was attempted, some sort of order that held together in the same form, or arrangement, because the driving force of anarchy continually asserts itself in unevenness and the opportunity for some to get ahead of and crush others in the realm of capitalist competition and rivalry. This is basically why they can't just "order" the world and divide it peacefully among themselves, even with the constraints they face because of nuclear weapons. And just because nuclear war has been avoided before doesn't mean it will be avoided forever, by the way – we shouldn't fall into that sort of erroneous, metaphysical (almost religious) notion either.
So, again, we discover that, because of the driving, compelling force of anarchy, capitalism continually tends both to monopolize (to aggregate, to concentrate and centralize) more and more, and to break apart and re-form. The compelling force of anarchy is driving both of those tendencies. Capitalism is a living dynamic system that is continually changing things and, if we're going to make revolution in this world, we have to approach it with this understanding and not with a set of sterile formulas that we seek to superimpose on reality and then try to make, or torture, reality to conform to these a priori notions, to wishful thinking about the way the world is, or to dogmatic, rigid, undialectical and unmaterialist imaginings of how the world is.
Understanding all this correctly, in a living way and scientifically, we can see how all of this is an expression of the way in which capital moves – or is driven – by its fundamental contradiction, and in particular the expression this takes in the contradiction between organization and anarchy within the motion of capital.
This fundamental contradiction of capitalism, its two forms of motion, and their inter-penetration – all this, especially in the era of imperialism, plays out on a global scale, as well as within particular countries. And it will continue to do so throughout the present era – the era of the transition from the bourgeois epoch to the epoch of communism, from the epoch in which capitalism is principal and determining in the world, to the epoch when capitalism, its fundamental contradiction and everything this gives rise to, will have been resolved and surpassed through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the revolutionary transformation of the material and the political and ideological conditions, of the economic base and the superstructure, throughout the world.
Another way to get the materialism of this is through another one of these typically "Mao-esque" statements by none other than Mao, in speaking to the fact that when the underlying material conditions "cry out" for it, revolution must then be made in the superstructure: you cannot make fundamental transformations in society, or any qualitative change in the character of society, without first seizing state power and then going to work on the contradictions that remain in the economic base and in the superstructure, and in their constant interplay. This is another reason, a fundamental reason, why we want state power – why it's good to want state power, and why we should crave state power. And Mao, in his typically Mao-esque way of speaking to this, said: "When tools are frustrated, they speak through people." Now, of course, this can be misunderstood or misconstrued – once again, you can turn anything into its opposite, especially if you take it and apply it in a mechanical way – but understood correctly, dialectically, this statement by Mao reflects a profound reality and truth. It speaks to the fact that when the relations of production have become more a fetter on the productive forces than they are an appropriate form for the development of those productive forces, and when the superstructure needs to be transformed in order for those production relations to be transformed, then the possibility of revolution to qualitatively transform those contradictions becomes qualitatively more expressed. The need for that becomes qualitatively more expressed and the possibility of it also becomes qualitatively greater.
So, in that sense – not understanding it in some sort of ahistorical way, or in some sort of mechanical sense – you enter the era of revolution when the possibility of revolution, as well as the need for revolution, becomes qualitatively heightened, because the relations of production have become, not only in essence but in a pronounced way, a fetter on the development of the productive forces, including the masses of people in particular. And revolution takes place, in a concentrated and essential way, in the struggle for state power and the seizure of state power by the rising class, which represents new relations of production which can "unfetter," can liberate, the productive forces.
Once again, this is why we need and want state power, because the ability to transform society in its economic foundation and in its superstructure – in all its production and social relations, in the political character, institutions and structures in society, in the culture and the thinking of the people – all that resides in and gets concentrated in who, or in other words which class, has state power. And that, in turn, gets concentrated in terms of the character of that state power – not only who has it, in some general or abstract sense, but what is the character of that state power and what is that state power serving and furthering.
So "when tools become frustrated, they speak through people" is Mao's way of saying all this, boiling it down in a unique kind of way. To put this in other, more fully elaborated terms (and building on what has been said up to now in this talk), we can say: When the contradictions between the forces and relations of production, and between the base and superstructure, become acutely posed, then people become conscious of this. People come forward who are conscious representatives of the class which represents the ability to unfetter the productive forces further and liberate them, in conflict with the class which is holding onto the old relations of production and the old superstructure, which are now acting as a fetter on the productive forces, since those productive forces have developed in such a way that they are now straining against the outer integument, as Marx once said (the outer shell and constraints), of those old production relations and that old superstructure. This is what makes it possible to make revolution in a fundamental and underlying sense. And those who become conscious of this, particularly in this era, become conscious of leading a revolution to actually rupture with the whole previous character of society – not only capitalism but, beyond that, all previous forms in which society has been divided into classes, and into exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed.
As I have spoken to in a number of talks and writings, this revolution in the superstructure – the seizure of political power – makes possible the transformation of the economic base, and the superstructure, in dialectical relation to each other. And it makes possible the development and strengthening of the socialist country and its state as a base area and source of support as well as inspiration for the advance of the world revolution – in dialectical relation, in turn, with the defense of the socialist state itself and the further revolutionization of the socialist society – all of which involves profound, and at times very acute, contradictions. So if you want to know another reason why we want state power, it has to do with the advance of the world revolution. Imagine, if we had state power in the hands of the proletariat in this country instead of in the hands of the imperialists – even just that equation changing – imagine what that would do, all the good it would do, for the world and the world's people. And, then, on top of that, imagine if we use that state power not only to more and more mobilize the masses to transform this particular society, but to support and advance the world revolution – imagine what that would do in the world, the great good that would do for the world's people!
But, as I said, all this involves profound and at times very acute contradictions. I just spoke to some of that, and that can perhaps sound kind of academic until you actually think about what's captured in those descriptions: The seizure of power makes possible the transformation of the economic base and the superstructure in dialectical relation to each other.
Now, I'm going to come back and talk about this more, but I just want to touch on – let's just think for a minute about – the contradictions involved. It all sounds nice. You know, there it is in one paragraph, you can do the whole thing [the following in a kind of satirical voice]:
"Sounds easy – seize state power and then that makes possible the transformation of the economic base and the superstructure in dialectical relation to each other. [laughter] And it makes possible the development and strengthening of the socialist country and its state as a base area and source of support as well as inspiration for the advance of the world revolution [laughter], in dialectical relation to the defense of the socialist state itself and the further revolutionization of the socialist society. Sounds easy." [laughter]
Now I'm not mocking myself, but this can be turned into that kind of dogmatic drivel, okay? This is very complex. We have seen, from the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist states, how profoundly complex and contradictory and difficult this is. State power is truly great and opens up all kinds of possibilities, but it also presents you with profound new necessity. Now, fuck it, I'd rather have that necessity any day than what we have now – but you don't get to wipe away all necessity. Transforming the economic base correctly, in dialectical relation with transforming the superstructure – that involves truly profound, and yes, inter-related, contradictions: how to handle development of the ownership system from a lower to a higher form (of social ownership); how to transform the relations among people in work – for example, people in management and people carrying out manual labor, or people in all the various fields of technology in relation to people carrying out manual labor and in relation to people managing. How do you handle the arts and culture, science, and the intellectual and academic spheres, in relation to transforming the economic base? How do you transform those spheres themselves in a way that actually serves the advance toward communism, while doing that correctly in relation to changing the economic base?
These terms concentrate a lot of contradictions. For example, transforming the economic base: how to do that fundamentally on the basis of mobilizing the masses to do this in an ever more conscious way. Yes (and I'll speak about this a little later), there is an element of coercion in this, but the orientation and objective must be to do it fundamentally and increasingly on the basis of the conscious initiative and activism of growing numbers of masses of people. And then there is the question of how to do that to the maximum extent possible at every point, without overstepping things.
Look at the Great Leap Forward in China.10 Look what they were trying to do, and look what they ran into. These are very acute and profound contradictions that are very difficult to handle correctly when you're living in a world where there are counter-revolutionaries, both within your own country and internationally, and at the same time there are others who are fundamentally within the camp of the people but whose privileges are, to one degree or another, being undermined by what you're doing. It becomes very complex to handle that in a non-antagonistic way. I'll talk about that more as we go along.
Or in transforming the superstructure, how do you actually have an opening up of wrangling in the realm of ideas, an intellectual ferment and the kind of role for dissent that I've been giving emphasis to, and yet not give up the whole game? You think that's easy? No, it's not. That's why I keep invoking this metaphor of being drawn and quartered.11 That's why, if we don't get the solid core and elasticity12 right in fundamental terms, we don't have a chance, even if we somehow stumble into state power (if you can imagine that).
Then you put in the whole international dimension. And you can't be idealist – if you don't increase production, then how are you going to support the world revolution very much, and how can you defend the socialist country itself, at the same time as you're trying to carry out transformations in the economic base, in the relations among people in production, as well as in the superstructure, including in the outlook of the masses of people? That requires an underlying material basis. Now, you can fall into the "theory of productive forces" – which says, first we just develop the economy, then it will be easy to transform the relations among people, and the superstructure – and you end up with what they have in the Soviet Union and in China now. But on the other side, if you just say, "well, let's do what they always accuse us of, let's ‘communize poverty’" – then all these exploitative relations will reassert themselves and the old political power, the exploiting classes and the political power that reinforces such exploitation, will seize the state away from you, to say nothing of what the imperialists would do if you mess up in that way.
So these are all very profound contradictions that repeatedly pose themselves in a very acute way. And I don't say this to spread despair and defeatism. I say it to emphasize the importance of a scientific approach to revolution and of bringing forward growing numbers of people – within the party and more broadly in society, first as part of building the revolutionary movement toward the seizure of power, and then on a whole other level after power is seized – to take up these challenges.
Here it is necessary to begin by emphasizing something that is extremely important, but also frequently ignored, overlooked, obscured, distorted, and even suppressed: the fundamental truth that needs and wants are socially determined, and change with a changing material, social, and ideological "environment." Of course, this is one of the big charges against communism, that we're always trying to change "human nature" and change what people want and need and even change how they see their desires. But if you step back for a minute, you can see that wants and needs and desires are socially determined, and on a number of different levels.
For example, Marx pointed out that production itself creates needs. Think about computers, for example – now that we have them and use them. And think about what it would be like to go back to typewriters [laughter], to have to work with that "primitive technology." Well, you have a profound need and want for a computer now. This has now become a want and need. How? Because you got up one day and said, "I'm tired of typewriting and sending things by snail mail, I'd really like to do it by computer – only I don't know what that is." [laughter] "And I'd like to send e-mail, although I have no idea what that is, either." [laughter] So production creates needs: The development of technology, the development of productive forces and of production, creates needs and wants. So that's one sense in which things are socially determined.
Another way is that the culture, as well as the production relations, creates needs and wants. You know, the youth in the inner city: "I gotta spend thousands of dollars on rims for my car." Imagine if you went back to early communal society, some of which still exists in the world, you went into Africa, talking to the !Kung people in Africa, and you said, "I got some rims. You want to buy some rims?" [laughter] "What?" Maybe if you gave them some rims, they would use them to sit on or something, but they wouldn't pay any money for it. [laughter] And the fact that some rims look shiny and really cool, especially when they spin around fast on a car wheel, wouldn't really have much meaning to them; they might think these rims were interesting artistic objects or something, but the whole way in which youth in the inner cities of the U.S. look at rims would be totally alien, because it doesn't correspond to the production relations and the corresponding superstructure of people in an early communal society. I won't even mention even more grotesque things among the consumer items in American culture.
But the essential point in this: these wants and needs are socially determined. When we talk about the slogan of communism, "From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs," we're not talking about needs as they are socially determined under capitalism and imperialism. It was interesting, just to take an aside, this guy Roberts, the Supreme Court nominee, it came out that a couple of decades ago when writing for the Reagan administration, when he was opposing equal pay for equal work for women, he said, "Well, all these people are just ignoring the fact that there are historically evolved reasons why men should get more pay. They might as well inscribe on their banners: From each according to their ability, to each according to their gender." Just in case we think these people we're up against are not thinking people.
But these are socially determined things, things people think they want and need, or do actually want and need in a given context. An automobile is a necessity for the most part, living in this society, although not in Manhattan. Because of the particular way that things work out, you can get by in Paris without one, too – it's easier, in some ways, than in Manhattan, not to have a car. So these are socially conditioned things, socially shaped and influenced and ultimately socially determined things.
And take the phenomenon in capitalist society, with all its consumerism, for example, the phenomenon that is promoted among women, particularly though not only in the middle classes, that shopping is a quintessential activity. Men have sports and women have shopping. Both of those are socially determined, socially created wants and needs. I used to always crack up when there was that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 song – one of their songs – and they were doing this rap, complaining about how their wife or girlfriend would always want to watch the soap operas on the TV and they couldn't even watch the ball game or the Sugar Ray fight! [laughter] As though somehow there were something superior about the ball game and the Sugar Ray fight, as compared to the soap operas [laughter]. But each is just a form, for the one and the other, of socially conditioned and created needs and wants.
And all this consumerism, the idea that shopping is a quintessential activity – and not only an activity but you can even get existential philosophizing about it, how it's somehow essential to a worthwhile and authentic existence to go shopping. [laughter] This is part of the way that the particular economy of U.S. society and capitalism is structured these days, with a regular debt structured into it on every level, including the consumer level, and it's reinforced by a whole advertising industry that artificially creates wants and needs. Now the rage is "reality shows" on TV. Nobody demanded to have "reality shows" ten years ago. But now you can't do without them. Many people can't do without those "reality shows."
So it appears that these are things you really need or that they're just something inherent in your own character. There is something essential about "my identity," that I like to collect these things, or have that thing, or consume this thing, or eat this kind of food. Even the way in which people consume the basic necessities of life is socially determined. Now, with things like food, clothing, and shelter, and so on, it is not the need as such but the need to do it in a certain way and the desire to do it in a certain way – to eat this kind of food rather than that kind of food, to drink this kind of liquid instead of that kind of liquid, to live in this kind of dwelling rather than another kind, to have this kind of vehicle rather than another kind, and so on – all that is socially determined and varies in different historical periods and from one society to another, and differs between different classes and social groupings within the same society.
There's Pepsi and Coke and, at least when I was coming up, among Black people there was RC Cola. That's a different want and need. You can see the same thing with cigarettes and different things. There are different strata and groups in society with different preferences, or socially determined wants and socially determined needs. With the constant reinforcing of individualism in this society – which has an underlying material basis in commodity production and exchange, and is constantly reinforced in the culture – you can think these are things that are inherent in and essential about "my very nature and identity," so that "I have to have these things"; but if you stepped back from this, you could realize that things that were important to you ten years ago are no longer important to you, you don't need them or want them, and things that you didn't need or want ten years ago are now indispensable to you, either as a want or even as a need. And this is all the more dramatically demonstrated when you look at different societies throughout history, and people in different societies and different parts of the world today.
Among the Christian fundamentalists in the U.S., the Bible is an absolute want and need. [laughter] But among the fundamentalists in Pakistan, for example, it's not – it's the Qur'an. But, of course, those things, too, are socially determined, and historically evolved, wants and needs.
In the discussion with Bill Martin in the "Conversations" book,13 I brought out in connection with our discussion of Kant (which I'll come back to later) that Marx made a very profound point in his "Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" when he said even the formation of individuals takes place, and can only take place, in a social context. Scientific discoveries have further borne this out. There are what they call "feral" children who grow up and live for some time in the wild: If they do this past a certain point, they have a very difficult time learning certain basic human functions and assuming certain human qualities, like speech, for example. These are socially learned and developed capacities. The learning of these things, and even the development physiologically to do these things, interpenetrates with the social environment. Even the formation and the development of individuals, as well as their wants and needs, can only take place in a social environment. In fact, even the assertion of extreme individuality, or individualism, can only take place in a social environment, in conflict with other individuals. Imagine if you lived on an island all by yourself: "I am going to assert my individuality!" [laughter] Well, who gives a fuck? There's nobody else to care. [laughter] You can't assert your individuality in that context, because everything exists in terms of its opposite. There's no opposite to your individuality. You're it, buddy. [laughter] Your individuality doesn't have meaning in the way that you would think of it in another context, in a social context.
So it's very important for us to understand that these needs and wants and people's views of them are socially determined and historically evolved. They relate to the character of production, to the mode of production, to the production relations, and the corresponding superstructure.
Just as there is no such thing as unchanging human nature, but in fact, different notions of human nature existing among people in different societies and even within different classes in the same society, so there is no such thing as some inherent want and need. And when communists say, very correctly, that we're going to carry out the "4 Alls" – not only the first three, but the fourth one, having to do with revolutionizing people's thinking – and we're going to carry out the two radical ruptures that Marx and Engels spoke of – not just the first one but the second one, involving the radical rupture with traditional ideas – we are very right to say so.14 This is not some horrific catastrophic notion of trying to engineer unnatural changes in human nature. It's a materialist, dialectical understanding of how these things take shape and change anyway, even without our intervention, if you want to put it that way – although the changes we're talking about are qualitative, they are radical ruptures, and that's why they're so bitterly opposed by the people who can perhaps allow for certain quantitative changes or certain changes in the form, for example, in which exploitation takes place, but not the uprooting and elimination of exploitation. [In a deliberately exaggerated voice, conveying sarcasm:] "That runs counter to human nature and to people's urge to assert themselves in competition with others."
But we are very correct to say we're going to realize the "4 Alls": the abolition of class distinctions generally, or all class distinctions; of all the production relations on which those class distinctions rest; of all the social relations corresponding to those production relations; and the revolutionization of all the ideas corresponding to those social relations. We are absolutely correct to recognize that this is possible and necessary. And, similarly, the radical rupture, not just with traditional property relations – which is another way of expressing the underlying production relations of which those property relations are an expression – but also a radical rupture with all traditional ideas: We are absolutely correct to say that is both necessary and possible. And, yes, it has to be done without "social engineering" in a coercive sense, fundamentally. But it cannot and will not be done without a great deal of struggle in the realm of ideology and culture, as well as political struggle and struggle to, in turn, transform the underlying material conditions in the economic base, and the dialectical relations involved in all that. To change people's ways of thinking in dialectical relation to changing their circumstances, as Marx once put it.
This revolution is about changing people and circumstances – and correctly doing that – doing that in the correct dialectical relation. There are ways in which people's thinking runs ahead and must run ahead of their circumstances. If that weren't true, there could be no communist theory, for example. There could be no envisioning of a future society without thinking running ahead of the circumstances. But if we try to impose thinking on people which does not correspond to the circumstances – rather than correctly handling the dialectical relation in which their thinking causes people to act on their circumstances to change them in a fundamentally voluntary and conscious way – we would fall into some of the horrors that we're accused of. And wherever people acting in the name of communism or anything else have attempted to do that, it has resulted in horrors.
So you have to handle this correctly, but the idea that there is some "unchanging human nature" – let's look at a little history to examine this more fully and why it's wrong. Now, it is not true that the development from early communal society to class society to communism represents some kind of "negation of the negation" in the way that Engels and Marx spoke of it (the emergence of class society represents the negation of early communal and basically classless society out of which class society emerged; and, in turn, the transition to classless society represents a negation of the emergence of class society = "negation of the negation"). Rather, it represents a complex unfolding of contradictions through various forms and stages in the way that I was speaking to earlier – the constant back and forth between the different aspects of the contradictions between the forces and relations of production, and the economic base and the superstructure, and between those contradictions and other contradictions they give rise to. Through all this complexity, we see history developing and the coherence emerging that Marx spoke of, and things being brought to the threshold, to the possibility, of a leap to communism, though not to the certainty and inevitability of it. And here, once again, a very important principle emerges, another way of speaking to the question of necessity and freedom – a statement by Marx where he says: People make history, but not in any way they choose. They make it in accordance with the material conditions that they inherit, with the necessity that they are confronted with at any given time. Yet, at the same time, as dialectical materialists, we understand that those material conditions get reflected in people's consciousness. People form ideas and concepts about those material conditions and how to change them; and, if those ideas and concepts are actually in accord with that underlying material reality, rather than a fundamental or essential distortion of it, and if they are in accord with the way those contradictions are tending, then people can not only make those changes but can accelerate them.
This is where the freedom and initiative lies. This is the role of a conscious communist vanguard and why it is so valuable, precious and, yes, indispensable. Because, given the class relations that exist, it is not going to be the case that everyone, all at once and spontaneously, is going to get to the point of more or less – not absolutely, but more or less – correctly reflecting reality in their ideas, concepts, plans, and programs, in terms of that reality's contradictory character and motion and development.
So people make history but not any way they choose – this is back to the point about the anarchists and the utopians. You have debates with these people and they say, "Well, why do you want to have leaders? That's part of the problem." No, at this stage of history that is overwhelmingly an essential part of the solution; and the fundamental question is what is the character of that leadership and do the ideas, concepts, programs, plans, and so on, of that leadership actually correspond to the resolution of the actual underlying and driving contradictions in the interests of the masses of people. That's the essential question.
Once again, what's essentially involved is that matter gets reflected in people's consciousness and, in turn, consciousness reacts back upon matter and changes it. How does it do so? In what direction, in what interests, to what purpose, for what objectives – that's the question always, whenever anybody steps forward and says anything. Yes, there's a lot of complexity bound up with that. But that's the essential and fundamental question.
Everybody has ideas, more spontaneous or more systematically thought-through ideas. Everybody has ideas, and they are responding in some way or other to material reality. The question is: how systematically and thoroughly do they actually reflect the underlying driving forces of reality, and what do they have to do with resolving, in the interests of the masses of people, the actual contradictions that are driving things? That's the question. And that is the decisive question in terms of leadership. Posing any other question as decisive is a diversion from the real fundamental and essential thing that has to be gotten at. Yes, we may have to speak to other questions that get raised about this, but they are a diversion, even if we have to speak to them in order to get to the heart of things.
So people make history, but they don't do it any way they choose. This, once again, has to do with the point about constraints and the dialectical relation between constraints and transformation. It has to do with the point I made earlier about socialism emerging with the birthmarks of capitalism and Lenin's point that we don't make revolution with people as we would like them to be, even while we're trying to change them. Yes, we are trying to change them. "They're not going to try to change how people feel about things, are they?" Yes, we are. Because feelings are fundamentally a question of your understanding and your outlook on things. We're not going to order people to feel differently or try to put a gun to their head and tell them to feel differently; but we are going to try to transform them, yes, even in their feelings, because people's feelings are an expression of how they see the world. If you really and deeply understand what it means, and what it leads to, for one human being, or one group of human beings, to use others for personal and private gain, why this is a fetter on not only the particular individuals who are exploited in this way but on humanity as a whole – and especially as you come to see that humanity has reached the point where such relations of exploitation are not only unnecessary but are a hindrance to the further development of human society and of human beings – then you will feel a passionate desire to see all this abolished and uprooted. But if you don't really understand what this kind of exploitation involves, and why it is not necessary and can be done away with, you will feel very differently about it – you may actually feel that it is not a bad thing, or at least that there is nothing that can be done to change this, and trying to change it might only lead to something that is somehow worse. Should we not try to change people's thinking and, yes, their feelings about fundamental things like this?
Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State made the following very important comment, which is worth pondering. He said: "The less the development of labor and the more limited the amount of its products, and consequently, the more limited also the wealth of society, the more the social order is found to be dominated by ties of lineage." And you see this in early communal societies, including some which still exist in places like Africa and isolated pockets in Latin America; you see it in the Native American societies historically, and still somewhat today in what's now the U.S. Engels' statement embodies a materialist understanding of how society is organized – that it's not some arbitrary organization but, again, the organization of society is essentially an expression of the character of the productive forces. And even what are the basic units of society – family and lineage ties, in the case of early communal societies – have to do with the character of the productive forces of those societies. Engels examined a number of early communal societies, in different parts of the world – different parts of Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean and so on – and he showed that, with the change in the productive forces, the character of the way society was organized – in other words, the production and social relations – changed accordingly.
Engels goes on to say, in the same work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, that in early communal society "human labor power still did not produce any considerable surplus over and above its maintenance costs." In other words, if you think of a gathering and hunting society, they go out and they gather berries and fruits and nuts, and things like that, and occasionally there's some hunting to supplement it; and pretty much the people consume, more or less directly and immediately, whatever it is that they gather and get by hunting. So, human labor power, in this form of society, still does not produce any considerable surplus over and above its maintenance cost. Then Engels goes on: "That was no longer the case after the introduction of cattle-breeding, metal-working, weaving, and, lastly, agriculture" – and Engels also identifies the separation of handicrafts from agriculture as another key leap.
Now, going back to the more positive side of Jared Diamond for a minute, in Guns, Germs and Steel he does examine this from a largely materialist standpoint. They recently did a TV series on PBS, based on the book, where Diamond goes into some of this – how, once handicrafts is separated from agriculture, once you could specialize, once the agriculture could produce enough to support a part of society engaging in specialization, beginning with handicrafts, and with the further development of technology, then you've got a whole dynamic going where that technology would react back upon agriculture, would provide new means of production, new technology for agriculture, and in turn agriculture could produce more surplus above and beyond what was used for immediate consumption, which in turn provided the underlying material base for further specialization. And along with this, of course, came the further development and unfolding of class differentiations in this society.
Another way to say this is that this brought with it very significant changes in production and social relations. And Engels points out how this was particularly true with regard to slavery in ancient times. That when you didn't, and when in fact you could not, employ people to produce much more than they would themselves consume, slavery didn't make much sense economically. So, when people were captured by another tribe or kinship group, they got killed, they got let go, or they got absorbed in the tribe as a member; but it didn't make sense to try to take massive numbers of people as slaves if your productive forces were not capable of employing them in a way that would produce a lot more than what they would consume. Otherwise, you're just adding people on without much gain.
But once agriculture, especially settled agriculture and differentiation between agriculture and handicrafts, and so on, began to unfold, then it made economic sense to take slaves. There were – we're not romantic about the history of humanity – there were, between different early communal groups, conflict and hostility and warfare, or at least violent conflict, in North America and other parts of the Americas, and in other parts of the world. But within the ranks of a particular tribe, there were not the class divisions, nor the division and oppression that's so familiar today between men and women, that later developed with the emergence of these different production relations, on the basis of further development of the productive forces.
And, of course, one of the most salient, striking examples of these transformations in production and class relations was the taking and employing of slaves. Once the character of the productive forces was such that it made economic sense to take slaves, rather than killing them or simply absorbing them in as equals, then slavery began to take hold. That doesn't mean everybody thought slavery was a good idea and it didn't mean that suddenly people became "evil" – like in the Adam and Eve myth in the Bible – the fall of humanity, and all of a sudden everybody became corrupted. Of course, people's outlooks did change. When you start taking other human beings as slaves, your outlook changes accordingly. And guess what? You now have a social need and want for slaves. An historically evolved and socially conditioned need and want for slaves that's based on changes in the character of the productive forces, and not on some inherent tendency of human nature to want to take other people as slaves. If you were to go into early communal societies and say to people, "Why don't you enslave each other?" they would just go: "What? What are you talking about?" And what would the response be? "Well, apparently you haven't fully developed your human nature yet." [laughter] No. They have different ideas, different superstructural expressions, corresponding to their different mode of production, corresponding to the character of their productive forces. But when slavery begins to "make sense," economically, it begins to take hold, even over the resistance of those who aren't able to take slaves or for whatever reason might think it's not a good idea.
So slavery now began to be profitable. There was a material basis for it, and the stealing and taking of slaves became a part of the activity of the group – raiding other tribes, in particular, or other groups of people. And Engels talks about how the "gentile constitution" (here he's not talking about non-Jewish people – he's talking about a society based on gens or kinship and lineage groups, when he says "gentile"), "The gentile constitution in its best days presupposed an extremely undeveloped state of production, and therefore an extremely sparse population over a wide area." If you think, for example, about Native American peoples, there was this fictional series on TNT, "Into the West," and they talked about this. The series revolved to a considerable extent around the conflict between these two ways of life, and went back and forth between the Lakota and the Cheyenne and other native peoples, on the one hand, and on the other hand the settlers moving from east to west. And there was a whole point about how the juggernaut of white settlers just kept coming, and it got embodied in things like the pony express, and then in the telegraph, and then in the railroad and more and more settlers. And you begin to see that the way of life of the Lakota, and other native peoples, can't survive in these circumstances because it required a large territory for a small number of people in order to maintain that mode of existence. It was not a settled way of life that would, increasingly, bring about greater output on a settled territory by continually developing the productive forces. This is not a matter of saying that one way of life was "superior" and the other "inferior" – there is nothing inherently superior or inferior about gathering and hunting, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, engaging in settled agriculture and the accompanying development of technology. Rather, it is a matter of stressing, from a scientific materialist standpoint, that these two different ways of life were increasingly in direct and antagonistic conflict with each other, and it is a matter of recognizing why, with the combination of circumstances that existed at the time, one way of life forcibly prevailed over the other. When more and more settlers came, backed up by the military, of course, but also reinforced by all these productive forces and by a way of life that utilized these productive forces – again, I'm not speaking to the justice or injustice of it, I'm speaking to the material reality of it – there was less and less basis for their way of life among the native peoples, because they could no longer continue to exist as small, relatively sparse populations that required a large territory to range over in order to hunt and gather. This is the same thing that Jared Diamond examines in Papua New Guinea with the peoples there.
In speaking of a way of life that does not involve and depend on settled agriculture and the corresponding development of technology but which, instead, involves a sparse population ranging over a wide area, we can think not only of the Native American peoples, for example, but also similar groupings in ancient Greece, in the period before the Greek city-states. Engels comments – and this is definitely worth reflecting on – that "the growing economy [in and around Athens, in ancient Greece] penetrated like corrosive acid into the traditional life of the rural communities founded on natural economy." This process in ancient Greece, which did involve more development of technology and more differentiation of people into different social groupings – the organization of people that was beyond, and began to break down, the lineage groups and organized people instead according to territory and at the same time according to class – this, Engels points out, "penetrated like corrosive acid into the traditional life of the rural communities founded on natural economy" and what we got out of it was the slave economy and the slave society in the ancient Greek city-states.
Or take this example. The Germanic (and other) "barbarians," in conquering Rome, and being confronted with the need to maintain and administer what they had conquered – if they simply didn't want to raze it to the ground and destroy it, then they had to maintain and administer it – in these circumstances they experienced the break-up to a significant degree of their own previous form of social organization and its replacement by one essentially in keeping with the mode of existence of the society they had conquered. In other words, in Rome they "did as the Romans did," not instantly but over a period of time.
Well, in the talk "Revolution," which is on DVD,15 I cited examples from ancient Mexico and also ancient Egypt, where people began to settle down, engage in settled agriculture, and unevenness and class differentiations began to develop and this gave rise to a state and all the things that go along with a state. And with this came the separation between intellectual endeavor and underlying productive activity, the engagement in cultural activity on the one hand and productive activity on the other. I talked about how in a part of ancient Mexico, near the Coatzacoalcos River, the people settled there after a certain period of hundreds of years where they had engaged in gathering and hunting; but they didn't decide one day, "let's go over to the river and settle down and do agriculture." Now, we don't have any psychological studies, and no polls have been taken [laughter], but we can assume that they were used to their way of life and weren't particularly anxious to give it up; but historical investigation reveals that partly through their own gathering and hunting they used up the very things they were gathering and hunting, plus there were changes in the climate. So they were driven to go settle down in a different area.
This is the point, once again, that I've made a number of times – it's a point that historical materialism emphasizes – that often people engage in changes in their mode of existence and way of life which have far-reaching consequences, which they in no way anticipate or intend. But those changes become, themselves, a material force which reacts back upon the people involved. So these people in ancient Mexico went from this one way of life to another, settling down by the river; and, lo and behold, some land is closer to the river and more favorably situated and is more fertile, and other parcels of land are not. So, not in a mechanical, one-to-one way, but in an overall sense in relation to this, you get differentiation, some people accumulating more than others, some people doing well, others not doing well. Guess what happens to the ones who aren't doing well? Many of them get hired – or in some way employed – by the others who are doing well.
This is what happened in China in recent times, with the restoration of capitalism after Mao died: when you break up the communes and go back to the capitalist mode of production, many peasants become severely impoverished and cannot make a living on their own land, so they go into the cities or they get hired on by the people who do well. There is polarization and great gaps develop among the people, with many ending up being exploited by the others. And, as this took place in early human society, such as in ancient Mexico, out of this you get the emergence of people who specialize in different technologies; people who specialize in cultural activities, intellectual activities; and some who specialize in state activities.
And the same kind of process went on in ancient Egypt, even before the Pharaohs, in relation to the Nile. If you look at Egypt, the whole society is basically organized on a thin strip, on each side of the Nile. But even within that, there is differentiation, along with the fact that there are people who are farther away from the Nile who were more unfavorably situated. So in ancient Egypt, even before the Pharaohs, you had the same general kind of process – of differentiation, polarization, exploitation, oppression, and repression, with the emergence of social, class distinctions and the emergence of a state.
Is this because of some inherent quality in human nature? When these people were in Mexico thousands of years ago, carrying out gathering and hunting, there was just some inchoate and irresistible longing to develop a state and exploit and oppress other people? And, somehow, you just can't prevent this from happening without creating monstrosity by trying to curb the inherent and undeniable quality of the human spirit? Bullshit! [laughter] This happened for very material reasons, brought about by changes in the character of the productive forces – which, again, were propelled by necessity people confronted and often led to results and consequences they did not anticipate – leading to changes in the relations of production and, in turn, corresponding changes in the politics, the ideology, the culture, the ways of thinking and, yes, the wants, needs, and feelings of people.
This is how human society has developed – not out of the unfolding of some plan of a conscious designer, but out of the largely unconscious process of people responding to the necessity they are confronted with and making changes which often have far-reaching and profound results, unanticipated and unintended even by them.
So, when we come up to the present era of human history and we look at the question of communism and the "4 Alls" – when we look at the "Two Radical Ruptures," not only with traditional property relations, but with traditional ideas – when we think about the principle "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" – we have to understand the dialectical back and forth between the changes that will be taking place in the economic base of society, in the production relations and the corresponding social relations, and in the superstructure of politics and ideology, until an abundance is created on the one hand, which removes people further and further from the necessity of the daily struggle for survival – where that, in fundamental terms, is guaranteed and is no longer a preoccupying thought of the people who make up society – in dialectical relation with people's wants and needs changing correspondingly.
This is the way we have to conceive of advancing to communism, and not in some utopian sense. Now, I'll come back to this more fully: Communism is not some utopian idea where everybody gets to do their own thing, without any constraint, and somehow it all works out for the common good. That is not a materialist and a real understanding of how you would get to communism and what communism will actually be like. It is something very different, corresponding to a different world view, which really has nothing whatsoever to do with communism at all. I will speak to that more fully later.
Now, on the foundation of what has been said so far, I want to turn to the question of A MATERIALIST UNDERSTANDING OF THE STATE AND ITS RELATION TO THE UNDERLYING ECONOMIC BASE.
First of all, what is the state? In some post-modernist thinking, which finds expression in some leftist trends, you'll hear this formulation: "The state has agency." This is a fancy way of saying that the state is not an instrument of class rule, but is an institution that can be affected and influenced by different groups in society, depending on how much pressure they exert on it. Obviously, this is a reformist, as opposed to a revolutionary, viewpoint, and leads to a reformist as opposed to a revolutionary program. This notion that the state can be influenced and caused to act in different ways – it's not an unchanging thing, it can be influenced to have a different character and play a different role, depending on who's exerting more influence on it – this is just the old revisionist view of the state, finding expression these days in "post-modernist" language.
But an actual materialist analysis of the nature and role of the state is essential in terms of making revolution and actually transforming society, it is essential in understanding what the problem is and what the solution is. So, let's dig into the questions: what is the state, what is its essential character and its essential role?
Engels, also in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, made the very concise summation, from a lot of historical materialist analysis, that the state is an instrument of class rule, an instrument for the suppression by one class of the other classes it rules over, and that it arises with, and is a manifestation of, the split-up of society, not only into classes in general, but into antagonistic classes – into exploiters and exploited, for short.
Now, in the "Democracy" book (Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?), I quoted a statement by Raymond Lotta, that the state is an expression of a certain division of labor in society. This gives the state its particular class character. In other words, the state in general has the character and role of being an instrument of class suppression – or, another way of putting it, an instrument of dictatorship – but being an expression of a certain division of labor in society gives expression to the particular character of a given state. And in an all-round and fundamental sense, we can say that the state is an expression of the overall production relations in society; it reflects that and in turn serves to reinforce that. With one exception – the proletarian state, which seeks not simply to reflect and reinforce, but actually to be an instrument for the further transformation of the production and social relations in society. That's one of the things that gives the proletarian state a character that is qualitatively different from all previous forms of the state.
The proletarian dictatorship aims at the abolition of classes along with the others of the "4 Alls." It aims to do away – not by physical extermination, which is the caricature charged – but through the transformation of society, it aims to do away with classes and their material basis: it aims to do away with the bourgeoisie; it aims to do away with the petty bourgeoisie; and it aims to do away with the proletariat itself. And, as I put it in another discussion with some comrades, the proletariat is the only one of those three classes that doesn't mind. [laughter] Neither of the other two classes wants to go out of existence – which doesn't mean the dictatorship of the proletariat is also exercised over the petty bourgeoisie, that's a different question. But it does mean you have to transform circumstances and people, such that not only the bourgeoisie, but also the petty bourgeoisie and, indeed even the proletariat, no longer exist. But the proletariat is the only one that wants to go all the way with that, speaking in broad social terms.
Now if we understand the role of the state, and we hark back to what I was saying earlier about why we want state power, we can hopefully understand, much more profoundly, the truth and reality of the statement, that without state power all is, in fact, illusion, in terms of transforming society in any fundamental and qualitative way, in terms of getting rid of the oppression and exploitation in which the overwhelming majority of humanity is enmeshed and the nightmare that this involves. I was recently reading some articles from A World to Win News Service,16 ironically dated July 4 of this year, 7/04/05. There were two articles, in particular – one on globalization, the meeting of the heads of state of the major industrial countries, and the demand for debt elimination or reduction; and the other was an article about Africa, the Congo in particular. Anyone who hasn't read those articles should definitely read them, and they're worth reading over more than once, because they vividly bring alive the horrific conditions of the masses of people under the rule and domination of imperialism, and the local agencies of imperialism in these particular countries. The fact is that in the Congo, in the last decade or so, somewhere between 3 and 5 million people have been killed in warfare going on within the Congo, none of the sides of which represent anything positive, in terms of the liberation of the people there. There are all these military forces, sometimes literally gangs that have been pulled together by different capitalist corporations and consortiums to fight against rivals in plundering and looting the minerals and rich resources of those areas. It reminds me of the old Peter Tosh song "Fight Against Apartheid": "you steal my diamonds and finance your ballistic mis-siles." This is what's going on, in truly horrific terms. This is what went on for 40 years in Zaire, when it was called Zaire, after they got rid of Lumumba and civil war broke out and the imperialists imposed and backed the rule of Mobutu. And it's been going on very acutely, millions of people have been dying, during this decade in just this one part of the world. People dying not just from starvation, like in Niger and other places in Africa. But dying from this warfare, this internecine warfare, this reactionary warfare, organized by imperialists and even by different companies and consortiums that are looting the country.
If you are a Marxist and you look at this, you say: "what a crying need for proletarian state power in these countries." But people are being subjected to these horrors because they haven't made a real revolution and don't have proletarian state power. You can criticize the state as an institution all you want – but goddamn it, let's get a proletarian dictatorship and then we'll let people criticize it! As I have pointed out before – for example in an interview I did with Michael Slate17 – people should mainly extol the proletariat state, even while they're raising some criticisms. That's another unity of opposites – uphold and extol the proletarian state, while criticizing its shortcomings. And if you understand this as a Marxist, as a communist, you can see the crying need for people to have state power to be able to put a stop to the horrors they are subjected to. Tribe is being pitted against tribe in this warfare in the Congo, slaughtering each other. Even what went on in Rwanda is linked up with the larger network of imperialist relations and the battle among competing imperialists, much as they cried crocodile tears over it, and used it as a way to build up public opinion for their intervention all over the world. They're even doing that now in relation to Nepal: "Nepal could become another Rwanda, another Cambodia, humanity cannot allow this to happen, cannot allow this society to be plunged into chaos, with the attendant mutual slaughter." Public opinion is being actively created in this way right now in relation to Nepal and the prospect of the Maoist-led revolution winning victory in Nepal. But this is very vivid and real in Africa, the horrendous suffering of the people, because they don't have a proletarian state. Now, the proletarian state, where it comes into being, still has to stand up to the imperialists and other reactionary forces militarily, but you don't even have a chance, you're not even in the contest, if you don't have proletarian state power and therefore can reorganize society accordingly and provide a material foundation underneath that state at the same time as you're transforming the society and supporting revolutionary struggles in other parts of the world, all over the world.
If you look at this as a communist, it just jumps out at you, how much the people are suffering for lack of proletarian state power, and for having every other kind of reactionary state power brought down on them and being hurled against each other in these mutual slaughters for the interests of people wielding other state power and serving imperialism and oppression and exploitation. This is true throughout vast parts of the world, and in the world overall. And you can't do anything about it without proletarian state power. Look, I have enormous respect for the people who go become part of Doctors Without Borders. But there's a tremendous burnout rate among these people, too. The problems are so enormous and grow at such exponential dimensions while they're trying to do something. Because people haven't wrenched themselves free of the imperialist system and established a proletarian state power. And this suffering will go on and on and get worse until that is what happens. When you see this and understand it – not refracted through a bourgeois or revisionist prism, but when you see it from a communist standpoint – it leaps out at you: the crying and urgent need for proletarian revolution and proletarian state power. Yes, this revolution has to go through different phases. But in essence, and in the final analysis and fundamentally, proletarian revolution and proletarian state power is what it must be aiming for, as the first great leap toward the final goal of a communist world. We've had every other kind of state, and the imperialists have used this experience with every other kind of state to reinforce the idea that, after all, their domination and even outright colonialism is the only thing for people in Africa and other parts of the Third World. "Look what they've done since independence," they say – negating the actual fact that the people in these countries have never really had real independence. Mobutu – is that independence?!
If you want to understand why "without state power all is illusion," once again I say: just think about all the things that do – that should – drive you crazy, that will, if you're a communist, drive you crazy, that drove you to become a communist in the first place, because you realize the enormity of this and the fact that there isn't any way to deal with this within the confines of this system. All those outrages that keep growing to larger and larger dimensions, that you can't do anything about, in any fundamental terms, because there is not yet proletarian state power, because the idea of doing anything about these things without that state power is, in reality, nothing but illusion.
Jim Wallis, in the aftermath of the 2004 election and the prominent role of Christian fundamentalist fascists in the so-called "re-election" of Bush, is now trying to promote the idea – and getting some backing from sections of the ruling class in promoting the idea – that the only really good opposition to this Christian Fascism is an opposition that shares a great deal with it, shares many of the same fundamental religious underpinnings, even if this opposition wants to give this a somewhat different expression. And, as I pointed out in Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones,18 a number of years ago now, even while recognizing and condemning, or at least lamenting, ways in which masses of people are suffering throughout the world, Wallis's whole attempt has been to preach reconciliation between oppressors and oppressed and to promote reform within the existing system and relations of oppression and exploitation, within the U.S. and on a world scale. He insists that reform, and not revolution, is the only way to bring about positive change – and he openly polemicizes against communism, accepting and repeating many of the more crude distortions and slanders against the historical experience of socialist society and the communist movement. In his book The Soul of Politics, written during the 1990s (he now has a new book out, God's Politics), Wallis attempted to cite examples of how reform, reconciliation and peaceful change within the system hold out the hope – as he would have it, the only hope – for improvement in the situation of the masses of suffering people. One example he gave involved Brazil – the following story, whether true or apocryphal I don't know, but let's take it as true, and look at the content of it: Peasants were being driven off their land in one little part of Brazil, so the peasants called up the wives of the Senators in Brazil – look at the social relations that are being reflected here, by the way – they called up the wives of the Senators and in some sort of re-enactment of (or a variation on) Lysistrata,19 I suppose, the wives put pressure on their husbands, the Senators, to intervene and keep the peasants from being driven off their land. Wallis makes a big deal about how this is the paradigm, this is the model for how we can bring about change. And I went and I did some research – see you have to do work – I did some research [laughs] into what was going on in Brazil at this time. And during a period of about 10 to 15 years, which covered the time he was talking about, 15 million peasants were driven off their land in Brazil. Now, even if you allow that the story Wallis tells is true, and these particular peasants in this one little part of Brazil were not thrown off their land right then, let's look at the larger picture. First of all, these peasants, or most of them, are very likely gone from their land now. And even if somehow they remained as a little pocket for a while, during the same period 15 million peasants in Brazil were driven off the land into the slums and shantytowns. Many of you no doubt saw the movie City of God; and in general you know what this leads to among the people who are driven into the cities. Brazil has its glittering facades and enclaves – and then, both in the countryside and in the slums, tremendous poverty and people being driven into conflict with each other, and setting up gangs and slaughtering each other over unofficial capitalism. This is the reality of what happens without proletarian state power. This is the reality of what's gone on because, for decades, there hasn't been proletarian state power in these places.
And the same thing is true of the U.S. Look what's gone on because we haven't had proletarian state power. The growth of even more horrific economic and social conditions. The spread of religious fundamentalism, including among the basic masses. The weighing down of the masses with oppression and deliberately spread and inculcated ignorance. Because we weren't able to make revolution, particularly during the great upsurge of the 1960s, with its widespread revolutionary ferment and sentiments. I'm not putting the blame primarily and essentially on those of us who became revolutionaries in that time, but the fact is that because, for a combination of reasons, revolution didn't break through, and because proletarian power wasn't seized and held onto, look what's come about in the world and in the U.S. over decades. And the idea that somehow you could change all this without proletarian state power, and that some other way could be found even to alleviate the suffering of the masses, let alone eliminate it, is the most outrageous and harmful of illusions.
Now, along with talking about what state power is good for, I want to talk specifically about the element of coercion and what coercion is good for. This is related to the "constraints" point that a comrade has raised, to which I referred earlier – all constraint is not bad. Let's dig into this. I've used this example before, that another comrade raised, from the movie Remember the Titans. It's not about the dictatorship of the proletariat, but it is about a significant social change that was brought about, and in which state power exercised a certain role on the part of liberal reforms at the time. Remember, or for those of you who have forgotten or never saw the movie, it's about this city in Virginia in the early '70s where the high school became integrated, the football team became integrated, and the white football coach, who was an award-winning coach, was replaced by a Black football coach, transferred from a Black high school. Now, the point has been made about what would have happened if they had gone to the white people in the town, and specifically those white people whose kids who went to high school, and said, "Let's have a fair democratic vote: how many of you want to integrate the high school; how many of you want to integrate the football team; how many of you want to have a Black football coach?" Are you fucking crazy? [laughter] But because this was a necessity that people were confronted with, because that coercion was exercised, then it provided a different foundation on which people's thinking could be changed – and, importantly, as other people have also pointed out, it provided a more favorable ground on which the advanced elements could be brought forward rather than being suffocated. The people within the football team, first of all, and then more broadly in the community who did, actually, either initially favor this but were afraid to speak up, or who got won over to it, gained more initiative because these were the terms that were set.
So you can see here the value of coercion. All coercion is not bad. Just as there will never be a society or a world without necessity, in the same way there will never be a society without coercion, even when there's no more state power and there's not political coercion, in that sense, and dictatorship is no longer being exercised by one part of society over others. Still, you'll never get rid of necessity. And, related to that, you'll never entirely get rid of coercion. Not everybody in society, including in communist society, gets to do exactly what they want all the time. The difference is that, in communist society, people will voluntarily submit themselves to that situation because of the greater good that they consciously grasp – understanding that "I may not get `my' way this time, but in the context of everything overall, this is much better for everybody, and therefore, much better for me."
Let's take another example. There's a big controversy being kicked up now around evolution. The only reason there is a controversy about evolution is because a section of the ruling class in this country, a powerful section, has decided that it is in its interests to undermine the acceptance of evolution as a scientific fact, at least among the general populace. Oh yeah, they'll let some scientists do some science based on the fact of evolution. Remember the book, The Handmaid's Tale, and the movie? They had very a straitlaced morality that was imposed on people in society as a whole, but then the members of the ruling elite got to go whore around and stuff on the side. Well, perhaps it's something of an odious analogy, but if they end up insisting that science classes teach that evolution is not a proven fact, they will still have scientists who will be allowed to do the work that the bourgeoisie thinks is necessary, and among themselves they'll say, "Of course, we know evolution's a fact, we couldn't do anything if it weren't." But with regard to the general populace, they want to spread this other ideology – not only trying to redefine the question of evolution and whether it's true or not, they're trying to redefine science to bring supernatural and theistic elements into it – which, guess what, means there's no science. [In a satirical sounding voice:] "Well, you may stay on the earth because of the force of gravity – or it may be because God wants you to. We don't know. Shouldn't both explanations be discussed in the schools? Are you trying to suppress ideas and keep people from having a chance to decide for themselves?" [laughter]
I was talking to another comrade about evolution and they said, "You know, if you were to demand of me right now that I provide you, right at this instant, a proof of the fact that the earth revolves around the sun, I could not do it. I could go study up on it and come back and tell you, but I accept this because the whole scientific community for centuries has determined this to be true and it's been verified to the satisfaction of people over and over again, and it conforms to what I do know about reality. Could it be wrong, theoretically? Yes, but it doesn't seem so." There is no controversy among scientists and, at this point at least, there is no controversy in society about that point – whether the earth is the center of everything and everything, including the sun, goes around it, or whether, instead, the earth is part of a solar system and revolves around the sun. Still, this comrade went on to say, "But, you know, if it were in the interests of a section of the ruling class, they could make this question (of whether the earth goes around the sun) controversial as well, in the same way as they are doing about evolution. And even though there would be no controversy among scientists, they could create a controversy politically and societally, if a section of the ruling class saw that as being in their interests."
There is a political struggle, a class struggle ultimately, which is taking place essentially in the realm of epistemology, but it is a political struggle over contending epistemologies. It's a complex struggle, and the terms are not communism versus other ideology. It's basically science and the Enlightenment versus things opposed to that. This is another reflection of the complexity of what we have to deal with.
So the only reason this question of evolution is controversial, has become controversial in U.S. society, is because a powerful section of the ruling class wants to promote a different epistemology, in the service of a certain political, social and economic program, an all-around and openly reactionary program. There is no controversy among scientists about evolution – the overwhelming, overwhelming majority of scientists, and particularly those in the field of biology, recognize that evolution is not only a fact but one of the most fundamental truths in all of science. Essentially, there hasn't been a controversy about this among scientists for over a hundred years, and increasingly actual science continues to verify the truth of evolution. But a controversy about this is being manufactured on a political basis. Well, here's another thing state power is good for and coercion is good for: The proletariat comes to power, and evolution is taught in the schools. [laughter] End of discussion. [laughter] No "flowering of ideas" about whether evolution is true or whether we are all the product of some grand designer. That's it, it's set. Now, you deal with that. In other words, that's part of the core curriculum that we're going to have in socialist society: Evolution is a scientifically established fact that's going to be taught, and that's it.
That, again, is an expression of why it is important to have state power, and in fact it is an expression of the positive aspect of coercion – in that case, using state power to set terms that correspond to reality, and to the interests of the masses of people and ultimately to humanity as a whole. Some things have to be settled, or nothing can get done and you can't go forward. Does that mean we don't want intellectual ferment over all kinds of things? Of course not. And if somebody could bring forward proof – actual scientific proof, arrived at through the application of the actual scientific method – that evolution is not a fact, then it would be necessary to recognize that. But everything cannot be "up for debate" all the time, or nothing could get done and society could not function. This is certainly the case in a socialist society, whose fundamental and guiding principle is to enable the masses of people to more and more consciously know and change the world in their interests and advance to the point where class divisions and instruments of class suppression do not obstruct and distort the process of humanity's knowing and changing the world in its interests. There has to be some solid core as well as a lot of elasticity and, if we throw everything up for grabs in socialist society, the bourgeoisie will be back in power very quickly.
Why don't we, in the schools, teach "two alternative theories" of epilepsy: one based on what medical science has learned about the actual, material causes of epilepsy, and one that says epilepsy is caused, after all, by demon possession? [laughter] Now, one thing to be aware of in this regard, while we are laughing at this notion, is that today's satire is tomorrow's horrific reality. In talks I have given about religion, I have used this example of epilepsy, and how Jesus didn't get it right about epilepsy – how, in the Bible, it says that Jesus cured epilepsy by casting out a demon. Well, if it becomes politically expedient on the part of a powerful section of the ruling class, we may have a debate opened up, [voice marked by sarcasm:] "Well, there are alternative explanations for epilepsy. Some people believe that it's caused by what goes on electrically and chemically in the brain, but there are a lot of holes in that theory. [laughter] Other people are coming to see that perhaps, after all, it is a matter of demon possession." [laughter] Why don't we teach that in the schools? No, we should not do that, because it is not true – it has been scientifically established that this is not true. And it is just as much the case that it has been scientifically established that evolution is true and that intelligent design is not a truthful explanation of the emergence and development of life, including human life.
So, there is a value to coercion, and we should understand the value and the role of coercion, while at the same time grasping this in dialectical relation to the fundamental reality and what must be the fundamental orientation that revolution and the advance to communism, both now and in socialist society all the more, must be the self-conscious liberating act of the masses themselves. Grasping that contradiction correctly is once again a matter of materialism and dialectics, as opposed to idealism and metaphysics, with regard to what communism is and how we're going to get there.
From all this, the point should clearly emerge that the proletariat, as expressed in a concentrated way through the role of its vanguard party, must seize power and must be the decisive and determining element in the state, and does not, and cannot in any essential way, share state power with any other class, even while it applies the strategic orientation of building the broadest united front, under its leadership, in continuing the advance toward communism. At a later point in this talk, I will discuss more fully the application of the United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat all the way through the transition to communism, because that's another very important contradiction. But here I want to emphasize that the proletariat, as expressed in a concentrated way through the role of its vanguard party, must lead in the state and in the exercise of state power. And that's also something in motion, that's also "a moving target," because, as we advance toward communism as part of the overall world-wide revolution, the role of the party should be increasingly replaced by other instrumentalities that represent the masses themselves exercising state power. But the role of the party – and the need for the party – will not be eliminated completely until we actually get to communism and there's no more need for a state, either. So that's another contradiction we're going to have to handle correctly and, yes, even better than before, even with all the great achievements, particularly through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China under Mao's leadership.
Another thing that we always should be clear on is that there is a need for a continuous resolute struggle against the pull of spontaneity. One of the things that I've continued to learn more about and to understand more fully and deeply is Lenin's formulation, in talking about the struggles of the masses, where he refers to their "spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie." This is actually a very important formulation. He doesn't just say, "Well, these struggles tend spontaneously to go in a direction where the bourgeoisie can come to dominate them." He says, "There is a spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie." This is, in fact, what gets expressed, repeatedly, in the struggle to rupture people out of the whole killing confines of the dominant political framework in the U.S., in relation to World Can't Wait. We see this spontaneous striving of people repeatedly and continually to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, or a section of the bourgeoisie (as represented generally by the heads of the Democratic Party). And this spontaneity, and even this spontaneous striving to come back – if not directly and organizationally, then politically – under the wing of the bourgeoisie will also exist under socialism. This striving to keep things within, or to bring them back within, the confines of bourgeois relations and their reflection in the superstructure – the confines of bourgeois right, for short – will, even in socialist society, continually reassert itself, for real material as well as ideological reasons, and the constant interpenetration between material and ideological factors. This has to do with the continuing existence of classes and social inequalities in socialist society, and with real material conditions and pulls on people, as well as the fact that socialist states will almost certainly exist, for a long period of time, in the midst of and surrounded by imperialist and reactionary states.
So there's a need for a consistent, and in a real sense relentless, struggle against spontaneity and to divert spontaneity onto a revolutionary path. This will be true not only in capitalist society and in building toward the seizure of power and the establishment of a new, socialist state, but also in socialist society itself and in order to continue advancing toward communism.
I want to talk a little more about the question of democracy and dictatorship in socialist society and about the socialist state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, as a radically different kind of state. Proletarian democracy – as given expression as democracy for the masses of people in socialist society – should contain some secondary and "external" features, if you will, in common with bourgeois democracy, including Constitutional provisions for the protection of the rights of masses of people, and of individuals; but in essence it is a radically different kind of democracy, fundamentally because it is an expression of a radically different kind of class rule – rule by the proletariat, led by its vanguard, openly exercising dictatorship over the overthrown bourgeoisie and other proven counter-revolutionary elements – and it has radically different objectives, above all the advance to communism, and the "withering away of the state" – and of democracy.
Here the following passages from Engels, once again from The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, are very relevant: He points out: [In early communal society] "there cannot yet be any talk of ‘right’ in the legal sense....Within the tribe there is as yet no difference between rights and duties."
That's worth pondering and wrangling with deeply: no difference between rights and duties. And we can go on to say that, in a fundamental sense, what was true in early communal society will again be true, but in a very different way – with a different material, and ideological, basis and in a different, worldwide context – in communist society: where there is no class antagonism, there is no separation, in a fundamental sense, between rights and duties. There is no separation between rights and duties characteristic of class society, is another way to say this. All rights and duties will be afforded and carried out consciously and voluntarily – and there will be no need for special institutions to enforce duties and to protect rights – no need for the state, nor for formal structures of democracy. This, of course, does not mean that there will no longer be a need for a government in communist society, for decision making and administration. That need will persist, and understanding this is a crucial part of understanding the difference between a scientific and on the other hand a utopian view of communism – and of the struggle to get to communism (I will have more to say on this, too, as we go along). But the state is not the same thing as, not identical with, government: the state, once again, is an organ, an instrument, of class suppression and dictatorship, and its existence is always and everywhere an expression of the existence of class antagonisms. Now, at the same time, the character of the proletarian state, and the way in which power is exercised under the dictatorship of the proletariat, must – in accordance with, and to advance toward, the fundamental objectives of the communist revolution – also be radically different from any previous kind of state.
In order to get into this, and as a foundation for it, I want to paraphrase and review three sentences on democracy which I have formulated as a concentration of some fundamental points. To paraphrase, the first of these sentences is: In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequalities, to talk about democracy without talking about the class content of that democracy, and which class it serves, is meaningless or worse. And second: In such a situation, there cannot be any such thing as democracy for all or "pure democracy" – one class or another will rule and will institute the forms of rule and of democracy that serve its interests. And therefore the conclusion of this, if you will, the third sentence, is: The essential question and dividing line is whether this class rule and the corresponding forms of democracy serve to reinforce fundamental class divisions and social inequalities, fundamental relations of exploitation and oppression, or whether they serve the struggle to uproot and finally eliminate these relations of exploitation and oppression.
Now, I said before, in another context, that I could teach a whole college course on this, simply by reciting these three sentences and then saying, "discuss," for the rest of the semester. And I wasn't joking. One could easily do this. But here, let's take off from this to discuss some important related questions, with this as a foundation.
I want to discuss the state – once again, the armed forces and the other organs of dictatorship – in relation to the broader institutions and functions of government in socialist society, including decision-making bodies, a legislature of some kind more or less, as well as centralized institutions that can effect the carrying out of decisions, or an executive of some kind. I also want to deal with the question of a Constitution and of the "rule of law" and of courts.
Recently, I told some people that one of the key things I have been grappling with is how to synthesize what's in the polemic against K. Venu20 with a principle that is emphasized by John Stuart Mill. A pivotal and essential point in the polemic against K. Venu is that, having overthrown capitalism and abolished the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat must establish and maintain its political rule in society, the dictatorship of the proletariat, while continuing the revolution to transform society toward the goal of communism and the abolition of class distinctions and oppressive social relations, and with that the abolition of the state, of any kind of dictatorship; and that, in order to make this possible, the proletariat must have the leadership of its vanguard communist party throughout this transition to communism. In continuing to grapple with these fundamental questions, I have become convinced that this principle articulated by Mill – that people should hear arguments presented not only as they are characterized by those who oppose them, but as they are put forward by ardent advocates of those positions – is something that needs to be incorporated and given expression in the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is one element – not the entirety, but one element – of what I have been reaching for and wrangling with in terms of what we have formulated as a new synthesis. And in line with that, while the proletariat has to maintain firm control of the state – and, particularly in the early stages of socialism and for some time, this is expressed in terms of the leadership of the vanguard party of the proletariat – while the proletariat in that way has to maintain firm control of the state; and while the key organs and instruments of the state have to be responsible to the party (and I'll talk more about that and other aspects of this shortly); there is also a question of how can the masses be increasingly drawn, not only into the exercise of state power, but also into other forms, other aspects of the governing and administration of society, and the law-making of society; and how can the political process that goes on in socialist society, on the basis of the firm control by the proletariat over the state as exercised in a concentrated way through the leadership of its party – how on that basis can the political process lead to, or contribute to, the kind of ferment that I've been talking about as an essential element of what needs to go on in socialist society, including the emphasis on the importance of dissent?
So here "the John Stuart Mill principle" comes in, in a certain way – within the framework of proletarian rule and not raised as some kind of absolute, outside of and above the relation of classes and the class character of the state. I don't have time to go into a whole discussion of Mill, but in the "Democracy" book (Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?) I made the point that in fact Mill did not insist on and apply a principle of unrestricted liberty in some universal and absolute sense – he didn't think it applied to workers on strike; he didn't think it applied to people in "backward countries" who, as he saw it, were not yet ready to govern themselves, and he implemented that by being an official in the East India Company, a major instrumentality of colonial depredation and ravaging in Asia and other places. But nonetheless, leaving those contradictions aside here, there is a point that Mill is raising, about how people should be able to hear arguments from their ardent advocates. And I think one of the ways in which this should find expression in the governing of socialist society is that – within the framework where, first of all, the state is firmly controlled by the proletariat, and second, there is consultation between the party and the masses and the implementation of forms, such as those that were developed through the Cultural Revolution in China, forms that combine basic masses with people from administrative posts or technical or educational professionals, or people in the arts who are professionals, etc., in decision-making and administrative tasks on all the different levels and in all the different spheres of society – while that should go on as a foundation, there should be a certain element of contested elections within the framework of whatever the Constitution of the socialist society is at the time. And one of the reasons why this should happen is that it will contribute to implementing what is positive about this John Stuart Mill point – that people need to hear positions not just as they are characterized by those who oppose them but as they are put forward by ardent advocates of those positions – what is positive about this in relation to our strategic objectives, of continuing the socialist revolution toward the goal of communism, the ways in which the implementation of this principle will contribute to political and overall intellectual ferment in socialist society and to the flowering of critical and creative thinking and, yes, of dissent, within socialist society – which will make that society more vibrant and will overall strengthen not only the willingness but the conscious determination of the masses of the people, including among the intellectuals, to not only preserve and defend that society but to continue revolutionizing society toward the goal of communism, together with the revolutionary struggle throughout the world.
One of the things that should be really understood about what we have characterized as the new synthesis, is that it envisions a much more wild society than has heretofore existed, politically speaking. I mean, things got very wild in the Cultural Revolution in China. But I am envisioning this in a different sense, on a more ongoing basis – one in which there is a solid core, and elasticity is giving rise to all kinds of contention on the basis of the solid core and within the framework in which the proletariat is (a) firmly in control of the state, and (b) is leading, and in that sense, in control of the overall political apparatus, even those parts that are not strictly speaking the state in the literal sense of being organs of political dictatorship and suppression, such as the armed forces, where the leadership of the party, and with that the rule of the proletariat, has to be very clear and firm.
The reason that I'm wrangling with this idea of having contested elections to, in part, select people to legislatures – in other words to have part of the selection, not the whole, but part of the selection of people to legislative bodies on local areas, and even on the national level, open to contestation – has to do with the Mill principle. It has to do with the principle (which I've articulated before) about how even reactionaries should be able to publish some books in socialist society – all of which, of course, is highly unorthodox [laughs] and, to say the least, controversial, especially in the international communist movement. But I do believe that the masses themselves – if they're actually going to rule and transform society and understand to an increasingly deepening level what is involved in transforming the world – will be better served by some contention in this kind of way, and that it has to find some expression other than just people being able to be guaranteed certain "first amendment" rights (freedom of speech and of assembly, of the right to dissent and protest, and so on), which they should have, within the framework of the proletarian dictatorship. So that's one element that I'm wrestling with.
Along with that, as there has been in previous socialist societies, there needs to be a Constitution. A Constitution, however, should always be understood, as should the law, as a moving, dynamic thing. At any given time it has relative identity. You can't say it's completely relative, or that it's essentially relative at any given time, or it would have no meaning then – it would be whatever anybody wanted it to be, and that's not a Constitution. A Constitution is something that sets down what are the rules of the game so that everybody can, on the one hand, in one important aspect, feel at ease, and, at the same time, can contribute fully to the struggle to transform society, while knowing, in effect, what the rules are. But it's a moving thing in the sense that a Constitution will change as the advance is carried forward toward communism. A Constitution is a reflection in the superstructure of where you are in the overall transformation of society, including in the economic base – just as the law, as Marx pointed out, is essentially a reflection of the property relations of society (and the production relations at the foundation of those property relations) at any given time. And there will be a need, as there was in China, for example, for different Constitutions at different stages in that process. You will need to, in effect, tear up the old Constitution and rewrite it, as you advance, particularly by leaps, from one stage to another. But, at any given time, a Constitution plays an important role, I believe – or should play an important role – in socialist society. For example, I firmly believe that the army, and also in a fundamental sense the courts, especially courts that have a more societal-wide impact, and the essential administrative bodies, should be particularly responsible to the vanguard party in socialist society. But, here's where the contradiction comes in. I also believe they should be responsible to the Constitution. That is, to get right down on the ground, the army should not be able to be mobilized to go against the Constitution, even while it's being led by the party. And here you can see a potentially roaring tension. But if the party can lead the armed forces to go outside of and above and beyond the Constitution, then the Constitution is meaningless. And then, in effect, you do have an arbitrary rule whereby it's merely the party and whatever the party is deciding at a given time – those are the rules, and that's how they'll be enforced.
Now, this gets really tricky if you think about Cultural Revolutions in socialist society. What happens then? Well [laughs] revolutions are revolutions – a lot of things get suspended, but they have to be reconstituted. And there has to be some sort of leading core and rules even within that. That was the point of the Circulars that were put out by the party leadership in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, for example. But on a more ongoing basis, you can't simply run society in such a way that whoever gets control of the party at a given time sets and enforces the rules according to whatever they think the rules should be at a given time. Or else the masses will not feel at ease and, in fact, you will open the gates much more widely to the restoration of capitalism and a bourgeois dictatorship, a dictatorship of exploiters and oppressors of the masses. So there's real tension, and you can concentrate it in that formulation – that the army, for example, should be responsible to the party and led by the party, but it should also be responsible and accountable to the Constitution, and if people rally against the party, for example, in mass dissent, it should not be that the party can mobilize the army to carry out bloody suppression of those masses, or to suppress their right to raise that dissent against the party. So this has a lot of acute tension, or potentially acute tension, built into it. But again I am firmly convinced that, in order for the masses to really increasingly become masters of society, these kind of principles, and the institutionalization of these principles, are necessary in socialist society.
This, then, raises the question that I call the "Islamic Republic of Iran question." People will say: "Well, okay, that sounds good – Constitutional rights, even the army can't violate the Constitution, yes, have some contested elections – but how are you going to be different than Iran where they have the Supreme Islamic Council and it has final veto power over what happens. You're not really going to be different than that, are you?" Well, we aren't and we are. We aren't in the sense that we don't intend to have the fundamental question of state power put up for whoever can grab it. In fact, a Constitution has to embody what the character of the state power is – not only what the role of the army is in relation to the party, for example, but what is the character of the production relations, in addition to having a whole dimension of the rights of the people and, yes, of individuals.
Why do you need a Constitution? Because as Mao pointed out – this was an important thing that he brought forward – in socialist society there remains a contradiction between the people and the government, or the people and the state. This was not well understood before Mao. He pointed this out, if I remember correctly, in "On the Correct Handling of the Contradictions Among the People." And the need for a Constitution and for constitutional provisions, protections and rights is an expression of the recognition of that reality – that even where the state is in the hands of the proletariat, and is a positive state, is a good state, is a state that's maintaining the rule of the proletariat and putting its weight behind the further revolutionization of society and support of the world revolution – even there, there has to be protection against simply trampling on individuals or sections of society in the name of, or even in the legitimate pursuit of, the larger social and worldwide good.
So this is an important contradiction, and this is why you need a Constitution. And in my opinion, it is why you also do need a "rule of law." This has to do with the criticism that I raised in "Two Great Humps" (a talk I gave in the latter half of the 1990s)21 of Lenin's formulation that dictatorship is rule, unrestricted rule, and specifically rule unrestricted by law. Now, to be fair to Lenin, he was saying this in the very, very early stages of the new Soviet republic, when not that much experience had been accumulated about the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and under very urgent and desperate circumstances. And he was not putting this forward as a general conclusion about what the character of the governance should be throughout the transition to communism. He didn't even fully understand what that transition would look like yet. But, reflecting on it with historical perspective, that is not a correct statement of what a dictatorship is or should be. There do need to be laws. And there does need to be a "rule of law," or else there are no laws. I mean this in the sense that the law does have to be applied according to the actual character of the society and what is provided for in the Constitution and the laws themselves – it has to be applied in the same way to everybody and everything. Now, part of the law, an essential part of the law, must be and will be an expression of dictatorship over the bourgeoisie, and suppression of counter-revolutionaries. But then you do not simply declare somebody a counter-revolutionary and deprive them of rights without any process of law, or else you're again opening the gates to arbitrary rule and the restoration of bourgeois dictatorship. So that's another intense contradiction.
What about independent judiciary? In my opinion, the judiciary, as to whether it should be independent – it should and it shouldn't. In one real sense, it should be independent – in the sense that it shouldn't be, in any proximate, immediate sense simply following the dictates of the party. There should be law, and things should operate according to the law. On the other hand, and in an overall sense, and especially the more we are talking about a court whose decisions influence things on a large scale, and especially courts whose decisions affect all of society, this, too, has to be under the leadership of the party at the same time as it is beholden not only to the party but to the Constitution. Once again, intense contradiction.
So these are some things I'm wrestling with, and here the "Islamic Republic of Iran question" does arise, once again. Now there are some fundamental differences between us and what I'm envisioning in speaking of the Islamic Republic of Iran (as the embodiment of a certain kind of rule). First of all, we're not theocratic fundamentalists! That is not merely a statement without content, but makes a profound difference – our world outlook, our political objectives, are profoundly different. But as true and as important as that is, that's still not enough, there is still more to be wrestled with in the sense of: the party cannot, simply and arbitrarily and by going "outside of the rules," overturn what may be happening in society, according to the "rules" of society at any given time – mobilizing the army, once again, or other organs of the state, to do that. If revolutionaries in the party, or the party collectively, feel that the society is going in the direction back to capitalism, and there's no way to prevent this other than through the kind of thing that Mao unleashed in the Cultural Revolution, then that's what the Party will have to unleash – and then everything is up for grabs, "all bets are off," so to speak. But, in my opinion, if you allow the party to simply and arbitrarily decide what the rules are, what the law is, how the judiciary should operate, whether or not constitutional provisions should be extended or whether rights should be taken away, without any due process of law; if you allow that, you are increasing the potential and strengthening the basis for the rise of a bourgeois clique to power and for the restoration of capitalism.
So these are all things that need to be further wrangled with. But the contradictions that are being touched on here have to do with the character of socialism as a transition to communism, and not yet communist society itself, and with the need to draw the masses into – first of all, the need to draw the masses more fully into the running of and the transforming of society; and second of all, it has to do with the whole new synthesis and, in particular, the epistemological dimension of that and how that interpenetrates with the political dimension. In other words, to put it in concentrated terms, how are the masses going to come to know the world as fully as possible, in order to actually transform it; how are they going to more fully understand the complexity of things and what is right and wrong, what is true and not true, in order to be able to become more fully the masters of society and to transform it toward the goal of communism? The things that I'm wrestling with have to do with and are being taken up in that kind of framework. But we can't get away from the fact that there is one thing that CANNOT be done, and that is: the proletariat cannot, in a fundamental sense, share power with other classes – that is, the state in socialist society cannot be a state that serves different class interests – because, even while the proletariat must maintain and apply the strategic orientation of building a united front under its leadership, all the way to the achievement of communism, it remains a profound truth that only the proletariat, as a class, has a fundamental interest in abolishing all class distinctions and everything bound up with class divisions, in both the economic base and the political and ideological superstructure of society. What exists and is concretized in law, in a Constitution, in the nature of the state, has to reflect not only the rule of the proletariat but also the objectives of the proletariat in advancing toward the abolition of class distinctions and the "4 Alls" and thereby the need for the state. And this has to take concrete forms, which will get embodied in successive Constitutions. But, as important as that is, on another level that is only the outward, superstructural expression of what needs to be going on in terms of transforming those "4 Alls" – continuing to transform the economic base, to revolutionize the world outlook of the people, within the party as well as in society overall, and to transform the political institutions to draw more and more masses into them, and to move to continually narrow and eventually eliminate the difference between the party and the broader masses in the running of the state and in the determination of the direction of society.
This is the way in which the proletarian state has to be firmly in the hands of the proletariat; but, at the same time, in accordance with the interests of the proletariat, it has to be different than every other kind of state: it has to be not only reinforcing the existing economic base and superstructure, but actually transforming the economic base and the superstructure, together with the advance of the world revolution, toward the goal of communism. This has to be reflected in all these institutions I'm talking about – of the state and of government, of law and Constitution. And all this, once again, involves very acute contradictions. As I have pointed out many times, it is very easy to promulgate, to theoretically conceive of and popularize, the idea of all elasticity – which is another way of saying bourgeois democracy, because that is what it will devolve into, that is what it will become. And we've also learned from experience that it is easy to veer in the direction of all solid core and a linear view of how you advance toward communism, how you carry forward the socialist transition: linear in the sense that everything is extended out as a line from the party – it's the party leading the masses to do this, the party leading the masses to do that. Yes, in an overall sense, it is necessary for the party to lead the masses, as long as there is a need for a vanguard party; but it is a very complex and contradictory process that I think we have to envision and that is envisioned in this new synthesis, which has to do with unleashing a lot of mass upheaval, turmoil, tumult, debate, dissent, and thrashing it through among and together with the masses, in order for the masses, in growing numbers, to synthesize what's true and correct and revolutionary out of all that. And, yes, on that basis, to suppress what actually needs to be suppressed, but also to carry forward what needs to be carried forward, and to deal correctly, at any point, with the two different types of contradictions (contradictions among the people and contradictions between the people and the enemy). This is a different way, a not so linear way. It's not like you're fly-fishing [laughing] and throwing a line out – it's much more "throwing out" a process that goes in many different directions and then working through, together with the masses, to synthesize it, without letting go of the core of everything. And that's the very difficult part, to do that without letting go of the core of everything.
So there is the challenge of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, to dig up the soil – materially and ideologically, in the economic base and the superstructure – that must be uprooted and abolished, in order to get to communism, to the realization of the "4 Alls," in relation – and yes this definitely involves contradiction – to continually giving fuller expression to the ways in which the socialist state actually is radically different from all previous kinds of states and actually is moving toward its own eventual abolition, even while – and here's another contradiction – even while that abolition will require a whole process, constituting a whole world-historical epoch, through which the necessary material and ideological conditions for communism are created, not just in a particular country but on a world scale.
I think we have come to see, from the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat so far – in sifting through and summing up this first stage of proletarian revolutions and socialist society and projecting to the future, we've come to understand more fully, and have much more a sense of the complexity, of the fact that this is a long-term process, involving a whole historical epoch, as contrasted even with what Lenin understood at the time he died in 1924, and certainly in contrast with what we would have to say, with historical perspective, were the more naive views of Marx and Engels concerning the abolition or the "withering away" of the state. Marx and Engels more or less thought that once you socialize things – they were looking at this happening first in a more capitalistically developed society – that once you socialize ownership of the means of production under the rule of the proletariat, it would be not that long of a period, and not that profound and complex a struggle, to get to where more and more of the people would be drawn into the administration of society, and the state could accordingly wither away. And we've learned that this is rather naive, not surprisingly. [Using a deliberately sarcastic sounding voice:] "He said Marx and Engels were naive." [laughter] Yes, he did. Because we're historical materialists and not religious and idealist people; and in this aspect, the understanding of Marx and Engels was very undeveloped, not surprisingly. But we've learned much more through, first (after the very short-lived and limited experience of the Paris Commune), the Soviet Revolution and then the Chinese Revolution and the Cultural Revolution in China – and looking at the international dimension of this much more fully in dialectical relation with the advance in any particular socialist country – how complex this will be, and how repeatedly the contradictions that are driving this will assume acute expression and there will have to be another leap forward, in order, first of all, to preserve proletarian rule, but much more fully in order to advance it further, to carry out further transformations in the base and the superstructure, together with supporting and advancing revolutionary struggles throughout the world.
So, in this context I want to come back and speak more directly to the solid core with a lot of elasticity – and elasticity on the basis of the necessary solid core. Now in talks I've given on "Elections, Democracy and Dictatorship, Resistance and Revolution,"22 I spoke about four objectives in relation to the solid core with state power. Now, the whole thing can be characterized, and I have characterized it, in the formulation that the point is "to hold on to state power while making sure that this state power is worth holding on to." And of course that's a boiled down, or basic and simple, concentration of a much more complex phenomenon and process. But the four objectives that relate to that are: 1) holding on to power; 2) making sure that the solid core is expanded to the greatest degree possible, and is not a static thing, but is continually expanding to the greatest degree possible at every point; 3) working consistently toward the point where that solid core will no longer be necessary, and there will no longer be a distinction between that and the rest of society; and 4) giving expression to the greatest amount of elasticity at any given time on the basis of that solid core.
The dialectical interplay of these things is another way of expressing what's involved in what I've described as a nonlinear process of, on the one hand, continuing to exercise the dictatorship of proletariat, and on the other hand – through this whole tumultuous and wrenching process, and through a succession of leaps – not only holding on to power, but transforming the character of that power, as the economic base and the superstructure as a whole are transformed, in dialectical relation with each other and in dialectical relation with the advance of the overall world revolution toward the goal of communism on a world scale.
Once again, we come to our old friend, Immanuel Kant. If you read carefully the "Conversations" book,23 you will see that Bill Martin didn't particularly like the way I dealt with Kant's categorical moral imperative in my book Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?, and we had some discussion of this. Here enters in a point that Samuel Johnson, an 18th-century English writer and literary critic, raised about Shakespeare. Samuel Johnson said that for Shakespeare the pun was the apple for which he would gladly give up all of paradise. In other words, Shakespeare, he alleged, was willing to torture his own text in order to get puns in there. Well, there's an application of this to the "Democracy" book. I really wanted to make this pun, which is in there, about how Kant's categorical moral imperative reduces itself ultimately to mere "cant." So I did. [laughter] But this formulation bothered Bill, so for that as well as more overall reasons, we discussed this further. He didn't like this dismissal of this as mere "cant" – and, just for the record, I did have more analysis than just that punning statement in the "Democracy" book. [laughter] But Bill raised some important points about this and we had further discussion about it, and it would be worthwhile to return to it here, the question of this transcendental moral imperative: Always treat people never as a means to an end, but only as an end unto themselves.
I pointed out in the "Democracy" book, and also in the conversation with Bill Martin, that this is unrealizable in a society divided into classes, and is not desirable in that situation; nor is it realizable or desirable in communist society. And this has to do with a materialist, a communist understanding of communism.
First of all, we should all understand that in essence anyone who insists that other people do things they may not want to do is violating this Kantian categorical moral imperative; and you cannot live in society and avoid violating this. And, yes, this does apply as well to leaders of a vanguard communist party and of a revolutionary struggle in which that party plays a decisive role. Clearly, in the conditions where there is a mass revolutionary struggle for state power, those who lead that struggle will, of necessity, send people into encounters and into battles knowing that some of them will not return – and if they did not do that, there could be no revolutionary struggle for power. But in doing this, those leaders will be grossly violating the Kantian categorical moral imperative – and for very good reasons and purposes.
But, more generally, why do I say that this Kantian principle cannot be carried out in a society divided into classes? Well, to get to something fundamental about capitalist society, for example, it is impossible for the bourgeoisie, the capitalist ruling class, not to treat members of the proletariat as means to an end – that's the very essence and definition of the fundamental relations of capitalism. And, on the other hand, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is also not possible for the proletariat not to treat the overthrown bourgeoisie, and those who constitute the bourgeoisie, as people whose individual strivings have to be suppressed and curtailed – they cannot be viewed as only an end in themselves – or else the danger of capitalist restoration will be greatly increased. Now, on a certain level, it's easier to see this in relation to class society; and, in fact, what we discover if we look at this further is that it is not a very far leap from the pronouncement of the Kantian categorical moral imperative of only treating people as an end in themselves, and never a means to an end – to the principle of each individual putting herself or himself at the center of everything and of ending up with the principle of everybody "looking out for number one," to put it simply.
What often goes along with this is a kind of "solipsism" – a philosophical outlook that says that the only thing you can be certain of is your own existence and your own experience, what you can perceive of and relate to from that foundation. And there is a kind of "me, Al Franken" solipsism that is a concentrated expression of this individualist outlook. What I mean by "me, Al Franken" solipsism is this: Al Franken used to have this satirical routine back in the '70s, on Saturday Night Live, in which the refrain, the punch line, was: "me, Al Franken." "Yes, I realize that there is a Cold War out there, somebody has to stand up to the Soviets, and I think many people should do it, but it should be somebody else who does it, not me, Al Franken. I'm not gonna do it – you go do it, but make sure it benefits me, Al Franken." Now, let's go back to the first sentence on democracy, the first of the three sentences I paraphrased earlier, which begins "In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequalities" – well, if you set out to implement the Kantian categorical moral imperative in these circumstances, in reality you will be driven and compelled into a world of competition with other people in which you will either take on an "altruistic" view of subordinating yourself to other people, which will definitely be the minority at any given time, or the opposite – seeking to subordinate other people to yourself – which will definitely be the way the majority of people will approach this, and they will end up in "me, Al Franken-ism." The actual workings of society, the workings of a world and a society that are in fact marked by profound class divisions and social inequalities, and are driven by the compelling force of anarchy and commodity production and exchange, will not allow you, even in the relation of individuals, to carry out that Kantian principle in reality. Necessity will impinge on you, and on other individuals, and it will not be possible to implement this principle, even in terms of the relations among individuals, let alone in the society and the world at large, with their profound divisions and inequalities.
And even in communist society, it will never be the case that individuals do not need to subordinate themselves, in an overall sense, to the larger interests of society. This has to do with Marx's famous statement that "right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and the culture conditioned thereby." Now, this will take a radically different expression in communist society than it does in class society – the subordination of individuals to the larger interests of society will take a qualitatively different expression in a communist world, even as compared to socialist society and the dictatorship of the proletariat. But it will never be the case that you could have a society where the organizing and "operative" principle of society is that every individual will treat every other individual as a completely autonomous unit, which always must be approached, regarded and treated as an end in itself. And if you try to do that, the necessity that you're up against, yes, even in communist society, will overwhelm you and push you backward. To take one important historical expression of this, Engels analyzed what all the lofty principles of the French revolution – which was, in reality, the most advanced and radical of the bourgeois revolutions – devolved down into in reality: the principles of freedom and equality, fraternity, liberty, etc., devolved down into what we can recognize today as the traditional and fundamental relations and conventions of bourgeois society. Why? Because those who proclaimed these principles were all hypocrites? No, in most instances that was far from the case. But things turned out as Engels analyzed them because the material conditions, the underlying economic base, and the corresponding superstructure will exert themselves – once again this goes back to the decisive point that people make history but not in any way they wish; and the point spoken to earlier about how there is no such thing as an economy in the abstract, or in the absence of definite relations of production – in any economy, in any society founded on a certain economy, people enter into a definite set of production relations and a corresponding set of social relations, and not in any old way they wish but as a result of the contradiction between necessity and whatever freedom they are able to achieve by transforming necessity at a given time.
So, how you relate to other individuals will be fundamentally shaped by this. This will be true even outside of class society, once humanity has moved beyond class-divided society. And certainly within class society, the way individuals related to each other will be shaped by production and social relations that take form as relations of oppressor and oppressed, exploiter and exploited, class difference and opposition, and fundamentally class antagonism. And we see this expressed all the time. As with the French revolution, slogans like "freedom" are given different content by different people. The "freedom of the home owner" – a very important principle in American society, the freedom of the home owner. In my Memoir, From Ike To Mao and Beyond, My Journey From Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, I talked about a situation where there was a fair housing battle in Berkeley, back in the early 1960s, and this guy who opposed the fair housing initiative was on the Les Crane radio show, debating with someone supporting fair housing, and this opponent of fair housing was insisting "I'm not a racist, I just don't want the government telling me what I can do with my property, my house. I earned the money to buy my house." So I called up, got on the air and said to this guy: "Do you object when the government has regulations about how far apart you can have electrical outlets in your house?" "Oh, no, everybody understands that's reasonable." "Well, then," I concluded, "when you're raising the slogan ‘the freedom of the home owner,’ what you're really saying is you are a racist – you don't mind the government telling you about electrical outlets, but you don't want them telling you that you can't refuse to sell your house to Black people."
So this lofty principle of "freedom of the individual" – what content does it have here, with regard to "the rights of the home owner," given the existing social relations. If we were to treat that home owner as an end in himself, and never a means to an end, we would have to accede to his desire to do as he wished with his home, regardless of the question of the larger social good or harm. Now, particularly as communists, there is a contradiction we have to recognize and handle correctly – this is bound up with what Mao identified as the contradiction between the government and the people in socialist society – there is a contradiction between the larger societal good and the role of individuals. And there is the need to recognize the importance of not simply trampling on the latter in the name of the former. I'll come back to that more fully, a little later, when I discuss Rawls's theory of justice.24
But we see that these lofty principles about "freedom" find different social expression, take on different social content, depending on the larger matrix of social and fundamentally production relations and corresponding superstructure in which they exist. This applies to things like "equal opportunity" or "equality before the law." These are principles of the bourgeois revolution and bourgeois society, but they pose themselves in opposition to the communist principle and objective of moving beyond the calculation of social equality and inequality, moving beyond the realm where inequality, or equality, has meaning – or, once again, moving beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right. The communist slogan and principle "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" is a slogan which is beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right. It is beyond the calculation of equality and inequality. And in moving from socialism to communism we also will move beyond the sphere of the law, and therefore of equality before the law. Once there are no longer conflicting property relations, once there are no longer relations of commodity production and exchange, once there are no longer class antagonisms and in fact we have moved beyond class distinctions altogether, then there will no longer be a need for law to codify and institutionalize the relations among people. Once again, all this is involved in moving beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right.
Now let's look at some other fundamental views of freedom as refracted through the viewpoint of the bourgeoisie, in order to shed some light on the communist, the materialist as opposed to the idealist, and ultimately bourgeois, view of freedom, and of the relations among people. "Free markets," we hear a lot about that these days. And a "free labor force" – is that an advance over a labor force that's literally enslaved and held as the property of others? Yes. But is it really free, in relation to the objectives of communism? This came up in the debate around the Party Programme during the time when the newspaper was publishing articles and there was debate on the Web about the Draft Programme. Raymond Lotta wrote a series of articles about the market, because some people were on the Web arguing that it has been proven that the socialist planning mechanism has fundamental flaws, so we need to give more expression to the market under socialism. And he raised a question in those articles: If you're going to say that, then what about a labor market: should labor power, its price and distribution within the economy, and so on, be determined by the market? And if not, how can you really have a fully free market; or how can the market really operate if such basic things as labor power are not part of the market mechanism, and are not being determined by the operation of the market?
The fact is that these slogans, "free market" and "free labor," have a definite social and class content. "Free labor" corresponds to a labor force that is free and mobile, not owned outright and chained to a particular employer, a particular exploiter, but "free" to be employed and to be "let go" – to be hired and to be fired – according to the needs and dictates of capitalist accumulation and the pursuit of capitalist profit. And "free markets" have to do with reinforcing the narrow confines of bourgeois right. Leaving aside the specifics of the labor market, the operation of the market in general has to do with reinforcing the narrow confines of bourgeois right, forcing things to remain within the dynamic of commodity production and exchange, even if we were to leave aside the question of labor power becoming a commodity and that being the basis for the exploitation of the proletariat and in fact for the creation of wealth under capitalism. Even if we left that aside, "free markets" is a direct expression of the commodity principle – of the production and exchange of the material requirements of life in the form of commodity production and exchange and the corresponding production and social relations, and corresponding superstructure. And, within the confines of this form of the production and exchange of the material requirements of life, people will never be able to approach and to plan social production from the point of view of the overall needs of society, nor for that matter, to approach meeting the needs and wants of the individual members of society in a conscious and planned way; instead, all this will always take place "behind the backs" of the members of society and through a process that pits them in competition and propels them into antagonism with each other – and, again, this even without taking into account the fact that, in the actual development of things in a system in which commodity production and exchange are fully developed and generalized, labor power itself will inevitably become a commodity to be bought and sold, and the corresponding relations of exploiter and exploited will emerge and intensify, and along with that a whole ensemble of oppressive and antagonistic social relations. All that is bound to happen with the full development of "free markets" – and, in fact, it is bound to happen in any situation where the operation of "the market" is the pivotal and decisive factor in the economy and therefore in the life of society.
So all these things have a social content which reflects, once again, the relations between the forces and relations of production and between the economic base and the superstructure. Now, especially with the beginning of the bourgeois era, although even before that in different ways, every ruling class identifies its interest and its notion of freedom with the general interests of society and the general freedom of the people in society. Every class – particularly once you get to the bourgeois era, but in a different way with the feudal nobility and the monarchy, and even with the slave-owning class – they all have proclaimed, in one way or another, that their particular interests were the general interests of society. And in this era, the ruling classes and their conscious political representatives, whether bourgeois or proletarian, whether in capitalist society or in socialist society, have each in their own way put forward that the interests of their class represent the general interests of humanity, and that the freedom their class was striving for represented the general embodiment of freedom for humanity, or liberation for humanity. In the case of the bourgeoisie, we know and we have seen all too vividly what that means. In the case of the proletariat, it means moving beyond the narrow confines of bourgeois right, moving beyond the underlying basis in commodity production and exchange and the corresponding economic laws, such as the law of value (which gives expression to the fact that the value of any commodity is determined by the socially necessary labor time involved in the creation of that commodity). So general proclamations about freedom, or about the rights of individuals, have to be viewed in a materialist and dialectical way to see what, in fact, they mean, and what they become embodied as, in actuality. In other words, the essential question is: these ideals are a superstructural expression of what? – of which set of production and social relations and which corresponding political relations, structures and institutions? That's always the question we have to ask. Just as when we hear about an economy we have to ask: what are the production relations and the corresponding social relations and the corresponding superstructure?
And, again, even in communist society, it is not going to be the case that you are going to have some loose amalgam of individuals, who all come together for the greater good, but fundamentally are proceeding from being autonomous entities who are ends in themselves. Communism will never be achieved on that basis, it will never be realized and take shape on that basis and in that way. And in fact, for the same reason, the greater freedom of individuals will never be realized and take shape and find expression in that way.
Now, with regard the question of freedom and democracy, and the rights of the people, a fundamental point is that when the relations of production are such that the masses of people are denied ownership of the means of production – and therefore are dependent, for their very life and livelihood, on a small group, or class, that monopolizes ownership of the means of production – there is, in the very essence of things, a situation in which these masses have been denied the fundamental ability, or "right" if you will, to exercise essential control even over their own lives, let alone over society. Even over their own lives, let alone over society as a whole. And not only does this economic relationship – in which one class exercises the power of life and death over others – qualitatively limit, in many ways, the ability of those "others" to take part in and to play any decisive role in determining the direction of society (and this is spoken to in a number of dimensions in the talk Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism); but this economic relationship is, and can only be, reflected in the superstructure, in particular in the ways that political power is embodied and exercised to reinforce the exploitative economic relations.
Now, in examining further the relationship between the base and the superstructure and the relative autonomy of the superstructure, on the one hand, and how the superstructure reacts back on the economic base – we see that in the world today such phenomena as "neo-liberalism," the further unleashing of more unfettered commodity operation and capitalist exploitation, and globalization are leading to less solidity and stability, more volatility and anxiety, economically and, yes, socially for broad strata of people, including in the imperialist countries. Not only is this bringing tremendous upheaval in the Third World, which I referred to earlier – peasants being driven off the land in massive numbers and into urban shantytowns, and people being driven from their home country to far-flung places across the globe, in the desperate search for survival and a livelihood – but in imperialist society as well. This is something Edward Luttwak pointed out in Turbo-Capitalism: Even where people make a lot of money quickly, which for example was a marked phenomenon of the 1990s, there was not the same stability and solidity that there was in previous times in the U.S. You could make a lot of money and then be "out" the next week. There is no guarantee of hanging onto a job for a lifetime, let alone of "passing it on," in essence, to your children and having them advance to yet another level beyond what you attained. And, along with this, there is the destruction of the New Deal, and "Great Society" programs, and the whole unleashing of "free market fundamentalism" as the increasingly dominant ideology, along with, and reinforced in many ways by, religious fundamentalism, particularly Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. So we see "fiscal conservatism," the ending of a lot of the concessionary programs characteristic of the "Great Society," the ending of a certain government role in the economy and in society characteristic of what was brought forth through the New Deal (about which I'll have more to say later) – we see that in conjunction with "fiscal conservatism" (slashing of social programs, tax cuts for the rich, and so on), and we see how, despite certain contradictions, this meshes with "social conservatism" buttressed by religious fundamentalism. And all this has to do with the point of "turbo-capitalism" and the heightened globalization, where people are feeling, as Luttwak put it, an urge toward non-economic expressions flowing from economic causes, from economic instability and the corresponding anxiety. This is one of the important things on the terrain that we have to deal with; it has to do with all these slogans of "freedom," and it has to do with the whole direction of society now.
As a matter of fact, the workings of "neo-liberalism" and fiscal conservatism (again: slashing of social programs, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate interests, etc.) along with globalization, are actually against the economic interests of not only the masses of proletarians and poor people but also much of the petty bourgeoisie, many of whom actually suffer significant economic dislocation, uncertainty and even hardship as a result of these programs and the forces driving them. So, on the part of the ruling class – and in particular those sections most determined to get rid of remainders of the New Deal and "Great Society" programs – there is a need, which they are recognizing, to "cohere" and organize people around "social conservatism," grounding it to a significant degree in religious fundamentalism, or Christian Fascism, as we correctly call it. Again, there is the point that Luttwak formulates as "the non-economic expression of economic dissatisfactions." And this is all very complex.
A number of people, like Thomas Frank, who wrote What's the Matter with Kansas, have tried to put forward some sort of a social-democratic, populist view – not a proletarian and not a scientific communist view, but a social-democratic, populist view – to speak to this phenomenon. And even more crudely, some people coming from a kind of narrow economist, social-democratic point of view have fallen into insisting that all this "social conservatism," or religious fundamentalism, is just a diversion to keep people from actually acting on their own economic interests. This is a serious error and involves failing to grasp the way in which these superstructural things, in particular this whole religious fundamentalism, while it has an ultimate basis in economic changes in society and social changes in society, takes on a relative life of its own, has a relative autonomy as an ideological expression. And so people like Thomas Frank are trying to figure out: how can we get these strata, like small farmers who are being driven under by Monsanto and these other big agro-corporations, how can we get them to recognize that these very forces they're supporting by voting Republican are actually grinding them under? Or workers who were laid off, how can we get them to understand that the attacks on unions and the slashing of the New Deal and "Great Society" is undermining their position and is actually against their interests? But, along with the fact that this is confined within the narrow framework of Republicans vs. Democrats – within the narrow confines of the dominant bourgeois politics – it is being approached, by these social-democrats and bourgeois-democratic progressives, in a way that underestimates the relative autonomy of the superstructure and the way that this, in turn, reacts back upon things in the economic base and in the social relations.
In a certain way, there is an expression here or a parallel with Marx's point in "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" about the relationship between the shopkeeper and the democratic intellectual.25 But here, too, it is very important to understand this dialectically, not mechanically. What did Marx say? He said that, in their daily life, in their way of approaching things, the democratic intellectuals, on the one hand, and the shopkeepers, on the other hand, may be as far apart as heaven and earth – that's quite a ways apart – but in their thinking, in the realm of ideas, in their conception of how society ought to be and what are the driving forces in society, and so on, the democratic intellectuals do not get farther in that realm than the shopkeepers get in everyday practical life. Marx also said, in the same work, that these intellectual representatives of the petty bourgeoisie want to be above classes, but they are actually being buffeted by the contest of the two major classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, in between which they find themselves. And so Marx is bringing to light that the expression that this gives rise to in the realm of theory may be airy and may be very far removed from the everyday humdrum exchange of commodities which characterizes the life of the shopkeeper; but the fact is that the thinking of the democratic intellectuals does not rupture out of the bounds that are ultimately conditioned by commodity production and exchange. Even the way such intellectuals conceive of notions of freedom and democracy, and so on, are a reflection of these underlying commodity relations. That is the point of Marx, his extremely profound point, in the "18th Brumaire." His is a very dialectical materialist approach and analysis, not a vulgar, mechanical, determinist and reductionist one.
And there's a parallel here with people who rally to religious fundamentalism, for example: for the great majority of them, their actual situation is such that their economic interests are in conflict with the policies and programs toward which these people are being pulled. It is important to understand the complexity of what's going on here. This is not just a gimmick, this religious fundamentalism: This is giving organized, reactionary expression to a general feeling among significant sections of the intermediate strata of society, as well as among some of the masses at the base of society, that the things that "anchored" their way of life, and give stability to their livelihood, are being undermined and uprooted – it is a way of identifying this with the loss of traditional, and in particular patriarchal, values, conventions, and relations, and in turn identifying this with the need to forcefully assert not only traditional but literalist, fundamentalist, absolutist religion, in particular Christian fundamentalism. We should understand the complexity of all this. It is, once again, Marx's the "heaven and earth" point. There is not a direct one-to-one crude mechanical correspondence between what happens to people economically and how they conceive of that, as refracted through all the different social relations – as it is bent, if you will, when it enters into the whole superstructural realm of ideas and culture, and so on. These ideas and this culture, including reactionary Christian fundamentalism, find ultimate determination in the underlying economic base, but that is its ultimate determination. We have to grasp the dialectics of this, and crude, mechanical materialism will not help.
Now one of the things that I brought up in the polemic against K. Venu is that people like him, as I put it, take bourgeois democracy "more seriously" than the bourgeoisie does! They actually believe, or get taken in and swept along by, the idea that this is, after all, some sort of democracy which is extended to individuals without regard to class content. Whereas the bourgeoisie knows, or senses very well, that – guess what? – this is a dictatorship. It acts on that understanding, and its most conscious representatives particularly act on that, or they do not remain representatives of that class. Not that somebody's sitting there, giving them a "pass" or flushing them out, but this is the way it works out through all the dynamics. We should never forget this point. Bourgeois democracy is bourgeois dictatorship. It is a means of political rule that often corresponds most appropriately to the interests of the bourgeois ruling class and its forms of exploitation, but it is that, and not something else. It is a form of dictatorship.
We can look at examples in history to see what political expressions and political actions this has taken with regard to important representatives of the bourgeoisie. We can go back to Kant. I made the point to Bill Martin that just because Kant thought Frederick the Great was really great doesn't mean we should ignore and not engage his philosophical writings, and his writings on ethics and so on. But the fact is that his lofty notions of freedom and autonomy, and so on, did boil down to supporting "an enlightened despot." And that has meaning. There is a reason for that. As I pointed out, it's not right to just dismiss someone's philosophy because it is accompanied by a reactionary political viewpoint, but it is a legitimate question: what is the connection between a philosophy and the political expression it takes?
Or look at another historical figure who is generally associated with the rise of the bourgeoisie, Martin Luther. With Luther, it is another one of those cases where he didn't intend to at the beginning, but he ended up leading, or giving rise to, the Protestant Reformation. He nailed his theses on the door of a church, and basically began to elaborate the principle that you don't need the institutions and officials of the church to get to god, you could go directly to god yourself as an individual. This was in the realm of the superstructure – and the ways in which this served the rise of the bourgeoisie and capitalism do not find expression in some crude and reductionist sense. It's not that Martin Luther articulated these principles, or theses, and pounded them on the door of the church because he wanted to open up a sweatshop. No. These were superstructural expressions which, however, arose in relation to bourgeois relations of production that were beginning to emerge at that time, and things like Luther's theological ideas in turn gave further impetus to those bourgeois production relations as well as to the corresponding superstructure. What was happening in that realm – attacking the church and basically its embodiment of feudalism in the superstructure, or the role of the church and its doctrines and dogma in reflecting, in the superstructure, the relations of production and social relations characteristic of feudalism – had a lot to do with the emerging bourgeois revolution and the unleashing of more initiative and creativity to develop science and other things, which were utilized by the bourgeoisie. This is so, not in a crude determinist way or reductionist sense, but in a dialectical sense.
But what did Martin Luther do when the peasants in Germany rose up? He demanded that they be nailed to the wall, literally. He advocated the most sanguinary, bloodthirsty suppression of these peasants – and, in so doing, he acted perfectly on behalf of the bourgeoisie, which proclaims "freedom" insofar as the constraints on its relations of production and corresponding superstructure are removed by the realization of its concept of "freedom," but which exercises dictatorship in the most ruthless way when necessary over the classes that it exploits and oppresses.
Or let's go back to John Stuart Mill. Without repeating everything that has been said earlier with regard to Mill, and his ideas on liberty, let's keep in mind here what he thought were necessarily the very severe limitations on that liberty, including for colonial peoples and proletarians who were even attempting to strike, to say nothing of class-conscious proletarians who were moving to overthrow and abolish capitalism altogether.
Or what about Thomas Jefferson. There was recently an article, I think it was in the New York Times Book Review section (or it might have been in the New York Times Magazine, I can't remember which) but it's about this other slave owner who wrote to Thomas Jefferson, talking about how he wanted to set his slaves free, and trying to figure out what was the best way to do this, and looking for backing from Jefferson, because, of course, freeing his slaves would be controversial among the slave owners. And, as discussed in this recent article, Jefferson came back very firmly, saying, No, you must absolutely not do this. Yes, eventually slavery will be ended, but right now it's very important that we protect the ownership of this form of property. And yet Jefferson was an advocate of the Enlightenment, and articulated many principles of the bourgeois revolution. This is a peculiar feature of America, where slavery was mixed in with the development of capitalism for 100 years or more. But here again you see that these bourgeois notions of freedom are historically and socially conditioned and have meaning and content in relation to the actual conditions in which they arise and are articulated. They are not abstract and universal principles which all should strive for, and which will be applied to all, regardless of class content.
I was joking around with people, talking about this movie which came out some time ago, with Anthony Hopkins, called Magic. Hopkins played this ventriloquist whose personality was taken over more and more by the alter-ego of the dummy, and pretty soon he couldn't distinguish the two and, in fact, "the dummy" more and more became his personality. And at a certain point, a friend of his said to the Anthony Hopkins character, this is becoming a serious problem. But Anthony Hopkins' character refused to recognize this, he wouldn't acknowledge the problem. So finally his friend said: Look, I'll tell you what, put the dummy away in its case for a day – just for a day – don't talk to the dummy, and don't talk in the dummy's voice for a whole day. Well, finally, Anthony Hopkins' character tried to do this, and he couldn't. The compulsion was overwhelming. Well, for many people who are progressive-minded but don't have a scientific, materialist understanding of things, they can't go a single day without talking about democracy in a classless way. This is how they see the world.
To refer again to the statement by Marx, in "The 18th Brumaire," about the relation between shopkeepers and democratic intellectuals, these people who are so enamored of an idealized notion of democracy are not shopkeepers, but they reflect in their thinking the underlying relations of commodity production and exchange. And some of them, in their thinking about how to reform society, try to proceed from this notion of democracy, a classless democracy, to superimpose that on the actual underlying economic base. You will hear them say things like "well, we need to `democratize' the economy." This is inverting the reality of things. The democracy they are talking about is actually an expression of the existing production and social relations, and has a definite social and class content – in reality it is bourgeois democracy and is the outer form whose inner essence is bourgeois dictatorship – but then they're trying to take that and superimpose it on the reality of capitalism, in order to "democratize the economy." What would that even mean, in a society marked by profound class divisions and social inequalities? And even if you could somehow "wipe the slate clean" and eliminate all the big corporations, for example, as long as you left intact and in effect the underlying foundation of commodity production and exchange, then the profound inequalities and class divisions, and the emergence of monopolies, etc., would all reassert itself rather quickly.
So this is the fundamental idealism of these views and ways in which underlying relations get reflected in the superstructure. To refer again to Marx's extremely insightful and important observation, the ideas of the democratic intellectual are not a direct expression of what the shopkeeper does in everyday practical life, but these ideas do not rupture beyond the realm that the shopkeeper deals in, in everyday practical life – they do not rupture, in other words, beyond the narrow confines and horizons of bourgeois right. So the point in talking about Kant, or Martin Luther, or Jefferson, or Mill, or others that we could cite, is not that these exponents of "freedom" and "liberty" were all simply "hypocrites," but that their "lofty ideals" represented and expressed a certain world outlook – which, in turn, was the reflection and in a certain sense a concentration, of certain definite social, and fundamentally production, relations. And if we go back and look at the "Democracy" book and "Phony/Real,"26 we see there discussion and illustration of the contrasting proletarian and bourgeois views of these things like freedom and liberation, and an examination of what the bourgeois ideal of freedom amounts to and devolves back into in the real world – how it is an expression of relations of exploitation and oppression – and how one's ideas will inevitably be that, so long as one does not rupture beyond the bounds of bourgeois right.
The short pamphlet I wrote some years ago on the U.S. Constitution27 speaks to the basic point that this Constitution is indeed, as the title of that pamphlet puts it, "An Exploiters' Vision of Freedom," and that, besides enshrining slavery – and even after slavery was abolished and an Amendment added to the Constitution which institutionalized the illegality of slavery – there was a fundamental relation of exploitation that was not prohibited by this Constitution: the relation in which someone hires the labor power of another (or in reality many others) and derives profit from the employment of that labor power. As seen through the worldview of capitalism, the ability to do this is the quintessential and highest form of freedom – and there is no recognition of the fact that this involves a fundamental negation of the freedom of the many whose labor power is controlled and used in this way by a force that stands over and above them as an alien and indeed oppressive, and repressive, force. This relationship is very well captured in the fact that, at least when I was coming up, as they say, particularly among Black people, it was very common to refer to a job – a job in which labor power is exchanged for wages – as a "slave."
Of course, from the bourgeois standpoint this relationship is not only not exploitation, but is the defining principle of a good society. Just read Ayn Rand, if you want to see a celebration of it, in undisguised and unapologetic terms. Again, there is no recognition that this is a fundamental negation of the freedom of the many who are in this position of being exploited and oppressed. And the point, once again, is that, given a generalized commodity system, which is characteristic of capitalism – and its "freedom" – the principles and operation of commodity production and exchange will lead inexorably to the reduction of labor power itself to a commodity, to a situation where masses of people are forced to sell their ability to work to someone else (or to a succession of other people, a succession of owners of means of production, of capitalists) in order to be able to live. And even with the overthrow of capitalist rule and the establishment of socialism, unless you continue to move toward uprooting and abolishing all commodity production and exchange, and its reflection in the superstructure, you will revert back to a situation where labor power once again becomes a commodity, in other words, back to capitalism.
So when we look at these notions of freedom, and if we think about the importance of not falling into the error of K. Venu (and he is not alone in this, even among communists), the error of taking bourgeois democracy more seriously than the bourgeoisie, and believing in it beyond the ways in which the bourgeoisie believes in it – with all this in mind, we can take a lesson from things like the incident I cited in the speech, "Revolution," which is now on DVD28: the example of when I was doing a speaking tour and doing media appearances in 1979, and as part of that I did a program in Cleveland, with several Black journalists. The moderator of this program was a young Black woman, and there were three other Black journalists, and (I have made this observation before) this was actually one of the most interesting discussions I had with people in the media: these Black journalists actually asked serious questions: Why do you think revolution is possible? What would you do about this problem? How would you deal with that? They were actually substantive questions, instead of the cynical and even snotty questions you get from a lot of the media, much of the time. And then there's the story of what happened – and I tell this story, again, because it captures so much – after the program was over, and in an almost off-hand way, the woman who had been the moderator of the program turned and said to me: " My, you're awfully brave." I was sort of taken aback, and I asked, "Why do you say that?" And she replied, very matter-of-factly: "You know, they kill people for saying what you're saying."
Now just think about what that captures. She didn't say they kill people for doing certain things, she said they kill people for saying what you're saying. A lot of times people, particularly in the middle strata, think we're exaggerating things, when we talk about bourgeois democracy as a dictatorship, they don't believe that really corresponds to reality. So I have a test for any who are willing to take it up. Go into any neighborhood in any inner city in the U.S., and get to know the people well, so they'll talk to you honestly, and put to them a very simple question: If there is a revolutionary leadership and a revolutionary leader who is calling for revolution in the U.S., just calling for it, and if they are getting a real mass following among many people like you, what will happen to them, what will the government do or try to do to them? And if you can find one in ten who won't say they'll either kill that person or in some other way move to silence them and effectively remove them from the scene, I'll give you a big prize. This response – which, again, I am confident would be the overwhelming response from people, like those in the inner cities, who have felt the hard blows of this bourgeois dictatorship – this response would be a reflection, even if not a scientific summation nevertheless a very real reflection, of the reality of bourgeois dictatorship.
Of course, the challenge for us, for our Party and its leadership, is to develop a mass following, among the millions and millions of people in the inner cities and indeed among all sections of the people, to give this an organized expression – and to do this without the leadership being killed off and destroyed. But that, again, is in recognition of the reality we confront – in particular the reality that this society is, in fact, ruled by a bourgeois dictatorship.
So we should not be taken in by the lofty-sounding slogans of "freedom" and "democracy." When these are put forward without class content – and especially when they are put forward as a defense, or a celebration, of what exists in the U.S., and/or of the role of the U.S. in the world – this is, "at best," an expression of thinking that is confined within the narrow framework of bourgeois right, and it is an expression that objectively serves to cover over the reality and actual nature of bourgeois dictatorship reinforcing the underlying production and social relations of capitalist-imperialist exploitation and oppression from which these ideas ultimately arise and in which they are ultimately rooted. This is the actual relation between the base and superstructure in capitalist society.
And particularly in this era of imperialism, there is another dimension to this – and that is the relations between bourgeois democracy, especially in the imperialist countries, and imperialism itself. In Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? I quoted a statement from The Science of Revolution29 about the "worm-eaten platform of democracy" in the imperialist countries and how the foundation for this is not, in political terms, represented by the Bill of Rights (I'm paraphrasing here) but is embodied in the military dictator, the torturer, and similar types carrying out openly tyrannical rule throughout the Third World. In the era of imperialism, this is the relation between bourgeois democracy – and, for that matter, social-democracy (bourgeois democracy with a weak "socialist" coloration) – and imperialism. This applies, of course, not only to the U.S., but to imperialist countries in general. Just as in the economic sphere, to the degree that concessions are made and spoils are dribbled out to sections of the labor aristocracy and broader sections of the working class at times, and to the petty bourgeoisie, so too, in the superstructure, in the political sphere, to the degree that certain strata are able to not feel immediately the sting of dictatorship in an imperialist country, it is because of imperialist plunder throughout the world and imperialist relations of domination and exploitation on an international scale – even though, for the intermediate strata in the "home" imperialist country, as soon as they do anything, politically or otherwise, that would pose any threat in the eyes of the political operatives of the ruling class, they would, indeed, feel the sting of dictatorship coming down on them. But to the degree that this can be mitigated and modified at times, particularly for more intermediate and more privileged strata within "the home country," this has to do with the relationship between imperialism and the Third World, and it has to do with the relationship between imperialism and bourgeois democracy.
And here we get to the hero of Christopher Hitchens (and of others, of course), George Orwell. When I first went to France, for some reason I got into reading a lot of Orwell. I read his Homage to Catalonia, and other writings about the Spanish Civil War, and then I went on and read some other books of his, and I came across this most astounding statement – for which I guess he should get some kind of recognition for candor. But here's what he said: Intellectuals and others in England, who are left-leaning, are all pro-empire – for one very basic reason. We all know that, if it weren't for the British empire, we would all be stuck living in a very cold, rainy, gray, dreary place where we would all have to work long hours and eat lots of potatoes. [laughter]
Well, I guess you couldn't ask for a better self-exposure of the relationship between social democracy, with all of its anti-totalitarian rantings, and imperialism. Now, again, this doesn't mean that we should simply dismiss all of Orwell's writings out of hand. I learned some things by reading him. But, in essence, he was giving conscious expression to an important phenomenon and an important relationship: the basis on which people who claim to be socialists, as he did, or some kind of leftists, gravitate towards support for imperialism, for the reasons that he said. And if you expand out from that, while this may take different forms in different countries, you can certainly see that Orwell captured the heart and essence of this very well.
And this has to do with the discussion in GO&GS30 of how the Enlightenment divides into two. How, on the one hand, Marxism unites in basic terms with the core principle of the Enlightenment that people should seek to know the world by rational means and scientific means, in essence. On the other hand, we have two fundamental differences: One, we do not think that the truth will set you free by itself. Even though the truth is the truth and does not have a class character, whether or not truths get recognized in society as true – and we can see this once again with evolution – has to do with the struggle between classes, in any class-divided society. And, further, we do not agree with the way in which the Enlightenment has been used as an apology and a justification for imperialism – with the John Stuart Mill argument that some people need the civilizing hand of imperialist domination to bring them into the modern world – which we see being enacted now, first of all by Clinton, who articulated it as a theoretical expression, and carried it out in places like Yugoslavia, and now by Bush, et al, on a whole other level.
Just to go into a few more points and then conclude on this general theme. From the point of view of a communist understanding – and specifically a communist understanding, as opposed to a utopian and ultimately bourgeois-democratic view, of communism itself – we can say that communism does not represent a "rebirth," or a "revival," on a world scale, of scattered early communal society. This has to do with what this phrase that we've used, and it is a good phrase to use – "freely associating community of people" – when we speak of communism, what does that mean, and not mean? Once again, as I've spoken to up to this point, it does not mean that communism is this loose confederation of individuals, each of whom is pursuing their own thing as an autonomous end in themselves, and somehow this works out for the greater good. Actually, if we think about it, this conforms more to Adam Smith's view of the good society than it does to communism – that if each individual pursues their own individual interests, and this is expressed through and modified by competition, then the greater social good will be served. That actually corresponds to a classical bourgeois view of freedom and the greater societal good, and really has nothing to do, fundamentally, with communism, which is not a society in which there's a loose confederation of individuals all acting as autonomous ends in themselves. Without repeating everything I've said about that so far, it should begin to be clear why that is so.
So we have to understand "a society of freely associating human beings" in a materialist and dialectical sense, in terms of what I began with, about freedom being the transformation of necessity and the fact that there will always be necessity, including under communism, even while the contradiction between the forces and relations of production and between the base and the superstructure will not take shape and expression in communist society as class relations and oppressive social divisions, and there will not be political institutions of repression and social suppression of groups that are on the "losing side" of the division of labor. So "freely associating community of people" has to be understood in a materialist and dialectical way, including a dialectical materialist grasp of the fundamental relation between freedom and necessity.
This is linked to Mao's formulation that communism will be characterized by people consciously and voluntarily changing themselves and the objective world. Does this mean – can that be taken in absolute terms, once again divorced from necessity – does it mean that people are conscious of everything, and that everything is voluntary? No, there will still be necessity. The voluntary aspect comes in, in that people will voluntarily recognize that it is in the societal interest – and therefore in their own interests – for them to voluntarily subordinate their own particular individual wants and needs to the greater societal good, and to seek their own individuality and individual expression within that framework, rather than rupturing, or attempting to rupture, out of it. And the consciously is real, but it's relative, once again. It means people are conscious on a whole other level than they have been able to be and have been in previous forms of society – even early communalist society, to say nothing of class society with its division of labor, particularly between mental and manual labor. These are relative terms and things in motion. People will be conscious in a qualitatively greater sense than they have been in any previous time, but at any given time, they will not know everything, of course, and they will not know as much as people who come after them. And, again, they will be voluntarily doing things in the sense in which I characterized this, but everything will not be voluntary. If there is a flood in communist society (or something comparable, whatever that might be, some kind of natural disaster) people may be called on to do things and this will be voluntary, in that it will flow from the conscious and voluntary subordination of the individual to society and the greater societal good – here we can see the interconnection between the conscious and the voluntary aspects of all this – but it might not be voluntary that you have to go do certain specific things in relation to that particular natural disaster, even under communism.
So we have to understand these things in a materialist and dialectical – and not in a utopian and idealist, and ultimately bourgeois or bourgeois-democratic, way (in a way that does not get beyond the narrow confines of bourgeois right). And this does relate to Marx's point that "right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and the culture conditioned thereby." And, in turn, this relates back to the point about how wants and needs are socially determined and historically evolved. Not only what rights people are able to exercise, but even what people conceive of as their rights, arises out of, and in turn reflects, the underlying character and motion of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production, and the economic base and the superstructure. That's why, to go back to an earlier example, the "right of the homeowner" can take the form of the right to be a racist. Or what about the right of people in the world today not to be subjected to hunger and starvation? As I pointed out in the "Democracy" book, there is no such right, because the economic base and the superstructure that predominate in the world do not give people that right. The people in Niger today may feel the desire not to be starving to death and see their children pecked apart by vultures as they starve to death, but there is no superstructural right for that not to happen, because the conditions do not exist in which that can be made a reality. The conditions in which such things as mass starvation and massive malnutrition and preventable disease can actually be eliminated, can only be brought into being through the revolutionary transformation of society, and ultimately the world as a whole. People can proclaim such rights, but it can't be realized, for the masses of humanity, under the existing economic base and corresponding superstructure – which is a fundamental reason why you need revolution.
But even in the realm of conception, people in early communal society did not say, "I demand the right not to be enslaved by my grandmother." Why? Because the question didn't arise. In that form of society, there was no question of being enslaved by your grandmother, so how could you formulate it as a right. Rights such as that only arose once slavery arose. And if you project ahead into the future, that demand would also have no meaning in communist society – not to be enslaved, whether by your grandmother or anybody else. In fact, I don't even know if there will be grandmothers in communist society – probably not, not in the way we think of them anyway. So there you have it – even the concept of grandmothers probably won't exist, let alone the concept of the right not to be enslaved by your grandmother. [laughter]
So from this we can see that right is an expression, once again, of the contradiction, and the motion and development of the contradiction, between the forces and relations of production and the economic base and the superstructure. Or, as Marx put it, right "can never be higher than the economic structure of society and the culture conditioned thereby." You cannot demand, even in communist society, the right to do absolutely whatever you want to do, because there's not a material basis for that. Even under communism, where the sphere of individuals and of individuality will, yes, be far greater than it is now, there will not be a material basis for that. The sphere of individual initiative and individuality will be far greater, qualitatively greater, in a communist world than ever before, but it will never be absolute.
So there always will be this phenomenon of necessity and of constraint – and, as stressed a number of times, we should not view this entirely in a negative light. All constraint – it's like all coercion – is not bad. These things are historically evolved and they exist in terms of their opposites, and when necessity cries out to be transformed, or when constraint cries out to be ruptured, objectively, then yes, that is what we are called on to do, as indeed we are in relation to the constraints and necessity imposed by the fundamental contradiction of capitalism and everything it has given rise to and gives rise to.
Here it is worth recalling what was said earlier, in referring to the passage from Engels's The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State on rights and duties and how in early communal society there was not any separation between these things; and we can understand how, in a whole different way in communist society – on a different foundation and in a different framework – there will not be a separation between rights and duties. Indeed rights and duties will not be in antagonism and will have been transformed qualitatively in terms of their meaning.
Back to BAsics bibliography
1. "Reaching for the Heights, Flying Without a Safety Net" was a talk given by Bob Avakian toward the end of 2002. Excerpts were published from April 20 through August 17, 2003 in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution).
2. The talk referred to here, "Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World," is available in its entirety online at revcom.us.
3. In addition to what is said throughout the course of this talk on this subject, Bob Avakian speaks to this new synthesis in Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism (available online at revcom.us) and in the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, by Bob Avakian (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005).
4. This statement was first cited by Bob Avakian in the talk Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism.
5. Bob Avakian, Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? (Chicago: Banner Press, 1986).
6. What Is To Be Done? was a crucial theoretical work, written by V.I. Lenin, leader of the Russian revolution, who emphasized in that work the decisive fact that, because of the influence and the power of the dominant ideas and institutions in capitalist society, the struggle of the exploited workers, or proletarians, and other oppressed people within capitalist society will, left to its own spontaneity, continually come back under the wing of the capitalist class and its political representatives and will be reduced to reformist demands that leave in power the capitalist system, and its whole network of exploitation, oppression, and repression. Lenin showed that to become a revolutionary class, fighting to abolish all oppression, the proletariat must have a vanguard communist party which brings to the masses of proletarians and other oppressed people the communist consciousness that they can never gain simply through carrying out their daily struggle for survival: an understanding of the fundamentally exploitative and the all-around oppressive nature of this system, of its utter unreformability, and of the necessity and possibility of revolution to overthrow the capitalist system, bring into being the political rule of the proletariat, whose mission is to lead the formerly oppressed masses of people, and the broad ranks of people in society, including the intellectuals and others who have occupied a more "middle position," toward the goal of abolishing all oppression and exploitation, and all unequal social relations, including the great gap between intellectual and physical (mental and manual) labor, throughout the world – the goal of communism.
7. The discussion by Bob Avakian of Cambodia and Pol Pot took place in another part of this talk, which has been serialized in Revolution under the overall title "The Basis, The Goals, And The Methods Of The Communist Revolution." The discussion of Cambodia and Pol Pot appears in Part 2 (Revolution #47, May 21, 2006) of that series.
8. The discussion by Bob Avakian of the "parachute" point took place in another part of this talk, which has been serialized in Revolution under the overall title "The Basis, The Goals, And The Methods Of The Communist Revolution." The discussion of the "parachute" point appears in Part 2 (Revolution #47, May 21, 2006) of that series.
9. Karl Kautsky was a leader of the German Social Democratic Party, which was the largest socialist party in the world in the period leading into World War 1. But, because Kautsky, and the party he led, fell increasingly into a non-revolutionary understanding and outlook and adopted gradualist, reformist positions, in opposition to a genuinely revolutionary and communist viewpoint and program, when World War 1 broke out, Kautsky and the German Social Democratic Party leadership overall (and, in fact, the leadership of the majority of socialist parties in the world at that time) went back on their pledge to oppose their own government in such a war and to work to turn the imperialist war into a revolutionary civil war in their own countries; they capitulated to imperialism (specifically, the imperialism of "their own country") and, in the case of Kautsky and some others, this went along with taking a counter-revolutionary position against the Russian revolution and the new socialist state it brought into being. One of the fundamentally incorrect positions which Kautsky adopted was his theory of "ultra-imperialism," which argued, in essence, that the imperialists could peacefully divide the world among themselves. This theory of Kautsky's, and related errors, were major factors leading to capitulation to imperialism when the outbreak of war among the imperialists, World War 1, shattered the illusions that were spread and reinforced by this notion of "ultra-imperialism."
10. The Great Leap Forward was a mass movement initiated under the leadership of Mao Tsetung, in the late 1950s, only about a decade after the country was liberated from imperialist and reactionary rule and the socialist stage of the Chinese revolution begun. The Great Leap Forward was centered particularly in the countryside, where the great majority of the people in China live, and where, for centuries before the victory of the revolution, they had been weighed down by feudal oppression, as well as the effects of imperialist domination of the country, leading to tremendous poverty and backwardness in the countryside in particular. The Great Leap Forward involved the mass mobilization of peasants to develop small-scale industry throughout the countryside as well as to carry out many larger-scale public works projects, not only to meet the needs of the people and of industrial development but to serve agriculture. But the Great Leap Forward was not merely aimed at developing the economy in this way. An important aspect of this mass movement was to develop higher levels of collectivity of ownership and of cooperative labor, and correspondingly in the distribution of basic necessities and social services, in the countryside, and in this way to make leaps on the path to overcoming the historically established differences, gaps, and inequalities between the city and the countryside, industry and agriculture, workers and peasants, and between men and women, as an important part of building the new socialist society on the road toward the final goal of communism, worldwide. The Great Leap Forward was met with opposition and sabotage by revisionists (phony communists) within the Chinese Communist Party itself and by the revisionist leadership of the Soviet Union, which pulled out its aid and technical personnel – the Chinese economy had, up until that time, been largely based on the Soviet model and was structured so that aid and technical assistance from the Soviet Union was a key component – and the Great Leap Forward took place at a time when there were successive years of serious and widespread drought in China. For these reasons – along with the fact that a mass campaign on this scale was something completely new in Chinese society (and, in fact, was unprecedented in the relatively brief history of socialism as a whole, including the experience of the Soviet Union), and there were bound to be, and there were, errors as well as some excesses – significant dislocations and shortages and real hardships and suffering, including starvation on a significant scale, occurred during the Great Leap Forward. However, not only were the immediate severe problems addressed and overcome but, within a relatively short period, China basically solved its food problem – for the first time in the history of the country, the basic nutritional requirements of the masses of peasants, and the Chinese people as a whole, were met – and, beyond that, despite errors and serious problems, and as a result of correcting them while building on important new things that had in fact been brought into being through the Great Leap Forward, the economy of China, together with the social relations and the outlook of the people, made important, indeed historic, advances in the next 15 years or so in which China continued on the socialist road, and in particular through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in the years 1966-76, until the death of Mao and, shortly after that, the seizure of power by revisionists, led ultimately by Deng Xiaoping, who took China back down the road to capitalism.
11. This metaphor of being drawn and quartered, and related questions having to do with how the proletariat should exercise state power so as to make socialist society a vibrant and lively society and advance toward communism, can be found in "Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World," which is included in the book Bob Avakian: Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005).
12. The concept of "solid core with a lot of elasticity" is discussed by Bob Avakian in a number of talks and articles, including the talk Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism, which appeared in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper (now Revolution) between August 2004 and January 2005 and is available online at revcom.us. It is also discussed in several essays that are included in the book Bob Avakian: Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy.
13. Bob Avakian and Bill Martin, Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics (Chicago: Open Court, 2005).
14. The "4 Alls" refers to a statement by Marx, in The Class Struggles in France, 1848-50, that the dictatorship of the proletariat represents the necessary transit to the abolition of all class distinctions (or class distinctions generally); of all the production relations on which these class distinctions rest; of all the social relations that correspond to these production relations; and to the revolutionizing of all ideas that correspond to those social relations. The "two radical ruptures" refers to the statement by Marx and Engels, in "The Communist Manifesto," that the communist revolution involves the radical rupture with traditional property relations and traditional ideas.
15. Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About. Available in DVD (Eng/Span), VHS (Eng), and VHS (Span). $34.95 + $4 shipping. Order online at revolutiontalk.net or amazon.com.
16. A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the foundation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. Information on subscribing to the news service is available online at http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/AWorldToWinNewsService/
17. Audio files of Bob Avakian's interview with revolutionary journalist Michael Slate are available online at bobavakian.net. The point mentioned here can be found in the part titled "March 29, 2005: Michael Slate interviews Bob Avakian on China, the Cultural Revolution, and Dissent."
18. Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality But Not Traditional Morality (Chicago: Insight Press, 1999).
19. Lysistrata is an ancient Greek play by Aristophanes in which the women refuse to sleep with their husbands until they put an end to the war that they are engaged in.
20. This polemic, titled "Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That," appears as an Appendix to the book Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, 2nd edition, by Bob Avakian (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004). The polemic originally appeared in the 1992/17 issue of the magazine A World to Win.
21. The full title of the talk is Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World. Excerpts from this talk appeared in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper (now Revolution) and are available online at revcom.us. The series "On Proletarian Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship – A Radically Different View of Leading Society" appeared in RW #1214 through 1226 (Oct. 5, 2003-Jan. 25, 2004). The series "Getting Over the Hump" appeared in RW #927, 930, 932, and 936-940 (Oct. 12, Nov. 2, Nov. 16, and Dec. 14, 1997 through Jan. 18, 1998). Two additional excerpts from this talk are "Materialism and Romanticism: Can We Do Without Myth?" in RW #1211 (Aug. 24, 2003) and "Re-reading George Jackson" in RW #968 (Aug. 9, 1998). All of these articles can be found online at revcom.us.
22. This was a talk given by Bob Avakian before the elections in 2004. Audio file of this talk is available online for listening and downloading at bobavakian.net.
23. The full title of the "Conversations" book is Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics.
24. The discussion by Bob Avakian of Rawls's theory of justice took place in another part of this talk, which has been serialized in Revolution under the overall title "The Basis, The Goals, And The Methods Of The Communist Revolution." The discussion of the "parachute" point appears in Part 5 (Revolution #50, June 11, 2006) of that series.
25. "...one must not form the narrow-minded notion that the petite bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent....
"But the democrat, because he represents the petite bourgeoisie, that is, a transition class,in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously mutually blunted, imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally. The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people. What they represent is the people's rights; what interests them is the people's interests. Accordingly, when a struggle is impending, they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes." (Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte [Moscow: Progress Publishers], pp. 40-41, 43-44, emphasis in original)
26. Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? (Chicago: Banner Press, 1986). Phony Communism Is Dead... Long Live Real Communism (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004).
27. U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters' Vision of Freedom (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1987).
28. Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About. Available in DVD (Eng/Span), VHS (Eng), and VHS (Span). Order online at revolutiontalk.net or amazon.com.
29. Lenny Wolff, The Science of Revolution (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1983).
30. GO&GS refers to a talk by Bob Avakian, Great Objectives and Grand Strategy, which was given in the late 1990s. Excerpts from this talk are available online at revcom.us.