The question should by now occur–does society actually need the capitalist class to determine what is produced and how? Is a better way possible?
Modern production is highly complex and requires coordination and direction. But why can’t production be led and coordinated by a power that determines priorities based on the actual needs of the masses of people, and involves the masses in these decisions? As opposed to the way it is done today–where everything is determined by what will turn the highest possible profits for the relative handful of capitalists who own these highly socialized means of production?
And let’s go further. Why can’t society determine how to meet the needs of the people in a way that contributes to overcoming–instead of reinforcing–the class divisions of capitalist society (and other forms of exploitation)? A way that does without–and indeed aims to root out–the oppression of whole nations and sections of the world that the current capitalist-imperialist system requires and enforces? A way that overcomes the strict hierarchy between people who work with their minds, planning and administering, and those who labor with their hands? A way that distributes the wealth of society increasingly in accord with social need, as opposed to where someone stands in relation to capital (either owning it and gorging themselves on wealth, or being forced to seek work within it and slave at rotten jobs and barely surviving, or ending up somewhere in the middle of that, scrambling in the rat race)?
Let’s go further still. Why can’t society do all this as part of creating new social institutions that serve to overcome, rather than reinforce, the division of people into exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed? And why can’t it be done in a way that is part of, and related to, overcoming the dog-eat-dog, look-out-for-number-one ethos of capitalist society and replacing it with a higher, and far better, morality?
WE NEED STATE POWER!
The answer is that humanity could do this. But we cannot do it now because the capitalist class dominates the use of force and the dissemination of ideas (through schools, media, etc.). The sheriffs who use force to carry out evictions are one small part of a larger state power that “serves and protects” the capitalist relations of production analyzed in part 1. At the core of this state power is the massive U.S. military. This machinery of death is deployed all over the world for one reason: to protect the interests of U.S. capital–that is, its ability to control resources and exploit labor in every corner of the planet.
So yes, humanity could organize society in a better way; but NOT WITHOUT REVOLUTION, AND A NEW STATE POWER, THAT INSTITUTES A SOCIALIST SOCIETY–as a first step to a classless communist society. The Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, explains what this would mean in basic terms:
This socialist state would lead and support people in making radical transformations in every sphere of society. It would construct a socialist economic system, by first taking over the major means of production (factories, land and mines, machinery and other technology, etc.) that have been owned and controlled by the big capitalists as their private property–converting these into socialist state property and utilizing them to meet the needs of the people, while rendering support to revolutionary struggle throughout the world. The socialist state would play a decisive role in moving society, through various waves and stages of multi-faceted struggle and social transformations, toward the communist vision of ensuring a common abundance for the people as a whole and overcoming the age-old division between those who work with their minds and those who work with their hands (between mental and physical labor), as well as all other oppressive divisions among people. It would act to prevent the return of the former exploiters, and resist the attacks of imperialism. It would make possible a different kind of democracy, on a far greater scale and with a much more radical vision and practice of human freedom than anything today, in line with its final goal–a final goal in which democracy itself, as a form of state, is transcended and people together debate and decide the course of things without resort to any kind of apparatus of violent suppression. Finally, this new revolutionary socialist state would be built as a “base area” for the world revolution–a springboard and support base and beacon for revolutionary struggles in other countries, all working together to get to a world without exploitation and oppression. [p. 6]
Production to Make Revolution–And Meet Social Needs
Let’s look at what it would mean for the new state to seize “the major means of production” and utilize them for revolution and meeting people’s needs. This giant step would begin to remove the fetters and distortion imposed on the production process by the never-ending accumulation of capital, as outlined in Part 1 of this article. The new state power would plan out production to meet the needs of the masses, based on the fundamental criteria of advancing the world revolution (which would include, for example, breaking with and uprooting the relations through which the U.S. now dominates the economies of other countries).
The central organs of the state would give overall direction to the economic construction of society, while involving the masses to the greatest degree possible at every level of planning. On this basis, resources would be channeled to where the social need was determined to be the greatest, as part of an overall plan. With the barriers of capital being eliminated, those who have been locked out of work in this society–even as they live in neighborhoods where work cries out to be done–would be able to take up jobs that contribute to society, and to learn new skills. And those whose skills and education have been wasted in jobs that serve no real constructive social purpose (for instance, advertising) would be given a chance to really contribute those skills to a whole new society. The need to carry all this out in a sustainable way that replenishes and does not destroy the environment could also be taken into account–again, without the barrier of “profit over all.”
But a real socialist revolution is not about doling out benefits, or only changing some forms of ownership of enterprises. It’s about a much bigger and more radical change in society and part of what must be worldwide revolutionary change. As regards the economic relations and production, the new power would also lead people to transform the relations of people within the labor process. For instance, it would unleash and guide masses of people in breaking down distinctions, in different ways, between the people who do mental work (engineers, architects, planners, etc.) and the people who do the manual labor. The production process itself would be one where people were systematically encouraged to share skills, rather than keep their knowledge as their own private “capital.” People would be led to root out the ways in which white supremacy, and the oppression of women, have been embedded in production relations (combating discrimination, harassment, and more subtle ways in which backward social relations of different kinds go down). And, critically important, workers from all levels would take part in forms of management.
This is essential. If the new, revolutionary state power did not lead the masses to do this, then these divisions inherited from capitalism would harden and begin to smack of exploitation, and provide soil for capitalism to grow back. But even this is not the sum total of it.
The Battle Between the Capitalist and Socialist Road
Much of what is described above was done in China, based on Mao’s summation of the shortcomings of the Soviet revolution, and his further, and deeper, analysis of the character of communism, and of socialist society as a transition to that. As a key part of this breakthrough, Mao developed the understanding and principle that the masses themselves must do more than carry out production, and more even than transforming the economic relations within production, important as that was. Mao insisted that the masses must most of all wage revolution in the superstructure of society–the political sphere in particular, as well as culture, education, ideas more generally, etc.
This is because, as the recent manifesto by the RCP, USA–COMMUNISM: THE BEGINNING OF A NEW STAGE–lays out, “Mao made the path-breaking analysis that throughout the socialist period there would remain the material conditions that would pose the danger of defeat for the socialist revolution.” [p. 7] To put it very briefly here, these conditions were what Marx had called the “birthmarks” of the old society inherited by the revolution. These birthmarks persist in the production relations–for instance, in the division between mental and manual labor, which requires a determined, many-sided, and protracted struggle to truly overcome. And birthmarks also persist in the superstructure of society–for instance, in the force of habit and traditional ways in people’s thinking and in the institutions of society like education, culture, health care, etc., as well as the profound effects of the division between mental and manual labor in the sphere of politics. Combined with and reinforcing all that is the “influence, pressure and outright attacks from the remaining imperialist and reactionary states.” [ibid]
During the socialist period, there will be those within the party who, for various reasons, cling to, defend and fight for these backward relations–who resist the further transformation of society toward communism. These people, to again quote the manifesto, are “representatives not of communism, but of capitalism, and in particular the vestiges of capitalism that had not yet been thoroughly uprooted and surpassed–and could not be in the short term and within the confines of one or another particular socialist country.” [ibid]
For all these reasons, Mao put forward continuing the class struggle as the central task of the socialist period–mobilizing the masses to resist the capitalist roaders, and to identify and criticize the capitalist road itself, and to further transform both the superstructure and the economic relations, and production itself, toward the goal of a communist society. This struggle sets the terms for, and dynamically interacts with, socialist production.
The New Synthesis and Socialist Production
The new synthesis of Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the RCP, USA, builds on the accomplishments of previous socialist revolutions–but it goes further, based on a deeper understanding of the dynamics of socialist society as a transition to communism. Avakian’s new synthesis envisions and requires the revolution to firmly hold onto state power but to unleash a lot more “elasticity” in the whole process. This new synthesis envisions a much greater role for the contestation of different ideas throughout society, including ideas opposed to socialism and communism. It envisions room for initiatives running in different directions, and a larger role for civil society. It will be a scene with a lot more, and much richer and more variegated, intellectual ferment and experimentation, as well as lively interaction between intellectuals and the masses of people who’ve been locked out of these arenas, in all kinds of new ways. And it requires an even greater involvement of the masses themselves in working with ideas and in the actual direction of society in every sphere, wrangling deeply with the biggest problems of the revolution.
Bob Avakian has put forward the formulation of “a solid core with a lot of elasticity” to describe this orientation of the future socialist society. There will be a solid core of leadership, holding onto the reins of power against imperialist pressure and capitalist elements arising within socialist society (including within the party itself), and maintaining the new state power as a socialist state, in transition to communist society; and this leadership will at the same time expand the solid core to the greatest degree possible at any given time, working toward the point where such a solid core will no longer be necessary. The solid core of leadership will give expression to the greatest degree of elasticity (i.e., initiative, ferment, contestation of ideas) at any given time.1
All this will be necessary in order to enable the masses and their leadership to more deeply understand and transform the world, and truly emancipate humanity. All this will be essential to keeping society on the socialist road, moving in the direction of communism.2
Grasp Revolution, Promote Production
Now let’s return to the sphere of production itself in socialist society. In capitalist society the only motivation for workers is to work hard or get fired. But production units in socialist society will NOT hold the whip-hand of hunger over people, nor will they bribe people with bonuses. Instead, people will mainly be motivated through the process of “solid core with a lot of elasticity” described above–in short, the exhilaration of creating a whole different world with different social relations, including but not limited to the sphere of production, and learning more about the world as they struggle to transform it.
People in production units will discuss and debate the larger political and ideological questions of the day (including but not limited to how their particular work relates to those questions) and will participate in the larger struggle in society in different spheres. They will dynamically interact with the political and intellectual ferment, and at times upheaval, in society overall. Initiative–including in breaking down the division of labor within production units, investigating and working in new ways to meet unmet and/or new needs in society and the world, and trying new ways to carry out production–will be valued and fostered, all in a context of very broad social ferment.
Again, Mao pioneered this kind of orientation in China when it was genuinely socialist. He developed the principle of “Grasp Revolution, Promote Production”–where production served not only to meet the needs of the people but was carried out in such a way that this mutually reinforced the transformation of the production relations, and the political and ideological superstructure (the organs of state, the institutions, the ideas of society more generally, etc.). Now, with the new synthesis, Avakian has built on this breakthrough and taken it further.
Housing in a Whole New World
What might it mean in housing? In the first place, the orientation will be to meet the needs of the broadest masses. But this would not be a process of the state “bestowing favors” on people, in which the masses who live in the housing would be left out of the planning and construction.
People in the neighborhoods concerned would be deeply involved in the process. They might wrangle with what kind of architecture would best serve to break down the atomized and alienated relations between people, even while leaving people space to be alone sometimes. They would take up what kinds of recreational and health and educational facilities would best serve people’s needs, and how they want all these to look. They would at the same time be learning about these different spheres–including how to do this planning and production in a way that was environmentally sustainable. They would wrangle with how all this fit into the further advance of the world revolution.
Here too there would be debates and forums and all kinds of ways that people who have been locked out of the spheres of planning, architecture, and so on would be enabled to come in, and in a real–not just a rubber-stamp–way, all as part of the overall motion of moving society toward communism. At the same time, this whole process would involve and tap the initiative and ideas of those who were trained in capitalist society, only to find their work constrained and distorted by the dictates of capital. They would listen to people’s ideas and be challenged–and inspired–by their initiative, again, all as part of the overall process.
* * *
The above is only a brief and simplified sketch. But much of this has actually been done in previous revolutions–to a certain degree in the Soviet Union up until the early 1950s and then to a much greater extent in China during its socialist years. And this was done up against tremendous material privation as well as imperialist military and economic pressure and threats. Future socialist societies will do even more, and surpass these accomplishments. These societies will build on these achievements, but will more fully give expression to the communist method and outlook, in line with the synthesis developed by Bob Avakian, which were very briefly cited here and are gone into in much greater depth in other important works.
The point is this: a far better society is possible. Think about what capitalism means to people. It is always a horror, not just within the U.S. but, in a qualitatively worse way, all over the world dominated by imperialism. Crises like the one we face today only bring that out in even sharper relief.
But times like these also bring out the great and needless irrationality and indeed insanity of this system. They can create an opening to highlight to people that a real way out of the madness–a far better society, with a far fuller and more radical vision of human freedom and flourishing–truly DOES exist.
Isn’t it worth it to do everything we can to bring that far better form of society into being?
* “Three Alternative Worlds” by Bob Avakian, in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Insight Press, 2005). Also available online at /revcom.us/a/094/three-worlds-en.html
* “Views On Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom” by Bob Avakian, online at revcom.us/avakian/Avakianviewson.html
* “The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution” by Bob Avakian, online at revcom.us/avakian/basis-goals-methods
* “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian, in the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation (RCP Publications, 2008). Also available online at revcom.us.
* Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism: The Shanghai Textbook (Banner Press, 1994), including the essay “The Theory and Practice of Maoist Planning: In Defense of a Viable and Visionary Socialism” by Raymond Lotta.
1. Bob Avakian, in “Making Revolution, Emancipating Humanity, Part 1,” in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, defines the new synthesis in this way:
This new synthesis involves a recasting and recombining of the positive aspects of the experience so far of the communist movement and of socialist society, while learning from the negative aspects of this experience, in the philosophical and ideological as well as the political dimensions, so as to have a more deeply and firmly rooted scientific orientation, method and approach with regard not only to making revolution and seizing power but then, yes, to meeting the material requirements of society and the needs of the masses of people, in an increasingly expanding way, in socialist society–overcoming the deep scars of the past and continuing the revolutionary transformation of society, while at the same time actively supporting the world revolutionary struggle and acting on the recognition that the world arena and the world struggle are most fundamental and important, in an overall sense–together with opening up qualitatively more space to give expression to the intellectual and cultural needs of the people, broadly understood, and enabling a more diverse and rich process of exploration and experimentation in the realms of science, art and culture, and intellectual life overall, with increasing scope for the contention of different ideas and schools of thought and for individual initiative and creativity and protection of individual rights, including space for individuals to interact in “civil society” independently of the state–all within an overall cooperative and collective framework and at the same time as state power is maintained and further developed as a revolutionary state power serving the interests of the proletarian revolution, in the particular country and worldwide, with this state being the leading and central element in the economy and in the overall direction of society, while the state itself is being continually transformed into something radically different from all previous states, as a crucial part of the advance toward the eventual abolition of the state with the achievement of communism on a world scale.
2. By “communist society” we mean one where classes and class distinctions, including those between mental and manual labor, have finally been eliminated; where the wealth of society is no longer produced and exchanged in any way through commodity relations but instead created and exchanged for direct social use, in a world where there is common abundance; where the oppressive institutions and ideas that grow out of and reinforce exploitation–e.g., the oppression of women or of different nationalities–have been rooted out; and where the need for any kind of state has been transcended.