Revolution #238 Online, July 4, 2011
Letter from Prisoner on Reading BAsics
Wrestling with the "4 Alls"
The following letter from a prisoner was sent to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:
June 21st (Tuesday 2011)
To whom this may concern,
Today I was rereading BAsics, and one particular quote: BAsics 2:3, really stood out to me more profoundly than it has ever done in the past, of just what this movement and everything we represent is all about—not only in where we intend to take human civilization, but also what we, as human beings, have overcome up to this point in our historical development to make communism even an objective possibility.
“When we finally get to the final goal of communism, there won’t be the relations of exploitation and oppression that are so commonplace and that mark all of society today and that we are told over and over again are just the natural order of things and the way things have to be. As Karl Marx pointed out, the communist revolution leads to what we Maoists call the ‘4 Alls’—that is, the abolition of all class differences among people. The abolition or the end to all the production or economic relations underlying these class differences and divisions among people. The ending of all the social relations that go along with these economic or production relations. Oppressive relations between men and women, between different nationalities, between people of different parts of the world, all that will be put an end to and moved beyond. And finally, the revolutionizing of all the ideas that go along with this whole way, this whole capitalist system, these whole social relations.” (my added emphasis)
Of all of the quotes that are contained in this book, I believe that this one has the potential to raise one’s consciousness the most, qualitatively. In a concentrated sense, it encompasses the whole—abstractly and concretely—of why not only is communism possible, but also how this possibility derives from the objective necessity of the current global system of capitalism-imperialism itself. (BAsics 1:6) I believe the more one begins to deeply understand these “4 Alls”—not only abstractly, but also how it concretely relates to human civilization in its motion and development in Real time and Real space throughout human history—they’ll most certainly experience a qualitative leap in their “communist I.Q.,” while reinforcing their convictions on an even firmer basis. I’m absolutely confident of that; and I believe every committed comrade should make this their aim when reaching out to those who are beginning to understand what communism is all about.
This is kind of like a math teacher, trying to teach someone addition, algebra, or calculus, with the intention of raising their “mathematical I.Q.,” exponentially. For the average person, math can be very intimidating—especially the more abstract the level of math seems to become. The biggest hurdle, I believe, for most math teachers to overcome is dialectically bridging the gap between abstract ideas and concepts, with how they concretely apply and are expressed in the real world. I think that’s largely the reason why when most students reach the level of algebra, trigonometry, and especially calculus, many of them lose interest in advanced levels of math and stop making leaps in their mathematical competency—simply because they no longer see how those subjects apply in the real world, and more importantly, how they apply to their everyday affairs.
I believe we, as communists, face a similar challenge, when it comes to explaining how the “4 Alls” concretely applies and relates to the average person’s life, in the most broadest and direct sense—in the past, present, and in the communist future we intend to collectively bring about. I don’t think we should get used to using this formulation (“4 Alls”), as if it were just a “mathematical theorem” divorced from any real world significance and application. The deeper we wrestle with this formulation and come to grasp its immediate and wider implications, I’m confident that we’ll be able to break down many people’s current belief in a “permanent necessity of existing conditions,” exponentially. As stated, in part, in BAsics 3:4, BA says quoting Marx:
“'Once the inner connection is grasped, all theoretical belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions breaks down before their collapse in practice.'
"This is not just a matter of abstract theory—it has a broader effect. That belief weighs heavily on people who don’t like the way things are—they are weighed down by a belief in the 'permanent necessity of existing conditions.' Over and over we are confronted by the fact that people can’t see beyond the way things are now…."
This is related to an equally valid point, which BA makes in BAsics 3:36:
“The notion of ‘unchanging human nature’ is completely erroneous, and the idea that people are naturally selfish is nothing but another tautology. As Marx and Engels pointed out in the Communist Manifesto, this amounts to nothing other than saying that, with the domination of the bourgeois mode of production, the dominant thinking and ways of acting will be in accordance with the dictates of the bourgeois mode of production. As the Manifesto also puts it, the ruling ideas of any age are ever the ideas of the ruling class—and these ideas are spread and have great influence not only within the ruling class itself but also among other sections of the population, including the class (or classes) most brutally exploited and oppressed by the ruling class.”
As true as this may be currently for many today, this isn’t a “permanent necessity” either—especially once one grasps the inner connection and broader effect of the “4 Alls.”
So I challenge those who wish to deepen their understanding of what this movement is all about, by going beyond just wanting to know the basics, and picking up BA’s earlier work: Phony Communism is Dead…Long Live Real Communism.
If I may suggest, I think it’s important to keep in mind at all times how the “4 Alls” relates to BA’s explanation of historical materialism in that book, particularly pages 11-23. Furthermore, I believe it’s equally important, not only to understand how the “4 Alls” are expressed with a historical materialist analysis, but also how the quote by Marx factors in, in which he states that: “Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.” (page 114 of the same book)
One should ask themselves, what does this particular quote mean in relation to the “4 Alls”? How is “right” different—economically, legally, and morally—under socialism than under slavery, feudalism, and capitalism? Even more important, how is it different under socialist society in comparison to a classless communist world? (Note: In BAsics, BA addresses this comprehensively in the supplemental chapter: “Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right” on pages 169-178, in which he explains how this relates to “right” under the capitalist system.) All these questions are related to gaining a deeper grasp of the “4 Alls,” and understanding its inner connection and broader effects. As BA mentioned in Phony Communism is Dead…Long Live Real Communism:
"These 'four all’s' must be popularized, especially in these times, to give a clear, basic sense of what communism means and involves. They should be popularized in both senses: they should be made known broadly among the masses of people; and, while sometimes using these formulations exactly as Marx stated them in order to familiarize people with them, they should also be translated into more common terms. In this way, people will get the essence of what this is about and take it up as their own, so that through all the struggle of today they will be fired with the vision of what these 'four all’s' represent." (p. 122-23)
We can’t afford to make the same mistake as many well meaning math teachers do today. The better we do at transforming this abstract formulation, and making it concrete to people in meaningful ways, the quicker we can transcend the belief that capitalism is a “permanent necessity” which humanity is unable to overcome. Another way is possible; and by understanding the “4 Alls” comprehensively, that way becomes all the more clear.
In solidarity, Prisoner in Midwest
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.