Production, Class Struggle,
and the End of Exploitation and Oppression
By Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, USA
Revolutionary Worker #1094, March 11, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
To get to the essence of this, we can take a statement by Marx where he put forward, in a very concentrated and at the same time a very sweeping way, the whole essence of what historical materialism brings to light. He wrote a letter to P.V. Annenkov, who was a contemporary of his. Now that's an interesting word--"contemporary."
I like language, and I like to dig into language, especially if you look at the social basis and the historical basis of language. "Contemporary" comes from the Latin--like a lot of English words, it comes from Latin--con meaning "with" and tempes meaning "time." It means in the same time or existing at the same time. So and so are contemporaries because they exist in the same time, or this is contemporary with that because it happened at the same time. But you can also get it from Spanish. Again, in Spanish con means "with" and tiempo is "time."
Now this raises an interesting question. Why are Latin and Spanish so similar? And why are Spanish and Portuguese and Italian and French called "romance languages"? It's not because they're "the language of love"--it's because they were all derived from the domination of the Roman empire--that's what the term "romance" refers to: Roman. And they are also sometimes called Latin languages. Why? Because that is the language that was actually spoken in the Roman empire of ancient times, and it was the underlying basis and the unifying factor in all these different languages. And why do they have these romance languages or Latin languages in Spain and Portugal and France and Italy? Because the Roman empire conquered them all. And as Roman culture was mingled together with the cultures of the local peoples there, it produced languages which had a common foundation in Latin but also some differences, and then as the empire later broke up, the differences asserted themselves some more while there remained a common foundation.
Now we might go on and ask another question: why is it that what we call Latin America is called Latin America? It's not because of what Dan Quayle said--"Oh yeah, Latin America--they speak Latin there." No. You remember Dan Quayle. Dan Quayle, besides not being able to spell "potato," couldn't get anything right. He took that slogan of the United Negro College Fund, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," and got up and gave a speech and said: "It's like that slogan says: 'It's a terrible thing when you lose your mind.'" Anyway, it's not like Dan Quayle said--it's not called Latin America because they speak Latin. It's called Latin America because the Spanish--and I already went into why Spanish is a Latin language--the Spanish colonized the Americas (and so did the Portuguese, for example in Brazil) and so the language that they speak there and the culture is generally associated with that, because of that long history of domination.
Now we could go on and ask another question: Why in Lebanon is there a big boulevard called the Boulevard Charles de Gaulle? (He was a big French General from World War 2 and then President of France for a number of years after WW2.) Because the French colonized Lebanon, that's why. Why do they speak Arabic in Egypt? Because the Islamic empire colonized it and imposed its superstructure there.
This is why I find language is interesting if you link it up with history and some of the underlying social factors. This in a way is kind of a diversion, but in another way it brings us back to the main point--the need to grasp and apply materialism, and in particular historical materialism. So, with that, let's get back to Marx's statement that captures the essence and sweep of so much of this when he wrote to this contemporary of his, P.V. Annenkov.
He said: No credit is due to me for discovering the history of the class struggle, or the character of (the anatomy of) classes. Long before me, bourgeois historians had spoken about the history of class struggle and bourgeois political economists had analyzed the anatomy of different classes. But, he added, what I did that was new was to show three things. One, that the existence of classes is only bound up with certain phases in the historical development of production. Two, that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat. And three, that the dictatorship of the proletariat itself is only a transition to classless society, communism. Now, Marx captured quite a bit in that one short statement--he captured the broad sweep of human historical development, in all its diversity, and the common objective to which it is now heading, through the continuing class struggle: the goal of communism--and I want to try to examine different aspects of this here.
Once again, the outlook and method Marx is applying in this statement is the outlook and method of historical materialism. And this flows from the basic materialist understanding--and in particular the dialectical materialist understanding--that there is nothing in the world, nothing that actually exists, or has ever existed or ever will exist, except matter in motion; that all existence, all reality, consists of matter in motion. Founded on and flowing from that, the basic principle of historical materialism is that the most fundamental human activity is the production and reproduction of the material requirements of life--food, clothing, and so on (and the reproduction of human beings themselves).
This may be hard to understand for many in a highly parasitic society like the U.S., which feeds off the brutally exploited labor of masses of "hidden" people, in the U.S. itself and all over the world. Without the light of historical materialism, many in a country like the U.S. may think that food just "shows up" in the supermarket or convenience store; or that clothes somehow "find their way onto hangers and shelves" in The Gap; or that the most essential human activity is..."like, you know, shopping!" But the profound reality remains that all of society's goods and services are the product of labor; and in today's world, goods and services are the product of the vicious exploitation of millions and billions of people. (Even the computer and "information technology" that is treated and loudly touted as if it is the product of a few "entrepreneurial geniuses" and "courageous venture capitalists" would in fact not exist without the labor of masses of people, including many women who are forced to work, in physically dangerous and crippling conditions for very low pay, producing key components of this technology.) It has always been the case, and is definitely the case today, that human labor to reproduce the material requirements of life is the foundation of all of human activity and society, all over the world.
In another of Marx's writings ("Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy") he makes the very important point that production is not just production--it is not carried out in the abstract--it is carried out by people who are organized to carry out production in accordance with the nature of the productive forces at hand. Or, as he put it: in carrying out production, people enter into definite production relations, corresponding to the nature of the productive forces. (For example, in slave society, some people were exploited as slaves, others were overseers who literally whipped people into line to make them keep working on the plantations, and others, of course, were the owners of the plantations--and of the slaves in modern society--which is still industrial and not "post industrial" as is often said--some people are wage-slaves, whose labor produces things, others are foremen and managers who supervise and enforce this system of labor, others are planners and engineers, others are computer program writers and so on...and then some are capitalist parasites who take for themselves the product of all this labor.) Capitalism is a definite system of production relations that corresponds to the character of the productive forces as they developed under capitalism, but which now are coming increasingly into conflict with the production relations--which is giving rise to all kinds of violent conflict and struggle throughout the world. At certain points, when the productive forces--including the land, raw materials and machinery--undergo a major change, then (as I just spoke to) the production relations must also change. This is why, with the technology and other productive forces at hand today, we have wage slavery, for the most part, rather than outright slavery--and why we have entered the era when the system of wage slavery will be overthrown.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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