Editors' note: The following is an excerpt from the new work by Bob Avakian, The New Communism. In addition to excerpts already posted on revcom.us, we will be running further excerpts from time to time on both revcom.us and in Revolution newspaper. These excerpts should serve as encouragement and inspiration for people to get into the work as a whole, which is available as a book from Insight Press. A prepublication copy is available on line at revcom.us.
This excerpt comes from the section titled "II. Socialism and the Advance to Communism: A Radically Different Way the World Could Be, A Road to Real Emancipation."
This takes us back to the “4 Alls” that I spoke about earlier. This is based on what Marx
wrote in The Class Struggles in France 1848-1850,34 where he said that the dictatorship
of the proletariat (which we’ll talk about more) is a transition to what the Chinese
communists during the Cultural Revolution in China characterized, in a concentrated way, in the formulation the “4 Alls.” To review: Marx said specifically the dictatorship of the proletariat is the transition to the abolition of all class distinctions, of all the production relations on which those class distinctions rest, of all the social relations that correspond to those production relations, and the revolutionization of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. Now, right away, it should be pretty apparent that not only is there a great deal concentrated in that formulation, but there’s a lot of complexity bound up in it. This is something you’re gonna hear over and over again—complex and complexity. Before I’m done you’ll say, “Can’t we get him to stop saying complexity all the time?!” But reality is complex, and there’s a lot of complexity concentrated in this formulation of the “4 Alls.” Yes, it’s a nice formulation—but it’s also a very complex formulation because there are all kinds of contradictions involved.
There are contradictions within each of these “4 Alls,” and contradictions between all of them. For example, getting rid of class distinctions. The world is full of classes and class struggle. Moving beyond that is a process full of contradiction. You have the struggle of different classes, even as you’re trying to move beyond classes. So you have to correctly handle that contradiction. There’s struggle between different classes and different social forces in society, and—broadly speaking, without being narrow and mechanical—there are the different roles that different classes and social forces play in society. And that changes as well. For example, I’ve made the point that in socialist society the proletariat is not the same as in capitalist society. The proletariat is the main exploited class in capitalist society, but it is not essentially an exploited class in socialist society. And that has some conservatizing influences—people’s situation changes, their lot improves, and maybe they’re a little more comfortable now. So there are lots of contradictions, even just bound up with that, abolishing class distinctions.
Now, here’s another contradiction. This is Marx’s point, and something that relates to what was touched on earlier: You can’t abolish class contradictions if you don’t abolish the economic relations which are the basis for and give rise to those class distinctions.
You have a system that is based on commodity production and, more than that, a system in which the essential commodity is labor power, the ability to work—that’s the defining commodity of capitalist society, much as they try to hide it. They talk as if capitalism is just somebody doing a start-up—that’s capitalism. No, capitalism is exploiting other people. Capital is the control over and the use of the labor power (the ability to work) of other people. That’s what capital is. Now, think about it, today they’re so crude they even talk about “human capital.” What does that mean? People and their ideas, as well as their ability to work, that can be harnessed to the machinery of capitalist exploitation. That’s what they mean when they talk about “human capital.” They talk about human beings as “human capital.” That gives you an inkling, a little insight, into the nature of this system and its culture. Marx pointed this out: Capital is not just a thing, it’s a social relation, a social relation in which one group of people owns the means of production, while many others do not; and that second group of people, who do not, have to work for the first group in order to live. They have to create more wealth, more capital, for the capitalists—and, if they don’t, they can’t work, even if their kids can’t eat as a result. So capital is a social relation, it’s not just a thing, not just money, it’s not just machinery. You’re going to have all kinds of technology and machinery in communist society, but it won’t be capital. This is an important thing to understand. So, if you don’t get rid of the relations in which labor power is a commodity, you can’t get rid of class distinctions. And if you don’t get beyond all commodity relations, if you don’t get beyond even the use of money, then you can’t get rid of class distinctions, because as long as you have money, money can be turned into a means to exploit other people. Engels, in talking about this, used a Latin phrase—he said about money: non olet, meaning it doesn’t smell. In other words, money doesn’t come with something printed on it that says: “I am now going to be used, as capital, to exploit other people.” It’s just money. But as long as you have money, you can hire other people, you can turn it into capital. So in order to eliminate class distinctions, you have to get beyond all that, you have to get beyond the thing that defines commodity production, which is the law of value.
The law of value was spoken to earlier, in talking about the driving force of anarchy under capitalism, where it was pointed out that the law of value says that the value of any commodity is equal to the amount of socially necessary labor time that goes into producing it. This understanding, and its full implications, was systematized by Marx. Notice that Marx used the phrase “socially necessary,” because people work at different rates and you can’t just take an individual—how an individual works—and make the value equal to that. But, on a societal level, the norm of what it takes (the necessary labor) to produce something corresponds to what its value will be. That’s why in Part 1 of Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity,35 in the polemic against Karl Popper, I answered his claim that the value of things is determined by supply and demand, which is a common thing you hear. I pointed out: Yes, supply and demand influences the price of something, but it doesn’t determine the basic value; that’s why it would be very, very unusual for a candy bar to cost as much as an airplane. The reason is that the amount of labor—the socially necessary labor—that has to go into making an airplane is many, many, many times what it takes to make a candy bar. So the law of value says that the value of things is determined by the social standard of what’s the necessary amount of labor time that has to go into producing something. And this is important: If production is still being determined by the law of value, then you can’t get beyond classes, because you’re still in a society where things are based on commodity relations and there’s always the potential in that situation for labor power itself to be turned into a commodity and for people to be exploited.
And here is something else that is hidden in capitalist society which everyday people don’t see, and even a lot of communists don’t understand deeply enough. When you exchange commodities, what is actually happening? We do it every day, right? You go to a store and these days you usually don’t pull out money, you pull out a credit card, or maybe sometimes you do pay cash. But whatever you do, you pay a certain amount for something. That something is a commodity, which has been produced by people somewhere, probably in various stages. Let’s say it’s a car: raw materials have to be gathered, it has to go through a bunch of machinery, all that machinery and the raw materials have to be transported, and so does the finished product. There’s all the labor that goes into every part of that process, until you have a car waiting for you to buy it. And that’s true for commodities in general—I’m just using cars as an example. So what is really happening here, what is most fundamentally happening here? You take this commodity, money, that you have gotten by doing some work—I mean, maybe you did some crime, and that’s one way to get money, but, in that case, here’s a point Marx made: Even if people get their wealth by plundering other people, there still has to be production underneath it. Somebody had to do the work to make whatever it is that people are plundering. You see? But, if you didn’t do crime, then you did some kind of work. That also involves commodity relations, the work you did: you’re selling your labor power to some capitalist, and you get back another commodity, money, in exchange for that. Then you take that commodity money and you buy food and clothes, you pay for housing, you get a car if you can do that (or you go on the subway or some kind of rapid transit), and so on. What is actually happening here, at the base of all this, is that different amounts of labor are being exchanged. You are actually engaging in an exchange relation with somebody, in Mexico, or in Bangladesh, or in Honduras, or some other place, who’s making the things that you are buying. You’re actually engaging in an exchange of labor with them, maybe an unequal one or whatever, but that’s what you’re doing—you’re exchanging labor. At the root of all this, when you tear away all the external layers, what’s going on is an exchange of labor. Whatever labor you put in, to get that money, and whatever labor they put in, to make that thing, is being exchanged. But it doesn’t get directly exchanged. It’s not like you’re doing barter with somebody in Honduras or Bangladesh or Pakistan. Things get exchanged through a very complex process that goes through a lot of stages—and, at each important stage of this, there are the capitalists who are appropriating (taking for themselves), as profit, part of what has gotten produced, part of the value that has gotten produced. And in order to get to communism, you have to get all that stuff out of the way—get beyond all that stuff, so that, once again, what you’re doing is just exchanging things between people, without all the relations of exploitation which are there at every stage of the process under a system of exploitation.
Now, there’s still a lot to be understood and in the future to be worked out concretely about how you would do exchange under communism without money. Are you going to have certificates that entitle you to certain things? Well, then, how do you prevent even those certificates from being turned into capital and the basis to exploit people? You know, in prison you don’t have money, but all kinds of things, cigarettes or other things, can become commodities that are used to get an advantage over other people. So a lot of work is going to have to go on to figure out how you do exchange without re-creating the basis for exploitation. But the point is, if you don’t get beyond this system of commodity exchanges, and the law of value which regulates them, then you can never implement the slogan of communism, in any full sense. What is that slogan? “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” This means that you’re not calculating through money any more. Communist society—you won’t have it until people have gotten beyond the idea that they need more than somebody else, just to have more than somebody else. And that has to do with the 4th of the “4 Alls,” right?—the revolutionization of all the ideas that go along with social relations of oppression and exploitation. But at the base of all this is the system of production relations, the economic system, the mode of production—and you can see how complex this is.
34. Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France, 1848-50, 1850.
35. Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity
Part 1: “Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right”
Part 2: “Everything We’re Doing is About Revolution”
A talk by Bob Avakian, serialized in Revolution beginning October 21, 2007, in issues #105 through #120. Available at revcom.us and also included in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, 2008.
Introduction and Orientation
Foolish Victims of Deceit, and Self-Deceit
Part I. Method and Approach, Communism as a Science
Materialism vs. Idealism
Through Which Mode of Production
The Basic Contradictions and Dynamics of Capitalism
The New Synthesis of Communism
The Basis for Revolution
Epistemology and Morality, Objective Truth and Relativist Nonsense
Self and a “Consumerist” Approach to Ideas
What Is Your Life Going to Be About?—Raising People’s Sights
Part II. Socialism and the Advance to Communism:
A Radically Different Way the World Could Be, A Road to Real Emancipation
The “4 Alls”
Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right
Socialism as an Economic System and a Political System—And a Transition to Communism
Abundance, Revolution, and the Advance to Communism—A Dialectical Materialist Understanding
The Importance of the “Parachute Point”—Even Now, and Even More With An Actual Revolution
The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America—
Solid Core with a Lot of Elasticity on the Basis of the Solid Core
Emancipators of Humanity
Part III. The Strategic Approach to An Actual Revolution
One Overall Strategic Approach
Hastening While Awaiting
Forces For Revolution
Separation of the Communist Movement from the Labor Movement, Driving Forces for Revolution
National Liberation and Proletarian Revolution
The Strategic Importance of the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women
The United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat
Youth, Students and the Intelligentsia
Struggling Against Petit Bourgeois Modes of Thinking, While Maintaining the Correct Strategic Orientation
The “Two Maximizings”
The “5 Stops”
The Two Mainstays
Returning to "On the Possibility of Revolution"
Internationalism and an International Dimension
Internationalism—Bringing Forward Another Way
Popularizing the Strategy
Part IV. The Leadership We Need
The Decisive Role of Leadership
A Leading Core of Intellectuals—and the Contradictions Bound Up with This
Another Kind of “Pyramid”
The Cultural Revolution Within the RCP
The Need for Communists to Be Communists
A Fundamentally Antagonistic Relation—and the Crucial Implications of That
Strengthening the Party—Qualitatively as well as Quantitatively
Forms of Revolutionary Organization, and the “Ohio”
Statesmen, and Strategic Commanders
Methods of Leadership, the Science and the “Art” of Leadership
Working Back from “On the Possibility”—
Another Application of “Solid Core with a Lot of Elasticity on the Basis of the Solid Core”
The New Synthesis of Communism:
Fundamental Orientation, Method and Approach,
and Core Elements—An Outline
by Bob Avakian
Framework and Guidelines for Study and Discussion
Selected List of Works Cited
About the Author