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."
Next, I want to speak briefly to this question, or contradiction, of abundance and revolution in the transition to communism. This is discussed toward the end of Part 1 of Birds and Crocodiles. And I made the point in REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!42 that, if you just look at the world as a whole, there’s plenty enough technology to meet all the material—and, yes, the cultural—needs of people throughout the world. But we live in a very lopsided world, with massive impoverishment of people all over the world, especially in the Third World. We live in a world dominated by a capitalist-imperialist system and by exploiting classes. And therefore it’s not the case that the material potential to meet the needs of the people can be realized under the present relations that dominate the use of the material conditions of life in today’s world.
So, you can look at the world and say it’s absolutely outrageous that any children are starving in Africa, or anywhere else, or that people are going hungry right down the block, or that people don’t have decent health care, or that they’re forced to eat food that’s not healthy because they can’t afford food that would be more healthy, or they don’t even have access to the knowledge to be able to determine what would be more healthy—all those kinds of things—it’s absolutely outrageous, it’s absolutely unnecessary. But it’s not so simple as saying, “OK, let’s just wish all the reactionary forces in the world out of the way, and then we’ll take all this stuff and do the right thing with it.” In order to make use of this potential, and to further increase the potential, you have to have a revolution to overthrow the existing ruling classes and the existing systems, and their economic relations and social relations, so that you can actually marshal and utilize the resources that are there in a way that increasingly meets the needs of the people and provides for future generations, while dealing with the environment in a way that’s not just plundering it and making the potential of human life more and more imperiled. So this, again, shows that there’s an acute contradiction between the material abundance that objectively is there, and the need for revolution to be able to get to that abundance, and also to increase it, in a way where it can be utilized for the needs of the people—both material needs and broader cultural, social, and intellectual needs, and so on.
You need abundance not just to meet people’s needs in a general sense, but you also need sufficient abundance to be able to overcome relations that either are exploitative and oppressive or contain the seeds of exploitation and oppression. For example, take the division of labor in society. In today’s world, most people are not working in the intellectual realm, they’re not working with ideas. They’re doing backbreaking physical labor, if they can find work at all. In order to get beyond that, you not only have to go to work on that contradiction, but you also have to, at the same time, create enough abundance in society, and ultimately in the world as a whole, so that in order to produce and reproduce the material requirements of human life, and to expand the basis for doing this, people only need to work a very few hours of the day doing that. If everybody, or most people in the world, have to spend most of their waking hours doing physical labor, they are not going to be able to have the circumstances or to develop the abilities to be able to engage in all kinds of different realms, like dealing with the politics of society, engaging in culture and intellectual endeavor, and so on, even on a basic level. Among other things, they’re just gonna be too damned tired to do it. Plus, they’re not going to have the time and the resources. So, even in order to overcome these kinds of oppressive divisions, between people who’ve had the ability to acquire skills in the intellectual realm and the cultural realm, and people who have to do all the physical labor almost all day long, you not only have to work on transforming that contradiction but you also have to, at the same time, increase the abundance of society, and the means for creating more abundance, so that people only have to work a few hours a day carrying out physical labor, and they have many more hours in the day to learn how to do many other things. If you don’t do that, you can’t overcome these oppressive relations.
And this—I will resist using the word “complex” again (although I guess I just did), but this is another one of those contradictions, or a number of interconnecting contradictions on different levels, that we have to be grappling with. We have to understand that we do live in a very lopsided world. I’m going to come back to this more fully later: I was reading this book on Africa called The Looting Machine43—which has its limitations, but it does do a lot of exposure. It speaks to these grotesque conditions where a handful of rulers in many African countries are in league with—the author just refers to this as corporations and so on, but these local rulers in Africa are in league with foreign capital and imperialism. This handful of corrupt, self-serving ruling elites is amassing literally billions of dollars, in countries which have tremendous material wealth (gold, oil, and other valuable raw materials). Africa is one of the richest continents, if not the richest, in the entire world—materially, in terms of these kinds of raw materials. But the masses of people are living in these absolutely desperate miserable conditions. This is a kind of microcosm, a smaller-scale picture, of the world as a whole. And you really acutely come up against the fact that only by overthrowing the existing system—and going on to overthrow and transform all these relations that are captured in that formulation of the “4 Alls”—only in this way can you, in a real sense, get to that potential to meet the needs of the people and utilize it in a way that really does meet the needs of the people, while also dealing correctly with the very urgent situation with the environment.
This is something we need to really grapple with and, at the same time, we need to do exposure around this—hard-hitting exposure of this lopsidedness in the world and how it’s enforced by this existing system. We need to bring out to people, in a compelling way: Look, if you really understand this, if you really see the world as it is, this is another thing that cries out for the radical transformation of the world. But that radical transformation can only happen with a revolution. It’s not just a matter of redistribution of the wealth as it now exists, within the system that now exists. You see, sometimes you get these populists—I notice that Bernie Sanders is running for president, and he’s running out all this social-democratic economism. He says you have the super rich and they have too much money, there’s tremendous income inequality, and we need some redistribution. Well, it’s not a matter of redistributing what exists; it’s a matter of transforming the basic relations in society, and fundamentally in the world as a whole. First of all, within this system there are real limits to how much you could redistribute wealth without undermining the whole system. Because it’s not just these greedy people, or these too-powerful corporations, and so on. It’s important to understand, when you talk about corporations, billionaires and so on, corporations that control billions and billions of dollars (like Carl Sagan said about stars: BILLIONS AND BILLIONS... but anyway), it’s not like they’re just sitting on a pile of money. Their money is invested in all kinds of things, and they are in competition with other capitalists who also control billions and billions of dollars. They are all compelled to outdo each other, or they’ll be driven under, as I was talking about earlier. If you tax them too heavily, to redistribute some of the wealth, you’re actually going to put them at a disadvantage in competition on a worldwide level, and the economic system is going to come unraveled, or go into very deep crisis. So, even in that sense, there’s a limit to how much you could redistribute the wealth.
But even more fundamentally, it’s not a matter of redistributing what exists—it’s a matter of transforming the world as a whole. Let’s say you took all the existing wealth and you redistributed it more or less equally among everybody in the world. Well, pretty soon you’d have the world right back the way it is—the way it is now would come right back, because you haven’t transformed any of those things that correspond to the “4 Alls.” You haven’t transformed the economic relations and the economic system; you haven’t transformed the social relations; you haven’t transformed the class relations; you haven’t transformed the thinking of the people. Again, we’re dealing with a basic point of materialism, dialectical materialism. If human society is going to function, and human beings are going to survive and reproduce, society has to interact with nature, with the rest of natural reality, in one way or another. We’re back to: through which mode of production will all this be done? With this capitalist-imperialist mode of production, even if you took all that wealth and re-divided it, very quickly you’d have the same situation back, as long as you left all those things that are represented by the “4 Alls” intact and operating as they do now. This is what people don’t understand spontaneously. A lot of people can gravitate toward, “Some folks have too much money, let’s take some of it away from them and give it to people in need.” Sometimes that may come from a good place, be a positive sentiment. But if you don’t understand the deeper dynamics here, the actual contradictions you’re dealing with, and the fact that systems operate according to certain fundamental principles that are rooted in their actual contradictions, you’re not going to understand the way out of this horrible mess that humanity is in as a result of the system we live under.
42. BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live. Film of a talk given in 2012. For more on this film and to order the DVD set, go to revcom.us. [back]
43. Tom Burgis, The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa's Wealth (PublicAffairs, 2015). [back]
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