Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism and Communism Will Be A Far Better World
Part 1: Introduction
Revolution #025, December 4, 2005, posted at revcom.us
The title of my talk is "Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World." The theme of my talk is that the way the world is, is not the way it has to be.
There are people in this room hungering for an alternative to this system. Who want to do something meaningful for humanity with their lives. Humanity can move beyond exploitation and social division. It can move towards a classless society and a world of freely associating human beings--communism. This is what proletarian revolution is about. And the first historic steps in building such a society and world were taken by the Russian and Chinese revolutions of the 20th century. These revolutions were defeated. But they are rich in lessons and inspiration. And I want to talk about why communism is more relevant than ever.
Yes, what I am saying is controversial. We live in a time when the permanence of capitalism is trumpeted. We are told that the verdict on the 20th century has been delivered: the socialist experiment has failed and can only fail. We are bombarded with the idea that there is no alternative, that capitalism is the natural order of things. We are told that as much as capitalism has problems, any attempts to get rid of it will make things far worse.
It is as though a warning label were affixed to the discourse on human possibility. Danger --anything that fundamentally challenges capitalism is at best a pipe dream and at worst an unworkable utopia imposed from above that will result in nightmare. Caution --the project of making revolution and building an economy and society that promote and serve the common good violates human nature, economic logic, and the very flow of history. Reminder --we have reached the end of history: Western society represents the high point and the end point of human development.
In a thousand different ways, crude and sophisticated, the message is put out that the history of the 20th century is the history of the disaster and horror of socialist revolution and the triumph of capitalism and bourgeois democracy. It’s in the media. It’s reinforced by widely promoted memoirs. It’s taught in the schools. It’s embedded in intellectual discourse.
There’s just one problem. This "conventional wisdom" about communism is not true. It is built on the wholesale distortion of the actual history of socialist revolution. Lies and slanders are repeated endlessly and become accepted as self-evidently true. I have to say it's amazing what passes as intellectual rigor and--sadly--it's amazing what gets over on people who pride themselves on intellectual rigor and honesty. Crude speculation, statistical approximations and evaluation methods that nobody would take seriously if they had been applied in their own professions, reliance on highly subjective memoirs by people with political agendas--these things are somehow acceptable when the subject is communism.
Take this new biography Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday that’s getting a lot of attention. It's stark, raving anticommunist. It makes a statement like this: "there wasn't a school in China where atrocities did not occur." What's the source of this claim? The authors give none. They just assert it. You wouldn't let this pass as scholarship about other subjects. But if it's the Cultural Revolution, critical thinking gets a waiver.
How many times have you heard it said that Mao was anti-education. But the truth is that Maoist China raised literacy from about 15 percent in 1949 to close to 80 percent in 1976. Facts like these are conveniently ignored, or they get buried under the avalanche of these slanders. You know when the Chinese revolution came to power in 1949, life expectancy in China was 32 years! In 1975, life expectancy had increased to 65 years--a two-fold increase.
We need to set the record straight. In this talk, I am going to confront and refute the distortions about the "first wave" of socialist revolutions. When I speak of a "first wave" of socialist revolutions, I am referring to the experience of the masses of people of the Soviet Union when it was a real socialist society--and that was during the years 1917-56. And I am referring to the experience of the people of China when it was actually socialist--and that was during the years 1949-76. These were the first and inspiring efforts in modern history to build societies free of exploitation and oppression.
I will talk about why these revolutions took place. I will talk about what people set out to do and what difficulties they faced. I will talk about the incredible, earth-shaking things they were able to accomplish. And I want to talk about the "learning curve" of communist revolution. How Mao learned from the experience of the Bolshevik Revolution, summed up shortcomings and errors, and opened new paths for going further and doing better in making revolution. We are now at the beginning of a new stage of proletarian revolution. And I will talk about that and about how Bob Avakian is advancing the understanding of the nature of communist revolution in today’s world.
You see, for communists, the truth is not a problem. We can confront and understand reality. And it is on that foundation that a vision of a whole better way for humans to relate to each other on this planet can be developed--based on what is actually possible and necessary at this stage of human history.
There were problems in this "first wave" of socialist revolutions in the 20th century. We are not afraid to look at these problems. But we do have to seek truthful understanding. And even those truths that make us cringe can be a spur to doing better. In contrast, those in whose hands the world is currently entrapped…THEY have every interest in lying: whether about weapons of mass destruction, or about communism.
Why is it important to get at the truth of the Russian and Chinese revolutions? Because at the core of this discussion is the future of humanity.
- We live in a world in which 35,000 children die each and every day of malnutrition and preventable disease.
- We live in a world system in which the three richest Americans control assets exceeding the combined gross domestic product of the 40 poorest countries in the world.
- We live on a planet whose ecobalance is threatened by the blind workings of an economic system that takes profit as its measure and motor of development.
- We live in a society in which 1 of every 8 Black men in their 20s is incarcerated.
The question is: Do we have to live this way? Can you really radically change things? We need to get a vigorous debate going about all of this. The stakes are very high.
But it is a problem if people think they have a basis for an opinion about the desirability or viability of communism when they don’t really know much about it at all. If you want to understand and decide whether communism is relevant, or is an idea whose time has passed into oblivion, first you need to know what it is: its aims and its foundations.
Next week: Part 2: Communism and Socialism