Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom
THE IDEOLOGICAL AS WELL AS THE MATERIAL TRANSFORMATION THAT IS REQUIRED TO ACHIEVE COMMUNISM (THE “TWO RADICAL RUPTURES” AND THE “4 ALLS”), AND HOW THAT RELATES TO “SOLID CORE WITH A LOT OF ELASTICITY.”
Revolution #41, April 2, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Editors Note: The following is drawn from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005. It has been edited for publication here, and subheads and footnotes have been added.
Revolution is publishing this work by Bob Avakian in installments. Published so far are:
- 1—“Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom,” in issue #37 (March 5, 2006).
- 2a — “Materialism vs Idealism...The Fundamental Contradiction of Capitalism, and the Revolutionary Resolution of This Contradiction,” in issue #39.
- 2b — “Materialism vs Idealism...The Fundamental Contradiction of Capitalism, and the Revolutionary Resolution of This Contradiction, Part 2,” in issue #40.
- The complete work, “Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom,” can be read and downloaded online at revcom.us.
Wants and Needs are Socially Determined
Here it is necessary to begin by emphasizing something that is extremely important, but also frequently ignored, overlooked, obscured, distorted, and even suppressed: the fundamental truth that needs and wants are socially determined, and change with a changing material, social, and ideological "environment." Of course, this is one of the big charges against communism, that we're always trying to change "human nature" and change what people want and need and even change how they see their desires. But if you step back for a minute, you can see that wants and needs and desires are socially determined, and on a number of different levels.
For example, Marx pointed out that production itself creates needs. Think about computers, for example—now that we have them and use them. And think about what it would be like to go back to typewriters [laughter], to have to work with that "primitive technology." Well, you have a profound need and want for a computer now. This has now become a want and need. How? Because you got up one day and said, "I'm tired of typewriting and sending things by snail mail, I'd really like to do it by computer—only I don't know what that is." [laughter] "And I'd like to send e-mail, although I have no idea what that is, either." [laughter] So production creates needs: The development of technology, the development of productive forces and of production, creates needs and wants. So that's one sense in which things are socially determined.
Another way is that the culture, as well as the production relations, creates needs and wants. You know, the youth in the inner city: "I gotta spend thousands of dollars on rims for my car." Imagine if you went back to early communal society, some of which still exists in the world, you went into Africa, talking to the !Kung people in Africa, and you said, "I got some rims. You want to buy some rims?" [laughter] "What?" Maybe if you gave them some rims, they would use them to sit on or something, but they wouldn't pay any money for it. [laughter] And the fact that some rims look shiny and really cool, especially when they spin around fast on a car wheel, wouldn't really have much meaning to them; they might think these rims were interesting artistic objects or something, but the whole way in which youth in the inner cities of the U.S. look at rims would be totally alien, because it doesn't correspond to the production relations and the corresponding superstructure of people in an early communal society. I won't even mention even more grotesque things among the consumer items in American culture.
But the essential point is this: these wants and needs are socially determined. When we talk about the slogan of communism, "From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs," we're not talking about needs as they are socially determined under capitalism and imperialism. It was interesting, just to take an aside, this guy Roberts, the Supreme Court nominee, it came out that a couple of decades ago when writing for the Reagan administration, when he was opposing equal pay for equal work for women, he said, "Well, all these people are just ignoring the fact that there are historically evolved reasons why men should get more pay. They might as well inscribe on their banners: From each according to their ability, to each according to their gender." Just in case we think these people we're up against are not thinking people.
But these are socially determined things, things people think they want and need, or do actually want and need in a given context. An automobile is a necessity for the most part, living in this society, although not in Manhattan. Because of the particular way that things work out, you can get by in Paris without one, too—it's easier, in some ways, than in Manhattan, not to have a car. So these are socially conditioned things, socially shaped and influenced and ultimately socially determined things.
And take the phenomenon in capitalist society, with all its consumerism, for example, the phenomenon that is promoted among women, particularly though not only in the middle classes, that shopping is a quintessential activity. Men have sports and women have shopping. Both of those are socially determined, socially created wants and needs. I used to always crack up when there was that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 song—one of their songs—and they were doing this rap, complaining about how their wife or girlfriend would always want to watch the soap operas on the TV and they couldn't even watch the ball game or the Sugar Ray fight! [laughter] As though somehow there were something superior about the ball game and the Sugar Ray fight, as compared to the soap operas [laughter]. But each is just a form, for the one and the other, of socially conditioned and created needs and wants.
And all this consumerism, the idea that shopping is a quintessential activity—and not only an activity but you can even get existential philosophizing about it, how it's somehow essential to a worthwhile and authentic existence to go shopping. [laughter] This is part of the way that the particular economy of U.S. society and capitalism is structured these days, with a regular debt structured into it on every level, including the consumer level, and it's reinforced by a whole advertising industry that artificially creates wants and needs. Now the rage is "reality shows" on TV. Nobody demanded to have "reality shows" ten years ago. But now you can't do without them. Many people can't do without those "reality shows."
So it appears that these are things you really need or that they're just something inherent in your own character. There is something essential about "my identity," that I like to collect these things, or have that thing, or consume this thing, or eat this kind of food. Even the way in which people consume the basic necessities of life is socially determined. Now, with things like food, clothing, and shelter, and so on, it is not the need as such but the need to do it in a certain way and the desire to do it in a certain way—to eat this kind of food rather than that kind of food, to drink this kind of liquid instead of that kind of liquid, to live in this kind of dwelling rather than another kind, to have this kind of vehicle rather than another kind, and so on—all that is socially determined and varies in different historical periods and from one society to another, and differs between different classes and social groupings within the same society.
There's Pepsi and Coke and, at least when I was coming up, among Black people there was RC Cola. That's a different want and need. You can see the same thing with cigarettes and different things. There are different strata and groups in society with different preferences, or socially determined wants and socially determined needs. With the constant reinforcing of individualism in this society—which has an underlying material basis in commodity production and exchange, and is constantly reinforced in the culture—you can think these are things that are inherent in and essential about "my very nature and identity," so that "I have to have these things"; but if you stepped back from this, you could realize that things that were important to you ten years ago are no longer important to you, you don't need them or want them, and things that you didn't need or want ten years ago are now indispensable to you, either as a want or even as a need. And this is all the more dramatically demonstrated when you look at different societies throughout history, and people in different societies and different parts of the world today.
Among the Christian fundamentalists in the U.S., the Bible is an absolute want and need. [laughter] But among the fundamentalists in Pakistan, for example, it's not—it's the Qur'an. But, of course, those things, too, are socially determined, and historically evolved, wants and needs.
Individualism, Too, Is Socially Determined
In the discussion with Bill Martin in the "Conversations" book,1 I brought out in connection with our discussion of Kant (which I'll come back to later) that Marx made a very profound point in his "Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" when he said even the formation of individuals takes place, and can only take place, in a social context. Scientific discoveries have further borne this out. There are what they call "feral" children who grow up and live for some time in the wild: If they do this past a certain point, they have a very difficult time learning certain basic human functions and assuming certain human qualities, like speech, for example. These are socially learned and developed capacities. The learning of these things, and even the development physiologically to do these things, interpenetrates with the social environment. Even the formation and the development of individuals, as well as their wants and needs, can only take place in a social environment. In fact, even the assertion of extreme individuality, or individualism, can only take place in a social environment, in conflict with other individuals. Imagine if you lived on an island all by yourself: "I am going to assert my individuality!" [laughter] Well, who gives a fuck? There's nobody else to care. [laughter] You can't assert your individuality in that context, because everything exists in terms of its opposite. There's no opposite to your individuality. You're it, buddy. [laughter] Your individuality doesn't have meaning in the way that you would think of it in another context, in a social context.
So it's very important for us to understand that these needs and wants and people's views of them are socially determined and historically evolved. They relate to the character of production, to the mode of production, to the production relations, and the corresponding superstructure.
The Radical Rupture with Traditional Ways of Thinking
Just as there is no such thing as unchanging human nature, but in fact, different notions of human nature existing among people in different societies and even within different classes in the same society, so there is no such thing as some inherent want and need. And when communists say, very correctly, that we're going to carry out the "4 Alls"—not only the first three, but the fourth one, having to do with revolutionizing people's thinking—and we're going to carry out the two radical ruptures that Marx and Engels spoke of—not just the first one but the second one, involving the radical rupture with traditional ideas—we are very right to say so.2 This is not some horrific catastrophic notion of trying to engineer unnatural changes in human nature. It's a materialist, dialectical understanding of how these things take shape and change anyway, even without our intervention, if you want to put it that way—although the changes we're talking about are qualitative, they are radical ruptures, and that's why they're so bitterly opposed by the people who can perhaps allow for certain quantitative changes or certain changes in the form, for example, in which exploitation takes place, but not the uprooting and elimination of exploitation. [In a deliberately exaggerated voice, conveying sarcasm:] "That runs counter to human nature and to people's urge to assert themselves in competition with others."
But we are very correct to say we're going to realize the "4 Alls": the abolition of class distinctions generally, or all class distinctions; of all the production relations on which those class distinctions rest; of all the social relations corresponding to those production relations; and the revolutionization of all the ideas corresponding to those social relations. We are absolutely correct to recognize that this is possible and necessary. And, similarly, the radical rupture, not just with traditional property relations—which is another way of expressing the underlying production relations of which those property relations are an expression—but also a radical rupture with all traditional ideas: We are absolutely correct to say that is both necessary and possible. And, yes, it has to be done without "social engineering" in a coercive sense, fundamentally. But it cannot and will not be done without a great deal of struggle in the realm of ideology and culture, as well as political struggle and struggle to, in turn, transform the underlying material conditions in the economic base, and the dialectical relations involved in all that. To change people's ways of thinking in dialectical relation to changing their circumstances, as Marx once put it.
This revolution is about changing people and circumstances—and correctly doing that—doing that in the correct dialectical relation. There are ways in which people's thinking runs ahead and must run ahead of their circumstances. If that weren't true, there could be no communist theory, for example. There could be no envisioning of a future society without thinking running ahead of the circumstances. But if we try to impose thinking on people which does not correspond to the circumstances—rather than correctly handling the dialectical relation in which their thinking causes people to act on their circumstances to change them in a fundamentally voluntary and conscious way—we would fall into some of the horrors that we're accused of. And wherever people acting in the name of communism or anything else have attempted to do that, it has resulted in horrors.
There Is No Such Thing as Unchanging "Human Nature"
So you have to handle this correctly, but the idea that there is some "unchanging human nature"—let's look at a little history to examine this more fully and why it's wrong. Now, it is not true that the development from early communal society to class society to communism represents some kind of "negation of the negation" in the way that Engels and Marx spoke of it (the emergence of class society represents the negation of early communal and basically classless society out of which class society emerged; and, in turn, the transition to classless society represents a negation of the emergence of class society = "negation of the negation"). Rather, it represents a complex unfolding of contradictions through various forms and stages in the way that I was speaking to earlier—the constant back and forth between the different aspects of the contradictions between the forces and relations of production, and the economic base and the superstructure, and between those contradictions and other contradictions they give rise to. Through all this complexity, we see history developing and the coherence emerging that Marx spoke of, and things being brought to the threshold, to the possibility, of a leap to communism, though not to the certainty and inevitability of it. And here, once again, a very important principle emerges, another way of speaking to the question of necessity and freedom—a statement by Marx where he says: People make history, but not in any way they choose. They make it in accordance with the material conditions that they inherit, with the necessity that they are confronted with at any given time. Yet, at the same time, as dialectical materialists, we understand that those material conditions get reflected in people's consciousness. People form ideas and concepts about those material conditions and how to change them; and, if those ideas and concepts are actually in accord with that underlying material reality, rather than a fundamental or essential distortion of it, and if they are in accord with the way those contradictions are tending, then people can not only make those changes but can accelerate them.
This is where the freedom and initiative lies. This is the role of a conscious communist vanguard and why it is so valuable, precious and, yes, indispensable. Because, given the class relations that exist, it is not going to be the case that everyone, all at once and spontaneously, is going to get to the point of more or less—not absolutely, but more or less—correctly reflecting reality in their ideas, concepts, plans, and programs, in terms of that reality's contradictory character and motion and development.
So people make history but not any way they choose—this is back to the point about the anarchists and the utopians. You have debates with these people and they say, "Well, why do you want to have leaders? That's part of the problem." No, at this stage of history that is overwhelmingly an essential part of the solution; and the fundamental question is what is the character of that leadership and do the ideas, concepts, programs, plans, and so on, of that leadership actually correspond to the resolution of the actual underlying and driving contradictions in the interests of the masses of people. That's the essential question.
Once again, what's essentially involved is that matter gets reflected in people's consciousness and, in turn, consciousness reacts back upon matter and changes it. How does it do so? In what direction, in what interests, to what purpose, for what objectives—that's the question always, whenever anybody steps forward and says anything. Yes, there's a lot of complexity bound up with that. But that's the essential and fundamental question.
Everybody has ideas, more spontaneous or more systematically thought-through ideas. Everybody has ideas, and they are responding in some way or other to material reality. The question is: how systematically and thoroughly do they actually reflect the underlying driving forces of reality, and what do they have to do with resolving, in the interests of the masses of people, the actual contradictions that are driving things? That's the question. And that is the decisive question in terms of leadership. Posing any other question as decisive is a diversion from the real fundamental and essential thing that has to be gotten at. Yes, we may have to speak to other questions that get raised about this, but they are a diversion, even if we have to speak to them in order to get to the heart of things.
So people make history, but they don't do it any way they choose. This, once again, has to do with the point about constraints and the dialectical relation between constraints and transformation. It has to do with the point I made earlier about socialism emerging with the birthmarks of capitalism and Lenin's point that we don't make revolution with people as we would like them to be, even while we're trying to change them. Yes, we are trying to change them. "They're not going to try to change how people feel about things, are they?" Yes, we are. Because feelings are fundamentally a question of your understanding and your outlook on things. We're not going to order people to feel differently or try to put a gun to their head and tell them to feel differently; but we are going to try to transform them, yes, even in their feelings, because people's feelings are an expression of how they see the world. If you really and deeply understand what it means, and what it leads to, for one human being, or one group of human beings, to use others for personal and private gain, why this is a fetter on not only the particular individuals who are exploited in this way but on humanity as a whole—and especially as you come to see that humanity has reached the point where such relations of exploitation are not only unnecessary but are a hindrance to the further development of human society and of human beings—then you will feel a passionate desire to see all this abolished and uprooted. But if you don't really understand what this kind of exploitation involves, and why it is not necessary and can be done away with, you will feel very differently about it—you may actually feel that it is not a bad thing, or at least that there is nothing that can be done to change this, and trying to change it might only lead to something that is somehow worse. Should we not try to change people's thinking and, yes, their feelings about fundamental things like this?
Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State made the following very important comment, which is worth pondering. He said: "The less the development of labor and the more limited the amount of its products, and consequently, the more limited also the wealth of society, the more the social order is found to be dominated by ties of lineage." And you see this in early communal societies, including some which still exist in places like Africa and isolated pockets in Latin America; you see it in the Native American societies historically, and still somewhat today in what's now the U.S. Engels' statement embodies a materialist understanding of how society is organized—that it's not some arbitrary organization but, again, the organization of society is essentially an expression of the character of the productive forces. And even what are the basic units of society—family and lineage ties, in the case of early communal societies—have to do with the character of the productive forces of those societies. Engels examined a number of early communal societies, in different parts of the world—different parts of Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean and so on—and he showed that, with the change in the productive forces, the character of the way society was organized—in other words, the production and social relations—changed accordingly.
Engels goes on to say, in the same work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, that in early communal society "human labor power still did not produce any considerable surplus over and above its maintenance costs." In other words, if you think of a gathering and hunting society, they go out and they gather berries and fruits and nuts, and things like that, and occasionally there's some hunting to supplement it; and pretty much the people consume, more or less directly and immediately, whatever it is that they gather and get by hunting. So, human labor power, in this form of society, still does not produce any considerable surplus over and above its maintenance cost. Then Engels goes on: "That was no longer the case after the introduction of cattle-breeding, metal-working, weaving, and, lastly, agriculture"—and Engels also identifies the separation of handicrafts from agriculture as another key leap.
Now, going back to the more positive side of Jared Diamond for a minute, in Guns, Germs and Steel he does examine this from a largely materialist standpoint. They recently did a TV series on PBS, based on the book, where Diamond goes into some of this—how, once handicrafts is separated from agriculture, once you could specialize, once the agriculture could produce enough to support a part of society engaging in specialization, beginning with handicrafts, and with the further development of technology, then you've got a whole dynamic going where that technology would react back upon agriculture, would provide new means of production, new technology for agriculture, and in turn agriculture could produce more surplus above and beyond what was used for immediate consumption, which in turn provided the underlying material base for further specialization. And along with this, of course, came the further development and unfolding of class differentiations in this society.
Another way to say this is that this brought with it very significant changes in production and social relations. And Engels points out how this was particularly true with regard to slavery in ancient times. That when you didn't, and when in fact you could not, employ people to produce much more than they would themselves consume, slavery didn't make much sense economically. So, when people were captured by another tribe or kinship group, they got killed, they got let go, or they got absorbed in the tribe as a member; but it didn't make sense to try to take massive numbers of people as slaves if your productive forces were not capable of employing them in a way that would produce a lot more than what they would consume. Otherwise, you're just adding people on without much gain.
But once agriculture, especially settled agriculture and differentiation between agriculture and handicrafts, and so on, began to unfold, then it made economic sense to take slaves. There were—we're not romantic about the history of humanity—there were, between different early communal groups, conflict and hostility and warfare, or at least violent conflict, in North America and other parts of the Americas, and in other parts of the world. But within the ranks of a particular tribe, there were not the class divisions, nor the division and oppression that's so familiar today between men and women, that later developed with the emergence of these different production relations, on the basis of further development of the productive forces.
And, of course, one of the most salient, striking examples of these transformations in production and class relations was the taking and employing of slaves. Once the character of the productive forces was such that it made economic sense to take slaves, rather than killing them or simply absorbing them in as equals, then slavery began to take hold. That doesn't mean everybody thought slavery was a good idea and it didn't mean that suddenly people became "evil"—like in the Adam and Eve myth in the Bible—the fall of humanity, and all of a sudden everybody became corrupted. Of course, people's outlooks did change. When you start taking other human beings as slaves, your outlook changes accordingly. And guess what? You now have a social need and want for slaves. An historically evolved and socially conditioned need and want for slaves that's based on changes in the character of the productive forces, and not on some inherent tendency of human nature to want to take other people as slaves. If you were to go into early communal societies and say to people, "Why don't you enslave each other?" they would just go: "What? What are you talking about?" And what would the response be? "Well, apparently you haven't fully developed your human nature yet." [laughter] No. They have different ideas, different superstructural expressions, corresponding to their different mode of production, corresponding to the character of their productive forces. But when slavery begins to "make sense," economically, it begins to take hold, even over the resistance of those who aren't able to take slaves or for whatever reason might think it's not a good idea.
So slavery now began to be profitable. There was a material basis for it, and the stealing and taking of slaves became a part of the activity of the group—raiding other tribes, in particular, or other groups of people. And Engels talks about how the "gentile constitution" (here he's not talking about non-Jewish people—he's talking about a society based on gens or kinship and lineage groups, when he says "gentile"), "The gentile constitution in its best days presupposed an extremely undeveloped state of production, and therefore an extremely sparse population over a wide area." If you think, for example, about Native American peoples, there was this fictional series on TNT, "Into the West," and they talked about this. The series revolved to a considerable extent around the conflict between these two ways of life, and went back and forth between the Lakota and the Cheyenne and other native peoples, on the one hand, and on the other hand the settlers moving from east to west. And there was a whole point about how the juggernaut of white settlers just kept coming, and it got embodied in things like the pony express, and then in the telegraph, and then in the railroad and more and more settlers. And you begin to see that the way of life of the Lakota, and other native peoples, can't survive in these circumstances because it required a large territory for a small number of people in order to maintain that mode of existence. It was not a settled way of life that would, increasingly, bring about greater output on a settled territory by continually developing the productive forces. This is not a matter of saying that one way of life was "superior" and the other "inferior"—there is nothing inherently superior or inferior about gathering and hunting, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, engaging in settled agriculture and the accompanying development of technology. Rather, it is a matter of stressing, from a scientific materialist standpoint, that these two different ways of life were increasingly in direct and antagonistic conflict with each other, and it is a matter of recognizing why, with the combination of circumstances that existed at the time, one way of life forcibly prevailed over the other. When more and more settlers came, backed up by the military, of course, but also reinforced by all these productive forces and by a way of life that utilized these productive forces—again, I'm not speaking to the justice or injustice of it, I'm speaking to the material reality of it—there was less and less basis for their way of life among the native peoples, because they could no longer continue to exist as small, relatively sparse populations that required a large territory to range over in order to hunt and gather. This is the same thing that Jared Diamond examines in Papua New Guinea with the peoples there.
In speaking of a way of life that does not involve and depend on settled agriculture and the corresponding development of technology but which, instead, involves a sparse population ranging over a wide area, we can think not only of the Native American peoples, for example, but also similar groupings in ancient Greece, in the period before the Greek city-states. Engels comments—and this is definitely worth reflecting on—that "the growing economy [in and around Athens, in ancient Greece] penetrated like corrosive acid into the traditional life of the rural communities founded on natural economy." This process in ancient Greece, which did involve more development of technology and more differentiation of people into different social groupings—the organization of people that was beyond, and began to break down, the lineage groups and organized people instead according to territory and at the same time according to class—this, Engels points out, "penetrated like corrosive acid into the traditional life of the rural communities founded on natural economy" and what we got out of it was the slave economy and the slave society in the ancient Greek city-states.
Or take this example. The Germanic (and other) "barbarians," in conquering Rome, and being confronted with the need to maintain and administer what they had conquered—if they simply didn't want to raze it to the ground and destroy it, then they had to maintain and administer it—in these circumstances they experienced the break-up to a significant degree of their own previous form of social organization and its replacement by one essentially in keeping with the mode of existence of the society they had conquered. In other words, in Rome they "did as the Romans did," not instantly but over a period of time.
Well, in the talk "Revolution," which is on DVD,3 I cited examples from ancient Mexico and also ancient Egypt, where people began to settle down, engage in settled agriculture, and unevenness and class differentiations began to develop and this gave rise to a state and all the things that go along with a state. And with this came the separation between intellectual endeavor and underlying productive activity, the engagement in cultural activity on the one hand and productive activity on the other. I talked about how in a part of ancient Mexico, near the Coatzacoalcos River, the people settled there after a certain period of hundreds of years where they had engaged in gathering and hunting; but they didn't decide one day, "let's go over to the river and settle down and do agriculture." Now, we don't have any psychological studies, and no polls have been taken [laughter], but we can assume that they were used to their way of life and weren't particularly anxious to give it up; but historical investigation reveals that partly through their own gathering and hunting they used up the very things they were gathering and hunting, plus there were changes in the climate. So they were driven to go settle down in a different area.
This is the point, once again, that I've made a number of times—it's a point that historical materialism emphasizes—that often people engage in changes in their mode of existence and way of life which have far-reaching consequences, which they in no way anticipate or intend. But those changes become, themselves, a material force which reacts back upon the people involved. So these people in ancient Mexico went from this one way of life to another, settling down by the river; and, lo and behold, some land is closer to the river and more favorably situated and is more fertile, and other parcels of land are not. So, not in a mechanical, one-to-one way, but in an overall sense in relation to this, you get differentiation, some people accumulating more than others, some people doing well, others not doing well. Guess what happens to the ones who aren't doing well? Many of them get hired—or in some way employed—by the others who are doing well.
This is what happened in China in recent times, with the restoration of capitalism after Mao died: when you break up the communes and go back to the capitalist mode of production, many peasants become severely impoverished and cannot make a living on their own land, so they go into the cities or they get hired on by the people who do well. There is polarization and great gaps develop among the people, with many ending up being exploited by the others. And, as this took place in early human society, such as in ancient Mexico, out of this you get the emergence of people who specialize in different technologies; people who specialize in cultural activities, intellectual activities; and some who specialize in state activities.
And the same kind of process went on in ancient Egypt, even before the Pharaohs, in relation to the Nile. If you look at Egypt, the whole society is basically organized on a thin strip, on each side of the Nile. But even within that, there is differentiation, along with the fact that there are people who are farther away from the Nile who were more unfavorably situated. So in ancient Egypt, even before the Pharaohs, you had the same general kind of process—of differentiation, polarization, exploitation, oppression, and repression, with the emergence of social, class distinctions and the emergence of a state.
Is this because of some inherent quality in human nature? When these people were in Mexico thousands of years ago, carrying out gathering and hunting, there was just some inchoate and irresistible longing to develop a state and exploit and oppress other people? And, somehow, you just can't prevent this from happening without creating a monstrosity by trying to curb the inherent and undeniable quality of the human spirit? Bullshit! [laughter] This happened for very material reasons, brought about by changes in the character of the productive forces—which, again, were propelled by necessity people confronted and often led to results and consequences they did not anticipate—leading to changes in the relations of production and, in turn, corresponding changes in the politics, the ideology, the culture, the ways of thinking and, yes, the wants, needs, and feelings of people.
This is how human society has developed—not out of the unfolding of some plan of a conscious designer, but out of the largely unconscious process of people responding to the necessity they are confronted with and making changes which often have far-reaching and profound results, unanticipated and unintended even by them.
So, when we come up to the present era of human history and we look at the question of communism and the "4 Alls"—when we look at the "Two Radical Ruptures," not only with traditional property relations, but with traditional ideas—when we think about the principle "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs"—we have to understand the dialectical back and forth between the changes that will be taking place in the economic base of society, in the production relations and the corresponding social relations, and in the superstructure of politics and ideology, until an abundance is created on the one hand, which removes people further and further from the necessity of the daily struggle for survival—where that, in fundamental terms, is guaranteed and is no longer a preoccupying thought of the people who make up society—in dialectical relation with people's wants and needs changing correspondingly.
This is the way we have to conceive of advancing to communism, and not in some utopian sense. Now, I'll come back to this more fully: Communism is not some utopian idea where everybody gets to do their own thing, without any constraint, and somehow it all works out for the common good. That is not a materialist and a real understanding of how you would get to communism and what communism will actually be like. It is something very different, corresponding to a different world view, which really has nothing whatsoever to do with communism at all. I will speak to that more fully later.
1. Bob Avakian and Bill Martin, Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics (Chicago: Open Court, 2005).
2. The "4 Alls" refers to a statement by Marx, in The Class Struggles in France, 1848-50, that the dictatorship of the proletariat represents the necessary transit to the abolition of all class distinctions (or class distinctions generally); of all the production relations on which these class distinctions rest; of all the social relations that correspond to these production relations; and to the revolutionizing of all ideas that correspond to those social relations. The "two radical ruptures" refers to the statement by Marx and Engels, in "The Communist Manifesto," that the communist revolution involves the radical rupture with traditional property relations and traditional ideas.
3. Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About. Available in DVD (Eng/Span), VHS (Eng), and VHS (Span.). $34.95 + $4 shipping. Order online at threeQvideo.com or amazon.com; or check/MO to Three Q Productions, 2038 W. Chicago Ave. #126D, Chicago, IL, 60622.