Revolution#107, November 4, 2007


Communism Will Not Be a “Utopia”— It Will Be a Radically Different and Far Better World

Editors’ Note: The following is the third in a series of excerpts from a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA earlier this year (2007). This has been edited for publication and footnotes have been added (among other things, in preparing this for publication, the author has considerably expanded the section on Karl Popper). These excerpts are being published in two parts. Part 1 is available in its entirety, as one document, online at Part 2 will also be available in the near future, as one document, at; the excerpts comprising Part 2 will also be published as a series in Revolution after the conclusion of the present series of excerpts.

Communism Will Not Be a “Utopia”—It Will Be a Radically Different and Far Better World

Proceeding from the basic theoretical breakthroughs that Marx made, and building also on what Lenin had added to this understanding—with regard to the state and in terms of an analysis of imperialism and other key dimensions of human society and its revolutionary transformation—Mao made a crucial addition or extension in the understanding of communists about these basic questions. He stressed a number of times (this is found particularly in Mao’s more informal speeches and talks, conversations and writings, more than in the officially published works of Mao, even the ones that were put out before the revisionists took power in China in 1976) that even with the achievement of communism, society will still be marked and driven forward by the contradictions between the forces and relations of production and between the base and the superstructure. Now, this was not exactly denied previously in Marxism, but there was not the kind of clear understanding and emphasis that Mao gave to this. Previously, there were some aspects of how communism was conceived that actually, and ironically, incorporated some metaphysical thinking. For example, Engels, and Marx as well, talked about moving from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom, with the achievement of communism, as though—I’m exaggerating, or overstating, but there was a certain tendency toward thinking that—when you get to communism you will be in a realm of freedom in relation to necessity in a whole different way. And this, Mao came to see, is not really correct—does not correctly grasp the essence of things.

It is true that, with communism, human beings will be consciously interacting with nature, and with each other, in a qualitatively greater way than at any previous time; but they will still be dealing with constraints and the transformation of constraints. You will always be dealing with the basic principle that Marx enumerated about the foundations and the driving contradictions of human society. No matter how far ahead you go into communist society, you will still be dealing with necessity which presents itself as something “external” to you, which you have to act on and struggle to transform—and, in doing so, bring forward new necessity. The contradictions between the forces and relations of production, and between the base and the superstructure, are still going to be the things defining and driving forward society. And it will be a question of more and more consciously grasping this—but never having anything approaching complete freedom in this regard.

Even in Mao’s early writings you see references (invoking some traditional Chinese terms) that talk about communism as the “Kingdom of Great Harmony.” Well, the more Mao went on and dealt with reality, and the revolutionary struggle, the more he came to see: that’s not exactly the way it is. But that notion of the “Kingdom of Great Harmony” corresponds, in significant measure, to at least much of the understanding in the international communist movement prior to Mao. You can see it in Stalin: In his discussions of socialism, you see things tending toward a notion of the end of contradiction. Not that he literally said all contradiction has come to an end in socialist society, but he did say, in the mid-1930s, that class antagonisms had come to an end in the Soviet Union.

Now it’s true that, in communist society, you won’t have class antagonism, but it is the case—and something that has been demonstrated very dramatically and through bitter experience with the restoration of capitalism in formerly socialist countries—that in socialist society there remain antagonistic class contradictions. And even in communist society, you are still going to have to struggle to transform necessity, you are still going to have to grasp and act in relation to the driving forces in society which are based in the contradictions between the forces and relations of production and between the base and superstructure, and the interrelation between the dynamics of those two contradictions.

Freedom…and Necessity

Fundamental to this is the fact that freedom is the recognition—and, as Mao emphasized, the transformation—of necessity. That’s where freedom lies. It doesn’t lie in idealist notions of how you would like things to be. Not that there’s no role for imagining—there is indeed a very important role for this (which is why a major part of my “Revolution” DVD talk is referred to as “Imagine”). There is a great role for imagining. But, while this imagining should proceed without being narrowly restricted at any given time to the prevailing conditions, in an overall and ultimate sense it does have to be grounded in and returned to material reality, if this imagining and dreaming is really going to be able to be realized in the real world (this is a point Lenin gave emphasis to).

There is a lot of room for dreaming and imagining that isn’t immediately and “tightly” tied to whatever the material reality is at a given time. This is a point I have made in talking about myth (in the Observations book1). I recalled there (in that discussion about myth) that in a conversation with a comrade, a number of years ago, I had taken this really wrong position that, when we get to communism, we shouldn’t have science fiction anymore. And then, fortunately, before too long I realized that it would amount to liquidating the role of art, if you were to follow that out to its logical conclusion. Why is this so, and why is this important? Because there is a big role, an important role, for things like science fiction, in terms of people’s needs aesthetically, if you will, but also in terms of the larger societal need to be able to envision, or imagine, how contradictions might play out in the future. There is, and there always will be, for individuals and for society, a very real and important need to look at things from different angles, through the distorting prism of art, if you will.

But, fundamentally (and, so to speak, underneath all this) freedom does lie in the recognition and transformation of necessity. The point is that this recognition and the ability to carry out that transformation goes through a lot of different “channels,” and is not tied in a positivist or reductionist or linear way to however the main social contradictions are posing themselves at a given time. If that were the case—or if we approached it that way—we would liquidate the role of art and much of the superstructure in general. Why do we battle in the realm of morals? It is because there is relative initiative and autonomy in the superstructure. And the more correctly that’s given expression, the better it will be, in terms of the kind of society we have at a given time and in terms of our ability to recognize necessity and carry out the struggle to transform necessity.

It is also very important to emphasize that necessity is both necessity residing in material reality beyond human society—the natural world as a whole—and, more specifically, the necessity residing in human social relations at any given time, grounded in the fundamental reality whose essence Marx concentrated. Both of those constitute necessity, and understanding this is particularly important for people setting out to transform reality in any essential way. It is not just that you have nature “out there”; nor, on the other hand, is it just that you have society somehow divorced from the rest of nature. What is society, but human beings interacting with each other and interacting with nature and transforming nature in one way or another—sometimes for ill and sometimes for better in terms of human needs in the largest sense?

These basic points of materialism and dialectics constitute and establish the theoretical basis for a thoroughly, consistently and systematically scientific understanding of and approach to the freedom of humanity as a whole—and, as a matter of fact, for the freedom of individuals in relation to human society overall.

Freedom, Right, and the Nature of Society

This relates, once again, to that well-known statement by Marx—which we also, for good reason, keep returning to—about how right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby—another little-known and even less understood statement. All the time, in discussions which, in fundamental terms, are proceeding from a bourgeois standpoint and outlook, you hear things put forward which are ignorant of, or ignore, this basic principle and understanding (it’s either ignorance, or more deliberate ignore-ance).

Let’s go back to the comments by a youth in Oakland who said, in referring to my talk “Revolution”: “I agree with everything in there, and I really liked the vision of the future society”—but “if I invent something, I want to get more for it.”2

Well, in terms of the “right” to “get something more” by inventing something, even if you could realize this “right,” where does that “right” proceed from and what does it correspond to? It proceeds from and corresponds to a certain economic structure of society, as Marx put it, and a culture conditioned thereby. It corresponds to and proceeds from a certain economic base and the corresponding superstructure. And, in turn, it reinforces that kind of society and that kind of world. For that “right” to have meaning, it is necessary to have the kinds of conditions and the kinds of relations that make this possible. In feudal society, even though there were fairly developed commodity relations, if you were a serf, you didn’t have any such conception of a right. Now, at a certain point in feudal society, there began to be a certain amount of social mobility, although it remained limited in many ways. Still, this notion of getting more for inventing something was not a right characteristic of feudal society—it is a right characteristic of a certain kind of economic structure and culture, a certain kind of system, namely capitalism. And insofar as that right (to get more for inventing something) applies, it applies and can only apply for a relative handful of individuals. At the same time, all the conditions that are bound up with this economic structure, and the corresponding culture, involve all kinds of horrific consequences for the great majority of individuals in the world and for humanity as a whole. So there we can see—by negative example, so to speak—how right is embedded, if you will, in the economic structure of society and the culture conditioned thereby.

Let’s turn to some examples of more “positive rights.” What about the right to live in a world in which human beings no longer confront each other through antagonistic relations? Where does the “right” to do that exist—under what conditions does that right have any meaning? Certainly, in the present world, you don’t have that right. You may proclaim it as much as you want. You may develop all kinds of utopian schemes to give expression to your desire to live in a world in which human beings no longer relate to and confront each other through antagonistic relations. But, within the present social system and with the way in which that system dominates and shapes the world, you have no ability whatsoever to effect such an ideal. That right can only be realized with a different economic structure, a different set of production relations, namely those of communism, and the culture conditioned thereby—or, in other words, the superstructure that corresponds to communist economic and social relations. Only through the revolution to advance to communism can humanity reach the point where finally human beings no longer confront each other through antagonistic relations. This is another expression of the fact that, as Marx put it, right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and the cultural development conditioned thereby.

What about the “right” of the masses of people in the world to explore scientific questions? What kind of economic structure and culture—what kind of production and social relations, and what kind of superstructure—is necessary for that, and does that correspond to? Again, only a communist world. With the kind of division of labor that has existed in and has characterized every form of class-divided society—and in particular societies ruled by exploiting classes—there is no real right for the masses of people, for the great majority of society, to explore scientific questions. It doesn’t exist for them. A few individuals here and there may emerge from among the masses and change class position, if you will, and be able to do that as their life’s work and avocation. But for the masses of people there is no such right. The very functioning of the economic base, in dialectical relation with the superstructure—the dynamics of capitalist accumulation and the workings of the corresponding political system, the educational system, and the dominant ideas propagated throughout society, along with the division of labor that’s bound up with all this—make it impossible for the masses of people to have the “right” to explore scientific questions.

And what about those who presently do have the ability to do this? What about their “right” to explore scientific questions in a whole new social context and framework, where much greater numbers of people are increasingly being freed and enabled to do this as well? What about the ability of people—even those who are presently conducting scientific work—to carry this out in a much more unfettered (not absolutely unfettered but in a qualitatively more unfettered) way, freed from the constraints imposed by exploitative and oppressive relations in society and the corresponding ways of thinking? What about that? What about having a situation where you’re not scrounging around for grants on the basis of having to vitiate your own scientific project by presenting it in a way that meets the requirements of the ruling class—for example: “This will help the Defense Department.” What about that “right”?

The point is not that in communist society everybody will do everything—or will want to do everything—all with the same emphasis, or passion, or in the same way. There are and there will always be differences among human beings, and certainly this will be so—and will be consciously recognized and given expression, in a qualitatively greater way than ever before—in communist society. Not everyone will want to be engaged in science all the time, or in politics all the time. But the barriers and social divisions that presently exist and are characteristic of exploitative society will have been overthrown and surpassed.

What about the “right” for all that to happen? What kind of economic structure and what kind of “cultural development conditioned thereby” is necessary for that to happen? This is impossible under the present system, and is only possible under the future system, in other words, in communist society. This is what the “4 Alls” are all about—this is what it means to achieve those “4 Alls” that mark the advance to communism: the abolition of all class distinctions; of all the production relations that underlie those class distinctions; of all the social relations that correspond to those production relations; and the revolutionization of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. All that, and all the “rights” which adhere to that, are only possible in a future communist society—which is not some utopian ideal but an actual possibility, a possibility whose realization lies in the freedom that can be wrenched out of the current necessity that confronts humanity in this era, and in particular confronts the proletariat as a class and those who consciously take up the worldview and objectives of the proletarian revolution.3

What about the “right” of people in society, in the world as a whole, to have to spend only a small part of their waking hours and energy in simply contributing to the reproduction (and the expansion of the means of production) of the material requirements of life? What about the “right” of the people to only have to spend a few hours a day doing that, and to have more time, instead, to devote to political, social and cultural affairs, and to recreation…and just plain fucking off? Where does that “right” exist for the great majority of humanity, including little children, now? The present economic structure and the culture conditioned thereby prevents the great majority of humanity, including small children, from having anything approximating such a “right”; and only with communist society can that “right” be actually realized (and then, in fact, it will no longer be conceived of as a “right” but will be a “natural” part of the functioning of human society, without having to be institutionalized and to assume a special status as a “right”).

This is a profoundly important point that we have to really grasp deeply. And, again, the point of grasping this is to act on it, including by popularizing it and bringing forward more people who consciously understand this and act on that understanding.

Does it make a difference if people think that we’re just trying to impose one ideal of society over another? Or whether, instead, they really have a materialist and dialectical understanding of how the possibility of achieving the things I’m talking about here relates to the existing contradictions in society and is called forth through the struggles based in those contradictions—how the possibility and the potential for a whole different human society, characterized by radically different and much better relations among people, and the corresponding culture and ways of thinking, actually exists and resides in the present material contradictions of society, in the world today? Does it make a difference whether they understand this in a completely utopian and idealist way, or with materialism and dialectics? Will that make a difference in terms of what they think is desirable, what they think is possible, what they believe is worth struggling for? Of course it will.

Bourgeois Democracy, Bourgeois Right

Grasping and acting on all this is a crucial part of making a real leap and rupture in our conception and understanding of reality and how it can and must be changed—a leap and a rupture beyond what is indeed a very narrow horizon of bourgeois right. Democracy, or an attempt at “perfecting” what is in fact—and, under this system, with its material base, can only be—bourgeois democracy: this is not our goal. That is still well within the bounds, the narrow horizon, of bourgeois right. It is not what humanity needs. How many people have you heard who are generally progressive, or are oppositional in some serious way, who always formulate their political objectives, and their vision of society, in terms of—what is in reality bourgeois—democracy? It is very much like the scientists who always have to formulate (or re-formulate) their projects in terms of how this will help the Defense Department or the Department of Homeland Security or some other agency of the current state. How many people do you hear fashioning their “political projects” to talk about “perfecting our democracy,” when in reality we need to leap beyond and rupture with that whole framework, beyond that narrow horizon.

Democracy, let us be clear, is an expression of bourgeois right. And bourgeois right means all the things that we are all too familiar with, all the suffering in the world that goes along with this system of bourgeois rule grounded in bourgeois production and social relations. That’s what bourgeois right—including the democracy that people are so enamored of—actually amounts to and means in living terms for humanity as a whole. And we really have to struggle with people about this: quit fashioning everything that comes out of your mouth in terms of bourgeois right. Let’s struggle about what humanity really needs.  


1. See “Materialism and Romanticism: Can We Do Without Myth?” in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005).[back]

2. See the first installment in this series, in Revolution #105, October 21, 2007.[back]

3. This discussion of the “4 Alls” relates to the observation by Marx, in The Class Struggles in France, 1848-50, that “socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations.” (See Marx-Engels Selected Works, Volume 1, emphasis in original)

The formulation of the “4 Alls” to refer to this analysis by Marx was popularized by the revolutionaries within the Chinese Communist Party in the course of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, during the years 1966-76.[back]

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