Revolution #163, May 1, 2009
The Long Darkness—and the Historic Breakthrough
COMMUNISM: THE BEGINNING OF A NEW STAGE
A Manifesto from
the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
The following is an excerpt from Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. This manifesto is available as a pamphlet from RCP Publications and online at revcom.us/Manifesto/Manifesto.
Despite what is constantly preached at us, this capitalist system we live under, this way of life that constantly drains away—or in an instant blows away—life for the great majority of humanity, does not represent the best possible world—nor the only possible world. The ways in which the daily train of life has, for centuries and millennia, caused the great majority of humanity to be weighed down, broken in body and spirit, by oppression, agony, degradation, violence and destruction, and the dark veil of ignorance and superstition, is not the fault of this suffering humanity—nor is this the “will” of some non-existent god or gods, or the result of some unchanging and unchangeable “human nature.” All this is the expression, and the result, of the way human society has developed up to this point under the domination of exploiters and oppressors...but that very development has brought humanity to the point where what has been, for thousands of years, no longer has to be—where a whole different way of life is possible in which human beings, individually and above all in their mutual interaction with each other, in all parts of the world, can throw off the heavy chains of tradition and rise to their full height and thrive in ways never before experienced, or even fully imagined.
The Long Darkness—
and the Historic Breakthrough
Exploitative economic and social relations, including the systematic domination of women by men and the division of human society into different classes with conflicting interests, have not always existed among human beings. A situation in which a small group monopolizes not only wealth but the very means to live, and thereby forces far greater numbers to slave under their command, in one form or another, while that small group also monopolizes political power and the means of enforcing this exploitation and dominates the intellectual and cultural life of society, condemning the vast majority to ignorance and subservience—this has not always been part of human society. Nor is this destined to remain the way human beings relate to each other, so long as human beings continue to exist. These oppressive divisions arose thousands of years ago, replacing early forms of communal society, which themselves had existed for thousands of years, and which were made up of relatively small groups of people holding in common their most important possessions and working cooperatively to meet their needs and to raise new generations.
The break-up of these early communal societies was not due to some “natural inclination” of people to seek a superior position above others and to “get ahead” at the expense of others, nor to some supposed “genetic predisposition” of men to subjugate women or of one “race” of people to conquer and plunder other “races.” No doubt there were conflicts at times when people in early communal societies encountered each other and were not able to readily reconcile the differences between them, but these societies were not characterized by institutionalized oppressive divisions with which we are all too familiar today. To people in those communal societies the idea of some people within these societies establishing themselves as the masters over others, and seeking to acquire wealth and power by forcing others to work for them, would have seemed strange and outrageous. Rather, the emergence of class divisions and oppressive social relations among people was owing to changes in the ways human beings interacted with the “external” natural environment, and in particular changes in the ways these human beings carried out the production of the material requirements of life and the reproduction and rearing of new generations.
In particular, once the organization of this production and reproduction began to be carried out in such a way that individuals, instead of society as a whole, began to control the surplus produced by society, above and beyond what was necessary for mere survival, and especially once people settled more or less permanently on specific segments of land and began to carry out agricultural production on the land they settled, then the long night was ushered in, in which human beings have been divided into masters and slaves, the powerful and the powerless, those who rule and those who are ruled over, those whose role is decisive in determining the direction of society, and those whose destiny is shaped in this way, even while they have no effective role in determining that destiny.
Throughout these thousands of years of darkness for the great majority of humanity, people have dreamed of a different life—where slavery, rape, wars of plunder, and a lifetime of alienation, agony, and despair would no longer constitute “the human condition.” This yearning for a different world has found expression in different forms of religious fantasy—looking beyond this world to a god or gods who supposedly control human destiny and who supposedly will, in some future existence, if not in this life, finally reward those who have endured endless suffering during their time on earth. But there have also been repeated attempts to actually change things in this world. There have been revolts and uprisings, massive rebellions, armed conflicts, and even revolutions in which societies, and the relations between different societies, were transformed in major ways. Empires have fallen, monarchies have been abolished, slave owners and feudal lords have been overthrown. But for hundreds and thousands of years, while many people’s lives were sacrificed, willingly or unwillingly, in these struggles, the result was always that the rule of one group of exploiters and oppressors was replaced by that of another—in one form or another, a small part of society continued to monopolize wealth, political power, and intellectual and cultural life, dominating and oppressing the great majority and engaging repeatedly in wars with rival states and empires.
All this remained fundamentally unchanged—the light of a new day never appeared for the masses of humanity, despite all their sacrifice and struggle... Until, a little more than 100 years ago, something radically new emerged: people rising up who embodied not only the desire but the potential to put an end to all relations of exploitation and oppression and all destructive antagonistic conflicts among human beings, everywhere in the world. In 1871, amidst a war between “their” government and that of Germany, working people in the capital city of France, long exploited, impoverished, and degraded, rose up to seize power and established a new form of association among people. This was the Paris Commune, which existed only in that one part of France, and which lasted for only two short months, but which represented, in embryonic form, a communist society in which distinctions of class and oppressive divisions among people would be finally abolished. The Commune was crushed by the weight and force of the old order—with thousands slaughtered in a valiant but ultimately vain attempt to keep the Commune alive. But the first steps had been taken toward a new world, the path had been opened, the way shown, if only fleetingly then.
Even before the events of the Paris Commune, the possibility of a radically new world, without exploitation and oppression, had been scientifically established through the work of Karl Marx, together with his contemporary and collaborator, Frederick Engels, the founders of the communist movement. As Marx himself put it, only a few years before the Commune:
Once the inner connection is grasped, all theoretical belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions breaks down before their collapse in practice.1
And that is what Marx had done: He had scientifically excavated and brought to light not only the “inner connections” of the system of capitalism, which had become the dominant form of exploitation in Europe and was increasingly colonizing large parts of the world, but also the “inner connections” between capitalism and all previous forms of human society—and in so doing he had shown that there was no “permanent necessity” either for the continuation of capitalism or for the existence of any other society based on the exploitation and oppression of the many by the few. This was a profound breakthrough in human beings’ understanding of reality, which established the theoretical basis for a world-historic breakthrough in practice, for an unprecedented revolutionization of human society and the relations among people, all over the world.
The most fundamental discovery that Marx made was that the character of human society, and the relations among people in society, is not determined by the ideas and the wills of individuals—either individual human beings or fantastical supernatural beings—but by the necessity people face in producing and reproducing the material requirements of life and the way in which people come together, and the means they utilize, to meet that necessity. In today’s world, with the highly sophisticated technology that exists—and, in particular, for those who are more removed from the actual process of producing the basic requirements of life—it can be easy to forget that, if the productive activity is not carried out to meet these basic requirements (food, shelter, transportation, and so on), and if human societies are not capable of reproducing their own populations, then life will soon come to a standstill, and all the things that go on in society, whose functioning is more or less taken for granted so long as things are proceeding “normally,” will no longer be possible. To penetrate beneath all the complex layers of human historical development and social organization to this underlying foundation and essential core of human social functioning was a great achievement and invaluable contribution of Marx.
But Marx also showed that, at any given time, whatever the means are with which people carry out the production and reproduction of the material requirements of life—whatever is the character of the forces of production (the land and raw materials, the technology, whether simple or more complex, and the people themselves with their knowledge and abilities)—will basically and ultimately determine the way in which people are organized, the relations of production into which people enter, in order to best utilize the productive forces. Again, Marx showed that these relations of production are not a matter of the will, or the whims, of individuals, no matter how powerful, but must, of necessity, basically conform to the character of the productive forces at any given time. For example, if the information technology and related processes of production that are pivotal in today’s modern economies were introduced into societies made up of small groups of people foraging and hunting over large areas (relative to the size of their populations), which was the way of life in early communal societies, the introduction of this technology would bring about dramatic changes in the character of those societies: their way of life would be disrupted and changed in significant ways. Nor, for example, could modern technology be efficiently utilized in the plantation agriculture that was the backbone of the way of life in the southern United States, during the period of slavery and for nearly a hundred years after literal slavery was abolished through the Civil War in the 1860s. That plantation agriculture was marked by a low level of technology but very labor-intensive work carried out, first, by large numbers of slaves and then by sharecroppers and farm laborers: back-breaking toil from “can’t see in the morning till can’t see at night.” And in fact, in the period after World War 2 in particular, the introduction of new technology into southern agriculture—especially tractors and mechanized planting and picking machines, on an increasing scale—undermined the old plantation system and was a major impetus in driving many Black people, who had been formerly chained to the land in one form or another, off the land and into the cities of the North as well as the South. And this, in turn, constituted an important part of the material basis on which the struggle was waged to end legal segregation and open terror by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists—a struggle which, through tremendous sacrifice and heroism, brought about very significant changes in U.S. society, and in the position of Black people in particular, even while it did not, and could not, put an end to the oppression of Black people, which has been, and today remains, an integral and essential element of the capitalist-imperialist system in the U.S.2
This illustrates another crucial fact brought to light by Marx: On the foundation of the existing production relations at any given time, there will arise a superstructure of politics and ideology—political structures, institutions and processes, ways of thinking, and culture—which in a fundamental sense must and will correspond to, and in turn serve to maintain and reinforce, the existing production relations. And Marx further demonstrated, since the time that changes in the productive forces led to the emergence of production relations characterized by subjugation and domination, society has been divided into different classes, whose position in society is grounded in their differing roles in the process of production. In class-divided society, it is the economically dominant class—that group in society which monopolizes ownership and control of the major means of production (technology, land and raw materials, etc.)—which will also dominate the superstructure of politics and ideology. This economically dominant class will exercise a monopoly of political power. This monopoly of political power is embodied in the state—particularly the instruments of political suppression, including the police as well as the army, the legal system and penal institutions, as well as the executive power—and it assumes a concentrated expression in the monopoly of “legitimate” armed force. So, too, the dominant ways of thinking that hold sway in society, including as this is expressed in the culture, will correspond to the outlook and interests of the dominant class (as Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto, so long as society is divided into classes, the ruling ideas of any age are ever the ideas of its ruling class).
Then what is the fundamental basis, and what are the underlying, driving forces, of change in society? Marx analyzed how, through the activity and innovation of human beings, the productive forces are being continually developed, and at a certain point the new productive forces that have been developed will come into antagonism with the existing relations of production (and the superstructure of politics and ideology that corresponds to those production relations). At that point, as Marx characterized it, the existing production relations have become, in an overall sense, a fetter, a chain, on the productive forces; and when this situation emerges, a revolution must be carried out whose fundamental aim is to revolutionize the production relations, to bring them into line with the productive forces, to bring about a situation where the production relations are now more an appropriate form for the development of the productive forces, rather than a fetter on that development. Such a revolution will be driven forward by forces representing a class which embodies the potential for carrying out this transformation of the production relations, to bring them into line, essentially, with the way in which the productive forces have developed. But this revolution must, and can only, take place in the superstructure—in the struggle for political power over society, through the overthrow and dismantling of the old state power and the establishment of a new state power—which then makes possible the transformation of the production relations, as well as the superstructure itself, in line with the interests of the new ruling class and its ability to more fully unleash and utilize the productive forces.
Of course, revolution is an extremely complex process, involving many different people and groups with a diversity of views and aims, and those who carry out such a revolution may be more or less conscious of what are the underlying contradictions—between the forces of production and the relations of production—whose development has established the need and given rise to the dynamics that make such a revolution possible, and necessary. But ultimately the influence of these contradictions and dynamics will bring to the fore those who can and do act essentially in accordance with the need to transform the production relations to bring them into line with the development of the productive forces. This is what happened, for example, in the French revolution of the late 18th century and early 19th century, the most radical of all bourgeois revolutions: Many different class forces and social groups took part in that revolution, but in the final analysis it was political forces who proceeded to establish the capitalist system, in place of the old feudal system, who were able to entrench themselves in power, fundamentally because this transformation of the economy, and of the society as a whole on that foundation, represented the necessary means for bringing the relations of production into line with the way in which the productive forces had developed.
The American Civil War also provides an illustration of the basic principles and methods that Marx developed and applied to human historical development. This Civil War came about fundamentally as a result of the fact that two different modes of production—characterized by different systems of production relations: capitalism and slavery—had come into antagonistic conflict with each other, and could no longer co-exist within the same country. And the result of this Civil War was that, with the victory of the capitalist class, centered in the North, the slave system was abolished and the capitalist system became dominant in the country as a whole—even though, especially after a brief period of Reconstruction following the Civil War, the southern landowning aristocracy and developing capitalists in the South were re-integrated into the ruling class of the country as a whole, and in fact have had a major influence within that ruling class, while the former slaves were subjugated once again, in forms of exploitation and oppression hardly less onerous than slavery (and some forms of actual slavery continued to exist, particularly in the South, long after slavery was legally and formally abolished).
From these historical examples, it can be seen how, in the revolutions that have brought about qualitative changes in society but have nevertheless only led to the establishment of a new exploiting class in the dominant position, the pattern has repeated itself that the masses of oppressed people sacrifice (or are sacrificed) in these revolutions (for example, 200,000 former slaves fought on the side of the North in the U.S. Civil War, once they were allowed to do so, and they died in much greater percentages than others in the Union army) yet, in the final analysis, exploiters of the masses, new or old, reap the fruits of this sacrifice. This is the way it has been since the time that class divisions, and domination by exploiting classes, have emerged in and have characterized human society. This was all that was possible...Until now.
The most significant, and liberating, thing that Marx brought to light is that the development of human society, as a result of the dynamics which he unearthed, has led to a situation where a radically different world is possible. We have reached the point where, through all the complex development that has only been sketched out here in very basic terms, the productive forces now exist which make it possible to create, and to continually expand, an abundance which, in fundamental terms, can be shared among humanity as a whole and utilized to meet the material needs of people everywhere, while also providing for an ever-enriched intellectual and cultural life for everyone. It is not only that the technology has developed which makes this possible in a general sense, but also that this technology can be—and in fact must be—used by large groups of people working cooperatively. Marx revealed the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist system which dominates the world today, at such great cost and with such great peril for humanity: the contradiction between the socialized way in which production is carried out, and the fact that this process of production, and what it produces, is controlled and appropriated privately, by a small number of capitalists. As the Constitution of our Party emphasizes:
[I]n today’s world the production of things, and the distribution of the things produced, is overwhelmingly carried out by large numbers of people who work collectively and are organized in highly coordinated networks. At the foundation of this whole process is the proletariat, an international class which owns nothing, yet has created and works these massive socialized productive forces. These tremendous productive powers could enable humanity to not only meet the basic needs of every person on the planet, but to build a new society, with a whole different set of social relations and values...a society where all people could truly and fully flourish together.3
To achieve this—to resolve, through revolutionary means, the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, and to move beyond the division of human beings into exploiters and exploited, rulers and ruled—is the aim of the communist revolution. This is a revolution that corresponds to the most fundamental interests of the proletariat, which carries out, under conditions of capitalist domination and exploitation, socialized production and which embodies the potential to bring the relations of production into line with the productive forces, and to further unleash those productive forces, including the people themselves. But, unlike all previous classes which have carried out a revolution in their interests, the revolutionary proletariat does not aim simply to establish itself and its political representatives in the ruling position in society; it aims to move beyond the division of society into classes, to uproot all oppressive relations, and with that to eliminate all institutions and instruments through which one part of society dominates and suppresses others. As Marx succinctly summarized it, this revolution aims for—and will be concluded only once it has achieved—what have come to be called the “4 Alls”: 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 revolutionizing of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. Marx also succinctly and powerfully captured the essence of this in emphasizing that the proletariat can emancipate itself only by emancipating all humanity.
All this is why the communist revolution represents the most radical, and truly liberating, revolution in human history.
In surveying the immense historical experience that went into the conclusions he drew, Marx pointed to the profound understanding that indeed people make history, but they do not make it in any way they wish. They make it on the basis of the material conditions—and in particular the underlying economic conditions and relations—which they have inherited from previous generations, and the possible pathways of change that reside within the contradictory nature of these conditions. As Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, has pointed out in “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” (Part 1):
We can make an analogy here to evolution in the natural world. One of the points that is repeatedly stressed in the book on evolution by Ardea Skybreak is that the process of evolution can only bring about changes on the basis of what already exists…. Evolution in the natural world comes about, and can only come about, through changes that arise on the basis of, and in relation to, the existing reality and the existing constraints (or, to put it another way, the existing necessity).4
This provides the basic answer to those who raise: Who are you to say how society can be organized, what right do you communists have to dictate what change is possible and how it should come about? These questions are essentially misplaced and represent a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics of historical development—and the possible pathways of change—in human society as well as in the material world more generally. This is akin to asking why birds cannot give birth to crocodiles—or why human beings cannot produce offspring that are capable of flying around the earth, on their own, in an instant, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, and having x-ray vision that can see through solid objects—and demanding to know: Who are you to dictate what can come about through reproduction, who are you to say that human offspring will have particular characteristics and not others? It is not a matter of “who are you” but of what the material reality is and what possibilities for change actually lie within the—contradictory—character of that material reality. The point here is twofold:
For the first time in the history of humanity, the material conditions have come into being that make possible the final abolition of relations of domination, oppression, and exploitation; and the theoretical understanding to guide the struggle toward that goal has been brought into being on the basis of drawing from the material reality, and its historical development, that has brought this possibility into being.
At the same time, this world-historic transformation of human social relations can only come about on the basis of proceeding from the actual material conditions and the contradictions that characterize them, which open up this possibility but which also embody obstacles to the achievement of this radical social transformation; and it requires a scientific understanding of and approach to these contradictory dynamics—and the leadership of an organized group of people that is grounded in this scientific method and approach—in order to carry through the complex and arduous struggle to achieve this transformation through the advance to communism throughout the world.
IV. The New Challenges, and the New Synthesis
While providing overall leadership to our Party, Bob Avakian has, over the past 30 years, continued to deepen a scientific analysis of the experience of the international communist movement and the strategic approach to communist revolution. The result of this work has been the emergence of a new synthesis, a further development of the theoretical framework for carrying forward this revolution.
As our Party’s Constitution points out, the situation in the world today—including the defeat of the initial wave of communist revolution—actually “poses, anew, the great need for communism.” And:
While there are no socialist states in the world, there is the experience of socialist revolutions and there is the rich body of revolutionary, scientific theory that developed through the first wave of socialist revolutions to build on. But the theory and practice of communist revolution requires advances to meet the challenges of this situation—to scientifically address, and draw the necessary lessons from, the overall experience of this first wave of socialist revolution and the strategic implications of the vast changes taking place in the world.
Bob Avakian has taken on this responsibility, and has developed a communist body of work and method and approach that responds to these great needs and challenges.
From the ending of the Manifesto:
Conclusion: A Challenge and a Call
We mean what we have said here, and we mean what we say in the Conclusion of our Party’s Constitution:
The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA has taken the responsibility to lead revolution in the U.S., the belly of the imperialist beast, as its principal share of the world revolution and the ultimate aim of communism. This is a great and historic undertaking—and all those who yearn to see this happen should rally to and support this vanguard, working together with the party, building support for it and, on the basis of taking up the cause and outlook of communism, joining it.
The emancipation of all humanity: this, and nothing less than this, is our goal. There is no greater cause, no greater purpose to which to dedicate our lives.5
All that we have spoken to here, and what we have laid bare, in direct and unvarnished terms, should give even greater meaning and emphasis to the call for people who share, or respect, our determination to bring a new world into being, without exploitation and oppression, to rally to the aid and support of this Party.
To the revolutionaries and communists everywhere, to all those who thirst for another, radically different and far better world: Let us not retreat into and retrench in the past, in whatever form—let us instead go forward boldly toward the goal of communism and the emancipation of humanity from thousands of years of tradition’s chains.
End of Part 1
The entire Manifesto is available on revcom.us at revcom.us/Manifesto/Manifesto.html
Get into and learn about the first stage of the communist revolution; the conclusions that must be drawn from this experience; the new challenges, and the new synthesis brought forward by Bob Avakian; the crossroads faced by the international communist movement; and the Cultural Revolution within the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
1 Marx to Kugelmann, 1868, cited in Raymond Lotta, with Frank Shannon, America in Decline, An Analysis of the Developments Toward War and Revolution, in the U.S. and Worldwide, in the 1980s, Vol.1, Banner Press, Chicago, 1984, p. 10. [back]
2 For a fuller analysis of the relation between the oppression of Black people and the historical development of U.S. capitalism and imperialism, see Bob Avakian, Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, RCP Publications, Chicago, 2008; also available online atrevcom.us. [back]
3 Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, RCP Publications, Chicago, 2008, Preamble: Basic Principles of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, p. 2, emphasis in original. This Constitution is also available online at revcom.us. [back]
4 “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity,” Parts 1 and 2, is available at revcom.us and in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008. The book by Ardea Skybreak referred to here is The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters, Insight Press, Chicago, 2006. [back]
5 Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Conclusion, p. 24; also available online at revcom.us. [back]
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