The Communist Manifesto Today:
Still True, Still Dangerous,
Still the Hope of the Hopeless
Part 2: The Communist Vision
By Raymond Lotta
Revolutionary Worker #959, May 31, 1998
On May 1, 1998, in New York City, Maoist political economist, Raymond Lotta delivered a major address, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto. This is the conclusion of the talk--which began in last week's issue:
The Communist Manifesto puts forward a lofty vision of a new society and a new world. Marx describes the vision in several places: "We shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." In another section, Marx says, "The communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas."
This notion of "two radical ruptures" tells us a lot about the revolutionary mission of the proletariat. I've explained that property relations have to do with who owns the means of production, what role different groups of people play in social production, and how the wealth produced in society is distributed. As I already indicated, the communist revolution aims to socialize the means of production and to develop them to the point--and this can only happen through stages--where they become the common property of society.
The communist revolution does away with production for profit and aims to create a common material abundance and to do away with commodity production and exchange through money. It aims to transform the structures of work and the relations among people so that everybody works in cooperation to contribute the most they can to society and will get back from society what they need. No longer will the individual surrender his or her vital life powers over to alien forces that dominate them; no longer will the individual be subordinated to an enslaving division of labor--in which some command, some design, some create, and some toil.
This revolution will overcome the gap between mental and manual labor. People will be both productive and creative. No aspect of society will be the preserve of some; everyone will be involved in administering society. This revolution aims to eliminate all class distinctions and social antagonisms and to eliminate the basis for any one group of people to dominate society. In short, it aims to do away with the state.
All these transformations are bound up with the second "radical rupture" that Marx formulates, the rupture with traditional ideas. This means transforming ways of thinking, motivations, and morality. It means breaking with the dead hand of the past, with backward beliefs, values, and superstition. It means the revolution cannot defeat capitalism if it does not struggle against the bourgeois ideology of "me first."
Communism has its own conception of freedom. The bourgeois idea of freedom, and Marx speaks to this in the Manifesto, is fundamentally bound up with the freedom to buy and sell, which means the freedom to dominate and exploit. The bourgeois idea of freedom pivots on the individual--the individual pursuit of self-interest, the individual right to obtain wealth and power at the expense of others, the right of some to command others while not being commanded themselves.
The communist view of freedom is different. Individuals will be freed from relations of exploitation and oppression and will develop all-sidedly. But this will be in the context of people coming together in a whole new way. As Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has put it: "People will grasp that everyone's interests are realized through the transformation of society, to expand the sphere of freedom for all."
The communist revolution is an international revolution that aims to eliminate classes on a world scale. It aims to create a true world community of both unity and diversity based on overcoming all the inequality and oppressive relations between different peoples and nations, and the very division of the world into separate nations. And the achievement of this will enable humanity to act as the genuine caretakers of the earth and its resources, concerning itself not only with the present but with the future, and future generations as well. Communism will bring about a global community of freely associating and cooperating human beings. Mao Tsetung said it well: "The epoch of communism will be reached when all mankind voluntarily and consciously changes itself and the world."
Now a basic reason Marx wrote the Manifesto was to clarify what it will take to achieve the vision and reach the goal of communism. When you read the Manifesto, there is a section at the end where Marx criticizes other views of socialism and communism. Basically what Marx is saying here and in other writings is that various other paths to ending injustice--whether they involve lining up behind more "enlightened" rulers, or having some well-meaning people take over the state and modify its policies, or going off and forming small utopian-communist communities on the margins of society--these other paths won't do and they won't work. Because they leave capitalist economic relations and capitalist political rule intact.
The emancipation of the proletariat can only be brought about by the proletariat itself. As the famous anthem, The Internationale, says: "We want no condescending saviors...we workers must decide our duty, we must decide and do it well." What Marx is saying in the Manifesto and political writings that would follow is that the proletariat must organize itself as a class and must become conscious of its mission to liberate all of humanity. It must forcibly overthrow the bourgeoisie and destroy its state apparatus. And it must constitute itself as the ruling class and establish its class dictatorship over the bourgeoisie.
This dictatorship of the proletariat is the means of getting to classless society. It is the proletariat ruling and transforming society. This is socialism: the transition between capitalism and communism.
Three Milestones in Our Cause
But the bourgeoisie says that wherever and whenever this has been tried, the results have been disastrous. That, they tell us, is the lesson of the last 150 years. But Marxist-Leninist-Maoists draw the opposite conclusion. Where and when this revolution has been carried out, the results have been profound and liberating. And the historical experience of making this revolution, its victories and its defeats, provides precious lessons about the road to human emancipation. That's what I want to talk about now.
There have been three great milestones in the history of proletarian revolution--each a breakthrough achieved through the heroism and initiative of the masses, and each providing a new point of departure for the next.
The first was in France--the Paris Commune of 1871. This was the first time the working class seized power. The bourgeoisie fled Paris. For 70 glorious days, something new and never seen before had come into being. A working class government was set up. Reforms in the interest of the people were enacted. The workers began to directly administer the city. Women were in the frontlines of this battle and experiment. But it was short-lived. The bourgeoisie was able to regroup, and then it drowned the Commune in blood.
A vital lesson was learned. As Marx himself summed up, and this was incorporated into a preface in later editions of the Manifesto, "The proletariat cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes." The Parisian proletariat did not see the importance of going after and crushing the enemy.
The next great leap occurred in Russia in 1917. Here Lenin and the Bolsheviks drew on those lessons. Lenin had also showed the need for a vanguard party to enable the proletariat to gain revolutionary consciousness and to wage revolutionary struggle.
The Bolshevik Revolution established new political and social organs of popular rule. It recognized the right of self-determination for the oppressed nations of the old Russian empire and formed a multinational state based on equality of nations, nationalities, and languages. Women obtained the right of divorce and other changes in family relations, and they entered into the realms of both production and politics in an unprecedented way. The Soviet Union provided inspiration and internationalist support to revolutionary movements all over the world. This revolution created the first planned socialist economy in human history. It took over the property of the former exploiting classes and established a system of public-state ownership. Production was carried out on the basis of a conscious plan to meet society's needs.
But from the get, and without letup, the revolution faced incredibly difficult conditions. There was imperialist invasion right after the workers' state was formed. There was unrelenting imperialist encirclement. And this young workers' state would eventually face the main brunt of the Nazi war machine. For 40 years, socialism was defended. But then socialism in the Soviet Union was defeated, the result of extreme pressure from without and increasing decay from within. In the early 1950s, a new capitalist class came to power after the death of Stalin.
The next great advance in the cause of proletarian revolution took place in China in 1949. A long revolutionary war, led by the working class and its communist party led by Mao Tsetung, triumphed. The Chinese revolution freed one-quarter of humanity from exploitation. Think about this: the land reform carried out in China represented the most massive transfer of wealth from rich to poor in human history.
Mao Tsetung summed up the lessons of the Soviet socialist experience and the restoration of capitalism. Despite the gigantic accomplishments, mistakes had also been made by the Soviet revolutionaries, and certain things about the nature of socialist society were not well understood.
Mao analyzed the significance of the leftovers of capitalist society within socialist society. These leftovers are things like the fact that some people are mainly involved in mental labor while other people mainly perform manual labor, and the fact that administrative and leadership responsibilities are still not equally shared; there are the still-existing inequalities between town and country and between different regions, between men and women; differences in income; and money and commodity production still continue to play an important role under socialism.
These things cannot be eliminated overnight. But they must be restricted and transformed, and the ideology that goes with them must be combatted. But as long as these phenomena exist, they will generate bourgeois class forces who will seek to shape society according to their class interests. Mao said that socialism is a protracted period of struggle between the capitalist road and the socialist road, between antagonistic social classes, and that who will win out at any given time is not a settled question.
Mao also analyzed weaknesses in the Soviet approach to building socialism. There was too much emphasis on just building up big industry. There was too much acceptance of capitalist ways of organizing things, and not enough change in the relations among people. For instance, in the Soviet Union, the factories still had a system of one-man management. There was too much reliance on experts and not enough reliance on the masses in solving problems. And Mao summed up that there was not enough attention paid to that "second radical rupture"--to changing people's world outlook and struggling over issues of ideology.
And as a matter of crucial historical importance--the Soviet revolutionaries had not found the way to combat the attempts of new bourgeois forces, especially those right inside the communist party, to restore capitalism. But Mao, along with the masses, discovered the means and method. And that was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
The Cultural Revolution began in 1966 and ended in 1976. It is the third great milestone in the history of the world proletarian revolution. It is the pinnacle of what the proletariat has been able to accomplish. People ask, "is there anything concrete and meaningful you can say about how society would be run by the proletariat?" We can.
The Cultural Revolution
Breaks New Ground
The Cultural Revolution was a revolution within the revolution: a class struggle under socialism openly fought to prevent the restoration of capitalism and the betrayal of the revolution. Under the leadership of Mao Tsetung and his followers in the Chinese Communist Party, the masses rose up to overthrow new capitalist forces who had arisen within the very structures and institutions of socialist society, and whose center of power was within the communist party itself.
This revolution was the deepest and most thoroughgoing in world history. It gave vivid expression to what it means, and I am using a phrase by Marx, for the masses to "spring society into the air."
The Cultural Revolution saw revolutionary youth ignite debate about what was going on in society. It saw workers in the large cities heroically mobilize to seize back power from entrenched elites and engage in the complicated process of forging new, more radical, and inclusive forms of proletarian rule.
During the Cultural Revolution, the routine of daily life was blown wide open and people from every walk of life engaged in broad debate--about economic policy, about the educational system, about the relations between the communist party and the masses. No official was exempt from criticism. Ordinary people were struggling with scientists and administrators over their arrogance and class prejudice.
Peasants were discussing ways that Confucian values of patriarchy and servility still influenced their lives. In revolutionary China, "Serve the people"--how is my life contributing to the needs of society and to the world revolution--was an ideological standard against which tens of millions of people judged themselves and others.
During the Cultural Revolution, there were campaigns to popularize certain concepts of Marxism. One concept that got widely studied was from a work by Marx. It says: "Communism 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, and to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations."
Maoists call this "the 4 Alls." It means the revolution doesn't stop half-way. The proletariat keeps making revolution to revolutionize away all systems, all relations, all institutions, and all ideas that embody and reinforce class division.
What does this mean in the concrete? Let's take this question of relations of production. During the Cultural Revolution, industrial and factory management were revolutionized. Oppressive work rules that, in the name of productivity and discipline, limited worker initiative were criticized and done away with. The one-man management system gave way to collective management. And workers spent time in management tasks and managers spent time working on the shop floor. Technicians and production workers analyzed problems together and technical teams were developed from among the workers. Workers rotated between jobs as part of efforts to break down routine and excessive specialization. The highest paid managers had incomes only about 5 times greater than those of unskilled workers. Compare this with chief executives in the U.S. who make salaries 150 times greater than those of workers.
Factories cooperated with neighboring communities and sent delegations into the countryside. This was a concrete way of breaking down the division between town and country. And life in the workplace consisted of more than production. You know, there was this slogan raised by the followers of Mao during the Cultural Revolution. It said, "Factories not only produce products, they also produce people." And in the factories, political discussion and debate, and culture and education, were integrated with work.
Social relations and institutions is another of the "4 Alls." Consider the revolution in the educational system. Workers and peasants were now enrolled in the universities in larger numbers; the old curriculum was overhauled and brought into line with the needs of building an egalitarian society; the traditional competitive exam and grading systems were done away with; autocratic teaching methods were criticized; professors were expected to learn from students; and workers and peasants were invited to come lecture in the classrooms. The new educational system linked study with manual work. Before students would go on to higher-level school institutions, they would spend a year or two among workers and peasants and be nominated for admission by the masses, with a key criterion being their willingness to serve the people.
These were profound changes. But they did not come easy. And they came under attack. You see, all this was intensely fought for and carried out as part of the class struggle in Chinese society. This struggle was about who would determine the direction of society, and, ultimately, who would be ruling society--the proletariat or a new bourgeoisie. This struggle intensified in the 1970s and the international situation had a great impact on how the class struggle went down in China. The revolutionary forces waged a fierce and heroic struggle to defend proletarian rule. But the capitalist roaders, led by Deng Xiaoping, were able to amass the strength to carry out a military coup. They overthrew working class power in 1976.
Getting Historical Perspective
Three times--first in Paris, then in the Soviet Union, and then in China--the proletariat has stormed the heavens. Twice this century, the international proletariat has actually broken through and begun the process of ruling society and constructing a new world--for over 30 years in the Soviet Union, for over 25 years in China. But each time, the revolution was defeated. They did not "fail," they were defeated. These were defeats inflicted on the proletariat by a rival class and by a rival world system.
Each of these attempts to build a new kind of society took place in a country surrounded and pressured by hostile powers. And not only this, they took place in a world in which the capitalist mode of production and its ideas and world outlook are still dominant. And this drives home an important lesson. The fate of any individual revolution is ultimately linked to whether the world revolution advances. It means wherever the masses break through to seize power and build socialism, the new society must first and foremost be a base area to advance the world revolution.
The proletariat has had three rounds in power. But it is not back to where it started. Because the proletariat has learned through these experiences. It has learned what it means to rule and what it means to remake all of society. It has deepened its understanding of the revolutionary process, and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism synthesizes this. There are those who say Marx was correct in how he analyzed capitalism but wrong about how the proletariat will lead a liberating revolution. But the proletariat in these 150 years has shown that it is the only class capable of revolutionizing society.
It's important to have historical perspective. You see, what is really involved here is a world-historic struggle between a new and rising system, communism, and an old and declining system, capitalism-imperialism--the last and most complete form of social production based on social antagonism. True, the old system has held on longer than Marx expected. But it has not grown any more benign. This is a world that has never been more polarized into have's and have-not's, a world in which people are divided from each other and their creativity. It is a world in which technology enslaves not liberates. This system is truly outmoded. Its conditions and misery impel the masses to rise up in struggle. And only proletarian revolution can resolve the contradictions of this system and allow humanity to advance beyond this brutal stage of history.
But what we have learned is that it's going to require a protracted and complicated struggle, an entire era, to eliminate this system. We have learned that the world proletarian revolution will take longer and go through many more zig-zags than Marx had anticipated. But we should remember that it took the bourgeoisie four centuries--from the time of the bourgeoisie's beginnings in the Italian city states--before it finally consolidated its rule. Of course they were fighting for a new system of exploitation. The proletarian revolution is unlike any previous human endeavor. So we should not lose heart if our revolution has had difficulties and defeats.
And here we are at the dawn of the next millennium. The bourgeoisie would have us lower our sights. They would have us believe there is no alternative to capitalism, no future beyond capitalism. But we have this historical experience of creating a different world. And communism is alive and well in the world today. There is the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), which is unifying Marxist-Leninist-Maoist forces throughout the world. There are Maoist people's wars in Peru and Nepal that are being led by parties that are part of the RIM. In the Philippines, there is a Maoist people's war. Right here in the "belly of the beast," there is a vanguard party which is working among the masses and preparing the ground for revolution.
And, as Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, wrote last year on May Day: "If you can envision a world without any imperialism, exploitation, and oppression, how could you not feel compelled to take an active part in the world-historic struggle to realize it?"
Brothers and Sisters, The Communist Manifesto is still true, still dangerous, and still the hope of the hopeless.
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