By Bob Avakian
Revolutionary Worker #1133, January 6, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
The RW is currently running this series of excerpts from an unpublished work by RCP Chairman Bob Avakian, "Great Objectives and Grand Strategy." Although written over a year ago, this work--and these excerpts in particular--contain much that is very relevant to the current crisis and war. This is the seventh in this series.
It is crucial for us to grasp firmly--and to arm the masses, particularly the advanced masses at every point, with a profoundly materialist and dialectical understanding--that the transformations the imperialist system is going through, including in the "imperialist citadels" themselves, and the whole major transition that this represents, is not some "wave of the future," as is being loudly and incessantly proclaimed from every quarter of the bourgeois ruling class and its media and mouthpieces. Rather, this is only the latest expression of a system that is, as Lenin described it, parasitic and moribund--it represents the deepening of that parasitic and moribund character.
From this perspective, it is worth speaking once again to the question of progress. This has been posed very sharply in the struggle to defend public housing, particularly (though not only) in Chicago, including the battle around the Youth Brigade house there. There is a way in which the masses involved in these battles could feel as if they are a kind of "lonely outpost"--in a situation similar to that of many of the Indians as the cavalry, and the whole "manifest destiny," moved against them. This is definitely the way that the ruling class has portrayed the confrontation--as if the masses who resist the destruction of their homes, and of public housing as a whole, are small, isolated outposts standing against the juggernaut of "progress." But, as I wrote in some recent correspondence:
"In relation to the battle around the youth house* and Cabrini Green and public housing generally, I wanted to make what I think is an important point about the question of 'progress.' As noted in a number of reports, the line (of attack) of the bourgeoisie is that the youth house and beyond that the residents of Cabrini Green (and public housing residents more generally) are `standing in the way of progress.' I was glad to see that, in one of the reports by the local Party leadership in Chicago, this was spoken to--posing the question of `progress' for whom and for what? It is very important to bring out that `progress' has a social content, a class character. This 'progress' the bourgeoisie speaks of--and brandishes as a weapon against the basic masses--is, in very large measure, heightened parasitism. It is not progress, but regression, specifically in terms of unleashing--or, rather, shackling--the productive forces, above all people. This is graphically illustrated by the fact that, among other things, this 'progress' involves taking vast numbers of people in these housing projects, many of whom the system has for long kept unemployed, and dispersing them and driving them into more impoverished and desperate conditions. It involves intensifying the ways in which this system already wastes and abuses the tremendous human potential--knowledge, creativity, initiative--that these masses represent. It is extremely important for the masses to grasp what represents progress from the standpoint of the proletariat and masses of people, and their own decisive role in bringing about that progress. Confined and hemmed in, encircled and suppressed by the parasitic pirates of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state, it may appear to the masses in the projects that they are just a few isolated pockets up against the rolling monster of `redevelopment' and all the combined forces of an oppressive order and of parasitic and destructive `progress'; but it is crucial for these masses to grasp the fact that, from a strategic standpoint, they are part of the forces that actually encircle and will finally overthrow the bourgeoisie and its oppressive order--an order, a system, which fundamentally represents the interests only of an exploiting minority. In order for them to be fully unleashed to fight for revolution--and even to be fully mobilized in struggles, such as the battle around public housing, that are short of but contribute in important ways to the goal of revolution--it is crucial for these masses to get a basic understanding of the historic mission of the proletariat, and the material basis for this: how it is that the proletariat actually represents progress--the liberation and unleashing of the productive forces, above all the masses of people--and how, because of that fundamental fact, there is the basis and potential for the proletariat to rally the masses who suffer most under this system, but also much broader ranks of the people, to rise up against and finally overthrow the bourgeoisie and shatter the shackles the bourgeois system has placed on the masses of people and the productive forces as a whole. This liberating truth must be brought home to the masses in a popular and accessible, in a living and powerful, way."
This ties in with the way Edward Luttwak (in his book Turbo Capitalism) describes the driving force of capitalism: the "creative destruction" of capitalism. (This is a formulation that has also been used recently by another "conservative" analyst and commentator, George Will, in "celebrating" the "virtues" of capitalism.) The fact that capitalism brings about tremendous suffering, dislocation--and in fact oppression, exploitation and misery--for the great majority of people in the world is immaterial to these people. It doesn't matter to them because all this produces a tremendous amount of profit for the small number who come (I refuse to say "rise") to the top through the process of this "creative destruction."
One of the things that we have been emphasizing (this has been spoken to in Raymond Lotta's articles in recent years about the economy in socialist China, and it's something we've been more generally summing up from the experience of socialist society so far) is that the fundamental question with regard to the economy and the economic system is not how much production there is and how much wealth is created but what is the purpose and aim of production, what does it serve and contribute to, and more specifically does it serve the needs and basic interests of the masses of people and the struggle to transform society, to eliminate exploitation and oppression, worldwide?
We have also been summing up (I went into this at some length in "Conquer The World," for example**) that there has been a certain tendency, particularly with Stalin but to some degree with Lenin as well (and you can even see this in some of Mao's comments, particularly in the first few years of socialism in China) to put forward, as one of the main objectives of socialism, "outproducing" the capitalist countries, surpassing them in the output of major mileposts, or major components, of the economy (steel, for example). Actually, fairly early on, Mao went against this. In one of his writings or speeches (I believe it is in volume 5 of his Selected Works) he talks about how he told Chou En-Lai when he was in the Soviet Union (this was during the time of Khrushchev's leadership of the Soviet Party) to respond to the arrogance the Soviets were manifesting by saying to them: what is so great about what you've done--all you've done is produce so much steel and grow so much grain--what's the big deal about that?
Now, Mao's point obviously wasn't that production is unimportant; his point was that the amount or level of production is not the decisive thing. And, for that matter--and this is important to emphasize as well, in this time of incessant hymns to "high technology"--even the "technological level" of what is produced is still not the fundamental and essential question. Even if, at a given time, not only the overall output of a socialist country but more specifically its "high tech" component--and the overall "technological mix" of its economy--is on a lower level than that of various bourgeois states, that does not in any way alter the fact that socialist society is far superior from the standpoint of serving the needs and the fundamental interests of the masses of people.
But there was this tendency, particularly in the Soviet Union, to identify socialism in a fairly mechanical way with "outproducing" the capitalist countries. And this was reinforced when, during the 1930s "Great Depression," all the major capitalist countries "went into reverse gear" while the Soviet economy was rolling ahead with its production. I think that, ironically, this reinforced some of these tendencies to identify socialism too closely or essentially with "outproducing" capitalism.
But, again, the most important and fundamental question and criterion with regard to the economy is: "production for whom and for what." Of course, in accordance with and on the basis of that criterion and standard, it is important that a socialist society unleash the productive forces and actually make advances in production. But, to put it somewhat provocatively, in accordance with that criterion and standard, we can and should say, "so what?"
So what if, through its "creative destruction," or whatever, the capitalist economy can produce a certain amount of output and wealth? And so what if, in contrast, a socialist country, at a given point, may not have as high a growth rate as one or another bourgeois state? So what--so long as the socialist economy is increasingly meeting the needs of the masses of people, and serving the revolutionary struggle in that country and worldwide? That is far superior, from the standpoint of the proletariat and masses of people, than this whole mad anarchy of capitalism--this so-called "creative destruction"--which churns up and destroys billions of people, which casts billions into horrible conditions of oppression and agony, so that a tiny handful can fight it out to see which ones can reap tremendous profits from this.
This only shows how the production relations of capitalism are wildly in conflict with the productive forces--which is all the more the case in the imperialist stage of capitalism, with its continually deepening parasitic and moribund character--and it dramatically demonstrates how we need revolution in order to resolve that contradiction. Our standards and criteria, our objectives, have to be to build an economy that serves the needs of the people--their needs in daily life but more than that, their revolutionary needs and interests--and the worldwide revolutionary struggle to fulfill their highest interests. This is closely linked to what I have been saying about progress--how to understand that question and the importance of bringing a correct understanding of that to the masses of people. And, along with that, it is crucial for the masses to grasp the great qualitative difference in the very objectives and aims, and the corresponding character, of the two different and fundamentally opposed economic systems, capitalism and socialism, and how only socialism can serve the advance to classless society and the abolition of all exploitation and oppression, worldwide, while capitalism-imperialism can only stand as the direct obstacle to that advance and can only condemn the vast majority of humanity to untold, and unnecessary, suffering.
* In the spring of 1999 the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade waged a determined struggle against eviction from their house in the Cabrini Green neighborhood. The battle around the Youth house was linked to the whole fight to defend public housing in Chicago.
** "CONQUER THE WORLD?--The International Proletariat Must and Will," a talk by Bob Avakian, was printed in a special issue of Revolution magazine, December 1981.
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