A particular problem that expresses itself very sharply, both in imperialist countries in general and in a particularly concentrated way in the U.S., given its position and role in the world, is the relation between maintaining our fundamental internationalist orientation—and at the same time maintaining our orientation of uniting all who can be united within the U.S. itself.
In "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism" and elsewhere Lenin talks about how one of the main features of imperialism is heightened parasitism and how this "sets the seal of parasitism" on the whole of society, in the homelands of imperialism. In other words, there is this whole parasitic character to society. And this is even more pronounced today—especially (although certainly not exclusively) in the U.S.—than at the time Lenin was writing and using England as a particular example.
So the question—and the difficult contradiction—is maintaining our fundamental internationalist orientation and as a part of that exposing and opposing the heightening parasitism in U.S. society (and imperialist society in general), while at the same time maintaining our strategic orientation of developing the broadest possible United Front, Under the Leadership of the Proletariat, in the U.S. itself, in order to be able to carry out the proletarian revolution in the U.S. as part of the world proletarian revolution. Or, to put it another way: maintaining the strategic orientation of standing with the 90 percent or more of the masses versus the 10 percent of the ruling class and its die-hard social base, in the world as a whole and within U.S. society.
Here a question could be raised—and has been raised: will we actually get 90% of the people in the U.S. for the proletarian revolution? Probably not; almost certainly not at the start, BUT (and this is extremely important), we cannot know for sure, in advance, where all the different social strata and forces will line up when the showdown comes—that will be determined in the actual event.
As Lenin said when he was talking about the bourgeoisification of sections of the proletariat and the split in the working class within the imperialist countries, we need to go down deeper and lower to the basic masses. But we have to combine going lower and deeper with going broader. Lenin made this point: nobody can say with certainty exactly where these various strata of the working class will fall out—that will be determined only in the course of the actual proletarian revolution. We cannot say with certainty exactly what the line-up is going to be at the beginning or even at the end of the armed insurrection and civil war, nor certainly looking beyond that. But (and this is extremely important) while it may be the case that we don't actually get 90% for the proletarian revolution—and it's almost certain that we won't have that many with us at the start—yet this has to remain our strategic orientation, if we are going to win—not only in the sense of the seizing of power but looking beyond that to the historic goal of communism worldwide.
If we don't maintain the strategic orientation of seeking to unite 90%—even while it may be true at a given time that we're far from having 90% of the people with us—we will lose.
Now, the need to win 90% and the orientation of winning 90% is in fact in contradiction with an essential feature of how revolution would take place in a country like the U.S.—namely, that this revolution would involve, as a very significant aspect, a civil war between two sections of the people. How do we handle this very real contradiction? That contradiction is going to exert a powerful effect in reality, but through all that we have to maintain an orientation of uniting all who can be united, in the broadest expression of that. We can't say (picking a number somewhat arbitrarily), "Well, the most we can hope for is 55%." That can't be our orientation. Even if only 40% of the people are with us when we start, or only 20% for that matter, we still can't have an orientation other then seeking to win 90% ultimately.
Once a real revolutionary situation develops, in timing an armed insurrection—not just in the most narrow, immediate sense, but in the larger sense, deciding when it's time to shift gears into concentrating on the seize power aspect of the Central Task1—one of the main things revolutionaries have to evaluate is: "Do we have the potential to not only bring forward the proletariat in its masses but to win over these other strata, if not at the start, then through the process of what we're going to initiate?" In the context of a revolutionary situation, if the revolutionaries think that, through the process of what they're going to initiate, they have a good chance of winning these other strata over, then it's time to go; and if they wait until they already have them won over—no good.
So this is a very important distinction: there's a very intense contradiction between recognizing that a significant aspect of the revolutionary struggle, and the revolutionary war in particular (armed insurrection and civil war), would be a civil war between two sections of the people, on the one hand, and on the other hand, maintaining the strategic orientation of the United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat and seeking to unite the 90% against the 10% (to put it that way). This is an intense contradiction and will repeatedly assert itself as a very intense contradiction.
Another way of saying this is that these two "90/10s" (uniting 90% in the U.S. and uniting with 90% of the people worldwide against the 10% representing the exploiters and their most hardcore social base) are not in antagonism in a fundamental sense, but they are in contradiction, and this contradiction can sometimes take very acute expression. This is the reality of the role of U.S. imperialism in the world and the parasitism in U.S. society. Even with all the changes that are going on, which to a significant degree are undermining the position held by "the broad middle class" in the U.S., particularly since WW2, this 90%/90% (or 90/10, 90/10) contradiction can at times be extremely acute and complicated.
Proletarian Internationalism vs. Internet Internationalism
I was listening to a tape of an interview with Clark Kissinger on a radio station in northern California, and in the course of that he made this analogy/metaphor—of the more privileged strata, in particular in U.S. society, as being high up on the world food chain. I broke out laughing because (this is true) I had actually myself, in talking with other people about American society, made exactly the same analogy or metaphor. I think it's an illustration of the fact that this analogy or metaphor does strongly suggest itself.
In the whole international process of accumulation and circulation of capital, by the time things get to the more privileged strata, in particular in the U.S., it's become highly rarified from the actual process in which those commodities, that wealth, is produced in fundamental terms. And there is a real aspect of being at the end of the food chain for significant strata, and especially for the more privileged strata, in these imperialist countries.
Another way to look at this, drawing from the contemporary form of things, is that we could pose it in terms of the contradiction between "Proletarian Internationalism" and "Internet Internationalism." In relation to this there have been some very important articles in our newspaper on the Internet and what it represents. In those articles there are some very revealing statistics cited. For example in the article "Big Brother on the Internet" (RW No. 858, May 26, 1996), it points out that at this time only about 4 million people—out of a global population of 6 billion!!—are hooked into the Internet, and the majority of people on a world scale don't even have telephones!—which is indispensable for being a part of this whole internet thing.
Now, there are a lot of people (even some with good intentions) who actually believe that what's happening with all this high-tech stuff, on the Internet, etc., is that they're transcending national barriers, even class barriers—that there's some way in which this is going to reduce the differences between people in the world not only in a physical-geographic sense but also socially. Some of these people are somewhat conscious of the actual conditions of people in the world. Some others are more narrowly focused and, perhaps willfully, oblivious. But to a significant degree they share these illusions that they're transcending material reality, that they're also transcending social barriers, and that this is a way the world can be brought together on a more egalitarian basis—a basis of peace, justice and equality, something like that, in terms of some of its better expressions.
So, as we have seen, this has its attendant philosophical expressions, including various forms of the present-day version of "matter has disappeared" (and different present-day forms of "god-building"). This is how the technological changes associated with the "information revolution"—and, more essentially, these people's position within the overall and international "division of labor" of imperialism and its accumulation process—are reflected in their consciousness. And, again, we can throw up our hands, or we can get a good laugh out of it (which we should), and then recognize that we have more work to do.
It's not accidental that these ideas have currency among sections of the "new age" middle strata, even some with progressive and "globalist" orientations. And we have to pose proletarian internationalism vs. Internet internationalism without losing our orientation of uniting all who can be united according to our strategy. One of the ways this comes out on a world level, as well as in particular societies, is that often the intellectuals are susceptible to this kind of thinking. They tend to deal in the realm of abstract ideas and what they think of as "pure reason." One of the forms this takes is this "Internet internationalism." And more generally, because a lot of the real social and world relations and the conditions of the broad masses are obscured to them, they tend to think they can go forward from their own position to a more ideal position, without having to go through material reality.
So it is very important that we be very firm and have a firm grip on the fact that the strategy we are talking about is the United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat. We must be very clear about this and we have to maintain a very firm stand on this—without turning this into something sectarian and self-serving, but precisely on the basis of upholding the fundamental interests and historic mission of the proletariat.