The following is an excerpt from the work by Bob Avakian, The New Communism. In addition to this and other excerpts posted on revcom.us, we will be running further excerpts from time to time on revcom.us. These excerpts should serve as encouragement and inspiration for people to get into the work as a whole, which is available as a book from Insight Press and as a PDF online at revcom.us.
This excerpt comes from the section titled "I. Method and Approach, Communism as a Science."
This gets us to the basic point of why anarchy is the principal form of motion, and the driving force, of capitalism and its fundamental contradiction. Now what do we mean by anarchy? There are a lot of different ways that anarchy or anarchism is expressed—some people proclaim themselves anarchists, and we’ll talk about them. But anarchy, basically, means something—a thing or a process—which is not consciously regulated. It might be regulated in some way, but it’s not consciously regulated in the society overall. So let’s talk about anarchy and how it fits into this capitalist system—why anarchy of production is the main driving force of capitalism, and why this driving force of anarchy forces the capitalists to constantly intensify the exploitation of the people who are working as their wage slaves—the proletarians, the people without means of production who have to sell their labor power—and why the capitalists are constantly going from one part of the world to another to find people they can exploit even more ruthlessly. What needs to be understood—and right now is very little understood—is that it’s not just that they’re greedy, but that there are driving compulsions that the capitalists themselves are under, which force them to constantly do these things, including to more intensely and viciously exploit the people who are working under their command.
Now, in the polemic by Raymond Lotta in Demarcations #3, “On the ‘Driving Force of Anarchy’ and the Dynamics of Change,” an important statement of mine is cited, which gets to the heart of this, so I’m going to get into some of this and break it down a bit. It begins:
It is the anarchy of capitalist production which is, in fact, the driving or motive force of this process [of capitalist production], even though the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and proletariat is an integral part of the contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation.
That’s the first sentence of this statement, and let’s stop there for a minute, because there’s a lot packed into that. What does it mean, “the contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation”? Well, we talked about what socialized production is: a lot of people working on a production process, not a bunch of individuals each producing things with their own means of production—their own little plot of land, or their own tools, or whatever. So that’s the socialization of production.
But while production under capitalism is carried out in this kind of socialized way, the people who control it and appropriate the products of it, and make the profit from it, are individuals, or corporations, groupings of capitalists. So, thousands and ultimately millions of people work in this process socially, but a small number of people in different aggregates, different groupings of corporations and other forms of capitalism, takes the products as their private property and sells them, accumulating for themselves the profit that comes from doing that. The people who do the work in a socialized way don’t get the product that they work on. That goes to a capitalist (or group of capitalists) that pays them a wage; and then, as previously discussed, they have to go out and buy other things, other commodities. So you don’t work in an auto plant and, at the end of the day, you can say, “Well I’ve worked here three weeks, I think I’ve produced the value of a car, so I’m gonna drive it home.” How many years in prison would you get for that? So, it’s private appropriation on the basis of socialized production. That’s the fundamental contradiction at the heart of capitalism. But what I quoted, just a minute ago, says that it’s the anarchy of capitalist production which is the driving force of this process. And then that statement goes on to elaborate: “While the exploitation of labor-power is the form by and through which surplus value is created and appropriated, it is the anarchic relations between capitalist producers, and not the mere existence of propertyless proletarians or the class contradiction as such, that drives these producers to exploit the working class on an historically more intensive and extensive scale.” And: “This motive force of anarchy is an expression of the fact that the capitalist mode of production represents the full development of commodity production and the law of value.”
What does this mean? Well, I have talked about what commodities are, and how, under capitalism, in general things are produced not to be used directly by the people who produce them, but as things to be exchanged in society (and the world) as a whole, through a whole network of relations that are held together by money (or things which act as a stand-in for money). This is what it means to say that the capitalist mode of production represents the full development of commodity production. OK, so far maybe so good. But what about this law of value? The law of value says this: the value of any product—that is, any commodity, anything produced and exchanged—is equal to the amount of socially necessary labor time to produce that particular commodity. And the reason that anarchy is at the heart of this, is that all these capitalists are engaging in commodity exchanges with each other, as well as commodity exchanges with consumers, and it’s all tied together by this law of value—that’s what regulates it in the ultimate sense, even as it’s a bunch of different capitalists accumulating privately, in competition with each other, in the same field of production or in different fields of production, or in the realm of finance, and so on. But, once again, underneath all this is this socialized process of production.
Now, if it were the case that you just had one big group of capitalists exploiting people, and you didn’t have this whole commodity system, then this one big group of capitalists could regulate things and keep all this madness from happening, where people are thrown out of work, plants are closed down, corporations go from one part of the world to another, with all the consequences of that for people. I mean, look at Detroit. I made this point, in Revolution—Nothing Less!19 that, after the rebellion in Detroit in 1967, all of a sudden the ruling class said, “Ooh we got a big problem here in Detroit, we’ve got all these Black people without jobs, they’re being discriminated against, and brutalized by the police, we better go out and hire a bunch of them, give them a well-paying job in the auto plants”—and they went out and hired thousands of Black people right after the rebellion. Now all those jobs are gone. Detroit is a basket case where large parts of the people in the city can’t even consistently get clean water. Why? Because of the dynamics of capitalism—the unregulated character, the anarchic character of capitalism, where these different aggregates of capitalists, privately appropriating socially produced wealth unto themselves, in different segments, are in competition not only with each other in a particular country but are in competition with capitalists all over the world, and therefore they are constantly having to change the way they produce things, constantly having to shift the arena, or the part of the world in which they’re operating, in order to try to outcompete each other, with the threat of going under if they aren’t more efficient than the others. If they don’t more efficiently exploit people, they will go under, or be reduced to second-class capitalist status, on the verge of going under, even if they’re billion dollar corporations.
When I was a kid, for example, Sears was a big department store. When I was really young they even had the Sears Roebuck catalog: You didn’t order things with your smart phone, you got a catalog and ordered things through the mail from the catalog. Well now, Sears is still around, but it’s not big like Walmart or something, because Walmart came in, found cheaper ways to do things, paying people low wages in the South, then expanding into many parts of the world, particularly the Third World. It’s got operations in places like Bangladesh. The factory that collapsed on the women and killed them in scores, and the fires in the factories there that killed hundreds, were making products for Walmart, and that’s why Walmart could sell them more cheaply than Penney’s or Sears or whatever, and so Penney’s and Sears are in danger of going under—and forget about K-Mart, it’s just kind of limping along.
Or there is the situation with the major supermarket chain A&P, which we now hear is going under. And where is Radio Shack now? Or, to go further back, where is the Kaiser automobile (there is Kaiser Health Care, but where is the car that Kaiser used to make)?
These are just a few examples—many others could be cited. This is an expression of the anarchy of capitalism—it’s not all regulated from one center, it’s all these different capitalists in fierce competition with each other, even sometimes huge groupings of capitalists controlling billions of dollars but always under the threat of going under if they can’t do things more profitably than others who are in the same field, or in some other field, who then buy them up or drive them out of business altogether.
This is the nature of capitalism. Things are constantly changing. I once made this comment to people: You know, things are going along in the economy and then some twit invents an app, and then all of a sudden everything changes. One of these guys coming out of Stanford, or wherever, invents some new device, some new technology, that both makes it possible, and at the same time makes it more and more necessary, to do something through the Internet, more productively and efficiently; and then some of the previous ways of doing things get undermined. Think about Uber and taxis. Uber is undercutting the taxi business, and you had this big thing in France where all the taxi drivers were trying to burn down Uber, because it’s putting all the taxi drivers out of work. Well, this is just an example, again, of the anarchy of capitalism. Somebody comes up with a new innovation for how to organize the production or the distribution of things more efficiently, with greater profit, with less costs of production—and BOOM, the people who had their money in the more traditional way of doing things, even if they’d been doing well for a while, may go under.
These are the basic dynamics of capitalism. For the reasons I’ve been speaking to, there is the continual competition, with even big fish getting eaten up by more efficient “sharks.” And, at the same time, all these capitalists are linked, and ultimately regulated, by the law of value—they’re all tied together by the reality, expressed as the law of value, that the value of things produced is equal to the amount of socially necessary labor time that goes into their production. And this contradiction—capitalists, or groups of capitalists, that exist and operate as separate units of capital, while at the same time they are bound together by, and forced ultimately to proceed on the basis of, the law of value—this is what leads to the anarchy of capitalism, what leads to anarchy being the driving force of capitalism and the key expression of capitalism’s fundamental contradiction, between socialized production and private appropriation. That anarchy is what drives the capitalists to exploit and oppress people in all the ways that we’re all too familiar with, including giving not a damn if you worked for them for 30 years and your children are dependent completely on the wages or salary that you earn—if it’s more profitable to shove you out the door and go somewhere else, that’s just the rules of the game, baby, too bad for you, because it’s do that or die on the part of the capitalists, because they’re in competition with a whole bunch of other capitalists.
As a sharp illustration of this, there was a very good article20 on the revcom.us site about this capitalist who had investments in Bangladesh but who wanted to be a socially-conscious capitalist. This article ran down all the ways in which he tried to do things differently, do them in a way that would not so viciously exploit the women working in the plants that he owned—not have them in such horrific conditions, give them more social benefits—and how he was forced to give that up by this very driving force of anarchy, by the competition from other capitalists doing things in more efficient, more ruthless ways. So even though he was a good-hearted capitalist—and that may sound like an oxymoron (a contradiction in terms), but he was actually a good-hearted capitalist—still, he couldn’t keep up his “kind capitalism” because of the basic dynamics of what drives capitalism.
This is very important to understand, because it shows why you can’t reform this system. You can’t, for example, get capitalists to act more responsibly toward the environment. Look at Obama. He’s the “green president.” Yet he’s opened up all this oil drilling in all these new areas, which is going to heighten the environmental disaster that’s already developing, because the U.S.—that is, the ruling class, the capitalist-imperialists that Obama represents —they are in competition with other capitalists all around the world for sources of oil, and to be able to produce oil more cheaply. And oil is a strategic resource that has everything to do with military power. Militaries run on oil, and the U.S. military is one of the world’s largest, if not the largest, consumer of oil. So, even if Obama wanted to be an “environmental president,” in a real sense, the dynamics of this capitalist system wouldn’t allow him to do that. This is what so many people don’t understand. They constantly are deceived, and deceive themselves, because they don’t understand the fundamental dynamics and “rules” of the system they live under and how that sets the terms for what is, and is not, possible in terms of changing things. Even if something seems to make a lot of sense and to be rational from the pointof view of the needs and interests of humanity as a whole, if it doesn’t fit into those dynamics of capitalism, if it can’t be made to work through the relations and dynamics of capitalism, it won’t happen under this system. And that’s why the situation with the environment is getting worse and worse. Yet, here you have someone like Jared Diamond who wrote this overall very good book, Guns, Germs, and Steel,21 talking about why the world’s the way it is, and why it came to be that in some parts of the world people have a lot more technology and power, while in other parts of the world people have much less and are oppressed by the people who have more, and so on. He has a certain amount of materialism, even some dialectics thrown in there, but then when he looks at the environment,22 he sees the desperate situation with the environment, the tremendous havoc that’s being wreaked on the environment, and the fact that it’s almost reaching a tipping point where it won’t be possible to undo this, and what does he come up with? The idea that we have to go convince the heads of these corporations that it’s in their interests, it’s in accordance with their bottom line, to be more rational about the environment—that’s what he comes up with! He just completely throws out the kind of basic understanding that went into Guns, Germs, and Steel, even with certain limitations in that book. He just deceived himself because, even though he had a certain understanding to a certain level, he didn’t really deeply grasp the basic dynamics of how this system works and how you can’t change it into something else just by talking to people about what would be better for the earth and for the people of the earth, in the abstract. This, once again, gets to the fundamental question of why this system cannot be reformed and why you have to have a completely different system in order to address these social problems of such great magnitude, like the environment, or the oppression of women, or the oppression of different nations and peoples.
Now, it’s not that the contradictions of the economic system—the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, between socialized production and private appropriation, and within that the driving force of anarchy—it’s not that this is the only significant part of reality, the only significant contradiction in this society or in the world as a whole. There are other very important contradictions which have a certain life and a certain dynamic of their own. For example, the oppression of women: As I have pointed out, this arose way before capitalism. And so did the oppression of one group of people by others, in a number of different forms. But at this point, with the system of capitalism, with its tentacles reaching out and ensnaring the whole world within its overall dynamics, all these different contradictions now take place within the fundamental framework of the capitalist system. So while these different social contradictions have to be addressed in their own right, and they have their own dynamics—and you can’t simply say, “If we want to get rid of the oppression of women, we just have to change the economic system,” you have to do a lot more than that—still, in regard to such things as the oppression of women, and even as you’re addressing this in its own right, ultimately what you’re able to do will be determined by what the character of the economic system is, because it’s fundamentally the functioning of the economic system that sets the basic terms, and the basic limits, of what can take place. So even if a problem didn’t arise with the capitalist mode of production, it is now taking place within a world where the dynamics of that economic system fundamentally and ultimately set the stage and the terms within which you are operating.
To summarize this crucial point, we could put it this way: Ultimately, the mode of production sets the foundation and the limits of change, in terms of how you address any social problem, such as the oppression of women, or the oppression of Black people or Latinos, or the contradiction between mental work and manual work, or the situation with the environment, or the situation of immigrants, and so on. While all those things have reality and dynamics in their own right, and aren’t reducible to the economic system, they all take place within the framework and within the fundamental dynamics of that economic system; and that economic system, that mode of production, sets the foundation and the ultimate limits of change in regard to all those social questions. So, if you want to get rid of all these different forms of oppression, you have to address them in their own right, but you also have to fundamentally change the economic system to give you the ability to be able to carry through those changes in fundamental terms. To put it another way: You have to have an economic system that doesn’t prevent you from making those changes, and instead not only allows but provides a favorable foundation for making those changes.
19. BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—”NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live. Film of a talk given in 2012. For more on this film and to order the DVD set, go to revcom.us. [back]
20. “Everyone's Talkin' About Inequality—”Let's Talk About the System Causing It: Lesson from Bangladesh,” Revolution #326, January 12, 2014. Available at revcom.us. [back]
21. Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton & Company, 1999). [back]
22. Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking, 2005). [back]
Introduction and Orientation
Foolish Victims of Deceit, and Self-Deceit
Part I. Method and Approach, Communism as a Science
Materialism vs. Idealism
Through Which Mode of Production
The Basic Contradictions and Dynamics of Capitalism
The New Synthesis of Communism
The Basis for Revolution
Epistemology and Morality, Objective Truth and Relativist Nonsense
Self and a “Consumerist” Approach to Ideas
What Is Your Life Going to Be About?—Raising People’s Sights
Part II. Socialism and the Advance to Communism:
A Radically Different Way the World Could Be, A Road to Real Emancipation
The “4 Alls”
Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right
Socialism as an Economic System and a Political System—And a Transition to Communism
Abundance, Revolution, and the Advance to Communism—A Dialectical Materialist Understanding
The Importance of the “Parachute Point”—Even Now, and Even More With An Actual Revolution
The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America—
Solid Core with a Lot of Elasticity on the Basis of the Solid Core
Emancipators of Humanity
Part III. The Strategic Approach to An Actual Revolution
One Overall Strategic Approach
Hastening While Awaiting
Forces For Revolution
Separation of the Communist Movement from the Labor Movement, Driving Forces for Revolution
National Liberation and Proletarian Revolution
The Strategic Importance of the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women
The United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat
Youth, Students and the Intelligentsia
Struggling Against Petit Bourgeois Modes of Thinking, While Maintaining the Correct Strategic Orientation
The “Two Maximizings”
The “5 Stops”
The Two Mainstays
Returning to "On the Possibility of Revolution"
Internationalism and an International Dimension
Internationalism—Bringing Forward Another Way
Popularizing the Strategy
Part IV. The Leadership We Need
The Decisive Role of Leadership
A Leading Core of Intellectuals—and the Contradictions Bound Up with This
Another Kind of “Pyramid”
The Cultural Revolution Within the RCP
The Need for Communists to Be Communists
A Fundamentally Antagonistic Relation—and the Crucial Implications of That
Strengthening the Party—Qualitatively as well as Quantitatively
Forms of Revolutionary Organization, and the “Ohio”
Statesmen, and Strategic Commanders
Methods of Leadership, the Science and the “Art” of Leadership
Working Back from “On the Possibility”—
Another Application of “Solid Core with a Lot of Elasticity on the Basis of the Solid Core”
The New Synthesis of Communism:
Fundamental Orientation, Method and Approach,
and Core Elements—An Outline
by Bob Avakian
Framework and Guidelines for Study and Discussion
Selected List of Works Cited
About the Author