Interviewer: After reading The New Communism (2016), and thinking about issues that in only five years’ time have manifested more severely, as spotlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, calling even more urgently for changes to the “system that is the fundamental source of much misery and torment in the world” (8), there are several topics—climate, migration, press freedom, labor-and-supply chain, class, and human rights—that I wonder if you would be willing to speak on. I’ll enumerate below.
BA: Before turning to the specific questions you pose, which are serious and substantial, touching on important and urgent developments in the world, I wanted to make a few brief overall observations, based on my reading of these questions. The answers to these questions are, on the one hand, simple and basic, and on the other hand complex: simple and basic in the sense that the problems involved can be solved—and can only be solved—with a revolution and a radically different system, a socialist system aiming for the final goal of a communist world; and complex in that actually making this revolution, and then achieving the transformations that this radically new system will make possible, will require working and struggling through some difficult and at times intense contradictions. In my responses here I will do my best to provide answers that speak to the essential matters involved, while referring to works which provide more extensive discussion of what is raised in these questions. In particular, I refer the reader to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, which I have authored. This Constitution was written with the future in mind—as a guiding set of objectives, principles, and concrete provisions for a socialist society brought into being through the overthrow of the capitalist-imperialist system that now rules in this country and dominates the world as a whole. In my responses to the questions posed for this interview, I have quoted fairly extensively from this Constitution, as it provides important answers, in a concentrated way, to much that is raised in these questions.
Very relevant as well, particularly in regard to the socialist economy and its interaction with the larger environment, is the article “Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development.” Also, in addition to the book The New Communism, another work of mine, Breakthroughs, The Historic Breakthrough by Marx, and the Further Breakthrough with the New Communism, A Basic Summary, is relevant as background to, and in terms of further elaboration on, the answers to important questions posed in this interview. And a recent major work of mine analyzes in depth why an actual revolution could be possible in the U.S. itself, amidst the acute and intensifying contradictions that mark this society, and the world as a whole, and how this revolution could be carried out—a revolution that would make possible the kinds of profound changes discussed in this interview. (This work—Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating: Profound Crisis, Deepening Divisions, The Looming Possibility of Civil War—And The Revolution That Is Urgently Needed, A Necessary Foundation, A Basic Roadmap For This Revolution—was written before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the further intensification of contradictions between Russian imperialism and American imperialism/NATO that has accompanied this war, with the heightened danger of direct military conflict between them; but this work provides essential analysis of the underlying and driving forces of the major conflicts in this country and the larger world, and their possible positive resolution through revolution.) These works, as well as the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America—and ongoing analysis of the war in Ukraine and other major world events—are available at revcom.us.
The New Communism—both the book and the overall method and approach—is mentioned a number of times in the course of this interview, in both the questions and my responses, and although this is not the place to extensively discuss the principles and methods of the new communism, it does seem relevant and appropriate to indicate what is at its core: The new communism represents and embodies a qualitative resolution of a critical contradiction that has existed within communism in its development up to this point, between its fundamentally scientific method and approach, and aspects of communism which have run counter to this; and what is most fundamental and essential in the new communism is the further development and synthesis of communism as a scientific method and approach, and the more consistent application of this scientific method and approach to reality in general and in particular the revolutionary struggle to overthrow and uproot all systems and relations of exploitation and oppression and advance to a communist world. This method and approach underlies and informs all the core elements and essential components of this new communism.
A concentrated expression of this is the basic orientation and approach of scientifically seeking the truth and pursuing the truth wherever it leads, including with regard to the history of the communist movement, in terms not only of its principal aspect—its very real, genuinely historic achievements—but also, secondarily but importantly, the truth about its real, and at times even grievous errors (what I have referred to as “truths that make us cringe”).
A crucial extension of this is the principle, discussed in a number of works of mine, including Breakthroughs, that
the new communism thoroughly repudiates and is determined to root out of the communist movement the poisonous notion, and practice, that “the ends justifies the means.” It is a bedrock principle of the new communism that the “means” of this movement must flow from and be consistent with the fundamental “ends” of abolishing all exploitation and oppression through revolution led on a scientific basis.
It is this basic orientation, method, and approach that I have applied to the discussion of the important questions raised in this interview.
Finally, by way of introduction, I wish to thank others who have read the questions posed for this interview and offered helpful observations in this regard, and in particular Raymond Lotta, who provided considerable valuable commentary.
Interviewer: Dialogue in the public sphere these days, particularly that which is conducted through the framework of intersectionality, says less about class as a construct than race, gender, and party politics. Homelessness, generally speaking, is a class issue, for example, and is at an all-time high worldwide, especially if we factor migrants and refugees into the numbers. Pundits and politicians typically overstate and shoot down a potential solution to providing housing, by citing “lack of inventory.” That perspective treats housing as a supply-and-demand commodity. Another treats housing, and the financialization thereof, as an asset to hoard and capitalize on. Then, there are those who view the issue through a more liberal human rights lens, which is to assert that housing is a human right.
You discuss transforming the underlying conditions that give rise to differences among people by transforming the social relations that are gendered and racialized, as well as between people who work mainly with their minds, carrying out mental labor, and those who carry out manual labor, in order to get beyond oppressive divisions. Profound, exploitative, and oppressive class divisions are, as you say, fundamentally rooted in the forces of production and the relations of production (20-21).
Does the discussion of labor and production extend to service industries and to work that’s now done remotely and online?
BA: The scourge of homelessness... the terror of evictions (now sharply on the rise as temporary pandemic moratoriums and limited financial support run out)... and the obscene lack of affordable and decent housing in the U.S.—all this is rooted in the nature and workings of the capitalist-imperialist system, and particular changes and transformations over the last several decades. There is no fundamental “right to shelter” under this system. This is not an economy organized around human need, in which social priorities are established and plans drawn up to allocate resources accordingly. Under this economy and system, housing is a commodity produced for profit. It is an object of financial investment and speculation. The subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-08 was a product of that—upending the lives and savings of millions of people, and roiling global financial markets to the precipice of financial collapse.
The expansion of whites-only suburbs, on the one hand, and segregated housing in the inner cities on the other hand, with huge numbers of Black people concentrated in housing projects, in the period after the end of World War 2—all this was the product of deliberate policy by the government, as well as private firms. (Suburban housing developments generally had whites-only covenants for many years, and government loans to finance home ownership were extended only to whites, while Black people in particular were excluded from this and directed toward public housing in segregated communities.)
Most fundamentally, these phenomena are illustrations of the determining role of the mode of production, and of developments and changes in this mode of production (capitalism-imperialism) interacting with other social contradictions.
In terms of an approach that can effectively deal with and overcome all this, the framework of “intersectionality” fails miserably. This is a framework which identifies and ranks different forms of oppression as independent yet overlapping systems of discrimination. It does not involve, and in fact runs counter to and undermines, the essential understanding of how this system as a whole operates. It does not comprehend that capitalism-imperialism, as a global system of production relations, sets the basic terms for, and limits of, change.
Consequently, among other serious problems, “intersectionality” fails to recognize, and cannot effectively counter, the many ways in which this system sets different “sections” of people against each other—within this country, and on an international scale—something which can be ultimately overcome only by uniting people to rise up against all oppression, with the orientation and objective of struggling against, and finally bringing down, the capitalist-imperialist system in which all this oppression, in its many different manifestations, is fundamentally rooted. There are deep-rooted forms of social oppression—of women and LGBT people; Black and other racially oppressed peoples; immigrants—embedded in U.S. society. These have their own particular features and history and are interwoven with the history of U.S. society and the development of the capitalist-imperialist system. It is this system that shapes and stamps the social relations and ideas of the time, that sets limits to the kinds of the changes that can take place—within this system.
The following passage from The New Communism (also included in Breakthroughs) concentrates a crucial understanding of the dynamic (or dialectical) relation between the underlying economic system (the mode of production) and various social relations of oppression—and the possibility and basis for their radical, emancipating transformation:
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.
All this is why we need a “total revolution” to establish a new socialist economy and society in transition to a communist world, to overcome all exploitation and relations of oppression, and all the ideas and values that correspond to and reinforce them.
You raise a question about the service industries and transformations in labor and production. There have been significant changes in “the social and class configuration” of the U.S., a shift away from a situation in which a large percentage of the population was “classically proletarian,” working in various spheres of industry as exploited wage workers, to one in which that is a relatively small percentage of the population. A research essay by Raymond Lotta posted on revcom.us explores these and other changes in depth (“Imperialist Parasitism and Class‑Social Recomposition in the U.S. From the 1970s to Today: An Exploration of Trends and Changes”). By 1970, the U.S. completed the transition from a society in which most workers were predominantly engaged in “goods-producing” sectors to one in which most were engaged in service-producing sectors, like retail, finance, health care, and education.
As Lotta points out, this service sector is heterogeneous and polarized: with highly paid engineers, money managers, physicians, lawyers, and other professional-technical strata on the upper end; and office workers, cashiers, hospital orderlies, etc., on the lower end. There are not only wide income inequalities and educational differences but also, as I note in The New Communism, a kind of “enclave”-like separation of social strata and groupings in U.S. society (schools, health care, entertainment, etc.).
To overcome all these divisions requires a revolution that takes all this into account. Revolution does not proceed according to stereotypes—and still less by clinging to outmoded concepts which no longer correspond to the actual reality (if they ever did). Specifically, in addition to the common distortions, in the “mainstream” media, and elsewhere—which put forward a “populist” version of (an essentially white) “working class” in the U.S., when the people being spoken of are in fact largely petit bourgeois (for example, small-scale business owners of various kinds)—there is the notion, clung to by parts of the “left,” that socialism will somehow be achieved by building a “labor movement,” reviving and expanding labor unions—which is a recipe for, at most, building a reformist movement which remains firmly within the confines of the current capitalist-imperialist order.
In this regard, it is important to take into account the important analysis by Lenin of the phenomenon of parasitism in the imperialist countries (the fact that their economies rest to a significant degree on extreme exploitation of people in the countries colonized by imperialism—what today is referred to as the Third World, or the Global South) and the fact that this has resulted in a split in the working class in the imperialist countries, between a section that is effectively “bourgeoisified” as a result of the spoils of imperialist plunder that it receives, and on the other hand lower and deeper sections of the proletariat which continue to be viciously exploited within the imperialist countries themselves.
In the time since Lenin made this analysis (more than a century ago) this parasitism and its effects have become even more pronounced, and have taken on new dimensions, particularly over the last 50 years or so, as Lotta analyzes with regard to the U.S., the most parasitic of all imperialist countries.
This poses major challenges for making and carrying forward revolution. Strategically, there is the task of winning over and mobilizing the bedrock forces for revolution, those who “catch the greatest hell,” the most brutally oppressed, under this system—many of whom work and/or survive outside the “formal” economy of regular employment (again, not fitting the description of “classical workers”) and there is the task of winning and mobilizing broad strata, including the better-paid in the service-providing sectors, to be part of this revolution. In this regard, it is worth noting that Mao Zedong led a revolution in China that was based mainly among sections of the population—in that case, the oppressed peasantry—which were not part of the working class that had been seen as the main force for socialist revolution, even as the ideology and program leading this revolution corresponded to the fundamental interests of the proletariat, in putting an end to all exploitative and oppressive relations. In this country, there will be a similar challenge, in terms of carrying out a revolution that will also not be based mainly among the “classical” working class, even though of course exploited proletarians, particularly among the lower and deeper sections of this class, will be a significant part of this revolution.
There is also the challenge that you explicitly pose of how the new socialist society will overcome social divisions among different sections of the labor force, for example between service workers and other segments (and among the differentiated strata of service workers).
In approaching this, we can’t freeze the existing social structure as a given but rather understand it as something to be radically transformed. Many jobs classified as service—in finance, real estate, and insurance—are wasteful and unnecessary from the standpoint of a rational, “needs-based” socialist economy. The whole edifice of the “consumer society” and its retail and advertising infrastructure is similar in this regard. All this (and more) is going to require a shift to a more self-reliant and sustainable base of production to provide for basic necessities and other needs—at the same time that this base of production and associated skills, and the technical and scientific capacities of the new society, and culture as well, must serve the struggles of the exploited and oppressed of the world. All this has implications for the labor force, for the kind of work needed. In this context of this radical restructuring and transformation, there will be a need to overcome remaining divisions. Let’s go back to the question of housing. I spoke earlier about economic planning to meet social need. It will be necessary—and in the new socialist society there will be a basis for—conducting lively society-wide discussion and debate feeding into the planning process, with ongoing interrogation of the plan and its application. This will involve mobilizing architects, civil engineers, urban planners, construction workers, youth, as well as basic people to join together cooperatively and collectively in the process of solving “the housing problem.” Specialized knowledge would be popularized, while experts would be learning from the knowledge, lived experience, and aspirations of basic people and youth. And all this would be carried out while also carrying forward the struggle to overcome the differences in people’s role in the economy and economic relations, in particular once again the contradiction between mental and manual labor. Solving the housing problem would be approached in a multi-dimensional way: combining work that is meaningful and fulfilling with residence linked to public space. This would be approached in a way that counters the atomization of social life and overcomes the legacy of segregation (80 percent of Black communities in major U.S. cities are more segregated today than they were 15 years ago!). And, crucially, this would need to be an approach of solving the housing problem with the environmental crisis in mind—in terms of materials, location, preparation for natural disasters, and health crises.
One of the things brought into sharp relief by the pandemic and its disruptions of “normal life” is the essential role that various kinds of service workers play in keeping society functioning. Obviously, there are the health workers, aides, and maintenance workers in that sector, as well as people in education. As set forth in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic, the health care system in that new society would be based on the principle and approach of “serving the people,” breaking down barriers between doctors and patients, among the different sectors of health workers, and between health institutions and surrounding communities. The pandemic has also revealed how vital warehouse and logistics and delivery workers are, most of whom are low-paid and subject to brutal work norms—and whose health is being sacrificed on the altar of profit. The pandemic has also brought into sharp relief just how lacking in overall coordination and direction the economy and social institutions are—in responding to and acting on this crisis in a way commensurate with its severity and spread and the well-being of people. And we have seen how the pandemic has heightened inequalities in society. Your question about remote work/telework is a provocative one. The growing use of remote work poses certain challenges. Some of that work—for example, much of finance, real estate, etc.—is, as mentioned earlier, socially unnecessary from the standpoint of the rational organization of production and society. Still, much of what will be socially necessary will likely require or involve a component of telework—for reasons of public health and also to enhance flexibility in work and life. But, under this system, remote work has itself been economically and socially polarized: as the pandemic unfolded, only nine percent of workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage-salary earners were able to “telework” from home, as compared with over 60 percent of those in the top 25 percent of wage-salary earners.
In the new socialist society, people will be working on solving the great problems and meeting the great needs of society and the world in virtual as well as real-life contact. But there are big questions to wrestle with. How do you combat social atomization under conditions of remote work? How can technology be developed and social media be deployed to counter that and enhance real socialization, sharing, and learning (as opposed to being a means to self-promote, angle for individualistic competitive advantage, etc.)? How does remote work that might be carried out from home in the new society not reinforce patriarchy and put new burdens on women as principal caregivers, as occurs now? This touches on the larger question of socializing childcare and moving beyond a situation where the nuclear family is a basic unit of survival and socialization in a commodity-based society.
Transforming the workplace and work environment, raising people’s horizons beyond the workplace, and forging real “connectedness” to the larger society and the cause of emancipating all of humanity—all this will be a central concern of the new socialist society, and something to be continually interrogated.
With the socialist economy envisioned in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic, the entire nature and content of work will be radically different, serving radically different means. A living sense of this is contained in Article IV of this Constitution, and in particular Section 8, “Employment and Work, Social Fabric, and Urban and Rural Relations,” including that “The right to employment and income is guaranteed,” and beyond that
The workplace is not simply a unit of production. The workplace is a site of politics, ideology and culture; it is a site of the struggle to remake society. Critical questions—from international affairs to educational policy, to the struggles to overcome national inequalities and to emancipate women—must be taken up.
The socialist economy seeks to overcome the numbing and alienating effects of the oppressive division of labor of the old capitalist society....
The socialist economy aims to break down walls between units of production and surrounding social life, and to combine work with residence and community. Economic-social planning strives to promote sustainable cities that thrive on a new kind of “social space” enabling people to meaningfully interact, organize politically, create and enjoy culture, recreate and relax. Economic-social planning seeks to integrate agriculture and industry, along with urban and rural activities, in new ways—and to connect people more closely with agricultural land and with nature.
Once again, as emphasized in the quote earlier from The New Communism, the most fundamental thing is the mode of production—and the relation of this to the revolutionary transformation of society as a whole. Here a statement by Marx, which has come to be encapsulated in the formulation “the 4 Alls,” is very relevant: As Marx put it, the socialist revolution, and the socialist state power (dictatorship of the proletariat) it brings into being, aims for the abolition of all class distinctions, all the production relations on which those class distinctions rest, all the social relations that correspond to those production relations, and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. In short, the ending of all exploitation and oppression. This must be the fundamental orientation and goal of the revolutionary process, not simply in terms of a particular country but with the whole world in mind and in view.