The full text of this Interview is available here.
"INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS" were previously published as Part 1 of this series.
"CLIMATE CHANGE—CLIMATE JUSTICE" was published as Part 2.
"MIGRATION AND REFUGEES" was published as Part 3.
"HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE LABOR CHAIN" was published as Part 4.
"CLASS" was published as Part 5.
"JOURNALISM AND PRESS FREEDOM" was published as Part 6.
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.
GLOBALIZED SUPPLY CHAIN
Interviewer: In a pre-pandemic discussion, you brought up the film A Day Without a Mexican (2004) to illustrate a point about labor, the mechanisms of production, and how goods are moved to the market; basically, it shows how dependent the world is on labor. That point, stressed by way of the film, asks a fundamental question: What if all the Mexican (and other Central American) laborers stopped working, even for one day? From there, you expanded by asking, what if all the people, all over the world, who produce and distribute all these things that people use every day, stopped working for a day or a week or a month?
We’ve basically seen this come to pass with the COVID-19 pandemic, begging for examination of the relationships that “people enter into in carrying out the production of things ... the relations of production, distribution, and transportation....”
You’ve stated that another way to analyze this is to ask “what’s the mode of production through which all of this is done?” Ultimately, you assert that this “sets the basic terms for everything that happens in society….” If production stops, society grinds to a standstill. (53)
Your words were prophetic. Could you expand what you meant by,
If someone or a segment of society attempts to produce outside of existing modes of production, that person or group will either fail, or make a revolution.
With the current state of our supply chain, what options do you see?
Moreover, our globalized supply chain is dependent on long haul transport that’s not environmentally friendly. What better alternatives are available now, or can be created, to help salvage the life of the planet as well as meet the needs of society?
BA: These globalized “supply chains” are most essentially instruments of capitalist-imperialist exploitation, and super-exploitation of ultimately billions of people, including more than 150 million children, in the Third World. And they are instruments of rivalry among different “constellations” of imperialist capital and capitalist-imperialist states.
It is also of note that a disproportionate number of people in the globalized assembly lines—from the maquiladoras in Mexico to the Bangladesh textile factories and the electronic assembly lines in China—are women subjected to intense super-exploitation, and frequently to sexual abuse.
Another important part of this picture is that the role and impact of the globalized supply chains took a qualitative leap with the overturning of socialism and the restoration of capitalism in China in the late 1970s and then the fall of the revisionist Soviet Union (socialist in name but capitalist-imperialist in fact) at the beginning of the 1990s and the transformation of its state-capitalist economy into a more “classical” capitalist economy.
The global supply chains connect factories, mines, and farms; transport; and warehouses and distribution. This is an expression of the highly interconnected process of production in today’s world that is carried out through a profound and exploitative division of the world into a handful of rich capitalist-imperialist countries and the impoverished, oppressed nations of the Global South, where the majority of humanity lives.
Apple’s supply chains—without which it would not be the nearly $3 trillion company that it is today—extend widely into factories in China and other parts of Asia that are run as monstrous sweatshops; and deeply into the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some 40,000 children dig tunnels and haul rocks without which there would be no iPhone. There is the dynamic of highly organized production by individual units of capital—such as Apple, Dell, GM, Toyota—imposing their efficiency standards, applying advanced technology to logistics, etc. But all this serves the competitive battle of large blocs of capital to minimize cost, extend and secure market share, and maximize profits. These supply chains are weapons to wage that battle.
All this is anarchic. There is no “long view” for what this does to the planet, no built-in metric for public health. These supply chains are pollution-intensive (contaminating and poisoning water and soil); transport is fossil fuel driven over long distances, as you mention; and all this generates enormous waste. The role of, and dependence on, these supply chains is both rational and irrational. It is rational from the point of view of, and in terms of the particular interests of, different blocs of capital, enabling them to extend their scope of operations, to take advantage of a global “division of labor,” including with regard to certain regional “specialization.”
But all this is completely irrational in terms of the essential conditions and needs of the masses of people who are super-exploited in order for these “supply chains” to function, and in terms of how this accentuates global warming and the overall environmental and ecological crisis. (Another stark example: container shipping, as the transport links of the “supply chains,” is one of the most polluting sectors globally, and is entirely dependent on Third World super-exploited labor.)
This rational/irrational contradiction is an expression of the overall organization/anarchy contradiction which is a driving force of capitalism and leads to constant upheaval and repeated crises of various kinds. (As Marx pointed out about capitalism: its total disorder is its order.) There is organization on the level of corporate planning and in the operation of the basic units of production, and so on, but there is anarchy in regard to the functioning of the economy—today what is a highly globalized economy—as a whole, and anarchy as expressed in the competition and rivalry between different blocs of capital and different capitalist-imperialist countries.
These “supply chains” are also a significant dimension of the phenomenon noted by Raymond Lotta (in his paper “Imperialist Parasitism and Class‑Social Recomposition in the U.S. From the 1970s to Today: An Exploration of Trends and Changes”):
The imperialist world economy is marked by a situation where the process of production (increasingly carried out in the Third World) and the final consumption of goods (focused in the rich imperialist countries) are increasingly disconnected from each other. This is a major expression of modern‑day imperialist parasitism.
With all the terrible suffering this causes, and all the chaos and disruption it can involve, there is no viable option outside of the operation of these supply chains—no viable alternative under this system of capitalism-imperialism. And this speaks loudly, once again, to why we need a radically different system—it speaks to my statement that you have cited:
If someone or a segment of society attempts to produce outside of existing modes of production, that person or group will either fail, or make a revolution.
As I have spoken to in my responses to previous questions you posed for this interview, the only viable solution to this is to put an end to it—to make a revolution that creates an alternative to the presently dominant capitalist-imperialist system, an alternative that is viable and sustainable, because it proceeds on the basis of the productive forces at hand, and removes the barriers to their rational utilization. What is required is a radically new economic system as the foundation of a radically new society as a whole, with new social relations and a radically different superstructure of politics and ideology, including morality, which corresponds to and reinforces this economic system. And the socialist economic system based on social ownership, social planning and production for social use and the betterment of humanity provides what I have described as the “favorable foundation” for making radical social changes in the direction of ending oppression.
Of course, as I have emphasized here, and in a number of works, this socialist transformation is, first of all, a matter of complex and at times intense struggle—mobilizing masses of people in increasingly conscious struggle to overcome obstacles, not least the resistance of forces within the socialist country itself seeking to pull things back to the old way of doing things, corresponding to the relations of the capitalist-imperialist system. And there is the need to advance revolutionary struggle and transformation in the world as a whole, in opposition to the remaining capitalist-imperialist (and other reactionary) states, and the influence and force they will still exert in many dimensions of international relations, including in opposition to any existing socialist states and their continuing revolutionary transformation.
As one significant expression of this, so long as these capitalist-imperialist (and other reactionary) states continue to exist, and especially where such states are still dominant in the world as a whole, socialist states that are brought into being will have to carry out economic development and transformation in that context. Among other things, this will necessitate a certain amount of trade, etc., with those imperialist and reactionary states, which will itself involve a process of intense struggle to achieve and maintain such economic interaction on a basis that is consistent with, and actually advances, revolutionary transformation within socialist countries themselves and, most fundamentally, in the world as a whole. To advance this overall process in line with, and on the basis of what is set forth in, “Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development” and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America will require extensive collective grappling and creative innovation to forge solutions and overcome difficulties—all of which must and can be unleashed with the overthrow of the capitalist-imperialist system and the establishment of the new socialist republic.
In this regard, the following from Breakthroughs speaks to some essential principles:
There is an important discussion of this in THE NEW COMMUNISM, as well as in Birds and Crocodiles [Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon]: how to correctly handle this so that revolution advances through stages, within the socialist country itself and in the context of the larger world situation—and, through each stage of this process, actually raises the level of the productive forces and the relative abundance, while at the same time narrowing the differences among people to the greatest degree possible, without overstepping what’s possible given the material basis that exists at that time. That this is another acute contradiction that has to be understood, and first of all has to be recognized, and then you have to go to work on it with a scientific, dialectical materialist approach, including the recognition that you are doing this in a context where your socialist country does not exist as an island unto itself but in a larger world with which you have to interact, including economically. You can’t be absolutely self‑sufficient economically, even as you have to be strategically self‑sufficient economically, as a socialist country. [Italics added here.]
In moving to a conclusion of my responses, let me further elaborate briefly on the profound and complex question of the relation between socialist development and transformation within a particular socialist country and the advance of the revolution worldwide toward the goal of communism. There is great importance to bringing into being socialist states as vehicles for the radical, emancipating transformation of society, in every dimension—but also, and above all, as base areas for the further development and advance of the revolution worldwide toward the final goal of communism. There are tremendous strides that can be made in radically transforming society, in an emancipating way, with the creation of a socialist state and then the continuing advance on the road of socialism. But exploitative and oppressive relations, which have characterized and dominated human interactions for hundreds of years in capitalist society—and for thousands of years in other forms of human society—cannot be finally abolished within the confines of socialist countries by themselves. This requires the advance to communism on a worldwide basis.
A number of years (or now actually decades) ago, I posed the following in the talk Conquer the World:
In terms of maintaining power and advancing further on the socialist road—and not just from the standpoint of a socialist state but in particular from the standpoint of the international proletariat—the question is much more that there is a limit ... to how far you can go in transforming the base and superstructure within the socialist country without making further advances in winning and transforming more of the world; not in terms of conquering more resources or people as the imperialists do, but in terms of making revolutionary transformations.
This underscores again the importance of internationalism and the recognition of the need to keep constantly in mind, as a guiding principle and objective: not only the urgent need for the overthrow of the existing capitalist-imperialist system, that is the cause of such horrendous, and unnecessary suffering, for the masses of humanity, and poses an intensifying threat to the very existence of humanity; not only the great advance that is represented by replacing this thoroughly outmoded system with a radically different, emancipating socialist system; but also the need to continue advancing toward the final goal of communism, throughout the world, with the achievement of the “4 Alls” and the emancipation of humanity as a whole from all systems and relations of exploitation and oppression, finally moving beyond the antagonistic conflicts to which these relations give rise.
In light of all this, it seems fitting to conclude with the following, speaking to questions humanity will be able to consciously address, once having broken free from the constraints and moved beyond the confines of the present world—dominated as it is by the system of capitalism-imperialism, driven by wars and conquest, shackled by exploitative and oppressive economic and social relations, and marked by the degrading reduction of human interaction to commodity relations—with all the madness, misery and mental anguish this involves for the masses of humanity:
It is only possible today to conjecture, and to dream, about what expressions social contradictions will assume in the future communist society and how they will be resolved. How will the problem be approached of combining advanced productive forces, which require a significant degree of centralization, with decentralization and local initiative (whatever “local” means then)? How will the rearing of new generations of people—now carried out in atomized form, and through oppressive relations, in the family—be approached in communist society? How will attention be paid to developing specific areas of knowledge, or to concentrating on particular projects, without making these the “special preserve” of certain people? How will the contradiction be handled of enabling people to acquire all-around skills and knowledge and at the same time meeting the need for some specialization? What about the relation between people’s individual initiatives and personal pursuits on the one hand, and their social responsibilities and contributions on the other? It seems that it will always be the case that, around any particular question, or controversy, there will be a group—and as a general rule a minority at first—that will have a more correct, advanced understanding, but how will this be utilized for the overall benefit while at the same time preventing groups from solidifying into “interest groups”?
What will be the relations between different areas and regions—since there will no longer be different countries—and how will the contradictions between what might be called “local communities” and the higher associations, all the way up to the world level, be handled? What will it mean concretely that people are truly citizens of the world, particularly in terms of where they live, work, and so on—will they “rotate” from one area of the world to another? How will the question of linguistic and cultural diversity versus a world union of humanity be handled? And will people then, even with all their understanding of history, really be able to believe that a society such as we are imprisoned in now actually existed—let alone that it was declared to be eternal and the highest pinnacle humanity was capable of reaching? Again, these questions, and many, many more, can only be the object of speculation, and of dreaming, today; but even to pose such questions, and to attempt to visualize how they might be addressed—in a society where class divisions, social antagonism, and political domination no longer exist—is itself tremendously liberating for anyone without a vested interest in the present order. [BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, chapter 2, quote 4]
For all those without such a vested interest, here is the basis for informed, and inspired dreaming—and hope for humanity, on a scientific foundation.