Excerpt from:

Communism and
Jeffersonian Democracy

By Bob Avakian



Slavery, White Supremacy, and Democracy in America

Editors' note: The following is an excerpt from Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, a talk given by Bob Avakian in 2006 and published as a pamphlet in 2008. We encourage readers to read the entire work, available online here.


American Democracy: “They Kill People
for Saying What You’re Saying”

To begin—and to immediately touch on the basic reality of how this country is ruled and what its democracy actually amounts to—I want to recount a story I have told several times, because, in a simple and straightforward way, it concentrates so much of importance. Back in 1979, I went on a speaking tour in many of the major cities in the U.S., and in connection with that I made a number of media appearances. At one point I did a taped TV program, on which I was interviewed by several Black journalists in Cleveland. Right after the taping of this program, during which I had laid out clearly my revolutionary viewpoint, the woman who was moderating the program turned to me and said, very matter-of-factly: “My, you’re awfully brave.” Well, this sort of took me aback, so I asked her: “Why do you say that?” And she replied, in the same matter-of-fact tone: “You know, they kill people for saying what you’re saying.”

As I have pointed out a number of times in telling this story, what is very significant about this exchange, and her comments in particular, is that she didn’t even say: “You know, they kill people for trying to do what you’re talking about.” She said simply: they kill people for saying what you’re saying. In this, she was cutting right to the quick, and in fact getting right to the essence of “American democracy.”

And this was not just an odd comment from this particular Black journalist. It is not at all uncommon to hear comments of this kind from Black people and others who have had experience with the brutality and murder commonly carried out by the police, especially in the inner cities across America—or people who, in any case, have some sense of the actual history of this country and in particular the way it has dealt with those who are regarded, by the powers-that-be, as a significant threat, of one kind or another, to their rule. Among many such people there is, if not a profound scientific understanding, nevertheless a basic sense of the real nature of how things are run in this country—of the real relationship between the people who actually rule this society (however people think of that) and the people over whom they rule in running the society (however people understand that).

This is the reason I feel it is important to recount this story frequently—not only because that journalist’s comment hit me very sharply at the time and struck me as very incisive, but because it does capture in a very concentrated way some essential things which far too many people, including many formally educated people, are actually ignorant of—or choose to ignore.

Another anecdote from “everyday life” also brings out this same basic point rather sharply, and unexpectedly. Recently, there was a story on ESPN/The Magazine online, by Scoop Jackson, a Black writer whose material has also appeared in publications such as Slam magazine. This article for ESPN/The Magazine was about Etan Thomas, a professional basketball player on the Washington Wizards (they can’t be called the Washington Bullets anymore—can’t have bullets in Washington other than those directed by the government). [Laughter] Etan Thomas is what they call a “role player” for the Wizards—he comes off the bench, scores a few points a game—he has talent but he’s not a prominent player. And he is someone who, unfortunately, is kind of a rarity these days in professional sports in the U.S.: a progressive guy who is outspoken with his views. He has spoken at some of the anti-war rallies; he’s written poetry condemning the Bush administration and politicians in general and speaking to the glaring contradiction between the way that they talk about things in society and the way things actually are. He has spoken about wanting to drag these politicians down to the inner cities and force them to see what really goes on there, what people there are put through. So, this article by Scoop Jackson is mainly about Etan Thomas’s politics, but in the middle of this article Jackson comments that if Thomas averaged 30 points a game, he might be dead.

Now, to be clear, Jackson doesn’t mean that it’s dangerous to score 30 points a game, in the sense that the effort, the exertion involved in this, might kill him. No, the clear implication is that if Etan Thomas were a prominent player on the level of a Michael Jordan, capturing that kind of media attention and the imagination of masses of people—and if, from that position, he were saying the things he’s saying—he would probably be assassinated by the powers-that-be. Thomas is not calling for revolution, but he is indicting certain outrages of the system—and if he were doing that as a really prominent player, they might very well kill him, because it’s too dangerous to have someone with that level of prominence saying even the kinds of things that Thomas is saying.

These “slices of life” do capture something very essential, and provide a kind of backdrop for a fuller discussion of the much-vaunted “American freedom and democracy,” of the system that rules and shapes this society, and of the need for a radically different society and world.

“Jeffersonian Democracy”:
Ideals, Illusions, and Reality

As the title suggests, much of this discussion will unfold in relation to the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and the ideal of “Jeffersonian democracy,” and the contrast between that and the viewpoint and program of communism—which represents, in reality, a far more liberating vision of human freedom.

Jefferson, and his political philosophy, stand in a real sense as an emblem of what is in fact bourgeois democracy—and in reality bourgeois dictatorship—in the history of the United States of America. And, as Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore point out, while “America’s historical memory” of Jefferson “has been rooted in distinct features of his protean career,” for many people Jefferson “remains the spokesman of a radical and popular democracy never achieved in America.”1 In other words, many people—and many progressive people, in particular—who acknowledge that historically there have been, and today there still remain, what they regard as serious “flaws” in the way democracy is actually practiced in the U.S., nevertheless cling to the notion that somehow if this system could actually be made to live up to its ideals, then it would indeed be the best of all possible systems, not only in conception but in reality. And many of these people cling to Jefferson as the personification of, as Kramnick and Moore put it, “a radical and popular democracy” which has “never [been] achieved in America,” but which they long to see fulfilled.

To put this in other—more blunt, and scientific—terms, Jefferson stands as a personification and a concentration of many of the illusions of people in the middle strata in particular, and more specifically many in the intelligentsia, who have not ruptured with, and in fact stubbornly cleave to, a bourgeois-democratic view of the world. And not only is this the case broadly in society, but it has even been true, believe it or not, in the history of the communist movement in this country. We have the phenomenon—which is both astounding and disgraceful, if you’re coming at things from a genuinely communist perspective—of the old Communist Party, USA upholding Jefferson as a model. Even at the height of 1960s radicalism, if you went around the country looking for the CP, where could you find them? In their Jefferson Bookstores! This is a glaring example of how people who claim to be opposed to capitalism and the imperialism of the U.S.—and even some who claim to be communists—have wrapped themselves in the mantle of bourgeois democracy, particularly as that is personified by Thomas Jefferson. Back in the day, it used to be quite a lot of fun to get into a discussion with CP people about why they had Jefferson Bookstores. Besides the obvious fact that Jefferson was a slaveholder, there was the more general fact that Jefferson is a representative of the system that the CP claimed, at least, to be working to get rid of. And that’s just the point: You cannot get rid of this system if you proceed on the basis of upholding and extolling one of the main representatives of that very system, someone who is indeed emblematic of what that system is all about. And, in reality, you cannot get rid of the egregious outrages that many do recognize are committed by the government of the United States, unless you get rid of the whole system of which these egregious outrages are a concentrated expression and of which this government—and in particular its executive power and armed forces—are an instrument and enforcer. You cannot change all this while at the same time clinging to the ideas and ideals that characterize this system and dominate this society—ideas and ideals of which Thomas Jefferson is, in fact, a fitting representative.

Jefferson’s ideal of a good and just society—
and the reality of slavery

 Let’s get into this further by examining Jefferson’s notion of an agrarian model as the concentration of the good, just and virtuous society.2 This vision of Jefferson’s involved a number of rather sharp ironies, which it is worth exploring.

The first irony: Jefferson extolled the yeoman, that is, the small independent landowning farmer, as the emblem—and the existence of many such farmers as the basis—for the best form of government and of a virtuous society. To cite Kramnick and Moore once again: “For Jefferson the moral possibilities of democracy depended on keeping America an agricultural nation. That is, he did not think that democracy and the morality necessary to sustain democracy could flourish under social conditions that destroyed the economic independence of individuals.” (The Godless Constitution, p. 152) Yet Jefferson consistently acted in the interests of the aristocratic large landowning and slaveholding class in the southern United States, in opposition to the interests of small farmers—and, of course, this was also in opposition to the interests of that group of individuals who most glaringly did not have independence economically, or in any other way: the slaves, who did not actually count as individuals in the eyes of the slaveholders.

In reality, Jefferson’s agrarian society turned out to be a society based on slavery and ruled by slaveowners.

One striking example that a number of people have pointed to in this regard is the Louisiana Purchase (the purchase by the United States government of the Louisiana Territory from the French in 1803). Having suffered significant military setbacks—and dramatically so in the attempt to put down the armed rebellion of slaves in Haiti which had been initiated under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture—Napoleon Bonaparte, ruler of France, reckoned that he couldn’t easily hold on to this territory in the Americas, and so Jefferson, then President of the United States, stepped in to quickly grab up this territory. In this he acted primarily in the interests of the slaveowners and in order to spread the slaveowning system into the new territories acquired through this act—not to develop an agrarian society based on a multitude of small farmers. This is just one example of many that could be cited which clearly illustrate that Jefferson consistently acted in the interests of the slaveowning class—in conflict with the interests not only of the slaves but also of the yeoman in the South, as well as the rising capitalist class centered in the North.

The whole southern way of life depended on slavery—that was its fundamental economic basis. Even small landowners who didn’t own slaves strove to get into a position to own some. And, with regard to Jefferson himself, not only his economic status but also his political fortunes, including his election to the presidency, depended on slavery, and in particular the “three-fifths” provision in the Constitution of the United States—the so-called “three-fifths compromise,” which established that, for the purposes of taxation but also of voting and representation in the government, each slave would be counted as three-fifths of a human being. As many northerners pointed out at the time, coming from various positions and with various motives, this “compromise” essentially allowed the southern states, where slaves were counted as property, to accumulate greater representation in the national government, because of the multiplication of this “human property.” In other words, northerners who owned property—for example, farms or factories—did not get to count each factory or farm as part of a formula for determining how much representation a northern state would have in the national government (in the House of Representatives, in particular), but the slave states got to count three-fifths of all the slaves, at any given time, in terms of this representation. This tilted things toward the southern states, in terms of the national political structure, from the beginning of the country. In fact, this was something that the southern states insisted upon as a condition of their joining with the northern states to form the United States of America, as a country with a single national government. Even those in the North who, on the basis of moral conviction and/or economic interest, were opposed to slavery, ended up capitulating to this demand, because forming this new country was more important to them—was understood by them to be more essential to their interests—than abolishing slavery. Thus, while this “three-fifths” provision in the Constitution was a compromise, this compromise gave a certain disproportionate power to the South, to the class of southern slaveowners; and this enabled them, up until the Civil War nearly 100 years later, to block and counter steps that would have gone in the direction of abolishing slavery.

It is sometimes claimed that Jefferson was actually opposed to slavery and wanted to see an end to it. And you can find statements by Jefferson where he says that slavery is in fact a blight and that it will have negative consequences for some time to come. There have also been misinterpretations of what Jefferson wrote about slavery. To take one important example, there are passages he wrote in drafts of the Declaration of Independence—some of which did not, but some of which did, make it into the final version of that Declaration—where the King of England and the British government were strongly condemned for supposedly imposing the slave trade on the United States. Now, there were, in fact, ways in which Jefferson and the slave-owning class in Virginia generally were opposed to aspects of the international slave trade, even while they themselves were involved in selling slaves to other states and to slaveowners in other territories. In this, the essential motivation of these Virginia slaveowners was that they didn’t want the price of a slave being driven down, since they themselves had become major sellers of slaves within America itself. This is, fundamentally, the reason that they were opposed to the continuation—once they did oppose it—of the international slave trade. They viewed this above all in terms of property, and supply and demand in relation to selling this particular kind of property—human beings. So, here again, Jefferson acted in the interests of the slave-owning class, and his “agrarian society” turned out to be a slaveowning plantation system—not a society of small independent yeomen.

This is of course related to, and in an overall sense part of, the larger contradiction between Jefferson’s lofty sounding statements in the Declaration of Independence about the equality of all men (note: all men) and their “inalienable rights” and, on the other hand, the glaring fact that Jefferson not only owned slaves himself but consistently acted on behalf of the class of slaveowners and the institution of slavery, even while voicing certain moral qualms about slavery and musings about its long-term consequences for the new American republic.

Slavery, White Supremacy, and
Democracy in America

Historian Edmund S. Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom, which is cited in David Brion Davis’s book Inhuman Bondage, argues that for Jefferson and other Virginia slaveowners, such as George Washington (“father of our country”) and James Madison (who was the principal author of the U.S. Constitution and who himself became president of the United States), there was a certain kind of unity—a unity of opposites, as we communists would say—between how they viewed whites, and on the other hand, Black Africans, mulattoes, and Indians. Here I am going to quote from Morgan and provide some commentary on what he says, to highlight the essential points.

Morgan points out: “Racism thus absorbed in Virginia the fear and contempt that men in England, whether Whig or Tory, monarchist or republican, felt for the inarticulate lower classes” of their own “race.” What Morgan is getting at is that in Europe, on the part of the “liberals” as well as the “conservatives” (the Whigs and the Tories), there was an open contempt, especially among the upper, ruling classes and their political representatives, for the “ignorant rabble” of the lower classes, while in the United States this did not find exactly the same expression because a lot of this contempt was, to so speak, deflected and directed toward the masses of Black people—who were overwhelmingly enslaved, especially in the South—and toward mulattoes and Indians.

Morgan continues—and this is very significant in terms of the whole development of bourgeois democracy in the U.S.: “Racism made it possible for white Virginians to develop a devotion to equality”—equality for whites, we should underline—“that English republicans had declared to be the soul of liberty.” And Morgan points out that one of the things that made this possible was the fact that, in Virginia, “There were too few free poor on hand to matter.” In other words, because of racism and viewing Africans, mulattoes, and Indians as lesser beings not really deserving of freedom, white Virginians could, without feeling an acute contradiction, articulate, as Jefferson did in the Declaration of Independence, lofty principles about the equality and inalienable rights of all people. They were speaking about white people—and more specifically white men—while explicitly excluding these other groups of people—most especially the people of African origin whom they enslaved. The one went together with the other: the inclusion of some and the exclusion of others, the notion of equality among white people (though this too was not a reality) and the subjugation and enslavement of Black people, mulattoes, and Indians. Here is the paradox and the irony, here is a profound contradiction, built into the United States of America from its very beginning: These Virginians, whose ideas have exerted a very great influence on the conception of freedom in this country—and the embodiment of this in founding documents of this country—represented the interests of the slaveowning class among whites, yet they could declare that they were speaking in universal terms about freedom for all people. They could proclaim a republic, in opposition to a monarchy, they could extol the principles of a government consisting of representatives chosen by the people, and the freedoms associated with republicanism—and they could believe in this—even while practicing and defending slavery, as well as other forms of exploitation and oppression.

As Morgan puts it: “by lumping Indians, mulattoes and Negroes in a single pariah class”—that is, by putting them in a category of beings who are not really to be considered human and not to be afforded the rights and freedoms that human beings should have—“Virginians had paved the way for a similar lumping of small and large planters in a single master class.” Here again we see the dialectical (contradictory) unity between the exclusion of one part of society, and the notion of the unity of the others—identified as white people—even with the class divisions among them.

Morgan points to a very profound conclusion: “Racism became an essential, if unacknowledged, ingredient of the republican ideology that enabled Virginians”—like Washington and Madison, as well as Jefferson—“to lead the nation.”3

This speaks to a very significant particularity, or peculiarity, of bourgeois society and the principles of bourgeois democracy as they developed from the very beginning of, and have evolved historically in, the United States. As David Brion Davis points out, Morgan argues that racial slavery enabled Virginia’s slaveowning planter class to coopt the poorer whites and thus perpetuate a highly exploitative and unequal society under the banner of republican liberty. As Davis puts it: “Virginia’s slavery and racism became, paradoxically, the social and ideological basis for America’s dedication to freedom and equality.” (Inhuman Bondage, p. 135)

This is very important to understand, not only in terms of the founding of this country, but in terms of its implications and its consequences throughout the history of the country, down to today. The republican ideology and notions of freedom that have characterized the way in which the United States has been conceived and ruled have indeed included, as fundamental elements, racism and the oppression of Black people, and other “people of color”: the exclusion of these groups—overtly and explicitly, or at least in reality and in practice—from the prevailing notion and application of freedom, and their subjugation from the very beginning and in the essential functioning of the country. And there has been a definite tendency for this to contribute in various ways to blunting the overall class conflicts in American society and the class consciousness of the proletarians—among the whites in particular, but also in a different way among Black people and other oppressed nationalities.

All this relates to the first irony I mentioned: Jefferson talked about a yeoman-based agrarian society as the model society, but actually, in opposition to that, he consistently upheld and fought for the interests of the slaveowning class; and the agrarian society that in reality he was an embodiment of, and a spokesman for, was a slave-owning plantation system.

Bourgeois Democracy, Bourgeois Elitism

The second irony is that, while Jefferson extolled the yeoman and the notion of a yeoman-based society, he firmly believed that such yeomen had to be led and headed by members of more elite strata, intellectually and economically—of which Jefferson himself was a representative. And here is an irony within this irony, so to speak: With regard to “Jeffersonian democrats”—this applies to bourgeois-democrats more generally, but in particular to those who uphold and extol Jefferson and his ideas and ideals as the model of a great society, even if it has yet to be fully achieved—many of them are among those who are very quick to attack communists, and in particular Lenin and his work What Is To Be Done?, for alleged elitism! How often have we heard them say things like: “Communists like Lenin think that the masses are too stupid to know what’s good for them! They think these masses have to have elite intellectuals ordering them about and telling them what’s good for them, since they’re too stupid to know what they really want and need—that’s what the communist view is, that’s what Lenin was arguing in What Is To Be Done?

Here, I don’t have time to go into all the ways in which that is a gross distortion of what Lenin was actually arguing in What Is To Be Done?. But the fact is that the essence of what he’s arguing there is the opposite of these accusations: He is insisting on both the ability and the necessity for the masses to understand the basic dynamics of objective reality, and of human society in particular, in order to consciously struggle to transform society, to make revolution with the final aim of bringing a communist world into being. He is emphasizing that this is the only way that such a radical transformation of society can actually come about. And, yes, he is insisting that the masses need a vanguard to lead them in this struggle—a vanguard whose purpose is precisely to enable the masses themselves to make revolution, and not to substitute for them (or attempt to substitute for them) in doing that.

So here’s “the irony within the irony”: Many of these Jeffersonian (bourgeois) democrats never tire of hurling the charge of “elitism” against communism, and against Lenin in particular, and yet their hero and model Thomas Jefferson was himself a firm believer in the idea that the common people needed an economic and intellectual elite to guide them to the virtuous society. This is the logic Jefferson would have followed, if he had actually tried to bring such a society into being—which he did not.

Commodities, Polarization,
Inequality, and Exploitation

And the third irony: If Jefferson’s yeoman-based society had in fact been realized—and there are many reasons why it could not have been, but if it had been realized—before very long it would have given rise to and been supplanted by polarization and the emergence of elites ruling over the “common people.” If you envision a society consisting of a large number of farmers, each holding a small amount of land and farming independently on that land, well first of all, there are many “natural conditions,” if you will, that will differ among these landholdings—different conditions of the soil, the topography, and other environmental and geological factors—which will favor some over others.

Take Virginia itself, for example. I pointed to this in the “Revolution” talk:4 Why is there a West Virginia? The basic reason is that the territory of this state—which, before the Civil War, was the western part of Virginia—has a very different terrain than most of the rest of Virginia: this western area is very hilly and rocky, it has a lot of coal, but it is not so favorable for small farming or for farming in general (there is some small farming, but it’s not nearly as favorable for farming as some of the other parts of Virginia, and other parts of the South, which have a much richer soil). That is the underlying reason why, at the time of the Civil War, this western part of the state broke away from Virginia and the Confederacy: the economic conditions and interests of people there were, in significant ways, different.

There is also the very important question of how different parcels of land are situated in relation to water, and other factors which confer an advantage (or disadvantage) to those owning the land. These differences, and their effects and consequences in terms of farm output and related factors, would assert themselves, even if you started out with everybody having approximately the same size farm, with many small farmers independently carrying out family farming—with all the patriarchy and male supremacy that goes along with that, let us not forget. You would have had inequalities within these families and family farms, and there would have been the developing polarization and inequalities between the different farmers, even if you just took a region of the country like the South, to say nothing of the fact that you had farmlands opening further to the West, you had farms of a different kind in the northeast of the country at its beginning, plus you had agriculture in other countries and world trade, which would have penetrated into all this and would have reacted upon and influenced the polarization already developing within agrarian-based society in the U.S. And let’s imagine that somehow the government said: “OK, we will implement the ‘Jeffersonian model’: everybody has to be a small farmer—or, if everybody doesn’t have to be a small farmer, at least the base of the whole economy and the whole society has to be small farmers—and if anybody starts getting much bigger than anybody else, in terms of landholdings, we’ll take part of their land away and give it to others, so there will once again be more equal distribution of small farmland throughout the country.” Well, eventually you would have had wars, armed conflicts, over that, because those whom you were hindering in that way (those whose land you were taking away in order to “equalize” things) would have resisted, and if you kept doing this they would have rebelled and taken to arms.

And then, again, there is the whole world market and its influence on all this. At the time of the founding of the U.S., if you look at the sale of the southern cotton and tobacco and other products, such as sugar, where were they going? To a large degree, it was to the world market, to Europe and other places. In order to maintain a situation of more or less equal landholdings, you would have had to stop everybody from producing for the world market, because if they produced for the world market, inequality would have been fostered and reinforced: Some farmers would have done better than others, would have found a more favorable market at any given time for whatever product these farmers were growing. And that would have reacted upon and intensified the polarization that was already developing. It would have been necessary to step in with the government and militarily shut off the country from the world market.

In short, this would have been totally impractical and unrealizable. Even if you started out on that basis—of many farmers with more or less equal size landholdings—you couldn’t maintain it. This is fundamentally because all this would be—and in the actual history of the U.S. everything has been—within the overall context of commodity production and exchange. And there are two things to single out about that here: One, as what I have already sketched out illustrates, commodity production and exchange inevitably lead to inequalities, to polarization. The general operation of the commodity system means that there will be inequality; it means that some fare better in competition than others; it means that polarization develops. And what goes along with that—the second thing to emphasize here—is that labor power itself (the ability to work, in general) will become a commodity. You see this happening even today: Many farmers are no longer able to make it as farmers (or by farming alone); they are compelled to hire themselves out to others who are doing better (to other farmers, or to people running other businesses). In an agrarian society—and in particular one that is operating within an overall framework of capitalist commodity production and exchange—more and more people will be reduced to the position of being wage workers, having to sell their ability to work, their labor power, in order to live. You will also get that polarization—of capitalist and wage worker—along with the great unevenness that will continue to develop even among the class of landowners, broadly speaking. And when you add in the world market, once again, all this becomes much further accentuated.

So, along with the glaring contradiction between Jefferson’s proclamations about how “all men are created equal” and endowed with certain “inalienable rights,” on the one hand, and, on the other hand, not only the fact of his being a slaveowner but his repeated actions, including as president, on behalf of the whole slaveowning class, these other ironies (or contradictions—ironies are contradictions) that I have pinpointed and spoken to here are in turn an expression of the fundamental nature of the society in which Jefferson lived and functioned and of which he does stand as a legitimate champion: a system rooted in relations of exploitation and oppression.5

In sum on this point: In looking at what Jefferson wrote (in his “Notes on Virginia” and elsewhere) about the model of a good and virtuous society being one based on a multitude of yeoman farmers, and the conflict between this and the kind of society he actually upheld and fought for, we can extract from this some profound lessons about the nature of modern republican government as a bourgeois democracy—and about the nature of bourgeois democracy itself in general, as a form of class rule and domination, a dictatorship of the bourgeois class—as well as, more particularly, the specific expressions this has taken in the history of the United States, with the peculiar institution of slavery for more than a hundred years leading into the founding of this country, and for nearly a hundred more years after its founding.



1.  Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State, W.W. Norton & Company, New York/London, 2005, pp. 106–07. [back]

2. In this connection, there are several works that are of particular relevance: Garry Wills, NEGRO PRESIDENT: Jefferson and the Slave Power, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003; Roger G. Kennedy, Jefferson’s Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase, Oxford University Press, 2003; and David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, Oxford University Press, 2006 (and especially chapter 14, “The Politics of Slavery in the United States”). Here, I have to say that Davis, like far too many others these days, repeats in the course of this book an all too familiar and seemingly de rigueur anti-communism—an anti-communism that is not factually grounded, but is frankly rather more fatuous, swallowing down and regurgitating much of the crude distortions and slanders of the whole communist project and the experience of socialist countries, even speaking of this as if it were even worse, in many ways, than classical slavery. Unfortunately, this comes in the midst of, and mars, what are otherwise very valuable insights and analysis in this book by Davis—insights and analysis which nevertheless remain important to learn from. Among other things, this illustrates the great importance of the Setting the Record Straight project (and its website thisiscommunism.org) and the need for struggle with people like Davis, as well as more generally, over what is the actual reality of the historical experience of the communist movement and socialist society—and, methodologically, the need to consistently apply an approach of thinking critically, including specifically when it comes to attacks and slanders against communism, rather than uncritically accepting all this. [back]

3. The above quotes are from Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom, as cited in David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage, the Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, p. 135. [back]

4. The full title of this talk is Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About. [back]

5. In a larger, more sweeping sense, the specific character of U.S. society, and its historical development, is a particular expression of the contradictions that are fundamental in all human society: the contradictions between the forces of production and the relations of production and between the economic base at any given and the superstructure of politics (including political institutions, structures and processes) and of ideology. Forces of production refers to the land, raw materials, machinery and other technology, along with people and their knowledge and skills, which can be utilized in production, while relations of production refers to the relations people enter into in carrying out production in a given society. In a fundamental sense, the character of the productive forces determines the character of the relations of production. As Karl Marx pointed out, in order to carry out production—in order to produce, and reproduce, the material requirements of life—people enter into very definite relations of production, and an economy cannot function (and cannot be understood) apart from these relations of people in production; but, in a basic sense, these production relations are independent of the wills of individuals—they are fundamentally determined, not by the ideas or plans of people, but by the character of the productive forces that are at hand. At the same time, it is a general phenomenon that the productive forces continue to be developed, and this tends to call forth changes in the production relations; for example, the creation and development of computers and other “information technology” have led to significant changes in the way production is carried out, even within the capitalist system. But when the productive forces have developed in such a way that the existing production relations as a whole have become, in a qualitative and profound sense, an obstacle to, a fetter on, the productive forces, then the objective necessity arises for a revolution in society, in order to be able to bring into being new production relations that can further unleash the productive forces in a qualitative way. The present era in history is one in which such a revolution is necessary and called for—to overthrow capitalism and replace its production relations with socialized relations of production, which correspond to the socialized character of the way production is carried out in today’s world (the fact that today’s large-scale production is, and can only be, carried out by large groups of people, organized into highly developed networks, working in common—and today this increasingly takes place on an international scale—as opposed to isolated individuals each working on their own products). Such a revolution—to transform the economic base of society (the production relations) must and can only take place in the superstructure, that is, through a political (and ideological) struggle which, so long as society is divided into exploiters and exploited, becomes concentrated in an all-out struggle for power over society, as embodied in the institutions of political power and expressed ultimately as the monopoly of armed force. What is radically new and unique about the communist revolution is that its objective is to overthrow the capitalist system of exploitation and to resolve the fundamental contradiction that characterizes capitalism—between the socialized character of production and the appropriation as privately-owned capital of what is produced through these socialized means—and this revolution will not only put an end to capitalist exploitation but to all exploitation, to the division of society into classes and to all oppressive social relations, and thereby will put an end to the need for, and the existence of, the state, a repressive apparatus wielded by the ruling class to enforce its rule over those it exploits and oppresses. [back]