Who Feeds Whom?

By Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #886, December 8, 1996

Who after all feeds whom? This is one of the main things that's being obscured and inverted these days. Capitalists create jobs--this is the popular "wisdom and convention." In fact, this represents a fundamental inversion of reality. Capitalists are about accumulating capital, and they do it through the wealth that is produced by the proletariat (and other working people but most essentially by the proletariat).

I remember when I first read Capital, this point really struck me, when I started to get what Marx was bringing out. It took me about three or four tries to get past the first five pages of Volume One of Capital. I would start reading and I would say, "Man, this is impossible!--this `Germanic' style and everything else, how the fuck can anybody understand this?!" But I knew that in order to do what we had to do people had to read Capital and understand it. Not everybody and certainly not all at one time, but those of us who saw what had to be done--there weren't other people around who were doing what needed to be done, so we had to struggle to learn this so we could get it right and then keep on learning while we were doing.

So after I got a little bit into it, I ran into a point which hit me as a really important point. You hear this shit all the time from people who like to portray themselves as "successful businessmen who started out with nothing," or as "self-made millionaires"--they will say "Oh sure, other people work for me, but I am the one who took all the initiative, and furthermore I am the one who worked every day and put aside my money, put it in the bank; I'm the one who got all the things together to get this business started in the first place; it is my money, which I saved, that started this whole thing." You hear this on and on and on. And one of the things that really struck me was that Marx made the point specifically in relation to this: no matter where that initial capital investment comes from, for any business, once that money is converted into capital--in other words, once you buy machinery, and you rent or buy the land and the buildings, and the raw materials, and you go out and hire workers--that initial money is gone. That money now no longer exists in the form of money; the capital (or potential capital) represented by that money has been transformed from money into the raw materials, the machinery, the buildings and the wages that pay the workers--that's it, it's gone. And there is only one way you get that money back--and it is not by anything you do other than exploiting those workers. This is a very profound point that Marx made.

That money is only coming back if you get it out of the hides of those workers. It is gone, that is the only way it is coming back. And if you are going to expand and invest further--which is what the dynamic of capitalism is all about--the only way you can do that is out of the hides of the workers. So this is a very fundamental point--it don't matter that was your savings you had--that don't mean shit. It don't matter if it is ten cents, or ten million dollars, that is just savings. But how this savings starts "making money" is when you put it in the form of capital to exploit people. That's the only way. And when you invest it, it's gone; and when it comes back, you didn't do it. The people you exploited did it. So this is a very important point and it goes along with the whole need to talk about who really is feeding whom, and who is the real basis of society around here.

We Have Fed You All for a Thousand Years

And here that song, "We have fed you all for a thousand years--and here we are still unfed," sings out a most profound and essential truth. The masses need to understand this--they don't even understand that they've fed them all--all these exploiters and parasites--for a thousand years. Or if, spontaneously, they have some understanding of this, this is still only a vague and more or less superficial understanding, not yet a profound and thorough understanding. A lot of the masses, particularly those who are not working now, don't even have any kind of basic understanding of this. Certainly other strata need to have their picture of the world turned right-side up, but so do the basic proletarian masses. They need to understand, WHO, for all this time, going back decades and centuries, has been feeding whom. They need to understand the essence of this, and spontaneously they don't because it's being hidden from them and obscured--even the social reality they're engulfed in to a large degree obscures this from them. But certainly, if you look with historical sweep, "Who the fuck's been feeding whom around here"--this becomes very clear.

People need to understand the different ways this expresses itself. Whether someone was kidnapped from Africa and brought here; whether someone came as a result of the potato famine in Ireland in the 19th Century (and as a result of being dispossessed of their land through English domination of Ireland); whether they came because of the way coffee production is being restructured and land is being monopolized by big landowners under imperialist domination, so they could no longer make a living farming in Mexico; whatever the pathways are, there's a fundamental reality that they're all involved in, in terms of "who is feeding whom." Never let these bloodsuckers in suits and ties get away with acting like they've been feeding the masses for a thousand years! This is a very important point that the basic masses need to understand, as do other strata for whom it's even more obfuscated and obscured, who have an even dimmer perception, and an inverted perception, of this.

Now, with all this it is important to stress that we shouldn't be looking for "pure proletarians" (in other words, people who meet every iota of a classical definition of the proletariat): there are very few, if any, such people. And we shouldn't expect to find "the classical proletariat" exactly as it was analyzed by Marx and Engels in the 19th century--and, then too, the proletariat was not "100 percent pure," without admixtures, interpenetrations, and influences from other classes. (Often proletarians were, in the most classical and literal sense, semi-proletarians--with part of their income from wage labor and part from small-scale, individualized sideline economic activity, such as farming or handicrafts, etc.) This certainly was the case--this admixture, interpenetration, and mutual influence between the proletarians and other "popular" strata, in particular the peasantry--in the Russian revolution. It was a major phenomenon. So we shouldn't be looking for "pure proletarians" who have no interpenetration with and influences from other classes, both materially and ideologically.

Combining Our Strengths

One of the things that I think is VERY important to draw from this and to emphasize is the importance of--and the objective basis for--combining the strengths of different sections of the "real proletariat" and basic masses (the youth, different nationalities, those employed and those in conditions of more or less permanent unemployment, women and men, and so on). In other words, we could look at the way some of this "de-proletarianization" has gone on--the long term unemployment and the way in which proletarians have gotten into some other kinds of activities--we could look at the contradictions among the masses, and emphasize the negative aspects.

For example, I remember reading in the book Do or Die where the author (Leon Bing) talks about one of these Black youths in the gangs. It's very interesting. She describes how he spends a good part of the day watching the Mexican workers go to the factory and then watching them come back from work. This is a guy who's never worked, and most people he knows, I guess, have never worked, and it's an interesting phenomenon--he's observing, sort of objectively, from a distance. Then, on the other hand, sometimes this seems to take on more antagonistic forms--these contradictions among the masses. You also have Mexican immigrants who come here who've left their families in Mexico; they're living 12 in a house; they're working 2 or 3 jobs trying to save money to send some home while trying to live here. They may live very close to, or interact a lot with, some of these Black youth, but spontaneously they have no understanding about why these youth don't work--why they seem to be into crime and this and that. Now some of the immigrants who have been here longer have kids who are into the same things, so maybe they understand it better. But the basic point is that there are a lot of these different expressions of how the masses see past each other in a certain sense, and this can be played on and is played on, and often turned into antagonism, by the ruling class.

Well, one of the things we have to do is use the method Mao emphasized--combining all positive factors. There are some weaknesses, but there are also important strengths of different sections of the proletariat. There is a strength that comes from the situation of working in socialized productive labor--the understanding of the need for cooperation and the discipline that goes along with that, and so on. There are also certain weaknesses associated with that--frankly, there are some conservatizing influences that exert themselves in that situation. There are obviously weaknesses to people who never work and whose lives are much more volatile and don't have a certain cohesiveness that comes from the organized and socialized activity of production--people whose lives are more individualized. There are also strengths bound up with this-- there's the strength, as I spoke to earlier (see RW No. 885), of the destructive aspect of poverty, which we have to figure out how to channel and direct in terms of the fundamental interests of the proletariat, in order to transform this truly into a revolutionary destructive aspect. And for the class as a whole, there is the question of combining all the positive factors and bringing together the strengths that we can combine and synthesize out of these different situations of different strata among the proletariat itself.

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